Thursday, June 21, 2012

Arkansas Overture

The fate of the Indian tribes in the trans-Mississippi is one of the most tragic, yet one of the most relatively overlooked, features of the War. Early on, the federal government made a significant error by not actively reaching out to the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole) and other tribes (such as the Osage and Wichita) in the Indian Territory. This left an opening for secessionists to reach out to these tribes. Even before his State’s secession, Arkansas Governor Henry M. Rector penned the following letter to Cherokee Chief John Ross:
“…Little Rock January 29, 1861.
SIR: It may now be regarded as almost certain that the States having slave property within their borders will, in consequence of repeated Northern aggressions, separate themselves and withdraw from the Federal Government….
Your people, in their institutions, productions, latitude, and natural sympathies, are allied to the common brotherhood of the slaveholding States. Our people and yours are natural allies in war and friends in peace. Your country is salubrious and fertile, and possesses the highest capacity for future progress and development by the application of slave labor. Besides this, the contiguity of our territory with yours induces relations of so intimate a character as to preclude the idea of discordant or separate action.
It is well established that the Indian country west of Arkansas is looked to by the incoming administration of Mr. Lincoln as fruitful fields, ripe for the harvest of abolitionism, freesoilers, and Northern mountebanks.
We hope to find in your people friends willing to co-operate with the South in defense of her institutions, her honor, and her firesides, and with whom the slaveholding States are willing to share a common future, and to afford protection commensurate with your exposed condition and your subsisting monetary interests with the General Government.
As a direct means of expressing to you these sentiments, I have dispatched my aide-de-camp, Lieut. Col. J. J. Gaines, to confer with you confidentially upon these subjects, and to report to me any expressions of kindness and confidence that you may see proper to communicate to the governor of Arkansas, who is your friend and the friend of your people.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Henry M. Rector, Governor of Arkansas” (Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies, ser. I, vol. 1:683-684)

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