Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Fay A. Yarbrough's "Choctaw Confederates"

Fay A. Yarbrough is professor of history at Rice University and the author of Race and the Cherokee Nation.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country, and reported the following:
If you opened Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country to page 99, you would find yourself in the middle of chapter 3 titled “The Choctaws and Chickasaws Are Entirely Southern and Are Determined to Adhere to the Fortunes of the South: Choosing Sides in the Conflict.” Here I outline a remarkable, in my view, concession that the Confederate States of America made to gain the support of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations: a delegate in the Confederate House of Representatives. This delegate would not have the voting rights of other representatives, but the provision was still a departure from the lukewarm language suggesting only the possibility for representation offered by the federal government in a previous treaty with the Choctaws. The delegate had to be a member “by birth or blood, on either the father’s or mother’s side, of one of the said nations,” and a Confederate agent would manage the logistics of the election of the delegate. These last two details reveal American pressure to impose a recognition of patrilineal descent among Native peoples who had traditionally recognized matrilineal descent to determine membership in the group and a usurpation of Native sovereignty. After all, the Choctaws and Chickasaws regularly conducted their own elections; why should the Confederate agent be in charge of this election?

Page 99 highlights several important themes in my work. First, the Choctaw Nation allied with the Confederacy during the American Civil War and one enticement is revealed here. Second, some cultural practices among Native groups changed or adapted to pressure from Euro-Americans and interactions with foreign governments. And, third, state, federal, and Confederate governments constantly tested and attempted to chip away at the bounds of Native sovereignty. What is missing from page 99, however, is discussion of the central roles the Choctaw desire to protect Native sovereignty and their own cultural identity and their commitment to practicing the enslavement of people of African descent had in the Choctaw decision to enter the war. Nor does page 99 give you a sense of the Civil War experience for Choctaw soldiers or the consequences of Reconstruction for freedpeople in the Choctaw Nation. For those parts of the story, read the book!
Learn more about Choctaw Confederates at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue