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Vigilance Committees

The Chickasaws and Choctaws formed Vigilance Committees in the years following the War Between the States to counter the growing theft of their property by now-free African Americans, many immigrating across Red River from Texas. Vigilance Committees provide an additional step in a long, sobering illumination of the biblical concept of human sin, toward both God and one other.

From a Providential view of history, the sequence could be considered to have begun with Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden, the subsequent rejection of the gospel by all the human races, widespread pagan practices in Africa that brought about some tribes’ capture and delivery of others’ to similarly sin-scarred people of other races. The enslaved were then shipped to destinations such as America in horrific conditions and put into chattel slavery.

The failure of their owners to prepare most of them for emancipation and to free them, coupled with the questionable behavior of many whites who advocated their freedom, helped lead to a colossal war that resulted in the ruthless destruction of the country where resided most of the slave owners, immediate emancipation, and economic catastrophe for both the defeated slave owners and their former slaves. It subsequently fueled the victors in the war pitting vanquished whites against emancipated blacks, bitterness between the races and the sections, the resort to desperate survival tactics by the freedmen, which led to prohibitive losses by the Chickasaw and Choctaw, and thus to the sometimes-violent response of their Vigilance Committees. These in turn triggered further responses by the freedmen.

Historian Gaston Litton masterfully explored the Vigilance Committee phenomenon in his multi-volume 1957 work The History of Oklahoma, employing the common name of his era of “Negro” for African Americans or blacks and “Indian” for Natives:

“These new intruders (black former slaves) upon the Indian (Territory) domain found little demand for their labor among the impoverished rightful owners of the lands upon which they had settled. The intruding Negroes were obliged to survive by some means, and stealing provided the most immediate path by which they might satisfy their necessities. Corn cribs, smoke houses, and hen roosts were most frequently visited by these plundering bands of Negroes. Small trading houses, of which there were many scattered far and wide across the southern half of the Indian Territory, also suffered from this thievery.

“When the members of the Vigilance Committee heard that one of the settlements of intruding Negroes had become undesirable because of its depredations on the Indian population, a ghostly (Vigilance) visitor in the dark hours of the night would announce to the settlement that it must be abandoned by a given date. When support to the message appeared to be necessary, emphasis to the warning was given by the firing of a few bullets promiscuously at the cabins comprising the Negro settlement. Such measures usually worked.

“Expulsion of the lawless Negro intruders was not the only activity of the Vigilance Committee. Members of the committee also were on the lookout for renegade white men, fleeing justice in the surrounding states, who occasionally sought refuge in the Indian country. These people, too, lived by stealing. Numerous horse thieves and cattle rustlers, who became common enough in the Indian Territory following the War Between the States, were recipients of stern measures on the part of the Vigilance Committee.”


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