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Letter from a Choctaw Chief

This letter was written by Choctaw Chief George W. Harkins in 1832.
Author
George W. Harkins
Grade Level

It is said that our present movements are our own voluntary acts—such is not the case. We found ourselves like a benighted stranger, following false guides, until he was surrounded on every side, with fire or water. The fire was certain destruction, and a feeble hope was left him of escaping by water. A distant view of the opposite shore encourages the hope; to remain would be inevitable annihilation. Who would hesitate, or who would say that his plunging into the water was his own voluntary act? Painful in the extreme is the mandate of our expulsion. We regret that it should proceed from the mouth of our professed friend, and for whom our blood was commingled with that of his bravest warriors, on the field of danger and death.

            But such is the instability of professions. The man who said that he would plant a stake and draw a line around us, that never should be passed, was the first to say he could not guard that line, and drew up the stake and wiped out all traces of the line. I will not conceal from you my fears, that the present grounds may be removed. … Who of us can tell after witnessing what has already been done, what the next force may be. I ask you in the name of justice, for repose for myself and for my injured people. Let us alone—we will not harm you, we want rest. … As east of the Mississippi we have been friends, so west we will cherish the same feelings with additional fervor; and although we may be removed to the desert, still we shall look with fond regard, upon those who have promised us their protection. …

            Friends, my attachment to my native land was strong—that cord is now broken; and we must go forth as wanderers in a strange land! … Let me [e]ntreat you to regard us with feelings of kindness, and when the hand of oppression is stretched against us, let me hope that a warning voice may be heard from every part of the United States, filling the mountains and valleys with echo, and say stop, you have no power, we are the sovereign people, and our red friends shall no more be disturbed.

Source
This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
Question
What is happening in the very first line of the text?
Answer
The speaker and his group are being forced to move somewhere. Others are saying they are moving of their own
accord, but this is not true.
Question
Reread from “We found ourselves ... ” to “plunging into the water was his own voluntary act?”
Describe this scenario from the author in your own words. What is the purpose of including this scenario?
Answer
The speaker feels as though they were manipulated and led to a place of no escape. There was either danger or water
surrounding them, and the only freedom to be seen was on the other side of the water. You could try to seek freedom
across the water, but doing so would only be a result of being forced to. You would have no other choice. This does not
mean that you enter the water willingly though. The speaker uses this illustration to portray the extent to which his
group’s movements have been voluntary.
Question
Describe the speaker’s tone throughout the piece. How and where does it change?
Answer
In the first paragraph and half of the second paragraph, the speaker’s tone is straightforward and even rigid. He
makes plain the distrust he feels and it seems important to him that the reader know how he and his group have
been (mis)treated. In the second half of the second paragraph, the speaker’s tone is softer and more entreating. He
is asking to simply be left alone. Not only does his group mean no harm, but they will continue to hope for the best in
the new relationships they build. In the final paragraph, the speaker’s tone is hopeful; he is hopeful that others will
protect them from “the hand of oppression” if it seeks them again.
Question
To what group does the speaker belong?
Answer
Native Americans