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The History of the Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Iti Fabvssa

BISKINIK | February 2016

The Seal Of The Choctaw Nation Iti Feb 2016

During the course of a given month, the Historic Preservation Department is contacted  numerous times by tribal members looking  for answers to questions about Choctaw  history and culture. Over the years, some of  the most commonly recurring questions have  involved the tribal seal. For this month's edition  of Iti Fabvssa, we have put together what  we know about the history of the tribal seal.  It is far from being the full story.
To the best of our knowledge, the Choctaw tribal seal was fi rst formalized as an idea in  the 1857 tribal constitution, signed at Skullyville.  On Oct. 24, 1860, the seal came up  again through a special act at the regular annual  session of the Choctaw General Council  meeting held at Doaksville. Section 4 of the  act directed that:
The Principal Chief shall procure, at an early day, at the cost of the Nation, a  great seal of the Nation, with the words  "The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation"  around the edge, and a design of an  unstrung bow, with three arrows and a  pipe-hatchet blended together, engraven  in the centre, which shall be the proper  seal of this Nation until altered by the  General Council, with the concurrence of  both houses thereof.
All of these elements have symbolic meanings. The unstrung bow represents both the  love of peace that the Choctaw people have  had through time, and the willingness to go  to war at a moment's notice if attacked. The  three arrows stand for Chiefs Pushmataha,  Mushulatubbe, and Apukshunabbe. These
men were the leaders of the three Choctaw Districts in 1820, when the Treaty of Doak's  Stand was signed. It was through this treaty  that the United States ceded the lands in  present-day southeastern Oklahoma that  would become the Choctaw Nation. The pipehatchet  represents the desire of the Choctaw  people to establish beneficial alliances with  neighbors, but also perhaps prowess.
Although the Chief George Hudson approved the above act in 1860, the physical  creation of the seal may have been delayed by  the American Civil War, at least, there is no  documentation of one being created before  or during the war that we are aware of. We  do know than in a letter written at Boggy  Depot on March 1, 1867, Chief Allen Wright  asked Peter Pitchlynn, then in Washington  D.C., to have the tribal seal created. He was  probably talking about a seal press, used  to emboss an impression of the tribal seal  onto official correspondence of the Choctaw  Nation. Chief Wright recommended that  Pitchlynn visit an establishment located on
Pennsylvania Avenue, apparently the same one that Chickasaw Nation had contracted  to create their seal or seal press a short time  earlier. The completed seal was to be brought  back to Choctaw Nation by Israel Folsom. 
The whereabouts of Chief Wright's seal  are unknown to the Historic Preservation  Department. Sometime after statehood,  the Bureau of Indian Affairs took custody  of the official seal presses that were then in  use by the Five Tribes. One seal press, dated  between 1895 and 1905, is curated at the  Capitol Museum in Tvshka Homma.
Although the basic structure of the seal has stayed the same, the artistic representation of  its elements has changed through time. Early  versions of the seal depict a Choctaw longbow  shown on a small scale (Figure 1). Sometime  before 1940, the seal was redrawn replacing  the Choctaw bow with an English-style longbow,  with antler tips (Figure 2). The reason  for changing the bow is unknown, but there  are several possibilities. One is that English  target archery was popular in the early 1900s,  and perhaps that was the type of bow that the  artist was familiar with. A second possibility  involves the fact that during the early 1900s,  tribal chiefs were appointed by the United  States president under a policy that was  ultimately intended to terminate the tribe.  During those years, there was an incorrect  belief that the English bow was superior to  the Native American bow. It may be that the  English bow was used on the seal as a symbol  of the artist's belief that the tribe was converting  to Euro-American ways of doing things.
There have been other changes to the seal. As the tribe regained self-determination in  the 1970s and 1980s, a version of the seal  was used that looked like it had a strung  bow. In December 1983, a new version was  presented with an unstrung bow (Figure 3).  Through the 1980s and 1990s, several diff erent  depictions of the unstrung bow were used  (Figure 4). In 1997, with input from tribal  council member Charlie Jones, the bow on  the tribal seal was redrawn as being partially  braced (Figure 5). A partially braced bow has  one end of the string attached, the loop at  the other end of the string is slid around the  bow limb. With one simple motion, that loop  in the string can be slid over the nock, and  the bow is strung ready to fi re arrows. This  change was made to more realistically represent  a Choctaw bow when not in use. This is  the version of the offi cial seal that is currently  in use today.
That is what we know. For something as recent, local, and directly tied to the Choctaw  Nation of Oklahoma, it is surprising that we  don't know more than we currently do about  the tribal seal. If you know about a piece of  the story that is not told here, please contact  us at (800) 522-6170 ext. 2216.
This article and others came from the Choctaw Nation Biskinik. To see more history please refer to the following sites.
Sounds of Choctaw - Social Greeting
Sounds of Choctaw - Weather
Lesson of the Day