David Folsom was born in the village of Bok Tuklo in Mississippi Territory on 25 January 1791. His father was Nathaniel Folsom, a descendant of Scot-Irish traders who traveled to Choctaw territory during the 1770s and took two wives, both nieces of Choctaw chief Miko Pushkush. David’s mother was Aiahnichih Ohoyoh. One of twenty-four children, David became a principal instrument of change within the Choctaw Nation during the first half of the nineteenth century.
At age seven, Folsom left his parents’ home to live with his sister, Molly, and her husband, Samuel Mitchell, a US Indian Agent, who taught David to speak English. Molly died three years later, and David returned home to work at his father’s tavern and trading post at Pigeon Roost on the Natchez Trace. At age sixteen, after earning enough money to buy a horse and new clothes, he traveled 250 miles to attend school on the Elk River in Tennessee, staying there for six months. Upon his return, he received another month of education from James Allen, a friend of the Folsoms.
Between 1812 and 1814 the United States fought Shawnee Chief Tecumseh’s pan-Indian alliance, the Creek, and the British. For three years, Folsom served under Andrew Jackson and renowned Choctaw chief Pushmataha. Folsom also aided Jackson in the capture of Pensacola and rose to the rank of colonel before leaving military service. After the war, Folsom married Rhoda Nail, the daughter of American Revolutionary War figure Henry Nail and his Choctaw wife. Folsom’s marriage was the first Choctaw union performed by law rather than tribal custom.
In 1819 Folsom wrote to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and requested that it start schools to convert and educate Choctaw children. Supported by Folsom’s private funds, missionaries built two schools, Elliot and Mayhew. Folsom argued that the Choctaw could survive settler encroachment and federal corruption only by embracing Christianity, reading, and writing. His home at Pigeon Roost, located between the two schools, allowed him to monitor and manage the institutions, missionary curricula, and goods shipped to them. During the mid-1820s he established a 150-acre estate, including a house, a barn, and stables, at Yoknokchaya on Robinson Road. Folsom also owned a tavern and trading post, cattle and horses, and ten slaves.
In 1824 Folsom traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of the Choctaw delegation that would negotiate with the Pres. James Monroe. Folsom and his close friend, James McDonald, a Choctaw lawyer, argued for Choctaw rights and fair treatment while refusing to sell land at low prices. The delegation signed the 1825 Treaty of Washington, which stipulated that the United States would protect schools, relinquish debts, and permit the Choctaw to stay in Mississippi Territory.
Folsom vehemently opposed Removal, a view that earned him the position of chief of the Northeast District of the Choctaw Nation in 1826. He thus deposed full-blood chief Mushulatubbee, who had opposed missionary schools and condoned Removal. With fellow chiefs Greenwood Leflore and John Garland, both of whom had white fathers and Choctaw mothers, Folsom established the first police force, the light horsemen, and the first constitutional government in the Choctaw Nation.
In 1830 Garland and Folsom gave their power as chiefs to Leflore. Although Leflore had claimed to oppose Removal, in September of that year he orchestrated the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which provided that the Choctaw would move to the west of the Mississippi River. Fearing Leflore’s new power, deteriorating relations with the federal government, and threats from Pres. Andrew Jackson and his treaty commissioners, Folsom signed the treaty. He was scorned for his signing but aided in the Removal efforts to Oklahoma Territory.
Rhoda Folsom died in 1837, and four years later Folsom married Jane Ball. He fathered a total of thirteen children and died on 24 September 1847 in Doaksville, Oklahoma.
- Taylor Carson, Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal (1999)
- Czarina C. Conlan, Chronicles of Oklahoma (December 1926)
- James H. B. Cushman, History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez Indians (1899)
- Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic (1934)
- Clara Sue Kidwell, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918 (1995)
- Theda Perdue, “Mixed Blood” Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South (2003)