41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
—Mark 12:41-44, NRSV
John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!
—Andrew Jackson, 1832
In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed by the U.S. Congress, and later that year, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, ceding 11 million acres of tribal lands in Mississippi for 15 million acres of land in what is now Oklahoma. Of the Choctaw who moved westward along what would become known as the Trail of Tears, the first of five nations to be removed from the fertile farmland of the southeast, an estimated one third to one half died along the way, of starvation, illness and exposure.*
In 1845, potato blight struck Ireland, causing a famine, which reached its height in 1847. Many Irish immigrants left their land and came to the United States.
Moved by news of starvation in Ireland, a group of Choctaws gathered in Scullyville, Okla., to raise a relief fund. Despite their meager resources, they collected $170 and forwarded it to a U.S. famine relief organization.
— 154 Years Ago: The Choctaw Send Aid
$170 of 1847 dollars is worth $4,722.22 in 2012 dollars. It’s still not a huge amount, but coming from people who 16 years before had to walk 500 miles west with only the possessions they could carry, to learn to make a living on land completely different from the land they left behind, it was a fortune.
I first learned of this story in reading Effigies by Mary Anna Evans, one of series of mystery novels featuring an archeologist, Faye Longchamp. As the story is narrated in the novel, by a character who is the descendant of Choctaws who stayed behind in Mississippi:
I’ll say this for the Irish. They didn’t forget. In 1997, for the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of The Great Potato Famine, a bunch of them flew to Oklahoma to say thank you. Then they walked five hundred miles until they got here, to Nanih Waiya. After that, they donated a hundred thousand dollars to feed hungry people in Africa, in honor of our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma.
They should teach these things in all the schools. The world would be a better place.
I’ll do my bit to pass the word along.
*You will notice each of the links gives different numbers.