Chicasa Indian Tribe

The northern parts of Mississippi State contain the earliest homes of the warlike tribe of Chicasa Indians which historical documents enable us to trace. Pontotoc County was the centre of their habitations in the eighteenth century, and was so probably at the time of the Columbian discovery; settlements of the tribe scattered along the Mississippi River, in West Tennessee and in Kentucky up to Ohio River, are reported by the later chroniclers.

In the year 1540 the army of Hernando de Soto crossed a portion of their territory, called by its historians ” Chicaça provincia,” and also visited a town of this name, with a smaller settlement (alojamiento) in its vicinity named Chicaçilla.

Two rivers anciently bore the name of “Chicasa River,” not because they were partially or exclusively inhabited by tribes of this nationality, but because their headwaters lay within the Chicasa boundaries. This gives us a clue to the topographic position of the Chicasa settlements. Jefferys (I, 153), states that “Chicasa River is the Maubile or Mobile River, running north and south (now called Lower Alibama River), and that it takes its rise in the country of the Chicasaws in three streams.” When L. d Iberville traveled up the Yazoo River, the villages on its banks were referred to him as lying on “la riviére des Chicachas.” 1

The most lucid and comprehensive account of the Chicasa settlements is found in Adair’s History.

James Adair, who was for several years a trader among the Chicasa, gives the following account of their country and settlements (History, p. 352, sq.): “The Chikkasah Country lies in about thirty-five degrees N. Lat., at the distance of one hundred and sixty miles from the eastern side of the Mississippi . . . about half way from Mobille to the Illinois, etc. The Chikkasah are now settled between the heads of two of the most western branches of Mobille River and within twelve miles of Tahre Hache (Tallahatchie). . In 1720 they had four contiguous settlements, which lay nearly in the form of three parts of a square, only that the eastern side was five miles shorter than the western, with the open part toward the Choktah. One was called Yaneka, about a mile wide and six miles long; another was ten miles long . . . and from one to two miles broad. The towns were called Shatara, Chookheereso, Hykehah, Tuskawillao, and Phalacheho. The other square, Chookka Pharáah or “the long-house,” was single and ran four miles in length and one mile in breadth. It was more populous than their whole nation contains at present . . . scarcely 450 warriors.” From Adair’s text it appears that the three towns were but a short distance from the fortified places held by them at the time when he composed his History (published 1775). They were about Pontotoc or Dallas Counties, Mississippi.

The Chicasa settlements are referred to in detail by B. Romans, East and West Florida, p. 63: “They live in the centre of an uneven and large nitrous savannah; have in it one town, long one mile and a half, very narrow and irregular; this they divide into seven (towns), by the names of Melattaw ‘hat and feather,’ Chatelaw ‘copper town,’ Chukafalaya ‘long town,’ Tuckahaw ‘a certain weed,’ Ashuck hooma ‘red grass.’ Formerly the whole of them were enclosed in palisadoes.” Unfortunately, this list gives only five towns instead of the seven referred to.

D. Coxe, Carolana (1741) says, when speaking of the Tennessee River (p. 13. 14): “River of the Cusates, Cheraquees or Kasqui River; a cataract is on it, also the tribe of the Chicazas.” An early French report alludes to one of their villages, situated thirty leagues inward from a place forty leagues above the mouth of Arkansas River. “From Abeeka to the Chickasaw towns the distance is about one hundred and fifty-nine miles, crossing many savannahs; ” B. Romans, E. and W. Florida, p. 313.

Through all the epochs of colonial history the Chicasa people maintained their old reputation for independence and bravery. They were constantly engaged in quarrels and broils with all their Indian neighbors: sometimes with the cognate Cha’hta and with the Creeks, at other times with the Cheroki, Illinois, Kickapu, Shawano, Tonica, Mobilians, Osage and Arkansas (Kapaha) Indians. In 1732 they cut to pieces a war party of the Iroquois invading their territory, but in 1748 cooperated against the French with that confederacy. J. Haywood, in his Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee (1823), p. 240, alludes to a tradition purporting that the Chicasa had formerly assisted the Cheroki in driving the Shawanese from the Cumberland river; the Cheroki desired war, and attacked the Chicasa shortly before 1769, but were utterly defeated by them at the “Chicasa Old Fields,” and retreated by way of Cumberland river and the Cany Fork. On the authority of chief Chenubbee, the same author states (p. 290) that a part of the Chicasa established themselves on Savannah River, opposite Augusta, but that misunderstandings with the Creeks made them go west again. In 1795 the Chicasa claimed the land opposite Augusta, and sent a memorial to the United States Government to substantiate that claim. Another fraction of the tribe, called the Lightwood-Knots, went to war with the Creeks, but were reduced by them, and have lived with them in peace ever since. These facts seem to have some reference to the settlement of a Chicasa band near Kasiχta, and east of that town; cf. Kasí’hta.

Pénicaut mentions an intertribal war between them and the Cha’hta, and relates a case of treason committed by a Cha’hta chief in 1703. 2 A war with the Creeks occurred in 1793, in which the Americans stood on the Chicasa side.

The policy of the Chicasa in regard to the white colonists was that of a steady and protracted enmity against the French. This feeling was produced as well by the intrigues of the British traders residing among them as by their hatred of the Cha’hta, who had entered into friendly relations with the French colonists, though they could not, by any means, be called their trusty allies. By establishing fortified posts on the Yazoo and Little Tombigbee rivers, 3 the French threatened the independence of these Indians, who began hostilities against them in 1722, near the Yazoo post, and urged the Naktche to a stubborn resistance against French encroachments. They sheltered the retreating Naktche against the pursuing French, 4 besieged the commander Denys at Fort Natchitoches, though they were repulsed there with considerable loss, defeated the French invading their country at Amalahta (1736), at the Long House, or Tchúka faláya (Adair, p. 354), and other points, and in the second attack of 1739-40 also baffled their attempts at conquering portions of Chicasa territory.

The relations of these Indians with the United States were regulated by a treaty concluded at Hopewell, 1786, with Pio mico and other Chicasa chiefs. Their territory was then fixed at the Ohio River on the north side, and by a boundary line passing through Northern Mississippi on the south side. They began to emigrate to the west of Arkansas River early in this century, and in 1822 the population remaining in their old seats amounted to 3625. Treaties for the removal of the remainder were concluded at Pontotoc Creek, October 20th, 1832, and at Washington, May 24th, 1834.

After their establishment in the Indian Territory the political connections still existing between them and the Cha’hta were severed by a treaty signed June 22d, 1855. The line of demarcation separating the two “nations,” and following the meridian, is not, however, of a binding character, for individuals of both peoples settle east or west of it, wherever they please (G. W. Stidham).

No plausible analysis of the name Chicasa, which many western tribes, as well as the Chicasa themselves, pronounce Shikasa, Shíkasha, has yet been suggested. Near the Gulf coast it occurs in many local names, and also in Chickasawhay river, Mississippi, the banks of which were inhabited by Cha’hta people.

In language and customs they differ but little from their southern neighbors, the Cha’hta, and must be considered as a northern branch of them. Both have two phratries only, each of which were (originally) subdivided, in an equal manner, into four gentes; but the thorough-going difference; in the totems of the 8-12 gentes points to a very ancient separation of the two national bodies.

The Chicasa language served as a medium of commercial: and tribal intercourse to all the nations inhabiting the shores of the great Uk-’hina (“water road”), or Lower Mississippi River. Jefferys (I, 165), compares it to the “lingua franca in the Levant; they call it the vulgar tongue. A special mention of some tribes which spoke it is made by L. d’Iberville 5 : “Bayagoula, Ouma, Chicacha, Colapissa show little difference in their language;” and “The Oumas, Bayogoulas, Theloël, Taensas, the Coloas, the Chycacha, the Napissa, the Ouachas, Choutymachas, Yagenechito, speak the same language and understand the Bilochy, the Pascoboula. ” As we have seen before, three of the above tribes, the Naktche portion of the Theloël settlements, the Taensa and the Shetimasha had their own languages, but availed themselves of the Chicasa for the purposes of intertribal barter, exchange and communication. The most important passages on this medium of trade are contained in Le Page du Pratz, Histoire (II, 218. 219): “La langue Tchicacha est parlee aussi par les Chatkas (sic!) et (corrompue) par les Taensas; cette langue corrompue est appelée Mobilienne par les Francais,” etc., and in Margry V, 442, where Pénicaut alleges to have studied the languages of the Louisiana savages pretty thoroughly for five years, “surtout le Mobilien, qui est le principal et qu’on entend par toutes les nations.” Cf. the article Naktche.

A few terms in which Chicasa differs from main Cha’hta are as follows:

Chicasakuíshto panther,Cha’htakuítchito
kóe domestic cat,káto (Spanish)
ísto large,tchíto
iskitinúsa small,iskitině
húshi bird,fúshi

The Chicasa trade language also adopted a few terms from northern languages, as:

píshu lynx, from Odshibwē pishīu; also an Odshibwē totem-clan.

piakímina persimmon, changed in the French Creole dialect to plaquemine.

shishikushi gourd-rattle or drum, Margry IV, 175.

sacacuya war-whoop, la huée. ,

Lewis H. Morgan published in his Ancient Society (New York, 1877). p. 163, a communication from Rev. Chas. C. Copeland, missionary among the Chicasa Indians, on the totemic gentes observed by him. Copeland states that the descent is in the female line, that no intermarriage takes place among individuals of the same gens, and that property as well as the office of chief is hereditary in the gens. The following list will show how considerably he differs from Gibbs list inserted below:

Panther phratry, kóa. Its gentes: 1. kó-intchush, wild cat; 2. fúshi, bird; 3. nánni, fish; 4. issi, deer.

Spanish phratry, Ishpáni. Its gentes: 1. sháwi racoon; 2. Ishpáni Spanish; 3. mingo Royal; 4. huskóni; 5. túnni squirrel; 6. hotchon tchápa alligator; 7. nashóba wolf; 8. tchú’hla blackbird.

Further investigations will show whether the two gentes, Ishpáni and mingo, are not in fact one and the same, as they appear in Gibbs list. This list is taken from a manuscript note to his Chicasa vocabulary, and contains nine “clans” or iksa, yéksa:

Spáne or Spanish gens; míngos or chiefs could be chosen from this gens only, and were hereditary in the female line; shă-é or racoon gens; second chiefs or headmen were selected from it; kuishto or tiger gens; ko-intchūsh or catamount gens; náni or fish gens; íssi or deer gens; haloba or ? gens; foshé or bird gens; huⁿshkoné or skunk gens, the least respected of them all.

An account in Schoolcraft, Indians I, 311, describes the mode of tribal government, and the method by which the chiefs ratified the laws passed. Sick people, when wealthy, treated their friends to a sort of donation party (or pótlatch of the Pacific coast) after their recovery; a custom called tonshpashúpa by the tribe.Citations:

  1. Margry IV, 180.[]
  2. Margry V, 433 sqq.[]
  3. The site once occupied by Fort Tombigbee is now called Jones Bluff, on Little Tombigbee River. Cf. Dumont in B. F. French, Histor. Coll. of La., V, 106 and Note.[]
  4. Adair, History, p. 353, asserts that the real cause of the third Naktche-French war lay in the instigations of the Chicasa. On the causes and progress of the hostilities between the French and the Chicasa, cf. pp. 353-358. They attacked there his own trading house, cf. p. 357. Cf. also Naktche, in this vol., pp. 34-39.[]
  5. Margry IV, 412 and 184.[]

Chicasa, Muskogean,

Gatschet, Albert S. A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians. Pub. D.G. Brinton, Philadelphia, 1884.

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