Chickasaw Indian Tribe

This historical account explores the Chickasaw tribe’s encounters with European explorers, their territorial conflicts with other tribes such as the Shawnee, and their alliances, particularly with the British. The article notably discusses the tribe’s interactions with Hernando de Soto and his army in 1540-41, wherein the Chickasaw nearly wiped out the entire expedition. Later historical events include the tribe’s involvement in the Natchez uprising of 1729 and subsequent French expeditions against them. The text concludes by describing the tribe’s significant reduction in size due to continuous warfare and forced resettlement.

The Chickasaw have had a simple, readily traceable history since the time when they first appear in our documents, and although from the point of view of the historian proper they might be made the subject of a long memoir, a short sketch will satisfy my present purpose. Our first notice of them is in the De Soto narratives and there we learn that they then possessed those great warlike qualities for which they were afterwards noted. De Soto passed the winter of 1540-41, from about Christmas to March 4, in what appears to have been the principal Chickasaw town. 1 On the evening of March 3 the Spanish commander made a demand on the Chickasaw chief for carriers so that he could set out in the morning, but early on that very day the Indians suddenly fell upon the camp in four bands, got past the sentinels with fire concealed in little pots — after the manner of Gideon — set fire to the town, and attacked the Spaniards so unexpectedly that only two were able to mount their horses, most of which ran away or were killed. The men on foot were also in such confusion that, had the Indians been aware of their advantage and pressed it, the chroniclers testify that not a soul would have survived. As it was, mistaking the horses running wildly about for cavalry preparing to charge them, the Indians became frightened and fled. Next day the badly shattered European force moved to a smaller town a league away, where the Chickasaw chief himself usually lived. There they set up a forge with bellow’s of bear skins and began to manufacture new saddles and spears, and to retemper their weapons. Fortunately for them the Indians left them in peace until the new weapons had been completed, and eight days later, when they ventured an assault, they were easily beaten off. 2 The Chickasaw thus have the distinction of being the tribe which came nearest to putting an end to De Soto and his entire army, and the escape of the whites was due rather to a number of fortuitous and unexpected circumstances than to their own foresight or bravery. In the interest of history and ethnology we may consider ourselves fortunate that the disaster was averted.

Neither the expedition of De Luna nor that of Pardo reached this tribe, although the Napochies 3 with whom De Luna fought were probably, in part at least, identical with the Napissa, noted by Iberville in 1699 as having united with the Chickasaw. 4 Spanish documents of the seventeenth century again mention them, but they do not reemerge into clear light until the settlement of Carolina and Louisiana. Woodward, in the account of his Westo discovery, dated 1674, mentions Chickasaw in connection with the Kasihta and Chiska Indians. 5 English traders had reached the Mississippi by 1700 and their first settlements among the Chickasaw must have been made at the same period. From then on the Chickasaw formed a base for the extension of British trade and British power, and they remained firmly attached to their English allies until the period of the American Revolution.

Shortly before 1715 the Chickasaw and Cherokee drove the Shawnee Indians from their long-established settlements on Cumberland River. 6 In 1745 a band of Shawnee returned to this region but were shortly afterwards driven out and retired among the Creeks. 7 Haywood thus records the Chickasaw tradition regarding the event:

The Chickasaws formerly claimed for their nation, exclusively, all the lands north of the Tennessee, and they have denied that the Cherokees were joined with them in the war against the Shawnees when they were driven from their settlements in Cumberland. They said that the Shawnees first came up the Tennessee in canoes, and thence up Bear Creek thirty miles; and there left their canoes, and came to war with the Chickasaws, and killed several of their nation. The Chickasaw chiefs and warriors embodied and drove them off. From thence they went to the Creeks, and lived with them for some time. They then returned and crossed at the Chickasaw Old Field, above the Muscle Shoals. From thence they went to Duck River and the Cumberland River, and settled there; and the Chickasaws discovered their settlements. Two of the chiefs of the Chickasaws who were in those days their principal leaders — the one named Opoia Matehah and the other Pinskey Matehah — raised their warriors and went against the Shawnees, and defeated them and took all their horses and brought them into the nation. The Cherokees, they said, had no share in the conquest, and that they drove the Shawnees themselves, without any assistance from any red people.

Haywood adds that “this information is contained in a public document of the nation, signed by Chenobee, the king, Maj. George Colbert, and others.” 8

This is part of a brief against the claims of the Cherokee to land north of the Tennessee and must be interpreted in the light of that fact, nor must too much confidence be placed in the particular narrative given, since the mythizing tendency always lays hold of such events, and, moreover, events belonging to several different years may be crowded together to set off one main fact.

French writers hold the Chickasaw, or the British traders through them, responsible in large part for the Natchez uprising of 1729, and from what Adair tells us there was evidently ground for the accusation. 9 At any rate, after the Natchez had been defeated and driven away by the Louisiana French, the latter turned their attention to the Chickasaw as allies of those implacable foes, and Bienville undertook to crush them by two simultaneous movements against their towns, from the north and south. The movements were not synchronized, however, and resulted in utter failure. D’Artaguette led 140 whites and about 300 Indians from his post on the Illinois, but between the Mississippi River and the Chickasaw country they were set upon by Indians and their English allies at the town of Hashuk humma, 10 their leader and a few others were captured and burned to death, and the rest of the force killed or dispersed. The army approaching from the south consisted of 500 French and numerous Choctaw allies. They attacked one of the palisaded villages of the Chickasaw, but were repulsed with heavy loss and retreated to Mobile. The Chickasaw on their side are said to have had 60 killed, but felt this so keenly that according to Andrews, a Cherokee trader, they “had quitted their lands and were drawn near to the Creeks, who received them kindly.” This, however, may refer to the Natchez, because the bulk of the Chickasaw certainly remained in the same situation. Under date of June 15, 1738, the above trader informed William Stephens that the Choctaw and French had fallen out, and this news determined some Chickasaw who had come to Carolina to return. 11

To retrieve the disaster he had suffered, Bienville, in 1740, collected a huge army on the Mississippi with which he hoped to deal his enemy a crushing blow, but, being unable adequately to provision such a force, the greater part was soon obliged to disband. A small expedition, under the Canadian Céloron, moved on toward the Chickasaw, who, believing it to be the advance guard of that huge host they had seen assembling against them, entered into a peace agreement, the terms of which on the surface were decidedly favorable to the French. Nevertheless, the Chickasaw recovered their courage as soon as the expedition had dissolved, the treaty became a dead letter, and the Indians were soon raiding French posts and intercepting canoes on the Mississippi as formerly. These wars were not undertaken without great losses on their part. Adair, who was with them in the forties, thus describes the manner in which their numbers had become reduced:

The Chikkasah in the year 1720, had four large 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, at the distance of twelve miles from their present towns. Another was ten computed miles long, at the like distance from their present settlements, and from one to two miles broad. The towns were called Shatara, Chookheereso, Hykehah, Tuskawillao, and Phalacheho. The other square was single, began three miles from their present place of residence, and ran four miles in length, and one mile in breadth. This was called Chookka Pharàah, or “the long house.” It was more populous than their whole nation contains at present. The remains of this once formidable people make up the northern angle of that broken square. They now scarcely consist of four hundred and fifty warriors, and are settled three miles westward from the deep creek, in a clear tract of rich land, about three miles square, running afterwards about five miles towards the N.W. where the old fields are usually a mile broad. The superior number of their enemies forced them to take into this narrow circle, for social defence; and to build their towns on commanding ground, at such a convenient distance from one another as to have their enemies, when attacked, between two fires. 12

From the estimates of Chickasaw population given in even very early times it would seem that this decrease was not as great as Adair supposes; the matter will be taken up in another place.

Besides the towns above enumerated one or two additional Chickasaw settlements are to be mentioned. Adair speaks of a town occupied by them “in the upper or most western part of the Muskohge country, about 300 miles eastward of their own nation,” which was known as “Ooe-ása,” the latter half of the word evidently from Chickasaw ansha, to settle, to stay. 13This can not have lasted long, as we find David Taitt, in a letter written at Tukabachee, March 16, 1772, saying:

About Thirteen Chickasaws were at the Abicouchies lately wanting to settle in this Nation: the Head man of the Town gave them leave to settle the Ground they formerly poesessed on Condition of their Continuing in this Land, they returned to their own lands and it is uncertain whether they come back. 14

The settlement must have been attempted, however, because 11 days later he met the very same number of Chickasaw in the Natchez town, and he says of them:

These Chickasaws are making a Settlement on the side of a Creek called Caimulga, about 15 miles north from this, and falling into the Coosa River at the Chickasaw Trading path, about a mile above Clamahumgey. 15

As a “Kiamulgatown” appears in the roll of towns taken just before the removal it is possible that these Chickasaw continued to occupy it until then, but it is more likely that they had been displaced by Creeks, or perhaps Shawnee. 16

Another Chickasaw settlement was made at a very early date near New Windsor on the South Carolina side of Savannah River. This was not later than the third decade of the eighteenth century, for in 1737, when they moved over to the newly established post of Augusta, Georgia, it is said that they had been located at the former place “for some time past.'” A Chickasaw band continued near Augusta probably down to the period of the American Revolution. The chief of the band in 1737 was named the “Squirrel King.” 17

In June, 1755, we find reference to 35 Chickasaw Indians “that usually reside about Augusta;” 18 and under date of November 27, 1760, the same records speak of Chickasaw settled at New Savannah, about 12 miles from Augusta. 19 In 1795 the tribe laid claim to land opposite Augusta on the basis of this early settlement, and a memorial was sent to the United States Government to substantiate it, 20 but it was probably not occupied after the Revolution. The later history of the Savannah band is thus given by Hawkins, quoting Tåsikaia miko, a Kasihta chief. It contains an interesting hint regarding the past history of the people under consideration.

Cussetuh and Chickasaw consider themselves as people of one fire (tote-kit-cau humgoce) from the earliest account of their origin. Cussetuh appointed the first Micco for them, directed him to sit down in the big Savanna, where they now are, and govern them. Some of the Chickasaws straggled off and settled near Augusta, from whence they returned and sat down near Cussetuh, and thence back to their nation. Cussetuh and Chickasaw have remained friends ever since their first acquaintance. 21

Hawkins adds that on account of this friendship the Kasihta town refused to take part in the war between the Creeks and Chickasaw in 1795.21 As Hawkins wrote in 1799 it appears that this band of Chickasaw had rejoined their own people by that date.

Still another outsettlement was on the lower course of the Tennessee River, where it is mentioned by Coxe 22 and some other very early writers, but it was soon abandoned for the main settlements. In comparatively late times a small body settled temporarily on the Ohio.

In 1752 and 1753 the Chickasaw defeated MM. Benoist and Reggio. 23 Under date of August, 1754, the Colonial Documents of Georgia inform us that the Chickasaw had been twice attacked, evidently referring to these expeditions, and reported that they could not stand a third assault without help. 24 Aid was in consequence sent to them. A little later war broke out with the Cherokee and terminated about 1768 with a decisive Chickasaw victory on the Chickasaw old fields. 25

During this period they were harassed more by the Choctaw and other French Indians than by the French, and their numbers fell off greatly in consequence. Romans, who visited their towns in 1771, compares them with the Choctaw rather to their own disadvantage. He says that the Chickasaw towns, or “town” as he chooses to call it, “they divide into seven by the names of Melattaw (i. e., hat and feather); Chatelaw (i. e., copper town); Chukafalaya (i. e., long town); Hikihaw (i. e., stand still); Chucalissa (i. e., great town); 26 Tuckahaw (i. e., a certain weed); and Ashuck hooma (i. e., red grass). This was formerly inclosed in palisadoes, and thus well fortified against the attacks of small arms, but now it lays open.” 27 He says that the traders nicknamed this tribe “the breed,” presumably on account of the extent to which it had intermixed with others and with the whites. He himself declares that there were only two genuine Chickasaw of the old stock living — one a man named Northwest.

The fidelity which this tribe had displayed with but individual, exceptions toward the English was afterwards transferred to the Americans, and few disputes arose between the two peoples. In 1786 official relations with the United States Government began when, by the Hopewell treaty, their northern boundary was placed at the Ohio. 28 In 1793-1795 war broke out with the Creeks, who invaded the Chickasaw country to the number of 1,000. Here they attacked a small stockade. They were met by a mere handful of Chickasaw, but an unaccountable panic seized the invaders, who fled precipitately. This victory was won by a body of about 200 Chickasaw. Soon afterwards peace was made. 29

Although they were at peace with the white settlers, the latter after this time began to press steadily in upon the Chickasaw, who, by a treaty signed July 23, 1805, made their first cession of territory to the United States Government. Further cessions were made September 14, 1816, October 19, 1818, and October 20, 1832. By the provisions of the treaty signed on the date last mentioned they yielded up their right to all of their lands to the east of the Mississippi 30 and accepted new homes in the territory now included in the State of Oklahoma. The actual migration began in 1822, ten years before the treaty was signed, and extended to 1838. Together with the Choctaw they occupied what is now the southeastern part of this State between the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers on the north and the Red River on the south. The two tribes mingled together rather indiscriminately at first, but were separated in 1855, the Chickasaw being assigned the westernmost part of the above area. Here a national government was established after the pattern of those of the Choctaw and the other “civilized tribes,” and this lasted until the nation merged into the State of Oklahoma, of which the Chickasaw are now citizens.

  1. T. H. Lewis discusses the location of the Chickasaw towns which De Soto visited in the National Magazine, vol. 15, pp. 57-61, 1891-92, criticizing the earlier investigations of Claiborne. The last word has evidently not been said on this subject.[]
  2. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, I, pp. 100-108; II, pp. 22-24, 131-135.[]
  3. See pp. 231-240.[]
  4. Margry, Déc, IV, pp. 164, 180, 184.[]
  5. S. Car. Hist. Soc. Colls., V, p. 461; and p. 307.[]
  6. Hanna, The Wilderness Trail, I, p. 131.[]
  7. Hanna, Wilderness Trail, II, p. 241.[]
  8. Haywood, Hist, of Tenn., p. 426.[]
  9. Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., pp. 353-354.[]
  10. Warren in Pub. Miss. Hist. Soc., VIII, p. 550.[]
  11. Ga. Col. Docs., IV, pp. 134, 166.[]
  12. Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., pp. 352, 353.[]
  13. Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., p. 54. Mr. Halbert Interprets it very plausibly as wiha ansha, “home of emigrants,” and identifies it with the Breed Camp mentioned in the census of 1761, perhaps because the Chickasaw Indians are known to have been called “the breed.”[]
  14. Mereness, Trav. in Amer. Col., pp. 525-526.[]
  15. Ibid., pp. 531-532.[]
  16. See p. 319.[]
  17. Ga. Col. Rec., IV, p. 47.[]
  18. Ibid., VII, p. 206.[]
  19. Ibid.,VIII, p. 433.[]
  20. Ramsey, Ann. of Tenn., p. 81.[]
  21. Hawkins, Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., III, p. 83.[]
  22. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1850, p. 229.[]
  23. Romans, Concise Nat. Hist. E. and W. Fla., p. 69.[]
  24. Ga. Col. Rec., VI, pp. 448-450.[]
  25. Haywood, Hist, of Tenn., pp. 446-462.[]
  26. The translation is wrong. It means “town deserted.”[]
  27. Romans, op. cit., p. 63.[]
  28. Eighteenth Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn., part 2, p. 650.[]
  29. Haywood, Hist. Tenn., p. 461; also Stiggins’s MS.[]
  30. See Eighteenth Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn., part 3.[]

Chickasaw, History,

Swanton, John Reed. Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors. US Government Printing Office. 1902.

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