The Chickasaws, although at the period of a small nation, were once numerous, and their language was spoken by many tribes in the Western States. They were the fiercest, most insolent, haughty and cruel people among the Southern Indians. They had proved their bravery and intrepidity in constant wars. In 1541, they attacked the camp of De Soto in a most furious midnight assault, threw his army into dismay, killed some of his soldiers, destroyed all his baggage, and burnt up the town in which he was quartered. In 1736, they whipped the French under Bienville, who had invaded their country, and forced them to retreat to Mobile. In 1753, MM. Bevist and Regio encountered defeat at their hands. They continually attacked the boats of the French voyagers upon the Mississippi and Tennessee. They were constantly at war with the Kickapoos and other tribes upon the Ohio, but were defeated in most of these engagements. But, with the English as their allies, they were eminently successful against the Choctaws and Creeks, with whom they were often at variance.
The Chickasaws were great robbers, and, like the Creeks, often invaded a country, killing the inhabitants and carrying off slaves and plunder. The men considered the cultivation of the earth beneath them; and, when not engaged in hunting or warfare, slept away their time or played upon flutes, while their women were at work. They were athletic, well formed and graceful. The women were cleanly, industrious, and generally good-looking.
In 1771, they lived in the centre of a large and gently rolling prairie, three miles square. They obtained their water from holes, which dried up in summer. In this prairie was an assemblage of houses one mile and a half long, very narrow, and irregular, which was divided into seven towns, as follows:
- Mellattau–hat and feather.
- Chatelau–copper town.
- Chuckafalaya–long town.
- Hickihaw–stand still.
- Chucalissa–great town.
- Tuckahaw–a certain weed.
- Ash-wick-boo-ma–red grass.
The last was once well fortified with palisades, and there they defeated D’Artaguette. The nearest running water was two miles distant; the next was four miles off, to which point canoes could ascend from the Tombigby in high tide. The ford, which often proved difficult of crossing, was called Nahoola Inalchubba–the white man’s hard labor. Horses and cattle increased rapidly in this country. The breed of the former descended from importations from Arabia to Spain, from Spain to Mexico, and from thence to the Chickasaw nation. Here they ran wild in immense droves, galloping over the beautiful prairies, the sun glittering upon their various colors. They were owned by the Indians and traders.
The Chickasaws were very imperious in their carriage towards females, and extremely jealous of their wives. Like the Creeks, they punished adultery by beating with poles until the sufferer was senseless, and then concluded by cropping the ears, and, for the second offence, the nose or a piece of the upper lip. Notwithstanding they resided so far from large streams, they were all excellent swimmers, and their children were taught that art in clay holes and pools, which remained filled with water unless the summer was remarkably dry.
Of all the Indians in America, they were the most expert in tracking. They would follow their flying enemy on a long gallop over any kind of ground without mistaking, where perhaps only a blade of grass bent down told the footprint. Again, when they were leisurely hunting over the woods, and came upon an indistinct trail recently made by Indians, they knew at once of what nation they were by the footprints, the hatchet chops upon the trees, their camp-fires, and other distinguishing marks. They were also esteemed to be admirable hunters, and their extensive plains and unbroken forests afforded them the widest field for the display of their skill. In 1771 their grounds extended from Middle Mississippi to the mouth of the Ohio, and some distance into the territory of the present State of Tennessee. But this extreme northern ground they visited with caution, and only in the winter, when their northern enemies were close at home. They were often surprised on the sources of the Yazoo, but below there, and as far east as the branches of the Tombigby to Oaktibbehaw they hunted undisturbed. This last point they regarded as the boundary between them and the Choctaws. With the latter they had no jealousies in regard to the chase, and they sported upon each others’ grounds when not at war. Although the country of the Chickasaws abounded with that valuable animal, the beaver, they left them for the traders to capture, saying, “Anybody can kill a beaver.” They pursued the more noble and difficult sport of overcoming the fleet deer, and the equally swift and more formidable elk.
The summer habitations of the Chickasaws were cabins of an oblong shape, near which were corn-houses. In the yard stood also a winter house of a circular form. Having no chimneys, the smoke found its way out of this “hot-house” wherever it could. These they entered and slept all night, stifled with smoke, and, no matter how cold the morning, they came forth naked and sweating as soon as the day dawned. These houses were used by the sick also, who, remaining in them until perspiration ensued, jumped suddenly into holes of cold water.
They dried and pounded their corn before it came to maturity, which they called Boota-capassa–coal flour. A small quantity of this thrown into water swelled immediately, and made a fine beverage. They used hickory nut and bear’s oil, and the traders learned them to make the hams of the bear into bacon. In 1771 the whole number of gunmen in the Chickasaw nation only amounted to about two hundred and fifty. It is astonishing what a handful of warriors had so long kept neighboring nations of great strength from destroying them. They buried their dead the moment vitality ceased, in the very spot where the bed stood upon which the deceased lay, and the nearest relatives mourned over it with woeful lamentations. This mourning continued for twelve moons, the women practicing it openly and vociferously, and the men silently. 1
The modern reader may form some idea of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, as they once existed, by briefly tracing the route of Captain Roman through their country. He began his tour at Mobile, encamped at Spring Hill, passed the head waters of Dog river, and again encamped at Bouge Hooma–red creek–the boundary between the English and the Choctaws. Pursuing his journey, the camp was pitched at Hoopa Ulla–noisy owl–where he saw the Creek painting illustrated here. Then passing Okee Ulla–noisy water– and the towns of Coosa, Haanka Ulla–howling goose–he crossed a branch of the Sookhan-Hatcha River. He reached a deserted town called Etuck Chukke–blue wood–passed through Abecka, an inhabited town, and there crossed another branch of the Sookhan-Hatcha, and arrived at Ebeetap Oocoola, where the Choctaws had erected a large stockade fort. A southwestern direction was now assumed, and Captain Roman passed through the following towns: Chooka, Hoola, Oka Hoola, Hoola Taffa, Ebeetap Ocoola Cho, Oka Attakkala, and crossing Bouge Fooka and Bouge Chitto, which runs into Bouge Aithe Tanne, arrived at the house of Benjamin James, at Chickasaha.
He set out from this place for the Chickasaw nation, and crossed only two streams of importance–Nashooba and Oktibbehaw. Without accident he arrived at the Chickasaw towns [already] enumerated, and lying within a few miles of Pontitoc. He proceeded east-by-south five miles and crossed Nahoola-Inal-chubba–town creek–and then assumed a southeast direction, and arrived at the Twenty-mile creek, a large branch of the Tombigby. At the mouth of Nahoola-Inalchubba, Captain Roman found a large canoe, in which he and his companions embarked and proceeded down the Tombigby. One mile below, on the west bank, they passed a bluff on which the French formerly had a fortified trading post. Captain Roman next saw the mouth of the Oktibbehaw, the dividing line between the two nations, and passed the mouth of the Nasheba, on the east. Floating with rapidity down the river, he next came to the Noxshubby, on the west side, and then to the mouth a creek called Etomba-Igaby–box maker’s creek–where the French had a fort. 2 From this creek, the name of which has been corrupted by the French to “Tombeckbe,” and by the Americans to “Tombigby,” the river takes its name. Upon it lived an Indian who made chests to hold the bones of the Choctaws.
Roman came to the confluence of the Tombigby and Warrior, and, a little below, passed some steep chalky bluffs, which the traders called the Chickasaw Gallery, because from this point they were accustomed to shoot at the French boats. On the top of this bluff was a vast plain, with some remains of huts standing upon it. 3 Three miles below the mouth of the Soukan-Hatcha, Roman came upon the old towns of the Coosawdas and Oahchois, commencing at Sactaloosa–black bluff–and extending from thence down the river for some distance. 4
Next, passing a high bluff called Nanna Fallaya, he reached Batcha Chooka, a bluff on the east side, where he encountered a desperate band of thieves, belonging to the town of Okaloosa, of the Choctaws. He then came to some bluffs called Nanna Chahaws, where a gray flat rock, called Teeakhaily Ekutapa, rises out of the water. Jan. 20 1772: Here the people of Chickasaha once had a settlement. Lower down, the party saw a bluff upon the east side, called Yagna Hoolah–beloved ground–and encamped at the mouth of Sintabouge–snake creek–three miles below which was the English line separating them from the Choctaws. Having entered the British settlements, Captain Roman continued his voyage until he reached Mobile. 5
- Barnard Roman’s Florida, pp. 59-71.[↩]
- Now Jones’ Bluff.[↩]
- Now the site of Demopolis[↩]
- Some of the Alabamas living at the town of that name below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, and some Creeks of the town of Oakchoy, to be nearer the French, who were their friends, moved upon the main Tombigby, and the deserted towns which Romans mentions were those in which they had formerly lived.[↩]
- Roman’s Florida.[↩]