Chickasaw Wars

The Chickasaw War of 1739

Through the instigation of The French the war was continued between the seemingly infatuated and blinded Choctaws and Chickasaws during the entire year 1737, yet without any perceptibly advantageous results to either. A long and bitter experience seemed wholly inadequate to teach them the selfish designs of the French. No one can believe the friendship of the French for the Choctaws was unassumed. They were unmerciful tyrants by whatever standard one may choose to measure them, and without a redeeming quality as far as their dealings with the North American Indians go to prove; and their desire for the good of that race of people utterly out of the question; and with equal truth may the same be affirmed of the entire White Race, whose universal opinion was just wise enough to measure the Red Race by the standard found in their own souls; therefore the North American Indians were called savages, and have been so denominated to this day, and are now made the foundation of innumerable and ridiculous myths. But Bienville, still chafing like an enraged bear, under the mortification of his defeat by the brave and patriotic Chickasaws, which but increased his desire and determination to destroy them and blot out their very name, devoted the year 1739 to preparation for another exterminating invasion into the country of that seemingly indomitable people; and, as an introductory step to the more successful accomplishment and full realization of his designs, he sent an embassy, in March 1739, to the Choctaws to conciliate their good will and obtain their aid. And strange as it may appear, Bienville secured thirty-two villages out of forty-two to the interests of the French, while, through the instigation and influence of Shulush Humma, the remaining ten decided in favor of the English.

And now, for the first time in their history, the Choctaws were divided into two parties. Shulush Humma, elated with his success in securing to himself even ten villages, made a clandestine visit, with about a hundred of his warriors, to the English settlements in now the State of Georgia, but for what purpose, it was never satisfactorily ascertained. By some, it was thought, he desired to adopt measures of mutual action between the English and his party against the French; by others, that he was influenced alone by the hope of reward. Be it as it may, he, through the influence of some unknown cause, suddenly changed his course of action, and, returning home, at once declared himself in favor of the French; soon after which he, to establish his sincerity, burned three English warehouses and then started, without delay, with a band of his warriors, on a war expedition, against the Chickasaws.

Chickasaw Wars
Area map of the Chickasaw Wars of 1720 – 1760. French campaigns began from New Orleans and Mobile in the south, and Fort de Chartres and Fort Vincennes in the north. Fort Prudhomme was a meeting place for d’Artaguette’s forces in 1736, and Fort Assumption was the meeting place for all attack forces in 1739.

Bienville was greatly pleased at the turn Shulush Humma had taken, as with the assistance of the entire Choctaw Nation, his long cherished hopes of exterminating the Chickasaws would now be fully realized. But to make his second attack upon them a sure and complete success with out the possibility of failure, he adopted every measure possible that might strengthen his plans; therefore called into requisition all the available troops he could command not only in Illinois and Canada, but even obtained troops from France; and still to be more sure, he chose a different route from that by the way of the Tombigbee river, to again invade the country of that little Nation of heroes for the avowed purpose of their extermination. He now determined to ascend the Mississippi river to a point on its banks, to be previously ascertained, nearest to Chikasahha, from which he had been so uncivilly and expeditiously induced to leave a few years before; this point was found to be near the mouth of a little creek called Margot, a few miles below the present city of Memphis, Tennessee, and about 120 miles from Chikasahha, the object of his unrelenting and diabolical vengeance, but whose sun of ancient glory still lingered on the western horizon, as if loth to set, and still displayed an effulgence of patriotism, which few nations could surpass, not even boasting France, of which Bienville was a subject.

The forces to be drawn from Illinois and Canada were to assemble on a river then St. John in now the state of Arkansas, with their headquarters on the bluff then called Chickasaw Bluff, on which is now located Memphis, Tennessee. By the last of June 1739, 1200 French soldiers and 2400 Indian warriors (allies of the French) had congregated, and the doom of the Chickasaw patriots seemed inevitably sealed. But the hand of Providence was again stretched out for their protection; for inexplicable causes delayed the French army at the place of rendezvous during the whole summer; in the intervening time, many soldiers, especially those from France and Canada, fell victims to the diseases peculiar to that malarial climate; in addition to this, their supply of provisions failed, as fully half, which had been forwarded from Fort St. Francis failed to reach their place of destination; and also 250 horses and 50 beeves, sent from Natchitoches, were lost en-route; nor was the marching route to Chikasahha fully established until nearly two months of exploration had been spent, by which time (January 1740) their provisions were exhausted.

But Bienville, still smarting and fretting under the recollection of his severe chastisement, and burning with a spirit of revenge that the utter extermination of the Chickasaws could only quench, obstinately refused to accede to any measures that tended to giving up the expedition, until coerced by a council of war convened in February, which declared a retreat absolutely indispensable. Immediately the main body of the army began its retreat down the Mississippi River, March 1740. But Celeron, the commander of the Canadian troops, with 100 Canadian soldiers and 500 Indian warriors, determined, upon his own responsibility, to go on to Chikasahha, and at once took up his line of march accordingly. But the Chickasaws, ever on the alert, and fully aware of the great army organized to invade their country with the avowed purpose to exterminate their Nation without regard to age or sex, and also of the approach of Celeron, whom they believed (fortunately for him) was but the van of the French army, sent an embassy to him to treat on measures of peace. Celeron at once accepted their proposition, and told them to report to Bienville, whom they soon overtook on his retreat to New Orleans. The Chickasaws evidently did not comprehend the true state of affairs at that time, for, had they truly known the demoralized state of the French, the peace embassy, instead of following after Bienville, would have hastened home, and at once prepared to receive Celeron, whom they could easily have defeated, as they had D’Artaguette and afterwards Bienville.

But Bienville gladly (yet un-manifested) accepted the propositions of peace, yet stated to them that the terms agreed upon would not include the Choctaws in the stipulations, and, therefore, they would still continue the war against them, and he would also continue to pay to the Choctaws the promised reward for every Chickasaw scalp taken by them until they should satisfactorily remunerate to them for the many injuries (creatures of Bienvilles own begetting) they had done them. Celeron at once returned to Fort Assumption, on the bluffs, which he destroyed and then started with his soldiers for their distant Canadian homes; while Bienville, with his troops, sought his southern post at New Orleans, there to hide his deep mortification under the cloak of false pretenses. And thus his second exterminating campaign against the Chickasaw patriots also evaporated in smoke the mountain labored and brought forth a diminutive mouse. And that brave little handful of heroes whom Bienville once declared “so formidable as to threaten the existence of the colony,” and afterwards represented them “as being the source of not much uneasiness to the colony,” nobly held their own, and still maintained their independence in spite of Bienville and his efforts to execute his threats.

Peace was then proclaimed to have been established between the Chickasaw Nation and the Kingdom of France; but it was a peace that left the Chickasaws the undaunted and unconquered lords of their own country, while to the jurisdiction of France, over the vast expanse of Indian Territory, which she claimed it left, but an empty name.

To the honor and praise of the Chickasaw people, it may truly be said: They fought single handed and alone for eighteen years against the French and their numerous Indian allies, kept them out of their country and maintained their independence to the last. Truly, history nowhere upon its pages, ancient or modern, records a nobler or braver little nation of people than the Chickasaws of North America. They defeated D’Artaguette and Bienville in 1736; Marquis of Vaudreuil in 1752, and Regio in 1753; and in 1771 sustained their authority over an extensive country, embracing the territory from middle Mississippi north to the mouth of the Ohio River, and from the Tombigbee river west to the Yazoo.

The French regarded the treaty of peace which Bienville had made with the Chickasaws as of no weight or importance, and totally failing of the desired intent, since the Choctaws still maintained that they had not as yet (1741) received any compensation for the injuries (more imaginary than real) inflicted upon them by the Chickasaws, which being supported by the French as a justifiable pretext to keep up hostilities between the Choctaws and Chickasaws, so much desired by Bienville, who had not forgotten the chastisement inflicted upon him by the latter for his temerity in entering their country uninvited; the Choctaws still imperatively demanded the coveted remuneration. Consequently these two nations were still at war, greatly to the joy and satisfaction of the wily French, who, with all their boasted friendship for the Choctaws, secretly rejoiced equally at the weakening and destruction of the one or the other of those two war-like nations, as the sequel will prove, while an in comprehensible infatuation seemed to effectually close their eyes, especially the Choctaws, against seeing the dark designs and artful hypocrisy of the French in regard to both nations.

But in their fratricidal conflicts the Choctaws, being fully supplied with guns and ammunition by the French, often got the advantage of the Chickasaws; and who, at various times, seemed to be threatened with the fate of the Natchez utter destruction and extinction as their numbers were fast being thinned and their strength ebbing away. At this crisis of affairs the different little bands of Natchez, who had found a temporary asylum among the noble and generous Chickasaws from their inveterate enemies, the French, and who had bravely assisted them in defense of their country, now, having learned that their presence but entailed additional trouble upon their generous and noble protectors, withdrew from them and sought safety among the Cherokees, who openly extended to them the hand of pitying charity.

Yet thousands of the White Race still regards the Red Race as being wholly void of humanity, generosity; in short, of every principle that distinguishes man from the brute. How great the opportunity for compassion to exercise its virtues upon such incomprehensible ignorance, which, with all the visible light that proclaims the absurdity of such erroneous views still clings to them with the tenacity of death, yet claiming to be civilized and informed; upon-the current events of this progressive age! What though dame Fortune has not been so generous in the bestowal of her favors upon the Red Race as upon the White! Since Nature has been equally as generous in her endowments of noble virtues to the Red as to the White; yea, more so, in withholding from the former the many dark vices with which she has endowed the latter, while bestowing upon her Red children those noble virtues which have called forth as great sacrifices, induced as arduous labors, excited as ardent hopes, awakened as high joys and produced as noble patriotism in the breast of the Red Race as ever was experienced or manifested in that of the White; nor have the grossest superstitions, the wild and absurd fancies that have presented themselves before mankind and received their homage, been found to any greater extent among the North American Indians than the European world, with all its boasted literary, scientific and religious attainments, while all the Christian virtues, moral stamina and social graces are found in the educated and Christian Indians as are found in the educated and Christian Whites.

With the Chickasaws and Choctaws there was no truce with a liar or slanderer. Their detestation of the one and abhorrence for the other were deep and abiding. The same may be said of all North American Indians, if the statements of the early explorers and missionaries may be relied on. They were never aggressive or oppressive in disposition, or abusive of anyone. They were firm of purpose, and of deep moral convictions, as understood by the light of nature. They were temperate in all their habits, and warmly sympathetic in their natures, shedding brightness everywhere, while their charitable dispositions were manifest to all. To their friends they were lovable in the full sense of the word, and no one who was brought into close contact with them could fail to love and admire them; and the nature of the warfare so long waged upon them is wholly responsible to the miserable and unreasonable misconception of their true characters, and the result of the personal rancor of the whites whose desire for their lands caused the uninformed to regard all Indians as incarnate devils, without a redeeming trait; therefore, the Indian has been and is today, the target against whom the scum of humanity have opened their batteries of abuse, slander and falsehood, while no weapon that money or influence can command has been left unused in their desperate efforts to discredit that innocent and helpless yet noble and unfortunate race with all mankind.

I am fully aware that this statement will not pass unchallenged by the thousands whose knowledge of Indian characteristics rest alone upon hearsay; nevertheless it is true and defies successful refutation. Such may deny it, but the truth remains all the same. I speak from the personal experience and knowledge of a long life sustained and confirmed by the testimony of all the old missionaries who have labored among the Indians during the last two centuries, and whose advantages for ascertaining the truth the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in regard to all that pertains to the North American Indians, surpassed all others in the world, and whose veracity none will question who have any knowledge of those self-sacrificing men of God.

Contemplate the noble sentiment expressed by that little remnant of Natchez Indians, whose nation had been blotted out a short time before by the French, in retiring from the Chickasaw Nation, when they learned that their presence but entailed upon their noble and generous benefactors the deeper animosity of their mutual enemies, the French, whose heart so hard, so lost to every principle of humanity as not to sympathize with those forlorn Natchez Indians, whose deep gloom and despondency must have shrouded their souls in darkest night, as they contemplated their help less and hopeless condition and looked out upon the dark cloud of desolation that hung over their future, beyond which not a ray of light gave promise of a returning morn bringing peace and joy to them.

But whence the cause of all this human woe? Its fountain head may be traced to the insatiable avarice of the white man, which has swallowed up all the finer sensibilities of his heart and left him a wild demon roaming over the earth, with destruction and woe closely following upon his heels. Verily, he who would deliberately add a single pang to the vast and fearful catalogue of sorrow already endured by that forlorn race of people still lingering within the jurisdiction of these United States is worse than a brute, and his caviling about the Indians proceed alone from profound ignorance and equal depravity of heart. Therefore, “let him not quit his belief that a pop-gun is a pop-gun, although the ancient and honorable of earth affirm it to be the crack of doom.”

The closing of the year 1742 still found the inconsiderate, deluded and misguided Chickasaws and Choctaws engaged in devastating war, as the Choctaws, with an incomprehensible infatuation and blindness, had now declared, through the influence of the French, that they would continue the war until the Chickasaws were driven from their ancient domains or entirely exterminated; and the first clause, at least, of their fratricidal threat seemed about to be verified, for many of the Chickasaws were then seeking an asylum among the English in the Carolinas, the Choctaws little dreaming they, in turn, were soon to be as deeply humiliated by the French, into whose hands they were so injudiciously, blindly and foolishly playing”, when trying to reduce and humiliate their brethren and kinsmen, the Chickasaws.

About two miles south of West Point, Mississippi, there are, or were many years ago, two mounds standing in a line of north and south, about 140 yards from each other. The tradition of both the old-time Chickasaws and Choctaws state that, in the years of the long past, a great battle was fought near where the two mounds now stand, between a company of Chickasaw and Choctaw warriors. The battle proved to be a drawn one, and both parties agreed to bury their dead without molestation, the one by the other. A large hole was excavated by each party in which they placed their respective dead, and filled up the grave, and then erected the mounds over their dead and buried warriors. The Chickasaws dead occupied the northern and the Choctaws the southern. This battle, no doubt, was one among the many they fought in their fearful conflicts with each other in behalf of the English and French, and today stand, in silence and solitude unknown, as living monuments of those fratricidal wars that so weakened both nations, to the secret joy of both the English and the French.

Cushman, Horatio Bardwell. History Of The Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, Texas: Headlight Printing House. 1899

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