|Like the Choctaws, the Chickasaws tattooed their bodies and faces in their traditional dress, as this 1777 woodcut shows. Men's hair style was
similar to the Caddoan shorn cut, but the hair was adorned with ribbons of decorated deer skins (LOC).
Linguistically as well as culturally, the Chickasaws are siblings to the Choctaws - both tribes, though separate, share a common origination
story. They are also kin to the Creeks; all three tribes speak the Muskogean language. In their history, the Chickasaws had a very
developed social hierarchy, with a nobility class based on ancestry, and well-developed, matrilineal clan system.
Their homelands in northern Mississippi and Alabama, western Tennessee and into Kentucky paralleled the Mississippi as well as the
Natchez Trace, which solidified the Chickasaws as important traders and, upon European contact, as ferriers into Louisiana Territory. They
defended their territory fiercely from any incursions, including Hernando de Soto and his conquistadors in the mid-16th century - it was the
Chickasaws tribe who defeated him after his troops tried to destroy one of their villages.
The Chickasaws traded with the French, Iroquois, Spanish, and English in guns and furs, but found the most advantageous trade with the
English. The tribe acclimated quite well to the English ways, too. They adopted English economic, religious, and social customs; many
members of the tribe converted to Christianity, attended mission academies, and became individual land owners who grew cash crops that
relied on African slave labor. Due to their trading relationships, the Chickasaws sided with the English during the American revolutionary
war. Afterwards, George Washington himself sought peace with the Chickasaws, but trouble brewed between the Anglo Americans and the
Indians in their native homelands. To the Anglos, all natives were hostile. As the Red Stick Creeks took up the warpath against the Anglo
intruders in 1811, Anglos directed their hostility towards the Choctaws and Chickasaws as well. None other than Andrew Jackson, Indian
Agent, future president, and supporter of federalized Indian removal, sided with the Anglos and convinced the Chickasaws and Choctaws
to reduce their territory. By the 1830s, the Chickasaws had ceded a large amount of territory to the states of Mississippi and Alabama.
Removing to Indian Territory
However, the Chickasaws refused to concede completely. The tribe wanted top-dollar for their land, and several Chickasaw planters sold
their concerns at private sales rather than to the U.S. government. The Chickasaws who were able to wait arrived in Indian Territory "in
large, comfortable carriages" surrounded by the people they had enslaved. The yeoman farming Chickasaws did not fare as well. Hundreds
died as they made their trek into Indian Territory after the federal Indian Removal Act of 1830. During the Chickasaw and Choctaw Trail of
Tears, residents in Washington, Arkansas, gave the Chickasaws food as they watched them walk through town, stricken with cholera.
When the Chickasaws arrived in Indian Territory, they did not immediately set up their own nation. Their removal treaty of 1834 stipulated
that they would find their own suitable lands. The Treaty of 1837 made them, for removal purposes, members of the Choctaw nation. Their
first major town in Indian Territory was Boggy Depot, established between Fort Arbuckle (the first one, then the latter one) and Fort
Washita. Very soon, this town became a thriving trading and transportation center. In 1855, the Chickasaws formally separated from the
Choctaw Nation and established the Chickasaw Nation in south-central Indian Territory by buying the western half of the Choctaw Nation.
They moved the seat of their government to Tishomingo after a survey left Boggy Depot inside the Choctaw Nation.
|The lands that the Chickasaws sold to private individuals and to the U.S. government in Mississippi garnered much more money than any of the
other "Five Civilized Tribes" who were forced to remove to Indian Territory in the 1830s. Not all Chickasaws benefitted from these sales, however;
only those who had primarily European ancestry and owned plantations and enslaved people could wait for the market price (LOC).
Setting up anew
Like the Choctaws, the Chickasaws established their own academies. In Chickasaw tradition, women headed the household. Education of
women was tantamount to success, so the Chickasaw's premier academy, Bloomfield, educated girls. A few of the Chickasaw families who
had already been materially successful in Mississippi replicated their financial success in Indian Territory, too. For example, Benjamin
Colbert, an Anglo-Chickasaw, had operated ferries along the Mississippi River. When he came to Indian Territory, he set up ferry crossing
along the Red River. His most famous ferry crossing spanned the between today's Colbert (Bryan County, Oklahoma) and Denison (Grayson
The Chickasaw Nation did not have a large population; therefore, their government encouraged Texas settlers to lease land for farming or
grazing. Not all Texans leased, however; many attempted to squat on the land illegally. Clashes between Chickasaws and Texan intruders
led to violence, especially in the border region around the Red River. The area that would become Love County was especially prone to
these outbursts. Brown Springs near Thackerville developed a sordid reputation for the discord between Chickasaws and Texans.
Civil War and after
The Chickasaws nearly unanimously sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. This misplaced loyalty led to the dissolution of their
nation after 1866. Like the Choctaws, the federal government obligated the Chickasaws in new treaties to distribute land to the freedmen in
the nation and to educate them. The Chickasaws refused, however, to adopt the freed people into their tribe.
Like the Choctaws, the Chickasaws were subjected to the stipulations of the Dawes Act of 1887 by 1893. This act forced them to use "blood
quantum" to determine who was, and wasn't, a Chickasaw, which assisted the U.S. government in uncovering who was entitled to land
allotments according to the registrants through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (what's called the Dawes Rolls). Many Chickasaws prospered
from the land allotments due to their ranches, which sustained the famous Chisholm Trail (known then as the Abilene Cattle Trail) that cut
through their territory.
Modern nation building
Railroads came to the Chickasaw country relatively late - only in the 1880s. But with the rail came a tourism boom. The Chickasaw Nation
claims the beautiful Arbuckle Mountains and the surrounding waters, including a long portion of the Blue River. A number of spa towns,
like Sulphur and Bromide, erupted from the ground (pun intended) and trains brought visitors from throughout the states to visit these
beautiful places. During this post-Civil War period, the western portion of the Chickasaw Territory was taken from the Chickasaws by the
federal government as reservations for the Plains Indian tribes, like the Kiowas and Comanches, as well as roaming tribes who had ceded
their homelands to the Anglos but had not received land in exchange, like the Caddos and Wichitas.
In 1924, the Chickasaws became U.S. citizens, but this didn't help them much. The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression hit the Chickasaws
especially hard, as their new homelands were much more arid and much more easily to over-work than their lands back east. As it had done
for other tribes, the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act helped the Chickasaws in regaining much of their autonomy, which allowed them to
weather through the hard times. Still, a large number of Chickasaws and Choctaws were displaced in this period.
Over the last few decades, the Chickasaw Nation has grown significantly in population as well as in wealth. Some of this success has to do
with casinos, which provides funds for education and health care to all tribal members. But a large share of the success stems from its own
citizens and the tribe's leadership, who have embraced their adopted homeland with love and devotion.
|William Orr depicted the Chickasaws burning the consquistador camp and attacking Hernando de Soto in an 1858 book (LOC).
|The Chickasaw Nation cleaved from the Choctaw Nation in 1855 after buying the western half of the Choctaw lands. By 1866, when this map was
printed, the Chickasaws were well established in their new home. Click on the map for a larger view (LOC).
A History of the Indians of the United States by Angie Debo
Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians by Grant Foreman