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Editor’s Note: Chahta is a derivative for Choctaw, so the following information is referencing the Choctaw Indians.
The southwestern area of the Maskoki territory was occupied by the Chahta people, and in the eighteenth century this was probably the most populous of all Maskoki divisions. They dwelt in the middle and southern parts of what is now Mississippi State, where, according to early authors, they had from fifty to seventy villages; they then extended from the Mississippi to Tombigbee River, and east of it.
The tribes of Tuskalusa or Black Warrior, and that of Mauvila, which offered such a bold resistance to H. de Soto’s soldiers, were of Chahta lineage, though it is not possible at present to state the location of their towns at so remote a period.
On account of their vicinity to the French colonies at Mobile, Biloxi, New Orleans, and on other points of the Lower Mississippi, the Chahta associated early with the colonists, and became their allies in Indian wars. The French and British traders called them Têtes-Plattes, Flatheads. In the third French war against the Naktche a large body of Chahta warriors served as allies under the French commander, and on January 27, 1730, before daylight, made a furious onslaught on their principal village, killing sixty enemies and rescuing fifty-nine French women and children and one hundred and fifty Negro slaves previously captured by the tribe (Claiborne, Mississippi, I, 45. 46). In the Chicasa war fourteen hundred Chahta Indians aided the French army in its attack on the Chúka pháraah or Long-House Town, as auxiliaries (Adair, History, p. 354).
They continued friends of the French until (as stated by Romans, Florida, p. 74) some English traders found means to draw the eastern party and the district of Coosa (together called Oypat-oocooloo, “small nation”) into a civil war with the western divisions, called Oocooloo-Falaya (“long tribe”), Oocooloo-Hanalé (“six tribes”), and Chickasaw-hays, which, after many conflicts and the destruction of East Congeeto, ended with the peace of 1763.
The Chahta did not rely so much on the products of the chase, as other tribes, but preferred to till the ground extensively and with care. Later travelers, like Adair, depict their character and morality in very dark colors. In war, the Chahta east of the Mississippi River were less aggressive than those who resided west of it, for the policy of keeping in the defensive agreed best with their dull and slow disposition of mind. About 1732, the ordinary, though contested boundary between them and the Creek confederacy was the ridge that separates the waters of the Tombigbee from those of the Alabama River. Their principal wars, always defensive and not very sanguinary, were fought with the Creeks; in a conflict of six years, 1765-1771, they lost about three hundred men (Gallatin, Synopsis, p. 100). Claiborne mentions a battle fought between the two nations on the eastern bank of Noxubee River, about five miles west of Cooksville, Noxubee County, Mississippi. Charles Dobbs, the settler at the farm including the burying-ground of those who fell in that battle, opened it in 1832, and found many Spanish dollars in the graves. It was some three hundred yards northeast of the junction of Shuqualak creek with the river. A decisive victory of the Chahta took place at Nusic-heah, or Line creek, over the Chocchuma Indians, who belonged to the Chicasa connection; the battle occurred south of that creek, at a locality named Lyons Bluff.1
Milfort establishes a thorough distinction between the northern and the southern Chahta as to their pursuits of life and moral character. The Chahta of the northern section are warlike and brave, wear garments, and crop their hair in Creek fashion. The southern Chahta, settled on fertile ground west of Mobile and southwest of Pascogoula, are dirty, indolent and cowardly, miserably dressed and inveterate beggars. Both sections could in his time raise six thousand warriors (p. 285-292). The mortuary customs, part of which were exceedingly barbaric, are spoken of with many details by Milfort (p. 292-304); their practices in cases of divorce and adultery (p. 304-311) are dwelt upon by several other writers, and were of a revolting character.2
- For further information on Chahta burial customs visit the following manuscript: Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi
No mention is made of the “great house” or ” the square” in Chahta towns, as it existed in every one of the larger Creek communities, nor of the green corn dance. But they had the favorite game of chunké, and played at ball between village and village (B. Romans, p. 79. 80). The men assisted their wives in their agricultural labors and in many other works connected with the household.3 The practice of flattening the heads extended to the male children only; the Aimará of Peru observed the same exclusive custom.
The collecting and cleaning of the bones of corpses was a custom existing throughout the southern as well as the northern Indians east of Mississippi river, and among some tribes west of it. Every tribe practiced it in a different manner; the Chahta employed for the cleaning: “old gentlemen with very long nails,” and deposited the remains, placed in boxes, in the bone houses existing in every town.4 Tombigbee River received its name from this class of men: itúmbi-bíkpi “coffin-maker.” The Indians at Fort Orange or Albany (probably the Mohawks) bound up the cleaned bones in small bundles and buried them: De Vries, Voyages (1642) p. 164; the Nanticokes removed them to the place from which the tribe had emigrated (Heckewelder, Delawares, p. 75 sq.) Similar customs were observed among the Dakota-Santees, Shetimashas and several South American tribes. Captain Smith mentions the quiogozon or burial place of Virginia chiefs.5
The Chahta also had the custom, observed down to the present century, of setting up poles around their new graves, on which they hung hoops, wreaths, etc., for the spirit to ascend upon. Around these the survivors gathered every day at sunrise, noon, sunset, emitting convulsive cries during thirty to forty days. On the last day all neighbors assembled, the poles were pulled up, and the lamentation ended with drinking, carousing and great disorders.6
The Chicasa are not known to have settled west of the Mississippi river to any extensive degree, but their southern neighbors and relations, the Chahta, did so at an early epoch, no doubt prompted by the increase of population. The Chahta emigrating to these western parts were looked at by their countrymen at home in the same light as the Seminoles were by the Creeks. They were considered as outcasts, on account of the turbulent and lawless elements which made up a large part of them.
On the middle course of Red river Milfort met a body of Chahta Indians, who had quitted their country about 1755 in quest of better hunting grounds, and were involved in frequent quarrels with the Caddos (p. 95).
The French found several Chahta tribes, as the Bayogoula, Huma and Acolapissa, settled upon Mississippi River. In the eighteenth century the inland Shetimasha on Grand Lake were constantly harassed by Chahta incursions. About 1809 a Chahta village existed on Washita River, another on Bayou Chicot, Opelousas Parish, Louisiana. Morse mentions for 1820 twelve hundred Chahta Indians on the Sabine and Neche Rivers, one hundred and forty on Red River near Nanatsoho, or Pecan Point, and many lived scattered around that district. At the present time (1882), encampments of Biloxis, who speak the Chahta language, exist in the forests of Louisiana south of Red River.
The Chahta nation is formally, though not locally, divided into two iksa (yéksa) or kinships, which exist promiscuously throughout their territory. These divisions were defined by Allen Wright as:
- Kasháp-úkla or kashápa úkěla (ókla) “part of the people;”
- Úkla iⁿhuláhta “people of the headmen.”
Besides this, there is another formal division into three okla, districts or fires, the names of which were partly alluded to in the passage from B. Romans:
- ókla fálaya “long people”;
- áhepat ókla “potato-eating people”;
- ókla hánnali “Sixtown people,” who used a special dialect.
The list of Chahta gentes, as printed in Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society7 stands as follows:
First phratry: kúshap ókla or Divided People. Four gentes:
- kush-iksa, reed gens.
- Law okla.
Second phratry: wátaki huláta or Beloved People, “people of head-men”: Four gentes:
- chufan íksa, beloved people.
- iskuláni, small (people) ,
- chito, large (people );
- shakch-úkla, cray-fish people.
Property and the office of chief was hereditary in the gens.
As far as the wording is concerned, Morgans list is not satisfactory, but being the only one extant I present it as it is.
Rev. Alfred Wright, missionary of the Chahta, knows of six gentes only, but states that there were two great families who could not intermarry. These were, as stated by Morgan, the reed gens and the chufan gens. Wright then continues: “Womans brothers are considered natural guardians of the children, even during fathers lifetime; counsel was taken for criminals from their phratry, the opposite phratry, or rather the principal men of this, acting as accusers. If they failed to adjust the case, the principal men of the next larger division took it up: if they also failed, the case then came before the itimoklushas and the shakch-uklas, whose decision was final. This practice is falling in disuse now.” A business-like and truly judicial proceeding like this does much honor to the character and policy of the Chahta, and will be found in but a few other Indian communities. It must have acted powerfully against the prevailing practice of family revenge, and served to establish a state of safety for the lives of individuals.
More points on Chahta ethnography will be found in the Notes to B. F. French, Histor. Collect, of La., III, 128-139.
The legends of the Chahta speak of a giant race, peaceable and agricultural (nahúllo)8 , and also of a cannibal race, both of which they met east of the Mississippi River.
The Chahta trace their mythic origin from the “Stooping, Leaning or Winding Hill,” Náni Wáya, a mound of fifty feet altitude, situated in Winston County, Mississippi, on the headwaters of Pearl River. The top of this “birthplace” of the nation is level, and has a surface of about one-fourth of an acre. One legend states, that the Chahta arrived there, after crossing the Mississippi and separating from the Chicasa, who went north during an epidemic. Nanna Waya Creek runs through the southeastern parts of Winston County, Miss.
Another place, far-famed in Chahta folklore, was the “House of Warriors,” Taska-tchúka, the oldest settlement in the nation, and standing on the verge of the Kúshtush9 . It lay in Neshoba County, Mississippi. It was a sort of temple, and the Unkala, a priestly order, had the custody or care of it. The I′ksa A′numpule or “clan-speakers” prepared the bones of great warriors for burial, and the Unkala went at the head of the mourners to that temple, chanting hymns in an unknown tongue.10
The curious tale of the origin of the Chahta from Náni Wáya has been often referred to by authors. B. Romans states that they showed the “hole in the ground,” from which they came, between their nation and the Chicasa, and told the colonists that their neighbors were surprised at seeing a people rise at once out of the earth (p. 71). The most circumstantial account of this preternatural occurrence is laid down in the following narrative.11 “When the earth was a level plain in the condition of a quagmire, a superior being, in appearance a red man, came down from above, and alighting near the centre of the Choctaw nation, threw up a large mound or hill, called Nanne Wayah, stooping or sloping hill. Then he caused the red people to come out of it, and when he supposed that a sufficient number had come out, he stamped on the ground with his foot. When this signal of his power was given, some were partly formed, others were just raising their heads above the mud, emerging into light,12 and struggling into life. . . . Thus seated on the area of their hill, they were told by their Creator they should live forever. But they did not seem to understand what he had told them; therefore he took away from them the grant of immortality, and made them subject to death. The earth then indurated, the hills were formed by the agitation of the waters and winds on the soft mud. The Creator then told the people that the earth would bring forth the chestnut, hickory nut and acorn; it is likely that maize was discovered, but long afterward, by a crow. Men began to cover themselves by the long moss (abundant in southern climates), which they tied around their waists; then were invented bow and arrows, and the skins of the game used for clothing.”
Here the creation of the Chahta is made coeval with the creation of the earth, and some features of the story give evidence of modern and rationalistic tendencies of the relator. Other Chahta traditions state that the people came from the west, and stopped at Nani Waya, only to obtain their laws and phratries from the Creator a story made to resemble the legislation on Mount Sinai. Other legends conveyed the belief that the emerging from the sacred hill took place only four or five generations before.13
The emerging of the human beings from the top of a hill is an event not unheard of in American mythology, and should not be associated with a simultaneous creation of man. It refers to the coming up of primeval man from a lower world into a preexistent upper world, through some orifice. A graphic representation of this idea will be found in the Navajo creation myth, published in Amer. Antiquarian V, 207-224, from which extracts are given in this volume below. Five different worlds are supposed to have existed, superposed to each other, and some of the orifices through which the “old people” crawled up are visible at the present time.
The published maps of the Chahta country, drawn in colonial times, are too imperfect to give us a clear idea of the situation of their towns. From more recent sources it appears that these settlements consisted of smaller groups of cabins clustered together in tribes, perhaps also after gentes, as we see it done among the Mississippi tribes and in a few instances among the Creeks.
The “old Choctaw Boundary Line,” as marked upon the U. S. Land Office map of 1878, runs from Prentiss, a point on the Mississippi river in Bolivar county (33° 37′ Lat.), Miss., in a southeastern direction to a point on Yazoo River, in Holmes County. The “Chicasaw Boundary Line” runs from the Tunica Old Fields, in Tunica county, opposite Helena, on Mississippi River (34 33 Lat.), southeast through Coffeeville in Yallabusha County, to a point in Sumner County, eastern part. The “Choctaw Boundary Line” passes from east to west, following approximately the 31° 50′ of Lat., from the Eastern boundary of Mississippi State to the southwest corner of Copiah County. All these boundary lines were run after the conclusion of the treaty at Doaks Stand.
The Cusha Indians, also called Coosa, Coosahs, had settlements on the Cusha creeks, in Lauderdale County.
The Ukla-faláya, or “Long People,” were settled in Leake County. (?)
The Cofetaláya were inhabiting Atala and Choctaw Counties, settled at French Camp, etc., on the old military road leading to Old Doaks Stand; General Jackson advanced through this road, when marching south to meet the English army.
Pineshuk Indians, on a branch of Pearl River, in Winston County.
Boguechito Indians, on stream of the same name in Neshoba County, near Philadelphia. Some Mugulashas lived in the Boguechito district; Wiatakali was one of the villages. “Yazoo Old Village” also stood in Neshoba County.
Sixtowns or English-Towns, a group of six villages in Smith and Jasper Counties. Adair, p. 298, mentions “seven towns that lie close together and next to New Orleans”, perhaps meaning these. The names of the six towns were as follows: Chinokabi, Okatallia, Killis-tamaha (kílis, in Creek: inkílisi, is English), Tallatown, Nashoweya, Bishkon.
Sukinatchi or “Factory Indians” settlement, in Lowndes and Kemper Counties. Allamutcha Old Town was ten miles from Sukinatchi Creek.
Yauana, Yowanne was a palisaded town on Pascagoula River, or one of its affluents; cf. Adair, History, 297-299. 301. He calls it remote but considerable; it has its name from a worm, very destructive to corn in the wet season. French maps place it on the same river, where “Chicachae” fort stood above, and call it: “Yauana, dernier village des Choctaws.” “Yoani, on the banks of the Pasca Oocooloo (Pascagoula)”; B. Romans, p. 86.
An old Chahta Agency was in Oktibbeha County.
Cobb Indians; west of Pearl River.
Shuqualak in Noxubee County.
Chicasawhay Indians on river of the same name, an affluent of the Pascagoula river; B. Romans, p. 86, states, that “the Choctaws of Chicasahay and the Yoani on Pasca Oocooloo River ” are the only Chahta able to swim.
It may be collected from the above, that the main settlements of the Northern Chahta were between Mobile and Big Black River, east and west, and between 32° and 33° 30′ Lat., where their remnants reside even nowadays.
Claiborne, Mississippi, Appendix, I, p. 485. 486. ↩
Cf. B. Romans, E. and W. Florida, p. 86-89. ↩
B. Romans, p. 86. He describes education among the Chahta, p. 76. 77; the sarbacane or blow-gun, p. 77. ↩
B. Romans, p. 89. 90. ↩
Cf. Lawson, History of Carolina (Reprint 1860), p. 297. More information on Chahta burials will be found in H. C. Yarrow, Indian mortuary customs; in First Report of U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, 1879-1880; especially p. 185. ↩
Missionary Herald of Boston, 1828 (vol. xxiv) p. 380, in an article on Religious Opinions, etc., of the Choctaws, by Rev. Alfred Wright. ↩
Published New York, 1877. pp. 99. 162. ↩
Nahullo, nahúnlo means: greater, higher race, eminent race; though the original meaning is that of “more sacred, more honorable.” A white man is called by the Chahta: nahúllo. ↩
Custusha creek runs into Kentawha Creek, affluent of Big Black River, in Neshoba County. ↩
Claiborne, Mississippi, I, p. 518. ↩
Missionary Herald, 1828, p. 181. ↩
Compare the poetic vision, parallel to this, contained in Ezekiel. ↩
Missionary Herald, 1828, p. 215. ↩