Chickasaw Indians. An important Muskhogean tribe, closely related to the Choctaw in language and customs, although the two tribes were mutually hostile. Aside from tradition, the earliest habitat traceable for the Chickasaw is north Mississippi. Their villages in the 18th century centered about Pontotoc and Union counties, where the headwaters of the Tombigbee meet those of Yazoo river and its affluent, the Tallahatchie, about where the De Soto narratives place them in 1540, under the name Chicaza. Their main landing place on the Mississippi was at Chickasaw Bluffs, now the site of Memphis, Tennessee, whence a trail more than 160 miles long led to their villages. They had two other landing places farther up the Mississippi. Adair, who for many years was a trader among the Chickasaw and gives a full and circumstantial account of them1, states that in 1720 they had four contiguous settlements, and that the towns of one of these were:
Two of the other settlements of which he gives the names were Yaneka, 6 miles long, and Chookka Pharáah (Chukafalava), 4 miles long. Romans2 describing their country and villages, says that they “live nearly in the center of an uneven and large nitrous savannah; have in it 1 town, 1½ miles long, very narrow and irregular; this they divide into 7 (towns) by the names of:
- Amalahta ‘hat and feather’
- Chatelaw ‘copper town’
- Chukafalaya ‘long town’
- Hikkihaw ‘stand still’
- Chucalissa ‘great town’
- Tuckahaw ‘a cert’n weed’
- Ashukhuma ‘red grass’
Formerly the whole was inclosed in palisadoes.”
Chickasaw Indians History
The warlike Chickasaw claimed other territory far beyond the narrow limits of their villages, and extending on the north to the confluence of the Ohio with the Tennessee. They also claimed n large area north of the Tennessee to the ridge between Duck river and the Cumberland to the headwaters of Duck river and south to Chickasaw Old Fields on the Tennessee, thence along an indeterminate southeast line to the Mississippi. This claim was admitted by the Cherokee.
According to Haywood and other authorities an outlying colony of Chickasaw formerly dwelt on Savannah river nearly opposite Augusta, Georgia, but trouble with the Creeks drove them westward again. In 1795 the Chickasaw claimed payment from the United States for the land on the Savannah thus occupied.
The Chickasaw were noted from remote times for their bravery, independence, and warlike disposition. They were constantly fighting with the neighboring tribes; sometimes with the Choctaw and Creeks, then with the Cherokee, Illinois, Kickapoo, Shawnee, Mobilians, Osage, and Quapaw. In 1732 they cut to pieces a war party of Iroquois who had invaded their country. They were constant enemies of the French, a feeling intensified by the intrigues of British traders and their hatred of the Choctaw who had entered into friendly relations with the French colonists. The Chickasaw urged the Natchez to resist the French encroachments, and gave shelter to them when driven from their home. They defeated the French at Amalahta in 1736, at the Long House and other points, and baffled their attempts at conquest in the war of 1739-40. They combined with the Cherokee about 1715 and drove the Shawnee from their home on the Cumberland, and in 1769 utterly routed, at Chickasaw Old Fields, these former Cherokee allies.
Their relations with the United States began with the Hopewell treaty in 1786, when their boundary on the north was fixed at the Ohio river. They began to emigrate west of the Mississippi as early as 1822, and treaties for the removal of those who remained in their old seats were made in 1832 and 1834. By the treaty of 1855 their lands in Indian Territory were definitely separated from those of the Choctaw, with which they had before been included.
In manners and customs they differed little from their congeners, the Choctaw, the principal difference being the more sedentary habits and greater devotion to agricultural pursuits by the Choctaw on the one hand, and the more turbulent, restless, and warlike disposition of the Chickasaw on the other. Their traditional origin is the same as that of the Creeks and Choctaw, and is given in the so-called “Creek migration legend“. The Chickasaw appear to have sheltered and ultimately incorporated into their organization the small tribes along Yazoo river, who spoke substantially the same language.
The Chickasaw language served as a medium of commercial and tribal intercourse for all the tribes along the lower Mississippi. Early estimates of population vary widely, those of the 18th century ranging from 2,000 to nearly 6,000. According to Adair3 they had been much more numerous than during his time (1744), one of the two divisions, the “Long House,” numbering not more than 450 warriors, indicating a population of 1,600 to 1,800 persons. He gives no estimate of the other division, but assuming it to have been about the same, the population of the entire tribe was between 3,000 and 4,000. Morse4 though estimating the Choctaw at 25,000, gives the Chickasaw population as 3,625. In 1865 the estimated population was 4,500; in 1904 the official number was given as 4,820, including mixed bloods.
For Further Study
The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Chickasaw as both an ethnological study, and as a people.