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Choctaw Indians

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Choctaw Tribe: Meaning unknown, though Halbert (1901) has suggested that they received their name from Pearl River, “Hachha”. Also called:

Choctaw Connections. This was the largest tribe belonging to the southern Muskhogean branch. Linguistically, but not physically, it was most closely allied with the Chickasaw and after them with the Alabama.

Choctaw Location. Nearly all of the Choctaw towns were in the southeastern part of Mississippi though they controlled the adjoining territory in the present State of Alabama. The small tribes of Mobile were sometimes called Choctaw. (See also Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Arkansas.)

Choctaw Villages

From the earliest times of which we have any knowledge the Choctaw villages were distributed into three divisions: a southern, a northeastern, and a western, though a central group may also be distinguished. The southern division is fairly well defined by our several informants, but there is considerable disagreement with reference to the others. One authority gives but two divisions, an eastern and a western, and even cuts up the southern group between them. The following locations were established largely by Mr. H. S. Halbert (1901):

Southern or Sixtown Division:

Western Division:

Northeastern Division:

The following were outside the original town cluster:

A few other names of towns placed in the old Choctaw country appear on various maps, but most of these are probably intended for some of the villages given above.

Choctaw History

After leaving the ruins of Mabila, De Soto and his followers, according to the Gentleman of Elvas (see Robertson, 1933), reached a province called Pafallaya, but, according to Ranjel, to a chief river called Apafalaya. Halbert is undoubtedly right in believing that in these words we have the old name of the Choctaw, Pansfalaya, “Long Hairs,” and this is the first appearance of the Choctaw tribe in history. We hear of them again, in Spanish Florida documents of the latter part of the seventeenth century, and from this time on they occupied the geographical position always associated with them until their removal beyond the Mississippi. The French of necessity had intimate dealings with them from the time when Louisiana was first colonized, and the relations between the two peoples were almost invariably friendly. At one time an English party was formed among the Choctaw, partly because the prices charged by the Carolina traders were lower than those placed upon French goods. This was led by a noted chief named Red Shoes and lasted for a considerable time, one of the principal Choctaw towns being burned before it came to an end with the defeat of the British Party in 1750. In 1763, after French Government had given way to that of the English east of the Mississippi, relations between the latter and the Choctaw were peaceful though many small bands of Indians of this tribe crossed the Mississippi into Louisiana. The American Revolution did not alter conditions essentially, and, though Tecumseh and his emissaries endeavored to enlist the Choctaw in his favor, only about 30 individuals joined the hostile Creeks. The abstinence of the tribe as a whole was due very largely to the personal influence of the native statesman, Pushmataha, whose remains lie in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, surmounted by an impressive monument. Meanwhile bands of Choctaw continued moving across the Mississippi, but the great migration occurred after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit, September 30, 1830, by which the tribe ceded their old lands. However, a considerable body of Choctaw did not leave at this time. Many followed, it is true, at the time of the allotment in Oklahoma, but upward of a thousand still remain, principally in the neighborhood of Philadelphia, Miss. The western Choctaw established a government on the model of those of the other civilized tribes and that of the United States, and it was not given up until merged in the State of Oklahoma early in the present century.

Choctaw Population. Estimates of the number of Choctaw warriors between 1702 and 1814 vary between 700 and 16,000. A North Carolina estimate made in 1761 says they numbered at least 5,000 men. Common estimates are between 4,000 and 5,000, but even these figures may be a trifle low since the first reliable census, that of Armstrong, in 1831, gave 19,554. However, there may have been a slight increase in population after the beginning of the nineteenth century, when an end was put to intertribal wars. Figures returned by the Indian Office since that time show a rather unusual constancy. They go as low as 12,500, and at the other extreme reach 22,707, but the average is from 18,000 to 20,000. The census of 1910 gave 15,917, including 1,162 in Mississippi, 14,551 in Oklahoma, 115 in Louisiana, 57 in Alabama, and 32 in other States, but the United States Indian Office Report for 1923 has 17,488 Choctaw by blood in Oklahoma, 1,600 “Mississippi Choctaw” in Oklahoma, and 1,439 in the State of Mississippi, not counting about 200 in Louisiana, Alabama, and elsewhere. A few small tribes were gathered into this nation, but only a few. The census of 1930 returned 17,757, of whom 16,641 were in Oklahoma, 624 in Mississippi, 190 in Louisiana, and the rest in more than 14 other States. In 1937 the Mississippi Choctaw numbered 1,908, from which it seems that many of the Mississippi Choctaw were missed in 1930 unless the “‘Mississippi Choctaw” already in Oklahoma are included.

Connection in which they have become noted. The Choctaw were noted:

  1. As the most numerous tribe in the Southeast next to the Cherokee.
  2. As depending more than most other tribes in the region on agriculture.
  3. For certain peculiar customs such as head deformation, extensive use of ossuaries for the dead, and the male custom of wearing the hair long.
  4. As faithful allies of the French against the English but always at peace with the United States Government.
  5. As having furnished the names to counties in Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, and settlements in the same States, and in Van Buren County, Arkansas.