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The following tradition respecting the origin and history of this branch of the Chickasaw, is transmitted by their agent from the present location of the tribe, west of the Mississippi River. It has been obtained from the most authentic sources. The allegory of the dog and pole probably reveals the faith of this people in an ancient prophet, or seer, under whose guidance they migrated. The story of their old men, as it is now told, runs thus:
By tradition, they say they came from the West; a part of their tribe remained in the West. When about to start eastward, they were provided with a large dog as a guard, and a pole as guide; the dog would give them notice whenever an enemy was near at hand, and thus enable them to make their arrangements to receive them. The pole they would plant in the ground every night, and the next morning they would look at it, and go in the direction it leaned. They continued their journey in this way until they crossed the great Mississippi River; and, on the waters of the Alabama River, arrived in the country about where Huntsville, Alabama, now is: there the pole was unsettled for several days; but, finally, it settled, and pointed in a south west direction. They then started on that course, planting the pole every night, until they got to what is called the Chickasaw Old Fields, where the pole stood perfectly erect. All then came to the conclusion that that was the Promised Land, and there they accordingly remained until they emigrated west of the State of Arkansas, in the years 1837 and 38.
While the pole was in an unsettled situation, a part of their tribe moved on East, and got with the Creek Indians, but so soon as the majority of the tribe settled at the OLD FIELDS, they sent for the party that had gone on East, who answered that they were very tired, and would rest where they were a while. This clan was called Cush-eh-tah. They have never joined the parent tribe, but they always remained as friends until they had intercourse with the whites: then they became a separate nation.
The great dog was lost in the Mississippi, and they always believed that the dog had got into a large sink-hole, and there remained; the Chickasaws said they could hear the dog howl just before the evening came. Whenever any of their warriors get scalps, they give them to the boys to go and throw them into the sink where the dog was. After throwing the scalps, the boys would run off in great fright, and if one should fall, in running off, the Chickasaws were certain he would be killed or taken prisoner by their enemies. Some of the half-breeds, and nearly all of the full bloods, now believe it.
In traveling from the west to the east, they have no recollection of crossing any large watercourse except the Mississippi River. When they were traveling from the West to the Promised Land in the East, they had enemies on all sides, and had to fight their way through, but they cannot give the names of the people they fought with while traveling.
They were informed, when they left the West, that they might look for whites; that they would come from the East; and they were to be on their guard, and to avoid the whites, lest they should bring all manner of vice among them.
They say that they believe in a Great Spirit, that they were created by him, but they do not believe in any punishment after death; they believe that the spirit will leave the body as soon as they die, and that it will assume the shape of the body, and move about among the Chickasaws in great joy. When one of the Chickasaws dies, they put the finest clothing they have on him; also all their jewelry, beads, &c.: this, they say, is to make a good appearance so soon as they die. The sick are frequently dressed before they die. They believe that the spirits of all the Chickasaws will go back to Mississippi, and join the spirits of those that have died there: and then all the spirits will return to the west before the world is destroyed by fire. They say that the world was once destroyed by water; that the water covered all the earth; that some made rafts to save themselves; but something like large white beavers would cut the strings off the raft and drown them. They say that one family was saved, and two of all kinds of animals. They say when, (or before,) the world will be destroyed by fire, it will rain down blood and oil.
When they are sick, they send for a doctor, (they have several among them,) after looking at the sick awhile, the family leave him and the sick alone. He then commences singing and shaking a gourd over the patient. This is done, not to cure, but to find out what is the matter or disease: as the doctor sings several songs, he watches closely the patient, and finds out which song pleased: then he determines what the disease is: he then uses herbs, roots, steaming, and conjuring: the doctor frequently recommends to have a large feast: (which they call Tonsh-pa-shoo-phah if the Indian is tolerably well off, and is sick for two or three weeks, they may have two or three Tonsh-pa-shoo-phahs. They eat, dance, and sing at a great rate, at these feasts; the doctors say that it raises the spirits of the sick, and weakens the evil spirit. Their traditions say that the white people are the favorites of the Great Spirit, that he taught them to communicate with each other without talking; that no matter how far they are apart, they can make each other understand that he also taught the whites how to live without hunting; and he instructed them to make each thing they want: but he only taught the Indians how to hunt; and that they had to get their living by hunting or perish: and the white people have no right to hunt. They say they got the first corn just after the flood; that a raven flew over them and dropped a part of an ear of corn, and they were told to plant it by the Great Spirit, and it grew up; that they worked in the soil around it with their fingers. They never had any kind of metallic tools; that when they wanted logs or poles a certain length, they had to burn them; that they made heads for their arrows out of a white kind of flint-rock. They say that it has not been more than a hundred years since they saw cattle, horses, and hogs.
After their settlement in Mississippi, they had several wars, all defensive; they fought with the Choctaws, and came off victorious: with the Creeks, and killed several hundred of them, and drove them off; they fought the Cherokees, Kickapoos, Osages, and several other tribes of Indians; all of whom they whipped.
A large number of French landed once at the Chickasaw Bluff, where Memphis (Tennessee) is now, and made an attack on the Chickasaws, and were driven off with great loss. At one time a large body of Creeks came to the Chickasaw country to kill them all off, and take their country. The Chickasaws knew of their approach, and built a fort, assisted by Captain David Smith and forty-five Tennesseans. The Creeks came, and but few returned to the Creek Nation to tell the sad tale.
The government of the Chickasaws, until they moved to the west of the Mississippi, had a king, whom they called Minko, and there is a clan or family by that name, that the king is taken from. The king is hereditary through the female side. They then had chiefs out of different families or clans.
The highest clan next to Minko is the Sho-wa. The next chief to the king is out of their clan. The next is Co-ish-to, second chief out of this clan. The next is Oush-peh-ne. The next is Min-ne; and the lowest clan is called Hus-co-na. Runners and waiters are taken from this family. When the chiefs thought it necessary to hold a council, they went to the king, and requested him to call a council. He would then send one of his runners out to inform the people that a council would be held at such a time and place. When they convened, the king would take his seat. The runners then placed each chief in his proper place. All the talking and business was done by the chiefs. If they passed a law, they informed the king of it. If he consented to it, it was a law; if he refused, the chiefs could make it a law if every chief was in favor of it. If one chief refused to give his consent, the law was lost.
The large mounds that are in Mississippi, the Indians have no idea of; they do not know whether they are natural or artificial. They were there when they first got to the country. They are called by the Chickasaws, navels. They thought that the Mississippi was the center of the earth, and those mounds were as the navel of a man in the center of his body.
So far the tradition. Their present state is this. In their agreement with the Choctaws west of the Mississippi, when they purchased an interest in the country, they agreed to come under the present Choctaw laws, which are a republican form of government. They elect a chief every four years; captains, every two years. The judges are elected by the general council. The Choctaws have nothing to do with the money affairs of the Chickasaws, nor the Chickasaws with those of the Choctaws. All appropriations made for any purpose by the Chickasaws, are made by the chiefs and captains in a council. Under the new government, they have improved more in the last five years, than they had done for the previous twenty years.
They have now under-way a large manual-labor academy, and have passed an act to establish two more, one male and the other female.
The Chickasaw district, (the country that all the Chickasaws should live in,) is well adapted to all their wants, and is large enough for two such tribes. It lies north of Red River. It is about 225 miles in length, and 150 miles in breadth. All of the False Washita River is in their district; a part of Blue Boggy, and Canadian Rivers, are in it also.
The funds of the Chickasaws, in the hands of the Government, for lands ceded to the United States, are ample for the purposes of educating every member of the tribe, and of making the most liberal provision for their advancement in agriculture and the arts. Possessing the fee of a fertile and well-watered territorial area of 33,750 square miles, over which they are guaranteed in the sovereignty, with an enlightened chieftaincy, a practical representative and elective system, and a people recognizing the value of labor, it would be difficult to imagine a condition of things more favorable to their rapid progress in all the elements of civilization, self-government, and permanent prosperity.