Chickasaw History - A Summary

Map showing the Natchez Trace running through Chickasaw and Choctaw lands.
Before the United States expanded beyond the Mississippi River, the land that would become Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee was known as the Southwest.  This map shows the Old Natchez Trace passing through Choctaw and Chickasaw lands.

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Chickasaw Origins

The prophets (hopayi') directed their people to move from the west, so the brothers Chiksa' and Chahta led the tribes to the southeast. When the brothers parted ways, Chiksa' became the leader of the Chickasaw people. They were skilled traders and warriors who descended from ancient mound building societies. During the Woodland and Mississippian periods, the mound builders constructed great earthen temples, large ceremonial complexes, and raised agricultural fields to support their sedentary communities. Many of those earthen work mounds can still be seen today along the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Homelands

The Chickasaw people settled in the thick forests of the areas of what we now call northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, northwestern Alabama, and southwestern Kentucky. They built homes for their families. Poles sunk into the ground supported mud and reed daub walls with thatched roofs. The Chickasaw people nurtured their lands, and ornithologist Alexander Wilson described them as park-like settings. Waterways were plentiful and used for sustenance and travel routes for trade. The American Indians of this area also developed a network of trails (traces) the Old Natchez Trace being a main corridor. The corridor was used heavily for trading from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.The Natchez Trace Parkway, and the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, commemorate and protect remaining portions of the ancient trail. The old trail was likely originally part of the trails of mastodons, giant bison, and other prehistoric and more modern animals.

European Contact

The richness of the area attracted European explorers who encountered the Chickasaw communities. These first European did not make a good impression. Hernando de Soto led a Spanish expedition through southeastern North America in the 1500s. In the Chickasaw homeland, de Soto and his soldiers camped near the town of Chicaza (thought to have been near the region of modern-day Starkville, MS). The Chickasaw minko (chief) presented the Spaniards with deer skins and supplies. The Spanish then demanded 200 burden bearers (people they could enslave) from the minko to complete their journey. The Chickasaw protected their people by launching a surprise attack on the Spanish soldiers, decimating livestock, and several of their men, forcing them to flee the territory.

Chickasaw communities governed by a democratic process. Minkos (chiefs) led councils of elders. The councils met in council houses and discussed decisions regarding their nation. Along the Parkway you can visit the commemorative site of a Chickasaw Council House at milepost 251.1.

During the early 1700s the Chickasaw warriors allied with European forces, especially with the British. During the 1700 and 1800s, alliances like these were common as they provided some security to the tribes and established broad trade connections. The Chickasaw aided in battles against other American Indian groups and even other European forces. One of the more notable allied battles was the Battle of Ackia in 1736, where the Chickasaw aligned with the British to defeat the French who had enlisted the aid of the Choctaw.

Some European settlers became influential members of the areas where they lived. The Colbert family was important in the relationship between the Chickasaw and United States during the early 1800s. James Logan Colbert, from a Jacobite Scot family, married into the Chickasaw leadership in northwest Alabama. The Chickasaw’s matrilineal traditions enabled James's children to inherit the status of their Chickasaw mothers. The Colberts were fluent in both English and Chickasaw, which provided opportunities for them to interact with both the US government and the Chickasaw tribes.

George Colbert, also known as Tootemastubbe and his brother Levi (Ittawamba) were principal negotiators between the Chickasaw tribe and the United States.The Colberts owned and operated a large plantation and inn for travelers along the Old Trace in Northwestern Alabama. George ran an important ferry business which provided passage of merchants, travelers, and troops across the mighty Tennessee River. He also owned agricultural land in north Mississippi, and his wife, Selichi, ran a respected inn in what is now Tupelo, MS. George Colbert served under Andrew Jackson during the Creek War of 1813-1814.

The Alabama inn was primarily run by Levi. Levi was determined to see that his tribe was rightfully compensated when they were forced to remove to Oklahoma. He died prior to the relocation of the Chickasaw people. Colbert descendants remain influential in today’s Chickasaw Nation.

Visitors to the Natchez Trace Parkway can explore the site of Levi’s inn and lands at Buzzard Roost Spring at milepost 320.3, and the sites of the plantation and George’s ferry at Colbert’s Ferry at milepost 327.3.

Removal

With the influx of European colonizers settling in the southern United States, American Indians were displaced from their homelands, sometimes by treaties and political manipulation, and other times by force. These methods of colonization slowly encroached on the homelands of the Chickasaw people. Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830, required the Chickasaw people, along with all the other eastern American Indian tribes, to move to the western territory. If they chose to remain, they were required to abandon their heritage and traditions and be assimilated into the new culture. Chickasaw people who remained were often ostracized by the white settlers.The Chickasaws were the last tribe to withdrawn to Oklahoma Territory. They had learned about the hardships experienced by other tribes. Encamping near Pontotoc, Mississippi, they waited until they could negotiate an apparently suitable relocation process. They also received funds from the sale of their homelands, which in turn they used to pay for their removal. A large Chickasaw congregation left from Memphis, Tennessee, on July 4, 1938. Like other tribes, the Chickasaws were traumatized and lost many people along the way to their territory in Oklahoma.

Modern Chickasaw Nation


Today, the Chickasaw Nation continues to be strong and resolute in preserving its historical connection with North Mississippi and the Natchez Trace Parkway. You can learn about the Chickasaw Nation of the 21st century through the Chickasaw Nation website and enjoy artistic and informative teaching videos at Home | Chickasaw.tv

 

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      Last updated: September 6, 2022

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      2680 Natchez Trace Parkway
      Tupelo , MS 38804

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      800 305-7417
      The Parkway Visitor Center near Tupelo, MS, is open 9am-4:30pm seven days a week. The visitor center is closed Thanksgiving, December 25th and January 1st.

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