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.
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.
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.
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
More About Area American Indians
Last updated: September 6, 2022