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.

Skilled traders and warriors, they descended from ancient mound building societies. During the Woodland and Mississippian periods, those people constructed earthen work sacred places for their communities. Many 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 using poles sunk into the ground which supported mud and reed daub walls with thatched roofs. The Chickasaw people nurtured their lands, and ornithologist Alexander Wilson described the land they cared for as park-like settings.

Waterways were naturally 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 by tribes from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

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.

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 Chickasaw communities. These first Europeans did not make a good impression. Hernando de Soto led a Spanish expedition through southeastern North America in the 1500s. In the Chickasaw homelands, 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.

During the early 1700s the Chickasaw warriors allied with European forces, especially with the British. 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 integrated with the Chickasaw people. 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.

James's sons, George Colbert, (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 had to pay for their removal. A large Chickasaw congregation left from Memphis, Tennessee, on July 4, 1838. 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: November 20, 2022

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      Mailing Address:

      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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