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The History of Native American Tribes. Chickasaw flag

Chickasaw flag


   Chickasaw’s first permanent settlement east of the river, was Chickasaw Old Fields on the Tennessee River just west of Huntsville, Alabama.

   Although many Chickasaw left or merged with the general population after allotment took their lands, 12,000 still live in the vicinity of their tribal headquarters at Ada.

   The Chickasaw’s number was as many as 15,000 before their contact with Europeans in 1540.

   During the years which followed, the Chickasaw were constantly at war with the French and neighboring tribes and suffered accordingly.

   However, their population did not fall as fast as expected because their remote location protected them from the epidemics which were decimating tribes in the east. The Chickasaw were also able to maintain their numbers by absorbing remnants from the Natchez, Chakchiuma, Tapousa, Ibitoupa, and Nappissa (Napochi). At the same time, many of the Scottish traders from Charleston were marrying Chickasaw women which produced so many mixed-blooded Chickasaw that white traders commonly referred to them as the "breeds." Although British estimates during this period varied, it is evident that warfare was taking a terrible toll of the Chickasaw. South Carolina's census in 1715 listed six villages with 700 men for a total of 3,500. By 1761 they had fallen to 400 warriors, but this was revised upwards during 1768 to 500 men (2,500 totals). The French departure in 1763 provided the Chickasaw with much-needed relief, and an American census in 1817 counted 3,625. By the time of their removal in 1837, the Chickasaw numbered 4,914 plus 1,156 black slaves. This remained relatively constant for the remainder of the 1800s: 4,700 in 1853; 4,500 in 1865; with a low point of 4,204 in 1910. Current enrollment is nearly 35,000.

   The literal meaning of Chickasaw is unknown. The name apparently comes from a Chickasaw tradition about two brothers (Chisca and Chacta) whose descendants became the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Some mention has been made that Chickasaw comes from a Choctaw word meaning "they left not long ago," but this seems unlikely.

   The Choctaw and Chickasaw languages are very close and easily understood by speakers from either tribe.

The History of Native American Tribes. Chicksaw village

Chicksaw village

   Each extended family employed two different housing types depending on the season. Summer homes were rectangular (12 x 22') with a gable roof, porch, and balcony. The winter house, however, was circular using the wattle and daub (mud spread over a basket-like framework) construction distinctive to the region. Well insulated and partially sunken into the ground, Chickasaw winter homes were so warm that British slave traders collecting their "merchandise" complained that they were a preview of their probable place in the hereafter. By 1800 most Chickasaw had forsaken their traditional homes in favor of log cabins similar to those of white frontiersmen. Chickasaw men were hunters and warriors first and farmers second, even to a greater degree than neighboring tribes. For some reason, the men appear to have been noticeably taller (6 foot on the average) than the closely related Choctaw just to the south. Chickasaw women, however, were usually a foot shorter than the men - a physical trait similar to the neighboring, but unrelated, Creeks and Osage. There was a strict division of labor among the Chickasaw, with women responsible for the supervision of slaves and tending the fields of corn, beans, and squash, while men hunted deer, bear, and buffalo. Fish was also an important food source.

The History of Native American Tribes. Chickasaw man

Chickasaw man

   Clothing was primarily buckskin with the men preferring a breechcloth with thigh-high deerskin boots to protect their legs from the underbrush. The women wore a simple short dress with both sexes utilizing buffalo robes in colder weather. Rather than the stereotypical Lakota (Sioux) war bonnet, the ultimate badge of honor for Chickasaw warriors was a mantle of swan feathers. Both men and women wore their hair long, with warriors switching to the scalplock for war. Warpaint varied according to clan. Like their neighbors, the Chickasaw removed all body hair and made extensive use of tattooing, but what was really distinctive was that they flattened the foreheads of infants to "enhance" their appearance as adults. For this reason, the French and their allies north of the Ohio River called them Tetes-Plattes (Flatheads). Unfortunately, this name was also used for the Catawba and Choctaw (same reason), and it is not always clear in French records to which tribe they are referring.

   Politically, the Chickasaw towns and clans were independent but would unite in times of war. Each town had its own minko (chief, the Spanish called them capitani). There was also a high minko (king), a hereditary position chosen from the Chickasaw's "beloved family." A practice common among southeastern tribes, the high minko did not speak in councils, but delegated this to his advisor and delegated speaker, the Tishu Minko. Socially, the Chickasaw had 7 to 15 totemic, matrilineal, exogamic clans meaning that clan membership was determined by the mother and you had to marry outside your clan. Monogamy was more typical, but some polygamy was permitted, usually where a man would marry more than one sister. Husbands had little to do with the raising of their children, with the mother's brother (uncle) being responsible for the training and discipline of boys.

   Adultery, especially for women, was a serious offense among the Chickasaw, and a young woman having a child out of wedlock was a disgrace to her family. A widow was expected to remain single for four years after her husband's death, but there does not appear to have been a similar restriction for men. The Chickasaw believed in a supreme Creator Spirit, lesser good and evil spirits, and a life after death. However, unlike many tribes, the Chickasaw buried their dead facing west. Other southeastern characteristics were the "black drink," a purgative to induce vomiting and purify the body, and the "ball game," a brutal contact sport played each summer with the all-day games involving entire towns and hundreds of players. Compared to a Chickasaw or Choctaw ball game, modern football appears to be an activity created for pre-schoolers.

   At first, the Chickasaw relied on dugout canoes and foot for transport. According to tradition, they got their first horses trading with the Shawnee at Bledsoe's Lick in the mid-1700s. Horses were used primarily to transport deerskins east to the British at Charleston, but the Chickasaw soon developed a superior riding breed, the Chickasaw Horse, known for its long stride and endurance. Because the region was heavily wooded, their war parties continued to travel on foot. Excellent swimmers, rivers presented no barrier, and the Chickasaw were especially swift runners. Warrior training began immediately after birth when male babies were placed on panther skins. Whatever martial qualities were imparted would be an excellent addition to modern army training manuals. Large massed formations of warriors were not typical of the Chickasaw except to defend their towns. Otherwise, their method of warfare was a small (30 to 50 men) war party which could travel quietly and surprise an enemy.

The History of Native American Tribes. Chicksaw seal

Chicksaw seal

   Aside from the British, the Chickasaw had few allies and an amazing number of enemies. At times these included the Creeks, Caddo, Cherokee, Illinois, Potawatomi, Miami, Iroquois, Wyandot, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Mobile, Menominee, Kickapoo, Shawnee, Osage, Choctaw, Chakchiuma, Ofo, Chitamacha, Houma, Yuchi, Tunica, and Quapaw. This seems to include just about everyone who lived near them and quite a few who did not. The Chickasaw whipped them all and in the process helped drive the French from North America, frustrate the ambitions of Spain, and defeat the Americans, in their only encounter during the Revolutionary War.

   Chickasaw required a permit to reside in Chickasaw Nation, but this requirement was usually ignored. By 1900 there were 300,000 whites in the Indian Territory, 150,000 of who were in the Chickasaw Nation. The 6,000 Chickasaw had become a minority in their own country. However, the land was still theirs, but even this came under attack. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Act mandating the breakup of Native American lands into individual allotments with the excess to be sold to whites. Protected by their treaties, the Chickasaw and other Civilized Tribes were immune to the law's provisions, but additional Congressional legislation in 1893 attempted to include them. This was initially rejected, but with the passage of the Curtis Act in 1895 dissolving their tribal governments, the Choctaw and Chickasaw finally agreed in 1897. With allotment in 1901, the Chickasaw became citizens of the United States and were allowed to vote.

   The Chickasaw paid an unusually heavy price for a privilege most white Americans take for granted. They were first forced to fend off the claims of more than 4,000 whites before their lands were finally allotted to 6,337 Chickasaw and 4,607 black Freedmen. Of the 4,707,904 acres they had before, the Chickasaw kept only a small part, and by 1920 75 percent of this had passed into white ownership. At present the Chickasaw have only 300 acres which are tribally owned. With the dissolution of their tribal government in 1906 to allow for Oklahoma statehood the following year, the Chickasaw Nation ceased to exist. Many moved away or were absorbed into the local population. Several prominent political families in Oklahoma have Chickasaw roots, but aside from informal organizations, there was no Chickasaw tribe for many years. Other Oklahoma tribes reorganized under the provisions of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act after 1936, but the Chickasaw exhibited their traditional stubbornness and did not do so until 1963. They were not allowed to select their own chiefs until 1970 but are currently organized under a constitution passed in 1983. Federally recognized with an enrollment of more than 35,000, the Chickasaw are currently the eighth largest tribe in the United States.


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