“United We Thrive” ~Chickasaw Nation’s slogan~
Although generally the least known of the Five Civilized Tribes (Chickasaw, Cherokee , Choctaw, Creek, Seminole), the Chickasaw were described as the most formidable warriors of the American Southeast, and were known as Spartans of the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Chickasaw story begins with their migration from west of the Mississippi. The Chickasaw had been there for some time when Hernando De Soto’s conquistador army arrived in December of 1540. An uneasy truce prevailed throughout the winter with neither side entirely trusting the other. The Spanish finally forced their way across and, after capturing several hostages, demanded that the Chickasaw supply them with food.
The Chickasaw supplied the Spanish with corn but were still trying to find a way way to rid themselves of their “guests.” The remainder of the winter passed quietly with the Spanish becoming increasingly complacent. De Soto’s increasing demands were met by the Chickasaw until, De Soto demanded 200 young Chickasaw women.
Chickasaw warriors made a surprise night attack on the Spanish encampment bringing along live coals in clay pots to set it afire. The result was chaos, and De Soto himself was almost killed when his saddle came loose after mounting a horse to defend the camp. The conquistadors left the Chickasaw homeland by the shortest route available.
130 years went by before the Chickasaw met another European.
This time it was the French in the form of the small party of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet exploring the Mississippi River in 1673. Actual contact came in February, 1682 during the expedition of Robert La Salle and Henri Tonti. Stopping at the Chickasaw Bluffs because La Salle was ill, another soldier, Pierre Prudehomme, wandered off into the woods and became lost. While searching for him, the French built a small fort (Fort Prudehomme) as a supply base. They also encountered two Chickasaw, who were given presents and asked to help. Prudehomme was finally found almost starved 9-10 days later, and after recovering his strength, La Salle left for the Gulf in March. On his return that April, he chose to stop at the Quapaw villages (Chickasaw enemies) on the opposite side of the river.
The British Encounter
Deerskins were important to the British, but for them the main attraction of the region was its ability to supply Native American slaves for their plantations in the Carolinas and West Indies. To enrich themselves and gain an advantage over their Choctaw enemies, the Chickasaw were willing to supply these. Thus began a “slaving” pact. The British armed the Chickasaw, and the Chickasaw, who were not in danger of losing their land, paid for these weapons by capturing women and children from neighboring tribes. Aside from the fact that people are a more dangerous prey than deer, the rest of the business was actually easier. Deerskins required large pack trains of horses to reach Charleston, but “human cargo” could walk.
The French were disturbed by the recent appearance of British traders in the lower Mississippi Valley, so they decided to establish their authority in the region. It began that year with the declaration issued by the bishop of Quebec that Louisiana was part of his diocese and his subsequent dispatch of Fathers Francis Joliet de Montigny and Antoine Davion to establish Jesuit missions in the region. Davion visited several Chickasaw villages but, after a cool reception, decided against a mission, because the Chickasaw were already under the “influence” of British Protestants.
The French concentrated their efforts on building good relations and trade with the tribes of the region who, once they learned that the French, unlike the British, had no intention of enslaving them, made urgent requests for the French to provide them with firearms so they could defend themselves against the Chickasaw.
A year later, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville arrived with a small fleet and a party of French adventurers but, unable to locate the mouth of the Mississippi, built Fort Maurepas at Biloxi, Mississippi.
Iberville engaged the services of Henri de Tonti to establish friendly relations with the Chickasaw and lure them away from the British. Tonti visited the Chickasaw villages and, after reminding them of their friendly encounter with La Salle in 1682, invited their minkos to meet with Iberville and the other tribes at Mobile in spring of 1702.
At the conference, Iberville provided the usual gifts but warned the Chickasaw about British intentions (taking their land) and demanded that they terminate their trade (slaving). If refused, he threatened to arm the other tribes against them, while at the same time “sweetening the pot” with offers to supply them with French goods at lower prices that the British.
There was a split in the Chickasaw leadership. Some allied with the French others allied with the British.
During the French and Indian War the Chickasaw allied with the British.
During the years between 1706 and 1769 the Chickaswa fought many different battles with other tribes such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Kickapoo, with involvement by either the French or the British. In 1777 the Chickasaw sided with the British in the Revolutionary War.
When the Americans arrived, the Chickasaws had little confrontation with them. In 1783, the Chickasaw made peace with the Americans at French Lick, Tennessee and agreed to expel hostile whites (Tories) and free their white captives. Virginia in return promised to expel squatters from Chickasaw territory, the eastern boundary of which was determined to be the divide between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers extending from the Ohio River south to Duck Creek.
In 1784 a measles epidemic struck the Chickasaw villages with terrible effect. Almost half of the population of Long Town died , including important Chickasaw leaders. The loss of Chickasaw lands began slowly. Their first cession was in a treaty signed at the Chickasaw Bluffs in October, 1801 in which the Chickasaw gave permission for the Americans to build a road, the Natchez Trace, through their homeland.
In1830 Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act. In the following years, Chickasaw lost much of their land through treaties. In 1861 the Chickasaw fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
During 1888 Texas cattlemen moved 150,000 cattle onto Chickasaw lands without paying. By the 1900s, there were 300,000 whites in the Indian Territory, 150,000 of whom were in the Chickasaw Nation. The 6,000 Chickasaw had become a minority in their own country. By 1906 the Chickasaw Nation was dissolved. Many moved away or were absorbed into the local population. In 1983, the Chickasaw were Federally recognized with an enrollment of more than 35,000.
Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion
1. Because the Chickasaw were described as the most formidable warriors of the American Southeast, what name did the other tribes give them?
2. Who was Hernando De Soto?
3. The Chickasaw supplied the Spanish with food, until the Spanish demanded young Chickasaw women. How did the Chickasaw respond?
4. Who were Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet?
5. In 1784, what terrible epidemic struck the Chickasaw villages? What was the result of this attack?
6. Are the Chickasaw Federally recognized today?
The main group of Chickasaw reside in Oklahoma, and a band of Chickasaws reside in the Lower Mississippi Valley.
Bill Anoatubby, is the 30th Governor of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. The judicial powers of the Chickasaw Nation are vested in the Supreme Court and a lower District Court, with the Supreme Court consisting of three Supreme Court Justices elected by popular vote by qualified voters of the Chickasaw Nation. The District Court is comprised of a District Judge and Court Advocate who are appointed by the Supreme Court.The Chickasaw Nation Legislature is composed of 13 members, elected from the Chickasaw Nation’s four legislative districts: Panola, Pickens, Pontotoc and Tishomingo.
The Chickasaw Nation has strong incentives for motivating students to attend school. The grants and scholarships for higher education are available to full-time and part-time “undergraduate”, “graduate” or “doctoral” college students. Students must be Chickasaw and possess their Chickasaw Nation citizenship card. The grants and scholarships are intended to assist students by providing funding for tuition, fees, and books for those students pursuing a degree from an accredited institution of higher education.
The adult learning program serves adults ages 18 and older within the Chickasaw Nation, with preference given first to Chickasaw citizens, and then to other Native Americans with a valid CDIB. This program provides academic assistance to adults who have dropped out of high school and want to complete their General Equivalency Development (GED) diploma.
The Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma owns Bank2, Bedre Chocolates, KADA and KYKC radio stations and the McSwain Theatre in addition to the many gaming centers, travel plazas and tobacco stores, illustrating the variety and prosperity of the Chickasaw Nation’s businesses.
The Chickasaw Nation provides employment programs and services for Chickasaw citizens throughout the U.S. For Chickasaw youths trying to get their feet wet in the job market, there is an Internship Program to build career bridges and make contacts. Chickasaw Nation Industries and Solara Healthcare, both Chickasaw owned companies, offer jobs in several locations across the United States.
The Chickasaw today have a unique relationship with nature as part of the circle of life, and entwined with the creator, mother earth, self and family (as a people). The Indian way is to respect nature, given to them to use – not abuse – by the great spirit. An important aspect is lack of belief in ownership, so things such as the mother earth, nature and its natural resources, possessions, and individual skills are to be shared among each other, not owned or fenced in, or kept from those in need, because all was given by the creator.
Strong, healthy families benefit whole communities. Understanding this fact, the Chickasaw Nation has dedicated its resources to building solid families and a safer community. The Chickasaw Nation’s slogan, “United We Thrive,” goes far beyond rhetoric as communities profit daily from these family oriented programs and services.
Child Welfare, Child Support, Foster Care and Adoption Services protect the youth of the community. The Family Life Centers, CHR Program, Office of Strong Family Development, Healthy Lifestyles, Healthy Families, Parenting Classes and Family Preservation all work toward the goal of happy, healthy families capable of remaining sturdy through even the most trying of times.
Through these programs, the Chickasaw Nation continues to actively pursue the strength and prosperity of the family unit as well as the welfare of the communities in which the families live.
Chickasaw Myth: Ghost of the White Deer
A brave young Chickasaw warrior fell in love with the daughter of a chief. The chief did not like the young man, who was called Blue Jay. So the chief invented a price for the bride that he was sure that Blue Jay could not pay.
“Bring me the hide of the White Deer.” said the chief. The Chickasaws believed that animals that were all white were magical. “The price for my daughter is one white deer.” Then the chief laughed. The chief knew that an all white deer, an albino, was very rare and would be very hard to find. White deerskin was the best material to use in a wedding dress, and the best white deer skin came from the albino deer.
Blue Jay went to his beloved, whose name was Bright Moon. “I will return with your bride price in one moon, and we will be married. This I promise you.” Taking his best bow and his sharpest arrows Blue Jay began to hunt.
Three weeks went by, and Blue Jay was often hungry, lonely, and scratched by briars. Then, one night during a full moon, Blue Jay saw a white deer that seemed to drift through the moonlight. When the deer was very close to where Blue Jay hid, he shot his sharpest arrow. The arrow sank deep into the deer’s heart. But instead of sinking to his knees to die, the deer began to run. And instead of running away, the deer began to run toward Blue Jay, his red eyes glowing, his horns sharp and menacing.
A month passed and Blue Jay did not return as he had promised Bright Moon. As the months dragged by, the tribe decided that he would never return.
But Bright Moon never took any other young man as a husband, for she had a secret. When the moon was shinning as brightly as her name, Bright Moon would often see the white deer in the smoke of the campfire, running, with an arrow in his heart. She lived hoping the deer would finally fall, and Blue Jay would return.
To this day the white deer is sacred to the Chickasaw People, and the white deerskin is still the preferred material for the wedding dress.
Lee Saltzman (for an in depth history of the Chickasaw)
Ghost of the White Deer by Deewebs (Note: This site has beautiful photos of deer.)
Chickasaw Flag Wikimedia Commons
Words and Phrases