The Chickasaw People

The Examiner

Note: This is a Ted Stillwell column from several years ago.

My Indian spirit guide, Chickasaw Indian Princess Linda Hawkins, related to me an old legend about her people that went something like this:

In the days of old, the Chickasaw lived in what is now Oklahoma. Then, a great strong tribe on the warpath came down from the north, driving them from their homelands toward the east. In the daytime they were guided through the wilderness by a dog. They also had a magic pole, and at night they planted this in the ground. In the morning it leaned the way they were supposed to go.

Ted Stillwell

When they crossed the great river (the Mississippi River) the poor dog drowned. So, they were stuck with only the pole, and it refused to lean anymore, so the Mississippi became their new home. Then, as many generations passed, the white man came along and drove them back to Oklahoma. That could be how they got their tribal name because Chickasaw means “to leave.” 

The Chickasaw people are closely related in language and culture to the Choctaw, and both tribes have cultural ties to the Creek.

Life in the rich Mississippi Valley.

The rich, fertile soil of the Mississippi floodplain was alive with vegetation and abundant wildlife such as white-tailed deer and black bear. The Mississippi and its tributaries also offered up many kinds of fish, such as the giant catfish, sometimes weighing as much as 200 pounds. So the men went fishing and hunting and the women tilled the soil, planting corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and melons. Over time they spread out along the river in what are today Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. They built their villages on higher ground among the trees and away from flood waters. The Chickasaw houses had the pole frame construction found throughout much of the Southeast, with a variety of materials used as coverings – grass thatch, bark or hides.

Living along the Mississippi it didn’t take them long to encounter the Europeans as they came along. The Chickasaw, for the most part, had a good reputation. They practiced what some scholars called the “law of hospitality,” sharing their meager rations with anyone who came along. Their first European contact was in 1540, when Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto encountered them and even stayed in one of their towns for a while. After various disagreements between these two totally different peoples, the Chickasaw attacked the De Soto expedition in a nighttime raid, nearly destroying them.

De Soto quickly moved along. They didn’t care much for the French either when they came calling. They had to whip a few of them just for the sport of it. In fact, no one messed much with the Chickasaw, not even their nearest neighbors, the Choctaw. It seems as though the British were the only ones the Chickasaw really took a liking to. They traded furs and pelts with them for English guns and rifles

Allied with the British, the Chickasaw were often at war with the French and those skirmishes continued until France ceded its claims to the region east of the Mississippi after being defeated in the French and Indian War.

Following the American Revolutionary War, the Chickasaw fought as allies of the new United States under General Anthony Wayne against other Indians. Following the American Civil War, the United States did give the Chickasaw problems for a few years afterward because the Chickasaw sided with the South.

Today, the Chickasaw Nation is about an hour's drive southeast of Oklahoma City, with headquarters in Ada, Oklahoma, and is one of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Reference: “Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes.” by Carl Waldman.

Reach Ted W. Stillwell at Ted@blueandgrey.com or 816-896-3592.