Chickasaw Tribe: History & Facts

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  • 0:00 Introduction to the Chickasaw
  • 0:35 Chickasaw Society,…
  • 2:00 Early Encounters with…
  • 3:31 Chickasaw Societal Changes
  • 4:32 Chickasaw Land Removal
  • 7:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Crystal Daining

Crystal has a master's degree in history and loves teaching anyone ages 5-99.

The Chickasaw tribe originated as a relatively small tribe in the southeastern United States. Learn about their society, how they reacted to contact with European conquerors, and how they have maintained their identity to this day.

Introduction to the Chickasaw

The Chickasaw Indians were a tribal group that consisted of hunters and fighters. They originally settled in the southeastern United States, especially around Mississippi. The Chickasaw tribe first had contact with the European explorers in 1540, and from the very beginning, this association was full of tension. They, along with several other tribes, were eventually forced to move to Indian Territory in the state of Oklahoma, where the majority of the tribe still lives today.

Chickasaw Society, Culture, and Religion

The Chickasaw Indian community was known for being extremely organized. They originally lived in tents, and each village had a town meeting center for ceremonies and civil meetings. Their society was organized matrilineally, which means that the ancestry was traced only through the mother's line. The Chickasaw also had decentralized political power, meaning that each of the villages had their own chief and other leaders.

They were known for their great emphasis on military prowess and had a reputation as fierce warriors. The Chickasaw had many enemies, both Europeans and other Indian tribes; however, the Chickasaw population was quite small compared to their enemies. For this reason, the Chickasaw culture included a military focus, and boys received training in military routines and martial arts.

The Chickasaw Indians worshiped a deity called Ababinili, a god who represented the sun, clouds, and sky. They believed that this deity was the ultimate spiritual power because the sun was needed to create and sustain life. The Chickasaw worshiped other deities as well, each with a different purpose, such as protection against evil spirits. In addition to relying on faith for healing, Chickasaws used plant-based medicines.

Early Encounters with Europeans

The Chickasaw first encountered Europeans when they met Spanish explorer and the first European to enter the future United States, Hernando de Soto, and his men in 1540. De Soto and his men met opposition from the Chickasaw, but they pushed back and took over a Chickasaw village. The Chickasaw retaliated by burning their own village down, and the Spanish retreated from the area. This encounter with the Spanish was the only main contact that the Chickasaws had with the Europeans until the English colonized the Carolinas in 1670.

The English colonists wanted to trade guns, metal goods, and other items with the Chickasaw in exchange for Indian captives. The Chickasaw tribe soon took advantage of this trading system. By the 1690s, they were well-armed with English guns and began raiding other Indian tribes for both captives and other goods.

In the early 1700s, the Chickasaw and the English had allied together against the French and the Choctaws. The Choctaws refused to attack the Chickasaws alone, so the French had to be actively be involved in each battle. In 1739, the French sent troops to America for the sole purpose of destroying the Chickasaws. This attack failed, and the French and Chickasaws signed a truce in 1740. The Chickasaw had survived the French attempts to destroy them, but their population greatly suffered from this war.

Chickasaw Societal Changes

In 1798, the Mississippi Territory was formed, and white Americans flooded into the land, which was in the middle of Chickasaw territory. The Chickasaws started dealing with great pressures to cede their lands to these Americans. These new pressures changed the society and economy of the Chickasaw people. They started new agricultural pursuits, such as cotton farming, and became influenced by American concepts of private land and constitutional government.

Protestant missionaries began settling among the Chickasaw and taught them Christianity, Western-style domestic skills, and American education. The U.S. government encouraged these changes and suggested that these new skills might allow the Chickasaw to become American citizens. Many Chickasaw adopted these changes; however, in 1817, when Mississippi became a state, the American residents insisted that Indians had no rights to possess the land.

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