Choctaw Tribe: History & Facts

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  • 0:00 Who Were the Choctaw?
  • 1:51 European Contact
  • 3:18 American Government &…
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Knoedl

Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

The American Government has a history of mistreating Indian Tribes, but few tribes have ended up helping the nation as much as the Choctaw. Learn here about the history and culture of the Choctaw Indian Tribe.

Who Were the Choctaw?

The Choctaw Indian Tribe lived in the American Southeast for about 1,800 years. They migrated from modern Mexico and Western-America and settled in the Mississippi River Valley area. This area included parts of present-day Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. They were a matriarchal society, meaning they placed importance on roles of women within the tribe and showed gender equality. Males served in leadership positions, but women were considered for input and advice. Males also joined the wife's family at marriage and status in the tribe was generally earned by works that benefited the entire tribe.

The Choctaw were a mound-building people. They built large mounds for communication, ceremonies, festivals, and worship. Mounds were generally large in area covered, but flat. Some mounds would reach up to 50 feet in height, but most were shorter.

The Choctaw were known for their distinctive head-flattening. They thought that a flat head was an attractive feature and the process would start right after the birth of a child and last several years. The child would have a board, or occasionally a bag of sand, attached to their head so that as the skull grew it would become flatter. This also caused the skull to become elongated and take a form similar to a football.

They were also known for their Green Corn Festival. This festival was held at harvest time each summer or fall when the maize became ripe. Maize, or corn, was a staple of the Choctaw diet, which also included squashes, nuts, beans, fish, bear, and deer. The festival was also a time of cleansing. The Choctaw men and women would use this time to clean their village, much like many Americans today perform a spring cleaning each year. When Europeans first contacted the Choctaw, they did not understand many of their rituals.

European Contact

Hernando de Soto's expedition was the first contact the Choctaw had with white Europeans in the mid-1500s. Word has spread through the various tribes of the region that de Soto was coming and that he had killed many Indians and taken chiefs as prisoners. The Maubilian clan of the Choctaw planned a trap for de Soto. The Maubilian Chief, Tuskaloosa, went to meet de Soto and invited him back to his village. When the expedition arrived, the Maubilians launched a large attack and killed many of de Soto's men. Mobile, Alabama, is named after the Maubil clan and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is named after their Chief Tuskaloosa. Part of the expedition was able to escape and continue their journey, but they would be very wary of Indians from that point on. This event started a relationship that would never allow full trust between the Choctaw and whites.

Two hundred years after de Soto's contact, the Choctaw had established trade with whites. They traded with the Americans during the American Revolution. By the 1780s, many Choctaw had begun intermarrying with whites and had converted to Christianity. President George Washington also started a program to integrate the Choctaw into white customs. Over the next several decades, the Choctaw would create a government, a public education system, and a Constitution. This would lead to them being named one of the Five Civilized Tribes. However, it would not encourage the Americans or American government to see them as equals.

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