The Chickasaw story begins with their own account of their migration from west of the Mississippi. Each night when they camped, their priests would set a pole vertically in the ground. When they arose the next morning, the direction that the pole was leaning would indicate where they were to go. It always pointed east, and after crossing the Mississippi, they reached the Tennessee River near Huntsville, Alabama. Here the pole remained erect, and they stayed. The timing of this is uncertain, but the Chickasaw had been there for some time when Hernando De Soto's conquistador army arrived in December of 1540. Still healing the wounds from their victory over the Mobile in southern Alabama, the Spanish were discouraged by the ferocity of the battle and their failure to find gold. Rumors of mutiny had forced De Soto to turn northward to find winter quarters rather than risk wholesale desertions if he proceeded to the supply ships waiting on the coast.
As one-sided as their victory had been, the Spanish were no longer viewed as invincible by the region's tribes, and the reception they received from the Chickasaw at a river crossing in northern Alabama was a shower of arrows from warriors on the other side. The Spanish finally forced their way across and, after capturing several hostages, demanded that the Chickasaw supply them with food. The Chickasaw minko reluctantly agreed, and with snow already on the ground, the Spanish established their winter camp. An uneasy truce prevailed throughout the winter with neither side entirely trusting the other. The Chickasaw supplied the Spanish with corn but were still trying to find a way way to rid themselves of their "guests." To this end, they asked the Spanish to help them crush a revolt by a tributary tribe to the west, the Chakchiuma. De Soto agreed to send 30 horsemen and 80 infantry but, realizing the danger of dividing his army, put the remainder on alert. The Spanish-Chickasaw expedition found the Chakchiuma town abandoned, and suspecting a trap, the Spanish returned to their camp. The remainder of the winter passed quietly with the Spanish becoming increasingly complacent.
De Soto offered some roast pork to visiting Chickasaw (his army kept a large herd of pigs as emergency rations), and they loved it. Since the Chickasaw were sharing their food with De Soto, they saw nothing wrong with appropriating a few of the Spanish pigs. Three "hog thieves" were caught, and De Soto dealt with them in the usual high-handed manner of the conquistador. Two executed by a crossbow firing squad, and the third was sent to his chief minus his hands. Spanish soldiers also plundered one of the nearby Chickasaw towns. Expecting that the Spanish would leave soon, the minko chose to ignore the abuse, but as the time for departure approached in March, De Soto made one demand too many ...200 young Chickasaw women to serve as tamemes (bearers) and "other purposes." The Chickasaw minko said that he would "have to think about this" but that De Soto would receive his answer in the near future.
His answer was in keeping with the Chickasaw's later reputation as a people who "don't take guff" with a talent of "going for the jugular" with the sudden and unexpected. 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 Chickasaw withdrew and when the smoke cleared in the morning, the Spanish had lost 12 men, 57 horses, and 400 of their precious pigs. Even worse, almost all of their clothing and weapons had been destroyed, and the expedition was within a hair's breadth of being wiped out. Whatever their other moral failings, the Spanish had courage. Under constant attack, they gathered what remained and retreated cold, desperate, and almost entirely naked to an abandoned Chickasaw village where they hastily built a forge to repair their weapons and saddles. Once this was done, the conquistadors left the Chickasaw homeland by the shortest route available.
Later Spanish expeditions into the Southeast were careful to avoid the Chickasaw, and 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. Somewhat wary because of De Soto's encounter with the Chickasaw was well-known in Europe, Marquette and Joliet merely noted their location at the bluffs near Memphis. 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, and the expedition armorer, 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 for their push south. 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.
There was no hint in the initial meeting between the French and Chickasaw of the troubles to come. These had been set in motion in 1670 when 150 British colonists landed in South Carolina and built Charleston at the mouth of the Ashley River. The new colony's purpose was threefold: prevent the spread of Spanish missions up the coast from Florida into territory claimed by Britain; commercial plantations; and trade with the region's tribes. Unfortunately, there was insufficient labor for plantations, and Virginia traders were well-established with the Cherokee and Siouan tribes in the piedmont immediately to the west. Unable to overcome the Virginian advantage, Carolina traders were forced to look elsewhere for customers, and while the French were preoccupied with their war in the Great Lakes with the Iroquois and La Salle's futile attempt to establish a French colony on the Texas coast in 1686, Charleston traders were able to extend their reach all the way to the Mississippi River. By 1685 Henry Woodward had a permanent post among Upper Creeks in northern Alabama and sent two men overland to trade with the Chickasaw. By 1698 British traders visits to the Chickasaw villages were routine, and Thomas Welch, guided by Jean Couture, a Frenchman left in charge (and subsequently ignored) at Arkansas Post, was trading with the Quapaw on the Arkansas River.
The fur trade had propelled the French exploration of the Great Lakes, but the lower Mississippi Valley did not have enough beaver to draw them south. With the exception of Arkansas Post established by Tonti at the Quapaw villages in 1686, France was slow to exploit the resources of the region La Salle had claimed in 1682. 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. So an unholy bargain was struck. The British armed the Chickasaw, who because of their western location posed no threat to their settlements, 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.
By 1698 the King William's War (1688-97) between Britain and France and the corresponding conflict between the Great Lakes Algonquin allies and Iroquois had come to successful conclusions so far as the French were concerned. There was some concern that the suspension of the fur trade in the western Great Lakes by Louis XIV had seriously weakened the basis for their alliance with the Algonquin, but the French were dominant in North America. Disturbed by the recent appearance of British traders in the lower Mississippi Valley, 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. Interestingly enough, one of the British arguments to justify their wholesale enslavement of native peoples was that it was a necessary evil to keep these people from falling under the "influence" of Catholics. Although both sides tended to defend their actions in religious terms, Davion's cool reception had more to do with economics than religion. The Chickasaw were terrorizing every tribe in the region to capture slaves for the British, and a French presence, religious or otherwise, was not going to be good for business. Setting the pattern that the French would follow later, Davion established his mission with the Tunica who were often the victims of this joint British-Chickasaw enterprise.
France and Spain were very much rivals for the New World, and for this reason Marquette and Joliet had immediately turned back in 1673 when they discovered Spanish trade goods at the Quapaw villages. La Salle claimed the region for France in 1682, but his subsequent futile attempt to establish a French colony on the Texas coast had prompted a Spanish military expedition to drive him away. However, as a new war approached with Great Britain (Queen Anne's War 1701-13), the French and Spanish in 1699 found themselves in the awkward situation of allies. As such, Spain could ill-afford to oppose a French colony on the disputed Gulf coast, although they did hurry to build a new fort at Pensacola in 1698 to protect their claim. 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.
This proved timely, because in September of the following year, the French discovered a British ship making its way up the Mississippi 70 miles from a mouth, and its captain, Lewis Bond, was not the least bit shy about disclosing British plan to colonize the lower Mississippi using disaffected French Huguenots. Iberville responded by building Fort Mississippi at a point 40 miles above the mouth to block British access. In 1702 French operations in the area were relocated to Fort St. Louis on Mobile Bay which remained the focus of French activity in the region until the establishment of New Orleans in 1718. However, the French military presence in the area was weak, and they could do little to help their Spanish allies during the Queen Anne's War beyond providing a refuge for a small group of Apalachee refugees from Florida. Meanwhile, under the guise of war, South Carolina slave traders with their Creek and Yamasee allies attacked and destroyed the Spanish mission system in northern Florida and carried off thousands of captured natives for the slave docks at Charleston
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. Because of the sheer numbers required, this was much easier said than done. At a time when most tribes of similar size counted themselves lucky to have had 50-100 workable guns, the Carolina traders had already provided the Chickasaw with 800. Not eager to start another arms race similar to the Beaver Wars in the Great Lakes (1630-1700), Iberville engaged the services of Henri de Tonti (who had abandoned his Illinois trading post to join the Louisiana colony) 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.
The response of the Chickasaw leadership appeared positive, but to reach Mobile, they would first have to pass through Choctaw territory (definitely an unfriendly place since recent Chickasaw raids had killed almost 2,000 Choctaw and probably condemned an equal number to slavery) or be forced into a long detour through the Upper Creek country in Alabama (not entirely safe either). Because there were British traders living among the Creeks, Tonti decided the direct route was preferable, but on his second trip to negotiate a truce between the Choctaw and Chickasaw for a safe passage, his scouts discovered a large Chickasaw war party heading south to attack the Choctaw. Apparently, the right hand of the Chickasaw leadership was not always aware of what its left was doing, and Tonti was finally forced to personally escort the Chickasaw to Mobile. 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.
It was difficult for the Chickasaw to refuse him, and they accepted the protection of the French with the provision there would be no missionaries. The French sent St. Michel, a 14 year-old boy, to live with the Chickasaw, ostensibly to learn their language, but mostly to insure their compliance with the agreement. Of course, the British did not sit idle and allow the French to steal their business. Carolina traders lowered prices to meet the competition and, as St. Michel duly reported, redoubled their visits to the Chickasaw. They also got the Alibamu (Upper Creeks) to lure some unwary Frenchmen out of Mobile and kill them. For the most part, Chickasaw leaders tried to keep their word to the French, but inducements offered by Carolina traders, including a peace arranged with the Iroquois in 1706, split them into pro-British and pro-French factions ...a division which persisted even during the hostilities which followed. By 1705 British traders had gotten some pro-British Chickasaw to resume their slave raids, and the fragile peace in the area disintegrated. Matters worsened after enraged Choctaw killed a Chickasaw delegation enroute to Mobile to meet with the French. Iberville's gift for diplomacy may have salvaged the situation, but he had contracted yellow fever while fighting the British in the West Indies and died in Havana. Tonti succumbed to the same disease when it struck Mobile in 1704.
Their place was taken by Iberville's brother, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne d' Bienville, a competent man but far more inclined to deal with the Chickasaw through action than words. After the Choctaw had lost more than 450 people to Chickasaw raids, Bienville began to secretly provide them with arms. Of course, there was nothing secretive after Chickasaw raiders were routinely greeted with bullets rather of arrows during attacks on the Choctaw villages. Meanwhile, the British had grown careless and started conducting their native slave trade a little too close to home. By 1711 the enslavement of their women and children for debts owed traders and the appropriation of a part of their homeland by German-Swiss colonists had provoked the Tuscarora into an uprising which killed more than 200 whites in North Carolina. Virginia felt that the North Carolinians were "reaping as they had sown" and refused to help, but South Carolina sent two small armies and hundreds of Yamasee mercenaries to crush the revolt. The Carolina colonists learned nothing from the experience. Charleston trader James Moore sold 400 hundred Tuscarora prisoners into slavery to pay for the expenses of his expedition.
Four years later it was the turn of the Yamasee mercenaries. Although they had served the British well in the enslavement of the tribes in Spanish Florida, the Yamasee became the victims of the similar abuse as the Tuscarora when Carolina traders began seizing their children for debts. Their response was the Yamasee War (1715-17) which quickly spread to the Siouan-speaking tribes of the Piedmont, the Creeks, with even a few Cherokee. It cost the British dearly before they were able to turn the rival tribes against each other and defeat their enemies. The Cherokee dropped out of the fighting early and then killed a visiting Lower Creek delegation which had come to ask for help against the British. The bad feelings between the Creek and Cherokee continued for years afterwards. Meanwhile, the Chickasaw and Cherokee joined to drive the Shawnee from the Cumberland Basin of central Tennessee where they had become a nuisance to themselves and the British. The Yamasee survivors fled south into Florida where, despite the fact they had helped the British annihilate the original Florida tribes, the Spanish provided refuge. All of which prompted the British to blame the revolt on a Spanish and French plot rather than what it actually was, Native American reaction to enslavement.
The Yamasee War officially ended in 1717 when the British and Creek made peace but trade did not fully resume until 1722. When it did, the primary item was the deerskin, because every tribe, even the Chickasaw, had lost their enthusiasm for supplying them with slaves. Not only was there a dwindling supply after the destruction of the Florida tribes, but victims were becoming better organized and armed. Chickasaw attacks on the Caddo tribes in western Louisiana in 1717 resulted not only in the French supplying the Caddo with firearms, but in the formation of Caddo confederacies for defense. With no easy targets, the trade began to wane of its own accord. Its legacy, however, was to leave the Chickasaw with a host of enemies and few friends which drove them even closer to the British. Trade switched to deerskins, which, because of an epidemic among European cattle, had become valuable for making leather. The slaughter of deer in the Southeast during the next 40 years was similar to the Great Plains buffalo 150 years later, and to pay for their dependence on trade goods, southeast hunters were forced to range far into the hunting territories of other tribes with the potential for violent confrontation.
For obvious reasons, British traders were not active in the interior during the Yamasee War. One would expect that the French would have been able to take advantage of the sudden decline in British influence after the Yamasee War. Unfortunately, the French were to demonstrate that they were every bit as capable as the British when it came to "shooting yourself in the foot." In 1710 Antoine Crozat obtained a royal charter to colonize Louisiana and in 1712 sent his friend, Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, to Mobile to take over from Bienville who had been acting governor since his brother's death. Bienville and Cadillac did not like each other personally, and the appointment divided the French in Louisiana into two camps. Cadillac can be remembered as the man given the responsibility for building the French trading post at Detroit in 1701 and whose ill-considered policy of inviting more tribes to settle nearby than the area could possibly support had started the Fox Wars (1712-16 and 1728-36), an internal struggle which almost dismembered the alliance between the French and Great Lakes Algonquin.
Aside from his lapse in judgment at Detroit, Cadillac had proven capable of dealing with the tribes in the Great Lakes. Perhaps it was the Gulf coast's heat or Bienville pushing him, but he never made the necessary adjustments to the south. Instead, the French began to bully and overreact. To counter the Chickasaw slave raids, the French gave permission in 1713 to enslave captured British allies (specifically Chickasaw). Then on his way to Illinois in 1715, Cadillac refused to stop and perform the calumet ceremony with the Natchez, the most powerful tribe along the lower river and and an important ally. More than a social blunder, this was perceived as an extreme insult, and Natchez harassment of French traders on the river soon escalated into robbery and occasional murder. Cadillac had left Bienville in charge at Mobile. Always a man of action, Bienville raised a small army and proceeded towards the Natchez villages stopping at the Tunica village just south. A Natchez delegation arrived with the calumet (universal sign of peaceful intentions) to negotiate.
Bienville took them hostage and demanded the heads of those responsible for the recent murders. He finally got what he wanted and returned to Mobile. Despite this, the Natchez gave permission for the French to build Fort Rosalie on their territory in 1716, but Bienville and the other French were beginning to push their luck. With the outbreak of the Yamasee War, the French renewed demands that the Chickasaw cease their trade with the British and, as usual, were ignored. Bienville then began to organize attacks on British traders still supplying the Chickasaw. This was done by using Choctaw mercenaries to ambush pack trains on the Trader's Path, a wilderness trail beginning at Charleston and running west to Augusta and the Coosa River before swinging north to avoid the French and follow the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals and the Chickasaw villages just beyond. The Choctaw were paid for their services in trade goods with an added bonus for each Chickasaw scalp delivered to Mobile. After years of Chickasaw raids, Bienville had little trouble finding Choctaw warriors for this purpose.
Rather than being intimidated, the Chickasaw grew more stubborn in their determination to trade with the British, and Bienville's harassment only served to silence the pro-French faction. Matters came to head during 1720 when the Chickasaw executed a French trader as a spy. Both French and British traders routinely passed information to their governments, so there seems little doubt about his guilt. However, the Chickasaw had always tolerated this, and his death was a clear indication they had tired of the "silent war" the French were conducting against them along the Trader's Path. The First Chickasaw War (1720-25) only brought the fighting of the previous five years into the open. The French armed the Choctaw and sent them against the Chickasaw, but the fortified villages were difficult to reach and dangerous to attack. Results were minimal. They also encouraged attacks by their allies north of the Ohio River against British pack trains on the Trader's Path. These also had little effect and brought trouble with the Cherokee and Upper Creeks just to the east who did not appreciate strange war parties roaming through their territory. Meanwhile, the Chickasaw retaliated with attacks on Choctaw villages and the new French settlements along the Yazoo River. Their masterstroke, however, was to occupy the Chickasaw Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi in 1723 and block all French traffic on the lower Mississippi River.
This effectively cut New France in two and halt all communication and trade between Canada and Louisiana. Having frustrated and punished the French and allies in war, the Chickasaw then "went for the jugular" with diplomacy. At the urging of British traders, who had regained the advantage over the French with less-expensive and higher-quality goods and who were looking for new customers, the Chickasaw in 1724 offered a separate peace to the Choctaw, the major French ally in the conflict. The Choctaw had tired of the war and were interested in trade with the British. They were willing, but the French, for obvious reasons, were opposed. The Choctaw persisted, and after a year of arguments with their increasingly reluctant ally, the French were forced to bend to their wishes. In 1725 they abandoned their ambush positions along the Trader's Path, and an uneasy peace settled over the lower Mississippi.
In the midst of this, 40 Chickasaw families led by Squirrel King accepted an invitation from South Carolina and left Mississippi to settle on the Savannah River. Rather than running from a fight, their purpose was to protect the British pack trains in the east where they were coming under attack from the French allies north of the Ohio River. They provided valuable service as scouts against the Spanish in Florida during the War of Jenkins Ear (1739-48) for the British army of James Oglethorpe and were granted a 10x10 mile reserve on the Georgia side of the Savannah River near Augusta. They remained there until their lands were confiscated in 1783 by Georgia because they had helped the British defend Pensacola against a Spanish attack. After spending some time among the Upper Creeks, by 1786 most returned to northern Mississippi.
Up to this point, confrontations between the French and Chickasaw had been relatively low-scale. However, the forces leading to a rapid escalation in the next few years had been set in motion by the so-called "Mississippi Scheme," a plan for colonizing the lower Mississippi concocted by John Law, a Scottish financier and the unlikely director of the Bank of France. Law had no problem finding investors wanting to "get rich quick," many of whom were important members of the French nobility. The entire project collapsed in 1725 due to massive overspeculation, but before this happened, large land grants had been awarded along Mississippi's Yazoo River including a tract of eight square leagues at Natchez. More than 1,000 new French colonists, many of whom had no experience with Native Americans, arrived soon afterwards to take over the land. They also brought 500 black slaves with them to provide the heavy labor required in clearing the land and inadvertently added malaria, yaws, and leprosy to the region's growing misery.
Because there was still danger from Chickasaw slave raids, the new colonists were initially welcomed by the tribes in the area as additional protection, and many of them actually moved their villages closer to French settlements. The crowding which resulted produced more contact than would normally have been the case, and neither party had sufficient time to adjust to the other before there was serious friction. The story of the French in North America is usually told in terms of how well they got along with native peoples. Much of this is true, with some notable exceptions, because the French were relatively few, their trade was welcome, and they rarely took land. However, when the French wanted land, as they did in this case, they could be as overbearing as the British or Spanish. Trouble was not long in coming, and after a French soldier at Fort Rosalie killed an old Natchez man over a disputed debt, a Natchez uprising killed two French and drove the rest inside the fort (First Natchez or Four Day War - 1723). Cooler heads took charge, and the local French had almost negotiated a peace, when Bienville, who had been reinstated as governor by John Law, arrived with an army, burned one of the Natchez towns, and took its chief hostage.
Matters were smoothed over, but relations between the French and Natchez were never the same afterwards. At this point, the Chickasaw who, through all their wars with other tribes in the area had remained friendly with the Natchez, got into the act. Feeling that if the French could arm the Choctaw to attack them, there was nothing wrong in returning the favor by encouraging the Natchez to attack the French. Their constant goading of the Natchez as the "lackeys of the French" added to the tension until only a single spark was needed. This came when the commandant of Fort Rosalie, Sieur de Chepart, demanded that the Natchez abandon a village with a sacred mound to make way for his plantation. In November, 1729, the Natchez rose in revolt and killed more than 250 Frenchmen at Fort Rosalie and Fort Pierre just to the north. A long time in coming, the uprising was especially brutal. Almost all of those killed were men, many of whom were mutilated or tortured. In accordance with the customs of tribes in the area, women and children were spared but 300 were taken prisoner. Black slaves were freed and encouraged to join the uprising.
By this time, French policy towards tribes opposing them had taken an ugly turn towards genocide. The previous year, they had decided to annihilate the Fox who had fought them for many years in the Great Lakes (Second Fox War 1728-37), and their response to the Fort Rosalie massacre was that the Natchez would suffer the same fate. To preclude any possibility that blacks would join the revolt, the French armed a group of black slaves and sent them to destroy the Chawasha, a small peaceful tribe just south of New Orleans without the slightest connection to the Natchez. Then they assembled an army, including 1,500 Choctaw and Tunica warriors, at Point Coupeé, Louisiana and proceeded upstream to Natchez. The Natchez were prepared and had taken refuge inside a fort with walls so strong that French cannon could not penetrate them. There was already suspicion that the British were responsible for the uprising, and the taunts coming from inside the Natchez fort that the Chickasaw and British would come and destroy the French only seemed to confirm this.
But the Chickasaw and British never came, and with the French unable to take the fort, negotiations began for the release of the women and children. In the midst of these, the Natchez slipped quietly out of their fort and scattered. Choctaw and Chakchiuma warriors intercepted one group trying to reach the Chickasaw killing 150 and freeing a large group of French women, children and black slaves. The Yazoo, who were Natchez allies in the uprising, were also destroyed. The main body of the Natchez were found later that year on an island in the Mississippi. The French surrounded them, and after a merciless bombardment with cannon, overran and killed nearly all. Another large group was caught by the French and their Caddo allies near Natchitoches, Louisiana and dispatched in like manner. The few Natchez prisoners taken were assembled in a camp near New Orleans and deported to Haiti and St. Domingue as slaves. Only a few managed to elude the French and find a refuge among the Creek, Cherokee, with one band settling in South Carolina. By far, the largest Natchez group to escape the French were the 1,000 (including 200 warriors) who had found their way to the Chickasaw.
For the most part, the French ignored the other Natchez survivors, but the Chickasaw group used their sanctuary to launch raids against tribes that had helped the French destroy them. Encouraged by the near annihilation of the Fox in the Illinois country during the summer of 1730, Governor Etienne Périer not only ordered the Chickasaw to surrender the Natchez living among them but renewed earlier French demands that they immediately cease all trade with the British. Although they were slow to answer, the Chickasaw ultimately refused to do either, and as a way of emphasizing that he was serious about this, Périer in 1731 got the Choctaw to burn three of their Chickasaw prisoners at the stake. However, the Choctaw at this time, from their previous experience with the Chickasaw and their own desire to trade with the British, would prove reluctant allies forcing the French to turn to their allies north of the Ohio River: Illinois; Wabash Tribes (Wea, Piankashaw, Kickapoo); and Detroit Tribes (Wyandot, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi).
The French soon discovered just how ornery an opponent the Chickasaw could be. Unlike the Natchez, the Chickasaw villages were not on the Mississippi but in the rugged hill country of northeast Mississippi, a remote location which made them very difficult to attack. To make matters worse, the Chickasaw were heavily armed and in times of war withdrew into a few large fortified towns which made them virtually impregnable to anything but a large army with cannon and other heavy equipment. Unable to get the Choctaw to attack the Chickasaw, the French in 1731 encouraged a series of punitive raids by their northern allies, but the attackers suffered heavy loses, and Chickasaw retaliatory raids over the next few years turned southern Illinois and Indiana into a war zone and decimated the Illinois and Wabash Tribes. At the same time, the Chickasaw were alternately raiding some Choctaw groups and offering peace to others. These efforts eventually bore fruit, and in 1733 the Chickasaw were able to conclude a separate peace with the northern Choctaw. The following year the Chickasaw defiantly closed the Mississippi River to French commerce.
The French had endured the losses of their northern allies and defection of the Choctaw, but the closure of the Mississippi was the final straw. The decision was made to destroy the Chickasaw in the same manner as the Fox and Natchez, and to accomplish this, two separate armies were assembled in 1736 for a coordinated attack on the Chickasaw homeland. At the beginning of the year, the northern force under the command of Major Pierre d'Artaguette gathered at Fort de Chartres (Kaskaskia, Illinois). Besides 30 French regulars, it included 100 militia and almost 300 Illinois, Wea, and Piankashaw warriors led by the Illinois chief Chicagou and Francois de la Valterie, Sieur de Vincennes, the commandant of Fort Vincennes on the Wabash River. Meanwhile, the Chickasaw's old antagonist, Bienville was to command a second force of 600 French and 1,000 loyal Choctaw warriors which was to follow the Tombigbee River north from Mobile and strike the Chickasaw from the south.
The original plan was for both armies begin their attacks at the end of March and meet at the main Chickasaw town of Ackia (Tupelo, Mississippi). Artaguette left Fort de Chartres on schedule in late February. However, Bienville was delayed until the first week of April by unusually heavy rains and the slow appearance of his Choctaw allies. Unfortunately, the Chickasaw blockade of the Mississippi prevented communication, and Bienville had no way of informing Artaguette of his delay. After a swift trip down the Mississippi, the northern force arrived at the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis) in early March and built a small fort as a supply base while awaiting news from Bienville. None came, and after three weeks, Artaguette was running out of food and faced the difficult choice of returning to Illinois or attacking on his own. After consulting his allies, the fatal decision was made. Leaving 25 men to garrison the fort, he moved southeast towards the Chickasaw villages, his progress slowed by the necessity of dragging cannon and supply wagons through mud.
Of course, the Chickasaw had not failed to notice the presence of a French army on the bluffs and were waiting in their forts. Artaguette was not a fool and, with his small force, chose to attack Chocolissa, one of the smaller Chickasaw towns on March 25th. However, it was heavily fortified, and after the initial assault failed, the French and their allies were pinned down by a crossfire. In the midst of this, 400 Chickasaw warriors arrived from a nearby town and hit the French flank. The Illinois, Wea, and Piankashaw saw no future in these circumstances and took off leaving the French to fend for themselves. Forty French followed their example, but with better order, and escaped by following the unlikely directions of a 16 year-old boy named Voison. Seventeen French were captured including Artaguette, Vincennes, and the chaplin Father Antoine Senat who had remained to care for the wounded. The Chickasaw at first treated them well, perhaps hoping the French would ransom them with the usual payment of horses. However, when news arrived of the advance of the second French army under Bienville, the kindness quickly disappeared.
The Chickasaw killed Artaguette and the others by burning them alive and then braced for an assault from the opposite direction. Bienville left Mobile on April 2nd unaware of what had befallen Artaguette. News of the disaster reached him enroute, and on the 20th he paused at the boundary of Choctaw territory (20 miles below where Noxubee Creek joins the Tombigbee) to build Fort Tombecbé as a supply base. There were also important differences to worked out with the Choctaw who wanted to attack the three principal Chickasaw towns, while the French were determined to start with the one occupied by the Natchez refugees. It was agreed to strike first at Ackia, but having to fight the same mud and terrain as Artaguette, Bienville's army did not arrive until late May. By then, with the help of British traders, the Chickasaw had made every house in Ackia into a miniature fort. They also had powder and supplies captured from Artaguette as well as the French battle plans, but Bienville's forces still outnumbered the 450 Chickasaw and 150 Natchez defenders of Ackia almost three to one.
Since women and children were present, the Chickasaw sent a delegation to see it would be possible to arrange a truce, but the Choctaw killed them. After that, there was no turning back. A bombardment breached the walls, and French regulars, wearing heavy woolen bags over their upper bodies to protect them against musket balls, stormed inside using grenades against the fortified houses. The defenders caught them in a crossfire aiming for unprotected legs, and grenades killed more French than Chickasaw that day. Chickasaw marksmen also took a terrible toll of French officers which added greatly to the confusion during the rout which followed. The French began a slow retreat and then ran. Besides the hundreds seriously wounded, they left 70 dead on the field and a string of abandoned dead all the way back to Fort Tombecbé. The Choctaw losses were probably around 100, and the count would have much higher if the Chickasaw had chosen to pursue.
This was the worst defeat that the French had ever experienced at the hands of Native Americans. While the exchange of raids and counter-raids continued between the Chickasaw and French allies north of the Ohio, the French looked for ways to avenge this affront to their military honor. The matter even had the attention the French monarchy, and 700 regular soldiers to Louisiana with specific instructions that they were to be used to "destroy" the Chickasaw. By 1739 Bienville was ready to try again ...this time with an army almost twice the size of the one defeated in 1736. As before, there was a northern group of 40 regulars and 150 Illinois warriors from Fort de Chartres commanded by Alphonse La Buissonniere who had succeeded Artaguette as commandant of the Illinois country. This time Bienville left nothing to chance that the two forces would link and, proceeding upstream by boat from New Orleans, met the Illinois contingent at the Chickasaw Bluffs on August 15th. He built Fort Assumption to support the army's advance, but suddenly it seemed that the Chickasaw could call upon the rain to defend them as easily as their warriors. Bienville's army was stopped by "mud and flood," the result of unusual and sustained rainfall for that time of the year. Unable to advance inland, disease stalked through the French camps and rapidly depleted their ranks.
In the end, the only attack Bienville's army could mount was Pierre de Céleron's abortive attempt with 600 Canadian troops and native allies to capture a Chickasaw town and take hostages. The Choctaw were even less enthusiastic about this conflict, and after flirting with British traders for several years, Red Shoes, an important chief, had negotiated a separate peace with the Chickasaw which had been accepted by most of the eastern Choctaw. It had taken lavish French presents to prevent the defection of the western Choctaw and now that Bienville's expedition was bogged down in the mud, there was grave danger that the Choctaw, the most important French ally, would go over to the British. In February a Chickasaw delegation arrived at Fort Assumption to make peace, and Bienville was forced to sign an agreement where the only Chickasaw concession was the resumption of French traffic on the Mississippi. After his second failure to defeat the Chickasaw, Bienville abandoned Fort Assumption and returned to New Orleans in disgrace.
He was replaced by the Marquis de Vaudreuil. The Chickasaw had inflicted three successive defeats on the French, but it had cost them three-quarters of their population, and they could not afford any more of these "victories." Seeing some chance that Bienville's departure would open a door to a permanent peace with the French, a Chickasaw delegation visited Vaudreuil in August, 1743 asking for peace. Vaudreuil's answer, however, was nothing new. The Chickasaw must stop their trade with the British and accept the authority of their French "father" with the added stipulation that a peace also needed the consent of the Choctaw. Unfortunately, the Choctaw at the time were sharply divided into British and French factions and could not agree on anything. So nothing came of the Chickasaw peace initiative, and the French continued to pay the Choctaw for Chickasaw scalps and enslave captured Chickasaw. However, while the Choctaw were preoccupied with internal problems, a lull developed in their fighting with the Chickasaw.
The outbreak of the King George's War (1744-48) between Britain and France actually brought further relief when a British naval blockade cut the supply of French trade goods and weakened their control over native allies. Raids by French allies north of the Ohio lessened, and the Chickasaw took advantage of this during 1745 to join the Cherokee in expelling the last groups of Shawnee from disputed territory in the Cumberland Basin. The Choctaw divisions erupted into civil war during 1747 which ended in 1750 with the assassination of Red Shoes. With the French faction once again in control, the Choctaw resumed their war against the Chickasaw, but a combined Cherokee-Chickasaw war party inflicted a serious defeat on the Choctaw in 1750. Raids resumed, and in 1752 Vaudreuil sent an army of 700 regulars with a large number of native allies up the Tombigbee to destroy the Chickasaw. This was the same route Bienville had used in 1736, and the result was the same. Unable to drive the Chickasaw from their forts, the French were forced to abandon the effort and retreat.
Occasional nuisance raids continued for the remaining years of the French presence in North America, but the northern tribes gradually lost interest, and 1752 marked the last serious French attempt to defeat the Chickasaw. Although the outcome was no longer in doubt after the fall of Quebec to the British in 1759, the French and Indian War (1755-63) did not officially end until the signing of Treaty of Fountainbleau in February, 1763. France was gone, but in a last minute secret accord, it denied Britain Louisiana west of the Mississippi by transferring it to Spain. Nearly bankrupt after seven years of the first world-wide war, Britain needed peace more than all of Louisiana.
However, the British had acquired a vast amount of territory east of the Mississippi River, and with it, an unhappy group of former French allies. As an economy measure, the British curtailed the practice of gifts to chiefs and placed restrictions on trade goods. The reaction to this was the Pontiac Rebellion in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley which captured nine of the twelve British forts west of the Appalachians during 1763. The British were unable to pacify the area until 1765. South of the Ohio, there was little resistance to the British takeover because the overwhelming presence of the Chickasaw. The British had only recently defeated the Cherokee (Cherokee War 1760-62) and enjoyed relatively good relations with the Creeks. The only hostilities were in 1764 when the Choctaw and Tunica, in response to an appeal from Pontiac, attacked a British expedition ascending the Mississippi to take control of the Illinois country from the French at Fort de Chartres. The Chickasaw provided an escort for a later expedition in 1765 which reached its destination. At the insistence of the British, the Chickasaw shook hands and made peace with the Illinois. Surprisingly, the agreement held, most likely because the Illinois were virtually annihilated by their other enemies four years later.
Otherwise, the British settled into their garrisons at Fort Charlotte (Mobile), Fort Bute (Manchac), and Fort Panmure (Natchez) without opposition. At councils held at Augusta (1763) and Mobile (1765), Governor George Johnson explained the new order to be administered from Pensacola (Britain had also acquired Florida from Spain). While chastising the Choctaw for their duplicity (service to the French), he pointing to the Chickasaw as an example of what would to be expected. The British then imposed a peace between the Choctaw and Chickasaw, which also endured, but the Choctaw were not entirely happy and continued to maintain ties with former French officials, many of whom had moved west and gone to work for the Spanish. At the same time, other groups loyal to the French - Alibamu, Coushatta, Mobile, Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Tunica - chose to leave rather than accept British rule and crossed the Mississippi into Spanish Louisiana. Louisiana became a hodge-podge of small, unrelated tribes whose departure left unoccupied territory east of the river.
Besides military force, the British responded to the Pontiac Rebellion with gifts and increased trade. They also dealt with the concerns of the western tribes that, with the French gone, the Americans would cross the mountains and take their lands. To reassure them, the British issued the Proclamation of 1763 halting any further settlement west of the Appalachians. British policy was to take the territory they had acquired from the French and divide it into two large reservations separated by the Ohio River. The order came none too soon so far as the tribes were concerned. In the north, groups of Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiersmen were already beginning to settle around Pittsburgh, while south of the Ohio, others had settled on the Mississippi near Natchez. Peter Chester, the British governor at Pensacola, attempted to enforce the proclamation with severe penalties for whites squatting illegally on native land. However, British officials were "spittin' into the wind." American frontiersmen simply ignored them and moved west, and the British effort to stop them was the main cause for the American Revolution (1775-83), not the usual explanation of "no taxation without representation," an important issue only in the New England colonies.
Even before 1763, colonial settlement had expanded inland from the coast and pressed against the Creeks in Georgia and Cherokee in the Carolinas forcing them to surrender land and shift west. Voids created by the migration of French allies to Louisiana were quickly filled, but it was not enough. Of the two, it was easier for the Creeks to absorb the loss of their eastern lands because many were able to move south into the Florida peninsula which was almost deserted after 1730 because of British-Creek slave raids. The Cherokee, however, did not have this option. Hemmed in by the Shawnee to the north, they were forced into a prolonged war with the Creeks (1752-55) over disputed (formerly shared) hunting territory in northern Georgia. After their victory over the Creeks at Taliwa in 1755, the Cherokee decided their next victim would be the Chickasaw. Although they outnumbered the Chickasaw five to one, the Cherokee soon discovered that they had "bitten off a bit more than they could chew." After eleven years of skirmishes, the Cherokee were routed at a battle fought near the Chickasaw Old Fields in 1769. The British arranged a peace the following year, and although they never relinquished their claim to the disputed area, the Cherokee chose not to challenge the Chickasaw again.
Meanwhile, faced with the growing threat of revolution by their American colonists, the British were forced to open new lands for settlement. To do this, they had met with the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix, New York in 1768 and signed a treaty wherein the Iroquois ceded their dubious claim to the Ohio Valley in exchange for guarantees of their homeland. No one consulted the tribes which lived there, although the British did take the precaution of signing treaties with the Cherokee extinguishing their claims to some areas south of the Ohio. As frontiersmen poured across the mountains to take the new lands, there were confrontations with the Shawnee which quickly escalated into Lord Dunmore's War (1774). A colonial army from Virginia defeated the Shawnee that year and forced them to agree to remain north of the Ohio, but the matter was far from settled. With the outbreak of the Revolution the following year, the British changed from a neutral bystander to supplying arms for the Ohio and Great Lakes tribes to attack the new American settlements along the Ohio River in Kentucky and western Pennsylvania. South of the Ohio, British Indian agents were active in encouraging raids by the Chickamauga Cherokee and Upper Creeks against frontier settlements and forts.
Most Charleston traders were Scotsmen, and from the time of their earliest visits, many, including the renown James Adair, had married Chickasaw women. Since the Chickasaw were matrilineal, the mixed-blood children from these unions were fully accepted as members of their mother's clan. After 1763 the number of British traders living among the Chickasaw tripled, and by the time of the American Revolution many mixed-bloods, such as the six sons and three daughters of James Logan Colbert, were coming of age and assuming positions of leadership. The influence and power wielded by their white fathers speeded the process. Although the Charleston traders had much in common with the American frontiersmen moving into the area, they tended to view the new settlement, not only as a threat to Chickasaw lands, but also their own trade monopoly and way of life. As a result, the traders were usually Tories, and the Chickasaw became British allies during the war.
Assured that they would side with them against the Americans, the British sent a pack train with 3,000 pounds of powder and lead to the Chickasaw Bluffs in December, 1775. Because of the recent war with the Cherokee, the Chickasaw were reluctant to join Chickamauga raids against the Georgia and Carolina frontiers and had even less inclination to help the Ohio and Great Lakes tribes (French allies and bitter enemies during the previous fifty years) in their war with the Kentucky frontiersmen along the Ohio River. Nevertheless, the British were satisfied. Since the settlers near Natchez and Walnut Hill (Vicksburg) had shown themselves more neutral than Tory, there was concern at the beginning of the war that the Americans would make an attempt to capture the lower Mississippi Valley. However, with the heavily-armed Chickasaw controlling the Chickasaw Bluffs, there seemed little chance of this.
Kentucky frontiersmen in 1777 became aware of the British weakness in the west and passed this information back to Virginia where Governor Patrick Henry quickly gave permission for two expeditions against the British along the Mississippi. By far, the best known of these was the one commanded by George Rogers Clark which captured the Illinois country during the summer of 1778 and six months later defeated the British effort to retake it. Clark's victory was responsible for the Mississippi River becoming the western boundary of the United States in 1783, but the lesser known expedition of Captain James Willing deserves a piece of the credit. In February, 1778 Willing and 100 men slipped past the Chickasaw blockade on the Mississippi and to raid the Tory plantations near Natchez and Walnut Hill. However, because the Chickasaw still controlled the river between Memphis and the Ohio, Willing was unable to return to Kentucky and proceeded south to Spanish-controlled New Orleans.
Spain officially entered the war against Great Britain in 1779 and helped the American cause in the south and west. Louisiana governor Bernaldo de Galvez immediately seized Baton Rouge and Natchez, and the following year took Mobile. A British counterattack failed, and in the spring of 1781, the Spanish collected a force of 100 ships and 30,000 men to capture Pensacola. Both the Savannah River and Mississippi Chickasaw participated in the British defense of their last bastion on the Gulf, but faced with overwhelming force, General Campbell surrendered in May, 1781. Only Detroit and the Chickasaw homeland remained as British strongholds in the west, and as they had done with the French, the Chickasaw promptly closed the Mississippi River to Spanish traffic cutting St. Louis off from New Orleans. Their most notable exploit during the war occurred when they captured a Spanish convoy on the river which included the wife of the Spanish Governor of Missouri. The Spanish in Missouri did not have the military power to retaliate but did succeed in getting the Kickapoo near St. Louis to raid the Chickasaw. The attacks opened old wounds and made it difficult for the Chickasaw to trust the Spanish afterwards.
Amazingly, there was only one direct confrontation between the Chickasaw and Americans during the war. This came in 1780 when George Rogers Clark built Fort Jefferson (named for Thomas Jefferson, the governor of Virginia at the time) in western Kentucky to protect the Kentucky settlements and break the Chickasaw stranglehold on the Mississippi. The Chickasaw attacked and, after a four-day siege withdrew. The Americans, however, could not hold the area and were forced to abandon the fort in June, 1781. The lack of fighting made it easy for the Chickasaw to come to terms with the Americans afterwards. As the war wound down after the American victory at Yorktown, the British sent word to the Chickasaw during 1782 that it would be best for them to make their own arrangements with the Americans. The Chickasaw then indicated to Virginia that they were interested in peace. Governor Thomas Jefferson expressed a similar desire, and in November, 1783 the Chickasaw met with his representatives at French Lick near Nashville and made peace with Virginia. The Chickasaw 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.
The boundaries of the new United States set by the Treaty of Paris in 1783 meant very little in the years following the war. The British continued to occupy their forts on American territory in the Great Lakes and, in an attempt to foster the economic collapse of their former colonies, armed the Ohio tribes to keep the Americans out of Ohio. Meanwhile, in a separate treaty signed in 1783, Great Britain had returned Florida, including the entire Gulf Coast between Pensacola and New Orleans, to Spain. Creating more mischief for the Americans. The treaty had deliberately left the northern border undefined, and Spain chose to interpret the boundaries of Western Florida as everything between the Chattahoochee, Mississippi, and Tennessee Rivers (Mississippi, Alabama, western Kentucky and Tennessee). As the British anticipated, this created immediate problems between Spain and the United States. Georgia considered its border with Florida to be much farther south (the latitude of the current Florida-Georgia border), and at the time its territorial claims extended west all the way to the Mississippi. There were other boundary conflicts arising from the colonial charters that the Americans inherited from British rule. Unable to resolve these, the new states finally followed the lead of Virginia and ceded their western lands to the central government.
Georgia, however, was in no mood to compromise and, in the absence of a strong federal government under the Articles of Confederation, acted on its own by sending officials west to take over the government in the Natchez district. Spanish soldiers promptly expelled them, and Georgia responded with words which sounded as if it intended to take on Spain by itself. No fighting resulted, but at the same time, rumors reached the Spanish that Carolina frontiersmen were raising an army to invade Louisiana. As the British had hoped, Spain changed from an American ally into a rival. However, without enough soldiers to defend both Florida and Louisiana, it settled on the same strategy as the French had used against the British - dominate trade and provide arms to frontier tribes to resist the expansion of settlement ...hardly surprising, because Spain employed so many French in the administration of Louisiana. To increase their influence with the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama, the Spanish issued new licenses to British trading companies: Panton and Leslie which operated out of Pensacola; and Mather and Strother in New Orleans.
The traders who worked for Panton and Leslie were mostly former Tories whose property had been confiscated by rebel state governments during the revolution. They had little affection for the United States and because many had married native women, they were able to exploit their family connections among the Creek. Actually, the advantage went well beyond this, and Alexander McGillvray (a tory, mixed-blood trader) became the chief spokesman for the Creek council. With concerns running high among the tribes about how much land the Americans intended to take, the Spanish effort soon bore fruit. In June, 1784 McGillvray went to Mobile and signed an agreement placing the Creek Nation under the protection of Spain. McGillvray received a Spanish pension for his efforts. The Chickamauga Cherokee of Dragging Canoe, who had been fighting the Americans in Tennessee for many years, signed the following month and soon afterwards began receiving regular shipments of arms and ammunition from Pensacola and Mobile. Mather and Strother's traders also lured the Chickasaw to Mobile in July, and Ugulaycabe (Wolf's Friend) signed a similar agreement with the Spanish on behalf of the Chickasaw.
Meanwhile, Georgia seemed to spare no effort to make a bad situation even worse. An illegal treaty forced on the Creeks at Augusta in 1783, encroachment by its citizens into Creek lands, and the confiscation of eastern Chickasaw lands for service to the British during the war had driven McGillvray and the Creeks into the arms of the Spanish. Perhaps because George Washington and other important Virginians were heavily invested in land along the Ohio River, the attention of the American Congress was focused on fighting the Ohio tribes of the British-backed Western Alliance, and the last thing wanted was for Georgia to start another war in the Southeast. To prevent this, Congress appointed a commission to meet with the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creeks, and Chickasaw at Hopewell on South Carolina's Keowee River and establish tribal territories with a boundary for the southern frontier. With meeting set for October of 1785, McGillvray convened a council of the southern tribes at Little Tallasee (Alabama) that July to organize a united front against the Americans. However, the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw were suspicious of his intentions, and all McGillvray got was a general declaration denouncing American claims to tribal lands. The Chickasaw and others decided to attend the Hopewell meeting without any agreement among themselves.
When the Spanish took control of Louisiana, there had been little contact between them and the Chickasaw since De Soto, but the old conquistadors had changed during the last 200 years. Very few soldiers were sent to Louisiana, and Spain chose to rule its new possession with a gentle hand. Until their declaration of war against the British in 1779, the Spanish had done little to antagonize the Chickasaw on the opposite side of the river. Chickasaw hunters roamed freely through Arkansas and often traded at Spanish posts, but because the Chickasaw saw so many French in the Spanish administration, they never completely trusted the Spanish. The fighting between Spain and Great Britain during the American Revolution had only added to the distrust. Despite this, the Spanish control of the region's trade through British traders after the war had gotten them a treaty with the Chickasaw. Unfortunately, Ugulaycabe's signature represented only part of the Chickasaw, the old French faction.
The mixed-bloods, who had stood solidly behind the British during the war, now favored the Americans and threw their support behind Piomingo (Mountain Leader), a full-blood but of Chakchiuma descent. The neutrals were represented by another full blood, the high minko Mingatuska (Hair Lip King). During the spring of of 1784, a measles epidemic struck the Chickasaw villages with terrible effect. Almost half of the population of Long Town died ...including important Chickasaw leaders. This allowed Piomingo to attend the Hopewell conference as the most influential Chickasaw representative, and on January 10, 1786 he and Mingatuska signed the first treaty between the Chickasaw and the United States. The boundaries established were essentially those of the earlier Chickasaw agreement with Virginia. The only exception being a small cession on the Tennessee River for an American trading post.
Choosing between the Spanish or Americans divided the Chickasaw. In 1784 Ugulaycabe had placed them under the protection of Spain, but only two years later, Piomingo and Mingatuska made a similar agreement with the Americans. Ugulaycabe's Spanish faction could exert considerable influence, because the Spanish had closed the lower Mississippi to American traffic which gave them a monopoly in the trade with the tribes of the region. Left to themselves, the Chickasaw might have come to civil war, but this did not happen. Through the years, they had demonstrated an amazing ability to put aside their internal differences and unite when confronted by a common enemy. In this case, the common enemy turned out to be the Creeks, not the Americans or Spanish. Faced with the possibility of war with Georgia because of continuing encroachment into Creek lands, Alexander McGillvray needed the support of the Chickasaw who were proving reluctant allies. When he learned that Piomingo had signed the Hopewell Treaty, he was furious and made the serious mistake of trying to bend the Chickasaw to his will. Shortly after the treaty, William Davenport brought the first American trading party to the Chickasaw. McGillvray demanded that Chickasaw refuse to trade and expel the Americans. When the Chickasaw ignored this, McGillvray dispatched a Creek "hit squad" which waited until Davenport was beyond the protection of the Chickasaw villages and ambushed him.
The Chickasaw did not appreciate the Creeks interfering in their affairs, especially when it was an attack in their territory on someone they considered a guest. McGillvray's actions pushed the neutral faction closer to Piomingo and the mixed-bloods. McGillvray, however, seemed unaware of this, and the test of wills turned violent during the next few years when Creek warriors began robbing and killing Chickasaw travellers and hunters. The attacks were obviously selective since the victims were almost always neutrals or members of Piomingo's American faction. After what had happened to De Soto and the French, the Creeks should have know that trying to intimidate the Chickasaw was asking for trouble. However, they outnumbered them six to one, and by 1790 McGillvray felt that he succeeded in isolating the Chickasaw through the treaty that he signed with the Americans that year. McGillvray had proven clever enough to get himself bribed by both the Americans and Spanish at the same time, but he had never forgotten his goal to protect the Creek homeland and was determined to crush the American faction of the Chickasaw.
He was not, however, the only clever native leader in the region. Faced with possibility of all-out war with the Creeks, Piomingo had visited frontier settlements along the Cumberland and sent appeals to President Washington for arms and assistance. These had fallen upon deaf ears, because the Americans were preoccupied with the war in Ohio. After learning of McGillvray's treaty, Piomingo astutely volunteered 50 Chickasaw warriors as scouts for the frontier army Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, was assembling in Kentucky to attack the Alliance villages in northwest Ohio. When the army began its advance north in the fall of 1791, the Chickasaw wisely kept their distance from St. Clair's undisciplined militia who was prone to shoot and scalp any "Injun" they encountered - friend or foe not being important.
The Chickasaw were out on a scouting mission when the battle began and could not prevent St. Clair's horrendous defeat, but the protection they provided covering the American retreat was one of the few bright spots in the campaign. The Americans were grateful, and Piomingo's Chickasaw not only received gifts and arms afterwards, but visits from American traders. They also received another kind of visit from their old enemies, the warriors of the Western Alliance. That fall, the Kickapoo attacked a Chickasaw hunting party in western Kentucky. The Chickasaw had not lost their touch over the years. They first drove off their attackers and then chased them all the way to the Ohio River. After St. Clair's disaster, Washington had sent "Mad Anthony" Wayne west to take command in Ohio. Rather than make an immediate attack, Wayne spent the next two years training an army and making careful preparations to destroy the Alliance. The lull in the Ohio fighting allowed the Washington administration to direct its attention to the long-neglected problems with the Spanish and southern tribes.
In 1790 Washington had appointed William Blount governor of the Territory South of the River Ohio (Tennessee) which also carried responsibility of Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department. In August, 1792 Blount called a council of the region's tribes at Nashville which was attended by delegations from the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek. He assured them that, despite what the Spanish were saying, the Americans only wanted friendship and trade and were determined to live by the boundaries of the Hopewell treaty ..."we do not want the land of any red people; the United States have land enough." Blount then commended the Chickasaw for their recent service in Ohio and presented Piomingo and each of the other Chickasaw with rifles. Having addressed these concerns, the Americans then produced a treaty of friendship with the United States which was duly signed by the delegations.
The treaty was never ratified, but McGillvray reacted to it by ordering new attacks on Piomingo's Chickasaw and American settlements along the Cumberland. McGillvray's sudden death in February, 1793 deprived the Spanish of their most important native ally in the region, but by then the Creek-Chickasaw war had taken on a life of its own. That same month, the Creek ambushed four Chickasaw hunters only a few miles from Long Town. Worried they would blunder into a second ambush, Piomingo did not allow his warriors to pursue, but he declared war on the Creek. The Americans spared nothing in the effort to help. That spring, a flotilla commanded by Lieutenant William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame and George Rogers' younger brother) delivered 500 rifles, a ton of powder, two tons of lead, and 4,000 flints to Piomingo at the Chickasaw Bluffs. Besides tools and an armorer to repair their weapons, the Chickasaw also were given a hundred barrels of whiskey which the Americans apparently felt was essential for the proper conduct of a war.
Piomingo put these arms to good use when his warriors launched a series of retaliatory raids against the Creek towns. As the war between the Chickasaw and Creek turned serious, the Spanish saw their carefully constructed buffer against American expansion disintegrating and in October attempted to salvage it with a peace conference at Fort Nogales (Natchez, MS). The resulting Treaty of Nogales formed the Creeks, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw into a loose confederacy, but it was very loose. The Spanish also sent gifts to Piomingo urging peace, but assured of continued American support, he remained at war and even sent messages to the Choctaw asking their help against the Creeks. Faithful to their recent agreement with the Spanish, the Choctaw refused but did offer to mediate a peace. Seeing that the war was only opening the door for the Americans, many Creeks were also anxious to end the fighting, but the mediation failed and the war continued.
Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers over the Western Alliance during 1794 secured American position north of the Ohio. The British ended their support of the Ohio tribes, and in August, 1795, the Alliance chiefs met with Wayne at Fort Greenville and signed a treaty ceding all of Ohio except the northwest corner. Chickamauga warriors returned to Tennessee shortly afterwards, but most of the Cherokee wanted peace with the Americans. After a few skirmishes with frontiersmen along the Tennessee River, the Chickamauga began leaving and crossing the Mississippi into Spanish Arkansas. With their hold on the Choctaw weakening, the Spanish decided in May, 1795 to build Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas (Saint Ferdinand of the Bluffs) with a garrison of 150 men at the site of present-day Memphis in a last effort to hold the area and bolster Ugulaycabe's Spanish faction. Unfortunately, it had just the opposite effect. Ugulaycabe and his people moved close to the new Spanish fort which further isolated them from the other Chickasaw who were at war.
The climatic battle between the Creek and Chickasaw occurred in September of 1795 when 1,200 Creek warriors invaded the Chickasaw homeland and headed towards Piomingo's town (Long Town). The approach of such a large war party was immediately noticed, and the Chickasaw had time to prepare. Piomingo, however, had only 200 warriors, but reinforcements arrived in the form of 45 Tennessee frontiersmen commanded by Captain David Smith. Still, the defenders were outnumbered almost five to one. The Creeks arrived and surrounded the heavily-fortified town, and at this point, the Chickasaw had them exactly where they wanted them. Leaving only a small force inside the town, the main body had slipped outside. As the Creeks prepared for a siege, 200 Chickasaw struck them from the rear with such ferocity that the entire war party turned and fled. Besides 100 wounded, the Creeks left at least 40 dead on the field. The Chickasaw lost only five.
In December the Creeks asked the Chickasaw for peace which was granted. Sporadic skirmishes continued until 1798, but the war was over. Meanwhile, Spain had decided to follow the British lead and settle its differences with the United States. Spain ended its support of the Creeks and Chickamauga in 1795 and the following year signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo (Pickney's Treaty) settling the Florida boundary dispute in favor of Americans. This did not sit well with the Spanish in Louisiana who continued to occupy Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas until the arrival of the American army in 1798. The Spanish burned the fort and moved across the river where they built Fort Esperanza to keep an eye on the Americans. Piomingo died in 1796, the same year Tennessee became a state. Within a few years Spain returned Louisiana to France ending its role in the lower Mississippi Valley. The French tenure was brief, and in 1803 Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States.
When the trade in native slaves had slowed during the 1720s, the Chickasaw and other southeastern tribes turned to supplying the British with deerskin. The deer populations in their homelands quickly disappeared forcing native hunters to range far afield - first the Cumberland Plateau and southern Illinois, and then west of the Mississippi as far as eastern Oklahoma. The Quapaw who lived there were old Chickasaw enemies, but by the 1760s they had lost so many of their people to epidemic they were no longer able to oppose intrusions by Chickasaw hunters. They were also having problems with the Osage who, because of wars with the Sauk and Fox, had been forced south and were compensating themselves with Quapaw territory. Forced to choose, the Quapaw began to welcome the Chickasaw for the additional protection they provided against the Osage. By the time the Spanish took over Louisiana in 1763, there were 200 Chickasaw living more or less permanently west of the Mississippi along the lower Red and Arkansas Rivers.
The Quapaw had chosen wisely. A small band of pro-French Cherokee arrived shortly afterwards to escape British rule and were joined - ironically enough - twenty years later by a group of pro-British Cherokee trying to escape the Americans. Between 1794 and 1799, the Cherokee ranks were swelled by the westward migration of the Chickamauga. By 1808 there were over 2,000 Cherokee in northern Arkansas, most of whom were hostile to the Osage. A severe drought during the summer of 1792 caused massive crop failures throughout the south, and to survive, many Choctaw were forced to hunt west of the Mississippi. At the same time, the Spanish after 1763 added to the volatile mix by inviting several large groups of Shawnee and Delaware to settle near Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri. The Osage, who had a bad habit of "borrowing" other people's horses, soon had more enemies than they could handle.
What began as occasional confrontations, by the 1790s had blossomed into full-scale warfare. In 1794 Osage chiefs returning from a Spanish peace conference in New Orleans were ambushed on the Mississippi by the Chickasaw. Those who escaped tried to make their way home overland, but Choctaw warriors found their trail and gave chase. It took considerable effort for the Spanish to sneak the Osage back to their villages in southern Missouri with their hair. After the Americans took over in 1803, the chronic warfare in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri delayed the settlement of the area for many years. The Chickasaw had built a permanent village on the St. Francis River during 1802, and its warriors were routinely reinforced by their relatives from east of the Mississippi who came and stayed for about six months each year. There was serious warfare between these Chickasaw and the Osage villages on the upper White and St. Francis Rivers until 1827 with the Osage usually getting the worse of it.
William Blount's assurances to the Chickasaw and other southern tribes at the Nashville council in 1792 that the Americans "do not want the land of any red people" had been a deliberate lie. The Americans had fought the British, French, and Spanish for the right to take Native American land, and with the departure of the European powers, no one stood in their way. Settlers swarmed into Ohio after the Greenville Treaty and by 1806 Ohio was a state. In 1800 William Henry Harrison was appointed governor of the Indiana Territory (Indiana and Illinois) with specific instructions from Congress to extinguish native title to the land through treaty. Only six years later, native reaction to Harrison's success in obtaining millions of acres in southern Indiana and Illinois from the compliant "peace chiefs" of the old Western Alliance had given rise to the movement of Tecumseh and his brother, the Shawnee Prophet to unite all tribes against any further cessions.
South of the Ohio, thing were little different. The Cherokee homeland was whittled away by treaties signed in 1791, 1794, 1804, 1805, and 1806. The last cession of ten million acres had resulted in the assassination of Doublehead, a Chickamauga chief, who had fought the Americans for years to protect the Cherokee homeland before giving up. Similar concessions were forced from the Choctaw and Creeks. Georgia, meanwhile, had not relinquished her claims west of the Chattahoochee River, and in what has been called the Yazoo Land Frauds, had sold the rights to 15 million acres along the Yazoo River in Mississippi to three land companies in 1794. Under the Hopewell Treaty, the land belonged to the Chickasaw and Choctaw, but settlers moved in anyway. To resolve the conflicting claims, the federal government was finally forced to assume responsibility in 1802. William Blount's words ultimately came back to haunt him. With statehood in 1796, he became the first senator from Tennessee, but only a year later his speculation in western lands had brought him to near-bankruptcy. At this point, Blount formulated a plot for a frontier army to help the British conquer Spanish Florida and Louisiana. Word of this reached President Adams, who informed the Congress. Blount was expelled from the Senate and almost impeached. Still a hero in Tennessee, he died in 1800.
Perhaps there was lingering gratitude for their help against the Spanish, but 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. At the time there were approximately 4,000 Chickasaw of which 3,000 were full-bloods. The full-bloods held the office of high minko and the majority of the council seats, but in their dealings with the Americans after 1800, the Chickasaw allowed the mixed-bloods (about 1,000) to handle things. With some education, the mixed-bloods were better able to understand the documents they were signing. Many operated business, owned large plantations with black slaves and large herds of cattle and prize horses. A few of them were reputed to have had a sideline of murdering travellers on the Natchez Trace for their money. Of the mixed-blood families (Adair, Love, Cheadle, Jennings), the Colberts (George, William, Levi, Martin, and James) were the most influential and chiefly responsible for the treaties of 1805 and 1806 in which the Chickasaw, to pay their debts, ceded 345,000 acres between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. An 1807 treaty with the Cherokee established the Chickasaw-Cherokee boundary - undefined since their war in 1769.
However, the whites usually ignored treaty boundaries, and by 1809 there were 5,000 illegal squatters on Chickasaw land. The government did nothing until the Chickasaw threatened to expel them by force. During the next two years, American soldiers removed most of them. This was timely, because in the fall of 1811, Tecumseh came south to ask the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creeks to join him against the Americans. The Chickasaw met with him at Chokkillissa and listened to his words, but old hatreds die slowly. It was difficult for the Chickasaw to forget their battles with the Shawnee, and they thanked him and, to make certain he left, provided him with an escort south to the Choctaw. Feelings were running high, and in handing Tecumseh and his party over to the Choctaw, an argument developed between the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Tecumseh's Shawnee were forced to intervene to prevent bloodshed, and then it was their turn to escort the Chickasaw safely out of Choctaw territory.
Despite this, Tecumseh did not get the Choctaw or Cherokee to join him. However, his mother was a Creek, and the Shawnee had towns within the Creek Nation for many years. For this reason, he found a warmer reception among the Upper Creeks, and when the War of 1812 (1812-14) began the following June between Britain and the United States, hostile Upper Creeks, known as the Red Sticks, rose in revolt against the pro-American Lower Creeks who dominated the Creek council. Following the massacre of 400 mostly mixed-blood settlers at Fort Mims, Alabama in August, 1813, the Americans intervened in what was essentially a Creek civil war. The Creek War (1813-14) established the military reputation of Andrew Jackson, but it is doubtful that he would have succeeded in defeating the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend (March, 1814) without the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw who formed a large part of his army. George Colbert brought 350 Chickasaw warriors with him to this battle, and later helped Jackson crush the last Red Stick resistance near Pensacola.
At the Treaty of Fort Jackson that August, Jackson forced the Creek to cede 23 million acres of their best land. Much of this belonged to his allies, the Lower Creeks and Cherokee. It was a sign of worse things to come. Unlike 1791, the Chickasaw reward for serving in the Creek War was the treaty they signed with Jackson in September, 1816 which cost them their remaining lands north and east of the Tennessee River. Mississippi entered the union as the 20th state in 1817 and immediately began demanding the removal of the Chickasaw and Choctaw to west of the Mississippi River. It was in this hostile atmosphere that Andrew Jackson and other American commissioners arrived to negotiate further land cessions from the Chickasaw in 1818. The mixed-bloods found it difficult to fend off both Mississippi's call for removal and Jackson's demand for land cessions. Forced to choose, they decided to keep their six million acres in northeast Mississippi and cede their lands in western Kentucky and Tennessee (Great Chickasaw Cession).
In return, the Chickasaw annuity was increased from $3,000 to $15,000 in 1818 and $35,000 thereafter. To ease the pain, Jackson greased the agreement with $1,000 for George Colbert and an annual pension of $100 for his brother William. With the loss of a large part of their land, the Chickasaw became dependent on government annuity payments. Whiskey peddlers knew when these were made and set up shop nearby. With cash money, alcoholism became a serious problem. At the same time, missionaries arrived to further disrupt traditional Chickasaw society. Except for a brief period (1799-1803), no missionary had worked with the Chickasaw since Father Davion decided in 1698 they were under "British influence." Whatever "British influence" meant, it seems to have more to do with marksmanship than religion. This changed after 1819 when Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist missions were established in the Chickasaw homeland. At the same time, some mixed-blood children began attending the Choctaw Academy in Kentucky.
Mississippi never ceased its efforts to get the federal government to remove the tribes inside its borders. Encouraged by the election of Andrew Jackson as president in 1828, it extended its laws over the Chickasaw and Choctaw, voiding tribal laws intended to discourage the whiskey trade and abolishing tribal governments. Mississippi imposed a severe fine ($1,000 in 1830 dollars) on any tribal leader attempting to exercise the powers of his office, but the enforcement of the laws was entirely one-sided. Nothing was done to prevent whites from encroaching on native lands, and they were free to rob and murder Chickasaw or Choctaw without fear of prosecution. Chickasaw appeals for federal protection and the enforcement of their treaty rights went unanswered by the Jackson administration. When Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the Chickasaw's days in Mississippi were numbered.
However, there had been considerable Congressional opposition to the Removal Act, and hoping that the next election might reverse this policy, the Chickasaw stalled. When they met the government representatives at Franklin, Tennessee that August, the Chickasaw signed a treaty ceding their land east of the Mississippi on condition that they be given suitable land west of the Mississippi. Funny thing, no matter how hard the Chickasaw looked, they could not find anything suitable, and the best lands had already been promised to other tribes. Noting the loophole in the Franklin treaty, the Senate refused to ratify it which required federal negotiators to try again in 1832. This time they got it right, and in October, the Chickasaw signed the Treaty of Pontotoc ceding six million acres east of the Mississippi in exchange for $3,046,000 less the costs to the government of surveying and selling the land.
Unlike the Choctaw who had exchanged their lands for a large tract in southeast Oklahoma, the Chickasaw sold theirs for money with which they were to purchase suitable land in the Indian Territory. Until they purchase this, the government was to provide them with temporary allotments on four million acres of their homeland. At the signing, it was anticipated that the Chickasaw would be able to purchase land from the Choctaw. Unfortunately, the Choctaw proved unwilling to part with any land that the Chickasaw wanted. Negotiations broke down putting the Chickasaw departure from Mississippi on indefinite hold. A second treaty signed in 1834 clarified some provisions of the original Pontotoc agreement. The federal government also agreed to protect the Chickasaw and their property from whites who, unwilling to wait for them to leave, were just moving in and taking what they wanted. It took the government five years to get the Choctaw and Chickasaw to agree, but the treaty signed at Doaksville (Oklahoma) in January, 1837 pleased no one except a government desperate to get the Chickasaw to leave Mississippi.
Although the Chickasaw wanted their own lands, the Choctaw would only agree to lease them land. The Chickasaw paid $530,000 for the right to settle in the western part of the Choctaw tract. The agreement gave the Chickasaw a seat on the Choctaw council which, so far as the government was concerned, meant the two tribes had merged. Although not complete until 1850 because of stragglers, the Chickasaw removal was accomplished in only two years (1837-38). The census taken prior to departure listed 4,914 Chickasaw and 1,156 black slaves. The first group of 450 departed in June, 1837, and by September 4,000 had gathered into four camps. After travelling overland to Memphis, most were able to complete the journey by steamboat. Of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Chickasaw seemed to have been better prepared for removal and fared better. There seems little doubt that they had the advantage of the money they had acquired for their lands, but there was considerable hardship from disease, accidents, and the loss of livestock and property. The Chickasaw took 5,000 horses west with them and were dogged by horse thieves until they finally got on the boats at Memphis. Unfortunately, the journey to Oklahoma was the easiest part of the removal. After the Chickasaw arrived, they discovered that the place where the Choctaw intended for them to live, south-central Oklahoma, was a war zone.
Trails from all over the plains converged in the area bringing warriors and hunters from other tribes. Besides the resident Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita, to whom the Chickasaw's herd of 5,000 quality horses would be an irresistible attraction, there were also Pawnee and Osage war parties. The Pawnee were new to them, but the Chickasaw and Osage had a long and often violent past and required no introduction. Other old enemies also frequented the area. Removal had taken the Kickapoo, Shawnee, Potawatomi, and Delaware to eastern Kansas, and several groups had permanent villages in the area to hunt or trade in Texas. For old times sake, they also harassed and raided the Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw in eastern Oklahoma. South of the Red was the Republic of Texas whose frontier settlements were often the victims of Comanche and Kiowa raids. To elude pursuit, the war parties would run north and cross the Red River into United States. Texas rangers and militia were not inclined to notice little things like borders and often followed. Any Native American found in the area was considered fair game.
The Choctaw wanted the Chickasaw as a buffer for their own settlements to the east, but the place was dangerous, even for a Chickasaw. Rather than go where the Choctaw wanted them, the Chickasaw stayed in temporary camps near the Choctaw towns. Idleness, annuity money, and drinking made the Chickasaw unwelcome guests, and although they had not fought since the British had imposed peace between them in 1765, old memories remained. The Chickasaw were losing their sense of being a separate people and were not pleased to be called Choctaw. They also discovered that their seat on the Choctaw council only gave them the right to speak before being outvoted. Meanwhile, the government was cheating them. The delivery of the supplies promised to help with their removal was marked with every kind of corruption and fraud: spoiled rations, defective materials, short weights, and exorbitant costs. Even worse, the government was proving extremely slow in selling their Mississippi lands, and the Chickasaw were saddled with paying for a bureaucracy of incompetent land agents which included just about every political hack in need of a job.
Because of this, the Chickasaw did not receive the first annuities from the sale of their lands until 1844. By the start of the American Civil War (1861-65), the government, despite an additional treaty signed in 1852 promising to sell the remaining Chickasaw land as fast as possible, was still almost $3,000,000 in arrears. Meanwhile, troops from Fort Gibson were sent into south-central Oklahoma during 1839 to expel the Kickapoo living on Wild Horse Creek and the Blue River. The Kickapoo left as the troops approached and crossed the Red River into Texas. When the soldiers left, the Kickapoo returned. Texans also used the border to their advantage and crossed the Red River to steal livestock from tribes in the Indian Territory. Before the Chickasaw could safely settle in south-central Oklahoma, a permanent military garrison was needed. Fort Washita was built during 1842 and followed by Fort Arbuckle in 1851. With military protection, the Chickasaw began to move west. By 1855, 90% had resettled on their own land.
In 1854 the Chickasaw and Choctaw signed a treaty terminating their unhappy marriage. Although the Chickasaw were forced to pay the Choctaw an additional $150,000 for this, they were a separate nation again. A further treaty in 1855 provided that United States would pay the Chickasaw and Choctaw rent for land in southwest Oklahoma used for the resettlement of the plains tribes. Given their own agency, the Chickasaw in 1856 approved a written constitution based on that of the United States. Besides a judiciary, legislature power was placed in the hands of an elected tribal council. The chief executive was the governor. The new government at Tishomingo was dominated by mixed-bloods, and in this form the Chickasaw Nation existed until dissolved in 1906. The Chickasaw prospered during the next few years. Although there were still occasional raids, trade developed with the plains tribes. Grist and lumber mills were built, but most of the Chickasaw either farmed or raised livestock. Oil springs in the area, reputedly capable of curing every kind of illness, became an additional source of income. All of which end with the Civil War.
The black slaves that the mixed-bloods brought west with them in 1837 had preordained which side the Chickasaw chose in this conflict. With the outbreak of fighting in the east, federal troops abandoned Forts Arbuckle and Washita and were replaced by Confederate soldiers from Texas. Besides the issue of black slavery, the Chickasaw were still angry with the federal government for removal, the corruption accompanying the sale of their lands, and the three million dollars still owed them. They also felt threatened by Republican support of the Homestead Act which would open the plains to white settlement. In May of 1861 the Chickasaw Nation declared its independence from the United States. In July Confederate commissioner Albert Pike met with the Chickasaw, Creek, and Choctaw at North Fork Town in the Creek territory. After Pike promised that the Confederate States would honor the debts of the federal government, all three signed treaties which joined them to the Confederacy. The Seminole signed in August, but the Cherokee did not commit themselves until October. The Lincoln administration responded by suspending the annuities of the Confederate tribes.
Few American fully realize how bitterly contested the Civil War was between the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma. The mixed-blood slave owners dominated tribal governments and committed them to the Confederacy with promises to raise three regiments for General Ben McCullough of Texas. Colonel Douglas Cooper was given command of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles while the Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee were to furnish the other two. As the war continued, the Chickasaw provided two additional Confederate units: First Chickasaw Infantry (or Hunter's Regiment, Indian Volunteers); and Shecoe's Chickasaw Battalion of Mounted Volunteers (or Chickasaw Battalion, First Battalion of Chickasaw Cavalry). When one considers that there were only 4,000 Chickasaw in 1861, it was an amazing participation, and they paid accordingly. However the poorer, more traditional full-blood majority was not always as eager to defend black slavery. Some expressed this by joining the Union army which altered the Civil War in the Indian Territory into an ugly contest of brother killing brother. Rather than fight their own, many chose to leave.
The Confederacy, however, was not willing to let them go. As 4,000 pro-Union Creek assembled in eastern Oklahoma during November, 1861 to leave for Union territory, Colonel Douglas Cooper was ordered to intercept. Before they reached Kansas, more than 700 Creek were killed in a series of running battles with Cooper's Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee cavalry. Wartime conditions in Kansas compounded the tragedy. The federal and state government failed to provide either food or shelter, and the refugees sat out the war in squalid camps along the Neosho River where starvation and disease took a greater toll than Confederate bullets. Besides the 5,000 Creeks, there were 600 Seminole, 3,000 Cherokee, 300 Osage, an indeterminate number of Seneca, Wyandot, Shawnee, and Quapaw, and at least 250 Chickasaw.
During 1862, Confederate Chickasaw units fought at Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern), Newtonia, and Fort Wayne, but a Union offensive in the spring of 1863 recaptured Fort Gibson. After the Union victory at Honey Springs that July, the Confederates were on the defensive in battles fought at Perryville, Fort Smith, and Poison Spring. In October, 1864 Union cavalry raided the Chickasaw Nation and did considerable damage. The Confederacy make one final effort to regain control of the Indian Territory through the Peace on the Plains council with the plains tribes. However, by the time it finally met in May of 1865, the war had ended with Lee's surrender in Virginia. In June the Cherokee Stand Watie was the last Confederate general to surrender his command to Union forces, but the Chickasaw had never lost a war to anyone, and "surrendering" had to have been a strange experience for them. They lasted for another two months, and on August 5th, 1865 the Chickasaw Nation became the last political unit of the Confederacy to capitulate.
In September the victorious federal government summoned the Five Civilized Tribes (also the Osage, Seneca, Shawnee, Wyandot, Quapaw) to a meeting at Fort Smith, Arkansas. There was no question about attending. Under a law passed by Congress in 1862, tribes that concluded treaties with the Confederacy were considered to have invalidated their previous treaties with the United States and forfeited their annuities. However, John Ross of the Cherokee argued so strongly against this that the treaty the Chickasaw and others finally signed was essentially a "kiss and make up" agreement. However, what the government really wanted was Oklahoma land for railroads and resettlement of the plains tribes, and the Senate refused to ratify the Fort Smith treaty. Instead, the tribes were brought to Washington and forced to sign individual agreements. With the government holding their suspended annuities, the Chickasaw had little choice, and in April, 1866 signed their final treaty with the United States. Besides a requirement to outlaw slavery, the Chickasaw were forced to surrender their claims to southwest Oklahoma and accept their freed black slaves as tribal members.
In return the United States promised to resume annuity payments and that the Chickasaw Nation would never become part of a new state. That promise was broken 40 years later. The following year the Chickasaw duly passed a new constitution outlawing slavery but, unlike the other Oklahoma tribes, were reluctant to adopt blacks into the tribe. The government had indicated that the former slaves could have their own territory in southwest Oklahoma, but after war erupted with the Comanche and Kiowa that year, few were willing to move there. Meanwhile, almost 5,000 black freedmen came to the Chickasaw Nation from Texas claiming tribal membership. Many of these were valid since the Chickasaw had been selling and exchanging slaves with the Texans before the war. The government refused to evict them, and they stayed. Whites also came, and in 1888 Texas cattlemen moved 150,000 cattle into the Chickasaw Nation and refused to pay grazing fees. The government muddled about for a time and succeeded in removing only part of them.
Non-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 whom 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.