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What is the Chickasaw Tribe?

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  • Written By: Brenda Scott
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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The Chickasaw tribe is a Native American nation which is part of the group known as the Five Civilized Tribes. These five tribes — the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole — received this designation because of the way they adapted to European lifestyles and customs. The Chickasaw nation is currently located in Oklahoma with its capital in Tishomingo.

Hernando De Soto, the Spanish explorer, recorded the first European contact with the Chickasaw tribe in 1540. While no one knows where the Chickasaw originated, oral tradition claims that they descended from one of two brothers; Chaska, the father of the Chickasaw tribe, and Chocta, the father of the Choctaw tribe. The relationship between the two is apparent by the similarity of their languages and customs, though they had become strong adversaries by the time of European settlement in America. There is also a general consensus that they descended from the mysterious Mound Builders who settled in what is now Alabama.

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Tradition indicates that the Chickasaw tribe migrated to the southeast from somewhere in the west, though their first known homeland was along the Tennessee River near Huntsville, Alabama. By the turn of the eighteenth century, they had migrated to northeast Tennessee along the top of the Tombigbee and Yazoo rivers. They expanded over a long stretch of the river system up to Memphis, Tennessee, living in a series of large, well-established villages, some covering several square miles. The tribe maintained some of their original villages in Alabama and set up outposts in Pennsylvania and South Carolina to better compete in their established trade business. At one point, the Chickasaw tribe maintained a trade network that extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

While the Chickasaw were basically farmers, ranchers and traders, they were a warlike people who continually battled with the French and several neighboring tribes, including the Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, Shawnee, Osage, and Illinois, among others. As a result of their fierce fighting they became known as the Spartans of the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Chickasaw tribe sided with the English against the French during the French-Indian War, and prospered from the removal of the French from their lands. During the United States Civil War, the tribe signed a treaty with the Confederacy and fought in a special unit of the Confederate army.

In 1837, as a part of a series of Indian removals, the Chickasaw tribe relinquished their lands east of the Mississippi and moved to Indian Territory in what became Oklahoma. At first they lived with their old enemies, the Choctaw, but in 1856 they broke away to form their own government which consisted of a constitution and three branches; legislative, judicial and executive. Tribal officials were appointed as a result of popular elections. After Oklahoma became a state, the federal government began appointing Chickasaw officials, but legislation passed in 1970 allowed the Five Tribes to once again elect their own leaders. In 1983, a new tribal constitution was ratified.

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