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Trails To The Past
The origin of the Chickasaws is uncertain. Noted 19th-century historian Horatio Cushman thought the Chickasaw, along with the Choctaw, may have had origins in present-day Mexico and migrated north. When Europeans first encountered them, the Chickasaw were living in villages in what is now Mississippi, with a smaller number in the area of Savannah Town, South Carolina. The Chickasaw may have been immigrants to the area and may not have been descendants of the prehistoric Mississippian culture. Their oral history supports this, indicating they moved along with the Choctaw from west of the Mississippi River into present-day Mississippi in prehistoric times.
Unlike other tribes who exchanged land grants, the Chickasaw were to receive financial compensation of $3 million U.S. dollars from the United States for their lands east of the Mississippi River. In 1836 the Chickasaws had reached an agreement that purchased land from the previously removed Choctaws after a bitter five-year debate. They paid the Choctaws $530,000 for the westernmost part of Choctaw land. The first group of Chickasaws moved in 1837. The $3 million dollars that the U.S. owed the Chickasaw went unpaid for nearly 30 years.
Because the Chickasaws sided with the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, they had to forfeit their claim to the unpaid amount. The Chickasaws gathered at Memphis, Tennessee on July 4, 1837 with all of their assets—belongings, livestock, and enslaved African Americans. Three thousand and one Chickasaw crossed the Mississippi River, following routes established by Choctaws and Creeks. During the journey, often called the Trail of Tears, more than five hundred Chickasaw died of dysentery and smallpox. Once in Indian Territory, the Chickasaws merged with the Choctaw nation. After several decades of mistrust, they regained nationhood and established a Chickasaw Nation. The majority of the tribe was deported to Indian Territory (now headquartered in Ada, Oklahoma) in the 1830s.
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