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UNCONQUERABLE From Tupelo to Oklahoma: The Amazing Journey of the Chickasaw Nation
PART I of Mississippi's Indians
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CHICKASAW NATION PART I Editor
Mrudvi Bakshi Taylor Bennett Will Crockett Lana Ferguson Kate Harris Zoe McDonald Anna McCollum Slade Rand
LEFT TO RIGHT: Ariel Cobbert, Mrudvi Bakshi, Taylor Bennett, Lana Ferguson, SECOND ROW: Tori Olker, Josie Slaughter, Kate Harris, Zoe McDonald, Anna McCollum, THIRD ROW: Bill Rose, Chi Kalu, Mitchell Dowden, Will Crockett. Not pictured: Tori Hosey PHOTO BY THOMAS GRANING
MULTIMEDIA & PHOTOGRAPHY Mikki Harris, Editor
Ariel Cobbert Chinonyeranyi (Chi) Kalu
Publication Designer Emily Bowen-Moore
COVER PHOTO: In Mike Larsen’s sculpture “Arrival,” a Chickasaw family gets its first glimpse of the strange new land to which the government has sent them. PHOTO BY CHI KALU THIS PAGE: The tribe's cultural center includes a replica of the sacred pole that the early Chickasaws followed to reach Mississippi. Each day, they walked in whatever direction it was leaning. PHOTO BY CHI KALU
Table of Contents 6
From Poverty to Powerhouse
The Chickasaw have thrown aside adversity and emerged a powerful economic force. For a tribe that sees itself as â€œunconquered and unconquerable,â€? is it any wonder?
Sweet Home Mississippi
The Chickasaw Nation is back and planning to build a major heritage center in Tupelo.
That Old House
Chickasaw treaties. Andrew Jackson. Ghosts. Every day, motorists drive past a Tupelo home, not realizing the secrets that lie buried here. But Raymond Doherty knows.
The Race to Save a Language
Josh Hinson is trying hard to create enough fluent Chickasaw speakers to perpetuate a threatened language that carries a thousand treasures.
Power in the Blood
At the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Oklahoma, generations of tribal members get up close and personal with their impressive roots.
How to Prepare Pashofa
Hankering for a taste of a traditional Chickasaw dish? Check out this recipe.
38 Mosaic tiles create colorful patterns at the tribe's cultural center. PHOTOS BY CHI KALU
Desoto. The French Army. The Trail of Tears. Rampant discrimination. Is there anything the Chickasaws cannot overcome?
Tribal symbols decorate a deer skin drum.
Meet the legislation and the government commission that violated America’s own treaties to try to break up the tribes.
There is a long list of Chickasaws past and present who have made their mark on the world.
The Dawes Act
Telling Their Story
With a bold new movie that gets rave reviews, the Chickasaw take to the airwaves with their version of the famous dust-up with Hernando DeSoto. Hint: They win.
A Q & A with the Governor
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby talks about the tribe, its progress and its plans for the future.
A Haven for Healing
The Moundville Marvel
A photographic look at Alabama’s remarkable archaeological park that gives us a glimpse at just how advanced and extensive the early Americans really were.
Mississippi’s Indian Tribes
A look at the nearly two dozen tribes who were the real early Mississippians.
The Mississippi Mound Trail
The Chickasaw medical center is not just healing a tribe. It’s healing Native Americans across the land.
Some of America’s oldest and largest Indian mounds are scattered along the Highway 61 corridor. Just watch for the signs.
Piominko is a beloved Chickasaw legend. The people of Nashville and a guy named George Washington owe him a huge debt as well.
The answers may still lie beneath the piles of ancient dirt that rise suddenly from the flat Delta landscape near Greenville.
The Forward Thinker
The Mystery of Winterville Mounds
The great Chief Tishomingo was forced to confront epochal change. He handled it the only way anyone really can: head-on.
Mississippi’s most exotic tribe practiced child sacrifice, was led by the Great Sun and met an unhappy fate at the hands of the French.
Chief of Change
The Enduring Allure of the Natchez Indians
The Chickasaw Who Changed the Law
Thanks to Betsy Love Allen, Mississippi became the first state to grant property rights to married women. Chickasaw Nation Part 1
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FROM POVERTY TO POWERHOUSE From supercomputers to chocolates, the Chickasaw are an object lesson in how tribes can create their own success. By Will Crockett Photo Courtesy of Chickasaw Nation
The lush resort golf course at the tribeâ€™sWinStar Casino complex.
icture a peanut field in Thackerville, Oklahoma. A dirt road leads to a trailer home surrounded by small green plants emerging from the earth in this town about ten miles north of the Texas border. Inside the trailer, patrons listen carefully as rows and numbers are called out, looking down at their mats after each turn. “B6…C2….A12…” “Bingo!” A woman shouts from the back of the room. She’s gotten lucky. Back then, little did she or anyone else know that in this very spot would sprout thousands of games with thousands of people flocking to a former peanut field in hopes of feeling that same adrenaline rush. Today the peanuts are gone. And the stakes are higher. Picture a casino, one of the largest in the world. It has over 500,000 square feet of gaming area alone, over 7,400 electronic games and 96 tables, upscale restaurants, three hotel towers, off-track betting on horse races and of course, bingo. This is the Winstar World Casino Resort, by certain measures the largest casino in the world. This mighty money machine is owned and operated by the 60,000 strong Chickasaw Nation, a self-proclaimed “unconquerable” tribe once removed from Mississippi under pressure from President Andrew Jackson and subjected to decades of brutal poverty and discrimination, only
to emerge as one of the great economic powers in the state of Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Nation has its hand in over 60 business ventures, its lucrative casinos being just one of the diverse economic forces that drive the tribe and allow it to provide for its own healthcare, education, youth and elders. The tribe is involved in everything from high tech medicine out in California to its very own chocolate production factory, Bedre, which produces world class chocolates in rural Davis, Oklahoma, just off OK-7. It recently acquired Corvid Technologies in North Carolina, an engineering company that uses supercomputers to run simulated missile tests for the Department of Defense. Among other things, it has been assessing the impact of missiles on armored vehicles. It has invested in a company that makes robotic exoskeleton suits that will help the wheelchair-bound to walk as part of their physical therapy. The same technology is being used to help soldiers lift heavy loads. Besides its 21 gaming facilities (everything from major casinos to convenience stores), the tribe has created LLC Gaming Solutions, a national consulting firm that advises other tribes on how to run their gambling operations. It bought the Remington racino, a horse racing track in
ABOVE: The sprawling WinStar World Casino complex in Oklahoma is just one example of the Chickasaws’ impressive economic development.
RIGHT: Pat Neeley, undersecretary of business affairs for the tribe’s Department of Commerce, said the tribe’s economic growth has been “remarkable.” PHOTO BY CHI KALU.
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Oklahoma City, out of bankruptcy and has used it to help revitalize Oklahoma’s horse racing industry. Its Bank2 has accounts in nearly every state and executes more home loans for Native Americans than any bank in the United States. It is adding a 60,000 square foot convention center. Instead of the Bureau of Indian Affairs doing things for the tribe, the tribe takes the federal money and runs its own programs and facilities its own way. And it’s working. The tribe’s net income is over $400 million a year. The Chickasaw contribution to Oklahoma’s economy is about $2.4 billion a year, according to a study by Oklahoma City University. And then there are all those jobs – more than 13,000 of them – providing better lives for Chickasaws and non-Chickasaws alike. Just a few decades removed from poverty, the Chickasaw people have good jobs. For the most part, their facilities are brand new, well-designed, shining examples to the rest of the Native American community of what to build and how to build it. Their medical center, a $176 million campus that’s aesthetically more akin to a luxury 5-star hotel than a hospital, sees patients of Native American blood and heritage without the patients ever having to see a bill. The Chickasaw Nation has undergone sweeping changes since the 1980s, when tribal government asserted more control over its own destiny. It began to focus most of its efforts on building an economically diverse base to generate revenue that could, in turn, be used to support an impressive array of services to the Chickasaw people. “I love change. I’m a change agent,” Pat Neeley, the undersecretary for business affairs at the Chickasaw Department of Commerce, said. “Every day my feet hit the floor in the morning and I know exactly why I’m getting out of bed and why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Neeley may not be a Chickasaw, but he is visibly excited by what’s happening here in his new home. “Our mission is alive,” Neeley said. “It’s vibrant. It’s something you can attach to. Whether you’re in commerce, or education, or arts and humanities, or a housekeeper at Winstar, everybody plays a very significant role in us fulfilling our mission, which is to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people.” As he watches the change all around him and measures its impact, Neeley said he couldn’t feel more Chickasaw. At least he doesn’t think he could. The financial resurgence of the Chickasaw nation is staggering. “It was 20 years ago or less that the Department of Commerce had barely 300 employees,” Neeley said. “Today, we have over 7,500 employees. That’s in two decades, which is remarkable. Overall, the nation employs 13,500 people, plus or minus. And 9,500 of those people are directly involved in Department of Commerce or economic development activities.” Neeley is quick to credit a lot of this drastic change and economic improvement to the leadership of Governor Bill Anoatubby, who became the tribe’s lieutenant governor in 1979 and was elected governor in 1987. “(Gov. Anoatubby) will be the first to tell you it was because of the people around him. He’s a very humble man,” Neeley said. “But it was his vision, his commitment that planted the seeds that have been bearing fruit, significant fruit, for the last two decades. There’s not many leaders that get to see that.” Neeley said that in a strictly financial context, the Chickasaw Nation has grown by more than 2200 percent since Anoatubby took over. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder he is serving an almost unprecedented eighth consecutive four-year term. The tribe doesn’t just take care of its own. Anoatubby has been careful to be a good citizen to the state of Oklahoma as well, generously contributing to local charities and helping fund state and local road and bridge projects. Recently, when plans to build a major Native American museum in Oklahoma City fell through and local officials sounded an urgent call for help, the tribe stepped in to rescue the project with promises of cash and other assistance. Remember that study that showed the tribe’s economic impact on this relatively poor state?
ABOVE: Bank2, owned by the Chickasaw Nation, is one example of the tribe’s successful business diversification efforts.
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Evidence abounds of its good neighbor policy in towns like Sulphur, where the tribe’s mammoth cultural center draws tourists. It’s also where the tribe began its very first business, the humble Chickasaw Motor Lodge. The tribe replaced it with the 5-star boutique Artesian Hotel. It offers 81 rooms and a casino, but perhaps just as importantly, it has been a catalyst for growth downtown. That sort of neighborliness, that sort of philanthropy has gone a long way toward erasing the old attitudes some Oklahomans once held about Native Americans. ◊ The transition the Chickasaw have made is one they had to make. The Chickasaw didn’t choose to move to this land, but they’ve made it their home and turned it into something that is nothing short of remarkable. They are one of the greatest minority success stories in American history. Oklahoma is almost nothing like the North Mississippi homeland still revered by the Chickasaw. Strange as it may seem, the trees are what some of the Chickasaw miss the most. One can drive through the rolling North Mississippi hills and see beautiful, large oak trees, their trunks wide and branches spreading relentlessly outward and upward. The trees of Mississippi stand tall and majestic, much like the Chickasaw did when they lived here. But as the drive crosses the Mississippi River and penetrates further and further westward, the trees change. They become shorter, the trunks aren’t as wide and jagged branches shoot in every direction. It’s something many might not notice, but to the Chickasaw, the first glimpse of a large Mississippi tree brings back an emotional tie to their homeland. “Man, look how big these trees are. This is our homeland,” David Correll, the tribe’s greenhouse supervisor remarked in April on a stop at the heavily wooded Chickasaw Preserve in Tupelo, part of a homeland tour, something the tribe offers a few times a year to help cement its connection to its roots. Heritage means a lot to these people and economic success has only increased that. The Chickasaw Cultural Center, located in Sulphur, takes visitors back to a time when the Chickasaws were a dominant tribe in the Southeast, masters of trade and skilled warriors alike. After 20 years of meticulously planning the center, it is now a “cultural home” for the Chickasaw people. It features a dazzling array of interactive exhibits, walkthroughs, natural-looking architecture using wood and large stone, and a replica village complete with a large Native American mound, stickball field, displays of traditional crafts, thatched-roof huts and one large meeting house. The caliber of the cultural center is Smithsonian-worthy. The tribe has carefully seen to every detail. In fact, most Chickasaw facilities display impressive architecture and quality construction, part of the tribe’s effort to provide the highest quality of life for its people. Talk to the people who work in these buildings and you detect a consistent mindset that things are better and will continue to get better. The tribe even has two innovative, imaginative early childhood development centers in Ada and Ardmore that seem like something out of a young child’s dream. Children enter through a small slide instead of a door. Inside, the school is modeled after a small town. The walls are painted in artwork designed to make classrooms look like fire
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There’s nothing like swinging on a tire, as the kids at the tribe’s innovative day care center can attest.
The cafeteria is made to look like a diner at the tribe’s day care center in Ada.
stations or city halls. The cafeteria is a diner, complete with mini-leather booths where children can eat. Downstairs, Chickasaw and non-Chickasaw alike can be found taking a martial arts lesson, counting their kicks in the ancient language. “Chaffa!” “Toklo!” “Tochchi’na!” they shout as they extend their kicks off of the red and blue mats covering the floor. This kind of school is just one of many examples of how the Chickasaw Nation is able to take care of its people through every stage of life, from developing their youth to taking care of their sick or elderly in new, advanced medical facilities. All of this, of course, would not be possible without the tribe’s economic success. The tribe generates about $1.4 billion in total business revenues. Gaming accounts for about 90 percent, according to that Oklahoma City University study. But what’s more impressive is how this money is utilized. Much of it is put directly back into tribal development and services to Chickasaws as well as bettering the lives of all Oklahomans. “We’re Oklahomans, too,” Neeley said. “We live and work in the same communities. It’s important that we all understand the impact that we’re having in terms of job creation or economic growth or production of goods and services.” In the 1960s it would have been impossible to imagine that the tribe would one day be able to bail out its neighbors. After all, the government had broken treaties and dissolved reservations and tribes as part of an ill-fated attempt to force Native Americans to assimilate into the mainstream culture. The result was predictable. Depression. Poverty. Resentment. Things looked awfully bleak. Come to think of it, perhaps that peanut field in Thackerville might just be the perfect symbol for the Phoenix-like rise of a tribe that once seemed to have no future at all.
Customers ogle the tantalizing display of chocolates at the Bedre Chocolate Factory.
Chocolates beckon from a silver tray at the tribe’s Bedre Chocolate Factory in Davis, Oklahoma.
Mississippi The Chickasaws plan to build a heritage center in Tupelo as part of a quest to reconnect with their homeland.
By Zoe McDonald Photography by Ariel Cobbert
white bus with “The Chickasaw Nation” printed in purple on one side scoots through a Tupelo neighborhood and pulls up next to Pierce Street Elementary school. This is where the Chickasaws fought the French Army in the 1736 Battle of Ackia, and this bus is filled with nine supervisors and managers of the Chickasaw Nation’s Department of Culture and Humanities, craning their heads to look down a ridge and imagine what it must have looked like when French soldiers and Choctaws massed to attack. Once a Chickasaw village, Ackia became the place where the tribe would ultimately change the course of American history by defeating French Governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville and his army, thwarting French plans to destroy the Chickasaw and limit British influence in the region. Today, a historical marker with details of the battle is the only sign of the climactic struggle that took place here almost 300 years ago. “One thing you have to do when you’re in the Homeland is kind of use your imagination,” William Brekeen, a cultural interpreter for the tribe, warned as the tour began. After all, a city of nearly 40,000 people was built on this land, and it has been almost 200 years since the mighty Chickasaw Nation called it home. Yet, Tupelo is littered with artifacts, burial sites, and ridges once occupied by Chickasaws past. It is the epicenter of the tribe’s Homeland, which stretches through the Blackland Prairie in Mississippi and parts of Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.
To the Chickasaw, this is sacred ground. This is why the Chickasaw Nation selected Tupelo as the perfect spot for the Smithsonian-quality heritage center they plan to build near the Natchez Trace to trumpet their culture and history. It is why the tribe buses its people here, 500 miles from Oklahoma, to reconnect with their past. And it is why the tribe has staffed a special homeland affairs office here. In a very real sense, the Chickasaw are back, and they are here to stay. “A lot of Chickasaw tribal history and identity was forged here in the homelands,” said Brad Lieb, the Mississippibased Tribal Archaeologist for the Chickasaw Nation’s Department of Homeland Affairs. “Governor (Bill) Anoatubby knows the importance of keeping in touch with Chickasaw heritage and to maintaining that living connection with the traditional homeland for Chickasaw people. He is creating opportunities for Chickasaw people to travel that long, 500-mile distance back from Oklahoma to North Mississippi, and Tupelo specifically, to reconnect with their ancestral heritage,” Lieb said. The heritage center will become an additional resource for tribal members to reconnect through. Meanwhile, the bus tours – taking Chickasaws throughout Tupelo, Amory, Lee County, Pontotoc County, and more – will have to do. The tour bus rolled by many sites important to Chickasaw heritage, including the remains of a Chickasaw village site on the Natchez Trace Parkway, the Chissa’Talla’ Preserve Chickasaw Nation Part 1
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– a nature and cultural preserve on the Coonewah ridge – Tishomingo’s home site, and Moundville, Alabama. The group made a melancholy last stop in Memphis for one last look at the picturesque Chickasaw bluffs then drove on, back to Oklahoma. Midway through the first day of the tour, the bus rolled down a wooded road with old, decrepit houses, some of which looked as if they were about to fall in on themselves. Past a vast grassy meadow littered with trees, a large, gray, two-story cabin sat on a hilltop overlooking the Coonewah Creek Valley below. The nine tribal employees made their way out of the bus and to the other side of the cabin, which looked down onto farmland. They stood surrounded by wildflowers dancing in the breeze, mesmerized at the natural beauty and wealth of exploration opportunities before them. It wasn’t long until they began exploring, peeking into the windows of the cabin and examining some rubble nearby. This site was picked over extensively by collectors of Chickasaw relics throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. Eventually, most of one man’s collection made it back to the Chickasaw Nation for preservation. Now, they’ve purchased the land, once a Chickasaw village. It is impossible to overestimate the power of the homelands to the tribe, seeing and touching it, becoming part of its history, after only hearing tales of it. To many, the homelands bring an inner peace. For others, seeing the cast aside or obscure nature of some of the most important Chickasaw heritage sites brings back the pain of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears and the establishment of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.
The tribe’s Chissa’Talla’ Preserve on the edge of Tupelo.
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For example, the ancient grave of Piominko, one of the Chickasaws’ most important leaders, is believed to lie beneath a rental house in a Tupelo neighborhood. The site of Ogoula Tchetoka, the first battle against the French, sprawls atop a grassy ridge next to a customer service center off Interstate 22. At the Long Town settlement area, 20 Chickasaw people are reburied near where they lay for centuries until disturbed by hospital construction. In a hidden glade, an impressive stone monument marks the spot in a space between trees. Fifteen yards away is a busy street. “People ride by this every day and don’t realize the history here,” Brekeen said. “It’s just sad. Sad we had to leave. We lost so much land here,” said Dixie Brewer, performing arts manager and member of the Chickasaw dance troupe. This was not Brewer’s first time to the homelands. She has danced at a number of sites throughout the area. The connection to the homelands runs deep for David Correll, greenhouse supervisor for the tribe’s department of history and culture in Oklahoma. After his first visit two years ago, he fell in love with the flora and fauna of North Mississippi. As he walked through the Chissa’Talla’ site at Coonewah Ridge, Correll kept his eyes peeled for interesting plants. “Hey what’s this?” he said to Brekeen. “American Columbo. They used to call it Indian Lettuce. Very astringent.” Correll immediately plunged into the brush to photograph it. In fact, at almost every site, medicinal plants could be found. From the multi-use Self Heal, to Echinacea, and purple, spiny thistles. While many people consider some
Chickasaw settlements once covered much of the Tupelo area.
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David Correll, left, tribal greenhouse supervisor in Oklahoma, and Brian Hatton fell in love with the flora and fauna of North Mississippi.
Candice Blevins and David Correll walk along the Chissa’Talla’ Preserve.
of these plants invasive weeds, the Chickasaw had a purpose for each. After leaving the preserve, Correll planned to return and bag up several plants to take to his greenhouse. In exchange, he will bring some native plants he’s been cultivating in Oklahoma to leave in their place. Oklahoma, while it is the home for the Chickasaw nation, lacks something, Correll said. “I feel like it’s home but something is missing. Here, it feels normal… The land is like a pharmacy, like our hospital,” he said. Correll’s first visit two years ago left him with a vivid vision of what life would have been like for his ancestors on the fertile land near the Coonewah Ridge. “It was sleeting and ice was sticking to my clothes,” Correll said. “I was sitting down there in the sleet and I could suddenly see our people in the flat fields below the village. The water from the rivers was coming up and covering the fields but our gardens were green and flourishing on the mounds. Our Three Sisters gardens were there... I could see our history come to life. I could see our village full of our people… It felt like home.” The Chickasaw Nation pre-removal was centered in Tupelo, according to Lieb, so much so that French maps from the 1700s accurately depict how the tribe’s villages consolidated in Tupelo for self-protection. Archaeological and historical studies since the 1930s have compiled compelling evidence that the city was the site of many Chickasaw towns, battles, and important interactions. “The Chickasaw people have stories and oral tradition about all this, but being removed for 180 years to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, everybody has forgotten where
Cody Reynolds, a Chickasaw Nation employee, soaks up the Chissa’Talla’ Preserve.
some of these actual places were,” Lieb said. “It was up to archaeology to relocate the exact sites, and that’s an ongoing process, but it’s more than half done. That’s why we’re confident about setting up the Chickasaw Heritage Center at Tupelo, establishing other preserves, and commemorating village sites as well.” The heritage center will be a hub not only for visiting Chickasaws but also for other people interested in learning about the Native American experience. Tupelo attorney Brad Prewitt is an executive officer for the tribe and director of the Inkana Foundation, which is working to establish a stronger connection to the area. A large chunk of Chickasaw history and culture has its origins in the homeland, and Prewitt said even the Chickasaw language derives its contextual meaning from the distinctive southeastern natural environment which the tribe once called home. The heritage center will seek to explain the nexus between the cultural, the historical, and the natural. “Chickasaw Nation Governor Anoatubby is very energized about this, and obviously, we’re energized about it, too, as this represents an historic opportunity for the tribe to officially come home in a substantial, exceptionally transformative way,” Prewitt said. Much like the Chickasaw Nation’s elaborate cultural center in Oklahoma, the heritage center will be a multimodal, active facility with opportunities to experience Chickasaw culture and arts. The site will include interpretations of how life would have been in the homeland. There are plans to restore the land nearby to a prairie-like state, just as the Chickasaws would have burned off the grass around their villages for protection. Nature trails will surround the area, Chickasaw Nation Part 1
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allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the ecology of the Chickasaw ancestral lands. “With partnerships underpinning our foundation efforts, at the center we’ll explore that theme even historically, by telling a story not only of the Chickasaw people, but connecting them to the greater Southeastern Indian experience through time and place. The center will add meaning to all of it,” Prewitt said. After its construction within about five years, according to Prewitt, the heritage center will be a unique addition to existing attractions such as the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Mississippi Mound Trail. “I think that Chickasaw Nation’s reverence for this place marries well with Mississippi’s affection for our roots and our awareness of being a people on an ever-moving historical and cultural journey,” Prewitt said. “I think that there’s a common language of love for the place that can be shared by both people.” Tupelo has already embraced one of America’s greatest allies within the Chickasaw tribe: Piominko. He is immortalized in statue form in Tupelo’s Fair Park in front
of City Hall, or as Mayor Jason Shelton calls it, “Tupelo’s front porch,” just a stone’s throw from a statue of another American legend – Elvis Presley. Piominko was the Chickasaw equivalent to George Washington. In fact, they were great friends. Washington even bestowed a presidential peace medal on Piominko. His likeness, sculpted by renowned Mississippi artist William “Bill” Beckwith of Taylor, stands stoic in bronze, carrying a long rifle, the peace medal dangling from his neck. He is wearing a Washington-style coat, which would have been blue with gold buttons. When the tour bus stopped at the rental house where Piominko’s grave is believed to lie, Correll’s eyes grew wide. “We need to buy it,” he said. “It’s important.” Shelton said Tupelo’s relationship with the Chickasaws is beneficial to both tribe and town, as their history and culture is synonymous with Tupelo’s history. “This is the native homeland of the Chickasaw Nation and that history is not lost upon us,” Shelton said. “We want to work with them in any way possible to develop that relationship and tell the story of this area. It [the Chickasaw
Heritage Center] will have a very significant historical, cultural, economic, and tourism related impact on our area.” Joe Thomas, who drove the tour bus, said the homeland experience is much like reliving what it means to be a Chickasaw. “I feel like I’m time traveling each time I come back home,” he said while examining arrow points in a museum inside the Pontotoc post office. The town of Pontotoc owes its very existence to the Chickasaw because that’s where the land office was set up to handle white settlers’ purchase of Chickasaw lands after the tribe's removal to Oklahoma. Moments before, as the bus approached its late afternoon stop there, Thomas took the bus into a parking lot from the wrong direction. “You’re going the wrong way!” someone yelled, good-naturedly. “Tourist!” another added. “No,” Thomas said, smiling softly. “We’re home.”
House Andrew Jackson slept here. Important treaties were signed here. Civil War soldiers bled here. And then thereâ€™s the ghost.
By Anna McCollum Photography by Ariel Cobbert
n the western edge of Tupelo sits an inconspicuous Greek revival home shaded by an arc of grandfatherly cedars. Behind it is a spring, a pond, and a wide, rolling pasture dotted by black cattle. But it’s what you don’t see that has fed Raymond Doherty’s obsession for decades now. For beneath the house and the thick, green grass lie clues to a history as rich as the soil that gave birth to Mississippi’s sprawling cotton kingdom. The people who zip past on West Main Street have no idea what went on there, where George “Ittioltimastubbe” Colbert, a Chickasaw head man, lived and maintained a tribal council house. They would never know that Andrew Jackson slept here and an important treaty was signed here. They would never know it was used as a Civil War hospital, that a meteorite was found in the back yard, or, as some say, that it is now the home of a ghost. ◊ Doherty hurries to a halt in a bright blue truck with a New York license plate. He is lanky stepping onto his driveway, with white hair that falls in his face and clunky, black glasses. When he speaks it is not with a slow, Mississippi drawl. Those childhood summers he spent there were never enough to do that to him. Doherty’s grandfather was from Monroe County; his grandmother from Lee. In 1953, the couple bought a rundown house on West Main and restored it. Doherty spent summers there, where his grandfather took him to find nutting stones in a freshly plowed field behind the house. The stones, of which Doherty now has a large inventory, were used four to eight thousand years ago, he said, to hold a nut in place while another stone cracked it. “These are older than the pyramids,” Doherty said, picking one up. His eyes twinkle. But it’s not these ancient stones that have fed Doherty’s 20-plus-year infatuation. It’s the other things — both tangible and intangible — linking his home to a wealth of Chickasaw history in which the Ole Miss graduate student has eagerly submerged himself. It has become the subject of his master’s thesis, besides. By digging into old family lore, Doherty changed his life. He entered graduate school in Anthropology at age 60 and wound up unearthing revolutionary discoveries in Chickasaw ethnohistorical archaeology. He and his aunt inherited the house when Doherty’s grandmother died in 1988. Since then, by digging through maps, letters and dirt, Doherty has discovered (among many other things) that his house sits on the site of a Chickasaw home built in 1814 by a man named George Colbert.
According to Robbie Ethridge, professor of anthropology at the University of Mississippi and author of a book on the Chickasaws, Colbert was the son of a Scottish trader who settled among the Chickasaws and married into the tribe. “Getting married was one way to form kin relations,” she said. “You married into your wife’s family, so now you had her family, and they provided you protection if you needed it, alliances and so forth. It was a practical thing to do.” Children of a Chickasaw and a European would have been called a derogatory term, “mixed blood,” according to Ethridge. But it was these children with a foot in both worlds who often rose to the top. “They had intimate connections with the Indian groups through their mother’s family and because they were Indian, and yet they had these vast connections with the Euro-American world as well,” Ethridge said. These advantages and the matrilineal society of the Chickasaw paved the way for Colbert’s leadership. He became a head man, a town leader who answered to a tribal council. This was common practice for the time, according to Ethridge, rather than having a single chief or governor as most tribes do today. But although he was one of many leaders, Colbert had immense influence. “Those Colberts became real good capitalists,” Ethridge said. “They were running ferries and they were running inns. They had a lot of businesses, so economically they started to gain some wealth. They were also great entrepreneurs.” Doherty knew a lot of this, but when he uncovered the original foundation of Colbert’s home peeking out from under the front of his house, it was a eureka moment. There have been many of those along Doherty’s journey of detective work. Rabbit holes and dead ends and crazy, unexplainable things have kept him interested in the house for decades now. For example, he discovered that his driveway was part of the original Natchez Trace. And, perhaps most amazingly, that Andrew Jackson once stayed at Colbert’s house for three weeks. It all started with a piece of paper in the Library of Congress. “A letter was found when I was first doing the research, 30 years ago, and it’s a letter from George Colbert to Andrew Jackson, and it’s dated Chickasaw Nation, 10th of January, 1814,” Doherty said. According to Doherty, Colbert had been living at a ferry he operated on the Tennessee River during that time. “The question was when did he move back here and why?” Doherty said. The letter answered that question. He had moved to Tupelo and established the national council house
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This photo shows the house the way it used to look.
– whose foundation lies under Doherty’s house – in 1814, “and not 1818, which is when people thought. That meant the 1816 council that happened here with Andrew Jackson – and the treaty – didn’t get negotiated and signed up there, it got negotiated and signed here. I was like, ‘This is fantastic.’ This letter is really unbelievable, and it’s kind of shocking, too.” In a sense, Doherty had just rewritten history. Eventually, this scrap of information led Doherty to the conclusion that the tribal house, whose foundation his current home sits on, was the site of a three-week conference Jackson convened with the Chickasaws and other Southeastern tribes. “All the Choctaw chiefs came, all the Cherokee chiefs came,” Doherty said. “The Creeks then at the last minute sent a runner and said they weren’t coming, and for three weeks, they held a conference here where they deposed the leaders of the different tribes as to their histories and boundaries.” Jackson wanted to acquire Tennessee for the U.S. government as part of a strategic goal to secure the Mississippi Valley established by Thomas Jefferson around the time of the Louisiana Purchase. The general, according to Doherty, was hoping to take advantage of disagreement among tribal leaders so that his buying the land would feel like some sort of solution.
Raymond Doherty in front of his Tupelo house. When he started researching its past, the things he found helped change Chickasaw history.
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Doherty recently got his hands on over 80 pages of transcripts of those depositions and related official correspondence from the Library of Congress. “The chiefs start testifying as to their origins — not really why they claim this bit of land, but how they came there originally, which is huge,” he said. “Andrew Jackson would interrupt them and ask them a question. It’s like some congressional hearing. We only found this a few weeks ago.” Through all of Jackson’s poking and prodding about land and fighting the Creek Indians, who were resisting European settlers’ encroachment, Colbert remained in control. “Overall, I think the Colberts were masterful in keeping Andrew Jackson at bay,” Doherty said. It had been a particularly tense time for the Chickasaw. A Red Stick Creek attack on Fort Mims spread terror throughout the Missisippi Territory and the nation. Jackson mobilized an army to crush the Red Sticks once and for all. In the midst of it all, a murder on the Natchez Trace in 1813 was blamed on the Chickasaws. Clearly worried about retaliation, the Chickasaws wrote Tennessee Gov. Willie Blount to deny they were responsible. They also announced they were moving everyone to the center of the Chickasaw Nation into a defensive position. Determined not to be blamed, George Colbert wrote Jackson saying they had recovered the war club used in the murder and would find and destroy the Red Stick village it came from. Colbert became war chief, left his ferry and moved to this site near present-day Tupelo to build his home, which also served as the national council house.
Ethridge credits Colbert for keeping his tribe united during that time. “This is early 19th century when the Chickasaws are up against the wall in terms of getting pressure for land and removal starting to rumble,” she said. “People are starting to talk about removal. Colbert and his leadership and the leadership that was in place at that time were instrumental in keeping them together and managing to retain their sovereignty in the face of just insurmountable pressure and odds.” Knowing where Colbert lived but also to have the site available for archaeological research is both rare and valuable, said Ethridge. “We know so little about Indian people, and we can rarely name their leaders, much less identify where they lived,” she said. “This is really unusual and it’s really important for that reason.” So important that today, Chickasaws regularly come from Oklahoma to see Doherty’s house. It’s that significance that keeps Doherty going, although he’s accepted that his thesis won’t be finished on time. After all, the clues keep coming. “The artifacts, the archaeology part of my thesis, the history part, is what’s really amazing,” he said. Doherty should have been an archaeologist from the get-go. When he was a teenager, he attended Mississippi State University’s summer field school and was asked to return as a supervisor the next year. He was just 14. But he didn’t answer the call. He considered law school and was living in Tupelo when he was first captured by the history of his grandparents’ home. But then, after his grandmother died, Doherty gave it up and moved to New York, where he worked Doherty’s has collected old maps and letters relating to the house and its history. OPENING PHOTO: The wooden front doors in the oldest part of Doherty’s house, located on the site of an old Chickasaw Council House.
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for LEGO. He developed the LEGO Film School which supported the LEGO and Steven Spielberg Moviemaker Set. “Things worked out well career-wise, but when I was down here, I was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do with my life?’ ” Doherty said. “And so I just sort of got into this in an obsessed way.” And he did it well. His research reveals how one Chickasaw leader, Colbert, stood up to Andrew Jackson and the full weight of the U.S. government right there in Tupelo and how he managed to at least temporarily preserve the Chickasaw homeland as well as the tribe’s sovereignty. He credits much of the findings to Brad Lieb, the Chickasaw Nation’s Tribal Archaeologist, and his uncle, retired Alabama Museum of Natural History archaeologist John Lieb. According to Doherty, nothing happened until the uncle-nephew team showed up and said, “Let’s start digging.” Using the dig and his document research and help from Tony Turnbow, executive director of the Natchez Trace Parkway Association, Doherty has managed to weave together a narrative of the site. The original house was built in 1814 and occupied by Colbert. In 1816 the three-week council was held during which Jackson negotiated the purchase of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi lands with chiefs from three Southeastern tribes. After the 1816 Treaty of the Chickasaw Council House and another
Some of the items Doherty has found on his rich-in-history property.
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treaty negotiated by Jackson two years later, the tribe owned no land in Tennessee. The incessant drumbeat of land demands from the U.S. government eventually led to the Indian Removal Act signed by Jackson, now the president, in 1830. Reluctantly, the Chickasaws eventually agreed to give up their remaining land in Mississippi and headed down the “Trail of Tears” for Indian Territory in what would later become Oklahoma. White settlers named Walker moved into the Colbert home, and in the 1850s they built the existing structure on top of the old foundation, using the original Chickasaw period timbers. They were not as precise as the Chickasaws, however. The original home was built to face exactly east, whereas the new one is six degrees off, according to Doherty. The east-facing quality is a classic Chickasaw signature. It is also at least possible that the semicircle of cedar trees in the front yard was once part of a circle of cedars surrounding the old council house. One may be the oldest cedar in North Mississippi, still guarding the yard with all the authority that comes from being 300 years on this earth. But there are still unanswered questions. For example, Doherty and the Liebs have found bits of pottery on the site that are inconsistent with Chickasaw methods. According to Doherty, almost half the pottery they have found is made with grog temper, which means
that it was made of tiny bits of old, broken pots instead of sand or shell. This “recipe” for potterymaking was utilized by the Natchez Indians, not the Chickasaw. And Doherty is stumped as to why they are finding it. Brad Lieb agreed the pottery is “unanticipated” for the early 19th century. It indicates “connections with the mysterious and once-powerful Natchez tribe, as well as other far-flung associations that probably reflect George and Saleechie Colbert’s wide network of elite connections and traditional power bases among the Chickasaws, and the ceremonial gathering function of the Council House,” he said. “Many more answers to as yet unasked questions still reside in the soil under the thick lawn at the site.” There are other mysteries here, like the ghost. According to Doherty, it lives in the front formal room, which sits atop the old foundation. “I’m a scientist, I really am. I don’t believe just anything, but this room is haunted,” he said. “Noises happen in here that one would describe to be haunted. It sounds like somebody’s in here walking around and moving around and knocking about. I got used to it, and it would wake me up in the night and I would just get on my computer, and it would go on for a couple hours until dawn.” Doherty wonders if it is the work of a Chickasaw warrior who died in the Creek War. Once, a pair of Chickasaw women entered the room during a tribal tour and spotted what they took to be an image of a Chickasaw warrior formed by soot and ash on the bricks of the fireplace. Doherty thinks he has some clues as to ghost’s identity. Among many of the metal objects found on the property was a part from an eighteenth century flintlock pistol and a large, deeply buried scalping knife. “They don’t use pistols for hunting, they use them for killing people,” Doherty said. “A traveler on the Natchez Trace reported that he was told George Colbert was ‘in the habit of killing people.’” Or, the ghost could be the spirit of a Civil War soldier. Both armies used the house as a hospital during the Battle of Tupelo, after all. The original pine floorboards are soaked in the blood of wounded Rebels and Yankees. “In the 1930s, on a humid day you could wipe something on the floor and still get blood,” said Doherty, who wants to rip up the wall-to-wall carpet and restore those boards. He also plans to restore the front porch and excavate underneath the house come fall. And if the findings continue to surprise him as they’ve done all these years, Doherty will likely discover something bizarre and puzzling. Like the brick stamped with the print of a dog’s paw. Or like the mysterious meteorite a friend unearthed that’s now in the New York Museum of Natural History. But already, his findings have added to the narrative of Chickasaw history in Tupelo. And that, as much as anything else, is what Doherty’s home offers to both Indians and non-Indians alike. Chickasaw Nation Part 1
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Josh Hinson may look like an Irishman, but he is devoted to saving the Chickasaw language.
Language By Kate Hayes Photography by Chi Kalu
The Chickasaws know that to lose their native tongue would be to lose a big slice of who they are. And the clock is ticking.
osh Hinson looks like an Irishman. In fact, in the Chickasaw tribe’s annual Three Sisters Festival, he plays the role of the white trader. “It’s my burden. It’s my cross to bear. The whitest guy who can talk Chickasaw.” Despite appearances, Hinson is part of a small army of people devoted to rescuing the Chickasaw language from the approaching threat of extinction.
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A stack of books on the Chickasaw language clutter Josh Hinson’s desk.
In fact, most would consider Hinson the general of this army – a role for which he is respected within the tribal community. “Yeah. Speakers are like rock stars,” he says. He is referring not to himself but to fluent speakers of the Chickasaw language, those who learned to speak it first, before learning English. There are fewer than 50 alive today. The language is in a dire state. With the youngest fluent speaker already 70, the Chickasaws face the threat of not only losing their native tongue, but the ancient knowledge and cultural understanding so deeply embedded within it. To lose a language is to lose a large piece of a tribe’s cultural pie. Time and mainstream society have greedily eaten away at it. But the Chickasaws are determined to piece together the crumbs that are left. ◊ Sixty-five years ago, Stanley Smith walked from home to a one-room schoolhouse. He was a young Chickasaw boy in Allen, Okla., and it was his first day of school. It was also his first encounter with the English language. Smith was just one of 50 Chickasaw classmates. There were around six white students. The teachers spoke only English. Along with Indian students who were mostly kinfolk, they struggled to learn the strange language their lessons were taught in. They struggled to communicate with classmates.
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They struggled to assimilate into the new culture being forced upon them. “It was hard. But we all helped each other,” Smith said. In 1880, the U.S. government began requiring Native American children to attend boarding schools or neighborhood schools aimed at casting off tribal influence and assimilating them into mainstream American culture. In these schools, many of which adhered to one founder’s slogan, “Kill the Indian, save the man,” children were often forbidden to speak anything but English. At the time, these trials led many Chickasaws to view their native language as a burden. Many eventually quit speaking it. This tale is the tale of many tribes sent to government schools after removal to Oklahoma. As a result, the Chickasaws are just one of many on the verge of losing their native tongue because of the struggles students like Stanley Smith faced. Those struggles led to a burning desire to make life easier for their children. And to them, easier meant speaking English. And only English. Now that Chickasaw isn’t being taught in every home, it’s up to people like Smith to teach people like Hinson all they know before time runs out. And the clock is definitely ticking. Easier said than done. Learning Chickasaw entails learning a poly-synthetic language. Whereas English is analytic with a noun, then a verb, and so on, Chickasaw consists of a verb that sits in the middle of a huge word with other stuff
attached to it. This one word may be a couple of sentences in English. For example, ‘Ilooittibaa-áyya’shanattook’ means “we all, more than three, were there, in that place, in an ongoing way, a long time ago, more than a year ago.” “Turning that over in your head and thinking that way is tough,” Hinson says. “If it takes 15 hundred contact hours to be really good at communicating in Spanish, it takes probably 6,000 to 8,000 contact hours to be really good communicating in Chickasaw. It’s easily as hard as any of the most challenging world languages like Russian or Mandarin Chinese. It’s harder.” So what possessed him to devote his life to learning and teaching such a difficult language? Born and raised in West Texas, Hinson grew up removed from the tribe and its culture. What little knowledge of the language he held came from Granny Meme. She couldn’t speak much of her native language herself, but gave her grandchildren Chickasaw dictionaries for Christmas when Hinson was around 8 years old. His copy sits in his office today. “We would give ourselves names and try to make up sentences… ‘cause we didn’t know what we were doing.” He’s come a long way. Studying art history for his master’s degree at the University of New Mexico got Hinson interested in the language. He started learning in 2000, went
When Stanley Smith was a young boy, his grandfather told him never to forget how to speak his beautiful language. Sixty-five years later, he still hasn’t.
“There’s really something, sort of this world view, about how our ancestors, and our traditional people view the world that you just can’t have access to in some ways without knowing the language.”
to work for the tribe in Oklahoma in 2004, and says he was able to communicate “pretty well” by 2006. He has four sons—two adopted, two biological. “When my first biological son was born, I just started really seriously picking up the language. It seemed like a good way to sort of figure out the cultural side of things,” he says. Unlike the many Chickasaws who stayed in Oklahoma surrounded by their culture, when Hinson moved there, he felt disconnected from the tribe. “Yeah, like an outlander born and raised in Texas,” he says. “No significant cultural knowledge. Getting the language just sort of, like, sucks you to the center… where it doesn’t matter.” His job title is director of the Chickasaw Language Revitalization program, in which Smith is also active. Smith taught Hinson, and now together they strive to teach others. It is an increasingly urgent mission. “We have to get good really quick. We don’t have time to mess around,” Hinson says. “We need to get good, when we can sit right next to fluent speakers and they can say, ‘Well, you might want to say, like, this.’” The Chickasaw Academy is an intense, full-time language program in which tribal members immerse themselves in the dialect: a two-year long program, five days a week, five hours a day. For those who can’t participate in the revitalization classes, a Rosetta Stone program is being produced, the first 40 lessons of which will be released in fall, 2016. Additionally, the Chickasaws have created apps for tribe members to learn on their own anywhere, anytime. Andrea Kihega is a student in the immersion classes. Having always been interested in her heritage, she decided to study her native language. Kihega and the other students are encouraged not to use notes, only their memories. And while she says that she has struggled to break out and become confident in speaking the language, four years have made her knowledgeable enough to text in Chickasaw. “I am so thankful today that I can still speak my own language,” Smith says. “I can remember Grandpa told me when I was 6 or 7 years old ... ‘Don’t ever forget your language.’ I always think about that and how Grandpa said it’s a beautiful language.” When Smith and other Chickasaws sought to make life easier for their children by not burdening them with two languages, they never dreamed that it would so quickly lead to today’s drought of fluent speakers. Once, Hinson was somewhat the same way. He regrets that he wasn’t prepared enough to teach the old language to his newborn. “I was a coward when the baby was born. I just didn’t feel I was proficient enough to raise him in it. He didn’t have the opportunity to be immersed in it ‘cause I just didn’t feel like I was qualified.” In a world ruled by English, it will prove difficult, if not impossible, to develop a large core of people who speak
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Chickasaw first, English second. But perhaps the seed planted within the five people in Hinson’s immersion program can ignite a desire to learn that spreads throughout the tribe. The thought brings a smile to Hinson’s face. “If we could just get, like, one percent before I die, one percent of the tribe as conversational speakers… Man, that would just be, I can’t even imagine, it’d be super,” he says. Then, with squinted eyes, he starts pointing and bouncing fingers and running through the math. “Shoot. It’ll never happen. That’s my wildest dream.” Reality strikes and he lowers the bar a little. “You know, I’ll just take, I’ll take 10 right now. If we could get 10, highly proficient, second language learners.” And with the vigorous efforts being made, it looks like he can prevail. More importantly though, the lesson has been learned. The severity of how much tribal culture is bound by language has been realized. If you don’t understand the language, you can’t fully understand the culture. “There’s really something, sort of this world view, about how our ancestors, and our traditional people view the world that you just can’t have access to in some ways without knowing the language,” Hinson laments. Walk the grounds of the spacious Chickasaw Cultural Center, a colorful, informative repository of tribal history, and you will frequently hear people offer greetings in Chickasaw. Here and there, more often, people use phrases and sometimes a sentence or two. There is a definite charge of hope running through the Chickasaws today. And maybe Hinson arrived at just the right time to be a big part of that. As he thinks about it, a big smile spreads across his face. “The traditional folks don’t care that I don’t look how an Indian ought to look. Because I can speak Chickasaw.”
What is your name? My name is
Do you speak Chickasaw? Do you like it? Yes, I like it
Andrea Kihega is a student in the immersion classes. She now knows enough to text in Chickasaw.
Power in the
Blood By Lana Ferguson Photography by Chi Kalu
They havenâ€™t lost a war yet and donâ€™t plan to start now: The fight to preserve Chickasaw culture.
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OPENING PHOTO: Shell jewelry worn by a performer at the Chickasaws' mock village. BELOW: Three Sisters Stew, hot and ready to sample.
he tan, wrinkled hand of Pat Greenwood cusps a wooden spoon stirring a pot filled with pashofa, a steaming mixture of pearl hominy and pork, along with a healthy sprinkling of Chickasaw tradition and history. Growing up in a household with strong Chickasaw roots, Greenwood, 72, was surrounded by the traditions her ancestors had practiced generations before. “Well, I watched my mom and my brother, who cooked pashofa outside, just like this,” Greenwood said, stirring her big cast iron pot in a replica Indian village during the Chickasaws’ Three Sisters Festival. “That’s how I learned how to cook it. Of course nowadays, we cook it in a crockpot.” Some traditions, like cooking pashofa, are winning the fight to remain prevalent, adapting to a fast-moving world. Others may be losing the battle. “Our language is almost obsolete,” Greenwood said. “It’s going. We have to teach the children how to speak the language.” Determined to cling to its heritage, the tribe is investing in its children as a way to invest in its culture. There is a dazzling array of programs and opportunities designed to educate youth, from stickball leagues to classroom visits from elders. Greenwood has worked for the Chickasaw Nation for more than 20 years. She has visited schools to teach children about the old ways. Sometimes, her classroom duties overlapped into her daily life. Her husband, a railroad worker in Amory, Mississippi, brought her to the tribe’s North Mississippi homeland frequently. For a time, they even lived there. “I got to talking to people and a lot of them said, ‘Well, I’ve never seen a Chickasaw before,’” she said. People, children, and adults would rub Greenwood’s arm and stroke her hair, as if to confirm she was real. They acted as if Indians were a thing of the past, as if they didn’t exist anymore. “I have my own card that shows how much Chickasaw I am,” Greenwood bragged. “I don’t have a roll number. I have to use my grandmother’s and my grandfather’s.” From 1898 to 1906, the government required members of the Five Civilized Tribes (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek, Cherokee) of the Southeast to sign up on the Dawes Roll.
If they didn’t, they lost government recognition of their Indian citizenship even if they had a long lineage of Indian ancestors. Suspicious of the government, some were scared to claim membership so they lost the right to tribal benefits and a part of themselves as well. It was preceded by The Dawes Act of 1887, which made it federal policy to “civilize” and assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American society. Children were sent to schools that punished them for speaking their own language and tried to rid them of all vestiges of native culture. And yet enough Chickasaw held onto their culture long enough to pass it on to others. “I know it, I have lived it, I still live it,” Greenwood said. “I love our history, tradition, and our culture.” That’s sweet music to the ears of LaDonna Brown, the Chickasaw tribal anthropologist, nestled away in her office off a busy street in Ada, Oklahoma. Books, mostly on the Chickasaw, overflow her desk and line her bookshelf, surrounding her with the accumulated knowledge of her people. She works day-by-day to cement that culture in their minds. Brown knows culture tells us who we are, where we came from, and why. If you’re going to be Chickasaw, you should know your roots. “There will be a time when there probably won’t be a full blood Chickasaw person,” Brown said. “The only way it would disappear is if everybody made a conscious decision to quit practicing the culture.” She also wants people outside of the tribe to know of its distinctive culture. Brown realized how little Mississippi schools teach students about Chickasaws and other Native Americans when she worked as a park ranger on the Natchez Trace in Tupelo. Students who visited Brown at the Trace, especially elementary school children, only knew of the history of the Chickasaws up to their removal from Mississippi. Whenever Brown asked students what happened to the Chickasaws after that, she was met with confused silence. Then: “Well, I don’t know… Well, they all died because they’re not here anymore,” the students would eventually say. Then Brown would respond, “What about me? What about when I came here and said what my name was, who I am, and where I’m from?” Light bulbs would flicker on in young brains. The Chickasaws weren’t in Mississippi because they were in Oklahoma. But they were still very much around. Through migration, an onslaught of European diseases, and the need to adapt to changing times, the tribe has not only survived but prospered, using its Oklahoma base to become one of the great success stories of Indian Country. Calling themselves the “unconquerable Chickasaw Nation,” they like to boast they’ve never lost a war, not even against the French Army, not even against ruthless Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto. They don’t plan to lose the culture war either. “We had always been adaptable and adjusting to what has been introduced to us and whatever we can take from these other cultures and use as information or knowledge that can help us to be better people or to be more successful, we do it,” Brown said.
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After all, she said, “Our ancestors were always looking to the future and looking to their future generations.” Chickasaw leaders have always been depended upon to provide for their people. Governor Bill Anoatubby is no different. The tribe has an immense directory packed with programs and services for tribal members, including a sleek, technologically advanced health center, ambitious early childhood education programs, housing programs, college scholarships, food programs and more. And that’s not to mention the thousands of jobs the tribe has created from casinos to simulated missile testing for the Department of Defense. The Chickasaw work for themselves, yes. But they also work in the memory of other tribes, hoping to avoid the fate of the less fortunate. “The Natchez, the Ofo, the Yazoo,” Brown said. “All of those lived in Mississippi but they’re extinct now. They don’t have a voice to tell the world about who they were, how they lived, what their culture was about, their belief systems, their political organization and their social organization. We as a larger tribe of the southeastern groups feel like that kind of falls on our shoulders to let the world know about this southeastern culture and the Chickasaw identity.” One of the tribe’s major efforts to showcase its culture sits like a gleaming trophy in Sulphur, Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Cultural Center stretches 300,000 square feet, the main building seeming to rise majestically from the ground. More
than a history museum, it’s a living heritage exhibit. Every crook and crevice is Chickasaw. It has become a cultural home for the tribe, a feel good place that creates pride, strengthens Chickasaw identity, and serves as a reminder of where they came from, what they have accomplished and who they are as a result of it all. As soon as visitors cross the threshold, they are greeted in the Chickasaw language. They’ve entered a new world. Each exhibit flows seamlessly into the next through every stage of Chickasaw history. A tunnel uses recorded voices and emotionally wrenching images on the walls to recreate the Trail of Tears. Walk into another room and you find yourself in a North Mississippi forest with a dark night sky, noises of nature, mock animals. Rain begins. Then the sun comes up. There are movie theaters. A genealogy center offers visitors help in tracing their lineage. Visitors can practice speaking Chickasaw phrases into a device that records and plays back their words so they can hear how they sound. A cafeteria cooks up everything from standard American cheeseburgers to a feast of traditional Chickasaw staples, one of the most popular being fried bread. There is also that replica Chickasaw village that hosts festivals to recreate traditional experiences outside of the exhibit halls. There, a small smile graces the face of Lori Hamilton, in a 1700s-style Chickasaw dress, as she watches Chickasaw and non-Chickasaw alike flow into the “living village” for the Three Sisters Festival.
People eagerly line up for servings of Three Sisters Stew at the tribe’s “living village” near Sulphur, Oklahoma.
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Pat Greenwood learned to prepare pashofa by watching her mother.
Pashofa has been a staple of the Chickasaw and Choctaw diet for centuries. The meal is simple to make and takes very few ingredients while creating a filling dish. Pashofa used to be cooked outside over an open flame but nowadays can be made on a stovetop or crockpot. Hereâ€™s how itâ€™s done.
How To Prepare Pashofa
Cook time: about 4 hours 1 pound cracked corn (pearl hominy), cleaned and soaked overnight 2 quarts water 1 pound fresh lean pork (pork chops are a popular choice but any small pieces of fresh pork, like bacon, can be substituted) **Do not add salt when cooking. It will cause the pashofa to stick to the pot. Place soaked corn in a large pot with water. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let corn simmer for 2 hours. Cook slowly, stirring often. Add raw pork (or cooked bacon with grease). Cook mixture another 2 hours. Add water if needed as it boils away. The dish is done when the corn and meat are tender. The consistency should be thick and soupy. Individuals can add salt to taste. Compiled by Lana Ferguson
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“To me, it’s not actually work,” Hamilton said. “Who gets paid to get to do this stuff? That’s the most unique, dynamic thing about it.” Hamilton helps lead and organize many festivals. One of the biggest is this festival at the beginning of spring. Visitors flow into a hubbub of ancient culture. In a fortress village full of recreated thatched-roof homes, workers wear 1800s Chickasaw attire. Fingers weave baskets and string beads, weathered hands stew traditional meals, players practice stickball, and archers aim arrows at wooden deer. In the heart of the village, stomp dancers with shell shakers strapped to their ankles chant and march counterclockwise around a fire pit, then wind and twirl in patterns. A large Indian mound overlooks it all. Most visitors are shy at first, but soon Chickasaw and non-Chickasaw blend into one group, dancing and playing together, absorbing the culture.
TOP: In this display in a meeting house at the tribe’s mock Chickasaw village, a chief gives instructions to two warriors. ABOVE: Preparing a deer hide at the living village at the cultural center.
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“I think just making the public aware of who we are as people, that we still are keeping our culture and traditions alive is so important,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think they realize we are still a people.” Cultural tourism is taking off in Oklahoma and travelers flock to the Chickasaw Cultural Center from as far away as Japan, Germany, and New Zealand. Local folk have made their faces familiar as well. Like a lot of Chickasaw, Hamilton didn’t grow up surrounded by tribal culture. The language was the main thing she noticed because her grandparents and mother speak it. But she’s learned a lot of the history and heritage from working in cultural resources and listening carefully to the elders’ tales of the way it was. “A lot of the time, they don’t realize the things that they’re saying,” Hamilton said. “They’ll share stories and stuff. They just start rattling stuff off in conversation. They don’t realize how important that is for us to remember.”
Spectators gather to watch a stomp dance demonstration.
Undefeated By Mrudvi Bakshi Photos Courtesy of Chickasaw Nation
They whipped DeSoto, repelled the French and survived the â€˜Trail of Tears.â€™ The Chickasaw have not merely endured. They have prevailed.
n the year 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto’s quest for riches made it to Mississippi. The conquistador’s heavily armed expedition came in search of gold, bullied and intimidated Indians in Florida and Alabama, and wreaked havoc everywhere it went. Finally, DeSoto arrived at the Tombigbee River on the eastern side of Mississippi. There his men saw unfamiliar Indians staring at them. The warriors were armed and alert and planted war banners on the banks, a clear warning. An envoy sent to talk to these unfamiliar Indians was quickly executed, sending an unmistakable message. Soon, just to be plainer, a hail of arrows flew towards the Spaniards, who hustled to take cover. This was the first encounter between the Spaniards and Chickasaws, a standoff that lasted three days before the Indians melted into the woods. Thus ensued the long tortuous relationship between the native Chickasaw and colonialist European explorers. Soon, DeSoto and his men occupied a village abandoned by the Chickasaw and the two groups parlayed. But tensions rose during the winter when DeSoto’s men began consuming the Chickasaw stores of corn. Hungry Chickasaws tried to retrieve some, were caught and DeSoto chopped off one man’s hands and sent him back to the tribe. Finally, DeSoto was ready to move on and demanded horses and warriors to carry his supplies and women to provide sex to his soldiers. The
Chickasaws pretended to consider the demand, then carried out a daring nighttime raid on the Spanish camp. Warriors carried torches in clay pots to the scene and while the Spaniards slept, they struck. They unleashed a storm of flaming arrows into the thatched roofs of the huts, triggering fires and panic. Many men were wounded, DeSoto narrowly missed being killed, and the Spaniards lost horses and supplies they dearly needed. Greatly weakened, the explorers soon moved on. DeSoto would later die, his body tossed by his men into the Mississippi River, but it is a safe bet that survivors of the expedition long remembered the Chickasaws and their effective hit-and-run tactics. When DeSoto arrived, the Chickasaws were probably living around Columbus, according to Ole Miss anthropology professor Robbie Ethridge, author of “From Chicaza to Chickasaw.” Afterwards, they moved to Tupelo. Their move proved strategic. They were some distance from European settlements and forts. And from that position they could harass French traffic on the Mississippi River in the Memphis area, dressing as bison and bears to ambush would-be hunters. They also had access to the Natchez Trace and, more importantly, the Upper Trade Path, which connected them to the Carolina traders and the eastern seaboard colonies. By the time Europeans showed up again, the Chickasaw were an even more powerful and
The old Chickasaw homeland.
LEFT: This representation of an ancient Chickasaw village shows a stickball game going on to the left of the stockade. OPENING PHOTO: Chickasaw warriors prepare to unleash their arrows in “First Encounter,” a movie the Chickasaw produced that tells a story of their clashes with Hernando DeSoto from the Chickasaw perspective.
advanced tribe that covered parts of North Mississippi, Northwestern Alabama, Tennessee and present-day western Kentucky. This time it was the French, as first Marquette and Joliet and later LaSalle ventured down the Mississippi River. But the British were the first to open steady trade relations, during the formation of the Carolina colony in 1670. The English were eager to trade guns, manufactured cloth, metal goods and other items for deerskins and captives. The captives were sold as slaves to Caribbean sugar plantations. The Chickasaw culture began to change swiftly as they reaped the benefits of this new source of trade. “By the 1690s,” wrote historian Greg O’Brien, “Chickasaws, well-armed with English guns, raided their southern neighbors the Choctaws to seize captives and sell them to the English, capturing perhaps 2,000 or so Choctaws and killing around another 2,000. At the time, the Choctaws did not own guns, making them vulnerable to Chickasaw attacks, and this started a long era of intermittent Chickasaw-Choctaw warfare.” For a long time, “the Chickasaw and the Choctaw hated each other and a lot of it came from the slave raid era,” said Ethridge. Then the French on the Gulf Coast allied with the Choctaw, giving them guns to better fight the Chickasaws. In 1720, the British had Chickasaws kill a French fur trader suspected of spying, outraging the French, and tension between the two nations and their Indian proxies escalated. In 1729 animosity toward the Chickasaw boiled over. Angered by the massacre of some of their soldiers by Natchez Indians, the French attacked and essentially wiped out the group. Two towns of Natchez survivors escaped and took refuge with the Chickasaw in 1731. The French had had enough of this pesky tribe to the north that hindered their desire to push further northward. Emboldened by the ease with which they conquered the Natchez, they vowed to destroy the Chickasaw. The French knew that if they controlled the big river and had no interference from the Chickasaw in North Mississippi, their influence would spread even farther inland and the growing British influence in the New World might be checked or even diminished. Sometime in winter and spring, 1736, the colonial governor of Louisiana Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Sieure de Bienville put into motion a plan to squeeze the Chickasaw between two armies — one from the North and one from the South. But Bienville’s army was delayed. As a result, Pierre D’Artaguette’s army from the north arrived much earlier and elected to attack alone, massing at the Chickasaw village of Ogoula Tchetoka in what is now Tupelo on March 25, 1736. About 130 French soldiers were annihilated and some, including a French priest, were burned at the stake. The survivors, and about 400 Miami, Iriquois, Kaskaskia and Quapaw warriors retreated. Chickasaw Nation Part 1
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This map shows where today's Chickasaw Nation is located.
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The Chickasaw also found Bienville’s battle plan on an officer’s body, a discovery that did not bode well for Bienville. His 600 soldiers and 600 vengeful Choctaw aimed their attack at the small village of Ackia, near the site of present day Pierce Street Elementary on May 26, 1736. The Chickasaw defenders were well armed and waiting in a well-constructed fort. More Chickasaw were ready to fire through loopholes from fortified houses just outside the fort. With drums rolling and flags flying, Bienville’s soldiers marched up the hill to the fort on open ground, only to face withering fire from the protected Chickasaw. Musket fire riddled Bienville’s men. Despite the French use of hand grenades and African slaves bearing mantelet shields in front of them, the attack collapsed and the French were forced to retreat. Stung by his defeat, Bienville returned in 1739 and massed his men on the Chickasaw bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. This time, he brought cannon to destroy the forts. He hadn’t counted on the winter rains in Mississippi, which turned the rural landscape into a muddy quagmire, bogging down the cannons. With
supplies growing low and sickness spreading through his men, Bienville and the Chickasaws talked and another bloody battle was avoided. The Battle of Ackia marked the beginning of the end for France’s plan to more closely link its northern territories to the southern colony of Louisiana. Eventually, they lost the weakened colony in the Seven Years’ War in 1756-1763. The battle may well have changed history, marking the beginning of the end for French colonial ambitions in America. It gave the British an enormous advantage. As James Barnett put it in his ‘Mississippi’s Native Americans,’ the Chickasaws proved their worth as “England’s first line of defense against the French.” “I really think The Battle of Ackia was the second most important battle in Mississippi history, second only to the Civil War Battle of Vicksburg,” said Tupelo attorney Brad Prewitt, an executive officer of the Chickasaw Nation. Soon, the Revolutionary War would erupt and the British would lose as well. According to Ethridge, “the Chickasaw didn’t get heavily involved in the revolution, but after it are standing eye to eye with the Americans.” At first they got along with the powerful new nation forming around them. It was at that moment that the South’s cotton economy started to emerge, and the slow, steady drumbeat for removal would soon begin. Thirty years later, as more and more white settlers poured into North Mississippi, the Chickasaws tried their best to be accommodating and to adapt to change. They farmed, grew cotton, accumulated wealth, pursued a education for their children, dressed like white men, and changed tribal government to better deal with the emerging American and state governments. But the unceasing hunger for land to plant cotton placed enormous pressure on American public officials to get rid of the Indians. It was not long before America, with its superior military force, was pressing them to give up huge chunks of their land. A series of treaties from 1805 to 1832 turned over millions of acres of Chickasaw land.
The old capitol of the Chickasaw Nation in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. It is full of displays that tell the tribe’s history. PHOTO BY CHI KALU
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The Treaty of Chickasaw Council House signed on September 20, 1816 had the tribe cede close to six million acres of present day Middle Tennessee, Northwest Alabama and East Mississippi. Still, the tribe tried to get along. It had supported General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, sending warriors to help defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans, making Jackson a popular military hero. But after the war, the flood of white immigrants increased, doubling the population from 1810 to 1820. The Chickasaw were quickly outnumbered. The pressure became too much. The lucrative cotton markets triggered a land rush in the Deep South. People were desperate for land to plant “white gold,” the most valuable commodity in the world. In
1829, the newly formed state of Mississippi made tribal governments illegal, despite the tribes’ treaties with the U.S. Jackson was elected President in 1828. He pushed the 1830 Indian Removal Act through Congress to the dismay of his old war allies, the Chickasaw. More negotiations led on Oct. 20, 1832 to a Chickasaw agreement to give up their land in Missisippi and move to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. But the U.S was not through with the tribes. In the early 1900s the government began a longstanding effort to ‘civilize’ them by trying to unravel their tribal organizations. The tribes were to be disbanded and individual Indians would get allotments of land to live on. Children were often sent to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their native language and their tribal traditions were discouraged. Eventually, after World War Two, the government reversed its policies. Today, thanks to the tribe’s aggressive “self-determination” philosophy, the Chickasaws are one of the more successful and progressive tribes in America. Their collection of 18 casinos, a chocolate factory, banks, a business that advises other tribes on how to manage gaming, a contract to run computer simulations of missile tests and other businesses have created a bonanza of jobs for its people and a huge economic boost to Oklahoma. Despite their many travails, the Chickasaws never lost their love for their North Mississippi homeland. Last year the tribe’s governor, Bill Anoatubby, announced that the Chickasaws would build a Chickasaw Heritage Center in Tupelo to establish stronger connections with the area. For the Chickasaw, it has been an extraordinary journey, one with many peaks and valleys. But if it has proven nothing else, it has proven that this is a tribe of survivors. They have conquered displacement, poverty and discrimination and emerged as a proud tribe and a powerful economic force. No wonder they describe themselves as “unconquered and unconquerable.” And now, in a very real sense, they are back in Mississippi.
This sculpture of a Chickasaw warrior stands outside the tribe’s impressive cultural center in Oklahoma. PHOTO BY CHI KALU
THE DAWES COMMISSION
he Dawes Act, passed by Congress in 1887, was designed to dismantle tribal land ownership by allotting parcels of reservation land to individual members of tribes. The law changed their legal status from members of tribes to individuals subject to federal law. It dissolved many tribal affiliations, a huge blow to tribal sovereignty. President Grover Cleveland said it would improve Native Americans’ lives by incorporating them into white culture. It didn’t work out quite that way. As passed, the law did not cover the Five Civilized Tribes (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Muskogee Creek, Seminole). But after failing to persuade the five tribes to accept allotments, Congress in 1896 gave the Dawes Commission power to enroll tribal members on a list that would serve as final authority on who belonged to which tribe and was therefore eligible for an allotment. The list was called the Dawes Roll, or the “final rolls of the civilized tribes.” Using powers granted it by the Curtis Act in 1898, the Dawes Commission processed applications from more than 250,000 people and approved more than 101,000 for the final rolls by the time the process closed on March 4, 1907. The rolls remained the definitive source on eligibility for tribal membership. The commission then surveyed and appraised 19,525,966 acres of tribal land and handed out 15,794,000 acres of allotments, with allotment sizes based on appraised value. Some people received cash instead of land. The commission put aside 125,427 acres for railroads, town sites, churches, schools and cemeteries. It put aside another 431,080 acres of Chickasaw and Choctaw land with coal and asphalt deposits and 1,278,753 acres of timber land. The government leased those lands to others and eventually auctioned them off. Another 3,174,988 acres of unallotted land were sold. Overall, the original Dawes Act reduced Native American landholdings from 138 million acres in 1887 to 78 million in 1900 and continued the trend of white settlement on what had been tribal land. It also funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children into white society. The schools tried to destroy family and cultural ties. Children were punished for speaking their own language or following tribal traditions. The law was abolished in 1934 under President Franklin Roosevelt. Source: Kent Carter, Oklahoma Historical Society, and History.com PHOTO: A display of typical arrows and bells. PHOTO BY CHI KALU
Telling Their Story The Chickasaw have produced an award-winning movie that tells how they crippled DeSotoâ€™s legendary expedition.
he Chickasaw have gone into the movie business. To better tell their story, the tribe has begun producing the Chickasaw Heritage Series, a group of movies highlighting events and people from the annals of tribal history. The first one, “First Encounter,” gives the tribe’s version of their fiery battle with Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1540. It appeared on Mississippi Public Broadcasting earlier this year. The award-winning movie, available on DVD, was aired for Tupelo business and government leaders last December when Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby updated them on the tribe’s plans to build a heritage center in the city. The movie has been chosen to air at the California Film Festival later this year and won top honors as Best Short Documentary at Oklahoma’s Trail Dance Film Festival in January. The historic Chickasaw clash with DeSoto in north Mississippi disrupted his grandiose plans and was the catalyst for the ultimate failure of his quest for gold and riches. It also helped establish the tribe’s reputation as “unconquered and
unconquerable,” a cherished Chickasaw slogan to this day. Weary of DeSoto’s bullying and his unreasonable demands for concubines to service his men and for warriors to carry baggage, the Chickasaw ambushed the Spanish camp in a night-time raid, scattering horses and swine, burning huts, destroying supplies and wounding many of DeSoto’s men before disappearing into the darkness. Beaten and bloodied, the Spanish soon departed and DeSoto later died near the Mississippi River, his body tossed into the waters by his men for burial. “While our first encounter with De Soto has been told from other points of view, we believe our perspective adds significant context to the historical narrative,” Anoatubby said. “We believe our tribe’s first encounter with Europeans is a great place to begin this series,” he said in a tribe press release. “In coming years, we plan to produce additional documentaries which will offer additional insight into the role the Chickasaw people have played in American history.” The DVD can be purchased at: https://www.chickasawoutpost.com/p-282-first-encounterdvd-format.aspx. The tribe’s first effort at film-making was in 2010 with release of the 107-minute, critically-acclaimed motion picture “Pearl,” celebrating the early life of Chickasaw Pearl Carter Scott, who became the youngest pilot in the United States to fly solo Sept. 12, 1929. She was 13 and trained under famed aviator Wiley Post. The movie can be purchased at Amazon and other major outlets. In October 2014 the tribe finished filming “Te Ata,” the story of Te Ata Thompson Fisher, a Chickasaw entertainer and storyteller who performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the king and queen of England.
In the movie First Encounter, a Chickasaw warrior takes dead aim at DeSoto's men. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHICKASAW NATION
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A Conversation with
Anoatubby Q: Photos Courtesy of Chickasaw Nation
Where and when did you start in the tribe’s government?
In 1975, I began work with the Chickasaw Nation as tribal health director. A year later Governor James asked me to be the accounting director. He later appointed me as special assistant to the governor, then asked me to be his running mate in the 1979 election. That was the first election that included lieutenant governor. We were elected as a team and then reelected in 1983.
Q: When you were elected governor, was it a close race? Why did you run? When Overton James retired, several people wanted to be Governor. As lieutenant governor, I was faced with the choice of running for governor or losing my opportunity to serve the Chickasaw Nation. I felt it was my calling in life to serve the Chickasaw people, so I was compelled to run for governor. In 1987, I was elected governor of the Chickasaw Nation in a fairly close race. Our leadership team was focused on economic development, healthcare, housing, education, senior services and other services to offer opportunities to the Chickasaw people. Q: Did you have any idea back then that the tribe would grow to such a strong economic position? Even in those early years, we had a vision of what might be, because we knew the Chickasaw people had always had the focus, determination and resilience necessary to
succeed in the face of virtually any challenge. Chickasaws persevered and adapted throughout our history, including removal from our homelands, allotment of our new territory and an attempt to dissolve our tribal government and assimilate us into mainstream society. Through all those challenges, we continued to embrace our identity as a nation and our hope that we would once again be selfgoverning and self-sufficient. In the 1950s and 1960s we began to take meaningful action on that vision, as community leaders fought for our right and ability to elect our leaders and govern ourselves. In 1971, we held our first gubernatorial election since Oklahoma statehood. Twelve years after that election, the Chickasaw people established a new constitutional form of government. In 1987, we had four tribal businesses and about 250 employees. Today, we operate more than 100 diversified tribal businesses and have more than 13,000 employees. Our annual outlays now are measured in hundreds of millions. Q: What do you like most like about your job? Our mission is “to enhance the quality of life of the Chickasaw people,” so it is gratifying to see the results of our efforts. Many of our services offer opportunities to pursue a higher education, advance in one’s career, or start a business. There are countless examples of Chickasaws who have seized those opportunities and achieved success.
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It is gratifying to see Chickasaws who have utilized tribal services and make it a point to “come back home” to work for the tribe. People who have earned degrees from Harvard or other prestigious universities choose to work for the tribe because they believe so strongly in our mission. We have seen many people who started working for the Chickasaw Nation as part of our summer youth program advance to become part of the leadership team. They now have the opportunity to mentor young people and help prepare them to be leaders in the future. Last year, we provided more than $18 million in grants and scholarships to more than 5,000 students. Chickasaws are enjoying success in the arts, sciences, business, etc. We have also made great strides in revitalizing our history and culture. One example is the Chickasaw Cultural Center, which reflects the vision, imagination and spirit of the Chickasaw people. It is a special place where Chickasaw people embrace the culture and heritage which bind us together as a people. We have also established many programs, camps, events and other initiatives to help us preserve and revitalize our language and culture. It is essential to revitalize our Chickasaw language and preserve it for future generations, because so much of our culture is bound up in the knowledge of our language. Therefore, we have made a special effort to preserve and teach our language. One example is our partnership with
Gov. Bill Anoatubby speaks from beneath the great seal of the Chickasaw Nation.
Gov. Bill Anoatubby inducts veteran storyteller and tribal elder Irene Digby into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.
Gov. Bill Anoatubby with young friends at Chickasaw Youth Day.
Rosetta Stone. We believe a collaboration between our fluent speakers and Rosetta Stone will be a significant step toward ensuring our language is documented and accessible for future generations. Q: Which of the tribe’s achievements are you especially pleased with? We have made great progress in several areas. Our economic development and business diversification efforts have a great impact. Growth in business revenues has allowed us to create new jobs and increase the number of services we offer. In 1987, we operated 33 programs. About 99 percent of the funding for those programs came from the federal government. Today, we operate nearly 300 programs and services. Tribal business revenue provides the majority of funding for those services. In 1987, higher education funding was about $200,000 annually and provided scholarships to 157 students. Today, in addition to providing grants and scholarships totaling more than $18 million to more than 5,000 students, we operate four early childhood centers serving more than 330 students. We have also implemented a STEM initiative to introduce students to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We believe it is vital to show students how their classroom studies apply to real world career options. We have also made significant strides in health care. We invested more than $150 million of tribal revenue to build a state-of-
the-art 370,000 square foot medical center that opened in 2010. We also built new health clinics in Ardmore and Tishomingo. Our investment in those new clinics helps ensure we will be able to deliver high quality health care for years to come. We also opened a new cultural center in 2010. Almost 500,000 people from around the world have visited to learn more about Chickasaw culture and history. We are currently involved in a tourism initiative which is bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to Oklahoma. Q: What’s the biggest disappointment? Regardless of how hard we work, everyone makes honest mistakes from time to time. While it is always disappointing to make mistakes, we do our best to learn from them and move on to the next opportunity. There is always much to be done. Sometimes we must choose from several good options to find the “best” option. That can be difficult at times, but we try to determine what is best for the people we serve and move forward. Q: You are known for working with state and local governments. Could you give examples and tell us why that sort of cooperation is so important? We make it a point to work closely with city, state and local governments, because we know that we can all do more by working together. We believe it is important to be a good neighbor. Our cross-deputation agreements with
state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies are one example. Cross-deputation agreements enable all officers to enforce the law, investigate and prosecute crimes without jurisdiction becoming an issue. Our compact with the state of Oklahoma to offer Chickasaw Nation license plates to Chickasaw citizens is another example. Our compact keeps funding for schools, roads, employee retirement, wildlife conservation and other programs intact while offering our citizens a visible way to demonstrate their pride in being Chickasaw. We also work closely with cities and counties to help maintain roads and bridges, which helps local governments stretch budgets and makes roads safer for everyone. Q: Is it true that relations between the federal government and the tribes have never been better? Are there bridges still to be crossed? While we have a positive relationship with the federal government we must protect the rights of our citizens. A recent settlement rooted in the allotment process that took place more than a century ago helps illustrate both points. The case centered on more than one million acres of Chickasaw and Choctaw tribal lands the U.S. took control of on the eve of Oklahoma statehood. As federal trustee, the government held those lands for the benefit of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, but the government had not provided a proper accounting of the management and disposition of those lands.
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Over a period of many years, we made numerous requests for an accounting. In December 2005, we filed suit requesting an accounting of the management of that land and restoration of the value of that trust. After nearly a decade of litigation, we reached a $186 million settlement with the federal government. The fact that the government was willing to acknowledge the serious nature of our concerns, and take steps to resolve those, represents a significant milestone in helping solidify our relationship with the U.S. The fact that we had to file suit illustrates the importance of continuing efforts to protect and defend our tribal sovereignty. Q: Why is it so important to defend tribal sovereignty? The exercise of sovereignty is the foundation of virtually every action we take. Our sovereignty is inherent. While it is recognized in the U.S. Constitution, it is not given or taken away by the federal government. The federal government does, however, have the capacity to limit our ability to exercise tribal sovereignty. Our ability to exercise our sovereignty is something we should never take for granted. One example of the importance of defending tribal sovereignty is seen in recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board. In June 2015, the NLRB dismissed a complaint alleging the Chickasaw Nation had violated the National Labor Relations Act. The board ruled the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over the Chickasaw Nation That case was never as much about the NLRA as it was about our sovereignty as a tribal nation as recognized in our treaties with the federal government. We were pleased that the Board understood that our treaties remain the bedrock of our relationship with the federal government. Q: Tell us about your â€œlistening
sessionsâ€? and what you learn from them. Listening conferences are a formal way of communicating directly with people we serve so we are able to tailor our services to best meet their needs. Some of our listening conferences were conducted when we began offering services outside the Chickasaw Nation jurisdictional area â€“ the 13 counties in south-central Oklahoma. Those sessions were intended to give citizens more input into the development of new triballyfunded services. We also hold meetings designed to offer information about services, and to receive feedback from citizens. While we publish annual programs and services guides, it is often helpful to meet with citizens in person, because that gives us the opportunity to explain the services in more detail, answer questions. Q: Where does the Chickasaw Nation go from here, economically and in terms of service to tribal citizens. What challenges remain? While we are on a much more stable financial foundation than ever before, it is essential to continue to focus on economic development and business diversification. While we plan to continue reinvesting in our established businesses, our corporate development team is also evaluating a wide range of new business opportunities. One example is our strategy to develop a diverse portfolio of high-tech companies with tremendous growth potential. We have invested in innovative companies such as Ekso Bionics, iRpowr, Capstone metering and Corvid Technologies, which are creating new markets in their respective industries. We are also engaged in economic development initiatives designed to have a positive impact on the state and local economy. Designed to bring more tourism to Oklahoma, the Adventure Road initiative generated more than 385,000 new trips
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to the area last year, bringing in approximately $647 million in spending from March to September. Business diversification and economic development efforts contribute to our mission by providing employment opportunities and allowing us to offer more programs and services. We remain committed to offering a wide range of services to help meet the need for housing, health care, education, aging services, career development, family services and more. We also plan to continue our efforts to embrace, preserve and revitalize our culture and language. As we move forward, we will continue to
The WinStar World Casino complex, arguably the world's largest, is a big piece of the business empire the tribe has built under Anoatubby.
implement programs that meet the everchanging needs of Chickasaw people Q: And finally, what message would you like to send to people? Our mission â€œto enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw peopleâ€? is at the core of everything we do. Quality of life includes meaningful employment, safe, secure housing, quality affordable health care, access to higher education and more, so when we evaluate a business opportunity, develop a new policy, or consider a new service, we ask ourselves how it will affect the Chickasaw people. We will only move forward when we truly believe it will help us meet our mission.
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The Chickasaw Medical Center in Ada is a model for Native American health care. Even the interior décor is tribal.
By Taylor Bennett Photography by Chi Kalu
s a little girl, Judy Parker was always running up and down hospital hallways with her brothers, driving nurses crazy by setting off false alarms in the emergency room. No one would’ve guessed the little prankster would one day become Judy Parker, Ph.D, secretary of health for the Chickasaw Nation and overseer of the spacious Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, Okla. A crown jewel of the Chickasaws, the medical center is not just a hospital. It is also a statement of modern art, a building that feels more like a testimony to nature than a standard medical facility. The $146 million center was built in 2010 in order to accommodate a growing tribe and to overcome treatment issues within the nation. With 72 hospital beds, a roomy diabetes care center and a women’s health center, the tribe
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A Haven for Healing
can offer first-class care to its citizens at a time when many other tribes’ health facilities are under fire. The center also boasts a 3-D breast scanner to help detect cancer, the latest heart-imaging technology and the capacity to fill more than 1 million prescriptions a year. But health care wasn’t always this accommodating in the Chickasaw Nation. The old Carl Albert Hospital was just over a third of the size of the new facility, forced to handle more than 10 times the number of patients it was built for. The old hospital could fit into the first floor of the outpatient side of the new health center, Parker said. “We’ve increased, of course, by a lot of square feet and by about 400 employees when we moved from the old facility to the new facility,” she said. No one may be as attached to the medical center as Parker, whose father was an X-ray and lab technician for years in the
old digs. His influence helped her decide to pursue a nursing degree, which in time became a Ph.D. “My dad had a great love for healthcare and actually ended his career there. You know, he was volunteering at the hospital the last job that he had,” Parker said. “He worked in healthcare all of his life. I grew up hearing about it and just having a real love for that.” Parker was hired as health administrator for the Chickasaw Nation in 2009 and is a member of Gov. Bill Anoatubby’s Cabinet. “I’ve been encouraged by Gov. Anoatubby to improve the health of all Chickasaw people, whether they’re a patient here or live here in the Chickasaw Nation or even in some other state. It’s a big charge,” she said. A big charge comes with big responsibility, especially for a nation known for its high number of type 2 diabetes cases.
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As this lobby shows, the hospital boasts a myriad of aesthetic design elements.
Marty Wafford has seen campers waiting in the parking lot with patients “from California, way down Texas.”
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Judy John, a health information management clerk at the tribe’s Tishomingo clinic, had two of her seventeen grandchildren born in the women’s clinic.
According to Parker, there is something different about Native Americans, something that can affect their health. “The way our bodies respond to the foods that we eat is also different, which increases our risk for diabetes,” she said. No wonder the new medical center so prominently features a diabetes clinic, where doctors and nurses evangelize patients in hopes of getting them to battle the disease by changing to a healthier lifestyle. The clinic employs an endocrinologist, nurse practitioner, behavioral health employee and even a dental hygienist. “I think it shows that diabetes care is elevated,” Parker said. “It has its own special clinic, own special footprint.” The clinic in the old hospital was housed in a 20 footby-20 foot room with only four staffers, Parker said. Now, patients can take advantage of exercise therapy, get routine checkups and even go to cooking and nutrition classes – all in just one part of the facility. The hospital also houses a women’s clinic, which recently logged 100 baby births in a month. To Parker, it’s a big milestone. Aside from its medical offerings, the hospital boasts a myriad of aesthetic design elements, which differ from the sterile, empty hallways of its contemporaries. The idea is to make patients more relaxed, more comfortable. “We had a lot of input from our elders and also people in our tribe who are very familiar with the culture,” said Parker. The design incorporates different elements of Chickasaw culture. Sweeping scallops of diamond netting create a central pattern along its textured passages, and a continuous flow of tiny details crown the neck at the center where it effuses energy like a heart pumping blood out to the limbs. From the diamond patterns on the floor, inspired by a traditional beaded Chickasaw collar, to the natural blues, yellows and greens of the interior, the building does its best to mimic nature. Large windows let natural light fall across corridors, creating a mirage of dancing reflections on the copper fixtures. Patient rooms are larger than at most hospitals, allowing many family members to visit a patient at the same time. That adheres to Chickasaw tradition, which holds that the presence of family contributes to healing. No family member is ever asked to leave a room if a patient does not wish them to. On another part of the grounds, the center owns what it calls “the Chikasha House,” a free haven for families visiting long-term patients. Since beginning operation in 2013, it has assisted more 1,000 families. Every room at the medical center looks out across a manicured lawn bordered by a wooded area. The idea is that no patient should ever have to look over a parking lot
or see concrete while staying here. “Our patients, in all of their rooms, when they look out the window they see beautiful surroundings. Sometimes deer on the lawn, turkeys, other wildlife,” Parker said. “It’s so pretty. Pretty and green.” The medical center has four satellite clinics -- in Ardmore, Durant, Purcell and Tishomingo. All have been updated to echo the design of the new center.
“It’s not uncommon to see a camper in the parking lot because patients have come so far.” Judy John has worked for the Tishomingo clinic for 18 years. She’s a health information management clerk and a first-hand witness to the drastic changes in Chickasaw health care. John is also a tribe member. And she has diabetes. “I used to go to the hospital for my health care and there’d be a whole line sitting there to get checked in. Sometimes people would rush, try to get hurrying and get checked in when they open the window,” John said. “Now, it’s amazing. You can go get checked in right there at the clinic, and they call you right as soon as you get there.” John has 17 grandbabies, two of whom were born in the women’s clinic at the medical center. She praised the family atmosphere and said everything was “easy” in the new clinic. But her first love is the clinic in Tishomingo. “I enjoy working with the patients here,” John said. “I can’t believe I’ve been here 18 years.” Chickasaw health care doesn’t just cater to the needs of its own tribe. With the proper paper work, any Native American tribe member can receive free services. As the center’s reputation has spread, it has become a beacon for Native Americans across the country. Marty Wafford, undersecretary of support for the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health, has seen patients come from “everywhere.” “It’s not uncommon to come to work in the morning on a Monday or Thursday, Friday, whatever, and see a camper in the parking lot because patients have come so far,” Wafford said. “Patients even come from California, way down Texas, annually. They’ll come and you’ll see them.”
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Piominko became friends with George Washington, protected the settlers of Nashville and sounded like Martin Luther King Jr.
Sculptor Bill Beckwith’s Piominko statue graces the front lawn of Tupelo’s City Hall, across from a sculpture of Elvis Presley, the town’s other famous son.
Thinker By Slade Rand Photography by Ariel Cobbert
he front yard of Tupelo’s City Hall proudly sports homages to the town’s two most revered heroes, men who could not be more different – rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis Presley and Chickasaw Chief Piominko. The average visitor may wonder just how a shortstatured Chickasaw man rose to the same level of celebrity as the King of Rock n’ Roll himself. After all, Piominko lived more than 200 years ago, a time when news coverage was sketchy at best, while Elvis’s every move was dissected daily by an adoring media. Without Piominko however, this country and the Chickasaw Nation could be very different places today. He led the tribe through one of the most tumultuous periods in its history, as well as assisting a fledgling America when the country’s viability was still an open question. He helped protect the settlers who built Nashville, negotiated a treaty that established boundaries for the tribe’s lands, helped prevent Spanish influence in the new world from growing stronger and became a friend and battlefield ally of George Washington. Unlike some chiefs, power was not placed in his lap because of birth or wealth. He rose through the ranks, a reminder that a man can become extraordinary by his actions alone. Historians describe Piominko as standing for morality and perseverance, and over the years this has gained him many fans. George Washington was one of these fans, and he was a big one. He valued Piominko’s advice and friendship as much or more than any other American leader had previously valued a Native American. Washington had Piominko visit him and stay in his own home, an act unprecedented in American political leadership. “[Piominko] appealed to people’s good and altruistic intentions. He was genuine in his dealing, loyal to his allies, and fierce to his enemies,” said Chickasaw archaeologist Brad Lieb, who is collaborating with historian Mitch Caver on a book about the chief.
As Lieb tells it, Piominko had the charisma needed to be popular but also mastered the skill of leading while listening. He could talk so well that people overlooked his less than commanding stature and atypical appearance. He was small and pale compared to most Chickasaws, but he made up for it with tenacity. Piominko was born around 1750 in the Chickasaws’ main settlement of Old Town near modern-day Tupelo. Lieb said the chief’s mother was said to have been a refugee from another tribe but his father was Chickasaw. He first gained status through his battlefield exploits, earning more respect as he climbed upward through the ranks, even spending some time among the neighboring Cherokees. In 1786, he negotiated the Treaty of Hopewell with the United States, winning the respect of the new nation’s negotiators. The treaty effectively recognized the Chickasaws as a nation, and established its boundaries. Piominko and the U.S. government agreed on 11 points, most of which reaffirmed Chickasaw control over their own land. At least theoretically, they could now punish American settlers if they trespassed. The 11th term listed was a promise of “peace and friendship perpetual.” Piominko’s success in protecting Chickasaw sovereignty during the Hopewell negotiations brought him more attention as he continued to show skill on the battlefield. The Spanish were allying with rival tribes and Piominko knew his people would need help if it came to war. He and what Lieb described as a “motley crew of Chickasaws, some wearing tailored suits and some shirtless, bearing their war tattoos” traveled to Philadelphia to visit President Washington in 1794. A young secretary named John Quincy Adams documented the visit. Both sides were nervous, but the Chickasaws called President George Washington “father” and they all smoked a pipe together to establish kinship. Washington granted Piominko’s request for American help in pushing back the encroaching Spanish alliance
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Chickasaw from Oklahoma on a tour of the tribe’s homeland stop to examine a statue of Poiminko in downtown Tupelo.
with the Muskogee Creeks in the South. In 1795, Piominko weathered an internal power struggle involving Spanish encroachment on Chickasaw land along the Mississippi River. Another Chickasaw minko (chief) named Wolf’s Friend was wary of the growing friendship between his tribe and the Americans. He saw the friendship of the U.S. as “the caress of the rattlesnake around the squirrel, before consuming him,” said Lieb. He gave the Spanish permission to set up a fort on the Chickasaw Bluffs at present-day Memphis on the Mississippi River. When Piominko found out, he immediately led a band of warriors to the river, where they stood the Spanish down. His leadership became critical when American Gen. James Robertson came over the Appalachians into Indian Country to found a settlement that would become the city of Nashville. These settlers were the first to successfully hop the Appalachians from the old colonial settlements in the East, and were unprepared for the constant attacks from disruptive tribes. Piominko and the Chickasaws protected the settlers as they established their community along the Cumberland River. Eventually, Robertson became a federal representative to the natives. Lieb said Piominko’s “relationship as the savior of the founders and settlers of Nashville” was useful in later negotiations. Piominko reunited a fractured Chickasaw government and redefined the role of chief as a military leader and ambassador to the United States. Washington awarded him the Presidential Peace Medal for his constant assistance. The two great leaders died in the same year, 1799. Washington’s grave is protected and revered, but Piominko’s is unmarked, and not even in the tribe’s possession.
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The Chickasaws believe Piominko’s grave lies in the yard of a Tupelo home, where a developer once unearthed tribal artifacts. The artifacts are now believed to be in the hands of a collector in Canada. The tribe would love to one day have these back, and also to properly mark his grave. Tupelo’s Rotary Club erected the city’s Piominko statue, sculpted by noted Mississippi artist Bill Beckwith of Taylor, in 2005. It shows the chief in a Washington-style military coat with the oval Washington peace medal around his neck. An inscription at the base quotes Piominko as saying, “Could I once see the day that whites and reds were all friends it would be like getting new eye-sight.” “Piominko dreamed of a time when ‘red and white children’ could live together, which is very reminiscent of what Martin Luther King said much later in the 1960s,” said Lieb. “He was certainly a forward thinker; he paved the way for other leaders in both geopolitics and civil and human rights.” Piominko had a vision for a progressive and budding Chickasaw nation, and fought to make it real. He remained humble until his death. According to Lieb, Piominko recognized the important role of Western-style education, even asking the President to provide higher education for his daughter. As minko, he never took pay and never became a wealthy man. He did not believe in good luck, but rather thought that men benefited from being pure spiritually and in their intentions, he said. Without Piominko, the Chickasaw might not have stayed afloat so long in the seemingly inexhaustible flood of white settlers. Just as important, America’s founding might well been much bloodier.
Change By Lana Ferguson Photos by Ariel Cobbert
n the early 1800s, as the tidal wave of new settlers into Mississippi swelled almost daily, the legendary Chief Tishomingo found white traders selling liquor on Chickasaw land. Faced with a violation of federal law and the tribe’s treaties, the chief took immediate action. He confiscated the liquor and sold it. The local sheriff responded by throwing Tishomingo into jail. Court records show the chief was fined $500 for doing what he thought was his job. “Whiskey salesmen came to tribal land and tried to sell whiskey without a permit,” Joe Thomas, special assistant to the Chickasaw Secretary of Culture and Humanities, said as he pondered a monument to the chief between Pontotoc and Tupelo. This collision between tribal and state authorities illustrates the difficulties the last of the tribe’s full-blooded chiefs encountered at a time when the Chickasaw were brutally squeezed by societal change. The incessant pressure did not relent until the tribe left Mississippi, forced to relocate west to Oklahoma. Tishomingo would accompany his tribe on the Trail of Tears to their new home but wouldn’t live to finish the journey. Exact dates and details surrounding Tishomingo’s life are often disputed. A commonly held belief is that he contracted smallpox and died around 1840 at the age of 100 enroute to Oklahoma. No one can dispute, however, that he greatly influenced the Chickasaw people during the century he strode the red clay hills of North Mississippi. When Tishomingo was born around 1740, the tribe was already undergoing major changes within Chickasaw
That’s Tishomingo’s face staring back at you from the Great Seal of the Chickasaw Nation.
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society and in their day-to-day lives. LaDonna Brown, Chickasaw Nation’s tribal anthropologist, said Tishomingo understood the Chickasaw people, their societal organization, and the importance of spirituality within the tribe in those turbulent times. “Tishomingo was probably the epitome of who we are today as Chickasaw people,” Brown said. “He was adjustable, he could adjust to different situations.” The tribe was in the midst of a cultural revolution, especially involving trade and material goods. The old deer skin and pottery trade had given way to farming and business. Tishomingo adjusted with the times, but made sure that his people retained as much as possible of their way of life.
“Tishomingo was probably the epitome of who we are today as Chickasaw people. He was adjustable.” “It didn’t change our culture,” Brown said. “In a time where you think that material items would change a group of people, it definitely didn’t change our identity and we see that in some ways it did reinforce who we are as Chickasaw people.” A good warrior and a good administrator, Tishomingo won the hearts of Chickasaws and Americans alike. “He was a good farmer. He had a lot of cotton and corn. He knew times were changing and embraced that change by siding with the Americans,” said William Brekeen, a cultural interpreter for the Chickasaws’ Tupelo Homeland Affairs office. Tishomingo worked closely with President George Washington, who awarded the chief a silver medal, and General Andrew Jackson. He served with distinction in the United States military, leading bands of warriors at
the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the Red Stick Creek War, and the War of 1812, fighting alongside white men who would eventually push his people from their Mississippi homeland. Brown tells a heart-tugging story about Tishomingo’s death. The same unconfirmed story appeared in The Commercial Appeal sometime after Tishomingo’s death, recounting how Tishomingo’s daughter sought to ensure her father had a burial worthy of a Chickasaw chief. The source for the story, a man who claimed to have witnessed the events, said that the daughter begged U.S. Army officers for help, saying the family couldn’t afford gunpowder to fire shots over the grave. The officers provided a coffin. Six soldiers carried Tishomingo to his final resting place. Another six men fired six volleys over the chief’s grave at a sunset ceremony. The following day, the grateful daughter sought to thank the commanding officer and wound up passing a soiled and worn piece of parchment to the captain of the guard. It stunned those who saw it. It was Tishomingo’s commission in the U.S. Army, signed by the commander in chief, George Washington. Today, more than a century and a half after his passing, Tishomingo is revered by the Chickasaw people. His image stares out at the world from the Great Seal of the Chickasaw Nation, his name graces counties and cities in Mississippi and Oklahoma, and memorials for him are scattered through the South, including one at his rural home site a few minutes from Tupelo. Historians and tribal members continue to research and document details of his life. It’s not always easy because the tribe in that era rarely wrote anything down; history and stories were passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. But sometimes, research pays off and they discover new information. “Chief is actually a European title the Chickasaws didn’t take on,” Joe Williams of Homeland Affairs said. The name Tishomingo, it turns out, is actually a title. “Minko” means leader and “tisho” means speaker for. That’s why the nation now refers to Tishomingo as Tishominko. The literal translation is “assistant leader.” Although he was the sole chief of Tishu Miko, one of three districts of the Chickasaw Nation, Tishomingo reported to King Ishtehotopih as the chief officer and held influence over the chiefs of other districts.
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Who Changed the Law Betsy Love Allen’s legal battle helped give married women across the land the right to own property.
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All went well until March, 1831, when John Fisher, a lawyer who had once represented James Allen, sued him in Monroe County Circuit Court to recover an unpaid $200 legal fee. Fisher won a default judgment and sent the local sheriff to seize some of Allen’s property and auction it off to satisfy the debt. The sheriff seized an African-American slave named Toney, one of several slaves Betsy Love Allen owned before her marriage. She had deeded Toney to her infant daughter, Susan. A lawsuit was filed to void the seizure judgment. The law across the land at that time said that when a couple married, the wife’s property became the property of the husband. But the Allens were married under Chickasaw law on Chickasaw land before Mississippi extended its laws over Native American tribes in 1830. Chickasaw law protected a married woman’s property from debts incurred by her husband. At trial, a Monroe County jury ruled in favor of returning Toney to Susan. And in a landmark decision in January 1837, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed. Susan got to keep her slave. The court decision has been credited with helping prompt the Married Women’s Property Act of 1839, in which the Mississippi Legislature established the property rights of married women and protected them from creditors suing their husbands. Opponents argued, among other things, that the new law was a sham because it would give deadbeat husbands a way to shield their property from creditors. But the new law quickly caught on across America. State after state passed similar legislation and women could breathe a sigh of relief. Betsy Love Allen’s grave, moved from its original site years ago, sits on school property at Toccopola, just outside of Pontotoc.
Photo by Ariel Cobbert
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hanks to a Chickasaw woman, Mississippi became the first state to decree that married women could own property in their own names and that it could not be seized to pay a husband’s debt. Elizabeth (Betsy) Love was born in the late 1780s to former British trader Thomas Love and Sally Colbert, a Chickasaw tribal member. Betsy Love later married James Allen in a Chickasaw ceremony. They lived on the Love family’s Chickasaw land and operated a trading post on the Natchez Trace, according to Sandra Moncrief’s article for the Hancock County Historical Society.
NOTABLE CHICKASAWS Many Chickasaws have made their mark both within and without the United States over the decades.
Some Examples: Travis Childers, former Democratic Congressman from
Charles David Carter, former Democratic
John Herrington, astronaut and the first Native
Rodd Redwing, actor and quick-draw artist who
American in space, logging 20 hours of space walks.
Te Aata, traditional Indian storyteller and actress who
performed around the world, including for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Jesse (Cab) Renick, team captain of the 1948 Olympic gold medal winning U.S. basketball team. Tessie (Lushanya) Mobley, word renowned
operatic soprano who was asked to sing at the coronation of King George VI.
Mike Larsen, world renowned Chickasaw artist. William G. Paul, former president of the American Bar Association.
Congressman from Oklahoma from 1907 to 1927.
played in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and was a gun handling coach for Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Ronald Reagan, Alan Ladd, Glenn Ford and scores more.
Miko Hughes, actor in many films and TV shows, including Pet Sematary. Apollo 13, Mercury Rising (with Bruce Willis), Full House, Melrose Place and Baywatch. Wahoo McDaniel, pro wrestler and American Football League player.
Linda Hogan, writer-in-residence of the Chickasaw Nation and author.
Edwin Carewe, prolific director who directed films
for MGM, Paramount, Universal Studios and First National, including Ramona (1928) and Evangeline (1929).
Douglas Johnston, Chickasaw Nation governor from
Julia Jones, actress who has played roles in the Twilight
Charles Blackwell first Chickasaw Nation
Fred Waite, who once rode with Billy the Kid and
Tom Cole, GOP Congressman from Oklahoma since
Bee Ho Gray, trick roper and performer in wild west
1906 to 1939.
Ambassador to the United States.
2003, deputy majority whip, and former chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee.
Leona Mitchell, Grammy-winning soprano for the
Metropolitan Opera in New York for 18 seasons.
Jack and Jerry Brisco, pro wrestling tag team.
Saga films, Jonah Hex, Longmire and ER.
became a major player in Chickasaw Nation government.
shows and silent films.
Mary (Ataloa) Stone McClendon, concert vocalist and teacher at Idyllwild School of Music.
Donna Nutt, wife of former Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt.
Photos by Chi Kalu
he visitors â€“ many of them Native Americans -- come by the thousands every year to Moundville Archaeological Park 14 miles from Tuscaloosa. They are drawn by the knowledge that something spectacularly significant went down here, something archaeologists and historians believe holds clues to the origins and history of several Southeastern tribes, including the Chickasaw and Choctaw. This site, dating back to 1100, holds the remains of one of the largest prehistoric Native American settlements in the United States. By 1300, Moundville had become a sort of early walled city on the Black Warrior River, creating something akin to the kind of awe tourists exhibit upon their first look at Manhattan. The 300-acre site, once surrounded on three sides by a log-walled palisade 10 feet tall, is a treasure chest of early architecture, engineering and artifacts from the Mississippian Period, roughly 900 to 1600 A.D. The people who lived in this vast complex of 29 mounds of varying sizes and purposes were a
powerful, highly centralized society. With perhaps a thousand people living here, it was easily the largest city in Alabama. The chieftain and his family had their own house on the grandest mound, nearly 60 feet tall. There were apparently nobles with similar mound privileges and mounds for ceremonial purposes, a mound with a council house that could handle large gatherings, mounds for burial. No one really knows why the complex finally broke up, but the museum, enlarged and renovated in 2010, does a good job of probing the stories of people who lived here. Murals depicting daily life and exhibits with life-sized models of Moundville inhabitants direct visitors through a series of scenes including a wedding, a chiefâ€™s house, and a medicine maker telling stories in an earth lodge. Among the 200 artifacts on display are the famous bird-serpent bowl carved from a single stone and the rattlesnake disc that may hint at constellations and an afterlife. Here, it is easy to forget that this is 2016. And that you are not a resident of Moundville.
The museum at Moundville is a rich treasure trove of history and artifacts from what was once a 300-acre residential and political complex.
The Moundville Rattlesnake Disc is one of this nationâ€™s most famous ancient Native American objects ever discovered. OPENING PHOTO: The inhabitants sketched drawings like this one on the walls of the lodges.
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The Moundville museum is stuffed with life-sized figures wearing early jewelry and clothing and is home to 200 artifacts from one of the most significant Indian archeological sites in America.
Small ponds were created when the inhabitants dug hundreds of baskets of dirt from the earth to build this city of mounds, an early Native American engineering marvel.
The flattened area among Moundvilleâ€™s twenty-nine mounds is known as the Plaza. Imagine thousands of people going about their daily business in this ancient metropolis.
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Muskogean term referring to people living “at the source of a stream.” This small, little known tribe was situated between the Chakchiuma to the north and the Tiou to the south but was eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw.
Siouan name meaning “people living downstream.” This large but marginal tribe were agriculturalists and accomplished artists of pottery and painted animal skins, who built mounds and lived in long domed houses.
Muskogean name meaning “to sit.” They were a large and strong, warlike tribe with territory across northeast Mississippi. They were never defeated as a tribe, only surrendering their lands through an 1832 treaty.
This tribe is known as “cruel and trecherous,” mostly due to an account of murdered Frenchmen who had hired them as guides. Their customs are said to be similar to the Natchez and Taensa although they speak the Tunican language.
A small tribe of Tunican linguistic stock located on their namesake, the Yazoo River. They were closely associated with the Koroa, with whom they attacked and destroyed the French Fort St. Peter in 1729. They were subsequently defeated and eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw.
A small, little known, Muskogean speaking tribe thought to be a branch of the Chakchiuma or Chickasaw. Muskogean name for “fox.” This very small, little known tribe is thought to be a band which split off from the Ibitoupa when they moved further up the Yazoo River.
Muskogean name for “red crawfish.” It is believed that this small tribe split off from the Chickasaw and Choctaw when they originally moved into Mississippi.
Tunican name for “the people." They were said to have occupied northwestern Mississippi and as far west as the Ouachita River in Arkansas, but later concentrated on the Yazoo River near its mouth by 1682.
One of the largest tribes in teh Southeast. Their territory in east central Mississippi originally included areas further south and east as far as Georgia. They were promarily agriculturalists but did participate in defensive warfare. Practices included chunkey and stickball games and artificial head flattening, the former of which is still practiced today.
One of the best known tribes due to their history with the French. They were Muskogean speakers and sedentary agriculturalists who built mounds, practiced head flattening, and were skilled pottery and mulberry bark cloth makers. After a defeat by the French, they divided into three groups, abandoned their towns, and were eventually absorbed into other tribes.
A small, little known tribe of Tunican linguistic stock located on the Yazoo River below the Ibitoupa but above the Tunica, Yazoo, and Koroa. It is believed they joined the Natchez after being vanquished by the Chickasaw.
Siouan name for “dog people.” This small tribe, which lived on the Yazoo River about 12 miles above its mouth, is thought to have split from the Mosopelia tribe of southern Ohio, who were driven out by the Iroquois.
The Grigra name, given to them by the French, was based on their frequent use of the term “grigra” in their speech. This small and little-known tribe merged with the Natchez and were actively opposed to the French.
Muskogean name for “bread people.” They were a small, marginal tribe living 48 to 60 miles up the Pascagoula River.
Muskogean name for “racoon people.” This little known and small, marginal tribe was primarily located in an area spanning from Alabama to Florida. Their only clain to Mississippi residence was recorded by the French in 1697 on the Yazoo River.
Muskogean term meaning “red.” They were agriculturalists primarily relying on corn, squash, or pumpkin and rarely hunted. They were known for their plaited hair, tatooed faces, and blackened teeth. Muskogean name for “hair people” because their men wore full length hair. They were a small, marginal tribe whose numbers suffered from tribal warfare even before the first encounters by the early Spanish explorers.
Muskogean name for “those who listen and see.” They were a small, marginal tribe living on the lower Pearl River in 1699, known for the completely tatooed bodies of both men and women. The Capinans, possibly the same as the Moctobi, were thought to be of Siouan linguistic stock. It is suggested that this tribe, the Biloxi, and the Ofo may have originally come from the upper Ohio Valley and been reduced in numbers by various calamities on their way south.
Siouan name meaning “first people.” They were originally associated with the Pascagoula and Moctobi. Their elaborate kinship system included matrilineal descent.
Mississippi’s Indian Tribes Few Mississippi residents realize just how many Native American tribes blanketed the state at one time. The Choctaw in central and southern Mississippi and the Chickasaw in North Mississippi were the state’s dominant, best-known tribes, but they were hardly the only ones. There were 21 known tribes through the late 1600s and 1700s. Here are edited snapshots of what is known of those tribes, taken from a compilation by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
A small marginal tribe living on the Lower Pearl River in 1699. They numbered about 300 and occupied up to seven villages. By the 1700s they had moved to Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana and ultimately were absorbed by the Bayogoula and the Houma. The tribe completely tattooed their bodies. They practiced their religion in a round temple.
Lived around the Gulf Coast and Biloxi Bay in 1969, but later moved to Mobile Bay then to the Pascagoula River around 1730. Later, they were found in Louisiana and Texas. Their population ranged from a high of perhaps 1,000 to 105 in 1805. Houses resembled low tents. They dressed in breechcloths, leggings, moccasins, garters, feather headdresses, bone necklaces, nose and ear rings, and limited tattooing. They made pottery, wooden bowls and baskets. Probably eventually absorbed by the Houma.
The Capinans, probably the same as the Moctobi, were a small tribe found by Inberville in 1699 on the Pascagoula River near the Gulf Coast. Vilalges consisted of about 20 cabins, or perhaps 100 families. Mentioned by Bienville in 1725 as living in a village about 12 leagues up the Pascagoula River. Little more is known about them.
A small tribe that lived near the Upper Yazoo River around the lower Tallahatchie and Yalobusha Rivers between Chickasaw and Choctaw territories. They may have splintered off of the Chickasaw and Choctaw when they originally moved to Mississippi. They allied with the French against the Chickasaw later on. Population estimates range from 750 in 1650 to 50 huts on the Yazoo River in 1761. Thought to have united with the Chickasaw or Choctaw.
A large, advanced tribe of fierce warriors occupying North Mississippi. They claimed territory as far north as the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, as far east as the Savannah River in Georgia and west to the Mississippi in the Memphis area. They had several battles with the Choctaw and two notable battles near modern day Tupelo in which they defeated the combined forces of French soldiers and Choctaw warriors. The two victories boosted England’s stock and limited French influence in the area. The Chickasaw were never defeated in war and even today refer to themselves as “unconquered and unconquerable.” Under intense pressure from the U.S. government, they reluctantly signed a treaty to give up their Mississippi lands and move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma between 1837 and 1847. Over the last 30 years, they have prospered in business, putting together a string of casinos, defense contracts, consulting companies and other concerns. The tribe plans to build a heritage center on the Natchez Trace in Tupelo to showcase its culture and history and build closer ties to its homeland. The tribe’s population estimates in Mississippi range from 8,000 in 1650 to 1,900 in 1715, with increases thereafter. Today, the tribe, still based in Oklahoma, has more than 60,000 members.
The Choctaw were one of the largest tribes in the Southeast, up to 21,500 in 1764. Encountered DeSoto in 1540. In the 18th century, they fought against the English, Chickasaw and Creeks in favor of their French allies. Their core territory was east central Mississippi but they at times ranged further south and east as far as Georgia. Many migrated to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. But a remnant remained in Mississippi. Eventually, the remnant was reconstituted as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. They raised crops, played chunkey and stickball, practiced some early head flattening and preserved the bones of the dead after cleaning them of all flesh. Sketches by De Batz in
1732-1735 show warriors in breechcloths, long hair, feather headdresses, painted or tattooed faces, earrings, a knife and powderhorn, and carrying poles with what appear to be scalps hanging from them.
have been eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw. In 1722, they lived in 6 cabins, with only about 40 members.
Possibly first encountered by DeSoto in 1541 near the center area of Arkansas. Marquette referred to them as Akaroa who lived west of the Quapaw. In 1682 LaSalle reported a group on the Yazoo and another group on the Mississippi River south of the Natchez. With the Yazoo, they massacred the French at Fort St. Pierre in 1729 but were then attacked by the Chakchiuma and Choctaw, then allied with the French. In 1731 they joined the Natchez in attacking the Tunica, then seemed to disappear. They may have been absorbed by the Chickasaw. Another source suggests they lived with the Yazoo in 1742, allied with the Chickasaw, but later merged with Choctaw and disappeared. Iberville estimated their population in 1702 as part of the 300 families of the Tunica, Yazoo and Ofo. They were down to 40 cabins and 40 warriors by 1730. LaSalle said their cabins were made mostly of cane, windowless, dome-shaped and about 15 feet tall. They were said to be cruel and treacherous and known to have murdered some Frenchmen who had hired them for a trip. Their customs were said to be similar to the Natchez and Taensa.
A small, little-known tribe. About 40 were reported in 1722 living around what is now Tchula in Holmes County. They may have been a band of the Ibitoupa that broke away, then rejoined them shortly after 1722.
The French named them Grigra based on their frequent use of the term â€œgrigra.â€? Reported only in 1720-1725 as a band of 60 warriors. They were living in a village of the Natchez. They actively opposed the French and apparently merged with the surviving Natchez after the French nearly wiped them out.
Possibly part of the Chakchiuma, they were located in 1682 between the mouths of the Homochitto and Buffalo Rivers in southwest Mississippi. There were about 1,000 of them in 1650. They were reduced to about 350 in 1700 when Iberville last visited them. They relied on corn and squash and pumpkins and rarely hunted. They raised but did not kill or eat chickens, probably introduced by the French. They plaited their hair, tattooed their faces and blackened their teeth. The Tunica settled among them in 1706 but later massacred many, after which the remnants moved to Louisana. In 1739 they reportedly were merging with the Bayagoula and Acolapissa, with about 300 adults total.
A small, little known tribe on the Yazoo River in the early 18th century between Abiaca and Chicopa creeks. Before 1722 they moved above the mouth of the Yalobusha where Tippo Bayou supposedly preserves their name. They may
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They were one of the best-known tribes in Mississippi due to French settlement in their territory in the southwestern part of the state. Considered relatively peaceful farmers with an extreme form of social class distinction, including nobility and commoners, as well as sun worship and child sacrifice. Their chief, the Great Sun, had absolute power over his land and subjects. They built temple mounds, were skilled pottery and mulberry bark cloth makers, and practiced head flattening. Around 1682 they had a population of around 6,000. The French crippled the tribe with a withering attack in 1729 and most survivors took refuge with the Chickasaw and some with the Cherokee later. They eventually lost their identity and distinct language through absorption into other tribes.
The Ofo or Ofogoula were a small tribe on the Yazoo River 12 miles above its mouth. Iberville saw them in 1699, and a French priest in 1702 estimated their population at 10 to 12 cabins. In the Natchez war with the French, they declined to fight the French and went to live with the Tunica. They had a village in Louisiana in 1784 after which they declined into obscurity. The last survivor died about 1915. The Ofo may have been the same people as the Mosopelia, a marginal tribe in southern Ohio before 1673 before migrating southward.
A marginal tribe visited by Bienville in 1699 and Iberville in 1700. They lived about 15 to 20 miles up the Pascagoula River before moving to the Gulf Coast. In 1764 they left the coast with the Biloxi and in 1784 were living about 10 miles above the Tunica on the east side of the Mississippi. By 1791 they had moved to Louisiana and may have been absorbed eventually by the Biloxi and the Choctaw.
Reported by Bienville in 1725 on the Pearl River not far from the Biloxi, who together had about 40 warriors. A marginal tribe eventually absorbed by the Choctaw.
A large marginal tribe that probably moved south from Ohio through Arkansas. Noted in 1673 by Marquette and on the east side of the Mississippi near the mouth of the Arkansas River, and again by LaSalle in 1682. They made pottery, painted animal skins, built mounds, raised crops and lived in large domed houses.
Small, little known marginal tribe. The name Sawokli means â€œraccoon people.â€? A 1697 French map placed them on the Yazoo River as the Sabougla. A later map called them the Samboukia.
Small, little-known tribe above the Chakchiuma on the Yazoo River. They probably joined the Chakchiuma. Their village in 1730 contained 25 cabins.
A small, little-known tribe on the Yazoo, about 25 miles from the Mississippi. Supposedly vanquished by the Chickasaw, many moved to the Natchez area around 1682 and became part of that tribe, though with their own village. Included with 3 other tribes, the population of the Tiou were estimated to be from 1,000 to 1,200 in 1650.
Said to have occupied northwestern Mississippi but by 1682 were concentrated near the mouth of the Yazoo River. In 1706, they moved to the village of the Houma opposite the Red River and later rose up and killed or ran off the Houma. They were French allies during the Natchez wars and between 1784 and 1803 moved into Louisiana along the Red River where some remain today. Others went to Oklahoma. Their population combined with the Yazoo, Koroa and Ofo is estimated to have been between 2,000 and 2,450 in 1650, dropping to only 50 or 60 by 1803. A 1732 sketch of a Tunica chief by De Batz looks very similar to a sketches he did of a Choctaw warrior with his painted or tattooed face, breechcloth, knife, powderhorn and staff with hanging scalps. Men performed agricultural duties, cut wood, hunted and dressed the hides. Women made pottery and mulberry cloth and performed household duties.
A small tribe on their namesake, the Yazoo River. Attacked and destroyed a French fort on the Lower Yazoo in 1729. Subsequently defeated and probably eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Charlevoix reported that they, the Tiou and the Koroa were decimated by the Quapaw, allies of the French. They were estimated to have 100 cabins in 1725-1730.
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Mississippi W Mound Trail
Some of America’s oldest and largest Indian mounds are scattered along the Highway 61 corridor. Just watch for the signs.
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INTERVILLE — It is hard to find a part of Mississippi that doesn’t have an Indian mound. But because many are on private property, people often passed them by without realizing they were there. Until now. In May, after 10 years of planning, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History celebrated the grand opening of its Mississippi Mound Trail with a ceremony at Winterville Mounds near Greenville. Ken Carleton of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Brady Davis of the Chickasaw Nation were on hand for the ceremony. The 350-mile driving trail will use signs to steer motorists to 33 mound sites along the U.S. 61 corridor down the Mississippi River from DeSoto County to Wilkinson County. MDAH director Katie Blount said that stretch includes “some of the largest and oldest American Indian mounds and mound groups in the nation.” Mississippi is home to some of the nation’s highest concentrations of prehistoric archaeological sites and the MDAH website boasts that “none of these sites are more striking than the massive earthen mounds that dot the landscape.” Erected by hand a few hundred to about 2000 years ago, these burial mounds, platform mounds and others still hold clues to the history of early Native Americans that puzzle archaeologists to this day. Many mounds have been levelled by farmers and development. State officials hope to encourage their preservation by using the trail to call attention to their historic value. The trail shows off a fraction of the hundreds of these prehistoric monuments sprinkled across Mississippi. For example, it does not include the Choctaw’s huge “Mother Mound” at Nanih Waiya in east central Mississippi. However, it points people to several of the state’s biggest and most prominent mounds. For example, 4 sites on the trail – the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Pocahontas Rest Area and Welcome Center, Winterville Mounds and Emerald Mound on the Natchez Trace Parkway – are state or federally operated and open to the public. Visitors can stroll among the mounds and learn more through interpretive signs and exhibits. All are free. Many sites are on private land, visible from a road but not open to the public. Drivers are asked to stay on roadside pull-offs for viewing. The owners of those sites agreed to let the state put up historical markers. Some are off the beaten path, so GPS coordinates listed in the trail brochure will enable drivers to find the exact locations of the markers. The website will provide a map and additional information about the history of each site. “These mounds are a fine example of Native American engineering that has endured for thousands of years,” said Andrew Hughes, Mississippi division director of the Federal Highway Administration, which cooperated with the trail project. The self-guided driving tour was modeled after a similar project in Louisiana, where four driving trails pass dozens of mounds in the northeast and east-central parts of the state.
Photo Courtesy of MS Department of Archives and History
A fragment dug up from one of the houses that used to dot the Winterville property.
The Mystery of
Winterville Mounds Who built the mounds? Why did they leave? Where did they go? Archaeologists are still digging for answers.
By Zoe McDonald Photography by Chi Kalu
INTERVILLE — Amid vast fields of corn, cotton and soy in the flat expanse of the Mississippi Delta, 12 unnatural masses of land stand like grassy trapezoids risen out of the dirt. Eight hundred years ago, at this site one mile south of Greenville, Native American hands built something special. This place, home to one of the tallest mounds between the Emerald Mound in Natchez and Cahokia in Illinois, is shrouded in an air of mystery. Archaeologists still theorize on exactly who built the mounds and what led to their disappearance. The Winterville Mounds are now considered an important piece of the puzzle of pre-historic Mississippi natives. They are home to heaps of historical information, artifacts, and human bones — all clues to what happened here. In 1907, archaeologist C.B. Moore ventured from his usual excavation site in Moundville, Ala., and sank over 100 holes at Winterville. He didn’t find anything he considered worthy of further exploration, such as pottery or human remains. Luckily, when word got out that he had found nothing, people left the mounds virtually untouched and, most importantly, un-looted. It wasn’t until Jeffrey Brain’s extensive investigation of the site in partnership with the Lower Mississippi Survey at Harvard University in 1967 that it was revealed to be an important piece of Native American history. Brain’s photo now hangs in a place of honor at the small state museum here. In 1939, as farms and highway construction threatened the mounds, the Greenville Garden Club bought the property to preserve it. About 40 years later, it became a state park, and in 1993, a National Historic Landmark. Now, schools in the area use it for educational field trips.
TOP: The first mounds at Winterville were erected on a natural Mississippi River levee. The river has shifted westward over the centuries. BOTTOM: You walk out back of the museum to access the mounds.
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In the mornings, site director Mark Howell and archaeologist Mark Dingeldein host groups of youth, who explore the mounds, participate in interactive activities, and examine artifacts from Winterville and the surrounding Delta. Ultimately, the site will be home to a larger museum and even more interactive educational opportunities. In 2015, the Legislature passed a bond bill that gave Winterville $300,000 to restore the site. There are plans for a new gate and totem poles representing eight Mississippi tribes surrounding the museum. The new museum will encapsulate all of Mississippi’s Native American history — not just that of the Winterville site.
“The [museum] we have was built in ’68… It’s got problems. It’s not really large enough to suit our purposes, particularly since this is the biggest site in Mississippi,” Howell said. Indeed, Winterville is a special jewel on the state’s new Mound Trail, which invites tourists and residents to explore the many mounds built by some of the 22 tribes that populated Mississippi more than 200 years ago. The bunker-like museum, which from the outside looks like a small, grassy mound, is home to various artifacts, maps and explanatory posters. Within the mounds, layers of long-buried history wait to be extracted from the packed dirt. Some of what has already been unearthed: bones
LEFT: The museum at Winterville Mounds. There are plans to enlarge it. BELOW: Mound A, one of the tallest in the United States, is fifty-five feet tall but overcome with trees, weeds, and bushes because of lack of funding.
Small animal remains were dug up earlier this summer by archaeological students from Southern Mississippi University.
A piece of clay pot found at Winterville Mounds in the recent dig.
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from burial mounds, pottery both intact and in shards, tools, and arrowheads, or “projectile points.” Some are made from rock, such as obsidian or quartz, that had to have traveled a great distance to find a resting place in Mississippi. This indicates that the Winterville site was a stopping-off point on Native American trade routes. “You have rock that comes from as far east as North Georgia and also from Arkansas and Oklahoma. A lot of it was all pretty much from the Delta, but where are you going to get this black obsidian in the Mississippi Delta? You’re not. Quartz? No. You’re going to have to go up in the mountains somewhere,” Dingeldein said. People did not often occupy the site itself, but rather, surrounding villages. Dingledein describes the area as a ceremonial site or center for trading, operating much like a fair of sorts. The mysterious builders have left hints in layers of the mounds, such as the remains of burned homes or ceremonial structures. Digs have indicated that a large complex succumbed to a spectacular fire in the biggest mound. These types of findings have given rise to all sorts of speculation as to what went on here. Howell said radiocarbon dating shows Winterville was most likely abandoned in the 1600s, before the first French explorers appeared. “The first documentation of people here, written documentation, is by (Spanish conquistador Hernando) de Soto. There’s some pretty good documentation of frontal nations, cities, people in the Mississippi Delta and across the river into Arkansas,” Howell said. By “de Soto,” Howell is referring to the chroniclers of his expedition in 1540, which left archaeologists with a slew of information about Mississippi natives. Historians caution that some of these accounts are inevitably polluted with inaccuracies because of the language barrier between the Spanish and the natives. Nonetheless, they write of place names and chiefdoms, which can help pinpoint language groups, Howell said. In 1542, de Soto died and, according to legend, his body was tossed into the Mississippi River to keep news of his death from the natives. A puzzle piece in the ongoing mystery of Winterville’s history is an ancient city known as Quigualcum. Spanish chroniclers wrote of the city. Though it was most likely misspelled due to the language barrier, Howell said archaeologists theorize that Winterville could be this ancient city. “Because of geography and now because of radiocarbon dating, because of the size of Winterville and where the Spanish were when they came across this name, there are some theories. It’s being renewed now, that Winterville, its real name was Quigualcum. If that’s true, this puts a real name to a place — a really neat name to a place — and also puts it in history,” he said. The etymology of the word leads historians to believe that the people who settled near Winterville spoke an early Tunican language.
Site director Mark Howell said Winterville was likely abandoned in the 1600s, before French explorers appeared.
Site director Mark Howell, left, and archeologist Mark Dingeldein look forward to a museum large enough to properly showcase the site’s importance.
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What they do know is that these people were not part of any known tribe today, but that whoever was left of these people eventually did disperse and become part of what would become Choctaw, Tunica, and other Native American tribes. Many of the people at Winterville disappeared because of European disease and violence, but where the remainder went is unknown. According to Howell, in spite of the fertile nature of the Delta, people never returned to the site once they left. Perhaps clues lie in the many layers of dirt on Wintervilleâ€™s 42 acres. Perhaps historians will never know exactly what civilization held what kind of ceremonies or traded at the site in 1,000 A.D., and then abandoned it. A slew of researchers, including Howell and Dingeldein, are painstakingly putting pieces together, trying to paint a picture of what once was. But not all research on the site is purely dig-in-thedirt archeological. An archaeoastronomer, William Romain, looked at the site from a cosmic perspective and discovered that key mounds line up perfectly with the moon when it reaches a major lunar standstill. (Lunar standstills occur every 18.6 years, when the range of the declination of the moon reaches a maximum. As a result, at high latitudes, the moonâ€™s greatest altitude changes in just two weeks from high in the sky to low over the horizon.) The three largest mounds sit in line, marching directly toward the moon every 18 or so years, when it dips down to its southernmost point. Was this harmony between the mounds and the moon planned? Why? And what does it mean? Like so many puzzles at Winterville, it remains a mystery.
On this map in the museum, black dots prepresents mound groups and the large black mounds represent temple mounds and ceremonial centers.
Puzzle of the Natchez
Indians From child sacrifice to mysterious medicines, the Natchez left quite an imprint. Then they ran into the French.
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By Kate Hayes Photography by Ariel Cobbert
ATCHEZ — Mounds. Medicine men. Child sacrifice. The Tattooed Serpent. The Great Sun. Mississippi’s Natchez Indians were nothing, if not exotic. Unfortunately, much of the recorded history of the tribe is just as mysterious as all that’s missing. What is known comes from written accounts of the French and English who encountered them in the 1600s and 1700s. According to historian Jim Barnett, author of Mississippi’s American Indians, “these records don’t give us a complete picture of the Natchez Indians, but do provide us with a glimpse of a living tribe.” Other intriguing tidbits have surfaced from the earth, as archaeologists have probed for clues at the site of the Grand Village of the Natchez, surrounded today by the modern city of Natchez, known more for its immaculately preserved antebellum mansions. Unfortunately, much of the tribe’s history has been lost forever. The pieces that are left form an unfinished puzzle. Where did they come from? Why was their culture so unique compared to other tribes? Complete answers may never come. A good bit of what is known is on display at a small museum at the village site itself. Located inside the city limits, it’s less than five miles from the Mississippi River, with Saint Catherine’s Creek on one side and a typical American subdivision on the other. A small museum offers a look at artifacts carefully pried from the soil by archaeologists. Historical plaques explain the significance of the site and some of the Natchez customs. Three mounds stand in a straight line separated by 100 yards of flat land, once plazas for the tribe. Archaeologists excavated two of the three and found they were built in as many as four different stages, raising the flat platform top more each time. The Indians’ process of mound building opens a small window into Natchez life. It took a long time to build these mounds. Natchez people collected basket loads of dirt, poured them on top, and started again. The mounds signify a devotion to religion along with
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a comfortable lifestyle, with plenty of time for both. On one of these mounds resided the Great Sun, the Natchez chief. The chief and his relatives lived elevated over those of lower status. Tribal organization was based upon matrilineal kinship. One’s standing within the two rankings of nobility and commoner was inherited from the mother. The highest of the nobles, the “Suns,” were the Natchez royal family. While the Great Sun inherited his office from his mother, the royal line would further continue through the chief’s oldest sister.
Archaeologists found evidence that another excavated mound was the Temple Mound, a site of Natchez religious practices. Just as the early written accounts of Frenchmen had indicated, the mound bore a structure with architecture that was distinct from other Natchez dwellings. On its roof were two bird figures, and inside a flame was always ablaze. At this same structure, Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz witnessed the funeral of the Tattooed Serpent in 1725. A Dutchman operating a cotton plantation in Natchez, du Pratz was enamored by the nativesâ€™
One of the mounds still preserved at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, located right next to a modern-day subdivision.
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The Natchez began constructing mounds at the Grand Village site about 1200 B. C.
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Archaeologists have finished three digs at the Grand Village, but they have pointedly left one mound undisturbed, adding to the mystery.
The Great Sun, chief of the Natchez Indians, lived in a house on top of the main mound, as this state historical sign explains.
As this historical marker from the Grand Village historical site explains, magnetometers and soil conductivity surveys were used to try to find the location of a French siege trench.
culture, and this particular ceremony was to be a distinguishing event. The Tattooed Serpent was a man he had known: the brother of the Great Sun and the tribe’s negotiator in times of trouble with the French. Because of the many noble deeds done in the Tattooed Serpent’s lifetime, tribal members commemorated his death with perhaps the greatest of deeds. Barnett wrote that “Du Pratz witnessed the elaborate funeral ceremony and described the voluntary sacrifice of the deceased man’s wife and members of his entourage by strangulation with bowstrings.” Sacrificial victims felt the duty to continue serving the Tattooed Serpent in the afterlife and felt it dishonorable for him to arrive there alone. Furthermore, the Natchez killed their own babies to commemorate the lives of members of the Sun family, throwing infants to be stomped on as funeral processions marched by. Just as cringe-worthy is the Natchez practice of primitive tattoos. Sometimes covering one’s whole body, artistic designs were made permanent by cutting open the skin. A colored substance, such as black ash, was added to the wound. As it began to heal, the skin was cut open again, and the process was repeated, with no concern for the possibility of death by infection. But perhaps the Natchez escaped the fate of infection with their health practices and mysterious medicine men. Du Pratz wrote of two suffering Frenchmen and how one was fully cured by Natchez practitioners: “I have seen [the native doctors] perform surprising cures on Frenchmen; on two especially, who had put themselves under the hands of a French surgeon settled at [the Natchez] post. After having been under the hands of the surgeon for some time, their heads swelled to such a degree, that one of them made his escape, with as much agility as a criminal from the hands of justice. He applied to a Natchez Indian physician, who cured him in eight days. His comrade continuing still under the French surgeon, died under his hands three days after the escape of his companion, whom I saw three years after in a state of perfect health.” The French and the Natchez first met on March 26, 1682, when the LaSalle expedition penetrated the area. That connection would continue over the course of the next 48 years. The French foothold in the Southeast established by Iberville and communication down the Mississippi River were eventually secured with a military outpost in the town of Natchez. In the early 1700s, the French maintained peaceful relations with Natchez natives, trading with each other and doing their best to communicate. A fort was established. In time, there were misunderstandings due to language. And each side felt superior to the other. Inevitably, tensions arose. In the 1720s, disputes over debts and land led to conflict and the capturing of Natchez women by the Chickasaw Nation Part 1
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French. Attempts by the English to sway the tribe away from its alliance with the French led to more bad blood. The Tattooed Serpent and the Great Sun had been influential in suppressing the rising pro-English feelings within the tribe. But following their deaths in the late 1720s, tribal resentment toward the French rose unabated. On the morning of Nov. 28, 1728, the Natchez attacked the unsuspecting colonials and killed between 200 and 300 Frenchmen. Retaliation by the French led to two years of intermittent and bloody fighting that finally came to an end in 1731. The Natchez were eventually forced to surrender to French forces led by Gov. Etienne PĂŠrier. The captives were sent to New Orleans. But some Natchez escaped before the surrender, and moved north, seeking protection with the English-allied Chickasaws. Over the years, Natchez Indians would continue to move further east and eventually join Creeks and Cherokees, dispersing the remnants of their tribe across the Southeast and
Some of the traditions of the Natchez Indians were outlined in this historical marker.
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losing any real semblance of tribal organization. Today, a small remnant of the tribe has a website and an organization but so far they have failed to win recognition from the federal government. But the trials and near-annihilation of the Natchez Indians has left an indelible historical footprint in Mississippi, a cultural imprint that also raises questions that may never be answered. Most evident, though, are the mounds still standing at the tribeâ€™s home base. Today, nearly 300 years later, people can hike to their tops and look over the same plaza that the Great Sun once admired from on high. In fact, atop one such mound, you can stand on potentially unwritten pieces of Natchez history. In keeping with the mysteries of the tribe, archaeologists decided to leave one mound untouched. It has become the Natchezâ€™s personal time capsule, unhindered by European settlement and unprobed by human hands. Maybe answers lie buried here, or maybe just more unanswered questions.
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LEFT TO RIGHT: Ariel Cobbert, Mrudvi Bakshi, Taylor Bennett, Lana Ferguson, SECOND ROW: Tori Olker, Josie Slaughter, Kate Harris, Zoe McDonald, Anna McCollum, THIRD ROW: Bill Rose, Chi Kalu, Slade Rand, Mitchell Dowden, Will Crockett. Not pictured: Tori Hosey PHOTO BY THOMAS GRANING