Chickasaw Indians

By: Monte Lewis

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 19, 2020

The Chickasaws, a Muskogean-speaking tribe from the American Southeast, first encountered White men, probably members of De Soto's gold-seeking expedition, in the mid-sixteenth century. At that time the tribe occupied land now in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama and lived from hunting and horticulture. They had semipermanent settlements and a moderately hierarchical society. In this they closely resembled other southeastern tribes, particularly the Choctaws, their closest linguistic relatives. In the early nineteenth century the tribe attempted to repel the White invaders but were defeated by the 1830s and, along with Choctaws, Creeks, Cherokees, and Seminoles, moved to lands west of the Mississippi River. In 1830, convinced that continued resistance to White settlement would be futile, Chief Levi Colbert led a delegation westward in search of a new Chickasaw homeland. The original plan called for the Chickasaws to settle on the southwestern edge of the new Choctaw domain, located in the southwestern corner of what is now Oklahoma, but Colbert and his group found this solution unacceptable. Fearing the warlike Plains Indians and unwilling to affiliate himself politically with the more numerous Choctaws, Colbert asked for permission to settle inside Mexican Texas, on lands along the Sabine River. Though this request was denied and the Chickasaws were instructed to settle in Indian Territory, as late as 1837 communities of Chickasaws and Choctaws lived inside Texas. Their small settlements, located near Nacogdoches along the Attoyac and Patroon rivers, pursued an independent course until the late 1830s, when, with the establishment of a Choctaw-Chickasaw confederation through the Treaty of Doakesville, the Texas Chickasaws joined their tribesmen in Indian Territory.

That did not end the Chickasaws' relationship with Texas, however. From the late 1830s into the 1840s, Plains Indians, notably the Comanches, used the open Texas frontier as a base for conducting raids into Chickasaw country. So frequent and destructive were these raids that for a time they affected relations between the United States and the Republic of Texas. In an effort to placate the Chickasaws, in 1843 the Texas government pledged to exert firmer control over the Red River borderlands. The treaty, known as the Treaty of Bird's Fort, accomplished little in the way of protecting Chickasaw property; nevertheless, it facilitated trade across the Red River. As a result, cross-border trade increased throughout the 1840s and 1850s, even though the benefits of the trade flowed unevenly southward. The high agricultural tariffs of the Republic of Texas served virtually to close its markets to Chickasaw goods, while lower tariffs in the United States allowed Texans to dominate markets within Indian Territory. In addition, Texas moonshiners found a ready market for their products in Chickasaw country, despite attempts by United States authorities to halt the liquor trade. Through the illicit liquor traffic, Texas merchants relieved the Indians of their annuity checks and contributed to the social disruption that followed removal.

By the late 1850s many Chickasaws, like numerous other Indians from the surrounding resettled tribes, were closely tied to the Southern plantation-slave system. This fact, combined with simple geography, kinship ties, and residual hostility toward the federal government, led them, along with the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, to ally with the Confederacy. It was a disastrous decision, for, ill-equipped to make war and divided internally, the South's Indian allies suffered greatly, physically as well as emotionally. After the war, as punishment, the Chickasaws and the other tribes allied with the South were forced to agree to another land cession. This, combined with the loss of slave labor and the general physical destruction brought on by war, contributed to renewed social disorganization within the group. The Indians were also forced to contend with numerous freedmen who fled to Chickasaw country to escape persecution in Texas. Because of its history as a slaveholding society, the Chickasaw nation was inhospitable toward the newly freed Blacks. In the years following the Civil War, Chickasaw lands served as part of the great cattle "highway" between Texas and the marketplaces in Kansas. The Chisholm Trail was just one of these routes. Contact with cattle ranchers and other frontier Whites had the effect of breaking down barriers between the Chickasaws and White men to the extent that, over time, tribal identity was lost, and the fortunes of the Indians fused with those of surrounding Whites. Today, though Chickasaw communities continue to exist and a tribal government of a sort remains, Chickasaw independence has virtually disappeared.

Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971). Monte Lewis, "The Chickasaw on the Texas Frontier," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 58 (1982). Francis Paul Prucha, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians (2 vols., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984). Robert F. Spencer et al., The Native Americans (New York: Harper and Row, 1965; 2d ed. 1977).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Tribes (Other)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Monte Lewis, “Chickasaw Indians,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 19, 2020