by Matthew Gailani
Hello Junior Curators and welcome to the latest blog post! This year, 2021, marks the 225th year of Tennessee statehood. That means it has been over two centuries since Tennessee became the 16th state in the United States of America on June 1, 1796. However, while this is an important point in Tennessee’s history, there were groups of people living here long before statehood in 1796. These groups were known as Southeastern Indians. Their histories, languages, and cultures are much older than statehood itself. In fact, before the U.S. became a country, Southeastern Indians were living across what is now Tennessee in groups known as tribes. One of the historic tribes who lived in Tennessee are the Chickasaw. In the 1700s, the Chickasaw lived in parts of modern-day Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Today, the Chickasaw Nation is in the state of Oklahoma. But who are the Chickasaw? Where did they live in Tennessee? Why did they move to Oklahoma? To answer these questions and more we are going to ask a member of the Chickasaw Nation to tell the story of their history and culture. Please help me welcome back Chenae Lippard to the blog!
(This post is part 2 of the interview series “The Chickasaw and Tennessee,” if you missed part 1, click the link below!)
Matthew: Welcome back everyone to our interview with Chenae Lippard. Now we are going to move to the 1800s and talk about the “Trail of Tears.” A period referred to as the “most traumatic chapter in Chickasaw history.” After the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was signed by Tennessean President Andrew Jackson, Southeastern Indians, including the Chickasaw, were forcibly removed from their native homeland. What did this mean for Chickasaws at the time and what does it mean to this day?
Chenae: We refer to our forced Removal as Chickasaw Removal, but it is commonly referred to as the “Trail of Tears.” Even though this was one of our most traumatic chapters, our ancestors remained united and continued our cultural identity. Our ancestors did not want to give up our land and move west, but through a series of events and broken promises of protection from President Jackson and the government, our ancestors felt it was the better option in order to maintain independence and a strong cultural identity.
In May of 1830, the Indian Removal Act was signed establishing the forced relocation of tribes from the southeast, which were mainly the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee and Seminole. Americans continued encroaching on our lands. Our leaders felt that they no longer had a choice and began discussions of a forced Removal. Through the Treaty with the Chickasaw and U.S. of 1832, also known as The Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, it was determined that suitable land west of the Mississippi be found by our leaders prior to Removal. Our leaders set out in search of that land but did not find any land comparable to the prairies, woodlands, and waterways of our Homeland. Another five years passed before the Treaty with the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and U.S. of 1837, also known as Treaty of Doaksville, was signed. This treaty provided for our people a district within the Choctaw territory. Our ancestors gathered their belongings and on July 4, 1837 the first group of 450 Chickasaws began the journey to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).
The government paid us for the land that they were forcing us from, so we essentially paid the cost for our Removal. With our funds, the government promised to provide food and blankets, but due to miscalculations, much of the food was spoiled and rotten by the time we arrived at the sites where it was delivered and the blankets contained viruses that made our people sick. The hunting was good, so our ancestors were able to hunt along the route, but it slowed them down. Due to extreme temperatures, our ancestors had to travel at night and rest during the day. Different groups would begin traveling at various times so all of our ancestors did not travel together at one time. Most of these groups removed between 1837 and 1850, but some of our ancestors did not complete the journey until the 1890s. Although our journey was painful, we continued our warrior spirit and remained resilient to the obstacles we faced along the way. That same warrior spirit still lives in us today and we remain the Unconquered and Unconquerable Chickasaw people.
The Chickasaw Nation was coerced into signing a removal treaty in the 1830s. The U.S. Treasury Department submitted this invoice of $14,700 for 100,000 rations delivered to the Chickasaw in Memphis for their forced removal west. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Matthew: Can you tell us more about the Chickasaw story after removal? How did the Chickasaw preserve their culture and systems of government in Oklahoma?
Chenae: When our ancestors first arrived in Indian Territory, we lived within the Choctaw boundaries. This was difficult, as we tried to continue our separate cultural, social, and political identity and not be absorbed with the Choctaws. Maintaining who we were as a people was very important to us. We lived within the Choctaw Nation for 18 years before the Treaty with the Choctaw, Chickasaw and U.S. of 1855 (also known as the Separation Treaty) was signed that reestablished the Chickasaw Nation as a separate sovereign people and outlined the land that had been assigned to the Chickasaws under the Choctaws and the new Chickasaw Nation.
Our leaders drafted a written constitution for the Chickasaw Nation in 1856 that included a three-branch form of government and our citizens elected Cyrus Harris as our first Governor. Our ancestors continued to practice our cultural, social, and political identity and set up businesses, farms, and ranches. In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act. This act eliminated our tribal lands owned by the Chickasaw Nation and issued allotments to individuals. Once all land was allotted, “surplus lands” were opened to all non-native people.
The U.S. government wanted our people to take on the American way of life. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the United States took control of our government and the President of the United States appointed our Governor instead of allowing our people to vote. These were very hard times as they continued to pressure us to give up our language, cultural, social, and political identity. Nevertheless, we continued these traditions in our Chickasaw churches. It was not until 1971 that the Chickasaw people were able to elect our own Governor again, and in 1983 the ratification of the Chickasaw Constitution was signed, which reestablished the foundation of our current tribal government.
Although our ancestors faced many obstacles after our forced Removal, they proved to be resilient, continued to advocate for rights, and practiced cultural, social, and political identity. We owe so much to our ancestors for keeping our culture alive during those dark times and our Chickasaw people understand the importance of their role in keeping our culture alive for future generations.
In this document, the superintendent of Chickasaw Removal, instructed agents to secure all Southeastern Indians and their belongings in removal camps. These camps often provided poor living conditions and contributed to the misery experienced by the people forced to move west. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Matthew: In your opinion, what does it mean to be Chickasaw today? What’s one thing you would like for Tennessee students to know about the Chickasaw?
Chenae: In order to gain the best perspective on these final two questions I have asked Chickasaw elder Ms. Pauline Brown to consider what it means to her to be Chickasaw today. Ms. Brown said, “I am very proud of my Chickasaw heritage because we are the First Americans. Some of our Chickasaw people speak our language and it was the first language we spoke. This first language was taught to us by our parents. My parents taught me to speak our Chickasaw language when I was an infant. Chickasaw people have a rich tribal history and one of the main pieces of history that we are known for are that our men were great fighters and were known to have never lost a war.”
The one thing that Ms. Brown would like for Tennessee students to know about the Chickasaws is that “Chickasaw history is rich in several characteristics which are culture, government, great fighters, understanding our clan organization, language, sports and great hunters.”
The Great Seal of the Chickasaw Nation (Courtesy of The Chickasaw Nation).
Traumatic - Something that causes physical or emotional pain.
Encroaching - In this example, to spread into someone else’s territory or land.
Miscalculations - Mistakes; Did not count or estimate correctly.
Resilient - To be strong and not easily defeated. To come back from a difficult situation.
Coerced - To persuade or force someone to do something they don’t want to do by using force or threats.
Sovereign - To have power to govern oneself and select representatives.
Allotments - A piece of land given to someone (in this example a member of the Chickasaw Nation) as part of the division of tribal land.
Appointed - In this example, someone who is selected by the President.
Ratification - To make something official.
Advocate - To fight for or support something.
Perspective - Someone’s point of view.
What hardships/difficulties did the Chickasaw face during Removal, also known as “The Trail of Tears?”
When was the current Chickasaw Nation’s constitution ratified?
What more would you like to know about Chickasaw history and culture? Create a list of questions you would use for an interview.
Keep an eye on the Junior Curators blog for the next part in this series coming soon.
5.28- Identify the pre-colonial American Indian tribes residing in Tennessee (e.g., Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Shawnee), and analyze their various customs and traditions.
5.38- Analyze the impact of Andrew Jackson’s presidency on the American Indian population of Tennessee, including: the Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears, Treaty of Echota, and John Ross.
5.39- Explain how the western boundary of Tennessee was expanded with the Jackson Purchase.
Matthew Gailani is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.