CHOCTAW

(Flathead)

Geographical region : Southwest (Mississippi)

This tribe lives in "straw hats"

Language : mushhogee-chitimacha

 

Choctaw (possibly a corruption of the Spanish chcdu, 'flat' or 'flattened,' alluding to the custom of these Indians of flattening the head).

An important tribe of the Muskhogean stock, formerly occupying middle and south Mississippi, their territory extending, in their most flourishing days, for some distance east of Tombigbee River, probably as far as Dallas County,Ga.

Ethnically they belong to the Choctaw branch of the Muskhogean family, which included the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Hunt and their allies, and some small tribes which formerly lived along Yazoo River.

The dialects of the members of this branch are so closely related that they may be considered as practically identical .

The earliest notice of these Indians is found in the De Soto narratives for 1540. The giant Tascalusa, whom he met in his march down Coosa valley and carried to Mauvila, was a Choctaw chieftain; and he natives who fought the Spaniards so fiercely at this town belonged to a closely elated tribe.

When the French, about he beginning of the 18th century, began to settle colonies at Mobile, Biloxi, and New Orleans, the Choctaw came early into friendly relations with them and were their allies in their wars against other Indian tribes. In the French war on the Natchez, in 1730, a large body of Choctaw warriors served under a French officer. They continued this friendship until the English traders succeeded in drawing over to the English interest some of the east Choctaw towns. This brought on a war between them and the main body, who still adhered to the French, which continued until 1763.

The tribe was constantly at war with the Creeks and Chickasaw.

After the French had surrendered their American possessions to Great Britain, in 1703, and to some extent previously thereto, members of the tribe began to move across the Mississippi, where, in 1780, Milfort met some of their bands who were then at war with the Caddo.

About 1809 a Choctaw village existed on Wichita River, and another on Bayou Chicot, Opelousas Parish, La.

Morse (1820) says there were 1,200 of them on the Sabine and Neches Rivers., and about 140 on Red River, near Pecan point .

It is stated by some historians that this tribe, or parties of it, participated in the Creek war; this, however, is emphatically denied by Halbert (Creek War of 1813 and 1814, 124, 1895), who was informed in 1877 by some of the oldest members of the tribe that the Choctaw manifested no hostility toward the Americans during this conflict. A small band of perhaps 30 were probably the only Choctaw with the Creeks. The larger part of those in Mississippi began to migrate to Indian Territory in 1832, having ceded most of their lands to the United States in various treaties.

The Choctaw were preeminently the agriculturists of the southern Indians. Though brave, their wars in most instances were defensive. No mention is made of the "great house," or "the square," in Choctaw towns, as they existed in the Creek communities, nor of the busk .

The game of chunkey, as well as the ball play, was extensively practiced by them. It was their custom to clean the bones of the dead before depositing them in boxes or baskets in the bone-houses, the work being performed by "certain old gentlemen with very long nails," who allowed their nails to grow long for this purpose. The people of this tribe also followed the custom of setting up poles around the new graves, on which they hung hoops, wreaths, etc., to aid the spirit in its ascent.

As their name seems to imply, they practiced artificial head flattening.

The population of the tribe when it first came into relations with the French, about the year 1700, has been estimated at front 15,000 to 20,000. Their number in 1904 was 17,805, exclusive of 4,722 Choctaw freedmen (Negroes). These are all under the Union agency, Ind. Territory. To these must be added a small number in Mississippi and Louisiana.