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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 15, No. 4
December, 1937
CENTENNIAL OF THE CHICKASAW MIGRATION

By Joseph B. Thoburn

Page 387

The history of Oklahoma is not only more complex and more varied than that of many of the other states in the Federal Union, but it can also make a showing of more notable occasions for centennial celebrations than most of its older sister commonwealths. In fact, it had a leading part in one great national centennial celebration several years before its admission as a state into the Union—namely, that of the Louisiana Purchase—and it has since had a succession of more or less frequent and really notable centennials every year or two.

Naturally, as might have been expected, early explorations, military expeditions and pioneering commercial exploitations, ran ahead of even the establishment of frontier military posts, though such phases of local history have seldom aroused deserved recognition and attention. Oklahoma saw and felt but little, if any, influence of the states east of the Mississippi during the first dozen years after the acquisition of Louisiana Province, so it was not until after the close of the War of 1812 that pioneers from "the States" began to push their way up the valleys of the Arkansas and Red rivers. The establishment of Fort Smith on the western boundary of Arkansas, in 1817, and of Forts Gibson and Towson, seven years later, seemed to mark the coming of the Anglo-American pioneering stock—military, civilian, missionary, and commercial.

Fortunately, the people of Okahoma are becoming sufficiently interested in local history to enable them to manifest a lively concern in the appropriate observance and celebration of such historical anniversaries.

Bands of Delaware and Shawnee Indians crossed the Mississippi as early as 1785 and were ranging into the present Oklahoma before the dawn of the nineteenth century. There were several minor Cherokee migrations to the country west of the Mississippi

Page 388

during the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first decade of the nineteenth century, and, even earlier than that, parties of Chickasaw and Choctaw hunters had crossed the Mississippi and penetrated the interior as far as the eastern edge of the Great Plains, in the western part of the present state of Oklahoma, in quest of game, dried meat, and buffalo robes, Then, in 1826, came the first Creek migration to the valley of the Arkansas River, followed, four years later, by the beginning of the Choctaw migration to the southeastern part of the state. In 1834, the people of the Chickasaw Nation ceded the last of their landed possessions in Mississippi to the Federal Government and, in 1837, they bade farewell to the dominions of their forefathers and fared forth on the long journey to the Choctaw country, in the new Indian Territory where they were to establish new homes, preserve the traditions and customs of their institutional and cultural life and perpetuate themselves as a distinct people. Unlike the peoples of the other immigrant tribes from other southern states, east of the Mississippi, their migration was not an enforced one, as their movement was undertaken upon their own initiative and at a time and in a way that best suited their own convenience. This westward journey was therefore made at a reasonable rate of travel, with their own teams and wagons, though government freight wagons hauled the baggage; and at the most suitable season of the year, with the least possible amount of discomfort and inconvenience and with comparatively little suffering, and less illness than had been experienced by other immigrant tribes, to interfere with their progress. Many of them settled in the vicinity of Boggy Depot in the spring of 1838.

Inasmuch as the peoples of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes or nations had once composed a single ethnic and national unit, had been alike in language, traditions, customs, and other cultural manifestations and, as the Chickasaw people had purchased an undivided interest in the vast Choctaw dominion, extending westward from Arkansas to the 100th Meridian and northward from Red River, on the south, to the Arkansas and Canadian rivers, on the north, it was the hope and expectation of the Federal Indian

Page 389

officials that the long-sundered fragments of the ancient Western Muskhogean people might become permanently reunited and welded again into a single ethnic and national unit. Opposed to this was the pride of the Chickasaw people who had long been independent of the authority or suzerainty of any other tribe or nation whatsoever, whereas, they complained that, being in the minority as constituents of the Choctaw National Government, they were subject to constant and, to them, unfair civic discrimination, with the eventual result of another separation and a reestablishment of the Chickasaw National Government. Though they were not a warlike people, they had been ever ready to strive for the freedom and self-determination of their own national existence. As a people, they had won and maintained their independence from the Choctaws. Because they were fewer in numbers than the Choctaws, the French colonial authorities sought to impose a distasteful and disadvantageous alliance upon them, only to have the same repelled by armed resistance. They were distinguished, as a people, for their attachment and devotion to their ideals, their loyalties, their friendships and alliances. Throughout the Colonial Period, down to the close of the first three-quarters of the eighteenth century, they had adhered to their alliance with the British Crown and people.

As early as 1719, Sieur Bernard de La Harpe, who commanded the first French exploring expedition into the geographic limits of the present state of Oklahoma, left a written record of having found a trader of the "Chicksas" (Chickasaw) Nation, at a great encampment of the Wucita (Wichita), Touacara (Towakoni) and other Caddoan tribes, whither he had brought English goods for barter—many years before the first venturesome British inland navigator had undertaken to descend the Ohio River to the Mississippi River.

Attached as the Chickasaw people had been to the alliance with the British, they readily sided with the American Colonists during the struggle with the mother-country, for national independence, since most of the English-speaking white men, whom they knew, were Americans by birth and training. Moreover, in

Page 390

1815, a band of Chickasaw volunteers lined up beside American frontiersmen behind the cotton bales and sugar barrels in front of New Orleans where they helped to turn back an invading British Army, as a part of General Jackson's army of defense.

Despite all of this, however, the time came when the Chickasaw people found themselves crowded by the white people whose fathers their own had befriended. They also saw their friends and neighbors of the Creek, Choctaw, and Cherokee nations despoiled and crowded out of their homelands and they realized that they were too few in numbers and too weak successfully to withstand similar advances and like demand for such an abandonment of the lands of their fathers; so they counselled together and decided to accept the inevitable without complaint or resistance, and thus, they alone of all of the Five Civilized Tribes accepted the fate of national migration and turned their faces westward, hopeful, even in the day of adversity and exile.

Moreover, only the Chickasaws, of the Five Civilized Tribes, so shaped their national policies and courses as never to occasion embarrassment or anxiety to the the Government of the United States. True, at the outset of the War between the States, they failed to make a wise choice, as measured by the ultimate outcome; yet, even so, their choice was based upon the advice and persuasions of other white men. Nor let it be forgotten that, having accepted the result of the issue involved in that struggle, they have ever been faithful in the observance of subsequent agreements, compacts, and treaties with the United States.

Unlike the people of other immigrant tribes, the Chickasaws have seldom manifested a gregarious disposition such as dotted the maps of other Indian dominions with the sites of small villages and hamlets. Rather, Chickasaw settlements were widely scattered, with individual domiciles so far apart that, in many instances, each seemed to be near the center of a baronial manor, as it were, the result of a sparse population peopling a vast area.

The Chickasaw people have ever manifested a keen interest in the cause of popular education. Their National school system

Page 391

Douglas Johnston

with its neighborhood schools which offered training in the primary and intermediate grades, and their secondary schools, including academies and seminaries, were always well supported and generally well patronized. Moreover, having availed themselves of all their domestic educational facilities, many Chickasaw young people went to institutions of more advanced standing in states east of the Mississippi.

As American citizens, the Chickasaw people are intelligent and patriotic. They are to be found in many lines of professional, industrial and commercial activity, and many of them stand high socially, fraternally and in the lines of moral and ecclesiastical leadership. The notable dignity which is characteristic of the Chickasaw people is emphasized rather than dimmed by a marked degree of most becoming modesty.

It would be a pleasure to enumerate, by name, the individuals of this interesting people, who have rendered constructive service to the founding and development of the Commonwealth of Oklahoma, but the list would be too extensive for inclusion in this brief article, unless it be to remark that the last elected governor, or principal chief, of the Chickasaw Nation—Douglas H. Johnston—had his term of service extended to a life-tenure by an unsolicited action of the Government of the United States, thus expanding a career of useful, peaceful, beneficent, and dignified service until it already rivals in length the strong and somewhat stormy dominance of the great Cherokee chief, John Ross. Suffice it to state that the one hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the people of the old Chickasaw Nation in the former Indian Territory—now Oklahoma—is too important in the history of this state to permit such an anniversary to pass unmarked or unmentioned in The Chronicles of Oklahoma.

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