important tribe of the
family, this tribe formerly occupied the middle and south
with their territory extending as far east as Florida in their most
flourishing days. They trace their roots to a mound-building, maize-based
society that flourished in the
Valley for more than a thousand years before European contact.
The Choctaw were preeminently the
agriculturists of the southern Indians.
They were known for their rapid incorporation of white customs, developed
a written language, and welcomed European-Americans and African-Americans
into their society, leading them to become known as one of the Five
Civilized Tribes .
Choctaw Village, by Francois Bernard, 1869.
The earliest notice of these
is found in the Hernando de Soto's narratives in 1540. Though this
encounter would end in a bloody battle, as the brutalities of the
expedition became known, the Choctaw would come to embrace European
traders nearly two centuries later.
When the French, in the beginning of the 18th
century, began to settle colonies at Mobile, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi;
and New Orleans, Louisiana, they befriended the Choctaw, who became their
allies in wars against other Indian
tribes. Though the Choctaw were closely related to the Chickasaw tribe in
language and customs, they were constantly at war with them.
Later, English traders succeeded in drawing
over to the English interest, some of the eastern Choctaw towns, which
brought on a war within the Choctaw, with those who were still loyal to
the French. This animosity continued until the French and Indian War was
over in 1763. After the French had surrendered their American possessions
to Great Britain, and to some extent previously thereto, members of the
tribe began to move across the
During the American Revolution, most Choctaw
supported the Thirteen Colonies' bid for independence from the British
Crown. By the time President George Washington initiated a program to
integrate Southeastern Indians
into European American culture following the American Revolution, many
Choctaw had already intermarried, converted to Christianity and adopted
other white customs.
Over the next several years, the Choctaw would
enter into nine treaties with the U.S. Government, the last three of which
were designed to move the Choctaw west of the
During the Indian Removal Period, President Andrew Jackson made the
Choctaw exile a model of Indian removal. In 1831, nearly 17,000 Choctaw
became the first
Americans to walk the Trail of
Tears to Indian Territory (Oklahoma.)
Nearly 2,500 members perished along the way.
The last treaty; however, also provided that
Choctaw members could choose to stay in Mississippi and become U.S.
Citizens, subject to the laws of the country and the state. Approximately
5,000-6,000 chose to remain, but would suffer legal conflict, harassment,
and intimidation at the hands of the white settlers.
The Choctaw in Mississippi were later reformed
as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
and the removed Choctaw became the Choctaw Nation of