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Chickasaw/Spanish Part Company

The Chickasaw and Spanish Part Company
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Last week I ended my column with the Chickasaw being given an object lesson by the Spanish. If you will recall, the Spaniards caught three braves stealing their pigs, but to the Chickasaw this was not a crime. To show the Indians what they did to thieves, they killed two of the braves and cut off the hands of the third and sent him back to his tribal home.

To add insult to injury, the Spaniards asked for two hundred braves to act as porters from their expedition. The Chickasaw interpreted this request as an invitation to enslavement. They had now gone too far and the Chickasaw were going to give the Spaniards an object lesson.

In late March, 1541, one night just before dawn, several bands of Chickasaw warriors struck the Spanish encampment without warning. Beating furiously on wooden drums and screaming their war whoop, the Indians rushed the Spanish fortifications from all sides. The thatched roofs of the soldier’s quarters were set afire and many of the Spanish raced naked into the night under a barrage of Chickasaw arrows.

The Chickasaw could have annihilated the Spanish that night, but instead they inexplicably let De Soto and his men escape. Historian Don Doyle, in his 2001 book on the historical roots of Yoknapatawpha, states, “A dozen Spaniards, nearly sixty horses, and hundreds of pigs died at the hands of Chickasaw warriors that terrifying night.”

After another brief skirmish, the Spaniards gathered their surviving livestock and supplies and retreated westward toward the “Great River.” Doyle also states, “Some of the pigs escaped into the wilds,” to become “progenitors of the renowned razorback hog.” I guess the University of Arkansas has the Chickasaw to thank for their mascot.

It would not be until around 1690, a century and a half later, that a sustained contact between Europeans and the Chickasaw would occur. A trail had been forged from Charleston into the Chickasaw territory, and the Indians were to be caught up in the struggle between the English and the French for control of the Lower Mississippi Valley.

The English had set up a trading and diplomatic alliance with the Chickasaw, and the French had done the same with the Choctaw, who roamed the land to the south of the Chickasaw Nation. In 1736, the French, with the aid of the Choctaw, launched what was to be a war, they thought, for the annihilation of the Chickasaw and thereby the control of the Lower Mississippi Valley.

This campaign consisted of two pitched battles by the French and their allies against the Chickasaw fortified villages in present day Northeast Mississippi. The first battle of the campaign was at the village of Ogoula Tchetoka, just to the northwest of present day Tupelo. The second battle was at the village of Ackia in the southern part of present day Tupelo.

French troops under the command of Pierre d’Artaguette, who was commander of the Illinois District, came from the north and were to meet with Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the overall commander from the area near Mobile and Biloxi. They were to meet and combine their forces before the battle was to begin, but d’Artaguette decided to commence the fight prior to de Bienville’s arrival. This was costly to the French and their Indian allies.

Some 200 Chickasaw along with a few Natchez warriors defeated 130 French regulars and militia, 38 Iroquois, 28 Arkansas, and 300 Miami and Illinois warriors. The Chickasaw had only 50 casualties compared to most of the French killed or captured and almost all of the Iroquois and Arkansas killed or captured. The captured were killed by the Chickasaw driving small stakes of fat pine into their naked bodies, and then set aflame. The powerful Chickasaw warriors then watched their captives burn to death slowly.

In the second battle, the French, who numbered approximately 544 regulars and militia, 45 Africans and 600 Choctaw against a reported 100 Chickasaw, did not fair any better. It is not known how many Chickasaw were casualties, but 100 French were killed, along with 100 wounded and 22 Choctaw killed. What was left of the French and their allies, short of ammunition and provisions, and worried they could not carry any more wounded, retreated the way they came.

One historical account of the battles and fortifications of the Chickasaw reports the “Chickasaw were amply equipped with English arms via a trade route from the English and small Chickasaw settlements in South Carolina and Georgia. Their rectangular palisade forts with loophole walls were complemented by round fortified houses, also with loopholes. With this technology, the Chickasaw invincibly maintained their homeland against relentless pressure from the French and Choctaw, including a repeat campaign in 1739 and numerous small attacks by the Choctaws for the next 20 years.”

The Chickasaw had been strong enough to repulse attacks of the French, Choctaw and other Indian tribes in the area, but not the men of the new United States of America. Next week, I shall give you some of the historical information on the trading practices of the Americans in the new Southwest and then the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek and the removal of the Chickasaw Nation to the Oklahoma Territory in the 1830s and the formation of ten new counties in north Mississippi.

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