By Renée Gordon
“We have lived upon this land from days beyond history’s records, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. We are always joined together.”
Chickasaw oral tradition tells how the Chickasaw and Choctaw were once a single tribe. Two brothers, Chata and Chicsa, headed their respective clans as the group migrated east across the Mississippi River. A sacred pole that was planted upright in the ground each evening determined the course of their journey. In the morning, the tribe would see in which direction the pole was leaning and travel in that direction. One morning, after crossing the Mississippi, the brothers disagreed on which direction the pole indicated and each one led their clan in a separate direction never to be one tribe again. The Chickasaw settled in Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi.
When DeSoto encountered the tribe in 1540, though they lived in large organized villages, they maintained a culture of resistance. Their willingness to go into battle earned them the honorific, “Spartans of the Lower Mississippi Valley.” They were allies of the English during the French and Indian War and their contribution was significant.
In spite of their previous allegiance, the Chickasaw were forced to relocate to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears and the 1837 Treaty of Doaksville joined the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes on land in Oklahoma. Census records indicate that at the start of removal there were 4,914 natives and 1,156 black slaves. More than 500 Chickasaw died on the journey. It was not until 1856 that the two nations would separate and the Chickasaw would once again become self-governing.
During the Civil War, the Chickasaw supported the Confederacy and in June of 1865 Cherokee Confederate General Stand Waitie was the last to surrender. The Chickasaw fought for another two months before becoming the last political group to surrender. This was particularly bitter for the Chickasaws whose reputation for having never lost a war in their territory earned them the name “The Great Unconquered and Unconquerable.
At war’s end, the US renegotiated the treaties made with the Five Civilized Tribes and Article II of a treaty ratified on April 28, 1866 abolished slavery and granted citizenship and land rights to the newly emancipated in the Chickasaw Nation. The Chickasaw never accepted the freedmen as members of the tribe and as a result Chickasaw Freedmen were without citizenship of any kind until Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907.
The Curtis Act of 1898 caused the dissolution of the five nations and it was not until 1963 that the Chickasaw reinstituted their formal tribal status. In 1983, they ratified a constitution and today they are the eighth largest federally recognized tribe in the country with numbers exceeding 35,000. www.chickasaw.net
Tishomingo, 115-miles from Oklahoma City, was designated the capitol of Indian Territory’s Chickasaw Nation from 1856 until 1907. The area, known as Good Springs, became a city named in honor of the last Chickasaw warrior chief Tishu Miko (Tishomingo. He died on the Trail of Tears in 1837. The Great Seal of the Chickasaw contains his likeness as symbolic of the spirit of the Chickasaw. The seal was taken by the government in 1907 and not returned until 1984.
The Chickasaw Nation Capitol Building was dedicated on November 17, 1898. The red granite edifice was constructed in Victorian Gothic-style at a cost of $15,000. The 8,000 sq. ft. structure was built of hand-hewn red granite from the area. It was sold to the county in 1910 and reacquired for $575,000 in 1992. During its time as capitol, it served as the territorial court and offices for the Indian militia. The Capitol was listed on the National Register in 1971.
The building is currently a museum that showcases Chickasaw history between 1856 and 1907 on two floors of exhibition space. Highlights of a tour are recreations of Chickasaw Governor Douglas Johnston’s Office, governor of the Chickasaw Nation from 1898 to 1902 and 1904 to 1939, and the National Secretary’s Vault. Both are presented as they appeared in 1898. Tours are available on request.
The nearby Chickasaw Council House Museum contains inside of it the 1856 log Chickasaw Council House, the first in the territory. The museum presents the people’s history from their removal to Oklahoma’s statehood through artifacts, art and memorabilia.
Pauls Valley was settled around 1837 by Smith Paul and his Chickasaw wife. Today Bedre Chocolate is located in Pauls Valley. It is an 18,000 sq. ft. factory that is owned and operated by the Chickasaw Nation and is one of the visible signs of the tribes’ presence in Oklahoma. Visitors are welcome to watch, from a special viewing area, as the gourmet chocolates are created and packaged Monday through Friday. Bedre’s specializes in gift baskets and chocolates that are sold in high-end stores. This is an ideal place to purchase a unique souvenir of your visit. www.paulsvalley.com
The heart, soul and heritage of the Chickasaw people are skillfully blended in the Chickasaw Cultural Center (CCC) in Sulphur, Oklahoma. This world-class complex consists of 5 major sites on 109-acres adjacent to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. www.sulphurokla.com
Tours begin in the Chickasaw Nation Honor Garden designed around a central fountain. Native American symbols, feathers and spirals, adorn the space. It is enclosed with a wall that showcases granite plaques commemorating the men and women inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame. An iconic sculpture, ” Tashka Chikasha Hattak Holba,” a depiction of a resolute 18th-century warrior, stands between the exhibit area and the Honor Garden. www.chickasaw.net/HOF
The 96,000 sq. ft of buildings were constructed using the traditional elements of water, native stone, copper, and wood and are designed to appear as if they sprang up from the ground. As you walk through the complex you will note the cultural center logo containg the eye, the spiral and the sun. The Sacred Eye represents the all-seeing Eye of God, The Sun is an ancient representation of rebirth and The Spiral issymbolic of life’s journey from birth to the afterlife.
The Chikasha Poya, “We are Chickasaw,” Exhibit Center is phenomenal. Tours begin in the foyer with a replicated 1723 map etched in glass depicting the pre-European contact Chickasaw world. A 17-minute orientation film is presented on a 44-ft. screen in an 18th-century replica council house. Leaving the theater you enter The Spirit Forest, a walk through time. The forest is filled with the sights and sounds of a prehistoric time signifying the passage of time, the seasons, the constellations and the sky change from day to night and year-to-year.
The path is designed to be experienced at your own pace. The galleries are filled with dioramas, information panels, artifacts and interactive stations.
The final gallery, “Hilha,” Dance On, allows visitors to view one of the Chickasaws most sacred and historic ceremonies, the Stomp Dance, in a circular gallery around a central fire. Life-sized holograms sing and dance around you in a moving visual display. It is believed that the fire is the embodiment of God and that our prayers are carried to the Creator by the smoke.
Live Stomp Dances are performed daily for visitors in the auditorium. The lead dancer always begins with four yells to awaken the Creator and to acknowledge the four seasons and the four directions. Tribal members clad in traditional dress perform a program of dances and explain their importance. Guests are invited to participate.
Chikasha Inchokka, the Traditional Village, is located a short walk from the museum. The village consists of two square summer homes, two conical winter houses, a stickball field, palisade walls, a ceremonial mound and a 3,000 sq. ft. council house. Instructors are on-site daily to teach traditional skills such as beading and bow-making.
You can extend your cultural experience by visiting the café and the gift shop. The Aaimpa Café serves cuisine inspired by authentic Chickasaw dishes. The Aachompa Gallery Gift shop features crafts and creations by Chickasaw artists. www.chickasawculturalcenter.com
Oklahoma has one of the most unique histories of all the states. When selecting your next destination think legendary, think Oklahoma. www.travelok.com
I wish you smooth and enlightening travels!
Harriet on the Hill Day of lobbying took place in September in Washington, DC on behalf of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks Act legislation. You can show your support by signing a petition in support of the legislation. http://www.change.org/petitions/harriet-tubman-national-historical-parks-act#widget