It is the Christmas season and many people will soon be traveling “home” to spend Christmas with family and childhood friends. I think we all enjoy the season with its reuniting and rekindling of relationships. Thursday night, however, I attended a Christmas party that put a poignant stamp on Christmas homecomings. It was Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby’s Holiday Reception in Tupelo for friends of the Chickasaw Nation.
In the 1700s and early 1800s the main villages of the Chickasaw Nation were strung out across what is now Tupelo. The Nation itself extended south to Tibbee Creek where it met the Choctaw Nation. While what is now Columbus was part of the Choctaw Nation (the site of Columbus was ceded by the Choctaw Treaty of 1816) it is only a few miles south of the Chickasaw boundary and many Chickasaws traded at stores in Columbus during the 1820s.
For the Chickasaws, the forest and prairies north of Tibbee were their homeland and the Choctaw had the land south of Tibbee. What is now east Mississippi was a beautiful wilderness spotted with open grassy prairies. It was where untold centuries ago the Choctaw and Chickasaw ancestors had settled, lived, died and were buried. It was where they had houses, raised families, farmed and raised horses, hogs and cattle. It was home.
It was a beautiful homeland described in an April 20, 1822, letter by William Goodell, a missionary traveling to Mayhew, as: “This is the loveliest spot my eyes ever saw…Flowers of red, purple, yellow and indeed of every hue are scattered, by a bountiful God, in rich profusion, and in all the beauty and innocence of Eden.” The Choctaw and Chickasaw people who lived on this land were a civilized people, living in log or frame houses, dressing in a European manner and their children able to attend mission schools.
In the War of 1812/Creek Indian War hundreds of Choctaws and Chickasaws fought under Andrew Jackson against the Creek Indians and the British. A company of Choctaws and possibly some Chickasaws even played an important role in the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans.
One of the Chickasaw warriors fighting alongside David Crockett and with the U.S. 39th Infantry Regiment against the Creeks was Anowatubby. He is said to be a direct ancestor of present day Chickasaw Governor Anoatubby. Anowatubby was probably one of the over 600 Chickasaw warriors who assembled at John Pitchlynn’s Plymouth Bluff residence and fort to join with U.S. forces in defending the Mississippi Territory from attack by the Creeks and the English with whom they were allied.
In the early 1830s, by the Choctaw Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and the Chickasaw Treaty of Pontotoc, the people of both nations lost their homeland and then suffered through bitter winters on the Trail of Tears to the west. Although they had fought alongside and supported the United States in times of crisis, the Chickasaw and Choctaw people felt that the loss of their homeland had become inevitable due to the massive influx of land hungry Euro-American settlers.
In the spring of 1836 H. Vose published an article in the Grand Gulf (Mississippi) Advertiser describing the scene at the time of removal in the Choctaw Nation. It was a scene that would be repeated in the Chickasaw Nation.
“When an individual abandons his home and his friends, with a certainty that he never shall return, an indefinable gloom pervades his mind…But when, by one of the turns of ever-varying fate, a whole community …[is exiled] from the land with which their earliest associations are co-united and amongst the dust of which, the bones of their ancestors repose – when all scenery familiar to their eyes is about to vanish forever…the languages of the earth are powerless to portray their feelings…Throughout the Choctaw Nation all was gloom and melancholy and tears profusely flowed down the cheeks of youth and from the dim eyes of age.”
But it is Christmas and Governor Anoatubby’s message was not one of sorrow. It was a message about the importance of heritage and identity. It was about how discovering who you are and where you came from can be a life-changing experience. It was a message that the Chickasaws were returning to their homeland. With cooperation from the City of Tupelo, the U.S. Department of Interior, the Archaeological Conservancy and many friends in Mississippi and Alabama, Chickasaws from Oklahoma are returning to northeast Mississippi to visit ancient villages and sacred sites and to once again — if only for a while — experience and see the homeland.
It was a Christmas message about coming home.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at firstname.lastname@example.org.