In Noxubee County, east of Brooksville, flows Horse Hunters Creek. The large prairie that spreads out east of the creek was named Horse Hunters Prairie. The names appear on the 1833-34 original United States Survey map. They reflect not just a place name but the name of a Choctaw Indian who had lived there. The name also reflects the importance of horses to the Choctaw and Chickasaw people.
The tradition in Noxubee County is that the creek and prairie were named after Horse Hunter, a Choctaw who lived there and was noted for raising horses. In fact, the 1830 Armstrong Roll, or Choctaw census, shows a Choctaw who was single, older than 16 and without any family farming three acres on Tobacco Creek in what is now Noxubee County.
That a Choctaw living in the prairie was a noted raiser of horses is not surprising. Indian ponies raised in the (Black) Prairie were recognized across the South in the late 1700s early 1800s as being some of the best horses anywhere.
Both the Choctaws and Chickasaws were once noted for their horses — Spanish Mustangs descended from horses brought from Spain by the early explorers. What is now known as the Black Prairie was prime horse country. It was known as the savannah between the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and was considered among the finest grazing land in the world.
In his “History of the American Indians,” published in 1775, James Adair wrote that “the Chikkasah (Chickasaw) and Choktah (Choctaw) horses are Spanish barbs, and long winded, like wolves.”
By the 1760s, the Chickasaw had large droves of horses and Smyth wrote in 1774 that the Chickasaw were a nation who were “very careful of preserving a fine breed of Spanish horses they have long preserved.”
Henry Laurens of Charleston, South Carolina, wrote in 1785 the Chickasaw horses “are generally esteemed as good horses as any in America.”
One of the more interesting horse references appears in court records pertaining to the estate of William Cooper, a free black man working and trading during the 1790s in the Choctaw Nation in what is now Mississippi and Alabama. In 1791, he sold John Turnbull of Natchez and Baton Rouge 20 horses at $15 a head. Cooper had also traded Turnbull his horse called “Cooper’s Grey” for Turnbull’s “mulatto servant” Medlang, who Cooper apparently took as his common law wife.
George Gaines, who moved into the Tombigbee River Valley in 1805, said that John Pitchlynn, U.S. interpreter for the Choctaw Nation, “had about 500 horses in the range. The Colberts (in the Chickasaw Nation north of Tibbee Creek) also had many horses. Horses of various Colours looked splendid in the prairies — settlers sold ponies at $10 to $50 — better kind of horses $50 to $100 — drove them to New Orleans, Pensacola, and Mobile.” When Pitchlynn died in 1835, he still had more than 100 horses in his estate.
In Pitchlynn’s estate, there is an accounting which includes the sale of his horses. His horses — when described as Sorrel, Gray, Bay and Roan — sold for a low $15 and a high $75. Most sold for $50 to $60. Horses described only as work horses sold for $50 each, while those described only as stock horses sold for $30 each.
H.B. Cushman, who was born at the Mayhew Indian Mission and lived with the Choctaw in the 1800s, described the Choctaw horse as a “chubby little pony.”
According to Cushman: “The famous little Choctaw pony was a veritable forest camel to the Choctaw hunter. …His unwearied patience, and his seemingly untiring endurance of hardship and fatigue, were truly astonishing…and proving himself to be a worthy descendant of his ancient parent, the old Spanish war-horse.”
Interestingly, Cushman commented that the Choctaw did not use horses in battle, always dismounting to fight. The Choctaw used horses both for riding and as pack horses and would suspend a little bell from the neck of each horse.
The Chickasaw and Choctaw horses were, and are, a colorful and people-friendly breed of horse noted for their stamina and endurance. Those traits would be horribly tested during the Trail of Tears in the 1830s when thousands died alongside the Chickasaws and Choctaws on the inhumane winter time Indian Removal treks of about 550 miles from Mississippi to the western Indian Territory. Today there are efforts underway, mostly in Oklahoma, to preserve that special breed of horse with its ancient and historic lineage.
Rufus Ward is a local historian. Email your questions about local history to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.
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