Rufus Ward: Choctaw or Chickasaw?

June 13, 2010 12:40:00 AM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Frequently, someone will show me an arrowhead they have found and ask if it is from the Choctaw or Chickasaw Indians. When I say neither and it''s also not an arrowhead, I get real funny looks. To make matters worse, I usually add that the Indians around here did not live in tepees either. 


The easy part of this to explain is that most of the artifacts that are called arrowheads are actually knives or small spear points. What people commonly call bird points are the true arrow points. Prehistoric Indian houses that have been excavated in the Tombigbee area were generally wood and cane braced walls covered in mud with a thatch roof. By the early 1800s, many Choctaws and Chickasaws were living in log houses. Several of the wealthy tribal leaders were even living in two story frame houses.They were a far cry from the tepees shown on TV and in western movies. 


What is not very clear, though, is the early development of the Indian tribes in the Tombigbee valley. Archaeologists have divided the pre-history of this area into periods of apparently similar artifacts or cultural remains. 


The first Americans were called the Paleo-Indians. They were nomadic hunters who arrived here more than 14,000 years ago. They hunted with spears and their most noted type of spear points are called Clovis Points. The Paleo-Indian Period was followed by the Archaic Period about 10,000 years ago. 


The Archaic Period is subdivided into the Early, Middle and Late periods. About 3,000 years ago Indians in the Tombigbee valley began making pottery in what is called the Woodland Period. They also constructed rounded top burial mounds. That culture was followed by the Mississippian Period about 1,000 years ago. These people developed chiefdoms or city states and constructed large flat top temple mounds. 


It was during the disintegration of the chiefdoms at the end of the Mississippian Period in the 1400s that we began to see the formation of today''s Indian tribes. The period of early European contact is called the Proto-historic Period and runs from about 1500 to 1700. There are a few but not many written cultural records from that time. It is from the Historic Period or post-1700 that extensive cultural records of Native Americans in the Tombigbee Valley have survived. 


When De Soto arrived at the Tombigbee River in December 1540, he first encountered the Chickasaw Indians just west of the river probably in Lowndes, Okitbbeha or Clay County. To the south were the early Choctaw. To the west were the Chakchiumas and in northwest Clay or eastern Chickasaw County were the Alabama. The Choctaws and Chickasaws were in their formational stages during the 1500s and were assimilating the smaller tribes in the area. 


The Choctaws were slowly moving north as were the Chickasaws and by the early 1700s Tibbee Creek was recognized as the dividing line between the two tribes. The land where Columbus is located was ceded by the Choctaw Treaty of Ft. St. Stephens in 1816. Amory (south of Gaines Trace) was in the Chickasaw cession of 1816. Starkville and Macon are found on lands ceded by the Choctaw Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. West Point and Aberdeen are located on land acquired through the Chickasaw Treaty of Pontotoc in 1832. . 


The Indians who lived in our region were a far more cultured and refined people than is commonly realized. A good example of this are the broken pieces of fine English dinnerware found on many Choctaw and Chickasaw house sites. The Indians enjoyed European items as much as the early Euro-American settlers. They are not the artifacts that most people expect to find on Indian sites.

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]