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The Forgotten Realm of the Chickasaw: Part One

In 1715, Chickasaw villages occupied a vast territory across Southeastern North America, from the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Flint River of southwestern Georgia. Even though Colonial Period maps and archives fully document the locations, where the Chickasaws formerly lived, they have almost been forgotten by contemporary academicians and archaeologists. Unless the Chickasaw archaeological site is in the northern tip of Mississippi, extreme western Tennessee or sometimes, northwestern Alabama, it is typically given another ethnic label or just marked, “Unknown Tribal Affinity.”

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In 1702, an army of about 800 Spanish soldiers and Florida Apalachee militiamen were marching across present day southern Georgia to stage a surprise attack on Charleston from the rear. An army of approximately 400 Chickasaws and Apalachicolas set up an ambush for them on the Flint River about 25 miles north of the present day Florida line. The Apalachicolas lived on the Lower Chattahoochee. The Chickasaws lived on the Lower Flint and Chickasawhatchee Rivers. Most of the Spanish army was either killed or captured. Yes, there was once Chickasaw province, almost in Florida. It didn’t go away, but rather eventually joined the Koweta-Creek Confederacy.

At the same time, Chickasaws living near present day Paducah, Kentucky, Nashville, Tennessee, Memphis, TN, Tupelo, Mississippi, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Dalton, Georgia and Cleveland, TN traded with the French. Chickasaws living in what would become northeast Georgia traded with the British like their fellow tribesmen in southwest Georgia.

Yes, that’s right. Until the 1780s Chickasaw villages occupied a region that spanned 400 miles from northwest to southeast. First in 1785, without consulting the Chickasaw, the federal government gave Chickasaw lands in what is now northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama to the Cherokee. At least the remainder of the land cessions were done by treaties. Even though most of their land was eventually ceded directly to the new United States government, contemporary Dept. of the Interior maps label about 80% of their lands, “Traditional Cherokee territory.” You go figure? Below are maps that prove the point.

As mentioned in the previous article on the Chickasaw, they are the only ethnic group mentioned in the chronicles of the Hernando de Soto Expedition. However, a branch of the Chickasaw were encountered by both the De Soto and Tristan de Luna Expeditions, living very close to Kusa in what is now northwest Georgia and the Chattanooga Area. They were called the Napooche. They were rebellious vassals of Kusa. Their descendants were still living in that region in the late 1700s, but then called the Chickamauga. The word in its original form means “Place to Look Out” in Chickasaw.

Say What-t-t?

Recently, I watched a video of a lecture given by a University of West Georgia anthropology professor in February of 2015. He opened the lecture by stating, “Georgia has been the home of the Cherokee and Creek Indians for thousands of years.” I just cringed. The man has a PhD from the University of Georgia and yet was feeding the students this nonsense. Throughout the lecture, he seemed to have no clue that the Creek Confederacy was an assimilation of many ethnic groups and provinces, with differing traditions and languages.

There was no mention of the Chickasaws, who were in the Southeast long before the ancestors of the Creeks evolved into  separate ethnic groups, speaking several different languages. The modern Creek Confederacy was not even formed until 1717.  The original People of One Fire (Creek Confederacy) included the Chickasaws as one of its four founding members.

The first map to show ANY Cherokees living in Georgia was drawn in 1725. The Cherokees only had a few small villages in the northeastern tip of the state until after the American Revolution.  In 1776, the British Army estimated that there were 100 Cherokee men of military age, living in the entire Province of Georgia, which then stretched to the Mississippi River!

The professor’s lecture never mentioned the Chickasaws or the peoples of South American and Caribbean ancestry, who long occupied a region much larger than the Cherokee Nation that was created in 1794 and ended in 1838. No wonder people working in tourism get so confused as where each of the Southeastern tribes live!

Part Two will discuss the fascinating architectural history of the Chickasaws and how it differs from other Muskogean tribes.


Click the maps to enlarge them!

Map 1 was drawn by the author, based on a synthesis of French and British maps of the Colonial Period. The British knew very little about the ethnicity of the interior of Southeastern North America until the 1715.

Maps 2-4 were prepared by the US Department of the Interior in 1913. They show the locations of Southeastern Indian tribes in 1805 and later land cessions that occurred in 1805, 1814, 1816 and 1832.

Map 5 (NAGPRA) was prepared by the US Department of the Interior in 1991. It bears very little resemblance to the maps prepared by the same federal agency, earlier in the 20th century.


This map shows Chickasaw territory in Kentucky and Tennessee in 1805.

This map shows Chickasaw territory in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama in 1805.

This map shows the Chickasaw land in Alabama in 1805. Before 1805, the Chickasaw owned all of northern Alabama.

This map shows the Chickasaw land in Alabama in 1805. Before 1805, the Chickasaw owned all of northern Alabama.  Most of the county histories in northern Alabama state “We’ve were the home of the Cherokee Indians for thousands of years before the white man came!”

Chickasaw and Choctaw territories in Mississippi in 1805.

Chickasaw and Choctaw territories in Mississippi in 1805.

What were Department of the Interior personnel smoking in their pipes when they created this map? In 1991, Congress adopted it as "the official locations of American Indian tribes in the Southeastern United States." Note that the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Alabamas, Catawbas and Uchee never existed.

What were Department of the Interior personnel smoking in their pipes when they created this map? In 1991, Congress adopted it as “the official locations of American Indian tribes in the Southeastern United States.” Note that the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Alabamas, Catawbas and Uchee never existed.  Most of the red area for Creeks in Alabama, was not occupied by Muskogee-speaking peoples until after the end of the French and Indian War.  The only exception was the immediate area west of the Chattahoochee River.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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