Tecumseh Visits the Choctaw Nation
By Dr. Harold Graham
The Choctaw tribe had long been allied with American and French interests dating from the days of the American Revolution while remaining opposed to British interests. By 1811 it became evident that the Americans and British would again engage in a second war. It was no surprise, therefore, that the Choctaws, under the leadership of Pushmataha, would side with the Americans.
Tecumseh, chief of the Shawnee Nation, however, had a different view of the matter. The American interests, as he would explain, were to take the Indian lands and leave the Indians homeless. During 1811, Tecumseh visited the chiefs and mingos throughout the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations with a plea to ban together in a confederation to oppose the Americans. We provide here a partial account of his visits as described by Halbert and Ball:1
“In the summer of 1811, the celebrated Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, at the head of twenty armed and mounted warriors, visited the Southern Indians. His object was to induce these tribes to join the Indian Confederacy which he was forming to act in concert with the British troops in the war then impending with the United States. In company with Tecumseh was his kinsman, Seekaboo, who was to act the role of prophet and interpreter in the Southern councils.
“Tecumseh2 remained a number of days at the village of Hoentubbee, and at his request, many of the noted Choctaws came there to meet him in council and listen to his talk. Among those present, were Pushmataha and Moshulitubbee, mingoes, respectively, of the southeastern and northeastern districts. The Shawnees first danced their national dance, and after this the council convened near Hoentubbee's house. Tecumseh arose and through Seekaboo made a long talk. He spoke much of the bad conduct of the white people, how they were seizing the Indians' lands and reducing them to poverty, and he urged the Choctaws to join him in a general war against the oppressors. He urged, too, upon the Choctaws the duty of living at peace with the other Indian tribes; and that all the tribes ought to quit their inter-tribal wars and unite in a general confederacy; that by this means they could keep their lands and preserve their nationalities. Tecumseh also spoke of the impending war with Great Britain, and that the Choctaws must unite with the other tribes and all declare themselves allies of Great Britain. If we are to credit one of our Choctaw informants, Tecumseh also, in this talk, as well as in subsequent talks, spoke very earnestly against the Indian custom of killing women and children in war. This custom they should renounce, and henceforth, in all wars, the lives of women and children should be spared.
“Such are some of the traditions of Tecumseh's talk, and among these, his reprobation of a barbarous war custom of his race is creditable to his humanity. Some of this talk was, by no means, displeasing to the Choctaws. They approved of the idea of the different tribes renouncing their intertribal wars and living at peace with each other. And they by no means objected to his advice that all Indians should renounce the custom of killing women and children in war; but they were suspicious and wary of his proposal to declare themselves allies of Great Britain. Their relations with the Americans had ever been harmonious, and they disliked any proposal that would sever those ties of peace.
“Pushmataha3 replied to Tecumseh, and in his talk told his people not to think of going to war; that the Choctaws had never shed the blood of white men in war;4 that they had ever been at peace with them and must continue so; that there was no cause of war with the white people, and that a war with them would end in the ruin of their nation; that the white people were the friends of the Choctaws, and they must not make enemies of them by taking the talk of Tecumseh.
“The council dissolved and Tecumseh's talk was all in vain. Not one Choctaw was disposed to take his talk. During his stay at this village, which was several days, Tecumseh seems to have conceived a warm regard for Hoentubbee. Before his departure, he presented the latter a silver ornament or gorget, which Hoentubbee kept for a long time until it was destroyed by the burning of his house many years afterwards. An aged son of Hoentubbee, still living, states that Tecumseh also gave his father a written or printed paper or parchment, to which a red seal or stamp was affixed. The nature of this document must be left entirely to conjecture. As Tecumseh was connected with the British authorities, could this have been a paper authorizing the holder, in case he should join the hostiles, to draw military supplies from the Spaniards at Pensacola?
“Tecumseh and his warriors, after leaving Hoentubbee's village, next went to Yazoo, situated in Neshoba County, about eleven miles south of east of Philadelphia, now known as Yazoo Old Town. The mingo of this place was named Tanampo Eshubbee. The Shawnees remained here three or four days, in which they danced their national dance, and another council was held and another.
talk was made by Tecumseh with reply by Pushmataha,--both of the same nature and with the same result as at the village of Hoentubbee
“Tecumseh and his warriors then went to Mokalusha. This was one of the most noted and populous towns of the Choctaws. It was situated upon a plateau on the headwaters of Talasha Creek, about twelve miles southeast of Philadelphia. The houses of the town, with the small fields interspersed, covered an area three miles long, north and south, and a mile and a half wide, east and west. During the farming season, the boys of the town kept the horses and cattle herded out on the range beyond the suburbs, to prevent their depredating on the crops, which were mostly cultivated by the women, while the men generally spent their time in hunting. Such was the division of labor in Mokalusha. Mokalusha is a corruption of Imoklasha, which signifies ‘Their people are there.’ About 1824 this ancient town was, in a great measure abandoned on account of the ravages of the small pox.
“The Shawnees remained about a week at Mokalusha, and the same Choctaw mingoes came hither who had attended the former councils. After the Shawnees had danced their national dance, a council convened on a hill situated about the centre of the eastern edge of the town This hill is now occupied by the residence of the late Colonel James Wilson. Tecumseh here through Seekaboo made his talk, to which Pushmataha again replied. The Shawnee chief a third time failed to make any impression on the Choctaws.
“After this council, the Shawnees, traveling down the east side of Talasha Creek, went to Chunky Town5, which was situated on the west side of Chunky Creek, half a mile below the confluence of Talasha and Chunky creeks, and about five miles above Hickory Station. It is stated that Pushmataha and the other mingoes, from some cause, did not follow Tecumseh to Chunky. In Tecumseh's day, and down to the treaty of Dancing Rabbit, in 1830, the long peninsular strip of country, into which Tecumseh entered after leaving Mokalusha, and which lies between Talasha and Tallihatta creeks and thence continuing southward to the confluence of Tallihatta and Chunky creeks, was under the jurisdiction of a mingo named Iskifa Chito, Big Axe. His residence was on the west bank of Tallihatta, near which spot is now Day's mill. This peninsula is still known by the old Choctaws as Iskifa Chito in Yakni6, Big Axe's Country.
“Pierre Juzan, a noted French Indian countryman, at this time was living at Chunky Town. He had settled among the Choctaws in early life, and had married a Choctaw woman, a niece of Pushmataha, and raised an Indian family. He spoke English, French, and Choctaw with equal fluency. Juzan had several trading houses among the Choctaws, one being at Coosha Town7, situated three or four miles southeast of old Daleville, on the right bank of Issuba In Kannia bok (Lost Horse Creek), and another at Chunky. His dwelling house at Chunky was on the west side of the creek and about two hundred yards from it. He had here an apple orchard,--a rare thing in an Indian country--the trees or scions for which he had brought from France. He also had another residence at Coosha. Juzan died about 1840, at Tuscahoma, on the Tombigbee. Some time after his death, his family, with the exception of a daughter, emigrated west.
“On the day of their arrival at Chunky, Tecumseh and Seekaboo called upon Juzan and had a long interview with him, in the course of which they endeavored to persuade him to use his influence with the Choctaws to induce them to join the Indian Confederacy. Juzan became greatly indignant and spurned the Shawnees' proposition. He turned away and would hold no further conversation with them. It so happened that same day that Oklahoma, a noted mingo from Coosha, a nephew of Pushmataha and brother of Juzan's wife, was in Chunky with a number of his warriors. He was soon informed by Juzan of the object of Tecumseh's visit, whereupon he became greatly enraged and forthwith ordered his warriors to mould bullets and prepare to make battle against the Shawnees. He also sent a messenger to Iskifa-Chito, to inform him of the situation and to urge him to prepare for war against the Shawnee intruders. Tecumseh, whose object was to harmonize all Indians, saw the drift of affairs, and wishing to avoid any hostile collision, he summoned his warriors and quietly withdrew from the place. The Choctaw traditions here vary. According to one tradition, Tecumseh with all his warriors then returned to Moshulitubbee's. But according to another, the Shawnees after withdrawing from Chunky, divided into two parties, one party, under Tecumseh, returning to Moshulitubbee's, whilst the other party, under Seekaboo, went down south into the present Jasper County among the Six Towns Indians, who were considered the fiercest and most warlike of all the Choctaws. Here some talks were made. Thence, making a detour to the northeast, Seekaboo's party went to Coosha. Whether at this place they again encountered the hostility of Oklahoma, we have no information. From Coosha, Seekabo went to Yahnubbee Town, situated on Yahnubbee Creek, eight miles southwest of DeKalb. The present DeKalb and Decatur road traverses the site of the old town. Making but a short stay at Yahnubbee, Seekaboo thence returned to Moshulitubbee's, where the two Shawnee parties again re-united.”
The Creek Indians, commanded by Chief Red Eagle, were supportive of Tecumseh and the Indian Confederation and had been long enemies of the Choctaw Nation. In 1813 they attacked Fort Mims, a white settlement in Alabama, and killed 450 men, women, and children. In response, General Andrew Jackson mobilized his forces, requesting additional assistance from Pushmataha for Choctaw troops. Pierre Juzan sent a force of 60 warriors from Chunky Chitto. The combined forces met the Creeks on March 27, 1814, at Horseshoe Bend on Tallapoosa River and the Creeks were easily defeated.8
1. H. S. Halbert and T. H. Ball, The Creek War of 1813 and 1814, White, Woodruff, and Fowler, Montgomery, Alabama, 1895.
2. Picture of Tecumseh—“The Panther Passing Across”—courtesy of the Ohio Historical Commission.
3. The contemporary portrait of Pushmataha on this page is by artist Katherine Roche Buchanan.
4. It is true that the Choctaws fought against the Spaniards at Mauvila and Cabusto. But it must not be supposed that Pushmataha knew anything about these, to him, prehistoric matters. H. S. H.
5. Chunky Chitto.
6. A dialect within Choctaw. In the Choctaw language the word order is often reversed. In the expression Iskifa Chitto, iskifa means “big” and chitto means “big”. In the expression Chunky Chitto, chitto means “big” and Chunky refers to a traditional game of the Choctaw tribe. It is therefore inferred that the town of Chunky Chitto was the site of a “big game of Chunky”.
7. Spelled in various ways including “Koosa”. On Swanton’s map on page 11, the spelling is given as “Kunshak”.
8. Hewitt Clarke, Thunder At Meridian, Lone Star Press, Spring, Texas, 1995, p. 45.