During old enemies: Choctaws to the south, Cherokees

During the American Revolution decisive battles were always taking place, but the regions fate would depend mostly on the assemblies of Native men and women who debated on how their peoples should respond to the conflict. Whether the Native American tribes chose to stay home or fight would determine the outcome of the war, on the Spanish, British, and American side. The Chickasaws, specifically, were expected to stand and fight by the British as they had done for years. However, as presented by Kathleen DuVal in her book Independence Lost, and supported by letters from the Chickasaw Nation (primary source), British expectations would soon prove fatally wrong. Kathleen DuVal’ argument is based around the idea that as Western Europe prepared for war, Payamataha and most of his people made arrangements for peace.

According to Independence Lost, the British expectations of the Chickasaw military alliance had a bloody and long history. They had both fought side by side against the French and Choctaws, as well as the Quapaws, Catawbas, Cherokees, and Creeks. By the time of the Revolution, they had inspired a reputation as being, “the most military people of any about the great river” (The Mississippi).

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In all of these wars the Chickasaws held their own, defeating enemies in multiple engagements but, as argued by DuVal, their victories came at a high price. Between war and disease, the Chickasaws were left seperated and weak. As the Revolutionary War began, British officials knew they needed Native allies. They had assumed Payamataha’s people would help defeat the rebels; yet, the Chickasaws chose differently. While North America and Europe prepared for war, Payamataha and his people made peace with Native enemies and established positive relations with the Spanish. As quoted by DuVal, Payamataha, “led the Chickasaws in systematically making peace with a startling array of old enemies: Choctaws to the south, Cherokees and Catawbas to the east, Creeks to the southeast, and Quapaws to the west across the Mississippi”. Good relations with the other Native tribes and the Spanish endangered the British’s idea of the Chickasaws as a loyal ally, nevertheless, Chief Payamataha assured that peace was good for everyone and that the Chickasaws were solely working for British interest. In reality, Payamataha worked for his own tribes independence and stability, expanding connections to as many neighbors as possible.

They ignored their British partners, allying and trading with Spanish Louisiana. With the safety of peace they no longer had to live with constant fear. In an address to the English Excellency, John Bowman speaks of the Natives (Chickasaws) wish for peace, and a continuation of their alliance to Britain. DuVale has, in general, included some of these ideas into her own novel. The source outlines the economical, and personal gains for the Chickasaws as they maintain peace, playing both sides. DuVal also makes these arguments. In a statement, John Bowman says, “if peace could be concluded with these two nations, the Chickasaws and Creeks, it would effectually put a stop to the Cherokees and Chickamauga Indians committing depredations on any of our frontiers,” and that such an alliance, “might greatly discourage the Shawnees and other Western Tribes”.

This aligns greatly with Duval’s argument that the Chickasaws were simply looking out for themselves, while putting on a front that they were staunch allies to the British. This statement does this by assuring the English that an alliance would surely be in their benefit, that by the Chickasaws making peace with other Natives, Britain’s borders and fortifications would be safe against enemy tribes. In the “Talk” that is enclosed within the statement, the Chickasaws beg for their “allegiance” towards Britain. In one line the Chickasaw Chief states, “our making peace with you doth not entitle us to fall out with our Fathers the English for we love them, as they were the first people that ever supported us to defend ourselves against our former enemies, the French, Spaniards, and all their Indians”. While making a point to state that the French, Spanish, and other Indians were enemies to the Chickasaws, the Chief is also again professing their love for the English, and the protection they provide.

DuVal would support this idea, as it provides the evidence that the Chickasaws wanted peace, and that they were intentionally wanting to create good relationships with their “previous enemies”. Both DuVal and the Calendar of State Papers agreed on the Chickasaw position, and their resolution for peace. While the Calendar of State Papers is presented in a way to please the British, it in truth only provides the evidence Kathleen DuVal needs to prove that the Chickasaws were manipulating their previous ally. By the early 1770’s, Payamataha had succeeded in making the Chickasaws more interdependent with their neighbors. The American Revolution would, in time, bring shortages and diplomatic challenges, but in general this was a time of peace for the Chickasaws.

As DuVal pointed out, with the agreement of the Calendar of State Papers (John Bowman’s address), peace was preferable and expectedly more beneficial to the Natives, yet came at the price of deception. By pledging peace to everyone, they in turn broke their resolute alliance to the British. Yet, with their good relationships those (Chickasaws) who had lived in fortified towns were able to leave the fort’s protection and spread back over Chickasaw country in smaller towns and farms. Chickasaw refugees returned home, returning the population to over three thousand by 1790. They could allow their horses and children to roam outside their towns without fearing they would be carried off in an enemy raid. Hunters ranged far, sharing hunting grounds with former enemies to the south and west.

As Chickasaw leaders put it, “we increase and live in peace and plenty”.