A look at the past and honoring the Choctaws
By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
Nov. 15, 2002
Hunting and fishing were mainstays for the Choctaw Indians who populated this area long before Europeans arrived. Evidence of Koosa Town, just north of Meridian, can be traced back more than 300 years where its inhabitants exhibited traits of their ancestors from the cold country north of China. Their skills, methods and traditions have always fascinated me. For instance they used what we call "controlled burning" to enhance wildlife habitat well before settlers understood its importance. Their expressions of gratitude for a successful hunt, often expressed in symbolism, have inspired me to follow those customs.
The Choctaws rich outdoor culture, as well as their whole history, captivates sportsmen and women. Kent Turner was bitten by the Indian history bug years ago when he found and collected arrowheads. Of late his interest has been in the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and the events and people surrounding that monumental occasion.
Turner and his wife, Dolly, traveled to the site of the Treaty signing, locating it with considerable difficulty in the red clay hills of Noxubee County. Roads to the site are not marked well with signs giving directions. The site lies south of the town of Mushulaville, which is not on the Mississippi road map, and north of highway 21. Mushulaville was named after Chief Mushulatubbe, one of the signatories of the Treaty who once lived at that location.
Turner's interest has led to a hobby the making of peace pipes. These important fixtures in Native American history were works of art, decorative and beautiful. Their very name evokes good will and associated feelings. Turner uses native cane, wood and other natural components in making the pipes.
He has inscribed onto some of his peace pipes tributes to the chiefs who attended the huge meeting that led to the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The pipes are hollowed out for use to make them as authentic as possible. Bright paints decorate the stems and bowls and strands of grass strung with colorful feathers waft from them.
Inspiration for his hobby came to Turner as he studied the history surrounding the signing of the important Treaty. Mushulatubbe was the leader of the Choctaws in the large area that now includes Meridian. The stone marker at the sight of the signing lists Little Leader as one of the three top Choctaw leaders. Historians note that Little Leader was not a chief. Rather the third chief who signed the treaty was Nittekechi, along with Mushulatubbe and Greenwood LeFlore (there are several spellings of most of these names in the literature.)
Mushulatubbe once offered a half bushel of silver dollars for any white man who would marry one of his five daughters. His money perhaps came from tolls collected from early travelers through Indian territory. Tolls for free passage were common. He also is said to have owned a combination peace pipe and tomahawk. He joined the other chiefs of the Choctaws in refusing the U.S. Government's first offer of a $1,000,000 transportation to the West and Mississippi reservations for the Choctaw lands.
Nittekechi was the brother of Oklahoma and had succeeded Oklahoma as chief of the northeast district. Oklahoma had followed Pushmataha as chief following Pushmatahas death during a meeting in Washington. The sick chief had been entertained by officials in Washington whose "entertainment" bill (read bar bill) was in the hundreds of dollars.
Greenwood LeFlore, chief of the northwest district of Choctaws, was the first of the three chiefs to change his mind and push for signing the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. LeFlore is said to have owned slaves and a large farm in the Mississippi Delta.
Kent Turner's enthusiasm for Choctaw history takes us back to the autumn of 1830 when 6,000 Indians, a fourth of their population, camped between the forks of Dancing Rabbit Creek and met with President Andrew Jackson's Secretary of War, John Eaton and General John Coffee. Negotiations reportedly began on Sept. 18 and the treaty was signed in October several conflicting dates are recorded in the literature. Choctaws moved West and some remained, primarily on reservations.
The Choctaws gave us most noticeably the names of many of modern day towns, rivers, camps and forests. But their early presence formed much more of the whole of our culture.
(Note: Signed copies of Otha Barham's outdoors book, "Here Where We Belong," is available from Old Ben Publications, 3100 38th Street, Meridian, MS 39305, phone (601) 482-4440. Cost is $11.22 plus $.78 Mississippi tax. Add $1.85 for shipping.)