By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star
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 over 300 years where its inhabitants exhibited traits of their ancestors from the cold country north of China. Early Choctaws knew a lot about wildlife management. For instance they practiced “controlled burning” to enhance wildlife habitat well before settlers understood its importance. American Indians' expressions of gratitude for a successful hunt, often expressed in symbolism, have inspired me to follow those type rituals.
The Choctaws’ rich outdoor culture, as well as their whole history, captivates sportsmen and women. Kent Turner, of Suqualena (an Indian name) was bitten by the Indian history bug years ago when he found and collected arrowheads. Later he became interested in the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and the events and people surrounding that monumental occasion.
Turner’s enthusiasm for Choctaw history points us 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 September 18 and the treaty was signed in October – several conflicting dates are recorded in the literature. Many Choctaws moved West, comprising part of the infamous trail of tears, and some remained, primarily on reservations.
Turner located the site of the Treaty signing, with considerable difficulty, in the red clay hills of Noxubee County. The site lies south of the town of Mushulaville, which is not on the Mississippi highway map. Mushulaville was named after Chief Mushulatubbe, one of the signatories of the Treaty who once lived at that location.
Turner’s interest 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 used native cane, wood and other natural components in making the pipes.
He notes that Mushulatubbe was the leader of the Choctaws in a 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 Choctaws.
Nittekechi was the brother of Oklahoma and had succeeded Oklahoma as chief of the northeast district. Oklahoma had succeeded Pushmataha as chief following Pushmataha’s 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.
The Choctaws gave us, quite 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.