The Chickasaw tribe was particularly warlike, even by Native American standards. Despite this, they were a matrilineal society, recognising the female rather than the male line of descent. Women had their own land about which they could make decisions without reference to their husbands.
There was nonetheless a strict division of labour between the sexes. Women farmed and performed all the domestic duties including childcare, while men hunted and waged war on other tribes. If they brought home slaves from other tribes, which it was one of their customs to do, then the women would supervise the work of the slaves.
Chickasaw women grew, beans, maize and squash as well as gathering nuts and berries. The men brought home deer, bear, turkey and fish, and occasionally buffalo when they’d travelled as far as the plains. Girls helped their mothers, while boys learnt to ride and hunt using bows and arrows alongside their fathers.
One of the domestic duties of the women was to make clothes. Using deerskin as the favoured material, they made dresses for themselves and breechcloths and shirts for their menfolk.
The typical Chickasaw home was constructed of rivercanes and plastered, then topped off with a thatched roof. Where the ground was liable to flooding, houses were built on stilts, but these would be summer homes without any walls. A communal winter house could give shelter to a whole community.
The Chickasaw were great storytellers and generated many legends and fairy tales. The language they used – and still use – was similar to that of the Choctaw tribe, with whom the Chickasaw were once united according to legend. It belongs to the Muskogean group of languages. The name Oklahoma is in fact from the Chickasaw words okla humma which means ‘red people’.
Chickasaw society was fairly democratic. At the head of each clan was a council of elders and a chief called a minko. The minkos of each clan reported to a high minko who led the whole nation.
The Chickasaw were recognised as one of the Five Civilised Tribes. This was a name used by white folk and not by the Indians themselves, and it was also fairly meaningless. It probably had something to do with perceived Christianity, advanced government, and also the fact that the tribe was settled – although so were a large number of other tribes. Certainly as a community they were fairly vicious to one another, using execution and public whipping as punishments. Comparison with the Spartans is not misplaced.