Origins of the Chickasaw and Creek Peoples – Part Two
By Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
Below is transliterated verbatim the “Migration Legend of the Chickasaw People” as published online by the Chickasaw Nation. Creek readers will immediately notice that it contains a section virtually identical to several migration legends by Upper Creek tribes. The Chickasaws followed a “leaning stick” in their journey across Southeastern North America in the direction of the rising sun. Of course, depending on the time of the year, the used of such a sun dial would result in an upward or downward curving path . . . not a straight line.
In subsequent parts of this series, we will analyze this folk tradition, plus present the Creek migration legends. We will learn how closely these Muskogean migration legends compare to the architectural, geographical and linguistic information available today.
The Chickasaw Migration Legend
Long ago, there came a time when the Chickasaw People needed to move from the West. Our ancestors appealed to our wise hopayi’ (prophets) to find a solution.
Our hopayi’ held a special consultation. They sat around the council fire and deliberated for many hours, and, most importantly, they sought guidance from our Creator, Abaꞌ Bínniꞌliꞌ, who created all things and sat above the clouds and directed the destiny of all.
Once they concluded their deliberations, they told our ancestors they should seek a home in the direction of the rising sun in the East. Their guide to the new land would be Itti’ Fabassa’ Holitto’pa’, a pole made sacred by Abaꞌ Bínniꞌliꞌ.
At the end of each day’s journey, the people should stick Itti’ Fabassa’ Holitto’pa’ into the ground so that it stood perfectly straight. Each morning, the sacred pole should be carefully examined, and whatever direction it was leaning in would be the way they would travel.
They were to repeat that procedure until Itti’ Fabassa’ Holitto’pa’ no longer leaned in any direction. When that happened, our ancestors would know it was a divine sign from Abaꞌ Bínniꞌliꞌ that their journey was over, and they had reached their Homeland.
As they discussed the journey, it was decided they should split into two groups to make traveling safer and easier. The brave young minko’ Chiksa’ would lead one group, and his equally brave brother Chahta, also a minko’, would lead the other.
During the next few days, the families busied themselves by packing their belongings and making other necessary preparations for the trip. At last, the eve of departure arrived.
That evening, the hopayi’ stuck Itti’ Fabassa’ Holitto’pa’ into the ground and retired for the night. The next morning, at the break of day, the sacred pole was carefully inspected and found to be leaning toward the east.
So, with Chiksa’ at the head of one of the parties, and Chahta at the head of the other, the group set out in the direction of the rising sun.
It was a sight to behold, this great caravan of people traveling on foot carrying all their possessions, each knowing with certainty that somewhere a home awaited them and that the sacred pole would lead them to it.
Far in front of this procession ranged a large white dog, Ofi’ Tohbi Ishto’. He darted to the right, then to the left; he was everywhere, always on the alert. The people loved the big creature very dearly. He was their faithful guard and scout, and it was his duty to sound the alarm should enemies be encountered.
Travel was slow and laborious. Sickness was a constant companion, and the tribal doctors, alikchi’, kept busy digging into their medicine bags. But when Sinti’, the snake, struck any one of them, Ofi’ Tohbi Ishto’ was quickly summoned and only needed to lick the wound to make the victim well again.
Even with the extraordinary healing powers of our alikchi’ and beloved Ofi’ Tohbi Ishto’, the ugly hand of death reached down into the travelers and took away loved ones at will.
Then, one day, just as the sun was setting, the two parties came upon a scene beyond their imagination. It was a great river, the likes of which they had never seen before. The unexpected sight overwhelmed them.
For a long time, the astonished people stood on the riverbank and stared in awe at the mighty watercourse. Today, that great river is known as the Mississippi.
That night the families sat around their campfires and talked joyfully to one another. Many of the people believed their promised land had been reached and felt sure the sacred pole would confirm their belief at daybreak.
But at sun up the next day, the people saw that the Itti’ Fabassa’ Holitto’pa’ still leaned toward the east, and they knew that home was somewhere on the other side of the wide river before them.
The people hurriedly set about constructing rafts, and soon the crossing was underway. Almost immediately, a serious mishap occurred that left our ancestors grief-stricken. The raft carrying their beloved white dog broke into pieces in the middle of the river. Ofi’ Tohbi Ishto’, who had managed to climb onto a piece of broken timber, could not be reached. The people could only helplessly watch as he was swept downstream and out of sight. That was the last they ever saw of their faithful guard and scout.
Many days were required to ferry all the people and their belongings to the opposite side, but, in time, they all arrived safely.
After crossing the mighty river and getting several days of rest, the group became somewhat excited — and uneasy, too — for they had never before seen the sacred pole behave in such a strange manner. At last, Itti’ Fabassa’ Holitto’pa’ grew very still and stood perfectly straight.
At this point, the two brothers — Chiksa’ and Chahta — had their first difference of opinion. Minko’ Chahta was quite convinced the perfectly upright pole was the divine sign from Abaꞌ Bínniꞌliꞌ and they had reached their homeland. Minko’ Chiksa’, on the other hand, was not at all pleased with the way the sacred pole had wobbled around, and he felt confident their Homeland lay farther toward the rising sun.
The two brothers and the hopayi’ held discussions about the matter, but at the end of several hours, opinions remained unchanged. Seeing that talking was getting them no place, Minko’ Chiksa’ pulled the sacred pole from the ground and commanded all those who believed their Homeland lay farther to the east to pick up their packs and follow him.
That was the beginning of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. From that day on, the people that followed Minko’ Chiksa’, who were relatively few compared to the significant number who remained in camp, were referred to as Chickasaws, and those who stayed with Minko’ Chahta were called Choctaws.
After leading the Chickasaws farther eastward, Itti’ Fabassa’ Holitto’pa’ reversed its direction and guided the people westward. There, the sacred pole stood straight as an arrow. The Chickasaw people then knew with certainty that at last, they had found their Homeland and that their long journey was at an end.