he Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole tribes lived originally in the area that now encompasses the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These groups defined their own identity in many ways, but an important one was their relationship with the land that they considered their home.
The Choctaw territory in present-day Mississippi extended from the Mississippi Delta on the west, through rich, black soil prairie lands in the northeast, to piney woods in the southern part of the state. Its eastern boundary was defined by the watershed of the Black Warrior River, and the Pearl, Tombigbee, and Chickasawhay Rivers defined its three major divisions—the Okla Falaya, the Okla Tanap, and the Okla Hannali (Okla being the Choctaw word for "people").
Tribal regions before Removal, ca. 1830
See descriptions of the tribal regions.
The Creeks lived in Alabama and southwestern Georgia—
the "upper" Creeks along the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers and the "lower" Creeks along the Chattahoochie River.
The Chickasaw homeland was in the upper Mississippi Delta region in northern Mississippi, into western Tennessee and northern Alabama.
The Cherokees occupied the valleys of the southern Appalachian Mountains, establishing villages along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. They included five divisions (as defined by the British colonial government in the 1700s): the Lower Towns in north Georgia, the Over-the-Hill (or Overhill) Towns in eastern Tennessee, and Middle Towns, Valley Towns, and Out Towns in western North Carolina.
The Seminoles, originally of Lower Creek identity, emerged as a distinctive tribal group in the early to mid 1700s as a result of conflict between European colonists and tribal villages. A major uprising by tribes along the east coast of Georgia, the Yamasee Rebellion of 1715, led to military action on the part of the British that destroyed native villages and dispossessed their populations. Homeless groups moved south into Spanish Territory below the 31st parallel (which became Florida), as the Spanish were reputed to have a liberal policy toward Indians and to leave them in peace. The Indian groups that settled in what is now Florida and the southern portions of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, came to be called Seminoles, a corruption of the Spanish term "cimmerones" or wanderers.
Each of these tribal groups had its own origin tradition.
Nanih Waiya Indian mound, Mississippi
The Choctaws and Chickasaws shared a common origin tradition, that they had lived west of the Mississippi River and had migrated to the east. The migration was the result of the dream of a holy man that the sacred pole that stood in the center of his village would lean in the direction of the march. It was led by two brothers, Chata and Chiksa. During the long journey and after the people crossed the Mississippi, the brothers and their followers were separated-by disagreement, in a thunderstorm, the accounts vary. Chata and his people followed the pole until it finally stood upright near a hill. The site today is at Nanih Waiya, a flat-topped mound about twenty miles north of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the tribal headquarters of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
North Georgia mountains
The Cherokee origin tradition explains the...