Greetings, fellow time travelers, or in the words of the Chickasaw people: “Chuck-Mah.”
Your Time Traveler enjoyed a memorable sojourn back in time this past week to the 1830s during the time that our Native American friends were uprooted from their lands in northwest Mississippi, and would then begin their trek along the “Trail of Tears” to modern-day Oklahoma.
Scores of youngsters from Olive Branch City Schools — more than 600 total— also took a trip back in time to learn of the early settlement of Olive Branch. Thanks to Kim Terrell and staff with the DeSoto County Tourism Association, along with Alderwoman Pat Hamilton and the City of Olive Branch, our youngest time-travelers were able to hear first-hand accounts from Chickasaw Chief Lush-Pun-Tubby, portrayed by yours truly, and Milton Blocker, as portrayed by former longtime mayor and expert meteorologist Sam Rikard.
Terrell and Hamilton, in addition to Rikard, helped jumpstart the historical walking tours in Olive Branch more than five years ago.
Rikard, attired in a top hat and frock coat, told of how he and his wife’s brother-in-law Stephen Flinn, along with their wives Frances Wilson and Amoranda Wilson (who were sisters) left their farms in Limestone County, Alabama, and traveled the Mississippi River by flatboat to Memphis, then referred to as the “Chickasaw Bluffs.”
The traveling party then headed southeast into lands occupied by the Chickasaw Nation. The pioneering settlers then encountered Chickasaw Warrior Lush-Pun-Tubby, a once fierce fighter whose name means “In the Heat of Battle He Killed.” With his advancing age, Lush-Pun-Tubby had mostly given up his fighting days and had taken to farming. Blocker and company bought 1,280 acres of land from Lush-Pun-Tubby, where they constructed their homes and built a sawmill. The mill would manufacture lumber for the houses of settlers who would soon begin flooding into the territory. Blocker is also responsible for the establishment of a mule-powered cotton gin.
In the year 1840, Blocker would purchase his brother-in-law’s interest in most of the land around present-day Olive Branch and cement his name and legacy as the “Father of Olive Branch.”
Seventeen counties, including DeSoto County, had been created after the signing of the Pontotoc Treaty, which had allowed the Chickasaw certain areas, with the rest allotted for pioneer settlement. DeSoto County was established in 1836.
Blocker would purchase Sections 34 and 35 from Lush-Pun-Tubby for $1,600.
During the history presentation at Blocker Cemetery, Lush-Pun-Tubby was able to share his story of how his fellow tribal members were eventually forced to leave the area on the journey that has become known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Hundreds of Choctaw men, women and children, had left several years before and died along the way.
The Chickasaw would not leave so quietly. They held out to negotiate new terms with the federal government. Leaving in 1834, they would travel to what was then known as “Washington City” to meet with President Andrew Jackson and others. To no avail, Jackson relayed to them that the time had come for the Chickasaw to leave for the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
The Chickasaw’s Chief Levi Colbert would die along the way.
On July 4, 1837, while settlers on the bluff above were shooting off fireworks in celebration of Independence Day, a sad flotilla of about 4,000 remaining Chickasaw set out across the Mississippi River on their long journey to a place they barely knew and had only heard about.
Some Chickasaw who had intermarried with the Scots-Irish traders and could “pass” for Euro-Caucasian stayed behind and quietly lived their lives. Many prominent DeSoto Countians share these Native American ancestors.
During the past decade, DeSoto County has forged a strong and enduring bond with their Chickasaw friends in Oklahoma and participate in cultural exchanges every other year.
It is interesting to note that modern-day residents in 2019 are referred to by the Chickasaw as the “current residents of the cultural homelands of the Chickasaw.”
After all, there is no place like home. Today, the Chickasaw people comprise a thriving, prosperous nation. It is certainly a triumph for a people who have endured many trials and shed many tears.
The museum’s Native American exhibit, generously underwritten by the Chickasaw Nation, is now on display at the award-winning DeSoto County Museum in the DeSoto County seat of Hernando, 111 E. Commerce Street. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
ROBERT LEE LONG is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.