Travel Methods of the Chickasaw Indians

Chickasaw Indians inhabited areas of northern Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, centering around Tupelo, Mississippi. Farmers, hunters and traders, the Chickasaw lived on the Mississippi River and tributaries. They traveled by foot, canoe and horseback. To move their villages, the Chickasaw packed their belongings on their dogs. The Chickasaw traveled extensively by canoe on inland river routes and by foot on the Natchez Trace, trading furs, fish and slaves. When horses became available, Chickasaws adopted them enthusiastically and bred them, using them as pack animals, for work in the fields and for transportation.

  1. Walking

    • In precolonial and colonial times, Chickasaw Indians traveled predominantly by foot and lived in large villages close to rivers. When Chickasaws needed to visit relatives or friends in nearby villages, they'd walk. Walking was the main method of traveling for most Native Americans before Europeans brought horses to the New World.


    • Chickasaws lived on the many rivers and also traveled by canoe. For short trips they might use dugout canoes. Dugouts were half-logs of pine, black walnut, butternut and basswood. One man could carry a dugout canoe over a portage. The best canoes were made of birch bark and cedar. Gunwales and ribs of cedar were covered by birch bark and sewn together using cedar roots. Pine pitch was boiled and applied as a gum or glue to make the canoe watertight. Birch bark canoes were loaded with goods for long trading journeys.

    Dog Pack or Sled

    • Occasionally the Chickasaws needed to move their villages, perhaps because enemies had become too violent or because the soil had become depleted. When this happened, Chickasaws loaded packs onto their dogs or arranged a travois, or sled, to be pulled by dogs. During the 17th century, the Chickasaws lived in established villages in South Carolina and Georgia, later moving into northern Mississippi. They made these trips using dogs as pack animals.


    • Chickasaws used horses as transportation, pack animals and in the fields of their farms. While they might have stolen some horses from Hernando de Soto, it is more likely that English traders introduced horses to the Chickasaws. They began to breed and develop the Chickasaw horse, which was small, about 13 hands with a well-developed muscular structure. The Chickasaw horse became known as a short-distance runner and gentle utility horse. The Chickasaws took large horse herds with them when they were relocated to Oklahoma in the mid-1800s.

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