The Chickasaw-Quapaw Alliance in the Revolutionary Era

Article excerpt

SCHOLARS HAVE LONG RECOGNIZED the important strategic roles that the Quapaws and Chickasaws played in the lower Mississippi Valley during the eighteenth century. However, with the exception of Kathleen DuVal's recent work, studies have tended to focus on these groups' relations with colonizers. The writing of Indian-centered history demands careful examination of the interactions among Indian peoples as well as between Indians and Euro-American colonists.1 Indeed, the case of the Quapaws and the Chickasaws demonstrates that it is only through such study that the experience of colonizers can be fully understood.

The Quapaws and Chickasaws-former enemies-forged an alliance so strong in the 1760s that the tribes could eventually refuse British and Spanish requests for warriors during the Revolutionary War. A study of Chickasaw-Quapaw diplomacy reveals that this occurred because both peoples' general welfare depended on intertribal peace, not only to preserve their dwindling population bases and deal with white encroachment, but also to forge vital trade networks and a military alliance against the Osages.

In the seventeenth century, the Quapaws and the Chicksasaws had lived at the crossroads of North America. More than five thousand Quapaws were concentrated in fortified villages located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers, whereas some seven thousand Chickasaws lived in dispersed homesteads along the headwaters of the Tombigbee River, in what is now northeastern Mississippi. Well before Europeans arrived in the area, the Quapaws and Chickasaws' advantageous locales brought them access to valuable items such as copper, chert, and wampum. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, living at a crossroads meant exposure to Old World diseases like smallpox, which reduced the Quapaws' population to less than two thousand persons after a 1698 epidemic. Musket-toting Iroquoian and Chickasaw warriors also contributed to the Quapaws' population loss.2

By the late seventeenth century, most Chickasaw warriors had acquired firearms, and they repeatedly raided the Quapaws' villages for captives to stem their own population decline and to supply British Indian slave traders.3 In fact, the Arkansas Valley became their favorite haunt. A British trader maintained that to their southwest, Chickasaw warriors could take captives and other prizes with the "Greatest Ease."4 In the face of Chickasaw and Iroquois threats, the Quapaws welcomed French trade to strengthen their defenses. They became French allies and, once armed, took revenge upon the Chickasaws for their slave raids. When the Chickasaws sent peace emissaries to the Quapaws during the Natchez War of 1729, the Quapaws delivered them to the French, who had them tortured and killed.5 During campaigns in 1736 and 1739, the Quapaws aided French Louisiana against the Chickasaws as scouts and warriors. As French allies, the Quapaws attacked the Chickasaws, exchanging Chickasaw scalps for trade goods. The Chickasaws retaliated, and incessant warfare came to characterize their relations with the Quapaws through the first half of the eighteenth century.6

But things then took a sharp turn. In 1770, a British observer noted that the "nations of the Arkansas" could never "be at rest until they had made peace with the Chickasaws."7 Soon after the French defeat in the Seven Years War, the Chickasaws had approached the Quapaws and other Indians of the Arkansas Valley upon the understanding that the British wished them to "buy and make peace with the Nations of the great River Mississippi." 8 Clearly, the Chickasaws intended to win former French-allied Indians' friendship through British-sponsored gift-exchange. The British replaced the French at posts east of the Mississippi River, and in 1769 the Spanish took possession of French lands west of the Mississippi and assumed control of a trading post and garrison, the Arkansas Post, on the Arkansas River a convenient distance from the Chickasaws. …

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