Chickasaw Old Town
In the 1786 Treaty of Hopewell, the Chickasaw Nation’s vast 37,000 square mile territory was first legally recognized by the fledgling United States. The Chickasaws’ land extended over what is now north Mississippi, northwest Alabama, western Tennessee, and into Kentucky. All of this was defended from the great town or capital of the Chickasaw people located at presentday Tupelo, Mississippi. Numerous Chickasaw tribal towns occupied lands in the vicinity of Tupelo and Pontotoc, but chief among these was Chokkilissa’, or “the silent house.” Chokkilissa’-Old Town is the largest remaining contiguous site that outstandingly exemplifies and commemorates eighteenth-century Chickasaw culture. The Chokkilissa’-Old Town site includes the archaeological remains of the villages that comprised the political and cultural capital of the Chickasaw people during most of the 1700s. This cluster of aggregated village sites originally included wooden stockade forts, hundreds of Chickasaw houses and related structures, horticultural plots, and Chickasaw graves. At its peak during the 1730-1770 period, Chokkilissa’-Old Town contained the entirety of the Chickasaw population remaining in Mississippi and many of the Chickasaw leaders were either born or resided there for a time. Important historical events associated with Chokkilissa’-Old Town include the 1736 Battle of Ogoula Tchetoka with the French, and later the negotiation and signing of several major land cession treaties with the United States. Through these treaties and the 1832 Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, the Chickasaws peacefully gave up their sacred homeland for the new Americans to resettle. Today the Chokkilissa’-Old Town site faces continuing threats from many types of encroachments associated with economic development. Old Town has been damaged and portions destroyed by commercial, residential, and government agency-related developments. The site remains a sacred place to Chickasaws today, containing the bones of many of their ancestors and the location of momentous events of warfare, diplomacy, and cultural coalescence that still loom large in tribal history and identity. If tribal, national, state, and local interests can successfully collaborate to preserve Chokkilissa’-Old Town, this preservation effort could lead to a flagship historical heritage park for Northeast Mississippi and the Chickasaw people.
2017 Update – In Progress
The City of Tupelo has adopted a sensitive approach to development – “look first, then develop.” Recently protection has been put into place; Tupelo has implemented a policy requiring unmarked graves to be “considered” before approving building permits. The majority of the 30 acres of Chickasaw Old Town is privately owned and is in agricultural. Dr. Brad Lieb, an archaeologist for the Chickasaw Nation recently submitted an archaeological study to the National Park Service with the hope of Chokkilissa’-Old Town becoming a National Historic Land Mark. Unfortunately, not all of the landowners associated with the Chickasaw site were willing to sign off on its National Land Mark designation; putting that effort on hold. Dr. Lieb still has hope the land can be saved from development and used as a public green space.