Peter Perkins Pitchlynn emerged as an important political and intellectual leader in the Choctaw Nation prior to Removal. Born at Hushookwa, in present-day Noxubee County, on 30 January 1806, he was the son of John Pitchlynn and Sophia Folsom, a mixed-blood Choctaw. Peter Pitchlynn’s father, a trader and interpreter, was one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the Choctaw Nation, while his mother provided connections to the Choctaw elite. Peter became immersed in Choctaw culture and as a young boy received the name Ha-tchoc-tuck-nee, “Snapping Turtle.”
Prior to 1810 Pitchlynn’s family moved to Plymouth Bluff on the west bank of the Tombigbee River, near the junction of Oktibbeha Creek north of present-day Columbus, Mississippi. His father’s trading house at the intersection of Indian trails, Gaines Trace, and the Tombigbee became a gathering place for the famous and infamous. As a youth, Peter Pitchlynn encountered prominent Choctaw chiefs and captains as well as such Euro-Americans as Andrew Jackson; George Strother Gaines, factor of the Choctaw Trading House; and Indian agents Silas Dinsmoor and John McKee. Pitchlynn’s kinsman and neighbor, Gideon Lincecum, a frontier physician, piqued Pitchlynn’s lifelong interest in education and intellectual pursuits.
Pitchlynn’s formal education probably started at Charity Hall, a Chickasaw mission school founded in 1820 by Rev. Robert Bell near Cotton Gin Port. Pitchlynn attended Tennessee’s Columbia Academy between 1821 and 1823 and enrolled at the University of Nashville from November 1827 through March 1828. He also studied at the Choctaw Academy at Blue Springs, Kentucky, in 1827 and 1828.
On 15 December 1823 Pitchlynn married Rhoda Folsom, his mother’s half-sister, in a Christian ceremony performed by Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, a Presbyterian missionary, that allowed Pitchlynn to demonstrate his opposition to polygamy and support for Christianity. He then launched his political career as a captain in the Choctaw Lighthorse, a mounted police force, with authority to act as judge and jury to exact punishment on law violators, especially whiskey dealers and livestock thieves. His service as secretary for a special national council that drafted the Choctaw Constitution of 1826 exposed him to the nation’s political elite.
With his father’s support, Pitchlynn joined a small Choctaw landed elite and thrived as a farmer, stockman, and slave owner. He established his home two miles southwest of his father’s land and planted corn and cotton and grazed cattle, hogs, and horses on the surrounding open prairie. In 1831 Pitchlynn owned ten slaves and had ninety acres under cultivation.
Increasingly active in tribal affairs, he allied with Mushulatubbee, his uncle, against David Folsom and Greenwood LeFlore. In November 1826 Pitchlynn served as a member of a Choctaw commission that met with John Coffee, Thomas Hinds, and William Clark and rejected a proposal to move to lands west of the Mississippi granted under the 1820 Treaty of Doak’s Stand. In 1827 Thomas L. McKenney, commissioner of Indian affairs, made a similar proposal, which led Pitchlynn to join an October 1828 Choctaw-Chickasaw exploring party that made a circuitous trip via St. Louis, the Osage country, and down the Arkansas River but failed to explore the Choctaw lands along the Red River. After returning home in January 1829, Pitchlynn became embroiled in the power struggle over Removal.
With the nation torn by factionalism, the extension of Mississippi laws to cover the Choctaw and the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 forced the Choctaw to attend a conference at Dancing Rabbit Creek near present-day Macon. Pitchlynn, serving as secretary for the Choctaw delegates, played a pivotal role in the deliberations from the opening speeches by John H. Eaton and John Coffee on 18 September 1830. After rejecting the initial proposal, a small group of leaders, including Pitchlynn, grudgingly agreed to Removal. Although most Choctaw opposed Removal, 171 “Mingoes, Chiefs, Captains, and Warriors,” including Pitchlynn, signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on 27 September 1830.
Pitchlynn subsequently became a vocal critic of the treaty despite receiving preferential treatment with the other Choctaw elite. Under questionable authority, he replaced Mushulatubbee as district chief and led an emigrant party west in 1831. After selling his land and assets in 1832, he eventually settled on the Mountain Fork River near Eagletown in what is now Oklahoma in 1834. His pro-Union sympathies allowed him to briefly lead the Choctaw Nation during Reconstruction, and he served as a special delegate in Washington, D.C., espousing Choctaw land claims and sovereignty. He died on 17 January 1881.
- W. David Baird, Peter Pitchlynn: Chief of the Choctaws (1986)
- Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic (1934)
- Charles Lanman, Atlantic Monthly (April 1870)
- Clara Sue Kidwell, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918 (1995)
- Richard White, The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos (1983)