Pushmataha, a Choctaw warrior and chief, was one of the most influential Native American leaders of the early 1800s. He was born ca. 1764 in what is now Noxubee County. As a young man, he was influenced by white traders, Indian agents, and missionaries. By studying their language, customs, and negotiation techniques, Pushmataha learned to bridge the Choctaw and American cultures and became a strong ally of the Americans. Despite his lifelong efforts to establish coexistence for the Choctaw with whites in Mississippi, most Choctaw were removed from Mississippi to Indian Territory less than a decade after his death. Nonetheless, Pushmataha was instrumental in negotiating permission for some Choctaw to remain in Mississippi after Removal.
Pushmataha’s early life is not recorded, although some of his early biographers have said that he was orphaned during wars with other native tribes. In 1805 he was elected chief of one of the three geographical and political districts in the Choctaw Confederacy, the Southern District or Six Towns Division, located along the upper Leaf River and mid-Chickasawhay River watersheds.
Pushmataha was a skilled warrior. Following the Creek Massacre at Fort Mims in Alabama in 1813, Pushmataha organized the Choctaw to fight against the Creek at the Battles of Holy Ground and Horseshoe Bend (Alabama). They also fought with Andrew Jackson’s army in the capture of Pensacola, against the British at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, and in the Seminole Wars. Pushmataha’s leadership reportedly earned the respect of Jackson and other white leaders with whom he would later negotiate.
As white settlers continued to push into Mississippi and Congress became impatient to relocate the native peoples to the West, Pushmataha served as one of the key negotiators. He was instrumental in bargaining with Jackson during the talks preceding the Treaty of Doak’s Stand. When the Choctaw removed to the West and found white settlers on the land that had been reserved for the Choctaw, Pushmataha traveled to Washington, D.C., to negotiate a resolution. He died there on 24 December 1824 and was buried at the Congressional Cemetery.
- H. B. Cushman, History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez Indians (1899)
- John A. Garraty and Mark Carnes, American National Biography, vol. 17 (1999)
- Clara Sue Kidwell, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918 (1995)
- Anna Lewis, Chief Pushmataha, American Patriot: The Story of the Choctaws’ Struggle for Survival (1959)