Five Civilized Tribes: Wikis


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Gallery of the Five Civilized Tribes. The portraits were drawn/painted between 1775 and 1850.

The Five Civilized Tribes were the five Native American nations: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole, which were considered civilized by white settlers during that time period because they adopted many of the colonists' customs and had generally good relations with their neighbors. The process of cultural transformation was proposed by George Washington and Henry Knox; the Cherokee and Choctaw were successful at integrating European-American culture.[1] The Five Civilized Tribes lived in the Southeastern United States before their relocation to other parts of the country, especially the future state of Oklahoma.

The tribes were relocated from their homes east of the Mississippi River during the series of removals, authorized by federal legislation, over several decades and moved to what was then called Indian Territory and is now the eastern portion of the state of Oklahoma. The most infamous removal was the Cherokee Trail of Tears of 1838, in which President Martin Van Buren enforced the highly contentious Treaty of New Echota with the Cherokee Nation to exchange their property for land out west.

The Five Tribes were divided during the American Civil War. The Choctaw and Chickasaw fought predominantly on the Confederate side. The Creek and Seminole supported Union, while the Cherokee fought a civil war within their own nation between the majority Confederates and the minority pro-Union men.

The number of slaveholders was small, but members of each tribe held black slaves. There were also free African Americans who lived with them, especially the Seminoles. Many of these became known as Black Indians. Following the Civil War, by treaty with the Federal government, Indian slaves were emancipated with guarantees of citizenship in the respective Indian nations. They became known as tribal Freedmen, such as Cherokee Freedmen. The issue of citizenship and participation in tribal benefits has been controversial in the recent years, and tribal freedmen's associations have filed suit against some of the tribes.

Once the tribes had been relocated to Indian Territory, the United States government promised that their lands would be free of white settlement. Some settlers violated that with impunity even before 1893, when the government opened the "Cherokee Strip" to outside settlement in the Oklahoma Land Run. In 1907, the Oklahoma Territory and the Indian Territory were merged to form the state of Oklahoma. All Five Civilized Tribes have a major presence there today.

The term "civilized" as applied in this case has been considered at various times and places (for example in the writings of Vine Deloria, Jr.) as insulting or derogatory, as implying that other Native American tribes were "not civilized" and that the five tribes could only earn the designation of being "civilized" to the extent they took up the cultural values and ways of the European Americans. This conception of "civilization," to some extent, was internalized within the membership of the five nations, who used it themselves.


The Experiment of Civilizing

George Washington and Henry Knox proposed the cultural transformation of Native Americans.[1] Washington believed that Native Americans were equals but that their society was inferior. He formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process, and Thomas Jefferson continued it.[2] Noted Andrew Jackson historian Robert Remini wrote "they presumed that once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans."[3] Washington's six-point plan included impartial justice toward Indians; regulated buying of Indian lands; promotion of commerce; promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Indian society; presidential authority to give presents; and punishing those who violated Indian rights.[4] The government appointed agents, like Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Indians and to teach them, through example and instruction, how to live like whites.[1] The tribes of the southeast bided with Washington's policy as they established schools, adopted yeoman farming practices, converted to Christianity, and built homes like their colonial neighbors.

How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America - This opinion is probably more convenient than just.

— Henry Knox- Notes to George Washington from Henry Knox.[4]


The Cherokee refer to themselves as Tsa-la-gi (pronounced "jaw la gee") or A-ni-yv-wi-ya (pronounced "ah knee yuh wee yaw", literal translation: "Principal People"). In 1654, the Powhatan were referring to this people as the Rickahockan. The word "Cherokee" may have originally been derived from the Choctaw trade language[citation needed] word "Cha-la-kee" which means "those who live in the mountains" – or (also Choctaw) "Chi-luk-ik-bi" meaning "those who live in the caves".[citation needed] The Cherokee were called "Alligewi" by the Delawares.[citation needed]

The Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians have headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma


The Chickasaw are Native American people of the United States, who originally resided along the Tennessee River west of Huntsville, Alabama, covering parts of Mississippi and Tennessee. Originating further west, the Chickasaw moved east of the Mississippi River long before European contact. All historical records indicate the Chickasaw were in northeastern Mississippi from the first European contact until they were forced to remove to Oklahoma, where most now live. They are related to the Choctaws, who speak a similar language, both forming the Western Group of the Muskogean languages. "Chickasaw" is the English spelling of Chikasha (IPA: [tʃikaʃːa]), that either means "rebel" or "comes from Chicsa". The Chickasaw are divided in two groups: the "Impsaktea" and the "Intcutwalipa". The Chickasaws were one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" who went to the Indian Territory during the era of Indian Removal. Unlike other tribes, who exchanged land grants, the Chickasaw received financial compensation from the United States for their lands east of the Mississippi River.[5] The Chickasaw Nation is the thirteenth largest federally-recognized tribe in the United States.


The Choctaw are a Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States (Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana). They are of the Muskogean linguistic group. The word Choctaw (also known as Chahta, Chato, Tchakta, and Chocktaw) may derive from the Castilian word "chato," meaning flat; however, noted anthropologist John Swanton suggests that the name belonged to a Choctaw leader.[6] They were a part of the Mississippian culture which was located throughout the Mississippi River valley. The early Spanish explorers, according to historian Walter Williams,encountered their antecedents.[7] Although smaller Choctaw groups are located in the southern region, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are the two primary Choctaw associations.


The Creek are an American Indian people originally from the southeastern United States, also known by their original name Muscogee (or Muskogee), the name they use to identify themselves today.[8] Mvskoke is their name in traditional spelling. Modern Muscogees live primarily in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Their language, Mvskoke, is a member of the Creek branch of the Muskogean language family. The Seminole are close kin to the Muscogee and speak a Creek language as well. The Creeks are one of the Five Civilized Tribes. Creek tribes included the Muscogee Creek Nation, Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama, Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, Kialegee Tribal Town, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.


The Seminole are a Native American people originally of Florida and now residing in Florida and Oklahoma. The Seminole nation came into existence in the 18th century and was composed of renegade and outcast Native Americans from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, most significantly the Creek Nation, as well as African Americans who escaped from slavery in South Carolina and Georgia. While roughly 3,000 Seminoles were forced west of the Mississippi River, including the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, who picked up new members along their way, approximately 300 to 500 Seminoles stayed and fought in and around the Everglades of Florida. In a series of wars against the Seminoles in Florida, about 1,500 U.S. soldiers died. The Seminoles never surrendered to the United States government, hence, the Seminoles of Florida call themselves the "Unconquered People." Seminole Tribes today include the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and Seminole Tribe of Florida.


  1. ^ a b c Perdue, Theda. "Chapter 2 "Both White and Red"". Mixed Blood Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South. The University of Georgia Press. p. 51. ISBN 082032731X. 
  2. ^ Remini, Robert. "The Reform Begins". Andrew Jackson. History Book Club. p. 201. ISBN 0965063107. 
  3. ^ Remini, Robert. "Brothers, Listen ... You Must Submit". Andrew Jackson. History Book Club. p. 258. ISBN 0965063107. 
  4. ^ a b Miller, Eric (1994). "George Washington And Indians". Eric Miller. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  5. ^ Jesse Burt & Bob Ferguson. "The Removal". Indians of the Southeast: Then and Now. Abingdon Press, Nashiville and New York. pp. 170–173. ISBN 0687187931. 
  6. ^ Swanton, John. Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians. The University of Alabama Press. p. 29. ISBN 0817311092. 
  7. ^ Walter, Williams. "Southeastern Indians before Removal, Prehistory, Contact, Decline". Southeastern Indians: Since the Removal Era. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. pp. 7–10. 
  8. ^ Transcribed documents Sequoyah Research Center and the American Native Press Archives

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[[File:|right|300px|thumb|Gallery of the Five Civilized Tribes. The portraits were drawn/painted between 1775 and 1850.]]

The Five Civilized Tribes is the term applied to five Native American nations, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole, considered civilized by white settlers during that time period because they adopted many of the colonists' customs and had generally good relations with their neighbors.

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