Five Civilized Tribes

views updated May 23 2018


Five Civilized Tribes is a name white settlers gave to the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminoles in the 1800s after these Native American tribes adopted Christianity and European customs. When the colonists arrived on the North American mainland, these native peoples were living in the southeastern United States. They had settled there in small villages and farmed and hunted for subsistence.

The Indians were not immune to many illnesses the settlers brought to the new world. Smallpox, measles, pneumonia, and other sicknesses claimed many lives and reduced the populations of these tribes by an estimated 75 percent in less than two hundred years. Thus, by the time colonists won the American Revolution (17751783), relatively small numbers of Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminoles survived; of necessity they began to adapt to the growing culture around them. They attended church services, sent their children to school, and even bought plantations. Nevertheless, under the Indian Removal Act of 1830 the U.S. government claimed the lands of the five tribes in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.

The government moved the tribes westward to "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma. The forced migration along the Trail of Tears, which claimed four thousand lives, was completed by 1842.

Installed in their new lands, each of the Five Civilized Tribes was given the status of a nation. While they lived on communally held land, each tribe drew up its own constitution, formed its own government, and set up schools. They successfully farmed the rich soil of their new lands in peace, but their independence was again threatened by the further encroachment of white settlers, who moved ever westward in what finally became the Land Rush (of 1889). Eventually the Oklahoma lands were opened to white settlers; the Five Civilized Tribes became increasingly assimilated into the culture around them. In 1907 the state of Oklahoma (which is a Choctaw word meaning "red people") was created by merging Indian Territory with the Oklahoma Territory.

See also: Native American Policy, Oklahoma, Trail of Tears

Civilized Tribes, Five

views updated May 14 2018


CIVILIZED TRIBES, FIVE. Five Civilized Tribes was a collective name used to describe the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Indians during the nineteenth century. The term "civilized" stemmed from the willingness of many of these natives to adopt Christianity and to use the tools of white American culture to preserve their Indian identity. While living in their homelands in the American Southeast, some members of these tribes adopted commercial agriculture and chose to live like their American neighbors. Some established plantations and owned slaves. By 1867, all five tribes had been removed to Indian Territory and were ruled by constitutional governments, which mirrored the political institutions of the United States. These practices continued into the late nineteenth century, as did the tension between those who adopted the majority culture's traditions and those who did not. Those more inclined to white ways were keen on integrating Indian Territory into the national economy, often welcoming white settlers to their homeland and renting out parcels of land to them. By 1890, Indians in the Territory were outnumbered by more than two to one by whites and African Americans. The United States abolished the governments of the Five Tribes in 1898 and admitted Oklahoma to the Union in 1907. In the twentieth century members of these tribes sought to establish unity amongst themselves by defining "Indianness" in terms of blood, not traditional cultural practices.


Debo, Angie. And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940.

Perdue, Theda. Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1865–1907. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Nathan RossKozuskanich

See alsovol. 9:The Origin of the League of Five Nations .