Chief Pushmataha, 1824, published in History of the Indian Tribes of North America.
Pushmataha District was one of three administrative super-regions comprising the former Choctaw Nation in the Indian Territory. Also called the Third District, it encompassed the southwestern one-third of the nation.
The Pushmataha District was named in honor of Pushmataha, a revered Choctaw warrior and statesman who was chief of Okla Hannali, the Six Towns District, one of the three historic, major clan divisions of the Choctaw in the Southeast. The other two districts were the Apukshunnubbee District and Moshulatubbee District.
The districts were established when the Choctaw Nation relocated via the Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory—present-day Oklahoma—and were originally intended to provide homes for settlers from the three major clans or groupings of Choctaw Indians comprising the nation. But, the clan affiliations and allegiances rapidly became less important after the Choctaws’ arrival in the Indian Territory. The districts’ importance in the political life of the nation waned, over time, and the three district chiefs lost power and authority to the principal chief of the nation. Eventually the principal chief became, in simply, the chief. No longer a “first among equals”, he became the sole political leader.
In judicial affairs, however, the three districts and their seats of government retained their historic influence. Crimes and criminals not tried at the county level were bucked to the district level automatically, and court days were the busiest days of the year in the district seats of government.
Pushmataha District’s final and most important administrative seat of government was Mayhew, Indian Territory, a former Presbyterian missionary station two miles north of the present-day Boswell, Oklahoma.
Mayhew was its last seat of district government—the first had been established at Tiak Heli, a site one half-mile east of present-day Sunkist, Oklahoma (in southeastern Atoka County), “between the forks of the Boggy” (“or Boggies”), as it was called. The site was difficult to reach, being situated between the Clear Boggy Creek and Muddy Boggy Creek--actually small rivers—and few ferries operated on the rivers to provide convenient crossings. When the court house at Tiak Heli burned in the last part of the 19th Century the administrative center moved to Mayhew.
“I never understood why court was held in the forks of the Boggy, forcing everyone who attended to cross a river,” mused one early-day settler decades later. He assumed the district seat of government had been selected due to being located in the center of general population, which was likely true. “There were no ferries, nor bridges above the forks of the Boggy,” he recalled, referring to the Clear Boggy Creek and Muddy Boggy Creek as a single waterway.
Another settler recalled the post oak tree used as the “whipping tree”. The Choctaw district courts meted out whippings as punishment. As of 1937, the tree was still in existence.
As Oklahoma’s statehood loomed, the Pushmataha District, and its constituent counties, slowly wound down their governmental functions as the United States Courts in the Indian Territory assumed their powers. On November 16, 1907—Oklahoma’s Statehood Day—the district and its counties disappeared forever.
- Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, p. 40.
- Laws of the Choctaw Nation, Acts of 1886; Interviews with Charles Stewart Lewis, Indian-Pioneer Papers, Western History Collections of the University of Oklahoma Libraries.
- Interview with Cas Vandergriff, Indian-Pioneer Papers.
- Interview with Arthur J. Cline, Indian-Pioneer Papers.
- Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, pp. 151-154.
- John W. Morris, Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, plate 38.