The Choctaw are descendants of the peoples of the Hopewell and Mississippian cultures, who lived throughout the east of the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell people built Nanih Waiya, a great earthwork mound located in what is central present-day Mississippi. It is still considered sacred by the Choctaw. The early Spanish explorers of the mid-16th century in the Southeast encountered Mississippian-culture villages and chiefs. The anthropologist John R. Swanton suggested that the Choctaw derived their name from an early leader. Henry Halbert, a historian, suggests that their name is derived from the Choctaw phrase Hacha hatak (river people).
The Choctaw coalesced as a people in the 17th century, and developed three distinct political and geographical divisions: eastern, western and southern. These different groups sometimes created distinct, independent alliances with nearby European powers. These included the French, based on the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana; the English of the Southeast, and the Spanish of Florida and Louisiana during the colonial era. During the American Revolution, most Choctaw supported the Thirteen Colonies' bid for independence from the British Crown. They never went to war against the United States but they were forcibly relocated in 1831-1833, as part of the Indian Removal, in order for the US to take over their land for development by European Americans.
In the 19th century, the Choctaw were classified by European Americans as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" because they adopted numerous practices of their United States neighbors. The Choctaw and the United States (US) agreed to nine treaties. By the last three, the US gained vast land cessions; they removed most Choctaw west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory, sending them on a forced migration far from their homelands. The Choctaw were the first Native American tribe forced to relocate under the Indian Removal Act. The Choctaw were exiled because the U.S. was wanting to use its resources, and sell it for settlement and agricultural development by European Americans. Some US leaders believed that by reducing conflict between the peoples, they were saving the Choctaw from extinction. The Choctaw negotiated the largest area and most desirable lands in Indian Territory. Their early government had three districts, each with its own chief, who together with the town chiefs sat on their National Council. They appointed a Choctaw Delegate to represent them to the US government in Washington, DC.
By the 1831 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, those Choctaw who chose to stay in the newly formed state of Mississippi were to be considered state and U.S. citizens; they were one of the first major non-European ethnic groups to be granted citizenship. (Article 14 in the 1830 treaty with the Choctaw stated Choctaws may wish to become citizens of the United States under the 14th Article of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on all of the combined lands which were consolidated under Article I from all previous treaties between the United States and the Choctaw.
During the American Civil War, the Choctaw in both Oklahoma and Mississippi mostly sided with the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy had suggested to their leaders that it would support a state under Indian control if it won the war.
After the Civil War, the Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana Choctaw fell into obscurity for some time. The Choctaw in Oklahoma no longer considered the Mississippi Choctaw part of the Choctaw Nation. However, Jack Amos legally challenged the Choctaw Nation's stance at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1978, the United Supreme Court of the United States held that all remnants of the Choctaw Nation are entitled to all rights of the federally recognized Nation. The American Indian Policy Review Commission Final Report Volume I, Chapter 11, Page 468 on May 19, 1977 federally acknowledged/recognized the existence of the Choctaw Communities of Mobile and Washington Counties which are along the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers where Choctaw Treaties were negotiated in various Choctaw Treaties.