The Chickasaw Nation, like many Native American tribes, has a rich history of tradition and a well-developed system of laws. The ancient custom of marriage and courtship was carried out through the tradition of having the man choose his desired partner and sending to her a bundle of cloth by way of his mother or sister. Most sources agree on this custom, but documentation on the ceremony varies based on family and location.
Wedding Ceremony: Variation 1
After a man had chosen his partner, he sent her the bundle of cloth and awaited her response. If the father and mother approved, they gave the bundle to their daughter. If the girl took the bundle, then she accepted the marriage proposal. If she refused the bundle, then it was never spoken of again, and the man was free to send the bundle to another young woman.
According to some accounts, when the marriage bargain was made, the man dressed in his best clothes, painted his face and went to his intended wife's house for dinner with her father. The mother and bride-to-be were not allowed to join. Instead, they would prepare a bed for after supper, and the girl would wait there for her soon-to-be husband. When the man entered, he would lie on the front side of the bed, and they would become man and wife.
Wedding Cermony: Variation 2
Another variation of the wedding ceremony states that the bride-to-be would greet her future husband when he came to the house in his finest clothes and a painted face. In the audience of friends and family, he would present her with venison or an edible part of another animal that he had hunted to represent his role as meat provider for the family. She would in turn present him with an ear of corn or a sack of potatoes to represent her role. They would then be pronounced man and wife.
The Stealing Partners Dance
This social dance was a way for all young, unmarried men to express their feelings for the women they wished to marry. The men would dance in a circular motion while an elder would sing the stealing partners song. The young men would take turns yelling and running to take their chosen woman by the hand and pull her into the circle. After all of the men had made their choices, the men and women would answer the elder's song. The stealing partners dance is still performed today as a way for men and women in the tribe to meet.
The Legend of the White Deer
According to legend, Chickasaws believed that all animals that were pure white were magical. When a Chickasaw chief was approached by a young warrior in his tribe who wanted to marry his daughter, the chief told the warrior that he could only marry his daughter if he brought the hide of a white, albino deer.
The chief did not like the warrior and knew that it was an impossible request, but the warrior set out to find and kill a white deer so that the skin could be used as his bride-to-be's wedding dress.
The warrior set out with his best bow and arrows and waited patiently for three weeks until one night, during a full moon, he saw the white deer. He drew back the string of his bow, let lose the arrow and pierced the deer's heart. Instead of falling, the deer ran straight at the warrior with his eyes glowing fierce and his sharp horns pointed at the warrior. The warrior never returned.
The chief's daughter loved the warrior and waited eagerly for him, but when he was still not back after several months, the tribe gave up on him. But the chief's daughter would marry none other, and when the moon was bright, she would often see the white deer running with the arrow in his heart. She hoped that one day the deer would fall and her warrior could return.
According to sources, the white deerskin is a favorite material for a Chickasaw bride's wedding dress.
Fidelity is a strong virtue of a married Chickasaw woman. According to old customs, if a woman was caught cheating on her husband, then she was surprised by her husband and his relatives and severely beaten. Sometimes her hair, nose or lip would be cut off. The guilty man would also be attacked, mercilessly thrashed until he could no longer feel pain. At last, they would cut off his ears.
Infidelity of husbands was rare, but when it happened, it was not punishable by Chickasaw law. This inequality of marriage law is explained by the fact that the Chickasaw nation was often at war. The warriors were constantly faced with enemies outside of the tribe, and it was important for them to be able to trust the members of their tribe, most importantly their partners.
Rules for Widows to Marry Again
Under Chickasaw law and customs, a widow was in mourning for her husband for at least three years. For the first year, at dawn and dusk, she would make audible cries for the loss of her husband. For a period of time, she would also sit outside of the house day and night performing certain rituals that would often cause her to waste away. If the brother of the husband deemed it fit, then after a year, he would live with his dead brother's wife and become her husband. If a brother-in-law refused this duty, then the woman would often beat him and lash out at him in anger.