The connection that Choctaws, as Indigenous people,
have with our land has always been a very close one. The form of
agriculture that our ancestors developed, their methods of hunting
and gathering, and their practices of walking on footpaths and
traveling by streams in canoes, all made them intimately familiar
with every feature on the landscape of their Homeland. They
gave names to many of its places. The names that they chose
often literally describe a notable characteristic of a particular
spot, convey the type of natural resources to be found there, give
the specific use to which the land was put, or refer to a
historical event that took place there. Still today, ancient
Choctaw names dot the map in Mississippi, western Alabama, northern
Florida, and eastern Louisiana, even in spots that have had no
Choctaw settlements now for 200 years. These names, many of
them woven in to Choctaw oral traditions, continue to give us some
idea of the significance that these particular spots had to our
Beginning in the early 1830s, the Trail of Tears
forcibly separated many of our Choctaw ancestors from their sacred
Homeland and brought them to what is now southeastern
Oklahoma. Accounts written at the time period describe
weeping Choctaws touching the trees and telling them goodbye as
they set out on the Trail. Once in their new land, they
immediately began establishing connections with the landscape and
naming its features, just as they had done in Mississippi.
Many of these Oklahoma Choctaw place names are still the official
names used today. Those of us living here say some of these
names all the time, whether or not we even realize that when we do
we are speaking little bits of the Choctaw language that connect us
with a deep heritage on the land. What follows is a list of a few
of these places, with literal English translations of their Choctaw
names and when possible, brief histories of how they came to be so
The first Choctaw name that we must mention
is "Oklahoma" itself. Following the Civil War, delegates from
the 5 Civilized Tribes traveled to Washington D.C. to resume formal
relationships with the US government. During the meeting,
federal officials proposed the creation of an Indian
Territory. Choctaw delegate Rev. Allen Wright suggested
naming it "Oklahumma" (Meserve 1941:319). In the Choctaw
language "okla" means "people" and "humma" means "red". Thus,
the area would be named Oklahoma Territory, or literally "Territory
of the Red People". Today "The State of Oklahoma" literally
means "The state belonging to Red People".
This county derives its name from the
Choctaw or "Chahta" people. However, some disagreement exists
about how we came to be called "Chahta" in the first place.
According to some Choctaw oral traditions, "Chahta" was the name of
the man who led the Choctaw people to the Mississippi Homeland and
subsequently gave his name to the Tribe. Conversely, Henry
Halbert, an early scholar and fluent Choctaw speaker suggested that
the name may have come from the Choctaw term "hvcha hattak",
meaning "river people". He felt this referred to ancient
Choctaw towns located on the Tombigbee River in western
Alabama. Some anthropologists believe the name "Chahta" comes
from the Spanish word, "chato", meaning "flat". Early
Choctaws are known to have sometimes slightly flattened the top of
their children's heads for aesthetic and probably spiritual
reasons. In reality, the origin of the word "Choctaw" is an
important question for which a consensus may never be reached.
The name of Atoka County itself is Choctaw
in origin. The county was named after Capt. Atoka, a Choctaw
warrior who signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and was well
known for his prowess in stickball. His name probably came
from the word "Hitoka", or "Stickball-Playing Field" (Wright
1930:330). The Atoka Agreement was signed near to town of Atoka on
April 23, 1897. This agreement set up the dissolution of the
Choctaw Tribal government and the allotment of lands to Choctaw
families under the Dawes Commission.
South of the town of the town of Atoka on Hwy 69, is
the town of Tushka. Its name comes from the Choctaw word
"tvshka" or "warrior". Tushka is an old railroad town that
was originally called "Peck Switch". This name was shortened to
"Peck", and then changed to "Lewis". Later, the railroad
wanted to change the town's name to "Dayton", but the Post Office
Department argued that there were already too many towns named
Dayton, and so in 1909 a more unique Choctaw name "Tushka" was
chosen (Fugate and Fugate
In Bryan County, east of Durant, is the town
of Bokchito. This town's name, which can be translated as
"large stream", comes from the Choctaw words "bok", meaning "river"
or "stream", and "chito" meaning "big". The stream flowing
immediately east of the town has the same name. Armstrong
Academy, located a couple miles from the present town of Bokchito,
was opened in 1845. Its campus, renamed "Chahta Tamaha"
(meaning "Choctaw Town"), served as the capital of the Choctaw
Nation from 1863-1883 (Fugate and Fugate
Pushmataha County is named after one of the
most influential Choctaw Chiefs of all time. Coming from
Oklahannali, the southernmost of the three Choctaw Districts in
Mississippi, Pushmataha (1764? -1824) served as a District Chief
from 1800-1824. He helped the Choctaw Tribe becoming a strong
ally of the U.S., while opposing Removal. Pushmataha's name
probably comes from the Choctaw phrase "apushi mvt taha", meaning
literally "early childhood is gone". This name may have been
given because when asked of his ancestry, Pushmataha said he had no
parents, but simply came forth from a tree in a cloud of smoke when
lightening struck it.
Tuskahoma is a small town whose name comes from the
compounding of the Choctaw words "tvshka" meaning "warrior" and
"humma" meaning "red". Its name literally means "red
warrior". The town site has moved several times. One of
its earlier locations was around the Choctaw Council house built in 1884. Today this
building serves as the Tribal museum and the focal point of the
annual Choctaw Labor Day Festival.
Right: A pier stone foundation and bits of broken
porcelain are all that remain of this 1880's log structure that
stood at the old town of Tuskahoma.
Nanih Waiya Lake is located just west of Tuskahoma
on Hwy. 271. In the Choctaw language "Nvnih Waiya" means
"bending / leaning hill". The lake is named after the old
town of Nanih Waiya, which was located nearby. Nanih Waiya
served as the Capitol of the Choctaw Nation from 1834-1850.
This town itself was named after Nvnih Waiya, MS, described as the
birthplace of the Choctaw people in oral history.
About 9 miles south of the Tuskahoma Council House is
the town of Nashoba. Its name means, "wolf" in the Choctaw
language. The town derives its name from a no-longer existent
county that was a part of Choctaw Nation before statehood.
This county was itself named after Neshoba County, MS, where many
of the area's inhabitants had lived before the Trail of Tears
The town of Kosoma is located about 7 miles north of
Antlers. Its name means "acrid-smelling" in the Choctaw
language. Some hypothesize that this name may have been given
as the result of the town being located near a swamp, or because it
was located in goat-ranching country.
Bokhoma is located in the southeastern part
of the county. Its name translates as "red river", coming
from a combination of the Choctaw words "bok" or "stream" and
"humma", or red. The town of Idabel originally had the same
The community of Lukfata is located just west of
Broken Bow. Its name is created from a combination of the
Choctaw words "lukfi" or "dirt" and "hvta" meaning
"light-colored". Some local resident translate its name as
"white clay". A stream located nearby has the same
Panki Bok, is an old Choctaw town located
southeast of Eagle Town. Its name, meaning "grape stream",
probably suggests one of the types of food that could be gathered
on its banks.
Three miles south of Smithville is the town of
Nani-chito. Its name may come from the Choctaw phrase "nvnih
chito", meaning "big hill".
Alikchi, located is located northwest of Wright City.
The town's name is the Choctaw word for "doctor". It was so
named due to its close proximity to a sulfur spring that was used
for medicine by Choctaw people (Shirk 1987: 7).
Kullituklo, is located southeast of
Idabel. Its name may be translated as "two springs",
deriving from the Choctaw words "kulli" meaning "spring" and
"tuklo" meaning "two".
Several streams in McCurtain County have Choctaw
names. The Yalobasha River gets its name from the Choctaw
words "yalubba", meaning "tadpoles" and "asha" meaning
"reside". It's name, translated into English as "tadpoles are
in it", strongly suggests a type of wildlife that was / is common
in its waters. The name of Bok Tuklo Creek may be translated
as "two streams creek". The name for Yanabi Creek may derive from
"iyanabi" the Choctaw name for the ironwood tree, or it may be a
compound of the Choctaw words "yvnnvsh" and "vbi", meaning "buffalo
Talihina was founded as a railroad town, and
it derives its name from the Choctaw words "tvli" meaning rock or
metal and "hina" meaning road. When combined, these words are
translated as "railroad". The first Talihina Indian Hospital
was built by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in 1917.
Skullyville is located north of Poteau and was one of
the first Choctaw towns established in Oklahoma. Its cemetery
is the resting place for a number of Choctaw Trail of Tears
survivors. The Choctaw Agency was located in
Skullyville. "Skully" comes from the Choctaw word "iskulli"
meaning "money" (This was itself borrowed from a Spanish word for a
type of coin "scallon"). The town's name literally means
"Moneyville". This was given because it was here that Choctaw
residents of the Mosholatubbee District received annuities from the
Agency (Wright 1930:318).
Pocola is located north of Poteau. Its name is
a corruption of the Choctaw word "pokoli" meaning ten. It was
thus named because the town is roughly 10 miles southwest from the
old part of Fort Smith.
Bokoshe is located in the western part of the
county. Its name comes from the Choctaw words "bok" meaning
"stream" and "ushi" meaning "little". It may be translated as
"creek" or "little creek".
Tamaha, located northeast of Stigler and
immediately south of the Canadian River, was a site of a Choctaw
settlement in the 1830s. Originally called "Pleasant Bluff",
it was re-named Tamaha in 1884, after the Choctaw word "tvmaha",
meaning town. Interestingly, the adjacent section of the
Canadian River is the site of the furthest inland naval battle of
the Civil War. Here on June 15, 1864 Cherokee Confederate
General Stand Watie captured the union Boat J.R. Williams (Fugate
and Fugate 1991:71).
Kinta, is a railroad town located in the southern
part of the county, founded during the era of Chief Green
McCurtain. Its name translates as "beaver".
Yanush is located approximately 5 miles northwest of
Tuskahoma Council House. Its name comes from the Choctaw word
"yvnnvsh", meaning buffalo. It is likely that buffalo could
be found in the area when Choctaw settlers first arrived.
Panola, located east of Wilburton, derives its name
from the Choctaw word "pinola", meaning cotton.
The Choctaw-named places we've just described are
only a few of many in southeastern Oklahoma. In traditional
Choctaw thought, a certain amount of power exists in being able to
name someone or something. These Choctaw names have the power
of permanently tying the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to the
landscape of Oklahoma. If we think of the literal meaning of
their Choctaw names the next time we speak of these places or visit
them, the names will also help connect us with our ancestors and
the special relationship that they had with the very land that we
Fugate, Francis L., and Roberta B. Fugate
1991 Roadside History of Oklahoma.
Mountain Press Publishing Company,
Meserve, John Bartlett
Allen Wright Chronicles of Oklahoma 19(4):314-32.
1987 Oklahoma Place Names. University of Oklahoma
Organization of Counties in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations
Chronicles of Oklahoma 8(3):315-334.