Press Release

Release Date: May 09, 2017

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office



  • Dr. Tom Cowger

  • Mitch Caver

James Thomas Flexner’s book “The Indispensable Man,” chronicles the unparalleled importance of George Washington to America’s founding. As East Central University’s Dr. Tom Cowger’s new co-authored book reveals; that era also produced the Chickasaw Nation’s own indispensable man in Piominko.

“Piominko: Chickasaw Leader,” reveals what few historians, if any, realized before: the great visionary Chickasaw tribal leader, Piominko, and President Washington, forged a critically important friendship that endured till their dying breaths.

The book explores their friendship as well as Piominko’s dogged determination to defend his tribe’s sovereignty, a legacy whose echoes reverberate to this very day.

Dr. Cowger’s interest was piqued in 2013 as he and some East Central students traveled to Mississippi to explore the original Chickasaw homelands. It was there he became more fully aware of Piominko’s importance and was stunned to learn no one had ever written a biography about this pivotal leader’s influence over his own nation and that of the still fledgling United States.

“We were touring the homeland and, in particular, visiting lots of Chickasaw sites,” Dr. Cowger said. “A lot of the different places they took us to were places where Piominko had lived. I was visiting with Dr. Brad Lieb, Chickasaw Nation archaeologist, who led the tour and asked him for more details about Piominko and if a book had ever been written about him.”

As it turned out, a Tupelo, Mississippi, area resident had already been collecting information on the subject. “I found out Mitch Caver, who has also been long active in Chickasaw research, had been collecting material on Piominko for years,” he said.

The two decided to work together on the project. “Mitch is a tireless researcher and he will leave no stone unturned,” Dr. Cowger said about his collaborator and co-author. “We constantly bounced ideas off each other. Not only did that collaboration produce a book, but a terrific friendship as well.”

“I was always interested in people that were not common in Mississippi history and Piominko was one of them,” Mr. Caver said. “The first thing I ran across were moccasins in the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, that were a gift from him to Gen. James Robertson. When I ran into Dr. Cowger, I had some photographs of these moccasins and that piqued his interest as well.”

Much of Mr. Caver’s 10-year search for Piominko references came from late 18th century newspapers. The media of that day in towns from Mississippi to Pennsylvania read like a travel log of his 1794 trek to visit George Washington’s Philadelphia home where the two leaders dined.

“Every time his name appeared in those newspapers, he was referred to as ‘The great Piominko,’ or ‘Our ally, Piominko.’ It was always in fondness and appreciation for him,” Mr. Caver said. “He was very well known among Americans in the New England area as well as in England.”

Dr. Cowger said it would be difficult to overstate the importance of Piominko’s legacy. “He’s a person that, in his lifetime was well-known by American officials. All across our newly created country, people respected him for his commitment to America.”

Piominko’s decision to side with America was not always popular with other tribes and sometimes even questioned by his own tribal members. “A lot of tribes were partnering with Spain. Piominko made a conscious decision at one point that he was going to ally himself with the United States.”

Because of his unwillingness to side with Spain, Dr. Cowger said Alexander McGillivray and his Creek Confederacy members tried several times to kill Piominko. “If they could have killed him, they would have killed him,” he said. “He survived those attempts and continued to maintain that the best course of action for him and the Chickasaw Nation was with the United States and his friendship with George Washington.”

Dr. Cowger said Piominko was actually a title, not the great leader’s given name. “We know he’s called that because the Europeans who kept records heard that title and assumed it was a name. They spelled it a variety of different ways. The closest linguists in the Chickasaw Nation can get is that the title probably references something along the lines of an oracle or a visionary. It could have been as a diplomat, as a warrior or as a peace leader,” he said.

“I have great admiration for both Washington and Piominko because they were people of their word. If they said something, they were going to do it. They were people of real integrity and that meant something to them.

“In the course of the history of all people, sometimes there are only a handful that distinguish themselves enough to be leaders without any kind of equals. I put Piominko in that class. He is a once in several centuries’ type of Chickasaw leader and Native leader in general. I think Gov. Anoatubby is a very similar kind of visionary. Look at where the Chickasaw Nation was 30 years ago and the direction it is going. I think they are once in several lifetimes kinds of leaders. Both have protected Chickasaw sovereignty and advanced Chickasaw interests for the betterment of the Chickasaw Nation and those around them.”

No one is certain when Piominko died, but informed speculation puts it circa 1799. If so, it was the same year George Washington died, making a fitting end of an era for these two titan leaders of their respective sovereign nations.

“Piominko: Chickasaw Leader” will be released May 11 at Chickasaw Press, 1315 Hoppe Blvd., Ada. The book may also be purchased online at chickasawpress.com and amazon.com.

Last Updated: 09/16/2016