John McLish was born in 1780 to a white interpreter for the Chickasaw Nation and a Chickasaw mother. In 1826, McLish became secretary of the Chickasaw Nation. He held this position until his death in 1838.
McLish had a professional relationship with U.S. President Andrew Jackson during his life. Jackson used his relationship with McLish to convince the Chickasaw tribe to give up their lands in a peaceful manner, and eventually reside in Oklahoma. McLish was one of a few Chickasaws who visited and surveyed Indian lands offered to the tribe in exchange for their homelands.
McLish kept records, which were eventually used as proof of fraud against some of the authorities that moved the Chickasaws to Indian Territory.