James Pickett: HISTORY
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)
THE CHOCTAWS AND CHICKASAWS.
Period unknown: The Choctaws and Chickasaws descended from a people called the Chickemicaws, who were among the first inhabitants of the Mexican empire. At an ancient peorid they began to wander towards the east, in company with the Choctacomaws. After a time they reached the Mississippi river and crossed it, arriving in this country with an aggregate force of ten thousand warriors. The Choccomaws established themselves upon the head-waters of the Yazoo, the Chickasaws upon the northwestern sources of the Tombigebee, and the Choctaws upon the territory that now embraced in southern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama. They thus gradually became three distinct tribes; but the Chickasaws and Choccomaws were generally known by the name of the former, while the Choctaws spoke the same language, with the exception of a difference produced by the intonation of the voice. *
* Adair's American Indians, pp. 5, 66, 352.
Upon the first settlement of Mobile by the French, they found that the Choctaws and the remnant of the Mobilians employed the same language. Indeed, we have seen that the Mobilian Chief, in 1540, had a name which was derived from two well-known Choctaw words--Tusca, warrior, and lusa, black. The Indians who fought De Soto at Cabusto, upon the Warrior, and who extended their lines six miles up and down its western banks to oppose his crossing, were the Pafallayas. They are believed to have been no other people than the Choctaws. There is a word in the language of the latter called fallaya, long.* 1541: It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader that the Chickasaws were living in the upper part of Mississippi when DeSoto invaded it, and that they fought him with great courage. Now, as to the Choctaws, according to tradition, came with them into this country, and were a portion of the same family; it is reasonble to suppose that the Pafallayas, the brave allies of Tuscaloosa, were the Choctaws-- especially when taken in connection with the collateral evidence in our possession. Period unknown: The tradition of the migration of the Chickasaws and Choctaws from the Mexican empire has been preserved by the former alone: while the latter, with few exceptions, have lost it. On the road leading from St. Stephens, in Alabama, to the city of Jackson, Mississippi, was, some years ago, a large mound, embracing at the base about two acres, and rising about forty feet high in a conical form, and enclosed by a ditch encompassing twenty acres. On the top of it was a deep hole, ten feet in circumstances, out of which the ignorant portion of the Choctaws believed that their ancestors once sprung as thick as bees, peopling the whole of that part of the country. They had great regard for this artificial elevation, and called it Nannawyah, the signification of which is nanna, hill, and wyah, mother. When hunting near this mound they were accustomed to throw into the hole the leg of a deer, thus feeding their mother. One day, in 1810, Mr. Geo. S. Gaines, the United States Choctaw Factor in going to the Agency, rode up on this mound, which lay near the road. Presently a good many warriors passed by, and, after he had satisfied his curiosity, he rode on and over took them. The Chief, who was no less a personage than the celebrated Pushmatahaw, with a smile full of meaning and mischief, said: "Well, Mr. 'Gainis,' I suppose you have been to pay our mother a visit; and what did she say?" "Your mother," said the Factor, "observed that her children were poor, had become too numerous to inhabit the country they were then occupying, and desired very much that they would sell their lands to the United States, and move west of the Mississippi, to better and more extensive hunting grounds." ** The old Chief laughed immoderately, vociferating, "Holauba! holauba! feenah. (It's a lie, it's a lie, it's a real lie.) Our good mother never could have made such remarks." On the journey he conversed much with Mr. Gaines upon the Indian traditions, and said that the true account was that his ancestors came from the west .***
* Transactions of the American Antiquarian Society,
vol. 2, p. 105. (A paper read before the society
by Albert Gallatin.)
** It was the policy of all the Indian Agents to encourage the emigration of the Indians further west and they never let an opportunity slip of alluding to it.
*** Conversations with Mr. George S. Gaines. See, also, Barnard Roman's Florida, pp. 71-90.
In 1771, the population of the Choctaw nation was considerable. Two thousand three hundred warriors were upon the superintendent's books at Mobile, while two thousand more were scattered over the country, engaged in hunting. At that period Capt. Roman passed through seventy of their towns.* The eastern district of the nation was known as Oy-pat-oo-coo-la, or the small nation. The western was called Oo-coo-la, Falaya. Oo-coola, Hanete and Chickasaha.
* Roman, pp. 70-90.
1745: These people were more slender in their forms than other tribes. The men were raw-boned and astonishingly active. None could excel them in the ball play, or run as fast upon level ground.* Both sexes were well made, and the features of the females were lively and agreeable. They had the habit of inscribing their faces and bodies with a blue indelible ink, which appears to have been the practice of all the tribes to which it has been our province to allude. The Choctaws formed the heads of the infants into different shapes by compression, but it was chiefly applied to the forehead, and hence they were called by traders "flat heads." The infant was placed in a cradle, with his feet elevated twelve inches above a horizontal position, while his head was bent back and rested in a hole made for the purpose. A small bag of sand was fixed upon the forehead, and as the little fellow could not move, the shape required was soon attained, for at that age the skull is capable of receiving any impression.**
** Adair, pp. 8-9.
The dress of the male Choctaw was similar to that of the Creeks, and was infuenced in its style by his wealth or poverty. But they all wore the buck-she-ah-ma, flap, made of woolen cloth or buckskin. The female had usually only a petticoat reaching from the waist to the knees, while some of the richer classes wore a covering also upon the neck and shoulder, and little bells fastened to a buckskin garter, which clasped the leg just below the knee. They wore ornaments in their ears, noses and around the fingers, like the Creeks. 1759: They were not cleanly in their persons like the Creeks, who were eternally engaged in bathing; but, strange to relate of Indians, very few of the Choctaws could swim, a fact recorded by all early travellers among them. As they seldom bathed, the smoke of their lightwood fires made their bodies assume a soot color. 1780: Peculiarly fond of the taste of horse flesh, they preferred it to beef, even if the animal had died a natural death; and it was not uncommon for them to devour snakes when hard pressed for food.*** Yet, notwithstanding, they were, upon the whole, very agreeable Indians, being invariably cheerful, witty and cunning. The men, too, unlike the proud Chiefs of other nations, helped the women to work, and did not consider it a degradation to hire themselves for that purpose to their constant friends, the French, and afterwards to the English.**** 1771: No Indians, moreover, excelled them in hospitality, which they exhibited particularly in their hunting camps, where all travelers and visitors were received and entertained with a hearty welcome. In regard to their habits in the chase, it may here be observed, that they excelled in killing bears, wild-cats and panthers, pursuing them through the immense cane swamps with which their country abounded; but that the Creeks and Chickasaws were superior to them in overcoming the fleet deer. While hunting, the liver of the game was divided into as many pieces as there were campfires, and was carried around by a boy, who threw a piece into each fire, intended, it would seem, as a kind of sacrifice.
* Bossu's Travels, p.
** Milfort, p. 290; Adair, p. 133.
*** Roman, pp. 71-90.
1745: The Choctaws were superior orators. They spoke with good sense, and used the most beautiful metaphors. They had the power of changing the same words into different significations, and even their common speech was full of these changes. Their orations were concise, strong and full of fire.* Excessive debauchery, and a constant practice of begging, constituted their most glaring faults; and it was amusing to witness the many ingenious devices and shifts to which they resorted to obtain presents.
* Adair, p. 11.
Timid in war against an enemy abroad, they fought like desparate veterans when attacked at home. On account of their repugnance to invading the country of an enemy, in which they were unlike the Creeks and Chickasaws, they were often taunted by these latter nations with cowardice. Frequently, exasperated by these asperations, they would boldly challenge the culminiators to mortal combat upon an open field. But the latter, feigning to believe that true Indian courage consisted in slyness and stratagem, rarely accepted the nanter. However, in 1765, an opportunity offered in all the streets of Mobile, where Hoopa, at the head of forty Choctaws, fell upon three hundred Creeks, and routed and drove them across the river, into the marsh. Hooma alone killed fifteen of them, and was then dispatched himself, by a retreating Creek. They were pursued no further, because the Choctaws could not swim.
They did not torture a prisoner, in a protracted manner, like other tribes. He was brought home, despatched with a bullet or hatchet, and cut up, and the parts burned. The scalp was suspended from the hot-house, around which the women danced until they were tired. They were more to be relied upon as allies than most other American Indians. The Creeks were their greatest enemies. In August 1765, a war began between them, and raged severely for six years. * Artful in deceiving an enemy, they attached the paws or trotters of panthers, bears and buffaloes to their own feet and hands, and wound about the woods, imitating the circlings of those animals. Sometimes a large bush was carried by the front warrior, concealing himself and those behind him, while the one in the extreme rear defaced all the tracks with grass. Most excellent trackers themselves, they well understood how to deceive the enemy, which they, also, effected by astonishing powers in imitationg every fowl and quadraped. Their leader could never directly assume the command, but had, rather, to conduct his operations by persuasion. **
* Roman, pp. 70-91.
** Adair, p. 309--Bossu, p. 297.
1771, 1745, 1759: Gambling was a common vice, and even boys engaged in it by shooting at marks for a wager. In addition to the great ball play, which was conducted like that of the Creeks, already described, they had an exciting game called CHUNKE, or, by some of the traders, "running hard labor." An alley was made, two hundred feet long, with a hard clay surface, which was kept swept clean. Two men entered upon it to play. They stood six yards from the upper end, each with a pole twelve feet long, smooth, and tapering at the end, each with the points flat. One of them took a stone in the shape of a grind-stone, which was two spans round, and two inches thick on the edges. He gave it a powerful hurl down the alley, when both set off after it, and running a few yards, the one who did not roll, cast his pole, which annointed with bear's oil, with a true aim at the stone in its flight. The other player, to defeat his object, immediately darted his pole, aiming to hit the pole of his antagonist. If the first one hit the stone he counted one, and if the other, by the dexterity of his cast, hit his pole and knocked it from its proper direction, he also counted one. If both of the players missed, the throw was renewed. Eleven was the game, and the winner had the privilege of casting the stone. In this manner the greater part of the day was passed, at half speed; the players and bystanders staking their ornaments, wearing apparel, skins, pipes and arms upon the result. Sometimes, after a fellow had lost all, he went home, borrowed a gun, and shot himself. The women, also, had a game with sticks and balls, something like the game of battledoor.*
* Roman, pp. 70-91. Adair, p. 402. Bossu, p. 306.
1782, 1771, 1745, 1759: The funeral ceremonies of the Choctaws were singular, and, indeed, horrible, but like those of nearly all the aborigines at the time of the invasion of De Soto. As soon as the breath departed from the body of a Choctaw, a high scaffold was erected, thirty-six feet from the dwelling where the deceased died. It consisted of four forks set in the ground, across which poles were laid, and then a floor made of boards or cypress bark. It was stockaded with poles, to prevent the admission of beasts of prey. The posts of the scaffold were painted with a mixture of vermillion and bear's oil, if the deceased wqas an Indian of note. The body, enveloped in a large bear skin, was hauled up on the scaffold by ropes or vines, and laid out at length. The relations assembled, and wept and howled with mournful voices, asking strange questions of the corpse, accroding to the sex to which it belonged.
"Why did you leave us?"
"Did your wife not 1771 serve you well?"
"Were you not contented with your children?"
"Did you not have corn enough? "
" Did not your land produce? "
" Were you afraid of your enemies?"
To increase the solemnity and importance of a noted Indian, persons were hired to cry, the males having their heads hung with black moss, and the females suffering their hair to flow loosely to the winds. These women came at all hours, for several weeks, to mourn around the scaffold; and, on acoount of the horrid stench, frequently fainted and had to be borne away. When the body had thus lain for three or four months, the Bone-Picker made his appearance. In 1772 there were five of these hideous undertakers in the Choctaw nation, who traveled about in search of scaffolds and the horrible work which will be described. The Bone-Picker apprised the relatives of the deceased that the time had arrived when dissection should take place. Upon the day which he had appointed, the relatives, friends, and others hired to assist in the mourning, surrounded the scaffold. 1745 / 1771 / 1782 / 1777: The Bone-Picker mounted upon it, with horrid grimaces and groans, took off the skin, and commenced his disgusting work. He had very long and hard nails growing on the thumb, fore and middle fingers of each hand. He tore off the flesh with his nails, and tied it up in a bundle. He cleaned the bones, and also tied up the scrapings. Leaving the latter on a scaffold, he descended with the bones upon his head. All this time the assembly moaned and howled most artfully. They then painted the head with vermilion, which, together with the bones was placed in a nice box with a loose lid. If the bones were those of a Chief, the coffin also was painted red. Next, fire was applied to the scaffold, around which the assembly danced and frightfully whooped until it was consumed by the flames. Then a long procession was formed and the bones were carried, amid weeping and moaning to the bone-house, of which every town of importnace had several. Theses houses were made by four pitchpine posts being placed in the gound, upon the top of the scaffold floor. On this a steep roof was erected, like that of some modern houses, with the gables left open. There the box was deposited with other boxes containing bones. In the meantime a great feast had been prepared, and sometimes three horses were cooked up, if the deceased was wealthy. But the infernal Bone-Picker still was master of ceremonies, and having only wiped his filthy, bloody hands with grass, served out the food to the whole assembly.*
* Adair, pp. 138-188. Roman, pp. 71-90. Milfort, pp. 293-298.
When the bone-house was full of chests, a general interment took place. The people assembled, bore off the chests in procession to a plain, with weeping, howling and ejaculations of Allelujah! Allelujah! The chests containing the bones were arranged upon the ground in order, forming a pyramid. Then they covered all with earth, which raised a conical mound. Then returning home, the day was concluded with a feast.*
* Bartram, pp. 514-515.
1745: The Choctaws entertained a great veneration for their medicine men or doctors, who practiced upon them constant frauds. Their fees were exorbitant, and required to be satisfied in advance. 1771: When a doctor had attended a patient a long time, and the latter had nothing more to give as payment, he usually assembled the relations in private, informed them that he had done all in his power, and had exhausted his skill in endeavoring to restore their friend; that he would surely die, and it was best to terminate his sufferings. 1777: Reposing the blindest confidence in this inhuman declaration, two of them then jumped upon the poor fellow and strangled him. In 1782, one of these doctors thus began to consult with the relations upon the case of a poor fellow. While they were out of the house, he suspected their intentions, and making an unnatural effort, crawled to the woods which fortunately were near the house. It was night, and he succeeded in getting beyond their reach. The doctor persuaded them that he was certainly dead, and they erected a scaffold as though he were upon it and wept around it. Fortunately, laying his hands upon an oppossum, the poor fellow eat of it from time to time, and gained strength, now that he had escaped the clutches of the doctor, who had nearly smokedf and bled him into another world. At length, after much suffering, compassion of Colonel McGillivray, who had him restored to health by proper attention. Again going back to his nation, at the expiration of three months, he arrived at the house from which he had escaped, at the very time that the people were celebrating his funeral by burning the scaffold and dancing around it. His sudden appearnace filled them with horror and dismay. Some fled to the woods, others fell upon the ground. Alarmed himself, he retreated to the house of a neighbor, who instantly fell on his face, saying, "Why have you left the land of spirirts if you were happy there? Why do you return among us? Is it to assist in the last feast which your family and your friends make for you? Go, return to the land of the dead for fear of renewing the sorrow which they have felt at your loss!" 1782: Shunned by all his people, the poor Choctaw went back to the Creek nation, married a Tuskegee woman, and lived in that town the balance of his life. Before his door lay the four French cannon of old Fort Toulouse. When the Choctaws had become satisfied that he did not die, and was really alive, they killed the doctor who had deceived them. They often entreated the fellow to return home, but he preferred to remain among a people who would not strangle him when he was sick.*
* Milfort, pp. 298-304.
The Choctaws had no other religion than that which attached to their funeral rites. The French, to whom they were warmly attached, sought in vain to convert them to Christianity. At Chickasaha, they erected a chapel and gave the control of it to a Jesuit missionary. When the English took possession of this country, the Chocktaws of that place would, for the amusement of their new friends, enter the old chapel, and go through the Catholic ceremonies, mimicing the priest with surprising powers. In 1771, Capt. Roman saw the lightwood cross still standing, but the chapel had been destroyed.
1771: The Chickasaws, although at the period of a small nation, were once numerous, and their language was spoken by many tribes in the Western States. They were the fiercest, most insolent, haughty and cruel people among the Southern Indians. They had proved their bravery and intrepidity in constant wars. In 1541, they attacked the camp of De Soto in a most furious midnight assault, threw his army into dismay, killed some of his soldiers, destroyed all his baggage, and burnt up the town in which he was quartered. In 1736, they whipped the French under Bienville, who had invaded their country, and forced them to retreat to Mobile. In 1753, MM. Bevist and Regio encountered defeat at their hands. They continually attacked the boats of the French voyagers upon the Mississippi and Tennessee. They were constantly at war with the Kickapoos and other tribes upon the Ohio, but were defeated in most of these engagements. But, with the English as their allies, they were eminently successful against the Choctaws and Creeks, with whom they were often at variance.
The Chickasaws were great robbers, and, like the Creeks, often invaded a country, killing the inhabitants and carrying off slaves and plunder. The men considered the cultivation of the earth beneath them; and, when not engaged in hunting or warfare, slept away their time or played upon flutes, while their women were at work. They were athletic, well-formed and graceful. The women were cleanly, industrious, and generally good-looking.
In 1771, they lived in the centre of a large and gently rolling prairie, three miles square. They obtained their water from holes, which dried up in summer. In this prairie was an assemblage of houses one mile and a half long, very narrow, and irregular, which was divided into seven towns, as follows:
Mellattau--hat and feather.
Tuckahaw--a certain weed.
1771: The last was once well fortified with palisades, and there they defeated D'Artaguette. The nearest running water was two miles distant; the next was four miles off, to which point canoes could ascend from the Tombigby in high tide. The ford, which often proved difficult of crossing, was called Nahoola Inalchubba--the white man's hard labor. Horses and cattle increased rapidly in this country. The breed of the former descended from importations from Arabia to Spain, from Spain to Mexico, and from thence to the Chickasaw nation. Here they ran wild in immense droves, galloping over the beautiful prairies, the sun glittering upon their various colors. They were owned by the Indians and traders.
The Chickasaws were very imperious in their carriage towards females, and extremely jealous of their wives. Like the Creeks, they punished adultery by beating with poles until the sufferer was senseless, and then concluded by cropping the ears, and, for the second offence, the nose or a piece of the upper lip. Notwithstanding they resided so far from large streams, they were all excellent swimmers, and their children were taught that art in clay holes and pools, which remained filled with water unless the summer was remarkably dry.
1782, 1745, 1759: Of all the Indians in America, they were the most expert in tracking. They would follow their flying enemy on a long gallop over any kind of ground without mistaking, where perhaps only a blade of grass bent down told the footprint. Again, when they were leisurely hunting over the woods, and came upon an indistinct trail recently made by Indians, they knew at once of what nation they were by the footprints, the hatchet chops upon the trees, their camp-fires, and other distinguishing marks. They were also esteemed to be admirable hunters, and their extensive plains and unbroken forests afforded them the widest field for the display of their skill. In 1771 their grounds extended from Middle Mississippi to the mouth of the Ohio, and some distance into the territory of the present State of Tennessee. But this extreme northern ground they visited with caution, and only in the winter, when their northern enemies were close at home. They were often surprised on the sources of theYazoo, but below there, and as far east as the branches of the Tombigby to Oaktibbehaw they hunted undisturbed. This last point they regarded as the boundary between them and the Choctaws. With the latter they had no jealousies in regard to the chase, and they sported upon each others' grounds when not at war. Although the country of the Chickasaws abounded with that valuable animal, the beaver, they left them for the traders to capture, saying, "Anybody can kill a beaver." They pursued the more noble and difficult sport of overcoming the fleet deer, and the equally swift and more formidable elk.
The summer habitations of the Chickasaws were cabins of an oblong shape, near which were corn-houses. In the yard stood also a winter house of a circular form. Having no chimneys, the smoke found its way out of this "hot-house" wherever it could. These they entered and slept all night, stifled with smoke, and, no matter how cold the morning, they came forth naked and sweating as soon as the day dawned. These houses were used by the sick also, who, remaining in them until perspiration ensued, jumped suddenly into holes of cold water.
1771: They dried and pounded their corn before it came to maturity, which they called Boota-capassa--coal flour. A small quantity of this thrown into water swelled immediately, and made a fine beverage. They used hickory nut and bear's oil, and the traders learned them to make the hams of the bear into bacon. In 1771 the whole number of gunmen in the Chickasaw nation only amounted to about two hundred and fifty. It is astonishing what a handful of warriors had so long kept neighboring nations of great strength from destroying them. They buried their dead the moment vitality ceased, in the very spot where the bed stood upon which the deceased lay, and the nearest relatives mourned over it with woeful lamentations. This mourning continued for twelve moons, the women practising it openly and vociferously, and the men silently. *
* Barnard Roman's Florida, pp. 59-71.
Sept. 20 1771: The modern reader may form some idea of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, as they once existed, by briefly tracing the route of Captain Roman through their country. He began his tour at Mobile, encamped at Spring Hill, passed the head waters of Dog river, and again encamped at Bouge Hooma--red creek--the boundary between the English and the Choctaws. Pursuing his journey, the camp was pitched at Hoopa Ulla--noisy owl--where he saw the Creek painting described upon page 95. Sept. 30 1771: Then passing Okee Ulla--noisy water-- and the towns of Coosa, Haanka Ulla--howling goose--he crossed a branch of the Sookhan-Hatcha river. Oct.5, 1771: He reached a deserted town called Etuck Chukke--blue wood--passed through Abecka, an inhabited town, and there crossed another branch of the Sookhan-Hatcha, and arrived at Ebeetap Oocoola, where the Choctaws had erected a large stockade fort. Oct. 23 1771: A southwestern direction was now assumed, and Captain Roman passed through the following towns:
Chooka, Hoola, Oka Hoola, Hoola Taffa, Ebeetap Ocoola Cho, Oka Attakkala, and crossing Bouge Fooka and Bouge Chitto, which runs into Bouge Aithe Tanne, arrived at the house of Benjamin James, at Chickasaha.
Nov. 10 1771: He set out from this place for the Chickasaw nation, and crossed only two streams of importance--Nashooba and Oktibbehaw. Without accident he arrived at the Chickasaw towns [already] enumerated, and lying within a few miles of Pontitoc. Dec. 8 1771: He proceeded east-by-south five miles and crossed Nahoola-Inal-chubba--town creek--and then assumed a southeast direction, and arrived at the Twenty-mile creek, a large branch of the Tombigby. At the mouth of Nahoola-Inalchubba, Captain Roman found a large canoe, in which he and his companions embarked and proceeded down the Tombigby. One mile below, on the west bank, they passed a bluff on which the French formerly had a fortified trading post. Dec 26 1771: Captain Roman next saw the mouth of the Oktibbehaw, the dividing line between the two nations, and passed the mouth of the Nasheba, on the east. Jan 5-7 1772: Floating with rapidity down the river, he next came to the Noxshubby, on the west side, and then to the mouth a creek called Etomba-Igaby--box maker's creek--where the French had a fort.* From this creek, the name of which has been corrupted by the French to "Tombeckbe," and by the Americans to "Tombigby," the river takes its name. Upon it lived an Indian who made chests to hold the bones of the Choctaws.
* Now Jones' Bluff.
Jan. 10 1772: Roman came to the confluence of the Tombigby and Warrior, and, a little below, passed some steep chalky bluffs, which the traders called the Chickasaw Gallery, because from this point they were accustomed to shoot at the French boats. On the top of this bluff was a vast plain, with some remains of huts standing upon it.* Three miles below the mouth of the Soukan-Hatcha, Roman came upon the old towns of the Coosawdas and Oahchois, commencing at Sactaloosa--black bluff--and extending from thence down the river for some distance.** Jan. 13 1772: Next, passing a high bluff called Nanna Fallaya, he reached Batcha Chooka, a bluff on the east side, where he encountered a desperate band of thieves, belonging to the town of Okaloosa, of the Choctaws. He then came to some bluffs called Nanna Chahaws, where a gray fiat rock, called Teeakhaily Ekutapa, rises out of the water. Jan. 20 1772: Here the people of Chickasaha once had a settlement. Lower down, the party saw a bluff upon the east side, called Yagna Hoolah--beloved ground--and encamped at the mouth of Sintabouge--snake creek--three miles below which was the English line separating them from the the Choctaws. Having entered the British settlements, Captain Roman continued his voyage until he reached Mobile.***
* Now the site of Demopolis
** Some of the Alabamas living at the town of that name below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, and some Creeks of the town of Oakchoy, to be nearer the French, who were their friends, moved upon the main Tombigby, and the deserted towns which Romans mentions were those in which they had formerly lived
*** Roman's Florida
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