John R. Swanton
The accompanying narrative constitutes something more than a new body of material bearing on the ceremonies of one of our most important tribes, something more than an intimate and unexpected intromission into the atmosphere and spirit of an American epoch. It is both of these but sublimated in its introduction to us through the poetic and dramatic mind of one of our early American geniuses whose name is almost a household word with those who share our tongue. It is as if personal notes of Homer had suddenly come to light describing some festival to Zeus with all of its colorful background, the abounding human life of the time, and some of the all too abounding human sordidness. We have here a description of one of the greatest aboriginal festivals preserved in the eastern part of our country and descended directly from mound builder days, but surrounded with moral miasma exuded by contact with that scum of humanity which accumulated only too frequently on the forefront of white immigration. On the one hand there is the earnestness, the solemnity, and the native piety of men on one of the simpler levels of culture reaching out to place themselves in contact with the mystery within the cosmos. On the other the coarseness and animality of men wholly without faith whose only interest in the world about them was in what, by force or fraud, they could extract from it. These vivid contrasts are pictured for us by the hand of a master artist. What singular good fortune is ours to have such an interpreter as John Howard Payne! And, incidentally, by what curious conjuncture of circumstances did there arise a moment's romance involving the daughter of the famous war speaker of the Creeks, Hobohithli Yahola (Apotheola), and the author of Home Sweet Home"?
Besides its historical interest this letter gives us some entirely new information regarding the busk, the great annual Creek ceremonial. We have more descriptions of this
ritual as it was performed in the town of Tukabahchee where Payne saw it than in any other place, yet he includes details which are missing from nearly all of them. Among these is the fact that earthen pots to be used in this ceremony were made every year and that the order for them was given out at one stomp dance and the order to weave new mats given out at the next. Another is the circumstance that at every annual festival the sacred square was strewn with soil yet untrodden. Another is the claim that the "feather dance" was intended "to immortalize triumphs won at ball-plays." His explanation of the animal dances as containing allusions to conquests over wild animals is somewhat doubtful, but references to the ceremonial scarification of youths indicates that more ritual was connected with it than has been supposed. The rites performed over ears of corn as reported by him are also different from any elsewhere noted but he did not see these himself and may not have understood his informants fully. Finally, the description he gives of the gun dance is one of the best so far known though it contains nothing new except in certain detail.
In order to understand our author's narrative something should be said regarding the form of the busk ceremonial in this town. It extended over eight days and like most eight day bucks was divided into two parts of four days each in which the same ceremonies were repeated though with certain variations. The principal events taking places on these days were: on (1) gathering of the people about the square ground, (2) the women's first dance, (3) lighting of the new fire and first fast day, (4) the gun dance, (5) a hunting interval, (6) the women's second dance, (7) the second fast day, (8) final address by the chief and dispersal. There is reason to think that the first period was concerned with rites regarding vegetable food, though specifically corn, and the second period with rites regarding animal food and perhaps also fish food. Payne arrived on the scene just too late to witness the women's first dance but viewed the events of day 3 and remained until after the women's second dance on day 6. He left just before the concluding fast. The only noteworthy difference between the order observed by him in 1835 and
that maintained until recently in Oklahoma was the fact that the brass and copper plates, for which Tukabahchee was especially noted, were apparently brought out on the fourth day instead of the third. Payne actually saw only two of these famous objects about which great mystery has been made both by the Creeks and their historians though there is little doubt that they were obtained in relatively recent times from the Spaniards.
This letter was originally printd in the "Continental Monthly," Vol. 1, 1862, pp. 17-29. The bracketed explanation is from the same source.
JOHN R. SWANTON
[The following letter was written by the late John Howard Payne to a relative in New York, in 1835. The Green-Corn Dance which it describes was, it is believed, the last ever celebrated by the Creeks east of the Arkansas. Soon after, they were removed to the West, where they now are.]
Macon, Georgia, ——, 1835
...I have been among the Indians for a few days lately. Shall I tell you about them? You make no answer, and silence gives consent;—so I will tell you about the Indians.
The State of Alabama, you may remember, has been famous as the abode of the Creek Indians, always regarded as the most warlike of the southern tribes. If you will look over the map of Alabama, you will find, on the west side of it, nearly parallel with the State of Mississippi, two rivers,—one the Coosa and the other the Talapoosa,—which, descending, unite in the Alabama. Nearly opposite to these, about one hundred miles across, you will find another river,—the Chatahoochie, which also descends to form, with certain tributaries, the Apalachicola. It is within the space bounded by these rivers, and especially at the upper part of it, that the Creeks now retain a sort of sovereignty. The United States have in vain attempted to force the Creeks to volunteer a surrender of their soil for compensation. A famous chief among them made a treaty a few years ago to
that effect; but the nation arose against him, surrounded his house, ordered his family out, and bade him appear at the door after all but he had departed. He did so. He was shot dead, and the house burned.1 The treaty only took effect in part, if at all. Perpetual discontents have ensued. The United States have assumed a sort of jurisdiction over the territory, leaving the Creeks unmolested in their national habits and their property, with this exception in their favor, beyond all other tribes but the Cherokees,— they have the right, if they wish to sell, to sell to individuals, at their own prices, but are not bound to treat with the republic at a settled rate,—which last mode of doing business they rather properly looked upon as giving the appearance of a vanquished race, and subject to the dictation of conquerors. So, what the diplomatists could not achieve was forthwith attempted by speculators;—and among those the everlasting Yankee began to appear, and the Indian independence straightway began to disappear. Certain forms were required by government to give Americans a claim to these Creek lands. The purchaser was to bring the Indian before a government agent;—in the agent's presence, the Indian was to declare what his possessions were, and for how much he would sell them;—the money was paid in presence of the agent, who gave a certificate, which, when countersigned by the President, authorized the purchaser to demand protection from the national arms, if molested. All this was well enough; but it was soon discovered that the speculators would hire miscreants and drunken Indians to personate the real possessors of lands, and, having paid them the money, would take it back as soon as the purchase was completed, give the Indian a jug of whiskey, or a small bag of silver, for the fraud, and so become lords of the soil. Great dissatisfaction arose, and lives were lost. An anonymous letter opened the eyes of the government. The white speculators were so desperate and dangerous that any other mode of information was unsafe. Investigators were appointed to examine into the validity of Creek sales, and the examiners met at the time I went to witness a great Indian
religious festival, concerning which I will inform you preently; for it was by my curiosity to view this relic of their remotest times that the visit among the Indians, alluded to in the beginning of my letter, was prompted. It has been necessary for me to be thus prolix, to make you understand the nature of the society—and a sort of danger too—by which we are surrounded. On one side, white rogues—border cut-throats—contending, through corrupted red men, for the possessions of those among them, who, though honest, are unwary. On another side, the cheated Indian-robber of his brethern, wheedled by some fresh white cheat into a promise to sell (payable in over-charged goods) at a higher price to the last comer, on condition of the latter individual getting the earlier inadequate safe set aside by the agent of the United States, through evidence from its pretended victim that the payment for it had only been nominal, and was forthwith fraudulently withdrawn. Even the judges are accused by being, covertly, sometimes as bad as any of the rest, and it is said that instances are not unknown wherein some of them have, not long after withdrawing from the seat of justice, proved to be full of wealth in lands, which could only be accounted for by a supposed collusion with accusers who have supplied them with pretexts for cancelling prior sales by Indians in favor of better offers, when contrasted with the preceding ones, though offers really amounting to nothing at all in comparison with the true worth of the purchase. Amid these scenes of complicated villany, it is not unusual, after the session of a commission representing the United States for trying the validity of titles, to see a foiled thief rush at the successful overreaching one, with fist and bowie-knife; and it is then accounted a case of uncommon good luck if either live to look upon what both have stolen from the red-man, and one not only from the red-man, but the white.
I beheld a fine, gentle, innocent-looking girl,—a widow, I believe,—come up to the investigator to assert that she had never sold her land. She had been counterfeited by some knave. The Investigator's court was a low barroom. He saw me eyeing him, and some one told him I was travelling to take notes. He did not know but government had employed me as a secret supervisor. He seemed to
shrink and postponed a decision. I have since heard that he is a rascal of the sort at which I have just hinted.
The ill-starred red people here are entirely at the mercy of interpreters, who, if not negro-slaves of their own, are half-breeds,—a worse set, generally, than the worst of either slaves or knaves. In the jargon of the border, they are called linkisters,—some say because they form, by interpreting, a link between the Indian nations and ours; but I should rather regard the word as a mere corruption of linguist.
The Indians became more easily deluded by the borderers than by others, because the borderers know that they never esteem any one to be substantial who does not keep a shop. So your rascal of the frontier sets up a shop, and is pronounced a sneezer. If his shop be large, he is a sneezer-chubco; if larger than any other, he is a sneezer-chubco-mico.2 But, in any of his grades, a sneezer is always considered as a personage by no means to be sneezed at. The sneezer will pay for land in goods, and thinks himself very honest if he charges his goods at five hundred times their worth, and can make it appear by his account against the Indian's claim that he has paid him thousands of dollars, when in fact he may scarcely have paid him hundreds of cents.
Well! So much for the beautiful state of our national legislation and morals, as civilizers and protectors of the red-men. It is time for me to relieve you from these details, so uncomplimentary to us of the superior order, and to tell you something about the famous religious festival which took me amongst the Indians, and thereby caused the foregoing first preamble,—the ennui produced by which I proceed to cure, like a quack doctor, by doubling the dose. Accordingly, here comes a second preamble, by way of introductory explanation of what is to come at last.
The festival in question is called the Green-Corn Festival. All the nation assemble for its celebration at a place set apart for the purpose, as the Temple at Jerusalem was for the religious assemblages of all the Jewish tribes. It has been kept by the Creeks, and many other Indian na-
tions,—indeed, perhaps, by the entire race,—from time immemorial. It is prepared for, as well as fulfilled with, great form and solemnity.
When the green corn is ripe, the Creeks seem to begin their year. Until after the religious rites of the festival with which their New Year is ushered in, it is considered as an infamy to taste the corn. On the approach of the season, there is a meeting of the chiefs of all the towns forming any particular clan.3 First, an order is given out for the manufacture of certain articles of pottery to be employed in the ceremonies. A second meeting gives out a second order. New matting is to be prepared for the seats of the assembly. There is a third meeting.4 A vast number of sticks are broken into parts, and then put up in packages, each containing as many sticks as there are days intervening previous to the one appointed for the gathering of the clans.5 Runners are sent with these. One is flung aside every day by each receiver. Punctually, on the last day, all, with their respective families, are at the well-known rendezvous.
That you may the more clearly understand the whole matter, I will so anticipate my story as to put you in possession of many essential particulars concerning the place set apart by the Creeks for gathering their people to the festival in question. This will provide you with the unexpected gratification of even a third preamble, as an explanatory avenue extra to the main subject.
The chosen spot is remote from any habitations, and consists of an ample square, with four large log houses, each one forming a side of the square, at every angle of which there is a broad opening into the area.6 The houses are of logs and clay, and a sort of wicker-work, with sharp-topped, sloping roofs, like those of our log houses, but more thoroughly finished. The part of the houses fronting the square is entirely open. Their interior consists of a broad platform from end to end, raised a little more than knee-
5The usual method of assembling Indians of the Gulf region for any collective conference or undertaking. The Creek name for these sticks signifies "the broken days."
high, and so curved and inclined as to form a most comfortable place for either sitting or lying. It is covered with the specially-prepared cane matting, which descends in front of it to the ground. A space is left open along the entire back of each house, to afford a free circulation of air. It starts from about the height of my chin, so that I could peep in from the outside through the whole of each structure, and obtain a clear view of all that was going on. Attached to every house towers a thick, notched mast.7 Behind the angle of one of the four broad entrances to the square, rises a high, cone-roofed building, circular and dark, with an entrance down an inclined plane, through a low door. Its interior was so obscured that I could not make out what it contained; but some one said its was a councilhouse.8 It occupied one corner of an outer square,9 next to the one I have already described, two sides of which outer square were formed by thick corn-fields, a third by a raised embankment apparently for spectators, and a fourth by the back of one of the buildings before mentioned. In the center of this outer square was a very high circular mound. This, it seems, was formed from the earth accumulated yearly by removing the surface of the sacred square thither. At every Green-Corn Festival, the sacred square is strewn with soil yet untrodden; the soil of the year preceeding being taken away, but preserved as above explained. No stranger's foot is allowed to press the new earth of the sacred square until its consecration is complete. A gentleman told me that he and a friend chanced once to stroll through the edge, just after the new soil had been laid. A friendly chief saw him and remonstrated, and seemed greatly incensed. He explained that it was done in ignorance. The chief was pacified, but nevertheless caused every spot which had been polluted by their unhallowed steps to be uptorn, and a fresh covering substituted.
8The communal council house used especially for meetings and ceremonies in bad weather, and called in Creek teokofa.
9This "outer square" was the Chunk Yard, in the center of which in most towns was a pole for the single-stick ball game, but in Tukabahchee its place was taken by the mound of earth mentioned by Payne just below.
The sacred square being ready, every fire in the towns under the jurisdiction of the head chief is, at the same moment, extinguished. Every house must also at that moment have been newly swept and washed. Enmities are forgotten. If a person under sentence for a crime can steal in unobserved and appear among the worshippers when their exercises begin, his crime is no more remembered. The first ceremonial is to light the new fire of the year. A square board is brought, with a small circular hollow in the center. It receives the dust of a forest tree, or of dry leaves. Five chiefs take turns to whirl the stick, until the friction produces a flame. From this sticks are lighted and conveyed to every house throughout the tribe. The original flame is taken to the center of the sacred square. Wood is heaped there, and a strong fire lighted. Over this fire the holy vessels of new-made pottery are placed. Drinking-gourds, with long handles, are set around on a bench. Appointed officers keep up an untiring surveillance over the whole, never moving from the spot; and here what they call the black drink is brewed; with many forms and with intense solemnity.
Now, then, having rendered you, by these numerous prefaces, much better informed about the Creek Jerusalem and its paraphernalia than I was when I got there. I will proceed with my travel story, just as if I had not enabled you to ponder all that I saw so much more understandingly than I myself did.
I cannot describe to you my feelings when I first found myself in the Indian country. We rode miles after miles in the native forest, seeing neither habitation nor an inhabitant to disturb the solitude and majesty of the wilderness. At length we met a native in his native land. He was galloping on horseback. His air was oriental;—he had a turban, a robe of fringed and gaudily-figured calico, scarlet leggings, and beaded belts and garters and pouch. We asked how far it was to the Square. He held up a finger, and we understood him to mean one mile. Next we met two Indian women on horseback, laden with water-melons. In answer to our question of the road, they half covered a finger, to express that it was half a mile further, and, smiling, added, 'sneezer—much,' meaning that we should find lots of
our brethren, the sneezers, there, to keep us company. We passed groups of Indian horses tied in the shade, with cords long enough to let them graze freely. We then saw the American flag—a gift from the government—floating over one of the hut-tops in the square.10 We next passed numbers of visitors' horses and carriages, and servants, and under the heels of one horse a drunken vagabond Indian or half-Indian, asleep. And, finally, we found ourselves at the corner of the sacred square, where the aborigines were in the midst of their devotions.
As soon as I left the carriage, seeking an elevation just outside of one of the open corners of the sacred square, whence a clear view could be obtained of what was going on within, I took my station there. I was afterwards told that this mound was composed of ashes which had been produced many preceeding years by such fires as were now blazing in the center; and that ashes of the sort are never permitted to be scattered, but must thus be gathered up, and carefully and religiously preserved.
Before the solemnities begin,—and, some one said, though I am not sure it was on good authority, ere new earth is placed,—the women dance in the sacred square, and entirely by themselves. I missed seeing this. They then separate from the men, and remain apart from them until after the fasting and other religious forms are gone through, when they have ceremonies of their own, of which I shall speak in due course.
As I gazed from my stand upon the corner mound, the sacred square presented a most striking scene. Upon each of the notched masts, of which I have already spoken as attached to each of the structures within, was a stack of tall canes, hung all over with feathers, black and white.11 There were rude paint-daubs about the posts and roof-beams of the open house-fronts, and here and there they were festooned with gourd vines. Chiefs were standing around the sides and corners, alone, and opposite to each other, their eyes riveted on the earth, and motionless as statues. Every building was filled with crowds of silent Indians,—those on
10This flag was used as far back as the time of Benjamin Hawkins, U. S. Agent to the Southern Indians from 1795 to 1816.
the back rows seated in the Turkish fashion, but those in front with their feet to the ground. All were turbaned, all fantastically painted, all, in dresses varying in ornament but alike in wildness. One chief wore a tall black hat, with a broad, massive silver band around it, and a peacock's feather; another had a silver scull-cap, with a deep silver bullion fringe down to his eyebrows, and plates of silver from his breast to his knee, descending his tunic. Most of them had the eagle plume, which only those may wear who have slain a foe;12 numbers sported military plumes in various positions about their turbans; and one had a tremendous tuft of black feathers declining from the back of his head over his back; while another's head was all shaven smooth, excepting a tuft across the center from the back to the front, like the crest of a helmet.
I never saw an assembly more absorbed with what they regarded as the solemnities of the occasion.
The first sounds I heard were a strange low, deep wail,—a sound of many voices drawn out in perfect unison, and only dying away with the breath itself, which indeed was longer sustained than could be done by any singer I ever yet heard. This was followed by a second wail, in the same style, but shrill, like the sound of musical glasses, and giving a similar shiver to the nerves. And after a third wail in another key, the statue-like figures moved and formed two diagonal lines opposite to each other, their backs to opposite angles of the square. One by one, they then approached the huge bowls in which the black drink was boiling, and, in rotation, dipped a gourd, and took with a most reverential expression, a long, deep draught each. The next part of the ceremony with them was somewhat curious; but the rapt expression of the worshippers took away the effect which such an evolution would be apt to produce on a fastidious stomach if connected with an uninterested head. In short, these dignitaries, without moving a muscle of the face, or a joint of the body, after a few seconds, and with great solemnity, ejected what had been swallowed upon the ground. It seemed as if given forth in the spirit of a liba-
tion among the ancients. The chiefs having afterwards tasted, each replacing the gourd, and returning to his stand before the next came forward, they all went to their seats, and two old men approached and handed round gourds full to the other parties present who had remained stationary. The looks on each side were as full of solemn awe as I have ever seen at any Christian ceremony; and certainly the awe was more universal than usually pervades our churches.
This done, a chief made a speech, but without rising. It was listened to with profound attention, and in one place, at a pause, called forth a very unanimous and emphatic shout of approbation,—a long sound, seemingly of two syllables, but uttered by all in the same breath. I asked a Professional linkister what the speech was about; but he was either indifferent or ignorant, for he only replied that it was an appeal to them not to forsake their ancient ceremonies, but to remain faithful in their fulfilment to the last, and that it wound up with a sort of explanatory dissertation upon the forms which were to follow.
One chief then walked round, and, in short, abrupt sentences, seemed to give directions; whereupon some whitened, entire gourds, with long handles, and apparently filled with pebbles, were produced; and men took their stations with them on mats, while those who had been seated all arose, and formed in circles around the fire, led by a chief, and always beginning their movement towards the left. The gourds were shaken;—there arose a sort of low sustained chant as the procession went on; and it was musical enough, but every few seconds, at regular intervals, a sound was thrown in by all the dancers, in chorus, like the sharp, quick, shrill yelp of a dog. The dance seemed to bear reference to the fires in the center. Every time they came to a particular part of the square, first the head chief turned and uplifted his hands over the flame, as in invoking a benediction, and all the people followed his example in rotation. The dance was very unlike anything I ever saw before. The dancers never crossed their feet, but first gave two taps each with the heel and toe of one foot, then of the other, making a step forward as each foot was tapped can the earth; their bodies all the while stately and erect, and each, with a feather fan,—their universal and indispensable
companion,—fanning himself, and keeping time with his fan as he went on. The dance was quickened at a signal, till it became nearly a measured run, and the cries of the dancers were varied to suit the motion, when, suddenly, all together uttered a long, shrill whoop, and stopped short, some few remaining as guards about the sacred square, but most of the throng forthwith rushing down a steep, narrow ravine, canopied with foliage, to the river, into which they plunged; and the stream was black on every side with their heads as they swam about, playing all sorts of antics; the younger ones diving to fetch up pieces of silver money which the visitors flung into the water, to put their dexterity to the test.
Returning to the sacred square, they went through other dances around the fire, varying in figure and accompaniment. All were generally led by some aged chief, who uttered a low, broken sound, to which the others responded in chorus. Sometimes the leader, as he went around, would ejaculate a feeble, tremulous exclamation, like alleluliah, alleluliah, laying the stress upon the last syllable, to which all would respond in perfect accord, and with a deep, sonorous bass, 'alleluliah,' and the same alternation continued to the close, which was invariably sudden, and after a long general whoop.
Each dance seemed to have a special form and significance;—one in particular, where the dancers unstacked the tall canes with feathers suspended from them, each taking one from the mast sustaining it; and this one, I was told, meant to immortalize triumphs, won at ball-plays. The feathered canes are seized as markers of points gained by the bearers in the ball-play, which is the main trial of strength and skill among rival clans of the same tribe, in friendship, and even between tribe and tribe, when in harmony. The effect of these canes and feathers, as they glanced around, with an exulting chorus, was very inspiring, and the celebrants became almost wild with their delight as it drew near its climax, ending their closing whoop with a general laugh of triumphant recollection.
Other dances were represented as alluding to conquests over bears and panthers, and even the buffalo, which last memorial is remarkable enough, having among them sur-
vived all traces of the buffalo itself. But, excepting these vague hints, I could not find any bystander capable of giving me a further explanation of any point on which I inquired, than that it was 'an old custom;' or, if they wished to be more explicit, with a self-satisfied air, they would gravely remark that it was 'the green-corn dance,'—which I knew as well as they. Could I have been instructed even in their phrases and speeches, I might have made valuable conjectures. But even their language, on these occasions, seems, by their own admission, beyond the learning of the 'linkisters.' It is a poetical, mystical idiom, varying essentially from that of trading and of familiar intercommunication, and utterly incomprehensible to the literal minds of mere trafficking explainers. Even were it otherwise, the persons hovering upon the frontier most ingeniously own, when pressed for interpretations of Indian customs, that they care nothing for the Indians excepting to get their lands, and that they really consider all study concerning them as egregious folly, save only that of finding out how much cotton their grounds will yield, and in what way the greatest speculations can be accomplished with the smallest capital.
The last of the ceremonies of the day consisted of a, sort of trial of fortitude upon the young.
Old chiefs were seated at the back of the council-house, and of the four houses of the square. They had sharp instruments,—sail-needles, awls, and flints. Children of from four to twelve, and youths, and young men, presented their limbs, and the instrument was plunged into the thighs and the calves of the legs, and drawn down in long, straight lines. As the blood streamed, the wounded would scoop it up with bark or sticks, and dash it against the back of the building; and all the buildings thus became clotted with gore. The glory of the exercise seemed to be to submit without flinching, without even consciousness. The youngest children would sometimes show the most extraordinary self-control. All offered themselves to the experiment voluntarily. If a shudder were detected, the old chiefs gashed deeper. But where they saw entire firmness, an involuntary glow of admiration would flit over their stony faces.
We now left, and went to an infant town—and a savage infant it seemed—over the river to break our fast,—an indulgence which to our Indian friends is not permitted. They may neither eat nor sleep until the ceremonies close. The town we went to is named Talassee. It has but about a dozen houses as yet, but is delightfully situated, and I should not wonder to see a large place there in another twelvemonth. It belongs to the region of a clan different from the one we left, though part of the same tribe. Here the investigating agent held his court; and the place was crowded with drunken Indians, and more uncivilized speculators, parading about, as some had done among the spectators at the festival, with blacked eyes and lacerated faces,—the trophies of civil war for savage plunder. At the house where we dined, I found the landlady and her family implacable Indian haters. I was afterwards told the cause. Her husband is continually marrying Indian wives,—probably to entitle himself to their lands. He, being a sneezer, and keeping a tavern, is a great man among them. I saw a very comely young squaw promenading, who believed herself to be one of the sneezer-chubco-mico's last wives. The man's white and original wife and daughters made an excuse to walk by, to have a look at the aboriginal interloper. The latter had just received from my landlord a present of a pair of gaudy bracelets, for which he had paid eighteen dollars at another sneezer's, bracelets worth about four. I was told how the man came by this red mate of his. He had taken a young chief's wife in her husband's absence. The chief, returning while my landlord was absent, got his young wife back. The landlord, on reappearing is said to have threatened the chief with General Jackson and big guns. The chief said he was partial to his wife; but he had a sister much prettier, and, for the sake of peace, if nothing were said about the matter, Mr. Landlord should have her for a wife. The bargain was struck. The handsome little squaw I have spoken of is that same young chief's sister. This stealing of wives is beginning to excite some commotion. I heard that there had been a council of chiefs in the neighborhood of Talassee. It was a very animated one, and the wrong of wife stealing was violently discussed. It was thought by some almost as bad as land-stealing. Others
felt rather relieved by it. One of the drunken Indians whom I saw reeling and whooping about, as I stood at the door of the log but where we dined, seemed of the latter party. I asked a linkister the meaning of a song the Indian was singing with such glee. the black linkister laughed, and was reluctant to explain; but when I pressed him the following proved to be the meaning of the burthen:—
A man may have a wife,
No doubt the poor fellow had been robbed in the same way, and, between music and whiskey, was providing himself with consolation.
I was invited to 'camp out,' as they call it, near the sacred square. A Mr. Du Bois,13 a man with an Indian wife and family, had arrangements for the purpose in a neighboring field; so I went to the evening dance, and left my party to the enjoyment of a sheltering roof at the frontier Blue Beard's in Talassee; having made up my mind, after I had seen enough more of the Indian festival for the night, to accept the proffered 'field-bed' which was so conveniently nigh, and sleep, for the first time, in a real 'sky-parlor.'
I sat to look at the evening dances till very late. The blazing fire through the darkness gave a new aspect and still more striking wildness to the fantastic scene. Some ceremonies yet unattempted seemed to be going on over the drinks in the deep cauldrons; and the figures around them, with those of the dancers, reminded me of the witch scenes in Macbeth, as conceived by Shakespeare, not by the actors of them upon the stage. Four grim figures were stirring the cauldrons incessantly, with a sort of humming incantation, the others dancing around. In one of their dances they used a sort of small kettle-drum, with a guitar-like handle to it. But after a while, the evening dances seemed to vary from the devotional to the complimentary and to the diverting; but the daylight ones were altogether devotional.
13Barent Dubois was Pickett's chief authority regarding the Tukabahchee plates and he is also mentioned by Schoolcraft.
Apotheola14 led one of the less lofty order, and he is one of the most popular and respected of their chiefs. Its music seemed to consist of an exclamation from him of Yo, ho, ho! yo, ho, ho!—to which the response appeared as if complimentary, and to contain only the animated and measured repetition of Apotheola! Apotheola! Another dance, which excited most boisterous mirth, was led by a chief who is called by the borderers Peter the Gambler. He is a great humorist, and famous for his love of play,—famous even among the Indians, who are all gamblers. Once throwing dice with a chief, he staked himself against a negro slave; and won the negro. I never saw a party more diverted than were the lookers-on at this dance. It was all monkey capers, but all with a meaning to the Indians beyond the perception of the whites. The Indian spectators made their remarks from their couches as the solemn mockeries proceeded, and the object of the remarks seemed to be to provoke the dancers to laugh by making fun, and the object of the dancers to provoke the fun-makers to laugh by performing extravagant caricatures with imperturbable gravity.
Our semi-civilized inviter got a bench for us. Some Indians, when it was not entirely filled, tried to pull it away, Several young ones, as a fellow was trying to tug it from under us, seemed vastly amused at Du Bois for saying, 'Keep your seats! keep your seats!' and mimicked him and laughed. But we were entirely unmolested in any other way, excepting for an instant by one white rascal on the road, as I was coming, who galloped towards me violently in the dark, and shouted, 'Who the hell may you be, if one were to let you alone?' Just then, however, I got up to my party, and he said no more.
I have not mentioned, I believe, that no one is allowed in the sacred square who tastes food during the devotional part of the ceremonies; but to get drunk on this occasion is a specially great offense. It is also considered as a desecration for an Indian to allow himself to be touched by even the dress of a white man, until the ceremony of purification
14More accurately spelled Hobohithli Yahola, the Hothlibonia or Great War Speaker of the Creeks, whose influence was incomparably greater than that of any other one man in the Creek Nation during most of his lifetime, though he was not titularly a chief as is often stated.
is complete. There was a finely, though slightly, built Indian,—more French than Tartar in his look and manner,—a linkister, too,—the whites called him Charley,—and Charley had got very drunk. He was, of course, compelled to keep among the crowd outside. During the evening dance, a chief censured those who stayed from the ceremony, and those who dishonored it by appearing in this unworthy state. Charley was by that time very drunk indeed, but very good humored. He came nearly naked to listen. He heard the lecture; and, as he reeled around, pretending to cover his face for share, it was amusing to see his tricks to evade tumbling against any of the bystanders, lilting his hands with an air of dandified disdain, as he staggered to one side, and repeating the mock contemptuousness when rolling towards the same peril on the other. Next morning I heard numbers of the natives, sitting all along the outside of the sacred square, laughing very loud, and very good-naturally quizzing poor Charley, who had slept off somewhat of his exhilaration, but none of his good humor. Charley laughed, too, and looked foolish, and laughed again.
So, to go back and resume my story. We went to our 'field-bed.' It consisted of a shed of loose boards on tall stakes, and under it, a raised platform of loose boards upon shorter stakes. There were several human forms already wrapped in blankets and asleep upon the platform. One of our party attempting to get among them, was told by Milly,—Du Bois's Indian wife,—who just then awoke, 'No here, no here! dat not de rule!' It seems this was the female side of the house. My buffalo robe was spread at the opposite end. I pilled off my boots, and set them in the grass under the bed, and slept delightfully. The only time I awoke, I saw the eyes of a towering black figure fixed upon me. The chap was socking a snot for a snooze among us; but finding every inch of room occupied, gazed for a moment at a tree, flung down his blanket, and tumbled on the grass, the tall tree he had been eyeing, at his head, and a lesser one at his heels. The female side of my house was divided from the male side by Du Bois, who slept between the ladies and the gentlemen. Our party consisted of nine in all, Indian ladies included. In the morning, at day-break,
we were up. With a joke to Milly about 'de rule,'—which she answered with a good-humored smile, covering her face as she smiled,—we went back to the sacred square among the Indians, who had been all night awake and at their devotions.
I found them preparing for the ceremonies which close the fast. Many were standing about, and all intent on the preparations for the morning forms. They went through the taking of the black drink, repeating all they had done the day previous. But on this occasion I more particularly observed two circular plates of brass and steel, which appeared the remains of very antique shields. They were borne with great reverence by two chiefs. The natives do not pretend to explain whence they came.15 They keep them apart, as something sacred. They are only produced on great occasions. I was told, too, that ears of green corn were brought in at a part of the ceremony to-day, which I missed, and that they were presented to a chief. He took them, and, after an invocation that the corn might continue plentiful among them the year through, handed them back.
This seemed the termination of the peace-offerings, and the religious part of the affair was now to wind up with emblems of war. These were expressed in what they call a Gun-Dance. When the dispositions were making for it, some persons in carriages were desired by a white linkister to fall back and to remove their horses to a distance. Some ladies, especially, were warned. 'Keep out of their way, ma'am,' said the linkister to a lady, 'for when they come racing about here with their guns, they gits powerful sarcy.' I saw them dressing for the ceremony, if it may be called dressing to throw off nearly every part of a scanty covering. But the Indians are especially devoted to dress in their way. Some of them went aside to vary their costume with nearly every dance.
Now appeared a procession of some forty or fifty women. They entered the square, and took their seats together in one of the open houses. Two men sat in front of them, holding gourds filled with pebbles. The gourds were shaken so as to keep time, and the women began a long
chant, with which, at regular intervals, was given a sharp, short whoop from male voices. The women's song was said to be intended for the wail of mothers, wives, and daughters at the departure of the warriors for the fight; the response conveyed the resolution of the warriors not to be withheld, but to fight and conquer. And now were seen two hideous-looking old warriors, with tomahawks and scalping knives, painted most ferociously. Each went half round the circle, exchanged exclamations, kept up a sort of growl all the while, and at length ,stopped with a war-whoop.
At this juncture, we were told to hurry to the outer square. The females and their male leaders left their places inside, and went to the mound in the center of the outer square. The mound became entirely covered with their forms, and the effect was very imposing. Here they resumed their chant. The spectators mounted on the embankment. I got on a pile of wood,—holy wood, I believe, and heaped there to keep up the sacred fires. There were numbers of Indian women in the crowd. Four stuffed figures were placed, one in each of the four corners of the square.
We now heard firing and whooping on all sides. At length in the high corn on one side we saw crouching savages, some with guns of every sort, some, especially the boys, with corn-stalks to represent guns. A naked chief with a long sabre, the blade painted blood color, came before them, flourishing his weapon and haranguing vehemently. In another corn-field appeared another party. The two savages already mentioned as having given the war dance in the sacred square, now hove in sight on a third side, cowering. One of them I understood was the person who had shot the chief I mentioned in the first part of this letter—the chief who made an objectionable treaty, and whose house was burned. Both these warriors crept slyily towards the outer square. One darted upon one of the puppets, caught him from behind, and stole him off; another grasped another puppet by the waist, flung him in the air, tumbled on him as he fell, ripped him with his knife, tore off the scalp, and broke away in triumph. A third puppet was tomahawked, and a fourth shot. These were the emblems of the various forms of warfare.
After the first shot, the two parties whooped, and began to fire indiscriminately, and every shot was answered by a whoop. One shot his arrow into the square, but falling short of the enemy, he covered himself with corn and crept thither to regain the arrow, and bore it back in safety, honored with a triumphant yell as he returned. After much of this bush skirmishing, both parties burst into the square. There was unremitted firing and war-whooping, the music of chanting and of the pebbled gourd going all the while. At length the fighters joined in procession, dancing a triumphal dance around the mound, plunging thence headlong into the sacred square and all around it, and then scampering around the outside, and pouring back to the battle square; and the closing whoop being given, the entire multitude from the battle square rushed, helter-skelter, yelping, some firing as they went, and others pelting down the spectators from their high places, with the cornstalks that had served for guns, and which gave blows so powerful that those who laughed at them as weapons before, rubbed their shoulders and walked away ashamed.
We resumed our conveyances homeward, and heard the splashing and shouting, as we departed, of the warriors in the water.
Leave was now given to taste the corn, and all ate their fill, and, I suppose, did not much refrain from drinking; for I heard that every pathway and field around was in the morning strewed with sleeping Indians.
We passed the day following in visits to the picturesque scenery of the neighborhood. We saw the fine falls of the Talapoosa, where the broken river tumbles over wild and fantastic precipices, varying in from forty to eighty or a hundred feet in height; and when wandering among the slippery rocks, we passed an old Indian with his wife and child and bow and arrows. They had been shooting fishes in the stream, from a point against which the fishes were brought to them by the current. The scenery and the natives would have formed a fine picture. An artist of the neighbrorhood made me a present of a view of these falls, which I will show you when we meet.
The next part of the festival among the red folks and which I did not see, being that day on my 'tour in
search of the picturesque'—consisted, I was told, in the display of wives urging out their husbands to hunt deer. When, from our travels among fine scenery, we went down to the sacred square, towards night, we met Indians with deer slung over their horses. The skin of the first that is shot is presented to a priest, who flings it back to the slayer to be retained by him as a trophy, and at the same time asks from the Great Spirit that this may prove only the harbinger of deer in abundance whenever wanted. There was some slight dancing that evening in the sacred square, but not of significance enough to make it an object with me to remain for it, and as so many were reserving themselves for the winding-up assembly of the ladies, on Sunday morning, I thought I would do the same. Some of our party stayed, however, for the night. They found a miscellaneous dance at a house in the vicinity,—negroes, borderers and reprobate Indians, all collected in one incongruous mass. A vagabond frontier man there asked a girl to dance. She refused, and was going to dance with another. The first drew his pistol, and swore if she would not dance with him she would not dance at all. Twenty pistols were clicked in an instant; but the borderer, with a horse-laugh, asked if they thought he didn't know there was not a soul in that section of the country who dared to draw a trigger against him? He was right, for the pistols were dropped and the room cleared on the instant; whereupon the bully borderer clapped his wings and crowed and disappeared.
The assemblage of the females I was rather solicitous to see, and so I was at my post betimes. I had long to wait. I heard the gathering cry from the men on all sides, in the cornfields and bushes; it was like the neighing to each other of wild horses. After a while the ladies began to arrive. The spectators crowded in.
The Indian men went to their places, and among them a party to sing while the women danced, two of the men rattling the gourds. The cauldrons had disappeared from the center of the sacred square.
And now entered a long train of females, all dressed in long gowns, like our ladies, but all with gay colors, and bright shawls of various hues, and beads innumerable upon their necks, and tortoise-shell combs in their hair, and ears
bored all around the rim, from top to bottom, and from every bore a massive ear-drop, very long, and generally of silver. A selected number of the dancers wore under their robes, and girded upon their calves, large squares of thick leather, covered all over with terrapin-shells closed together and perforated and filled with pebbles, which rattled like so many sleigh-bells. These they have the knack of keeping silent until their accompaniment is required for the music of the dance. The dresses of all the women were so long as nearly to conceal the feet, but I saw that some had neither shoes nor stockings on, while others were sandalled. The shawls were principally worn like mantles. Broad ribbons, in great profusion and of every variety of hue, hung from the back of each head to the ground, and, as they moved, these, and the innumerable sparkling beads of glass and coral and gold, gave the wearers an air of graceful and gorgeous, and, at the same time, unique wildness.
The procession entered slowly, and wound around the central fire, which still blazed gently there, although the cauldrons had been removed; and the train continued to stretch itself out, till it extended to three circles and a half. The shorter side then became stationary, and stood facing the men, who were seated in that building which contained the chanters. This last rank of dancers seemed to include the principal wearers of the terrapin leg-bands, which they continued to rattle, keeping time with the chant, without shifting their position. At each end of their line was a leader, one an old woman and the other not young, both bearing a little notched stick, with two feathers floating from it.16 At a particular turn of the general figure of the dance, these two broke off from their fixed rank, and made a circuit outside of all the rest, and more briskly, while the main body of the dancers, the three circles before mentioned, which had never ceased to move, still proceeded slowly round and round, only turning at a given signal to face the men, as the men had turned to face the emblem of the Deity, the central fire. Every eye among the women was planted on the ground. I never beheld such an air of uni-
16Like the notched posts in front of the four cabins these were called atasa and were supposed to resemble war clubs. They are still in use.
versal modesty. It seemed a part of the old men's privilege to make comments aloud, in order to surprise the women into a laugh. These must often have been very droll, and always personal, I understand, and not always the most delicate. I saw a few instances among the young girls where they were obliged to smother a smile by putting up their handkerchiefs. But it was conquered on the instant. The young men said nothing; but the Indian men, whether old or young, seemed all to take as much interest in the show as we. The Chief, Apotheola, had two daughters there. Both are very elegant girls, but the eldest delighted me exceedingly. She seemed about seventeen or eighteen, She is tall, a fine figure; her carriage graceful and distingue, and quite European. She had a white muslin gown; a black scarf, wrought all over with flowers in brilliant colors; an embroidered white collarette, I believe you call it; gold chains, coral beads, gold and jewelled ear-rings—single ones, not in the usual Indian superabundance,—her hair beautifully dressed in the Parisian style; a splendid tortoise-shell comb, gemmed; and from one large tuft of hair upon one temple to that upon the other there passed a beautiful gold ornament. Her sister's head-dress was nearly the same. The aforesaid elder Princess Apotheola, I am happy to say, looked only at me. Some one must have told her that I meant to run away with her, for I had said so before I saw her to many of her friends. There was a very frolicksome, quizzical expression in her eye; and now and then it seemed to say, 'No doubt you think all these things wonderfully droll. It diverts me to see you so puzzled by them.' But, excepting the look at me, which only proved her excellent taste, her eye dwelt on the ground, and nothing could have been more interestingly reserved than her whole deportment.
The dance over, all the ladies went from the square in the same order that they entered it.
In about an hour, the same dance was repeated. When it ended, signal was made for what they call The Dance of the Olden Time,—the breaking up of the ceremonial, when the men and women are again allowed to intermingle.
This was done in a quick movement around and around again, all the men yelping wildly and merrily, as struck
their fancy, and generally in tones intended to set the women laughing, which they did, and heartily. The sounds most resembled the yelpings of delighted dogs. Finally came the concluding whoop, and all the parties separated.
Between these two last dances, I sent for a chief, and desired him to take charge of some slight gifts of tobacco and beads which I had brought for them. The chief took them. I saw the others cut the tobacco, and share it. Ere long my ambassador returned, saying, 'The chiefs are mighty glad, and count it from you as very great friendship.' I had been too bashful about my present, and kept it back too long, through over-shyness. If I had sent it before, I might have seen the show to more advantage. As it was, I was immediately invited to sit inside the square, and witness the last dance from one of the places of honor.
But I was now obliged to depart, and to give up all hopes of ever again seeing my beautiful Princess Apotheola. My only chance of a guide through the wilderness would have been lost had I delayed. So I reluctantly mounted my pony; and I left the Indians of Tuckabatchie and their Green-Corn Festival, and their beautiful Princess Apotheola.
It was a great gratification to me to have seen this festival; with my own eyes to have witnessed the Indians in their own nation, with my own ears to have heard them in their own language. Nor was it any diminution of the interest of the spectacle to reflect that this ceremony, so precious to them, was now probably performing in the land of their forefathers for the last, last time. I never beheld more intense devotion; and the spirit of the forms was a right and a religious one. It was beginning the year with fasting, with humility, with purification, with prayer, with gratitude. It was burying animosities, while it was strengthening courage. It was pausing to give thanks to Heaven, before daring to partake its beneficence. It was strange to see this, too, in the midst of my own land; to travel, in the course of a regular journey in the new World, among the living evidences of one, it may be, older than what we call the Old World;—the religion. and the people, and the associations of the untraceable past, in the very
heart of the most recent portion of the most recent people upon earth. And it was a melancholy reflection for ourselves, that, comparing the majority of the white and red assemblage there, the barbarian should be so infinitely the more civilized and the more interesting of the two.