By John Edwards
As the form of the subjoined material shows, it was originally prepared as a lecture, and either this or a nearly parallel lecture of inferior content which has also been preserved, was delivered before the student body of the University of California about 1880. The original texts of both of these have been presented to the Oklahoma Historical Society by Mr. John Edwards Caswell, grandson of their author, who has also supplied the following facts regarding the life of his distinguished relative.
Rev. John Edwards was a graduate of both Princeton University and Princeton Seminary, where he ranked second in his class. On completing his course at the latter institution, he received an appointment as evangelist in the then Indian Territory under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Later he was superintendent of Wheelock Academy. In 1861, however, he was forced to flee from the section because he did not wish to take up arms for the Southern Confederacy, and he spent the next twenty years of his life in California. His son, the late Col. George C. Edwards of Berkeley, was in the first class graduated from the University of California and was professor of mathematics there for more than forty years.
In 1883, the Presbyterian Church of the United States having assumed responsibility for work in the Choctaw tribe, John Edwards was recalled to Indian Territory, and he remained there until 1896. Aided by a good understanding of Hebrew and Greek, he translated the books of Psalms and First and Second Kings into the Choctaw language, and revised the New Testament, originally translated by Rev. Alfred Wright.
The present material is of course based on the author's experiences during his first years of missionary service, from 1851 to 1861. By that time the Choctaws had gotten fairly well settled in their new homes west of the Mississippi, had established a little republican government modeled somewhat on that of the United States and had absorbed a great deal of the culture of the larger civilization surrounding them.
John Edwards and Cyrus Byington, the author of many works on the Choctaw tongue, were joint authorities for one of Lewis H. Morgan's two schedules of Choctaw terms of relationship collected at Wheelock in Aug. 1859 (Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, in Smith. Contr. to Knowledge 218, Washington, 1870, pages 190, 286, 291).
The present narrative furnishes an interesting study in acculturation which will be of value both to the ethnologist and the historian, and, in spite of the lateness of the period to which it applies, it contains many bits of aboriginal lore omitted by earlier writers. The material may usefully be compared with that from other sources which I have assembled in Bulletin 103 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, "Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians" (Washington, 1931), and which I hope will form the nucleus for a still larger collection.
The footnotes accompanying this paper have been supplied by the editor.
—JOHN R. SWANTON.
My friends, I come before you, not to talk to you of a great nation, whose government holds in its hands the destinies of hundreds of millions, but of a small tribe, whose number has not recently been more than 20,000; not to tell you of a mighty people, whose history is one of great exploits, either in war, or in the arts of civilized life, but of one of the feeble remnants of the proud savages, who once roamed without hindrance over this mighty continent, where God, in his providence, has cast our lot. Yet they are to some extent a representative people. More than any other tribe, has their name become the prominent, the expressive one among all the aborigines of America. The very sound given it by the whites, Choctaw, seems to convey the rude savageness attributed to the Indian character. But with them it is mild, pleasant, beautiful, Cha'hta.
They are so insignificant a people, that many know not where they are. Let us therefore first give them a local habitation. I shall have occasion to mention their old country, and the new, to which they were removed about 30 years ago.
The old country was in the State of Mississippi, (except the northern part), and the regions of Alabama and Louisiana adjacent.1 To them belonged the mouth of the Mississippi River, whose name is said to be a compound of two Choctaw words, misha, "beyond," and sipi, "old."2
The new country lies between Red River, on the south, and the Canadian and Arkansas Rivers on the north, an average width of perhaps 80 miles, and between the 94½° and 98° of West longitude, comprising more than 20,000 square miles.3 The Choctaw government now extends, however, only over about three-fourths of this. They have Arkansas on the east,
1None of the Choctaw proper entered the territory of the present State of Louisiana until after it had been settled by Europeans though there were a few small tribes within it, or on its borders, which spoke the same language.
2This attempt to derive the name of our greatest river from Choctaw was also made by H. B. Cushman and probably other missionaries, but it is too well known to admit of question that the name Mississippi comes from the Illinois dialect of Algonquian and signifies simply "big river," from missi, "big," and sipi, "river."
3The dimensions here given include the territory of the Chickasaw Nation which was originally not assigned specifically to the latter tribe although here mentioned as already separate. The correct figures for the Choctaw territory by itself would be about 94½° to 96½°, and the area 10,450 sq. m.
Texas on the south, the Chickasaws on the west and the Cherokees and Creeks on the north.
A few words, in the second place, as to their origin. The Choctaws call the Chickasaws elder brother, and the Mushcogees or Creeks uncle. This indicates a traditional relationship between the tribes, which is confirmed by resemblances in their several languages.4
But whence came they? The Choctaws have a tradition, which reaches as far back as the time when they were on the shores of this great western ocean. There they saw the sun go down into the water, and even heard it hiss, as he touched it with his fiery face. The next morning he came out on the other side, washed, and ready in brightness to do service for another day. Hence they journeyed eastward. Each time they encamped, a pole was set up in the ground. In the morning they set out in the direction in which the pole leaned. Finally they crossed the Mississippi, and the pole stood upright. That, therefore, became their fixed abode.
A striking confirmation of this story of their having come from the West, is found in the word for sunset, okvttulah, to fall into the water, and for west, hvsh ai okvttla, "where the sun falls into the water."5
But whence came the Red man to this continent? On this question, history and tradition both fail; but we are not without indications of their Asiatic origin. They have a very peculiar system of consanguinity, universally prevalent among them, so far as has been ascertained. The same system has been found, more or less complete, in the islands of the Pacific, and among some of the Scythic nations of Asia. Perhaps their source may thus at last be ascertained.6
The question is often asked, "Are the Indians the lost tribes of Israel?" Some unhesitatingly affirm that they are.
4A common and important use of the terms of relationship. I think this is the only place in the literature where the application of these terms by the Choctaw is mentioned.
5For a collection of migration legends of this tribe see Bulletin 103, Bur. Amer, Ethn., pp. 5-37. The existence of an "ocean stream" wholly surrounding the land masses is a geographic concept common to many peoples. In Edwards' parallel lecture he speaks of leadership by "a sacred white dog," but this usually goes with the Chickasaw version.
Note that in the alphabet adopted for Choctaw by the missionaries v is employed to represent the obscure sound of a as in the word "ability."
6The Asiatic origin of our American Indians is now universally conceded though it is hardly probable that any satisfactory proof could be adduced by comparing the terms of relationship.
There are some points of resemblance between the Choctaw and Hebrew languages, and some of their customs resemble old Israelitish customs. It may be, however, that these things would prove their relationship to many other nations as well as to the Hebrews.7
Let us now look at their political system.
We traced them to the place where the stake stood upright, on the eastern bank of the Mississippi. From this, in course of time, they moved off in bands, and spread over the country. These bands lived in towns, and enlarged and spread, till they became territorial divisions of the nation, with dialectic variations in their language.
Of old their civil officers were chiefs, and head men or captains. When the missionaries went among them in 1819 they had 3 chiefs, one to each of 3 districts, into which the nation was divided. This office was hereditary, yet not in what we would consider the direct line. The chief's son could not have it. His nephew, that is, his sister's son was the heir apparent.
Their authority was exerted, not so much in the way of terror, by their execution of the law, as in the way of persuasion, by the influence of their advice. The chief called his captains together in council, and exerted his influence upon them; and each captain called his warriors in council, and exerted his influence upon them. If any one was disposed to misbehave, the influence of his clan under the lead of their captain, was too strong for him to resist; and the miscreant had no technicalities of law, behind which to shield himself.
This system was admirably adapted to their circumstances. It had been a natural outgrowth of those circumstances, and of their character; and their departure from it, under the influence of civilization has been too great and too rapid for their good. Of course, much depended upon the character of those in power. But so it is everywhere.
Sometimes the chiefs took it upon them to enact laws and to carry them into execution. The first effort after the advent of the missionaries was in appropriating funds for the education of the youth. The next was a prohibitory
7A very wise observation since the generality of these customs is the rock on which the specific theory founders, and we may hope that this represents a later revision of Edwards' ideas since, in the parallel lecture, he argues for the Hebraic relationship of his Indian friends.
liquor law. The chief of the Sixtowns, seeing the great evils of intemperance, forbade the introduction of whiskey, and appointed a number of light-horsemen to destroy it, wherever found.
But some of the chiefs themselves were drunkards, and of course were unwilling to accommodate the rising public sentiment in opposition to whiskey. Finally an effort was made to induce one of them to abdicate, that a new one might be elected. But to the savage, as well as to the civilized monarch, power is dear, and he would not readily yield. Finally, however, old Mushullitvbi consented to call a council of the district, to decide the question.
His principal opponent was David Folsom, a young half-breed captain, who had attended school in Kentucky for 6 months, and, when the missionaries came, had received them with open arms and given them all the encouragement in his power.
The council met. The chief gave his mind, and sat down. Folsom was a man of majestic stature, and master of the old magniloquent style of Choctaw oratory. For an hour and a half he held forth, while plaudits of yvmmah, yvmmah resounded from his audience at the end of each high sounding period.
At the close, it was arranged that the judges should take a position, where the opposite parties could pass between them in single file, and be counted, those in favor of the old chief in one line, those in favor of Folsom in another. The latter had the decided majority. The old chief was deposed, and an elected chief took his place. This was the first Choctaw election, and the first innovation upon the old governmental system.
Soon after their removal to the new country, they established a constitution, modelled somewhat after those of our state governments. This has been changed several times. According to the present one, they have a principal chief, and three district chiefs, elected every two years; sheriffs, light-horsemen (corresponding to our constables), a general council, consisting of a senate and house of representatives, or, as they call it, the elder and younger house, and county, circuit, and supreme courts.
You perceive that they have all the machinery for the administration of justice after the most approved forms. Some of their legal decisions, however, would hardly pass for law in our courts. For instance, a woman had killed another, and was tried for murder. The law fixed the term of the court from Monday till Thursday. Eleven of the jury were for conviction; but the twelfth obstinately refused to give his mind, and so sat till midnight of Thursday, when the court declared the woman free.
A youth killed an old man, and himself told of it; but his own statement was not allowed to be brought in evidence against him, on the principle that a man cannot be compelled to testify against himself.
A shrewd lawyer can frequently wheedle both judge and jury. A consequence is that many rogues escape the shooting or the whipping which the law appoints for them.
The relation of the U. S. Government to them is that of a protectorate.
Let us now attend to some of their laws.
In old times, custom was law; and a powerful law it was. For murder, retaliation or revenge was the rule. The Choctaw name for it means "price for each other." We would convey the idea by the words "blood for blood." It was this rather than life for life. The drawing of blood, even by a scratch, might have its pay in blood, even to the extent of life. Nor was it necessary that it be done with malice prepense. Blood must be repaid by blood.
If the doer of the deed could not be found, the penalty might fall on any of his relatives. There was therefore no fleeing from justice. That would have been too deep a stain for any man's character to bear. The guilty one would generally give himself up to be dispatched.
The design of this law of retaliation was not the prevention of crime, but rather the glutting of the spirit of revenge, and the adjustment or balancing of accounts.
While this law prevailed, much injustice was done. There was no escape for justifiable homicide, if the party killed had friends to avenge it. There was no city of refuge, to which the man who had killed another by accident might
flee.8 As the people became more enlightened, they desired a change, by which the innocent should not suffer with the guilty, and an effort was made to accomplish it. Soon after this was determined upon, a man killed another. A council was called to consider the matter, and to give him an informal trial. The doer of the deed was sitting at the foot of a tree. An old woman of the kindred of the deceased, fearing that he would get clear, watched her opportunity, and unobserved, plunged a hatchet in his head.
The law concerning murder was finally established, as in the states, and private retaliation is a violation of it. Yet it is hard to root out this old Indian principle from the hearts of the people, or to stop the practice of it, or to convict any one who puts it in practice. But a few years since, a relative of a man of high standing in the community was killed. Fearing the result in the courts, he sent for the murderer to come and pay his life. He came, and the son of the man who had sent for him shot him. No notice was taken of it by the authorities.
The effect of the old law of retaliation was to make men careful. The penalty was so sure, that when they went on a drinking frolic, they left their weapons at home, lest they should do harm with them. Now knives and pistols are carried, and used very freely. The result is that murders are awfully frequent; yet seldom are they deliberately committed in cold blood; but almost always in drunken brawls.
Their executions are always by shooting. Whipping is the penalty for theft, petty larceny receiving 39, and grand larceny 100 lashes well laid on the bare back. For horse-stealing the penalty is 100 lashes for the first offense, death for the second. Forgery is not yet treated as a crime.
They have had the Maine law for 30 years and it is executed. To avoid all constitutional quibbles, the principle of prohibition is inserted in the constitution. The penalty for bringing whiskey or other intoxicating drink into the country is $5 for the first offense, $10 for the second, and a still higher rate for others; or imprisonment, in case of non-payment.
8In ancient times, however, there were just such towns of refuge among the Creeks and Cherokee and probably among the Chickasaw and Choctaw as well.
They have no legal process for the collection of debts; and it proves a blessing to them, by keeping them out of debt.
Another marked feature of their laws arose from their having no real estate to deal in. They had not a fee simple title to their land, as a nation, and therefore could not give any title to individuals. The land was given to them by treaty, to be held in common. Hence each individual owned only his improvement; and a quarter of a mile from it each way was allotted to him as an addition, upon which no one else could trespass without his permission. Improvements were bought and sold at good rates, but there was none of the machinery of deeds, clerk's offices and the like. This is to some extent changed by the war and the new treaty.
They have no taxes. Their government is sustained by the interest of funds paid for their land in Mississippi.
Lawyers abound. It requires no course of legal study to get admission to the bar. A fee of $10 admits any one. You may well infer that much of their law is very common law indeed.
From the law let us pass to their social system, involving some points of law also, as in the case of marriage.
The law now requires that the ceremony shall be performed by a judge, or a minister of the gospel. This was applied in the first place only to new cases, but afterwards was extended to all who had not previously been wedded by a lawful ceremony. In consequence of this, I have frequently married old men to their wives, some of them bearing their grandchildren on their back. The law allows a fee of $2; but it is very rarely paid, unless pay is insisted on. Some work it out. The marriage obligation being mutual, the case has been known of the groom and bride each paying half the fee in work.
A widower, dignified with the name of Benj. Franklin, who had been educated in Kentucky, came to my house, to invite me to attend his wedding and marry him. To ascertain if all was right, I usually questioned them carefully, before I consented. On asking him the name of his intended, he said he didn't know; he hadn't talked with her about it; he knew that Johnson had a daughter, and he went and asked him for her; and Johnson said he might have her. I went 6 miles to perform the ceremony. Before I got to the house
he fell in with me, and informed me that he had but a dollar of the fee, and asked credit for the rest. I consented, and the debt is still due.
After the ceremony is performed, it is common for two to hold a shawl over the head of the bride, into which presents of handkerchiefs, or ribands, or aprons, or cloth are thrown by the groom's friends, which are taken out in turn by the friends of the bride.
Sometimes the bride does not give to the question the customary sign of assent, yvmmah. This at first puzzled me; but I was informed that, in such cases, the assent is taken for granted. In other words, "silence gives consent." Perhaps this results in some measure from the fact that the bride is not consulted as to the preliminaries. The bargain is9
[The Choctaws were divided into two great iksas. To one of these everybody belongs. The first great principle was that a man could not marry a woman of his own iksa. That was incest, a crime of the deepest dye, and death was sometimes the penalty.
The next principle was that the children all belonged to the iksa of the mother, and in no way could this status be changed. The father was therefore a kind of interloper in his own family, and had much less control of his children than his wife's brother had. He had some recompense, especially if an oldest brother, in taking control of his sister's children.]
A third important principle was that kinship was not lost by remoteness. This involved a very peculiar system of nomenclature. For instance, with them, my father's brothers are all my fathers, and my mother's sisters are all my mothers, and their children are my brothers and sisters; but my mother's brother is my uncle, and his sons and daughters are mine; and my father's sister is my aunt, her
9Sheet number nine of the original manuscript is missing and may possibly have been sent to Lewis H. Morgan (see Introduction). The material on the lower part of this page may be supplied, however, from the second manuscript and is here inserted in brackets. The sentence left incomplete evidently explained that the bargain was made by the mothers and maternal uncles of the interested parties, which would lead up to a further explanation that bride and groom must belong to opposite iksa. Additional information regarding these iksas will be found in Bulletin 103, Bur. Amer. Ethn., pp. 76-79.
son is my father, her daughter is my aunt, and her daughter is my aunt, and her daughter is my aunt, and so on, as far as it is possible to go. This is what they call aunts in a row. The farthest removed of one's kindred by consanguinity are aunt, uncle, nephew, niece. The line of relationship, after turning aside thus far, returns into the direct line, and becomes that of father to son, or grandfather to grandson. To us it seems a very complicated system.
They have no word for cousin. What we would call cousin is either father, brother or son, or sister or aunt, according to circumstances. One clan, the Sixtowns, have no distinct name for aunt, but use the word vppokni, which is applied by the others to grandmother only. One of my Sixtown neighbors, a man of about 40, moved away. After a time he returned, and called to see me. He told me that he had heard of the death of his ippokni, and had come on account of it. I wondered who his grandmother was that had died. On inquiry, I found that it was the daughter of one of our nearest neighbors, but 18 years of age. If she had had a daughter, she also would have been his grandmother.10
When they meet, the salutation of universal application is ittibapishi lih mah, that is, "my brother," or "my sister"; but if the degree of kindred is known, that is the term used.
When a man went into a part of the nation, where he was unacquainted, the first inquiry made of him was for his relations. When they found who his uncles were, soon the relationship to themselves was traced, which brought him into the society of those who bore to him the title of near and dear kindred.
This system of relationship was a great bond of union among them. Their hearts were not so easily estranged from each other, as where this kindred tie does not exist. It served, not only to keep individuals in harmony, but different clans of the tribe, and also kindred tribes (as the Choctaws and Chickasaws). In the great northern league of the Iroquois or Six Nations, the bond of union was not that of a mere league, but this fundamental law of relationship lay at its
10An interesting point since in this particular the Chickasaw and Creeks agreed with the Sixtown Indians.
base. They had at least six different iksas, each including its portion of all the six nations.11
Among the Choctaws, the law forbidding the marriage of a man and woman of the same iksa was abolished nearly 30 years ago; so that the system is in that respect passing out of mind. Many of the young scarcely know to which they belong; (but the peculiar nomenclature is unimpaired, except among the English speaking portion of the Nation).
One serious difficulty with the system is that it takes from the father his proper place at the head of his family, and leaves him comparatively little control of his children. With that Christianity has to contend, and it is gradually overcoming it.
Col. Folsom, the first elected chief, of whom I have spoken, once remarked that he had but little encouragement to make property, as it would not go to his family at his death, because they were of the other iksa; but would fall into the hands of his brothers. That is now remedied.
Polygamy was to some extent practiced among them. A man would sometimes marry two or more of his cousins, that is, his mother's brother's daughters, and he was esteemed a very good uncle indeed, who gave them to him. This is now done away. There is but one lawful wife.
The law of modesty among them in old time was very peculiar in one respect. Complete non-intercourse was established between a man and his mother-in-law. They could not look at each other. If the mother-in-law saw by chance her son-in-law, she averted her head, and covered her face, or got out of his presence as soon as possible. If she found in any way that her son-in-law was approaching the house where she was, she hid herself at once. They could not speak to each other; all communication was through a third person. And in speaking of each other, they had a peculiar style, called the shame talk. They avoided the ordinary name of relationship, and adopted the noun haloka, or a special pronoun, which therefore bears the grammatical name of the marriage pronoun.
As they became enlightened, and acquainted with the
11Edwards has perhaps confused the "Six Nations" with the moieties of which they consisted. Actually there were only two moieties in each Iroquois tribe, the same number as among the Choctaw.
ways of the whites, some saw the great inconvenience of the custom, and desired to abolish it. Among the Sixtowns, who 40 years ago, were the least advanced of the people, it was in full force. Finally the chief called a council. Men and women assembled. Mothers-in-law sat there, with their blankets over their heads. The chief made a speech. He said that this custom was a very great trouble, that it was very different from the white man's way; that, if they kept it up, their children would be ashamed of them; "but," added he, "you must not expect us old people, who have been in the practice of it so many years, to be the first to depart from it. It is for the young men to begin to break it up. And now, what young man is there of my warriors, with a strong hand, and a brave heart, who will lead the way?" There was a pause. At last a young man, of short and compact frame, arose, stretched himself for a minute, and then darted across the ring to his mother-in-law, to seize her by the hand. It cost a struggle, but finally he removed the blanket, took her by the hand, and saluted her. The charm was broken, and now all that remains is the use of the marriage pronoun, and even this I have very rarely heard.
That young man became the first native Presbyterian minister among them, and an eloquent one he is.
It is remarkable that the same law of non-intercourse prevails in Ceylon and Western Africa, and probably in other parts of the heathen world.12
A marked feature of their social intercourse is hospitality. They have no system of exchange of visits and calls; but each goes and comes as he chooses. And when one goes to another's house, he does not have to ask for food; but the best they have is set before him. If a stranger, he sits on his horse, till he is invited in, and then he shares in all that his host has.
One result of this is that they have no need of poorhouses. When one gets out of food, he goes to his neighbour's or kinsman's, and lives upon his bounty till that too is gone. If one kills a beef, he is almost sure to have a number of visitors, till it is gone. In fact this unstinted hospitality on
12The custom is well known and extended over a large part of America besides being widely prevalent in the Old World.
one side degenerates into spunging on the other, the lazy living upon the industrious.
You perceive that this militates very strongly against accumulation of property. If a man has meat, instead of being able to put it away for the use of his family for the year to come, his "tanfula kin" come and eat it away from him. To refuse it savours strongly of meanness. But people are learning that it is necessary to refuse, and there is danger that some may go to the opposite extreme.
Each man's house is his castle. To go there to quarrel with him is a great crime. If an injury is to be avenged, the guilty one must be met away from home.
Let me now introduce you to a Choctaw house and family of the olden time. The walls are made of upright poles or rails, well plastered with mortar made of common earth or clay, and water, with crabgrass mixed in by treading, to serve the same purpose as hair. It is applied with the trowel which nature gave them, their own hands. The roof is made of the same material; but the poles, or rails meet together along a short ridge. The whole is well daubed. There is but one opening, the door; and for this a shutter is by no means absolutely necessary.
This would be rather close for summer use in that hot climate; but in summer they have no need of a house, except in case of rain. They prefer to sleep and sit out of doors, under a tree or a bower. When the cold season came, they resorted to the anunka, or "hot-house," as it was called by the whites. At the sides of this are set stakes or forks in the ground, of suitable height, and at proper distances for the posts of a bedstead. On these are laid two poles lengthwise, and across the poles pieces of cane, which grows abundantly along the rivers. This is bed and bedding. Near the middle are two upright posts, which support the roof. Between these a fire of bark is kindled, which soon burns to coals, with very little smoke. These coals are sufficient to keep the house comfortable till morning. The first missionary among them says that this arrangement made a very comfortable substitute for quilts and blankets. Some slept on skins spread on the ground.13
On one side of the house was the sweet potato heap. They were carefully assorted and laid together, then covered with dry grass, upon which a coating of mortar was applied to keep out the air.
The cooking was done out of doors. (There fire was kept going by three logs laid with their ends meeting. As fast as they burned out, the logs were moved up to each other again. It is said that in this way the perpetual fire of the Incas of Peru, who worshipped the sun, was kept up.)14
They had no chairs, benches, or tables. When they sat down, they sat tailor-fashion, either on the ground, or on something spread on the ground.
The women did all the work at home; the men, the lords of creation, did nothing there, but eat, sleep, talk and exercise themselves for games, or hunts, or war. The old habits of the man are indicated in the language by the old style of asking whether he is at home. Lacking a verb "to be," they used verbs which indicated posture. When one went to another's house, and asked his wife if he was at home, the question was, "is the man lying down?" That was the posture in which he would expect to find him, if there. I am happy to say that there has been sufficient change in the home habits of the men, to introduce to a very considerable extent two changes in the language in this respect. The first was to the words, "is the man sitting?" The next was to the phrase, "is the man about?"
In old times, the women did not eat with the men. In fact, the men did not always eat together. Frequently each one's food was put into his own dish, and set aside for him, so that, whenever he chose, he could take it. He could gormandize the whole at once, if he chose, and then go hungry, till his dish was filled again.
Before considering what they eat, let us look at their cooking utensils. That of first importance in every Choctaw house is a wooden mortar and pestle, the mortar made of a section of a tree about 2½ feet long, and the pestle being about 6 feet in length. With these corn, slightly moistened, is pounded, either just enough to take the bran off, or is broken to pieces also, or is made into meal.
The fanner is the next article, made of tight basket-work, with which she can toss the corn up and blow the bran away. Then comes a coarse sieve, made likewise of basket-work. Some black pots coarsely made of clay or shells, holding 2 or 3 gallons apiece, complete the apparatus for cooking. Earthen bowls of various sizes, black and smooth, some of them highly ornamented with something resembling tattoo work, and spoons made of cow or buffalo horn, some of them quite highly ornamented, make up the table furniture.
To these essentials, civilization has added such superfluities as knives, forks, plates, cups and saucers, tables, chairs, bake-ovens and the like; and has changed in a measure pots and bowls and spoons of home manufacture, to iron pots and spoons and queensware.
Now as to the food. The principal materials are corn, sweet potatoes, beans and meat, tame or wild. To these may be added every wild vegetable or fruit, which can be eaten. Fish, mutton and veal are almost universally eschewed. They can make a great variety of dishes. But a few of the principal ones can now be described.
The first of all is tanfula, or as we anglicise it, Tom Fuller.15 The beaten corn is put into water, with a little lye, and most thoroughly boiled. Afterwards it sits in the same pot by the fire, being kept warm, till it is thoroughly soured. Then it is eaten. As an old Choctaw white man (i.e. a white man with a Choctaw wife) expressed it, he liked it when it had worked itself clean. You would hardly esteem it a savoury dish, but they are very fond of it. When sick, tanfula water is almost indispensable to them. I can bear testimony that it is by no means offensive to the palate, when hunger adds delicacy to the taste. In the summer of 1859, I was lost in a valley amid the mountains about 50 miles from home. After some wandering, I came at about 2 o'clock upon a company building a school and meeting house. I had been travelling from early in the morning over a very rough road, and had deferred eating my lunch till I should find the way, not knowing but that I would need to make supper and breakfast of it in the wilderness.
When I came to the camp, some were just about to eat, and invited me to dine with them. Of course, I assented. A
cloth was spread on the ground, on which was placed a plate of fried meat, and a clay bowl with about a gallon of tanfula, with two horn spoons in it. On one side, a plate and knife and fork were put for me. The others did not need any. (Fingers were made first.) A blanket was spread for me to sit on, and the two Choctaws, who were so hospitable to me, sat on the ground. They used one horn spoon and I the other. I was unskilful in its use. It was too large to be put into the mouth, and my difficulty was to get the corn in. By carefully observing them, and studying and experimenting upon the hydraulics of the operation, I finally succeeded well. The method is to have the corn at the end, and the water well back in the long curved hollow of the spoon, and then, with a shake and a toss, to give the water such a momentum as to carry the corn with it safe into its receptacle. I relished my food, made a hearty dinner, and was soon put on my way rejoicing.
Tansh pishofa is one of their lordly dishes, gotten up mostly on special occasions, as temperance meetings, weddings and funerals. Meat is boiled so thoroughly, that the bone can all be taken out. Then it is put into a mortar and beaten. The corn of tanfula is added, with a little salt, and the whole well mixed. This is very palatable indeed. There are several other similar preparations.
Corn bread is of various kinds. Sometimes it is merely meal and water mixed and baked. More frequently it is mixed, and kept till it ferments, and is then baked, meal and water being added to keep up the sour supply from day to day. One favourite kind is made of beaten meal in such a way that it is slightly sour, very solid, and almost translucent.
Bvnaha or shuck-bread is their fruit cake. Corn is beaten to meal, mixed with water and the ashes of bean pods; and whole beans are added for the fruit. It is then formed into about the shape of two apple dumplings stuck together, tied up, in corn-husks and boiled. I have frequently eaten it at weddings and funerals, and can testify to its freedom from bad taste; but some of the whites go farther, and are extravagantly fond of it.
Acorn mush is a dish of acorns and meat, of which many are very fond.
Besides these, there are various dishes made of hickory nuts and corn, ground peas and corn, and the like, some of which are extremely rich.
When corn fails them, they are skillful in finding substitutes. In the winter of '60 and '61, many families around us ate but few meals of corn in their own houses. Acorn mush, acorn bread, and wild potatoes, a tasteless vegetable which they find in low wet ground, took its place, and saved them a great deal of suffering. They were formerly more skilful than now in making such shifts, because they were more frequently in straits. An evidence of this is found in the old names of months, the meaning of two of which is little and big hunger.
Now a few words in regard to their dress. Many infants have no dresses regularly made. They are wrapped up in rags of quilts and the like. Children frequently run about home in the warm weather, with no other garment than nature gave them; and in winter many have but a single garment.
Some of the more old-fashioned of the men wear leggings made of buckskin, dressed by themselves, drawn close around the legs and body, and fastened together with buckskin strings. But most of them now wear pantaloons. Some still wear buckskin moccasins, made of a single piece cut in proper shape and drawn up and tied over the foot, entirely without ornament. Some go barefoot; but most wear shoes. Belts are almost universal, made frequently of straps and buckles; but many are long sashes, ornamented with beadwork. This, however, is not wrought by themselves. Vests are sometimes worn. Their coat is mostly a hunting shirt, a kind of sack, of calico or homemade plaid, with several capes, every edge being adorned with plaits or fringe. In these the bright colours, pink or red, predominate.
Hats are coming into use extensively; but many cling with great tenacity to a shawl of bright colours, rolled and put around the head in a circle, leaving the top of the head bare. Blankets and quilts are much worn in cold weather.
The hair is now often left long; but more frequently, among people of the old style, it is cut close to the head, except a single strip over the front, or in some cases running back
over the top of the head, like the crest of a helmet.16
They are very fond of feathers, and wear them, particularly when anything exciting is going on. It is now, however, a sign of a rowdy to wear them, and Christians avoid them. At school, when a boy puts a feather in his hat, you may begin to look out for him. They paint their faces for ornament, the prevailing colour used being red. This too, is a mark of rowdyism.
Many wear beads about their necks, the end of the string being fastened through a polished clamshell. Rings in the ears are very common, and I have seen one or two instances of a ring in the nose. The face of many in former days was ornamented with black inserted under the skin in zigzag lines from the corners of the mouth to the ears and to each side of the throat. This was done by the parents and grandparents, when the child was young. It has passed into disuse.
The main article of dress of the women in old time was simply a skirt, the cloth for which was made of the bark of trees split into threads and woven, turkey feathers being very ingeniously interwoven. This I have never seen. Shoes are sometimes worn by them, but mostly they go barefoot, or wear moccasins. Now they universally wear dresses, after the manner of white ladies, and long enough to nearly hide their bare feet and sweep the ground in grand style. In attending camp-meetings, they carry a clean dress along, and, when they wish to dress up, put it on over the other.
When they put anything on the head, it is generally a handkerchief, tied under the chin. Sun bonnets are coming somewhat into use. Seldom is a bonnet of a higher order seen there. The hair is not generally very neatly dressed. Many simply fold it and tie it behind. In this the different degrees of improvement are very manifest.
Many old women have their face tattooed as I described the men, and are elaborately decorated in the same way on the breast and arms.
Smoking is almost universal among the people; and when they light a pipe, they are not selfish with it. One takes a
16The style of dressing the hair here described was adopted from the Chickasaw in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth. Anciently Choctaw men, as well as women, let their hair grow long and, indeed, the tribe received one of its names from that circumstance.
few good puffs, and passes it to another, and so around from mouth to mouth. They mix the tobacco with dried sumach leaves to give it a pleasant flavour.
Their houses now are of all kinds and degrees, from the meanest log cabin, up to very fine frame buildings, of which there are a few. Glass windows are extremely rare. Bedsteads are very common, but by no means universal. Many prefer to sleep on the floor, with the feet to the fire. Generally all occupy one apartment, much to their moral depravation.
We find there all varieties of housewifery, from the most abject filth to a high order of neatness. The latter, however, is very uncommon. In some places, the dogs seem to do their share in cleaning the cooking utensils as they sit about.
There is very little order or discipline in the family. Each does what is pleasing in his own eyes. A parent may beat a child in anger, but seldom does he chastise him with coolness and in love.
The design of part of the old family discipline was to train them to hardness. To this end a father or grandfather would give a child a daily whipping to enable him to endure suffering well. Such exercises as winter bathing were appointed to them for the same purpose. Many of them can bear suffering with a fortitude far beyond that of the whites. On one occasion a school girl had got a large splinter deep in her arm, almost entirely covered by flesh. After experimenting with slight cuts, I had to cut boldly into the flesh before I could draw it out. She looked on without moving a muscle, while a white child fainted at witnessing it. Infants were formerly exposed in cold, wintry storms, under the conviction that, should they live through it, they would grow up hardy hunters and warriors.
They take great pride in being men, not women. The man is the superior, the woman the inferior. If they have but one horse, the man rides; the woman walks and carries the child or bundle. Frequently, now, this order is reversed. We then take it for granted at once that they have received the gospel.
Another question in regard to them is, "how do they get their living?" Of old the men lived by hunting. The women did what work was to be done at home.
They were very improvident. They used what they had, trusting to tomorrow to take care of itself.
Now they do not depend upon the chase for a livelihood. Agriculture is their universal employment, their farms varying from the meanest little field of an acre to plantations of thousands of acres.17
Tradition tells who were the first importers of cattle from Mobile, and that less than 100 years ago. When I was among them one man sold about $5000 worth of stock annually. All domestic animals were of recent origin among them, except the dog. He always abounded in great leanness, and shared his master's house. The relation is a most intimate one. They have a possessive pronoun for property, and a different one for the parts of one's person. This latter is used for the wife and the dog, as well as for the head or the hand.
Without domestic animals, they had no need of fences to protect their fields. When they got a few ponies, these could be tethered out, and thus kept from disturbing the crops. After a while they began to make brush fences. Now a lawful fence is 10 rails high, and for the lower 2 feet not more than 4 inches apart. Many fall below the legal standard; but many go above it, and there is a constant improvement.
Formerly the ground was merely opened, and as many as a dozen kernels of corn planted in a hill; and none must be pulled up, because they did not know which was the bearing stalk. Of course their crops were small.
Now the men do most of the out-of-town work, and have ponies and wrought iron ploughs to work with. A single pony is put to draw the plough. The depth of ploughing is therefore but an inch or two.
They are given to doing things at the last moment. Hence, at late planting time, they furrow out the ground, plant the corn, and plough out the middles afterwards. Some do a little better—ridge up the ground one way, cross furrow it, plant, and then plough out the middles. When, therefore, a drought comes, because there is no depth of loose earth, straightway it withers. If the season is good, they generally realize a sufficient crop for food; but by the time roasting ears come again, all is usually gone. A few break up their land well, fertilize it, plant in season, and are almost sure of a good crop. When one
17Edwards seems to have been unaware of the truly extensive development of horticulture among the Choctaw before contact with Europeans.
field is worn out, they forsake it and make another.
Many raise a little cotton, which they sell, or their wives pick, card, spin, weave, and make good substantial clothes for their husbands and children.
They have a variety of amusements.
Dances are frequent, especially on Saturday night. They keep it up till morning, and then spend the Sabbath in sleep. The movement seems to be a kind of stamping trot around a circle, to the music of a violin. They are frequently occasions of great licentiousness. The question is never discussed whether a Christian may attend them. If he does, he loses his standing in the church at once.
Men frequently play with marbles. "Hide the bullet" is one of their common games, a game of chance, connected with betting.
But the great game of all games with the Indian is the ball-play. The two sides are sometimes contiguous neighbourhoods, sometimes counties, or even whole districts. They meet on the ground the night previous to the play, and encamp. While on their way, the ball-play call is sounded in concert. A smooth piece of prairie, or of open timber-land is selected. It is about 40 rods long. Near each end a couple of posts about 15 feet high are set up close together, one pair as a target for each party. The aim is to hit these posts with the ball the greater number of times. But one ball is used. It is small, and of sufficient weight to throw well. It is never touched with the hands. Each player has two ball sticks, with a loop at the end of each, with which he seizes and throws, and catches the ball. A skilful player will throw it to a great distance and with great accuracy. The number on a side is from 30 to 50. They prepare for the play by taking off most of their clothing, painting their faces, and adorning themselves in various ways. Each side employs a ball-play conjurer, whose business it is to direct the ball in its flight; and greatly does it add to their confidence to have a skillful one engaged. Wherever the ball falls, the players of both sides rush to take it. He who first gets it, throws it towards the posts of his party, and hits them, if possible. Thus it passes back and forth, till one party wins. Sometimes as many ballsticks as can be crowded together are reaching for the ball at once, and most earnest is the strife, till one gets it.
Then others strike it away from him, if possible. Thus in the highest excitement, and with the utmost stretch of their physical powers, they spend the day. I have never seen any game to equal it in intense interest.
There is much betting in connection with it. Players bet, and lookers on bet, men to their last horse, and women to their last dress, the very clothes they have on. This is one of its evils. Another is the great dissipation of the game. It interferes greatly with the schools, and with every useful occupation; because the minds of the multitude, old and young, are so filled with it.
Still another evil is the personal injury received. Bones are sometimes broken, and even life has been lost. If one is in another's way, he is privileged to get him out of it in the easiest way he can, even if it be by taking him by the hair of the head, and throwing him aside. In old times, they never got out of humor, however rough treatment they received. The present generation have degenerated, and anger and strife have sometimes marred the game. The gambling and dissipation attending it make it inconsistent for a Christian to countenance it. I would probably never have seen one, had it not been necessary for me once to go to one among the Chickasaws, to employ a guide. It is by degrees losing its hold upon the minds of the people.
Of war I can say but little. The present generation have, till recently, known of it only by tradition. The last war of the Choctaws with other tribes was when, under Gen. Jackson, they helped the United States against the Creeks. One of our most valuable elders in the Choctaw churches, is a Creek, who was taken captive when a child, adopted as nephew by a Choctaw captain, and protected by him.
In a battle, if sufficiently excited, they would be perfectly reckless; but, for that very reason, they could not be held to discipline, or withstand disciplined troops.
One of the results of their war and hunting habits is that they are wonderfully skillful in tracking anything. The course which any animal has taken they can pursue almost infallibly; and often they can plainly see a track, where a white man can see no indication of it.
They are not easily lost in the woods, and never forget roads. If a white man has been led through an intricate series
of paths, and wants a guide to show him the way back, they laugh at him.
They are a superstitious people, except so far as the light of Bible truth has dissipated the darkness which enshrouds them.
For an illustration, we have their belief in rain-makers. Some pretended to possess the power, and were hired by the people to make it rain in time of drought. A white boy who was brought up in the Nation once followed a rain-maker. He took a path through the thickets, till he came to a place in the hidden depth of the forest, where he had cleared the brush and tramped the ground hard and smooth. Here he went through a series of incantations, and dances, and contortions for a considerable time. The rain-maker discovered the boy, and threatened his life; but by promising not to reveal the secret, he escaped.
I have heard that some hold frogs up and whip them, to compel them to make rain. Two years ago a great drought began. An old doctor near us was going to make rain. He gave out that, if it rained in 3 days, it was his rain; if after that, it was not his. The promised rain did not come. The next spring he seemed near dying with scrofula. We visited him, gave him nourishing food, and he was raised up, apparently from the borders of the grave. I conversed with him in regard to his soul's concerns, and brought this point in. He told me his plan. He watered 3 hills of corn, 3 times a day, for 3 days. This he had done the two preceding years, and on the 3d day each year, rain had come and saved his crop. The 3d time he tried, it had failed. But he resented strongly the imputation that he had heard, that he had prevented rain. For it is part of the belief that rain-makers can prevent, as well as cause rain. This furnished a convenient excuse, in case of failure. "Some one," they say, "was conjuring against me."
They sometimes ascribe events to strange causes. I asked a woman if her sweet potato crop was good. "No," she replied, "my child died last summer, and they all rotted."
According to them, the waning of the moon is caused by rats eating it up. That would agree well with the theory that it is made of green cheese.
Eclipses were caused by a great bear devouring the sun. To drive him away, they used to shoot at him.18
Among them there is variety in the theory and practice of medicine.
Some use herbs of decided power; but such as depend on these alone are very few. Blood-letting is much practiced. Some times it is taken from the arm; but more frequently from the place where the pain is, by cupping. They make incisions with broken glass, over which a hollow horn is placed, and the operator sucks through it. Many are marked in the forehead with the scars of cupping for the headache. Relief is often given in this way.
Another method is cauterizing; not with chemical agents, but the genuine cautery with fire. A piece of punk is lighted, and when well burning, is repeatedly applied to the flesh where needed. The body is sometimes marked with these scars in various places.
And steaming is practiced to a very great extent. A hole is dug in the ground, and filled with water. Hot stones are cast into it, and the patient lies over it, covered with quilts or blankets, exposing the affected part to the full action of the steam.
And they have a peculiar method of kneading the body. We once came upon an encampment of Chickasaws, where the doctor in a little tent was busily engaged kneading his patient with might and main.
Again, they extract the witchball. The theory of disease at the foundation of this is that it is caused by something secretly thrown into the body by a witch. It may be a wolf's hair, or a small coal, or a pebble, or any little thing.
The art of extracting this is learned from the kowi-anunk-asha. The word means something that "is in the woods." He is a fabulous little nondescript, with which the doctor has held communication, and learned from him the magic art. The art itself is somewhat of the nature of dry cupping. The process is none other than sucking. The lips are repeatedly applied to the diseased part, and by dint of powerful exertion of the muscles employed, in connection with the mysterious power given by the kowi-anunk-asha, the dread witchball is at
last removed. Sometimes the patient recovers, sometimes not.
This is a very convenient method of deception; the mouth being so convenient a place to hide the wolf's hair, or whatever else may be required. It is very transparent also; yet many of the people still believe in it with implicit faith. They say the doctors sometimes suck so hard as to bring blood through the pores of the skin. I am so much of an unbeliever, as to suspect that the supply comes from their own mouths.
The sucking does sometimes relieve pain, and thus the deception is supported.
If the patient dies, the doctor proceeds to tell who is the witch that caused the sickness and death. He generally selects some lone woman, who has scarce any near kindred to avenge her death. The friends of the deceased then watch their opportunity to kill her.
In the early history of the mission a man died, and old Elliki, who lived near, was pointed out as the witch. A number of the relatives of the deceased armed themselves, and went to her house. She, all unsuspicious, greeted them, and with true Choctaw hospitality, set a bowl of tanfula before them. The men approached her, and charged her with causing the death. She had time only to say, "Others tell lies, and you believe them," when the fatal thrust was made, and poor old Elliki was no more.
Such proceedings are now all prohibited by law, and made capital crimes. They are therefore almost abolished. I have known but one instance of the kind. This occurred in the winter of 1857 and 1858, during an interregnum of constitutions, when they had no officers to execute the laws. A daughter of old Post Oak died. The doctor charged it upon the wife of Afamontvbi. One of the kinsmen of the deceased, a very desperate character, went to their house to take her life. They hid under the bed. The woman held up her child as a screen, thinking that he would not shoot the child. He fired and hit the child, once in the head, and once in the breast. The mother then dropped the child, and she and her husband ran out of the house and escaped. Neighbours came, took up the body and buried it. The father and mother wandered about, a most forlorn couple, till finally the father was removed from such scenes, I hope to a better world.
The last method I shall speak of is founded upon the theory that sickness is caused by departed spirits returning to take away the spirits of the living. Hence something must be done to drive them away.
We heard that a negro woman, who had lived with us, was sick, and we went to see her. When we arrived, the Chickasaw doctor, who had been sent for by her mistress, was going through his conjurations. With his fine voice he intoned in very peculiar style, and with his rattle he rattled, dancing all the while, fully half an hour, before he left and we were admitted. While engaged in this, he scattered upon her body a bundle of cut straws, which he held in his hand. I thought at the time that it was enough to produce some kind of shock on the nervous system, which might do harm or good. It gave me more pain to hear it, than anything else I had witnessed then. When we were admitted to the house, the poor woman said, "Don't think I believe in this. I believe in Jesus Christ." She soon died.
As to religion, they had none. Other Indian tribes talk of the Great Spirit, of the great Being above, the Creator and Preserver of all; but the Choctaws had no term for Him. Some other tribes are idolaters; the Choctaws had no form of worship. As completely, almost, as possible, they were a people without a god. Still they had some notion of supernatural things.19
Some of them pretend to believe that man has no future state, that death ends his being. This is held by them in opposition to the gospel. Some, I suppose, have lived, without the idea of a future state entering their minds. Twelve or 15 years ago, one such saw a Bible in a store, and asked the owner, a young half-breed, what it was. He told him, added, "It is all true; but we half-breeds love our sports too well to follow it." The old man wanted to know what it taught, went to meeting, heard, believed, and thenceforth lived a Christian life, and died a Christian death.
Most have an idea of the existence of the shade or spirit after death. One tradition was that it had to pass over a bad slough on a log. If it got over safely, all was well, if it fell
off, it was lost. Their burial and funeral practices also show some notion of spiritual existences.20
To these I now invite your attention for a little.
In former times, the body of the dead was laid upon a scaffold, outside of the house, protected from the fowls of the air, till the flesh was completely decayed, and dropped from the bones. Bone pickers were then employed—men with long nails, whose business it was to pick the remaining flesh from the bones. The bones were then deposited in the common dead house. Previously, however, to the final disposal of them, their cry and dance was held. The relatives and friends of the deceased gathered at the house. The nearest relative decked the skull with ribands and feathers, and held it in the lap, while others wailed and danced around it. This mode of treating the dead was still practiced to some extent, when the missionaries went there.
Another practice was that of burying all of a man's personal property with him. That property was very small indeed. All that an Indian used to need was his bow and arrows, pipe, dog and a few articles of clothing. These all occupied the same grave with himself.
As property increased, this has been in a measure done away. Still there have been instances of the old practice being kept up in full. It is less than 20 years since a woman of wealth died, and her wardrobe, pony, some furniture and food, her watch, her portrait, and various articles of value, including $300 in money, were buried with her. I have heard of instances of servants having been killed and buried with their masters; but none such occurred while I was among them.
I have seen a woman put a little tin pail in the grave on the coffin of her child. The contents I did not see, but I presume it was tanfula. They put the clothes of the dead in the coffin with the body. They dislike to wear them, or even to see them. The name of the dead is never mentioned, if it can be avoided. They speak of him as the dead, or designate him by his relationship to themselves, or to some other living person.
Grave-yards are coming into use; but the general practice is to bury at home. The interment takes place, as soon
as the coffin and grave can be prepared. Occasionally now they wait a day.
After burial they have a mourning season, during which, according to the old way, the hair is not dressed, nor the face nor clothes washed, nor do they marry. Objection has been made to friends' joining the church during that time. Every evening the bereaved go to the grave, sit or prostrate themselves by it, cover their heads, and spend a season in most bitter wailings. At other times, when friends go to the house, like Lazarus' sisters' friends, they go together to the grave to weep there.
The mourning season lasts from a month to a year, according to circumstances, or to fancy. It has gradually lessened. At the end of it comes the funeral, or cry, or ai akshuchi20, time of doing away, as they call it. Formerly poles were set up about the grave, which were pulled up at the cry, and the shade, which lingers till then about the grave, was driven away. This has ceased.
Formerly it was a season of mirth and revelry, drinking and dancing, in connection with the cry. Now more frequently sermons are preached.
The people generally meet the evening before and camp. A large amount of food is prepared to feed the company. Sometimes they have a sermon in the afternoon or evening. At 10 or 11 o'clock the next day, a sermon is preached, after which all go to the grave. The relatives, especially the women, sit about the grave, cover and wail, calling out the name of the relationship, as, mah, svsoh mah, svsoh mah, oh my son, my son. A hymn is sung, a prayer offered, and the benediction pronounced. In a little while dinner commences. The people in successive companies sit around the table spread in the open air and then disperse.
Allow me now to call your attention for a few minutes to their language and literature. One of the very remarkable facts in regard to the Indians is the immense diversity of their languages. Some are very limited in their vocabulary. Of Choctaw words, 10,000 or 15,000 have been collected in the lexicon and spelling book, and new ones are constantly found. They have a very extensive and accurate onomatopoeia, representing almost every natural sound, and a very elaborate system of words describing the appearance of ani-
mals. Within their range of thought the language is copious, and is well adapted to the composition of new terms.
The nasal tones predominate, as with other tribes. There is a beautiful variety of long and short vowels, and of long and short consonantal sounds. Moreover they have a fine liquidity of utterance, which it is almost impossible for a white man to attain.
Withal they have great nicety in their particles. Distinctions of relations, which we have no word for, and express only by emphasis, they express in words. I easily count up 58 different ways of using the definite article the, 26 of which differ from 26 others in case only. And what is very remarkable is that most of them are built up of significant elements of a single sound. For example, in ak okvto, the, each of the 7 letters is significant. I can count up 105 different ways of saying and, 50 of which differ from 50 others in case only.
It is difficult to learn, yet much less so than many other Indian tongues. Some missionaries learn to prepare sermons in it in 3 or 4 years; and some never learn. It is said that the first missionary who prayed in it, by a slight mistake once asked God to eat up the children.
The missionaries reduced it to writing in the Roman character. It is written phonetically, and therefore they easily learn to read.
Many redundancies have been clipped and the language rendered much more definite and precise; insomuch that an intelligent Choctaw told me that, when he met a stranger, he could tell by his style whether he had learned to read, or not.
The words are long, and it takes more of them to express an idea than of English words. The interpretation of a sermon requires about twice the time of the English part.
A secretary of the Board, himself an orator and in the U. S. Senate 17 years, on a visit to them, declared their language the best sounding for oratorical purposes that he ever heard. And he had heard only the common style. The old oratorical style is now rarely heard.
In common style, a man might begin an address in council thus, "Omeh, miko vhlehah, kvpitvni hochito, tvshka puyuttah mah, himak nittak achukma ka nan isht il ittim
annumpula chi hosh, abohah ilvppa iloh ittvfamvshkeh." The old oratorical style would inflate this into "Omishkeh, miko vhlehah, kvpitvni hochitoh, tvshka a puyuttah hvchiah mah, himak nittak fehna kvto, nittak achukma hona, ai ittvnaha ilvppak okvno, nanah isht iloh ittim annumpohonla chi hocha, iloh ittvfamvshkeh." The English of it is, "Well, chiefs, great captains, warriors, we have met at this meeting place this good day to consult."
In old time, they had no books, with which to occupy their leisure time. Talk took their place. Stories of great exploits in war or hunting, the traditions of their ancestors, and fictions of various kinds furnished amusement to them for many an hour. Their shukhanumpah, or "opossum stories," answered to our novels.
Now they have the New Testament, the Old Testament to 2d Kings, a hymn book, a spelling book, reader, arithmetic, several small religious volumes and many tracts.
They have no family names which pass down from father to son; but each individual has an independent name. The introduction of English names changes this. Names used to be given with great ceremony to young men after some exploit in war or hunting. They generally ended in vbi, "a killer," and were always significant, e.g., Hotvbi, "who seeks and kills." The women have significant names also.
The name is very seldom spoken in life, and never after death, except in cases of extreme necessity. The women especially dislike to utter their own names. When I took charge of the Wheelock church, I went around with one of the Choctaw elders to get acquainted with the members. I took down their names to compare with the list. We came to the house of an old man, whose wife was a member. Having made other inquiries, I asked her name. The elder did not know; the husband was unwilling to speak it, and insisted that his wife should herself tell it. We waited and asked, again and again. After 15 minutes or more, she mustered courage to speak it, Isht-imanya, but cut it off as short as possible, glad to be through with the unpleasant duty. Nameless children are often found.
Parents are generally known by their child's name, particularly the eldest son. A woman, whose oldest son's name was Gordon, was sent by her husband to inquire after
the health of my wife, who was sick. She said she would go and tell Gordon's father that George's mother was better.
Some of their terms have a historical bearing. For example the word for white man means, something sacred, or supernatural thus handing down to us the impression which the white first made on the Indian mind. The word for district or state means "fire," perhaps pointing back to a time, in ages past, when they were worshippers of the sun, and in each district a fire was kept burning for him. One of their public ceremonies used to be to extinguish all fire on a particular day, recourse being had to the flint and steel and punk, for a new supply of this necessary of life.21
When the mission was commenced, they had some remnant of the custom so prevalent among some tribes, of flattening the heads of infants, by pressure on boards. This is all done away. Nor are they now tied to frames and carried about, after the old Indian custom. They are carried on the back and held by a blanket or shawl drawn around them. The only times when I have ever seen them carried in the arms to any considerable distance, were when their mothers have brought them to us for medicine in the first days of infancy.
The women bear burdens in a large basket, holding about a bushel and a half, which they swing on the back, and support by a strap passing around the forehead. In the top of the basket load the babe is sometimes laid. In this way I have known a woman to carry a bushel and a half of acorns 11 miles to exchange for meal, in a time of scarcity.
The Choctaws are not as large and straight as individuals of many Indian tribes, nor have they the proud elasticity of step, which marks some.
(Almost the whole nation is tainted with scrofula.)
Full-blood families are usually small, while the halfbreed families are large. The admixture seems to impart new vigour to the constitution, and their better care of life tends to its preservation.
They are a beardless people. To this there are a few exceptions, and yet in them the beard is so light as scarce to amount to an exception. The prevalent notion that they
pull out their beard, is a mistake, at least so far as that tribe is concerned. I have known them to try hard to raise a beard, but they failed.22
They were formerly capable of great endurance, especially when on hunting or war excursions. In some instances they were under the necessity of running all day to get to water.
They are slow to become excited; but when excited, are capable of immense exertion. A mad Indian is not much more easily handled than a wild beast.
Their whole discipline tends to a repression of the emotions. If a babe cries, the mother, in apparent unconcern, often leaves it to cry on, till it stops from exhaustion. They are trained to endure pain unflinchingly.
They naturally hold revenge for a long time. The Indian principle is never to forget an injury. But this is gradually yielding its sway, under the influence of Christianity. On the other hand, without any display of gratitude at the time, they do not soon forget favours. A widow came to our house on a cold winter's day, with her little boy suffering from ague, and clad in a single garment much worn. We dressed him up and gave him medicine. A few weeks after, his mother walked from home 8 miles with a basket for us, to show her gratitude.
They are generally an open, honest, frank people. I think our churches have very few deliberate hypocrites. When a man has been deceived, and gives up his religion, he does it openly.
There were 2300 slaves among them, belonging mostly to the half breeds. They generally make kind masters, and sometimes the slave is practically above the master in the management of affairs.
Most of the people are poor, from ignorance, indolence, shiftlessness, causes which make poverty everywhere. Yet many are thrifty; and where the Gospel finds an entrance, it makes a manifest improvement.
The work of missions among them was commenced in 1819. For a number of years there was no visible fruit.
22Nevertheless the custom of removing hair from the face, and, indeed, from all parts of the body except the head was widely spread among the Indians.
Faith, love, and patience were strongly exercised. After 9 years' labour, the Spirit was largely poured out, and many were added to the church,—300 to the Presbyterian churches alone in a single year.
In 1830 came the sale of their country, and the removal to their new country, west of the Mississippi. This shook the churches to their foundations. Many went back and walked the ways of God no more. The missionaries had done what lay in their power against the sale of the country; nevertheless, they had to bear a share of the prejudice which it created in the Indian mind against the whites. By patient, persevering labor, that was overcome at last, and God again gave them favour in the eyes of the people. And the Spirit was again poured forth from heaven, insomuch that for the past 20 years the admissions into the Presbyterian churches have scarce at any time fallen below 100 a year, and have frequently risen to near 200. They report between 1700 and 1800. Other denominations raise the number to between 3000 and 4000.
The change of 47 years has been great. Then but one praying man was to be found, and he was an old negro; now they are a host; and better prayers I have never heard than from the lips of some of them, and never have I known a Choctaw Christian in good standing to refuse to offer prayer, when called upon. Then but one man could be found in the whole land, who would not get drunk, if he could get the means: now there are thousands who cannot be induced to taste that which intoxicates. Then there were no roads in the country, except such as the whites had made through it, and there was no need of them; for they had no wagons to use on them: now wagons abound and wagon roads are cut in all directions. Then not more than one or two knew how to read English, and the Choctaw was wholly unwritten: now hundreds, perhaps thousands, are acquainted with English books; and a large majority are able to read, and many of them to write and cipher in their own language. Then they were wasting away: now they are increasing.
The mission was commenced on the principle that there was no hope for the adults; that the only prospect of success was in taking the children in boarding schools, and making them "English in language, civilized in manners, Christian
in religion." Civilization was to prepare the way for the gospel. But God in his providence has taught far otherwise. The gospel has been brought to them with great success in their own language. The English schools are important for raising up educated, native preachers and teachers, and for the temporal welfare of the people. But to change their language in any short time is utterly impracticable; and the fact is, that the gospel has most influence where the English is least known.
Their history teaches also, that there is hope for any, even the most degraded. No people, not even the Diggers of this coast, are sunk so low, that this mighty elevator of the race, the glorious gospel, cannot lift them up.
For a year past, the churches have been under a veil. I will not attempt to draw it. It may be a time of great temptation, a time of separation of the dross from the gold. But sure I am that there is gold there; and, whatever may be the fiery trail, through which it has to pass, I am confident that it will be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.