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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 15, No. 1
March, 1937
EARLY LIFE AMONG THE FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES

Edward Davis

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The Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw tribes have, since about 1875, been called the Five Civilized Tribes.1 The fact that they are termed "civilized" gives us an incentive to know more of their early culture, their early environment, and their native capacity for growth. They have never been numerous but have held their number intact, while other, once strong tribes have broken into fragments. I have attempted to lay down here some of the basic facts of these very interesting tribes so that we may have a better understanding of their advancement, their failures, and their successes.

It is, of course, impossible to get a picture of these tribes before they were affected by white contacts. They readily adopted the white man's clothing, tools, homes, and other elements of culture. The white men were necessarily the historians. As the frontier delayed a study of Indian conditions, the Indian cultures were in a transitional state before records were made of them. The writers, who became their historians, did not write at the same periods. In fact, some groups of these Indians, as the Yuchis among the Creeks, have never had an adequate study made of them. We can only interpret the materials as we find them and hope they are adequate to give a foundation for an understanding of the later progress of the tribes.

The Five Civilized Tribes lived in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Choctaws occupied the region between the Tombigbee and the Mississippi in southern and central Mississippi and western Alabama. The Chickasaws, who occupied an area in northern Mississippi, had, with the aid of the Cherokees, expelled



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the Shawnees from the Cumberland River Valley in the first half of the eighteenth century. They claimed the lands vacated by the Shawnees in West Tennessee and West Kentucky. The Chickasaws thus had their villages and cornfields in Mississippi but hunted and roamed over the lands in western Tennessee and Kentucky as far as the Ohio River. The Creeks occupied a large portion of the states of Alabama and Georgia, but had the Cherokees as their northern neighbors in both these states. The Seminoles were originally a part of the Creek tribe but, by 1775, they had separated and moved down into Nothern Florida and had come to be recognized as a separate tribe. The Cherokees were in the mountains of the lower Appalachian Highland.2

These tribes had been in these regions as early as the time of the De Soto expedition in 1541. De Soto passed through the lands of the Apalachee in Florida which the Seminoles were later to inhabit. From there he entered the domain of Queen Cofitichiqui, who was probably a Yuchi, in the region of the Savannah River. Next he passed into the territory of the Cherokees in Georgia, South Carolina, and possibly North Carolina. From there, the expedition passed west and south into Creek territory. If he followed the Chattahoochie, he passed through the lands of the Lower Creeks; if the Coosa, he crossesd the lands of the Upper Creeks. After he had turned toward the south, he met the Choctaws in the battle of Mauvila in the vicinity of the Mobile River, where much of his supplies and equipment was lost. He was glad to turn north and spend a winter, (1540-1541), among the Chickasaws at the principal Chickasaw village on Pontotoc Creek in present Pontotoc County, Mississippi. There the Indians divided their stores of corn with the Spaniards, who, in turn, gave the Indians their first taste of pork. The Spaniards, as was their custom, demanded of the Chickasaws tribesmen as pack bearers on the spring march. The Indians, incensed at this, surprised the Spaniards at night, killed many of them, and destroyed much of their



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supplies. De Soto with his crippled expedition crossed the Mississippi early the next spring at Chickasaw Bluffs, now Memphis, which was the principal shipping point of the Chickasaws. By these contacts, De Soto had made the acquaintance of all of these tribes and barely escaped the destruction of this expedition at their hands.3

The tribes were at that time in approximately the same location as they maintained except that the Seminoles had not yet separated from the Creeks; and the Cherokees were somewhat further east than they remained after the struggles of the eighteenth century. Some copper was found among them, showing that interregional trade was being carried on. The Indians also had persimmons, grapes, and other fruits, and some honey. This shows that at that early date these Indians practiced considerable cultivation of the soil and preserved and utilized many of the forest products.4

The lands of these tribes stretched from the Gulf Coastal Plain on the south across the Piedmont Hills to the Appalachian Highlands on the north. They extended from the Mississippi River on the west to the Savannah River on the east. Great forests covered the area except for a few limestone prairies occasionally sandwiched between. Giant cane grew luxuriously in the Yazoo Delta in Mississippi and in many of the other river valleys. Nuts, fruits, and berries of many kinds grew in great profusion. The sparkling streams, unstained by the erosion that accompanies the white man's tillage, flowed throughout the year and fish of many varieties filled their waters. Bear, deer, wild turkey, and many small, edible animals lived in the forests. The climate was mild with great extremes neither of heat nor of cold. It was a fruitful land, yet with a scarcity of food products great enough to cause the primitive





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inhabitants to strive for advancement and with sufficient materials at hand to reward industry with progress.5

The five tribes were a unit in geographical location. This caused great similarity in the cultivation of soil, hunting, and other forms of economic life. The great amount of intercourse, found even among primitive tribes, caused many likenesses in habits of social and ceremonial life. The four Muskogean tribes had much in common as their language was very similar. Traders seemed to have had little difficulty in mastering the other three languages after they had mastered one, and the Chickasaw tongue was used as the trade language of the southeast. The Cherokees were of Iroquoian stock rather than Muskogean. They lived on the upper Coosa and Chattahoochie rivers in Georgia and Alabama; and on the upper Tennessee in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.6

Yet the similarity between the Cherokees and the Muskogean tribes was greater than one would at first suppose. Swanton, in writing of southeastern cultures, treats the Cherokees as marginal to the Creeks. Likewise, he finds that the Creeks and Chickasaws have a very great similarity of customs and usages. The Creek customs dominated the Seminoles although their southern location caused the latter to modify their mode of dress and of building houses. Likewise, the character of plants of Florida caused some alteration in the Indian food supply. The Choctaws, who believed themselves to have a joint origin with the Chickasaws, differed from them in many particulars. In fact, we find perhaps as many strictly Choctaw customs as we do Cherokee. In such a treatment as this we can but follow the general pattern of cultures except in those instances which present radical departures from that pattern. The object to be sought is rather a composite picture with general accuracy rather than a maze of detail.7







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These tribes all had migration legends which conceived them to have originated west of the Mississippi River. In these legends, the Choctaws thought of themselves as having followed a pole which either stood upright when they were to camp or rest, or leaned in the direction they were to travel. When the pole had come to rest permanently upright, they had stopped and made their home. The Creeks and Choctaws had a legend common to both in which they conceived the tribe as having issued from a hole or cave in the earth. These common legends did much to build a solidarity of groups.8

The separate tribes were by no means a close unit in blood, language, or ideals. Each group adopted many stray Indians who came their way and the general practice was to incorporate the younger prisoners of war into the various clans. The Seminoles incorporated many run-away negroes upon a basis somewhat intermediate between slave and free. The status in the group was fixed by the standing of the adopted persons. The adopted person, if he was capable and received on the proper plane, might even become the Chief of the tribe. If such a person married into a prominent Indian family, his children might become chiefs. Marriage alliances were often transitory and short-lived. The white men who readily found Indian mates often passed into the background of the picture, but left their half-blood progeny; and the infusion of white blood into the tribes was much greater than has been sometimes supposed. One writer phrases the matter: "Not infrequently, the captive white man waved goodby to civilization and kindred, took an Indian woman for a wife and finished nobody knows where. Many an Indian Chief's folks on his father's side wore high top boots and a white shirt." When we remember that the rite of adoption was universal among all these tribes and that they adopted most Indians who applied and began to adopt



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white men with early colonization, we understand that the infusion of alien blood in this way was very great.9

The incorporation of small groups of Indians or broken remnants of tribes was likewise very common. A legend ascribes to the Pascagoulas of South Mississippi, the desire to die rather than to fall into the hands of their victorious enemies. When the warriors of the tribe had been killed, the old men, women, and children were reputed to have joined hands on the banks of the Pascagoula River and, singing a death chant, to have marched to their death in the waters of the stream. Such legends are very interesting but actually most of such helpless groups found refuge with the neighboring tribes. A remnant of the Pascagoulas, themselves, seem to have joined either the Biloxis or the Choctaws.10

The Creek tribe was the most conglomerate and absorbed the greatest number of these foreign elements. The Tukabatchis were of Shawnee origin and constituted the largest foreign element in the Creek Confederacy. Opothleyohola, the great leader of the Upper Creeks, 1825-1862, was a Tukabatchi warrior. The celebrated Alexander McGillivray made his home among the Tuskegees, who were on the upper Coosa River. This group seems to have lost its own language and have taken that of the Creeks. The Hitchita was a Muskogean tribe, that early affiliated with the Creeks, whose language affected many of the early southeastern tribes and seemed to have modified the Creek language and customs. The Yuchi, a tribe of the Uchean group from the lower Savannah river, have been the most persistent in maintaining their speech and customs. While they constituted a distinct culture group, they sided with and enjoyed the protection of the Creeks in war. Although the Creeks absorbed this large number of peo-


9Hodge, Handbook of American Indians, I, 15-16; Meserve, John Bartlett, "Chief Coleman Cole," Chronicles of Oklahoma, XIV, 9-12; and Swanton, "Creek Social Organization and Usage," 42 Annuel Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 167.



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ple, they were able to mold most of them to Creek thought and usage.11

The Seminoles were originally a part of the lower Creeks and were so regarded until about 1775. When the powerful Apalachee, a Muskogean tribe, was crushed in 1703 and 1704 by troops from South Carolina and their Indian allies, a large strip of territory in northern Florida was vacated. The neighboring Indians from the Lower Creek towns naturally moved into these fertile regions and were joined by the Hitchita from the same vicinity. Many Upper Creek towns with their Shawnee and Tukabatchi clans also joined them. The Yamasee, a Muskogean tribe of Georgia and Florida was crushed and broken up in the first half of the eighteenth century and a number of these Indians found their way among the Seminoles. Some of the Yuchi likewise came into Florida and settled among the Seminoles. Many other individual Indians, and perhaps unrecorded bands, found their way into Florida and settled in this composite group. The strongest and most intangible element of the Seminoles came as runaway or captive slaves from the neighboring states. The Seminoles did not place those in abject slavery but gave them an intermediate feudal basis. Some of the Negroes freely intermarried with the Seminoles and came to exercise a strong influence in tribal affairs. Florida passed into the hands of the Spanish in 1783 and to this strange admixture of Indians and Negroes came British traders and Spaniards whose influence was usually bad. The Florida Indian situation was very complex and destined to cause the United States much border trouble.12

The tribes were so constituted that factions within them have often disturbed the peace. The differences between the Upper and Lower Creeks have been the most persistent and troublesome.





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As an example, the Upper Creeks joined Tecumseh in the uprising at the time of the War of 1812 and some of the Lower Creeks joined the United States in putting the uprising down. When the problem of removal came, Opothleyahola led the Upper Creeks, and General William McIntosh led the Lower. This early division has persisted and affected the entire later history of the tribe.

The Cherokees seem to have had three dialects. One of these has disappeared; one is now used largely by the Cherokees in North Carolina; and the other by the Cherokees who came to Oklahoma. Many Cherokees under the Ridge and Boudinot leadership, at the time of removal, refused to follow John Ross and formed a powerful disrupting minority for many years. The Choctaw tribe was divided into three districts. These districts were often antagonistic to each other. Greenwood LeFlore asserted his claims to the Chieftainship of the entire tribe about 1824, when the tribe was really united for the first time. Claibourne and others who made contacts with the Choctaws in southern Mississippi recorded them as shiftless and roguish, though many others who contacted the Choctaws speak of the high quality of the people. One early writer, Milfort, attempted to prove that the tribe represented two distinct culture groups. The Chickasaws seem to have had three districts with strong leaders just prior to their removal, but the divisions were not disruptive. Both the Chickasaws and Choctaws were able to reconcile their internal differences at the time of removal and did not, at that time, suffer as acutely from factionalism as did the Seminoles, Creeks, and Cherokees. Since their removal to the West, the two tribes have cooperated closely and have had many problems in common.13

These Indians seemed to have reached a religious belief in a Supreme Being who was found in the Heavens above, in the Sun, in the Moon, and in the sacred fires; and in a future existence with



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a place of travail in the West and a place of rewards in the East or above. The Indian, however, did not attempt to rationalize his religion, and if he believed in a Supreme Being, he likewise believed in hundreds of animal, plant, and inanimate deities to whom he prayed frequently and whom he supposed to have had a large part in ordering his life. His forests were peopled with giants and pigmies with power to help or hinder him in his actions. He utilized priests and medicine men but the actions of each were so permeated with shamanism, trickery, and deceit, that they were often more like conjurors and quacks than true religious leaders or scientific practitioners. The Indian ascribed death or disease to witchcraft or evil spirits. He put witches to death without trial and treated diseases with dances and ritualistic ceremonies. Out of this welter of beliefs we cannot construct a clear pattern of religious rites, as the Indian himself was confused and irrational. We may, however, observe a very few of his characteristic beliefs and ceremonies.14

The Indians made various types of sacrifices. The Indian women usually threw a piece of fat meat away as a propitiatory offering of that which was to be consumed. Sometimes a hunting party would sacrifice the whole of the first buck killed. A small piece of meat would be cut out of the thigh of each deer killed, and the trading houses claimed that all such hams of venison were so cut. Such a sacrifice, the Indians believed, would prevent evil and promote good things.15

The Indians had many taboos and refrained from the use of many things. Adair relates that in traveling with a party of Indians he came upon and killed a large rattlesnake. An Indian astrologer who was with the party predicted dire danger from the killing of a tabooed animal. The Indians likewise feared birds





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of prey and some animals of prey. The hog was not used for food at first because of its ungainly appearance. The eating of blood was especially avoided. Some of these taboos applied to persons and warriors who lived apart from women for a number of days before going on military expeditions, and for a time after returning. Sleeping on a skin was supposed to impart the qualities of the animal to the sleeper; for instance, of the panther, qualities of speed and cunning; of the buffalo calf or fawn, qualities of a shy and retiring disposition. They likewise carried certain charms of various kinds to avert disaster and promote good luck. Adair recites that the carrying of a rabbit's foot was common among the Indians and was speedily taken over by some of the white men.16

Witchcraft was often ascribed to some person by an accuser. The alleged witch was usually summarily dealt with by the relatives of the deceased. Sometimes wizards, conjurers, and doctors were suspected of failure to do their duty and were killed. This placed a tremendous responsibility on the ones who attempted to diagnose and cure diseases. It was not quite so risky among the Choctaws where a patient, declared by the medicine man to have no chance of recovery, was put out of his misery by strangulation. Medicines, made from plants, were used to cure disease but some must have been of doubtful efficacy.17

The Pishofa Ceremony of the Chickasaws was illustrative of the various means taken by the medicine men to heal the sick. The Doctor who presided was chosen by the sick man's moiety. The ceremony took place in a house with an eastern outlook. A fire was kept burning in front of the house, or one in the northeastern corner, and another in the southeastern corner. Between the door and the fires were arranged certain wands or poles with ribbons or eagle feathers attached, or sometimes small human effigies were used. These were placed in the position directed by the





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doctor. Four assistants saw that no other person or animal passed between the fires and the door. The patient was seated near the door with the doctor behind him. The doctor blew into herbs and drew some of the mixture into his mouth and blew it on the patient. Sometimes an emetic was given before administering the medicine. Sometimes an assistant shot arrows into the mixture. The doctor sang songs proper for each remedy and in some cases accompanied them with a gourd rattle. The house group of the patient's clan and moiety assembled and feasted until night. They then danced until daylight to propitiate the animal deities that were supposed to be responsible for the sickness. The wands were then carried beyond the ceremonial fires and thrown away in the hope of scattering the disease.18

The Indians buried their dead as soon after death as possible. Graves were usually dug in the floor of the hut and the body was buried there. These Indians usually turned the faces of the corpses toward the east. They used both a prostrate form of burial and a bundle burial. In the bundle burials the body was doubled up with the knees drawn close to the face. About the body were placed various articles of personal belongings and some articles of food. Sometimes the bones of warriors who had been killed in war would be collected and brought home for decent interment.19

The Choctaw burial customs differed very widely from the other four tribes. They placed their dead upon scaffolds where they remained until the flesh was decomposed. Professional bone pickers then separated the bones from the flesh and placed them in baskets. The baskets were placed in the town bonehouse but the scaffold was burned. When the bonehouse was full, the bones were taken out and spread upon a mound and a layer of ashes or earth laid over them. Later the Choctaws began to modify their burials with an outside burial in a grave, over which poles were





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erected. After a considerable period of mourning, the Indians met in a great celebration, the poles were pulled from the ground, and a feast was held.20

In all the tribes, the relatives passed through a considerable period of mourning after a death in the group. The widows could not marry for a period up to four years among the Creeks, with exception that she might marry the brother of her former husband after the lapse of one year.21

Indian wars sometimes were of immense economic importance to the tribes. A good example of this was the expulsion of the Shawnees from the State of Tennessee, in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, by the combined Chickasaw and Cherokee tribes. The Cherokees were permitted to settle further west and south and both tribes enjoyed an unmolested hunting ground in Tennessee and Kentucky for many years. Then each had additional lands to cede to the United States.22

Indian warfare, however, was primarily social and might be regarded as institutional killing. The two main motives were to avenge fancied wrongs and to give individual warriors an opportunity to prove their mettle in combat. The leaders achieved their distinction because of their prowess and in turn were an ideal for the young warriors to follow. War became a game in which the warriors sought to secure scalps without losing their own lives. That they might live to enjoy the fruits of victory, the Indians fought by stealth and from cover. The bulk of the fighting was done by small parties of from twenty to forty men. If ill-omened birds sang or if the warriors suffered from unfavorable dreams, they might return home without loss of prestige.23

The period of fighting was usually in the early spring. If humiliations had been suffered, or if other conditions warranted,









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the Chief called a war council. After deliberation a vote was taken and, if favorable, the leaders were chosen. The leaders might secure followers but each individual was given freedom to go or stay. The assembled warriors usually spent three days in fasting and purification. During this time they did not associate with their families but went through a rigid regime of fasting, dancing, and the drinking of the black drink.24

The Indians carried parched corn to serve them as food when in contact with the enemy. They traveled and fought with as little clothing as the weather permitted. Sacred articles were carried for charms and to ward off ill omens. A leader and his subordinates maintained some form of organization on the march. Once on the trail of enemies, they were tireless in tracking and in deceiving their enemies. If they took a number of scalps, they were ready to return home. Such prisoners as were captured were brought with them if possible. Once the war party returned, they spent another period in a feast or fast of purification. A triumphal celebration was held over their scalps and prisoners. The older prisoners were usually tortured by fire or other cruelties. The children were generally adopted, except when all prisoners had been dedicated to death at the start of the expedition; then they were sacrificed.25

The Indians held many feasts and celebrations either of an annual nature or at the occurrence of certain happenings, such as that of going to, or returning from war, or at the death of a member of the tribe. The green corn dance marked the season of the return of the harvest and constituted the beginning of a new year. It was universally celebrated, although less attention was given to it among the Choctaws, more being given among the Creeks. The old fires were extinguished, and new fires were lighted and distributed to the various homes of the village.26







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The Indians celebrated the feast by towns. Bundles of sticks were distributed as the feast neared. The Indians threw away one stick each day and when they were gone, met for the dance. John Howard Payne has given us a most vivid picture of the Green Corn Dance held at Tukabatchee Town, the home of Opothleyohola, the celebrated Creek chieftain, in 1835, the year of the removal of the Creeks to Indian Territory. This story, with a foreword and notes by John R. Swanton, was used to describe the celebration.27

The Creeks made new each year the pottery and mats used in the ceremonies. New soil was scattered over the square. Enmities were forgotten, and one under sentence for crime might steal in unobserved and when the exercise began, his crime was no longer remembered. The new fire ceremony consisted in extinguishing all the fires in the town at the same time. A square board with a hollow in the center was used in relighting the fire. Leaves and dry wood were placed on it and a stick was whirled on the board until the friction produced a flame. The leaves ignited and from them sticks were lighted and borne to every hearth of the town. The original fire was taken to the center of the square; there certain Indians appointed for the purpose brewed the black drink in the newly made pottery vessels. Each Indian present took a drink from the long handled gourds that were provided and a moment later vomited it out on the ground. The drink was supposed to purify the participants. After the rites concerning it, the green corn was brought in and the people were given permission to eat. Later a hunt was engaged in and rites concerning animal food were performed. Likewise, rites were observed in the nature of warfare but the Indians here used guns rather than bows and arrows. Payne concludes:

"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 gratitude. It



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was burying animosities, while it was strengthening courage. It was pausing to give thanks to heaven, before daring to partake its beneficence."28

One of the favorite sports of the Indians was the Indian Ball Game. The sticks used in the game were made by trimming a stick, usually hickory, very thin on the smaller end so that, when the end was bent back over the handle, a cuplike depression would be formed of the thin part. The cup was flared in front and laced with a thong at the back. With two of these sticks the Indians could catch and throw a small compact ball made of deer's hair covered over with deerskin and sewed tightly with sinews. Two towns, clans, or moieties would play each other. Two upright posts were set up at each end of a long rectangular field. The players were equal in number and the aim of each side was to throw the ball between their goal posts. The ball was tossed up in the center by the referee. The players on each side sought to secure it and toss it toward their goal, but they had to handle the ball with the sticks, not with their hands. They had no rules forbidding personal roughness. The participants played with only a breech clout on and the opposition frequently brought blood from their bodies by striking them with the playing sticks. The players might be crippled or even killed but the game went on to completion. At the end of the agreed period, the team who had thrown the ball between its goal posts the most times won.29

The preparation for the ball game was very much like the preparation for war, but perhaps the ceremonies were confined to one night. The players drank the black drink, fasted, and danced throughout the night preceding the game. The spectators would come in great numbers and the Indians exercised freely their bent for gambling. They would wager their clothing, orna-





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ments, ponies, after horses were owned, and even themselves as slaves to the other for a specified period.30

The warriors had another game called Chungke. It was played on grounds at or near their town squares. The field consisted of a well cleaned plot of ground over which sand might be sprinkled. Each player was equipped with a round stone disc about eight inches across, and a light oak pole or shaft, about eight feet long. The player started running, hurled the stone on its edge, and then cast his pole so that the tip would be near the stone when it came to rest. The player whose shaft point was nearest his stone won the throw. The players would bet heavily on the game and play with great enthusiasm throughout long periods of time. This game certainly disproved a popular conception that the Indians were lazy. It has not retained its popularity as in the case of the Indian ball game.31

The town was the community unit of these Indians. These usually had as their center a town square. This square was the nucleus of the social and ceremonial life of the village. Adair says that each town contained a large edifice which constituted the community house. It was furnished with couches on which the old men and warriors might recline and rest, sleep, deliberate, or eat. The couches were about seven feet wide and slightly longer. They sloped to the wall so that sleepers would not roll off. The Chief's hut or bed usually occupied one side of the square. Other public buildings would vary from place to place.32

Except for those near the Gulf of Mexico, the Indians of all the tribes constructed winter houses to protect them from the severe winter weather. These were necessary as the adult Indians were never heavily dressed and the children usually went naked until they were ten years of age. These were similar to, though smaller than, the large houses mentioned above. Around a circle







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they planted, at intervals, strong posts of pitch pine, sassafras, or black locust. This circle of posts was placed well into the ground. They were of equal height, five to six feet above the ground, and notched at the top. From post to post they laid poles as roof plates. To form the walls of the house they tied pieces of oak to these posts and interwove them with the same material. They plastered these walls with mud and grass. In the center of the circle, they erected in a quadrangular form four large pine posts of approximately twice the height of the outer posts. On these posts were laid heavy logs notched and sloped to the tops. Long, strong poles were laid from these central logs to the outer roof plates. They laid over these split saplings and daubed them over with a thick layer of mud held together by withered grass. Then they thatched the entire roof with layers of long grass, reeds, cane, or bark, held down by split saplings. The doors of these winter houses were about four feet high, the entrances were roofed over, and usually opened toward the east. The houses were entered by a winding passageway which protected the interior from the winter winds and from an invading enemy. The firepit was in the center but no provision was made for the escape of smoke. This made the houses very stuffy and uncomfortable.33

The couches were arranged about the walls and supported on four forks of cane. On these they laid mats of cane, bark or skins which were supported by large bars of cane. Robes of buffaloes, bears, panthers, or deer skin were used as bedding. Panther skins were often furnished the boys as these were supposed to give them traits of cunning and strength; the girls were likewise placed on fawn or buffalo calf skins because those animals were shy and timorous. In these houses, a fire was built in the day time, and when it had burned down, ashes were thrown over the coals. If the room became cold at night, the fire was stirred with



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long canes to expose the partly burned coals to the air and when it was necessary, new fuel was added.34

Adair gives us a good description of their oblong summer houses. They fixed posts of pine, sassafras, or locust, along each side of the house. These posts were notched at the top and on them wallplates were placed. A large post was set at the middle of each gable end and one in the center of the building. Along these posts, they laid a heavy rooftree and sapling rafters were laid from the wall plates to the rooftree; over these, laths of split saplings or cane were tied. Over these laths they fashioned a roof of split cypress boards or bark, and over all, laid heavy logs as a protection from heavy winds. The sides and gable ends were walled up as in the winter houses. The doors were usually of split poplar of one or two boards in width. The type of house used largely by the Choctaws varied from the usual by having a smoke hole at either end instead of in the center as in the other tribes.35

The early Indians were forced to construct the earlier houses with stone axes, and split their timber with wooden wedges. The houses described above were constructed with the aid of an iron hatchet and a knife. The effect of the coming of the white men was soon apparent in the Indian habitations. Schneider, who visited the Cherokees in the winter of 1783-1784, describes a typical Indian hut as 10 by 14 feet and blocked up of narrow logs to the height of seven feet. Split shingles began to come into use as roofing about this time and the walls were plastered with mud. There were still no windows and the door was small. Instead of the fire built in the middle of the building without a proper outlet for smoke, the chimney was on the outside. About such a house were the customary other cabins such as corn cribs, ceremonial houses, purification retreats, and storage rooms.36







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The Creek towns might consist of successions of villages or neighborhoods scattered through the woods and along the streams where water was convenient. Such scattered villages were connected by a network of trails. The Choctaw town near the Creek or Chickasaw borders was compact but in the other parts of the Choctaw Nation, the houses were straggling. The Choctaws did not have the square in their rambling towns. Perhaps a town was started by a man and his wife occupying a space and as their daughters married, their husbands settled down with them, but the boys would marry and settle elsewhere. The property might be built or bought by the man but was in reality the property of his wife. The man was of necessity supposed to offer food and shelter to such of his own clan as happened to ask his service but hospitality was extended to all visitors. This made the home a refuge for the helpless and indigent. Sometimes such hospitality was exploited by the shiftless clansmen who could demand food and hospitality but it furnished protection at a time when old age pensions and orphan homes were unknown.37

The above customs grew out of the fact that the clan, the social group next above the family, did not usually permit marriage within the group. Descent was traced through the female line, and the husband remained a member of his mother's clan throughout his life. The clan was one of the strongest social factors in the tribes.38

The moities or phratries were a peculiar organization which strangely affected the social, civil, and ceremonial life of the tribes. Each tribe seemed to be divided into two of these and each tribesman knew to which group he belonged. The rule against marriage was rigidly enforced in the moities making a double ban to intermarriage of closely related groups. Strangely enough the In-





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dians had no way of reckoning kinship on the father's side and inbreeding was possible although strictly forbidden in the mother line. Likewise the moities served to divide the Indians into groups for the prosecution and defense of criminals, the ball plays, celebration of certain feasts, and for the celebration of funeral rites. These groups adhered closely and had a great influence in resisting the adoption of Christian customs when the transition to civilization was begun.39

The Mosaic Law of "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was nowhere more ceremoniously followed than among these Indians. It was the task of the clan to avenge the injuries of its members at the hands of an outsider. Men were punished for injuries to men, and women for injuries to women. If a man committed murder and fled, his own brother or nearest relative would be punished in his place. The culprit who fled would forfeit his place in the clan and become an alien without a home. This custom must have brought about the state of mind that later brought the condemned man, released on his own honor, to the place of execution on the set day.40

The system of blood-feud and retaliation for injuries was particularly troublesome in the early Indian relations with the whites. The Indians of the injured feud group were particular to punish the guilty Indians. When the white man appeared upon the scene, retaliation on a feud group quickly degenerated into revenge upon helpless or inoffensive whites. The whites usually retaliated in kind. It was only the ability of these tribes to adopt legal and tribal punishments in the place of clan retaliation that enabled them to adjust themselves to the white civilization.

The clans often took their name from some totemic animal as fish, squirrel, skunk, etc. It was thought that a supernatural animal created the clan or else was supposed to be the protector and mentor of the members. The Choctaw clans did not have





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animal names. None of the tribes regarded the animals representing their clans as sacred, and killed them on the chase as did members of other clans. Clans were supposed to have originated in kinship but adoptions into clans were common and some clans were known to divide into two separate clans. Where the same clan appeared in different tribes the bond of friendship was strengthened. Clans might be created by separation, such as the Seminole clans which often came from a part of a Creek clan. Sometimes clans would unite as the 14 Cherokee clans were united into 7. Undoubtedly some of the clans must have been exterminated in war or died of the many pestilences which swept off, at times, vast numbers of Indians.41

As individual property was poorly developed, the clan became the chief property holder. This fact was evidenced in that individual property was buried with its owner.41a

The clan likewise had the responsibility for training of the Indian youth. As the father was not a member of the clan of his child, he played a negligible part in the training of his children. The mother and the maternal uncles usually guided the boys. They were punished by scatching the legs with gar's teeth, both to loosen the skins and make them swifter, and as a punishment. As a development measure the scratching was done after wetting the skin. As a punishment the children were dry scratched. The larger boys were often whipped with some kind of withes. The older members often used irony and satire in punishing the culprits. The boys were trained in the use of the implements of the chase, war, and in the tribal lores, by the old men of the clan. The girls were subjected to a closer chaperonship than the boys and never went about alone until after they were married. They were taught to perform the duties of the cultivation of the fields, preparation of food, and the care of the home, as these duties fell to women.





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Both boys and girls of most of the tribes were taught to plunge themselves into water on arising, both in summer and in winter.42

The clan or village played an important part in the government of these tribes. The Indians were democratic and each member of the group was permitted to express himself freely on all questions. The meetings were decorous and somewhat formal. The clans each had certain headmen, chiefs, or leaders, to whom deference was paid. These had attained their rank by distinguished service either in peace or in war. These chiefs had no power over their subjects except through their vigorous personality. The Indians usually deliberated quietly but deferred decisions on important matters over night or for several days. The great weakness of Indian government was that the minority was not necessarily bound by a majority decision. One clan or group might decide on war and strike a blow that would bring a strong enemy to attack the entire tribe and threaten destruction to all. The stronger leaders however could usually secure a relatively large unamimity of action and the tribe could be brought to act together when opposed by a formidable enemy.43

One clan was usually designated as the chief or head clan of the tribe. The leader of such a clan was usually recognized as the chief of the tribe. It seems that this did not always prevail and head-chiefs were sometimes chosen from different clans. The head-chief, usually, had little means of enforcing his will except by the sanction of a popular majority. Sometimes a man, as Alexander McGillivray, among the Creeks, 1776-1793, who, although not of the clan that usually provided the head chief, could build up a following that would overawe all opposition and secure the unity of the tribe. Such men were rare and such dictatorships were





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not common; thus the so-called confederates were usually very weak indeed.44

The Indians of the various tribes held district or tribal Councils at intervals. They were constituted of the head chiefs of the various towns, who were vested with powers to act for the tribe. In such a Council the leaders did the speaking, although all persons of the tribe might attend. In fact, most of the tribes were so subdivided into districts and divisions that cooperation was very poor. Few head-chiefs had universal allegiance, and councils with representations of the entire tribe were rare. So long as district or factional jealousies persisted, no tribe could function as a unit.45

In the development of their economic life, the Indians lacked many of the essentials of civilized life. In the Asiatic and European civilizations, the animals were usually domesticated prior to plants. The horse, cow, sheep, hog, and other easily domesticated animals were not found in America. The Indians of South America domesticated the llama, but it did not spread beyond its native Andes Mountains. The turkey, a native American bird, was not domesticated among these tribes and was not usually found in captivity in America. White men have often tried to domesticate the buffalo, which was the American specimen of cattle, but without avail. The buffalo has always been too ill-tempered for the white man to tame; consequently we understand why the Indians had not previously domesticated him. The lone animal which the Indians of the five tribes had subjugated and used universally, was the dog. These served the Indian for hunting, for companionship, and on occasions, the Indians ate the dog and considered it a savory dish.46

The Indian corn, or maize, was the Indians' greatest contribution to civilization. It was likewise the main food of these five tribes. The corn was used and esteemed when fresh in the roast-







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ing ear season. In each tribe, the people had their corncribs where this staple article was stored and preserved for food throughout the year. It not only served as food but it bound its cultivators to the soil and gave them a chance to progress. These Indians were cultivating corn and sometimes had large stores of it at the time of the DeSoto expedition, 1541. The colonial traders encouraged the taking of deerskins and diminished very early the supply of deer in the region of the tribes. This early depletion of the deer destroyed the greatest source of animal food and compelled an ever increasing dependence on agriculture on the part of the Indians.47

The Indians had few tools with which to clear and cultivate the cornfields. Metal was almost unknown and fire and stone axes were principally used in clearing. The stone axes were crudely edged, and had grooves cut on either side of the head. The handle of hickory or other suitable material was split and the two sides trimmed to fit the grooves in the axe. The axes were bound to the handle by rawhide thongs. With this crude axe the Indian men, who usually did the clearing, could circle the tree and cut the bark all the way around. The tree soon died because of this treatment. The underbrush was cleared by means of the stone axe but fire was sometimes used to deaden the trees and destroy trash and underbrush. Cultivation was begun when the timber died and as the limbs and decayed trunks fell to the ground, they were burned each season or used for the village supply of firewood.48

The cultivation of the soil was usually done by the Indian women, although among the Creeks, and perhaps other tribes, the men assisted. In the compact villages, the fields were in a solid block and were usually cultivated in common. Certain women, recognized for their skill and leadership, would direct the work. The plots were planted or cultivated one at a time until all the fields had been gone over. The Indians seemed to take pride in the work but some individuals shirked their parts. Per-





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haps the same individuals would have shirked in the cultivation of individual plots. Among the Choctaws, where the villages were scattering, the plots were individual and each family cultivated its own field. As the fields were unfenced until long after the introduction of horses, the women and children had the wearisome task of watching the growing crops and driving off the birds and animals that sought to feed upon them. The cultivation was done with rude hoes made from a crooked stick, a flint, or a buffalo bone. These Indians knew nothing of fertilizer or the return of humus to the soil. They uprooted the weeds, dried, and burned them. When we consider the crude tools and methods the Indians were compelled to use we marvel at the abundance of crops they produced.49

While corn was the chief food plant of these Indians, it was by no means the only one. The long list of domesticated plants included several varieties of beans, peas, pumpkins, and melons. These were prepared in a number of ways and served in season or dried, as in the case of beans and peas, and stored in their cribs as was the corn. Tobacco, whether classed as a food or not, was widely cultivated. The Indians used it for personal consumption and for ceremonial purposes. The cultivation of these plants seems to have been similar to that used for corn.50

The wild fruits and berries of the region were known and utilized very widely. Persimmons were dried and sometimes mixed with other materials in making bread. The Indian peach was highly valued by the Indians, and it seems that they must have cultivated it in places. Plums, grapes, crab apples, huckleberries, wild strawberries, and various other wild plants were known and utilized. The Indians also used the chestnut which they boiled, mixed with corn, and made into bread. The acorn and hickory





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nut were used especially to make a vegetable oil which was used both for food and for anointing their bodies. They made jellies from the roots of the china brier mixed with honey. The bee seems to have been native to America as one of DeSoto's followers spoke of finding a pot of honey among these Indians and many of the early traders record that honey was used by the Indians as a food.51

In hunting, the Indians either went alone or in groups. They often went in numbers and drove the game into natural inclosures between creeks or hills and killed them. The individual Indian stalked his game, using patience in securing an opportunity for a shot. They had only spears, bows and arrows, or rude clubs at first. Guns, among the first implements introduced among the Indians, made hunting easier and surer, but the added effectiveness of the hunters and the demand of the traders for furs depleted the supply of game. The buffalo must have disappeared from east of the Mississippi River during the eighteenth century. The deer was the most common of the larger animals and venison was a common meat of the Indians. Deer skins were used widely by the Indians for clothing. The deer skin was the most common article of trade and served as the unit of value between the traders and Indians as the beaverskin served in the northern states. The bear was valued especially for skin and its fat, which was preserved and used as lard. The bear was hunted throughout the year but the Indians were more successful in trapping them in caves in colder weather. In addition to the larger animals the smaller animals such as rabbits, opossums, squirrels, skunks, and raccoons were hunted and highly esteemed for food.52

The streams of the country inhabited by these Indians were filled with fish. The Indians took the fish in various ways. They





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knew how to fashion lines and hooks of bone. They often gigged the fish in the clear water with a gig made from a cane or shot them, in shallow water, with a bow and arrow. They sometimes used traps and more often nets to catch the fish. The Indian men caught large sluggish catfish, in holes under over-hanging banks or beneath logs or stones, by grappling them with their hands. A favorite method was to find an isolated pool separated from the running water and poison the fish with devil's shoestring, buckeye, and other poisonous plants. The plants, when prepared and placed in the water, stupefied the fish so that they might be picked up by hand, or in small baskets, but did not harm the food qualities of the fish. An entire village might go on such a fishing trip when the fish would be taken in large quantities and prepared and cooked on the spot and all present would have a great feast.53

The Indians prepared their meals from utensils that were quite plain. Their spoons seem to have been made of horn or wood. They made pots, bowls, plates, jugs, mugs, and jars of clay, but such utensils were crude and of peculiar and irregular design. Although they burned the utensils, they were unable to give them a good glaze and their skill as potters was low. Their wooden plates seem to have been better than their clay ones. They made mortars for grinding their corn by hollowing a cavity in a log, by burning, and with a stone axe. They fashioned rounded pestles for their mortars and with these crude machines prepared most of their meal for bread. The bread was usually cooked by building a fire on a stone hearth. When the stones were heated through, the fire was removed and the bread cooked on the hot stones. The travelers usually praised the Indian bread although some complaints of lack of cleanliness are found.54





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The men of these tribes always wore a breech clout or loin cloth about their middle; the women wore a short skirt. These were the only indispensible articles of clothing. They usually went barefoot when the weather permitted. In hunting or in the war path the men wore moccasins for protection to the feet. The finer ones of these they made from deerskin. Other skins were used in the making of coarser models. Originally they were sewn with the slit sinew of some animal, but needles and thread were among the earlier articles introduced by the traders. The men and women wore a belt to fasten the breech clout or skirt to the waist. The men wore skin leggins to protect their legs from cold and the underbrush. These joined the moccasins at the bottom and were fastened to the belt by leather straps. The women's skirts were made of deerskin or in southern areas were made of grass. The upper part of the body was covered, when necessary, by mantles made of the skins of animals. Feather mantles were ingeniously constructed of a network of cords and worn by either sex. The women sometimes constructed mantles of the inner bark of the mulberry tree. The skin mantles might be constructed long and worn in winter as a cloak. The early men wore headbands of feathers, skin, or metal.55

The Choctaw Indians, both male and female, wore their hair long and were known as "long hairs." They likewise flattened the heads of their babies. A stone or block of wood was placed on the forehead so as to cause it to grow depressed and broadened. The deformation continued through life but was in no way hereditary. It seems that this practice spread late into some of the other tribes.56

The other tribes wore their hair roached. The sides of the head were shaved leaving a crest of hair on the center. Some colored their hair a dark red by the use of a plant but this practice





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does not seem to have extended to Choctaws and Chickasaws. Bear's oil was freely used on the hair which was gaily ornamented with feathers, beads, copper-colored stones, and later brass and silver. The hairs were removed from the other parts of the body making the Indian unbearded or smoothfaced.

The bodies of all the Indians were tattooed freely. The materials used were charred box-elder or the drippings from rich pine roots. The tattooing was done by pricking the materials into the skin with gar's teeth or sharp bone implements. The tribe of an Indian could be ascertained by the peculiarities of the tattoo marks upon him. In time of war or social functions, as ball games or busks, the men painted their faces and parts of their bodies. The women used paint less frequently than the men. The Creeks and Chickasaws inserted a hole in the nose and fastened an ornament by means of a deer sinew. All the tribes wore ornaments in the ears.57

Along with the clan, the family was a social unit of great importance in Indian life. Marriage was outside the clan and if moities or phratries were recognized they married outside of them. The arrangements of marriages might be either by the parties themselves or by their relatives. The usual process was for the youth to request his mother to make overtures for him. The young lady was allowed freedom of choice. As stated above the young couple usually resided in the village of the girl's mother. The unofficial marriages might take the form of trial marriages. If they did not prove satisfactory the couples might separate at any time but among the Creeks they could not remarry until after the busk, or green corn dance. As failure to produce children was a frequent cause of separation, divorce seems to have been rare after children were born in the family.58





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Marriage as a rule took place in early life as little capital was necessary for housekeeping. The cabin would be built as a community enterprise by the village group. A small pot was needed to boil their venison and hominy and a wooden or clay bowl to put it into when cooked. They needed no tables or chairs as they sat on the ground. When visitors came the bowl was placed in the center and the guests helped themselves one after another. The dish of universal use was tom-fulla, sofka, etc., the name varying as to the tribe. The corn was soaked in lye to remove the husks, thoroughly boiled and seasoned with bear's oil, deer-tallow, or with the kernels of walnuts or hickory nuts.59

A rather rigid separation of labor was observed. The women manufactured the household goods, as pottery and basketry, spun and wove hair and bark fiber rugs, made the clothing, cooked the food, cultivated the crops, carried the wood and water, aided the men in tanning the skins and dried and preserved the fruits in their season. The men built the houses, such as dwelling houses, corncribs, and the houses of the village square; made all the tools, such as axes, bows, arrows, war-clubs, pipes, corn-mills or mortars; cleared the fields, and undoubtedly aided some in the cultivation of the town fields. The primary duties of the men were making war, hunting, and fishing, doing the things which furnished protection, clothing, and a large measure of food for the family. The older men, who were left behind both on the hunt and warpath, aided the women in the cultivation and harvesting of the crops and in the carrying of the wood.60

The Indian men were so much engaged in war that the women outnumbered the men. This was especially true among the war-like Chickasaws. This seems to have encouraged or caused two customs, polygamy and infanticide. The husband of a wife might take her sisters as wives, but often married persons with no immediate family connection. The later wives seem to have been





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given a subordinate position. Pushmataha, the Choctaw warrior, explained that the small number of men caused a danger from an excess of unattached women, and that plural wives relieved this danger. The same fact made girl babies less desirable than the boys. An Indian maiden was privileged to destroy her child born out of wedlock; in fact any Indian mother might destroy any surplus or unwanted babe at or soon after birth.61

The problem of the relations between the sexes seems to have been a serious one. The Indian law did not demand as high a standard of morality for the unmarried as for the wedded couples. Neither was promiscuity regarded as a bar to future happy marriages. Yet in some cases severe dry scratching or whippings were administered to the offenders. Adultery was a more serious problem. It was severely punished in the Muskogean tribes but was not punished among the Cherokees although violations were numerous. The relatives of the husband usually administered the punishment. The punishment consisted of whipping and successively cutting off the lobes of the ears, the entire ears, the nose and the lips. The Chickasaws differentiated between male and female offenders: although the men were allowed to go free of punishment because of their scarcity, the women offenders had their upper lips cut off. The Choctaws had. a custom of sentencing women offenders to harlotage.62

This in brief was the condition of these tribes. They were far in advance of many American tribes as is shown by their fixed villages, their ever increasing dependence on agriculture for a living, and the broad language group among the Muskogean tribes. The influx of white blood, because of the frequent coming of the frontiersmen to settle in the tribes, offered a mixed-blood element keen of thought and capable of education and higher culture.





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On the other hand, grave dangers for the Indians lay in the situation. The Indian family was not stable enough to compete with that of his frontier neighbor. Some members of the tribes were addicted to the practice of horse stealing. The frontiersmen punished the horse thief with death. The Indian practice of retaliation and blood revenge caused the Indians to strike back. Such practices on the frontier inevitably resulted in war and war would result in ultimate tribal extinction. The fate of the tribes hung in the balance. If they chose to bury themselves in the environment of the past, they would commit tribal suicide. They had, however, within themselves a virility and leadership of mixed blood Indians that could carry them far along the lines of civilization and progress. If they chose this road the hope of tribal life and achievement was infinitely greater. It was vital to them to make the right choice.

—Edward Davis.

East Central State Teachers College
Ada, Oklahoma.

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