By Janet Bond1
The people of the Chickasaw Nation have many legends relating to their experiences in the far distant past, but the one that tells the story of their ancestors' wanderings while they were still one tribe with the Choctaws, is perhaps, the most interesting.
Cushman says traditions and legends were handed down from generation to generation in two ways.2 First, they were handed down in their written archives, which were belts of wampum. The belts were made of soft, pliable deer skin, beaded with carefully polished and strung-on-sinew shell beads after being painted in the various colors necessary to tell the story. The significance of the record lay, not in the alphabet employed, but in the colors used and their juxtaposition, the arrangement of the bead strings and the length and breadth of the belts. Second, they were handed down by word of mouth. Among the Chickasaws and Choctaws another way of keeping intact the chronicles of the past was to have the wisest of the older men choose about twenty exceptionally bright youths of each generation to learn to repeat with accuracy all tribal traditions and legends, and also to learn to read wampum. The other important things they were taught by rote were the tried and true methods of safe-guarding the health and well-being of their nation, various forms of diplomacy to avoid war as well as successful and unsuccessful strategies employed in former wars, and all the ancient tribal customs including the proper ways of worshipping the Great Spirit.
The following legend of the forty-three3 winters of Chickasaw and Choctaw wanderings from a land far toward the setting sun, in search of a pleasant home land, which culminated in the dis-
2H. B. Sushman, History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians (Greenville, Texas, 1899), pp. 35-36.
3Gideon Lincecum, "Choctaw Traditions about their Settlement in Mississippi and the Origin of their Mounds," Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society (Oxford, 1898—), VIII (1904), 521-542.
covery and naming of the Mississippi River and the beginning of their centuries of residence in the territory east of the great river, is told in practically the same substance by five historians4 who had it from wise men of both nations, and by one famous Chickasaw who had it from the traditions handed down in his own family. About the time the early Christians in Rome were compelled to hold their religious services in the catacombs, to avoid being thrown to the lions, two affiliated Indian tribes, the Chickemacaws and Choccomaws, who according to Adair were the ancestors of the present day Chickasaws and Choctaws, were dwelling in what was probably the present Republic of Mexico. There was such oppression in that land that there was held a great council of representatives of all the clans of the two tribes under the leadership of two brothers, Chikasah and Chahtah, both equally renowned for bravery in war and for their wisdom in council.5 After long deliberation and much discussion it was decided to seek a land where they could be free from oppression. But they could not decide which way to travel. Each member of the council went home to collect his family and belongings, and then returned to the meeting place where they all congregated in one vast camp waiting for the decision to be made on the direction of their line of march.
Finally the medicine men decided that a "Fa-bus-sah" or pole should be set firmly in the ground at the center point of their encampment and that the direction which the pole leaned when morning dawned would be the direction which they should take for their long journey. When at dawn the pole was found to be leaning toward the east, they set out toward the rising sun, believing implicitly that each returning morning the "Fa-bus-sah" would point the way, until upon reaching their promised land it would stand erect,—as firmly erect as it had been planted the night before.
5Statement of the late Hon. Charles D. Carter of Ardmore, Oklahoma, as quoted by James H. Malone in The Chickasaw Nation (Louisville, 1922), p. 22.
They journeyed east and north as directed each dawn by the old pole, crossing wide rivers and climbing high mountains until they reached the bank of a river so wide and so swift that they were amazed, never having seen its equal. One of their wisest medicine men exclaimed, "Mis-cha Sip-ok-a-ni", literally translated, "Beyond age," but figuratively meaning, "The father of all its kind,"6 distorted later into the name, "Mississippi," with a free translation meaning "The father of waters."
Malone quotes Hon. Charles D. Carter as going on with the legend as follows:
"They camped for the night on the banks of the great River, and since the leaders' pole still leaned toward the east, the young men began to make rafts for crossing the river and proceeding on their journey....Upon reaching the opposite bank of the river, the sacred pole, after wobbling around and pointing in many directions, finally stood erect, and the medicine men interpreted this as an omen that the promised land had been reached.7
"Scouting expeditions were sent out by nearly all the clans to search for game and other food and to ascertain the exact character of country to which the Great Spirit had led them. Finally the head man of a certain clan, the members of which were described as taller and of fairer skin than the rest of the tribe, appeared before the general council and asserted that, according to the best information and judgment, the promised land had not yet been reached, but that a much better country, more productive in soil, and more bountiful in game, fruit, and fish, lay somewhere to the north and still farther toward the rising sun. After debating the question for many hours a vote was taken as to whether the move should be made, and it was decided by a large majority that the desired place had been reached and that no further move was necessary. Upon hearing the vote, the leader of the taller and fairer clan rose up and, striding majestically out of the council, dramatically uttered the following words:
'All those who believe the promised land is further towards the rising sun follow me.'
"His entire clan arose and went with him, but few others. Upon seeing this, the Choctaw warriors and some of their head men grabbed
6The author asked her mother-in-law, Mrs. James H. Bond, who spoke Chickasaw fluently when she was a young woman, but who between the ages of 85 and 91, often had to think a while before she could translate an English sentence into Chickasaw,—"How do you say in Chickasaw, 'A very old man'?" Without a moment's hesitation she answered, "Homa sipokani."
their spears, tomahawks, and bows and arrows as if to restrain this clan by force. But the old head minko arose, extended his hand above his head, palm out, and exclaimed:
'Hamonockma, ikia ahnishke, chickasha!' (Halt, follow them not, they are rebels!)
"Thus the division of the Choctaws and Chickasaws into two separate tribes came about, and on account of the old chief's reference to them as 'rebels,' this taller and fairer tribe were ever thereafter known as 'Chickasha.' "
According to the version of Carter, "the name Chickasaw, (or as written in the legend, Chickasha) means rebel, and is somewhat descriptive of the Chickasaw characteristics."
The rebels or Chickasaws may have wandered over southeastern North America before they abandoned their nomadic way of life and decided to settle down as prosperous farmers on the well-known Pontotoc ridge in what is now the state of Mississippi. There De Soto found them in 1541 and there the French visited them one hundred years later, and there they remained for nearly two hundred years longer, until they were forced to move to Indian Territory, one hundred years ago.
According to Lincecum8 who had learned it from some Choctaws who had been told the tale by some old men of the Chickasaws, the latter after their separation from the Choctaws, wandered as far east as the country where Savannah, Georgia, now stands. After some years they returned over the same trail, finally settling where they had spent three years during their eastward journey, in Chickasha Old Towns, the high and beautiful section where De Soto's expedition wintered with them.
There are evidences that the Chickasaws once lived near where Savannah, Georgia, now is, and close to the sea coast. It is also a fact that they laid claim to a scope of country in that vicinity before Congress as late as 1795.9
8Linceum op. cit., VIII, pp. 521-542. See also Harry Warren, "Chickasaw Traditions, Customs, etc.", Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society (Oxford, 1898—), VIII (l904), p. 543.
Bancroft speaks of this section of country in and adjacent to what is now Pontotoc County, Mississippi, lying between the Tombigbee River on the east and the Tallahatchie and Coldwater Rivers on the west as a land "where the grass is verdant in midwinter; the blue-bird and the robin are heard in February; and springs of pure water gurgle up through the white sands to flow through natural bowers of evergreen holly; and if the earth be but carelessly gashed to receive the kernel of maize, the thick corn springs abundantly from the fertile soil. The region is as happy as any beneath the sun; and the love it inspired made its occupants, though not numerous, yet the most intrepid warriors in the south."10
Malone adds, after quoting Bancroft, that "evidently the Chickasaws exercised that sagacity for which they were noted, in the selection of their home; and being great travellers with a large territory to guard and defend against all intruders, they had well defined trails leading to all important points" of their vast domain.
They owned and defended the western third of the state of Tennessee together with the northwestern quarter of what is now the state of Alabama as well as the northern half of, the present state of Mississippi,—a vast domain of about 90,000 square miles, more than twice as much territory as is comprised in the present state of Oklahoma.
The great Chickasaw chief, Piomingo, described his nation's lands, as aforementioned, (except that the boundaries he described were ridges, rivers, creeks and the holdings of other tribes) at the celebrated Indian and United States representatives conference held in Nashville in 1792. In 1794, President George Washington gave the Chickasaws a certificate confirming their rights to the territory claimed by Piomingo.
De Soto had landed in Florida nineteen months earlier and had been wandering around over what are now the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, western North Carolina, and Ala-
De Soto had lost twelve horses which were slain during the battle and since the Spaniards had not up to this time lost many horses out of the two hundred and fifteen they had brought ashore in Florida, they probably had nearly two hundred when they invaded the Chickasaw country. Besides this formidable force there were many pack mules in the expedition and at least five hundred hogs, to say nothing of the Indian slaves or burden bearers—rather a large force to be rationed by a small primitive nation, especially in the month of December.
Having heard of the prosperity of this valiant little tribe, and flushed with his decisive victory over the Mauvillian Indians where two thousand five hundred had been either killed or burned to death in the holocaust that destroyed the town, De Soto entered the Chickasaw domain with high hopes of spending a well-fed winter in this fertile section.
11The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida by Don Fernando De Soto and 600 Spaniards, His Followers, written by a Gentleman of Elvas employed in all the action and Translated out of Portuguese by Richard Hakluyt, Reprinted from Edition of 1611. Edited with notes and an introduction and a translation of a narrative of the expedition by Luiz Hernandez De Biedma, Factor to the same, by William B. Rye of the British Museum, London. Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1851.
12Luys Hernandez De Biedma, (King Charles the V's Factor.); The Gentleman of Elvas, (A Portuguese); and Rodrogo Ranjel (De Soto's private secretary).
14Theodore Irving says in his Conquest of Florida by Hernando De Soto that Mauvilla "is supposed to have stood on the north side of the Alabama River; at a place now called Choctaw Bluff in the county of Clarke, Alabama, about 25 miles above the junction of the Alamaba and Tombigbee Rivers. Aged Indians in neighborhood at present day (1868—about) point it out as the site of the great battle between De Soto and Mobilians. Cushman says Mauvilla was the main stronghold of the Choctaws; A Narrative of De Soto's Expedition Based on the Diary of Rodrigo Ranjel, His Private Secretary, by Gonzalo Fernandez De Oviedo y Valdez, Translated by Edward Gaylord Bourne, from Oviedo's Historia General y Natural de les Indias; A Relation of What Took Place During the Expedition of Captain Soto; with particulars concerning the nature of the country which he passed, by Luis Hernandez De Biedma.
He and his army thought fear of a repetition of the Mauvilla tragedy would ensure peace even among a fearless people, while they ate up all the food and grain these Chickasaw farmers had garnered for their winter use, together with the surplus stored against a possible drouth the following summer. And when he and his friendly marauders (for they always feigned friendship with the Indians if the Indians would permit it, until they were ready to say farewell) should march westward in their search for gold, they expected to demand of the Chickasaw enough young men and young women to walk all day carrying the army's burdens. Not only must these burden bearers be pack horses all day but when night came they were compelled to pitch camp for the white men, to cook their supper, feed and curry their horses, corral and feed their hogs and from time to time kill a few hogs, butcher them, grind up sausage, render quantities of lard, go out and set snares for rabbits, or traps for other animals for their masters' food, and grind the maize for meal with a mortar and pestle. All this work had to be done with nothing to eat when food was scarce and with minimum rations when food was plentiful. Besides the handicap of insufficient nourishment there was always present around each slave's neck the uncomfortable handicap of an iron collar with heavy dragging chains attached to it by which they were chained to the soldiers while on the march and to trees or stakes at night.
But a surprise was awaiting Hernando De Soto. The Chickasaw must have known all about the rout at Mauvilla Town, for besides the usual method in use among the Indians of telegraphing startling news across the country from one hilltop to another with smoke signals by day and signal fires by night, there had been ample time for scouts to go and come from Mauvilla.
It was October eighteenth when De Soto's forces burned the walled town of Mauvilla and his expedition did not reach the village and stringtown farms of Chicaca until December 17, 1540. Therefore the Chicaca knew what to expect and had ample time to commandeer every ounce of defense mechanism they possessed.
They were willing to be friendly with this pale-faced enemy that would come riding on terrifyingly swift beasts led by a commander who proclaimed himself "The-Child-Of-The-Sun," but they had no intention of allowing their young people to be carried away from home in slavery. They needed their young men for warriors or else they might lose the supremacy they held over neighboring tribes. When it came to their young women, the Chickasaws made such a particular point of taking the best of care of their maidens, that no Chickasaw young woman was ever known to give birth to a child before wedlock; so they were not liable to permit their daughters to become camp-followers without armed argument.15
The old men probably held a council and after long deliberation decided to greet the strangers hospitably but to be prepared both to feed and to fight them, if the latter course became necessary.
Since for welcoming gifts they must have fresh meat and many skins, the young boys were sent out into the country round about to set traps for large animals and snares for rabbits and skunks. The skilled hunters went out with their bows and arrows to stalk deer in order to present the strangers who were soon to be within their gates with dried strips of venison and deer skins. The traps for cougar, bear, and wild cats were pits dug in the ground and baited so that huge stones or logs would fall in on the animal and crush it. They were most anxious to be able to offer the invaders bear skins for the coming winter, for neither snow nor rain could pierce a bear skin. In that section it was still warm enough for bear to be wandering about even though December was not far distant, and because the wolves had begun to be particularly venturesome already, the Chickasaw were glad to have them destroyed. This wolf baiting was perhaps the most ingenious and efficient trapping device the Indians had.16 A sharp knife blade of either flint or copper was embedded in frozen fat and set up in the path of the wolf pack. "When a wolf in licking the
fat cut its tongue the smell of blood infuriated the whole pack and drove them to destroy one another."
To ensnare conies as the Spaniards called the rabbits, the young boys bent over all the springy young saplings they could find in the woods, fastening the top branches to the ground insecurely or in trigger-like fashion, and placing the bait in the center of a loop of strong string fastened to the topmost branches which were now fastened to the ground. When the rabbit tasted the bait, up flew the sapling and the string looped tightly around the animal's neck. In the corn fields in the winter the Indians taught their boys to catch conies by setting "great springes which lifted up their feet from the ground; and the snare was made with a strong string fastened to a knot of cane, which ran close about the neck of the conie so they could not gnaw the string:"
The youths also tried to catch as many opossums as they could find although there were many in the villages; for the Indians used them for food. It is also related that, "these little dogs," as the Spaniards called them, for they are mentioned again and again, "were good eating." After the Spaniards had quartered themselves upon this particular village of the Chickasaws, the youths probably brought them quantities of quail, (which the Spaniards callled partridges), prairie chicken, and wild turkeys. With arrows they got abundance of deer, turkeys, conies and other wild animals, being very skillful in killing game.
Everywhere the Spaniards went they had welcome presents of fish from the Indians. According to "the Gentleman of Elvas,"
"...with nets they took as much as they would, and took they never so much there was no want perceived....There was a fish called bagres (cat fish), a third of it was head, gills on both sides, and along the sides great pricks like very sharp aules; those of this kind were as big as pikes; some of one hundred, and one hundred and fifty pounds weight and many of them were taken with the hook. Another fish like barbilles; another like breames, headed like a delicate fish, called in Spain besugo between red and gray. This latter was most esteemed. Another called pele fish (probably spade or shovel fish); it had a snout of a cubit long and at the end of the
upper lip it was made like a peele. Another like a western shad; and all had scales except the bagres and the pele fish."
He also tells how the Indians sometimes brought porpoises from the Mississippi or from its tributaries saying it was a "fish of the bigness of a hog called pereo fish, it had rows of teeth below and above."
The small lakes and pools at flood time were so stocked with fish "that they killed them with cudgels; and the Indians which were carried in chains, with the mud (probably threw in chunks) troubled the waters, and the fish being therewith, as it were, astonished, came to the top of the water and they took as much as they listed," meaning with their hands.
As showing how completely at home the primitive Chickasaw was in the water and in the capture of large fish which hid themselves under rock walls projecting in the river, Malone quotes from Adair:
"They have a surprising method of fishing under the edges of rocks that stand over the deep places of a river. There, they pull off their red breeches, or their long slip of stroud cloth, and wrapping it round their arm, so as to reach to the lower part of the palm of the right hand, they dive under the rock where the large cat fish lie to shelter themselves from the scorching beams of the sun, and to watch for prey; as soon as those fierce aquatic animals see that tempting bait, they immediately seize it with the greatest violence, in order to swallow it. Then is the time for the diver to improve the favorable opportunity; he accordingly opens his hand, seizes the voracious fish by its tender, parts, hath a sharp struggle with it against the crevices of the rock, and at last brings it safe ashore.'"17
In the face of the coming emergency, the Chickasaw women and girls no doubt were sent to gather pecans,18 walnuts, hazel nuts, chestnuts, and hickory nuts in great quantities, as well as innumerable acorns. From these nuts the older women would extract the oil which they called hiccory milk to be used in mixing up batter
17Malone, op. cit., p. 201 quotes James Adair, The History of the American Indians (London, 1775), p. 404.
18Ranjel speaks of them as "soft shelled walnuts like bullets." He called hazel nuts small chestnuts and says "dried, they are delicious." Of chestnuts he says, "they are rich and of very good flavor."
for corn cakes.19 Ranjel mentioned this oil, saying, "which they knew how to extract very well and which was very good." "The Gentleman of Elvas" says it was "clear as butter."
They also probably added to their winter store of catalpa beans which the Spaniards often mentioned, calling them French beans. From the corn fields they brought in more and more pumpkins which, "being roasted had almost the taste of chestnuts." Their butter for cooking potatoes and yams was bear fat, melted like oil and stored in gourds.20 Their syrup, earthen pots full of the honey of bees.
The persimmon bread had probably already been baked and stored for winter use. Persimmon bread was the Chickasaw fruit cake and Elvas speaks of it as "loaves made of the substance of prunes." Long before this time of year their potatoes and yams had been stored underground for the winter, and all through the autumn months shelled corn had been spread out on the roofs of the houses on clean skins to dry for winter use, as had the wild grapes to be used in grape dumplings.
In the spring there would have been quantities of mulberries, wild strawberries,21 plums that were red, yellow, and gray, the former being called the Chickasaw plum because it was brought to the Mississippi valley by the migrating Chickasaws.22
For vegetables they might have been able to offer the invaders savory dishes of the wild pea on which the deer fattened in the springtime, wild parsley, wild onions, and wild spinach. Had De Soto and his group arrived later in the summer they would have been able to enjoy ripe tomatoes and grapes which grew on vines running over tall trees, and also another variety that grew
19William Bartram, in Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida (London, 1792), described the process of extracting hickory milk, p. 239. He also said: "It is as sweet & fresh as rich cream." Hickory milk was the only milk the Chickasaws or other Indians had for children except the mother's milk.
22Bartram says that though this plum is a native of America he never saw it growing wild in the southeast and added, "I suppose it was brought from the Southwest by the Chickasaws," op. cit., p. 38.
on low vines with big, sweet grapes which Elvas says, "for want of digging and dressing they had great kernels."23 Ranjel mentions crab apples and mussels as other foods on the Chickasaw menu. Knowing how necessary salt was to their own well-being, the Chickasaws must have prepared great quantities of salt to offer to their unwelcome guests.
Those who were expert in precipitating the salt, no doubt travelled to the salt springs nearest their habitations, taking with them the salt baskets woven for that very purpose. These baskets were broad at the mouth and narrow enough at the bottom to fit securely into the small mouth of an earthen vessel. The earth around the edge of the salt springs was scooped up and thrown into the baskets and left standing in the air. Water was thrown into the basket and the salt washed into the lower vessel. Being strained and boiled after the water had evaporated, the salt remained in the bottom of the shallow earthen jar. Salt was as valuable as wampum in trade with neighboring tribes for skins and mantles.24
Then there was tobacco to be gathered. The medicine men always took charge of the cured tobacco leaves, for smoking was restricted to ceremonial occasions so as to add significance to the compacts being sealed—such as smoking the pipe of peace. The Chickasaws did not chew tobacco or dip snuff until the civilized white men invented those habits and passed them on to the Indians.25 The material most commonly used for pipes was soapstone and pipestone.26 In some instances the pipe bowls were elaborately carved, and sometimes the stems were decorated. But each different shape of the pipe and each decoration had some especial significance in the ceremonial in which the pipe was used. Between ceremonials the pipes were kept wrapped in fur and carefully put away by the medicine men who had charge of them.
The Chickasaws may have requested their artists to begin carving new pipes in new designs to be used in this entirely new emergency they knew they were about to experience, when these strange, pale warriors should enter their country. They felt confident that they could circumvent the strange enemy and save their young people from slavery if the worst came to the worst, but they hoped to smoke the pipe of peace with the pale-faces rather than make war on them, and perhaps they thought a certain type of pipe would help to insure the sacredness of that particular peace pact.
As a precaution, however, they probably arranged for an arrow-making ceremonial. The arrow makers from all over the Chickasaw territory probably came to whatever town was the Great Town of the tribe for this ceremonial and went eagerly to work on their ammunition in case the peace treaty's smoke should dispel itself into a mirage.
Their arrowheads were made of flint and other varieties of stone as well as bone, horn, antler, shell, wood and copper.27 Slender flint arrow-heads were less than two inches long. Thick or strong flint arrowheads were much shorter. "Solid flesh being almost as resistant as rubber could not be penetrated by a large projectile unless" propelled by more force than a Chicksaw's arm could twang out of a bow.28
The shape of the arrowhead was triangular or pointed oval and these the Chickasaw were making during this ceremonial were loosely attached to the shaft so that they would remain in the wound, for these arrows were meant for war. Had they been meant for hunting, the arrowhead had been firmly secured so the arrow might be recovered entire. Many of their arrow heads were made of hard wood fastened on cane shafts. During this ceremonial the women feathered the arrows, lashing two or three feathers onto the shaft with sinew. The measurement of each
27Their copper came from rich copper district in Polk County, east Tennessee. Malone, op. cit., p. 33.
arrow and bow was the length and strength of the arm of the warrior who was to do the shooting.
They made long bows, rectangular in section, of walnut or other hard wood reinforced with a sinew lining on the back and cross wrappings. The women also busied themselves with making wrist guards of hide for them to wear on their left wrists, to break the blow of the released bow string, after the arrow shaft and bow string had been drawn back to the right ear with the right hand. The left hand grasped the center of the bow.29
Elvas says of aboriginal Indian fighting,
"They are exceeding ready with their weapons, a people so war-like and so nimble that they care not a whit for any footmen. (They were afraid only of the horses.) For if their enemies charge them, they run away and if they turn their backs they are presently upon them. They never stand still but are always running from one place to another; by reason whereof neither crossbow nor arquebus can aim at them; and before one crossbowman can make one shot, an Indian will discharge three or four arrows; and he seldom misseth what he shooteth at. An arrow, where it findeth no armour pierceth as deeply as a crossbow. Their bows are very long and their arrows are made of certain canes like reeds;...some they arm at the point with a sharp bone of fish like a chisel, and on others they fasten certain stones like points of diamants. For the most part when they light upon an armour, they break in the place where they are bound together. Those of cane do split and pierce a coat of mail, and are more hurtful than the other." The Chickasaw soon learned that the thighs of the Spaniards were not covered with armor, so they aimed at this vulnerable part, whenever they had a brush with them.
De Soto spent two days making a barge to ferry his army across the Tombigbee River so as to land on the Chickasaw side. After a day's march he reached the town of Chicaca,30 where there were twenty houses. Elvas says it was "a well-inhabited and fat country; some great and walled towns; and many houses scattered all about the fields, a crossbow shot or two the one from the other. This country was very well peopled, fat and plentiful of maiz, and most part of it was fielding (in cultivation); they gathered as much (maiz) as sufficed to pass the winter."
30The Chickasaw Indians are the only tribe mentioned in the four De Soto narratives which can be identified by the tribal names of the present day.
Ranjel remarks that the Indian name for corn is mahiz which the Spaniards slurred into maiz. Three-fourths of the Chickasaws' food was vegetal and this maiz, which Biedma says was like coarse millet, was grown extensively by them. Contrary to popular belief nearly all the aboriginal Indians preferred their food cooked, either by broiling, roasting, or stone-boiling, the latter encompassed by dropping very hot stones into a jar of water. Their corn was cooked in the form of ash-cake, hoe-cake, succotash, samp, and hominy, as well as in all forms of meal which they went to much trouble to change from the fresh product into a form that would keep for long periods of time. For dried corn the ears were roasted in pit ovens before the corn was dried. "The mature grain was milled raw or parched, the meal entering into various mushes, cakes, pones, wafers, and other bread."31
In making hominy the grain was soaked in lye obtained from wood ashes to remove the horny envelope and was then boiled. The hominy was often dried, parched and ground, reparched and reground, making a concentrated food of great nourishing power in small bulk, which was eaten dry or in water as gruel. Pinole, consisting of ground parched corn, is mentioned by Ranjel.
The wall around the twenty houses mentioned was the Chickasaw stockade of that section of their nation. It was made of huge "posts thrust deep into the ground, very rough, and many long rails as big as one's arm laid across between them, and the wall was about the height of a lance and it was daubed within and without with clay, and had loop holes."32
The houses were rectangular in shape and were built much like the walls. Posts were driven deep into the ground and the posts were connected with a kind of wattle which was then daubed with clay inside and out. There were two rooms in front and one in the rear. Elvas says they were roofed with reeds in the manner of tiles.
..."the door is very little; they shut it by night (in winter) and make fire within; so that they are in it as warm as a stove; and so it continueth all night that they need no clothes and besides these they have others for summer; and their kitchens near them, where they make fire and bake their bread; and they have barbacoas where they keep their maiz;33 which is an house set up in the air upon four stakes, boarded about like a chamber and the floor of it is of cane hurdles. The difference which principal men's houses have from the rest, besides they be greater, is, that they have great galleries in their fronts and under them seats made of cane in the manner of benches; and round about them they have many lofts, wherein they lay up that which the Indians do give them for tribute, which is maiz, deer skins and mantles of the country which are like blankets; they make them of the inner rinde of the bark of trees and some of a kind of grass like unto nettles, which being beaten is like unto flax."
Ranjel tells about their placing strips of venison on a frame-work of sticks as for roasting on a gridiron. The Spaniards called it cooking "en barbacoa" from whence comes the term barbecue, no doubt.
As there was no one in Chicaca town when the Spaniards arrived, they camped on a hillside about a mile and a half away. De Soto usually stayed in the home of the chief and housed his officers comfortably with the principal men of each village; but for some reason, probably because they were to stay all winter and because they had just had so narrow an escape from extermination at Mauvilla, they built houses of their own surrounded by a stockade. All the chroniclers who travelled with De Soto mention the cleanliness of the houses in their narratives. Says Ranjel, "People are very clean and polite and naturally well conditioned." Elvas also states that "the fruits are common to all; for they grow abroad in the open fields in great abundance, without any need of planting or dressing." However theirs were not communal holdings for Elvas adds that the households "sow and gather their maiz, every one their several crop." There was a field around or behind each dwelling and Malone suggests, "No doubt experience had taught them that 'having their dwellings some distance apart one from the other,' made for good health and cleanliness."
The men are described as wearing in summer one mantle (blanket) made from the cloth woven from thread spun from the inner bark of mulberry trees, draped over their shoulders, and deer skin shorts. During the same season the women wore two of these mantles that were like fine linen. One of them was fastened about the waist and hung downward, and another over their shoulder with their right arm out. One writer mentioned their winter costumes, saying that "all...went clothed down to their feet with very fine skins well dressed, and blankets of the country,34 and blankets of sable fur and others of the skin of wild cats which gave out a strong smell."
These men built their own canoes, each man making his canoes and paddles according to the measurement of his own arms and body, and "caulked them with tow of an herb like hemp, called enequen." They planted the corn, kept their families supplied with meat by getting as close as they dared to their quarry, when they were out hunting, before letting fly their arrows toward some vital part of the animal they were stalking; built and repaired their houses and stockades; defended themselves and their families when they were attacked; attacked an enemy with the greatest courage when they were on the warpath; played ball in regular ball games with organized ball teams when they were enjoying leisure hours; played their flutes made from the shin bones of the deer; arranged and took part in the festivities that took place at the time of the planting, ripening, and harvesting of the corn; and some were healers, and some were teachers, and some were counsellors.
The women cooked and cultivated the corn fields; sewed the deer skin clothing with bone awls and sinew; spun the thread and wove the cloth of linen-like fabric; ground the meal; gathered nuts and herbs and fruit; prepared and wound together the bird feathers for the ceremonial feather garments or for other adornment; cleaned their houses and door-yards; nursed and fed their children; made baskets; modeled and baked the pottery vessels; polished the shell beads for wampum; sang in the choirs which led the
singing in ceremonies and in round singing and taught the men who sang with them to carry the melody in octaves so as to produce a harmonic effect.35 The Chickasaw women also sang the war songs that inspired their warriors to fiercer feats in battle than they might otherwise have undertaken. Ranjel related that: "they danced very well in the fashion of rustics in Spain so that it was pleasant to see them." The same author wrote of the baskets the Indians used to carry full of clothing when they travelled, called petacas. They were baskets covered with leather and closed with leather-covered lids "for carrying clothes or whatsoever they want to."
None of the De Soto narratives mention the Chickasaw form of government. They do, however, mention a chief of a village and two other chiefs who came to visit De Soto, and another great chief whom the lesser chiefs mentioned but who never could be persuaded to appear. The visiting chiefs were Niculasa and Alimamu, who came from distant villages. They also mention again and again that lesser subjects paid tribute to the chiefs.
Many writers, since the time of the Spanish invasion, have recorded whatever they could find out about the Chickasaw religion and government, but by the time the Chickasaws were visited by these writers, their customs and ways of worshipping a deity were bound to have been somewhat colored by their contacts with the European explorers and missionaries. Therefore there is no way of determining the exact form of their aboriginal religion and government.
When De Soto's expedition encamped in the Chickasaw domain the weather was cold and snowy. When they marched out it was warm, and along the trails were countless roses growing wild like those in Spain; Ranjel reported: "and although they have not so many leaves since they are in the woods they are none the less fragrant and finer and sweeter." But in spite of the roses the cold was still in the hearts of these bandits. So many of their numbers had died from burns and arrows that they marched in
fear of what was in store for them as they went further and further into this unexplored land which they called the land of Florida.
No doubt De Soto had been told of the fighting prowess of the Chickasaw, and did not wish to antagonize them while he was in winter quarters. He treated the chief of that particular village with the greatest deference, even sending his horse for him to ride the mile and a half from his house to the Spanish stockade, whenever he dined with De Soto. At these dinners with the Spanish governor, the Chickasaw chief first tasted that famous southern dish, hog and hominy, or tompashofa, as the Chickasaws later named the dish that combined their lye hominy with the strangers' pork, for the native Americans had never seen either hogs or horses until the Spanish invasion.
When three Chickasaw boys were caught stealing hogs from the Spanish corral, (which Elvas says was a crossbow shot distance from the camp), De Soto commanded two of them to be shot to death with arrows, and the third to have his hands cut off.36 He then sent him so handled to the cacique,37 who made as though it grieved him that they had offended the Governor, and that he was glad that he had executed that punishment on them.38 Ranjel tells that the Indians made no more account of having their hands cut off, (and often De Soto had their noses cut off as well,) "than if they had been a Mucius Scaevola of Rome."
A day or two later three Spaniards rode up to a Chickasaw farm house, ransacked the barbacoa as well as the house, and rode off with some skins and mantles that certainly no more belonged to them than the hogs belonged to the Indians who had been so severely punished.
When this matter was reported to De Soto he commanded them to be put to death, but in a day or two they were seen riding through the village in high glee. It was explained to the Indians that their freedom was due, not to De Soto, but to his interpreter
who had misinterpreted the chief's demand for their punishment, translating the chief's demand as a request for clemency.
The incident served to awaken the lulled fears of the Chickasaws so that they were prepared to resist when early in March De Soto demanded two hundred youths for burden bearers. It is illuminating, that no young women were demanded. It proves they feared the Chickasaws.
The chief told the Governor the burden bearers would be delivered the day he broke camp, but they never were delivered and De Soto and his army were only too glad to march through Chickasaw territory, alive, after this brave little nation had given them three severe battles.
The first attack was during the night before the day set for the slaves to be delivered. The Chickasaw, employing the very same tactics De Soto's army had used in the battle of Mauvilla Town, burned De Soto's camp and stockade, killed eleven of his men, drove off or killed about fifty horses and turned loose or burned over four hundred hogs, besides leaving many soldiers wounded and suffering with severe burns.
Claiborne concluded his account of the battle with the following paragraph:
"History records no bolder enterprise. A fortified camp defended by the best soldiers of Europe, armed with what the Indians called thunder and lightning, attacked by savages with bows and war clubs: All honor to this noble race of warriors—these native Mississippians who subsequently, in defense of their homes and fireside, defeated and disgraced three French armies sent to subdue them. And may this ever be the fate of the invader of the territory of a free people."39
Had the Chickasaw warriors followed up their advantage the whole De Soto expedition would have been wiped out then and there. According to Elvas the only reason this did not happen was that on account of the darkness the Indians thought the horses running loose were men on horseback who had come to set upon
them and consequently they fled, leaving but one of their number dead on the field.
The Chickasaws had attacked in four squadrons,40 "with great fury",41 every one from a different direction which was exactly the strategy employed by De Soto at Mauvilla. Garcilaso says of the battle at Chicaca, "Immediately the air resounded with the blasts of the conch shells, the rumbling of wooden drums, and the yells and war whoops of the savages, who rushed like demons to the assault."42
Again in describing the battle of Mauvilla, Elvas says De Soto "sent in every squadron of footmen one soldier with a firebrand to set fire to the houses;" and in the battle at Chicaca when the Indians were the aggressors Garcilaso reports that "many had lighted matches, like cords, made of a vegetable substance, which whirled in the air would blaze up into flame; others had arrows tipped with the same. These they hurled upon the houses, which being of reeds and straw, instantly took fire, and the wind blowing strongly, were soon wrapped in flames." A third narrator, Biedma, says that "300 Indians entered the stockade carrying fire, which they had put into small pots so that we might not perceive them; and whilst they were making their way along, another troop was heard making the war cries: but the former had already set fire to the village." Further on in his narrative he adds, "If they had persevered in their attack our destruction had been inevitable." He says they expected to be attacked the next night after they had moved camp some distance, "but it pleased God to send a little rain which was the cause of their not coming."
Another aftermath of this first battle was the fact that one horse had two arrows through its heart shot from different directions; another horse, one of the heaviest in the army, was killed by an arrow sped by such a vigorous arm that the arrow had passed
42Garcilaso de la Vega L' Inca, Histoire de la Conquest Florida, traduite en Francais par Pierre Richelet, 1731.
through both shoulders and four fingers breadth beyond. The darts were skillfully aimed at the vital parts of the horses.43
The Chickasaw also waited outside the stockade gates, hiding at the side so as to shoot arrows at all who came running out. This was a trick the Spaniard played on the Mauvillians.
De Soto had already moved his camp to the village, now deserted, a mile or two away, which was on a flat hilltop, and for that reason and because of preparedness on De Soto's part, the Spaniards had the advantage and the Indians were put to flight when they attacked again, eight nights later.
The Christians stayed on this high plain about six weeks while they made saddles, lances, and clothing, and where they set up a forge and tempered their swords, but there were problably no further gifts of conies, venison, skins, and coverings, for Elvas tells how the soldiers had to weave mats of dry ivy to sleep between, so as to keep warm.
The Chickasaw gave battle to the invaders a third time before the latter marched from their fertile country, merely to show them that they were not afraid of their force even though the latter had survived annihilation in the first two battles.
After the expedition was in marching order and well on their way northwestward, they came upon a strong fort thrown across the trail. Walking on top of it were warriors "with their weapons, having their bodies, thighs and arms okered and dyed with black, white, yellow and red, striped like unto panes, so that they showed as though they went in hose and doublets: and some of them had plumes, and others had horns on their heads, and their faces black, and their eyes done round about with streaks of red to seem fierce."44
The van-guard of the Spaniards retired a crossbow shot from the fort to wait for the remainder of the army to come up. "The Indians sallied out by seven and seven and eight and eight, to shoot
their arrows and retired again; and in sight of the Christians they made a fire and took an Indian, some by the feet and some by the head, and made as though they went to cast him into the fire, and gave him, first, many knocks on the head; signifying that they meant to handle the Christians" in the same way. After the Spaniards had drawn up their line of attack "they set upon the Indians, which made resistance till the Christians came near the fort, and as soon as they saw they could not defend themselves, by a place where a brook passed near the fort, they ran away and from the other side they shot some arrows; and because at that instant we knew no ford for the horses to pass, they had time enough to get out of our danger. Three Indians were slain there and many Christians hurt, whereof within a few days there died fifteen by the way."
Biedma's description of this battle is told in this way:
"At this time befell us what is said never to have occurred to the Indians. In the highway over which we had to pass, without there being either women to protect or provisions to secure, and only to try our valor with theirs, the Indians put up a very strong stockade directly across the road, about three hundred of them standing behind it, resolute to die rather than give back. * * * When we had surveyed their work, thus defended by men, we supposed they guarded something—provisions perhaps—'Later' we learned that they had done this to measure themselves with us, and nothing else."
On April 30, 1541, the Chickasaws saw the last of the marauding Spaniards. No doubt they gave them battle the third time without expectation of wiping out the European army but to make a return journey to the beautiful Chickasaw country along Pontotoc ridge an unpleasant prospect.45
Whatever the reason, De Soto's expedition never did return and the dawn of history for the Chickasaws remained in status quo for a hundred years, when the French explorers started the sunrise of their history up the sky and other historians carried it on toward the zenith, and left it blazing there for all the descendants of those aboriginal Chickasaws to read and remember with pride.