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Choctaw Character, Country and Christianity
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In contemplating the Indian character, there is an interest thrown around it, which cannot fail to impress the mind of every inquiring person. Although the Indian race is fading away, their palmy days being gone, yet there is a charm thrown around their past history, and the most lively emotions are created in the mind of the patriot and philanthropist in contemplating their past and present history, and we are led to look upon the high and lofty bearing of the red man with the most intense admiration. There was a period in the history of the aborigines of North America, when they reigned as supreme lords over this vast continent. The Yonkoo tribe, which means literally conqueror, had undisputed sway over the New England country. The term Yankee comes from the tribe of Indians styled Yonkoo. The English conquered them after a long and bloody contest; when blood had flown in crimson currents, and the shrieks of many an innocent and massacred female rent the air, and the red man’s tomahawk was wreaking in the blood of its victim, and when they were subdued, the war chief, a proud and noble fellow, stepped forth and presented his tomahawk to the officer in command of the English forces, saying, ‘Me yonkoo,’ or conqueror, ‘but now you yonkoo.’ Hence the term has been twisted about until it has become Yankee.
The English called the six states named New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine, New England, in contradistinction to Old England. We Americans call the New Englanders Yankees. Odium sometimes is attached to the term Yankee, yet candid and un-prejudiced minds are willing to admit that the Yankees are a thorough and persevering people. The Massachusetts tribe, inhabited what is now called the State of Massachusetts, the name being derived from the tribe, as are the names of many of the States and Territories. All Indian names are very significant. Take a few merely for the sake of illustration. Tubbee, means Big Chief, not only referring to a great and enlarged mind but to a powerful tribe, as Chief of the Choc-taw nation. Mississippi means father; hence the Mississippi is called the father of waters. How significant, one of the largest rivers upon the face of the globe, taking its rise in the rocky mountains, continuing through an immense valley, widening and deepening in its onward course, bearing on its broad bosom a world of commerce, wealth and enterprise, with six thousand trading and two thousand steamboats, moistening and fertilizing the soil of three territories and ten states, until it pours its mighty waters into the Gulf of Mexico.
It is difficult to arrive at a correct conclusion as to the origin of the Indian race; it is supposed by historians, sacred and profane, ancient and modern, that all the races which have been and now are upon the earth, are derived from Noah; that from Shem, Ham, and Japheth sprang white, red, and black men, and from them the great variety of nations, kindreds and tongues. Some suppose that the Indians are descended from some of the tribes of Israel; that they pursued a northern course as far as Behring Straits, and constructed some kind of floating raft, and crossed over where it is only about nineteen miles to one island, and nineteen to another, and took possession of the country before it was discovered by Americus Vespucius or Christopher Columbus. Indeed there is strong evidence to support this view, from tradition, and a similarity of features, &c. There is another fact worthy of consideration. The great number of mounds and tumuli, found in various parts of the United States and Mexico, and Central America, give evidence of their having been constructed by a race in possession of the arts and sciences. Whatever position the Indian may have occupied in past ages, one fact we must admit; that they were the rightful owners of the soil, since Transatlantic found them here, roaming unmolested over these vast domains. They then dwelt secure in their own leafy bowers, they smoked their pipes in their own wigwams, the young Indians chased the wild deer, and skimmed the light canoes over the murmuring streams and silvery lakes; the young Indian girls, entwined the wreath around their raven tresses, as beautiful as their own lovely forms, but they have melted away, driven from their own lovely bowers. Nation after nation and tribe after tribe have passed away. Philip, Logan, Blackhawk, Powhatan, Keokuck, and other noble warriors, have bowed themselves under the crushing weight of misfortunes; disease has spread like pestilence through the tribes; war has swept like a desolating ravager through their lands, and fire water, like a hydra monster, has swept on its fiery course, carrying its millions to the grave. What a melancholy picture is presented in bold relief to the mind of the philanthropist. How scenes of the most thrilling interest come looming upon the vision. Behold a mother bidding a final farewell to the place of her nativity, to the spot where the light of heaven first fell upon her infant eyes! what tender emotions rush upon her memory! scenes of other days cluster around her, and that which is the most endearing, the tombs of her ancestors. View her standing upon the last green hill pressing her little one to her bosom, covering its little face with her burning tears; she moves on a few steps, and then for the last time bids her long and much loved home farewell forever; often in her migrations to the far west, do scenes of the past crowd upon her memory. At last, with a little remnant of a tribe, they arrive at the place of their new home, and finally, broken hearted, they sink into the tomb. The white man often in his undue thirst for more land, and want of reflection, ploughs up the very bones of their children, and scatters them to the four winds of heaven. But I will not pursue this painful subject.
There are features in the Indian character to which we invite your attention. An Indian never forgets an injury nor an act of kindness. There are instances on record where Indians have cherished for years feelings of revenge, and have finally avenged the injury. An Indian once in a fit of anger commit-ted murder, and gave himself up immediately, but asked for time to enable him to raise corn, and provide venison for his family, which was allowed him; at the end of six months, he came and told the friends of the person whose friend he had killed, that he had provided for his family, and as he had bro-ken the laws of the Great Spirit, and of his nation, he must suffer the penalty and he was ready to die. The brother of the wife of the deceased arose, and deliberately clove his skull through with his tomahawk. They often return good for evil.
An instance is related where aa Indian applied to a. white man for food and shelter, as he had been hunting all day and killed no game, and he was very hungry and tired, but the white man in an angry tone bid the Indian dog begone. Sometime after this the white man went out on a hunting excursion, but after hunting all day, was unsuccessful, and losing his way, being weary and hungry, he was about to give up in despair, but seeing the smoke of a wigwam, he hastened to it, but what was his surprise when entering the lodge to find the very Indian he had driven away hungry from his own lodge. He expected immediate death, but the Indian bid him welcome, with the utmost kindness and his squaw prepared him food; he eat and drank and then he laid down and slept free from all harm. In the morning the Indian gave him his gun, and accompanied him on his journey. Arriving near the white settlement, and pointing through the wood said, ‘There is the white man’s home. You remember poor Indian hungry and tired, ask you give some food, and lie down and sleep in your wigwam; you say no, begone you Indian, you come by and by to Indian lodge, you tired, and hungry, you think Indian kill you, but no, Indian say no, you have wife and children who love you, me look on my squaw and papoose, me love ‘em too, me say no me kill white man, and make sorrow and sadness come to his house, you are free, go white man, go to your home, make your wife, and children happy and don’t forget poor Indian, how much he suffer, how the white man wronged him.’
I remember an instance which occurred in the days of my childhood, which is fresh in my memory. An Indian woman came to the house of my parents, and being very sick asked permission to remain a few days, which was cheerfully granted. On recovering, she left us, returning her thanks. Some months, after, she returned, bringing with her a number of beautiful baskets which she had made with her own hands, and a quantity of home-made sugar, which she gave to my mother, my mother went to pay her an equivalent, which the Indian woman positively refused, saying ‘me sick squaw, you good to squaw, me, never forget white squaw for her kindness to poor Indian squaw.’
The Religious Character of the Indians is very interesting. They universally believe in the existence of God, or the Great Spirit. They greatly venerate him. They feel that his great-power has made all things, and that he is everywhere present and sees all that they do. They never profane the name or character of the Great Spirit. The Indian languages have no terms by which they can profane the Great Spirit. But alas, they have learned it in the English tongue. As also they have learned from the pale face the direful use of the fire water, as they term whiskey, which is destroying thousands.
The Indians feel and believe that once they were in favor with the Great Spirit, that he loved them, but now he frowns upon them. And that they are subject to the influences of the evil or bad Spirit, to which they sometimes make offerings in order to propitiate him, so that he may not torment them. The Indians also believe in a state of rewards and punishments, that those who do well among them, when they die will be received by the Great Spirit to a beautiful country where pure rivers flow, and lofty mountains rise, and extended hunting grounds present an abundance of every variety of game, and where the evil Spirit comes not, nor sickness, nor death, nor any other affliction. But where there is complete happiness. They believe that those who do evil, or are bad men, will go to a country of an opposite character. A land of dreariness, and of chills. It will be situated in sight of the beautiful and happy country, but those in the bad country can never go to the good one, but must pine away in wretchedness and endless want. They have no knowledge of the Savior until it is presented to them by the gospel; hence they know nothing of a way of pardon. Still oppressed by a sense of their sins, they are accustomed to make an offering of the first fruits of their grounds every year.
The following view of the present condition of the Choctaw Indians, written in 1846, by a highly respected and devoted Missionary, and teacher at Fort Coffee Academy, Iowa Territory, Rev. W. G. Montgomery, will show that the Indian is not the degraded being that some would have him be, but that he has been endowed with a mind as susceptible of improvement as the pale face.
The Choctaws have a pleasant, and for many considerations, an interesting country, lying between latitude 92 deg, and 35 deg. north. On the north, it is bounded by the Arkansas River, it being the line between them and the Cherokees; on the south the Red River separates them from the State of Texas, oh the east they are bounded by the State of Arkansas, on the west by the Creek and Seminole Indians. They have perhaps more territory than half the State of Kentucky. Some portions are very fertile, especially the bottom and low lands on the rivers and creeks. There are a good many extensive prairies, some of them are rich, others are too sandy to be productive. On the low lands there are extensive cane brakes and a bottom grass, which keeps green through the winter.
The Porto, Cliamahu and Canadian Rivers, with many other smaller rivers and creeks, are all tributaries of the Red River, and Arkansas, and take their rise in, and flow their whole length through the Choctaw country. Steamboats go up the Arkansas River more than a thousand miles, passing several hundred miles into the Indian country. There is high water in this river always in the months of June and July. There is much mineral wealth from ore, Mone, coal, and salt springs, in their country.
The Climate. The winters are mild, the summers are very warm, and frequently dry. Cotton and corn grow here in abundance. That migratory disposition so characteristic of the Indian tribes has in a great measure left the Choctaws, and they wish to be stationary. They do not wish to remove to any other country, they are now improving their lands, building houses, and planting vineyards. Many of these farmers have from ten, twenty, fifty, to one hundred acres in corn, and large fields of cotton. There are few, comparatively speaking, who live by hunting. The buffalo are gone, there are bear and deer, and many other kinds of wild game. During the winter season the whole creation seems alive with the various tribes of birds; the forests and prairies are made to resound with the melody of their notes, and the river and ponds and lakes, are covered with water fowls of various kinds; cattle, horses and hogs are raised in great abundance. . He says, ‘I saw very few sheep among them. It is not uncommon for an Indian man to have five or six hundred head of cattle; I frequently saw from fifty to one hundred and fifty milch cows belonging to one man, the cows and calves are kept gentle by the following course; the calves are put into a pen or lot of an acre or more, on the edge of a prairie and are kept in there during the day, and at night the cows are put into the same pen, the calves are turned out into the prairie, where they feed around during the night, and in the morning they are about the fence waiting to be let into the pen with the cows; in the fall they are branded and turn-ed out and live during the winter upon the cane rushes and prairie grass. Their horses and cattle are smaller than ours, their hor-ses being most generally of the pony stock.
Christianity has done much for this people, and is still doing more; they may be said to be redeemed from heathenism, and placed upon the high and elevated ground of civilization, the arts and sciences being cultivated by them to some considerable extent. They have a well drawn up and printed Constitution; republican in its character; the elective franchise is committed to the people; the members of the Council are elected every year; crimes are punished by fines and otherwise; the murderer is shot by an officer called the Lighthorseman. There are Washingtonian Temperance Societies among them, and the Temperance cause has many advocates. The tribe may be said to be temperate. The white man is prohibited by law from selling whiskey among them. The New Testament is translated into their language, and many other little historical and religious tracts, hymn books, &c. &c. And now the weapons of war are beaten into ploughshares, and no longer is the war whoop heard, but songs of Zion may be heard from their cabins and houses and places of worship are built for the true and living God. Oh! for the salvation of God to all the aborigines of the wilderness. By an act of their Council, they have set apart forever, more than six hundred thousand dollars, of their annuity money as a fund, the interest of which is to be appropriated to educational purposes. There are three National Academies now established among them, where twenty thousand dollars are expended annually for the education of their youth. The Fort Coffee Academy is located on the Arkansas River, and is under the control of the M. E. C. S. The Spencer Academy is within a few miles of Red River, and under the control of the Presbyterian Church, Old School. The Armstrong Academy on Chiamechia River is under the control of the Baptist Church. The children who enter these Academies are selected by the Trustees, two from each Indian family; some of them come one hundred and fifty miles without names, in their Indian costume. They are expected to remain four years, during which time they complete the following English branches of education: reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar and geography, and learn to talk the English language. The senior class then enters upon the study of the ancient languages and the higher branches of the English. After going through a preparatory course, some members of this class will be sent to the best colleges and universities in the United States, where they will remain until they graduate. Each of the aforesaid Academies is expected to take under its care one hundred students, where they are clothed, boarded and instructed. The buildings for the female department at Fort Coffee are frame and were put up at an expense of three thousand dollars. The boys are taught agriculture. They spend three hours a day on the farm at work; the girls are instructed in sewing, knitting and the science of housewifery. These Academies are all on the manual labor system. There are several other missionary schools among them, (the Choctaws) supported entirely by the money of the Missionary Societies, and there are now, at least five hundred of their children going to their schools and academies now in successful opera-tion among them. Workshops are intended to be established with each of the three National Academies, and a part of each day spent in learning the different trades of mechanism. The population of this tribe is about thirty thousand.
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