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The name Choctaw, or Chahtah is, derived from a prophet warrior who flourished at a time too remote for fixing any date, as it is only handed down by tradition from one generation to another.
“Headed by him, tradition informs us, the people in one grand division migrated to the East from a country far toward the setting sun, following the Cherokees and Muscogees, who had moved on, four years previous, in search of a suitable spot for a permanent location. He is said to have been possessed of all the characteristics essential to the carrying out of such an enterprise to a successful termination. His benevolence and many other virtues are still cherished and held in sacred remembrance by his people. The country whence they migrated, or the causes, which induced them to seek another place of habitation, is wrapped in mysterious oblivion, as their tradition begins abruptly with the epoch of migration. In moving from place to place, Chahtah is said to have carried a high staff or pole, which, on encamping, was immediately placed in front of his wigwam, where it remained until they broke up encampment. His wigwam is represented to have been placed in the van of all the tribe. When the pole inclined forward a power, which it was believed to possess the people prepared to march. This is somewhat analogous to the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, by which the Lord, through His beloved servant, guided the children of Israel from Egypt. After many years of wanderings, during which “they, in common with those who have ever engaged in similar enterprises, suffered many trials and privations, they at length arrived at a certain place, where the staff stood still and, instead of bending forward, inclined backward, which was regarded as a sign they were at their journey s end. To this place where the staff stood still, Chahtah gave the name of Nun-nih Wai-ya. The exact period of the termination of their wanderings is unknown. So soon as they got in some degree settled, Chahtah called the warriors together for the purpose of organizing a code of laws for their government. At this place of rest, Nunnih Waiya, the built strong fortifications in order to protect themselves from any foe who might conceive hostile intentions against them. Whether or not they were ever assailed is unknown. The remains of the fortress, how ever, are still to be seen in Mississippi. A long time did not elapse before their newly acquired territory was found to be too limited to hold their rapidly increasing numbers, and they were in consequence compelled to spread themselves over the adjacent country, and form themselves in villages. It is a well-authenticated fact that from this out-pouring or scattering sprung the Indians called Shukchi, Hummas and Yazoos.
In the domestic government the oldest brother or uncle was the head; the parents being required merely to assist in the exercise of this duty by their advice and example. This was similar in a great degree to the Patriarchal government in vogue among the Jews.
The tribal or national government was vested in the royal family. Their criminal code was simple in the extreme life for life. For minor offenses they inflicted punishments or imposed fines suited to the nature of the case. They were under the government of custom or common law of the Nation. All their matters of dispute or difficulty were settled in open council. They had no such officers as constables or sheriffs, but the chief had power at any time to order out any number of warriors to bring offenders to justice. The chief’s office was one merely of supremacy or leadership, and consequently there was no pay attached to it as at present.