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Traditions of Choctaws and Chickasaws
The ancient traditional history of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, (the former signifying Separation and the latter Rebellion separation and rebellion from the Muskogees, now known as Creeks, who, according to tradition, were once of one tribe before their migration from some distant country-far to the west, to their ancient domain east of the Mississippi river, which is of more than dubious authority) claims for them a Mexican origin, and a migration from that country at some remote period in the past, under the leadership of two brothers, respectively named Chahtah and Chikasah, both noted and influential chiefs, to their possessions east of the Mississippi. Adair, in his “American Indians,” says: The Choctaws and Chickasaws descended from a people called Chickemacaws, who were among the first inhabitants of the Mexican empire; and at an ancient period wandered east, with a tribe of Indians called Choccomaws; and finally crossed the Mississippi river, with a force of ten thousand warriors.” It is reasonable to suppose that the name Choctaw has its derivation from Choccomaw, and Chickasaw, from Chickemacaw (both corrupted); as they claim, and no doubt justly, the names Choctaw and Chickasaw to be their ancient and true names.
Their tradition, in regard to their origin as related by the aged Choctaws to the missionaries in 1820, was in substance as follows: In a remote period of the past their ancestors dwelt in a country far distant toward the setting sun; and being conquered and greatly oppressed by a more powerful people (the Spaniards under Cortez) resolved to seek a country far removed from the possibility of their oppression.
A great national council was called, to which the entire nation in one vast concourse quickly responded. After many days spent in grave deliberations upon the question in which so much was involved, a day was finally agreed upon and a place of rendezvous duly appointed whence they should bid a final adieu to their old homes and country and take up their line of march to seek others, they knew not where. When the appointed day arrived it found them at the designated place fully prepared and ready for the exodus under the chosen leadership of two brothers, Chahtah and Chikasah, both equally renowned for their bravery and skill in war and their wisdom and prudence in council; who, as Moses and Aaron led the Jews in their exodus from Egypt, were to lead them from a land of oppression to one of peace, prosperity and happiness. The evening before their departure a “Fabussa” (pole, pro. as Fa-bus-sah) was firmly set up in the ground at the center point of their encampment, by direction of their chief medicine man and prophet, whose wisdom in matters pertaining to things supernatural was unquestioned and to whom, after many days fasting and supplication, the Great Spirit had revealed that the Fabussa would indicate on the following morning, the direction they should march by its leaning; and, as the star led the Magi to where the worlds infant Redeemer and Savior sweetly reposed, so the leaning of the pole, on each returning morn, would indicate the direction they must travel day by day until they reached the sought and desired haven; when, on the following morn, it would there and then remain as erect as it had been placed the evening before. At the early dawn of the following morn many solicitous eyes were turned to the silent but prophetic Fabussa, Lo! It leaned to the east. Enough. Without hesitation or delay the mighty host began its line of march toward the rising sun, and followed each day the morning directions given by the talismanic pole, which was borne by day at the head of the moving multitude, and set up at each returning evening in the center of the encampment, alternately by the two renowned chiefs and brothers, Chahtah and Chikasah. For weeks and months they journeyed toward the east as directed by the undeviating Fabussa, passing over wide extended plains and through forests vast and abounding with game of many varieties seemingly undisturbed before by the presence of man, from which their skillful hunters bountifully supplied their daily wants. Gladly would they have accepted, as their future asylum, many parts of the country through which they traveled, but were forbidden, as each returning morn the unrelenting pole still gave its silent but comprehended command: “Eastward and onward.” After many months of wearisome travel, suddenly a vast body of flowing water stretched its mighty arm athwart their path. With unfeigned astonishment they gathered in groups upon its banks and gazed upon its turbid waters. Never before had they even heard of, or in all there wanderings stumbled upon aught like this. Whence its origin? Where its terminus? This is surely the Great Father the true source of all waters, whose age is wrapt in the silence of the unknown past, ages beyond all calculation, and as they then and there named it “Misha Sipokni” (Beyond Age, whose source and terminus are unknown).
Surely a more appropriate, beautiful and romantic name, than its usurper Mississippi, without any signification. But who can tell when the waters of Misha Sipokni first found their way from the little Itasca lake hidden in its northern home, to the far away gulf amid the tropics of the south? Who when those ancient Choctaws stood upon its banks and listened to its murmurings which alone disturbed the silence of the vast wilderness that stretched away on every side, could tell of its origin and over what mighty distances it rolled its muddy waters to their ultimate, destiny? And who today would presume to know or even conjecture, through what mysterious depths its surging currents struggle ere they plunge into the southern gulf? But what now says their dumb talisman? Is Misha Sipokni to be the terminus of their toils? Are the illimitable forests that so lovingly embraced in their wide extended arms its restless waters to be their future homes? Not so. Silent and motion less, still as ever before, it bows to the east and its mandate “Onward, beyond Misha Sipokni” is accepted without a murmur; and at once they proceed to construct canoes and rafts by which, in a few weeks, all were safely landed upon its eastern banks, whence again was resumed their eastward march, and so continued until they stood upon the western banks of the Yazoo river and once more encamped for the night; and, as had been done for many months before, ere evening began to unfold her curtains and twilight had spread over all her mystic light, the Fabussa (now truly their Delphian oracle) was set up; but ere the morrow s sun had plainly lit up the eastern horizon, many anxiously watching eyes that early rested upon its straight, slender, silent form, observed it stood erect as when set up the evening be fore. And then was borne upon that morning breeze throughout the vast sleeping encampment, the joyful acclamation, “Fohah hupishno Yak! Fohah hupishno Yak! Fohah hupishno Yak! (pro as Fo-hah, Rest, hup-ish-noh, we, all of us, Yak, here.)
Now their weary pilgrimage was ended, and flattering hope portrayed their future destiny in the bright colors of peace, prosperity and happiness. Then, as commemorative of this great event in their national history, they threw up a large mound embracing three acres of land and rising forty feet in a conical form, with a deep hole about ten feet in diameter excavated on the top, and all enclosed by a ditch encompassing nearly twenty acres. After its completion, it was discovered not to be erect but a little leaning, and they named it Nunih (mountain or mound, Waiyah, leaning, pro. as Nunih Wai-yah). This relic of the remote past still stands half buried in the accumulated rubbish of years unknown, disfigured also by the desecrating touch of time which has plainly left his finger marks of decay upon it blotting out its history, with all others of its kind, those memorials of ages past erected by the true Native American, about which so much has been said in conjecture and so much written in speculation, that all now naturally turn to anything from their modern conjectures and speculations with much doubt and great misgivings.
Several years afterward, according to the tradition of the Choctaws as narrated to the missionaries, the two brothers, still acting in the capacity of chiefs, disagreed in regard to some national question, and, as Abraham suggested to Lot the propriety of a separation, so did Chikasah propose to Chahtah; but not with that unselfishness that Abraham manifested to Lot; since Chikasah, instead of giving to Chahtah the choice of directions, proposed that they should leave it to a game of chance, to which Chahtah readily acquiesced. Thus it was played: They stood facing each other, one to the east and the other to the west, holding a straight pole, ten or fifteen feet in length, in an erect position between them with one end resting on the ground; and both were to let go of the pole at “the same instant by a pre-arranged signal, and the direction in which it fell was to decide the direction in which Chikasah was to take. If it fell to the north, Chikasah and his adherents were to occupy the northern portion of the country, and Chahtah and his adherents, the southern; but if it the south, then Chikasah, with his followers, was to possess the southern portion of the country, and Chahtah with his, the northern. The game was played, and the pole decreed that Chikasah should take the northern part of their then vast and magnificent territory. Thus they were divided and became two separate and distinct tribes, each of whom assumed and ever afterwards retained the name of their respective chiefs, Chahtah and Chikasah. The ancient traditions of the Cherokees, as well as the ancient traditions of the Muscogees (Creeks) and the Natchez also point back to Mexico as the country from which they, in a period long past, moved to their ancient possessions east of the Mississippi river. But whether they preceded the Choctaws and Chickasaws or came after, their traditions are silent.
Milfort, (p. 269) says: Big-Warrior, chief of the Cherokees, as late as 1822, not only confirms their tradition that Mexico was their native country, but goes back to a more remote period for their origin and claims that his ancestors came from Asia; crossing Behring Straits in their canoes; thence down the Pacific coast to Mexico; thence to the country east of the Mississippi river, where they were first known to the Europeans.
Mr. Gaines, United States agent to the Choctaws in 1810, asked Apushamatahaubi (pro. Arpush-ah-ma-tar-hah ub-ih), the most renowned chief of the Choctaws since their acquaintance with the white race, concerning the origin of his people, who replied: “A hattaktikba bushi-aioktulla hosh hopaki fohna moma ka minti” (pro. as Arn (my) hut-tark-tik-ba (forefather) hush-ih-ai-o-kah-tullah (the west) mo-mah (all) meen-tih (came) ho-par-kih (far) feh-nah (very)). And the same response was always given by all the ancient Choctaws living east of the Mississippi River, when the inquiry was made of them, whence their origin? By this they only referred to the country in which their forefathers long dwelt prior to their exodus to the east of the Mississippi river; as they also had a tradition that their forefathers come from a country beyond the “Big Waters” far to the northwest, crossing a large body of water in their canoes of a day s travel, thence down the Pacific coast to Mexico, the same as the Cherokees. In conversation with an aged Choctaw in the year 1884, (Robert Nail, along known friend,) upon the subject, he confirmed the tradition by stating that his people first came from Asia by way of the Behring Straits. He was, a man well versed in geography, being taught in boy hood by the missionaries prior to their removal from their eastern homes to their present abode north of Texas. The Muscogees, Shawnees, Delawares, Chippeways, and other tribes also have the same traditions pointing beyond Behring Straits to Asia as the land whence their forefathers came in ages past. Some of their traditions state, that they crossed the Strait on the ice the Chippeways for one; but the most, according to their traditions, crossed in their canoes. But that the ancestors of the North American Indians came at some unknown period in the remote past, from Asia to the North American continent, there can be no doubt. Their traditions, pointing back to ancient historical events, and many other things, though vague by the mists of ages past, yet interestingly strange from proximity to known historical truths. Noah, who lived 350 years after the flood, which occurred 1656 years from the creation of man, or 2348 B. C., divided the earth, according to general opinion, among his three sons. To Shem, he gave Asia; to Ham, Africa, and to Japheth, Europe, whose posterity are described occupying chiefly the western and northern regions (Gen. this well accords with the etymology of the name, which signifies widely spreading; and how wonderfully did Providence en large the boundaries of Japheth! His posterity diverged eastward and westward, from the original settlement in Armenia, through the whole extent of Asia north of the great range of Taurus distinguished by the general names of Tartary and Siberia as far as the Eastern Ocean: and, in process of time, by an easy passage across Behring Straits, over the en tire continent; and they spread in the opposite direction, throughout the whole of Europe, to the Atlantic Ocean; thus literally encompassing the earth, within the precincts of the northern temperate zone; while the war-like genius of this hardy hunter race frequently led them into the settlements, and to dwell in the “tents of Shem,” whose pastoral occupations rendered them more inactive, peaceable, and unwarlike.
But heavily has the hand of time, with its weight of years, rested upon the descendants of the people over whom, the two brothers, Chahtah and Chikasah swayed the sceptre of authority as chiefs, counselors and warriors, in the unknown ages of the past; and from the time of their traditional migration to that of their first acquaintance with the White Race, what their vicissitudes and mutations; what hat their joys and sorrows; what their hopes and fears; what their lights and shadows, during the long night of historical darkness, was known to them alone, and with them has long been buried in the oblivion of the hidden past, together with that of their entire race. Truly, their legends, their songs and romances, celebrating their exploits, would form, if but known, a literature of themselves; and though their ghosts still ride through the forests and distant echoes of them are still heard in vague tradition, yet they afford but a slender basis for a history for this broad fabric of romance, while around them still cluster all those wonderful series of myths which have spread over the land and assumed so many shapes. But what a volume of surpassing romance; of fondest hopes, of blighted aspirations; of glorious enthusiasms; of dark despair, and of touching pathos, would their full history make? They owned this vast continent, and had possessed it for ages exceeding in time the ability of the human mind to conceive; and they too speak of the long in fancy of the human race; of its slow advance in culture; of its triumphs over obstacles, and of the final appearance of that better day, when ideas of truth, justice, and that advanced stage of enlightenment had been reached wherein we speak of man as civilized. They were of a cheerful and joyous disposition, and of a kindly nature, the croaking- and snarling of ignorance and prejudice to the contrary not withstanding. Their civilization has been grossly under estimated. We have unjustly contemplated them to a ridiculous extent through our own selfish and narrow contracted spectacles, and have so loudly talked of and expatiated upon their forests, that we have forgotten their cornfields; and repeatedly spoken of their skill as hunters, until we have overlooked their labors as herdsmen; while, at the same time, it has been customary every where to look down upon them with emotions of contempt and to decry their habits and customs. I do not deny the existence of blemishes in many of their characteristics; nor deny that superstitions and erroneous opinions were prevalent, at which we have assumed to be greatly horrified; yet, do condemn the modern writers for their want of judgment on this point, and their unreason able severity in their condemnation of the Indians, in whom they profess to have discovered so many defects without a redeeming virtue; and their disregard of the truth, that, to him alone who is without sin is given the right to cast the first stone. Therefore, how could it be otherwise than that, concerning the dealings of the White Race with the Red, there is a sad, fearful and revolting, story to be told; while losing ourselves in the wild revelry of imagination, we dream of the time when our civilization and Quixotic ideas of human liberty shall embrace the entire world in its folds.