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As the man of years came forward, whose name was Puch-Chee-Nubbee; he was received with the cordiality to which an unstained and honorable old age is entitled to in civilized society. I. noticed his eye fell on me, while an unusual degree of anxious inquiry seemed to accompany the penetrating glance. I felt that he was searching my very heart, and a childlike sympathy agitated my bosom; years of sorrow rolled up before me. O! how I wished that I could fall upon the neck that supported that venerable head and call him my father! I moved not. All was silent, he stepped a few paces nearer, and said, ‘young stranger, I have seen you but little, yet I must know more of you. Do you like the company of the aged, who stand like the noble tree over whose head the tempest of an hundred years has broken, stripping it of branches and beauty, yet unable to uproot its strength?’ I answered him when he ceased to speak, by saying, that the reality of the picture he had just drawn, always reminded me of old age, and that I could not express my love for aged and gray-haired men. He seemed affected, not so much by my words, as by the thoughts that were passing in his own mind. He asked me to go with him to his camp, I readily assented. By his request the others accompanied us. The utmost silence was maintained. I thought I had felt very solemn in the march behind the dead. Yet I must confess that my feelings were a little changed, though the day was far spent, ere we were safety lodged within the old man’s camp. He motioned us to be seated. He spoke to his companions at the same time in his own tongue. I would have given much to have known exactly what he was then saying. All eyes turned anxiously upon me at the same time, which left no doubt but that he had been speaking of me. Being conscious that I had offended some of the tribe, in endeavoring to offer consolation, and advising them to make peace, I scarcely knew what result to expect; I did not know what to say, that is, what I could say to the purpose, and so concluded I would wait in silence, the pleasure of my host. But I was not kept long in suspense; for as soon as all was still he turned to me and said, ‘young man, I want you to show us your right foot, you do it?’ Certainly,’ I replied, and with all possible haste, laid my foot bare to their observation. The old man lifted his clasped hands, raised his eyes towards heaven, and said, ‘Me I know him. His father good Choctaw chief; Me I see that,’ pointing to my right foot, ‘Me know him, Me see him fall.’ Then seeming suddenly to recollect himself, he looked at me and said, ‘young man, our ears are unstopped; speak, we will hear you talk of your father.’ I relieved my aching heart with a deep drawn sigh, and answered, ‘let my aged father speak on; I am a child; I have had no parents to teach me how to speak. My words lack wisdom, and I am ashamed to say I never knew my father.’ He answered, ‘And your mother died ere you knew how to keep her memory in your mind. Your father one good man, Great Choctaw Chief. He live on Tombigbee River; his home on Dancing Rabbit Creek. Pushmataha, Mosholeh Tubbee, and Laflour (Laflore) took some men to go to big white house to see their white father. Pale-face want more lands, no got enough; Indian got little spot, Pale-face want it bad. Indian all sorry; all say, no; no; Mosholeh Tubbee say no; Laflour (Laflore), very mad; when pale-face camp came, said we must make treaty. We no go home, no; when treaty made, then we go. Pale-face neighbors all round hate Indians; he better go; bad pale-face kill him. Chiefs call the people together; all say no, we cannot go; we cannot leave our homes; they hold the bones of our fathers, we cannot leave them. All very angry; Laflour (Laflore), he mad plenty; he say, bad pale-face! all bad! no good, I no like him; he got many lands, no children on all his lands; he came here many moons ago, he very good, he say Great Spirit speak and send him to poor Indian to teach him to worship the Great Spirit better; say our fathers no worship him right; they no know how. He came within our wigwam; warmed himself by our fire; ate of our salt; said he was our friend. We believed him. We made him welcome. Many of us received his religion; he was very glad, very happy. Then he bring his people, who soon want all our lands; drive Indian off. He offer us nasty swamps, where we cannot live; he want us to die. We no go; he no have our land; brothers, he no have it! When I make treaty, I tell you, you cut off my bead. The people all say they have no treaty. They break up; go home; all glad again. Pale-face coax Indian Chiefs to come there in their camp; by and by make friends; he give fire-water plenty; chiefs go back, feel very good; pale-face very good; fire-water burn up all poor Indian’s sense; make him very bad man, very bad chief; forget poor people. Pale-face say, come now; write your names here, then all you want you have. We your friends; make big wish, you have it; your white father say so; send us here to give you plenty.
‘Twas dark midnight; the good spirits had all left the earth; the Indians’ hearts were dark; there was no light in them, but fire-water. The pale face held the pen in the Indians’ hand, guiding it until their names were written. They wished; Mosholeh Tubbee wished one big pile gold money, and one gold measure of the sun (watch); Laflour (Laflore) one silver fine carriage, such as the big men at the white house have; plenty money too. When morning came, and the good spirits returned on the rays of the morning sun, then they very sorry; they go and say Pale-face, give me back my word, and take these monies; I have ruined my people. But pale face laughed; be no give it back, he too glad. Then chiefs very shamed, very sorry; they no want council. Their people hear, they no believe; they hear again and again, then they believe, then they mourn, and lament. They no fight like our brothers here; they bowed their heads in deep sorrow, and called their people together to listen, while they talked.’
We all signified a desire to hear more, as the old man concluded by saying, I remember many of their words. He began by saying, the Choctaw Chief said, ‘I am glad so many of you have come to sit for the last time where our forefathers sat; are your ears open to hear the words of your councilors? for here our council fire blazed high many, many moons ago; here our forefathers lit and smoked the pipe of peace with my friends. Not only the pipe was lit here by them but the heart was warmed up with kindly feelings for their own people, and their pale-faced friends were not forgotten; for we have ever been friends. Not the blood of the pale-face can be found with the Choctaw; but our warriors have numbered with him in his battles; for this, other tribes have hated us, and called us women, who loved the pale-face more than their own race. But he was the friend of our forefathers of whom we have just spoken; they are shades, yet their ears are not shut; but they hear and pity their children; and now while we are here, the wind which we feel on our cheeks is their breath, and the gentleness before the heavy rain, yes, and the bright dew drops kiss it up, for it is their tears. A stranger might wonder why they are shed, but ye already know. Ye know that the pale-faces foot hath been among us and left its print here; we know that soon after he came to us, he said he came a messenger of peace from the Great Spirit; that we did not worship him well, consequently he was not pleased with us, and had sent him to teach us to worship him better. He said he was our friend; and could we do less than to warm him and give him meat? His words were good; his councils were great; we loved him. Many of us have received his religion, who do not yet return. His brethren came and dwelt near us, teaching us many things; but no sooner had he done exulting in the successful accomplishment of his plans, than he (shall I say he?) O! was it he, or his brother that begrudged us our home’s here on the loved Mississippi; brothers was not the pale-face honest, but his eyes are large. Not satisfied with the broad lands on the shores of the Atlantic, and great lakes and rivers, which the Indian has relinquished as he was driven back step by step; yes, in many of their former homes there is not scarce a wigwam remaining to send forth its smoke to the sun upon the breath of the Great Spirit. No, they have travelled westward, though they sometimes journey there to visit the former hunting grounds and burial places of their forefathers. Does this unsatisfied appetite arise in man from that civilization which we have invented among us? Is it through that source? We have hoped that feelings of a different nature should arise from this source.
O, Great Spirit, hast thou forsaken us, or art thou angry that we have forsaken the worship of our fathers, and turned ourselves to strangers! Our possessions here have become very small, yet they are not the less dear, and we had hoped to keep this little spot; but the pale-face asked for it; we have said no, no; talked until we are weary, but their ears are shut, they hear not our word, and the great white father has even demanded it of us; what remains to be done? He is stronger than we, and he is our forefathers’ friend. The lands which they offer seem to us but miry swamps, where our nation will survive but a few years at the farthest. Should we leave these lands, where, O! where, should we find a spot to rest our weary feet. It is hard but we cannot resist; he is stronger than we, and our fathers’ friend. What remains to be done but to call our women and children together and prepare for the departure. Let us nerve up and strengthen the heart; to say to them that we are exiles without friends or home, save the wilds of the forest. There we are offered a resting spot forever; as long as grass shall grow, and water run. O! pale-face, dost thou speak with a forked tongue that has deceived many of our fathers and brothers. Ye will crowd us out of our homes, and the last look which we cast behind us, though our eyes would fain look forever on those loved homes; yet, that last look shall be short, and the pale-face will say, as he ever says, ‘The Indian cannot feel.’ But we appeal to thee! Great Spirit! thou knowest us better, and we pray thee to Judge between us. And you, ye Cypress trees, bend lower down and touch our foreheads with your friendly branches; pity us that we are irrevocably doomed to bid thee an eternal farewell, though we have loved you from childhood. Many of us when first conscious of life, found ourselves cradled on your limbs, and rocked by the breath of the Great Spirit as he breathed blessings upon their young heads, while the mother sat employed below. Perhaps that mother sleeps that awful sleep of dust returning to its mother dust, near or on that very spot, causing it to be still more sacred and doubly dear. And now to the pale-face we say, see that ye worship the Great Spirit well, lest he avenge our unmerited wrongs on your heads, for you have caused us to drink of the bitter cup. Ye have not offered sweetening, but have said, drain the dregs. We say beware; we go yet not willingly but in peace; beware lest the Great Spirit order you or your children to drink it all. Again beware! we go! we go! we go. Then, continued the old man, my heart was very weak.
I listened to these words and many more. Yes, I saw and heard them invoke the spirits of their dead to forgive them that their bones should be left behind; to accuse them not, though the burial ground of the Indian family became the garden spot of the white man. Yes, with uplifted hands they besought them for strength to perform the painful duties which had fallen to their lot; that they might visit for the last time, the sacred spot where they had borne their bodies, when their spirits sought the peaceful hunting-grounds of the Spirit-land, where they can build their wigwam, and spread their blankets down in peace, and fear no enemies, nor dread their removal. They called for strength to tear the dear images of their long-cherished homes from their lacerated hearts, promising at the same time that the wound should never heal that the vacancy should never be filled; that no other spot should ever be half so dear as their own loved homes; that they should ever be strangers; that they would welcome death when he came, that they might then join their forefathers, and be at home. Then said thy father (speaking to me) in those days of bitter sorrow, ‘O, my son, do I leave thy bones here in these lands. Has the panther, bear, or the wolf, robbed me of thee, thou child of promise to a fond father; or has some of the enemies of my tribe stolen thee from me when thy father’s face was turned from thee. O, better were it for thee, poor child, to have met, the deadly embrace of the beast of prey, than thy fine limbs should be subjected to the blows of strangers. There are those of my own race who hate me because I have been a friend to the pale-face, and my heart is maddened at the thought, lest thou should now writhe under the iron hand of slavery in some other tribe, perhaps, or in the settlements of the whites. Thou hast, if still alive, outgrown all thy father’s memory of thy infantile features; yet there are marks on thee that thy friends could not mistake. Well for thy gentle mother that she never knew thy fate. Or perhaps she looked down from the Spirit land and welcomed the spirit of her adored child to her longing embrace, and introduced the spirit of the young chief to the departed chiefs and warriors of the tribe of his fathers. O! could I but know this, my heart would be at rest; for I shall soon join them all, and visit those friends from whom I have been so long separated; but something ever whispers me, he is here yet. I can so plainly see his face and form, even yet, and feel that he is in sorrow! for in my dreams he comes to me so lifelike, though sorrowful, I at times feel that I cannot mistake.
Patriarchal Custom of Blessing Children observed by the Indians
Then I call to mind the words of the wise man of my tribe, who blessed him and pronounced him long life and wisdom, to exceed even that of his ancestors; that his judgment should be highly prized by the people; and his company and council sought by the councilors of his tribe; that he should have wisdom to detect the false-hearted, and expose his wickedness, and a kind heart to relieve the oppressed; judgment to administer relief to the afflicted; that the beggar should not ask of him in vain for food, or the weary one for rest; this said he and still more. When I call to mind the feelings of my own heart as we repaired to the water, to test the truth or falsehood of the old man’s words, and to see if the Great Spirit would accept the babe and bless him according to the old man’s words; we took the ice from the pure stream, and as his infant form was laid into the cold water, my heart seemed to have ceased to beat, suspense had checked it. I gasped for breath, that I might see my little idol left to sink or swim, to live or die; but he passed the ordeal in safety, lightly floating on the bright water. I received him into my arms, and secretly pressed him to my bosom, vowing within, that all my renown, the honor of all my achievements, and a large portion of my possessions should be transmitted to this child of my love. Then again I received him from the arms of his dying mother, my young and tender wife. In that hour of bitterness, grief, and separation, I promised to love the child she had given me, more than all things else on the earth, that as he had been the darling of our hearts, on whose head our love and future hopes had concentrated, so in her absence I would idolize him, with a twofold affection, that through the child, the mother though absent from the earth, though with-drawn from the sight of the mortal vision, yet through this means she should hold communication with my heart, that she could thus be present to the eyes of my inner sight. That while I looked on the child, she should continue to live in my heart. Ah! but too faithfully have I discharged that obligation. For a while I was so intent upon keeping, and minutely fulfilling that promise, so jealous was I of my charge, that I carried him in my arms by day, and slept with him there at night. The tender mother’s ready eye would have been less vigilant than mine. Would to heaven that I had suffered him to emerge into manhood while yet borne in a father’s arms. Had I suffered the young to gain its strength thus.
I had now been cheerful and happy where now this heart is weary and stricken with the weight of cares and blighted hopes. But the evil spirit prevailed against me, in an unguarded hour. I left him but for a few days at the most; but he was doomed, and I was too proud to hear all who saw him, speak in his praise; and then to hear my friends so often congratulate me, that my playful child so much resembled his father; and yet I had trusted him from my sight but a few hours, ere all my hopes were crushed by his loss. The news reached me ere three days. I was stung to the heart, maddened with grief. The pale-face had been to our place to trade with us, but was now gone. I called my brothers together. Accustomed as the red man is from his earliest infancy onward to the grave, to hide all outward signs of emotion from the human eye; though the heart-strings are strained with sorrow ready to bursting, yet the same calm exterior must be preserved; my brothers reprimanded me, for being overwhelmed with sorrow which knew no bounds. They maintained there was still hope of his recovery; they offered me their assistance, promising to watch closely the enemies of our tribe, for some contended that they had stolen him. The pale-face route was intersected, and they were closely questioned and narrowly watched, but without success. They had answered all questions with much apparent candor; said they had not the child; which was plainly evident. Then one of their number recollected that two of them were missing; on being interrogated they frankly confessed the truth; yet the spies were apprehensive that a slight shadow of embarrassment was visible on their countenances. After a moment’s silence, they of their own free will explained, when, where, and why, they had left them; spoke freely of their business, and pointed out the route they had taken, and explained that they had gone thither to purchase cattle; which seemed very probable.
It was a journey of two or three days and nights before we could reach the place designated; and when we arrived, there were no such people there, neither had there been. Judge of the state of my mind on finding this to be the case. 1 felt that we were duped, and that the men and child were hid when we were there. I now reflected on myself that I had not offered all which I possessed as a ransom for my child. We retraced our step, but gloom still more terrible seemed to gather round. I had left some trusty hearts to watch unseen, the proceedings of the Pale-face traders, when I found what they had told us had not even the shadow of truth in it. All my hope was that he was concealed, and would be found out by my spies. Such was my state of mind that anxiety seemed to have entirely rooted the feeling of revenge out of my heart, and I determined to doubly reward anyone who would return my child; or even bring tidings of him, let them be good or bad. I found that grief, fatigue, and hunger, wore upon me, for indeed f had given way to hope, and fear, grief and despair.
Suffering from the most intense anxiety, the stricken father trembled like a frightened fawn, as he approached his home. There my hopes were doomed to wither and die, as the summer flower before the chilling breath of an autumnal frost. Ah! how often have I asked myself, will their spring ever return? will they ever bloom more? or had their atmosphere turned to one unchanging winter, and ceaseless storm, and endless night? My people had secretly watched the traders by day and night, following in their trail when they were far from my place, and indeed until they had left our lands; they had not yet returned. My poor comrades were worn with the fatigue and hardships of so constantly riding. They begged me to take some repose, and then asked for one night’s rest for themselves and beasts. How could I refuse or urge them farther? I could not wear out the living for one who I feared was dead to me.
My scouts returned; they were satisfied that no child was with them; their comrades had not joined them as yet, neither could they find that they expected them. They had betrayed no signs of uneasiness. I now began to fear that the child had been suffered to stray too far away, and some wild beast had devoured him. Or perhaps the evil spirit had thus avenged himself on us, because we had ceased to make offerings to him, or endeavored to do anything to appease his anger; but had trusted altogether to the spirit of good, regardless of his anger. I knew that some of the tribes still offered sacrifice to him, and I reasoned, had not he given my child into the hands of his followers, who hated us because we were friendly with the pale- face, to whom they were enemies; consequently they were enemies to us. Had he not given up my child to die, ere he knew how to die; or perhaps they would choose to let him live, and teach him to hate his own tribe; to hear him speak evil of his own father’s name, while that father was secretly indulging in hopeless grief, for the irreparable loss of his son. We rode over a great portion of the Indian land, making secretly all the observations possible; also making many inquiries which tended to the one great aim of my life. My friends advised me to endeavor to lock up my grief in my heart. Trusting that if the child lived he might be offered for a ransom; thinking that if he had been stolen, when all signs of grief and resentment had passed away, they would seek to return him for money. I accordingly instructed all my friends to pay liberally for the least intelligence. To give lavishly to anyone who gave the least information that seemed at all to the point; though they were sure the bearer of the tidings for which they were paying, had the child in his possession, yet they should not seem to dream of such a thing being possible, and only exhibit the most anxious solicitude for the return of the lost child to his father’s arms.
The Wise Man Consulted
My heart was in darkness, and so the light of hope was for a time, shut out. I had rode much, and was weary in body and mind. I at length sought the dwelling of my old friend, the wise man of my people. I had sent a messenger to acquaint him of my loss, my grief, and apprise him of my intended visit to his place, to receive his council and instruction. Now that I had come, he received me in a spirit of extreme kindness, yet he did not at first break the sad silence, with aught save the language of his eyes as he fixed a sorrowful look upon me. I trembled with emotion too powerful for utterance; I read in his compassionate and brotherly glance, that he pitied me from the inmost chambers of his soul; for he too, had loved and blessed the child. He at length observed, ‘My brother’s heart is dark; the sun has not shone there for many days; dark clouds have gathered thickly about his head; his eyes cannot see for the water thereof; are his ears open? if so, it is well; we will spend the day together, and when you have taken some necessary repose, I would propose that we repair to the mountain, the dwelling-place of the Great Spirit.’ He wished me to take some rest. I persisted that I neither needed or desired rest; nor yet was able to take it, it being altogether out of my reach.
I soon saw that I must at least endeavor to obey and respect his kind wishes; and at length suffered him to persuade me to seek sleep. I laid me down with as much composure as possible, just to please the aged man whose guest I was. He seemed quite pleased with my acquiescence, and apparent resignation. He set about preparing me a draught of tea, which I had scarcely taken and listened, to the instructive discourses, and soothing words of my friend, who gradually drew my mind away from its theme of sorrow, when ere I was aware of the same, the sweet and soothing sensations of sleep were stealing over my weary frame. I gradually resigned myself into its friendly arms, as 1 still yet listened to the old man’s voice, as it gently lulled my spirit into heartfelt security; as it seemed to die away in the distance, and I heard it only as the faint murmurings of the limpid water; as I while yet an untroubled child, laid me down on the shady banks of the stream, listening to the language of the water, the sighing of the summer wind, until I ceased to remember that I was a living being. Though it was scarce yet midday, yet morning had dawned ere I awoke again to consciousness.