I have sought, found and brought together an amount of information concerning a people that has never before been published; having been born of parents who were missionaries to the Choctaws in 1820, and having been reared among them and intimately acquainted with them during the vicissitudes of a life extending to nearly four score of years. I well know that the Indian race has oft been the subject of the pen, and still continues to be, but only in short details, thus leaving the reader in bewilderment, though historical truths were to be found in abundance among them...Read More
Collection: History of the Choctaw Chickasaw and Natchez Indians
Conquest or Progress! It is the same, since it is with blood that the book of humanity is written. The pages here devoted to the narrative of the Chickasaw Indians is not an exception; theirs, too, is stained with the seemingly inevitable sanguinary horrors, but nowhere is the trace inexplicable. To some it may seem useless and even wrong to recall these pages of history so distant in the past, which began in wrong, continued in wrong and will end, so for as human observation can judge, in wrong, and then ask nothing better than to be forgotten. Alas, experience has shown that to change the mode of life of a primitive race is to condemn it to death; since always regarded as an inferior race by their conquerors, they have been swept away without justice or mercy a people who had existed in an unbroken line of descent from prehistoric ages unknown. East of the Mississippi River was also the Chickasaws hereditary domain, handed down through a long line of ancestry during ages unknown, and who, like the Choctaws, were first made known to the Eastern world by Hernando De Soto who invaded their country in the month of November, 1540; but beyond which, except through the tradition of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, as before related, the faintest glimmerings of vague tradition has afforded scarcely a ray of light to penetrate the darkness which envelops their history with...Read More
The Indians all over this continent had names, traditions, religions, ceremonies, feasts, prayers, songs, dances all, more or less, with symbolism and allegory, adapted to circumstances, just as all other races of mankind. But the world has become so familiar with the continued and ridiculous publications in regard to everything touching upon that race of people that a universal doubt has long since been created and established as to the possibility of refinement of thought and nobleness of action ever having existed among the North American Indian race, ancient or modern; and so little of truth has also been learned regarding the real and true inner life of that peculiar and seemingly isolated race of mankind, that today only here and there can one be found who, from a lifetime association and intimate acquaintance, is well versed in Indian thought, feeling and character, and able to unfold and record the solution of that imagined mystery known as “The Indian Problem,” since they learned it from the Indians themselves. From the Indians own lips they were taught its elucidation, and only as it could be taught and learned, but never again can be taught and learned. Even as various nations of antiquity of, the eastern continent have left the evidences of their former occupation by the geographical names that still exist, so to have the North American Indians left their...Read More
From 1822, to the time they were dispossessed of every foot of their ancient domains, and driven away to a then wilderness, the schools increased in numbers, and the ordinances of religion were augmented, and a deeper interest manifested every where over their country never witnessed before; as they, previous to that time, had had intercourse with the debased of the White Race, by whom they had been taught in the school of vice, and nothing but vice: therefore the North American Indians have been accused, from first to last, of having no conception of an over-ruling providence the Creator of all things, and an effort has been made to sustain the charge in that they believed in the supernatural power of their rainmakers, their fair weather makers, and the incantations of their doctors. But the charge is utterly false. ‘Tis true, they relied on their rain-makers, fair weather makers and the conjuring of their doctors, through the belief that, by prayer and supplication, those person ages had been endowed with supernatural powers by the Great Spirit, (their God and ours), in whom all Indians believed, and with greater veneration than the whites, and I defy successful contradiction. They sought the aid of the rainmakers, doctors, &c, just as we do the prayers of our preachers in behalf of our sick, and for our rain, etc. Now, what more...Read More
But among the many things that are associated with the North American Indians as topics of conversation and subjects of the printer’s ink more talked about and less understood is the “Medicine Man.” On Nov. 14, 1605, the first French settlement was made in America, on the northeast coast of Nova Scotia, and they gave the name Arcadia to the country; and on July 3, 1808, Samuel Champlain laid the foundation of Quebec. The character “Medicine-Man” had its origin, according to tradition, among those early French colonists who corrupted the word “Meda” a word in the language of one...Read More
The missionaries found the precepts of the Choctaw’s to be moral; and also that they respected old age, and kept fresh in memory the wise councils of their; fathers, whose lessons of wisdom the experience of the past, taught their youthful minds to look upward, and whose teachings they did not forget in their mature years. Their tenderness to and watchful care of the aged and infirm was truly remarkable; they looked upon home and regarded their country as sacred institutions, and in the defense of which they freely staked their lives; they also inculcated a high regard for parents, and were always courteous by instinct as well as by teaching; they held in high veneration the names of the wise, the good, and the brave of their ancestors, and from their sentiment toward the dead grew sweet flowers in the heart. They believed that integrity alone was worthy of station, and that promotion should rest on capacity and faithfulness; they also had swift and sure methods of dealing with the incorrigible, official or private; nor were they impatient of the slow processes of the years but knew how to wait in faith and contentment; and if they were not as progressive, as our opinion demands in its rush for gain and pompous show, they had at least conquered the secret of National and individual steadfastness. Today we are...Read More
In 1832, at Hebron, the home of the missionary, Calvin Cushman and his family, was the place appointed for the assembling of all the Choctaws in that district preparatory to their exodus from their ancient domains to a place they knew not where; but toward the setting sun as arbitrary power had decreed. Sad and mournful indeed was their gathering together helpless and hopeless under the hand of a human power that knew no justice or mercy. I was an eyewitness to that scene of despairing woe and heard their sad refrain. I frequently visited their encampment and strolled from one part of it to another; while from every part of their wide extended camp, as I walked, gazed and wondered at the weird appearance of the scene, there came, borne upon the morn and evening breeze from every point of the vast encampment, faintly, yet distinctly, the plaintive sounds of weeping rising and falling in one strangely sad and melancholy chorus, then dying away in a last, long drawn wail. It was the Availing of the Choctaw women even as that of Rachel for her children. Around in different groups they sat with their children from whose quivering lips sobs and moans came in subdued unison; now, in wild concert united, their cries quivered and throbbed as they rose and fell on the night air, then dying away in...Read More
To the ancient Choctaw warrior and hunter, excitement of some kind was indispensable to relieve the tedium of the nothing-to-do in which a great part of his life was spent. Hence the intervals between war and hunting were filled up by various amusements, ball plays, dances, foot and horse races, trials of strength and activity in wrestling and jumping, all of which being regulated by rules and regulations of a complicated etiquette.Read More
The Choctaws, at the time of their earliest acquaintance with the European races, possessed, in conjunction with all their race of the North American Continent, a vague, but to a great extent, correct knowledge of the Oka Falama, “The returning waters,” as they termed it The Flood. The Rev. Cyrus Byington related a little incident, as one out of many interesting and pleasing ones that frequently occurred when traveling through their country from one point to another in the discharge of his ministerial duties, over seventy years ago. At one time he found night fast approaching without any visible prospect of finding a place of shelter for the night, safe from the denizens of the wilderness through which his devious path was leading him. Then and there roads were unknown and paths alone led the traveler from place to place. Soon, however, he discovered a humble cabin a few hundred yards distant, directly to which the little path was leading him, and which he readily recognized as the home of a Choctaw hunter. Several little children were engaged in their juvenile sports near the house, who upon seeing the white stranger approaching, made a precipitate retreat into the house. The mother hastened to the door to learn, the cause of the alarm saw, gazed a moment, and then as suddenly disappeared. As Mr. Byington rode up, he observed an Indian...Read More
The duelist, according to the white man’s code of honor, was regarded by the Choctaws with utmost contempt, the fool above all fools; and in this, manifesting much better sense than the white man with all his boasted idea of honor. That a man would stand up openly before his enemy to be shot at with the opportunity of getting an open shot at him, was a code of honor beyond their comprehension, a piece of nonsense in the indulgence of which a Choctaw could not be guilty. I did once hear, however, of a young Choctaw warrior accepting a challenge from a white man in their nation east of the Mississippi River. A white man, who had been living in one of their, villages for several months, taking offense at something a young warrior had done, and well-knowing the repugnance with which the Choctaws regarded the white man’s code of honor, thought it a proper time to impress them with the belief that he was very brave, since he had but little to fear that he would be called upon to put it to the test; therefore, gave him a verbal challenge, in the presence of many other Choctaw warriors, to fight him a duel according to the white man s code; and to impress upon the minds of the by-standers that where there was so much bravery,...Read More
Adair (p. 89) says; “the Choctaws, in an early day, practiced the custom of flattening the heads of their infants by compression, and were first known to the whites by the name of Flat Heads.” Be that as it may, the custom had long ceased to be practiced, when later known. Wherever they went, distant or otherwise, many or few, they always traveled in a straight line, one behind the other. (They needed no broad roads, nor had they any; hence, they dispensed with the necessity of that expense, road-working, so grudgingly bestowed by all white men. Paths alone, plain and straight, then led the Choctaws where now are broads roads and long high bridges, from village to neighborhood, and from neighborhood to village, though many miles apart; and so open and free of logs, bushes, and all fallen timber, was their country then, rendered thus by their annual burning off of the woods, it was an easy matter to travel in any direction and any distance, except through the vast cane-brakes that covered all the bottom lands, which alone could be passed by paths. On hunting excursions, when a party moved their camp to another point in the woods, whether far or near, they invariably left a broken bush with the top leaning in the direction they had gone, readily comprehended by the practiced eye of the Choctaw...Read More
They lived in houses made of logs, but very comfortable; not more rude or uncouth, however, than many of the whites even of the present day. Their houses consisted generally of two rooms, both of which were used for every domestic purpose cooking, eating, living and sleeping; nor was their furniture disproportionate with that of the dwelling for the sitting room, a stool or two; for the kitchen, a pot or kettle, two or three tin cups, a large and commodious wooden bowl, and a horn spoon, constituted about the ultimatum t’was all they needed, all they wanted, and with it they were perfectly contented and supremely happy. Tafula; (pro. Tarm-ful-ah,” hominy; corrupted to Tom-fuller), is made of pounded corn boiled, using lye for fermentation, and tafula tobi ibulhtoh (boiled corn mixed with beans) were, and are to the present day, favorite dishes among the Choctaws; nor need it be thought strange, as they are dishes Worthy the palate of the most fastidious. The tafula, their favorite and indispensable dish was put into a large bowl, around which all gathered, and each in turn using the horn spoon to replenish his waiting mouth with the coveted luxury. But little pains were taken in the preparation of their food, which was as rude, though clean and nice, as the means of preparing it. Having no tables or dishes, except the...Read More
That the fore-fathers of the present Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees and Muscogees migrated ages ago from Mexico to their ancient abodes east of the Mississippi River there can be scarcely a doubt; and that they were a branch of the Aztecs there is much in their ancient traditions and legends upon which to predicate, at least, a reasonable sup position, if not a belief. The Aztecs are regarded by some as the first of the human race that came to the North American continent, and by others as one of the oldest races of the human family upon earth, whose records and traditions point back to those of the books of Genesis and Jo. Though the historical legends of the above named tribes do not divide the ages past of their race into four epochs as the Aztecs, as Gam Dom Yasco Da, the Portuguese mariner and discoverer of the maritime route to India near the close of the 14th century, asserts; and the first of which terminated in a destruction of the people of the world by famine, the second by wind, the third by fire, and the fourth by water, (very similar to the traditions and legends of the Hindoos), yet they do point back to many historical facts of the Christian’s Bible, which have been handed down by tradition through ages and point to great and important...Read More
The faces of the Choctaw and Chickasaw men of sixty years ago were as smooth as a woman’s, in fact they had no beard. Sometimes there might be seen a few tine hairs (if hairs they might be called) here and there upon the face, but they were few and far between, and extracted with a pair of small tweezers whenever discovered. Oft have I seen a Choctaw warrior standing before a mirror seeking with untiring perseverance and unwearied eyes, as he turned his face at different angles to the glass, if by chance a hair could be found lurking there, which, if discovered, was instantly removed as an unwelcome intruder. Even today, a full blood Choctaw or Chickasaw with a heavy beard is never seen. I have seen a few, here and there, with a little patch of beard upon their chins, but it was thin and short, and with good reasons to suspect that white blood flowed in their veins. It is a truth but little known among the whites, that the North American Indians of untarnished blood have no hair upon any part of the body except the head. My knowledge of this peculiarity was confined, however, to the Choctaws and Chickasaws alone. But in conversation with an aged Choctaw friend upon this subject, and inquiring” if this peculiarity extended to all Indians, he replied; “To all,...Read More
On February 11th, 1700, De Iberville, Bienville, Perricaul and Tonti ascended the Mississippi River as far west as the present city of Natchez. They were kindly received (so states the journalist) by the great chief, or sun, as he was termed, surrounded by six hundred of his warriors, who, according to their own account, had formerly been a great nation. On the 13th the party left Natchez and visited the villages of the Taensas, the customs and habits of who were the same as the Natchez, being evidently a branch of the latter. During their stay the sacred temple of these Indians was struck by lightning and burned to ashes. To appease the Sun God, the poor, infatuated women threw themselves, and parents, their children, into the consuming flames of the burning temple. Perricaul, who was one of the witnesses of the fearful scene, thus wrote of it: “We left the Natchez and coasted along to the right, where the river is bordered with high, gravelly banks for a distance of twelve leagues. At the extremity of these bluffs is a place called Petit Gulf, on account of the whirlpool formed by the river for the distance of a quarter league. Eight leagues higher up we came to Grand Gulf, which we passed a short distance above, on the right hand side. We landed to visit a village four...Read More
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