Collection: The Choctaw of Bayou Lacomb

Choctaw Death and Burial Practices

There appears to have been very little lamenting or mourning on the occasion of a death or a burial. The body was borne to the grave and the interment took place without a ceremony of any sort. In the event of the death of a man of great importance, however, the body was allowed to remain in state for a day before burial. During that time it was decorated with various ornaments and garments, but these were removed before interment. Such objects are said to have been preserved and handed down from one generation to the next, and used whenever required. Usually a hunter’s gun was placed in the grave with the body. For a much larger work on death and burial practices amongst the Choctaw see: Introduction to the Study of Mortuary Customs Among the North American Indians Mourning Practices of the Choctaw The period of mourning varied with the age of the deceased. For a child or young person it was about three months, but for an older person, as one s mother or father, from six months to one year. As the Choctaw dealt with in this paper have been under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church for many years, it is not surprising that they have modified some of their primitive beliefs regarding the future state. But even in spite of Christian teaching many...

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Choctaw Artifacts

Comparatively few articles are now made by the Choctaw, much of their ancient art having been forgotten. At the present time they purchase the necessary tools and implements at the stores, and other objects are no longer used. The list which follows is believed to include all things of native origin now made by the Choctaw at Bayou Lacomb (1900): Wood Artifacts Mortars and pestles Scrapers, two forms of, used in preparing skins Drum Ball club Blowgun and darts Canoes Leather Artifacts Straps for carrying baskets. Narrow strips used on the ball clubs. Untanned skins used for the heads of drums. Long strips of tanned deer skin used as lashes for whips by the drivers of ox teams employed in the lumber industry. Stone Artifacts Arrowheads Chisels Jewelry Knifes Pieces of chert or jasper are sometimes used with a steel to “strike fire.” Pottery Pipes Horn Spoons Baskets Pack Basket Elbow Shaped Basket Pointed Basket Cords Ropes...

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Choctaw Tanning Method

The hair having been removed, the skin is placed in a mortar, or in a hole cut a log (see image below) which serves the purpose. Eggs and cornmeal mixed with a little water are then poured over the skin, which is thoroughly beaten with a long wooden pestle. The skin is then taken from the mortar and wrung rather dry; a number of small holes are cut around the edge and through these cords are passed, which serve to hold the skin stretched between two upright posts, as shown in plate 12, a. While in this position it...

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Choctaw Pottery

The Choctaw have a strange superstitious belief in connection with the making of pottery. They say that no person except the one who is making the object should see it until after it has been removed from the fire. If another person chances to look on an object while it is being made or before it is burned, the Choctaw believe that it will crack as soon as placed near the fire. Pottery bowls are no longer made, although they are remembered by the living Indians, who recall having seen bowls provided with three small feet; consequently bowls must...

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Choctaw Usage of Horns

Spoons are made by the Choctaw from cow horns (wak lape’she sti’mpa; literally, cow horn spoon). Two good examples are represented in the following image. In describing the manners and customs of the Choctaw, Adair 1James Adair, History of the American Indians, p. 421, London, 1775. alluded to “their wooden dishes, and spoons made of wood and buffalo horn;” consequently the making of spoons is a continuation of an ancient art. Footnotes:   [ + ] 1. ↩ James Adair, History of the American Indians, p. 421, London,...

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Choctaw Baskets

The Choctaw are excellent basket makers, although their work at the present time is greatly inferior to that of a generation ago. The best baskets are made of narrow strips of cane, Arundinaria macro­sperma (Choctaw, uske), though now, at Bayou Lacomb, they are using the stems of palmetto, Serrenoa serrulata (Choctaw, tala), as cane is no longer found nearby, and to obtain it a journey has to be made to Pearl river, some fifteen or twenty miles away. The baskets now made, with few exceptions, are very crude and rather poorly formed. Brilliant aniline dyes are used in the place of the more subdued native colors. Large numbers of small baskets provided with handles are made and exchanged in the stores of the nearby towns for various goods; these are purchased by strangers and taken away as examples of native art. Kishe’ (pack basket). The bottom is rectangular; the top flares on two sides. Extreme height, 21 inches. Made entirely of natural colored cane, no dyes being used. The strap (aseta) passes through four loops of the cane, as are shown in the illustration.   This particular basket was made at Bayou Lacomb about five years ago by Pisatuntema (Emma).   Taposhake shakapa (basket elbow [shape]) .—A very old specimen of this peculiar basket is shown. This is made of cane, some parts being colored yellow and red with...

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Choctaw Dyes

The only colors utilized by the Choctaw before they obtained aniline dyes were yellow, red, and black. These, together with the natural cane, gave them four colors to combine in their work. The old Cherokee basket now in the British Museum, known to have been obtained in Carolina in 1721, displays the same colors— yellow, red, and a very dark brown, or black. It is evident that these were the only colors used by the Southern Indians in their basket work. The Choctaw method of making the dye and coloring the material is simple. Yellow – To make a yellow dye they gather a quantity of roots of the Rumex crispus L. (yellow dock), which when dry are reduced to small pieces by pounding in a wooden mortar. The dye is then extracted by boiling in water. The material to be dyed is placed in the infusion and allowed to boil until the desired color is obtained. Red – Equal parts of the bark of the Quercus texana (red oak) and the Nyssa aquatica L. (black gum) are burned to a fine ash. Water is then added to the ashes, forming a thick paste. The material previously dyed yellow, as above described, is then placed in a vessel and the ash paste poured over it. After a few hours the strong alkali turns the yellow to a deep red....

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Choctaw Dress and Personal Decoration

Cords Narrow strips of the bark of the cypress tree (cupressus disticha; Choctaw, shamgo’lo) serve as cords, which are employed for various purposes. Spanish moss was never used to make ropes. Hair Men wore their hair long enough to enable them to make two braids, one on each side of the head. In front the hair was cut straight across, above the eyebrows. Women allowed their hair to grow very long. Their ancient method of wearing it is shown in the photograph of the old woman, Heleema (Louisa). Metal Ornaments, as pins, earrings, etc., were formerly made by ham­mering...

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Louisiana Choctaw Habitat

St. Tammany parish, Louisiana, borders on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain and is bounded on the east by the State of Mississippi, from which it is separated by Pearl River. In the southern part of the parish are many bayous that flow into Lake Pontchartrain. Extensive marshes and swamps are found between the bayous, in which flourish the magnolia, live oak, black gum, cypress, and palmetto, and vast quantities of Spanish moss hang from the branches of many trees. Back from the swamps and bayous, on slightly higher ground, is one unbroken stretch of forests of longleaf pine (pl. 1). Deer, otter, and mink are still to be found; opossums, raccoons, squirrels, and rabbits are very numerous; and ducks, quail, and wild turkeys are killed in large numbers. The climate is mild during the winter; there is but little frost, and rarely a few flakes of snow fall. The summers are long and hot. As a whole the section is very healthful. At the present time the Choctaw have two settlements within the limits of the parish: one near Bayou Lacomb, the other at Pearl River station, on the right bank of the river, about twelve miles from its mouth. Only a few members, a mere remnant, of the tribe now live in this...

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Choctaw Divisions of the Year

It is asserted by the women at Bayou Lacomb that the Choctaw year was divided into twelve moons; but it is highly probable that thirteen not twelve is correct. The native method of reckoning the divisions of the year is no longer practiced, or do the present Choc­taw remember the names of all the moons; they assert, however, that the year begins in December instead of the first of January. The only names they can recall are Choctaw Divisions of Year English MonthChoctaw MonthEnglish Translation December Una’fa hashe Cold moon February Hashe kapo’sha Moon of snow March Hash’mahale Moon of wind April Tans hashe Corn [planting] moon July Hash’ luwak Moon of fire The year is divided into two seasons, which in turn are subdivided, making four seasons in all: Choctaw Seasons SeasonChoctaw Season Spring Tofa ape Summer Tofa laspa Autumn Unafa ape Winter Unafa...

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History of the Bayou Lacomb Choctaws

Unfortunately very little is known of the history of the people of whom this paper treats. The earliest writers, as well as the oldest maps of the region, designate the Ncolapissa as the tribe occupying the region now included within the limits of St. Tammany parish, at the time of the discovery and settlement of lower Louisiana by the French. The Acolapissa were so closely connected with the Choctaw proper that it is not possible now to distinguish between them. They spoke the same language, probably with only slight local variations. Their manners and customs, in all probability, were similar to a great extent. One of the earliest definite references to the region is contained in the Relation of Pénicauta 1Margry, Découvertes, v, 459, Paris, 1883. , a touching on a period when there was a general movement among the Southern tribes. It is stated thus: At this same time [1705] the Colapissas, who dwelt on a little river called Talcateha, four leagues distant from the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, went to live on its banks at the place named Castembayouque. The river “Talcatcha “is the present Pearl river, and, as will be seen, the distance of the “Colapissas” village up the river from Lake Pontchartrain is the same as that of the present Choctaw settlement. The Choctaw name of their own settlement is Hatcha, a name applied also...

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Choctaw Beliefs Concerning Eclipses

Eclipse of the sun, ashe okleleqa (“sun dark or dirty”). The Choctaw say that since the sun works every day he becomes dirty and smoked from the great fire within. It is necessary therefore for him to rest and clean himself, after doing which he shines the brighter. During the eclipse he is removing the accumulated dirt. A similar explanation applies to the dark of the moon, their term being: nînaahukwa oklelega, koshsholeje, or moon dark or dirty,...

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Louisiana Choctaw Mounds

Several mounds are found within the Bayou Lacomb area. The largest of these is situated about 200 yards north of the right bank of Chinchuba creek, and about 1½ miles in a direct line north of Lake Pontchartrain. The mound has an elevation of between 4 and 5 feet; it is circular in form and has an average diame­ter of approximately 90 feet. A trench was run from near the center of the mound, extending northeast 47 feet and continuing beyond the edge of the artificial work. This was evidently a domiciliary mound. Two fire beds were discovered. The...

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Choctaw Beliefs Concerning Thunder and Lightning

Thunder and lightning are to the Choctaw two great birds Thun­der (Heloha), the female; Lightning (Mcda’tha),the male. When they hear a great noise in the clouds, Heloha is laying an egg, “just like a bird,” in the cloud, which is her nest. When a tree is shattered the result is said to have been caused by Mala’tha, the male, he being the stronger; but when a tree is only slightly damaged, the effect is attributed to Heloha, the weaker. Great trouble or even war was supposed to follow the sight of a...

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