Location: St. Tammany Parish LA

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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Why ‘Possum Has A Large Mouth

It had been a dry season and there was very little food for Deer, consequently he had become thin and rather weak. One day Deer met ‘Possum and exclaimed: “Why! ‘Possum, how very fat you are. How do you keep so fat when I can not find enough to eat?” And ‘Possum answered, “I live on persimmons, and as they are unusually large this year, I have all I want to eat.” “But how do you get persim­mons, which grow so high above the ground?” “That is very easily done,” replied ‘Possum. “I go to the top of a high hill and, running swiftly down, strike a persim­mon tree so hard with my head that all the ripe persimmons fall to the ground. Then I sit there and eat and eat until I can not hold more.” “Indeed, that is easily done,” answered Deer; “now watch me.” So ‘Possum waited near the tree while Deer went to the top of a near-by hill. And when Deer reached the top of the hill, he turned and then ran quickly down, striking the tree with so great force that he was killed and all his bones were broken. When ‘Possum saw what Deer had done, he laughed so hard that he stretched his mouth; which remains large even to this...

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The Hunter Who Became A Deer

One night a hunter killed a doe and soon afterward fell asleep near the carcass. The next morning, just at sunrise, the hunter was surprised and startled to see the doe raise her head and to hear her speak, asking him to go with her to her home. At first he was so surprised that he did not know what to reply, so the doe again asked him whether he would go. Then the hunter said that he would go with her, although he had no idea where she would lead him. So they started and the doe led the hunter through forests and over high mountains, until at last they reached a large hole under a rock, which they entered. Here the hunter was led before the King of all the deer, an immense buck, with huge antlers and a large black spot on his back. Soon the hunter became drowsy and finally he fell asleep. Now all around the cave were piles of deer’s feet, antlers, and skins. While the hunter was asleep the deer endeav­ored to fit to his hands and feet deer’s feet which they selected for the purpose. After several unsuccessful attempts the fourth set proved to be just the right size and were fastened firmly on the hunter’s hands and feet. Then a skin was found that covered him properly, and finally antlers...

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The Hunter and the Alligator

One winter there were many hunters living in a village, all of whom, with one excep­tion, had killed a great many deer. But one had met with very poor luck, and although always contrived to escape unharmed. He had been away from his village three days, and during that time had seen many deer, but had not been able to kill a single one. On the third day, when the sun was overhead, the hunter saw a huge alligator resting on a dry, sandy spot. This alligator had been without water for many days, and was dry and shriveled and so weak that he could scarcely speak. He was able, however, to ask the hunter where water could be had. The hunter replied, “In that forest, only a short journey hence, is a clear, deep pool of cold water.” “But I can not travel alone; I am too weak to go so far. Come nearer that we may talk and plan. I can not harm you; have no fear,” said the alligator. At last the hunter went nearer and listened to the alligator, who said: “I know you are a hunter, but all the deer escape from you. Now, carry me to the water and I will then make you a great hunter and tell you how to kill many, many deer.” The hunter hesitated, as he feared the...

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Place Names In St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana

As before shown, certain names still in use were known and applied to the streams at the time of the earliest French exploration of the region. Therefore it is not unreasonable to suppose that many, if not all, of the names now employed by the Choctaw to designate the rivers and bayous were used in precolonial days. The names are given here as they appear on the maps of the United States General Laud Office, together with the English trans­lations. Abita The name of a spring, and also of a river which is one of the principal tributaries of the Chefuncte river. The meaning of this word is not known to the Choctaw. They say that an old man who called himself Abeta’ came from far away and made his home near the spring. But this happened many years ago, and no Indian now living ever saw him. They insist that abita is not a Choctaw word. The name at once suggests the Abixka of the Upper Creeks, and may have been derived from that source. The man who took up his abode near the spring may have been a Creek. Bayou Castine The Creoles claim the name was derived from Castagne, the name of an early French settler. But the Choctaw say it was taken from their name of the bayou, Caste (“fleas”), so named on account of...

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Hoklonote’she

A man away from his village on a hunting trip had killed many deer and bears. One night he made a large fire of oak and soon was sleeping soundly, but before long he was aroused by the cry of an owl, and, looking up, he saw a huge owl standing over the fire. Then the hunter thought to himself, “What am I to do?” Thereupon the owl said to him, “So you wonder what you are to do,” and repeated every thought the hunter had. The owl was really Hoklonote’she, a bad spirit that can read men’s thoughts, and readily assumes the forms of various birds and animals. After the owl had stood there some time, repeating whatever thoughts were in the hunter’s mind, the latter suddenly jumped up and vigorously stirred the fire, causing the oak logs to send up a myriad of sparks that fell on the feathers of the owl and burned them. So badly frightened was Hoklonote’she that he flew away in haste, and never again troubled the...

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Choctaw Houses

The primitive habitations of the Choctaw who lived on the north shore of Pontchartrain are described as having been of two types, circular and rectangular. The frames were formed of small saplings; the tops and sides were constructed of palmetto thatch. 1A house of this kind is pictured in plate 3, from a photograph taken near Mandeville, St. Tammany parish, about 1879, which was secured by the late Dr. A. S. Gatschet. The palmetto house is said to have been in use within the last ten years. According to the present inhabitants, many of the circular houses were large,...

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The Girl And The Devil

A young Choctaw girl was walking alone one day in the outskirts of the village when she suddenly met a young man whom she had never seen before. Soon he spoke to the girl and asked her to accompany him to his home. At first she refused, but at last he succeeded in persuading her to go with him. They passed through dense woods and over hills, and at last entered the yard that surrounded his house. Here various birds and animals were tied to the trees. As they were hungry, food was brought them, and then, and not until then, did the man assume his true character, and the girl saw the Devil before her. Then she became frightened and endeavored to escape, but before she could do so she was seized and locked in a small cave. A large frog hopped from a hole in the far corner of the cave, and going to the girl, said: “Do you know what that noise is?” “No,”replied the girl, “what is it?” The frog told her the Devil and his men were sharpening their knives to kill her. At this she became more frightened than before, but the frog quieted her by saying: “Now, if you will listen and do just as I say you will escape. I will open this door and there­upon you must run swiftly out...

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Choctaw Food and Preparation

Unfortunately, comparatively few of the articles of food used by the primitive Choctaw are known to the members of the tribe of whom this paper treats. They are able to give, however, the names of a few plants that are even now used. Ahe (Smilax laurifolia) The hard bulbous roots are pounded fine, a small amount of water is added if necessary, and the paste is made into small cakes, which are fried in grease. The Choctaw say that formerly bear’s grease was always used for this purpose. Ahe is spoken of as having been one of their favorite foods. Ahelo’sa (Phaseolus diversifolius) The roots are first thoroughly boiled, then mashed, and served as food. Nuse (acorns of the Quercus aquatica) These acorns were pounded in a wooden mortar until fine. The meal was then put into an openwork basket and water was poured through several times. It was then boiled or used as cornmeal. Okesok (nuts of the Juglans squamosa) The nuts were cracked and the meat was removed. When a sufficient quantity had been obtained, the meat was pounded and made into a paste, which was beaten up in a small quantity of boiling water. The mixture was then eaten as a broth or soup. Kombo ashish The leaves of Laurus sassafras are gathered during the autumn, usually about the middle of October, after they have turned...

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Skate’ne

Late one afternoon several children were playing near their house when suddenly they saw a woman approaching. She was very old and stooping, and her hair was white. The children were greatly frightened and ran into the house, but soon returned to the old woman, who said to them: “Children, do not be afraid of me, for nothing will harm you. I am your great-great-great-grandmother, and neither you nor your mother has ever seen me. Now, go to the house and tell her that I have come.” The children did so. Then they took a deer skin and spread it on the ground for the old woman and carried her food and drink. She then asked the children when their father went to sleep and in which part of the house he lay, and the children told her all. That night, after all had gone to sleep, the old woman entered the house and cut off the man’s head, which she put into a basket she carried for that purpose; there she covered the man’s body with his blanket and quietly left the house. The next morning the man’s wife was surprised to find him asleep (as she supposed), since it was his custom to go hunting before sunrise. So she spoke to him, and as he did not answer she pulled off his blanket. When she saw that...

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Choctaw Marriage Ceremony

The marriage ceremony as performed until a few years ago, at a time when there were many Choctaw living in the region, was thus described by the women at Bayou Lacomb. When a man decided he wanted to marry a certain girl he confided in his mother, or if she was not living, in his nearest female relative. It was then necessary for her to talk with the mother or the nearest living relative of the girl, and if the two women agreed, they in turn visited the chiefs or heads of the two ogla, or families, to get their consent to the union. As a man was not allowed to marry a girl who belonged to his ogla, often the women were obliged to make a long journey before seeing the two chiefs, whose villages were frequently a considerable distance apart. After all necessary arrangements had been made, a day was fixed for the ceremony. Many of the man’s friends and relatives accom­panied him to the girl’s village, where they seem to have had what may be termed “headquarters” of their own. As the time for the ceremony drew near, the woman with her friends was seen some distance away. The man and his party approached and he endeav­ored to catch the girl. Then ensued much sham fighting and wrestling between the two parties, and the girl ran...

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Tashka and Walo

Tashka and Walo were brothers who lived long ago. Every morning they saw the sun rise above the horizon, pass high overhead, and late in the day die in the west. When the boys were about four years old they conceived the idea of following the sun and seeing where he died. So the next day, when he was overhead, they started to follow him; but that night, when he died, they were still in their own country, where they knew the hills and the rivers. Then they slept, and in the morning when the sun was again overhead they once more set off to follow him. And thus they continued for many years to wend their way after the sun in his course through the heavens. Long, long afterward, when the two boys had become men, they reached a great expanse of water, and the only land they could see was the shore on which they were standing. Late that day, when Sun died, they saw him sink into the water; then they also passed over the water and entered Sun’s home with him. All about them they saw women—the stars are women and the moon is Sun’s wife. Then Moon asked the brothers how they had found their way so far from their home. They told her how for many, many years, ever since they were mere...

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