Choctaw Hunting Practices
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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 hunter. They kept a straight line to where a turn was made, and whatever angle there taken, they traveled it in a straight line, but left the broken bush at the turn indicating the direction they had taken. If a wandering-hunter happens to stumble upon the late deserted camp and desired to join its former occupants, the broken but silent bush gave him the information as to the direction they had gone. He took it and traveled in a straight line perhaps for several miles; when suddenly his ever watchful eye saw a broken bush with its top leaning in another direction. He at once interpreted its mystic language “Here a turn was made.” He too made the turn indicated by the bush; and thus traveled through the unbroken forest for miles, directed alone by his silent but undeviating guide, which was sure to lead him to his desired object.
All North American Indians, have always held their lands in common; occupancy alone giving the right of possession, a custom peculiar to the North American Indians, and a living proof of practical communism, as far as land is concerned, at least. When a Choctaw erected a house upon a spot of ground, and prepared a few acres for his corn, beans, potatoes, etc., so long as he resided upon it as his home, it was exclusively his, and his rights were strictly respected by all; but if he left it and moved to another place, then his claim to his forsaken home was forfeited; and whoever saw proper could go and take possession; nor was the second occupant expected to remunerate the first for the labor he had done. However, if No.1, afterward should desire to return to his previous home he could do so, provided no one had taken possession. The present time, if one improves a place and leaves it, no one has the right to take possession of the deserted place without, permission of the one who improved it.
The famous little Choctaw pony was a veritable forest camel to the Choctaw hunter, as the genuine animal is to the sons of Ishmael. His unwearied patience, and his seemingly untiring endurance of hardships and fatigue, were truly astonishing surpassing, according to his inches, every other species of his race and proving himself to be a worthy descendant of his ancient parent, the old Spanish war-horse, introduced by the early Spanish explorers of the continent. In all the Choctaws expeditions, except those of war in which they never used horses, the chubby little pony always, was considered an indispensable adjunct, therefore always, occupied a conspicuous place in the cavalcade. A packsaddle which Choctaw ingenuity had invented expressly for the benefit of the worthy little fellow s back, and finely adapted in every particular for its purpose, was firmly fastened upon his back, ready to receive the burden, which was generally divided into three parts, each weighing from forty to fifty pounds. Two of these were suspended across the saddle by means of rawhide rope one-fourth of an inch in diameter and of amazing strength, and the third securely fastened upon the top, over all of which a bear or deer skin was-spread, which protected it from rain. All things being ready, the hunter, as leader and protector, took his position in front, sometimes on foot and sometimes astride a pony of such diminutive proportions, that justice and mercy would naturally have suggested a reverse in the order of thing’s, and, with his trusty rifle in his hand, without which he never went anywhere, took up the line of march, and directly after whom, in close order, the loaded ponies followed in regular succession one behind the other, while the dutiful wife and children brought up the rear in regular, successive order, often with from three to five children on a single pony literally hiding the submissive little fellow from view. Upon the neck of each pony a little bell was suspended, whose tinkling chimes of various tones broke the monotony of the desert air, and added cheerfulness to the novel scene. Long accustomed to their duty, the faithful little pack-ponies seldom gave any trouble, but in a straight line followed on after their mastery sometimes, however, one here and there, unable to withstand the temptation of the luxuriant grass that offered itself so freely along the wayside, would make a momentary stop to snatch a bite or two, but the shrill, disapproving voice of the wife in close proximity behind, at once reminded him of his dereliction of order and he would hastily trot up to his position; and thus the little caravan, with the silence broken only by the tinkling pony bells, moved on amid the dense timber of their majestic forests, until the declining sun gave warning of the near approaching night. Then a halt was made, and the faithful little ponies, relieved of their wearisome loads which they had borne throughout the day with becoming and uncomplaining patience, were set free that they might refresh themselves upon the grass and cane nature’s bounties to the Indian that grew and cover ed the forests in wild abundance. Late next morning (for who ever knew an Indian, in the common affairs of life, to be in a hurry or to value time? Time! He sees it not; he feels it not; he regards it not. To him tis but a shadowy name a succession of breathings, measured forth by the change of night and day by a shadow crossing the dial-path of life) the rested and refreshed ponies were gathered in, and, each having received his former load, again the tinkling chimes of the pony bells alone disturbed the quiet of the then far ex tending wilderness, announcing in monotonous tones the onward march, as the day before, of the contented travelers; and thus was the journey continued, day by day, until the desired point was reached.
The Indian unlike the white man, often received a new name from some trivial incident or some extraordinary ad venture, which frequently occurred, especially in their wars. Anciently the Choctaws and Muscogees were uncompromising enemies, ever making raids into each other’s territories.
At one time a Muscogee party invaded the Choctaw country and made a sudden and unexpected attack upon a band of Choctaw warriors. The Choctaws, though surprised, made a brave resistance, and, after a short but furious light, defeated and put their assailants to flight. A vigorous pursuit at once ensued in which a fleet young Choctaw warrior named Ahaikahno, (The Careless) had far in advance of his comrades, killed a Muscogee, and was in the act of scalping him, when two Muscogee warriors turned and rushed toward him with their utmost speed. The Choctaws in the rear, seeing the danger of Ahaikahno, who was ignorant of his two fast approaching foes, shouted to him with all the strength of their voices Chikke-bulilih chia! Chikke bulilih chia! (pro. Chik-ke (Quickly) bul-elih (run) che-ah (3011!). Ahaikahno, hearing the shout and seeing his danger, was not slow in heeding the advice. Ever afterwards Ahaikahno bore the additional name Chikke Bulilih Chia. Both parties lost many warriors in this short but bloody fight, and the little mound erected by the Choctaws over the common grave of their slain warriors was still to be seen down to the year of the Choctaw migration west, in 1831-2.
Nearly every river, creek, lake, rock, hill and vale, was endeared to them, by a name given to it from some peculiarity some incident or adventure of the past, that was significant of the same; and in which were embodied the remembrance of the heroic achievements of a long” line of ancestry; some in nature’s rocks, mountains, hills, dells, woods, and waters; while others took substantial form in the impressive memorials reared by loving hearts and willing hands in the form of mounds over their dead. Many of those names were beautifully significant; but alas, how corrupted by he whites, to that extent indeed, that not even one has retained its original purity. Think you, reader, it was an easy matter for the Choctaws, with such a country as they then possessed, endeared to them by ten thousand times ten thousand times as strong as were ever interwoven around the human heart, to cut loose from this their ancient home, and set sail on an unknown sea for distant ports in an unknown land, and under the pilotage of those pretended friends, who they bad found could not be trusted.
Of all the wild animals of the cane brake, the wild boar truly merited the name of being the most dangerous, when brought to bay, the panther or bear not excepted, and in at tacking him, coolness and a steady nerve were as necessary as perfect marksmanship. In this kind of sport a novice would always find it the better part of valor to keep in mind that “distance lends enchantment to the view” for he seldom made a charge without leaving his mark, since that charge I can attest by frequent observation, was no child s play. One stroke with his long, keen tusks, was all he wanted to kill an offending dog, or even disembowel a horse; and woe to the hunter that carelessly or with foolhardiness approached too near; if he failed to make a dead-shot, his life was the forfeit; for with the rush of a whirlwind, and the agility of a cat, he sprang from his lair, and more sure and fatal was his stroke as he passed, than the stroke of a dagger in the hands of an enraged man. An effectual shot was only made by shooting him through the brain, as his shoulders were protected by a massive shield extending from his short neck two-thirds of the way to the hips, and impervious even by a ball shot from -the rifle of that day; his enormous head, set of by ears about the size of a man s hand, standing straight up, and his powerful jaws, armed with four fearful tusks, two short stubby ones protruding from the upper and two long, dagger-like ones from the lower lips, with a backward curve, combined with his strength and activity, rendered him a formidable foe, and made him truly the monarch of the Mississippi cane-brake 70 years ago. From his short legs and sluggish appearance, when secretly seen from a distance moving about at his leisure, one would have supposed him slow in point of speed; but such was not the case. For as soon as you gave him a good cause to bestir himself, he did it to such a good purpose that it was hard for a common horse to escape his pursuit for a short distance, or to overtake him in his flight. But of the two contingencies the latter, so far as the hunter was concerned, was immeasurably the safer; since his temper was as short as his legs, and very little indeed sufficed his boar ship’s philosophy to constitute sufficient provocation, to make a sudden whirl, present and about face, and instantly make a furious charge; then, if the horseman was not as quick to make the turn, there was a collision, always to the great advantage of the boar.
To intrude upon his retreat when at bay, even though no malicious propensities had been proven against the trespasser, was madness; for he charged the intruder without hesitation and with positively such terrific impetuosity that proved there was no reservation about his conduct nor opportunity intended to be given to the incautious visitor for making any mistake as to his intentions; and he then and there learned to his entire satisfaction that, if he intended to have apologized to his boar ship, it would be policy to do so in writing at some future day; as, at that moment, it was decidedly the best to get out of the way nor seek leisure for explanation of the intrusion, since the monster was coming down upon him, with now and then a snort, that emphatically said, “Out you go,” as intelligibly as ever snorts said any thing, yet singularly expressive, unmistakably meaning prompt ejection from his premises; and though his progeny were styled the “racers, razor backs, subsoilers, jumpers, and rail splitters,” by the early white settlers, yet, with his fleetness, agility, strength and savage snout armed with those terrible tusks veritable lancets indeed which in many instances grew to incredible dimensions both in size and length his majesty was justly styled the undisputed monarch of the Mississippi cane-brakes. His courage was indeed fearless and defiant, and with a reckless ferocity that no sane hunter had the nerve to resolutely receives. Oft he waited not for presumptuous provocation, but waged war at once on hunter and dogs as soon as trespassing on his domains, whom he calmly faced with a defiant front that indicated a business propensity not to be safely misjudged, as he slowly turned from side to side seemingly to scan the immediate surroundings and take in the situation; but when he set himself to going after man or dog, he displayed an agility and address which those who have once experienced it pronounced amazing, nor desires ever again to test his boar ship’s peculiarities by personal experience. He often wandered companionless, then he became more morose and malignant, and more dangerous to intrude upon. One of this character, for reasons best known to himself, ventured under the cover of a dark night, to sleep with the tame hogs belonging to the missionary station, Hebron, over which Mr. Calvin Cushman had jurisdiction, soon after the exodus of the Choctaws. At that early day, hounds were a protective necessity against the carnivorous wild animals that numerously abounded in the forests, though Mr. Calvin Cushman was never known to fire a gun at a wild animal of any kind, or to go into the woods as a hunter, but left that wholly to others, among whom his three sons were generally found. The visitor had overslept himself, or, at least, was a little dilatory the next morning in starting for his home in the cane-brake, and thus was discovered about daybreak, by one of the hounds between whom and his boar ship uncompromising hostility existed. At once the hound gave notice to his companions in the yard of the presence of their hated and dreaded enemy by loud and vociferous barking, to which the whole pack, gave immediate response by rushing headlong over the yard fence, and in full cry hastened to the call of their fellow. At once they rushed for the wild intruder, who, taking in the surroundings, broke at once for his citadel in the swamp two miles away across an intervening forest with no undergrowth in which to shelter him in case of being overtaken by his pursuing foes. My brother and I, knowing from the wild outcry of the hounds that they had discovered some wild animal of merit, seized our rifles, rushed to the barn, saddled our hunting horses and mounted; then listened a moment to ascertain the bearings of the hounds whose cry was now faintly heard in the distance, but gave evidence that the object of their pursuit was no small matter. At once we started at full speed through the open forest, and, after running a mile or more, stopped to listen, when we ascertained that they had overtaken the night intruder, whatever he was, and brought him to bay, but still nearly a mile distant. Again we put our horses at full speed, and thus continued until we had reached the top of a high ridge, where came into full view, about three hundred yards distant, the hounds encircling a huge wild boar. For a minute we silently stood and gazed upon the exciting scene.
The hounds (eight in number) knowing, from sad experience, the characteristics of their foe were running this way and that around the old monarch of the canebrake, but observing the judicious caution to keep twenty or thirty feet distant from him who defiantly stood in the centre of the circle and boldly solicited closer quarters. No under growth obstructed our view, and the whole play was being enacted before us. Now a hound would make a dash at his rear only to be met by the about face of the agile boar, which caused the hound to also make an about face followed by a hasty retreat, then one would succeed in giving him a snap in the rear, which caused the boar, not only to make a quick turn, but also to make a rush for a few paces after the now retreating dog, but to be again pinched in the rear by some one of his more venturesome assailants. Finally one made a dash at the rear of the boar with high expectations of securing a good bite; but poor Pete was not quick enough in his whirl, for the boar, in his sweep, struck him with his curving tusks upon the thigh making an ugly wound three or four inches in length and to the bone. Pete at once acknowledged his defeat by a shrill cry and immediate retreat to the rear. Thinking it time to take a hand in/ the fray, we dismounted, and leaving our horses concealed, cautiously advanced to the scene of action, but taking care not to let his boarship learn of our proximity. But not much danger of that, as his attention was wholly engaged with the still tormenting dogs. When we had approached within a hundred yards, we halted behind a large tree and formed our plan of attack, as we silently peeped from our hiding place and viewed the scene. The boar was still ignorant of our presence; but the hounds had evidently suspected our presence some where, by frequently looking back and sniffing the air, and then barking more vigorously at the boar and making bolder and more frequent attacks upon his rear.
He was truly a magnificent specimen of his race of a sandy color, full grown, and in fine condition. His huge head was adorned with enormous, curving tusks with one sweep of which he could cut a man, dog or horse into threads. His little red eyes, nearly covered with shaggy hair, now glowed like coals of fire, beneath a pair of ears about the size of a man s hand which stood perfectly erect; his tail, though curled once at his body, nearly touched the ground with its long shaggy hairs; his cavernous mouth was white with foam proof that he was mad all over; his bristles about four inches long, extended from his ears to his tail, and stood up erect and stiff, while every hair upon his body seemingly quivered with rage; the massive sinews of his great chest stood out like small ropes as he turned from side to side, exposing also to view the outlines of the almost impervious shield that enveloped his shoulders. He was truly an incarnation of immense strength, activity, courage, and brutal ferocity.
Our curiosity being satisfied in viewing his dimensions and appearance, it was resolved that my brother, who was the more courageous and the better marksman, should crawl to a large tree that stood exactly between us and the boar, which would bring him within fifty or sixty yards of his boar-ship, and also, the sure range of his rifle, while I was to keep my position as a rear guard in case of a compulsory retreat. By good fortune he gained the tree unobserved by hound or boar; then arose to his feet and brought his rifle to his shoulder, with the barrel resting against the right side of the tree, thus being enabled to keep his body wholly concealed. Soon I saw the boar turn his head exactly toward the tree and instantly the crack of the rifle mingled with the baying of the hounds, and the fierce brute pitched over on his nose to be instantly covered with exultant dogs that bit and snapped their fallen foe. We hurried up, only to see a convulsive shiver run through the huge mass of flesh and bone, and the fierce glare of the eye as it died out slowly, like a coal fading in the sunlight as t|j white ashes cover it. The rifle ball had accomplished its mission of death.
In conclusion, I will but add: If those, who today talk about dangerous game, would like to enjoy a rough and tumble encounter, I would, could I recall the last seventy years, recommend to them a wild boar of the Mississippi cane breaks, with strong testimonials; nor would they have far to go, at that day, to find him.