Mistippee, Son of Yoholo Micco
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This is a son of Yoholo Micco, who bears a name, the origin of which would be discovered with difficulty by the most cunning etymologist; and we are happy to have it in our power to solve a problem, which might else, at some far distant day, cause an infinite waste of valuable time and curious learning. The parents of this youth, having decided on rearing him after the fashions of their white neighbors, bestowed upon him the very ancient and respectable appellation of Benjamin, from which soon arose the usual abbreviation of Ben and Benny, which the young chief bore during the halcyon days of infancy. To this familiar name, respect for his family soon prefixed the title of Mr.; and, in the mouths of the Indians, Mr. Ben soon became Mistiben, and finally Mistippee the original Benjamin being lost in the superior euphony of that very harmonious word mister.
It is not improbable that the individual who bore this name when his portrait was taken, may now be known by another, for, as we have remarked elsewhere, these designations are frequently changed; and an Indian has usually as many names as there are remarkable events in his history. Those which they receive in infancy are entirely accidental, or are induced by the most trifling circumstances. Litker, the Swift, is the name of an active boy; but if a child is called Isca, the Ground Hog, or Woodcoochee, the Raccoon, it is not to be presumed that he resembles that animal; because he would be as likely to receive it from the mere circumstance of being seen to play with the animal, or to wear its skin, or to imitate some of its motions. On the other hand, Minechee, which signifies little, smart and active, is the appropriate name of a female child. These names are retained during child hood, and until the youthful character begins to show its bias, when others are given which are supposed to be more descriptive; and we believe it is always usual, when a young man is admitted into the war councils, to give him a name with reference to his qualifications as a warrior. For instance, a youth who is modest and retiring may be called Chofixico, which would be interpreted, “timid as the deer;” yet the word is a compound used chiefly as a proper name. Cho is an abbreviation of echo, a deer fix is abbreviated from fegee, which means life or spirit and ico is a contraction of sicco, gone from all which we get the very poetical compound above mentioned. A bold and fearless spirit is called Yaha Hadjo, the Crazy Wolf, from yaha, a wolf, and hadjo, crazy. Another class of names are given still later in life, and are such as refer to some exploit or adventure by which the individual became distinguished for the time, as, “He who stands and strikes” “He who fights as he flies” or “The wolf killer.”
Mistippee escaped having the name of an animal conferred upon him, in the manner we have seen, but spent his boyhood, as is usual with the Indian children, in practicing with the blow-gun and bow, and in hunting the smaller kinds of game. The blow-gun is a favorite weapon among the boys of the southern tribes. It is simply a hollow reed of eight or ten feet in length, made perfectly smooth within, from which a small arrow is blown with much force by the breath. The arrow is made of light wood, armed with a pin, or small nail, at one end, and with thistle down carefully wrapped round the other, in a sufficient quantity, to fill the reed, so that, when placed in the end to which the mouth is applied, it is forced through the reed with great swiftness, and, if well directed, with the certainty of the rifle ball. At a distance of ten yards, the little Creeks will snuff a candle, with one of these arrows, four times out of five; and as no noise attends the discharge, they are quite successful in killing small birds by means of this simple contrivance, which is called, in the Creek tongue Cohamoteker. By these exercises the young Indians riot only develop their physical powers, but acquire the cunning, the patience, the dexterity, and the fund of sylvan knowledge that render them the most accomplished hunters in the world. If one of these boys chances to kill a deer with a bow and arrow, or to perform any exploit above his years, he is marked as having a spirit which will greatly distinguish him in after life, or as being a lucky person, which, in the estimation of the Indian, amounts to about the same thing as the possession of superior abilities.
In presenting the spirited likeness of this youth, we may be permitted to take the occasion to repeat some of the lessons which are taught the young Indian, and contribute to form his character. Among these is the tradition of their origin, which is instilled into the infant mind of the savage, with a care similar to that bestowed by Christian parents in teaching the great truths of Creation and Providence. Perhaps the curiosity of a child in relation to its own being would have a natural and universal tendency to render this a first lesson; and the subject which, above almost all others, is veiled in obscurity, is that which is attempted to be explained to the young mind in the earliest stage of its development. The tradition of the Creeks is, that they came through the sea, from some distant land. To enable them to pass through the deep waters with greater safety and certainty, they were transformed into brutes; and the nation is now divided into separate bands, which retain the names of the different animals from which they are said to be descended. Our information, with regard to the means used to perpetuate this arrangement, agrees with that of Mr. Gallatin, who remarks, ” It has been fully ascertained that the inviolable regulations by which these clans are perpetuated amongst the southern nations were, first, that no man could marry in his own clan; secondly, that every child belongs ‘;o his or her mother’s clan.”
The peculiar economy of this clanship gives rise to the practice, in their courtships, of applying first to the maternal uncle of the girl who is to be asked in marriage, for his consent the father being of a different tribe from his own daughter and her prospective offspring. The young men are said to be shy and bash 1 in these adventures, and, having resolved to marry, conceal their first overtures with great dexterity. The uncle is easily won by a present, and, when his assent has been gained, the suitor is left to his own ingenuity to thrive as he may with the object of his preference. His intention is conveyed secretly to the lady through some confidential channel : she is then supposed to be ready for the question, which is decided without debate. A deer is killed and laid at the door of her wigwam; if the present is received, the lover is a happy man; if it be suffered to remain untouched, he may go and hang himself, or seek a more willing fair one. The latter is said to be the more usual practice, as hanging for love is a procedure only known in the more civilized conditions of society. If the deer be accepted, a rich soup is made of the head and marrow bones, and the lover is treated with this repast, in which there is supposed to be great virtue.
Not only are the youth instructed in their origin, and disciplined in their modes of courtship, but they are also taught the ceremonies of their religion if the superstitions of a people, destitute of any adequate notion of the being and attributes of God, may be dignified with that name. The chief of these is the Green Corn dance, which is celebrated with great zeal and devotion, in the autumn. Wherever the Indian corn is raised, it is a chief and favorite article of food its productiveness, its nutritious qualities, and the variety of modes in which it may be used, giving it a preference over every other description of grain. Among the Indians who cultivate little else, the ripening of this crop constitutes an era in the year. The whole band is assembled to celebrate the annual festival. The fires of the past year are extinguished not a spark is suffered to remain. New fire is produced artificially, usually by rubbing two sticks together. Sometimes the new fire thus obtained, is sent from one- band to another, and the present is received, like the New Year’s gift among ourselves, as a token of friendship. Having kindled a cheerful blaze, they assemble around it, dancing, and singing songs. The latter are addressed to the fire a custom which may have been borrowed from the worship of the sun, said to have been practiced by the Nachez Indians. In these songs they express their gratitude to the Great Spirit that they have lived through the year; that they see the same faces and hear the same voices; they speak of the game they have taken, and of the abundance of their crops. But if the crop be short, or the hand of death has been busy among them, the notes of gratulation are mingled with strains of mourning, the national calamity is attributed to the crimes of the people, and pity and pardon are invoked. On this occasion they partake of the black drink, which we have described in our sketch of the life of Opothle Yoholo. The dance being finished^ they feast upon boiled corn, the first fruits of the year; and the singing, dancing, and eating are kept up for several days. Should a culprit, whose life has been forfeited, have escaped punishment until this festive season, and be so fortunate or so dexterous as to make his way into the square during the dance, he is considered as being under the protection of the Great Spirit, to whose agency they attribute the circumstances of his previous escape and present appearance among them, and his pardon is secured.
Of Mistippee there is little to tell. When at Washington, in 1826, he was a remarkably handsome boy, and in all respects prepossessing. His father gave him unusual advantages in regard to education, which he is supposed to have improved. When at maturity he wedded a comely woman of the Hillabee towns, and soon after emigrated to the new home provided for his people, west of the Mississippi.