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The first conversion among the full blooded Choctaws was that of an aged man, who lived near Col. David Folsom, chief of the Choctaws, named Tun-a pin a-chuf-fa, (Our one weaver) hitherto as ignorant of the principles of the religion of Jesus Christ as it is possible to conceive. He manifested an interest in the subject of religion about six months before any other of his people in the neighborhood, and soon began to speak publicly in religious meetings, and gave evidence, by his daily walk and conversation, of a happy and glorious change, to the astonishment of his people, who could not comprehend the mystery. The old man, but now a new one, lived the life of a true and devoted Christian the few remaining years of, his life, and then died leaving bright evidence of having died the death of the righteous. When he was received into the church, he was baptized and given the name of one of the missionaries, viz.: William Hooper, by his own request, to whom Mr. Hooper had endeared himself by many acts of kindness conferred upon the aged and appreciative Choctaw.
Shortly after he professed religion, he dictated a letter to Col. David Folsom, his nephew, which was written and translated into English by Mr. Loring Williams, of which the following is a copy:
“Ai-Ik-Hum-A; Jan. 30, 1828,” (A place of learning.)
“Brother; Long time had we been as people in a storm which threatened destruction, until the missionaries came to our land; but now we are permitted to hear the blessed Gospel of truth. You, our brother and chief, found for us a good and bright path, and we would follow you in it. You are as our good father, and your words are good. Your messengers (the missionaries), that you sent to us, we hear. When we think of our old ways, we feel ashamed. This blessed day I have given a true talk. The black and dirty clothes I used to wear I have taken off and cast away. Clean and good clothes, I now put on. My heart, I hope, had been made new. My bad thoughts I throw away. The words of the great Father above I am seeking to have in my mind.
The missionaries, in the Choctaw Nation, salute. The missionaries, chiefs, and people, I salute. O my chief, I, your uncle, salute you. I am your warrior. You must remember me in your love. The letter, which I send you, you must read to your captains, leaders, and warriors. As I feel today, I wish to have all my Choctaw brothers feel. I am the first of the Choctaws that talk the good talk. My chief, as you go about among your people, you must tell them this, the dark night to me has gone, and the morning has dawned upon me. The missionaries at Mayhew, I salute you. Mr. Kingsbury, when this letter you see, you will forward it to Miko (chief ) Folsom.
Soon after the writing of this letter, Mr. Williams visited the venerable ex-chief and retired warrior of the Choctaws. As he drew near the humble log cabin of the aged Choctaw, his attention was attracted by the voice of singing. He halted a moment to listen. It was the aged Tunapinachuffa singing a song of Zion; and when Mr. Williams came up he found him sitting at the opposite side of his little cabin, resting his head on one hand and holding a catechism in the other, holding holy and sweet communion with his newly found Savior; and so absorbed was he in his meditations, that the presence of Mr. Williams was not known, until announced by the barking of the dogs; and yet, so deep and pleasant was his reverie, that he remained seemingly unconscious of everything around him until Mr. Williams came to his side and spoke to him. He then looked up, spring to his feet and greeted Mr. Williams with unfeigned manifestations of the greatest joy; and, at once, inquired after Mr. Kingsbury with expressions of the greatest affection; then requested Mr. Williams to tell Mr. Kingsbury, that “he did love the Savior with all his heart and soul;” that he took great delight in the Sabbath, and loved to pray.” that, “today heaven is near; it is not for away I know it is near I feel it.” Mr. Williams and the new born babe in Christ, though feeble alone with the weight of nearly three score years and ten the Psalmist’s allotted period of man’s earthly sojourn joined in a song together, in praise to Him who has said: “Come unto me, ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest; and then Tunapinachuffa offered up a prayer to Him who is the Indian’s God as well as the white man’s.
Mr. Williams stated, in speaking of the interview with the venerable Choctaw, that, he prayed with the deepest sincerity for his family; then, that all his people “might be united to Christ in peace and love as with an iron chain; and that they might take hold of the Savior with their hands.” At morning and at night this redeemed Choctaw child of God called his household around the family altar, nor ever permitted business or company to interfere with those sacred devotions.
But Tunapinachuffa was not an isolated case. Hundreds of similar cases could be mentioned among the young, as well as the aged, of those Choctaw converts under the teachings of the missionaries when living in their ancient possessions.
After the conversion of Tunapinachuffa, a great and wonderful change for the better was soon seen in not only Tunapinachuffa’s district, but also in other districts both in outward appearance and moral condition. The men soon began to acquire habits of industry, cultivating cotton and enlarging their cornfields. Temperance rapidly gained ground, all over the Nation; and in nearly every house throughout the country soon was found the cotton card, the spinning wheel and the loom, with here and there black smith and wood shops.
Soon large quantities of various cotton cloths were made by the Choctaw mothers and daughters; while the father and son raised corn, sweet potatoes, peas, beans, and various kinds of vegetables; and their willingness to work ran parallel with their progress and advancement in Christian knowledge. Nor was there any difficulty experienced by the missionaries in hiring Choctaws to work for them, both men and women, and even boys and girls; many of the men with their families, went to the adjoining States and picked cotton for the white farmers, after they had gathered their own crops. As cotton pickers, both in quantity and quality, day by day, they had no superiors; therefore, the white farmers paid them one dollar per hundred pounds, and also boarded them; and a thousand have been known to leave their Nation at one time to pick cotton in the States; and before they were driven to the wild wilderness far away to the west by the inexorable law of the whites, that “Might is Right,” when dealing with the North American Indian; fifty, yea a hundred and fifty, drunken white men could be found in the contiguous States, to where one Choctaw would be found in the Nation most distant from the neighborhood of the white settlements. Much has been said to prove the drunken Indian, to be a friend incarnate; and though I have seen drunken Indians, yet my experience has taught me that a drunken white man is far worse than a drunken Indian, and more to be feared ten to one, than the Indian.
After Tunapinachuffa, followed the conversion of Col. David Folsom, and many other leading men of the Nation, together with the common warriors and their wives; and to that extent was the interest in the subject of religion manifested by all that a special meeting was appointed in the woods by the missionaries; and at which, Col. David Folsom and others, together with the now zealous and good old Tunapinachuffa, took an active part. Though there were few Choctaws present, yet the Spirit of God was there; and one evening an unusual solemnity seemed to pervade the entire little company of worshipers, and so deeply felt by old Tunapinachuffa, that he was unable to longer restrain himself. He arose and commenced an exhortation to his people present, and continued for thirty or more minutes in such sublime Indian eloquence (Nature’s gift untarnished by human art) such deep pathos, and such irresistible arguments, as are seldom heard anywhere.
At the close of his inimitable and indescribable exhortation, he, in a persuasive tone of voice, said: “All you who desire and are willing to receive these Good Tidings from above into your hearts and go with me to the good land above, come and sit on this log.” What a moment was that to the noble hearted and pious missionaries who were so fortunate as to be present! Who can justly describe it? First one, and then another and another, came forward and took their seats on that forest log, until it was covered, thus manifesting and openly avowing their determination to serve the living God; and there and then twelve adults became living, active witnesses for the cause of the world’s Redeemer. That little religious meeting, in the deep solitudes of a Mississippi forest, closed; but the tidings of its strange proceedings and its more wonderful results spread far and wide, and it became the subject of conversation and inquiry for miles away; and soon was awakened such a feeling of curiosity and desire to learn more of this, to them strange and incomprehensible thing, that other meetings were appointed, to which hundreds gathered, and the result was they were multiplied all over the land and scores flocked to and around the standard of Christianity.
But this interest was confined for several months, almost exclusively, to the northern part of the Nation contiguous to Mayhew, whence the missionaries went out among the Choctaws and taught and preached to them. The converts, were at first gathered into one church organization though widely separated; hence their sacramental meetings, were held in the woods under the wide extended branches of the mighty forest oaks of that day God’s natural temples where many hundreds would congregate and spend several days worshipping God; and a more humble and devout assembly, of worshippers of the living God (without an indifferent or idle spectator) was never anywhere beheld than were those worshipping Choctaws. At one of these forest meetings, where the wind, (nature’s harp) sighing amid the thick and wide extended limbs of the giant forest trees, had for ages untold received no response but that of the defiant war hoop, now was mingled the praise of human tongues in anthems sweet with nature to nature’s God; ninety Choctaw’s both men and women, were enrolled in the army of the Cross; and at another over a hundred,
Messrs. Williams, Smith, Howse and Bardwell, shortly after the establishment of the Mayhew mission, took charge of the one established in the southern part of the Nation among a clan of Choctaws called Okla Hunnali, (people Six), distant seventy or more miles from Mayhew, leaving Messrs. Kingsbury, (to whom the Choctaws gave the name Na-sho-ba No-wah (Walking Wolf), Byington (whom they named Lapish O-la-han-chih, Sounding Horn), Cushman and a few others at Mayhew.
Soon after the close of the revival meetings in the northern part of the Nation, several new converts, in company with Col. David Folsom and a few missionaries of the Mayhew mission, made a journey to the Okla Hunnali mission to attend a religious meeting previously appointed. The Choctaws of that district, expecting them, came in large numbers from the surrounding villages to the appointed place to welcome them, and manifested the greatest delight regarding it as great favor conferred upon them by their friends who had come so far to attend their meetings. They assembled without ostentation, yet in all the paraphernalia of Choctaw custom, presenting a novel appearance to the eye of the novice. But the “tidings of great joy peace on earth and good will to man” to the red as well as the white, proclaimed and urged upon them with such evidence of truth, sincerity and deep feeling, was to them something new indeed, unseen and unfelt before.
Calm reflection assumed (as at the meetings in the northern section of the Nation) the place of thoughtlessness and indifference, (for an Indian can and does reflect as well as a white man), and soon were seen on many a painted face trickling tears (though not given to weeping) forming little channels through the vermilion as they coursed their way down. And this meeting was also blessed with a gracious, visitation of the Holy Spirit, and many precious souls (though Choctaws) were gathered into the fold of the Great Shepherd as had been done in the northern portion of their country. At once a mighty change began all over their Nation wherever the missionaries went, who truly might be termed the Apostles of God to the Choctaws; and soon, one by one their ancient customs and habits were forever laid aside, culminating in a general change of things well adapted to their then, it may be truthfully stated, progressive condition. But among the most prominent features indicating a speedy reformation at this time (1826), was the enacting of a law forever banishing that curse of all curses Oka Humma (Red Water) or properly OkaHo-mi (Strong Water) which, like that of the Medes and Persians changeth not, stands today unrepealed, and will so continue as long as they are permitted to exist as a Nation.