Views on the Choctaw and Fables – North American Indians
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The territories of the Choctaws in 1723, in which year the seat of the French government in Louisiana, then under Bienville, was definitely transferred from Natchez to New Orleans, then containing about one hundred houses and three thousand inhabitants, extended from the Mississippi River to the Black Warrior, east: and from Lake Pontchartrain to the territories of the Natchez, west, and Chickasaws, north. They possessed upwards of sixty principal towns, and could muster, as was estimated, twenty-five thousand warriors.
The Choctaws called all fables Shukha Anump (hog talk) as a mark of derision and contempt. Some of their fables, handed down by tradition through unknown generations, were similar in the morals taught by those of the famous Esop. One of these Shukha Anumpas was that of the turkey and the terrapin: A haughty turkey gobbler, with long flowing beard and glossy feathers, meeting a terrapin one bright and beautiful spring morning, thus accosted him with an expression of great contempt; “What are you good for?” To which the terrapin humbly replied “many things.” “Name one,” continued the turkey. “I can beat you running,” said the terrapin. “What nonsense!” “I thought you were a fool, now I know it,” continued the turkey.
“I repeat it, I can beat you running, distance half a mile” continued the terrapin. “To prove you are a fool in believing such an absurdity, I’ll run the race with you,” responded the turkey with marked disgust. The day was appointed, the distance marked off, and the agreements entered into, one of which was, the terrapin was to run with a white feather in his mouth by which the turkey might be able to distinguish him from other terrapin; another was, the turkey was to give the terrapin the advantage of one hundred yards in the start. In the intervening time of the race, the wily terrapin secured the assistance of another terrapin to help him out of his dilemma, and thereby establish the reputation of the terrapin family in point of fleetness to the discomfiture of the haughty turkey. Therefore, he secretly placed his assistant, with the white insignia also in his mouth, at the terminus to which the race was to be run. Early on the morning of the day agreed upon, the competitors were at their posts the contemptuous turkey at the goal, and the dispassionate terrapin a hundred yards on the line. The turkey was to give the signal for starting by a loud gobble. The signal was given, and the race was opened. The turkey soon came up with the terrapin, who had gotten but a few feet from his goal, and shouted derisively as he passed by “What a fool!”
To which the terrapin ejaculated “Not as big as you imagine.” The confident turkey ran on about half way, and then stopped and turned off a little distance to secure his breakfast, but kept an eye on the track that the terrapin might not pass unobserved. After feeding about some time and not seeing any thing of the terrapin, he began to fear he had passed him unobserved; therefore, he started again at full speed; and not overtaking the terrapin as he expected, he redoubled his exertions and reached the goal breathless, but to find the terrapin with the white feather in his mouth (his supposed opponent) already there, Moral. The scornful are often outwitted by those upon whom they look with contempt.
In estimating character, all the ancient Indians that once lived east of the Mississippi River, if the statement of the early writers and noble missionaries be true, and he, whose incredulity would, make him doubt their statements is in capable of believing any thing even his own senses regarded moral worth alone; The man must possess truth, honor, patriotism, bravery, hospitality and virtue all of which seemed intuitive to the minds and hearts of those North American Indians of the south. I know this will be regarded by thousands of my own race as untenable ground. Never the less, I speak of that I know obtained by a long life, personal acquaintance with the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and the same acquaintance with different missionaries to the Cherokees, Muskogee’s and Seminoles, all sustained by the great philanthropist Oglethorpe and the noted ministers of the gospel John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield, and their missionary successors sent out to the Indians by the Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches; and more, proving beyond doubt the susceptibility of the North American Indians to easily become civilized and Christianized.