THE NATCHEZ, CHICKASAW, CHOCTAW AND OTHER INDIAN TRIBES.

Source: Lowry, Robert and McCardle, William H. A History of Mississippi, from the Discovery of the Great River by Hernando DeSoto, Including the Earliest Settlement Made by the French Under Iberville, to the Death of Jefferson Davis [1541-1889]. Jackson, Miss.: R. H. Henry & Co., 1891. Pages 246-258

When the French, under the command of Iberville, landed on our southern coast, they found three large and powerful tribes of Indians inhabiting the vast wilderness now known as the State of Mississippi. The Pascagoula, the Biloxi, and other small and feeble tribes occupied the territory skirting the borders of what is now recognized as the "Mississippi Sound," and along the banks of the various streams flowing into it.

The Natchez Indians were the undisputed lords of the beautiful country embraced within t he territorial limits of what are now known as the counties of Amite, Wilkinson, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson and Claiborne, extending to the Big Black river. They had their principal towns and villages in Adams county, in the near vicinity of the present city of Natchez.

The Natchez Indians were devout worshipers of the sun. Their traditions traced their origin to a land near the great luminary of the world. They had been in Mexico for centuries, were there at the landing of Cortez, and were said to have aided that bold and ambitious leader in the conquest of the country and the overthrow of Montezuma.

Becoming dissatisfied with the tyrannous rule of the Spaniards, they determined to abandon a country which had been the home of their tribe for centuries, and seek a new home and fresh hunting grounds in other lands. They moved in an easterly direction, and finally found themselves in a ravishingly beautiful country on the eastern shore of the great river. Here they founded their homes, builded their towns, and erected their temples.

"Their government," says Gayarre, "was a perfect Asiatic despotism. Their sovereign was styled the Great Sun, and on his death it was customary to immolate in his honor a considerable number of his subjects. The subordinate chiefs of the royal blood were called Little Suns, and when they also paid the inevitable tribute due to nature, there was, according to their dignity and the estimation they were held in, a proportionate and voluntary sacrifice of lives. The poor, ignorant barbarians, who thus died for their princes, did it cheerfully because they were persuaded that by escorting them to the world of spirits, they would, in recompense for their devotion, be entitled to live in eternal youth and bliss, suffering neither from cold, nor from heat, hunter, thirst, or disease, and rioting in the full gratification of all their tastes, desires and passions. These frequent hecacombs of human beings were one of the causes, it is said, which contributed to the diminution of that race."

The same author furnishes the following description of the tribe: "The Natchez were of a light mahogany complexion, with jet black hair and eyes. Their features were extremely regular, and their expression was intelligent, open and noble. They were tall in stature, very few being under six feet, and the symmetry of their well proportioned limbs was remarkable. Their whole frame presented a beautiful development of the muscles. The women were not as good looking as the men, and were generally of the middle size."

The Natchez were quite expert in supplying their few and simple wants. Mr. Gayarre, referring to their inventive faculty, in making implements to meet their requirements, has this to say:

"To cut down timber, they had flint axes, ingeniously contrived, and to sever flesh, either raw or cooked, they had knives made of a peculiar kind of keen-edged reed, called conchac. They used for their bows the acacia wood, and their bow-strings were made either of the bark of trees, or the skins of animals. Their arrows, made of reed, were winged with the feathers of birds, and when destined to kill buffaloes or deer their points were armed with sharp pieces of gone, and particularly, of fish bone.

"The Natchez understood the art of dressing or preparing buffalo, deer and beaver skins, and those of other animals, so as to provide themselves with very comfortable clothing for the winter, and they used as awls for sewing, small, thin bones, which they took from the legs of herons. Their huts were made of rude materials, such as rough timber and a combination of mud, sand and Spanish moss, worked together in a solid sort of mortar and forming their walls, to which they gave a thickness of four inches. The roofs were of intermingled grass and reeds, so skillfully put together that these roofs would last for twenty years without leaking. The huts were square and usually measured fifteen feet by fifteen; some, however, such as those of the chiefs, were thirty feet square, and even more. They had no other aperture for egress or ingress, or for admitting light than a door which generally was two feet wide by four in height. The frames of the beds of the Natchez, which were two feet from the flower, were of wood, but the inside was of a soft and elastic texture of plaited or woven reeds; and those unsophisticated sons of nature had, the rest during the day, nothing but hard and low wooden seats, without backs to lean against.

"Their agriculture, before they became acquainted with the French, who taught them the use of wheat and flour, was limited to the cultivation of corn, which they knew how to grind with a wooden apparatus. Their women had arrived at considerable proficiency in the manufacturing of earthenware, and they made all sorts of pots, pitchers, bottles, bowls, dishes and plates bearing designs, among which it is pretended that Grecian letters and Hebrew characters are plainly to be discovered. Their crockery was generally of a reddish color. They also excelled in making sieves and winnowing fans. With the bark of the linden or lime tree, they made very beautiful nets to catch birds or fish. They knew how to dye skins in several colors; of those which they liked best were the white, the yellow, the red and the black, and their taste was to use them in alternate stripes. The skins thus dyed, particularly that of the porcupine, they embroidered with considerable art, and the drawings were somewhat of a gothic character. They also made bed coverings and cloaks with the bark of the mulberry tree, and with the feathers of turkeys, ducks and geese. Like the other Indians, the Natchez had not carried very far the science of navigation, and to cross rivers, they had learned to scoop the trunks of trees which they shaped into canoes. Some of their largest canoes measured forty feet in length by four in width. They were generally made to carry twelve persons, and were exceedingly light. These boats were propelled by the means of paddles six feet long.

"During the summer, men and women were always half naked and bare-footed, except when traveling. They they would wear shoes, (mocasins - sic), made of the skin of deer. For ornaments they wore rings of painted bones through their ears and noses, and in the shape of bracelets around their arms and legs. They were also very fond of painted glass beads, which they interwove with their hair, or carried round their necks in the shape of collars, to which they added the teeth of alligators, or the claws of wild beasts. These same painted glass beads they also used in ornamenting their leather garments, and they composed with them fanciful embroideries. The vermillion with which they painted their bodies was one of their favorite embellishments, together with the hieroglyphic figures, or crude heraldic devices, with which they used to impregnate their skins from head to foot."

The Natchez had two languages, one for the use of the nobility, the other for the sole use of the common people. The tribe was divided into three separate classes. First came the Sovereign, the Great Sun, with his family, the Little Sons, who comprised what was called the nobility; then followed the men of prominence and consideration, what would be called in England, "the gentry;" the third class embraced the common people, the lowly born, who had achieved nothing to lift them above their fellows, and these were called in the dialect of their tribe, "michequipy," or the "stinking."

The Yazoo Indians, a small tribe that occupied a portion of what is now known as Yazoo county, were few in numbers, but warlike, ferocious and cruel. The last of that tribe perished many years ago. They had not the stamina, or staying qualities of the other powerful tribes who then occupied this vast territory, and hence they faded rapidly away before the onward march of the white race.

The Choctaw Indians, a large and powerful tribe, were in possession of an immense territory, extending from the lower Tombigbee in a northwesterly direction, to the Mississippi river. The Choctaws owned nearly all of southeastern Mississippi, much of the central portion of the State, and nine-tenths of the "delta of the Yazoo," which embraces the most fertile and productive soil in the world. The delta of the Yazoo is nearly as extensive in are as the famous delta of the Nile, and is undeniably more fruitful of productive wealth. The Yazoo delta is the home of the cotton plant, and from the prolific soil of the delta lands cotton grows in luxuriance, yielding its wealth producing staple in regal abundance.

The Hon. Charles Gayarre has the following in reference to the original proprietors of the magnificent territory to which attention has just been called:

"The Choctaws occupied a very large territory between the Mississippi and the Tombigbee rivers, from the frontiers of the Colapisas and the Biloxis, on the shores of lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne, up to the frontiers of the Natchez, of the Yazoos and of the Chickasaws. They owned more than fifty important villages, and it was said at one time, they could have brought into the field twenty-five thousand warriors. Chacta, Chatka or Choctaw, spelling it according to the varions pronunciations, means charming voice in the Indian dialect. It appears that the Choctaws had a great aptitude for music and singing, hence the name that was given to them. Very little is known about their origin, although some writers pretend that they came from the province of Kamtschatka. It is said that they suddenly made their appearance, and rapidly overran the whole country. That appearance was so spontaneous that it seemed as if they had sprung up from the earth like mushrooms. With regard to their manners, their customs and their degree of civilization, it is sufficient to say that they had many characteristic traits in common with other Indian nations. However, they were much inferior to the Natchez in many respects. They had more imperfect notions of the divinity, and were much more superstitious. They were proverbially filthy and stupid in the estimation of all who knew them, and they were exceedingly boastful, although notoriously less brave than any of the other red tribes.

What the Choctaws were most conspicuous for was their hatred of falsehood and their love of truth. Tradition relates that one of their chiefs became so addicted to the vice of lying that in disgust they drove him away from their territory. In the now parish of Orleans, back of Gentilly, there is a tract of land in the shape of an isthmus, projecting itself into lake Pontchartrain, not far from the Rigolets, and terminating in what is called "pointe aux herbes," or herb point. It was there that the exiled Choctaw chief retired with his family and a few adherents, near a bayou which discharges itself into the lake. From this circumstance this trace of land received, and still retains the appellation of Chef Menteur, or "Lying Chief."

The Choctaws were the uniform friends of the French, and neither the wiles nor the lures of the English were ever able to detach them from a people whom they had befriended in their hour of weakness, whom they had fed when threatened with starvation, and whose battles they had fought for many years. The French were indebted to the Choctaws on many occasions, notably in their wars with the Natchez and Chickasaw Indians, and in the war with their Spanish neighbors at Pensacola.

At a later day, when the American government obtained from Spain a cession of all the territory comprised within the present State of Mississippi, the Choctaws transferred their friendship to the Americans, and they never swerved in their allegiance and devotion to the cause of their new allies and friends. One of the most conspicuous chiefs of the Choctaw nation in its latter days in Mississippi, was Pushmataha, who was born on the soil of the State about the year 1765. He became distinguised [sic] on the war-path before he reached the age of twenty. Joining an expedition against the Osages, west of the Mississippi river, he was laughed at by the elder warriors as a "boy." The Osages were soon after defeated, after a desperate battle which lasted an entire day. Young Pushmataha disappeared early in the fight and was seen no more during the day. Returning at the midnight hour he was jeered at, and cowardice was openly charged against him. The only reply he designed to make was, "let those laugh who can show more scalps than I can," and taking from his girdle five human scalps, he flung them at the feet of his jeering companions. These scalps were the trophies he had won in an attack he had made single handed and alone on the real of the enemy. This gallant feat of arms won for Pushmataha the proud title of "The Eagle." After spending several years in Mexico, he returned to his own tribe east of the Mississippi. He was frequently on the war-path against other Indian tribes, and constantly added to his reputation for courage. It is related of him when absent on a foray, that on one occasion he entered a hostile village in Tennessee, alone one night, and with his own hand killed seven of his enemies, set fire to the village, and effected his escape in safety and unharmed. In the next two years he made a raid into the country of the enemies of his nation and secured eight additional scalps as trophies of his prowess.

During the war of 1812 and 1815 with England, Pushmataha promptly declared himself in favor of the Americans. A council of the Choctaw Nation was assembled to consider the question on which side the Choctaws should align themselves. The council was in session ten whole days and the discussions waxed warm. All the chiefs and head men, save only Pushmataha and John Pitchlyn, counselled [sic] the neutrality of the Choctaws. Until the last day of the council Pushmataha remained silent. He then rose and said:

"The Creeks were once our friends. They have joined the English, and we must now follow different trails. When our fathers took the hand of Washington they told him the Choctaws would always be the friends of his people, and Pushmataha cannot be false to their promises. I am now ready to fight against both the English and the Creeks. I and my warriors are going to Tuscaloosa, and when you hear from us again the Creek fort will be in ashes."

This prophecy was promptly realized. The Creeks and Seminoles had formed an alliance and were acting in concert to the interest of England, and Pushmataha waged a most vigorous and successful war against both, and the whites who were much pleased with his brilliant and successful efforts against their enemies gave him the title of "the Indian General."

In the 1824, Pushmataha visited the great White Father in Washington, where he was received with much distinction by President Monroe, and his Secretary of War, the Hon. John C. Calhoun. After visiting the Marquis de La Fayette, who was then in the city as the guest of the nation, Pushmataha was taken seriously ill. Finding that his life was drawing rapidly to a close, he expressed the desire that he should be buried with military honors, such as became a warrior, and that the "big guns" should be fired over his grave. His last request was religiously complied with. He was accorded all the honors of a military funeral, such as befitted a great chief. A processions, civil and military, of more than a mile in length, followed the dead chief to his last resting place in the Congressional Cemetery, and as the last honor the "big guns" were fired to herald his approach to the happy hunting grounds of his race.

Thus perished Pushmataha, the great Choctaw warrior. Pushmataha was of humble and lowly origin. In other words, he could not trace his lineage from a long line of warriors, a fact, of which, like the great Napoleon, he was proud. Napoleon, at the height of his power, exclaimed, "I am the founder of my own dynasty," and the great Choctaw chief once said: "i had no father, no mother, no brother, no sister. The winds howled, the rain fell, the thunder roared and the lightning flashed; a pine tree was shivered and from its splinters Pushmataha stepped forth with his rifle on his shoulder!"

General Andrew Jackson, who knew Pushmataha well, and who was entirely familiar with his career, frequently expressed the opinion that the great Choctaw chief was "the greatest and the bravest Indian" he had ever known. This was praise of the highest character, and coming from a man who knew what he was talking about, would have warmed the heart of the old chief could he have heard it.

A tribute of like character was paid Pushmataha by the Hon. John Randolph, of Virginia. In the course of a eulogy pronounced on him by the eloquent Virginian, in the Senate of the United States, Mr. Randolph declared that he "was wise in council, eloquent in an extraordinary degree, and on all occasions and under all circumstances, the white man's friend."

Another large and powerful tribe, the Chickasaw Indians, occupied an immense scope of beautifully undulating territory, extending from the upper Tombigbee due west to the Father of Waters. They also claimed a small portion of what is now the State of Tennessee, that portion abutting upon what is now the northern boundary of Mississippi.

The Chickasaw tribe constituted a large, powerful and warlike nation. They were brave, cruel, implacable and bloodthirsty. They had their principal towns and villages to what are now known as Monroe and Pontotoc counties. Their chief towns were in the latter county, and their largest one was in the vicinity of the present town of Pontotoc.

Gayarre has this to say of the Chickasaw Indians:

"They numbered from two to three thousand warriors, and were by far the most warlike of all the (Louisiana) Mississippi tribes. They had numerous slaves, well cultivated fields and large herds of cattle. They never deviated in their attachment to the English, and they became exceedingly troublesome to the French. With some shades of difference, they had, in the main, the irrascible [sic] and well known attributes of the Indian character. Therefore, to pursue the subject into further details would, perhaps, be running the danger of falling into the dullness of monotonous and uninteresting description. Suffice it to say, that they were the Spartans, as the Natchez were the Athenians, and the Choctaws the Beotians of (Louisiana) Mississippi."

The remark of Mr. Gayarre, that the Chickasaws "became exceedingly troublesome to the French," is well calculated to provoke a smile, with those who are familiar with the fact that the Chickasaws drove back in disgrace three large and powerful expeditions which the French sent against them. "Exceedingly troublesome" is a fine phrase, but it does not express the several severe defeats inflicted on the French by the Chickasaw Indians, and the loss sustained by the arms of a La Belle France.

Col. Claiborne in his volume "Mississippi as a Province, Territory and State," furnishes an interesting tradition of the origin of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, which is given in his own words:

"The Choctaws believed that their ancestors came from the West. They were led by two brothers, Chacta and Chicsa, at the head of their respective Iksas, or clans. On their journey they followed a pole, which, guided by an invisible hand, moved before them. Shortly after crossing the Mississippi, the pole stood still, firmly planted in the ground, and they construed this as an augury that here they must halt and make their homes. What connection this may have with, and how far it has been derived from, the exodus of the Israelites, and the "cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night," is for the curious to determine; but the pole moving in the march before them is the oldest and best established tradition of the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

"The two leaders concluded to reconnoitre the country. Chicsa moved first, and ten days thereafter Chacta followed, but a tremendous snow storm had obliterated his brother's trail and they were separated. He went southerly to Nanawayya on the head-waters of Pearl river, about the geographical center of the State, and the other brother, it was afterwards ascertained, settled near where Pontotoc now stands. At the first meeting of the brothers it was determined that the two clans should constitute separate tribes, each occupying their respective territories, and the hunters of neither band should encroach on the territory of the other. The present Oktibbeha and the Nusicheah, were indicated as the line of demarkation [sic].

"The Choctaws preserve a dim tradition that, after crossing the Mississippi they met a race of men whom they called Na-hou-lo, tall in stature and of fair complexion, who had emigrated from the sun-rise. They had once been a mighty people, but were then few in number, and soon disappeared after the incoming of the Choctaws. This race of men were, according to the tradition, tillers of the soil and peaceable. There had likewise been a race of Cannibals, who feasted on the bodies of their enemies. They, too, were giants, and utilized the Mammoth as their burden bearers. They kept them, closely herded, and as they devoured everything and broke down the forests, this was the origin of the prairies.

"This Cannibal race and the Mammoth perished about the same time, by a great epidemic. Only one of the latter escaped, who made his home for several years near the Tombigbee. The Great Spirit struck him several times with lightning, but he presented his head to the bolt and it glanced off. Annoyed, however, by these attempts, he fled to Soc-te-thou-fah (the present Memphis), and at one mighty leap cleared the river, and made his way to the Rocky Mountains.

"They have a tradition of a great drought that occurred during the early part of the eighteenth century. Not a drop of rain fell for three years. The Noxubee and Tombigbee rivers dried up. The forest trees perished. The elk and the buffalo, then numerous, migrated beyond the Mississippi, and neither of those species returned. Towards the close of the third year it began to rain, and continued for two moons, and the Great Spirit had forgiven them.

"The Choctaws and Chickasaws had occasional conflicts, particularly after the whites appeared in the country. The former were allies of the French. The latter were under English control, and the rivalry of these kept the two kindred tribes on bad terms. They had a great battle about two miles south of the present town of West Point. There may be seen two mounds, about one hundred yards apart. After they came to terms and erected these mounds over their dead, to the neighboring stream they gave the name of Oka-tibbe-ha, in their dialect 'fighting' or 'bloody water.'

The Noxubee river owes its name to one of these bloody frays. Noxubee is a corruption of Oka-nahka-shua, stinking bullet water. Thus: Oka, water; Nahka, bullet; Shua, stinking."

The same author has this reference to the Chocchuma Indians:

"The hunters of the Chocchumas, a once powerful tribe that occupied the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha valleys, had intruded on the Tombigbee prairies, the hunting ground of the Chickasaws and Choctaws, and the warriors of these tribes attacked them, slew many and cast their bodies into the river, hence the name given to the stream.

"This, of course, caused retaliation, and a general war ensued. The Chocchumas had once lived low down on the Yazoo river, were in alliance with the Natchez, and had immigrated to the Tallahatchie valley about the time the Choctaws arrived from the west. Each regarded the others as intruders. The Chocchumas were a warlike race, and had been greatly reduced by war. They were finally exterminated by the allied Chickasaws and Choctaws. This last battler was fought six miles west of Belle Fontaine, on the old Grenada road, on the land now owned by C. M. Roberts. Chulahoma (Red Fox), their most renowned warrior, resided there with his followers. He was attached in his village, and all but a few women and children were slain. In 1830, an old half-breed, Coleman Cole, resided there, and claimed to be the sole surviving warrior of the Chocchuma tribe. The decisive battle occurred at Lyon's Bluff, on the south side of Line Creek, eight miles northeast of Starkville. This Bluff was the site of a cemetery of the mound builders. Here the Chocchuma warriors, with many of their wives and children were posted, and here they were besieged by the Choctaws on the south and in front, while the Chickasaws were in position on the north side of the creek, so there was no outlet for retreat. The siege was one protracted fight until the last of the Chocchuma warriors fell, and then the women fought until the most of them had perished.

"At the conclusion of this war, the victorious tribes re-established their boundaries. Line Creek was afterwards known by the Chickasaws as Nusic-heah, "you asleep," because on one occasion the Choctaws attacked them there when unprepared or asleep."

These mighty tribes, the original occupants and owners of the wide domain of Mississippi, have long since passed away from the land of their homes. The worshippers [sic] of the sun, the fierce and warlike Natchez, have faded from the face of the earth, and are entirely extinct. The powerful Choctaw and Chickasaw nations have crossed the great Father of Waters, and found homes and hunting grounds nearer the setting sun. A remnant only of the famous Choctaw Nation, memorable for their friendship and inflexible fidelity to the white race, are dwellers on the vast domain their fathers ruled with kingly power. A few hundred harmless Choctaws, the owners of small farms, upon which they pay taxes, are all that is left in Mississippi to remind one of the once powerful Choctaw Nation, whose warriors were led to battle and to victory by their great Chief, Pushmataha, and always on the side of the white race, their friends and neighbors.

 



 

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