Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians
by George Catlin
(First published in London in 1844)
In one of my last Letters from Fort Gibson, written some months since, I promised to open my note-book on a future occasion, to give some further account of tribes and remnants of tribes located in that vicinity, amongst whom I had been spending some time with my pen and my pencil; and having since that time extended my rambles over much of that ground again, and also through the regions of the East and South East, from whence the most of those tribes have emigrated; I consider this a proper time to say something more of them, and their customs and condition, before I go farther.
The most of these, as I have said, are tribes or parts of tribes which the Government has recently, by means of Treaty stipulations, removed to that wild and distant country, on to lands which have been given to them in exchange for their valuable possessions within the States, tell or twelve hundred miles to the East.
Of a number of such reduced and removed tribes, who have been located West of the Missouri, and North of St. Louis, I have already spoken in a former Letter, and shall yet make brief mention of another, which has been conducted to the same regionand then direct the attention of the reader to those which are settled in the neighbourhood of Fort Gibson, who are the CherokeesCreeksChoctawsChickasawsSeminoles and Euchees.
The people above alluded to are the
The history of this once powerful tribe is so closely and necessarily connected with that of the United States, and the revolutionary war, that it is generally pretty well understood. This tribe formerly inhabited great parts of the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, (and for the last sixty years,) a part of the states of Ohio and Indiana, to which they had removed; and now, a considerable portion of them, a tract of country several hundred miles West of the Mississippi, which has been conveyed to them by Government in exchange for their lands in Ohio, from which it is expected the remainder of the tribe will soon move. It has been said that this tribe came formerly from Florida, but I do not believe it. The mere fact, that there is found in East Florida a river by the name of Su wa-nee, which bears some resemblance to Sha-wa-no, seems, as far as I can learn, to be the principal evidence that has been adduced for the fact. They have evidently been known, and that within the scope of our authenticated history, on the Atlantic coaston the Delaware and Chesapeak bays. And after that, have fought their way against every sort of trespass and abuseagainst the bayonet and disease, through the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, to their present location near the Kon-zas River, at least 1500 miles from their native country.
This tribe and the Delawares, of whom I have spoken, were neighbours on the Atlantic coast, and alternately allies and enemies, have retrograded and retreated togetherhave fought their enemies united, and fought each other, until their remnants that have outlived their nation's calamities, have now settled as neighbours together in the Western wilds; where, it is probable, the sweeping hand of death will soon relieve them from further necessity of warring or moving; and the Government, from the necessity or policy of proposing to them a yet more distant home. In their long and disastrous pilgrimage, both of these tribes laid claim to, and alternately occupied the beautiful and renowned valley of Wy-o-ming; and after strewing the Susquehana's lovely banks with their bones, and their tumuli, they both yielded at last to the dire necessity, which follows all civilized intercourse with natives, and fled to the Alleghany, and at last to the banks of the Ohio; where necessity soon came again, and again, and again, until the great "Guardian" of all "red children" placed them where they now are.
There are of this tribe remaining about 1200; some few of whom are agriculturists, and industrious and temperate, and religious people; but the greater proportion of them are miserably poor and dependent, having scarcely the ambition to labour or to hunt, and a passion for whiskey-drinking, that sinks them into the most abject poverty, as they will give the last thing they possess for a drink of it.
There is not a tribe on the Continent whose history is more interesting than that of the Shawanos, nor any one that has produced more extraordinary men.
The great Tecumseh, whose name and history I can but barely allude to at this time, was the chief of this tribe, and perhaps the most extraordinary Indian of his age.
The present chief of the tribe Lay-law-she-kaw (he who goes up the river), is a very aged, but extraordinary man, with a fine and intelligent head, and his ears slit and stretched down to his shoulders, a custom highly valued in this tribe; which is done by severing the rim of the ear with a knife, and stretching it down by wearing heavy weights attached to it at times, to elongate it as much as possible, making a large orifice, through which, on parades, &c. they often pass a bunch of arrows or quills, and wear them as ornaments.
In this instance (which was not an unusual one), the rims of the ears were so extended down, that they touched the shoulders, making a ring through which the whole hand could easily be passed. The daughter of this old chief, Ka-te-qua (the female eagle), was an agreeable looking girl, of fifteen years of age, and much thought of by the tribe. Pah-te-coo-saw (the straight man), a warrior of this tribe, has distinguished himself by his exploits; and when he sat for his picture, had painted his face in a very curious manner with black and red paint.
Ten-sgua-ta-way (the open door), called the "Shawnee Prophet," is perhaps one of the most remarkable men, who has flourished on these frontiers for some time past. This man is brother of the famous Tecumseh, and quite equal in his medicines or mysteries, to what his brother was in arms; he was blind in his left eye, and in his right hand he was holding his "medicine fire," and his "sacred string of beans" in the other. With these mysteries he made his way through most of the North Western tribes, enlisting warriors wherever he went, to assist Tecumseh in effecting his great scheme, of forming a confederacy of all the Indians on the frontier, to drive back the whites and defend the Indians' rights; which he told them could never in any other way be protected. His plan was certainly a correct one, if not a very great one; and his brother, the Prophet, exercised his astonishing influence in raising men for him to fight his battles, and carry out his plans. For this purpose, he started upon an embassy to the various tribes on the Upper Missouri, nearly all of which he visited with astonishing success; exhibiting his mystery fire, and using his sacred string of beans, which every young man who was willing to go to war, was to touch; thereby taking the solemn oath to start when called upon, and not to turn back.
In this most surprising manner, this ingenious man entered the villages of most of his inveterate enemies, and of others who never had heard of the name of his tribe; and manoeuvred in so successful a way, as to make his medicines a safe passport for him to all of their villages; and also the means of enlisting in the different tribes, some eight or ten thousand warriors, who had solemnly sworn to return with him on his way back; and to assist in the wars that Tecumseh was to wage against the whites on the frontier. I found, on my visit to the Siouxto the Puncahs, to the Riccarees and the Mandans, that he had been there, and even to the Blackfeet; and everywhere told them of the potency of his mysteries, and assured them, that if they allowed the fire to go out in their wigwams, it would prove fatal to them in every case. He carried with him into every wigwam that he visited, the image of a dead person of the size of life; which was made ingeniously of some light material. and always kept concealed under bandages of thin white muslin cloths and not to be opened; of this he made great mystery, and got his recruits to swear by touching a sacred string of white beans, which he had attached to its neck or some other way secreted about it. In this way, by his extraordinary cunning, he had carried terror into the country as far as he went; and had actually enlisted some eight or ten thousand men, who were sworn to follow him home; and in a few days would have been on their way with him, had not a couple of his political enemies in his own tribe, followed on his track, even to those remote tribes, and defeated his plans, by pronouncing him an impostor; and all of his forms and plans an imposition upon them, which they would be fools to listen to. In this manner. this great recruiting officer was defeated in his plans, for raising an army of men to fight his brother's battles; and to save his life, he discharged his medicines as suddenly as possible, and secretly travelled his way home, over those vast regions, to his own tribe, where the death of Tecumseh, and the opposition of enemies, killed all his splendid prospects, and doomed him to live the rest of his days in silence, and a sort of disgrace; like all men in Indian communities who pretend to great medicine, in any way, and fail; as they all think such failure an evidence of the displeasure of the Great Spirit, who always judges right.
This, no doubt, has been a very shrewd and influential man, but circumstances have destroyed him, as they have many other great men before him; and he now lives respected, but silent and melancholy in his tribe. I conversed with him a great deal about his brother Tecumseh, of whom he spoke frankly, and seemingly with great pleasure; but of himself and his own great schemes, he would say nothing. He told me that Tecumseh's plans were to embody all the Indian tribes in a grand confederacy, from the province of Mexico, to the Great Lakes, to unite their forces in an army that would be able to meet and drive back the white people, who were continually advancing on the Indian tribes, and forcing them from their lands towards the Rocky Mountainsthat Tecumseh was a great general, and that nothing but his premature death defeated his grand plan.
The Shawanos, like most of the other remnants of tribes, in whose countries the game has been destroyed, and by the use of whiskey, have been reduced to poverty and absolute want, have become, to a certain degree, agriculturists; raising corn and beans, potatoes, hogs, horses, &c; so as to be enabled, if they could possess anywhere on earth, a country which they could have a certainty of holding in perpetuity, as their own, to plant and raise their own crops, and necessaries of life from the ground.
The Government have effected with these people, as with most of the other dispersed tribes, an arrangement by which they are to remove West of the Mississippi, to lands assigned them; on which they are solemnly promised a home for ever; the uncertain definition of which important word, time and circumstances alone will determine.
Besides the personages whom I have above-mentioned, I painted the portraits of several others of note in the tribe; and amongst them Lay-loo-ah-pe-ni-shee-kaw (the grass-bush and blossom), whom I introduce in this place, rather from the very handy and poetical name, than from any great personal distinction known to have been acquired by him.
Living in the vicinity of, and about Fort Gibson, on the Arkansas, and 700 miles west of the Mississippi river, are a third part or more of the once very numerous and powerful tribe who inhabited and still inhabit, a considerable part of the state of Georgia, and under a Treaty made with the United States Government, have been removed to those regions, where they are settled on a fine tract of country; and having advanced somewhat in the arts and agriculture before they started, are now found to be mostly living well, cultivating their fields of corn and other crops, which they raise with great success.
Under a serious difficulty existing between these people (whom their former solemn Treaties with the United States Government, were acknowledged a free and independent nation, with powers to make and enforce their own laws), and the state of Georgia, which could not admit such a Government within her sovereignty, it was thought most expedient by the Government of the United States, to propose to them, for the fourth or fifth time, to enter into Treaty stipulations again to move; and by so doing to settle the difficult question with the state of Georgia, and at the same time, to place them in peaceable possession of a large tract of fine country, where they would for ever be free from the continual trespasses and abuses which it was supposed they would be subjected to, if they were to remain in the state of Georgia, under the present difficulties and the high excited feelings which were then existing in the minds of many people along their borders.
John Ross, a civilized and highly educated and accomplished gentleman, who is the head-chief of the tribe, and several of his leading subordinate chiefs, have sternly and steadily rejected the proposition of such a Treaty; and are yet, with a great majority of the nation remaining on their own ground in the state of Georgia, although some six or 7000 of the tribe have several years since removed to the Arkansas, under the guidance and controul of an aged and dignified chief by the name of Jol-lee.
This man, like most of the chiefs, as well as a very great proportion of the Cherokee population, has a mixture of white and red blood in his veins, of which, in this instance, the first seems decidedly to predominate. Another chief, and second to this, amongst this portion of the Cherokees, by the name of Teh-ke-neh-kee (the black coat), I have also painted and placed in my Collection, as well as a very interesting specimen of the Cherokee women.
I have travelled pretty generally through the several different locations of this interesting tribe, both in the Western and Eastern divisions, and have found them, as well as the Choctaws and Creeks, their neighbours, very far advanced in the arts; affording to the world the most satisfactory evidences that are to be found in America, of the fact, that the Indian was not made to shun and evade good example, and necessarily to live and die a brute, as many speculating men would needs record them and treat them, until they are robbed and trampled into the dust; that no living evidences might give the lie to their theories, or draw the cloak from their cruel and horrible iniquities.
As I have repeatedly said to my readers, in the course of my former epistles, that the greater part of my time would be devoted to the condition and customs of the tribes that might be found in their primitive state, they will feel disposed to pardon me for barely introducing the Cherokees, and several others of these very interesting tribes, and leaving them and their customs and histories (which are of themselves enough for volumes), to the reader, who is, perhaps, nearly as familiar as I am myself, with the full and fair accounts of these people, who have had their historians and biographers.
The history of the Cherokees and other numerous remnants of tribes, who are the exhabitants of the finest and most valued portions of the United States, is a subject of great interest and importance, and has already been woven into the most valued histories of the country, as well as forming material parts of the archives of the Government, which is my excuse for barely introducing the reader to them, and beckoning him off again to the native and untrodden wilds, to teach him something new and unrecorded. Yet I leave the subject, as I left the people (to whom I became attached, for their kindness and friendship), with a heavy heart, wishing them success and the blessing of the Great Spirit, who alone can avert the doom, that would almost seem to be fixed for their unfortunate race.
The Cherokees amount in all to about 22,000, 16,000 of whom are yet living in Georgia, under the Government of their chief, John Ross, whose name I have before mentioned; with this excellent man, who has been for many years devotedly opposed to the Treaty stipulations for moving from their country, I have been familiarly acquainted; and, notwithstanding the bitter invective and animadversions that have been by his political enemies heaped upon him, I feel authorized, and bound, to testify to the unassuming and gentlemanly urbanity of his manners, as well as to the rigid temperance of his habits, and the purity of his language, in which I never knew him to transgress for a moment, in public or private interviews.
At this time, the most strenuous endeavours are making on the part of the Government and the state of Georgia, for the completion of an arrangement for the removal of the whole of this tribe, as well as of the Choctaws and Seminoles; and I have not a doubt of their final success, which seems, from all former experience, to attend every project of the kind made by the Government to their red children. (1)
It is not for me to decide, nor in this place to reason, as to the justice or injustice of the treatment of these people at the hands of the Government or individuals; or of the wisdom of the policy which is to place them in a new, though vast and fertile country, 1000 miles from the land of their birth, in the doubtful dilemma whether to break the natural turf with their rusting ploughshares, or string their bows, and dash over the boundless prairies, beckoned on by the alluring dictates of their nature, seeking laurels amongst the ranks of their new enemies, and subsistence amongst the herds of buffaloes.
Besides the Cherokees in Georgia, and those that I have spoken of in the neighbourhood of Fort Gibson, there is another band or family of the same tribe, of several hundreds, living on the banks of the Canadian river, an hundred or more miles South West of Fort Gibson, under the Government of a distinguished chief by the name of Tuch-ee (familiarly called by the white people, "Dutch"). This is one of the most extraordinary men that lives on the frontiers at the present day, both for his remarkable history, and for his fine and manly figure, and character of face.
This man was in the employment of the Government as a guide and hunter for the regiment of dragoons, on their expedition to the Camanchees, where I had him for a constant companion for several months, and opportunities in abundance, for studying his true character, and of witnessing his wonderful exploits in the different varieties of the chase. The history of this man's life has been very curious and surprising; and I sincerely hope that some one, with more leisure and more talent than myself, will take it up, and do it justice. I promise that the life of this man furnishes the best materials for a popular tale, that are now to be procured on the Western frontier.
He is familiarly known, and much of his life, to all the officers who have been stationed at Fort Gibson, or at any of the posts in that region of country.
Some twenty years or more since, becoming fatigued and incensed with civilized encroachments, that were continually making on the borders of the Cherokee country in Georgia, where he then resided, and probably, foreseeing the disastrous results they were to lead to, he beat up for volunteers to emigrate to the West, where he had designed to go, and colonize in a wild country beyond the reach and contamination of civilized innovations; and succeeded in getting several hundred men, women, and children, whom he led over the banks of the Mississippi, and settled upon the head waters of White River, where they lived until the appearance of white faces, which began to peep through the forests at them, when they made another move of 600 miles to the banks of the Canadian, where they now reside; and where, by the system of desperate warfare, which he has carried on against the Osages and the Camanchees, he has successfully cleared away from a large tract of fine country, all the enemies that could contend for it, and now holds it, with his little band of myrmidons, as their own undisputed soil, where they are living comfortably by raising from the soil fine crops of corn and potatoes, and other necessaries of life; whilst they indulge whenever they please, in the pleasures of the chase amongst the herds of buffaloes, or in the natural propensity for ornamenting their dresses and their war-clubs with the scalp-locks of their enemies.
THE CREEKS (or MUS-KO-GEES).
Of 20,000 in numbers, have, until quite recently, occupied an immense tract of country in the states of Mississippi and Alabama; but by a similar arrangement (and for a similar purpose) with the Government, have exchanged their possessions there for a country, adjoining to the Cherokees, on the South side of the Arkansas, to which they have already all removed, and on which, like the Cherokees, they are laying out fine farms, and building good houses, in which they live; in many instances, surrounded by immense fields of corn and wheat. There is scarcely a finer country on earth than that now owned by the Creeks; and in North America, certainly no Indian tribe more advanced in the arts and agriculture than they are. It is no uncommon thing to see a Creek with twenty or thirty slaves at work on his plantation, having brought them from a slave-holding country, from which, in their long journey, and exposure to white man's ingenuity, I venture to say, that most of them got rid of one-half of them, whilst on their long and disastrous crusade.
The Creeks, as well as the Cherokees and Choctaws, have good schools and churches established amongst them, conducted by excellent and pious men, from whose example they are drawing great and lasting benefits.
I have given the portraits of two distinguished men, and I believe, both chiefs. The first by the name of Stee-cha-co-me-co (the great king), familiarly called "Ben Perryman;" and the other, Hol-te-mal-te-tez-te-neehk-ee (), called "Sam Perryman." These two men are brothers, and are fair specimens of the tribe, who are mostly clad in calicoes, and other cloths of civilized manufacture; tasselled and fringed off by themselves in the most fantastic way, and sometimes with much true and picturesque taste. They use a vast many beads, and other trinkets, to hang upon their necks, and ornament their moccasins and beautiful belts.
Of fifteen thousand, are another tribe, removed from the Northern parts of Alabama, and Mississippi, within the few years past, and now occupying a large and rich tract of country, South of the Arkansas and the Canadian rivers; adjoining to the country of the Creeks and the Cherokees, equally civilized, and living much in the same manner.
In this tribe I painted the portrait of their famous and excellent chief, Mo-sho-la-tub-bee (he who puts out and kills), who has since died of the small-pox. In the same illustration will also be seen, the portrait of a distinguished and very gentlemanly man, who has been well-educated, and who gave me much curious and valuable information, of the history and traditions of his tribe. The name of this man, is Ha-tchoo-tuck-nee (the snapping turtle), familiarly called by the whites "Peter Pinchlin."
These people seem, even in their troubles, to be happy; and have, like all the other remnants of tribes, preserved with great tenacity their different games, which it would seem they are everlastingly practicing for want of other occupations or amusements in life. Whilst I was staying at the Choctaw agency in the midst of their nation, it seemed to be a sort of season of amusements, a kind of holiday; when the whole tribe almost, were assembled around the establishment, and from day to day we were entertained with some games or feats that were exceedingly amusing: horse-racing, dancing, wrestling, foot-racing, and ball-playing, were amongst the most exciting; and of all the catalogue, the most beautiful, was decidedly that of ball-playing. This wonderful game, which is the favourite one amongst all the tribes, and with these Southern tribes played exactly the same, can never be appreciated by those who are not happy enough to see it.
It is no uncommon occurrence for six or eight hundred or a thousand of these young men, to engage in a game of ball, with five or six times that number of spectators, of men, women and children, surrounding the ground, and looking on. And I pronounce such a scene, with its hundreds of Nature's most beautiful models, denuded, and painted of various colours, running and leaping into the air, in all the most extravagant and varied forms, in the desperate struggles for the ball, a school for the painter or sculptor, equal to any of those which ever inspired the hand of the artist in the Olympian games or the Roman forum.
I have made it an uniform rule, whilst in the Indian country, to attend every ball-play I could hear of, if I could do it by riding a distance of twenty or thirty miles; and my usual custom has been on such occasions, to straddle the back of my horse, and look on to the best advantage. In this way I have sat, and oftentimes reclined, and almost dropped from my horse's back, with irresistible laughter at the succession of droll tricks, and kicks and scuffles which ensue, in the almost superhuman straggles for the ball. These plays generally commence at nine o'clock, or near it, in the morning; and I have more than once balanced myself on my pony, from that time till near sundown, without more than one minute of intermission at a time, before the game has been decided.
It is impossible for pen and ink alone, or brushes, or even with their combined efforts, to give more than a caricature of such a scene; but such as I have been able to do, I have put upon the canvass, and in the slight outlines which I have here taken from those paintings, (for the colouring to which the reader must look to my pen), I will convey as correct an account as I can, and leave the reader to imagine the rest; or look to other books for what I may have omitted.
While at the Choctaw agency it was announced, that there was to be a great play on a certain day, within a few miles, on which occasion I attended, and made the three sketches which are hereto annexed; and also the following entry in my note-book, which I literally copy out.
"Monday afternoon at three, o'clock, I rode out with Lieutenants S. and M., to a very pretty prairie, about six miles distant, to the ball-play-ground of the Choctaws, where we found several thousand Indians encamped. There were two points of timber about half a mile apart, in which the two parties for the play, with their respective families and friends, were encamped; and lying between them, the prairie on which the game was to be played. My companions and myself, although we had been apprised, that to see the whole of a ball-play, we must remain on the ground all the night previous, had brought nothing to sleep upon, resolving to keep our eyes open, and see what transpired through the night. During the afternoon, we loitered about amongst the different tents and shantees of the two encampments, and afterwards, at sundown, witnessed the ceremony of measuring out the ground, and erecting the "byes" of goals which were to guide the play. Each party had their goal made with two upright posts, about 25 feet high and six feet apart, set firm in the ground, with a pole across at the top. These goals were about forty or fifty rods apart; and at a point just half way between, was another small stake, driven down, where the ball was to be thrown up at the firing of a gun, to be struggled for by the players. All this preparation was made by some old men, who were, it seems, selected to be the judges of the play, who drew a line from one bye to the other to which directly came from the woods, on both sides, a great concourse of women and old men, boys and girls, and dogs and horses, where bets were to be made on the play. The betting was all done across this line, and seemed to be chiefly left to the women, who seemed to have martialled out a little of everything that their houses and their fields possessed. Goods and chattelsknifesdressesblanketspots and kettlesdogs and horses, and guns; and all were placed in the possession of stake-holders, who sat by them, and watched them on the ground all night, preparatory to the play.
The sticks with which this tribe play, are bent into an oblong hoop at the end, with a sort of slight web of small thongs tied across, to prevent the ball from passing through. The players hold one of these in each hand, and by leaping into the air, they catch the ball between the two nettings and throw it, without being allowed to strike it, or catch it in their hands.
The mode in which these sticks are constructed and used, will be seen in the portrait of Tullock-chish-ko (he who drinks the juice of the stone), the most distinguished ball-player of the Choctaw nation, represented in his ball-play dress, with his ball-sticks in his hands. In every ball play of these people, it is a rule of the play, that no man shall wear moccasins on his feet, or any other dress than his breech-cloth around his waist, with a beautiful bead belt, and a "tail," made of white horsehair or quills, and a "mane" on the neck, of horsehair dyed of various colours.
This game had been arranged and "made up," three or four months before the parties met to play it, and in the following manner:The two champions who led the two parties, and had the alternate choosing of the players through the whole tribe, sent runners, with the ball-sticks most fantastically ornamented with ribbons and red paint, to be touched by each one of the chosen players; who thereby agreed to be on the spot at the appointed time and ready for the play. The ground having been all prepared and preliminaries of the game all settled, and the bettings all made, and goods all "staked," night came on without the appearance of any players on the ground. But soon after dark, a procession of lighted flambeaux was seen coming from each encampment, to the ground where the players assembled around their respective byes; and at the beat of the drums and chaunts of the women, each party of players commenced the "ball-play dance." Each party danced for a quarter of an hour around their respective byes, in their ball-play dress; rattling their ball-sticks together in the most a violent manner, and all singing as loud as they could raise their voices; whilst the women of each party, who had their goods at stake, formed into two rows on the line between the two parties of players, and danced also, in an uniform step, and all their voices joined in chaunts to the Great Spirit; in which they were soliciting his favour in deciding the game to their advantage; and also encouraging the players to exert every power they possessed, in the struggle that was to ensue. In the mean time, four old medicine-men, who were to have the starting of the ball, and who were to be judges of the play, were seated at the point where the ball was to be started; and busily smoking to the Great Spirit for their success in judging rightly, and impartially, between the parties in so important an affair.
This dance was one of the most picturesque scenes imaginable, and was repeated at intervals of every half hour during the night, and exactly in the same manner; so that the players were certainly awake all the night, and arranged in their appropriate dress, prepared for the play which was to commence at nine o'clock the next morning. In the morning, at the hour, the two parties and all their friends, were drawn out and over the ground; when at length the game commenced, by the judges throwing up the ball at the firing of a gun; when an instant struggle ensued between the players, who were some six or seven hundred in numbers, and were mutually endeavouring to catch the ball in their sticks, and throw it home and between their respective stakes; which, whenever successfully done, counts one for game. In this game every player was dressed alike, that is, divested of all dress, except the girdle and the tail, which I have before described; and in these desperate struggles for the ball, when it is up,(where hundreds are running together and leaping, actually over each other's heads, and darting between their adversaries' legs, tripping and throwing, and foiling each other in every possible manner, and every voice raised to the highest key, in shrill yelps and barks)! There are rapid successions of feats, and of incidents, that astonish and amuse far beyond the conception of any one who has not had the singular good luck to witness them. In these struggles, every mode I used that can be devised, to oppose the progress of the foremost, who is likely to get the ball; and these obstructions often meet desperate individual resistance, which terminates in a violent scuffle, and sometimes in fisticuffs; when their sticks are dropped, and the parties are unmolested, whilst they are settling it between themselves; unless it be by a general stampedo, to which they are subject who are down, if the ball happens to pass in their direction. Every weapon, by a rule of all ball-plays, is laid by in their respective encampments, and no man allowed to go for one; so that the sudden broils that take place on the ground, are presumed to be as suddenly settled with out any probability of much personal injury; and no one is allowed to interfere in any way with the contentious individuals.
There are times, when the ball gets to the ground, and such a confused mass rushing together around it, and knocking their sticks together, without the possibility of any one getting or seeing it, for the dust that they raise, that the spectator loses his strength, and everything else but his senses; when the condensed mass of ball-sticks, and shins, and bloody noses, is carried around the different parts of the ground, for a quarter of an hour at a time, without any one of the mass being able to see the ball and which they are often thus scuffling for, several minutes after it has been thrown off, and, played over another part of the ground.
For each time that the ball was passed between the stakes of either party, one was counted for their game, and a halt of about one minute; when it was again started by the judges of the play, and a similar struggle ensued and so on until the successful party arrived to 100, which was the limit of the game, and accomplished at an hour's sun, when they took the stakes and then, by a previous agreement, produced a number of jugs of whiskey, which gave all a wholesome drink, and sent them all off merry and in good humour. but not drunk.
After this exciting day, the concourse was assembled in the vicinity of the agency house, where we had a great variety of dances and other amusements; the most of which I have described on former occasions. One, however, was new to me, and I must say a few words of it: this with the Eagle Dance, a very pretty scene, which is got up by their your men, in honour of that bird, for which they seem to have a religious regard. This picturesque dance was given by twelve or sixteen men, whose bodies were chiefly naked and painted white, with white clay, and each one holding in his hand the tail of the eagle, while his head was also decorated with an eagle's quill. Spears were stuck in the ground, around which the dance was performed by four men at a time, who had simultaneously, at the beat of the drum, jumped up from the ground where they had all sat in rows of four, one row immediately behind the other, and ready to take the place of the first four when they left the ground fatigued, which they did by hopping or jumping around behind the rest, and taking their seats, ready to come up again in their turn, after each of the other sets had been through the same forms.
In this dance, the steps or rather jumps, were different from anything I had ever witnessed before, as the dancers were squat down, with their bodies almost to the ground, in a severe and most difficult posture, as will have been seen in the drawing.
I have already, in a former Letter, while speaking of the ancient custom of flattening the head, given a curious tradition of this interesting tribe, accounting for their having come from the West, and I here insert another or two, which I had, as well as the former one, from the lips of Peter Pinchlin, a very intelligent and influential man in the tribe.
The Deluge. "Our people have always had a tradition of the Deluge, which happened in this way:there was total darkness for a great time over the whole of the earth; the Choctaw doctors or mystery-men looked out for daylight for a long time, until at last they despaired of ever seeing it, and the whole nation were very unhappy. At last a light was discovered in the North, and there was great rejoicing, until it was found to be great mountains of water rolling on, which destroyed them all, except a few families who had expected it and built a great raft, on which they were saved."
Future State. "Our people all believe that the spirit lives in a future statethat it has a great distance to travel after death towards the Westthat it has to cross a dreadful deep and rapid stream, which is hemmed in on both sides by high and rugged hillsover this stream, from hill to hill, there lies a long and slippery pine-log, with the bark peeled off, over which the dead have to pass to the delightful hunting-grounds. On the other side of the stream there are six persons of the good hunting-grounds, with rocks in their hands, which they throw at them all when they are on the middle of the log. The good walk on safely, to the good hunting-grounds, where there is one continual daywhere the trees are always greenwhere the sky has no cloudswhere there are continual fine and cooling breezeswhere there is one continual scene of feasting, dancing and rejoicingwhere there is no pain or trouble, and people never grow old, but for ever live young and enjoy the youthful pleasures.
"The wicked see the stones coming, and try to dodge, by which they fall from the log, and go down thousands of feet to the water, which is dashing over the rocks, and is stinking with dead fish, and animals, where they are carried around and brought continually hack to the same place in whirlpoolswhere the trees are all dead, and the waters are full of toads and lizards, and snakeswhere the dead are always hungry, and have nothing to eatare always sick, and never diewhere the sun never shines, and where the wicked are continually climbing up by thousands on the sides of a high rock from which they can overlook the beautiful country of the good hunting-grounds, the place of the happy, but never can reach it."
Origin of the Craw-fish band. "Our people have amongst them a band which is called, the Craw-fish band. They formerly, but at a very remote period, lived under ground, and used to come up out of the mudthey were a species of craw-fish; and they went on their hands and feet, and lived in a large cave deep under ground, where there was no light for several miles. They spoke no language at all, nor could they understand any. The entrance to their cave was through the mudand they used to run down through that, and into their cave; and thus, the Choctaws were for a long time unable to molest them. The Choctaws used to lay and wait for them to come out into the sun, where they would try to talk to them, and cultivate an acquaintance.
"One day, a parcel of them were run upon so suddenly by the Choctaws, that they had no time to go through the mud into their cave, but were driven into it by another entrance, which they had through the rocks. The Choctaws then tried a long time to smoke them out, and at last succeededthey treated them kindlytaught them the Choctaw languagetaught them to walk on two legsmade them cut off their toe nails, and pluck the hair from their bodies, after which they adopted them into their nationand the remainder of them are living under ground to this day."
(1) Since writing the above, the Government have succeeded in removing the remainder of the Cherokees beyond the Mississippi, where they have taken up their residence along side of their old friends, who emigrated several years since under Jol-lee, as I have before mentioned. In the few years past, the Government has also succeeded in stipulating with, and removing West of the Mississippi, nearly every remnant of tribes spoken in this and the last two Letters, so that there are at this time but a few hundreds of the red men East of the Mississippi; and it is probable, that a few months more will effect the removal of the remainder of them. See their present locations West of the Mississippi, on the map at the beginning of this Volume.