Chickasaw Courtship and Dance

The ancient manner of Chickasaw courtship was not very taxing upon the sensitiveness of the bashful, perspective groom; since, when he wished to make known to any young lady of his tribe the emotions of his heart in regard to her, he had but to send a small bundle of clothing carefully tied up in a large cotton handkerchief (similar in dimensions to a medium-sized table cloth, very common in those primitive days of ignorant bliss, when fashion and folly were unknown) by his mother or sister to the girl he desired to make his wife. This treasure of acknowledged love was immediately taken possession of by the mother of the wished-for bride and kept for a few days before presenting it to her daughter; and when presented, if accepted, it was a bona fide acknowledgement on her part of her willingness to accept him as her husband, of which confession he was at once duly notified; if otherwise, the subject was there and then forever dropped, and the disappointed and disconsolate swain found consolation in the privilege extended to all such cases, that of presenting another bundle of clothes wrapped in a similar mantle of cotton, to some other forest beauty in which his country-so profusely abounded. But best of all, the swain, whether bold or timid, was always spared that fearful and dreaded ordeal of soliciting the “yes” of the old folks,” as his mother took that imperative and obnoxious duty upon herself, and was almost always successful in the accomplishment of the desired object. The coast being clear of all breakers, the elated lover painted his face in exact conformity to the latest and most approved style, donned his best suit, and sought the home of his betrothed with fluttering heart, who, strictly on the lookout, met him a few rods from the door, and proudly and heroically escorted him into the house where they, themselves, in the presence of friends and relatives, performed the marriage ceremony by the man presenting the woman with a ham of venison; or a part of some other eatable animal of the chase; she at the same time presenting him with an ear of corn, or sack of potatoes, all of which betokened the man should pro vide the household with meat, and the woman with bread. Thus they were made man and wife, and so considered by all.


The Chickasaws, as the entire human race in all ages past, indulged in that time-honored amusement, the dance. Their ancient national dances were the same as the Choctaws; Hoyopa-hihla (war-dance); Hakshup-hihla, (scalp-dance); Tolih-hihla, (ball-play dance); Tanschusi-hihla (green corn dance); Yunnushhihla, (buffalo dance.) Then followed the social or fun-making dances, such as Akanka-hihla, (chicken dance); Issuba-hihla, (horse dance); Shut-tun-nih-hih-la (tick-dance); all of which excelled, in purity of sentiment, many of the civilized exotics, adopted by us, in this refined age of Christian progress, such as the “round-dance,” etc., if all be true that is stated about them by those who still retain some idea of decency and respect for its just claims. But I judge only from hearsay, never having witnessed the heart-refining and soul-elevating performances.

In a few only of their social dances, all of which were performed in the open air, men and woman participated together. Rarely more than one musician at a time engage in that department of the entertainment, whose music was of that quality which soon satisfied the ear of even the most fastidious; he sat sometimes on a block of wood, and some times on his mother earth, upon whose non-chiding bosom the dancers also as recklessly “tipped the fantastic toe,” as he unyieldingly beat a little drum, accompanied its monotonous tones with his voice in a chanting kind of soothing lullaby, to the facinating powers of which the dancers gave joyous heed.

The Chickasaws had two dances sacred to the women alone and in which they only engaged. One was called Itilusahihla (Blackwood dance); the other, Itakhalusahihla (Blackmouth dance), which, no doubt, might justly dispute for rival-ship with their pale-face sisters, when in their partners scientific embrace in the performance of the fashion able “round dance” at least as far as external appearance indicates judging only from “hearsay,” however.

They also had a dance called Tanspichifah (crushed or pounded corn), in which various meats were mixed and cooked, now called Tarns-pe-sho-fah. This dance was only per formed before the door of a house in which lay the sick and only indulged in at the injunction of the alikchi (doctor) who was attending the sick; this ancient dance of the years of the long past is still kept up among the Chickasaws by some of the full bloods.

When a doctor was called in to see a patient if after exerting his skill in the knowledge of the medicinal virtues had known in nature’s pharmacy, newfound his patient gradually growing worse, he ordered a Tanspichifah hihla. At once it was announced by sending messengers throughout the neighborhood, and the appointed day found the friends assembled. Then a straight line was drawn from the centre of the doorway of the house in which the sick was confined, to a smooth and straight pole fifteen or twenty feet in length, gaily decorated, that had been firmly set up eight or ten-rods from the door: Two guards called Tishu, each armed with a long stout switch, were each stationed at the opposite end of the line, whose duty was to prevent anything, man or beast from crossing the mystic line either way. In the meantime a fire was kindled a short distance to one side over which was suspended a large iron vessel filled with pounded corn and meats. The ground having been previously and cleanly swept for a little distance each side of the line from the door to the erected pole, and all things being ready for the dance, the bed upon which the patient rested was drawn into a position in the room fronting the door, to give the patient full view of the merry dancers, see the gaily decorated pole, and hear the tones of the little drum as it responded to the quick and vigorous strokes of the musician;, that thus the thoughts of the sick might be diverted from the depressing influences of the mind dwelling too long upon the malady with which he or she was afflicted. Then the Alikchi brought out two women from the house gaily decorated with ribbons and beads of various colors, and also having thimbles or rattles made of dry luksi hakshup (terrapin shell) attached to their moccasins or the skirts of their dresses, and placed them together on one side of the line, while several men stationed themselves on the opposite side of the line; then the Alikchi returned to his duties in the sick room, the musician started his favorite tune on “his harp of ” less than a thousand strings,” and the dancing commenced; the men confining their exercises strictly to one side of the line, and the two woman to that of the other, each being extremely cautious not to step over its magic bounds. From one to two women only danced at the same time; when wearied they gave place to others to whom were handed the little bells or luksi hakshups taken from their ankles and dresses, which the fresh dancers attached to their persons in like manner as the others had done.

The leader or director of the Tanspichifah was called Tikbahika (going first). The above generally commenced an hour or two before sun down and continued until the shades of twilight began to appear, then gave place to the partaking of refreshments found previously prepared in the iron vessel around which both dancers and spectators gathered in happy merriment and partook (if so inclined) of the Tanspichifah repast. During the, hours devoted to the dance, the doctor, true to his trust, had been attentive to the fluctuating” symptoms of his patient; administering atone time a, decoction of different herbs; at another, performing his mystic ceremonies, among” which was the vigorous rattling of a dry gourd, into which had been placed some pebbles, over the head and around the body of his confiding patient, and squirting from his mouth, at different intervals, a quantity of the decoction upon the exposed breast of his patient. After the refreshments the dancing was resumed, but in the house instead of the yard, where it was kept up until a late hour of the night, all spectators being without; during which the monotonous tinkling and rattling of the thimble bells and terrapin shells, in discordant harmony with the in defeasible little drum, which gave forth its tones in seemingly inexhaustible quantities to the measured blows of the relentless and indefatigable musician, all mingling with the voices of the dancers chanting, E-yih-hah-heh! E-yih-hah-heh was enough, it did seem, to kill or cure; or, at least, to forever put to flight the “Evil Spirit” which the worthy disciple of Esculapius had declared to be present, and baffled his healing skill by counteracting the efficacy of his medicines and mystic ceremonies.

However, if the patient recovered, in spite of all the din produced by the contest between the doctor and the “Evil Spirit” for the victory, the doctor bore off the palm; and his skill was deservedly undisputed, his reputation justly established and the honor of his profession nobly maintained. But if otherwise, and the “Evil Spirit” won the victory by counteracting the virtues of his medicines and mystic ceremonies, causing the death of his patient, the doctor, unwilling still to yield the palm of victory to the “Evil Spirit,” readily, as a worthy guardian of the reputation of his” high calling, found a more honorable cause for his defeat than that by an “Evil Spirit,” and, what was still better, more suitable to the credulity of his patrons even as many of his pale-faced brothers of like profession; therefore, he solemnly and with great gravity announced that his patient had been shot by an Isht-ul-bih (Witch-ball) from an invisible rifle in the hands of an invisible witch which left no visible signs of its mysterious power; but the secret , effects of which were beyond the skill of any and all human doctors, to which his dupes gave-ready assent; and thus the reputation of the invisible and indefeasible power of the hattakyushpakummi (Witch) was confirmed, and the alikchi was enabled to come out of the contest with a reputation unimpaired, to his entire satisfaction, and so the matter ended.

The ancient Chickasaws, like the Choctaws, had their specified cries over the graves of their dead. At the day appointed, the relatives, friends and neighbors assembled and one little group after another took their seats on the ground in a circle around the grave, then drew their shawls, and blankets over their heads and commenced their doleful lamentations, which must be seen and heard to form any just idea of the scene. The “cry” continued for several days and nights, then terminated with a feast; after which the name of the deceased was pronounced no more. The dead are with the past; for them how fruitless our despair was their final and just conclusion.

The Chickasaw mother, as her Choctaw sister, was blessed in one particular amid all her trials. She, too, was exempt from the curse which the Sacred Writings declare was imposed upon parturition; and the necessity of a doctor or midwife on such occasion was unknown. A woman, about to become a mother, retired to some private place alone, and in a few hours returned with her child, and quietly resumed her occupations.

Cushman, Horatio Bardwell. History Of The Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, Texas: Headlight Printing House. 1899

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