Holmes Colbert

Chickasaw Religion

The ancient Chickasaws, unlike their kindred, the Choctaws, entertained no superstitious views in regard to the eclipse of the sun or moon; regarding it as a phenomenon inexplicable, and to be the height of folly to be alarmed and worried over that which they had no control a sensible conclusion indeed. They called an eclipse, either of sun or moon, hushi luma (sun hidden). Sometimes a total eclipse of the sun was termed hushi illi (dead sun), and sometimes hushi kunia (lost sun). They called the moon hushi ninak aya (the sun of the night).

The traditions of the Chickasaws are silent in regard to the flood; at least nothing has been preserved upon that subject rather strange! Since the Choctaws, to whom they were so closely allied by consanguinity, and the Cherokees, Muskogee’s, Shawnees and many other tribes spoke of it in their traditions.

Pakitakohlih (hanging grapes), from which the present town Pontotoc, Mississippi, derived its name, was a town known to the French, in the days of Bienville, by the name Chikasahha; and afterwards to the English as “Chickasaw Old Town”; then to the Americans as “The Chickasaw Old Fields”; and was, according to Chickasaw tradition (no doubt correct) the same “Old Town” in which De Soto wintered with his army in 1540, and over whose heads the Chickasaws burned to expel him from their territories, after his insolent and unjust demand; but which they afterwards rebuilt. The venerable “Old Town” was known to the Spaniards at an early day by the name Chicaco; and truly no spot of ground in the Southern States has deservingly greater military fame than “Old Chicaco.” This ancient town of the Chickasaws was located, in the years of the far back, upon the banks of a little stream to which they also gave the name Pakitakohlih, on account of the profusion of wild grapes that hung in tempting clusters upon its shady banks; and though nothing now remains to tell where the ancient “Chicaco” once stood, and “Ilium Fuit” is all that is remembered of its eventful history, still Pakitakohlih continues its gentle meanderings by the perished city of the dead, as the only imperishable monument of Chickasaw patriotism, gently murmuring its lowly requiem to its departed shades, while the winged harmonist of the South (hushi bulbaha mocking bird) is still seen lingering around the scene caroling its orchestral hymns of nature that once waked the dark-eyed Chickasaw maiden to inhale the morning air laden with the sweet perfumes of a world of flowers, and cheered the early hunter as he started on the dubious chase.

Holmes Colbert
Holmes Colbert, A Chickasaw Native American, helped write the Chickasaw constitution

But where are they, the once numerous, free and happy Chickasaws, who, in the years gone by, stood alone and maintained their independence eighteen years against the combined efforts of the French and their Indian allies to carry out their nefarious designs, “Extermination to the Chickasaw Nation,” but were defeated and driven back as oft as they put their hostile feet upon Chickasaw soil? They too, with their chivalry and glory, have passed away leaving no trace behind them, except in the little handful that still survives, yet retaining to the last the same chivalrous un yielding, and unconquerable spirit of their noble ancestors two centuries ago; and though

“No storied urn, no sculptured stone,
No marble record of their fame
Tells of their deeds; but not unknown,
Have passed away without a name
Those heroes bold, for every stream
That murmurs by, with scarce a motion,
Like the sweet memory of a dream,
Bears a soft Indian name to ocean,

As to the Choctaws two years before, so to the Chickasaws, places of rendezvous were appointed in different localities at which they were commanded to congregate, preparatory to their being driven off; and, like flocks of sheep for the slaughter, they were herded together in little groups under the guidance of their respective chiefs, who, one after another, moved off with his little band towards the setting sun, cruelly banished from their ancient homes, and with out the shadow of a just or reasonable cause. Here was seen a disconsolate mother calling- her unconscious children from their childish and joyous gambols beneath the forest oaks to fall into ranks with a starting group; then, as she took her place in file, turned her face again and again to take one more long lingering look upon the loved scenes of her youth and advanced years; while the loud laugh of the white teamsters, who accompanied them, at some rough remark made by some one of their number when driving by, jarred like a discord in some mournful tune upon that mother s heart, but aroused her not from her reveries.

How true it is that often the heaviest burdens of life are those at which the world laughs, but of which the over weighted heart cannot and will not speak! There are some misfortunes some sorrows that dwarf all others; and such indeed were those of the Chickasaws when defrauded of their ancient homes, and bade depart, they knew not where. They saw only merciless force behind them, and blind chance before them; which, like that in nature, smites with the tornado the lonely forest or the peopled country. They had the courage to rush to arms against the wrong and in defense of their rights, but knew too well how futile would be their effort; yet they felt like they would rather even make the effort to push back an avalanche than cower before it. But alas, the dark shadows of an evil future never before had spread over them as now; but it seemed they were coming nearer and nearer, closing in, remorseless and relent less, stealing upon them like vindictive, unpitying foes. It was indeed a time of sad, yet cherished memories with them a memory, cherished with love and honor, still only a memory. Truly, where else is there so human, so enthralling grief that so wrings the spectator s heart!

There, too, was seen the brave warrior and fearless hunter, as he turned away from his hunting grounds with its many objects sacred to memory and dear to his heart, taking his place in front of his family circle; and as they bade their final adieu to the graves of their ancestors, their homes and native land, inherited from a long line of noble ancestry, they moved off in silence with not an eye moistened with a tear, nor emotion depicted on a countenance. And though it belongs to the Indian s nature to conceal his emotions of grief, and he refrains from tears, yet none feel more deeply or are subject to more intense agony of soul, or possess deeper affection of heart than the North American Indian. I speak from personal knowledge gained from personal acquaintance and association during a life of over seventy-five years with the Choctaws and Chickasaws; and what is said of them may be said with equal truth of the entire North American Indian race.

The Indians emotions may well and justly be compared to the hidden fires in the deep caverns of the volcano, whose existence is not known till the fiery torrent breaks its bounds and the consuming streams of lava roll over cities, towns and villages.

In all that assembled throng, where noble forms and fearless hearts sat erect and silent, with stern faces and tearless eyes, there was not a single Chickasaw, man or woman, who would not have accepted death in any form, or to endure in any degree even that of burning at the stake (a bold assertion, yet I make it in confidence of its truth) if by such a sacrifice or suffering he or she could have rescued the country of their inheritance and the home of their nativity from the grasp of the White Race and given it as a sure possession to their people. Let blissful ignorance smile with incredulity, and conceited prejudice sneer, since nothing more nor less can be expected of such.

And I know also that they would have resisted to the last warrior, the arbitrary power that drove them from their ancient possession had but a ray of hope promised success. But there was none, not even a feeble glimmering; therefore they bowed submissively to the decree of the Great Spirit (as they affirmed) and turned from the land dearer than life to go to that which they had never seen and did not love; and the grand old forest, as they left it with robes of green and autumnal vesture of beauty and myriads of game which nature had reared and fed for the benefit of her forest children, soon also melted away before the white mans love of destruction of all that is public, as dry stubble before the fire, all Chickasaws, forests and game disappeared, to be seen no more.

But did they leave behind them the religion of the World’s Redeemer as taught them by the faithful missionaries? Not at all. They took it with them as their most sacred treasure, and worshipped the God of their salvation under the canopies of the forest oaks in the wilderness of their new homes for a few years. Then arose, here and there, amid the forests along cabin church and a school-house, over which waved the defying flags bearing the motto, Onward, and upward, with undeviating faith and un wearied patience from this dark and shadowy vale of doubt and fear to that blissful immortality whence comes the Eternal Truth.

Next, in regular succession, comes a sufficiency of commodious and comfortable churches and schoolhouses; and 1861 found them a thoroughly civilized, Christianized, prosperous, contented and happy people. Then came our civil war, into which we dragged them, vi et armis, and out of which we sent them, stripped of everything. Yet, Phoenix likes, again they arose from the ashes of desolation and stood once more as a people whose indomitable resolution is unsurpassed in the annals of mankind.

But still not satisfied, we again have entered their little garden of contentment, with the determination, this time, to divide their lands in severalty as the introductory wedge to the destruction of their nationality and our immediate possession of their country, hurling them headlong, without chart or compass, sail or rudder, to shift for themselves among a race who possess but one characteristic “get money,” and but one belief “no good Indian but a dead Indian.”

Bienville, De Soto,

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

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