Choctaw and Chickasaw War Preparations

It was a general custom among all the southern Indians, and no doubt of the northern Indians also, when they believed a just cause of war against another tribe had presented itself, to pursue a certain preliminary course, though similar to a great extent, yet must be regarded as having its origin in a custom which became the law of Nations. In all such cases the old men of the Nation constituted the council of war, who deliberated with great gravity and solemnity upon a question involving such momentous and dubious results. But in all their deliberations, whether issues of the highest or lowest importance were at stake, the one speaking was never interrupted under any circumstance; and even in social conversation but one talked while the others listened in profound silence and with strict attention. This was a universal characteristic among all southern Indians, which I have learned by personal observation among the Chickasaws and Choctaws during a life of over seventy-five years, and also by reliable information from others who-lived for many years among other tribes; and it was difficult for them to reconcile the chattering of the whites in their social gatherings with their ideas of propriety and good sense, when hearing them all talking at the same time, to them apparently without a listener.

DuPratz, in 1716, when speaking of this noble characteristic of the southern Indians, says he had often noticed the smile that played upon the lips of the Natchez Indians, on many occasions, and had asked them the reason, but in variably received the same reply “What is it to you? Finally one, after frequent solicitations, answered: “If we smile when we see you talking together it is because you re mind us of a flock of cackling geese.” Verily, Mr. Natchez, if you could attend a modern “social,” fully” understanding the English language, your sense of justice and honor would compel you to make humble acknowledgments to every goose you met, for the insult offered (though inadvertently) to her race in illustrating the senseless chattering of a “social” by the significant language of her illustrious family in loving association assembled.

But to return to the council of war. If, after due deliberation, they concluded that their Nation had been wronged to such a degree as to justify their action, an embassy was immediately sent to seek redress! If granted, the “Pipe of Peace” was then smoked and a renewal of friendship established.

The “Pipe of Peace,” which was tastefully decorated with a profusion of fanciful ornaments, the white feathers-of the eagle being the most conspicuous, was respected everywhere by the North American Indians, and the bearers of that sacred emblem were always safe in going and returning under any and all circumstances.

But if satisfactory explanation was refused, the embassy hastily returned home, and the warriors of the Nation at once summoned in council, in which war measures were discussed and adopted during which the “Pipe of War” was smoked; this pipe was similar in shape to the peace-pipe, with the exception that the colors of its ornaments were different, red being the most prominent.

During these preliminaries, the opening tribe not unmindful of the gathering-storm, were also performing their war ceremonies. With some tribes, a declaration of war was made by leaving a hieroglyphic picture near a principal village of the Nation against which war was declared, and executed in such a manner as to be fully comprehended by the challenged who the challengers were. If the challenged did not desire war, an embassy bearing the pipe of peace was immediately sent to the offended Nation with full powers of negotiating for combined peaceful relations between the two nations, which most always terminated successfully.

When preparing for war, the Chickasaws, like their entire race, of which I have read or personally known, painted their faces in such a manner (known only to the North American Indians) as to give the face an expression of fierceness that must be seen to be justly comprehended. A few days before going upon the war-path a day was solemnly appointed for a great feast, consisting of all the varieties of food that could be obtained; but every night previous to the day of the feast those contemplating going upon the war path engaged in the war-dance during the greater part of the nights dressed in all the paraphernalia of Indian warfare. The warriors also came to the prepared feast fully equipped with every necessary appertaining to the warpath, but with no superfluous articles whatever that might have a tendency to impede their actions. Before they partook of the waiting repast some celebrated old chief or noted old warrior, with the war-pipe in his hand, who, from the decrepitude of age, had been placed upon the “retired list” among the seers and prophets of the Nation, delivered a speech to the war-going company, in which he rehearsed his own exploits,, not in the spirit of self-adulation, but as an honest exhortation to them to emulate his deeds of heroic valor; then encouraged them to go in trusting confidence; to be great in manly courage and strong in heart; to be watchful, keen in sight and fleet in foot ; to be attentive in ear and unfailing in endurance; to be cunning as the fox, sleepless as the wolf and agile as the panther; not to be eager beyond prudence ; and when wisdom so dictates, to flee as the swift antelope, as your lives are of great worth to your Nation, and even one life necessarily or unnecessarily sacrificed, will bring sorrow to the hearts of your people. But to the appreciation of which no outward manifestation whatever was made, as an Indian warrior is ever silent upon any and all emotions of his heart, yet the aged orator plainly read its significance in each silent and attentive face, and was satisfied. Then he filled the war-pipe with prepared sumac leaves and tobacco; lighted it; drew a few whiffs, then passed it to the war-chief, the leader of the forth-going war-party, who also drew a few puffs, and from him it went the rounds of the entire party, each in profound silence drawing a whiff or two and then passing it to the next in turn. After this impressive ceremony they turned to the prepared feast and did ample justice thereto; after which, the “war-post,” painted red, was set up, at which the chief of the war-party rushed and struck with his tomahawk with all his strength, as if one of the enemy. Then followed his warriors in regular order, each doing the same.

Then followed again the war-dance, the finale of the war ceremonies, which continued two or three consecutive nights during the intervening days of which their relatives and friends observed a strict fast and engaged in solemn and supplicating prayer to the Great Spirit for their success against their enemies, and their safe return.

The Chickasaws were addicted to one vice, the vice of gambling. They bet on the proper handling and the skillful shuffling of his ball-sticks, the fleetness of his feet, and his power of endurance; while his white brother risked his money on the proper handling and skillful shuffling of his paper cards.

Among the many redeeming traits of the Chickasaws (though they did bet on their ball-plays a custom long lost in the shadows of the dim historic past) there was one that “hides a multitude of sins” it’s their care for and protection of their orphans; and it is the universal testimony of all personally acquainted with the various traits of Indian characteristics, that no race of people, of whose history there is any record, ever excelled the North American Indians in this particular virtue. Never have there been found among the Chickasaws or Choctaw’s homeless and friendless orphan children, thrown out to shift for them, and left “to root pig or die.” I speak from a personal knowledge of seventy-five years and know of what I speak; and I am sustained in the assertion, broad as it may seem, by the united testimony of all the missionaries who labored among them east of the Mississippi river, and some of whom came with them to their present place of abode; and no only does this noble and God-approved virtue belong to the Chickasaws and Choctaws, but also to all North American Indians, and the missionaries among them everywhere have publicly attested its truth. I have seen, time and again, in many families among the Chickasaws and Choctaws from one to four adopted orphan children; and they were adopted, not through mercenary motives the hope of gain but in the true spirit of the word, actuated by the compassion for the fatherless, motherless and homeless, adopted in the full meaning and sense of the word, to be protected, cared for and loved, not to be enslaved for the few dollars and cents that anticipation whispered would be made out of them by adoption. And one might live a lifetime in a family of adopted orphans, and, unless told, he would not even suspect but that all the children were of the same parentage.


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

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