Choctaw Duels

The duelist, according to the white man’s code of honor, was regarded by the Choctaws with utmost contempt, the fool above all fools; and in this, manifesting much better sense than the white man with all his boasted idea of honor. That a man would stand up openly before his enemy to be shot at with the opportunity of getting an open shot at him, was a code of honor beyond their comprehension, a piece of nonsense in the indulgence of which a Choctaw could not be guilty.

I did once hear, however, of a young Choctaw warrior accepting a challenge from a white man in their nation east of the Mississippi River. A white man, who had been living in one of their, villages for several months, taking offense at something a young warrior had done, and well-knowing the repugnance with which the Choctaws regarded the white man’s code of honor, thought it a proper time to impress them with the belief that he was very brave, since he had but little to fear that he would be called upon to put it to the test; therefore, gave him a verbal challenge, in the presence of many other Choctaw warriors, to fight him a duel according to the white man s code; and to impress upon the minds of the by-standers that where there was so much bravery, there must be a proportional amount of honor, the heroic challenger informed the young Choctaw that, as he was the challenged party, the white man s code of honor nobly awarded to him the choice of weapons, time and place. To all of which the young Choctaw listened in meditative silence. All eyes were turned upon him expecting a negative reply; none more so than the “brave” pale-face. At that moment he sprang to his feet and with a nimble bound placed him self directly before the face, and within a few feet of his challenger, and, with his piercing eyes upon, said in broken English, “You say, me hab choice of weapon, time, and place, too?” “Yes,” responded the now dubious white brave; then looking around upon all with a determined eye, to the astonishment of all, the challenger by no means excepted, exclaimed in a calm tone of voice: “Pale-face, me fight you tomarler wid rifle.” Then turning to one of the by-standers he said: “You take him” (pointing to his challenger) “tomarler, sun so high,” (pointing to the east) one mile dis way, put him behind tree, den you come back.” Then turning to another, continued: “You take me tomarler, sun same so high” (again pointing to the east) “one mile dis udder way, put me behind tree, too, den you come back.” Then turning his penetrating black eyes fully upon the then astonished “man of honor,” and looking him straight in the eyes, said: “Pale face, you hunt me tomarler, and me hunt you tomarler; you see me first, den you shoot me first; me see you first, den me shoot you first.” The pale-face warrior, quickly concluding that prudence then and there was evidently the better part of valor, wisely declined the honor with all the prospective pleasure of the morrow s hunt; to the great amusement of the Choctaws, who by their continued tantalizing, soon drove the would be duel list from their territory.

Upon this subject, I here quote the following from the pen of Rev. Israel Folsom, a Choctaw, with whom I was personally acquainted, east of the Mississippi River, and kindly furnished me by his amiable daughter, Czarena, now Mrs. Robb, a noble Christian lady living in Atoka I. T. (from Ai-a-tuk-ko, a protection or shield.)

“They had duels too; but they were quite different from any that has been practiced by any of the Indians of the continent or the whites; and which most commonly proved fatal to both parties. When a quarrel or difficulty occurred between two warriors, a challenge was sent by one to the other; not to meet and take a pop at each other with pistols, as is the case in civilized and refined Nations, but in reality, it was a challenge for both to die. It was understood in no other way; this was the mode of trying the man s bravery, for they believe that a brave man, who possesses an honest and sincere heart, would never be afraid to die: It was usual for each one to select his own friend to dispatch him. If one should back out from the challenge, they considered it as a great mark of cowardice and dishonesty in him, and he would be despised by his relations and friends, and by the whole tribe. If a challenge was given and accepted, it was certain to end in the death of both parties; this mode of deciding difficulties had a strong tendency to restrain men from quarreling and fighting among themselves, for fear of being challenged and consequently compelled to die, or forever be branded with dishonesty and cowardice, and afterwards live a life of degradation and disgrace. Hence, it was a common saying among them that a man should never quarrel, unless he was willing to be challenged and to die. On one occasion a sister seeing her brother about to back out from a chalstepped forward and boldly offered herself to die in his stead, but her offer was not accepted, and she was so mortified at her brother s want of courage that she burst into tears.”

Thus they fought the duel: When one Choctaw challenged another the challenge was given verbally, face-to-face, the time and place then and there designated. If accepted (and it was almost certain to be) the two went to the place each with his second. The two combatants then took their places unarmed about twenty feet apart, each with a second at his right side with a rifle in hand. At a given signal each second shot the combatant standing before him. That closed the scene. Each had proven himself a Tush-ka Siah; (warrior I am) and that was satisfactory to all.

To have it said, “he died bravely,” was the highest ambition of the Choctaw warrior, and thus it is even to the present day. He regards death as merely transmigration to the happy hunting ground, to which many of his friends had already gone. His rifle, so long his boon companion and trusty friend, together with his tomahawk, knife and tobacco, he only required to be deposited in the grave by his side as all the requisites necessary for him, when he arrived at the land of abundant game to resume the sports of the chase; frequently a little corn and venison were also placed in the grave, by the hand of maternal fore-sight and love, that her warrior boy might not hunger during his long journey.


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

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