Choctaw War Against the Osage and other Legends

There were many traditions among all North American Indians, many of which bordered on the poetical and from which I will select one or two more, which shall suffice as examples of a few of the peculiarities of this peculiar yet interesting people.

Thus says the tradition of “Ohoyo Osh Chisba,” (The Unknown Woman.) In the days of many moons ago, two Choctaw hunters were encamped for the night in the swamps of the bend of the Alabama River. But the scene was not without its romance. Dark, wild, and unlovely as a swamp is generally imagined to be, yet to the musing heart and contemplative spirit, it had its aspects of beauty, if not of brightness, which rose up before the mind as objects of serene delight, i speak from long personal experience. Its mysterious appearance; its little lakes and islands of repose: its silent and solemn solitudes; its green cane-breaks and lofty trees, all combined to present a picture of strange but harmonious combination to which a lover of nature in all its diversified phases could not be wholly insensible. The two hunters having been unsuccessful in the chase on that and the preceding day, found themselves without anything- on that night with which to satisfy the craving’s of hunger except a black hawk which they had shot with an arrow. Sad reflections filled their hearts as they thought of their sad disappointments and of their suffering families at home, while the gloomy future spread over them its dark pall of despondency, all serving to render them unhappy indeed. They cooked the hawk and sat down to partake of their poor and scanty supper, when their attention was drawn from their gloomy forebodings by the low but distinct tones, strange yet soft and plaintive as the melancholy notes of the dove, but produced by what they were wholly unable to even conjecture. At different intervals it broke the deep silence of the early night with its seemingly muffled notes of woe; and as the nearly full orbed moon slowly ascended the eastern sky the strange sounds became more frequent and distinct. With eyes dilated and fluttering heart they looked up and down the river to learn whence the sounds proceeded, but no object except the sandy shores glittering in the moon light greeted their eyes, while the dark waters of the river seemed alone to give response in murmuring tones to the strange notes that continued to float upon the night air from a direction they could not definitely locate; but happening to look behind them in the direction opposite the moon they saw a woman of wonderful beauty standing upon a mound a few rods distant. Like an illuminated shadow, she had suddenly appeared out of the moonlighted forest. She was loosely clad in snow-white raiment, and bore in the folds of her drapery a wreath of fragrant flowers. She beckoned them to approach, while she seemed surrounded by a halo of light that gave to her a supernatural appearance. Their imagination now influenced them to believe her to be the Great Spirit of their nation, and that the flowers she bore were representatives of loved ones who had- passed from earth, to bloom in the Spirit-Land; truly, a beautiful sentiment that touches every heart, for who has not some treasure in that immortal home? Reason as we may, there is something, in describable though it may be, that draws us to the unseen world; and we pine for a word or token from the dear ones who have thither gone. Call it heathenish if you will, a relic of superstition, of the days when every rock, tree and plant were deemed the abode of a deity, but we never gather a flower that we do not feel for the life thus ended. It may be an error clothed with beauty and tenderness, and far more harmless than the theory that thrusts us helpless into life and leaves us to grope our way through it uncared for, then to die unnoticed and forgotten.

The mystery was solved. At once they approached to where she stood, and offered their assistance in any way they could be of service to her. She replied she was very hungry, whereupon one of them ran and brought the roasted hawk and handed it to her. She accepted it with grateful thanks; but, after eating a small portion of it, she handed the remainder back to them replying that she would remember their kindness when she returned to her home in the happy hunting grounds of her father, who was Shilup Chitoh Osh The Great Spirit of the Choctaws. She then told them that when the next mid-summer moon should come they must meet her at the mound upon which she was then standing. She then bade them an affectionate adieu, and was at once borne away upon a gentle breeze and, mysteriously as she came so she disappeared. The two hunters returned to their camp for the night and early next morning sought they homes, but kept the strange incident a profound secret to themselves. When the designated time rolled around the mid-summer full moon found the two hunters at the foot of the mound but Ohoyo Chishba Osh was nowhere to be seen. Then remembering she told them they must come to the very spot where she was then standing, they at once ascended the mound and found it covered with a strange plant, which yielded an excellent food, which was ever afterwards cultivated by the Choctaws, and named by them Tunchi; (Corn).

Somewhat similar to the tradition of the Ohoyo Chishba Osh is that of the Hattak Owa Hushi Osh, (The Man Hunting For The Sun.)

The Choctaws once, a great amount of corn having been made and as a manifestation of their appreciation and, gratification and gratitude to the Great Spirit, their benefactor, held a Great National Council at which their leading prophet spoke at great length upon the beauties of x Nature which contributed so much to their pleasure, and the various productions of the earth and the enjoyment derived there from, attributing much of all to the effects of the sun. That great lighter and heater of the earth came from the east, but whence it went after it had passed behind the western hills, had long been a subject of debate, never satisfactorily determined. Again the mooted question was brought up by the prophet in his speech at the aforesaid council, who, in a strain of wild eloquence, cried out, Is there not a warrior among all my people who will go and find out what becomes of the sun when it departs in the west? ” At once a young warrior, named Oklanowah, (Walking People) arose in the assembly and said: I will go and try to find where the sun sleeps, though I may never return.” He soon took his departure on his dubious errand leaving behind him one sad heart at least, to whom he gave a belt of wampum as a token of remembrance.

But after an absence of many years he returned to the home of his nativity, only to find himself an entire stranger among his people. After many days search, however, he found one in the person of an aged and decrepit woman, who remembered the circumstances connected with the young hunter who had gone many years before on his adventurous exploit to find the sleeping place of the sun; and though he was satisfied that she was his identical betrothed the loved one of his youth oft spoke with the deepest affection of her long lost Oklanowa, yet no arguments could induce her to acknowledge the old man before her as her lover of the past. The unfortunate and forlorn Hattak Owa Hushi Osh spent his few remaining days in narrating his adventures to his people, the vast prairies and high mountains he had crossed; the strange men and animals he had seen; and, above all, that the sleeping place of the sun was in a big, blue water. Still after hearing all this, the old woman, more incredulous than “doubting Thomas” of Biblical fame, refused to believe, but secluded herself in her lonely cabin, and alone occupied the sad hours of the days and years that came and went in counting the wampum in her belt, the sacred memento of her Oklanowah loved, but lost; lost, yet loved. -Spring- return ed, but ere the leaves were grown Hattak Owa Hushi Osh died, and was buried near the ancient mound Nunih Waiyah, and ere the moon of the corn planting had come, the old woman also died, and she to was buried at the sacred Nunih Waiyah by the side of her unrecognized yet faithful Oklanowah.

Another specimen of their love legends is exhibited in that of Chahtah Osh Hochifoh Keyu the Nameless Chahtah. In the days of the long past there lived in the Choctaw village Aiasha, (Habitation), the only son of a great war-chief. This son was noted for his wonderful beauty of form and features and manly bearing. The aged men of the Nation predicted, on account of his known and acknowledged bravery; he would become a renowned warrior. But as he had not distinguished himself in. war either by slaying an enemy, taking a prisoner, or striking the dead (a feat ac companied with the greatest danger, as every effort is made by the friends of the fallen warrior to prevent such an insult to the dead), he was not permitted to occupy a seat in the councils of, the tribe, though respected and honored, and his bravery undoubted by all.

According to the custom of the ancient Choctaws, a boy was not given a specific name in childhood unless he merited it by some daring act, and the young warrior, by some un avoidable chain of circumstances, passed through his chrysalis stage of life without having won a reputation according to his youthful ability; therefore went by the general name Chahtah Osh Hochifoh Keyu. The Nameless Chahtah. In the same village of Aiashah, there also lived, according to the legend, the most famous beauty of the tribe, the daughter of a noted warrior and skillful hunter, and the betrothed of Chahtah Osh Hochifo Iksho. Though they often met at the great dances and festivals of the tribe, yet she (whose name the legend does not state) treated him with distant reserve (then the universal custom of the Choctaw girls) though the ardent lover of the nameless hero. Still one cloud cast its gloomy shadow over their happiness; it was the knowledge of the stubborn truth, that the laws of their Nation, as those of the Medes and Persians, were unalterable; and that they could never become husband and wife until he had acquired a name by some daring deed in battle with the enemies of his country. But time slowly rolled away and summer again came with a balmy day followed by its evening twilight, which witnessed the lovers seated together upon the summit of a hill shaded by the foliage of innumerable and immense forest trees. Far below from a distant plain ascended the light and smoke from the fire of a war-dance, around which danced in wild excitement four hundred Choctaw warriors, preparatory to a war-expedition against the Osages, far distant to the west, and that night, was the last night of their preparatory ceremonies. Previous to that night Chahtah Osh Hochifoh Keyu had acted as one of the most conspicuous in the dances engaged in the four previous nights before, but on the last night, had retired from the dance to enjoy a parting interview with his betrothed. There they parted, and ere the morning’s sun again lighted up the eastern horizon, the “sound of revelry by night” had ceased, while silence again resumed her sway over Nature’s vast expanse, and bespoke the four hundred warriors with Chahtah Osh Hochifoh Keyu were many miles upon the war-path that led to the country of the Osages among the headwaters of the Arkansas river.

The hostile land was reached, and soon they discovered a large cave into which they entered, that concealed they might the better arrange their plans for future operations, being then in the enemy’s country. Two scouts, however, were sent out to reconnoiter, one to examine the surroundings east, the other west. The latter was Chahtah Osh Hochifoh Keyu. But alas for human hopes! The evening passed away and night came on bringing one Osage hunter who had oft before sought the cave and found a safe resting place for the night. But as he drew near the cave, his ob servant eyes, ever on the alert, discovered signs, which told him of the presence of others; further examination revealed that they were his nation’s most bitter and unrelenting enemies, the hated Choctaws. Silently he stole away undiscovered by the Choctaws, until safely distant, then sped away through the darkness on nimble feet to his village and told of his discovery; at once a large band of Osage warriors rushed for the cave, and as they drew near gathered up small logs, chunks, limbs and brush with which they silently and effectually closed the mouth of the cave, and to which they applied the torch, and the sleeping Choctaws awoke but to read their inevitable doom all perished. The Choctaw scout who had gone east returned during the night, but ere he reached the cave the flames revealed to him the tale of woe; he approached near enough, however, to comprehend the whole; stood a moment and gazed in mazy bewilderment, then turned and fled for home where he safely arrived and revealed the sad intelligence of the wretched fate of his comrades to their relatives and friends. It was also believed by all that Chahta Osh Hochifoh Keyu had been discovered and had also been slain. The sad tidings fell heavily upon all and the wail of woe was heard in many a village and cabin; but upon one it fell with terrible weight; and the promised wife of “The Nameless Choctaw” at once began to droop and soon withered away as a rose severed from the parent stem; and ere another moon had passed away she was laid away in a grave upon the very spot (by her request) where she had last shared the parting embrace with her adored Chahtah Osh Hochifoh Keyu, upon whose tombstone, had one been erected to her memory, could justly have borne the epitaph “A broken heart.”

But the supposition that he too had been slain proved untrue. Though he had been discovered by the Osages and vigorously pursued for several days and nights, he finally was fortunate enough to escape. During the chase his flight had been devious, and when he had gotten beyond the danger of further pursuit by his fearful foes, he found himself to be a bewildered man, wretched and forlorn. Everything appeared wrong, and even the sun appeared to him to rise in the wrong direction, all nature was out of order. After several days of dubious wanderings, hither and thither, he knew not where, he came to the foot of a mountain, whose sides were covered with a kind of grass entirely different from anything he had ever seen before. Then, in the course of his wanderings, he strayed, at the close of another day, into a lovely wooded valley, where he camped for the night, kindled a fire and cooked a rabbit he had killed, of which he made his supper, and then sought temporary forgetfulness of his woes in sleep, Morning again dawned, but to awake him to a stronger sensibility of his loneliness and wanderings he knew not where. Many moons came and passed away and left him a lost wanderer. Summer came, and he called upon the Great Spirit to make his paths straight, that they might lead him out of bewilderment. He then hunted for a spotted deer, found and killed one, and offered it a sacrifice to the Great Spirit, after reserving a small portion to satisfy his own immediate wants. Night again came on and as he sat by his little campfire in lonely solitude, he heard the near approach of footsteps in an adjoining thicket, but before he could take a second thought, a snow-white wolf of immense size was crouching at his feet, and licking his moccasins with the utmost manifestations of affection. Then looking him in the face said: “Whence came you, and why are you alone in this wilderness?” To which Chohtah Osh Hochifoh Keyu gave a full account of his misfortunes. The wolf then promised to lead him safely out of the wilderness in which he had been, so long wandering and return him to his country, and they started early on the following morning.

Long was the journey, and dangerous the route; but by the time that the corn-hoeing moon came the forlorn wanderer entered once more his native village, the anniversary of the day he had bidden his betrothed adieu; but alas, only to find his village in mourning for her premature death. Alas too, so changed was he, that none recognized in the way worn stranger the lost Chatah Osh Hochifoh Keyu; nor did he make himself known. Often, however, did he solicit them to rehearse to him the account of her death; and oft he chanted his wild songs, to the astonishment of all, to the memory of his loved one, dead yet loved, loved yet dead. During his frequent nightly visits to her lonely grave upon the hill which had witnessed their last parting, he once came on a calm, cloudless night t’was his last and stood by the grave that held his dead at a moment when the Great Spirit cast a shadow up in the moon, then fell upon it and died. They found him there, and then was he recognized as the long lost Chatah Osh Hochifoh Keyu, and there buried by the side of his earthly idol. For three consecutive nights the silence of the forests contiguous to the lovers graves was broken by the continual wailing howl of a solitary wolf, then it ceased and was heard no more; but the same wail was taken up by the pine forest upon the hill where the lovers parted in hope, but there to be buried in despair, and that mournful, wailing sound they have continued from that day dawn to the present time.

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

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