Choctaw Warpath & Dress

There were many natural orators among the ancient Choctaws when living in undisturbed prosperity and happiness east of the Mississippi River. Their orations were very concise, animating and abounding in many beautiful metaphors; and who, had they possessed the embellishments of a refined education, would have compared well with any race of mankind that ever existed.

The Choctaws, like all their race, deliberated with great dignity and solemnity on national affairs; and in all their assemblies, both, national and social, everything was carried on in the best order and unassumed decorum. Their treaties were ratified by smoking the pipe of peace an emblem respected, honored, and held sacred by all Indians every where. As with all their race, so war was, in the estimation of the ancient Choctaws, the most patriotic avocation in which a man could engage; they seldom began a war with another tribe, but rather waited for an attack, then no braver or more resolute warriors ever went upon the war-path. The opening of hostilities was always preceded by the famous Hoyopa-hihla, War dance. Night was the chosen time for engaging in that time honored ceremony; and as soon as evening began to spread her dark mantle over their forests, a huge pile of dry logs and brush previously prepared was set on fire, whose glaring and crackling flames intermingling with their hoyopa-taloah (war-songs) and soul-stirring hoyopa-tassuhah (war-hoops) presented a scene as wild and romantic as can possibly be imagined.

The manly forms of the dusky warriors with their painted faces illuminated with the wildest excitement; the huge fire blazing and crackling in the centre of the Wide extended circle of excited dancers, which, now and then, a kick from a dancing warrior, caused to send the flames and sparks high up among the wide extended branches of the mighty forest trees that stood around; the stern visages of the old warriors, whom age and decrepitude had long since placed upon the retired list from further duty upon the war-path or in the chase, sitting around in little groups where the light of the burning log heap disputed precedence with the gloom of night,, calm and silent spectators of the weird scene in which they could no longer participate, but which awakened thrilling memories of the past; the Goddess Minerva’s favorite birds, allured from their dark abode in the forest by the glaring light, flitted here and there overhead through the extended branches of the overshadowing oaks, and anon joined in with their voices, to which in wild response, the distant howl of a pack of roving wolves filled up the measure of the awe inspiring scene. But those who have witnessed it will not be easily satisfied with any vain attempt to depict it on paper; and those who have not hardly have their anticipations realized by anything- short of the opportunity of judging for themselves. Therefore, have I contented myself with giving a mere outline of my own impressions; for he who would attempt to picture a Choctaw Hoyopa hihla, as it was exhibited seventy years ago in the midnight solitudes of a Mississippi forest, would have to aim at condensation and exaggeration and yet expect failure in both; for adjectives would only confuse and sentences but veil the scene; besides any description that could be made would not express the thousandth part of what ought to be said, and if but a weak picture was drawn, even then it would be called the wild hallucinations of a disordered brain. But that the reader may be able to form a faint idea of the scene, I know of nothing more appropriate, (judging from what I have read and also been told by eye witnesses) to which it ma} be compared, than a Chicago political convention of the present age, with this exception however; the yells of the Indian squaws were not heard intermingling with the war-whoops of the forest warriors in wild cadences of the war-dance, as the yells of the white squaws are heard mingling with the political whoops of the white warriors in the crazed scenes of the conventional dance.

On the return of a successful warpath, the village at once became the scene of festivity and triumph. The varied trophies scalps, painted shields, etc., were hung on poles near the houses. Then followed war-feasts, scalp dances, accompanied with war-songs and shouts of victory, while the old men went from house to house rehearsing in a loud tone of voice the events of the battle and the various daring exploits of the warriors. But, amid all this, sounds of another kind were also heard mingling in discordant tones with those of joy; they were the piteous wailings of the women borne upon the air from the surrounding hills, where they had retired to mourn in darkness and solitude for their slain in battle. There the mother, wife and sister gave full sway to the anguish of their hearts; reminding the intelligent hearer o that affecting passage of Scripture, “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they were not.”

As all nations of the human family, so the Choctaws of both sexes delighted in ornaments. Though the Choctaw warrior, in his training for the duties of manhood, inured himself to fatigue and privation, and in defense of his country and home, and resenting an insult, was as brave as bravery itself; yet he was fond of admiring himself before a mirror when arrayed in the paraphernalia of Choctaw fashion; i. e. a red turban, highly decorated with the gay plumage of various kinds of birds encircling his head; with face painted accord to Choctaw etiquette; with crescents of highly polished tin suspended from his neck and extending in regular order from the chin to the waist; with shining bracelets of the same metal encircling his wrists and arms above the elbows; with a broad belt around his waist, tastily interwoven with innumerable little beads of every gay and flashing color; with feet encased in moccasins soft and pliant, and highly decorated with little beads of sparkling hue did the young Choctaw warrior walk forth among the admiring beauties of his tribe as much the personification of a modern, first-class, white dude, complete and perfect, as ever contested for the honor of superiority in the “laudable” occupation;, yielding the palm of victor to his pale-face brother disputant, only in the “gift of continuance; since the Choctaw, after indulging in momentary paroxysms of self-admiration, turned from his mirror, doffed his effeminate plumage to soon forget what manner of man he appeared, since the thought of his noble aspirations and strivings returned to excel as a warrior and counselor in his nation, but leaving his pale-face opponent master of the field to live and die contented and happy in his imbecility.

The Choctaws were strong in their belief in the existence of hat-tak holth-kun-a (witches); even as our own “enlightened” ancestors in the days of Cotton Mather differing, however, in this particular; the Choctaws selected old and decrepit women as victims of their superstitions, while their white brothers, whose boasted civilization had rendered a little more fastidious, manifested their superiority in intellectual attainments over the Indians, by selecting the young as the victims of their wild theories. But ghosts and witches have long since been to the Choctaws as things of the forgotten past.

The restless and fertile imagination of the Choctaws, as well as their entire race, peopled with beings of a higher order than themselves the mountains, plains, woods, lakes, fountains and streams. But in regard to the origin of man, the one generally accepted among the Choctaws, as well as many other tribes was that man and all other forms of life had originated from the common mother earth through the agency of the Great Spirit; but believed that the, human race sprang from many different primeval pairs created by the Great Spirit in the various parts of the earth in which man was found; and according to the different natural features of the world in which man abode, so their views varied with regard to the substance of which man was created; in a country of vast forests, they believed the primeval pair, or pairs, sprang from the trees; in a mountainous and rocky district of country, they sprang from the rocks; in valleys and prairies, from the earth; but their views as to the time this creation of man took place, whether at the same time throughout the various inhabited regions or at different periods, their traditions are silent.



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

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