Choctaw’s Endurance & Music

That the fore-fathers of the present Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees and Muscogees migrated ages ago from Mexico to their ancient abodes east of the Mississippi River there can be scarcely a doubt; and that they were a branch of the Aztecs there is much in their ancient traditions and legends upon which to predicate, at least, a reasonable sup position, if not a belief. The Aztecs are regarded by some as the first of the human race that came to the North American continent, and by others as one of the oldest races of the human family upon earth, whose records and traditions point back to those of the books of Genesis and Jo. Though the historical legends of the above named tribes do not divide the ages past of their race into four epochs as the Aztecs, as Gam Dom Yasco Da, the Portuguese mariner and discoverer of the maritime route to India near the close of the 14th century, asserts; and the first of which terminated in a destruction of the people of the world by famine, the second by wind, the third by fire, and the fourth by water, (very similar to the traditions and legends of the Hindoos), yet they do point back to many historical facts of the Christian’s Bible, which have been handed down by tradition through ages and point to great and important events of the long past, equally showing that their race, as well as the Aztecs, are among the oldest of the human race, and also among the first that came to the North American continent. These legends, traditions and parts of histories point back to pestilences, plagues and cataclysms preceded by long periods of darkness, then dense clouds followed by the return of light to the earth, during which the human race was nearly exterminated, which are fully sustained by the geologists of the present clay, who affirm that there has been an age of thick clouds and of floods, snows and glacier ice.

The Choctaws endurance of pain even to excruciating torture and to him the true exponent of every manly virtue, was equal to that of any of his race and truly astonishing to behold; and he who could endure the severest torture with the least outward manifestation of suffering, was regarded by his companions as most worthy of admiration and adulatory praise, the bravest of the brave. No race of the human family, of which I have read or heard, ever endured torture, without a murmur, groaner sigh, as did the North American Indians when inflicted by an enemy to elicit a groan or sigh to them a manifestation of disgraceful weakness; therefore, both men and women, endured the fire at the stake, or to be cut to pieces by piece-meal, without any manifestation of pain whatever; but derided their tormentors and mocked at their efforts to force even a groan from their victim. Of all the animals of their forests, there were but two that no torture could force from them a manifestation of pain the wolf and the opossum:

Even the little Choctaw boys took delight in testing the degrees of their manhood by various ways of inflicting pain. I have often seen the little fellows stir up the nests of yellow jackets, bumble-bees, hornets and wasps, and then stand over the nests of the enraged insects which soon literally covered them, and fight them with a switch in each hand; and he who stood and fought longest without flinching fore shadowed the future man was worthy the appellation of Mighty Warrior. But the business ends of the hornets,, bees and wasps, noted for their dispatch in all matters of this kind, universally effected a hasty retreat of the intruder upon their domiciles, sooner or later much to the delight of his youthful companions and acknowledged by an explosion of yells and roars of laughter. But the discomfited embryo warrior consoled himself by daring any one of his merry making companions to “brave the lion in his den,” as he had and endure longer than he did the combined attacks of the valiant little enemy. The challenge was most sure to be accepted, but invariably with the same result, a retreat at the expense of a hearty laugh. From one to three minutes was the average length of a battle, the insects holding the field invariably. I have also seen them place a hot coal of fire on the back of the hand, wrist and arm, and let it burn for many seconds bearing it with calm composure and without the least manifestation of pain; thus practicing those first lessons of endurance which were to enable them, when arrived to manhood, to undergo the most dreadful tortures without manifestation of pain, or experience the deepest sorrow without the slightest emotion. Verily, who can offer a better claim than the North American Indian to the title, “The stoic of the woods the man without a tear?” As a race of people, they have exhibited a power of enduring the severest torture of which it is possible to conceive without a murmur, without a groan, or even the movement of a muscle; in this differing from all Nations of people that have ever been known to exist. A few years ago, in the Sherman and Sheridan’s wars of exterminating the unfortunate and help less western Indians, it is stated that, during a fight with some white men who had made an attack upon an Indian village of a western tribe, an Indian mother concealed her little daughter a mere child in a barrel, telling her to remain perfectly quiet no matter what should take place. After the battle the soldiers found the little girl with her arm fearfully shattered by a Minnie ball, but the little sufferer had not uttered a word. Was there ever recorded of any other Nation of people such manifestations of heroic fortitude?

Patience was also considered among the Choctaws a bright and manly virtue and in connection with that of endurance, formed the basis from which they derived all the other qualities of their characters; and they estimated their success, both in war and hunting, as depending almost exclusively upon their unwearied patience and the ability of great and long endurance.

The ancient Choctaws were as susceptible to all the pleasing emotions produced by the sweet concords of sound as any other people, yet their musical genius, in the invention of musical instruments, never extended beyond that of a cane flute and a small drum, which was constructed from a section cut from a small hollow tree, over the hollow part of which was stretched a fresh deer skin, cleansed from the hair, which became very tight when dried; and when struck by a stick made a dull sound, little inferior to that of our common snare-drum; which could be heard at a considerable distance; and though uncouth in appearance, and inharmonic in tone, as all drums, still its “voice” was considered an indispensable adjunct as an accompaniment to all their national and religious ceremonies; even as the ear-splitting discords of the civilized snare or kettle-drum, united with the deafening roar of the base drum are considered by the white man as indispensable in all his displays of harmony. Yet the ancient Choctaw, in all his solemn ceremonies, as well as amusements and merry-makings, did not depend so much upon the jarring tones of the diminutive drum, as he did upon his own voice; which in concert with the monotonous tones of the drum, to the cultivated and sensitive ear a mere jargon of sound, was to the Indian ear the most ex citing music, and soon wrought him to the highest state of excitement. In all their dances they invariably danced to the sound of the indispensable drum, accompanied with the low hum of the drummer, keeping exact step with its monotonous tone. In the social dance alone were the women permitted to participate, which to the youthful maiden of “sweet sixteen,” was truly the ultimatum of earthly bliss.

But little restraint, parental or otherwise, was placed upon their children; hence they indulged in any and all amusements their fancy might suggest. The boys in little bands roamed from village to village at their own pleasure, or strolled through the woods with their blow-guns and bow and arrows, trying their skill upon all birds and squirrels that were so unfortunate as to come in their way. They were but little acquainted with the principles of right and wrong, having only as their models the daring deeds of their fathers in war and the chase, they only yearned for the time when they might emulate them in heroic achievements; and one would very naturally infer that these boys, ignorant of all restraint from youth to manhood, would have been, when arrived to manhood, a set of desperadoes, indulging in every vice and committing every crime. But not so. No race of young people ever grew up to manhood in any nation who were of a more quiet nature and peaceful dispositions than the youths of the old Mississippi Choctaws. They seldom quarreled among themselves even in boyhood, and less, when arrived to the state of manhood. To them in youth as well as in advanced years, as to all of their race, the dearest of all their earthly possessions from childhood to manhood, from manhood to old age, and from old age to the grave, was their entire and unrestrained freedom; and though untrammeled by mortal restraint, yet there seemed to exist in their own breasts a restraining influence, a counteracting power, that checked the ungoverned passions of their uncultivated natures through life, and kept them more within the bounds of prudence and reason, than any race of uneducated people I ever knew.

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

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