Horation Cushman

History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians

I have sought, found and brought together an amount of information concerning a people that has never before been published; having been born of parents who were missionaries to the Choctaws in 1820, and having been reared among them and intimately acquainted with them during the vicissitudes of a life extending to nearly four score of years. I well know that the Indian race has oft been the subject of the pen, and still continues to be, but only in short details, thus leaving the reader in bewilderment, though historical truths were to be found in abundance among them wherever one turned truths one can never forget; scenes and events which have an imperishable memory.

Then come awhile with me, reader, from what you have hitherto learned about the Native of this continent, to that which may be entirely; new to you no matter how old it may be to others; since you might learn something more of the primitive influences which shaped the career of the North American Indians in their dealings with the White Race from their first acquaintance to the present day; as I have endeavored to present many based upon knowledge acquired by a personal acquaintance with two tribes (closely allied) during a protracted life of many years, seeing and learning the romance and poetry of their natures, a people of interest, moral worth and individuality of character. I know that to all my race, the Indian (comparatively speaking) lives only in the vague memory of the legendary past that period made vivid by the wrongs of the White Race perpetrated upon the Native all a series of struggles terminating in sanguinary executions when no services rendered by the tribe in their vain struggle to be free, availed to save the defeated Chieftain from a felon’s grave; while the feeble remnant that still survives stands as the best commentary of their wrongs, while they despairingly cry kill us also, and thus complete your cruelty by taking our lives as you began with our liberties.”

Horation Cushman
Horation Cushman

Truly, what a sad and melancholy record is there his story; undervalued by the civilized world, though in op position to the declarations of all who knew them, as justice demanded they should be known. Alas, broken hearted for two centuries, yet having their souls pierced and lacerated by the poisonous shafts of unjust defamation and cruel false hood, while they sadly ask in lamentations of woe: “Where is to be the end? Only to hear echoes fearful response, “The grave.” Therefore they seem indifferent now as to what the world is doing around them, since none extend the hand of friendship to them but to defraud; none smile on their dejected faces but to deride; none sympathize with them in their poverty but to mock; and now when you meet them, they neither look to the right nor left, but straight forward walking with slow and measured steps that betoken the thoughts of a helpless and hopeless people hopeless, at least, of all that life may bring them of freedom and prosperity. Few even speak to them in tones of kindness, yet all momentarily stop to gaze on them with wondering stare as if they were cumberers of the ground, though there is still upon their faces of despair a visible touch of lingering chivalry worthy of a better fate.

With many of their illustrious men (long deceased) whom I have brought into this history, I was personally acquainted through the vicissitudes of many years; with others, though not personally, yet I knew their minds and the motives of their actions, and these truly constitute the man. And they were men whose high endowments (nature’s gift) could not be misled into selfish ambition; nor prosperity inflate; nor disappointment depress from holy trust and honor able action known by the veritable touchstone, “Ye shall know a tree by its fruits.” Nor have I sketched a virtue that I have not seen, nor painted a folly from imagination; but have endeavored to be faithful to reality, in all things as touching that peculiar yet noble race of the human family, who sought resignation in all their misfortunes and woes, and found it only in the decrees of the “Great Spirit” who had given to their race so many centuries of uninterrupted bliss, truly a noble people who taught misfortune dignity. They had never left their secluded and quiet homes amid nature’s forest groves to expose themselves to the contaminations of the vices (to them unknown) of the civilized (so-called) world of traffic and trade.

Sequestered from its view, neither its pageants nor its follies had ever reached them there. It was then and there I studied their unsophisticated natures with an enthusiasm, which is the fragrance of the flower that lives after the bloom is withered. Nor am I ashamed to confess my profound admiration of the North American Indian, to whom there was nothing so dear as his freedom unrestrained, which he proved beyond all dispute by fearlessly resisting the hand of tyrannical oppressions from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific, against odds in point of numbers, munitions of war, skill and means, as one to ten thousand, and yielded not until the last warrior had fallen, the last bow broken and his race reduced to absolute poverty, want and woe. Still, though poor and lowly as he seemed to his venal destroyers, yet his whole heart and life were wrapped up in the remembrance of his freedom. He worshipped the thought as his most precious property, the dear treasure of his secret and highest bliss. It was the constant companion of his thoughts the monitor of his actions and the true key to his life.

But alas, when memory now turns to the past of his early life and its unexpected blighting, and raises before his mind every hope connected with it, and his seeming present doom stares him in the face, what can rid him of those successive images that seem to glide around him like mournful apparitions of the long lamented dead, since grief long since has looked up the avenues of complaint, and he stands as one petrified to stone. But how wonderful, amid all their adversities, has been their power to rally and to recover their waning resolution and courage; verily, they oft seemed to experience a kind of determined pleasure in resolutely confronting the worst aspect of their innumerable reverses; yea, in standing in the breech that has long since overthrown their future, and hurling back in defiant despair, “Here we stand, at least an honest and chivalrous people;” but alas, only to seek solitude by retiring within themselves pleading “Jailor, lock the door.” Truly their lives, though not with out their efforts of strong exertion, have been during the last two centuries, and still are, a dream spent in chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy, while they have worn the garb of hope which has diverted their past and present woes by a touch of the wand of imagination and gilded over the future by prospects fairer than were ever realized. But it is impossible to deny and yet not to admire and praise the strong sense of solidity and fraternity which, through all their lives, still unite the members of the same tribe, and the feelings which have not been dimmed by modern changes but still exist as warm and active as ever; yet the White Race has ever looked upon the Red from the Ishmaelitish standpoint, and in all its intercourse, from first to last, began and so continued by treating them as inferior beings, too low in the scale of humanity to be reached by the hand of Christianity and civilization; inveterate and uncompromising enemies to be circumvented and overreached under an exhibition of smiling and artful hypocrisy and base venality unknown to the Red Man and unsurpassed in the annals of the White.

But long since cut loose from their ancient moorings, they have felt for more than a century that they were slowly but surely drifting toward an unknown destiny foreshadowing extermination. What other people that would not have had recourse to war or the suicides rifle? Yet, after despair had usurped the place of hope in longer resistance, they had principle to resist the one, and resolution to combat the other. But they were to tread the lowest paths of sorrow, poverty and humiliating depressions; whose circumstances were too humble to expect redress and whose sufferings (mental and physical) were too great even for pity and whose wrongs, at the hands of inside white intruders and outside defamers, have long since destroyed that strength of mind with which mankind can meet distress; therefore they prepare to suffer in silence rather than openly complain. What else could they do? The world disclaims them. Christianity even seems to have turned its back upon their distress, given them up to spiritual nakedness and hunger, and left them to plead to white wretches whose hearts are stone, or to debauchees who may curse but will not give relief, while every devilish trick is played upon them, and their every action made a fund for eternal ridicule.

Truly, instead of wondering that so little of their true history has been preserved, it is a matter of much greater wonder that so much of truth has escaped the waste of it; two centuries through which they have been dragged from place to place, while all narratives concerning them have been written, with few exceptions, in shameful derogation of their true characters, all exaggerated and still continuing to be exaggerated, evincing a strange love of defamation only to gratify the morbid fondness of their readers for the marvelous, and their own manifested inability to tell the truth; therefore the most absurd and ridiculous falsehoods are fabricated and published about this people and joyfully read and believed by all who are in harmony with their traducers, a truth that remains, in essential points at least, from one end of the scale to the other.

True, the ways of the Indians are not the ways of the civilized world of which they knew nothing; nor were they, being without its ways, versed in its revolting vices, amid their so called love of war and carnage existed but in the imagination of the White Race, one of its beliefs which may be traced hither and thither but never to the propitiation of truth concerning anything about the Red; since, having its origin alone in the impatience of its venality while drifting amid zones of ignorance and prejudice; and when I contemplate such, I am taught to look upon their errors more in sorrow than anger. True the Indians were cruel to their enemies in war, and so are we together with all the nations of earth.

But when I take up the North American Indian who has suffered and represent to myself the struggles he has passed through for centuries past, to defend his just rights and sustain the freedom of his country from exotic vandals, and reflect upon his brief pulsations of joy; the tears of woe; the feebleness of purpose; the scorn of the world that has, with out just reason, no charity for him; the desolation of his souls sanctuary, his freedom buried in the memory of the past; happiness gone; hope fled; I fain would leave his blighted soul with Him from whose hands it came, for how difficult it is to roll away the black and huge stone of prejudice from off the white man’s heart, to whom ignorance is bliss in regard to all Indians; thousands, therefore, hate the Indian because they do not know him and desire not to know him because they hate him.

Truly, the North American Indians constitute as grand a record of human courage, patriotic endurance, and as harrowing a history of human suffering as has ever been told; while their oppressors and destroyers, who have figured in their nefarious designs against them from the alpha to omega as the beau ideal of cruel injustice, are still laboring with a zeal never manifested before to intensify the public feeling against the helpless people, that they may the more effectually accomplish their infamous schemes to rob and plunder them; and whose consciences seem so elastic that, at one time it seems difficult for them to stretch them over a mole hill; at another, with ease, they stretch them over a mountain. Yet the influence, power and grip these characters exert and impress upon the public mind are truths both humiliating and disgraceful, and the strange liberties that are, by our seemingly defective systems of jurisprudence, legally permitted to such plunderers in high x places who have the audacity and impertinence to appeal to law, and misuse its machinery for selfish and covetous purposes, are everywhere illustrated at the expense of the misguided and alike help less and unfortunate Indians, upon whom they have descended in countless thousands as blow flies on a decomposing body, to rob and plunder them of the last acre of their territories. Truly our sensibilities in the light of humanity, and our judgment in the light of truth and justice, are absolutely dead in regard to this people; therefore, thousands have supinely yielded to the false assertions of thieves and robbers, the reverence due to a Divine decree, without any investigation whatever, which has been done in all cases of dealing with Indians from first to last.

Truly it may be written as an epitaph for their history, “unutterably sad, because so disastrously true.” Alas, multiplied thousands today look with horror on the wrongs and sufferings of the feeble and helpless Indians still hovering in our midst, yet are content to hide themselves from their woes; yea, they openly acknowledge their shameful reality yet do nothing to alleviate their condition. They well know of the thousand wrongs continually being heaped upon them, yet only shrug their shoulders and fold their arms in callous acquiescence in that which they falsely and. cowardly declare to be inevitable; while they, at the same time, acknowledge a sense of shame and personal guilt in permitting such infamous cruelty and oppression to be heaped upon that help less race in their midst and under their own eyes, without being actuated to noble efforts to stop it. No wonder the Indians countenance seems prematurely marked by deep furrows, and his long hair waves over his brow on which is fixed a deep gloom that no smile from the lips can chase away! Alas, through what direful changes have they been forced to pass through what cycles of hope and fear have their generations been coerced while the world about them seemed like a vision hurrying by as they stood still in silence, helplessness and woe! Therefore, in their entire history, how little there is to, contemplate but the most agonizing struggles followed by the deepest and most ostensible decay through their long and continued attempts at redress and the recovery of their God inherited rights which expired with their liberty.

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

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