Mr. Cushman and the Choctaw’s

Curiosity was one of the chief characteristics of the Choctaws, and held a prominent position in their breasts. They were desirous to know everything peculiar or strange that was transpiring about them; not more so, however, than any others of the human race. Yet the Choctaw differed from his white brother in this particular; the white man expressed openly his curiosity at anything unusual or strange, and asked innumerable questions concerning it, and manifested the greatest excitement until his curiosity was gratified; but the Choctaw asked no questions, nor manifested any surprise whatever, no matter how strange or incomprehensible to him, but walked around with an air of seemingly perfect indifference; yet was attentive to any and all explanations that were being made by others. The ingenuity of the white man as displayed in his various inventions was, to him, as to all his race, the deepest mystery, an incomprehensible enigma that placed the pale face, in his opinion, in close relationship to super-human beings; and influenced an aged Indian chief to exclaim, when viewing the mysterious workings of a steam engine when once at Washington City, “I hate the avarice of the white man s heart, but worship the ingenuity of his mind.” The astonishment sometimes depicted upon, the countenances of the Indians when beholding the wonderful performances of the white man, audibly expressed by the ancient Choctaws in the sudden ejaculation, Wah? ” Was often very diverting.

On one occasion a venerable old Indian man, who, in order to light his pipe, was trying to catch a spark upon a piece of punk struck from his flint and steel; after many fruitless attempts, a white man standing near had observed the old mans unsuccessful efforts to obtain the desired spark, and anticipating a little laugh might be had at the expense of the old veteran, stepped up and proposed to bring clown fire from the sun with which to light his pipe. At this astounding- proposal, the old man looked up and shook his head with an incredulous grunt, which being interpreted evidently signified: “You are a fool.” The white man then slowly taking a sunglass from his pocket held it concealed in his hand directly over the well-filled pipe of tobacco. The fecal rays of the sun soon did their work. “Now smoke,” said the white man. The old man obeyed, and at once his mouth was filled with smoke. That was enough. He at once puffed the smoke from his mouth; then stopped and looked at the white man, then up at the sun; then down at his well lighted pipe; then again at the white man and the sun, with that expression of amazement and awe which plainly expressed his now changed opinion, that, instead of a fool, that white man was nothing more nor less a person age than the devil himself; and, with eyes askant resting upon him, he slowly arose and walked away with his last formed opinion which no argument could have induced him to again change; yet not with as devotional a spirit, it is presumed, of he of the steam engine.

As an evidence of the tenacity with which the ancient Choctaws adhered to the veracity of their traditions handed down through a long line of ancestry, I will here relate a little incident in which my twin brother and myself (then seven years of age) were the chief actors, and shared all the glory. At that time, there was a remembered tradition of their ancestors which they truly believed, that u pale-face twins (if boys) possessed the magic power of dispelling all depredating worms and insects from cornfields, gardens, etc., which, in some years, at that early day, proved quite destructive, especially to their corn during the milk stage. Now it so happened during one summer, that the corn-worms were unusually numerous and were committing great depredations upon their fields of green corn. This corn-worm, with which all southern farmers are well acquainted but entertained no dread, is, when fully grown, about an inch and a half or two inches long, and about the size of a wheat straw, and commits its depredations (if depredations it may now be called) only when the corn is in the milk stage, entering the ear at the top and gradually working downward, but leaving it as soon as the grain becomes hard. Now it also happened, they had learned that Mr. Cushman, the “good pale-face,” as he was termed, had a pair of twin boys; a propitious opportunity (long desired) was now offered to secure for themselves, by an ocular demonstration, the traditional efficacy of the pale-face twins super-natural power, which they joyfully embraced. Unexpectedly, one beautiful June morning, a company; of fine-looking Choctaw warriors were seen approaching on horseback at full speed. They halted at the gate of Mr. Cushman’s yard and called for him. He at once responded by walking out to them. After the usual friendly salutations had been passed, they inquired if he had a pair of twin sons, to which he replied in the affirmative. They then informed him of the depreciations being committed upon their fields of green corn, and also of the traditions of their ancestors, requesting at the same time the loan of his twins that they might, by that mysterious power possessed alone by pale face twins, rid them of the voracious pests that were then destroying their fields of corn. Mr. Cushman, ignorant of such a power having been bestowed upon his twin boys, at first demurred; but they becoming more importunate in their request, he finally told them he would give them an answer in a few minutes. He then stepped into the house and presented the case to Mrs. Cushman for consideration, who at once, from a mother’s natural apprehensions that would arise in such a novel case, most positively refused her consent; but after a few minutes deliberation reluctantly yielded, to the great joy and satisfaction of the twins, who had been attentive spectators and listeners to the whole proceeding’s, and had become eager to test their attributed power, (unknown before) and to enjoy the anticipated novel sport so closely connected with the horseback ride that was presented. Mr. Cushman at once led his little twins to the gate and introduced them to the now jubilant warriors, by telling them the respective names of the wonderfully gifted twins; and then granted their request upon the promise that they would return his boys in the evening of the day, before the sun had set. The promise was given and accepted by Mr. Cushman without the least apprehension of its violation, while Mrs. Cushman stood in the door and viewed the proceedings with that doubtful anxiety known and felt only by mothers.

Mr. Cushman then set each of his boys upon a horse before a warrior, accompanying the act with the parting request: “Take good care of my little boys!” Unnecessary appeal, as not a Choctaw in that little band but would have shielded the entrusted twins from injury even at the expense of his life. At once we galloped off in the direction of their village three miles distant called Okachiloho fah. (Water falling, or Falling water.) When we arrived in sight, their success was announced by a shrill whoop to which the villagers responded their joy by another. As soon as we rode into the village, we were immediately surrounded by an ad miring throng, and being tenderly lifted from our positions on the horses, we were handed over to the care of several old men, who took us in their arms and with much gravity carried us into a little cabin, which had previously been set in order for our reception, where we found prepared a variety of eatables, to us seemingly good enough to excite the appetites of the most fastidious twin epicures; after which the venerable old seers of the village instructed us in the mystic rites and ceremonies of their tribe, preparatory to calling into requisition the magic power of our twin ship in all its bearings* upon the duties of the day. Then showing us our weapons, which consisted of iron, wood and fire the two former in the shape of a frying pan, in which we were to burn the worms after picking them from the corn, and a blazing chunk of fire, two stout and straight sticks about six feet in length, with the proper instructions in regard to the manner of using them effectually. Having been thoroughly drilled in these preliminaries, the line of march was taken up toward the field where the enemy were said to be strongly entrenched; in profound silence and with unfeigned gravity, the Palokta Tohbi, (Twins White, or White Twins) led the van, borne upon the shoulders of two powerful warriors closely followed by three others bearing the arms, while the villagers, headed by the veteran seers, brought up the rear presenting an imposing appearance with a considerable smack of the ridiculous, even as Don Quixote astride of his famous Rosinante followed by his valuable squire in like position on his mule.

When the field was reached a halt was made, and two venerable looking old men, whose hoary locks and wrinkled faces bespoke their earthly pilgrimage had extended many years beyond their allotted three score years and ten, came to the front and, with solemn mien, lifted us from our perches and gently placed us over the fence into the field; then handing the frying pan, chunk of fire, and sticks, our weapons, to us, with a word of encouragement whispered in our ears to prove ourselves valiant and worthy our traditional fame, they bade us charge the foe. The plan of the campaign was to attack the enemy first in the center; there build a hot fire with the dry wood, previously prepared by the thoughtful Choctaws, upon which place the frying pan and into which throw all prisoners without discrimination, as our flag bore the motto “Neither giving nor asking quarter;” and like wise also at the four corners of the field. The center was gained, the fire made, and upon it placed the pan; then we made a vigorous attack upon the strong-holds of the enemy dislodging them and at the same time taking them prisoners of war; then hurrying them to the center hurled them hors de combat into the frying pan heated to a red heat, and with our ready sticks stirred them vigorously, while the wreathes of smoke that ascended from the scene of carnage and floated away before the summer breeze, together with the odor, not as fragrant to the sensitive nose, however, as the lily or the rose, gave undisputed evidence of our victories; while our waiting Choctaw friends, acknowledged their approval from the outside of the field, (since the tradition, forbade them sharing in the dangers of the conflict the Paloktas must fight alone) filling our youthful hearts with heroic emotions unfelt before or afterwards.

After we had not immolated two or three pans full of the enemy at the center and at each corner of the field, nor lost a man, we returned in triumph to our waiting friends, by whom we were received with unfeigned manifestations of affection and pride. Thence we were borne as before to other fields, where were enacted the same prodigies of valor, with similar results until the declining sun gave warning of their promise not being fulfilled if the Paloktas were not returned ere the sun went down. Therefore we were carried from our last field of slaughter back to the village in “glorious triumph,” where never were offered to frail mortality more sincere homage and unfeigned devotion than were bestowed upon the Paloktas by those grateful Choctaws. They seemed only to regret not being able to manifest a still greater degree of gratitude, and to do more for us as a manifestation of their appreciation of the great favor we had conferred upon them. With zealous care they watched over us while under their care, that no harm might befall us. As we came so we returned, and safely reached home ere the sun sank behind the western horizon. We were afterwards frequently called upon, much to our gratification and delight, it was fun for us, to bring into requisition our mysteriously delegated power in behalf of their cornfields; and we became the special favorites of that kind-hearted and appreciative people; and woe to him or them who should impose upon or attempt to injure their little pets, the pale-face Paloktas. But the boyish pride that filled my heart on those occasions, though seventy years have fled, is remembered to this day haunting the imagination with a mystic power, as thought goes back to many a vanished scene recalling associates incident to the days of the long past.

But curiosity might now be inquisitive enough to ask: “Did the worms cease their depredations on the green corn?” To which I reply: Many of them certainly did; and, as no further complaint was made by the Choctaws during that season, it is reasonable to suppose those that were left, after the immolation of so many of their relatives, took a timely hint and sought other quarters where pale-face Paloktas were unknown; but whether actuated through fear of a similar fate as had befallen a goodly number of their companions, or because the corn had become too hard by age for easy mastication and healthy digestion, I will leave for future consideration and determination of those who , feel more interested in its solution than I do just now. However, this much I can and will unfold; as the little pale-face Paloktas honorably sustained the reputation of their mystic art, at least in the opinion of their Choctaw friends, who were rendered supremely happy in the indulgent of their faith in the truth of the ancient declaration of their honored ancestors; appreciative and grateful to the “Good Pale-face” for the loan of his favored twins; and the twins enjoyed the new and novel sport, and nobody hurt, (unless the worms, who are at liberty to render their own complaint,) we will let it pass without further ado as being only a little superstitious yet novel affair, not less unreasonable however, in all its concomitants than other superstitions so oft indulged by the human race of all nationalities, even of to-day as well as in the years of yore.



Okachiloho fah,

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

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