The Two Friends – The Red And The White

During my travels in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in 1884, I arrived one evening the 19th of June, at the quiet and unostentatious village of Doaksville one among the first towns located in their present country when arriving from their ancient domains east of the Mississippi river, in the year 1832. It soon became a place of considerable trade; but ultimately proving to be very sickly it was nearly abandoned; and, at the time I visited it, was but a relic of the past with Ichabod as an appropriate epitaph having only one small dry goods store and eight or ten resident houses. My object in visiting it was to find a Choctaw friend, one among the few then living and known as friend in the broadest sense of the word, in days of the long ago. On entering the little place I found many Choctaws there of both sexes and of all ages, the store full within and its immediate environments covered with diversified groups of men, women and children sitting and standing. I asked a Choctaw man standing near, if he knew Henry Folsom, and if he was in the town? Looking around a moment he pointed to a group of men a short distance away and said: “Yum-mun-o (that one) chish-no (you) pisah (see) pil-lah (yonder). Dismounting I slowly walked towards the group with fixed eyes upon him, who, I had just been told, was the object of my search. As I approached, all eyes of the little group turned upon me with inquisitive gaze; but, by my steady look at him alone, he seemed intuitively to know that he was the one I sought; acting accordingly, he quietly arose and advanced, with measured steps, to meet me looking straight into my face. As each approached the other, I recognized the features and knew twas he the long lost friend of the far distant past though now in the dignity and the sadness of his reclining years; once more, after so many years, I looked upon him, whom of all others, aside from kindred ties, I loved as one among the best of earthly friends, and knew I was thus to him; and again felt the strange magnetic charm of his noble soul, so well known in days of yore and remembered still; for he had stood to me during all the years for all that was good, a perfect type of friendship “true, and honor without alloy. As we drew nearer, I saw also, that over him hung the shadows of fragile health, and thought tis but the old type of receding years. ,

We met, he paused a moment, Surprised and uncertain. Ah! That long past time was now so dim to him, and many remembrances had been so merged in the vicissitudes and misfortunes that it was difficult to call them up. Alas, I saw too that his eyes, so victorious in youth, so unsparing in their attraction, now gazed into mine with painful desolation. Truly, weary and time-worn was he; while in his hands seemed an hour-glass whence the last sands of life were slowly but surely falling. I looked upon his wrinkled brow as memories uncalled rushed upon me, and with ex tended hand, said: Henry, friend of my youth, have you forgotten me? Grasping my offered hand he replied: “For gotten my earliest friend ! never ! Wrong me not thus! Much of my life now seems a blank to me, and our re-union in this our decline of life gives me joy.” Reader, there are no words for such a reunion. Yet, this much I can and will unfold. We met the red and the white as ardent friends only can and do meet enough for thee to know.

Henry, how many joyous reminiscences as well as blighted hopes do thy name and face now arouse from their long sleep amid the scenes and events experienced together in the years now so far behind!

“Cush, I rejoice for what I bestowed and regret what I took away. But are not what you call blighted hopes oft changed into fruits of good? ”

Even so, Henry. But the years, how swiftly have they seemed to speed away since we drifted apart!

“True, and much older are we now.”

Yet Henry! How the forms and faces of loved one, long-since recorded among the dead, seem to rise up before me now as they have not done for years before.

“Yes, friend Cush, like sprigs cast upon the waters of a turbid stream they have been swept apart to meet on earth no more. But how is it that weve never met upon the high-ways of life, until in this my home of retirement and solitude?”

Oft I’ve heard of you and thus kept upon your trail; have suffered with you and your race in the bitterness of your wrongs; have gloried in your patient endurance, though distant away. Yet, you and your people seem to have made a noble use of your adversity.

“Ah, old friend of better days, I m heart-sick of the eternal babbling of the white people about my race and its so-called worthlessness. It is your race (no reflections upon you) who blinded us but to deceive; yours, who was never satisfied until it had won our confidence only to violate it; yours, who curse us, in right and in wrong; yours, who, if you see us at peace, imagine your lives are endangered and drive peace away; yours, who eternally rants at us as savages, yet little know and less care, that their mockery destroys more lives than it has ever saved.”

He thus spoke in passionate yet sad and mournful tones. I made no reply. How could I when feeling the truth of his words so deeply? Yet, with the thoughts of other days which my presence had called up so unexpectedly, there seemed as suddenly to steal on him one fresh, soft and loving memory that of our joyous boyhood s days. “Friend of my youth,” in calm and gentle tones he said; “Pardon me! I did not wish to speak of those things, but they came up uncalled. In the bliss of my early life, and in which you, old friend, was a large sharer, Looked upon the White Race with a wonder, in which mingled much of admiration, but more of veneration, when first presented to me in its representative, the noble self-sacrificing white missionary. But I learned, as I grew on to manhood, that there were few, very few white missionaries among the White Race; but that the animal lusts and the evil leaven, venality, lay concealed seemingly in the purest forms of its nature ready to rouse and glut its insatiate appetite in the destruction of my race. But because the White Race has destroyed my own, I would not stoop so low as to deny the power of its cultivated intellect. It is worthy of its fame; but not, that I acknowledge its superiority over that of the red, only in the cultivation. But regard me none the better, friend Cush, that I thus speak; for there are still times in hours of reflection, if a reckoning could come between my race and thine, in which I could resort to deadly weapons, I, with my race entire, would, though few and feeble, deal with the common destroyer hand to hand and blow for blow.”

But, friend Henry, has not the United States Government manifested much lenity towards your race? Instantly he replied in an excited and high tone of voice. “Lenity! Lenity! Did you say: Alas! We are but the miserable wards of a tyrannical government.”

There was the vibration of deep and intense feeling in his words, as he thus continued: “Have not the misguiding influences of the whites hurled down to ruin the manhood of my race, by the mighty arm of superior numbers and implements of war; and then by the taunts, mockery, injury, hate and cruelty with which it has always been requited for nobly resisting aggression, oppression, outrage and extermination? Surely, it would be super-human if, through the countless years of unmerited wrong, and the constant banishments from all it once owned arid loved, it had not despaired, long since, of all hope or belief in truth and justice earthly or divine; wiping out in their “helpless victims all higher instincts, all appearance of honor, all purity of conscience; that if possible, even at the end, their hopes might be re warded in fruition; that, under the weight of accumulated wrongs, long-chained passions and long-strained endurance might give way, and find their fall in dealing in retribution, though it be in the justice of some avenging wrong.

I freely, but not without shame, confess, Henry, that all you have stated is but truth and only truth. Yet, I rejoice in also knowing the truth, that all the wrongs and sufferings of your race have not been able to wrench from it its better and nobler nature. An involuntary sigh escaped him, as he replied: “That is idle talk. My race is no better nor worse than any other race of mankind; nor are we demigods, to rise above all natural passions, and unmoved see evil triumph. Robbed us, you say? Tis true! Yet, wisely kept to wind ward of your law, Might is Right, and took our heritance by forcing us to disinherit ourselves, and in lieu thereof bequeathed, us a mess of pottage a combination of whiskey, poverty, degradation, suffering, death and called it “Purchase.” But those who sin easily as easily and an apology for their crime; therefore, few know the Indians wrongs as they have been, are still to-day, and may be through all future to come.”

Thus he swept on, while thoughts seemed to rush upon him with such sudden and passionate force that it was an impossibility to frame them into words; yet they came with an irresistible power; wholly absorbed I listened to his ex pressed thoughts which moved him and seemed to stir depths of his soul that time had long sealed. I knew that he had striven to live only the life of a reader and thinker; and to leave behind him all weight of regret and the useless indulgence of vain hopes But now looking backward to multiplied remembrances, the events of those days rose up and forced themselves upon him; and many things returned to his mind and knocked for admittance which, until now, had passed unheeded by; for he had long striven to hurl from memory the remembrance of his and his people s wrongs and losses the former beyond avenging, the latter beyond redemption. But as they look back to all they have endured, all they have lost, by the merciless hands of arbitrary power whose shout is “Might is Right,” could they but feel the fierce blood of retributive instinct latent in all human hearts rise and burn in them? They could not be human and feel otherwise.

“But how came you, friend Gush?”

I but pointed to my horse.

“Tis well! Go “get him. Yonder’s my home, amid those trees on the ridge, a quarter of a mile away. Let us seek its quiet.”

We reached his house. He paused at the yard gate and said: “What think you, old friend, of this; my home?”

It has the appearance of quietness, peacefulness, and happiness unalloyed, and surely must constitute much of pleasure to your declining years. “Truly have you spoken.” It was indeed a quiet place bordering- even on the romantic. But alas, how still! How lonely! Surely, thought I, one in search of utter exile from the din and noisy strife of a contending world, might here safely hide and find that “solitude” of which the seemingly disconsolate poet sang- in days of yore. We entered the open door, and then he said: “Friend of my youth! Feel at home under this my humble roof. You have been lost to me for many, many years. Is thy heart still unchanged?” In silence I extended my hand. In silence he clasped it.

Our eyes met in unison of emotion, and the two long separated friends were one again, even as in .the days of youth and hope; endeared the one to the other not only by the ties of boyhood and early manhood’s association, but by the ties of sincere friendship between the Red and the White.

“Much,” he continued, “Of my life you know not, tis with the dead. Tonight we’ll talk till wearied nature demands a halt to seek repose. My domestic affairs attention need. Excuse a moment s absence. I’ll soon return.” He then left me to muse alone. Night had already begun to glide along the woods shutting out the wilderness of forests that stretched away on every side, whose deep silence seemed never to have been broken by the din of human life. But after many years have flown, we dear Henry, have met again; met as only ardent friends long lost can and do meet, enough for us to know

Reader, no gilded ornaments adorned this my Choctaw friend’s humble home; no luxurious furnishings attracted the eye as you entered its portals, but a piano and violin, whose appearance bespoke the vicissitudes of many years, yet, his sweet solaces in hours of despondency and gloom undeviating adjuncts decreed to man; but here his house stands far back amid broad-armed oaks of centuries growth, whose leafy crowns were never defaced by the ax wielded by the topping hand of art, and where the way-worn and weary traveler and long absent friend found indeed a place of rest. Haughty pride and folly would look down upon it, with scorn, and even ask in sneering tones, “What is its object there”? Yet, it still remains with its inmates (father and son and a few Negro servants, slaves of former days) in that same quiet spot with open doors to all. Yet no blazoned insignia were needed to attract attention to this abode of peace, nor gilded monument necessary to perpetuate its memory.

Dr. Folsom lost his wife (daughter of the great and good Chickasaw, John Colbert) and daughter many years ago by the ruthless hand of man’s common foe; but true to his early love, he had remained a widower, living alone with his unmarried son, the solace of his father’s declining years. God be gracious to you and yours, my noble Henry! Though advanced in years, even as I, thou still art that cheery comrade and trusty friend as in days of yore; and though thy merry heart is mellowed by the fine sympathy born of care and thoughtfulness, yet thy nature is still beautified by that dash of spirit, like to the spell of enchantment the moonlight throws over the hills and forests of thy country and home. With what glowing fascination did the full-orbed moon, in that silent and sacred hour of thought, flood, with its dreamy light, those ancient oaks that adorned his home! The birds too knew their value and rejoiced in their beauty, and came into their wide embrace seemingly as children to the extend ed arms of a doting parent, making the morn and eve resonant with their joyous twittering. That hour alone I can never forget; as twilight slowly gave place to night, so rich with her crown of stars and seemingly scepter for dominion over a world hushed to quiet, while earth seemed to thoughtfully lay beneath my feet. Ah, the stars and full or bed moon then seemed, more than ever before, as a seraph choir thrilling all Nature with their minstrelsy, till she was moved to bliss ineffable, yea, as spirits that have passed through sin and death without a stain, and now wear crowns of fadeless glory above.

His domestic duties done, my old friend returned and aroused me from my reverie as he exclaimed: “Upon what dwelt your thoughts?” I pointed to the full orbed moon that lighted up the eastern sky; then to the earth beneath and sky above blushing in wild and romantic beauty; then, to the giant oaks that stood around in silent majesty as they received a soft glow from the fleecy clouds which softly reflected upon them the gentle light of departing day and advancing night. He then said in a low tone of voice: “I too love them all.”

Reader, twas amid such a scene, and at that lovely hour, when the sweet songs of nature seem to whisper of peace and joy, we sat, a group of three, on the moonlighted piazza in exchange of thoughts; and there lingered (loth to part) till the stars climbed to the zenith, and all around lay sleeping In the silence of a moonlit summer night. To me his conversation was fascinating full of grace and originality; brilliant I will not call it, for it was too mellow and restful to be thus characterized. But upon his face rested the mystic sign which constitutes the bond of union among all congenial souls, and I felt that the emotions of his heart were in strict unison with my own, and each responded in perfect harmony the one to the other. Ah! Then and there,

We spoke of many a vanished scene,
Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been.
And who was changed, and who was dead;
And all that fills the hearts of friends,
When first they feel with secret pain,
Their! Lives thenceforth have separate ends,
And can never be one again.

He also spoke of our youth s bright and promising morn “God’s days,” as he expressed it; the days of childhood’s innocence when life was new and hope was bright. Now, with folded hands and drooping head, he sat in silence long, as memories of other days around him rush; but each understood the other’s sigh, for each had experienced life’s, vicissitudes had long since bade adieu to scenes of early youth and happy days, which, by a strange and unknown law of association, stood out before us again as vividly as if but yesterday intervened; and felt as if left behind in the race of life, and sadly toiling on alone, while new proofs poured upon us wherever we turned. You may not understand the tie that then bound the red and the white. Nor can you. Firm in his attachments, the Indian never forgets a friend; let this suffice for thee to know, if thou hast never had an Indian friend.

Then he spoke of the silent stealing on of man s days and years, the unseen and unfelt progress of his life from youth to age; and which, as we look back upon that flowing water, now a dry channel overgrown with leaves, we see few marks along its course by which we can remember how it ran. Could I listen but with emotional delight? Now he speaks of his people, of their vicissitudes and sorrows, their past history, their present condition, their future hopes and prospects; then he spoke of those heart memories that never die, and which the rough usages of the world can never destroy, nor time nor distance weaken, those memories of his early home east of the Mississippi, of boyhood’s morn with its gay and hopeful dreams, sunny hours and illusive visions of bliss all gone, but which time nor change, sorrow nor age, can blot from the heart, but which, though on the verge of the grave, reproduce the freshness of emotion with which life began.

He talked too of art, literature and modern science, but in the quiet, unconscious way of one with whom knowledge flows as a full stream, and to whom knowledge and research (for he was a man of fine erudition and scientific attainments attained at school, and had also mingled freely during a long life with men of learning and culture) have taught that deep yet saddening truth the limitation of human knowledge. He was indeed a pleasant companion; interesting and instructive in conversation, which was enriched by experience and observation. Picturesque too was he; and though nearly three score and fifteen years had been his earthly pilgrimage, yet he walked with elastic steps, and his form still was finely expressive of sinewy energy, but bore the record of his years and their garnered cares; while his face held a full chronicle of bitter experience that had mingled with the sweet; for he too had tasted the cup of affliction in more than one form; he too had seen the happiness of life decay, and also felt that there is an unseen and mysterious power which operates upon man s destiny, controlling events over which he possesses no control.

But his regular, clear cut features and dark, piercing eyes still possessed a touch of melancholy in their depths, indicating his slightly mixed blood the quick intelligence of the white man with the in mingled sadness of the Red, a sadness impressed as a heritage by long years of oppression and wrong. I observed it also in the broken but still majestic warriors of his race, as I mingled among them a buried yet still living resentment a touch of defiance in the prevailing coldness of their mien, and a gleam of suspicion in the forced smile they still alike bestow on all strange- white men, the authors of all their misfortunes and woes.

“A hundred long years! What visions rise?
Of dynasties risen and set,
Of powers that melted from earth away
When the wrong and the right clashed and met
Alas! the old died hard to make way for the now.”

But ah! How soon does sorrow tread upon the heels of joy! A few short weeks after I had left him in perfect health, and turned to other duties forgetting him for the moment, believing him to be as we parted, a letter from a Choctaw friend informed me of his death. Then and there I felt I had lost a friend of a life time a friend of unconquerable integrity, true and faithful in all things; one whose heart was warm; intelligence strong, and whose devotion to his convictions and his obligations immovable. Truly, to lose such a friend from among the living seems an irreparable misfortune, and I numbered him with the dead in sorrow earnest and deep. What though, old friend of the past, I have no picture of thee the work of art! Tis well; for no artist could paint thee; and surely it would mar my joy to look upon a blank, expressionless and fading toy, and 1 call it by thy name; but there is a picture hung in the death less halls of memory, framed in the rarest wood which time can never dim. But I will not chide the outbursts of sorrow, though it is not well to be betrayed by passion into wild forgetfulness of reason, since time s busy fingers are never at rest, and ere another summer comes and goes what changes may be wrought, who can tell? Ah! “The future’s great veil our breath fitfully flaps, and behind it broods ever the mighty perhaps.”

He lived beyond the allotted years of manhood’s three score years and ten of the Psalmist, yet his busy brain and untiring hand wrought on, as if in the vigor of a changeless youth. Adieu, thou pattern of fidelity that never betrayed and constancy that never wearied.

I found a few others, here and there, in my travels over the country, that were familiar figures in my boyhood and manhood days, and of whom I now may say: One glance at: their keen, black eyes and I still loved them; one look at the honest, good-humored, kind expression of their faces, and intuitively I yet loved them those unchanged, old and dear comrades of the long ago; and again, as oft before I listened with diligent to their ancient legends as facts associated with their history in the days of yore, known but to themselves. How I again reveled in those tales of ancient days as their aged eyes brightened and sparkled at the most improbable passage of the narrative, but which I assumed not to doubt for fear of wounding their sensitive hearts; yet fascinating to me, since truth and fancy were so intermingled, that they rivaled the most extravagant fairy tale that ever imagination wove in the recess of a subtle brain; and who, when their heroes stars had set, turned their faces away from their ancient domains and here in their present hornet carved out their own fortunes and handed down their honored names to posterity; and though their legends again rehearsed as before in the days of the long past were only as a memory to me, yet I treasure them as beautiful and interesting eulogies pronounced upon their heroes of ages past., well knew that, because of their chivalrous patriotism and high sense of honor, they ranked among the greatest of their race; and I gloried in the thought that their oft repeated legends and tales found in me not only a ready and; an intensely sympathetic listener, but making me admire and love the red race more than ever, because of the all absorbing devotion that made them lose their own identity in that of their ancient great. Nearly all of those Indian friends of my youth and manhood days have gone down to the silent and cheerless habitation of the dead, yet their memory still survives in many a picture of the years that have been.’

Colbert, Folsom,

Chickasaw, Choctaw,

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

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