« PreviousContinue »
telligence; and has contracted so ardent a love of solitude, by living in the woods, that he lately removed his stand from the most profitable situation, because there was a neighbour or two within four miles. As he was going out to hunt in the woods, for an hour or two, at sun-set, I accompanied him; glad of the opportunity of learning some particulars of the Creek Indians, from one so long and so intimately acquainted with them.
He told me that the "Big Warrior" and the "Little Prince" are the Chief Speakers of the Nation, or the Heads of the Civil Department. Their dignity is not strictly hereditary; although some of the family usually succeed, if there be no particular objection. The Chief Speakers are by no means necessarily the principal orators, but may employ a fluent Chief to convey their sentiments. Their office is to carry into effect the decisions of the Great Council of the Nation; a deliberative body, composed of Chiefs from the different towns.
The most popular and influential person, however, in the Nation, is Mackintosh, the Head Warrior, a half-breed, under forty years of age; who is consulted on every occasion, and who, in a great measure, directs the affairs of his country. I saw him at Washington, in the beginning of the year, on a deputation to the American Government. His suite were at the inn where I staid; and on inquiring from one of his Aides-du-Camp, as I believed (for they adopt our military terms,) if General Mackintosh had arrived, I was a little startled by his replying, “I am Mackintosh." He was very civil, and gave me an invitation to visit him if I passed through the Creek Nation, which at that time I did not contemplate.
My host regretted, in the most feeling terms, the injury which the morals of the Indians have sustained from intercourse with the Whites; and especially from the introduction of whiskey, which has been their bane. He said that female licentiousness before marriage is not attended with loss of character; but that conjugal infidelity is punished by whipping, shaving the head, and perpetual exile; the husband being liable to suffer the same severities, if he connive at the return of his offending wife. The murderer is now publicly executed; the law of private retaliation becoming gradually obsolete. Stealing is punished, for the first offence, by whipping; for the second, by the loss of the ears; for the third, by death-the amount stolen being disregarded. My host remembers when there was no law against stealing;
the crime itself being almost unknown-when the Indians would go a hunting, or "frolicking," for one or two days, leaving their clothes on the bushes opposite their wigwams, in a populous neighbourhood, or their silver trinkets and ornaments hanging in their open huts. Confidence and generosity were then their characteristic virtues. A desire of gain, caught from the whites, has chilled their liberality; and abused credulity has taught them suspicion and deceit. He considers them still attached to the English, although disappointed in the little assistance which they derived from them in late wars. This, however, they attribute, rather to the distance of the British, which renders them less valuable allies than they expected, than to a treacherous violation of their promises. Whatever the first glow of British feeling may dictate, on hearing of their attachment, enlightened humanity will not repine, if, under their present circumstances, they are becoming daily more closely connected with the American government, which has evinced an active solicitude for their civilization.
Our recluse told us that they have a general idea of a Supreme Being; but no religious days, nor any religious rites, unless, as he is disposed to believe, their Green-Corn Dance be one. Before the corn turns yellow, the inhabitants of each town or district assemble; and a certain number enter the streets of what is more properly called the town, with the war-whoop and savage yells, firing their arrows in the air, and going several times round the pole. They then take emetics, and fast two days; dancing round the pole a great part of the night. All the fires in the township are then extinguished, and the hearths cleared, and new fires kindled by rubbing two sticks. After this, they parch some of the new corn, and, feasting a little, disperse to their several homes. Many of the old Chiefs are of opinion, that their ancestors intended this ceremony as a thank-offering to the Supreme Being, for the fruits of the earth, and for success in hunting or in war.
The more reflecting of the Creeks think much, but say little of the change which is taking place in their condition. They see plainly that, with respect to their future destiny, it is a question of civilization or extinction; and a question, the decision of which cannot be long postponed. They are therefore, become very solicitous for the establishment of Schools; and the introduction of the various arts, from which the whites derive their superiority. In some of these, they have already made considerable pro
gress; and the nation at this time exhibits the very interesting spectacle of society in several of its earlier stages. The hunter, who still spends much of his time in his favourite pursuit, is the possessor of perhaps several hundred head of cattle; and, if the warrior do not literally turn his tomahawk and scalping-knife into pruning-hooks, he is satisfied to regard them as mere articles of dress, till hostilities shall again call him into the field; and is ambitious to attain distinction in agricultural pursuits. I saw several neat and flourishing little farms, as I passed through the nation; but my pleasure was alloyed by observing, that the labour generally devolved on either the African negro, or the Indian wife. As few of the Creeks are rich enough to purchase many negroes, all the drudgery is performed by the women; and it is melancholy to meet them, as we continually did, with an infant hanging on their necks, bending under a heavy burden, and leading their husband's horse, while he walked before them, erect and graceful, apparently without a care. This servitude has an unfavourable effect on the appearance of the women; those above a certain age being generally bent and clumsy, with a scowl on their wrinkled foreheads, and an expression of countenance at once vacant and dejected.
We did not leave our little cabin at Irish Bainbridge, until the 28th of May, the 27th being Sunday. It is situated on the ridge which separates the waters of the Chatahouchy, from those of the Coosa and Jallapoasa. I was a little surprised to find there, the son of the owner of one of the principal inns in Preston in Lancashire, projecting the introduction of a woollen manufactory among the Creeks, under the sanction of the natives.
Soon after leaving our friends at Irish Bainbridge, we passed Caleebe and Cubahatchee Swamps; and, in the evening arrived at Lime Creek, which we were told forms, at that place, the present boundary line between the Creek Nation and Alabama.
In the morning of the third day after leaving Natchez, Mr. Hodgson entered the Choctaw Nation. He proceeded on what is called the "Natchez" or "Kentucky Train;" that is, the road by which the inhabitants of Kentucky or Tennessee return home from Natchez through
the Wilderness, when they have broken up the rude boats in which the produce of the Western Country is conveyed down the Mississippi. "Stands," as they are called, or houses of entertainment, are placed at the distance of thirty or forty miles from one another, throughout the Nation.
While resting at one of these places, on the first Sunday after he had entered the Nation, Mr. Hodgson says
We were visited by many Indians, some of whom were rather importunate for whiskey or tobacco. In the woods, about half-a-mile distant, 50 or 60 were collected to revenge the death of a woman, who had been murdered a few days before as a witch; but matters appeared likely to be compromised without bloodshed: we afterward saw, however, by the newspapers, that the dispute terminated in a bloody conflict.
Toward evening, ten or twelve travellers dropped in-a noisy set. We all slept on bear-skins on the floor. Our host told me that there were not five nights in the year, in which some travellers did not sleep there, and that seventy or eighty occasionally called in a day. He removed from North Carolina about nine years ago, and has acquired considerable property.
Set off early on the 15th of May; and finding that at the cabin where we purposed to stop, they no longer received travellers, we had to go twenty-five miles to breakfast. Here we got some coffee in an Indian hut, where the inhabitants could not speak English.
As soon as it appeared to be twelve o'clock by the sun, three of the Indian women covered themselves with blankets, and approached a little spot in the garden, enclosed by six upright poles, on the highest of which were suspended several chaplets of vine leaves and tendrils: here they either sat or kneeled (the blankets preventing our seeing which) for about twenty minutes, uttering a low monotonous wailing. This mournful ceremony they repeat, at sun-rise, noon, and sun-set, for ninety days, or three moons, as the Egyptians mourned for Jacob threescore and ten days. I have since been informed, by a very intelligent Indian, that the period of mourning is sometimes extended to four or five moons, if the individual be deeply regretted, or of eminent rank; and that it is occasionally determined by the time occupied in killing the deer and other animals necessary for the great feast which is often given at the pulling up of the poles.
At the celebrated ceremony of the "pole-pulling," the family connexions assemble from a great distance; and, when they are particular in observing the ancient customs, they spend two or three days and nights in solemn preparation and previous rites. They then all endeavour to take hold of some part of the poles, which they pluck up and throw behind them without looking, moving backward toward the East. They then feast together, and disperse to their several homes. It was impossible to hear this simple recital without thinking of the account in Genesis, l. 1-14.
Till within ten or fifteen years, the Choctaws generally killed the favourite horses or dogs of the deceased, and buried them, with his gun and hatchet, in his grave. They still sometimes bury the gun; but it is too frequently stolen: and they now satisfy themselves with believing that the spirits of the horses and dogs will rejoin that of their master at their death. The settlement of White people among them, and occasional intermarriages, have undermined many of their customs. The Choctaws formerly scaffolded their dead, in a house appropriated for the purpose, in their different towns; and in these houses, the various families were kept distinct. Sometimes they bury them in their dwellings, like the ancient Egyptians.
Mr. Hodgson describes, at large, the Indian Dance and Ball Play. The game resembles cricket, and gives scope to such an exhibition of agility and strength, as would have been hailed with loud applause in an ancient amphitheatre.
All violence on these occasions is forgiven; and I was informed that it is the only case, in which life is not generally required for life.
The Law of Retaliation is still almost in full force among the Choctaws; the nearest relation of a fugitive murderer being liable to expiate the offence. An intelligent Indian told me, however, that the Choctaws are becoming more anxious than formerly, that the offender himself should suffer; and that his family and that of the deceased generally unite, if necessary, to prevail on him to kill himself.
He said, that three or four instances of this kind usually happen in a year, in the circle of his acquaintance; but that it is more common for an Indian, who has killed another by accident or design, to remain with the body till he is found, lest his relations should suffer. He men