Chinnubbie and the Owl: Muscogee (Creek) Stories, Orations, and Oral Traditions

Chinnubbie and the Owl: Muscogee (Creek) Stories, Orations, and Oral Traditions


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Though he died at the age of thirty-four, the Muscogee (Creek) poet, journalist, and humorist Alexander Posey (1873–1908) was one of the most prolific and influential American Indian writers of his time. This volume of nine stories, five orations, and nine works of oral tradition is the first to collect these entertaining and important works of Muscogee literature. Many of Posey’s stories reflect trickster themes; his orations demonstrate both his rhetorical prowess and his political stance as a “Progressive” Muscogee; and his works of oral tradition reveal his deep cultural roots. Most of these pieces, which first appeared between 1892 and 1907 in Indian Territory newspapers and magazines, have since become rarities, many of the original pieces surviving only as single clippings in a few archives.
While Muscogee oral tradition greatly influenced Posey’s prose, his work was also infused with the Euro-American influences that formed much of his literary education. As this collection demonstrates, Posey used his knowledge of Euro-American literature and history to help write works that championed his own people at a time of profound oppression at the hands of the United States government. Posey’s vivid literary style merges rich regional humor with Muscogee oral tradition in a way that makes him a unique figure in American Indian literature and politics. Chinnubbie and the Owl brings these works of great literary, cultural, and historical value to a new generation of readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803237469
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 04/28/2005
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 1,106,036
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Matthew Wynn Sivils is a doctoral student in English at Oklahoma State University.

Read an Excerpt

Chinnubbie and the Owl

Muscogee (Creek) Stories, Orations, and Oral Traditions
By Alexander Posey

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2005 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Chinnubbie and the Owl

We have learned in a previous story that Chinnubbie was a humorist of unquestioned excellence, as well as being renowned for other traits of character. Traditions claim that he was a story-teller of extraordinary merit; that when he spoke, his hearers gave strict attention, for there was a charm in his speech that was truly admirable and a something in his eloquent wit that captivated the gravest of his audience; that his actions when delivering a tale were as comical and laughable, almost, as the story he told. Yet his genius, as versatile as it was, bore its richest fruits in the circumstances of necessity only; and to one of these exigencies are we indebted for the story following this proem, which is supposed, on the authority of the prophets - the keepers of the oral library - to have been actually experienced by its author and rehearsed to the warlike multitude on an occasion of which we shall presently learn.

It was in the twilight of a lovely summer day, while the chiefs, medicine men, and warriors were grouped in a circle around the blazing campfire, discussing the success of a recent chase, parleying over various topics, and relating numerous anecdotes, that the prophet arose and offered a costly bow and twelve arrows to the one who could relate the beststory of his own experience, or the best he could make on the spur of the moment. Of course the offer was readily accepted by scores of valiant warriors, and Chinnubbie was not to be left out among the rivals for the prize. Quickly arising from his grassy lounge and shaking the ashes from the tomahawk that he had just been smoking, he thus conjured the generous sage in his favorite phrase: "By the bears, I wish a part in this myself."

His desire was immediately granted, and the contestants one by one rehearsed their tales in a plausible manner and exerted every power within them to accomplish their end. But all - save one, Chinnubbie, the last though not the least - were accused of unscrupulous plagiarism. They each had plucked a gem from memory's treasury of old traditions to veneer the imperfect portions of their unpremeditated story. The guilty rivals became the objects of ridicule and sarcastic remarks, while Chinnubbie, in whose well-told tale no ill-gotten thoughts had been detected, received the praise of the chief and prophet in every manner of endearing expression. The prize was awarded to him with bows and obeisance due the gods. Chinnubbie became the autocrat of the evening's entertainment, and every word that was lisped was lisped in admiration of his wonderful tale. He had touched the chord whose reverberations echoed fame.

We must not after all be persuaded to believe that Chinnubbie became and remained a favorite of his countrymen. His fickleness and perfidiousness caused his popularity to be very precarious. He would be extoled [sic] today for a noble act and execrated tomorrow for a bad one. Whether famous or infamous, Chinnubbie cared but very little. He was content anywhere and under all circumstances and conditions.

Chinnubbie's Story

"It has been quite awhile since this incident, which I am about to relate to you, was experienced. But, warriors, a good story, however ancient, is always new, and the more frequently it is told, the more attractive it becomes, and is destined to never be obliterated from the memory in which it lives. The campfire is made more cheerful and happier when such stories are told, and the mind is released from the bonds of its cares and solicitudes. So, this one, from that time to present, has been an evergreen in my recollection. None but my most intimate friends have a knowledge of this tale, and I have cautioned them never to communicate the same to others, as it would doubtless excite the jealousy of the prophets, who are my superiors in the creation of such narratives. But whether it will be envied by them or not, the time has arrived when it must be publicly declared.

On one of my first wanderings away from home in foreign lands, I lost the course of my journey, and went astray in a pathless forest, through which, I thought, no man had ever passed. It was a solitary waste, a jungle, and a lair of ferocious beasts and reptiles. Even at noonday, its vast interior seemed dark and dusky, with only a sunbeam here and there to illume its gloom, invigorate its rank epicurean growth. Had I been otherwise than an ingenious bow-man, I would not have escaped the savage greed of the puma that clung in his hunger to the arching bough, and the wolf that tracked and sniffed the course I took. At night I sought to rest my wearied limbs in the fork of some lofty oak, but found no repose. Thus I roamed and prowled in hunger, fruitless search, and despondency.

Finally, on the last evening of my almost helpless wandering, a strange but a fortunate incident befell me. The sun was just disappearing in the gold of the western sky, and twilight was gathering its sombre shades over the unhunted woods, when my attention was suddenly attracted by the weird hoots of an owl, perched upon the bough of a desolate oak, beneath which I had been standing quite a while, listening to the dreamy far-off song of the whippoorwill. He seemed as grave and solemn as death itself; his large saffron eyes appeared prophetic of my fate. Recalling to memory the strange stories that had often been related to me in childhood, of such birds, I stood bewitched and motionless in a trance of awe and silence. The owl likewise maintained a gravelike stillness that was broken only by the flutter of his wings. He grew, I thought, exceeding twice his real size; this so increased my horror, that had anyone been near to observe me in this situation, he would have declared that my head, too, grew fabulously huge. Like the squirrel, when charmed by reptile fascination, I could neither move nor wail a voice of despair. Ultimately, like morning mists ascending from the streams, swamps, and morasses, the fog of my stupidity slowly vanished into serene sunlight of consciousness. At this moment of my recuperation, I thought myself the happiest brave that ever twanged a bow. But yet, I could not forbear thinking: "This enchantment is ominous of my end; if not the determination of my career, a misfortune that shall darken all my future years."

I hope that while mortals have a knowledge of my existence I will never undergo another like experience.

Having now a full possession of my senses, I walked around the tree to quit the bewitching spot, and turned my head in various directions. This was mimicked by the mysterious bird in a most consummate manner, who still seemed to bespeak my untimely fate. Becoming desirous to know the extent of his imitations, which now excited my fancy, I exclaimed in a tremulous tone "Who are you?"

The owl replied: "Who are you? - whoo, whoo!, whoo, whoo!!"

A smile, at this dubious response, forced itself upon my countenance. Again, in a more vehement voice, I asked: "Answer, by the bears and all beside, who are you?"

As the echoes of my impassioned words reverberated through the sable forest, the amber feathered bird imperiously rejoined: "Answer, by the bears and all beside, who are you?"

He thus continued and repeated all that I said, but would give no answer to my interrogations. Our conversation was the reiteration of one thought. Finally, I thought the task of endeavoring to cause him to converse with me an irksome waste of time, and begun to walk around the tree, to note how long he would mimic my action by turning his head without reversing, and keeping his body at the same time in one position. I continued to walk incessantly around the oak, and still he imitated me with apparent ease and alacrity. Presently, I became somewhat fatigued in my curiosity, being wearied already by my long rambles; but knowing that perseverance triumphs, I did not forsake my singular fancy. When lo! to my surprise and sudden fright, his head fell severed from the body to the ground; exclaiming as it fell, "Take my head and place it in your belt, it will guide you to your home in safety!"

Like a child obeying the command of its affectionate mother, I heeded the behest of the falling head, and fastening it securely in my belt, I journeyed in safety to my home, from which I had long been absent."

Chinnubbie, at the conclusion of his story, departed immediately from the applauding multitude to slack his thirst in the neighboring brook. Upon his return, the bow and twelve arrows which had been pledged to the victorious brave were awarded to him with congratulatory speeches. Chinnubbie, as he received the costly prize, extricated from his buckskins the featherless head of an owl and ejaculated in a most triumphant voice: "Doubt if you will the authenticity of my tale, here is the head of its hero!"

"Doubt your tale? never, never - absurd," rejoined the prophet much amazed at Chinnubbie's earnestness, never, never, it is as true as the reality of day and night!"

"Few, few there are on whom such a fortune smiles and many, many on whom it frowns. Few are born to win. Warn, ye gods, if such as ye there be, warn, I pray, the bears, the fallow deers, the bisons, the pumas of the forest, and the foes of my heroic clan!"

Chinnubbie thus replied, and departed from his comrades in the twilight of blossoming day like a dream, on his journey to - he knew not where, but leaving the impression that his object was to search the wilds in quest of spoils. His fellows anticipated a great feast and a unique occasion on his return, but alas! in vain - he had departed on another tramp.

Long, long years afterwards, Chinnubbie returned, and was welcomed with wild enthusiasm. He was not rebuked for the inexcusable falsehood that he had told on the morning of his setting out, for that was forgotten in the ecstasy of joy on his reappearance. A feast and a great war-dance were given in his honor. On this occasion, Chinnubbie is said to have displayed his oratorical genius in some blood-stirring phillipics [sic]. But tradition has unfortunately failed to embalm them in its unwritten volumes.

* * *

"Chinnubbie and the Owl," undated pamphlet, Scrapbook, Alexander L. Posey Collection, Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Excerpted from Chinnubbie and the Owl by Alexander Posey Copyright © 2005 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
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