Long considered the undisputed authority on the Indians of the southern United States, anthropologist John Swanton published this history as the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) Bulletin 103 in 1931. Swanton's descriptions are drawn from earlier recordsincluding those of DuPratz and Romansand from Choctaw informants. His long association with the Choctaws is evident in the thorough detailing of their customs and way of life and in his sensitivity to the presentation of their native culture.
Included are descriptions of such subjects as clans, division of labor between sexes, games, religion, war customs, and burial rites. The Choctaws were, in general, peaceful farmers living in Mississippi and southwestern Alabama until they were moved to Oklahoma in successive waves beginning in 1830, after the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.
This edition includes a new foreword by Kenneth Carleton placing Swanton's work in the context of his times. The continued value of Swanton's original research makes Source Material the most comprehensive book ever published on the Choctaw people.
About the Author
John R. Swanton received one of the first Ph.D.'s awarded in the United States, from Harvard University in 1900, and was head of the first DeSoto Commission in 1936. He published more than 40 books from his research, including the monumental Indian Tribes of North America.Kenneth H. Carleton is Tribal Archaeologist for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
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Even more than in my previous papers, I have pursued the policy in this bulletin of constructing a source book for the tribe under discussion. On account of the rapid disappearance of the ancient customs, little can be gathered at the present day that has not already been recorded in a much more complete form. I have, however, added some notes obtained from one of the eastern Choctaw Indians named Olmon Comby and a considerable body of material from another eastern Choctaw, Simpson Tubby, for many years a preacher in the Methodist Church.
The history of the Choctaw people since they first came to the knowledge of Europeans may be illustrated from many documentary sources and is capable of elaborate treatment. A few salient points are all that the present work calls for.
Halbert has pointed out that the "Apafalaya" chief and river and the "Pafallaya" province mentioned by the De Soto chroniclers Ranjel and Elvas, respectively, evidently refer to the Choctaw, or a part of them, since the Choctaw were known to other tribes as Pansfalaya or "Long Hairs." They were then, it would seem, approximately in the territory in southeastern Mississippi which they occupied when they were again visited by Europeans. There are notices of them in some Spanish documents dating from toward the close of the seventeenth century, and they immediately took a prominent position in the politics of colonizing nations when the French began settling Louisiana in 1699. Like theCreeks and Chickasaw, they were subjected to pressure from the Spaniards, English, and French, especially the two latter nations, each of whom enjoyed the support of a faction. These internal differences eventuated in civil war during which the Sixtowns, Chickasawhay and Coosa Choctaw supported the French interest and were finally successful, peace being made in 1750. The ascendency of the English east of the Mississippi, secured by the peace of 1763, soon tended to allay all remaining internal difficulties. With the passage of the Louisiana Territory into the hands of the United States an end was put to that intriguing by the representatives of rival European governments of which the Choctaw had been victims.
The Choctaw were never at war with the Americans. A few were induced by Tecumseh to ally themselves with the hostile Creeks, but the Nation as a whole was kept out of anti-American alliances by the influence of Apushmataha, greatest of all Choctaw chiefs. (Pl. 1.) However, white settlers began pouring into the region so rapidly that the Mississippi Territory was erected in 1798 and Mississippi became a State in 1817. Friction of course developed between the white colonists and the original occupants of the soil, whose removal to lands farther west was clamorously urged by the settlers and ultimately agreed to by the Choctaw themselves at the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, September 27 and 28, 1830. By this treaty they secured a tract of land along Red River, in the southeastern part of the present State of Oklahoma, to which the bulk of the tribe emigrated in 1831, 1832, and 1833. The first emigrants suffered cruelly, but those who went later sowed their fields promptly and experienced fewer hardships than the Indians of most of the other expatriated tribes. A portion held on in their old territories, though bands of them joined their western kindred from time to time, 1,000 in 1846, 1,619 in 1847, 118 in 1848, 547 in 1849, 388 in 1853, and more than 300 in 1854. A considerable body still remained, numbering 1,253 in 1910 and 1,665 in 1930. In 1855 the Chickasaw, who had at first enjoyed the privilege of settling indiscriminately among the Choctaw, were given a separate territory west of the latter, and an independent government. The history of the Choctaw national government in Oklahoma would constitute an interesting contribution to our knowledge of native American capabilities in the handling of their affairs under a frame imported from abroad. Like the governments of the other four red republics of the old Indian Territory, it is now of course a thing of the past, the Choctaw being citizens of Oklahoma and of the United States.
THE ORIGIN LEGEND
There are two forms of the Choctaw origin legend, and both are suggested in the following passage from Du Pratz, which perhaps contains our earliest reference to it:
According to the tradition of the natives this nation passed so rapidly from one land to another and arrived so suddenly in the country which it occupies that, when I asked them from whence the Chat-kas came, to express the suddenness of their appearance they replied that they had come out from under the earth. Their great numbers imposed respect on the nations near which they passed, but their wholly unmartial character did not inspire them with any lust of conquest, so that they entered an uninhabited country the possession of which no one disputed with them. They have not molested their neighbors, and the latter did not dare to test their bravery; this is doubtless why they have grown, and augmented to their present numbers.
Romans (1771) says:
These people are the only nation from whom I could learn any idea of a traditional account of a first origin; and that is their coming out of a hole in the ground, which they shew between their nation and the Chickasaws; they tell us also that their neighbours were surprised at seeing a people rise at once out of the earth.
The Ballad of Little River THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS
A TALE OF RACE AND UNREST IN THE RURAL SOUTH
By PAUL HEMPHILL
Copyright © 2000 Paul Hemphill. All rights reserved.