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A little cloud was once seen in the northern sky. It came before a rushing wind, and covered the Choctaw country with darkness. Out of it few an angry fire. It struck a large oak, and scattered its limbs and its trunk all along the ground, and from that spot sprung forth a warrior fully armed for war. And that man was.......*
Pushmataha, great Chief of the Choctaw Nation, was born in what is now the State of Mississippi, in about 1764. He distinguished himself on the war-path before he had attained his twentieth year. He joined an expedition against the Osages on the western side of the Mississippi, and because of his youth and propensity for talking, he was a good deal laughed at by the more experienced men in his party. Every night, after making their campfires, some of the more fluent warriors were wont to deliver speeches touching their intended movements, and the boy-warrior did not hesitate to express his views and intentions. But the older men shook their heads in derision.
In due time the war party reached the Osage country, and a desperate fight soon occurred. It lasted nearly a whole day, and when concluded by the defeat of the Osages, it was whispered around that the boy had disappeared early in the conflict, and he was condemned as a coward. At midnight he rejoined his friends at their rendezvous, and they jeered him to his face for running away. To this he made reply by saying, "Let those laugh who can show more scalps than I can," whereupon he took from his pouch no less than five scalps, and threw them upon the ground. They were the result of a flank movement which he had made, single-handed, on the rear of the enemy.
From that night they looked upon the young warrior as a great man, and gave him the name of the Eagle.
Other fights ensued during those earliest years of Eagle, and more scalps were presented to his people. Once, when asked of the secret of his success, he simply replied: "I scare them first, then I whip them."
In 1779, at about the age of 15, the young warrior boasted that his name was now Pushmataha, meaning, "the warrior's seat is finished." Pushmataha engaged in ball playing, content to rest on his laurels. He was then living on the Tombigbee, but while away engaging his his favorite pastime, a party of Creek Indians visited his cabin, and burned it to the ground. In retaliation, Pushmataha invaded the Creek country, killing many of the new enemies, and destroying much of their property. He continued his battles with the Creeks until the War of 1812, when he sided with the United States against the British. Most of the Choctaw wished to remain neutral. Pushmataha spoke: "The Creeks were once our friends. They have joined the English, and now we must follow different trails. When our fathers took the hand of Washington, they told him the Choctaws could always be the friends of his nation, and Pushmataha cannot be false to their promises. I am now ready to fight against both the English and the Creeks."
The Creeks and the Seminoles both allied against the Americans. Pushmataha made war upon them with such energy and success that the white men gave him the title of the Indian General, which he and his people considered a decided advance on his previous titles of warrior, hunter, man-eater, and ball-player.
Pushmataha was as generous as he was courageous, especially to those poorer than himself, and he took pleasure in extending the hospitality of his cabin to strangers. He was fond of children, and when in the mood, would join them in their games. He loved to talk with them about his adventures and the wonders he had seen. Pushmataha was not only a gifted speaker, he held a sharp and humorous wit.
Pushmataha had a total of five children, and though he could not speak a word of English, he took pains to have his children as well educated as his circumstances would allow.
However, his drinking habits paralleled his fighting, and he once insisted that a solider be removed from the stockade, after learning that all the soldier had done was to become drunk. "Many good warriors get drunk," he declared.
Notwithstanding the fact that Pushmataha had taken the lives of many fellow-beings, and had a ferocious disposition, he was greatly beloved by his own people, as well as by the whites. He was treated with real affection by the citizens of Mobile, who credited Pushmataha as the savior of their city from the Creeks. He also held a deserved reputation for honesty, and observancy of his word.
At the end of the War of 1812, Pushmataha returned to the Tombigbee, hung up his sword, and was made Chief of the Choctaw Nation. A period of peace followed for several years.
But soon the white man began to press upon the hunting grounds of his people, and the disagreeable subject of emigrating to the West was forced upon his attention. He made several treaties with the Government, and with one of them, signed in 1820, is connected the following incident. General Andrew Jackson was the commissioner on the part of the United States, and one of the stipulations that he introduced displeased Pushmataha, who refused to affix his name. On seeing this, Gen. Jackson put on all his dignity and thus addressed the chief:
"I wish you to understand that I am Andrew Jackson, and, by the Eternal, you shall sign that treaty as I have prepared it."
The mighty Choctaw Chief was not disconcerted by this haughty address, and springing suddenly to his feet, and imitating the manner of his opponent, replied,
"I know very well who you are, but I wish you to understand that I am Pushmataha, head chief of the Choctaws; and, by the Eternal, I will not sign that treaty."
The general concluded that he had found his match in the frontier, and having modified his views, the chief was satisfied, and then promptly affixed his signature to one of the parchments, which was to banish the Choctaws from the land of their fathers.
In 1824, Pushmataha went to Washington with a delegation of his principal men for the purpose to use his own style of speaking, of brightening the chain of peace between the Americans and his people. While the government wished to induce the Choctaws to sell a new portion of their Mississippi lands, Pushmataha refused to part with any more territory. Although ill at the time, Pushmataha said,
"Father. I have been here some time. I have not talked because I have been ill. You shall hear me now. You have no doubt heard of me. I am Pushmataha.
"When in my own country, I often looked toward this council-house, and wanted to come here. I am in trouble, and will tell you why. I feel like a small child not half as high as his father, who comes up to look in his father's face, hanging in the bend of his arm, to tell him his troubles. So, father, I hang in the bend of your arm, look in your face, and now hear me speak.
"In my own country, I heard there were men appointed to talk to us. I would not speak there. I chose to come here, and speak in this beloved house. I can boast and say, and tell the truth, that none of my forefathers, nor any Choctaws, ever drew bows against the United States. They have always been friendly. We have held the hands of the United States so long that our nails have grown to be like birds' claws. My nation has always listened to the white people. They have give away their country, until it is very small. I repeat the same about the land east of the Tombigbee.
"I came here, when a young man, to see my father, President Jefferson. He told me, if ever we got into trouble, we must run and tell him. I am come."
Later, the symptoms of the old Choctaw's sickness became alarming. When told that he might die, Pushmataha spoke of the event with the utmost coolness. His uppermost thought seemed to be that the capital of the nation was an appropriate place in which to die. He reflected a desire to be buried with military honors, and that big guns might be fired over this grave. Toward the end, he called his companions around him, and gave them particular directions to his arms and ornaments. He said he wanted to die like a man. His last words to his companions were:
"I am about to die, but you will return to our country. As you go along the paths, you will see the flowers, and hear the birds sing; but Pushmataha will see and hear them no more. When you reach home they will ask you, 'Where is Pushmataha?' And you will say to them, 'He is no more.' They will hear your words as they do the fall of the great oak in the stillness of the midnight woods."
Pushmataha was buried in the Congressional Cemetery with honors. A procession more than a mile long followed his remains along Pennsylvania Avenue; minute guns were fired from Capitol Hill, and a "big" gun over his grave. Among those who attended his funeral was Andrew Jackson, who frequently expressed the opinion that Pushmataha was the greatest and the bravest Indian he ever knew.
Pushmataha died on the 24th of December, 1824, of the croup, in the sixtieth year of his age.
Appletons' Journal; a magazine of general literature. Volume 4, Issue 71; Published by D. Appleton and Company, 1870.
Prepared by Ellen Pack
*Words spoken by the head Chief of the Choctaw delegation at the conclusion of a meeting with Mr. Calhoun, the Secretary of War, in 1824.
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