CHOCTAW LEGENDS AND STORIES
These stories appeared in various Bishinik editions and are referenced if known. All material should be assumed to be copyrighted by the author, whether specifically noted or not!
Corn…a Choctaw Legend
The origin of corn is connected with a myth called by Cushman the story of 0hoyo 0sh Chisba (or 0hoyo osh chisba), “The Unknown Woman.” With Cushman’s usual emotional setting this runs as follows:
In the days of many moons ago, two Choctaw hunters were encamped for the night in the swamps of the bend of the Alabama river…. The two hunters, having been unsuccessful in the chase of that and the preceding day, found themselves on that night with nothing with which to satisfy the cravings of hunger except a black hawk which they had shot with an arrow. Sad reflections filled their hearts as they thought of their sad disappointments and of their suffering families at home. While the gloomy future spread over them its dark pall of despondency, all serving to render them unhappy indeed.
They cooked the hawk and sat down to partake of their poor and scanty supper, when their attention was drawn from their gloomy forbodings by the low but distinct tones, strange yet soft and plaintive as the melancholy notes of the dove, but produced by what they were unable to even conjecture.
At different intervals it broke the deep silence of the early night with its seemingly muffled notes of woe; and as the nearly full orbed moon slowly ascended the eastern sky the strange sounds became more frequent and distinct. With eyes dilated and fluttering heart they looked up and down the river to learn whence the sounds proceeded, but no object except the sandy shores glittering in the moonlight greeted their eyes, while the dark waters of the river seemed alone to give response in murmuring tones to the strange notes that continued to float upon the night air from a direction they could not definitely locate; but happening to look behind them in the direction opposite the moon they saw a woman of wonderful beauty standing upon a mound a few rods distant. Like an illuminated shadow, she had suddenly appeared out of the moon-lighted forest. She was loosely clad in snow-white raiment, and bore in the folds of her drapery a wreath of fragrant flowers. She beckoned them to approach, while she seemed surrounded by a halo of light that gave to her a supernatural appearance. Their imagination now influenced them to believe her to be the Great Spirit of their nation, and that the flowers she bore were representatives of loved ones who had passed from earth to bloom in the Spirit Land …
The mystery was solved. At once they approached (the spot) where she stood, and offered their assistance in any way they could be of service to her. She replied she was very hungry, whereupon one of them ran and brought the roasted hawk and handed it to her. She accepted it with grateful thanks; but, after eating a small portion of it, she handed the remainder back to them replying that she would remember their kindness when she returned to her home in the happy hunting grounds of her father, who was Shilup Chitoh Osh – The Great Spirit of the Choctaws. She then told them that when the next mid-summer moon should come they must meet her at the mound upon which she was then standing.
She then bade them an affectionate adieu, and was at once borne away upon a gentle breeze and, mysteriously as she came, so she disappeared. The two hunters returned to their camp for the night and early next morning sought their homes, but kept the strange incident to themselves, a profound secret. When the designated time rolled around the mid-summer full moon found the two hunters at the foot of the mound but Ohoyo Chishba Osh was nowhere to be seen. Then remembering she told them they must come to the very spot where she was then standing, they at once ascended the mound and found it covered with a strange plant, which yielded an excellent food, which was ever afterwards cultivated by the Choctaws,and named by them Tunchi (corn).
From: “Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians” by John R. Swanton, pages 208-209.
The everfaithful Lily Wanda
Choctaw Children’s Legends by Norvella Goodman Martin
The ancient Chief was pleased to see his people with hearts full of love and gratitude to Great Spirit who had given them plenty. He delighted in the songs and dancers of thankfulness at the Green Corn Festival. The choice of their queen of the festival was right; Lily Wanda was the most beautiful of all the maidens. Yet his heart was heavy. Was there a young man brave enough to undertake the task he would set before them?
Time came for him to speak. The people were quiet.
“My people,” he said, “Great Spirit has been good to us. Green Corn Goddess has watched over our corn. Rain God watered it and Father Sun warmed it. We give them thanks.”
The Indians loved their chief and they liked his words.
“There is one thing more I wish for,” he continued slowly. I have watched Father Sun day after day as he goes from our sight. I have wondered where he sleeps. To find the answer one must journey with him. This traveler will meet danger and hardships. He may never return. If he can find the place, he will be great among men.”
The chief was silent. The silence was unbroken but for the wind that was like a sigh through the trees.
“My Chief,” spoke Oklawana with the strength born of adventure, “I will find where Father Sun sleeps!” “No, no, do not go, Oklawana! You will never return!” cried out Lily Wanda. The startled Indians looked at each other but spoke no word.
“You are brave, my son,” said the chief. “We shall ask Great Spirit to help you.”
Oklawana turned to Lily Wanda. Their eyes met but for a moment he could not speak. “I must go! Our great chief wishes it. I must win honor before I marry. I will return with great honor and claim you for my bride!”
Lily Wanda could not cry or speak. She was hardly aware that her sweetheart had taken her hand.
“I leave my wampum belt with you. It tells the story of our people’s councils. Guard it well until I return.” Then he made four bundles of sticks for the four seasons of the year. “Count these for me as the seasons pass,” he said as he gave them to Lily Wanda.
“I do as you ask,” she barely whispered as she took the sticks. “Go!” she quickly added.
Oklawana made ready food, bows and arrows. At the rising of the sun his sweetheart watched him start his long journey.
Day by day Lily Wanda prayed to Great Spirit to send him back. She counted the bundle of sticks as the seasons passed. In the evenings she sat in her doorway watching in the direction he should return. In time, she went up on the mountain and built signal smokes. Perhaps he was lost.
Seasons came and went. Lily Wanda grew old. She still counted the sticks and guarded the belt. She watched and prayed. One day as she prayed at the mound of Nanih Waya, a stranger came to her.
“I saw the signal smoke and came to you,” he said. She showed no interest. “You are Lily Wanda. I am Oklawana. I have looked for you for many seasons. Without your signals I would never have found you!” He saw his words meant nothing to the woman.
“Don’t you remember Oklawana who went in search of the sleeping place of Father Sun? I am Oklawana. I could not find the place but I have come back to you,” he pleaded.
“That is not true,” she replied. “Oklawana has been dead for many years. He can not return; you are some other,” she continued listlessly.
“Is this the belt he gave you?” he asked as he pointed to her waist.
“Yes, I have kept it for him but he does not return.”
“I gave you the belt. Don’t you remember me?”
“No, you are Halava, the story teller. Leave me,” she breathed.
She was fainting as Oklawana took her in his arms. Her sorrow was too great. He saw she had died of a broken heart. Sad and distressed, Oklawana went into the village. He found no one he knew. When he told his story, some remembered they had heard of him.
“I traveled with Father Sun day after day, season after season. Finally I saw him sink into a great blue lake. I could not follow him,” He was growing weary but he went on, “I have wandered many years trying to find my people. You do not know me. My Lily Wanda did not know me. Now she is dead,” he said in despair as he sank upon the earth. He too had died of grief.
“It is Oklawana!” the people cried. They buried him and his faithful Lily Wanda together.
by Rita Laws
When Parents Ask Children To Be Noisy
Do you know what an eclipse is? Today we know that when the moon passes in front of the sun and blocks it out, all is still safe. But our ancestors believed that an eclipse was dangerous. They thought a black squirrel was nibbling at the sun!
They knew that noise frightened squirrels. So, whenever a solar eclipse began, all of the people would make a terrible noise until the squirrel was frightened away from the sun.
Children were asked to scream, shout and yell. Grown-ups shot rifles into the air and banged pots and pans together. It was a frightening racket! And do you know what? It always worked.
The Gift of Tanchi (Corn)
Once upon a time there were two Choctaws camped out under a summer moon when they heard a beautiful but sad sound. They walked along the river’s edge following the sound until they came upon a woman standing on a mound of earth. She was very beautiful, surrounded by light, and wore a dress of white decorated with delicate flowers. Now these two Choctaws had very good manners so they asked her right away how they could help her. .”I am hungry,” she said with a small sad voice. The men did not have much food but they gave her their entire supper, and they gave it to her happily. The lovely lady ate only a little and thanked them with a promise.
“If you will go and tell no one you saw me, I will ask my father, the Great Spirit, to give you a great and wondrous gift. Return to this exact spot at the next moon.” A little breeze suddenly blew by and she was gone. The Choctaws returned to their families and said nothing, even though they wanted to.
At the next moon, they quickly returned to the spot but were saddened to see that Hashtali’s daughter was not there. But on the exact spot where she stood was a tall green plant with leaves that looked like the swords of the white men. The food this plant gave could be eaten in many different ways, all of which were delicious. The children like liked the popcorn it gave best. That plant was the corn plant, of course, a great gift, indeed.
Where Do Ants Come From?
The great Spirit made the very first people at the same time he made the grasshoppers, and both from yellow clay. They were born in an underground cave and then walked to the surface through a large tunnel. People and grasshoppers emerged together and traveled off in all directions. But the people were much bigger than the insects and trampled many of them.. Some even killed the great mother grasshopper who lived in the cave! Fearing they would be wiped out, the grasshoppers called out to Hashtali and asked that no more people be allowed to come forth. Now, the Great Spirit hears the cries of all living things and he took pity on the grasshoppers. He made the tunnel much smaller and turned the remaining people into ants so that they could no longer trample the grasshoppers. The ants you see today are those people. Don’t step on them!
Copyright ©1998 by Rita Laws
Choctaw Legends Re-Told
By Rita Laws
THE MAGIC RED POLE
The grass has died and been reborn many times since our people moved the long distance from the First Place to the ancient Motherland. A great alikchi, or medicine man, guided them with a red pole. Red, you know, is the sacred color of the Choctaws.
Hashtali, the Great Spirit, directed the alikchi to push the pole into the ground every night. Whatever direction it leaned the next morning, was the direction the people would go. For many years, the pole leaned to the east and the people traveled across great rivers and over high mountains covered with snow. BBRRR!
Then, at last, one morning, a small child awoke with the first light of day, and left her parents’ side to look at the red pole. She could hardly believe her eyes because it was standing straight up! They would not have to go anymore. She woke up the camp with clapping and shouts of laughter. There was great rejoicing as the people unpacked their belongings for good. They were home!
A FRIENDLY HELLO
Long ago, the Choctaws appeared on Earth very suddenly. The ground opened one day and there soon was a very large hole. People who lived in nearby areas slowly gathered around. They were curious and a little frightened, all at once.
Later that day, the tops of many heads could be seen at the bottom of the hole. Those who were watching gasped in surprise!
Then the entire Choctaw people climbed out of the hole, men woman and children. They were not dressed for war. None were carrying spears or arrows.
They greeted their neighbors in chulosa, or peace, and their neighbors left them to live in peace.
And that is why our people prospered in the time before the white man.
Copyright ©1998 by Rita Laws
Choctaw legends re-told:
by Rita Laws
STORMS AND NIGHTMARES
The Choctaws of long ago did not know what caused thunder and lightning. Nor did they know that nightmares are really harmless. They made up explanations for these things and we call them legends. Legends are an important part of the history of every group of people. The Choctaws believed that thunder was a great bird. Every time she laid an egg in a cloud, thunder would sound! This bird was also blamed for minor storm damage of homes and crops. Lightning was thought to be an even larger bird who did greater damage. Lightning destroyed whole trees and even forests! It was said that during a nightmare, the inside shadow or ghost left a person’s body to roam the earth. This was considered to be very dangerous and people counted themselves lucky when they awoke from a nightmare still in possession of their souls.
FIRE IS A SPY!
The word for the Great Spirit, Hashtali, means “noon day sun.” It was believed the sun holds the power of life and death over people. There is a legend that says Hashtali and Fire are friends. In fact, it was believed that they are always in touch with one another. Fire tells the sun about everything it hears and sees on Earth, especially when it learns of wrong-doing. The people knew that if they did anything naughty near a fire, Hashtali would know of it before they could take even one step. Choctaw children were always very good around a fire!
Today, some people think that the number 13 is unlucky. This is called a superstition. Choctaw superstition said that when a sapsucker bird lands on a tree in your yard, you will receive some news soon. It may be good or it may be bad but you would hear of it that day if you saw the news bird.
Others thought that if a rooster crowed at an unusual time, there was danger nearby, or bad weather on the way. But the most common superstition was the idea that it was bad luck to say your own name! Choctaws of old never told anyone their own names. If you wanted to know what to call a new friend, you had to ask someone else for that person’s name!
Copyright ©1998 by Rita Laws
The BISHINIK thanks Rita Laws of Harrah, Oklahoma for submitting the Choctaw legends for publication.
November 1987, Bishinik, page 3
Choctaw Legends re-told
BY Rita Laws
TELLING THE TRUTH
Choctaws have always held honesty in highest regard. At one time, telling a lie was considered a crime! Choctaws would not speak to a liar except to call the person “Holabi minko.” This was a name you would not want to hear because it means “Liar Chief.” In the olden days, if a Choctaw needed to swear an oath that he or she was telling the truth, these words would be spoken: “I promise in the face of the sun!” In this way, the sun called to be a witness to the truth. And the sun could see all.
A CALENDAR OF STICKS
At one time, there was little need to know which day it was. Choctaws had no calendars or alarm clocks. These were not necessary because parents worked at home and there were no schools as we know them today. But when someone did need to know when a certain day had arrived, a simple but ingenious “calendar” was used. A Choctaw gathered the same number of sticks as the number of days ahead, and then tossed out one stick for each day that passed. When only one stick was left, the time was up! The names of the twelve months were known to Choctaws by different names than we know them today. Can you find the month of your birthday?
January – Cooking month
February – Little Famine month
March – Big Famine month
April – Wildcat month
May – Panther month
June – Windy month
July – Crane month
August – Women’s month
September – Mulberry month
October – Blackberry month
November – Sassafras month
December – Peach month
TWO SHADOWS FOR ONE PERSON
The Choctaws once believed that everyone has two shadows, not just one. The inside shadow is a ghost which travels to another faraway place when the body dies. “The Land of The Ghosts” as it was called, was thought to be a giant playground where people played and danced and had fun forever! No one was ever sick or cold or hungry in this place. There were plenty of melons and other delicious foods for all. It was believed that everyone would be allowed inside this “heaven”, everyone that is, except anyone who had ever murdered a Choctaw! Murderers had to stand outside and watch the games for eternity. The second shadow, the one on the outside which we can see, sometimes remained on earth after a person died. These shadows were able to roam at night and even hoot like an owl!
Copyright ©1998 by Rita Laws
Choctaw legends re-told -Why The Flowers Grow
A story by Mrs. Josephine Latimer
One day little Josephine went with her Aunt Selee to look at her grandmother’s flower garden. Josephine thought her aunt would like some of the flowers so she started picking some. When her aunt saw Josephine, she called, “Sutapa, sutapa! (You hurt; quit).” Then she began to cry.
Josephine was distressed and puzzled. She ran into the house to her grandmother. “Grandmother,” she said, almost in tears, “why is Aunt Selee crying? I did not touch her but she called to me, “You hurt, quit!”
“I understand,” replied her grandmother as she saw the flowers in Josephine’s hand.
“Would you like to have these flowers, Grandmother?” Josephine asked when she saw her looking at them. “I broke them for Aunt Selee but I don’t think she would want them now.”
“No, Josephine, she wouldn’t. The Indians love the wild and the garden flowers but they never pick them.”
“But, Grandmother, they are so pretty!”
“You do not understand, child. Let’s sit here and I’ll tell you why.” Long ago when the world was young, there was in the heavens a constellation where shone the brightest star in all the sky. This beautiful star, Bright Eyes, was happy because earth people loved her beauty. After many years a star that made Bright Eyes dim came into the sky. This made her sad because people could not see her face. She called to her sisters, “Come, sisters, let us go down to earth where we can live with the earth people and make them happy. The new star has hidden my light and the sky does not need us any longer.”
“On their way to earth, Bright Eyes and her sisters stopped on Mount Joy where lived Uncta, the great bronze spider, spinner of finest webs. “We must learn to spin if Uncta will teach us,” said Bright Eyes. He was proud of his spinning and weaving and was glad to teach the maidens. He set them to work and soon they were able to spin beautiful threads and weave them into fine cloth. “You and your sisters have done well,” Uncta told Bright Eyes.”
“How did they get to earth?” asked Josephine.
“Bright Eyes said to Uncta one day, “Will you help us get to earth? We want to teach the people how to spin and weave.” He wove a basket and fastened it to a strong thread to lower them to earth.
“When they touched the earth, they became the Little Folk. They loved the forests; and there they lived, working, dancing and playing. Earth people learned quickly to spin and weave. Then the Little Folk taught them how to make bright colors and use them in weaving their rugs and blankets. Earth people, Indians, loved these Little Folk who helped them and Bright Eyes was happy again.
“Bright Eyes and her sisters assisted the Indians when they were sick. They went into the forests to pray to Great Spirit to protect the Indians. They told the people to pray to Great Spirit too.
“All of the prayers went up to Sandlephone who sat on a great ladder high in the sky. As soon as the prayers had come into his hands, they were changed into lovely flowers. He closed the blossoms and dropped the seeds upon the earth while the perfume was carried on into the heavens where Great Spirit was.
“The Little Folk cared for the seeds as they fell and from them sprang the wild flowers. They watched and tended the flowers. The Indians loved them but never hurt them. They called the flowers “Tokens of Love from Great Spirit.”
“Oh,” said Josephine, “after this I shall not break them.”
Have you heard these Choctaw legends?
Why Rabbit Is So Lean
Bear and Rabbit met at Bear’s cave and had conversation just like our folks.
“How your folks getting along, Bear?” asked Rabbit.
“Fine. How your folks?”
“All well,” was the reply. Bear and Rabbit, just like folks, talked all morning about nothing much. Finally Rabbit said, “I must go home.”
“Wait till I have dinner,” Bear urged. He got big knife and whetted it sharp. He cut a piece off his side and fried it for dinner.
“Come see me, Bear,” said Rabbit as he started to leave.
“Where do you live, Rabbit?”
“On old field with tall corn.”
One day when Bear was walking along, he remembered Rabbit had invited him to come see him. Bear walked through tall corn but could not find Rabbit until he stepped on him and Rabbit went, “Squash, squash!”
Bear said, “Hok, hok, hok! How you getting along, Rabbit?”
“All right. How you, Bear?”
“I’ll get dinner,” said Rabbit. He got his big knife and cut a piece off his side just like bear did. He fried it and gave it to Bear.
Rabbits side is still lean.
Why The Owls Stare
Once upon a time Owl and Pigeon met and talked just like folks.
“There are more owls than pigeons,” boasted Owl.
“No,” said Pigeon, “Many more pigeons. I challenge you to count numbers!”
“Agreed,” responded Owl. “The big woods is fine place. Plenty trees for everybody.”
“Fine. A week from today will give time to notify all owls and pigeons,” Pigeon said.
On day to count owls come first. Trees were full of owls. They laughed and said, “Oowah – wah – wah! ” They were sure there could not be as many pigeons. Owls were all over the place.
Soon they heard roar from east, then roar from south and roar from north. Pigeons covered trees so limbs broke.
Owls could not believe there could be that many pigeons. They sat still moving their heads back and forth staring with wide eyes. Pigeons kept coming.
“Oo! Wee!” said owls darting under trees and flying away. They travel at night so they will not meet pigeons. Owls stared so long and hard at pigeons their eyes just stayed that way.
Why the Possum’s tail has no hair now
Coon and Possum met one day and had talk. As talk went on, Possum couldn’t keep eyes off Coon’s tail.
“How’s your folks?” asked Coon.
“Fine,” replied Possum.
“How you?” continued Coon.
“Fine,” came the same reply. Possum was so busy admiring Coon’s tail, he couldn’t think of anything else.
“Where you going?” Coon asked.
“On way to mountain,” answered Possum who had come out of bottom.
“Hunting persimmons. Might find some,” Possum answered, still looking at Coon’s tail.
“Just passed persimmon grove on way down,” Coon told him.
“Any persimmons?” asked Possum beginning to show a little interest.
“Where you going, Coon?”
“To bottom to look for crawdads.”
“Noticed them in every slew, lots of them,” said Possum and with that his eyes were back on Coon’s tail. “Your beautiful tail, Coon! How did you get it?” he had to ask.
“Took hickory bark, wrapped it around tail then singed it. That is way I got colors,” explained Coon.
They separated, each going own way. Possum kept thinking how he could have tail like Coon’s. He got hickory bark and wrapped tail. He built fire to singe tail but he burned all hair off.
Ever since possums have had no hair on tails. That is reason they travel at night. They still sulk because no hair on tails.