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!
The Little People
A long time ago in ancient time, while the Choctaw Indians were living in Mississippi, the Choctaw legends say that certain supernatural beings or spirits lived near them. These spirits, or “Little People,” were known as Kowi Anukasha or “Forest Dwellers.” They were about two or three feet tall. These pygmy beings lived deep in the thick forest, their homes were in caves hidden under large rocks.
When a boy child is two, three, or even four years old, he will often wander off into the woods, playing or chasing a small animal. When the little one is well out of sight from his home, “Kwanokasha”, who is always on watch, seizes the boy and takes him away to his cave, his dwelling place. Many times his cave is far away and Kwanokasha and the little boy must travel a very long way, climbing many hills and crossing many streams. When they finally reach the cave Kwanokasha takes him inside where he is met by three other spirits, all very old with long white hair. The first one offers the boy a knife; the second one offers him,a bunch of poisonous herbs; the third offers a bunch of herbs yielding good medicine.
If the child accepts the knife, he is certain to become a bad man and may even kill his friends. If he accepts the poisonous herbs he will never be able to cure or help his people. But, if he accepts the good herbs, he is destined to become a great doctor and an important and influential man of his tribe and win the confidence of all his people.
When he accepts the good herbs the three old spirits will tell him the secrets of making medicines from herbs, roots and barks of certain trees, and of treating and curing various fevers, pains and other sickness. That is the reason the “‘Little People” take the boy child to their home in the wilderness, in order to train Indian doctors, transmitting to them their special curative powers and to train them in the manufacture of their medicines. The child will remain with the spirits for three days after which he is returned. He does not tell where he has been or what he has seen or heard. Not until he becomes a man will he make use of the knowledge gained from the spirits, and never will he reveal to others how it was acquired.
It is said among the Choctaws that few children wait to accept the offering of the good herbs from the third spirit, and that is why there are so few great doctors and other men of influence among the Choctaws.
It is also said the the “Little People” are never seen by the common Choctaws. The Choctaw prophets and herb doctors, however, claim the power of seeing them and of holding communication with them.
During the darkest nights in all kinds of weather you can see a strange light wandering around in the woods. This light is the Indian doctor and his little helper looking for that special herb to treat and cure a very sick tribesman.
Eclipse of the sun blamed on black squirrel
In Choctaw history, solar eclipses were attributed to black squirrels, or a black squirrel, supposed to be eating the luminary, and they must be driven off if mankind were still to enjoy the heat and light. Cushman says:
The Choctaw . . . attributed an eclipse of the sun to a black squirrel, whose eccentricities often led it into mischief, and, among other things, that of trying to eat up the sun at different intervals. When thus inclined, they believed, which was confirmed by long experience, that the only effective means to prevent so fearful a catastrophe befalling the world as the blotting out of that indispensable luminary, was to favor the little, black epicure with a first-class scare; therefore, whenever he manifested an inclination to indulge in a meal on the sun, every ingenuity was called into requisition to give him a genuine fright so that he would be induced, at least, to postpone his meal on the sun at that particular time and seek a lunch elsewhere. As soon, therefore, as the sun began to draw its lunar veil over its face, the cry was heard from every mount from the Dan to the Beersheba of their then wide extended territory, echoing from hill to dale, “Funi lusa hushi umpa! Funi lusa hushi umpa,” according to our phraseology, the black squirrel is eating the sun! Then and there was heard a sound of tumult by day in the Choctaw Nation for the space of an hour or two. Far exceeding that said to have been heard by night in Belgium’s Capital, and sufficient in the conglomeration of discordant tones terrific, if heard by the distant, little, fastidious squirrel, to have made him lose forever afterward all relish for a mess of suns for an early or late dinner.
The shouts of the women and children mingling with the ringing of discordant bells as the vociferous pounding and beating of earsplitting tin pans and cups mingling in “wild confusion worse confounded,” yet in sweet unison with a first-class orchestra of yelping, howling, barking dogs gratuitously thrown in by the innumerable and highly excited curs, produced a din, which even a “Funi lusa,” had he heard it, could scarcely have endured even to have indulged in a nibble or two of the sun, though urged by the demands of a week’s fasting.
But during the wild scene the men were not idle spectators, or indifferent listeners. Each stood a few paces in front of his cabin door with no outward manifestation of excitement whatever – so characteristic of the Indian warrior but with his trusty rifle in hand, which so oft had proved a friend sincere in many hours of trial, which he loaded and fired in rapid succession at the distant, devastating squirrel, with the same coolness and calm deliberation that he did when shooting at his game. More than once have I witnessed the fearful yet novel scene. When it happened to be the time of a total eclipse of the sun, a sufficient evidence that the little, black epicure meant business in regard to having a square meal, though it took the whole sun to furnish it, then indeed there were sounds of revelry and tumult unsurpassed by any ever heard before, either in “Belgium” or elsewhere.
Then the women shrieked and redoubled their efforts upon the tin pans, which, under the desperate blows, strained every vocal organ to do its utmost and whole duty in loud response, while the excited children screamed and beat their tin cups, and the sympathetic dogs (whose name was legion) barked and howled – all seemingly determined not to fall the one behind the other in their duty since the occasion demanded it; while the warriors still stood in profound and meditative silence, but firm and undaunted, as they quickly loaded and fired their rifles, each time taking deliberate aim, if perchance the last shot might prove the successful one; then, as the moon’s shadow began to move from the disk of the sun, the joyful shout was heard above the mighty din “Funi-lusa-osh mahlatah! ” The black squirrel is frightened.
But the din remained unabated until the sun again appeared in its usual splendor, and all nature again assumed its harmonious course.
From: “Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians” by John R. Swanton, pages 210-211.
March 1995, BISHINIK, page 5
Why the rabbit has a short tail
A very long time ago it is said that only the Red people and wildlife were on this land. It is also said at that time the rabbit had a long tail.
Early one very cold morning he was out hopping and playing. He looked toward the trail and saw a fox coming up the trail. The fox had some fish with him. Wow, I’ll ask him where he caught those fish. When the fox got there the rabbit said, “Fox, where did you get those fish?” The Fox said, “I caught them at the branch.” The branch is frozen over, however, I dug a small hole in the ice and put my tail down through the hole and I sat there for quite a while. My tail began to get heavy so I pulled my tail out and the fish were hanging on my tail.
The rabbit started hopping very fast toward the branch. When he got to the branch he dug a small hole in the ice and dropped his tail through the hole. It was very cold but the rabbit kept sitting on the frozen ice. He thought he had enough fish so he gave his tail a pull, but it would not come out. He pulled again, but the tail had frozen to the ice and wouldn’t come out. So he gave a hard jerk and the tail snapped off. That’s why the rabbit has a short tail today.
Chukfl Hasimbish Ut Tilofa?
Hopaki fehna kash yakni ilappa hatak api homa micha nan nukshopa bieka hosh aiyasha tok mia. Yammak fokali ma, Chukfi ihasimbish ut falaya bieka tok mia.
Nitak onnahinli kapassa fehna tok yohmi kia Chukfi ut kocha ma tolupli micha washohash ahanta tok mia, hatok osh hini ushi imma pisa ma Chula ut hina ushi ma minti tok. Chula ut nani kanohmi ishi hosh minti hopesa mut. Yaki! Nani ma Kanima a hokli tuk a impanaklo la chi achi tok osh.
Chula hut alah ma. Chukfi ashosh, Chula, nani ma katima ish ahokli tu im achi ma? Chula hash osh anumpa falama imma mut bok ushi mak atok.
Bok ushi mut kalampi fehna yohmi kiya okti ma Chiluk iskitini kulilish sa hasimbish a pit foki li tok, micha ma binili tok osh hopakit taha ma sa hasimbish ut wikit isht ia ma halat kochi lih ma nani yakomih hosh sa hasimbish a takohmaya tok im achi ma. Chukfi ash osh t ushpa fehna hosh tolupi bok ushi ia tok osh onah mut okti kalampi yumma chiluk kuli cha imi hasimbish a okti chiluk ma lhpulli chit pit i takalichit tok.
Nitak mut kapassa fehna tok. Yohmi kia Chukfi ash osh pi okti kalampi ma binili tok osh hopakit taha ma. Himak foka kano nani ut takomaya ahni mut i hasimbish kocha chi tok ako kocha hi keyu tok, yohmi a haksichi hosh halali ma hasimbish ut okti ma akalampi tok osh litafa tuk. Yohmi hatok o himmak a Chukfi hasimbish ut tilofa osh yohmi.
Choctaw story version and translation by Charley Jones
Supernatural beings in our past
Some early writers, and in later times, Cushman and Bushnell, report that the Choctaws believed in a great good spirit and a great evil spirit. It seems that there were a number of supernatural beings mentioned in historical accounts of Choctaws over the past few hundred years.
Several different terms were applied to the great good spirit, Nanapesa, Ishtahullo-chito, Nanishtahullo-chito, Hushtahli and Uba Pike. The terms lshtahullo or nanishtahullo is applied to anything thought to possess some occult or superior power – such as a witch.
Shilup chitoh osh is a term anglicized to mean The Great Spirit. Chitokaka means The Great One.
Hushtahli is from Hashi, “Sun” and Tahli, “to complete an action”.
In addition to the native language for what would today be termed God and Devil, the Choctaws believed they had many other “powerful beings” in their midst.
They believed in a little man, about two feet high, who dwelled alone in the thick, dark woods. The little man was called Bohpoli or Kowi anukasha, both names being used alone or together. The translation of Bohpoli is the “Thrower”. The translation of Kowi anuskasha is “The one who stays in the woods”, or to give a more concise translation, “Forest Dweller”.
The little wood sprite was known to be rather mischievous, but not malicious. The Choctaws believed that he often playfully threw sticks and stones at them. All unexplained sounds heard in the woods were attributed to Bohpoli, believing he took a special pleasure in hitting the pine trees to create noise.
An interesting being mentioned in some of the history writings is Kashehotapalo, a combination of man and deer who delighted in frightening hunters. He was much admired for his speed and agility. If the Choctaws angered Kashehotapalo, he would race ahead of them and warn the enemy or animals being hunted.
Okwa Naholo or Oka Nahullo – white people of the water – dwelled in deep pools and had light skins like the skins of trout. They were believed to sometimes capture human beings whom they converted into beings like themselves.
Hoklonote’ she was a bad spirit who could assume any shape he desired, as well as being able to read people’s thoughts.
Nalusa Falaya, “The long black being” resembled a man, but with very small eyes and long, pointed ears. He sometimes frightened hunters or transferred his power of doing harm. Some believed that Nalusa Falaya preferred to approach men by sliding on his stomach like a snake.
Hashok Okwa Hui’ga, translated into Grass Water Drop, was believed to have a connection to what is termed will-o’-the-wisp. Only it’s heart is visible, and that only at night. If anyone looks at it he is led astray.
Ishkitini, or the horned owl, was believed to prowl about at night killing men and animals. Many believed that when ishkitini screeched, it meant sudden death, such as a murder. If the ofunlo (screech owl) was heard, it was a sign that a child under seven in that family was going to die, because in size, it is a small owl. If opa (a common owl) perched in a barn or on trees near the house and hooted, it foreboded death among the near relatives.
Biskinik, the sapsucker, was known as the newsbird. If he landed on a tree in their yard early in the morning, some “hasty” news would come before noon. If he perched there late at night, the news would come before morning.
Heloha (thunder) and Melatha (lightening) were responsible for the dramatic thunderstorms. In Choctaw mythology, they were two huge birds. Heloha would lay her giant eggs in the clouds and they would rumble as they rolled around atop the clouds. Despite his size, her mate, Melatha, was extremely fast and left a trail of sparks as he streaked across the sky.
It was also believed that every man had a shilombish, the outside shadow, which always followed him, and shilup, the inside shadow, or ghost, which after death goes to the land of ghosts. The shilombish was supposed to remain upon the earth, and wander restlessly about its former home, often moaning, to frighten its surviving friends, as to make them forsake the spot, and seek another place to live. It was also supposed to assume the form of a fox, or owl; and by barking like the one, and screeching like the other at night, cause great consternation, for the cry was considered ominous of bad things. The Choctaws could tell between the shilombish and animals it imitates. When a fox barks, or an owl screeches, another fox or owl replies. But when the shilombish imitates the sound of either animal, no response is given.
October 1994, BISHINIK, page 7
Legend of two brothers
If you go to your library and check out a book by H.B. Cushman, The History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez Indians, published in 1899, you can read a great deal about the past of our tribe. On page 197 of this book, Cushman details the story of Tashka and Walo.
Tashka and Walo were brothers who lived long ago. Every morning they saw the sun rise above the horizon, pass high overhead, and late in the day die in the west.
When the boys were about four years old they conceived the idea of following the sun and seeing where he died. So the next day, when he was overhead, they started to follow him; but that night, when he died, they were still in their own country, where they knew the hills and the rivers. Then they slept, and in the morning when the sun was again overhead they once more set off to follow him. And thus they continued for many years to wend their way after the sun in his course through the heavens.
Long, long afterward, when the two boys had become men, they reached a great expanse of water, and the only land they could see was the shore on which they were standing. Late that day, when Sun died, they saw him sink into the water; then they also passed over the water and entered Sun’s home with him. All about them they saw women – the stars are women and the moon is Sun’s wife. Then Moon asked the brothers how they had found their way so far from their home. They told her how for many, many years, ever since they were mere boys, they had followed Sun in his daily journey.
The Sun told his wife to boil water. Into this he put the boys and rubbed them; this treatment caused them to turn red and their skin to come off.
Sun then asked them whether they knew the way to return to their home, and they said, “No”; so he took them to the edge, whence they looked down to the earth but they could not distinguish their home.
Sun asked why they had followed him, as it was not time for them to reach heaven. They replied that their only reason for following him was a desire to see where he died.
Sun then told them that he would send them home, but that for four days after reaching their home they must not speak a word to any person. If they spoke during the four days they would die, otherwise they would then live and prosper. A large buzzard was then called by Sun and the two boys were placed on its back. Buzzard then started toward the earth. The clouds are midway between heaven and earth; above the clouds wind never blows. As buzzard flew from heaven to the clouds the brothers could easily keep their hold; but from the clouds to the earth the buzzard was blown in all directions. All reached the earth in safety, however, and the boys recognized the trees that stood about their old home.
They rested beneath the trees, and while there an old man passed by who knew the brothers. He continued down the road and soon meeting the boys’ mother, told her the boys had come back. She hastened to see them. When she saw them she began to talk and made them answer her. Then they told her that, as they had spoken during the first four days after their return, they would surely die. Knowing she had forced them to speak, on hearing this the mother was greatly worried. Then all went to the mother’s home, and the brothers told her of all they had seen and how they had followed Sun during many years. After they had told all, they died and went up to heaven to remain forever.
The Indians loved nature and lived close to it. They observed carefully the happenings that occurred before weather changes. Their understanding was attributed to Great Spirit’s teachings.
The little loksa or terrapin lives near the water but he cannot live in it. He knows days ahead if there is to be a flood and moves to high ground. When the Indians see the terrapin moving, they know they must move too.
The Indians say saw grass, one of the sedges, blooms every hundred years unless a wind and rain storm is coming. The terrapin does not like the odor of the blossoms, so as soon as the blooming begins, he moves to higher land where there is no grass.
The blossoms and the moving terrapin tell the Indians of the approaching storm.
They say if the wind blows from the east for three consecutive days, rain will fall.
At times when rain is needed, the Indians may try to bring rain. If a snake can be found, it is killed and left with its stomach up to the sun. This will surely bring rain.
The Indians call the redheaded woodpecker the signal bird. If it pecks on the house or a tree near the house, that is the signal danger is near and they must use precaution. Should a signal bird fly in front of one who has started on a trip, he knows danger lies ahead and he should return home.
Legends of the Choctaw Nation remembered
In stories collected by Henry S. Halbert in the 19th century regarding the beliefs of the Choctaws, supernatural beings are mentioned, such as Kashehotapalo, a combination of man and deer who delights in frightening hunters, Okwa Nahola (or Oka Nahullo), “white people of the water,” who dwell in deep pools and have light skins like the skins of trout and sometimes capture human beings whom they convert into beings like themselves; Hoklonote’ she, a bad spirit who can assume any shape he desires and is able to read man’s thoughts; Nalusa Falaya, “the Long Black Being,: which resembles a man, but has small eyes and long, pointed ears and sometimes frightens hunters or even communicates its own power of doing harm; and Hashok Okwa Hui’ga, “grass water drop,” which seems to have some connection with the will-o’-the-wisp. Its heart only is visible and that only at night, and if one looks at it he is led astray. Ishkitini, the horned owl, was believed to prowl about at night killing men and animals. This sinister character was undoubtedly due to the association of the bird with witchcraft.
One Choctaw named Simpson Tubby claimed that the jack-o’-lantern was called “nightmare” by the Indians (and) was believed to plait up the tails of horses during the night and to ride them about until they could hardly be used next day and many died from the effects. They also upset a horse’s stomach so that an Indian doctor had to be called in to treat him.
He said that when the horned owl (ishkitini) screeched it meant a sudden death, such as a murder. If the screech owl (ofunlo) was heard, it was a sign that a child under seven among the connections of that family was going to die, because in size this is a baby owl.
If a common owl (opa) alighted on a barn or on trees near the house and hooted, it foreboded death among the near relatives.
The sapsucker (biskinik) is the “newsbird”. He brings news both bad and good. If he lights on a tree in your lot early in the morning, some “hasty” news will come before noon. If he does this late at night, the news will come before morning.
They believed that the chicken had been put into their yards to give them a friendly warning of danger. If a chicken crows outside of its usual time, it is because it foresees bad weather. If one comes up to the doorstep or into the gallery and crows, it means hasty news. If a chicken files up on the roost and crows after reaching it, there will be trouble in the family. If a hen crows, that means that the women of the neighborhood are going to fall out.
The old Choctaw claimed that the male eel acted also as the male of catfish and fish of other kinds. If one had intercourse with a female eel, the offspring would naturally be eels; if with a mud catfish, the offspring would be blue catfish; if with any scale fish, the young would be channel catfish. It was claimed the different species of fish were made by intermarriages.
They claimed that though the blacksnake would not harm anyone, it would try to scare a person. The coachwhip snake would wrap itself around a person and whip him with its tail, and if a hawk tried to carry one of these serpents off, it would whip him until the feathers flew and make him let it go.
The world “Nahullo” (something supernatural or sacred), which appears above, was probably a generic term applied to spirits that had never existed as human beings, although Cushman speaks of them as a race of gigantic hunters who lived in western Tennessee and the northern parts of Alabama and Mississippi at the period of the Choctaw immigration. Later the term was applied to the white people, probably on account of the lightness of their skin.
Information from: “Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians” by John R. Swanton pages 198-199.
Bishinik, December, 1978. Page 6
in the beginning, Choctaw people were hungry. “We have nothing to feed our little ones and our old people are starving. They can no longer chase the deer.” Then one day , birds came from the south. They flew over the place where the Choctaws were camped. Something the birds carried in their claws and beaks were truly remarkable. They dropped this thing into the Choctaw fields. Soon a beautiful and mysterious plant began to grow. Because of the long stalks, the green coating and the the silken covering, the Wise men knew it was corn. A gift of the Spirit, brought on the wings of the birds. Before long, the Choctaws had new life. They were no longer hungry, their journey was over and they could live in the place where the Choctaw Spirits had brought them.