From the Missionary Herald.
FORMER CUSTOMS OF THE CHOCTAWS.
At pp. 178 and 214 of the last volume, copious extracts from communications respecting the religious opinions and traditions of the Choctaws, were inserted. The statements which follow were collected by Mr. Byington from an aged white man, who has spent most of his life in the nation. To know what have been the opinions and condition of the people in past times will render it more easy to understand the nature and magnitude of the change which has been effected among them.
Treatment of the dead.--When any one died a small scaffold was made in the yard, near the house, and high enough to be out of reach of the dogs. On this the dead body was laid on one side, and then a blanket or bear-skin was thrown over it, and there the body lay until it perished. Then the bone-pickers, some old men with long fingernails, came and picked the flesh off and put the bones in a box. The skull was adorned when put away. The bones were then taken to a bone house, (a house set apart to receive the bones of the dead,) standing at the edge of a town. When this ceremony was performed, there was a large collection of people. The bone-pickers had some other ceremonies, but I do not recollect them. Twice in each year-spring and fall-the people assembled in numbers near the bone houses, on account of the dead. The two families, into which the nation by the usage of the people is divided, would meet. On one day one family would cry and howl over the bones of the dead, the bones then being brought out of the houses. And while one family cried, the other danced. On the succeeding day, the family that danced on the day before would cry and howl, and the other dance. After this the bones lying in the boxes were deposited again in the bone houses.- A small present was made to the bone-pickers. About thirty eight years since the Choctaws began to bury the dead. At that time an old king died and was buried. He was the first man that was buried.
[The remarks made here respecting the decrease of population, will probably be found true to a greater or less extent of most of the Indian tribes.- Their territories seem to have formerly had a much greater population then they now have.]
They were much more numerous formerly than they are now. Thirty years ago it is probable there were near 30,000 of them. Before the old man came to the nation the small pox destroyed about two thirds of the people. The measles also destroyed a great many. One town was entirely destroyed by them. There were 15 or 19 white men in the nation at the time he came to it, or soon after. Ever since about the time of the Revolutionary War, the Indians have been leaving their large towns and removing into the woods, for the benefit of their stock.
Doctors and Conjurers.-- Concerning these, the aged man from whom Mr. B. obtained his information, remarked-
They are a deceitful set of men. Before they commence their operations they sing a song, which expresses a prayer. One came to me once, and said he could cure me of my lameness, originating in palsy of the limbs. I told him if he would cure me I would give him a horse, but if he failed I would give him nothing. To this he agreed. He then inquired where the lameness first commenced. I told him that it began in the soles of my feet. He then examined them, and got down on the floor, spit on them, and sucked the instep a long time as though he would draw something out. After a while he got up, and then made a great effort to get something out of his mouth. At length he took out a small piece of deerskin, as I supposed, and said that he had drawn that out of my foot. I asked him where the hole was. He said it never makes a hole. I then took the bit of leather and talked to him and told him that doctors are the greatest liars in the world. You never pulled that out of my foot: you cut it off from some deerskin and put it in your mouth. Now stop telling such lies or someone will injure you. He looked very much ashamed and walked off.
These barbarous customs and silly mummeries, and many others equally disgusting and foolish, were not long since practised (sic) by that people, among whom, as the readers of this work during the last five months have seen, there has been the large and solemn assembly for worshipping the only true God and hearing his Gospel; among whom, at a single meeting and in a single day, hundreds have anxiously asked, What shall I do to be saved?d among whom churches are gathered and devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ are found in all parts of the nation, adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour (sic), and some of whom are engaged with much zeal and effect in beseeching all around them to become reconciled to God.
This progress of the Indians in knowledge, this giving up of ancient heathenish customs, and especially their increasing attention to the preaching of the Gospel, are truly encouraging at this critical period of their history. Nor is this advance confined to the Choctaws. The number added to the churches, taking the Indian missions generally, has been greater during the past year, than during any previous one. From some no reports have been received; but to those which have been reported, the number added, during the past year, is not less than 170; and not less than 60 are now regarded as candidates.