From the Missionary Herald.
Extracts from a letter of Mr. Kingsbury
dated January 28, 1829
In the last number of this work, p. 121, some paragraphs from a communication of Mr. Kingsbury were inserted, showing that the attention of the Choctaws had been arrested by the preaching of the Gospel, and giving ground to hope that many had experienced its converting influences. Additional extracts from the same communication will be inserted here, showing what advances the Choctaws have made in morals, and in acquiring the comforts and conforming to the practices of civilized society. A few brief statements on this subject were given in the number for February, p. 61.
The introductory remarks, upon the manner in which both the friends and opposers of missions are inclined to regard what is said concerning Indian improvement are deserving special attention
Improvement in morals
There is a propensity both among the friends and the opposers of missions, to judge the effects of the Gospel and of the progress of improvement among the Indians by a false standard. Instead of comparing those who have been instructed and whose conditio has been meliorated, with what they formerly were, they are compared with what is found in civilized and Christian lands. Hence it is that the ardent friends of missions, while reading missionary journals written with perfect accuracy, form ideas of an enlightened and improved state of society far beyond what is realized by the missionaries. Hence it is, also, that opposers of missions, judging altogether from external appearances, are quite disgusted with the uncouth manners and unseemly costume of those natives of the forest, whose piety of heart, and whose propriety of deportment, under all the circumstances of their situation, would command the respect of every discriminating and unprejudiced mind.
To form a correct estimate of what the Gospel, with its meliorating and civilizing attendants, has accomplished for the Indians, we must compare the present state of those who have in some degree been brought under its influence with their former condition. Judging by this standard, it may be fairly doubted whether the past eight years have witnessed in any portion of the civilized world a greater improvement than has been realized in the civil, moral, and religious state of the Choctaws. I would not intimate that all the happy changes that have taken place in this nato have been the direct result of missionary labors. Enlightened chiefs have taken the lead in the work of reformation, and it is through their influence that some of the most important changes have been made. But we believe those chiefs esteem it no less a privilege then a duty to lay their honors at the foot of the cross, and to ascribe whatever of good they have done for their people, tot eh enlightening and sanctifying influence of the Gospel.
I will now give a few particulars in proof of what is stated above respecting the progress of improvement among the Choctaws. eight years ago habitual intemperance prevailed from one end of the land to the other. In the space of two months, ten Indians in this district alone, lost their lives by whiskey. At this time intemperance within the nation is hardly known. In July last I attended the distribution of the annuity to two districts on which occasion there were from 4,000 to 5,000 Indians- men, women, and children. They were together four days, and not an intoxicated one was seen until after the business was closed. Some whiskey had been secreted at a distance from the place,and as the law prohibiting the introduction of it into that part of the nation was not to go into effect until 15 days from that time, some after leaving that place, obtained it and became intoxicated. The Choctaws have not all lost their appetite for whiskey, nor is it to be supposed that a majority of them are restrained from intemperance by the force of moral principle, but so sensible had they become of the destructive effects of this vice, that a law, prohibiting entirely the introduction of whiskey into the nation as an article of traffic, was proposed by the chiefs, and obtained na almost universal support in a general council of the warriors. In this part of the nation this law has been sustained for more than two years, and with increasing satisfaction. Last July the western district, comprising nearly half the population of the nation, adopted in general council and by an unanimous voice, a similar regulation. Since that the other district has followed the same example.
There cannot be a question that less ardent spirit is now used in the Choctaw Nation, whether we consider the extent of territory or the amount of population that in any other part of the United States. It is only when we go to the borders of the surrounding settlements, that we see Indians intoxicated. There a few unprincipled white men, equally regardless of the laws of God and of their country, continue for filthy lucre's sake, to sell the deadly poison to those Indians who resort thither.
Advance in the Arts of Civilization.
Other evidences of improvement we have in the increase of industry, and a consequent advance in dress, furniture, and all the comforts and conveniences of civilized life.
It has been remarked by many, that the fields of the Indians have never been kept in so good order, and managed with so much industry, as the past year. At councils and other large meetings, the Indians especially in the northern and western districts appear comfortably and decently and some of them richly clad. A great desire is manifested to obtain furniture for their houses, and some are already supplied in a manner not inferior to that of new settlers in our own country.
The result of a census taken last year in the northeast district was as follows viz; population, 5,637; meat cattle, 11,662, horses, 3,974; oxen, 112; hogs, 22,047; sheep 136; spinning wheels, 530; looms, 124; ploughs, 360; wagons, 32; blacksmith's shops, 7; cooper's shops, 2; carpenter's shops, 2; white men with Choctaw families, 22; schools, 5; scholars in a course of instruction about 150. In one clan, with a population of 313, who a year ago were almost entirely destitute of property, grossly intemperate, and roaming from place to place, there are now 188 horses, 511 cattle, 853 hogs, 7 looms, 68 spinning wheels, 35 ploughs, 6 oxen, 1 school, 20 or 25 scholars.
Some of their mechanics shops ' many of their tools bear but a poor comparison with what we find in civilized lands, and would be considered of little use by those who have good ones; yet to these people they are of great value. And it must excite pity in every one who looks into their circumstances, to see them laboring to cultivate the soil, build houses, manufacture cloth, and struggling to rise from their deep poverty by the aid of such miserable tools as many of them are obliged to use.
The northeast district last year appropriated $1,500 of their annuity for the establishment and support of blacksmith's shops. The present year they have appropriated their whole annuity to similar objects.
As an evidence of industry and public spirit, I would mention that in one neighborhood the natives have built a shop, shopped wood for a large coal pit, and carried it on their backs to the place of setting; have built a house for their blacksmith,and cleared for him a field of 12 acres, al with their own hands; they have purchased with their annuity a set of tools and iron and steel to the amount of two hundred dollars, and have engaged to pay their smith $500 annually, for three years. Similar provision is making for smith's shops in other places.
Another evidence of the progress of improvement among the Choctaws is the organization of civil government. In 1826 a general council was convened at which a constitution was adopted, and legislative power was delegated to a National Committee and Council, whose acts when approved by the chiefs, become the supreme laws of the land. I have now before me a manuscript a code containing 22 laws, which have been enacted by the constituted authorities, and so far as I know, carried into complete execution. Among the subjects embraced by these laws are theft, murder, infanticide, marriage, polygamy, the making of wills and settling of estates, trespass, false testimony, what shall be considered lawful enclosures around fields, 'c. 'c.
Another evidence of improvement we have in the abolishing of ancient and injurious customs. The erection of poles in honor of the dear; crying at these poles morning, noon, and night for weeks and months; large meetings for feasting, dancing intemperance, when the poles are pulled down, have been fruitful sources of poverty and licentiousness to the Choctaws. These practices, interwoven as they were with the strongest prejudices and superstitions of the people, were last July abolished by an unanimous vote in a general council of the western district; and they are fast going out of practice, or becoming greatly modified in the other parts of the nation. The killing of persons for witchcraft, by which much innocent blood has been shed, is now hardly known
A very great desire for the education of their children furnishes another proof of the advancement of the Choctaws. petitions are frequently made requesting the establishment of new schools. Numbers more have applied for admission to the boarding school than cold be received. Nothing is now wanting but suitable persons and adequate means to extend the advantages of education into every part of the Choctaw Nation.