From the Missionary Herald.
Extent of country number and origin of the Choctaws.
The Choctaw country extends from the Tombigby River on the east to the Mississippi River on the west, and from the Chicaksaw country on the north to the settlements of the state of Mississippi on the south, which also extend far upon the West. Its extreme length is about 150 miles, and its breadth about 140. Its average extent is much less, embracing about 7,000,000 acres. Their territory was formerly much larger. The number of the Choctaws is estimated at about twenty thousand.- But inroads have been made on their number by sickness and other causes. Thirty years ago they probably amounted to thirty thousand.
Some of the Choctaws have a tradition that they with the Chickasaws, Chokehumas, and Creeks, emigrated to the same country far to the West, and settled in their present territory at the direction of a great prophet leader. Others believe that they were created out of the ground at a place in their country called Nanih Waia about four or five generation ago. They are divided into clans, which embrace the whole tribe.- Members of the same clan never intermarry, so that the husband and wife always belong to a different clans, and the children belong to the clan of the mother.
Religious Traditions and Opinions.
It is difficult of acquiring any definite knowledge respecting their traditions. Neither they nor the Indians generally have any of that accuracy themselves in respect to events and dates which they have been represented as having. Their statements are very vague, and those of different individuals are contradictory. Since their intercourse with the whites they have forgotten much that they once knew. They are also very reluctant and perhaps ashamed to divulge their traditions and opinions.
They obviously however, once had some knowledge respecting the events recorded in Genesis. They retain some faint idea of a Superior Being, but of his nature, mode of existence, and attributes, their notions were, and until enlightened by Christian instruction, are now, extremely vague and indefinite. They have no conception of a Being, purely spiritual. The human soul is not in their apprehension strictly a spirit. Nor have they any word in their language to denote a spiritual existence.
They anciently regarded the sun as a god, and ascribed to him the power of life and death and their success in war.
The dwelling of this superior Being they supposed to be somewhere on high. The representation of the Choctaws is that when the Creator had made the earth, and its inhabitants (the red people,) and had given them their civil regulations, he returned to his place, and they saw and heard nothing more of him.
They do not appear to have acknowledged that a superintending Providence directed their concerns and controlled all events. In prosperity they exercised no gratitude to him for benefits received, nor in distress, did they apply to him for relief. In time of drought, they applied to their rain-makers, who being well paid, would undertake to make rain. When the earth was surcharged with water, they would apply to their fair weather makers for sunshine; and in sickness, to their doctors for cure; without acknowledging or even appearing to feel their dependence on the great Ruler of all things.
They supposed that this Being prescribed no form of religious worship, and made no revelation of his will. There appears to be no evidence that they ever offered sacrifices or engaged in any worship.- They appear to have been emphatically 'without God in the world.'- When the enquiry has been made, 'Did you ever thin of God?' they answer, 'how can we think of him, of whom we know nothing?' And when the question has been repeated, 'Before the missionaries came, did the Choctaws talk and think about God?' the answer universally has been, they never thought nor talked upon such subjects. A few aged men state, that since they have heard the gospel from the missionaries, they have sometimes attempted to acknowledge their dependence on the Father of mercies, and seek his favor by supplication, but that until their arrival, they knew nothing of the duty of prayer. Nor do they know that prayer, as an expression of love and confidence toward their Maker and Benefactor, was ever practiced by their forefathers. And that they never did pray, would be the natural conclusion from their belief that their Creator, at their formation, required from them no kind of homage.
Not regarding the superior Being as a lawgiver, they had no idea of the moral turpitude of sin as against God, and no word that signifies it; and it was very difficult to give them any notion of it. The present generation of Choctaws believe that the soul, which they call shilus survives the body; but they do not appear to think that its condition is at all affected by the conduct of this life.
When a member of a family died poles were set in the ground around the grave with hoops and vines hung upon them to aid the soul in its ascent. Around these the surviving members of the family assembled at sunrise, mid-day, and sunset, for thirty days, uttering an inarticulate but distressful cry. At the end of thirty days the neighbors were assembled, the poles were pulled and the mourning was ended with feasting and drunkenness. They had a class of men among them denominated bone-pickers, who used, after the body of the diseased had lain awhile in an appropriate place, to assemble and pick the flesh from them, and put the bones in a bone house. They began to bury their dead about forty years ago.
Witchcraft formerly was believed in by the Choctaws, and caused a great terror and the loss of many lives. Most of the sickness was attributed to it, ' those supposed to occasion sickness in this manner were often murdered. They had a kind of doctors who were applied to and were believed to be able to counteract the power of the witch and restore the patient.