Legends and Traditions of
By Joe Bruner
The American Indian, June, 1927
Now there was only one way of delivering the war-whoop, and that was done only by the scouts. When a scout discovered his enemy, he quietly retired as fast as he could to his camp. When he got in hearing of camp, he gave a very short but keen whoop, one after another, as he advanced to camp; this whoop was continued until he entered camp. By the time the scout arrived, the whole camp of warriors was aroused and now ready to hear the report from the scout.
The lieutenants of war surrounded the scout at once and, stepping out in the crowd, delivered in speeches the report. There usually was some half-dozen of these lieutenants who spoke to the warriors at the same time, so the message was delivered as by electricity. The warriors knew his duty at once.
First and foremost is the Green Corn dance1 (so called by whites), the only religious ceremony of the Redman. He celebrates at this time on account of the harvest, for which he is very thankful and grateful. He enjoys this celebration because the Great Spirit has blessed him and his people with a good harvest.
In this celebration, he is and has been giving thanks to the Great Spirit, which he has practiced ever since he was created. He gives thanks especially on this occasion for the corn he expects to gather for his family when ripe. How this celebration is conducted:
At roasting-ear time is the period when this celebration generally takes place. A few days before the time of the celebration a call is made to all of the members of some certain town now, but was once a tribe. We will take for instance the To-kapar-che town,2 as that is the leading town of the Muskogees,3 the town of which the writer is a member, at the dance aforementioned.
The time is set for the big celebration by the leaders. There is gotten up a little bunch of sticks, the number of the days between the dance and the day to be on the ground at the place of celebration. Now the little sticks are cut and numbered or counted. These little sticks are about the size of the ordinary match. The little bundles are issued to every member of the To-kapar-che town. Each morning there is one of these little sticks taken out of the bunch and thrown away. The last stick is thrown away the day you reach camp. In this way there was no mistake in the date to be in camp.
Indians are always accompanied by a Medicine Man who made medicine for all of the people. He brewed a medicine which all men partook of and which caused vomiting at once. This was for cleansing the whole system. This drink was repeated for half of one day so as to make sure that the body was thoroughly cleansed.
The papoose received his share of this brew, too. He had his little body, head, and feet washed. The women also came in for a share by the bathing of their heads, faces, and hands, but not internally. This day was kept very sacred by not eating anything at all. That night was a night of joy and dance; also eating was then indulged in.
The afternoon of the next day was set apart as women’s day. The women dressed in their finest and, lead by six or eight old ladies, danced all afternoon. The women only—the old ladies followed or kept time with their feet. Songs were sung by two or three old men who used gourds in their hands which contained a few little stone gravel making a rattle.
The leaders of the women’s dance had rattles on their legs made by sewing half a dozen tortoise shells on deer skin or the hide off of an old deer neck. A bunch of these were wrapped around each leg and made rattles in the dance.
The motion of the limbs of the leaders kept exact time with the rattles of the songs of the old men who did the singing. To open the ball for the women, some old chief went into the dance ring with the hide of a deer rolled up under his arm and yelled what is called Yohola. It was more of a groan than a yell. He made this noise going around the ring four times.
He drew in all the air his lungs would hold and made his groan as long as he could in making his rounds. The king and warriors thanked him. This was the signal for the old men to open up their singing and use their rattles. The women then began going around the ring to dance. This was a gala day with the women folk.
Then came an all-night dance by the men and boys. The next day was “eat day.” Roasting-ear corn was cooked in all shapes and was eaten by the whole tribe. In this manner the corn was considered wholesome and good for the people. Then the men and women played ball all day, one against the other. The men played with their ball sticks while the women played ball with their hands. Often the women were victorious in these games.
About this time the Medicine Man built a new fire which was looked upon as very sacred. He made the new fire by using a couple of round sticks, rubbing them together in a little moistened hole in a dry log where a lot of punk crumbs were placed. After so much friction this punk ignited and from this the fire started.
There was placed upon the fire four sticks of wood, the sticks pointing north, south, east, and west. When these four sticks caught fire, they were handed to four lieutenants of the Medicine Man who went around to each camp starting a new fire. On this new fire was cooked the new corn or roasting-ears.
This fire was not allowed to go out for one year, as the women would take special pains to set a log or stump afire that would keep the fire going. When a family did allow their fire to go out, they would go for miles to get a chunk of the new fire from a neighbor.
In going away from the celebration camp, someone of the family was detailed to carry the new fire home. Very often, when there was a chance for the chunk of fire to go out, the party—so detailed to preserve the fire—stopped en route and built a fire in order to get a new start. This was continued until home was reached, even though it was fifty or more miles.
This was how the Redman carried out his religious ideas. Once a year was his great worship day, although there was enjoyed the ripening of small fruit in other ways.
The Redman said, “Don’t call upon the Great Spirit so often; He knows our wants without asking so much and so often. And that the Great Spirit would look after their wants in any event at all times.”
The Redman was very superstitious. When he started out to hunt and a rabbit ran across his trail, he returned at once to his camp and did not go out anymore that day to hunt. If he heard a crow caw at night, it was bad news. Some good friend was dead.
He believed there were animals and birds that inhabited the firmament that never came to earth. Now and then he claimed to have found a bird of the earth at night. He’s said to have heard these birds sing and the growl of the little animals. He thought that there was a certain time and way for all people to die, and when that day came, they were sure to die in the way that it was planned at the time they were born.
They claimed that after death the spirit of the deceased took a trip and traveled the road he or she had traversed during their life. No matter how old or how young, it took four days and nights to make this trip. Then the spirit went away never to return.
The funeral of the Redman was thus conducted: All of the neighbors were notified at once. All attended the burial. At the burial some dozens of the young men were detailed to look after the grave. For four days and nights there was a fire built at the foot of the grave. This fire as kept going by the young men who stayed awake all night wand watched the grave.
At sunrise each morning, the four men stood over the grave facing north, south, east, and west, and at a signal, each presented his gun and fired at the same time. This was kept up for four days, and after the funeral was over, the young men went home, taking a tea made by the Medicine Man of the tribe, which caused them to vomit.
They washed their hands and faces in this tea, and their duty to their fellow man was all oer. They claimed that when a prominent member died, a hard rain fell in order to obliterate the tracks made by him when living.
The Redman was never known to kill a snake while out on a hunt, as that would cause bad luck. They saw the snake is also on a hunt, and the hunter should always pass around the tail end of the snake and continue his chase.
The Redman preparing to go on a hunt cleanses his system by vomiting, and then he takes a sweat. He will go to some stream of water and build a tepee which is air-tight. He will build a fire and place rocks on the fire and heat them red hot and then carry them into the tepee in some way.
Then all of the hunters get into the tepee squatting around the hot rocks. Water is poured upon the rocks creating a great lot of steam and gets up a great lot of heat and perspiration. This is kept up until the hunters are almost suffocated. At a signal, all jump up and run out of the tepee into the first hole of water, where all dive in and wash off. This is practiced for four days before going on a hunt.
They claim that this process carries away all human odor or smell so that game will not smell them during the approach. He believes he is lucky to kill all he game he wants.
The Redman was never known to kill anything that he did not eat, and he did not waste any of the meat. He killed what he wanted and no more. The Redman always called the fire his grandfather, and on his return to camp with a deer, he would always cut off the tip of the deer’s tongue and give it to his grandfather (the fire) to keep up his good luck. (To be Continued)
1Green Corn dance: A major ceremony of several southeastern tribes
2To-kapar-che town: That is, Tukabahchee town
3Muskogee: This name is considered to be interchangeable with “Creek” depending upon the tribes and the languages of those groups.