Barnard Shipp.

The history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 online

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yond the Red River they saw them alive.

Note (i6), page 361.

The Spaniards were struck with the magnificence of Comagre's palace, which
greatly exceeded anything they had beheld in America. It was a hundred
and fifty paces in length, eighty in breadth, raised on wooden pillars, and in-
closed by a stone wall, with rails at the top so beautifully carved that the
Spaniards were astonished at the workmanship. It contained many apart-
ments, several of which indicated a rude genius for architecture and the fine
arts ; but what was particularly pleasing to the soldiers was the great abund-
ance of dried venison and pork, which they found in the storehouse, together
with a yariety of red and white liquors, made from corn, roots, and the palm.
There was a great hall, in a retired and secret part of the building, wherein
Comagre preserved the bodies of his ancestors and relatives. These had been
dried by fire, so as to free them from corruption, and afterwards wrapped in
mantles of cotton, richly wrought and interwoven with pearls and jewels of
gold, and certain stones held in high estimation by the Indians. They were
then hung about the walls, with cotton cords, and regarded with great rever-
ence. ("Universal History," vol. xxxiv.. Helps, etc.)

"Near this valley* there was a village the chief of which was the most

* The valley of Lile near the head-waters of the Maglalene, and near the town of


powerful and respected of all the chiefs of the neighborhood. In the centre of
his village there was a great and lofty round wooden house, with a door in the
centre. The light was admitted by four windows on the upper part, and the
roof was of straw. As one entered through the door, there was a long board,
stretching from one end of the house to the other, on which many human
bodies were placed in rows, being those of men who had been defeated and
taken in war. They were all cut open, and this is done with stone knives,
after which they eat the flesh, stuff the skins with ashes, and place them on
the board in such sort as to appear like living men. In the hands of some they
place lances, and in those of others darts and clubs." (Ciezar de Leon.)

The Choctaws pay their last duties and respect to the deceased as follows : —

" As soon as a person is dead, they erect a scaffold, eighteen or twenty feet
high, in a grove adjacent to the town, where they lay the corpse lightly covered
with a mantle ; here it is suffered to remain, visited and protected by the
friends and relations, until the flesh becomes putrid, so as easily to part from
the bones ; then undertakers, who make it their business, carefully strip the
flesh from the bones, wash and cleanse them, and when dry and purified by
the air, having provided a curiously wrought chest or coffin fabricated of bones
and splints, they place all the bones therein ; it is then deposited in the bone-
house, a building erected for that purpose in every town. And when this
house is full, a general solemn funeral takes place ; the nearest kindred or
friends of the deceased on a day appointed repair to the bone-house, take up
the respective coffins, and following one another in order of seniority, the
nearest relations and connections attending their respective corpse, and the
multitude following after them, all as one family, with united voice of alternate
allelujah and lamentation, slowly proceed to the place of general interment,
where they place the coffins in order, forming a pyramid ; and lastly, cover all
over with earth, which rises a conical hill or mount. Then they return to town
in order of solemn procession, concluding the day with a festival, which is
called the feast of the dead." (Bartram.)

How the Indians of the provinces of Tatabe and Guaca, near Antloquia, on
the western branch of the river Magdalena, buried their dead : —

"When one of the chiefs dies the people mourn for many days, cut off the
hair of his wives, kill those who were most beloved, and raise a tomb the size
of a small hill, with an opening towards the rising sun. Within this great
tomb they make a large vault, and here they put the body, wrapped in cloths,
and the gold and arms the dead man had used when alive. They then take
the most beautiful of his wives, and some servant lads, make them drunk with
wine made of maize, and bury them alive in the vault, in order that the chief
may go down to hell with companions."

' ' In ancient times there was a large population in these valleys, as we judge
from the edifices and burial places, of which there are many well worth
seeing, being so large as to appear like small hills." (Ciezar de Leon.)

The Province and Indians of Quinbaya on the upper waters of the river
Magdalena : —

" In ancient times these Indians were not natives of Quinbaya, but they in-
vaded the country many times, killing the inhabitants, who could not have been
few judging from the remains of their works ; for all the dense canebreaks seem


once to have been peopled and tilled, as well as the mountainous parts where
there are trees as big round as two bullocks. From these facts I conjecture
that a very long period of time has elapsed since the Indians first peopled the
Indies." (Ciezar de Leon.)

Note (17), page 365.

Iberville ascended the Mississippi Kiver, in 1699, as high as the Oumas,
about twenty leagues above New Orleans. ' ' When he arrived at the village
of the Quinipissas, the same as Bayagoulas, he went ashore ; and the chief of
the savages there conducted him to a temple of a most curious construction.
The roof was adorned with the figures of many animals, and among others of
a red cock. The entrance was by a kind of portico, which was eight feet
broad and eleven long, supported by two large pillars fastened to a beam run-
ning across the roof of the portico. Both sides of the portico were adorned
with the figures of bears, wolves, and several birds ; and at the head of them
all was a chouchouacha, a creature whose head is like that of a sucking pig ;
its fur is gray and white ; its tail resembles that of a rat ; its feet those of a
monkey, and the female has under its belly a bag where it preserves, occasion-
ally, and feeds its young. The door of this temple was but three feet high and
two broad ; and the savage chief ordered it to be opened, and introduced Iber-
ville. . 'The inside was formed like other cabins, in the manner of a cupola,
about thirty feet in diameter. In the middle of it stood two fagots of dried
wood, which were placed on end, and were burning, and fiUed the temple with
smoke. A scaffold was raised from the floor, heaped with a great many bundles
of the skins of kids, bears, and bullocks, which had been sacrificed to the
chouchouacha, whose figure was represented on several parts of the temple in
black and red, and was the deity of Bayagoula." (Modern Universal His-
tory, vol. xxxvi. pp. 57, 58.)

The 11th of March, 1700, Iberville and Bienville arrived at the Natchez, a
nation of twelve hundred men ; they found there M. de Saint Cosme, a mis-
sionary, arrived a short time before from Canada. The grand chief or sun of
tlje nation came to meet the French, borne upon a sedan, accompanied by more
than six hundred men. They discovered in this chief much more politeness
than in those of the other nations of the continent. He had a despotic autho-
rity over his men. When there died any of the suns, or woman chiefs, many
of the nation devoted themselves to death, and were strangled to go and serve
him in the other world. There were then in this village seventeen of these
suns ; these are chiefs springing from the women who are of the race of the
suns, who are the only heirs, the male children of the suns in this nation can-
not attain to be but war chiefs. According to their account, they had num-
bered formerly nineteen hundred suns in their nation, and more than two hun-
dred thousand persons. They preserved in a temple a perpetual fire maintained
by a kind of sexton, and there are presented to this fire the first of their fruits
and of their chase.

Although all the people of Louisiana have nearly the same usages and cus-


toms, yet as any nation is more or less populous, it has proportionately more
or fewer ceremonies. Thus, when the French first arrived in the colony, seve-
ral nations kept up the eternal fire, and observed other religious ceremonies,
which they have now [1720] disused since their numbers have greatly been
diminished. Many of them still continue to have temples, but the common
people never enter these, nor strangers, unless peculiarly favored by the nation.
As I was an intimate friend of the sovereign of the Natchez, he showed me
their temple, which was about thirty feet square, and stands upon an artificial
mound about eight feet high by the side of a small river [St. Catharine]. The
mound slopes insensibly from the main front, which is northwards, but on the
other sides it is somewhat steeper. The fqur corners of the temple consist of
four posts, about a foot and a half in diameter, and ten feet high, each made
of the heart of the cypress tree, which is incorruptible. The side posts are of
the same wood, but only about a foot square ; and the walls are of mud, about
nine inches thick, so that in the inside there is a hollow between every post ; the
inner space is divided from east to west into two apartments, one of which is
twice as large as the other.* In the largest apartment the eternal fire is kept,
and there is likewise a table or altar in it, about four feet high, six long, and
two broad. Upon this table lie the bones of the late Great Sun in a cofi^n of
canes very neatly made. In the inner apartment, which is very dark, as it re-
ceives no light but from the door of communication, I could meet with no-
thing but two boards, on which were placed some things like small toys, which
I had no light to peruse. The roof is in the form of a pavilion, and very neat
both within and without, and on the top of it are placed three wooden birds,
twice as large as a goose, with their heads turned towards the east. The corner
and side posts, as has been mentioned, rise above the earth ten feet high, and
it is said they are as much sunk under ground ; it, therefore, cannot but appear
surprising how the natives could transport such large beams, fashion them, and
raise them upright, when we know of no machines they had for that purpose.f
Besides the eight guardians of the temple, two of. whom are always on watch,
and the chief of those guardians, there also belongs to the service of the tem-
ple a master of the ceremonies, who is also master of the mysteries ; since,
according to them, he converses very familiarly with the Spirit. Above all
these persons is the Great Sun, who is at the same time chief priest and sove-
reign of the nation. The temples of some of the nations of Louisiana are very
mean, and one would often be apt to mistake them for the huts of private per-
sons ; but to those who are acquainted with their manners, they are easily dis-
tinguishable, as they have always before the door two posts formed like the
ancient termini, that is, having the upper part cut in the shape of a man's
head. The door of the temple, which is pretty weighty, is placed between the
wall and those two posts, so that children may not be able to remove it, to go
and play in the temple. The private huts have also posts before their doors,
but these are never formed like termini. (Du Pratz.)

* That is one is twenty by thirty feet, and the other ten by thirty feet.

t The heart of the cypress tree, a foot and a half in diameter, indicates a very large
tree. To cut down such a tree, and cut off the upper end, would require great labor,
and then to dress eighty feet of it, would be equivalent to the labor on the four corner
posts of the temple ; but nearly all this may have been done with fire.


The above description of the temple is by Du Fratz. The following is
Penicaut's description of "the temple in the village of the Great Sun," which
appears to be the same temple described by Du Pratz. Penicaut was there in
1704 with Iberville; Du Pratz in 1722. "The temple in the village of the
Great Sun is about thirty feet high, and forty-eight in circumference, with the
walls eight feet [inches] thick, and covered with matting of canes, in which they
keep up a perpetual fire. The wood used is of oak or hickory, stripped of its
bark, and eight feet in length. Guards are appointed alternately to watch the
temple, and keep up the sacred fire ; and if by accident the fire should go out,
they break the heads of the guards with the wooden clubs they keep in the
temple. At each new moon an ofiering of bread and flour is made, which is
for the use of those who guard it. Every morning and evening the Great Sun
and his wife enter it, to worship their idols of wood and stone." These two
accounts can correct each other — they are translations.

Charlevoix, who visited the Natchez in December, 1721, thus speaks of the
temple : ' ' There was not a soul in the village ; everybody had gone to a
neighboring village, where there was a festival, and all the doors were opened,
but there was nothing to fear from robbers, for there remained only the four
walls. These cabins have no issue for the smoke, nevertheless all those where
I entered were quite white. The temple is at the side of that of the great
chief, faces the east, and is at the extremity of the square. It is composed of
the same material (torchi) as the cabins,* but its shape is different; it is an
oblong, about forty feet by twenty wide, with a roof quite plain of the form of
ours. There were at the two extremities, as it were, two wooden weather-
cocks, which very rudely represented two eagles.

The door is in the middle of the length of the building, which has no other
opening ; on the two sides there are stone benches. The inside conforms per-
fectly with the rustic outside. Three pieces of wood with their ends joined,
and placed in the form of a triangle, or rather equally separated from one
another, occupied nearly all the centre of the temple, and burned slowly. A
savage whom they call the guardian of the temple, is obliged to dress them,
and prevent them from becoming extinguished. If it is cold, he can have his
fire apart, but he is not permitted to warm at that which burns in honor of the
Sun. This guardian was at the festival, at least I did not see him, and his
fagots emitted a smoke that blinded us. Of ornaments I saw not any, abso-
lutely nothing which ought to have made known to me that I was in a temple.
I saw only three or four boxes ranged without order, where there were some
dried bones, and on the ground some wooden heads a little less badly executed
than the two eagles of the roof. Finally, if I had not found fire thei-e, I
would have believed that this temple had been abandoned a long time, or that
it had been pillaged."

The house of the Great Chief is of great extent, and can hold as many as
four thousand persons, f The houses of the suns are built upon mounds, and
are distinguished from each other by their size. The mound upon which the
house of the Great Chief or Sun is built is larger than the rest, and the sides
of it steeper. (Penicaut.)

* Mud or mortar mixed with straw. In this case probably with moss.
t This must be a mistake ; probably four hundred was the number.


His hut, which is about thirty feet square and twenty feet high, and like the
temple, is built upon a mound of earth about eight feet high, and sixty feet
over on the surface. (Du Pratz.)

None of the nations of Louisiana were acquainted with the custom of burn-
ing their dead, nor with that of the Egyptians, who studied to preserve them
to perpetuity. The different American nations have a most religious attention
to their dead, and each has some peculiar custom in respect to them; but
all of them either inter them, or place them in tombs, and carefully carry vic-
tuals to them for some time. These tombs are either within their temples or
close adjoining to them, or in their neighborhood. They are raised about three
feet above the earth, and rest upon four pillars, which are forked stakes fixed
fast in the ground. The tomb, or rather bier, is about eight feet long, and
a foot and a half broad ; and after the body is placed upon it, a kind of basket
work of twigs is woven round it and covered with mud, an opening being left
at the head for placing the victuals that are presented to the dead person.
When the body is all rotted but the bones, these are taken out of the tomb,
and placed in a box of canes, which is deposited in the temple.

Among the Natchez the death of any of their suns is a most fatal event ;
for it is sure to be attended with the destruction of a great number of people
of both sexes. (Du Pratz.)

It happened during our [Penicaut's] visit [1704], that the great female Sun
died, and we were witnesses of her funeral obsequies. She was the Great Sun
in her own right, and, being dead, her husband, who was not of the noble
family, was strangled by her eldest son, so that he might bear her company to
the great village whither she had gone. On the outside of the cabin where
she died they placed all her effects on a sort of bier or triumphal car, upon
which was placed her body as well as that of her husband. Afterwards they
brought and placed twelve small children on it whom they had strangled.
These children were brought by their fathers and mothers, by the order of the
eldest son of the great female Sun, who had the right as her successor, and
as Great Chief, to put to death as many persons as he pleased to honor the
funeral of his mother. Fourteen other scaiFolds were afterwards erected and
decorated with branches of trees, and painting upon pieces of linen. On each
scaffold they placed one of those they had strangled to accompany the deceased
to the other world, and these were surrounded by their relatives dressed in
fine white robes. They then formed a procession and marched to the great
square in front of the great temple, and commenced to dance. At the end of
four days they began the ceremony of the march of death, the fathers and
mothers of the strangled children holding them up in their arms. The eldest of
these unfortunate children did not appear to be over three years of age. The
fourteen other victims destined to be strangled were also marched in front of
the Great Temple.

The chiefs and relatives of those who were strangled, with their hair cut off
began their frightful bowlings, while those who were destined to die kept on
dancing and marching around the cabin of the deceased, two by two, until it.
was set on fire. The fathers, who carried their strangled children in their
arms, marched four paces apart from each other, and, at the distance of about
ten paces, threw them upon the ground before the Great Temple, and com-


menced dancing around them. When they deposited the body of the great
female Sun in the temple, the fourteen victims, ■who stood within the door of
the temple, were undressed, and, while seated on the ground, a cord, with a
noose, was passed around the neck of each, and a deerskin thrown over their
heads. The relatiyes of the deceased then stood to the right and left of each
victim, taking hold of the ends of the cord around their necks, and, at a given
signal, they pulled it until their victim was dead. The bones of the victims
who had been strangled were afterwards deprived' of their flesh, and, when
dried, were put into baskets, and placed in the temple, considering it an honor
and special privilege to have been sacrificed and placed there with the great
female Sun. (Penicaut.)

Early in the spring of 1725 the Stung Serpent, who was the brother of the
Great Sun, and my (Du Pratz) intimate friend, was seized with a mortal dis-
temper, which filled the whole nation of the Natchez with the greatest conster-
nation and terror ; for the two brothers had mutually engaged to follow each
other to the land of spirits; and if the Great Sun should kill himself for the sake
of his brother very many people would likewise be put to death. When the
Stung Serpent was despaired of, the chief of the guardians of the temple came
to me in the greatest confusion, and acquainted me with the mutual engage-
ments of the two brothers, begged me to interest myself in preserving the Great
Sun. He made the same request to the commander of the fort. Accordingly
we were no sooner informed of the death of the Stung Serpent than the com-
mander, some of the principal Frenchmen, and I, went in a body to the hut of
the Great Sun. We found him in despair, but after some time he seemed to
be influenced by the arguments I used to dissuade him from putting himself to
death. The death of the Stung Serpent was published by the firing of two
muskets, which were answered by the other villages, and immediately cries and
lamentations were heard on all sides. The Great Sun, in the mean time, re-
mained inconsolable, and sat bent forward, with his eyes towards the ground.
In the evening, while we were still in his hut, he made a sign to his favorite
wife, who, in consequence of that, threw a pailful of water on the fire and ex-
tinguished it. This was a signal for extinguishing all the fires of the nation,
and filled every one with terrible alarms, as it denoted that the Great Sun was still
resolved to put himself to death. I gently chided him for altering his former
resolution, but he assured me that he had not, and desired us to go and sleep
securely. We accordingly left him. .

Before we went to our lodgings we entered the hut of the deceased, and
found him on his bed of state dressed in his finest clothes, his face painted with
vermilion, shod with magnificently embroidered moccasins, with his feather
crown on his head. To his bed were fastened his arms, which consisted of a
double-barrel gun, a pistol, a bow, a quiver full of arrows, and a tomahawk.
Round his bed were placed all the calumets of peace he had received during
his life, and on a pole, planted in the ground near it, hung a chain of forty-six
rings of cane, painted red, to express the number of enemies he had slain. All
his domestics were around him^ and they presented victuals to him at the usual
hours as if he were alive. The company in his hut were composed of his
favorite wife, of a second wife — whom he kept in another village, and visited
when his favorite was with child — of his chancellor, his physician, his chief


domestic, his pipe-bearer, and some old women, who were all to be strangled at
his interment. To these victims a noble woman voluntarily joined herself,
resolving, from her friendship to the Stung Serpent, to go and live with him in
the land of spirits. . . . After we had satisfied our curiosity in the hut of
the deceased, we retired to our hut, where we spent the night. But at day-
break we were suddenly awaked, and told that it was with difficulty the Great
Sun was kept from killing himself. We hastened to his hut, and upon enter-
ing it I remarked dismay and terror painted upon the countenances of all
who were present. The Great Sun held his gun by the but end, and seemed
enraged that the other suns had seized upon it to prevent him from executing
his purpose. I addressed myself to him, and, after opening the pan of the lock,
to let the priming fall out, I chided him gently for his not acting according to
his former resolution. He pretended at first not to see me, but after some time
he let go his hold on the musket, and shook hands with me, without speaking
a word. . . . The Great Sun at length consented to order his fire to be
again lighted, which was the signal for lighting the other fires of the nation,
and dispelled all their apprehensions.

Soon after the natives begun the dance of death, and prepared for the fune-
ral of the Stung Serpent. Orders were given to put none to death on that
occasion but those who were in the hut of the deceased. A child, however,
had already been strangled by its father and mother, which ransomed their
lives upon the death of the Great Sun, and raised them from the rank of stink-
ards to that of nobles. Those who were appointed to die were conducted twice
a day and placed in two rows before the temple, where they acted over the
scenes of their death, each accompanied by eight of their own relations, who
were to be their executioners, and by that office exempted themselves from

Online LibraryBarnard ShippThe history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 → online text (page 67 of 75)