Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation
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I was born July 1, 1882 in Nashoba county, what is now Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, near Nashoba, Oklahoma, a county post office. There were not very many people settled in this portion of the country in the territorial days, which of course was all in woods, and there were all kinds of game. Wild animals, such as wolves, were as common as dogs. The post office Nashoba derived its name from “wolf” translated into Choctaw, which is “nashoba.” The country was called Nashoba County, before statehood.

I was raised an orphan, drifting here and there where I could obtain work. I first started working for an old man named Paul Stevens, another Choctaw Indian. He was not an educated man but a good business manager who owned a big store, cattle, hogs and other stock, and was considered a well-to-do man in the vicinity. He used to drive his yoke of oxen to haul goods from Arkansas. I worked for him for about o­ne and o­ne half years, then I quit to attend school. I first went to Spencer Academy, an Indian Government School, which was located near Antlers, Oklahoma, now abandoned when burned down several years ago. When I arrived at this school, I was rejected o­n account of my age. Of course there was nothing for me to do but to return home, and afterwards I attended a neighborhood school for two terms of nine months each. Mr. D. Seth Noah, a Choctaw Indian of near Talihina, Oklahoma, was my teacher.

Afterward through the influence of someone, the Choctaw Council permitted me to attend another Government School in Pennsylvania which was the Carlisle Indian School. Everything was arranged and an opening was made for me to enter. I was working at that time, and when I was notified of the circumstance, I was told to go o­n a visit for thirty days, and $15.00 in money was furnished me to pay for expenses while o­n a visit. I saddled up my pony and started for an extended trip to visit my folks, relatives, and friends. It must have taken longer than thirty days in making my visit because when I returned home to start for school, I was told that I stayed away over the required time, and the expenses furnished for school by the government had been canceled and the place in school had been taken by another applicant. I missed the opportunity of attending government school, and I regret to this day the chance that I missed.

My o­nly chance then was to paddle my own canoe for a living. So I worked around at different jobs until the year 1903, when I married and divorced my first wife after living with her for a few days. I married again in 1904 to Sarah Potts, who was living near Yanish, Oklahoma in Jack Ford County. To this union there were nine children born, but o­nly three girls and o­ne boy are living. All married but o­ne girl. My second wife died and in 1931 I married Narcissa Sempty Noble, in Pushmataha County, and have moved to Atoka County near Farris, Oklahoma and there is where we are making our home.

I first married when about twenty years old near Nashoba I lived in a log hut of o­ne room, as that was the o­nly kind of house that was built at that time. My principal food, as was customary with all Choctaw Indians, consisted of Indian cornbread, sour bread, or shuck bread (banaha), meats of all edible wild game and turkeys and fish. Now and then we bought a small bucket of syrup for a change, as we had honey at most times. Now and then we bought flour, sugar, and coffee.

I began working o­n the farm by clearing off a few acres of land and raised a truck patch for our own home consumption for two years. Afterwards I followed other means of making a living and started buying and selling cattle for a time. I was doing well until time changed, when I went bankrupt.

My father’s name as Amos Tussahaya, I was just a small lad when he died. When I appeared before the Dawes Commission in 1902 to enroll and allot lands, I did not know my father’s name or my last name, so someone of the force suggested that I be named “Bohanan” and I was accepted, adopted, enrolled and allotted my land and today I go by the name of Emeziah Bohanan.

It has often been repeated that the Indians were great believers in the Great Spirit, and the Choctaw Indians are no exception. At a meeting of any Indian Church, the campers of old days would put up their sheds by placing two corner post in front and two in the rear some six to ten inches lower than the front post, nail cross pieces and boards across, and cover with boards. The different campers, depending o­n the number of camps to be erected, would arrange their sheds in uniform lines near and around the church, and would be ready for the occasion o­n time. Usually they would move to their camps o­n Thursday before the preaching. The groceries would be bought, the meat killed, the wood hauled, and everything planned for the meeting would be ready and carried out to the letter, and not a hitch would be made during the stay, such as killing meat o­n Saturday or Sunday or going to town for more groceries.

It was the custom that everything must be arranged and ready to last for several days. If in winter, the campers would drag heavy logs and haul wood withoxen, which were common in those days. This work must be finished by Friday 12 o’clock noon. At any time after Friday noon to six o’clock p.m. the minister would arrive. As soon as he arrived, the deacon or elder of the church would ring the bell for church service, which would continue until the breaking up o­n Monday morning. Sunrise service was conducted before breakfast, after which each family would start o­n their journey back home. Everybody went away happy after enjoying the meeting, and love for their neighbor and respect for others was exchanged and acknowledged.

Occasionally o­ne could notice a string of wagons filing down the road, while riders o­n horseback would follow behind. Women riding horseback o­n sidesaddles were common in those days. Between services they would gather around the pulpit and practice singing out of an old songbook. “Christian Harmony,” which contained o­nly notes. Very often they would stay up all night. The deacon usually had a place reserved in the church house for some peace officer, and at the beginning of the opening service would announce to the congregation with reference to law and order that there would be no drinking nor disturbance permitted around or near the church or premises, after which he would take his post near and around the church, where the service was being held.

After services he would stay some distance from the church to see if any drinking was going o­n, or very often some horse thieves would take advantage of the meetings and steal some belongings or horses. It was the duty of the officer to be o­n watch and protect the belongings and property. Before leaving for church the mothers of children would warn them to behave while in church or else the officer would take them to jail. This was so deeply impressed o­n them that they would not dare to leave church until the service was over. The boys up to eighteen years would enter church with their father and remain by the side of him until dismissed; and girls with their mother did likewise. This was a tradition with the “Puritans.” For lamps we burned mutton grease poured into a bored wood about four inches in diameter and three to four inches deep. A bundle of yarn or twine was saturated in grease until hardened. Another bored block to fit the first block was nailed to the wall and the candle block fit to it. When lighted it gave good light.

O­ne cold winter I attended a meeting when there was not enough rooms to accommodate all visitors, and my father and I were obliged to make a pallet o­n the ground and went to sleep. Having my head covered up, it snowed during the night and I did not know anything about it. I woke up the next morning and noticed something heavy o­n top of the blankets. To my surprise there was about four inches of snow over us. I hated to get up the next morning, as it was so nice and warm under the snow.

FOOD

Indian corn is a native of North America as far as we know and that no other country or nation ever knew what corn was until they came to this country. It is true that the Indians have learned things from the other race of people, still the other race of people have learned from the Indians, the different ways of cooking and o­n this instance we have food made from corn in several different dishes that the other races of people are not familiar with.

SOUR BREAD

Certain amount of corn is shelled and poured in a prepared block of wood about three feet high known as mortar, and the prepared pounder or pestle made out of green timber for this purpose used to beat corn. Different ways of handling is necessary depending o­n how and what the beaten corn is to be used. In this case, a small amount of water is poured o­n the corn and about o­ne tablespoonful f dry ashes to loosen the husk which when cleaned and beaten, the grain is about the size of pearl hominy we buy in the stores. When this is done put it in a kettle or stone jar in warm water and let it stand to be soaked for o­ne night in the summer time or two nights in the winter. When soaked it is emptied in the mortar and beaten to meal. When finished it will be as fine as meal, after which sour bread or shuck bread is made. There are several ways to cook corn after it is beaten, depending o­n how and what kind of dish o­ne may want. Corn can be roasted and beaten into meal, can be served by sweetening with sugar and water to taste and drink as tea, is a fine dish. Sweet corn dried o­n cob during summer, shelled when ready for cooking, boiled and cooked in grease and salted to taste or can be cooked in any kind of meat, is a very good dish.

HUNTING

In my young days I hunted very often and have killed many deer. But to be a good hunter o­ne would have to get accustomed to their range, where they feed, etc. It may sound foolish and ridiculous for me to expose my way of hunting wild game, yet true. It is known to all intelligent people today that living beings, animals, plants, or minerals were put here fro a cause, and unless we understand its purpose and its use we cannot prosper much without it. It was placed here for us by nature and is at our command; therefore when I wanted to be a hunter I went to a person whom I knew that this party knew where I can get assistance for this purpose.

I was farming that year, but did not have much provision to tide me, so o­ne day I shouldered my rife, when hunting and lost a day from my work but I did not kill anything that day. o­n the next day I knew of a woman who was an herb doctor. My o­nly whish was that she treat me so I can be a great hunter and with this in mind, I went to her home and explained to her my mission. After a long conversation I was told that after the treatment all my hair will turn gray, but I insisted and took the treatment. She went and gathered some kind of weeds and smoked me with this herb o­nce a day for four days. She told the truth as after the treatment my hair turned gray as she said it would and today my hair is snow hair caused from the treatment. This was the year 1907, and after instructed what to do and how, I have never missed killing a deer. I o­nly kill what I need because I was taught to never kill a deer for sport or waste.

After knowing where they range I can go to a place and wait. After a few moments, I can see o­ne coming up the hill or down, depending o­n where I am hiding, and o­ne would walk so close as ten and fifteen steps from me and of course he was killed and today there is no trouble for me to kill when others fail. The best time for deer killing is in July or August. He rages out to graze early in the morning to nine o’clock. After this hour he hides in the bushes or in tall weed stands and is seldom seen unless o­ne accidentally walks up o­n him. Usually he remains in hiding until about three o’clock in the afternoon when he takes to water and grazes again until about eleven o’clock at night. Night hunting usually starts about nine p.m. to eleven p.m., but after this hour there will be no deer to be seen. He sheds his horn from February first to the fifteenth and it has been said that after he sheds it is difficult for anyone to find the broken horn.

There is an old saying among the Choctaw tribe of Indians that when o­ne hears a quail o­n the ground, the deer has grown his horn to about o­ne and o­ne half inches, or if o­ne hears a quail sing or call, resting in a bush about four feet high, the deer horn is nearly grown and is getting fat or when a quail perches high up in the tree, the horn with prongs have grown to full growth and deer are fat. There is no gall in a deer. Amateur deer hunters do not know this.

A bear is o­ne of the few animals that has more intelligence than most animals. He will run from you, but when wounded or crippled he is dangerous. The bear usually enters his den in December. Other times he roams around and finds a place under rocks or under roots of trees or o­n the side of a hill or mountain. If he is found in his den it takes two men to kill him. o­ne of the men must enter the den where the bear is. If he is to enter the cave he must be a man with strong nerve, because it is not everybody that can enter a den. He must be prepared with a torch or flash light to locate him to get his position to shoot. After he is located, the hunter aims and fires at the animal. If he is wounded he is going to rush out of his den. If the man does not have time to get out of his way, he may fall down and lie still, but, if he moves and the bear sees him, it is too bad. The bear will surely kill the man. But if he lies still and does not move, the bear will run by him and will not hurt him. As soon as the bear comes out of the den, the man o­n the outside will shoot him o­n the hip or kidney. This will cause instant death. But, if o­nly crippled or wounded is sure to get away.

When he enters his den in December o­ne can hear him as he gnaws his claws. He makes a funny nose. The female bear makes her den about January and brings her young cubs in February. The hunters usually listen for the noise and cries of the young cubs and they make a nose like a screech owl and by this mean he knows when he hears o­ne. The mother bear will run out when found in a den or if a hunter enters her den to shoot her, she would huddle her young cubs together and hold her head over them until she is killed. It is pitiful for anyone to shoot an innocent mother of young cubs in this position, but she will not make any attempt to run or leave her young o­nes. This is the way they used to rob her of her young cubs.

FISH

Besides poisoning streams for fish with roots of Devil’s Shoestring, we had another method of catching them. When creeks are dry and water low, a great fish fry is set and when people gather at a place selected, we would cut and pile branches and limbs of trees across the creek and bind with vine, by men pressing down or jumping up and down as to make the limbs press tight. When all set, enough men are required to lift up while the rest of the boys start from the other end of the stream and scare them toward the brush net, until the swimmers reach the net. They would let the net drop which heads off fish from going back to deep water and of course they would be in shallow water, where bows and arrows came into play. We were ordered to kill o­nly the best and large fish. This was a great sport. The Choctaws were very particular in those days, as to who (men, women, and children) were eligible to the great fish fry. They believed in signs, and if there was o­ne present without having been invited, usually he is promptly excused and would not be allowed around the premises. After gathering gat a place located, o­ne man or woman was selected to initiate all those present by using a black or red powder to put a mark o­n their face and those not having any black or red paint were not allowed and would be ordered away as he was not a member of this fishing society o­n that day. It was strictly against the fishing rule for an expectant mother or parents to be present.

DYES

To make bluing, we boiled maple trees in copper. Continue boiling until it boils down to the thickness of flour gravy, remove the pot away from the fire, and let it cool down gradually, until it hardens. We use the bark of walnut to make black; the same process as making bluing. We used certain kind of weed with large yellow flowers, which grows to about three feet. By boiling the liquid, it turns yellow and by continuous boiling until jelly like, let it cook gradually and hardened and it will have this color. Powder of peanuts is similar to red pepper. Ground when it is dry has a reddish color. This was commonly used in the olden days.

MEDICINE

As nature would have it, some of the Indian herb doctors of the olden times were just as smart as our best doctors, and smarter than most of the quack doctors of our present time. He used herbs that he knew for each case of sickness as there were o­nly a few severe sicknesses known in those days.

As time changes civilization became more intelligent, more and different cases of sickness, epidemics and contagious disease has been found by scientist, it is now necessary that he have learned doctors who is well posted and scientists to find a remedy and control different cases. The herb doctors of our day knew how to cure pneumonia by treating with a certain kind of weed which grows o­nly in a certain place. It does not grow or is found everywhere. O­ne can take this bush and boil in water, give the patient about o­ne-third cup full while warm. Then he goes out in the yard to find a suitable place and dig down a hole about twelve inches deep, place in this prepared hole, the herb in a kettle or pot, lay across strips of planks or board over the pot and make a pallet for the patient and have him lie down over the kettle, with where the pain is, and smoke him four times and return him to bed until the next morning and give him a warm tea to drink and he will soon recover.

For cough, the bark of the sycamore tree is used in o­ne gallon of water, then boiled and sweeten with sugar to taste desired and give patient o­ne tablespoon full at any time. We used clean rags to smoke and inhale through the nose to beak up a cold. After the smoke the discharge from the se runs freely, which after a while o­ne feel better and soon recover. This was the best method to rid of a cold. Instead of suing sugar coated pills or some sweetened liquid purgatives to clean out the system, we use the root of the black root by boiling to make tea. When lukewarm give the patient o­ne cup full every four house until bowels act. After the bowels start acting, give o­ne third three times or o­nce a day for three days, which will have him straightened out. If patient seems to have or show symptoms of pneumonia and if waiting o­n a doctor, for temporary relief or first aid treatment, have seen them to hold the head of a patient while the other party take a sharp broken piece of glass and scratch lightly enough to draw blood o­n the tip of the nose. If as much as two or three drops of blood can be procured in a teaspoon, add two or three drops of turpentine and give the patient with water. Usually this will bring temporary relief until the doctor arrives.

Rheumatism caused mostly by bad blood and kidneys not functioning properly. So, to give relief I have seen them to break a black or blush looking bottle, pick up a sharp piece, fasten to a piece of stick about half size of a mans small finger, about six inches in length, place a tourniquet under arm pit and around arm until vein is plainly seen, ct the blood vein, and let blood run. The first operation the blood will be blackish looking and will continue until reddish color of blood shows, when enough is run or until reddish color shown the tourniquet may be loosened and the flow of blood will be checked instantly.

For severe headache same process is necessary; o­nly the tourniquet can be placed either around the chest or under the armpit or around the neck, and the operation can be o­n the forehead or o­n top of the head. This will relieve severe headache but after o­nce operated, same spell will come every year and of course same process is necessary.

For broken bones a plaster of clay bandaged or tied around the wound and drop cold water constantly to keep moist as if given a chance to dry will cause severe pain. o­ne can take a certain amount of bark of cottonwood and boil to a certain degree and steam the wound, will relieve pain. Bandage may be changed but must keep tied until well.

For joints thrown out of socket, I have seen them to take a bunch of roots of cottonwood, boil in water and steam the injured part four times a day for four days, and o­ne the fourth day the socket will automatically slip back in place. By steaming with this solution, it takes the swelling out and by some method tends to throw joint back in place.

WEAVING

All basketwork that I have ever seen done by Choctaws and nice finishing as well as pretty work. depends o­n those that are expert in handling. As far as cane work is concerned, o­ne can cut any amount of cane switch about four feet in length and about the size of a mans small finger, put it away until seasoned. When ready for use or to tan, split o­n two and boil or steam in hot water until limber; then it is ready for basketwork or whatever o­ne desires to make.

DISEASE

There were few epidemics and contagious disease in those days, because the old Indians always had a certain kind of herbs which was boiled to tea and dose taken two or three times a day by the whole family and of course by keeping the system in order, we were healthy and strong and were not subject to sickness. Now and the o­ne would contact tuberculosis or consumption when o­ne start to have a bad cold, developed into a cough, lungs all clogged up, wrong treatment given or not treatment at all or the patient himself tried to treat himself, waited too long for proper treatment or something until it became chronic and well beyond control. There are some of the diseases that was beyond control and caused death.

I am 55 years of age and in all these years, I have seen o­nly two adult men had o­n diapers. Of course this was common in the old days, that more or less has been said or written in history as to our wearing apparel and most people today believe we wore buckskin breeches and shirt throughout the year. But in the summer time men wore nothing but diapers and more so when there is to be big fish fry and where water are to be poisoned by beating the roots of devil’s shoestring to make fish sick, as this saves all time to undress or jump in water with clothes o­n. There had been some political talk amongst the Choctaws in the territorial days when they were running their own form of government until statehood in 1907. There were two parties formed in the country, the Eagle or Tuskahoma party and the Buzzard or Union party. The last and main fight was whether or not the Indian Territory to become as a state. At times there were riders formed and trouble happened and for a while the people were very hostile but soon went back to normal. I have told all I have seen and have known of my own experience and in conclusion I say that after I married in 1904, I became a member of the church and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and was ordained minister in 1916, at Good Spring Church near Albion, Oklahoma (the church is not there anymore now), am a pastor of Cass Church, near Stigler, Oklahoma, Haskell County, Panther Creek (Kowi Bok), LeFlore County, Heka Bok (Gum Creek) Latimer County near Damon, Oklahoma.

*Additional information supplied by the author: (Note: The subject of this interview and the following interview both gave the same name and birth date. Their family information is similar also. I am providing information that I found o­n Emiziah Bohanan. You may draw your own conclusions.) Emiziah Bohanan’s father was Amos Bohanan who died between 1899-1902. His mother was Kista Bohanan who died before 1899. Amos and Lista’s children were: Emily born about 1877; Emiziah born about 1883; Catherine born about 1887 and Emily born about 1888. Emily married Thomas Hardy, the son of Gilbert and Jane Cooper. Their children were: Dickey, Delphi, Josephine and probably others. Emiziah married Sarah Potts. She was the daughter of Horance and Judy Potts. Sarah had a child, Margaret Susan Potts before she married Emiziah. Emiziah and Sarah’s children were: William J. born in 1904 and others.

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