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A Tragedy among the French, the Chickasaws and the Choctaws

An copper plate illustration of the moment the young man talks to the head of the Tichou Mingo.

A Hamlet-Style Transaction between Tishomingo of the Chickasaws and the Choctaws, as related by a French writer in 1749.

A collection of letters, written by French soldier Jean-Bernard Bossu in the mid-18th century, was made into a massive two-volume book some twenty years later but has yet to be translated into English, at least as far as I can tell. I decided to take a Google-Translate stab at it (my school-time French is a bit rusty, so I needed some AI help). Of course I translated a portion of a letter that explained what was going on in this illustration... because that's someone's head in someone else's hands!

"I will end this letter with the account of the tragic death of an Indian from the Nation of Chickasaws, who sacrificed himself for his son.

A Choctaw, speaking ill of the French one day, said that the Chickasaws were their [the French's] dogs, in other words, their Slaves. One of these [Chickasaws], unworthy of hearing such insulting words, killed him with a shot of his pistol.

The Choctaw Tribe, the most warlike on the continent, immediately armed itself, and sent deputies to New Orleans to ask the Governor for the head of the killer, who had placed himself under the protection of the French.

They [the French] offered presents to quell this quarrel; but the terrible Nation of the Choctaws would not accept anything: it even threatened to exterminate the village of the Chickasaws. So we were obliged, in order to avoid bloodshed, to hand over this unfortunate Indian to them.

These people follow the Law of Retaliation: the dead take revenge by death, and it is enough that it is someone from the Nation, even if they are not related; only the slaves are excluded.

Sieur Ferrand, commander of the post on the right bank of the Mississippi [Poste de Allemandes, most likely Mobile, Alabama], was put in charge of this commission. The appointment was made for this purpose between the village Chickasaws, and the post, where the sacrifice was made in the following manner.

The victim was named Tichou Mingo, that is to say, a Servant to the Chief [named so because he was also a great orator and hunter, as described in a footnote below the passage]. He harangued while standing, following the custom of these Peoples, saying: "I am a capable man, that is to say, I do not fear death, but I pity the fate of my wife and four children, that I leave a tender age, and my father and my mother who are old, and who I [implore] to resist [avenge] my anger; I recommend them to the French, since it is for having taken their side that I am a sacrifice..."

At these words, which expressed paternal love in such a strongly touching way, his wife, his son, his daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren looked in tears around this tender and courageous old man. He kissed them for the last time , exhorted them to always be faithful to the French, and to die rather than betray them by any cowardice worthy of his blood. Finally he told them that his death was a necessary sacrifice to the nation, and that he was happy and proud to do it for them.

Finishing these last words, he presented his head to the relatives of the dead man, who accepted it. After that he lay down on a tree trunk, and immediately they blew the head off him with an axe.

Everything was put to sleep by this death; but the young man was forced to hand over his father's head to them. As he picked it up, he addressed it with these words: "Forgive me for your death, and remember me in the land of souls." All the French people who witnessed this tragedy were moved to tears. They [the Choctaws] put the head on the end of a pole, and took it like a trophy to their Tribe."

The writer used the word "Collapissa" for the village that the Choctaws wanted to destroy, which, I believe, can be translated to "Chickasaw" due to the use of the title Tichou Mingo, aka Tishomingo. I'm still hazy on the use of the term Tichou Mingo in this account: was it bestowed to the man as an honorific after his sacrifice for his son? Or did he already hold it? And, was it actually his flesh-and-blood son whom he sacrificed for, or was his sacrifice a general overture to preserve the village?

The French writer was very impressed by the Roman-like oratorical skills, but didn't clarify everything. Instead, soon after this describing this episode, he admonished the French to be more like the Americans [the indigenous tribes] and teach their kids to swim. Priorities!

To enjoy this rare book online, go to the Internet Archive or the Library of Congress.

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