Monday, June 3, 2013

Natchez Indians Human Sacrifice

Natchez Indians Human Sacrifice

Some examples of human sacrifice have already been given in connection with another subject, but it is thought others might prove interesting. The first relates to the Natchez of Louisiana.

When their sovereign died he was accompanied in the grave by his wives and by several of his subjects. The lesser Suns took care to follow the same custom. The law likewise condemned every Natchez to death who had married a girl of the blood of the Suns as soon as she was expired. On this occasion I must tell you the history of an Indian who was noways willing to submit to this law. His name was Elteacteal; he contracted an alliance with the Suns, but the consequences which this honor brought along with it had like to have proved very unfortunate to him. His wife fell sick; as soon as he saw her at the point of death he fled, embarked in a piragua on the Mississippi, and came to New Orleans. He put himself under the protection of M. de Bienville, the then governor, and offered to be his huntsman. The governor accepted his services, and interested himself for him with the Natchez, who declared that he had nothing more to fear, because the ceremony was past, and he was accordingly no longer a lawful prize.

Elteacteal, being thus assured, ventured to return to his nation, and, without settling among them, he made several voyages thither. He happened to be there when the Sun called the Stung Serpent, brother to the Great Sun, died. He was a relative of the late wife of Elteacteal, and they resolved to make him pay his debt. M. de Bienville had been recalled to France, and the sovereign of the Natchez thought that the protector’s absence had annulled the reprieve granted to the protected person, and accordingly he caused him to be arrested. As soon as the poor fellow found himself in the hut of the grand chief of war, together with the other victims destined to be sacrificed to the Stung Serpent, he gave vent to the excess of his grief. The favorite wife of the late Son, who was likewise to be sacrificed, and who saw the preparations for her death with firmness, and seemed impatient to rejoin her husband, hearing Elteacteal’s complaints and groans, said to him: “Art thou no warrior?” He answered, “Yes: I am one.” “However,” said she, “thou cryest; life is dear to thee, and as that is the case, it is not good that thou shouldst go along with us; go with the women.” Elteacteal replied: “True; life is dear to me. It would be well if I walked yet on earth till to the death of the Great Sun, and I would die with him.” “Go thy way,” said the favorite, “it is not fit thou shouldst go with us, and that thy heart should remain behind on earth. Once more, get away, and let me see thee no more.”

Elteacteal did not stay to hear this order repeated to him; he disappeared like lightning; three old women, two of which were his relatives, offered to pay his debt; their age and their infirmities had disgusted them of life; none of them had been able to use their legs for a great while. The hair of the two that were related to Elteacteal was no more gray than those of women of fifty-five years in France. The other old woman was a hundred and twenty years old, and had very white hair, which is a very uncommon thing among the Indians. None of the three had a quite wrinkled skin. They were dispatched in the evening, one at the door of the Stung Serpent, and the other two upon the place before the temple. *** A cord is fastened round their necks with a slip-knot, and eight men of their relations strangle them by drawing, four one way and four the other. So many are not necessary, but as they acquire nobility by such executions, there are always more than are wanting, and the operation is performed in an instant. The generosity of these women gave Elteacteal 188life again, acquired him the degree of considered, and cleared his honor, which he had sullied by fearing death. He remained quiet after that time, and taking advantage of what he had learned during his stay among the French, he became a juggler and made use of his knowledge to impose upon his countrymen.
The morning after this execution they made everything ready for the convoy, and the hour being come, the great master of the ceremonies appeared at the door of the hut, adorned suitably to his quality. The victims who were to accompany the deceased prince into the mansion of the spirits came forth; they consisted of the favorite wife of the deceased, of his second wife, his chancellor, his physician, his hired man, that is, his first servant, and of some old women.
The favorite went to the Great Sun, with whom there were several Frenchmen, to take leave of him; she gave orders for the Suns of both sexes that were her children to appear, and spoke to the following effect:
“Children, this is the day on which I am to tear myself from you (sic)

 arms and to follow your father’s steps, who waits for me in the country of the spirits; if I were to yield to your tears I would injure my love and fail in my duty. I have done enough for you by bearing you next to my heart, and by suckling you with my breasts. You that are descended of his blood and fed by my milk, ought you to shed tears? Rejoice rather that you are Suns and warriors; you are bound to give examples of firmness and valor to the whole nation: go, my children, I have provided for all your wants, by procuring you friends; my friends and those of your father are yours too; I leave you amidst them; they are the French; they are tender-hearted and generous; make yourselves worthy of their esteem by not degenerating from your race; always act openly with them and never implore them with meanness.

“And you, Frenchmen,” added she, turning herself towards our officers, “I recommend my orphan children to you; they will know no other fathers than you; you ought to protect them.”

After that she got up; and, followed by her troop, returned to her husband’s hut with a surprising firmness.

A noble woman came to join herself to the number of victims of her own accord, being engaged by the friendship she bore the Stung Serpent to follow him into the other world. The Europeans called her the haughty lady, on account of her majestic deportment and her proud air, and because she only frequented the company of the most distinguished Frenchmen. They regretted her much, because she had the knowledge of several simples with which she had saved the lives of many of our sick. This moving sight filled our people with grief and horror. The favorite wife of the deceased rose up and spoke to them with a smiling countenance: “I die without fear;” said she, “grief does not embitter my last hours. I recommend my children to you; whenever you see them, noble Frenchmen, remember that you have loved their father, and that he was till death a true and sincere friend of your nation, whom he loved more than himself. The disposer of life has been pleased to call him, and I shall soon go and join him; I shall tell him that I have seen your hearts moved at the sight of his corps; do not be grieved; we shall be longer friends in the country of the spirits than here, because we do not die there again.”

These words forced tears from the eyes of all the French; they were obliged to do all they could to prevent the Great Sun from killing himself, for he was inconsolable at the death of his brother, upon whom he was used to lay the weight of government, he being great chief of war of the Natches, i.e. generalissimo of their armies; that prince grew furious by the resistance he met with; he held his gun by the barrel, and the Sun, his presumptive heir, held it by the lock, and caused the powder to fall out 189of the pan; the hut was full of Suns, Nobles, and Honorables but the French raised their spirits again, by hiding all the arms belonging to the sovereign, and filling the barrel of his gun with water, that it might be unfit for use for some time.

As soon as the Suns saw their sovereign’s life in safety, they thanked the French, by squeezing their hands, but without speaking; a most profound silence reigned throughout, for grief and awe kept in bounds the multitude that were present.

The wife of the Great Sun was seized with fear during this transaction. She was asked whether she was ill, and she answered aloud, “Yes, I am”; and added with a lower voice, “If the Frenchmen go out of this hut, my husband dies and all the Natches will die with him; stay, then, brave Frenchmen, because your words are as powerful as arrows; besides, who could have ventured to do what you have done? But you are his true friends and those of his brother.” Their laws obliged the Great Sun’s wife to follow her husband in the grave; this was doubtless the cause of her fears; and likewise the gratitude towards the French, who interested themselves in behalf of his life, prompted her to speak in the above-mentioned manner.

The Great Sun gave his hand to the officers, and said to them: “My friends, my heart is so overpowered with grief that, though my eyes were open, I have not taken notice that you have been standing all this while, nor have I asked you to sit down; but pardon the excess of my affliction.”

The Frenchmen told him that he had no need of excuses; that they were going to leave him alone, but that they would cease to be his friends unless he gave orders to light the fires again, lighting his own before them; and that they should not leave him till his brother was buried.

He took all the Frenchmen by the hands, and said: “Since all the chiefs and noble officers will have me stay on earth, I will do it; I will not kill myself; let the fires be lighted again immediately, and I’ll wait till death joins me to my brother; I am already old, and till I die I shall walk with the French; had it not been for them I should have gone with my brother, and all the roads would have been covered with dead bodies.”