Native American Legends
The Big White Dog and the Sacred Pole
A Chickasaw Legend
In a time long since past, there lived somewhere in the West a
tribe of Indians constantly warred upon by a powerful enemy. Because
of the never ending attacks, the people of this tribe enjoyed little
of the peace and comfort for which they so deeply yearned.
In time, the families who lived nearest the enemy and who, over
the years, had borne the brunt of enemy assaults, became so weary
and heavy-hearted that they appealed to their wise prophets to find
a solution to the problem.
The men of wisdom held a special consultation. They sat around
the council fire and deliberated for many hours, and most important,
they sought guidance from Ubabeneli, The Creator of all things,
who sat above the clouds and directed the destiny of all.
At last, the prophets concluded their deliberations. They summoned
their fellow tribesmen and told them of the decision they had reached.
The people, said the wise men, would seek a new home where they
could find peace and happiness. Their guide to the new land would
be a kohta falaya (long pole). This kohta falaya, though, was no
ordinary pole. It was something extra special, for it had been made
sacred by Ubabeneli.
At the end of each day's journey, the prophets explained, the sacred
pole would be stuck into the ground so that it stood perfectly straight.
Each morning the pole would be carefully examined, and in whatever
direction it was leaning, that would be the direction of travel.
That procedure was to be repeated until the kohta falaya leaned
no more. And when that happened, the people would know it was a
divine sign from Ubabeneli that their journey was over, and their
new home had been reached.
Then the prophets told them the people would be split into two
groups to make traveling safer and easier and that the brave young
chief called Chickasaw would lead one party and his equally brave
brother Choctaw, also a chief, would lead the other.
The people listened intently. They liked what they heard. The words
of optimism which fell from the tongues of the wise men lifted their
spirits immeasurably; and when the talks ended, the elated people
started dancing and singing, and they continued to rejoice until
the early hours of morning.
During the next few days, the families busied themselves packing
their meager belongings and making other necessary preparations
for the journey. At last, the eve of departure arrived.
That evening the prophets stuck the kohta falaya into the ground
and then retired for the night; the next morning, at the break of
day, the long pole was closely inspected and found to be leaning
toward the east.
So with Chief Chickasaw at the head of one of the parties and Chief
Choctaw heading the other, the two-headed colony bade farewell to
the remainder of the tribe and set out in the direction of the rising
It was a sight to behold, this great Indian caravan: Old men and
old women, boys and girls, young braves and young maidens, husbands
and their wives-- some with newborn babies, others with babies yet
unborn--all moving along on foot with their few worldly possessions
and each knowing with certainty that somewhere a new homeland awaited
them, and by-and-by the sacred long pole would lead them to it.
Far in front of this procession of red people ranged a large white
dog. He darted to the right, then to the left; he was everywhere,
always on the alert. The people loved the big creature very dearly.
He was their faithful guard and scout, and it was his duty to sound
the alarm should enemies be encountered.
Travel was slow and laborious. Every evening found migrating Indians
only a short distance from where they had commenced that day's journey.
Even so, each day's walk took the people farther and farther from
their old homeland, until in time they found themselves passing
through the homelands of other red people--red people who eyed them
with suspicion and considered them intruders.
Sometimes the weary travelers were allowed to pass unmolested through
these foreign domains, but more often than not they were set upon
by the jealous guardians of their ancestral lands and forced to
fight their way through.
Sickness was a constant companion of marchers, and the tribal doctors
stayed busy digging into their medicine bags. But when sinti, the
snake, struck any one of them, the big white dog was quickly summoned
and had only to lick the wound to make the victim well again.
Yet, even with the extraordinary healing powers of the medicine
men and the beloved white dog, the ugly hand of death reached down
into the double- headed colony of red people and took away loved
ones at will.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years.
And then one day, just as the sun was setting, the two parties of
Indians came upon a scene beyond their imagination. It was a great
river, the likes of which they had never seen before, and the unexpected
sight overwhelmed them.
For a long time the astonished people stood on the riverbank and
stared in awe at the mighty watercourse. They called the giant river
misha sipokoni (beyond all age); today, that great river is known
far and wide as the Mississippi.
That night the families sat around their campfires and talked joyfully
to one another. Many of the people believed the promised land had
been reached and felt certain the sacred long pole would confirm
their belief at daybreak.
But at sun up the next day, the homeless people saw that the kohta
falaya still leaned toward the east, and they knew that "home"
was somewhere on the other side of the wide, wide river before them.
The tribesmen hurriedly set about constructing rafts, and soon
the crossing was underway. Almost immediately a serious mishap occurred
which left the Indians very sad. The raft carrying their beloved
white dog came to pieces in the middle of the river, and though
all the people were quickly rescued, the big dog, which managed
to climb onto a piece of broken timber, could not be reached. The
people could only watch helplessly as he was swept downstream and
out of sight. That was the last the Indians ever saw of their faithful
guard and scout.
Many days were required to ferry all the people and their belongings
to the opposite side, but, in time, the difficult crossing was completed.
The families rested by the river several days, then packed up and
continued their eastward march. Some weeks later they camped at
a certain place, which later became known as Nanih Waya, in what
is now Winston County, Mississippi. At daylight the following morning,
the people found the kohta falaya wobbling around crazily, leaning
first in one direction and then another.
The migrants became somewhat excited--and uneasy, too--for they
had never before seen the sacred long pole behave in such a strange
manner. At last the kohta falaya grew very still and stood perfectly
At this point, the two brothers--Chief Chickasaw and Chief Choctaw--had
their first difference of opinion. Chief Choctaw, as well as some
of the prophets, was quite satisfied that the perfectly erect pole
was the divine sign from Ubabeneli that their new home had been
reached. Chief Chickasaw on the other hand, was not at all pleased
with the way the sacred pole had wobbled around, and he felt certain
the promised land lay farther toward the rising sun.
Discussions on the matter were held by the two chiefs and the prophets,
but at the end of several hours, opinions remained unchanged. Seeing
that talking was getting them no place, Chief Chickasaw pulled the
sacred long pole from the ground and commanded all those who believed
the promised land lay farther to the east to pick up their packs
and follow him.
That was the beginning of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indian Nations.
From that day on Chief Chickasaw's followers, who were relatively
few compared to the great number who remained in camp, were referred
to as Chickasaws, and those who stayed with Chief Choctaw were called
After leading the Chickasaws farther eastward to various parts
of what are now states of Alabama and Georgia, the kohta falaya
reversed its direction and guided the people westward to a place
in the vicinity of the present-day towns of Pontotoc and Tupelo,
Mississippi; and there, less than a hundred miles north of where
the Choctaws had settled, the sacred long pole stood straight as
an arrow. The Chickasaw people then knew with certainty that at
last they had found their new homeland and that their long journey
was at an end.
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