Chapter Three [Vol. III, pp 26-42]

Continuation of the Manners and Customs--The Death of Tattooed Serpent--The French prevent the Great Sun from putting himself to death.

In speaking of the Natchez I have made sufficiently clear the absolute authority that the Great Sun has over the people, and the perfect submission that the people has for the Great Sun; by what stem the Nobility perpetuates itself, even as the Suns degrade themselves to the point of being mixed with the People that we call Stinkards. Aside from the obedience and profound respect that they owe toward their Sovereign, there is one article of their law which renders their condition more difficult than one could imagine. Those who are bound in service to the Suns of one or the other sex, but also a large number of others, must die with the Princes and Princesses, to go, say they, to serve them in the land of spirits. This custom is fatal to this great Nation, since it has [27] greatly contributed to its destruction, as one has already been able to see.

At the beginning of Spring in 1725 my friend, the Chief of the Temple Guardians, came to see me with an urgency and anxiousness that were not ordinary for him. But I pretended not to perceive this, so as to have the time to know from him if his nation believed as the others did on the subject of the Deluge. I waited for him impatiently for some time, and I was satisfied, although surprised, to see him bring me some strawberries, which is generally the work of the women. He still seemed uneasy. I asked him if they had any knowledge of the deluge. He replied that the ancient word taught all the red men that almost all men were destroyed by waters, except a very small number who had saved themselves on a very high mountain; that he knew nothing more regarding this subject except that these few people had repeopled the the earth. As the other nations had told me the same thing, I was assured that all the nations thought the same regarding this event, and that they had not [28] conserved any memory of the Ark of Noah, which did not really surprise me, since the Greeks in spite of their knowledge did not know of this either, and that without the sacred scriptures we would perhaps not know any more than they.

My friend got up in a hurry and seemed downcast. I stopped him to ask why. He replied with a sad air that the Tattooed Serpent was very ill, and that if this Sun died, all the Nation, or nearly so, would die also, because the Great Sun, brother of the ill one, would kill himself; that they were so close that they had each promised not to survive the other.

I told him that this news afflicted me greatly, because he was my friend, as well as his brother, who would not fail to kill himself, since they had given their word never to part, neither in life nor death. The death of the two Suns, who were the first of their nation, would take with them a large part of the people. That finally there was no remedy for death, but that the French chiefs [29] would attempt to see to their preservation. He left and seemed content with my response. I could not give him any other.

In effect, although I loved them, as one has to love men of integrity who do no harm for as long as they are able, we could not flatter ourselves that we could abolish an ancient custom of this Nation.

Still, while my friend [the Chief Temple Guardian] was at the interpreter's, he told him the same thing, and asked him to go say to the Commandant that it was best for the French to make an effort to prevent this destruction. The interpreter took the message there out of his own personal interest. The Commandant agreed, and sent a soldier with orders to watch and make sure that the invalid [the Tattooed Serpent] did not curtail his suffering by hastening his death, and to alert him as soon as there was any sign of death's advance. The soldier went, and stayed until he saw the Sun in his final agonies, and limbs were already cold.

The Commandant of the Fort having learned this, alerted the more distinguished Frenchmen, including myself. We found the Great Sun in despair over the loss of his brother, and [30] preparing to follow him. Our arrival, and the reasons I gave him for preserving his life, seemed to calm him, but this was only so as to be more free to execute his designs. The other French were taken in, but I could not put any trust in him, and I told him that it was necessary that one of us always be with him, and that I would be alerted the moment he was observed to be at any risk, so that he might be stopped. The Commandant was also informed of this.

The Great Sun went frequently to see his brother during the latter's illness, but our presence detained him for a little longer. It was just before nightfall, and I followed him on the pretext of seeing my friend [the Tattooed Serpent] perhaps for the last time. We found him cold. Together we left the cabin of the deceased, and when were outside and alone, he stopped me, grabbed me by the arm, and said outitigui-tlatagoup, cohc-yogo, "He is quite dead, what do you say to that?" I replied to him, noco, "I don't know." I had no doubt that he was really dead, but I didn't want to afflict him.

We entered his [the Great Sun's] house, where he said aloud, Ouitigui-tlatagoup, "he is quite dead." Then he seated [31] himself and bent over, resting his head on his hands. The instant he said that his brother was dead his wife, who was present, uttered loud cries. This was a signal of sadness for the entire Nation, which was awaiting the outcome of this malady, which could not fail to be fatal to them as soon as the Tattooed Serpent should be dead. Then were heard groans and lamentations on all sides. The most doleful cries were made to resound under the neighboring trees. Almost immediately we heard two consecutive discharges of guns made to warn all the villages, which replied a few moments afterwards.

I will spare the reader many scenes which would only sadden him, and will report of the funeral honors which were rendered to the Tattooed Serpent only those which are extraordinary and of which Europeans have no knowledge.

A short time after these discharges the speaker [porte-parole] entered and began to weep. The Great Sun raised his head and looked at his favorite wife, to whom he made a sign that we did not understand, until she threw a vessel of water on the fire, which entirely extinguished it. [32] Then the speaker, or chancellor, of the Great Sun howled in salutation to his sovereign and went out. As soon as he was outside of the cabin he uttered a fearful cry, which was instantly repeated by all the people of the villages.

The fire extinguished in our presence, and the redoubled cries of the entire Nation made me fear, with reason, for the Great Sun and even for ourselves, for who could guess the consequences of the despair in which we saw everyone immersed?

The Great Sun remaining bent over with his eyes closed, I approached a common Sun and asked him what the extinguished fire and the doleful cries signified. He replied that it was the signal to put out all the fires, and that it made all the Natchez tremble, because the extinction of the fires was not done on account of the death of the Tattooed Serpent.

I understood by these words that the sovereign wished to die. I reported this to the Commandant and the other Frenchmen. The Commandant wanted to speak to him through the interpreter; the other Frenchmen dissuaded him by explaining that I would succeed better than the interpreter because I was a friend of the Prince, [33] and I gladly consented to do so.

I approached the Great Sun, and asked him if he was no longer a man after the death of his brother, since, after having given us his word that he would not kill himself, he had given the order for the fires to be extinguished, which announced his death; that I had been informed of this the day before. He said to me, "Be assured that I am no longer thinking of that. You may sleep soundly."

I reported this to my compatriots, who asked me to tell them what I thought should be done in light of this feeble assurance. My feeling was that we should pretend to return to our homes, so as to inform ourselves of the designs that he had. By not being anxious and by acting without constraint, we would sooner see what he wanted to do. I was certain that his wife would not deceive us, not wishing to die herself if she could prevent it, and in any case I understood that the young Sun with whom I had spoken was interested in seeing him live longer, in the hope that the Sun heir presumptive might die before the Great Sun. I was going to inform this young Sun and see [34] what he was thinking. They told all that they could volontarily report in reply to me.

I made a sign to this young Sun; I took him aside and asked him if he would like us to go back to our homes. My proposal seemed to frighten him. He implored me not to do anything, or rather that I stay, because the Great Sun listened to me more than to anyone. I told him that things being as they were, we were going to retire to the servants' cabin, and that putting my trust in him, I would wait until he alerted me of any new developments, which he promised me to do. I told the other Frenchmen that I had an understanding with the young Sun.

I went with them to find the Great Sun, and told him, "We leave you in peace, and we go to sleep in our own homes, trusting in your word. Tomorrow I will come back to see my friend before the body is taken away." We left, and the soldier remained at the door under orders to report to us regularly. We then went to see the corpse of the deceased.

He (the Tattooed Serpent) was on his bed of state, [35] dressed in his finest clothing, his face painted with vermilion, moccasined as if to go on a journey, and wearing his crown of white feathers mingled with red. His weapons had been tied to his bed. These consisted of a double-barreled gun, a pistol, a bow, a quiver full of arrows, and a war club. Around the bed were all the calumets of peace which he had received during his life, and near by had been planted a large pole, peeled and painted red, from which hung a chain of reddened cane splints, composed of forty-six links or rings, to indicate the number of enemies he had killed. I do not at all pretend in reporting this fact to guarantee the number of the exploits of this man.

All his people were around him. Food was served to him at his accustomed hours, as if he had been living, and his retainer [or head servant–loué], seeing that he did not touch it, said to him: "You no longer wish, then, to take what we present you? Are these things no more to your taste? Why is it, then, that you rebuff us and our services do not please you any more? Ah! you do not [36] speak as usual. Without doubt you are dead. Yes, it is done. You are going to the country of the spirits, and you are leaving us forever." Then he uttered the death cry, which was repeated by all those in the cabin. They replied in the village, and from voice to voice the same cry passed in an instant into the other villages of the Nation, who all together made the air reverberate with their doleful cries.

The company in the cabin was composed of the favorite wife of the deceased, of a second wife, whom he kept in another village, to visit when his favorite wife was pregnant, his chancellor, his doctor, his head servant [loué], his pipe bearer, and some old women, all of whom were going to be strangled at his burial.

To the number of the victims there joined herself a Noble woman; the friendship that she had for the Tattooed Serpent led her to join him in the country of the spirits. The French called her La Glorieuse, because of her majestic bearing and her proud air and because she was intimate only with distinguished Frenchmen. I regretted her so much the more that, [37] possessing a deep knowledge of simples [herbal remedies], she had saved the lives of many of our sick, and I myself had drawn good lessons from her. These things filling us with sadness, the favorite wife, who perceived it, rose from her place, came to us with a smiling air, and spoke to us in these terms: " French chiefs and nobles, I see that you regret my husbaud's death very much. It is true that his death is very grievous, as well for the French as for our Nation, because he carried both in his heart. His ears were always full of the words of the French chiefs. He has always traveled by the same road as the French, and he loved them more than himself. But what does it matter? He is in the country of the spirits, and in two days I will go to join him and will tell him that I have seen your hearts shake at the sight of his dead body. Do not grieve. We will be friends for a much longer time in the country of the spirits than in this, because one cannot not die there again. It is always fine weather, one is never hungry, because nothing is wanting to live better than in this country. [38] Men do not make war there any more, because they are only one nation. I am going and leave my children without any father or mother. When you see them, Frenchmen, remember that you have loved the father and that you ought not to repulse the children of the one who has always been the true friend of the French." After this speech she went back to her place.

These sad sights were not capable of stopping us for long. We retired into the cabin, where we had resolved to pass the night and to take our rest, provided that we were left in peace. The anxiety which agitated the servants of the Great Sun prevented them from sleeping, and they stayed up around the fire. I told them that it was necessary that they have at least one on watch, to alert me if their Master tried to make an attempt upon his life, and I was assured that I would be promptly obeyed, because there was not one of them to wished to die. This order given, I threw myself into bed.

It was late at night before I went to sleep, but at the break of day I [39] was awakened suddenly. I got up without knowing what what might have happened. I went to the Great Sun's cabin. I was told on the way that the other Suns had gone to great troubles to keep him from killing himself. The Frenchmen sleeping in the same place as I was got up as well, and we all arrived together. Upon entering I saw that the fear and shock on the faces of all instantly assumed a more serene air. The Sovereign shot an angry look toward anyone who resisted him; he was holding his rifle by the breechblock, and the Sun heir presumptive, who alone dared to try to stop him, held the gun by the lock and by the end, so that he could not kill himself. All the others save the Sun would thank him sooner or later for this great favor he had done them. The cabin was filled with Suns, Nobles, and Honoreds who were all trembling; our arrival reassured them and made them relax.

I approached the Great Sun and extended my hand in the customary manner, so that he might drop the gun and give me his. When I realized that he was pretending not to see me, I asked those who were standing in the door and blocking the light to move aside, and I lowered myself, looked up at him, [40] and at the same moment took the firing pan of his gun, opened, it, and let the charge fall out.

"What! You told me yesterday that you would not kill yourself, and that we could count upon your word; where now is that man and his word? Speak to me."

At these words the gun fell from his hands; he gave me a hand and wiped his eyes, like a man who had just awakened. I handed the gun to our Commandant and asked him to pour water on it, so that it would be incapable of firing for a long time. I then had the Frenchmen take all the arms from his cabin and hide them. The Great Sun covered his face and said nothing.

When the Suns saw that my decisive action put their own lives out of danger, they all came to me and gave me their hands in a gesture of thanks, but without saying a word to me. The silence became so profound, that in spite of the large number of people who had witnessed what had just transpired, one might have heard the flight of a bird.

During this operation the wife of the Great Sun seemed to me to be gripped with fear. I approached her and asked [41] her out loud if she were ill. She responded in the same tone:

"Yes, I am, but speak more softly" she said. "If you leave, my husband is as good as dead and all the Natchez with him. Stay, therefore, because he opens his ears only for your words, which have the force and the points of arrows. After all, who would have dared to do what you have done? But your are his true friend, and that of his brother; you don't laugh in speaking, as many of the Frenchmen do. Have you seen how all the ears and all the eyes were open when you spoke? Your words were absorbed by all."

I then returned to the side of the Great Sun, who took my hand in his and said to me aloud: "My friend, my heart was so closed, that thought my eyes were open, I did not see the Frenchmen before me, my mouth did not open to welcome them. What will they think? I ask you to welcome them for me and to invite them to take a seat."

I replied to him that it was not worth the trouble for the time being, that we were going to walk across the square in front of his house, and would leave [42] him in peace, but that I would no longer be his friend unless he had the fires relighted, beginning with the one in front of us, and that after his brother was buried, I wanted to take him to my home and give him his first meat to eat.

He took my hand, and in front of all the company, said to me: "Since all the Chiefs and Noble Frenchmen love my life, it is decided, I will not kill myself. Let the fires be relit on our grounds, and I shall wait until death rejoins me with my brother, all the more as I am old, and until now I have walked with the Frenchmen. If not for them I would be on the way with my brother, and all the paths would be covered with dead bodies."