It is hard to find much information, let alone reliable information, regarding the Choctaw Stomp Dance Grounds near Talihina. With this post, we are taking time to look back at some of the mentions of the traditional Stomp Dances from this area and to highlight an incredibly important act of historical conservation that those who came before us fought to make a reality.

“They would build a large fire and dance around it. They had hollow logs with buck skin stretched across the ends to beat on for music. The dancers would all have what they called chobias tied around their necks. These were made of dried terrapin hulls with small rocks in them.”
Interview with C. W. Thornton of Whitesboro, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections

“Josiah Billy recalls that it was the custom of his mother to gather her children around her at nightfall and sing to them the old Choctaw songs and relate to them her experiences during the Civil War. One of these experiences was that of witnessing the return of some of the Choctaw braves, when granted leaves of absences from service to return to their homes in the fastness of the Kiamichi Mountains, here to celebrate with a war dance such conquests as they had made in battle. Shocking as it seems, the scalps of some of the fallen enemies would often grace the belts of the returned warriors.

On such occasions as community war dance would soon get under way and their war songs provided the rhythm and tempo of their dance movements. The women as well as the men, participated in the festivities, sometimes continuing throughout the night. The “stomp” or dance grounds on such occasions were illuminated by heaps of burning pine knots placed at convenient points. When all the participants were congregated a circle would be formed composed of both men and women and the dance was on. At first the songs were low and moaning and the steps deliberate and measured. But as they warmed up, the songs became louder and the steps quickened, finally reaching a stage of abandon and weirdness that was captivating. Every movement had its own particular significance and visualized to the mind of the performers some deed of heroism attributed to valiant members of their tribe. From the effect of the songs and exclusion of all other thoughts from their minds, the warriors sought to reenact the motions significant to the heroic acts which they were engaged in commemorating at the moment. Their fervor knew no bounds.

The “Stomp Ground” which was invariably used by members of the tribe in the vicinity of the Billy home, was upon a circular rise of ground which had a diameter of about one hundred feet, a ground formation which was ideal for the purpose for which it was used. It is at a point about two and one-half miles northeast of Whitesboro and close by the Talihina-Whitesboro highway.
Interview with Josiah Billy, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections

“Never went to stomp dances but could hear ’em all night long. Once near Talihina, they had a stomp dance trying to cure an old Indian who had “consumption”, they put him in a chair and danced around him. He died in his chair.”

Interview with Mrs. Chas McWilliams, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections

Linked below is a playlist from the album “Choctaw-Chickasaw Dance Songs Vol. 1.

These songs are unique because they were produced by Buster Ned and Sweetland Productions in the 1970s. Buster Ned was a well known leader within Choctaw and Chickasaw cultural life half a century ago and grew up speaking only the Choctaw language during his childhood.

The following information was included on the back of the CD:

“The songs and dances of the Choctaws and Chickasaws have been handed down from generation to generation since the beginning of these Indian Tribes. The Choctaws singing these ancient songs for the album are from the Sixtown Clan (Okla Honili). The Chickasaws are from the generation of I. Hunter Pickens. These songs were sung at stomp dances and stickball games in the Oklahoma Counties of Marshall, Carter, and Bryan from 1890 to 1937 after removal of the Choctaws and Chickasaws from east of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory. In those early days there were many leaders in both Tribes for the singing and dancing. To name a few: Logan Parker, M.L. Scott, Joe Pickens, C.S. Tubbee, Jack Williams, Charley Lewis, Flex Johnson, Johnny Gilmore, John Sampson, and Billy Washington. There were two famous dance grounds in those days: Twin Ponds for the Chickasaws, and Yellow Hill for the Choctaws; and today, on a still summer night, I can hear in the air the lingering songs of those dances long ago. The Choctaw-Chickasaw Heritage Committee is reviving the ancient songs and dances. Some of the songs are in this album.”

In David Draper’s “Ethnomusicology” article written in 1981, he talks about the important mission that the Choctaw-Chickasaw Heritage Committee was trying to complete by revitalizing the ritual life of these tribes. He notes in his article that the performance of Choctaw Music in Oklahoma was halted in 1937, the same year the interviews of Josiah Billy and C. W. Thornton were given.

Choctaw music was still performed in isolation in Mississippi, but Oklahoma Choctaws would not openly perform these songs and dances again until this album was released. This provides a look into just how unique Oklahoma Choctaw musical history is.

In Mississippi, Choctaws use striking sticks as the only instrumental accompaniment. However, those who listen to this playlist will hear the accompanying drum appearing. One may assume that the Mississippi tradition is the more “traditional” untouched way of performing and that the attached recordings are not an accurate representation of Choctaw culture, but what these recordings do reflect are the result of musical influences from the Pan-Indian powwow and from other tribes such as the Natchez-Creek of Oklahoma.


Sources:
Interview with Mrs. Chas McWilliams, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections

Interview with C. W. Thornton of Whitesboro, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections

Interview with Josiah Billy, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections

Draper, David E. Ethnomusicology, vol. 25, no. 3, University of Illinois Press, 1981, pp. 553–56,

Image credit OHS Research Devision, Dorothy and Marcia Walton Collection

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