A BIG WARNAME—ABORIGINAL WIT.
Few, save those who have been brought in contact with the Indian, are aware that one of his marked characteristics during the hours of listlessness and peace that fill up half his life time—indeed all, save when called to the woods to hunt for his support or perchance upon some wild maraud upon an offending tribe—is a decided fondness for fun, and the display of rude wit and the practical joke. We make the assertion knowingly, but not by the book—for that tells the humbug story of austerity, manœvres, &c., being his only characteristics ; it’s all fudge, as an old humbug friend of ours, an Arkansas Leatherstocking remarked to us, “ tha is jist naterally as fond o’ fun as we white folks.”
Well, as illustrative of the fact, we shall tell a very humorous joke played upon a gentleman, known familiarly and most favorable to many residents of Matchez several years since—he died we think near the Del Norte, about ten years ago : ----MAJOR BEN was at the period we speak of, Chickasaw Agent, at that time an important and responsible office, and worthily filled by him—it was previous to the removal of the Indians West. The Major in performing the duties devolving on him, found it necessary to make frequent visits to Natchez, which being performed on horseback from the “Agency,” required several days ride—the trip however was relieved by the frequency of “stands” which were open to the agent when others would be refused admittance—independent however of his claims as a public officer, he was generally warmly welcomed by all who knew him for his kindness of heart, and amiability, and that sociableness of manner which wins friends amongst even a crowd of strangers down south and in some parts of the West.
The Major made himself agreeable to the Indians, but in their intercourse with him, they discovered his weak point, his soft place—it was the vain desire to be thought GREAT—to have a BIG NAME, something that would tell the stranger tribes, his claims upon their attention at a word.
Some of the old wits among the red skins residing in the village contiguous to his residence, at length intimated to him that they were making arrangements to initiate him into the tribe, and in bestowing upon him the dignified position of a brave, they would give him also a BIG WAR NAME. Like incense from the sainted shrine wreathing its  sinuous and fragrant folds around devout worshipper, fell this grateful flattering upon the heart of our worthy friend—a large present was of course on the instant forthcoming, and a frolic was at once commenced which made the “ BIG DRUNK” come on the village before night fall.
The day at length dawned when the investiture was to take place—the various ceremonies were gone through with, the usual amount of soft soap in the way of complimentary speeches was wasted—and the new made brave was, as he supposed, most highly honored with the high and mighty title, the big war name—NA-HOO-LA-TEH-CIM-BEH ! and proud was he of it as was Richard, the bold king, of his title of the Lion Heart.
A month passed away and unavailing were the efforts of the Major to ascertain the signification of his honorable title—he tried an hundred different modes to have the Dictionary of the thing told him, but in vain were his efforts, the unvarying answer from lad and brave, and the old men, and squaws, was “Big name heap ! ”—“ big name heap ! ”—“ big name heap ! ”
At length business called him to Natchez, and on his route, the “stand,” he aimed to arrive at on the second night, was kept by an old half breed woman of the Choctaw tribe, who familiarly called him Benny and treated him with all the kindness of a son—the two hours of sunlight had passed, the horses tended, and supper smoking on the table when the old woman asked him the news from “ THE NATION.”
“ Oh, nothing of interest, the Indians are all quiet and peaceably disposed—they have taken a great liking to me and I find no difficulty whatever—the fact is, they conferred a very high honour on me about a month ago.”
“What was that ? ” eagerly asked the hostess, while at the moment the coffee pot, boiling, was elevated in her right hand with the left thumb and forefinger resting on the lid to prevent it dropping while she was pouring out the beverage—remember the position reader.
“ Oh ! they have made me a brave and given me a BIG WAR NAME—Big Indian heap, me, Major Ben,” imitating the broken language of his brother braves.
“Well, what is it—I had’nt hearn that news.”
NA-HOO-LA-TEH-CIM-BEH ! thundered forth Major Ben as if the dignity of the tribe was at stake.
Down dropped the coffee pot—away went table, supper, chairs, old woman and all—for she sprang from her seat, convulsed with that shrieking laughter that sometimes brings on ‘the fits,’ as we are told.
The old woman ran, whooped, jumped, shrieked, squalled, and called up all her brats in regular succession and pointed to them the man with the Big war name. The dozen joined in the chorus and were aided by all the dogs on the premises, while half a dozen sons and daughters of Ebony obtruded their black visages, and bright eyes and snowy teeth, at each window and door to look upon the wonderful brave—and they laughed too with wild delight to see “misses injoyin herself so mightily well at the joke”—for its transparency was visible to them through their knowledge of the vernacular.
The old dame at length, after half an hour’s exercise of the kind detailed, “cum too” and was at once beset by the brave to know the cause of her strange conduct.
“Why honey,” said she, “ it aint nothin but that big war name, they is give you—I thought it would uv killed me ! Oh, lordy, haugh ! haugh ! haugh !” and away she went again like a locomotive—recovering again, she was asked,--
“Well, now”—“ Aunt Nelly, you know I’m a mighty good friend of yours and you ought to tell me what it means.”
“Could’nt do it, Benny—it would be the death uv me, ef I wos to tell you—it can’t be done, and it better be onknown to you, for I tell you what it is you’ll git mighty mad when you does hear it.”
The supper table was re-arranged, another pot of coffee ‘biled,’ more pones baked, a few spare ribs and a venison steak with roasted sweet potatoes—were served up in most tempting style, but it would not do, Major Ben’s glory had departed—and his appetite too.
Divers were the efforts made by him to get an explanation, but without success, and he at length compromised the matter by obtaining aunt Nelly’s promise to tell him on his return from Natchez if he could not learn it before then.
He returned, and on getting in sight of the stand charged at full speed on his splendid sorrel—hallooing at the top of his voice, “ I’m a coming ! I’m a coming ! where’s Aunt Nelly ? ”
“ I’m here Benny, what’s the matter now—any thing a hurtin uv you.”
“ Tell me the name for heaven’s sake or I’ll die !” 
“ Don’t die honey, and I’ll tell you, but you must promise not to git mad at me or the Chickasaws.” 
“Done ! ” said the Major, “it’s a bargain ! ”
“ Well,” replied Nelly, “ it means FOOL WHITE MAN !”
The sorrel suffered from a ride of fifty miles that day. But Major Ben kept his word—and at length told the joke himself.
Source: New York Spirit of the Times 15.28 (6 September 1845): 321. University of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
 Original text reads “it’s.”
 Original text omits end quotation mark.
 Original text omits beginning and end quotation marks.
|We would like to thank the staff of the Library of Virginia Archives and Special Collections, Alderman Library, and Barrett Collection for their assistance. This page contains material in the public domain and it may be reproduced in its entirety or cited for courses, scholarship, or other non-commercial uses. We ask that users cite the source and support the archives that have provided materials to the Spirit site.|