Okla Hannali  A Novel

written by R. A. Lafferty
published by Doubleday, NY; 1972 and
The University of Oklahoma Press, 1991
 
 
 
I had not expected to be moved to tears by this book.  All I knew was that it was supposed to be a fine portrait of Indian life in Oklahoma long ago, written by an author mainly known for his work in (what is classified as) science fiction/fantasy.

I thought at first the character of Hannali must be fictitious.  It soon became clear, however,  that this was the story of a man who had once truly lived.

"Should we not now get a man to going?  Chronicles are all very well, but an epic--and we aspire to no less--has to have a man in the middle of it."
--page 3


 There are no footnotes, but there are 'asides' to let us know the sources.  'Asides' such as "[a]n Indian agent, of a little later date, tells of..."  I can picture Lafferty poring over antique documents in obscure places.  He claims to have puzzled out certain obscurities and mysteries.  He attempts to clear up mistakes made by the official historians.  (And you tend to believe him in these cases.  Lafferty has an air of knowing what he is about.)

Hannali is made to speak in a unique fashion.  Here is the explanation:

"Hannali did not speak in that manner because he was a clod, but because he was a Choctaw.  Whether in English or Choctaw, all Chocs run sentences together with no intonation for either period or question.  The educated Choctaws of that day--those who wrote in their own hands--punctuated either not at all or excessively.  In official depositions one will find page-long screeds with no break at all.  Or one will find random punctuation, with commas between almost every word, and perhaps a colon or semicolon between an article and its following noun.  Someone had told them that they must punctuate, but nobody would ever be able to tell them how."  --page 5


I believe Lafferty must have been passionately involved with this story of the Choctaw (and other) Indians, to have spent the time researching and writing this novel.

"It was only yesterday that the nations scattered through the world, and less than yesterday that several of them returned to the homeland from over the sea, and greatly changed by their wanderings.  Three of these nations were the Spanish, the French, the English.  Interplay was set up between these returning nations and the Indians of the South.

The Choctaws were the central and most numerous tribe of the South...  They had good hunting, good farms, and good livestock.
. . .
The Chocs were the greatest Ishtaboli ball players in the world.  They played with sometimes a hundred men on a side, and rival factions would bet whole towns on a game.  When they scored a point, they gobbled like turkeys.

They had strong towns of timber and earth houses.  They were such hardy warriors that they seldom had to go to war...  So the Choctaws were the Okla, the People, until the white men returned to the land.

. . .
This is the chronology of that return:
. . .

"In 1767 was born the particular Devil of the Indians.  He would be responsible for the deaths of many thousands of them and for the dispersal of the remainder.  The birth of the Devil was known to the Indians like an omen, and a shudder went through all the Indian South."
--pages 9-10


So, forthwith, at the risk of riling the copyright police, here is a whole pile of Lafferty's gleanings:

"The Five Tribes were not wild.  They had had their own agiculture for centuries, and they came quickly to improvements in methods of farming.  At the time of their removal, they were better farmers than the white settlers of the same area.  The tribes had maintained their peace over a very large area for a long time, and they were entitled to their peaceful increase there.

One thing must be understood.  There was not  a press of population or a shortage of land in the Gulf South states.  There is not such today.  The Indians had no great resentment against the white settlers coming onto the unoccupied land, even though it would abridge the hunting area.

But the white settlers did not want to clear the very good unoccupied land.  They wanted only that portion of the land that the Indians had already cleared.  They wanted the houses and farms of the Indians, their mules and cattle and pigs.  A stubborn people who will sulk and die when put under the whip slavery is of no use to anyone.  The Indians must be killed, and more Negroes must be brought in to work the land."
--page 22
 

"In 1828, the Devil of the Indians was elected president of the United States.  By this, the Indians of the Five Tribes understood that many thousands of them must die and all of them be uprooted.
...
We review the bare bones of the affair.  We hurry through the details of the uprooting.  It's a small matter to murder a nation, and these were but Five Nations out of hundreds.  Three years, four, five, and most of it is ended."  --page 24
 

"...the Jacksonian revolution (the most misunderstood movement in American history) was in full swing.  It was almost exactly the opposite of what is taught and believed of it.  To describe it we must borrow the phrase of a better man about a more comprehensible revolution:  It was the "Revolt of the Rich against the Poor."  It was that and no other thing.

It embraced the illegal seizure of two hundred million acres of Indian land in half a dozen southern states, and the turning of this land over to a few hundred already very rich men.  It ensured that the seized land would be of the giant slave-plantation sort, and not of the freehold sort.  It created the poor white and the poor black classes, which still endure.

The Jacksonian men were not the poor but honest frontiersmen.  They were wealthy and powerful and corrupt, and they had found their leader."  --pages 27-28


Well, you cannot speak more clearly than that.

Back to the sad story of the removal:

"There was not one Indian in ten who had a gun, not one in fifty who knew how to use one properly.  Hannali learned that if he carried his own carbine openly in the Choctaw country he would soon lose his life.  But every white settler had a gun and knew how to use it.

What store of guns the Indians did have was systematically dried up.  One by one, Indian settlements were surrounded by large bodies of hooded men.  These men hooted and howled like Choctaws, but they didn't have the same tone or timbre.  They had white man boots and pants below their hoods, and they rode known white man horses.

These were not the first hooded men in the South.  The Choctaws themselves had hooded-man and masked-man ceremonies and societies.  And also, at an early date, the white-hooded Cagoulard society had crossed from old France to French Louisiana, and visitations by their men had been made on certain persons of bad behavior.  Now the Peckerwoods of the South took it up in an extreme form to cow the Indians.

An Indian found with a gun was whipped to death..."  --pages 43-44
 

...The old Mingo Moshulatubbee said that--old as he was (he was then more than eighty years old)--he would raise his people and give battle if Nitakechi would lead; but he would not himself give the word to rise.  His hand and his mind had lost their craft, he said, and he did not know what to do.  He said that it was a problem without an answer and had been so from the beginning.  The day was past when a just peace could be maintained by strong men with staves.

It wasn't done.  Revolt wasn't the answer.  There was no answer."
--page 45


Hannali had been well established in the old land, and he was very concerned for the welfare of the Indians who would arrive after him, in the 'new land':

"We had run ahead of ourselves a little, and now we must come back to a straight account of our man.  The year is still 1828, and Hannali Innominee is in New Orleans on his way to view the new land.

Hannali had cattle money and mule money, cotton and pecan money, hide and timber money.  He had credits and notes..."  --page 29
 

"The main thought of Hannali Innominee that spring (1831), as the spring before and the spring before that, was to plant corn for the Trail Indians.  There were difficulties.
...
The Trail Indians, coming mostly in the years 1832 and 1833, didn't call for Hannali's advertised free corn.  The Indians stopped just inside the borders of their new country and would go no farther.  They selected the poor lands of the eastern edge, too tired to travel three days more to better land.  They were sick and weary, and one fifth of them had died on the removal.  Hannali boated his corn down to Fort Coffee to give it to the starving Indians, but he wasn't permitted to do so.

Government distributors and licensed traders had been buying corn from Quapaw and Osage and McIntosh Creek Indians for fifty cents a bushel and selling it to the Trail Indians for three dollars.  They would allow none of this free business.  They moved to kill the big Choctaw.

Hannali escaped with his skin.  He left his boat and his corn there and fled on foot where men on horses couldn't follow.  Three good Indian trackers were put on his trail, but at a certain point they refused.  As dogs will usually track a bear till they are onto him, but sometimes they will halt and tremble on the trail of a particularly savage beast, so did the trackers refuse to close on this animal.

It would be given out later that Hannali had killed three men on his breakaway near Fort Coffee, but this was false.  The men said to have been killed were always men unknown or of made-up names."
--pages 71-72


Nevertheless, Hannali was able to give away twenty large barge loads of corn over the next couple of years.  But something had happened to these Indians after their 'removal'.  This was the Whiskey Decade:

"The Indians had been proper drinkers for centuries.  They made joyous and selective use of the tricky old animal, and drunkards among them were few.

This degradation was a new thing--drinking to exorcise their unbearable misery.  They had lost their country, their lives were uprooted, and death had struck nearly every family of them.  It was then that the winged serpent turned into a venomous snake.  They traded their last possessions and their manhood for the hasty whiskey sold them by profiteers along the way.  It was the Whiskey Decade, the 1830s in the Territory, though it was over in far less than ten years.  Missionaries were frantic over it, and some serious Indians considered the situation hopeless.  Who can rebuild nations out of drunken animals?

A few of them saw it clearly, and one of them was Hannali.

"It is only the troubles they are snake-bit it is only a passing thing," he said, "give it three years and it will be gone they will wake up one morning and see that they are still alive they will see the sun and the grass they will build houses and farm the land give it three years and it will be gone."  --page 73


In addition to all the work he did for others, Hannali once more became well established in the new land:

"But at least he wasn't a howling wild Indian?  Sure, he was a howling Indian.  He was a Choctaw, and the Chocs are Indians who have fun with noise.  Who can refrain from answering the wolves and coyotes when they sound?  Who but a dead man does not whoop a hundred times a day?

Hannali was a farmer, a blacksmith, a boatbuilder, a commercial shipper, a ferryman, a pork salter, a tanner, a miller, the founder of an estate that was a town.  He was a count in his castle in the medieval setup of the Choctaw Nation.  He was a banker, after he had a steel safe brought up the river from New Orleans.  He was a carpenter and stonemason, a gunsmith and harness maker, a wainwright, cooper, fletcher, distiller, and brewer.  He was a merchant with the first mail-order establishment in the Territory.  He brought the first sheep and goats into the Moshulatubbee.  He operated sawmills and quarries.  He was a civilized man who sometimes painted his face and body and whooped and hollered with the loudest of them.  He was a rude illiterate, but in five years' time he would no longer be that.  He was the master of his own culture, and that is to be civilized."  --page 74


Hannali also had a very unique household.  You'll have to read the book to see how Lafferty handles this story, but here is a summary:

"...So visitors wondered about the status of the strange triple family, and the Innominees themselves never bothered to clear it up.

But the explanation as given here, coming from one of the grandsons, is the correct one.  There had been three marriages of whom no one could say which was the true one.  These three had all been terminated in a stormy family showdown, and thereafter the persons lived as one continent kindred."  --page 71


The Innominees soon started up their own school to teach the numerous young-uns (and themselves) to read and write.  They had a loom and a piano:

"Martha Louisiana knew who the piano was when she first saw it--it was a person and not a thing to her.  She played it like an elemental.  Educated visitors later said that she played with genius, nor did they say this out of kindness; they were such as disapproved of a Negro woman being so mysteriously in the heart of a family."  --page 75


One thing helped the Indians feel at home in the new land.  They had a legend that their people had long ago, during or after a great flood, migrated and crossed the great river from the west.  A leader found a way to make them believe that a local mountain was the mountain in their legends.  Lafferty writes:

"It was accepted.  However you contrived it, Peter Pitchlynn, you contrived it well.  It was the turning point.  The Choctaws believed they were back in their original homeland, and they began to reconstitute themselves as nations."  --page 79


However, this same Peter was not as gifted in figuring out what Buddhists would call 'right livelihood':

"Peter was in admiration of the self-sufficient Manor House culture set up by Hannali and others in the Moshulatubbee, but he believed it should be only one of several elements of the reconstituted Choctaw Nation.

"The white man had this eight-hundred years ago, Hannali," he said.  "It was not enough, but they lost it in reaching for other things and became warped in a different direction.  We need both the self-sufficiency and the wide-reaching commerce and manufactory.  The merchants in Doaksville progress in trade, the Planters in Falaya will provide export surpluses with their bulk crop system.  You are a merchant as well as a farmer, Hannali, and as a merchant you should work for the more open system."

"I chew the other side of the hog friend great man Peter," said Hannali, "too much trade is a bleed to death business what other storekeeper will tell his people do not buy this dress for your wife your wife already have a dress what other shopkeeper tell his people go home and put that money in a safe place it will be a hard winter."

"You're unique in this, Hannali," said Peter, "but you may be mistaken when you discourage the people from buying.  That is not the way of the white people nor of the Doaksville merchants.  They say that trade will generate more trade and that dollars can be made to grow like corn."

"I am a banker and you are not Peter Pitchlynn you have no idea how rich I could be if I desired it's an irony thing that those who love the stuff so much have not mastered the simple arts of obtaining it.  I could be very rich and it would mean that other people would become very poor I say that no dollar can generate more than one hundred cents and I know more about giving and taking interest than do the men in Doaksville I say that they rub off a little bit of their soul every time they produce unusual surplus and have to buy back necessities."

"We will find truth between the two systems, Hannali.  There is much to be said for the Manor system of the Moshulatubbee, and much for the open mercantilism of Doaksville and the giant cropping of the Falaya.  I work always for Choctaw prosperity but I have trouble fitting the pieces in."

"There are more things than prosperity great man Peter let a man build up his own house it is the rind of his soul the men of Falaya have drunk mules' milk anad are sterile theirs is not the way."

They disagreed on this, for Hannali could see no good at all in the runaway mercantilism of Doaksville or the slave-based cotton cropping in Falaya.  Peter wanted to find a way to combine the two systems, and nobody has found it yet."  --pages 90-92


And so, we arrive at the time of the Civil War.  "Civil"?  What kind of irony is that?

"The only cloud over the Innominee family was the shoved-back, always suppressed nightmare of the ghost-crazy Whiteman Falaya and his visitations.

But what if one thousand men of such serpents' seed should appear?  Who could measure the desolation that they would bring to the Territory?  How if the sick lions should be turned loose on the people?

It happened.  They came--the ghost-crazy killers, the sick lions, the devil-men of the weird seed.  And even now who can measure the desolation that they wrought?"  --pages 119-120


Whiteman Falaya was only one of the horrendous villains in this story.  Here is another long example of Lafferty's gleanings:

"Contemporary and entangled with the Civil War in the United States there occurred the murder of the Five Tribes of the Territories.  We will give some of that stark thing here.  But this is not  of the Civil War--not of the one you are minded of.

In the ruination of the Territory, three men played large parts:

General Albert Pike, a white man.

General Stand Watie, three-quarters Indian by blood, but all white by inclination.

Chief Peter Pitchlynn of the Choctaws.

Here are three men of elemental sorts.  Each suffered tragic changes and became less than he was; each died broken in his way and leaving the unanswered question "Why did you do it?"

We see an empty pompous man taken over by a secret evil.  We watch a surly man turn weird and ravening.  We see an excellent man ("Peter, will you also go away?") become no more than an ordinary man.  We take them up, the least of them, Pike, first.

There are certain men who are sacrosanct in history; you touch on the truth of them at your peril...
. . .
If you dislike the man and the type, then he was pompous, empty, provincial and temporal, dishonest, and murderous.  But if you like the man and the type, then he was impressive, untrammeled, a man of the right place and moment, flexible or sophisticated, and firm.  These are the two sides of the same handful of coins.

He stole (diverted) Indian funds and used them to bribe doubtful Indian leaders.  He ordered massacres of women and children (exemplary punitive operations).  He lied like a trooper (he was a trooper).  He effected assassinations (removal of semi-military obstructions).  He forged names to treaties (astute frontier politics).  He was part of a weird plot by men of both the North and South to extinguish the Indians whoever should win the war (devotion to the ideal of national growth).  He personally arranged twelve separate civil wars among the Indians (the removal of the unfit).  After all, those were war years, and he did  look like Moses, and perhaps he sounded like him.

. . .

Stand Watie of the Cherokees.  He was really a white man who happened to be an Indian chief.  There remains divided opinion about him.  Was he the sick lion?  A diabolical sadist?  A pathological killer?  Or was he only a very good fighting man, taciturn and determined, and stubbornly following out a brutal war policy?

Was he the greatest military genius ever produced by the American Indians?  Very likely he was.  He repeatedly led charges against seasoned Indian and white forces five times the numbers of his own men, and often carried the field.  He was a man where Pike was only a mannequin.  Had he not taken his peculiar stand, the Territory Indians would not have been ruined at that time or in that manner.  He was a turning point.

. . .

Peter Pitchlynn of the Choctaws.  We are back with our friend Peter, the man who once had magic--and lost it.  He was the last of the Choctaw magic men who could visit his people in dreams and who could summon by dreams.  How can the magic flake off a man who once had it?

Peter Pitchlynn had a long interview with Abraham Lincoln shortly after the inauguration.  It was on March 12 or 13 of the year 1861 that they met.  Here were two men, both flaked with the aleika, the magic, though neither of them wore a full mantle of it.

At this meeting, Peter Pitchlynn told Lincoln truly that he believed in the Union.  He said that he would endeavor to hold the Choctaws and other Territory Indians to the Union, and that he believed he could do it.

But while Pitchlynn was in Washington, his policy was undercut at home.  He soon came to accept and join that undercutting.  Why did he do it?

Peter Pitchlynn owned one hundred slaves.  And thereby he changed.

Naturally he was kind to his slaves, and naturally he employed stewards who were not notoriously cruel.  But this was a business to Peter Pitchlynn, and there is no such thing as benevolent slavery."
--pages 121-123


A craziness grips the world in times of war.  With his phony and forged treaty signatures, Albert Pike managed to get large numbers of the Indians engaged in hating and killing one another.  Back east, all sorts of diabolical new laws were able to be slipped through by the bastards who are always there waiting their chance.

"It had been a hot summer.  And riding on the simmering heat there were waves of hatred for the neutralist, full-blood Indians, the Territory was poisoned by it.  There are fashions in hatred, but this sudden and explosive hatred of the white-man Indians for their full-blood cousins remains inexplicable.  It had been instigated and fanned, and the catchwords of it were of known white man coinage.  But it was not like the Indians to be taken in by such transparent fraud.  The full bloods had always been called the Pins, the Sticks, the Snakes; but now these traditional names took on livid overtones.  The white-man Indians came to regard the full bloods as less than human.  Stand Watie would report several times that he had killed so many men (white men or white-man Indians) and so many Pins.  Watie did not kill women and children of the human species, but he killed those of the Pins wherever he found them.  He killed all the Pins he came across, the armed and the unarmed, the neutrals and the Unionist.  He drove off horses and cattle, he burned hay and barns and wagons, he killed men, he slaughtered pigs and Pins and left them to rot.

The inhuman heat and hatred hung over the Territory all the summer and into the autumn of 1861.  On November 19, a Territory-wide lightning flash broke open the building storm, and it began to rain blood.  This was at the horrifying Battle (Massacre) of Round Mountains, that avowed attempt to extinguish the neutralist and peaceful Upper Creek Indians to the last person of them.  The sticky red rain continued for four years.
. . .
So?  There was slaughter in the Territory?  Was there not greater slaughter in the states?  Was there something special about this?

Yes.  There was something discrete, unique, and special about the affair in the Territory.  There was the main Civil War that God allowed, and the twelve Indian civil wars that Albert Pike created..."  --pages 141-142


As I write this, it is November 19, and one-hundred and forty years later.  The man Lafferty lies somewhere forgotten in a nursing home, and our world once again appears poised on the brink of madness.  If you ever meant someday to read that non-fiction historical Lafferty novel, all I can say is, please do so now.  It is an important story, and Lafferty is very much to be commended for remembering it for us.