Historic Quote: Crime and Punishment, and Good Sofkee!

This is a reminiscence from George McCall about 1830, in his book, Letters from the Frontiers. Note: Cropping of ears once was a common punishment for marital infidelity.

There was another instance that had previously occurred at this same town of Choko-chattee, of a different character but evincing the determined purpose of the Seminole mind. An Indian, named Beaver, had taken a female orphan child some fifteen years ago and reared it with a parent’s solicitude.

And now as his reward, he proposed to take his protegee to wife. But his hope and expectation of bliss were brief: within a month of the time appointed for the marriage ceremony, a young brave ran off with his betrothed. Before two moons had passed, the youth imprudently brought his stolen treasure back to Choko-chatee.

Unluckily for him, Beaver was at home, and immediately made known the fact of his return to the chief, Alligator. The latter immediately assembled his council. The accused was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to have the law enforced upon him. The law for this offense is “to be flogged till senseless, and to lose his ears.”

Alligator ordered the sentence to be carried into effect at once. The culprit was brought into the council-ring; his body was denuded, and he was laid upon his face in the center of the space around which the spectators were arranged; three officials then ranged themselves on each side of him armed with stout hickories, and at the signal given by the chief, they rained upon his back such a shower of blows as very soon affected the requirements of the law. Education was so different then (read this post about the period 1900-1910).

Alligator then stepped up, drew from its sheath his scalping-knife, and severed the upper portion of each ear. The youth lay there for some time (without any attention or restoratives being offered by those present) before consciousness returned. As he slowly rose from the ground, Alligator said to him sternly, “There are your ears, — take them.”

The youth deliberately took them up, and looking around the assembly, walked haughtily up to Beaver, and casting them indignantly at his feet, told him to make “saufkee” of them. Then bidding his ill-gotten wife follow him, stalked boldly out of the ring. This incident I had also from an eyewitness. To learn more about the fascinating history of Downington, Pennsylvania, check out this post.

I should explain that saufkee, the article of food which the youth recommended to Beaver as a suitable dish for himself, and to be made of those head-ornaments just thrown at his feet, is made usually of Indian corn or maize. The corn is first cracked in a wooden mortar and then laid in a strong lye made from wood-ashes, where it remains twenty-four hours. It is then boiled and is a very wholesome and palatable dish. I have often eaten it with a good relish.

It is a pleasing sight to see four or six stalwart warriors sitting around a large kettle of hot saufkee, with but one large wooden spoon between them. The chief, if he be of the party, or the oldest man, — for great deference is paid to both rank and age, — takes the spoon, and with a modest and at the same time a studied and graceful motion of the arm, bends forward and takes a spoonful of this favorite viand, which, having disposed of, he then, with the most respectful air, hands the spoon to his neighbor on the left. Thus it goes round till the kettle is emptied. During the meal, the conversation is cheerful and unwearied.