Piomingo Day

Article excerpt

In 1492

"In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed through sunshine, wind, and rain."

In 1492, an Italian sailor named Christopher Columbus, funded by Queen Isabella of Spain, sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean. His goal was to open a trade route to the East Indies that did not include a dangerous journey around Africa. Although his original goal was unsuccessful, he can be credited with connecting Europe to a new land to the west.

At the time, it was a courageous venture. It is a fallacy that most people in 1492 believed the earth was flat - it was fairly common knowledge that the world was round. It was, however, a dangerous voyage because no one knew the exact length of the journey and what kind of surprises might lurk in the dark, cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. At the very least, Christopher Columbus was a famous explorer with a bold, new idea. In honor of his feats, a holiday in October is named for the man, not only in the United States, but in other countries around the world.

The first Columbus Day celebration was held in 1792, when New York City celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in the New World. Today, similar holidays commemorate the same event, such as Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) in many Latin American countries and Discovery Day in The Bahamas and Columbia.

While this holiday was well-intentioned back in 1792, unfortunately, many current-day people, Native Americans in particular, prefer not to honor Christopher Columbus. In the many years since his voyage, history has painted a less-than-noble portrait of the man. His cruelty, especially when it came to converting natives to Christianity, was well-known. Words such as murder, enslavement, kidnapping, torture, and genocide are now associated with Christopher Columbus' exploits.

In addition, the spread of smallpox from European explorers killed scores of Native Americans. According to Kenneth C. Davis, in his book Don't Know Much About American History, "an estimated 85% of the Native American population was wiped out within 150 years of Columbus' arrival in America. ... Additionally, ensuing war and the appropriation of land and material wealth by European colonists also contributed to the decline of the indigenous populations in the Americas."1

For this, we celebrate the man? Luckily, there is an alternative to celebrating Christopher Columbus. The Chickasaw Nation prefers to celebrate another leader on this particular October holiday, one who can be remembered for more honorable feats. As a result, on October 13, 2008, the Chickasaw Nation celebrated Piomingo Day.

Piomingo, which translates as "Mountain Leader," was a famous Chickasaw War Chief - a full-blood Chickasaw of Chakchiuma descent. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of recorded history relating to Chief Piomingo's life. We do know that he lived in western Tennessee in the latter part of the 1700s. According to Arrell M. Gibson's The Chickasaws, Piomingo was "described as tall, quick of movement, forceful in personality, intense in oratory, and fierce as a warrior ...."2

Piomingo had a wife and several children. In The Chickasaw Nation: A Short Sketch of A Noble People by James Henry Malone, he notes, "the wife of Piomingo was a tall Indian woman, named Molle-tulla. ... As to the children of Piomingo, we know little, except that he had a son who is mentioned more than once as a messenger between his father and the Little Turkey, a noted Cherokee chief who was the uncle of Piomingo." He adds, "In a letter of William Blount to General Robertson of September 10, 1795, it is stated that Piomingo in a letter to President Washington had requested the president would take into consideration his children, and particularly his daughter, whom he wished to be taught to read and write ..." Piomingo was obviously a good father, in addition to his many other attributes. …