Witchcraft in Louisiana
by Edward Eggleston
The Indian medicine men or priests have many ways of deceiving their
people. A French officer found that the people of a certain tribe
believed very much in an idol which a medicine man had set up. This
idol was called by a long name, Vistee-poolee-keek-apook. The Indians,
when they stood near, would sometimes hear it speak, and this seemed
to them a very wonderful thing.
A French officer named Bossu tried to find out what made the idol
talk. He found a long reed, such as we call a cane pole, running from
the back of the idol's head to a cave or hollow in the rocks behind
the idol. This reed had been made into a hollow tube. In the cave
there was a medicine man who talked into the tube. The words coming
out of the other end in the idol's head were heard from the mouth of
the idol, as if the idol were speaking. Bossu showed the Indians the
trick, and then got one of his soldiers to destroy the idol.
The soldier that destroyed the idol was so brave, that the Frenchmen
had given him a nickname which means "fearless." The medicine man
declared that some dreadful thing would fall on Fearless because he
had destroyed the idol. In order to make his people believe in the
power of this god that had been thrown down, he told them that there
was a witch or evil spirit which came to the village in the shape of a
little black panther. He said, that, whenever he pronounced the name
of his god, this little black panther would instantly disappear.
You see, the cunning old medicine man had somehow got hold of a large
black cat with yellow eyes. Cats were not common among the Indians,
these animals having been brought by the white people. Such a cat as
this, the Indians had never seen. The medicine man kept the cat in his
cabin, and trained it. He would strike it with a whip, crying out
every time he struck it, "Vistee-poolee-keek-apook!"
The poor cat became afraid of the long ugly name of the Indian god,
because the whip and the name always came together. One day the black
cat crept into the cabin of an Indian woman to get something to eat.
The medicine man who was near by saw it. He said the name of his god
in his common voice. The cat, which the Indians believed to be a
witch, jumped like lightning through the hole in the cabin that was
used for a window. The Indians really believed that they had seen an
evil spirit in the shape of a little black panther, and that it
disappeared when the medicine man spoke the name of his god.
After that, every time an Indian saw this black cat, or little black
panther, as it was called, he spoke the name of this terrible god. Of
course, the black cat with yellow eyes ran away. Tired out at last
with being driven off in this fashion, the cat disappeared entirely,
and took up its home with the wild animals in the woods, where it
could not hear the terrible name of the idol any more.
Bossu afterward made use of the Indians' belief in spirits for his own
purpose. One of his soldiers had been killed by one of the Indians.
Bossu could not find out who killed the soldier, or even to what tribe
the Indian that killed him belonged. He wanted to punish or frighten
the murderer in order to save the lives of the rest of the French
He called the chief of the Indians, and told him that one of his men
was missing. He said he was sure the man had not run away. He
therefore asked that the Indians should find the man, and said, that,
if he were not found, he should have to think that some of the Indians
had killed him.
The chief answered that the white soldier had probably gone hunting in
the woods, and killed himself accidentally with his gun, or else he
had been killed by a panther. To this Bossu replied that the animal
would not have eaten the gun or the clothes of the soldier. He said
that if the Indians would find the Frenchman's gun, or bits of his
clothes, they could easily show that he had been killed by a wild
Bossu had a friend among the Indians who was very much attached to
him. He persuaded this young Indian to tell him to what tribe the
murderer of the Frenchman belonged, but he solemnly promised that the
other Indians should never know who had told him. He paid the young
Indian for telling him.
The Frenchman who was called Fearless now undertook to have the man
who had killed the other soldier punished, for the dead soldier had
been his friend. But it was necessary that he should not let the
Indians know who had told about it. Fearless stripped off a great
quantity of bark of the pawpaw tree. He thought he would play a trick
like that of the medicine man, and make the Indians believe that a
spirit was talking to them. He did everything very secretly. By
fastening pieces of the pawpaw bark together with pitch, he managed to
make a very large speaking trumpet, which would carry the voice a long
When he had finished this trumpet, he left the camp one very dark
night. He carried with him his gun, some food, and a gourd full of
water. He had also a bearskin of which to make a bed, and a buffalo
robe to cover himself with. With these things he hid himself on a
hill. This hill was near the Indian camp. From the top of it Fearless
could make his voice heard for three miles round by the aid of his
great pawpaw trumpet.
He shouted through this great bark trumpet what seemed to be words in
an unknown language, such as the Indian medicine man used. The
frightful noise sounded through the woods. It did not seem to come
from anywhere. The Indians thought that these cries came down from the
sky. The Indian women were thrown into a great fright, and even the
warriors and chiefs were alarmed. They said that the Master of Life
was angry with their tribe, and that this horrible voice showed that
something bad was going to happen to them.
The day after the voice was heard, the old men of the tribe came to
consult Bossu about this strange noise. Bossu told them that the white
soldier who had been killed could not rest. He said that every night
his voice was heard, though nothing could be seen. He said that the
voice cried out in a melancholy tone, "I am the white soldier that
went with the French captain. I was killed by a man of the tribe of
the Kanoatinos. Frenchmen, revenge my death."
The Indians now saw that it was of no use for them to tell any more
lies about the death of the white man. They believed that the
soldier's ghost had told the Frenchmen all about it. They confessed
the murder, but they explained that the white soldier had provoked it
when he was drunk, by bad treatment of the Indian who killed him.
Captain Bossu was not willing to take their excuses. He told them,
that, if the soldier had done wrong, he ought to have been brought to
his own captain to be punished. He said, "If one of my soldiers should
kill one of your Indians, I would put him to death. You must do the
same with the Indian who killed my soldier."
The oldest of the chiefs now commanded one of his men to go and seize
the guilty man, bind him, and bring him in to be put to death, in
order that the ghost of the French soldier might no longer trouble
Captain Bossu did not wish to put the Indian to death. He knew that
the French soldier had very greatly wronged and provoked the Indian.
He got his young Indian friend to go to the wife of the chief of the
Kanoatinos, and say to her that she might beg the life of the guilty
man. The young Indian told the chief's wife that Captain Bossu would
not refuse her anything. The woman went, and begged that the Indian
might be spared. Bossu consented that the Indian should live, but said
that he did it as a favor to the chief's wife.
The chief then turned to the condemned Indian, and said to him, "You
were dead, but the captain of the white warriors has brought you to
life at the request of the chief's wife." The white people and Indians
then smoked the pipe of peace together.