A Story of Freedom and Friendship Mar 31, 2007
Title: Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom
Author: Tim Tingle (Choctaw)
Format: Hard Cover
Published: April 2006
Publisher: Cinco Punto Press
Reviewed by Ramona Kiyoshk
Although Crossing Bok Chitto was written for children, its charm and beauty will captivate readers of all ages. The story takes place during a chapter of American history, prior to the Civil War, when a thriving cotton industry was driven by the labor of slaves. On one side of the Bok Chitto River in Mississippi, the Choctaw nation enjoyed an idyllic existence, while across the river lived the plantation families and their slaves. Armed men and bloodhounds guarded the unhappy slaves.
The Choctaw had built a bridge of rocks, just under the surface of the water. If the water rose, they added more layers of rock so that the crossing was just below the surface. If the water went down, they removed the top rocks so that the path was only inches below the surface. The Choctaw were the only ones who knew about this underwater crossing. The children of the Choctaw were told never to cross the river.
But like children everywhere, they did not always obey. One Sunday morning, on the day of a Choctaw wedding, a young girl named Martha Tom was rustled out of bed by her very busy mother and sent to pick blackberries for the wedding feast. Martha was not able to fill the basket on her side of the river, so decided to cross Bok Chitto, following the secret path her people had built in the muddy water. From above, it looked as if the little girl was walking on water.
On the plantation side of the river, Martha watched from the bushes as slaves assembled for a forbidden church service deep in the Mississippi wood. “We are bound for the Promised Land,” was the code used by the leader to a call the group together. Slaves of all ages and sizes came out of hiding. Martha came into the clearing to watch the service and joined in the singing. Afterward, the leader told his son, Little Moses nicknamed Little Mo, to take Martha to the river so she could return home. Martha showed Little Mo the underwater bridge and together they crossed the Bok Chitto just in time for the wedding. Choctaw women, beautiful in sparkling white cotton gowns, sang and danced.
The slave boy, Little Mo and the Choctaw girl, Martha, became fast friends. Using the secret crossing, they visited each other often. Little did they know that the secret underwater bridge would one day save a family.
Little Mo learned that his mother was being sold to another plantation. His family decided to flee the plantation despite the guns, lanterns and dogs of the owners. He came to Martha’s log house in the middle of the night to ask for help. Martha woke her mother and some of the other women, who donned their white cotton gowns, lighted candles and headed to the river to perform a crossing ceremony.
To discover the exciting ending of this gentle story, you must read the book.
Crossing Bok Chitto is just one of the many stories of how Native Americans and black slaves helped each other.
The winsome illustrations are by Cherokee artist Jeanne Rorex Bridges. It is an appropriate first book assignment for the artist whose award-winning depictions of Native and African Americans can be seen in exhibitions and museums across the country.
The author, Tim Tingle, is a Choctaw writer and storyteller who strives to keep the stories and traditions of his people alive. He is active in the storytelling circuit and was featured in 2002 National Storytelling Festival. His first book, Walking the Choctaw Road, a collection of memories of Choctaw elders, was chosen by Storytelling World Magazine as the Best Anthology, 2003.