1838 Meteor Storm

Witnesses began calling the event “The Night the Stars Fell”.

The year was 1838. In the early hours of November 15th, a meteor shower streaked through the heavens. In a world lit only by fire, the night times were pitch-black inkiness, even in the cities, except for a few precious candles. On clear winter nights, the stars stood out like brilliant mirrors in the night sky. The Milky Way painted a celestial pathway, traversing the horizon.

The spectacular meteor shower of 1838 must indeed have been miraculous, even set against a vast array of twinkling stars. All along the eastern seaboard, journalists rushed to describe the strange event for the early morning newspapers. The story from North Carolina was picked and repeated by the New York City and Philadelphia and London papers.

The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, Nov 15, 1838, Page 3

Far away in the tiny communities of the new Choctaw Nation, early morning risers noticed the flashing lights in the sky. It was an event so astounding that a young Choctaw man named Tushpa recorded the strange event in his journal so he could tell his future children.

Tushpa joined his relatives of the Clan Haiyup-tukle and located about thirty-five miles west of Skullyville, temporarily. Then in a few years he moved westward on the Sans Bois Creek and assisted in clearing land and raising stock. In 1838 he witnessed the “falling of the stars,” as it was called, often telling the incident to his children.

~~From his son James Culberson’s retelling of his father’s journal.
Fireball during Leonid Meteor Storm, Nov 17, 1998, Italy, by Lorenzo Lovato

Among the legendary nomadic Native American tribes of the Great Plains, a yearly Winter Count was recorded, drawn and painted on buffalo hide. Each December the keeper of the count added one symbol, representing the most significant event from that year. The deer or buffalo hide with the symbols of the Winter Count became the tribe’s history book. The Winter Count was bought out on important days to share with tribal members to help them remember their histories, accompanied by a detailed oral recount of the significant events.

A superb example is Lone Dog’s Winter Count (Nakota Sioux), in the Plains Indian collections at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Lone Dog’s winter count, painted and drawn on muslin, records the years 1800 to 1871, beginning in the center and spiraling out counter-clockwise. It is sometimes called the “When the Stars Fell” winter count, because it documents the Leonid meteor shower that took place in 1833, five years before Tushpa witnessed another spectacular Leonid meteor shower in 1838.

Lone Dog’s Winter Count 1800-1871
A black crescent moon surrounding by
falling stars depicted as red ovals.
Entry for 1833: Sioux witnessed magnificent meteoric shower, were much frightened.
Reproduction of Lone Dog’s Winter Count


If you are gifted with a clear brilliant winter sky tonight, step outside and look up into the heavens. And remember.

We are the ancestors,

walking into the new,

marking the memories,

never to forget the songs.

YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.
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SOURCES:

“The Asteroids of November,” The Morning Post (London, England) Thursday, Nov 15, 1838, Page 3.

1998 Leonid fireball; photo by Lorenzo Lovato, Italy; Skywatching at http://www.space.com.

Download the Key to the Winter Count (page 10) at http://www.wolakotaproject.org.

Interpretations of Lone Dog’s Winter Count, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute; Major Joseph Bush’s copy procured in 1870 at Cheyenne Agency by Mr. James C. Robb.

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