The earlier Indian writers, like the earlier historians, confined themselves to the exterior of their subject. They preferred events, dramatic narratives, thrilling recountals to the simple facts which make up the every-day life of the Indian. His childhood, education, dress, beliefs, religion, and sports were briefly and inadequately described. But the murder of a white man or a bloody massacre was related with horrible detail and particularity. In the last few years this astonishing defect has been supplied by faithful and accurate observers of Indian life as it is. It is by the help of such observers that we are enabled in our closing chapter to give a glimpse of the Red Man of To-day.
There are wide differences among the Indians of the present. There are, first, the so-called civilized Indians. These are found in fragments scattered through the older states. Such are the Oneidas, of New York, and the Miamis, of Indiana. To these, too, belong the solemn, copper-faced individuals whom the summer tourist finds selling beads at Niagara Falls, or dwelling in shanties at Petoskey, Michigan, and along the shores of the lovely Mackinaw Island. Among all the civilized Indians, however, those of Indian Territory are pre-eminent. There the Creeks, Cherokees, and other tribes have dwelt for half a century under the direct protection of the government, from which they draw abundant pensions. Many of them are men of wealth of intelligence. They live in a style superior to that of the white settlers by whom they are surrounded. They are dressed in fashionable clothing, and understand not merely the comforts but the luxuries of civilized life. Their sons are sent east to be educated in the leading colleges, and their daughters sometimes reveal the work of the young ladies’ finishing school. A lady from Fort Scott, Kansas, told the writer of a public banquet and ball tendered by the citizens of the place to an excursion of leading Creeks from the territory. The visitors wore full dress, and danced with an ease and elegance which the young men of Fort Scott hardly rivaled. They were courteous and accomplished, polished in manners and easy in conversation. Their dark skin and black hair and eyes gave them the appearance of distinguished foreigners, an illusion materially assisted by their accent.
Next to these civilized Indians come the semi-civilized, Unlike the former, these have not arrived at their present condition through intercourse with the whites. The Pueblos of New Mexico have considerable knowledge of the mechanic arts. They built houses, constructed irrigating canals, dug cisterns, planted trees, raised crops of grain, vegetables, and fruits, made pottery, wove cloth and blankets, long before the white invaders began to trouble them. Next to the Pueblos rank the Navajoes, followed at a still greater distance by certain bands of the Apaches, whose home is in the mountains. Indeed, we have already passed the line of semi-civilization, and find ourselves among the genuine "wild Indians," to whom belong four-fifths of all living red men. Some of these we have already met. There are the Qjibwas in the north, around Lake Superior, the Sioux, Arrapahoes, and Cheyennes, known generally as the "Plains Indians," the Comanches and Kiowas of Texas, and the Digger Indians of California and the western coast. The latter are the lowest of all the tribes. The name is given promiscuously to the Utes, Shoshones, and others, who live on snakes, lizards, grasshoppers, and such roots as they can "dig," for which purpose the poor wretches carry sharpened sticks. One singular fact is the infinite diversity of languages. Not only every tribe, but every band, of which there are sometimes fifty in a single tribe, has its own dialect or jargon, perfectly, unintelligible to all who do not belong to the band. In all times the Indians have disdained to learn even a few words of an enemy’s language. Stranger yet, the Cheyennes and Arrapahoes for three quarters of a century have been firm friends, camping and hunting together, and making war upon the same enemies at the same times. The children constantly romp and play together in the common camp. Yet not one in ten of either tribe can hold the most ordinary conversation in the language of the other.
Unable to speak one another’s language, the Indians of the West have constructed a wonderful sign language, by which they hold intercourse. Gestures, signs, are more or less natural to every one. Among the Plains Indians alone have they reached their most wonderful development. So complicated and elaborate is the sign language, consisting of countless gestures and movements, the slightest variations in which mark wide differences in meaning, that only a few Indians in a tribe are complete masters of it, and the masses can only use it slightly. The signs do not indicate letters, nor words, as with the deaf and dumb, but ideas. There is one sign to indicate hunger; another for "stop talking," another for summer, and so on infinitely. Yet an expert sign talker will either make or interpret a long speech, which consists of an infinite number of signs following each other with lightning-like rapidity. Two strange Indians will meet on horseback, each unable to understand a spoken word of the other, and, while holding the reins with the left hands, will converse for hours with their right, telling stories or relating their experience, without a single misunderstanding.
While remembering that there must be great differences in the customs of a thousand restless bands, which maintain such differences in language, we may take the so-called "Plains Indians" as a fair type of all the tribes of the West. They inhabit the great plains east of the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to the Gulf. They are cut up into sixty distinct tribes, comprising one-half the Indians of the United States.
Among the Plains Indians the baby, as soon as born, is placed in an upright nest, made of buffalo hide, coming up to its neck. This nest is fastened to a board. Straps are attached, which the mother throws over her shoulders while at work. Sometimes she hangs it to a tree, or leans it against a stump. Here the child passes the first year of its life, being removed once or twice a day to be washed or dressed. If it attempts to cry, Mrs. Squaw slaps her hand over its mouth, seizes the nose between thumb and finger, and holds on till the child is nearly suffocated. The youngster soon learns the lesson. As the child approaches the age of crawling, it gets out of its prison.
Girls remain somewhat under their mother’s control until twelve or fifteen years old, at which time they are apt to marry. Their principal resource is playing with dolls. At sixteen their beauty, such as it is, is generally gone, a result of their hard life and constant exposure.
The boy grows up without restraint. His mother is not permitted to strike him or control him. At the age of six, he and his fellows, armed with bows and arrows, roam around, killing birds, or shooting at small animals. A little later his father places him in charge of the ponies. He goes out each morning, armed with a lariat, and passes the day lassoing the animals and riding them, bareback and without bridle, at break-neck speed across the country, becoming by this practice a miracle of horsemanship. If tired of riding, he and his companions practice with bow and arrows on such ground squirrels, sparrows, or larks, as come in their way, or run races on foot. All the while they bet with each other such articles as a boy is likely to have about him with the true spirit of the hardened gambler.
At the age of twelve, the young Indian is relieved from duty on the herd by his younger brothers, and is given arrows with iron beads. This marks an epoch in his life. He is a mere animal. He has no conception of right or wrong. Instead of the lessons of gentleness and peace, which the white mother impresses on her boy, his ambition is constantly goaded toward feats of bloodshed and violence. He listens to the talk of the warriors, and early discovers that such things alone are worthy of a warrior’s ambition. With a band of fellows, some one of which has a natural pre-eminence which makes him its leader, he roams over the country in search of victims. Some of the most cold-blooded atrocities of the frontier have been the work of these young devils in quest of fame. From each of these expeditions one or more youths return with erect carriage and pompous airs, announcing that they are candidates for the distinction of warriors. The chiefs assemble in council. Each youth in turn recites the basis of his claim, screaming, jumping, yelling, gesticulating to illustrate his exploit. Other witnesses are heard, and then the council goes into secret session. After some time the chief announces from the door of the council lodge the names of the successful ones. These separately retire to some lonely spot, where they fast for a time in solitude, and decide upon their "medicine," which will be described hereafter. This done, the youth is a full-fledged warrior.
No sooner has the boy been proclaimed a warrior than he begins to look for a wife. His manner of making love is peculiar. Wrapped in his buffalo robe, or in summer in his cotton mantle, and decorated in the gaudiest fashion, he stands for hours, in perfect silence, about the lodge of the girl he seeks to woo. Though uttering not a word, his conduct is as well understood as the clucking of an old hen that wants to set. After a few visits, the girl’s family and friends hold a consultation. If the result is favorable to the aspirant, the girl indicates it by coquettish glances. That night the lover hides near her door. Though the whole village knows what he is about, he is supposed to be unseen by any one. Presently the girl, having "roped" herself, issues from the lodge and is pounced upon by her lover. If she resists, he must immediately leave her. If not, he carries her to some neighboring spot and begins his courtship in earnest. At first, the pair simply stand and look at each other. On subsequent evenings, they remain standing, but if the affair progresses well, they are locked in each other’s arms. Sometimes a girl who has several lovers will keep them in suspense this way for a year, spending her evenings with different ones.
At last the young brave gets his mother to interview the girl’s people. Her father names the number of ponies and buffalo robes which he demands. A wrangle ensues. If the price is thought too high the affair is off. If not, the lover ties his ponies at the door of the lodge. On the following morning, if the ponies are still there, he knows that his suit is rejected. If not, he takes the girl without ceremony to his own or his father’s lodge. Henceforth, she is his property. As the warrior may have as many wives as he can afford to buy, his new wife is sometimes number three or four.
Every body knows that the life of the Indian woman is one of incessant toil for her lord and master. She does all domestic work, butchers the game, dresses the skins, brings wood and water, and when her husband returns from the hunt always unsaddles his horse, and feeds and waters it. She is simply the property of her husband. He may beat her, sell her, or kill her, as he pleases. One resource is left to the woman. She has a right at any time "to go off with a handsomer man." If her husband mistreats her, she negotiates for another husband through some old woman friend. If she falls in love with another warrior, the result is the same. Her husband wakes up some morning, to find her at work cooking and drudging in another man’s lodge, as if she had been there always. Her former husband simply reports the matter to the chief. He and his advisors fix the price which the new husband must pay the old one for his wife. If this is done the affair is ended. Otherwise, the man has a right to kill his unfaithful squaw.
On one occasion, the young warrior with whom the wife of an old Indian had eloped was unable to pay for her. Her former master took her back, made her sit down with one foot on and deliberately fired a rifle ball through both feet. This done, he grimly presented her to her lover, saying: "You may be sure she will not run off with another man."
Custom makes it perfectly proper for an Indian to make love to another man’s wife, even in the presence of her husband. Whatever may be the latter’s feelings, he is bound to listen to the love making, even to the most passionate vows, without paying any attention to it. The women of the different tribes vary greatly in chastity, but the customs above described, make the husbands generally, good and kind. The only notice usually taken of a wife’s infidelity is to send her back to her father’s lodge and levy a fine of so many ponies on her lover, he in turn, having the same right as against any subsequent brave with whom she may take up. The unmarried women of the Cheyennes and Arrapahoes have a singular custom of tying a rope about their lower limbs, so as not to interfere with walking, whenever they are outside of their father’s lodge. In the absence of their husbands, married women do the same thing. But for this, which custom has made their protection, no woman would be safe from the assaults which every man has the right to make. Even with it, no woman ventures far from her lodge without a companion.
The "teepe" or buffalo tent, which constitutes the permanent lodge of the Plains Indians, has already been described in our chapter on Kit Carson. Another kind of a lodge, used for temporary camps, is made of small, fresh-cut poles, the ends of which are stuck in the ground and the tops bent over and fastened together. Over this frame blankets are spread, even if the occupants have to sleep shivering on the ground without cover.
Every tribe has its peculiar style of lodge. The Omaha Indians build a rectangular frame-work, on which they spread their skins and blankets. The Osages build a lodge shaped like the top of an emigrant wagon. The far-famed Pueblos live in elaborate and complicated structures of poles and mud. A Plains Indian out by himself will build a lodge no larger than a dog kennel; so small, indeed, that it seems impossible that a man could get into it. Yet he will build a fire in the center of this tiny structure, curl himself around it, arid sleep contentedly.
The largest teepe is hardly eighteen feet in diameter. This apartment serves for cooking, eating, living, and sleeping, and for the lounging-place of dogs. The beds, consisting of buffalo robes and blankets, with pillows made of rolled buffalo robes, or of the skins of smaller animals stuffed with grass, lie around the fire, serving at night for sleeping purposes and used by day for seats and lounges. From one to four families occupy the lodge. Besides the beds, its only furniture is an iron pot and kettle, a water bucket, some tin cups, extra clothing, weapons, and the inevitable "par fleche" trunks, containing dried meat, of which we will speak more particularly hereafter.
Each wife has a bed which she occupies with her children. Of course, the crowd of dirty warriors, squaws, children, and dogs, crowded into the teepe render it a place of inconceivable filth. This, however, never affects the appetites of the inmates. In camp, the duty of cooking devolves upon the oldest squaw. There is only one article on the bill of fare. A huge, iron pot is filled with meat and water, and placed over the fire to boil, but there is no such thing as a point when the food is "done." Neither is there any regular time for meals, of which there is usually only one a day. If any Indian is hungry, he dips into the stew as soon as it is warm. One by one the crowd pitches in, helping themselves from the common pot with fingers, knives, or sticks. No fault is found with the cooking, provided the supply is abundant. This mode of cooking the meat is preferred by the squaws as being easier than broiling on the coals. The warriors, of course, prefer the latter, but, like their white brothers, submit to the women.
When on the hunt or war-path, no squaws are along, and each warrior cooks his own meal, always broiling his game over the glowing coals in appetizing style. He knows the choicest parts or every animal, and is a first-class cook. His nights are largely spent in feasting on these occasions. "This is the time for marrow guts, for ‘hump ribs,’ and for ‘marrow bones.’ The first can, to the Indian, scarcely be improved by cooking, but the greatest epicures will wrap eight or ten feet around a stick, sprinkle it plentifully with salt, and hold it in a bright blaze until the melted fat runs down. The whole mass is swallowed almost red-hot, and is the choicest bonne bouche with which an Indian palate can be tickled."
Sometimes our epicure of the plains bakes the ribs of a buffalo before his fire; again, he takes the large bones of its hind legs, roasts them in the coals, then cracks them open with a stone, and sucks enormous quantities of fiery, hot marrow. During the feast be continually wipes his greasy hands on his long, black hair. In the course of a night of feasting and story-telling, an average Indian will devour fifteen pounds of meat. This remarkable statement is based on unquestionable authority. All Indians use salt, it being easily obtained. Tea, coffee, and sugar are very rare. In late years some squaws hare learned how to make bread.
The influence of the white man is observable in the custom introduced in some bands of having an old squaw pass the pot around and help the circle of savages, old and young, with a great, wooden ladle. This is unpopular, however, and the old squaw is suspected of partiality. If any part of the mighty stew remains over, it is set away cold, and such as wish, go to it during the rest of the day. Besides such wild meat, which is to-day the rarest dish on any white man’s table, different tribes of Plains Indians have other favorite dishes; among some of them skunk is very popular; others adore horse-flesh, while the Cheyennes worship fat puppy. Since 1872, as most of the Indians have been confined on reservations, and white men have virtually killed off the game, the food question has become one of paramount importance to the Indian. The government supplies are totally inadequate, and ‘dogs, wolves, reptiles, half decomposed horse-flesh, even carrion birds, all go to appease the gnawings of his famished stomach. Every military post in the Indian country is besieged by these starving people. The slop-barrels and dump-piles are carefully scrutinized, and stuff that a cur would disdain is carried off in triumph. The offal about the butcher-shop is quarreled over and devoured raw on the spot."
This condition of the Indians results from the destruction of the buffalo. As late as 1871 the buffalo herds moved northward each year in a column fifty miles wide and of unknown length. Early in October, when the animals were at their fattest, the Indians made preparations for the great fall hunt. The spot for the hunting-camp was chosen with great care, and to it the whole band repaired. The "surround," as it is called, described elsewhere in this book, was the plan adopted for killing a large number of animals, the slaughter sometimes reaching three or four hundred at a single "surround."
As soon as the charge was over, and the noble game lay panting on the ground, the women fell to work to skin the animals, cut off the meat from the bones, and carry it to the camp on the backs of ponies. No time was to be lost. The skins were spread on level ground, flesh side up, and tightly stretched by pegs driven into the ground. The meat was cut into thin strips and hung on poles, already arranged, to dry in the sun. The squaws worked day and night, as the skin becomes useless if it dries unstretched, and the meat spoils in a few hours if not "jerked." As soon as this lot of game was out of the way, another "surround" took place, and so on through the season. When the killing was over, the squaws began other work.
The thickest skins were soaked in water containing wood ashes, which removed the hair. They were then cut in the desired sizes, stretched on forms of various shapes, and allowed to dry. They became as hard as iron, and ready for use as trunks, or "par fleches," as they were called. The dried meat was then pounded to powder between stones, and a layer of the powder, two inches thick, placed in the bottom of the trunk. Over this was poured a layer of melted tallow, and so on, alternately, till the trunk was full. The whole was kept hot until the melted tallow had saturated the powder. The mass thus prepared, kept for many years, constituting the principal food of the Indians. It took the place of bread to them. In late years, they pack the beef issued to them by the government in the same way.
When the Indians used arrows, each hunter could identify his own game. With the introduction of firearms this became impossible, and the fruit of the "surround" became common property. After the preparation of the meat, the skins next received attention, the squaws preparing them for different uses, as for saddles, shields, lariats, robes, and tent covers. The preparation of the robe was the crowning work of the squaw. With a small implement, shaped like an adze, she chipped away at the hardened hide to thin it, chopping off a piece each time from the surface, yet never cutting through. To render the hide soft, buffalo brains were rubbed in with a stone. Even after all this work, the squaw would, if the robe was to be worn by her husband, spend many months in ornamenting it with colored quills and grasses.
But the buffalo is practically extinct. In 1872 there was apparently no limit to their number. In 1873, where there had been myriads of buffalo there were myriads of rotting carcasses. How did this come about? Three great railroads had penetrated the West. It became known that a buffalo hide was worth four or five dollars. From all parts of the country hunters came in hundreds and thousands, by rail, in wagons, on horseback. By 1874 five million buffaloes had been slaughtered for their hides. The resource of the Indians for food and shelter was practically destroyed. It was done in violation of law, and the Indians, before virtually independent, are now starving paupers. Frenzied with hunger they are dangerous.
From the topics of shelter and food we pass naturally to that of clothing. The Indian dresses for ornament, not for decency. The broadest demands of the latter are supposed to be met by the breech cloth, which consists of a cloth five to eight feet long, passed over a string around the waist, under the legs, and up over the string on the opposite side. In addition to this the Indian for home costume frequently wraps himself in a cotton mantle. To this simple dress is now added many strange bits of white men’s clothing. A plug hat, a green veil, a pair of hoopskirts, a parasol, a peacock feather, a soldier’s coat, a Chinese fan, are all seized upon, and used without regard to congruity or sense. The funniest sight in the world is a party of Indians decked out to receive white men.
Boots and pantaloons are despised by the red man most utterly. If they are issued to him by the government he trades them off to the first chance comer for the veriest trifle. The Indians of the west, unlike those of the east, allow their hair to grow long. The scalp lock is never seen on the plains. The warrior has also a state dress made of buckskin, and ornamented by the toil-worn fingers of his wife, which constitutes his most precious possession.
The women are rapidly abandoning the buckskin skirts coming to their knees and the scanty jackets for short calico dresses, shawls, and leather belts. Both sexes have an overwhelming passion for finery. Cheap jewelry, a bit of tinsel, a red feather, are prized above all things. The poorest Indian, dressed in his simple breech cloth, will be sure to have a bit of brass wire and a feather or two, with which he will proudly decorate himself on special occasions. Some tribes, when first discovered, wore no clothing whatever. The poor Digger imagines himself most elaborately costumed, when his naked body is smeared with yellow clay. All Indians, except the most enlightened chiefs, use paint more or less on their persons. Ear-rings often consist of at least a half pound of beads, stones, and shells, pulling the ear of the wearer out of all shape.
Except in the summer, a band of Indians leads a nomadic life. Every few days the camp is broken up, its belongings packed on the ponies by the squaws, and the whole motley crowd moves off to some new hunting-ground. These frequent removals cause great labor. The squaws are worked to death, putting up and taking down lodges. As a result, every thing which is unnecessary is thrown away.
An expert can tell at once from the location of a summer camp to which particular tribe it belongs. The Sioux, who have a mortal dread of ambuscade, pitch their lodges away from all timber; the Cheyennes camp in the open prairie, but near timber; the Comanches select pretty situations in open woodland, while the Osages and the Omahas pitch their lodges in the heart of an impenetrable thicket. Formerly in those camps the teepes of the chiefs were pitched in a circle, an inclosure which served as a public square, in which all assemblies, trading, gambling, and dancing took place. Here on warm summer evenings the whole band would gather for social occupations. At present each petty chief selects the ground for his lodge, and his followers pitch theirs around it.
A more material change than the arrangement of the lodges has also come over the summer life of the Indians. In the last six years the scarcity of game and the utter inadequacy of government supplies has forced the Indians, much against their will, to till the ground. A spot is selected by a band early in the spring. When the season opens men, women, and children fall to work making fences, breaking ground, and planting seed. "All summer long many of the noble red men, with wives and children, may be found working in the fields, nearly naked, sweaty, dirty, and unromantic."
The winter camp, which is regarded by the Indian as his true home, is but little changed. When the great fall hunt is over, a hot discussion takes place among the men. Skillful warriors have made various journeys to ascertain a proper location for the winter camp. When these return they are carefully interrogated by the council as to shelter, wood, water, and food for the ponies. For days the debate proceeds, each locality having valorous champions. At last the place is selected, invariably on the shore of some stream. This done, a general rush takes place to get there first and pick the choicest spots on which to pitch the teepes.
When all are snugly fixed the enjoyments of the winter begin. The excitements, the toil of the summer give place to a long season of idleness and pleasure. The old warriors pass the winter days and the long cold evenings in gambling and smoking. The old women, relieved of the hard labor of taking down and putting up the teepe and packing the ponies, now find comparative rest. The young of both sexes find time to indulge in an unending round of, fun. Visits, feasts, dances, frolics, and above all, love-making, make the merry hours glide swift away. Although there is much talk among the solemn, old braves, sitting hour after hour around the campfire, then is little thought. They will spend a half a day discussing when one killed a deer, or another saw a buffalo track. The women work much of the time dressing hides, making lariats, and ornamenting robes for their husbands.
The great occupation of the men during the winter is that of gambling. A blanket is spread on the ground, around which the Indians sit, crowding the lodge with an excited throng. Three or four leaden face each other next to the blanket. The first thing is to make up the bets. Almost every man and woman in the crowd bet with each other, backing one side of the game, and lay their stakes in a pile on one end of the blanket. The collection is curious, containing silver-mounted saddles, fine bows and arrows, old moccasins, necklaces, money, iron pots, every thing which the Indian has in the way of property.
When the betting is done the leader commences the game by holding up in his fingers a bit of bone, two inches long, and a quarter of an inch in diameter. After a moment's pause, he brings his hands together and passes the bone back and forth from one hand to the other, with marvelous dexterity and swiftness. His opponents watch him carefully, and one of them at length guesses which hand the bone is in. The leader instantly opens his palm, and if the guess was correct, the side of the guesser wins a point; if not, the other side scores one. Twenty-one points is a game, the leaders on the opposite sides taking turn about with the bone. When the game is ended, each winner takes back his stake and that of his adversary as well. The game is accompanied by loud shouts, much wrangling and bantering.
This game, though always popular because it admits any number of players, is not the first choice of ardent gamblers. All games of cards are thoroughly understood. Cheating is considered perfectly legitimate, if not caught at it. The Indians are genuine gamblers, and will sometimes lose their blankets, furs, weapons, ponies, wives, and even children. Whenever a game is about to be begun in a lodge, the tom-tom is beaten as an invitation for all to come in. The squaws are more conservative than the men, and when they find their husbands losing heavily, generally manage to break up the game.
The most exciting of all Indian games is one in vogue among the Comanches. Two leaders choose sides, which are seated in parallel lines opposite each other. Every body makes his or her bet, depositing the stakes between the two companies. All being ready, the leader of one side rises to his knees, with the gambling bone in his fingers. Closing his hand over it, he begins a swift gesticulation, and presently thrusts his hands into those of one of his neighbors. He may either give the latter the bone or keep it himself, but in either case, both himself and his neighbor keep up the movement of the hands as if each one had it. The neighbor repeats the trick with the player next to him, either passing or keeping the bone, and so on down the line until every player on that side is waving his arms and hands in the wildest excitement, apparently passing the bone every moment. Meanwhile, the other side watches with eager eyes to discover the whereabouts of the article. At last some one thinks be detects it, and points at a hand, which is instantly opened. The scoring on the guess is the same as in the other game, twenty-one points being the limit.
The Cheyenne women have a game of their own, of which they are passionately fond. A string of beads, twelve inches long, has at one end six loops, each an inch in diameter, of small beads. On the main string are strung four small bones from the foot of a bear, in each of which are four rows of four holes each. At each end of the bone are two or three tiny loops of small red beads. At the opposite end of the string is fastened a long, sharp needle of wire, six inches in length. A player takes the needle between his thumb and finger, and the game is to throw the bones forward and upward, and to thrust the needle into some of the loops or perforations in the bones. Each particular loop and perforation has a different value, and when caught on the needle counts so much, it being possible to make six hundred at a single throw, which is of course a very rare occurrence. The game is two thousand. If nothing is caught, nothing counts.
Naturally enough, gambling is accompanied by drunkenness. Many Indians fall back on the white men for common whisky, but others make drinks of their own which are as efficacious as any thing in the world for producing intoxication. One tribe makes a drink from the Maguey plant, called " mescal." Others make "tizwin," a drink manufactured from fermented corn. A most subtle intoxicant is said to be made from mare's milk. The Indian way of getting drunk is simply to drink off enough of the intoxicant to paralyze him at once, and then sneak away to some spot, where he can sleep for many hours without disturbance.
Gambling and drinking are by no means the only amusements of the winter camp. Story telling is a gift which always makes its owner a favorite person among the lodges. Bucks, squaws, and children crowd the teepe in which he may be, listening hour after hour during the long winter evenings to the marvelous yarns which he makes up as he goes along. His story is both filthy and pointless, a confused jumble of men, animals, and mythical monsters.
On fine winter days the men and boys often indulge in horse races. The Indian rider is awkward in the extreme. His stirrups are short, his back humped, his head thrust forward in a ridiculous position. Yet this laughable equestrian will pick up a small coin from the ground when his horse is at full speed. Various methods of racing are in vogue. Sometimes it simply consists in rushing a pony at full speed toward a tree, the one first touching it being winner. The same method is sometimes employed with a different goal. A heavy pole is set up horizontally about six feet from the ground. The racers dash forward, regardless of life or limb. If one stops his horse too soon, he fails to touch the pole, and is beaten; if too late, his horse passes under the pole, while he himself is caught and thrown heavily backward on the ground, under the hoofs of the ponies behind him.
In a third kind of race two strips of buffalo hide are fastened to stakes in the ground about eight feet apart. The racers start from a point two hundred yards away, jump their ponies over the first strip, stop short of the second, and get back to the starting place as quickly as possible. The Indians give great attention to racing. In contests with American horses the small, wiry pony wins in a race of a few hundred yards, but for a mile or two the long stride of the horse makes him winner. In races of more than three miles the endurance of the pony again turns the scale in his favor.
Colonel Dodge tells a good story in his recent work on "Our Wild Indians." A band of Comanches encamped near Fort Chadbourne, Texas. Some of the officers in the fort owned fast horses, the speed of which was well known, and bantered the Indians for a race. After two or three days of chaffering, the Indians agreed to match one of their ponies against the third best horse in the garrison, distance four hundred yards.
"The Indians bet robes and plunder of various kinds to the value of sixty or seventy dollars against money, flour, sugar, etc., to a like amount. At the appointed time all the Indians and most of the garrison were assembled at the track. The Indians "showed" a miserable sheep of a pony with legs like churns. A three-inch coat of rough hair stuck out all over the body, and a general expression of neglect, helplessness, and patient suffering struck pity into the hearts of all beholders. The rider was a stalwart buck of one hundred and seventy pounds, looking big and strong enough to carry the poor beast on his shoulders. He was armed with a huge club, with which, after the word was given, he belabored the miserable animal from start to finish. To the astonishment of all the whites, the Indian won by a neck.
"Another race was proposed by the officers, and, after much ‘dickering,’ accepted by the Indians against the next best horse of the garrison. The bets were doubled; and in less than an hour the second race was run by the same pony, with the same apparent exertion and with exactly the same result. The officers, thoroughly disgusted, proposed a third race, and brought to the ground a magnificent Kentucky mare, of the true Lexington blood, and known to beat the best of the others at least forty yards in four hundred. The Indians accepted the race, and not only doubled bets as before, but piled up every thing they could raise, seemingly almost erased with the excitement of their previous success. The riders mounted; the word was given. Throwing away his club, the Indian rider gave a whoop at which the sheep-like pony pricked up his ears and went away like the wind, almost two feet to the mare’s one. The last fifty yards of the course was run by the pony with the rider sitting face to his tail, making hideous grimaces and beckoning to the rider of the mare to come on.
"It afterwards inspired that the old sheep was a trick and straight race pony, celebrated among all the tribes of the south, and that the Indians had only just returned from a visit to the Kickapoos in the Indian nation, whom he had easily cleaned out of six hundred ponies."
The Indian carries a short, stout loop of raw-hide at the pommel of his saddle, which forms an important part of his outfit. When he desires to throw himself on the side of his pony opposite an enemy, he passes this loop over his head and under the arm, and, with one leg still thrown over the saddle, is as completely at home as in his lodge, having both hands left free with which to use his bow and arrow. The women ride astride the ponies like the men.
Before coming to the greatest indoor amusement of the winter camp, the dance, it is proper to speak briefly of the musical instrument of the Indians. The drum or tom-tom serves them alike as fiddle, brass band, pipe organ, and jew’s-harp. Formerly it consisted of a piece of skin stretched over a section cut from the trunk of a hollow tree, but, since the approach of civilization, the empty cheese box, with the skin over it, has driven out all other rivals. When the head of this drum gets loose it is tightened by being wet and held over the fire, which is always kept burning at a dance for this special purpose.
The songs of the Indians, which accompany all their ceremonies and celebrations, are highly characteristic. The tunes are few and monotonous, but the words constantly vary. Every Occasion gives rise to a new set of them. A band of warriors, returning from the war-path, regards the matter of embalming their exploits in an appropriate song as one of the highest importance. Many evenings on the way home are spent in the work of its composition, each man proposing a lime and the whole testing airy singing in chorus. If it strikes their fastidious fancy, it is adopted; otherwise, another line is tried, and so on, until one is found which suits.
In making a song, a great number of sounds without meaning are used to fill out the measure. An illustration of this is the love-song given below, sung by a young Cheyenne warrior to a married woman, whom he courted:
|"I am your lover; ha ya, ha a yah, ha|
I am not afraid to court you, ha a yah,
Though you have a brave husband, ha yah ha,
Will you elope with me? ha yah, ha yah ha."
Her answer is as follows:
|"I will leave my husband, hah ha ha ha ha yoo,|
But attend to what I say to you, ha ha ha ha yo,
You must be good to me, ha ha, yo e,
And not make love to other woman, ha yo, ha o."
The dance among civilized communities now figures simply as an amusement, a recreation. Among the Indians dances are of three varieties. first, the religious dances, the incongruity of which is not so great when we remember that the Israelites observed the same rites. Besides this, there are the ceremonial dances; and last, but not least, the social dance. In all of these, the only music is the monotonous thrum, thrum of the tom-tom. The step is always the Santo. It consists merely of a little spring on the balls of both feet, so timed that one jump is made to each beat of the drum. It is extremely tiresome on the muscles of the calves of the legs, but an Indian will dance until daybreak, six nights out of the week, and never feel it.
All Indian tribes have a great religious dance. Among the Cheyennes this is known as the "Hoch-e-a-yum," or a Medicine Dance;" among the Dakotahs it is called the "Sun Dance." The Sioux and the Seminoles, of Florida, celebrated this dance at the season when the tasseled roasting-ears hung amid the rustling blades of the Indian corn; hence, it was known the as green-corn dance." These ceremonies, among many tribes, are begun with processions and feasts not unlike those of the ancient Romans or of the Jews themselves. Each tribe has at least one of these great medicine dances each year. If they can afford it, sometimes two are held. The medicine man of the tribe fixes upon the time and place where the great dance is to be held, and all the roving bands of the tribe are notified. The scene among the Cheyennes is by no means unlike that or our great modern camp-meetings. Hôch-é-a-yum means "the lodge made of cottonwood poles," while the word applied to the dancers signifies "the people who make the medicine in the lodge of cottonwood poles."
When the Indians come together at the appointed time and place, they find a great lodge, capable of holding several hundred people, of which the sides are an open frame-work of cottonwood poles, while the top is partly or wholly covered with skins or the green branches of frees. In the center of the lodge is roped off a circular space, some twenty-five feet in diameter, for the dancers. Around and outside of this is another space of a few feet for the guard, and the remainder at the lodge is for the spectators. When all is ready and the place is packed with a breathless throng, the medicine chief advances to the center with great solemnity and announces the names of the warriors whom he has chosen for the dance. The number of those is usually one to every one hundred persons of the tribe. When the names are pronounced, there may be heard the suppressed sobs of some of the squaws, but the persons most concerned show no change in their demeanor. The head chief also selects an equal number of guards for the dancers. The latter are notified of the hour when the dance will commence, and are warned that disgrace and death will be lot of any who fail to appear.
At the appointed time the guard takes its position in the space roped off for it, and a moment later the medicine chief appears at the head of the file of warriors who are to take part in the dance, and conducts them to the inner circle before described. As each individual in the scrambling, struggling crowd, ablaze with curiosity and eagerness, strives to push aside or see over the shoulder of his neighbor, he discovers the dancers either stripped to their buckskin leggings, or to the breech cloth itself. Each holds in his mouth a small bone whistle, in the end of which is placed a single feather from the chaparral cock.
Every dancer has his eyes fixed on a curious little image, black on one side to represent the Bad God, and white on the other to represent the Good God, which is suspended from the roof just over the center of the circle. The group of dancers are as motionless as statues. At a given signal each begins to sound his whistle and commences the monotonous Indian dance, moving slowly around the circle. Inexperienced dancers, carried away with religious fervor, make great exertions, but the wiser ones husband their strength, for the dance is to go on without a pans a for sleep, food, or drink; without the removal of the eyes from the image, or the cessation even momentarily of the sound of their whistles, not merely for hours, but for days.
For the first ten or twelve hours, the scene is monotonous. But in time it begins to wear a different aspect. The dancers show signs of fatigue. The eyeballs, still turned toward the image, grow bloodshot and sunken. The head dizzies from the rotary motion and the constant expenditure of breath in the whistling. Dense throngs of excited spectators pack the lodge. The friends and relations of the dancers shout encouragement. The place is filled with frightful clamor.
As the dance continues hour after hour, some of the younger dancers fail perceptibly. Their steps no longer keep. time with the tom-tom. Their dancing is but a stagger. Suddenly one of them falls to the ground. The air is rent with the screams of squaws. The friends of the prostrate dancer make a rush toward him, but are thrust back by the guards. They drag the body out of the inner circle, and the medicine chief proceeds to cover it with various holy paints. This is expected to restore the unfortunate to consciousness, but frequently the open air and buckets of water are required. When he revives, it lies with the stern medicine chief to say whether he shall continue the dance until he falls again. To the entreaties and tears of the squaws, and the offers of ponies and buffalo robes by the men, he returns a solemn and mysterious shake of the head. The women raise their screams, and the men their bribes until the medicine chief usually yields.
While this dancer is carried to his lodge by his women, the spectacle in the great lodge continues. One by one, other dancers fall and are dragged out, either to be excused from further toil or sent back into the ring, at the whim of the priest. It proceeds for three or four days, some of the poor, deluded wretches enduring to the last. If there are no deaths, this is "good medicine," and the camp becomes the scene of festivity and jollification. If on the other hand, some-of the dancers fail to revive from the swoon, the assembly becomes a pandemonium of lamentation. Amid the howls of their companions, the wives of the deceased inflict terrible wounds upon themselves. The dead are hastily buried. Near their graves are left the corpses of several horses killed for their use in the happy hunting grounds. The ponies are quickly loaded, the lodges torn down, and each band hurries to hide itself in the wilderness, away-from the wrath of the Bad God, which the events of the dance are supposed to have revealed.
Though the above description is written in the present tense, it is in fact historically true only up to a time now some years gone by. Since that day the medicine dance has undergone important changes. The medicine chief is no longer the arbiter of life and death. He neither selects ‘the dancers, nor names the time when the dance shall be held. The great religious ceremony is now left either under the control of the council or to private enterprise. The day is fixed and the bands assemble as heretofore, but it is now entirely voluntary with a warrior whether he enters. the dance at all.. He quits when he pleases, and some do not enter the ring until the second or third day. Fashion, vanity, religious zeal, and other motives now induce nearly all the warriors to enter the dance, and, as those who endure the longest are counted the best men, there is little change in the horrible features of the affair. Many endure for seventy-five hours without sleep, food, drink, or obedience to any demand of nature, maintaining all the time a constant whistle, and pausing not a moment in the dance. There are other ceremonies connected with th6 medicine dance, which we will describe when we come to discuss the religion of the Indians.
The most widely known of the Indian dances is the scalp-dance, performed by the warriors who took scalps, on their return from a foray. The scalps are cleaned and stretched on little wooden hoops, the hair carefully dressed, and then each warrior attaches his scalps to a willow stick. These sticks, ten feet long, are planted in the ground, and the warriors of the party surround them. At first the dance and accompanying song is slow and monotonous, but gradually the dancers work themselves up into a terrific frenzy. Each one in turn, with many contortions and leaps, gives an exaggerated account of his exploits and re-enacts the scenes in which he has figured. These are followed by those warriors who took no scalps, explaining why they failed, describing their former exploits, and relating what they intend to do in the future. By the time the dancers have shown what valiant warriors they are, both they and the whole village are frantic with excitement. When new scalps are wanting old ones are brought out and made to do duty again and again.
The dances heretofore described are performed almost without clothing. Far different are others in which each warrior loads himself down with his finery. These latter are slow and stately affairs, but are immensely popular with the women, who in loud voices praise or criticise the costumes of the dancers.
There yet remains for us to mention the social dance of the Indians, which constitutes the most popular amusement, and affords the keenest delight of the winter camp. On at least five evenings in the week the squaws listen expectantly at nightfall for the beat of the tom-tom from some neighboring teepe. No other invitation is given and none needed. The whole town, men, women, and children, come together very quickly. If the occasion is a special one two teepes are pitched side by side, and the flaps lifted, making one large room. The beds and furniture, such as it is, are hastily gotten rid of, and the guests seat themselves on the ground. At one end of the tent a half dozen Indians are seated around a big tom-tom, pounding away at it.
There is much chatter and frolic as the crowd arrives. Every body squeezes as close to the sides of the tent as possible to leave room for the dancing. The latter, horrified, as may be the readers, consists simply of what is known in American society as the "German," except that the leader is a woman. She advances to some man, seizes him, and the two, with arms encircling one another, dance around the room a time or two, each selecting a partner of the opposite sex. This being continued by each couple until the floor is crowded, when the music ceases and all return to their seats. The figures are innumerable, one of the most popular being known as the "kissing dance," in which each couple deliberately kiss Another is the eating dance, each dancer offering something to eat to the chosen partner. The tricks, the fun, the screams of laughter, the uproarious jokes, are beyond description.
The Indian is intensely religious. His faith and his sacrifices are rarely equaled by any Christian. As far as their beliefs can be ascertained, the more intelligent red men of the Plains believe in two gods. The Good God is for some unknown reason the friend of the Indian. He brings to him every thing good and pleasant, and assists him in his undertakings without being asked to do so, because he does the best he can, and without being thanked for it, because he likes to do these things. For an equally mysterious reason the Bad God is the enemy of the Indian. All disease, pain, misfortune, and suffering come from him. The prayers of the Indians are always addressed to the latter deity, urging him not to hurt them. These two gods, who are constantly at war with each other, control this world, but not the next.
All Indians, good or bad, go to the happy hunting-grounds, unless they either die from. strangulation, by which the soul is prevented from passing out through the mouth, or by scalping, which means annihilation. Hence the Indian's eagerness to scalp his enemy. If this is not done, it is because be expects his victim to be his slave in the next world. The most mysterious part of the Indian’s religion is what is called "medicine," This singular word means every thing and nothing. When the young Indian becomes a warrior, he prepares in solitude a mixture of earths, ashes, and other ingredients, one of which is a secret with himself, and the others selected by his father’s instruction. From the color of the mixture, the novice firmly believes that he can tell which God is in the ascendant over him at the time. If the medicine be good, tiny sacks of it are tied around the necks of the warrior arid his family, and in the tail of his horse. The secret ingredient used by each Indian in his "medicine" is chosen after great agonies of mind and body, and is always carried in a little pouch on his person.
The priest of the Indian’s religion is the "medicine chief." He has acquired the position by laying claim to the discovery of a medicine which conteracts the power of the Bad God. If in battle or elsewhere ho has special good luck, this is regarded as a demonstration of the truth of his claim. lie holds himself aloof from the common Indians, and has charge of all the religious ceremonies of the tribe, His duty it is to drive off bad spirits and to propitiate the Bad God. The religious belief of the Indian, that disease is but the Bad God’s influence, naturally results in the medicine chief’s being also the physician of his tribe, combining in himself the duties of healer both of soul and body.
The secret ceremonies over which he presides are but little understood. It is said, however, that there are burnt offerings of meat and rice, rude pictures in charcoal of horses and buffalo, or whatever may be desired, and some sort of incense. At these religious ceremonies no squaw or other person not a warrior is ever permitted to be present. Dodge asserts that the Plains Indians carry with them a small thing, which is the object of constant religious veneration. It is hung in the tent of the head chief, and no profane eye has ever looked upon it. The thing, which may be nothing more than a bundle of arrows or of herbs wrapped in skin, and deposited in a small trunk, made for the purpose, while moving about over the country, he says, is believed to be the visible presence of the Good God, corresponding to the Ark of the Covenant. He relates that once when the Pawnees captured the Holy Bundle from the Cheyennes the latter redeemed it with three hundred ponies.
The Red Man of Today
Created January 15, 2002
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