On the occasions of the great "Medicine Dance," elsewhere described, take place also the terrible self-tortures of the Indians. Formerly every candidate for the rank of warrior had this to undergo; now it is voluntary. This, however, has not lessened the number of participants. A lodge is prepared with a large pole in the center. The volunteers come in one by one, are examined by the medicine chief and other head men, who discuss his powers of endurance. After various performances, the chief takes a keen knife and makes two deep incisions, three inches long and two inches apart, in the muscles of each breast of the victim. The flesh between these slits is then lifted, a large horse-hair rope inserted and tied to a block of wood, which prevents it from slipping out. The other end of the rope is then tied to the top of the pole in the center of the lodge.
The task of the victim is to remain without food or drink until he has torn himself loose. Sometimes the incisions are made in the back, and the rope attached to heavy, movable objects, usually buffalo skulls, instead of to the pole; at other times the victim is hauled six or eight feet from the ground, and left to hang until his own weight or his struggles tears him loose. The time required to free themselves varies greatly, some tearing themselves loose very soon, while others hang three or four days in torment until the decay of the tissues comes to their relief. When the agony is ended, his wounds are skillfully dressed. Should he at any time in the ordeal give any expression of weakness, he is at once released and driven on; everlastingly disgraced.
The various tribes have different methods for the burial of the dead. Many select picturesque spots, and place the burial case in the branches of some trees. Others build a platform, on which the corpse is laid. The Utes hide it in graves dug in a hill-side, and carefully concealed. For a certain number of days supplies of food and water are left at the burial-place for the use of the dead on his journey to the happy hunting-grounds. The mourning of the relatives of the deceased is deep and terrible. When a son dies, the father, stripped naked, his hair, usually dressed with such care, cut off and disheveled, the locks scattered about the lodge, lies prostrate on the ground of his teepe for days and weeks, refusing nourishment, and giving himself over to the most sorrowful lamentations. Even worse is the mourning of the women over the death of their husbands. To the other distresses are added terrible cuts and wounds, which they inflict recklessly upon their persons.
The Indianís notion of a future life is crude. He believes it to be a continuation of the present existence, only somewhat intensified. He expects to need there all the articles which he needs here, and such things as he can not make must be taken with him. hence it is that he is buried in his best clothes and finery, and the tree in which his corpse is left is filled with knives, gun, ammunition, pistol, and other articles. If an Indian died poor, lacking such things, the band at once supply his grave with every thing lacking, which they imagine he will need. They do not suppose that he actually takes with him the real gun, knife, and pistol, but they believe that if these things are left by his grave, he will have their "ghosts "in the other world. These articles at the grave of a deceased Indian are never disturbed, it being preferred to die of starvation for want of means to kill game rather than touch the gun and ammunition thus consecrated. The Indian expects to meet enemies in the other world, and his notion is to make the number as small as possible by taking as many scalps as he can here. One superstition is, that a brave killed in the darkness will dwell in the darkness through all eternity, a belief which has saved many a white manís camp from the horrors of a night attack.
The influence of the whites shows itself in a gradual decay of belief among the Indians. The more startling superstitions inevitably relax their hold upon their minds. Much more marked, however, are the changes brought about in the government of the Indians. Originally the office of head chief of the tribe was hereditary, as were also those of the sub-chiefs. As the chief grew old, he took into his counsels more and more his most promising son, who inherited his fatherís rank. If the head chief was not the foremost warrior of his tribe, the council elected a war-chief. This individual, chosen for his ferocity, was often much hated in times of peace, but on the war-path he was all powerful.
Little by little the influence of the whites has broken down the old system. The tribes have broken up into petty bands, each recognizing no chief but its leader. Where the hereditary chiefs have been friendly to the United States, they have often lost their influence over their people. On the other hand, the United States has frequently deposed one chief and elevated another. Red Cloud, the leader of a certain hostile branch of Sioux, derived his fame from his hostility to the whites, many bands rallying around this leader. Spotted Tail, a warrior from the common ranks, was, in 1876, raised to the position of head chief of the Sioux. He is intelligent, and a firm friend of the whites. It is only a few years since he went to Washington City, and, returning to his people, found that Big Mouth, an important rival, had been undermining his influence with the warriors, and was the head of a growing faction, distinguished alike by hostility toward the whites and toward Spotted Tail. The latter, on his return, put himself in possession of the facts, took counsel of no one, but summoning two confidential friends, repaired to the lodge of Big Mouth. His face wore a look of singular resolve and determination. Calling Big Mouth out of his lodge, Spotted Tail suddenly presented a revolver, and shot his rival through the heart.
The decline of the office of hereditary chief, of course, led to the disintegration of each tribe into separate bands. Formerly it was almost worth an Indianís life, as well as those of his family, to desert from one sub-chief to another. If caught in the act the penalty was spoliation and death. If, however, he succeeded in consummating the change, he was safe. When the tribes were placed together on reservations, these opportunities for desertion became so great that the various sub-chiefs kid aside the character of tyrants arid assumed that of the cross-roads politician, using every art and policy to retain their followers.
Formerly, in the days of the despotism of the chiefs and sub-chiefs, there existed among the Indians some restraints against crime and disorder. Petty infractions of tribal discipline were promptly complained of to the chief and as promptly punished by a fine, payable to the injured person; a penalty which the men never failed to enforce. More serious offenses had to be atoned for by religious sacrifices and self-torture. The great law of retaliation was, however, the principle preventive of grave crimes. A murder was always avenged by the relatives of the dead man, the family having the right and always exercising it, of killing the murderer. One death often led to others; and the dark, unwritten history of family feuds among the Indians is a vista of violence and bloodshed.
As may be supposed, contact with the whites, leading to the decline of religion, and of the system of tribal government through despotic chiefs and sub-chiefs, weakened, and to a great extent destroyed, the restraint upon crime. The Indian agent, who lives with each tribe on its reservation, thinks it his duty to imprison any Indian who may be rash enough to avenge his own injuries under the natural law of retaliation. The chiefs no longer venture, as before, to levy fines, lest their followers desert them; and religious expiation has decayed with the religion itself.
While the United States have thus undermined and destroyed the Indiansí Own laws and government, it has afforded no substitute. By the "treaty system" each tribe has been negotiated with as an independent nation. Its members are not regarded as citizens, nor subject to the laws of the United States. Dodge gives an illustration of the evils of this state of affairs. One day in November, 1880, Stone Calf, a prominent and intelligent Cheyenne chief, cue to him with a complaint His favorite child, a little girl of thirteen years, had been sent to a camp seven miles away, with a message from her father. She was accompanied by another girl. On their return home, a stalwart ruffian, of Stone Calfís tribe, sprang out of a ravine, seized the horse of Stone Calfís daughter, and, pointing a revolver at the other girl, told her to leave, which she did. The ruffian then took the maiden to his lodge, subjected her to frightful out-rages; and then, becoming fearful of Stone Calfís revenge, hid himself and the girl in a thicket. At night he took the girl with him to the neighborhood of the military post, and leaving her at a certain point, went to look for Stone Calf. In his absence the girl escaped to her father.
On the following morning the heart-broken chief repaired to Colonel Dodge, in command of the military post, and begged for help. He said that if he killed the scoundrel according to the law of his own people, the agent would imprison him in the guard-house, and when he got out not only his one daughter, but his wives and family would be outraged or stolen. The commandant told the father that there was no law of, the white men for the government of the Indians or the punishment of the criminal. When the old man had the matter fully explained to him, he turned his face, quivering with anguish, toward the commandant, and in a trembling and sorrowful voice, said: "I am sick of the Indian road; it is not good." There was a momentís pause, then he added pitifully, "I hope the Good God will give us the white manís road before we are all destroyed."
When Major Rogers, the captain of the famous Rangersí, whose exploits are related in an early chapter or this book, returned to England after the close of the Old French War, be laid aside the sword for the pen, and wrote and published a drama, illustrative of the dealings of Dutch and British traders with the Indians of America. It was entitled "Ponteach, or the Savages of America. A Tragedy." In the first scene, McDole, an old trader, instructs a novice:
|"Our fundamental maxim, then, is this,|
That it is no crime to cheat and gull an Indian.
* * * *
By this old Ogden built his stately house,
Purchased estates and grew a little king.
He, like an honest man, bought all by weight,
And made the ignorant savages believe,
That his Right Foot exactly weighed a Pound."
The poetís description of the Indian trader is as true now as it was a century and a quarter ago.
The Indian intellect can never grasp the idea of money as a measure of value. The trader says, I will give you ten cents a pound for your deer-skins." The Indian accepts, sells his skins, and asks how much they come to. This learned, he asks the price of some calico, and is told "twenty-five cents a yard." He buys the calico and never once suspects during the transaction that each yard of calico has cost him two and a half pounds of dressed deer-skin.
One day a Sioux Indian came into a military post, wearing a splendid buffalo robe, beautifully ornamented by the handiwork of a loving squaw The officers of the post made many attempts to buy the robe, which was of rare value, offering as much as twenty dollars; but every negotiation failed. The Indian said he did not want to sell it. A shrewd old sergeant, familiar with Indian character, was one of the lookers-on at the transaction. A thought struck him, and be quietly slipped away from the group and in a few moments re-appeared, carrying in his hand a two-pound package of loaf sugar, cut into small cubes, which are so convenient for dropping into our coffee cups. He gave the Indian a few lumps and passed on carelessly. In a moment the poor savage came running after him, took off the robe, and offered it for the paper of sugar. The sergeant was not slow in making the trade. The Indian seized the package of sugar eagerly, sat right down on the ground and slowly ate up every lump.
A similar story is told of another Indian, whom, if he had not belonged to the Lipans, a Texas tribe, we would think was a brother of the above savage. The incident took place at Fort Martin Scott. An officer took from his pocket a small box, opened it, removed what seemed to be one of a number of little sticks, scratched one end of it on a stone, making it blaze, and attempted to light his pipe. Failing in this attempt, he lighted another and another until successful. The Indian looked on with wide-eyed astonishment, and when he saw the smoke issuing from the pipe, hastily ran off, and in a few moments returned with a half dozen fine skins, which he offered for the wonderful box. The exchange was made, and the Indian seated himself on a stone, and with the solemnity of a judge, struck match after match, holding each until the flame burnt his fingers, when he would utter a strong "Ouch!" only to repeat the process until the matches were all gone and his fingers covered with blisters.
It is not wonderful that the traders fleece such victims. The whole mighty department of Indian trade is said to be in the control of a ring. Whether this be true or not, the Indian is literally robbed. Each tribe is only allowed to sell their stuff, and to buy goods of some single trade; licensed by the government. "The Indian brings the trader a lot of peltries, and is offered in trade five or ten per cent of their value. He need not sell, of course. If he does not choose to accept the traderís price, he can take his peltries back with him to his camp. There is no force, no persuasion about it. But if he does not sell to this trader he is not allowed to sell at all, The poor devil, hemmed in on all sides, accepts the situation exactly as he would an unavoidable death at the stake, and, whatever he may think on the subject, makes no protest, but accepts any price offered or gives any asked, without murmur or question."
The military posts of the frontier are supplied with fuel and hay by contractors, who employ Indian labor. "A short time ago," writes an officer at one of these posts, "I was told by an Indian that he had cut twenty cords of wood for a contractor, for which he was to receive one dollar and twenty-five cents per cord. The wood was delivered, and he received an order on an Indian trader, some sixty miles away, for payment of the amount. In due time he presented the order and was paid one pint cup of brown sugar for each cord of wood cut.
"Paul's valley in the Chickasaw Nation is one of the garden spots of earth. Thousands of bushels of corn are raised by the Indians in and near this valley. They can sell only to the Indian trader. I have been informed that the average price paid the Indians is fifteen cents per bushel in goods (three to five cents in cash) This corn is really worth there over one dollar a bushel in cash."
Among the other misfortunes from which the Indians suffer, as a result of their treatment by the United States, is that of homesickness. No citizen of the United States suffers exile on account of crime, but the government has always claimed and exercised the right to remove and banish peoples with whom they have treated as if they were independent nations from their own country in perpetual exile. The Indians, banished from warm regions to cold reservations in the north, or from the bracing mountain air of Oregon and Montana to the sultry, sandy plains of Indian Territory, suffer in body and in spirit from the change. The older members of the tribe, heart-broken, grow weary of life, and become willing victims to every chance disease. The Indians understand the treatment of wounds perfectly; but sickness is to them only the work of the Bad God. Consequently almost the only treatment is a religious pow-wow by tile medicine men, who howl, sing, dance, and beat the tom-tom around their victim, hour after hour, and day after day, to frighten away the Evil Spirit.
The only other treatment for a patient is the use of what is called the "sweat house." On the bank of a stream is built a low structure of stones and mud six feet long, four or five feet wide, and two feet high. A fire is built within, and when the whole is thoroughly heated the fire and ashes are raked out; the sick warrior, stripped naked, crawls in, and the opening is closed after him. Here he remains as long as he can endure it, and then he is taken out, reeking with sweat, and plunged instantly into the stream. This treatment is said to be remark-ably beneficial in cases of rheumatism and fever. It is, however, fatal to the small-pox patient; yet the Indians persist in it just the same as if it met with an equally uniform success.
Small-pox is the most dreaded foe of the red man. It breaks out without discoverable cause in isolated bands, separated from every human being by hundreds of miles of wilderness. When it thus attacks a camp, those who are yet free from the disease are seized with the wildest terror, and, leaving the unfortunate sick behind, fly in all directions. Husbands abandon wives and parents children, seeking to hide themselves in the unexplored wilderness from the eye of the Wicked God. Their superstition is not unreasonable, for the fearful scourge too often tracks and follows the flying savage to his most secret hiding-place, and there having cornered its victim, never abandons him until it leaves him a white and loathsome corpse.
When on his death-bed from some ordinary wound or disease, the Indian, it is said, will cause himself to be dressed in his best clothing, call his friends and relatives about him, distribute his little property, and await the end with the calmness of a philosopher. Sometimes, with his latest breath, he will chant his death-song. At other times he will drag himself away to some thicket, whence his friends shortly carry in his lifeless body.
Among the many changes which must be noted in a careful comparison of the red man of to-day with the Indian warrior who figures in the books of border warfare none are more striking than those which have taken place in his weapons. The bow and arrow is the natural arm of the Indian. In the use of it he attains remarkable skill. In spite of this skill, as well as of the fact that a warrior; grasping five to ten arrows in his left hand, will shoot them with such rapidity that the last will be on its flight before the first touches the ground, we are apt, when we remember that a fatal wound can not be inflicted at a distance of more than thirty yards, and compare this with the wonderful repeating rifles of the present day, to regard the Indian of former times, with his bow and arrow, as scarcely dangerous. In fact, however, he was not much less so than the man armed with an old fashioned blunderbuss or flint and steel musket. When guns were first procured by some of the Indians, they were prized chiefly on account of the noise they made. Until an Indian is twenty-five years old, he has even yet, except rarely, no other weapon than the bow. The finest of these are made of pieces of elk horn, glued together; and wrapped with sinew. In damp weather it is almost useless, and wooden bows have entirely supplanted it. The arrows are made with stone or iron heads. The war arrow has its head very slightly attached, so that on withdrawing the shaft, it may remain in the wound.
The war club is a thing or the past, and the tomahawk, though used for chopping wood, or sometimes as an ornament, is no longer regarded as a weapon. The scalping-knife consists merely of a good-sized butcher-knife. The lance, peculiar to western Indians, is also being laid aside since the introduction of ire-arms.
The head-dress of a warrior is often relied upon by him, not only to elevate him among his own people, but to inspire his enemy with terror. It consists largely of a greater or less number of eagle feathers, according to the wealth of its wearer. The article in which the Indian of the plains takes the greatest pride is his shield. Its ornamentation is made the subject of years of anxious thought and study. It is his "medicine," if any one knows what that means. It is cared for far more delicately than an Indian child, and is almost worshiped by its owner. It is usually a double thickness of the neck of a buffalo hide, and is so hard as to turn almost any rifle-ball.
At the present day the majority of the warriors are the owners of good rifles. The difference in caliber occasions them great trouble, but they have a way of reloading empty cartridge shells by forcing percussion caps through a hole in the bottom, and filling the shell with powder and ball, which works well.
The breech-loading rifle and the metallic cartridges, have transformed the Indian from a foe, dangerous only on account of his stealth, into the finest natural soldier in the world. lie retains many of his old resources in warfare. His night attacks, his ambushes are just as dangerous as in the days of Braddock. He still uses the signal smoke for communicating with his distant brethren. A single column of smoke ascending from a fire, on which is thrown some damp grass, indicates danger to all Indians within the range of vision. Two columns of smoke ascending at the same time indicate something else, and so on. The signals are further varied by holding a blanket above the fire till the smoke collects under it, then slipping the blanket off edgewise, and in a moment replacing it. This manipulation causes the smoke to ascend in round puffs, which have various meanings, dependent upon -their number and frequency.í
The Indian scout of to-day has lost none of the qualities which made him dangerous to the settlers of the Ohio valley. His endurance is just as great, his sagacity just as keen as ever. What to the officer at his side appears a mere speck far away on the crest of a range of hills, he recognizes as a scout, and he will receive and interpret a communication from the speck. The brave has lost none of his skill as a trailer. He will follow a flying foe for a hundred and fifty miles through the wildest, rocky country, over ground on which, to the inexpert eye, not a mark appears, pressing forward at a full gallop and rarely dismounting. In the night-time he will follow the trail by feeling the ground with his fingers.
In battle the Indians have a peculiar cavalry drill which they have carefully practiced. At first view this drill lacks uniformity; but presently the observer will discover that the wild rushing from side to side, the sudden collecting into a small knot, and the equally rapid scattering in all directions over the plains, are not aimless movements, but are all maneuvers performed in obedience to signals from the chief. These signals consist of signs imperceptible to any white man, and not understood even by the oldest Indian fighters.
The soldiers of the regular army, whose slender line has for fifteen years been extended along the ragged boundaries of our frontiers, deserve great credit for what they have accomplished. Sixteen dollars a month, with rations and uniform, is not much of an inducement for men to go to live in a wilderness and be shot at by Indians. During the winter he is little more than a laborer. His horse must be saved all exertion and cared for so as to be in proper condition for the following summer. There is little opportunity for cavalry drill, and when the recruit from eastern cities finds himself attacked by a band of wild Indians, who have devoted all their lives to the practice of the arts of warfare, the soldier is at considerable disadvantage. The change, which the introduction of the breech-loading rifle has made in the warfare of the frontier, an innovation which reached the soldiers before it did the Indians, but has since spread to the latter also, is illustrated by the famous engagement known as "Powellís Fight." To this day the engagement which, was Lilt one of scores which have been fought during the last fifteen years, is known among the Sioux and Cheyennes as the "Medicine Fight."
The massacre of Fort Phil Kearney, from which no white man returned to tell the tale, gave the Indians great encouragement. Red Cloud and his Sioux continued for months to harass the little garrison which remained in the fort. Encouraged by his success in cutting off the main command outside of the fort, and in preventing a single stick of wood or load of hay from going into the place, he resolved to attack the fortification itself. By the end of July, 1867, Red Cloud advanced on the unhappy post at the head of three thousand warriors. Since the massacre the fort had been supplied by the government with a new weapon, never before seen by the soldiers, and utterly unknown to the Indians. It was the breech-loading rifle, combining long range and deadly accuracy with unprecedented rapidity in firing.
On the 31st of July, 1867, Major James Powell left Fort Phil Kearney with fifty-two men to re-enforce some laborers who were at work gathering fuel at Piney Island, five miles away. Arrived at the place, Major Powell detailed twelve men to protect the wood-choppers, and thirteen more to escort the wagons on their way to the fort. In addition to this, fourteen wagon beds, made of boiler iron, sufficiently heavy to turn a bullet, were lifted off the wheels and arranged in a small circle in the middle of a plateau. Between every alternate wagon-bed a short interval was left to enlarge the circle. These spaces were filled with chains, logs, grain sacks, and sticks of wood. On the most exposed side of this fortified corral, two other wagons on wheels were placed at a little distance. The workmen in the forest were instructed ill case of an attack to fly at once to this stronghold, where the soldiers maintained a vigilant watch.
About nine oíclock, on the morning of August 2d, 1867, seven hundred Indians attacked a wagon-train loaded with wood, and advanced with such suddenness that the wood-choppers were cut off from retreat to the corral and were forced to fly across the mountain to the fort. The Indians at once turned their attention toward the curious little redoubt 6ut on the level plateau. Powell ordered his men to lie down in the wagon-beds, the sides of which were only two feet high. Over the men were then spread blankets and bedding, completely concealing every one in the redoubt. These consisted of twenty-six men, two officers, and four citizens. In the sides of the wagon-beds were holes large enough to fire through.
In a few moments eight hundred Indians on horseback dashed across the plateau, approaching the corral from all sides. A thousand yards away rose a circular rage of low hills, on which were several thousand Indians, men, women, and children, under Red Cloud. As the eight hundred horsemen swept toward the corral, the dark hosts on the hills were spectators. Suddenly the low, black circle on the plateau blazed with fire. Numbers of the Indians fell. As the warriors continued to approach, their ranks were thinned by the continuous firing from the corral, which possessed a continuity, a rapidity, an accuracy never before witnessed by the Sioux. Frightened and broken, the warriors quickly checked their Ďhorses and fell back, leaving the plain dotted with the corpses of their friends. Red Cloud held a hurried consultation with his chiefs, and the entire host of warriors wore ordered to the attack.
Meanwhile, Powell was quickly readjusting his defenses. The gun-barrels had become overheated from the rapid firing. To remedy this, spare guns were placed in each wagon. Some of the men were poor shots. These were detailed to load the guns and pass them forward to the best marksmen, who were to do the firing. Scarcely had these arrangements been made, when twenty-five hundred Indians swarmed down from the hillsides and approached the little, black circle in which not a single human being was to be seen, and yet from which, ten minutes before, they had received such a fire as they had never before witnessed. when within five hundred yards of the wagon-beds, the host of warriors gave a mighty shout and started forward at full speed. At the same moment a terrible fire from the corral bunt forth.
Heedless of their slain, the Indians rushed on. It seemed that the survivors swarming forward must, in a moment more, leap over the tiny barricade. but the guns of the white men poured forth such a continuous storm of rifle balls that there seemed to be no reloading. The singular corní wore the appearance to the excited Indians of an infernal machine. To them the spot seemed to be inhabited by the Bad God himself. Again and again they charged upon the redoubt, only to be each time broken, discomfited, and driven back. At the end of three hours Red Cloud decided that "the white man had made some medicine guns which would fire all the time without any human agency."
The little band of heroes, looking out through their portholes, saw the retreat of the host of savages to the hills. Not less than three or four hundred of their number were dead upon the held. Presently isolated warriors could be seen crawling along the round tin they came within range of the corral. Bach one carried in his hand the end of a long rope. Covering himself with a thick shield of buffalo hide, which protected him much as a turtle-shell does its occupant, he would crawl to the nearest corpse, fasten the rope around the ankles, and then retreat in the same way he had advanced. His companions would drag the body back into cover. A little later, a re-enforcement of a hundred men arrived from the fort. The men in the wagons, of whom only three had been killed and two wounded, at once prepared to retreat. The loss of the Indians we have stated to have been three or four hundred. This was the estimate of the white men. A month or two afterward, a Sioux chief told Colonel Dodge that their actual loss was eleven hundred and thirty-seven killed and wounded. No other such Indian fight ever took place on the continent.
The enormous advantage which the breech-loading rifle gave the white men in this memorable fight now no longer exists. The Indians have these weapons themselves. Hence it is that the Indian wars of the last ten years have been far bloodier than any preceding ones.
The Indians of the west never take prisoners, except to reserve them for torture and death. They rarely, if ever, burn a prisoner at the stake, a custom as we have seen common among the tribes east of the Mississippi. The Plains Indians have a devilish substitute for this ceremony. A war party will lay a captive on his back on the ground. His outstretched arms and legs are tied with ropes to stout pins driven down. The fiends then build a little fire near one of his feet. After a time, when this foot is burnt to a coal, they build a fire at the other foot. From time to time others are built near the legs, arms, and body. The victim, stupid with agony, nevertheless still lives. Last of all, a fire is built on his breast, and kept up until the coals have burnt their way into his vitals and life becomes extinct.
Some years since, a little drummer boy twelve years old was captured by some Indians in Texas. The squaws tormented him for several hours. At last they took pine splinters and stuck them into the flesh all over his body. The splinters were then fired, and the crowd yelled with joy at his sufferings. His blackened body was afterwards found by the soldiers.
The warrior is fond of capturing a woman. If she is at all good looking she will command three or four times as many ponies as the best looking Indian girl in the tribe. Yet in comparison with the fate for which she is reserved the torture fires which terminate the life of a man are infinitely preferable. For the first few days she becomes the common property of the camp. At the end of that time her captor takes her to his lodge, and cares for her as his most valuable piece of property. She is a favorite stake at the gambling table, and may change masters half a dozen times a day. Once in a while these poor shattered creatures are redeemed by the government at an enormous price. When redeemed all trace of their former beauty and cleanliness is gone from the naked, filthy, and emaciated creatures.
The Indian pony, his masterís most faithful and valuable servant, and for which a warrior will often give his favorite wife, deserves an honorable mention. He is less than fourteen hands high, of slight build and scrubby appearance. He receives no attention whatever, is neither stabled, curried, shod, nor fed. After a hard dayís work under the saddle, which in all probability wears great sores in his back, he is simply turned out to grass. In winter he becomes almost a skeleton. He is exposed to the terrible storms of the plains, he stands much of the time up to his middle in snow; his food consists largely of sticks and bark, and altogether he is as forlorn and miserable an object as was ever looked upon. When summer comes, he fares much better, and is able to bear his rider over a rough country, without roads, fifty miles a day, for six months, without losing his fire and edge.
Among many better citizens, the wild life of the frontiers also attracts some of the worst elements of civilized society. The noble and hardy race of trappers is about gone. In their stead have come, thieves, cut-throats, escaped criminals, refugees from justice, thugs, and whisky sellers. Some of these have gone to dwell among the Indians. They are called "squaw men. Lazy, filthy, and vicious, they are supported by the labors of their squaws, and draw rations from the government like other savages. Their influence over the Indians is most baleful. They prostitute the women, and abandon them and their children whenever they please.
Not less pernicious is the influence of the traders, who, with a keg of vile whisky on the back of a pony, thread their way among tile Indians on their reservations, debauching the poor savages, and cheating them out of their furs and skins by pandering to their basest appetites. Yet another class of borderers are those who raise cattle, become wealthy, and return to the States. The desperado, too, flourishes on the frontiers. With him, assassination gets to be a mania. He carries a whole arsenal of arms about him, shoots without provocation, not at Indians merely, but for mere sport, at his best friends. A gentleman recently in the west, rode in a passenger car in which the day before a party of roughs bad had a little "argument."
Forty-nine bullets were buried in the walls and roof of the coach. One of this class had been east and returned wearing a plug hat. When he left the train his friends in the town caught sight of the offensive hat, drew their revolvers, and in less than a minute thirty-one shots had been fired through its crown, while it still rested on the head of its smiling wearer. Without doubt, though, many of these fierce-mannered fellows are at heart noble and true men.
There are west of the Mississippi one hundred and two different Indian reservations, with a population of about two hundred and twenty-five thousand. These are, under the charge of the Indian agents of the government. A small number of Indians in Arizona and elsewhere arc not in charge of these agents. The plundering and pilfering to which the Indians are subjected has not been more than hinted at. The United States in its treaties always guarantees that white men shall be kept out of the reservations. This provision is continually and shamelessly violated. Another monstrous iniquity is the fact that the Indians on the reservations are being continually moved about from one place to another. They have no property in the soil which the law respects. The great cry is that the Indians should settle down and go to farming. What white man is there who would make a farm in a wilderness, when he knows he may be ejected before he gathers his first crop? Yet the only condition on which an Indian can get land for himself is to break the ties of kindred and friendship, leave his tribe, and take land under the pre-emption and homestead laws. This is but a joke, for very few Indians could raise money to pay the fees necessary for the purpose.
An elaborate discussion of the "Indian question" would be out of place in this book. Yet it would be wrong to dismiss the subject forever without a word on the practical problem presented. Questions of race are the most difficult ones which ever confront the statesman. Such was the Negro question. Such is the Chinese question. Such, also, is the Indian question.
It is clear that one of two destinies awaits the Indian - extermination or civilization. The frontiersman cries aloud for the former. The writer has before him a letter from an old friend, a minister of the Gospel, just received from Globe, Arizona, where he lives. For a year and a halt a terrible Indian war has been raging in the locality. Nine of his neighbors have just been butchered in cold blood. The letter trembles with rage. It is dripping, as it were, with blood. This minister of the Gospel of Peace calls aloud for the extermination of the murderous Apache race. He declares them to be incapable of civilization. This is a cry from the frontier. It has some justice in it. On the other hand, the press is flooded with publications from sentimentalists, who, far away from the scene of slaughter, weep over the wrongs of the red man, over violated treaties, over natural rights, and bitter exile. They talk of patriotism. They quote the speeches of Indian chieftains. They recount the robbery, the murder, the outrage, to which the Indians have been constantly subjected since the advent of the white man on this continent. There is also some justice in all this.
So both of these parties have some truth on theft side. It must be admitted that the Indians, with here and there a few noble exceptions, are by nature cruel, deceitful, ferocious, and blood-thirsty. Yet so were our own ancestors. The ancient Gaul, the Celt, the Dane, the Saxon, was just as much of a beast, just as blood-thirsty, just as cruel as the Indians. Whoever reads history knows this to be a fact. The farther back we go, the worse our ancestors become. If some of the races seem, at their worst, to have been better than the Indian, it is because the history we have of them does not go back far enough.
The pages of this book contain accounts of no "medicine man" whose cruelty equals that of the Druids, who worshiped long ago with dark and bloody rites in the forest temples of early France. The wild savages who peopled ancient Britain were a race far inferior to the Indian. The huge warriors of northern Europe have no advantage in a comparison with the nobler tribes of the Red Man. The bloody feuds of the inhabitants of early England; which the historian denominates wars between rival kingdoms, are not so much better than the wars of the Indians, after all. They had few historians and no border chroniclers to hand down vivid pictures of the black and bloody struggles, as we have had in America, but the student of history will read between the lines. It is to be remembered, also, that the Indians have neither literature nor historians of their own. Their history has been written by their enemies. When accounts of Indian outrages flash over the wires, it is to be remembered that the red men have no access to the telegraph to tell their Bide of the story. The historians of border warfare were themselves combatants; they wrote while the rage and frenzy of the conflict was upon them. The warriors of King Philip, who were painted by the New England imagination as infernal fiends, fled to the far West and joined La Salle, who found them kind, faithful, intelligent, his most trusty followers. Actual experiment shows, too, that Indians are capable of civilization.
That the policy of the United States toward the red man has been a huge failure, so far as accomplishing their civilization is concerned, must be admitted. This policy has been founded on a colossal blunder - the treating with Indian tribes as if they wore independent nations. Nearly every Indian war in the history of this country can be traced to these treaties which were never meant to be kept by the white men, or if they were, the impossibility of keeping was demonstrated a hundred years ago. It is the commonest principle of law, that the violation of an agreement by one party is a release of the other. Yet the government in spite of its own flagrant violations of treaty faith, has uniformly made these treaties excuses for the exile of the tribes. The very organization of Indian tribes itself precluded honest treaties. There was no legitimate treaty-making power. A few chiefs, dazzled with presents and drunk with liquor, signed agreements which the savage bands, by the customs of their people, were not bound to recognize.
Yet one blunder led to others. What is the legal status of the Indians on the reservations? Are they prisoners of war? It looks much that way. But even prisoners of war are entitled to protection under the laws of their captors. Within the reservations there is no law except the savage law of the tribes themselves. Are they, then, independent nations? What a huge fiction! What a monstrous contradiction! Startling is the contrast between the Indian tribes of the United States and of the British Dominion. We have spent millions of money and sacrificed thousands of brave men in a warfare of extermination. Great Britain has done neither.
With us the Indian problem is still unsettled. The conscience of the country cries out against the outrages perpetrated on the unhappy savages in the name of civilization. The "Indian problem" never arose in Great Britain. She has simply called the Indians subjects of the queen, and amenable to ordinary civil laws and criminal courts for bad behavior. We call the Indian tribes independent nations, and place them outside of the pale of our own laws while destroying their own. An Indian commits an outrage, a crime. There is no law to punish him, except under the crude and irregular penalties which the military inflict in time of war on such captives as fall into their hands.
The problem is complicated enough at best. The Indians refuse to learn the English language. This forever isolates them from the influences of civilization. Their own institutions and education, handed down by the law of inheritance from an antiquity of unknown duration; teach that manual labor is disgraceful. "Extremes meet " is a maxim illustrated by the fact that the higher our civilization the more widely this same sentiment of the disgrace attaching to physical labor prevails.
So long as the tribal relation continues among the Indians, communism in property, including wives, will also continue. How immensely important, therefore, that the government, instead of driving the red men from one reservation to another in response to the greed of white emigrants, should allot them ample territories which they should own absolutely, and carefully encourage each Indian to feel that in taking a tract to himself in severalty and making a farm he is making, not only a permanent home for himself; but an inheritance for his children. It is right, too, that the Indians should be taught to feel that they have a share in our government. "At this moment, the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, the remnants of the Six Nations in New York, the Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, are as fit for citizenship as the average white immigrant or negro voter."
Of our prisoners of war on the reservations are expected the most unreasonable things. In localities so dry that no crop can ever be raised, they are expected to become all at once good farmers The enormous appropriations of Congress for their support are large]y squandered or misapplied by corrupt officials -through manipulation of the "trade" with the Indians. One tribe was promised in a treaty so many pounds of beef a year. Congress appropriates the same amount of money each year for this purpose. But the price of beef rises. The appropriation falls far short of buying the requisite number of pounds. The Indians, who are left to starve, look on this as intentional robbery.
The problem of supplying the Indians with food excites much difference. The late Secretary of the Treasury thought that it was pernicious; that lazy Indians were made still lazier by feeling that the government owed them a living, and idleness is the great source of Indian mischief. He thought that it would spoil white men to care for them in this way; hence, he reasoned, how far short would this policy fall of civilizing the Indians and teaching habits of industry, virtue, and self-support.
Theoretically this is right. But like many another proposition, logical in theory, the illogical reverse works better in practice. The natural food of the Indians, the buffalo and wild game generally, has been destroyed by the white men. The red men themselves have been violently transplanted to reservations where they are virtually prisoners of war. Humanity cries out against starving a prisoner. Even experienced farmers would find it difficult to subsist in a wilderness, without food and tools for farming obtained from other sources, until they got the farm started. How much more difficult for the proud and lazy warrior, whose fathers for countless generations never put their hands to a plow-handle, but spent their lives amid the excitements of the chase or the war-path. Besides, hungry Indians are dangerous. Starvation transforms the most peaceable man into a devil, mad with the wild insanity of hunger. So the government, it seems, ought to reed the Indians for the present, carefully keeping in view the end of their ultimate self-support.
It is a mere question of time until the white men overrun Indian Territory and the other reservations, as they have done all previous ones. Not less than a dozen railroads apply to the Interior Department and obtain rights of way through these reservations every year. First comes the army of track-builders, then stations spring up, with depot and telegraph agents, p6stmaster, express agent, and switchmen. These men have families. A store is opened. A blacksmith shop is built. From every passenger-train disembark explorers, sightseers, speculators, emigrants. Almost in a night the line of the railway is strung with beads of thriving villages. All this is in violation of the treaty, which provided for railroad rights of way, but also provided that all white men should be excluded from the reservation.
If; without farther discussion; we sum up what seem to us the most important changes to be made, we would say:
1. Avoid alike the extremist who cries aloud from the frontiers for the extermination of the Indian, and the extremist who lifts up his tearful voice in the quiet villages of the east, and pleads that all soldiers be withdrawn, and the Indians left to the care of the pious missionaries.
2. Abolish the treaty system and all existing treaties, burying with them the infamous fiction of the national independence of the tribes.
3 Bring the Indians into legal relations with the government, under the control and protection of civil and criminal law, to be dealt with by the courts.
4. As the execution of law always comes at last to an actual exertion of physical force, let the courts be re-enforced by ample means and resources to carry out the law. In other words let them be supplemented by a powerful police, under whose supervision the Indians will be placed, like any other citizens. As the worst quarters of a city have the strongest police force stationed in their midst, let the same rule apply with the Indians. Let this police force consist of the Regular Army of the United States. If this is a violation of military traditions, let the army be reorganized.
5. Abolish the Indian Bureau, and sweep out of existence the whole class of Indian agents and traders. Let the Indians have free trade with the whole world, selling their corn and furs to the person who will pay the highest price, and buying their goods of the person from whom they can be bought the cheapest. From this. freedom of trade, two exceptions. should be made. It should be a criminal offense with heavy penalties to sell, barter, give away, have in possession, or bring into the reservation any fire-arm, or intoxicating drink. The only persons authorized to carry weapons should be the police.
6. The title to the reservations should at once be made absolute and indefensible in the Indian tribes, as tenants in common, and each Indian should have his tract set off to him in severalty as soon as he will consent to try farming. The Indian is as much entitled to the protection. of vested rights in property as the white man. While it may be impossible to keep the whites out of the reservations, as it is, the world-wide law of trespass, enforced by the courts, will protect an Indianís farm from intrusion as well as any one elseís.
7. Every Indian who is willing to farm should be helped to build a house, and procure stock and farming implements. If he misappropriates these things be should be punished like any other embezzler. Meanwhile he should be honestly supplied with constantly decreasing amounts of money to buy food.
8. Open to the Indian community the usual methods of organization, into counties, and ultimately into States, teaching all the time lessons of self-government.
9. Establish Government schools for the instruction of Indian youth. Herein lies the hope of the future. The young are easy to teach; the old are difficult. Experiments show that after all this is the true and ultimate solution for the Indian problem. A few schools have already been established. These are of three classes. First are the day schools. These are temporary, and are intended to disarm prejudice. Even where they have been started, not one in ten of the children can be admitted for lack of room. The main work of these schools is to teach a little of the English language, and the first notions of cleanliness and the white manís way of living. What is accomplished during school hours is largely undone when the children are out of school, they returning at once to Indian speech and manners.
Far more valuable is the boarding-school at the agency, where the children are taken to live all the time, except during vacation. This school is watched closely by the parents of the children. Their dull and sluggish minds are stirred with surprise. The kitchen, the sewing-room, the bedrooms, the school, the dinner table, the farm, are each the source of profound astonishment. These ideas carried back to the lodges will in time bear fruit, no doubt, though the process is a slow one. In the first two years at the boarding-school the child learns a good deal of the English language, and many of the modes of civilized life. This is all. But the vacations prove deleterious. When the pupils return to school in the fall the teacher finds them apparently as much savages as ever. They are again using the hideous Indian jargon, again eating with their fingers, and again shoot at the chickens with bow and arrow. The crust of barbarism gathered during the summer soon wears away, but there have been established three schools - at Hampton, Carlisle, and Forest Grove-where, far away from savage influences, selected pupils are sent to learn trades. Thus by degrees the leaven of a better civilization is diffused through the dull mass of savage life lying beyond the Mississippi.
The rise of the Red barbarian from his old level is - even under the fierce stimulus of contact with an aggressive race - exceedingly slow, sometimes scarcely perceptible, not infrequently reversed. In an age of rapid progress, when immediate results are expected by impatient philanthropy, the metamorphosis of the Indian into the citizen, the savage hunter into the resident civilian, is doubted by some, despaired of by many. The gradual relaxation of the old barbaric habit and the substitution of the garb and manners of society are processes requiring generations for their fulfillment. Meanwhile, the surging tides of advancement beat against the feeble barriers which a sense of justice or expediency has interposed between the Red Man and his doom. While the slower movement of reason is going on silently and surely, the rapid and inexorable work of force is pressing the remnant of our Aborigines to the borders of their destiny.
Nor may the author, in taking leave, not unregretfully, of the subject which has occupied so much of his attention and interest, assume the office of a prophet, and lift the veil from the future of this strange and problematical people. The task proposed in the beginning finds here an end, but the theme still lingers as if but half completed.
|Farewell to thee, 0 rugged Pioneer!|
And eíen to thee, dark Specter of the West!
Tee one completes his hazardous career,
The other sinks on distant plains - to rest.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh
The Red Man of Today
Created January 15, 2002
Web design and graphics by Kathy Leigh