Sunday, October 21, 2007



I: Hakadah, "The Pitiful Last"
II: Early Hardships
III: My Indian Grandmother
IV: In Indian Sugar Camp
V: A Midsummer Feast
I: Games and Sports
II: My Playmates
III: The Boy Hunter
I: A Visit to Smoky Day
II: The Stone Boy
I: Evening in the Lodge
II: Adventures of My Uncle
I: A Legend of Devil's Lake
II: Manitoshaw's Hunting
I: Life in the Woods
II: A Winter Camp
III: Wild Harvests
IV: A Meeting on the Plains
V: An Adventurous Journey
Earliest Recollections
I: Hadakah, "The Pitiful Last"
WHAT boy would not be an Indian
for a while when he thinks of the
freest life in the world? This life
was mine. Every day there was
a real hunt. There was real game.
Occasionally there was a medicine
dance away off in the woods where no one could
disturb us, in which the boys impersonated their
elders, Brave Bull, Standing Elk, High Hawk,
Medicine Bear, and the rest. They painted and
imitated their fathers and grandfathers to the
minutest detail, and accurately too, because they
had seen the real thing all their lives.
We were not only good mimics but we were
close students of nature. We studied the habits
of animals just as you study your books. We
watched the men of our people and represented
them in our play; then learned to emulate them in
our lives.
No people have a better use of their five senses
than the children of the wilderness. We could
smell as well as hear and see. We could feel and
taste as well as we could see and hear. Nowhere
has the memory been more fully developed than in
the wild life, and I can still see wherein I owe
much to my early training.
Of course I myself do not remember when I
first saw the day, but my brothers have often
recalled the event with much mirth; for it was
a custom of the Sioux that when a boy was born
his brother must plunge into the water, or roll in
the snow naked if it was winter time; and if he
was not big enough to do either of these himself,
water was thrown on him. If the new-born had a
sister, she must be immersed. The idea was that
a warrior had come to camp, and the other children
must display some act of hardihood.
I was so unfortunate as to be the youngest of five
children who, soon after I was born, were left
motherless. I had to bear the humiliating name
"Hakadah," meaning "the pitiful last," until I
should earn a more dignified and appropriate
name. I was regarded as little more than a plaything
by the rest of the children.
My mother, who was known as the handsomest
woman of all the Spirit Lake and Leaf Dweller
Sioux, was dangerously ill, and one of the medicine
men who attended her said: "Another
medicine man has come into existence, but the
mother must die. Therefore let him bear the name
'Mysterious Medicine.'" But one of the bystanders
hastily interfered, saying that an uncle of
the child already bore that name, so, for the time,
I was only "Hakadah."
My beautiful mother, sometimes called the
"Demi-Goddess" of the Sioux, who tradition
says had every feature of a Caucasian descent with
the exception of her luxuriant black hair and deep
black eyes, held me tightly to her bosom upon
her death-bed, while she whispered a few words to
her mother-in-law. She said: "I give you this
boy for your own. I cannot trust my own
mother with him; she will neglect him and he will
surely die."
The woman to whom these words were spoken
was below the average in stature, remarkably active
for her age (she was then fully sixty), and
possessed of as much goodness as intelligence. My
mother's judgment concerning her own mother
was well founded, for soon after her death that
old lady appeared, and declared that Hakadah
was too young to live without a mother. She
offered to keep me until I died, and then she
would put me in my mother's grave. Of course
my other grandmother denounced the suggestion
as a very wicked one, and refused to give
me up.
The babe was done up as usual in a movable
cradle made from an oak board two and a half
feet long and one and a half feet wide. On one
side of it was nailed with brass-headed tacks the
richly-embroidered sack, which was open in front
and laced up and down with buckskin strings.
Over the arms of the infant was a wooden bow,
the ends of which were firmly attached to the
board, so that if the cradle should fall the child's
head and face would be protected. On this bow
were hung curious playthings--strings of artistically
carved bones and hoofs of deer, which
rattled when the little hands moved them.
In this upright cradle I lived, played and slept
the greater part of the time during the first few
months of my life. Whether I was made to lean
against a lodge pole or was suspended from a
bough of a tree, while my grandmother cut wood,
or whether I was carried on her back, or conveniently
balanced by another child in a similar
cradle hung on the opposite side of a pony, I was
still in my oaken bed.
This grandmother, who had already lived
through sixty years of hardships, was a wonder to
the young maidens of the tribe. She showed no
less enthusiasm over Hakadah than she had done
when she held her first-born, the boy's father, in
her arms. Every little attention that is due to a
loved child she performed with much skill and devotion.
She made all my scanty garments and my
tiny moccasins with a great deal of taste. It was
said by all that I could not have had more attention
had my mother been living.
Uncheedah (grandmother) was a great singer.
Sometimes, when Hakadah wakened too early in
the morning, she would sing to him something like
the following lullaby:
Sleep, sleep, my boy, the Chippewas
Are far away--are far away.
Sleep, sleep, my boy; prepare to meet
The foe by day--the foe by day!
The cowards will not dare to fight
Till morning break--till morning break.
Sleep, sleep, my child, while still 'tis night;
Then bravely wake--then bravely wake!
The Dakota women were wont to cut and bring
their fuel from the woods and, in fact, to perform
most of the drudgery of the camp. This of necessity
fell to their lot, because the men must follow
the game during the day. Very often my grandmother
carried me with her on these excursions;
and while she worked it was her habit to suspend
me from a wild grape vine or a springy bough, so
that the least breeze would swing the cradle to
and fro.
She has told me that when I had grown old
enough to take notice, I was apparently capable of
holding extended conversations in an unknown
dialect with birds and red squirrels. Once I fell
asleep in my cradle, suspended five or six feet
from the ground, while Uncheedah was some distance
away, gathering birch bark for a canoe. A
squirrel had found it convenient to come upon the
bow of my cradle and nibble his hickory nut, until
he awoke me by dropping the crumbs of his meal.
My disapproval of his intrusion was so decided
that he had to take a sudden and quick flight to
another bough, and from there he began to pour
out his wrath upon me, while I continued my objections
to his presence so audibly that Uncheedah
soon came to my rescue, and compelled the bold
intruder to go away. It was a common thing for
birds to alight on my cradle in the woods.
My food was, at first, a troublesome question for
my kind foster-mother. She cooked some wild rice
and strained it, and mixed it with broth made from
choice venison. She also pounded dried venison
almost to a flour, and kept it in water till the
nourishing juices were extracted, then mixed with
it some pounded maize, which was browned before
pounding. This soup of wild rice, pounded venison
and maize was my main-stay. But soon my
teeth came--much earlier than the white children
usually cut theirs; and then my good nurse gave
me a little more varied food, and I did all my own
After I left my cradle, I almost walked away
from it, she told me. She then began calling my
attention to natural objects. Whenever I heard
the song of a bird, she would tell me what bird it
came from, something after this fashion:
"Hakadah, listen to Shechoka (the robin) calling
his mate. He says he has just found somethink
good to eat." Or "Listen to Oopehanska
(the thrush); he is singing for his little wife. He
will sing his best." When in the evening the
whippoorwill started his song with vim, no further
than a stone's throw from our tent in the woods,
she would say to me:
"Hush! It may be an Ojibway scout!"
Again, when I waked at midnight, she would
"Do not cry! Hinakaga (the owl) is watching
you from the tree-top."
I usually covered up my head, for I had perfect
faith in my grandmother's admonitions, and she
had given me a dreadful idea of this bird. It was
one of her legends that a little boy was once standing
just outside of the teepee (tent), crying vigorously
for his mother, when Hinakaga swooped
down in the darkness and carried the poor little
fellow up into the trees. It was well known that
the hoot of the owl was commonly imitated by
Indian scouts when on the war-path. There had
been dreadful massacres immediately following this
call. Therefore it was deemed wise to impress
the sound early upon the mind of the child.
Indian children were trained so that they hardly
ever cried much in the night. This was very expedient
and necessary in their exposed life. In my
infancy it was my grandmother's custom to put me
to sleep, as she said, with the birds, and to waken
me with them, until it became a habit. She did
this with an object in view. An Indian must always
rise early. In the first place, as a hunter, he
finds his game best at daybreak. Secondly, other
tribes, when on the war-path, usually make their
attack very early in the morning. Even when our
people are moving about leisurely, we like to rise
before daybreak, in order to travel when the air is
cool, and unobserved, perchance, by our enemies.
As a little child, it was instilled into me to be
silent and reticent. This was one of the most important
traits to form in the character of the Indian.
As a hunter and warrior it was considered absolutely
necessary to him, and was thought to lay the
foundations of patience and self-control. There
are times when boisterous mirth is indulged in by
our people, but the rule is gravity and decorum.
After all, my babyhood was full of interest and
the beginnings of life's realities. The spirit of
daring was already whispered into my ears. The
value of the eagle feather as worn by the warrior
had caught my eye. One day, when I was left
alone, at scarcely two years of age, I took my
uncle's war bonnet and plucked out all its eagle
feathers to decorate my dog and myself. So soon
the life that was about me had made its impress,
and already I desired intensely to comply with all
of its demands.
II: Early Hardships
ONE of the earliest recollections of
my adventurous childhood is
the ride I had on a pony's side.
I was passive in the whole matter.
A little girl cousin of mine
was put in a bag and suspended
from the horn of an Indian saddle; but her
weight must be balanced or the saddle would not
remain on the animal's back. Accordingly, I was
put into another sack and made to keep the
saddle and the girl in position! I did not object
at all, for I had a very pleasant game of peek-aboo
with the little girl, until we came to a big
snow-drift, where the poor beast was stuck fast
and began to lie down. Then it was not so nice!
This was the convenient and primitive way in
which some mothers packed their children for
winter journeys. However cold the weather
might be, the inmate of the fur-lined sack was
usually very comfortable--at least I used to think
so. I believe I was accustomed to all the precarious
Indian conveyances, and, as a boy, I enjoyed
the dog-travaux ride as much as any. The
travaux consisted of a set of rawhide strips securely
lashed to the tent-poles, which were harnessed
to the sides of the animal as if he stood between
shafts, while the free ends were allowed to drag on
the ground. Both ponies and large dogs were
used as beasts of burden, and they carried
in this way the smaller children as well as the
This mode of travelling for children was possible
only in the summer, and as the dogs were sometimes
unreliable, the little ones were exposed to a
certain amount of danger. For instance, whenever
a train of dogs had been travelling for a long
time, almost perishing with the heat and their
heavy loads, a glimpse of water would cause
them to forget all their responsibilities. Some of
them, in spite of the screams of the women, would
swim with their burdens into the cooling stream,
and I was thus, on more than one occasion, made
to partake of an unwilling bath.
I was a little over four years old at the time of
the "Sioux massacre" in Minnesota. In the
general turmoil, we took flight into British
Columbia, and the journey is still vividly remembered
by all our family. A yoke of oxen and a
lumber-wagon were taken from some white farmer
and brought home for our conveyance.
How delighted I was when I learned that we
were to ride behind those wise-looking animals
and in that gorgeously painted wagon! It seemed
almost like a living creature to me, this new
vehicle with four legs, and the more so when we
got out of axle-grease and the wheels went along
squealing like pigs!
The boys found a great deal of innocent fun in
jumping from the high wagon while the oxen
were leisurely moving along. My elder brothers
soon became experts. At last, I mustered up
courage enough to join them in this sport. I was
sure they stepped on the wheel, so I cautiously
placed my moccasined foot upon it. Alas! before
I could realize what had happened, I was under
the wheels, and had it not been for the neighbor
immediately behind us, I might have been run
over by the next team as well.
This was my first experience with a civilized
vehicle. I cried out all possible reproaches on
the white man's team and concluded that a dogtravaux
was good enough for me. I was really
rejoiced that we were moving away from the
people who made the wagon that had almost
ended my life, and it did not occur to me that I
alone was to blame. I could not be persuaded to
ride in that wagon again and was glad when we
finally left it beside the Missouri river.
The summer after the "Minnesota massacre,"
General Sibley pursued our people across this
river. Now the Missouri is considered one of
the most treacherous rivers in the world. Even
a good modern boat is not safe upon its uncertain
current. We were forced to cross in buffalo-skin
boats--as round as tubs!
The Washechu (white men) were coming in
great numbers with their big guns, and while
most of our men were fighting them to gain time,
the women and the old men made and equipped
the temporary boats, braced with ribs of willow.
Some of these were towed by two or three women
or men swimming in the water and some by ponies.
It was not an easy matter to keep them right side
up, with their helpless freight of little children
and such goods as we possessed.
In our flight, we little folks were strapped in
the saddles or held in front of an older person, and
in the long night marches to get away from the
soldiers, we suffered from loss of sleep and insufficient
food. Our meals were eaten hastily, and
sometimes in the saddle. Water was not always
to be found. The people carried it with them in
bags formed of tripe or the dried pericardium of
Now we were compelled to trespass upon the
country of hostile tribes and were harassed by them
almost daily and nightly. Only the strictest
vigilance saved us.
One day we met with another enemy near the
British lines. It was a prairie fire. We were surrounded.
Another fire was quickly made, which
saved our lives.
One of the most thrilling experiences of the
following winter was a blizzard, which overtook us
in our wanderings. Here and there, a family lay
down in the snow, selecting a place where it was
not likely to drift much. For a day and a night
we lay under the snow. Uncle stuck a long pole
beside us to tell us when the storm was over.
We had plenty of buffalo robes and the snow
kept us warm, but we found it heavy. After a
time, it became packed and hollowed out around
our bodies, so that we were as comfortable as one
can be under those circumstances.
The next day the storm ceased, and we discovered
a large herd of buffaloes almost upon us.
We dug our way out, shot some of the buffaloes,
made a fire and enjoyed a good dinner.
I was now an exile as well as motherless; yet I
was not unhappy. Our wanderings from place to
place afforded us many pleasant experiences and
quite as many hardships and misfortunes. There
were times of plenty and times of scarcity, and we
had several narrow escapes from death. In savage
life, the early spring is the most trying time
and almost all the famines occurred at this period
of the year.
The Indians are a patient and a clannish people;
their love for one another is stronger than that of
any civilized people I know. If this were not so,
I believe there would have been tribes of cannibals
among them. White people have been known to
kill and eat their companions in preference to
starving; but Indians--never!
In times of famine, the adults often denied
themselves in order to make the food last as long
as possible for the children, who were not able to
bear hunger as well as the old. As a people, they
can live without food much longer than any other
I once passed through one of these hard springs
when we had nothing to eat for several days. I
well remember the six small birds which constituted
the breakfast for six families one morning;
and then we had no dinner or supper to follow!
What a relief that was to me--although I had only
a small wing of a small bird for my share! Soon
after this, we came into a region where buffaloes
were plenty, and hunger and scarcity were forgotten.
Such was the Indian's wild life! When game was
to be had and the sun shone, they easily forgot the
bitter experiences of the winter before. Little
preparation was made for the future. They are
children of Nature, and occasionally she whips
them with the lashes of experience, yet they are
forgetful and careless. Much of their suffering
might have been prevented by a little calculation.
During the summer, when Nature is at her best,
and provides abundantly for the savage, it seems to
me that no life is happier than his! Food is
free--lodging free--everything free! All were
alike rich in the summer, and, again, all were alike
poor in the winter and early spring. However,
their diseases were fewer and not so destructive as
now, and the Indian's health was generally good.
The Indian boy enjoyed such a life as almost all
boys dream of and would choose for themselves if
they were permitted to do so.
The raids made upon our people by other tribes
were frequent, and we had to be constantly on the
watch. I remember at one time a night attack was
made upon our camp and all our ponies stampeded.
Only a few of them were recovered, and
our journeys after this misfortune were effected
mostly by means of the dog-travaux.
The second winter after the massacre, my father
and my two older brothers, with several others,
were betrayed by a half-breed at Winnipeg to the
United States authorities. As I was then living
with my uncle in another part of the country, I became
separated from them for ten years. During
all this time we believed that they had been
killed by the whites, and I was taught that I must
avenge their deaths as soon as I was able to go
upon the war-path.
I must say a word in regard to the character of
this uncle, my father's brother, who was my adviser
and teacher for many years. He was a man
about six feet two inches in height, very erect and
broad-shouldered. He was known at that time
as one of the best hunters and bravest warriors
among the Sioux in British America, where he
still lives, for to this day we have failed to persuade
him to return to the United States.
He is a typical Indian--not handsome, but
truthful and brave. He had a few simple principles
from which he hardly ever departed. Some
of these I shall describe when I speak of my early
It is wonderful that any children grew up
through all the exposures and hardships that we
suffered in those days! The frail teepee pitched
anywhere, in the winter as well as in the summer,
was all the protection that we had against cold and
storms. I can recall times when we were snowed
in and it was very difficult to get fuel. We were
once three days without much fire and all of this
time it stormed violently. There seemed to be no
special anxiety on the part of our people; they
rather looked upon all this as a matter of course,
knowing that the storm would cease when the
time came.
I could once endure as much cold and hunger
as any of them; but now if I miss one meal or
accidentally wet my feet, I feel it as much as if I
had never lived in the manner I have described,
when it was a matter of course to get myself soaking
wet many a time. Even if there was plenty
to eat, it was thought better for us to practice fasting
sometimes; and hard exercise was kept up
continually, both for the sake of health and to
prepare the body for the extraordinary exertions
that it might, at any moment, be required
to undergo. In my own remembrance, my
uncle used often to bring home a deer on his
shoulder. The distance was sometimes considerable;
yet he did not consider it any sort of
a feat.
The usual custom with us was to eat only two
meals a day and these were served at each end
of the day. This rule was not invariable, however,
for if there should be any callers, it was
Indian etiquette to offer either tobacco or food, or
both. The rule of two meals a day was more
closely observed by the men--especially the
younger men--than by the women and children.
This was when the Indians recognized that a true
manhood, one of physical activity and endurance,
depends upon dieting and regular exercise. No
such system is practised by the reservation Indians
of to-day.
III: My Indian Grandmother
AS a motherless child, I always regarded
my good grandmother as
the wisest of guides and the best
of protectors. It was not long
before I began to realize her superiority
to most of her contemporaries.
This idea was not gained entirely from my
own observation, but also from a knowledge of
the high regard in which she was held by other women.
Aside from her native talent and ingenuity,
she was endowed with a truly wonderful memory.
No other midwife in her day and tribe could compete
with her in skill and judgment. Her observations
in practice were all preserved in her mind
for reference, as systematically as if they had been
written upon the pages of a note-book.
I distinctly recall one occasion when she took
me with her into the woods in search of certain
medicinal roots.
"Why do you not use all kinds of roots for
medicines?" said I.
"Because," she replied, in her quick, characteristic
manner, the Great Mystery does not will
us to find things too easily. In that case everybody
would be a medicine-giver, and Ohiyesa
must learn that there are many secrets which the
Great Mystery will disclose only to the most
worthy. Only those who seek him fasting and
in solitude will receive his signs."
With this and many similar explanations she
wrought in my soul wonderful and lively conceptions
of the "Great Mystery" and of the effects
of prayer and solitude. I continued my childish
"But why did you not dig those plants that we
saw in the woods, of the same kind that you are
digging now?"
"For the same reason that we do not like the
berries we find in the shadow of deep woods as
well as the ones which grow in sunny places. The
latter have more sweetness and flavor. Those
herbs which have medicinal virtues should be
sought in a place that is neither too wet nor too
dry, and where they have a generous amount of
sunshine to maintain their vigor.
"Some day Ohiyesa will be old enough to know
the secrets of medicine; then I will tell him all.
But if you should grow up to be a bad man, I
must withhold these treasures from you and give
them to your brother, for a medicine man must be
a good and wise man. I hope Ohiyesa will be a
great medicine man when he grows up. To be
a great warrior is a noble ambition; but to be
a mighty medicine man is a nobler!"
She said these things so thoughtfully and impressively
that I cannot but feel and remember
them even to this day.
Our native women gathered all the wild rice,
roots, berries and fruits which formed an important
part of our food. This was distinctively a
woman's work. Uncheedah (grandmother) understood
these matters perfectly, and it became a kind
of instinct with her to know just where to look
for each edible variety and at what season of the
year. This sort of labor gave the Indian women
every opportunity to observe and study Nature
after their fashion; and in this Uncheedah was
more acute than most of the men. The abilities
of her boys were not all inherited from their
father; indeed, the stronger family traits came
obviously from her. She was a leader among the
native women, and they came to her, not only for
medical aid, but for advice in all their affairs.
In bravery she equaled any of the men. This
trait, together with her ingenuity and alertness of
mind, more than once saved her and her people
from destruction. Once, when we were roaming
over a region occupied by other tribes, and on a
day when most of the men were out upon the
hunt, a party of hostile Indians suddenly appeared.
Although there were a few men left at
home, they were taken by surprise at first and
scarcely knew what to do, when this woman came
forward and advanced alone to meet our foes.
She had gone some distance when some of the
men followed her. She met the strangers and
offered her hand to them. They accepted her
friendly greeting; and as a result of her brave act
we were left unmolested and at peace.
Another story of her was related to me by my
father. My grandfather, who was a noted hunter,
often wandered away from his band in search of
game. In this instance he had with him only his
own family of three boys and his wife. One
evening,when he returned from the chase, he found
to his surprise that she had built a stockade
around her teepee.
She had discovered the danger-sign in a single
foot-print, which she saw at a glance was not that
of her husband, and she was also convinced that it
was not the foot-print of a Sioux, from the shape
of the moccasin. This ability to recognize footprints
is general among the Indians, but more
marked in certain individuals.
This courageous woman had driven away a
party of five Ojibway warriors. They approached
the lodge cautiously, but her dog gave timely
warning, and she poured into them from behind
her defences the contents of a double-barrelled
gun, with such good effect that the astonished
braves thought it wise to retreat.
I was not more than five or six years old when
the Indian soldiers came one day and destroyed our
large buffalo-skin teepee. It was charged that my
uncle had hunted alone a large herd of buffaloes.
This was not exactly true. He had unfortunately
frightened a large herd while shooting a deer in
the edge of the woods. However, it was customary
to punish such an act severely, even though
the offense was accidental.
When we were attacked by the police, I was playing
in the teepee, and the only other person at
home was Uncheedah. I had not noticed their
approach, and when the war-cry was given by
thirty or forty Indians with strong lungs, I thought
my little world was coming to an end. Instantly
innumerable knives and tomahawks penetrated our
frail home, while bullets went through the poles
and tent-fastenings up above our heads.
I hardly know what I did, but I imagine it was
just what any other little fellow would have done
under like circumstances. My first clear realization
of the situation was when Uncheedah had a
dispute with the leader, claiming that the matter
had not been properly investigated, and that none
of the policemen had attained to a reputation in
war which would justify them in touching her son's
teepee. But alas! our poor dwelling was already
an unrecognizable ruin; even the poles were
broken into splinters.
The Indian women, after reaching middle age,
are usually heavy and lack agility, but my grandmother
was in this also an exception. She was
fully sixty when I was born; and when I was
seven years old she swam across a swift and wide
stream, carrying me on her back, because she did
not wish to expose me to accident in one of the
clumsy round boats of bull-hide which were rigged
up to cross the rivers which impeded our way,
especially in the springtime. Her strength and
endurance were remarkable. Even after she had
attained the age of eighty-two, she one day walked
twenty-five miles without appearing much fatigued.
I marvel now at the purity and elevated sentiment
possessed by this woman, when I consider
the customs and habits of her people at the time.
When her husband died she was still comparatively
a young woman--still active, clever and
industrious. She was descended from a haughty
chieftain of the "Dwellers among the Leaves."
Although women of her age and position were
held to be eligible to re-marriage, and she had
several persistent suitors who were men of her own
age and chiefs, yet she preferred to cherish in
solitude the memory of her husband.
I was very small when my uncle brought home
two Ojibway young women. In the fight in which
they were captured, none of the Sioux war party
had been killed; therefore they were sympathized
with and tenderly treated by the Sioux women.
They were apparently happy, although of course
they felt deeply the losses sustained at the time of
their capture, and they did not fail to show their
appreciation of the kindnesses received at our
As I recall now the remarks made by one of
them at the time of their final release, they appear
to me quite remarkable. They lived in my
grandmother's family for two years, and were
then returned to their people at a great peace
council of the two nations. When they were
about to leave my grandmother, the elder of the
two sisters first embraced her, and then spoke
somewhat as follows:
"You are a brave woman and a true mother.
I understand now why your son so bravely conquered
our band, and took my sister and myself
captive. I hated him at first, but now I admire
him, because he did just what my father, my
brother or my husband would have done had
they opportunity. He did even more. He
saved us from the tomahawks of his fellow-warriors,
and brought us to his home to know a
noble and a brave woman.
"I shall never forget your many favors shown
to us. But I must go. I belong to my tribe
and I shall return to them. I will endeavor to be
a true woman also, and to teach my boys to be
generous warriors like your son."
Her sister chose to remain among the Sioux all
her life, and she married one of our young men.
"I shall make the Sioux and the Ojibways,"
she said, "to be as brothers."
There are many other instances of intermarriage
with captive women. The mother of the
well-known Sioux chieftain, Wabashaw, was an
Ojibway woman. I once knew a woman who
was said to be a white captive. She was married
to a noted warrior, and had a fine family of five
boys. She was well accustomed to the Indian
ways, and as a child I should not have suspected
that she was white. The skins of these people became
so sunburned and full of paint that it required
a keen eye to distinguish them from the
real Indians.
IV: An Indian Sugar Camp
WITH the first March thaw the
thoughts of the Indian women
of my childhood days turned
promptly to the annual sugarmaking.
This industry was
chiefly followed by the old men
and women and the children. The rest of the
tribe went out upon the spring fur-hunt at this season,
leaving us at home to make the sugar.
The first and most important of the necessary
utensils were the huge iron and brass kettles for
boiling. Everything else could be made, but
these must be bought, begged or borrowed. A
maple tree was felled and a log canoe hollowed
out, into which the sap was to be gathered. Little
troughs of basswood and birchen basins were also
made to receive the sweet drops as they trickled
from the tree.
As soon as these labors were accomplished, we all
proceeded to the bark sugar house, which stood in
the midst of a fine grove of maples on the bank of
the Minnesota river. We found this hut partially
filled with the snows of winter and the withered
leaves of the preceding autumn, and it must be
cleared for our use. In the meantime a tent was
pitched outside for a few days' occupancy. The
snow was still deep in the woods, with a solid crust
upon which we could easily walk; for we usually
moved to the sugar house before the sap had actually
started, the better to complete our preparations.
My grandmother worked like a beaver in these
days (or rather like a muskrat, as the Indians say;
for this industrious little animal sometimes collects
as many as six or eight bushels of edible roots for
the winter, only to be robbed of his store by some
of our people). If there was prospect of a good
sugaring season, she now made a second and even
a third canoe to contain the sap. These canoes
were afterward utilized by the hunters for their
proper purpose.
During our last sugar-making in Minnesota, before
the "outbreak," my grandmother was at work
upon a canoe with her axe, while a young aunt of
mine stood by. We boys were congregated within
the large, oval sugar house, busily engaged in
making arrows for the destruction of the rabbits
and chipmunks which we knew would come in
numbers to drink the sap. The birds also were
beginning to return, and the cold storms of March
would drive them to our door. I was then too
young to do much except look on; but I fully entered
into the spirit of the occasion, and rejoiced
to see the bigger boys industriously sharpen their
arrows, resting them against the ends of the long
sticks which were burning in the fire, and occasionally
cutting a chip from the stick. In their eagerness
they paid little attention to this circumstance,
although they well knew that it was strictly forbidden
to touch a knife to a burning ember.
Suddenly loud screams were heard from without
and we all rushed out to see what was the matter.
It was a serious affair. My grandmother's axe
had slipped, and by an upward stroke nearly severed
three of the fingers of my aunt, who stood
looking on, with her hands folded upon her waist.
As we ran out the old lady, who had already noticed
and reproved our carelessness in regard to the
burning embers, pursued us with loud reproaches
and threats of a whipping. This will seem mysterious
to my readers, but is easily explained by the
Indian superstition, which holds that such an
offense as we had committed is invariably punished
by the accidental cutting of some one of the family.
My grandmother did not confine herself to
canoe-making. She also collected a good supply
of fuel for the fires, for she would not have much
time to gather wood when the sap began to flow.
Presently the weather moderated and the snow began
to melt. The month of April brought showers
which carried most of it off into the Minnesota
river. Now the women began to test the trees--
moving leisurely among them, axe in hand, and
striking a single quick blow, to see if the sap would
appear. The trees, like people, have their individual
characters; some were ready to yield up their
life-blood, while others were more reluctant. Now
one of the birchen basins was set under each tree,
and a hardwood chip driven deep into the cut
which the axe had made. From the corners of this
chip--at first drop by drop, then more freely--
the sap trickled into the little dishes.
It is usual to make sugar from maples, but several
other trees were also tapped by the Indians.
From the birch and ash was made a dark-colored
sugar, with a somewhat bitter taste, which was used
for medicinal purposes. The box-elder yielded a
beautiful white sugar, whose only fault was that
there was never enough of it!
A long fire was now made in the sugar house,
and a row of brass kettles suspended over the
blaze. The sap was collected by the women in
tin or birchen buckets and poured into the canoes,
from which the kettles were kept filled. The
hearts of the boys beat high with pleasant anticipations
when they heard the welcome hissing sound
of the boiling sap! Each boy claimed one kettle
for his especial charge. It was his duty to see that
the fire was kept up under it, to watch lest it boil
over, and finally, when the sap became sirup, to
test it upon the snow, dipping it out with a
wooden paddle. So frequent were these tests
that for the first day or two we consumed nearly
all that could be made; and it was not until the
sweetness began to pall that my grandmother set
herself in earnest to store up sugar for future use.
She made it into cakes of various forms, in birchen
molds, and sometimes in hollow canes or reeds,
and the bills of ducks and geese. Some of it was
pulverized and packed in rawhide cases. Being
a prudent woman, she did not give it to us after
the first month or so, except upon special occasions,
and it was thus made to last almost the
year around. The smaller candies were reserved
as an occasional treat for the little fellows, and the
sugar was eaten at feasts with wild rice or parched
corn, and also with pounded dried meat. Coffee
and tea, with their substitutes, were all unknown
to us in those days.
Every pursuit has its trials and anxieties. My
grandmother's special tribulations, during the
sugaring season, were the upsetting and gnawing
of holes in her birch-bark pans. The transgressors
were the rabbit and squirrel tribes, and we
little boys for once became useful, in shooting
them with our bows and arrows. We hunted all
over the sugar camp, until the little creatures
were fairly driven out of the neighborhood. Occasionally
one of my older brothers brought home
a rabbit or two, and then we had a feast.
The sugaring season extended well into April,
and the returning birds made the precincts of our
camp joyful with their songs. I often followed
my older brothers into the woods, although I was
then but four or five years old. Upon one of
these excursions they went so far that I ventured
back alone. When within sight of our hut, I saw
a chipmunk sitting upon a log, and uttering the
sound he makes when he calls to his mate. How
glorious it would be, I thought, if I could shoot
him with my tiny bow and arrows! Stealthily
and cautiously I approached, keeping my eyes
upon the pretty little animal, and just as I was
about to let fly my shaft, I heard a hissing noise
at my feet. There lay a horrid snake, coiled and
ready to spring! Forgetful that I was a warrior,
I gave a loud scream and started backward; but
soon recollecting myself, looked down with shame,
although no one was near. However, I retreated
to the inclined trunk of a fallen tree, and there, as
I have often been told, was overheard soliloquizing
in the following words: "I wonder if a snake
can climb a tree!"
I remember on this occasion of our last sugar
bush in Minnesota, that I stood one day outside
of our hut and watched the approach of a visitor
--a bent old man, his hair almost white, and
carrying on his back a large bundle of red willow,
or kinnikinick, which the Indians use for smoking.
He threw down his load at the door and thus
saluted us: "You have indeed perfect weather for
It was my great-grandfather, Cloud Man,
whose original village was on the shores of Lakes
Calhoun and Harriet, now in the suburbs of the
city of Minneapolis. He was the first Sioux chief
to welcome the Protestant missionaries among his
people, and a well-known character in those pioneer
days. He brought us word that some of
the peaceful sugar-makers near us on the river
had been attacked and murdered by roving Ojibways.
This news disturbed us not a little, for we
realized that we too might become the victims of
an Ojibway war party. Therefore we all felt
some uneasiness from this time until we returned
heavy laden to our village.
V: A Midsummer Feast
IT was midsummer. Everything
that the Santee Sioux had undertaken
during the year had been unusually
successful. The spring
fur-hunters had been fortunate,
and the heavy winter had proved
productive of much maple sugar. The women's
patches of maize and potatoes were already sufficiently
advanced to use. The Wahpetonwan band
of Sioux, the "Dwellers among the Leaves," were
fully awakened to the fact that it was almost time
for the midsummer festivities of the old, wild
The invitations were bundles of tobacco, and
acceptances were sent back from the various bands
--the "Light Lodges", "Dwellers back from
the River," and many others, in similar fashion.
Blue Earth, chief of the "Dwellers among the
Leaves," was the host.
There were to be many different kinds of athletic
games; indeed, the festival was something
like a State fair, in that there were many side
shows and competitive events. For instance, supposing
that (Miss) White Rabbit should desire to
give a "maidens' feast," she would employ a crier
to go among the different bands announcing the
fact in a sing-song manner:
"Miss White Rabbit will receive her maiden
friends to-day at noon, inside of the circular encampment
of the Kaposia band."
Again, should (Mr.) Sleepy Eye wish to have
his child's ears pierced publicly, he would have to
give away a great deal of savage wealth--namely,
otter, bear and beaver skins and ponies--or the
child would not be considered as belonging to a
family in good standing.
But the one all-important event of the occasion
was the lacrosse game, for which it had been customary
to select those two bands which could
boast the greater number of fast runners.
The Wahpetonwan village on the banks of the
Minnesota river was alive with the newly-arrived
guests and the preparations for the coming event.
Meat of wild game had been put away with much
care during the previous fall in anticipation of this
feast. There was wild rice and the choicest of
dried venison that had been kept all winter, as
well as freshly dug turnips, ripe berries and an
abundance of fresh meat.
Along the edge of the woods the teepees were
pitched in groups or semi-circles, each band distinct
from the others. The teepee of Mankato or
Blue Earth was pitched in a conspicuous spot.
Just over the entrance was painted in red and yellow
a picture of a pipe, and directly opposite this
the rising sun. The painting was symbolic of
welcome and good will to men under the bright
A meeting was held to appoint some "medicine
man" to make the balls that were to be used
in the lacrosse contest; and presently the herald
announced that this honor had been conferred
upon old Chankpee-yuhah, or "Keeps the Club,"
while every other man of his profession was disappointed.
He was a powerful man physically,
who had apparently won the confidence of the
people by his fine personal appearance and by
working upon superstitious minds.
Towards evening he appeared in the circle,
leading by the hand a boy about four years old.
Closely the little fellow observed every motion of
the man; nothing escaped his vigilant black eyes,
which seemed constantly to grow brighter and
larger, while his exuberant glossy black hair was
plaited and wound around his head like that of
a Celestial. He wore a bit of swan's down in
each ear, which formed a striking contrast with
the child's complexion. Further than this, the
boy was painted according to the fashion of the
age. He held in his hands a miniature bow and
The medicine man drew himself up in an admirable
attitude, and proceeded to make his short
"Wahpetonwans, you boast that you run down
the elk; you can outrun the Ojibways. Before
you all, I dedicate to you this red ball. Kaposias,
you claim that no one has a lighter foot than you;
you declare that you can endure running a whole
day without water. To you I dedicate this black
ball. Either you or the Leaf-Dwellers will have
to drop your eyes and bow your head when the
game is over. I wish to announce that if the
Wahpetonwans should win, this little warrior shall
bear the name Ohiyesa (winner) through life; but
if the Light Lodges should win, let the name be
given to any child appointed by them."
The ground selected for the great final game
was on a narrow strip of land between a lake and
the river. It was about three quarters of a mile
long and a quarter of a mile in width. The spectators
had already ranged themselves all along the
two sides, as well as at the two ends, which were
somewhat higher than the middle. The soldiers
appointed to keep order furnished much of the
entertainment of the day. They painted artistically
and tastefully, according to the Indian fashion, not
only their bodies but also their ponies and clubs.
They were so strict in enforcing the laws that no
one could venture with safety within a few feet of
the limits of the field.
Now all of the minor events and feasts, occupying
several days' time, had been observed. Heralds
on ponies' backs announced that all who intended
to participate in the final game were requested
to repair to the ground; also that if any
one bore a grudge against another, he was implored
to forget his ill-feeling until the contest
should be over.
The most powerful men were stationed at the
half-way ground, while the fast runners were assigned
to the back. It was an impressive spectacle
--a fine collection of agile forms, almost stripped
of garments and painted in wild imitation of the
rainbow and sunset sky on human canvas. Some
had undertaken to depict the Milky Way across
their tawny bodies, and one or two made a bold
attempt to reproduce the lightning. Others contented
themselves with painting the figure of some
fleet animal or swift bird on their muscular chests.
The coiffure of the Sioux lacrosse player has
often been unconsciously imitated by the fashionable
hair-dressers of modern times. Some banged
and singed their hair; others did a little more
by adding powder. The Grecian knot was located
on the wrong side of the head, being tied
tightly over the forehead. A great many simply
brushed back their long locks and tied them with
a strip of otter skin.
At the middle of the ground were stationed four
immense men, magnificently formed. A fifth approached
this group, paused a moment, and then
threw his head back, gazed up into the sky in the
manner of a cock and gave a smooth, clear operatic
tone. Instantly the little black ball went up
between the two middle rushers, in the midst of
yells, cheers and war-whoops. Both men endeavored
to catch it in the air; but alas! each interfered
with the other; then the guards on each
side rushed upon them. For a time, a hundred
lacrosse sticks vied with each other, and the wriggling
human flesh and paint were all one could see
through the cloud of dust. Suddenly there shot
swiftly through the air toward the south, toward the
Kaposias' goal, the ball. There was a general cheer
from their adherents, which echoed back from the
white cliff on the opposite side of the Minnesota.
As the ball flew through the air, two adversaries
were ready to receive it. The Kaposia
quickly met the ball, but failed to catch it in his
netted bag, for the other had swung his up like a
flash. Thus it struck the ground, but had no opportunity
to bound up when a Wahpeton pounced
upon it like a cat and slipped out of the grasp of
his opponents. A mighty cheer thundered through
the air.
The warrior who had undertaken to pilot the
little sphere was risking much, for he must dodge
a host of Kaposias before he could gain any ground.
He was alert and agile; now springing like a
panther, now leaping like a deer over a stooping
opponent who tried to seize him around the waist.
Every opposing player was upon his heels, while
those of his own side did all in their power to
clear the way for him. But it was all in vain.
He only gained fifty paces.
Thus the game went. First one side, then the
other would gain an advantage, and then it was lost,
until the herald proclaimed that it was time to change
the ball. No victory was in sight for either side.
After a few minutes' rest, the game was resumed.
The red ball was now tossed in the air in the usual
way. No sooner had it descended than one of the
rushers caught it and away it went northward;
again it was fortunate, for it was advanced by one
of the same side. The scene was now one of the
wildest excitement and confusion. At last, the
northward flight of the ball was checked for a
moment and a desperate struggle ensued. Cheers
and war-whoops became general, such as were
never equaled in any concourse of savages, and
possibly nowhere except at a college game of football.
The ball had not been allowed to come to the
surface since it reached this point, for there were
more than a hundred men who scrambled for it.
Suddenly a warrior shot out of the throng like the
ball itself! Then some of the players shouted:
"Look out for Antelope! Look out for Antelope!"
But it was too late. The little sphere had already
nestled into Antelope's palm and that fleetest of
Wahpetons had thrown down his lacrosse stick and
set a determined eye upon the northern goal.
Such a speed! He had cleared almost all the
opponents' guards--there were but two more.
These were exceptional runners of the Kaposias.
As he approached them in his almost irresistible
speed, every savage heart thumped louder in the
Indian's dusky bosom. In another moment there
would be a defeat for the Kaposias or a prolongation
of the game. The two men, with a determined
look approached their foe like two panthers prepared
to spring; yet he neither slackened his speed
nor deviated from his course. A crash--a mighty
shout!--the two Kaposias collided, and the swift
Antelope had won the laurels!
The turmoil and commotion at the victors'
camp were indescribable. A few beats of a drum
were heard, after which the criers hurried along
the lines, announcing the last act to be performed
at the camp of the "Leaf Dwellers."
The day had been a perfect one. Every event
had been a success; and, as a matter of course, the
old people were happy, for they largely profited
by these occasions. Within the circle formed by
the general assembly sat in a group the members
of the common council. Blue Earth arose, and
in a few appropriate and courteous remarks assured
his guests that it was not selfishness that led
his braves to carry off the honors of the last event,
but that this was a friendly contest in which each
band must assert its prowess. In memory of this
victory, the boy would now receive his name. A
loud "Ho-o-o" of approbation reverberated from
the edge of the forest upon the Minnesota's
Half frightened, the little fellow was now
brought into the circle, looking very much as if he
were about to be executed. Cheer after cheer
went up for the awe-stricken boy. Chankpee-yuhah,
the medicine man, proceeded to confer the name.
"Ohiyesa (or Winner) shall be thy name henceforth.
Be brave, be patient and thou shalt always
win! Thy name is Ohivesa."
An Indian Boy's Training
IT is commonly supposed that there
is no systematic education of their
children among the aborigines of
this country. Nothing could be
farther from the truth. All the customs
of this primitive people were
held to be divinely instituted, and those in connection
with the training of children were scrupulously
adhered to and transmitted from one generation to
The expectant parents conjointly bent all their
efforts to the task of giving the new-comer the best
they could gather from a long line of ancestors. A
pregnant Indian woman would often choose one of
the greatest characters of her family and tribe as a
model for her child. This hero was daily called
to mind. She would gather from tradition all of
his noted deeds and daring exploits, rehearsing them
to herself when alone. In order that the impression
might be more distinct, she avoided company.
She isolated herself as much as possible, and wandered
in solitude, not thoughtlessly, but with an
eye to the impress given by grand and beautiful
The Indians believed, also, that certain kinds of
animals would confer peculiar gifts upon the unborn,
while others would leave so strong an adverse
impression that the child might become a monstrosity.
A case of hare-lip was commonly attributed
to the rabbit. It was said that a rabbit had charmed
the mother and given to the babe its own features.
Even the meat of certain animals was denied the
pregnant woman, because it was supposed to influence
the disposition or features of the child.
Scarcely was the embyro warrior ushered into the
world, when he was met by lullabies that speak of
wonderful exploits in hunting and war. Those
ideas which so fully occupied his mother's mind
before his birth are now put into words by all about
the child, who is as yet quite unresponsive to their
appeals to his honor and ambition. He is called
the future defender of his people, whose lives may
depend upon his courage and skill. If the child
is a girl, she is at once addressed as the future
mother of a noble race.
In hunting songs, the leading animals are introduced;
they come to the boy to offer their bodies
for the sustenance of his tribe. The animals are
regarded as his friends, and spoken of almost as
tribes of people, or as his cousins, grandfathers and
grandmothers. The songs of wooing, adapted as
lullabies, were equally imaginative, and the suitors
were often animals personified, while pretty maidens
were represented by the mink and the doe.
Very early, the Indian boy assumed the task of
preserving and transmitting the legends of his ancestors
and his race. Almost every evening a
myth, or a true story of some deed done in the
past, was narrated by one of the parents or grandparents,
while the boy listened with parted lips and
glistening eyes. On the following evening, he was
usually required to repeat it. If he was not an apt
scholar, he struggled long with his task; but, as a
rule, the Indian boy is a good listener and has a good
memory, so that the stories were tolerably well mastered.
The household became his audience,
by which he was alternately criticized and applauded.
This sort of teaching at once enlightens the boy's
mind and stimulates his ambition. His conception
of his own future career becomes a vivid and
irresistible force. Whatever there is for him to
learn must be learned; whatever qualifications are
necessary to a truly great man he must seek at any
expense of danger and hardship. Such was the
feeling of the imaginative and brave young Indian.
It became apparent to him in early life that he
must accustom himself to rove alone and not
to fear or dislike the impression of solitude.
It seems to be a popular idea that all the characteristic
skill of the Indian is instinctive and
hereditary. This is a mistake. All the stoicism
and patience of the Indian are acquired traits, and
continual practice alone makes him master of the art
of wood-craft. Physical training and dieting were not
neglected. I remember that I was not allowed to
have beef soup or any warm drink. The soup
was for the old men. General rules for the young
were never to take their food very hot, nor to
drink much water.
My uncle, who educated me up to the age
of fifteen years, was a strict disciplinarian and a
good teacher. When I left the teepee in the
morning, he would say: "Hakadah, look closely
to everything you see"; and at evening, on my return,
he used often to catechize me for an hour
or so.
"On which side of the trees is the lighter-colored
bark? On which side do they have most
regular branches?"
It was his custom to let me name all the
new birds that I had seen during the day. I
would name them according to the color or
the shape of the bill or their song or the appearance
and locality of the nest--in fact, anything about
the bird that impressed me as characteristic. I
made many ridiculous errors, I must admit. He
then usually informed me of the correct name.
Occasionally I made a hit and this he would warmly
He went much deeper into this science when I
was a little older, that is, about the age of eight or
nine years. He would say, for instance:
"How do you know that there are fish in
yonder lake?"
"Because they jump out of the water for flies
at mid-day."
He would smile at my prompt but superficial
"What do you think of the little pebbles
grouped together under the shallow water? and
what made the pretty curved marks in the
sandy bottom and the little sand-banks? Where
do you find the fish-eating birds? Have the inlet
and the outlet of a lake anything to do with the
He did not expect a correct reply at once to all
the voluminous questions that he put to me on
these occasions, but he meant to make me observant
and a good student of nature.
"Hakadah," he would say to me, "you ought
to follow the example of the shunktokecha (wolf).
Even when he is surprised and runs for his life, he
will pause to take one more look at you before he
enters his final retreat. So you must take a second
look at everything you see.
"It is better to view animals unobserved. I
have been a witness to their courtships and their
quarrels and have learned many of their secrets in
this way. I was once the unseen spectator of a
thrilling battle between a pair of grizzly bears and
three buffaloes--a rash act for the bears, for it was
in the moon of strawberries, when the buffaloes
sharpen and polish their horns for bloody contests
among themselves.
"I advise you, my boy, never to approach a
grizzly's den from the front, but to steal up behind
and throw your blanket or a stone in front of
the hole. He does not usually rush for it, but
first puts his head out and listens and then comes
out very indifferently and sits on his haunches on
the mound in front of the hole before he makes any
attack. While he is exposing himself in this
fashion, aim at his heart. Always be as cool as the
animal himself." Thus he armed me against the
cunning of savage beasts by teaching me how to
outwit them.
"In hunting," he would resume, "you will be
guided by the habits of the animal you seek. Remember
that a moose stays in swampy or low land
or between high mountains near a spring or lake,
for thirty to sixty days at a time. Most large game
moves about continually, except the doe in the
spring; it is then a very easy matter to find her
with the fawn. Conceal yourself in a convenient
place as soon as you observe any signs of the
presence of either, and then call with your birchen
"Whichever one hears you first will soon appear
in your neighborhood. But you must be very
watchful, or you may be made a fawn of by a large
wild-cat. They understand the characteristic call
of the doe perfectly well.
"When you have any difficulty with a bear or
a wild-cat--that is, if the creature shows signs of
attacking you--you must make him fully understand
that you have seen him and are aware of his
intentions. If you are not well equipped for a
pitched battle, the only way to make him retreat is
to take a long sharp-pointed pole for a spear and
rush toward him. No wild beast will face this unless
he is cornered and already wounded, These
fierce beasts are generally afraid of the common
weapon of the larger animals--the horns, and if
these are very long and sharp, they dare not risk
an open fight.
"There is one exception to this rule--the grey
wolf will attack fiercely when very hungry. But
their courage depends upon their numbers; in this
they are like white men. One wolf or two will
never attack a man. They will stampede a herd
of buffaloes in order to get at the calves; they will
rush upon a herd of antelopes, for these are helpless;
but they are always careful about attacking
Of this nature were the instructions of my
uncle, who was widely known at that time as
among the greatest hunters of his tribe.
All boys were expected to endure hardship
without complaint. In savage warfare, a young
man must, of course, be an athlete and used to
undergoing all sorts of privations. He must be
able to go without food and water for two or three
days without displaying any weakness, or to run
for a day and a night without any rest. He must
be able to traverse a pathless and wild country
without losing his way either in the day or night
time. He cannot refuse to do any of these things
if he aspires to be a warrior.
Sometimes my uncle would waken me very
early in the morning and challenge me to fast
with him all day. I had to accept the challenge.
We blackened our faces with charcoal, so that
every boy in the village would know that I was
fasting for the day. Then the little tempters
would make my life a misery until the merciful
sun hid behind the western hills.
I can scarcely recall the time when my stern
teacher began to give sudden war-whoops over
my head in the morning while I was sound asleep.
He expected me to leap up with perfect presence
of mind, always ready to grasp a weapon of some
sort and to give a shrill whoop in reply. If I
was sleepy or startled and hardly knew what I
was about, he would ridicule me and say that I
need never expect to sell my scalp dear. Often
he would vary these tactics by shooting off his
gun just outside of the lodge while I was yet
asleep, at the same time giving blood-curdling
yells. After a time I became used to this.
When Indians went upon the war-path, it was
their custom to try the new warriors thoroughly
before coming to an engagement. For instance,
when they were near a hostile camp, they would
select the novices to go after the water and make
them do all sorts of things to prove their courage.
In accordance with this idea, my uncle used
to send me off after water when we camped after
dark in a strange place. Perhaps the country
was full of wild beasts, and, for aught I knew,
there might be scouts from hostile bands of Indians
lurking in that very neighborhood.
Yet I never objected, for that would show cowardice.
I picked my way through the woods,
dipped my pail in the water and hurried back,
always careful to make as little noise as a cat.
Being only a boy, my heart would leap at every
crackling of a dry twig or distant hooting of an
owl, until, at last, I reached our teepee. Then my
uncle would perhaps say: "Ah, Hakadah, you
are a thorough warrior," empty out the precious
contents of the pail, and order me to go a second
Imagine how I felt! But I wished to be a
brave man as much as a white boy desires to be a
great lawyer or even President of the United
States. Silently I would take the pail and endeavor
to retrace my footsteps in the dark.
With all this, our manners and morals were
not neglected. I was made to respect the adults
and especially the aged. I was not allowed to
join in their discussions, nor even to speak in
their presence, unless requested to do so. Indian
etiquette was very strict, and among the requirements
was that of avoiding the direct address.
A term of relationship or some title of courtesy
was commonly used instead of the personal name
by those who wished to show respect. We were
taught generosity to the poor and reverence for the
"Great Mystery." Religion was the basis of all
Indian training.
I recall to the present day some of the kind
warnings and reproofs that my good grandmother
was wont to give me. "Be strong of heart--be
patient!" she used to say. She told me of a
young chief who was noted for his uncontrollable
temper. While in one of his rages he attempted
to kill a woman, for which he was slain by his
own band and left unburied as a mark of disgrace
--his body was simply covered with green grass.
If I ever lost my temper, she would say:
"Hakadah, control yourself, or you will be
like that young man I told you of, and lie under
a green blanket!"
In the old days, no young man was allowed to
use tobacco in any form until he had become an
acknowledged warrior and had achieved a record.
If a youth should seek a wife before he had
reached the age of twenty-two or twenty-three,
and been recognized as a brave man, he was
sneered at and considered an ill-bred Indian. He
must also be a skillful hunter. An Indian cannot
be a good husband unless he brings home plenty
of game.
These precepts were in the line of our training
for the wild life.
My Plays and Playmates
I: Games and Sports
THE Indian boy was a prince of
the wilderness. He had but very
little work to do during the period
of his boyhood. His principal
occupation was the practice of a
few simple arts in warfare and the
chase. Aside from this, he was master of his
Whatever was required of us boys was quickly
performed: then the field was clear for our games
and plays. There was always keen competition
among us. We felt very much as our fathers
did in hunting and war--each one strove to excel
all the others.
It is true that our savage life was a precarious
one, and full of dreadful catastrophes; however,
this never prevented us from enjoying our sports
to the fullest extent. As we left our teepees in
the morning, we were never sure that our scalps
would not dangle from a pole in the afternoon!
It was an uncertain life, to be sure. Yet we observed
that the fawns skipped and played happily
while the gray wolves might be peeping forth
from behind the hills, ready to tear them limb
from limb.
Our sports were molded by the life and customs
of our people; indeed, we practiced only
what we expected to do when grown. Our games
were feats with the bow and arrow, foot and pony
races, wrestling, swimming and imitation of the
customs and habits of our fathers. We had sham
fights with mud balls and willow wands; we played
lacrosse, made war upon bees, shot winter arrows
(which were used only in that season), and coasted
upon the ribs of animals and buffalo robes.
No sooner did the boys get together than, as a
usual thing, they divided into squads and chose
sides; then a leading arrow was shot at random
into the air. Before it fell to the ground a volley
from the bows of the participants followed. Each
player was quick to note the direction and speed
of the leading arrow and he tried to send his own
at the same speed and at an equal height, so that
when it fell it would be closer to the first than any
of the others.
It was considered out of place to shoot by first
sighting the object aimed at. This was usually
impracticable in actual life, because the object was
almost always in motion, while the hunter himself
was often upon the back of a pony at full gallop.
Therefore, it was the off-hand shot that the Indian
boy sought to master. There was another game
with arrows that was characterized by gambling,
and was generally confined to the men.
The races were an every-day occurrence. At
noon the boys were usually gathered by some
pleasant sheet of water and as soon as the ponies
were watered, they were allowed to graze for
an hour or two, while the boys stripped for their
noonday sports. A boy might say to some other
whom he considered his equal:
"I can't run; but I will challenge you to fifty
A former hero, when beaten, would often explain
his defeat by saying: " I drank too much
Boys of all ages were paired for a "spin," and
the little red men cheered on their favorites with
As soon as this was ended, the pony races followed.
All the speedy ponies were picked out
and riders chosen. If a boy declined to ride, there
would be shouts of derision.
Last of all came the swimming. A little urchin
would hang to his pony's long tail, while the latter,
with only his head above water, glided sportively
along. Finally the animals were driven into
a fine field of grass and we turned our attention
to other games.
Lacrosse was an older game and was confined entirely
to the Sisseton and Santee Sioux. Shinny, such
as is enjoyed by white boys on the ice, is still played
on the open prairie by the western Sioux. The
"moccasin game," although sometimes played by
the boys, was intended mainly for adults.
The "mud-and-willow" fight was rather a
severe and dangerous sport. A lump of soft clay
was stuck on the end of a limber and springy willow
wand and thrown as boys throw apples from
sticks, with considerable force. When there were
fifty or a hundred players on each side, the battle
became warm; but anything to arouse the bravery
of Indian boys seemed to them a good and wholesome
Wrestling was largely indulged in by us all. It
may seem odd,, but wrestling was done by a great
many boys at once--from ten to any number on
a side. It was really a battle, in which each one
chose his opponent. The rule was that if a boy
sat down, he was let alone, but as long as he remained
standing within the field, he was open to
an attack. No one struck with the hand, but all
manner of tripping with legs and feet and butting
with the knees was allowed. Altogether it was an
exhausting pastime--fully equal to the American
game of football and only the young athlete could
really enjoy it.
One of our most curious sports was a war upon
the nests of wild bees. We imagined ourselves
about to make an attack upon the Ojibways or
some tribal foe. We all painted and stole cautiously
upon the nest; then, with a rush and warwhoop,
sprang upon the object of our attack and
endeavored to destroy it. But it seemed that the
bees were always on the alert and never entirely
surprised, for they always raised quite as many
scalps as did their bold assailants! After the onslaught
upon the nest was ended, we usually followed
it by a pretended scalp dance.
On the occasion of my first experience in this
mode of warfare, there were two other little boys
who were also novices. One of them particularly
was really too young to indulge in an exploit of
that kind. As it was the custom of our people,
when they killed or wounded an enemy on the battle
field, to announce the act in a loud voice, we
did the same. My friend, Little Wound (as I will
call him, for I do not remember his name), being
quite small, was unable to reach the nest until it
had been well trampled upon and broken and the
insects had made a counter charge with such vigor
as to repulse and scatter our numbers in every direction.
However, he evidently did not want to
retreat without any honors; so he bravely jumped
upon the nest and yelled:
"I, the brave Little Wound, to-day kill the only
fierce enemy!"
Scarcely were the last words uttered when he
screamed as if stabbed to the heart. One of his
older companions shouted:
"Dive into the water! Run! Dive into the
water!" for there was a lake near by. This advice
he obeyed.
When we had reassembled and were indulging
in our mimic dance, Little Wound was not allowed
to dance. He was considered not to be in existence--
he had been killed by our enemies, the
Bee tribe. Poor little fellow! His swollen face
was sad and ashamed as he sat on a fallen log and
watched the dance. Although he might well have
styled himself one of the noble dead who had died
for their country, yet he was not unmindful that
he had screamed, and this weakness would be apt
to recur to him many times in the future.
We had some quiet plays which we alternated
with the more severe and warlike ones. Among
them were throwing wands and snow-arrows. In
the winter we coasted much. We had no "double-
rippers" or toboggans, but six or seven of the
long ribs of a buffalo, fastened together at the
larger end, answered all practical purposes. Sometimes
a strip of bass-wood bark, four feet long and
about six inches wide, was used with considerable
skill. We stood on one end and held the other,
using the slippery inside of the bark for the outside,
and thus coasting down long hills with remarkable
The spinning of tops was one of the all-absorbing
winter sports. We made our tops heartshaped
of wood, horn or bone. We whipped
them with a long thong of buckskin. The handle
was a stick about a foot long and sometimes we
whittled the stick to make it spoon-shaped at one
We played games with these tops--two to fifty
boys at one time. Each whips his top until it
hums; then one takes the lead and the rest follow
in a sort of obstacle race. The top must spin
all the way through. There were bars of snow
over which we must pilot our top in the spoon
end of our whip; then again we would toss it in the
air on to another open spot of ice or smooth snowcrust
from twenty to fifty paces away. The top
that holds out the longest is the winner.
Sometimes we played "medicine dance." This,
to us, was almost what "playing church" is among
white children, but our people seemed to think it
an act of irreverence to imitate these dances,
therefore performances of this kind were always
enjoyed in secret. We used to observe all the important
ceremonies and it required something of an
actor to reproduce the dramatic features of the
dance. The real dances occupied a day and a
night, and the program was long and varied, so
that it was not easy to execute all the details
perfectly; but the Indian children are born imitators.
The boys built an arbor of pine boughs in some
out-of-the-way place and at one end of it was a
rude lodge. This was the medicine lodge or headquarters.
All the initiates were there. At the
further end or entrance were the door-keepers or
soldiers, as we called them. The members of
each lodge entered in a body, standing in single
file and facing the headquarters. Each stretched
out his right hand and a prayer was offered by the
leader, after which they took the places assigned
to them.
When the preliminaries had been completed,
our leader sounded the big drum and we all said
"A-ho-ho-ho!" as a sort of amen. Then the choir
began their song and whenever they ended a verse,
we all said again "A-ho-ho-ho!" At last they
struck up the chorus and we all got upon our feet
and began to dance, by simply lifting up one foot
and then the other, with a slight swing to the
Each boy was representing or imitating some
one of the medicine men. We painted and decorated
ourselves just as they did and carried bird
or squirrel skins, or occasionally live birds and
chipmunks as our medicine bags and small white
shells or pebbles for medicine charms.
Then the persons to be initiated were brought
in and seated, with much ceremony, upon a blanket
or buffalo robe. Directly in front of them the
ground was levelled smooth and here we laid an
old pipe filled with dried leaves for tobacco.
Around it we placed the variously colored feathers
of the birds we had killed, and cedar and sweetgrass
we burned for incense.
Finally those of us who had been selected to perform
this ceremony stretched out our arms at full
length, holding the sacred medicine bags and aiming
them at the new members. After swinging them four
times, we shot them suddenly forward, but did not
let go. The novices then fell forward on their
faces as if dead. Quickly a chorus was struck up
and we all joined in a lively dance around the supposed
bodies. The girls covered them up with
their blankets, thus burying the dead. At last we
resurrected them with our charms and led them to
their places among the audience. Then came the
last general dance and the final feast.
I was often selected as choir-master on these occasions,
for I had happened to learn many of the
medicine songs and was quite an apt mimic. My
grandmother, who was a noted medicine woman of
the Turtle lodge, on hearing of these sacrilegious
acts (as she called them) warned me that if any of
the medicine men should discover them, they would
punish me terribly by shriveling my limbs with
slow disease.
Occasionally, we also played "white man." Our
knowledge of the pale-face was limited, but we had
learned that he brought goods whenever he came
and that our people exchanged furs for his merchandise.
We also knew that his complexion was
pale, that he had short hair on his head and long
hair on his face and that he wore coat, trousers,
and hat, and did not patronize blankets in the daytime.
This was the picture we had formed of the
white man.
So we painted two or three of our number with
white clay and put on them birchen hats which we
sewed up for the occasion; fastened a piece of fur
to their chins for a beard and altered their costumes
as much as lay within our power. The
white of the birch-bark was made to answer for
their white shirts. Their merchandise consisted of
sand for sugar, wild beans for coffee, dried leaves
for tea, pulverized earth for gun-powder, pebbles
for bullets and clear water for the dangerous "spirit
water." We traded for these goods with skins of
squirrels, rabbits and small birds.
When we played "hunting buffalo" we would
send a few good runners off on the open prairie
with a supply of meat; then start a few equally
swift boys to chase them and capture the food.
Once we were engaged in this sport when a real
hunt by the men was in progress; yet we did not
realize that it was so near until, in the midst of our
play, we saw an immense buffalo coming at full
speed directly toward us. Our mimic buffalo hunt
turned into a very real buffalo scare. Fortunately,
we were near the edge of the woods and we soon
disappeared among the leaves like a covey of young
prairie-chickens and some hid in the bushes while
others took refuge in tall trees.
We loved to play in the water. When we had
no ponies, we often had swimming matches of our
own and sometimes made rafts with which we
crossed lakes and rivers. It was a common
thing to "duck" a young or timid boy or to
carry him into deep water to struggle as best
he might.
I remember a perilous ride with a companion on
an unmanageable log, when we were both less than
seven years old. The older boys had put us on
this uncertain bark and pushed us out into the
swift current of the river. I cannot speak for my
comrade in distress, but I can say now that I would
rather ride on a swift bronco any day than try to
stay on and steady a short log in a river.
I never knew how we managed to prevent a shipwreck
on that voyage and to reach the shore.
We had many curious wild pets. There were
young foxes, bears, wolves, raccoons, fawns, buffalo
calves and birds of all kinds, tamed by various
boys. My pets were different at different times, but
I particularly remember one. I once had a grizzly
bear for a pet and so far as he and I were concerned,
our relations were charming and very close. But I
hardly know whether he made more enemies for me
or I for him. It was his habit to treat every boy
unmercifully who injured me. He was despised
for his conduct in my interest and I was hated on
account of his interference.
II: My Playmates
CHATANNA was the brother with
whom I passed much of my early
childhood. From the time that
I was old enough to play with
boys, this brother was my close
companion. He was a handsome
boy, and an affectionate comrade. We played
together, slept together and ate together; and as
Chatanna was three years the older, I naturally
looked up to him as to a superior.
Oesedah was a beautiful little character. She
was my cousin, and four years younger than myself.
Perhaps none of my early playmates are
more vividly remembered than is this little
The name given her by a noted medicine-man
was Makah-oesetopah-win. It means The-fourcorners-
of-the-earth. As she was rather small,
the abbreviation with a diminutive termination
was considered more appropriate, hence Oesedah
became her common name.
Although she had a very good mother, Uncheedah
was her efficient teacher and chaperon
Such knowledge as my grandmother deemed suitable
to a maiden was duly impressed upon her
susceptible mind. When I was not in the woods
with Chatanna, Oesedah was my companion at
home; and when I returned from my play at
evening, she would have a hundred questions
ready for me to answer. Some of these were
questions concerning our every-day life, and
others were more difficult problems which had
suddenly dawned upon her active little mind.
Whatever had occurred to interest her during the
day was immediately repeated for my benefit.
There were certain questions upon which Oesedah
held me to be authority, and asked with the
hope of increasing her little store of knowledge.
I have often heard her declare to her girl companions:
"I know it is true; Ohiyesa said so!"
Uncheedah was partly responsible for this, for
when any questions came up which lay within the
sphere of man's observation, she would say:
"Ohiyesa ought to know that: he is a man--
I am not! You had better ask him."
The truth was that she had herself explained to
me many of the subjects under discussion.
I was occasionally referred to little Oesedah in
the same manner, and I always accepted her childish
elucidations of any matter upon which I had
been advised to consult her, because I knew the
source of her wisdom. In this simple way we
were made to be teachers of one another.
Very often we discussed some topic before our
common instructor, or answered her questions together,
in order to show which had the readier
"To what tribe does the lizard belong?" inquired
Uncheedah, upon one of these occasions.
"To the four-legged tribe," I shouted.
Oesedah, with her usual quickness, flashed out
the answer:
"It belongs to the creeping tribe."
The Indians divided all animals into four general
classes: 1st, those that walk upon four legs;
2nd, those that fly; 3rd, those that swim with fins;
4th, those that creep.
Of course I endeavored to support my assertion
that the lizard belongs where I had placed it, be-.
cause he has four distinct legs which propel him
everywhere, on the ground or in the water. But my
opponent claimed that the creature under dispute
does not walk, but creeps. My strongest argument
was that it had legs; but Oesedah insisted that its
body touches the ground as it moves. As a last
resort, I volunteered to go find one, and demonstrate
the point in question.
The lizard having been brought, we smoothed
off the ground and strewed ashes on it so that we
could see the track. Then I raised the question:
"What constitutes creeping, and what constitutes
Uncheedah was the judge, and she stated, without
any hesitation, that an animal must stand clear
of the ground on the support of its legs, and walk
with the body above the legs, and not in contact
with the ground, in order to be termed a walker;
while a creeper is one that, regardless of its legs, if
it has them, drags its body upon the ground. Upon
hearing the judge's decision, I yielded at once to
my opponent.
At another time, when I was engaged in a similar
discussion with my brother Chatanna, Oesedah
came to my rescue. Our grandmother had asked
"What bird shows most judgment in caring for
its young?"
Chatanna at once exclaimed:
"The eagle!" but I held my peace for a moment,
because I was confused--so many birds came
into my mind at once. I finally declared:
"It is the oriole!"
Chatanna was asked to state all the evidence that
he had in support of the eagle's good sense in
rearing its young. He proceeded with an air of
"The eagle is the wisest of all birds. Its nest
is made in the safest possible place, upon a high
and inaccessible cliff. It provides its young with
an abundance of fresh meat. They have the freshest
of air. They are brought up under the spell
of the grandest scenes, and inspired with lofty
feelings and bravery. They see that all other beings
live beneath them, and that they are the children
of the King of Birds. A young eagle shows
the spirit of a warrior while still in the nest.
"Being exposed to the inclemency of the weather
the young eaglets are hardy. They are accustomed
to hear the mutterings of the Thunder Bird and
the sighings of the Great Mystery. Why, the little
eagles cannot help being as noble as they are,
because their parents selected for them so lofty
and inspiring a home! How happy they must be
when they find themselves above the clouds, and
behold the zigzag flashes of lightning all about
them! It must be nice to taste a piece of fresh
meat up in their cool home, in the burning summer-
time! Then when they drop down the bones
of the game they feed upon, wolves and vultures
gather beneath them, feeding upon their refuse.
That alone would show them their chieftainship
over all the other birds. Isn't that so, grandmother?"
Thus triumphantly he concluded his
I was staggered at first by the noble speech of
Chatannna, but I soon recovered from its effects.
The little Oesedah came to my aid by saying:
"Wait until Ohiyesa tells of the loveliness of the
beautiful Oriole's home!" This timely remark
gave me courage and I began:
"My grandmother, who was it said that a
mother who has a gentle and sweet voice will have
children of a good disposition? I think the oriole
is that kind of a parent. It provides both sunshine
and shadow for its young. Its nest is suspended
from the prettiest bough of the most graceful
tree, where it is rocked by the gentle winds;
and the one we found yesterday was beautifully
lined with soft things, both deep and warm, so that
the little featherless birdies cannot suffer from the
cold and wet."
Here Chatanna interrupted me to exclaim:
"That is just like the white people--who cares for
them? The eagle teaches its young to be accustomed
to hardships, like young warriors!"
Ohiyesa was provoked; he reproached his
brother and appealed to the judge, saying that he
had not finished yet.
"But you would not have lived, Chatanna, if
you had been exposed like that when you were
a baby! The oriole shows wisdom in providing
for its children a good, comfortable home! A
home upon a high rock would not be pleasant--
it would be cold! We climbed a mountain once,
and it was cold there; and who would care to stay
in such a place when it storms? What wisdom is
there in having a pile of rough sticks upon a bare
rock, surrounded with ill-smelling bones of animals,
for a home? Also, my uncle says that the eaglets
seem always to be on the point of starvation. You
have heard that whoever lives on game killed
by some one else is compared to an eagle. Isn't
that so, grandmother?
"The oriole suspends its nest from the lower
side of a horizontal bough so that no enemy can
approach it. It enjoys peace and beauty and
Oesedah was at Ohiyesa's side during the discussion,
and occasionally whispered into his ear.
Uncheedah decided this time in favor of Ohiyesa.
We were once very short of provisions in the
winter time. My uncle, our only means of support,
was sick; and besides, we were separated
from the rest of the tribe and in a region where
there was little game of any kind. Oesedah had
a pet squirrel, and as soon as we began to economize
our food had given portions of her allowance
to her pet.
At last we were reduced very much, and the
prospect of obtaining anything soon being gloomy,
my grandmother reluctantly suggested that the
squirrel should be killed for food. Thereupon
my little cousin cried, and said:
"Why cannot we all die alike wanting? The
squirrel's life is as dear to him as ours to us," and
clung to it. Fortunately, relief came in time to
save her pet.
Oesedah lived with us for a portion of the year,
and as there were no other girls in the family she
played much alone, and had many imaginary companions.
At one time there was a small willow
tree which she visited regularly, holding long conversations,
a part of which she would afterward
repeat to me. She said the willow tree was her
husband, whom some magic had compelled to
take that form; but no grown person was ever
allowed to share her secret.
When I was about eight years old I had for a
playmate the adopted son of a Sioux, who was a
white captive. This boy was quite a noted personage,
although he was then only about ten or
eleven years of age. When I first became acquainted
with him we were on the upper Missouri
river. I learned from him that he had been
taken on the plains, and that both of his parents
were killed.
He was at first sad and lonely, but soon found
plenty of consolation in his new home. The
name of his adopted father was "Keeps-the-
Spotted-Ponies." He was known to have
an unusual number of the pretty calico ponies;
indeed, he had a passion for accumulating property
in the shape of ponies, painted tents, decorated
saddles and all sorts of finery. He
had lost his only son; but the little pale-face
became the adopted brother of two handsome
young women, his daughters. This made him
quite popular among the young warriors. He
was not slow to adopt the Indian customs, and he
acquired the Sioux language in a short time.
I well remember hearing of his first experience
of war. He was not more than sixteen when he
joined a war-party against the Gros-Ventres and
Mandans. My uncle reported that he was very
brave until he was wounded in the ankle; then he
begged with tears to be taken back to a safe place.
Fortunately for him, his adopted father came to the
rescue, and saved him at the risk of his own life.
He was called the "pale-face Indian." His hair
grew very long and he lavished paint on his face
and hair so that no one might suspect that he was
a white man.
One day this boy was playing a gambling game
with one of the Sioux warriors. He was an expert
gambler, and won everything from the Indian.
At a certain point a dispute arose. The Indian
was very angry, for he discovered that his fellowplayer
had deliberately cheated him. The Indians
were strictly honest in those days, even in their
The boy declared that he had merely performed
a trick for the benefit of his friend, but it nearly
cost him his life. The indignant warrior had
already drawn his bow-string with the intention of
shooting the captive, but a third person intervened
and saved the boy's life. He at once explained his
trick; and in order to show himself an honorable
gambler, gave back all the articles that he had won
from his opponent. In the midst of the confusion,
old "Keeps-the-Spotted-Ponies" came rushing
through the crowd in a state of great excitement.
He thought his pale-face son had been killed.
When he saw how matters stood, he gave the aggrieved
warrior a pony, "in order," as he said,
"that there may be no shadow between him and
my son."
One spring my uncle took Chatanna to the
Canadian trading-post on the Assiniboine river,
where he went to trade off his furs for ammunition
and other commodities. When he came back, my
brother was not with him!
At first my fears were even worse than the reality.
The facts were these: A Canadian with
whom my uncle had traded much had six daughters
and no son; and when he saw this handsome
and intelligent little fellow, he at once offered to
adopt him.
"I have no boy in my family," said he, "and
I will deal with him as with a son. I am always
in these regions trading; so you can see him two
or three times in a year."
He further assured my uncle that the possession
of the boy would greatly strengthen their friendship.
The matter was finally agreed upon. At
first Chatanna was unwilling, but as we were taught
to follow the advice of our parents and guardians,
he was obliged to yield.
This was a severe blow to me, and for a long
time I could not be consoled. Uncheedah was
fully in sympathy with my distress. She argued
that the white man's education was not desirable
for her boys; in fact, she urged her son so strongly
to go back after Chatanna that he promised on
his next visit to the post to bring him home
But the trader was a shrewd man. He immediately
moved to another part of the country; and I
never saw my Chatanna, the companion of my
childhood, again! We learned afterward that he
grew up and was married; but one day he lost his
way in a blizzard and was frozen to death.
My little cousin and I went to school together
in later years; but she could not endure the confinement
of the school-room. Although apparently
very happy, she suffered greatly from the
change to an indoor life, as have many of our people,
and died six months after our return to
the United States.
III: The Boy Hunter
IT will be no exaggeration to say
that the life of the Indian hunter
was a life of fascination. From
the moment that he lost sight of
his rude home in the midst of the
forest, his untutored mind lost itself
in the myriad beauties and forces of nature.
Yet he never forgot his personal danger from some
lurking foe or savage beast, however absorbing
was his passion for the chase.
The Indian youth was a born hunter. Every
motion, every step expressed an inborn dignity
and, at the same time, a depth of native caution.
His moccasined foot fell like the velvet paw of a
cat--noiselessly; his glittering black eyes scanned
every object that appeared within their view. Not
a bird, not even a chipmunk, escaped their piercing
I was scarcely over three years old when I stood
one morning just outside our buffalo-skin teepee,
with my little bow and arrows in my hand, and
gazed up among the trees. Suddenly the instinct
to chase and kill seized me powerfully. Just then
a bird flew over my head and then another caught
my eye, as it balanced itself upon a swaying
bough. Everything else was forgotten and in
that moment I had taken my first step as a
There was almost as much difference between
the Indian boys who were brought up on the open
prairies and those of the woods, as between city
and country boys. The hunting of the prairie boys
was limited and their knowledge of natural history
imperfect. They were, as a rule, good riders, but
in all-round physical development much inferior
to the red men of the forest.
Our hunting varied with the season of the year,
and the nature of the country which was for the
time our home. Our chief weapon was the bow
and arrows, and perhaps, if we were lucky, a knife
was possessed by some one in the crowd. In the
olden times, knives and hatchets were made from
bone and sharp stones.
For fire we used a flint with a spongy piece of
dry wood and a stone to strike with. Another way
of starting fire was for several of the boys to sit
down in a circle and rub two pieces of dry, spongy
wood together, one after another, until the wood
took fire.
We hunted in company a great deal, though it
was a common thing for a boy to set out for the
woods quite alone, and he usually enjoyed himself
fully as much. Our game consisted mainly of
small birds, rabbits, squirrels and grouse. Fishing,
too, occupied much of our time. We hardly
ever passed a creek or a pond without searching
for some signs of fish. When fish were present,
we always managed to get some. Fish-lines were
made of wild hemp, sinew or horse-hair. We
either caught fish with lines, snared or speared
them, or shot them with bow and arrows. In the
fall we charmed them up to the surface by gently
tickling them with a stick and quickly threw them
out. We have sometimes dammed the brooks and
driven the larger fish into a willow basket made
for that purpose.
It was part of our hunting to find new and
strange things in the woods. We examined the
slightest sign of life; and if a bird had scratched
the leaves off the ground, or a bear dragged up a
root for his morning meal, we stopped to speculate
on the time it was done. If we saw a large
old tree with some scratches on its bark, we concluded
that a bear or some raccoons must be living
there. In that case we did not go any nearer than
was necessary, but later reported the incident at
home. An old deer-track would at once bring on
a warm discussion as to whether it was the track
of a buck or a doe. Generally, at noon, we met
and compared our game, noting at the same time
the peculiar characteristics of everything we had
killed. It was not merely a hunt, for we combined
with it the study of animal life. We also kept
strict account of our game, and thus learned who
were the best shots among the boys.
I am sorry to say that we were merciless toward
the birds. We often took their eggs and their
young ones. My brother Chatanna and I once
had a disagreeable adventure while bird-hunting.
We were accustomed to catch in our hands young
ducks and geese during the summer, and while doing
this we happened to find a crane's nest. Of
course, we were delighted with our good luck.
But, as it was already midsummer, the young
cranes--two in number--were rather large and
they were a little way from the nest; we also observed
that the two old cranes were in a swampy
place near by; but, as it was moulting-time, we
did not suppose that they would venture on dry
land. So we proceeded to chase the young birds;
but they were fleet runners and it took us some
time to come up with them.
Meanwhile, the parent birds had heard the cries
of their little ones and come to their rescue. They
were chasing us, while we followed the birds. It
was really a perilous encounter! Our strong
bows finally gained the victory in a hand-to-hand
struggle with the angry cranes; but after that we
hardly ever hunted a crane's nest. Almost all birds
make some resistance when their eggs or young
are taken, but they will seldom attack man fearlessly.
We used to climb large trees for birds of all
kinds; but we never undertook to get young owls
unless they were on the ground. The hooting
owl especially is a dangerous bird to attack under
these circumstances.
I was once trying to catch a yellow-winged woodpecker
in its nest when my arm became twisted
and lodged in the deep hole so that I could not
get it out without the aid of a knife; but we were
a long way from home and my only companion
was a deaf mute cousin of mine. I was about fifty
feet up in the tree, in a very uncomfortable position,
but I had to wait there for more than an hour
before he brought me the knife with which I finally
released myself.
Our devices for trapping small animals were
rude, but they were often successful. For instance,
we used to gather up a peck or so of large, sharppointed
burrs and scatter them in the rabbit's furrow-
like path. In the morning, we would find
the little fellow sitting quietly in his tracks, unable
to move, for the burrs stuck to his feet.
Another way of snaring rabbits and grouse was
the following: We made nooses of twisted horsehair,
which we tied very firmly to the top of a
limber young tree, then bent the latter down to
the track and fastened the whole with a slip-knot,
after adjusting the noose. When the rabbit runs
his head through the noose, he pulls the slip-knot
and is quickly carried up by the spring of the
young tree. This is a good plan, for the rabbit
is out of harm's way as he swings high in the air.
Perhaps the most enjoyable of all was the chipmunk
hunt. We killed these animals at any time
of year, but the special time to hunt them was in
March. After the first thaw, the chipmunks burrow
a hole through the snow crust and make
their first appearance for the season. Sometimes
as many as fifty will come together and hold a
social reunion. These gatherings occur early in
the morning, from daybreak to about nine o'clock.
We boys learned this, among other secrets of
nature, and got our blunt-headed arrows together
in good season for the chipmunk expedition.
We generally went in groups of six to a dozen
or fifteen, to see which would get the most. On
the evening before, we selected several boys who
could imitate the chipmunk's call with wild oatstraws
and each of these provided himself with a
supply of straws.
The crust will hold the boys nicely at this time
of the year. Bright and early, they all come together
at the appointed place, from which each
group starts out in a different direction, agreeing
to meet somewhere at a given position of the sun.
My first experience of this kind is still well remembered.
It was a fine crisp March morning,
and the sun had not yet shown himself among the
distant tree-tops as we hurried along through the
ghostly wood. Presently we arrived at a place
where there were many signs of the animals. Then
each of us selected a tree and took up his position
behind it. The chipmunk caller sat upon a log
as motionless as he could, and began to call.
Soon we heard the patter of little feet on the
hard snow; then we saw the chipmunks approaching
from all directions. Some stopped and ran
experimentally up a tree or a log, as if uncertain of
the exact direction of the call; others chased one
another about.
In a few minutes, the chipmunk-caller was besieged
with them. Some ran all over his person,
others under him and still others ran up the tree
against which he was sitting. Each boy remained
immovable until their leader gave the signal; then
a great shout arose, and the chipmunks in their
flight all ran up the different trees.
Now the shooting-match began. The little
creatures seemed to realize their hopeless position;
they would try again and again to come
down the trees and flee away from the deadly aim
of the youthful hunters. But they were shot down
very fast; and whenever several of them rushed
toward the ground, the little red-skin hugged the
tree and yelled frantically to scare them up again.
Each boy shoots always against the trunk of the
tree, so that the arrow may bound back to him every
time; otherwise, when he had shot away all of
them, he would be helpless, and another, who had
cleared his own tree, would come and take away
his game, so there was warm competition. Sometimes
a desperate chipmunk would jump from the
top of the tree in order to escape, which was considered
a joke on the boy who lost it and a triumph
for the brave little animal. At last all were killed
or gone, and then we went on to another place,
keeping up the sport until the sun came out and
the chipmunks refused to answer the call.
When we went out on the prairies we had a different
and less lively kind of sport. We used to
snare with horse-hair and bow-strings all the small
ground animals, including the prairie-dog. We
both snared and shot them. Once a little boy set
a snare for one, and lay flat on the ground a little
way from the hole, holding the end of the string.
Presently he felt something move and pulled in a
huge rattlesnake; and to this day, his name is
"Caught-the-Rattlesnake." Very often a boy got
a new name in some such manner. At another
time, we were playing in the woods and found a
fawn's track. We followed and caught it while
asleep; but in the struggle to get away, it kicked
one boy, who is still called "Kicked-by-the-Fawn."
It became a necessary part of our education to
learn to prepare a meal while out hunting. It is
a fact that most Indians will eat the liver and some
other portions of large animals raw, but they do
not eat fish or birds uncooked. Neither will they
eat a frog, or an eel. On our boyish hunts, we
often went on until we found ourselves a long way
from our camp, when we would kindle a fire and
roast a part of our game.
Generally we broiled our meat over the coals on
a stick. We roasted some of it over the open fire.
But the best way to cook fish and birds is in the
ashes, under a big fire. We take the fish fresh from
the creek or lake, have a good fire on the sand, dig
in the sandy ashes and bury it deep. The same
thing is done in case of a bird, only we wet the
feathers first. When it is done, the scales or feathers
and skin are stripped off whole, and the delicious
meat retains all its juices and flavor. We
pulled it off as we ate, leaving the bones undisturbed.
Our people had also a method of boiling without
pots or kettles. A large piece of tripe was
thoroughly washed and the ends tied, then suspended
between four stakes driven into the ground
and filled with cold water. The meat was then placed
in this novel receptacle and boiled by means of the
addition of red-hot stones.
Chatanna was a good hunter. He called the doe
and fawn beautifully by using a thin leaf of birchbark
between two flattened sticks. One morning
we found the tracks of a doe and fawn who had
passed within the hour, for the light dew was
brushed from the grass.
"What shall we do?" I asked. "Shall we go
back to the teepee and tell uncle to bring his
"No, no!" exclaimed Chatanna. "Did not our
people kill deer and buffalo long ago without guns?
We will entice her into this open space, and, while
she stands bewildered, I can throw my lasso line
over her head."
He had called only a few seconds when the fawn
emerged from the thick woods and stood before us,
prettier than a picture. Then I uttered the call,
and she threw her tobacco-leaf-like ears toward me,
while Chatanna threw his lasso. She gave one
scream and launched forth into the air, almost
throwing the boy hunter to the ground. Again
and again she flung herself desperately into the air,
but at last we led her to the nearest tree and tied
her securely.
"Now," said he, "go and get our pets and see
what they will do."
At that time he had a good-sized black bear
partly tamed, while I had a young red fox and my
faithful Ohitika or Brave. I untied Chagoo, the
bear, and Wanahon, the fox, while Ohitika got up
and welcomed me by wagging his tail in a dignified
"Come," I said, "all three of you. I think we
have something you would all like to see."
They seemed to understand me, for Chagoo began
to pull his rope with both paws, while Wanahon
undertook the task of digging up by the roots
the sapling to which I had tied him.
Before we got to the open spot, we already heard
Ohitika's joyous bark, and the two wild pets began
to run, and pulled me along through the underbrush.
Chagoo soon assumed the utmost precaution
and walked as if he had splinters in his
soles, while Wanahon kept his nose down low and
sneaked through the trees.
Out into the open glade we came, and there, before
the three rogues, stood the little innocent fawn.
She visibly trembled at the sight of the motley
group. The two human rogues looked to her, I
presume, just as bad as the other three. Chagoo
regarded her with a mixture of curiosity and defiance,
while Wanahon stood as if rooted to the
ground, evidently planning how to get at her. But
Ohitika (Brave), generous Ohitika, his occasional
barking was only in jest. He did not care to
touch the helpless thing.
Suddenly the fawn sprang high into the air and
then dropped her pretty head on the ground.
"Ohiyesa, the fawn is dead," cried Chatanna.
"I wanted to keep her."
"It is a shame;" I chimed in.
We five guilty ones came and stood around her
helpless form. We all looked very sorry; even
Chagoo's eyes showed repentance and regret. As
for Ohitika, he gave two great sighs and then betook
himself to a respectful distance. Chatanna
had two big tears gradually swamping his long,
black eye-lashes; and I thought it was time to
hide my face, for I did not want him to look at
Hakadah's First Offering
"HAKADAH, coowah!" was the sonorous call that came from a
large teepee in the midst of the Indian encampment. In answer
to the summons there emerged from the woods, which were
only a few steps away, a boy, accompanied by a
splendid black dog. There was little in the appearance
of the little fellow to distinguish him
from the other Sioux boys.
He hastened to the tent from which he had
been summoned, carrying in his hands a bow and
arrows gorgeously painted, while the small birds
and squirrels that he had killed with these weapons
dangled from his belt.
Within the tent sat two old women, one on
each side of the fire. Uncheedah was the boy's
grandmother, who had brought up the motherless
child. Wahchewin was only a caller, but she
had been invited to remain and assist in the first
personal offering of Hakadah to the "Great Mystery."
This was a matter which had, for several days,
pretty much monopolized Uncheedah's mind. It
was her custom to see to this when each of her
children attained the age of eight summers. They
had all been celebrated as warriors and hunters
among their tribe, and she had not hesitated to
claim for herself a good share of the honors they
had achieved, because she had brought them early
to the notice of the "Great Mystery."
She believed that her influence had helped to
regulate and develop the characters of her sons to
the height of savage nobility and strength of manhood.
It had been whispered through the teepee village
that Uncheedah intended to give a feast in
honor of her grandchild's first sacrificial offering.
This was mere speculation, however, for the clearsighted
old woman had determined to keep this
part of the matter secret until the offering should
be completed, believing that the "Great Mystery"
should be met in silence and dignity.
The boy came rushing into the lodge, followed
by his dog Ohitika who was wagging his tail promiscuously,
as if to say: "Master and I are really
Hakadah breathlessly gave a descriptive narrative
of the killing of each bird and squirrel as he
pulled them off his belt and threw them before
his grandmother.
"This blunt-headed arrow," said he, "actually
had eyes this morning. Before the squirrel can
dodge around the tree it strikes him in the head,
and, as he falls to the ground, my Ohitika is upon
He knelt upon one knee as he talked, his black
eyes shining like evening stars.
"Sit down here," said Uncheedah to the boy;
"I have something to say to you. You see that
you are now almost a man. Observe the game
you have brought me! It will not be long before
you will leave me, for a warrior must seek
opportunities to make him great among his people.
"You must endeavor to equal your father. and
grandfather," she went on. "They were warriors
and feast-makers. But it is not the poor hunter
who makes many feasts. Do you not remember
the 'Legend of the Feast-Maker,' who gave
forty feasts in twelve moons? And have you forgotten
the story of the warrior who sought the
will of the Great Mystery? To-day you will
make your first offering to him."
The concluding sentence fairly dilated the eyes
of the young hunter, for he felt that a great event
was about to occur, in which he would be the
principal actor. But Uncheedah resumed her
"You must give up one of your belongings--
whichever is dearest to you--for this is to be a
sacrificial offering."
This somewhat confused the boy; not that he
was selfish, but rather uncertain as to what would
be the most appropriate thing to give. Then,
too, he supposed that his grandmother referred
to his ornaments and playthings only. So he
"I can give up my best bow and arrows, and
all the paints I have, and--and my bear's claws
necklace, grandmother!"
"Are these the things dearest to you?" she
"Not the bow and arrows, but the paints will
be very hard to get, for there are no white people
near; and the necklace--it is not easy to get
one like it again. I will also give up my otterskin
head-dress, if you think that is not
"But think, my boy, you have not yet mentioned
the thing that will be a pleasant offering to
the Great Mystery."
The boy looked into the woman's face with a
puzzled expression.
"I have nothing else as good as those things I
have named, grandmother, unless it is my spotted
pony; and I am sure that the Great Mystery will
not require a little boy to make him so large a
gift. Besides, my uncle gave three otter-skins
and five eagle-feathers for him and I promised to
keep him a long while, if the Blackfeet or the
Crows do not steal him."
Uncheedah was not fully satisfied with the boy's
free offerings. Perhaps it had not occurred to him
what she really wanted. But Uncheedah knew
where his affection was vested. His faithful dog,
his pet and companion--Hakadah was almost inseparable
from the loving beast.
She was sure that it would be difficult to obtain
his consent to sacrifice the animal, but she ventured
upon a final appeal.
"You must remember," she said, "that in this
offering you will call upon him who looks at you
from every creation. In the wind you hear him
whisper to you. He gives his war-whoop in the
thunder. He watches you by day with his eye,
the sun; at night, he gazes upon your sleeping
countenance through the moon. In short, it is
the Mystery of Mysteries, who controls all things.
to whom you will make your first offering. By
this act, you will ask him to grant to you what he
has granted to few men. I know you wish to be
a great warrior and hunter. I am not prepared to
see my Hakadah show any cowardice, for the love
of possessions is a woman's trait and not a brave's."
During this speech, the boy had been completely
aroused to the spirit of manliness, and in his
excitement was willing to give up anything he had
--even his pony! But he was unmindful of his
friend and companion, Ohitika, the dog! So,
scarcely had Uncheedah finished speaking, when
he almost shouted:
"Grandmother, I will give up any of my possessions
for the offering to the Great Mystery!
You may select what you think will be most pleasing
to him."
There were two silent spectators of this little
dialogue. One was Wahchewin; the other was
Ohitika. The woman had been invited to stay,
although only a neighbor. The dog, by force of
habit, had taken up his usual position by the side
of his master when they entered the teepee. Without
moving a muscle, save those of his eyes, he
had been a very close observer of what passed.
Had the dog but moved once to attract the attention
of his little friend, he might have been
dissuaded from that impetuous exclamation:
"Grandmother, I will give up any of my possessions!"
It was hard for Uncheedah to tell the boy that
he must part with his dog, but she was equal to
the situation.
"Hakadah," she proceeded cautiously, "you
are a young brave. I know, though young, your
heart is strong and your courage is great. You
will be pleased to give up the dearest thing you
have for your first offering. You must give up
Ohitika. He is brave; and you, too, are brave.
He will not fear death; you will bear his loss bravely.
Come--here are four bundles of paints and
a filled pipe--let us go to the place."
When the last words were uttered, Hakadah did
not seem to hear them. He was simply unable to
speak. To a civilized eye, he would have appeared
at that moment like a little copper statue.
His bright black eyes were fast melting in floods
of tears, when he caught his grandmother's eye
and recollected her oft-repeated adage: "Tears
for woman and the war-whoop for man to drown
He swallowed two or three big mouthfuls of
heart-ache and the little warrior was master of the
"Grandmother, my Brave will have to die! Let
me tie together two of the prettiest tails of the
squirrels that he and I killed this morning, to show
to the Great Mystery what a hunter he has been.
Let me paint him myself."
This request Uncheedah could not refuse
and she left the pair alone for a few minutes,
while she went to ask Wacoota to execute Ohitika.
Every Indian boy knows that, when a warrior
is about to meet death, he must sing a death dirge.
Hakadah thought of his Ohitika as a person who
would meet his death without a struggle, so he began
to sing a dirge for him, at the same time hugging
him tight to himself. As if he were a human being,
he whispered in his ear:
"Be brave, my Ohitika! I shall remember
you the first time I am upon the war-path in the
Ojibway country."
At last he heard Uncheedah talking with a man
outside the teepee, so he quickly took up his
paints. Ohitika was a jet-black dog, with a silver
tip on the end of his tail and on his nose, beside
one white paw and a white star upon a protuberance
between his ears. Hakadah knew that a man
who prepares for death usually paints with red and
black. Nature had partially provided Ohitika in
this respect, so that only red was required and this
Hakadah supplied generously.
Then he took off a piece of red cloth and tied it
around the dog's neck; to this he fastened two of
the squirrels' tails and a wing from the oriole they
had killed that morning.
Just then it occurred to him that good warriors
always mourn for their departed friends and
the usual mourning was black paint. He loosened
his black braided locks, ground a dead coal, mixed
it with bear's oil and rubbed it on his entire face.
During this time every hole in the tent was occupied
with an eye. Among the lookers-on was
his grandmother. She was very near relenting.
Had she not feared the wrath of the Great Mystery,
she would have been happy to call out to the
boy: "Keep your dear dog, my child!"
As it was, Hakadah came out of the teepee with
his face looking like an eclipsed moon, leading his
beautiful dog, who was even handsomer than ever
with the red touches on his specks of white.
It was now Uncheedah's turn to struggle with
the storm and burden in her soul. But the boy
was emboldened by the people's admiration of his
bravery, and did not shed a tear. As soon as she
was able to speak, the loving grandmother said:
"No, my young brave, not so! You must not
mourn for your first offering. Wash your face
and then we will go."
The boy obeyed, submitted Ohitika to Wacoota
with a smile, and walked off with his grandmother
and Wahchewin.
They followed a well-beaten foot-path leading
along the bank of the Assiniboine river, through
a beautiful grove of oak, and finally around and
under a very high cliff. The murmuring of the
river came up from just below. On the opposite
side was a perpendicular white cliff, from which extended
back a gradual slope of land, clothed with
the majestic mountain oak. The scene was impressive
and wild.
Wahchewin had paused without a word when
the little party reached the edge of the cliff. It
had been arranged between her and Uncheedah
that she should wait there for Wacoota, who was
to bring as far as that the portion of the offering
with which he had been entrusted.
The boy and his grandmother descended the
bank, following a tortuous foot-path until they
reached the water's edge. Then they proceeded
to the mouth of an immense cave, some fifty feet
above the river, under the cliff. A little stream
of limpid water trickled down from a spring within
the cave. The little watercourse served as a
sort of natural staircase for the visitors. A cool,
pleasant atmosphere exhaled from the mouth of
the cavern. Really it was a shrine of nature and
it is not strange that it was so regarded by the
A feeling of awe and reverence came to the boy.
"It is the home of the Great Mystery," he
thought to himself; and the impressiveness of
his surroundings made him forget his sorrow.
Very soon Wahchewin came with some difficulty
to the steps. She placed the body of Ohitika
upon the ground in a life-like position and
again left the two alone.
As soon as she disappeared from view, Uncheedah,
with all solemnity and reverence, unfastened
the leather strings that held the four small
bundles of paints and one of tobacco, while the
filled pipe was laid beside the dead Ohitika.
She scattered paints and tobacco all about.
Again they stood a few moments silently; then she
drew a deep breath and began her prayer to the
Great Mystery:
"0, Great Mystery, we hear thy voice in the
rushing waters below us! We hear thy whisper
in the great oaks above! Our spirits are refreshed
with thy breath from within this cave. 0, hear
our prayer! Behold this little boy and bless him!
Make him a warrior and a hunter as great as thou
didst make his father and grandfather."
And with this prayer the little warrior had completed
his first offering.
Family Traditions
I: A Visit to Smoky Day
SMOKY DAY was widely known
among us as a preserver of history
and legend. He was a living
book of the traditions and history
of his people. Among his effects
were bundles of small sticks,
notched and painted. One bundle contained the
number of his own years. Another was composed
of sticks representing the important events of history,
each of which was marked with the number
of years since that particular event occurred. For
instance, there was the year when so many stars
fell from the sky, with the number of years since
it happened cut into the wood. Another recorded
the appearance of a comet; and from these
heavenly wonders the great national catastrophes
and victories were reckoned.
But I will try to repeat some of his favorite
narratives as I heard them from his own lips. I
went to him one day with a piece of tobacco and
an eagle-feather; not to buy his MSS., but
hoping for the privilege of hearing him tell of
some of the brave deeds of our people in remote
The tall and large old man greeted me with his
usual courtesy and thanked me for my present.
As I recall the meeting, I well remember his unusual
stature, his slow speech and gracious manner.
"Ah, Ohiyesa!" said he, "my young warrior
--for such you will be some day! I know this
by your seeking to hear of the great deeds of your
ancestors. That is a good sign, and I love to repeat
these stories to one who is destined to be a
brave man. I do not wish to lull you to sleep with
sweet words; but I know the conduct of your paternal
ancestors. They have been and are still
among the bravest of our tribe. To prove this, I
will relate what happened in your paternal grandfather's
family, twenty years ago.
"Two of his brothers were murdered by a jealous
young man of their own band. The deed
was committed without just cause; therefore all
the braves were agreed to punish the murderer
with death. When your grandfather was approached
with this suggestion, he replied that he
and the remaining brothers could not condescend
to spill the blood of such a wretch, but that the
others might do whatever they thought just with
the young man. These men were foremost among
the warriors of the Sioux, and no one questioned
their courage; yet when this calamity was brought
upon them by a villain, they refused to touch him!
This, my boy, is a test of true bravery. Self-possession
and self-control at such a moment is proof
of a strong heart.
"You have heard of Jingling Thunder the
elder, whose brave deeds are well known to the
Villagers of the Lakes. He sought honor 'in the
gates of the enemy,' as we often say. The Great
Mystery was especially kind to him, because he
was obedient.
"Many winters ago there was a great battle, in
which Jingling Thunder won his first honors. It
was forty winters before the falling of many stars,
which event occurred twenty winters after the
coming of the black-robed white priest; and that
was fourteen winters before the annihilation by
our people of thirty lodges of the Sac and Fox
Indians. I well remember the latter event--it
was just fifty winters ago. However, I will count
my sticks again."
So saying, Smoky Day produced his bundle of
variously colored sticks, about five inches long.
He counted and gave them to me to verify his
"But you," he resumed, "do not care to remember
the winters that have passed. You are
young, and care only for the event and the
deed. It was very many years ago that this
thing happened that I am about to tell you,
and yet our people speak of it with as much
enthusiasm as if it were only yesterday. Our
heroes are always kept alive in the minds of the
"Our people lived then on the east bank of the
Mississippi, a little south of where Imnejah-skah,
or White Cliff (St. Paul, Minnesota), now stands.
After they left Mille Lacs they founded several
villages, but finally settled in this spot, whence
the tribes have gradually dispersed. Here a
battle occurred which surpassed all others in
history. It lasted one whole day--the Sacs
and Foxes and the Dakotas against the Ojibways.
"An invitation in the usual form of a filled pipe
was brought to the Sioux by a brave of the Sac
and Fox tribe, to make a general attack upon their
common enemy. The Dakota braves quickly
signified their willingness in the same manner, and
it having been agreed to meet upon the St. Croix
river, preparations were immediately begun to
despatch a large war-party.
"Among our people there were many tried warriors
whose names were known, and every youth of
a suitable age was desirous of emulating them. As
these young novices issued from every camp and
almost every teepee, their mothers, sisters, grandfathers
and grandmothers were singing for them
the 'strong-heart' songs. An old woman, living
with her only grandchild, the remnant of a
once large band who had all been killed at
three different times by different parties of
the Ojibways, was conspicuous among the singers.
"Everyone who heard, cast toward her a sympathetic
glance, for it was well known that she and
her grandson constituted the remnant of a band
of Sioux, and that her song indicated that her precious
child had attained the age of a warrior, and
was now about to join the war-party, and to seek
a just revenge for the annihilation of his family.
This was Jingling Thunder, also familiarly known
as 'The Little Last.' He was seen to carry with
him some family relics in the shape of war-clubs
and lances.
"The aged woman's song was something like this:
"Go, my brave Jingling Thunder!
Upon the silvery path
Behold that glittering track--
"And yet, my child, remember
How pitiful to live
Survivor of the young!
'Stablish our name and kin!"
"The Sacs and Foxes were very daring and
confident upon this occasion. They proposed to
the Sioux that they should engage alone with the
enemy at first, and let us see how their braves can
fight! To this our people assented, and they assembled
upon the hills to watch the struggle between
their allies and the Ojibways. It seemed to
be an equal fight, and for a time no one could tell
how the contest would end. Young Jingling
Thunder was an impatient spectator, and it was
*The Milky Way--believed by the Dakotas to be the road
travelled by the spirits of departed braves.
hard to keep him from rushing forward to meet
his foes.
"At last a great shout went up, and the Sacs
and Foxes were seen to be retreating with heavy
loss. Then the Sioux took the field, and were fast
winning the day, when fresh reinforcements came
from the north for the Ojibways. Up to this time
Jingling Thunder had been among the foremost
in the battle, and had engaged in several close encounters.
But this fresh attack of the Ojibways
was unexpected, and the Sioux were somewhat
tired. Besides, they had told the Sacs and Foxes
to sit upon the hills and rest their weary limbs
and take lessons from their friends the Sioux;
therefore no aid was looked for from any quarter.
"A great Ojibway chief made a fierce onslaught
on the Dakotas. This man Jingling Thunder
now rushed forward to meet. The Ojibway
boastfully shouted to his warriors that he had met
a tender fawn and would reserve to himself the
honor of destroying it. Jingling Thunder, on his
side, exclaimed that he had met the aged bear of
whom he had heard so much, but that he would
need no assistance to overcome him.
"The powerful man flashed his tomahawk
in the air over the youthful warrior's head, but
the brave sprang aside as quick as lightning,
and in the same instant speared his enemy to the
heart. As the Ojibway chief gave a gasping yell
and fell in death, his people lost courage; while
the success of the brave Jingling Thunder
strengthened the hearts of the Sioux, for they immediately
followed up their advantage and drove
the enemy out of their territory.
"This was the beginning of Jingling Thunder's
career as a warrior. He afterwards performed even
greater acts of valor. He became the ancestor
of a famous band of the Sioux, of whom your own
father, Ohiyesa, was a member. You have doubtless
heard his name in connection with many great
events. Yet he was a patient man, and was never
known to quarrel with one of his own nation."
That night I lay awake a long time committing
to memory the tradition I had heard, and the
next day I boasted to my playmate, Little Rainbow,
about my first lesson from the old storyteller.
To this he replied:
"I would rather have Weyuhah for my teacher.
I think he remembers more than any of the others.
When Weyuhah tells about a battle you can see it
yourself; you can even hear the war-whoop," he
went on with much enthusiasm.
"That is what his friends say of him; but those
who are not his friends say that he brings many
warriors into the battle who were not there," I answered
indignantly, for I could not admit that old
Smoky Day could have a rival.
Before I went to him again Uncheedah had
thoughtfully prepared a nice venison roast for
the teacher, and I was proud to take him something
good to eat before beginning his story.
"How," was his greeting, "so you have begun
already, Ohiyesa? Your family were ever feastmakers
as well as warriors."
Having done justice to the tender meat, he
wiped his knife by sticking it into the ground
several times, and put it away in its sheath, after
which he cheerfully recommenced:
"It came to pass not many winters ago that
Wakinyan-tonka, the great medicine man, had a
vision; whereupon a war-party set out for the
Ojibway country. There were three brothers of
your family among them, all of whom were noted
for valor and the chase.
"Seven battles were fought in succession before
they turned to come back. They had secured a
number of the enemy's birch canoes, and the whole
party came floating down the Mississippi, joyous
and happy because of their success.
"But one night the war-chief announced that
there was misfortune at hand. The next day no
one was willing to lead the fleet. The youngest
of the three brothers finally declared that he did
not fear death, for it comes when least expected
and he volunteered to take the lead.
"It happened that this young man had left a
pretty maiden behind him, whose choice needlework
adorned his quiver. He was very handsome
as well as brave.
"At daybreak the canoes were again launched
upon the bosom of the great river. All was quiet
--a few birds beginning to sing. Just as the sun
peeped through the eastern tree-tops a great warcry
came forth from the near shores, and there
was a rain of arrows. The birchen canoes were
pierced, and in the excitement many were capsized.
"The Sioux were at a disadvantage. There was
no shelter. Their bow-strings and the feathers
on their arrows were wet. The bold Ojibways
saw their advantage and pressed closer and closer;
but our men fought desperately, half in and half
out of the water, until the enemy was forced at
last to retreat. Nevertheless that was a sad day
for the Wahpeton Sioux; but saddest of all was
Winona's fate!
"Morning Star, her lover, who led the canoe
fleet that morning, was among the slain. For two
days the Sioux braves searched in the water for
their dead, but his body was not recovered.
"At home, meanwhile, the people had been
alarmed by ill omens. Winona, eldest daughter of
the great chief, one day entered her birch canoe
alone and paddled up the Mississippi, gazing now
into the,water around her, now into the blue sky
above. She thought she heard some young men
giving courtship calls in the distance, just as they
do at night when approaching the teepee of the
beloved; and she knew the voice of Morning
Star well! Surely she could distinguish his call
among the others! Therefore she listened yet
more intently, and looked skyward as her light
canoe glided gently up stream.
"Ah, poor Winona! She saw only six sandhill
cranes, looking no larger than mosquitoes, as
they flew in circles high up in the sky, going east
where all spirits go. Something said to her:
'Those are the spirits of some of the Sioux braves,
and Morning Star is among them!' Her eye
followed the birds as they traveled in a chain of
"Suddenly she glanced downward. 'What is
this?' she screamed in despair. It was Morning
Star's body, floating down the river; his
quiver, worked by her own hands and now
dyed with his blood, lay upon the surface of
the water.
"'Ah, Great Mystery! why do you punish a
poor girl so? Let me go with the spirit of Morning
"It was evening. The pale moon arose in the
east and the stars were bright. At this very hour
the news of the disaster was brought home by a
returning scout, and the village was plunged in
grief, but Winona's spirit had flown away. No
one ever saw her again.
"This is enough for to-day, my boy. You
may come again to-morrow."
II: The Stone Boy
"Ho, mita koda!" (welcome, friend!)
was Smoky Day's greeting, as I
entered his lodge on the third
day. "I hope you did not dream
of a watery combat with the Ojibways,
after the history I repeated
to you yesterday," the old sage continued, with a
complaisant smile playing upon his face.
"No," I said, meekly, "but, on the other hand,
I have wished that the sun might travel a little
faster, so that I could come for another story."
"Well, this time I will tell you one of the kind
we call myths or fairy stories. They are about men
and women who do wonderful things--things that
ordinary people cannot do at all. Sometimes they
are not exactly human beings, for they partake of
the nature of men and beasts, or of men and gods.
I tell you this beforehand, so that you may not ask
any questions, or be puzzled by the inconsistency
of the actors in these old stories.
"Once there were ten brothers who lived with
their only sister, a young maiden of sixteen summers.
She was very skilful at her embroidery, and
her brothers all had beautifully worked quivers and
bows embossed with porcupine quills. They loved
and were kind to her, and the maiden in her turn
loved her brothers dearly, and was content with
her position as their housekeeper. They were
great hunters, and scarcely ever remained at
home during the day, but when they returned
at evening they would relate to her all their
"One night they came home one by one with
their game, as usual, all but the eldest, who did not
return. It was supposed by the other brothers that
he had pursued a deer too far from the lodge, or
perhaps shot more game than he could well carry;
but the sister had a presentiment that something
dreadful had befallen him. She was partially consoled
by the second brother, who offered to find
the lost one in the morning.
"Accordingly, he went in search of him, while
the rest set out on the hunt as usual. Toward
evening all had returned safely, save the brother
who went in search of the absent. Again, the next
older brother went to look for the others, and he
too returned no more. All the young men disappeared
one by one in this manner, leaving their
sister alone.
"The maiden's sorrow was very great. She wandered
everywhere, weeping and looking for her
brothers, but found no trace of them. One day she
was walking beside a beautiful little stream, whose
clear waters went laughing and singing on their way.
She could see the gleaming pebbles at the bottom,
and one in particular seemed so lovely to her
tear-bedimmed eyes, that she stooped and picked
it up, dropping it within her skin garment
into her bosom. For the first time since her
misfortunes she had forgotten herself and her
"At last she went home, much happier than
she had been, though she could not have told the
reason why. On the following day she sought again
the place where she had found the pebble, and this
time she fell asleep on the banks of the stream,
When she awoke, there lay a beautiful babe in her
"She took it up and kissed it many times. And
the child was a boy, but it was heavy like a stone,
so she called him a 'Little Stone Boy.' The maiden
cried no more, for she was very happy with her
baby. The child was unusually knowing, and
walked almost from its birth.
"One day Stone Boy discovered the bow and
arrows of one of his uncles, and desired to have
them; but his mother cried, and said:
"'Wait, my son, until you are a young man.'
"She made him some little ones, and with these
he soon learned to hunt, and killed small game
enough to support them both. When he had
grown to be a big boy, he insisted upon knowing
whose were the ten bows that still hung upon the
walls of his mother's lodge.
"At last she was obliged to tell him the sad
story of her loss.
"'Mother, I shall go in search of my uncles,'
exclaimed the Stone Boy.
"'But you will be lost like them,' she replied,
'and then I shall die of grief.'
"'No, I shall not be lost. I shall bring your
ten brothers back to you. Look, I will give you
a sign. I will take a pillow, and place it upon end.
Watch this, for as long as I am living the
pillow will stay as I put it. Mother, give me
some food and some moccasins with which to
"Taking the bow of one of his uncles, with its
quiver full of arrows, the Stone Boy departed. As
he journeyed through the forest he spoke to every
animal he met, asking for news of his lost uncles.
Sometimes he called to them at the top of his
voice. Once he thought he heard an answer, so
he walked in the direction of the sound. But it
was only a great grizzly bear who had wantonly
mimicked the boy's call. Then Stone Boy was
greatly provoked.
"'Was it you who answered my call, you longface?'
he exclaimed.
"Upon this the latter growled and said:
"'You had better be careful how you address
me, or you may be sorry for what you say!'
"'Who cares for you, you red-eyes, you ugly
thing!' the boy replied; whereupon the grizzly
immediately set upon him.
"But the boy's flesh became as hard as stone,
and the bear's great teeth and claws made no impression
upon it. Then he was so dreadfully
heavy; and he kept laughing all the time as if he
were being tickled, which greatly aggravated the
bear. Finally Stone Boy pushed him aside and
sent an arrow to his heart.
"He walked on for some distance until he
came to a huge fallen pine tree, which had evidently
been killed by lightning. The ground
near by bore marks of a struggle, and Stone Boy
picked up several arrows exactly like those of his
uncles, which he himself carried.
"While he was examining these things, he
heard a sound like that of a whirlwind, far up in
the heavens. He looked up and saw a black
speck which grew rapidly larger until it became a
dense cloud. Out of it came a flash and then a
thunderbolt. The boy was obliged to wink; and
when he opened his eyes, behold! a stately man
stood before him and challenged him to single
"Stone Boy accepted the challenge and they
grappled with one another. The man from the
clouds was gigantic in stature and very powerful.
But Stone Boy was both strong and unnaturally
heavy and hard to hold. The great warrior from
the sky sweated from his exertions, and there
came a heavy shower. Again and again the
lightnings flashed about them as the two struggled
there. At last Stone Boy threw his opponent,
who lay motionless. There was a murmuring
sound throughout the heavens and the clouds
rolled swiftly away.
"'Now,' thought the hero, 'this man must have
slain all my uncles. I shall go to his home and find
out what has become of them.' With this he unfastened
from the dead man's scalp-lock a beautiful
bit of scarlet down. He breathed gently upon
it, and as it floated upward he followed into the
blue heavens.
"Away went Stone Boy to the country of the
Thunder Birds. It was a beautiful land, with
lakes, rivers, plains and mountains. The young
adventurer found himself looking down from the
top of a high mountain, and the country appeared
to be very populous, for he saw lodges all about
him as far as the eye could reach. He particularly
noticed a majestic tree which towered above
all the others, and in its bushy top bore an enormous
nest. Stone Boy descended from the mountain
and soon arrived at the foot of the tree; but
there were no limbs except those at the top and it
was so tall that he did not attempt to climb it.
He simply took out his bit of down, breathed upon
it and floated gently upward.
"When he was able to look into the nest he saw
there innumerable eggs of various sizes, and all of
a remarkable red color. He was nothing but a
boy after all, and had all a boy's curiosity and recklessness.
As he was handling the eggs carelessly,
his notice was attracted to a sudden confusion in
the little village below. All of the people seemed
to be running toward the tree. He mischievously
threw an egg at them, and in the instant that it
broke he saw one of the men drop dead. Then
all began to cry out pitifully, 'Give me my heart!'
"'Ah,' exclaimed Stone Boy, exulting,' so these
are the hearts of the people who destroyed my
uncles! I shall break them all!'
"And he really did break all of the eggs but
four small ones which he took in his hand. Then
he descended the tree, and wandered among the
silent and deserted lodges in search of some trace
of his lost uncles. He found four little boys, the
sole survivors of their race, and these he commanded
to tell him where their bones were laid.
"They showed him the spot where a heap of
bones was bleaching on the ground. Then he
bade one of the boys bring wood, a second water,
a third stones, and the fourth he sent to cut willow
wands for the sweat lodge. They obeyed, and
Stone Boy built the lodge, made a fire, heated the
stones and collected within the lodge all the bones
of his ten uncles.
"As he poured the water upon the hot stones
faint sounds could be heard from within the magic
bath. These changed to the murmuring of voices,
and finally to the singing of medicine songs.
Stone Boy opened the door and his ten uncles came
forth in the flesh, thanking him and blessing him
for restoring them to life. Only the little finger
of the youngest uncle was missing. Stone Boy
now heartlessly broke the four remaining eggs, and
took the little finger of the largest boy to supply
the missing bone.
"They all returned to earth again and Stone
Boy conducted his uncles to his mother's lodge.
She had never slept during his entire absence, but
watched incessantly the pillow upon which her boy
was wont to rest his head, and by which she was
to know of his safety. Going a little in advance
of the others, he suddenly rushed forward into her
teepee, exclaiming: 'Mother, your ten brothers
are coming--prepare a feast!'
"For some time after this they all lived happily
together. Stone Boy occupied himself with solitary
hunting. He was particularly fond of hunting
the fiercer wild animals. He killed them wantonly
and brought home only the ears, teeth and
claws as his spoil, and with these he played as he
laughingly recounted his exploits. His mother and
uncles protested, and begged him at least to spare
the lives of those animals held sacred by the Dakotas,
but Stone Boy relied upon his supernatural
powers to protect him from harm.
"One evening, however, he was noticeably silent
and upon being pressed to give the reason, replied
as follows:
"'For some days past I have heard the animals
talking of a conspiracy against us. I was going
west the other morning when I heard a crier announcing
a general war upon Stone Boy and his
people. The crier was a Buffalo, going at full
speed from west to east. Again, I heard the Beaver
conversing with the Musk-rat, and both said that
their services were already promised to overflow
the lakes and rivers and cause a destructive flood.
I heard, also, the little Swallow holding a secret
council with all the birds of the air. He said that
he had been appointed a messenger to the Thunder
Birds, and that at a certain signal the doors of the
sky would be opened and rains descend to drown
Stone Boy. Old Badger and the Grizzly Bear
are appointed to burrow underneath our fortifications.
"'However, I am not at all afraid for myself,
but I am anxious for you, Mother, and for my
"'Ugh!' grunted all the uncles, 'we told you
that you would get into trouble by killing so
many of our sacred animals for your own amusement.
"'But,' continued Stone Boy, 'I shall make a
good resistance, and I expect you all to help me.'
"Accordingly they all worked under his direction
in preparing for the defence. First of all, he
threw a pebble into the air, and behold a great
rocky wall around their teepee. A second, third,
fourth and fifth pebble became other walls without
the first. From the sixth and seventh were
formed two stone lodges, one upon the other.
The uncles. meantime, made numbers of bows and
quivers full of arrows, which were ranged at convenient
distances along the tops of the walls. His
mother prepared great quantities of food and made
many moccasins for her boy, who declared that
he would defend the fortress alone.
"At last they saw the army of beasts advancing,
each tribe by itself and commanded by a leader of
extraordinary size. The onset was terrific. They
flung themselves against the high walls with savage
cries, while the badgers and other burrowing
animals ceaselessly worked to undermine them.
Stone Boy aimed his sharp arrows with such
deadly effect that his enemies fell by thousands.
So great was their loss that the dead bodies of the
animals formed a barrier higher than the first, and
the armies retired in confusion.
"But reinforcements were at hand. The rain
fell in torrents; the beavers had dammed all the
rivers and there was a great flood. The besieged
all retreated into the innermost lodge, but the
water poured in through the burrows made by the
badgers and gophers, and rose until Stone Boy's
mother and his ten uncles were all drowned.
Stone Boy himself could not be entirely destroyed,
but he was overcome by his enemies and left
half buried in the earth, condemned never to
walk again, and there we find him to this day.
"This was because he abused his strength, and
destroyed for mere amusement the lives of the
creatures given him for use only."
Evening in the Lodge
I: Evening in the Lodge
I HAD been skating on that part
of the lake where there was an
overflow, and came home somewhat
cold. I cannot say just
how cold it was, but it must have
been intensely so, for the trees
were cracking all about me like pistol shots. I
did not mind, because I was wrapped up in my
buffalo robe with the hair inside, and a wide
leather belt held it about my loins. My skates
were nothing more than strips of basswood bark
bound upon my feet.
I had taken off my frozen moccasins and put on
dry ones in their places.
"Where have you been and what have you
been doing?" Uncheedah asked as she placed
before me some roast venison in a wooden bowl.
"Did you see any tracks of moose or bear ?"
"No, grandmother, I have only been playing
at the lower end of the lake. I have something to
ask you," I said, eating my dinner and supper together
with all the relish of a hungry boy who has
been skating in the cold for half a day.
"I found this feather, grandmother, and I
could not make out what tribe wear feathers
in that shape."
"Ugh, I am not a man; you had better ask
your uncle. Besides, you should know it yourself
by this time. You are now old enough to think
about eagle feathers."
I felt mortified by this reminder of my ignorance.
It seemed a reflection on me that I was not
ambitious enough to have found all such matters
out before.
"Uncle, you will tell me, won't you?" I said,
in an appealing tone.
"I am surprised, my boy, that you should fail
to recognize this feather. It is a Cree medicine
feather, and not a warrior's."
"Then," I said, with much embarrassment,
you had better tell me again, uncle, the language
of the feathers. I have really forgotten it all."
The day was now gone; the moon had risen;
but the cold had not lessened, for the trunks
of the trees were still snapping all around our teepee,
which was lighted and warmed by the immense
logs which Uncheedah's industry had provided.
My uncle, White Foot-print, now undertook
to explain to me the significance of the
eagle's feather.
"The eagle is the most war-like bird," he began,
"and the most kingly of all birds; besides,
his feathers are unlike any others, and these are
the reasons why they are used by our people to
signify deeds of bravery.
"It is not true that when a man wears a feather
bonnet, each one of the feathers represents the killing
of a foe or even a coup. When a man wears
an eagle feather upright upon his head, he is supposed
to have counted one of four coups upon his
"Well, then, a coup does not mean the killing
of an enemy?"
"No, it is the after-stroke or touching of the
body after he falls. It is so ordered, because oftentimes
the touching of an enemy is much more difficult
to accomplish than the shooting of one from
a distance. It requires a strong heart to face the
whole body of the enemy, in order to count the
coup on the fallen one, who lies under cover of his
kinsmen's fire. Many a brave man has been lost
in the attempt.
"When a warrior approaches his foe, dead
or alive, he calls upon the other warriors to witness
by saying: 'I, Fearless Bear, your brave,
again perform the brave deed of counting the
first (or second or third or fourth) coup upon the
body of the bravest of your enemies.' Naturally,
those who are present will see the act and be able
to testify to it. When they return, the heralds,
as you know, announce publicly all such deeds of
valor, which then become a part of the man's war
record. Any brave who would wear the eagle's
feather must give proof of his right to do so.
"When a brave is wounded in the same battle
where he counted his coup, he wears the feather
hanging downward. When he is wounded, but
makes no count, he trims his feather and in that
case, it need not be an eagle feather. All other
feathers are merely ornaments. When a warrior
wears a feather with a round mark, it means that
he slew his enemy. When the mark is cut into
the feather and painted red, it means that he took
the scalp.
"A brave who has been successful in ten battles
is entitled to a war-bonnet; and if he is a recognized
leader, he is permitted to wear one with
long, trailing plumes. Also those who have
counted many coups may tip the ends of the feathers
with bits of white or colored down. Sometimes
the eagle feather is tipped with a strip of
weasel skin; that means the wearer had the honor
of killing, scalping and counting the first coup upon
the enemy all at the same time.
"This feather you have found was worn by a
Cree--it is indiscriminately painted. All other
feathers worn by the common Indians mean nothing,"
he added.
"Tell me, uncle, whether it would be proper
for me to wear any feathers at all if I have never
gone upon the war-path."
"You could wear any other kind of feathers,
but not an eagle's," replied my uncle, "although
sometimes one is worn on great occasions by the
child of a noted man, to indicate the father's dignity
and position."
The fire had gone down somewhat, so I pushed
the embers together and wrapped my robe more
closely about me. Now and then the ice on the
lake would burst with a loud report like thunder.
Uncheedah was busy re-stringing one of uncle's
old snow-shoes. There were two different kinds
that he wore; one with a straight toe and long;
the other shorter and with an upturned toe. She
had one of the shoes fastened toe down, between
sticks driven into the ground, while she put in
some new strings and tightened the others. Aunt
Four Stars was beading a new pair of moccasins.
Wabeda, the dog, the companion of my boyhood
days, was in trouble because he insisted upon
bringing his extra bone into the teepee, while
Uncheedah was determined that he should not.
I sympathized with him, because I saw the matter
as he did. If he should bury it in the snow outside,
I knew Shunktokecha (the coyote) would
surely steal it. I knew just how anxious Wabeda
was about his bone. It was a fat bone--I mean
a bone of a fat deer; and all Indians know how
much better they are than the other kind.
Wabeda always hated to see a good thing go to
waste. His eyes spoke words to me, for he and I
had been friends for a long time. When I was
afraid of anything in the woods, he would get in
front of me at once and gently wag his tail. He
always made it a point to look directly in my face.
His kind, large eyes gave me a thousand assurances.
When I was perplexed, he would hang
about me until he understood the situation.
Many times I believed he saved my life by uttering
the dog word in time.
Most animals, even the dangerous grizzly, do not
care to be seen when the two-legged kind and his
dog are about. When I feared a surprise by a bear
or a grey wolf, I would say to Wabeda: "Now,
my dog, give your war-whoop:" and immediately
he would sit up on his haunches and bark "to beat
the band" as you white boys say. When a bear
or wolf heard the noise, he would be apt to
Sometimes I helped Wabeda and gave a warwhoop
of my own. This drove the deer away
as well, but it relieved my mind.
When he appealed to me on this occasion, therefore,
I said: "Come, my dog, let us bury your
bone so that no Shunktokecha will take it."
He appeared satisfied with my suggestion, so we
went out together.
We dug in the snow and buried our bone
wrapped up in a piece of old blanket, partly
burned; then we covered it up again with snow.
We knew that the coyote would not touch anything
burnt. I did not put it up a tree because
Wabeda always objected to that, and I made it a
point to consult his wishes whenever I could.
I came in and Wabeda followed me with two
short rib bones in his mouth. Apparently he did
not care to risk those delicacies.
"There," exclaimed Uncheedah, "you still insist
upon bringing in some sort of bone!" but I
begged her to let him gnaw them inside because it
was so cold. Having been granted this privilege,
he settled himself at my back and I became absorbed
in some specially nice arrows that uncle was
"O, uncle, you must put on three feathers to
all of them so that they can fly straight," I suggested.
"Yes, but if there are only two feathers, they
will fly faster," he answered.
"Woow!" Wabeda uttered his suspicions.
"Woow!" he said again, and rushed for the
entrance of the teepee. He kicked me over as he
went and scattered the burning embers.
"En na he na!" Uncheedah exclaimed, but he
was already outside.
"Wow, wow, wow! Wow, Wow, wow!"
A deep guttural voice answered him.
Out I rushed with my bow and arrows in my
"Come, uncle, come! A big cinnamon bear!" I
shouted as I emerged from the teepee.
Uncle sprang out and in a moment he had sent
a swift arrow through the bear's heart. The animal
fell dead. He had just begun to dig up
Wabeda's bone, when the dog's quick ear had
heard the sound.
"Ah, uncle, Wabeda and I ought to have at
least a little eaglet's feather for this. I too sent my
small arrow into the bear before he fell," I exclaimed.
"But I thought all bears ought to be in
their lodges in the winter time. What was this one
doing at this time of the year and night?"
"Well," said my uncle, "I will tell you. Among
the tribes, some are naturally lazy. The cinnamon
bear is the lazy one of his tribe. He alone sleeps
out of doors in the winter and because he has not
a warm bed, he is soon hungry. Sometimes he
lives in the hollow trunk of a tree, where he has
made a bed of dry grass; but when the night is
very cold, like to-night, he has to move about to
keep himself from freezing and as he prowls
around, he gets hungry."
We dragged the huge carcass within our lodge.
"O, what nice claws he has, uncle!" I exclaimed
eagerly. "Can I have them for my necklace?"
"It is only the old medicine men who wear
them regularly. The son of a great warrior who
has killed a grizzly may wear them upon a public
occasion," he explained.
"And you are just like my father and are considered
the best hunter among the Santees and Sissetons.
You have killed many grizzlies so that
no one can object to my bear's-claws necklace," I
said appealingly.
White Foot-print smiled. "My boy, you
shall have them," he said, "but it is always better
to earn them yourself." He cut the claws off
carefully for my use.
"Tell me, uncle, whether you could wear these
claws all the time?" I asked.
"Yes,I am entitled to wear them, but they are
so heavy and uncomfortable," he replied, with a
superior air.
At last the bear had been skinned and dressed
and we all resumed our usual places. Uncheedah
was particularly pleased to have some more fat
for her cooking.
"Now, grandmother, tell me the story of the
bear's fat. I shall be so happy if you will," I
"It is a good story and it is true. You should
know it by heart and gain a lesson from it," she
replied. "It was in the forests of Minnesota, in
the country that now belongs to the Ojibways.
From the Bedawakanton Sioux village a young
married couple went into the woods to get fresh
venison. The snow was deep; the ice was thick.
Far away in the woods they pitched their lonely
teepee. The young man was a well-known hunter
and his wife a good maiden of the village.
"He hunted entirely on snow-shoes, because
the snow was very deep. His wife had to wear
snow-shoes too, to get to the spot where they
pitched their tent. It was thawing the day they
went out, so their path was distinct after the freeze
came again.
"The young man killed many deer and bears.
His wife was very busy curing the meat and trying
out the fat while he was away hunting each
day. In the evenings she kept on trying the fat.
He sat on one side of the teepee and she on the
"One evening, she had just lowered a kettle of
fat to cool, and as she looked into the hot fat she
saw the face of an Ojibway scout looking down at
them through the smoke-hole. She said nothing,
nor did she betray herself in any way.
"After a little she said to her husband in a natural
voice: 'Marpeetopah, some one is looking
at us through the smoke hole, and I think it is an
enemy's scout.'
"Then Marpeetopah (Four-skies) took up his
bow and arrows and began to straighten and dry
them for the next day's hunt, talking and laughing
meanwhile. Suddenly he turned and sent an
arrow upward, killing the Ojibway, who fell dead
at their door.
"'Quick, Wadutah!' he exclaimed; 'you
must hurry home upon our trail. I will stay
here. When this scout does not return, the warparty
may come in a body or send another scout.
If only one comes, I can soon dispatch him and
then I will follow you. If I do not do that, they
will overtake us in our flight.'
"Wadutah (Scarlet) protested and begged to be
allowed to stay with her husband, but at last she
came away to get reinforcements.
"Then Marpeetopah (Four-skies) put more
sticks on the fire so that the teepee might be brightly
lit and show him the way. He then took the
scalp of the enemy and proceeded on his track,
until he came to the upturned root of a great tree.
There he spread out his arrows and laid out his
"Soon two more scouts were sent by the Ojibway
war-party to see what was the trouble and
why the first one failed to come back. He heard
them as they approached. They were on snowshoes.
When they came close to him, he shot an
arrow into the foremost. As for the other, in his
effort to turn quickly his snow-shoes stuck in the
deep snow and detained him, so Marpeetopah
killed them both.
"Quickly he took the scalps and followed Wadutah.
He ran hard. But the Ojibways suspected
something wrong and came to the lonely
teepee, to find all their scouts had been killed.
They followed the path of Marpeetopah and Wadutah
to the main village, and there a great battle
was fought on the ice. Many were killed on both
sides. It was after this that the Sioux moved to
the Mississippi river."
I was sleepy by this time and I rolled myself
up in my buffalo robe and fell asleep.
II: Adventures of My Uncle
IT was a beautiful fall day--'a
gopher's last look back,' as we
used to say of the last warm
days of the late autumn. We
were encamped beside a wild rice
lake, where two months before
we had harvested our watery fields of grain, and
where we had now returned for the duck-hunting.
All was well with us. Ducks were killed in countless
numbers, and in the evenings the men hunted
deer in canoes by torchlight along the shores of the
lake. But alas! life is made up of good times
and bad times, and it is when we are perfectly
happy that we should expect some overwhelming
"So it was that upon this peaceful and still morning,
all of a sudden a harsh and terrible war-cry
was heard! Your father was then quite a young
man, and a very ambitious warrior, so that I was
always frightened on his account whenever there
was a chance of fighting. But I did not think of
your uncle, Mysterious Medicine, for he was not
over fifteen at the time; besides, he had never
shown any taste for the field.
"Our camp was thrown into great excitement;
and as the warriors advanced to meet the enemy,
I was almost overcome by the sight of your uncle
among them! It was of no use for me to call
him back--I think I prayed in that moment to
the Great Mystery to bring my boy safely home.
"I shall never forget, as long as I live, the events
of that day. Many brave men were killed;
among them two of your uncle's intimate friends.
But when the battle was over, my boy came back;
only his face was blackened in mourning for his
friends, and he bore several wounds in his body.
I knew that he had proved himself a true warrior.
"This was the beginning of your uncle's career,
He has surpassed your father and your grandfather;
yes, all his ancestors except Jingling Thunder,
in daring and skill."
Such was my grandmother's account of the
maiden battle of her third son, Mysterious Medicine.
He achieved many other names; among
them Big Hunter, Long Rifle and White Footprint.
He had a favorite Kentucky rifle which
he carried for many years. The stock was several
times broken, but he always made another. With
this gun he excelled most of his contemporaries in
accuracy of aim. He used to call the weapon
Ishtahbopopa--a literal translation would be
My uncle, who was a father to me for ten
years of my life, was almost a giant in his proportions,
very symmetrical and "straight as an arrow."
His face was not at all handsome. He had very
quiet and reserved manners and was a man of
action rather than of unnecessary words. Behind
the veil of Indian reticence he had an inexhaustible
fund of wit and humor; but this part of his
character only appeared before his family and very
intimate friends. Few men know nature more
thoroughly than he. Nothing irritated him more
than to hear some natural fact misrepresented. I
have often thought that with education he might
have made a Darwin or an Agassiz.
He was always modest and unconscious of self
in relating his adventures. "I have often been
forced to realize my danger," he used to say, "but
not in such a way as to overwhelm me. Only
twice in my life have I been really frightened, and
for an instant lost my presence of mind.
"Once I was in full pursuit of a large buck deer
that I had wounded. It was winter, and there
was a very heavy fall of fresh snow upon the
ground. All at once I came upon the body of
the deer lying dead on the snow. I began to
make a hasty examination, but before I had made
any discoveries, I spied the tips of two ears peeping
just above the surface of the snow about
twenty feet from me. I made a feint of not seeing
anything at all, but moved quickly in the
direction of my gun, which was leaning against a
tree. Feeling, somehow, that I was about to be
taken advantage of, I snatched at the same moment
my knife from my belt.
"The panther (for such it was) made a sudden
and desperate spring. I tried to dodge, but he
was too quick for me. He caught me by the
shoulder with his great paw, and threw me down.
Somehow, he did not retain his hold, but made another
leap and again concealed himself in the snow.
Evidently he was preparing to make a fresh attack.
"I was partially stunned and greatly confused
by the blow; therefore I should have been an easy
prey for him at the moment. But when he left
me, I came to my senses; and I had been thrown
near my gun! I arose and aimed between the tips
of his ears--all that was visible of him--and
fired. I saw the fresh snow fly from the spot. The
panther leaped about six feet straight up into the
air, and fell motionless. I gave two good warwhoops,
because I had conquered a very formidable
enemy. I sat down on the dead body to rest,
and my heart beat as if it would knock out all my
ribs. I had not been expecting any danger, and
that was why I was so taken by surprise.
"The other time was on the plains, in summer.
I was accustomed to hunting in the woods, and
never before had hunted buffalo on horseback. Being
a young man, of course I was eager to do whatever
other men did. Therefore I saddled my pony
for the hunt. I had a swift pony and a good gun,
but on this occasion I preferred a bow and arrows.
"It was the time of year when the buffalo go
in large herds and the bulls are vicious. But this
did not trouble me at all; indeed, I thought of
nothing but the excitement and honor of the
"A vast plain near the Souris river was literally
covered with an immense herd. The day was fair,
and we came up with them very easily. I had a
quiver full of arrows, with a sinew-backed bow.
"My pony carried me in far ahead of all the others.
I found myself in the midst of the bulls first,
for they are slow. They threw toward me vicious
glances, so I hastened my pony on to the cows.
Soon I was enveloped in a thick cloud of dust, and
completely surrounded by the herd, who were by
this time in the act of fleeing, their hoofs making
a noise like thunder.
"I could not think of anything but my own situation,
which confused me for the moment. It
seemed to me to be a desperate one. If my pony,
which was going at full speed, should step into a
badger hole, I should be thrown to the ground
and trampled under foot in an instant. If I were
to stop, they would knock me over, pony and all.
Again, it seemed as if my horse must fall from
sheer exhaustion; and then what would become
of me?
"At last I awoke to a calm realization of my own
power. I uttered a yell and began to shoot right
and left. Very soon there were only a few old bulls
who remained near me. The herd had scattered,
and I was miles away from my companions.
"It is when we think of our personal danger that
we are apt to be at a loss to do the best thing under
the circumstances. One should be unconscious
of self in order to do his duty. We are very apt
to think ourselves brave, when we are most timid.
I have discovered that half our young men give
the war-whoop when they are frightened, because
they fear lest their silence may betray their state of
mind. I think we are really bravest when most
calm and slow to action."
I urged my uncle to tell me more of his adventures.
"Once," said he, "I had a somewhat peculiar
experience, which I think I never related to you
before. It was at the time of the fall hunt. One
afternoon when I was alone I discovered that I was
too far away to reach the camp before dark, so I
looked about for a good place to spend the night.
This was on the Upper Missouri, before there were
any white people there, and when we were in constant
danger from wild beasts as well as from hostile
Indians. It was necessary to use every precaution
and the utmost vigilance.
"I selected a spot which appeared to be well
adapted to defense. I had killed two deer, and
I hung up pieces of the meat at certain distances
in various directions. I knew that any wolf would
stop for the meat, A grizzly bear would sometimes
stop, but not a mountain lion or a panther.
Therefore I made a fire. Such an animal would
be apt to attack a solitary fire. There was a full
moon that night, which was much in my favor.
"Having cooked and eaten some of the venison,
I rolled myself in my blanket and lay down by the
fire, taking my Ishtahbopopa for a bed fellow. I
hugged it very closely, for I felt that I should
need it during the night. I had scarcely settled
myself when I heard what seemed to be ten or
twelve coyotes set up such a howling that I was
quite sure of a visit from them. Immediately after-.
ward I heard another sound, which was like the
screaming of a small child. This was a porcupine,
which had doubtless smelled the meat.
"I watched until a coyote appeared upon a flat
rock fifty yards away. He sniffed the air in every
direction; then, sitting partly upon his haunches,
swung round in a circle with his hind legs sawing
the air, and howled and barked in many different
keys. It was a great feat! I could not help wondering
whether I should be able to imitate him.
What had seemed to be the voices of many coyotes
was in reality only one animal. His mate soon
appeared and then they both seemed satisfied, and
showed no signs of a wish to invite another to
join them. Presently they both suddenly and
quietly disappeared.
"At this moment a slight noise attracted my attention,
and I saw that the porcupine had arrived.
He had climbed up to the piece of meat nearest
me, and was helping himself without any ceremony.
I thought it was fortunate that he came,
for he would make a good watch dog for me.
Very soon, in fact, he interrupted his meal, and
caused all his quills to stand out in defiance. I
glanced about me and saw the two coyotes slyly
approaching my open camp from two different directions.
"I took the part of the porcupine! I rose in a
sitting posture, and sent a swift arrow to each of
my unwelcome visitors. They both ran away with
howls of surprise and pain.
"The porcupine saw the whole from his perch,
but his meal was not at all disturbed, for he began
eating again with apparent relish. Indeed, I was
soon furnished with another of these unconscious
protectors. This one came from the opposite direction
to a point where I had hung a splendid
ham of venison. He cared to go no further, but
seated himself at once on a convenient branch and
began his supper.
"The canon above me was full of rocks and trees.
From this direction came a startling noise, which
caused me more concern than anything I had thus
far heard. It sounded much like a huge animal
stretching himself, and giving a great yawn which
ended in a scream. I knew this for the voice of a
mountain lion, and it decided me to perch upon a
limb for the rest of the night.
"I got up and climbed into the nearest large tree,
taking my weapons with me; but first I rolled a
short log of wood in my blanket and laid it in my
place by the fire.
"As I got up, the two porcupines began to descend,
but I paid no attention to them, and they
soon returned to their former positions. Very
soon I heard a hissing sound from one of them,
and knew that an intruder was near. Two grey
wolves appeared.
"I had hung the hams by the ham strings, and
they were fully eight feet from the ground. At
first the wolves came boldly forward, but the warning
of the porcupines caused them to stop, and
hesitate to jump for the meat. However, they were
hungry, and began to leap savagely for the hams,
although evidently they proved good targets for
the quills of the prickly ones, for occasionally
one of them would squeal and rub his nose desperately
against the tree.
"At last one of the wolves buried his teeth too
deeply in a tough portion of the flesh, and having
jumped to reach it, his own weight made it impossible
for him to loosen his upper jaw. There
the grey wolf dangled, kicking and yelping, until
the tendon of the ham gave way, and both fell
heavily to the ground. From my hiding-place I
sent two arrows into his body, which ended his
life. The other one ran away to a little distance
and remained there a long time, as if waiting
for her mate.
"I was now very weary, but I had seen many
grizzly bears' tracks in the vicinity, and besides, I
had not forgotten the dreadful scream of the
mountain lion. I determined to continue my
"As I had half expected, there came presently a
sudden heavy fall, and at the same time the burning
embers were scattered about and the fire almost
extinguished. My blanket with the log in it was
rolled over several times, amid snarls and growls.
Then the assailant of my camp--a panther--leaped
back into the thick underbrush, but not before
my arrow had penetrated his side. He snarled
and tried to bite off the shaft, but after a time became
exhausted and lay still.
"I could now distinguish the grey dawn in the
east. I was exceedingly drowsy, so I fastened
myself by a rope of raw-hide to the trunk of the
tree against which I leaned. I was seated on a
large limb, and soon fell asleep.
"I was rudely awakened by the report of a gun
directly under me. At the same time, I thought
some one was trying to shake me off the tree,
Instantly I reached for my gun. Alas! it was
gone ! At the first shake of the tree by my visitor,
a grizzly bear, the gun had fallen, and as it
was cocked, it went off.
"The bear picked up the weapon and threw it
violently away; then he again shook the tree with
all his strength. I shouted:
"'I have still a bow and a quiver full of arrows;
you had better let me alone.'
"He replied to this with a rough growl. I sent
an arrow into his side, and he groaned like a man
as he tried hard to pull it out. I had to give him
several more before he went a short distance away,
and died. It was now daylight, so I came down
from my perch. I was stiff, and scarcely able to
walk. I found that the bear had killed both of
my little friends, the porcupines, and eaten most
of the meat.
"Perhaps you wonder, Ohiyesa, why I did not
use my gun in the beginning; but I had learned
that if I once missed my aim with it, I had no
second chance. I have told of this particular adventure,
because it was an unusual experience to
see so many different animals in one night. I
have often been in similar places, and killed one or
two. Once a common black bear stole a whole
deer from me without waking me. But all this
life is fast disappearing, and the world is becoming
The End of the Bear Dance
IT was one of the superstitions of
the Santee Sioux to treat disease
from the standpoint of some animal
or inanimate thing. That
person who, according to their
belief, had been commissioned to
become a medicine man or a war chief, must not
disobey the bear or other creature or thing which
gave him his commission. If he ever ventured
to do so, the offender must pay for his insubordination
with his life, or that of his own child or
dearest friend. It was supposed to be necessary
that the supernatural orders be carried into effect
at a particular age and a certain season of the
year. Occasionally a very young man, who excused
himself on the ground of youth and modesty,
might be forgiven.
One of my intimate friends had been a sufferer
from what, I suppose, must have been consumption.
He, like myself, had a grandmother in
whom he had unlimited faith. But she was a very
ambitious and pretentious woman. Among her
many claims was that of being a great "medicine
woman," and many were deceived by it; but really
she was a fraud, for she did not give any medicine,
but "conjured" the sick exclusively.
At this time my little friend was fast losing
ground, in spite of his grandmother's great pretensions.
At last I hinted to him that my grandmother
was a herbalist, and a skilful one. But he
hinted back to me that 'most any old woman who
could dig roots could be a herbalist, and that without
a supernatural commission there was no power
that could cope with disease. I defended my ideal
on the ground that there are supernatural powers
in the herbs themselves; hence those who understand
them have these powers at their command.
"But," insisted my friend, "one must get his
knowledge from the Great Mystery!"
This completely silenced my argument, but
did not shake my faith in my grandmother's
Redhorn was a good boy, and I loved him. I
visited him often, and found him growing weaker
day by day.
"Ohiyesa," he said to me one day, "my grandmother
has discovered the cause of my sickness."
I eagerly interrupted him by shouting: "And
can she cure you now, Redhorn?"
"Of course," he replied, "she cannot until I
have fulfilled the commandment. I have confessed
to her that two years ago I received my commission,
and I should have made a Bear Dance
and proclaimed myself a medicine man last spring,
when I had seen thirteen winters. You see, I was
ashamed to proclaim myself a medicine man, being
so young; and for this I am punished. However,
my grandmother says it is not yet too late. But,
Ohiyesa, I am as weak now as a rheumatic old man.
I can scarcely stand up. They say that I can appoint
some one else to act for me. He will be the
active bear--I shall have to remain in the hole.
Would you, Ohiyesa, be willing to act the bear for
me? You know he has to chase the dancers
away from his den."
"Redhorn," I replied with much embarrassment,"
I should be happy to do anything that I
could for you, but I cannot be a bear. I feel that
I am not fit. I am not large enough; I am not
strong enough; and I don't understand the habits
of the animal well enough. I do not think you
would be pleased with me as your substitute."
Redhorn finally decided that he would engage a
larger boy to perform for him. A few days later,
it was announced by the herald that my friend
would give a Bear Dance, at which he was to be
publicly proclaimed a medicine man. It would be
the great event of his short existence, for the disease
had already exhausted his strength and vitality.
Of course, we all understood that there would
be an active youth to exhibit the ferocious nature
of the beast after which the dance is named.
The Bear Dance was an entertainment, a religious
rite, a method of treating disease--all in one.
A strange thing about it was that no woman was
allowed to participate in the orgies, unless she was
herself the bear.
The den was usually dug about two hundred
yards from the camp, on some conspicuous plain.
It was about two feet deep and six feet square and
over it was constructed an arbor of boughs with
four openings. When the bear man sang, all the
men and boys would gather and dance about the
den; and when he came out and pursued them
there was a hasty retreat. It was supposed that
whoever touched the bear without being touched
by him would overcome a foe in the field. If one
was touched, the reverse was to be expected. The
thing which caused most anxiety among the dancers
was the superstition that if one of them should
accidentally trip and fall while pursued by the
bear, a sudden death would visit him or his nearest
Boys of my age were disposed to run some risk
in this dance; they would take every opportunity
to strike at the bear man with a short switch, while
the older men shot him with powder. It may as
well be admitted that one reason for my declining
the honor offered me by my friend Redhorn was
that I was afraid of powder, and I much preferred
to be one of the dancers and take my chances of
touching the bear man without being touched.
It was a beautiful summer's day. The forest
behind our camp was sweet with the breath of
blossoming flowers. The teepees faced a large lake,
which we called Bedatanka. Its gentle waves
cooled the atmosphere. The water-fowl disported
themselves over its surface, and the birds of passage
overhead noisily expressed their surprise at
the excitement and confusion in our midst.
The herald, with his brassy voice, again went
the rounds, announcing the day's event and the
tardy fulfillment of the boy's commission. Then
came the bustle of preparation. The out-door
toilet of the people was performed with care. I
cannot describe just how I was attired or painted,
but I am under the impression that there was but
little of my brown skin that was not uncovered.
The others were similarly dressed in feathers, paint
and tinkling ornaments.
I soon heard the tom-tom's doleful sound from
the direction of the bear's den, and a few warwhoops
from the throats of the youthful warriors.
As I joined the motley assembly, I noticed that the
bear man's drum was going in earnest, and soon
after he began to sing. This was the invitation to
the dance.
An old warrior gave the signal and we all started
for the den, very much like a group of dogs attacking
a stranger. Frantically we yelled and
whooped, running around the sheltering arbor in
a hop, skip and jump fashion. In spite of the
apparent confusion, however, every participant
was on the alert for the slightest movement of the
bear man.
All of a sudden, a brave gave the warning, and
we scattered in an instant over the little plain between
the den and our village. Everybody seemed
to be running for dear life, and I soon found myself
some yards behind the rest. I had gone in
boldly, partly because of conversations with certain
boys who proposed to participate, and whom
I usually outdistanced in foot races. But it seemed
that they had not carried out their intentions and
I was left alone. I looked back once or twice, although
I was pretty busy with my legs, and I imagined
that my pursuer, the bear man, looked
twice as fearful as a real bear. He was dressed
and painted up with a view to terrify the crowd.
I did not want the others to guess that I was at
all dismayed, so I tried to give the war-whoop;
but my throat was so dry at the moment that I
am sure I must have given it very poorly.
Just as it seemed that I was about to be overtaken,
the dancers who had deserted me suddenly
slackened their speed, and entered upon the
amusement of tormenting the bear man with gunpowder
and switches, with which they touched him
far from gently upon his naked body. They now
chased him in turn, and he again retreated to his den.
We rested until we heard the tom-tom and the
song once more, and then we rushed forth with
fresh eagerness to the mimic attack. This time I
observed all necessary precautions for my own
safety. I started in my flight even before the
warning was given, for I saw the bear man gathering
himself up to spring upon the dancers. Thus
I had plenty of leeway to observe what occurred.
The bear man again pursued the yelling and retreating
mob, and was dealt with unmercifully by
the swift-footed. He became much excited as
he desperately chased a middle-aged man, who
occasionally turned and fired off his gun, but was
suddenly tripped by an ant-hill and fell to the
ground, with the other on top of him. The excitement
was intense. The bear man returned to
his companion, and the dancers gathered in little
knots to exchange whispers.
"Is it not a misfortune?" "The most surefooted
of us all!" "Will he die?" "Must his
beautiful daughter be sacrificed?"
The man who was the subject of all this comment
did not speak a word. His head hung
down. Finally he raised it and said in a resolute
"We all have our time to go, and when the
Great Mystery calls us we must answer as cheerfully
as at the call of one of our own war-chiefs
here on earth. I am not sad for myself, but my
heart is not willing that my Winona (first-born
daughter) should be called."
No one replied. Presently the last tom-tom
was heard and the dancers rallied once more.
The man who had fallen did not join them, but
turned to the council lodge, where the wise old
men were leisurely enjoying the calumet. They
beheld him enter with some surprise; but he
threw himself upon a buffalo robe, and resting his
head upon his right hand, related what had happened
to him. Thereupon the aged men exclaimed
as with one voice: "It never fails!"
After this, he spoke no more.
Meanwhile, we were hilariously engaged in
our last dance, and when the bear man finally retired,
we gathered about the arbor to congratulate
the sick bear man. But, to our surprise, his companion
did not re-enter the den. "He is dead!
Redhorn, the bear man, is dead!" We all rushed
to the spot. My poor friend, Redhorn, lay dead
in the den.
At this instant there was another commotion in
the camp. Everybody was running toward the
council lodge. A well-known medicine man was
loudly summoned thither. But, alas! the man
who fell in the dance had suddenly dropped dead.
To the people, another Indian superstition had
been verified.
The Maidens' Feast
THERE were many peculiar customs
among the Indians of an
earlier period, some of which
tended to strengthen the character
of the people and preserve
their purity. Perhaps the most
unique of these was the annual "feast of maidens."
The casual observer would scarcely understand
the full force and meaning of this ceremony.
The last one that I ever witnessed was given at
Fort Ellis, Manitoba, about the year 1871. Upon
the table land just back of the old trading post
and fully a thousand feet above the Assiniboine
river, surrounded by groves, there was a natural
amphitheatre. At one end stood the old fort
where since 1830 the northern tribes had come to
replenish their powder horns and lead sacks and
to dispose of their pelts.
In this spot there was a reunion of all the renegade
Sioux on the one hand and of the Assiniboines
and Crees, the Canadian tribes, on the
other. They were friendly. The matter was not
formally arranged, but it was usual for all the
tribes to meet here in the month of July.
The Hudson Bay Company always had a good
supply of red, blue, green and white blankets, also
cloth of brilliant dye, so that when their summer
festival occurred the Indians did not lack gayly
colored garments. Paints were bought by them
at pleasure. Short sleeves were the fashion in
their buckskin dresses, and beads and porcupine
quills were the principal decorations.
When circumstances are favorable, the Indians
are the happiest people in the world. There were
entertainments every single day, which everybody
had the fullest opportunity to see and enjoy. If
anything, the poorest profited the most by these
occasions, because a feature in each case was the
giving away of savage wealth to the needy in
honor of the event. At any public affair, involving
the pride and honor of a prominent family,
there must always be a distribution of valuable
One bright summer morning, while we were
still at our meal of jerked buffalo meat, we heard
the herald of the Wahpeton band upon his calico
pony as he rode around our circle.
"White Eagle's daughter, the maiden Red Star,
invites all the maidens of all the tribes to come and
partake of her feast. It will be in the Wahpeton
camp, before the sun reaches the middle of the
sky. All pure maidens are invited. Red Star
also invites the young men to be present, to see
that no unworthy maiden should join in the feast."
The herald soon completed the rounds of the
different camps, and it was not long before the
girls began to gather in great numbers. The fort
was fully alive to the interest of these savage entertainments.
This particular feast was looked
upon as a semi-sacred affair. It would be desecration
for any to attend who was not perfectly
virtuous. Hence it was regarded as an opportune
time for the young men to satisfy themselves as to
who were the virtuous maids of the tribe.
There were apt to be surprises before the end
of the day. Any young man was permitted to
challenge any maiden whom he knew to be unworthy.
But woe to him who could not prove his
case. It meant little short of death to the man who
endeavored to disgrace a woman without cause.
The youths had a similar feast of their own, in
which the eligibles were those who had never
spoken to a girl in the way of courtship. It was
considered ridiculous so to do before attaining
some honor as a warrior, and the novices prided
themselves greatly upon their self control.
From the various camps the girls came singly
or in groups, dressed in bright-colored calicoes or
in heavily fringed and beaded buckskin. Their
smooth cheeks and the central part of their glossy
hair was touched with vermilion. All brought
with them wooden basins to eat from. Some who
came from a considerable distance were mounted
upon ponies; a few, for company or novelty's sake,
rode double.
The maidens' circle was formed about a coneshaped
rock which stood upon its base. This was
painted red. Beside it two new arrows were lightly
stuck into the ground. This is a sort of altar, to
which each maiden comes before taking her assigned
place in the circle, and lightly touches first
the stone and then the arrows. By this oath she
declares her purity. Whenever a girl approaches
the altar there is a stir among the spectators, and
sometimes a rude youth would call out:
"Take care! You will overturn the rock, or
pull out the arrows!"
Such a remark makes the girls nervous, and especially
one who is not sure of her composure.
Immediately behind the maidens' circle is the
old women's or chaperons' circle. This second
circle is almost as interesting to look at as the inner
one. The old women watched every movement
of their respective charges with the utmost
concern, having previously instructed them how
they should conduct themselves in any event.
There was never a more gorgeous assembly of
the kind than this one. The day was perfect. The
Crees, displaying their characteristic horsemanship,
came in groups; the Assiniboines, with their
curious pompadour well covered with red paint.
The various bands of Sioux all carefully observed
the traditional peculiarities of dress and behavior.
The attaches of the fort were fully represented at
the entertainment, and it was not unusual to see a
pale-face maiden take part in the feast.
The whole population of the region had assembled,
and the maidens came shyly into the circle.
The simple ceremonies observed prior to the serving
of the food were in progress, when among a
group of Wahpeton Sioux young men there was a
stir of excitement. All the maidens glanced nervously
toward the scene of the disturbance. Soon
a tall youth emerged from the throng of spectators
and advanced toward the circle. Every one of the
chaperons glared at him as if to deter him from
his purpose. But with a steady step he passed
them by and approached the maidens' circle.
At last he stopped behind a pretty Assiniboine
maiden of good family and said:
"I am sorry, but, according to custom, you
should not be here."
The girl arose in confusion, but she soon recovered
her self-control.
"What do you mean?" she demanded, indignantly.
"Three times you have come to court
me, but each time I have refused to listen to you.
I turned my back upon you. Twice I was with
Mashtinna. She can tell the people that this is
true. The third time I had gone for water when
you intercepted me and begged me to stop and
listen. I refused because I did not know you.
My chaperon, Makatopawee, knows that I was
gone but a few minutes. I never saw you anywhere
The young man was unable to answer this unmistakable
statement of facts, and it became apparent
that he had sought to revenge himself for
her repulse.
"Woo! woo! Carry him out!" was the order
of the chief of the Indian police, and the audacious
youth was hurried away into the nearest ravine to
be chastised.
The young woman who had thus established
her good name returned to the circle, and the feast
was served. The "maidens' song" was sung, and
four times they danced in a ring around the altar.
Each maid as she departed once more took her
oath to remain pure until she should meet her
More Legends
I: A Legend of Devil's Lake
AFTER the death of Smoky Day,
old Weyuha was regarded as the
greatest story-teller among the
Wahpeton Sioux.
"Tell me, good Weyuha, a legend
of your father's country," I
said to him one evening, for I knew the country
which is now known as North Dakota and Southern
Manitoba was their ancient hunting-ground.
I was prompted by Uncheedah to make this request,
after the old man had eaten in our lodge.
"Many years ago," he began, as he passed the
pipe to uncle, "we traveled from the Otter-tail to
Minnewakan (Devil's Lake). At that time the
mound was very distinct where Chotanka lies
buried. The people of his immediate band had
taken care to preserve it.
"This mound under which lies the great medicine
man is upon the summit of Minnewakan
Chantay, the highest hill in all that region. It is
shaped like an animal's heart placed on its base,
with the apex upward.
"The reason why this hill is called Minnewakan
Chantay, or the Heart of the Mysterious
Land, I will now tell you. It has been handed
down from generation to generation, far beyond
the memory of our great-grandparents. It was
in Chotanka's line of descent that these legends
were originally kept, but when he died the stories
became everybody's, and then no one believed in
them. It was told in this way."
I sat facing him, wholly wrapped in the words
of the story-teller, and now I took a deep breath
and settled myself so that I might not disturb him
by the slightest movement while he was reciting
his tale. We were taught this courtesy to our
elders, but I was impulsive and sometimes forgot.
"A long time ago," resumed Weyuha, "the
red people were many in number, and they inhabited
all the land from the coldest place to the region
of perpetual summer time. It seemed that
they were all of one tongue, and all were friends.
"All the animals were considered people in those
days. The buffalo, the elk, the antelope, were
tribes of considerable importance. The bears were
a smaller band, but they obeyed the mandates of
the Great Mystery and were his favorites, and for
this reason they have always known more about
the secrets of medicine. So they were held in
much honor. The wolves, too, were highly regarded
at one time. But the buffalo, elk, moose,
deer and antelope were the ruling people.
"These soon became conceited and considered
themselves very important, and thought no one
could withstand them. The buffalo made war upon
the smaller tribes, and destroyed many. So one
day the Great Mystery thought it best to change
the people in form and in language.
"He made a great tent and kept it dark for ten
days. Into this tent he invited the different bands,
and when they came out they were greatly changed,
and some could not talk at all after that. However,
there is a sign language given to all the animals
that no man knows except some medicine
men, and they are under a heavy penalty if they
should tell it.
"The buffalo came out of the darkened tent
the clumsiest of all the animals. The elk and
moose were burdened with their heavy and manybranched
horns, while the antelope and deer were
made the most defenseless of animals, only that
they are fleet of foot. The bear and the wolf
were made to prey upon all the others.
"Man was alone then. When the change
came, the Great Mystery allowed him to keep his
own shape and language. He was king over all
the animals, but they did not obey him. From
that day, man's spirit may live with the beasts before
he is born a man. He will then know the
animal language but he cannot tell it in human
speech. He always retains his sympathy with
them, and can converse with them in dreams.
"I must not forget to tell you that the Great
Mystery pitched his tent in this very region.
Some legends say that the Minnewakan Chantay
was the tent itself, which afterward became earth
and stones. Many of the animals were washed
and changed in this lake, the Minnewakan, or
Mysterious Water. It is the only inland water
we know that is salt. No animal has ever swum
in this lake and lived."
"Tell me," I eagerly asked, "is it dangerous
to man also?"
"Yes," he replied, "we think so; and no Indian
has ever ventured in that lake to my knowledge.
That is why the lake is called Mysterious,"
he repeated.
"I shall now tell you of Chotanka. He was
the greatest of medicine men. He declared that
he was a grizzly bear before he was born in human
form." Weyuha seemed to become very earnest
when he reached this point in his story. "Listen
to Chotanka's life as a grizzly bear."
"'As a bear,' he used to say, 'my home was
in sight of the Minnewakan Chantay. I lived
with my mother only one winter, and I only saw
my father when I was a baby. Then we lived a
little way from the Chantay to the north, among
scattered oak upon a hillside overlooking the
"'When I first remember anything, I was
playing outside of our home with a buffalo skull
that I had found near by. I saw something that
looked strange. It walked upon two legs, and it
carried a crooked stick, and some red willows with
feathers tied to them. It threw one of the willows
at me, and I showed my teeth and retreated
within our den.
"'Just then my father and mother came home
with a buffalo calf. They threw down the dead
calf, and ran after the queer thing. He had long
hair upon a round head. His face was round, too.
He ran and climbed up into a small oak tree.
"'My father and mother shook him down, but
not before he had shot some of his red willows
into their sides. Mother was very sick, but she
dug some roots and ate them and she was well
again.' It was thus that Chotanka was first taught
the use of certain roots for curing wounds and
sickness," Weyuha added.
"'One day'"--he resumed the grizzly's story
--"'when I was out hunting with my mother--
my father had gone away and never came back
--we found a buffalo cow with her calf in a
ravine. She advised me to follow her closely,
and we crawled along on our knees. All at once
mother crouched down under the grass, and I did
the same. We saw some of those queer beings
that we called "two legs," riding upon big-tail
deer (ponies). They yelled as they rode toward us.
Mother growled terribly and rushed upon them.
She caught one, but many more came with their
dogs and drove us into a thicket. They sent the
red willows singing after us, and two of them stuck
in mother's side. When we got away at last she
tried to pull them out, but they hurt her terribly.
She pulled them both out at last, but soon after
she lay down and died.
"'I stayed in the woods alone for two days
then I went around the Minnewakan Chantay on
the south side and there made my lonely den.
There I found plenty of hazel nuts, acorns and
wild plums. Upon the plains the teepsinna were
abundant, and I saw nothing of my enemies.
"'One day I found a footprint not unlike my
own. I followed it to see who the stranger might
be. Upon the bluffs among the oak groves I discovered
a beautiful young female gathering acorns.
She was of a different band from mine, for she
wore a jet black dress.
"'At first she was disposed to resent my intrusion;
but when I told her of my lonely life she
agreed to share it with me. We came back to my
home on the south side of the hill. There we
lived happy for a whole year. When the autumn
came again Woshepee, for this was her name, said
that she must make a warm nest for the winter,
and I was left alone again.'
"Now," said Weyuha, "I have come to a part
of my story that few people understand. All the
long winter Chotanka slept in his den, and with
the early spring there came a great thunder storm.
He was aroused by a frightful crash that seemed
to shake the hills; and lo! a handsome young
man stood at his door. He looked, but was not
afraid, for he saw that the stranger carried none of
those red willows with feathered tips. He was
unarmed and smiling.
"'I come,' said he, 'with a challenge to run a
race. Whoever wins will be the hero of his kind,
and the defeated must do as the winner says thereafter.
This is a rare honor that I have brought
you. The whole world will see the race. The
animal world will shout for you, and the spirits
will cheer me on. You are not a coward, and
therefore you will not refuse my challenge.'
"'No,' replied Chotanka, after a short hesitation.
The young man was fine-looking, but
lightly built.
"'We shall start from the Chantay, and that will
be our goal. Come, let us go, for the universe is
waiting!' impatiently exclaimed the stranger.
"He passed on in advance, and just then an
old, old wrinkled man came to Chotanka's door.
He leaned forward upon his staff.
"'My son,' he said to him, 'I don't want to
make you a coward, but this young man is the
greatest gambler of the universe. He has powerful
medicine. He gambles for life; be careful!
My brothers and I are the only ones who have
ever beaten him. But he is safe, for if he is
killed he can resurrect himself--I tell you he is
great medicine.
"'However, I think that I can save you--listen!
He will run behind you all the way until
you are within a short distance of the goal. Then
he will pass you by in a flash, for his name is Zig-
Zag Fire! (lightning). Here is my medicine.' So
speaking, he gave me a rabbit skin and the gum
of a certain plant. 'When you come near the
goal, rub yourself with the gum, and throw the
rabbit skin between you. He cannot pass you.'
"'And who are you, grandfather?' Chotanka
"'I am the medicine turtle,' the old man replied.
'The gambler is a spirit from heaven, and
those whom he outruns must shortly die. You
have heard, no doubt, that all animals know beforehand
when they are to be killed; and any man
who understands these mysteries may also know
when he is to die.'
The race was announced to the world. The
buffalo, elk, wolves and all the animals came to
look on. All the spirits of the air came also to
cheer for their comrade. In the sky the trumpet
was sounded--the great medicine drum was struck.
It was the signal for a start. The course was
around the Minnewakan. (That means around
the earth or the ocean.) Everywhere the multitude
cheered as the two sped by.
"The young man kept behind Chotanka all the
time until they came once more in sight of the
Chantay. Then he felt a slight shock and he threw
his rabbit skin back. The stranger tripped and fell.
Chotanka rubbed himself with the gum, and ran on
until he reached the goal. There was a great shout
that echoed over the earth, but in the heavens there
was muttering and grumbling. The referee declared
that the winner would live to a good old age,
and Zig-Zag Fire promised to come at his call. He
was indeed great medicine," Weyuha concluded.
"But you have not told me how Chotanka became
a man," I said.
"One night a beautiful woman came to him in
his sleep. She enticed him into her white teepee
to see what she had there. Then she shut the
door of the teepee and Chotanka could not get
out. But the woman was kind and petted him so
that he loved to stay in the white teepee. Then
it was that he became a human born. This is a
long story, but I think, Ohiyesa, that you will remember
it," said Weyuha, and so I did.
II: Manitoshaw's Hunting
IT was in the winter, in the Moon
of Difficulty (January). We had
eaten our venison roast for supper,
and the embers were burning
brightly. Our teepee was especially
cheerful. Uncheedah sat
near the entrance, my uncle and his wife upon
the opposite side, while I with my pets occupied
the remaining space.
Wabeda, the dog, lay near the fire in a half doze,
watching out of the corners of his eyes the tame
raccoon, which snuggled back against the walls of
the teepee, his shrewd brain, doubtless, concocting
some mischief for the hours of darkness. I had
already recited a legend of our people. All agreed
that I had done well. Having been generously
praised, I was eager to earn some more compliments
by learning a new one, so I begged my uncle
to tell me a story. Musingly he replied:
"I can give you a Sioux-Cree tradition," and
immediately began:
"Many winters ago, there were six teepees standing
on the southern slope of Moose mountain in
the Moon of Wild Cherries (September). The
men to whom these teepees belonged had been attacked
by the Sioux while hunting buffalo, and
nearly all killed. Two or three who managed to
get home to tell their sad story were mortally
wounded, and died soon afterward. There was only
one old man and several small boys left to hunt
and provide for this unfortunate little band of
women and children.
"They lived upon teepsinna (wild turnips) and
berries for many days. They were almost famished
for meat. The old man was too feeble to hunt
successfully. One day in this desolate camp a
young Cree maiden--for such they were--declared
that she could no longer sit still and see her people
suffer. She took down her dead father's second
bow and quiver full of arrows, and begged her old
grandmother to accompany her to Lake Wanagiska,
where she knew that moose had oftentimes
been found. I forgot to tell you that her name
was Manitoshaw.
This Manitoshaw and her old grandmother,
Nawakewee, took each a pony and went far up into
the woods on the side of the mountain. They
pitched their wigwam just out of sight of the lake,
and hobbled their ponies. Then the old woman
said to Manitoshaw:
"'Go, my granddaughter, to the outlet of the
Wanagiska, and see if there are any moose tracks
there. When I was a young woman, I came here
with your father's father, and we pitched our tent
near this spot. In the night there came three different
moose. Bring me leaves of the birch and
cedar twigs; I will make medicine for moose,' she
Manitoshaw obediently disappeared in the
woods. It was a grove of birch and willow, with
two good springs. Down below was a marshy place.
Nawakewee had bidden the maiden look for nibbled
birch and willow twigs, for the moose loves
to eat them, and to have her arrow ready
upon the bow-string. I have seen this very
place many a time," added my uncle, and this
simple remark gave to the story an air of reality.
"The Cree maiden went first to the spring, and
there found fresh tracks of the animal she sought.
She gathered some cedar berries and chewed them,
and rubbed some of them on her garments so that
the moose might not scent her. The sun was already
set, and she felt she must return to Nawakewee.
"Just then Hinhankaga, the hooting owl, gave
his doleful night call. The girl stopped and listened
"'I thought it was a lover's call,' she whispered
to herself. A singular challenge pealed across the
lake. She recognized the alarm call of the loon,
and fancied that the bird might have caught a
glimpse of her game.
"Soon she was within a few paces of the temporary
lodge of pine boughs and ferns which the
grandmother had constructed. The old woman
met her on the trail.
"'Ah, my child, you have returned none too
soon. I feared you had ventured too far away;
for the Sioux often come to this place to hunt.
You must not expose yourself carelessly on the
"As the two women lay down to sleep they
could hear the ponies munch the rich grass in an
open spot near by. Through the smoke hole of
the pine-bough wigwam Manitoshaw gazed up
into the starry sky, and dreamed of what she would
do on the morrow when she should surprise the
wily moose. Her grandmother was already sleeping
so noisily that it was enough to scare away the
game. At last the maiden, too, lost herself in
"Old Nawakewee awoke early. First of all
she made a fire and burned cedar and birch
so that the moose might not detect the human
smell. Then she quickly prepared a meal of wild
turnips and berries, and awoke the maiden, who
was surprised to see that the sun was already up.
She ran down to the spring and hastily splashed
handsful of the cold water in her face; then she
looked for a moment in its mirror-like surface.
There was the reflection of two moose by the open
shore and beyond them Manitoshaw seemed to
see a young man standing. In another moment
all three had disappeared.
"'What is the matter with my eyes? I am
not fully awake yet, and I imagine things. Ugh,
it is all in my eyes,' the maiden repeated to herself.
She hastened back to Nawakewee. The
vision was so unexpected and so startling that she
could not believe in its truth, and she said nothing
to the old woman.
"Breakfast eaten, Manitoshaw threw off her
robe and appeared in her scantily cut gown of
buckskin with long fringes, and moccasins and
leggings trimmed with quills of the porcupine.
Her father's bow and quiver were thrown over
one shoulder, and the knife dangled from her belt
in its handsome sheath. She ran breathlessly
along the shore toward the outlet.
"Way off near the island Medoza the loon swam
with his mate, occasionally uttering a cry of joy.
Here and there the playful Hogan, the trout,
sprang gracefully out of the water, in a shower of
falling dew. As the maiden hastened along she
scared up Wadawasee, the kingfisher, who screamed
"'Stop, Wadawasee, stop--you will frighten
my game!'
"At last she had reached the outlet. She saw
at once that the moose had been there during the
night. They had torn up the ground and broken
birch and willow twigs in a most disorderly
"Ah!" I exclaimed, "I wish I had been with
Manitoshaw then!"
"Hush, my boy; never interrupt a storyteller."
I took a stick and began to level off the ashes
in front of me, and to draw a map of the lake, the
outlet, the moose and Manitoshaw. Away off to
one side was the solitary wigwam, Nawakewee and
the ponies.
"Manitoshaw's heart was beating so loud that
she could not hear anything," resumed my uncle.
"She took some leaves of the wintergreen and
chewed them to calm herself. She did not forget
to throw in passing a pinch of pulverized tobacco
and paint into the spring for Manitou, the spirit.
"Among the twinkling leaves of the birch her
eye was caught by a moving form, and then another.
She stood motionless, grasping her heavy
bow. The moose, not suspecting any danger,
walked leisurely toward the spring. One was a
large female moose; the other a yearling.
As they passed Manitoshaw, moving so naturally
and looking so harmless, she almost forgot
to let fly an arrow. The mother moose seemed to
look in her direction, but did not see her. They
had fairly passed her hiding-place when she stepped
forth and sent a swift arrow into the side of the
larger moose. Both dashed into the thick woods,
but it was too late. The Cree maiden had already
loosened her second arrow. Both fell dead before
reaching the shore."
"Uncle, she must have had a splendid aim, for
in the woods the many little twigs make an arrow
bound off to one side," I interrupted in great excitement.
"Yes, but you must remember she was very
near the moose."
"It seems to me, then, uncle, that they must
have scented her, for you have told me that they
possess the keenest nose of any animal," I persisted.
"Doubtless the wind was blowing the other
way. But, nephew, you must let me finish my
"Ovedoyed by her success, the maiden hastened
back to Nawakawee, but she was gone!
The ponies were gone, too, and the wigwam of
branches had been demolished. While Manitoshaw
stood there, frightened and undecided what
to do, a soft voice came from behind a neighboring
"'Manitoshaw! Manitoshaw! I am here!'
She at once recognized, the voice and found
it to be Nawakeewee, who told a strange story.
That morning a canoe had crossed the Wanagiska
carrying two men. They were Sioux. The old
grandmother had seen them coming, and to deceive
them she at once pulled down her temporary
wigwam, and drove the ponies off toward home.
Then she hid herself in the bushes near by,
for she knew that Manitoshaw must return
"'Come, my granddaughter, we must hasten
home by another way,' cried the old woman.
"But the maiden said, 'No, let us go first to
my two moose that I killed this morning and take
some meat with us.'
"'No, no, my child; the Sioux are cruel.
They have killed many of our people. If we
stay here they will find us. I fear, I fear them,
"At last the brave maid convinced her grandmother,
and the more easily as she too was hungry
for meat. They went to where the big game
lay among the bushes, and began to dress the
"I think, if I were they, I would hide all day.
I would wait until the Sioux had gone; then I
would go back to my moose," I interrupted for
the third time.
"I will finish the story first; then you may tell
us what you would do," said my uncle reprovingly.
"The two Sioux were father and son. They
too had come to the lake for moose; but as the
game usually retreated to the island, Chatansapa
had landed his son Kangiska to hunt them on the
shore while he returned in his canoe to intercept
their flight. The young man sped along the
sandy beach and soon discovered their tracks. He
followed them up and found blood on the trail.
This astonished him. Cautiously he followed on
until he found them both lying dead. He examined
them and found that in each moose there
was a single Cree arrow. Wishing to surprise
the hunter if possible, Kangiska lay hidden in the
"After a little while the two women returned to
the spot. They passed him as close as the moose
had passed the maiden in the morning. He saw
at once that the maiden had arrows in her quiver
like those that had slain the big moose. He lay
"Kangiska looked upon the beautiful Cree
maiden and loved her. Finally he forgot himself
and made a slight motion. Manitoshaw's quick
eye caught the little stir among the bushes, but
she immediately looked the other way and Kangiska
believed that she had not seen anything,
At last her eyes met his, and something told both
that all was well. Then the maiden smiled, and
the young man could not remain still any longer.
He arose suddenly and the old woman nearly
fainted from fright. But Manitoshaw said:
"'Fear not, grandmother; we are two and he is
only one.'
"While the two women continued to cut up
the meat, Kangiska made a fire by rubbing cedar
chips together, and they all ate of the moose
meat. Then the old woman finished her work,
while the young people sat down upon a log in
the shade, and told each other all their minds.
"Kangiska declared by signs that he would go
home with Manitoshaw to the Cree camp, for he
loved her. They went home, and the young
man hunted for the unfortunate Cree band during
the rest of his life.
"His father waited a long time on the island
and afterward searched the shore, but never saw
him again. He supposed that those footprints he
saw were made by Crees who had killed his son."
"Is that story true, uncle?" I asked eagerly.
"'Yes, the facts are well known. There are
some Sioux mixed bloods among the Crees to this
day who are descendants of Kangiska."
Indian Life and Adventure
I: Life in the Woods
THE month of September recalls
to every Indian's mind the season
of the fall hunt. I remember one
such expedition which is typical
of many. Our party appeared on
the northwestern side of Turtle
mountain; for we had been hunting buffaloes all
summer, in the region of the Mouse river, between
that mountain and the upper Missouri.
As our cone-shaped teepees rose in clusters
along the outskirts of the heavy forest that clothes
the sloping side of the mountain, the scene below
was gratifying to a savage eye. The rolling yellow
plains were checkered with herds of buffaloes.
Along the banks of the streams that ran down from
the mountains were also many elk, which usually
appear at morning and evening, and disappear into
the forest during the warmer part of the day.
Deer, too, were plenty, and the brooks were alive
with trout. Here and there the streams were
dammed by the industrious beaver.
In the interior of the forest there were lakes with
many islands, where moose, elk, deer and bears
were abundant. The water-fowl were wont to
gather here in great numbers, among them the
crane, the swan, the loon, and many of the smaller
kinds. The forest also was filled with a great variety
of birds. Here the partridge drummed his
loudest, while the whippoorwill sang with spirit,
and the hooting owl reigned in the night.
To me, as a boy, this wilderness was a paradise. It
was a land of plenty. To be sure, we did not have
any of the luxuries of civilization, but we had every
convenience and opportunity and luxury of
Nature. We had also the gift of enjoying
our good fortune, whatever dangers might lurk
about us; and the truth is that we lived in
blessed ignorance of any life that was better than
our own.
As soon as hunting in the woods began, the
customs regulating it were established. The council
teepee no longer existed. A hunting bonfire
was kindled every morning at day-break, at which
each brave must appear and report. The man who
failed to do this before the party set out on the
day's hunt was harassed by ridicule. As a rule,
the hunters started before sunrise, and the brave
who was announced throughout the camp as the
first one to return with a deer on his back, was a
man to be envied.
The legend-teller, old Smoky Day, was chosen
herald of the camp, and it was he who made the
announcements. After supper was ended, we heard
his powerful voice resound among the teepees in
the forest. He would then name a man to kindle
the bonfire the next morning. His suit of fringed
buckskin set off his splendid physique to advantage.
Scarcely had the men disappeared in the woods
each morning than all the boys sallied forth, apparently
engrossed in their games and sports, but
in reality competing actively with one another in
quickness of observation. As the day advanced,
they all kept the sharpest possible lookout. Suddenly
there would come the shrill "Woo-coohoo!"
at the top of a boy's voice, announcing the
bringing in of a deer. Immediately all the other
boys took up the cry, each one bent on getting
ahead of the rest. Now we all saw the brave Wacoota
fairly bent over by his burden, a large deer
which he carried on his shoulders. His fringed
buckskin shirt was besprinkled with blood. He
threw down the deer at the door of his wife's
mother's home, according to custom, and then
walked proudly to his own. At the door of his
father's teepee he stood for a moment straight as a
pine-tree, and then entered.
When a bear was brought in, a hundred or
more of these urchins were wont to make the woods
resound with their voices: "Wah! wah! wah!
Wah! wah! wah! The brave White Rabbit
brings a bear! Wah! wah ! wah!"
All day these sing-song cheers were kept up, as
the game was brought in. At last, toward the close
of the afternoon, all the hunters had returned, and
happiness and contentment reigned absolute, in a
fashion which I have never observed among the
white people, even in the best of circumstances.
The men were lounging and smoking; the women
actively engaged in the preparation of the evening
meal, and the care of the meat. The choicest of
the game was cooked and offered to the Great
Mystery, with all the accompanying ceremonies.
This we called the "medicine feast." Even the
women, as they lowered the boiling pot, or the
fragrant roast of venison ready to serve, would first
whisper: "Great Mystery, do thou partake of this
venison, and still be gracious!" This was the
commonly said "grace."
Everything went smoothly with us, on this occasion,
when we first entered the woods. Nothing
was wanting to our old way of living. The
killing of deer and elk and moose had to be
stopped for a time, since meat was so abundant
that we had no use for them any longer. Only
the hunting for pelts, such as those of the bear,
beaver, marten, and otter was continued. But
whenever we lived in blessed abundance, our
braves were wont to turn their thoughts to other
occupations--especially the hot-blooded youths
whose ambition it was to do something noteworthy.
At just such moments as this there are always a
number of priests in readiness, whose vocation it
is to see into the future, and each of whom consults
his particular interpreter of the Great Mystery.
(This ceremony is called by the white people
"making medicine.") To the priests the youthful
braves hint their impatience for the war-path.
Soon comes the desired dream or prophecy or
vision to favor their departure.
Our young men presently received their sign,
and for a few days all was hurry and excitement.
On the appointed morning we heard the songs of
the warriors and the wailing of the women, by which
they bade adieu to each other, and the eligible
braves, headed by an experienced man--old Hotanka
or Loud-Voiced Raven--set out for the
Gros Ventre country.
Our older heads, to be sure, had expressed some
disapproval of the undertaking, for the country in
which we were roaming was not our own, and we
were likely at any time to be taken to task by its
rightful owners. The plain truth of the matter
was that we were intruders. Hence the more
thoughtful among us preferred to be at home, and
to achieve what renown they could get by defending
their homes and families. The young men,
however, were so eager for action and excitement
that they must needs go off in search of it.
From the early morning when these braves left
us, led by the old war-priest, Loud-Voiced Raven,
the anxious mothers, sisters and sweethearts
counted the days. Old Smoky Day would occasionally
get up early in the morning, and sing a
"strong-heart" song for his absent grandson. I
still seem to hear the hoarse, cracked voice of the
ancient singer as it resounded among the woods.
For a long time our roving community enjoyed
unbroken peace, and we were spared any trouble or
disturbance. Our hunters often brought in a deer
or elk or bear for fresh meat. The beautiful
lakes furnished us with fish and wild-fowl for
variety. Their placid waters, as the autumn advanced,
reflected the variegated colors of the
changing foliage.
It is my recollection that we were at this time
encamped in the vicinity of the "Turtle Mountain's
Heart." It is to the highest cone-shaped
peak that the Indians aptly give this appellation.
Our camping-ground for two months was within a
short distance of the peak, and the men made it a
point to often send one of their number to the
top. It was understood between them and the
war party that we were to remain near this spot;
and on their return trip the latter were to give the
"smoke sign," which we would answer from the
top of the hill.
One day, as we were camping on the shore of a
large lake with several islands, signs of moose
were discovered, and the men went off to them on
rafts, carrying their flint-lock guns in anticipation
of finding two or three of the animals. We little
fellows, as usual, were playing down by the sandy
shore, when we spied what seemed like the root
of a great tree floating toward us. But on a closer
scrutiny we discovered our error. It was the head
of a huge moose, swimming for his life! Fortunately
for him, none of the men had remained at
According to our habit, we little urchins disappeared
in an instant, like young prairie chickens,
in the long grass. I was not more than eight
years old, yet I tested the strength of my bowstring
and adjusted my sharpest and best arrow for
immediate service. My heart leaped violently as
the homely but imposing animal neared the shore.
I was undecided for a moment whether I would
not leave my hiding-place and give a war-whoop
as soon as he touched the sand. Then I thought
I would keep still and let him have my boy weapon;
and the only regret that I had was that he
would, in all probability, take it with him, and I
should be minus one good arrow.
"Still," I thought, "I shall claim to be the
smallest boy whose arrow was ever carried away
by a moose." That was enough. I gathered
myself into a bunch, all ready to spring. As the
long-legged beast pulled himself dripping out of
the water, and shook off the drops from his long
hair, I sprang to my feet. I felt some of the
water in my face! I gave him my sharpest arrow
with all the force I could master, right among
the floating ribs. Then I uttered my warwhoop.
The moose did not seem to mind the miniature
weapon, but he was very much frightened by our
shrill yelling. He took to his long legs, and in a
minute was out of sight.
The leaves had now begun to fall, and the heavy
frosts made the nights very cold. We were forced
to realize that the short summer of that region
had said adieu! Still we were gay and lighthearted,
for we had plenty of provisions, and
no misfortune had yet overtaken us in our
wanderings over the country for nearly three
One day old Smoky Day returned from the
daily hunt with an alarm. He had seen a sign--
a "smoke sign." This had not appeared in the
quarter that they were anxiously watching--it
came from the east. After a long consultation
among the men, it was concluded from the nature
and duration of the smoke that it proceeded from
an accidental fire. It was further surmised that
the fire was not made by Sioux, since it was out
of their country, but by a war-party of Ojibways,
who were accustomed to use matches when lighting
their pipes, and to throw them carelessly away.
It was thought that a little time had been spent in
an attempt to put it out.
The council decreed that a strict look-out should
be established in behalf of our party. Every day
a scout was appointed to reconnoitre in the direction
of the smoke. It was agreed that no gun
should be fired for twelve days. All our signals
were freshly rehearsed among the men. The
women and old men went so far as to dig little
convenient holes around their lodges, for defense
in case of a sudden attack. And yet an Ojibway
scout would not have suspected, from the ordinary
appearance of the camp, that the Sioux had become
aware of their neighborhood! Scouts were
stationed just outside of the village at night. They
had been so trained as to rival an owl or a cat in
their ability to see in the dark.
The twelve days passed by, however, without
bringing any evidence of the nearness of the supposed
Ojibway war-party, and the "lookout"
established for purposes of protection was abandoned.
Soon after this, one morning at dawn, we
were aroused by the sound of the unwelcome warwhoop.
Although only a child, I sprang up and
was about to rush out, as I had been taught to
do; but my good grandmother pulled me down,
and gave me a sign to lay flat on the ground. I
sharpened my ears and lay still.
All was quiet in camp, but at some little distance
from us there was a lively encounter. I could
distinctly hear the old herald, shouting and yelling
in exasperation. "Whoo! whoo!" was the
signal of distress, and I could almost hear the
pulse of my own blood-vessels.
Closer and closer the struggle came, and still
the women appeared to grow more and more calm.
At last a tremendous charge by the Sioux put the
enemy to flight; there was a burst of yelling;
alas! my friend and teacher, old Smoky Day, was
silent. He had been pierced to the heart by an
arrow from the Ojibways.
Although successful, we had lost two of our
men, Smoky Day and White Crane, and this incident,
although hardly unexpected, darkened our
peaceful sky. The camp was filled with songs of
victory, mingled with the wailing of the relatives
of the slain. The mothers of the youths who
were absent on the war-path could no longer conceal
their anxiety.
One frosty morning--for it was then near the
end of October--the weird song of a solitary brave
was heard. In an instant the camp was thrown
into indescribable confusion. The meaning of
this was clear as day to everybody--all of our
war-party were killed, save the one whose mournful
song announced the fate of his companions.
The lonely warrior was Bald Eagle.
The village was convulsed with grief; for in
sorrow, as in joy, every Indian shares with all the
others. The old women stood still, wherever
they might be, and wailed dismally, at intervals
chanting the praises of the departed warriors. The
wives went a little way from their teepees and
there audibly mourned; but the young maidens
wandered further away from the camp, where
no one could witness their grief. The old men
joined in the crying and singing. To all appearances
the most unmoved of all were the warriors,
whose tears must be poured forth in the
country of the enemy to embitter their vengeance.
These sat silently within their lodges,
and strove to conceal their feelings behind a
stoical countenance; but they would probably
have failed had not the soothing weed come to
their relief.
The first sad shock over, then came the change
of habiliments. In savage usage, the outward
expression of mourning surpasses that of civilization.
The Indian mourner gives up all his good
clothing, and contents himself with scanty and
miserable garments. Blankets are cut in two, and
the hair is cropped short. Often a devoted
mother would scarify her arms or legs; a sister or
a young wife would cut off all her beautiful hair
and disfigure herself by undergoing hardships.
Fathers and brothers blackened their faces, and
wore only the shabbiest garments. Such was the
spectacle that our people presented when the
bright autumn was gone and the cold shadow of
winter and misfortune had fallen upon us. "We
must suffer," said they--"the Great Mystery is
II: A Winter Camp
WHEN I was about twelve years
old we wintered upon the Mouse
river, west of Turtle mountain.
It was one of the coldest winters
I ever knew, and was so regarded
by the old men of the tribe.
The summer before there had been plenty of
buffalo upon that side of the Missouri, and our
people had made many packs of dried buffalo
meat and cached them in different places, so that
they could get them in case of need. There were
many black-tailed deer and elk along the river,
and grizzlies were to be found in the open country.
Apparently there was no danger of starvation,
so our people thought to winter there; but
it proved to be a hard winter.
There was a great snow-fall, and the cold was
intense. The snow was too deep for hunting, and
the main body of the buffalo had crossed the
Missouri, where it was too far to go after them.
But there were some smaller herds of the animals
scattered about in our vicinity, therefore there was
still fresh meat to be had, but it was not secured
without a great deal of difficulty.
No ponies could be used. The men hunted
on snow-shoes until after the Moon of Sore Eyes
(March), when after a heavy thaw a crust was
formed on the snow which would scarcely hold a
man. It was then that our people hunted buffalo
with dogs--an unusual expedient.
Sleds were made of buffalo ribs and hickory
saplings, the runners bound with rawhide with
the hair side down. These slipped smoothly over
the icy crust. Only small men rode on the sleds.
When buffalo were reported by the huntingscouts,
everybody had his dog team ready. All
went under orders from the police, and approached
the herd under cover until they came within
charging distance.
The men had their bows and arrows, and a few
had guns. The huge animals could not run fast
in the deep snow. They all followed a leader,
trampling out a narrow path. The dogs with
their drivers soon caught up with them on each
side, and the hunters brought many of them
I remember when the party returned, late in
the night. The men came in single file, well
loaded, and each dog following his master with
an equally heavy load. Both men and animals
were white with frost.
We boys had waited impatiently for their arrival.
As soon as we spied them coming a buffalo
hunting whistle was started, and every urchin in
the village added his voice to the weird sound,
while the dogs who had been left at home joined
with us in the chorus. The men, wearing their
buffalo moccasins with the hair inside and robes
of the same, came home hungry and exhausted.
It is often supposed that the dog in the Indian
camp is a useless member of society, but it is not
so in the wild life. We found him one of the
most useful of domestic animals, especially in an
While at this camp a ludicrous incident occurred
that is still told about the camp-fires of the Sioux.
One day the men were hunting on snow-shoes,
and contrived to get within a short distance of the
buffalo before they made the attack. It was impossible
to run fast, but the huge animals were
equally unable to get away. Many were killed.
Just as the herd reached an open plain one of the
buffaloes stopped and finally lay down. Three of
the men who were pursuing him shortly came up.
The animal was severely wounded, but not dead.
"I shall crawl up to him from behind and stab
him," said Wamedee; "we cannot wait here for
him to die." The others agreed. Wamedee was
not considered especially brave; but he took out
his knife and held it between his teeth. He then
approached the buffalo from behind and suddenly
jumped astride his back.
The animal was dreadfully frightened and struggled
to his feet. Wamedee's knife fell to the
ground, but he held on by the long shaggy hair.
He had a bad seat, for he was upon the buffalo's
hump. There was no chance to jump off; he had
to stay on as well as he could.
"Hurry! hurry! shoot! shoot!" he screamed,
as the creature plunged and kicked madly in the
deep snow. Wamedee's face looked deathly, they
said; but his two friends could not help laughing.
He was still calling upon them to shoot, but when
the others took aim he would cry: "Don't shoot!
don't shoot! you will kill me!" At last the animal
fell down with him; but Wamedee's two friends
also fell down exhausted with laughter. He was
ridiculed as a coward thereafter.
It was on this very hunt that the chief Mato
was killed by a buffalo. It happened in this way.
He had wounded the animal, but not fatally; so
he shot two more arrows at him from a distance.
Then the buffalo became desperate and charged
upon him. In his flight Mato was tripped by
sticking one of his snow-shoes into a snowdrift,
from which he could not extricate himself in time.
The bull gored him to death. The creek upon
which this happened is now called Mato creek.
A little way from our camp there was a log village
of French Canadian half-breeds, but the two villages
did not intermingle. About the Moon of
Difficulty (January) we were initiated into some
of the peculiar customs of our neighbors. In the
middle of the night there was a firing of guns
throughout their village. Some of the people
thought they had been attacked, and went over to
assist them, but to their surprise they were told
that this was the celebration of the birth of the new
Our men were treated to minnewakan or
"spirit water," and they came home crazy and
foolish. They talked loud and sang all the rest of
the night. Finally our head chief ordered his
young men to tie these men up and put them in a
lodge by themselves. He gave orders to untie
them "when the evil spirit had gone away."
During the next day all our people were invited
to attend the half-breeds' dance. I never knew
before that a new year begins in mid-winter. We
had always counted that the year ends when the
winter ends, and a new year begins with the new
life in the springtime.
I was now taken for the first time to a white
man's dance in a log house. I thought it was the
dizziest thing I ever saw. One man sat in a corner,
sawing away at a stringed board, and all the
while he was stamping the floor with his foot and
giving an occasional shout. When he called out,
the dancers seemed to move faster.
The men danced with women--something that
we Indians never do--and when the man in the
corner shouted they would swing the women
around. It looked very rude to me, as I stood
outside with the other boys and peeped through
the chinks in the logs. At one time a young man
and woman facing each other danced in the middle
of the floor. I thought they would surely
wear their moccasins out against the rough boards;
but after a few minutes they were relieved by another
Then an old man with long curly hair and a
fox-skin cap danced alone in the middle of the
room, slapping the floor with his moccasined foot
in a lightning fashion that I have never seen
equalled. He seemed to be a leader among them.
When he had finished, the old man invited our
principal chief into the middle of the floor, and
after the Indian had given a great whoop, the two
drank in company. After this, there was so much
drinking and loud talking among the men, that it
was thought best to send us children back to the
It was at this place that we found many sand
boulders like a big "white man's house." There
were holes in them like rooms, and we played in
these cave-like holes. One day, in the midst of
our game, we found the skeleton of a great bear.
Evidently he had been wounded and came there
to die, for there were several arrows on the floor
of the cave.
The most exciting event of this year was the
attack that the Gros Ventres made upon us just
as we moved our camp upon the table land back of
the river in the spring. We had plenty of meat
then and everybody was happy. The grass was
beginning to appear and the ponies to grow fat.
One night there was a war dance. A few of
our young men had planned to invade the Gros
Ventres country, but it seemed that they too had
been thinking of us. Everybody was interested
in the proposed war party.
"Uncle, are you going too?" I eagerly asked
"No," he replied, with a long sigh. "It is the
worst time of year to go on the war-path. We
shall have plenty of fighting this summer, as we
are going to trench upon their territory in our
hunts," he added.
The night was clear and pleasant. The war
drum was answered by the howls of coyotes on
the opposite side of the Mouse river. I was in
the throng, watching the braves who were about
to go out in search of glory. "I wish I were old
enough; I would surely go with this party," I
thought. My friend Tatanka was to go. He
was several years older than I, and a hero in my
eyes. I watched him as he danced with the rest
until nearly midnight. Then I came back to our
teepee and rolled myself in my buffalo robe and
was soon lost in sleep.
Suddenly I was aroused by loud war cries.
"'Woo! woo! hay-ay! hay-ay! U we do! U we
do!'" I jumped upon my feet, snatched my bow
and arrows and rushed out of the teepee, frantically
yelling as I went.
"Stop! stop!" screamed Uncheedah, and caught
me by my long hair.
By this time the Gros Ventres had encircled our
camp, sending volleys of arrows and bullets into
our midst. The women were digging ditches in
which to put their children.
My uncle was foremost in the battle. The
Sioux bravely withstood the assault, although
several of our men had already fallen. Many
of the enemy were killed in the field around our
teepees. The Sioux at last got their ponies and
made a counter charge, led by Oyemakasan (my
uncle). They cut the Gros Ventre party in two,
and drove them off.
My friend Tatanka was killed. I took one of
his eagle feathers, thinking I would wear it the
first time that I ever went upon the war-path. I
thought I would give anything for the opportunity
to go against the Gros Ventres, because
they killed my friend. The war songs, the wailing
for the dead, the howling of the dogs was
intolerable to me. Soon after this we broke up
our camp and departed for new scenes.
III: Wild Harvests
WHEN our people lived in Minnesota,
a good part of their natural
subsistence was furnished by
the wild rice, which grew abundantly
in all of that region.
Around the shores and all over
some of the innumerable lakes of the "Land of
Sky-blue Water" was this wild cereal found. Indeed,
some of the watery fields in those days
might be compared in extent and fruitfulness with
the fields of wheat on Minnesota's magnificent
farms to-day.
The wild rice harvesters came in groups of fifteen
to twenty families to a lake, depending upon
the size of the harvest. Some of the Indians
hunted buffalo upon the prairie at this season, but
there were more who preferred to go to the lakes
to gather wild rice, fish, gather berries and hunt the
deer. There was an abundance of water-fowls
among the grain; and really no season of the year
was happier than this.
The camping-ground was usually an attractive
spot, with shade and cool breezes off the water.
The people, while they pitched their teepees upon
the heights, if possible, for the sake of a good outlook,
actually lived in their canoes upon the placid
waters. The happiest of all, perhaps, were the
young maidens, who were all day long in their
canoes, in twos or threes, and when tired of gathering
the wild cereal, would sit in the boats doing
their needle-work.
These maidens learned to imitate the calls of
the different water-fowls as a sort of signal to the
members of a group. Even the old women and
the boys adopted signals, so that while the population
of the village was lost to sight in a thick
field of wild rice, a meeting could be arranged
without calling any one by his or her own name.
It was a great convenience for those young men
who sought opportunity to meet certain maidens,
for there were many canoe paths through the rice.
August is the harvest month. There were
many preliminary feasts of fish, ducks and venison,
and offerings in honor of the "Water Chief,"
so that there might not be any drowning accident
during the harvest. The preparation consisted
of a series of feasts and offerings for many days,
while women and men were making birch canoes,
for nearly every member of the family must be
provided with one for this occasion. The blueberry
and huckleberry-picking also preceded the
There were social events which enlivened the
camp of the harvesters; such as maidens' feasts,
dances and a canoe regatta or two, in which not
only the men were participants, but women and
young girls as well.
On the appointed day all the canoes were
carried to the shore and placed upon the water
with prayer and propitiatory offerings. Each
family took possession of the allotted field, and
tied all the grain in bundles of convenient size, allowing
it to stand for a few days. Then they
again entered the lake, assigning two persons to
each canoe. One manipulated the paddle, while
the foremost one gently drew the heads of each
bundle toward him and gave it a few strokes with a
light rod. This caused the rice to fall into the
bottom of the craft. The field was traversed in
this manner back and forth until finished.
This was the pleasantest and easiest part of the
harvest toil. The real work was when they prepared
the rice for use. First of all, it must be
made perfectly dry. They would spread it upon
buffalo robes and mats, and sometimes upon layers
of coarse swamp grass, and dry it in the sun.
If the time was short, they would make a scaffold
and spread upon it a certain thickness of the green
grass and afterward the rice. Under this a fire
was made, taking care that the grass did not catch
When all the rice is gathered and dried, the
hulling begins. A round hole is dug about two
feet deep and the same in diameter. Then the
rice is heated over a fire-place, and emptied into
the hole while it is hot. A young man, having
washed his feet and put on a new pair of moccasins,
treads upon it until all is hulled. The women
then pour it upon a robe and begin to shake it so
that the chaff will be separated by the wind. Some
of the rice is browned before being hulled.
During the hulling time there were prizes offered
to the young men who can hull quickest and
best. There were sometimes from twenty to fifty
youths dancing with their feet in these holes.
Pretty moccasins were brought by shy maidens
to the youths of their choice, asking them to hull
rice. There were daily entertainments which deserved
some such name as "hulling bee"--at any
rate, we all enjoyed them hugely. The girls
brought with them plenty of good things to eat.
When all the rice was prepared for the table,
the matter of storing it must be determined.
Caches were dug by each family in a concealed
spot, and carefully lined with dry grass and bark.
Here they left their surplus stores for a time of
need. Our people were very ingenious in covering
up all traces of the hidden food. A common
trick was to build a fire on top of the mound. As
much of the rice as could be carried conveniently
was packed in par-fleches, or cases made of rawhide,
and brought back with us to our village.
After all, the wild Indians could not be justly
termed improvident, when their manner of life is
taken into consideration. They let nothing go to
waste, and labored incessantly during the summer
and fall to lay up provision for the inclement season.
Berries of all kinds were industriously
gathered, and dried in the sun. Even the wild
cherries were pounded up, stones and all, made
into small cakes and dried for use in soups and for
mixing with the pounded jerked meat and fat to
form a much-prized Indian delicacy.
Out on the prairie in July and August the women
were wont to dig teepsinna with sharpened
sticks, and many a bag full was dried and put
away. This teepsinna is the root of a certain plant
growing mostly upon high sandy soil. It is starchy
but solid, with a sweetish taste, and is very fattening.
The fully grown teepsinna is two or three
inches long, and has a dark-brown bark not unlike
the bark of a young tree. It can be eaten raw or
stewed, and is always kept in a dried state, except
when it is first dug.
There was another root that our people gathered
in small quantities. It is a wild sweet potato,
found in bottom lands or river beds.
The primitive housekeeper exerted herself much
to secure a variety of appetizing dishes; she even
robbed the field mouse and the muskrat to accomplish
her end. The tiny mouse gathers for her
winter use several excellent kinds of food. Among
these is a wild bean which equals in flavor any domestic
bean that I have ever tasted. Her storehouse
is usually under a peculiar mound, which the untrained
eye would be unable to distinguish from
an ant-hill. There are many pockets underneath,
into which she industriously gathers the harvest
of the summer.
She is fortunate if the quick eye of a native
woman does not detect her hiding-place. About
the month of September, while traveling over the
prairie, a woman is occasionally observed to halt
suddenly and waltz around a suspected mound.
Finally the pressure of her heel causes a place to
give way, and she settles contentedly down to rob
the poor mouse of the fruits of her labor.
The different kinds of beans are put away in
different pockets, but it is the oomenechah she
wants. The field mouse loves this savory vegetable,
for she always gathers it more than any other.
There is also some of the white star-like manakcahkcah,
the root of the wild lily. This is a good
medicine and good to eat.
When our people were gathering the wild rice,
they always watched for another plant that grows
in the muddy bottom of lakes and ponds. It is a
white bulb about the size of an ordinary onion.
This is stored away by the muskrats in their houses
by the waterside, and there is often a bushel or
more of the psinchinchah to be found within. It
seemed as if everybody was good to the wild Indian;
at least we thought so then.
I have referred to the opportunities for courting
upon the wild rice fields. Indian courtship is very
peculiar in many respects; but when you study
their daily life you will see the philosophy of their
etiquette of love-making. There was no parlor
courtship; the life was largely out-of-doors, which
was very favorable to the young men
In a nomadic life where the female members of
the family have entire control of domestic affairs,
the work is divided among them all. Very often
the bringing of the wood and water devolves upon
the young maids, and the spring or the woods
become the battle-ground of love's warfare. The
nearest water may be some distance from the camp,
which is all the better. Sometimes, too, there is
no wood to be had; and in that case, one would
see the young women scattered all over the prairie,
gathering buffalo chips for fuel.
This is the way the red men go about to induce
the aboriginal maids to listen to their suit. As soon
as the youth has returned from the war-path or the
chase, he puts on his porcupine-quill embroidered
moccasins and leggings, and folds his best robe
about him. He brushes his long, glossy hair with
a brush made from the tail of the porcupine, perfumes
it with scented grass or leaves, then arranges
it in two plaits with an otter skin or some other ornament.
If he is a warrior, he adds an eagle
feather or two.
If he chooses to ride, he takes his best pony.
He jumps upon its bare back, simply throwing a
part of his robe under him to serve as a saddle,
and holding the end of a lariat tied about the
animal's neck. He guides him altogether by the
motions of his body. These wily ponies seem to
enter into the spirit of the occasion, and very often
capture the eyes of the maid by their graceful
movements, in perfect obedience to their master.
The general custom is for the young men to pull
their robes over their heads, leaving only a slit to
look through. Sometimes the same is done by the
maiden--especially in public courtship.
He approaches the girl while she is coming from
the spring. He takes up his position directly in
her path. If she is in a hurry or does not care to
stop, she goes around him; but if she is willing to
stop and listen she puts down on the ground the
vessel of water she is carrying.
Very often at the first meeting the maiden does
not know who her lover is. He does not introduce
himself immediately, but waits until a second
meeting. Sometimes she does not see his face at
all; and then she will try to find out who he is
and what he looks like before they meet again. If
he is not a desirable suitor, she will go with her
chaperon and end the affair there.
There are times when maidens go in twos, and
then there must be two young men to meet them.
There is some courtship in the night time; either
in the early part of the evening, on the outskirts
of dances and other public affairs, or after everybody
is supposed to be asleep. This is the secret
courtship. The youth may pull up the tentpins
just back of his sweetheart and speak with her
during the night. He must be a smart young man
to do that undetected, for the grandmother, her
chaperon, is usually "all ears."
Elopements are common. There are many
reasons for a girl or a youth to defer their wedding.
It may be from personal pride of one or both. The
well-born are married publicly, and many things
are given away in their honor. The maiden may
desire to attend a certain number of maidens' feasts
before marrying. The youth may be poor, or he
may wish to achieve another honor before surrendering
to a woman.
Sometimes a youth is so infatuated with a maiden
that he will follow her to any part of the country,
even after their respective bands have separated for
the season. I knew of one such case. Patah
Tankah had courted a distant relative of my uncle
for a long time. There seemed to be some objection
to him on the part of the girl's parents, although
the girl herself was willing.
The large camp had been broken up for the fall
hunt, and my uncle's band went one way, while
the young man's family went in the other direction.
After three days' travelling, we came to a good
hunting-ground, and made camp. One evening
somebody saw the young man. He had been following
his sweetheart and sleeping out-of-doors
all that time, although the nights were already
frosty and cold. He met her every day in secret
and she brought him food, but he would not come
near the teepee. Finally her people yielded, and
she went back with him to his band.
When we lived our natural life, there was much
singing of war songs, medicine, hunting and love
songs. Sometimes there were few words or none,
but everything was understood by the inflection.
From this I have often thought that there must
be a language of dumb beasts.
The crude musical instrument of the Sioux, the
flute, was made to appeal to the susceptible ears of
the maidens late into the night. There comes to
me now the picture of two young men with their
robes over their heads, and only a portion of the
hand-made and carved chotanka, the flute, protruding
from its folds. I can see all the maidens slyly
turn their heads to listen. Now I hear one of
the youths begin to sing a plaintive serenade as in
days gone by:
"Hay-ay-ay! Hay-ay-ay! a-ahay-ay!" (This
"Listen! you will hear of him--
Maiden, you will hear of him--
Listen! he will shortly go
Wasula feels that she must come out, but she
has no good excuse, so she stirs up the embers of
the fire and causes an unnecessary smoke in the
teepee. Then she has an excuse to come out and
fix up the tent flaps. She takes a long time to adjust
these pointed ears of the teepee, with their
long poles, for the wind seems to be unsettled.
Finally Chotanka ceases to be heard. In a
moment a young man appears ghost-like at the
maiden's side.
"So it is you, is it?" she asks.
"Is your grandmother in?" he inquires.
"What a brave man you are, to fear an old woman!
We are free; the country is wide. We
can go away, and come back when the storm is
"Ho," he replies. "It is not that I fear her,
or the consequences of an elopement. I fear nothing
except that we may be separated!"
The girl goes into the lodge for a moment, then
slips out once more. "Now," she exclaims, "to
the wood or the prairie! I am yours!" They disappear
in the darkness.
IV: A Meeting on the Plains
WE were encamped at one time on
the Souris or Mouse river, a tributary
of the Assiniboine. The
buffaloes were still plenty; hence
we were living on the "fat of the
land." One afternoon a scout
came in with the announcement that a body of
United States troops was approaching! This report,
of course, caused much uneasiness among
our people.
A council was held immediately, in the course
of which the scout was put through a rigid examination.
Before a decision had been reached, another
scout came in from the field. He declared
that the moving train reported as a body of troops
was in reality a train of Canadian carts.
The two reports differed so widely that it was
deemed wise to send out more runners to observe
this moving body closely, and ascertain definitely
its character. These soon returned with the positive
information that the Canadians were at hand,
"for," said they, "there are no bright metals in
the moving train to send forth flashes of light.
The separate bodies are short, like carts with ponies,
and not like the long, four-wheeled wagon drawn
by four or six mules, that the soldiers use. They
are not buffaloes, and they cannot be mounted
troops, with pack-mules, because the individual
bodies are too long for that. Besides, the soldiers
usually have their chief, with his guards, leading
the train; and the little chiefs are also separated
from the main body and ride at one side!"
From these observations it was concluded that
we were soon to meet with the bois brules, as the
French call their mixed-bloods, presumably from
the color of their complexions. Some say that
they are named from the "burned forests" which,
as wood-cutters, they are accustomed to leave behind
them. Two or three hours later, at about
sunset, our ears began to distinguish the peculiar
music that always accompanied a moving train of
their carts. It is like the grunting and squealing
of many animals, and is due to the fact that the
wheels and all other parts of these vehicles are
made of wood. Our dogs gleefully augmented the
volume of inharmonious sound.
They stopped a little way from our camp, upon
a grassy plain, and the ponies were made to wheel
their clumsy burdens into a perfect circle, the
shafts being turned inward. Thus was formed a
sort of barricade--quite a usual and necessary precaution
in their nomadic and adventurous life.
Within this circle the tents were pitched, and many
cheerful fires were soon kindled. The garcons
were hurriedly driving the ponies to water, with
much cracking of whips and outbursting of impatient
Our chief and his principal warriors briefly conferred
with the strangers, and it was understood
by both parties that no thought of hostilities lurked
in the minds of either.
After having observed the exchange of presents
that always follows a "peace council," there were
friendly and hospitable feasts in both camps. The
bois brules had been long away from any fort or
trading-post, and it so happened that their inevitable
whiskey keg was almost empty. They had
diluted the few gills remaining with several large
kettles full of water. In order to have any sort of
offensive taste, it was necessary to add cayenne
pepper and a little gentian.
Our men were treated to this concoction; and
seeing that two or three of the half-breeds pretended
to become intoxicated, our braves followed
their example. They made night intolerable with
their shouts and singing until past midnight, when
gradually all disturbance ceased, and both camps
appeared to be wrapped in deep slumber.
Suddenly the loud report of a gun stirred the
sleepers. Many more reports were heard in quick
succession, all coming from the camp of the bois
brules. Every man among the Sioux sprang to his
feet, weapon in hand, and many ran towards their
ponies. But there was one significant point about
the untimely firing of the guns--they were all directed
heavenward! One of our old men, who
understood better than any one else the manners
of the half-breeds, thus proclaimed at the top of
his voice:
"Let the people sleep! This that we have
heard is the announcement of a boy's advent into
the world! It is their custom to introduce with
gunpowder a new-born boy!"
Again quiet was restored in the neighboring
camps, and for a time the night reigned undisturbed.
But scarcely had we fallen into a sound
sleep when we were for the second time rudely
aroused by the firing of guns and the yelling of
warriors. This time it was discovered that almost
all the ponies, including those of our neighbors,
had been stealthily driven off by horse-thieves of
another tribe.
These miscreants were adepts in their profession,
for they had accomplished their purpose
with much skill, almost under the very eyes of
the foe, and had it not been for the invincible
superstition of Slow Dog, they would have met
with complete success. As it was, they caused us
no little trouble and anxiety, but after a hot pursuit
of a whole day, with the assistance of the halfbreeds
our horses were recaptured.
Slow Dog was one of those Indians who are filled
with conceit, and boasting loudly their pretensions
as medicine men, without any success, only bring
upon themselves an unnecessary amount of embarrassment
and ridicule. Yet there is one quality
always possessed by such persons, among a
savage people as elsewhere--namely, great perseverance
and tenacity in their self-assertion. So
the blessing of ignorance kept Slow Dog always
cheerful; and he seemed, if anything, to derive
some pleasure from the endless insinuations and
ridicule of the people!
Now Slow Dog had loudly proclaimed, on the
night before this event, that he had received the
warning of a bad dream, in which he had seen all
the ponies belonging to the tribe stampeded and
driven westward.
"But who cares for Slow Dog's dream?" said
everybody; "none of the really great medicine men
have had any such visions!"
Therefore our little community, given as they
were to superstition, anticipated no special danger.
It is true that when the first scout reported the
approach of troops some of the people had weakened,
and said to one another:
"After all, perhaps poor Slow Dog may be right;
but we are always too ready to laugh at him! "
However, this feeling quickly passed away when
the jovial Canadians arrived, and the old man was
left alone to brood upon his warning.
He was faithful to his dream. During all the
hilarity of the feast and the drinking of the mock
whiskey, be acted as self-constituted sentinel.
Finally, when everybody else had succumbed to
sleep, he gathered together several broken and
discarded lariats of various materials--leather,
buffalo's hair and horse's hair. Having lengthened
this variegated rope with innumerable knots,
he fastened one end of it around the neck of his
old war-horse, and tied the other to his wrist. Instead
of sleeping inside the tent as usual, he rolled
himself in a buffalo robe and lay down in its
shadow. From this place he watched until the
moon had disappeared behind the western horizon;
and just as the grey dawn began to appear
in the east his eyes were attracted to what seemed
to be a dog moving among the picketed ponies.
Upon a closer scrutiny, he saw that its actions
were unnatural.
"Toka abe do! toka abe do!" (the enemy! the
enemy!) exclaimed Slow Dog. With a warwhoop
he sprang toward the intruder, who rose
up and leaped upon the back of Slow Dog's warsteed.
He had cut the hobble, as well as the device
of the old medicine man.
The Sioux now bent his bow to shoot, but it
was too late. The other quickly dodged behind
the animal, and from under its chest he sent a
deadly arrow to Slow Dog's bosom. Then he remounted
the pony and set off at full speed after
his comrades, who had already started.
As the Sioux braves responded to the alarm,
and passed by the daring old warrior in pursuit of
their enemies, who had stampeded most of the
loose ponies, the old man cried out:
"I, brave Slow Dog, who have so often made
a path for you on the field of battle, am now
about to make one to the land of spirits!"
So speaking, the old man died. The Sioux
were joined in the chase by the friendly mixedbloods,
and in the end the Blackfeet were compelled
to pay dearly for the blood of the poor old
On that beautiful morning all Nature seemed
brilliant and smiling, but the Sioux were mourning
and wailing for the death of one who had been
an object of ridicule during most of his life. They
appreciated the part that Slow Dog had played in
this last event, and his memory was honored by all
the tribe.
V: An Adventurous Journey
IT must now be about thirty years
since our long journey in search
of new hunting-grounds, from the
Assiniboine river to the Upper
Missouri. The buffalo, formerly
so abundant between the two
rivers, had begun to shun their usual haunts, on
account of the great numbers of Canadian halfbreeds
in that part of the country. There was
also the first influx of English sportsmen, whose
wholesale methods of destruction wrought such
havoc with the herds. These seemingly intelligent
animals correctly prophesied to the natives
the approach of the pale-face.
As we had anticipated, we found game very
scarce as we travelled slowly across the vast plains.
There were only herds of antelope and sometimes
flocks of waterfowl, with here and there a lonely
bull straggling aimlessly along. At first our party
was small, but as we proceeded on our way we fell
in with some of the western bands of Sioux and
Assiniboines, who are close connections.
Each day the camp was raised and marched
from ten to twenty miles. One might wonder
how such a cavalcade would look in motion. The
only vehicles were the primitive travaux drawn by
ponies and large Esquimaux dogs. These are
merely a pair of shafts fastened on either side of
the animal, and trailing on the ground behind. A
large basket suspended between the poles, just
above the ground, supplied a place for goods and
a safe nest for the babies, or an occasional helpless
old woman. Most of our effects were carried by
pack ponies; and an Indian packer excels all others
in quickness and dexterity.
The train was nearly a mile long, headed by a
number of old warriors on foot, who carried the
filled pipe, and decided when and where to stop.
A very warm day made much trouble for the
women who had charge of the moving household.
The pack dogs were especially unmanageable.
They would become very thirsty and run into the
water with their loads. The scolding of the women,
the singing of the old men and the yelps of the
Indian dudes made our progress a noisy one, and
like that of a town in motion rather than an ordinary
company of travelers.
This journey of ours was not without its exciting
episodes. My uncle had left the main body
and gone off to the south with a small party, as
he was accustomed to do every summer, to seek
revenge of some sort on the whites for all the injuries
that they had inflicted upon our family.
This time he met with a company of soldiers between
Fort Totten and Fort Berthold, in North
Dakota. Somehow, these seven Indians surprised
the troopers in broad daylight, while eating their
dinner, and captured the whole outfit, including
nearly all their mules and one white horse, with
such of their provisions as they cared to carry back
with them. No doubt these soldiers reported at
the fort that they had been attacked by a large
party of Indians, and I dare say some promotions
rewarded their tale of a brave defense!
However, the facts are just as I have stated them.
My uncle brought home the white horse, and the
fine Spanish mules were taken by the others.
Among the things they brought back with them
were several loaves of raised bread, the first I had
ever seen, and a great curiosity. We called it
aguyape tachangu, or lung bread, from its spongy
Although when a successful war-party returns
with so many trophies, there is usually much
dancing and hilarity, there was almost nothing of
the kind on this occasion. The reason was that
the enemy made little resistance; and then there
was our old tradition with regard to the whites
that there is no honor in conquering them, as
they fight only under compulsion. Had there
really been a battle, and some of our men been
killed, there would have been some enthusiasm.
It was upon this journey that a hunter performed
the feat of shooting an arrow through
three antelopes. This statement may perhaps be
doubted, yet I can vouch for its authenticity. He
was not alone at the time, and those who were
with him are reliable witnesses. The animals were
driven upon a marshy peninsula, where they were
crowded together and almost helpless. Many
were despatched with knives and arrows; and a
man by the name of Grey-foot, who was large and
tall and an extraordinarily fine hunter, actually
sent his arrow through three of them. This feat
was not accomplished by mere strength, for it requires
a great deal of skill as well.
A misfortune occurred near the river which deprived
us of one of our best young men. There
was no other man, except my own uncle, for whom
I had at that time so great an admiration. Very
strangely, as it appeared to me, he bore a Christian
name. He was commonly called Jacob. I
did not discover how he came by such a curious
and apparently meaningless name until after I had
returned to the United States. His father had
been converted by one of the early missionaries,
before the Minnesota massacre in 1862, and the
boy had been baptized Jacob. He was an ideal
woodsman and hunter and really a hero in my
eyes. He was one of the party of seven who had
attacked and put to rout the white soldiers.
The trouble arose thus. Jacob had taken from
the soldiers two good mules, and soon afterward
we fell in with some Canadian half-breeds who
were desirous of trading for them. However, the
young man would not trade; he was not at all disposed
to part with his fine mules. A certain one
of the mixed-bloods was intent upon getting possession
of these animals by fair or unfair means.
He invited Jacob to dinner, and treated him to
whiskey; but the Indian youth declined the liquor.
The half-breed pretended to take this refusal to
drink as an insult. He seized his gun and shot
his guest dead.
In a few minutes the scene was one of almost
unprecedented excitement. Every adult Indian,
female as well as male, was bent upon invading
the camp of the bois brules, to destroy the murderer.
The confusion was made yet more intolerable
by the wailing of the women and the singing
of death-songs.
Our number was now ten to one of the halfbreeds.
Within the circle formed by their carts
they prepared for a desperate resistance. The hills
about their little encampment were covered with
warriors, ready to pounce upon them at the signal
of their chief.
The older men, however, were discussing in
council what should be demanded of the halfbreeds.
It was determined that the murderer
must be given up to us, to be punished according
to the laws of the plains. If, however, they
should refuse to give him up, the mode of attack
decided upon was to build a fire around the offenders
and thus stampede their horses, or at the least
divide their attention. Meanwhile, the braves
were to make a sudden onset.
Just then a piece of white, newly-tanned deerskin
was hoisted up in the center of the bois brule
encampment. It was a flag of truce. One of
their number approached the council lodge, unarmed
and making the sign for a peaceful communication.
He was admitted to the council,
which was still in session, and offered to give up
the murderer. It was also proposed, as an alternative,
that he be compelled to give everything
he had to the parents of the murdered man.
The parents were allowed no voice whatever in
the discussion which followed, for they were regarded
as incompetent judges, under the circumstances.
It was finally decreed by the council
that the man's life should be spared, but that he
must be exposed to the indignity of a public whipping,
and resign all his earthly possessions to the
parents of his victim. This sentence was carried
into effect.
In our nomadic life there were a few unwritten
laws by which our people were governed. There
was a council, a police force, and an executive officer,
who was not always the chief, but a member
of the tribe appointed to this position for a given
number of days. There were also the wise old
men who were constantly in attendance at the
council lodge, and acted as judges in the rare event
of the commission of a crime.
This simple government of ours was supported
by the issue of little sticks about five inches long.
There were a hundred or so of these, and they
were distributed every few days by the police or
soldiers, who kept account of them. Whoever
received one of these sticks must return it within
five or ten days, with a load of provisions. If one
was held beyond the stipulated time the police
would call the delinquent warrior to account. In
case he did not respond, they could come and destroy
his tent or take away his weapons. When
all the sticks had been returned, they were reissued
to other men; and so the council lodge was
It was the custom that no man who had not
distinguished himself upon the war-path could
destroy the home of another. This was a necessary
qualification for the office of an Indian policeman.
These policemen must also oversee the hunt,
lest some individuals should be well provided
with food while others were in want. No man
might hunt independently. The game must be
carefully watched by the game scouts, and the discovery
of a herd reported at once to the council,
after which the time and manner of the hunt were
publicly announced.
I well recall how the herald announced the near
approach of buffaloes. It was supposed that if the
little boys could trip up the old man while going
his rounds, the success of the hunt was assured.
The oftener he was tripped, the more successful it
would be! The signal or call for buffaloes was
a peculiar whistle. As soon as the herald appeared,
all the boys would give the whistle and follow in
crowds after the poor old man. Of course he tried
to avoid them, but they were generally too quick
for him.
There were two kinds of scouts, for hunting and
for war. In one sense every Indian was a scout;
but there were some especially appointed to serve
for a certain length of time. An Indian might
hunt every day, besides the regularly organized
hunt; but he was liable to punishment at any time.
If he could kill a solitary buffalo or deer without
disturbing the herd, it was allowed. He might
also hunt small game.
In the movable town under such a government
as this, there was apt to be inconvenience and actual
suffering, since a great body of people were
supported only by the daily hunt. Hence there
was a constant disposition to break up into smaller
parties, in order to obtain food more easily and
freely. Yet the wise men of the Dakotas would
occasionally form large bands of from two to five
thousand people, who camped and moved about
together for a period of some months. It is apparent
that so large a body could not be easily supplied
with the necessaries of life; but, on the other
hand, our enemies respected such a gathering! Of
course the nomadic government would do its utmost
to hold together as long as possible. The
police did all they could to keep in check those
parties who were intent upon stealing away.
There were many times, however, when individual
bands and even families were justified in seeking
to separate themselves from the rest, in order
to gain a better support. It was chiefly by reason
of this food question that the Indians never established
permanent towns or organized themselves
into a more formidable nation.
There was a sad misfortune which, although it
happened many generations ago, was familiarly
quoted among us. A certain band became very
independent and unruly; they went so far as to
wilfully disobey the orders of the general government.
The police were directed to punish the
leader severely; whereupon the rest defended
him and resisted the police. But the latter were
competent to enforce their authority, and as a result
the entire band was annihilated.
One day, as we were following along the bank
of the Upper Missouri, there appeared to be a
great disturbance at the head of the cavalcade--so
much so that we thought our people had been
attacked by a war-party of the Crows or some of
the hostile tribes of that region. In spite of the
danger, even the women and children hurried forward
to join the men--that is to say, as many as
were not upon the hunt. Most of the warriors
were out, as usual, and only the large boys and the
old men were travelling with the women and their
domestic effects and little ones.
As we approached the scene of action, we heard
loud shouts and the report of fire-arms; but our
party was scattered along for a considerable distance,
and all was over before we could reach the
spot. It was a great grizzly bear who had been
bold enough to oppose, single-handed, the progress
of several hundred Indians. The council-men,
who usually walked a little in advance of the train,
were the first to meet the bear, and he was probably
deceived by the sight of this advance body,
and thus audaciously defied them.
Among these council-men--all retired chiefs
and warriors whose ardent zeal for the display of
courage had long been cooled, and whose present
duties were those of calm deliberation for their
people's welfare--there were two old, distinguished
war-chiefs. Each of these men still carried his
war-lance, wrapped up in decorated buckskin. As
the bear advanced boldly toward them, the two old
men promptly threw off their robes--an evidence
that there still lurked within their breasts the spirit
of chivalry and ready courage. Spear in hand,
they both sprang forward to combat with the ferocious
animal, taking up their positions about ten
feet apart.
As they had expected, the fearful beast, after
getting up on his haunches and growling savagely,
came forward with widely opened jaws. He fixed
his eyes upon the left-hand man, who was ready
to meet him with uplifted spear, but with one
stroke of his powerful paw the weapon was sent to
the ground. At the same moment the right-hand
man dealt him a stab that penetrated the grizzly's
The bear uttered a groan not unlike that of a
man, and seized the spear so violently that its
owner was thrown to the ground. As the animal
drew the lance from its body, the first man, having
recovered his own, stabbed him with it on the
other side. Upon this, he turned and knocked
the old man down, and again endeavored to extract
the spear.
By this time all the dogs and men were at hand.
Many arrows and balls were sent into the tough
hide of the bear. Yet he would probably have
killed both his assailants, had it not been for the
active small dogs who were constantly upon his
heels and annoying him. A deadly rifle shot at
last brought him down.
The old men were badly bruised and torn, but
both of them recovered, to bear from that day the
high-sounding titles of "Fought-the-Bear" and
The Laughing Philosopher
THERE is scarcely anything so
exasperating to me as the idea
that the natives of this country
have no sense of humor and no
faculty for mirth. This phase
of their character is well understood
by those whose fortune or misfortune it has
been to live among them day in and day out at
their homes. I don't believe I ever heard a real
hearty laugh away from the Indians' fireside. I
have often spent an entire evening in laughing with
them until I could laugh no more. There are
evenings when the recognized wit or story-teller
of the village gives a free entertainment which
keeps the rest of the community in a convulsive
state until he leaves them. However, Indian
humor consists as much in the gestures and inflections
of the voice as in words, and is really untranslatable.
Matogee (Yellow Bear) was a natural humorous
speaker, and a very diffident man at other times.
He usually said little, but when he was in the
mood he could keep a large company in a roar.
This was especially the case whenever he met his
brother-in-law, Tamedokah.
It was a custom with us Indians to joke more
particularly with our brothers- and sisters-in-law.
But no one ever complained, or resented any of
these jokes, however personal they might be.
That would be an unpardonable breach of etiquette.
"Tamedokah, I heard that you tried to capture
a buck by holding on to his tail," said Matogee,
laughing. "I believe that feat cannot be performed
any more; at least, it never has been since
the pale-face brought us the knife, the 'mysterious
iron,' and the pulverized coal that makes bullets
fly. Since our ancestors hunted with stone knives
and hatchets, I say, that has never been done."
The fact was that Tamedokah had stunned a
buck that day while hunting, and as he was about
to dress him the animal got up and attempted to
run, whereupon the Indian launched forth to secure
his game. He only succeeded in grasping the
tail of the deer, and was pulled about all over the
meadows and the adjacent woods until the tail
came off in his hands. Matogee thought this
too good a joke to be lost.
I sat near the door of the tent, and thoroughly
enjoyed the story of the comical accident.
"Yes," Tamedokah quietly replied, "I thought
I would do something to beat the story of the
man who rode a young elk, and yelled frantically
for help, crying like a woman."
"Ugh! that was only a legend," retorted Matogee,
for it was he who was the hero of this tale
in his younger days. "But this is a fresh feat of
to-day. Chankpayuhah said he could not tell
which was the most scared, the buck or you," he
continued. "He said the deer's eyes were bulging
out of their sockets, while Tamedokah's
mouth was constantly enlarging toward his ears,
and his hair floated on the wind, shaking among
the branches of the trees. That will go down
with the traditions of our fathers," he concluded
with an air of satisfaction.
"It was a singular mishap," admitted Tamedokah.
The pipe had been filled by Matogee and passed
to Tamedokah good-naturedly, still with a broad
smile on his face. "It must be acknowledged,"
he resumed, "that you have the strongest kind of
a grip, for no one else could hold on as long as you
did, and secure such a trophy besides. That tail
will do for an eagle feather holder."
By this time the teepee was packed to overflowing.
Loud laughter had been heard issuing
from the lodge of Matogee, and everybody
suspected that he had something good, so
many had come to listen.
"I think we should hear the whole matter,"
said one of the late comers.
The teepee was brightly lit by the burning embers,
and all the men were sitting with their knees
up against their chests, held in that position by
wrapping their robes tightly around loins and
knees. This fixed them something in the fashion
of a rocking-chair.
"Well, no one saw him except Chankpayuhah,"
Matogee remarked.
"Yes, yes, he must tell us about it," exclaimed
a chorus of voices.
"This is what I saw," the witness began. "I
was tracking a buck and a doe. As I approached
a small opening at the creek side 'boom !' came
a report of the mysterious iron. I remained in
a stooping position, hoping to see a deer cross the
opening. In this I was not disappointed, for immediately
after the report a fine buck dashed forth
with Tamedokah close behind him. The latter
was holding on to the deer's tail with both hands
and his knife was in his mouth, but it soon dropped
out. 'Tamedokah,' I shouted, 'haven't you got
hold of the wrong animal?' but as I spoke they
disappeared into the woods.
"In a minute they bothappeared again, and
then it was that I began to laugh. I could not
stop. It almost killed me. The deer jumped the
longest jumps I ever saw. Tamedokah walked
the longest paces and was very swift. His hair
was whipping the trees as they went by. Water
poured down his face. I stood bent forward because
I could not straighten my back-bone, and
was ready to fall when they again disappeared.
"When they came out for the third time it
seemed as if the woods and the meadow were moving
too. Tamedokah skipped across the opening
as if he were a grasshopper learning to hop. I
fell down.
"When I came to he was putting water on my
face and head, but when I looked at him I fell
again, and did not know anything until the sun
had passed the mid-sky.
The company was kept roaring all the way
through this account, while Tamedokah himself
heartily joined in the mirth.
"Ho, ho, ho!" they said; "he has made his
name famous in our annals. This will be told of
him henceforth."
"It reminds me of Chadozee's bear story," said
"His was more thrilling, because it was really
dangerous," interposed another.
"You can tell it to us, Bobdoo," remarked a
The man thus addressed made no immediate
reply. He was smoking contentedly. At last he
silently returned the pipe to Matogee, with whom
it had begun its rounds. Deliberately he tightened
his robe around him, saying as he did
"Ho (Yes). I was with him. It was by a
very little that he saved his life. I will tell you
how it happened.
"I was hunting with these two men, Nageedah
and Chadozee. We came to some wild cherry
bushes. I began to eat of the fruit when I saw a
large silver-tip crawling toward us. 'Look out!
there is a grizzly here,' I shouted, and I ran my
pony out on to the prairie; but the others had
already dismounted.
"Nageedah had just time to jump upon his
pony and get out of the way, but the bear seized
hold of his robe and pulled it off. Chadozee
stood upon the verge of a steep bank, below
which there ran a deep and swift-flowing stream.
The bear rushed upon him so suddenly that when
he took a step backward, they both fell into the
creek together. It was a fall of about twice the
height of a man."
"Did they go out of sight?" some one inquired.
"Yes, both fell headlong. In his excitement
Chadozee laid hold of the bear in the water, and I
never saw a bear try so hard to get away from a
man as this one did."
"Ha, ha, ha! ha, ha, ha!" they all laughed.
"When they came to the surface again they
were both so eager to get to the shore that each
let go, and they swam as quickly as they could to
opposite sides. Chadozee could not get any further,
so he clung to a stray root, still keeping a close
watch of the bear, who was forced to do the same.
There they both hung, regarding each other with
looks of contempt and defiance."
"Ha, ha, ha! ha, ha, ha!" they all laughed
"At last the bear swam along the edge to a
lower place, and we pulled Chadozee up by means
of our lariats. All this time he had been groaning
so loud that we supposed he was badly torn;
but when I looked for his wounds I found a mere
Again the chorus of appreciation from his
"The strangest thing about this affair of mine,"
spoke up Tamedokah, "is that I dreamed the
whole thing the night before."
"There are some dreams come true, and I am
a believer in dreams," one remarked.
"Yes, certainly, so are we all. You know
Hachah almost lost his life by believing in
dreams," commented Matogee.
"Let us hear that story," was the general request.
"You have all heard of Hachah, the great
medicine man, who did many wonderful things.
He once dreamed four nights in succession of flying
from a high cliff over the Minnesota river.
He recollected every particular of the scene, and
it made a great impression upon his mind.
"The next day after he had dreamed it for the
fourth time, he proposed to his wife that they go
down to the river to swim, but his real purpose
was to see the place of his dream.
"He did find the place, and it seemed to Hachah
exactly like. A crooked tree grew out of
the top of the cliff, and the water below was very
"Did he really fly?" I called impatiently from
the doorway, where I had been listening and laughing
with the rest.
"Ugh, that is what I shall tell you. He was
swimming about with his wife, who was a fine
swimmer; but all at once Hachah disappeared.
Presently he stood upon the very tree that he had
seen in his dream, and gazed out over the water.
The tree was very springy, and Hachah felt sure
that he could fly; so before long he launched
bravely forth from the cliff. He kicked out vigorously
and swung both arms as he did so, but
nevertheless he came down to the bottom of the
water like a crow that had been shot on the wing."
"Ho, ho, ho! Ho, ho, ho!" and the whole
company laughed unreservedly.
"His wife screamed loudly as Hachah whirled
downward and went out of sight like a blue heron
after a fish. Then she feared he might be stunned,
so she swam to him and dragged him to the
shore. He could not speak, but the woman overwhelmed
him with reproaches.
"'What are you trying to do, you old idiot?
Do you want to kill yourself?' she screamed
again and again.
"'Woman, be silent,' he replied, and he said
nothing more. He did not tell his dream for
many years afterward. Not until he was a very
old man and about to die, did Hachah tell any one
how he thought he could fly."
And at this they all laughed louder than ever.
First Impressions of Civilization
I WAS scarcely old enough to know
anything definite about the "Big
Knives," as we called the white
men, when the terrible Minnesota
massacre broke up our home and
I was carried into exile. I have already
told how I was adopted into the family of
my father's younger brother, when my father was
betrayed and imprisoned. We all supposed that
he had shared the fate of those who were executed
at Mankato, Minnesota.
Now the savage philosophers looked upon vengeance
in the field of battle as a lofty virtue. To
avenge the death of a relative or of a dear friend
was considered a great deed. My uncle, accordingly,
had spared no pains to instill into my young
mind the obligation to avenge the death of my
father and my older brothers. Already I looked
eagerly forward to the day when I should find an
opportunity to carry out his teachings. Meanwhile,
he himself went upon the war-path and returned
with scalps every summer. So it may be
imagined how I felt toward the Big Knives!
On the other hand, I had heard marvelous things
of this people. In some things we despised them;
in others we regarded them as wakan (mysterious),
a race whose power bordered upon the supernatural.
I learned that they had made a "fireboat."
I could not understand how they could
unite two elements which cannot exist together. I
thought the water would put out the fire, and the
fire would consume the boat if it had the shadow of
a chance. This was to me a preposterous thing!
But when I was told that the Big Knives had created
a "fire-boat-walks-on-mountains" (a locomotive)
it was too much to believe.
"Why," declared my informant, "those who
saw this monster move said that it flew from mountain
to mountain when it seemed to be excited.
They said also that they believed it carried a
thunder-bird, for they frequently heard his usual
war-whoop as the creature sped along!"
Several warriors had observed from a distance
one of the first trains on the Northern Pacific, and
had gained an exaggerated impression of the wonders
of the pale-face. They had seen it go over a
bridge that spanned a deep ravine and it seemed
First Impressions of Civilization 281
to them that it jumped from one bank to the other.
I confess that the story almost quenched my ardor
and bravery.
Two or three young men were talking together
about this fearful invention.
"However," said one, "I understand that this
fire-boat-walks-on-mountains cannot move except
on the track made for it."
Although a boy is not expected to join in the conversation
of his elders, I ventured to ask: "Then
it cannot chase us into any rough country?"
"No, it cannot do that," was the reply, which
I heard with a great deal of relief.
I had seen guns and various other things
brought to us by the French Canadians, so that I
had already some notion of the supernatural gifts
of the white man; but I had never before heard
such tales as I listened to that morning. It was
said that they had bridged the Missouri and Mississippi
rivers, and that they made immense houses
of stone and brick, piled on top of one another
until they were as high as high hills. My brain
was puzzled with these things for many a day.
Finally I asked my uncle why the Great Mystery
gave such power to the Washechu (the rich)--
sometimes we called them by this name--and not
to us Dakotas.
For the same reason," he answered, "that he
gave to Duta the skill to make fine bows and arrows,
and to Wachesne no skill to make anything."
"And why do the Big Knives increase so much
more in number than the Dakotas?" I continued.
"It has been said, and I think it must be true,
that they have larger families than we do. I went
into the house of an Eashecha (a German), and I
counted no less than nine children. The eldest
of them could not have been over fifteen. When
my grandfather first visited them, down at the
mouth of the Mississippi, they were comparatively
few; later my father visited their Great Father
at Washington, and they had already spread over
the whole country."
"Certainly they are a heartless nation. They
have made some of their people servants--yes,
slaves! We have never believed in keeping
slaves, but it seems that these Washechu do! It
is our belief that they painted their servants black
a long time ago, to tell them from the rest, and
now the slaves have children born to them of the
same color!
"The greatest object of their lives seems to be
to acquire possessions--to be rich. They desire
to possess the whole world. For thirty years
they were trying to entice us to sell them our
First Impressions of Civilization 283
land. Finally the outbreak gave them all, and
we have been driven away from our beautiful
"They are a wonderful people. They have
divided the day into hours, like the moons of the
year. In fact, they measure everything. Not
one of them would let so much as a turnip go
from his field unless he received full value for it.
I understand that their great men make a feast
and invite many, but when the feast is over the
guests are required to pay for what they have
eaten before leaving the house. I myself saw at
White Cliff (the name given to St. Paul, Minnesota)
a man who kept a brass drum and a bell to
call people to his table; but when he got them in
he would make them pay for the food!
"I am also informed," said my uncle, "but this
I hardly believe, that their Great Chief (President)
compels every man to pay him for the land he
lives upon and all his personal goods--even for
his own existence--every year!" (This was his
idea of taxation.) "I am sure we could not live
under such a law.
"When the outbreak occurred, we thought
that our opportunity had come, for we had
learned that the Big Knives were fighting among
themselves, on account of a dispute over their
slaves. It was said that the Great Chief had allowed
slaves in one part of the country and not in
another, so there was jealousy, and they had to
fight it out. We don't know how true this was.
"There were some praying-men who came to
us some time before the trouble arose. They observed
every seventh day as a holy day. On
that day they met in a house that they had built
for that purpose, to sing, pray, and speak of their
Great Mystery. I was never in one of these
meetings. I understand that they had a large
book from which they read. By all accounts
they were very different from all other white men
we have known, for these never observed any
such day, and we never knew them to pray, neither
did they ever tell us of their Great Mystery.
"In war they have leaders and war-chiefs of
different grades. The common warriors are driven
forward like a herd of antelopes to face the foe.
It is on account of this manner of fighting--from
compulsion and not from personal bravery--that
we count no coup on them. A lone warrior can
do much harm to a large army of them in a bad
It was this talk with my uncle that gave me my
first clear idea of the white man.
I was almost fifteen years old when my uncle
First Impressions of Civilization 285
presented me with a flint-lock gun. The possession
of the "mysterious iron," and the explosive
dirt, or "pulverized coal," as it is called, filled me
with new thoughts. All the war-songs that I had
ever heard from childhood came back to me with
their heroes. It seemed as if I were an entirely
new being--the boy had become a man!
"I am now old enough," said I to myself, "and
I must beg my uncle to take me with him on his
next war-path. I shall soon be able to go among
the whites whenever I wish, and to avenge the
blood of my father and my brothers."
I had already begun to invoke the blessing of
the Great Mystery. Scarcely a day passed that I
did not offer up some of my game, so that he
might not be displeased with me. My people saw
very little of me during the day, for in solitude I
found the strength I needed. I groped about in
the wilderness, and determined to assume my position
as a man. My boyish ways were departing,
and a sullen dignity and composure was taking
their place.
The thought of love did not hinder my ambitions.
I had a vague dream of some day courting
a pretty maiden, after I had made my reputation,
and won the eagle feathers.
One day, when I was away on the daily hunt,
two strangers from the United States visited our
camp. They had boldly ventured across the
northern border. They were Indians, but clad in
the white man's garments. It was as well that I
was absent with my gun.
My father, accompanied by an Indian guide,
after many days' searching had found us at last.
He had been imprisoned at Davenport, Iowa, with
those who took part in the massacre or in the battles
following, and he was taught in prison and
converted by the pioneer missionaries, Drs. Williamson
and Riggs. He was under sentence of
death, but was among the number against whom
no direct evidence was found, and who were finally
pardoned by President Lincoln.
When he was released, and returned to the new
reservation upon the Missouri river, he soon became
convinced that life on a government reservation
meant physical and moral degradation. Therefore
he determined, with several others, to try the
white man's way of gaining a livelihood. They accordingly
left the agency against the persuasions of
the agent, renounced all government assistance,
and took land under the United States Homestead
law, on the Big Sioux river. After he had made
his home there, he desired to seek his lost child.
It was then a dangerous undertaking to cross the
First Impressions of Civilization 287
line, but his Christian love prompted him to do it.
He secured a good guide, and found his way in
time through the vast wilderness.
As for me, I little dreamed of anything unusual
to happen on my return. As I approached
our camp with my game on my shoulder, I had
not the slightest premonition that I was suddenly
to be hurled from my savage life into a life unknown
to me hitherto.
When I appeared in sight my father, who had
patiently listened to my uncle's long account of
my early life and training, became very much excited.
He was eager to embrace the child who,
as he had just been informed, made it already the
object of his life to avenge his father's blood.
The loving father could not remain in the teepee
and watch the boy coming, so he started to meet
him. My uncle arose to go with his brother to
insure his safety.
My face burned with the unusual excitement
caused by the sight of a man wearing the Big
Knives' clothing and coming toward me with my
"What does this mean, uncle?"
"My boy, this is your father, my brother,
whom we mourned as dead. He has come for
My father added: "I am glad that my son is
strong and brave. Your brothers have adopted
the white man's way; I came for you to learn
this new way, too; and I want you to grow up a
good man."
He had brought me some civilized clothing,
At first, I disliked very much to wear garments
made by the people I had hated so bitterly. But
the thought that, after all, they had not killed my
father and brothers, reconciled me, and I put on
the clothes.
In a few days we started for the States. I felt
as if I were dead and traveling to the Spirit Land;
for now all my old ideas were to give place to new
ones, and my life was to be entirely different from
that of the past.
Still, I was eager to see some of the wonderful
inventions of the white people. When we
reached Fort Totten, I gazed about me with lively
interest and a quick imagination.
My father had forgotten to tell me that the
fire-boat-walks-on-mountains had its track at Jamestown,
and might appear at any moment. As
I was watering the ponies, a peculiar shrilling
noise pealed forth from just beyond the hills.
The ponies threw back their heads and listened;
then they ran snorting over the prairie. Mean-
First Impressions of Civilization 289
while, I too had taken alarm. I leaped on the
back of one of the ponies, and dashed off at
full speed. It was a clear day; I could not imagine
what had caused such an unearthly noise. It
seemed as if the world were about to burst in two!
I got upon a hill as the train appeared. "O!"
I said to myself, "that is the fire-boat-walkson-
mountains that I have heard about!" Then
I drove back the ponies.
My father was accustomed every morning to
read from his Bible, and sing a stanza of a hymn.
I was about very early with my gun for several
mornings; but at last he stopped me as I was
preparing to go out, and bade me wait.
I listened with much astonishment. The hymn
contained the word Jesus. I did not comprehend
what this meant; and my father then told me that
Jesus was the Son of God who came on earth to
save sinners, and that it was because of him that
he had sought me. This conversation made a
deep impression upon my mind.
Late in the fall we reached the citizen settlement
at Flandreau, South Dakota, where my
father and some others dwelt among the whites.
Here my wild life came to an end, and my school
days began.

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