Indian Boyhood, by [OHIYESA] Charles Eastman
Part 4 out of 4
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 hunting-
scouts, everybody had his dog team ready. All
went under orders from the police, and approached
the herd under cover until they came within
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 arri-
val. 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 im-
possible 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 strug-
gled 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 ani-
mal 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 vil-
lages 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 cor-
ner, 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 mid-
dle 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 an-
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, franti-
cally 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 oppor-
tunity to go against the Gros Ventres, because
they killed my friend. The war songs, the wail-
ing 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 Min-
nesota, a good part of their natur-
al subsistence was furnished by
the wild rice, which grew abun-
dantly 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. In-
deed, some of the watery fields in those days
might be compared in extent and fruitfulness with
the fields of wheat on Minnesota's magnificent
The wild rice harvesters came in groups of fif-
teen 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 out-
look, 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 gather-
ing the wild cereal, would sit in the boats doing
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 popu-
lation 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 veni-
son, 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 blue-
berry 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, al-
lowing 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 pre-
pared 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 lay-
ers 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 mocca-
sins, 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 of-
fered 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 de-
served 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 cover-
ing 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 raw-
hide, 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 sea-
son. 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 wo-
men 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 fatten-
ing. 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 gath-
ered 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 accom-
plish 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 do-
mestic bean that I have ever tasted. Her storehouse
is usually under a peculiar mound, which the un-
trained 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 veget-
able, for she always gathers it more than any other.
There is also some of the white star-like manak-
cahkcah, 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, per-
fumes it with scented grass or leaves, then arranges
it in two plaits with an otter skin or some other or-
nament. 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 every-
body 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 surren-
dering to a woman.
Sometimes a youth is so infatuated with a maid-
en 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 objec-
tion to him on the part of the girl's parents, al-
though 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 fol-
lowing 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, protrud-
ing 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 ad-
just 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
"So it is you, is it?" she asks.
"Is your grandmother in?" he inquires.
"What a brave man you are, to fear an old wo-
man! 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 noth-
ing 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 dis-
appear in the darkness.
IV: A Meeting on the Plains
WE were encamped at one time on
the Souris or Mouse river, a tribu-
tary 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 re-
port, of course, caused much uneasiness among
A council was held immediately, in the course
of which the scout was put through a rigid exam-
ination. Before a decision had been reached, an-
other 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 pos-
itive 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 be-
hind 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 pre-
caution 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 im-
Our chief and his principal warriors briefly con-
ferred 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 inevi-
table 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 pre-
tended 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 di-
rected 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
"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 undis-
turbed. 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
These miscreants were adepts in their profes-
sion, 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 pur-
suit of a whole day, with the assistance of the half-
breeds 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 em-
barrassment and ridicule. Yet there is one quali-
ty always possessed by such persons, among a
savage people as elsewhere--namely, great perse-
verance 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
"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 weak-
ened, 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 length-
ened 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. In-
stead 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 hori-
zon; 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
"Toka abe do! toka abe do!" (the enemy! the
enemy!) exclaimed Slow Dog. With a war-
whoop he sprang toward the intruder, who rose
up and leaped upon the back of Slow Dog's war-
steed. He had cut the hobble, as well as the de-
vice 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 re-
mounted 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 mixed-
bloods, and in the end the Blackfeet were com-
pelled to pay dearly for the blood of the poor old
On that beautiful morning all Nature seemed
brilliant and smiling, but the Sioux were mourn-
ing 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
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 half-
breeds 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 intelli-
gent 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 oth-
ers 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 ord-
inary company of travelers.
This journey of ours was not without its excit-
ing 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 in-
juries that they had inflicted upon our family.
This time he met with a company of soldiers be-
tween 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 promo-
tions 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 per-
formed 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 re-
quires a great deal of skill as well.
A misfortune occurred near the river which de-
prived 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 Chris-
tian 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 dis-
posed to part with his fine mules. A certain one
of the mixed-bloods was intent upon getting pos-
session 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 mur-
derer. The confusion was made yet more intol-
erable by the wailing of the women and the sing-
ing of death-songs.
Our number was now ten to one of the half-
breeds. 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 sig-
nal of their chief.
The older men, however, were discussing in
council what should be demanded of the half-
breeds. It was determined that the murderer
must be given up to us, to be punished accord-
ing 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 offen-
ders 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 deer-
skin 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, un-
armed and making the sign for a peaceful com-
munication. He was admitted to the council,
which was still in session, and offered to give up
the murderer. It was also proposed, as an alter-
native, 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 re-
garded as incompetent judges, under the circum-
stances. 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 whip-
ping, and resign all his earthly possessions to the
parents of his victim. This sentence was carried
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 offi-
cer, 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 de-
stroy his tent or take away his weapons. When
all the sticks had been returned, they were re-
issued 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 neces-
sary qualification for the office of an Indian police-
man. 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 dis-
covery of a herd reported at once to the council,
after which the time and manner of the hunt were
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
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 ac-
tual 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 ap-
parent that so large a body could not be easily sup-
plied with the necessaries of life; but, on the other
hand, our enemies respected such a gathering! Of
course the nomadic government would do its ut-
most 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 individ-
ual bands and even families were justified in seek-
ing 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 estab-
lished 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 govern-
ment. 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 re-
sult 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 for-
ward 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 dis-
tance, 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 prob-
ably 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 fe-
rocious animal, taking up their positions about ten
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
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 under-
stood 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 in-
flections of the voice as in words, and is really un-
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
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 eti-
"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 per-
formed 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 se-
cure 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 Ma-
togee, 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 bulg-
ing 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 Tame-
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 over-
flowing. Loud laughter had been heard is-
suing from the lodge of Matogee, and every-
body 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 em-
bers, 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 Chankpayu-
hah," 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 im-
mediately 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 be-
cause 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 mov-
ing too. Tamedokah skipped across the opening
as if he were a grasshopper learning to hop. I
"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
"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 tight-
ened 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
"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. Chado-
zee 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 in-
"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 groan-
ing 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 re-
"You have all heard of Hachah, the great
medicine man, who did many wonderful things.
He once dreamed four nights in succession of fly-
ing 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 Ha-
chah 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 laugh-
ing 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 vigor-
ously 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 over-
whelmed 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 al-
ready 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 ven-
geance 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, accord-
ingly, 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. Mean-
while, he himself went upon the war-path and re-
turned 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 superna-
tural. I learned that they had made a "fire-
boat." 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 cre-
ated a "fire-boat-walks-on-mountains" (a loco-
motive) it was too much to believe.
"Why," declared my informant, "those who
saw this monster move said that it flew from moun-
tain 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 won-
ders 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
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 con-
versation 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 Miss-
issippi 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 ar-
rows, 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 comparative-
ly 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
"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, Minne-
sota) 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 al-
lowed 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 ob-
served 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 driv-
en 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 posses-
sion 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 po-
sition as a man. My boyish ways were depart-
ing, and a sullen dignity and composure was taking
The thought of love did not hinder my ambi-
tions. 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 bat-
tles following, and he was taught in prison and
converted by the pioneer missionaries, Drs. Wil-
liamson 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 be-
came convinced that life on a government reserva-
tion meant physical and moral degradation. There-
fore he determined, with several others, to try the
white man's way of gaining a livelihood. They ac-
cordingly 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 un-
usual 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 un-
known 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 ex-
cited. 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
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
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 live-
ly interest and a quick imagination.
My father had forgotten to tell me that the
fire-boat-walks-on-mountains had its track at James-
town, 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-walks-
on-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 settle-
ment 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
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