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Title: Indian Boyhood
Author: Eastman, Charles Alexander
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By [Ohiyesa] Charles A. Eastman


     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




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

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

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

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 grinding.

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 something 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 say:

“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

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
dog-travaux 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 animals.

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 nation.

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 training.

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

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 questioning.

“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

“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 hands.

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

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

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

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 sugar-making.”

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 days.

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

“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 sun.

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 arrows.

The medicine man drew himself up in an admirable attitude, and proceeded
to make his short speech:

“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

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 bank.

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.”


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 another.

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 scenery.

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 reply.

“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 question?”

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 doe-caller.

“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

“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 man.”

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 time.

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.


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 time.

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 paces.”

A former hero, when beaten, would often explain his defeat by saying: “I
drank too much water.”

Boys of all ages were paired for a “spin,” and the little red men
cheered on their favorites with spirit.

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

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 diversion.

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 speed.

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 end.

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

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

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 body.

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 maiden.

The name given her by a noted medicine-man was Makah-oesetopah-win.
It means The-four-corners-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

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 walking?”

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 argument.

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 fellow-player had deliberately cheated him. The
Indians were strictly honest in those days, even in their gambling.

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 again.

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 glance.

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 hunter.

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,
sharp-pointed 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

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

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 gun?”

“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 way.

“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 me.

IV. 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

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

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 him.”

He knelt upon one knee as he talked, his black eyes shining like evening

“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 speech.

“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 volunteered:

“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 demanded.

“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 enough.”

“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 sorrow!”

He swallowed two or three big mouthfuls of heart-ache and the little
warrior was master of the situation.

“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

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 tribe.

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:

“O, 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. O, 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


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 nation.

“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

“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

“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

“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 circles.

“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 Star!’

“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

“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

“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 adventures.

“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 sorrow.

“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 bosom.

“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

“‘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 combat.

“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

“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 uncles.’

“‘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.”


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 enemy.”

“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

“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

“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

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 retreat.

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 making.

“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

“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 hand.

“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

“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

“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 begged.

“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 other.

“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 tomahawk.

“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 “Pops-the-eye.”

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

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 chase.

“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

“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 watch.

“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

“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

“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 different.”


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

This completely silenced my argument, but did not shake my faith in my
grandmother’s ability.

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,

“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

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 relative.

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 voice:

“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.


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 presents.

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

“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 else.”

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

“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


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

“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

“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
many-branched 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

“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

“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 ZigZag 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 inquired.

“‘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 added.

“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

“Just then Hinhankaga, the hooting owl, gave his doleful night call. The
girl stopped and listened attentively.

“‘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 shore.’

“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 loudly.

“‘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 way.”

“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

“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

“Doubtless the wind was blowing the other way. But, nephew, you must let
me finish my story.

“Overjoyed 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 thicket:

“‘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 there.

“‘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 moose.”

“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 bushes.

“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 still.

“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.”


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 home.

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 months.

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

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

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

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 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 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 down.

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 emergency.

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 year!

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 couple.

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 camp.

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 him.

“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 rice-gathering.

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 fire.

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

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 over.”

“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 oaths.

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 man.

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 consistency.

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

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

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 supported.

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

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 side.

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

XI. 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 both appeared 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

“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 one.

“His was more thrilling, because it was really dangerous,” interposed

“You can tell it to us, Bobdoo,” remarked a third.

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 so:

“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 again.

“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 scratch.”

Again the chorus of appreciation from his hearers.

“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

“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.


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

“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 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

“However,” said one, “I understand that this
fire-boat-walks-on-mountains cannot move except on the track made for

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

“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 land.
Finally the outbreak gave them all, and we have been driven away from
our beautiful country.

“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 country.”

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 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

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 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 uncle.

“What does this mean, uncle?”

“My boy, this is your father, my brother, whom we mourned as dead. He
has come for you.”

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. Meanwhile, 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.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Indian Boyhood" ***

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