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Title: Goodbird the Indian - His Story
Author: Goodbird, Edward, Wilson, Gilbert L.
Language: English
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GOODBIRD THE INDIAN



_Interdenominational Home Mission Study Course_

Each volume 12mo, cloth, 50c. net (post. extra); paper, 30c. net (post.
extra)

    _Under Our Flag_
      _By Alice M. Guernsey_

    _The Call of the Waters_
      _By Katharine R. Crowell_

    _From Darkness to Light_
      _By Mary Helm_

    _Conservation of National Ideals_
      _A Symposium_

    _Mormonism, the Islam of America_
      _By Bruce Kinney, D.D._

    _The New America_
      _By Mary Clark Barnes and Dr. L. C. Barnes_

    _In Red Man’s Land. A Study of the American Indian_
      _By Francis E. Leupp_

_Supplementary_

    _America, God’s Melting-Pot_
      _By Laura Gerould Craig_

    Paper, net 25c. (post. extra)

_JUNIOR COURSE_

Cloth, net 40c. (post. extra); paper, net 25c. (post. extra)

    _Best Things in America_
      _By Katharine R. Crowell_

    _Some Immigrant Neighbours_
      _By John R. Henry, D.D._

    _Good Bird, the Indian_
      _By Gilbert L. Wilson_

_Paper, net 25c. (post. extra)_

    _Comrades from Other Lands_
      _By Leila Allen Dimock_



[Illustration: EDWARD GOODBIRD]



              _Issued under the direction of the Council of
                        Women for Home Missions_

                           GOODBIRD THE INDIAN

                                His Story

                             TOLD BY HIMSELF
                                   TO
                            GILBERT L. WILSON

        Author of “Myths of the Red Children,” “Indian Hero Tales”

                   ILLUSTRATED BY FREDERICK N. WILSON

                             [Illustration]

                   NEW YORK      CHICAGO      TORONTO
                        Fleming H. Revell Company
                          LONDON AND EDINBURGH

                           Copyright, 1914, by
                        FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY

                      New York:  158 Fifth Avenue
                      Chicago:   125 North Wabash Ave.
                      Toronto:    25 Richmond Street, W.
                      London:     21 Paternoster Square
                      Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street



Contents


    GLOSSARY OF INDIAN WORDS       6

       I BIRTH                     9

      II CHILDHOOD                19

     III THE GODS                 27

      IV INDIAN BELIEFS           36

       V SCHOOL DAYS              43

      VI HUNTING BUFFALOES        53

     VII FARMING                  61

    VIII THE WHITE MAN’S WAY      71



Glossary of Indian Words


    ạ hạ hé̱
    aī (ī)
    ạ pạ tḯp
    É̱ dï ạ́ kạ tạ
    Hĭ dā̆́t sạ
    Hō Wạsh té̱
    Ït sï dï shï dï ḯ tạ kạ
    Ït sï kạ mä́ hï dï
    Kạ dū́ te̱ tạ
    kū kạts
    Mạ hḯ dï wī ạ
    Mā̆́n dăn
    mï hạ́ dīts
    Mĭ nĭ tä́ rĭ
    nạ
    Săn tḗē
    Sioux (Sōō). (The plural, spelled also Sioux, is commonly
       pronounced Soos.)
    tḗ pēē
    Tsạ kạ́ kạ sạ kĭ
    Tsạ́ wạ
    ū ạ kī hĕ kĕ



FOREWORD


Catlin in 1832, and Maximilian in 1833, have made famous the culture of
the Mandan and Minitari, or Hidatsa, tribes.

In 1907, I was sent out by the American Museum of Natural History, to
begin anthropological studies among the remnants of these peoples, on
Fort Berthold Reservation; and I have been among them each summer, ever
since.

During these years, Goodbird has been my faithful helper and interpreter.
His mother, Mahidiwia, or Buffalo Bird Woman, is a marvelous source of
information on old-time life and beliefs.

Indians have a gentle custom of adopting very dear friends by
relationship terms; by such adoption, Goodbird is my brother; Mahidiwia
is my mother.

The stories which make this little book were told me by Goodbird in
August, 1913.

I have but put Goodbird’s Indian-English into common idiom. The stories
are his own; in them he has bared his heart.

In 1908, and again in 1913, my brother, Frederick N. Wilson, was also
sent by the Museum to make drawings of Hidatsa arts. Illustrations in
this book are from studies made by him in those years; a few are redrawn
from simpler sketches by Goodbird himself.

Acknowledgment is made of the courtesy of the Museum’s curator, Dr. Clark
Wissler, whose permission makes possible the publishing of this book.

May _Goodbird’s Story_ give the reader a kindly interest in his people.

    Minneapolis.

                                                                 G. L. W.



[Illustration: An Old Hidatsa Village.]



I

BIRTH


I was born on a sand bar, near the mouth of the Yellowstone, seven years
before the battle in which Long Hair[1] was killed. My tribe had camped
on the bar and were crossing the river in bull boats. As ice chunks were
running on the Missouri current, it was probably the second week in
November.

The Mandans and my own people, the Hidatsas, were once powerful tribes
who dwelt in five villages at the mouth of the Knife River, in what is
now North Dakota. Smallpox weakened both peoples; the survivors moved
up the Missouri and built a village at Like-a-fish-hook Bend, or Fort
Berthold as the whites called it, where they dwelt together as one tribe.
They fortified their village with a fence of upright logs against their
enemies, the Sioux.

We Hidatsas looked upon the Sioux as wild men, because they lived by
hunting and dwelt in tents. Our own life we thought civilized. Our lodges
were houses of logs, with rounded roofs covered with earth; hence their
name, earth lodges. Fields of corn, beans, squashes and sunflowers lay on
either side of the village, in the bottom lands along the river; these
were cultivated in old times with bone hoes.

[Illustration: Bone Hoe.]

With our crops of corn and beans, we had less fear of famine than the
wilder tribes; but like them we hunted buffaloes for our meat. After
firearms became common, big game grew less plentiful, and for several
years before my birth, few buffaloes had been seen near our village.
However, scouts brought in word that big herds were to be found farther
up the river and on the Yellowstone, and our villagers, Mandans and
Hidatsas, made ready for a hunt.

A chief, or leader, was always chosen for a tribal hunt, some one who
was thought to have power with the gods. Not every one was willing to
be leader. The tribe expected of him a prosperous hunt with plenty of
meat, and no attacks from enemies. If the hunt proved an unlucky one, the
failure was laid to the leader. “His prayers have no power with the gods.
He is not fit to be leader!” the people would say.

This leader had to be chosen by a military society of men, called the
Black Mouths. They made up a collection of rich gifts—gun, blankets,
robes, war bonnet, embroidered shirt—and with much ceremony offered the
gifts, successively, to men who were known to own sacred bundles; all
refused.

They prevailed at length upon Ediakata to accept half the gifts. “Choose
another to take the rest,” he told the Black Mouths: “I will share the
leadership with him!” They chose Short Horn.

The two leaders fixed the day of departure. On the evening before, a
crier went through the village, calling out, “To-morrow at sunrise we
break camp. Get ready, everybody!”

The march was up the Missouri, on the narrow prairie between the
foothills and the river. Ediakata and Short Horn led, commanding, the
one, one day, the other, the next. The camp followed in a long line, some
on horseback, more afoot; a few old people rode on travois. Camp was made
at night in tepees, or skin-covered tents.

My grandfather’s was a large thirteen-skin tepee, pitched with fifteen
poles. It sheltered twelve persons; my grandfather, Small Ankle, and his
two wives, Red Blossom and Strikes-many-woman; his sons, Bear’s Tail and
Wolf Chief, and their wives; my mother, Buffalo Bird Woman, daughter of
Small Ankle, and Son-of-a-Star, her husband; Flies Low, a younger son of
Small Ankle; and Red Kettle and Full Heart, mere boys, brothers of Flies
Low.

Ascending the west bank of the Missouri, my tribe reached the mouth
of the Yellowstone at their eleventh camp; here the Missouri narrows,
offering a good place to cross. A long sand bar skirted the south shore;
tents were pitched here about noon. There was not room on the narrow bar
to pitch a camping circle, and the tepees stood in rows, like the houses
of a village.

My grandfather pitched his tent near the place chosen for the crossing.
The day was cold and windy; with flint and steel, my grandfather kindled
a fire. Dry grass was laid around the wall of the tent and covered with
robes, for beds. Small logs, laid along the edges of the beds, shielded
them from sparks from the fire.

At evening the wind died; twilight crept over the sky, and the stars
appeared. The new moon, narrow and bent like an Indian bow, shone white
over the river, and the waves of the long mid-current sparkled silvery
in the moonlight. Now and then with a _swi-i-s-sh_, a sheet of water, a
tiny whirl-pool in its center, would come washing in to shore; while over
all rose the roar, roar, roar of the great river, sweeping onward, the
Indians knew not where.

At midnight a dog raised himself on his haunches, pointed his nose
at the sky, and yelped. It was the signal for the midnight chorus;
and in a moment every dog in camp had joined it, nose-in-air, howling
mournfully at the moon. Far out on the prairie rose the wailing
yip-yip-yip-_ya-a-ah_! of a coyote. The dogs grew silent again and curled
up, to sleep.

And I came into the world.

Wrapped in a bit of robe, I was laid in my mother’s arms, her first born;
she folded me to her breast.

The morning sky was growing gray when my father came home. He raised the
tent door and entered, smiling.

“I heard my little son cry, as I came,” he said; “It was a lusty cry! I
am very happy.”

My grandmother placed me in his arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

My tribe began crossing the river the same morning. Tents were struck,
one by one; and the owners, having loaded their baggage in bull boats,
pushed boldly out into the current.

A bull boat was made by stretching a buffalo skin over a frame of
willows. It was shaped like a tub and was not graceful; but it carried a
heavy load.

Our boat had been brought up from the village on a travois, and my father
ferried my mother and me across. He knelt in the bow, dipping his oar in
the water directly before him; my mother sat in the tail of the boat with
me in her arms. Our tent poles, tied in a bundle, floated behind us; and
our dogs and horses came swimming after, sniffing and blowing as they
breasted the heavy current. We landed tired, and rather wet.

The tribe was four days in crossing; and as the season was late, we at
once took up our march to the place chosen for our winter camp. My mother
and I now rode on a travois, drawn by a pony. A buffalo skin was spread
on the bottom of the travois basket; this my father bound snugly about my
mother’s knees as she sat, Indian fashion, with her ankles turned to the
right. I lay in her lap, cuddled in a wild-cat skin and covered by her
robe.

We reached Round Bank, the place of our winter camp, in five days. My
tribe’s usual custom was to winter in small earth lodges, in the woods
by the Missouri, a few miles from Like-a-fish-hook village; but this
winter we were to camp in our skin tents, like the Sioux. A tent, well
sheltered, with a brisk fire under the smoke hole, was comfortable and
warm.

No buffaloes had been killed on the way up to the Yellowstone; but much
deer, elk, and antelope meat had been brought into camp, dried, and
packed in bags for winter. Many, also, of the more provident families had
stores of corn, brought with them from Like-a-fish-hook village. After
snow fell, our hunters discovered buffaloes and made a kill. We thus
faced winter without fear of famine.

The tenth day after my birth was my naming day; it came just as we were
getting settled in our winter camp. An Indian child was named to bring
him good luck. A medicine man was called in, feasted, and given a present
to name the child and pray for him. As my grandfather was one of the
chief medicine men of the tribe, my mother asked him to name me.

My grandfather’s gods were the birds that send the thunder. He was a kind
old man, and took me gently into his arms and said, “I name my grandson
_Tsa-ka-ka-sa-ki_,—Good-bird!” My name thus became a kind of prayer;
whenever it was spoken it reminded the bird spirits that I was named for
them, and that my grandfather prayed that I might grow up a brave and
good man.

The winter passed without mishap to any one in our tent. An old man named
Holding Eagle had his leg broken digging in a bank for white clay; he was
prying out a lump with a stick, when the bank caved in upon him. Toward
spring, Wolf-with-his-back-to-the-wind and his brother were surprised by
Sioux and killed. A man named Drum was also killed and scalped.

Spring came, but ice still lay on the Missouri when the Goose society
gave their spring dance. The flocks of geese that came flying north at
this season of the year were a sign that it was time to make ready our
fields for planting corn. The Goose society was a society of women, and
their dance was a prayer that the spirits of the geese would send good
weather for the corn-planting. Most of the work of planting and hoeing
our corn fell to the women.

Our winter camp now broke up, most of the tribe returning to the
Yellowstone; but my grandfather and One Buffalo, with their families,
went up the Missouri to hunt for buffaloes. They found a small herd, gave
chase, and killed ten.

Four more tepees now joined us, those of Strikes Back-bone, Old Bear,
Long Wing, Spotted Horn, and their families. To each tent owner, my
grandfather gave the half of a freshly killed buffalo and one whole green
buffalo skin. Camp was pitched; the meat was hung on stages to dry, and
the women busied themselves making the skins into bull boats.

[Illustration: At Work with a Bone Hoe.]

When the ice on the Missouri broke, our camp made ready to return to the
village, for the women wanted to be about their spring planting. Bull
boats were now taken to the river and loaded; and the families, six or
seven tepees in all, pushed out into the current.

My parents led, with three boats lashed together, in the first of which
they sat and paddled; my father’s rifle lay by him. The second boat was
partly loaded with bags of dried meat, and upon these sat Flies Low, my
uncle, with me in his arms. The third boat was loaded to the water with
meat and skins.

The Missouri’s course is winding; if a turn in it sends the current
against the wind, the waves rise heavy and choppy, so that a single boat
can hardly ride them. When approaching one of these turns, our party
would draw together, laying tight hold of one another’s boats until the
danger was passed; bunched together in this manner, the boats ran less
risk of upsetting.

Snow had disappeared from the ground, and the grass was beginning to
show green when we left the Yellowstone. We floated down the great river
in high spirits. All went well until we neared the mouth of the Little
Missouri, thirty miles from the village. Then a storm arose, and as we
rounded a bend, the current carried us into the very teeth of the wind.
Our flimsy boats, sea-sawing up and down on the heavy waves, threatened
to overturn.

My parents turned hastily to shore and plied their paddles. Suddenly
my father leaned over his side of the boat, almost tipping it over and
tumbling my mother in upon him; she caught at the edge of the boat to
save herself, but had the presence of mind not to drop her paddle. Then
she saw what had happened; I had fallen into the water, and my father was
drawing me, wet but unhurt, into the boat.

I have said that my uncle, Flies Low, and I rode in the second boat.
I had grown restless, and he had loosened my cradle clothes to give me
room to move my limbs. When we ran into the storm, our boat rocked so
violently that I slipped from his arms, but my loosened clothes made me
float.

[Illustration: Flint and Steel, with Bag.]

“I did not mean to drop the baby,” my uncle said afterwards. “I thought
the boat had upset and I was frightened.” He was only a lad, and my
mother could not blame him.

We reached shore in a terrible storm of snow and wind. The boats were
dragged up on the beach; the two tents were hastily pitched to shelter
the women and children; and fires were lighted.

My father stopped only long enough to see us safe, and then pushed on
through the storm with the horses, which my grandfather had been driving
along the shore in sight of the boats. He reached the village safely and
drove the horses into the shelter of some woods along the river.

Boys know that in summer, when they go swimming, it is warmer to stay in
the water, than upon the bank, in a wind. There was a pond in the woods;
and our horses waded into the water to escape the cold wind. When they
came out the wind chilled their coats, so that three of them died.

The storm lasted four days. When it was over, my mother and the rest
of the party re-embarked in their bull boats and floated safely down to
Like-a-fish-hook village.

Of course I remember nothing of these things; but I have told the story
as I heard it from the lips of my mother.

[1] General George A. Custer.



[Illustration: Hidatsa Earth Lodge.]



II

CHILDHOOD


Like-a-fish-hook village stood on a bluff overlooking the Missouri, and
contained about seventy dwellings. Most of these were earth lodges, but a
few were log cabins which traders had taught us to build.

My grandfather’s was a large, well-built earth lodge, with a floor
measuring about forty feet across. Small Ankle, his two wives and their
younger children; his sons, Bear’s Tail and Wolf Chief, and his daughter,
my mother, with their families, dwelt together. It was usual for several
families of relatives to dwell together in one lodge.

An earth lodge was built with a good deal of labor. The posts were cut in
summer, and let lie in the woods until snow fell; men then dragged them
to the village with ropes. Holes were dug the next spring, and the posts
raised. Stringers, laid along the tops of the posts, supported rafters;
and upon these was laid a matting of willows and dry grass. Over all went
a thick layer of sods.

[Illustration: Small Ankle’s Couch.]

The four great posts that upheld the roof had each a buffalo calf skin or
a piece of bright-colored calico bound about it at the height of a man’s
head. These were offerings to the house spirit. We Hidatsas believed that
an earth lodge was alive, and that the lodge’s spirit, or soul, dwelt in
the four posts. Certain medicine women were hired to raise these posts in
place when a lodge was built.

Our lodge was picturesque within, especially by the yellow light of the
evening fire. In the center of the floor, under the smoke hole, was
the fireplace; a screen of puncheons, or split logs, set on end, stood
between it and the door. On the right was the corral, where horses were
stabled at night. In the back of the lodge were the covered beds of the
household, and my grandfather’s medicines, or sacred objects. The most
important of these sacred objects were two human skulls of the Big Birds’
ceremony, as it was called. Small Ankle was a medicine man and when our
corn fields suffered from drought, he prayed to the skulls for rain.

Against the puncheon screen on the side next the fireplace, was a couch
made of planks laid on small logs, with a bedding of robes. This couch
was my grandfather’s bed at night, and his lounging place by day. A
buffalo skin overhead protected him from bits of falling earth or a leak
in the roof, when it rained.

My two grandmothers also used the couch as a bench when making ready the
family meals; and the water and grease spilled by them and trampled into
the dirt floor made the spot between the couch and the fireplace as hard
as brick. Small Ankle filed his finger nails here against the hard floor.

The earliest thing that I remember, is my grandfather sitting on his
couch, plucking gray hairs from his head. Indians do not like to see
themselves growing old, and Small Ankle’s friends used to tease him. “We
see our brother is growing gray—and old!” they would say, laughing. Small
Ankle used to sit on the edge of his couch with his face tilted toward
the smoke hole, and drawing his loose hair before his eyes, he would
search for gray ones.

He had another habit I greatly admired. The grease dropped from my
grandmothers’ cooking, drew many flies into our lodge, and as my
grandfather sat on his couch, the flies would alight on his bare
shoulders and arms. He used to fight them off with a little wooden
paddle. I can yet hear the little paddle’s _spat_ as it fell on some
luckless fly, against his bare flesh. No war club had surer aim.

His couch, indeed, was the throne from which my grandfather ruled his
household, and his rule began daily at an early hour. He arose with the
birds, raked coals from the ashes and started a fire. Then we would hear
his voice, ”Awake, daughters; up, sons; out, all of you! The sun is up!
Wash your faces!”

My fat grandmothers made a funny sight, washing their faces; stooping,
with eyes tightly shut, each filled her mouth with water, blew it into
her palms and rubbed them over her face. No towels were used.

The men of the household more often went down for a plunge in the river.
Some of the young men of the village bathed in the river the whole year,
through a hole in the ice in winter.

Many bathers, after their morning plunge, rubbed their wet bodies with
white clay; this warmed and freshened the skin.

My mother usually washed my face for me; I liked it quite as little as
any white boy.

Our morning meal was now eaten, hominy boiled with beans and buffalo
fat, and seasoned with alkali salt—spring salt we called it, because we
gathered it from the edges of springs. After the meal, I had nothing to
do all day but play.

My best loved toy was my bow, of choke-cherry wood, given me when I
was four years old. My arrows were of buck-brush shoots, unfeathered.
These shoots were brought in green, and thrust into the hot ashes of the
fireplace; when heated, they were drawn out and the bark peeled off,
leaving them a beautiful yellow. Buck-brush arrows are light, and I was
allowed to shoot them within the lodge.

My uncle, Full Heart, a boy two years older than myself, taught me how
to use my bow. In our lodge were many mice that nested in holes under the
sloping roof, and my uncle and I hunted these mice as savagely as our
fathers hunted buffaloes. I think I was not a very good shot, for I do
not remember ever killing one.

But I had the ill luck to shoot my mother. She was stooping at her work,
one day, when an arrow badly aimed struck her in the cheek, its point
pierced the skin, and the shaft remained hanging in the flesh. I saw the
blood start and heard my mother cry, “Oh, my son has shot me!” I dropped
my bow and ran, for I thought I had killed her; but she drew out the
shaft, laughing.

I was too young to have any fear of the Sioux, and I had not yet learned
to be afraid of ghosts, but I was afraid of owls, for I was taught that
they punished little boys. Sometimes, if I was pettish, my uncles would
cry, “The owl is coming!” And in the back of the lodge a voice would
call, “_Hoo, hoo, hoo!_” This always gave me a good fright, and I would
run to my grandfather and cover my head with his robe, or hide in my
fathers bed.

It was not the custom of my tribe for parents to punish their own
children; usually, the father called in a clan brother to do this. My
uncle, Flies Low, a clan brother of my father, punished me when I was
bad, but he seldom did more than threaten.

Sometimes my mother would say, “My son is bad, pierce his flesh!” and my
uncle would take an arrow, pinch the flesh of my arm, and make as if he
would pierce it. I would cry, “I will be good, I will be good!” and he
would let me go without doing more than giving me a good fright.

A very naughty boy was sometimes punished by rolling him in a snow bank,
or ducking him in water.

One winter evening I was vexed at my mother and would not go to bed.
“Come,” she said, trying to draw me away, but I fought, kicking at her
and screaming. Quite out of patience, my mother turned to Flies Low.
“_Apatip_—duck him!” she cried. A pail of water stood by the fireplace.
Flies Low caught me up, my legs over his shoulder, and plunged me, head
downward, into the pail. I broke from him screaming, but he caught me and
plunged me in again. The water strangled me, I thought I was going to die!

“Stop crying,” said my uncle.

My mother took me by the arm. “Stop crying,” she said. “If you are bad, I
will call your uncle again!” And she put me to bed.

[Illustration: Sled of Buffalo Ribs.]

We Indian children knew nothing of marbles or skates. I had a swing, made
of my mother’s packing strap, and a top, cut from the tip of a buffalo’s
horn. Many boys owned sleds, made of five or six buffalo ribs bound side
by side. With these they coasted down the steep Missouri bank, but that
was play for older boys.

Few wagons were owned by the tribe at this time. When journeying, we
packed our baggage on the backs of ponies, or on travois dragged by dogs.

A travois was a curious vehicle. It was made of two poles lashed together
in the shape of a V, and bearing a flat basket woven with thongs. A good
dog with a travois could drag sixty or eighty pounds over the snow, or on
the smooth prairie grass.

But a travois’s chief use was in dragging in wood for a lodge fire. In
our lodge my mother and my two grandmothers, with five dogs, went for
wood about twice a week. They started at sunrise for the woods, a mile or
two away, and returned about noon.

It happened one morning that my father and mother went to gather wood,
and I asked to go along. “No,” they said, “you would but be in our way.
You stay at home!” But I wept and teased until they let me go.

[Illustration: Dog Travois.]

My parents walked before, the dogs following in a single file. They were
gentle animals, used to having me play with them; and I was amusing
myself running along, jumping on a travois, riding a bit, and jumping off
again.

Our road led to a choke-cherry grove, but it was crossed by another that
went to the river. As we neared the place where the roads crossed, we saw
a woman coming down the river road, also followed by three or four dogs
in travois. I had just leaped on the travois of one of our dogs.

The packs spied each other at the same instant; and our dogs, pricking
up their ears, burst into yelps and started for the other pack. I was
frightened out of my wits. “_Ai, ai, ai!_” I yelled; for I thought I was
going to be eaten up. The dogs were leaping along at such speed that I
dared not jump off.

The woman with the strange dogs ran between the packs crying, “_Na,
na_,—go way, go way!” This stopped our dogs; and I sprang to the ground
and ran to my mother. I would never ride a travois again.

Taking it altogether, children were well treated in my tribe. Food was
coarse, but nourishing; and there was usually plenty of it. Children of
poor families suffered for clothing, but rarely for food, for a family
having meat or corn always shared with any who were hungry. If a child’s
parents died, relatives or friends cared for him.

My mother sighs for the good old times. “Children were then in every
lodge,” she says, “and there were many old men in the tribe. Now that we
live in cabins and eat white men’s foods, the children and old men die;
and our tribe dies!”

But this is hardly true of the Christian families.



III

THE GODS


I have said we Hidatsas believed that an earth lodge was alive; and that
its soul, or spirit, dwelt in the four big roof posts. We believed,
indeed, that this world and everything in it was alive and had spirits;
and our faith in these spirits and our worship of them made our religion.

[Illustration: Seeking His God.]

My father explained this to me. “All things in this world,” he said,
“have souls, or spirits. The sky has a spirit; the clouds have spirits;
the sun and moon have spirits; so have animals, trees, grass, water,
stones, everything. These spirits are our gods; and we pray to them and
give them offerings, that they may help us in our need.”

We Indians did not believe in one Great Spirit, as white men seem
to think all Indians do. We did believe that certain gods were more
powerful than others. Of these was _It-si-ka-ma-hi-di_, our elder
creator, the spirit of the prairie wolf; and _Ka-du-te-ta_, or
Old-woman-who-never-dies, who first taught my people to till their
fields. Long histories are given of these gods.

Any one could pray to the spirits, receiving answer usually in a dream.
Indeed, all dreams were thought to be from the spirits; and for this
reason they were always heeded, especially those that came by fasting and
suffering. Sometimes a man fasted and tortured himself until he fell into
a kind of dream while yet awake; we called this a vision.

A man whom the gods helped and visited in dreams, was said to have
mystery power; and one who had much mystery power, we called a mystery
man, or medicine man. Almost every one received dreams from the spirits
at some time; but a medicine man received them more often than others.

A man might have mystery power and not use it wisely. There once lived in
our village a medicine man who had one little son. On day in summer, the
little boy with some playmates crossed a shallow creek behind the village
in search of grass for grass arrows. It happened that the villagers’
fields were suffering from drought, and that very day, some old men
brought gifts to the medicine man and asked him to send them rain.

The medicine man prayed to his gods, and in an hour rain fell in
torrents. The little boys, seeking to return, found the creek choked by
the rising waters; greatly frightened, they plunged in, and all got
safely over but the medicine man’s little son; he was drowned.

The medicine man mourned bitterly for his son, for he thought it was he
that had caused the little boy’s death.

Believing as he did that the world was full of spirits, every Indian
hoped that one of them would come to him and be his protector, especially
in war. When a lad became about seventeen years of age, his parents would
say, “You are now old enough to go to war; but you should first go out
and find your god!” They meant by this, that he should not risk his life
in battle until he had a protecting spirit.

Finding one’s god was not an easy task. The lad painted his body with
white clay, as if in mourning, and went out among the hills, upon some
bluff, where he could be seen of the gods; and for days, with neither
food nor drink, and often torturing himself, he cried to the gods to pity
him and come to him. His sufferings at last brought on delirium, so that
he dreamed, or saw a vision. Whatever he saw in this vision was his god,
come to pledge him protection. Usually this god was a bird or beast; or
it might be the spirit of some one dead; the bird or beast was not a
flesh-and-blood animal, but a spirit.

The lad then returned home. As soon as he was recovered from his fast,
he set out to kill an animal like that seen in his vision, and its dried
skin, or a part of it, he kept as his sacred object, or medicine, for in
this sacred object dwelt his god. Thus if an otter god appeared to him,
the lad would kill an otter, and into its skin, which the lad kept, the
god entered. The otter skin was now the lad’s medicine; he prayed to it
and bore it with him to war, that his god might be present to protect him.

Indians even made offerings of food to their sacred objects. They knew
the sacred object did not eat the food; but they believed that the god,
or spirit, in the sacred object, ate the spirit of the food. They also
burned cedar incense to their sacred objects.

The story of my uncle Wolf Chief, as he was afterwards called, will show
what sufferings a young man was willing to endure who went out to seek
his god. He was but seventeen when his father, Small Ankle, said to him,
“My son, I think you should go out and seek your god!” The next morning
my uncle climbed a high butte overlooking the Missouri, and prayed:

    “O gods, I am poor; I lead a poor life;
    Make me a good man, a brave warrior!
    I want to be a great warrior;
    I want to capture many horses;
    I want to teach much to my people;
    I want to be their chief and save them in their need!”

For three days and nights, my uncle prayed; and in this time he had not a
mouthful of food, not a drop of water to drink. The fourth day his father
came to him. “My son,” he said, “perhaps the gods would have you become a
great man: and they are trying you, whether you are worthy. You have not
suffered enough!”

“I am ready, father,” said my uncle.

Small Ankle fixed a stout post in the ground and fastened my uncle to it
with thongs, so that all day he was in great suffering.

In the evening, Small Ankle came and cut him loose. “You have suffered
enough, my son,” he said; “I think the gods will now pity you and give
you a dream!”

He took my uncle home and gave him something to eat and drink; then
he laid the boy tenderly upon a pile of buffalo skins, before his own
medicines.

For a long time, my uncle could not sleep for the pain from his wounds.
A little before daylight, he fell into a troubled dream. He heard a man
outside, walking around the earth lodge. The man was singing a mystery
song; now and then he paused and cried, “You have done well, Strong Bull!”

Small Ankle was very happy when my uncle awoke and told him his dream. He
knew that one of the gods had now come to his son to protect him and help
him; and he called the boy by his new name, Strong Bull, that the god had
given him.

[Illustration: Buffalo Skulls.]

Other men had different dreams. My grandfather once told me of a man who
had a vision of four buffalo skulls that became alive.

Many years ago when our villages were on Knife River a man named Bush
went out to find his god. He sought a vision from the buffalo spirits;
and he thought to make himself suffer so that the spirits might pity
him. He tied four buffalo skulls in a train, one behind another, and as
Bush walked he dragged the train of skulls behind him.

He made his way painfully up the Missouri, mourning and crying to the
gods. The banks of the Missouri are much cut up by ravines, and Bush
suffered greatly as he dragged the heavy skulls over this rough country.

Fifty miles north of the villages, he came to the Little Missouri, a
shallow stream, but subject to sudden freshets; he found the river
flooded, and rising.

He stood on the bank and cried: “O gods, I am poor and I suffer! I want
to find my god. Other men have suffered, and found their gods. Now I
suffer much, but no god answers me. I am going to plunge into this
torrent. I think I shall die, yet I will plunge in. O gods, if you are
going to answer me, do it now and save me!“

He waded in, dragging the heavy skulls after him. The water grew deeper.
He could no longer wade, he had to swim; he struck out.

He wondered that he no longer felt the weight of the skulls, and that he
did not sink. Then he heard something behind him cry, “_Whoo-oo-ooh!_” He
looked around. The four buffalo skulls were swimming about him, buoying
him up; but they were no longer skulls! Flesh and woolly hair covered
them; they had big, blue eyes; they had red tongues. They were alive!

Bush himself told this story to my grandfather.

It should not be thought that Bush was trying to deceive when he said
he saw these things. If one had been with him when he sprang into the
torrent, and had cried, “Bush, the skulls are not alive; it is your
delirium that makes you think they live!” he would have answered, “Of
course you cannot see they are alive! The vision is to me, not to you.
The flesh and hair and eyes are spirit flesh. I see them; you see only
the skulls!”

A man might go out many times thus, to find his god. If he had ill
success in war, or if sickness or misfortune came upon him, he would
think the gods had forgotten him; and he would throw away his moccasins,
cut his hair as for mourning, paint his face with white clay, and again
cry to the gods for a vision.

A medicine man’s visions were like other men’s; but we gave them more
heed, because we thought he had more power with the gods. We looked upon
a medicine man as a prophet; his dreams and visions were messages to us
from the spirits; and we thought of his mystery power as white men think
of a prophet’s power to work miracles. Our medicine men sought visions
for us, and messages from the gods, just as white men’s preachers study
to tell them what God speaks to them in His Book.

A medicine man had much influence in the tribe. He cured our sick, called
the buffalo herds to us, gave us advice when a war party was being
formed, and in times of drought prayed for rain.

Worshipping as we did many gods, we Indians did not think it strange
that white men prayed to another God; and when missionaries came, we did
not think it wrong that they taught us to pray to their God, but that
they said we should not pray to our own gods. “Why,“ we asked, “do the
missionaries hate our gods? We do not deny the white men’s Great Spirit;
why, then, should they deny our gods?”

Sometimes Indians who seek to join the mission church, secretly pray to
their own gods; more often an Indian who accepts Jesus Christ and tries
to follow Him, still fears his old gods, although he no longer prays to
them.

Many older Indians, who do not know English, look upon Jesus Christ as
they would upon one of their own gods; a story will show how His mission
is sometimes misunderstood.

On this reservation lives a medicine woman, named Minnie Enemy Heart.
When a girl, she went to the mission school and learned something about
Jesus Christ. Afterward, as her fathers had done, she went into the hills
to seek her god. She says that she fasted and prayed, and Jesus came to
her in a vision. One side of his body was dark, like an Indian; the other
side was white, like a white man. In His white hand he carried a lamb; in
the other, a little dog.

Jesus explained the vision. “My body,” He said, “half dark and half
white, means that I am as much an Indian as I am a white man. This dog
means that Indian ways are for Indians, as white ways are for white men;
for Indians sacrifice dogs, as white men once sacrificed lambs. If the
missionaries tell you this is not true, ask them who crucified me, were
they Indians or white men?”

Many Indians believe this vision. More than fifteen have left the
Catholic priest to follow Minnie Enemy Heart, and three or four have left
our Protestant mission.

To us Indians, the spirit world seemed very near, and we did nothing
without taking thought of the gods. If we would begin a journey, form a
war party, hunt, trap eagles, or fish, or plant corn, we first prayed to
the spirits. A bad dream would send the bravest war party hurrying home.

If our belief seem strange to white men, theirs seemed just as strange to
us.



IV

INDIAN BELIEFS


[Illustration: Medicine Post and Sacred Bundle.]

Many medicine men added to their mystery power by owning sacred bundles,
neatly bound bundles of skin or cloth, containing sacred objects or
relics that had been handed down from old times. Every bundle had its
history, telling how the bundle began and what gods they were that helped
those who prayed before it. There were about sixty of these sacred
bundles in the tribe, when I was a boy.

The owner of a sacred bundle was called its keeper; he usually kept it
hung on his medicine post, in the back part of his lodge. A sacred bundle
was looked upon as a kind of shrine, and in some lodges strangers were
forbidden to walk between it and the fire.

When a keeper became old, he sold his sacred bundle to some younger man,
that its rites might not die with him. The young man paid a hundred
tanned buffalo skins and a gun or pony, and made a feast for the keeper;
at this feast, the young man received the bundle with the rites and songs
that went with it. This was called, “making a ceremony.”

[Illustration: Shrine and Sacred Bundle of the Big Birds’ Ceremony.]

White men think it strange that we Indians honored these sacred bundles;
but I have heard that in Europe men once honored relics, the skull, or a
bone, or a bit of hair of some saint, or a nail from Jesus’ cross; that
they did not pray to the relic, but thought that the spirit of the saint
was near; or that he was more willing to hear their prayers when they
knelt before the relic.

In much the same way, we Indians honored our sacred bundles. They
contained sacred objects, or relics, that had belonged each to some
god—his scalp, or skull, the pipe he smoked, or his robe. We did not pray
to the object, but to the god or spirit to whom it had belonged, and we
thought these sacred objects had wonderful power, just as white men once
thought they could be cured of sickness by touching the bone of some
saint.

A medicine man’s influence was greater if he owned a sacred bundle.
Men then came to him not only because the spirits answered him when he
fasted, but because, as its keeper, he had power from the gods of the
sacred bundle.

The most famous of these sacred bundles belonged to my grandfather, Small
Ankle. It was called the bundle of the Big Birds’ ceremony. It was kept
on a kind of stand in the back part of our lodge, and it contained two
skulls and a carved wooden pipe. These objects were thought to be very
holy.

When my tribe came up the Missouri to Like-a-fish-hook Bend, where they
built their last village, they first camped there in tepees. A question
arose as to how they should plan their village, and the more important
medicine men of the tribe came and sat in a circle, to consider what to
do. This was seven years after the small-pox year.

At that time, the skulls of the Big Birds’ ceremony were owned by an old
man named Missouri River. The other medicine men, knowing that these
skulls were most important sacred objects in the tribe, said to Missouri
River, “Your gods are most powerful. Tell us how we should lay out our
village!”

Missouri River brought the two skulls from his tent, and holding one
in either hand, he walked around in a wide circle, returning again to
the place where he had started. “We will leave this circle open, in the
center of our village,” he said. “So shall we plan it!”

He laid the skulls on the grass and said to Big Cloud, Small Ankle’s
son-in-law, “Your gods are powerful. Choose where you will build your
earth lodge!”

Big Cloud arose. “I will build it here,” he said, “where lie the two
skulls. The door shall face the west, for my gods are eagles that send
thunder, and eagles and thunders come from the west. And so I think we
shall have rain, and our children and our fields shall thrive, and we
shall live here many years.” Big Cloud had once seen a vision of thunder
eagles, awake and with his eyes open.

The medicine men said to Has-a-game-stick, “You choose a place for your
lodge!”

Has-a-game-stick stood and said, “My god is the Sunset Woman. I want my
lodge to face the sunset, that the Sunset Woman may remember me, and I
will pray to her that the village may have plenty and enemies may never
take it, and I think the Sunset Woman will hear me!”

The medicine men said to Bad Horn, “You stand up!”

Bad Horn stood and said, “My gods are bears, and bears always make the
mouths of their dens open toward the north. I want my lodge door to open
toward the north, that my bear gods may remember me. And I will pray to
them that this village may stand many years!”

The medicine men then said to Missouri River, “Choose a place for your
lodge!”

Missouri River took the two skulls, one in either hand, and singing
a mystery song, walked around the circle with his right hand toward
the center, as moves the sun. Three times he walked around, the fourth
time he stopped at a place and prayed, “My gods, you are my protectors,
protect also this village. Send also rains that our grain may grow, and
our children may eat and be strong and healthy. So shall we prosper,
because my sacred bundle is in the village.“

He turned to the company upon the grass. “Go, the rest of you,” he said,
“and choose where you will build your lodges; and keep the circle open,
as I have marked!”

Before Missouri River died, he sold his sacred bundle to my grandfather,
Small Ankle; and Small Ankle sold it to his son, Wolf Chief. After Wolf
Chief became a Christian, he sold the bundle to a man in New York, that
it might be put into a museum.

We had other beliefs, besides these of the gods.

We thought that all little babies had lived before, most of them as
birds, or beasts, or even plants. My father, Son-of-a-Star, claimed he
could even remember what bird he had been.

We believed that many babies came from the babes’ lodges. There were
several of these. One was near our villages on the Knife River. It was a
hill of yellow sand, with a rounded top like the roof of an earth lodge.
In one side was a little cave, and the ground about the cave’s mouth
was worn smooth, as if children played there. Sometimes in the morning,
little footprints were found in the sand.

To this hill a childless wife would come to pray for a son or daughter.
She would lay a pair of very beautiful child’s moccasins at the mouth of
the cave and pray: “I am poor. I am lonesome. Come to me, one of you! I
love you. I long for you!” We understood that children who came from this
babes’ lodge had light skin and yellowish hair, like yellow sand.

A very old man once said to me: “I remember my former life. I lived in
a babes’ lodge. It was like a small earth lodge inside. There was a pit
before the door, crossed by a log. Many of the babes, trying to cross
the pit, fell in. But I walked the whole length of the log; hence I have
lived to be an old man.” I have heard this story from other old men.

Very small children, who died before they teethed or were old enough
to laugh, were not buried upon scaffolds with our other dead, but were
wrapped in skins and placed in trees. We thought if such a baby died,
that its spirit went back to live its former life again, as a bird, or
plant, or as a babe in one of the babes’ lodges.

Older children and men and women, when they died, went to the ghosts’
village. This was a big town of earth lodges, where the dead lived very
much as they had lived on earth. Older Indians of my tribe still believe
in the ghosts’ village.

There were men in my tribe who had died, as we believed, and gone to the
ghosts’ village, and come back to life again. From these men we learned
what the ghosts’ village was like.

My mother’s grandfather came back thus, from the ghosts’ village; his
name was _It-si-di-shi-di-it-a-ka_, or Old Yellow Elk.

Old Yellow Elk had an otter skin for his medicine, or sacred object. He
died in the small-pox year; and his family laid his body out on a hill
with the otter skin under his head for a pillow. Logs were piled about
the body, to keep off wolves. Men were dying so fast that there was no
time to make burial scaffolds.

That night a voice was heard calling from the hill, “_A-ha-he! A-ha-he!_
Come for me, I want to get up!”

The villagers ran to the grave and took away the logs, and Old Yellow Elk
arose and came home.

“The ghosts’ village is a fine town,“ he told his family. “I saw many
people there, they gave me a spotted pony. My god, the otter, brought me
back. He led me up the bed of the Missouri, under the water. I brought my
pony with me and tied him to a log on my grave!”

His family went out to the grave the next morning and looked for the
pony’s tracks, but found none!

All these things I firmly believed, when I was a boy.



V

SCHOOL DAYS


I was six years old when Mr. Hall, a missionary, came to us, from the
Santee Sioux. He could not speak the Mandan or the Hidatsa language,
but he spoke Sioux, which some of our people understood. He was a good
singer; and he had a song which he sang with Sioux words. Our people
would crowd about him to hear it, for it was the first Christian song
they had ever heard.

[Illustration: The Sun Man (Redrawn from a sketch by Goodbird).]

The song began:

    _“Ho washte, ho washte,_
    _On Jesus yatan miye;_
    _Ho wakan, ho wakan,_
    _Nina hin yeyan!”_

The words are a translation of an English hymn:

    “Sweetly sing, sweetly sing,
    Jesus is our Saviour king;
    Let us raise, let us raise,
    High our notes of praise!”

It is a custom of my people to give a name to every stranger who comes
among us, either from some singularity in his dress or appearance, or
from something that he says or does. Our people caught the first two
words of the missionary’s song and named him after them, Ho Washte. He is
still called by this name.

Mr. Hall had brought his wife with him, and they began building a house
with timbers freighted up the river on a steamboat. Our chief, Crow’s
Belly, threatened to burn the house, but the missionary made him a feast
and explained that he wanted to use the house for a school, where Indian
children could learn English. Crow’s Belly thought this a good plan, and
made no further trouble.

The school was opened the next winter. It was soon noised in the village
that English would be taught in the mission school, and several young
men started to attend, my uncle, Wolf Chief, among them. They went each
morning with hair newly braided, faces painted, and big brass rings on
their fingers. Most of them found school work rather hard, and soon tired
of it.

The next fall, my parents started me to school, for my father wanted me
to learn English. The mission house was a half mile from our village; I
went each morning with a little Mandan companion, named Hollis Montclair.
We wore Indian dress, leggings, moccasins, and leather shirt.

At noon Hollis and I would return to the village for our noon meal; and
sometimes we would go to school again in the afternoon. We went pretty
faithfully all the fall, and until Christmas time, when our teacher told
us we were to have a Christmas tree.

Hollis and I had never seen a Christmas tree; and when Christmas day
came, we could hardly wait until the time came for us to go to the school
house. It was a cheerful scene then, that met our eyes. The tree was a
cedar cut on the Missouri bottoms, lighted, and trimmed with strips of
bright colored paper. Mr. Hall and his family sat at the front, smiling.
My teacher moved about among the children, greeting each as he arrived,
and speaking a kind word to those that were shy. About fifteen school
children of the age of Hollis and myself were present.

We had music and singing, and Mr. Hall explained what Christmas means,
that it is the birthday of Jesus, the Son of God; and that we should be
happy because He loved us. Presents were then given us; each child was
called by name, and handed a little gift taken from the tree.

And now I grieve to say, that Hollis and I acted as badly as two white
children. There was a magnet hanging on the tree, a piece of steel shaped
like a horse shoe, that picked up bits of iron. Hollis and I thought
it the most wonderful thing we had ever seen. We each hoped to receive
it; but it was given to another child. This vexed us; and we left upon
the floor the gifts we had received, and stalked out of the room. The
last thing I saw as I went out of the door was my teacher with her
handkerchief to her eyes. I did not feel happy when I thought of this;
but I was an Indian boy, and I was not going to forgive her for not
giving me the magnet!

I told the story of the magnet to my parents; and finding I was unwilling
to go back to the mission, they sent me to the government school that our
agent had just opened; but I did not go there long. I was taken sick, and
my former teacher came to see me in our earth lodge. She was so kind and
forgiving that I forgot all about the magnet, and when I got well I went
back to the mission school.

I grew to love my teacher, although I was always a little afraid of her.
We boys were not allowed to talk in study hours; but when our teacher’s
back was turned, we would whisper to one another. Sometimes our teacher
turned quickly, and if she caught any of us whispering, she would come
and give each of us a spat on the head with a book; but it did not hurt
much, so we did not care.

We used to sing a good deal in the school. One song I liked was, “I need
Thee every hour.” I loved to sing, although the songs we learned were
very different from our Indian songs. Indians are fond of music; I have
known my grandfather and three or four cronies to sit at our lodge fire
an entire night, drumming and singing, and telling stories.

I found English a rather hard language to learn. Many of the older
Indians would laugh at any who tried to learn to read. “You want to
forsake your Indian ways and be white men,” they would say; but there
were many in the village who wanted their children to learn English.

My grandfather was deeply interested in my studies. “It is their books
that make white men strong,” he would say. “The buffaloes will soon
be killed; and we Indians must learn white ways, or starve.” He was a
progressive old man.

I am sorry to say that I played hookey sometimes. Big dances were often
held in the village; especially, when a war party came in with a scalp,
there was great excitement. The scalp was raised aloft on a pole, and
the women danced about it, screaming, and singing glad songs. Warriors
painted their faces with charcoal, and danced, sang, yelled, and boasted
of their deeds. Everybody feasted and made merry.

When I knew that a dance was going to be held, I would hide somewhere in
the village, instead of going to school. The next day my teacher would
say, “Where were you yesterday?” “At the dance,” I would answer. She
would then tell me how naughty I was; but she never punished me, for she
knew if she did, I would leave the school. My parents also scolded, but
did not punish me. I am afraid I was a bad little boy!

One day, on my way to school, I was overtaken by a very old white man,
with white hair. I had been going to school about a year and could talk a
little English.

”What is your name, little fellow?” the old man asked. He had a friendly
voice.

“My name is Goodbird,” I answered.

“But what is your English name?”

“I have none.”

“Then I will give you mine,” the old man said, smiling. “It is Edward
Moore.”

It is a common custom for an Indian to give his name to a friend; so I
did not know the old man’s words were said in fun. At the school, I told
Mr. Hall what the old man had said, and he laughed. “I think Moore is not
a good name for you,” he said. “Moore sounds like _moor_, a marshy place
where mists rise in the air, but Edward is a very good name.“

So I have called myself Edward Goodbird ever since.

Every Friday Mr. Hall gave a dinner in the mission house to his pupils.
We Indian children thought these dinners wonderful. Many of us had never
tasted white men’s food; some things, as sour pickles, we did not like.
Mr. Hall wanted us to learn to eat white bread and biscuits, so that we
would ask our mothers to bake bread at home. He hoped this would be a
means of getting us to like white men’s ways.

On Saturdays we had no school, and Mr. Hall would go around the village,
shaking hands with the Indians and inviting them to come to church the
next morning. Later, Poor Wolf acted as his crier, and on Saturday
evenings he would go around, calling out, “_Ho Washte, Ho Washte!_ Come
you people, to-morrow, and sit for him!” He meant for them to come to
church the next morning and sit in chairs.

Mr. Hall’s janitor, a young Indian named Bear’s Teeth, swept out the
mission house, made the fires, and got the school room ready for the
services. There was no bell on the mission, so a flag was run up as a
signal for the congregation to gather.

Not many came to the services, fifteen or twenty were a usual
congregation, sometimes only ten. Mr. Hall preached, and to make his
sermons plainer, he often drew pictures on the blackboard.

My father thought the missionary’s religion was good, but would not
himself forsake the old ways. “The old gods are best for me,” he used to
say, but he let me go to hear Mr. Hall preach. I cannot say that I always
understood the sermon. Sometimes Mr. Hall would say, “Thirty years ago,
my friends, I saw the light!” I thought he meant he had seen a vision.

But I learned a good deal from Mr. Hall’s preaching; and my lessons and
the songs I learned at school made me think of Jesus; but I thought an
Indian could be a Christian and also believe in the old ways.

It came over me one day, that this could not be. A story of our Indian
god, _It-si-ka-ma-hi-di_, tells us that the sun is a man, with his body
painted red, like fire; that the earth is flat, and that the sky covers
it like a bowl turned bottom up; but in my geography, at school, I
learned that the earth is round.

In our earth lodge, that night, I said to my parents, “This earth is
round; the sun is a burning ball!” My cousin Butterfly was disgusted.
“That is white man’s talk,” he grunted. “This earth is flat. White men
are foolish!” This I would in no wise admit, and I came home almost daily
with some new proof that the earth was round.

As I grew older and began to read books, I thought of myself as a
Christian, but more because I went to the mission school, than because
I thought of Jesus as my Saviour. I loved to read the stories of the
Bible; and Mr. Hall taught me the Ten Commandments. Some of the Indian
boys learned to swear, from hearing white men; but I never did, because
Mr. Hall told me it was wrong. I thought that those who did as the Bible
bade, would grow up to be good men.

I had a cousin, three years older than myself, in the Santee Indian
school, who had become a Christian. One day I received a letter from
him. “I believe in Jesus’ way,” he wrote. “I believe Jesus is a good
Saviour. I have tried His way, and I want you to try to join in and have
Him for your Saviour.” This letter set me to thinking.

In these years, my life outside the school room was wholly Indian. We
Hidatsa children knew nothing of base ball, or one hole cat, or other
white children’s games, but we had many Indian games that we played. Some
of these games I think better than those now played on our reservation.

In March and early April, we boys played the hoop game. A level place,
bare of snow, was found, and the boys divided into two sides, about
thirty yards apart. Small hoops, covered with a lacing of thongs, were
rolled forward, and were caught by those of the opposite side on sticks,
thrust or darted through the lacings. A hoop so caught, was sent hurtling
through the air, the object being to hit some one of the opposing players.

[Illustration: Hoop and Stick of the Hoop Game.]

The game was played but a few weeks, for as soon as the ice broke on the
Missouri, we boys went to the high bank of the river, and hurled our
hoops into the current. We were told, and really believed, that they
became dead buffaloes as soon as they had passed out of sight, beyond the
next point of land. Such buffaloes, drowned in the thin ice of autumn and
frozen in, came floating down the river in large numbers at the spring
break-up. The carcasses were always fat, and the frozen flesh was sweet
and tender.

After the first thunder in spring, we played _u-a-ki-he-ke_, or throw
stick. Willow rods were cut, peeled, and dried, and then stained red,
with ochre, or a bright green, with grass. These rods, darted against
the ground, rebounded to a great distance. The player won whose rod went
farthest. _U-a-ki-he-ke_ is still played on the reservation.

In June, when the rising waters have softened the river’s clay banks,
we fought sham battles. Each boy cut a willow withe, as long as a buggy
whip, and on the smaller end squeezed a lump of wet clay. With the withe
as a sling, he could throw the clay ball to an astonishing distance.
Hidatsa and Mandan boys often fought against one another, using these
clay balls as missiles.

[Illustration: War Bonnet (On Lodge Post).]

It was exciting play, for we fought like armies, each side trying to
force the other’s position; when an attack was made, a storm of mud balls
would come whizzing through the air like bullets. A hit on the bare flesh
stung like a real wound. Once one of my playmates was hit in the eye, and
badly hurt. I was just over fourteen, when my parents let me join in
the grass dance, or war dance, as the whites call it. The other dancers
made me an officer, and my father was so pleased, that he hung up a fine
eagle’s feather war bonnet in our lodge. “If enemies come against us,” he
said, “my son shall go out to fight wearing this war bonnet!”

One evening, Bear’s Arm, a lad of eighteen years, came in from hunting a
strayed pony; he was much excited. “I saw two Sioux in war dress, hiding
in a coulee,” he told us.

Our warriors ran for their ponies. “Put on your war bonnet,“ my father
said to me. “I am going to take you in the party. Keep close to me; and
if there is a fight, see if you cannot strike an enemy!“

We rode all night, Bear’s Arm leading us. We reached the coulee and
surrounded it a little before daybreak, and with the first streak of
dawn, we closed in, our rifles ready; but we found no enemies.

This was my one war exploit.



[Illustration: Buffaloes.]



VI

HUNTING BUFFALOES


The summer I was twelve years old, our village went on a buffalo hunt,
for scouts had brought in word that herds had been sighted a hundred
miles west of the Missouri. My father, Son-of-a-Star, was chosen leader
of the hunt.

My tribe no longer used travois, for the government had issued wagons to
us. These we took apart, loading the wheels into bull boats while the
beds were floated over the river. We made our first camp at the edge of
the foot hills, on the other side of the river.

The next morning, we struck tents, loaded them into our wagons, and began
the march.

My father led, carrying his medicine bundle at his saddle head; behind
him rode two or three elder Indians, leaders of the tribe, also on
horseback. Then followed the wagons in a long line; and on either side
rode the young men, on their tough, scrubby, little ponies.

Some of our young men as they rode, drove small companies of horses.
Neighbors commonly put their horses together, and a young man, or two or
three young men, acted as herders. Sometimes a girl, mounted astraddle
like a man, drove them.

Now and then a youth might be seen reining in his pony to let the line of
wagons pass, while he kept a sharp watch for his sweetheart. She hardly
glanced at him as she rode by, for it was not proper for a young man’s
sweetheart to let him talk to her in the marching line. The time for
courtship was in camp, in the evening.

[Illustration: Clay Pot with Thong Handle.]

Toward five or six in the afternoon, we made camp. The wagons were
drawn up in a big circle, and the women pitched the tents, while the
men unhitched and hobbled their horses, and brought firewood. The women
brought water and lighted the fires.

Water was carried in pails. I have heard that in old times, they used
clay pots made of a kind of red clay, and burned; a thong went around the
neck of the pot, for a handle.

My mother, an active woman, often had her fire started before her
neighbors. While she got supper, my father sat and smoked. Friends
frequently joined him, and they would sit in a circle, passing the pipe
around, telling funny stories and laughing. My father was a capital story
teller.

For supper we had deer or antelope meat, boiled or roasted, and my mother
often fried wheat-flour dough into a kind of biscuits that were rather
hard. Corn picked green the year before, and boiled and dried, was stewed
in a kettle, making a dish much like the canned com we buy at the store.
More often we had succotash, hominy boiled with fat and beans. We drank
black coffee, sweetened; my mother put the coffee beans into a skin,
pounded them fine with an ax, and boiled them in an iron pot. You see, we
were getting civilized.

When supper was ready, my mother would call “_Mi-ha-dits_—I have done!”
and my father would put up his pipe and come to eat. My mother gave him
meat, steaming hot, in a tin dish, and poured coffee into a cup; another
cup held meat broth, which made a good drink also. We did not bring
wooden feast bowls with us, as some families did.

My mother and I ate with my father, much as white families do; a robe or
blanket was spread for each to sit upon.

I wore moccasins and leggings; and my hair was braided, Indian fashion,
in two tails over my shoulders, but my mother had made me a white man’s
vest, of black cloth, embroidered all over with elk teeth. I was proud of
this vest, and cared not a whit that I had no coat to wear over it.

The seventh day out, we made camp near the Cannon Ball River. My father
had sent two mounted scouts ahead, with a spy glass, to see if they could
find the herds; at evening, they returned with the report, “There is a
big herd yonder!” Everybody got ready for the hunt the next morning, and
my father made me happy by telling me that I might go along.

[Illustration: Quirt (Indian Whip.)]

We arose early. My father saddled two ponies, one of them a pack animal;
and I mounted a third, with a white man’s saddle. My father’s were pack
saddles, of elk horn, covered with raw hide; ropes, looped up like a
figure 8, were tied behind them to be used in binding the packs of meat
we would bring home from the hunt.

There were about forty hunters in our party, mounted, and leading each a
pack horse; eight boys, of twelve or fifteen years of age, and three old
men. I remember one of the old men carried a bow and arrows, probably
from old custom. Only the hunters expected to take part in the actual
chase of the buffaloes; they were armed with rifles.

The party’s leader, _E-di-a-ka-ta_—the same who led our tribe to the
Yellowstone—rode ahead, and we followed at a brisk trot. Five miles out
of camp, the two scouts were again sent ahead with the spy glass. We saw
them coming back at a gallop and knew that the herd was found, and we
urged our horses at the top of their speed. I remember the _slap_ of the
quirts on the little ponies’ flanks; and the _beat-beat, beat-beat!_ of
their hoofs on the hard ground. Indians do not shoe their horses.

We drew rein behind a hill, a half mile to leeward of the herd, and,
having dismounted, hobbled our led horses. Our hunters laid aside their
shirts and leggings, stripped the saddles from their ponies’ backs, and
twisted bridles of thong into their ponies’ mouths; it was our tribe’s
custom to ride bare-back in the hunt.

_E-di-a-ka-ta_ went a little way off and stood, facing in the direction
of the herd; from a piece of red cloth he tore a long strip, ripped this
again into three or four pieces and laid them on the ground. I saw his
lips move, and knew he was praying, but I could not hear his words. The
pieces of red cloth Were an offering to the spirits of the buffaloes.

Our hunters remounted and drew up in a line facing the herd,
_E-di-a-ka-ta_ on the right, and at a signal, the line started forward,
neck-and-neck, at a brisk gallop. A guard, named _Tsa-wa_, or Bear’s
Chief, rode in advance; if a hunter pressed too far forward in the line,
_Tsa-wa_ struck the hunter’s pony in the face with his quirt.

We boys and the three old men rode a little behind the line of hunters;
we did not expect to take part in the hunt, but wanted to see the kill.

As we cleared the brow of the hill we sighted the buffaloes, about four
hundred yards away, and _E-di-a-ka-ta_ gave the signal, “_Ku’kats_—Now
then!” Down came the quirts on the little ponies’ flanks, making them
leap forward like big cats. The line broke at once, each hunter striving
to reach the herd first and kill the fattest. An iron-gray horse, I
remember, was in the lead.

We boys followed at breakneck speed—unwillingly on my part; my pony had
taken the bit in his mouth and was going over the stony ground at a speed
that I feared would throw him any moment and break his neck and mine. I
tugged at the reins and clung to the saddle, too scared to cry out.

_Bang!_ A fat cow tumbled over. _Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!_ The frightened
herd started to flee, swerved to the right, and went thundering away up
wind, in a whirl of dust. Buffaloes, when alarmed, fly up wind if the way
is open; their sight is poor, but they have a keen scent, and running up
wind they can nose an Indian a half mile away.

For such heavy beasts, buffaloes have amazing speed, and only our fastest
horses were used in hunting them; indeed, a young bull often outran our
fastest ponies.

Only cows were killed. The flesh of bulls is tough and was not often
eaten; that of calves crumbled when dried, making it unfit for storing.

Some buffalo calves, forsaken by the herd, were running wildly over the
prairie, bleating for their mothers; two of our hunters caught one of the
smallest with a lariat, and brought it to me. “Here, boy,” they said,
“keep this calf.”

I caught the rope and drew the calf after me; but my pony, growing
frightened, reared and kicked the little animal; paying out more rope, I
led the calf at a safer distance from my horse’s heels.

The hunters came straggling back, and my father seeing the calf, cried
out, “Let that calf go! Buffaloes are sacred animals. You should not try
to keep one captive!“ I was much disappointed, for I wanted to take it
into camp.

My father had killed three fat cows, and these he now sought out and
dressed. The shoulders, hams, and choicer cuts he loaded on our led
horse, covering the pack with a green hide and tying it down with the
rawhide ropes brought for the purpose; the rest he left in a pile on the
prairie, covered with the other two hides. We intended to return for
these with wagons, the next day.

As my father was cutting up one of the carcasses, I saw him throw away
what I thought were good cuts; I did not like to see good meat wasted,
and when I thought he was not looking, I slyly put the pieces back on the
pile.

[Illustration: Drying Meat and Boiling Bones.]

We returned to camp slowly, at times urging our ponies to a gentle trot,
more often letting them walk. My father had to dismount several times to
secure our pack of meat, which threatened to slip from our pack horse’s
back. In our tent that evening, I heard him telling my mother of my
part in the hunt. “Our son,” he said, “is no wasteful lad. He put back
some tough leg pieces that I had thrown away. He would not see good meat
wasted!” And they both laughed.

Stages were built in the camp, and for two days, every body was busy
drying meat or boiling bones for marrow fat. The dried meat was packed in
skin bags, or made into bundles; the marrow fat was run into bladders;
and all was taken to Like-a-fish-hook village, to be stored for winter.



[Illustration: Goodbird at the Age of Twenty. (Redrawn from Portrait by
Gilbert Saul. Report Indian Census, 1890.)]



VII

FARMING


The time came when we had to forsake our village at Like-a-fish-hook
Bend, for the government wanted the Indians to become farmers. “You
should take allotments,” our agent would say. “The big game is being
killed off, and you must plant bigger fields or starve. The government
will give you plows and cattle.”

All knew that the agent’s words were true, and little by little our
village was broken up. In the summer of my sixteenth year nearly a third
of my tribe left to take up allotments.

We had plenty of land; our reservation was twice the size of Rhode
Island, and our united tribes, with the Rees who joined us, were less
than thirteen hundred souls. Most of the Indians chose allotments along
the Missouri, where the soil was good and drinking water easy to get.
Unallotted lands were to be sold and the money given to the three tribes.

Forty miles above our village, the Missouri makes a wide bend around a
point called Independence Hill, and here my father and several of his
relatives chose their allotments. The bend enclosed a wide strip of
meadow land, offering hay for our horses. The soil along the river was
rich and in the bottom stood a thick growth of timber.

My father left the village, with my mother and me, in June. He had a
wagon, given him by the agent; this he unbolted and took over the river
piece by piece, in a bull boat; our horses swam.

We camped at Independence in a tepee, while we busied ourselves building
a cabin. My father cut the logs; they were notched at the ends, to lock
into one another at the comers. A heavier log, a foot in thickness, made
the ridge pole. The roof was of willows and grass, covered with sods.

Cracks between the logs were plastered with clay, mixed with short grass.
The floor was of earth, but we had a stove.

We were a month putting up our cabin.

Though my father’s coming to Independence was a step toward civilization,
it had one ill effect: it removed me from the good influences of the
mission school, so that for a time I fell back into Indian ways. Winter,
also, was not far off; the season was too late for us to plant corn, and
the rations issued to us every two weeks rarely lasted more than two or
three days. To keep our family in meat, I turned hunter.

There were no buffaloes on the reservation, but blacktailed deer
were plentiful, and in the hills were a good many antelopes. I had a
Winchester rifle, a 40.60 caliber, and I was a good shot.

To hunt deer, I arose before daylight and went to the woods along the
Missouri. Deer feed much at night, and as evening came on, they would
leave the thick underbrush by the river and go into the hills to browse
on the rich prairie grasses. I would creep along the edge of the woods,
rifle in hand, ready to shoot any that I saw coming in from the feeding
grounds.

I was careful to keep on the leeward side of the game; a deer running up
wind will scent an Indian as quickly as a buffalo.

I loved to hunt, and although a mere boy, I was one of the quickest shots
in my tribe. I remember that one morning I was coming around a clump of
bushes when I saw a doe and buck ahead, just entering the thicket. I
fired, hardly glancing at the sights; I saw the buck fall, but when I ran
up I found the doe lying beside him, killed by the same bullet.

Independence was a wild spot. The hill from which the place took its
name had been a favorite fasting place for young men who sought visions;
at its foot, under a steep bank, swept the Missouri, full of dangerous
whirlpools. Such spots, lonely and wild, we Indians thought were haunts
of the spirits.

Once, when I was a small boy, my father took me to see the Sun
dance. A man named Turtle-no-head was suspended from a post in a
booth, and dancing around it. Turtle-no-head’s hands were behind
him, and he strained at the rope as he danced. Women were crying,
“_A-la-la-la-la-la!_” Old men were calling out, “Good; Turtle-no-head
is a man. One should be willing to suffer to find his god; then he will
strike many enemies and win honors!”

I was much stirred by what I saw, and by the old men’s words.

“Father,” I said, “when I get big, I am going to suffer and seek a
vision, like Turtle-no-head!”

“Good!” said my father, laughing.

At Independence, I thought of this vow made years before. One day, I said
to my father, “I want you to suspend me from the high bank, over the
Missouri.”

When evening came, my father stripped me to my clout and moccasins, and
helped me paint my body with white clay. He called a man named Crow, and
they took me to the bank, over the Missouri. My father fastened me to the
rope, and I swung myself over the bank, hanging with my weight upon the
rope. “Suffer as long as you can!” called my father, and left me.

I did not feel much pain, but I became greatly wearied from the strain
upon my back and thighs. Toward morning I could stand it no longer. I
drew myself up on the bank, and went home and to bed; and I slept so
soundly that no dream came from the spirits.

A year later, I again sought a vision. This time my father took me to a
high hill, a mile or two from the river. He drove a post into the ground,
fastened me to it, as before, and left me, just at nightfall.

I threw myself back upon the rope and danced around the post, hoping to
fall into a swoon and see a vision.

It was autumn, and a light snow was falling; the cold flakes on my bare
shoulders made me shiver till my teeth chattered. The night was black as
pitch. A coyote howled. I was so lonely that I wished a ghost would sit
on the post and talk with me, though I was dreadfully afraid of ghosts,
especially at night. I grew so cold that my knees knocked together.

About two o’clock in the morning, I untied the rope and went home. For an
hour I felt sick, but I soon fell into a sleep, again dreamless.

I was eating my breakfast when my father came in. “I have seen no vision,
father,” I told him; he said nothing.

The next year the government forbade the Indians to torture themselves
when they fasted. My father was quite vexed. “The government does wrong
to forbid us to suffer for our gods!” he said. But I was rather glad.
“The Indian’s way is hard,” I thought. “The white man’s road is easier!”
And I thought again of the mission school.

Other things drew my thoughts to civilized ways. Our agent issued to
every Indian family having an allotment, a plow, and wheat, flax, and
oats, for seeding. My father and I broke land near our cabin, and in the
spring seeded it down.

We had a fair harvest in the fall. Threshing was done on the agency
machine, and, having sacked our grain, my father and I hauled it, in four
trips, to Hebron, eighty miles away. Our flax we sold for seventy-five
cents, our wheat for sixty cents, and our oats for twenty-five cents a
bushel. Our four loads brought us about eighty dollars.

I became greatly interested in farming. There was good soil on our
allotment along the river, although our fields sometimes suffered from
drought; away from the river, much of our land was stony, fit only for
grazing.

My parents had been at Independence eight years, when one day the agent
sent for me. I went to his office.

“I hear you have become a good farmer,” he said, as I came in. “I want to
appoint you assistant to our agency farmer. Your district will include
all allotments west of the Missouri between the little Missouri and
Independence. I will pay you three hundred dollars a year. Will you
accept?“

“I will try what I can do,” I answered.

“Good,” said the Major. “Now for your orders! You are to measure off for
every able-bodied Indian, ten acres of ground to be plowed and seeded.
If an Indian is lazy and will not attend to his plowing, report him to
me and I will send a policeman. In the fall, you are to see that every
family puts up two tons of hay for each horse or steer owned by it.”

I did not know what an acre was. “It is a piece of ground,” the agent
explained, “ten rods wide and sixteen rods long.” From this I was able to
compute pretty well how much ten acres should be; but I am not sure that
all the plots I measured were of the same size.

I began my new duties at once, and at every cabin in my district, I
measured off a ten-acre plot and explained the agent’s orders. Not a few
of the Indians had done some plowing at Like-a-fish-hook village, and
all were willing to learn. Once a month, I took a blacksmith around to
inspect the Indians’ plows.

Rains were abundant that summer, and the Indians had a good crop. Some
families harvested a hundred bushels of wheat from a ten-acre field;
others, seventy-five bushels; and some had also planted oats.

The government began to issue cattle in payment of lands sold for us. The
first issue was one cow to each family, and the agent ordered me to see
that every family built a barn.

These barns were put up without planks or nails. A description of my own
will show what they were like; it rested on a frame of four forked posts,
with stringers laid in the forks; puncheons, or split logs, were leaned
against the stringers for walls; rough-cut rafters supported a roofing of
willows and dry grass, earthed over with sods.

More cattle were issued to us until we had a considerable herd at
Independence. The cattle were let run at large, but each steer or cow was
branded by its owner. Calves ran with their mothers until fall; the herd
was then corralled and each calf was branded with its mother’s brand. My
own brand was the letters SU on the right shoulder.

Herders guarded our cattle during the calving season; we paid them ten
cents for every head of stock herded through the summer months.

I had been assistant farmer six years and our herd had grown to about
four hundred head, when Bird Bear and Skunk, our two herders, reported
that some of our cattle had strayed. ”We have searched the coulees and
thickets, but cannot find them,” they said. Branding time came; we
corralled the herd and found about fifty head missing.

We now suspected that our cattle had been stolen. Cattle thieves, we
knew, were in the country; they had broken into a corral one night, on a
ranch not far from Independence and killed a cowboy named Long John.

Winter had passed, when the agent called me one day into his office.
“Goodbird,” he said, “I want you to take out a party of our agency police
and find those thieves who stole your cattle. Start at once!”

I got my party together, eight in all; Hollis Montclair, my boyhood chum;
Frank White Calf, Crow Bull, Sam Jones, White Owl, Little Wolf, No Bear,
and myself. Only Hollis and I spoke English.

We started toward the Little Missouri, where we suspected the thieves
might be found. I drove a wagon with our provisions and tent; my men were
mounted. We reached the Little Missouri before nightfall, and camped.

[Illustration: Prairie Dogs.]

The next morning, we turned westward; before noon, we crossed a prairie
dog village, and shot three or four prairie dogs for dinner. The hair was
singed off the carcasses, and they were drawn, and spitted on sticks over
the fire. Prairie dogs are not bad eating, especially in the open air,
by a good wood fire; I have never become so civilized that I would not
rather eat out of doors.

Toward evening we met a cowboy. “How!” I called, as I drew in my team.
“Have you seen any stray cattle, with Indian brands, ID, 7 bar, 7, or the
like?“ And I told him of our missing cattle.

“I know where they are,” said the cowboy. “You will find them on a ranch
near Stroud’s post-office; but don’t tell who told you!”

“Have no fear,” I answered.

Stroud’s post-office was farther west, near the Montana border; we
reached it the third or fourth day out.

We made camp, and after supper, I went in and told Mr. Stroud our errand.

“Yes,” he said, “your cattle are three miles from here, on a ranch owned
by Frank Powers; he hired two cowboys to steal them for him.”

The next morning my men and I mounted, and leaving our wagon at Stroud’s,
started for Powers’ ranch. I was unarmed; the others of my party had
their rifles.

We stopped at the cabin of a man named Crockin, to inquire our way. A
white man came in; after he had gone out again, I asked Crockin, “Who is
that man?”

“He is Frank Powers,” said Crockin.

I turned to my men and said in their own language, “That is the man who
stole our cattle.”

Little Wolf drew his cleaning rod. “I am going to give that bad white man
a beating,” he cried angrily.

“You will not,” I answered. “We will go into Powers’ pasture and round
up his cattle; and I will cut out all that I think are ours. If that bad
white man comes out and says evil words against me, do nothing. If he
shoots at me, kill him quick; but do not you shoot first!“

My men loaded their rifles, and about two o’clock I led them into the
pasture. Powers’ cattle were all bunched in a big herd; we drove them to
a grassy flat, and I began cutting out those that were ours.

Powers saw us and came out, revolver in hand, and two or three white men
joined him. He was so angry that he acted like a mad man; he grew red in
the face, talked loud, and swore big oaths; but he did not shoot, for he
knew my men would kill him.

I cut about twenty-five head out of the herd, all that I found with
altered brands on the right shoulder or thigh. Maybe I took some of
Powers’ cattle by mistake, but I did not care much.

Powers left us after a while. My men rounded up our cattle, and we drove
them back to Stroud’s and camped.

After supper, I asked Mr. Stroud to write a letter to our agent, telling
him what I had done. “To-morrow,” I told my men, “we will set out for
home. You drive our cattle back to the reservation in short stages,
so that they will not sicken with the heat. I will go ahead with Mr.
Stroud’s letter.”

I set out before sunrise; at four o’clock I reached Independence, eighty
miles away; and at sunset, I was at Elbowoods.

It was Decoration day, and the Indians were having a dance. The agent was
sitting in his office with the inspector, from Washington.

“I have found our cattle,” I said; and I gave him Mr. Stroud’s letter.

He read it and handed it to the inspector.

“Report this matter to the United States marshal,” the inspector said to
him. “Tell him to have Powers arrested.“



[Illustration: The Chapel at Independence.]



VIII

THE WHITE MAN’S WAY


My thirty-fifth winter—as we Indians count years—found me still assistant
farmer; but time had brought many changes to our reservation. Antelope
and blacktailed deer had gone the way of the buffalo. A few earth lodges
yet stood, dwellings of stern old warriors who lived in the past; but the
Indian police saw that every child was in school learning the white man’s
way. A good dinner at the noon hour made most of the children rather
willing scholars.

The white man’s peace had stopped our wars with the Sioux; and the
young folks of either tribe visited, and made presents to one another.
I had visited the Standing Rock Sioux and had learned to rather like
them. Indeed, I liked one Sioux girl so well that I married her. We had
a comfortable cabin; my wife was a good cook, and my children were in
school.

Living so far from the mission, it was not possible for me to attend
church services at the mission house; but Mr. Hall came to Independence
and preached to us. Until a school house was built, he often held his
meetings in my cabin.

I usually interpreted for him. He would speak in English and I would
translate into Hidatsa, which the Mandans also understand. Indians are
good linguists; not a few young men of my tribe speak as many as four or
five languages.

I drew no salary as interpreter; but I felt myself well repaid by what I
learned of the Bible. Interpreting Mr. Hall’s sermons made them sink into
my heart, so that I would think of them as I went about my work.

As time went on, there grew up quite a company of Christians at
Independence. One of their active leaders was Frank White Calf; and he
and Sitting Crow called a kind of praying council at Two Chiefs’ cabin.
All the Independence Christians came; and I was invited to meet them.

Some of the Indians prayed; and Frank White Calf asked me, “Goodbird, why
do you not join us in this Christian way? Tell us your mind!”

I arose and spoke: “My friends, I learned of this Christian way at the
mission school. It is a good way. You ask me my thoughts. I answer, I
have tried to live like a Christian and I love to read my Bible, but I
have not received baptism; I am now ready to be baptized.”

A few days after this, Frank White Calf said to me, “Mr. Hall wants you
to come to the mission house and be baptized.”

I went the next Sunday with my family, and was received into the church.
My sons Charles and Alfred were baptized at the same time.

In part, I was influenced to become a church member by the thought that
it was the white man’s way. Our Indian beliefs, I felt sure, were doomed;
for white men’s customs were becoming stronger with us each year. “I am
traveling the new way, now!” I thought, when I was baptized. “I can never
go back to Indian ways again.”

But for some years, even after I became a church member, I was not a very
firm Christian; and I did not keep God’s commandments very well, because
I did not believe all that the missionaries taught me. I was unwilling to
trust any white man’s words, until I had proved that they were true. I
did not want to take anything on faith.

Mr. Hall made Independence a preaching station, and put an assistant in
charge; I interpreted for her. Sometimes Mr. Hall, or his son, preached
to us.

The missionary teacher let me know each week what was to be the next
Sunday’s lesson, and she gave me books to read. Knowing something of her
subject, I was better able to interpret for her. In this way, also, I
learned more of Christ’s teachings; and I learned how to study my Bible.

This study of the Bible influenced me a great deal; and my having to
interpret made me fall into the habit of going to church regularly. My
interest in church work grew.

In 1903, the government abolished the position of assistant farmer. In
October of the following year, Mr. Hall’s son said to me, “We need an
assistant missionary at Independence, and my father and I want to appoint
you. Come and talk with my father about it.”

I went to Elbowoods and saw Mr. Hall. “Edward,” he asked, “are you
willing to be our assistant missionary?”

“Yes,” I answered.

I knew some one must preach to the Independence Indians; and I thought
I could do this, because I could speak their language as well as read
English. I felt also that I was closer to God than I had been when I was
baptized.

So I became Mr. Hall’s assistant, and have been in charge of the
Independence station ever since. Every Sunday I preach to the Indians in
the Hidatsa language. My text is the Sunday-school lesson of the week,
for we Indians do not care for sermons, such as white men hear. Our older
men cannot read English, and we do not have the Bible in our own tongue;
we like best to hear the Sunday-school lesson because it explains the
stories of the Bible, which my people cannot read for themselves.

Things do not always go smoothly in an Indian congregation. Frictions and
misunderstandings arise, as I have heard they do in white churches; and
Indians sometimes seek to become church members from unworthy motives.
Our former life makes us Indians clannish; members of the same clan feel
bound to help one another, and many Indians seem to look upon the church
as a kind of clan. Sometimes a young man will say, “I will be baptized
and join your church. Then all the Christians will work to make me
agency policeman!”

Others, again, will say, “I want to join the church because I am sick;
perhaps God will make me well!”

Some, with clearer faith, say, ”I want to become a Christian because I
believe Jesus will save me to be a spirit with Him.” They mean that they
hope Jesus will take them to live with Him when they die.

My uncle, Wolf Chief, says of the Christian way: “I traveled faithfully
the way of the Indian gods, but they never helped me. When I was sick, I
prayed to them, but they did not make me well. I prayed to them when my
children died; but they did not answer me. I have but two children left,
and I am going to trust God to keep these that they do not die like the
others. I talk to God every day, as I would talk to my father; and I ask
Him for everything I want. I try to do all that He bids me do. I hope
that He will take my spirit to travel in that new heaven about which I
have learned. I cannot change now. I can never go back to the old gods!”

Wolf Chief has been a strong Christian for more than eight years. He
has given much to our mission work; and he is never absent from Sunday
services.

Six years ago, we Christians at Independence became dissatisfied with
our log meeting house, and began to talk of building a chapel, or
church-house, as we call it. A council was called in Wolf Chief’s cabin.

It was an evening in December; all the leading Christians of Independence
came with their wives—Wolf Chief, Tom Smith, Frank White Calf, Mike
Basset, Hollis Montclair, Sam Jones, Louis Baker, and myself. Each woman
brought something for a feast, and we ate together. We had fried bread,
tea, pie, tomato soup, and other good things.

When our feasting was over, Wolf Chief made a speech. “We Christian
Indians,” he said, “should have a chapel. We should raise the money to
build a house to God, where we can go and worship!“

Tom Smith and others spoke, and we called for subscriptions. Frank White
Calf’s wife gave five dollars. Wolf Chief’s brother, Charging Enemy,
although not a Christian, gave a pony. Others promised, some ten, some
fifteen, and some twenty-five dollars.

I was appointed treasurer to make collections, and get more
subscriptions. I wrote a letter to Water Chief’s dancing society and
asked them to give something. The dancing Indians are pagans; but they
gave us a subscription.

Mr. Hall gave us fifty dollars; Mr. Shultis, our school-teacher, gave us
ten dollars; and other white friends gave us subscriptions; but most of
the money was given by the Indians.

When we had collected three hundred and fifty dollars, we began buying
lumber.

Wolf Chief wanted to give us the land for our chapel; but the Indian
commissioner wrote, “No, you may sell your land, but you must not give it
away.” So we bought the land for a dollar an acre; but Wolf Chief gave
the money back to us, outwitting the commissioner after all!

We bought ten acres. “When white men build a house,” said Wolf Chief,
“they leave land around it for a yard. We should be ashamed not to have
some land around God’s house!“ Our ten-acre plot makes a fine big church
yard; at one end is our Indian cemetery.

Wolf Chief also gave us a colt, and much money, and bought paint and
nails.

We Indians think Wolf Chief wealthy. He owns five hundred acres of land,
thirty head of cattle, eight horses, and pigs and chickens; he has a
potato field and a corn field, and owns a trading store.

More than fifty were present when we dedicated our chapel. A minister
from Minneapolis preached the sermon, and I interpreted for him. A young
white lady sang, and played the organ, and my cousin played a clarionet.
Our school teacher had lent us his phonograph, and it sang “There are
ninety and nine,” just like a choir in a city church. I asked for
subscriptions to clear off our debt, and we raised eighty-three dollars
in money, and Wolf Chief gave us another colt. The minister prayed God to
bless our chapel, and we went home, all very happy.

Older Indians, who came from Like-a-fish-hook village, find their life on
allotments rather lonesome. Cabins are often two or three miles apart and
the old men cannot amuse themselves with books, for they cannot read. In
old times, Indians often met in big dances; but pagan ceremonies are used
in these dances, and Mr. Hall does not like the Christian Indians to go
to them.

That our Christian Indians may meet socially now and then, we now observe
many white men’s holidays; and at such times, we make our chapel the
meeting place. In August, we hold a Young Men’s Christian Convention,
when families come from miles around, to camp in tents around the
chapel. At Christmas, we have feasting and giving of presents; and our
chapel is so crowded that many have to stand without, and look through
the windows. Of late years, we have also observed Decoration Day at
Independence.

Our camp last Decoration Day was ten or more tents, with two or three
families in a tent. We made a booth, after old custom, of leafy branches
and small trees. In this we gathered at about ten o’clock.

Our school teacher began our exercises with a speech telling us what
Decoration Day should mean to us. We sang “America,” and other hymns, and
had speeches by Indians. A committee had been appointed to choose the
speakers.

Rabbit Head spoke, “I do not know anything about your way, but I
encourage you! Go on, do more. I have nothing against your going the
Christian way!” Rabbit Head is a chief in the Grass dance society, and a
pagan.

Wounded Face spoke, “I do not belong to this church, I am a Catholic; but
I thus show that I like white men’s ways!”

After dinner we made ready to decorate our graves. Every family having a
son buried in our graveyard, hired a clan father to clean the grave of
weeds and stones; if a daughter, a clan aunt was asked. An Indian calls
the members of his mother’s clan, his brothers and sisters; members of
his father’s clan, he calls his clan fathers and aunts.

At two o’clock we formed a procession and marched to the cemetery. Two
aged scouts led, High Eagle and Black Chest; High Eagle bore a large
American flag. We marched by two’s in a long line, the men first, then
the women and children. Having marched around the graveyard, we stood and
sang some hymns, and I made a speech:

“All you relatives and friends of these dead, I want to make a speech to
you!

“It seems sad to our hearts to come here, and yet we are glad, because
we come to remember our loved ones at their graves; so both gladness and
sorrow are in our hearts.

“These warrior men, that you see here, fought against our enemies. They
fought to save us, so that to-day we are not captive, but free. Some of
the brave men who fought to save us, died in battle. Also, some of your
loved ones have died and are buried in this graveyard. Many of these
loved ones did not die fighting against enemies, yet they were brave
warriors against evil and temptation. Now they are gone from us. They are
in a new world, the ghost land; they are with God. I am sure they are in
a safe, happy place.

“Now come forward, all who want to put flowers on the graves.”

We had had a cold, dry spring, and the prairie flowers had not come into
bloom, but we had sent to Plaza and bought artificial silk flowers. The
clan fathers and aunts placed these flowers on the graves, while many of
the women wept.

       *       *       *       *       *

We Hidatsas know that our Indian ways will soon perish; but we feel no
anger. The government has given us a good reservation, and we think the
new way better for our children.

I think God made all peoples to help one another. We Indians have helped
you white people. All over this country are corn fields; we Indians gave
you the seeds for your corn, and we, gave you squashes and beans. On the
lakes in your parks are canoes; Indians taught you to make those canoes.

We Indians think you are but paying us back, when you give us schools and
books, and teach us the new way.

For myself, my family and I own four thousand acres of land; and we have
money coming to us from the government. I own cattle and horses. I can
read English, and my children are in school.

I have good friends among the white people, Mr. Hall and others, and best
of all, I think each year I know God a little better.

I am not afraid.


Printed in the United States of America.





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