By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians - An Indian Interpretation
Author: Wilson, Gilbert Livingstone
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians - An Indian Interpretation" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)

                       The University of Minnesota


                        AN INDIAN INTERPRETATION

                    GILBERT LIVINGSTONE WILSON, Ph.D.

               [Illustration: THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA]

                 Bulletin of the University of Minnesota
                              November 1917

                             PRICE: 75 CENTS


These publications contain the results of research work from various
departments of the University and are offered for exchange with
universities, scientific societies, and other institutions. Papers will
be published as separate monographs numbered in several series. There
is no stated interval of publication. Application for any of these
publications should be made to the University Librarian.


1. THOMPSON AND WARBER, Social and Economic Survey of a Rural Township in
Southern Minnesota. 1913. $0.50.

2. MATTHIAS NORDBERG ORFIELD, Federal Land Grants to the States, with
Special Reference to Minnesota. 1915. $1.00.

3. EDWARD VAN DYKE ROBINSON, Early Economic Conditions and the
Development of Agriculture in Minnesota. 1915. $1.50.

4. L. D. H. WELD AND OTHERS, Studies in the Marketing of Farm Products.
1915. $0.50.

5. BEN PALMER, Swamp Land Drainage, with Special Reference to Minnesota.
1915. $0.50.

6. ALBERT ERNEST JENKS, Indian-White Amalgamation: An Anthropometric
Study. 1916. $0.50.

7. C. D. ALLIN, A History of the Tariff Relations of the Australian
Colonies. In press.

8. FRANCES H. RELF, The Petition of Right. In press.

9. GILBERT L. WILSON, Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian
Interpretation. 1917. $0.75.

10. NOTESTEIN AND RELF, _Editors_, Commons Debates for 1629. In press.

11. RAYMOND A. KENT, State Aid to Public Schools. In press.


1. FRANKFORTER AND FRARY, Equilibria in Systems Containing Alcohols,
Salts, and Water. 1912. $0.50.

2. FRANKFORTER AND KRITCHEVSKY, A New Phase of Catalysis. 1914. $0.50.


1. GEORGE ALFRED MANEY, Secondary Stresses and Other Problems in Rigid
Frames: A New Method of Solution. 1915. $0.25.

2. CHARLES FRANKLIN SHOOP, An Investigation of the Concrete Road-Making
Properties of Minnesota Stone and Gravel. 1915. $0.25.

3. FRANKLIN R. MCMILLAN, Shrinkage and Time Effects in Reinforced
Concrete. 1915. $0.25.

(Continued inside back cover)

[Illustration: Maxi´diwiac, or Buffalobird-woman

Photographed in 1910]

                       The University of Minnesota


                        AN INDIAN INTERPRETATION

                    GILBERT LIVINGSTONE WILSON, Ph.D.

               [Illustration: THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA]

                 Bulletin of the University of Minnesota
                              November 1917

                             COPYRIGHT 1917
                                 BY THE
                         UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA


The field of primitive economic activity has been largely left
uncultivated by both economists and anthropologists. The present study
by Mr. Gilbert L. Wilson is an attempt to add to the scanty knowledge
already at hand on the subject of the economic life of the American

The work was begun without theory or thesis, but solely with the object
of gathering available data from an old woman expert agriculturist in
one of the oldest agricultural tribes accessible to a student of the
University of Minnesota. That the study has unexpectedly revealed certain
varieties of maize of apparently great value to agriculture in the
semi-arid areas west of Minnesota is a cause of satisfaction to both Mr.
Wilson and myself. This fact again emphasizes the wisdom of research work
in our universities. When, now and then, such practical dollar-and-cent
results follow such purely scientific researches, the wonder is that
university research work is not generously endowed by businesses which
largely profit by these researches.

It is the intention of those interested in the anthropological work of
the University of Minnesota that occasional publications will be issued
by the University on anthropological subjects, although at present
there is no justification for issuing a consecutive series. The present
study is the second one in the anthropological field published by the
University. The earlier one is number 6 in the _Studies in the Social
Sciences_, issued March, 1916.

                                                  ALBERT ERNEST JENKS
                                              _Professor of Anthropology_



    Foreword                                                  1-5

    Chapter I—Tradition                                       6-8

    Chapter II—Beginning a garden                            9-15

        Turtle                                                  9
        Clearing fields                                         9
        Dispute and its settlement                             10
        Turtle breaking soil                                   11
        Turtle’s primitive tools                               12
        Beginning a field in later times                       13
        Trees in the garden                                    15
        Our west field                                         15
        Burning over the field                                 15

    Chapter III—Sunflowers                                  16-21

        Remark by Maxi´diwiac                                  16
        Planting sunflowers                                    16
        Varieties                                              16
        Harvesting the seed                                    17
        Threshing                                              18
        Harvesting the mapi´-na´ka                             18
        Effect of frost                                        18
        Parching the seed                                      19
        Four-vegetables-mixed                                  19
        Sunflower-seed balls                                   21

    Chapter IV—Corn                                         22-67

        Planting                                               22
        A morning’s planting                                   23
        Soaking the seed                                       23
        Planting for a sick woman                              24
        Size of our biggest field                              24
        Na´xu and nu´cami                                      25
        Hoeing                                                 26
        The watchers’ stage                                    26
        Explanation of sketch of watchers’ stage               28
        Sweet Grass’s sun shade                                30
        The watchers                                           30
        Booths                                                 31
        Eating customs                                         32
        Youths’ and maidens’ customs                           33
        Watchers’ songs                                        33
        Clan cousins’ custom                                   34
        Story of Snake-head-ornament                           35

      Green corn and its uses                               36-41
        The ripening ears                                      36
        Second planting for green corn                         37
        Cooking fresh green corn                               37
        Roasting ears                                          37
        Mätu´a-la´kapa                                         38
        Corn bread                                             38
        Drying green corn for winter                           39

      Mapë´di (corn smut)                                      42
        Mapë´di                                                42
        Harvest and uses                                       42

      The ripe corn harvest                                 42-47
        Husking                                                42
        Rejecting green ears                                   44
        Braiding corn                                          45
        The smaller ears                                       46
        Drying the braided ears                                47

      Seed corn                                             47-49
        Selecting the seed                                     47
        Keeping two years’ seed                                48

      Threshing corn                                        49-58
        The booth                                              49
        Order of the day’s work                                52
        The cobs                                               53
        Winnowing                                              54
        Removing the booth                                     55
        Threshing braided corn                                 57
        Amount of harvest                                      57
        Sioux purchasing corn                                  58

      Varieties of corn                                     58-60
        Description of varieties                               58
        How corn travels                                       59

      Uses of the varieties                                 60-67
        Atạ´ki tso´ki                                          60
            Mäpi´ nakapa´                                      60
            Mä´nakapa                                          61
        Atạ´ki                                                 62
            Boiled corn ball                                   62
        Tsï´di tso´ki and tsï´di tapa´                         62
            Mạdạpo´zi i’ti´a                                   63
        Other soft varieties                                   63
        Ma´ikadicakĕ                                           63
            Mä´pĭ mĕĕ´pĭi’´kiuta, or corn balls                63
            Parched soft corn                                  64
            Parching whole ripe ears                           64
            Parching hard yellow corn with sand                64
            Mạdạpo´zi pạ´kici, or lye-made hominy              64
        General characteristics of the varieties               65
        Fodder yield                                           66
        Developing new varieties                               66

      Sport ears                                               67
        Names and description                                  67
            Na’´ta-tawo´xi                                     67
            Wi´da-aka´ta                                       67
            I´ta-ca´ca                                         67
            Okĕi´jpita                                         67
            I´tica´kupadi                                      67

    Chapter V—Squashes                                      68-81

      Planting squashes                                        68
        Sprouting the seed                                     68
        Planting the sprouted seed                             69
        Harvesting the squashes                                69
        Slicing the squashes                                   70
        Squash spits                                           71
        Spitting the slices                                    72
        In case of rain                                        73
        Drying and storing                                     73
        Squash blossoms                                        75

      Cooking and uses of squash                               76
        The first squashes                                     76
            Boiling fresh squash in a pot                      76
            Squashes boiled with blossoms                      77
        Other blossom messes                                   77
            Boiled blossoms                                    77
            Blossoms boiled with mạdạpo´zi i’ti´a              77
            Blossoms boiled with mäpi´ nakapa´                 78

      Seed squashes                                         78-81
        Selecting for seed                                     78
        Gathering the seed squashes                            78
        Cooking the ripe squashes                              79
        Saving the seed                                        79
        Eating the seeds                                       80
        Roasting ripe squashes                                 80
        Storing the unused seed squashes                       80
        Squashes, present seed                                 81
        Squash dolls                                           81

    Chapter VI—Beans                                        82-86

        Planting beans                                         82
        Putting in the seeds                                   82
        Hoeing and cultivating                                 83
        Threshing                                              83
        Varieties                                              84
        Selecting seed beans                                   85
        Cooking and uses                                       85
            Ama´ca di´hĕ, or beans-boiled                      86
            Green beans boiled in the pod                      86
            Green corn and beans                               86

    Chapter VII—Storing for winter                          87-97

        The cache pit                                          87
        Grass for lining                                       88
        Grass bundles                                          89
        The grass binding rope                                 89
        Drying the grass bundles                               89
        The willow floor                                       89
        The grass lining                                       90
        Skin bottom covering                                   90
        Storing the cache pit                                  90
        The puncheon cover                                     93

      Cache pits in Small Ankle’s lodge                        95
        First account                                          95
        A second account on another day                        96
        Diagram of Small Ankle’s lodge                         97

    Chapter VIII—The making of a drying stage              98-104

        Stages in Like-a-fishhook village                      98
        Cutting the timbers                                    98
        Digging the post holes                                 99
        Raising the frame                                     100
        The floor                                             100
        Staying thongs                                        101
        Ladder                                                101
        Enlarging the stage                                   102
        Present stages                                        102
        Building, women’s work                                102
        Measurements of stage                                 103
        Drying rods                                           104
        Other uses of the drying stage                        104

    Chapter IX—Tools                                      105-106

        Hoe                                                   105
        Rakes                                                 105
        Squash knives                                         106

    Chapter X—Fields at Like-a-fishhook village           108-112

        East-side fields                                      108
        East-side fences                                      108
        Idikita´c’s garden                                    110
        Fields west of the village                            110
        West-side fence                                       111
        Crops, our first wagon                                112

    Chapter XI—Miscellanea                                113-118

        Divisions between gardens                             113
        Fallowing, ownership of gardens                       113
        Frost in the gardens                                  115
        Maxi´diwiac’s philosophy of frost                     115
        Men helping in the field                              115
        Sucking the sweet juice                               116
        Corn as fodder for horses                             116
        Disposition of weeds                                  116
        The spring clean-up                                   116
        Manure                                                117
        Worms                                                 117
        Wild animals                                          117
        About old tent covers                                 118

    Chapter XII—Since white men came                      119-120

        How we got potatoes and other vegetables              119
        The new cultivation                                   120
        Iron kettles                                          120

    Chapter XIII—Tobacco                                  121-127

        Observations by Maxi´diwiac                           121
        The tobacco garden                                    121
        Planting                                              122
        Arrow-head-earring’s tobacco garden                   122
        Small Ankle’s cultivation                             122
        Harvesting the blossoms                               123
        Harvesting the plants                                 124
        Selling to the Sioux                                  125
        Size of tobacco garden                                126
        Customs                                               126

      Accessories to the tobacco garden                   126-127
        Fence                                                 126
        The scrotum basket                                    127

    Old garden sites near Independence                        129


    a  as  a   in what
    e  ”   ai  ”  air
    i  ”   i   ”  pique
    o  ”   o   ”  tone
    u  ”   u   ”  rule

    ä  ”   a   ”  father
    ë  ”   ey  ”  they
    ï  ”   i   ”  machine

    ạ  ”   u   ”  hut
    ĕ  ”   e   ”  met
    ĭ  ”   i   ”  tin

    c  ”   sh  ”  shun
    x  ”   ch  ”  machen (German)
    j  ”   ch  ”  mich (German)
    z  ”   z   ”  azure

    b, d, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, w, as in English
    b, w, interchangeable with m
    n, l, r, interchangeable with d

    An apostrophe (’) marks a short, nearly inaudible breathing.

Native Hidatsa words in this thesis are written in the foregoing
alphabet. This does not apply to the tribal names Hidatsa, Mandan,
Dakota, Arikara, Minitari.



The Hidatsas, called Minitaris by the Mandans, are a Siouan linguistic
tribe. Their language is closely akin to that of the Crows with whom
they claim to have once formed a single tribe; a separation, it is said,
followed a quarrel over a slain buffalo.

The name Hidatsa was formerly borne by one of the tribal villages. The
other villages consolidated with it, and the name was adopted as that
of the tribe. The name is said to mean “willows,” and it was given the
village because the god Itsikama´hidic promised that the villagers should
become as numerous as the willows of the Missouri river.

Tradition says that the tribe came from Miniwakan, or Devils Lake, in
what is now North Dakota; and that migrating west, they met the Mandans
at the mouth of the Heart River. The two tribes formed an alliance and
attempted to live together as one people. Quarrels between their young
men caused the tribes to separate, but the Mandans loyally aided their
friends to build new villages a few miles from their own. How long the
two tribes dwelt at the mouth of the Heart is not known. They were found
there with the Arikaras about 1765. In 1804 Lewis and Clark found the
Hidatsas in three villages at the mouth of the Knife River, and the
Mandans in two villages a few miles lower down on the Missouri.

In 1832 the artist Catlin visited the two tribes, remaining with them
several months. A year later Maximilian of Wied visited them with the
artist Bodmer. Copies of Bodmer’s sketches, in beautiful lithograph,
are found in the library of the Minnesota Historical Society. Catlin’s
sketches, also in lithograph, are in the Minneapolis Public Library.

Smallpox nearly exterminated the Mandans in 1837-8, not more than 150
persons surviving. The same epidemic reduced the Hidatsas to about 500
persons. The remnants of the two tribes united and in 1845 removed up
the Missouri and built a village at Like-a-fishhook bend close to the
trading post of Fort Berthold. They were joined by the Arikaras in 1862.
Neighboring lands were set apart as a reservation for them; and there the
three tribes, now settled on allotments, still dwell.

The Mandans and Hidatsas have much intermarried. By custom children
speak usually the language of their mother, but understand perfectly the
dialect of either tribe.

In 1877 Washington Matthews, for several years government physician to
the Fort Berthold Reservation Indians, published a short description
of Hidatsa-Mandan culture and a grammar and vocabulary of the Hidatsa
language.[1] More extensive notes intended by him for publication were
destroyed by fire.

In 1902 the writer was called to the pastorate of the Presbyterian church
of Mandan, North Dakota. In ill health, he was advised by his physician
to purchase pony and gun and seek the open; but spade and pick plied
among the old Indian sites in the vicinity proved more interesting. A
considerable collection of archaeological objects was accumulated, a part
of which now rests in the shelves of the Minnesota Historical Society;
the rest will shortly be placed in the collections of the American Museum
of Natural History.

In 1906 the writer and his brother, Frederick N. Wilson, an artist,
and E. R. Steinbrueck drove by wagon from Mandan to Independence,
Fort Berthold reservation. The trip was made to obtain sketches for
illustrating a volume of stories, since published.[2] At Independence the
party made the acquaintance of Edward Goodbird, his mother Maxi´diwiac,
and the latter’s brother Wolf Chief. A friendship was thus begun which
has been of the greatest value to the writer of this paper.

A year later Mr. George G. Heye sent the writer to Fort Berthold
reservation to collect objects of Mandan-Hidatsa culture. Among those
that were obtained was a rare old medicine shrine. Description of this
shrine and Wolf Chief’s story of its origin have been published.[3]

In 1908 the writer and his brother, both now resident in Minneapolis,
were sent by Dr. Clark Wissler, curator of anthropology, American Museum
of Natural History, to begin cultural studies among the Hidatsas. This
work, generously supported by the Museum, has been continued by the
writer each succeeding summer. His reports, preparations to edit which
are now being made, will appear in the Museum’s publications.

In February, 1910, the writer was admitted as a student in the Graduate
School, University of Minnesota, majoring in Anthropology. At suggestion
of his adviser, Dr. Albert E. Jenks, and with permission of Dr. Wissler,
he chose for his thesis subject, _Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians:
An Indian Interpretation_. It was the adviser’s opinion that such a
study held promise of more than usual interest. Most of the tribes in
the eastern area of what is now the United States practiced agriculture.
It is well known that maize, potatoes, pumpkins, squashes, beans, sweet
potatoes, cotton, tobacco, and other familiar plants were cultivated
by Indians centuries before Columbus. Early white settlers learned the
value of the new food plants, but have left us meager accounts of the
native methods of tillage; and the Indians, driven from the fields of
their fathers, became roving hunters; or adopting iron tools, forgot
their primitive implements and methods. The Hidatsas and Mandans, shut
in their stockaded villages on the Missouri by the hostile Sioux, were
not able to abandon their fields if they would. Living quite out of the
main lines of railroad traffic, they remained isolated and with culture
almost unchanged until about 1885, when their village at Fort Berthold
was broken up. It seemed probable that a carefully prepared account of
Hidatsa agriculture might very nearly describe the agriculture practiced
by our northern tribes in pre-Columbian days. It was hoped that this
thesis might be such an account.

But the writer is a student of anthropology; and his interest in the
preparation of his thesis could not be that of an agriculturist. The
question arose at the beginning of his labors, Shall the materials of
this thesis be presented as a study merely in primitive agriculture, or
as a phase of material culture interpreting something of the inner life,
of the soul, of an Indian? It is the latter aim that the writer endeavors
to accomplish.

But again came up a question, By what plan may this best be done?
The more usual way would be to collect exhaustively facts from
available informants; sift from them those facts that are typical and
representative; and present these, properly grouped, with the collector’s
interpretation of them. But for his purpose and aim, it has seemed to
the writer that the type choice should be human; that is, instead of
seeking typical facts from multiple sources, he should rather seek a
typical informant, a representative agriculturist—presumably a woman—of
the Indian group to be studied, and let the informant interpret her
agricultural experiences in her own way. We might thus expect to learn
how much one Indian woman knew of agriculture; what she did as an
agriculturist and what were her motives for doing; and what proportion of
her thought and labor were given to her fields.

After consulting both Indians and whites resident on the reservation, the
writer chose for typical or representative informant, his interpreter’s
mother, Maxi´diwiac.

The writer’s summer visit of 1912 to Fort Berthold Reservation was
planned to obtain material for his thesis. His brother again accompanied
him, and for the expenses of the trip a grant of $500 was made by
Curator Wissler. This trip the writer will remember as one of the
pleasantest experiences of his life. The generous interest of Dr. Jenks
and Dr. Wissler in his plans was equaled by the faithful coöperation
of interpreter and informant. The writer and his brother arrived at
the reservation in the beginning of corn harvest. As already stated,
Maxi´diwiac was the principal informant, and her account was taken down
almost literally as translated by Goodbird. Models of tools, drying
stage, and other objects pertaining to agriculture were made and
photographed, and sketched. Before the harvest closed notes were obtained
which furnished the material for the greater part of this thesis.

In the summers of 1913, 1914, and 1915, additional matter was recovered.
Previously written notes were read to Maxi´diwiac and corrections made.

In addition to the museum’s annual grant of $250, Dean A. F. Woods,
Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota, in 1914 contributed
$60 for photographing, and collecting specimens of Hidatsa corn; and Mr.
M. L. Wilson of the Agricultural Experiment Station, Bozeman, Montana,
obtained for the writer a grant of $50 for like purposes.

A few words should now be said of informant and interpreter. Maxi´diwiac,
or Buffalobird-woman, is a daughter of Small Ankle, a leader of the
Hidatsas in the trying time of the tribe’s removal to what is now Fort
Berthold reservation. She was born on one of the villages at Knife River
two years after the “smallpox year,” or about 1839. She is a conservative
and sighs for the good old times, yet is aware that the younger
generation of Indians must adopt civilized ways. Ignorant of English, she
has a quick intelligence and a memory that is marvelous. To her patience
and loyal interest is chiefly due whatever of value is in this thesis. In
the sweltering heat of an August day she has continued dictation for nine
hours, lying down but never flagging in her account, when too weary to
sit longer in a chair. Goodbird’s testimony that his mother “knows more
about old ways of raising corn and squashes than any one else on this
reservation,” is not without probability. Until recently, a small part of
Goodbird’s plowed field was each year reserved for her, that she might
plant corn and beans and squashes, cultivating them in old fashioned
way, by hoe. Such corn, of her own planting and selection, has taken
first prize at an agricultural fair, held recently by the reservation

Edward Goodbird, or Tsaka´kasạkic, the writer’s interpreter, is a son of
Maxi´diwiac, born about November, 1869. Goodbird was one of the first of
the reservation children to be sent to the mission school; and he is now
native pastor of the Congregational chapel at Independence. He speaks the
Hidatsa, Mandan, Dakota, and English languages. Goodbird is a natural
student; and he has the rarer gift of being an artist. His sketches—and
they are many—are crude; but they are drawn in true perspective and do
not lack spirit. Goodbird’s life, dictated by himself, has been recently

Indians have the gentle custom of adopting very dear friends by
relationship terms. By such adoption Goodbird is the writer’s brother;
Maxi´diwiac is his mother.

For his part in the account of the _Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians_,
the writer claims no credit beyond arranging the material and putting
the interpreter’s Indian-English translations into proper idiom. Bits
of Indian philosophy and shrewd or humorous observations found in the
narrative are not the writer’s, but the informant’s, and are as they
fell from her lips. The writer has sincerely endeavored to add to the
narrative essentially nothing of his own.

_Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians_ is not, then, an account merely of
Indian agriculture. It is an Indian woman’s interpretation of economics;
the thoughts she gave to her fields; the philosophy of her labors.
May the Indian woman’s story of her toil be a plea for our better
appreciation of her race.



We Hidatsas believe that our tribe once lived under the waters of Devils
Lake. Some hunters discovered the root of a vine growing downward; and
climbing it, they found themselves on the surface of the earth. Others
followed them, until half the tribe had escaped; but the vine broke under
the weight of a pregnant woman, leaving the rest prisoners. A part of our
tribe are therefore still beneath the lake.

My father, Small Ankle, going, when a young man, on a war party, visited
Devils Lake. “Beneath the waves,” he said, “I heard a faint drumming, as
of drums in a big dance.” This story is true; for Sioux, who now live at
Devils Lake, have also heard this drumming.

Those of my people who escaped from the lake built villages near by.
These were of earth lodges, such as my tribe built until very recent
years; two such earth lodges are still standing on this reservation.

The site where an earth lodge has stood is marked by an earthen ring,
rising about what was once the hard trampled floor. There are many such
earthen rings on the shores of Devils Lake, showing that, as tradition
says, our villages stood there. There were three of these villages, my
father said, who several times visited the sites.

Near their villages, the people made gardens; and in these they planted
ground beans and wild potatoes, from seed brought with them from their
home under the water. These vegetables we do not cultivate now; but we do
gather them in the fall, in the woods along the Missouri where they grow
wild. They are good eating.

These gardens by Devils Lake I think must have been rather small. I know
that in later times, whenever my tribe removed up the Missouri to build a
new village, our fields, the first year, were quite small; for clearing
the wooded bottom land was hard work. A family usually added to their
clearing each year, until their garden was as large as they cared to

As yet, my people knew nothing of corn or squashes. One day a war party,
I think of ten men, wandered west to the Missouri River. They saw on the
other side a village of earth lodges like their own. It was a village of
the Mandans. The villagers saw the Hidatsas, but like them, feared to
cross over, lest the strangers prove to be enemies.

It was autumn, and the Missouri River was running low so that an arrow
could be shot from shore to shore. The Mandans parched some ears of ripe
corn with the grain on the cob; they broke the ears in pieces, thrust the
pieces on the points of arrows, and shot them across the river. “Eat!”
they said, whether by voice or signs, I do not know. The word for “eat”
is the same in the Hidatsa and Mandan languages.

The warriors ate of the parched corn, and liked it. They returned to
their village and said, “We have found a people living by the Missouri
River who have a strange kind of grain, which we ate and found good!” The
tribe was not much interested and made no effort to seek the Mandans,
fearing, besides, that they might not be friendly.

However, a few years after, a war party of the Hidatsas crossed the
Missouri and visited the Mandans at their village near Bird Beak Hill.
The Mandan chief took an ear of yellow corn, broke it in two, and gave
half to the Hidatsas. This half-ear the Hidatsas took home, for seed; and
soon every family was planting yellow corn.

I think that seed of other varieties of corn, and of beans, squashes, and
sunflowers, were gotten of the Mandans[5] afterwards; but there is no
story telling of this, that I know.

I do not know when my people stopped planting ground beans and wild
potatoes; but ground beans are hard to dig, and the people, anyway, liked
the new kind of beans better.

Whether the ground beans and wild potatoes of the Missouri bottoms are
descended from the seed planted by the villagers at Devils Lake, I do not

My tribe, as our old men tell us, after they got corn, abandoned their
villages at Devils Lake, and joined the Mandans near the mouth of the
Heart River. The Mandans helped them build new villages here, near their
own. I think this was hundreds of years ago.

Firewood growing scarce, the two tribes removed up the Missouri to the
mouth of the Knife River, where they built the Five Villages, as they
called them. Smallpox was brought to my people here, by traders. In a
single year, more than half my tribe died, and of the Mandans, even more.

Those who survived removed up the Missouri and built a village at
Like-a-fishhook bend, where they lived together, Hidatsas and Mandans,
as one tribe. This village we Hidatsas called Mu´a-idu´skupe-hi´cec, or
Like-a-fishhook village, after the bend on which it stood; but white men
called it Fort Berthold, from a trading post that was there.

We lived in Like-a-fishhook village about forty years, or until 1885,
when the government began to place families on allotments.

The agriculture of the Hidatsas, as I now describe it, I saw practiced in
the gardens of Like-a-fishhook village, in my girlhood, before my tribe
owned plows.

[Illustration: An earth lodge

Note ladder at right of lodge entrance. Drying stage before entrance
lacks the usual railings. (Photograph by courtesy of Rev. George

[Illustration: Like-a-fishhook village in process of being dismantled
(about 1885)

Drying stage in foreground is floored Arikara fashion with a mat of
willows. The Arikaras at this time had joined the Hidatsa-Mandans.
(Photograph by courtesy of Rev. George Curtis.)]




My great-grandmother, as white men count their kin, was named Atạ´kic, or
Soft-white Corn. She adopted a daughter, Mata´tic, or Turtle. Some years
after, a daughter was born to Atạ´kic, whom she named Otter.

Turtle and Otter both married. Turtle had a daughter named Ica´wikec, or
Corn Sucker;[6] and Otter had three daughters, Want-to-be-a-woman, Red
Blossom, and Strikes-many-women, all younger than Corn Sucker.

The smallpox year at Five Villages left Otter’s family with no male
members to support them. Turtle and her daughter were then living in
Otter’s lodge; and Otter’s daughters, as Indian custom bade, called Corn
Sucker their elder sister.

It was a custom of the Hidatsas, that if the eldest sister of a household
married, her younger sisters were also given to her husband, as they
came of marriageable age. Left without male kin by the smallpox, my
grandmother’s family was hard put to it to get meat; and Turtle gladly
gave her daughter to my father, Small Ankle, whom she knew to be a good
hunter. Otter’s daughters, reckoned as Corn Sucker’s sisters, were given
to Small Ankle as they grew up; the eldest, Want-to-be-a-woman, was my

When I was four years old, my tribe and the Mandans came to
Like-a-fishhook bend. They came in the spring and camped in tepees, or
skin tents. By Butterfly’s winter count, I know they began building earth
lodges the next winter. I was too young to remember much of this.

Two years after we came to Like-a-fishhook bend, smallpox again visited
my tribe; and my mother, Want-to-be-a-woman, and Corn Sucker, died of
it. Red Blossom and Strikes-many-women survived, whom I now called my
mothers. Otter and old Turtle lived with us; I was taught to call them my

_Clearing Fields_

Soon after they came to Like-a-fishhook bend, the families of my tribe
began to clear fields, for gardens, like those they had at Five Villages.
Rich black soil was to be found in the timbered bottom lands of the
Missouri. Most of the work of clearing was done by the women.

In old times we Hidatsas never made our gardens on the untimbered,
prairie land, because the soil there is too hard and dry. In the bottom
lands by the Missouri, the soil is soft and easy to work.

[Illustration: Figure 1

Map of newly broken field drawn under Buffalobird-woman’s direction. The
heavy dots represent corn hills; the dashes, the clearing and breaking of
ground between, done after hills were planted.

In the lower left hand corner is the ground that was in dispute.]

My mothers and my two grandmothers worked at clearing our family’s
garden. It lay east of the village at a place where many other families
were clearing fields.

I was too small to note very much at first. But I remember that my father
set boundary marks—whether wooden stakes or little mounds of earth or
stones, I do not now remember—at the corners of the field we claimed.
My mothers and my two grandmothers began at one end of this field and
worked forward. All had heavy iron hoes, except Turtle, who used an old
fashioned wooden digging stick.

With their hoes, my mothers cut the long grass that covered much of the
field, and bore it off the line, to be burned. With the same implements,
they next dug and softened the soil in places for the corn hills, which
were laid off in rows. These hills they planted. Then all summer they
worked with their hoes, clearing and breaking the ground between the

Trees and bushes I know must have been cut off with iron axes; but I
remember little of this, because I was only four years old when the
clearing was begun.

I have heard that in very old times, when clearing a new field, my people
first dug the corn hills with digging sticks; and afterwards, like my
mothers, worked between the hills, with bone hoes. My father told me this.

Whether stone axes were used in old times to cut the trees and
undergrowths, I do not know. I think fields were never then laid out on
ground that had large trees on it.

_Dispute and Its Settlement_

About two years after the first ground was broken in our field, a dispute
I remember, arose between my mothers and two of their neighbors, Lone
Woman and Goes-to-next-timber.

These two women were clearing fields adjoining that of my mothers; as
will be seen by the accompanying map (figure 1), the three fields met at
a corner. I have said that my father, to set up claim to his field, had
placed marks, one of them in the corner at which met the fields of Lone
Woman and Goes-to-next-timber; but while my mothers were busy clearing
and digging up the other end of their field, their two neighbors invaded
this marked-off corner; Lone Woman had even dug up a small part before
she was discovered.

However, when they were shown the mark my father had placed, the two
women yielded and accepted payment for any rights they might have.

It was our Indian rule to keep our fields very sacred. We did not like
to quarrel about our garden lands. One’s title to a field once set
up, no one ever thought of disputing it; for if one were selfish and
quarrelsome, and tried to seize land belonging to another, we thought
some evil would come upon him, as that some one of his family would die.
There is a story of a black bear who got into a pit that was not his own,
and had his mind taken away from him for doing so!

_Turtle Breaking Soil_

Lone Woman and Goes-to-next-timber having withdrawn, my grandmother,
Turtle, volunteered to break the soil of the corner that had been in
dispute. She was an industrious woman. Often, when my mothers were busy
in the earth lodge, she would go out to work in the garden, taking me
with her for company. I was six years old then, I think, quite too little
to help her any, but I liked to watch my grandmother work.

With her digging stick, she dug up a little round place in the center
of the corner (figure 1); and circling around this from day to day, she
gradually enlarged the dug-up space. The point of her digging stick she
forced into the soft earth to a depth equal to the length of my hand, and
pried up the soil. The clods she struck smartly with her digging stick,
sometimes with one end, sometimes with the other. Roots of coarse grass,
weeds, small brush and the like, she took in her hand and shook, or
struck them against the ground, to knock off the loose earth clinging to
them; she then cast them into a little pile to dry.

In this way she accumulated little piles, scattered rather irregularly
over the dug-up ground, averaging, perhaps, four feet, one from the
other. In a few days these little piles had dried; and Turtle gathered
them up into a heap, about four feet high, and burned them, sometimes
within the cleared ground, sometimes a little way outside.

In the corner that had been in dispute, and in other parts of the field,
my grandmother worked all summer. I do not remember how big our garden
was at the end of her summer’s work, nor how many piles of roots she
burned; but I remember distinctly how she put the roots of weeds and
grass and brush into little piles to dry, which she then gathered into
heaps and burned. She did not attempt to burn over the whole ground, only
the heaps.

Afterwards, we increased our garden from year to year until it was as
large as we needed. I remember seeing my grandmother digging along the
edges of the garden with her digging stick, to enlarge the field and make
the edges even and straight.

I remember also, that as Turtle dug up a little space, she would wait
until the next season to plant it. Thus, additional ground dug up in the
summer or fall would be planted by her the next spring.

There were two or three elm trees in the garden; these my grandmother
left standing.

[Illustration: Fig. 2

Figure 2. Drawn from specimen in author’s collection. Length of specimen,
37½ inches.]

[Illustration: Figure 3.

Figure 3. Drawn from model made by Buffalobird-woman, duplicating that
used by her grandmother. Specimen is of full size. Length of wooden
handle, 35 inches; length of bone blade, 8½ inches. The blade is made of
the shoulder bone of an ox.]

It must not be supposed that upon Turtle fell all the work of clearing
land to enlarge our garden; but she liked to have me with her when she
worked, and I remember best what I saw her do. As I was a little girl
then, I have forgotten much that she did; but this that I have told, I
remember distinctly.

_Turtle’s Primitive Tools_

In breaking ground for our garden, Turtle always used an ash digging
stick (figure 2); and when hoeing time came, she hoed the corn with
a bone hoe (figure 3). Digging sticks are still used in my tribe for
digging wild turnips; but even in my grandmother’s lifetime, digging
sticks and bone hoes, as garden tools, had all but given place to iron
hoes and axes.

My grandmother was one of the last women of my tribe to cling to these
old fashioned implements. Two other women, I remember, owned bone hoes
when I was a little girl; but Turtle, I think, was the very last one in
the tribe who actually worked in her garden with one.

This hoe my grandmother kept in the lodge, under her bed; and when any
of the children of the household tried to get it out to look at it, she
would cry, “Let that hoe alone; you will break it!”

_Beginning a Field in Later Times_

As I grew up, I learned to work in the garden, as every Hidatsa woman was
expected to learn; but iron axes and hoes, bought of the traders, were
now used by everybody, and the work of clearing and breaking a new field
was less difficult than it had been in our grandfathers’ times. A family
had also greater freedom in choosing where they should have their garden,
since with iron axes they could more easily cut down any small trees and
bushes that might be on the land. However, to avoid having to cut down
big trees, a rather open place was usually chosen.

A family, then, having chosen a place for a field, cleared off the ground
as much as they could, cutting down small trees and bushes in such
way that the trees fell all in one direction. Some of the timber that
was fit might be taken home for firewood; the rest was let lie to dry
until spring, when it was fired. The object of felling the trees in one
direction was to make them cover the ground as much as possible, since
firing them softened the soil and left it loose and mellow for planting.
We sought always to burn over all the ground, if we could.

Before firing, the family carefully raked off the dry grass and leaves
from the edge of the field, and cut down any brush wood. This was done
that the fire might not spread to the surrounding timber, nor out on the
prairie. Prairie fires and forest fires are even yet not unknown on our

Planting season having come, the women of the household planted the
field in corn. The hills were in rows, and about four feet or a little
less apart. They were rather irregularly placed the first year. It was
easy to make a hill in the ashes where a brush heap had been fired, or
in soil that was free of roots and stumps; but there were many stumps
in the field, left over from the previous summer’s clearing. If the
planter found a stump stood where a hill should be, she placed the hill
on this side the stump or beyond it, no matter how close this brought the
hill to the next in the row. Thus, the corn hills did not stand at even
distances in the row the first year; but the rows were always kept even
and straight.

While the corn was coming up, the women worked at clearing out the roots
and smaller stumps between the hills; but a stump of any considerable
size was left to rot, especially if it stood midway between two corn
hills, where it did not interfere with their cultivation.

My mothers and I used to labor in a similar way to enlarge our fields.
With our iron hoes we made hills along the edge of the field and planted
corn; then, as we had opportunity, we worked with our hoes between the
corn hills to loosen up the soil.

[Illustration: Figure 4

Drawn from specimen made by Yellow Hair. Length of specimen, following
curvature of tines, 36½ inches.]

[Illustration: Figure 5

Drawn from specimen made by Buffalobird-woman. Length of wooden handle,
42 inches; spread of tines of antler, 15½ inches.]

Although our tribe now had iron axes and hoes from the traders, they
still used their native made rakes. These were of wood (figure 4), or of
the antler of a black-tailed deer (figure 5). It was with such rakes that
the edges of a newly opened field were cleaned of leaves for the firing
of the brush, in the spring.

[Illustration: In the field with a horn rake]

[Illustration: Hoeing squashes with a bone hoe]

_Trees in the Garden_

Trees were not left standing in the garden, except perhaps one to shade
the watchers’ stage. If a tree stood in the field, it shaded the corn;
and that on the north side of the tree never grew up strong, and the
stalks would be yellow.

Cottonwood trees were apt to grow up in the field, unless the young
shoots were plucked up as they appeared.

_Our West Field_

The field which Turtle helped to clear, lay, I have said, east of the
village. I was about nineteen years old, I think, when my mothers
determined to clear ground for a second field, west of the village.

There were five of us who undertook the work, my father, my two mothers,
Red Blossom and Strikes-many-women, my sister, Cold Medicine, and myself.
We began in the fall, after harvesting the corn from our east garden, so
that we had leisure for the work; we had been too busy to begin earlier
in the season.

We chose a place down in the bottoms, overgrown with willows; and with
our axes we cut the willows close to the ground, letting them lie as they

I do not know how many days we worked; but we stopped when we had cleared
a field of about seventy-five by one hundred yards, perhaps. In our east,
or yellow corn field, we counted nine rows of corn to one na´xu; and I
remember that when we came to plant our new field, it had nine na´xu.

_Burning Over the Field_

The next spring my father, his two wives, my sister and I went out and
burned the felled willows and brush which the spring sun had dried. We
did not burn them every day; only when the weather was fine. We would go
out after breakfast, burn until tired of the work, and come home.

We sought to burn over the whole field, for we knew that this left a
good, loose soil. We did not pile the willows in heaps, but loosened
them from the ground or scattered them loosely but evenly over the soil.
In some places the ground was quite bare of willows; but we collected
dry grass and weeds and dead willows, and strewed them over these bare
places, so that the fire would run over the whole area of the field.

It took us about four days to burn over the field.

It was well known in my tribe that burning over new ground left the soil
soft and easy to work, and for this reason we thought it a wise thing to



_Remark by Maxi´diwiac_

This that I am going to tell you of the planting and harvesting of our
crops is out of my own experience, seen with my own eyes. In olden times,
I know, my tribe used digging sticks and bone hoes for garden tools; and
I have described how I saw my grandmother use them. There may be other
tools or garden customs once in use in my tribe, and now forgotten; of
them I cannot speak. There were families in Like-a-fishhook village less
industrious than ours, and some families may have tilled their fields
in ways a little different; of them, also, I can not speak. This that I
now tell is as I saw my mothers do, or did myself, when I was young. My
mothers were industrious women, and our family had always good crops;
and I will tell now how the women of my father’s family cared for their
fields, as I saw them, and helped them.

_Planting Sunflowers_

The first seed that we planted in the spring was sunflower seed. Ice
breaks on the Missouri about the first week in April; and we planted
sunflower seed as soon after as the soil could be worked. Our native
name for the lunar month that corresponds most nearly to April, is
Mapi´-o´cë-mi´di, or Sunflower-planting-moon.

Planting was done by hoe, or the woman scooped up the soil with her
hands. Three seeds were planted in a hill, at the depth of the second
joint of a woman’s finger. The three seeds were planted together, pressed
into the loose soil by a single motion, with thumb and first two fingers.
The hill was heaped up and patted firm with the palm in the same way as
we did for corn.

Usually we planted sunflowers only around the edges of a field. The hills
were placed eight or nine paces apart; for we never sowed sunflowers
thickly. We thought a field surrounded thus by a sparse-sown row of
sunflowers, had a handsome appearance.

Sometimes all three seeds sprouted and came up together; sometimes only
two sprouted; sometimes one.


Of cultivated sunflowers we had several varieties, black, white, red,
striped, named from the color of the seed. The varieties differed only
in color; all had the same taste and smell, and were treated alike in

White sunflower seed when pounded into meal, turned dark, but I think
this was caused by the parching.

Each family raised the variety they preferred. The varieties were well
fixed; black seed produced black; white seed, white.

_Harvesting the Seed_

Although our sunflower seed was the first crop to be planted in the
spring, it was the last to be harvested in the fall.

For harvesting, we reckoned two kinds of flowers, or heads.

A stalk springing from seed of one of our cultivated varieties had one,
sometimes two, or even three larger heads, heavy and full, bending the
top of the stalk with their weight of seed. Some of these big heads had
each a seed area as much as eleven inches across; and yielded each an
even double handful of seed. We called the seed from these big heads
mapi´-i’ti´a from mapi´, sunflower, or sunflower seed, and i’ti´a, big.

Besides these larger heads, there were other and smaller heads on the
stalk; and wild sunflowers bearing similar small heads grew in many
places along the Missouri, and were sure to be found springing up in
abandoned gardens. These smaller heads of the cultivated, and the heads
of the wild, plants, were never more than five inches across; and these
and their seed we called mapi´-na´ka, sunflower’s child or baby sunflower.

Our sunflowers were ready for harvesting when the little petals that
covered the seeds fell off, exposing the ripe seeds beneath. Also, the
back of the head turned yellow; earlier in the season it would be green.

To harvest the larger heads, I put a basket on my back, and knife in
hand, passed from plant to plant, cutting off each large head, close to
the stem; the severed heads I tossed into my basket. These heads I did
not let dry on the stalk, as birds would devour the seeds.

My basket filled, I returned to the lodge, climbed the ladder to the
roof, and spread the sunflower heads upon the flat part of the roof
around the smoke hole, to dry. The heads were laid face downward, with
the backs to the sun. When I was a girl, only three or four earth lodges
in the village had peaked roofs; and these lodges were rather small. All
the larger and better lodges, those of what we deemed wealthier families,
were built with the top of the roof flat, like a floor. A flat roof was
useful to dry things on; and when the weather was fair, the men often sat
there and gossiped.

The sunflower heads were dried face downward, that the sun falling on
the back of the head might dry and shrink the fiber, thus loosening the
seeds. The heads were laid flat on the bare roof, without skins or other
protection beneath. If a storm threatened, the unthreshed heads were
gathered up and borne into the lodge; but they were left on the roof
overnight, if the weather was fair.

When the heads had dried about four days, the seeds were threshed out;
and I would fetch in from the garden another supply of heads to dry and


To thresh the heads, a skin was spread and the heads laid on it face
downward, and beaten with a stick. Threshing might be on the ground, or
on the flat roof, as might be convenient.

An average threshing filled a good sized basket, with enough seed left
over to make a small package.

_Harvesting the Mapi´-na´ka_

The smaller heads of the cultivated plants were sometimes gathered,
dried, and threshed, as were the larger heads; but if the season was
getting late and frost had fallen, and the seeds were getting loose in
their pods, I more often threshed these smaller heads and those of the
wild plants directly from the stalk.

For this I bore a carrying basket, swinging it around over my breast
instead of my back; and going about the garden or into the places where
the wild plants grew, I held the basket under these smaller, or baby
sunflower heads, and beating them smartly with a stick, threshed the
seeds into the basket. It took me about half a day to thresh a basket
half full. The seeds I took home to dry, before sacking them.

The seeds from the baby sunflowers of both wild and cultivated plants
were sacked together. The seeds of the large heads were sacked
separately; and in the spring, when we came to plant, our seed was always
taken from the sack containing the harvest of the larger heads.

In my father’s family, we usually stored away two, sometimes three sacks
of dried sunflower seed for winter use. Sacks were made of skins, perhaps
fourteen inches high and eight inches in diameter, on an average.

Sunflower harvest came after we had threshed our corn; and corn threshing
was in the first part of October.

_Effect of Frost_

Because they were gathered later, the seeds of baby sunflowers were
looked upon as a kind of second crop; and as I have said, they were kept
apart from the earlier harvest, because seed for planting was selected
from the larger and earlier gathered heads. Gathered thus late, this
second crop was nearly always touched by the frost, even before the seeds
were threshed from the stalks.

This frosting of the seeds had an effect upon them that we rather
esteemed. We made a kind of oily meal from sunflower seed, by pounding
them in a corn mortar; but meal made from seed that had been frosted,
seemed more oily than that from seed gathered before frost fell. The
freezing of the seeds seemed to bring the oil out of the crushed kernels.

This was well known to us. The large heads, left on the roof over night,
were sometimes caught by the frost; and meal made from their seed was
more oily than that from unfrosted seed. Sometimes we took the threshed
seed out of doors and let it get frosted, so as to bring out this
oiliness. Frosting the seeds did not kill them.

The oiliness brought out by the frosting was more apparent in the seeds
of baby sunflowers than in seeds of the larger heads. Seeds of the latter
seemed never to have as much oil in them as seeds of the baby sunflowers.

_Parching the Seed_

To make sunflower meal the seeds were first roasted, or parched. This
was done in a clay pot, for iron pots were scarce in my tribe when I was
young. The clay pot in use in my father’s family was about a foot high
and eight or nine inches in diameter, as you see from measurements I make
with my hands.

This pot I set on the lodge fire, working it down into the coals with a
rocking motion, and raked coals around it; the mouth I tipped slightly
toward me. I threw into the pot two or three double-handfuls of the seeds
and as they parched, I stirred them with a little stick, to keep them
from burning. Now and then I took out a seed and bit it; if the kernel
was soft and gummy, I knew the parching was not done; but when it bit dry
and crisp, I knew the seeds were cooked and I dipped them out with a horn
spoon into a wooden bowl.

Again I threw into the pot two or three double-handfuls of seed to parch;
and so, until I had enough.

As the pot grew quite hot I was careful not to touch it with my hands.
The parching done, I lifted the pot out, first throwing over it a piece
of old tent cover to protect my two hands.

Parching the seeds caused them to crack open somewhat.

The parched seeds were pounded in the corn mortar to make meal. Pounding
sunflower seeds took longer, and was harder work, than pounding corn.


Sunflower meal was used in making a dish that we called
do´patsa-makihi´kĕ, or four-vegetables-mixed; from do´patsa, four things;
and makihi´kĕ, mixed or put together. Four-vegetables-mixed we thought
our very best dish.

To make this dish, enough for a family of five, I did as follows:

I put a clay pot with water on the fire.

Into the pot I threw one double-handful of beans. This was a fixed
quantity; I put in just one double-handful whether the family to be
served was large or small; for a larger quantity of beans in this dish
was apt to make gas on one’s stomach.

When we dried squash in the fall we strung the slices upon strings of
twisted grass, each seven Indian fathoms long; an Indian fathom is the
distance between a woman’s two hands outstretched on either side. From
one of these seven-fathom strings I cut a piece as long as from my
elbow to the tip of my thumb; the two ends of the severed piece I tied
together, making a ring; and this I dropped into the pot with the beans.

When the squash slices were well cooked I lifted them out of the pot by
the grass string into a wooden bowl. With a horn spoon I chopped and
mashed the cooked squash slices into a mass, which I now returned to the
pot with the beans. The grass string I threw away.

[Illustration: Figure 6

Drawn from specimens in author’s collection.]

To the mess I now added four or five double-handfuls of mixed meal, of
pounded parched sunflower seed and pounded parched corn. The whole was
boiled for a few minutes more, and was ready for serving.

I have already told how we parched sunflower seed; and that I used two
or three double-handfuls of seed to a parching. I used two parchings of
sunflower seed for one mess of four-vegetables-mixed. I also used two
parchings of corn; but I put more corn into the pot at a parching than I
did of sunflower seed.

Pounding the parched corn and sunflower seed reduced their bulk so that
the four parchings, two of sunflower seed and two of corn, made but four
or five double-handfuls of the mixed meal.

Four-vegetables-mixed was eaten freshly cooked; and the mixed
corn-and-sunflower meal was made fresh for it each time. A little alkali
salt might be added for seasoning, but even this was not usual. No other
seasoning was used. Meat was not boiled with the mess, as the sunflower
seed gave sufficient oil to furnish fat.

Four-vegetables-mixed was a winter food; and the squash used in its
making was dried, sliced squash, never green, fresh squash.

The clay pot used for boiling this and other dishes was about the size of
an iron dinner pot, or even larger. For a large family, the pot might be
as much as thirteen or fourteen inches high. I have described that in use
in my father’s family.

When a mess of four-vegetables-mixed was cooked, I did not remove the pot
from the coals, but dipped out the vegetables with a mountain-sheep horn
spoon, into wooden bowls (figure 6.)

_Sunflower-seed Balls_

Sunflower meal of the parched seeds was also used to make sunflower seed
balls; these were important articles of diet in olden times, and had a
particular use.

For sunflower-seed balls I parched the seeds in a pot in the usual way,
put them in a corn mortar and pounded them. When they were reduced to a
fine meal I reached into the mortar and took out a handful of the meal,
squeezing it in the fingers and palm of my right hand. This squeezing it
made it into a kind of lump or ball.

This ball I enclosed in the two palms and gently shook it. The shaking
brought out the oil of the seeds, cementing the particles of the meal
and making the lump firm. I have said that frosted seeds gave out more
oil than unfrosted; and that baby sunflower seeds gave out more oil than
seeds from the big heads.

In olden times every warrior carried a bag of soft skin at his left
side, supported by a thong over his right shoulder; in this bag he kept
needles, sinews, awl, soft tanned skin for making patches for moccasins,
gun caps, and the like. The warrior’s powder horn hung on the outside of
this bag.

In the bottom of this soft-skin bag the warrior commonly carried one of
these sunflower-seed balls, wrapped in a piece of buffalo-heart skin.
When worn with fatigue or overcome with sleep and weariness, the warrior
took out his sunflower-seed ball, and nibbled at it to refresh himself.
It was amazing what effect nibbling at the sunflower-seed ball had. If
the warrior was weary, he began to feel fresh again; if sleepy, he grew

Sometimes the warrior kept his sunflower-seed ball in his flint case that
hung always at his belt over his right hip.

It was quite a general custom in my tribe for a warrior or hunter to
carry one of these sunflower-seed balls.

We called the sunflower-seed ball mapi´, the same name as for sunflower.

Sunflower meal, parched and pounded as described, was often mixed with
corn balls, to which it gave an agreeable smell, as well as a pleasant




Corn planting began the second month after sunflower-seed was planted,
that is in May; and it lasted about a month. It sometimes continued
pretty well into June, but not later than that; for the sun then begins
to go back into the south, and men began to tell eagle-hunting stories.

We knew when corn planting time came by observing the leaves of the wild
gooseberry bushes. This bush is the first of the woods to leaf in the
spring. Old women of the village were going to the woods daily to gather
fire wood; and when they saw that the wild gooseberry bushes were almost
in full leaf, they said, “It is time for you to begin planting corn!”

Corn was planted each year in the same hills.

Around each of the old and dead hills I loosened the soil with my hoe,
first pulling up the old, dead roots of the previous year’s plants; these
dead roots, as they collected, were raked off with other refuse to one
end of the field outside of the cultivated ground, to be burned.

This pulling up of the dead roots and working around the old hill with
the hoe, left the soil soft and loose for the space of about eighteen
inches in diameter; and in this soft soil I planted the corn in this

I stooped over, and with fingers of both hands I raked away the loose
soil for a bed for the seed; and with my fingers I even stirred the soil
around with a circular motion to make the bed perfectly level so that the
seeds would all lie at the same depth.

A small vessel, usually a wooden bowl, at my feet held the seed
corn. With my right hand I took a small handful of the corn, quickly
transferring half of it to my left hand; still stooping over, and plying
both hands at the same time, I pressed the grains a half inch into the
soil with my thumbs, planting two grains at a time, one with each hand.

[Illustration: Figure 7]

I planted about six to eight grains in a hill[7] (figure 7). Then with my
hands I raked the earth over the planted grains until the seed lay about
the length of my fingers under the soil. Finally I patted the hill firm
with my palms.

The space within the hill in which the seed kernels were planted should
be about nine inches in diameter; but the completed hill should nearly
cover the space broken up by the hoe.

The corn hills I planted well apart, because later, in hilling up, I
would need room to draw earth from all directions over the roots to
protect them from the sun, that they might not dry out. Corn planted in
hills too close together would have small ears and fewer of them; and the
stalks of the plants would be weak, and often dried out.

If the corn hills were so close together that the plants when they grew
up, touched each other, we called them “smell-each-other”; and we knew
that the ears they bore would not be plump nor large.

_A Morning’s Planting_

We Hidatsa women were early risers in the planting season; it was my
habit to be up before sunrise, while the air was cool, for we thought
this the best time for garden work.

Having arrived at the field I would begin one hill, preparing it, as I
have said, with my hoe; and so for ten rows each as long as from this
spot to yonder fence—about thirty yards; the rows were about four feet
apart, and the hills stood about the same distance apart in the row.

The hills all prepared, I went back and planted them, patting down each
with my palms, as described. Planting corn thus by hand was slow work;
but by ten o’clock the morning’s work was done, and I was tired and ready
to go home for my breakfast and rest; we did not eat before going into
the field. The ten rows making the morning’s planting contained about two
hundred and twenty-five hills.

I usually went to the field every morning in the planting season, if the
weather was fine. Sometimes I went out again a little before sunset and
planted; but this was not usual.

_Soaking the Seed_

The very last corn that we planted we sometimes put into a little tepid
water, if the season was late. Seed used for replanting hills that had
been destroyed by crows or magpies we also soaked. We left the seed in
the water only a short time, when the water was poured off.

The water should be tepid only, so that when poured through the fingers
it felt hardly warmed. Hot water would kill the seeds.

Seed corn thus soaked would have sprouts a third of an inch long within
four or five days after planting, if the weather was warm. I know this,
because we sometimes dug up some of the seeds to see. This soaked seed
produced strong plants, but the first-planted, dry seeds still produced
the first ripened ears.

If warm water was not convenient, I sometimes put these last planted
corn seeds in my mouth; and when well wetted, planted them. But these
mouth-wetted seeds produced, we thought, a great many wi´da-aka´ta, or
goose-upper-roof-of-mouth, ears.

_Planting for a Sick Woman_

It was usual for the women of a household to do their own planting; but
if a woman was sick, or for some reason was unable to attend to her
planting, she sometimes cooked a feast, to which she invited the members
of her age society and asked them to plant her field for her.

The members of her society would come upon an appointed day and plant her
field in a short time; sometimes a half day was enough.

There were about thirty members in my age society when I was a young
woman. If we were invited to plant a garden for some sick woman, each
member would take a row to plant; and each would strive to complete her
row first. A member having completed her row, might begin a second, and
even a third row; or if, when each had completed one row, there was but a
small part of the field yet unplanted, all pitched in miscellaneously and
finished the planting.

_Size of Our Biggest Field_

When our corn was in, we began planting beans and squashes. Beans we
commonly planted between corn rows, sometimes over the whole field, more
often over a part of it. Our bean and squash planting I will describe
later; and I speak of it now only because I wish to explain to you how a
Hidatsa garden was laid out.

The largest field ever owned in my father’s family was the one which I
have said my grandmother Turtle helped clear, at Like-a-fishhook village,
or Fort Berthold, as the whites called it. The field, begun small, was
added to each year and did not reach its maximum size for some years.

The field was nearly rectangular in shape; at the time of its greatest
size, its length was about equal to the distance from this spot to yonder
fence—one hundred and eighty yards; and its width, to the distance from
the corner of this cabin to yonder white post—ninety yards.

The size of a garden was determined chiefly by the industry of the family
that owned it, and by the number of mouths that must be fed.

When I was six years old, there were, I think, ten in my father’s family,
of whom my two grandmothers, my mother and her three sisters, made six. I
have said that my mother and her three sisters were wives of Small Ankle,
my father. It was this year that my mother and Corn Sucker died, however.

My father’s wives and my two grandmothers, all industrious women, added
each year to the area of our field; for our family was growing. At the
time our garden reached its maximum size, there were seven boys in the
family; three of these died young, but four grew up and brought wives to
live in our earth lodge.

_Na´xu and Nu´cami_

In our big garden at Like-a-fishhook village, nine rows of corn, running
lengthwise with the field, made one na´xu, or Indian acre, as we usually
translate it. There were ten of these na´xus, or Indian acres, in the

[Illustration: Figure 8]

Some families of our village counted eight rows of corn to one na´xu,
others counted ten rows.

The rows of the na´xus always ran the length of the garden; and if the
field curved, as it sometimes did around a bend of the river, or other
irregularity, the rows curved with it.

In our garden a row of squashes separated each na´xu from its neighbor.

Four rows of corn running widthwise with the garden made one nu´cami; and
as was the na´xu, each nu´cami was separated from its neighbor by a row
of squashes, or beans, or in some families, even by sunflowers.

Like those of the na´xus, the rows of the nu´camis often curved to follow
some irregularity in the shape of the garden plot. (See figure 8.)


Hoeing time began when the corn was about three inches high; but this
varied somewhat with the season. Some seasons were warm, and the corn and
weeds grew rapidly; other seasons were colder, and delayed the growth of
the corn.

Corn plants about three inches high we called
“young-bird’s-feather-tail-corn,” because the plants then had blunt ends,
like the tail feathers of a very young bird.

Corn and weeds alike grew rapidly now, and we women of the household were
out with our hoes daily, to keep ahead of the weeds. We worked as in
planting season, in the early morning hours.

I cultivated each hill carefully with my hoe as I came to it; and if the
plants were small, I would comb the soil of the hill lightly with my
fingers, loosening the earth and tearing out young weeds.

We did not hoe the corn alone, but went right through the garden, corn,
squashes, beans, and all. Weeds were let lie on the ground, as they were
now young and harmless.

We hoed but once, not very many weeds coming up to bother us afterwards.
In my girlhood we were not troubled with mustard and thistles; these
weeds have come in with white men.

In many families hoeing ended, I think, when the corn was about seven or
eight inches high: but I remember when my mothers finished hoeing their
big field at Like-a-fishhook village, the corn was about eighteen inches
high, and the blossoms at the top of the plants were appearing.

A second hoeing began, it is true, when the corn silk appeared, but was
accompanied by hilling, so that we looked upon it rather as a hilling
time. Hilling was done to firm the plants against the wind and cover the
roots from the sun. We hilled with earth, about four inches up around the
roots of the corn.

Not a great many weeds were found in the garden at hilling time, unless
the season had been wet; but weeds at this season are apt to have seeds,
so that it was my habit to bear such weeds off the field, that the seeds
might not fall and sprout the next season.

With the corn, the squashes and beans were also hilled; but this was an
easier task. The bean hills, especially, were made small at the first,
and hilling them up afterwards was not hard work. If beans were hilled
too high the vines got beaten down into the mud by the rains and rotted.

_The Watchers’ Stage_

Our corn fields had many enemies. Magpies, and especially crows, pulled
up much of the young corn, so that we had to replant many hills. Crows
were fond of pulling up the green shoots when they were a half inch or
an inch high. Spotted gophers would dig up the seed from the roots of
young plants. When the corn had eared, and the grains were still soft,
blackbirds and crows were destructive.

Any hills of young corn that the birds destroyed, I replanted if the
season was not too late. If only a part of the plants in a hill had been
destroyed, I did not disturb the living plants, but replanted only the
destroyed ones. In the place of each missing plant, I dug a little hole
with my hand, and dropped in a seed.

We made scarecrows[8] to frighten the crows. Two sticks were driven
into the ground for legs; to these were bound two other sticks, like
outstretched arms; on the top was fastened a ball of cast-away skins, or
the like, for a head. An old buffalo robe was drawn over the figure and a
belt tied around its middle, to make it look like a man. Such a scarecrow
would keep the crows away for a few days but when they saw that the
figure never moved from its place, they lost their fear and returned.

A platform, or stage, was often built in a garden, where the girls and
young women of the household came to sit and sing as they watched that
crows and other thieves did not destroy the ripening crop. We cared for
our corn in those days as we would care for a child; for we Indian people
loved our gardens, just as a mother loves her children; and we thought
that our growing corn liked to hear us sing, just as children like to
hear their mother sing to them.[9] Also, we did not want the birds to
come and steal our corn. Horses, too, might break in and crop the plants,
or boys might steal the green ears and go off and roast them.

Our Hidatsa name for such a stage was adukati´ i´kakĕ-ma´tsati, or field
watchers’ stage; from adukati´, field; i´kakĕ, watch; and ma´tsati,
stage. These stages, while common, were not in every garden. I had one in
my garden where I used to sit and sing.

A watchers’ stage resembled a stage for drying grain, but it was built
more simply. Four posts, forked at the top, supported two parallel
beams, or stringers; on these beams was laid a floor of puncheons, or
split small logs, at about the height of the full grown corn. This floor
was about the length and breadth of Wolf Chief’s table—forty-three by
thirty-five inches—and was thus large enough to permit two persons to sit
together. A ladder made of the trunk of a tree rested against the stage.

Such stages we did not value as we did our drying stages, nor did we use
so much care in building them. If the posts were of green wood, we did
not trouble to peel off the bark; at least, I never saw such posts with
the bark peeled off. The beams in the forks of the posts often lay with
the bark on. The puncheons that made the floor of the stage were free of
bark, because they were commonly split from old, dead, floating logs,
that we got down at the Missouri River; if the whole stage was built of
these dead logs, as was often done, the bark would be wanting on every

A watchers’ stage, indeed, was usually of rather rough construction; wood
was plentiful and easy to get, and the stage was rebuilt each year.

As I have said, it was our custom to locate our gardens on the timbered,
bottom lands, and when we cleared off the timber and brush, we often
left a tree, usually of cottonwood, standing in the field, to shade the
watchers’ stage. The stage stood on the north, or shady, side of the tree.

Cottonwood seedlings were apt to spring up in newly cleared ground. If
there was no tree in the field, one of these seedlings might be let grow
into a small tree. Cottonwoods grew very rapidly.

The tree that shaded the watchers’ stage in our family field, and which
I have indicated on the map, was about as high as my son Goodbird’s
cabin, and had a trunk about four inches in diameter. The cottonwood
tree standing in Wolf Chief’s corn field this present summer, is perhaps
about the height of the trees that used to stand in our fields at
Like-a-fishhook village.

_Explanation of Sketch of Watchers’ Stage_

My son Goodbird has made a sketch, under my direction, of a watchers’
stage (figure 9).

The stage was placed close to the tree shading it, about a foot from the
trunk. Holes for the posts were dug with a long digging stick; and the
posts were set firm, like fence posts.

The stage was made nearly square, so that the watchers could sit facing
any side with equal ease. The beams supporting the floor might be laid
east and west, or north and south; but as the tree stood always on the
south side of the stage, the floor beams lay always in one of these two

[Illustration: Figure 9

Redrawn from sketch by Edward Goodbird.]

In the sketch a skin[10] is seen lying on the stage floor. This is a
buffalo calf skin, folded fur out, to make a seat for the watcher. The
skin might be folded tail to head, or side to side; and sometimes it was
folded flesh side out. It never hung down over the edges of the stage
floor, but was folded up neatly to make a kind of cushion. The puncheon
floor, at best never very smooth, was rather hard to sit upon; and
letting a part of the skin hang down over the side would have been waste
of good cushion material.

The three poles on the right of the stage support another calf skin, used
as a shield against the sun. The poles merely rested on the ground; they
were not thrust into the soil. They could be shifted about with the sun,
so that the watcher had shade in any part of the day.

The calf skin used for a sun shade hung on the poles head downward;
whether it lay fur or flesh side down did not matter.

Skins dressed by Indians have holes cut along the edges for the wooden
pins by which they are staked out on the ground to dry. The poles
upholding the skin shade we cut of willows; and we were careful to trim
off the branches, leaving little stubs sticking out on the trunk of the
pole. These little stubs we slipped through some of the holes in the edge
of the skin shade to uphold it and stay it in place. It was not necessary
to bind the skin down with thongs; just slipping the stubs through the
holes was enough.

Poles for a sun shade were cut indifferently of dry or green wood; and
they lasted the entire season.

The ladder by which we mounted a watchers’ stage rested against either of
the corners next the tree, against one of the two beams supporting the
floor; however we did not consider a watchers’ stage to be sacred, and we
placed the ladder anywhere it might be convenient.

The ladder was a cottonwood trunk, cut with three steps; more were not
needed, as the stage floor was not high.

_Sweet Grass’s Sun Shade_

If the tree sheltering a stage had scant foliage, we often cut thick,
leafy cottonwood boughs and thrust them horizontally through the branches
of the tree to increase its shade. It was a common thing for the watchers
to tie a robe across the face of the tree for the same purpose.

If no tree grew in the garden, a small cottonwood with thick, leafy
branches was cut and propped against the south or sunny side of the stage.

There was an old woman named Sweet Grass who had no tree in her garden.
She built a stage just like that in Goodbird’s sketch (figure 9). To
shade it I remember she cut several small cottonwood trees and set them
in holes made with her digging stick, along the south side of her stage.
They stood there in a row and shaded the stage quite effectively. Her
stage stood rather close to the edge of her garden.

_The Watchers_

The season for watching the fields began early in August when green corn
began to come in; for this was the time when the ripening ears were apt
to be stolen by horses, or birds, or boys. We did not watch the fields in
the spring and early summer, to keep the crows from pulling up the newly
sprouted grain; such damage we were content to repair by replanting.

Girls began to go on the watchers’ stage to watch the corn and sing, when
they were about ten or twelve years of age. They continued the custom
even after they had grown up and married; and old women, working in the
garden and stopping to rest, often went on the stage and sang.

Two girls usually watched and sang together. The village gardens were
laid out close to one another; and a girl of one family would be joined
by the girl of the family who owned the garden adjoining. Sometimes
three, or even four, girls got on the stage and sang together; but never
more than four. A drum was not used to accompany the singing.

The watchers sometimes rose and stood upon the stage as they looked to
see if any boys or horses were in the field, stealing corn. Older girls
and young married women, and even old women, often worked at porcupine
embroidery as they watched. Very young girls did not embroider.

Boys of nine to eleven years of age were sometimes rather troublesome
thieves. They were fond of stealing green ears to roast by a fire in the
woods. Sometimes—not every day, however—we had to guard our corn alertly.
A boy caught stealing was merely scolded. “You must not steal here
again!” we would say to him. His parents were not asked to pay damage for
the theft.

We went to the watchers’ stage quite early in the day, before sunrise, or
near it, and we came home at sunset.

The watching season continued until the corn was all gathered and
harvested. My grandmother, Turtle, was a familiar figure in our family’s
field, in this season. I can remember her staying out in the field daily,
picking out the ripening ears and braiding them in a string.


There were a good many booths in the gardens that lay west of the
village. Usually a booth stood at one side of every field in which was a
watchers’ stage.

To make a booth, we cut diamond willows, stood them in the ground in a
circle, and bending over the leafy tops, tied them together. A few leafy
branches were interwoven into the top to increase the shade; but there
was no further covering.

A booth had a floor diameter of nine or ten feet, and was as high as I
can conveniently reach with my hands—six feet.

The girls who sang and watched the ripening corn cooked in these booths.
I often did so when I was a young girl; for cooking at the booth was done
by all the watchers, even young girls of ten or twelve years. I have
often seen my grandmother, Turtle, also, in her booth very early in the
morning, in the corn season.

_Eating Customs_

A meal was eaten sometimes just after sunrise, or a little later; but we
never had regular meal hours in the field. We cooked and ate whenever
we got hungry, or when visitors came; or we strayed over to other
gardens and ate with our friends. If relatives came, the watchers often
entertained them by giving them something to eat.

To cook the meal a fire was made in the booth. Meat had been brought out
from the village, dried or fresh buffalo meat usually. Fresh meat was
laid on the coals to broil; dried meat was thrust on the end of a stick
that leaned over the coals; and when one side was well toasted it was
turned over.

Fresh squashes we boiled in clay or iron pots; a good many brass or
copper kettles also were in use when I was young. We were fond of

A common dish was green corn and beans. The corn was shelled off the cob
and boiled with green beans that were shelled also; sometimes the beans
were boiled in the pod.

[Illustration: Figure 10

Redrawn from sketch by Goodbird of specimen made by Buffalobird-woman.]

To serve the corn and beans we poured the mess into a wooden bowl and ate
with spoons made from the stems of squash leaves. Figure 10 is a sketch
of such a spoon. The squash stem was split at one end and the split was
held open by a little stick. Stems of leaves of our native squashes have
tiny prickles on them, but these did not hurt the eater’s lips. Leaf
stems of native squashes I think are firmer and stronger than those of
white men’s squashes, such as we now raise.

My grandmother, Turtle, was a faithful watcher in our family field in the
watching season. I remember she used to bring home in the evening all the
uneaten corn she had boiled that day.

_Youths’ and Maidens’ Customs_

We always kept drinking water at the stage; and if relatives came out, we
freely gave them to drink. But boys and young men who came were offered
neither food nor drink, unless they were relatives.

Our tribe’s custom in such things was well understood.

The youths of the village used to go about all the time seeking the
girls; this indeed was almost all they did. Of course, when the girls
were on the watchers’ stage the boys were pretty sure to come around.
Sometimes two youths came together, sometimes but one. If there were
relatives at the watchers’ stage the boys would stop and drink or eat;
they did not try to talk to the girls, but would come around smiling and
try to get the girls to smile back.

To illustrate our custom, if a boy came out to a watchers’ stage, we
girls that were sitting upon it did not say a word to him. It was our
rule that we should work and should not say anything to him. So we sat,
not looking at him, nor saying a word. He would smile and perhaps stop
and get a drink of water.

Indeed, a girl that was not a youth’s sweetheart, never talked to him.
This rule was observed at all times. Even when a boy was a girl’s
sweetheart, or “love-boy” as we called him, if there were other persons
around, she did not talk to him, unless these happened to be relatives.

Boys who came out to the watchers’ stage, getting no encouragement from
the girls there, soon went away.

A very young girl was not permitted to go to the watchers’ stage unless
an old woman went along to take care of her. In olden days, mothers
watched their daughters very carefully.

_Watchers’ Songs_

Most of the songs that were sung on the watchers’ stage were love songs,
but not all.

One that little girls were fond of singing—girls that is of about twelve
years of age—was as follows:

    You bad boys, you are all alike!
    Your bow is like a bent basket hoop;
    You poor boys, you have to run on the prairie barefoot;
    Your arrows are fit for nothing but to shoot up into the sky!

This song was sung for the benefit of the boys who came to the near-by
woods to hunt birds.

Here is another song; but that you may understand it I shall first have
to explain to you what ikupa´ means.

A girl whom another girl loves as her own sister, we call her ikupa´. I
think your word chum, as you explain it, has about the same meaning. This
is the song:

    “My ikupa´, what do you wish to see?” you said to me.
    What I wish to see is the corn silk coming out on the growing ear;
    But what _you_ wish to see is that naughty young man coming!

Here is a song that we sang to tease young men that were going by:

    You young man of the Dog society, you said to me,
    “When I go to the east on a war party, you will hear news of me how
        brave I am!”
    I have heard news of you;
    When the fight was on, you ran and hid!
    And you think you are a brave young man!
    Behold you have joined the Dog society;
    Therefore, I call you just plain dog!

These songs from the watchers’ stage we called mi´daxika, or gardeners’
songs. The words of these I have just given you we called love-boy words;
and they were intended to tease.

There was another class of songs sung from the watchers’ stage that did
not have love-boy words. I will give you one of these, but to make it
intelligible, I must first explain a custom of my tribe.

_Clan Cousins’ Custom_

Let us suppose that a woman of the Tsi´stska Doxpa´ka marries a man of
the Midipa´di clan. Their child will be a Tsi´stska; for we Hidatsas
reckon every child to belong to the clan of his mother; and the members
of the mother’s clan will be clan sisters and clan brothers to her child.

Another woman of the tribe, of what clan does not matter, also marries a
Midipa´di husband; and they have a child. The child of the first mother
and the child of the second we reckon as makutsati, or clan cousins,
since their fathers being of the same clan, are clan brothers.

In old times these clan cousins had a custom of teasing one another;
especially was this teasing common between young men and young women.
For example, a young man, unlucky in war, might be passing the gardens
and hear some mischievous girl, his clan cousin, singing a song taunting
him for his ill success. From any one else this would be taken for the
deepest insult; but seeing that the singer was his clan cousin, the young
man only called out good humoredly, “Sing louder, cousin!”

I can best explain this custom by telling you a story.

_Story of Snake-head-ornament_

A long time ago, in one of our villages at Knife River, there lived a man
Mapuksao´kihec, or Snake-head-ornament. He was a great medicine man; and
in his earth lodge he kept a bull snake, whom he called “father.”

When Snake-head-ornament started to go to a feast he would say to the
bull snake, “Come, father, let us go and get something to eat!”

The snake would crawl up the man’s body, coil about his neck and thrust
his head forward over the man’s crown and forehead; or he would coil
about the man’s head like the head cloth a hunter used to wear, with his
head thrust forward as I have said.

Bearing the snake thus on his head, Snake-head-ornament would enter some
man’s lodge and sit down to eat. The snake however never ate with him,
for his food was not the same as the man’s; the bull snake’s food was
hide scrapings which the women of the lodge fed to him.

When Snake-head-ornament came home again he would say to the bull snake,
“Father, get off.”

The snake would creep down from the man’s head, but before he entered
his hole he would roll himself about on the earth lodge floor.
Snake-head-ornament would say to him, “What are you doing? Do you think I
am bad smelling, and do you want to wash off the smell from your body? It
is you who are bad smelling; yet I do not despise _you_!”

The snake, hearing this, would creep into his hole as if ashamed.

Snake-head-ornament made up a war party and led it against enemies on
the Yellowstone River. The party not only failed to kill any of the
enemy, but lost three of their own men. This was a kind of disgrace to
Snake-head-ornament; for as leader of the war party he was responsible
for it. He thought his gods had deserted him; and when he came home he
went about crying and mourning and calling upon his gods to give him
another vision. He was a brave man and had many honor marks; and his ill
success made his heart sore.

In old times, when one mourned, either man or woman, he cut off his hair,
painted his body with white clay and went without moccasins; he also cut
himself with some sharp instrument.

In those days also, when a man went out to seek his god, he went away
from the village, alone, into the hills; and thus it happened that
Snake-head-ornament, on his way to the hills, went mourning and crying
past a garden where sat a woman, his clan cousin, on her watchers’ stage.
Seeing him, she began to sing a song to tease him:

    He said, “I am a young bird!”
    If a young bird, he should be in a nest;
    But he comes around here looking gray,
    And wanders aimlessly everywhere outside the village!
    He said, “I am a young snake!”
    If a young snake, he should stay in the hills among the red buttes;
    But he comes around here looking gray and crying,
    And wanders aimlessly everywhere!

When the woman sang, “he comes around here looking gray,” she meant that
the man was gray from the white clay paint on his body.

Snake-head-ornament heard her song, but knowing she was his clan cousin,
cried out to her:

“My elder sister, sing louder! You are right; let my fathers hear what
you say. I do not know whether they will feel shame or not; but the snake
and the white eagle both called me ‘son’!”

What he meant was that the snake and the white eagle were his dream gods;
and that they had both called him “son,” in a vision. In her song the
woman had taunted him with this. If she had been any one but his clan
cousin, he would have been beside himself with anger. As it was, he kept
his good humor, and did her no hurt.

But the woman had sung her song for a cause. Years before, when
Snake-head-ornament was quite a young man and as yet had won few honors
he went on a war party and killed a Sioux woman. When he came home he
was looked upon as a successful warrior; and he was, of course, proud
that people now looked up to him. Not long after this, he joined the
Black Mouth society. It happened, one day, that the women were erecting
palisades around the village to defend it, and Snake-head-ornament, as a
member of the Black Mouths, was one of those overseeing the work. This
woman, his clan cousin, was rather slow at her task and did not move
about very briskly. Snake-head-ornament, seeing this, approached her and
fired off his gun close by her legs. She looked around, but seeing that
it was Snake-head-ornament that had shot, and knowing he was her clan
cousin, she did not get angry. Just the same she did not forget; and
years after she had a good humored revenge in the taunting song I have
given you.


_The Ripening Ears_

The first corn was ready to be eaten green early in the harvest moon,
when the blossoms of the prairie golden rod are all in full, bright
yellow; or about the end of the first week in August. We ate much green
corn, boiling the fresh ears in a pot as white people do; but every
Hidatsa family also put up dried green corn for winter. This took the
place with us of the canned green corn we now buy at the trader’s store.

I knew when the corn ears were ripe enough for boiling from these signs:
The blossoms on the top of the stalk were turned brown, the silk on the
end of the ear was dry, and the husks on the ear were of a dark green

I do not think the younger Indians on this reservation are as good
agriculturists as we older members of my tribe were when we were young. I
sometimes say to my son Goodbird: “You young folks, when you want green
corn, open the husk to see if the grain is ripe enough, and thus expose
it; but I just go out into the field and pluck the ear. When you open an
ear and find it too green to pluck, you let it stand on the stalk; and
birds then come and eat the exposed kernels, or little brown ants climb
up the stalk and eat the ear and spoil it. I do not think you are very
good gardeners in these days. In old times, when we went out to gather
green ears, we did not have to open their faces to see if the grain was
ripe enough to be plucked!”

_Second Planting for Green Corn_

Our green corn season lasted about ten days, when the grain, though not
yet ripe, became too hard for boiling green.

To provide green corn to be eaten late in the season, we used to make a
second planting of corn when June berries were ripe; and for this purpose
we left a space, not very large, vacant in the field. In my father’s
family this second planting was of about twenty-eight hills of corn. It
came ready to eat when the other corn was getting hard; but it often
got caught by the frost. Nearly every garden owner made such a second
planting; it was, indeed, a usual practice in the tribe.

_Cooking Fresh Green Corn_

Our usual way of cooking fresh, green corn, was to boil it in a kettle on
the cob.

Fresh, green corn, shelled from the cob, was often put in a corn mortar
and pounded; and then boiled without fats or meat. Prepared thus, it had
a sweet taste and smell; much like that of the canned corn we buy of the

Shelled green corn, in the whole grain, was also boiled fresh, mixed with
beans and fats.

_Roasting Ears_

Green ears were sometimes roasted, usually by an individual member of
the family who wanted a little change of diet. The women of my father’s
family never prepared a full meal of roasted ears that I remember; if any
one wanted roasted, fresh, green corn, he prepared it himself.

When I wanted to roast green corn I made a fire of cottonwood and
prepared a bed of coals. I laid the fresh ear on the coals with the husk
removed. As the corn roasted, I rolled the ear gently to and fro over the
coals. When properly cooked I removed the ear and laid on another.

As the ear roasted, the green kernels would pop sometimes with quite a
sharp sound. If this popping noise was very loud, we would laugh and say
to the one roasting the ear, “Ah, we see you have stolen that ear from
some other family’s garden!”

Green corn was regularly taken out of the garden to roast until frost
came, when it lost its fragrance and fresh taste. To restore its
freshness, we would take the green corn silk of the same plucked ear and
rub the silk well into the kernels of the ear as they stood in the cob.
This measurably restored the fresh taste and smell.

We did not do this if the ear was to be boiled, only if we intended to
roast it.

For green corn, boiled and eaten fresh, we used all varieties except the
gummy; for when green they tasted alike. But for roasting ears we thought
the two yellow varieties, hard and soft, were the best.


A common dish made from green corn was mätu´a-la´kapa, from mätu´a, green
corn; and la´kapa, mush, or something mushy; thus, wheat flour mixed with
water to a thick paste we call la´kapa, even if unboiled.

Ripening green corn, with the grain still soft, was shelled off the cob
with the tip of the thumb or with the thumb nail. The shelled corn was
pounded in a mortar and boiled with beans; it was flavored with spring

_Corn Bread_

We also made a kind of corn bread from green corn.

Green ears were plucked and the corn shelled off with the thumb nail, so
as not to break open the kernels. Boiled green corn could be shelled with
a mussel shell because boiling toughened the kernels; but unboiled green
corn was shelled with the thumb nail.

Two or three women often worked at shelling the corn as it was rather
tedious work.

When enough of the corn had been shelled, it was put in a corn mortar and

Some of the ears were naturally longer than others: a number of these had
been selected and their husks removed. Some of these husks were now laid
down side by side, but overlapping like shingles, until a sheet was made
about ten inches wide.

Another row of husks was laid over the first, transversely to them; and
so until four or five layers of the green husks were made, each lying
transversely to the layer of husks beneath.

The shelled corn, pounded almost to a pulp, was poured out on this husk
sheet, and patted down with the hand to a loaf about seven or eight
inches square, and an inch or two thick. However, this varied; a girl
would make a much smaller loaf than would a woman preparing a mess for
her family.

The ends of the uppermost layer of husks were now folded over the top
of the loaf, leaf by leaf; then the next layer of husks beneath; and so
until the ends of all the husks were folded over the top of the loaf,
quite hiding it.

Two or three husk leaves had been split into strips half an inch to three
quarters of an inch in width. These strips were tied together to make
bands to bind the loaf. Three bands passed around the loaf each way, or
six bands in all.

No grease nor fat, nor any seasoning, had been added to the loaf; the
pounded green corn pulp was all that entered into it.

The loaf made, now came the baking. The ashes in the fire place in an
earth lodge lay quite deep. A cavity was dug into these ashes about as
deep as my hand is long. Into the bottom of this cavity live coals and
hot ashes were raked, and upon these the loaf was laid; a few ashes were
raked over the top, and upon these ashes live coals were heaped. The loaf
baked in about two hours.

We called this loaf naktsi´, or buried-in-ashes-and-baked. Soft white
and soft yellow corn were good varieties from which to make this
buried-and-baked corn, as we called it.

_Drying Green Corn for Winter_

Every Hidatsa family put up a store of dried green corn for winter. This
is the way in which I prepared my family’s store.

In the proper season I went out into our garden and broke off the ears
that I found, that were of a dark green outside. Sometimes I even broke
open the husks to see if the ear was just right; but this was seldom, as
I could tell very well by the color and other signs I have described. I
went all over the garden, plucking the dark green ears, and putting them
in a pile in some convenient spot on the cultivated ground. If I was
close enough I tossed each ear upon the pile as I plucked it; but as I
drew further away, I gathered the ears into my basket and bore them to
the pile.

I left off plucking when the pile contained five basketfuls if I was
working alone. If two of us were working we plucked about ten basketfuls.

Green corn for drying was always plucked in the evening, just before
sunset; and the newly plucked ears were let lie in the pile all night,
in the open air. The corn was not brought home on the evening of the
plucking, because if kept in the earth lodge over night it would not
taste so fresh and sweet, we thought.

The next morning before breakfast, I went out to the field and fetched
the corn to our lodge in the village. As I brought the baskets into the
lodge, I emptied them in a pile at the place marked _B_ in figure 11,
near the fire.

Sitting at _A_, I now began husking, breaking off the husks from each ear
in three strokes, thus: With my hand I drew back half the husk; second, I
drew back the other half; third, I broke the husk from the cob. The husks
I put in a pile, _E_, to one side. No husking pegs were used, such as you
describe to me; I could husk quite rapidly with my bare hands.

As the ears were stripped, they were laid in a pile upon some of the
discarded husks, spread for that purpose. The freshly husked ears made a
pretty sight; some of them were big, fine ones, and all had plump, shiny
kernels. A twelve-row ear we thought a big one; a few very big ears had
fourteen rows of kernels; smaller ears had not more than eight rows.

Two kettles, meanwhile, had been prepared. One marked _D_ in figure 11,
was set upon coals in the fireplace; the other, _C_, was suspended over
the fire by a chain attached to the drying pole. The kettles held water,
which was now brought to a boil.

When enough corn was husked to fill one of these kettles, I gathered
up the ears and dropped them in the boiling water. I watched the corn
carefully, and when it was about half cooked, I lifted the ears out with
a mountain sheep horn spoon and laid them on a pile of husks.

[Illustration: Figure 11]

When all the corn was cooked, I loaded the ears in my basket and bore
them out upon the drying stage, where I laid them in rows, side by side,
upon the stage floor. There I left them to dry over night.

The work of bringing in the five basketfuls of corn from the field and
boiling the ears took all day, until evening.

In the morning the corn was brought into the lodge again. A skin tent
cover had been spread on the floor and the half boiled ears were laid
on it, in a pile. I now sat on the floor, as an Indian woman sits, with
ankles to the right, and with the edge of the tent cover drawn over my
knees, I took an ear of the half boiled corn in my left hand, holding it
with the greater end toward me. I had a small, pointed stick; and this
I ran, point forward, down between two rows of kernels, thus loosening
the grains. The right hand row of the two rows of loosened kernels I now
shelled off with my right thumb. I then shelled off all the other rows of
kernels, one row at a time, working toward the left, and rolling the cob
over toward the right as I did so.

There was another way of shelling half boiled corn. As before, I would
run a sharpened stick down two rows of kernels, loosening the grains; and
I would then shell them off with smart, quick strokes of a mussel shell
held in my right hand. We still shell half boiled corn in this way, using
large spoons instead of shells. There were very few metal spoons in use
in my tribe when I was a girl; mussel shells were used instead for most

If while I was shelling the corn, a girl or woman came into the lodge
to visit, she would sit down and lend a hand while we chatted; thus the
shelling was soon done.

The shelling finished, I took an old tent cover and spread it on the
floor of the drying stage outside. On this cover I spread the shelled
corn to dry, carrying it up on the stage in my basket.

At night I covered the drying corn with old tent skins to protect it from

The corn dried in about four days.

When the corn was well dried, I winnowed it. This I sometimes did on the
floor of the drying stage, sometimes on the ground.

Having chosen a day when a slight wind was blowing, I filled a wooden
bowl from the dried corn that lay heaped on the tent cover; and holding
the bowl aloft I let the grain pour slowly from it, that any chaff might
be winnowed out.

The corn was now ready to be put in sacks for winter.

Corn thus prepared we called maada´ckihĕ, from ada´ckihĕ,
treated-by-fire-but-not-cooked, a word also used to designate food that
has been prepared by smoking.

All varieties of corn could be prepared in this way.[11]

The Arikaras on this reservation have a different way of preparing and
drying green corn. They make a big heap of dried willows, and upon these
lay the ears, green and freshly plucked, in the husk. When all is ready,
they set fire to the willows, thus roasting the corn; and they often
roast a great pile of corn at one time, in this way. The roasted ears are
husked and shelled, and the grain dried, for storing. Corn that has been
roasted in the Arikara way, dries much more quickly than that prepared by

Of late years some Mandan and Hidatsa families occasionally roast their
corn in imitation of the Arikara way; but I never saw this done in my

I do not like to eat food made of this dried, roasted corn; it is dirty!



Mapë´di is a black mass that grows in the husk of an ear of corn; it is
what you say white men call corn smut fungus. Sometimes an ear of corn
appears very plump, or somewhat swelled; and when the husk is opened,
there is no corn inside, only mapë´di, or smut; or sometimes part of the
ear will be found with a little grain at one end, and mapë´di at the
other. These masses of mapë´di, or corn smut, that we found growing on
the ear, we gathered and dried for food.

There is another mapë´di that grows on the stalk of the corn. It is not
good to eat, and was not gathered up at the harvest time. The mapë´di
that grows on the stalk is commonly found at a place where the stalk, by
some accident, has been half broken.

We looked upon the mapë´di that grew on the corn ear as a kind of corn,
because it was borne on the cob; it was found on the ears the grain of
which was growing solid, or was about ready to be eaten as green corn. We
did not find many mapë´di masses in one garden.

_Harvest and Uses_

We gathered the black masses and half boiled and dried them, still on
the cob. When well dried, they were broken off the cob. These broken off
pieces we mixed with the dried half boiled green corn, and stored in the
same sack with them.

Mapë´di was cooked by boiling with the half-boiled dried corn. We did
not eat mapë´di fresh from the garden, nor did we cook it separately.
Mapë´di, boiled with corn, tasted good, not sweet, and not sour.

I still follow the custom of my tribe and gather mapë´di each year at the
corn harvest.



As the corn in the fields began to show signs of ripening, the people of
Like-a-fishhook village went hunting to get meat for the husking feasts.
This meat was usually dried; but if a kill was made late in the season,
the meat was sometimes brought in fresh.

When the corn was fully ripened, the owners of a garden went out with
baskets, plucked the ears from the stalks and piled them in a heap ready
for the husking. The empty stalks were left standing in the field.

A small family sometimes took as many as three days to gather and husk
their ripe corn; this was because there were not many persons in the
family to do the work.

In a big family, like my fathers, harvesting was more speedily done. We
had a large garden, but we never spent more than one day gathering up the
corn, which we piled in a heap in the middle of the field.

The next day after the corn was plucked, we gave a husking feast. We took
out into the field a great deal of dried meat that my mothers had already
cooked in the lodge; or we took the dried meat into the field and boiled
it in a kettle near the corn pile. We also boiled corn on a fire near by.
The meat and corn were for the feast.

Instead of dried meat, a family sometimes took out a side of fresh
buffalo meat and roasted it over a fire, near the corn pile.

Having then arrived at the field, and started a fire for the feast, all
of our family who had come out to work sat down and began to husk. Word
had been sent beforehand that we were going to give a husking feast, and
the invited helpers soon appeared. There was no particular time set for
their coming, but we expected them in one of the morning hours.[12]

For the most part these were young men from nineteen to thirty years of
age, but a few old men would probably be in the company; and these were
welcomed and given a share of the feast.

There might be twenty-five or thirty of the young men. They were paid for
their labor with the meat given them to eat; and each carried a sharp
stick on which he skewered the meat he could not eat, to take home.[13]

The husking season was looked upon as a time of jollity; and youths and
maidens dressed and decked themselves for the occasion.

Of course each young man gave particular help to the garden of his
sweetheart. Some girls were more popular than others. The young men were
apt to vie with one another at the husking pile of an attractive girl.

Some of the young men rode ponies, and when her corn pile had been
husked, a youth would sometimes lend his pony to his sweetheart for her
to carry home her corn. She loaded the pony with loose ears in bags,
bound on either side of the saddle, or with strings of braided corn laid
upon the pony’s back.

The husking season, like the green corn season, lasted about ten days.
The young men helped faithfully each day, and when they had husked all
the corn in one field, they moved to another. Thus all the corn piles
were speedily husked.

The husking was always done in the field. We never carried the corn to
the village to be husked, as the husks would then have dried, and hurt
the hands of the husker. As we plucked the ears, we piled them in a heap
in the field, to keep the husks moist and soft.[14]

_Rejecting Green Ears_

As the huskers worked they were careful not to add any green ears to
the husked pile. A green ear would turn black and spoil, and be fit for

Every husker knew this; and if a young man was helping another family
husk, he laid in a little pile beside him, any green ears that he found.
These green ears belonged to him, to eat or to feed to his pony.

Last year a white man hired me to gather the corn in his field and husk
it; and I kept all the green ears for myself, for that is my custom. I
do not know whether that white man liked it or not. It may be he thought
I was stealing that green corn; but I was following the custom that I
learned of my tribe.

I am an Indian; if a white man hires me to do work for him, he must
expect that I will follow Indian custom.

_Braiding Corn_

Most of the corn as it was husked was tossed into a pile, to be borne
later to the village. This was true of all the smaller and less favored
ears: the best of the larger ears were braided into strings.

As we husked, if a long ear of good size and appearance was found, it was
laid aside for braiding. For this purpose the husk was bent back upon
the stub of the stalk on the big end of the ear, leaving the three thin
leaves that cling next to the kernels still lying on the ear in their
natural position. The part of the husk that was bent back was cut off
with a knife; the three thin leaves that remained were now bent back on
the ear, and the ear was laid aside. Another ear was treated in the same
way and laid beside the first, also with its thin leaves bent back. And
thus, until a row of ears lay extended side by side upon the ground, all
the ears lying point forward.

Another row was started; and the ears, also lying point forward and
leaned against the first row, were laid so as to cover the thin bent-back
leaves of the first row, to protect them from the sun. As the braiding
was done with these thin leaves, if they were too dry—as the sun was very
apt to make them—they would break.

When a quantity of these ears, all with thin husk leaves bent back, had
accumulated, one of the huskers passed them to someone of the young men,
who braided them; or one of the women of the family owning the field
might braid them.

Even with care the thin leaves were sometimes too dry for the braider to
handle safely; and he would fill his mouth with water and blow it over
the leaves.

Fifty-four or fifty-five ears were commonly braided to a string; but
the number varied more or less. In my father’s family, we often braided
strings of fifty-six or fifty-seven ears.

I do not know why this number was chosen; but I think this number of ears
was about of a weight that a woman could well carry and put upon the
drying stage.

When the string was all braided, the braider took either end in his hand,
and placing his right foot against the middle of the string, gave the
ends a smart pull. This stretched and tightened the string, and made it
look neater and more finished; it also tried if there might be any weak
places in it.

We braided all varieties of corn but two, atạ´ki tso´ki, or hard white,
and tsï´di tso´ki, or hard yellow. These varieties we reckoned too hard
to parch, and for this reason they were not braided. We did, however,
sometimes parch hard yellow to be pounded up into meal for corn balls.

The strings of braided corn were borne to the village on the backs of
ponies. Some families laid ten strings on a pony; but in my father’s
family we never laid on so many, believing it made too heavy a load for
the poor beast.

The braided strings were hung to dry on the drying stage upon the railing
that lay in the upper forks; and if there was need, poles or drying rods
were laid across the rails and strings were hung over these also.[15]

These drying rods were laid across only where the forks supported the
rails (at the same places the staying thongs were tied), for at these
places the stage could better bear the weight of the heavy strings of
corn; the drying rods were bound at either end to the railing, to stay

_The Smaller Ears_

Meanwhile the smaller and less favored ears were being carried home in
baskets. It took the members of my father’s family a whole day, and the
next day following until late in the afternoon, to get this work done.

Each carrier, as she brought in a basket of corn, ascended the log ladder
of the stage and emptied the corn on the stage floor. Here the corn lay
in a long heap, in the middle of the floor; for a free path was always
left around the edge for us women; having this path for our use, we did
not have to tread on the corn as we moved about. Also, if a pony came in
with a load of braided corn, the heavy strings could be handed up to us
women on the stage as we moved around in this free path.

As I now remember, our family’s husked corn when piled on the stage
floor, made a heap about eight yards long and four yards wide, and about
four feet high in the middle, from which point the pile sloped down on
all sides. This was the loose corn, the smaller ears; and besides these
there were about one hundred strings of braided corn hung on the railing
above the heap. I give these measurements, judging as nearly as I can
from the size of our drying stage, and from our average yearly corn
yield, when I was a young woman. I think the figures are approximately

For about eight days the corn lay thus in a long heap upon the stage.
At the end of that time the ears on the top of the heap had become dry
and smooth and threatened to roll down the sides of the pile. We now
took drying rods and laid them along the floor against the posts, two or
three of them, for the whole length of the stage on either side, and on
the ends of the stage. Planks split from cottonwood trunks were leaned
against these drying rods, on the side next the corn. The corn heap
was now spread evenly over the floor of the drying stage for the depth
of about a foot; the split planks prevented the dry smooth ears from
sliding off the stage. The dry ears had a tendency to roll or slide down
the sides of the corn pile, as fresh ears did not.

This spreading out the corn heap evenly had also the effect of stirring
up the underlying ears and exposing them to the air.

If rain fell while the corn was thus drying on the stage, it gave us no
concern. The corn soon dried again, and no harm was done it.

The corn, spread thus in an even heap, took about three more days to dry,
or eleven days in all. Then we began threshing.

_Drying the Braided Ears_

The strings of braided corn hanging on the rails at the top of the posts
of the drying stage, dried much more quickly than the loose ears heaped
on the stage floor. The wind, rattling the dry ears of the strings
together, was apt to shell out the drying kernels; it was therefore usual
for us before threshing time to tie these braids together so that the
wind could not rattle them.

To do this I would ascend the ladder and make my way along the edge of
the stage floor, making places in the corn with my feet as I walked, so
that my feet would be on the stage floor and not tread on the drying
corn. I would push ten of the braided strings together on the rail or the
drying rod on which they hung, and tie them by passing around them a raw
hide thong.

These braided strings, bound thus in bundles of ten, hung on the stage
until we were ready to store them in the cache pit; and this we could not
do until we had our main harvest, the loose ears, threshed and ready to
store also.


_Selecting the Seed_

I have said that for braiding corn we chose the longest and finest ears.
In my father’s family we used to braid about one hundred strings, some
years less, some years more, as the season had been wet or dry; for
the yield of fine ears was always less in a dry year. Of these braided
strings we selected the very best in the spring for seed.

My mothers reckoned that we should need five braided strings of soft
white, and about thirty ears of soft yellow, for seed. Of ma´ikadicakĕ,
or gummy, we raised a little each year, not much; ten ears of this, for
seed, my mothers thought were a plenty.

Hard white and hard yellow corn, I have said, were not braided, because
not used for parching. For seed of these varieties, some good ears were
taken from the drying pile on the corn stage and stored in the cache pit
for the next year with loose grain of the same variety. The ears were not
put in a sack, but thrown in with the loose grain.

When I selected seed corn, I chose only good, full, plump ears; and I
looked carefully to see if the kernels on any of the ears had black
hearts. When that part of a kernel of corn which joins the cob is black
or dark colored, we say it has a black heart. This imperfection is caused
by plucking the ear when too green. A kernel with a black heart will not

An ear of corn has always small grains toward the point of the cob, and
large grains toward the butt of the ear. When I came to plant corn, I
used only the kernels in the center of the cob for seed, rejecting both
the small and the large grains of the two ends.

Seed corn was shelled from the cob with the thumb; we never threshed it
with sticks. Sometimes we shelled an ear by rubbing it against another

_Keeping Two Years’ Seed_

Corn kept for seed would be best to plant the next spring; and it would
be fertile, and good to plant, the second spring after harvesting. The
third year the seed was not so good; and it did not come up very well.
The fourth year the seed would be dead and useless.

Knowing that seed corn kept good for at least two years, it was my
family’s custom to gather enough seed for at least two years, in seasons
in which our crops were good. Some years, in spite of careful hoeing, our
crops were poor; the ears were small, there was not much grain on them,
and what grain they bore was of poor quality. We did not like to save
seed out of such a crop. Also, frost occasionally destroyed our crop, or
most of it.

When, therefore, we had a year of good crops, we put away seed enough to
last for two years; then, if the next year yielded a poor crop, we still
had good seed to plant the third season.

In my father’s family we always observed this custom of putting away seed
for two years; and we did this not only of our corn, but of our squash
seeds, beans, sunflower seeds, and even of our tobacco seeds; for if I
remember rightly, the tobacco fields were sometimes injured by frost just
as were our corn fields.

Not all families in our village were equally wise. Some were quite
improvident, and were not at all careful to save seed from their crops.
Such families, in the spring, had to buy their seed from families that
were more provident.

Saving a good store of seed was therefore profitable in a way. In my
father’s family we often sold a good deal of seed in the spring to
families that wanted. The price was one tanned buffalo skin for one
string of braided seed corn.

[Illustration: Corn stage of Butterfly’s wife

This stage lacks railings, and is floored Arikara fashion with a willow
mat. A pile of drying corn is seen on the stage floor. In the ancient
villages, where the lodges were crowded together, the railings were
always present.]

[Illustration: Owl Woman pounding corn into meal in a corn mortar]

Even to-day, families on this reservation come to me to buy seed corn and
seed beans. A handful of beans, enough for one planting, I sell for one
calico—enough calico, that is, to make an Indian woman a dress, or about
ten yards.


_The Booth_

The threshing season was always a busy one, for all the families of the
village would be threshing their corn at the same time.

Corn was threshed in a booth, under the drying stage.

[Illustration: Figure 12

The figure has been redrawn from sketches by Goodbird. The original is
a stage now standing on the reservation, but with mat of willows for
floor; to this Goodbird added a threshing booth as he saw used by his
grandmother when he was a boy. Goodbird’s sketches are closely followed,
excepting that the floor of slabs is restored. The figure tallies in
every respect with Buffalobird-woman’s description, and the model made by
her for the American Museum of Natural History.]

To make the booth, I began with the section at one end of the stage. As
is shown in figure 12, on the posts _A_ and _D_, and _B_ and _C_, were
bound two poles, _e_ and _f_, at about two feet below the stage floor;
upon these were bound two other poles, _g_ and _h_; the poles _e_, _f_,
and _h_ were bound outside of the posts that supported them.

A long raw hide thong was used for the corner ties. The first pole was
raised in position and bound firmly to the post; and if a second pole was
to be laid over the first—as was done at two of the corners—the thong was
drawn up and made to bind it also to the post. We always kept a number of
these raw hide thongs in the lodge against just such uses as this; they
were strong, and served every purpose of ropes; we oiled them to keep
them soft.

A tent cover was now fetched out of the lodge. Tents were of different
sizes, from those of seven, to those of sixteen buffalo cow hides. A
woman used whatever sized tent cover she owned; but a cover of thirteen
skins was of convenient size.

[Illustration: Figure 13]

Around the curved bottom of the tent cover was a row of holes, through
which wooden pins were driven to peg the tent to the ground. The tent
cover was bound to the four over-hanging poles, inside of the four posts,
by means of a long thong woven in and out through the holes, as shown in
figure 13.

[Illustration: Figure 14]

Bound thus to the poles, and quite enclosing the space within them, the
tent cover made a kind of booth. The upper parts of the cover, including
the smoke flaps, that now hung sweeping the ground, were drawn in and
spread flat on the ground to make a floor for the booth; and stones laid
upon them weighted the cover against the wing.

In figure 12 the four posts, _A_, _B_, _C_, and _D_, enclose one section
of the drying stage; the booth did not enclose the whole ground space of
this section, but about three fifths of it.

Figure 14, I think, will explain the arrangement of the booth. The
end corners, _X_ and _Y_, were bound to opposite posts, _M_ and _N_,
respectively, the lapping edges, at _O_, forming a door through which
the threshers entered the booth; _P_ and _P´_ were bound to posts at _p_
and _p´_; the final corner, _M_, was left untied until the threshers had
entered and were ready to begin their task. (Compare with figure 12, in
which, however, the posts are differently lettered.)

Before they did this they went above and removed the planks and drying
rods laid around the edge of the stage floor, and pushed the corn back
toward the middle of the floor into a long heap again, that it might not
fall over the edge, now that the planks were taken away. One of the floor
planks was now removed, at _R_. Through the aperture thus made, corn was
pushed down to left and right of _R_; this was continued until there was
a pile of corn just under the aperture, and running the width of the
booth, about eighteen or twenty inches high.

The threshers now entered the booth and tied the corner at _M_, closing
the door. In my father’s family there were usually three threshers,
women; and they sat in a row on the floor of the booth, facing the pile
of corn. Each woman had a stick for a flail, with which she beat the corn.

[Illustration: Figure 15]

Flails were of ash or cottonwood. An ash flail would be about three
and a half feet long and from three quarters of an inch to an inch in
diameter, and was cut green. A cottonwood flail was seldom used green;
and as it was therefore lighter than the green ash, a cottonwood flail
was a little greater in diameter, but of the same length. We were careful
that a flail should not be too heavy, lest it break the kernels in the
threshing. Kinikinik sticks were sometimes used for flails.

A diagram (figure 15) has been drawn to illustrate how I worked in a
threshing booth when I was a young woman. As shown, I sat on the extreme
left; one of my mothers and my sister sat as indicated, on my right. More
than three seldom worked in a threshing booth at the same time, at least
in our family; however, I have known my sister, Not-frost, to make a
fourth. I have even known five to be threshing in the booth of some other
family in the village, but never more than five.

To thresh the corn, I raised my flail and brought it down smartly, but
not severely, upon the pile of corn. The grain as it was thus beaten off
the dry cobs would fall by its own weight into the pile, and work its way
to the bottom; while the lighter cobs would come to the top of the pile.

Beating the ears with the flails caused many of the kernels to leap and
fly about; but the tent cover, enclosing the booth, caught all these
flying kernels. It was, indeed, for this that the booth was built.

As the cobs, beaten empty of grain, accumulated on the pile, we drew them
off and cast them out of the door of the booth upon a tent cover, spread
to receive them, under the middle section of the stage. Many of these
cobs had a few small grains clinging to them; and these must be saved,
for we wasted nothing.

Having paused then to throw out the cobs, we returned to the pile and
thrust our flails in under it, drawing them upward through the corn, thus
working the unthreshed ears to the top. As much as we could, we tried
to keep the unthreshed ears in the middle of the pile, and the threshed
grain pushed to right and left, as will be seen by studying the diagram.
To thresh one pile, or filling of corn in a booth, took a half day’s work.

_Order of the Day’s Work_

Our habit was to begin quite early in the morning, enclose the booth with
the tent cover, and set to work threshing; finishing the first filling,
or pile, about midday. In the afternoon we began a second pile, first
heaping the already threshed grain to right and left, and behind the

I have said that on the ground under the second section of the stage, a
second tent cover was spread to catch the cobs. A part of this tent cover
was drawn in under the edge of the booth to help carpet the floor of the

At the end of the day we turned our attention to the pile of cobs; and
with our thumbs we shelled off every grain that clung to the cobs. From
the cobs of a day’s threshing we collected about as many grains of corn
as would fill a white man’s hat. This was taken into the booth and thrown
on the pile of threshed grain.

We now disposed of the grain for the night. If we had gotten through
threshing rather early in the day, we bore the newly threshed grain in
baskets into the lodge, and emptied it into a bull boat.

If we had gotten through our threshing rather late in the day, we made
the door of the booth tight, and left the grain on the booth floor
throughout the night.

_The Cobs_

The day’s threshing over, we attended to the cobs. I have said that we
shelled off any kernels that clung to them after threshing, so that they
were now quite clean of grain.

All day long, as we threshed, we had watched that no horses got at the
cobs to trample and nibble them, or that any dog ran over them, or any
children played in them. Then, in the evening, if the weather was fine,
and there was little wind, one of my mothers or I carried the cobs
outside of the village to a grassy place and heaped them in a pile about
five feet high. A pile of cobs of such a height I usually gathered from a
day’s threshing.

In our prairie country, on a fair day, the wind usually dies down about
sunset; and now, when the air was still, I fired the cob pile. As the
pile began to burn, I could usually see the burning cob piles of two or
three other families lighting up the gathering dusk.

I had to stay and watch the fire, to keep any mischievous boys from
coming to play in the burning heap. Children of from ten to fifteen years
of age were quite a pest at cob-firing time. They had a kind of game
they were fond of playing. Each would cut a long, flexible, green stick,
and at the edge of the Missouri he would get a ball of wet mud and stick
it on his stick. He would try to approach one of the burning piles, and
with his stick, slap the mud ball smartly into the burning coals, some of
which, still glowing, would stick in the wet mud. Using the stick as a
sling, the child would throw the mud ball into the air, aiming often at
another child. Other children would be throwing mud balls at one another
at the same time, and these, with the bits of glowing charcoal clinging
to them, would go sailing through the air like shooting stars. Knowing
very well that the children would get into my burning cobs if I even
turned my back, I was careful to stay by to watch.

At last the fire had burned down and the coals were dead; and nothing was
left but a pile of ashes. It was now night, and I would go home. Early
the next morning, before the prairie winds had arisen, I would go out
again to my ash heap. On the top of the ashes, if nothing had disturbed
them in the night and an unexpected wind had not blown them about, I
would find a thin crust had formed. This crust I carefully broke and
gathered up with my fingers, squeezing the pieces in my hand into little
lumps, or balls. Sometimes I was able to gather four or five of these
little balls from one pile of ashes; but never more than five.

These balls I carried home. There were always several baskets hanging in
the lodge, ready for any use we might want of them; and it was our habit
to keep some dried buffalo heart skins, or some dried buffalo paunch
skins, in the lodge, for wrappers, much as white families keep wrapping
paper in the house. The ash balls I wrapped up in one of these skins,
into a package, being careful not to break the balls. I put the package
in one of the baskets, to hang up until there was occasion for its use.

These ash balls were used for seasoning. I have explained elsewhere how
we used spring salt to season our boiled corn; and that every day in the
lodge, we ate mä´dạkạpa, or pounded dried ripe corn boiled with beans.
But in the fall, instead of seasoning this dish with spring salt, or
alkali salt as you call it, we preferred to use this seasoning of ash

In my father’s family, for each meal of mä´dạkạpa we filled the corn
mortar three times, two-and-a-half double handfuls of corn making one
filling of the mortar. Each time we filled the mortar, we dropped in with
the corn a little of the ash crust, a bit about as big as a white child’s
marble. Finally, a piece about as big, or perhaps a little larger, was
also dropped into the boiling pot.

We Indians were fond of this seasoning; and we liked it much better than
we did our spring salt. We did not use spring salt, indeed, if we had ash
balls in the lodge.

We called these ash balls mä´dạkạpa isĕ´pĕ, or mä´dạkạpa darkener.

We did not make ash balls if the dogs or horses had trampled on the cobs;
or if children had mussed in the fire; nor would we make ash balls if the
day had not been rather calm, for a high wind was sure to blow dust into
the cobs.

We burned cobs and collected ash balls after every threshing day, unless
hindered by storm or high wind. But even if the harvest was a good one,
the ash balls that we got from the burned cobs for seasoning never lasted
long. We were so fond of seasoning our food with them that every family
had used up its store before the autumn had passed.


I have said that after the day’s threshing we stored the newly threshed
grain for the night, either in the booth or in a bull boat in the earth
lodge; and that we then fired the cobs that had accumulated during the

The next morning we spread an old tent cover outside the lodge, near
the drying stage; and we fetched the loose grain of the previous day’s
threshing out of the booth, or the earth lodge and spread it evenly and
thinly upon the tent cover. The grain was here left to dry until evening.

A little before sunset, and before the prairie wind had died down, we
fetched baskets and winnowed the grain. The basket was half filled with
grain, held aloft, and the grain poured gently out in the wind. Wooden
bowls were often used for winnowing, instead of baskets; but they did not
hold as much grain.

The winnowing over, I would take up a few grains of the corn to test with
my teeth. If, when I bit a kernel in two, it broke with a sharp, snappy
sound, I knew it was quite dried; if it broke dull and soft, I knew the
grain needed another day’s drying; but at the most, this second day’s
drying was enough.

[Illustration: Figure 16]

The winnowed grain, now well dried, was borne into the earth lodge and
stored temporarily in bull boats. In the diagram (figure 16), is shown
where the bull boats full of grain used to stand in my father’s lodge.
Some years our harvest filled three bull boats of threshed grain; some
years it filled five. In the year illustrated by this diagram, there were
three bull boats standing between the planks at the left of the door, and
the fire; and two bull boats on the other side of the fire, all full of

The threshed grain, I have said, received its final drying and winnowing
upon a tent cover (or covers) spread on the ground near the earth lodge.
It was my own habit always to spread these tent covers beside the drying
stage on the side farthest away from the lodge. However, the particular
spot where the winnowing was done, was determined by the convenience of
the household.

We did not usually thresh consecutive days. We threshed one day; dried
the grain and winnowed it the second; and threshed again the third day.

_Removing the Booth_

During these days the booth did not remain always in one place. When the
corn on the floor of the first section had all been threshed, the booth
was removed to another section. I will now explain how this was done.

In figure 17 my son has diagramed the floor plan of my mothers’ stage and
threshing booth, as I remember them.

The stage stands in front of Small Ankle’s lodge, which faces toward the
west. The stage is divided into three sections, _A_, _B_, _C_. The posts
upon which the floor of the stage rests are _d_, _e_, _f_, _g_, _h_, _i_,
_j_, _k_.

The booth was first raised under section _A_, based upon _fg_ and
enclosing ground space _lmfg_.

Sometimes we got up early, bound the poles to the posts and erected our
booth before breakfast; then after we had eaten, three or four of us
would go out to thresh, one first going up to push down the corn. She
raised a plank along the side, _fg_, just within the booth; this, if the
door of the booth was on the side _lm_. The corn on the floor of the
stage in section _A_ was then shoved down as wanted.

[Illustration: Figure 17

Ground plan of earth lodge here accompanies that of stage to show
relative positions of the two structures. The stage always stood, as
here, directly before the lodge entrance. The figures are drawn to scale.]

The corn pushed down for one threshing, made a pile running the width of
the booth, and about forty inches wide and twenty inches high. When the
pile was threshed one of the women went up and shoved down another pile.
The corn in one section was threshed in about three such piles.

Sometimes, if we worked hard and had plenty of help, we threshed one
whole section in one day; but the beating, beating, beating of the corn
was hard work, and we more often stopped when wearied and rested until
the next day. I have already said that we often spent the next day at the
lighter work of drying and winnowing.

When the corn in section _A_ was all threshed, the booth was moved over
under the floor of section _B_, enclosing _fgno_; and again a plank was
taken up to let down the corn. Now this plank was always taken up above
the side of the booth opposite the door; and the door was always placed
down wind. Thus, if the wind was from the north, the door would be placed
on the south side of the booth, and the plank was taken up on the north
side, just within the booth. Corn was always threshed in the booth on the
side opposite the door.

Sections _A_ and _B_ of my mothers’ stage, as shown in diagram (figure
17) contained only yellow corn. Section _C_, or a part of it, contained
white corn. Braided strings of corn were also hung all around the railing
above, but these were not to be threshed.

Section _B_ having been threshed, the booth was removed to section _C_,
enclosing _hiqp_. I have said that this section had white corn. Now this
white corn was piled toward the south end of the stage; and between it
and the yellow corn was left a narrow vacant place on the floor. Above
this vacant place, meat was often dried; but this meat was removed when
we were ready to thresh.

Placing the booth to enclose _hiqp_, directly under the vacant place,
made it easy for us to raise a plank here to push down the white corn. If
we had placed the booth on the south end of this section, we should have
had to dig into the corn piled here, in order to raise a plank.

Our family’s threshing lasted about five days in a year of good yield; if
the year was a poor one, threshing lasted only two or three days.

_Threshing Braided Corn_

The strings of braided corn were stored in the cache pit (which I will
describe later) in the whole ear. If, during the winter, or the following
spring, I wanted to thresh a string of braided corn, I put the whole
string into a skin sack; and this sack I beat and shook, turning it over
and around until all the grain had fallen off the cobs. The sack was then

_Amount of Harvest_

Our harvested corn, in a good year, lasted my father’s family until the
next harvest, with a small quantity even then unused. Some years we ran
out of corn before the harvest came, but not often. We ate our corn as
long as it lasted, not husbanding it toward the last, because we knew
there were elk and buffalo and antelope to be had for the hunting. If we
ran out of corn at all, it was about the first of August; sometimes a
little earlier. Sometimes when we had eaten all our last year’s harvest
there was a small quantity from the previous season’s harvest with which
we eked out our shortage.

My mothers, however, were industrious women, and our shortage, if any,
was never for long. Some families, not very provident, had consumed all
their harvest as early as in the spring; but such never happened in my
father’s family.

_Sioux Purchasing Corn_

The Standing Rock Sioux used to buy corn of us, coming up in midsummer,
or autumn. They came not because they were in need of food, but because
they liked to eat our corn, and had always meat and skins to trade to us.
For one string of braided corn they gave us one tanned buffalo robe.


_Description of Varieties_

We raised nine well marked varieties of corn in our village. Following
are the names of the varieties:

    Atạ´ki tso´ki                 Hard white
    (White hard)

    Atạ´ki                        Soft white

    Tsï´di tso´ki                 Hard yellow
    (Yellow hard)

    Tsï´di tapa´                  Soft yellow
    (Yellow soft)

    Ma´ïkadicakĕ                  Gummy

    Do´ohi                        Blue

    Hi´ci cĕ´pi                   Dark red
    (Red dark)

    Hi´tsiica                     Light red

    Atạ´ki aku´ hi´tsiica         Pink top
    (White, kind of light red)

Our Hidatsa word for corn is ko´xati; but in speaking of any variety of
corn, the work ko´xati is commonly omitted. In like manner, atạ´ki means
white; but if one went into a lodge and asked for “atạ´ki” it was always
understood to mean soft white corn.

Of the nine varieties, the atạ´ki, or soft white, was the kind most
raised in our village. The ma´ïkadicakĕ, or gummy, was least raised, as
almost its only use was in making corn balls.

In my father’s family, we raised two kinds of corn, tsï´di tso´ki, or
hard yellow; and atạ´ki, or soft white.

The names of the varieties suggest pretty well their characteristics. The
atạ´ki aku´ hi´tsiica, or white-with-light-red, was marked by a light red
or pink color toward the top or beard end of the ear. The name pink-top
which you suggest for this variety will, I think, do for an English name,
if the literal translation of the Indian term is, as you say, rather

We planted each variety of corn separately. We Indians understood
perfectly the need of keeping the strains pure, for the different
varieties had not all the same uses with us.

_How Corn Travels_

We Indians knew that corn can travel, as we say; thus, if the seed
planted in one field is of white corn, and that in an adjoining field is
of some variety of yellow corn, the white will travel to the yellow corn
field, and the yellow to the white corn field.

Perhaps you do not understand what I mean by corn traveling. Well, let us
suppose that there are two fields lying side by side, the one in yellow,
the other in white corn. When the corn of the two fields is ripe, and the
ears are opened, it will be found that many of the ears in the yellow
rows that stand nearest the white field will have white kernels standing
in the cob; also, in the rows of white corn that stand nearest the yellow
field, there will be many ears with yellow kernels mixed in with the
white kernels.

We Indians did not know what power it was that causes this. We only knew
that it was so. We also knew that when a field stands alone, away from
other fields, and is planted with white corn, it will grow up in white
corn only; there will not be any yellow grains in the ears. And so of any
other variety.

[Illustration: Figure 18]

Sometimes two women, owning adjoining fields, would make an agreement;
they would divide their fields into sections and plant the corresponding
sections on opposite sides of the division line alike. Thus in the
diagram (figure 18), _A_ and _A´_ may be planted in a variety of yellow
corn; _B_ and _B´_ may be planted in beans and squashes; and _C_ and _C´_
may be planted in a variety of white corn; but even this did not make so
very much difference; still the corn traveled.

We thought that perhaps the reason of this was that the ground here was
soft, or mellowed and broken by cultivation. We thought corn could not
travel readily over hard, or unbroken ground; and as you notice in the
diagram, although the two patches of yellow corn are separated from the
white corn by the two patches of squashes and beans, yet the beans and
squashes are in soft, or cultivated ground. We thought corn traveled more
easily over soft ground.

However, we really did not know what made corn travel; we just knew that
it did.


_Atạ´ki Tso´ki_

I think that perhaps at first, there was but one variety of corn, atạ´ki
tso´ki, or hard white; and that all other varieties have sprung from
it. I know that when we plant hard white seed, ears often develop that
show color in the grain. Sometimes ears are produced bearing pink grains
toward the beard end of the cob; such ears we call i´puta (top) hi´tsiica
(pink); that is, pink top, or light-red top. In color these ears differed
in no wise from atạ´ki aku´ hi´tsiica.

Hard white was very generally raised, nearly every family in the tribe
having a field of it.

There were two chief dishes chiefly prepared from hard white corn; these
I will now describe.

_Mäpi´ Nakapa´._ I put water in a pot, and in this I dropped a section
of a string of dried squash, with some beans. Dried squash was always
strung on long grass strings; and having, from one of these strings, cut
off a piece I tied the ends together, making a wreath, or ring, four or
five inches in diameter. It was this ring of dried squash slices that I
dropped into the pot. When well boiled, I lifted the squash slices out
by the string and dropped them into a wooden bowl, where I mashed them
and chopped them fine with a horn spoon. The mashed squash I dropped back
into the kettle again, with the beans; the now empty string I threw away.

Meanwhile corn had been parched, and some buffalo fats had been held over
the coals on a stick, to roast. The parched corn and roast fats I pounded
together in the corn mortar; and the pounded mass I stirred into the
kettle. The mess was now ready to be eaten.

This dish we called mäpi´-nakapa´, or pounded-meal mush; from mäpi,´
something pounded, and nakapa´, mush, something mushy.

The dish was especially a morning meal; after eating it we started to

_Mä´nakapa._ A second way of preparing hard white corn was as follows: I
pounded the corn in a mortar to a meal, but without first parching it.
Most of this meal was fine, but there were many coarser bits in it, some
of them as big as quarter grains of corn.

Water was put in a kettle; I added the pounded meal, and when it boiled
put in beans. No fats were added.

As the mess boiled. I stirred it with a wooden paddle to prevent
scorching; I did not stir with a horn spoon as the hot water softened and
spoiled the horn.

When well boiled, the mess was served.

We called this dish mä´nakapa´.[16]

A seasoning of spring salt, as we called it, was often added. A small
palmful of the salt was mixed with a little water in a horn spoon; this
dissolved the salt and let the sand and dirt drop to the bottom. The
dissolved salt was poured off through the fingers, held to the mouth of
the horn spoon; this strained out the sand and dirt. The salt turned the
mush slightly yellow.

As the soft mush boiled up in the cooking, we were fond of dipping a horn
spoon into it, and licking off the back of the spoon. This was especially
a children’s habit.

Also at morning and evening meals we ate hard white corn parched and
mixed with fats; or mạdạpo´zi i’ti´a, boiled whole corn.


This is a soft, or as you call it, a flour corn, and was perhaps the
favorite variety grown by us. The word atạ´ki means white; but when
applied to corn we translate soft white, to distinguish from atạ´ki
tso´ki, or hard white.

The use of atạ´ki, or soft white, was very general, since it could be
made into almost every kind of corn food used by us. “It is the one
variety,” we used to say, “that can be used in any and every way.”

Soft white corn, parched and pounded into a meal, was boiled with squash
and beans to make mäpi´ nakapa´. The unparched grain was pounded for meal
to make mä´nakapa; but although good, we did not think the mush made from
soft white meal was as good as that from the hard white corn meal.

_Boiled Corn Ball._ A less frequent dish made from soft white corn was
boiled corn balls; it was made only from the dried ripe grain.

I pounded a quantity of grain into meal, and poured the meal into a pot
having hot water—but not too much water—stirring it well about. I now
lifted out some of the mass into my left palm and patted it down with my
right, making a cake about as big around as a baking powder biscuit, but
not so thick. This cake I dropped into a pot of boiling water, where it
sank to the bottom. I continued until the pot was full, or until I had
all I wished to cook.

No salt or other seasoning was added.

As the pot boiled, one could see the corn cakes move around in the water;
but they never floated, nor did they break apart. The boiling lasted
about an hour.

In olden days we ate these corn balls alone; now we more often eat them
with coffee.

_Tsï´di Tso´ki and Tsï´di Tapä´_

The two varieties of tsï´di, or golden yellow corn, could be pounded and
boiled to make mush, or mä´dakapa; or they could be boiled whole, to make
mạdạpo´zi i’ti´a.

_Mạdạpo´zi I’ti´a._ For this dish I put the shelled ripe grain, with
fats, in a pot and boiled them until I saw the kernels break open; then I
added beans, and when these were boiled, the mess was served. This dish
we called mạdạpo´zi i’ti´a. I do not know the derivation of mạdạpo´zi;
i’ti´a means large. I think you can translate “corn boiled whole.”

Hard yellow and soft yellow corn, roasted in the green ear, tasted sweet,
as if a little sugar were in them. Especially was this true at the time
when kernels were beginning to turn yellow. At this time each kernel
shows a little yellow spot on the very top. For this reason this season
was called tsi´dotsxĕ, or yellow-drop time; for the little yellow spot
looked like a drop on the top of the kernel.

_Other Soft Varieties_

Do´ohi, or blue, hi´ci cĕ´pi, dark red, and hi´tsiica, light red, were
all soft corns and were cooked and prepared and stored just like atạ´ki;
these four varieties tasted exactly alike, if cooked in the same way.


Ma´ikadicakĕ, or gummy corn, is of different colors; some is of a light
red; some yellow flaked with red; and some is in color like hard white;
but all these slightly differing strains are alike in this, that when
the kernels dry they shrink up and become rough, or wrinkled. The name,
ma´ikadicakĕ, comes from kadi´cakĕ, or gum-like.

Ma´ikadicakĕ was the least grown of our five principal varieties of corn;
however, a good deal of this variety is still raised on this reservation.

Ma´ikadicakĕ was sometimes roasted green, when the kernels chewed up
gummy in the mouth; but the one recognized use of this variety was to
make corn balls.

_Mä´pĭ Mĕĕ´pĭ I’´kiuta_, or _Corn Balls_. Into a clay pot while yet
cold, I put shelled corn and set it on the fire. As the grain parched, I
stirred it with a stick. The heat made the kernels pop open somewhat, but
not much.

Meanwhile fats were roasted over the coals on the point of a stick; and
these and the parched grain were dropped into the corn mortar and pounded
together. I then reached into the mortar and took out a handful of the
meal, which being oily with the fats, held together in a lump. This lump
I squeezed in my fingers and then tapped it gently on the edge of the
mortar, making a slight dent or groove, lengthwise, in one side of the
lump. The lump or ball—it was not exactly round—I dropped into a wooden
bowl. The process was repeated until the bowl was full.

Our native name for corn ball is mä´pi mĕĕ´pĭ i’´kiuta, from mä´pi,
something pounded, mĕĕ´pĭ, mortar, and i’´kiuta, hit or pressed against;
that is pounded meal pressed against the mortar; but we translate, just
corn ball.

Corn balls were an acceptable present for a woman to give her daughter to
take to her husband; the son-in-law might himself eat the corn balls, or
share them with his parents or sisters.

As I have said, the one recognized use of gummy corn was for parching to
make corn balls; but any of the soft corns could be used to make corn
balls, as soft yellow, soft white, blue, light red, and the like.

_Parched Soft Corn._ Corn of any of the soft varieties parched in a
pot as just described, was often carried by hunters or travelers to be
eaten as a lunch. The corn was carried in a little bag made by drying a
buffalo’s heart skin.

_Parching Whole Ripe Ears._ We parched the whole ears, sometimes, of ripe
soft white and soft yellow corn. We had many squash spits piled up in the
rear of the lodge behind the beds; these made excellent roasting sticks.
The ear was stuck on the end of the stick and held over the coals.

Parching ripe corn on the ear was a winter custom; but boys herding
horses in the summer also parched whole ears sometimes for their midday

We did parch other kinds of corn thus, besides soft white and soft
yellow, but they were not so good.

The gummy was not cooked in this way.

_Parching Hard Yellow Corn with Sand._ We sometimes parched hard yellow
corn in a clay pot of our own make, with sand. Down on the sand bars by
the Missouri we found clean, pure sand; if I wanted to parch hard yellow,
I put a handful of this sand in my clay pot.

The pot I now set on the coals of the fire place until the sand within
was red hot. With a piece of old tent skin to protect my hand, I drew
the pot a little way from the coals and dropped a double handful of corn
within. I stirred the corn back and forth over the sand with a little

When I thought the corn was quite heated through, I put the pot back on
the coals again, still stirring the corn with the stick. Very soon all
the kernels cracked open with a sharp crackling noise; they burst open
much as you say white man’s popcorn does.

Hard yellow corn parched in this way was softer than even the soft corns
parched in a pot without sand.

No variety of corn was good cooked in this way, except hard yellow; no
other kind would do.

_Mạdạpo´zi Pạ´kici, or Lye-Made Hominy._ There was another way in which
we prepared hard and soft yellow and hard and soft white; this was to
make it into hominy with lye.

I collected about a quart of ashes; only two kinds were used, cottonwood
or elm wood ashes. When I was cooking with such wood and thought of
making hominy, I was careful to collect the ashes, raking away the other
kinds first.

I put on an iron kettle nearly full of water, and brought it to a boil.
Into the boiling water I put the ashes, stirring them about with a stick.
Then I set the pot off to steep for a short time.

When the ashes had settled I poured the lye off into a vessel and cleaned
the pot thoroughly.

In earlier times the ashes were boiled in an earthen pot as indeed I have
often seen it done when I was a girl. I was not quite twenty when we
bought an iron pot for cooking. Before that we used only earthen pots for
cooking in our family.

Having cleaned the pot I poured the lye back into it, put the pot on the
fire, and added shelled, ripe, dried corn. This I boiled until the hulls
came off the grain and the corn kernels appeared white.

I added a little water, and took the pot off the fire; I drained off the

I poured water into the pot and washed the corn, rubbing the kernels
between my palms; I drained off the water.

I poured in water and washed the corn a second time, in the same way; I
drained off the water.

Again I put water in the pot and boiled the corn in it. As the corn was
already soft, this boiling did not take long. I now added fats, and
beans, and sometimes dried squash, all at the same time; and the pot I
replaced on the fire. When the beans and squash were cooked, the mess was
ready to eat.

Corn so prepared we call mạdạpo´zi pạ´kici, or boiled-whole-corn rubbed.
It is so called because the hulls of the kernels were rubbed off between
the palms at the time the corn was washed in water after the lye was
poured off.

_General Characteristics of the Varieties_

We Hidatsas thought that our five principal varieties of corn, hard and
soft white, hard and soft yellow, and gummy, had characteristics that
marked them quite distinctly one from the other.

For one thing, they had each a distinct taste. If at night I were given
to eat of hard white corn, or hard yellow or soft yellow, I could at once
tell each from any of the others. If I were given mush at night made from
these three varieties, each by itself, I could distinguish each variety,
not by its smell, but in my mouth by taste.

Meal made by pounding ripe hard white corn became thick and mushy when
boiled in a pot.

Tsï´di tapa´, or soft yellow corn, was quite soft to pound when we made
meal of it; and the boiled meal, or mush, seemed to contain a good deal
of water in it—that is, it seemed thin and gruel-like when we came to eat

To pound tsï´di tso´ki, or hard yellow corn, into meal took a long time;
but when it had been pounded and the meal boiled into food, it was very
good to eat and had an appetizing smell.

Of the nine varieties I have named, the atạ´ki, or soft white, was the
earliest maturing. If seeds of all nine varieties were planted at the
same time, the soft white would always be the first to ripen in the fall;
and the tsï´di tso´ki, or hard yellow, would be the last to ripen.

Although the blue, light red, dark red, pink top, and soft white were
all soft or flour corns, yet the soft white was the earliest to ripen. I
reckon the soft white, also, to be the softest of all our varieties of

I also rate the hard yellow and hard white as equal in value. Both are
equally hard, and can not be pounded up into the fine flour or meal which
we get from the soft varieties.

The hard yellow and soft yellow we thought were the best varieties from
which to prepare half-boiled dried corn for winter storing. The dark and
light reds were also used, and if not quite so good, were but little
inferior. Indeed, for half-boiled dried corn, all varieties were used,
even the ma´ikadicakĕ, or gummy; but this last we did not think a good
variety for this way of putting up corn. Our gummy corn had but one well
recognized use; it was good for parching to make corn balls.

[Illustration: Figure 19]

[Illustration: Figure 20]

_Fodder Yield_

I do not think there was any perceptible difference in the fodder yield
of the various races of corn which we Hidatsas cultivated; but the fodder
yield was always much heavier in rainy years. In a dry season, the stalks
of the corn would be small and weak; and the leaves would be smaller than
in seasons of good rainfall.

_Developing New Varieties_

We Hidatsas knew that slightly differing varieties could be produced
by planting seeds that varied somewhat from the main stock. A woman
named Good Squash used to raise a variety of corn that tasted just like
soft white. This corn had large swelling kernels with deep yellow,
almost reddish, stripes running down the sides of the grain. We called
it Adaka´-dahu-ita ko´xati, or Arikaras’ corn, though it was not
Arikara corn at all. Good Squash’s daughter, Hunts Water, lives on this
reservation; she may have some of the seed of this variety.


_Names and Description_

Quite often ears of corn appear that are marked by some unusual form; and
for the more marked of these forms, we had special names. Following are
some of them:

_Na’´ta-tawo´xi._ From na’´ta, grain; and tawo´xi, a name applied to
youth, or the young, and conveying the idea of small. This is an ear of
corn having seventeen or eighteen rows of very small kernels. Our largest
ears of corn had usually but fourteen rows of kernels of normal size.

In the old legends of my tribe appear many women bearing this name

_Wi´da-Aka´ta._ From wi´da, goose; and aka´ta, roof of the mouth. This is
an ear having two rows of corn on either side, with vacant spaces on the
cob between the double rows; often, toward the larger end of the ear, the
two rows will expand into three. Goodbird has made a drawing of such an
ear (figure 19). A wi´da-aka´ta ear, we thought, looks like the roof of
the mouth of a goose.

_I´ta-Ca´ca._ Forked face, or cloven face; from i´ta, face. A kind of
double ear. Goodbird has made a drawing of one (figure 20).

_Okĕi´jpita._ From o´kĕ, or o´ki, head-ornament, plume; i´jpu, top; and
i´ta, fruit. This is a small ear that sometimes appears at the top, on
the tassel of the plant.

Okĕi´jpita ears, if large enough, we gathered and put in with the rest
of the harvest; but smaller ears of this kind, hardly worth threshing,
we gathered and fed to our horses. Sometimes, if the harvesters were in
haste, these ears were left in the field on the stalk; a pony was then
led into the field to crop the ears.

_I´tica´kupadi._ I´tica´kupadi, or muffled head; so called because the
kernels come down and cover the face or bearded end of the cob quite to
the point. We thought such an ear looked like a man with his head muffled
up in his robe.

Muffled-head ears were more numerous in good crop years than in poor
years; and we thought such ears, if otherwise well favored, made good
seed corn.




_Sprouting the Seed_

Squash seed was planted early in June; or the latter part of May and the
first of June.

In preparation for planting, we first sprouted the seed.

I cut out a piece of tanned buffalo robe about two and a half feet long
and eighteen inches wide, and spread it on the floor of the lodge, fur
side up.

I took red-grass leaves, wetted them, and spread them out flat, matted
together in a thin layer on the fur. Then I opened my bag of squash
seeds, and having set a bowl of water beside me, I wet the seeds in
the water—not soaking them, just wetting—and put them on the matted
grass leaves until I had a little pile heaped up, in quantity about two

I next took broad leaved sage, the kind we use in a sweat lodge, and buck
brush leaves, and mixed them together. At squash planting time, the sage
is about four inches high

Into the mass of mixed sage-and-buck-brush leaves, I worked the wetted
squash seeds, until they were distributed well through it. The mass
I then laid on the grass matting, which I folded over and around it.
Finally I folded the buffalo skin over that, making a package about
fifteen by eighteen inches. We called this package kaku´i kida´kci,
squash-thing-bound, or squash bundle.

This squash bundle I hung on the drying pole near one of the posts. The
bundle did not hang directly over the fire, but a little to one side. Sed
si femina in domo menstrua erat, she should tell it so that the package
of seeds could be removed to the next lodge, or they would spoil.

After two days I took the bundle down and opened it. From a horn spoon I
sipped a little tepid water into my mouth and blew it over the seeds. I
took care that the water was neither too hot nor too cold, lest it kill
the seeds. I rebound the bundle and hung it up again on the drying pole.
At the end of another day the seeds were sprouted nearly an inch and were
ready to plant.

I took a handful of the grass-and-leaves, and from them separated the
sprouted squash seeds. A wooden bowl had been placed beside me with a
little moist earth in it. Into this bowl I put the seeds, sprinkling
a little earth over them to keep them moist. I was now ready to begin

_Planting the Sprouted Seed_

Usually two or three women did the family planting, working together.

One woman went ahead and with her hoe loosened up the ground for a
space of about fifteen inches in diameter, for the hill. Care was taken
that each hill was made in the place where there had been a hill the
year before. I am sure that in olden times we raised much better crops,
because we were careful to do so; using the same hill thus, each year,
made the soil here soft and loose, so that the plants thrived.

One woman, then, as I have said, with her hoe, loosened up the soil where
an old hill had stood, and made a new hill, about fifteen inches in
diameter at the base. Following her came another woman who planted the
sprouted seeds.

Four seeds were planted in each hill, in two pairs. The pairs should be
about twelve inches apart, and the two seeds in each pair, a half inch
apart. The seeds were planted rather under, or on one side of the hill,
and about two inches deep in the soil. A careful woman planted the seeds
with the sprouts upright; but even if she did not do this, the sprouts
grew quickly and soon appeared through the soil.

We had a reason for planting the squash seeds in the side of the hill.
The squash sprouts were soft, tender. If we planted them in level ground
the rains would beat down the soil, and it would pack hard and get
somewhat crusted, so that the sprouts could not break through; but if we
planted the sprouts on the side of the hill, the water from the rains
would flow over them and keep the soil soft. Likewise, we did not plant
the sprouted seeds on the top of the hill because here too the rain was
apt to beat the soil down hard.

We Indian women helped one another a good deal in squash planting;
especially would we do turns with our relatives. If I got behind with my
planting, some of my relatives, or friends from another family, would
come and help me. When a group of relatives thus labored together, four
women commonly went ahead making the hills, and two women followed,
planting the sprouted seeds.

_Harvesting the Squashes_

The squash harvest began a little before green corn came in. It was
our custom to pick squashes every fourth morning; and the fourth
picking—twelve days after the first picking—brought us to green corn time.

The first picking was, naturally, not very large—three or four
basketfuls, I think, in my father’s family; and these we ate ourselves.
The basket used for bringing in the squashes was about fifteen inches
across the mouth and eleven inches deep.

The second picking was about ten basketfuls, enough for us to eat
and spare a little surplus to our neighbors. After this each picking
increased until a maximum was reached, and then the pickings decreased in
size. The fifth or sixth picking was usually the largest.

The pickings were made before sunrise. In my father’s family, one of my
mothers and I usually attended to the actual picking. It was her habit to
get up early in the morning, go to the field and pluck the squashes from
the vines, piling them up in one place in the garden. She returned then
to the lodge; and after the morning meal, the rest of us women of the
household went out and fetched the squashes home in our baskets.

Squashes grow fast, and unless we picked them every four days, we did not
think them so good for food. Moreover, squashes that were four days old
we could slice for drying, knowing that the slices would be firm enough
to retain their shape unbroken. If the squashes were plucked greener, the
slices broke, or crumbled.

We could tell when a squash was four days old. Its diameter then was
about three and a quarter inches; some a little more, some a little less;
but we chiefly judged by the color of the fruit. A white squash should
just have rid itself of green; a green colored squash should have its
color a dark green. We could judge quite accurately thus, by the state of
the colors.

The hills yielded some three, some two, some only one squash at a
picking. I have made as many as six trips to our family garden for the
squashes of a single picking; our garden was distant as far as from here
to Packs Wolf’s cabin—three quarters of a mile.

We picked a good many squashes in a season. One year my mother fetched in
seventy baskets from our field. I have known families to bring in as many
as eighty, or even a hundred baskets, in a season.

The baskets, as they were brought in, were borne up on the drying stage,
and the squashes emptied out on the floor for slicing and drying;
squashes not cooked and eaten fresh were sliced and dried for winter,
excepting those saved for seed.

_Slicing the Squashes_

Slicing squashes for drying began about the third picking. Sometimes, in
good years, a few squashes might be sliced at the second picking; but at
the third picking, slicing and drying began in earnest.

When the squashes, emptied from the baskets, made a great heap on the
floor of the drying stage, the women of the family made a feast, cooking
much food for the purpose; some old women were then invited to come and
cut up the squashes with knives, into slices to dry. We regarded these
old women as hired; and I remember that in my father’s family we hired
sometimes eight, sometimes ten, sometimes only six. I think that at the
time I was a young woman, when my mothers made such a feast, about ten
old women came.

These old women ascended the drying stage, and sat, five on either side
of the pile of squashes. Each of the old women had a squash knife in her
hand, made of the thin part of the shoulder bone of a buffalo, if it was
an old-fashioned one; butcher knives of steel are now used.

The squashes were cut thus:

An old woman would draw a robe up over her lap, as she sat Indian
fashion, with ankles to the right, on the floor of the stage. She took a
squash in her left hand, and with her bone knife in her right, she sliced
the squash into slices about three eighths of an inch thick.

The squash was sliced from side to side, not from stem to blossom. An old
woman slicing squash would take up a squash, cut out the stem pit and the
blossom, then turn the squash sidewise and slice, beginning on the side
nearest her. The cut was made by pressing the bone blade downward into
the squash as the latter lay in her palm.

The first three slices and the last three of a large squash; or the first
two and the last two of a smaller squash, the old woman put beside her in
a pile, as her earnings for her work; upon this pile also went any squash
thought too small to be worth slicing.

These end slices we thought less valuable than those from the middle
of the squash; and unlike the latter, they were not spitted on willow
sticks, but were taken home by the old woman worker in her blanket, or
her robe, or in something else in which she could carry them. About three
sacks of these inferior slices would be carried home at one time by an
old woman worker.

These less valuable slices being cut close to the rind were of solid
flesh. The better slices had each a hollow in the center, caused by the
seed cavity. The old women did not spit their solid slices on willows,
but dried them on the ground, carefully guarding them against rain; for
if wet, the drying slices would spoil.

_Squash Spits_

All the better slices, the ones to be retained by the family that hired
the old women workers, were spitted on willow rods to dry.

These rods we called kaku´iptsa; from kaku´i, squash; and i´ptsa, spit,
stringer. The word may be translated squash spit.

Squash spits were usually made of the small willows that we call mi´da
hatsihi´ci, or red willow; from mi´da, wood; and hi´ci, light red. When
the outer skin of one’s finger, for example, is peeled off, the color
of the flesh beneath we call hi´ci. This red willow however is not
kinikinik, which white men call red willow.

A squash spit should be about half an inch in diameter; and its length
should be measured from the center of my chest to the end of my index
finger, as I do now; or about two feet, six, or two feet, seven inches.

A spit was sharpened at one end to a point. At the other end there was
left about an inch of the natural bark like a button, to keep the squash
slices from slipping off. The rest of the rod was peeled bare.

Small Ankle used to make our drying spits for us. He cut the rods in June
or early July when the bark peeled off easily; he peeled off the bark
with his teeth.

It was his habit to cut quite a number of rods at a time and after
peeling them, he would tie them up in a bundle of about three hundred
rods, so that they would dry straight—would not warp, I mean, in drying.

In seasons when they were not in use our squash spits were made into a
bundle as big as I could hold in my two arms and bound about with two
thongs. The bundle was stored away on the floor of the lodge, under the
eaves, or in the atu´ti, as we called the space under the descending
roof. The next year, in harvest time, the bundle was unbound and the
spits examined to see if any had warped. Such warped ones were thrown
away, and new ones were made to take their places.

_Spitting the Slices_

Each of the old women hired to slice our squashes worked with a pile of
these squash spits beside her; and as she sliced a squash she laid aside
those slices which she retained as her pay; and taking the others up
in her right hand, she spitted them with a single thrust, upon one of
the willow spits. The spitted slices were then separated about a half
inch apart, so that the first two fingers of the hand could be thrust
astraddle the spit between each slice and its neighbor. This was to give
the slices air to dry.

One willow spit held the slices of four squashes, and two slices from a
fifth squash, if the squashes were of average size.

Sometimes an old woman brought her granddaughter along to help her, the
little girl spitting the slices as her grandmother cut them.

Drying rods, which I have already described, were laid across the upper
rails of the stage; and each spit as it was loaded was laid with either
end resting on a drying rod. The spits were laid with a certain method.
Each projecting end bore two squash slices, which acted as a button to
stay the spit from being blown down by the wind.

As the drying rods rested transversely on the upper rails, the spits
which the rods bore lay parallel with the rails, and therefore lengthwise
with the stage. The spits were laid with the heavier, or bark covered end
toward the front, or ladder end of the stage, which in our family, was
the right, as one came out of the lodge door.

[Illustration: Owl Woman putting squash slices on a spit]

[Illustration: Squash slices drying

Are on squash spits and on stage built to resemble the top of an old time
corn stage.]

When a pair of drying rods was quite filled with these loaded spits,
they made what we called one i´tsạki—one walking stick, or one staff. We
counted the quantity of squash we dried as so many staves.

We never laid the loaded spits on the floor of the stage, as the weight
of the load caused the drying squash slices to warp, thus making them
hard to handle.

_In Case of Rain_

If a sudden rain came up the day we began drying squash, we felt no
concern, for the slices having just been cut, were still green and would
not be harmed.

But if rain threatened the second day, or thereafter, we women ran up on
the stage and drew the loaded spits toward the middle of the drying rods;
and over them we spread hides, upon which we laid poles, or unused drying
rods to weight the hides against the wind. Sometimes we even lashed the
poles down with thongs.

If the drying squash got wet after the first day, the slices swelled up,
and the fruit spoiled.

_Drying and Storing_

When the squash slices had dried for two days, two women of the family
went up on the stage; and working, one from the front, the other from the
rear end of the stage, they took the spits one by one, and with thumb
and fingers of each hand slipped the drying slices into the middle of
the spit, thus loosening them from it; and for the same purpose, the
spit itself was turned and twisted around as it lay skewered through the
slices. When well loosened, the squash slices were again spaced apart as
before, and the spit was replaced on the rods, to be left for another
day. On the evening of the third day the slices were dry enough to string.

The strings, three to six in number, had been prepared from dry grass.
Each string was seven Indian fathoms long; we Hidatsas measure a fathom
as the distance between a woman’s two outstretched hands. Each grass
string had a wooden needle about ten inches long, bound to one end.

All the slices on one spit were now slid off and the worker by a single
thrust skewered the wooden needle through them and slid them down the
long string to the farther end; this end of the string was now looped
back and tied just above the first three or four slices of the dried
squash that fell down the string; doing thus made these slices act as a
button or anchor to prevent the rest of the squash slices from slipping
off the string.

In stringing the squash slices, the spit was held in the right hand, the
left hand straddling the spit with the index and second fingers. The
slices were slid down the spit toward the right hand, the spit being then
drawn out and cast away. The squash slices were held firmly in the first
two fingers and thumb of the left hand and the needle was run through
the hole left by withdrawing the spit. As the spit had a greater diameter
than the grass string, the slices easily slid down the string.

[Illustration: Figure 21]

When stringing slices of squash myself, I always sat on the floor of the
drying stage with a pile of loaded spits at my left side. As I unloaded a
spit, I dropped it at my right side. The grass string hung over the edge
of the stage floor, on the side nearest the lodge. On the ground below I
had spread some scraped hides, so that the squash slices, falling down
the string, would not touch the ground and become soiled.

When a string became full, I tossed the end over the edge of the floor,
letting it fall down upon the heap on the scraped hides.

The needle used to skewer the slices was bound to the end of the grass
string two inches or more from its extremity, as shown in figure 21. When
the string was filled, one had but to turn the needle athwart, and it
became a button or anchor, preventing the slices from slipping off.

The strings filled with dried squash slices, were now taken into the
lodge. Between the right front main post of the lodge and the circle of
outer posts and near the puncheon fire screen at the place it bent in
toward the wall, a stage had been built. Two forked posts, about as high
as my head, supported a pole ten or twelve feet long; and over this pole
the strings of squash were looped, care being taken that they hung at a
height to let the dogs run under without touching and contaminating the
squash. I speak of the right front main post; I use right and left in the
Indian sense, which assumes that an earth lodge faces the doorway; the
door indeed is the lodge’s mouth.

On sunny days these strings were taken outside. Several of the long
poles, or drying rods, already described, were brought down from the top
of the stage and lashed to the outside of the stage posts on either side.
If the harvest was a good one, a row of these rods might extend the whole
length of either side of the stage, and even around the ends. On the
railing thus made the squash strings were taken out and hung on a fair
day; in the morning, on the east side; in the afternoon, on the west side
of the stage.

On wet days, the squash strings were left inside the lodge; and if the
rain was falling heavily, a tent skin, or scraped rawhides, dried and
ready to tan, were thrown over them to protect from dampness. The air in
the lodge was damp on a rainy day; and sometimes the roof leaked.

When the strings of squash were thought to be thoroughly dried, they were
ready for storing. A portion was packed in parfleche bags, to be taken to
the winter lodge, or to be used for food on journeys. The rest was stored
away in a cache pit, covered with loose corn.

Several seasons, as I recollect, the women of my father’s family were a
month harvesting and drying their squashes.

_Squash Blossoms_

Besides our squashes, we also gathered squash blossoms, three to five
basketfuls at a picking; and they were a recognized part of our squash

On every squash vine are blossoms of two kinds; one kind bears a squash,
but the other never bears any fruit, for it grows, as we Indians say, at
the wrong place among the leaves. We Indians knew this, and gathered only
these barren blossoms; if we did not they dried up anyway and became a
dead loss, so we always gathered them.

These blossoms we picked in early morning while they were fresh, but not
if rain had fallen in the night, as the rain splashed dirt and sand into
the blossoms, making them unfit for food.

The blossoms we took home in baskets. On the prairie there is a kind of
grass which we Indians call “antelope hair.” We chose a place where this
grass grew thick and was two or three inches high, to dry the blossoms
on. They were taken out of the basket one by one; the green calyx leaves
were stripped off and the blossom was pinched flat, opened, and spread
on the grass, with the inside of the blossom upward, thus exposing it to
the sun and air. A second blossom was split on one side, opened, and laid
upon the first, upon the petal end, so that the thicker, bulbous part of
the first—the part indeed that had been pinched flat—remained exposed to
dry. This was continued until quite a space on the grass was covered with
the blossoms.

They remained all day drying. In the evening I would go out and gather
them, pulling them up in whole sheets. Splitting them open and laying
them down one upon another, caused them to adhere as they dried, so that
they lay on the grass in a kind of thin matting. I always began pulling
up the blossoms from one side of this matting, and as I say, they came
away in whole sheets.

We put away the dried blossoms in bags, like those used for corn. These
bags were made with round bottom and soft-skin mouth that tied easily.
Bags were usually made of calf skin.

In my father’s family we always put away one sack full of dried squash
blossoms for winter.


_The First Squashes_

The first squashes of the season that we plucked were about three inches
in diameter; that is, they were gathered as soon as we thought they were
fit for cooking; and that same day we picked blossoms also.

There might be three or four basketfuls of squashes at this first
picking. These squashes we did not dry, but ate fresh; as they were the
first vegetables of the season, we were eager to eat them. We cooked
fresh squashes as follows:

_Boiling Fresh Squash in a Pot._ I took a clay pot of our native
manufacture, partly filled it with fresh squashes and added water. The
smaller squashes I put in whole; larger ones I cut in two. I did not
remove the seeds; left in the squash they made it taste sweeter.

[Illustration: Figure 22

Redrawn from sketch by Goodbird.]

I now took big leaves of the sunflower and thrust them, stem upward,
between the squashes and the sides of the pot; the leaves then stood in a
circle around the inside of the pot, with the upper surface of each leaf
inward. I added more squashes until the pot was quite full, even heaping.
The sunflower leaves I then bent inward, folding them naturally over the
squashes. I now set the pot on the fire.

Under my direction Goodbird has made a sketch of a pot of fresh squashes
(figure 22); the sunflower leaves are placed and ready to be folded down.

Squashes thus prepared were boiled a little longer than beef is boiled.
The sunflower leaves were put over the pot merely as a lid or covering.
It is hard to cook squashes without a cover, and this was our way of
providing one. Blossoms were not added when squashes were thus prepared.

When the cooking was done, the green sunflower leaves, used as a cover,
were removed with a stick, and thrown away.

I had a bowl of cold water near by. I dipped my hand into the water and
lifted out the squash pieces one by one, and laid them on a bowl or dish.
The cold water protected my hand; for the squashes were quite hot.

Most of the water in the pot had boiled out, only a little being left in
the bottom of the pot. The pieces of squash immersed in this hot water
I lifted out with a horn spoon. Not much water was ever put in the pot
anyhow, for it was the steam mostly that cooked the squashes. The pot
was quite heaped with squashes at the first, but the cooking reduced the
bulk, making the heap go down.

The squash pieces in the bottom of the pot were apt to be a little burned
or browned; and so were made sweeter, and were very good to eat.

This was the way we cooked fresh squashes in my father’s family until I
was eighteen years old; at that time we got an iron dinner pot, and began
to boil our food in it instead of the old fashioned clay pot.

Fresh squashes, to be at their best, should be cooked on the day they are
picked; left over to the next day they never taste so good.

_Squashes Boiled with Blossoms._ Fresh squashes were sometimes boiled
with fresh blossoms and fats. Sunflower leaves were not then used as a
covering. Squashes so cooked were usually small; and when done, they were
lifted out of the pot with a horn spoon. Cooking this mess was really by
boiling, not steaming, as in the mess above described.

_Other Blossom Messes_

When I wanted to cook fresh squash blossoms, I plucked them early in the
morning, stripping them of the little points, or spicules shown as _a_,
_a´_, and _a´´_ in figure 23. These spicules I stripped backward, or
downward. I do not know why we did this; it was our custom. Then I broke
the blossom off the stem at the place in the figure marked with a dotted
line. The green bulbous part of the blossom I crushed or pinched between
my thumb and finger, to make it soft and hasten cooking; for the yellow,
blossom part soon cooked.

[Illustration: Figure 23]

I will now give you recipes for some messes made with these fresh,
crushed, spicule-stripped blossoms; however, dried blossoms were often
used in these messes instead, and were just as good.

_Boiled Blossoms._ A little water was brought to boil in a clay pot. A
handful of blossoms, either fresh or dried, was tossed into the pot and
stirred with a stick. They shrunk up quite small, and another handful of
blossoms was tossed in. This was continued until a small basketful of the
blossoms had been stirred into the pot.

Into this a handful of fat was thrown, or a little bone grease was poured
in; and the mess was let boil a little longer than meat is boiled, and a
little less than fresh squash is boiled. The mess was then ready to eat.

_Blossoms Boiled with Mạdạpo´zi I’ti´a._ Mạdạpo´zi i’ti´a was made, the
pot being put on the fire in the early afternoon and boiled for the rest
of the day. In the night following the fire would go out and the mess
would get cold.

In the morning the pot was set on the fire again, and if I was going to
use fresh blossoms I went out to the field to gather them, expecting to
return and find the pot heated and ready. The newly gathered blossoms,
crushed as described, I dropped in the rewarmed mess, and boiled for half
an hour, when the pot was taken off, and the mess was served.

Sometimes this mess was further varied by adding beans.

_Blossoms Boiled with Mäpi´ Nakapa´._ The blossoms were first boiled.
Meal of pounded parched corn and fats were then added and the whole was
boiled for half an hour.

Like the previous mess, this was sometimes varied by adding beans.


_Selecting for Seed_

Seed squashes were chosen at the first or second picking of the
season. At these pickings, as we went from hill to hill plucking the
four-days-old squashes, we observed what ones appeared the plumpest and
finest; and these we left on the vine to be saved for seed. We never
chose more than one squash in a single hill; and to mark where it lay,
and even more, to protect it from frost, we were careful to pull up a
weed or two, or break off a few squash leaves and lay them over the
squash; and thus protected, it was left on the vine.

There was a good deal of variety in our squashes. Some were round,
some rather elongated, some had a flattened end; some were dark, some
nearly white, some spotted; some had a purple, or yellow top. We did not
recognize these as different strains, as we did the varieties of corn;
and when I selected squashes for seed, I did not choose for color, but
for size and general appearance. Squashes of different colors grew in the
same hill; and all varieties tasted exactly alike.

In later pickings, while we continued to gather the four-days-old
squashes we did not disturb the seed squashes. They were easily avoided,
for if not plainly marked by the leaves I have said we laid over them,
they could be recognized by their greater size, and their rough rind. A
four-days-old squash is smaller and has a smoother rind than a mature

_Gathering the Seed Squashes_

The time for plucking the seed squashes was after we had gathered the
first ripe corn, but had not yet gathered our seed corn. It was our
custom to pluck our corn until the first frost fell; then to gather our
seed squashes; and afterwards our seed corn. Some years the first frost
fell very early, before we had plucked our first corn; in such seasons we
gathered our seed squashes first, for we never let them lie in the field
after the first frost had set in.

On this reservation the first frost falls at the end of the moon
following this present moon. We Indians call the present moon the
wild cherry moon, because June berries ripen in the first half, and
choke-cherries in the second half of the moon; and we reckon June berries
as a kind of cherry. Our next moon we call the harvest moon; and in it
wild plums ripen and the first frost falls.

The seed squashes when plucked, were all taken into the earth lodge and
laid in a pile, on a bench. The bench was made of planks split from
cottonwood trunks, laid lengthwise with the lodge wall. The squashes
were piled in a heap on this bench; they were bigger than four-days-old
squashes and their rinds were rougher and hard, like a shell.

_Cooking the Ripe Squashes_

When now we wanted to have squash for a meal, I went over to this heap of
ripe seed squashes and brought a number over near the fire. There I broke
them open, carefully saving the seeds. I would lay a squash on the floor
of the lodge; with an elk horn scraper I would strike the squash smart
blows on the side, splitting it open.

The broken half rinds I piled up one above another, concave side down,
until ready to put them in the pot. Ripe squashes were less delicate than
green four-days-old squashes, and did not spoil so quickly.

I was able to boil about ten ripe squashes in our family pot; but it took
three such cookings of ten squashes each to make a mess for our family,
which I have said was a large one. We boiled these ripe squashes like the
four-days-old, in a very little water.

_Saving the Seed_

Always near the fireplace in our lodge there lay a piece of scraped hide
about two feet square. It had many uses. When boiling meat we would lift
the steaming meat from the pot and lay it on the hide before serving. We
also used the hide for a drying cloth.

This piece of hide I drew near me when I was breaking ripe squashes;
and as I removed the seeds I laid them in a pile on the hide. Squash
seeds, freshly removed from the squash, are moist and mixed with more or
less pulpy matter. To remove this pulp I took up a small handful of the
fresh seeds, laid a dry corn cob in my palm and alternately squeezed and
opened my hand over the mess. The porous surface of the cob absorbed the
moisture and sucked up the pulpy matter, thus cleansing the seeds. As
the cleansed seeds fell back upon the hide I took up another handful and
repeated the process.

If there was a warm autumn sun, I often carried the hide with the
cleansed seeds upon it, and laid it on the floor of the drying stage
outside for the seeds to dry; but if the day was chill or winter had set
in, I dried the seeds by the fire.

When quite dried, the seeds were put in a skin sack to be stored in a
cache pit. The storing bag was often the whole skin of a buffalo calf,
with only the neck left open for a mouth; or it might be made of a small
fawn skin; or it might be made of a piece of old tent cover and shaped
like a cylinder.

_Eating the Seeds_

Sometimes we boiled ripe squashes whole, seeds and all; and we then ate
the seeds. They tasted something like peanuts.

These seeds of boiled squashes were eaten just as they came from the
squash. I would take up two or three seeds in my mouth, crushing them
with my teeth; and with my tongue I would separate the kernels from the
shells which I spat out. I was rather fond of squash seeds.

I have also heard of families who prepared squash seeds by parching or
roasting; but I never did this myself.

_Roasting Ripe Squashes_

I have heard that in old days my tribe used to roast fall-kept ripe
squashes. They were buried in the ashes and roasted whole. I never did
this myself, however.

There is a story that an old man who was blind, was handed a squash thus
roasted. He found the squash to his liking, but did not know how it had
been cooked.

“Girl,” he cried, “let me have the broth this was boiled in!”

“The squash was roasted in the ashes; it has no broth,” answered the girl
who had handed it to him.

The blind man laughed. “I thought it was boiled in a pot,” he said.

I judge from this story that several squashes had been roasted, and that
the blind man got one as his share.

_Storing the Unused Seed Squashes_

It was our custom to remove to our winter village in the mida´-pạx´di
widi´c, or leaf-turn-yellow moon; it corresponds about to October. I
remember the leaves used to be falling from the trees while we were
working about our winter lodges, getting ready for cold weather.

When moving time came in the fall, any squashes left over in the lodge,
uneaten, were stored in a cache pit until spring. But it was a difficult
thing to store these squashes so that they would keep sound; and when
spring came many of them would be found to have rotted. Some families
were more careful in making ready and storing their cache pits than were
others. Squashes kept best when stored in carefully prepared pits.

On the family’s return the next spring the cache pit was opened; and the
squashes that had kept sound could be used for cooking, and their seeds
could be planted. The number thus stored over winter was not large.

The seeds of rotted squashes were just as good to plant as were the seeds
of the sound squashes.

We carried no squash seeds with us to our winter village. For our spring
planting we depended on the seed we had left stored in the cache in our
summer lodge, in my father’s family.

The seeds of a ripe squash are swelled and plump in the center; those
of a four-days-old squash are flat. We could tell in this way if squash
seeds were ripe.

_Squashes, Present Seed_

I grew our native squashes in my son Goodbird’s garden until four years
ago. I stopped cultivating them because my son’s family did not seem
to care to eat them. Last year a squash vine came up wild in my son’s
garden. The squashes that grew on it were of two colors. I saved some of
the seed and planted them this year. It is from their yield that I have
given you seed.

As I have said, squashes were of different colors and varied a good deal
in shape; yet we recognized but one strain of seed. “We plant but one
kind of seed,” we said, “and all colors and shapes grow from it, dark,
white, purple, round, elongated.”

_Squash Dolls_

There is one other thing I will tell before we forsake the subject of
squashes. Little girls of ten or eleven years of age used to make dolls
of squashes.

When the squashes were brought in from the field, the little girls
would go to the pile and pick out squashes that were proper for dolls.
I have done so, myself. We used to pick out the long ones that were
parti-colored; squashes whose tops were white or yellow and the bottoms
of some other color. We put no decorations on these squashes that we had
for dolls. Each little girl carried her squash about in her arms and sang
for it as for a babe. Often she carried it on her back, in her calf skin



_Planting Beans_

Bean planting followed immediately after squash planting.

Beans were planted in hills the size and shape of squash hills, or about
seven by fourteen inches; but if made in open ground the hills were not
placed so far apart in the row. Squash hills, like corn hills, stood
about four feet apart in the row, measuring from center to center; but
bean hills might be placed two feet or less in the row.

Beans, however, were very commonly planted not in open ground, but
between our rows of corn; the hills were arranged as shown in diagram
(figure 8, page 25).

Corn hills, I have said, stood four feet, or a little less in the row,
and the rows were about four feet apart,[17] when corn was planted by
itself. But if beans were to be planted between, the corn rows were
placed a little farther apart, to make room for the bean hills.

_Putting in the Seeds_

To make a hill for beans, I broke up and loosened the soil with my
hoe, scraping away the dry top soil; the hill I then made of the soft,
slightly moist under-soil. The hill, as suggested by the measurements,
was rather elongated.

I took beans, three in each hand, held in thumb and first two fingers,
and buried them in a side of the hill, two inches deep, by a simultaneous
thrust of each hand, as I stooped over; the two groups of seeds were six
inches apart.

I have heard that some families planted four seeds in each group, instead
of three; but I always put in three seeds and think that the better way.
Figure 24 will explain the two ways of planting.

I am not sure that I know just why we planted beans always in the side of
the hill; I have said we planted squash thus because the sprouted seeds
were tender and the soil in the side of the hill did not bake hard after
a rain. Also, we were careful not to make our bean hills too large, as
the heavy rains turned the soft soil into mud which beat down over the
vines, killing them.

_Hoeing and Cultivating_

These subjects I have sufficiently described, I think, when I told you
how we hoed and cultivated corn.


Threshing was in the fall, after the beans had ripened and the pods were
dead and dried. Sometimes, when the weather had been favorable, the
bean vines were quite dry and could be threshed the same day they were
gathered. But if the weather was a little damp, or if, as was usually the
case, the vines were still a little green, they had to be dried a day or
two before they could be threshed.

To prepare for this labor, I went out into the field and pulled up all
the corn stalks in a space four or five yards in diameter; this was for a
drying place.

I pulled up the vines of one bean hill and transferred them to my left
hand, where I held them by the roots; I gathered another bunch of bean
vines in my right hand, as many as I could conveniently carry; and I took
these vines, borne in my two hands, to the drying place, and laid them on
the ground, roots up, spreading them out a little. I thus worked until I
had pulled up all the vines that grew near the drying place.

[Illustration: Figure 24

Redrawn from sketch by Goodbird.]

I made several such drying places, as the need required; and on them I
put all the bean vines to dry.

At the end of about three days, when the vines were dry I took out into
the field half of an old tent cover and laid it on the ground in an open
space made by clearing away the corn stalks. This tent cover, so laid,
was to be my threshing floor.

We never laid this tent cover at the edge of the field on the grass,
because in threshing the vines, some of the beans would fly up and fall
outside the tent cover, on the ground. We always picked these stray beans
up carefully, after threshing. This could not be done if we threshed on
the grass.

My threshing floor ready, I took up some of the dry vines and laid them
on the tent cover in a heap, about three feet high. I got upon this heap
with my moccasined feet and smartly trampled it, now and then standing on
one foot, while I shuffled and scraped the other over the dry vines; this
was done to shake the beans loose from their pods.

When the vines were pretty well trampled I pushed them over two or three
feet to one side of the tent cover; and having fetched fresh vines, I
made another heap about three feet high, which also I trampled and pushed
aside. When I had trampled three or four heaps in this manner I was ready
to beat them.

We preferred to tread out our beans thus, because beating them with a
stick made the seeds fly out in all directions upon the ground; when the
vines were trampled, this would not happen. However, after the treading
was over, there were always a few unopened pods still clinging to the
vines; and to free the beans from these pods, we beat the vines at the
end of every three or four treadings.

This beating I did with a stick, about the size of the stick used as a
flail in threshing corn.

I always threshed my beans on a windy day if possible, so that I might
winnow them immediately after the threshing. If the wind died down, I
covered over the threshed beans and waited until the wind came up again.
A small carrying basket or a wooden bowl, was used to winnow with.

After the beans were winnowed, they were dried one more day, either on a
tent cover in the garden, or at home on a skin placed on the ground near
the drying stage. At the end of this day’s drying, they were ready to be
packed in sacks.

Our bean harvests varied a good deal from year to year; in my father’s
family, from as little as half a sack, to as much as three barrels. The
biggest harvest our family ever put up, that I remember, was equivalent
to about three barrelfuls. Of course we did not use barrels in those days.

Bean threshing never lasted long; it was work that could be done rapidly.

Gathering up the vines, threshing, and winnowing took about a day and a
half; the actual threshing lasted only about half a day. But this does
not take into account the time the vines and the threshed beans lay

I remember that one year, when our crop was of good size, for the whole
work of threshing and labor of getting our bean crop in, I spent but
three days. In this time I had gathered up the vines, threshed them, and
winnowed the threshed beans.

However, the time necessary for these labors varied much with the crop,
the weather, and the greenness of the vines.


There were five varieties of beans in common use in my tribe, as follows:

    Ama´ca ci´pica                     Black bean
    Ama´ca hi´ci                       Red bean
    Ama´ca pu´xi                       Spotted bean
    Ama´ca ita´ wina´ki matu´hica      Shield-figured bean
    Ama´ca atạ´ki                      White bean

These varieties we planted, each by itself; and each kind, again, was
kept separate in threshing; also, only beans of the same variety were put
in one bag for storing. Black, red, white, shield-figured, spotted, each
had a separate bag.

Besides the foregoing varieties, there were some families who raised a
variety of yellow beans. I once planted some seed of this variety, but
did not find that they bred very true to color; I do not know if this was
because I did not get very good seed.

I do not think these yellow beans were in use in my tribe in very old
times. Whether they were imported to us by white men, or, as seems
likely, were brought from other tribes, I do not know.

The white beans now raised in this part of the reservation, seed of which
you have purchased, is from white man’s stock. The seed was brought to
us, I think, when I was a little girl, or about sixty years ago. But we
Hidatsas and Mandans had white beans before this. The two strains are
easily distinguished. In the white man’s variety, the eye is a little
sunken in the seed. In the native white beans, the eye is on a level with
the body of the bean.

_Selecting Seed Beans_

In the spring, when I came to plant beans, I was very careful to select
seed for the following points: seed should be fully ripe; seed should be
of full color; seed should be plump, and of good size.

If the red was not a deep red, or the black a deep black, I knew the seed
was not fully ripe, and I would reject it. So also of the white, the
spotted, and the shield-figured.

Did I learn from white men thus to select seed? (Laughing heartily.) No,
this custom comes down to us from very old times. We were always taught
to select seed thus, in my tribe.

White men do not seem to know very much about raising beans. Our school
teacher last year raised beans in a field near the school-house; and when
harvest time came, he tried to pluck the pods directly into a basket,
without treading or threshing the vines. I think it would take him a very
long time to harvest his beans in that manner.

_Cooking and Uses_

Of the several varieties, I like to eat black beans best. Especially I
like to use black beans in making mä´dakapa. However, all the other kinds
were good.[18]

I have already described to you some of the dishes we made, and still
make, with beans. Following are some messes I have not described:

_Ama´ca Di´hĕ_, or _Beans-Boiled_. The beans were boiled in a clay pot,
with a piece of buffalo fat, or some bone grease. If the beans were dried
beans, they were boiled a little longer than squash is boiled—a half hour
or more. Spring salt, or other seasoning, was not used.

Green beans, shelled from the pod, were sometimes prepared thus, boiled
with buffalo fat or bone grease; but green beans did not have to be
boiled quite as long as dried beans.

_Green Beans Boiled in the Pod._ Green beans in the pod we boiled and
ate as a vegetable from the time they came in until fall; but we did not
plant beans, as we did corn, to make them come in late in the season,
that we might then eat them green.

Green beans in the pod were boiled in a clay pot, with a little fat
thrown in. Pods and seeds were eaten together.

But a green bean pod has in it two little strings that are not very good
to eat. At meal time the boiled pod was taken up in the fingers and
carried to the eater’s mouth. At one end of the pod is always a kind of
little hook; the unbroken pod was taken into the mouth with this little
hook forward, between the teeth; and the eater, seizing the little hook
between thumb and finger, drew it out of his mouth with the two little
strings that were always attached to the hook.

_Green Corn and Beans._ Pounded green shelled corn was often boiled with
green beans, shelled from the pod.



_The Cache Pit_

We stored our corn, beans, sunflower seed and dried squash in cache pits
for the winter, much as white people keep vegetables in their cellars.

[Illustration: Figure 25

Redrawn from sketch by Goodbird.]

A cache pit was shaped somewhat like a jug, with a narrow neck at the
top. The width of the mouth, or entrance, was commonly about two feet; on
the very largest cache pits the mouth was never, I think, more than two
feet eight, or two feet nine inches. In diagram (figure 25), the width of
pit’s mouth at _BB´_ should be a little more than two feet, narrowing to
two feet a little higher up.

In my father’s family, we built our cache pits so that they were each of
the size of a bull boat at the bottom. Other measurements were, as I
here show with my hands, one foot eight inches from the top of the mouth,
where it is level with the ground, down to the puncheon cover that lay in
the trench dug for the purpose; and two feet and a half from this plank
cover to the lower part of the neck, marked _BB´_ in the diagram.

Descent into one of these big cache pits was made with a ladder; but in a
small one, such as I have made you in vertical-section model, in a bank
by the Missouri, and which you have photographed, the depth was not so
great. In one of these smaller pits, when standing on the floor within,
my eyes just cleared the level of the ground above, so that I could look
around. When such a pit was half full of corn, I could descend and come
out again, without the help of a ladder. At other times I had to be
helped out; I would hold up my hands, and my mother, or some one else,
would come and give me a lift.

Usually, two women worked together thus in a cache pit, one helping the
other out, or taking things from her hands. One of my mothers was usually
my helper.

The digging and storing of a cache pit was women’s work. For digging the
pit, a short handled hoe was used; of iron, in my day; of bone, I have
heard, in olden times.

I have dug more than one cache pit myself. I began by digging the round
mouth, dragging the loosened earth away with my hoe. As the pit grew in
depth, the excavated earth was carried off in a wooden bowl. I stood in
the pit with the bowl at my feet and labored with my hoe, raking the
earth into the bowl. When it was full, I handed the bowl to my mother,
who bore it away and emptied it.

It took me two days and a good part of a third to dig a cache pit, my
mother helping me to carry off the dirt; such a cache pit, I mean, as we
used in my father’s family, and which, as I have said, was large enough
for a bull boat cover to be fitted into the bottom.

A trench for the puncheon cover of the mouth was the very last part of
the cache pit to be dug; but I will describe the use of this trench a
little farther on.

_Grass for Lining_

When the cache pit was all dug, it had next to be lined with grass. The
grass used for this purpose, and for closing the mouth of the cache pit,
was the long bluish kind that grows near springs and water courses on
this reservation; it grows about three feet high. In the fall, this kind
of grass becomes dry at the top, but is still green down near the roots;
and we then cut it with hoes and packed it in bundles, to the village.

This bluish grass was the only kind used for lining a cache pit. We knew
by repeated trials that other kinds of grass would mold, and did not keep

_Grass Bundles_

I remember, one time, I went out with my mother to cut grass. I took a
pony along to pack our loads home. I loaded the pony with four bundles
of grass, two on each side, bound to the saddle. A bundle was about four
feet long, and from two and a half to three feet thick, pressed tight
together. One bundle made a load for a woman.

Besides the four bundles loaded on my pony, my mother packed one bundle
back to the village, and three or four dogs dragged each a bundle on a

We reckoned that three of these bundles would be needed to line and
close a large cache pit; and two and a half bundles, for a smaller pit.
A hundred such bundles were needed to cover the roof of an earth lodge.
Long established use made us able to make the bundles about alike in
weight, though of course we had no scales to weigh them in those days.

_The Grass Binding Rope_

Each bundle was bound with a rope of grass. In a bed of this grass as it
stands by the spring or stream, there is often found dead grass from the
year before, or even from two years previous, standing among the other
grass stems that are still somewhat green at the roots. To make a binding
rope I must use only dead grass. I did so in this manner:

I stooped, took a wisp of grass in my hands, twisting it to the left and
at the same gently lifting it, when all the dry stems would break off at
the roots. I took a half step forward, laid the twisted end of the strand
on the ground, and grasped another wisp of grass, which I twisted to the
left and broke off as before; but I twisted the new wisp in such manner
that it made part of the continued twisted strand. I continued thus until
I had a strand long enough to tie my bundle. Figure 26 is a sketch made
after my description of a grass bundle, showing the grass rope and the

[Illustration: Figure 26

Exact reproduction of sketch by Goodbird. The tie is pronounced accurate
by Buffalobird-woman.]

_Drying the Grass Bundles_

These grass bundles we fetched home and laid on the drying stage until we
were ready to use them. Just before using, we took the bundles up on the
roof of the earth lodge, broke the binding ropes and spread the grass out
to dry, for one day.

_The Willow Floor_

The walls of the cache pit were left bare for the grass lining; but a
floor was laid on the bottom. This was rather simply made by gathering
dead and dry willow sticks, and laying them evenly and snugly over the
bottom of the pit.

_The Grass Lining_

Over this willow floor, the grass, now thoroughly dried, was spread
evenly, to a depth of about four inches. Grass was then spread over the
walls to a depth of three or four inches, and stayed in place with about
eight willow sticks. These were placed vertically against the walls
and nailed in place with wooden pins made each from the fork of a dead
willow, as shown in figure 27. The ends of the sticks should reach to the
neck of the cache pit, at the place marked _B_, in diagram (figure 25,
page 87).

We were careful to spread the grass lining evenly over the walls; and we
were especially careful not to let the root ends get matted together, as
they were very apt to do.

It will be noticed that the willow flooring of the pit, the willow
staying rods, and the wooden pins that held them in place, were all made
of dead and dry willows; this was done that everything within the pit
might be perfectly dry.

It did not take long to place the grass lining of the cache pit.

[Illustration: Figure 27]

_Skin Bottom Covering_

If the cache pit was a small one, we covered the bottom with a circular
piece of skin, cut to fit the pit bottom, and laid it directly on the
grass matting that covered the willow floor; but if the cache pit was a
large one, we fitted into the bottom the skin cover of a bull boat, with
the willow frame removed.

_Storing the Cache Pit_

The cache pit was now ready to be stored.

My mother and I—and by “my mother” I mean always one of my two mothers,
for my mother that bore me was dead—fetched an old tent cover from the
earth lodge, and laid it by the cache pit so that one end of the cover
hung down the pit’s mouth. Upon this tent cover we emptied a big pile of
shelled ripe corn, fetched in baskets from the bull boats in which it had
been temporarily stored inside the lodge. We also fetched many strings of
braided corn, and laid them on one side of the tent cover. Lastly, we
fetched some strings of dried squash and laid them on the tent cover.

Of dried squash, I fetched but one string at a time, doubled and folded
over my left arm. A string of dried squash, as I have said, was always
seven Indian fathoms long; and I have described an Indian fathom as
the distance from the tips of the fingers of one hand to the tips of
the fingers of the other, with both hands outstretched at either side.
As these measurements were made by the women workers, an Indian fathom
averaged about five and a half feet in length. A string of dried squash,
seven Indian fathoms in length, we knew by experience to be just about
the weight that a woman could conveniently carry. A string eight fathoms
long would be too heavy; and one six fathoms long would be rather short.

[Illustration: Figure 28

Plan of cache in horizontal section: A, floor ready for storing; B, the
first series of braided strings; C, loose corn; D, first squash string.

In vertical section: E, the first series of braided strings of corn; F,
adding loose corn; G, the first squash string; H, loose corn filled in
around squash.]

All being now ready, my mother descended into the cache pit. Leaning over
the mouth, I handed her a string of braided corn. In my father’s family,
we usually braided fifty-four, or fifty-five ears, to a string; and a
woman could carry about three strings on her left shoulder. These braided
strings, as I have said, my mother and I fetched from the drying stage;
she stood on the stage floor and handed me the braided strings, and I
bore them off to the cache pit.

Leaning over the pit then, as I have said, I handed my mother one of the
braided strings that now lay in a heap on the tent cover. My mother
took the string of corn, folded it once over, and laid it snugly against
the wall of the cache pit, on the skin bottom covering, with the tips of
the ears all pointed inward. Folding a string thus kept the ears from
slipping, and stayed them more firmly in place; and the ears, laid husk
end to the wall, were better preserved from danger of moisture.

My mother continued thus all around the bottom of the pit, until she had
surrounded it with a row of braided corn laid against the wall, two ears
deep; for the strings, being doubled, lay therefore two ears deep.

My mother now started a second row, or series, of strings of braided corn
doubled over, laying them upon the first series; and like these, with the
ears all pointed inward. When this series was completed, the bottom of
the cache pit was surrounded by strings of braided corn, which, because
doubled, now lay four ears deep.

My mother now called to me that she was ready for the shelled, or loose,
corn. Obeying her, I pushed the shelled corn that lay on the tent cover,
down the overhanging end of the skin into the cache pit, until the floor
of the pit was filled up level with the top of the four-tiered series of
strings of braided corn. It will be seen now how necessary it was that a
hide or bull boat cover be put in the bottom of the cache pit, to receive
this shelled grain.

I next passed down a string of dried squash, seven fathoms long; and this
my mother coiled and piled up in the center of the cache pit upon the
shelled corn. This loose corn, I have already said, lay level with the
topmost row of ears laid against the pit’s wall, but did not quite cover
the ears. I remember, as I looked down into the pit, I could see these
corn ears lying in a circle about the loose corn within. Figure 28, drawn
under my direction, shows in a series of rough sketches how the cache pit
was filled.

Again I passed down strings of braided corn to my mother. These she
doubled, as before, and laid them around the wall of the cache pit, until
they came up level with the top of the squash heap coiled in the center.
We did not have any fixed number of rows of corn to place now; my mother
just piled the doubled braids around the wall until they came even with
the top of the coiled squash string.

My mother then called to me, and again I shoved loose corn into the cache
pit, until it just barely covered the coiled squash pile and the topmost
row of braided ears.

The object of our putting the squash in the center of the shelled corn
was to protect it from dampness. The shelled ripe corn did not spoil very
easily, but dried squash did. We were careful, therefore, to store the
strings of squash in the very center of the cache pit and surround them
on every side with the loose corn; this protected the squash and kept it

We continued working, my mother and I, until the cache pit was filled.
In an average sized cache pit we would usually store four seven-fathom
strings of dried squash, coiled each in a heap in the center of the
cache and hidden as described, in the loose corn; and as I recollect
it, I think it took about thirty or more strings of braided corn to lie
around the wall of an average sized pit; but my memory here is a little
uncertain, and this estimate may not be quite accurate.

We filled the pit about up to the point marked _B_ in the diagram (figure
25), the last two feet being filled with shelled corn only; thus the last
string of squash put in the cache pit should be covered with at least two
feet of loose corn.

Over this shelled corn, at _B_ in the diagram, we snugly fitted a
circular cover, cut from the thick skin of the flank of a buffalo bull.
A bull’s hide is thicker than a buffalo cow’s, and for this reason was
seldom made into a robe; but there were purposes for which a bull’s hide
was preferred. Thus the heavy thick-haired parts of a bull’s hide were
much used for making saddle skins, because the heavy wool protected the
horse’s back; and the short haired parts were much used for making cache
pit covers. Using these parts of the hide for covers, we did not have
to bother to scrape off the hair, which in summer is very short on a
buffalo’s flanks. The skin cover was laid hair side up, so that the flesh
side would come next to the loose corn.

On this hide cover my mother and I laid grass,[19] of the same kind as
used for lining the cache pit wall.

[Illustration: Figure 29

Redrawn from sketch by Goodbird.]

_The Puncheon Cover_

Upon this grass, if the pit was one of the smaller ones, we laid
puncheons; and these puncheons, as I have said, rested in a trench.

The puncheons, split from small logs, were laid in the trench flat side
down, so that they would not rock. There were about five main planks, or
puncheons, the middle one being the heaviest, the better to sustain the
weight of any horse that might happen to walk over the cache pit’s mouth.
On either side of these main puncheons were two shorter ones, laid to
cover the small area of the pit’s mouth not covered by the main puncheons.

Figure 29 by Goodbird, drawn from the small model I made for you in Wolf
Chief’s yard, will explain this. The puncheons shown in the figure
exactly fit the trench; and their circumscribed outline represents also
the shape of the trench. The dotted circle represents the pit’s mouth,
now hidden by the over-lying puncheons.

Upon the puncheons we now laid grass, quite filling the pit’s mouth, and
even heaped, it might be, a foot high above the level of the ground; this
we trampled down hard, well into the mouth of the pit.

Over this grass we fitted a second cover, cut as was the first from a
buffalo bull’s hide; and upon this we heaped earth until the pit was
filled level with the ground.

Lastly, we raked ashes and refuse dirt over the spot, to hide it from any
enemy that might come prowling around in the winter, when the village was

I have said that puncheons, resting in a trench, were used to cover the
mouth of a cache pit of smaller size. If the pit was of the larger size,
I dug about two feet down in the neck or opening, a rectangular place
on either side, with my knife. Puncheons were thrust down into one of
these rectangular openings and drawn through into the other, covering
the mouth of the pit; and as in the smaller pit, there were several main
puncheons, with one or two smaller and shorter ones at either side. Grass
was stuffed into the two openings, above the ends of the puncheons, to
firm the latter. Above the puncheons, the mouth of the pit was filled in,
as was that of the smaller pit, with grass, a circular skin cover, and

The two rectangular openings which I dug with my knife in the neck of the
larger pit, were, as will be noted, a little farther down than was the
floor of the trench of the smaller pit. This was because the neck was
longer in a pit of the larger size.


_First Account_

In diagram (figure 30), I have marked the positions of the cache pits we
had in use in my father’s family, when I was a girl. Cache _A_ was used
for hard yellow shelled corn; but the braids piled against the wall of
the pit were of white corn; so also of _B_ and _C_. In cache _D_ were
stored dried boiled corn and strings of dried squash.

[Illustration: Figure 30]

Sometimes in one of the cache pits outside of the lodge we put a bag of
beans, or sometimes two bags. Each bag was of skin and was about as long
as one’s arm; its shape was long and round.

In the fall, when we went to our winter lodges, corn, squash, beans, and
whatever else was needed, we loaded on our horses and took with us. As
soon as we came to our winter lodge we made ready a cache pit at once and
stored these things away.

We opened a cache pit whenever we got out of provisions. When should
this be, you ask? When we got out of provisions. This might happen
at any time. One winter, I remember, we got out of provisions and a
number of our people left the winter village and went to the lodges at
Like-a-fishhook village, to open a cache. The Sioux surrounded them
there. Our people took refuge in a kind of fort that belonged to the
traders and fired down from an upper room; they killed two of the Sioux.

Cache pit _F_ in the diagram, we made afterwards. Pit _E_ was also of
later make; we dug it after we got potatoes; it was inside the lodge and
near the corral for horses.

Cache pit _C_ we had to abandon because mice got into it and we could not
get rid of them. So we filled it up with earth and dug pit _D_. We stored
gummy corn in cache pit _D_ and used it for two years. The third year the
Sioux came against our village in the winter time and stole our corn and
burned down my father’s lodge.

I have been telling you how the cache pit was used for storing things
for winter; but I do not mean that it was of no use in summer time. In
early spring we put into a cache pit two big packages of dried meat and a
bladder full of bone grease. We did not take them out until about August
or a little earlier. The meat would still be good, and the bone grease
would be hard and sweet, just as if it were frozen.

A cache pit lasted for a long time, used year after year.

_A Second Account on Another Day_

We had four cache pits to store grain for my father’s family; one held
squash, vegetables, corn, etc.

A second held shelled yellow corn. In this cache the usual strings of
corn laid around to protect the shelled grain from the wall, were of
white corn. We did not braid hard yellow corn. It was corn that we did
not often use for parching.

A third cache held white shelled corn, protected by the usual braided
strings of white corn.

A fourth cache pit was a small one inside the lodge; here we stored dried
wild turnips, dried choke-cherries, and dried June berries; and any
valuables that we could not take with us to our winter village.

Our cache pits were for the most part located outside the lodge, because
mice were found inside the lodge, and they were apt to be troublesome.

In the cache pit where we stored our yellow corn, we stored the grain
loose, not in sacks.

I knew of course where each cache pit was located.

The Sioux sometimes came up against us in winter and raided our cached
corn. One winter (about 1877) they came up and burned our lodges and
stole all that was in our cache pits.

We returned from our winter quarters to our permanent village a little
before ice breaks on the Missouri, or in the latter part of March.

_Diagram of Small Ankle’s Lodge_

[Illustration: Figure 31

Redrawn from sketch by Goodbird.

A. Bed of Small Ankle and Strikes-many-women.

B. Bed of Wolf Chief and wife.

C. Bed of Bear’s Tail and wife.

D. Bed of Son-of-a-Star and his wife Buffalo-bird-woman.

E. Bed of Flies-low, Yellow Front Hair and Fell-upon-his-house, three

F. Bed of Turtle.

G. Place for storing ax, hay, wood, or any thing that could be piled or
laid away.

H. Bed of Small Eyes, elder sister of Strikes-many-women; the bed here
by the fireplace being the warmest was commonly reserved for an elderly
person. (Small Eyes is probably the same as Red Blossom).

K. Corn mortar and pestle.

L. and M. Cache pits.

N. Platform of slabs on which were stored food, utensils, etc.

P. Lazy-back or native chair.

XXX. Small Ankle’s medicines, or sacred objects.]

Figure 31 is a diagram of Small Ankle’s lodge, as I remember it. My three
brothers slept in bed _E_, but often Wolf Chief or Bear’s Tail and their
wives would be away, staying at some other lodge, perhaps at the wife’s
mother’s; sometimes they visited thus for a long time. The boys might
then make use of the vacant bed of the visiting couple.

All beds were covered with skins, as I have before described to you.

Small children slept with their parents.

I do not know why my father put his medicine shrines in the rear of the
lodge. Ours was a big family and there was not room enough for all the
beds on one side. Probably Small Ankle wanted the medicine objects near
his bed and not where the children were.



_Stages in Like-a-fishhook Village_

There were about seventy lodges in Like-a-fishhook village, when I was a
girl. A corn drying stage stood before every lodge.

That before Small Ankle’s lodge was a three-section stage, of eight
posts. White Feather, or his wives, owned two of these big eight-post
stages, one before each of their two lodges; for White Feather had four
wives. Many Growths—a woman—had a big eight-post stage. There were a few
other eight-post stages in the village, but they were small, with narrow
sections and posts placed relatively rather close to one another.

The rest of the stages in the village, as I recollect, were all six-post,
or two-section, stages.

In all cases, whether of a six-post or eight-post stage, the floor was
upheld by two long, but narrow beams, that ran the whole length of the

The description I shall now give of the making of a drying stage, is of
an eight-post stage, such as always stood before my father’s lodge.

_Cutting the Timbers_

The timbers we used for building a drying stage were all of cottonwood.
Being thus of a soft wood, the timbers did not last so very long when
exposed to the weather; and a stage built of cottonwood timbers lasted
only about three years; the fourth year, unless the stage was rebuilt,
the posts rotted and the stage would fall down. Unlike the posts of a
watchers’ stage, those of a drying stage were always carefully peeled of
bark, as they rotted more quickly if the bark was left on.

My mother’s drying stage, as I have said, had eight posts; and these
posts we cut with forks at the top. If we could find them, or if we had
time to hunt for them in the woods, we cut double-forked posts, like
that of figure 32. But it was much easier to get the smaller posts, of
the height of the stage floor. Such a post had but one fork at the top,
in which lay one of the beams that supported the floor; and a companion
post, longer and not so heavy, stood by it to support the railing at the
top of the stage. However, in reckoning the number of posts of a stage, I
count a single-forked post and its companion as but one post.

For the two long beams on which the floor of the stage was to be laid, we
cut two rather slender logs, the longest we could find in the woods.

All these timbers we cut in the summer time, peeling off the bark and
letting them lie until winter, to dry. Then when there was snow on the
ground, we hitched ropes to the seasoned timbers and dragged them into
the village.

The stage was built the following spring or summer, to be ready for the
fall harvest; so that we commonly cut the timbers for a stage nine months
or a year before they were to be used in building it.

_Digging the Post Holes_

When we were ready to begin building, the first thing we had to do was
to mark the post holes. We laid the two long floor beams parallel on
the ground, at such a distance apart as to enclose the space necessary
for the stage. We then marked the places for the post holes, at proper
distances along the inside of the two beams; there were eight of these
post holes, four on a side.

These post holes were dug with a long digging stick, and the dirt
removed, to the depth of a woman’s arm from the shoulder to the hand;
that was as far as one could reach down to lift out the dirt. To get the
post holes all of a depth, I took a stick and measured on it the length
of my arm from shoulder to fingers; this stick I used to probe the holes
to see that they were of a proper depth.

We now laid down all the posts in a row, and so adjusted them that the
forks that were to receive the floor beams lay all in a straight line;
that is, if the posts were two-forked posts, all the forks _C_ (figure
32) would lie in a straight line; and if the posts, or some of them, were
single-forked posts, their tops would lie in a line with fork _C_ of the
double-forked posts.

[Illustration: Figure 32]

On all the posts a charcoal line was now drawn at _A_ (figure 32). The
distance from _A_ to _B_ (figure 32) should be the length of a woman’s
arm, which also was the depth of the post hole. But in cutting the posts,
no matter how careful we were, there was always some irregularity in
lengths so that the part from _A_ to _B_ upon the various posts might
slightly vary.

All having now been marked with the charcoal line, the posts were rolled
each to its proper post hole and the part _AB_ on the post was carefully
measured and compared with the hole’s depth. For this purpose the stick
used to probe the post holes came again into use. If the length of the
part _AB_ on any post happened to be an inch or two longer than my arm
its post hole was deepened to the same extent. All this was necessary in
order that when the posts were dropped into their holes, the forks that
were to receive the floor beams would lie all at the same height.

I have said that a charcoal line was drawn around each post at _A_
(figure 32). The position of this line, after the first one was drawn,
was obtained by measuring from the fork _C_; and care was taken that the
measurements on all the posts should be exactly alike. The charcoal line
quite encircled the post.

_Raising the Frame_

The posts were now raised and dropped into the post holes; raising was
by hand. The posts were turned so that the forks lay in proper position
to receive the floor beams and upper rails; a two-forked post was placed
with the prong _C_ (figure 32) turned inward.

A single-forked post had to have a companion post beside it, also forked,
to support the railing at the top of the stage. This companion post was
not so heavy, but of course was longer. It stood just beside the main
post and was carefully adjusted to receive the upper rail properly. It
was lashed to the main post by a green-hide thong.

This thong might pass around the shorter post just below its fork; or it
might bind the companion post to one of the prongs of the fork itself.

If I had several two-forked posts and several one-forked posts with
companion posts beside them, it required some little bit of fitting to
adjust them all so that the floor beams and rails would lie properly. To
better permit this to be done, it was not my custom to firm the earth
about the post, until the frame had been set up and adjusted; for little
irregularities in the fitting could be cured by slightly moving the posts
as they stood unfirmed, in their holes. When the frame was properly
adjusted, I took my digging stick—it was always a long one that was used
for digging holes—and rammed the earth around the foot of each post,
firming it.

It was the custom of my tribe when digging the post holes, to dig each
one just the diameter of its post, or as nearly to it as we could; then
the posts when raised fitted snugly into the holes.

The two long floor beams having been raised into position, the two poles
that were to make the top railing were also raised. These rails were of
the same length, but were not so heavy, as the floor beams. We were now
ready to lay the floor.

_The Floor_

The floor of the stage was of cottonwood planks. Cottonwood logs, nine
to twelve inches in diameter, had been cut of proper length. Out of the
center of each was split a plank, or board, with ax and wedge. These
planks were laid to make the floor, the ends of the planks resting on the
two floor beams that lay on the forks of the posts. We took care to make
the floor as snug as possible. The planks were carefully fitted together,
and if there was any little crooked place in a plank that left a crack in
the floor, we stuffed a dry cornstalk into the crack so that no ear of
corn could fall through.

The planks that made the floor were not bound to the floor beams, nor
weighted down in any way; their own weight stayed them in place.

I have said that the drying stage had to be rebuilt about every three
years because the posts rotted down in that time. This was not true of
the floor planks; they lasted much longer and were used year after year.

_Staying Thongs_

The eight posts of the stage stood in pairs, a post on either side of
the floor; and between the tops of each pair of posts a green-hide thong
was bound, and left to dry. These thongs stayed the stage and made it
stronger and firmer; often they were also made to bind down the upper
rails to the forks of the posts.


The stage stood always in front of the earth lodge with its longer side
to the door. A ladder stood at the right hand nigher corner post—as one
comes out of the lodge—with the foot of the ladder resting a little way
from the stage. The top of the ladder leaned against the end of the floor
beam on the side next the lodge.

Of course if the ladder were left here with nothing to stay it, it would
fall against the loose planks of the stage floor and force them out of
position. To prevent this a pole was bound firmly to the two posts _A_
and _B_ (figure 12) and resting on the two floor beams just outside the
posts. The ladder rested against this pole. To receive the pole, the
floor beams were made to project a little bit forward at the ladder end
of the stage.

The ladder was made of a cottonwood trunk, about ten inches in diameter,
with notches cut in it for steps. At its lower end it was brought to
an edge that it might more firmly rest on the ground and not turn when
someone stepped on it. At the upper end a notch was cut in the back to
receive the end of the floor beam against which the ladder rested. (See
figure 33.)

[Illustration: Figure 33]

The ladder had always one fixed place; or, if for any reason it had to be
moved during labors, we took pains to warn our friends. A woman in our
village once moved her ladder to another place on her stage and forgot
about it. When she started to come down she stepped in the old place and
fell and broke both her arms. We did not like to have a ladder removed
from its accustomed place for fear of just such accidents.

When the owner descended from her drying stage, she took down her ladder
and laid it on the ground beside the stage. It was not proper for
strangers to go up on the drying stage, nor were children allowed to go
up there.

Neighbors sometimes came in and borrowed the ladder; but when not in use,
its proper place was on the ground by the stage.

You ask me how we Indian women ascended and descended a ladder. I never
thought of our having any particular custom in this; but now that you
call my attention to it, I remember that a woman ascended and descended a
ladder with her face toward the stage, giving her the appearance of going
up sidewise, and coming down in the same manner.

In going up a ladder I usually placed my left foot on the lowest step;
brought my right foot around in front and over my left to the second
step; then my left foot past and behind my right foot, with my face
toward the drying stage. My left hand might or might not touch the
ladder, as I was used to ascending it and felt no fear.

In descending a ladder I placed my right foot on the highest step, and
overlapped with my left; and so until the bottom was reached.

I do not know if other women had exactly this custom, for I never
observed or thought anything about it; but I do know that always,
ascending or descending, an Indian woman went sidewise, with her face
toward the stage.

_Enlarging the Stage_

Some years, if our family’s corn crop was very large, we extended our
drying stage, making it five posts long instead of four posts long, on
a side. Other families did likewise, as they had need; one family might
have corn enough to require a stage five posts long, while another family
needed one only four posts long, on a side. Stages, indeed, varied in
length with the needs of the family, but they were all of about the same

_Present Stages_

The stage that I have been describing is of the kind that was in use in
my tribe when I was a young girl of twelve or thirteen years of age. At
present we no longer use this, our old form, but the Arikara form instead.

The Arikara stage differs in having a floor of willows, and is easier to
make. It took two days to erect a stage of the old fashioned kind, such
as I have been describing.

_Building, Women’s Work_

Building the drying stage was women’s work, although the men helped raise
the heavy posts and floor beams. In my father’s family, my two mothers
and I built the stage; but my father also helped us, especially if there
was any heavy lifting to do.

_Measurements of Stage_

I will now give you the measurements of such a stage as we used in my
father’s family.

Pacing it off here, on the ground, the length of the stage was, I think,
about so long—thirty feet.[20] Its width was about thus—twelve feet.
From the ground to the top of the stage floor was a little higher than a
woman can reach with her hand, or about six feet, six inches; there were
horses in the village, and the stage floor must be high enough so that
the horses could not reach the corn. From the floor of the stage to the
upper railing was about so high (holding up a stick), or five feet and
nine inches.

I will now give you the measurements of the posts and beams; and for
this, we will use the little model which I have made for you. In this
model I have used double-forked posts on one side, and single-forked
posts, with companion posts, on the other side.

[Illustration: Figure 34]

In the diagram (figure 34), _A_, _B_, _C_, _D_, are double-forked posts;
_a_, _b_, _c_, _d_, are single-forked posts; and _xa_, _xb_, _xc_, _xd_,
are companion posts.

The double-forked posts, _A_, _B_, _C_, and _D_, should be about ten
inches in diameter between the lower fork and the ground, but tapering
slightly toward the upper fork. This upper fork, if it was not in the
post naturally, might be cut to receive the upper rail. The posts _a_,
_b_, _c_, and _d_, should be ten inches in diameter; and the companion
posts, _xa_, _xb_, _xc_, and _xd_, should be, perhaps, four inches in
diameter. All of these posts are set in the ground with the smaller, or
branch end upward.

The floor beams should each be about nine and one-half inches in diameter
at one end, tapering to four or five inches in diameter at the other end.
This tapering was the natural growth of the trunk; it was not, I mean,
cut tapering with an ax. The beams were so laid that the heavy ends were
always at the front of the stage as we called it; that is, at the end
where the ladder stood.

The upper rails were about three and a half inches in diameter. They
were chosen for strength, if possible of trunks that were branchless, or
nearly so. These upper rails were also laid with the heavy ends toward
the front, or ladder end, of the stage.

I have said that if the long posts, _A_, _B_, _C_, _D_, had no natural
fork at the top, one was cut; but all other forks, and those also on the
tops of the shorter posts were natural.

We took pride in building the stage of well chosen timbers, and in making
the parts fit snugly. The floor especially was laid as smooth and as
evenly as possible; and here and there, if a crack appeared, a dry corn
stalk was caulked in to make the floor snug and smooth. We were also
careful to choose straight, well formed trunks for posts and floor beams.

_Drying Rods_

Lying across the top of the stage in harvest time, with their ends
resting on the upper rails, were often a number of drying rods. A drying
rod was a pole averaging a little more than two inches in diameter and
about thirteen feet long, its length permitting six or seven inches to
project over the rail on which either end rested.

These drying rods were much used in harvest time. When old women came
to the stage to slice squashes, they spitted the slices, as I have
described, on willow spits; and these spits again were laid on the drying
rods, each end of a spit resting on one of the rods.

The drying rods had other uses. If the day was warm, old women working on
the floor of the stage would lay two or three of these rods across the
upper rails and throw a buffalo robe over them, and thus have shade while
they worked. They bound the robe down with thongs to hold it firm.

When not in use the drying rods were laid lengthwise on the floor of the
stage that the wind might not blow them about.

_Other Uses of the Drying Stage_

By far the chief use of the drying stage, was to dry our vegetables,
especially our corn and sliced squashes. Firewood, collected from the
Missouri river in the June rise, was often piled on and under the stage
floor, to dry.

The keepers of the O´kipạ ceremony used to bring out their buffalo head
masks, and air them on the drying stage that stood before their lodge




Iron hoes had come into general use when I was a girl, but there were
two or three old women who used old fashioned bone hoes. I think my
grandmother, Turtle, was the very last to use one of these bone hoes. I
will describe the hoe she used, as I remember it.

The blade was made of the shoulder bone of a buffalo, with the edge
trimmed and sharpened; and the ridge of bone, that is found on the
shoulder blade of every animal, was cut off and the place smoothed.

The handle of the hoe was split, and grooves were cut in the split to
receive the bone blade; this was slightly cut to fit and was so set that
the edge pointed a little backwards.

Raw-hide thongs bound the split firmly about the blade and a stout thong,
running from a groove a little way up the handle, braced the blade in
place. (See figure 3, page 12).

Under my directions, Goodbird has made a hoe such as I saw my grandmother
use, using the shoulder bone of a steer for a blade. You can make
necessary measurements from it.

Hoe handles were made of cottonwood or some other light wood.


We Hidatsas began our tilling season with the rake.

We used two kinds,[21] both of native make; one was made of a
black-tailed deer horn (figure 5, page 14), the other was of wood (figure
4, page 14).

Of the two, we thought the horn rake the better, because it did not grow
worms, as we said. Worms often appear in a garden and do much damage. It
is a tradition with us that worms are afraid of horn; and we believed if
we used black-tailed deer horn rakes, not many worms would be found in
our fields that season.

We believed wooden rakes caused worms in the corn. These worms, we
thought, came out of the wood in the rakes; just how this was, we did not

However, horn rakes were heavy and rather hard to make; and for this
reason, the handier and more easily made wooden rakes were more commonly

All this that I tell you of our tools and fields is our own lore. White
men taught us none of it. All that I have told you, we Indians knew since
the world began.

[Illustration: Figure 35]

_Squash Knives_

Squash knives of bone were still in use when I was young. I have often
seen old women using them but, as I recollect, I never saw one being made.

The knife was made from the thin part of a buffalo’s shoulder bone;
never, I think, from the shoulder bone of a deer, elk, or bear.

The bone of a buffalo cow was best, because it was thinner. If the squash
knife was too thick, the slices of squash were apt to break as they were
being severed from the fruit. Bone squash knives, as I remember, were
used for slicing squashes and for nothing else.

A squash knife should be cut from green bone; it would then keep an
edge, for green bone is firm and hard. I do not think I ever saw anyone
sharpening a bone knife so far as I can now recollect.

There was no handle to a bone squash knife, beyond the natural bone.

A bone squash knife lasted a long time. Old women in our village who used
these bone knives, brought them out each summer in the squash harvest.
It was their habit, I think, to keep the knives in the back part of the
lodge, by the owner’s bed. Whether it was customary to keep the knives in
bags, or in some other receptacle, I do not know.

My mothers used a white man’s steel knife for slicing squashes; but as I
have said, there were old women in the village who still used the older
bone knives.

Yellow Squash, I remember, was one; an old Hidatsa woman named Blossom
was another; so also was Goes-around-the-end.

This model of a squash knife (figure 35) that I have had my son Goodbird
make for you, is of rather dry bone; I have had him grease it, that it
may be more like green bone.

[Illustration: Figure 36




_East-Side Fields_

Figure 36 is a map I have made of the gardens east, or better, southeast,
of Like-a-fishhook village. The fields lay, as indicated on the map,
upon a point of land that went out into the Missouri river. The map is
only approximately correct. There were many other gardens than those
represented here on the map; for I have made no attempt to indicate any
but those that lay in the immediate vicinity of the field my family
tilled. These, however, I remember pretty clearly, and believe my map to
be, as far as it goes, fairly accurate.

Our family garden is the one marked “Strikes-many-women’s and
Buffalobird-woman’s.” It lay just south of Lone Woman’s and
Want-to-be-a-woman’s. The field was rather irregular at first; a corner
of it, as I have said, was claimed by Lone Woman and Goes-to-next-timber,
as they had started to clear it. My mothers bought out the rights of the
claimants, in order to keep our field more nearly rectangular, so that we
could count our Indian acres more accurately. This corner is marked by a
dotted line, on the map.

I remember that when I was a little girl, the boundaries of the field
were rather irregular at first; and my grandmother, Turtle, would go
along the edge with her digging stick and dig up the ground to make the
corners come out more nearly squared, and the sides of the field be

The field was also enlarged from year to year toward the sides; and much
of this work my grandmother did with her digging stick. The garden when
completed was the largest ever owned in my family; it was this field
whose size I measured off for you on the prairie the other day.

The village gardens varied in size. Some families tilled large fields;
others rather small ones. Some families did not work very energetically;
and these were often put to it to have food. Other families worked hard,
and always had a plenty. Families were not all equally industrious.

There were no watchers’ stages nor booths in these east-side fields. The
ground rose in a shelf, or bluff, just north of the gardens; from this
shelf the watchers could watch their fields and sing to the growing corn
without the trouble of having to build stages.

The soil of the east-side gardens was bottom land and prairie, with
little or no timber.

_East Side Fences_

Our fields on the east-side of the village were fenced, as will be seen
from the map. The fences were made thus:

Posts were cut of any kind of wood two or three inches in diameter and
forked at the top. These were set in holes, at distances about as we now
use for corral posts, or twelve feet from post to post. Posts were sunk
the length of my forearm and fingers into the ground. Holes were made
with digging stick and knife, and the dirt drawn out by hand.

Rails were laid in the forks of the posts and bound down with strips of
bark; elm bark was strongest, but other kinds were used. The railing thus
made ran about three and a half feet from the ground, the height of the
posts that upheld it. All the rails were peeled of bark.

No attempt was made to firm the structure, as we did our drying stages.
Our object was but to keep out the horses, and if the fence was strong
enough to withstand the winds we thought that enough.

As will be seen from the map, some of the fields were fenced quite
around; but this was done only when the field was isolated. When several
gardens adjoined, a single fence usually ran around them all, and not
around each individual field.

When several gardens were enclosed in a single fence, each owner looked
after that part of the fence that bordered her own land, and kept it in

We did not run our fences close to the boundary of our gardens as white
men do. As we built our fences chiefly to keep horses out of the gardens,
we placed them far enough away so that even if the horses approached the
fence, they could not reach over and nibble the growing corn.

I think our fences stood twelve or fifteen feet away from the cultivated
ground, as I pace it here on the ground. I know no reason why they were
run thus, except as I have said, to keep the horses from nibbling the
corn. You see, fifteen feet is quite a little distance; and the fence
could have stood closer to the cultivated ground and still been far
enough away to keep the horses from nibbling the crops. All I know is,
that it was a custom of my tribe, and I always followed this custom if I
had a fence to build.

As will be seen by the map, the corners of the fences were turned rather
round; not built squared, as white men build their fences. We could not
square the corners as white men do when they build wire fences, because
we could not lay the rails in the forks of the posts and bind them down
firmly if we did so. Perhaps that is the reason we ran the fences so far
from the cultivated ground, that the fence, turning the corners, might
not invade the cultivated ground—if you will look at the map you will see
what I mean. However, I do not know if this is the reason or not.

Horses did not trouble us much, as we did not permit them to graze near
our garden lands; they were pastured on the prairie.

We always had fences around our fields as long ago as I know anything
about; and I have heard that our tribe had such fences in the villages
they built at the mouth of the Knife River, to protect their fields
there from their horses. Such, I have heard, has been our Indian custom
since the world began.

At the very first it is true, we did not own ponies; but we soon got them.

I think my tribe obtained ponies from the western tribes. In my own youth
we Hidatsas got many of our horses from western tribes, especially from
the Crows.

_Idikita´c’s Garden_

On the map there appears a garden marked as belonging to a woman named
Idikita´c. She made her garden after all the others had been fenced in.
There was a road that went down to some June-berry and choke-cherry
patches, in the small timber that stood beyond the gardens; it was a mere
path used by villagers afoot, by women with their dogs, and sometimes by

Now, Idikita´c laid out her field so that it enclosed a small section
of this road; and she built a fence around it and tried to keep the
villagers from going across her land. The people did not like this.
Idikita´c would tie up her fence tight, but the villagers going down to
the choke-cherry patch, would go right through her garden, following the
road that had been there; sometimes they even went through with horses.

“You must not make your garden here,” the people said to Idikita´c, “this
is a road!”

And Idikita´c answered, “I do not want you to do damage to my garden!”

There was quite a deal of talk in the village about this matter, and
quite a bit of trouble came of it.

_Fields West of the Village_

The first field cleared by my father’s family on the west side of the
village, is that marked _A_, on the plot legended with Turtle’s name, on
the map (figure 37), which I have had my son Goodbird draw for you of
our west-side fields. A coulee bordered one end of the field; and in the
rainy months the water washed out much of the good soil. Willows growing
up along the edge of the coulee also gave us much trouble. We therefore
extended our field to the other side of the coulee, to include the part
marked _B_.

Afterwards we added another field, marked on the map with my name,

In Turtle’s garden there was a watchers’ stage, _C_, with a tree beside
it. There was also a booth, _D_.

Peppermint and Yellow Hair had each a watchers’ stage and a booth in
her garden, as indicated on the map. Another stage and a tree stood in
a garden near by, the name of whose owner I have now forgotten. I have
marked the position of stage and tree in each field only approximately
except in Turtle’s garden; as this was one of our own family fields, I
remember the position of stage and tree very accurately.

In this map, as in that of the east-side gardens, I have indicated only
the fields that lay in the vicinity of those cultivated by my own family;
there were many others, but I can not, after so many years, accurately
mark their positions, nor tell the names of the owners.

[Illustration: Figure 37]

_West-Side Fence_

A fence protected our west-side gardens also, but only on the side
nearest the village, probably because the horses could be expected to
come from that direction. This fence differed somewhat from those on the
east side.

The fence was built thus:

A heavy stick was sharpened at one end and driven into the ground with an
ax; it was loosened by working it from side to side with the hands, and
withdrawn, leaving a hole about a foot deep.

Into this hole was thrust a diamond willow, butt end downward, for post.
The long tapering top with the twigs and leaves still on it, was bent
over and around a rail (that was raised into position for the purpose)
and then twisted around the post and tied down with bark. A second rail
was bound to the post below the first. The sketch on the map gives an
idea of what is meant, and in figure 38 is sketch and diagram by Goodbird.

[Illustration: Figure 38

Reproduced from sketch by Goodbird. On the left is post newly placed with
foliage intact. On the right is post with foliage omitted to show how top
was bound down over rails.]

This fence was nearly or quite shoulder high to a woman, or about four
feet; and the posts were about two feet apart, so that even a traveller
going afoot could not squeeze his way between them.

_Crops, Our First Wagon_

The first wagon owned in my tribe belonged to Had-many-antelopes. My
father hired him for a pair of trousers to haul in the corn from our
gardens, one year. Had-many-antelopes fetched in three wagon loads from
my garden; the field I mean, marked with my name; and three more wagon
loads from the field _A_, in Turtle’s garden. From the field _B_, in
Turtle’s garden, the family fetched the corn that year, for that field
we had planted all to sweet corn; not gummy corn, but corn planted to
half-boil and dry, for winter.



_Divisions Between Gardens_

When two-fields adjoined the dividing space, or ground that ran between
them, we called maạdupatska´; it was always about four feet wide.

The word really means, I think, a raised ridge of earth. We still use the
word in this sense. Down by the government school house at Independence,
our agent has run a road; and the earth dug out of the roadway has been
piled along the side in a low ridge to get rid of it. This ridge, running
along the side of the road, we call maạdupatska´.

But the maạdupatska´ dividing two gardens in old times was never raised
in a ridge. It was nothing but a four-foot-wide dividing line. Nothing
grew on it. Each gardener hoed her half of the maạdupatska´ to keep it
clean of grass and weeds. We were particular about this; we did not want
to have any weeds in our gardens.

I do not mean that I, for example, was accustomed to hoe exactly one
half of the maạdupatska´ that bordered my garden, leaving exactly the
other half to my neighbor. I merely hoed as needed, and my neighbor did
likewise; but the work was pretty equally divided, each woman recognizing
that she should do her share.

Sometimes, however, the owner of a garden would come to her next neighbor
and say, “I do not want you to have any hard feelings, nor speak against
me; but I want to plant the maạdupatska´ that divides our gardens, in
squash;” or instead of squash, she might want to plant it in sunflowers
or beans.

Permission being given, she would plant as she had requested; and
thereafter, of course, she would hoe all the maạdupatska´, because she
had a crop standing on it. But even then the ground would not be hers,
and her neighbor might refuse the permission asked.

I have said that it might be asked to plant squash, or beans, or
sunflowers. A gardener never asked to plant corn on the maạdupatska´ that
bordered her field. Rows of corn hills should be about four feet apart;
and as this was the width of the maạdupatska´, even a single row of hills
would have crowded the corn; but beans or squashes or sunflowers planted
on the maạdupatska´ did not do so.

_Fallowing, Ownership of Gardens_

The first crop on new ground was always the best, though the second was
nearly as good. The third year’s crop was not so good; and after that,
each year, the crop grew less, until in some seasons, especially in a dry
summer, hardly anything was produced.

The owners then stopped cultivating the garden and let it lie for two
years; the third year they again planted the garden and found it would
yield a good crop as before. During the two years their garden lay
fallow, the family owning it would plant their season’s crop elsewhere.

In my father’s family we owned garden lands both on the east and on the
west side of the village, as I have told you in explaining the two maps
made for you. This made it easy, if need arose, to work one garden while
we let the other rest. There were families in the village who owned more
fields even, than did my father’s household.

Sometimes when a woman died, her relatives did not trouble themselves to
work her garden for a couple of years, but just let it rest; then they
would begin planting it again, and the ground was sure to bring forth a
good crop. I think our custom of fallowing ground may have arisen in this
way. When a woman died leaving a garden, and her relatives did not at
once take possession, it was found that a two years’ rest increased the
yield; and so the custom of fallowing, perhaps, arose. Every one in the
village knew the value of a two years’ fallowing.

Ground that was newly broken produced good crops for a long time. Our
family’s west side garden once got to producing very poor crops; and we
let it lie untilled for two years. I do not recollect how long it was
before we let it rest again.

There was no rule how long we should use land before we fallowed it; nor
was there any rule that we should let it rest for just two years. We
merely knew that two years’ rest brought a poorly producing field back
into good condition.

Sometimes a woman died and her garden was abandoned by her relatives, who
perhaps had more land than they could use. For this and other causes,
there were always some of the cultivated lands of the village lying
vacant. We never had all our fields in use every year; there were always
some lying untilled, either for fallowing, or for some other reason.

If a woman died and her relatives did not care to till her garden, it was
free to any one who cared to make use of it. However, if a woman desired
to take possession of such an abandoned field, it was thought right that
she should ask permission of the dead owner’s relatives. Permission might
be asked of the dead woman’s son, or daughter, her mother, her husband’s
sister, or of the husband himself.

The woman did not wait two years before asking; if she wanted the dead
woman’s field, she just went to the relatives and asked for it.

When the owner of a field died, I never heard that her relatives ever
sold it; if they did not care to use it themselves, they gave it to some
one who did, or let it lie abandoned.

_Frost in the Gardens_

The fields that lay on the west side of our village got frosted more
easily than those on the east side. Indeed, our west-side gardens
suffered a good deal from frost.

The reason was that the ground along the Missouri was lower on the west
side of the village; and fields that lay on lower ground, we knew, were
more likely to get frosted than those on higher ground. Gardens on the
higher grounds east of the village were seldom touched by frost.

_Maxi´diwiac’s Philosophy of Frost_

Fields lying on lower ground catch frost more easily than those that lie
higher. On a warm day, the ground becomes warmed; but at night cool air
comes up out of the ground, and we can see that where it meets the warm
air above, it creates a kind of snow [hoar frost].

Also, some days the wind is high; and toward evening it dies down. The
hot airs are then sucked down into the ground and cause moisture to rise
up out of the ground in steam. Afterwards, if the cool air comes up out
of the ground and meets that hot air, it makes a kind of snow on the
weeds and corn, killing them. But you can not see this steam until the
cold air arises; then it becomes visible.

_Men Helping in the Field_

Did young men work in the fields? (laughing heartily.) Certainly not! The
young men should be off hunting, or on a war party; and youths not yet
young men should be out guarding the horses. Their duties were elsewhere,
also they spent a great deal of time dressing up to be seen of the
village maidens; they should not be working in the fields!

But old men, too old to go to war, went out into the fields and helped
their wives. It was theirs to plant the corn while the women made the
hills; and they also helped pull up weeds.[22]

When their sweethearts were working in the fields, young men often came
out and talked to them, and maybe worked a little. However, it was not
much real work that they did; they were but seeking a chance to talk,
each with his sweetheart.

_Sucking the Sweet Juice_

When the first green corn was plucked, we Indian women often broke off a
piece of the stalk and sucked it for the sweet juice it contained. We did
this merely for a little taste of sweets in the field; we never took the
green stalks home to use as food at our meals.

Did old men do this, you ask? (laughing.) How could they, with their
teeth all worn down? Old men could not chew such hard stuff!

No, just women and children did this—sucked the green corn stalks for the

_Corn as Fodder for Horses_

In the early part of the harvest season, when we plucked green corn to
boil, we gathered the ears first; afterwards we gathered the green stalks
from which the ears had been stripped. These stalks with the leaves on
them we fed to our horses, either without the lodge, or inside, in the

We commonly husked our corn, as I have said, out in the fields, piling up
the husks in a heap. After the corn was all in, we drove our horses to
the field to eat both the standing fodder and the husks that lay heaped
near the husking place. Horses readily ate corn fodder, and by the time
spring came again, there was little left in the field; not only were the
husks devoured, but most of the standing stalks were eaten off nearly or
quite to the ground.

_Disposition of Weeds_

Weeds that we cut down in hoeing a field, we let lie on the ground if
they were young weeds and bore no seeds nor blossoms, but if the weeds
had seeded, we bore them off the garden about fifteen or twenty yards
from the cultivated ground and left them to rot.

In olden times we Indian women let no weeds grow in our gardens. I was
very particular about keeping my own garden clean all the time.

_The Spring Clean-up_

We never bothered to burn weeds; but in the spring we always cleaned up
our fields before planting. We pulled up the stubs of corn stalks and
roots, and piled them with the previous year’s bean vines and sunflower
stalks, in the middle of the garden and burned them; this was commonly
done at the husking place, where the husks had been piled. There was not
a great deal of refuse left from the corn crop, however, as the horses
had eaten most of it for fodder in the previous fall; but bean vines they
would not eat.

I never saw any one fire their corn stalks in the fall. Our yearly
clean-up was always in the spring, when every field must be raked and
cleaned before planting.


We Hidatsas did not like to have the dung of animals in our fields. The
horses we turned into our gardens in the fall dropped dung; and where
they did so, we found little worms and insects. We also noted that where
dung fell, many kinds of weeds grew up the next year.

We did not like this, and we therefore carefully cleaned off the dried
dung, picking it up by hand and throwing it ten feet or more beyond the
edge of the garden plot. We did likewise with the droppings of white
men’s cattle, after they were brought to us.

The dung of horses and cattle raised sharp thistles, the kind that grows
up in a big bush; and mustard, and another plant that has black seeds.
These three kinds of weeds came to us with the white man; other weeds we
had before, but they were native to our land.

Our corn and other vegetables can not grow on land that has many weeds.
Now that white men have come and put manure on their fields, these
strange weeds brought by them have become common. In old times we
Hidatsas kept our gardens clean of weeds. I think this is harder to do
now that we have so many more kinds of weeds.

I do not know that the worms in the manure did any harm to our gardens;
but because we thought it bred worms and weeds, we did not like to have
any dung on our garden lands; and we therefore removed it.


Our corn, we knew, raised a good many worms. They came out in the ears;
it was the corn kernels that became the worms. Wood also became worms.
Leaves became worms. All these bred worms of themselves.

I knew also, when I was a young woman, that flies lay eggs, that after a
time the eggs move about alive; and that later these put on wings and fly
away. Whether all flies do this, I did not know, but I knew that some do.

Many worms appeared in our gardens in some years; in other years they
were fewer.

_Wild Animals_

Did buffaloes or deer ever raid our gardens? (laughing.) No. Buffaloes
have keen scent, and they could wind an Indian a long way off. While they
could smell us Indian people, or the smoke from our village, there was no
danger that they would come near to eat our crops.

Antelopes lived out on the plains, in the open country; they never came
near our fields.

Rocky Mountain sheep lived in the clay hills, in the very roughest
country, where cedar trees and sage brush grow.

Black-tailed deer lived far away in the Bad Lands, in the little round
patches of timber that are found there, where the country is very rough.
They were not found near our village, nor in such places as those in
which we planted our gardens.

White-tailed deer, however, lived in the heavy timber that lines the
banks of the Missouri river. A few are still found on this reservation.
However, though haunting the woods near our gardens, these deer never
molested our crops; they never ate our corn ears nor nibbled the stalks.

_About Old Tent Covers_

I have said that we made the threshing booth under the drying stage of an
old tent cover.

Buffalo hides that we wanted to use for making tent covers, were taken in
the spring when the buffaloes shed their hair and their skins are thin.
The skin tent cover which we then made would be used all that summer;
and the next winter, perhaps, we would begin to cut it up for moccasins.
The following spring, again, we could take more buffalo hides and make
another tent cover.

Not all families renewed a tent so often. Some families used a tent two
years, and some even a much longer time; but many families used a tent
cover but a single season. It was a very usual thing for the women of a
family to make a new tent cover, in the spring.

Old tent covers, as I have said, were cut up for moccasins, or they were
put to other uses. There was always a good deal of need about the lodge
for skins that had been scraped bare of hair; and the skins in a tent
cover were, of course, of this kind. Every bed in the earth lodge, in old
times, was covered with an old tent cover.

Skins needed in threshing time were partly of these bed covers, taken
down from the beds. Often the piece of an old tent cover from which
we had been cutting moccasins would be brought out and used. Then we
commonly had other buffalo hides, scraped bare of hair, stored in the
lodge, ready for any use.

Buffaloes were plentiful in those days, and skins were easy to get. We
had always abundance for use in threshing time.



_How We Got Potatoes and Other Vegetables_

The government has changed our old way of cultivating corn and our other
vegetables, and has brought us seeds of many new vegetables and grains,
and taught us their use. We Hidatsas and our friends, the Mandans, have
also been removed from our village at Like-a-fishhook bend, and made to
take our land in allotments; so that our old agriculture has in a measure
fallen into disuse.

I was thirty-three years old when the government first plowed up fields
for us; two big fields were broken, one between the village and the
agency, and another on the farther side of the agency.

New kinds of seeds were issued to us, oats and wheat; and we were made to
plant them in these newly plowed fields. Another field was plowed for us
down in the bottom land along the Missouri; and here we were taught to
plant potatoes. Each family was given a certain number of rows to plant
and cultivate.

At first we Hidatsas did not like potatoes, because they smelled so
strongly! Then we sometimes dug up our potatoes and took them into our
earth lodges; and when cold weather came, the potatoes were frozen, and
spoiled. For these reasons we did not take much interest in our potatoes,
and often left them in the ground, not bothering to dig them.

Other seeds were issued to us, of watermelons, big squashes, onions,
turnips, and other vegetables. Some of these we tried to eat, but did not
like them very well; even the turnips and big squashes, we thought not so
good as our own squashes and our wild prairie turnips. Moreover, we did
not know how to dry these new vegetables for winter; so we often did not
trouble even to harvest them.

The government was eager to teach the Indians to raise potatoes; and to
get us women to cultivate them, paid as much as two dollars and a half a
day for planting them in the plowed field. I remember I was paid that sum
for planting them. After three or four years, finding the Indians did not
have much taste for potatoes and rather seldom ate them, our agent made
a big cache pit—a root cellar you say it was—and bought our potato crop
of us. After this he would issue seed potatoes to us in the spring, and
in the fall we would sell our crop to him. Thus, handling potatoes each
year, we learned little by little to eat them.

_The New Cultivation_

The government also broke up big fields of prairie ground, and had us
plant corn in them; but these fields on the prairie near the hills I do
not think are so good as our old fields down in the timber lands along
the Missouri. The prairie fields get dry easily and the soil is harder
and more difficult to work.

Then I think our old way of raising corn is better than the new way
taught us by white men. Last year, 1911, our agent held an agricultural
fair on this reservation; and we Indians competed for prizes for the best
corn. The corn which I sent to the fair took the first prize. I raised
it on new ground; the ground had been plowed, but aside from that, I
cultivated the corn exactly as in old times, with a hoe.

_Iron Kettles_

The first pots, or kettles, of metal that we Hidatsas got were of yellow
tin [brass]; the French and the Crees also traded us kettles made of red
tin [copper].

As long as we could get our native clay pots, we of my father’s family
did not use metal pots much, because the metal made the food taste. When
I was a little girl, if any of us went to visit another family, and they
gave us food cooked in an iron pot, we knew it at once because we could
taste and smell the iron in the food.

I have said that we began cooking food in an iron kettle in my father’s
family when I was about eighteen years old; but the great iron kettle
that lies in Goodbird’s yard was given us by an Arikara woman before I
was born.



_Observations by Maxi´diwiac_

Tobacco was cultivated in my tribe only by old men. Our young men did not
smoke much; a few did, but most of them used little tobacco, or almost
none. They were taught that smoking would injure their lungs and make
them short winded so that they would be poor runners. But when a man got
to be about sixty years of age we thought it right for him to smoke as
much as he liked. His war days and hunting days were over. Old men smoked
quite a good deal.

Young men who used tobacco could run; but in a short time they became
short of breath, and water, thick like syrup, came up into the mouth. A
young man who smoked a great deal, if chased by enemies, could not run to
escape from them, and so got killed. For this reason all the young men of
my tribe were taught that they should not smoke.

Things have changed greatly since those good days; and now young and old,
boys and men, all smoke. They seem to think that the new ways of the
white man are right; but I do not. In olden days, we Hidatsas took good
care of our bodies, as is not done now.

_The Tobacco Garden_

The old men of my tribe who smoked had each a tobacco garden planted
not very far away from our corn fields, but never in the same plot
with one. Two of these tobacco gardens were near the village, upon the
top of some rising ground; they were owned by two old men, Bad Horn
and Bear-looks-up. The earth lodges of these old men stood a little
way out of the village, and their tobacco gardens were not far away.
Bear-looks-up called my father “brother” and I often visited his lodge.

Tobacco gardens, as I remember them, were almost universal in my tribe
when I was five or six years of age; they were still commonly planted
when I was twelve years old; but white men had been bringing in their
tobacco and selling it at the traders’ stores for some years, and our
tobacco gardens were becoming neglected.

As late as when I was sixteen, my father still kept his tobacco garden;
but since that day individual gardens have not been kept in my tribe.
Instead, just a little space in the vegetable garden is planted with seed
if the owner wishes to raise tobacco.

The seed we use is the same that we planted in old times. A big insect
that we call the “tobacco blower” used always to be found around our
tobacco gardens; and this insect still appears about the little patches
of tobacco that we plant.

The reason that tobacco gardens were planted apart from our vegetable
fields in old times was, that the tobacco plants have a strong smell
which affects the corn; if tobacco is planted near the corn, the growing
corn stalks turn yellow and the corn is not so good. Tobacco plants were
therefore kept out of our corn fields. We do not follow this custom now;
and I do not think our new way is as good for the corn.


Tobacco seed was planted at the same time sunflower seed was planted.

The owner took a hoe and made soft every foot of the tobacco garden; and
with a rake he made the loosened soil level and smooth.

He marked the ground with a stick into rows about eighteen inches apart.
He opened a little package of seed, poured the seed into his left palm,
and with his right sowed the seed very thickly in the row. He covered the
newly sowed seed very lightly with soil which he raked with his hand.

When rain came, and warmth, the seeds sprouted. The seed having been
planted thickly, the plants came up thickly, so that they had to be
thinned out. The owner of the garden would weed out the weak plants,
leaving only the stronger standing.

The earth about each plant was hilled up about it with a buffalo rib,
into a little hill like a corn hill. It was a common thing to see an
old man working in his tobacco garden with one of these ribs. Young men
seldom worked in the tobacco gardens; not using tobacco very much, they
cared little about it.

_Arrow-head-earring’s Tobacco Garden_

An old man, I remember, named Arrow-head-earring, or Ma´iạ-pokcahec, had
a patch of tobacco along the edge of a field on the east side of the
village. He was a very old man. He used a big buffalo rib, sharpened on
the edge, to work the soil and cultivate his tobacco. He caught the rib
in his hands by both ends with the edge downward; and stooping over,
he scraped the soil toward him, now and then raising the rib up and
loosening the earth with the point at one end—poking up the soil, so to

He wore no shirt as he worked; but he had a buffalo robe about his
middle, on which he knelt as he worked.

_Small Ankle’s Cultivation_

My father always attended to the planting of his tobacco garden. When the
seed sprouted he thinned out the plants, weeded the ground and hilled up
the tobacco plants later with his own hands.

Tobacco plants often came up wild from seed dropped by the cultivated
plants. These wild plants seemed just as good as the cultivated ones.
There seemed little preference between them.

_Harvesting the Blossoms_

Tobacco plants began to blossom about the middle of June; and picking
then began. Tobacco was gathered in two harvests. The first harvest was
of these blossoms, which we reckoned the best part of the plant for
smoking. Old men were fond of smoking them.

Blossoms were picked regularly every fourth day after the season set in.
If we neglected to pick them until the fifth day, the blossoms would
begin to seed.

This picking of the blossoms my father often did, but as he was old, and
the work was slow and took a long time, my sister and I used to help him.

I well remember how my sister and I used to go out in late summer, when
the plants were in bloom, and gather the white blossoms. These I would
pluck from the plants, pinching them off with my thumb nail. Picking
blossoms was tedious work. The tobacco got into one’s eyes and made them
smart just as white men’s onions do to-day.

We picked, as I have said, every fourth day. Only the green part of the
blossom was kept. The white part I always threw away; it was of no value.

To receive the blossoms I took a small basket with me to the garden.
There were two kinds used; one was the bark basket that we wove, and of
which you have specimens; the other kind was made of a buffalo bull’s
scrotum, with hair side out.

Such a basket as the latter was a little larger than the crown of a
white man’s hat, the hat band being about the same diameter as the rim
that we put on the basket. It had the usual band to go over forehead or
shoulders. I bore the basket in the usual way on my back; or I could
swing it around on my breast when actually picking, thus making it easy
to drop the blossoms into it.

More often, however, I took the basket off and set it on the ground when
plucking blossoms. I would make a little round place in the soft soil
with my hands and set the basket in it, so that it would stand upright.
The basket did not collapse, for the skin covering was tough and rigid,
not soft.

I often used the scrotum basket also for picking choke-cherries or June
berries. It was more convenient when berrying to carry the basket swung
around on my breast. Going home with the basket filled with berries, I
bore it in the usual way on my back.

My father usually worked with us; and indeed it was to help him, because
he was old, that we picked the blossoms at all. It was slow work. I did
not expect to gather more than a fourth of a small basketful every four
days; and as the blossoms shrunk a good deal in drying, a day’s picking
looked rather scant.

When we fetched the blossoms home to the lodge, my father would spread a
dry hide on the floor in front of his sacred objects of the Big Birds’
ceremony; they were two skulls and a sacred pipe, wrapped in a bundle and
lying on a kind of stand. We regarded these objects as a kind of shrine.
Nobody ever walked between the fire and the shrine as that would have
been a kind of disrespect to the gods. My father spread the new-plucked
blossoms on the hide to dry. Lying here before the shrine, it was certain
no one would forget and step on the blossoms.

It took quite a time to dry the blossoms. If the weather was damp and
murky for several days, my father, on appearance of the sun again, would
move the hide over to a place where the sun shining through the smoke
hole, would fall on the blossoms. The smoke hole, being rather large,
would let through quite a strong sunbeam, and the drying blossoms were
kept directly in the beam.

When the blossoms had quite dried, my father fetched them over near the
fireplace, and put them on a small skin, or on a plank. We commonly had
planks, or boards, split from cottonwood trunks, lying in the lodge; they
had many uses.

My father then took a piece of buffalo fat, thrust it on the end of a
stick and roasted it slowly over the coals. This piece of hot fat he
touched lightly here and there to the piled-up blossoms, so as to oil
them slightly, but not too much. He next moved the skin or board down
over the edge of the fire pit, tipping it slightly so that the heat from
the fire would strike the blossoms. Here he left them a little while, but
watching them all the time. Now and then he would gently stir the pile
of blossoms with a little stick, so that the whole mass might be oiled

This done my father took up the blossoms and put them into his tobacco
bag. The tobacco bag that we used then was exactly like that used to-day,
ornamented with quills or bead work; only in those days old men never
bothered to ornament their tobacco bags, just having them plain.

When my father wanted to smoke these dried blossoms, he drew them from
his tobacco bag and chopped them fine with a knife, a pipeful at a time.
Cured in this way, tobacco blossoms were called ạduatạkidu´cki. They were
smoked by old men unmixed.

The blossoms were always dried within the lodge. If dried without, the
sun and air took away their strength.

_Harvesting the Plants_

About harvest time, just before frost came, the rest of the plants were
gathered—the stems and leaves, I mean, left after the harvesting of the
blossoms. My father attended to this. He took no basket, but fetched the
plants in his arms.

He dried the plants in the lodge near the place where the cache pit lay.
For this he took sticks, about fifteen inches long, and thrust them over
the beam between two of the exterior supporting posts, so that the sticks
pointed a little upwards. On each of these sticks he hung two or three
tobacco plants by thrusting the plants, root up, upon the stick, but
without tying them.

When dry, these plants were taken down and put into a bag; or a package
was made by folding over them a piece of old tent cover; and the package
or bag was stored away in the cache pit.

When the tobacco plants were quite dry, the leaves readily fell off.
Leaves that remained on the plants were smoked, of course; but it was
the stems that furnished most of the smoking. They were treated like the
blossoms, with buffalo fat, before putting into the tobacco pouch; we did
not treat tobacco with buffalo fat except as needed for use, and to be
put into the tobacco pouch, ready for smoking.

I do not remember that my father ever saved any of the blossoms to store
away in the cache pit, as he did the stem, or plant tobacco. Friends and
visitors were always coming and going; and when they came into the lodge
my father would smoke with them, using the blossoms first, because they
were his best tobacco. In this way, the blossoms were used up about as
fast as they were gathered.

Before putting the tobacco away in the cache pit, my father was careful
to put aside seed for the next year’s planting. He gathered the black
seeds into a small bundle about as big as my fingers bunched together, or
about the size of a baby’s fist, wrapping them up in a piece of soft skin
which he tied with a string. He made two or three of these bundles and
tied them to the top of his bed, or to a post near by, where there was no
danger of their being disturbed.

We had no way of selecting tobacco seed. We just gathered any seed that
was borne on the plants. Of course there were always good and bad seeds
in every package; but as the owner of a tobacco garden always planted his
seed very thickly, he was able to weed out all the weak plants as they
came up, as I have already explained.

A tobacco plant, pulled up and hung up in the lodge, we called o´puti:
opi, tobacco, and uti, base, foundation, substantial part.

The Mandans and Arikaras raised tobacco exactly as we did, in little

_Selling to the Sioux_

We used to sell a good deal of tobacco to the Sioux. They called it
Pana´nitachani, or Ree’s tobacco.

A bunch six or seven inches in diameter, bound together, we sold for one
tanned hide.

_Size of Tobacco Garden_

My father’s tobacco garden, when I was a little girl, was somewhat larger
than this room; and that, as you measure it, is twenty-one by eighteen
feet. I have seen other tobacco gardens planted by old men that measured
somewhat larger; but this was about the average size.


If any one went into a tobacco garden and took tobacco without notifying
the owner, we said that his hair would fall out; and if any one in the
village began to lose his hair, and it kept coming out when he brushed
it, we would laugh and say, “Hey, hey, you man! You have been stealing

What? You say you got this tobacco out of Wolf Chief’s garden without
asking? (laughing heartily.) Then be sure your hair will fall out when
you comb it. Just watch, and see if it doesn’t!

I have said that my father softened the soil of his tobacco garden with
a hoe. After the plants began to grow, the hoe was not used, either for
cutting the weeds or for hilling up the plants. I have said that the weak
plants were culled out by hand, and that the strong plants were hilled up
with a buffalo rib.



When I was a little girl every tobacco garden had a willow fence around

I remember very well seeing such fences built. Post holes were made
by driving a sharp stake into the ground with an ax; the stake was
withdrawn, and into the hole left by it, a diamond willow was thrust for
a post; on this willow were left all the upper branches with the leaves.
A rail was run from the post to its next neighbor, at the height of a
woman’s shoulder, and stayed in place by bending over the leafy top of
the willow post, and drawing it around the rail, then twisting it down
and around the body at the post in a spiral manner. If the leafy top
of the post was long enough, and slender enough, it might, after being
wrapped spirally about the post, be even drawn out and woven into the

Below the top rail at a convenient distance, there ran a second rail,
bound to the post with bark. Besides these rails, branches and twigs, and
as I have said, the tops of the posts themselves, were interwoven into
the fence to make it as dense as possible.

The posts of the fence stood about two and a half feet apart, making,
with the rails and the interwoven twigs, a barrier so dense that even a
dog could not push through it.

There was an opening left to enter the garden, closed by a kind of
stile—bars of small poles thrust right and left between the posts;
against these bars were leaned one or two bull berry bushes, which were
removed when the owner wanted to enter.

If a weak place was found in the fence, it was strengthened with a bull
berry bush thrust into the ground and leaned against the fence or woven
into it.

_The Scrotum Basket_

I have said that we used a basket made of the scrotum of a buffalo bull,
for picking tobacco blossoms.

A fresh scrotum was taken, and a rim or hoop of choke-cherry wood was
bound around its mouth; choke-cherry limbs are flexible and easily bent.
The hoop was sewed in place with sinew passing through the skin and
around the hoop spirally.

[Illustration: Figure 39

Reproduced from sketch by Goodbird.]

A thong was bound at either end to opposite sides of the hoop, and the
whole was hung upon the drying stage, or at the entrance to the earth
lodge in the sun. The skin was then filled with sand until dry, when it
was emptied, the thong removed, and a band, or leather handle, was bound
on one side of the hoop, at places a few inches apart, and the basket was
ready for use.

The scrotum is the toughest part of the buffalo’s hide. When dried it is
as hard and rigid as wood.

Figure 39 is a sketch by Goodbird showing what the basket was like.

[Illustration: Figure 40]

Down in the bottoms along the Missouri near Independence school house
are the gardens—now abandoned—used by the neighboring families when they
first came to this part of the reservation, about 1886.

The fields are plainly marked in the underbrush and trees from the fact
that they are relatively open. Goodbird accompanied me to the several
locations and I made maps of the fields, which I include in figure 40.
While not accurately surveyed—I had to pace off the distances—the fields
are fairly accurately represented by the maps.

Figure 40, _I_, is a diagram in vertical section of the land surface in
which the gardens lie. Toward the right is seen the basin of the Missouri

At the extreme left is a bit of the prairie that abuts the foothills.
Between are two level terraces, one eighty yards, the other and lower,
one hundred and seventy-five yards in width. Four of the gardens lie
in the eighty-yard terrace; field _A_, of Small Ankle; _B_ of Big Foot
Bull; _E_ of Crow’s Breast, and _H_, a small bit of ground used by the
Small Ankle family for a squash garden. Gardens _C_ of Small Horn; _D_ of
Leggings; _F_ of Crow’s Breast; and _G_ of Cedar Woman, lie in the lower
and wider terrace.

With one exception the fields are called by the names of the male heads
of the families, a custom that probably began at the time allotments were
first made.

The relative positions of the fields are not as shown in the figure,
except of _A_ and _B_, the gardens of Small Ankle and Big Foot Bull.
These are separated by a wagon road that descends to the lower terrace,
as indicated on the map.

Doubtless the two terraces have been made by over-flow waters. It is
likely that both are still subject to overflow at long intervals,
especially the lower. The soil is light and sandy, but black and rich.
The overflow of the river would seem to suggest that the land would be
fertilized by silt deposited upon it; but my Indian informants seem to
attach no significance to this. Fields were located near the Missouri
“because the soil there is soft and easily worked, and does not become
dry and burn up the crops.”

                                                       GILBERT L. WILSON.


[1] Washington Matthews, _Ethnography and Philology of the Hidatsa
Indians_. U. S. Geological and Geographical Survey.

[2] Gilbert L. Wilson, _Myths of the Red Children_. Ginn and Company,

[3] George H. Pepper and Gilbert L. Wilson, _An Hidatsa Shrine and
the Beliefs Respecting It_. Memoirs of the American Anthropological
Association, 1908.

[4] Gilbert L. Wilson, _Goodbird, the Indian: His Story_. Fleming H.
Revell Co. 1914.

[5] “In the garden vegetable family are five; corn, beans, squashes,
sunflowers, and tobacco. The seeds of all these plants were brought up
from beneath the ground by the Mandan people.

“Now the corn, as we believe, has an enemy—the sun who tries to burn the
corn. But at night, when the sun has gone down, the corn has magic power.
It is the corn that brings the night moistures—the early morning mist and
fog, and the dew—as you can see yourself in the morning from the water
dripping from the corn leaves. Thus the corn grows and keeps on until it
is ripe.

“The sun may scorch the corn and try hard to dry it up, but the corn
takes care of itself, bringing the moistures that make the corn, and also
the beans, sunflowers, squashes, and tobacco grow.

“The corn possesses all this magic power.

“When you white people met our Mandan people we gave to the whites the
name Maci´, or Waci´, meaning nice people, or pretty people. We called
them by this name because they had white faces and wore fine clothes. We
said also ‘We will call these people our friends!’ And from that time to
this we have never made war on white men.

“Our Mandan corn must now be all over the world, for we gave the white
men our seeds. And so it seems we Mandans have helped every people. But
the seed of our varieties of corn were originally ours.

“We know that white men must also have had corn seed, for their corn is
different from ours. But all we older folk can tell our native corn from
that of white men.”—WOUNDED FACE (Mandan)

[6] Corn sucker, i. e., the extra shoot or stem that often springs up
from the base of the maize plant.

[7] Buffalobird-woman says she planted six to eight kernels to a hill.
Just what pattern she used she could not tell until she went out with a
handful of seed and planted a few hills to revive her memory. The three
patterns shown in figure 7 will show how she laid the grains in the
bottom of the several hills.—GILBERT L. WILSON

[8] “Twice in the corn season were scarecrows used; first, when the corn
was just coming up; and again when the grain was forming on the ear and
getting ripe.”—EDWARD GOODBIRD

[9] In August, 1910, Buffalobird-woman related the story of “The
Grandson,” in the course of which she said in explanation of reference to
a watchers’ stage:

“I will now stop a moment to explain something in the other form of this

“According to this way of telling it, there was a garden and in the
middle of the garden was a tree. There was a platform under the tree made
of trunks and slabs; and there those two girls sat to watch the garden
and sing watch-garden songs. They did this to make the garden grow, just
as people sing to a baby to make it be quiet and feel good. In old times
we sang to a garden for a like reason, to make the garden feel good and
grow. This custom was one used in every garden. Sometimes one or two
women sang.

“The singing was begun in the spring and continued until the corn was
ripe. We Indians loved our gardens and kept them clean; we did not let
weeds grow in them. Always in every garden during the growing season,
there would be some one working or singing.

“Now in old times, many of our gardens had resting stages, or watchers’
stages, such as I have just described. We always made our gardens down
in the woods by the river, because there is better ground there. When we
cut off the timber we would often leave one tree standing in the garden.
Under this tree were erected four forked posts, on which was laid a
platform. This made the stage; in the tree overhead we often spread robes
and blankets for shade.

“This resting stage was small. It was just big enough for two persons to
sit on comfortably. Corn was never dried on it; it was used for a singing
and resting place only. It was reached by a ladder. Its height was about
four and a half feet high.

“This resting stage or watchers’ stage was built on the north side of the
tree so that the shade of the tree would fall upon it. Robes were laid
on the floor of the stage to make a couch or bed. Sometimes people even
slept on this platform—sometimes a man and his wife slept there.

“This resting stage we used to rest on after working in the garden; and
to sing here the songs that we sang at this season of the year, and which
I have called watch-garden songs. A place to cook in was not far away on
the edge of the garden. It was a kind of booth, or bower. With a stake we
made holes in the ground in a circle, and into the holes thrust willows.
The tops of these willows we bent toward the center and joined together
to make a bower. Over the top we threw a robe. We built a fire beneath to
cook by.

“Our gardens I am describing were those at Like-a-fishhook village; and
they were on the Missouri on either side of the village. They were strung
along the river bank for a mile or more on either side of the village.”

[10] In redrawing Goodbird’s sketch this calf-skin has been omitted, that
the construction of the stage floor might be shown.

[11] “My wife is drying half-boiled corn on the ear this year. This way
we find makes the dried corn sweeter, but takes longer to dry it. We cook
it in winter by dropping the ear, cob and all, into the pot. This method
of drying corn was known also in old times.”—EDWARD GOODBIRD

[12] Buffalobird-woman means that the buskers arrived in the fields in
the morning to begin the day’s labors. More than one corn pile might be
husked in a single day.—GILBERT L. WILSON

[13] Water Chief having strolled into the cabin while Buffalobird-woman
was dictating, here interrupted with the following:

“The owner of a field would come and notify the crier of some society, as
the Fox or Dog society, or some other. The crier would go on the roof of
the society’s lodge and call, ‘All you of the Fox society come hither;
they want you to husk. When you all get here, we will go to that one’s
garden and husk the corn!’

“We young men of the society all gathered together and marched to the
field to which we were bidden. In old times we took our guns with us, for
the Sioux might come up to attack us. As we approached the field we began
to sing, that the girls might hear us. We knew that our sweethearts would
take notice of our singing. The girls themselves did not sing.

“At the corn pile in each garden would be the woman owner and maybe two
or three girls. On our way to some field, if we passed through other
fields with corn piles at which were girls, each young man looked to see
if his sweetheart was there; and if he saw her he would yell, expecting
that she would recognise his voice.

“Sometimes two societies husked at one corn pile. Any of the societies
might be asked. If the pile was too big for one society, another society
was asked, if the owner could afford the food for the feast.

“Different societies would be husking in different gardens all at the
same time.

“Sometimes a group of young men belonging to different societies were
asked to come and husk. This was chiefly at small gardens; the societies
were usually asked to come and husk the big corn piles of the larger

“If a society went early, they got through just after midday. By early I
mean nine o’clock in the morning.

“When we had finished husking one pile, we went to another. We worked
late, by moonlight, even.

“Some man of the family and his wife would be out all night and watch
by the corn if they had not gotten all the husked ears borne in to the
village. Also while the pile awaited husking watchers stayed by to
protect against horses.”

[14] “Corn in old times was gathered in September. A basket was carried
on the back and the corn was tossed into it over the shoulder, or the
basket was set on the ground and filled. This work was done by the women.
The corn having been plucked, the owner of the field notified people what
food she wanted to serve—meat or boiled corn-and-beans—and young men came
to husk the corn. A pile might be three or four feet high and twenty feet
long. The men huskers sat on one side of the pile and the women on the
other. The big ears were strung in braids. A braid was long enough to
reach from the thigh around under the foot and up again to the other side
of the thigh. A husker would try the newly made braid with his foot as
he held the ends in his hands. Unless this was done a weak place in the
string might escape notice and the braid break, and all the others would
then laugh.

“Small ears were tossed into one place. Four or five women would carry
off these ears in baskets; they bore the filled baskets right up the
ladder to the top of the drying stage. The braided strings were often
borne home on the backs of ponies, ten strings on a pony. They were hung
like dead snakes on the railings above the floor of the stage to dry.

“Boys and young men went to the husking bees because of the fun to be
had; they wanted to see the girls!”—EDWARD GOODBIRD (related in 1909).

[15] “Sometimes for fun we lads used to take long poles with nooses on
the end and snare off one ear of a braid of corn as it hung drying; for
the braids were soft when fresh. An ear broken off, we would run off and
make a fire and parch the corn. This was when we were little fellows, ten
or eleven years old. The owner would run after us, and if he caught one
of us, whipped him. However, this was our custom; and the owner and the
boy’s father both looked upon it as a kind of lark, and not anything very

[16] In 1910 Buffalobird-woman gave an interesting and detailed account
of the making of a clay pot. A newly made pot, she explained, was rubbed
over with boiled pounded-corn meal; and she added this rather humorous
variation of the recipe above:

“This mush, or boiled, pounded-corn meal was made thus:

“A clay pot was three-quarters filled with water and put on the fire to
boil. Meanwhile, twelve double handfuls of corn were pounded in the corn
mortar; usually we pounded three or four double handfuls at a time. This
began after breakfast; it was work and made us women sweat. The corn was
hard, ripe corn, yellow or white.

“These twelve double handfuls were thrown into the pot of now boiling
water, and boiled for half an hour. As there was no grease in the pot, we
had to stir the contents with a smooth stick to keep from sticking.

“As the corn boiled a scummy substance would rise to the top. To this
the woman cooking would touch the point of her horn spoon, and carry it
to her tongue and lick it off. When she could taste that it was sticky
enough, she knew that it was time to add beans. It took, as I have said,
about half an hour for the corn to boil to this point.

“She now added some spring salt. This is alkaline salt which we gathered
about the mouth of springs. It was white. The woman put some of this salt
in a cup and made a strong liquor—in old times instead of a cup she used
a horn spoon. She now added the salt liquor to the mess. It took about
enough of this white salt to make a heaping tablespoonful to one pot of
this corn mess. As the salt liquor was poured into the pot, the woman
held her hand over the mouth of the cup, so that if any pieces of grass
or other refuse were in it, they would be strained out by her fingers.

“The corn when it is pounded does not pound evenly; and so when it was
put into the pot, the finer part of the meal was cooked first. This rose
to the top, and in old times was skimmed off. The coarser parts of the
meal took longer to cook; but the skimmed-off part, when the other was
done, was poured back into the pot again.

“When the pounded corn meal had now all cooked and the salt had been
added, the beans were put in—red, spotted, black, or shield-figured,
we did not have white beans in very old times; they were brought in by
white men. The pot was now let boil until the beans were done. Beans were
always added to the pot.

“A pot of corn meal and beans was [almost] always on the fire in the
lodge. The boys of the lodge liked to come around when the corn was
cooking and dip horn spoons into the thick, rising liquor, and lick it
off as I have described the woman doing as she cooked.

“It was this sticky, rising liquor taken off the boiling corn to keep and
return to it, that was used to rub over a newly made pot. When this was
done, the pot was ready to boil corn in.

“After using a pot, it was usually rubbed over with the residue of the
boiled corn meal, or mush, because this made the pot look better and last

“The skimmed-off liquor from a pot of boiling corn meal was also fed to
a baby whose mother had died, and whose family could not hire a woman to
nurse it.”

[17] Measuring from center of corn hill to center of next corn hill.—G.
L. W.

[18] “I have raised white beans mostly of late years because it is easier
to sell them to white men. This summer, however (1913), I planted several
acres also to other kinds of our Hidatsa beans, red, black, spotted.

“I find that the black beans have yielded best, next the red, then the
spotted, last of all the white. I have observed before that this is true;
that black beans yield the most.”—WOLF CHIEF

[19] Slough grass, a species of Spartina.

[20] Buffalobird-woman here means a three-section stage. A stage of four
sections would be forty feet or more in length.—G. L. W.

[21] “The first that rakes are mentioned in the stories of my tribe
so far as I know, is in the tale of ‘The Grandson.’ There is a little
lake down near Short River where lived an old magic woman, whom we call
Old-woman-who-never-dies. There is a level piece of ground near by,
about five miles long by one and a half mile wide. This flat land was
the garden of Old-woman-who-never-dies. Her servants were the deer that
thronged the near-by timber. These deer worked her garden for her. All
buck deer have horns; and with their horns the deer raked up the weeds
and refuse of Old-woman-who-never-dies’s garden.

“Now deer shed their horns. Old-woman-who-never-dies got these shed horns
and bound them on sticks and so we got our first rakes. Her grandson saw
what she did and afterwards taught the people to make rakes also.

“In later times we learned to make rakes of ash wood instead of horns;
but we still reckon the teeth to mean the tines of a deer’s antler.
Sometimes deer have six, sometimes seven tines on an antler. So we make
our ash rakes, some with six, some with seven teeth.

“If the Grandson had not seen what his grandmother did, we Hidatsas would
never have known how to make rakes, either of horn or of ash wood.”—WOLF
CHIEF (told in 1910).

[22] “In my tribe in old times, some men helped their wives in their
gardens. Others did not. Those who did not help their wives talked
against those who did, saying, ‘That man’s wife makes him her servant!’

“And the others retorted, ‘Look, that man puts all the hard work on his

“Men were not alike; some did not like to work in the garden at all, and
cared for nothing but to go around visiting or to be off on a hunt.

“My father, Small Ankle, liked to garden and often helped his wives. He
told me that that was the best way to do. ‘Whatever you do,’ he said,
‘help your wife in all things!’ He taught me to clean the garden, to help
gather the corn, to hoe, and to rake.

“My father said that that man lived best and had plenty to eat who helped
his wife. One who did not help his wife was likely to have scanty stores
of food.”—WOLF CHIEF (told in 1910).

       *       *       *       *       *


1. HERBERT G. LAMPSON, A Study on the Spread of Tuberculosis in Families.
1913. $0.50.

2. JULIUS V. HOFMAN, The Importance of Seed Characteristics in the
Natural Reproduction of Coniferous Forests. In press.


1. ESTHER L. SWENSON, An Inquiry into the Composition and Structure of
_Ludus Coventriae_; HARDIN CRAIG, Note on the Home of _Ludus Coventriae_.
1914. $0.50.

2. ELMER EDGAR STOLL, _Othello_: An Historical and Comparative Study.
1915. $0.50.

3. COLBERT SEARLES, _Les Sentiments de l’Académie Française sur le Cid_:
Edition of the Text, with an Introduction. 1916. $1.00.

4. PAUL EDWARD KRETZMANN, The Liturgical Element in the Earliest Forms of
the Medieval Drama. 1916. $1.00.

5. ARTHUR JERROLD TIEJE, The Theory of Characterization in Prose Fiction
prior to 1740. 1916. $0.75.


1. WILLIAM ANDERSON, The Work of Public Service Commissions. 1913. $0.15.

2. BENJAMIN F. PITTENGER, Rural Teachers’ Training Departments in
Minnesota High Schools. 1914. $0.15.

3. GERHARD A. GESELL, Minnesota Public Utility Rates. 1914. $0.25.

4. L. D. H. WELD, Social and Economic Survey of a Community in the Red
River Valley. 1915. $0.25.

5. GUSTAV P. WARBER, Social and Economic Survey of a Community in
Northeastern Minnesota. 1915. $0.25.

6. JOSEPH B. PIKE, Bulletin for Teachers of Latin. 1915. $0.25.

7. AUGUST C. KREY, Bulletin for Teachers of History. 1915. $0.25.

8. CARL SCHLENKER, Bulletin for Teachers of German. 1916. $0.25.

9. WILLIAM WATTS FOLWELL, Economic Addresses. In press.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians - An Indian Interpretation" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.