Part 5 out of 9
with fear, for it had shook so for many days.
Then the battle began, and at the second throw of the spears
he with the trembling hand was clove through the heart, and
killed instantly, while the other warrior did not receive a
After the fight was over, the warriors all went to the trader's
lodge, and he brought in a pail more than a quart of the
black water, which he gave in small quantities to each warrior.
When they had swallowed it, they began to dance and sing, and
many lay down on the ground and slept as though they were dead.
Next day they came again and asked for more black water; and
so they came each day, dancing and singing, for more than
One morning the trader said he would give them no more black
water unless they paid him for it, and this they did.
The price was at first one robe for each sup sufficient to
make them sleep, but, as the black water became scarce,
two robes, and finally three were paid for a sleep. Then the
trader said he had no more except a little for himself, and
this he would not sell; but the warriors begged so hard for
some he gave them a sleep for many robes. Even the body-robes
were soon in the hands of the trader, and the warriors were
very poor, but still they begged for more black water, giving
a pony in exchange for each sleep. The trader took all the
ponies, and then the warriors offered their squaws, but there
was no more black water, and the trader said he would go and
He packed all the robes on the ponies and was about to set out,
when a warrior made a speech, saying that now that he had all
their robes and ponies, and they were very poor, the trader
was going away and would never return, for they had nothing
more to give him. So the warriors said he should not depart,
and ordered him to unpack the ponies. The trader told them
he would soon return with plenty of black water, and give it
to them as he did at first. Many of the warriors were willing
that he should depart, but others said no, and one declared
that he had plenty of black water still left and was going off
to trade with their enemies, the Sioux. This created great
excitement, and the trader's store and all his packs were
searched, but no black water found. Still the warriors
asserted that he had it, and that it was hidden away.
The warriors declared that they would kill him unless he
instantly told them where he had hid it, and upon his not
being able to do so, they rushed into his lodge and murdered
him before the eyes of his squaw, tearing off his scalp and
stamping upon his body. This so alarmed the white squaw that
she attempted to run out of the lodge, and, as she came to
the door, a warrior struck her on the head with his tomahawk
and she fell down as though she were dead.
The chief made a great speech, saying that now, as the trader
was dead, they would burn his lodge and take back all their
robes and ponies. So the lodge was fired, and as it burned
a Crow squaw saw by its light the white squaw lying before
the door, and that she was not dead, and she took her to her
lodge, sewed up her wounds, and gave her something to eat.
The squaw lived and got well, but she was crazy and could not
bear the sight of a warrior, believing that every one who
came near her was going to kill her.
One day the white squaw was missing, and the whole village
turned out to look for her. They followed her tracks far
down the river, but could not find her. Some women out
gathering berries a few days afterward said the white squaw
came to them and asked for food, showing them at the same
time where she was hiding in the bluffs near by. She begged
them not to tell the warriors where she was, or they would
come and kill her. The squaws tried to dissuade her from
a notion so foolish, but they could not get her to return
to the village.
Every day the squaws went and took her food, and she lived
for many months, no one knowing where she was but the women.
When the warriors came about she hid away, and would not stir
out until they were gone. One day, however, a warrior out
hunting antelope came suddenly upon her and she fled away,
but he followed her, wishing to bring her to the village.
All day she ran over the hills, and at night the warrior came
back, being unable to catch her. She was never seen again,
and what became of her is not known, although it is likely
she died of hunger, or that the wild beasts destroyed her.
Ever after, when the Indians came here to camp, they told
the story of the crazy woman, and the place became known as
the “place of the crazy woman,” and the name of Big Beard
was almost entirely forgotten.
Laramie Plains present a broad bottom on both sides of the river,
comprising about twelve hundred square miles, bounded on the north
and east by the Black Hills, on the south by a “divide” of arenaceous
rock, embedded in marl and white clay, almost barren of verdure, while
on the west are the beautiful Medicine Bow Mountains. The southern
portion of these plains is watered by a succession of streams which
rise in the mountains, some of them discharging their volume into the
Laramie River, others sinking in the sand—a characteristic of many
creeks and so-called rivers of the central region of the continent.
The northern portion of these vast prairies is a high tableland,
devoid of water, its soil mixed with clay and sand, but producing the
grass peculiar to the other plains region. Toward the southeastern
extremity, at the foot of an isolated mountain, is a salt lake of
considerable dimensions, several other sheets of water are also to
be seen in the vicinity of the Medicine Bow Mountains, all of which
are strongly impregnated with mineral salts. The Laramie River
traces its course through the whole extent, rising in the southern
extremity of the Medicine Bow Mountains, and empties into the
North Platte, at Fort Laramie.
Laramie Peak was the guiding hill that emigrants first saw of the
far-famed western mountains—especially its snow-covered crest,
a veritable beacon, its summit glistening in the morning sun as its
rays fell upon it, the majestic hill ever pointing out the direction
which the earnest pilgrims should travel.
The existence of a large lake of salt water somewhere amid the wilds
west of the Rocky Mountains seems to have been vaguely known as long
ago as two hundred years. As early as May, 1689, the Baron
La Hontan, lord-lieutenant of the French colony at Placentia,
in New Foundland, wrote an account of discoveries in this region,
which was published in the English language in 1735.
In the letter, which is dated at “Missilimakinac,” he gives “an
account of the author's departure from and return to Missilimakinac;
a description of the Bay of Puants and its villages; an ample
description of the beavers, followed by the journal of a remarkable
voyage upon Long River, and a map of the adjacent country.”
Leaving Mackinaw, he passed into Green Bay, which he calls
“the Bay of Pouteoutamois,” and arrived at the mouth of Fox
River, which he describes as “a little, deep sort of a river,
which disembogues at a place where the water of the lake
swells three feet high in twelve hours, and decreases as much
in the same compass of time.”
The villages of the Sakis, Pouteouatamis, and some Malominis
are seated on the side of that river, and the Jesuits have
a house, or college, built upon it. Ascending the Fox River,
called “the river of Puants,” he came to a village of Kikapous,
which stands on the brink of a little lake, in which the
savages fish great quantities of pikes and gudgeons.
Still ascending the river, he passed through the “little lake
of the Malominis,” the sides of which “are covered with a sort
of oats, which grow in tufts, with a small stalk, and of which
the savages reap plentiful crops,” and at length arrived at
the land carriage of Ouisconsinc, which “we finished in two
days; that is, we left the river Puants, and transported our
canoes and baggage to the river Ouisconsinc, which is not
above three-quarters of a league distant, or thereabouts.”
Descending the Wisconsin, in four days he reached its mouth,
and landed on an island in the river Mississippi.
So far, the journey of the Baron La Hontan is plain enough;
but beyond this point it is rather apocryphal. He states that
he ascended the Mississippi for nine days, when he “entered
the mouth of the Long River, which looks like a lake full of
bulrushes.” He sailed up this river for six weeks, passing
through various nations of savages, of which a most fanciful
description is given. At length, determined by the advance
of the season, he abandoned the intention of reaching the
head of the river, and returned to Canada, having at the
termination of his voyage first “fixed a long pole, with the
arms of France done upon a plate of lead.” The following
is his description of the “Long River”: “You must know that
the stream of the Long River is all along very slack and easy,
abating for about three leagues between the fourteenth and
fifteenth villages; for there, indeed, its current may be
called rapid. The channel is so straight that it scarce winds
at all from the head of the lake. 'Tis true 'tis not very
pleasant, for most of its banks have a dismal prospect, and
the water itself has an ugly taste; but then its usefulness
atones for such inconveniences, for 'tis navigable with the
greatest ease, and will bear barks of fifty tons, till you
come to that place which is marked with a flower-de-luce in
the map, and where I put up the post that my soldiers
christened La Hontan's Limit.”
A detailed map accompanies this imaginative voyage up this
most imaginary river. It is represented as flowing east
through twenty-five degrees of longitude, numerous streams
putting into it on either side, with mountains, islands,
villages, and domains of Indian tribes, whose very names have
at this day sunk into oblivion. The map was afterward
published, in 1710, by John Senex, F.R.S., as a part of North
America, corrected from the observations communicated to the
Royal Society at London and the Royal Academy at Paris.
This discovery of Baron La Hontan excited, even at that early
day, the spirit of enterprise and speculation which has proved
so marked a feature in the national character. In a work
published in 1772, and entitled “A description of the Province
of Carolina, by the Spaniards called Florida, and by the
French La Louisiane, by Daniel Cox,” the then proprietary,
the first part of the fifth chapter is devoted to “A new and
curious discovery and relation of an easy communication
between the river Meschacebe (Mississippi) and the South Sea,
which separates America from China, by means of several
large rivers and lakes.”
The existence of the Great Salt Lake of Utah was known to the early
Spanish voyageurs under the intrepid Coronado, through stories told
them by the Indians, but there is no trustworthy account of any of
them having seen it. To Jim Bridger, the famous mountaineer and
scout, must be accorded the honour of having been the first white man
to look upon its brackish waters. He discovered it in the winter of
1824-25, accidentally, in deciding a bet. The story of this visit to
the Great Salt Lake comes down to us by the most reliable testimony.
It appears that a party of trappers, under the command of William H.
Ashley, one day found themselves on Bear River, in what is known as
Willow Valley, and while lying in camp a discussion arose in relation
to the probable course of the river. A wager was made, and Bridger
sent out to determine the question. He paddled a long distance and
came out on the Great Salt Lake, whose water he tasted and found it
salt. Having made the discovery as to where the Bear River emptied,
he retraced his lonely journey and reported the result to his companions.
Upon his report of the vast dimensions of the strange inland body of
salt water, they all became anxious to learn whether other streams
did not flow into the lake, and if so, there were new fields in which
to try their luck in trapping beaver. To learn the fact four of them
constructed boats of skins, and paddling into the lake, explored it.
Of course, it cannot be clearly proven that Old Jim Bridger was the
first white man who saw the Great Salt Lake, but all others who have
made claim to its discovery have not satisfied the demands of truth
in their particulars, so the honour must and does rest upon Bridger;
for no more authentic account of its discovery can be found.
His statement is corroborated by such men as Robert Campbell,
of St. Louis, and other famous mountaineers of the time.
There is a pretty piece of fiction connected with one of the claimants
to its discovery, by the celebrated Jim Beckwourth, that famous
Afro-American, who was chief of the Crow Nation. It says:
One day in June, 1822, a beautiful Indian maiden offered him
a pair of moccasins if he would procure for her an antelope
skin, and bring the animal's brains with it, in order that
she might dress a deerskin. Beckwourth started out in his
mission, but failed to see any antelope. He did see an
Indian coming toward him, whose brains he proposed to himself
to take to the savage maiden after he had killed the buck,
believing that she would never discover the difference, and
had pulled up his rifle to fire when he happily saw that his
supposed savage was William H. Ashley, of the American Fur
Company, and who told him that he had sailed through Green
River into the Great Salt Lake.
It may be true that Ashley did sail upon the Great Salt Lake before
Bridger; but the story lacks confirmation; it has not that reliable
endorsement which Bridger's claim possesses.
Jedediah Smith, another of the famous coterie of old trappers, called
the lake Utah, and the river which flows into it from the south after
the celebrated Ashley.
Much has been given to the world in relation to the vicinity of the
Great Salt Lake and the contiguous part of Utah by the famous author,
Washington Irving, in his adventures of Captain Bonneville, but it
should be taken cum grano salis; for, as Bancroft truthfully observes:
Irving humoured the captain, whose vanity prompted him to give
his own name to the lake, although he had not a shadow of
title to that distinction. Yet on Bonneville's map of the
region, the lake is plainly lettered “Bonneville's Lake.”
Many old maps, dating from 1795 to 1826, have laid down upon
them an inland sea, or lake, together with many other strange
rivers and creeks, which never had any existence except in
the minds of their progenitors, taken from the legendary tales
of the old trappers, who in turn got them from the savages.
The early emigrants to Oregon and California did not travel
within many miles of the Great Salt Lake, so but very scanty
reports are to be found in relation to the country. General
Fremont, too, like a great many explorers, got puffed up with
his own importance, and when, on the 6th of September, 1846,
he saw for the first time the Great Salt Lake, he compares
himself to Balboa, when that famous Spaniard gazed upon the
Pacific. Fremont, too, says that he was the first to sail
upon its saline waters, but again, as in many of his statements,
he commits an unpardonable error; for Bridger's truthful story
of the old trappers who explored it in search of streams
flowing into it, in the hopes of enlarging their field of
beaver trapping, antedates Fremont's many years.
Captain Stansbury, of the United States army, made the first survey
of the lake in 1849-50. Stansbury Island was named after him;
Gunnison Island after Lieutenant Gunnison, of his command; Fremont's
Island, after that explorer, who first saw it in 1843, and called it
Members of Captain Bonneville's company first looked upon the lake
from near the mouth of the Ogden River, in 1833. His name has been
given to a great fossil lake, whose shore line may now be seen
throughout the neighbouring valleys, and of which the Great Salt Lake
is but the bitter fragment.
The outlet to this vast ancient body of water has been shown by
Professor Gilbert to have been at a place now called Red Rock Pass.
INDIAN TRIBES ON THE TRAIL.
The Otoes, once occupying the region at the mouth of the Platte, were
a very brave and interesting tribe. When first known to the whites,
in the early part of the century, the chief of the nation was I-e-tan,
a man of great courage, excellent judgment, and crafty, as are always
the most intelligent of the North American savages. His leading
attributes were penetration of character, close observation of
everything that occurred, and a determination to carry out his ideas,
which were remarkable in their development. An old regular army
officer, long since dead, who knew I-e-tan well and spoke his language,
said that he had known him to form estimates of men, judicious, if not
accurate, from half an hour's acquaintance, and without understanding
a word that was spoken. But beneath his calm exterior there burned
a lava of impetuous passions, which, when strongly moved, burst forth
with a fierce and blind violence.
I-e-tan had the advantage of a fine and commanding figure,
so remarkable, indeed, that once at a dinner, on a public occasion,
at Jefferson Barracks, his health was drunk, with a complimentary
allusion to the lines from Shakespeare:
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal
To give the world assurance of a man.
In a deep carousal which took place one night in the village, in 1822,
his brother, a fine fellow, named Blue-eyes (that colour being rare
among the Indians), had the misfortune to bite off a small piece of
I-e-tan's nose. So soon as he became sensible of this irreparable
injury, to which, as an Indian, he was, perhaps, even more sensitive
than a white man, I-e-tan burned with a mortal resentment. He retired,
telling his brother that he would kill him. He got a rifle, returned,
and deliberately shot him through the heart. He had found Blue-eyes
leaning with folded arms against a pillar of his lodge, and thus,
with a heroic stoicism, which has been rightly attributed as a
characteristic of the race, without a murmur, or the quiver of a
muscle, he submitted to his cruel fate.
Then was I-e-tan seized with a violent remorse, and exhibited the
redeeming traits of repentance and inconsolable grief, and of
greatness, in the very constancy of the absorbing sentiment.
He retired from all intercourse with his race, abstaining wholly from
drink, for which he had a propensity, and, as if under a vow, he went
naked for nearly two years. He also meditated suicide, and was
probably only prevented from committing it by the influence of a white
friend. He sought honourable death in desperate encounters with all
the enemies he could find, and in this period acquired his name, or
title, from a very destructive attack he made upon a party of another
tribe. He lived a year or two with the Pawnees, acquiring perfectly
their difficult language, and attaining a great influence over them,
which he never lost. After several years of such penance, I-e-tan
revisited the villages of his nation, and, in 1830, on the death of
La Criniere, his elder brother, succeeded him as principal chief.
I-e-tan married many of the finest girls of his own and neighbouring
tribes, but never had any children. Latterly one of his wives
presented him with a male child, which was born with teeth.
I-e-tan pronounced it a special interposition of the Great Spirit,
of which this extraordinary sign was proof.
I-e-tan was the last chief who could so far resist the ruinous
influence of the increasing communication of his tribe with the
villanous, the worse than barbarous, whites of the extreme frontier
as to keep the young men under a tolerable control, but his death
proved a signal for license and disorder.
Intemperance was the great fault in I-e-tan's character, and the cause
of his greatest misfortune and crime. It led to his violent death.
The circumstances of this tragedy are worthy of record, if only that
they develop some strong traits of aboriginal character. They are as
follows: In April, 1837, accompanied by his two youngest wives, at a
trading-house at the mouth of the Platte, he indulged in one of his
most violent fits of drunkenness, and in this condition, on a dark
and inclement night, drove his wives out of doors. Two men of his
tribe, who witnessed these circumstances, persuaded the women to fly
in their company. One of these men had formerly been dangerously
stabbed by I-e-tan. Actuated by hatred, calculating the chief's power
was on the decline, and depending on the strength of their connections,
which were influential, the seducers became tired of living out in
hunting-camps and elsewhere, and determined to return to the village
and face it out. Such cases of elopement are not very frequent;
but after a much longer absence the parties generally become silently
reconciled, if necessary, through the arrangement of friends.
I-e-tan said, however, that it was not only a personal insult and
injury, but an evidence of defiance of his power, and that he would
live or die the chief of the Otoes. His enemies had prepared their
friends for resistance, and I-e-tan armed himself for the conflict.
He sought and found the young men in the skirts of the village, near
some trees where their supporters were concealed. I-e-tan addressed
the man whom he had formerly wounded: “Stand aside! I do not wish to
kill you; I have perhaps injured you enough.” The fellow immediately
fled. He then fired upon the other, and missed him. As the white
man was about to return the fire, he was shot down by a nephew of
I-e-tan's from a great distance. I-e-tan then drew a pistol, jumped
astride his fallen enemy, and was about to blow out his brains, when
the interpreter, Dorian, hoping even then to stop bloodshed, struck up
his pistol, which was discharged in the air, and seized him around the
body and arms. At this instant the wounded man, writhing in the agony
of death, discharged his rifle at random. The ball shattered Dorian's
arm and broke both of I-e-tan's, but the latter, being then unloosened,
sprang and stamped upon the body, and called upon his sister, an old
woman, to beat out his brains. This she did with an axe, with which
she had come running with his friends and nephews from the village.
At this instant—Dorian being out of the way—a volley was fired at
I-e-tan, and five balls penetrated his body. Then his nephews, coming
too late to his support, took swift vengeance. They fired at his now
flying enemies, and, although they were in motion, nearly two hundred
yards distant, three of them fell dead.
I-e-tan was conveyed to his lodge in the village, where being
surrounded by many relations and friends, he deplored the condition
of the nation, and warned them against the dangers to which it was
exposed. He assured them most positively that if he willed it,
he could continue to live, but that many of the Otoes had become
such dogs that he was weary of governing them, and that his arms
being broken, he could no longer be a great warrior. He gave some
messages for his friend, the agent, who was expected at the village,
and then turning to a bystander, told him he had heard that day that
he had a bottle of whiskey, and ordered him to bring it. This being
done, he caused it to be poured down his throat, and when drunk he
sang his death song and died.
The Pawnees were the next considerable tribe on the Salt Lake Trail,
west of the Otoes. The Pawnee territory, as late as sixty years ago,
extended from the Niobrara, south to the Arkansas. This territory
embraced a large portion of what is now Kansas and Nebraska, but it
must not be supposed for a moment that they held undisputed possession
of this territory. On their north a constant war was waged against
them by the Dakotas, or Sioux, while on the south every tribe,
comprising the Osages, the Comanches, the Arapahoes, and the Kiowas,
were equally relentless in their hostility. In fact, as far back as
their history and traditions date, the Pawnees were constantly on the
defensive against the almost numberless hereditary enemies by which
they were surrounded. No greater proof of their prowess is needed
than the statement that during all the years of their continual
warfare, they held possession of their vast and phenomenally rich
hunting-grounds. In 1833, by treaty they surrendered to the United
States all of their territory south of the Platte River. In 1858 they
gave up their remaining territory, excepting a strip thirty miles long
and fifteen miles wide upon the Loup Fork of the Platte. In 1874 they
sold this last of their original possessions to the United States and
were placed upon a Reservation in the Indian Territory.
In the traditions of the several bands it is related that the Pawnees
originally came from the south.
The tribal mark of the Pawnee is a scalp-lock, nearly erect, having
the appearance of a horn. In order to keep it in its upright position,
it was filled with vermilion or some other pigment. It is claimed by
those who have made a special study of this tribe that the name Pawnee
is derived from pa-rik-i, a horn.
Lewis and Clarke found them above the mouth of the Cheyenne River.
Both these early explorers state in their _Itinerary_ that the Pawnee
women were very handsome. At that date they were very friendly
toward the United States, and remained so for a great many years.
Seventeen or eighteen years afterward they became fearfully hostile.
This remarkable change in their attitude toward the government has
been attributed to the action of the Northwestern Fur Company, which
spared no efforts to divert the trade of the Pawnee region from the
Missouri Fur Company. Their first outbreak was in 1823, when they
made a raid upon some boats of the last-mentioned company, killing
and wounding a number of their men. In consequence of this overt act,
an expedition under Colonel Leavenworth, in conjunction with six
hundred friendly Dakotas, was organized at Council Bluffs, and sent
against them. In August of that same year a treaty of peace was made
with them, but nine years afterward Catlin found them so hostile that
it was dangerous to attempt any intercourse with them.
All of the early French writers have much to say of the Pawnees, but
there is not space in this book to quote the many interesting facts
contained in their writings. Their number in the early years of the
century, according to various authors, differs materially, one
enumerating them as high as twenty-five thousand, another as low as
six thousand. In 1838 the tribe suffered terribly from smallpox,
which it is alleged was communicated to it by Dakota women they had
taken as prisoners. The mortality among the grown persons was not
very great, but that of the children was enormous. In 1879, according
to the official census of the Indian Bureau, the tribe had been
reduced to one thousand four hundred and forty.
One eminent author, Mr. John B. Dunbar, very correctly says:
The causes of this continual decrease are several. The most
constantly acting influence has been the deadly warfare with
surrounding tribes. Probably not a year in this century has
been without losses from this source, though only occasionally
have they been marked with considerable disasters. In 1832
the Ski-di band suffered a severe defeat on the Arkansas from
the Comanches. In 1847 a Dakota war-party, numbering over
seven hundred, attacked a village occupied by two hundred and
sixteen Pawnees, and succeeded in killing eighty-three.
In 1854 a party of one hundred and thirteen were cut off by
an overwhelming body of Cheyennes and Kiowas, and killed
almost to a man. In 1873 a hunting party of about four
hundred, two hundred and thirteen of whom were men, on the
Republican, while in the act of killing a herd of buffalo,
were attacked by nearly six hundred Dakota warriors, and
eighty-six were killed. But the usual policy of their
enemies has been to cut off individuals, or small scattered
parties, while engaged in the chase or in tilling isolated
corn patches. Losses of this kind, trifling when taken
singly, have in the aggregate borne heavily on the tribe.
It would seem that such losses, annually recurring, should
have taught them to be more on their guard. But let it be
remembered that the struggle has not been in one direction,
against one enemy. The Dakotas, Crows, Kiowas, Cheyennes,
Arapahoes, Comanches, Osages, and Kansans have faithfully
aided each other, though undesignedly in the main, in this
crusade of extermination against the Pawnees. It has been,
in the most emphatic sense, a struggle of the one against
the many. With the possible exception of the Dakotas, there
is much reason to believe that the animosity of these tribes
has been acerbated by the galling tradition of disastrous
defeats which Pawnee prowess had inflicted upon themselves
in past generations. To them the last seventy years have
been a carnival of revenge.
The Pawnees once were a great people. They had everything that
heart could wish. Their corn and buffalo gave them food, clothing,
and shelter. They were very light-hearted and contented when at
peace; in war they were cunning, fierce, and generally successful.
Their very name was a terror to their enemies.
When the Pawnees of the Platte were sorely afflicted with smallpox,
and when they were visited by their agent, he depicts in his report
the most horrible scenes. The poor wretches were utterly ignorant of
any remedy or alleviation. Some sank themselves to the mouth in the
river, and awaited death which was thus hastened. The living could
not always protect the dying and dead from the wolves. Their chief,
Capote Bleu, once exclaimed to an American officer: “Oh my father, how
many glorious battles we might have fought, and not lost so many men!”
The Pawnees were probably the most degraded, in point of morals,
of all the Western tribes; they were held in such contempt by the
other tribes that none would make treaties with them. They were
populous at one time, and were the most inveterate enemies of the
whites, killing them wherever they met.
The Pawnees in reality comprised five bands, which constituted the
entire nation: The Grand Pawnee Band; the Republican Pawnee Band;
Pawnee Loups, or Wolf Pawnees; Pawnee Picts, or Tattooed Pawnees; and
Black Pawnees. Each land was independent and under its own chief,
but for mutual defence, or in other cases of urgent necessity, they
united in one body, and in the early days on the plains could raise
from thirty to forty thousand warriors.
They were, perhaps, the most cruel of all Indian nations. They evinced
a demoniacal delight in inflicting the most exquisite tortures upon
their captives. They were impure, both in their ordinary conversation
and in their daily conduct. Still, they had some redeeming qualities.
The recognition of the claims of their relations might be emulated by
our higher civilization; so impressed upon their natures was the duty
to those who were related to them, that their language contains a
proverb: “Ca-si-ri pi-rus, he wi-ti ti-ruk-ta-pi-di-hu-ru—Why, even
the worms, they love each other—much more should men.” They were
also very hospitable, very sociable, and fond of telling stories.
They really had a literature of stories and songs, which, if they
could be gathered in their entirety, would make a large volume.
One form of sacrifice formerly practised in the tribe, or
rather in one band—for the other bands emphatically
disclaimed any share in the barbarous rite—stood apart in
unhappy prominence. This was the offering of human sacrifices
(their captives); not burning them as an expression of
embittered revenge, but sacrificing them as a religious
ordinance. What the origin of this terrible practice was the
Pawnees could never definitely explain. The rite was of long
standing evidently. The sacrifice was made to the morning
star, “O-pir-i-kut,” which, with the Ski-di, especially,
was an object of superstitious veneration. It was always
about corn-planting time, and the design of the bloody ordeal
was to conciliate that being and secure a good crop; hence it
has been supposed that the morning star was regarded by them
as presiding over agriculture, but it was not so. They
sacrificed to that star simply because they feared it,
imagining that it exerted a malign influence if not well
disposed. The sacrifice, however, was not an annual one;
it was only made when special occurrences were interpreted
as calling for it. The victim was usually a girl, or young
woman, taken from their enemies. The more beautiful the
unfortunate was, the more acceptable the offering. When it
had been determined in a council of the band to make the
sacrifice, the person was selected, if possible, some months
beforehand, and placed in charge of the medicine-men, who
treated her with the utmost kindness. She was fed plentifully
that she might become fleshy, and kept in entire ignorance
of her impending doom. During this time she was made to eat
alone, lest having by chance eaten with any one of the band,
she would by the law of hospitality become that person's guest,
and he be bound to protect her. On the morning of the day
finally fixed for the ordeal, she was led from lodge to lodge
throughout the village, begging wood and paint, not knowing
that these articles were for her own immolation. Whenever a
stick of wood or portion of red or black paint was given her,
it was taken by the medicine-men attending, and sent to the
spot selected for the final rite. A sufficient quantity of
these materials having been collected, the ceremony was begun
by a solemn conclave of all the medicine-men. Smoking the
great medicine pipe, displaying the contents of the medicine
bundle, dancing, praying, etc., were repeated at different
stages of the proceedings. A framework of two posts, about
four and a half feet apart, was set in the ground, and to
them two horizontal crosspieces, at a height of two and seven
feet, were firmly fastened. Between the posts a slow fire
was built. At nightfall the victim was disrobed and the
torture began. After the sickening sight had continued long
enough, an old man, previously appointed, discharged an arrow
at the heart of the unfortunate, and freed her from further
torture. The medicine-men forthwith cut open the chest, took
out the heart, and burned it. The smoke rising from the fire
in which it was burning was supposed to possess wonderful
virtues, and implements of war, hunting, and agriculture were
passed through it to insure success in their use. The flesh
was hacked from the body, buried in the corn patches, thrown
to the dogs, or disposed of in any way that caprice might
direct. The skeleton was allowed to remain in position till,
loosened by decay, it fell to the ground.
The last time this sacrifice was made, according to official reports,
was sixty years ago (April, 1838). Dunbar relates this last reported
sacrifice as follows:
The winter previous to the date given, the Ski-di, soon after
starting on their hunt, had a successful fight with a band of
Ogallalla Sioux, killed several men and took over twenty
children. Fearing that the Sioux, according to their tactics,
would retaliate by coming upon them in overwhelming force,
they returned for safety to their village before taking
a sufficient number of buffalo. With little to eat, they
lived miserably, lost many of their ponies from scarcity of
forage, and, worst of all, one of the captives proved to have
the smallpox, which rapidly spread through the band, and in
the spring was communicated to the rest of the tribe.
All these accumulated misfortunes the Ski-di attributed to
the anger of the morning star, and accordingly they resolved
to propitiate its favour by a repetition of the sacrifice,
though in direct violation of a stipulation made two years
before that the sacrifice should not occur again.
In connection with its abolition, the oft-told story of
Pit-a-le-shar-u is recalled. Sa-re-cer-ish, second chief of
the Cau-i band, was a man of unusually humane disposition,
and had strenuously endeavoured to secure the suppression of
the practice. In the spring of 1817 the Ski-di arranged to
sacrifice a Comanche girl. After Sa-re-cer-ish had essayed
in vain to dissuade them, Pit-a-le-shar-u, a young man about
twenty years of age, of almost giant stature, and already
famed as a great brave, conceived the bold design of rescuing
her. On the day set for the rite he actually cut the girl
loose, after she had been tied to the stakes, placed her upon
a horse that he had in readiness, and hurried her away across
the prairies till they were come within a day's journey of
her people's village. There, after giving necessary
directions as to her course, he dismissed her, himself
returning to the Pawnees. The suddenness and intrepidity of
his movements, and his known prowess, were no doubt all that
saved him from death at the moment of the rescue and after
his return. Twice afterward he presumed to interfere.
In one instance, soon after the foregoing, he assisted in
securing by purchase the ransom of a Spanish boy, who had
been set apart for sacrifice. Several years later, about
1831, he aided in the attempted rescue of a girl.
The resistance on this occasion was so determined that even
after the girl had been bought and was mounted upon a horse
behind Major Daugherty, at that time general agent, to be
taken from the Ski-di village, she was shot by one of the
medicine-men. The magnanimous conduct of Sa-re-cer-ish and
Pit-a-le-shar-u in this matter stands almost unexampled in
The Pawnees were essentially a religious people, if one may be allowed
to use the term in connection with a tribe whose morals were at such
a low ebb. They worshipped Ti-ra-wa, who is in and of everything.
Differing from many tribes, who adore material things, the Pawnees
simply regarded certain localities as sacred—they became so only
because they were blessed by the Divine presence. Ti-ra-wa was not
personified; he was as intangible as the God of the Christian.
The sacred nature of the Pawnee deity extended to all animal nature
—the fish that swim in the rivers, the birds that fly in the air,
and all the beasts which roam over the prairie were believed by the
Pawnee to possess intelligence, knowledge, and power far beyond that
of man. They were not, however, considered as gods; their miraculous
attributes were given to them by their ruler, whose servants they
were, and who often made them the medium of his communications to man.
They were his messengers, his angels, and their powers were always
used for good. Prayers were made to them in time of need, but rather
pleading for their intercession with Ti-ra-wa than directly to them.
All important undertakings were preceded by a prayer for help, and
success in their undertakings was acknowledged by grateful offerings
to the ruler. The victorious warrior frequently sacrificed the scalp
torn from the head of his enemy, which was burned with much elaborate
mummery by the medicine-men, and he who brought back from a raid many
horses always gave one to the chief medicine-man as a thank-offering
The Pawnees entertained feelings of reverence and humility only toward
their god; they really did not love him, but looked to him for help
at all times. The young braves were particularly exhorted to humble
themselves before Ti-ra-wa, to pray to him, and to look to One Above,
to ask help from him.
During Monroe's administration, a very influential and physically
powerful Indian named Two Axe, chief counsellor of the Pawnee Loups,
went to pay a visit to the “Great Father,” the President of the
United States. Two Axe was over six feet high and well proportioned,
of athletic build, and as straight as an arrow. He had been delegated
to go to Washington by his tribe to make a treaty with the government.
Having been introduced to the President, the latter made known to him,
through the interpreter, the substance of a proposal. The keen-witted
Indian, perceiving that the treaty taught “all Turkey” to the white
man, and “all Crow” to his tribe, sat patiently during the reading of
the document. When it was finished, he rose with all his native
dignity, and in a vein of true Indian eloquence, in which he was
unsurpassed, declared that the treaty had been conceived in injustice
and born in duplicity; that many treaties had been signed by Indians
of their “Great Father's” concoction, wherein they had bartered away
the graves of their ancestors for a few worthless trinkets, and
afterward their hearts cried out for their folly; that such Indians
were fools and women. He expressed very freely his opinion of the
President and the whites generally, and concluded by declaring that
he would sign no paper which would ever cause his own breast or those
of his people to sorrow.
Accordingly, Two Axe broke up the council abruptly, and returned to
his home without making any treaty with his “Great Father” at all.
The folk-lore stories and songs of the Pawnees are full of pathos,
humour, and thrilling incidents. The legend of the Dun Horse is
comparable in its enchantment to the stories of Aladdin and his
Many years ago there lived in the Pawnee tribe an old woman
and her grandson, a boy about sixteen years old. These people
had no relations, and were very poor. Indeed, they were so
miserably poor that they were despised by the rest of the
tribe. They had nothing of their own, and always, after the
village started to move the camp from one place to another,
these two would stay behind the rest, to look over the old
ground and pick up anything that the other Indians had thrown
away as worn out or useless. In this way they would sometimes
get pieces of robes, worn-out moccasins with holes in them,
and bits of meat.
Now it happened one day, after the tribe had moved away from
the camp, that this old woman and her boy were following
along the trail behind the rest, when they came to a miserable,
old, worn-out horse, which they supposed had been abandoned
by some Indians. He was thin and exhausted, was blind of one
eye, had a sore back, and one of his fore legs was very much
swollen. In fact, he was so worthless that none of the
Pawnees had been willing to take the trouble to try to drive
him along with them. But when the old woman and her boy came
along, the boy said: “Come now, we will take this old horse,
for we can make him carry our pack.” So the old woman put
her pack on the horse and drove him along, but he limped and
could only go very slowly.
The tribe moved up on the North Platte, until they came to
Court-house Rock. The two poor Indians followed them, and
camped with the others. One day while they were here,
the young men who had been sent out for buffalo came hurrying
into camp and told the chiefs that a large herd of buffalo
were near, and that among them was a spotted calf.
The head chief of the Pawnees had a very beautiful daughter,
and when he heard about the spotted calf, he ordered his old
crier to go about through the village, and call out that the
man who should kill the spotted calf should have his daughter
for wife. For a spotted robe is “Ti-war-uks-ti” (Big Medicine).
The buffalo were feeding about four miles from the village,
and the chiefs decided that the charge should be made from
there. In this way the man who had the fastest horse would
be the most likely to kill the calf. Then all the warriors
and men picked out their best and fastest horses, and made
ready to start. Among those who prepared for the charge was
the poor boy, on the old dun horse. But when they saw him,
all the rich young braves on their fast horses pointed at him
and said: “Oh, see; there is the horse that is going to catch
the spotted calf”; and they laughed at him so that the poor
boy was ashamed, and rode off to one side of the crowd, where
he could not hear their jokes and laughter.
When he had ridden off some little way, the horse stopped,
and turned his head around and spoke to the boy. He said:
“Take me down to the creek, and plaster me all over with mud.
Cover my head, and neck, and body, and legs.” When the boy
heard the horse speak, he was afraid; but he did as he was
told. Then the horse said: “Now mount, but do not ride back
to the warriors who laugh at you because you have such a poor
horse. Stay right here, until the word is given to charge.”
So the boy stayed there.
And presently all the fine horses were drawn up in line and
pranced about, and were so eager to go that their riders could
hardly hold them in. At last the old crier gave the word,
“Loo-ah” (go). Then the Pawnees all leaned forward on their
horses and yelled, and away they went. Suddenly, away off to
the right, was seen the old dun horse. He did not seem to
run. He seemed to sail along like a bird. He passed all the
fastest horses, and in a moment he was among the buffalo.
First he picked out the spotted calf, and charging up
alongside of it, straight flew the arrow. The calf fell.
The boy drew another arrow and killed a fat cow that was
running by. Then he dismounted and began to skin the spotted
calf before any of the other warriors came up. But when
the rider got off the old dun horse, how changed he was!
He pranced about and could hardly stand still near the dead
buffalo. His back was all right again; his legs were well
and fine; and both his eyes were clear and bright.
The boy skinned the calf and cow that he had killed, and then
he packed the meat on the horse and put the spotted robe on
top of the load, and started back to camp on foot, leading
the dun horse. But even with his heavy load the horse pranced
all the while, and was scared at everything he saw. On the
way to camp, one of the rich young chiefs of the tribe rode
up to the boy, and offered him twelve good horses for the
spotted robe, so that he could marry the head chief's daughter,
but the boy laughed at him and would not sell the robe.
Now, while the boy walked to the camp leading the dun horse,
most of the warriors rode back, and one of those that came
first to the village went to the old woman and said to her:
“Your grandson has killed the spotted calf.” And the old
woman said: “Why do you come to tell me this? You ought
to be ashamed to make fun of my boy because he is poor.”
The warrior rode away, saying, “What I have told you is true.”
After a while another brave rode up to the old woman, and
said to her: “Your grandson has killed the spotted calf.”
Then the old woman began to cry, she felt so badly because
every one made fun of her boy because he was poor.
Pretty soon the boy came along, leading the horse up to the
lodge where he and his grandmother lived. It was a little
lodge, just big enough for two, and was made of old pieces
of skin that the old woman had picked up, and was tied
together with strings of rawhide and sinew. It was the
meanest and worst lodge in the village. When the old woman
saw her boy leading the dun horse with a load of meat and
the robes on it, she was very much surprised. The boy said
to her: “Here, I have brought you plenty of meat to eat, and
here is a robe that you may have for yourself. Take the meat
off the horse.” Then the old woman laughed, for her heart
was glad. But when she went to take the meat from the horse's
back, he snorted and jumped about, and acted like a wild horse.
The old woman looked at him and wondered, and could hardly
believe that it was the same horse. So the boy had to take
off the meat, for the horse would not let the old woman come
That night the horse again spoke to the boy, and said:
“Wa-ti-hes Chah-ra-rat-wa-ta.” To-morrow the Sioux are
coming in a large war-party. They will attack the village,
and you will have a great battle. Now, when the Sioux are
drawn up in line of battle, and are all ready to fight, you
jump on me, and ride as hard as you can, right into the
middle of the Sioux, and up to their head chief, their
greatest warrior, and count coup on him, and kill him, and
then ride back. Do this four times, and count coup on four
of the bravest Sioux, and kill them, but don't go again.
If you go the fifth time, maybe you will be killed, or else
you will lose me. “La-ku-ta-chix” (remember). The boy promised.
The next day it happened as the horse had said, and the Sioux
came down and formed in line of battle. Then the boy took
his bow and arrows, and jumped on the dun horse, and charged
into the midst of them. And when the Sioux saw that he was
going to strike their head chief, they all shot their arrows
at him, and the arrows flew so thickly across each other that
they darkened the sky, but none of them hit the boy, and he
counted coup on the chief and killed him, and then rode back.
After that he charged again among the Sioux, where they were
gathered the thickest, and counted coup on their bravest
warrior and killed him. And then twice more, until he had
gone four times as the horse had told him.
But the Sioux and the Pawnees kept on fighting, and the boy
stood around and watched the battle. At last he said to
himself, “I have been four times and have killed four Sioux;
why may I not go again?” So he jumped on the dun horse and
charged again. But when he got among the Sioux, one Sioux
warrior drew an arrow and shot. The arrow struck the dun
horse behind the fore legs and pierced him through. And the
horse fell down dead. But the boy jumped off and fought his
way through the Sioux and ran away as fast as he could to the
Pawnees. Now, as soon as the horse was killed, the Sioux
said to each other, “This horse was like a man. He was brave.
He was not like a horse.” And they took their knives and
hatchets and hacked the dun horse and gashed his flesh, and
cut him into small pieces.
The Pawnees and Sioux fought all day long, but toward night
the Sioux broke and fled.
The boy felt very badly that he had lost his horse, and after
the fight was over he went out from the village to where it
had taken place to mourn for his horse. He went to the spot
where the horse lay, and gathered up all the pieces of flesh
which the Sioux had cut off, and the legs and hoofs, and put
them all together in a pile. Then he went off to the top of
a hill near by and sat down and drew his robe over his head,
and began to mourn for his horse.
As he sat there, he heard a great wind storm coming up, and
it passed over him with a loud rushing sound, and after the
wind came a rain. The boy looked down from where he sat to
the pile of flesh and bones, which was all that was left of
the horse, and he could just see it through the rain.
And the rain passed by, and his heart was very heavy and he
kept on mourning.
And pretty soon came another rushing wind, and after it a rain;
and as he looked through the driving rain toward the spot
where the pieces lay, he thought that they seemed to come
together and take shape, and that the pile looked like a horse
lying down, but he could not see very well for the thick rain.
After this came a third storm like the others; and now when
he looked toward the horse he thought he saw its tail move
from side to side two or three times, and that it lifted its
head from the ground. The boy was afraid and wanted to run
away, but he stayed. And as he waited, there came another
storm. And while the rain fell, looking through the rain,
the boy saw the horse raise himself up on his fore legs and
look about. Then the dun horse stood up.
The boy left the place where he had been sitting on the
hilltop, and went down to him. When the boy had come near to
him the horse spoke and said, “You have seen how it has been
this day; and from this you will know how it will be after
this. But Ti-ra-wa has been good, and he let me come to life
back to you. After this do what I tell you; not any more,
not any less.” Then the horse said, “Now lead me far off,
far away from the camp, behind that big hill, and leave me
there to-night, and in the morning come for me”; and the boy
did as he was told.
And when he went for the horse in the morning, he found with
him a beautiful white gelding, much more handsome than any
horse in the tribe. That night the dun horse told the boy to
take him again to the place behind the big hill and to come
for him the next morning; and when the boy went for him again,
he found a beautiful black gelding. And so for ten nights he
left the horse among the hills, and each morning he found
a different-coloured horse, a bay, a roan, a gray, a blue,
a spotted horse, and all of them finer than any horses that
the Pawnees had ever had in the tribe before.
Now the boy was rich, and he married the beautiful daughter
of the head chief, and when he became older he was made head
chief himself. He had many children by his beautiful wife,
and one day, when his oldest boy died, he wrapped him in his
spotted calf robe and buried him in it. He always took good
care of his old grandmother, and kept her in his own lodge
until she died. The dun horse was never ridden except at
feasts and when they were going to have a doctors' dance,
but he was always led about with the chief wherever he went.
The horse lived in the village for many years, until he became
very old, and at last he died.
SIOUX AND THEIR TRADITIONS.
A little more than half a century ago the many bands of the great
Sioux nation hardly knew anything of the civilization of the
whites in any part of the continent; none of their chiefs had ever
visited the capital of the nation, or, for that matter, any American
settlement. They knew nothing of the English language. The few
whites they had ever met were those employed by the great fur
companies. They regarded them to be a wise sort of a people, a little
inferior, however, to themselves, living in lodges like their own and
subsisting on the buffalo and other wild game constituting the food
of the Indians.
When that relatively great exodus from the States commenced, beginning
with the Mormon hegira, closely followed by emigrants on their way to
Oregon, this tide, with its great number of oxen, wagons, and other
means of transportation, at first so astonished the Sioux, who had
never believed for a moment that the world contained so many white men,
that they were completely dumbfounded. When, however, they saw the
wanton slaughter of buffalo by this army of men, their amazement
turned to hatred and a desire for revenge, and then commenced that
series of wars and skirmishes, with their attendant horrible massacres,
ending with the battle of Wounded Knee.
In the summer of 1846 there was a pall of sorrow and disaster hovering
over all of the bands of the western Dakotas; the year previous they
had met with great reverses. Many large war-parties had been sent out
from the various villages, the majority of which were either badly
whipped or entirely cut off. The few warriors who returned to their
homes were heartbroken and discouraged; so that the whole nation was
Among these war-parties, ten of the Sioux warriors made a raid into
the Snake country. They were led by the son of a prominent Ogallalla
chief, called the Whirlwind. When they reached the Laramie Plains
they were met by a superior number of their enemies, and every warrior
killed to a man. The Snakes having accomplished this, they became
greatly alarmed at what they had done, dreading the revenge of the
Dakotas, which they knew would be inevitable; so, desiring to signify
their wish for peace, they sent the scalp of one of their victims,
with a small piece of tobacco attached, to his relations. The Snakes
induced one of the Indian traders to act as their messenger on this
mission of peace, and the scalp was hung up in a room at Fort Laramie,
but Whirlwind, the father of the dead warrior who had led the
unfortunate band, was inexorable. He hated the Snakes with his whole
soul, and long before the scalp had arrived he had consummated his
preparations for revenge. He despatched runners loaded with presents
of tobacco and other trinkets to all the Dakotas within three hundred
miles of his village. They were to propose a grand combination for
the purpose of war, and to determine upon a place and time for the
meeting of the warriors. Ever ready for war, as is the normal
attitude of the average North American savage, the Whirlwind's plan
was readily acceded to, and a camp on the Platte, known as Labonte's,
was the point designated as the rendezvous. At that place their
war-like ceremonies were to be celebrated with great dignity and
solemnity; a thousand warriors, it is declared, were to be sent out
into the enemy's country; but the thing ended in smoke. True, a great
many Indians gathered there, but they went on a big buffalo hunt
instead of fighting the Snakes.
The Sioux are noted for their individual bravery, and whole chapters
might be written of their prowess, but the following incident will
suffice to show the character of their daring. In 1846 a celebrated
warrior performed a notable exploit at the Pawnee village on the
Loup Fork of the Platte. He arrived there all alone, late one dark
night, and climbing up the outside of one of the lodges, quietly gazed
for a few moments, through the round hole for the escape of smoke at
the top, at the unsuspecting inmates sleeping peacefully under their
buffalo-robes around the expiring fire. Dropping himself lightly
through the opening, he noiselessly unsheathed his knife, and,
stirring the embers, stood for a moment as if selecting his victims,
then one by one he stabbed and scalped them. Just as he had wrenched
the reeking locks from the last victim, a child suddenly sat up and
began to scream violently, upon which the warrior rushed out of the
door of the lodge uttering the terrible Sioux war-cry. Then shouting
his own name in triumph and defiance, he darted out upon the dark
prairie, leaving the whole village behind him in a tumult with the
howling of a hundred dogs, the screams of the women, and the yells
of the enraged Pawnee braves.
The folk-lore and tales of the Sioux, though not so numerous, perhaps,
as among the more sociable Pawnees, are full of interest and the
superstitions of the tribe.
Many years ago, in a camp of delighted trappers, one of the chiefs of
the Brulé Sioux related the following story of his own experience when
only a young brave in the councils of his nation:—
When I was a youthful warrior, I used to delight in war, and
very seldom did a party go out on the war-path without me.
My scars (which the old fellow showed on his body) prove to
you that I am speaking the truth, and that I was always to be
found in the thickest of the fight. We hardly ever came back
to our village without a dozen or more scalps torn from the
heads of our enemies. Sometimes, too, we returned like fools,
without a single scalp, and then were ashamed to present
ourselves at the dances.
Once we were out after the Crows, and our spies were far in
advance of the main body of warriors. We were hurrying on,
expecting soon to meet the enemy, when we saw the spy, whom
we had sent ahead, come back without any bows or arrows;
his scalp was torn off and his face was covered with blood.
When questioned about his strange appearance, he replied that
the enemy were aware of the approach of our band, and were
lying in ambush for us in great numbers. He suddenly came
upon their runners, who robbed him of his arms, tore off
his scalp, and left him for dead. He stated that he remained
quietly where he had fallen until night came on, and when
the breeze came down from the mountains it gave him strength
to come to us and warn us of the enemy's nearness and great
Believing his story to be true, we turned tail and made our
way back to our village empty-handed, to be laughed at.
Three moons passed, and we again started for the country of
our enemies. The warrior who had lost his scalp having
recovered, and being again with us, he was sent out as a spy.
He soon returned with the scalps of two of the enemy dangling
from his spear-point. He did not stop to tell of his
adventures, but hurried us on to meet the foe, and following
him eagerly, we soon came to where they were, and after a hard
fight came out victorious.
Among those who were killed was a warrior whose scalp was
missing. Who did this? asked one of the other, but no one
answered. At last our spy laughingly said, “Behind that hill
over there,” pointing with his spear to a large mountain,
“there is a fountain that sings a melody fit for the ears of
great warriors; let's go to it and drink.”
Following his footsteps, he led us to a beautiful spring
whose water was as shining as silver, and which fell in
beautiful song over the rocks in its bed, and all around
the charming spot were large old cottonwoods, which threw
a grateful shade over the fountain, making it clear and
“Drink freely, warriors,” said the spy; then hiding himself
for a moment he returned among us, having with him all his
arms and the robe he wore when he had first left us on his
mission to hunt the enemy, so many moons before.
We gazed at him in astonishment, when, seeing our amazement,
“Brother warriors, you wondered at my misfortune and hard luck
when we last visited the Crow country; you wondered at my
sorrowful condition among the killed just now, but you will be
more astonished to know that I now stand among you having what
I had lost. Would you also like to know how I procured the
scalps of two of the enemy?
“Three times has the full moon turned her face upon us Sioux
since at this very spot I met an enemy. We rushed at each
other for the attack, when he cried:—
“Are we not both braves? Why should we fight? When our
warriors meet in the heat of the battle, then we may join
them—until then let us have a truce.
“To this I answered, Says the Crow peace?
“This said, we shook hands and sat down by the fountain.
To amuse my enemy I proposed a game of ‘hand.’
He accepted my challenge, and we first played for an arrow
against an arrow, then bow for bow, robe for robe, and scalp
for scalp. I was out of luck and lost everything. I handed
to him all the things, but with a promise from him that
I should have another chance when we met again.
“We did meet again. The Great Spirit smiled upon me and
I won back everything. Then I said, Crow, scalp for scalp.
He accepted the challenge and we played. He lost, and I with
my winnings arose to leave.
“Sioux warrior, said he, meet me in the fight that we may try
the game of arms.
“That pleases me, I replied; will the Crow name the place?
“A valley lies beyond this hill, said he; there my people
await their enemies; let me hope to see you with them.
“To that place I led you, said our spy. We fought and
conquered. My opponent was among the killed. Need I tell
you who took the scalp?”
There is an affluent of the Cheyenne River called by the Sioux
“Weur-sena-wakpa.” The stream rises at the base of a lofty mountain
of the same name. This mountain is held in great veneration by the
Sioux nation, and a member of that tribe rarely went into the
neighbourhood without making an offering to it.
The legend concerning its mystery is one of the beautiful myths of
Many ages ago, when the Sioux lived to the north and the Shoshone or
Snake tribe of Indians lived in the region of the mountains, planting
their villages and hunting all over the country for game, the whole
region was a series of lakes and creeks; only the highlands bordering
them were left for the deer and buffalo to graze. Then the creeks and
rivers slowly rose, and the land of the Shoshones was greatly reduced
by the encroachment of the water. Years passed on, and the tribe,
attracted by some more suitable region, went away, or were driven off
by the hostile bands, especially the Scarred-Arms (the Cheyennes).
In the course of a great many years the Sioux and the Scarred-Arms
always fought with each other with varying success, whenever they met;
sometimes one tribe, sometimes the other, was victorious.
Once a band of the Sioux entered into the very heart of the country
of the Scarred-Arms, and while on their return to their own country,
fell into an ambush of the enemy, and only six out of the whole party
escaped to convey the terrible news to their village.
These six, hotly pursued by the Scarred-Arms, sought refuge in the
mountains. They found there a hidden passage leading into a recess
in the mountain's side, which they hurriedly entered. They were
delighted with it, for it had a gravelly floor, with a spring of pure,
sweet, cool water gushing out of the side of its rocky wall. There,
believing they might remain secure from their enemy, they proposed to
rest for a short time and recuperate themselves; for they were nearly
exhausted by their efforts to escape from the bloody scalping-knives
of the Scarred-Arms. They kindled a fire, around which the six
warriors huddled, telling each other, as is the savage wont, of their
numerous hairbreadth escapes and single combats with the common enemy;
also trying to devise some means of eluding the Scarred-Arms, who they
knew to be still searching for them.
While they were thus discussing the probabilities of the affair,
they were startled by a strange noise, like the rustling of leaves,
in a dark corner of the cave; but they were more frightened when they
suddenly saw the dim form of a person moving about in the subdued
light. The figure advanced toward them, and they discovered it to be
that of a feeble old woman, who said as she approached them:—
“Children, you have been against the Scarred-Arms, you have fought
them, and of a large party you alone are left alive. I know it all.
“You come here into my lodge to escape from your pursuers, and the
sound of your voices and the heat of your council fire has disturbed
my rest and waked me from a long trance. By your eager looks you
would know my strange story. Many ages have gone by (for days, moons,
seasons, and ages are painted before me as they pass) since the
Shoshones, who lived where now live the Scarred-Arms, visited the
lodges of the Sioux and made the prairie drink the blood of slaughtered
warriors. I was their captive, and, with scalps of the slain, I was
taken from the graves of my people. The Shoshones brought me to this
country, when yet the buffalo grazed upon the hills and mountains;
for the valleys and plains were the home of the waters.
“Living with the Shoshones, I was not happy. I thought of my people;
of all those dear to me; and I prayed to the Good Spirit that I might
again behold them ere my passage to the death-land. I fled, hoping to
reach the home of my birth; but age had enfeebled me; and being
pursued, I sought refuge in this cave. Here, having passed a night
and a day in earnest communion with the ‘Big Medicine,’ a strange
feeling came upon me. I slumbered in a dreamy state from then until
now. But your looks again ask, who are the Shoshones? what became of
them? and from whence are the Scarred-Arms?
“The Sioux will soon know the Shoshones, and bring from their lodges
many scalps and medicine-dogs. Divided into two tribes, that nation
long since sought homes in other lands. One crossed the Snow-hills,
toward the sun-setting; the Sioux shall visit them and avenge the
blood and wrongs of ages. The other journeyed far toward the sun of
winter, and now live to the leftward of the places where Hispanola
builds his earth-lodge.
“Then came the Scarred-Arms from a far-off country, a land of much
snow and cold. Pleased with the great numbers of buffalo and other
game that they found here, they stopped for the chase, and by many
generations of possession have claimed these regions for their own;
but they are not theirs. The Great Spirit gave this country to the
Sioux, and they shall inhabit the land of their daughter's captivity.
“Why are you waiting here? Go and avenge the blood of your comrades
upon the Scarred-Arms. They even now light their camp-fire by the
stream at the mountain's base. Fear not; their scalps are yours.
Then return to my people, that ye may come and receive your inheritance.
“Haste ye, that I may die; and oh! War-ka-tun-ga! Inasmuch as thou
hast answered the prayer of thy handmaid, and shown to me the faces
of my people, take me from hence.”
The awe-struck warriors withdrew. They found the enemy encamped at
the foot of the mountain, as they had been told by the mysterious
woman. They attacked them, and were victorious. Thirty-five scalps
were the reward of their bravery.
On arriving at their village, their strange adventures excited the
astonishment of all the warriors, chiefs, and medicine-men.
They planned an expedition against the Scarred-Arms, having been
nerved up to a pitch of extraordinary bravery by the story of the old
woman of the cave. Thus their enemies were eventually driven from
the country, and the Sioux came into possession of their own.
The thankful warriors went to the cave en masse, to do reverence to
the memory of the strange medicine-woman who had told them so many
wonderful things. They found, upon their arrival there, only a small
niche in the side of the mountain, and a sparkling little stream.
Both the cave and the woman had disappeared.
For years after this strange occurrence the Sioux warriors visited
the land of the Shoshones for scalps, and, as they passed the mountain
where the old woman had been seen, they always offered something to
the spirit of the place, and stopped to quench their thirst at the
sparkling little stream.
On White River there is a bluff against which the full force of the
stream has dashed for ages, until it has formed a precipice several
hundred feet high. It is called by the Indians The Place of the Death
Song. There is a legend which says that at one time the bands of the
Ogallallas and Brulés lived upon this river, immediately opposite the
precipice. While residing there one of the braves of the Ogallallas
offered to the father of a beautiful squaw six horses for her,
according to the savage custom of thus purchasing a wife. The offer
was immediately accepted by the father of the young girl, for he was
very poor and needed the animals to use on the impending annual hunt
When the maiden heard that she was to become the wife of the Ogallalla,
she burst into tears, and so obstinate was her resistance that the
marriage was deferred for some days because of her inconsolable grief.
The cause of her unwillingness to become the bride of the Ogallalla
was that she was in love with a young warrior of her own village,
and she would not, as Indian maidens generally do, love at her sire's
Her father was determined, however, that his child should be governed
by the customs of the tribe, and was only waiting for her sorrow to
subside a little before he turned her over to the Indian he had chosen
During this probation, however, the girl contrived to meet the warrior
whom she had promised to marry, and they determined to elope.
They accordingly fled to a remote village, where they hoped to live
They were pursued by the relentless father, both were captured, and
the young warrior's life was forfeited by the laws of the tribe,
for his presumption in stealing the maiden, while she was most
unmercifully whipped and confined in her father's lodge.
The Ogallalla had already paid the price agreed upon for the maiden,
and the horses were then picketed among those of the irate father.
Early the next morning, after the death of her lover, the girl rose
from her bed of buffalo-robes, and dressing herself in her best
clothes, left the lodge. Not one of the villagers thought it at all
strange that she should thus array herself, for they knew it was to be
her wedding-day, and as she walked through the village, many a young
warrior looked upon her with feelings of envy toward the Indian who
was then to make her his bride.
She wandered toward the river, crossed it, and ascended the high peak
on the opposite side. She then seated herself at the edge of the
fearful precipice, and looked calmly down from its giddy height.
She soon became the cynosure of all eyes in the village, not only
because of her remarkable beauty, but of her charmingly formed person,
so plainly exposed to the view of all.
Presently the captivated gazers were surprised to hear her begin to
sing in a mournful chant, and the strange words of her plaintive
melody were wafted through the clear mountain air so that all could
catch every word. They listened:—
“Why should I stay? he is gone. Light of my eyes; joy of my soul;
show me my dwelling! 'Tis not here; 'tis far away in the Spirit Land.
Thither he is gone. Why should I stay? Let me go!” “She sings her
death song,” exclaimed all who were watching and listening to her from
their places in the village.
“She will throw herself from the precipice,” said her father.
And immediately a dozen warriors rushed toward the top of the cliff
to rescue her from the terrible fate which she had chosen, and the
leader of them all was the Ogallalla who was to have her for his bride.
She saw them coming, and as soon as they started she began again:—
“Spirit of death, set me free! Heart, thou art desolate. Farewell,
O sun. Vain are the plains of the earth, its flowers, and purling
streams. I loved you all once—but now no longer love. Thee I woo,
kind Death! Wa-shu-pa calls me hence. In life we were one.
We'll bask together in the Spirit Land. Short is my pass to thee.
Wa-shu-pa, I come!”
Concluding her song, she threw herself forward, just as the foremost
warriors arrived at the summit, in time to catch at her robe as she
pitched down, leaving the garment in their hands; in another instant
she was a mangled mass at the base of the cruel mountain.
In the winter of 1835 Ash Hollow was the scene of a fierce and bloody
battle between the Pawnees and Sioux, hereditary enemies. The affray
commenced very early in the morning, and continued until nearly dark.
It was a closely fought battle. Every inch of ground was hotly
contested. The arrows fell in showers, bullets whistled the death
song of many a warrior on both sides, and the yells of the combating
savages filled the wintry air. At length all the ammunition was
completely exhausted on both sides, but still the battle raged.
War-clubs, tomahawks, and scalping-knives rattled in the deadly
personal conflict, and terrible war-whoops resounded, as now one side
then the other gained some slight advantage.
As darkness drew over the scene, the Pawnees abandoned the field to
the victorious Sioux, leaving more than sixty of their best warriors
dead on the bloody sod. But the Sioux had not escaped a terrible loss.
Forty-five of their bravest fighters were lying dead, and the defeated
party of Pawnees were pursued but a very little distance when the
chase was abandoned and they returned to their village at the forks
of the Platte.
It is alleged that this disaster so humiliated the Pawnees that they
at once abandoned their town. They moved down the Platte more than
four hundred miles, and at the same time also abandoned their town on
the Republican Fork of the Kansas River, and rarely ever ventured up
the river as far as the scene of their great defeat, unless in very
For twenty years afterward the evidences of the terrible battle could
be seen in the bleached bones scattered all over the vicinity of the
Many of the Indian tribes of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains
have a tradition of a flood, but as they differ only in the matter of
detail, a single one is presented here, that of the Sioux. It was
told around the camp-fire, on General Carr's expedition against the
hostile bands of that nation, in 1869, when Colonel W. F. Cody
(Buffalo Bill) was chief of scouts.
One day some of the men brought into camp a large bone, which the
surgeons pronounced to be the femur, or thigh-bone of a man.
Some Indian prisoners, who had been captured a short time before,
were sent for and asked to give their opinion of this find. As soon
as they saw it, they, too, said it was the thigh-bone of a man.
Its peculiarity was its unusual size; in circumference it was as large
as a man's body. The general asked the Indians how they knew it was
the thigh-bone of a man. They replied that a great many years ago,
living on the plains, there was a race of men who were so big that it
was said they were tall enough to run alongside of a buffalo, pick him
up, put him under one of their arms, and tear off a whole quarter of
his meat and eat it as they walked on. These large men became so
powerful in their own estimation that they defied the Great Spirit.
This angered the Great Spirit, and he made the rain come. It kept on
raining until the rivers and creeks were full of water and flooded
over their banks. The Indians were compelled to move out of the
valleys and go up on the divides and small hills; but they were not
allowed to remain there long. The water kept rising and rising until
it covered the divides and little hills; so the Indians kept moving
up, higher and higher, until they reached the top peaks of the Rocky
Mountains, but the water still rose until it covered the highest
points, and all these big people were drowned. After they were all
dead, it ceased raining; the water began to recede, and finally
returned to the original channels of the rivers and creeks. Then the
Great Spirit made a race of people of the size that we are to-day;
people whom he could handle and who would not defy him.
The word “medicine” in all of the tribes in some sense is a misnomer;
it really signifies dreamer, or prophet, and is synonymous with the
word “prophet” in the Old Testament. The Indian form of government
may be characterized as a theocracy, and the medicine-man is the high
priest. His dreams and his prophecies are held sacred by the people.
Should what he tells them turn out to be untrue, the fault lies with
themselves, and he claims that his instructions have been disregarded.
If by accident his dreams are exactly verified, the confidence of the
tribe in their medicine-man surpasses all belief. The medicine lodge
is their tabernacle of the wilderness—the habitation of the Great
Spirit, the sacred ark of their faith.
The tribe of Indians known as the Crows are entitled to the very
marked distinction of being the most manly in their conduct in its
relation to the whites. The integrity of their friendship has been
tested on many occasions, and they have never proved false to their
protestations. Their chiefs declare that a Crow was never known to
kill a white man excepting in self-defence.
As has been the fate of the North American savage since that dark
December day when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, the Crows have
been driven year after year from one of the most beautiful natural
regions on the continent. Not only have the whites been the usurpers,
but both the Sioux and the Cheyennes have been instrumental in
confining them to a constantly decreasing area, until now the remnant
of a once great nation is the ward of the government, and located on
a limited reservation.
To prove that Ab-sa-ra-ka, as the tribe designated their beautiful
hunting-grounds, was rightly named, it is only necessary to quote a
conversation which took place at a council held at Fort Philip Kearny,
in July, 1866, when the following question was asked of Black-Horse,
the Wolf-That-Lies-Down, Red-Arm, and Dull-Knife:—
“Why do the Sioux and Cheyennes claim the land which belongs to the
Crows?” To which these chiefs answered:—
“The Sioux helped us. We stole the hunting-grounds of the Crows
because they were the best. The white man is along the great waters,
and we wanted more room. We fight the Crows because they will not
take half and give us peace with the other half.”
It is claimed that the Crows sprang from the Gros Ventres of the
Missouri, whose language they speak. The Gros Ventres were a very
weak tribe, or band, who had, by incessant wars with the surrounding
tribes, become reduced to a very insignificant number of warriors.
It is alleged, according to their tradition, that the Crows became
a separate nation nearly two hundred years ago, because the tribe
was becoming too numerous.
In the early years of the century the head chief of the Crows was
A-ra-poo-ash. The celebrated Jim Beckwourth had already become
a leader among the Crows, and shortly after the death of A-ra-poo-ash
was unanimously chosen in his place.
The Blackfeet were always very persistent and unrelenting enemies of
the Crows, and some of the most bloody combats recorded in savage
warfare occurred between these two tribes.
Once, while in the Crow village, a party of Blackfeet, numbering
thirty or forty, came stealing through the Crow country, killing every
straggler, and carrying off every horse they could lay their hands on.
The Crow warriors immediately started after them and pressed them so
closely that they could not escape. The Blackfeet then threw up a
semicircular breastwork of logs at the foot of a precipice, and
awaited the approach of their enemies. Logs and sticks were piled up
four or five feet in front of them, which thoroughly protected them.
The Crows might have swept over this breastwork and exterminated the
Blackfeet; but though outnumbering them, they did not dream of
storming the little fortification. Such a proceeding would have been
altogether repugnant to the savage notion of warfare. Whooping and
yelling, and jumping from side to side like devils incarnate, they
poured a shower of bullets and arrows upon the logs, yet not a
Blackfoot was hurt; but several of the Crows, in spite of their
antics, were shot down. In that ridiculous manner the fight continued
for an hour or two. Now and then a Crow warrior, in an ecstasy of
valour and vainglory, would scream forth his war-song, declare himself
the bravest and greatest of all Indians, grasp his hatchet, strike
it wildly upon the breastwork, and then, as he retreated to his
companions, fall dead, riddled with arrows; yet no combined attack
was made, the Blackfeet remaining secure in their intrenchment.
At last Jim Beckwourth lost patience:—
“You are all a set of fools and old women,” cried he; “come with me,
if any of you are brave enough, and I'll show you how to fight.”
Beckwourth instantly threw off his trapper's suit of buckskin,
stripping himself naked as were the Indians themselves. Throwing his
rifle on the ground, he grasped a small hatchet, and running over the
prairie to the right, hidden by a hollow from the eyes of the
Blackfeet, he climbed up the rocks and reached the top of the
precipice behind them. Forty or fifty young warriors followed him.
By the cries and whoops that arose from below, Beckwourth knew that
the Blackfeet were just beneath him; then running forward, he leaped
from the rock right in the midst of the surprised savages. As he fell,
he caught one of the Blackfeet by his long, loose hair, and dragging
him toward him, buried his hatchet in his brain. Then grasping
another by the belt at his waist, he struck him a stunning blow, and
gaining his feet, shouted the Crow war-cry. He swung his hatchet so
fiercely around him that the astonished Blackfeet crowded back and
gave him room. He might, had he chosen, have leaped over the
breastwork and escaped; but this was not necessary, for with devilish
yells the remainder of the Crow warriors came dropping in quick
succession over the rock, and rallied around him.
The convulsive struggle within the breastwork was frightful; for a few
moments the Blackfeet fought and yelled like pent-up tigers; but the
butchery was complete, and the mangled bodies lay piled together under
the precipice. Not a Blackfoot made his escape.
In 1833 a band of Blackfeet, superior in numbers to the Crows, most
unmercifully whipped them. On their return to their village one night
in August, shortly after the fight, there was a grand display of
meteoric showers, and although the Crow warriors were ready to face
death in any form, the wonderful celestial display appalled them.
They regarded it as the wrath of the Great Spirit showered visibly
upon them. In their terrible fright, they, of course, looked to their
chief for some explanation of it. But as Beckwourth himself was as
much struck with the wonderful occurrence, he was equally at a loss
with his untutored followers to account for the remarkable spectacle.
Evidently, he knew, he must augur some result from it, though his own
dejected spirit did not prompt him to deduce a very encouraging one.
He thought of all the impostures that are practised upon the credulous,
and his imagination suggested some brilliant figures to his mind.
He thought at first of declaring to them that the Great Spirit was
pleased with the expedition, and was lighting the band on its way
with spirit lamps; or that the meteors were the spirits of departed
braves, coming to assist their worldly brothers in another impending
fight; but he was not sanguine enough of possible results to indulge
in any attractive oratory. He merely informed his warriors that he
had not time to consult his medicine, but that as soon as he could he
would interpret the miracle in full.
When his band of warriors arrived at the village, he found all of the
people's minds still agitated with fear at the late phenomenon.
Every one was talking of it with wonder and amazement, and the chief's
opinion was demanded at once; they were expecting it, and wanted to
know what the consequences were to be. Admonished by his recent
defeat, Beckwourth now had no trouble in reading the stars. He told
his warriors that they had evidently offended the Great Spirit;
that it was because of his wrath they had suffered defeat in their
excursion to the Blackfeet country, and returned with the loss of
twenty-three warriors. He then told them that a sacrifice must be
made to appease the wrath of the Great Spirit, and he recommended that
a solemn council be convened and a national oblation be offered up.
Beckwourth knew that he was doing an absurd thing, but the superstition
of the people demanded it, and he must cater to their desires because
it was popular.
The camp where the Crows then were was a mourning-camp, in which,
according to their religion, “medicine” would have no effect.
The camp was, therefore, moved to another place, about ten miles
distant, in order to properly offer up the sacrifice.
All the leading men and braves assembled in council, and Beckwourth,
as their great medicine-man, was consulted as to what kind of an
offering should be made which would effect its purpose of appeasing
the wrath that was consuming the tribe.
Beckwourth retired for a while from the council, telling the chiefs
he must consult his medicine. Returning in a short time, he ordered
them to bring out the great medicine kettle, which was of brass,
capable of holding ten gallons, and was worth ten buffalo-robes.
It was then ordered to be polished until it shone as bright as the
sun's face. That being done, Beckwourth ordered the warriors to
throw in all the most costly and highly prized trinkets, or whatever
they cherished most dearly. It was soon filled with the band's
choicest treasures. Keepsakes, fancy-work, in which months of patient
toil had been expended, knick-knacks, jewels, and rings so highly
regarded that the costliest gems of emperors seemed poor in comparison.
All these were thrown into the kettle willingly, along with a bountiful
contribution of fingers until it could hold no more. Then weights
were attached to it, when it was carried to an air-hole in the ice
where the river was very deep, and there sunk with becoming ceremony,
young maidens habited in the best apparel bearing the burden.
The great sacrifice completed, the minds of the people were relieved,
and the result of the next war-party was anxiously looked forward to,
to learn if the oblation was accepted by the Great Spirit. The crying
and lamentations continued, however, unabated, so much to the
derangement of Beckwourth's nervous system that if he could, he would
have gladly retired from the village to seek some less dolorous
The incantations seemed to have had a good effect, for on another
expedition shortly afterward the war-party returned with lots of
scalps and thirteen hundred horses, which they had stolen from the
The Crows enjoyed a practical joke as well as their more humorous
white brethren, as the following incident will attest.
In the summer of 1842 a war-party of about two hundred Crows invaded
the Sioux country by way of Laramie Pass, penetrating as far as Fort
Platte and beyond, in pursuit of the enemy.
A few miles above the fort, they stopped a lone Frenchman, an employee
of one of the fur companies, who was rather new to the region, and
also green in everything that pertains to Indian methods. They began
by signs to inquire the trail of the Sioux (the sign for that tribe
being a transverse pass of the right front finger across the throat),
which the poor Frenchman interpreted as their intention to cut his.
He immediately began to bellow like a calf, accompanying himself with
an industrious number of crosses, and a most earnest prayer to the
Virgin to graciously save him from his impending fate.
The savages, noticing his strange conduct, and regarding it as an
evidence of fear, were disposed to have a little fun at his expense.
Then mounting him upon one of their spare horses, they tied his hands
and feet, and led him to one of the trading-posts of the American Fur
Company, as a prisoner.
The gates of the fort were, of course, closed, but the Crows demanded
immediate admittance, declaring they wanted to trade. What goods were
wanted by them? was asked by the officer in charge; to which the
leader of the savages replied, tobacco.
“What have you got to trade for it?” was then asked.
“A white man,” was the answer.
“A white man?” asked the surprised commander. “What do you want for him?”
“Oh! he is not worth much. A plug of tobacco is his full value!” was
the response by nearly all the warriors.
The commandant, seeing through the savage joke, and on recognizing
the unfortunate Frenchman, told the Indians they might possibly find
a market for him at the other fort. He did not want to purchase.
The savages paraded around the walls of the post for a few minutes,
and with a salutation of terrible war-whoops, dashed off for Fort Platte.
When they reached Fort Platte, having tumbled two platforms of their
dead enemies on the trail, they told the same story to the
commanding officer, who felt disposed to humour their joke and
accordingly gave the tobacco to the savages. Upon this they turned
over the Frenchman, nearly frightened to death, and rode away in
pursuit of the Sioux.
Many years ago a missionary went among the Crows. He was admitted to
an audience of the leading men, and commenced, through an interpreter,
to tell them the story how sin first came into the world, and how all
men had become bad, whether white or red. Then he proceeded to
explain the principles of Christianity, telling the savages that he
had come among them to do them good, to show them how to be happy,
and declaring that unless they listened to him and worshipped the
Good Spirit as he instructed them, they could never reach that happy
country into which good people alone found admittance after death.
A venerable chief then arose and said: “My white brother is a stranger
to us. He talks evil of us, and he talks evil of his own people.
He does this because he is ignorant. He thinks my people, like his,
are wicked. Thus far he is wrong. Who were they who killed the very
good man of whom he tells us? None of them were red men! The red man
will die for his friends—he will not kill them! Let my paleface
brother talk to the white man. His own people—they are very bad.
He says he would do us good! He does us no good to chide us and say
we are bad. True, we are bad—and were we as bad as the palefaces,
it would become us to listen to him. Would my brother do us good?
Then let him tell us how to make powder and we will believe in the
sincerity of his profession—but let him not belie us by saying we
are bad, like the palefaces!”
The Crows also have their legends of enchantment, as have other tribes.
Once upon a time a party of Crow Indians were out hunting the buffalo,
and they had with them a blind man. As he was a great hindrance to
them, they put up a teepee on the bank of the Stinking Water for him,
and told him to remain there until they returned.
They left him something to eat and built a fire for him. Then they
drove a stake in the ground and stretched a lariat to the Stinking
Water so that he could drink, and they also stretched another lariat
to the timber, and told him to follow that and he could get wood.
Thus they left him, and shortly after their departure another party of
Crows came along, and they, too, had a blind man with them; so they
concluded to follow the example of the first party, and leave him to
keep the first blind man company.
The two blind men sat down and spent their time in telling stories;
but the two hunting-parties were detained, and the two blind men ran
out of provisions, and became very hungry. They sat at their fire and
wondered what they should do for something to eat. Finally they could
stand it no longer, and one of them suggested that they go down to the
river and catch a fish to eat.
“No,” said the other; “Sak-a-war-te (the Great Spirit of the Crows)
told our people to hunt the buffalo, and it would make him very angry
for us to catch and eat fish”; but hunger getting the better of him,
They went down to the water, and it was not long before they caught a
large fish. They came back to their teepee, made a fire, and
proceeded to cook their fish. They were sitting on either side of the
fire talking, and when the fish was done, Sak-a-war-te came quietly in
and took the fish out of the pot over the fire. Soon they discovered
that their fish was gone, and then they began to accuse each other of
having taken it. From words they came to blows, and while they were
fighting, Sak-a-war-te was standing there and laughing at them.
At last he spoke to them and told them to stop fighting—that he,
Sak-a-war-te, had taken the fish to try them.
He then said that they were bad Indians; they had broken his commands
to his people, which was to kill only the buffalo. But he said he
would try them again. He told them to go to the Stinking Water, and
take some mud and rub it on their eyes, then to wash it off and they
would see. Then he told them they must obey him and go hunt the
buffalo. Then he left them.
They did as he told them to do, and in a short time they could see.
Then they sat down and talked over matters; but their hunger
increasing and the hunting-parties not returning, they at last were
compelled to go down to the river and catch another fish.
They had no sooner landed a fish than they both lost their sight again.
In remorse they sat by their fire once more, and again Sak-a-war-te
came to them, and told them what bad Indians they had been, but said
he would try them once more. So he told them a second time to go
down to the river, to take mud and apply it to their eyes, then wash
it off, and when they had received their sight, they should never
again take fish, for if they did they would become blind and never
again recover their sight. They must hunt only the buffalo. They did
as the Great Spirit had told them to do, and immediately received
their sight once more. Then they went and made them bows and arrows,
as Sak-a-war-te had said they should, and while they were thus
employed, their friends returned from the hunt and gave them food.
The hunters were very much surprised to find that the men had
recovered their sight, and when they were told how it was accomplished,
all said they would ever after be good Indians and hunt only the buffalo.
The Blackfeet Indians are divided into three tribes, and each tribe
again divided into Blackfeet, Bloods, and Piegans. This confederation,
while distinct, is regarded as a nation, and one of the stipulations
was that there should never be any clashing between them; but
notwithstanding this there have been many bloody fights.
According to tradition, they once lived much farther east and north,
near the Saskatchewan country. Two or three hundred years ago they
were driven from there by hostile tribes, and they slowly moved to
the Rocky Mountains, where they have remained.
Their country, like that of the Crows, is a magnificent region
—a perfect paradise for a people who subsisted wholly on wild game.
Such subsistence was a necessity, too, for their mountainous range
belongs to that arid portion of our mid-continent area where, without
irrigation, it is doomed to a hopeless bondage of sterility.
Millions of buffalo and antelope roamed the plains, and in the
forest-fringed valleys and on the pine-clad divides, elk, deer, and
mountain sheep flocked in immense numbers.
The characteristics of the Blackfeet were bravery, hardiness, and
a ferocity that made them formidable enemies to the other tribes with
which they were constantly at war. Particularly were they the
everlasting foes of the Crows, from whom they stole horses by the
wholesale; but very frequently the tables were turned, and the Crows
retaliated, robbing the Blackfeet of thousands.
They were probably the best hunters of all the plains' tribes, and
in the early days before their contact with the whites their weapons
were of the most primitive character. They used merely bows with
stone-pointed arrows, and they resorted to the most ingenious methods
in order to capture the buffalo, which was their principal food.
In fact, they subsisted almost entirely upon that great ruminant.
One of their plans to catch the huge beasts was known as the “pis-kun,”
literally meaning deep blood-kettle. It was really an immense corral,
generally constructed just below a steep precipice, and its sides and
ends enclosed by logs, stone, or brush—anything that came handy and
answered the purpose. On the prairie above the precipice, wings
extended out on either side, in shape of an open triangle. Into this
the buffalo were carefully driven, and in their fright precipitated
themselves over the brink.
The proceedings were always conducted with much ceremony, and involved
a good deal of savage mummery. The sun, which was one of their deities,
must be propitiated. The evening previous to the attempt to drive
a herd of buffalo into the pis-kun, one of the medicine-men of the
band commenced by praying to the sun for the success of the undertaking.
He was the one to make the buffalo come, and early in the morning
he got out his robes and started on his mission, after warning his
wives that they must not show themselves, even by looking out of the
door of the lodge, until he came back from his mission, but that they
must constantly burn sweet grass as an offering to the god of the day.
He must necessarily fast when engaged in this duty, and when he was
ready to make his appearance on the prairie the warriors all followed
him, hiding themselves behind the temporary fence that bounded the
pis-kun. He then dressed himself in a bonnet which was made of the
head of a buffalo, and with a robe of the same animal thrown around
him slowly approached the peacefully grazing herd.
Arriving in the immediate vicinity, the buffalo, attracted by the
apparition, looked up. The medicine-man walked then very deliberately
toward the opening of the pis-kun. Generally the buffalo began to
follow him, and as he saw that they did so he increased his pace,
the animals, whose curiosity was aroused, at the same time doing
When the herd was securely within the corral, the hidden Indians
suddenly rose from their places, yelling as only savages can, at the
same instant shaking their robes, and the stampeded animals rushed
headlong to their death over the precipice. Hundreds were instantly
killed, while others were so dreadfully disabled as to make them an
easy prey. Then commenced an indiscriminate skinning and cutting up,
the chiefs and most noted warriors receiving the choicest meat.
As has been the fate of nearly all the Indian tribes west of the
Missouri River, the smallpox made fearful inroads among the Blackfeet.
It first appeared in 1845, and the tribe was decimated. In fact,
it is said that the disease almost swept the plains of Indians.
In 1757-1758, it again visited them, but was not so virulent as at
its first appearance. The measles carried off thousands in 1864;
and again, in 1869, the smallpox broke out in the Blackfeet villages.
In 1883-1884, strange as it may appear, twenty-five per cent of the
Piegan band actually died from hunger! The cause of this terrible
disaster was that the buffalo had been driven from the Blackfoot
country, or rather exterminated, and the tribe, which had ever wholly
depended upon that animal for their subsistence, in a short time was
reduced to a state of absolute starvation.
Like the buffalo, the once powerful Blackfeet are nearly all gone.
The few left are living on a small reservation, and are somewhat
self-sustaining. What a sad commentary! Fifty years ago the
Blackfeet numbered over forty thousand warriors, and their name was
a terror to the white man who had the temerity to travel through
The Blackfoot account of creation is not a very definite one; portions
of it are too vulgar for refined ears, but in it is to be found a
story of a once great flood, which seems to be common to the cosmogony
of all tribes.
FOLK-LORE OF BLACKFEET.
The folk-lore of the Blackfeet is very voluminous and full of humour.
Of course, as in other tribes, superstition and enchantment make up
the basis of their stories; and it will be noticed by the student of
their traditions, that there is that same marked similarity to those
related in the lodges of widely separated tribes, indicating a common
origin for them all. Two of the more interesting of these tales are
“The Lost Children” and “The Wolf-Man.”
Once a camp of people stopped on the bank of a river. There
were but a few lodges of them. One day the little children
in the camp crossed the river to play on the other side.
For some time they stayed near the bank, and then they went
up over a little hill and found a bed of sand and gravel;
and there they played for a long time.
There were eleven of these children. Two of them were
daughters of the chief of the camp, and the smaller of these
wanted the best of everything. If any child found a pretty
stone she would try to take it for herself. The other
children did not like this, and they began to tease the little
girl, and to take her things away from her. Then she got
angry and began to cry, and the more she cried the more the
children teased her; so at last she and her sister left the
others and went back to camp.
When they got there they told their father what the other
children had done to them, and this made the chief very angry.
He thought for a little while and then got up and went out of
the lodge, and called aloud, so that everybody might hear,
saying: “Listen! listen! Your children have teased my child
and made her cry. Now we will move away and leave them behind.
If they come back before we get started they shall be killed.
If they follow us and overtake the camp they shall be killed.
If the father and mother of any one of them take them into
their lodge I will kill that father and mother. Hurry now,
hurry and pack up, so that we can go. Everybody tear down
the lodges as quickly as you can.”
When the people heard this they felt very sorry, but they had
to do as the chief said; so they tore down the lodges and
quickly packed the dog travois, and started off. They packed
in such a hurry that they left many little things lying in
camp—knives and awls, bone needles and moccasins.
The little children played about in the sand for a long time,
but at last they began to get hungry; and one little girl said
to the others, “I will go back to the camp and get some dried
meat and bring it here, so that we may eat.” And she started
to go to the camp. When she came to the top of the hill and
looked across the river she saw that there were no lodges
there, and did not know what to think of it. She called down
to the children and said, “The camp is gone”; but they did not
believe her, and went on playing. She kept on calling and at
last some of them came to her, and then all saw that it was as
she had said. They went down to the river and crossed it, and
went to where the lodges had stood. When they got there they
saw on the ground the things that had been left out in the
packing; and as each child saw and knew something that had
belonged to its own parents it cried, and sang a little song,
saying: “Mother, here is your bone needle; why did you leave
your children?” “Father, here is your arrow; why did you
leave your children?” It was very mournful, and they all cried.
There was among them a little girl who had on her back her
baby brother, whom she loved dearly. He was very young,
a nursing child, and already he was hungry and beginning to
fret. This little girl said to the others: “We do not know
why they have gone, but we know they have gone. We must
follow the trail of the camp and try to catch up with them.”
So the children started to follow the camp. They travelled on
all day; and just at night they saw a little lodge near the
trail. They had heard the people talk of a bad old woman who
killed and ate people, and some of the children thought that
this old woman might live here; and they were afraid to go to
the lodge. Others said: “Perhaps some one lives here who has
a good heart. We are very tired and very hungry, and have
nothing to eat, and no place to keep warm. Let us go to this
They went to it; and when they went in they saw an old woman
sitting by the fire. She spoke kindly to them, and asked them
where they were travelling; and they told her that the camp
had moved on and left them, and that they were trying to find
their people, that they had nothing to eat, and were tired and
hungry. The old woman fed them and told them to sleep there
to-night, and to-morrow they could go on and find their people.
“The camp,” she said, “passed here to-day when the sun was low.
They have not gone far. To-morrow you will overtake them.”
She spread some robes on the ground and said: “Now lie here
and sleep. Lie side by side with your heads towards the fire,
and when morning comes you can go on your journey.”
The children lay down and soon slept.
In the middle of the night the old woman got up and built
a big fire, and put on it a big stone kettle full of water.
Then she took a big knife, and, commencing at one end of the
row, began to cut off the heads of the children, and to throw
them into the pot. The little girl with the baby brother lay
at the other end of the row, and while the old woman was doing
this she awoke and saw what was taking place. When the old
woman came near to her she jumped up and began to beg that she
would not kill her. “I am strong,” she said. “I will work
hard for you. I can bring your wood and water, and tan your
skins. Do not kill my little brother and me. Take pity on
us and save us alive. Everybody has left us, but do you have
pity. You shall see how quickly I will work, how you will
always have plenty of wood. I can work quickly and well.”
The old woman thought for a little while, then she said:
“Well, I will let you live for a time, anyhow. You shall
sleep safely to-night.”