BOYHOOD by OHIYESA
(CHARLES A. EASTMAN)
I: Hakadah, “The Pitiful Last”
II: Early Hardships
III: My Indian Grandmother
IV: In Indian Sugar Camp
V: A Midsummer Feast
AN INDIAN BOY’S TRAINING
MY PLAYS AND PLAYMATES
I: Games and Sports
II: My Playmates
III: The Boy Hunter
HAKADAH’S FIRST OFFERING
I: A Visit to Smoky Day
II: The Stone Boy
EVENING IN THE LODGE
I: Evening in the Lodge
II: Adventures of My Uncle
THE END OF THE BEAR DANCE
THE MAIDENS’ FEAST
I: A Legend of Devil’s Lake
II: Manitoshaw’s Hunting
INDIAN LIFE AND ADVENTURE
I: Life in the Woods
II: A Winter Camp
III: Wild Harvests
IV: A Meeting on the Plains
V: An Adventurous Journey
THE LAUGHING PHILOSOPHER
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF CIVILIZATION
I: Hadakah, “The Pitiful Last”
WHAT boy would not be an Indian
for a while when he thinks of the
freest life in the world? This life was mine. Every day there was
a real hunt. There was real game.
Occasionally there was a medicine
dance away off in the woods where no one could disturb us, in which the boys impersonated their elders, Brave Bull, Standing Elk, High Hawk, Medicine Bear, and the rest. They painted and imitated their fathers and grandfathers to the minutest detail, and accurately too, because they had seen the real thing all their lives.
We were not only good mimics but we were close students of nature. We studied the habits of animals just as you study your books. We watched the men of our people and represented them in our play; then learned to emulate them in our lives.
No people have a better use of their five senses than the children of the wilderness. We could smell as well as hear and see. We could feel and taste as well as we could see and hear. Nowhere has the memory been more fully developed than in the wild life, and I can still see wherein I owe much to my early training.
Of course I myself do not remember when I first saw the day, but my brothers have often recalled the event with much mirth; for it was a custom of the Sioux that when a boy was born his brother must plunge into the water, or roll in the snow naked if it was winter time; and if he was not big enough to do either of these himself, water was thrown on him. If the new-born had a sister, she must be immersed. The idea was that a warrior had come to camp, and the other chil- dren must display some act of hardihood.
I was so unfortunate as to be the youngest of five children who, soon after I was born, were left motherless. I had to bear the humiliating name “Hakadah,” meaning “the pitiful last,” until I should earn a more dignified and appropriate name. I was regarded as little more than a play- thing by the rest of the children.
My mother, who was known as the handsomest woman of all the Spirit Lake and Leaf Dweller Sioux, was dangerously ill, and one of the medi- cine men who attended her said: “Another medicine man has come into existence, but the mother must die. Therefore let him bear the name ‘Mysterious Medicine.'” But one of the by- standers hastily interfered, saying that an uncle of the child already bore that name, so, for the time, I was only “Hakadah.”
My beautiful mother, sometimes called the “Demi-Goddess” of the Sioux, who tradition says had every feature of a Caucasian descent with the exception of her luxuriant black hair and deep black eyes, held me tightly to her bosom upon her death-bed, while she whispered a few words to her mother-in-law. She said: “I give you this boy for your own. I cannot trust my own
mother with him; she will neglect him and he will surely die.”
The woman to whom these words were spoken was below the average in stature, remarkably ac- tive for her age (she was then fully sixty), and possessed of as much goodness as intelligence. My mother’s judgment concerning her own mother was well founded, for soon after her death that old lady appeared, and declared that Hakadah was too young to live without a mother. She offered to keep me until I died, and then she would put me in my mother’s grave. Of course my other grandmother denounced the sugges- tion as a very wicked one, and refused to give me up.
The babe was done up as usual in a movable cradle made from an oak board two and a half feet long and one and a half feet wide. On one side of it was nailed with brass-headed tacks the richly-embroidered sack, which was open in front and laced up and down with buckskin strings. Over the arms of the infant was a wooden bow, the ends of which were firmly attached to the board, so that if the cradle should fall the child’s head and face would be protected. On this bow were hung curious playthings–strings of artis- tically carved bones and hoofs of deer, which rattled when the little hands moved them.
In this upright cradle I lived, played and slept the greater part of the time during the first few months of my life. Whether I was made to lean against a lodge pole or was suspended from a bough of a tree, while my grandmother cut wood, or whether I was carried on her back, or con- veniently balanced by another child in a similar cradle hung on the opposite side of a pony, I was still in my oaken bed.
This grandmother, who had already lived through sixty years of hardships, was a wonder to the young maidens of the tribe. She showed no less enthusiasm over Hakadah than she had done when she held her first-born, the boy’s father, in her arms. Every little attention that is due to a loved child she performed with much skill and de- votion. She made all my scanty garments and my tiny moccasins with a great deal of taste. It was said by all that I could not have had more atten- tion had my mother been living.
Uncheedah (grandmother) was a great singer. Sometimes, when Hakadah wakened too early in the morning, she would sing to him something like the following lullaby:
Sleep, sleep, my boy, the Chippewas
Are far away–are far away.
Sleep, sleep, my boy; prepare to meet
The foe by day–the foe by day!
The cowards will not dare to fight
Till morning break–till morning break.
Sleep, sleep, my child, while still ’tis night;
Then bravely wake–then bravely wake!
The Dakota women were wont to cut and bring their fuel from the woods and, in fact, to perform most of the drudgery of the camp. This of neces- sity fell to their lot, because the men must follow the game during the day. Very often my grand- mother carried me with her on these excursions; and while she worked it was her habit to suspend me from a wild grape vine or a springy bough, so that the least breeze would swing the cradle to and fro.
She has told me that when I had grown old enough to take notice, I was apparently capable of holding extended conversations in an unknown dialect with birds and red squirrels. Once I fell asleep in my cradle, suspended five or six feet from the ground, while Uncheedah was some dis- tance away, gathering birch bark for a canoe. A squirrel had found it convenient to come upon the bow of my cradle and nibble his hickory nut, until he awoke me by dropping the crumbs of his meal. My disapproval of his intrusion was so decided that he had to take a sudden and quick flight to another bough, and from there he began to pour out his wrath upon me, while I continued my ob- jections to his presence so audibly that Uncheedah soon came to my rescue, and compelled the bold intruder to go away. It was a common thing for birds to alight on my cradle in the woods.
My food was, at first, a troublesome question for my kind foster-mother. She cooked some wild rice and strained it, and mixed it with broth made from choice venison. She also pounded dried venison almost to a flour, and kept it in water till the nourishing juices were extracted, then mixed with it some pounded maize, which was browned before pounding. This soup of wild rice, pounded veni- son and maize was my main-stay. But soon my teeth came–much earlier than the white children usually cut theirs; and then my good nurse gave me a little more varied food, and I did all my own grinding.
After I left my cradle, I almost walked away from it, she told me. She then began calling my attention to natural objects. Whenever I heard the song of a bird, she would tell me what bird it came from, something after this fashion:
“Hakadah, listen to Shechoka (the robin) call- ing his mate. He says he has just found some- think good to eat.” Or “Listen to Oopehanska (the thrush); he is singing for his little wife. He will sing his best.” When in the evening the whippoorwill started his song with vim, no further than a stone’s throw from our tent in the woods, she would say to me:
“Hush! It may be an Ojibway scout!”
Again, when I waked at midnight, she would say:
“Do not cry! Hinakaga (the owl) is watch- ing you from the tree-top.”
I usually covered up my head, for I had perfect faith in my grandmother’s admonitions, and she had given me a dreadful idea of this bird. It was one of her legends that a little boy was once stand- ing just outside of the teepee (tent), crying vigor- ously for his mother, when Hinakaga swooped down in the darkness and carried the poor little fellow up into the trees. It was well known that the hoot of the owl was commonly imitated by Indian scouts when on the war-path. There had been dreadful massacres immediately following this call. Therefore it was deemed wise to impress the sound early upon the mind of the child.
Indian children were trained so that they hardly ever cried much in the night. This was very ex- pedient and necessary in their exposed life. In my infancy it was my grandmother’s custom to put me to sleep, as she said, with the birds, and to waken me with them, until it became a habit. She did this with an object in view. An Indian must al- ways rise early. In the first place, as a hunter, he finds his game best at daybreak. Secondly, other tribes, when on the war-path, usually make their attack very early in the morning. Even when our people are moving about leisurely, we like to rise before daybreak, in order to travel when the air is cool, and unobserved, perchance, by our enemies.
As a little child, it was instilled into me to be silent and reticent. This was one of the most im- portant traits to form in the character of the Indian. As a hunter and warrior it was considered abso- lutely necessary to him, and was thought to lay the foundations of patience and self-control. There are times when boisterous mirth is indulged in by our people, but the rule is gravity and decorum.
After all, my babyhood was full of interest and the beginnings of life’s realities. The spirit of daring was already whispered into my ears. The value of the eagle feather as worn by the warrior had caught my eye. One day, when I was left alone, at scarcely two years of age, I took my uncle’s war bonnet and plucked out all its eagle feathers to decorate my dog and myself. So soon the life that was about me had made its impress, and already I desired intensely to comply with all of its demands.
II: Early Hardships
ONE of the earliest recollections of
my adventurous childhood is
the ride I had on a pony’s side.
I was passive in the whole mat-
ter. A little girl cousin of mine
was put in a bag and suspended
from the horn of an Indian saddle; but her weight must be balanced or the saddle would not remain on the animal’s back. Accordingly, I was put into another sack and made to keep the saddle and the girl in position! I did not object at all, for I had a very pleasant game of peek-a- boo with the little girl, until we came to a big snow-drift, where the poor beast was stuck fast and began to lie down. Then it was not so nice!
This was the convenient and primitive way in which some mothers packed their children for winter journeys. However cold the weather might be, the inmate of the fur-lined sack was usually very comfortable–at least I used to think so. I believe I was accustomed to all the pre- carious Indian conveyances, and, as a boy, I en- joyed the dog-travaux ride as much as any. The travaux consisted of a set of rawhide strips secure- ly lashed to the tent-poles, which were harnessed to the sides of the animal as if he stood between shafts, while the free ends were allowed to drag on the ground. Both ponies and large dogs were used as beasts of burden, and they carried in this way the smaller children as well as the baggage.
This mode of travelling for children was possi- ble only in the summer, and as the dogs were some- times unreliable, the little ones were exposed to a certain amount of danger. For instance, when- ever a train of dogs had been travelling for a long time, almost perishing with the heat and their heavy loads, a glimpse of water would cause them to forget all their responsibilities. Some of them, in spite of the screams of the women, would swim with their burdens into the cooling stream, and I was thus, on more than one occasion, made to partake of an unwilling bath.
I was a little over four years old at the time of the “Sioux massacre” in Minnesota. In the general turmoil, we took flight into British Columbia, and the journey is still vividly remem- bered by all our family. A yoke of oxen and a lumber-wagon were taken from some white farmer and brought home for our conveyance.
How delighted I was when I learned that we were to ride behind those wise-looking animals and in that gorgeously painted wagon! It seemed almost like a living creature to me, this new vehicle with four legs, and the more so when we got out of axle-grease and the wheels went along squealing like pigs!
The boys found a great deal of innocent fun in jumping from the high wagon while the oxen were leisurely moving along. My elder brothers soon became experts. At last, I mustered up courage enough to join them in this sport. I was sure they stepped on the wheel, so I cautiously placed my moccasined foot upon it. Alas! before I could realize what had happened, I was under the wheels, and had it not been for the neighbor immediately behind us, I might have been run over by the next team as well.
This was my first experience with a civilized vehicle. I cried out all possible reproaches on the white man’s team and concluded that a dog- travaux was good enough for me. I was really rejoiced that we were moving away from the people who made the wagon that had almost ended my life, and it did not occur to me that I alone was to blame. I could not be persuaded to ride in that wagon again and was glad when we finally left it beside the Missouri river.
The summer after the “Minnesota massacre,” General Sibley pursued our people across this river. Now the Missouri is considered one of the most treacherous rivers in the world. Even a good modern boat is not safe upon its uncertain current. We were forced to cross in buffalo-skin boats–as round as tubs!
The Washechu (white men) were coming in great numbers with their big guns, and while most of our men were fighting them to gain time, the women and the old men made and equipped the temporary boats, braced with ribs of willow. Some of these were towed by two or three women or men swimming in the water and some by ponies. It was not an easy matter to keep them right side up, with their helpless freight of little children and such goods as we possessed.
In our flight, we little folks were strapped in the saddles or held in front of an older person, and in the long night marches to get away from the soldiers, we suffered from loss of sleep and insuf- ficient food. Our meals were eaten hastily, and sometimes in the saddle. Water was not always to be found. The people carried it with them in bags formed of tripe or the dried pericardium of animals.
Now we were compelled to trespass upon the country of hostile tribes and were harassed by them almost daily and nightly. Only the strictest vigilance saved us.
One day we met with another enemy near the British lines. It was a prairie fire. We were sur- rounded. Another fire was quickly made, which saved our lives.
One of the most thrilling experiences of the following winter was a blizzard, which overtook us in our wanderings. Here and there, a family lay down in the snow, selecting a place where it was not likely to drift much. For a day and a night we lay under the snow. Uncle stuck a long pole beside us to tell us when the storm was over. We had plenty of buffalo robes and the snow kept us warm, but we found it heavy. After a time, it became packed and hollowed out around our bodies, so that we were as comfortable as one can be under those circumstances.
The next day the storm ceased, and we dis- covered a large herd of buffaloes almost upon us. We dug our way out, shot some of the buffaloes, made a fire and enjoyed a good dinner.
I was now an exile as well as motherless; yet I was not unhappy. Our wanderings from place to place afforded us many pleasant experiences and quite as many hardships and misfortunes. There were times of plenty and times of scarcity, and we had several narrow escapes from death. In sav- age life, the early spring is the most trying time and almost all the famines occurred at this period of the year.
The Indians are a patient and a clannish people; their love for one another is stronger than that of any civilized people I know. If this were not so, I believe there would have been tribes of cannibals among them. White people have been known to kill and eat their companions in preference to starving; but Indians–never!
In times of famine, the adults often denied themselves in order to make the food last as long as possible for the children, who were not able to bear hunger as well as the old. As a people, they can live without food much longer than any other nation.
I once passed through one of these hard springs when we had nothing to eat for several days. I well remember the six small birds which consti- tuted the breakfast for six families one morning; and then we had no dinner or supper to follow! What a relief that was to me–although I had only a small wing of a small bird for my share! Soon after this, we came into a region where buffaloes were plenty, and hunger and scarcity were for- gotten.
Such was the Indian’s wild life! When game was to be had and the sun shone, they easily forgot the bitter experiences of the winter before. Little preparation was made for the future. They are children of Nature, and occasionally she whips them with the lashes of experience, yet they are forgetful and careless. Much of their suffering might have been prevented by a little calculation.
During the summer, when Nature is at her best, and provides abundantly for the savage, it seems to me that no life is happier than his! Food is free–lodging free–everything free! All were alike rich in the summer, and, again, all were alike poor in the winter and early spring. However, their diseases were fewer and not so destructive as now, and the Indian’s health was generally good. The Indian boy enjoyed such a life as almost all boys dream of and would choose for themselves if they were permitted to do so.
The raids made upon our people by other tribes were frequent, and we had to be constantly on the watch. I remember at one time a night attack was made upon our camp and all our ponies stam- peded. Only a few of them were recovered, and our journeys after this misfortune were effected mostly by means of the dog-travaux.
The second winter after the massacre, my father and my two older brothers, with several others, were betrayed by a half-breed at Winnipeg to the United States authorities. As I was then living with my uncle in another part of the country, I be- came separated from them for ten years. During all this time we believed that they had been killed by the whites, and I was taught that I must avenge their deaths as soon as I was able to go upon the war-path.
I must say a word in regard to the character of this uncle, my father’s brother, who was my ad- viser and teacher for many years. He was a man about six feet two inches in height, very erect and broad-shouldered. He was known at that time as one of the best hunters and bravest warriors among the Sioux in British America, where he still lives, for to this day we have failed to persuade him to return to the United States.
He is a typical Indian–not handsome, but truthful and brave. He had a few simple princi- ples from which he hardly ever departed. Some of these I shall describe when I speak of my early training.
It is wonderful that any children grew up through all the exposures and hardships that we suffered in those days! The frail teepee pitched anywhere, in the winter as well as in the summer, was all the protection that we had against cold and storms. I can recall times when we were snowed in and it was very difficult to get fuel. We were once three days without much fire and all of this time it stormed violently. There seemed to be no special anxiety on the part of our people; they rather looked upon all this as a matter of course, knowing that the storm would cease when the time came.
I could once endure as much cold and hunger as any of them; but now if I miss one meal or accidentally wet my feet, I feel it as much as if I had never lived in the manner I have described, when it was a matter of course to get myself soak- ing wet many a time. Even if there was plenty to eat, it was thought better for us to practice fast- ing sometimes; and hard exercise was kept up continually, both for the sake of health and to prepare the body for the extraordinary exertions that it might, at any moment, be required to undergo. In my own remembrance, my
uncle used often to bring home a deer on his shoulder. The distance was sometimes con- siderable; yet he did not consider it any sort of a feat.
The usual custom with us was to eat only two meals a day and these were served at each end of the day. This rule was not invariable, how- ever, for if there should be any callers, it was Indian etiquette to offer either tobacco or food, or both. The rule of two meals a day was more closely observed by the men–especially the younger men–than by the women and children. This was when the Indians recognized that a true manhood, one of physical activity and endurance, depends upon dieting and regular exercise. No such system is practised by the reservation Indians of to-day.
III: My Indian Grandmother
AS a motherless child, I always re-
garded my good grandmother as
the wisest of guides and the best
of protectors. It was not long
before I began to realize her su-
periority to most of her contempo-
raries. This idea was not gained entirely from my own observation, but also from a knowledge of the high regard in which she was held by other wo- men. Aside from her native talent and ingenuity, she was endowed with a truly wonderful memory. No other midwife in her day and tribe could com- pete with her in skill and judgment. Her obser- vations in practice were all preserved in her mind for reference, as systematically as if they had been written upon the pages of a note-book.
I distinctly recall one occasion when she took me with her into the woods in search of certain medicinal roots.
“Why do you not use all kinds of roots for medicines?” said I.
“Because,” she replied, in her quick, charac- teristic manner, the Great Mystery does not will us to find things too easily. In that case every- body would be a medicine-giver, and Ohiyesa must learn that there are many secrets which the Great Mystery will disclose only to the most worthy. Only those who seek him fasting and in solitude will receive his signs.”
With this and many similar explanations she wrought in my soul wonderful and lively concep- tions of the “Great Mystery” and of the effects of prayer and solitude. I continued my childish questioning.
“But why did you not dig those plants that we saw in the woods, of the same kind that you are digging now?”
“For the same reason that we do not like the berries we find in the shadow of deep woods as well as the ones which grow in sunny places. The latter have more sweetness and flavor. Those herbs which have medicinal virtues should be sought in a place that is neither too wet nor too dry, and where they have a generous amount of sunshine to maintain their vigor.
“Some day Ohiyesa will be old enough to know the secrets of medicine; then I will tell him all. But if you should grow up to be a bad man, I must withhold these treasures from you and give them to your brother, for a medicine man must be a good and wise man. I hope Ohiyesa will be a great medicine man when he grows up. To be a great warrior is a noble ambition; but to be a mighty medicine man is a nobler!”
She said these things so thoughtfully and im- pressively that I cannot but feel and remember them even to this day.
Our native women gathered all the wild rice, roots, berries and fruits which formed an impor- tant part of our food. This was distinctively a woman’s work. Uncheedah (grandmother) under- stood these matters perfectly, and it became a kind of instinct with her to know just where to look for each edible variety and at what season of the year. This sort of labor gave the Indian women every opportunity to observe and study Nature after their fashion; and in this Uncheedah was more acute than most of the men. The abilities of her boys were not all inherited from their father; indeed, the stronger family traits came obviously from her. She was a leader among the native women, and they came to her, not only for medical aid, but for advice in all their affairs.
In bravery she equaled any of the men. This trait, together with her ingenuity and alertness of mind, more than once saved her and her people from destruction. Once, when we were roaming over a region occupied by other tribes, and on a day when most of the men were out upon the hunt, a party of hostile Indians suddenly ap- peared. Although there were a few men left at home, they were taken by surprise at first and scarcely knew what to do, when this woman came forward and advanced alone to meet our foes. She had gone some distance when some of the men followed her. She met the strangers and offered her hand to them. They accepted her friendly greeting; and as a result of her brave act we were left unmolested and at peace.
Another story of her was related to me by my father. My grandfather, who was a noted hunter, often wandered away from his band in search of game. In this instance he had with him only his own family of three boys and his wife. One evening,when he returned from the chase, he found to his surprise that she had built a stockade around her teepee.
She had discovered the danger-sign in a single foot-print, which she saw at a glance was not that of her husband, and she was also convinced that it was not the foot-print of a Sioux, from the shape of the moccasin. This ability to recognize foot- prints is general among the Indians, but more marked in certain individuals.
This courageous woman had driven away a party of five Ojibway warriors. They approached the lodge cautiously, but her dog gave timely warning, and she poured into them from behind her defences the contents of a double-barrelled gun, with such good effect that the astonished braves thought it wise to retreat.
I was not more than five or six years old when the Indian soldiers came one day and destroyed our large buffalo-skin teepee. It was charged that my uncle had hunted alone a large herd of buffaloes. This was not exactly true. He had unfortunately frightened a large herd while shooting a deer in the edge of the woods. However, it was custom- ary to punish such an act severely, even though the offense was accidental.
When we were attacked by the police, I was play- ing in the teepee, and the only other person at home was Uncheedah. I had not noticed their approach, and when the war-cry was given by thirty or forty Indians with strong lungs, I thought my little world was coming to an end. Instantly innumerable knives and tomahawks penetrated our frail home, while bullets went through the poles and tent-fastenings up above our heads.
I hardly know what I did, but I imagine it was just what any other little fellow would have done under like circumstances. My first clear realiza- tion of the situation was when Uncheedah had a dispute with the leader, claiming that the matter had not been properly investigated, and that none of the policemen had attained to a reputation in war which would justify them in touching her son’s teepee. But alas! our poor dwelling was already an unrecognizable ruin; even the poles were broken into splinters.
The Indian women, after reaching middle age, are usually heavy and lack agility, but my grand- mother was in this also an exception. She was fully sixty when I was born; and when I was seven years old she swam across a swift and wide stream, carrying me on her back, because she did not wish to expose me to accident in one of the clumsy round boats of bull-hide which were rigged up to cross the rivers which impeded our way, especially in the springtime. Her strength and endurance were remarkable. Even after she had attained the age of eighty-two, she one day walked twenty-five miles without appearing much fa- tigued.
I marvel now at the purity and elevated senti- ment possessed by this woman, when I consider the customs and habits of her people at the time. When her husband died she was still compara- tively a young woman–still active, clever and industrious. She was descended from a haughty chieftain of the “Dwellers among the Leaves.” Although women of her age and position were held to be eligible to re-marriage, and she had several persistent suitors who were men of her own age and chiefs, yet she preferred to cherish in solitude the memory of her husband.
I was very small when my uncle brought home two Ojibway young women. In the fight in which they were captured, none of the Sioux war party had been killed; therefore they were sympathized with and tenderly treated by the Sioux women. They were apparently happy, although of course they felt deeply the losses sustained at the time of their capture, and they did not fail to show their appreciation of the kindnesses received at our hands.
As I recall now the remarks made by one of them at the time of their final release, they ap- pear to me quite remarkable. They lived in my grandmother’s family for two years, and were then returned to their people at a great peace council of the two nations. When they were about to leave my grandmother, the elder of the two sisters first embraced her, and then spoke somewhat as follows:
“You are a brave woman and a true mother. I understand now why your son so bravely con- quered our band, and took my sister and myself captive. I hated him at first, but now I admire him, because he did just what my father, my brother or my husband would have done had they opportunity. He did even more. He
saved us from the tomahawks of his fellow-war- riors, and brought us to his home to know a noble and a brave woman.
“I shall never forget your many favors shown to us. But I must go. I belong to my tribe and I shall return to them. I will endeavor to be a true woman also, and to teach my boys to be generous warriors like your son.”
Her sister chose to remain among the Sioux all her life, and she married one of our young men.
“I shall make the Sioux and the Ojibways,” she said, “to be as brothers.”
There are many other instances of intermar- riage with captive women. The mother of the well-known Sioux chieftain, Wabashaw, was an Ojibway woman. I once knew a woman who
was said to be a white captive. She was married to a noted warrior, and had a fine family of five boys. She was well accustomed to the Indian ways, and as a child I should not have suspected that she was white. The skins of these people be- came so sunburned and full of paint that it re- quired a keen eye to distinguish them from the real Indians.
IV: An Indian Sugar Camp
WITH the first March thaw the
thoughts of the Indian women
of my childhood days turned
promptly to the annual sugar-
making. This industry was
chiefly followed by the old men
and women and the children. The rest of the tribe went out upon the spring fur-hunt at this sea- son, leaving us at home to make the sugar.
The first and most important of the necessary utensils were the huge iron and brass kettles for boiling. Everything else could be made, but these must be bought, begged or borrowed. A maple tree was felled and a log canoe hollowed out, into which the sap was to be gathered. Little troughs of basswood and birchen basins were also made to receive the sweet drops as they trickled from the tree.
As soon as these labors were accomplished, we all proceeded to the bark sugar house, which stood in the midst of a fine grove of maples on the bank of the Minnesota river. We found this hut partially filled with the snows of winter and the withered leaves of the preceding autumn, and it must be cleared for our use. In the meantime a tent was pitched outside for a few days’ occupancy. The snow was still deep in the woods, with a solid crust upon which we could easily walk; for we usually moved to the sugar house before the sap had act- ually started, the better to complete our prepara- tions.
My grandmother worked like a beaver in these days (or rather like a muskrat, as the Indians say; for this industrious little animal sometimes collects as many as six or eight bushels of edible roots for the winter, only to be robbed of his store by some of our people). If there was prospect of a good sugaring season, she now made a second and even a third canoe to contain the sap. These canoes were afterward utilized by the hunters for their proper purpose.
During our last sugar-making in Minnesota, be- fore the “outbreak,” my grandmother was at work upon a canoe with her axe, while a young aunt of mine stood by. We boys were congregated with- in the large, oval sugar house, busily engaged in making arrows for the destruction of the rabbits and chipmunks which we knew would come in numbers to drink the sap. The birds also were beginning to return, and the cold storms of March would drive them to our door. I was then too young to do much except look on; but I fully en- tered into the spirit of the occasion, and rejoiced to see the bigger boys industriously sharpen their arrows, resting them against the ends of the long sticks which were burning in the fire, and occasion- ally cutting a chip from the stick. In their eager- ness they paid little attention to this circumstance, although they well knew that it was strictly for- bidden to touch a knife to a burning ember.
Suddenly loud screams were heard from without and we all rushed out to see what was the matter. It was a serious affair. My grandmother’s axe had slipped, and by an upward stroke nearly sev- ered three of the fingers of my aunt, who stood looking on, with her hands folded upon her waist. As we ran out the old lady, who had already no- ticed and reproved our carelessness in regard to the burning embers, pursued us with loud reproaches and threats of a whipping. This will seem mys- terious to my readers, but is easily explained by the Indian superstition, which holds that such an offense as we had committed is invariably punished by the accidental cutting of some one of the family.
My grandmother did not confine herself to canoe-making. She also collected a good supply of fuel for the fires, for she would not have much time to gather wood when the sap began to flow. Presently the weather moderated and the snow be- gan to melt. The month of April brought show- ers which carried most of it off into the Minnesota river. Now the women began to test the trees– moving leisurely among them, axe in hand, and striking a single quick blow, to see if the sap would appear. The trees, like people, have their indi- vidual characters; some were ready to yield up their life-blood, while others were more reluctant. Now one of the birchen basins was set under each tree, and a hardwood chip driven deep into the cut which the axe had made. From the corners of this chip–at first drop by drop, then more freely– the sap trickled into the little dishes.
It is usual to make sugar from maples, but sev- eral other trees were also tapped by the Indians. From the birch and ash was made a dark-colored sugar, with a somewhat bitter taste, which was used for medicinal purposes. The box-elder yielded a beautiful white sugar, whose only fault was that there was never enough of it!
A long fire was now made in the sugar house, and a row of brass kettles suspended over the blaze. The sap was collected by the women in tin or birchen buckets and poured into the canoes, from which the kettles were kept filled. The hearts of the boys beat high with pleasant antici- pations when they heard the welcome hissing sound of the boiling sap! Each boy claimed one kettle for his especial charge. It was his duty to see that the fire was kept up under it, to watch lest it boil over, and finally, when the sap became sirup, to test it upon the snow, dipping it out with a wooden paddle. So frequent were these tests that for the first day or two we consumed nearly all that could be made; and it was not until the sweetness began to pall that my grandmother set herself in earnest to store up sugar for future use. She made it into cakes of various forms, in birch- en molds, and sometimes in hollow canes or reeds, and the bills of ducks and geese. Some of it was pulverized and packed in rawhide cases. Being a prudent woman, she did not give it to us after the first month or so, except upon special occa- sions, and it was thus made to last almost the year around. The smaller candies were reserved as an occasional treat for the little fellows, and the sugar was eaten at feasts with wild rice or parched corn, and also with pounded dried meat. Coffee and tea, with their substitutes, were all unknown to us in those days.
Every pursuit has its trials and anxieties. My grandmother’s special tribulations, during the sugaring season, were the upsetting and gnawing of holes in her birch-bark pans. The transgres- sors were the rabbit and squirrel tribes, and we little boys for once became useful, in shooting them with our bows and arrows. We hunted all over the sugar camp, until the little creatures were fairly driven out of the neighborhood. Oc- casionally one of my older brothers brought home a rabbit or two, and then we had a feast.
The sugaring season extended well into April, and the returning birds made the precincts of our camp joyful with their songs. I often followed my older brothers into the woods, although I was then but four or five years old. Upon one of these excursions they went so far that I ventured back alone. When within sight of our hut, I saw a chipmunk sitting upon a log, and uttering the sound he makes when he calls to his mate. How glorious it would be, I thought, if I could shoot him with my tiny bow and arrows! Stealthily and cautiously I approached, keeping my eyes upon the pretty little animal, and just as I was about to let fly my shaft, I heard a hissing noise at my feet. There lay a horrid snake, coiled and ready to spring! Forgetful that I was a warrior, I gave a loud scream and started backward; but soon recollecting myself, looked down with shame, although no one was near. However, I retreated to the inclined trunk of a fallen tree, and there, as I have often been told, was overheard soliloquiz- ing in the following words: “I wonder if a snake can climb a tree!”
I remember on this occasion of our last sugar bush in Minnesota, that I stood one day outside of our hut and watched the approach of a visitor –a bent old man, his hair almost white, and carrying on his back a large bundle of red willow, or kinnikinick, which the Indians use for smoking. He threw down his load at the door and thus saluted us: “You have indeed perfect weather for sugar-making.”
It was my great-grandfather, Cloud Man, whose original village was on the shores of Lakes Calhoun and Harriet, now in the suburbs of the city of Minneapolis. He was the first Sioux chief to welcome the Protestant missionaries among his people, and a well-known character in those pio- neer days. He brought us word that some of the peaceful sugar-makers near us on the river had been attacked and murdered by roving Ojib- ways. This news disturbed us not a little, for we realized that we too might become the victims of an Ojibway war party. Therefore we all felt some uneasiness from this time until we returned heavy laden to our village.
V: A Midsummer Feast
IT was midsummer. Everything
that the Santee Sioux had under-
taken during the year had been un-
usually successful. The spring
fur-hunters had been fortunate,
and the heavy winter had proved
productive of much maple sugar. The women’s patches of maize and potatoes were already suffic- iently advanced to use. The Wahpetonwan band of Sioux, the “Dwellers among the Leaves,” were fully awakened to the fact that it was almost time for the midsummer festivities of the old, wild days.
The invitations were bundles of tobacco, and acceptances were sent back from the various bands –the “Light Lodges”, “Dwellers back from the River,” and many others, in similar fashion. Blue Earth, chief of the “Dwellers among the Leaves,” was the host.
There were to be many different kinds of ath- letic games; indeed, the festival was something like a State fair, in that there were many side shows and competitive events. For instance, sup- posing that (Miss) White Rabbit should desire to give a “maidens’ feast,” she would employ a crier to go among the different bands announcing the fact in a sing-song manner:
“Miss White Rabbit will receive her maiden friends to-day at noon, inside of the circular en- campment of the Kaposia band.”
Again, should (Mr.) Sleepy Eye wish to have his child’s ears pierced publicly, he would have to give away a great deal of savage wealth–namely, otter, bear and beaver skins and ponies–or the child would not be considered as belonging to a family in good standing.
But the one all-important event of the occasion was the lacrosse game, for which it had been cus- tomary to select those two bands which could boast the greater number of fast runners.
The Wahpetonwan village on the banks of the Minnesota river was alive with the newly-arrived guests and the preparations for the coming event. Meat of wild game had been put away with much care during the previous fall in anticipation of this feast. There was wild rice and the choicest of dried venison that had been kept all winter, as well as freshly dug turnips, ripe berries and an abundance of fresh meat.
Along the edge of the woods the teepees were pitched in groups or semi-circles, each band dis- tinct from the others. The teepee of Mankato or Blue Earth was pitched in a conspicuous spot. Just over the entrance was painted in red and yel- low a picture of a pipe, and directly opposite this the rising sun. The painting was symbolic of welcome and good will to men under the bright sun.
A meeting was held to appoint some “medi- cine man” to make the balls that were to be used in the lacrosse contest; and presently the herald announced that this honor had been conferred upon old Chankpee-yuhah, or “Keeps the Club,” while every other man of his profession was dis- appointed. He was a powerful man physically, who had apparently won the confidence of the people by his fine personal appearance and by working upon superstitious minds.
Towards evening he appeared in the circle, leading by the hand a boy about four years old. Closely the little fellow observed every motion of the man; nothing escaped his vigilant black eyes, which seemed constantly to grow brighter and larger, while his exuberant glossy black hair was plaited and wound around his head like that of a Celestial. He wore a bit of swan’s down in each ear, which formed a striking contrast with the child’s complexion. Further than this, the boy was painted according to the fashion of the age. He held in his hands a miniature bow and arrows.
The medicine man drew himself up in an ad- mirable attitude, and proceeded to make his short speech:
“Wahpetonwans, you boast that you run down the elk; you can outrun the Ojibways. Before you all, I dedicate to you this red ball. Kaposias, you claim that no one has a lighter foot than you; you declare that you can endure running a whole day without water. To you I dedicate this black ball. Either you or the Leaf-Dwellers will have to drop your eyes and bow your head when the game is over. I wish to announce that if the Wahpetonwans should win, this little warrior shall bear the name Ohiyesa (winner) through life; but if the Light Lodges should win, let the name be given to any child appointed by them.”
The ground selected for the great final game was on a narrow strip of land between a lake and the river. It was about three quarters of a mile long and a quarter of a mile in width. The spec- tators had already ranged themselves all along the two sides, as well as at the two ends, which were somewhat higher than the middle. The soldiers appointed to keep order furnished much of the entertainment of the day. They painted artistically and tastefully, according to the Indian fashion, not only their bodies but also their ponies and clubs. They were so strict in enforcing the laws that no one could venture with safety within a few feet of the limits of the field.
Now all of the minor events and feasts, occupy- ing several days’ time, had been observed. Her- alds on ponies’ backs announced that all who in- tended to participate in the final game were re- quested to repair to the ground; also that if any one bore a grudge against another, he was im- plored to forget his ill-feeling until the contest should be over.
The most powerful men were stationed at the half-way ground, while the fast runners were as- signed to the back. It was an impressive spectacle –a fine collection of agile forms, almost stripped of garments and painted in wild imitation of the rainbow and sunset sky on human canvas. Some had undertaken to depict the Milky Way across their tawny bodies, and one or two made a bold attempt to reproduce the lightning. Others con- tented themselves with painting the figure of some fleet animal or swift bird on their muscular chests.
The coiffure of the Sioux lacrosse player has often been unconsciously imitated by the fashion- able hair-dressers of modern times. Some banged and singed their hair; others did a little more by adding powder. The Grecian knot was lo- cated on the wrong side of the head, being tied tightly over the forehead. A great many simply brushed back their long locks and tied them with a strip of otter skin.
At the middle of the ground were stationed four immense men, magnificently formed. A fifth ap- proached this group, paused a moment, and then threw his head back, gazed up into the sky in the manner of a cock and gave a smooth, clear oper- atic tone. Instantly the little black ball went up between the two middle rushers, in the midst of yells, cheers and war-whoops. Both men en- deavored to catch it in the air; but alas! each in- terfered with the other; then the guards on each side rushed upon them. For a time, a hundred lacrosse sticks vied with each other, and the wrig- gling human flesh and paint were all one could see through the cloud of dust. Suddenly there shot swiftly through the air toward the south, toward the Kaposias’ goal, the ball. There was a general cheer from their adherents, which echoed back from the white cliff on the opposite side of the Minnesota.
As the ball flew through the air, two adver- saries were ready to receive it. The Kaposia quickly met the ball, but failed to catch it in his netted bag, for the other had swung his up like a flash. Thus it struck the ground, but had no op- portunity to bound up when a Wahpeton pounced upon it like a cat and slipped out of the grasp of his opponents. A mighty cheer thundered through the air.
The warrior who had undertaken to pilot the little sphere was risking much, for he must dodge a host of Kaposias before he could gain any ground. He was alert and agile; now springing like a panther, now leaping like a deer over a stooping opponent who tried to seize him around the waist. Every opposing player was upon his heels, while those of his own side did all in their power to clear the way for him. But it was all in vain. He only gained fifty paces.
Thus the game went. First one side, then the other would gain an advantage, and then it was lost, until the herald proclaimed that it was time to change the ball. No victory was in sight for either side.
After a few minutes’ rest, the game was resumed. The red ball was now tossed in the air in the usual way. No sooner had it descended than one of the rushers caught it and away it went northward;
again it was fortunate, for it was advanced by one of the same side. The scene was now one of the wildest excitement and confusion. At last, the northward flight of the ball was checked for a moment and a desperate struggle ensued. Cheers and war-whoops became general, such as were never equaled in any concourse of savages, and possibly nowhere except at a college game of foot- ball.
The ball had not been allowed to come to the surface since it reached this point, for there were more than a hundred men who scrambled for it. Suddenly a warrior shot out of the throng like the ball itself! Then some of the players shouted: “Look out for Antelope! Look out for Antelope!” But it was too late. The little sphere had already nestled into Antelope’s palm and that fleetest of Wahpetons had thrown down his lacrosse stick and set a determined eye upon the northern goal.
Such a speed! He had cleared almost all the opponents’ guards–there were but two more. These were exceptional runners of the Kaposias. As he approached them in his almost irresistible speed, every savage heart thumped louder in the Indian’s dusky bosom. In another moment there would be a defeat for the Kaposias or a prolonga- tion of the game. The two men, with a determined look approached their foe like two panthers pre- pared to spring; yet he neither slackened his speed nor deviated from his course. A crash–a mighty shout!–the two Kaposias collided, and the swift Antelope had won the laurels!
The turmoil and commotion at the victors’ camp were indescribable. A few beats of a drum were heard, after which the criers hurried along the lines, announcing the last act to be performed at the camp of the “Leaf Dwellers.”
The day had been a perfect one. Every event had been a success; and, as a matter of course, the old people were happy, for they largely profited by these occasions. Within the circle formed by the general assembly sat in a group the members of the common council. Blue Earth arose, and in a few appropriate and courteous remarks as- sured his guests that it was not selfishness that led his braves to carry off the honors of the last event, but that this was a friendly contest in which each band must assert its prowess. In memory of this victory, the boy would now receive his name. A loud “Ho-o-o” of approbation reverberated from the edge of the forest upon the Minnesota’s bank.
Half frightened, the little fellow was now brought into the circle, looking very much as if he were about to be executed. Cheer after cheer went up for the awe-stricken boy. Chankpee-yuhah, the medicine man, proceeded to confer the name.
“Ohiyesa (or Winner) shall be thy name hence- forth. Be brave, be patient and thou shalt always win! Thy name is Ohivesa.”
An Indian Boy’s Training
IT is commonly supposed that there
is no systematic education of their children among the aborigines of
this country. Nothing could be
farther from the truth. All the cus- toms of this primitive people were
held to be divinely instituted, and those in connec- tion with the training of children were scrupulously adhered to and transmitted from one generation to another.
The expectant parents conjointly bent all their efforts to the task of giving the new-comer the best they could gather from a long line of ancestors. A pregnant Indian woman would often choose one of the greatest characters of her family and tribe as a model for her child. This hero was daily called to mind. She would gather from tradition all of his noted deeds and daring exploits, rehearsing them to herself when alone. In order that the impres- sion might be more distinct, she avoided company. She isolated herself as much as possible, and wan- dered in solitude, not thoughtlessly, but with an eye to the impress given by grand and beautiful scenery.
The Indians believed, also, that certain kinds of animals would confer peculiar gifts upon the un- born, while others would leave so strong an adverse impression that the child might become a monstros- ity. A case of hare-lip was commonly attributed to the rabbit. It was said that a rabbit had charmed the mother and given to the babe its own features. Even the meat of certain animals was denied the pregnant woman, because it was supposed to influ- ence the disposition or features of the child.
Scarcely was the embyro warrior ushered into the world, when he was met by lullabies that speak of wonderful exploits in hunting and war. Those ideas which so fully occupied his mother’s mind before his birth are now put into words by all about the child, who is as yet quite unresponsive to their appeals to his honor and ambition. He is called the future defender of his people, whose lives may depend upon his courage and skill. If the child is a girl, she is at once addressed as the future mother of a noble race.
In hunting songs, the leading animals are intro- duced; they come to the boy to offer their bodies for the sustenance of his tribe. The animals are regarded as his friends, and spoken of almost as tribes of people, or as his cousins, grandfathers and grandmothers. The songs of wooing, adapted as lullabies, were equally imaginative, and the suitors were often animals personified, while pretty maid- ens were represented by the mink and the doe.
Very early, the Indian boy assumed the task of preserving and transmitting the legends of his an- cestors and his race. Almost every evening a myth, or a true story of some deed done in the past, was narrated by one of the parents or grand- parents, while the boy listened with parted lips and glistening eyes. On the following evening, he was usually required to repeat it. If he was not an apt scholar, he struggled long with his task; but, as a rule, the Indian boy is a good listener and has a good memory, so that the stories were tolerably well mas- tered. The household became his audience, by which he was alternately criticized and ap- plauded.
This sort of teaching at once enlightens the boy’s mind and stimulates his ambition. His concep- tion of his own future career becomes a vivid and irresistible force. Whatever there is for him to learn must be learned; whatever qualifications are necessary to a truly great man he must seek at any expense of danger and hardship. Such was the feeling of the imaginative and brave young Indian. It became apparent to him in early life that he must accustom himself to rove alone and not to fear or dislike the impression of solitude.
It seems to be a popular idea that all the char- acteristic skill of the Indian is instinctive and hereditary. This is a mistake. All the stoicism and patience of the Indian are acquired traits, and continual practice alone makes him master of the art of wood-craft. Physical training and dieting were not neglected. I remember that I was not allowed to have beef soup or any warm drink. The soup was for the old men. General rules for the young were never to take their food very hot, nor to drink much water.
My uncle, who educated me up to the age of fifteen years, was a strict disciplinarian and a good teacher. When I left the teepee in the morning, he would say: “Hakadah, look closely to everything you see”; and at evening, on my re- turn, he used often to catechize me for an hour or so.
“On which side of the trees is the lighter-col- ored bark? On which side do they have most regular branches?”
It was his custom to let me name all the new birds that I had seen during the day. I would name them according to the color or the shape of the bill or their song or the appearance and locality of the nest–in fact, anything about the bird that impressed me as characteristic. I made many ridiculous errors, I must admit. He then usually informed me of the correct name. Occasionally I made a hit and this he would warm- ly commend.
He went much deeper into this science when I was a little older, that is, about the age of eight or nine years. He would say, for instance:
“How do you know that there are fish in yonder lake?”
“Because they jump out of the water for flies at mid-day.”
He would smile at my prompt but superficial reply.
“What do you think of the little pebbles grouped together under the shallow water? and what made the pretty curved marks in the sandy bottom and the little sand-banks? Where do you find the fish-eating birds? Have the in- let and the outlet of a lake anything to do with the question?”
He did not expect a correct reply at once to all the voluminous questions that he put to me on these occasions, but he meant to make me observ- ant and a good student of nature.
“Hakadah,” he would say to me, “you ought to follow the example of the shunktokecha (wolf). Even when he is surprised and runs for his life, he will pause to take one more look at you before he enters his final retreat. So you must take a sec- ond look at everything you see.
“It is better to view animals unobserved. I have been a witness to their courtships and their quarrels and have learned many of their secrets in this way. I was once the unseen spectator of a thrilling battle between a pair of grizzly bears and three buffaloes–a rash act for the bears, for it was in the moon of strawberries, when the buffaloes sharpen and polish their horns for bloody con- tests among themselves.
“I advise you, my boy, never to approach a grizzly’s den from the front, but to steal up be- hind and throw your blanket or a stone in front of the hole. He does not usually rush for it, but first puts his head out and listens and then comes out very indifferently and sits on his haunches on the mound in front of the hole before he makes any attack. While he is exposing himself in this fashion, aim at his heart. Always be as cool as the animal himself.” Thus he armed me against the cunning of savage beasts by teaching me how to outwit them.
“In hunting,” he would resume, “you will be guided by the habits of the animal you seek. Re- member that a moose stays in swampy or low land or between high mountains near a spring or lake, for thirty to sixty days at a time. Most large game moves about continually, except the doe in the spring; it is then a very easy matter to find her with the fawn. Conceal yourself in a convenient place as soon as you observe any signs of the presence of either, and then call with your birchen doe-caller.
“Whichever one hears you first will soon appear in your neighborhood. But you must be very watchful, or you may be made a fawn of by a large wild-cat. They understand the characteristic call of the doe perfectly well.
“When you have any difficulty with a bear or a wild-cat–that is, if the creature shows signs of attacking you–you must make him fully under- stand that you have seen him and are aware of his intentions. If you are not well equipped for a pitched battle, the only way to make him retreat is to take a long sharp-pointed pole for a spear and rush toward him. No wild beast will face this un- less he is cornered and already wounded, These fierce beasts are generally afraid of the common weapon of the larger animals–the horns, and if these are very long and sharp, they dare not risk an open fight.
“There is one exception to this rule–the grey wolf will attack fiercely when very hungry. But their courage depends upon their numbers; in this they are like white men. One wolf or two will never attack a man. They will stampede a herd of buffaloes in order to get at the calves; they will rush upon a herd of antelopes, for these are help- less; but they are always careful about attacking man.”
Of this nature were the instructions of my uncle, who was widely known at that time as among the greatest hunters of his tribe.
All boys were expected to endure hardship without complaint. In savage warfare, a young man must, of course, be an athlete and used to undergoing all sorts of privations. He must be able to go without food and water for two or three days without displaying any weakness, or to run for a day and a night without any rest. He must be able to traverse a pathless and wild country without losing his way either in the day or night time. He cannot refuse to do any of these things if he aspires to be a warrior.
Sometimes my uncle would waken me very early in the morning and challenge me to fast with him all day. I had to accept the challenge. We blackened our faces with charcoal, so that every boy in the village would know that I was fasting for the day. Then the little tempters would make my life a misery until the merci- ful sun hid behind the western hills.
I can scarcely recall the time when my stern teacher began to give sudden war-whoops over my head in the morning while I was sound asleep. He expected me to leap up with perfect presence of mind, always ready to grasp a weapon of some sort and to give a shrill whoop in reply. If I was sleepy or startled and hardly knew what I was about, he would ridicule me and say that I need never expect to sell my scalp dear. Often he would vary these tactics by shooting off his gun just outside of the lodge while I was yet asleep, at the same time giving blood-curdling yells. After a time I became used to this.
When Indians went upon the war-path, it was their custom to try the new warriors thoroughly before coming to an engagement. For instance, when they were near a hostile camp, they would select the novices to go after the water and make them do all sorts of things to prove their cour- age. In accordance with this idea, my uncle used to send me off after water when we camped after dark in a strange place. Perhaps the country was full of wild beasts, and, for aught I knew, there might be scouts from hostile bands of In- dians lurking in that very neighborhood.
Yet I never objected, for that would show cow- ardice. I picked my way through the woods, dipped my pail in the water and hurried back, always careful to make as little noise as a cat. Being only a boy, my heart would leap at every crackling of a dry twig or distant hooting of an owl, until, at last, I reached our teepee. Then my uncle would perhaps say: “Ah, Hakadah, you are a thorough warrior,” empty out the precious contents of the pail, and order me to go a second time.
Imagine how I felt! But I wished to be a brave man as much as a white boy desires to be a great lawyer or even President of the United States. Silently I would take the pail and en- deavor to retrace my footsteps in the dark.
With all this, our manners and morals were not neglected. I was made to respect the adults and especially the aged. I was not allowed to join in their discussions, nor even to speak in their presence, unless requested to do so. In- dian etiquette was very strict, and among the re- quirements was that of avoiding the direct address. A term of relationship or some title of courtesy was commonly used instead of the personal name by those who wished to show respect. We were taught generosity to the poor and reverence for the “Great Mystery.” Religion was the basis of all Indian training.
I recall to the present day some of the kind warnings and reproofs that my good grandmother was wont to give me. “Be strong of heart–be patient!” she used to say. She told me of a young chief who was noted for his uncontrollable temper. While in one of his rages he attempted to kill a woman, for which he was slain by his own band and left unburied as a mark of disgrace –his body was simply covered with green grass. If I ever lost my temper, she would say:
“Hakadah, control yourself, or you will be like that young man I told you of, and lie under a green blanket!”
In the old days, no young man was allowed to use tobacco in any form until he had become an acknowledged warrior and had achieved a record. If a youth should seek a wife before he had reached the age of twenty-two or twenty-three, and been recognized as a brave man, he was sneered at and considered an ill-bred Indian. He must also be a skillful hunter. An Indian cannot be a good husband unless he brings home plenty of game.
These precepts were in the line of our training for the wild life.
My Plays and Playmates
I: Games and Sports
THE Indian boy was a prince of
the wilderness. He had but very
little work to do during the period of his boyhood. His principal
occupation was the practice of a
few simple arts in warfare and the
chase. Aside from this, he was master of his time.
Whatever was required of us boys was quickly performed: then the field was clear for our games and plays. There was always keen competition among us. We felt very much as our fathers did in hunting and war–each one strove to excel all the others.
It is true that our savage life was a precarious one, and full of dreadful catastrophes; however, this never prevented us from enjoying our sports to the fullest extent. As we left our teepees in the morning, we were never sure that our scalps would not dangle from a pole in the afternoon! It was an uncertain life, to be sure. Yet we ob- served that the fawns skipped and played happily while the gray wolves might be peeping forth from behind the hills, ready to tear them limb from limb.
Our sports were molded by the life and cus- toms of our people; indeed, we practiced only what we expected to do when grown. Our games were feats with the bow and arrow, foot and pony races, wrestling, swimming and imitation of the customs and habits of our fathers. We had sham fights with mud balls and willow wands; we played lacrosse, made war upon bees, shot winter arrows (which were used only in that season), and coasted upon the ribs of animals and buffalo robes.
No sooner did the boys get together than, as a usual thing, they divided into squads and chose sides; then a leading arrow was shot at random into the air. Before it fell to the ground a volley from the bows of the participants followed. Each player was quick to note the direction and speed of the leading arrow and he tried to send his own at the same speed and at an equal height, so that when it fell it would be closer to the first than any of the others.
It was considered out of place to shoot by first sighting the object aimed at. This was usually impracticable in actual life, because the object was almost always in motion, while the hunter himself was often upon the back of a pony at full gallop. Therefore, it was the off-hand shot that the Indian boy sought to master. There was another game with arrows that was characterized by gambling, and was generally confined to the men.
The races were an every-day occurrence. At noon the boys were usually gathered by some pleasant sheet of water and as soon as the ponies were watered, they were allowed to graze for an hour or two, while the boys stripped for their noonday sports. A boy might say to some other whom he considered his equal:
“I can’t run; but I will challenge you to fifty paces.”
A former hero, when beaten, would often ex- plain his defeat by saying: ” I drank too much water.”
Boys of all ages were paired for a “spin,” and the little red men cheered on their favorites with spirit.
As soon as this was ended, the pony races fol- lowed. All the speedy ponies were picked out and riders chosen. If a boy declined to ride, there would be shouts of derision.
Last of all came the swimming. A little urchin would hang to his pony’s long tail, while the lat- ter, with only his head above water, glided spor- tively along. Finally the animals were driven in- to a fine field of grass and we turned our attention to other games.
Lacrosse was an older game and was confined en- tirely to the Sisseton and Santee Sioux. Shinny, such as is enjoyed by white boys on the ice, is still played on the open prairie by the western Sioux. The “moccasin game,” although sometimes played by the boys, was intended mainly for adults.
The “mud-and-willow” fight was rather a severe and dangerous sport. A lump of soft clay was stuck on the end of a limber and springy wil- low wand and thrown as boys throw apples from sticks, with considerable force. When there were fifty or a hundred players on each side, the battle became warm; but anything to arouse the bravery of Indian boys seemed to them a good and whole- some diversion.
Wrestling was largely indulged in by us all. It may seem odd,, but wrestling was done by a great many boys at once–from ten to any number on a side. It was really a battle, in which each one chose his opponent. The rule was that if a boy sat down, he was let alone, but as long as he re- mained standing within the field, he was open to an attack. No one struck with the hand, but all manner of tripping with legs and feet and butting with the knees was allowed. Altogether it was an exhausting pastime–fully equal to the American game of football and only the young athlete could really enjoy it.
One of our most curious sports was a war upon the nests of wild bees. We imagined ourselves about to make an attack upon the Ojibways or some tribal foe. We all painted and stole cau- tiously upon the nest; then, with a rush and war- whoop, sprang upon the object of our attack and endeavored to destroy it. But it seemed that the bees were always on the alert and never entirely surprised, for they always raised quite as many scalps as did their bold assailants! After the on- slaught upon the nest was ended, we usually fol- lowed it by a pretended scalp dance.
On the occasion of my first experience in this mode of warfare, there were two other little boys who were also novices. One of them particularly was really too young to indulge in an exploit of that kind. As it was the custom of our people, when they killed or wounded an enemy on the bat- tle field, to announce the act in a loud voice, we did the same. My friend, Little Wound (as I will call him, for I do not remember his name), being quite small, was unable to reach the nest until it had been well trampled upon and broken and the insects had made a counter charge with such vigor as to repulse and scatter our numbers in every di- rection. However, he evidently did not want to retreat without any honors; so he bravely jumped upon the nest and yelled:
“I, the brave Little Wound, to-day kill the only fierce enemy!”
Scarcely were the last words uttered when he screamed as if stabbed to the heart. One of his older companions shouted:
“Dive into the water! Run! Dive into the water!” for there was a lake near by. This ad- vice he obeyed.
When we had reassembled and were indulging in our mimic dance, Little Wound was not allowed to dance. He was considered not to be in ex- istence–he had been killed by our enemies, the Bee tribe. Poor little fellow! His swollen face was sad and ashamed as he sat on a fallen log and watched the dance. Although he might well have styled himself one of the noble dead who had died for their country, yet he was not unmindful that he had screamed, and this weakness would be apt to recur to him many times in the future.
We had some quiet plays which we alternated with the more severe and warlike ones. Among them were throwing wands and snow-arrows. In the winter we coasted much. We had no “dou- ble-rippers” or toboggans, but six or seven of the long ribs of a buffalo, fastened together at the larger end, answered all practical purposes. Some- times a strip of bass-wood bark, four feet long and about six inches wide, was used with considerable skill. We stood on one end and held the other, using the slippery inside of the bark for the out- side, and thus coasting down long hills with re- markable speed.
The spinning of tops was one of the all-ab- sorbing winter sports. We made our tops heart- shaped of wood, horn or bone. We whipped them with a long thong of buckskin. The handle was a stick about a foot long and sometimes we whittled the stick to make it spoon-shaped at one end.
We played games with these tops–two to fifty boys at one time. Each whips his top until it hums; then one takes the lead and the rest fol- low in a sort of obstacle race. The top must spin all the way through. There were bars of snow over which we must pilot our top in the spoon end of our whip; then again we would toss it in the air on to another open spot of ice or smooth snow- crust from twenty to fifty paces away. The top that holds out the longest is the winner.
Sometimes we played “medicine dance.” This, to us, was almost what “playing church” is among white children, but our people seemed to think it an act of irreverence to imitate these dances, therefore performances of this kind were always enjoyed in secret. We used to observe all the im- portant ceremonies and it required something of an actor to reproduce the dramatic features of the dance. The real dances occupied a day and a night, and the program was long and varied, so that it was not easy to execute all the details perfectly; but the Indian children are born imi- tators.
The boys built an arbor of pine boughs in some out-of-the-way place and at one end of it was a rude lodge. This was the medicine lodge or head- quarters. All the initiates were there. At the further end or entrance were the door-keepers or soldiers, as we called them. The members of each lodge entered in a body, standing in single file and facing the headquarters. Each stretched out his right hand and a prayer was offered by the leader, after which they took the places assigned to them.
When the preliminaries had been completed, our leader sounded the big drum and we all said “A-ho-ho-ho!” as a sort of amen. Then the choir began their song and whenever they ended a verse, we all said again “A-ho-ho-ho!” At last they struck up the chorus and we all got upon our feet and began to dance, by simply lifting up one foot and then the other, with a slight swing to the body.
Each boy was representing or imitating some one of the medicine men. We painted and decor- ated ourselves just as they did and carried bird or squirrel skins, or occasionally live birds and chipmunks as our medicine bags and small white shells or pebbles for medicine charms.
Then the persons to be initiated were brought in and seated, with much ceremony, upon a blanket or buffalo robe. Directly in front of them the ground was levelled smooth and here we laid an old pipe filled with dried leaves for tobacco. Around it we placed the variously colored feathers of the birds we had killed, and cedar and sweet- grass we burned for incense.
Finally those of us who had been selected to per- form this ceremony stretched out our arms at full length, holding the sacred medicine bags and aiming them at the new members. After swinging them four times, we shot them suddenly forward, but did not let go. The novices then fell forward on their faces as if dead. Quickly a chorus was struck up and we all joined in a lively dance around the sup- posed bodies. The girls covered them up with their blankets, thus burying the dead. At last we resurrected them with our charms and led them to their places among the audience. Then came the last general dance and the final feast.
I was often selected as choir-master on these oc- casions, for I had happened to learn many of the medicine songs and was quite an apt mimic. My grandmother, who was a noted medicine woman of the Turtle lodge, on hearing of these sacrilegious acts (as she called them) warned me that if any of the medicine men should discover them, they would punish me terribly by shriveling my limbs with slow disease.
Occasionally, we also played “white man.” Our knowledge of the pale-face was limited, but we had learned that he brought goods whenever he came and that our people exchanged furs for his mer- chandise. We also knew that his complexion was pale, that he had short hair on his head and long hair on his face and that he wore coat, trousers, and hat, and did not patronize blankets in the day- time. This was the picture we had formed of the white man.
So we painted two or three of our number with white clay and put on them birchen hats which we sewed up for the occasion; fastened a piece of fur to their chins for a beard and altered their cos- tumes as much as lay within our power. The white of the birch-bark was made to answer for their white shirts. Their merchandise consisted of sand for sugar, wild beans for coffee, dried leaves for tea, pulverized earth for gun-powder, pebbles for bullets and clear water for the dangerous “spirit water.” We traded for these goods with skins of squirrels, rabbits and small birds.
When we played “hunting buffalo” we would send a few good runners off on the open prairie with a supply of meat; then start a few equally swift boys to chase them and capture the food. Once we were engaged in this sport when a real hunt by the men was in progress; yet we did not realize that it was so near until, in the midst of our play, we saw an immense buffalo coming at full speed directly toward us. Our mimic buffalo hunt turned into a very real buffalo scare. Fortunately, we were near the edge of the woods and we soon disappeared among the leaves like a covey of young prairie-chickens and some hid in the bushes while