A FOURTH OF JULY AMONG THE INDIANS
what we, like all
boys, wanted to
see; and this was
why, after leaving the railroad
on which we had been traveling
for several days and
nights, we found ourselves at
last in a big canvas-covered
wagon lumbering across the
We were on our way to see
a celebration of the Fourth of
July at a Dakota Indian agency.
It was late in the afternoon of a hot summer's
day. We had been riding since early morning,
and had not met a living creature—not even a
bird or a snake. Only those who have experienced
it know how wearying to the eyes it is to
gaze all day long, and see nothing but the sky and
However, an hour before sunset we did see
something. At first, it looked like a mere speck
against the sky; then it seemed like a bush or a
shrub; but it rapidly increased in size as we approached.
Then, with the aid of our field-glass,
we saw it was a man on horseback. No, not exactly
that, either; it was an Indian chief riding an
Indian pony. Now, I have seen Indians in the
East—"Dime Museum Indians." I have seen
the Indians who travel with the circus—yes, and
I have seen the untutored savages who sell bead-work
at Niagara Falls; but this one was different—he
was quite different. I felt sure that he was
a genuine Indian. He was unlike the Indians I
had seen in the East. The most striking difference
was that this one presented a grand unwashed
effect. It must have required years of
patient industry in avoiding the wash-bowl, and
great good luck in dodging the passing showers,
for him to acquire the rich effect of color which he
displayed. Though it was one of July's hottest
days, he had on his head an arrangement made of
fur, with head trimmings and four black-tipped
feathers; a long braid of his hair, wound with
strips of fur, hung down in front of each ear, and
strings of beads ornamented his neck. He wore
a calico shirt, with tin bands on his arms above
the elbow; a blanket was wrapped around his
waist; his leggings had strips of beautiful bright
bead-work, and his moccasins were ornamented
in the same style. But in his right hand he was
holding a most murderous-looking instrument.
It was a long wooden club, into one end of which
three sharp, shining steel knife-blades were set.
Though I had been complaining of the heat, still I
now felt chilly as I looked at the weapon, and saw
how well it matched the expression of his cruel
mouth and piercing eyes.
He passed on while we were trying to make a
sketch of him. However, the next day, an interpreter
brought him around, and, for a small piece
of tobacco, he was glad to pose while the sketch
was being finished. We learned his name was
"Can-h-des-ka-wan-ji-dan" (One Hoop).
"ONE HOOP" IN HIS SUMMER COSTUME
A few moments later, we passed an iron post set
firmly into the ground. It marked one of the
boundaries of the Indian Reservation. We were
now on a tract of land set aside by the United
States Government as the living-ground of sixteen
hundred "Santee" Sioux Indians. We soon
saw more Indians, who, like us, seemed to be moving
toward the little village at the Indian agency.
Each group had put their belongings into a big
bundle, and strapped it upon long poles, which
were fastened at one end to the back of a pony.
In this bundle the little papooses rode in great
comfort, looking like blackbirds peering from a
nest. In some cases, an older child would be riding
in great glee on the pony's back among the
poles. The family baggage seemed about equally
distributed between the pony and the squaw who
led him. She was preceded by her lord and master,
the noble red Indian, who carried no load except
his long pipe.
The next thing of interest was what is called a
Red River wagon. It was simply a cart with two
large wheels, the whole vehicle made of wood.
As the axles are never oiled, the Red River carry-all
keeps up a most terrible squeaking. This
charming music-box was drawn by one ox, and
contained an Indian, who was driving with a
whip. His wife and children were seated on the
bottom of this jolting and shrieking cart.
AN INDIAN ENCAMPMENT FOR THE NIGHT
As we neared the agency buildings, we passed
many Indians who had settled for the night.
They chose the wooded ravines, near streams, by
which to put up their tents, or "tepees," which
consisted of long poles covered with patched and
smoke-stained canvas, with two openings, one at
the top for a "smoke-hole" and the other for a
door, through which any one must crawl in order
to enter the domestic circle of the gentle savage.
We entered several tepees, making ourselves welcome
by gifts of tobacco to every member of the
family. That night, after reaching the agency
and retiring to our beds, we dreamed of smoking
great big pipes, with stems a mile long, which
were passed to us by horrible-looking black
witches. But morning came at last,—and such
That Fourth of July morning I shall never forget.
We were awakened by the most blood-curdling
yells that ever pierced the ears of three white
boys. It was the Indian war-whoop. I found
myself instinctively feeling for my back hair, and
regretting the distance to the railroad. We lingered
indoors in a rather terrified condition, until
we found out that this was simply the beginning
of the day's celebration. It was the "sham-fight,"
but it looked real enough when the Indians
came tearing by, their ponies seeming to enter
into the excitement as thoroughly as their riders.
There were some five hundred, in full frills and
war-paint, and all giving those terrible yells.
Their costumes were simple, but gay in color—paint,
feathers, and more paint, with an occasional
For weapons they carried guns, rifles, and long
spears. Bows and arrows seemed to be out of
style. A few had round shields on their left arms.
Most of the tepees had been collected together
and pitched so as to form a large circle, and their
wagons were placed outside this circle so as to
make a sort of protection for the defending party.
The attacking party, brandishing their weapons
in the air with increased yells, rushed their excited
and panting ponies up the slope toward the
tepees, where they were met by a rapid discharge
of blank cartridges and powder. Some of the ponies
became frightened and unmanageable, several
riders were unhorsed, and general confusion
prevailed. The intrenched party, in the meantime,
rushed out from behind their defenses,
climbing on top of their wagons, yelling and
dancing around like demons. Added to this, the
sight of several riderless ponies flying wildly from
the tumult made the sham-fight have a terribly
After the excitement was over, the regular
games which had been arranged for the day
In the foot-races, the costumes were so slight
that there was nothing to describe—simply paint
in fancy patterns, moccasins, and a girdle of red
flannel. But how they could run! I did not suppose
anything on two legs could go so fast. The
lacrosse costumes were bright and attractive.
The leader of one side wore a shirt of soft, tanned
buck-skin, bead-work and embroidery on the
front, long fringe on the shoulders, bands around
the arms, and deep fringe on the bottom of the
skirt. The legs were bare to the knee, and from
there down to the toes was one mass of fine glittering
bead-work. In the game, there were a
hundred Indians engaged on each side. The
game was long, but exciting, being skilfully
played. The grounds extended about a mile in
length. The ball was the size of a common baseball,
and felt almost as solid as a rock, the center
being of lead. The shape of the Indian lacrosse
stick is shown in the sketch.
SHA-KE-TO-PA, A YOUNG BRAVE
Then came games on horseback. But the most
interesting performance of the whole day, and one
in which they all manifested an absorbing interest,
was the dinner.
At 3 a.m. several oxen had been butchered, and
from that time till the dinner was served all the
old squaws had their hands
full. Fires were made in long
lines, poles placed over them,
and high black pots, kettles,
and zinc pails filled with a
combination of things, including
beef and water, were suspended
there and carefully
tended by ancient Indian ladies
in picturesque, witch-like
costumes, who gently stirred
the boiling bouillion with
pieces of wood, while other
seemingly more ancient and
brought great bundles of wood from the ravines,
tied up in blankets and swung over their shoulders.
Think of a dinner for sixteen hundred noble
chiefs and braves, stalwart head-men, young
bucks, old squaws, girls, and children! And such
queer-looking children—some dressed in full war
costume, some in the most approved dancing
"TAKING A SPOONFUL OF THE SOUP, HE POURED IT UPON THE GROUND."
One little boy, whose name was Sha-ke-to-pa
(Four Nails), had five feathers—big ones, too—in
his hair. His face was painted; he wore great
round ear-rings, and rows of beads and claws
around his neck; bands of beads on his little bare
brown arms; embroidered leggings and beautiful
moccasins, and a long piece of red cloth hanging
from his waist. In fact, he was as gaily dressed
as a grown-up Indian man, and he had a cunning
little war-club, all ornamented and painted.
When the dinner was nearly ready, the men began
to seat themselves in a long curved line.
Behind them, the women and children were gathered.
When everything was ready, a chief wearing
a long arrangement of feathers hanging from
his back hair and several bead pouches across his
shoulders, with a long staff in his
left hand, walked into the center
of the circle. Taking a spoonful
of the soup, he held it high
in the air, and then, turning
slowly around, chanting a song,
he poured the contents of the
spoon upon the ground. This,
an interpreter explained to us,
was done to appease the spirits
of the air. After this, the old squaws limped
nimbly around with the pails of soup and other
food, serving the men. After they were all
bountifully and repeatedly helped, the women and
children, who had been patiently waiting, were
allowed to gather about the fragments and half-empty
pots and finish the repast, which they did
with neatness and despatch.
Then the warriors lay around and smoked their
long-stem pipes, while the young men prepared
for the pony races.
The first of the races was "open to all," and
more than a hundred ponies and their riders were
arranged in a row. Some of the ponies were very
spirited, and seemed fully to realize what was
going to take place, and they would persist in
pushing ahead of the line. Then the other riders
would start their ponies; then the whole line
would have to be reformed. But finally they
were all started, and such shouting, and such
waving of whips in the air!—and how the little
ponies did jump! When the race was over, how
we all crowded around the winner, and how proud
the pony as well as the rider seemed to feel!
Now we had a better chance to examine the ponies
than ever before, and some were very handsome.
And such prices! Think of buying a beautiful
three-year-old cream-colored pony for twenty dollars!
But as the hour of sunset approached, the interest
in the races vanished, and so did most of
the braves. They sought the seclusion of their
bowers, to adorn themselves for the grand "grass
dance," which was to begin at sunset.
HOLIDAY CLOTHES AND EVERY-DAY CLOTHES
What a contrast between their every-day dress
and their dancing costumes! The former consists
of a blanket more or less tattered and torn, while
the gorgeousness of the latter discourages a description
in words; so I refer you to the pictures.
Of course, we were eager to purchase some of the
Indian finery, but it was
a bad time to trade successfully
with the Indians.
They were too much taken
up with the pleasures of the
day to care to turn an honest
penny by parting with
any of their ornaments.
However, we succeeded in
buying a big war-club set
with knives, some pipes
with carved stems a yard
long, a few knife-sheaths
and pouches, glittering with
beads, and several pairs of
of which now adorn a New
Soon the highly decorated
red men silently assembled
inside a large space inclosed by bushes
stuck into the ground. This was their dance-hall.
The squaws were again shut out, as, according to
Santee Sioux custom, they are not allowed to join
in the dances with the men. The Indians, as they
came in, sat quietly down around the sides of the
inclosure. The musicians were gathered around
a big drum, on which they pounded with short
sticks, while they sang a sort of wild, weird chant.
The effect, to an uneducated white man's ear, was
rather depressing, but it seemed very pleasing to
The ball was opened by an old chief, who, rising
slowly, beckoned the others to follow him. In
his right hand the leader carried a wooden gun,
ornamented with eagles' feathers; in the left he
held a short stick, with bells attached to it. He
wore a cap of otter skin, from which hung a long
train. His face was carefully painted in stripes
of blue and yellow.
At first, they all moved slowly, jumping twice
on each foot; then, as the musicians struck up a
more lively pounding and a more inspiring song,
the dancers moved with more rapidity, giving an
occasional shout and waving their arms in the air.
As they grew warmer and more excited, the musicians
redoubled their exertions on the drum and
changed their singing into prolonged howls; then
one of them, dropping his drumsticks, sprang to
his feet, and, waving his hands over his head, he
yelled till he was breathless, urging on the dancers.
This seemed to be the finishing touch. The
orchestra and dancers seemed to vie with each
other as to who should make the greater noise.
Their yells were deafening, and, brandishing
their knives and tomahawks, they sprang around
with wonderful agility. Of course, this intense
excitement could last but a short time; the voices
of the musicians began to fail, and, finally, with
one last grand effort, they all gave a terrible
shout, and then all was silence. The dancers
crawled back to their places around the inclosure,
and sank exhausted on the grass. But soon some
supple brave regained enough strength to rise.
The musicians slowly recommenced, other dancers
came forward, and the "mad dance" was
again in full blast. And thus the revels went on,
hour after hour, all night, and continued even
through the following day. But there was a curious
fascination about it, and, tired as we were
after the long day, we stood there looking on hour
after hour. Finally, after midnight had passed,
we gathered our Indian purchases about us, including
two beautiful ponies, and began our return
trip toward the railroad and civilization.
But the monotonous sound of the Indian drum
followed us mile after mile over the prairie; in
fact, it followed us much better than my new
My arm aches now, as I remember how that
pony hung back.