FUN AMONG THE RED BOYS
VARIOUS as are the customs of the Indians,
it is their savage, warlike natures that we
are most apt to remember. Few of us, in fact,
ever think of Indian children at all, except at the
sight of a picture of them. Little has been told or
written about the boy and girl red folk, and it
would puzzle most of my readers to say what they
suppose these children of nature look like, or do
to amuse themselves, or how they are brought up.
It will astonish most city people to hear that red
children are very like white children, just as a
lady who was out on the plains a few years ago
was astonished to find that they had skins as
smooth and soft as any lady's—no, smoother and
softer than that: as delicate and lovely as any dear
little baby's here in New York. This lady was
visiting the Blackfeet in my company, and she was
so surprised, when she happened to touch one little
red boy's bare arm, that she went about pinching
a dozen chubby-faced boys and girls to make
herself sure that all their skins were like the coats
of ripe peaches to the touch.
Whether the Indians really love their children,
or know what genuine love or affection is, I cannot
say; but they are so proud and careful of their
little ones that it amounts to the same thing so far
as the youngsters are concerned. Boy babies are
always most highly prized, because they will
grow up into warriors.
The little that is taught to Indian boys must
seem to them much more like fun than instruction.
They must hear the fairy stories and the gabble
of the medicine-men or conjurers, and the tales
of bloody fights and brave and cunning deeds
which make the histories of their tribes. They
learn not to take what does not belong to them
unless it belongs to an enemy. They learn not to
be impudent to any one stronger and bigger than
themselves; they learn how to track animals and
men, how to go without food when there is not
any, how to eat up all there is at once when any
food is to be had, how to ride and shoot and run
and paddle, and smoke very mild tobacco. As for
the rest, they "just grow," like Topsy, and are as
emotional and fanciful and wilful as any very
little white child ever was. They never get over
being so. The older they grow to be, the older
children they become, for they are all very much
like spoiled children as long as they live.
The first Indians I ever saw, outside of a show,
were boys at play. They were Onondagas, on
their reservation near Syracuse, New York.
They were big boys of from sixteen to twenty
years old, and the game they were playing was
"snow-snakes." The earth was covered with
snow, and by dragging a stout log through this
covering they had made a narrow gutter or
trough about 500 or 700 feet long. Each youth
had his snow-snake, which is a stick about eight
feet long, and shaped something like a spear. All
the snow-snakes were alike, less than an inch
wide, half an inch thick, flat on the under side,
rounded on top, and with a very slight turn upward
at the point to suggest a serpent's head.
The "snakes" were all smoothed and of heavy
hard wood. The game was to see who could send
his the farthest along the gutter in the snow. The
young men grasped their snakes at the very end,
ran a few steps, and shot the sticks along the
trough. As one after another sped along the
snow, the serpent-like heads kept bobbing up and
down over the rough surface of the gutter precisely
like so many snakes. I bought a snow-snake,
but, though I have tried again and again,
I cannot get the knack of throwing it.
ONONDAGA INDIAN BOYS PLAYING AT "SNOW-SNAKES"
But I have since seen Indian boys of many
tribes at play, and one time I saw more than a
hundred and fifty "let loose," as our own children
are in a country school-yard at recess. To be
sure, theirs is a perpetual recess, and they were at
home among the tents of their people, the Canada
Blackfeet, on the plains, within sight of the Rocky
Mountains. The smoke-browned tepees, crowned
with projecting pole-ends, and painted with figures
of animals and with gaudy patterns, were set
around in a great circle, and the children were
playing in the open, grassy space in the center.
Their fathers and mothers were as wild as any
Indians, except one or two tribes, on the continent,
but nothing of their savage natures showed
in these merry, lively, laughing, bright-faced little
ragamuffins. At their play they laughed and
screamed and hallooed. Some were running foot-races,
some were wrestling, some were on the
backs of scampering ponies; for they are sometimes
put on horseback when they are no more
than three years old. Such were their sports, for
Indian boys play games to make them sure of aim,
certain of foot, quick in motion, and supple in
body, so that they can shoot and fight and ride
and hunt and run well. To be able to run fast is
a necessary accomplishment for an Indian. What
they call "runners" are important men in every
tribe. They are the messenger men, and many a
one among them has run a hundred miles in a day.
They cultivate running by means of foot-races.
In war they agree with the poet who sang:
"For he who fights and runs away
May live to fight another day";
and afterward, if they were taken prisoners, they
had a chance for life, in the old days, if they could
run fast enough to escape their captors and the
spears and bullets of their pursuers.
A very popular game that attracted most of the
Blackfeet boys was the throwing of darts, or little
white hand-arrows, along the grass. The game
was to see who could throw his arrow farthest in
a straight line. At times the air was full of the
white missiles where the boys were playing, and
they fell like rain upon the grass.
In another part of the field were some larger
boys with rude bows with which to shoot these
same darts. These boys were playing a favorite
Blackfeet game. Each one had a disk or solid
wheel of sheet-iron or lead, and the game was to
see who could roll his disk the farthest, while all
the others shot at it to tip it over and bring it to a
stop. The boys made splendid shots at the swift-moving
little wheels, and from greater distances
than you would imagine.
They play with arrows so frequently that it is
no wonder they are good marksmen; yet you
would be surprised to see how frequently they
bring down the birds, rabbits, and gophers which
abound on the plains. The houses of these plump
little drab-colored creatures are holes in the turf,
and as you ride along the plains you will see them
everywhere around, sitting up on their haunches
with their tiny fore paws held idle and limp before
them, and their bead-like, bright eyes looking
at you most trustingly—until you come just so
near, when pop! suddenly down goes little Mr.
Gopher in his hole. You may be sure the Indian
boys find great sport in shooting at these comical
little creatures. But the boys take a mean advantage
of the fact that the restless gophers cannot
stay still in one place any great length of time.
When one pops into a hole it is only for a minute,
and during that minute the Indian boy softly and
deftly arranges a snare around the hole, so that
when the gopher pops up again the snare can be
jerked and the animal captured.
We gave the boys in the Blackfeet camp great
sport by standing at a distance of a hundred yards
from all of them and offering a silver quarter to
whichever boy got to us first. You should have
seen the stampede that followed the signal, "Go!"
Blankets were dropped, moccasins fell off, boys
stumbled and others fell atop of them, their black
locks flew in the breeze, and the air was noisy with
yelling and laughter.
These boys spin tops, but their "top-time" is
the winter, when snow is on the ground and is
crusted hard. Their tops are made of lead or
some other metal, and are mere little circular
plates which they cover with red flannel and ornament
with tiny knots or wisps of cord all around
the edges. These are spun with whips and look
very pretty on the icy white playgrounds. Nearly
all Indian boys play ball, but not as we do, for
their only idea of the game is the girlish one of
pitching and catching. All their games are the
simplest, and lack the rules which we lay down to
make our sports difficult and exciting.
The boys of the Papago tribe in the Southwest
have a game which the fellows in Harvard and
Yale would form rules about, if they played it,
until it became very lively indeed. These Indian
boys make dumb-bells of woven buckskin or rawhide.
They weave them tight and stiff, and then
soak them in a sort of red mud which sticks like
paint. They dry them, and then the queer toys
are ready for use. To play the game they mark
off goals, one for each band or "side" of players.
The object of each side is to send its dumb-bells
over to the goal of the enemy. The dumb-bells
are tossed with sticks that are thrust under them
as they lie on the ground. The perverse things
will not go straight or far, and a rod is a pretty
good throw for one. The sport quickly grows exciting,
and the players are soon battling in a heap,
almost as if they were playing at foot-ball.
"YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THE STAMPEDE THAT FOLLOWED THE SIGNAL, 'GO!'"
These are games that will not wear out while
there are Indian boys to play them. On the oldest
reservations, where even the grandfathers of the
Indians now alive were shut up and fed by their
government, the boys still play the old games.
But wherever one travels to-day, even among the
wildest tribes, a new era is seen to have begun as
the result of the Indian schools, and Indian boys
are being taught things more useful than any they
ever knew before. The brightest boys in the various
tribes are selected to be sent to these schools,
and it is hoped that what they learn will make all
the others anxious to imitate white men's ways.
COPY IN BLACK AND WHITE OF A COLOR-DRAWING BY AN INDIAN BOY