LIFE AND LEGENDS OF THE SIOUX
AROUND FORT SNELLING.
BY MRS. MARY EASTMAN,
PREFACE BY MRS. C. M. KIRKLAND.
ILLUSTRATED FROM DRAWINGS BY CAPTAIN EASTMAN.
TO HENRY SIBLEY, ESQ.,
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.
It was my purpose to dedicate, exclusively, these pages to my beloved
parents. What correctness of sentiment appears in this book is mainly
ascribable to a principle they endeavored to instil into the minds of
their children, that purity of heart and intellectual attainment are
never more appropriately exercised than in promoting the good of our
Yet the sincere sentiments of respect and regard that I entertain for
you, the remembrance of the many acts of friendship received from you
during my residence at Fort Snelling, and the assurance that you are
ever prompt to assist and protect the Indian, induce me to unite your
name with those most dear to me in this dedication.
An additional inducement is, that no one knows better than yourself the
opportunities that presented themselves to collect materials for these
legends, and with what interest these occasions were improved. With
whatever favor this little work may be received it is a most pleasing
reflection to me, that the object in publishing it being to excite
attention to the moral wants of the Dahcotahs, will be kindly
appreciated by the friends of humanity, and by none more readily
Very truly yours,
MARY H. EASTMAN.
New London, March lst, 1849.
My only title to the office of editor in the present case is some
practice in such matters, with a very warm interest in all, whether
relating to past or present, that concerns our western country. Mrs.
Eastman,—wife of Captain Eastman, and daughter of Dr. Henderson, both
of the U. S. army,—is thoroughly acquainted with the customs,
superstitions, and leading ideas of the Dahcotahs, whose vicinity to
Fort Snelling, and frequent intercourse with its inmates, have brought
them much under the notice of the officers and ladies of the garrison.
She has no occasion to present the Indian in a theatrical garb—a mere
thing of paint and feathers, less like the original than his own rude
delineation on birch-bark or deer-skin. The reader will find in the
following pages living men and women, whose feelings are in many
respects like his own, and whose motives of action are very similar to
those of the rest of the world, though far less artfully covered up and
disguised under pleasant names. "Envy, hatred and malice, and all
uncharitableness," stand out, unblushing, in Indian life. The first is
not called emulation, nor the second just indignation or merited
contempt, nor the third zeal for truth, nor the fourth keen discernment
of character. Anger and revenge are carried out honestly to their
natural fruit—injury to others. Among the Indians this takes the form
of murder, while with us it is obliged to content itself with slander,
or cunning depreciation. In short, the study of Indian character is the
study of the unregenerate human heart; and the writer of these sketches
of the Dahcotahs presents it as such, with express and solemn reference
to the duty of those who have "the words of eternal life" to apply them
to the wretched condition of the red man, who is, perhaps, with all his
ignorance, quite as well prepared to receive them as many of those who
are already wise in their own eyes. The very degradation and misery in
which he lives, and of which he is not unable to perceive some of the
causes, prepare him to welcome the instruction which promises better
things. Evils which are covered up under the smoothness of civilization,
stand out in all their horrible deformity in the abandon of savage
life; the Indian cannot get even one gleam of light, without instantly
perceiving the darkness around him. Here, then, is encouragement to
paint him as he is, that the hearts of the good may be moved at his
destitute and unhappy state; to set forth his wants and his claims, that
ignorance may no longer be pleaded as an excuse for withholding, from
the original proprietor of the soil, the compensation or atonement which
is demanded at once by justice, honor, and humanity.
Authentic pictures of Indian life have another and a different value, in
a literary point of view. In the history and character of the aborigines
is enveloped all the distinct and characteristic poetic material to
which we, as Americans, have an unquestioned right. Here is a peculiar
race, of most unfathomable origin, possessed of the qualities which have
always prompted poetry, and living lives which are to us as shadowy as
those of the Ossianic heroes; our own, and passing away—while we take
no pains to arrest their fleeting traits or to record their picturesque
traditions. Yet we love poetry; are ambitious of a literature of our
own, and sink back dejected when we are convicted of imitation. Why is
it that we lack interest in things at home? Sismondi has a passage to
"The literature of other countries has been frequently adopted by a
young nation with a sort of fanatical admiration. The genius of those
countries having been so often placed before it as the perfect model of
all greatness and all beauty, every spontaneous movement has been
repressed, in order to make room for the most servile imitation; and
every national attempt to develop an original character has been
sacrificed to the reproduction of something conformable to the model
which has been always before its eyes."
This is certainly true of us, since we not only adopt the English view
of everything, but confine ourselves to the very subjects and imagery
which have become consecrated to us by love and habit. Not to enter into
the general subject of our disposition to parrotism, our neglect of
Indian material in particular may be in part accounted for, by our
having become acquainted with the aborigines after the most unpoetical
fashion, in trying to cheat them out of their lands, or shooting them
when they declined being cheated; they, in their turn, driven to the
resource of the weak and the ignorant, counterplotting us, and taking,
by means of blood and fire, what we would not give them in fair
compensation. This has made our business relations very unpleasant;
and everybody knows that when this becomes the case, it is hard for
parties to do justice to each other's good or available qualities.
If we had only read about the Indians, as a people living in the
mountain-fastnesses of Greece, or the, broad plains of Transylvania, we
should without difficulty have discovered the romantic elements of their
character. But as the effect of remoteness is produced by time as well
as distance, it is surely worth while to treasure up their legends for
our posterity, who will justly consider us very selfish, if we throw
away what will be a treasure to them, merely because we cannot or will
not use it ourselves.
A prominent ground of the slight regard in which the English hold
American literature, or at least one of the most plausible reasons given
for it, is our want of originality, particularly in point of subject
matter. It is said that our imitativeness is so servile, that for the
sake of following English models, at an immeasurable distance, we
neglect the new and grand material which lies all around us, in the
sublime features of our country, in our new and striking circumstances,
in our peculiar history and splendid prospects, and, above all, in the
character, superstitions, and legends of our aborigines, who, to eyes
across the water, look like poetical beings. We are continually
reproached by British writers for the obtuse carelessness with which we
are allowing these people, with so much of the heroic element in their
lives, and so much of the mysterious in their origin, to go into the
annihilation which seems their inevitable fate as civilization advances,
without an effort to secure and record all that they are able to
communicate respecting themselves.
And the reproach is just. In our hurry of utilitarian progress, we have
either forgotten the Indian altogether, or looked upon him only in a
business point of view, as we do almost everything else; as a
thriftless, treacherous, drunken fellow, who knows just enough to be
troublesome, and who must be cajoled or forced into leaving his
hunting-grounds for the occupation of very orderly and virtuous white
people, who sell him gunpowder and whiskey, but send him now and then a
missionary to teach him that it is wrong to get drunk and murder his
neighbor. To look upon the Indian with much regard, even in the light of
literary material, would be inconvenient; for the moment we recognize in
him a mind, a heart, a soul,—the recollection of the position in which
we stand towards him becomes thorny, and we begin dimly to remember
certain duties belonging to our Christian profession, which we have
sadly neglected with regard to the sons of the forest, whom we have
driven before us just as fast as we have required or desired their
lands. A few efforts have been made, not only to bring the poetry of
their history into notice, but to do them substantial good; the public
heart, however, has never responded to the feelings of those who, from
living in contact with the Indians, have felt this interest in them. To
most Americans, the red man is, to this day, just what he was to the
first settlers of the country—a being with soul enough to be blameable
for doing wrong, but not enough to claim Christian brotherhood, or to
make it very sinful to shoot him like a dog, upon the slightest
provocation or alarm. While this feeling continues, we shall not look
to him for poetry; and the only imaginative writing in which he is
likely to be generally used as material, will be kindred to that known
by the appropriate title of "Pirate Literature." Mr. Cooper and Miss
Sedgwick are, perhaps, alone among our writers in their attempts to do
the Indian justice, while making him the poetical machine in fiction.
Missionaries, however, as well as others who have lived among the
aborigines for purely benevolent purposes, have discovered in them
capabilities and docility which may put to the blush many of the whites
who despise and hate them. Not only in individual cases, but in more
extended instances, the Indian has been found susceptible of religious
and moral instruction; his heart has warmed to kindness, like any other
man's; he has been able to perceive the benefits of regular industry;
his head has proved as clear in the apprehension of the distinction
between right and wrong as that of the more highly cultivated moralist;
and he receives the fundamental truths of the gospel with an avidity,
and applies them—at least to the lives and characters of his
neighbors—with a keenness, which show him to be not far behind the rest
of mankind in sensibility and acuteness. Without referring to the
testimony of the elder missionaries, which is abundant, I remember a
most touching account, by Rev. George Duffield, jr., of piety in an
Indian wigwam, which I would gladly transfer to these pages did their
limits admit. It could be proved by overwhelming testimony, that the
Indian is as susceptible of good as his white brother. But it is not
necessary in this place to urge his claim to our attention on the ground
of his moral and religious capabilities. Setting them aside, he has many
qualifications for the heroic character as Ajax, or even Achilles. He is
as brave, daring, and ruthless; as passionate, as revengeful, as
superstitious, as haughty. He will obey his medicine man, though with
fury in his heart and injurious words upon his lips; he will fight to
the death for a wife, whom he will afterwards treat with the most
sovereign neglect. He understands and accepts the laws of spoil, and
carries them out with the most chivalric precision; his torture of
prisoners does not exceed those which formed part of the "triumphs" of
old; his plan of scalping is far neater and more expeditious than that
of dragging a dead enemy thrice round the camp by the heels. He loves
splendor, and gets all he can of it; and there is little essential
difference, in this regard, between gold and red paint, between diamonds
and wampum. He has great ancestral pride—a feeling much in esteem for
its ennobling powers; and the totem has all the meaning and use of any
other armorial bearing. In the endurance of fatigue, hunger, thirst, and
exposure, the forest hero has no superior; in military affairs he fully
adopts the orthodox maxim that all stratagems are lawful in war. In
short, nothing is wanting but a Homer to build our Iliad material into
"lofty rhyme," or a Scott to weave it into border romance; and as we are
encouraged to look for Scotts and Homers at some future day, it is
manifestly our duty to be recording fleeting traditions and describing
peculiar customs, before the waves of time shall have swept over the
retreating footsteps of the "salvage man," and left us nothing but lake
and forest, mountains and cataracts, out of which to make our poetry
The Indians themselves are full of poetry. Their legends embody poetic
fancy of the highest and most adventurous flight; their religious
ceremonies refer to things unseen with a directness which shows how bold
and vivid are their conceptions of the imaginative. The war-song—the
death-song—the song of victory—the cradle-chant—the lament for the
slain—these are the overflowings of the essential poetry of their
untaught souls. Their eloquence is proverbially soaring and figurative;
and in spite of all that renders gross and mechanical their ordinary
mode of marrying and giving in marriage, instances are not rare among
them of love as true, as fiery, and as fatal, as that of the most
exalted hero of romance. They, indeed, live poetry; it should be ours to
write it out for them.
Mrs. Eastman's aim has been to preserve from destruction such legends
and traits of Indian character as had come to her knowledge during long
familiarity; with the Dahcotahs, and nothing can be fresher or more
authentic than her records, taken down from the very lips of the red
people as they sat around her fire and opened their hearts to her
kindness. She has even caught their tone, and her language will be found
to have something of an Ossianic simplicity and abruptness, well suited
to the theme. Sympathy,—feminine and religious,—breathes through these
pages, and the unaffected desire of the writer to awaken a kindly
interest in the poor souls who have so twined themselves about her own
best feelings, may be said to consecrate the work. In its character of
aesthetic material for another age, it appeals to our nationality;
while, as the effort of a reflecting and Christian mind to call public
attention to the needs of an unhappy race, we may ask for it the
approbation of all who acknowledge the duty to "teach all nations."
C. M. K.
NEW YORK, March, 1849.
MOCK-PE-EN-DAG-A-WIN; OR, CHECKERED CLOUD, THE MEDICINE WOMAN
RED EARTH; OR, MOCKA-DOOTA-WIN
WENONA; OR, THE VIRGIN'S FEAST
THE DAHCOTAH CONVERT WABASHAW
THE DAHCOTAH BRIDE SHAH-CO-PEE
THE ORATOR OF THE SIOUX OYE-KAR-MANI-VIM
THE TRACK-MAKER ETA KEAZAH; OR, SULLEN FACE TONWA-YAH-PE-KIN
THE SPIES THE MAIDEN'S ROCK; OR, WENONA'S LEAP OECHE-MONESAH
THE WANDERER TAH-WE-CHUT-KIN
THE WIFE WHA-ZEE-YAN
ANOTHER OF THE GIANT GODS OF THE DAHCOTAHS
STORMS IN LIFE AND NATURE; OR, UNKTAHE AND THE THUNDER BIRD HAOKAH OZAPE
THE DANCE OF THE GIANT U-MI-NE-WAH-CHIPPE; OR, TO DANCE AROUND
The materials for the following pages were gathered during a residence
of seven years in the immediate neighborhood—nay—in the very midst of
the once powerful but now nearly extinct tribe of Sioux or
Fort Snelling is situated seven miles below the Falls of St. Anthony, at
the confluence of the Mississippi—and St. Peter's rivers—built in
1819, and named after the gallant Colonel Snelling, of the army, by whom
the work was erected. It is constructed of stone; is one of the
strongest Indian forts in the United States; and being placed on a
commanding bluff, has somewhat the appearance of an old German castle,
or one of the strongholds on the Rhine.
The then recent removal of the Winnebagoes was rendered troublesome by
the interference of Wabashaw, the Sioux chief, whose village is on the
Mississippi, 1800 miles from its mouth. The father of Wabashaw was a
noted Indian; and during the past summer, the son has given some
indications that he inherits the father's talents and courage. When the
Winnebagoes arrived at Wabashaw's prairie, the chief induced them not to
continue their journey of removal; offered them land to settle upon near
him, and told them it was not really the wish of their Great Father,
that they should remove. His bribes and eloquence induced the
Winnebagoes to refuse to proceed; although there was a company of
volunteer dragoons and infantry with them. This delay occasioning much
expense and trouble, the government agents applied for assistance to
the command at Fort Snelling. There was but one company there; and the
commanding officer, with twenty men and some friendly Sioux, went down
to assist the agent.
There was an Indian council held on the occasion. The Sioux who went
from Fort Snelling promised to speak in favor of the removal. During the
council, however, not one of them said a word—for which they afterwards
gave a satisfactory reason. Wabashaw; though a young man, had such
influence over his band, that his orders invariably received implicit
obedience. When the council commenced, Wabashaw had placed a young
warrior behind each of the friendly Sioux who he knew would speak in
favor of the removal, with orders to shoot down the first one who rose
for that purpose. This stratagem may be considered a characteristic
specimen of the temper and habits of the Sioux chiefs, whose tribe we
bring before the reader in their most conspicuous ceremonies and habits.
The Winnebagoes were finally removed, but not until Wabashaw was taken
prisoner and carried to Fort Snelling. Wabashaw's pike-bearer was a fine
looking warrior, named "Many Lightnings."
The village of "Little Crow," another able and influential Sioux chief,
is situated twenty miles below the Falls of St. Anthony. He has four
wives, all sisters, and the youngest of them almost a child. There are
other villages of the tribe, below and above Fort Snelling.
The scenery about Fort Snelling is rich in beauty. The falls of St.
Anthony are familiar to travellers, and to readers of Indian sketches.
Between the fort and these falls are the "Little Falls," forty feet in
height, on a stream that empties into the Mississippi. The Indians call
them Mine-hah-hah, or "laughing waters." In sight of Fort Snelling is a
beautiful hill called Morgan's Bluff; the Indians call it "God's House."
They have a tradition that it is the residence of their god of the
waters, whom they call Unk-ta-he. Nothing can be more lovely than the
situation and appearance of this hill; it commands on every side a
magnificent view, and during the summer it is carpeted with long grass
and prairie flowers. But, to those who have lived the last few years at
Fort Snelling, this hill presents another source of interest. On its top
are buried three young children, who were models of health and beauty
until the scarlet fever found its way into regions hitherto shielded
from its approach. They lived but long enough on earth to secure them an
entrance into heaven. Life, which ought to be a blessing to all, was to
them one of untold value; for it was a short journey to a better land—a
translation from the yet unfelt cares of earth to the bright and endless
joys of heaven.
Opposite the Fort is Pilot Knob, a high peak, used as a burial-place by
the Indians; just below it is the village of Mendota, or the "Meeting of
But to me, the greatest objects of interest and curiosity were the
original owners of the country, whose teepees could be seen in every
direction. One could soon know all that was to be known about Pilot Knob
or St. Anthony's falls; but one is puzzled completely to comprehend the
character of an Indian man, woman, or child. At one moment, you see an
Indian chief raise himself to his full height, and say that the ground
on which he stands is his own; at the next, beg bread and pork from an
enemy. An Indian woman will scornfully refuse to wash an article that
might be needed by a white family—and the next moment, declare that she
had not washed her face in fifteen years! An Indian child of three years
old, will cling to its mother under the walls of the Fort, and then
plunge into the Mississippi, and swim half way across, in hopes of
finding an apple that has been thrown in. We may well feel much
curiosity to look into the habits, manners, and motives of a race
exhibiting such contradictions.
There is a great deal said of Indian warriors—and justly too of the
Sioux. They are, as a race, tall fine-looking men; and many of those who
have not been degraded by association with the frontier class of white
people, nor had their intellects destroyed by the white man's
fire-water, have minds of high order, and reason with a correctness
that would put to the blush the powers of many an educated logician. Yet
are these men called savages, and morally associated with the tomahawk
and scalping knife. Few regard them as reasonable creatures, or as
beings endowed by their creator with souls, that are here to be fitted
for the responsibilities of the Indians hereafter.
Good men are sending the Bible to all parts of the world. Sermons are
preached in behalf of fellow-creatures who are perishing in regions
known only to us in name. And here, within reach of comparatively the
slightest exertion; here, not many miles from churches and schools, and
all the moral influences abounding in Christian society; here, in a
country endowed with every advantage that God can bestow, are perishing,
body and soul, our own countrymen: perishing too from disease,
starvation and intemperance, and all the evils incident to their unhappy
condition. White men, Christian men, are driving them back; rooting out
their very names from the face of the earth. Ah! these men can seek the
country of the Sioux when money is to be gained: but how few care for
the sufferings of the Dahcotahs! how few would give a piece of money, a
prayer, or even a thought, towards their present and eternal good.
Yet are they not altogether neglected. Doctor Williamson, one of the
missionaries among the Sioux, lives near Fort Snelling. He is exerting
himself to the utmost to promote the moral welfare of the unhappy people
among whom he expects to pass his life. He has a school for the Indian
children, and many of them read well. On the Sabbath, divine service is
regularly held, and he has labored to promote the cause of temperance
among the Sioux. Christian exertion is unhappily too much influenced by
the apprehension that little can be done for the savage. How is it with
the man on his fire-water mission to the Indian? Does he doubt? Does
As a great motive to improve the moral character of the Indians, I
present the condition of the women in their tribes. A degraded state of
woman is universally characteristic of savage life, as her elevated
influence in civilized society is the conspicuous standard of moral and
social virtue. The peculiar sorrows of the Sioux woman commence at her
birth. Even as a child she is despised, in comparison with the brother
beside her, who is one day to be a great warrior. As a maiden, she is
valued while the young man, who wants her for a wife, may have a doubt
of his success. But when she is a wife, there is little sympathy for her
condition. How soon do the oppressive storms and contentions of life
root out all that is kind or gentle in her heart. She must bear the
burdens of the family. Should her husband wish it, she must travel all
day with a heavy weight on her back; and at night when they stop, her
hands must prepare the food for her family before she retires to rest.
Her work is never done. She makes the summer and the winter house. For
the former she peels the bark from the trees in the spring; for the
latter she sews the deer-skin together. She tans the skins of which
coats, mocassins, and leggins are to be made for the family; she has to
scrape it and prepare it while other cares are pressing upon her. When
her child is born, she has no opportunities for rest or quiet. She must
paddle the canoe for her husband—pain and feebleness must be forgotten.
She is always hospitable. Visit her in her teepee, and she willingly
gives you what you need, if in her power; and with alacrity does what
she can to promote your comfort. In her looks there is little that is
attractive. Time has not caused the wrinkles in her forehead, nor the
furrows in her cheek. They are the traces of want, passion, sorrows and
tears. Her bent form was once light and graceful. Labor and privations
are not preservative of beauty.
Let it not be deemed impertinent if I venture to urge upon those who
care for the wretched wherever their lot may be cast, the immense good
that might be accomplished among these tribes by schools, which should
open the minds of the young to the light of reason and Christianity.
Even if the elder members are given up as hopeless, with the young
there is always encouragement. Many a bright little creature among the
Dahcotahs is as capable of receiving instruction as are the children of
civilization. Why should they be neglected when the waters of
benevolence are moving all around them?
It is not pretended that all the incidents related in these stories
occurred exactly as they are stated. Most of them are entirely true;
while in others the narrative is varied in order to show some prevalent
custom, or to illustrate some sentiment to which these Indians are
devoted. The Sioux are as firm believers in their religion as we are in
ours; and they are far more particular in the discharge of what they
conceive to be the obligations required by the objects of their faith
and worship. There are many allusions to the belief and customs of the
Dahcotahs that require explanation. For this purpose I have obtained
from the Sioux themselves the information required. On matters of faith
there is difference of opinion among them—but they do not make more
points of difference on religion, or on any other subject, than white
The day of the Dahcotah is far spent; to quote the language of a
Chippeway chief, "The Indian's glory is passing away." They seem to be
almost a God-forgotten race. Some few have given the missionary reason
to hope that they have been made subjects of Christian faith—and the
light, that has as yet broken in faint rays upon their darkness, may
increase. He who takes account of the falling of a sparrow, will not
altogether cast away so large a portion of his creatures. All Christian
minds will wish success to the Indian missionary; and assuredly God will
be true to his mercy, where man is found true to his duty.
The first impression created by the Sioux was the common one—fear. In
their looks they were so different from the Indians I had occasionally
seen. There was nothing in their aspect to indicate the success of
efforts made to civilize them. Their tall, unbending forms, their savage
hauteur, the piercing black eye, the quiet indifference of manner, the
slow, stealthy step—how different were they from the eastern Indians,
whose associations with the white people seem to have deprived them of
all native dignity of bearing and of character. The yells heard outside
the high wall of the fort at first filled me with alarm; but I soon
became accustomed to them, and to all other occasional Indian
excitements, that served to vary the monotony of garrison life. Before I
felt much interest in the Sioux, they seemed to have great regard for
me. My husband, before his marriage, had been stationed at Fort Snelling
and at Prairie du Chien. He was fond of hunting and roaming about the
prairies; and left many friends among the Indians when he obeyed the
order to return to an eastern station. On going back to the Indian
country, he met with a warm welcome from his old acquaintances, who were
eager to shake hands with "Eastman's squaw."
The old men laid their bony hands upon the heads of my little boys,
admired their light hair, said their skins were very white; and,
although I could not then understand their language, they told me many
things, accompanied with earnest gesticulation. They brought their wives
and young children to see me. I had been told that Indian women gossiped
and stole; that they were filthy and troublesome. Yet I could not
despise them: they were wives and mothers—God had implanted the same
feelings in their hearts as in mine.
Some Indians visited us every day, and we frequently saw them at their
villages. Captain E. spoke their language well; and without taking any
pains to acquire it, I soon understood it so as to talk with them. The
sufferings of the women and children, especially during the winter
season, appealed to my heart. Their humility in asking for assistance
contrasted strongly with the pompous begging of the men. Late in a
winter's afternoon, Wenona, wife of a chief named the "Star," came to my
room. Undoing a bundle that she took from under her blanket, she
approached and showed it to me. It was an infant three days old,
closely strapped to an Indian cradle. The wretched babe was shrivelled
and already looking old from hunger. She warmed it by the fire,
attempting to still its feeble cries.
"Do you nurse your baby well, Wenona?" I asked; "it looks so thin and
"How can I," was the reply, "when I have not eaten since it was born?"
Frequently we have heard of whole families perishing during severely
cold weather. The father absent on a winter's hunt, the mother could not
leave her children to apply to the fort for assistance, even had she
strength left to reach there. The frozen bodies would be found in the
lodges. The improvident character of the Indian is well known. Their
annuities are soon spent; supplies received from government are used in
feasting; and no provision is made for winters that are always long and
severe. Though they receive frequent assistance from the public at the
fort, the wants of all cannot be supplied. The captain of the post was
generous towards them, as was always my friend Mrs. F., whom they highly
esteemed. Yet some hearts are closed against appeals daily made to their
humanity. An Indian woman may suffer from hunger or sickness, because
her looks are repulsive and her garments unwashed: some will say they
can bear the want of warm clothing, because they have been used to
The women of the Sioux exhibit many striking peculiarities of
character—the love of the marvellous, and a profound veneration for any
and every thing connected with their religious faith; a willingness to
labor and to learn; patience in submitting to insults from servants who
consider them intruders in families; the evident recognition of the fact
that they are a doomed race, and must submit to indignities that they
dare not resent. They seem, too, so unused to sympathy, often comparing
their lives of suffering and hardship with the ease and comfort enjoyed
by the white women, it must be a hard heart, that could withhold
sympathy from such poor creatures. Their home was mine—and such a home!
The very sunsets, more bright and glorious than I had ever seen, seemed
to love to linger over the scenes amongst which we lived; the high
bluffs of the "father of many waters" and the quiet shores of the
"Minesota;" the fairy rings on the prairie, and the "spirit lakes" that
reposed beside them; the bold peak, Pilot Knob, on whose top the Indians
bury their dead, with the small hills rising gradually around it—all
were dear to the Sioux and to me. They believed that the rocks, and
hills, and waters were peopled with fairies and spirits, whose power and
anger they had ever been taught to fear. I knew that God, whose presence
fills all nature, was there. In fancy they beheld their deities in the
blackened cloud and fearful storm; I saw mine in the brightness of
nature, the type of the unchanging light of Heaven.
They evinced the warmest gratitude to any who had ever displayed kind
feelings towards them. When our little children were ill with scarlet
fever, how grieved they were to witness their sufferings; especially as
we watched Virginia, waiting, as we expected, to receive her parting
breath. How strongly they were contrasted! that fair child, unconscious
even of the presence of the many kind friends who had watched and wept
beside her—and the aged Sioux women, who had crept noiselessly into the
chamber. I remember them well, as they leaned over the foot of the bed;
their expressive and subdued countenances full of sorrow. That small
white hand, that lay so powerless, had ever been outstretched to welcome
them when they came weary and hungry.
They told me afterwards, that "much water fell from their eyes day and
night, while they thought she would die;" that the servants made them
leave the sick room, and then turned them out of the house—but that
they would not go home, waiting outside to hear of her.
During her convalescence, I found that they could "rejoice with those
that rejoice" as well as "weep with those that wept." The fearful
disease was abating in our family, and "Old Harper," as she is called
in the Fort, offered to sit up and attend to the fire. We allowed her to
do so, for the many who had so kindly assisted us were exhausted with
fatigue. Joy had taken from me all inclination to sleep, and I lay down
near my little girl, watching the old Sioux woman. She seemed to be
reviewing the history of her life, so intently did she gaze at the
bright coals on the hearth. Many strange thoughts apparently engaged
her. She was, of her own accord, an inmate of the white man's house,
waiting to do good to his sick child. She had wept bitterly for days,
lest the child should be lost to her—and now she was full of happiness,
at the prospect of her recovery.
How shall we reconcile this with the fact that Harper, or Harpstinah,
was one of the Sioux women, who wore, as long as she could endure it, a
necklace made of the hands and feet of Chippeway children? Here, in the
silence of night, she turned often towards the bed, when the restless
sleep of the child broke in on her meditation. She fancied I slept, but
my mind was busy too. I was far away from the home of my childhood, and
a Sioux woman, with her knife in her belt, was assisting me in the care
of my only daughter. She thought Dr. T. was a "wonderful medicine man"
to cure her; in which opinion we all cordially coincided.
I always listened with pleasure to the women, when allusion was made to
their religion; but when they spoke of their tradition, I felt as a
miser would, had he discovered a mine of gold. I had read the legends of
the Maiden's Rock, and of St. Anthony's Falls. I asked Checkered Cloud
to tell them to me. She did so—and how differently they were told! With
my knowledge of the language, and the aid of my kind and excellent
friend Mr. Prescott, all the dark passages in her narration were made
clear. I thought the Indian tone of feeling was not rightly
appreciated—their customs not clearly stated, perhaps not fairly
estimated. The red man, considered generally as a creature to be carried
about and exhibited for money, was, in very truth, a being immortally
endowed, though under a dispensation obscure to the more highly-favored
white race. As they affirmed a belief in the traditions of their tribe,
with what strength and beauty of diction they clothed their
thoughts—how energetic in gesture! Alas! for the people who had no
higher creed, no surer trust, for this and for another world.
However they may have been improved, no one could have had better
opportunities than I, to acquire all information of interest respecting
these Indians. I lived among them seven years. The chiefs from far and
near were constantly visiting the Fort, and were always at our house.
Not a sentiment is in the Legends that I did not hear from the lips of
the Indian man or woman. They looked on my husband as their friend, and
talked to him freely on all subjects, whether of religion, customs, or
grievances. They were frequently told that I was writing about them,
that every body might know what great warriors they were.
The men were sometimes astonished at the boldness with which I reproved
them, though it raised me much in their estimation. I remember taking
Bad Hail, one of their chiefs, to task, frequently; and on one occasion
he told me, by way of showing his gratitude for the interest I took in
his character, that he had three wives, all of whom he would give up if
I would "leave Eastman, and come and live with him." I received his
proposition, however, with Indian indifference, merely replying that I
did not fancy having my head split open every few days with a stick of
wood. He laughed heartily after his fashion, conscious that the cap
fitted, for he was in the habit of expending all his surplus bad temper
upon his wives. I have sometimes thought, that if, when a warrior, be he
chief or commoner, throws a stick of wood at his wife's head, she were
to cast it back at his, he might, perhaps, be taught better behaviour.
But I never dared to instil such insubordinate notions into the heads of
my Sioux female friends, lest some ultra "brave," in a desperate rage,
might substitute the tomahawk for the log. These opinions, too, might
have made me unpopular with Sioux and Turks—and, perchance, with some
of my more enlightened friends, who are self-constituted "lords of
I noticed that Indians, like white people, instead of confessing and
forsaking their sins, were apt to excuse themselves by telling how much
worse their neighbors were. When told how wicked it was to have more
than one wife, they defended themselves by declaring that the
Winnebagoes had twice or thrice as many as the Sioux. The attempt to
make one right of two wrongs seems to be instinctive.
I wished to learn correctly the Indian songs which they sing in
celebrating their dances. I sent for a chief, Little Hill, who is a
famous singer, but with little perseverance as a teacher of music. He
soon lost all patience with me, refused to continue the lesson,
declaring that he could never make me sing like a Sioux squaw. The low,
guttural notes created the difficulty. He very quickly became tired of
my piano and singing. The chiefs and medicine men always answered my
questions readily, respecting their laws and religion; but, to insure
good humor, they must first have something to eat. All the scraps of
food collected in the kitchen; cold beef, cold buckwheat cakes; nothing
went amiss, especially as to quantity. Pork is their delight—apples
they are particularly fond of—and, in the absence of fire-water,
molasses and water is a most acceptable beverage. Then they had to smoke
and nod a little before the fire—and by and by I heard all about the
Great Spirit, and Hookah the Giant, and the powers of the Sacred
Medicine. All that is said in this book of their religion, laws, and
sentiments, I learned from themselves, and most of the incidents
occurred precisely as they are represented. Some few have been varied,
but only where it might happily illustrate a peculiar custom or opinion.
Their medicine men, priests, and jugglers, are proverbially the greatest
scamps of the tribe. My dear father must forgive me for reflecting so
harshly on his brother practitioners, and be reconciled when he hears
that they belong to the corps of quacks; for they doubt their own
powers, and are constantly imposing on the credulity of others. On
returning from an evening walk, we met, near the fort, a notable
procession. First came an old medicine man, whose Indian name I cannot
recall; but the children of the garrison called him "Old Sneak"—a most
appropriate appellation, for he always looked as if he had just
committed murder, and was afraid of being found out. On this occasion he
looked particularly in character. What a representative of the learned
faculty! After him, in Indian file, came his wife and children, a most
cadaverous looking set. To use a western phrase, they all looked as if
they were "just dug up." Their appearance was accounted for in the
following ludicrous manner—the story is doubtless substantially true.
There was a quantity of refuse medicine that had been collecting in the
hospital at the fort, and Old Sneak happened to be present at a general
clearing out. The medicine was given to him; and away he went to his
home, hugging it up close to him like a veritable old miser. It was too
precious to be shared with his neighbors; the medicine of the white man
was "wahkun" (wonderful)—and, carrying out the principle that the more
of a good thing the better, he, with his wife and children, took it all!
I felt assured that the infant strapped to its mother's back was dying
at that time.
The "dog dance" is held by the Sioux in great reverence; and the first
time it has been celebrated near the fort for many years, was about five
The Chippeways, with their chief, "Hole in the Day," were down on a
visit, and the prairie outside the fort was covered with Indians of both
tribes. The Chippeways sat on the grass at a little distance, watching
the Sioux as they danced, "to show how brave they were, and how they
could eat the hearts of their enemies." Most of the officers and ladies
of the garrison were assembled on the hospital gallery to witness
The Sioux warriors formed a circle; in the centre was a pole fastened in
the ground. One of the Indians killed a dog, and, taking out the heart
and liver, held them for a few moments in a bucket of cold water, and
then hung them to the pole. After awhile, one of the warriors advanced
towards it, barking. His attitude was irresistibly droll; he tried to
make himself look as much as possible like a dog, and I thought he
succeeded to admiration. He retreated, and another warrior advanced with
a different sort of bark; more joined in, until there was a chorus of
barking. Next, one becomes very courageous, jumps and barks towards the
pole, biting off a piece of the flesh; another follows and does the same
feat. One after another they all bark and bite. "Let dogs delight" would
have been, an appropriate melody for the occasion. They had to hold
their heads back to swallow the morçeau—it was evidently hard work.
Several dogs were killed in succession, when, seeing some of the
warriors looking pale and deadly sick, Captain E. determined to try how
many of their enemies' hearts they could dispose of. He went down among
the Indians and purchased another dog. They could not refuse to eat the
heart. It made even the bravest men sick to swallow the last
mouthful—they were pale as death. I saw the last of it, and although
John Gilpin's ride might be a desirable sight, yet when the Sioux
celebrate another dog feast, "may I not be there to see."
Our intercourse with the Sioux was greatly facilitated, and our
influence over them much increased, by the success attending my
husband's efforts to paint their portraits. They thought it supernatural
(wahkun) to be represented on canvas. Some were prejudiced against
sitting, others' esteemed it a great compliment to be asked, but all
expected to be paid for it. And if anything were wanting to complete our
opportunities for gaining all information that was of interest, we found
it in the daguerreotype. Captain E., knowing they were about to
celebrate a feast he wished to paint in group, took his apparatus out,
and, when they least expected it, transferred the group to his plate.
The awe, consternation, astonishment and admiration, surpassed
description. "Ho! Eastman is all wahkun!"
The Indians are fond of boasting and communicating their exploits and
usages to those who have their confidence. While my husband has
delineated their features with the pencil, I have occupied pleasantly
many an hour in learning from them how to represent accurately the
feelings and features of their hearts—feeble though my pen be. We never
failed to gain a point by providing a good breakfast or dinner.
With the Rev. Mr. Pond and Dr. Williamson, both missionaries among the
Sioux, I had many a pleasant interview and talk about the tribe. They
kindly afforded me every assistance—and as they are perfectly
acquainted with the language of the Sioux, and have studied their
religion with the view to introduce the only true one, I could not have
applied to more enlightened sources, or better authority.
The day we left Fort Snelling, I received from Mr. Pond the particulars
of the fate of the Sioux woman who was taken prisoner by the Chippeways,
and who is represented in the legend called The Wife. Soon after her
return to her husband, he was killed by the Chippeways; and the
difficulty was settled by the Chippeways paying to the Sioux what was
considered the value of the murdered man, in goods, such as calico,
tobacco, &c.! After his death, the widow married a Sioux, named "Scarlet
Face." They lived harmoniously for a while—but soon difficulties arose,
and Scarlet Face, in a fit of savage rage, beat her to death. A most
unromantic conclusion to her eventful life.
How vivid is our recollection of the grief the Sioux showed at parting
with us. For although, at the time, it added to the pain naturally felt
at leaving a place which had so long been our home; yet the sincere
affection they evinced towards us and our children was most gratifying.
They wished us to remember them, when far away, with kindness. The
farewell of my friend Checkered Cloud can never be forgotten. She was my
constant visitor for years; and, although a poor and despised Sioux
woman, I learned to look upon her with respect and regard. Nor does my
interest in her and her nation cease, because, in the chances of life,
we may never meet again. It will still be my endeavor to depict all the
customs, feasts and ceremonies of the Sioux, before it be too late. The
account of them may be interesting, when the people who so long believed
in them will be no more.
We can see they are passing away, but who can decide the interesting
question of their origin? They told me that their nation had always
lived in the valley of the Mississippi—that their wise men had asserted
this for ages past. Some who have lived among them, think they crossed
over from Persia in ships—and that they once possessed the knowledge of
building large vessels, though they have now entirely lost it. This idea
bears too little probability to command any confidence. The most general
opinion is the often told one, that they are a remnant of God's ancient
and chosen people. Be this as it may, they are "as the setting sun, or
as the autumn leaves trampled upon by powerful riders."
They are receding rapidly, and with feeble resistance, before the giant
strides of civilization. The hunting grounds of a few savages will soon
become the haunts of densely peopled, civilized settlements. We should
be better reconciled to this manifest destiny of the aborigines, if the
inroads of civilization were worthy of it; if the last years of these,
in some respects, noble people, were lit up with the hope-inspiring rays
of Christianity. We are not to judge the Heathen; yet universal evidence
gives the melancholy fact, that the light of nature does not lead the
soul to God: and without judging of their destiny, we are bound to
enlighten their minds. We know the great Being of whom they are
ignorant; and well will it be for them and for us, in a day that awaits
us all, if yet, though late, sadly late—yet not too late, we so give
countenance and aid to the missionary, that the light of revealed truth
may cheer the remaining period of their national and individual,
Will it be said that I am regarding, with partial eye and sentimental
romance, but one side of the Sioux character? Have they no faults, as a
people and individually? They are savages—and that goes far to answer
the question. Perhaps the best answer is, the women have faults enough,
and the men twice as many as the women. But if to be a savage is to be
cruel, vindictive, ferocious—dare we say that to be a civilized man
necessarily implies freedom from these traits?
Want of truth, and habitual dishonesty in little things, are prevalent
traits among the Sioux. Most of them will take a kitchen spoon or fork,
if they have a chance—and they think it fair thus to return the
peculations of the whites. They probably have an idea of making up for
the low price at which their lands have been valued, by maintaining a
constant system of petty thefts—or perhaps they consider kitchen
utensils as curiosities, just as the whites do their mocassins and
necklaces of bear's claws. Yes—it must be confessed, however
unsentimental, they almost all steal.
The men think it undignified for them to steal, so they send their
wives thus unlawfully to procure what they want—and wo be to them if
they are found out. The husband would shame and beat his wife for doing
what he certainly would have beaten her for refusing to do. As regards
the honesty of the men, I give you the opinion of the husband of
Checkered Cloud, who was an excellent Indian. "Every Sioux;" said he,
"will steal if he need, and there be a chance. The best Indian that ever
lived, has stolen. I myself once stole some powder."
I have thus, perhaps tediously, endeavored to show, that what is said in
this work has been learned by intimate association, and that for years,
with the Indian. This association has continued under influences that
secured unreservedly their confidence, friendship—and I may say—truly,
in many instances—their affection. If the perusal of the Legends give
pleasure to my friends—how happy am I! To do more than this I hardly
M. H. E.
THE CUSTOMS OF THE DAHCOTAHS.
SIOUX CEREMONIES, SCALP DANCE, &c.
The Sioux occupy a country from the Mississippi river to some point west
of the Missouri, and from the Chippewa tribe on the north, to the
Winnebago on the south; the whole extent being about nine hundred miles
long by four hundred in breadth.
Dahcotah is the proper name of this once powerful tribe of Indians. The
term Sioux is not recognized, except among those who live near the
whites. It is said to have been given by the old French traders, that
the Dahcotahs might not know when they were the subjects of
conversation. The exact meaning of the word has never been ascertained.
Dahcotah means a confederacy. A number of bands live near each other on
terms of friendship, their customs and laws being the same. They mean by
the word Dahcotah what we mean by the confederacy of states in our
union. The tribe is divided into a number of bands, which are subdivided
into villages; every village being governed by its own chief. The honor
of being chief is hereditary, though for cause a chief may be deposed
and another substituted; and the influence the chief possesses depends
much more upon his talents and capacity to govern, than upon mere
hereditary descent. To every village there is also a war-chief, and as
to these are ascribed supernatural powers, their influence is
unbounded. Leading every military excursion, the war-chief's command is
absolute with his party.
There are many clans among the Sioux, and these are distinguished from
each other by the different kinds of medicine they use. Each clan takes
a root for its medicine, known only to those initiated into the
mysteries of the clan. The name of this root must be kept a secret. Many
of these roots are entirely destitute of medicinal power. The clans are
governed by a sort of free-masonry system. A Dahcotah would die rather
than divulge the secret of his clan. The clans keep up almost a
perpetual warfare with each other. Each one supposes the other to be
possessed of supernatural powers, by which they can, cause the death of
any individual, though he may live at a great distance. This belief is
the cause of a great deal of bloodshed. When a Dahcotah dies, it is
attributed to some one of another clan, and revenge is sought by the
relatives of the deceased. All their supposed supernatural powers are
invoked to destroy the murderer. They first try the powers of their
sacred medicine, imagining they can cast a fatal spell on the offender;
if this fail, they have recourse to more destructive weapons, and the
axe, knife or gun may be fatally used. After the supposed murderer is
killed, his relations retaliate, and thus successive feuds become
The Dahcotahs, though a reckless, are a generous people, usually kind
and affectionate to their aged, though instances to the contrary
frequently occur. Among the E-yanktons, there was a man so feeble and
decrepit from age as to be totally unable to take care of himself; not
being able to walk, he occasioned great trouble. When the band went out
hunting, he entreated the young men to drag him along, that he might not
fall a prey to the Chippeways, or to a fate equally dreaded, cold and
starvation. For a time they seemed to pity him, and there were always
those among the hunting party who were willing to render him assistance.
At last he fell to the charge of some young men, who, wearied with
carrying him from place to place, told him they would leave him, but he
need not die a lingering death. They gave him a gun, and placed him on
the ground to be shot at, telling him to try and kill one of the young
warriors who were to fire at him; and thus he would have so much more
honor to carry with him to the land of spirits. He knew it was useless
to attempt to defend himself. In a few moments he received his
death-wound, and was no longer a burden to himself or to others. The
Sioux have a number of superstitious notions, which particularly
influence the women. They are slavishly fearful of the spirits of the
dead, and a thousand other fancies. Priests and jugglers are venerated
from their supposed supernatural powers.
Little is generally known of their religion or their customs. One must
live among them to induce them to impart any information concerning
their mode of life or religious faith; to a stranger they are
Their dances and feasts are not amusements. They all have an object and
meaning, and are celebrated year after year, under a belief that neglect
will be punished by the Great Spirit by means of disease, want, or the
attacks of enemies. All their fear of punishment is confined to what
they may suffer in this world. They have no fear of the anger of their
deities being continued after death. Revolting as the ceremony of
dancing round a scalp seems to us, an Indian believes it to be a sacred
duty to celebrate it. The dancing part is performed by the old and young
squaws. The medicine men sing, beat the drum, rattle the gourd, and use
such other instruments as they contrive. Anything is considered a
musical instrument that will assist in creating discordant sound. One of
these is a bone with notches on it, one end of which rests on a tin pan,
the other being held in the left hand, while, with a piece of bone in
the right, which a medicine man draws over the notches, sounds as
discordant and grating as possible are created.
The squaws dance around the scalps in concentric circles, in groups of
from four to twelve together, pressing their shoulders against each
other, and at every stroke of the drum raising themselves to their
utmost height, hopping and sliding a short distance to the left,
singing all the time with the medicine men. They keep time perfectly. In
the centre, the scalps are attached to a pole stuck in the ground, or
else carried on the shoulders of some of the squaws. The scalp is
stretched on a hoop, and the pole to which it is attached is several
feet long. It is also covered with vermilion or red earth, and
ornamented with feathers, ribbons, beads, and other trinkets, and
usually a pair of scissors or a comb. After dancing for a few minutes,
the squaws stop to rest. During this interval one of the squaws, who has
had a son, husband, or brother killed by a warrior of the tribe from
which the scalp she holds was taken, will relate the particulars of his
death, and wind up by saying, "Whose scalp have I now on my shoulders?"
At this moment there is a general shout, and the dance again commences.
This ceremony continues sometimes, at intervals, for months; usually
during the warm weather. After the dance is done, the scalp is buried or
put up on the scaffold with some of the deceased of the tribe who took
the scalp. So much for the scalp dance—a high religious ceremony, not,
as some suppose, a mere amusement.
The Sacred Feast is given in honor of the sacred medicine, and is always
given by medicine-men or women who are initiated into the mysteries of
the medicine dance. The medicine men are invariably the greatest rascals
of the band, yet the utmost respect is shown them. Every one fears the
power of a medicine man. When a medicine man intends giving a feast, he
goes or sends to the persons whom he wishes to invite. When all are
assembled, the giver of the feast opens the medicine bag with some
formality. The pipe is lit and smoked by all present; but it is first
offered to the Great Spirit. After the smoking, food is placed in wooden
bowls, or other vessels that visitors may have brought; for it is not a
breach of etiquette to bring dishes with you to the feast. When all are
served, the word is given to commence eating, and those that cannot eat
all that is given them, must make a present to the host, besides hiring
some one present to eat what they fail to consume. To waste a morsel
would offend the Great Spirit, and injure or render useless the
medicine. Every one having finished eating, the kettle in which the food
was cooked is smoked with cedar leaves or grass. Before the cooking is
commenced, all the fire within the wigwam is put out, and a fresh one
made from flint and steel. In the celebration of the Sacred Feast, the
fire and cooking utensils are kept and consecrated exclusively to that
purpose. After the feast is over, all the bones are carefully collected
and thrown into the water, in order that no dog may get them, nor a
woman trample on them.
The Sioux worship the sun. The sun dance is performed by young
warriors who dance, at intervals of five minutes, for several days. They
hop on one foot and then on the other, keeping time to the drum, and
making indescribable gestures, each having a small whistle in his mouth,
with his face turned towards the sun. The singing and other music is
performed by the medicine men. The drum used is a raw hide stretched
over a keg, on which a regular beating of time is made with a short
stick with a head to it. Women pretend to foretell future events, and,
for this reason, are sometimes invited to medicine feasts.
When an Indian is sick and wants "the Doctor" as we say, or a medicine
man, as they say,—they call them also priests, doctors and jugglers,—a
messenger is sent for one, with a pipe filled in one hand, and payment
in the other; which fee may be a gun, blanket, kettle or anything in the
way of present. The messenger enters the wigwam (or teepee, as the
houses of the Sioux are called) of the juggler, presents the pipe, and
lays the present or fee beside him. Having smoked, the Doctor goes to
the teepee of the patient, takes a seat at some distance from him,
divests himself of coat or blanket, and pulls his leggins to his ankles.
He then calls for a gourd, which has been suitably prepared, by drying
and putting small beads or gravel stones in it, to make a rattling
noise. Taking the gourd, he begins to rattle it and to sing, thereby to
charm the animal that has entered the body of the sick Sioux. After
singing hi-he-hi-hah in quick succession, the chorus ha-ha-ha,
hahahah is more solemnly and gravely chanted. On due repetition of this
the doctor stops to smoke; then sings and rattles again. He sometimes
attempts to draw with his mouth the disease from an arm or a limb that
he fancies to be affected. Then rising, apparently almost suffocated,
groaning terribly and thrusting his face into a bowl of water, he makes
all sorts of gestures and noises. This is to get rid of the disease that
he pretends to have drawn from the sick person. When he thinks that some
animal, fowl or fish, has possession of the sick man, so as to cause the
disease, it becomes necessary to destroy the animal by shooting it. To
accomplish this, the doctor makes the shape of the animal of bark, which
is placed in a bowl of water mixed with red earth, which he sets outside
of the wigwam where some young men are standing, who are instructed by
the doctor how and when to shoot the animal.
When all is ready, the doctor pops his head out of the wigwam, on his
hands and knees. At this moment the young men fire at the little bark
animal, blowing it to atoms; when the doctor jumps at the bowl,
thrusting his face into the water, grunting, groaning and making a vast
deal of fuss. Suddenly a woman jumps upon his back, then dismounts,
takes the doctor by the hair, and drags him back into the teepee. All
fragments of the bark animal are then collected and burned. The ceremony
there ceases. If the patient does not recover, the doctor says he did
not get the right animal. The reader must be convinced that it is not
for want of the most strenuous exertions on the part of the physician.
These are some of the customs of the Dahcotahs, which, however absurd
they may appear to us, are held in sacred reverence by them. There are
some animals, birds and fishes, that an Indian venerates; and the
creature thus sacred, he dare neither kill nor eat. The selection is
usually a bear, buffalo, deer, otter, eagle, hawk or snake. One will not
eat the right wing of a bird; another dare not eat the left: nor are the
women allowed to eat any part that is considered sacred.
The Sioux say it is lawful to take revenge, but otherwise it is not
right to murder. When murder is committed, it is an injury to the
deceased; not a sin against the Great Spirit. Some of their wise men say
that the Great Spirit has nothing to do with their affairs, present or
future. They pretend to know but little of a future state. They have
dreamy ideas of large cities somewhere in the heavens, where they will
go, but still be at war with their enemies and have plenty of game. An
Indian woman's idea of future happiness consists in relief from care.
"Oh! that I were dead," they will often say, "when I shall have no more
trouble." Veneration is much regarded in all Indian families. Thus a
son-in-law must never call his father-in-law by his name, but by the
title father-in-law, and vice versa. A female is not permitted to handle
the sac for war purposes; neither does she dare look into a
looking-glass, for fear of losing her eyesight.
The appearance of a brilliant aurora-borealis occasions great alarm. The
Indians run immediately for their guns and bows and arrows to shoot at
it, and thus disperse it.
INDIAN NAMES AND WRITING.
The names of the Sioux bands or villages, are as fanciful as those given
to individuals. Near Fort Snelling, are the "Men-da-wahcan-tons," or
people of the spirit lakes; the "Wahk-patons," or people of the leaves;
the "Wahk-pa-coo-tahs," or people that shoot at leaves, and other bands
who have names of this kind. Among those chiefs who have been well-known
around Fort Snelling, are,
Wah-ba-shaw, The Leaf.
Wah-ke-on-tun-kah, Big Thunder.
Wah-coo-ta, Red Wing.
Muzza Hotah, Gray Iron.
Ma-pe-ah-we-chas-tah, The man in the Cloud.
Tah-chun-coo-wash-ta, Good Road.
Sha-ce-pee, The Sixth.
Wah-soo-we-chasta-ne, Bad Hail.
Ish-ta-hum-bah, Sleepy Eyes.
These fanciful names are given to them from some peculiarity in
appearance or conduct; or sometimes from an occurrence that took place
at the time that they usually receive the name that is ascribed to them
for life. There is a Sioux living in the neighborhood of Fort Snelling,
called "The man that walks with the women." It is not customary for the
Indian to show much consideration for the fair sex, and this young man,
exhibiting some symptoms of gallantry unusual among them, received the
The Sioux have ten names for their children, given according to the
order of their birth.
The oldest son is called Chaskč,
" second, Haparm,
" third, Ha-pe-dah,
" fourth, Chatun,
" fifth, Harka,
The oldest daughter is called Wenonah,
" second, Harpen,
" third, Harpstenah,
" fourth, Waska,
" fifth, We-barka.
These names they retain until another is given by their relations or
The Dahcotahs say that meteors are men or women flying through the air;
that they fall to pieces as they go along, finally falling to the earth.
They call them "Wah-ken-den-da," or the mysterious passing fire. They
have a tradition of a meteor which, they say, was passing over a hill
where there was an Indian asleep. The meteor took the Indian on his
back, and continued his route till it came to a pond where there were
many ducks. The ducks seeing the meteor, commenced a general quacking,
which so alarmed him that he turned off and went around the pond, and
was about to pass over an Indian village. Here he was again frightened
by a young warrior, who was playing on the flute. Being afraid of music,
he passed around the village, and soon after falling to the earth,
released his burden. The Indian then asked the meteor to give him his
head strap, which he refused. The Indian offered him a feather of honor
for it, and was again refused. The Sioux, determined to gain his point,
told the meteor if he would give him the strap, he would kill a big
enemy for him. No reply from the meteor. The Indian then offered to kill
a wigwam full of enemies—the meteor still mute. The last offer was six
wigwams full of dead enemies for the so much coveted strap. The meteor
was finally bribed, gave up the head-strap, and the Sioux went home with
the great glory of having outwitted a meteor; for, as they met no more,
the debt was never paid.
The language of the Sioux would, with proper facilities, be easily
acquired. It is said, in many respects, to resemble the ancient Greek.
Even after having acquired considerable knowledge of the language by
study, it is necessary to live among the people in order to understand
their fanciful mode of speaking.
One of the chiefs, "Sleepy Eyes," visited a missionary not many weeks
since, and on being asked why he did not come at the time appointed,
replied, "How could I come when I have no mocassins," meaning that he
had no horse. The horse had recently been killed by a man who owed him
a grudge; and his way of alluding to the loss was the mocassins. On
another occasion, this same chief, having done what he considered a
favor for the missionaries, at Traverse des Sioux, told them that his
coat was worn out, and that he had neither cloth nor thread to mend it;
the fact was, that he had no coat at all, no cloth nor thread; his
brawny neck and arms were entirely bare, and this was his way of begging
for a new coat.
In Indian warfare, the victor takes the scalp of his enemy. If he have
time, he takes the entire scalp, including the ears; but if hurried, a
smaller scalp-piece is taken. As an inducement to be foremost in battle,
the first four that touch the dead body of an enemy, share the honors
that are paid to the one who slew the foe and took the scalp. But the
victors in Indian fight frequently suffer in this way; a wounded savage
feigns death, and, as some warrior approaches to take his scalp, he will
suddenly rise, discharge his gun, and fight desperately with the
tomahawk until killed. Deeds of valor performed by Indians are as often
done from desperation as from any natural bravery. They are educated to
warfare, but often show great disinclination to fight; strategy goes
farther with them than manly courage does. At Fort Snelling, the Sioux
have more than once crouched under the walls of the fort for protection,
and on one occasion a chief, who came in to give information of the
approach of some Chippeways trembled so as to shake the ornaments about
[Illustration: No. I and 3, prisoners captured by No. 2. (No hands on
the prisoners.) No. 1, female prisoner. No. 3, male.]
[Illustration: Nos. 4 and 5, female and male killed; 6 and 7, boy and
[Illustration: No. 8, that he has killed his enemy; 9, that he has cut
the throat of his enemy, and taken the scalp; 10, that he was the third
that touched the body of his enemy after he was killed; 11, the fourth
that touched it; 12, the fifth that touched it.]
[Illustration: No. 13, been wounded in many places by this enemy; 15,
that he has cut the throat of the enemy.]
The above represents the feathers from the war eagle. They are worn in
the hair of the warriors, as honors.
The above represents the only way that the Sioux have of writing an
account of an engagement that has taken place.
The children among the Sioux are early accustomed to look with
indifference upon the sufferings or death of a person they hate. A few
years ago a battle was fought quite near Fort Snelling. The next day the
Sioux children were playing foot-ball merrily with the head of a
Chippeway. One boy, and a small boy too, had ornamented his head and
ears with curls. He had taken the skin peeled off a Chippeway who was
killed in the battle, wound it around a stick until it assumed the
appearance of a curl, and tied them over his ears. Another child had a
string around his neck with a finger hanging to it as an ornament. The
infants, instead of being amused with toys or trinkets, are held up to
see the scalp of an enemy, and they learn to hate a Chippeway as soon as
to ask for food.
After the battle, the mother of a Sioux who was severely wounded found
her way to the fort. She entered the room weeping sadly. Becoming quite
exhausted, she seated herself on the floor, and said she wanted some
coffee and sugar for her sick son, some linen to bind up his wounds, a
candle to burn at night, and some whiskey to make her cry! Her son
recovered, and the mother, as she sat by and watched him, had the
satisfaction to see the scalps of the murdered Chippeways stretched on
poles all through the village, around which she, sixty years old, looked
forward with great joy to dance; though this was a small gratification
compared with her recollection of having formerly cut to pieces the
bodies of sundry murdered Chippeway children.
A dreadful creature she was! How vividly her features rise before me.
Well do I remember her as she entered my room on a stormy day in
January. Her torn mocassins were a mocking protection to her nearly
frozen feet; her worn "okendo kenda" hardly covering a wrinkled neck
and arms seamed with the scars of many a self-inflicted wound; she tried
to make her tattered blanket meet across her chest, but the benumbed
fingers were powerless, and her step so feeble, from fatigue and want of
food, that she almost fell before the cheerful fire that seemed to
welcome her. The smile with which she tried to return my greeting added
hideously to the savage expression of her features, and her matted hair
was covered with flakes of the drifting snow that almost blinded her.
Food, a pipe, and a short nap before the fire, refreshed her
wonderfully. At first she would hardly deign an answer to our questions;
now she becomes quite talkative. Her small keen eye follows the children
as they play about the room; she tells of her children when they were
young, and played around her; when their father brought her venison
Where are they? The Chippeways (mark her as she compresses her lips, and
see the nervous trembling of her limbs) killed her husband and her
oldest son: consumption walked among her household idols. She has one
son left, but he loves the white man's fire-water; he has forgotten
his aged mother—she has no one to bring her food—the young men laugh
at her, and tell her to kill game for herself.
At evening she must be going—ten miles she has to walk to reach her
teepee, for she cannot sleep in the white man's house. We tell her the
storm is howling—it will be dark before she reaches home—the wind
blows keenly across the open prairie—she had better lie down on the
carpet before the fire and sleep. She points to the walls of the
fort—she does not speak; but her action says, "It cannot be; the Sioux
woman cannot sleep beneath the roof of her enemies."
She is gone—God help the Sioux woman! the widow and the childless. God
help her, I say, for other hope or help has she none.
GODS OF THE DAHCOTAHS.
First in order of the gods of the Dahcotahs, comes the Great Spirit. He
is the creator of all things, excepting thunder and wild rice.
Then there is,
Wakinyan, or Man of the West.
Wehiyayanpa-micaxta, Man of the East.
Wazza, Man of the North.
Itokaga-micaxta, Man of the South.
Onkteri, or Unktahe, God of the Waters.
Hayoka, or Haoka, the antinatural god.
Takuakanxkan, god of motion.
Canotidan, Little Dweller in Woods. This god is said to live in
a forest, in a hollow tree.
Witkokaga, the Befooler, that is, the god who deceives or fools
animals so that they can be easily taken.
THE LEGENDS OF THE SIOUX.
CHECKERED CLOUD, THE MEDICINE WOMAN. [Footnote: A medicine woman is a
female doctor or juggler. No man or woman can assume this office without
previous initiation by authority. The medicine dance is a sacred rite,
in honor of the souls of the dead; the mysteries of this dance are kept
inviolable; its secrets have never been divulged by its members. The
medicine men and women attend in cases of sickness. The Sioux have the
greatest faith in them. When the patient recovers, it redounds to the
honor of the doctor; if he die, they say "The time had come that he
should die," or that the "medicine of the person who cast a spell upon
the sick person was stronger than the doctor's." They can always find a
satisfactory solution of the failure of the charm.]
Within a few miles of Fort Snelling lives Checkered Cloud. Not that she
has any settled habitation; she is far too important a character for
that. Indeed she is not often two days in the same place. Her wanderings
are not, however, of any great extent, so that she can always be found
when wanted. But her wigwam is about seven miles from the fort, and she
is never much farther off. Her occupations change with the day. She has
been very busy of late, for Checkered Cloud is one of the medicine
women of the Dahcotahs; and as the Indians have had a good deal of
sickness among them, you might follow her from teepee to teepee, as she
proceeds with the sacred rattle [Footnote: Sacred rattle. This is
generally a gourd, but is sometimes made of bark. Small beads are put
into it. The Sioux suppose that this rattle, in the hands of one of
their medicine men or women, possesses a certain virtue to charm away
sickness or evil spirits. They shake it over a sick person, using a
circular motion. It is never, however, put in requisition against the
worst spirits with which the Red Man has to contend.] in her hand,
charming away the animal that has entered the body of the Dahcotah to
steal his strength.
Then, she is the great legend-teller of the Dahcotahs. If there is a
merry-making in the village, Checkered Cloud must be there, to call to
the minds of the revellers the traditions that have been handed down
from time immemorial.
Yesterday, wrapped in her blanket, she was seated on the St. Peters,
near a hole which she had cut in the ice, in order to spear the fish as
they passed through the water; and to-day—but while I am writing of
her, she approaches the house; even now, her shadow falls upon the room
as she passes the window. I need not listen to her step, for her
mocassined feet pass noiselessly through the hall. The door is slowly
opened, and she is before me!
How tall she is! and with what graceful dignity she offers her hand.
Seventy winters have passed over her, but the brightness of her eye is
undimmed by time. Her brow speaks of intellect—and the white hair that
is parted over it falls unplaited on her shoulders. She folds her
blanket round her and seats herself; she has a request to make, I know,
but Checkered Cloud is not a beggar, she never asks aught but what she
feels she has a right to claim.
"Long ago," she says, "the Dahcotah owned lands that the white man now
claims; the trees, the rivers, were all our own. But the Great Spirit
has been angry with his children; he has taken their forests and their
hunting grounds, and given them to others.
"When I was young, I feared not wind nor storm. Days have I wandered
with the hunters of my tribe, that they might bring home many buffalo
for food, and to make our wigwams. Then, I cared not for cold and
fatigue, for I was young and happy. But now I am old; my children have
gone before me to the 'House of Spirits'—the tender boughs have yielded
to the first rough wind of autumn, while the parent tree has stood and
borne the winter's storm.
"My sons have fallen by the tomahawk of their enemies; my daughter
sleeps under the foaming waters of the Falls.
"Twenty winters were added to my life on that day. We had encamped at
some distance above the Falls, and our hunters had killed many deer.
Before we left our village to go on the hunt, we sacrificed to the
Spirit of the woods, and we prayed to the Great Spirit. We lifted up our
hands and said, 'Father, Great Spirit, help us to kill deer.' The arrows
of our hunters never missed, and as we made ready for our return we were
happy, for we knew we should not want for food. My daughter's heart was
light, for Haparm was with her, and she never was sad but when he
"Just before we arrived at the Falls, she became sick; her hands were
burning hot, she refused to eat. As the canoe passed over the
Mississippi, she would fill her cup with its waters, to drink and throw
over her brow. The medicine men were always at her side, but they said
some evil spirit hated her, and prevented their spells from doing
"When we reached the Falls, she was worse; the women left their canoes,
and prepared to carry them and the rest of the baggage round the Falls.
"But what should we do with We-no-nah? the flush of fever was on her
cheek; she did not know me when I spoke to her; but she kept her eyes
fixed upon her lover.
"'We will leave her in the canoe,' said her father; 'and with a line we
can carry her gently over the Rapids.' I was afraid, but with her
brothers holding the line she must be safe. So I left my child in her
canoe, and paddled with the others to the shore.
"As we left her, she turned her eyes towards us, as if anxious to know
what we were about to do. The men held the line steadily, and the canoe
floated so gently that I began to feel less anxious—but as we
approached the rapids, my heart beat quickly at the sound of the waters.
Carefully did her brothers hold the line, and I never moved my eyes from
the canoe in which she lay. Now the roaring of the waters grew louder,
and as they hastened to the rocks over which they would fall they bore
with them my child—I saw her raise herself in the canoe, I saw her
long hair as it fell on her bosom—I saw no more!
"My sons bore me in their arms to the rest of the party. The hunters had
delayed their return that they might seek for the body of my child. Her
lover called to her, his voice could be heard above the sound of the
waters. 'Return to me, Wenonah, I will never love maiden but you; did
you not promise to light the fires in my wigwam?' He would have thrown
himself after her, had not the young men prevented him. The body rests
not in the cold waters; we found it and buried it, and her spirit calls
to me in the silence of the night! Her lover said he would not remain
long on the earth; he turned from the Dahcotah maidens as they smiled
upon him. He died as a warrior should die!
"The Chippeways had watched for us, they longed to carry the scalp of a
Dahcotah home. They did so—but we were avenged.
"Our young men burst in upon them when they were sleeping; they struck
them with their tomahawks, they tore their scalps reeking with blood
from their heads.
"We heard our warriors at the village as they returned from their war
party; we knew by their joyful cries that they had avenged their
friends. One by one they entered the village, bearing twenty scalps of
"Only three of the Dahcotahs had fallen. But who were the three? My
sons, and he who was as dear as a son to me, the lover of my child. I
fled from their cries of triumph—I longed to plunge the knife into my
"I have lived on. But sorrow and cold and hunger have bowed my spirit;
and my limbs are not as strong and active as they were in my youth.
Neither can I work with porcupine as I used to—for age and tears have
dimmed my sight. I bring you venison and fish, will you not give me
clothes to protect me from the winter's cold?"
Ah! Checkered Cloud—he was a prophet who named you. Though the cloud
has varied, now passing away, now returning blacker than before—though
the cheering light of the sun has for a moment dispelled the gloom—
'twas but for a moment! for it was sure to break in terrors over your
head. Your name is your history, your life has been a checkered cloud!
But the storm of the day has yielded to the influence of the setting
sun. The thunder has ceased to roll, the wind has died away, and the
golden streaks that bound the horizon promise a brighter morning. So
with Checkered Cloud, the storm and strife of the earth have ceased; the
"battle of life" is fought, and she has conquered. For she hopes to meet
the beloved of earth in the heaven of the Dahcotahs.
And who will say that our heaven will not be hers? The God of the
Dahcotahs is ours, though they, less happy than we, have not been taught
to know him. Christians! are you without blame? Have you thought of the
privations, the wants of those who once owned your country, and would
own it still but for the strong hand? Have you remembered that their
souls are dear in His sight, who suffered for them, as well as for you?
Have you given bright gold that their children might be educated and
redeemed from their slavery of soul? Checkered Cloud will die as she has
lived, a believer in the religion of the Dahcotahs. The traditions of
her tribe are written on her heart. She worships a spirit in every
forest tree, or every running stream. The features of the favored
Israelite are hers; she is perchance a daughter of their lost tribe.
When she was young, she would have listened to the missionary as he told
her of Gethsemane and Calvary. But age yields not like youth to new
impressions; the one looks to the future, the other clings to the past.
See! she has put by her pipe and is going, but she is coming oft again
to talk to me of her people, that I may tell to my friends the bravery
of the Dahcotah warrior, and the beauty of the maiden! the legends of
their rivers and sacred isles—the traditions of their rocks and hills!
If I cannot, in recounting the wild stories of this prophetess of the
forest, give her own striking words, I shall at least be faithful to the
spirit of her recitals. I shall let Indian life speak for itself; these
true pictures of its course will tell its whole simple story better than
any labored exposition of mine. Here we may see, not the red man of the
novel or the drama, but the red man as he appears to himself, and to
those who live with him. His better characteristics will be found quite
as numerous as ought to be expected under the circumstances; his faults
and his sufferings should appeal to the hearts of those who hold the
means of his salvation. No intelligent citizen of these United States
can without blame forget the aborigines of his country. Their wrongs cry
to heaven; their souls will be required of us. To view them as brutes is
an insult to Him who made them and us. May this little work do something
towards exciting an interest in a single tribe out of the many whose
only hope is in the mercy of the white man!
"Good Road" is one of the Dahcotah chiefs—he is fifty years old and has
two wives, but these two have given a deal of trouble; although the
chief probably thinks it of no importance whether his two wives fight
all the time or not, so that they obey his orders. For what would be a
calamity in domestic life to us, is an every day affair among the
Good Road's village is situated on the banks of the St. Peter's about
seven miles from Fort Snelling. And like other Indian villages it
abounds in variety more than anything else. In the teepee the farthest
from us, right on the edge of the shore, there are three young men
carousing. One is inclined to go to sleep, but the other two will not
let him; their spirits are raised and excited by what has made him
stupid. Who would suppose they were human beings? See their bloodshot
eyes; hear their fiendish laugh and horrid yells; probably before the
revel is closed, one of the friends will have buried his knife in the
We will pass on to the next teepee. Here we witness a scene almost as
appalling. "Iron Arms," one of the most valiant warriors of the band, is
stretched in the agonies of death. Old Spirit Killer, the medicine man,
is gesticulating by his side, and accompanying his motions with the most
horrid noises. But all in vain; the spirit of "Iron Arms," the man of
strength, is gone. The doctor says that his medicine was good, but that
a prairie dog had entered into the body of the Dahcotah, and he thought
it had been a mud-hen. Magnanimous doctor! All honor, that you can allow
yourself in error.
While the friends of the dead warrior are rending the air with their
cries, we will find out what is going on in the next wigwam. What
"The Whirlpool" is seated on the ground smoking; gazing as earnestly at
the bright coals as if in them he could read the future or recall the
past; and his young wife, whose face, now merry, now sad, bright with
smiles at one moment, and lost in thought the next, gained for her the
name of "The Changing Countenance," is hushing her child to sleep; but
the expression of her features does not change now—as she looks on her
child, a mother's deep and devoted love is pictured on her face.
In another, "The Dancing Woman" is wrapped in her blanket pretending to
go to sleep. In vain does "The Flying Cloud" play that monotonous
courting tune on the flute. The maiden would not be his wife if he gave
her all the trinkets in the world. She loves and is going to marry "Iron
Lightning," who has gone to bring her—what? a brooch—a new blanket?
no, a Chippeway's scalp, that she may be the most graceful of those who
dance around it. Her mother is mending the mocassins of the old man who
sleeps before the fire.
And we might go round the village and find every family differently
employed. They have no regular hours for eating or sleeping. In front of
the teepees, young men are lying on the ground, lazily playing checkers,
while their wives and sisters are cutting wood and engaged in laborious
I said Good Road had two wives, and I would now observe that neither of
them is younger than himself. But they are as jealous of each other as
if they had just turned seventeen, and their lord and master were twenty
instead of fifty. Not a day passes that they do not quarrel, and fight
too. They throw at each other whatever is most convenient, and sticks of
wood are always at hand. And then, the sons of each wife take a part in
the battle; they first fight for their mothers, and then for
themselves—so that the chief must have been reduced to desperation long
ago if it were not for his pipe and his philosophy. Good Road's second
wife has Chippeway blood in her veins. Her mother was taken prisoner by
the Dahcotahs; they adopted her, and she became the wife of a Dahcotah
warrior. She loved her own people, and those who had adopted her too;
and in course of time her daughter attained the honorable station of a
chief's second wife. Good Road hates the Chippeways, but he fell in love
with one of their descendants, and married her. She is a good wife, and
the white people have given her the name of "Old Bets."
Last summer "Old Bets" narrowly escaped with her life. The Dahcotahs
having nothing else to do, were amusing themselves by recalling all the
Chippeways had ever done to injure them; and those who were too lazy to
go out on a war party, happily recollected that there was Chippeway
blood near them—no farther off than their chief's wigwam; and eight or
ten braves vowed they would make an end of "Old Bets." But she heard of
their threats, left the village for a time, and after the Dahcotahs had
gotten over their mania for shedding blood, she returned, and right glad
was Good Road to see her. For she has an open, good humored countenance;
the very reverse of that of the first wife, whose vinegar aspect would
frighten away an army of small children.
After "Old Bets" returned, Good Road could not conceal his satisfaction.
His wife's trip had evidently improved her good looks, for the chief
thought she was the handsomest squaw in the village. Her children were
always taunting the sons of the first wife, and so it went on, until at
last Good Road said he would stand it no longer; he told his oldest wife
to go—that he would support her no longer. And for her children, he
told them the prairies were large; there were deer and other game—in
short, he disinherited them—cut them off with their last meal.
For the discarded wife, life had now but one hope. The only star that
shone in the blackness of her heaven, was the undefined prospect of
seeing her rival's blood flow. She would greatly have preferred taking
her life herself; and as she left the wigwam of the chief, she grasped
the handle of her knife—how quick her heart beat! it might be now
But there were too many around to protect Old Bets. The time would
come—she would watch for her—she would tear her heart from her yet.
The sons of the old hag did not leave the village; they would keep a
watch on their father and his Chippeway wife. They would not easily
yield their right to the chieftainship. While they hunted, and smoked,
and played at cards, they were ever on the look-out for revenge.
"Red Earth" sits by the door of her father's teepee; while the village
is alive with cheerfulness, she does not join in any of the amusements
going on, but seems to be occupied with what is passing in her own mind.
Occasionally she throws a pebble from the shore far into the river, and
the copper-colored children spring after it, as if the water were their
own element, striving to get it before it sinks from their view.
Had she been attentive to what is passing around her, she would not have
kept her seat, for "Shining Iron," the son of Good Road's second wife,
approaches her; and she loves him too little to talk with him when it
can be avoided.
"Why are you not helping the women to make the teepee, Red Earth?" said
the warrior. "They are laughing while they sew the buffalo-skin
together, and you are sitting silent and alone. Why is it so? Are you
thinking of 'Fiery Wind?'"
"There are enough women to make the teepee," replied Red Earth, "and I
sit alone because I choose to do so. But if I am thinking of 'Fiery
Wind' I do right—he is a great warrior!"
"Tell me if you love Fiery Wind?" said the young man, while his eyes
flashed fire, and the veins in his temple swelled almost to bursting.
"I do not love you," said the girl, "and that is enough. And you need
never think I will become your wife; your spells cannot make me love
you. [Footnote: The Sioux have great faith in spells. A lover will take
gum, and after putting some medicine in it, will induce the girl of his
choice to chew it, or put it in her way so that she will take it up of
her own accord. It is a long time before an Indian lover will take a
refusal from the woman he has chosen for a wife.] Where are Fiery Wind
and his relations? driven from the wigwam of the Chief by you and your
Chippeway mother. But they do not fear you—neither do I!"
And Red Earth looked calmly at the angry face of her lover. For Shining
Iron did love her, and he had loved her long. He had loaded her with
presents, which she always refused; he had related his honors, his brave
acts to her, but she turned a deaf ear to his words. He promised her he
would always have venison in her teepee, and that he never would take
another wife; she was the only woman he could ever love. But he might as
well have talked to the winds. And he thought so himself, for, finding
he could not gain the heart of the proud girl, he determined she should
never be the wife of any other man, and he told her so.
"You may marry Fiery Wind," said the angry lover, "but if you do, I will
Red Earth heard, but did not reply to his threats; she feared not for
herself, but she trembled at the prospect of danger to the man she
loved. And while she turned the bracelets on her small wrists, the
warrior left her to her own thoughts. They were far from being pleasant;
she must warn her lover of the threats of his rival. For a while she
almost determined she would not marry Fiery Wind, for then his life
would be safe; but she would not break her promise. Besides, it was hard
for her to destroy all the air-built castles which she had built for her
She knew Shining Iron's bravery, and she doubted not he would fulfil his
promise; for a moment prudence suggested that she had better marry him
to avoid his revenge. But she grasped the handle of her knife, as if she
would plunge it into her own bosom for harboring the dark thought. Never
should she be unfaithful; when Fiery Wind returned she would tell him
all, and then she would become his wife, and she felt that her own heart
was true enough to guard him, her own arm strong enough to slay
* * * * *
All women are wilful enough, but Dahcotah women are particularly so.
Slaves as they are to their husbands, they lord it over each other, and
it is only when they become grandmothers that they seem to feel their
dependence, and in many instances yield implicit obedience to the wills
of their grandchildren.
They take great delight in watching over and instructing their
children's children; giving them lessons in morality, [Footnote: The
idea is ridiculed by some, that an Indian mother troubles herself about
the morals of her children; but it is nevertheless true, that she talks
to them, and, according to her own ideas of right and wrong, tries to
instil good principles into their minds. The grandmothers take a great
deal of care of their grandchildren.] and worldly wisdom. Thus while Red
Earth was making her determination, her old grandmother belonging to the
village was acting upon hers.
This old woman was a perfect virago—an "embodied storm." In her time
she had cut off the hands and feet of some little Chippeway children,
and strung them, and worn them for a necklace. And she feasted yet at
the pleasant recollections this honorable exploit induced.
But so tender was she of the feelings of her own flesh and blood, that
the thought of their suffering the slightest pain was death to her.
Her son ruled his household very well for a Dahcotah. He had a number of
young warriors and hunters growing up around him, and he sometimes got
tired of their disturbances, and would use, not the rod but a stick of
wood to some purpose. Although it had the good effect of quelling the
refractory spirits of the young, it invariably fired the soul of his
aged mother. The old woman would cry and howl, and refuse to eat, for
days; till, finding this had no effect upon her hard-hearted son, she
told him she would do something that would make him sorry, the next time
he struck one of his children.
But the dutiful son paid no attention to her. He had always considered
women as being inferior to dogs, and he would as soon have thought of
giving up smoking, as of minding his mother's threats.
But while Red Earth was thinking of her absent lover, Two Stars was
beating his sons again—and when the maiden was left alone by Shining
Iron after the warning he had given her, she was attracted by the cries
of one of the old women of the village, who was struggling 'mid earth
and heaven, while old and young were running to the spot, some to render
assistance, others to see the fun.
And glorious fun it was! the grandmother had almost hung herself—that
is, she seriously intended to do it. But she evidently did not expect
the operation to be so painful. When her son, in defiance of her tears
and threats, commenced settling his household difficulties in his own
way she took her head-strap,[Footnote: The head-strap is made of buffalo
skin. It is from eight to ten, or sometimes twenty-four feet long. The
women fasten their heavy burdens to this strap, which goes around the
forehead; the weight of the burden falls upon the head and back. This
occasions the figures of the Indian women to stoop, since they
necessarily lean forward in order to preserve their balance.] went to a
hill just above the village, and deliberately made her preparations for
hanging, as coolly too as if she had been used to being hung for a long
time. But when, after having doubled the strap four times to prevent its
breaking, she found herself choking, her courage gave way—she yelled
frightfully; and it was well that her son and others ran so fast, for
they had well nigh been too late. As it was, they carried her into the
teepee, where the medicine man took charge of her case; and she was
quite well again in an hour or two. Report says (but there is a sad
amount of scandal in an Indian village) that the son has never offended
the mother since; so, like many a wilful woman, she has gained
Red Earth witnessed the cutting down of the old woman, and as she
returned to her teepee, her quick ear warned her of coming footsteps.
She lingered apart from the others, and soon she saw the eagle feathers
of her warrior as he descended the hill towards the village. Gladly
would she have gone to meet him to welcome him home, but she knew that
Shining Iron was watching her motions, and she bent her steps homeward.
She was quite sure that it would not be long before he would seek her,
and then she would tell him what had passed, and make arrangements for
their course of conduct for the future.
Fiery Wind was the nephew of Good Road, but he, like the sons, was in
disgrace with the chief, and, like them, he had vowed vengeance against
The gun is now generally used among the Dahcotahs as a weapon of
warfare. But those bands in the neighborhood of Fort Snelling considered
it as a necessary part of their war implements, before the distant bands
were at all acquainted with its use.
Some time ago, one of the Mun-da-wa-kan-tons gave a gun to a Sisse-ton,
who, proud of the gift, went out immediately to use it. On his return to
his village he came up with a drove of buffaloes. His first impulse was
to use his bow and arrow, but a moment's thought reminded him of the
gift of his friend. He loaded the gun, saying at the same time to it,
"Now, the Dahcotahs call you 'wah-kun' (supernatural), kill me the
fattest cow in the drove." He waited a few moments to see his orders
executed, but the gun was not "wah-kun" enough to fire by order alone.
Seeing that it did not go off, the Sisse-ton flew into a rage and broke
the gun into pieces. "I suppose," said he "that if a Mun-da-wah-can-ton
had told you to kill a buffalo, you would have done it, but you do not
regard what a Sisse-ton says." So he threw the pieces of the gun away,
and found his bow and arrows of far more service.
However naturally the usages of warfare may come to the Indians, they
are also made a part of their education.
The children are taught that it is wicked to murder without a cause;
but when offence has been given, they are in duty bound to retaliate.
The day after the return of Fiery Wind, the boys of the village were to
attack a hornet's nest. This is one of the ways of training their sons
to warfare. One of the old warriors had seen a hornet's nest in the
woods, and he returned to the village, and with the chief assembled all
the boys in the village. The chief ordered the boys to take off all
their clothes, and gave them each a gun. He then told them how brave
their forefathers were—that they never feared pain or danger—and that
they must prove themselves worthy sons of such ancestors. "One of these
days you will be men, and then you will go on war parties and kill your
enemies, and then you will be fit to join in the dog feast. Be brave,
and do not fear the sting of the hornet, for if you do, you will be
cowards instead of warriors, and the braves will call you women and
laugh at you."
This was enough to animate the courage of the boys—some of them not
more than five years old pushed ahead of their elder brothers, eager to
show to their fathers, who accompanied them, how little they feared
their enemies, as they termed the hornets. And formidable enemies they
were too—for many of the little fellows returned sadly stung, with
swollen limbs, and closed eyes; but they bore their wounds as well as
brave men would have endured their pain on a battle-field.
After leaving their village, they entered the woods farther from the
banks of the river. The guide who had seen the nest led the way, and the
miniature warriors trod as lightly as if there was danger of rousing a
sleeping foe. At last the old man pointed to the nest, and without a
moment's hesitation, the young Dahcotahs attacked it. Out flew the
hornets in every direction. Some of the little boys cried out with the
pain from the stings of the hornets on their unprotected limbs—but the
cries of Shame! shame! from one of the old men soon recalled them to
their duty, and they marched up again not a whit discomfited. Good Road
cheered them on. "Fight well, my warriors," said he; "you will carry
many scalps home, you are brave men."
It was not long before the nest was quite destroyed, and then the old
men said they must take a list of the killed and wounded. The boys
forced a loud laugh when they replied that there were no scalps taken by
the enemy, but they could not deny that the list of the wounded was
quite a long one. Some of them limped, in spite of their efforts to walk
upright, and one little fellow had to be assisted along by his father,
for both eyes were closed; and, although stung in every direction and
evidently suffering agony, the brave boy would not utter a complaint.
When they approached the village, the young warriors formed into Indian
file, and entered as triumphantly as their fathers would have done, had
they borne twenty Chippeway scalps with them.
The mothers first applauded the bravery of their sons; and then applied
herbs to their swollen limbs, and the mimic war furnished a subject of
amusement for the villages for the remainder of the day.
It would be well for the Dahcotahs if they only sought the lives of
their enemies. But they are wasting in numbers far more by their
internal dissensions than from other causes. Murder is so common among
them, that it is even less than a nine days' wonder; all that is thought
necessary is to bury the dead, and then some relative must avenge
Red Earth told her lover of the threat of Shining Iron, and the young
man was thus put on his guard. The sons of Good Road's first wife were
also told of the state of things, and they told Fiery Wind that they
would take up his quarrel, glad of an opportunity to avenge their own
and their mother's wrongs. It was in the month of April, or as the
Dahcotahs say in "the moon that geese lay," that Red Earth took her
place by the side of her husband, thus asserting her right to be
mistress of his wigwam. While she occupied herself with her many duties,
she never for a moment forgot the threat of Shining Iron. But her cares
and anxieties for her husband's safety were soon over. She had not long
been a wife before her enemy lay a corpse; his life was a forfeit to his
love for her, and Red Earth had a woman's heart. Although she could but
rejoice that the fears which had tormented her were now unnecessary, yet
when she remembered how devotedly the dead warrior had loved her, how
anxiously he had tried to please her, she could not but shed a few
tears of sorrow for his death. But they were soon wiped away—not for
the world would she have had her husband see them.
The oldest sons of Good Road were true to their word—and the son of Old
Bets was not the only subject for their vengeance. His sister was with
him at the moment that they chose to accomplish their purpose; and when
an Indian commences to shed blood, there is no knowing how soon he will
be satisfied. Shining Iron died instantly, but the sister's wounds were
not fatal—she is slowly recovering.
It was but yesterday that we visited the grave of the dead warrior. On a
hill near the St. Peters his body is buried. The Indians have enclosed
the grave, and there is a "Wah-kun stone," to which they sacrifice, at
his head. No one reposes near him. Alone he lies, undisturbed by aught
except the winds that sigh over him. The first flowers of Spring are
blooming on the spot where he played in childhood, and here, where he
reposes, he often sat to mourn the unkindness of Red Earth, and vow
vengeance on his successful rival.
But he is not unwatched. His spirit is ever near, and perhaps he will
again live on earth. [Footnote: The Sioux believe in the transmigration
of souls. Many of the Indians near Fort Snelling say they have lived
before on earth. The jugglers remember many incidents that occurred
during some former residence on earth, and they will tell them to you
with all the gravity imaginable.] His friends believe that he may hold
communion with Unk-ta-he,—that from that God he will learn the
mysteries of the Earth and Water; and when he lives again in another
form, he will instruct the Dahcotahs in their religion, and be a great
Good Road is quite reconciled to his sons, for he says it was a brave
deed to get rid of an enemy. In vain does Old Bets ask for vengeance on
the murderers. Good Road reminds her that Shining Iron had made a
threat, and it was not proper he should live; and the chief insisted
more upon this, when he added that these children of her's were by a
former husband, and it was natural his sons should resent their father's
preference for them.
So after all Old Bets doubts whether she, or the Chief's first wife, has
got the best of it; and as she dresses the wounds of her daughter, she
wishes that the Dahcotahs had killed her mother instead of adopting
her—lamenting, too, that she should ever have attained to the honor of
being Good Road's wife.
THE VIRGIN'S FEAST.
Never did the sun shine brighter than on a cold day in December, when
the Indians at "Little Crow's" village were preparing to go on a deer
hunt. The Mississippi was frozen, and the girls of the village had the
day before enjoyed one of their favorite amusements—a ball-play on the
ice. Those who owned the bright cloths and calicoes which were hung up
before their eyes, as an incentive to win the game, were still rejoicing
over their treasures; while the disappointed ones were looking sullen,
and muttering of partiality being shown to this one because she was
beautiful, and to that, because she was the sister of the chief.
"Look at my head!" said Harpstenah; "Wenona knew that I was the swiftest
runner in the band, and as I stooped to catch the ball she struck me a
blow that stunned me, so that I could not run again."
But the head was so ugly, and the face too, that there was no pity felt
for her; those dirty, wrinkled features bore witness to her contempt for
the cleansing qualities of water. Her uncombed hair was hanging in
masses about her ears and face, and her countenance expressed cruelty
and passion. But Harpstenah had nothing to avenge; when she was young
she was passed by, as there was nothing in her face or disposition that
could attract; and now in the winter of life she was so ugly and so
desolate, so cross and so forlorn, that no one deemed her worthy even of
a slight. But for all that, Harpstenah could hate, and with all the
intensity of her evil heart did she hate Wenona, the beautiful sister of
Yesterday had been as bright as to-day, and Grey Eagle, the medicine
man, had hung on a pole the prizes that were to be given to the party
that succeeded in throwing the ball into a space marked off.
The maidens of the village were all dressed in their gayest clothing,
with ornaments of beads, bracelets, rings, and ribbons in profusion.
They cared not half so much for the prizes, as they rejoiced at the
opportunity of displaying their graceful persons. The old women were
eager to commence the game, for they longed to possess the cloth for
their leggins, and the calico for their "okendokendas." [Footnote
"Okendokendas." This is the Sioux word for calico. It is used as the
name for a kind of short gown, which is worn by the Sioux women, made
generally of calico, sometimes of cloth.]
The women, young and old, were divided into two parties; but as one
party threw the ball towards the space marked off, the others threw it
back again far over their heads, and then all ran back, each party
endeavoring to reach it first, that they might succeed in placing the
ball in the position which was to decide the game.
But the ball is not thrown by the hand, each woman has a long stick with
a circular frame at the end of it; this they call a bat stick, and,
simple as it looks, it requires great skill to manage it.
Wenona was the swiftest runner of one party, and Harpstenah, old and
ugly as she was, the best of the other. How excited they are! the
snow-covered hills, majestic and silent, look coldly enough upon their
sport; but what care they? the prize will soon be won.
The old medicine man cheered them on. "Run fast, Wenona! take care that
Harpstenah does not win the game. Ho, Harpstenah! if you and your
leggins are old, you may have the cloth yet."
Now Wenona's party is getting on bravely, but the ball has been caught
and thrown back by the other party. But at last it is decided. In the
struggle for the ball, Harpstenah received a blow from an old squaw as
dismal looking as herself, and Wenona catches the ball and throws it
into the appointed place. The game is ended, and the medicine man comes
forward to distribute the prizes.
The warriors have looked on, admiring those who were beautiful and
graceful, and laughing at the ugly and awkward.
But Wenona cared little for the prizes. She was a chief's sister, and
she was young and beautiful. The handsomest presents were given her, and
she hardly looked at the portion of the prizes which fell to her lot.
Smarting with pain from the blow she had received, (and she spoke
falsely when she said Wenona had struck her,) stung with jealousy at the
other party having won the game, Harpstenah determined on revenge, "If I
am old," she said, "I will live long enough to bring misery on her; ugly
as I may be, I will humble the proud beauty. What do I eat? the
worthless heads of birds are given to the old woman for whom nobody
cares, but my food will be to see the eye of Wenona fall beneath the
laugh of scorn. I will revenge the wrongs of my life on her."
Commend me to a Dahcotah woman's revenge! Has she been slighted in love?
blood must be shed; and if she is not able to accomplish the death of
her rival, her own life will probably pay the forfeit. Has disgrace or
insult been heaped upon her? a life of eighty years is not long enough
to bring down vengeance on the offender. So with Harpstenah. Her life
had not been a blessing to herself—she would make it a curse to others.
In the preparations for the deer hunt, the ball-play has been forgotten.
The women are putting together what will be necessary for their comfort
during their absence, and the men are examining their guns and bows and
arrows. The young girls anticipate amusement and happiness, for they
will assist their lovers to bring in the deer to the camp; and the jest
and merry laugh, and the words of love are spoken too. The ball-play has
been forgotten by all but Harpstenah.
But it is late in the afternoon; and as they do not start till the
morning, something must be done to pass the long evening. "If this were
full," said a young hunter, kicking at the same time an empty keg that
had once contained whiskey, "if this were full, we would have a merry
night of it."
"Yes," said Grey Iron, whose age seemed to have brought him wisdom,
"the night would be merry, but where would you be the day after. Did you
not, after drinking that very whiskey, strike a white woman, for which
you were taken to the fort by the soldiers, and kept as a prisoner?"
The young man's look of mortification at this reproof did not save him
from the contemptuous sneer of his companions, for all despise the
Dahcotah who has thus been punished. No act of bravery can wipe away
But Wenona sat pale and sad in her brother's wigwam. The bright and
happy looks of yesterday were all gone. Her sister-in-law has hushed her
child to sleep, and she is resting from the fatigues of the day. Several
old men, friends of Little Crow's father, are sitting round the fire;
one has fallen asleep, while the others talk of the wonderful powers of
their sacred medicine.
"Why are you sad, Wenona," said the chief, turning to her; "why should
the eyes of a chief's sister be filled with tears, and her looks bent on
"You need not ask why I am not happy," said Wenona: "Red Cloud brought
presents to you yesterday; he laid them at the door of your wigwam. He
wants to buy me, and you have received his gifts; why do you not return
them? you know I do not love him."
"Red Cloud is a great warrior," replied the chief; "he wears many
feathers of honor; you must marry him."
The girl wrapped herself in her blanket and lay down. For a time her
sighs were heard—but at length sleep came to her relief, and her grief
was forgotten in dreams. But morn has come and they are to make an early
start. Was ever such confusion? Look at that old hag knocking the very
senses out of her daughter's head because she is not ready! and the
girl, in order to avoid the blows, stumbles over an unfortunate dog, who
commences a horrible barking and whining, tempting all the dogs of the
village to outbark and outwhine him.
There goes "White Buffalo" with his two wives, the first wife with the
teepee on her back and her child on the top of it. No wonder she looks
so cross, for the second wife walks leisurely on. Now is her time, but
let her beware! for White Buffalo is thinking seriously of taking
But they are all off at last. Mothers with children, and corn, and
teepees, and children with dogs on their backs. They are all gone, and
the village looks desolate and forsaken.
The party encamped about twenty miles from the village. The women plant
the poles of their teepees firmly in the ground and cover them with a
buffalo skin. A fire is soon made in the centre and the corn put on to
boil. Their bread is kneaded and put in the ashes to bake, but flour is
not very plenty among them.
The next day parties were out in every direction; tracks of deer were
seen in the snow, and the hunters followed them up. The beautiful animal
flies in terror from the death which comes surer and swifter than her
own light footsteps. The hunter's knife is soon upon her, and while
warmth and even life are left, the skin is drawn off.
After the fatigues of the day comes the long and pleasant evening. A
bright fire burned in the wigwam of the chief, and many of the Indians
were smoking around it, but Wenona was sad, and she took but little part
in the laughter and merriment of the others.
Red Cloud boasted of his bravery and his deeds of valor; even the old
men listened to him with respect, for they knew that his name was a
terror to his enemies. But Wenona turned from him! she hated to hear the
sound of his voice.
The old men talked of the mighty giant of the Dahcotahs, he who needed
not to take his gun to kill the game he wanted; the glance of his eye
would strike with death the deer, the buffalo, or even the bear.
The song, the jest, the legend, by turns occupied them until they
separated to sleep. But as the warriors stepped into the open air, why
does the light of the moon fall upon faces pale with terror? "See!" said
the chief, "how flash the mysterious lights! there is danger near, some
dreadful calamity is threatening us."
"We will shoot at them," said Red Cloud; "we will destroy their power."
And the Indians discharged their guns in quick succession towards the
northern horizon, which was brilliantly illuminated with the Aurora
Borealis; thus hoping to ward off coming danger.
The brother and sister were left alone at the door of the teepee. The
stern warrior's looks expressed superstitious terror, while the maiden's
face was calm and fearless. "Do you not fear the power of the woman who
sits in the north, Wenona? she shows those flashes of light to tell us
of coming evil."
"What should I fear," said Wenona; "I, who will soon join my mother, my
father, my sisters, in the land of spirits? Listen to my words, my
brother: there are but two of us; strife and disease have laid low the
brave, the good, the beautiful; we are the last of our family; you will
soon be alone.
"Before the leaves fell from the trees, as I sat on the banks of the
Mississippi, I saw the fairy of the water. The moon was rising, but it
was not yet bright enough for me to see her figure distinctly. But I
knew her voice; I had often heard it in my dreams. 'Wenona,' she said,
(and the waves were still that they might hear her words), 'Wenona, the
lands of the Dahcotah are green and beautiful—but there are fairer
prairies than those on earth. In that bright country the forest trees
are ever green, and the waves of the river flow on unchilled by the
breath of winter. You will not long be with the children of the earth.
Even now your sisters are calling you, and your mother is telling them
that a few more months will bring you to their side!'
"The words were true, my brother, but I knew not that your harshness
would hasten my going. You say that I shall marry Red Cloud; sooner will
I plunge my knife into my heart; sooner shall the waves of the
Mississippi roll over me. Brother, you will soon be alone!"
"Speak not such words, my sister," said the chief; "it shall be as you
will. I have not promised Red Cloud. I thought you would be happy if you
were his wife, and you shall not be forced to marry him. But why should
you think of death? you saw our braves as they shot at the lights in
the north. They have frightened them away. Look! they flash no more. Go
in, and sleep, and to-morrow I will tell Red Cloud that you love
And the cloudless moon shone on a happy face, and the bright stars,
seemed more bright as Wenona gazed upon them; but as she turned to enter
the wigwam, one star was seen falling in the heavens, and the light that
followed it was lost in the brightness of the others. And her dreams
were not happy, for the fairy of the water haunted them. "Even as that
star, Wenona, thou shalt pass from all that thou lovest on earth; but
weep not, thy course is upward!"
* * * * *
The hunters were so successful that they returned to their village soon.
The friends of Wenona rejoiced in her happy looks, but to Harpstenah
they were bitterness and gall. The angry countenance of Red Cloud found
an answering chord in her own heart.
"Ha!" said she to him, as he watched Wenona and her lover talking
together, "what has happened? Did you not say you would marry the
chief's sister—why then are you not with her? Red Cloud is a great
warrior, why should he be sad because Wenona loves him not? Are there
not maidens among the Dahcotahs more beautiful than she? She never loved
you; her brother, too, has treated you with contempt. Listen to my
words, Red Cloud; the Virgin's Feast is soon to be celebrated, and she
will enter the ring for the last time. When she comes forward, tell her
she is unworthy. Is she not a disgrace to the band? Has she not shamed a
brave warrior? Will you not be despised when another is preferred
The words of the tempter are in his ear—madness and hatred are in his
"I said I would take her life, but my revenge will be deeper. Wenona
would die rather than be disgraced." And as he spoke Harpstenah turned
to leave him, for she saw that the poison had entered his soul.
Among the Dahcotahs, women are not excluded from joining in their feasts
or dances; they dance the scalp dance while the men sit round and sing,
and they join in celebrating many of the customs of their tribe. But the
Virgin's Feast has reference to the women alone; its object is not to
celebrate the deeds of the warrior, but rather to put to the test the
virtue of the maiden.
Notice was given among the Indians that the Virgin's Feast was to be
celebrated at Little Crow's village; the time was mentioned, and all who
chose to attend were welcome to do so.
The feast was prepared in the neighborhood of the village. The boiled
corn and venison were put in wooden bowls, and the Indians sat round,
forming a ring. Those who were to partake of the feast were dressed in
their gayest apparel; their long hair plaited and falling over their
shoulders. Those who are conscious of error dare not approach the feast,
for it is a part of the ceremony that they shall be exposed by any one
present. Neither rank nor beauty must interpose to prevent the
punishment. Nay, sometimes the power of innocence and virtue itself is
not sufficient to guard the Dahcotah maiden from disgrace.
And was Wenona unworthy? The white snow that covered the hills was not
more pure than she. But Red Cloud cared not for that. She had refused to
be the light of his wigwam, and thus was he avenged.
Wenona advanced with the maidens of the village. Who can describe her
terror and dismay when Red Cloud advances and leads her from the sacred
ring? To whom shall the maiden turn for help? To her brother? his angry
countenance speaks not of comfort. Her friends? the smile of scorn is on
their lips. Her lover? he has left the feast.
Her determination is soon made; her form is seen as she flies to the
woods. Death is the refuge of the friendless and the wronged.
But as night came on the relatives of Wenona wondered that she did not
return. They sought her, and they found her lifeless body; the knife was
deep in her heart. She knew she was innocent, but what did that avail
her? She was accused by a warrior, and who would believe her if she
denied the charge?
And why condemn her that she deprived herself of life, which she deemed
worthless, when embittered by unmerited contempt. She knew not that God
has said, "Thou shall do no murder." The command had never sounded
in her ears.
She trusted to find a home in the House of Spirits—she may have found a
heaven in the mercy of God.
The fever of the following summer spared neither age nor youth, and Red
Cloud was its first victim. As the dying Harpstenah saw his body carried
out to be placed upon the scaffold—"He is dead," she cried, "and Wenona
was innocent! He hated her because she slighted him; I hated her because
she was happy. He had his revenge, and I mine; but Wenona was falsely
accused, and I told him to do it!" and the eyes were closed—the voice
was hushed in death.
Wenona was innocent; and when the Virgin's Feast shall be celebrated in
her native village again, how will the maidens tremble as they approach
the sacred ring! Can they forget the fate of their beautiful companion?
And when the breath of summer warms to life the prairie flowers—when
the long grass shall wave under the scaffold where repose the mortal
remains of the chief's sister—how often will the Dahcotah maidens draw
near to contrast the meanness, the treachery, the falsehood of Red
Cloud, with the constancy, devotion, and firmness of Wenona!
THE DAHCOTAH CONVERT.
"Tell me," said, Hiatu-we-noken-chah, or 'woman of the night,' "the
Great Spirit whom you have taught me to fear, why has he made the white
woman rich and happy, and the Dahcotah poor and miserable?" She spoke
with bitterness when she remembered the years of sorrow that had made up
the sum of her existence.
But how with the missionary's wife? had her life been one bright
dream—had her days been always full of gladness—her nights quiet and
free from care? Had she never longed for the time of repose, that
darkness might cover her as with a mantle—and when 'sleep forsook the
wretched,' did she not pray for the breaking of the day, that she might
again forget all in the performance of the duties of her station? Could
it be that the Creator had balanced the happiness of one portion of his
children against the wretchedness of the rest? Let her story answer.
Her home is now among the forests of the west. As a child she would
tremble when she heard of the savage whose only happiness was in
shedding the blood of his fellow creatures. The name of an "Indian" when
uttered by her nurse would check the boisterous gayety of the day or the
tedious restlessness of the night.
As she gathered flowers on the pleasant banks of the Sciota, would it
not have brought paleness to her cheek to have whispered her that not
many years would pass over her, before she would be far away from the
scenes of her youth?
And as she uttered the marriage vow, how little did she think that soon
would her broken spirit devote time, energies, life, to the good of
others; as an act of duty and, but for the faith of the Christian, of
despair. For several years she only wept with others when they sorrowed;
fair children followed her footsteps, and it was happiness to guide
their voices, as they, like the morning stars, sang together; or to
listen to their evening prayer as they folded their hands in childlike
devotion ere they slept.
And when the father returned from beside the bed of death, where his
skill could no longer alleviate the parting agonies of the sufferer: how
would he hasten to look upon the happy faces of his children, in order
to forget the scene he had just witnessed. But, man of God as he was,
there was not always peace in his soul; yet none could see that he had
cause for care. He was followed by the blessings of those who were ready
to perish. He essayed to make the sinner repent, and to turn the
thoughts of the dying to Him who suffered death on the cross.
But for months the voice of the Spirit spake to his heart; he could not
forget the words—"Go to the wretched Dahcotahs, their bodies are
suffering, and their souls, immortal like thine, are perishing. Soothe
their temporal cares, and more, tell them the triumphs of the
But it was hard to give up friends, and all the comforts with which he
was surrounded: to subject his wife to the hardships of a life in the
wilderness, to deprive his children of the advantages of education and
good influences, and instead—to show them life as it is with those who
know not God. But the voice said, "Remember the Dahcotahs." Vainly did
he struggle with the conflict of duty against inclination.
The time has come when the parents must weep for themselves. No longer
do the feet of their children tread among the flowers; fever has
paralyzed their strength, and vainly does the mother call upon the
child, whose eyes wander in delirium, who knows not her voice from a
stranger's. Nor does the Destroyer depart when one has sunk into a sleep
from which there is no awakening until the morn of the resurrection. He
claims another, and who shall resist that claim!
As the father looks upon the still forms of his children, as he sees the
compressed lips, the closed eyes of the beings who were but a few days
ago full of life and happiness, the iron enters his soul; but as the
Christian remembers who has afflicted him, his spirit rises above his
sorrow. Nor is there now any obstacle between him and the path of duty.
The one child that remains must be put in charge of those who will care
for her, and he will go where God directs.
But will the mother give up the last of her children? it matters not now
where she lives, but she must part with husband or child! Self has no
part in her schemes; secure in her trust in God she yields up her child
to her friend, and listens not to the suggestions of those who would
induce her to remain where she would still enjoy the comforts of life.
Nothing should separate her from her husband. "Entreat me not to leave
thee; where thou goest I will go, where thou diest I will die, and
there will I be buried."
And as the Dahcotah woman inquires of the justice of God, the faces of
her children rise up before her—first in health, with bright eyes and
lips parted with smiles, and then as she last saw them—their hands
white to transparency, the hue of death upon their features; the
shrouds, the little coffins, the cold lips, as she pressed them for the
The Dahcotah looked in astonishment at the grief which for a few moments
overcame the usual calmness of her kind friend; and as she wondered why,
like her, she should shed bitter tears, she heard herself thus
"Do not think that you alone have been unhappy. God afflicts all his
children. There is not a spot on the earth which is secure from sorrow.
Have I not told you why? This world is not your home or mine. Soon will
our bodies lie down in the earth—and we would forget this, if we were
"And you should not complain though your sorrows have been great. Do not
forget the crown of thorns which pressed the brow of the Saviour, the
cruel nails that pierced his hands and feet, the desertion of his
friends, his fear that God his Father had forsaken him. And remember
that after death the power of those who hated him ceased; the grave
received but could not keep his body. He rose from the dead, and went to
Heaven, where he has prepared a place for all who love him; for me and
mine, I trust, and for you too, if you are careful to please him by
serving him yourself, and by endeavoring to induce your friends to give
up their foolish and wicked superstitions, and to worship the true God
who made all things."
The Dahcotahs believe in the existence of a Great Spirit, but they have
very confused ideas of his attributes. Those who have lived near the
missionaries, say that the Great Spirit lived forever, but their own
minds would never have conceived such an idea. Some say that the Great
Spirit has a wife.
They say that this being created all things but thunder and wild rice;
and that he gave the earth and all animals to them, and that their
feasts and customs were the laws by which they are to be governed. But
they do not fear the anger of this deity after death.
Thunder is said to be a large bird; the name that they give to thunder
is the generic term for all animals that fly. Near the source of the St.
Peters is a place called Thunder-tracks—where the footprints of the
thunder-bird are seen in the rocks, twenty-five miles apart.
The Dahcotahs believe in an evil spirit as well as a good, but they do
not consider these spirits as opposed to each other; they do not think
that they are tempted to do wrong by this evil spirit; their own hearts
are bad. It would be impossible to put any limit to the number of
spirits in whom the Dahcotahs believe; every object in nature is full of
them. They attribute death as much to the power of these subordinate
spirits as to the Great Spirit; but most frequently they suppose death
to have been occasioned by a spell having been cast upon them by
The sun and moon are worshipped as emblems of their deity.
Sacrifice is a religious ceremony among them; but no missionary has yet
been able to find any reference to the one great Atonement made for sin;
none of their customs or traditions authorize any such connection. They
sacrifice to all the spirits; but they have a stone, painted red, which
they call Grandfather, and on or near this, they place their most
valuable articles, their buffalo robes, dogs, and even horses; and on
one occasion a father killed a child as a kind of sacrifice. They
frequently inflict severe bruises or cuts upon their bodies, thinking
thus to propitiate their gods.
The belief in an evil spirit is said by some not to be a part of the
religion of the Dahcotahs. They perhaps obtained this idea from the
whites. They have a far greater fear of the spirits of the dead,
especially those whom they have offended, than of Wahkon-tun-kah, the
* * * * *
One of the punishments they most dread is that of the body of an animal
entering theirs to make them sick. Some of the medicine men, the
priests, and the doctors of the Dahcotahs, seem to have an idea of the
immortality of the soul but intercourse with the whites may have
originated this. They know nothing of the resurrection.
They have no custom among them that indicates the belief that man's
heart should be holy. The faith in spirits, dreams, and charms, the fear
that some enemy, earthly or spiritual, may be secretly working their
destruction by a spell, is as much a part of their creed, as the
existence of the Great Spirit.
A good dream will raise their hopes of success in whatever they may be
undertaking to the highest pitch; a bad one will make them despair of
accomplishing it. Their religion is a superstition, including as few
elements of truth and reason as perhaps any other of which the
particulars are known. They worship they "know not what," and this from
the lowest motives.
When they go out to hunt, or on a war party, they pray to the Great
Spirit—"Father, help us to kill the buffalo." "Let us soon see
deer"—or, "Great Spirit help us to kill our enemies."
They have no hymns of praise to their Deity; they fast occasionally at
the time of their dances. When they dance in honor of the sun, they
refrain from eating for two days.
The Dahcotahs do not worship the work of their hands; but they consider
every object that the Great Spirit has made, from the highest mountain
to the smallest stone, as worthy of their idolatry.
They have a vague idea of a future state; many have dreamed of it. Some
of their medicine men pretend to have had revelations from bears and
other animals; and they thus learned that their future existence would
be but a continuation of this. They will go on long hunts and kill many
buffalo; bright fires will burn in their wigwams as they talk through
the long winter's night of the traditions of their ancients; their women
are to tan deer-skin for their mocassins, while their young children
learn to be brave warriors by attacking and destroying wasps' or
hornets' nests; they will celebrate the dog feast to show how brave they
are, and sing in triumph as they dance round the scalps of their
enemies. Such is the Heaven of the Dahcotahs! Almost every Indian has
the image of an animal or bird tattooed on his breast or arm, which can
charm away an evil spirit, or prevent his enemy from bringing trouble or
death upon him by a secret shot. The power of life rests with mortals,
especially with their medicine men; they believe that if an enemy be
shooting secretly at them, a spell or charm must be put in requisition
to counteract their power.
The medicine men or women, who are initiated into the secrets of their
wonderful medicines, (which secret is as sacred with them as
free-masonry is to its members) give the feast which they call the
Their medicine men, who profess to administer to the affairs of soul and
body are nothing more than jugglers, and are the worst men of the tribe:
yet from fear alone they claim the entire respect of the community.
There are numerous clans among the Dahcotahs each using a different
medicine, and no one knows what this medicine is but those who are
initiated into the mysteries of the medicine dance, whose celebration is
attended with the utmost ceremony.
A Dahcotah would die before he would divulge the secret of his clan. All
the different clans unite at the great medicine feast.
And from such errors as these must the Dahcotah turn if he would be a
Christian! And the heart of the missionary would faint within him at the
work which is before him, did he not remember who has said "Lo, I am
with you always!"
And it was long before the Indian woman could give up the creed of her
nation. The marks of the wounds in her face and arms will to the grave
bear witness of her belief in the faith of her fathers, which influenced
her in youth. Yet the subduing of her passions, the quiet performance of
her duties, the neatness of her person, and the order of her house, tell
of the influence of a better faith, which sanctifies the sorrows of this
life, and rejoices her with the hope of another and a better state of
But such instances are rare. These people have resisted as encroachments
upon their rights the efforts that have been made for their instruction.
Kindness and patience, however, have accomplished much, and during the
last year they have, in several instances, expressed a desire for the
aid and instructions of missionaries. They seem to wish them to live
among them; though formerly the lives of those who felt it their duty to
remain were in constant peril.
They depend more, too, upon what the ground yields them for food, and
have sought for assistance in ploughing it.
There are four schools sustained by the Dahcotah mission; in all there
are about one hundred and seventy children; the average attendance
The missionaries feel that they have accomplished something, and they
are encouraged to hope for still more. They have induced many of the
Dahcotahs to be more temperate; and although few, comparatively, attend
worship at the several stations, yet of those few some exhibit hopeful
signs of conversion.
There are five mission stations among the Dahcotahs; at "Lac qui parle,"
on the St. Peter's river, in sight of the beautiful lake from which the
station takes its name; at "Travers des Sioux" about eighty miles from
Fort Snelling; at Xapedun, Oak-grove, and Kapoja, the last three being
within a few miles of Fort Snelling.
There are many who think that the efforts of those engaged in
instructing the Dahcotahs are thrown away. They cannot conceive why men
of education, talent, and piety, should waste their time and attainments
upon a people who cannot appreciate their efforts. If the missionaries
reasoned on worldly principles, they would doubtless think so too; but
they devote the energies of soul and body to Him who made them for His
They are pioneers in religion; they show the path that others will walk
in far more easily at some future day; they undertake what others will
carry on,—what God himself will accomplish. They have willingly given
up the advantages of this life, to preach the gospel to the degraded
Dahcotahs. They are translating the Bible into Sioux; many of the books
are translated, and to their exertions it is owing that the praise of
God has been sung by the children of the forest in their own language.
However absurd may be the religion of the Dahcotahs, they are zealous in
their devotion to it. Nothing is allowed to interfere with it. Are their
women planting corn, which is to be in a great measure depended upon for
food during the next winter? whatever be the consequences, they stop to
celebrate a dance or a feast, either of which is a part of their
religion. How many Christians satisfy their consciences by devoting one
day of the week to God, feeling themselves thus justified in devoting
the other six entirely to the world! But it is altogether different with
the Dahcotahs, every act of their life is influenced by their religion,
such as it is.
They believe they are a great people, that their country is unrivalled
in beauty, their religion without fault. Many of the Dahcotahs, now
living near Fort Snelling, say that they have lived on the earth before
in some region far distant, that they died, and for a time their spirits
wandered through the world seeking the most beautiful and delightful
country to live in, and that after examining all parts of, the earth
they fixed upon the country of the Dahcotahs.
In fact, dreams, spells and superstitious fears, constitute a large part
of the belief of the Dahcotahs. But of all their superstitious notions
the most curious is the one which occasions the dance called
Ho-saw-kah-u-tap-pe, or Fish dance, where the fish is eaten raw.
Some days since, an Indian who lives at Shah-co-pee's village dreamed of
seeing a cormorant, a bird which feeds on fish. He was very much
alarmed, and directed his friend to go out and catch a fish, and to
bring the first one he caught to him.
The Indian did so, and the fish, which was a large pike, was painted
with blue clay. Preparations were immediately made to celebrate the Fish
dance, in order to ward off any danger of which the dream might have
been the omen.
A circle was formed of brush, on one side of which the Indians pitched
a wigwam. The war implements were then brought inside the ring, and a
pole stuck up in the centre, with the raw fish, painted blue, hung
The men then enter the ring, almost naked; their bodies painted black,
excepting the breast and arms, which are varied in color according to
the fancy of each individual.
Inside the ring is a bush for each dancer; in each bush a nest, made to
resemble a cormorant's nest; and outside the ring is an Indian
metamorphosed for the occasion into a wolf—that is, he has the skin of
a wolf drawn over him, and hoops fixed to his hands to enable him to run
easier on all fours; and in order to sustain the character which he has
assumed, he remains outside, lurking about for food.
All being ready, the medicine men inside the wigwam commence beating a
drum and singing. This is the signal for all the cormorants (Indians),
inside the ring, to commence quacking and dancing and using their arms
in imitation of wings, keeping up a continual flapping. Thus for some
time they dance up to and around the fish—when the bravest among them
will snap at the fish, and if he have good teeth will probably bite off
a piece, if not, he will slip his hold and flap off again.
Another will try his luck at this delicious food, and so they continue,
until they have made a beginning in the way of eating the fish. Then
each cormorant flaps up and takes a bite, and then flaps off to his
nest, in which the piece of fish is concealed, for fear the wolves
may get it.
After a while, the wolf is seen emerging from his retreat, painted so
hideously as to frighten away the Indian children. The cormorants
perceive the approach of the wolf, and a general quacking and flapping
takes place, each one rushing to his nest to secure his food.
This food each cormorant seizes and tries to swallow, flapping his wings
and stretching out his neck as a young bird will when fed by its mother.
After the most strenuous exertions they succeed in swallowing the raw
fish. While this is going on, the wolf seizes the opportunity to make a
snap at the remainder of the fish, seizes it with his teeth, and makes
his way out of the ring, as fast as he can, on all fours. The whole of
the fish, bones and all, must be swallowed; not the smallest portion of
it can be left, and the fish must only be touched by the mouth—never
with the hands. This dance is performed by the men alone—their war
implements must be sacred from the touch of women.
Such scenes are witnessed every day at the Dahcotah villages. The
missionary sighs as he sees how determined is their belief in such a
religion. Is it not a source of rejoicing to be the means of turning one
fellow-creature from a faith like this?
A few years ago and every Dahcotah woman reverenced the fish-dance as
holy and sacred—even too sacred for her to take a part in it. She
believed the medicine women could foretell future events; and, with an
injustice hardly to be accounted for, she would tell you it was lawful
to beat a girl as much as you chose, but a sin to strike a boy!
She gloried in dancing the scalp dance—aye, even exulted at the idea of
taking the life of an enemy herself.
But there are instances in which these things are all laid aside beneath
the light of Christianity; instances in which the poor Dahcotah woman
sees the folly, the wickedness of her former faith; blesses God who
inclined the missionary to leave his home and take up his abode in the
country of the savage; and sings to the praise of God in her own tongue
as she sits by the door of her wigwam. She smiles as she tells you that
her "face is dark, but that she hopes her heart has been changed; and
that she will one day sing in heaven, where the voices of the white
people and of the converted Dahcotahs, will mingle in a song of love to
Him 'who died for the whole world.'"
Wabashaw, (or The Leaf,) is the name of one of the Dahcotah Chiefs. His
village is on the Mississippi river, 1,800 miles from its mouth.
The teepees are pitched quite near the shore, and the many bluffs that
rise behind them seem to be their perpetual guards.
The present chief is about thirty-five years old—as yet he has done not
much to give him a reputation above the Dahcotahs about him. But his
father was a man whose life and character were such as to influence his
people to a great degree.
Wabashaw the elder, (for the son inherits his father's name,) is said by
the Dahcotahs to have been the first chief in their tribe.
Many years ago the English claimed authority over the Dahcotahs, and an
English traveller having been murdered by some Dahcotahs of the band of
which Wabashaw was a warrior, the English claimed hostages to be given
up until the murderer could be found.
The affairs of the nation were settled then by men who, having more mind
than the others, naturally influenced their inferiors. Their bravest
men, their war chief too, no doubt exercised a control over the rest.
Wabashaw was one of the hostages given up in consequence of the murder,
and the Governor of Canada required that these Dahcotahs should leave
the forests of the west, and remain for a time as prisoners in Canada.
Little as is the regard for the feelings of the savage now, there was
still less then.
Wabashaw often spoke of the ill treatment he received on his journey. It
was bad enough to be a prisoner, and to be leaving home; it was far
worse to be struck, for the amusement of idle men and children—to have
the war eagle's feather rudely torn from his head to be trampled
upon—to have the ornaments, even the pipes of the nation, taken away,
and destroyed before his eyes.
But such insults often occurred during their journey, and the prisoners
were even fettered when at last they reached Quebec.
Here for a long time they sighed to breathe the invigorating air of the
prairies; to chase the buffalo; to celebrate the war dance. But when
should they join again in the ceremonies of their tribe? When? Alas!
they could not even ask their jailer when; or if they had, he would only
have laughed at the strange dialect that he could not comprehend. But
the Dahcotahs bore with patience their unmerited confinement, and
Wabashaw excelled them all. His eye was not as bright as when he left
home, and there was an unusual weakness in his limbs—but never should
his enemies know that he suffered. And when those high in authority
visited the prisoners, the haughty dignity of Wabashaw made them feel
that the Dahcotah warrior was a man to be respected.
But freedom came at last. The murderers were given up; and an
interpreter in the prison told Wabashaw that he was no longer a
prisoner; that he would soon again see the Father of many waters; and
that more, he had been made by the English a chief, the first chief of
It was well nigh too late for Wabashaw. His limbs were thin, and his
strength had failed for want of the fresh air of his native hills.
Little did the prisoners care to look around as they retraced their
steps. They knew they were going home. But when the waters of the
Mississippi again shone before them, when the well-known bluffs met
their eager gaze; when the bending river gave to view their native
village, then, indeed, did the new-made chief cast around him the "quiet
of a loving eye." Then, too, did he realize what he had suffered.
He strained his sight—for perhaps his wife might have wearied of
waiting for him—perhaps she had gone to the Land of spirits, hoping to
meet him there.
His children too—the young warriors, who were wont to follow him and
listen to his voice, would they welcome him home?
As he approached the village a cloud had come between him and the sun.
He could see many upon the shore, but who were they? The canoe swept
over the waters, keeping time to the thoughts of those who were
wanderers no longer.
As they neared the shore, the cloud passed away and the brightness of
the setting sun revealed the faces of their friends; their cries of joy
rent the air—to the husband, the son, the brother, they spoke a
Wabashaw, by the command of the English Governor, was acknowledged by
the Dahcotahs their first chief; and his influence was unbounded. Every
band has a chief, and the honor descends from father to son; but there
has never been one more honored and respected than Wabashaw.
Wabashaw's village is sometimes called Keusca. This word signifies to
break through, or set aside; it was given in consequence of an incident
which occurred some time ago, in the village.
"Sacred Wind" was a daughter of one of the most powerful families among
the Dahcotahs; for although a chief lives as the meanest of his band,
still there is a great difference among the families. The number of a
family constitutes its importance; where a family is small, a member of
it can be injured with little fear of retaliation; but in a large family
there are sure to be found some who will not let an insult pass without
revenge. Sacred Wind's father was living; a stalwart old warrior,
slightly bent with the weight of years. Though his face was literally
seamed with wrinkles, he could endure fatigue, or face danger, with the
youngest and hardiest of the band.
Her mother, a fearfully ugly old creature, still mended mocassins and
scolded; bidding fair to keep up both trades for years to come. Then
there were tall brothers, braving hardships and danger, as if a Dahcotah
was only born to be scalped, or to scalp; uncles, cousins, too, there
were, in abundance, so that Sacred Wind did belong to a powerful family.
Now, among the Dahcotahs, a cousin is looked upon as a brother; a girl
would as soon think of marrying her grandfather, as a cousin. I mean an
ordinary girl, but Sacred Wind was not of that stamp; she was destined
to be a heroine. She had many lovers, who wore themselves out playing
the flute, to as little purpose as they braided their hair, and painted
their faces. Sacred Wind did not love one of them.
Her mother, was always trying to induce her to accept some one of her
lovers, urging the advantages of each match; but it would not do. The
girl was eighteen years old, and not yet a wife; though most of the
Dahcotah women are mothers long before that.
Her friends could not imagine why she did not marry. They were wearied
with arguing with her; but not one of them ever suspected the cause of
her seeming coldness of heart.
Her grandmother was particularly officious. She could not do as Sacred
Wind wished her,—attend to her own affairs, for she had none to attend
to; and grandmothers, among the Sioux, are as loving and devoted as they
are among white people; consequently, the old lady beset the unfortunate
girl, day and night, about her obstinacy.
"Why are you not now the mother of warriors," she said, "and besides,
who will kill game for you when you are old? The 'Bear,' has been to the
traders; he has bought many things, which he offers your parents for
you; marry him and then you will make your old grandmother happy."
"I will kill myself," she replied, "if you ask me to marry the Bear.
Have you forgotten the Maiden's rock? I There are more high rocks than
one on the banks of the Mississippi, and my heart is as strong as
Wenona's. If you torment me so, to marry the Bear, I will do as she
did—in the house of spirits I shall have no more trouble."
This threat silenced the grandmother for the time. But a young girl who
had been sitting with them, and listening to the conversation, rose to
go out; and as she passed Sacred Wind, she whispered in her ear, "Tell
her why you will not marry the Bear; tell her that Sacred Wind loves her
cousin; and that last night she promised him she never would marry any
one but him."
Had she been struck to the earth she could not have been paler. She
thought her secret was hid in her own heart. She had tried to cease
thinking of "The Shield;" keeping away from him, dreading to find true
what she only suspected. She did not dare acknowledge even to herself
that she loved a cousin.
But when the Shield gave her his handsomest trinkets; when he followed
her when she left her laughing and noisy companions to sit beside the
still waters—when he told her that she was the most beautiful girl
among the Dahcotahs—when he whispered her that he loved her dearly;
and would marry her in spite of mothers, grandmothers, customs and
religion too—then she found that her cousin was dearer to her than all
the world—that she would gladly die with him—she could never live
But still, she would not promise to marry him. What would her friends
say? and the spirits of the dead would torment her, for infringing upon
the sacred customs of her tribe. The Shield used many arguments, but all
in vain. She told him she was afraid to marry him, but that she would
never marry any one else. Sooner should the waves cease to beat against
the shores of the spirit lakes, than she forget to think of him.
But this did not satisfy her cousin. He was determined she should be his
wife; he trusted to time and his irresistible person to overcome
The Shield's name was given to him by his father's friends. Shields were
formerly used by the Sioux; and the Eyanktons and Sissetons still use
them. They are made of buffalo skin, of a circular form; and are used as
a protection against the arrows of their enemies.
"You need not fear your family, Sacred Wind," said her cousin, "nor the
medicine men, nor the spirits of the dead. We will go to one of the
villages, and when we are married, we will come back. Let them be angry,
I will stand between you and them, even as my father's shield did
between him and the foe that sought his life."
But she was firm, and promised nothing more than that she would not
marry the Bear, or any one else; and they returned to her father's
teepee, little thinking that any one had overheard their conversation.
But the "Swan" had heard every word of it.
She loved the Shield, and she had seen him follow his cousin. After
hearing enough to know that her case was a hopeless one, she made up
her mind to make Sacred Wind pay dearly for the love which she herself
could not obtain.
She did not at once tell the news. She wanted to amuse herself with her
victim before she destroyed her; and she had hardly yet made up her mind
as to the way which she would take to inform the family of Sacred Wind
of the secret she had found out.
But she could not resist the temptation of whispering to Sacred Wind her
knowledge of the true reason why she would not marry the Bear. This was
the first blow, and it struck to the heart; it made a wound which was
long kept open by the watchful eye of jealousy.
The grandmother, however, did not hear the remark; if she had she would
not have sat still smoking—not she! she would have trembled with rage
that a Dahcotah maiden, and her grandchild, should be guilty of the
enormous crime of loving a cousin. An eruption of Vesuvius would have
given but a faint idea of her fury.
Most fortunately for herself, the venerable old medicine woman died a
few days after. Had she lived to know of the fatal passion of her
granddaughter, she would have longed to seize the thunderbolts of
Jupiter (if she had been aware of their existence) to hurl at the
offenders; or like Niobe, have wept herself to stone.
Indeed the cause of her death showed that she could not bear
There was a war party formed to attack the Chippeways, and the "Eagle
that Screams as she Flies," (for that was the name of Sacred Wind's
grandmother) wanted to go along.
She wished to mutilate the bodies after they were scalped. Yes, though
near ninety years old, she would go through all the fatigues of a march
of three hundred miles, and think it nothing, if she could be repaid by
tearing the heart from one Chippeway child.
There were, however, two old squaws who had applied first, and the
Screaming Eagle was rejected.
There were no bounds to her passion. She attempted to hang herself and
was cut down; she made the village resound with her lamentations; she
called upon all the spirits of the lakes, rivers, and prairies, to
torment the war party; nothing would pacify her. Two days after the war
party left, the Eagle that Screams as she Flies expired, in a fit
When the war-party returned, the Shield was the observed of all
observers; he had taken two scalps.
Sacred Wind sighed to think he was her cousin. How could she help loving
the warrior who had returned the bravest in the battle?
The Swan saw that she loved in vain. She knew that she loved the Shield
more in absence; why then hope that he would forget Sacred Wind when he
saw her no more?
When she saw him enter the village, her heart beat fast with emotion;
she pressed her hand upon it, but could not still its tumult. "He has
come," she said to herself, "but will his eye seek mine? will he tell
me that the time has been long since he saw me woman he loved?"
She follows his footsteps—she watches his every glance, as he meets his
relations. Alas! for the Swan, the wounded bird feels not so acutely the
arrow that pierces, as she that look of recognition between the cousins!
But the unhappy girl was roused from a sense of her griefs, to a
recollection of her wrongs. With all the impetuosity of a loving heart,
she thought she had a right to the affections of the Shield. As the
water reflected her features, so should his heart give back the devoted
love of hers.
But while she lived, she was determined to bring sorrow upon her rival;
she would not "sing in dying." That very evening did she repeat to the
family of Sacred Wind the conversation she had overheard, adding that
the love of the cousins was the true cause of Sacred Wind's refusing
Time would fail me to tell of the consequent sufferings of Sacred Wind.
She was scolded and watched, shamed, and even beaten. The medicine men
threatened her with all their powers; no punishment was severe enough
for the Dahcotah who would thus transgress the laws of their nation.
The Shield was proof against the machinations of his enemies, for he was
a medicine man, and could counteract all the spells that were exerted
against him. Sacred Wind bore everything in patience but the sight of
the Bear. She had been bought and sold, over and over again; and the
fear of her killing herself was the only reason why her friends did not
force her to marry.
One evening she was missing, and the cries of her mother broke upon the
silence of night; canoes were flying across the water; friends were
wandering in the woods, all seeking the body of the girl.
But she was not to be found in the river, or in the woods. Sacred Wind
was not dead, she was only married.
She was safe in the next village, telling the Shield how much she loved
him, and how cordially she hated the Bear; and although she trembled
when she spoke of the medicine men, her husband only laughed at her
fears, telling her, that now that she was his wife, she need
But where was the Swan? Her friends were assisting, in the search for
Sacred Wind. The father had forgotten his child, the brother his sister.
And the mother, who would have first missed her, had gone long ago, to
the land of spirits.
The Swan had known of the flight of the lovers—she watched them as
their canoe passed away, until it became a speck in the distance, and in
another moment the waters closed over her.
Thus were strangely blended marriage and death. The Swan feared not to
take her own life. Sacred Wind, with a nobler courage, a more devoted
love, broke through the customs of her nation, laid aside the
superstitions of the tribe, and has thus identified her courage with the
name of her native village.
"THE DAHCOTAH BRIDE."
The valley of the Upper Mississippi presents many attractions to the
reflecting mind, apart from the admiration excited by its natural
beauty. It is at once an old country and a new—the home of a people who
are rapidly passing away—and of a nation whose strength is ever
advancing. The white man treads upon the footsteps of the Dahcotah—the
war dance of the warrior gives place to the march of civilization—and
the saw-mill is heard where but a few years ago were sung the deeds of
the Dahcotah braves.
Years ago, the Dahcotah hunted where the Mississippi takes its rise—the
tribe claiming the country as far south as St. Louis. But difficulties
with the neighboring tribes have diminished their numbers and driven
them farther north and west; the white people have needed their lands,
and their course is onward. How will it end? Will this powerful tribe
cease to be a nation on the earth? Will their mysterious origin never be
ascertained? And must their religion and superstitions, their customs
and feasts pass away from memory as if they had never been?
Who can look upon them without interest? hardly the philosopher—surely
not the Christian. The image of God is defaced in the hearts of the
savage. Cain-like does the child of the forest put forth his hand and
stain it with a brother's blood. But are there no deeds of darkness done
in our own favored land?
But the country of the Dahcotah,—let it be new to those who fly at the
beckon of gain—who would speculate in the blood of their
fellow-creatures, who for gold would, aye do, sell their own souls,—it
is an old country to me. What say the boundless prairies? how many
generations have roamed over them? when did the buffalo first yield to
the arrow of the hunter? And look at the worn bases of the rocks that
are washed by the Father of waters. Hear the Dahcotah maiden as she
tells of the lover's leap—and the warrior as he boasts of the victories
of his forefathers over his enemies, long, long before the hated white
man had intruded upon their lands, or taught them the fatal secret of
The Dahcotahs feel their own weakness—they know they cannot contend
with the power of the white man. Yet there are times when the passion
and vehemence of the warriors in the neighborhood of Fort Snelling can
hardly be brought to yield to the necessity of control; and were there a
possibility of success, how soon would the pipe of peace be thrown
aside, and the yell and whoop of war be heard instead! And who would
blame them? Has not the blood of our bravest and best been poured out
like water for a small portion of a country—when the whole could never
make up for the loss sustained by one desolate widow or
The sky was without a cloud when the sun rose on the Mississippi. The
morning mists passed slowly away as if they loved to linger round the
hills. Pilot Knob rose above them, proud to be the burial place of her
warrior children, while on the opposite side of the Mine Soto [Footnote:
Mine Soto, or Whitish Water, the name that the Sioux give to the St.
Peter's River. The mud or clay in the water has a whitish look.] the
frowning walls of Fort Snelling; told of the power of their enemies. Not
a breath disturbed the repose of nature, till the voice of the song
birds rose in harmony singing the praise of the Creator.
But a few hours have passed away, and how changed the scene. Numbers of
canoes are seen rapidly passing over the waters, and the angry savages
that spring from them as hastily ascending the hill. From the gates of
the fort, hundreds of Indians are seen collecting from every direction,
and all approaching the house of the interpreter. We will follow them.
Few have witnessed so wild a scene. The house of the interpreter
employed by government is near the fort, and all around it were
assembled the excited Indians. In front of the house is a piazza, and on
it lay the body of a young Dahcotah; his black hair plaited, and falling
over his swarthy face. The closed eye and compressed lips proclaimed the
presence of death. Life had but recently yielded to the sway of the
stern conqueror. A few hours ago Beloved Hail had eaten and drank on the
very spot where his body now reposed.
Bending over his head is his wife; tears fall like rain from her eyes;
and as grief has again overcome her efforts at composure, see how she
plunges her knife into her arm: and as the warm blood flows from the
wound calls upon the husband of her youth!
"My son! my son!" bursts from the lips of his aged mother, who weeps at
his feet; while her bleeding limbs bear witness to the wounds which she
had inflicted upon herself in the agony of her soul. Nor are these the
only mourners. A crowd of friends are weeping round his body. But the
mother has turned to the warriors as they press through the crowd; tears
enough have been shed, it is time to think of revenge. "Look at your
friend," she says, "look how heavily lies the strong arm, and see, he is
still, though his wife and aged mother call upon him. Who has done this?
who has killed the brave warrior? bring me the murderer, that I may cut
him on pieces."
It needed not to call upon the warriors who stood around. They were
excited enough. Bad Hail stood near, his eyes bloodshot with rage, his
lip quivering, and every trembling limb telling of the tempest within.
Shah-co-pee, the orator of the Dahcotahs, and "The Nest," their most
famous hunter; the tall form of the aged chief "Man in the cloud" leaned
against the railing, his sober countenance strangely contrasting with
the fiend-like look of his wife; Grey Iron and Little Hill, with brave
after brave, all crying vengeance to the foe, death to the Chippeway!
But yesterday the Dahcotahs and Chippeways, foes from time immemorial,
feasted and danced together, for there was peace between them. They had
promised to bury the hatchet; the Chippeways danced near the fort, and
the Dahcotahs presented them with blankets and pipes, guns and powder,
and all that the savage deems valuable. Afterwards, the Dahcotahs
danced, and the generous Chippeways exceeded them in the number and
value of their gifts. As evening approached, the bands mingled their
amusements—together they contended in the foot-race, or, stretching
themselves upon the grass, played at checkers.
The Chippeways had paid their annual visit of friendship at Fort
Snelling, and, having spent their time happily, they were about to
return to their homes. Their wise men said they rejoiced that nothing
had occurred to disturb the harmony of the two tribes. But their
vicinity to the Fort prevented any outbreak; had there been no such
restraint upon their actions, each would have sought the life of his
"Hole in the Day" was the chief of the Chippeways. He owed his station
to his own merit; his bravery and firmness had won the respect and
admiration of the tribe when he was but a warrior, and they exalted him
to the honor of being their chief. Deeds of blood marked his course, yet
were his manners gentle and his voice low. There was a dignity and a
courtesy about his every action that would have well befitted
He watched with interest the trials of strength between the young men of
his own tribe and the Dahcotahs. When the latter celebrated one of their
national feasts, when they ate the heart of the dog while it was warm
with life, just torn from the animal, with what contempt did he gaze
[Illustration: FALLS OF ST. ANTHONY.]
The amusements of the dog feast, or dance, have closed, and the
Chippeway chief has signified to his warriors that they were to return
home on the following day. He expressed a wish to see several of the
chiefs of the Dahcotahs, and a meeting having been obtained, he thus
"Warriors! it has been the wish of our great father that we should be
friends; blood enough has been shed on both sides. But even if we
preferred to continue at war, we must do as our great father says. The
Indian's glory is passing away; they are as the setting sun; while the
white man is as the sun rising in all his power. We are the falling
leaves; the whites are the powerful horses that trample them under foot.
We are about to return home, and it is well that nothing has happened to
occasion strife between us. But I wish you to know that there are two
young men among us who do not belong to my band. They are pillagers,
belonging to another band, and they may be troublesome. I wish you to
tell your young men of this, that they may be on their guard."
After smoking together, the chiefs separated. "Hole in the Day" having
thus done all that he deemed proper, returned with his warriors to
Early in the morning the Chippeways encamped near St. Anthony's falls;
the women took upon themselves all the fatigue and labor of the journey,
the men carrying only the implements of war and hunting. The Chippeway
chief was the husband of three wives, who were sisters; and, strange to
say, when an Indian fancies more than one wife, he is fortunate if he
can obtain sisters, for they generally live in harmony, while wives who
are not related are constantly quarreling; and the husband does not
often interfere, even if words are changed to blows.
In the mean time, the two pillagers were lurking about; now remaining a
short time with the camp of the Chippeways, now absenting themselves for
a day or two. But while the Chippeways were preparing to leave the
Falls, the pillagers were in the neighborhood of Fort Snelling. They had
accompanied Hole in the Day's band, with the determination of killing an
enemy. The ancient feud still rankled in their hearts; as yet they had
had no opportunity of satisfying their thirst for blood; but on this
morning they were concealed in the bushes, when Red Boy and Beloved
Hail, two Dahcotahs, were passing on horseback. It was but a moment—and
the deed was done. Both the Chippeways fired, and Beloved Hail fell.
Red Boy was wounded, but not badly; he hurried in to tell the sad news,
and the two Chippeways were soon out of the power of their enemies. They
fled, it is supposed, to Missouri.
The friends of the dead warrior immediately sought his body, and brought
it to the house of the interpreter. There his friends came together; and
as they entered one by one, on every side pressing, forward to see the
still, calm, features of the young man; they threw on the body their
blankets, and other presents, according to their custom of honoring
Troops are kept at Fort Snelling, not only as a protection to the whites
in the neighborhood, but to prevent, if possible, difficulties between
the different bands of Indians; and as every year brings the Chippeways
to Fort Snelling, either to transact business with the government or on
a visit of pleasure, the Chippeways and Dahcotahs must be frequently
thrown together. The commanding officer of the garrison notifies the two
bands, on such occasions, that no hostilities will be permitted; so
there is rarely an occurrence to disturb their peace.
But now it is impossible to restrain the excited passions of the
Dahcotahs. Capt. B——; who was then in command at Fort Snelling, sent
word to the Chippeway chief of the murder that had been committed, and
requested him to bring all his men in, as the murderer must be given up.
But this did not satisfy the Dahcotahs; they longed to raise the
tomahawk which they held in their hands. They refused to wait, but
insisted upon following the Chippeways and revenging themselves; the
arguments of the agent and other friends of the Dahcotahs were
unavailing; nothing would satisfy them but blood, The eyes, even of the
women, sparkled with delight, at the prospect of the scalps they would
dance round; while the mother of Beloved Hail was heard to call for the
scalp of the murderer of her son!
Seeing the chiefs determined on war, Capt. B—— told them he would
cease to endeavor to change their intentions; "but as soon" said he, "as
you attack the Chippeways, will I send the soldiers to your villages;
and who will protect your wives and children?"
This had the desired effect, and the warriors, seeing the necessity of
waiting for the arrival of the Chippeways, became more calm.
Hole in the Day with his men came immediately to the Fort, where a
conference was held at the gate. There were assembled about three
hundred Dahcotahs and seventy Chippeways, with the officers of the
garrison and the Indian agent.
It was ascertained that the murder had been committed by the two
pillagers, for none of the other Chippeway warriors had been absent
from the camp. Hole in the Day, however, gave up two of his men, as
hostages to be kept at Fort Snelling until the murderers should be
The Dahcotahs, being obliged for the time to defer the hope of revenge,
returned to their village to bury their dead.
We rarely consider the Indian as a member of a family—we associate him
with the tomahawk and scalping-knife. But the very strangeness of the
customs of the Dahcotahs adds to their interest; and in their mourning
they have all the horror of death without an attendant solemnity.
All the agony and grief that a Christian mother feels when she looks for
the last time at the form which will so soon moulder in the dust, an
Indian mother feels also. The Christian knows that the body will live
again; that the life-giving breath of the Eternal will once more
re-animate the helpless clay; that the eyes which were brilliant and
beautiful in life will again look brightly from the now closed
lids—when the dead shall live—when the beloved child shall
The Dahcotah woman has no such hope. Though she believes that the soul
will live forever in the "city of spirits," yet the infant she has
nursed at her bosom, the child she loved and tended, the young man whose
strength and beauty were her boast, will soon be ashes and dust.
And if she have not the hope of the Christian, neither has she the
spirit. For as she cuts off her hair and tears her clothes, throwing
them under the scaffold, what joy would it bring to her heart could she
hope herself to take the life of the murderer of her son.
Beloved Hail was borne by the Indians to his native village, and the
usual ceremonies attending the dead performed, but with more than usual
excitement, occasioned by the circumstances of the death of
The body of a dead Dahcotah is wrapped in cloth or calico, or sometimes
put in a box, if one can be obtained, and placed upon a scaffold raised
a few feet from the ground. All the relations of the deceased then sit
round it for about twenty-four hours; they tear their clothes; run
knives through the fleshy parts of their arms, but there is no sacrifice
which they can make so great as cutting off their hair.
The men go in mourning by painting themselves black and they do not wash
the paint off until they take the scalp of an enemy, or give a
While they sit round the scaffold, one of the nearest relations
commences a doleful crying, when all the others join in, and continue
their wailing for some time. Then for awhile their tears are wiped away.
After smoking for a short time another of the family commences again,
and the others join in. This is continued for a day and night, and then
each one goes to his own wigwam.
The Dahcotahs mourned thus for Beloved Hail. In the evening the cries of
his wife were heard as she called for her husband, while the rocks and
the hills echoed the wail. He will return no more—and who will hunt the
deer for his wife and her young children!
The murderers were never found, and the hostages, after being detained
for eighteen months at Fort Snelling, were released. They bore their
confinement with admirable patience, the more so as they were punished
for the fault of others. When they were released, they were furnished
with guns and clothing. For fear they would be killed by the Dahcotahs,
their release was kept a secret, and the Dahcotahs knew not that the two
Chippeways were released, until they were far on their journey home. But
one of them never saw his native village again. The long confinement had
destroyed his health, and being feeble when he set out, he soon found
himself unequal to the journey. He died a few days before the home was
reached; and the welcome that his companion received was a sad one, for
he brought the intelligence of the death of his comrade.
But we will do as the Dahcotahs did—turn from the sadness and horror of
an Indian's death, to the gayety and happiness of an Indian marriage.
The Indians are philosophers, after all—they knew that they could not
go after the Chippeways, so they made the best of it and smoked. Beloved
Hail was dead, but they could not bring him to life, and they smoked
again: besides, "Walking Wind" was to be married to "The War Club,"
whereupon they smoked harder than ever.
There are two kinds of marriages among the Dahcotahs, buying a wife and
stealing one. The latter answers to our runaway matches, and in some
respects the former is the ditto of one conducted as it ought to be
among ourselves. So after all, I suppose, Indian marriages are much like
But among the Dahcotahs it is an understood thing that, when the young
people run away, they are to be forgiven at any time they choose to
return, if it should be the next day, or six months afterwards. This
saves a world of trouble. It prevents the necessity of the father
looking daggers at the son-in-law, and then loving him violently; the
mother is spared the trial of telling her daughter that she forgives her
though she has broken her heart; and, what is still better, there is not
the slightest occasion whatever for the bride to say she is wretched,
for having done what she certainly would do over again to-morrow, were
So that it is easy to understand why the Dahcotahs have the advantage of
us in runaway matches, or as they say in "stealing a wife;" for it is
the same thing, only more honestly stated.
When a young man is unable to purchase the girl he loves best, or if her
parents are unwilling she should marry him, if he have gained the heart
of the maiden he is safe. They appoint a time and place to meet; take
whatever will be necessary for their journey; that is, the man takes his
gun and powder and shot, and the girl her knife and wooden bowl to eat
and drink out of; and these she intends to hide in her blanket.
Sometimes they merely go to the next village to return the next day. But
if they fancy a bridal tour, away they go several hundred miles with
the grass for their pillow, the canopy of heaven for their curtains, and
the bright stars to light and watch over them. When they return home,
the bride goes at once to chopping wood, and the groom to smoking,
without the least form or parade.
Sometimes a young girl dare not run away; for she has a miserly father
or mother who may not like her lover because he had not enough to give
them for her; and she knows they will persecute her and perhaps shoot
her husband. But this does not happen often. Just as, once in a hundred
years in a Christian land, if a girl will run away with a young man, her
parents run after her, and in spite of religion and common sense bring
her back, have her divorced, and then in either case the parties must,
as a matter of course, be very miserable.
But the marriage that we are about to witness, is a "marriage in high
life" among the Dahcotahs, and the bride is regularly bought, as often
occurs with us.
"Walking Wind" is not pretty; even the Dahcotahs, who are far from being
connoisseurs in beauty do not consider her pretty. She is, however, tall
and well made, and her feet and hands (as is always the case with the
Dahcotah women) are small. She has a quantity of jet-black hair, that
she braids with a great deal of care. Her eyes are very black, but
small, and her dark complexion is relieved by more red than is usually
seen in the cheeks of the daughters of her race. Her teeth are very
fine, as everybody knows—for she is always laughing, and her laugh is
Then Walking Wind is, generally speaking, so good tempered. She was
never known to be very angry but once, when Harpstenah told her she was
in love with "The War Club;" she threw the girl down and tore half the
hair out of her head. What made it seem very strange was, that she was
over head and ears in love with "The War Club" at that very time; but
she did not choose anybody should know it.
War Club was a flirt—yes, a male coquette—and he had broken the hearts
of half the girls in the band. Besides being a flirt, he was a fop. He
would plait his hair and put vermilion on his cheeks; and, after seeing
that his leggins were properly arranged, he would put the war eagle
feathers in his head, and folding his blanket round him, would walk
about the village, or attitudinize with all the airs of a Broadway
dandy. War Club was a great warrior too, for on his blanket was marked
the Red Hand, which showed he had killed his worst enemy—for it was his
father's enemy, and he had hung the scalp up at his father's grave.
Besides, he was a great hunter, which most of the Dahcotahs are.
No one, then, could for a moment doubt the pretensions of War Club, or
that all the girls of the village should fall in love with him; and he,
like a downright flirt, was naturally very cold and cruel to the poor
creatures who loved him so much.
Walking Wind, besides possessing many other accomplishments, such as
tanning deer-skin, making mocassins, &c., was a capital shot. On one
occasion, when the young warriors were shooting at a mark, Walking Wind
was pronounced the best shot among them, and the War Club was quite
subdued. He could bear everything else; but when Walking Wind beat him
shooting—why—the point was settled; he must fall in love with her,
and, as a natural consequence, marry her.
Walking Wind was not so easily won. She had been tormented so long
herself, that she was in duty bound to pay back in the same coin. It was
a Duncan Gray affair—only reversed. At last she yielded; her lover
gave her so many trinkets. True, they were brass and tin; but Dahcotah
maidens cannot sigh for pearls and diamonds, for they never even heard
of them; and the philosophy of the thing is just the same, since
everybody is outdone by somebody. Besides, her lover played the flute
all night long near her father's wigwam, and, not to speak of the pity
that she felt for him, Walking Wind was confident she never could sleep
until that flute stopped playing, which she knew would be as soon as
they were married. For all the world knows that no husband, either white
or copper-colored, ever troubles himself to pay any attention of that
sort to his wife, however devotedly romantic he may have been
Sometimes the Dahcotah lover buys his wife without her consent; but the
War Club was more honorable than that: he loved Walking Wind, and he
wanted her to love him.
When all was settled between the young people, War Club told his parents
that he wanted to marry. The old people were glad to hear it, for they
like their ancient and honorable names and houses to be kept up, just as
well as lords and dukes do; so they collected everything they owned for
the purpose of buying Walking Wind. Guns and blankets, powder and shot,
knives and trinkets, were in requisition instead of title-deeds and
settlements. So, when all was ready, War Club put the presents on a
horse, and carried them to the door of Walking Wind's wigwam.
He does not ask for the girl, however, as this would not be Dahcotah
etiquette. He lays the presents on the ground and has a consultation,
or, as the Indians say, a "talk" with the parents, concluding by asking
them to give him Walking Wind for his wife.
And, what is worthy to be noticed here is, that, after having gone to so
much trouble to ask a question, he never for a moment waits for an
answer, but turns round, horse and all, and goes back to his wigwam.
The parents then consult for a day or two, although they from the first
moment have made up their minds as to what they are going to do. In due
time the presents are taken into the wigwam, which signifies to the
lover that he is a happy man. And on the next day Walking Wind is to
be a bride.
Early in the morning, Walking Wind commenced her toilet—and it was no
light task to deck the Indian bride in all her finery.
Her mocassins were worked with porcupine, and fitted closely her small
feet; the leggins were ornamented with ribbons of all colors; her cloth
shawl, shaped like a mantilla, was worked with rows of bright ribbons,
and the sewing did honor to her own skill in needle-work. Her breast
was covered with brooches, and a quantity of beads hung round her neck.
Heavy ear-rings are in her ears—and on her head is a diadem of war
eagle's feathers. She has a bright spot of vermilion on each cheek,
and—behold an Indian bride!
When she is ready, as many presents as were given for her are collected
and put on a horse; and the bride, accompanied by three or four of her
relations, takes the road to the wigwam of the bridegroom.
When they arrive within a hundred yards of the wigwam, Walking Wind's
father calls for the War Club to come out. He does not come, but sends
one of his relations to receive the bride. Do not suppose that Walking
Wind's father takes offence at the bridegroom's not coming when he is
called; for it is as much a part of the ceremony, among the Dahcotahs,
for one of the bride's relations to call for the bridegroom, and for the
groom to refuse to come, as it is for us to have the ring put upon the
third finger of the left hand.
As soon as the warrior deputed by the husband elect to receive the bride
makes his appearance, the Indians raise a shout of applause, and all run
towards him as he approaches them, and while they are running and
shouting they are firing off their guns too.
But the ceremony is not over yet. Walking Wind, in order to complete the
ceremonies, to be a wife, must jump upon the back of her husband's
relative, and be thus carried into the wigwam of which she is to be
What a situation for a bride! Walking Wind seriously thinks of
rebelling; she hesitates—while the man stands ready to start for the
wigwam so soon as the luggage is on. The bride draws back and pouts a
little, when some of her friends undertake to reason with her; and she,
as if to avoid them, springs upon the back of the Dahcotah, who carries
her into the wigwam.
But where on earth is the bridegroom? Seated on the ground in the
teepee, looking as placid and unconcerned as if nothing was going on. Of
course he rises to receive his bride? Not he; but Walking Wind is on her
feet again, and she takes her seat, without any invitation, by the side
of him, who is literally to be her lord and master—and they are man and
wife. As much so, as if there were a priest and a ring, pearls and
bride-cake. For the Dahcotah reveres the ceremony of marriage, and he
thinks with solemn awe of the burial rites of his nation, as we do.
These rites have been preserved from generation to generation, told from
father to son, and they will be handed down until the Dahcotahs are no
more, or until religion and education take the place of superstition and
ignorance—until God, our God, is known and worshipped among a people
who as yet have hardly heard His name.
THE ORATOR OF THE SIOUX.
Shah-co-pee (or Six) is one of the chiefs of the Dahcotahs; his village
is about twenty-five miles from Fort Snelling. He belongs to the bands
that are called Men-da-wa-can-ton, or People of the Spirit Lakes.
No one who has lived at Fort Snelling can ever forget him, for at what
house has he not called to shake hands and smoke; to say that he is a
great chief, and that he is hungry and must eat before he starts for
home? If the hint is not immediately acted upon, he adds that the sun is
dying fast, and it is time for him to set out.
Shah-co-pee is not so tall or fine looking as Bad Hail, nor has he the
fine Roman features of old Man in the Cloud. His face is decidedly ugly;
but there is an expression of intelligence about his quick black eye and
fine forehead, that makes him friends, notwithstanding his many
At present he is in mourning; his face is painted black. He never combs
his hair, but wears a black silk handkerchief tied across his forehead.
When he speaks he uses a great deal of gesture, suiting the action to
the word. His hands, which are small and well formed, are black with
dirt; he does not descend to the duties of the toilet.
He is the orator of the Dahcotahs. No matter how trifling the occasion,
he talks well; and assumes an air of importance that would become him if
he were discoursing on matters of life and death.
Some years ago, our government wished the Chippeways and Dahcotahs to
conclude a treaty of peace among themselves. Frequently have these two
bands made peace, but rarely kept it any length of time. On this
occasion many promises were made on both sides; promises which would be
broken by some inconsiderate young warrior before long, and then
retaliation must follow.
Shah-co-pee has great influence among the Dahcotahs, and he was to come
to Fort Snelling to be present at the council of peace. Early in the
morning he and about twenty warriors left their village on the banks of
the St. Peters, for the Fort.
When they were very near, so that their actions could be distinguished,
they assembled in their canoes, drawing them close together, that they
might hear the speech which their chief was about to make them.
They raised the stars and stripes, and their own flag, which is a staff
adorned with feathers from the war eagle; and the noon-day sun gave
brilliancy to their gay dresses, and the feathers and ornaments that
Shah-co-pee stood straight and firm in his canoe—and not the less
proudly that the walls of the Fort towered above him.
"My boys," he said (for thus he always addressed his men), "the
Dahcotahs are all braves; never has a coward been known among the
People of the Spirit Lakes. Let the women and children fear their
enemies, but we will face our foes, and always conquer.
"We are going to talk with the white men; our great Father wishes us to
be at peace with our enemies. We have long enough shed the blood of the
Chippeways; we have danced round their scalps, and our children have
kicked their heads about in the dust. What more do we want? When we are
in council, listen to the words of the Interpreter as he tells us what
our great Father says, and I will answer him for you; and when we have
eaten and smoked the pipe of peace, we will return to our village."
The chief took his seat with all the importance of a public benefactor.
He intended to have all the talking to himself, to arrange matters
according to his own ideas; but he did it with the utmost condescension,
and his warriors were satisfied.
Besides being an orator, Shah-co-pee is a beggar, and one of a high
order too, for he will neither take offence nor a refusal. Tell him one
day that you will not give him pork and flour, and on the next he
returns, nothing daunted, shaking hands, and asking for pork and flour.
He always gains his point, for you are obliged to give in order to get
rid of him. He will take up his quarters at the Interpreter's, and come
down upon you every day for a week just at meal time—and as he is
always blessed with a ferocious appetite, it is much better to
capitulate, come to terms by giving him what he wants, and let him go.
And after he has once started, ten to one if he does not come back to
say he wants to shoot and bring you some ducks; you must give him powder
and shot to enable him to do so. That will probably be the last of it.
It was a beautiful morning in June when we left Fort Snelling to go on a
pleasure party up the St. Peters, in a steamboat, the first that had
ever ascended that river. There were many drawbacks in the commencement,
as there always are on such occasions. The morning was rather cool,
thought some, and as they hesitated about going, of course their toilets
were delayed to the last moment. And when all were fairly in the boat,
wood was yet to be found. Then something was the matter with one of the
wheels—and the mothers were almost sorry they had consented to come;
while the children, frantic with joy, were in danger of being drowned
every moment, by the energetic movements they made near the sides of the
boat, by way of indicating their satisfaction at the state of things.
In the cabin, extensive preparations were making in case the excursion
brought on a good appetite. Everybody contributed loaf upon loaf of
bread and cake; pies, coffee and sugar; cold meats of every description;
with milk and cream in bottles. Now and then, one of these was broken or
upset, by way of adding to the confusion, which was already intolerable.
Champaigne and old Cogniac were brought by the young gentlemen, only for
fear the ladies should be sea-sick; or, perhaps, in case the gentlemen
should think it positively necessary to drink the ladies' health.
When we thought all was ready, there was still another delay.
Shah-co-pee and two of his warriors were seen coming down the hill, the
chief making an animated appeal to some one on board the boat; and as he
reached the shore he gave us to understand that his business was
concluded, and that he would like to go with us. But it was very evident
that he considered his company a favor.
The bright sun brought warmth, and we sat on the upper deck admiring the
beautiful shores of the St. Peter's. Not a creature was to be seen for
some distance on the banks, and the birds as they flew over our heads
seemed to be the fit and only inhabitants of such a region.
When tired of admiring the scenery, there was enough to employ us. The
table was to be set for dinner; the children had already found out which
basket contained the cake, and they were casting admiring looks
When we were all assembled to partake of some refreshments, it was
delightful to find that there were not enough chairs for half the party.
We borrowed each other's knives and forks too, and etiquette, that petty
tyrant of society, retired from the scene.
Shah-co-pee found his way to the cabin, where he manifested strong
symptoms of shaking hands over again; in order to keep him quiet, we
gave him plenty to eat. How he seemed to enjoy a piece of cake that had
accidentally dropped into the oyster-soup! and with equal gravity would
he eat apple-pie and ham together. And then his cry of "wakun"
[Footnote: Mysterious.] when the cork flew from the champaigne bottle
across the table!
How happily the day passed—how few such days occur in the longest
As Shah-co-pee's village appeared in sight, the chief addressed Col.
D——, who was at that time in command of Fort Snelling, asking him why
we had come on such an excursion.
"To escort you home" was the ready reply; "you are a great chief, and
worthy of being honored, and we have chosen this as the best way of
showing our respect and admiration of you."
The Dahcotah chief believed all; he never for a moment thought there was
anything like jesting on the subject of his own high merits; his face
beamed with delight on receiving such a compliment.
The men and women of the village crowded on the shore as the boat
landed, as well they might, for a steamboat was a new sight to them.
The chief sprang from the boat, and swelling with pride and self
admiration he took the most conspicuous station on a rock near the
shore, among his people, and made them a speech.
We could but admire his native eloquence. Here, with all that is wild in
nature surrounding him, did the untaught orator address his people. His
lips gave rapid utterance to thoughts which did honor to his feelings,
when we consider who and what he was.
He told them that the white people were their friends; that they wished
them to give up murder and intemperance, and to live quietly and
happily. They taught them to plant corn, and they were anxious to
instruct their children. "When we are suffering," said he, "during the
cold weather, from sickness or want of food, they give us medicine
And finally he told them of the honor that had been paid him. "I went,
as you know, to talk with the big Captain of the Fort, and he, knowing
the bravery of the Dahcotahs, and that I was a great chief, has brought
me home, as you see. Never has a Dahcotah warrior been thus honored!"
Never indeed! But we took care not to undeceive him. It was a harmless
error, and as no efforts on our part could have diminished his self
importance, we listened with apparent, indeed with real admiration of
his eloquent speech. The women brought ducks on board, and in exchange
we gave them bread; and it was evening as we watched the last teepee of
Shah-co-pee's village fade away in the distance.
But sorrow mingles with the remembrance of that bright day. One of those
who contributed most to its pleasures is gone from us—one whom all
esteemed and many loved, and justly, for never beat a kinder or a
Shah-co-pee has looked rather grave lately. There is trouble in the
The old chief is the husband of three wives, and they and their children
are always fighting. The first wife is old as the hills, wrinkled and
haggard; the chief cares no more for her than he does for the stick of
wood she is chopping. She quarrels with everybody but him, and this
prevents her from being quite forgotten.
The day of the second wife is past too, it is of no use for I her to
plait her hair and put on her ornaments; for the old chief's heart is
wrapped up in his third wife.
The girl did not love him, how could she? and he did not succeed in
talking her into the match; but he induced the parents to sell her to
him, and the young wife went weeping to the teepee of the chief.
Hers was a sad fate. She hated her husband as much as he loved her. No
presents could reconcile her to her situation. The two forsaken wives
never ceased annoying her, and their children assisted them. The young
wife had not the courage to resent their ill treatment, for the loss of
her lover had broken her heart. But that lover did not seem to be in
such despair as she was—he did not quit the village, or drown himself,
or commit any act of desperation. He lounged and smoked as much as ever.
On one occasion when Shah-co-pee was absent from the village the
They had to look well around them, for the two old wives were always on
the look out for something to tell of the young one; but there was no
one near. The wind whistled keenly round the bend of the river as the
Dahcotah told the weeping girl to listen to him.
When had she refused? How had she longed to hear the sound of his voice
when wearied to death with the long boastings of the old chief.
But how did her heart beat when Red Stone told her that he loved her
still—that he had only been waiting an opportunity to induce her to
leave her old husband, and go with him far away.
She hesitated a little, but not long; and when Shah-co-pee returned to
his teepee his young wife was gone—no one had seen her depart—no one
knew where to seek for her. When the old man heard that Red Stone was
gone too, his rage knew no bounds. He beat his two wives almost to
death, and would have given his handsomest pipe-stem to have seen the
faithless one again.
His passion did not last long; it would have killed him if it had. His
wives moaned all through the night, bruised and bleeding, for the fault
of their rival; while the chief had recourse to the pipe, the
never-failing refuge of the Dahcotah.
"I thought," said the chief, "that some calamity was going to happen to
me" (for, being more composed, he began to talk to the other Indians who
sat with him in his teepee, somewhat after the manner and in the spirit
of Job's friends). "I saw Unk-a-tahe, the great fish of the water, and
it showed its horns; and we know that that is always a sign of trouble."
"Ho!" replied an old medicine man, "I remember when Unk-a-tahe got in
under the falls" (of St. Anthony) "and broke up the ice. The large
pieces of ice went swiftly down, and the water forced its way until it
was frightful to see it. The trees near the shore were thrown down, and
the small islands were left bare. Near Fort Snelling there was a house
where a white man and his wife lived. The woman heard the noise, and,
waking her husband, ran out; but as he did not follow her quick enough,
the house was soon afloat and he was drowned."
There was an Indian camp near this house, for the body of Wenona, the
sick girl who was carried over the Falls, was found here. It was placed
on a scaffold on the shore, near where the Indians found her, and
Checkered Cloud moved her teepee, to be near her daughter. Several other
Dahcotah families were also near her.
But what was their fright when they heard the ice breaking, and the
waters roaring as they carried everything before them? The father of
Wenona clung to his daughter's scaffold, and no entreaties of his wife
or others could induce him to leave.
"Unk-a-tahe has done this," cried the old man, "and I care not. He
carried my sick daughter under the waters, and he may bury me there
too." And while the others fled from the power of Unk-a-tahe, the father
and mother clung to the scaffold of their daughter.
They were saved, and they lived by the body of Wenona until they buried
her. "The power of Unk-a-tahe is great!" so spoke the medicine man, and
Shah-co-pee almost forgot his loss in the fear and admiration of this
monster of the deep, this terror of the Dahcotahs.
He will do well to forget the young wife altogether; for she is far
away, making mocassins for the man she loves. She rejoices at her escape
from the old man, and his two wives; while he is always making speeches
to his men, commencing by saying he is a great chief, and ending with
the assertion that Red Stone should have respected his old age, and not
have stolen from him the only wife he loved.
Shah-co-pee came, a few days ago, with twenty other warriors, some of
them chiefs, on a visit to the commanding officer of Fort Snelling.
The Dahcotahs had heard that the Winnebagoes were about to be removed,
and that they were to pass through their hunting grounds on their way to
their future homes. They did not approve of this arrangement. Last
summer the Dahcotahs took some scalps of the Winnebagoes, and it was
decided at Washington that the Dahcotahs should pay four thousand
dollars of their annuities as an atonement for the act. This caused much
suffering among the Dahcotahs; fever was making great havoc among them,
and to deprive them of their flour and other articles of food was only
enfeebling their constitutions, and rendering them an easy prey for
disease. The Dahcotahs thought this very hard at the time; they have not
forgotten the circumstance, and they think that they ought to be
consulted before their lands are made a thoroughfare by their enemies.
They accordingly assembled, and, accompanied by the Indian agent and the
interpreter, came to Fort Snelling to make their complaint. When they
were all seated, (all on the floor but one, who looked most
uncomfortable, mounted on a high chair), the agent introduced the
subject, and it was discussed for a while; the Dahcotahs paying the most
profound attention, although they could not understand a word of what
was passing; and when there was a few moments' silence, the chiefs rose
each in his turn to protest against the Winnebagoes passing through
their country. They all spoke sensibly and well; and when one finished,
the others all intimated their approval by crying "Ho!" as a kind of
chorus. After a while Shah-co-pee rose; his manner said "I am Sir
Oracle." He shook hands with the commanding officer, with the agent and
interpreter, and then with some strangers who were visiting the fort.
His attitude was perfectly erect as he addressed the officer.
"We are the children of our great Father, the President of the United
States; look upon us, for we are your children too. You are placed here
to see that the Dahcotahs are protected, that their rights are not
While the Indians cried Ho! ho! with great emphasis, Shah-co-pee shook
hands all round again, and then resumed his place and speech.
"Once this country all belonged to the Dahcotahs. Where had the white
man a place to call his own on our prairies? He could not even pass
through our country without our permission!
"Our great Father has signified to us that he wants our lands. We have
sold some of them to him, and we are content to do so, but he has
promised to protect us, to be a friend to us, to take care of us as a
father does of his children.
"When the white man wishes to visit us, we open the door of our country
to him; we treat him with hospitality. He looks at our rocks, our river,
our trees, and we do not disturb him. The Dahcotah and the white man
"But the Winnebagoes are not our friends, we suffered for them not long
ago; our children wanted food; our wives were sick; they could not plant
corn or gather the Indian potato. Many of our nation died; their bodies
are now resting on their scaffolds. The night birds clap their wings as
the winds howl over them!
"And we are told that our great Father will let the Winnebagoes make a
path through our hunting grounds: they will subsist upon our game; every
bird or animal they kill will be a loss to us.
"The Dahcotah's lands are not free to others. If our great Father wishes
to make any use of our lands, he should pay us. We object to the
Winnebagoes passing through our country; but if it is too late to
prevent this, then we demand a thousand dollars for every village they
Ho! cried the Indians again; and Shah-co-pee, after shaking hands once
more, took his seat.
I doubt if you will ever get the thousand dollars a village,
Shah-co-pee; but I like the spirit that induces you to demand it. May
you live long to make speeches and beg bread—the unrivalled orator and
most notorious beggar of the Dahcotahs!
It was in the summer of 183-, that a large party of Chippeways visited
Fort Snelling. There was peace between them and the Sioux. Their time
was passed in feasting and carousing; their canoes together flew over
the waters of the Mississippi. The young Sioux warriors found strange
beauty in the oval faces of the Chippeway girls; and the Chippeways
discovered (what was actually the case) that the women of the Dahcotahs
were far more graceful than those of their own nation.
But as the time of the departure of the Chippeways approached, many a
Chippeway maiden wept when she remembered how soon she would bid adieu
to all her hopes of happiness. And Flying Shadow was saddest of them
all. She would gladly have given up everything for her lover. What were
home and friends to her who loved with all the devotion of a heart
untrammeled by forms, fresh from the hand of nature? She listened to his
flute in the still evening, as if her spirit would forsake her when she
heard it no more. She would sit with him on the bluff which hung over
the Mississippi, and envy the very waters which would remain near him,
when she was far away. But her lover loved his nation even more than he
did her; and though he would have died to have saved her from sorrow,
yet he knew she could never be his wife. Even were he to marry her, her
life would ever be in danger. A Chippeway could not long find a home
among the Dahcotahs.
The Track-maker bitterly regretted that they had ever met, when he saw
her grief at the prospect of parting. "Let us go," he said, "to the
Falls, where I will tell you the story you asked me."
The Track-maker entered the canoe first, and the girl followed; and so
pleasant was the task of paddling her lover over the quiet waters, that
it seemed but a moment before they were in sight of the torrent.
"It was there," said the Sioux, "that Wenona and her child found their
graves. Her husband, accompanied by some other Dahcotahs, had gone some
distance above the falls to hunt. While there, he fell in love with a
young girl whom he thought more beautiful than his wife. Wenona knew
that she must no longer hope to be loved as she had been.
"The Dahcotahs killed much game, and then broke up their camp and
started for their homes. When they reached the falls, the women got
ready to carry their canoes and baggage round.
"But Wenona was going on a longer journey. She would not live when her
husband loved her no more, and, putting her son in her canoe, she soon
reached the island that divides the falls.
"Then she put on all her ornaments, as if she were a bride; she dressed
her boy too, as a Dahcotah warrior; she turned to look once more at her
husband, who was helping his second wife to put the things she was to
carry, on her back.
"Soon her husband called to her; she did not answer him, but placed her
child high up in the canoe, so that his father could see him, and
getting in herself she paddled towards the rapids.
"Her husband saw that Unk-tahe would destroy her, and he called to her
to come ashore. But he might have called to the roaring waters as well,
and they would have heeded him as soon as she.
"Still he ran along the shore with his arms uplifted, entreating her to
"Wenona continued her course towards the rapids—her voice was heard
above the waters as she sang her death song. Soon the mother and child
were seen no more—the waters covered them.
"But her spirit wanders near this place. An elk and fawn are often seen,
and we know they are Wenona and her child."
"Do you love me as Wenona loved?" continued the Sioux, as he met the
looks of the young girl bent upon him.
"I will not live when I see you no more," she replied. "As the flowers
die when the winter's cold falls upon them, so will my spirit depart
when I no longer listen to your voice. But when I go to the land of
spirits I shall be happy. My spirit will return to earth; but it will be
always near you."
Little didst thou dream that the fate of Wenona would be less sad than
thine. She found the death she sought, in the waters whose bosom opened
to receive her. But thou wilt bid adieu to earth in the midst of the
battle—in the very presence of him, for whose love thou wouldst venture
all. Thy spirit will flee trembling from the shrieks of the dying
mother, the suffering child. Death will come to thee as a terror, not
as a refuge.
When the Chippeways broke up their camp near Fort Snelling, they divided
into two parties, one party returning home by the Mississippi, the other
by way of the St. Croix.
They parted on the most friendly terms with the Sioux, giving presents,
and receiving them in return.
Some pillagers, who acknowledge no control, had accompanied the
Chippeways. These pillagers are in fact highwaymen or privateers—having
no laws, and acting from the impulses of their own fierce hearts.
After the Chippeways had left, the pillagers concealed themselves in a
path near Lake Calhoun. This lake is about seven miles from
Before they had been concealed one hour, two Dahcotahs passed, father
and son. The pillagers fired, and the father was killed instantly; but
the son escaped, and made his way home in safety. The boy entered the
village calling for his mother, to tell her the sad news; her cries of
grief gave the alarm, and soon the death of the Sioux was known
throughout the village. The news flew from village to village on the
wings of the wind; Indian runners were seen in every direction, and in
twenty-four hours there were three hundred warriors on foot in pursuit
of the Chippeways.
Every preparation was made for the death-strife. Not a Sioux warrior but
vowed he would with his own arm avenge the death of his friend. The very
tears of the wife were dried when the hope of vengeance cheered
The Track-maker was famous as a warrior. Already did the aged Dahcotahs
listen to his words; for he was both wise and brave. He was among the
foremost to lead the Dahcotahs against the Chippeways; and though he
longed to raise his tomahawk against his foes, his spirit sunk within
him when he remembered the girl he loved. What will be her fate! Oh!
that he had never seen her. But it was no time to think of her. Duty
called upon him to avenge the death of his friend.
Woe to the unsuspecting Chippeways! ignorant of the murder that had been
committed, they were leisurely turning their steps homeward, while the
pillagers made their escape with the scalp of the Dahcotah.
The Sioux travelled one day and night before they came up with the
Chippeways. Nothing could quench their thirst but blood. And the women
and children must suffer first. The savage suffers a twofold death;
before his own turn comes, his young children lie breathless around
him, their mother all unconscious by their side.
The Chippeways continued their journey, fearing nothing. They had camped
between the falls of St. Anthony and Rum river; they were refreshed, and
the men proceeded first, leaving their women and children to follow.
They were all looking forward with pleasure to seeing their homes again.
The women went leisurely along; the infant slept quietly—what should it
fear close to its mother's heart! The young children laughed as they hid
themselves behind the forest trees, and then emerged suddenly to
frighten the others. The Chippeway maidens rejoiced when they remembered
that their rivals, the Dahcotah girls, would no longer seduce their
lovers from their allegiance.
Flying Shadow wept, there was nothing to make her happy, she would see
the Track-maker no more, and she looked forward to death as the end of
her cares. She concealed in her bosom the trinkets he had given her;
every feature of his face was written on her heart—that heart that beat
only for him, that so soon would cease to beat at all!
But there was a fearful cry, that banished even him from her thoughts.
The war-whoop burst suddenly upon the defenceless women.
Hundreds of Dahcotah warriors rose up to blind the eyes of the
terror-stricken mothers. Their children are scalped before their eyes;
their infants are dashed against the rocks, which are not more
insensible to their cries than their murderers.
It is a battle of strength against weakness. Stern warrior, it needs
not to strike the mother that blow! she dies in the death of her
children. [Footnote: The Dahcotahs believe, or many of them believe,
that each body has four souls. One wanders about the earth and requires
food; a second watches over the body; the third hovers round its native
village, while the fourth goes to the land of spirits.]
The maidens clasp their small hands—a vain appeal to the merciless
wretches, who see neither beauty nor grace, when rage and revenge are in
their hearts. It is blood they thirst for, and the young and innocent
fall like grass before the mower.
Flying Shadow sees her lover! he is advancing towards her! What does his
countenance say? There is sadness in his face, and she hopes—aye, more
than hopes—she knows he will save her. With all a woman's trust she
throws herself in his arms. "Save me! save me!" she cries; "do not let
them slay me before your eyes; make me your prisoner! [Footnote: When
the Sioux are tired of killing, they sometimes take their victims
prisoners, and, generally speaking, treat them with great kindness.] you
said that you loved me, spare my life!"
Who shall tell his agony? For a moment he thought he would make her his
prisoner. Another moment's reflection convinced him that that would be
of no avail. He knew that she must die, but he could not take her life.
Her eyes were trustingly turned upon him; her soft hand grasped his arm.
But the Sioux warriors were pressing upon them, he gave her one more
look, he touched her with his spear, [Footnote: When a Dahcotah touches
an enemy with his spear, he is privileged to wear a feather of honor, as
if he had taken a scalp.] and he was gone.
And Flying Shadow was dead. She felt not the blow that sent her reeling
to the earth. Her lover had forsaken her in the hour of danger, and what
could she feel after that?
The scalp was torn from her head by one of those who had most admired
her beauty; and her body was trampled upon by the very warriors who had
so envied her lover.
The shrieks of the dying women reached the ears of their husbands and
brothers. Quickly did they retrace their steps, and when they reached
the spot, they bravely stood their ground; but the Dahcotahs were too
powerful for them,—terrible was the struggle!
The Dahcotahs continued the slaughter, and the Chippeways were obliged
at last to give way. One of the Chippeways seized his frightened child
and placed him upon his back. His wife lay dead at his feet; with his
child clinging to him, he fought his way through.
Two of the Dahcotahs followed him, for he was flying fast; and they
feared he would soon be out of their power. They thought, as they nearly
came up to him, that he would loose his hold on his child; but the
father's heart was strong within him. He flies, and the Sioux are close
upon his heels! He fires and kills one of them. The other Sioux follows:
he has nothing to encumber him—he must be victor in such an unequal
contest. But the love that was stronger than death nerved the father's
arm. He kept firing, and the Sioux retreated. The Chippeway and his
young son reached their home in safety, there to mourn the loss of
others whom they loved.
The sun set upon a bloody field; the young and old lay piled together;
the hearts that had welcomed the breaking of the day were all
unconscious of its close.
The Sioux were avenged; and the scalps that they brought home (nearly
one hundred when the party joined them from the massacre at Saint Croix)
bore witness to their triumph.
The other party of Sioux followed the Chippeways who had gone by way of
the St. Croix. While the Chippeways slept, the war-cry of the Sioux
aroused them. And though they fought bravely, they suffered as did their
friends, and the darkness of night added terror to the scene.
The Dahcotahs returned with the scalps to their villages, and as they
entered triumphantly, they were greeted with shouts of applause. The
scalps were divided among the villages, and joyful preparations were
made to celebrate the scalp-dance.
The scalps were stretched upon hoops, and covered with vermilion,
ornamented with feathers, ribbons and trinkets.
On the women's scalps were hung a comb, or a pair of scissors, and for
months did the Dahcotah women dance around them. The men wore mourning
for their enemies, as is the custom among the Dahcotahs.
When the dancing was done, the scalps were buried with the deceased
relatives of the Sioux who took them.
And this is Indian, but what is Christian warfare? The wife of the hero
lives to realize her wretchedness; the honors paid by his countrymen are
a poor recompense for the loss of his love and protection. The life of
the child too, is safe, but who will lead him in the paths of virtue,
when his mother has gone down to the grave.
Let us not hear of civilized warfare! It is all the work of the spirits
of evil. God did not make man to slay his brother, and the savage alone
can present an excuse. The Dahcotah dreams not that it is wrong to
resent an injury to the death; but the Christian knows that God has
said, Vengeance is mine!
The Track-maker had added to his fame. He had taken many scalps, and the
Dahcotah maidens welcomed him as a hero—as one who would no longer
refuse to acknowledge the power of their charms. They asked him eagerly
of the fight—whom he had killed first—but they derived but little
satisfaction from his replies. They found he resisted their advances,
and they left him to his gloomy thoughts.
Every scene he looked upon added to his grief. Memory clung to him,
recalling every word and look of Flying Shadow. But, that last look,
could he ever forget it?
He tried to console himself with the thoughts of his triumph. Alas! her
smile was sweeter than the recollection of revenge. He had waded in the
blood of his enemies; he had trampled upon the hearts of the men he
hated; but he had broken the heart of the only woman he had ever loved.
In the silence of the night her death-cry sounded in his ear; and he
would start as if to flee from the sound. In his dreams he saw again
that trustful face, that look of appeal—and then the face of stone,
when she saw that she had appealed in vain.
He followed the chase, but there he could not forget the battle scene.
"Save me! save me!" forever whispered every forest leaf, or every
flowing wave. Often did he hear her calling him, and he would stay his
steps as if he hoped to meet her smile.
The medicine men offered to cure his disease; but he knew that it was
beyond their art, and he cared not how soon death came, nor in
He met the fate he sought. A war party was formed among the Dahcotahs to
seek more scalps, more revenge. But the Track-maker was weary of glory.
He went with the party, and never returned. Like her, he died in
battle; but the death that she sought to avert, was a welcome messenger
to him. He felt that in the grave all would be forgotten.
* * * * *
Wenona was the light of her father's wigwam—the pride of the band of
Sissetons, whose village is on the shores of beautiful Lake Travers.
However cheerfully the fire might burn in the dwelling of the aged
chief, there was darkness, for him when she was away—and the mother's
heart was always filled with anxiety, for she knew that Wenona had drawn
upon her the envy of her young companions, and she feared that some one
of them would cast a spell [Footnote: The Indians fear that from envy or
jealousy some person may cast a fatal spell upon them to produce
sickness, or even death. This superstition seems almost identical with
the Obi or Obeat of the West India negroes.] upon her child, that her
loveliness might be dimmed by sorrow or sickness.
The warriors of the band strove to outdo each other in noble deeds, that
they might feel more worthy to claim her hand;—while the hunters tried
to win her good will by presents of buffalo and deer. But Wenona thought
not yet of love. The clear stream that reflected her form told her she
was beautiful; yet her brother was the bravest warrior of the Sissetons;
and her aged parents too—was not their love enough to satisfy her
heart! Never did brother and sister love each other more; their
features were the same, yet man's sternness in him was changed to
woman's softness in her. The "glance of the falcon" in his eye was the
"gaze of the dove" in hers. But at times the expression of his face
would make you wonder that you ever could have thought him like his
When he heard the Sisseton braves talk of the hunts they had in their
youth, before the white man drove them from the hunting-grounds of their
forefathers;—when instead of the blanket they wore the buffalo
robe;—when happiness and plenty were in their wigwams—and when the
voices of weak women and famished children were never heard calling for
food in vain—then the longing for vengeance that was written on his
countenance, the imprecations that were breathed from his lips, the
angry scowl, the lightning from his eye, all made him unlike indeed to
his sister, the pride of the Sissetons!
When the gentle breeze would play among the prairie flowers, then would
she win him from such bitter thoughts. "Come, my brother, we will go and
sit by the banks of the lake, why should you be unhappy! the buffalo is
still to be found upon our hunting-grounds—the spirit of the lake
watches over us—we shall not want for food."
He would go, because she asked him. The quiet and beauty of nature were
not for him; rather would he have stood alone when the storm held its
sway; when the darkness was only relieved by the flash that laid the
tall trees of the forest low; when the thunder bird clapped her wings as
she swept through the clouds above him. But could he refuse to be happy
when Wenona smiled? Alas! that her gentle spirit should not always have
been near to soften his!
But as the beauty and warmth of summer passed away, so did Wenona's
strength begin to fail; the autumn wind, that swept rudely over the
prairie flowers, so that they could not lift their heads above the tall
grass, seemed to pass in anger over the wigwam of the old man—for the
eye of the Dahcotah maiden was losing its brightness, and her step was
less firm, as she wandered with her brother in her native woods. Vainly
did the medicine men practice their cherished rites—the Great Spirit
had called—and who could refuse to hear his voice? she faded with the
leaves—and the cries of the mourners were answered by the wailing
winds, as they sang her requiem.
A few months passed away, and her brother was alone. The winter that
followed his sister's death, was a severe one. The mother had never been
strong, and she soon followed her daughter—while the father's age
unfitted him to contend with sorrow, infirmity, and want.
Spring returned, but winter had settled on the heart of the young
Sisseton; she was gone who alone could drive away the shadow from his
brow, what wonder then that his countenance should always be stern. The
Indians called him Eta Keazah, or Sullen Face.
But after the lapse of years, the boy, who brooded over the wrongs of
his father, eagerly seeks an opportunity to avenge his own. His sister
has never been forgotten; but he remembers her as we do a beautiful
dream; and she is the spirit that hovers round him while his eyes are
closed in sleep.
But there are others who hold a place in his heart. His wife is always
ready to receive him with a welcome, and his young son calls upon him to
teach him to send the arrow to the heart of the buffalo. But the
sufferings of his tribe, from want of food and other privations, are
ever before his eyes. Vengeance upon the white man, who has caused them!
Winter is the season of trial for the Sioux, especially for the women
and children. The incursions of the English half-breeds and Cree
Indians, into the Sisseton country, have caused their buffalo to recede,
and so little other game is to be found, that indescribable sufferings
are endured every winter by the Sissetons.
Starvation forces the hunters to seek for the buffalo in the depth of
winter. Their families must accompany them, for they have not the
smallest portion of food to leave with them; and who will protect them
from the Chippeways!
However inclement the season, their home must be for a time on the open
prairie. As far as the eye can reach, it is a desert of snow. Not a
stick of timber can be seen. A storm is coming on too; nothing is heard
but the howling blast, which mocks the cries of famished children. The
drifting of the snow makes it impossible to see what course they are to
take; they have only to sit down and let the snow fall upon them. It is
a relief when they are quite covered with it, for it shelters them from
the keenness of the blast!
Alas! for the children; the cry of those who can speak is, Give me
food! while the dying infant clings to its mother's breast, seeking to
draw, with its parting breath, the means of life.
But the storm is over; the piercing cold seizes upon the exhausted
frames of the sufferers.
The children have hardly strength to stand; the father places one upon
his back and goes forward; the mother wraps her dead child in her
blanket, and lays it in the snow; another is clinging to her, she has no
time to weep for the dead; nature calls upon her to make an effort for
the living. She takes her child and follows the rest. It would be a
comfort to her, could she hope to find her infant's body when summer
returns to bury it. She shudders, and remembers that the wolves of the
prairie are starving too!
Food is found at last; the strength of the buffalo yields to the arrow
of the Sioux. We will have food and not die, is the joyful cry of all,
and when their fierce appetites are appeased, they carry with them on
their return to their village, the skins of the animals with the
remainder of the meat.
The sufferings of famine and fatigue, however, are followed by those of
disease; the strength of many is laid low. They must watch, too, for
their enemies are at hand.
In the summer of 1844 a large party of half-breeds and Indians from Red
river,—English subjects,—trespassed upon the hunting grounds of the
Sioux. There were several hundred hunters, and many carts drawn by oxen
for the purpose of carrying away the buffalo they had killed. One of
this party had left his companions, and was riding alone at some
distance from them. A Dahcotah knew that his nation would suffer from
the destruction of their game—fresh in his memory, too, were the
sufferings of the past winter. What wonder then that the arrow which was
intended for the buffalo, should find its way to the heart of the
This act enraged the half-breeds; they could not find the Sioux who
committed it—but a few days after they fell in with a party of others,
who were also hunting, and killed seven of them. The rest escaped, and
carried the news of the death of their braves to their village. One of
the killed was a relative of Sullen Face. The sad news spread rapidly
through the village, and nothing was heard but lamentation. The women
cut long gashes on their arms, and as the blood flowed from the wound
they would cry, Where is my husband? my son? my brother?
Soon the cry of revenge is heard above that of lamentation. "It is not
possible," said Sullen Face, "that we can allow these English to starve
us, and take the lives of our warriors. They have taken from us the food
that would nourish our wives and children; and more, they have killed
seven of our bravest men! we will have revenge—we will watch for them,
and bring home their scalps, that our women may dance round them!"
A war party was soon formed, and Sullen Face, at the head of more than
fifty warriors, stationed himself in the vicinity of the road by which
the half-breeds from Red river drive their cattle to Fort Snelling.
Some days after, there was an unusual excitement in the Sioux village on
Swan lake, about twenty miles northwest of Traverse des Sioux. A number
of Indians were gazing at an object not very distant, and in order to
discover what it was, the chief of the village, Sleepy Eyes, had sent
one of his young men out, while the rest continued to regard it with
looks of curiosity and awe.
They observed that as the Sioux approached it, he slackened his pace,
when suddenly he gave a loud cry and ran towards the village.
He soon reached them, and pale with terror, exclaimed, "It is a spirit,
it is white as the snow that covers our prairies in the winter. It
looked at me and spoke not." For a short time, his fears infected the
others, but after a while several determined to go and bring a more
satisfactory report to their chief. They returned with the body, as it
seemed only, of a white man; worn to a skeleton, with his feet cut and
bleeding, unable to speak from exhaustion; nothing but the beating of
his heart told that he lived.
The Indian women dressed his feet, and gave him food, wiped the blood
from his limbs, and, after a consultation, they agreed to send word to
the missionaries at Traverse des Sioux, that there was a white man sick
and suffering with them.
The missionaries came immediately; took the man to their home, and with
kind nursing he was soon able to account for the miserable situation in
which he had been found.
"We left the state of Missouri," said the man, whose name was Bennett,
"for the purpose of carrying cattle to Fort Snelling. My companions'
names were Watson and Turner. We did not know the road, but supposed a
map would guide us, with what information we could get on the way. We
lost our way, however, and were eagerly looking for some person who
could set us right. Early one morning some Sioux came up with us, and
seemed inclined to join our party. One of them left hastily as if sent
on a message; after a while a number of warriors, accompanied by the
Indian who had left the first party, came towards us. Their leader had a
dark countenance, and seemed to have great influence over them. We tried
to make them understand that we had lost our way; we showed them the
map, but they did not comprehend us.
"After angrily addressing his men for a few moments, the leader shot
Watson through the shoulder, and another sent an arrow through his body
and killed him. They then struck Watson's brother and wounded him.
"In the mean time the other Indians had been killing our cattle; and
some of the animals having run away, they made Watson, who was sadly
bruised with the blows he had received from them, mount a horse and go
with them to hunt the rest of the cattle. We never heard of him again.
The Indians say he disappeared from among the bushes, and they could
not find him; but the probability is that they killed him. Some seemed
to wish to kill Turner and myself—but after a while they told us to go,
giving us our horses and a little food. We determined to retrace our
steps. It was the best thing we could do; but our horses gave out, and
we were obliged to leave them and proceed on foot.
"We were soon out of provisions, and having no means of killing game,
our hearts began to fail us. Turner was unwell, and on arriving at a
branch of Crow river, about one hundred miles northwest of Fort
Snelling, he found himself unable to swim. I tried to carry him across
on my back, but could not do it; he was drowned, and I barely succeeded
in reaching the shore. After resting, I proceeded on my journey. When I
came in sight of the Indian village, much as I needed food and rest, I
dreaded to show myself, for fear of meeting Watson's fate. I was spared
the necessity of deciding. I fainted and fell to the ground. They found
me, and proved kinder than I anticipated.
"Why they should have molested us I know not. There is something in it
that I do not understand."
But it is easily explained. Sullen Face supposed them to belong to the
party that had killed his friends, and through this error he had shed
Who that has seen Fort Snelling will not bear testimony to its beautiful
situation! Whichever way we turn, nature calls for our admiration. But
beautiful as it is by day, it is at night that its majesty and
loveliness speak to the soul. Look to the north, (while the Aurora
Borealis is flashing above us, and the sound of the waters of St.
Anthony's Falls meets the ear,) the high bluffs of the Mississippi seem
to guard its waters as they glide along. To the south, the St. Peter's
has wandered off, preferring gentle prairies to rugged cliffs. To the
east we see the "meeting of the waters;" gladly as the returning child
meets the welcoming smile of the parent, do the waves of the St. Peter's
flow into the Mississippi. On the west, there is prairie far as the eye
But it is to the free only that nature is beautiful. Can the prisoner
gaze with pleasure on the brightness of the sky, or listen to the
rippling of the waves? they make him feel his fetters the more.
I am here, with my heavy chain!
And I look on a torrent sweeping by.
And an eagle rushing to the sky,
And a host to its battle plain.
Must I pine in my fetters here!
With the wild wave's foam and the free bird's flight,
And the tall spears glancing on my sight,
And the trumpet in mine ear?
The summer of 1845 found Sullen Face a prisoner at Fort Snelling.
Government having been informed of the murder of Watson by two Dahcotah
Indians, orders were received at Fort Snelling that two companies should
proceed to the Sisseton country, and take the murderers, that they might
be tried by the laws of the United States.
Now for excitement, the charm of garrison life. Officers are of course
always ready to "go where glory waits" them, but who ever heard of one
being ready to go when the order came?
Alas! for the young officer who has a wife to leave; it will be weeks
before he meets again her gentle smile!
Still more—alas for him who has no wife at all! for he has not a shirt
with buttons on it, and most of what he has are in the wash. He will
have to borrow of Selden; but here's the difficulty, Selden is going
too, and is worse off than himself. But no matter! what with pins and
twine and trusting to chance, they will get along.
Then the married men are inquiring for tin reflectors, for hard bread,
though healthy, is never tempting. India rubber cloaks are in
Those who are going, claim the doctor in case of accidents. Those who
stay, their wives at least, want him for fear of measles; while the
disciple of Esculapius, though he knows there will be better cooking if
he remain at home, is certain there will be food for fun if he go. It is
soon decided—the doctor goes.
Then the privates share in the pleasure of the day. How should a
soldier be employed but in active service? besides, what a capital
chance to desert! One, who is tired of calling "All's well" through the
long night, with only the rocks and trees to hear him, hopes that it
will be his happy fate to find out there is danger near, and to give the
alarm, Another vows, that if trouble wont come, why he will bring it by
quarrelling with the first rascally Indian he meets. All is ready.
Rations are put up for the men;—hams, buffalo tongues, pies and cake
for the officers. The battalion marches out to the sound of the drum
and fife;—they are soon down the hill—they enter their boats;
hand-kerchiefs are waved from the fort, caps are raised and flourished
over the water;—they are almost out of sight—they are gone.
When the troops reached their destination, Sullen Face and Forked Horn
were not there, but the chief gave them three of his warriors, (who were
with the party of Sullen Face at the time of the murder,) promising that
when the two murderers returned they would come to Fort Snelling, and
give themselves up.
There was nothing then to prevent the immediate return of our troops.
Their tramp had been a delightful one, and so far success had crowned
their expedition. They were in the highest spirits. But a little
incident occurred on their return, that was rather calculated to show
the transitoriness of earthly joys. One dark night, when those who were
awake were thinking, and those who slept were dreaming of their welcome
home, there was evidently a disturbance. The sleepers roused themselves;
guns were discharged. What could it be?
The cause was soon ascertained. To speak poetically, the birds had
flown—in plain language, the prisoners had run away. They were not
bound, their honor had been trusted to;—but you cannot place much
reliance on the honor of an Indian with a prison in prospect. I doubt
if a white man could be trusted under such circumstances. True, there
was a guard, but, as I said, 'twas a dark night.
The troops returned in fine health, covered with dust and fleas, if not
It is time to return to Sullen Face. He and Forked Horn, on their return
to the village, were informed of what had occurred during their absence.
They offered to fulfil the engagement of the chief, and accompanied by
others of the band, they started for Fort Snelling. The wife of Sullen
Face had insisted upon accompanying him, and influenced by a
presentiment that he should never return to his native village, he
allowed her to do so. Their little boy quite forgot his fatigue as he
listened to his father's voice, and held his hand. When they were near
the fort, notice of their approach was sent to the commanding officer.
The entire force of the garrison marched out to receive the prisoners. A
large number of Indians assembled to witness the scene—their gay
dresses and wild appearance adding to its interest.
Sullen Face and Forked Horn, with the Sioux who had accompanied them,
advanced to meet the battalion. The little boy dressed as a warrior, his
war-eagle plumes waving proudly over his head, held his father's hand.
In a moment the iron grasp of the soldier was on the prisoner's
shoulder; they entered the gate of the fort; and he, who had felt that
the winds of Heaven were not more free than a Dahcotah warrior, was now
a prisoner in the power of the white man. But he entered not his cell
until he had sung a warrior's song. Should his enemies think that he
feared them? Had he not yielded himself up?
It was hard to be composed in parting with his wife and child. "Go my
son," he said, "you will soon be old enough to kill the buffalo for your
mother." But to his wife he only said, "I have done no wrong, and fear
not the power of my enemies." The Sissetons returned to the village,
leaving the prisoners at Fort Snelling, until they should be sent to
Dubuque for trial.
They frequently walked about the fort, accompanied by a guard. Sullen
Face seemed to be indifferent to his fate, and was impressed with the
idea that he never would return to his home. "Beautiful country!" said
he, as he gazed towards the point where the waters of the Mississippi
and St. Peter's meet. "I shall never look upon you again, the waters of
the rivers unite, but I have parted forever from country and friends. My
spirit tells me so. Then welcome death! they guard me now with sword and
bayonet, but the soul of the Dahcotah is free."
After their removal to Dubuque, the two prisoners from Fort Snelling,
with others who had been concerned in the murder, suffered much from
sickness. Sullen Face would not complain, but the others tried to induce
him to make his escape. He, at first, refused to do so, but finding his
companions determined upon going, he at last consented.
Their plans succeeded, and after leaving the immediate neighborhood,
they broke their shackles with stones. They were obliged, however, to
hide themselves for a time among the rocks, to elude the sheriff and his
party. They were not taken, and as soon as they deemed it prudent, they
resumed their route.
Two of the prisoners died near Prairie du Chien. Sullen Face, Forked
Horn, and another Sioux, pursued their journey with difficulty, for they
were near perishing from want of food. They found a place where the
Winnebagoes had encamped, and they parched the corn that lay scattered
on the ground.
Disease had taken a strong hold upon the frame of Sullen Face; he
constantly required the assistance of his companions. When they were
near Prairie le Gros, he became so ill that he was unable to proceed. He
insisted upon his friends leaving him; this they at first refused to do,
but fearing that they would be found and carried back to prison, they
consented—and the dying warrior found himself alone.
Some Indians who were passing by saw him and gently carried him to their
wigwam. But he heeded not their kindness. Death had dimmed the
brightness of his eye, and his fast-failing strength told of the long
journey to the spirits' land.
"It was not thus," he said, "that I thought to die! Where are the
warriors of the Sissetons? Do they listen to my death song?" I hoped to
have triumphed over the white man, but his power has prevailed. My
spirit drooped within his hated walls? But hark! there is music in my
ears—'tis the voice of the sister of my youth—"Come with me my
brother, we wait for you in the house of the spirits! we will sit by the
banks of a lake more beautiful than that by which we wandered in our
childhood; you will roam over the hunting grounds of your forefathers,
and there the white man may never come."
His eyes are closing fast in death, but his lips murmur—"Wenona! I
come! I come!"
* * * * *
IT was in the spring of 1848, that several Dahcotahs were carefully
making their way along the forests near the borders of the Chippeway
country. There had recently been a fight near the spot where they were,
and the Dahcotahs were seeking the bodies of their friends who had been
slain, that they might take them home to bury them.
They moved noiselessly along, for their enemies were near. Occasionally,
one of them would imitate the cry of a bird or of some animal, so that
if the attention of their enemies should be drawn to the spot, the
slight noise they made in moving might be attributed to any but the
They had almost given up the hope of finding their friends, and this was
the close of their last day's efforts to that intent. In the morning
they intended to return to their village.
It was a bright clear evening, and the rays of the setting sun fell upon
some objects further on. For a time the Dahcotahs gazed in silence; but
no movement gave sign of what it was that excited their curiosity. All
at once there was a fearful foreboding; they remembered why they were
there, and they determined to venture near enough to find out what was
the nature of the object on which the rays of the sun seemed to rest as
if to attract their notice.
A few more steps and they were relieved from their terrible suspense,
but their worst fears were realized.
The Dahcotahs recently killed had been skinned by the Chippeways, while
their bodies were yet warm with life, and the skins were stretched upon
poles; while on separate poles the hands were placed, with one finger of
each hand pointing to the Dahcotah country. The savages were in a
fearful rage. They had to endure a twofold insult.
There were the bodies of their friends, treated as if they were but
beasts, and evidently put there to be seen by the Dahcotahs. And
besides, the hands pointing to the country of the Dahcotahs—did it not
plainly say to the spies, go back to your country and say to your
warriors, that the Chippeways despise them, that they are not worthy to
be treated as men?
The spies returned as cautiously as they had ventured near the fatal
spot, and it was not until they were out of reach of danger from their
foes, that they gave vent to their indignation. Then their smothered
rage burst forth. They hastened to return and tell the event of their
journey. They forgot how grieved the wives and sisters of the dead would
be at being deprived of the solace of burying the remains of their
friends—they only thought of revenge for the insult they had received.
When they arrived at their village, they called together their chiefs
and braves, and related to them what they had seen. A council of war was
held, which resulted in immediate preparations being made to resent the
indignity offered to their friends, and the insult to the whole tribe.
The war-dance is always celebrated before a war party goes out to find
an enemy, and there is in every village a war chief, who conducts the
party. The war dance is performed inside of a wigwam, and not out of
door, as is usually represented.
The "Owl" felt himself qualified in every respect to conduct the present
party. He was a great warrior, and a juggler besides; and he had a
reputation acquired from an act performed when he was a very young man,
which showed as much cunning as bravery; for one of these qualities is
as necessary to a Dahcotah war chief as the other.
He was one of a party of Dahcotahs who went to war against the
Chippeways, but without success. On their way back "the Owl" got
separated from the rest of the party, and he climbed a tree to see if he
could discover his comrades. While in the tree a war party of the
Chippeways came in sight and stopped quite near the tree to make
The Owl was in a sad predicament; he knew not what to do to effect his
escape. As he knew he had not the power to contend with his enemies, he
determined to have recourse to stratagem. When it was quite dark he
commenced hooting like an owl, having previously transformed himself
into one. The Chippeways looked up towards the tree and asked the owl
what he was doing there. The owl replied that he had come to see a large
war party of Dahcotahs who would soon pass by. The Chippeways took the
hint, and took to their heels too, and ran home. The Owl then resumed
his form, got down from the tree and returned home.
This wonderful incident, which he related of himself, gave him a great
reputation and a name besides; for until now he had been called Chaskč,
a name always given to the oldest son; but the Indians after this gave
him the name of the Owl.
It being decided that the war party should leave as soon as their
preparations could be made, the war chief sent for those who were to
dance. The dance was performed every third or, fourth night until the
party left. For each dance the war chief had a hew set of performers;
only so many were asked at a time as could conveniently dance inside the
wigwam. While some were dancing, others were preparing for the
expedition, getting extra mocassins made, drying meat, or parching corn.
When all was ready, the party set out, with every confidence in their
war chief. He was to direct them where to find the enemy, and at the
same time to protect them from being killed themselves.
For a few days they hunted as they went along, and they would build
large fires at night, and tell long stories, to make the time pass
The party was composed of about twenty warriors, and they all obeyed
implicitly the orders of their war chief, who appointed some warriors to
see that his directions were carried out by the whole party. Wo to him
who violates a single regulation! his gun is broken, his blanket cut to
pieces, and he is told to return home. Such was the fate of Iron Eyes,
who wandered from the party to shoot a bird on the wing, contrary to the
orders of their chief. But although disgraced and forbidden to join in
the attempt to punish the Chippeways for the outrage they had commited,
he did not return to his village; he followed the tracks of the war
party, determining to see the fun if he could not partake of it.
On the fourth night after they left home, the warriors were all
assembled to hear the war song of their chief. They were yet in their
own country, seated on the edge of a prairie, and back of them as far as
the eye could reach, there was nothing to be seen but the half melted
snow; no rocks, no trees, relieved the sameness of the view. On the
opposite side of the Mississippi, high bluffs, with their worn sides and
broken rocks, hung over the river; and in the centre of its waters lay
the sacred isles, whose many trees and bushes wanted only the warm
breath of summer to display their luxuriance. The war chief commenced.
He prophesied that they would see deer on the next day, but that they
must begin to be careful, for they would then have entered their
enemies' country. He told them how brave they were, and that he was
braver still. He told them the Chippeways were worse than prairie dogs.
To all of which the warriors responded, Ho!
When they found themselves near their enemies, the chief forbade a gun
being fired off; no straggling was allowed; none but the spies were to
go beyond a certain distance from the party.
But after they entered the Chippeway country the duties of the war chief
were still more important. He had to prophesy where the enemy, was to be
found, and about their number; and besides, he had to charm the spirits
of their enemies, that they might be unable to contend with the
Dahcotahs. The spirits on this occasion took the form of a bear.
About nine o'clock at night this ceremony commences. The warriors all
lie down as if asleep, when the war chief signifies the approach of the
spirits to his men, by the earnestness of his exertions in singing.
The song continues, and increases in energy as the spirit gets nearer to
the hole in the ground, which the chief dug and filled with water,
previous to commencing his song. Near this hole he placed a hoop,
against which are laid all the war implements of the chief. Before the
song commences the warriors sit and look steadfastly at their leader.
But when the spirit approaches this hole, the warriors hardly dare
breathe, for fear of frightening it away.
At last the spirit gets close to the hole. The war chief strikes it with
his rattle and kills it; this ensures to the Dahcotahs success in
battle. And most solemnly did the Owl assert to his soldiers, the fact
that he had thus dealt with the bear spirit, while they as earnestly
The next morning, four of the warriors went in advance as spies; one of
them carried a pipe, presented as an offering to deceive the spirits of
their enemies. About noon they sat down to rest, and waited until the
remainder of the party came up. When they were all together again, they
rested and smoked; and other spies were appointed, who took the pipe and
went forward again.
They had not proceeded far when they perceived signs of their enemies.
In the sand near the borders of a prairie were the footprints of
Chippeways, and fresh too. They, congratulated each other by looks, too
cautious even to whisper. In a few moments a hundred Chippeways could
be called up, but still the Dahcotahs plunge into the thick forest that
skirts the edge of the prairie, in order to find out what prospect they
have for delighting themselves with the long wished for revenge.
It was not long before a group of Chippeways was discovered, all
unapprehensive of evil. At their camp the Chippeways had made pickets,
for they knew they might expect retaliation; but those who fell a
sacrifice were not expecting their foes.
The spies were not far ahead—they returned to the party, and then
retraced their steps. The low cries of animals were imitated to prevent
any alarm being given by the breaking of a twig or the rustling of the
leaves. They were very near the Chippeways, when the war chief gave the
signal on a bone whistle, and the Dahcotahs fired. Every one of the
Chippeways fell—two men, three women, and two children.
Then came the tomahawk and scalping knife—the former to finish the work
of death, the latter to bear a trophy to their country, to say, Our
comrades are avenged. Nor was that all. The bodies were cut to pieces,
and then the warriors commenced their homeward journey.
They allowed themselves but little rest until they were out of their
enemies' country. But when they were out of the reach of attack, when
their feet trod again upon Dahcotah soil, then they stopped to stretch
each scalp on a hoop, which was attached to a slender pole. This is
always the work of the war chief.
They look eagerly for the welcome sight of home. The cone-shaped teepees
rise before their view. They know that their young wives will rejoice
to see the scalps, as much as to know that the wanderers have returned.
When they are near their village the war chief raises the song of
victory; the other warriors join their voices to his. The welcome sound
rouses the inhabitants of the village from their duties or amusements.
The warriors enter the village in triumph, one by one, each bearing the
scalp he took; and the stout warrior, the aged woman, and the feeble
child, all press forward to feast their eyes with the sight of
There was a jubilee in the village for weeks. Day and night did the
savages dance round the scalps. But how soon may their rejoicings be
lost in cries of terror! Even now they tremble at the sound of their own
voices when evening draws near—for it is their turn to suffer. They
expect their foes, but they do not dread them the less.
Many of the customs of the Dahcotahs are to be attributed to their
superstitions. Their teepees are always made of buffalo-skins; nothing
would induce them to use deer-skin for that purpose. Many years ago a
woman made a teepee of deer-skin; and was taken suddenly ill, and died
immediately after. Some reason must be found for the cause of her death,
and as no other was known, the Indians concluded that she brought her
death upon herself by using deer-skin for her teepee. They have always,
since, used buffalo-skin for that purpose.
Nothing would induce a Dahcotah woman to look into a looking-glass; for
the medicine men say that death will be the consequence.
But there is no superstition which influences them more than their
belief in Haokah, or the Giant. They say this being is possessed of
superhuman powers: indeed he is deemed so powerful, as to be able to
take the thunder in his hand and cast it to the ground. He dresses in
many colors, and wears a forked hat. One side of his face is red, the
other blue, his eyes are also of different colors. He always carries a
bow and arrow in his hand, but never has occasion to use it, as one look
will kill the animal he wants.
They sing songs to this giant, and once in a long time dance in honor of
him; but so severe is the latter custom, that it is rarely performed.
The following incident will show how great is their reverence for this
singular being. An Indian made a vapor bath, and placed inside of it a
rude image of the giant, made of birch bark. This he intended to pray to
After the hot stone was placed inside of the wigwam, several Indians
went in to assist in giving the bath to their sick friend. One of them
commenced pouring the water on the hot stone, and the water flew on the
others, and scalded them badly; the image of the giant was also
displaced; the Indians never dreamed of attributing their burns to the
natural cause, but concluded that the giant was displeased at their
placing his image there, and they considered it as an instance of his
mercy that they were not scalded to death.
However defective may be the religion of the Dahcotahs, they are
faithful in acting up to all its requirements. Every feast and custom
among them is celebrated as a part of their religion.
After the scalp-dance had been performed long enough, the Dahcotahs of
the villages turned their attention to making sugar. Many groves of
sugar trees were in sight of their village, and on this occasion the
generous sap rewarded their labors.
Nor were they ungrateful; for when the medicine men announced that they
must keep the sugar-feast, all left their occupation, anxious to
celebrate it. Neither need it be concluded that this occasioned them no
loss of time; for they were all occupied with the construction of their
summer wigwams, which are made of the bark of trees, which must be
peeled off in the spring.
But every villager assembled to keep the feast. A certain quantity of
sugar was dealt out to each individual, and any one of them who could
not eat all that was given him was obliged to pay leggins, or a blanket,
or something valuable, to the medicine man. On this occasion, indeed on
most occasions, the Dahcotahs have no difficulty in disposing of any
quantity of food.
When the feast was over, however, the skill of their doctors was in
requisition; for almost all of them were made quite ill by excess, and
were seen at evening lying at full length on the ground, groaning and
writhing with pain.
The day after the sugar feast, the Owl told his wife to get ready her
canoe, as he wanted to spear some fish. She would rather have staid at
home, as she was not fully recovered from her last night's
indisposition. But there was no hesitating when the war chief spoke; so
she placed her child upon her back, and seated herself in the stern of
the canoe, paddling gently along the shore where the fish usually lie.
Her husband stood in the bow of the canoe with a spear about six feet in
length. As he saw the fish lying in the water, he threw the spear into
them, still keeping hold of it.
When the war chief was tired, his wife would stop paddling, and nurse
her child while he smoked. If the Owl were loquaciously inclined, he
would point out to his wife the place where he shot a deer, or where he
killed the man who had threatened his life. Indeed, if you took his word
for it, there was not a foot of ground in the country which had not been
a scene of some exploit.
The woman believed them all; for, like a good wife, she shone by the
reflected light of her husband's fame.
When they returned home, she made her fire and put the fish to cook, and
towards evening many of the Indians were assembled in the wigwam of the
war-chief, and partook of the fish he had caught in the morning.
"Unk-ta-he," [Footnote: The God of the Waters] said one of the oldest
men in the tribe (and reverenced as a medicine man of extraordinary
powers), "Unk-ta-he is as powerful as the thunder-bird. Each wants to be
the greatest god of the Dahcotahs, and they have had many battles. My
father was a great medicine man; he was killed many years ago, and his
spirit wandered about the earth. The Thunder-bird wanted him, and
Unk-ta-he wanted him, for they said he would make a wonderful medicine
man. Some of the sons of Unk-ta-he fought against the sons of the
Thunder, and the young thunder-birds were killed, and then Unk-ta-he
took the spirit of my father, to teach him many mysterious things.
"When my father had lived a long time with Unk-ta-he in the waters under
the earth, he took the form of a Dahcotah again, and lived in this
village. He taught me all that I know, and when I go to the land of
spirits, my son must dance alone all night, and he will learn from me
the secret of the medicine of our clan."
All listened attentively to the old man, for not an Indian there but
believed that he could by a spell cause their instant death; and many
wonderful miracles had the "Elk" wrought in his day.
In the corner of the wigwam sat the Bound Spirit, whose vacant look told
the sad tale of her want of reason. Generally she sat quiet, but if the
cry of an infant fell upon her ear, she would start, and her shriek
could be heard throughout the village.
The Bound Spirit was a Sisseton. In the depth of winter, she had left
her village to seek her friends in some of the neighboring bands. She
was a widow, and there was no one to provide her food.
Accompanied by several other Indians, she left her home, which was made
wretched by her desolate condition—that home where she had been very
happy while her husband lived. It had since been the scene of her want
The small portion of food they had taken for their journey was
exhausted. Rejoiced would they have been to have had the bark of trees
for food; but they were on the open prairie. There was nothing to
satisfy the wretched cravings of hunger, and her child—the very child
that clung to her bosom—was killed by the unhappy mother, and its
tender limbs supplied to her the means of life.
She reached the place of destination, but it was through instinct, for
forgetting and forgotten by all was the wretched maniac who entered her
The Indians feared her; they longed to kill her, but were afraid to do
so. They said she had no heart.
Sometimes she would go in the morning to the shore, and there, with only
her head out of water, would she lie all day.
Now, she has been weeping over the infant who sleeps by her. She is
perfectly harmless, and the wife of the war chief kindly gives her food
and shelter whenever she wishes it.
But it is not often she eats—only when desperate from long fasting—and
when her appetite is satisfied, she seems to live over the scene, the
memory of which has made her what she is.
After all but she had eaten of the fish, the Elk related to them the
story of the large fish that obstructed the passage of the St. Croix
river. The scene of this tradition was far from them, but the Dahcotahs
tell each other over and over again the stories which have been handed
down from their fathers, and these incidents are known throughout the
tribe. "Two Dahcotahs went to war against their enemies. On returning
home, they stopped at the Lake St. Croix, hungry and much fatigued.
"One of them caught a fish, cooked it, and asked his comrade to eat, but
he refused. The other argued with him, and begged of him to eat, but
still he declined.
"The owner of the fish continued to invite his friend to partake of it,
until he, wearied by his importunities, consented to eat, but added with
a mysterious look, 'My friend, I hope you will not get out of patience
with me.' After saying this, he ate heartily of the fish.
"He then seemed to be very thirsty, and asked his companion to bring him
some water out of the lake; he did so, but very soon the thirst, which
was quenched for a time only, returned; more was given him, but the
terrible thirst continued, and at last the Indian, who had begged his
companion to eat, began to be tired of bringing him water to drink. He
therefore told him he would bring him no more, and requested him to go
down to the water and drink. He did so, and after drinking a great
quantity, while his friend was asleep, he turned himself into a large
fish and stretched himself full length across the St. Croix.
"This fish for a long time obstructed the passage of the St. Croix; so
much so that the Indians were obliged to go round it by land.
"Some time ago the Indians were on a hunting excursion up the river, and
when they got near the fish a woman of the party darted ahead in
"She made a dish of bark, worked the edges of it very handsomely, filled
it with water, and placed some red down in it. She then placed the dish
near the fish in the river, and entreated the fish to go to its own
elements, and not to obstruct the passage of the river and give them so
"The fish obeyed, and settled down in the water, and has never since
"The woman who made this request of the fish, was loved by him when he
was a Dahcotah, and for that reason he obeyed her wishes."
Nor was this the only legend with which he amused his listeners. The
night was half spent when they separated to rest, with as firm a faith
in the stories of the old medicine man, as we have in the annals of the
THE MAIDEN'S ROCK;
Lake Pepin is a widening of the Mississippi river. It is about twenty
miles in length, and from one to two miles wide.
The country along its banks is barren. The lake has little current, but
is dangerous for steamboats in a high wind. It is not deep, and abounds
in fish, particularly the sturgeon. On its shores the traveller gathers
white and red agates, and sometimes specimens streaked with veins of
gold color. The lover reads the motto from his mistress' seal, not
thinking that the beautiful stone which made the impression, was found
on the banks of Lake Pepin.
At the south end of the lake, the Chippeway river empties into the
The Maiden's rock is a high bluff, whose top seems to lean over towards
the water. With this rock is associated one of the most interesting
traditions of the Sioux.
But the incident is well-known. Almost every one has read it a dozen
times, and always differently told. Some represent the maiden as
delivering an oration from the top of the rock, long enough for an
address at a college celebration. It has been stated that she fell into
the water, a circumstance which the relative situation of the rock and
river would render impossible.
Writers have pretended, too, that the heroine of the rock was a
Winnebago. It is a mistake, the maiden was a Dahcotah.
It was from the Dahcotahs that I obtained the incident, and they believe
that it really occurred. They are offended if you suggest the
possibility of its being a fiction. Indeed they fix a date to it,
reckoning by the occurrences of great battles, or other events worthy
But to the story—and I wish I could throw into it the feeling, and
energy of the old medicine woman who related it.
About one hundred and fifty years ago, the band of Dahcotahs to which
Wenona belonged, lived near Fort Snelling. Their village was on the site
now occupied by Good Road's band.
The whole band made preparations to go below Lake Pepin, after
porcupines. These animals are of great value among the Dahcotahs; their
flesh is considered excellent as an article of food, and the women stain
their quills to ornament the dresses of the men, their mocassins, and
many other articles in use among them. A young girl of this band had
received repeated offers of marriage from a Dahcotah, whom she hated
with the same degree of intensity that she loved his rival.
She dared not marry the object of her choice, for she knew it would
subject herself and him to the persecutions of her family. She declared
she never would consent to be the wife of the man whom her parents had
chosen for her, though he was young and brave, and, what is most valued
by the friends of an Indian girl, he was said to be the best hunter of
"Marry him, my daughter," said the mother, "your father is old; he
cannot now hunt deer for you and me, and what shall we do for food?
Chaskč will hunt the deer and buffalo, and we shall be comfortable
"Yes," said her father, "your mother speaks well. Chaskč is a great
warrior too. When your brother died, did he not kill his worst enemy and
hang up his scalp at his grave?"
But Wenona persevered in her refusal. "I do not love him, I will not
marry him," was her constant reply.
But Chaskč, trusting to time and her parent's influence, was not
discouraged. He killed game and supplied the wants of the family.
Besides, he had twice bought her, according to Indian custom.
He had given her parents cloth and blankets, calico and guns. The girl
entreated them not to receive them, but the lover refused to take them
back, and, finally, they were taken into the wigwam.
Just as the band was about leaving the village for the hunt, he came
again with many presents; whatever would make the family comfortable on
their journey, and a decided promise was then given that the maiden
should become his wife.
She knew it would be useless to contend, so she seemed to be willing to
submit to her fate. After encamping for a time opposite the Maiden's
Rock to rest from their journey, the hunters determined to go further
down the river. They had crossed over to the other side, and were seated
nearly under the rock.
Their women were in their canoes coming over, when suddenly a loud cry
was heard from an old woman, the mother of Wenona.
The canoe had nearly reached the shore, and the mother continued to
shriek, gazing at the projecting rock.
The Indians eagerly inquired of her what was the matter? "Do you not see
my daughter?" she said; "she is standing close to the edge of the rock!"
She was there indeed, loudly and wildly singing her dirge, an invocation
to the Spirit of the Rock, calm and unconcerned in her dangerous
position, while all was terror and excitement among her friends
The hunters, so soon as they perceived her, hastily ascended the bluff,
while her parents called to her and entreated her to go back from the
edge of the rock. "Come down to us, my child," they cried; "do not
destroy your life; you will kill us, we have no child but you."
Having finished her song, the maiden answered her parents. "You have
forced me to leave you. I was always a good daughter, and never
disobeyed you; and could I have married the man I love, I should have
been happy, and would never have left you. But you have been cruel to
me; you have turned my beloved from the wigwam; you would have forced me
to marry a man I hated; I go to the house of spirits."
By this time the hunters had nearly reached her. She turned towards them
for a moment with a smile of scorn, as if to intimate to them that their
efforts were in vain. But when they were quite near, so that they held
out their arms towards her in their eagerness to draw her from her
dangerous station, she threw herself from the rock.
The first blow she received from the side of the rock must have killed
her, for she fell like a dead bird, amidst the shouts of the hunters
above, and the shrieks of the women below.
Her body was arrayed in her handsomest clothing, placed upon a scaffold,
and afterwards buried.
But the Dahcotahs say that her spirit does not watch over her earthly
remains; for her spirit was offended when she brought trouble upon her
aged mother and father.
Such is the story told by the Dahcotahs; and why not apply to them for
their own traditions?
Neither is there any reason to doubt the actual occurrence of the
Not a season passes away but we hear of some Dahcotah girl who puts an
end to her life in consequence of jealousy, or from the fear of being
forced to marry some one she dislikes. A short time ago a very young
girl hung herself, rather than become the wife of a man who was already
the husband of one of her sisters.
The parents told her they had promised her, and insisted upon her
fulfilling the engagement. Even her sister did not object, nay, rather
seemed anxious to forward the scheme, which would give her a rival from
among her nearest relations.
The young girl finally ran away, and the lover, leaving his wife,
pursued the fugitive, and soon overtook her. He renewed his entreaties,
and finding her still obstinate, he told her that she should become his
wife, and that he would kill her if she made any more trouble.
This last argument seemed to have the desired effect, for the girl
expressed her willingness to return home.
After they arrived, the man went to his wigwam to tell his wife of the
return of her sister, and that everything was now in readiness for
But one hour after, the girl was missing; and when found, was hanging to
a tree, forever free from the power of her tormentors. Her friends
celebrated the ceremonies of death instead of marriage.
It must be conceded that an Indian girl, when desperate with her love
affairs, chooses a most unromantic way of ending her troubles. She
almost invariably hangs herself; when there are so many beautiful lakes
near her where she could die an easier death, and at the same time one
that would tell better, than where she fastens an old leather strap
about her neck, and dies literally by choking. But there is this to be
taken into consideration. When she hangs herself near the village, she
can manage affairs so that she can be cut down if she concludes to live
a little longer; for this frequently occurs, and the suicide lives forty
and sometimes sixty years after. But when Wenona took the resolution of
ending her earthly sorrows, no doubt there were other passions beside
love influencing her mind.
Love was the most powerful. With him she loved, life would have been all
happiness—without him, all misery. Such was the reasoning of her
But she resented the importunity of the hunter whose pretensions her
parents favored. How often she had told him she would die before she
would become his wife; and he would smile, as if he had but little faith
in the words of a woman. Now he should see that her hatred to him was
not assumed; and she would die such a death that he might know that she
feared neither him nor a death of agony.
And while her parents mourned their unkindness, her lover would admire
that firmness which made death more welcome than the triumph of
And sacred is the spot where the devoted girl closed her earthly
sorrows. Spirits are ever hovering near the scene. The laugh of the
Dahcotah is checked when his canoe glides near the spot. He points to
the bluff, and as the shades of evening are throwing dimness and a
mystery around the beauty of the lake, and of the mountains, he fancies
he can see the arms of the girl as she tosses them wildly in the air.
Some have averred they heard her voice as she called to the spirits of
the rock, and ever will the traveller, as he passes the bluff, admire
the wondrous beauty of the picture, and remember the story of the
There is a tradition among the Dahcotahs which fixes a date to the
incident, as well as to the death of the rival lovers of Wenona.
They say that it occurred about the time stated, and that the band of
Indians went and obtained the porcupines, and then they returned and
settled on the St. Croix river.
Shortly after the tragical death of Wenona, the band went again down the
Mississippi, and they camped at what they call the medicine wood. Here a
child died, and the body was laid on a scaffold. The father in the
middle of the night went out to mourn for his child. While he leant
against the scaffold weeping, he saw a man watching him. The stranger
did not appear to be a Dahcotah, and the mourner was alarmed, and
returned to the camp. In the morning he told the Indians of the
circumstance, and they raised the camp and went into the pine country.
The body of the child was carried along, and in he night the father went
out again to lament its death. The same figure appeared to him, and
again he returned, alarmed at the circumstance.
In the morning the Indians moved their camp again, and at night the same
occurrence took place.
The Dahcotahs are slaves to superstition, and they now dreaded a serious
evil. Their fears were not confirmed in the way they anticipated, for
their foes came bodily, and when daylight appeared, one thousand
Chippeway warriors appeared before them, and the shrill whistle and
terrible whoop of war was heard in earnest.
Dreadful were the shouts of the Chippeways, for the Dahcotahs were
totally unprepared for them, and many were laid low at the first
discharge of the rifles.
The merciless Chippeways continued the work of death. The women and
children fled to their canoes, but the Chippeways were too quick for
them; and they only entered their canoes to meet as certain a fate as
those who remained.
The women had not their paddles with them, and there was an eddy in the
current; as soon as the canoe was pushed from the shore, it would whirl
round, and the delighted Chippeways caught the canoes, and pulled them
ashore again, while others let fall upon their victims the
When the Chippeways had killed until they were tired they took what they
wanted from the Sioux camp, and started for home, taking one Dahcotah
boy prisoner. The party had not travelled far, when a number of
Dahcotahs attacked the Chippeways, but the latter succeeded in killing
many of the Dahcotahs. One of the latter fled, and was in his canoe on
the lake St. Croix, when the Chippeways suddenly came upon him.
The little Dahcotah saw his only chance for liberty—he plunged in the
water and made for the canoe of the Dahcotah. In a moment he had reached
and entered it, and the two Dahcotahs were out of sight before the
arrows of their enemies could reach them.
A very few of that band escaped; one of them says that when they were
first attacked by the Chippeways, he saw he had but one chance, so he
dived down to the bottom of the river, and the Chippeways could not
He found the water at the bottom of the river very cold, and when he had
gone some distance, he ventured where the water was warmer, which he
knew was near the shore. He then came out of the water and made
Even this latter trifling incident has been handed down from father to
son, and is believed universally by the Dahcotahs. And according to
their tradition, the lovers and family of Wenona perished in this
battle. At all events, there is no one who can prove that their
tradition or my translation may not be true.
THE INDIAN IN A TRANCE.
* * * * *
About forty years ago, Ahak-tah, "The Male Elk," was taken sick with a
sore throat. It was in the winter too, and sickness and cold together
are hard to bear. Want was an evil from which they were suffering;
though the Dahcotahs were not so poor then as they are now. They had not
given so much of their lands to the white people; and they depended more
upon their own exertions for support than they do at present.
The medicine men did all they could to cure Ahaktah; they tried to charm
away the animal that had entered into his body; they used the sacred
rattle. But Ahaktah's throat got worse; he died, and while his wives and
children wept for him, he had started on his long journey to the land
He was wrapped in scarlet cloth, and laid upon a scaffold. His wives sat
weeping in their teepee, when a cry from their young children drew their
attention to the door. There stood he for whom they mourned. The dead
man again took his place among those who sat beside the household fire.
Tears of grief were shed no more—food was given to Ahaktah, and when he
was refreshed he thus addressed his wondering family:—
"While you were weeping for me, my spirit was on its way to the great
city where our fathers, who have taught us all the wonders of our sacred
medicine, of Haokah the giant, and of the Thunder bird, are now living.
Twice has the sun ceased to shine since I left you, and in that short
time I have seen many strange things. First, I passed through a
beautiful country; the forest-trees were larger than any you have ever
seen. Birds of all colors filled them, and their music was as loud as
when our medicine men play for us to celebrate the scalp dance. The
broad river was full of fish, and the loon screamed as she swam across
the lakes. I had no difficulty in finding my way, for there was a road
through this country. It seemed as if there must have been many
travellers there, though I saw no one.
"This great road was made by the spirits of those who were killed in
battle. No warrior, however brave he may have been, has ever assisted in
making this road, except those who sang their death songs under the
tomahawk of their enemies. Neither did any woman ever assist. She is not
considered worthy to touch the war implements of a Dahcotah warrior, and
she was not permitted to do anything towards completing the path in
which the braves of the Dahcotahs would walk, when they joined their
forefathers in the land of spirits.
"As I pursued my journey, I saw near the banks of the river a teepee; I
entered it, and saw paint and all that a warrior needed to dress himself
in order to be fit to enter the city of spirits. I sat down and plaited
my hair, I put vermilion on my cheeks, and arranged the war-eagle
feathers in my head. Here, I said to myself, did my father rest when he
was on the same journey. I was tired, but I could not wait—I longed to
see my friends who had travelled this path before me—I longed to tell
them that the Dahcotahs were true to the customs of their forefathers—I
longed to tell them that we had drunk deep of the blood of the
Chippeways, that we had eaten the hearts of our enemies, that we had
torn their infants from their mothers' breasts, and dashed them to
"I continued my journey, looking eagerly around me to see some one, but
all was desolate; and beautiful as everything was, I would have been
glad to have seen the face of a friend.
"It was evening when a large city burst upon my sight. The houses were
built regularly on the shores of the river. As far as I could see, the
homes of the spirits of my forefathers were in view.
"But still I saw no one. I descended the hill towards the river, which I
must cross to reach the city of spirits. I saw no canoe, but I feared
nothing, I was so near my journey's end. The river was wide and deep,
and the waves were swiftly following one another, when I plunged among
them; soon I reached the opposite shore, and as I again stood on the
land, I heard some one cry, 'Here he comes! here he comes!' I approached
the nearest house and entered; everything looked awful and mysterious.
"In the corner of the room sat a figure whom I recognized. It was my
mother's brother, Flying Wind, the medicine man. I remembered him, for
it was he who taught me to use my bow and arrow.
"In a bark dish, in the corner of the room, was some wild rice. I was
very hungry, for I had not eaten since I left the earth. I asked my
uncle for some rice to eat, but he did not give it to me. Had I eaten of
the food for spirits, I never should have returned to earth.
"At last my uncle spoke to me. `My nephew,' said he, 'why are you
travelling without a bow and arrow? how can you provide yourself with
food when you have no means of killing game? When my home was on the
Mississippi, the warriors of the Dahcotahs were never without their bows
and arrows—either to secure their food or to strike to the hearts of
"I then remembered that I had been travelling without my bow and arrows.
`But where,' said I to my uncle, `where are the spirits of my
forefathers? where is my brother who fell under the tomahawk of his
enemy? where is my sister who threw herself into the power of Unktahe,
rather than to live and see her rival the wife of the Sun? where are the
spirits of the Dahcotah braves whose deeds are still told from father to
son among us?'
"'The Dahcotah braves are still watching for their enemies—the hunters
are bringing in the deer and the buffalo—our women are planting corn
and tanning deer-skin. But you will not now see them; your step is firm
and your eye is bright; you must return to earth, and when your limbs
are feeble, when your eye is dim, then will you return and find your
home in the city of spirits.'
"So saying, he arose and gave me a bow and arrow. I took it, and while
trying it I left the house; but how I do not know.
"The next thing that I remember was being seated on the top of the
cliffs of Eagle's Nest, below Lake Pepin. I heard a sound, and soon
distinguished my mother's voice; she was weeping. I knew that she was
bending over my body. I could see her as she cut off her hair, and I
felt sad when I heard her cry, 'My son! my son!' Then I recollect being
on the top of the half-side mountain on Lake Pepin. Afterwards I was on
the mountain near Red Wing's village, and again I stood on a rock, on a
point of land near where the waters of the Mississippi and St. Peter's
meet, on the 'Maiden's Jumping Rock;' [Footnote: Near Fort Snelling is a
high rock called the Maiden's Jumping Rock; where formerly the Dahcotah
girls used to jump for amusement, a distance of many feet from the top
to the ground.] here I recovered my right mind."
The daughter of Ahaktah says that her father retained the "wahkun" bow
and arrow that was given him by his uncle, and that he was always
successful in hunting or in war; that he enjoyed fine health, and lived
to be a very old man; and she is living now to tell the story.
* * * * *
Chaskč was tired of living in the village, where the young men, finding
plenty of small game to support life, and yielding to the languor and
indolence produced by a summer's sun, played at checker's, or drank, or
slept, from morn till night, and seemed to forget that they were the
greatest warriors and hunters in the world. This did very well for a
time; but, as I said, Chaskč got tired of it. So he determined to go on
a long journey, where he might meet with some adventures.
Early one morning he shouldered his quiver of arrows, and drawing out
one arrow from the quiver, he shot it in the direction he intended
"Now," said he, "I will follow my arrow." But it seemed as if he were
destined never to find it, for morning and noon had passed away, and the
setting sun warned him, not only of the approach of night, but of
musquitoes too. He thought he would build a fire to drive the musquitoes
away; besides, he was both hungry and tired, though he had not yet found
his arrow, and had nothing to eat.
When he was hesitating as to what he should do, he saw in the bushes a
dead elk, and behold! his arrow was sticking in its side. He drew the
arrow out, then cut out the tongue, and after making a fire, he put the
tongue upon a stick to roast. But while the tongue was roasting, Chaskč
fell asleep and slept many hours.
At day-break a woman came up to him and shook him, as if to awake him.
Chaskč started and rubbed his eyes, and the woman pointed to the path
which led across the prairies. Was he dreaming? No, he felt sure he was
awake. So he got up and followed the woman.
He thought it very strange that the woman did not speak to him. "I will
ask her who she is," said he; but as he turned to address her she raised
her arms in the air, and changing her form to that of a beautiful bird,
blue as the sky that hangs over the morning's mist, she flew away.
Chaskč was surprised and delighted too. He loved adventures; had he not
left home to seek them? so he pursued his journey, quite forgetting his
supper, which was cooking when he fell asleep.
He shot his arrow off again and followed it. It was late in the evening
when he found it, and then it was in the heart of a moose. "I will not
be cheated out of my supper to-night," said he; so he cut the tongue out
of the moose and placed it before the fire to roast. Hardly had he
seated himself to smoke, when sleep overcame him, and he knew nothing
until morning, when a woman approached and shook him as before, pointing
to the path.
He arose quickly and followed her; and as he touched her arm, determined
to find out who she was, she, turning upon him a brow black as night,
was suddenly changed into a crow.
The Dahcotah was completely puzzled. He had never cared for women; on
the contrary, had avoided them. He never wasted his time telling them
they were beautiful, or playing on the flute to charm their senses. He
thought he had left all such things behind him, but already had he been
twice baffled by a woman. Still he continued his journey. He had this
consolation, the Dahcotah girls did not turn into birds and fly away. At
least there was the charm of novelty in the incidents. The next day he
killed a bear, but as usual he fell asleep while the tongue was
roasting, and this time he was waked by a porcupine. The fourth day he
found his arrow in a buffalo. "Now," said he, "I will eat at last, and I
will find out, too, who and what it is that wakes me."
But he fell asleep as usual, and was waked in the morning by a female
who touched him lightly and pointed to the path. Her back was turned
towards him, and instead of rising to follow her, he caught her in his
arms, determined to see and talk with her.
Finding herself a prisoner, the girl turned her face to him, and Chaskč
had never seen anything so beautiful.
Her skin was white as the fairest flower that droops its head over the
banks of the "Lac qui parle." Her hair was not plaited, neither was it
black like the Dahcotah maidens', but it hung in golden ringlets about
her face and neck. The warm blood tinted her cheeks as she met the
ardent gaze of the Dahcotah, and Chaskč could not ask her who she was.
How could he speak when his heart was throbbing, and every pulse
"Let me go," said the girl; "why do you seek to detain me? I am a
beaver-woman, [Footnote: According to the wise men of the Dahcotahs,
beavers and bears have souls. They have many traditions about bear and
beaver-women] and you are a Dahcotah warrior. Turn from me and find a
wife among the dark-faced maidens of your tribe."
"I have always despised them," said the Dahcotah, "but you are more
beautiful than the Spirits of the water. I love you, and will make
you my wife."
"Then you must give up your people," replied the girl, "for I cannot
live as the Dahcotah women. Come with me to my white lodge, and we will
be happy; for see the bright water as it falls on the rocks. We will sit
by its banks during the heat of the day, and when we are tired, the
music of its waves will lull us to sleep."
So she took Chaskč by the hand, and they walked on till they came to an
empty white lodge, and there they lived and were very happy. They were
still happier when their little boy began to play about the lodge; for
although they loved each other very much, still it was lonely where they
lived, and the child was company for them both.
There was one thing, however, that troubled the Dahcotah; he could not
turn his mind from it, and day after day passed without relieving him
from his perplexity. His beautiful wife never ate with him. When he
returned in the evening from hunting, she was always glad to see him,
and while he rested himself and smoked, she would cook his meat for him,
and seem anxious to make him comfortable. But he had never seen her eat;
and when he would tell her that he did not like to eat alone, and beg
her to sit down and eat with him, she would say she was not hungry; and
then employ herself about her wigwam, as if she did not wish him to say
any more about it.
Chaskč made up his mind that he would find out what his wife lived upon.
So the next morning he took his bow and arrows, as if he were going out
on a day's hunt. After going a short distance from the lodge, he hid
himself in the trees, where he could watch the motions of his wife.
She left the lodge after a while, and with an axe in her hand she
approached a grove of poplar trees. After carefully looking round to
satisfy herself that there was no one near, she cut down a number of the
small and tender poplars, and, carrying them home, ate them as if she
enjoyed them very much. Chaskč was infinitely relieved when he saw that
his wife did eat; for it frightened him to think that she lived on
nothing but air. But it was so droll to think she should eat young
trees! surely venison was a great deal better.
But, like a good husband, he thought it was his duty to humor his wife's
fancies. And then he loved her tenderly—he had given up country and
home for her. She was so good and kind, and her beautiful hair! Chaskč
called her "The Mocassin Flower," for her golden ringlets reminded him
of that beautiful flower. "She shall not have to cut the trees down
herself," said Chaskč, "I will bring her food while she prepares mine."
So he went out to hunt, and returned in the evening; and while his wife
was cooking his supper, he went to the poplar grove and cut a number of
young trees; he then brought them to the lodge, and, laying them down,
he said to his wife, "I have found out at last what you like."
No one would suppose but that the beaver-woman would have been grateful
to her husband for thinking of her. Instead of that, she was very angry;
and, taking her child in her arms, she left the lodge. Chaskč was
astonished to see his gentle wife angry, but he concluded he would eat
his supper, and then follow her, hoping that in the meantime she would
recover her good temper.
When he went out, she was nowhere to be seen. He called her—he thought
at first that she had hid herself. But, as night came on, and neither
she nor the child returned, the deserted husband grew desperate; he
could not stay in his lodge, and the only thing that he could do was to
start in search of her.
He walked all night, but saw no trace of her. About sunrise he came to a
stream, and following it up a little way he came to a beaver dam, and on
it sat his wife with her child in her arms. And beautiful she looked,
with her long tresses falling into the water.
Chaskč was delighted to find her. "Why did you leave me?" called he. "I
should have died of grief if I had not found you."
"Did I not tell you that I could not live like the Dahcotah women?"
replied Mocassin Flower. "You need not have watched me to find out what
I eat. Return to your own people; you will find there women enough who
The little boy clapped his hands with delight when he saw his father,
and wanted to go to him; but his mother would not let him. She tied a
string to his leg and told him to go, and the child would plunge into
the water, and when he had nearly reached the shore where his father
sat, then would the beaver-woman draw him back.
In the meantime the Dahcotah had been trying to persuade his wife to
come to him, and return to the lodge; but she refused to do so, and sat
combing her long hair. The child had cried itself to sleep; and the
Dahcotah, worn out with fatigue and grief, thought he would go to
After a while a woman came and touched him on the shoulder, and awaked
him as of old. He started and looked at her, and perceiving it was not
his wife, felt inclined to take little notice of her.
"What," said she, "does a Dahcotah warrior still love a woman who hates
"Mocassin Flower loves me well," replied the Dahcotah; "she has been a
"Yes," replied the woman, "she was for a time; but she sighs to return
home—her heart yearns towards the lover of her youth."
Chaskč was very angry. "Can this be true?" he said; and he looked
towards the beaver dam where his wife still sat. In the meantime the
woman who had waked him, brought him some food in bark dishes worked
"Eat," she said to the Dahcotah; "you are hungry."
But who can tell the fury that Mocassin Flower was in when she saw that
strange woman bringing her husband food. "Who are you," she cried, "that
are troubling yourself about my husband? I know you well; you are the
"And if I am," said the Bear woman, "do not the souls of the bears enjoy
forever the heaven of the Dahcotah?"
Poor Chaskč! he could not prevent their quarrelling, so, being very
hungry, he soon disposed of what the Bear woman had brought him. When
he had done eating, she took the bark dishes. "Come with me," she said;
"you cannot live in the water, and I will take you to a beautiful lodge,
and we will be happy."
The Dahcotah turned to his wife, but she gave him no encouragement to
remain. "Well," said he, "I always loved adventures, and I will go and
seek some more."
The new wife was not half so pretty as the old one. Then she was so
wilful, and ordered him about—as if women were anything but dogs in
comparison with a Dahcotah warrior. Yes, he who had scorned the Dahcotah
girls, as they smiled upon him, was now the slave of a bear-woman; but
there was one comfort—there were no warriors to laugh at him.
For a while they got on well enough. His wife had twin children—one was
a fine young Dahcotah, and the other was a smart active little bear, and
it was very amusing to see them play together. But in all their fights
the young Dahcotah had the advantage; though the little bear would roll
and tumble, and stick his claws into the Dahcotah, yet it always ended
by the little bear's capering off and roaring after his mother. Perhaps
this was the reason, but for some reason or other the mother did not
seem contented and happy. One morning she woke up very early, and while
telling her husband that she had a bad dream, the dog commenced barking
outside the lodge.
"What can be the matter?" said Chaskč.
"Oh!" said the woman, "I know; there is a hunter out there who wants to
kill me, but I am not afraid."
So saying, she put her head out of the door, which the hunter seeing,
shot his arrow; but instead of hurting her, the arrow fell to the
ground, and the bear-woman catching up her little child, ran away and
was soon out of sight.
"Ha!" said Chaskč, "I had better have married a Dahcotah girl, for they
do not run away from their husbands except when another wife comes to
take their place. But I have been twice deserted." So saying, he took
the little Dahcotah in his arms, and followed his wife. Towards evening
he came up with her, but she did not seem glad to see him. He asked her
why she left him; she replied, "I want to live with my own people."
"Well," said the Dahcotah, "I will go with you." The woman consented,
though it was plain she did not want him; for she hated her Dahcotah
child, and would not look at him.
After travelling a few days, they approached a grove of trees, which
grew in a large circle. "Do you see that nest of trees?" said the woman.
"There is the great village of the bears. There are many young men there
that loved me, and they will hate you because I preferred you to them.
Take your boy, then, and return to your people." But the Dahcotah feared
not, and they approached the village of the bears.
There was a great commotion among the bears as they discovered them.
They were glad to see the young bear-woman back again, but they hated
the Dahcotah, and determined on his death. However, they received him
hospitably, conducted him and his wife to a large lodge, gave them food,
and the tired travellers were soon asleep.
But the Dahcotah soon perceived he was among enemies, and he kept a
careful look out upon them. The little Dahcotah was always quarrelling
with the young bears; and on one occasion, being pretty hungry, a cub
annoying him at the time very much, he deliberately shot the cub with
his bow and arrow, and ate him up. This aroused the vengeance of the
bears; they had a consultation among themselves, and swore they would
kill both father and son.
It would be impossible to tell of the troubles of Chaskč. His wife, he
could see, loved one of the bears, and was anxious for his own death;
but whenever he contended with the bears he came off victor. Whether in
running a foot race, or shooting with a bow and arrow, or whatever it
might be, he always won the prize, and this made his enemies still
Four years had now passed since Chaskč left his native village, and
nothing had ever been heard of him. But at length the wanderer returned.
But who would have recognized, in the crest-fallen, melancholy-looking
Indian, the gay warrior that had left home but a few years before? The
little boy that held his hand was cheerful enough, and seemed to
recognize acquaintances, instead of looking for the first time on the
faces of his father's friends.
How did the young girls laugh when he told of the desertion of his first
wife; but when he continued his story, and told them of the
faithlessness of the bear woman also, you heard nothing but shouts of
derision. Was it not a triumph for the Dahcotah women? How had he
scorned them before he went away!—Did he not say that women were only
dogs, or worse than dogs?
But there was one among his old acquaintances who would not join in the
laughter. As she looked on the care-worn countenance of the warrior, she
would fain have offered to put new mocassins upon his feet, and bring
him food. But she dared not subject herself to the ridicule of her
companions—though as night came on, she sought him when there was no
one to heed her.
"Chaskč," she called—and the Dahcotah turned hastily towards her,
attracted by the kindness of her voice—"there are no women who love as
the Dahcotah women. I would have gone to the ends of the earth with you,
but you despised me. You have come back, and are laughed at. Care has
broken your spirit, or you would not submit to the sneers of your old
friends, and the contempt of those who once feared you. I will be your
wife, and, mingling again in the feasts and customs of your race, you
will soon be the bold and fearless warrior that you were when you
And her words were true; for the Indians soon learned that they were not
at liberty to talk to Chaskč of his wanderings. He never spoke of his
former wives, except to compare them with his present, who was as
faithful and obedient as they were false and troublesome. "And he.
found," says Chequered Cloud, "that there was no land like the
Dahcotah's, no river like the Father of waters, and no happiness like
that of following the deer across the open prairies, or of listening, in
the long summer days, to the wisdom of the medicine men."
And she who had loved him in his youth, and wept for him in his absence,
now lies by his side—for Chaskč has taken another long journey. Death
has touched him, but not lightly, and pointed to the path which leads to
the Land of Spirits—and he did not go alone; for her life closed with
and together their spirits watch over the mortal frames that they
"Look at the white woman's life," said Chequered Cloud, as she
concluded the story of Chaskč, "and then at the Dahcotah's. You sleep on
a soft bed, while the Dahcotah woman lays her head upon the ground, with
only her blanket for a covering; when you are hungry you eat, but for
days has the Dahcotah woman wanted for food, and there was none to give
it. Your children are happy, and fear nothing; ours have crouched in the
earth at night, when the whoop and yell of the Chippeways sent terror to
their young hearts, and trembling to their tender limbs.
"And when the fire-water of the white man has maddened the senses of the
Dahcotah, so that the blow of his war club falls upon his wife instead
of his enemy, even then the Dahcotah woman must live and suffer on."
"But, Chequered Cloud, the spirit of the Dahcotah watches over the body
which remains on earth. Did you not say the soul went to the house
"The Dahcotah has four souls," replied the old woman; "one wanders about
the earth, and requires food; another protects the body; the third goes
to the Land of Spirits, while the fourth forever hovers around his
"I wish," said I, "that you would believe in the God of the white
people. You would then learn that there is but one soul, and that that
soul will be rewarded for the good it has done in this life, or punished
for the evil."
"The Great Spirit," she replied, "is the God of the Dahcotah. He made
all things but thunder and wild rice. When we do wrong we are punished
in this world. If we do not live up to the laws of our forefathers, the
spirits of the dead will punish us. We must keep up the customs of our
tribe. If we are afraid that the thunder will strike us, we dance in
honor of it, and destroy its power. Our great medicine feasts are given
in honor of our sacred medicine, which will not only heal the sick, but
will preserve us in danger; and we make feasts for the dead.
"Our children are taught to do right. They are not to injure one who has
not harmed them; but where is the Dahcotah who will not rejoice as he
takes the life of his enemy?"
"But," said I, "you honor the thunder, and yet it strikes you. What is
the thunder, and where does it come from?"
"Thunder is a large bird, flying through the air; its bright tracks are
seen in the heavens, before you hear the clapping of its wings. But it
is the young ones who do the mischief. The parent bird would not hurt a
Dahcotah. Long ago a thunder bird fell dead from the heavens; and our
fathers saw it as it lay not far from Little Crow's village.
"It had a face like a Dahcotah warrior, with a nose like an eagle's
bill. Its body was long and slender, its wings were large, and on them
was painted the lightning. Our warriors were once out hunting in the
winter, when a terrible storm came on, and a large thunder bird
descended to the earth, wearing snow-shoes; he took but a few steps and
then rose up, leaving his tracks in the snow. That winter our hunters
killed many bears."
* * * * *
In February, 1837, a party of Dahcotahs (Warpetonian) fell in with
Hole-in-the-Day, and his band. When Chippeways and Dahcotahs meet there
is generally bloodshed; and, however highly Hole-in-the-Day may be
esteemed as a warrior, it is certain that he showed great treachery
towards the Dahcotahs on many occasions.
Now they met for peaceable purposes. Hole-in-the-Day wished permission
to hunt on the Dahcotah lands without danger from the tomahawk of his
enemies. He proposed to pay them certain articles, which he should
receive from the United States Government when he drew his annuities, as
a return for the privilege he demanded.
The Dahcotahs and Chippeways were seated together. They had smoked the
pipe of peace. The snow had drifted, and lay piled in masses behind
them, contrasting its whiteness with their dark countenances and their
gay ornaments and clothing. For some years there had been peace between
these two tribes; hating each other, as they did, they had managed to
live without shedding each other's blood.
Hole-in-the-Day was the master spirit among the Chippeways. He was the
greatest hunter and warrior in the nation; he had won the admiration of
his people, and they had made him chief. His word was law to them; he
stood firmly on the height to which he had elevated himself.
He laid aside his pipe and arose. His iron frame seemed not to feel the
keen wind that was shaking the feathers in the heads of the many
warriors who fixed their eyes upon him.
He addressed the Dahcotah warriors. "All nations," said he, "as yet
continue the practice of war, but as for me, I now abandon it. I hold
firmly the hand of the Americans. If you, in future, strike me twice or
even three times, I will pass over and not revenge it. If wars should
continue, you and I will not take part in them. You shall not fight,
neither will I. There shall be no more war in that part of the country
lying between Pine Island and the place called Hanoi catnip, (They shot
them in the night). Over this extent of country we will hold the pipe
firmly. You shall hold it by the bowl, and we will hold it by the stem.
The pipe shall be in your keeping." So saying, Hole-in-the-Day advanced
and presented the Dahcotahs with a pipe.
After a moment he continued his speech. "On account of your misconduct,
we did desire your death, and if you had met us last winter to treat of
peace, however great your numbers, we should have killed you all. White
men had ordered us to do so, and we should have done it; because the
Mendewakantonwans had informed us that you intended by treachery to
The Dahcotah chief then replied to him saying, that the Dahcotahs were
willing that the Chippeways should hunt on their lands to the borders of
the prairie, but that they should not enter the prairie. The Chippeways
then agreed to pay them a large quantity of sugar, a keg of powder, and
a quantity of lead and tobacco.
After their engagement was concluded, Hole-in-the-Day rose again and
said, "In the name of the Great Spirit, this peace shall be forever,"
and, turning to Wandiokiya (the Man that talks to the Eagle), a Dahcotah
who had been taught by the missionaries to read and write, requested him
to commit to writing the agreement which had just been made.
Wandiokiya did so, and has since forwarded the writing to the Rev. Mr.
P——, who resides near Fort Snelling. The Dahcotah adds, "We have now
learned that the object of Hole-in-the-Day was to deceive and kill us;
and he and his people have done so, showing that they neither fear God
nor the chief of the American people.
"In this manner they deceived us, deceived us in the name of the Gods.
"Hole-in-the-Day led the band of murderers.
We shall see how faithfully the Chippeway chief kept the treaty that he
had called upon the Great Spirit to witness. There has been great
diversity of opinion concerning Hole-in-the-Day, The Chippeways and
Dahcotahs all feared him. Some of the white people who knew him
admired, while others detested his character.
He was certainly, what all the Chippeways have been, a friend of the
white people, and equally an enemy to the Dahcotahs. He encouraged all
attempts that were made towards the civilization of his people; he tried
to induce them to cultivate the ground; indeed, he sometimes assumed the
duties which among savages are supposed to belong exclusively to
females, and has been frequently seen to work in his garden. Had it been
possible, he would even have forced the Chippeways to civilization.
He had three wives—all sisters. He was fond of them, but if they
irritated him, by disputing among themselves, or neglecting any thing
which he found necessary to his comfort, he was very violent. Blows were
the only arguments he used on such occasions.
The present chief is one of his children; several of them died young,
and their father felt their loss most keenly. Grave and stoical as was
his deportment, his feelings were very strong, and not easily
He was a man of deep thought, and of great ambition. The latter passion
was gratified to as great a degree as was possible. Loved by his tribe,
feared by his enemies, respected and well treated by the white people,
what more could a savage ask? Among the Indians he was a great man, but
he was truly great in cunning and deceit.
On this occasion, however, the Dahcotahs had perfect confidence in him,
and it was on the first day of April, in the same year, that they
arrived at the place appointed to meet the Chippeways, near the east
branch of the Chippeway river, about thirty miles northeast of Lac qui
parle. The women raised the teepees, six in number, and prepared the
scanty portion of food for their families. Here they remained, until
their patience was almost exhausted, constantly expecting
Hole-in-the-Day to appear; but day after day passed, and they were still
disappointed. Now and then the reports of fire-arms were heard near
them, but still the Chippeways did not visit the camp of the Dahcotahs.
Famine now showed itself among them. They had neither corn nor flour.
Had the wild ducks flown over their heads in clouds, there was but
little powder and shot to kill them—but there were few to be seen. Some
of the Indians proposed moving their camp where game was more
plenty—where they might see deer, and use their bows and arrows to some
purpose. But others said, if they were not at the appointed place of
meeting, they would violate the contract, and lose their claim to the
articles that Hole-in-the-day had promised to deliver to them.
It was finally concluded that the party should divide, one half moving
off in search of food, the other half remaining where they were, in
hopes that Hole-in-the-Day would make his appearance.
Three teepees then remained, and they were occupied by seventeen
persons, all women and children excepting four. It was drawing on
towards evening, when the Dahcotahs heard the sound of footsteps, and
their satisfaction was very great, when they perceived the Chippeway
chief approach, accompanied by ten of his men. These men had been
present at the council of peace in February.
One of the Dahcotahs, named Red Face, had left his family in the
morning, to attend to the traps he had set for beaver. He had not
returned when the Chippeways arrived. His two wives were with the
Dahcotahs who received the Chippeways. One of these women had two
children; the other was quite young, and, according to Indian ideas,
beautiful too. She was the favorite wife.
The Dahcotahs received the Chippeways with real pleasure, in full faith
and confidence. "Hole-in-the-Day has been long in coming," said one of
the Dahcotahs; "his friends have wished to smoke the pipe of peace with
him, but some of them have left us to seek for food. We welcome you, and
will eat together, and our friendship shall last forever."
Hole-in-the-Day met his advances with every appearance of cordiality.
One thing, however, the Dahcotahs observed, that the Chippeways did not
fire their guns off when they arrived, which is done by Indians when
they make a visit of friendship.
The party passed the evening in conversation. All the provisions of the
Dahcotahs were called in requisition to feast the Chippeways. After
eating, the pipe went round again, and at a late hour they laid down to
sleep, the Chippeways dividing their party, several in each teepee.
Hole-in-the-day lay down by the side of his host, so motionless you
would have thought that sleep had paralyzed his limbs and senses; his
regular breathing intimates a heart at peace with himself and his foes;
but that heart was beating fast, for in a moment he raises himself
cautiously, gazes and smiles too upon the sleeping Dahcotah beside him.
He gives the appointed signal, and instantaneously plunges his knife
into the heart of the trusting Dahcotah. It was child's play afterwards
to quiet the shrill shrieks of the terrified wife. A moment more, and
she and her child lay side by side, never to awake again.
For a short time broken and shrill cries were heard from the other
teepees, but they were soon over. The two wives of Red Face had laid
down without a fear, though their protector was absent. The elder of the
two clasped her children to her heart, consoled, in a measure, while
listening to their calm breathing, for the loss of the love of her
husband. She knew that the affections of a husband might vary, but the
tie between mother and child is indissoluble.
The young wife wondered that Red Face was not by her side. But he would
return to-morrow, and her welcome would be all the greeting that he
would wish for. While her thoughts are assuming the form of dreams, she
sees the fatal weapon pointed at the mother and child. The bullet that
kills the sleeping infant on its mother's breast, wounds the mother
also; but she flies in horror, though not soon enough to escape the
sight of her other pleading child, her warrior-son, vainly clasping his
hands in entreaty to the savage, who, with another blow from his
tomahawk, puts an end to his sufferings. The wretched mother escapes,
for Hole-in-the-Day enters the teepee, and takes prisoner the younger
wife. She escapes a present death—what will be her future fate?
The elder of the two wives escaped from the murderous Chippeways. Again
and again, in the darkness of the night, she turns back to flee from her
deadly foe, but far more from the picture of her children, murdered
before her eyes. She knew the direction in which the Dahcotahs who had
left the party had encamped, and she directed her steps to find them.
One would think she would have asked death from her enemies—her husband
loved her no more, her children were dead—but she clung to life.
She reached the teepees at last, and hastened to tell of her sorrows,
and of the treachery of Hole-in-the-Day. For a moment the utmost
consternation prevailed among the Indians, but revenge was the second
thought, and rapidly were their preparations made to seek the scene of
the murder. The distance was accomplished in a short time, and the
desolation lay before their eyes.
The fires in the teepees were not gone out; the smoke was ascending to
the heavens; while the voices of the murdered Dahcotahs seemed to call
upon their relatives for revenge.. There lay the warriors, who, brave as
Hole-in-the-Day, had laid aside their weapons, and reposed on the faith
of their enemies, their strong limbs powerless, their faces turned
towards the light, which fell upon their glassy eyes. See the mother, as
she bends over the bodies of her innocent children!—her boy, who walked
so proudly, and said he would kill deer for his mother; her infant,
whose life had been taken, as it were, from her very heart. She strains
them to her bosom, but the head leans not towards her, and the arms are
stiff in death.
Red Face has asked for his young wife. She is alive, but, far worse than
death, she is a prisoner to the Chippeways. His children are dead before
his eyes, and their mother, always obedient and attentive, does not hear
him when he speaks to her. The remains of the feast are scattered on
the ground; the pipe of peace lies broken among them.
In the course of the morning the Rev. Mr.——, missionary among the
Dahcotahs, with the assistance of an Indian named Round Wind, collected
the bodies and buried them.
Of the fourteen persons who were in the three teepees, no more than four
escaped; two young men and two women.
The Chippeways fled as quickly as possible from the country of the
Dahcotahs, with their prisoner—sad change for her. A favorite wife
finds herself in the power of ten warriors, the enemies of her people.
The cries of her murdered friends are yet sounding in her ears; and she
knows not how soon their fate may be hers. Every step of the weary
journey she pursues, takes her farther from her country. She dares not
weep, she cannot understand the language of her enemies, but she
understands their looks, and knows she must obey them. She wishes they
would take her life; she would take it herself, but she is watched, and
it is impossible.
She sees by their angry gestures and their occasional looks towards her,
that she is the subject of their dispute, until the chief raises his
eyes and speaks to the Chippeways—and the difference ceases.
At length her journey is at an end. They arrive at the village, and
Hole-in-the-Day and his warriors are received with manifestations of
delight. They welcomed him as if he had performed a deed of valor
instead of one of cowardice.
The women gaze alternately upon the scalps and upon the prisoner. She,
poor girl, is calm now; there is but one thought that makes her tired
limbs shake with terror. She sees with a woman's quickness that there is
no female among those who are looking at her as beautiful as she is. It
may be that she may be required to light the household fires for one of
her enemies. She sees the admiring countenance of one of the young
Chippeway warriors fixed upon her; worn out with fatigue, she cannot
support the wretched thought. For a while she is insensible even to
On recovering, food is given her, and she tries to eat. Nothing but
death can relieve her. Where are the spirits of the rocks and rivers of
her land? Have they forgotten her too?
Hole-in-the-Bay took her to his teepee. She was his prisoner, he chose
to adopt her, and treated her with every kindness. He ordered his men
not to take her life; she was to be as safe in his teepee as if she were
his wife or child.
For a few days she is allowed to remain quiet; but at length she is
brought out to be present at a council where her fate was to be decided.
Hole-in-the-Day took his place in the council, and ordered the prisoner
to be placed near him. Her pale and resigned countenance was a contrast
to the angry and excited faces that lowered upon her; but the chief
looked unconcerned as to the event. However his warriors might contend,
the result of the council would depend upon him; his unbounded influence
After several speeches had been made, Stormy Wind rose and addressed the
chief. His opinion was that the prisoner should suffer death. The
Dahcotahs had always been enemies, and it was the glory of the
Chippeways to take the lives of those they hated. His chief had taken
the prisoner to his teepee; she was safe; she was a member of his
family—who would harm her there? but now they were in council to decide
upon her fate. He was an old man, had seen many winters—he had often
travelled far and suffered much to take the life of an enemy; and here,
where there is one in their power, should they lose the opportunity of
revenge? She was but a woman, but the Dahcotah blood flowed in her
veins. She was not fit to live. The Eagle spoke next. He was glad that
the chief had taken the prisoner to his teepee—it had been always
customary occasionally to adopt a prisoner, and the chief did well to
keep up the customs of their tribe. The prisoner was young, she could be
taught to love the Chippeway nation; the white people did not murder
their prisoners; the Chippeways were the friends of the white people;
let them do as they did, be kind to the prisoner and spare her life. The
Eagle would marry the Dahcotah girl; he would teach her to speak the
language of her adopted tribe; she should make his mocassins, and her
children would be Chippeways. Let the chief tell the Eagle to take the
girl home to his teepee.
The Eagle's speech created an excitement. The Indians rose one after the
other, insisting upon the death of their prisoner. One or two seconded
the Eagle's motion to keep her among them, but the voices of the others
prevailed. The prisoner saw by the faces of the savages what their words
portended. When the Eagle rose to speak, she recognized the warrior
whose looks had frightened her; she knew he was pleading for her life
too; but the memory of her husband took away the fear of death. Death
with a thousand terrors, rather than live a wife, a slave to the
Chippeways! The angry Chippeways are silenced, for their chief addresses
them in a voice of thunder; every voice is hushed, every countenance is
respectfully turned towards the leader, whose words are to decide the
fate of the unhappy woman before them.
"Where is the warrior that will not listen to the words of his chief? my
voice is loud and you shall hear. I have taken a Dahcotah woman
prisoner; I have chosen to spare her life; she has lived in my teepee;
she is one of my family; you have assembled in council to-day to decide
her fate—I have decided it. When I took her to my teepee, she became as
my child or as the child of my friend. You shall not take her life, nor
shall you marry her. She is my prisoner—she shall remain in my teepee."
Seeing some motion of discontent among those who wished to take her
life, he continued, while his eyes shot fire and his broad chest heaved
"Come then and take her life. Let me see the brave warrior who will take
the life of my prisoner? Come! she is here; why do you, not raise your
tomahawks? It is easy to take a woman's scalp."
Not a warrior moves. The prisoner looks at the chief and at his
warriors. Hole-in-the-Day leads her from the council and points to his
teepee, which is again her home, and where she is as safe as she would
be in her husband's teepee, by the banks of the Mine So-to.
While the wife of Red Face lived from day to day in suspense as to her
fate, her husband made every effort for her recovery. Knowing that she
was still alive, he could not give up the hope of seeing her again.
Accordingly, the facts were made known at Fort Snelling, and the
Chippeway interpreter was sent up to Hole-in-the-Day's village, with an
order from the government to bring her down.
She had been expected for some time, when an excitement among a number
of old squaws, who were standing outside of the gate of the fort, showed
that something unusual was occasioning expressions of pleasure; and as
the wife of Red Face advanced towards the house of the interpreter,
their gratification was raised to the utmost.
Red Face and some of the Dahcotah warriors were soon there too—and the
long separated husband and wife were again united.
But whatever they might have felt on the occasion of meeting again, they
showed but little joy. Red Face entered the room where were assembled
the Indians and the officers of the garrison. He shook hands with the
officers and with the interpreter, and, without looking at his wife,
took his seat with the other Dahcotahs.
But her composure soon left her. When she saw him enter, the blood
mantled in her pale cheek—pale with long anxiety and recent fatigue.
She listened while the Dahcotahs talked with the agent and the
commanding officer; and at last, as if her feelings could not longer be
restrained, she arose, crossed the room, and took her seat at his feet!
The chief Hole-in-the-Day has been dead some years, and, in one of the
public prints, it was stated that he was thrown from his carriage and
killed. This was a genteel mode of dying, which cannot, with truth, be
attributed to him.
He always deplored the habit of drinking, to which the Indians are so
much addicted. In his latter years, however, he could not withstand the
temptation; and, on one occasion, being exceedingly drunk, he was put
into an ox-cart, and being rather restive, was thrown out, and the cart
wheel went over him.
Thus died Hole-in-the-Day-one of the most noted Indians of the present
day; and his eldest son reigns in his stead.
[Illustration: HAOKAH THE ANTI-NATURAL GOD; ONE OF THE GIANTS OF THE
DAHCOTAHS. Drawn by White Deer, a Sioux Warrior who lives near Fort
EXPLANATION OF THE DRAWING.
1. The giant.
2. A frog that the giant uses for an arrow-point.
3. A large bird that that the giant keeps in his court.
4. Another bird.
5. An ornament over the door leading into the court.
6. An ornament over a door.
7. Part of court ornamented with down.
8. Part of do. do. with red down.
9. A bear; 10. a deer; 11. an elk; 12. a buffalo.
13, 14. Incense-offering.
15. A rattle of deer's claws, used when singing.
16. A long flute or whistle.
17, 18, 19, 20. Are meteors that the giant sends out for his defence,
or to protect him from invasion.
21, 22, 23, 24. The giant surrounded with lightnings, with which he
kills all kinds of animals that molest him.
25. Red down in small bunches fastened to the railing of the court.
26. The same. One of these bunches of red down disappears every time
an animal is found dead inside the court.
27, 28. Touchwood, and a large fungus that grows on trees.—These are
eaten by any animal that enters the court, and this food causes
29. A streak of lightning going from the giant's hat.
30. Giant's head and hat. 31. His bow and arrow.
ANOTHER OF THE GIANT GODS OF THE DAHCOTAHS.
Wah-Zee-Yah had a son who was killed by Etokah Wachastah, Man of the
South. Wah-zee-yah is the god of the winter, and Etokah Wachastah is the
god of the summer. When there is a cold spell early in the warm weather,
the Dahcotahs say Wah-zee-yah is looking back. When the son of
Wah-zee-yah was killed, there were six on each side; the Beings of the
south were too strong for those of the north, and conquered them. When
the battle was over, a fox was seen running off with one of the Beings
of the north.
These gods of the Dahcotahs are said to be inferior to the Great Spirit;
but if an Indian wants to perform a deed of valor, he prays to Haokah
the Giant. When they are in trouble, or in fear of anything, they pray
to the Great Spirit. You frequently see a pole with a deer-skin, or a
blanket hung to it; these are offerings made to the Great Spirit, to
propitiate him. White Dog, who lives near Fort Snelling, says he has
often prayed to the Great Spirit to keep him from sin, and to enable him
and his family to do right. When he wishes to make an offering to the
Great Spirit, he takes a scarlet blanket, and paints a circle of blue
in the centre, (blue is an emblem of peace,) and puts ten bells, or
silver brooches to it. This offering costs him $20. Christians are too
apt to give less liberally to the true God. When White Dog goes to war,
he makes this offering.
White Dog says he never saw the giant, but that "Iron Members," who died
last summer, saw one of the giants several years ago.
Iron Members was going hunting, and when he was near Shah-co-pee's
village, he met the Giant. He wore a three-cornered hat, and one side
was bright as the sun; so bright one could not look upon it; and he had
a crooked thing upon his shoulder.
Iron Members was on a hill; near which was a deep ravine, when suddenly
his eye rested upon something so bright that it pained him to look at
it. He looked down the ravine and there stood the Giant. Notwithstanding
his position, his head reached to the top of the trees. The Giant was
going northwards, and did not notice the Indian or stop; he says he
watched the Giant; and, as he went forward, the trees and bushes seemed
to make way for him. The visit was one of good luck, the Indians say,
for there was excellent hunting that season.
The Dahcotahs believe firmly the story of Iron Members. He was one of
their wisest men. He was a great warrior and knew how to kill his
enemies. White Dog says that at night, when they were on a war party,
Iron Members would extinguish all the fires of the Dahcotahs, and then
direct his men where to find the Chippeways. He would take a spoonful of
sugar, and the same quantity of whiskey, and make an offering to the
spirits of their enemies; he would sing to them, and charm them so that
they would come up so close to him that he would knock them on the head
with his rattle, and kill them. These spirits approach in the form of a
bear. After this is done, they soon find their enemies and conquer them.
The Dahcotahs think their medicine possesses supernatural powers; they
burn incense,—leaves of the white cedar tree,—in order to destroy the
supernatural powers of a person who dislikes them. They consider the
burning of incense a preventive of evil, and believe it wards off danger
from lightning. They say that the cedar tree is wahkun (spiritual) and
on that account they burn its leaves to ward off danger. The temple of
Solomon was built of cedar.
Unktahe, the god of the waters, is much reverenced by the Dahcotahs.
Morgan's bluff, near Fort Snelling, is called "God's house" by the
Dahcotahs; they say it is the residence of Unktahe, and under the hill
is a subterranean passage, through which they say the water-god passes
when he enters the St. Peter's. He is said to be as large as a white
Near Lac qui parle is a hill called "the Giant's house." On one occasion
the Rev. Mr. —— was walking with a Dahcotah, and as they approached
this hill the Dahcotah exclaimed, "Do you not see him, there he is." And
although no one else saw the Giant, he persisted in watching him for a
few moments as he passed over the hill.
Near Lac qui parle, is living an old Dahcotah woman of a singular
appearance. Her face is very black, and her hair singed and
faded-looking. She was asked by a stranger to account for her singular
appearance. "I dreamed of the Giant," she said; "and I was frightened
when I woke; and I told my husband that I would give a dance to the
Giant to propitiate him; but my husband said that I was not able to go
through the Giant's dance; that I would only fail, and bring disgrace
upon him and all my family. The Giant was very angry with me, and
punished me by burning my face black, and my hair as you see it." Her
husband might well fear that she would not be able to perform
It would be impossible to give any idea of the number of the gods of the
Dahcotahs. All nature is animated with them; every mountain, every tree,
is worshipped, as among the Greeks of old, and again, like the
Egyptians, the commonest animals are the objects of their adoration.
May the time soon come when they will acknowledge but one God, the
Creator of the Earth and Heaven, the Sovereign of the universe!
STORMS IN LIFE AND NATURE;
UNKTAHE AND THE THUNDER BIRD
"Ever," says Checkered Cloud, "will Unktahe, the god of the waters, and
Wahkeon, (Thunder,) do battle against each other. Sometimes the thunder
birds are conquerors—often the god of the waters chases his enemies
back to the distant clouds."
Many times, too, will the daughters of the nation go into the pathless
prairies to weep; it is their custom; and while there is sickness, and
want, and death, so long will they leave the haunts of men to weep where
none but the Great Spirit may witness their tears. It is only, they
believe, in the City of spirits, that the sorrows of Dahcotah women will
cease—there, will their tears be dried forever.
Many winters have passed away since Harpstenah brought the dead body of
her husband to his native village to be buried; my authority is the
"medicine woman," whose lodge, for many years, was to be seen on the
banks of Lake Calhoun.
This village is now deserted. The remains of a few houses are to be
seen, and the broken ground in which were planted the poles of their
teepees. Silence reigns where the merry laugh of the villagers often
met in chorus. The scene of the feast and dance is now covered with long
grass, but "desolation saddens all its green."
Dark and heavy clouds hung over the village of "Sleepy Eyes," one of the
chiefs of the Sioux. The thunder birds flapped their wings angrily as
they flew along, and where they hovered over the "Father of many
waters," the waves rose up, and heaved to and fro. Unktahe was eager to
fight against his ancient enemies; for as the storm spirits shrieked
wildly, the waters tossed above each other; the large forest trees were
uptorn from their roots, and fell over into the turbid waters, where
they lay powerless amid the scene of strife; and while the vivid
lightning pierced the darkness, peal after peal was echoed by the
One human figure was seen outside the many teepees that rose side by
side in the village. Sleepy Eyes alone dared to stand and gaze upon the
tempest which was triumphing over all the powers of nature. As the
lightning fell upon the tall form of the chief, he turned his keen
glance from the swift-flying clouds to the waters, where dwelt the god
whose anger he had ever been taught to fear. He longed, though
trembling, to see the countenance of the being whose appearance is the
sure warning of calamity. His superstitious fears told him to turn, lest
the deity should rise before him; while his native courage, and love of
the marvellous, chained him to the spot.
The storm raged wilder and louder—the driving wind scattered the hail
around him, and at length the chief raised the door of his teepee, and
joined his frightened household. Trembling and crouching to the ground
were the mothers and children, as the teepee shook from the force of the
wind. The young children hid their faces close against their mothers'
breasts. Every head was covered, to avoid the streaked lightning as it
glanced over the bent and terrified forms, that seemed to cling to the
earth for protection.
At the end of the village, almost on the edge of the high bluff that
towered above the river, rose a teepee, smaller than the rest. The open
door revealed the wasted form of Harpstenah, an aged woman.
Aged, but not with years! Evil had been the days of her pilgrimage.
The fire that had burned in the wigwam was all gone out, the dead ashes
lay in the centre, ever and anon scattered by the wind over the wretched
household articles that lay around. Gone out, too, were the flames that
once lighted with happiness the heart of Harpstenah.
The sorrows of earth, more pitiless than the winds of heaven, had
scattered forever the hopes that had made her a being of light and life.
The head that lies on the earth was once pillowed on the breast of the
lover of her youth. The arm that is heavily thrown from her once clasped
his children to her heart.
What if the rain pours in upon her, or the driving wind and hail scatter
her wild locks? She feels it not. Life is there, but the consciousness
of life is gone forever.
A heavier cloud hangs about her heart than that which darkens nature.
She fears not the thunder, nor sees the angry lightning. She has laid
upon the scaffold her youngest son, the last of the many ties that bound
her to earth.
One week before, her son entered the wigwam. He was not alone; his
comrade, "The Hail that Strikes," accompanied him.
Harpstenah had been tanning deer-skin near her door. She had planted two
poles firmly in the ground, and on them she had stretched the deer-skin.
With an iron instrument she constantly scraped the skin, throwing water
upon it. She had smoked it too, and now it was ready to make into
mocassins or leggins. She had determined, while she was tanning the
deer-skin, how she would embroider them. They should be richer and
handsomer even than those of their chief's son; nay, gayer than those
worn by the chief himself. She had beads and stained porcupine quills;
all were ready for her to sew.
The venison for the evening meal was cooked and placed in a wooden bowl
before the fire, when the two young men entered.
The son hardly noticed his mother's greeting, as he invited his friend
to partake of the venison. After eating, he filled his pipe, smoked, and
offered it to the other. They seemed inclined to waste but little time
in talking, for the pipe was put by, and they were about to leave the
teepee, when the son's steps were arrested by his mother's asking him if
he were going out again on a hunt. "There is food enough," she added,
"and I thought you would remain at home and prepare to join in the dance
of the sun, which will be celebrated to-morrow. You promised me to do
so, and a Dahcotah values his word."
The young man hesitated, for he loved his mother, and he knew it would
grieve her to be told the expedition upon which he was going.
The eyes of his comrade flashed fire, and his lip curled scornfully, as
he turned towards the son of Harpstenah. "Are you afraid to tell your
mother the truth," he said, "or do you fear the 'long knives' [Footnote:
Officers and soldiers are called long knives among the Sioux, from their
wearing swords.] will carry you a prisoner to their fort? I will tell
you where we are going," he added. "The Dahcotahs have bought us
whiskey, and we are going to meet them and help bring it up. And now
cry—you are a woman—but it is time for us to be gone."
The son lingered—he could not bear to see his mother's tears. He knew
the sorrows she had endured, he knew too (for she had often assured him)
that should harm come to him she would not survive it. The knife she
carried in her belt was ready to do its deadly work. She implored him to
stay, calling to his mind the deaths of his father and of his murdered
brothers; she bade him remember the tears they had shed together, and
the promises he had often made, never to add to the trials she
It was all in vain; for his friend, impatient to be gone, laughed at him
for listening to the words of his mother. "Is not a woman a dog?" he
said. "Do you intend to stay all night to hear your mother talk? If so,
tell me, that I may seek another comrade—one who fears neither a white
man nor a woman."
This appeal had its effect, for the young men left the teepee together.
They were soon out of sight, while Harpstenah sat weeping, and swaying
her body to and fro, lamenting the hour she was born. "There is no
sorrow in the land of spirits," she cried; "oh! that I were dead!"
The party left the village that night to procure the whiskey. They were
careful to keep watch for the Chippeways, so easy would it be for their
enemies to spring up from behind a tree, or to be concealed among the
bushes and long grass that skirted the open prairies. Day and night they
were on their guard; the chirping of the small bird by day, as well as
the hooting of an owl by night—either might be the feigned voice of a
tomahawked enemy. And as they approached St. Anthony's Falls, they had
still another cause for caution. Here their friends were to meet them
with the fire water. Here, too, they might see the soldiers from Fort
Snelling, who would snatch the untasted prize from their lips, and carry
them prisoners to the fort—a disgrace that would cling to them forever.
Concealed under a rock, they found the kegs of liquor, and, while
placing them in their canoes, they were joined by the Indians who had
been keeping guard over it, and at the same time watching for
In a few hours they were relieved of their fears. The flag that waved
from the tower at Fort Snelling, had been long out of sight. They kept
their canoes side by side, passing away the time in conversation.
The women who were paddling felt no fatigue. They knew that at night
they were to have a feast. Already the fires of the maddening drink had
made the blood in their dull veins course quickly. They anticipated the
excitement that would make them forget they had ever been cold or
hungry; and bring to them bright dreams of that world where sorrow
"We must be far on our journey to-night," said the Rattler; "the long
knives are ever on the watch for Dahcotahs with whiskey."
"The laws of the white people are very just," said an old man of the
party; "they let their people live near us and sell us whiskey, they
take our furs from us, and get much money. They have the right to
bring their liquor near us, and sell it, but if we buy it we are
punished. When I was young," he added, bitterly, "the Dahcotahs were
free; they went and came as they chose. There were no soldiers sent to
our villages to frighten our women and children, and to take our young
men prisoners. The Dahcotahs are all women now—there are no warriors
among them, or they would not submit to the power of the long knives."
"We must submit to them," said the Rattler; "it would be in vain to
attempt to contend with them. We have learned that the long knives can
work in the night. A few nights ago, some young men belonging to the
village of Marpuah Wechastah, had been drinking. They knew that the
Chippeway interpreter was away, and that his wife was alone. They went,
like cowards as they were, to frighten a woman. They yelled and sung,
they beat against her door, shouting and laughing when they found she
was afraid to come out. When they returned home it was just day; they
drank and slept till night, and then they assembled, four young men in
one teepee, to pass the night in drinking.
"The father of White Deer came to the teepee. 'My son,' said he, 'it is
better for you to stop drinking and go away. You have an uncle among the
Tetons, go and visit him. You brought the fire water here, you
frightened the wife of the Interpreter, and for this trouble you will be
punished. Your father is old, save him the disgrace of seeing his son a
prisoner at the Fort.'
"'Fear not, my father,' said the young man, 'your Son will never be a
prisoner. I wear a charm over my heart, which will ever make me free as
the wind. The white men cannot work in the night; they are sleeping
even now. We will have a merry night, and when the sun is high, and the
long knives come to seek me, you may laugh at them, and tell them to
follow me to the country of the Tetons.' The father left the teepee, and
White Deer struck the keg with his tomahawk. The fire water dulled their
senses, for they heard not their enemies until they were upon them.
"It was in the dead of night—all but the revellers slept—when the
soldiers from the fort surrounded the village.
"The mother of White Deer heard the barking of her dog. She looked out
of the door of her teepee. She saw nothing, for it was dark; but she
knew there was danger near.
"Our warriors, roused from their sleep, determined to find out the cause
of the alarm; they were thrust back into their teepees by the bayonets
of the long knives, and the voice of the Interpreter was heard, crying,
'The first Dahcotah that leaves his lodge shall be shot.'
"The soldiers found out from the old chief the teepee of the revellers.
The young men did not hear them as they approached; they were drinking
and shouting. White Deer had raised the cup to his lips, when the
soldier's grasp was upon him. It was too late for him to fly.
"There was an unopened keg of liquor in the teepee. The soldiers struck
it to pieces, and the fire water covered the ground.
"The hands of White Deer were bound with an iron chain; he threw from
him his clothes and his blanket. He was a prisoner, and needed not the
clothing of a Dahcotah, born free.
"The grey morning dawned as they entered the large door of the fort. His
old father soon followed him; he offered to stay, himself, as a
prisoner, if his young son could be set free.
"It is in vain, then, that we would contend with the white man; they
keep a watch over all our actions. They work in the night."
"The long knives will ever triumph, when the medicine men of our nation
speak as you do," said Two Stars. "I have lived near them always, and
have never been their prisoner. I have suffered from cold in the winter,
and have never asked clothing, and from hunger, and have never asked
food. My wife has never stood at the gate to ask bread, nor have my
daughters adorned themselves to attract the eyes of their young men. I
will live and die on the land of my forefathers, without asking a favor
of an enemy. They call themselves the friends of the Dahcotahs. They are
our friends when they want our lands or our furs.
"They are our worst enemies; they have trampled us under foot. We do not
chase the deer on the prairies as eagerly as they have hunted us down.
They steal from us our rights, and then gain us over by fair words. I
hate them; and had not our warriors turned women, and learned to fear
them, I would gladly climb their walls, and shout the war-cry in their
ears. The Great Spirit has indeed forsaken his children, when their
warriors and wise men talk of submission to their foes."
Well might Harpstenah sit in her lodge and weep. The sorrows of her life
passed in review before her. Yet she was once the belle of an Indian
village; no step so light, no laugh so merry as hers. She possessed too,
a spirit and a firmness not often found among women.
She was by birth the third daughter, who is always called Harpstenah
among the Sioux. Her sisters were married, and she had seen but fourteen
summers when old Cloudy Sky, the medicine man, came to her parents to
buy her for his wife.
They dared not refuse him, for they were afraid to offend a medicine
man, and a war chief besides. Cloudy Sky was willing to pay them well
for their child. So she was told that her fate for life was determined
upon. Her promised bridegroom had seen the snows of eighty winters.
It was a bright night in the "moon for strawberries." [Footnote: The
month of June.] Harpstenah had wept herself to sleep, and she had reason
too, for her young companions had laughed at her, and told her that she
was to have for a husband an old man without a nose. And it was true,
though Cloudy Sky could once have boasted of a fine aquiline. He had
been drinking freely, and picked a quarrel with one of his sworn
friends. After some preliminary blows, Cloudy Sky seized his antagonist
and cut his ear sadly, but in return he had his nose bitten off.
She had wept the more when her mother told her that in four days she was
to go to the teepee of her husband. It was in vain to contend. She lay
down beside the fire; deep sleep came upon her; she forgot the events of
the past day; for a time she ceased to think of the young man she loved,
and the old one she hated. In her dreams she had travelled a long
journey, and was seated on the river shore, to rest her tired limbs. The
red light of the dying sun illumined the prairies, she could not have
endured its scorching rays, were it not for the sheltering branches of
the tree under which she had found a resting-place.
The waters of the river beat against her feet. She would fain move, but
something chained her to the spot. She tried to call her mother, but her
lips were sealed, and her voice powerless. She would have turned her
face from the waters, but even this was impossible. Stronger and
stronger beat the waves, and then parted, revealing the dreaded form of
the fairy of the waters.
Harpstenah looked upon death as inevitable; she had ever feared that
terrible race of beings whose home was in the waters. And now the fairy
stood before her!
"Why do you tremble maiden? Only the wicked need fear the anger of the
gods You have never offended us, nor the spirits of the dead. You have
danced in the scalp-dance, and have reverenced the customs of the Sioux.
You have shed many tears. You love Red Deer, and your father has sold
you to Cloudy Sky, the medicine man. It is with you to marry the man you
love, or the one you hate."
"If you know everything," sighed the girl, "then you must know that in
four days I am to take my seat beside Cloudy Sky in his wigwam. He has
twice brought calico and cloth, and laid them at the door of my
"You shall not marry Cloudy Sky, if you have a strong heart, and fear
nothing," replied the fairy. The spirits of the water have determined on
the death of Cloudy Sky. He has already lived three times on earth. For
many years he wandered through the air with the sons of the thunder
bird; like them he was ever fighting against the friends of Unktahe.
"With his own hand he killed the son of that god, and for that was he
sent to earth to be a medicine man. But long ago we have said that the
time should come, when we would destroy him from the earth. It is for
you to take his life when he sleeps. Can a Dahcotah woman want courage
when she is to be forced to marry a man she hates?"
The waters closed over the fairy as he disappeared, and the waves beat
harder against Harpstenah's feet. She awoke with the words echoing in
her heart, "Can a Sioux woman want courage when she is to be forced to
marry a man she hates?" "The words of the fairy were wise and true,"
thought the maiden. "Our medicine-men say that the fairies of the water
are all wicked; that they are ever seeking to do harm to the Dahcotahs.
My dream has made my heart light. I will take the life of the war chief.
At the worst they can but take mine."
As she looked round the teepee, her eye rested upon the faces of her
parents. The bright moonlight had found its way into the teepee. There
lay her father, his haughty countenance calm and subdued, for the "image
of death" had chased away the impression left on his features of a
fierce struggle with a hard life. How often had he warned her of the
danger of offending Cloudy Sky, that sickness, famine, death itself,
might be the result. Her mother too, had wearied her with warnings. But
she remembered her dream, and with all a Sioux woman's faith in
revelations, she determined to let it influence her course.
Red Deer had often vowed to take the life of his rival, though he knew
it would have assuredly cost him his own. The family of Cloudy Sky was a
large one; there were many who would esteem it a sacred duty to avenge
his death. Besides he would gain nothing by it, for the parents of
Harpstenah would never consent to her marriage with the murderer of the
How often had Red Deer tried to induce the young girl to leave the
village, and return with him as his wife. "Have we not always loved each
other," he said. "When we were children, you made me mocassins, and
paddled the canoe for me, and I brought the wild duck, which I shot
while it was flying, to you. You promised me to be my wife, when I
should be a great hunter, and had brought to you the scalp of an enemy.
I have kept my promise, but you have broken yours."
"I know it," she replied; "but I fear to keep my word. They would kill
you, and the spirits of my dead brothers would haunt me for disobeying
my parents. Cloudy Sky says that if I do not marry him he will cast a
spell upon me; he says that the brightness would leave my eye, and the
color my cheek; that my step should be slow and weary, and soon would I
be laid in the earth beside my brothers. The spirit that should watch
beside my body would be offended for my sin in disobeying the counsel of
the aged. You, too, should die, he says, not by the tomahawk, as a
warrior should die, but by a lingering disease—fever should enter your
veins, your strength would soon be gone, you would no longer be able to
defend yourself from your enemies. Let me die, rather than bring such
trouble upon you."
Red Deer could not reply, for he believed that Cloudy Sky could do all
that he threatened. Nerved, then, by her devotion to her lover, her
hatred of Cloudy Sky, and her faith in her dream, Harpstenah determined
her heart should not fail her; she would obey the mandate of the water
god; she would bury her knife in the heart of the medicine man.
In their hours for eating, the Sioux accommodate themselves to
circumstances. If food be plenty, they eat three or four times a day; if
scarce, they eat but once. Sometimes they go without food for several
days, and often they are obliged to live for weeks on the bark of
trees, skins, or anything that will save them from dying of famine.
When game and corn are plenty, the kettle is always boiling, and they
are invariably hospitable and generous, always offering to a visitor
such as they have it in their power to give.
The stars were still keeping watch, when Harpstenah was called by her
mother to assist her. The father's morning meal was prepared early, for
he was going out to hunt. Wild duck, pigeons, and snipe, could be had in
abundance; the timid grouse, too, could be roused up on the prairies.
Larger game was there, too, for the deer flew swiftly past, and had even
stopped to drink on the opposite shore of the "Spirit Lake."
When they assembled to eat, the old man lifted up his hands—"May the
Great Spirit have mercy upon us, and give me good luck in hunting."
Meat and boiled corn were eaten from wooden bowls, and the father went
his way, leaving his wife and daughter to attend to their
Harpstenah was cutting wood near the lodge, when Cloudy Sky presented
himself. He went into the teepee and lighted his pipe, and then, seating
himself outside, began to smoke. He was, in truth, a sorry figure for a
bridegroom. Always repulsive in his looks, his present dress was not
calculated to improve him. He wore mourning for his enemy, whom he
His face was painted perfectly black; nothing but the whites of his eyes
relieved the universal darkness. His blanket was torn and old—his hair
unbraided, and on the top of his head he wore a knot of swan's down.
Every mark of grief or respect he could have shown a dead brother, he
now assumed in honor of the man whom he had hated—whose life he had
destroyed—who had belonged to the hateful tribe which had ever been the
enemy of his nation.
He looked very important as he puffed away, now watching Harpstenah, who
appeared to be unconscious of his presence, now fixing his eyes on her
mother, who was busily employed mending mocassins.
Having finished smoking; he used a fan which was attached to the other
end of his pipe-stem. It was a very warm day, and the perspiration that
was bursting from his forehead mingled with the black paint and slowly
found its way down his face.
"Where is your husband?" at length he asked of the mother.
"He saw a deer fly past this morning," she replied, "and he has gone to
seek it, that I may dry it."
"Does he come back to-night?"
"He does; he said you were to give a medicine feast to-morrow, and that
he would be here."
Harpstenah knew well why the medicine feast was to be given. Cloudy Sky
could not, according to the laws of the Sioux, throw off his mourning,
until he had killed an enemy or given a medicine dance. She knew that he
wanted to wear a new blanket, and plait his hair, and paint his face a
more becoming color. But she knew his looks could not be improved, and
she went on cutting wood, as unconcernedly as if the old war chief were
her grandfather, instead of her affianced husband. He might gain the
good will of her parents, he might even propitiate the spirits of the
dead: She would take his life, surely as the senseless wood yielded to
the strength of the arm that was cleaving it.
"You will be at the feast too," said Cloudy Sky to the mother; "you have
always foretold truly. There is not a woman in the band who can tell
what is going to happen as well as you. There is no nation so great as
the Dahcotah," continued the medicine man, as he saw several idlers
approach, and stretch themselves on the grass to listen to him. "There
is no nation so great as the Dahcotah—but our people are not so great
now as they were formerly. When our forefathers killed buffaloes on
these prairies, that the white people now ride across as if they were
their own, mighty giants lived among them; they strode over the widest
rivers, and the tallest trees; they could lay their hands upon the
highest hills, as they walked the earth. But they were not men of war.
They did not fight great battles, as do the Thunder Bird and
There were large animals, too, in those days; so large that the stoutest
of our warriors were but as children beside them. Their bones have been
preserved through many generations. They are sacred to us, and we keep
them because they will cure us when we are sick, and will save us
I have lived three times on earth. When my body was first laid upon the
scaffold, my spirit wandered through the air. I followed the Thunder
Birds as they darted among the clouds. When the heavens were black, and
the rain fell in big drops, and the streaked lightning frightened our
women and children, I was a warrior, fighting beside the sons of the
Unktahe rose up before us; sixty of his friends were with him: the
waters heaved and pitched, as the spirits left them to seek vengeance
against the Thunder Birds. They showed us their terrible horns, but they
tried to frighten us in vain. We were but forty; we flew towards them,
holding our shields before our breasts; the wind tore up the trees, and
threw down the teepees, as we passed along.
All day we fought; when we were tired we rested awhile, and then the
winds were still, and the sun showed himself from behind the dark
clouds. But soon our anger rose. The winds flew along swifter than the
eagle, as the Thunder Birds clapped their wings, and again we fought
against our foes.
The son of Unktahe came towards me; his eyes shone like fire, but I was
not afraid. I remembered I had been a Sioux warrior. He held his shield
before him, as he tried to strike me with his spear. I turned his shield
aside, and struck him to the heart.
He fell, and the waters whirled round as they received his body. The
sons of Unktahe shouted fearful cries of rage, but our yells of triumph
The water spirits shrank to their home, while we returned to the clouds.
The large rain drops fell slowly, and the bow of bright colors rested
between the heavens and the earth. The strife was over, and we were
conquerors. I know that Unktahe hates me—that he would kill me if he
could—but the Thunder bird has greater power than he; the friend of the
'Man of the West' [Footnote: Thunder is sometimes called the Man of the
West.] is safe from harm.
Harpstenah had ceased her work, and was listening to the boaster. "It
was all true," she said to herself; "the fairy of the water told me that
he had offended her race. I will do their bidding. Cloudy Sky may boast
of his power, but ere two nights have passed away, he will find he
cannot despise the anger of the water spirits, nor the courage of a
The approach of night brought with it but little inclination to sleep to
the excited girl. Her father slept, tired with the day's hunt; and her
mother dreamed of seeing her daughter the wife of a war chief and a
The village was built on the shores of the lake now known as Lake
Calhoun. By the light of the moon the teepees were reflected in its
waters. It was bright as day; so clear was the lake, that the agates
near the shore sparkled in its waters. The cry of the whippoorwill alone
disturbed the repose of nature, except when the wild scream of the loon
was heard as she gracefully swept the waters.
Seated on the shore, Harpstenah waited to hear the low whistle of her
lover. The villagers were almost all asleep, now and then the laugh of
some rioters was heard breaking in upon the stillness of night. She had
not seen her lover for many days; from the time that her marriage was
determined upon, the young warrior had kept aloof from her. She had
seized her opportunity to tell him that he must meet her where they had
often met, where none should know of their meeting. She told him to
come when the moon rose, as her father would be tired, and her mother
wished to sleep well before the medicine feast.
Many fears oppressed her heart, for he had not answered her when she
spoke to him, and he might not intend to come. Long she waited in vain,
and she now arose to return to the teepee, when the low signal met
She did not wait to hear it a second time, but made her way along the
shore: now her steps were printed in the wet sand, now planted on the
rocks near the shore; not a sound followed her movements until she stood
on the appointed place. The bright moonlight fell upon her features, and
her rich dress, as she waited with folded arms for her lover to address
her. Her okendokenda of bright colors was slightly open at the neck, and
revealed brooches of brass and silver that covered her bosom; a heavy
necklace of crimson beads hung around her throat; bracelets of brass
clasped her wrists, and her long plaited hair was ornamented at the end
of the braids with trinkets of silver.
Her cloth petticoat was richly decorated with ribbons, and her leggins
and mocassins proved that she had spent much time and labor on the
adorning of a person naturally well formed, and graceful.
"Why have you wished to meet me, Harpstenah?" said the young man,
gloomily. "Have you come to tell me of the presents Cloudy Sky has made
you, or do you wish to say that you are ashamed to break the promise you
made me to be my wife?"
"I have come to say again that I will be your wife," she replied: "and
for the presents Cloudy Sky left for me, I have trampled them under my
feet. See, I wear near my heart the brooches you have given me."
"Women are ever dogs and liars," said Red Deer, "but why do you speak
such words to me, when you know you have agreed to marry Cloudy Sky?
Your cousin told me your father had chosen him to carry you into the
teepee of the old man. Your father beat you, and you agreed to marry
him. You are a coward to mind a little pain. Go, marry the old medicine
man; he will beat you as he has his other wives; he may strike you with
his tomahawk and kill you, as he did his first wife; or he will sell you
to the traders, as he did the other; he will tell you to steal pork and
whiskey for him, and then when it is found out, he will take you and say
you are a thief, and that he has beaten you for it. Go, the young should
ever mate with the young, but you will soon lie on the scaffold, and by
his hand too."
"The proud eagle seeks to frighten the timid bird that follows it," said
the maiden; "but Red Deer should not speak such angry words to the woman
that will venture her life for him. Cloudy Sky boasts that he is the
friend of the thunder bird; in my dreams, I have seen the fairy of the
waters, and he told me that Cloudy Sky should die by my hand. My words
are true. Cloudy Sky was once with the sons of the thunder birds when
they fought against Unktahe. He killed a son of the water god, and the
spirits of the water have determined on his death.
"Red Deer, my heart is strong. I do not fear the medicine man, for the
power of Unktahe is greater than his. But you must go far away and visit
the Tetons; if you are here, they will accuse you of his death, and will
kill you. But as I have promised to marry him, no one will think that I
have murdered him. It will be long ere I see you again, but in the moon
that we gather wild rice, [Footnote: September] return, and I will be
your wife. Go, now," she added, "say to your mother that you are going
to visit your friends, and before the day comes be far away. To-morrow
Cloudy Sky gives a medicine feast, and to-morrow night Haokah will make
my heart strong, and I will kill the medicine man. His soul will travel
a long journey to the land of spirits. There let him drink, and boast,
and frighten women."
Red Deer heard her, mute with astonishment. The color mantled in her
cheek, and her determined countenance assured him that she was in
earnest. He charged her to remember the secret spells of the medicine
man. If she loved him it was far better to go with him now; they would
soon be out of the reach of her family. To this she would not listen,
and repeating to him her intention of executing all she had told him of,
she left him.
He watched her as she returned to her teepee; sometimes her form was
lost in the thick bushes, he could see her again as she made her way
along the pebbled shore, and when she had entered her teepee he
He collected his implements of war and hunting, and, telling his mother
he was going on a long journey, he left the village.
The feast given in honor of their medicine was celebrated the next day,
and Cloudy Sky was thus relieved of the necessity of wearing mourning
for his enemy.
His face was carefully washed of the black paint that disfigured it; his
hair, plentifully greased, was braided and ornamented. His leggins were
new, and his white blanket was marked according to Indian custom. On it
was painted a black hand, that all might know that he had killed his
enemy. But for all he did not look either young or handsome, and
Harpstenah's young friends were astonished that she witnessed the
preparations for her marriage with so much indifference.
But she was unconscious alike of their sympathy and ridicule; her soul
was occupied with the reflection that upon her energy depended her
future fate. Never did her spirit shrink from its appointed task. Nor
was she entirely governed by selfish motives; she believed herself an
instrument in the hand of the gods.
Mechanically she performed her ordinary duties. The wood was cut and the
evening meal was, cooked; afterwards she cut down branches of trees, and
swept the wigwam. In the evening, the villagers had assembled on the
shores of the lake to enjoy the cool air after the heat of the day.
Hours passed away as gossipping and amusement engaged them all. At
length they entered their teepees to seek rest, and Harpstenah and her
mother were the last at the door of their teepee, where a group had been
seated on the ground, discussing their own and others' affairs. "No harm
can come to you, my daughter, when you are the wife of so great a
medicine man. If any one hate you and wish to do you an injury, Cloudy
Sky will destroy their power. Has he not lived with the Thunder Birds,
did he not learn from them to cure the sick, and to destroy his enemies?
He is a great warrior too."
"I know it, my mother," replied the girl, "but we have sat long in the
moonlight, the wind that stirred the waters of the spirit lake is gone.
I must sleep, that I may be ready to dress myself when you call me. My
hair must be braided in many braids, and the strings are not yet sewed
to my mocassins. You too are tired; let us go in and sleep."
Sleep came to the mother—to the daughter courage and energy. Not in
vain had she prayed to Haokah the Giant, to give her power to perform a
great deed. Assured that her parents were sleeping heavily, she rose and
sought the lodge of the medicine man.
When she reached the teepee, she stopped involuntarily before the door,
near which hung, on a pole, the medicine bag of the old man. The
medicine known only to the clan had been preserved for ages. Sacred had
it ever been from the touch of woman. It was placed there to guard the
medicine man from evil, and to bring punishment on those who sought to
do him harm. Harpstenah's strength failed her. What was she about to do?
Could she provoke with impunity the anger of the spirits of the dead?
Would not the Great Spirit bring terrible vengeance upon her head. Ready
to sink to the earth with terror, the words of the fairy of the waters
reassured her. "Can a Dahcotah woman want courage when she is to be
forced to marry a man she hates?"
The tumult within is stilled—the strong beating of her heart has
ceased—her hand is upon the handle of her knife, as the moonlight falls
upon its glittering blade.
Too glorious a night for so dark a deed! See! they are confronted, the
old man and the maiden! The tyrant and his victim; the slave dealer and
the noble soul he had trafficked for!
Pale, but firm with high resolve, the girl looked for one moment at the
man she had feared—whose looks had checked her childish mirth, whose
anger she had been taught to dread, even to the sacrificing of her
heart's best hopes.
Restlessly the old man slept; perchance he saw the piercing eyes that
were, fixed upon him, for he muttered of the road to the land of
spirits. Listen to him, as he boasts of the warrior's work.
"Many brave men have made this road. The friend of the Thunder Birds was
worthy. Strike the woman who would dare assist a warrior. Strike—"
"Deep in his heart she plunged the ready steel," and she drew it out,
the life blood came quickly. She alone heard his dying groan.
She left the teepee—her work was done. It was easy to wash the stains
on her knife in the waters of the lake.
When her mother arose, she looked at the pale countenance of her
daughter. In vain she sought to understand her muttered words.
Harpstenah, as she tried to sleep, fancied she heard the wild laugh of
the water spirits. Clouds had obscured the moon, and distant thunder
rolled along the sky; and, roused by the clamorous grief of the many
women assembled in the lodge, she heard from them of the dark tragedy in
which she had been the principal actor.
The murderer was not to be found. Red Deer was known to be far away. It
only remained to bury Cloudy Sky, with all the honors due to a
Harpstenah joined in the weeping of the mourners—the fountains of a
Sioux woman's tears are easily unlocked. She threw her blanket upon the
Many were the rich presents made to the inanimate clay which yesterday
influenced those who still trembled lest the spirit of the dead
war-chief would haunt them. The richest cloth enrobed his body, and, a
short distance from the village, he was placed upon a scaffold.
Food was placed beside him; it would be long before his soul would reach
the city of spirits; his strength would fail him, were it not for the
refreshment of the tender flesh of the wild deer he had loved to chase,
and the cooling waters he had drank on earth, for many, many winters.
But after the death of Cloudy Sky, the heart of Harpstenah grew light.
She joined again in the ball plays on the prairies. It needed no
vermilion on her cheek to show the brightness of her eye, for the flush
of hope and happiness was there.
The dark deed was forgotten; and when, in the time that the leaves began
to fall, they prepared the wild rice for winter's use, Red Deer was
at her side.
He was a good hunter, and the parents were old. Red Deer ever kept them
supplied with game—and winter found her a wife, and a happy one too;
for Red Deer loved her in very truth—and the secret of the death of the
medicine man was buried in their hearts.
Ten years had passed away since their marriage, and Red Deer had never
brought another wife to his teepee. Harpstenah was without a rival in
his affections, if we except the three strong boys who were growing up
Chaskč (the oldest son) could hunt for his mother, and it was well that
he could, for his father's strength was gone. Consumption wasted his
limbs, and the once powerful arm could not now support his
The father and mother had followed Cloudy Sky to the world of spirits;
they were both anxious to depart from earth, for age had made them
feeble, and the hardships of ninety years made them eager to have their
strength renewed, in the country where their ancestors were still in the
vigor of early youth. The band at Lake Calhoun were going on a hunt for
porcupines; a long hunt, and Harpstenah tried to deter her husband from
attempting the journey; but he thought the animating exercise of the
chase would be a restorative to his feeble frame, and they set out
with the rest.
When the hunters had obtained a large number of those valued animals,
the women struck their teepees and prepared for their return.
Harpstenah's lodge alone remained, for in it lay the dying man—by his
side his patient wife. The play of the children had ceased—they watched
with silent awe the pale face and bright eye of their father—they heard
him charge their mother to place food that his soul might be refreshed
on its long journey. Not a tear dimmed her eye as she promised all
"There is one thing, my wife," he said, "which still keeps my spirit on
earth. My soul cannot travel the road to the city of spirits—that long
road made by the bravest of our warriors—while it remembers the body
which it has so long inhabited shall be buried far from its native
village. Your words were wise when you told me I had not strength to
travel so far, and now my body must lie far from my home—far from the
place of my birth—from the village where I have danced the dog feast,
and from the shores of the 'spirit lakes' where my father taught me to
use my bow and arrow."
"Your body shall lie on the scaffold near your native village," his wife
replied. "When I turn from this place, I will take with me my husband;
and my young children shall walk by my side. My heart is as brave now as
it was when I took the life of the medicine man. The love that gave me
courage then, will give me strength now. Fear not for me; my limbs will
not be weary, and when the Great Spirit calls me, I will hear his voice,
and follow you to the land of spirits, where there will be no more
sickness nor trouble."
Many stars shone out that night; they assisted in the solemn and the
sacred watch. The mother looked at the faces of her sleeping sons, and
listened to their heavy breathing; they had but started on the
journey of life.
She turned to her husband: it was but the wreck of a deserted house, the
tenant had departed.
The warrior was already far on his journey; ere this, he had reached the
lodge where the freed spirit adorns itself ere entering upon its
Some days after, Harpstenah entered her native village, bearing a
precious burden. Strapped to her back was the body of her husband. By
day, she had borne it all the weary way; at night, she had stopped to
rest and to weep. Nor did her strength fail her, until she reached her
home; then, insensible to sorrow and fatigue, she sunk to the earth.
The women relieved her from the burden, and afterwards helped her to
bury her dead.
Many waters could not quench her love, nor could the floods drown it. It
was strong as death.
Well might she sit in her lodge and weep! The village where she passed
her childhood and youth was deserted. Her husband forgotten by all but
herself. Her two sons were murdered by the Chippeways, while defending
their mother and their young brother.
Well might she weep! and tremble too, for death among the Dahcotahs
comes as often by the fire water purchased from the white people, as
from the murderous tomahawk and scalping-knife of the Chippeways.
Nor were her fears useless; she never again saw her son, until his body
was brought to her, his dark features stiff in death. The death blow was
given, too, by the friend who had shamed him from listening to his
* * * * *
What wonder that she should not heed the noise of the tempest! The
storms of her life had been fiercer than the warring of the elements.
But while the fountains of heaven were unsealed, those of her heart were
closed forever. Never more should tears relieve her, who had shed so
many. Often had she gone into the prairies to weep, far from the sight
of her companions. Her voice was heard from a distance. The wind would
waft the melancholy sound back to the village.
"It is only Harpstenah," said the women. "She has gone to the prairies
to weep for her husband and her children."
The storm raged during the night, but ceased with the coming of day. The
widowed wife and childless mother was found dead under the scaffold
where lay the body of her son.
The Thunder Bird was avenged for the death of his friend. The strength
of Red Deer had wasted under a lingering disease; his children were
dead; their mother lay beside her youngest son.
The spirit of the waters had not appeared in vain. When the countenance
of Unktahe rests upon a Dahcotah, it is the sure prognostic of coming
evil. The fury of the storm spirits was spent when the soul of
Harpstenah followed her lost ones.
* * * * *
Dimly, as the lengthened shadows of evening fall around them, are seen
the outstretched arms of the suffering Dahcotah women, as they appeal
to us for assistance—and not to proud man!
He, in the halls of legislation, decides when the lands of the red man
are needed—one party makes a bargain which the other is forced
But in a woman's heart God has placed sympathies to which the sorrows of
the Dahcotah women appeal. Listen! for they tell you they would fain
know of a balm for the many griefs they endure; they would be taught to
avoid the many sins they commit; and, oh! how gladly would many of them
have their young children accustomed to shudder at the sight of a fellow
creature's blood. Like us, they pour out the best affections of early
youth on a beloved object. Like us, they have clasped their children to
their hearts in devoted love. Like us, too, they have wept as they laid
them in the quiet earth.
But they must fiercely grapple with trials which we have never
conceived. Winter after winter passes, and they perish from disease, and
murder, and famine.
There is a way to relieve them—would you know it? Assist the
missionaries who are giving their lives to them and God. Send them
money, that they may clothe the feeble infant, and feed its
Send them money, that they may supply the wants of those who are sent to
school, and thus encourage others to attend.
As the day of these forgotten ones is passing away, so is ours. They
were born to suffer, we to relieve. Let their deathless souls be taught
the way of life, that they and we, after the harsh discords of earth
shall have ceased, may listen together to the "harmonies of Heaven."
THE DANCE TO THE GIANT
The dance to the Giant is now rarely celebrated among the Dahcotahs. So
severe is the sacrifice to this deity, that there are few who have
courage to attempt it; and yet Haokah is universally reverenced and
feared among the Sioux.
They believe in the existence of many Giants, but Haokah is one of the
principal. He is styled the anti-natural god. In summer he feels cold,
in winter he suffers from the heat; hot water is cold to him, and
The Dahcotah warrior, however brave he may be, believes that when he
dreams of Haokah, calamity is impending and can only be avoided by some
sort of sacrifice to this god.
The incident on which this story is founded, occurred while I resided
among the Sioux. I allude to the desertion of Wenona by her lover. It
serves to show the blind and ignorant devotion of the Dahcotah to
And as man is ever alike in every country, and under every circumstance
of life—as he often from selfish motives tramples upon the heart that
trusts him—so does woman utterly condemn a sister, feeling no sympathy
for her sorrow, but only hatred of her fault.
Jealous for the honor of the long-reverenced feasts of the
Dahcotahs—the "Deer Killer" thought not for a moment of the sorrow and
disgrace he would bring upon Wenona, while Wauska loved the warrior more
than ever, triumphing in his preference of her, above her companion.
A cloud came o'er the prospect of her life,
And evening did set in
Early, and dark and deadly.
But she loved too truly to be jealous, and departed without the revenge
that most Indian women would have sought, and accomplished too. Her
silence on the subject of her early trial induced her friends to believe
that her mind was affected, a situation caused by long and intense
suffering, and followed by neglect; in such cases the invalid is said to
have no heart.
The girl from whom I have attempted to draw the character of Wauska, I
Good looking, with teeth like pearls, her laugh was perfect music. Often
have I been roused from my sewing or reading, by hearing the ringing
notes, as they were answered by the children. She generally announced
herself by a laugh, and was welcomed by one in return.
She was pettish withal, and easily offended, and if refused calico for
an okendokenda, or beads, or ribbon to ornament some part of her dress,
she would sullenly rest her chin on her hand, until pacified with a
present, or the promise of one.
It is in Indian life as in ours—youth believes and trusts, and
advancing years bring the consciousness of the trials of life; the
necessity of enduring, and in some cases the power to overcome them. Who
but she who suffers it, can conceive the Sioux woman's greatest
trial—to feel that the love that is her right, is gone! to see another
take the place by the household fire, that was hers; to be last where
she was first.
It may require some apology that Wauska should have vowed destruction
upon herself if the Deer Killer took another wife, and yet should have
lived on and become that most unromantic of all characters—a virago.
She was reconciled in time to what was inevitable, and as there are many
wives among the Sioux, there must be the proportion of scolding ones. So
I plead guilty to the charge of wanting sentiment, choosing rather to be
true to nature. And there is this consideration: if there be among the
Dahcotahs some Catharines, there are many Petruchios.
* * * * *
A group of Indian girls were seated on the grass, Wauska in the centre,
her merry musical laugh echoed back by all but Wenona. The leaves of the
large forest tree under which they were sheltered seemed to vibrate to
the joyous sounds, stirred as they were by a light breeze that blew from
the St. Peter's. Hark! they laugh again, and "old John" wakes up from
his noon-day nap and turns a curious, reproving look to the noisy party,
and Shah-co-pee, the orator of the Sioux, moves towards them, anxious to
find out the cause of their mirth.
"Old John," after a hearty stretch, joins them too, and now the fumes
of the pipe ascend, and mix with the odor of the sweet-scented prairie
grass that the young girls are braiding.
But neither Shah-co-pee the chief, nor old John the medicine man, could
find out the secret; they coaxed and threatened in turns—but all in
vain, for their curiosity was not gratified. They might have noticed,
however, that Wenona's face was pale, and her eyes red with weeping. She
was idle too, while the others plaited busily, and there was a subdued
look of sadness about her countenance, contrasting strangely with the
merry faces of the others.
"Why did you not tell Shah-co-pee what we were laughing at, Wenona?"
said Wanska. "Your secret is known now. The Deer-killer told all at the
Virgin's feast. Why did you not make him promise not to come? If I had
been you, I would have lain sick the day of the feast, I would have
struck my foot, so that I could not walk, or, I would have died before I
entered the ring.
"The Deer-killer promised to marry me," replied Wenona. "He said that
when he returned from his hunt I should be his wife. But I know well why
he has disgraced me; you have tried to make him love you, and now he is
waiting to take you to his lodge. He is not a great warrior, or he would
have kept his word."
"Wenona!" said Wanska, interrupting her, "you have not minded the advice
of your grandmother. She told you never to trust the promises of the
bravest warriors. You should not have believed his words, until he took
you to his wigwam. But do not be afraid that I will marry the
Deer-killer. There was never but one woman among the Dahcotahs who did
not marry, and I am going to be the second."
"You had better hush, Wanska," said the Bright Star. "You know she had
her nose cut off because she refused to be a wife, and somebody may cut
yours off too. It is better to be the mother of warriors than to have
every one laughing at you."
"Enah! then I will be married, rather than have my nose cut off, but I
will not be the Deer-killer's wife. So Wenona may stop crying."
"He says he will never marry me," said Wenona; "and it will do me no
good for you to refuse to be his wife. But you are a liar, like him; for
you know you love him. I am going far away, and the man who has broken
his faith to the maiden who trusted him, will never be a good husband."
"If I were Wenona, and you married the Deer-killer," said the Bright
Star to Wanska, "you should not live long after it. She is a coward or
she would not let you laugh at her as you did. I believe she has no
heart since the Virgin's feast; sometimes she laughs so loud that we
can hear her from our teepee, and then she bends her head and weeps.
When her mother places food before her she says, 'Will he bring the meat
of the young deer for me to dress for him, and will my lodge be ever
full of food, that I may offer it to the hungry and weary stranger who
stops to rest himself?' If I were in her place, Wanska," added the
Bright Star, "I would try and be a medicine woman, and I would throw a
spell upon the Deer-killer, and upon you too, if you married him."
"The Deer-killer is coming," said another of the girls. "He has been
watching us; and now that he sees Wenona has gone away, he is coming to
talk to Wanska. He wears many eagle feathers: Wenona may well weep that
she cannot be his wife, for there is not a warrior in the village who
steps so proudly as he."
But he advanced and passed them indifferently. By and by they separated,
when he followed Wanska to her father's teepee.
Her mother and father had gone to dispose of game in exchange for bread
and flour, and the Deer-killer seated himself uninvited on the floor of
"The teepee of the warrior is lonely when he returns from hunting," said
he to the maiden. "Wanska must come to the lodge of the Deer-killer. She
shall ever have the tender flesh of the deer and buffalo to refresh her,
and no other wife shall be there to make her unhappy."
"Wanska is very happy now," she replied. "Her father is a good hunter.
He has gone to-day to carry ducks and pigeons to the Fort. The promises
of the Deer-killer are like the branch that breaks in my hand. Wenona's
face is pale, and her eyes are red like blood from weeping. The
Deer-killer promised to make her his wife, and now that he has broken
his word to her, he tells Wanska that he will never take another wife,
but she cannot trust him."
"Wanska was well named the Merry Heart," the warrior replied; "she
laughs at Wenona and calls her a fool, and then she wishes me to marry
her. Who would listen to a woman's words? And yet the voice of the Merry
Heart is sweeter than a bird's—her laugh makes my spirit glad. When she
sits in my lodge and sings to the children who will call me father, I
shall be happy. Many women have loved the Deer-killer, but never has he
cared to sit beside one, till he heard the voice of Wanska as she sang
in the scalp-dance, and saw her bear the scalp of her enemy upon her
Wanska's face was pale while she listened to him. She approached him,
and laid her small hand upon his arm—"I have heard your words, and my
heart says they are good. I have loved you ever since we were children.
When I was told that you were always by the side of Wenona, the laugh of
my companions was hateful to me—the light of the sun was darkness to my
eyes. When Wenona returned to her village with her parents, I said in
the presence of the Great Spirit that she should not live after you had
made her your wife. But her looks told me that there was sadness in her
heart, and then I knew you could not love her.
"You promise me you will never bring another wife to your wigwam.
Deer-killer! the wife of the white man is happy, for her husband loves
her alone. The children of the second wife do not mock the woman who is
no longer beloved, nor strike her children before her eyes. When I am
your wife I shall be happy while you love me; there will be no night in
my teepee while I know your heart is faithful and true; but should you
break your word to me, and bring to your lodge another wife, you shall
see me no more, and the voice whose sound is music to your ears you will
never hear again."
Promises come as readily to the lips of an Indian lover as trustfulness
does to the heart of the woman who listens to them; and the Deer-killer
Wanska had been often at the Fort, and she had seen the difference
between the life of a white and that of an Indian woman. She had thought
that the Great Spirit was unmindful of the cares of his children.
And who would have thought that care was known to Wanska, with her merry
laugh, and her never-ceasing jokes, whether played upon her young
companions, or on the old medicine man who kept everybody but her in
awe of him.
She seemed to be everywhere too, at the same time. Her canoe dances
lightly over the St. Peter's, and her companions try in vain to keep up
with her. Soon her clear voice is heard as she sings, keeping time with
the strokes of the axe she uses so skilfully. A peal of laughter rouses
the old woman, her mother, who goes to bring the truant home, but she is
gone, and when she returns, in time to see the red sun fade away in the
bright horizon, she tells her mother that she went out with two or three
other girls, to assist the hunters in bringing in the deer they had
killed. And her mother for once does not scold, for she remembers how
she used to love to wander on the prairies, when her heart was as light
and happy as her child's.
When Wanska was told that the Deer-killer loved Wenona, no one heard her
sighs, and for tears, she was too proud to shed any. Wenona's fault had
met with ridicule and contempt; there was neither sympathy nor excuse
found for her. And now that the Deer-killer had slighted Wenona, and had
promised to love her alone, there was nothing wanting to her happiness.
Bright tears of joy fell from her eyes when her lover said there was a
spell over him when he loved Wenona, but now his spirit was free; that
he would ever love her truly, and that when her parents returned he
would bring rich presents and lay them at the door of the lodge.
Wanska was indeed "the Merry Heart," for she loved the Deer-killer more
than life itself, and life was to her a long perspective of brightness.
She would lightly tread the journey of existence by his side, and when
wearied with the joys of this world, they would together travel the road
that leads to the Heaven of the Dahcotahs.
She sat dreaming of the future after the Deer-killer had left her, nor
knew of her parents' return until she heard her mother's sharp voice as
she asked her "if the corn would boil when the fire was out, and where
was the bread that she was told to have ready on their return?"
Bread and corn! when Wanska had forgot all but that she was beloved. She
arose quickly, and her light laugh drowned her mother's scolding. Soon
her good humor was infectious, for her mother told her that she had
needles and thread in plenty, besides more flour and sugar, and that her
father was going out early in the morning to kill more game for the Long
Knives who loved it so well.
A few months ago, the Deer-killer had told Wenona that Wanska was noisy
and tiresome, and that her soft dark eyes were far more beautiful than
Wanska's laughing ones. They were not at home then, for Wenona had
accompanied her parents on a visit to some relations who lived far above
the village of Shah-co-pee.
While there the Deer-killer came in with some warriors who had been on a
war party; there Wenona was assured that her rival, the Merry Heart, was
And well might the Deer-killer and Wenona have loved each other. "Youth
turns to youth as the flower to the sun," and he was brave and noble in
his pride and power; and she, gentle and loving, though an Indian woman;
so quiet too, and all unlike Wanska, who was the noisiest little gossip
in the village.
Often had they wandered together through the "solemn temples of the
earth," nor did she ever fear, with the warrior child for a protector.
She had followed him when he ascended the cliffs where the tracks of the
eagle were seen; and with him she felt safe when the wind was tossing
their canoe on the Mississippi, when the storm spirits had arisen in
their power. They were still children when Wenona would know his step
among many others, but they were no longer children when Wenona left
Shah-co-pee's village, for she loved with a woman's devotion—and more
than loved. She had trembled when she saw the Deer-killer watch Wanska
as she tripped merrily about the village. Sleeping or waking, his image
was ever before her; he was the idol to which her spirit bowed, the sun
of her little world.
The dance to the giant was to be celebrated at the village where they
were visiting; the father of Wenona and "Old John" the medicine man,
were to join in it. The maiden had been nothing loth to undertake the
journey, for the Deer-killer had gone on a war party against the
Chippeways, and she thought that in the course of their journey they
might meet him—and when away from Wanska, he would return to her side.
He could not despise the love she had given him. Hope, that bright star
of youth, hovered over her, and its light was reflected on her heart.
When they arrived at the village of the chief Markeda, or "Burning
Earth," the haughty brow of the chief was subdued with care. He had
dreamed of Haokah the giant, and he knew there was sorrow or danger
threatening him. He had sinned against the giant, and what might be the
consequence of offending him? Was his powerful arm to be laid low, and
the strong pulse to cease its beatings? Did his dream portend the loss
of his young wife? She was almost as dear to him as the fleet hunter
that bore him to the chase.
It might be that the angry god would send their enemies among them, and
his tall sons would gladden his sight no more. Sickness and hunger,
phantom-like, haunted his waking and sleeping hours.
There was one hope; he might yet ward off the danger, for the uplifted
arm of the god had not fallen. He hoped to appease the anger of the
giant by dancing in his honor.
"We have travelled far," said old John the medicine man, to Markeda,
"and are tired. When we have slept we will dance with you, for we are of
the giant's party."
"Great is Haokah, the giant of the Dahcotahs," the chief replied; "it is
a long time since we have danced to him."
"I had been hunting with my warriors, we chased the buffalo, and our
arrows pierced their sides; they turned upon us, bellowing, their heads
beating the ground; their terrible eyes glared upon us even in death;
they rolled in the dust, for their strength was gone. We brought them to
the village for our women to prepare for us when we should need them. I
had eaten and was refreshed; and, tired as my limbs were, I could not
sleep at first, but at last the fire grew dim before my eyes, and
"I stood on the prairie alone, in my dream, and the giant appeared
before me. So tall was he that the clouds seemed to float about his
head. I trembled at the sound of his voice, it was as if the angry winds
were loosed upon the earth.
"'The warriors of the Dahcotahs are turned women,' said he; 'that they
no longer dance in honor of the giant, nor sing his songs. Markeda is
not a coward, but let him tremble; he is not a child, but he may shed
tears if the anger of the giant comes upon him.'
"Glad was I when I woke from my dream—and now, lest I am punished for
my sins, I will make a sacrifice to the giant. Should I not fear him who
is so powerful? Can he not take the thunder in his hand and cast it to
"The heart of the warrior should be brave when he dances to the giant.
My wigwam is ready, and the friends of the giant are ready also."
"Give me your mocassins," said the young wife of Markeda to old John;
"they are torn, and I will mend them. You have come from afar, and are
welcome. Sleep, and when you awake, you will find them beside you." As
she assisted him to take them off, the medicine man looked admiringly
into her face. "The young wife of Markeda is as beautiful as the white
flowers that spring up on the prairies. Her husband would mourn for her
if the giant should close her eyes. They are bright now, as the stars,
but death would dim them, should not the anger of the giant be
The "Bounding Fawn" turned pale at the mention of the angry giant; she
sat down, without replying, to her work; wondering the while, if the
soul of her early love thought of her, now that it wandered in the
Spirit's land. It might be that he would love her again when they should
meet there. The sound of her child's voice, awakening out of sleep,
aroused her, and called to her mind who was its father.
"They tore me away from my lover, and made me come to the teepee of the
chief," was her bitter reflection. "Enah! that I cannot love the father
of my child."
She rose and left the teepee. "Where is the heaven of the Dahcotahs,"
she murmured, as she looked up to the silent stars. "It may be that I
shall see him again. He will love my child too, and I will forget the
many tears I have shed."
The dance to the Giant is always performed inside the wigwam. Early in
the morning the dancers were assembled in the chief's lodge. Their dress
was such as is appointed for the occasion. Their hats were made of the
bark of trees, such as tradition says the Giant wears. They were large,
and made forked like the lightning. Their leggins were made of skins.
Their ear-rings were of the bark of trees, and were about one foot long.
The chief rose ere the dawn of day, and stood before the fire. As the
flames flickered, and the shadows of the dancers played fantastically
about the wigwam, they looked more like Lucifer and a party of attendant
spirits, than like human beings worshipping their God.
Markeda stood by the fire without noticing his guests, who awaited his
motions in silence. At last, moving slowly, he placed a kettle of water
on the fire, and then threw into it a large piece of buffalo meat.
Lighting his pipe, he seated himself, and then the dancers advanced to
the fire and lit theirs; and soon they were enveloped in a cloud
When the water began to boil, the Indians arose, and, dancing round the
fire, imitated the voice of the Giant.
"Hah-hah! hah hah!" they sung, and each endeavored to drown the voice of
the other. Now they crouch as they dance, looking diminutive and
contemptible, as those who are degrading themselves in their most sacred
duties. Then they rise up, and show their full height. Stalwart warriors
as they are, their keen eyes flash as they glance from the fire to each
others' faces, distorted with the effort of uttering such discordant
sounds. Now their broad chests heave with the exertion, and their breath
They seat themselves, to rest and smoke. Again the hellish sounds are
heard, and the wife of the chief trembles for fear of the Giant, and her
child clings closer to her breast. The water boils, and, hissing, falls
over into the fire, the flames are darkened for a moment, and then burst
up brighter than before.
Markeda addresses the dancers—"Warriors! the Giant is powerful—the
water which boils before us will be cold when touched by a friend of the
Giant. Haokah will not that his friends should suffer when offering him
The warriors then advanced together, and each one puts his hand into the
kettle and takes the meat from the boiling water; and although suffering
from the scalds produced, yet their calmness in enduring the pain, would
induce the belief that the water really felt to them cool and pleasant.
The meat is then taken out, and put into a wooden dish, and the water
left boiling on the fire. The dancers eat the meat while hot, and again
they arrange themselves to dance. And now, the mighty power of the Giant
is shown, for Markeda advances to the kettle, and taking some water out
of it he throws it upon his bare back, singing all the while, "The
water is cold."
"Old John" advances and does the same, followed by the next in turn,
until the water is exhausted from the kettle, and then the warriors
exclaim, "How great is the power of Haokah! we have thrown boiling water
upon ourselves and we have not been scalded."
The dance is over—the sacrifice is made. Markeda seeks his young wife
and fears not. He had fancied that her cheeks were pale of late, but now
they are flushed brilliantly, his heart is at rest.
The warriors disperse, all but the medicine man, and the chief's store
of buffalo meat diminishes rapidly under the magic touch of the epicure.
Yes! an epicure thou wert old John! for I mind me well when thou camest
at dinner time, and how thou saidst thou couldst eat the food of the
Indian when thou wert hungry, but the food of the white man was better
far. And thou! a Dahcotah warrior, a famous hunter, and a medicine man.
Shame! that thou shouldst have loved venison dressed with wine more than
when the tender meat was cooked according to the taste of the women of
thy nation. I have forgotten thy Indian name, renegade as thou wert! but
thou answerest as well to "old John!"
Thou art now forgotten clay, though strong and vigorous when in wisdom
the Sioux were punished for a fault they did not commit. Their money was
not paid them—their provisions were withheld. Many were laid low, and
thou hast found before now that God is the Great Spirit, and the Giant
Haokah is not.
And it may be that thou wouldst fain have those thou hast left on earth
know of His power, who is above all spirits, and of His goodness who
would have all come unto Him.
Wenona had not hoped in vain, for her lover was with her, and Wanska
seemed to be forgotten. The warrior's flute would draw her out from her
uncle's lodge while the moon rose o'er the cold waters. Wrapped in her
blanket, she would hasten to meet him, and listen to his assurances of
affection, wondering the while that she had ever feared he
She had been some months at the village of Markeda, and she went to meet
her lover with a heavy heart. Her mother had noticed that her looks were
sad and heavy, and Wenona knew that it would not be long ere she should
be a happy wife, or a mark for the bitter scorn of her companions.
The Deer-killer had promised, day after day, that he would make her his
wife, but he ever found a ready excuse; and now he was going on a long
hunt, and she and her parents were to return to their village. His
quiver was full of arrows, and his leggins were tightly girded upon him.
Wenona's full heart was nigh bursting as she heard that the party were
to leave to-morrow. Should he desert her, her parents would kill her for
disgracing them; and her rival, Wanska, how would she triumph over
"You say that you love me," said she to the Deer-killer, "and yet you
treat me cruelly. Why should you leave me without saying that I am your
wife? Who would watch for your coming as I would? and you will disgrace
me when I have loved you so truly. Stay—tell them you have made me your
wife, and then will I wait for you at the door of my teepee."
The warrior could not stay from the chase, but he promised her that he
would soon return to their village, and then she should be his wife.
Wenona wept when he left her; shadows had fallen upon her heart, and yet
she hoped on. Turning her weary steps homeward, she arrived there when
the maidens of the village were preparing to celebrate the
There was no time to deliberate—should she absent herself, she would be
suspected, and yet a little while ere the Deer-killer would return, and
her anxious heart would be at rest.
The feast was prepared, and the crier called for all virgins to enter
the sacred ring.
Wenona went forward with a beating heart; she was not a wife, and soon
must be a mother. Wanska, the Merry Heart, was there, and many others
who wondered at the pale looks of Wenona—she who had been on a journey,
and who ought to have returned with color bright as the dying sun, whose
light illumined earth, sky and water.
As they entered the ring a party of warriors approached the circle.
Wenona does not look towards them, and yet the throbbings of her heart
were not to be endured. Her trembling limbs refused to sustain her, as
the Deer-killer, stalking towards the ring, calls aloud—"Take her from
the sacred feast; should she eat with the maidens?—she, under whose
bosom lies a warrior's child? She is unworthy."
And as the unhappy girl, with features of stone and glaring eyes, gazed
upon him bewildered, he rudely led her from the ring.
Wenona bowed her head and went—even as night came on when the sun went
down. Nor did the heart of the Deer-killer reproach him, for how dare
she offend the Great Spirit! Were not the customs of his race holy
Little to Wenona were her father's reproaches, or her mother's curse;
that she was no more beloved was all she remembered.
Again was the Deer-killer by the side of Wanska, and she paid the
penalty. Her husband brought other wives to his wigwam, though Wanska
was ever the favorite one.
With her own hand would she put the others out of the wigwam, laughing
when they threatened to tell their lord when he returned, for Wanska
managed to tell her own story first; and, termagant as she was, she
always had her own way.
Wenona has ceased to weep, and far away in the country of the Sissetons
she toils and watches as all Indian women toil and watch. Her young son
follows her as she seeks the suffering Dahcotah, and charms the disease
to leave his feeble frame.
She tells to the child and the aged woman her dreams; she warns the
warrior what he shall meet with when he goes to battle; and ever, as the
young girls assemble to pass away the idle hours, she stops and
whispers to them.
In vain do they ask of her husband: she only points to her son and says,
"My hair, which is now like snow, was once black and braided like his,
and my eyes as bright. They have wept until tears come no more. Listen
not to the warrior who says he loves." And she passes from their sight
as the morning mists.
TO DANCE AROUND.
I have noticed the many singular notions of the Sioux concerning
thunder, and especially the fact that they believe it to be a large
bird. They represent it thus. [Illustration:] This figure is often seen
worked with porcupine quills on their ornaments. Ke-on means to fly.
Thunder is called Wah-ke-on or All-flier. U-mi-ne-wah-chippe is a dance
given by some one who fears thunder and thus endeavors to propitiate the
god and save his own life.
A ring is made, of about sixty feet in circumference, by sticking
saplings in the ground, and bending their tops down, fastening them
together. In the centre of this ring a pole is placed. The pole is about
fifteen feet in height and painted red. From this swings a piece of
birch bark, cut so as to represent thunder. At the foot of the pole
stand two boys and two girls.
The two boys represent war: they are painted red, and hold war-clubs in
their hands. The girls have their faces painted with blue clay: they
On one side of the circle a kind of booth is erected, and about twenty
feet from it a wigwam. There are four entrances to this circle.
When all the arrangements for the dance are concluded, the man who
gives the dance emerges from his wigwam dressed up as hideously as
possible, crawling on all fours towards the booth. He must sing four
tunes before reaching it.
In the meantime the medicine men, who are seated in the wigwam, beat
time on the drum, and the young men and squaws keep time to the music by
first hopping on one foot, and then on the other—moving around inside
the ring as fast as they can. This is continued for about five minutes,
until the music stops. After resting a few moments, the second tune
commences, and lasts the same length of time, then the third, and the
fourth; the Indian meanwhile making his way towards the booth. At the
end of each tune, a whoop is raised by the men dancers.
After the Indian has reached his booth inside the ring, he must sing
four more tunes as before. At the end of the fourth tune the squaws all
run out of the ring as fast as possible, and must leave by the same way
that they entered, the other three entrances being reserved for the men,
who, carrying their war implements, might be accidentally touched by one
of the squaws—and the war implements of the Sioux warrior have from
time immemorial been held sacred from the touch of woman. For the same
reason the men form the inner ring in dancing round the pole, their war
implements being placed at the foot of the pole.
When the last tune is ended, the young men shoot at the image of thunder
which is hanging to the pole, and when it falls a general rush is made
by the warriors to get hold of it. There is placed at the foot of the
pole a bowl of water colored with blue clay. While the men are trying
to seize the parts of the bark representation of their god, they at the
same time are eagerly endeavoring to drink the water in the bowl, every
drop of which must be drank.
The warriors then seize on the two boys and girls—the representations
of war and peace—and use them as roughly as possible—taking their
pipes and war-clubs from them, and rolling them in the dirt until the
paint is entirely rubbed off from their faces. Much as they dislike this
part of the dance, they submit to it through fear, believing that after
this performance the power of thunder is destroyed.
Now that the water is drank up and the guardians of the Thunder bird are
deprived of their war-clubs and pipes, a terrible wailing commences. No
description could convey an idea of the noise made by their crying and
lamentation. All join in, exerting to the utmost the strength of
Before the men shoot at thunder, the squaws must leave the ring. No one
sings at this dance but the warrior who gives it; and while the
visitors, the dancers, and the medicine men, women and children, all are
arrayed in their gayest clothing, the host must be dressed in
In the dance Ahahkah Koyah, or to make the Elk a figure of thunder, is
also made and fought against. The Sioux have a great deference for the
majesty of thunder, and, consequently for their own skill in prevailing
or seeming to prevail against it.
A Sioux is always alarmed after dreaming of an elk, and soon prevails
upon some of his friends to assist him in dancing, to prevent any evil
consequences resulting from his dream. Those willing to join in must lay
aside all clothing, painting their bodies with a reddish gray color,
like the elk's. Each Indian must procure two long saplings, leaving the
boughs upon them. These are to aid the Indians in running. The saplings
must be about twelve feet in length. With them they tear down the bark
image of thunder, which is hung with a string to the top of the pole.
All being ready, the elks run off at a gallop, assisted by their
saplings, to within about two hundred yards of the pole, when they stop
for a while, and then start again for the pole, to which is attached the
figure of thunder.
They continue running round and round this pole, constantly striking the
figure of thunder with their saplings, endeavoring to knock it down,
which after a while they succeed in accomplishing.
The ceremony is now ended, and the dreamer has nothing to fear from elks
until he dreams again.
There is no end to the superstitions and fancies entertained by the
Sioux concerning thunder. On the cradle of the Indian child we
frequently see the figure of thunder represented. It is generally carved
on the wood by the father of the child, with representations of the Elk,
accompanied with hieroglyphic looking figures, but thunder is regarded
as the type of all animals that fly.
There are many medicine feasts—and I saw one celebrated near the Oak
Grove mission, and near, also, to the villages of Good Road, and the
chief Man in the Clouds. It was on a dark cold day about the first of
March. We left the fort at about nine o'clock and followed the road on
the St. Peter's river, which had been used for many months, but which,
though still strong, was beginning to look unsafe. As we advanced
towards the scene of the feast, many Indians from every direction were
collecting, and hurrying forward, either to join in the ceremony about
to be celebrated, or to be spectators. We ascended quite a high hill,
and were then at the spot where all the arrangements were made to
celebrate one of the most sacred forms of their religion. Many of the
Indians to be engaged in the performance were entirely without
protection from the severe cold—their bodies being painted and their
heads adorned with their choicest ornaments, but throwing aside even
their blankets, according to the laws of the ceremony. The Indians
continued to assemble. At eleven o'clock, the dance commenced. Although
I could not faithfully describe, yet I never can forget the scene. The
dark lowering sky—the mantle of snow and ice thrown over all the
objects that surrounded us, except the fierce human beings who were
thus, under Heaven's arch for a roof, about to offer to their deities a
Then the music commenced, and the horrid sounds increased the wildness
of the scene; and the contortions of the medicine man, as he went round
and round, made his countenance horrible beyond expression. The devoted
attention of the savages, given to every part of the ceremony, made it
in a measure interesting. There were hundreds of human beings believing
in a Great Spirit, and anxious to offer him acceptable service; but how
degraded in that service! How fallen from its high estate was the soul
that God had made, when it stooped to worship the bones of animals, the
senseless rock, the very earth that we stood upon! The aged man,
trembling with feebleness, ready to depart to the spirit's land, weary
with the weight of his infirmities—the warrior treading the earth
with the pride of middle age—the young with nothing to regret and
everything to look forward to,—all uniting in a worship which they
ignorantly believe to be religion, but which we know to be idolatry.
I was glad to leave the scene, and turn towards the house of the Rev.
Mr. Pond, who lives near the spot where the feast was celebrated. Here,
pursuing his duties and studies, does this excellent man improve every
moment of his time to the advantage of the Sioux. Always ready to
converse kindly with them in order to gain their confidence—giving
medicine to the sick, and food to the hungry; doing all that lies in his
power to administer to their temporal comfort, he labors to improve
their condition as a people. How can it better be done than by
introducing the Christian religion among them? This the missionaries are
gradually doing; and did they receive proper assistance from government,
and from religious societies, they would indeed go on their way
Placed under the government of the United States, these helpless,
unhappy beings are dependent upon us for the means of subsistence, in a
measure, and how much more for the knowledge of the true God? Churches
will soon rise where the odious feast and medicine dance are celebrated,
but will the Indians worship there? When the foundations of these
churches are laid, the bones of the original owners of the country will
be thrown out—but where will be the souls of those who were thrust out
of their country and their rights to make way for us?
I have seen where literally two or three were met together—where in a
distant country the few who celebrated the death of the Redeemer were
assembled—where the beautiful service of our church was read, and the
hearts that heard it responded to its animating truths. We rejoiced that
the religion which was our comfort was not confined to places; here were
no altars, nor marble tablets—but here in this humble house we knew God
would meet and be with us.
An Indian silently opened the church door and entered. As strange to him
was the solemn decorum of this scene, as to us were the useless
ceremonies we every day witnessed. He watched the countenance of the
clergyman, but he knew not that he was preaching the doctrine of a
universal religion. He saw the sacred book upon the desk, but he could
not read the glorious doctrine of a world redeemed by a Saviour's blood.
He heard the voice of prayer, but how could his soul like ours rise as
on eagle's wings, and ascend to the throne of God! Who was he, this
intruder? It may be a descendant of those who guarded the oracles of
God, who for a time preserved them for us.
No wonder he tired and turned away. Not his the fault that he did not
join in the solemn service, but ours. If we disregard the temporal wants
of the Dahcotah, can we shut our ears against their cry, that rises up
day after day, and year after year,—Show us the path to happiness