by Frank Bird Linderman
Indian Why Story
As soon as manhood is attained, the young Indian must secure his
"charm," or "medicine." After a sweat-bath, he retires to some lonely
spot, and there, for four days and nights, if necessary, he remains in
solitude. During this time he eats nothing; drinks nothing; but spends
his time invoking the Great Mystery for the boon of a long life. In
this state of mind, he at last sleeps, perhaps dreams. If a dream does
not come to him, he abandons the task for a time, and later on will
take another sweat-bath and try again. Sometimes dangerous cliffs, or
other equally uncomfortable places, are selected for dreaming, because
the surrounding terrors impress themselves upon the mind, and even in
slumber add to the vividness of dreams.
At last the dream comes, and in it some bird or animal appears as a
helper to the dreamer, in trouble. Then he seeks that bird or animal;
kills a specimen; and if a bird, he stuffs its skin with moss and
forever keeps it near him. If an animal, instead of a bird, appears in
the dream, the Indian takes his hide, claws, or teeth; and throughout
his life never leaves it behind him, unless in another dream a greater
charm is offered. If this happens, he discards the old "medicine" for
the new; but such cases are rare.
Sometimes the Indian will deck his "medicine-bundle" with fanciful
trinkets and quill-work At other times the "bundle" is kept forever out
of the sight of all uninterested persons, and is altogether unadorned.
But "medicine" is necessary; without it, the Indian is afraid of his
An old chief, who had been in many battles, once told me his great
dream, withholding the name of the animal or bird that appeared therein
and became his "medicine."
He said that when he was a boy of twelve years, his father, who was
chief of his tribe, told him that it was time that he tried to dream.
After his sweat-bath, the boy followed his father without speaking,
because the postulant must not converse or associate with other humans
between the taking of the bath and the finished attempt to dream. On
and on into the dark forest the father led, followed by the naked boy,
till at last the father stopped on a high hill, at the foot of a giant
By signs the father told the boy to climb the tree and to get into an
eagle's nest that was on the topmost boughs. Then the old man went
away, in order that the boy might reach the nest without coming too
close to his human conductor.
Obediently the boy climbed the tree and sat upon the eagle's nest on
the top. "I could see very far from that nest," he told me. "The day
was warm and I hoped to dream that night, but the wind rocked the tree
top, and the darkness made me so much afraid that I did not sleep.
"On the fourth night there came a terrible thunder-storm, with
lightning and much wind. The great pine groaned and shook until I was
sure it must fall. All about it, equally strong trees went down with
loud crashings, and in the dark there were many awful sounds—sounds
that I sometimes hear yet. Rain came, and I grew cold and more afraid.
I had eaten nothing, of course, and I was weak—so weak and tired, that
at last I slept, in the nest. I dreamed; yes, it was a wonderful dream
that came to me, and it has most all come to pass. Part is yet to
come. But come it surely will.
"First I saw my own people in three wars. Then I saw the Buffalo
disappear in a hole in the ground, followed by many of my people. Then
I saw the whole world at war, and many flags of white men were in this
land of ours. It was a terrible war, and the fighting and the blood
made me sick in my dream. Then, last of all, I saw a 'person'
coming—coming across what seemed the plains. There were deep shadows
all about him as he approached. This 'person' kept beckoning me to
come to him, and at last I did go to him.
"'Do you know who I am,' he asked me.
"'No, "person," I do not know you. Who are you, and where is your
"'If you will listen to me, boy, you shall be a great chief and your
people shall love you. If you do not listen, then I shall turn against
you. My name is "Reason."'
"As the 'person' spoke this last, he struck the ground with a stick he
carried, and the blow set the grass afire. I have always tried to know
that 'person.' I think I know him wherever he may be, and in any camp.
He has helped me all my life, and I shall never turn against
That was the old chief's dream and now a word about the sweat-bath. A
small lodge is made of willows, by bending them and sticking the ends
in the ground. A completed sweat-lodge is shaped like an inverted
bowl, and in the centre is a small hole in the ground. The lodge is
covered with robes, bark, and dirt, or anything that will make it
reasonably tight. Then a fire is built outside and near the
sweat-lodge in which stones are heated. When the stones are ready, the
bather crawls inside the sweat-lodge, and an assistant rolls the hot
stones from the fire, and into the lodge. They are then rolled into
the hole in the lodge and sprinkled with water. One cannot imagine a
hotter vapor bath than this system produces, and when the bather has
satisfied himself inside, he darts from the sweat-lodge into the river,
winter or summer. This treatment killed thousands of Indians when the
smallpox was brought to them from Saint Louis, in the early days.
That night in the lodge War Eagle told a queer yarn. I shall modify it
somewhat, but in our own sacred history there is a similar tale, well
known to all. He said:
"Once, a long time ago, two 'thunders' were travelling in the air.
They came over a village of our people, and there stopped to look about.
"In this village there was one fine, painted lodge, and in it there was
an old man, an aged woman, and a beautiful young woman with wonderful
hair. Of course the 'thunders' could look through the lodge skin and
see all that was inside. One of them said to the other: 'Let us marry
that young woman, and never tell her about it.'
"'All right,' replied the other 'thunder.' 'I am willing, for she is
the finest young woman in all the village. She is good in her heart,
and she is honest.'
"So they married her, without telling her about it, and she became the
mother of twin boys. When these boys were born, they sat up and told
their mother and the other people that they were not people, but were
'thunders,' and that they would grow up quickly.
"'When we shall have been on earth a while, we shall marry, and stay
until we each have four sons of our own, then we shall go away and
again become "thunders,"' they said.
"It all came to pass, just as they said it would. When they had
married good women and each had four sons, they told the people one day
that it was time for them to go away forever.
"There was much sorrow among the people, for the twins were good men
and taught many good things which we have never forgotten, but
everybody knew it had to be as they said. While they lived with us,
these twins could heal the sick and tell just what was going to happen
"One day at noon the twins dressed themselves in their finest clothes
and went out to a park in the forest. All the people followed them and
saw them lie down on the ground in the park. The people stayed in the
timber that grew about the edge of the park, and watched them until
clouds and mists gathered about and hid them from view.
"It thundered loudly and the winds blew; trees fell down; and when the
mists and clouds cleared away, they were gone—gone forever. But the
people have never forgotten them, and my grandfather, who is in the
ground near Rocker, was a descendant from one of the sons of the