Dahcotah - Life and Legends of the Sioux Around Fort Snelling
by Mary Eastman
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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 the mistress.

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.



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 troublesome qualities.

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 they wore.

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 towards it.

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 life!

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 bread."

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 nobler heart.


Shah-co-pee has looked rather grave lately. There is trouble in the wigwam.

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 lovers met.

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 infringed upon."

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 are friends.

"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 shall pass."

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 come ashore.

"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 Fort Snelling.

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 her heart.

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 what form.

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 twin sister.

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 trespasser!

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 innocent blood.


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 can reach.

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 requisition too.

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 with glory.


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 right cause.

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 their camp.

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 Chaske, 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 pleasantly.

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 believed it.

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 the scalps.

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 while bathing.

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 and misery.

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 native village.

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 her canoe.

"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 much trouble.

"The fish obeyed, and settled down in the water, and has never since been seen.

"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 Revolution.




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 Mississippi.

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 of notice.

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 the tribe.

"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? Chaske will hunt the deer and buffalo, and we shall be comfortable and happy."

"Yes," said her father, "your mother speaks well. Chaske 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 Chaske, 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 below her.

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 incident.

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 their marriage.

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 young heart.

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 his rival.

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 lover's leap.

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 uplifted tomahawk.

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 see him.

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 his escape.

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.

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