At another time, when I was engaged in a similar discussion with my brother Chatanna, Oesedah came to my rescue. Our grandmother had asked us:
"What bird shows most judgment in caring for its young?"
Chatanna at once exclaimed:
"The eagle!" but I held my peace for a moment, because I was confused—so many birds came into my mind at once. I finally declared:
"It is the oriole!"
Chatanna was asked to state all the evidence that he had in support of the eagle's good sense in rearing its young. He proceeded with an air of confidence:
"The eagle is the wisest of all birds. Its nest is made in the safest possible place, upon a high and inaccessible cliff. It provides its young with an abundance of fresh meat. They have the freshest of air. They are brought up under the spell of the grandest scenes, and inspired with lofty feelings and bravery. They see that all other beings live beneath them, and that they are the children of the King of Birds. A young eagle shows the spirit of a warrior while still in the nest.
"Being exposed to the inclemency of the weather the young eaglets are hardy. They are accustomed to hear the mutterings of the Thunder Bird and the sighings of the Great Mystery. Why, the little eagles cannot help being as noble as they are, because their parents selected for them so lofty and inspiring a home! How happy they must be when they find themselves above the clouds, and behold the zigzag flashes of lightning all about them! It must be nice to taste a piece of fresh meat up in their cool home, in the burning summer-time! Then when they drop down the bones of the game they feed upon, wolves and vultures gather beneath them, feeding upon their refuse. That alone would show them their chieftainship over all the other birds. Isn't that so, grandmother?" Thus triumphantly he concluded his argument.
I was staggered at first by the noble speech of Chatannna, but I soon recovered from its effects. The little Oesedah came to my aid by saying: "Wait until Ohiyesa tells of the loveliness of the beautiful Oriole's home!" This timely remark gave me courage and I began:
"My grandmother, who was it said that a mother who has a gentle and sweet voice will have children of a good disposition? I think the oriole is that kind of a parent. It provides both sunshine and shadow for its young. Its nest is suspended from the prettiest bough of the most graceful tree, where it is rocked by the gentle winds; and the one we found yesterday was beautifully lined with soft things, both deep and warm, so that the little featherless birdies cannot suffer from the cold and wet."
Here Chatanna interrupted me to exclaim: "That is just like the white people—who cares for them? The eagle teaches its young to be accustomed to hardships, like young warriors!"
Ohiyesa was provoked; he reproached his brother and appealed to the judge, saying that he had not finished yet.
"But you would not have lived, Chatanna, if you had been exposed like that when you were a baby! The oriole shows wisdom in providing for its children a good, comfortable home! A home upon a high rock would not be pleasant-it would be cold! We climbed a mountain once, and it was cold there; and who would care to stay in such a place when it storms? What wisdom is there in having a pile of rough sticks upon a bare rock, surrounded with ill-smelling bones of animals, for a home? Also, my uncle says that the eaglets seem always to be on the point of starvation. You have heard that whoever lives on game killed by some one else is compared to an eagle. Isn't that so, grandmother?
"The oriole suspends its nest from the lower side of a horizontal bough so that no enemy can approach it. It enjoys peace and beauty and safety."
Oesedah was at Ohiyesa's side during the discussion, and occasionally whispered into his ear. Uncheedah decided this time in favor of Ohiyesa.
We were once very short of provisions in the winter time. My uncle, our only means of support, was sick; and besides, we were separated from the rest of the tribe and in a region where there was little game of any kind. Oesedah had a pet squirrel, and as soon as we began to economize our food had given portions of her allowance to her pet.
At last we were reduced very much, and the prospect of obtaining anything soon being gloomy, my grandmother reluctantly suggested that the squirrel should be killed for food. Thereupon my little cousin cried, and said:
"Why cannot we all die alike wanting? The squirrel's life is as dear to him as ours to us," and clung to it. Fortunately, relief came in time to save her pet.
Oesedah lived with us for a portion of the year, and as there were no other girls in the family she played much alone, and had many imaginary companions. At one time there was a small willow tree which she visited regularly, holding long conversations, a part of which she would afterward repeat to me. She said the willow tree was her husband, whom some magic had compelled to take that form; but no grown person was ever allowed to share her secret.
When I was about eight years old I had for a playmate the adopted son of a Sioux, who was a white captive. This boy was quite a noted personage, although he was then only about ten or eleven years of age. When I first became acquainted with him we were on the upper Missouri river. I learned from him that he had been taken on the plains, and that both of his parents were killed.
He was at first sad and lonely, but soon found plenty of consolation in his new home. The name of his adopted father was "Keeps-the-Spotted-Ponies." He was known to have an unusual number of the pretty calico ponies; indeed, he had a passion for accumulating property in the shape of ponies, painted tents, decorated saddles and all sorts of finery. He had lost his only son; but the little pale-face became the adopted brother of two handsome young women, his daughters. This made him quite popular among the young warriors. He was not slow to adopt the Indian customs, and he acquired the Sioux language in a short time.
I well remember hearing of his first experience of war. He was not more than sixteen when he joined a war-party against the Gros-Ventres and Mandans. My uncle reported that he was very brave until he was wounded in the ankle; then he begged with tears to be taken back to a safe place. Fortunately for him, his adopted father came to the rescue, and saved him at the risk of his own life. He was called the "pale-face Indian." His hair grew very long and he lavished paint on his face and hair so that no one might suspect that he was a white man.
One day this boy was playing a gambling game with one of the Sioux warriors. He was an expert gambler, and won everything from the Indian. At a certain point a dispute arose. The Indian was very angry, for he discovered that his fellow-player had deliberately cheated him. The Indians were strictly honest in those days, even in their gambling.
The boy declared that he had merely performed a trick for the benefit of his friend, but it nearly cost him his life. The indignant warrior had already drawn his bow-string with the intention of shooting the captive, but a third person intervened and saved the boy's life. He at once explained his trick; and in order to show himself an honorable gambler, gave back all the articles that he had won from his opponent. In the midst of the confusion, old "Keeps-the-Spotted-Ponies" came rushing through the crowd in a state of great excitement. He thought his pale-face son had been killed. When he saw how matters stood, he gave the aggrieved warrior a pony, "in order," as he said, "that there may be no shadow between him and my son."
One spring my uncle took Chatanna to the Canadian trading-post on the Assiniboine river, where he went to trade off his furs for ammunition and other commodities. When he came back, my brother was not with him!
At first my fears were even worse than the reality. The facts were these: A Canadian with whom my uncle had traded much had six daughters and no son; and when he saw this handsome and intelligent little fellow, he at once offered to adopt him.
"I have no boy in my family," said he, "and I will deal with him as with a son. I am always in these regions trading; so you can see him two or three times in a year."
He further assured my uncle that the possession of the boy would greatly strengthen their friendship. The matter was finally agreed upon. At first Chatanna was unwilling, but as we were taught to follow the advice of our parents and guardians, he was obliged to yield.
This was a severe blow to me, and for a long time I could not be consoled. Uncheedah was fully in sympathy with my distress. She argued that the white man's education was not desirable for her boys; in fact, she urged her son so strongly to go back after Chatanna that he promised on his next visit to the post to bring him home again.
But the trader was a shrewd man. He immediately moved to another part of the country; and I never saw my Chatanna, the companion of my childhood, again! We learned afterward that he grew up and was married; but one day he lost his way in a blizzard and was frozen to death.
My little cousin and I went to school together in later years; but she could not endure the confinement of the school-room. Although apparently very happy, she suffered greatly from the change to an indoor life, as have many of our people, and died six months after our return to the United States.
III: The Boy Hunter
IT will be no exaggeration to say that the life of the Indian hunter was a life of fascination. From the moment that he lost sight of his rude home in the midst of the forest, his untutored mind lost itself in the myriad beauties and forces of nature. Yet he never forgot his personal danger from some lurking foe or savage beast, however absorbing was his passion for the chase.
The Indian youth was a born hunter. Every motion, every step expressed an inborn dignity and, at the same time, a depth of native caution. His moccasined foot fell like the velvet paw of a cat—noiselessly; his glittering black eyes scanned every object that appeared within their view. Not a bird, not even a chipmunk, escaped their piercing glance.
I was scarcely over three years old when I stood one morning just outside our buffalo-skin teepee, with my little bow and arrows in my hand, and gazed up among the trees. Suddenly the instinct to chase and kill seized me powerfully. Just then a bird flew over my head and then another caught my eye, as it balanced itself upon a swaying bough. Everything else was forgotten and in that moment I had taken my first step as a hunter.
There was almost as much difference between the Indian boys who were brought up on the open prairies and those of the woods, as between city and country boys. The hunting of the prairie boys was limited and their knowledge of natural history imperfect. They were, as a rule, good riders, but in all-round physical development much inferior to the red men of the forest.
Our hunting varied with the season of the year, and the nature of the country which was for the time our home. Our chief weapon was the bow and arrows, and perhaps, if we were lucky, a knife was possessed by some one in the crowd. In the olden times, knives and hatchets were made from bone and sharp stones.
For fire we used a flint with a spongy piece of dry wood and a stone to strike with. Another way of starting fire was for several of the boys to sit down in a circle and rub two pieces of dry, spongy wood together, one after another, until the wood took fire.
We hunted in company a great deal, though it was a common thing for a boy to set out for the woods quite alone, and he usually enjoyed himself fully as much. Our game consisted mainly of small birds, rabbits, squirrels and grouse. Fishing, too, occupied much of our time. We hardly ever passed a creek or a pond without searching for some signs of fish. When fish were present, we always managed to get some. Fish-lines were made of wild hemp, sinew or horse-hair. We either caught fish with lines, snared or speared them, or shot them with bow and arrows. In the fall we charmed them up to the surface by gently tickling them with a stick and quickly threw them out. We have sometimes dammed the brooks and driven the larger fish into a willow basket made for that purpose.
It was part of our hunting to find new and strange things in the woods. We examined the slightest sign of life; and if a bird had scratched the leaves off the ground, or a bear dragged up a root for his morning meal, we stopped to speculate on the time it was done. If we saw a large old tree with some scratches on its bark, we concluded that a bear or some raccoons must be living there. In that case we did not go any nearer than was necessary, but later reported the incident at home. An old deer-track would at once bring on a warm discussion as to whether it was the track of a buck or a doe. Generally, at noon, we met and compared our game, noting at the same time the peculiar characteristics of everything we had killed. It was not merely a hunt, for we combined with it the study of animal life. We also kept strict account of our game, and thus learned who were the best shots among the boys.
I am sorry to say that we were merciless toward the birds. We often took their eggs and their young ones. My brother Chatanna and I once had a disagreeable adventure while bird-hunting. We were accustomed to catch in our hands young ducks and geese during the summer, and while doing this we happened to find a crane's nest. Of course, we were delighted with our good luck. But, as it was already midsummer, the young cranes—two in number—were rather large and they were a little way from the nest; we also observed that the two old cranes were in a swampy place near by; but, as it was moulting-time, we did not suppose that they would venture on dry land. So we proceeded to chase the young birds; but they were fleet runners and it took us some time to come up with them.
Meanwhile, the parent birds had heard the cries of their little ones and come to their rescue. They were chasing us, while we followed the birds. It was really a perilous encounter! Our strong bows finally gained the victory in a hand-to-hand struggle with the angry cranes; but after that we hardly ever hunted a crane's nest. Almost all birds make some resistance when their eggs or young are taken, but they will seldom attack man fearlessly.
We used to climb large trees for birds of all kinds; but we never undertook to get young owls unless they were on the ground. The hooting owl especially is a dangerous bird to attack under these circumstances. I was once trying to catch a yellow-winged woodpecker in its nest when my arm became twisted and lodged in the deep hole so that I could not get it out without the aid of a knife; but we were a long way from home and my only companion was a deaf mute cousin of mine. I was about fifty feet up in the tree, in a very uncomfortable position, but I had to wait there for more than an hour before he brought me the knife with which I finally released myself.
Our devices for trapping small animals were rude, but they were often successful. For instance, we used to gather up a peck or so of large, sharp-pointed burrs and scatter them in the rabbit's furrow-like path. In the morning, we would find the little fellow sitting quietly in his tracks, unable to move, for the burrs stuck to his feet.
Another way of snaring rabbits and grouse was the following: We made nooses of twisted horsehair, which we tied very firmly to the top of a limber young tree, then bent the latter down to the track and fastened the whole with a slip-knot, after adjusting the noose. When the rabbit runs his head through the noose, he pulls the slip-knot and is quickly carried up by the spring of the young tree. This is a good plan, for the rabbit is out of harm's way as he swings high in the air.
Perhaps the most enjoyable of all was the chipmunk hunt. We killed these animals at any time of year, but the special time to hunt them was in March. After the first thaw, the chipmunks burrow a hole through the snow crust and make their first appearance for the season. Sometimes as many as fifty will come together and hold a social reunion. These gatherings occur early in the morning, from daybreak to about nine o'clock.
We boys learned this, among other secrets of nature, and got our blunt-headed arrows together in good season for the chipmunk expedition.
We generally went in groups of six to a dozen or fifteen, to see which would get the most. On the evening before, we selected several boys who could imitate the chipmunk's call with wild oatstraws and each of these provided himself with a supply of straws.
The crust will hold the boys nicely at this time of the year. Bright and early, they all come together at the appointed place, from which each group starts out in a different direction, agreeing to meet somewhere at a given position of the sun.
My first experience of this kind is still well remembered. It was a fine crisp March morning, and the sun had not yet shown himself among the distant tree-tops as we hurried along through the ghostly wood. Presently we arrived at a place where there were many signs of the animals. Then each of us selected a tree and took up his position behind it. The chipmunk caller sat upon a log as motionless as he could, and began to call.
Soon we heard the patter of little feet on the hard snow; then we saw the chipmunks approaching from all directions. Some stopped and ran experimentally up a tree or a log, as if uncertain of the exact direction of the call; others chased one another about.
In a few minutes, the chipmunk-caller was besieged with them. Some ran all over his person, others under him and still others ran up the tree against which he was sitting. Each boy remained immovable until their leader gave the signal; then a great shout arose, and the chipmunks in their flight all ran up the different trees.
Now the shooting-match began. The little creatures seemed to realize their hopeless position; they would try again and again to come down the trees and flee away from the deadly aim of the youthful hunters. But they were shot down very fast; and whenever several of them rushed toward the ground, the little red-skin hugged the tree and yelled frantically to scare them up again.
Each boy shoots always against the trunk of the tree, so that the arrow may bound back to him every time; otherwise, when he had shot away all of them, he would be helpless, and another, who had cleared his own tree, would come and take away his game, so there was warm competition. Sometimes a desperate chipmunk would jump from the top of the tree in order to escape, which was considered a joke on the boy who lost it and a triumph for the brave little animal. At last all were killed or gone, and then we went on to another place, keeping up the sport until the sun came out and the chipmunks refused to answer the call.
When we went out on the prairies we had a different and less lively kind of sport. We used to snare with horse-hair and bow-strings all the small ground animals, including the prairie-dog. We both snared and shot them. Once a little boy set a snare for one, and lay flat on the ground a little way from the hole, holding the end of the string. Presently he felt something move and pulled in a huge rattlesnake; and to this day, his name is "Caught-the-Rattlesnake." Very often a boy got a new name in some such manner. At another time, we were playing in the woods and found a fawn's track. We followed and caught it while asleep; but in the struggle to get away, it kicked one boy, who is still called "Kicked-by-the-Fawn."
It became a necessary part of our education to learn to prepare a meal while out hunting. It is a fact that most Indians will eat the liver and some other portions of large animals raw, but they do not eat fish or birds uncooked. Neither will they eat a frog, or an eel. On our boyish hunts, we often went on until we found ourselves a long way from our camp, when we would kindle a fire and roast a part of our game.
Generally we broiled our meat over the coals on a stick. We roasted some of it over the open fire. But the best way to cook fish and birds is in the ashes, under a big fire. We take the fish fresh from the creek or lake, have a good fire on the sand, dig in the sandy ashes and bury it deep. The same thing is done in case of a bird, only we wet the feathers first. When it is done, the scales or feathers and skin are stripped off whole, and the delicious meat retains all its juices and flavor. We pulled it off as we ate, leaving the bones undisturbed.
Our people had also a method of boiling without pots or kettles. A large piece of tripe was thoroughly washed and the ends tied, then suspended between four stakes driven into the ground and filled with cold water. The meat was then placed in this novel receptacle and boiled by means of the addition of red-hot stones.
Chatanna was a good hunter. He called the doe and fawn beautifully by using a thin leaf of birchbark between two flattened sticks. One morning we found the tracks of a doe and fawn who had passed within the hour, for the light dew was brushed from the grass.
"What shall we do?" I asked. "Shall we go back to the teepee and tell uncle to bring his gun?"
"No, no!" exclaimed Chatanna. "Did not our people kill deer and buffalo long ago without guns? We will entice her into this open space, and, while she stands bewildered, I can throw my lasso line over her head."
He had called only a few seconds when the fawn emerged from the thick woods and stood before us, prettier than a picture. Then I uttered the call, and she threw her tobacco-leaf-like ears toward me, while Chatanna threw his lasso. She gave one scream and launched forth into the air, almost throwing the boy hunter to the ground. Again and again she flung herself desperately into the air, but at last we led her to the nearest tree and tied her securely.
"Now," said he, "go and get our pets and see what they will do."
At that time he had a good-sized black bear partly tamed, while I had a young red fox and my faithful Ohitika or Brave. I untied Chagoo, the bear, and Wanahon, the fox, while Ohitika got up and welcomed me by wagging his tail in a dignified way.
"Come," I said, "all three of you. I think we have something you would all like to see."
They seemed to understand me, for Chagoo began to pull his rope with both paws, while Wanahon undertook the task of digging up by the roots the sapling to which I had tied him.
Before we got to the open spot, we already heard Ohitika's joyous bark, and the two wild pets began to run, and pulled me along through the underbrush. Chagoo soon assumed the utmost precaution and walked as if he had splinters in his soles, while Wanahon kept his nose down low and sneaked through the trees.
Out into the open glade we came, and there, before the three rogues, stood the little innocent fawn. She visibly trembled at the sight of the motley group. The two human rogues looked to her, I presume, just as bad as the other three. Chagoo regarded her with a mixture of curiosity and defiance, while Wanahon stood as if rooted to the ground, evidently planning how to get at her. But Ohitika (Brave), generous Ohitika, his occasional barking was only in jest. He did not care to touch the helpless thing.
Suddenly the fawn sprang high into the air and then dropped her pretty head on the ground.
"Ohiyesa, the fawn is dead," cried Chatanna. "I wanted to keep her."
"It is a shame;" I chimed in.
We five guilty ones came and stood around her helpless form. We all looked very sorry; even Chagoo's eyes showed repentance and regret. As for Ohitika, he gave two great sighs and then betook himself to a respectful distance. Chatanna had two big tears gradually swamping his long, black eye-lashes; and I thought it was time to hide my face, for I did not want him to look at me.
IV. Hakadah's First Offering
"HAKADAH, coowah!" was the sonorous call that came from a large teepee in the midst of the Indian encampment. In answer to the summons there emerged from the woods, which were only a few steps away, a boy, accompanied by a splendid black dog. There was little in the appearance of the little fellow to distinguish him from the other Sioux boys.
He hastened to the tent from which he had been summoned, carrying in his hands a bow and arrows gorgeously painted, while the small birds and squirrels that he had killed with these weapons dangled from his belt.
Within the tent sat two old women, one on each side of the fire. Uncheedah was the boy's grandmother, who had brought up the motherless child. Wahchewin was only a caller, but she had been invited to remain and assist in the first personal offering of Hakadah to the "Great Mystery."
This was a matter which had, for several days, pretty much monopolized Uncheedah's mind. It was her custom to see to this when each of her children attained the age of eight summers. They had all been celebrated as warriors and hunters among their tribe, and she had not hesitated to claim for herself a good share of the honors they had achieved, because she had brought them early to the notice of the "Great Mystery."
She believed that her influence had helped to regulate and develop the characters of her sons to the height of savage nobility and strength of manhood.
It had been whispered through the teepee village that Uncheedah intended to give a feast in honor of her grandchild's first sacrificial offering. This was mere speculation, however, for the clearsighted old woman had determined to keep this part of the matter secret until the offering should be completed, believing that the "Great Mystery" should be met in silence and dignity.
The boy came rushing into the lodge, followed by his dog Ohitika who was wagging his tail promiscuously, as if to say: "Master and I are really hunters!"
Hakadah breathlessly gave a descriptive narrative of the killing of each bird and squirrel as he pulled them off his belt and threw them before his grandmother.
"This blunt-headed arrow," said he, "actually had eyes this morning. Before the squirrel can dodge around the tree it strikes him in the head, and, as he falls to the ground, my Ohitika is upon him."
He knelt upon one knee as he talked, his black eyes shining like evening stars.
"Sit down here," said Uncheedah to the boy; "I have something to say to you. You see that you are now almost a man. Observe the game you have brought me! It will not be long before you will leave me, for a warrior must seek opportunities to make him great among his people.
"You must endeavor to equal your father and grandfather," she went on. "They were warriors and feast-makers. But it is not the poor hunter who makes many feasts. Do you not remember the 'Legend of the Feast-Maker,' who gave forty feasts in twelve moons? And have you forgotten the story of the warrior who sought the will of the Great Mystery? To-day you will make your first offering to him."
The concluding sentence fairly dilated the eyes of the young hunter, for he felt that a great event was about to occur, in which he would be the principal actor. But Uncheedah resumed her speech.
"You must give up one of your belongings-whichever is dearest to you—for this is to be a sacrificial offering."
This somewhat confused the boy; not that he was selfish, but rather uncertain as to what would be the most appropriate thing to give. Then, too, he supposed that his grandmother referred to his ornaments and playthings only. So he volunteered:
"I can give up my best bow and arrows, and all the paints I have, and—and my bear's claws necklace, grandmother!"
"Are these the things dearest to you?" she demanded.
"Not the bow and arrows, but the paints will be very hard to get, for there are no white people near; and the necklace—it is not easy to get one like it again. I will also give up my otterskin head-dress, if you think that is not enough."
"But think, my boy, you have not yet mentioned the thing that will be a pleasant offering to the Great Mystery."
The boy looked into the woman's face with a puzzled expression.
"I have nothing else as good as those things I have named, grandmother, unless it is my spotted pony; and I am sure that the Great Mystery will not require a little boy to make him so large a gift. Besides, my uncle gave three otter-skins and five eagle-feathers for him and I promised to keep him a long while, if the Blackfeet or the Crows do not steal him."
Uncheedah was not fully satisfied with the boy's free offerings. Perhaps it had not occurred to him what she really wanted. But Uncheedah knew where his affection was vested. His faithful dog, his pet and companion—Hakadah was almost inseparable from the loving beast.
She was sure that it would be difficult to obtain his consent to sacrifice the animal, but she ventured upon a final appeal.
"You must remember," she said, "that in this offering you will call upon him who looks at you from every creation. In the wind you hear him whisper to you. He gives his war-whoop in the thunder. He watches you by day with his eye, the sun; at night, he gazes upon your sleeping countenance through the moon. In short, it is the Mystery of Mysteries, who controls all things to whom you will make your first offering. By this act, you will ask him to grant to you what he has granted to few men. I know you wish to be a great warrior and hunter. I am not prepared to see my Hakadah show any cowardice, for the love of possessions is a woman's trait and not a brave's."
During this speech, the boy had been completely aroused to the spirit of manliness, and in his excitement was willing to give up anything he had—even his pony! But he was unmindful of his friend and companion, Ohitika, the dog! So, scarcely had Uncheedah finished speaking, when he almost shouted:
"Grandmother, I will give up any of my possessions for the offering to the Great Mystery! You may select what you think will be most pleasing to him."
There were two silent spectators of this little dialogue. One was Wahchewin; the other was Ohitika. The woman had been invited to stay, although only a neighbor. The dog, by force of habit, had taken up his usual position by the side of his master when they entered the teepee. Without moving a muscle, save those of his eyes, he had been a very close observer of what passed.
Had the dog but moved once to attract the attention of his little friend, he might have been dissuaded from that impetuous exclamation: "Grandmother, I will give up any of my possessions!"
It was hard for Uncheedah to tell the boy that he must part with his dog, but she was equal to the situation.
"Hakadah," she proceeded cautiously, "you are a young brave. I know, though young, your heart is strong and your courage is great. You will be pleased to give up the dearest thing you have for your first offering. You must give up Ohitika. He is brave; and you, too, are brave. He will not fear death; you will bear his loss bravely. Come—here are four bundles of paints and a filled pipe—let us go to the place."
When the last words were uttered, Hakadah did not seem to hear them. He was simply unable to speak. To a civilized eye, he would have appeared at that moment like a little copper statue. His bright black eyes were fast melting in floods of tears, when he caught his grandmother's eye and recollected her oft-repeated adage: "Tears for woman and the war-whoop for man to drown sorrow!"
He swallowed two or three big mouthfuls of heart-ache and the little warrior was master of the situation.
"Grandmother, my Brave will have to die! Let me tie together two of the prettiest tails of the squirrels that he and I killed this morning, to show to the Great Mystery what a hunter he has been. Let me paint him myself."
This request Uncheedah could not refuse and she left the pair alone for a few minutes, while she went to ask Wacoota to execute Ohitika.
Every Indian boy knows that, when a warrior is about to meet death, he must sing a death dirge. Hakadah thought of his Ohitika as a person who would meet his death without a struggle, so he began to sing a dirge for him, at the same time hugging him tight to himself. As if he were a human being, he whispered in his ear:
"Be brave, my Ohitika! I shall remember you the first time I am upon the war-path in the Ojibway country."
At last he heard Uncheedah talking with a man outside the teepee, so he quickly took up his paints. Ohitika was a jet-black dog, with a silver tip on the end of his tail and on his nose, beside one white paw and a white star upon a protuberance between his ears. Hakadah knew that a man who prepares for death usually paints with red and black. Nature had partially provided Ohitika in this respect, so that only red was required and this Hakadah supplied generously.
Then he took off a piece of red cloth and tied it around the dog's neck; to this he fastened two of the squirrels' tails and a wing from the oriole they had killed that morning.
Just then it occurred to him that good warriors always mourn for their departed friends and the usual mourning was black paint. He loosened his black braided locks, ground a dead coal, mixed it with bear's oil and rubbed it on his entire face.
During this time every hole in the tent was occupied with an eye. Among the lookers-on was his grandmother. She was very near relenting. Had she not feared the wrath of the Great Mystery, she would have been happy to call out to the boy: "Keep your dear dog, my child!"
As it was, Hakadah came out of the teepee with his face looking like an eclipsed moon, leading his beautiful dog, who was even handsomer than ever with the red touches on his specks of white.
It was now Uncheedah's turn to struggle with the storm and burden in her soul. But the boy was emboldened by the people's admiration of his bravery, and did not shed a tear. As soon as she was able to speak, the loving grandmother said:
"No, my young brave, not so! You must not mourn for your first offering. Wash your face and then we will go."
The boy obeyed, submitted Ohitika to Wacoota with a smile, and walked off with his grandmother and Wahchewin.
They followed a well-beaten foot-path leading along the bank of the Assiniboine river, through a beautiful grove of oak, and finally around and under a very high cliff. The murmuring of the river came up from just below. On the opposite side was a perpendicular white cliff, from which extended back a gradual slope of land, clothed with the majestic mountain oak. The scene was impressive and wild.
Wahchewin had paused without a word when the little party reached the edge of the cliff. It had been arranged between her and Uncheedah that she should wait there for Wacoota, who was to bring as far as that the portion of the offering with which he had been entrusted.
The boy and his grandmother descended the bank, following a tortuous foot-path until they reached the water's edge. Then they proceeded to the mouth of an immense cave, some fifty feet above the river, under the cliff. A little stream of limpid water trickled down from a spring within the cave. The little watercourse served as a sort of natural staircase for the visitors. A cool, pleasant atmosphere exhaled from the mouth of the cavern. Really it was a shrine of nature and it is not strange that it was so regarded by the tribe.
A feeling of awe and reverence came to the boy. "It is the home of the Great Mystery," he thought to himself; and the impressiveness of his surroundings made him forget his sorrow.
Very soon Wahchewin came with some difficulty to the steps. She placed the body of Ohitika upon the ground in a life-like position and again left the two alone.
As soon as she disappeared from view, Uncheedah, with all solemnity and reverence, unfastened the leather strings that held the four small bundles of paints and one of tobacco, while the filled pipe was laid beside the dead Ohitika.
She scattered paints and tobacco all about. Again they stood a few moments silently; then she drew a deep breath and began her prayer to the Great Mystery:
"O, Great Mystery, we hear thy voice in the rushing waters below us! We hear thy whisper in the great oaks above! Our spirits are refreshed with thy breath from within this cave. O, hear our prayer! Behold this little boy and bless him! Make him a warrior and a hunter as great as thou didst make his father and grandfather."
And with this prayer the little warrior had completed his first offering.
V. FAMILY TRADITIONS
I: A Visit to Smoky Day
SMOKY DAY was widely known among us as a preserver of history and legend. He was a living book of the traditions and history of his people. Among his effects were bundles of small sticks, notched and painted. One bundle contained the number of his own years. Another was composed of sticks representing the important events of history, each of which was marked with the number of years since that particular event occurred. For instance, there was the year when so many stars fell from the sky, with the number of years since it happened cut into the wood. Another recorded the appearance of a comet; and from these heavenly wonders the great national catastrophes and victories were reckoned.
But I will try to repeat some of his favorite narratives as I heard them from his own lips. I went to him one day with a piece of tobacco and an eagle-feather; not to buy his MSS., but hoping for the privilege of hearing him tell of some of the brave deeds of our people in remote times.
The tall and large old man greeted me with his usual courtesy and thanked me for my present. As I recall the meeting, I well remember his unusual stature, his slow speech and gracious manner.
"Ah, Ohiyesa!" said he, "my young warrior—for such you will be some day! I know this by your seeking to hear of the great deeds of your ancestors. That is a good sign, and I love to repeat these stories to one who is destined to be a brave man. I do not wish to lull you to sleep with sweet words; but I know the conduct of your paternal ancestors. They have been and are still among the bravest of our tribe. To prove this, I will relate what happened in your paternal grandfather's family, twenty years ago.
"Two of his brothers were murdered by a jealous young man of their own band. The deed was committed without just cause; therefore all the braves were agreed to punish the murderer with death. When your grandfather was approached with this suggestion, he replied that he and the remaining brothers could not condescend to spill the blood of such a wretch, but that the others might do whatever they thought just with the young man. These men were foremost among the warriors of the Sioux, and no one questioned their courage; yet when this calamity was brought upon them by a villain, they refused to touch him! This, my boy, is a test of true bravery. Self-possession and self-control at such a moment is proof of a strong heart.
"You have heard of Jingling Thunder the elder, whose brave deeds are well known to the Villagers of the Lakes. He sought honor 'in the gates of the enemy,' as we often say. The Great Mystery was especially kind to him, because he was obedient.
"Many winters ago there was a great battle, in which Jingling Thunder won his first honors. It was forty winters before the falling of many stars, which event occurred twenty winters after the coming of the black-robed white priest; and that was fourteen winters before the annihilation by our people of thirty lodges of the Sac and Fox Indians. I well remember the latter event—it was just fifty winters ago. However, I will count my sticks again."
So saying, Smoky Day produced his bundle of variously colored sticks, about five inches long. He counted and gave them to me to verify his calculation.
"But you," he resumed, "do not care to remember the winters that have passed. You are young, and care only for the event and the deed. It was very many years ago that this thing happened that I am about to tell you, and yet our people speak of it with as much enthusiasm as if it were only yesterday. Our heroes are always kept alive in the minds of the nation.
"Our people lived then on the east bank of the Mississippi, a little south of where Imnejah-skah, or White Cliff (St. Paul, Minnesota), now stands. After they left Mille Lacs they founded several villages, but finally settled in this spot, whence the tribes have gradually dispersed. Here a battle occurred which surpassed all others in history. It lasted one whole day—the Sacs and Foxes and the Dakotas against the Ojibways.
"An invitation in the usual form of a filled pipe was brought to the Sioux by a brave of the Sac and Fox tribe, to make a general attack upon their common enemy. The Dakota braves quickly signified their willingness in the same manner, and it having been agreed to meet upon the St. Croix river, preparations were immediately begun to despatch a large war-party.
"Among our people there were many tried warriors whose names were known, and every youth of a suitable age was desirous of emulating them. As these young novices issued from every camp and almost every teepee, their mothers, sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers were singing for them the 'strong-heart' songs. An old woman, living with her only grandchild, the remnant of a once large band who had all been killed at three different times by different parties of the Ojibways, was conspicuous among the singers.
"Everyone who heard, cast toward her a sympathetic glance, for it was well known that she and her grandson constituted the remnant of a band of Sioux, and that her song indicated that her precious child had attained the age of a warrior, and was now about to join the war-party, and to seek a just revenge for the annihilation of his family. This was Jingling Thunder, also familiarly known as 'The Little Last.' He was seen to carry with him some family relics in the shape of war-clubs and lances.
"The aged woman's song was something like this:
"Go, my brave Jingling Thunder! Upon the silvery path Behold that glittering track—
"And yet, my child, remember How pitiful to live Survivor of the young! 'Stablish our name and kin!"
"The Sacs and Foxes were very daring and confident upon this occasion. They proposed to the Sioux that they should engage alone with the enemy at first, and let us see how their braves can fight! To this our people assented, and they assembled upon the hills to watch the struggle between their allies and the Ojibways. It seemed to be an equal fight, and for a time no one could tell how the contest would end. Young Jingling Thunder was an impatient spectator, and it was The Milky Way—believed by the Dakotas to be the road travelled by the spirits of departed braves hard to keep him from rushing forward to meet his foes.
"At last a great shout went up, and the Sacs and Foxes were seen to be retreating with heavy loss. Then the Sioux took the field, and were fast winning the day, when fresh reinforcements came from the north for the Ojibways. Up to this time Jingling Thunder had been among the foremost in the battle, and had engaged in several close encounters. But this fresh attack of the Ojibways was unexpected, and the Sioux were somewhat tired. Besides, they had told the Sacs and Foxes to sit upon the hills and rest their weary limbs and take lessons from their friends the Sioux; therefore no aid was looked for from any quarter.
"A great Ojibway chief made a fierce onslaught on the Dakotas. This man Jingling Thunder now rushed forward to meet. The Ojibway boastfully shouted to his warriors that he had met a tender fawn and would reserve to himself the honor of destroying it. Jingling Thunder, on his side, exclaimed that he had met the aged bear of whom he had heard so much, but that he would need no assistance to overcome him.
"The powerful man flashed his tomahawk in the air over the youthful warrior's head, but the brave sprang aside as quick as lightning, and in the same instant speared his enemy to the heart. As the Ojibway chief gave a gasping yell and fell in death, his people lost courage; while the success of the brave Jingling Thunder strengthened the hearts of the Sioux, for they immediately followed up their advantage and drove the enemy out of their territory.
"This was the beginning of Jingling Thunder's career as a warrior. He afterwards performed even greater acts of valor. He became the ancestor of a famous band of the Sioux, of whom your own father, Ohiyesa, was a member. You have doubtless heard his name in connection with many great events. Yet he was a patient man, and was never known to quarrel with one of his own nation."
That night I lay awake a long time committing to memory the tradition I had heard, and the next day I boasted to my playmate, Little Rainbow, about my first lesson from the old storyteller. To this he replied:
"I would rather have Weyuhah for my teacher. I think he remembers more than any of the others. When Weyuhah tells about a battle you can see it yourself; you can even hear the war-whoop," he went on with much enthusiasm.
"That is what his friends say of him; but those who are not his friends say that he brings many warriors into the battle who were not there," I answered indignantly, for I could not admit that old Smoky Day could have a rival.
Before I went to him again Uncheedah had thoughtfully prepared a nice venison roast for the teacher, and I was proud to take him something good to eat before beginning his story.
"How," was his greeting, "so you have begun already, Ohiyesa? Your family were ever feastmakers as well as warriors."
Having done justice to the tender meat, he wiped his knife by sticking it into the ground several times, and put it away in its sheath, after which he cheerfully recommenced:
"It came to pass not many winters ago that Wakinyan-tonka, the great medicine man, had a vision; whereupon a war-party set out for the Ojibway country. There were three brothers of your family among them, all of whom were noted for valor and the chase.
"Seven battles were fought in succession before they turned to come back. They had secured a number of the enemy's birch canoes, and the whole party came floating down the Mississippi, joyous and happy because of their success.
"But one night the war-chief announced that there was misfortune at hand. The next day no one was willing to lead the fleet. The youngest of the three brothers finally declared that he did not fear death, for it comes when least expected and he volunteered to take the lead.
"It happened that this young man had left a pretty maiden behind him, whose choice needlework adorned his quiver. He was very handsome as well as brave.
"At daybreak the canoes were again launched upon the bosom of the great river. All was quiet—a few birds beginning to sing. Just as the sun peeped through the eastern tree-tops a great warcry came forth from the near shores, and there was a rain of arrows. The birchen canoes were pierced, and in the excitement many were capsized.
"The Sioux were at a disadvantage. There was no shelter. Their bow-strings and the feathers on their arrows were wet. The bold Ojibways saw their advantage and pressed closer and closer; but our men fought desperately, half in and half out of the water, until the enemy was forced at last to retreat. Nevertheless that was a sad day for the Wahpeton Sioux; but saddest of all was Winona's fate!
"Morning Star, her lover, who led the canoe fleet that morning, was among the slain. For two days the Sioux braves searched in the water for their dead, but his body was not recovered.
"At home, meanwhile, the people had been alarmed by ill omens. Winona, eldest daughter of the great chief, one day entered her birch canoe alone and paddled up the Mississippi, gazing now into the water around her, now into the blue sky above. She thought she heard some young men giving courtship calls in the distance, just as they do at night when approaching the teepee of the beloved; and she knew the voice of Morning Star well! Surely she could distinguish his call among the others! Therefore she listened yet more intently, and looked skyward as her light canoe glided gently up stream.
"Ah, poor Winona! She saw only six sandhill cranes, looking no larger than mosquitoes, as they flew in circles high up in the sky, going east where all spirits go. Something said to her: 'Those are the spirits of some of the Sioux braves, and Morning Star is among them!' Her eye followed the birds as they traveled in a chain of circles.
"Suddenly she glanced downward. 'What is this?' she screamed in despair. It was Morning Star's body, floating down the river; his quiver, worked by her own hands and now dyed with his blood, lay upon the surface of the water.
"'Ah, Great Mystery! why do you punish a poor girl so? Let me go with the spirit of Morning Star!'
"It was evening. The pale moon arose in the east and the stars were bright. At this very hour the news of the disaster was brought home by a returning scout, and the village was plunged in grief, but Winona's spirit had flown away. No one ever saw her again.
"This is enough for to-day, my boy. You may come again to-morrow."
II. The Stone Boy
"Ho, mita koda!" (welcome, friend!) was Smoky Day's greeting, as I entered his lodge on the third day. "I hope you did not dream of a watery combat with the Ojibways, after the history I repeated to you yesterday," the old sage continued, with a complaisant smile playing upon his face.
"No," I said, meekly, "but, on the other hand, I have wished that the sun might travel a little faster, so that I could come for another story."
"Well, this time I will tell you one of the kind we call myths or fairy stories. They are about men and women who do wonderful things—things that ordinary people cannot do at all. Sometimes they are not exactly human beings, for they partake of the nature of men and beasts, or of men and gods. I tell you this beforehand, so that you may not ask any questions, or be puzzled by the inconsistency of the actors in these old stories.
"Once there were ten brothers who lived with their only sister, a young maiden of sixteen summers. She was very skilful at her embroidery, and her brothers all had beautifully worked quivers and bows embossed with porcupine quills. They loved and were kind to her, and the maiden in her turn loved her brothers dearly, and was content with her position as their housekeeper. They were great hunters, and scarcely ever remained at home during the day, but when they returned at evening they would relate to her all their adventures.
"One night they came home one by one with their game, as usual, all but the eldest, who did not return. It was supposed by the other brothers that he had pursued a deer too far from the lodge, or perhaps shot more game than he could well carry; but the sister had a presentiment that something dreadful had befallen him. She was partially consoled by the second brother, who offered to find the lost one in the morning.
"Accordingly, he went in search of him, while the rest set out on the hunt as usual. Toward evening all had returned safely, save the brother who went in search of the absent. Again, the next older brother went to look for the others, and he too returned no more. All the young men disappeared one by one in this manner, leaving their sister alone.
"The maiden's sorrow was very great. She wandered everywhere, weeping and looking for her brothers, but found no trace of them. One day she was walking beside a beautiful little stream, whose clear waters went laughing and singing on their way. She could see the gleaming pebbles at the bottom, and one in particular seemed so lovely to her tear-bedimmed eyes, that she stooped and picked it up, dropping it within her skin garment into her bosom. For the first time since her misfortunes she had forgotten herself and her sorrow.
"At last she went home, much happier than she had been, though she could not have told the reason why. On the following day she sought again the place where she had found the pebble, and this time she fell asleep on the banks of the stream, When she awoke, there lay a beautiful babe in her bosom.
"She took it up and kissed it many times. And the child was a boy, but it was heavy like a stone, so she called him a 'Little Stone Boy.' The maiden cried no more, for she was very happy with her baby. The child was unusually knowing, and walked almost from its birth.
"One day Stone Boy discovered the bow and arrows of one of his uncles, and desired to have them; but his mother cried, and said:
"'Wait, my son, until you are a young man.' She made him some little ones, and with these he soon learned to hunt, and killed small game enough to support them both. When he had grown to be a big boy, he insisted upon knowing whose were the ten bows that still hung upon the walls of his mother's lodge.
"At last she was obliged to tell him the sad story of her loss.
"'Mother, I shall go in search of my uncles,' exclaimed the Stone Boy.
"'But you will be lost like them,' she replied, 'and then I shall die of grief.'
"'No, I shall not be lost. I shall bring your ten brothers back to you. Look, I will give you a sign. I will take a pillow, and place it upon end. Watch this, for as long as I am living the pillow will stay as I put it. Mother, give me some food and some moccasins with which to travel!'
"Taking the bow of one of his uncles, with its quiver full of arrows, the Stone Boy departed. As he journeyed through the forest he spoke to every animal he met, asking for news of his lost uncles. Sometimes he called to them at the top of his voice. Once he thought he heard an answer, so he walked in the direction of the sound. But it was only a great grizzly bear who had wantonly mimicked the boy's call. Then Stone Boy was greatly provoked.
"'Was it you who answered my call, you longface?' he exclaimed.
"Upon this the latter growled and said:
"'You had better be careful how you address me, or you may be sorry for what you say!'
"'Who cares for you, you red-eyes, you ugly thing!' the boy replied; whereupon the grizzly immediately set upon him.
"But the boy's flesh became as hard as stone, and the bear's great teeth and claws made no impression upon it. Then he was so dreadfully heavy; and he kept laughing all the time as if he were being tickled, which greatly aggravated the bear. Finally Stone Boy pushed him aside and sent an arrow to his heart.
"He walked on for some distance until he came to a huge fallen pine tree, which had evidently been killed by lightning. The ground near by bore marks of a struggle, and Stone Boy picked up several arrows exactly like those of his uncles, which he himself carried.
"While he was examining these things, he heard a sound like that of a whirlwind, far up in the heavens. He looked up and saw a black speck which grew rapidly larger until it became a dense cloud. Out of it came a flash and then a thunderbolt. The boy was obliged to wink; and when he opened his eyes, behold! a stately man stood before him and challenged him to single combat.
"Stone Boy accepted the challenge and they grappled with one another. The man from the clouds was gigantic in stature and very powerful. But Stone Boy was both strong and unnaturally heavy and hard to hold. The great warrior from the sky sweated from his exertions, and there came a heavy shower. Again and again the lightnings flashed about them as the two struggled there. At last Stone Boy threw his opponent, who lay motionless. There was a murmuring sound throughout the heavens and the clouds rolled swiftly away.
"'Now,' thought the hero, 'this man must have slain all my uncles. I shall go to his home and find out what has become of them.' With this he unfastened from the dead man's scalp-lock a beautiful bit of scarlet down. He breathed gently upon it, and as it floated upward he followed into the blue heavens.
"Away went Stone Boy to the country of the Thunder Birds. It was a beautiful land, with lakes, rivers, plains and mountains. The young adventurer found himself looking down from the top of a high mountain, and the country appeared to be very populous, for he saw lodges all about him as far as the eye could reach. He particularly noticed a majestic tree which towered above all the others, and in its bushy top bore an enormous nest. Stone Boy descended from the mountain and soon arrived at the foot of the tree; but there were no limbs except those at the top and it was so tall that he did not attempt to climb it. He simply took out his bit of down, breathed upon it and floated gently upward.
"When he was able to look into the nest he saw there innumerable eggs of various sizes, and all of a remarkable red color. He was nothing but a boy after all, and had all a boy's curiosity and recklessness. As he was handling the eggs carelessly, his notice was attracted to a sudden confusion in the little village below. All of the people seemed to be running toward the tree. He mischievously threw an egg at them, and in the instant that it broke he saw one of the men drop dead. Then all began to cry out pitifully, 'Give me my heart!'
"'Ah,' exclaimed Stone Boy, exulting,' so these are the hearts of the people who destroyed my uncles! I shall break them all!'
"And he really did break all of the eggs but four small ones which he took in his hand. Then he descended the tree, and wandered among the silent and deserted lodges in search of some trace of his lost uncles. He found four little boys, the sole survivors of their race, and these he commanded to tell him where their bones were laid.
"They showed him the spot where a heap of bones was bleaching on the ground. Then he bade one of the boys bring wood, a second water, a third stones, and the fourth he sent to cut willow wands for the sweat lodge. They obeyed, and Stone Boy built the lodge, made a fire, heated the stones and collected within the lodge all the bones of his ten uncles.
"As he poured the water upon the hot stones faint sounds could be heard from within the magic bath. These changed to the murmuring of voices, and finally to the singing of medicine songs. Stone Boy opened the door and his ten uncles came forth in the flesh, thanking him and blessing him for restoring them to life. Only the little finger of the youngest uncle was missing. Stone Boy now heartlessly broke the four remaining eggs, and took the little finger of the largest boy to supply the missing bone.
"They all returned to earth again and Stone Boy conducted his uncles to his mother's lodge. She had never slept during his entire absence, but watched incessantly the pillow upon which her boy was wont to rest his head, and by which she was to know of his safety. Going a little in advance of the others, he suddenly rushed forward into her teepee, exclaiming: 'Mother, your ten brothers are coming—prepare a feast!'
"For some time after this they all lived happily together. Stone Boy occupied himself with solitary hunting. He was particularly fond of hunting the fiercer wild animals. He killed them wantonly and brought home only the ears, teeth and claws as his spoil, and with these he played as he laughingly recounted his exploits. His mother and uncles protested, and begged him at least to spare the lives of those animals held sacred by the Dakotas, but Stone Boy relied upon his supernatural powers to protect him from harm.
"One evening, however, he was noticeably silent and upon being pressed to give the reason, replied as follows:
"'For some days past I have heard the animals talking of a conspiracy against us. I was going west the other morning when I heard a crier announcing a general war upon Stone Boy and his people. The crier was a Buffalo, going at full speed from west to east. Again, I heard the Beaver conversing with the Musk-rat, and both said that their services were already promised to overflow the lakes and rivers and cause a destructive flood. I heard, also, the little Swallow holding a secret council with all the birds of the air. He said that he had been appointed a messenger to the Thunder Birds, and that at a certain signal the doors of the sky would be opened and rains descend to drown Stone Boy. Old Badger and the Grizzly Bear are appointed to burrow underneath our fortifications.
"'However, I am not at all afraid for myself, but I am anxious for you, Mother, and for my uncles.'
"'Ugh!' grunted all the uncles, 'we told you that you would get into trouble by killing so many of our sacred animals for your own amusement.
"'But,' continued Stone Boy, 'I shall make a good resistance, and I expect you all to help me.'
"Accordingly they all worked under his direction in preparing for the defence. First of all, he threw a pebble into the air, and behold a great rocky wall around their teepee. A second, third, fourth and fifth pebble became other walls without the first. From the sixth and seventh were formed two stone lodges, one upon the other. The uncles meantime, made numbers of bows and quivers full of arrows, which were ranged at convenient distances along the tops of the walls. His mother prepared great quantities of food and made many moccasins for her boy, who declared that he would defend the fortress alone.
"At last they saw the army of beasts advancing, each tribe by itself and commanded by a leader of extraordinary size. The onset was terrific. They flung themselves against the high walls with savage cries, while the badgers and other burrowing animals ceaselessly worked to undermine them. Stone Boy aimed his sharp arrows with such deadly effect that his enemies fell by thousands. So great was their loss that the dead bodies of the animals formed a barrier higher than the first, and the armies retired in confusion.
"But reinforcements were at hand. The rain fell in torrents; the beavers had dammed all the rivers and there was a great flood. The besieged all retreated into the innermost lodge, but the water poured in through the burrows made by the badgers and gophers, and rose until Stone Boy's mother and his ten uncles were all drowned. Stone Boy himself could not be entirely destroyed, but he was overcome by his enemies and left half buried in the earth, condemned never to walk again, and there we find him to this day.
"This was because he abused his strength, and destroyed for mere amusement the lives of the creatures given him for use only."
VI. EVENING IN THE LODGE
I: Evening in the Lodge
I HAD been skating on that part of the lake where there was an overflow, and came home somewhat cold. I cannot say just how cold it was, but it must have been intensely so, for the trees were cracking all about me like pistol shots. I did not mind, because I was wrapped up in my buffalo robe with the hair inside, and a wide leather belt held it about my loins. My skates were nothing more than strips of basswood bark bound upon my feet.
I had taken off my frozen moccasins and put on dry ones in their places.
"Where have you been and what have you been doing?" Uncheedah asked as she placed before me some roast venison in a wooden bowl. "Did you see any tracks of moose or bear?"
"No, grandmother, I have only been playing at the lower end of the lake. I have something to ask you," I said, eating my dinner and supper together with all the relish of a hungry boy who has been skating in the cold for half a day.
"I found this feather, grandmother, and I could not make out what tribe wear feathers in that shape."
"Ugh, I am not a man; you had better ask your uncle. Besides, you should know it yourself by this time. You are now old enough to think about eagle feathers."
I felt mortified by this reminder of my ignorance. It seemed a reflection on me that I was not ambitious enough to have found all such matters out before.
"Uncle, you will tell me, won't you?" I said, in an appealing tone.
"I am surprised, my boy, that you should fail to recognize this feather. It is a Cree medicine feather, and not a warrior's."
"Then," I said, with much embarrassment, "you had better tell me again, uncle, the language of the feathers. I have really forgotten it all."
The day was now gone; the moon had risen; but the cold had not lessened, for the trunks of the trees were still snapping all around our teepee, which was lighted and warmed by the immense logs which Uncheedah's industry had provided. My uncle, White Foot-print, now undertook to explain to me the significance of the eagle's feather.
"The eagle is the most war-like bird," he began, "and the most kingly of all birds; besides, his feathers are unlike any others, and these are the reasons why they are used by our people to signify deeds of bravery.
"It is not true that when a man wears a feather bonnet, each one of the feathers represents the killing of a foe or even a coup. When a man wears an eagle feather upright upon his head, he is supposed to have counted one of four coups upon his enemy."
"Well, then, a coup does not mean the killing of an enemy?"
"No, it is the after-stroke or touching of the body after he falls. It is so ordered, because oftentimes the touching of an enemy is much more difficult to accomplish than the shooting of one from a distance. It requires a strong heart to face the whole body of the enemy, in order to count the coup on the fallen one, who lies under cover of his kinsmen's fire. Many a brave man has been lost in the attempt.
"When a warrior approaches his foe, dead or alive, he calls upon the other warriors to witness by saying: 'I, Fearless Bear, your brave, again perform the brave deed of counting the first (or second or third or fourth) coup upon the body of the bravest of your enemies.' Naturally, those who are present will see the act and be able to testify to it. When they return, the heralds, as you know, announce publicly all such deeds of valor, which then become a part of the man's war record. Any brave who would wear the eagle's feather must give proof of his right to do so.
"When a brave is wounded in the same battle where he counted his coup, he wears the feather hanging downward. When he is wounded, but makes no count, he trims his feather and in that case, it need not be an eagle feather. All other feathers are merely ornaments. When a warrior wears a feather with a round mark, it means that he slew his enemy. When the mark is cut into the feather and painted red, it means that he took the scalp.
"A brave who has been successful in ten battles is entitled to a war-bonnet; and if he is a recognized leader, he is permitted to wear one with long, trailing plumes. Also those who have counted many coups may tip the ends of the feathers with bits of white or colored down. Sometimes the eagle feather is tipped with a strip of weasel skin; that means the wearer had the honor of killing, scalping and counting the first coup upon the enemy all at the same time.
"This feather you have found was worn by a Cree—it is indiscriminately painted. All other feathers worn by the common Indians mean nothing," he added.
"Tell me, uncle, whether it would be proper for me to wear any feathers at all if I have never gone upon the war-path."
"You could wear any other kind of feathers, but not an eagle's," replied my uncle, "although sometimes one is worn on great occasions by the child of a noted man, to indicate the father's dignity and position."
The fire had gone down somewhat, so I pushed the embers together and wrapped my robe more closely about me. Now and then the ice on the lake would burst with a loud report like thunder. Uncheedah was busy re-stringing one of uncle's old snow-shoes. There were two different kinds that he wore; one with a straight toe and long; the other shorter and with an upturned toe. She had one of the shoes fastened toe down, between sticks driven into the ground, while she put in some new strings and tightened the others. Aunt Four Stars was beading a new pair of moccasins.
Wabeda, the dog, the companion of my boyhood days, was in trouble because he insisted upon bringing his extra bone into the teepee, while Uncheedah was determined that he should not. I sympathized with him, because I saw the matter as he did. If he should bury it in the snow outside, I knew Shunktokecha (the coyote) would surely steal it. I knew just how anxious Wabeda was about his bone. It was a fat bone—I mean a bone of a fat deer; and all Indians know how much better they are than the other kind.
Wabeda always hated to see a good thing go to waste. His eyes spoke words to me, for he and I had been friends for a long time. When I was afraid of anything in the woods, he would get in front of me at once and gently wag his tail. He always made it a point to look directly in my face. His kind, large eyes gave me a thousand assurances. When I was perplexed, he would hang about me until he understood the situation. Many times I believed he saved my life by uttering the dog word in time.
Most animals, even the dangerous grizzly, do not care to be seen when the two-legged kind and his dog are about. When I feared a surprise by a bear or a grey wolf, I would say to Wabeda: "Now, my dog, give your war-whoop:" and immediately he would sit up on his haunches and bark "to beat the band" as you white boys say. When a bear or wolf heard the noise, he would be apt to retreat.
Sometimes I helped Wabeda and gave a warwhoop of my own. This drove the deer away as well, but it relieved my mind.
When he appealed to me on this occasion, therefore, I said: "Come, my dog, let us bury your bone so that no Shunktokecha will take it."
He appeared satisfied with my suggestion, so we went out together.
We dug in the snow and buried our bone wrapped up in a piece of old blanket, partly burned; then we covered it up again with snow. We knew that the coyote would not touch anything burnt. I did not put it up a tree because Wabeda always objected to that, and I made it a point to consult his wishes whenever I could.
I came in and Wabeda followed me with two short rib bones in his mouth. Apparently he did not care to risk those delicacies.
"There," exclaimed Uncheedah, "you still insist upon bringing in some sort of bone!" but I begged her to let him gnaw them inside because it was so cold. Having been granted this privilege, he settled himself at my back and I became absorbed in some specially nice arrows that uncle was making.
"O, uncle, you must put on three feathers to all of them so that they can fly straight," I suggested.
"Yes, but if there are only two feathers, they will fly faster," he answered.
"Woow!" Wabeda uttered his suspicions.
"Woow!" he said again, and rushed for the entrance of the teepee. He kicked me over as he went and scattered the burning embers.
"En na he na!" Uncheedah exclaimed, but he was already outside.
"Wow, wow, wow! Wow, Wow, wow!"
A deep guttural voice answered him.
Out I rushed with my bow and arrows in my hand.
"Come, uncle, come! A big cinnamon bear!" I shouted as I emerged from the teepee.
Uncle sprang out and in a moment he had sent a swift arrow through the bear's heart. The animal fell dead. He had just begun to dig up Wabeda's bone, when the dog's quick ear had heard the sound.
"Ah, uncle, Wabeda and I ought to have at least a little eaglet's feather for this. I too sent my small arrow into the bear before he fell," I exclaimed. "But I thought all bears ought to be in their lodges in the winter time. What was this one doing at this time of the year and night?"
"Well," said my uncle, "I will tell you. Among the tribes, some are naturally lazy. The cinnamon bear is the lazy one of his tribe. He alone sleeps out of doors in the winter and because he has not a warm bed, he is soon hungry. Sometimes he lives in the hollow trunk of a tree, where he has made a bed of dry grass; but when the night is very cold, like to-night, he has to move about to keep himself from freezing and as he prowls around, he gets hungry."
We dragged the huge carcass within our lodge. "O, what nice claws he has, uncle!" I exclaimed eagerly. "Can I have them for my necklace?"
"It is only the old medicine men who wear them regularly. The son of a great warrior who has killed a grizzly may wear them upon a public occasion," he explained.
"And you are just like my father and are considered the best hunter among the Santees and Sissetons. You have killed many grizzlies so that no one can object to my bear's-claws necklace," I said appealingly.
White Foot-print smiled. "My boy, you shall have them," he said, "but it is always better to earn them yourself." He cut the claws off carefully for my use.
"Tell me, uncle, whether you could wear these claws all the time?" I asked.
"Yes, I am entitled to wear them, but they are so heavy and uncomfortable," he replied, with a superior air.
At last the bear had been skinned and dressed and we all resumed our usual places. Uncheedah was particularly pleased to have some more fat for her cooking.
"Now, grandmother, tell me the story of the bear's fat. I shall be so happy if you will," I begged.
"It is a good story and it is true. You should know it by heart and gain a lesson from it," she replied. "It was in the forests of Minnesota, in the country that now belongs to the Ojibways. From the Bedawakanton Sioux village a young married couple went into the woods to get fresh venison. The snow was deep; the ice was thick. Far away in the woods they pitched their lonely teepee. The young man was a well-known hunter and his wife a good maiden of the village.
"He hunted entirely on snow-shoes, because the snow was very deep. His wife had to wear snow-shoes too, to get to the spot where they pitched their tent. It was thawing the day they went out, so their path was distinct after the freeze came again.
"The young man killed many deer and bears. His wife was very busy curing the meat and trying out the fat while he was away hunting each day. In the evenings she kept on trying the fat. He sat on one side of the teepee and she on the other.
"One evening, she had just lowered a kettle of fat to cool, and as she looked into the hot fat she saw the face of an Ojibway scout looking down at them through the smoke-hole. She said nothing, nor did she betray herself in any way.
"After a little she said to her husband in a natural voice: 'Marpeetopah, some one is looking at us through the smoke hole, and I think it is an enemy's scout.'
"Then Marpeetopah (Four-skies) took up his bow and arrows and began to straighten and dry them for the next day's hunt, talking and laughing meanwhile. Suddenly he turned and sent an arrow upward, killing the Ojibway, who fell dead at their door.
"'Quick, Wadutah!' he exclaimed; 'you must hurry home upon our trail. I will stay here. When this scout does not return, the warparty may come in a body or send another scout. If only one comes, I can soon dispatch him and then I will follow you. If I do not do that, they will overtake us in our flight.'
"Wadutah (Scarlet) protested and begged to be allowed to stay with her husband, but at last she came away to get reinforcements.
"Then Marpeetopah (Four-skies) put more sticks on the fire so that the teepee might be brightly lit and show him the way. He then took the scalp of the enemy and proceeded on his track, until he came to the upturned root of a great tree. There he spread out his arrows and laid out his tomahawk.
"Soon two more scouts were sent by the Ojibway war-party to see what was the trouble and why the first one failed to come back. He heard them as they approached. They were on snowshoes. When they came close to him, he shot an arrow into the foremost. As for the other, in his effort to turn quickly his snow-shoes stuck in the deep snow and detained him, so Marpeetopah killed them both.
"Quickly he took the scalps and followed Wadutah. He ran hard. But the Ojibways suspected something wrong and came to the lonely teepee, to find all their scouts had been killed. They followed the path of Marpeetopah and Wadutah to the main village, and there a great battle was fought on the ice. Many were killed on both sides. It was after this that the Sioux moved to the Mississippi river."
I was sleepy by this time and I rolled myself up in my buffalo robe and fell asleep.
II. Adventures of My Uncle
IT was a beautiful fall day—'a gopher's last look back,' as we used to say of the last warm days of the late autumn. We were encamped beside a wild rice lake, where two months before we had harvested our watery fields of grain, and where we had now returned for the duck-hunting. All was well with us. Ducks were killed in countless numbers, and in the evenings the men hunted deer in canoes by torchlight along the shores of the lake. But alas! life is made up of good times and bad times, and it is when we are perfectly happy that we should expect some overwhelming misfortune.
"So it was that upon this peaceful and still morning, all of a sudden a harsh and terrible war-cry was heard! Your father was then quite a young man, and a very ambitious warrior, so that I was always frightened on his account whenever there was a chance of fighting. But I did not think of your uncle, Mysterious Medicine, for he was not over fifteen at the time; besides, he had never shown any taste for the field.
"Our camp was thrown into great excitement; and as the warriors advanced to meet the enemy, I was almost overcome by the sight of your uncle among them! It was of no use for me to call him back—I think I prayed in that moment to the Great Mystery to bring my boy safely home.
"I shall never forget, as long as I live, the events of that day. Many brave men were killed; among them two of your uncle's intimate friends. But when the battle was over, my boy came back; only his face was blackened in mourning for his friends, and he bore several wounds in his body. I knew that he had proved himself a true warrior.
"This was the beginning of your uncle's career, He has surpassed your father and your grandfather; yes, all his ancestors except Jingling Thunder, in daring and skill."
Such was my grandmother's account of the maiden battle of her third son, Mysterious Medicine. He achieved many other names; among them Big Hunter, Long Rifle and White Footprint. He had a favorite Kentucky rifle which he carried for many years. The stock was several times broken, but he always made another. With this gun he excelled most of his contemporaries in accuracy of aim. He used to call the weapon Ishtahbopopa—a literal translation would be "Pops-the-eye."
My uncle, who was a father to me for ten years of my life, was almost a giant in his proportions, very symmetrical and "straight as an arrow." His face was not at all handsome. He had very quiet and reserved manners and was a man of action rather than of unnecessary words. Behind the veil of Indian reticence he had an inexhaustible fund of wit and humor; but this part of his character only appeared before his family and very intimate friends. Few men know nature more thoroughly than he. Nothing irritated him more than to hear some natural fact misrepresented. I have often thought that with education he might have made a Darwin or an Agassiz.
He was always modest and unconscious of self in relating his adventures. "I have often been forced to realize my danger," he used to say, "but not in such a way as to overwhelm me. Only twice in my life have I been really frightened, and for an instant lost my presence of mind.
"Once I was in full pursuit of a large buck deer that I had wounded. It was winter, and there was a very heavy fall of fresh snow upon the ground. All at once I came upon the body of the deer lying dead on the snow. I began to make a hasty examination, but before I had made any discoveries, I spied the tips of two ears peeping just above the surface of the snow about twenty feet from me. I made a feint of not seeing anything at all, but moved quickly in the direction of my gun, which was leaning against a tree. Feeling, somehow, that I was about to be taken advantage of, I snatched at the same moment my knife from my belt.
"The panther (for such it was) made a sudden and desperate spring. I tried to dodge, but he was too quick for me. He caught me by the shoulder with his great paw, and threw me down. Somehow, he did not retain his hold, but made another leap and again concealed himself in the snow. Evidently he was preparing to make a fresh attack.
"I was partially stunned and greatly confused by the blow; therefore I should have been an easy prey for him at the moment. But when he left me, I came to my senses; and I had been thrown near my gun! I arose and aimed between the tips of his ears—all that was visible of him—and fired. I saw the fresh snow fly from the spot. The panther leaped about six feet straight up into the air, and fell motionless. I gave two good warwhoops, because I had conquered a very formidable enemy. I sat down on the dead body to rest, and my heart beat as if it would knock out all my ribs. I had not been expecting any danger, and that was why I was so taken by surprise.
"The other time was on the plains, in summer. I was accustomed to hunting in the woods, and never before had hunted buffalo on horseback. Being a young man, of course I was eager to do whatever other men did. Therefore I saddled my pony for the hunt. I had a swift pony and a good gun, but on this occasion I preferred a bow and arrows.
"It was the time of year when the buffalo go in large herds and the bulls are vicious. But this did not trouble me at all; indeed, I thought of nothing but the excitement and honor of the chase.
"A vast plain near the Souris river was literally covered with an immense herd. The day was fair, and we came up with them very easily. I had a quiver full of arrows, with a sinew-backed bow.
"My pony carried me in far ahead of all the others. I found myself in the midst of the bulls first, for they are slow. They threw toward me vicious glances, so I hastened my pony on to the cows. Soon I was enveloped in a thick cloud of dust, and completely surrounded by the herd, who were by this time in the act of fleeing, their hoofs making a noise like thunder.
"I could not think of anything but my own situation, which confused me for the moment. It seemed to me to be a desperate one. If my pony, which was going at full speed, should step into a badger hole, I should be thrown to the ground and trampled under foot in an instant. If I were to stop, they would knock me over, pony and all. Again, it seemed as if my horse must fall from sheer exhaustion; and then what would become of me?
"At last I awoke to a calm realization of my own power. I uttered a yell and began to shoot right and left. Very soon there were only a few old bulls who remained near me. The herd had scattered, and I was miles away from my companions.
"It is when we think of our personal danger that we are apt to be at a loss to do the best thing under the circumstances. One should be unconscious of self in order to do his duty. We are very apt to think ourselves brave, when we are most timid. I have discovered that half our young men give the war-whoop when they are frightened, because they fear lest their silence may betray their state of mind. I think we are really bravest when most calm and slow to action."
I urged my uncle to tell me more of his adventures.
"Once," said he, "I had a somewhat peculiar experience, which I think I never related to you before. It was at the time of the fall hunt. One afternoon when I was alone I discovered that I was too far away to reach the camp before dark, so I looked about for a good place to spend the night. This was on the Upper Missouri, before there were any white people there, and when we were in constant danger from wild beasts as well as from hostile Indians. It was necessary to use every precaution and the utmost vigilance.
"I selected a spot which appeared to be well adapted to defense. I had killed two deer, and I hung up pieces of the meat at certain distances in various directions. I knew that any wolf would stop for the meat, A grizzly bear would sometimes stop, but not a mountain lion or a panther. Therefore I made a fire. Such an animal would be apt to attack a solitary fire. There was a full moon that night, which was much in my favor.
"Having cooked and eaten some of the venison, I rolled myself in my blanket and lay down by the fire, taking my Ishtahbopopa for a bed fellow. I hugged it very closely, for I felt that I should need it during the night. I had scarcely settled myself when I heard what seemed to be ten or twelve coyotes set up such a howling that I was quite sure of a visit from them. Immediately after-. ward I heard another sound, which was like the screaming of a small child. This was a porcupine, which had doubtless smelled the meat.
"I watched until a coyote appeared upon a flat rock fifty yards away. He sniffed the air in every direction; then, sitting partly upon his haunches, swung round in a circle with his hind legs sawing the air, and howled and barked in many different keys. It was a great feat! I could not help wondering whether I should be able to imitate him. What had seemed to be the voices of many coyotes was in reality only one animal. His mate soon appeared and then they both seemed satisfied, and showed no signs of a wish to invite another to join them. Presently they both suddenly and quietly disappeared.
"At this moment a slight noise attracted my attention, and I saw that the porcupine had arrived. He had climbed up to the piece of meat nearest me, and was helping himself without any ceremony. I thought it was fortunate that he came, for he would make a good watch dog for me. Very soon, in fact, he interrupted his meal, and caused all his quills to stand out in defiance. I glanced about me and saw the two coyotes slyly approaching my open camp from two different directions.
"I took the part of the porcupine! I rose in a sitting posture, and sent a swift arrow to each of my unwelcome visitors. They both ran away with howls of surprise and pain.
"The porcupine saw the whole from his perch, but his meal was not at all disturbed, for he began eating again with apparent relish. Indeed, I was soon furnished with another of these unconscious protectors. This one came from the opposite direction to a point where I had hung a splendid ham of venison. He cared to go no further, but seated himself at once on a convenient branch and began his supper.
"The canon above me was full of rocks and trees. From this direction came a startling noise, which caused me more concern than anything I had thus far heard. It sounded much like a huge animal stretching himself, and giving a great yawn which ended in a scream. I knew this for the voice of a mountain lion, and it decided me to perch upon a limb for the rest of the night.
"I got up and climbed into the nearest large tree, taking my weapons with me; but first I rolled a short log of wood in my blanket and laid it in my place by the fire.
"As I got up, the two porcupines began to descend, but I paid no attention to them, and they soon returned to their former positions. Very soon I heard a hissing sound from one of them, and knew that an intruder was near. Two grey wolves appeared.
"I had hung the hams by the ham strings, and they were fully eight feet from the ground. At first the wolves came boldly forward, but the warning of the porcupines caused them to stop, and hesitate to jump for the meat. However, they were hungry, and began to leap savagely for the hams, although evidently they proved good targets for the quills of the prickly ones, for occasionally one of them would squeal and rub his nose desperately against the tree.