Dahcotah - Life and Legends of the Sioux Around Fort Snelling
by Mary Eastman
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It was my purpose to dedicate, exclusively, these pages to my beloved parents. What correctness of sentiment appears in this book is mainly ascribable to a principle they endeavored to instil into the minds of their children, that purity of heart and intellectual attainment are never more appropriately exercised than in promoting the good of our fellow-creatures.

Yet the sincere sentiments of respect and regard that I entertain for you, the remembrance of the many acts of friendship received from you during my residence at Fort Snelling, and the assurance that you are ever prompt to assist and protect the Indian, induce me to unite your name with those most dear to me in this dedication.

An additional inducement is, that no one knows better than yourself the opportunities that presented themselves to collect materials for these legends, and with what interest these occasions were improved. With whatever favor this little work may be received it is a most pleasing reflection to me, that the object in publishing it being to excite attention to the moral wants of the Dahcotahs, will be kindly appreciated by the friends of humanity, and by none more readily than yourself.

Very truly yours,


New London, March lst, 1849.


My only title to the office of editor in the present case is some practice in such matters, with a very warm interest in all, whether relating to past or present, that concerns our western country. Mrs. Eastman,—wife of Captain Eastman, and daughter of Dr. Henderson, both of the U. S. army,—is thoroughly acquainted with the customs, superstitions, and leading ideas of the Dahcotahs, whose vicinity to Fort Snelling, and frequent intercourse with its inmates, have brought them much under the notice of the officers and ladies of the garrison. She has no occasion to present the Indian in a theatrical garb—a mere thing of paint and feathers, less like the original than his own rude delineation on birch-bark or deer-skin. The reader will find in the following pages living men and women, whose feelings are in many respects like his own, and whose motives of action are very similar to those of the rest of the world, though far less artfully covered up and disguised under pleasant names. "Envy, hatred and malice, and all uncharitableness," stand out, unblushing, in Indian life. The first is not called emulation, nor the second just indignation or merited contempt, nor the third zeal for truth, nor the fourth keen discernment of character. Anger and revenge are carried out honestly to their natural fruit—injury to others. Among the Indians this takes the form of murder, while with us it is obliged to content itself with slander, or cunning depreciation. In short, the study of Indian character is the study of the unregenerate human heart; and the writer of these sketches of the Dahcotahs presents it as such, with express and solemn reference to the duty of those who have "the words of eternal life" to apply them to the wretched condition of the red man, who is, perhaps, with all his ignorance, quite as well prepared to receive them as many of those who are already wise in their own eyes. The very degradation and misery in which he lives, and of which he is not unable to perceive some of the causes, prepare him to welcome the instruction which promises better things. Evils which are covered up under the smoothness of civilization, stand out in all their horrible deformity in the abandon of savage life; the Indian cannot get even one gleam of light, without instantly perceiving the darkness around him. Here, then, is encouragement to paint him as he is, that the hearts of the good may be moved at his destitute and unhappy state; to set forth his wants and his claims, that ignorance may no longer be pleaded as an excuse for withholding, from the original proprietor of the soil, the compensation or atonement which is demanded at once by justice, honor, and humanity.

Authentic pictures of Indian life have another and a different value, in a literary point of view. In the history and character of the aborigines is enveloped all the distinct and characteristic poetic material to which we, as Americans, have an unquestioned right. Here is a peculiar race, of most unfathomable origin, possessed of the qualities which have always prompted poetry, and living lives which are to us as shadowy as those of the Ossianic heroes; our own, and passing away—while we take no pains to arrest their fleeting traits or to record their picturesque traditions. Yet we love poetry; are ambitious of a literature of our own, and sink back dejected when we are convicted of imitation. Why is it that we lack interest in things at home? Sismondi has a passage to this effect:—

"The literature of other countries has been frequently adopted by a young nation with a sort of fanatical admiration. The genius of those countries having been so often placed before it as the perfect model of all greatness and all beauty, every spontaneous movement has been repressed, in order to make room for the most servile imitation; and every national attempt to develop an original character has been sacrificed to the reproduction of something conformable to the model which has been always before its eyes."

This is certainly true of us, since we not only adopt the English view of everything, but confine ourselves to the very subjects and imagery which have become consecrated to us by love and habit. Not to enter into the general subject of our disposition to parrotism, our neglect of Indian material in particular may be in part accounted for, by our having become acquainted with the aborigines after the most unpoetical fashion, in trying to cheat them out of their lands, or shooting them when they declined being cheated; they, in their turn, driven to the resource of the weak and the ignorant, counterplotting us, and taking, by means of blood and fire, what we would not give them in fair compensation. This has made our business relations very unpleasant; and everybody knows that when this becomes the case, it is hard for parties to do justice to each other's good or available qualities. If we had only read about the Indians, as a people living in the mountain-fastnesses of Greece, or the, broad plains of Transylvania, we should without difficulty have discovered the romantic elements of their character. But as the effect of remoteness is produced by time as well as distance, it is surely worth while to treasure up their legends for our posterity, who will justly consider us very selfish, if we throw away what will be a treasure to them, merely because we cannot or will not use it ourselves.

A prominent ground of the slight regard in which the English hold American literature, or at least one of the most plausible reasons given for it, is our want of originality, particularly in point of subject matter. It is said that our imitativeness is so servile, that for the sake of following English models, at an immeasurable distance, we neglect the new and grand material which lies all around us, in the sublime features of our country, in our new and striking circumstances, in our peculiar history and splendid prospects, and, above all, in the character, superstitions, and legends of our aborigines, who, to eyes across the water, look like poetical beings. We are continually reproached by British writers for the obtuse carelessness with which we are allowing these people, with so much of the heroic element in their lives, and so much of the mysterious in their origin, to go into the annihilation which seems their inevitable fate as civilization advances, without an effort to secure and record all that they are able to communicate respecting themselves.

And the reproach is just. In our hurry of utilitarian progress, we have either forgotten the Indian altogether, or looked upon him only in a business point of view, as we do almost everything else; as a thriftless, treacherous, drunken fellow, who knows just enough to be troublesome, and who must be cajoled or forced into leaving his hunting-grounds for the occupation of very orderly and virtuous white people, who sell him gunpowder and whiskey, but send him now and then a missionary to teach him that it is wrong to get drunk and murder his neighbor. To look upon the Indian with much regard, even in the light of literary material, would be inconvenient; for the moment we recognize in him a mind, a heart, a soul,—the recollection of the position in which we stand towards him becomes thorny, and we begin dimly to remember certain duties belonging to our Christian profession, which we have sadly neglected with regard to the sons of the forest, whom we have driven before us just as fast as we have required or desired their lands. A few efforts have been made, not only to bring the poetry of their history into notice, but to do them substantial good; the public heart, however, has never responded to the feelings of those who, from living in contact with the Indians, have felt this interest in them. To most Americans, the red man is, to this day, just what he was to the first settlers of the country—a being with soul enough to be blameable for doing wrong, but not enough to claim Christian brotherhood, or to make it very sinful to shoot him like a dog, upon the slightest provocation or alarm. While this feeling continues, we shall not look to him for poetry; and the only imaginative writing in which he is likely to be generally used as material, will be kindred to that known by the appropriate title of "Pirate Literature." Mr. Cooper and Miss Sedgwick are, perhaps, alone among our writers in their attempts to do the Indian justice, while making him the poetical machine in fiction.

Missionaries, however, as well as others who have lived among the aborigines for purely benevolent purposes, have discovered in them capabilities and docility which may put to the blush many of the whites who despise and hate them. Not only in individual cases, but in more extended instances, the Indian has been found susceptible of religious and moral instruction; his heart has warmed to kindness, like any other man's; he has been able to perceive the benefits of regular industry; his head has proved as clear in the apprehension of the distinction between right and wrong as that of the more highly cultivated moralist; and he receives the fundamental truths of the gospel with an avidity, and applies them—at least to the lives and characters of his neighbors—with a keenness, which show him to be not far behind the rest of mankind in sensibility and acuteness. Without referring to the testimony of the elder missionaries, which is abundant, I remember a most touching account, by Rev. George Duffield, jr., of piety in an Indian wigwam, which I would gladly transfer to these pages did their limits admit. It could be proved by overwhelming testimony, that the Indian is as susceptible of good as his white brother. But it is not necessary in this place to urge his claim to our attention on the ground of his moral and religious capabilities. Setting them aside, he has many qualifications for the heroic character as Ajax, or even Achilles. He is as brave, daring, and ruthless; as passionate, as revengeful, as superstitious, as haughty. He will obey his medicine man, though with fury in his heart and injurious words upon his lips; he will fight to the death for a wife, whom he will afterwards treat with the most sovereign neglect. He understands and accepts the laws of spoil, and carries them out with the most chivalric precision; his torture of prisoners does not exceed those which formed part of the "triumphs" of old; his plan of scalping is far neater and more expeditious than that of dragging a dead enemy thrice round the camp by the heels. He loves splendor, and gets all he can of it; and there is little essential difference, in this regard, between gold and red paint, between diamonds and wampum. He has great ancestral pride—a feeling much in esteem for its ennobling powers; and the totem has all the meaning and use of any other armorial bearing. In the endurance of fatigue, hunger, thirst, and exposure, the forest hero has no superior; in military affairs he fully adopts the orthodox maxim that all stratagems are lawful in war. In short, nothing is wanting but a Homer to build our Iliad material into "lofty rhyme," or a Scott to weave it into border romance; and as we are encouraged to look for Scotts and Homers at some future day, it is manifestly our duty to be recording fleeting traditions and describing peculiar customs, before the waves of time shall have swept over the retreating footsteps of the "salvage man," and left us nothing but lake and forest, mountains and cataracts, out of which to make our poetry and romance.

The Indians themselves are full of poetry. Their legends embody poetic fancy of the highest and most adventurous flight; their religious ceremonies refer to things unseen with a directness which shows how bold and vivid are their conceptions of the imaginative. The war-song—the death-song—the song of victory—the cradle-chant—the lament for the slain—these are the overflowings of the essential poetry of their untaught souls. Their eloquence is proverbially soaring and figurative; and in spite of all that renders gross and mechanical their ordinary mode of marrying and giving in marriage, instances are not rare among them of love as true, as fiery, and as fatal, as that of the most exalted hero of romance. They, indeed, live poetry; it should be ours to write it out for them.

Mrs. Eastman's aim has been to preserve from destruction such legends and traits of Indian character as had come to her knowledge during long familiarity; with the Dahcotahs, and nothing can be fresher or more authentic than her records, taken down from the very lips of the red people as they sat around her fire and opened their hearts to her kindness. She has even caught their tone, and her language will be found to have something of an Ossianic simplicity and abruptness, well suited to the theme. Sympathy,—feminine and religious,—breathes through these pages, and the unaffected desire of the writer to awaken a kindly interest in the poor souls who have so twined themselves about her own best feelings, may be said to consecrate the work. In its character of aesthetic material for another age, it appeals to our nationality; while, as the effort of a reflecting and Christian mind to call public attention to the needs of an unhappy race, we may ask for it the approbation of all who acknowledge the duty to "teach all nations."

C. M. K.

NEW YORK, March, 1849.

















The materials for the following pages were gathered during a residence of seven years in the immediate neighborhood—nay—in the very midst of the once powerful but now nearly extinct tribe of Sioux or Dahcotah Indians.

Fort Snelling is situated seven miles below the Falls of St. Anthony, at the confluence of the Mississippi—and St. Peter's rivers—built in 1819, and named after the gallant Colonel Snelling, of the army, by whom the work was erected. It is constructed of stone; is one of the strongest Indian forts in the United States; and being placed on a commanding bluff, has somewhat the appearance of an old German castle, or one of the strongholds on the Rhine.

The then recent removal of the Winnebagoes was rendered troublesome by the interference of Wabashaw, the Sioux chief, whose village is on the Mississippi, 1800 miles from its mouth. The father of Wabashaw was a noted Indian; and during the past summer, the son has given some indications that he inherits the father's talents and courage. When the Winnebagoes arrived at Wabashaw's prairie, the chief induced them not to continue their journey of removal; offered them land to settle upon near him, and told them it was not really the wish of their Great Father, that they should remove. His bribes and eloquence induced the Winnebagoes to refuse to proceed; although there was a company of volunteer dragoons and infantry with them. This delay occasioning much expense and trouble, the government agents applied for assistance to the command at Fort Snelling. There was but one company there; and the commanding officer, with twenty men and some friendly Sioux, went down to assist the agent.

There was an Indian council held on the occasion. The Sioux who went from Fort Snelling promised to speak in favor of the removal. During the council, however, not one of them said a word—for which they afterwards gave a satisfactory reason. Wabashaw; though a young man, had such influence over his band, that his orders invariably received implicit obedience. When the council commenced, Wabashaw had placed a young warrior behind each of the friendly Sioux who he knew would speak in favor of the removal, with orders to shoot down the first one who rose for that purpose. This stratagem may be considered a characteristic specimen of the temper and habits of the Sioux chiefs, whose tribe we bring before the reader in their most conspicuous ceremonies and habits. The Winnebagoes were finally removed, but not until Wabashaw was taken prisoner and carried to Fort Snelling. Wabashaw's pike-bearer was a fine looking warrior, named "Many Lightnings."

The village of "Little Crow," another able and influential Sioux chief, is situated twenty miles below the Falls of St. Anthony. He has four wives, all sisters, and the youngest of them almost a child. There are other villages of the tribe, below and above Fort Snelling.

The scenery about Fort Snelling is rich in beauty. The falls of St. Anthony are familiar to travellers, and to readers of Indian sketches. Between the fort and these falls are the "Little Falls," forty feet in height, on a stream that empties into the Mississippi. The Indians call them Mine-hah-hah, or "laughing waters." In sight of Fort Snelling is a beautiful hill called Morgan's Bluff; the Indians call it "God's House." They have a tradition that it is the residence of their god of the waters, whom they call Unk-ta-he. Nothing can be more lovely than the situation and appearance of this hill; it commands on every side a magnificent view, and during the summer it is carpeted with long grass and prairie flowers. But, to those who have lived the last few years at Fort Snelling, this hill presents another source of interest. On its top are buried three young children, who were models of health and beauty until the scarlet fever found its way into regions hitherto shielded from its approach. They lived but long enough on earth to secure them an entrance into heaven. Life, which ought to be a blessing to all, was to them one of untold value; for it was a short journey to a better land—a translation from the yet unfelt cares of earth to the bright and endless joys of heaven.

Opposite the Fort is Pilot Knob, a high peak, used as a burial-place by the Indians; just below it is the village of Mendota, or the "Meeting of the Waters."

But to me, the greatest objects of interest and curiosity were the original owners of the country, whose teepees could be seen in every direction. One could soon know all that was to be known about Pilot Knob or St. Anthony's falls; but one is puzzled completely to comprehend the character of an Indian man, woman, or child. At one moment, you see an Indian chief raise himself to his full height, and say that the ground on which he stands is his own; at the next, beg bread and pork from an enemy. An Indian woman will scornfully refuse to wash an article that might be needed by a white family—and the next moment, declare that she had not washed her face in fifteen years! An Indian child of three years old, will cling to its mother under the walls of the Fort, and then plunge into the Mississippi, and swim half way across, in hopes of finding an apple that has been thrown in. We may well feel much curiosity to look into the habits, manners, and motives of a race exhibiting such contradictions.

There is a great deal said of Indian warriors—and justly too of the Sioux. They are, as a race, tall fine-looking men; and many of those who have not been degraded by association with the frontier class of white people, nor had their intellects destroyed by the white man's fire-water, have minds of high order, and reason with a correctness that would put to the blush the powers of many an educated logician. Yet are these men called savages, and morally associated with the tomahawk and scalping knife. Few regard them as reasonable creatures, or as beings endowed by their creator with souls, that are here to be fitted for the responsibilities of the Indians hereafter.

Good men are sending the Bible to all parts of the world. Sermons are preached in behalf of fellow-creatures who are perishing in regions known only to us in name. And here, within reach of comparatively the slightest exertion; here, not many miles from churches and schools, and all the moral influences abounding in Christian society; here, in a country endowed with every advantage that God can bestow, are perishing, body and soul, our own countrymen: perishing too from disease, starvation and intemperance, and all the evils incident to their unhappy condition. White men, Christian men, are driving them back; rooting out their very names from the face of the earth. Ah! these men can seek the country of the Sioux when money is to be gained: but how few care for the sufferings of the Dahcotahs! how few would give a piece of money, a prayer, or even a thought, towards their present and eternal good.

Yet are they not altogether neglected. Doctor Williamson, one of the missionaries among the Sioux, lives near Fort Snelling. He is exerting himself to the utmost to promote the moral welfare of the unhappy people among whom he expects to pass his life. He has a school for the Indian children, and many of them read well. On the Sabbath, divine service is regularly held, and he has labored to promote the cause of temperance among the Sioux. Christian exertion is unhappily too much influenced by the apprehension that little can be done for the savage. How is it with the man on his fire-water mission to the Indian? Does he doubt? Does he fail?

As a great motive to improve the moral character of the Indians, I present the condition of the women in their tribes. A degraded state of woman is universally characteristic of savage life, as her elevated influence in civilized society is the conspicuous standard of moral and social virtue. The peculiar sorrows of the Sioux woman commence at her birth. Even as a child she is despised, in comparison with the brother beside her, who is one day to be a great warrior. As a maiden, she is valued while the young man, who wants her for a wife, may have a doubt of his success. But when she is a wife, there is little sympathy for her condition. How soon do the oppressive storms and contentions of life root out all that is kind or gentle in her heart. She must bear the burdens of the family. Should her husband wish it, she must travel all day with a heavy weight on her back; and at night when they stop, her hands must prepare the food for her family before she retires to rest.

Her work is never done. She makes the summer and the winter house. For the former she peels the bark from the trees in the spring; for the latter she sews the deer-skin together. She tans the skins of which coats, mocassins, and leggins are to be made for the family; she has to scrape it and prepare it while other cares are pressing upon her. When her child is born, she has no opportunities for rest or quiet. She must paddle the canoe for her husband—pain and feebleness must be forgotten. She is always hospitable. Visit her in her teepee, and she willingly gives you what you need, if in her power; and with alacrity does what she can to promote your comfort. In her looks there is little that is attractive. Time has not caused the wrinkles in her forehead, nor the furrows in her cheek. They are the traces of want, passion, sorrows and tears. Her bent form was once light and graceful. Labor and privations are not preservative of beauty.

Let it not be deemed impertinent if I venture to urge upon those who care for the wretched wherever their lot may be cast, the immense good that might be accomplished among these tribes by schools, which should open the minds of the young to the light of reason and Christianity. Even if the elder members are given up as hopeless, with the young there is always encouragement. Many a bright little creature among the Dahcotahs is as capable of receiving instruction as are the children of civilization. Why should they be neglected when the waters of benevolence are moving all around them?

It is not pretended that all the incidents related in these stories occurred exactly as they are stated. Most of them are entirely true; while in others the narrative is varied in order to show some prevalent custom, or to illustrate some sentiment to which these Indians are devoted. The Sioux are as firm believers in their religion as we are in ours; and they are far more particular in the discharge of what they conceive to be the obligations required by the objects of their faith and worship. There are many allusions to the belief and customs of the Dahcotahs that require explanation. For this purpose I have obtained from the Sioux themselves the information required. On matters of faith there is difference of opinion among them—but they do not make more points of difference on religion, or on any other subject, than white people do.

The day of the Dahcotah is far spent; to quote the language of a Chippeway chief, "The Indian's glory is passing away." They seem to be almost a God-forgotten race. Some few have given the missionary reason to hope that they have been made subjects of Christian faith—and the light, that has as yet broken in faint rays upon their darkness, may increase. He who takes account of the falling of a sparrow, will not altogether cast away so large a portion of his creatures. All Christian minds will wish success to the Indian missionary; and assuredly God will be true to his mercy, where man is found true to his duty.

The first impression created by the Sioux was the common one—fear. In their looks they were so different from the Indians I had occasionally seen. There was nothing in their aspect to indicate the success of efforts made to civilize them. Their tall, unbending forms, their savage hauteur, the piercing black eye, the quiet indifference of manner, the slow, stealthy step—how different were they from the eastern Indians, whose associations with the white people seem to have deprived them of all native dignity of bearing and of character. The yells heard outside the high wall of the fort at first filled me with alarm; but I soon became accustomed to them, and to all other occasional Indian excitements, that served to vary the monotony of garrison life. Before I felt much interest in the Sioux, they seemed to have great regard for me. My husband, before his marriage, had been stationed at Fort Snelling and at Prairie du Chien. He was fond of hunting and roaming about the prairies; and left many friends among the Indians when he obeyed the order to return to an eastern station. On going back to the Indian country, he met with a warm welcome from his old acquaintances, who were eager to shake hands with "Eastman's squaw."

The old men laid their bony hands upon the heads of my little boys, admired their light hair, said their skins were very white; and, although I could not then understand their language, they told me many things, accompanied with earnest gesticulation. They brought their wives and young children to see me. I had been told that Indian women gossiped and stole; that they were filthy and troublesome. Yet I could not despise them: they were wives and mothers—God had implanted the same feelings in their hearts as in mine.

Some Indians visited us every day, and we frequently saw them at their villages. Captain E. spoke their language well; and without taking any pains to acquire it, I soon understood it so as to talk with them. The sufferings of the women and children, especially during the winter season, appealed to my heart. Their humility in asking for assistance contrasted strongly with the pompous begging of the men. Late in a winter's afternoon, Wenona, wife of a chief named the "Star," came to my room. Undoing a bundle that she took from under her blanket, she approached and showed it to me. It was an infant three days old, closely strapped to an Indian cradle. The wretched babe was shrivelled and already looking old from hunger. She warmed it by the fire, attempting to still its feeble cries.

"Do you nurse your baby well, Wenona?" I asked; "it looks so thin and small."

"How can I," was the reply, "when I have not eaten since it was born?"

Frequently we have heard of whole families perishing during severely cold weather. The father absent on a winter's hunt, the mother could not leave her children to apply to the fort for assistance, even had she strength left to reach there. The frozen bodies would be found in the lodges. The improvident character of the Indian is well known. Their annuities are soon spent; supplies received from government are used in feasting; and no provision is made for winters that are always long and severe. Though they receive frequent assistance from the public at the fort, the wants of all cannot be supplied. The captain of the post was generous towards them, as was always my friend Mrs. F., whom they highly esteemed. Yet some hearts are closed against appeals daily made to their humanity. An Indian woman may suffer from hunger or sickness, because her looks are repulsive and her garments unwashed: some will say they can bear the want of warm clothing, because they have been used to privation.

The women of the Sioux exhibit many striking peculiarities of character—the love of the marvellous, and a profound veneration for any and every thing connected with their religious faith; a willingness to labor and to learn; patience in submitting to insults from servants who consider them intruders in families; the evident recognition of the fact that they are a doomed race, and must submit to indignities that they dare not resent. They seem, too, so unused to sympathy, often comparing their lives of suffering and hardship with the ease and comfort enjoyed by the white women, it must be a hard heart, that could withhold sympathy from such poor creatures. Their home was mine—and such a home! The very sunsets, more bright and glorious than I had ever seen, seemed to love to linger over the scenes amongst which we lived; the high bluffs of the "father of many waters" and the quiet shores of the "Minesota;" the fairy rings on the prairie, and the "spirit lakes" that reposed beside them; the bold peak, Pilot Knob, on whose top the Indians bury their dead, with the small hills rising gradually around it—all were dear to the Sioux and to me. They believed that the rocks, and hills, and waters were peopled with fairies and spirits, whose power and anger they had ever been taught to fear. I knew that God, whose presence fills all nature, was there. In fancy they beheld their deities in the blackened cloud and fearful storm; I saw mine in the brightness of nature, the type of the unchanging light of Heaven.

They evinced the warmest gratitude to any who had ever displayed kind feelings towards them. When our little children were ill with scarlet fever, how grieved they were to witness their sufferings; especially as we watched Virginia, waiting, as we expected, to receive her parting breath. How strongly they were contrasted! that fair child, unconscious even of the presence of the many kind friends who had watched and wept beside her—and the aged Sioux women, who had crept noiselessly into the chamber. I remember them well, as they leaned over the foot of the bed; their expressive and subdued countenances full of sorrow. That small white hand, that lay so powerless, had ever been outstretched to welcome them when they came weary and hungry.

They told me afterwards, that "much water fell from their eyes day and night, while they thought she would die;" that the servants made them leave the sick room, and then turned them out of the house—but that they would not go home, waiting outside to hear of her.

During her convalescence, I found that they could "rejoice with those that rejoice" as well as "weep with those that wept." The fearful disease was abating in our family, and "Old Harper," as she is called in the Fort, offered to sit up and attend to the fire. We allowed her to do so, for the many who had so kindly assisted us were exhausted with fatigue. Joy had taken from me all inclination to sleep, and I lay down near my little girl, watching the old Sioux woman. She seemed to be reviewing the history of her life, so intently did she gaze at the bright coals on the hearth. Many strange thoughts apparently engaged her. She was, of her own accord, an inmate of the white man's house, waiting to do good to his sick child. She had wept bitterly for days, lest the child should be lost to her—and now she was full of happiness, at the prospect of her recovery.

How shall we reconcile this with the fact that Harper, or Harpstinah, was one of the Sioux women, who wore, as long as she could endure it, a necklace made of the hands and feet of Chippeway children? Here, in the silence of night, she turned often towards the bed, when the restless sleep of the child broke in on her meditation. She fancied I slept, but my mind was busy too. I was far away from the home of my childhood, and a Sioux woman, with her knife in her belt, was assisting me in the care of my only daughter. She thought Dr. T. was a "wonderful medicine man" to cure her; in which opinion we all cordially coincided.

I always listened with pleasure to the women, when allusion was made to their religion; but when they spoke of their tradition, I felt as a miser would, had he discovered a mine of gold. I had read the legends of the Maiden's Rock, and of St. Anthony's Falls. I asked Checkered Cloud to tell them to me. She did so—and how differently they were told! With my knowledge of the language, and the aid of my kind and excellent friend Mr. Prescott, all the dark passages in her narration were made clear. I thought the Indian tone of feeling was not rightly appreciated—their customs not clearly stated, perhaps not fairly estimated. The red man, considered generally as a creature to be carried about and exhibited for money, was, in very truth, a being immortally endowed, though under a dispensation obscure to the more highly-favored white race. As they affirmed a belief in the traditions of their tribe, with what strength and beauty of diction they clothed their thoughts—how energetic in gesture! Alas! for the people who had no higher creed, no surer trust, for this and for another world.

However they may have been improved, no one could have had better opportunities than I, to acquire all information of interest respecting these Indians. I lived among them seven years. The chiefs from far and near were constantly visiting the Fort, and were always at our house. Not a sentiment is in the Legends that I did not hear from the lips of the Indian man or woman. They looked on my husband as their friend, and talked to him freely on all subjects, whether of religion, customs, or grievances. They were frequently told that I was writing about them, that every body might know what great warriors they were.

The men were sometimes astonished at the boldness with which I reproved them, though it raised me much in their estimation. I remember taking Bad Hail, one of their chiefs, to task, frequently; and on one occasion he told me, by way of showing his gratitude for the interest I took in his character, that he had three wives, all of whom he would give up if I would "leave Eastman, and come and live with him." I received his proposition, however, with Indian indifference, merely replying that I did not fancy having my head split open every few days with a stick of wood. He laughed heartily after his fashion, conscious that the cap fitted, for he was in the habit of expending all his surplus bad temper upon his wives. I have sometimes thought, that if, when a warrior, be he chief or commoner, throws a stick of wood at his wife's head, she were to cast it back at his, he might, perhaps, be taught better behaviour. But I never dared to instil such insubordinate notions into the heads of my Sioux female friends, lest some ultra "brave," in a desperate rage, might substitute the tomahawk for the log. These opinions, too, might have made me unpopular with Sioux and Turks—and, perchance, with some of my more enlightened friends, who are self-constituted "lords of creation."

I noticed that Indians, like white people, instead of confessing and forsaking their sins, were apt to excuse themselves by telling how much worse their neighbors were. When told how wicked it was to have more than one wife, they defended themselves by declaring that the Winnebagoes had twice or thrice as many as the Sioux. The attempt to make one right of two wrongs seems to be instinctive.

I wished to learn correctly the Indian songs which they sing in celebrating their dances. I sent for a chief, Little Hill, who is a famous singer, but with little perseverance as a teacher of music. He soon lost all patience with me, refused to continue the lesson, declaring that he could never make me sing like a Sioux squaw. The low, guttural notes created the difficulty. He very quickly became tired of my piano and singing. The chiefs and medicine men always answered my questions readily, respecting their laws and religion; but, to insure good humor, they must first have something to eat. All the scraps of food collected in the kitchen; cold beef, cold buckwheat cakes; nothing went amiss, especially as to quantity. Pork is their delight—apples they are particularly fond of—and, in the absence of fire-water, molasses and water is a most acceptable beverage. Then they had to smoke and nod a little before the fire—and by and by I heard all about the Great Spirit, and Hookah the Giant, and the powers of the Sacred Medicine. All that is said in this book of their religion, laws, and sentiments, I learned from themselves, and most of the incidents occurred precisely as they are represented. Some few have been varied, but only where it might happily illustrate a peculiar custom or opinion.

Their medicine men, priests, and jugglers, are proverbially the greatest scamps of the tribe. My dear father must forgive me for reflecting so harshly on his brother practitioners, and be reconciled when he hears that they belong to the corps of quacks; for they doubt their own powers, and are constantly imposing on the credulity of others. On returning from an evening walk, we met, near the fort, a notable procession. First came an old medicine man, whose Indian name I cannot recall; but the children of the garrison called him "Old Sneak"—a most appropriate appellation, for he always looked as if he had just committed murder, and was afraid of being found out. On this occasion he looked particularly in character. What a representative of the learned faculty! After him, in Indian file, came his wife and children, a most cadaverous looking set. To use a western phrase, they all looked as if they were "just dug up." Their appearance was accounted for in the following ludicrous manner—the story is doubtless substantially true. There was a quantity of refuse medicine that had been collecting in the hospital at the fort, and Old Sneak happened to be present at a general clearing out. The medicine was given to him; and away he went to his home, hugging it up close to him like a veritable old miser. It was too precious to be shared with his neighbors; the medicine of the white man was "wahkun" (wonderful)—and, carrying out the principle that the more of a good thing the better, he, with his wife and children, took it all! I felt assured that the infant strapped to its mother's back was dying at that time.

The "dog dance" is held by the Sioux in great reverence; and the first time it has been celebrated near the fort for many years, was about five summers ago.

The Chippeways, with their chief, "Hole in the Day," were down on a visit, and the prairie outside the fort was covered with Indians of both tribes. The Chippeways sat on the grass at a little distance, watching the Sioux as they danced, "to show how brave they were, and how they could eat the hearts of their enemies." Most of the officers and ladies of the garrison were assembled on the hospital gallery to witness the dance.

The Sioux warriors formed a circle; in the centre was a pole fastened in the ground. One of the Indians killed a dog, and, taking out the heart and liver, held them for a few moments in a bucket of cold water, and then hung them to the pole. After awhile, one of the warriors advanced towards it, barking. His attitude was irresistibly droll; he tried to make himself look as much as possible like a dog, and I thought he succeeded to admiration. He retreated, and another warrior advanced with a different sort of bark; more joined in, until there was a chorus of barking. Next, one becomes very courageous, jumps and barks towards the pole, biting off a piece of the flesh; another follows and does the same feat. One after another they all bark and bite. "Let dogs delight" would have been, an appropriate melody for the occasion. They had to hold their heads back to swallow the morceau—it was evidently hard work. Several dogs were killed in succession, when, seeing some of the warriors looking pale and deadly sick, Captain E. determined to try how many of their enemies' hearts they could dispose of. He went down among the Indians and purchased another dog. They could not refuse to eat the heart. It made even the bravest men sick to swallow the last mouthful—they were pale as death. I saw the last of it, and although John Gilpin's ride might be a desirable sight, yet when the Sioux celebrate another dog feast, "may I not be there to see."

Our intercourse with the Sioux was greatly facilitated, and our influence over them much increased, by the success attending my husband's efforts to paint their portraits. They thought it supernatural (wahkun) to be represented on canvas. Some were prejudiced against sitting, others' esteemed it a great compliment to be asked, but all expected to be paid for it. And if anything were wanting to complete our opportunities for gaining all information that was of interest, we found it in the daguerreotype. Captain E., knowing they were about to celebrate a feast he wished to paint in group, took his apparatus out, and, when they least expected it, transferred the group to his plate. The awe, consternation, astonishment and admiration, surpassed description. "Ho! Eastman is all wahkun!"

The Indians are fond of boasting and communicating their exploits and usages to those who have their confidence. While my husband has delineated their features with the pencil, I have occupied pleasantly many an hour in learning from them how to represent accurately the feelings and features of their hearts—feeble though my pen be. We never failed to gain a point by providing a good breakfast or dinner.

With the Rev. Mr. Pond and Dr. Williamson, both missionaries among the Sioux, I had many a pleasant interview and talk about the tribe. They kindly afforded me every assistance—and as they are perfectly acquainted with the language of the Sioux, and have studied their religion with the view to introduce the only true one, I could not have applied to more enlightened sources, or better authority.

The day we left Fort Snelling, I received from Mr. Pond the particulars of the fate of the Sioux woman who was taken prisoner by the Chippeways, and who is represented in the legend called The Wife. Soon after her return to her husband, he was killed by the Chippeways; and the difficulty was settled by the Chippeways paying to the Sioux what was considered the value of the murdered man, in goods, such as calico, tobacco, &c.! After his death, the widow married a Sioux, named "Scarlet Face." They lived harmoniously for a while—but soon difficulties arose, and Scarlet Face, in a fit of savage rage, beat her to death. A most unromantic conclusion to her eventful life.

How vivid is our recollection of the grief the Sioux showed at parting with us. For although, at the time, it added to the pain naturally felt at leaving a place which had so long been our home; yet the sincere affection they evinced towards us and our children was most gratifying. They wished us to remember them, when far away, with kindness. The farewell of my friend Checkered Cloud can never be forgotten. She was my constant visitor for years; and, although a poor and despised Sioux woman, I learned to look upon her with respect and regard. Nor does my interest in her and her nation cease, because, in the chances of life, we may never meet again. It will still be my endeavor to depict all the customs, feasts and ceremonies of the Sioux, before it be too late. The account of them may be interesting, when the people who so long believed in them will be no more.

We can see they are passing away, but who can decide the interesting question of their origin? They told me that their nation had always lived in the valley of the Mississippi—that their wise men had asserted this for ages past. Some who have lived among them, think they crossed over from Persia in ships—and that they once possessed the knowledge of building large vessels, though they have now entirely lost it. This idea bears too little probability to command any confidence. The most general opinion is the often told one, that they are a remnant of God's ancient and chosen people. Be this as it may, they are "as the setting sun, or as the autumn leaves trampled upon by powerful riders."

They are receding rapidly, and with feeble resistance, before the giant strides of civilization. The hunting grounds of a few savages will soon become the haunts of densely peopled, civilized settlements. We should be better reconciled to this manifest destiny of the aborigines, if the inroads of civilization were worthy of it; if the last years of these, in some respects, noble people, were lit up with the hope-inspiring rays of Christianity. We are not to judge the Heathen; yet universal evidence gives the melancholy fact, that the light of nature does not lead the soul to God: and without judging of their destiny, we are bound to enlighten their minds. We know the great Being of whom they are ignorant; and well will it be for them and for us, in a day that awaits us all, if yet, though late, sadly late—yet not too late, we so give countenance and aid to the missionary, that the light of revealed truth may cheer the remaining period of their national and individual, existence.

Will it be said that I am regarding, with partial eye and sentimental romance, but one side of the Sioux character? Have they no faults, as a people and individually? They are savages—and that goes far to answer the question. Perhaps the best answer is, the women have faults enough, and the men twice as many as the women. But if to be a savage is to be cruel, vindictive, ferocious—dare we say that to be a civilized man necessarily implies freedom from these traits?

Want of truth, and habitual dishonesty in little things, are prevalent traits among the Sioux. Most of them will take a kitchen spoon or fork, if they have a chance—and they think it fair thus to return the peculations of the whites. They probably have an idea of making up for the low price at which their lands have been valued, by maintaining a constant system of petty thefts—or perhaps they consider kitchen utensils as curiosities, just as the whites do their mocassins and necklaces of bear's claws. Yes—it must be confessed, however unsentimental, they almost all steal.

The men think it undignified for them to steal, so they send their wives thus unlawfully to procure what they want—and wo be to them if they are found out. The husband would shame and beat his wife for doing what he certainly would have beaten her for refusing to do. As regards the honesty of the men, I give you the opinion of the husband of Checkered Cloud, who was an excellent Indian. "Every Sioux;" said he, "will steal if he need, and there be a chance. The best Indian that ever lived, has stolen. I myself once stole some powder."

I have thus, perhaps tediously, endeavored to show, that what is said in this work has been learned by intimate association, and that for years, with the Indian. This association has continued under influences that secured unreservedly their confidence, friendship—and I may say—truly, in many instances—their affection. If the perusal of the Legends give pleasure to my friends—how happy am I! To do more than this I hardly dare hope.

M. H. E.






The Sioux occupy a country from the Mississippi river to some point west of the Missouri, and from the Chippewa tribe on the north, to the Winnebago on the south; the whole extent being about nine hundred miles long by four hundred in breadth.

Dahcotah is the proper name of this once powerful tribe of Indians. The term Sioux is not recognized, except among those who live near the whites. It is said to have been given by the old French traders, that the Dahcotahs might not know when they were the subjects of conversation. The exact meaning of the word has never been ascertained.

Dahcotah means a confederacy. A number of bands live near each other on terms of friendship, their customs and laws being the same. They mean by the word Dahcotah what we mean by the confederacy of states in our union. The tribe is divided into a number of bands, which are subdivided into villages; every village being governed by its own chief. The honor of being chief is hereditary, though for cause a chief may be deposed and another substituted; and the influence the chief possesses depends much more upon his talents and capacity to govern, than upon mere hereditary descent. To every village there is also a war-chief, and as to these are ascribed supernatural powers, their influence is unbounded. Leading every military excursion, the war-chief's command is absolute with his party.

There are many clans among the Sioux, and these are distinguished from each other by the different kinds of medicine they use. Each clan takes a root for its medicine, known only to those initiated into the mysteries of the clan. The name of this root must be kept a secret. Many of these roots are entirely destitute of medicinal power. The clans are governed by a sort of free-masonry system. A Dahcotah would die rather than divulge the secret of his clan. The clans keep up almost a perpetual warfare with each other. Each one supposes the other to be possessed of supernatural powers, by which they can, cause the death of any individual, though he may live at a great distance. This belief is the cause of a great deal of bloodshed. When a Dahcotah dies, it is attributed to some one of another clan, and revenge is sought by the relatives of the deceased. All their supposed supernatural powers are invoked to destroy the murderer. They first try the powers of their sacred medicine, imagining they can cast a fatal spell on the offender; if this fail, they have recourse to more destructive weapons, and the axe, knife or gun may be fatally used. After the supposed murderer is killed, his relations retaliate, and thus successive feuds become perpetual.

The Dahcotahs, though a reckless, are a generous people, usually kind and affectionate to their aged, though instances to the contrary frequently occur. Among the E-yanktons, there was a man so feeble and decrepit from age as to be totally unable to take care of himself; not being able to walk, he occasioned great trouble. When the band went out hunting, he entreated the young men to drag him along, that he might not fall a prey to the Chippeways, or to a fate equally dreaded, cold and starvation. For a time they seemed to pity him, and there were always those among the hunting party who were willing to render him assistance. At last he fell to the charge of some young men, who, wearied with carrying him from place to place, told him they would leave him, but he need not die a lingering death. They gave him a gun, and placed him on the ground to be shot at, telling him to try and kill one of the young warriors who were to fire at him; and thus he would have so much more honor to carry with him to the land of spirits. He knew it was useless to attempt to defend himself. In a few moments he received his death-wound, and was no longer a burden to himself or to others. The Sioux have a number of superstitious notions, which particularly influence the women. They are slavishly fearful of the spirits of the dead, and a thousand other fancies. Priests and jugglers are venerated from their supposed supernatural powers.

Little is generally known of their religion or their customs. One must live among them to induce them to impart any information concerning their mode of life or religious faith; to a stranger they are always reserved.

Their dances and feasts are not amusements. They all have an object and meaning, and are celebrated year after year, under a belief that neglect will be punished by the Great Spirit by means of disease, want, or the attacks of enemies. All their fear of punishment is confined to what they may suffer in this world. They have no fear of the anger of their deities being continued after death. Revolting as the ceremony of dancing round a scalp seems to us, an Indian believes it to be a sacred duty to celebrate it. The dancing part is performed by the old and young squaws. The medicine men sing, beat the drum, rattle the gourd, and use such other instruments as they contrive. Anything is considered a musical instrument that will assist in creating discordant sound. One of these is a bone with notches on it, one end of which rests on a tin pan, the other being held in the left hand, while, with a piece of bone in the right, which a medicine man draws over the notches, sounds as discordant and grating as possible are created.

The squaws dance around the scalps in concentric circles, in groups of from four to twelve together, pressing their shoulders against each other, and at every stroke of the drum raising themselves to their utmost height, hopping and sliding a short distance to the left, singing all the time with the medicine men. They keep time perfectly. In the centre, the scalps are attached to a pole stuck in the ground, or else carried on the shoulders of some of the squaws. The scalp is stretched on a hoop, and the pole to which it is attached is several feet long. It is also covered with vermilion or red earth, and ornamented with feathers, ribbons, beads, and other trinkets, and usually a pair of scissors or a comb. After dancing for a few minutes, the squaws stop to rest. During this interval one of the squaws, who has had a son, husband, or brother killed by a warrior of the tribe from which the scalp she holds was taken, will relate the particulars of his death, and wind up by saying, "Whose scalp have I now on my shoulders?" At this moment there is a general shout, and the dance again commences. This ceremony continues sometimes, at intervals, for months; usually during the warm weather. After the dance is done, the scalp is buried or put up on the scaffold with some of the deceased of the tribe who took the scalp. So much for the scalp dance—a high religious ceremony, not, as some suppose, a mere amusement.

The Sacred Feast is given in honor of the sacred medicine, and is always given by medicine-men or women who are initiated into the mysteries of the medicine dance. The medicine men are invariably the greatest rascals of the band, yet the utmost respect is shown them. Every one fears the power of a medicine man. When a medicine man intends giving a feast, he goes or sends to the persons whom he wishes to invite. When all are assembled, the giver of the feast opens the medicine bag with some formality. The pipe is lit and smoked by all present; but it is first offered to the Great Spirit. After the smoking, food is placed in wooden bowls, or other vessels that visitors may have brought; for it is not a breach of etiquette to bring dishes with you to the feast. When all are served, the word is given to commence eating, and those that cannot eat all that is given them, must make a present to the host, besides hiring some one present to eat what they fail to consume. To waste a morsel would offend the Great Spirit, and injure or render useless the medicine. Every one having finished eating, the kettle in which the food was cooked is smoked with cedar leaves or grass. Before the cooking is commenced, all the fire within the wigwam is put out, and a fresh one made from flint and steel. In the celebration of the Sacred Feast, the fire and cooking utensils are kept and consecrated exclusively to that purpose. After the feast is over, all the bones are carefully collected and thrown into the water, in order that no dog may get them, nor a woman trample on them.

The Sioux worship the sun. The sun dance is performed by young warriors who dance, at intervals of five minutes, for several days. They hop on one foot and then on the other, keeping time to the drum, and making indescribable gestures, each having a small whistle in his mouth, with his face turned towards the sun. The singing and other music is performed by the medicine men. The drum used is a raw hide stretched over a keg, on which a regular beating of time is made with a short stick with a head to it. Women pretend to foretell future events, and, for this reason, are sometimes invited to medicine feasts.



When an Indian is sick and wants "the Doctor" as we say, or a medicine man, as they say,—they call them also priests, doctors and jugglers,—a messenger is sent for one, with a pipe filled in one hand, and payment in the other; which fee may be a gun, blanket, kettle or anything in the way of present. The messenger enters the wigwam (or teepee, as the houses of the Sioux are called) of the juggler, presents the pipe, and lays the present or fee beside him. Having smoked, the Doctor goes to the teepee of the patient, takes a seat at some distance from him, divests himself of coat or blanket, and pulls his leggins to his ankles. He then calls for a gourd, which has been suitably prepared, by drying and putting small beads or gravel stones in it, to make a rattling noise. Taking the gourd, he begins to rattle it and to sing, thereby to charm the animal that has entered the body of the sick Sioux. After singing hi-he-hi-hah in quick succession, the chorus ha-ha-ha, hahahah is more solemnly and gravely chanted. On due repetition of this the doctor stops to smoke; then sings and rattles again. He sometimes attempts to draw with his mouth the disease from an arm or a limb that he fancies to be affected. Then rising, apparently almost suffocated, groaning terribly and thrusting his face into a bowl of water, he makes all sorts of gestures and noises. This is to get rid of the disease that he pretends to have drawn from the sick person. When he thinks that some animal, fowl or fish, has possession of the sick man, so as to cause the disease, it becomes necessary to destroy the animal by shooting it. To accomplish this, the doctor makes the shape of the animal of bark, which is placed in a bowl of water mixed with red earth, which he sets outside of the wigwam where some young men are standing, who are instructed by the doctor how and when to shoot the animal.

When all is ready, the doctor pops his head out of the wigwam, on his hands and knees. At this moment the young men fire at the little bark animal, blowing it to atoms; when the doctor jumps at the bowl, thrusting his face into the water, grunting, groaning and making a vast deal of fuss. Suddenly a woman jumps upon his back, then dismounts, takes the doctor by the hair, and drags him back into the teepee. All fragments of the bark animal are then collected and burned. The ceremony there ceases. If the patient does not recover, the doctor says he did not get the right animal. The reader must be convinced that it is not for want of the most strenuous exertions on the part of the physician.

These are some of the customs of the Dahcotahs, which, however absurd they may appear to us, are held in sacred reverence by them. There are some animals, birds and fishes, that an Indian venerates; and the creature thus sacred, he dare neither kill nor eat. The selection is usually a bear, buffalo, deer, otter, eagle, hawk or snake. One will not eat the right wing of a bird; another dare not eat the left: nor are the women allowed to eat any part that is considered sacred.

The Sioux say it is lawful to take revenge, but otherwise it is not right to murder. When murder is committed, it is an injury to the deceased; not a sin against the Great Spirit. Some of their wise men say that the Great Spirit has nothing to do with their affairs, present or future. They pretend to know but little of a future state. They have dreamy ideas of large cities somewhere in the heavens, where they will go, but still be at war with their enemies and have plenty of game. An Indian woman's idea of future happiness consists in relief from care. "Oh! that I were dead," they will often say, "when I shall have no more trouble." Veneration is much regarded in all Indian families. Thus a son-in-law must never call his father-in-law by his name, but by the title father-in-law, and vice versa. A female is not permitted to handle the sac for war purposes; neither does she dare look into a looking-glass, for fear of losing her eyesight.

The appearance of a brilliant aurora-borealis occasions great alarm. The Indians run immediately for their guns and bows and arrows to shoot at it, and thus disperse it.



The names of the Sioux bands or villages, are as fanciful as those given to individuals. Near Fort Snelling, are the "Men-da-wahcan-tons," or people of the spirit lakes; the "Wahk-patons," or people of the leaves; the "Wahk-pa-coo-tahs," or people that shoot at leaves, and other bands who have names of this kind. Among those chiefs who have been well-known around Fort Snelling, are,

Wah-ba-shaw, The Leaf. Wah-ke-on-tun-kah, Big Thunder. Wah-coo-ta, Red Wing. Muzza Hotah, Gray Iron. Ma-pe-ah-we-chas-tah, The man in the Cloud. Tah-chun-coo-wash-ta, Good Road. Sha-ce-pee, The Sixth. Wah-soo-we-chasta-ne, Bad Hail. Ish-ta-hum-bah, Sleepy Eyes.

These fanciful names are given to them from some peculiarity in appearance or conduct; or sometimes from an occurrence that took place at the time that they usually receive the name that is ascribed to them for life. There is a Sioux living in the neighborhood of Fort Snelling, called "The man that walks with the women." It is not customary for the Indian to show much consideration for the fair sex, and this young man, exhibiting some symptoms of gallantry unusual among them, received the above name.

The Sioux have ten names for their children, given according to the order of their birth.

The oldest son is called Chaske, " second, Haparm, " third, Ha-pe-dah, " fourth, Chatun, " fifth, Harka, The oldest daughter is called Wenonah, " second, Harpen, " third, Harpstenah, " fourth, Waska, " fifth, We-barka.

These names they retain until another is given by their relations or friends.

The Dahcotahs say that meteors are men or women flying through the air; that they fall to pieces as they go along, finally falling to the earth. They call them "Wah-ken-den-da," or the mysterious passing fire. They have a tradition of a meteor which, they say, was passing over a hill where there was an Indian asleep. The meteor took the Indian on his back, and continued his route till it came to a pond where there were many ducks. The ducks seeing the meteor, commenced a general quacking, which so alarmed him that he turned off and went around the pond, and was about to pass over an Indian village. Here he was again frightened by a young warrior, who was playing on the flute. Being afraid of music, he passed around the village, and soon after falling to the earth, released his burden. The Indian then asked the meteor to give him his head strap, which he refused. The Indian offered him a feather of honor for it, and was again refused. The Sioux, determined to gain his point, told the meteor if he would give him the strap, he would kill a big enemy for him. No reply from the meteor. The Indian then offered to kill a wigwam full of enemies—the meteor still mute. The last offer was six wigwams full of dead enemies for the so much coveted strap. The meteor was finally bribed, gave up the head-strap, and the Sioux went home with the great glory of having outwitted a meteor; for, as they met no more, the debt was never paid.

The language of the Sioux would, with proper facilities, be easily acquired. It is said, in many respects, to resemble the ancient Greek. Even after having acquired considerable knowledge of the language by study, it is necessary to live among the people in order to understand their fanciful mode of speaking.

One of the chiefs, "Sleepy Eyes," visited a missionary not many weeks since, and on being asked why he did not come at the time appointed, replied, "How could I come when I have no mocassins," meaning that he had no horse. The horse had recently been killed by a man who owed him a grudge; and his way of alluding to the loss was the mocassins. On another occasion, this same chief, having done what he considered a favor for the missionaries, at Traverse des Sioux, told them that his coat was worn out, and that he had neither cloth nor thread to mend it; the fact was, that he had no coat at all, no cloth nor thread; his brawny neck and arms were entirely bare, and this was his way of begging for a new coat.

In Indian warfare, the victor takes the scalp of his enemy. If he have time, he takes the entire scalp, including the ears; but if hurried, a smaller scalp-piece is taken. As an inducement to be foremost in battle, the first four that touch the dead body of an enemy, share the honors that are paid to the one who slew the foe and took the scalp. But the victors in Indian fight frequently suffer in this way; a wounded savage feigns death, and, as some warrior approaches to take his scalp, he will suddenly rise, discharge his gun, and fight desperately with the tomahawk until killed. Deeds of valor performed by Indians are as often done from desperation as from any natural bravery. They are educated to warfare, but often show great disinclination to fight; strategy goes farther with them than manly courage does. At Fort Snelling, the Sioux have more than once crouched under the walls of the fort for protection, and on one occasion a chief, who came in to give information of the approach of some Chippeways trembled so as to shake the ornaments about his dress.


The above represents the feathers from the war eagle. They are worn in the hair of the warriors, as honors.

The above represents the only way that the Sioux have of writing an account of an engagement that has taken place.



The children among the Sioux are early accustomed to look with indifference upon the sufferings or death of a person they hate. A few years ago a battle was fought quite near Fort Snelling. The next day the Sioux children were playing foot-ball merrily with the head of a Chippeway. One boy, and a small boy too, had ornamented his head and ears with curls. He had taken the skin peeled off a Chippeway who was killed in the battle, wound it around a stick until it assumed the appearance of a curl, and tied them over his ears. Another child had a string around his neck with a finger hanging to it as an ornament. The infants, instead of being amused with toys or trinkets, are held up to see the scalp of an enemy, and they learn to hate a Chippeway as soon as to ask for food.

After the battle, the mother of a Sioux who was severely wounded found her way to the fort. She entered the room weeping sadly. Becoming quite exhausted, she seated herself on the floor, and said she wanted some coffee and sugar for her sick son, some linen to bind up his wounds, a candle to burn at night, and some whiskey to make her cry! Her son recovered, and the mother, as she sat by and watched him, had the satisfaction to see the scalps of the murdered Chippeways stretched on poles all through the village, around which she, sixty years old, looked forward with great joy to dance; though this was a small gratification compared with her recollection of having formerly cut to pieces the bodies of sundry murdered Chippeway children.

A dreadful creature she was! How vividly her features rise before me. Well do I remember her as she entered my room on a stormy day in January. Her torn mocassins were a mocking protection to her nearly frozen feet; her worn "okendo kenda" hardly covering a wrinkled neck and arms seamed with the scars of many a self-inflicted wound; she tried to make her tattered blanket meet across her chest, but the benumbed fingers were powerless, and her step so feeble, from fatigue and want of food, that she almost fell before the cheerful fire that seemed to welcome her. The smile with which she tried to return my greeting added hideously to the savage expression of her features, and her matted hair was covered with flakes of the drifting snow that almost blinded her.

Food, a pipe, and a short nap before the fire, refreshed her wonderfully. At first she would hardly deign an answer to our questions; now she becomes quite talkative. Her small keen eye follows the children as they play about the room; she tells of her children when they were young, and played around her; when their father brought her venison for food.

Where are they? The Chippeways (mark her as she compresses her lips, and see the nervous trembling of her limbs) killed her husband and her oldest son: consumption walked among her household idols. She has one son left, but he loves the white man's fire-water; he has forgotten his aged mother—she has no one to bring her food—the young men laugh at her, and tell her to kill game for herself.

At evening she must be going—ten miles she has to walk to reach her teepee, for she cannot sleep in the white man's house. We tell her the storm is howling—it will be dark before she reaches home—the wind blows keenly across the open prairie—she had better lie down on the carpet before the fire and sleep. She points to the walls of the fort—she does not speak; but her action says, "It cannot be; the Sioux woman cannot sleep beneath the roof of her enemies."

She is gone—God help the Sioux woman! the widow and the childless. God help her, I say, for other hope or help has she none.


First in order of the gods of the Dahcotahs, comes the Great Spirit. He is the creator of all things, excepting thunder and wild rice. Then there is,

Wakinyan, or Man of the West. Wehiyayanpa-micaxta, Man of the East. Wazza, Man of the North. Itokaga-micaxta, Man of the South. Onkteri, or Unktahe, God of the Waters. Hayoka, or Haoka, the antinatural god. Takuakanxkan, god of motion. Canotidan, Little Dweller in Woods. This god is said to live in a forest, in a hollow tree. Witkokaga, the Befooler, that is, the god who deceives or fools animals so that they can be easily taken.






CHECKERED CLOUD, THE MEDICINE WOMAN. [Footnote: A medicine woman is a female doctor or juggler. No man or woman can assume this office without previous initiation by authority. The medicine dance is a sacred rite, in honor of the souls of the dead; the mysteries of this dance are kept inviolable; its secrets have never been divulged by its members. The medicine men and women attend in cases of sickness. The Sioux have the greatest faith in them. When the patient recovers, it redounds to the honor of the doctor; if he die, they say "The time had come that he should die," or that the "medicine of the person who cast a spell upon the sick person was stronger than the doctor's." They can always find a satisfactory solution of the failure of the charm.]

Within a few miles of Fort Snelling lives Checkered Cloud. Not that she has any settled habitation; she is far too important a character for that. Indeed she is not often two days in the same place. Her wanderings are not, however, of any great extent, so that she can always be found when wanted. But her wigwam is about seven miles from the fort, and she is never much farther off. Her occupations change with the day. She has been very busy of late, for Checkered Cloud is one of the medicine women of the Dahcotahs; and as the Indians have had a good deal of sickness among them, you might follow her from teepee to teepee, as she proceeds with the sacred rattle [Footnote: Sacred rattle. This is generally a gourd, but is sometimes made of bark. Small beads are put into it. The Sioux suppose that this rattle, in the hands of one of their medicine men or women, possesses a certain virtue to charm away sickness or evil spirits. They shake it over a sick person, using a circular motion. It is never, however, put in requisition against the worst spirits with which the Red Man has to contend.] in her hand, charming away the animal that has entered the body of the Dahcotah to steal his strength.

Then, she is the great legend-teller of the Dahcotahs. If there is a merry-making in the village, Checkered Cloud must be there, to call to the minds of the revellers the traditions that have been handed down from time immemorial.

Yesterday, wrapped in her blanket, she was seated on the St. Peters, near a hole which she had cut in the ice, in order to spear the fish as they passed through the water; and to-day—but while I am writing of her, she approaches the house; even now, her shadow falls upon the room as she passes the window. I need not listen to her step, for her mocassined feet pass noiselessly through the hall. The door is slowly opened, and she is before me!

How tall she is! and with what graceful dignity she offers her hand. Seventy winters have passed over her, but the brightness of her eye is undimmed by time. Her brow speaks of intellect—and the white hair that is parted over it falls unplaited on her shoulders. She folds her blanket round her and seats herself; she has a request to make, I know, but Checkered Cloud is not a beggar, she never asks aught but what she feels she has a right to claim.

"Long ago," she says, "the Dahcotah owned lands that the white man now claims; the trees, the rivers, were all our own. But the Great Spirit has been angry with his children; he has taken their forests and their hunting grounds, and given them to others.

"When I was young, I feared not wind nor storm. Days have I wandered with the hunters of my tribe, that they might bring home many buffalo for food, and to make our wigwams. Then, I cared not for cold and fatigue, for I was young and happy. But now I am old; my children have gone before me to the 'House of Spirits'—the tender boughs have yielded to the first rough wind of autumn, while the parent tree has stood and borne the winter's storm.

"My sons have fallen by the tomahawk of their enemies; my daughter sleeps under the foaming waters of the Falls.

"Twenty winters were added to my life on that day. We had encamped at some distance above the Falls, and our hunters had killed many deer. Before we left our village to go on the hunt, we sacrificed to the Spirit of the woods, and we prayed to the Great Spirit. We lifted up our hands and said, 'Father, Great Spirit, help us to kill deer.' The arrows of our hunters never missed, and as we made ready for our return we were happy, for we knew we should not want for food. My daughter's heart was light, for Haparm was with her, and she never was sad but when he was away.

"Just before we arrived at the Falls, she became sick; her hands were burning hot, she refused to eat. As the canoe passed over the Mississippi, she would fill her cup with its waters, to drink and throw over her brow. The medicine men were always at her side, but they said some evil spirit hated her, and prevented their spells from doing her good.

"When we reached the Falls, she was worse; the women left their canoes, and prepared to carry them and the rest of the baggage round the Falls.

"But what should we do with We-no-nah? the flush of fever was on her cheek; she did not know me when I spoke to her; but she kept her eyes fixed upon her lover.

"'We will leave her in the canoe,' said her father; 'and with a line we can carry her gently over the Rapids.' I was afraid, but with her brothers holding the line she must be safe. So I left my child in her canoe, and paddled with the others to the shore.

"As we left her, she turned her eyes towards us, as if anxious to know what we were about to do. The men held the line steadily, and the canoe floated so gently that I began to feel less anxious—but as we approached the rapids, my heart beat quickly at the sound of the waters. Carefully did her brothers hold the line, and I never moved my eyes from the canoe in which she lay. Now the roaring of the waters grew louder, and as they hastened to the rocks over which they would fall they bore with them my child—I saw her raise herself in the canoe, I saw her long hair as it fell on her bosom—I saw no more!

"My sons bore me in their arms to the rest of the party. The hunters had delayed their return that they might seek for the body of my child. Her lover called to her, his voice could be heard above the sound of the waters. 'Return to me, Wenonah, I will never love maiden but you; did you not promise to light the fires in my wigwam?' He would have thrown himself after her, had not the young men prevented him. The body rests not in the cold waters; we found it and buried it, and her spirit calls to me in the silence of the night! Her lover said he would not remain long on the earth; he turned from the Dahcotah maidens as they smiled upon him. He died as a warrior should die!

"The Chippeways had watched for us, they longed to carry the scalp of a Dahcotah home. They did so—but we were avenged.

"Our young men burst in upon them when they were sleeping; they struck them with their tomahawks, they tore their scalps reeking with blood from their heads.

"We heard our warriors at the village as they returned from their war party; we knew by their joyful cries that they had avenged their friends. One by one they entered the village, bearing twenty scalps of the enemy.

"Only three of the Dahcotahs had fallen. But who were the three? My sons, and he who was as dear as a son to me, the lover of my child. I fled from their cries of triumph—I longed to plunge the knife into my own heart.

"I have lived on. But sorrow and cold and hunger have bowed my spirit; and my limbs are not as strong and active as they were in my youth. Neither can I work with porcupine as I used to—for age and tears have dimmed my sight. I bring you venison and fish, will you not give me clothes to protect me from the winter's cold?"

Ah! Checkered Cloud—he was a prophet who named you. Though the cloud has varied, now passing away, now returning blacker than before—though the cheering light of the sun has for a moment dispelled the gloom— 'twas but for a moment! for it was sure to break in terrors over your head. Your name is your history, your life has been a checkered cloud! But the storm of the day has yielded to the influence of the setting sun. The thunder has ceased to roll, the wind has died away, and the golden streaks that bound the horizon promise a brighter morning. So with Checkered Cloud, the storm and strife of the earth have ceased; the "battle of life" is fought, and she has conquered. For she hopes to meet the beloved of earth in the heaven of the Dahcotahs.

And who will say that our heaven will not be hers? The God of the Dahcotahs is ours, though they, less happy than we, have not been taught to know him. Christians! are you without blame? Have you thought of the privations, the wants of those who once owned your country, and would own it still but for the strong hand? Have you remembered that their souls are dear in His sight, who suffered for them, as well as for you? Have you given bright gold that their children might be educated and redeemed from their slavery of soul? Checkered Cloud will die as she has lived, a believer in the religion of the Dahcotahs. The traditions of her tribe are written on her heart. She worships a spirit in every forest tree, or every running stream. The features of the favored Israelite are hers; she is perchance a daughter of their lost tribe. When she was young, she would have listened to the missionary as he told her of Gethsemane and Calvary. But age yields not like youth to new impressions; the one looks to the future, the other clings to the past. See! she has put by her pipe and is going, but she is coming oft again to talk to me of her people, that I may tell to my friends the bravery of the Dahcotah warrior, and the beauty of the maiden! the legends of their rivers and sacred isles—the traditions of their rocks and hills!

If I cannot, in recounting the wild stories of this prophetess of the forest, give her own striking words, I shall at least be faithful to the spirit of her recitals. I shall let Indian life speak for itself; these true pictures of its course will tell its whole simple story better than any labored exposition of mine. Here we may see, not the red man of the novel or the drama, but the red man as he appears to himself, and to those who live with him. His better characteristics will be found quite as numerous as ought to be expected under the circumstances; his faults and his sufferings should appeal to the hearts of those who hold the means of his salvation. No intelligent citizen of these United States can without blame forget the aborigines of his country. Their wrongs cry to heaven; their souls will be required of us. To view them as brutes is an insult to Him who made them and us. May this little work do something towards exciting an interest in a single tribe out of the many whose only hope is in the mercy of the white man!




"Good Road" is one of the Dahcotah chiefs—he is fifty years old and has two wives, but these two have given a deal of trouble; although the chief probably thinks it of no importance whether his two wives fight all the time or not, so that they obey his orders. For what would be a calamity in domestic life to us, is an every day affair among the Dahcotahs.

Good Road's village is situated on the banks of the St. Peter's about seven miles from Fort Snelling. And like other Indian villages it abounds in variety more than anything else. In the teepee the farthest from us, right on the edge of the shore, there are three young men carousing. One is inclined to go to sleep, but the other two will not let him; their spirits are raised and excited by what has made him stupid. Who would suppose they were human beings? See their bloodshot eyes; hear their fiendish laugh and horrid yells; probably before the revel is closed, one of the friends will have buried his knife in the other's heart.

We will pass on to the next teepee. Here we witness a scene almost as appalling. "Iron Arms," one of the most valiant warriors of the band, is stretched in the agonies of death. Old Spirit Killer, the medicine man, is gesticulating by his side, and accompanying his motions with the most horrid noises. But all in vain; the spirit of "Iron Arms," the man of strength, is gone. The doctor says that his medicine was good, but that a prairie dog had entered into the body of the Dahcotah, and he thought it had been a mud-hen. Magnanimous doctor! All honor, that you can allow yourself in error.

While the friends of the dead warrior are rending the air with their cries, we will find out what is going on in the next wigwam. What a contrast!

"The Whirlpool" is seated on the ground smoking; gazing as earnestly at the bright coals as if in them he could read the future or recall the past; and his young wife, whose face, now merry, now sad, bright with smiles at one moment, and lost in thought the next, gained for her the name of "The Changing Countenance," is hushing her child to sleep; but the expression of her features does not change now—as she looks on her child, a mother's deep and devoted love is pictured on her face.

In another, "The Dancing Woman" is wrapped in her blanket pretending to go to sleep. In vain does "The Flying Cloud" play that monotonous courting tune on the flute. The maiden would not be his wife if he gave her all the trinkets in the world. She loves and is going to marry "Iron Lightning," who has gone to bring her—what? a brooch—a new blanket? no, a Chippeway's scalp, that she may be the most graceful of those who dance around it. Her mother is mending the mocassins of the old man who sleeps before the fire.

And we might go round the village and find every family differently employed. They have no regular hours for eating or sleeping. In front of the teepees, young men are lying on the ground, lazily playing checkers, while their wives and sisters are cutting wood and engaged in laborious household duties.

I said Good Road had two wives, and I would now observe that neither of them is younger than himself. But they are as jealous of each other as if they had just turned seventeen, and their lord and master were twenty instead of fifty. Not a day passes that they do not quarrel, and fight too. They throw at each other whatever is most convenient, and sticks of wood are always at hand. And then, the sons of each wife take a part in the battle; they first fight for their mothers, and then for themselves—so that the chief must have been reduced to desperation long ago if it were not for his pipe and his philosophy. Good Road's second wife has Chippeway blood in her veins. Her mother was taken prisoner by the Dahcotahs; they adopted her, and she became the wife of a Dahcotah warrior. She loved her own people, and those who had adopted her too; and in course of time her daughter attained the honorable station of a chief's second wife. Good Road hates the Chippeways, but he fell in love with one of their descendants, and married her. She is a good wife, and the white people have given her the name of "Old Bets."

Last summer "Old Bets" narrowly escaped with her life. The Dahcotahs having nothing else to do, were amusing themselves by recalling all the Chippeways had ever done to injure them; and those who were too lazy to go out on a war party, happily recollected that there was Chippeway blood near them—no farther off than their chief's wigwam; and eight or ten braves vowed they would make an end of "Old Bets." But she heard of their threats, left the village for a time, and after the Dahcotahs had gotten over their mania for shedding blood, she returned, and right glad was Good Road to see her. For she has an open, good humored countenance; the very reverse of that of the first wife, whose vinegar aspect would frighten away an army of small children.

After "Old Bets" returned, Good Road could not conceal his satisfaction. His wife's trip had evidently improved her good looks, for the chief thought she was the handsomest squaw in the village. Her children were always taunting the sons of the first wife, and so it went on, until at last Good Road said he would stand it no longer; he told his oldest wife to go—that he would support her no longer. And for her children, he told them the prairies were large; there were deer and other game—in short, he disinherited them—cut them off with their last meal.

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