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Brigham Young University 


Paul Henning 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2019 with funding from 
Brigham Young University 


The Boy’s Gatlin 




Edited with Biographical Sketch by 







Published September, 1909 



The two large volumes from which this book has been mainly 
taken were compiled, as Mr. Catlin himself states, from letters 
written at the time to the Commercial Advertiser of New York 
City, and his notes made during the successive journeys they 

These letters were written under the shade of some neighbor¬ 
ing tree, from the bed in his wigwam, and always among the 
scenes he transcribes. To this immediateness is due the value 
which belongs to first impressions, the wealth of detail, accuracy 
of statement, and that engaging buoyancy of spirit which per¬ 
vades the two big books. Elsewhere there are no such data 
concerning the North American Indian in his primitive state 
either for the ethnologist or those who love romantic adventure, 
the charm of the untamed landscape, and life in the open. 

But Mr. Catlin writes as a painter, susceptible to moods and 
pictorial impressions, rather than as a trained writer. This has 
obliged much condensation, the bringing together of widely 
separated material into chronological order, and large excisions 
in order to get into one book the wealth of material lavished on 
two large volumes. 

This has been done unsparingly in the interest of a less 
leisurely world of readers, perhaps, than that for which Catlin 
wrote. It has required change of tenses, of periods substituted 
for commas and semicolons, the elision of clauses, and even 
the suppression of paragraphs. But in every case care has 
been taken to cling to the words of the author; for these are a 



large part of the picture-making for which he has used the pen 
instead of the brush. 

This narrative has also been re-enforced from a small book 
published by Sampson Low & Co., London, and from the 
catalogue prepared by Catlin for his Indian gallery. These 
extracts have been introduced wherever they have tended to 
add to the information contained in the main work. More¬ 
over, this has been done without recourse to foot-notes or any 
interruption of the course of his experiences. The only con¬ 
sideration has been to add facts and observations, and to pre¬ 
serve the generous and persuasive attitude of the author. In 
this the editor has been aided and encouraged by Miss Elizabeth 
Catlin and Mrs. Ernest Kinney, the daughters of Mr. Catlin. 

M. G. H, 

August, 1909 



Sketch of Gatlin’s Life. 

I. The Missouri River in the Thirties . 

II. A Studio Among the Guns. 

III. Indian Aristocrats: The Crows and 

Blackfeet .. 

IV. Painting an Indian Dandy. 

V. Canoeing with Bogard and Batiste . . 

VI. Mandans; The People of the Pheas¬ 
ants . 

/^II. Social Life Among the Mandans . . . 

VIII. The Artist Becomes a Medicine-Man . 

IX. A Mandan Feasj. 

X. The Mandan Women. 

XL Mandan Dances and Games. 

XII. O-kee-pa: a Religious Ceremony . . 

XIII. Dances of the O-kee-pa. 

XIV. The Making of Braves.. 

XV. Mandan Legend of the Deluge . . . 

XVI. Corn Dance of the Minatarees . . . 

XVII. The Attack on the Canoe. 



















viii Contents 


XVIII. The Death of Little Bear: A Sioux 

Tragedy .195 

XIX. The Dances and Music of the Sioux , . 203 

XX, A Dog Feast . ..216 

XXL The Buffalo Chase.227 

XXII. A Prairie Fire ..239 

XXIII. Songs and Dances of the Iowas . . . 252 

XXIV. Painting Black Hawk and His Warriors . 262 

XXV. With the Army at Fort Gibson . . . 269 

XXVI. Lassoing Wild Horses.279 

XXVII. Visiting the Camanches.291 

XXVIII. The Stolen Boy. 300 

XXIX. A Cruel March ......... 308 

XXX. A Choctaw Ball Game .314 

XXXI. Alone with Charley.322 

XXXII. Canoeing on the Upper Mississippi . . . 334 

XXXIII. Painting the Portrait of Keokuk . . . 342 

XXXIV. The Land of the Red-Pipe Stone . . 348 

XXXV. The Sad Fate of Osceola . . . , . 359 

XXXVI. The Indian as an All-Around Man . 364 


Buffalo Hunt. Accidents of the Chase Frontispiece 



Attack of the Grizzly Bear.54 

Antelope Shooting.. 58 

“ Game of the Arrow,” or Archery of the Mandans . 128 

Buffalo Dance.. 142 

Buffalo Hunt. A Surround.182 

The Bear Dance . 206 

A Buffalo Chase .228 

Buffalo Hunt on Snow-Shoes.232 

Buffalo Hunt. With Wolf-Skin Mask .... 236 

Buffalo Hunt. Approaching in a Ravine . . . 242 

Wild Horses at Play.280 

Catching the Wild Horse.288 

Dance Before the Ball-Play.316 

An Indian Ball-Play ..320 

Three Distinguished Ball-Players: Portraits 

FROM Life, in the Ball-Play Dress . . . . 336 




■ \ 

' . ,7 



The career of George Catlin, the Indian painter, was that 
of one crying in the wilderness. The prophetic voice, how¬ 
ever, was bound up with the fibre of a healthy American boy, 
who whiled away the time with “books held reluctantly in one 
hand, and a rifle and fishing-rod affectionately grasped in the 

It is interesting to pick up the early threads of this unique 
life and see the weaving of the web that finally enmeshed him. 
George Catlin was born July 26, 1796, at Wilkesbarre, Pa., in 
the romantic valley of the Wyoming. His maternal grand¬ 
father was one of the few who saved their lives by swimming 
the river in the Indian massacre of 1778. His grandmother 
and mother, then a child of seven, were captured by the Indians 
at the surrender of Forty Fort, but were subsequently released. 

In 1797 his family removed to a farm in Broome County, 
New York, his mother carrying him, a year-old baby, before 
her on a horse for forty miles over the Indian trail to their new 
home. To this valley, shut in between high mountains, Brant, 
the Mohawk chief, retired after the massacre of Wyoming, 
and here he was subsequently routed by the Pennsylvania 
militia. Thus the boy grew up with his mind fed on stories 
of Indian life and traditions. At the hospitable fireside of 
Putnam Catlin, his father, trappers and Indian fighters ex¬ 
changed Indian experiences during the long winter nights. 
During the day the ploughs on his father’s farm turned up 
Indian skulls, arrow-heads, and beads, which he preserved in 


Sketch of Gatlin’s Life 

a little cabinet; and to his death he bore the scar made by an 
Indian tomahawk, which he found, thrown by another boy 
while playing Indians. 

In 1817, having received all the education his surroundings 
were able to give him, an education overseen by his father, and 
especially by his mother, from whom he seems to have in¬ 
herited his out-door tastes and love of art, George Catlin was 
sent to the law school of Reeve & Gould at Litchfield, Conn., 
where his father before him had studied law, and was admitted 
to the bar. Here he remained one year, making for himself 
the reputation of an amateur artist, at least. During this time 
he painted the portrait of Judge Tapping Reeve, the only por¬ 
trait in existence of the founder of the first law school in this 
country. Of his brief career as a lawyer between the years 
1819 and 1823 Mr. Catlin says that he was chiefly occupied in 
cov.ering the table in front of him with sketches of the judge, 
jurors, and culprit. At last his love of art overcame him, and 
he deliberately turned his law library into paint pots and 
brushes, and went to Philadelphia to set up a studio. 

The next year the young artist was admitted to the Pennsyl¬ 
vania Academy of Fine Arts, and entered into friendly associa¬ 
tion with Thomas Sully, Rembrandt Peale, Charles Wilson, 
and John Nagle, the leading artists of that day. The following 
year he went to Washington, and painted a number of portraits 
of public men. There he was a guest at the White House, and 
painted Mrs. Madison in her turban, a portrait that has been 
frequently reproduced. Going on to Richmond, he painted 
the Virginia Constitutional Convention, then in session, a pict¬ 
ure that contained one hundred and fifteen portraits, accompa¬ 
nied by a key. He is afterward found painting portraits in 
Albany, one of which, that of Governor De Witt Clinton, now 
hangs in the City Hall, New York. Meanwhile he had e«- 

Sketch of Catlin’s Life 


tablished a reputation as a miniature painter, apd a collection 
of his miniatures is now owned in Minnesota. 

During these years given up to portrait painting the mind of 
the artist was undergoing that ferment which belongs to am¬ 
bitious youth. The enthusiasm for art which made him throw 
aside his law books found but little satisfaction in portrait 
painting. It was in this moment of unrest that a delegation of 
Indians passed through Philadelphia on their way to Washing¬ 
ton. Their painted robes and eagle feathers, the splendid 
color and classic dignity of form and movement, appealed to 
the artist. But a deeper feeling sprang into life. After days 
passed in deep reflection he realized, as in these latter days one 
would say, that he had a mission. His early interest in the 
Indian entered in and took possession. What really happened 
was that the artist yielded place to the ethnologist. 

The word itself had no meaning to him, nor indeed to this 
country, unhappily, for many years. But having come to his 
decision he solemnly records: “The history and customs of such 
people preserved by pictorial illustration are themes worthy the 
lifetime of one man, and nothing short of my life shall prevent 
me from visiting their country and from being their historian.” 
Nor did this enthusiasm through dangers, privations, and difii» 
culties suflfer any abatement. From 1829 to the end of his life 
Mr. Catlin pursued with single-hearted fervor the object to 
which he had dedicated his life. In 1828 he had married Miss 
Clara B. Gregory of Albany, and the persuasions of neither his 
young wife nor of his aged parents dissuaded him or delayed 
his putting his determination into action. On the contrary, he 
writes that, having made this resolve, he experienced “inex¬ 
pressible delight.” 

At that time the Sioux and Sacs and Foxes roamed over the 
prairies of Illinois, “Ouisconsin” was a territory, the Missouri 


Sketch of Catlin’s Life 

River not yet navigated, the Far West an unknown country; 
and the word Indian brought up only scenes of torture and 
terror. It is difficult for us, who see scientific expeditions set 
forth with all the authority of the government and luxuriously 
equipped by rich men, to realize what the starting out of a 
young man on such an unheard of quest, paying his own way, 
with only the casual protection of distant isolated forts, actually 

Mr. Catlin’s scheme, as it then took shape in his mind, and 
was carried out without deviation, was the formation of an 
Indian gallery, for which he would use his skill as a painter in 
securing portraits among the different tribes he would per¬ 
sonally visit; in reproducing pictorially their customs, huntf^ 
games, and manner of living; in collecting their robes, head¬ 
dresses, pipes, weapons, musical instruments, and articles of 
daily life; and in studying their social life, government, and 
religious views, that he might arrive at their own view of their 
relation to the world in which they lived. This world he also 
wished to investigate geographically and topographically. In 
brief, he wished to see the Indian in his native state, and, if pos¬ 
sible, to discover his past. His future he knew. The Indian 
would disappear before advancing civilization. 

Mr. Catlin’s personal equipment for his task was a lithe, 
alert frame, about five feet eight inches tall, made sturdy and 
enduring by the outdoor life of his boyhood, a knowledge of 
woodcraft, a trained eye with the rifle, fine horsemanship, 
simple habits, a mechanical, even an inventive mind, and 
great steadfastness of purpose. Mayne Reid, writing in 1851, 

‘Tn George Catlin we saw one of the most graceful speci¬ 
mens of humanity we ever encountered. Physically he was 
handsome—of the purest American type—so pure, indeed, that 

Sketch of Catlin’s Life 


one could not help thinking that he had a drop of aborigi¬ 
nal blood in his veins. . . . He was not sallow, but a fine 
healthy bronze, part of which may have been produced by his 
long exposure to the wind and sun of the prairies. His figure 
was well-proportioned, not large, but tersely compact; while in 
every gesture he was graceful.’’ 

Of not less importance in this enumeration of the qualities 
that fitted him for the work he had elected to do, was the fact 
that he had no theories concerning the Indians that might 
deflect in one way or another his observations for what he in¬ 
tended to be a permanent record. Supporting this advantage 
was his^assion for accuracy. This he carried to such an ex¬ 
tent that, to the color of a feather in an Indian’s head-dress, the 
exact tint must be reproduced. It is on record that he de¬ 
stroyed an entire edition of his work because the plates had 
been hastily colored. This exactness has made the collection 
of his paintings in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington 
a depository of information for scientific men, for Wild West 
shows, Indian dances, theatres, illustrations for works on the 
Indian, Indian legends, and jewelry and table ware. More¬ 
over his portraits and paintings have been attested by Indian 
agents and army officers. 

After eight years spent with the Indians in their wigwams, 
with trappers and traders in their posts, and at the outlying 
stations of the army, and in exploring the country beyond the 
trail of the white man, Mr. Catlin returned to the East. With 
him he brought five hundred paintings and portraits, and a 
large collection of Indian articles. These he united in an 
Indian gallery which, exhibited in the large cities, met with im¬ 
mediate success. Its ethnological value was at once recognized 
by such scientists as Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institu¬ 
tion, S. F. B. Morse, and Benjamin Silliman, and by such 


Sketch of Gatlin’s Life 

public men as Daniel Webster, William H. Seward, and Henry 
Clay, each of whom became a personal friend. 

Supplied with letters of introduction, in 1839 Mr. Catlin took 
his collection to London, where it was placed on exhibition at 
Egyptian Hall, in February, 1840. We are somewhat accus¬ 
tomed to the capture and capitulation of London to novelties 
from this continent. But no person and no enterprise since 
that period has surpassed the success of Mr. Catlin and his 
Indian Gallery in England. He was fortunate in having had 
for a travelling companion in one of his western journeys an 
Englishman named Murray. He proved to be the Hon. C. A. 
Murray, the Master of the Queen’s Household. The interest 
of the English in the Indian at that time far exceeded that of 
this country. To the English, the Indian had not only been an 
ally, but an ally picturesque and romantic. The science of 
ethnology was much further advanced in Europe, and Mr. 
Catlin’s contribution found a public awaiting it as against a 
small gr(^up of men in his own country. To all these influences 
came the kindly services of his friend Murray, who at once 
made him the fashion. Led by a procession of royalties all the 
world trooped through the Indian Gallery, and social honors 
awaited him. 

A speculative showman who had brought nine Ojibbeways 
to London now begged that they might be placed under Mr. 
Catlin’s care. Real Indians added to the interest, and Mr. 
Catlin received a royal command to bring them to Windsor. 
Previously, however, the Queen desired to know something of 
Niagara Falls, and Mr. Catlin made a small relief for her 
benefit. The visit of these Indians to Windsor has been told 
by him elsewhere, with that same attention to accurate detail 
and genial humor which is found in all his writings. 

Success attended him in Paris to an even greater degree* 

Sketch of Catlin’s Life 


Louis Philippe was then on the throne. As Duke of Orleans 
he had been in this country, threaded the bayous and streams 
of Mississippi and Ohio, and profited by the hospitality of the 
Indians in their wigwams. Eager as any old trapper for the 
delights of reminiscence, he hastened to bring Mr. Catlin and 
the Indians, then re-enforced by a band of lowas, to court, where 
he presented them to his family, and talked with them in that 
human way which is the prerogative of kings. 

Subsequently Mr. Catlin was invited to Saint Cloud with 
the King of Belgium, and the Indians gave a regatta on the 
lake. This was the beginning of much royal intercourse, and 
talks over old times. The king ordered fifteen paintings from 
Indian themes of Mr. Catlin. These were afterward exe¬ 
cuted at Brussels, for the Revolution of 1848, which cost Louis 
Philippe his throne, caused Mr. Catlin to take the Indian 
gallery and the Indians back to London. 

But the happiest result of this visit to Paris was the friend¬ 
ship of Alexander von Lfiimholdt^ who became a determining 
factor in Mr. Catlin’s career. So impressed was the scientist 
with the value of Mr. Catlin’s work to comparative ethnology 
that he urged him to go to South America and make the same 
study of the tribes of the southern part of the continent that he 
had made of the North American Indians. Accordingly in 
1852 Mr. Catlin set sail for Venezuela, where he ascended the 
Essequibo, and crossing the mountains, descended into the 
valley of the Amazon. For six years he explored South 
America by pack mule and pirogue, making a detour from 
Lima to the Aleutian Islands, visiting all the tribes on the 
Pacific slope, and back again to Yucatan, where he painted the 
Mayas hovering about the ruins of Uxmal, which by this time 
had become part of Mr. Catlin’s speculative conclusions about 
the aborigines of this continent. 


Sketch of Gatlin’s Life 

This itinerary was now broken by a visit to Humboldt at 
Potsdam, where he was presented to the King and Queen of 
Prussia at Sans Souci. With a letter of introduction to M. 
Bompland, the French scientist in South America, from Hum¬ 
boldt, Mr. Catlin sailed for Buenos Ayres. From there he 
ascended the Parana, and crossing over to the head-waters of 
the Uruguay, descended by pirogue with his own paddle seven 
hundred miles down that river. From Buenos Ayres he coasted 
the entire length of Patagonia, and through the Straits of 
Magellan, visiting all the Indians of that region, and up the 
western coast to Panama, on his way back to Caracas to study 
the effect of the cataclysm that had broken the chain of the 
Andes, and separated the Antilles from the mainland. 

The accumulation of data, that had been heaping up through 
many years of close observation, had now begun to stimulate 
theories concerning the presence of the Indian on this continent. 
To these theories this study of geological formations was to 
contribute. Mr. Catlin was now a veteran, but the fire of his 
enthusiasm was still aflame, and his zest as a sportsman as keen 
as in his youth. With rifle and rod he was as expert as ever, 
and the forests of the Amazon, and the waterways of South 
America afforded him constant sport. During this period Mr. 
Catlin was entirely lost to his family and friends, and at length 
the government sent out to its consuls and agents for traces of 
the wanderer. 

In i860 Mr. Catlin went back to Europe, where he began 
that series of paintings known as the cartoon collection. This 
was by the advice of Humboldt, who considered that, for the 
study of comparative ethnology, it would be advisable to paint 
characteristic groups of the different tribes on one canvas, and 
of the size that museums had found most expedient. These 
canvases were to be hung on folding screens, not only for 

Sketch of Gatlin’s Life 


economy of space, but that they might be placed on a level 
with the eye, and easily studied. This work occupied him 
eight years, when he returned to this country and exhibited 
them in New York City, and afterward in the Smithsonian 
Institution, where they remained until Mr. Gatlin’s death in 

While on his first visit to England, Mr. Catlin brought out 
his Notes and Observations on the North American Indians, 
Its success was immediate. Not only was the subject popular, 
but from its stirring adventure and interesting detail it was as 
readable to all classes and ages as Robinson Crusoe. For the 
first time the Indian was seriously written of as a member of 
the human family, for Cooper’s novels were still regarded as 
founded on fiction. It was ndther as hero, warrior, nor wild 
man that Mr. Catlin wrote of him. We see the Indian in his 
daily life, eating, sleeping, hunting, at his games and at his 
prayers, attacking and defending himself from his enemies, 
but pre-eminently as a family man and among social influences. 

One tribe is not as another tribe. Mr. Catlin does noti 
deal in generalities, nor set down theories, and in ranging 
over the entire field of Indian life, he includes the Indian’s 
own point of view. His style is direct, almost conversational, ^ 
but when his emotions are stirred it acquires an almost ' 
poetical elevation. 

These books, to which two others were afterward added, it 
is estimated brought him in fifty thousand dollars. But the 
money earned was at once spent in further researches. Not¬ 
withstanding a disastrous experience he had in England, he 
earned substantial sums, and it was his boast that in all his 
travels he never ate a meal at the expense of the government, 
while he usually had two men, trappers or natives, to assist 
him in transportation. 


Sketch of Gatlin’s Life 

Unconsciously during these wanderings certain preposses¬ 
sions arose in Mr. Gatlin’s mind concerning the origin of the 
Indian, and his relation to this continent. He was familiar 
with the various theories, and one may trace in his writings how 
details in favor of now one and now the other came up to con¬ 
front him. His own conclusions did not admit any theory of 
immigration from another continent, and these he supports 
by a large amount of interesting facts, which it is impossible 
to do more than allude to here. These retrospective observa¬ 
tions are indeed of less consequence than the foresight that led 
him to undertake these journeys. In 1832 he clearly foresaw 
the fate of the buffalo as he saw that of the Indian, and pleaded 
as earnestly for the one as for the other. 

A suggestion then made by Mr. Gatlin it is pertinent to recall. 
This was that the government should set aside a great National 
Park in the Yellowstone region. The Yellowstone Park is now 
an accomplished fact, and it seems that now, in laying out the 
great bison range contemplated by the government to rescue 
the fast-expiring species of the noblest animal of the plains, 
some recognition should be made of the man who first pleaded 
its cause, and who in 1832 wrote: 

‘T would ask no other monument to my memory, nor any 
other enrolment of my name among the famous dead, than the 
reputation of having been the founder of such an institution/’ 






., ':&m 




T he boiling, turbid current of the Missouri River 
sweeps from its falls unresistingly to the Missis¬ 
sippi, into which it empties. In the early part of 
the century it presented the fascinating peril of the 
unknown. Half the twenty-six hundred miles to the 
mouth of the Ydlowstone was strewn with the dan¬ 
gerous trunks of the lofty cotton-wood trees it had torn 
from the heavily timbered banks and tossed about on 
its shifting sands. 

In the upper half ii had cut its way through the rich, 
alluvial soil of the prairie, swinging from bluff to bluff, 
that here rose precipitously several hundred feet high, 
and then, sloping to the water’s edge, was carpeted with 
deepest green. Over these fertile slopes roamed herds 
ilof buffaloes, elks, antelopes, mountain goats, and 
wolves. Where verdure failed rose graceful and fantas¬ 
tic shapes—ramparts, turrets, domes, citadels, castles 
—fashioned by centuries of rain and frost, glowing with 
color, and sparkling with crystals of gypsum amid the 
play of light and shadow in the level rays of the sun. 

' 3 ■ 


The Boy’s Catlin 

Such was this wild and strange country, almost un¬ 
known to the white man, when, in 1832, a little steamer, 
the “Yellowstone,” made its way up the upper half of 
the navigable length of the Missouri River. Its passen¬ 
gers were Major John Sanford, the government Indian 
agent, Mr. Pierre Chouteau, one of the owners of the 
boat, and, at his courteous invitation, myself. Our 
destination was the Fort erected by the American Fur 
Trading Company at the mouth of the Yellowstone 

If the dangerous stream involved peril to the advent¬ 
urers, it also carried terror to the wild animals and 
the Indian tribes that roamed along zts banks. For 
defence the boat was armed with a twe/ve-pounder can¬ 
non and several small swivel guns. These, fired in 
rapid succession, sent the wild herds in frightened con¬ 
fusion over the prairie, and the Indians prostrate to the 
ground with cries to the Great Spirit, who spoke to 
them in his wrath from the “ big thunder canoe,” whose 
eyes found the deep water in the channel and flashed 
lightning from its sides. Even the playful discharge of 
the steam-pipe, when the boat landed at their villages, 
caused men, women, children, and dogs to tumble over 
one another in flight. Accompanied by such scenery 
and scenes, the intrepid little steamer made its way, 
and after a journey of three months reached the Fort. 

The Fort was situated in a beautiful prairie near the 
junction of the Missouri and the Yellowstone Rivers. 
As the head-quarters of the Fur Company it was the 
largest and best-equipped fort in that region. It con- 

The Missouri River in the Thirties 5 

— - — . - - - . . - ■■■.. .■ ■ , 

sisted of eight or ten log houses and stores within a 
stockade; and, as large quantities of goods were kept 
in exchange for furs from the Indians, it was built to 
withstand assaults from a possible enemy, and manned 
by a force of fifty men under Mr. McKenzie, the com¬ 
pany’s Scotch agent, a kind-hearted, high-minded man. 

He treated me with the same generous hospitality 
and politeness as Mr. Chouteau in my passage up the 
river. His table groaned under the luxuries of the 
country. There was neither bread, butter, nor coflFee, 
to be sure, but there was an abundance of buffalo 
tongues, beaver tails, and marrow fat, and, curiously 
enough, plenty of Madeira and port. This company 
of three bons-vivants was increased by a fourth, an 
Englishman named Hamilton, a gentleman of many 
accomplishments, thus forming a group whose con¬ 
versation, customs, and manner of life were in striking 
contrast to the rude, wild world about them. 

There could be no more fortunate entrance into a life 
that an artist desired to paint. The Crows, Blackfeet, 
Assinniboines, the Knisteneaux, Ojibbeways, and Man- 
dans are the best-equipped and the most beautifully 
costumed of any Indians on the Continent, and these 
were then in camp outside the Fort for the purposes of 
trade. Living in a country well stocked with buffaloes 
and wild horses, which furnish them with an excellent 
and easy livelihood, they carried their good fortune in 
their independent bearing, perfection of ,form, and 
grace of movement in the chase and at their games. 
I have always held the theory that in the wilderness 


The Boy’s Catlin 

were models for the painter as perfect as those the 
Greek sculptors transferred to marble. I now found 
them in their state of primitive wildness, handsome and 
picturesque beyond description. Nothing in the world, 
of its kind, can possibly surpass in beauty and grace 
some of their games and amusements—their gambols 
and parades, of which I shall speak and paint hereafter. 

No man’s imagination, with all the aids of description 
that can be given to it, can ever picture the beauty and 
wildness of scenes that may be daily witnessed in 
this romantic country: of hundreds of these graceful 
youths, without a care to wrinkle, or a fear to disturb 
the full expression of pleasure and enjoyment that 
beams upon their faces—their long black hair mingling 
with their horses’ tails, floating in the wind, while they 
are flying over the carpeted prairie, and dealing death, 
with their spears and arrows, to a band of infuriated 
buffaloes; or their splendid procession in a war-parade, 
arrayed in all their gorgeous colors and trappings, 
moving with most exquisite grace and manly beauty. 

This confirms my former predictions that those 
Indians living most nearly to a state of nature, and 
with the least knowledge of civilized society, would be 
found most cleanly in their persons, elegant in their 
dress and manners, and enjoying life with the keenest 
satisfaction. Of such tribes the Crows and Blackfeet 
stand first, the richness and the elegance of their dress 
and the taste displayed being a revelation and a delight. 
Daily I have accompanied the Indians in their buffalo 
hunts, studying their methods, attitudes, and expre?- 

The Missouri River in the Thirties 


sions, sometimes on a norse, out often running by their 
sides on foot. 

The Indian rarely hunts the deer, elk, or antelope 
unless a skin is wantea tor clothing. But the buffalo 
not only furnishes flesh for food, but provides horns, 
hoofs, hide, and bones for the Indian’s bows, shields, 
wigwam, covering, and tools. Almost without excep¬ 
tion they are killed by the Indians with arrows while 
riding at full speed. As the buffalo bull, when excited 
to resistance, is one of the most formidable and ferocious 
animals in appearance, with his long, shaggy mane 
almost sweeping the ground, a more pictorial and 
spirited sporting scene for the pencil of an artist could 
scarcely be found. 

I have mentioned that McKenzie’s table groans 
under the weight of beaver tails and buffalo tongues, 
and other luxuries of this Western land. He has within 
the Fort a spacious ice-house in which he preserves his 
meat. When the larder runs low he leads a party on 
his favorite buffalo horse to supply it. In one of these 
hunts I was privileged to join. 

As we were mounted and ready to start, McKenzie 
called up some four or five of his men and told them to 
follow immediately on our trail, with as many one- 
horse carts, which they were to harness up, to bring 
home the meat. “Ferry them across the river in the 
scow,” said he, “and following our trail through the 
bottom, you will find us on the plain yonder, between 
the Yellowstone and the Missouri Rivers, with meat 
enough to load you home. My watch on yonder bluff 


The Boy’s Catlin 

has just told us by his signals that there are cattle a- 
pienty on that spot, and we are going there as fast as 
possible.” We ail crossed the river and galloped away 
a couple of miles or so, when we mounted the bluff; and 
to be sure, as was said, there was in full view of us a fine 
nerd of some four or five hundred buffaloes, perfectly 
at rest, and in their own estimation (probably) perfectly 
secure. Some were grazing and others were lying down 
and sleeping. We advanced within a mile or so of them, 
in full view, and came to a halt. Monsieur Chardon 
* tossed the feather” (a custom always observed to try 
the course of the wind), and we commenced “strip¬ 
ping,” as it is termed (t. e., every man strips himself and 
nis horse of every extraneous and unnecessary appendage 
of dress, etc., that might be an incumbrance in running): 
nats are laid off, and coats—and bullet pouches; sleeves 
are rolled up, a handkerchief tied tightly around 
the head and another around the waist—cartridges 
are prepared and placed in the waistcoat pocket, or a 
half-dozen bullets “throwed into the mouth,” etc., etc., 
all of which takes up some ten or fifteen minutes, and is 
not, in appearance or in effect, unlike a council of war. 
Our leader lays the whole plan of the chase, and pre¬ 
liminaries all fixed, guns charged and ramrods in our 
hands, we mount and start for the onset. The horses 
are all trained for this business, and seem to enter into 
it with as much enthusiasm, and with as restless a spirit, 
as the riders themselves. While “ stripping” and mount¬ 
ing they exhibit the most restless impatience; and when 
“approaching” (which is, all of us abreast, upon a slow 

The Missouri River in the Thirties 


walk, and in a straight line toward the herd, until they 
discover us and run) they all seem to have caught 
entirely the spirit of the chase, for the laziest nag 
amongst them prances with an elasticity in his step— 
champing his bit—his ears erect—his eyes strained out 
of his head, and fixed upon the game before him, whilst 
he trembles under the saddle of his rider. In this way 
we carefully and silently marched until within some 
forty or fifty rods, when the herd, discovering us, 
wheeled and laid their course in a mass. At this instant 
we started (and all must start, for no one could check 
the fury of those steeds at that moment of excitement)! 
and away all sailed, and over the prairie flew, in a cloud 
of dust which was raised by their trampling hoofs. 
McKenzie was foremost in the throng, and soon dashed 
off amidst the dust and was out of sight—he was after 
the fattest and the fastest. I had discovered a huge 
bull whose shoulders towered above the whole band, 
and I picked my way through the crowd to get him. 
What I wanted was not meat but his head and horns. 
I dashed along through the thundering mass, as it 
swept over the plain, scarcely knowing whether I was 
on a buffalo’s back or that of my horse, so hit, hooked, 
and jostled about as I was. At length I found myself 
alongside of my game, and gave him a shot as I passed. 
At this moment Monsieur Chardon, one of our number, 
had wounded a stately bull, and while they were both 
at full speed, the bull turned, and receiving the horse 
on his horns sent poor Chardon a frog’s leap of twenty 
feet or more over the bull’s back and almost under my 


The Boy’s Catlin 

horse’s heels. I wheeled my horse to rescue poor 
Chardon, who was raising himself on his hands and 
feeling for his gun, for his eyes and mouth were full of 
dirt, and who then promptly fainted. When we were all 
on our legs again I turned my eyes in the direction the 
herd had gone, and nothing could be seen of them but 
a cloud of dust. 

However, at a little distance on the right was my 
bull making what headway he could on three legs. 
I galloped up to him when he wheeled around and 
bristled for battle. He seemed to know perfectly well 
that he could not escape, and resolved to meet his enemy 
as bravely as possible. I found my shot had entered 
a little too far forward, and, lodging in his breast, his 
great weight would make it impossible to do me harm. 
I rode within a few paces of him, and with my gun 
across my lap drew my sketch-book from my pocket 
and took his likeness. 

No man on earth can imagine what is the look and 
expression of such a subject before him as this was. 
I defy the world to produce another animal that can 
look so frightful as a huge buffalo bull, when wounded 
as he was, turned around for battle, and swelling with 
rage—his eyes bloodshot and his long, shaggy mane 
hanging to the ground—his mouth open and his horrid 
rage hissing in streams of smoke and blood from his 
mouth and through his nostrils, as he is bending for¬ 
ward to spring upon his assailant. 

After I had had the requisite time and opportunity for 
using my pencil, McKenzie and his companions came 

The Missouri River in the Thirties 


walking their exhausted horses back from the chase, 
and in our rear came four or five carts to carry home 
the meat. The party met from all quarters around me 
and my buffalo bull, whom I then shot in the head and 
finished. And being seated together for a few minutes, 
each took a smoke of the pipe, and recited his exploits, 
and his “coups” or deaths; when all parties had a 
hearty laugh at me, as a novice, for having aimed at an 
old bull, whose flesh was not suitable for food, and the 
carts were escorted on the trail, to bring away the 
meat. I rode back with Mr. McKenzie, who pointed 
out five cows which he had killed, and all of them se¬ 
lected as the fattest and slickest of the herd. This 
astonishing feat was all performed within the distance 
of one mile—all were killed at full speed, and every one 
shot through the heart. In the short space of time 
required for a horse, under “full whip,” to run the dis¬ 
tance of one mile, he had discharged his gun five and 
loaded it four times—selected his animals, and killed 
at every shot! There were six or eight others killed 
at the same time, which altogether furnished, as will 
be seen, abundance of freight for the carts; which 
returned, as well as several pack-horses, loaded with 
the choicest parts which were cut from the animals, 
and the remainder of the carcasses left a prey for the 

Such is the mode by which white men live in this 
country—such the way in which they get their food, 
and such is one of their delightful amusements—at the 
hazard of every bone in one’s body, to feel the fine and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

thrilling exhilaration of the chase for a moment, and 
then as often to upbraid and blame himself for his 
folly and imprudence. 

From this scene we commenced leisurely wending 
our way back; and dismounting at the place where we 
had stripped, each man dressed himself again, or slung 
his extra articles of dress, etc., across his saddle, astride 
of which he sat; and we rode back to the Fort, reciting 
as we rode and for twenty-four hours afterward, deeds 
of chivalry and chase, and hair’s-breadth escapes which 
one another had fought and run on other occasions. 
McKenzie, with all the true character and dignity of 
a leader, was silent on these subjects, but smiled while 
those in his train were reciting for him the astonishing 
and almost incredible deeds of his sinewy arms which 
they had witnessed in similar scenes; from which I 
learned, as also from my own observations, that he 
was reputed, and actually was, the most distinguished 
of all the white men who have flourished in these 
regions in the pursuit and death of the buflFalo. 

On our return to the Fort, a bottle or two of wine 
were set forth upon the table, a half-dozen parched 
throats were moistened, and good cheer ensued. Ba’- 
tiste, Defonde, and Chardon had retired to their quar¬ 
ters, enlarging smoothly upon the events of our morn¬ 
ing’s work to their wives and sweethearts, when the 
gates of the Fort were thrown open, and the procession 
of carts and pack-horses laden with buffalo meat made 
its entree, gladdening the hearts of a hundred women 
and children, and tickling the noses of as many hungry 

The Missouri River in the Thirties 


dogs and puppies, who were stealing in and smelling at 
the tail of the procession. The door of the ice-house 
was thrown open, the meat was discharged into it, and 
I, being fatigued, went to sleep. 



O NE of the bastions of the Fort was set apart for 
a studio. The breech of a twelve-pounder, 
whose muzzle looked out a port-hole, served as 
a seat in front of the easel. To the chiefs were first 
disclosed the mysteries of the brush, which they decided 
were “great medicine.” In consequence none but the 
most worthy were permitted to enter the “medicine” 
room, and none but the most distinguished they per¬ 
mitted to be painted. Outside the door the curious 
throng pressed, but guards were placed at the door by 
the chiefs, who determined all these matters. The 
regulations of the Fort required all Indians to leave 
their weapons in the arsenal. 

The Crows and Blackfeet were hereditary and deadly 
enemies. The Assinniboines were foes of the Black- 
feet. The chiefs of these tribes were now for the first 
time brought together unarmed, and smoking their 
pipes peacefully sat and lay around the room relating 
to each other the battles they had fought, pointing to 
the scalp-locks fringing their shirts and leggings as 
proofs of their prowess, while they watched the painting 
of the head chief of the Blackfeet, and anticipated their 


A Studio Among the Guns 


own turns. The peaceable mission of art had never a 
more signal, if brief, triumph; for once again on the 
plains the war-cry would be raised and the bows drawn. 

The name of this chief of the Blackfeet was Stu-mick- 
a-suck (the buffalo’s back fat), a good-looking, dignified 
man of fifty and magnificently dressed. There is no 
tribe on the Continent, except perhaps the Crows, that 
dresses more superbly than the Blackfeet. In general 
appearance there is no great difference in the dress of 
the tribes. But each has a distinctive method of stitch¬ 
ing and ornamenting with porcupine quills that furnish 
the principal decoration in all their dresses of ceremony, 
which any one familiar with the Indians will at once 
recognize as peculiar to this or that tribe. This brave 
wore a shirt of finely dressed deerskins, so placed that 
the necks of the skins and the skins of the hind legs 
were stitched together, with the seam running down on 
each arm from the neck to the knuckles of the hand. 
This seam was covered with a band two inches wide, of 
beautiful porcupine-quill embroidery, and under this, 
from shoulder to hand, hung a fringe of black hair 
taken from the heads of enemies slain in battle. The 
leggings were also of deerskin, and outside the leg, from 
hip to foot, ran a similar band of ornament fringed 
with scalp-locks. The scalp is the evidence that the 
foe is dead. After having been formally “danced,” 
that is to say, held up on a pole by an old woman, and 
the warriors have danced around it at intervals for two 
or three weeks, it is separated into small locks and 
used as a fringe. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

The moccasins of Stu-mick-a-suck were of buckskin 
wrought with porcupine quills. Over this dress he wore 
a robe made of the skin of the young buffalo bull with 
the hair left on, which on the flesh side was rudely 
pictured with the different battles he had fought. 
In his hand he carried a pipe with a handle over four 
feet long, the stem wound with different-colored braids 
made from porcupine quills and the bowl of red pipe 
stone ingeniously carved by himself. 

Much like this were the dresses of Pe-toh-pee-kiss 
(the eagle’s rib), Mix-ke-mote-skin-na (the iron horse), 
of Wu-nes-tou (the white buffalo), Toha-aes-sa-ko- 
mah-pe (the bear’s child), including the little grandson 
of the sachem, all of whom I painted. This child, a boy 
of six, was too young to have earned a name. In his 
raccoon dress, with his bow and arrow slung, he stood 
up like a tried warrior before me. As he has twice been 
stolen by the Crows, and twice recaptured by the Black- 
feet, he is now under the protection of the Fort until he 
is old enough to look after himself. When he is of age 
he will be the hereditary chief of the Blackfeet. 

I was also permitted to paint the youngest of the 
bevy of wives of tbe Blackfeet chief. She had the 
pretty name of Eeh-nis-kin (the crystal stone). This 
young woman was smiled upon and guarded as the 
apple of his eye, and exempt from all the drudgery of 
the tribe. The, Eagle’s Rib, mentioned above, was one 
of the distinguished men of the tribe. Although not 
a chief, he proudly wore eight scalps taken from the 
heads of trappers, as he frankly admitted, and his 

A Studio Among the Guns 


splendid dress was covered with the scalp-locks of white 
men and red. His head-dress was made entirely of 
ermine skins surmounted by the polished horns of the 
buflPalo. This custom of wearing horns is permitted 
only to the bravest of the brave, or to men distin¬ 
guished for some extraordinary feat. 

All these braves in full dress carry bow, quiver, lance, 
and shield, and some their medicine-bag, of which 
something more is to be said. The North American 
tribes are all armed with bow and lance, and are pro¬ 
tected by a shield or arrow fender, which is carried 
outside of the left arm, exactly as the shield of the 
Roman and Greek soldier was borne, and for the same 
reason. The clypeus or small shield of the ancients 
was made of bull’s hide, sometimes single, sometimes 
double and triple, but was always small and light, and 
a means of defence on horseback only. Such was 
Hector’s shield and of others of the Homeric heroes, 
worn as a defence against darts, javelins, and lances, 
these, too, being exactly like those carried by the Ind¬ 
ians of our Continent to-day. 

There is an appearance purely classic in the plight 
and equipment of these warriors and “knights of the 
lance.” They are almost literally always on their 
horses’ backs, and they wield these weapons with des¬ 
perate effect upon the open plains, where they kill their 
game while at full speed, and contend in like manner in 
battles with their enemy. There is one prevailing cus¬ 
tom in these respects among all the tribes who inhabit 
the great plains or prairies of these western regions. 

i 8 

The Boy’s Catlin 

These plains afford them an abundance of wild and 
fleet horses, which are easily procured; and on their 
backs, at full speed, they can come alongside of any 
animal, which they easily destroy. 

The bow with which they are armed is small, and 
apparently an insignificant weapon, though one of 
great and almost incredible power in the hands of its 
owner, whose sinews have been.froni childhood habit¬ 
uated to its use and service. The length of these bows 
is generally about three feet, and sometimes not more 
than two and a half. They have, no doubt, studied to 
get the requisite power in the smallest compass possible, 
as it is more easily and handily used on horseback than 
one of greater length. The greater number of these 
bows are made of ash, or of “bois d’arc” (as the French 
call it), and lined on the back with layers of buffalo or 
deer’s sinews, which are inseparably attached to them, 
and give them great elasticity. There are very many 
also (among the Blackfeet and the Crows) which are 
made of bone, and others of the horn of the mountain- 
sheep. Those made of bone are decidedly the most 
valuable, and cannot in this country be procured of a 
good quality short of the price of one or two horses. 
About these there is a mystery yet to be solved, and I 
advance my opinion against all theories that I have 
heard in the country where they are used and made. 
I have procured several very fine specimens, and when 
purchasing them have inquired of the Indians what 
bone they were made of, and in every instance the an¬ 
swer was, “That’s medicine,” meaning that it was 

A Studio Among the Guns 


a mystery to them, or that they did not wish to be 
questioned about them. The bone of which they are 
made is certainly not the bone of any animal now graz¬ 
ing on the prairies, or in the mountains between this 
place and the Pacific Ocean; for some of these bows 
are three feet in length, of a solid piece of bone, and 
that as close-grained—as hard—as white, and as highly 
polished as any ivory; it cannot, therefore, be made 
from the elks’ horn (as some have supposed), which is 
of a dark color and porous; nor can it come from the 
buffalo. It is my opinion, therefore, that the Indians 
on the Pacific coast procure the bone from the jaw of 
the sperm whale, which is often stranded on that coast, 
and bringing the bone into the mountains, trade it to 
the Blackfeet and Crows, who manufacture it into these 
bows without knowing any more than we do from what 
source it has been procured. 

One of these little bows in the hands of an Indian, on 
a fleet and well-trained horse, with a quiver of arrows 
slung on his back, is a most effective and powerful 
weapon in the open plains. No one can easily credit the 
force with which these missiles are thrown, and the 
sanguinary effects produced by their wounds, until he 
has ridden by the side of a party of Indians in chase of 
a herd of buffaloes, and witnessed the apparent ease and 
grace with which their supple arms have drawn the 
bow, and seen these huge animals tumbling down and 
gushing out their hearts’ blood from their mouths and 

Their bows are often made of bone and sinews, aaid 


The Boy’s Catlin 

their arrows headed with flints or with bones, of their 
own construction, or with steel, as they are now chiefly 
furnished by the Fur Traders quite to the Rocky 
Mountains. The quiver, which is uniformly carried on 
the back, and made of the panther or otter skins, is 
a magazine of these deadly weapons, and generally 
contains two varieties, the one to be drawn upon an 
enemy, generally poisoned, and with long flukes or 
barbs, which are designed to hang the blade in the 
wound after the shaft is withdrawn, in which they are 
but slightly glued; the other to be used for their game, 
with the blade firmly fastened to the shaft, and the 
flukes inverted, that it may easily be drawn from the 
wound and used on a future occasion. 

Such is the training of men and horses in this country, 
that this work of death and slaughter is simple and 
easy. The horse is trained to approach the animals on 
the right side, enabling its rider to throw his arrows to 
the left; it runs and approaches without the use of the 
halter, which is hanging loose upon its neck, bringing 
the rider within three or four paces of the animal, when 
the arrow is thrown with great ease and certainty to the 
heart; and instances sometimes occur where the arrow 
passes entirely through the animal’s body. 

An Indian, therefore, mounted on a fleet and well- 
trained horse, with his bow in his hand, and his quiver 
slung on his back, containing a hundred arrows, of 
which he can throw fifteen or twenty in a minute, is a 
formidable and dangerous enemy. Many of them also 
side with a lance of twelve or fourteen feet in length. 

A Studio Among the Guns 


with a blade of polished steel; and all of them (as a 
protection for their vital parts) with a shield or arrow- 
fender made of the skin of the buffalo’s neck, which has 
been smoked, ^nd hardened with glue extracted from 
the hoofs. These shields are arrow-proof, and will 
glance off a rifle-shot with perfect effect by being turned 
obliquely, which they do with great skill. 

In addition to these portraits was that of an old 
chief who combined with his high office that of mystery 
or medicine man—that is to say, doctor, magician, 
■soothsayer, high-priest. The name of this oracle was 
Wan-nis-tou (the white buffalo), and he was painted 
carrying on his left arm his mystery drum, in which are 
hidden the sacred mysteries of his calling. The word 
medicine comes from the French fur traders and was 
easily transmitted to the English and Americans. The 
Indians, however, do not use the word themselves. The 
artist’s art may be great medicine, his pistols and guns 
great medicine, and the white man’s weapons of war 
be great medicine; but for themselves each tribe con¬ 
structs a word of its own synonomous with mystery 
and mystery man. 

The medicine-bag is a mystery bag, and its importance 
may be said to furnish the key to the Indian character. 
It comes about in a curious manner: A boy, at the age 
of fourteen or fifteen years, is said to be making or 
“ forming his medicine ” when he wanders away from 
his father’s lodge, and absents himself for the space of 
two or three, and sometimes even four to five, davs; 
lying on the ground in some remote or secluded spot. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

crying to the Great Spirit, and fasting the whole time. 
During this period of peril and abstinence, when he 
falls asleep, the first animal, bird, or reptile of which 
he dreams (or pretends to have dreamed, perhaps) he 
considers the Great Spirit has designated for his mys¬ 
terious protector through life. He then returns home 
to his father’s lodge and relates his success; and after 
allaying his thirst and satiating his appetite, he sallies 
forth with weapons or traps until he can procure the 
animal or bird, the skin of which he preserves entire, 
and ornaments it according to his own fancy, and car¬ 
ries it with him through life for “good luck” (as he calls 
it). It is his strength in battle—and in death, as his 
guardian Spirit, it is buried with him, that it may con¬ 
duct him safe to the beautiful hunting-grounds, which 
he contemplates in the world to come. 

These bags are, as it happens, made of the skin of 
the otter, beaver, musk-rat, polecat, snake, frog, toad, 
bat, mole, mouse, eagle, magpie, or sparrow, sometimes 
of an animal as large as a wolf, ^nd again of an animal 
so small that it can scarcely be found in the dress. These 
bags are ornamented according to the taste or freak of 
the wearer. They are then stuffed with grass or moss, 
and as they are religiously sealed, are rarely opened. 
The Indian offers his medicine-bag a sort of idolatry 
Feasts are made for it and dogs and horses sacrificed to 
it. Even weeks of fasting and penance are undergone 
to appease it, for a medicine-bag may also be offended. 

The value of the medicine-bag to the Indian is be¬ 
yond all price; for to sell it, or give it away, would sub- 

A Studio Among the Guns 


ject him to such signal disgrace in his tribe that he 
could never rise above it; and again, his superstition 
would stand in the way of any such disposition of it, for 
he considers it the gift of the Great Spirit. An Indian 
carries his medicine-bag into battle, and trusts to it for 
his protection; and if he loses it thus, when fighting 
ever so bravely for his country, he suffers a disgrace 
scarcely less than that which occurs in case he sells or 
gives it away; his enemy carries it off and displays it 
to his own people as a trophy; while the loser is cut 
short of the respect that is due to other young men of 
his tribe, and forever subjected to the degrading epi¬ 
thet of “a man without medicine,” or “he who has lost 
his medicine,” until he can replace it again, which can 
only be done by rushing into battle and plundering 
one from an enemy whom he slays with his own hand. 
This done, his medicine is restored, and he is rein¬ 
stated again in the estimation of his tribe; and even 
higher than before, for such is called the best of medi¬ 
cine, or “medicine honorable” 

It is a singular fact that a man can institute his mys¬ 
tery, or medicine, but once in his life; and equally singu¬ 
lar that he can reinstate himself by the adoption of the 
medicine of his enemy; both of which regulations are 
strong and violent inducements for him to fight bravely 
in battle: the first, that he may protect and preserve 
his medicine; and the second, in case he has been so 
unlucky as to lose it, that he may restore it, and his 
reputation also, while he is desperately contending for 
the protection of his community. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

During my travels thus far, I have been unable to buy 
a medicine-bag of an Indian, although I have offered 
them extravagant prices for them; and even on the 
frontier, where they have been induced to abandon the 
practice, though a white man may induce an Indian to 
relinquish his medicine, yet he cannot buy it of him— 
the Indian in such case will bury it, to please a white 
man, and save it from his sacrilegious touch; and he 
will linger around the spot and at regular times visit it 
and pay it his devotions as long as he lives. 

Such is the medicine-bag—such its meaning and 
importance, and when its owner dies it is buried with 
him. Pe-toh-pee-kiss, the extraordinary Blackfoot, 
carried two medicine-bags, which were proudly dis¬ 
played in his portrait. One of these he had “formed” 
himself; the other he had taken from an enemy in 
battle. But the medicine-bag is the simplest form of 
this superstition, as will appear. 

The Knisteneaux—a tribe known in later days as 
the Crees—are the natural enemies of the Blackfeet. 
For two weeks they had camped at the Fort in apparent 
or compulsory good-fellowship—since their arms were 
stored in the arsenal—with the Blackfeet. Having 
completed their trade, after much delay they got their 
packs ready, and, bidding friends and foes a hearty 
farewell, started away. As they left the Fort, one of 
them, unobserved, loitered behind, and poking the 
muzzle of his gun between the pickets took aim at a 
Blackfoot chief talking with Mr. McKenzie, who fell 
with two bullets in his body. The Frenchmen of the 

A Studio Among the Guns 


Fort seized their guns and followed with the Blackfeet 
in pursuit. In a skirmish that lasted half an hour, they 
drove the Knisteneaux over the bluff and wounded one 

Meanwhile the dying chief lay in agony on the 
ground. Although there was not the slightest hope 
of his recovery, the medicine-man, Wun-nes-tou (the 
white buffalo) was sent for. The several hundred spec¬ 
tators were required to form a ring about forty feet in 
diameter around the dying chief, leaving a space through 
which the medicine-man could pass without touching 
any one. His arrival was announced by a whispered 
“Hush-sh” through the crowd. Nothing was heard 
but the light and casual tinkling of the rattles on his 
dress, and these scarcely perceptible to the ear, as he 
came into the ring in which his victim lay. 

His body and head were entirely covered with the 
skin of a yellow bear, the head of which, enclosing his 
own head, served as a mask, while the huge claws dan¬ 
gled on his wrists and ankles. In one hand he shook 
a frightful rattle, and in the other he brandished his 
medicine-spear or magic wand. To the din and discord 
of all this he added the wild and startling jumps and 
yelps of the Indian, the appalling grunts, snarls, and 
growls of the grizzly bear, in his guttural incantations 
to the Good and Bad Spirits in behalf of his patient, 
who lay in his death agonies while the medicine-man 
was dancing around him, jumping over him, and roll¬ 
ing him in every direction. This horrible scene lasted 
a half-hour in death-like stillness before the large audi- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

ence until thechief died. The medicine-man then danced 
off to his quarters, where he took oiF and hid his mys¬ 
tery dress and equipment. 

This dress, in all its parts, is one of the greatest curi¬ 
osities in the whole collection of Indian manufactures 
which I have yet obtained in the Indian country. It is 
the strangest medley and mixture, perhaps, of the mys¬ 
teries of the animal and vegetable kingdoms that ever 
was seen. Besides the skin of the yellow bear (which, 
being almost an anomaly in that country, is out of the 
regular order of nature, and, of course, great medicine, 
and converted to a medicinal use), there are attached 
to it the skins of many anqnals, which are also anoma¬ 
lies or deformities, which render them, in their estima¬ 
tion, medicine; and there are also the skins of snakes 
and frogs and bats; beaks and toes and tails of 
birds; hoofs of deer, goats, and antelopes; and, in 
fact, the “odds and ends,” and fag ends and tails and 
tips of almost everything that swims, flies, or runs in 
this part of the wide world. 

Such is the medicine-man or a physician, and such is 
one of his wild and ridiculous manoeuvres, which I have 
just witnessed in this strange country. 



T he Crows and the Blackfeet are the aristocrats 
of this Western world. The Blackfeet are the 
largest as they are the most warlike of all the 
tribes. They number, including the tribes of their 
confederacy, about sixty thousand, according to the 
estimate of the government agent. The Blackfeet 
proper are divided into four bands—the Piegans, the 
Blackfeet band, the Blood band, and the Small 
Robes—numbering in all sixteen hundred and fifty 
lodges. The other members of the confederacy are 
the Gros Ventres des Praries, the Circees, and the 
Cotonnes. These hunt, eat, fight and intermarry with 
the Blackfeet, but each speaks its own language and 
retains its own customs. 

The Blackfeet occupy all the country about the 
sources of the Missouri to the base of the Rocky Moun¬ 
tains. Being the most powerful of the tribes, they are 
fully conscious of their strength, and not only roam the 
prairie fearlessly, making war with other tribes, but 
have steadily resisted the efforts of the fur traders 
to establish profitable relations with them. The coun- 



The Boy’s Catlin 

try abounds in buffalo, beaver, and almost all of the 
fur-bearing animals of this northern country. The 
American Fur Company has pushed its trappers up 
the streams and rivers of the Blackfoot country, and 
has almost destroyed the beaver. The Blackfeet, accord¬ 
ingly, have persistently warned the traders that if their 
men. continue trapping the beavers they will kill them 
wherever found. This threat they carry out, and the 
Fur Company annually loses from fifteen to twenty 
men, killed by the Blackfeet in defence of what they 
believe to be their property and their rights. 

The Blackfeet have therefore held aloof from the 
traders, and are consequently less known than any 
other tribe. 

It is interesting to compare this tribe with the Crows, 
who, although they are deadly enemies on the plains, 
are here sitting and smoking quietly together with dig¬ 
nified reserve. The Crows live on the head-waters of 
the Yellowstone, which also extend to the Rocky Moun¬ 
tains, and, like the Blackfeet, find their chief occupation 
in seeking and fighting their enemies. The Crows are, 
however, a much smaller tribe than the Blackfeet, from 
whom they have greatly suffered, and by whom they 
will probably be finally exterminated. At present the 
Crow nation does not number over seven thousand, 
with a fighting force of not over eight hundred braves. 

I have just been painting a number of Crows, fine- 
looking, noble gentlemen. They are as handsome and 
as well-formed a set of men as could be found in any 
part of the world, and their grace and dignity of manner 

Indian Aristocrats 


would distinguish them anywhere. They are almost 
all over six feet high, and many of these have cultivated 
their hair until it sweeps the ground. I have frequently 
seen a foot or more trailing over the grass, giving a singu¬ 
lar grace to their movements. They are accustomed 
almost every morning to oil their hair with bear’s grease, 
but this cannot be said to be the cause of its extraor¬ 
dinary length, for other tribes use bear’s grease with¬ 
out the same results. 

The present chief of the Crows is called Long Hair, 
having received both his office and his name from 
having the longest hair in his tribe. This, I am assured 
by two gentlemen who lived in his hospitable lodge for 
months, and measured it, was ten feet and seven inches 
long. On ordinary occasions he wore it wound on a 
broad leather strap a foot long, either under his arm or in 
the folds of his robe. But on great occasions he let it 
drag three feet behind him on the ground, shining with 
bear’s grease like a raven’s wing. 

It is the custom among some of these Northern tribes 
to splice on several lengths of hair and fasten them with 
glue, probably in imitation of the Crows, on whom 
alone Nature seems to have bestowed so signal an orna¬ 
ment. Among the Crows of distinction at the Fort I 
have painted several who exhibit striking peculiarities. 
Among these is Chah-ee-shopes (the four wolves), a 
fine-looking fellow, six, feet high, whose natural hair 
sweeps the ground as he walks. He is beautifully clad 
and carries himself in graceful and manly fashion. 
He is in mourning for his brother, and according to 


The Boy’s Catlin 

custom has cut off a number of locks of his long hair, 
which is a sacrifice of some consideration since he has 
spent the greater part of his life cultivating it. I have 
also painted Pa-ris-ka-roo-pa (two crows), one of the 
most extraordinary men in the Crow nation, not only 
from the distorted form of his head, but from his sagac¬ 
ity as a counsellor and orator from his youth. The 
semi-lunar outline of the Crow head, with a low and 
retreating forehead, is a peculiar and striking charac¬ 
teristic, although rarely so strongly marked as in this 

Neither the Crow or Blackfeet women are as hand¬ 
some as their lords. As other Indian women they are 
the slaves of their husbands. They perform all the do¬ 
mestic duties and drudgeries of their tribes, and are 
not allowed to join in the religious rites and ceremo¬ 
nies, nor in the dances and other amusements. As 
all the women of these Northern tribes they are de¬ 
cently dressed, and often with great beauty and taste. 
Their dresses are of deer and goat skins, and extend 
from their chins quite down to their feet. These 
dresses are frequently trimmed with ermine and orna¬ 
mented with porcupine quills and beads. The Crow 
and Blackfeet women, as in all the tribes I have seen, 
part their hair in the middle and streak the crease with 
vermilion or red earth. In mourning they are obliged 
to cut their hair short, and may cease mourning as the 
hair approaches its former length. 

The men of the Blackfeet tribe part their hair in two 
places on the forehead, leaving a lock between an inch 

Indian Aristocrats 


or two wide, which is carefully straightened down to 
the nose where it is cut square off. This is apparently 
their defence against the possible charge of effeminacy. 
These two tribes, which I associate together, speak two 
distinct and entirely dissimilar languages, and each of 
these is radically different from the other tribes about 
them. As they are always at war with each other, 
time out of mind, they have never intermarried or held 
any converse together by which any knowledge of each 
other’s language could be acquired. 

The Crows, like the Blackfeet, are beautifully cos¬ 
tumed, and perhaps with somewhat more taste and 
elegance. A Crow is known everywhere by the white¬ 
ness of his dress and his tall, elegant figure. The 
Blackfeet, on the other hand, are more Herculean in 
figure, being of middling stature, with broad shoulders 
and great expanse of chest; and the skins, of which 
their dresses are made, are for the most part black or 
dark brown in color. They also wear black leggings 
and moccasins, and I assume that it is these that have 
given the tribe its name. The art of dressing skins 
belongs to the Indians of all countries. But the Crows 
surpass all in the beauty of their skin-dressing. The 
usual mode of dressing the buffalo and other skins is by 
immersing them for a few days under a lye from ashes 
and water, until the hair can be removed, when they 
are strained upon a frame or upon the ground, with 
stakes or pins driven through the edges into the earth, 
where they remain for several days, with the brains of 
the buffalo or elk spread upon and over them, and at 


The Boy’s Catlin 

last finished by “graining,” as it is termed, by the 
squaws, who use a sharpened bone, the shoulder-blade 
or other large bone of the animal, sharpened at the 
edge, somewhat like an adze, with the edge of which 
they scrape the fleshy side of the skin, bearing on it 
with the weight of their bodies, thereby drying and 
softening the skin, and fitting it for use. 

The greater part of these skins, however, go through 
still another operation afterward, which gives them 
a greater value, and renders them much more service¬ 
able—^that is, the process of smoking. For this a small 
hole is dug in the ground and a fire is built in it with 
rotten wood, which will produce a great quantity of 
smoke without much blaze; and several small poles of 
the proper length are stuck in the ground around it, and 
drawn and fastened together at the top, around which 
a skin is wrapped in the form of a tent, and generally 
sewed together at the edges to secure the smoke within it. 
Within this the skins to be smoked are placed, and in 
this condition the tent will stand a day or so, enclosing 
the heated smoke, and by some chemical process, which 
I do not understand, the skins thus acquire a quality 
which enables them to dry, no matter how often wet, as 
soft and pliant as before. . . . An Indian dress of 
deerskins, which is wet a hundred times upon his 
back, dries soft; and his lodge also, which stands in the 
rains, and even through the severity of winter, is taken 
down as soft and clean as when it was first put up. 

The Crows, of all the tribes in this region, make the 
most beautiful lodges. They construct them as do the 

Indian Aristocrats 


Sioux, the Blackfeet and the Assinniboines. This is 
by sewing the dressed buffalo skins into the form of a 
tent, and supporting them by twenty or thirty poles 
twenty-five feet long, with an aperture at the top through 
which the smoke escapes and the light is admitted. But 
the Crows dress these skins until they are almost as 
white as linen, and ornament them with porcupine 
quills and paint in a variety of ways that are always 
picturesque and agreeable to the eye. I have procured 
a fine one, highly ornamented and fringed with scalp- 
locks, large enough for forty men to dine under. There 
are thirty poles supporting it that were cut in the 
Rocky Mountains and have been in use about a hun¬ 
dred years. When erected, the tent displays the Good 
Spirit painted on one side and the Evil Spirit on the 
other. If I can ever succeed in transporting it to New 
York it will be found to be a beautiful and interesting 
specimen of the Indian’s work. 

The manner in which an encampment of Indians 
strike their tents and transport them is curious, and to 
the traveller in this country a very novel and unex¬ 
pected sight when he first beholds it. While ascend¬ 
ing the river to this place, I saw an encampment of 
Sioux, consisting of six hundred of these lodges, struck, 
and all things packed and on the move in a very few 
minutes. The chief sends his runners or criers (for suoh 
all chiefs keep in their employment) through the village, 
a few hours before they are to start, announcing his de¬ 
termination to move, and the hour fixed upon, and the 
necessary preparations are in the meantime makings 


The Boy’s Catlin 

and at the time announced, the lodge of the chief is 
seen flapping in the wind, a part of the poles having 
been taken out from under it. This is the signal, and in 
one minute six hundred of them (on a level and beauti¬ 
ful prairie), which before had been strained tight and 
fixed, were seen waving and flapping in the wind, and 
in one minute more all were flat upon the ground. 
Their horses and dogs, of which they had a vast num¬ 
ber, had all been secured upon the spot, in readiness, 
and each one was speedily loaded with the burden al¬ 
lotted to it and ready to fall into the grand procession. 

For this strange cavalcade preparation is made in 
the following manner: the poles of a lodge are divided 
into two bunches, and the little ends of each bunch 
fastened upon the shoulders or withers of a horse, leav¬ 
ing the butt ends to drag behind on the ground on either 
side. Just behind the horse, a brace or pole is tied 
across, which keeps the poles in their respective places; 
and then upon that and the poles behind the horse is 
placed the lodge or tent, which is rolled up, and also 
numerous other articles of household and domestic 
furniture, and on the top of all, two, three, and even 
(sometimes) four women and children! Each one of 
these horses has a conductress, who sometimes walks 
before and leads it, with a tremendous pack upon her 
own back; and at others she sits astride of its back, 
with a child, perhaps, at her breast, and another astride 
of the horse’s back behind her, clinging to her waist 
with one arm, while it affectionately embraces a sneak¬ 
ing dog-pup in the other. 

Indian Aristocrats 


In this way five or six hundred wigwams, with all 
their furniture, may be seen drawn out for miles, 
creeping over the grass-covered plains of this country; 
and three times that number of men, on good horses, 
strolling along in front or on the flank; and, in some 
tribes, in the rear of this heterogeneous caravan, at least 
five times that number of dogs, which fall into the rank, 
and follow in the train and company of the women, and 
every cur of them who is large enough, and not too 
cunning to be enslaved, is encumbered with a car or 
sled (or whatever it may be better called) on which he 
patiently drags his load—a part of the household goods 
and furniture of the lodge to which he belongs. Two 
poles about fifteen feet long are placed upon the dog’s 
shoulder, in the same manner as the lodge poles are 
attached to the horses, leaving the larger ends to drag 
upon the ground behind him, on which is placed a 
bundle or wallet which is allotted to him to carry, and 
with which he trots off" amid the throng of dogs and 
squaws, faithfully and cheerfully dragging his load until 
night, and by the way loitering and occasionally 

“ Catching at little bits of fun and glee 
That’s played on dogs enslaved by dog that’s free.” 

At St. Louis I was told that the Crows were a thiev¬ 
ing set of “vagabonds,” “highway robbers,” and other 
names of pleasant import. These people, I find, have 
in some instances plundered and robbed the trappers 
and traders and driven away their horses. This they 
call “capturing,” and consider it a species of summary 


The Boy’s Catlin 

justice that it is right and honorable for them to 
administer. Why not.? These mercenary white men 
are committing unlicensed trespass in their country 
in catching the beaver and other fur-bearing animals 
without rendering an equivalent, although they have 
been warned of their danger if they persist. My ex¬ 
perience with the Indian has taught me to regard him 
as belonging to the most honest race of people I have 
ever lived among. In his native state it is only neces¬ 
sary to trust to his honor to find him perfectly honest. 

It is, indeed, a part of the system of jurisprudence 
among all savages to revenge themselves upon the per¬ 
sons who give offence. If they cannot find the offender 
the punishment falls upon the first of his kind who 
comes in their way. So I should not be surprised if I 
were yet robbed of my horse by reason of some other 
person’s guilt. 



B eside the Crows and Blackfeet assembled at the 
Fort are now the Knisteneaux, or Crees, as they 
are commonly called, the Ojibbeways, and the 
Assinniboines. The Crees are a pretty and pleasing 
tribe about three thousand strong, living in the country 
north-west of the Yellowstone and into the British pos¬ 
sessions, where they commonly trade. The Crees are 
small in stature but of wonderful prowess for their 
number, since they wage unceasing war with the pow¬ 
erful Blackfeet who are their neighbors in the West, and 
these are rapidly thinning out the ranks of their war¬ 
riors. They are a very primitive people, civilization 
having as yet left them untouched. Among the most 
renowned of their warriors is Bro-cas-sie (the broken 
arm), whose portrait I have painted in his handsome 
dress, with that of his wife, a handsome, comely woman. 

The Ojibbeways number about six thousand and 
occupy the country north-east of the Yellowstone, ex¬ 
tending to Lake Winnipeg, where they trade principally 
with the British Company. This tribe is undoubtedly 
a part of the Chippewas, who live on the southern 
shores of Lake Superior and with whom we are better 


The Boy’s Catlin 

acquainted. Although these two tribes live hundreds 
of miles apart, and have no knowledge of each other, 
and there exists no tradition of the time or manner of 
their separation, their language is the same. This is 
very significant, since tribes living side by side will 
speak radically dissimilar languages. Not the slightest 
resemblance can be traced between the Blackfeet, 
Cheyenne, Crow, Circee, Cotonne, and Mandan 
tongues, while the Sioux is equally distinct from all 
these. This seems to dispose of the idea that some 
learned gentlemen entertain of tracing all the languages 
of the North American Indians back to two or three 

The chief of this tribe is Cho-co-pay (the six), a man 
of huge size, with dignity of manner and pride and van¬ 
ity in proportion to his bulk. He sat for his portrait in 
a most beautiful dress fringed profusely with scalp- 
locks that he had snatched from his enemies in battle, 
and wore a shirt of buckskin lavishly embroidered and 
painted with curious hieroglyphics, which related the 
history of his battles and pictured the chart of his life. 
Each article of his dress had been made by his wives, 
and one, although not the most agreeable, I had the 
honor to paint. 

The Assinniboines, Ojibbeways and the Crees are 
neighbors, and live, at least for a time, on terms of 
friendship. The Assinniboines are undoubtedly a 
branch of the Dacotahs, or Sioux, for their personal 
appearance and their language are similar. How these 
nations strayed away from one another is a mystery. 

Painting an Indian Dandy 


However, one may conjecture that in hunting or at war 
a large party may have been intercepted by their enemy 
and run off to a distant region, where they established 
a residence and became a nation. Their name, Assin- 
niboinnes, or Stone Boilers, they have received from 
their neighbors from a curious custom which obtains 
among them. When they kill meat, a hole is dug in the 
ground about the size of a common pot, and a piece of 
the rawhide of the animal is taken from the back, put 
over the hole, and with the hands is pressed down close 
to the sides and filled with water. The meat to be 
boiled is then placed in the water. Meanwhile, near by 
a fire is built in which several large stones are heated 
red hot. These are successfully held in the water until 
the meat is cooked. The custom is awkward and tedi¬ 
ous, and could have been used only by a tribe too rude 
and ignorant to construct a pot. The traders have 
recently provided these Stone Boilers with pots, and 
previously the Mandans had taught them how to make 
good earthen pots, but, as others of the human family, 
the Assinniboines like to perpetuate this custom at all 
of their public festivals. 

As a tribe the Assinniboines are a noble-looking 
race of Indians, and, as I have said, bear a striking re¬ 
semblance to the Sioux. The men are tall and graceful 
in their movements, and wear their pictured robes of 
buffalo-skins with fine effect. They are good hunters 
and tolerably well supplied with horses. Living in a 
country well supplied with buffaloes and all the neces¬ 
saries of Indian life, they are very comfortable. They 


The Boy’s Catlin 

are especially fond of games and amusement and are 
generally at them. These are the games of moccasins, 
horse-racing, dancing, and playing ball, at which they 
excel. Their dances are frequent and varied, and very 
like those of the Sioux. 

One of these scenes, however, that I witnessed the 
other day, appeared to me to be peculiar to this 
tribe, and is exceedingly picturesque in its effect. This 
is described to me as the pipe-dance, and was as fol¬ 
lows; On a hard-trodden pavement in front of their 
village, which place is used for all their public meetings 
and many of their amusements, the young men, who 
were to compose the dance, had gathered themselves 
around a small fire, and each one seated on a buffalo- 
robe spread upon the ground. In the centre and by the 
fire was seated a dignitary, who seemed to be a chief 
(perhaps a doctor or medicine-man), with a long pipe in 
his hand, which he lighted at the fire and smoked inces¬ 
santly, grunting forth at the same jfime, in half-strangled 
gutturals, a sort of song, which I did not get translated 
to my satisfaction, and which might have been suscepti¬ 
ble of no translation. While this was going on, another 
grim-visaged fellow in another part of the group com¬ 
menced beating on a drum or tambourine, accompanied 
by his voice, when one of the young men, seated, sprang 
instantly to his feet, and commenced singing in time with 
the taps of the drum, and leaping about on one foot and 
the other in the most violent manner imaginable. In 
this way he went several times around the circle, bowing 
and brandishing his fists in the face of each one who 

Painting an Indian Dandy 


was seated, until at length he grasped one of them by 
the hands and jerked him forcibly up on his feet. This 
man joined in the dance for a moment, leaving the 
one who had pulled him up to continue his steps and his 
song in the centre of the ring, while he danced around 
in a similar manner, jerking up another, and then join¬ 
ing his companion in the centre, leaving the third and 
the fourth, and so on, to drag into the ring, each one his 
man, until all were upon their feet, and at last joined in 
the most frightful gesticulations and yells that seemed 
almost to make the earth quake under our feet. This 
strange manoeuvre, which I did but partially under¬ 
stand, lasted for half or three quarters of an hour, to the 
great amusement of the gaping multitude who were 
assembled around, and broke up with the most pierc¬ 
ing yells and barks, like those of so many affrighted 

I have painted the portrait of a very distinguished 
young man, the son of a chief. His name is Wi-jun-jon 
(the pigeon’s-egg head). This brave travelled with us 
on our journey in the steamer “Yellowstone.” He was 
returning, after an absence of a year or more, from 
Washington city, where he had been with Major San¬ 
ford in the polished and fashionable circles of the 
Capital. There he was presented by the President with 
the uniform of a colonel. I enjoyed the pleasure of 
seeing this young man step ashore in a beaver hat and 
feather, gold epaulets, sash, belt, and broadsword, 
high-heeled boots, a jug of whiskey under one arm and 
a blue umbrella in his hand. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

Thus metamorphosed, he took a position on the bank 
in the midst of his parents, wife, and little children, as 
well as his friends, and for a half-hour or more not one 
showed a gleam of recognition, although they knew per¬ 
fectly well who he was. On his part he gazed at them 
as if they were strangers with whom he had nothing in 

After a time a gradual but cold and exceedingly for¬ 
mal acquaintance began, which ultimately, without the 
least apparent emotion, resolved itself into their accus¬ 
tomed mutual intercourse as if nothing had ever inter¬ 
vened to check it. 

This is an instance of the stoic customs of the North 
American Indians, and one of the most striking traits 
of their character. At present Wi-jun-jon is creating 
a sensation in his tribe. Daily and nightly he is sur¬ 
rounded by a gaping, listless crowd to whom he relates 
his wonderful and to them incomprehensible advent¬ 
ures. But it is apparent that already they are begin¬ 
ning to regard him as a liar and an impostor. Far from 
envying him his fashionable tour, he is in disgrace among 
the chiefs and spurned by the leading men among the 
tribe. What disasters his incredible narrations will yet 
subject him to time will only develop. Meanwhile, I 
have been painting his wife, Chin-cha-pee (the fire-bug 
that creeps), a fine-looking squaw in a handsome dress 
of the mountain-elk skin, holding in her hand a stick 
curiously carved such as every woman in this country 
carries. These are used in digging up the “pommes 
blanches,” or prairie turnip, which is used in great 

Painting an Indian Dandy 


quantities by the Indians for food, and is found in great 
abundance on these prairies. 

A traveller in this country has but little time to mor¬ 
alize. It is as much as he can do to “look out for his 
scalp” and get “something to eat.” But to the mind 
susceptible to impressions, what a web of fascinations 
its allurements spread over the soul! To paint the vast 
panorama of a world entirely different from anything 
ever seen or painted before; to paint a vast country of 
green fields, where the men are red, where meat is the 
staff of life, where the oak and pine give way to the cot- 
ton-wood and the pecan, where the buffaloes range, 
and the elk and mountain-sheep and the fleet-bounding 
antelope, where the magpie and chattering parro- 
quets supply the place of the red-breast and the blue¬ 
bird, where wolves are white and bears grizzly, where 
pheasants are hens of the prairie and frogs have horns, 
where the rivers are yellow and white men are turned 
savages in looks. Through the whole of this strange 
land the dogs are all wolves, women all slaves, men all 
lords. The sun and rats alone (of all the list of old 
acquaintance) could be recognized in this country of 
strange metamorphose. The former shed everywhere 
his familiar rays, and Monsieur Ratapon was hailed as 
an old acquaintance which it gave me pleasure to meet, 
though he had grown a little more savage in his look. 

To reach this country one must pass through the dif¬ 
ferent grades of civilization down to the pitiable misery 
of savage degradation along the frontier, where one 
sees the natural liberty and independence of the Indian 


The Boy’s Gatlin 

destroyed by the contaminating vices of the worst ele¬ 
ments of the white civilization. From the first settle¬ 
ments of the Atlantic Coast to the present day, the 
frontier has swept like the blasts of prairie fires over 
Indian life. There are many who believe that the 
numerous tribes of the Atlantic States fled and are to 
be found in the Far West. This is not the case. They 
were blasted by this frontier fire that passed over them; 
they are in their graves, and nothing remains of them 
but their names. 

The distinctive character of the Western Indians, as 
well as the traditions relating to their past, indicate that 
they have lived, beyond the memory of man, on the soil 
they now possess. It is these unoffending people, 
yet unvisited by the vices of civilized society, that I 
desire to make known. We have taken from them 
territory enough, and the country they now inhabit is 
too barren of timber for the use of the white man; it 
affords them, however, the means and the luxuries of 
savage life, and it is hoped that our government will 
not permit the wilful destruction of these happy 

I have been taking many rambles about this beautiful 
country of green fields, and in a few days will begin my 
voyage down the river in a canoe. I will take with ine 
two men, Bogard, a Yankee, and Batiste, a jolly, 
dauntless semi-barbarian. 

“Batiste, you say you trade with the Indians and 
trap beavers; you are in the employment of the Ameri¬ 
can Fur Company, I suppose?” 


Painting an Indian Dandy 

“Non) Monsieur, not quite exact; mais, suppose, 
I am 'free trappare,’ free. Monsieur, free.” 

“Free trapper! What’s that? I don’t understand 
you, Batiste.” 

“Well, Monsieur, suppose he is easy pour under¬ 
stand—^you shall know all. In de first place, I am 
enlist for tree year in de Fur Comp in St. Louis—for 
bounte—pour bounte, eighty dollare (understand, ha .^); 
den I am go for wages, et I ave come de Missouri up, et 
I am trap castors putty much for six years, you see, un¬ 
til I am learn very much; and den you see. Monsieur, 
McKenzie is give me tree horse—one pour ride, et two 
pour pack (mais he is not buy, him not give, he is lend), 
and he is lend twelve trap; and I ave make start into de 
Rocky Montaigne, et I am live all alone on de leet rivares 
pour prendre les castors. Sometime six months— 
sometime five month, and I come back to Yelstone, et 
Monsieur McKenzie is give me coot price pour all.” 

“ So Mr. McKenzie fits you out, and takes your beaver 
of you at a certain price ?” 

“Oui, Monsieur, oui.” 

“What price does he pay you for your beaver. 

“Ha! suppose one dollare pour one beavare.” 

“A dollar per skin, ah ?” 


“Well, you must live a lonesome and hazardous sort 
of life; can you make anything by it ?” 

“Oh! oui. Monsieur, putty coot, mais if it is not pour 
for de dam rascalite Riccaree, et de dam Pieds Noirs, de 


The Boy’s Catlin 

Blackfoot Ingin, I am make very much monnair, mais 
(sacre), I am rob—rob—rob too much!” 

“What! Do the Blackfeet rob you of your furs ?” 

“Oui, Monsieur, rob, suppose, five time! I am been 
free trappare seven year, et I am rob five time—I am 
someting left not at all—he is take all; he is take all de 
horse—he is take my gun—he is take all my clothes— 
he is takee de castors—et I am come back with foot. 
So in de Fort, some cloths is cost putty much monnair, 
et some whiskey is give sixteen dollares pour gall; so you 
see I am owe de Fur Comp six hundred dollare,by Gar!” 

“Well, Batiste, this, then, is what you call being a 
free trapper, is it ?” 

“Oui, Monsieur, ‘free trappare,’ free!” 

“You seem to be going down toward the Yellow¬ 
stone, and probably have been out on a trapping ex¬ 

“Oui, Monsieur, c’est vrai.” 

“Have you been robbed this time. Batiste ?” 

“Oui, Monsieur, by de dam Pieds Noirs—I am loose 
much; I am loose all—very all—eh bien—pour le 
dernier—c’est la derniere fois. Monsieur. I am go to 
Yelstone—I am go le Missouri down, I am go to St. 

“Well, Batiste, I am to figure about in this part of the 
world a few weeks longer, and then I shall descend the 
Missouri from the mouth of Yellowstone, to St. Louis, 
and I should like exceedingly to employ just such a man 
as you are as a voyageur with me. I will give you good 
wages and pay all your expenses. What say you ?” 

Painting an Indian Dandy 


“De tout mon coeur, Monsieur, remercie, remercie.” 
“It’s a bargain, then. Batiste; I will see you at the 
mouth of Yellowstone.” 

“Oui, Monsieur, in de Yelstone, bon soir, bon soir. 
Monsieur.” / 



W HEN I had completed my rambles and 
sketches, and when Bogard and Batiste had 
taken their last spree, fought their last battles, 
and forgotten them in the final affectionate embrace, as 
is the custom with these game fellows when settling up 
their long-standing accounts with their brother trappers 
of these mountain streams, we launched the little craft 
that was to waft us down the mighty torrent. 

Mr. McKenzie had provided me with this canoe, 
which, built of green timber, was heavy and awkward, 
but our course being with the current, it promised a fair 
and successful voyage. Ammunition was laid in in 
abundance, and our larder consisted of a stock of buffalo 
tongues, a dozen or two of beaver tails, and a good sup¬ 
ply of pemmican, to which we added several pounds 
of fresh buffalo meat. Besides these and its crew, which 
consisted of Bogard and Batiste in the middle and bow 
with their paddles, and I in the stern with my steering 
oar, our craft carried several packs of Indian dresses 
I had bought, and our kitchen, which consisted of three 
tin cups, a coffee-pot, one tin plate, and a tin kettle. 
Thus fitted out we took our leave one fine morning of 


Canoeing with Bogard and Batiste 49 

the Fort and our friends, and of the green fields and 
dales and prairie blulFs that encompass the enchanting 
shores of the Yellowstone. We swept oflF at a rapid rate 
amid the shouts of the Indians and the cheers of our 
friends, who lined the banks until we were out of sight. 
Soon nothing intervened between us and St. Louis, 
over two thousand miles distant, but the wide-spread 
and wild region and the roaming savage. 

At the end of our first day’s journey we found our¬ 
selves handily encamping with several thousand Assin- 
niboines, who had pitched their tents upon the bank of 
the river, and received us with every mark of esteem 
and friendship. 

In the midst of this group was my friend Wi-jun-jon 
(the pigeon’s-egg head), still lecturing on the manners 
and customs of the “palefaces,” continuing to relate, 
without any appearance of exhaustion, the marvellous 
scenes which he had witnessed among the white people 
on his tour to Washington city. 

Many were the gazers who seemed to be the whole 
time crowding around him to hear his recitals; and 
the plight which he was in rendered his appearance 
quite ridiculous. His beautiful military dress, of which 
I before spoke, had been so shockingly tattered and 
metamorphosed that his appearance was truly laugh¬ 

His keg of whiskey had dealt out to his friends all its 
charms; his frock-coat, which his wife had thought 
was of no earthly use below the waist, had been cut off 
at that place, and the nether half of it supplied her with 


The Boy’s Catlin 

a beautiful pair of leggings; and his silver-laced hat¬ 
band had been converted into a splendid pair of garters 
for the same. His umbrella the poor fellow still affec¬ 
tionately held on to, and kept spread at all times. As 
I before said, his theme seemed to be exhaustless and 
he, in the estimation of his tribe, to be an unexampled 

Of the village of Assinniboines we took leave on the 
following morning, and rapidly made our way down 
the river. The rate of the current being four or five 
miles per hour, through one continued series of pictu¬ 
resque, grass-covered bluffs and knolls, which every¬ 
where had the appearance of an old and highly-culti¬ 
vated country with houses and fences removed. 

On the second day of our journey we discovered a 
number of mountain-sheep. These are much like our 
goats, except in the horns, which resemble those of a 
ram. Sometimes these make entire circles in their 
coils, and at the root of each horn measure from five to 
six inches in breadth. These sheep skip along the sides 
of the precipice, always keeping equidistant from the 
top and bottom of the ledge, where they leap and vault 
from point to point, seeming actually to cling to the 
sides of the wall, where neither man nor beast can 
follow them. 

We landed our canoe and endeavored to shoot one 
of these sagacious animals. After he had led us a long 
and fruitless chase among the cliffs, we thought we had 
fairly entrapped him. At least we had brought him 
within command of our rifles. Suddenly he bounded 

Canoeing with Bogard and Batiste 51 

from his narrow foothold in the ledge, and tumbled 
down a distance of more than a hundred feet among 
the fragments of rocks and clay. There I thought we 
would certainly find his carcass without further trouble, 
when, to my great surprise, I saw him bounding off 
and he was almost instantly out of sight. 

Bogard, who is an old hunter, and intimately ac¬ 
quainted with these creatures, shouldered his rifle and 
said to me: 

“The game is up. You now see the use of those big 
horns. When they fall by accident, or find it negessary 
to quit their foothold in the crevices, they fall upon 
their heads at a great distance unharmed, even though 
it be on the solid rock.” 

Being on shore and our canoe securely landed, we 
whiled away the greater part of the day among these 
wild and rugged cliffs. Part of the day we spent in vain 
pursuit of a war eagle. This noble bird is the one 
which the Indians value so highly for its tail feathers, 
which they use for decorating the heads and dresses of 
their warriors. The Indians tell me that it conquers 
all other variety of eagles; for this reason they hold it in 
high esteem. I am unable to say to what variety it be¬ 
longs, but I am sure it is not in any of our museums, 
nor is it to be found in America, in my opinion, until 
one gets near the base of the Rocky Mountains. This 
bird is often called the calumet eagle, presumably from 
the fact that the Indians almost invariably ornament 
their calumets, or pipes of peace, with its quills. 

Our day’s loitering brought us through many a wild 


The Boy’s Catlin 

scene: occasionally across the tracks of the grizzly bear, 
and in sight merely of a band of buffaloes, “which got 
the wind of us,” and were out of the way, leaving us to 
return to our canoe at night, with a mere speck of good 
luck. Just before we reached the river, I heard the 
crack of a rifle, and in a few moments Bogard came in 
sight, and threw down from his shoulders a fine ante¬ 
lope, which added to our larder, and we were ready to 
proceed. We embarked and travelled until nightfall, 
when we encamped on a beautiful little prairie at the 
base of a series of grass-covered bluffs, and the next 
morning cooked our breakfast and ate it, and rowed on 
until late in the afternoon, when we stopped at the base 
of some huge clay bluffs forming one of the most curi¬ 
ous and romantic scenes imaginable. At this spot the 
river expands itself into the appearance somewhat of 
a beautiful lake; and in the midst of it, and on and 
about its sand-bars, floated and stood hundreds and 
thousands of white swans and pelicans. 

Though the scene in front of our encampment at this 
place was placid and beautiful—with its flowing water, 
its wild fowl, and its almost endless variety of grace¬ 
fully sloping hills and green prairies in the distance—^yet 
it was not less wild and picturesque in our rear, where 
the rugged and various-colored bluffs were grouped in 
all the wildest fancies and rudeness of Nature’s acci¬ 
dental varieties. 

The whole country behind us seemed to have been 
dug and thrown up into huge piles, as if some giant 
mason had been there mixing his mortar and paints, 

Canoeing with Bogard and Batiste 53 

and throwing together his rude models for some sub¬ 
lime structure of a colossal city, with its walls, its domes, 
its ramparts, its huge porticos and galleries, its castles, 
its fosses and ditches, and as if in the midst of his prog¬ 
ress he had abandoned his works to the destroying hand 
of time, which had already done much to tumble them 
down, and deface their noble structure, by jostling them 
together, with all their vivid colors, into an unsystematic 
and unintelligible mass of sublime ruins. 

During the day I loitered about this strange scene, 
rifle and sketch-book in hand, leaving the men stretched 
on the grass by the canoe. While endeavoring to find 
a possible crater, I suddenly came upon the enormous 
tracks of a grizzly bear, travelling in the same direc¬ 
tion, and evidently but a few moments before me. My 
ardor suddenly cooled and I hastily retraced my steps. 

In the morning and before sunrise, as usual, Bogard 
(who was a Yankee, and a “wide-awake fellow,” just 
retiring from a ten years’ siege of hunting and trapping 
in the Rocky Mountains) thrust his head out from 
under the robe, rubbing his eyes open, and exclaiming 
as he grasped for his gun, “ By darn, look at old Cale, 
will you!” Batiste, who was more fond of his dreams, 
snored away, muttering something that I could not 
understand, when Bogard seized him with a grip that 
instantly shook off his iron slumbers. I rose at the 
same time, and all eyes were turned at once upon Caleb 
(as the grizzly bear is familiarly called by the trappers 
in the Rocky Mountains—or more often “Cale,” for 
brevity’s sake), who was sitting up in the dignity and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

fury of her sex, within a few rods, and gazing upon us, 
with her two little cubs at her side. Here was a '‘fix” 
and a subject for the painter; but I had no time to 
sketch it—I turned my eyes to the canoe, which had 
been fastened at the shore a few paces from Us, and saw 
that everything had been pawed out of it, and all eatables 
had been without ceremony devoured. My packages 
of dresses and Indian curiosities had been drawn out 
upon the bank and deliberately opened and inspected. 
Everything had been scraped and pawed out, to the 
bottom of the boat, and even the rawhide thong, with 
which it was tied to a stake, had been chewed, and no 
doubt swallowed, as there was no trace of it remaining. 
Nor was this peep into the secrets of our luggage enough 
for her insatiable curiosity—^we saw by the prints of her 
huge paws, that were left in the ground, that she had 
been perambulating our humble mattresses, smelling 
at our toes and our noses, without choosing to molest 
us, verifying a trite saying of the country that “Man 
lying down is medicine to the grizzly bear,” though it is 
a well-known fact that man and beast, upon their feet, 
are sure to be attacked when they cross the path of this 
grizzly and grim monster, which is the terror of all this 
country, often growing to the enormous size of eight 
hundred or one thousand pounds. 

Well, while we sat in the dilemma which I have just 
described, each one was hastily preparing his weapons 
for defence, when I proposed the mode of attack, by 
which means I was in hopes to destroy her—^capture 
her young ones, and bring her skin home as a trophy. 


Canoeing with Bogard and Batiste 55 

My plans, however, entirely failed, though we were 
well armed, for Bogard and Batiste both remonstrated 
with a vehemence that was irresistible, saying that the 
standing rule in the mountains was “never to fight 
Caleb, except in self-defence.” I was almost induced, 
however, to attack her alone, with my rifle in hand, and 
a pair of heavy pistols, a tomahawk and scalping- 
knife in my belt, when Batiste suddenly thrust his arm 
over my shoulder, and, pointing in another direction, 
exclaimed in an emphatic tone, “Voila! voila un corps 
de reserve—Monsieur Cataline—voila son mari! allons 
—allons! descendons la riviere, toute de suite! toute de 
suite! Monsieur,” to which Bogard added, “These 
darned animals are too much for us, and we had better 
be off”; at which my courage cooled, and we packed 
up and re-embarked as fast as possible, giving each one 
of them the contents of our rifles as we drifted off on 
the current, which brought the she monster in all her 
fury to the spot we had just prudently quitted. 

Our conversation was now chiefly about grizzly bears 
and hair-breadth escapes of which my companions had 
a store. Our breakfast we took about five o’clock in 
the afternoon, our empty larder being replenished by 
an antelope that the unerring rifle of Bogard had brought 
down, as it was innocently gazing at us from the banks 
of the river. We landed our boat and took in our prize, 
but there being no wood for a fire, we shoved off and 
soon ran upon the head of an island covered with im¬ 
mense piles of driftwood. Here we kindled a huge fire 
and ate our meal from a clean-peeled log, astride of 


The Boy’s Catlin 

which we comfortably sat, making it admirably answer 
the double purpose of chair and table. After our 
meal was finished we plied our paddles and went several 
miles further on our course, leaving our fire burning. 
In the dark, and in a wild and unknown spot, we silently 
dragged our canoe on shore, and spread our buffalo- 
robes for sleeping. This it is not considered prudent 
to do by the side of our fires, since it might lead some 
prowling war-party upon us. 

The scenery, as I have said, was one of enchantment. 
Frequently we ran our canoe ashore to admire the wild 
flowers and the abundance of delicious fruits about us. 
Sun-flowers and voluptuous lilies were constantly 
taunting our faces in the high grass, and everywhere 
were copses of plum-trees, gooseberry and wild currant 
bushes laden with fruit. To add to the effect were wild 
rose bushes that seemed to be planted in beds and 
hedges, adding aroma to every breath of air that passed 
over them. We also had service berries without stint, 
and the buffalo bush, which is peculiar to this region, 
sometimes lining the banks of the rivers for miles. 
These formed an almost impassable hedge and were 
weighted to the ground with berries. 

The buffalo bush, or Shepperdia, is the most beauti¬ 
ful ornament that decks the wild prairies. From the 
blue tint of its leaves it is in striking contrast to the 
rest of the foliage and can be distinguished for miles. 
The fruit that hangs in clusters to every limb and every 
twig is about the size of ordinary currants, and is not 
unlike them in color and flavor. After the berries are 

Canoeing with Bogard and Batiste 57 

touched by the frost they have something of the flavor 
of the grape, and I am sure would make excellent wine. 
I made some such suggestion to Bogard and Batiste, 
and they were so taken with the idea I did not know 
but that I should lose my men. Several times we took 
a large mackinaw blanket, and, spreading it on the 
ground, struck the stalks with a club. Instantly the 
entire bush would discharge its fruit and the boughs, 
relieved of their burden, spring back into position. Of 
this beautiful native, which I think would form one of 
the loveliest ornamental shrubs for a gentleman’s park 
or pleasure grounds, I took with me a number of roots, 
but lost them all in the many accidents of our unlucky 
bark on the river. 

On the fifth day of our journey from the Yellowstone 
we landed our canoe that I might paint the magnificent 
scene that spreads out at the Grand Detour, or Big 
Bend, as it is called by the voyagers. There are few 
things in nature more picturesque than the wonderful 
manner in which the gorges of the river have cut out 
its deep channel through these walls of clay on either 
side, of two or three hundred feet in elevation. The 
imposing features of the high table-lands in distance, 
standing as a perpetual anomaly in the country, and 
producing the indisputable though astounding evidence 
of the fact that there has been at some ancient period 
a super surface to this country, corresponding with the 
elevation of these tabular hills, whose surface, for half 
a mile or more, on their tops, is perfectly level. Being 
covered with a green turf, and yet one hundred and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

fifty or two hundred feet elevated above what may now 
be properly termed the summit level of all this section 
of country, it will be seen stretching olF at their base, 
without furnishing other instances, in hundreds of miles, 
of anything rising one foot above its surface excepting 
this solitary group. 

Batiste and Bogard having carried my canvas and 
easel to the top of a huge mound, left me at my 
work while they amused themselves in decoying ante¬ 
lopes to replenish our larder. The antelope of this 
country I believe to be different from all other varieties, 
and it is one of the most pleasing living ornaments of this 
Western world. They are seen in great numbers play¬ 
ing over the hills and dales, and will often follow the 
boat for hours together, at a safe distance, as they gal¬ 
lop up and down the hills, snuffing their noses and 
stamping their feet, as if to remind the traveller that he 
is trespassing on their hallowed ground. This little 
animal, as many other gentle, sweet-breathing creat¬ 
ures, has a curiosity that often leads to its own destruc¬ 
tion. The hunter need not trouble himself to follow 
them. He has only to put his red or yellow handker'' 
chief on the top of his gun rod, so that it can be seen 
above the grass, when they will advance with great 
caution. Meanwhile the hunter, lying on the ground 
at a little distance, finds it an easy matter to make sure 
of two or three at one shot. 

Several times we stopped in this manner, once that 
I might paint the Grand Dome, whose huge domes, 
turrets, and towers are so perfectly formed and pre- 


Canoeing with Bogard and Batiste 59 

cisely placed that it is one of the most wonderful forma¬ 
tions on this mighty river. After my painting was made 
we wandered back to the plains in toilsome pursuit of 
a herd of bulFaloes. Although our chase was futile we 
found amusement in a prairie-dog village. The prairie- 
dog of the American prairie is undoubtedly a variety of 
the marmot, and probably not unlike those that inhabit 
the vast steppes of Asia. It bears no resemblance to 
any variety of dogs, except in the sound of its voice 
when excited by the approach of danger, which is 
something like that of a very small dog, and still much 
more resembling the barking of a gray squirrel. 

The size of these curious little animals is not far from 
that of a very large rat, and they are not unlike in their 
appearance. As I have said, their burrows are uni¬ 
formly built in a lonely desert, and away from the 
proximity of both timber and water. Each individual, 
or each family, digs its hole in the prairie to the depth 
of eight or ten feet, throwing up the dirt from each 
excavation in a little pile, in the form of a cone, which 
forms the only elevation for them to ascend, where they 
sit, to bark and chatter when an enemy is approaching 
their village. These villages are sometimes of several 
miles in extent, containing (I would almost say) myri¬ 
ads of their excavations and little dirt hillocks, and to 
the ears of their visitors the din of their barkings is too 
confused and too peculiar to be described. 

In the present instance we made many endeavors to 
shoot them, but found our efforts to be entirely in vain. 
As we were approaching them at a distance, each one 


The Boy’s Catlin 

seemed to be perched up on his hind feet, on his ap¬ 
propriate domicile, with a significant jerk of his tail at 
every bark, positively disputing our right of approach. 
I made several attempts to get near enough to “draw 
a bead ” upon one of them, and just before I was ready 
to fire (and as if they knew the utmost limits of their 
safety), they sprang down into their holes, and in¬ 
stantly turning their bodies, showed their ears and the 
ends of their noses, as they were peeping out at me, 
which position they would hold until the shortness of 
the distance subjected their scalps to danger again 
from the aim of a rifle, when they instantly disappeared 
from our sight, and all was silence thereafter about their 
premises, as I passed them over, until I had so far ad¬ 
vanced by them that their ears were again discovered, 
and at length themselves, at full length, perched on the 
tops of their little hillocks and threatening as before, 
thus gradually sinking and rising like a wave before 
and behind me. 

Such were some of the incidents of our voyage which 
came to an end on the evening of the seventh day out 
from the Fort on the Yellowstone, when our little boat 
landed in front of the Mandan village. Here hundreds 
came to the banks to greet us, and among them Mr. 
Kipp, the agent of the American Fur Company, who 
carried me to his quarters, where I am now reaping the 
benefits of his politeness and enjoying the pleasures 
of his society. 



H ere I find myself surrounded by subjects and 
scenes worthy the pens of Irving or Cooper— 
of the pencils of Raphael or Hogarth. I am in 
a country so rich in romances and legends that no im¬ 
agination is needed for book or picture. 

The Mandans, or See-pohs-kah-nu-mah-kah-kee, 
(people of the pheasants), are perhaps one of the old¬ 
est tribes in our country. Their origin is lost in mystery, 
but their traditions assert that they were the first people 
created on the earth. They have not always been in 
this region. They contend that they were once a large 
and powerful nation, but continual warfare has re¬ 
duced them to their present number. The tribe now 
has but two thousand members, living in two villages 
about two miles distant from each other. These 
villages are on the west bank of the Missouri about 
eighteen hundred miles above St. Louis. The site 
of the lower and principal town is in the centre of 
a vast valley with a thousand graceful swells of inter¬ 
minable green changing to blue in the distance, in 
which not a tree or bush can be seen. The construction 



The Boy’s Catlin 

of the Mandan lodges, so different from that of the 
other tribes, seems to indicate another origin and 
a peculiar history. 

The ground on which the Mandan village is at pres¬ 
ent built was admirably adapted for defence, being on 
a bank about fifty feet above the bed of the river. The 
greater part of this bank is nearly perpendicular and of 
solid rock. The river suddenly changing its course at 
right angles protects the village, which is built on a 
promontory at this angle, on two sides. The other is 
protected by a strong picket and a ditch four feet deep 
inside. The picket is composed of timbers a foot or 
more in diameter and eighteen feet high. These are 
set firmly in the ground sufficient distance apart to 
allow guns and other missiles to be fired between them. 
The ditch, unlike that of civilized modes of fortification, 
is placed inside the picket that the warriors may screen 
their bodies from the view and the weapons of their 
enemies, while they are reloading and discharging their 
weapons through the pickets. 

The Mandans have evidently nothing to fear from 
their enemies in their village. This has a most novel 
appearance to the eye of the stranger. The lodges are 
closely grouped together, leaving just room enough to 
walk and ride between them, and appear from without 
to be built en irely of dirt. But one is surprised on 
entering to see the neatness, comfort, and spaciousness 
of these domed, earth-covered dwellings. They are all 
circular and are from forty to sixty feet in diameter. 
Their foundations are prepared by digging about two 

Mandans: The People of the Pheasants 63 

feet in the ground and forming the floor by levelling 
the requisite site for the lodge. 

These floors or foundations are all perfectly circular, 
and varying in size in proportion to the number of in¬ 
mates, or of the quality or standing of the families which 
are to occupy them. The superstructure is then pro¬ 
duced by arranging, inside of this circular excavation, 
firmly fixed in the ground and resting against the bank, 
a barrier or wall of timbers, some eight or nine inches 
in diameter, of equal height (about six feet), placed on 
end and resting against each other, supported by a for¬ 
midable embankment of earth raised against them 
outside; then, resting upon the tops of these timbers or 
piles, are others of equal size and equal in number, of 
twenty or twenty-five feet in length, resting firmly against 
each other, and sending their upper or smaller ends tow¬ 
ard the centre and top of the lodge, rising at an angle 
of forty-five degrees to the apex, or skylight, which is 
about three or four feet in diameter, answering as a 
chimney and a skylight at the same time. The roof of 
the lodge, being thus formed, is supported by beams 
passing around the inner part of the lodge about the 
middle of these poles or timbers, and themselves upheld 
by four or five large posts passing down to the floor of 
the lodge. On the top of and over the poles forming 
the roof is placed a complete mat of willow-boughs, of 
half a foot or more in thickness, which protects the tim¬ 
bers from the dampness of the earth with which the 
lodge is covered from bottom to top, to the depth of 
two or three feet, and then with a hard or tough clay, 


The Boy’s Catlin 

which is impervious to water, and which with long use 
becomes quite hard, and a lounging-place for the whole 
family in pleasant weather—for sage, for wooing lovers, 
for dogs and all; an airing-place, a look-out, a 
place for gossip and mirth, a seat for the solitary gaze 
and meditations of the stern warrior, who sits and con¬ 
templates the peaceful mirth and happiness that is 
breathed beneath him, fruits of his hard-fought battles 
on fields of desperate combat with bristling red men. 

The floors of these dwellings are of earth, but so 
hardened by use, and swept so clean and tracked by 
bare and moccasined feet, that they have almost a 
polish and would scarcely soil the whitest linen. In 
the centre, and immediately ander the skylight is the 
fireplace, a hole of four or five feet in diameter, of a 
circular form, sunk a foot or more below the surface, 
and curbed around with stone. Over the fireplace, and 
suspended from the apex of diverging props or poles, is 
generally seen the pot or kettle, filled with buffalo meat; 
and around it are the family, reclining in all the most 
picturesque attitudes and groups, resting on their buf¬ 
falo-robes and beautiful mats of rushes. These cabins 
are so spacious that they hold from twenty to forty 
persons—a family and all their connections. They all 
sleep on bedsteads similar in form to ours, but gener¬ 
ally not quite so high, made of round poles rudely 
lashed together with thongs. A buffalo-skin, fresh 
stripped from the animal, is stretched across the bottom 
poles, and about two feet from the floor, which, when it 
dries, becomes much contracted and forms a perfect 

Mandans: The People of the Pheasants 65 

sacking-bottom. The fur side of this skin is placed 
uppermost, on which they lie with great comfort, with 
a bufFalo-robe folded up for a pillow, and others drawn 
over them instead of blankets. These beds, as far as 
I have seen them (and I have visited almost every lodge 
in the village), are uniformly screened with a covering 
of buffalo or elk skins, oftentimes beautifully dressed 
and placed over the upright poles or frame, like a suit 
of curtains, leaving a hole in front sufficiently spacious 
for the occupant to pass in and out, to and from his or 
her bed. Some of these coverings or curtains are 
exceedingly beautiful, being cut tastefully into fringe, 
and handsomely ornamented with porcupine’s quills 
and picture writings or hieroglyphics. 

To accommodate the great number of inmates in these 
lodges, they are necessarily very spacious and the number 
of beds is considerable'. It is no uncommon thing to see 
these lodges fifty feet in diameter inside (which is an 
immense room), with a row of these curtained beds ex¬ 
tending quite around their sides, being some ten or 
twelve of them, placed four or five feet apart, and the 
space between them occupied by a large post, fixed 
quite firm in the ground, and six or seven feet high, with 
large wooden pegs or bolts in it, on which are hung and 
grouped, with a wild and startling taste, the arms and 
armor of the respective proprietor, consisting of his 
whitened shield, embossed and emblazoned with the 
figure of his protecting medicine (or mystery), his bow 
and quiver, his war-club or battle-axe, his dart or jave¬ 
lin, his tobacco-pouch and pipe, his medicine-bag. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

and his eagle—ermine or raven head-dress; and over 
all, and on the top of the post (as if placed by some con¬ 
juror or Indian magician, to guard and protect the spell 
of wildness that reigns in this strange place), stands 
forth and in full relief the head and horns of a buffalo, 
which is, by a village regulation, owned and possessed 
by every man in the nation, and hung at the head of 
his bed, and which he uses as a mask when called upon 
by the chiefs to join in the buffalo-dance, of which I 
shall say more in a future epistle. 

This arrangement of beds, of arms, etc., combining 
the most vivid display and arrangement of colors, of 
furs, of trinkets—of barbed and glistening points and 
steel—of mysteries and hocus-pocus, together with the 
sombre and smoked color of the roof and sides of the 
lodge, and the wild and rude and red, the graceful 
(though uncivil), conversational, garrulous story-telling, 
and happy, though ignorant and untutored, groups that 
are smoking their pipes, wooing their sweethearts, and 
embracing their little ones about their peaceful and 
endeared firesides, together with their pots and kettles, 
spoons, and other culinary articles of their own manu¬ 
facture around them, presents altogether one of the 
most picturesque scenes to the eye of a stranger that 
can be possibly seen, and far more wild and vivid than 
could ever be imagined. 

Of all the erroneous ideas concerning the Indians in 
which the civilized world indulges there is none more 
untrue than that the Indian is morose, reserved, and 
taciturn. In all my travels among the Indian tribes. 

Mandans: The People of the Pheasants 67 

and particularly among these unassuming people, I have 
found them more talkative than the civilized races. 
No one can look into the lodges of these people, or into 
any little momentary group, without being convinced 
that small talk, garrulity, gossip, and story-telling are 
the leading passions with them. One has but to walk 
or ride about this little town and its environs for a few 
hours on a pleasant day, and overlook the numerous 
games and gambols, and hear their notes and yelps of 
exultation, or peep into their wigwams and watch the 
glistening fun that is beaming from the noses, cheeks, 
and chins, of the crouching, cross-legged, prostrate 
groups around the fire, where the pipe is passed and 
the jokes and laughter immoderate, to become confi¬ 
dent that it is natural to laugh and be merry. Why, 
indeed, should these people not be merry. They live 
in a country where it is not necessary to look into the 
future with concern, and where their faculties and in¬ 
clinations are solely directed toward the present day. 
If the uncultivated condition of their minds curtails the 
number of their enjoyments, they are free from the 
many cares and jealousies of our more mercenary 
world, and in my opinion are far ahead of us in the 
,real, natural enjoyment of their faculties. 

The groups of lodges around me, resembling nothing 
so much as inverted potash-kettles, present a very 
curious appearance. They are used outside quite as 
much as within. On the tops of these are to be seen 
groups standing and reclining, whose wild and pictu¬ 
resque appearance it would be difficult to transcribe. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

Stern warriors, like statues, stand in dignified groups 
wrapped in their painted robes, with their heads decked 
and plumed with quills of the war eagle, extending 
their arms to the east and the west, recounting the 
scenes of their battles. In another direction, the woo¬ 
ing lover softening the heart of his fair Taih-nah-tai-a 
with the notes of his lute. On other lodges groups are 
engaged in the game of “moccasin,” or “platter.” 
Some seem to be making robes and dresses, others have 
stretched their limbs in the luxury of sleep while bask¬ 
ing in the sun. With all this varied and wild medley of 
living beings are the dogs, which are so near to the 
Indian heart that they are a part of his life. Besides 
these groups of the living are buffalo heads, skin 
canoes, pots and pottery, sleds and sledges, and dis¬ 
played on poles twenty feet above the lodges hang the 
scalps of warriors kept as trophies. In other parts are 
poles on which hang the white shields and quivers of 
the warriors, with their medicine-bags attached, and 
here and there a sacrifice of red cloth or other costly 
stuff, offered up to the Great Spirit, over the door 
of some benignant chief, in humble gratitude for the 
blessings which he is enjoying. Such is a part of the 
strange medley that is before and around me; and 
amid them and the blue streams of smoke that are rising 
from the tops of these hundred “coal-pits” can be seen, 
in the distance, the green and boundless, treeless, bush¬ 
less prairie; and on it, and contiguous to the piquet 
which encloses the village, a hundred scaffolds on which 
their “dead live,” as they term it. 

Mandans: The People of the Pheasants 69 

These people never bury the dead, but place the 
bodies on slight scaffolds just above the reach of human 
hands, and out of the way of wolves and dogs, and they 
are there left to moulder and decay. This cemetery, or 
place of deposit for the dead, is just back of the village, 
on a level prairie, and with all its appearances, history, 
forms, ceremonies, etc., is one of the strangest and 
most interesting objects to be described in the vicinity 
of this peculiar race. 

Whenever a person dies in the Mandan village, and 
the customary honors and condolence are paid to his 
remains, and the body dressed in its best attire, painted, 
oiled, feasted, and supplied with bow and quiver, shield, 
pipe, and tobacco, knife, flint, and steel, and provisions 
enough to last him a few days on the journey which he 
is to perform, a fresh buffalo’s skin, just taken from 
the animal’s back, is wrapped around the body and 
tightly bound and wound with thongs of rawhide from 
head to foot. Then other robes are soaked in water till 
they are quite soft and elastic, which are also bandaged 
around the body in the same manner, and tied fast with 
thongs, which are wound with great care and exactness 
so as to exclude the action of the air from all parts of 
the body. 

There is then a separate scaffold erected for it, con¬ 
structed of four upright posts a little higher than human 
hands can reach, and on the tops of these are small 
poles passing around from one post to the others, 
across which are a number of willow-rods just strong 
enough to support the body, which is laid upon them 


The Boy’s Catlin 

on its back, with its feet carefully presented toward the 
rising sun. 

There are a great number of these bodies resting 
exactly in a similar way, excepting in some instances 
where a chief, or medicine-man, may be seen with a few 
yards of scarlet or blue cloth spread over his remains, 
as a mark of public respect and esteem. Some hundreds 
of these bodies may be seen reposing in this manner in 
this curious place, which the Indians call “the village 
of the dead”; and the traveller who visits this country 
to study and learn will not only be struck with the 
novel appearance of the scene, but if he will give atten¬ 
tion to the respect and devotions that are paid to his 
sacred place, he will draw many a moral deduction 
that will last him through life; he will learn, at least, 
that filial, conjugal, and paternal affection are not nec¬ 
essarily the results of civilization, but that the Great 
Spirit has given them to man in his native state. There 
is not a day on which one may not see here most touch¬ 
ing scenes. Fathers, mothers, wives, and children lie 
prostrate before these scaffolds with piteous and heart¬ 
broken cries, tearing their hair and cutting their flesh 
with knives, and doing other penance to appease the 
spirits of the dead, whom they fancy they have offended. 

When these scaffolds decay and fall to the ground, 
the nearest relations, having buried the other bones, take 
the skulls, which are perfectly bleached and purified, 
and place them, a hundred or more, not quite a foot 
apart in circles on the prairie. In the centre of these 
circles is a little mound several feet high, which rests on 

Mandans: The People of the Pheasants 71 

two buffalo skulls, male and female; and in the centre 
of this mound is a medicine-pole, twenty feet high, 
supporting many curious articles of mystery and super¬ 
stition that are supposed to guard and protect its circle. 
Each skull of the circle rests upon a bunch of wild sage. 
As soon as the sage begins to decay a fresh piece is 
gathered and replaces it. Each wife knows the skull 
of her husband or child, and there is not a day that 
she does not visit it with a dish of her choicest food. 
Here are always, on pleasant days, to be seen several 
women sitting by the skulls of husband and children 
talking affectionately to them. Not infrequently a 
woman takes out her needle-work and spends the 
greater part of the day by some skull, embroidering and 
chattering, until, fatigued, she falls asleep with her 
arms encircling it and remains for hours. 



T he Mandans are most pleasing in personal 
appearance and manners. Both in looks and 
customs they differ from all the other tribes. 
They are not a warlike people—that is to say, they do 
not carry war into the enemy’s country, but when 
invaded their valor equals that of any tribe. Being a 
small nation, they are unable to contend on the prairie 
with Sioux or other roaming tribes; accordingly, they 
have judiciously intrenched themselves in a perma¬ 
nent fortified village. This has enabled them to culti¬ 
vate manufactures of different kinds, and their lodges 
are better supplied with comforts than those of any 
other nation. This also seems to account for the fact 
that they are far ahead of other tribes in manners and 
refinement, if one may use this word in connection with 
Indian life. The traders always speak of them as “the 
polite and friendly Mandans.” 

A stranger in a Mandan village is immediately struck 
by the ease and elegance of this people, with the diver¬ 
sity^ of their complexions, the varying shades of their 
hair, the singularity of their language, and their peculiar 
and unaccountable customs. At first one is disposed, 


Social Life Among the Mandans 


on seeing them, to exclaim, “These are not Indians. 
The Indian is copper-colored, with jet-black hair.” 
Many of these people, especially the women, are as 
light as half-breeds. Their skins are almost white; 
their features are symmetrical and pleasing; their eyes 
are gray, hazel, even blue; their expression is sweet, 
and their demeanor exceedingly modest. 

The diversity in the color of hair is also as great as 
that in the complexion; for in a numerous group of 
these people (and more particularly among the females, 
who never take pains to change its natural color, as 
the men often do) there may be seen every shade and 
color of hair that can be seen in our own country, with 
the exception of red or auburn, which is not to be 

And there is yet one more strange and unaccountable 
peculiarity, which can probably be seen nowhere else 
on earth, nor on any rational grounds accounted for, 
other than that it is a freak or order of nature for which 
she has not seen fit to assign a reason. There are very 
many, of both sexes and of every age, from infancy 
to manhood and old age, with hair of a bright 
silvery gray, and in some instances almost perfectly 

This singular and eccentric appearance is much 
oftener seen among the women than it is with the men, 
for many of the latter who have it seem ashamed of it, 
and artfully conceal it by filling their hair with glue and 
black and red earth. The women, on the other hand, 
seem proud of it, and display it often in an almost in- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

credible profusion, which spreads over their shoulders 
and falls as low as the knee. I have ascertained, on a 
careful inquiry, that about one in ten or twelve of the 
whole tribe are what the French call “cheveux gris,” 
or gray-hairs, and that this strange and unaccountable 
phenomenon is not the result of disease or habit, but 
is unquestionably a hereditary character which runs in 
families and indicates no inequality in disposition or 
intellect. And by passing this hair through my hands, 
as I often have, I have found it uniformly to be as coarse 
and harsh as a horse’s mane, differing materially from 
the hair of other colors, which, among the Mandans, is 
generally as fine and as soft as silk. 

The stature of the Mandans is rather below the 
ordinary size of man, with beautiful symmetry of 
form and proportion, and wonderful suppleness and 
elasticity; they are pleasingly erect and graceful, 
both in their walk and their attitudes, and the hair 
of the men, which generally spreads over their backs, 
falling down to the hams, and sometimes to the 
ground, is divided into plaits or slabs of two inches 
in width, and filled with a profusion of glue and red 
earth or vermilion, at intervals of an inch or two, 
which, becoming very hard, remains in and unchanged 
from year to year. 

This mode of dressing the hair is curious, and 
gives to the Mandans the most singular appearance. 
The hair of the men is uniformly all laid over from 
the forehead backward, carefully kept above and 
resting on the ear, and thence falling down over th6 

Social Life Among the Mandans 


back in these flattened bunches, and painted red, 
extending oftentimes quite on to the calf of the leg, 
and sometimes in such profusion as almost to con¬ 
ceal the whole figure from the person walking behind 

The hair of the women is also worn as long as they 
can possibly cultivate it, oiled very often, which pre¬ 
serves on it a beautiful gloss and shows its natural 
color. They often braid it in two large plaits, one falling 
down just back of the ear, on each side of the head; and 
on any occasion which requires them to “put on their 
best looks” they pass their fingers through it, drawing 
it out of braid and spreading it over their shoulders. 
The Mandan women observe strictly the same custom 
which I have observed among the Crows and Blackfeet 
(and, in fact, all other tribes I have seen, without a 
single exception) of parting the hair on the forehead 
and always keeping the crease or separation filled with 
vermilion or other red paint. This is one of the very 
few little (and apparently trivial) customs which I have 
found among the Indians, without being able to assign 
any cause for it other than that “they are Indians” 
and that this is an Indian fashion. 

The art of swimming is known to all the American 
Indians, and perhaps no people on earth have taken 
more pains to learn it, nor any who turn it to better 
account. There certainly are no people whose voca¬ 
tions more often call for the use of their limbs in this 
way, as many of the tribes spend their lives on the 
shores of our vast lakes and rivers, paddling about from 


The Boy’s Catlin 

their childhood in their fragile bark canoes, which 
are liable to continual accidents and often throw the 
Indian upon his naitural resources for the preservation 
of his life. 

Among the Mandans as among all tribes there are 
diflFerent grades of society. There are those who care 
little for their looks and those who take great care of 
their appearance. Such are the chiefs, braves, men of 
distinction, and their families, who pay strict regard to 
decency, cleanliness, and elegance of dress. There are 
few races who pay more attention to personal cleanli¬ 
ness. A half-mile above the village on the river is the 
bathing-place of the women. Here they go every morn¬ 
ing in summer by hundreds at sunrise to bathe. About 
a quarter of a mile from this place is a semi-circular 
terrace in the prairie, and here are stationed sentinels 
with bows and arrows to protect the bathers from the 
approach of men or boys. But at this distance one can 
see them leaping into the water, and their bodies glis¬ 
tening in the sun as they gambol on the beautiful beach. 
The poorest swimmer among them will dash into the 
boiling current of the Missouri and cross with perfect 

The bathing-place of the boys and men is below the 
village. After the morning bath they return to the vil¬ 
lage, wipe their limbs, and anoint their bodies and hair 
with bear’s grease. 

During their long marches, in the prosecution of their 
almost continuous warfare, it often becomes necessary 
to plunge into and swim across the wildest streams and 

Social Life Among the Mandans 


rivers when they have neither canoes nor other craft in 
which to cross them. I have as yet seen no tribe which 
neglects the art of swimming, which is learned at a very 
early age by both sexes, and enables even the women and 
children to plunge into and swim across the turbulent 
streams. The hardy sqaws will take their children 
on their backs and cross any river that comes in their 
path. The Indian does not part his hands under his 
chin and make his stroke outward and horizontally, 
thus throwing the burden on the chest. He throws 
his body alternately upon the right and the left 
side, raising one arm entirely above the water, and 
reaching as far forward as he can to dip it in again, 
while the force and weight of his body is spent upon 
the arm that is under him, and like a paddle is propel¬ 
ling him along. While this arm is making a half¬ 
circle beneath him, the opposite arm is describing a 
similar arc overhead. In this manner he lessens the 
strain on breast and spine. 

In addition to these morning baths, the Mandans 
have another and greater luxury. This is the vapor 
bath, which is resorted to not only by the sick, but as 
a means of hardening their bodies for the exposure and 
vicissitudes of life to which they are constantly liable. 
These sudatories, of which each village has several, are 
public, and accessible to all ages and both sexes. In 
every Mandan lodge is a crib, or basket, curiously woven 
of willow boughs, and large enough to hold any mem¬ 
ber of the family lying down. When any one desires to 
take a bath this basket is carried to the sudatory and is 


The Boy’s Catlin 

brought back after it has been used. These baths are 
built near the river, and generally of skins, resembling 
in form a Crow or Sioux lodge. Over it is thrown buf¬ 
falo-skins sewed tight together, with a kind of furnace 
in the centre; or, in other words, in the centre of the 
lodge are two walls of stone about six feet long and two 
and a half apart, and about three feet high; across and 
over this space, between the two walls, are laid a num¬ 
ber of round sticks, on which the bathing-crib is placed. 
Contiguous to the lodge, and outside of it, is a little fur¬ 
nace something similar, in the side of the bank, where 
the woman kindles a hot fire and heats to a red heat 
a number of large stones, which are kept at these places 
for this particular purpose, and having them all in 
readiness, she goes home or sends word to inform her 
husband or other one who is waiting that all is ready, 
when he makes his appearance, entirely naked, though 
with a large buffalo-robe wrapped around him. He 
then enters the lodge and places himself in the crib or 
basket, either on his back or in a sitting posture (the 
latter of which is generally preferred), with his back 
toward the door of the lodge, when the squaw brings in 
a large stone, red hot, between two sticks (lashed together 
somewhat in the form of a pair of tongs), and, placing it 
under him, throws cold water upon it, which raises a 
profusion of vapor about him. He is at once enveloped 
in a cloud of steam, and a woman or child will sit at a 
little distance and continue to dash water upon the 
stone, while the matron of the lodge is out and prepar¬ 
ing to make her appearance with another heated stone; 

Social Life Among the Mandans 79 

or he will sit and dip from a wooden bowl, with a ladle 
made of the mountain-sheep’s horn, and throw upon 
the heated stones, with his own hands, the water which 
he is drawing through his lungs and pores, in the next 
moment, in the most delectable and exhilarating 
vapors, as it distils through the mat of wild sage and 
other medicinal and aromatic herbs, which he has 
strewed over the bottom of his basket, and on which 
he reclines. 

During all this time the lodge is shut perfectly tight, 
and he quaffs this delicious and renovating draught 
to his lungs with deep-drawn sighs, and with extended 
nostrils, until he is drenched in the most profuse degree 
of perspiration that can be produced, when he makes a 
kind of strangled signal, at which the lodge is opened, 
and he darts forth with the speed of a frightened deer 
and plunges headlong into the river, from which he 
instantly escapes again, wraps his robe around him, and 
“leans” as fast as possible for home. Here his limbs 
are wiped dry and wrapped close and tight within the 
fur of the buffalo-robes, in which he takes his nap, with 
his feet to the fire; then he oils his limbs and hair with 
bear’s grease, dresses and plumes himself for a visit— 
a feast, a parade, or a council—or slicks down his long 
hair and rubs his oiled limbs to a polish with a piece 
of soft buckskin, prepared to join in games of ball or 

Such is the sudatory or the vapor bath of the Man- 
dans, and, as I before observed, it is resorted to both as 
an every-day luxury by those who have the time and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

energy or industry to indulge in it, and also used by 
the sick as a remedy for nearly all the diseases which 
are known among them. 



P erhaps nothing ever more completely aston¬ 
ished these people than the work of my brush. 
Portrait-painting, of course, they knew nothing 
of, so that my appearance here has begun a new era in 
the arcana of mystery. Soon after arriving I began the 
portraits of the two principal chiefs. These were done 
without exciting any curiosity among the villagers, who 
did not know what I was doing. Even the chiefs did 
not fully understand. No one was admitted to my lodge 
until the pictures were completed. It was very amusing 
to see them mutually recognizing each other’s likeness, 
and assuring each other of the resemblance. For a 
time they pressed their hands over their mouths in dead 
silence, a custom among the tribes when greatly aston¬ 
ished, all the time looking at the portraits, then at my¬ 
self, and on the palette and colors which had produced 
these unaccountable effects. 

They then walked up to me in the most gentle man¬ 
ner, taking me in turn by the hand with a firm grip, 
with head and eyes inclined downward, and in a tone 
a little above a whisper pronounced the words “te-ho- 
pe-nee Wash-ee!” and walked off. 

At that moment I was christened with a new and a 



The Boy’s Catlin 

great name—one by which I am now familiarly hailed 
and talked of in this village, and no doubt will be as 
long as traditions last in this strange community. 

After I had finished the portraits of the two chiefs, 
and they had returned to their wigwams and deliber¬ 
ately seated themselves by their respective firesides 
and silently smoked a pipe or two (according to a uni¬ 
versal custom), they gradually began to tell what had 
taken place; and at length crowds of gaping listeners, 
with mouths wide open, thronged their lodges, and a 
throng of women and girls were about my house, and 
through every crack and crevice I could see their glis¬ 
tening eyes, which were piercing my hut in a hundred 
places, from a natural and restless propensity, a curi¬ 
osity to see what was going on within. An hour or 
more passed in this way, and the soft and silken throng 
continually increased, until some hundreds of them 
were clung and piled about my wigwam like a swarm 
of bees hanging on the front and sides of their hive. 

During this time not a man made his appearance 
about the premises; after awhile, however, they could 
be seen, folded in their robes, gradually siding up tow¬ 
ard the lodge with a silly look upon their faces, which 
confessed at once that curiosity was leading them, re¬ 
luctantly, where their pride checked and forbade them 
to go. The rush soon after became general, and the 
chiefs and medicine-men took possession of my room, 
placing soldiers (braves with spears in their hands) at 
the door, admitting no one but such as were allowed 
by the chiefs to come in. 

The Artist Becomes a Medicine-Man 83 

Monsieur Kipp (the agent of the Fur Company, who 
has lived here eight years, and to whom, for his polite¬ 
ness and hospitality, I am much indebted) at this time 
took a seat with the chiefs, and, speaking their lan¬ 
guage fluently, he explained to them my views and the 
objects for which I was painting these portraits, and 
also expounded to them the manner in which they were 
made, at which they seemed all to be very much pleased. 
The necessity at this time of exposing the portraits to 
the view of the crowds who were assembled around the 
house became imperative, and they were held up to¬ 
gether over the door, so that the whole village had a 
chance to see and recognize their chiefs. The effect 
upon so mixed a multitude, who as yet had heard no 
way of accounting for them, was novel and really 
laughable. The likenesses were instantly recognized, 
and many of the gaping multitude commenced yelping; 
some were stamping off in the jarring dance, others 
were singing, and others again were crying; hundreds 
covered their mouths with their hands and were mute; 
others, indignant, drove their spears frightfully into the 
ground, and some threw a reddened arrow at the sun 
and went home to their wigwams. 

The pictures seen, the next curiosity was to see the 
man who made them, and I was called forth. I stepped 
forth and was instantly hemmed in in the throng. 
Women were gaping and gazing, and warriors and 
braves were offering me their hands,—while little boys 
and girls, by dozens, were struggling through the crowd 
to touch me with the ends of their fingers; and while I 


The Boy’s Catlin 

was engaged from the waist upward in fending off the 
throng and shaking hands, my legs were assailed (not 
unlike the nibbling of little fish when I have been stand¬ 
ing in deep water) by children, who were creeping be¬ 
tween the legs of the by-standers for the curiosity or 
honor of touching me with the end of a finger. The 
eager curiosity and expression of astonishment with 
which they gazed upon me plainly showed that they 
looked upon me as sorpe strange and unaccountable 
being. They pronounced me the greatest medicine¬ 
man in the world, for they said I had made living be¬ 
ings; they said they could see their chiefs alive in two 
places; those that I had made were a little alive—^they 
could see their eyes move, could see them smile and 
laugh, and that if they could laugh they could certainly 
speak, if they should try, and they must therefore have 
some life in them. 

But we had not counted on the squaws, who insisted 
that my “medicine was too great for the Mandans.” 
I had put life into the picture; they could see it move. 
I must then have taken some life from the subject. 
A person with such power could only do harm to the 
community. I must be a dangerous man. Bad luck 
would follow those who were painted, for I would carry 
away with me the portraits and with them a part of 
their lives, and they could never rest quietly in their 

They then set up a mournful chant, with weeping 
and wailing through the village, saying that if I could 
make living things by looking at them, I could destroy 

The Artist Becomes a Medicine-Man 85 

life in the same way if I chose. In this way, with the 
aid of some quack medicine-men, they aroused a gen¬ 
eral panic, and so successfully that the chiefs who had 
agreed to sit for me held a grave council for several 
days and my work was at a complete stand-still. 

At length I got admitted to the secret conclave and 
assured them that I was but a man like themselves, and 
that my art held no mystery, but could be learned by 
any of them if they tried. Moreover, that I lived in a 
country where brave men never allowed their squaws 
to frighten them with foolish whims and stories. Where¬ 
upon they rose and immediately dressed for their pict¬ 
ures. Afterward the squaws were silent and my paint¬ 
ing-room was a resort for chiefs, braves, and medicine¬ 
men waiting the completion of each picture, interested 
in the likeness as it came from the brush, when they 
would laugh, yell, sing, and smoke a fresh pipe to the 
health and success of him who had just been safely de¬ 
livered from the mystic operation of the white medicine. 

But I observed that as each portrait was begun a pipe 
or two was filled and that the chiefs and braves passed 
the pipe around, and continued to smoke until the por¬ 
trait was completed, doubtless smoking for the safe 
deliverance of the sitter from harm. Then I, too, occa¬ 
sionally, stopped as if something was wrong, and taking 
a tremendous puff or two at the pipe, and letting the 
smoke stream through my nostrils, would give evidence 
of immense relief, enabling me to proceed with greater 
facility. Thus by complimenting each one on his good 
looks, taking them according to their rank, and making 



The Boy’s Catlin 

it a matter of honor with them, I succeeded in giving 
my art and myself a certain standing. 

After this signal success I was taken by the chiefs 
and led to their several lodges and feasted in the best 
manner the country affords. To be led by the arm, it 
must be understood, is a high honor. I was also waited 
upon by the medicine-men, who presented me with a 
she-shee-quoi, or doctor’s rattle, a magic wand strung 
with the claws of the grizzly bear, the hoofs of the 
antelope, ermine, wild sage, and bat’s wings, all of 
which were perfumed with the savory odor of the pole¬ 
cat. A dog was then sacrificed and hung by the legs 
over my lodge, and I was thereby considered as a Fellow 
of the Extraordinary Society of the Conjurati. 

Things went on pleasantly after this for some time. 
There was some altercation among the braves concern¬ 
ing their rank, of which they are very jealous, and a few 
still feared premature death if they were painted, or 
when painted, that the picture, which would go on liv¬ 
ing after they were dead, might prevent them sleeping 
quietly in their graves. But now and then an extraor¬ 
dinary occurrence would take place. Several times 
some of the aspiring young men came into my lodge, 
and after looking at the portraits would put their hands 
up before their eyes and walk to the right or left of the 
lodge where they could take a side look at the portrait, 
since it is an unpardonable offence to look a chief full 
in the face. But having taken this position from which 
they could look freely at the painting, they have thrown 
their robes over their heads and bolted out of the wig- 

The Artist Becomes a Medicine-Man 87 

warn, filled equally with astonishment and indignation, 
averring, as they always will in a sullen mood, that they 
“saw the eyes move”—that as they walked around the 
room “the eyes of the portrait followed them.” With 
these unfortunate gentlemen repeated efforts have been 
made by the traders, and also by the chiefs and doc¬ 
tors, who understand the illusion, to convince them of 
their error by explaining the mystery; but they will not 
hear to any explanation whatever, saying that “what 
they see with their eyes is always evidence enough for 
them”; that they always “believe their own eyes sooner 
than a hundred tongues,” and all efforts to get them 
a second time to my room, or into my company in any 
place, have proved entirely unsuccessful. 

I had trouble brewing also the other day from another 
source: one of the “medicines” commenced howling 
and haranguing around my domicile, among the throng 
that was outside, proclaiming that all who were inside 
and being painted were fools and would soon die, and 
very materially affecting thereby my popularity. I, 
however, sent for him and called him in the next morn¬ 
ing, when I was alone, having only the interpreter with 
me, telling him that I had had my eye upon him for 
several days and had been so well pleased with his looks 
that I had taken great pains to find out his history, 
which had been explained by all as one of a most 
extraordinary kind, and his character and standing in 
his tribe as worthy of my particular notice, and that 
I had several days since resolved that as soon as I had 
practised my hand long enough upon the others, to get 


The Boy’s Catlin 

the stiffness out of it (after paddling my canoe so far as 
I had) and make it to work easily and successfully, I 
would begin on his portrait, which I was then prepared 
to commence on that day, and that I felt as if I could 
do him justice. He shook me by the hand, giving me 
the “Doctor’s grip,” and beckoned me to sit down, 
which I did, and we smoked a pipe together. After this 
was over he told me that “he had no inimical feelings 
toward me, although he had been telling the chiefs that 
they were all fools, and all would die who had their 
portraits painted; that although he had set the old 
women and children all crying, and even made some of 
the young warriors tremble, yet he had no unfriendly 
feelings toward me nor any fear or dread of my art.” 

“I know you are a good man,” said he; “I know you 
will do no harm to any one; your medicine is great and 
you are a great medicine-man. I would like to see 
myself very well, and so would all of the chiefs, but 
they have all been many days in this medicine-house, 
and they all know me well, and they have not asked me 
to come in and be made alive with paints. My friend, 
I am glad that my people have told you who I am; my 
heart is glad. I will go to my wigwam and eat, and in 
a little while I will come, and you may go to work.” 
Another pipe was lit and smoked, and he got up and 
went off. I prepared my canvas and palette, and 
whistled away the time until twelve o’clock, before he 
made his appearance, having used the whole of the fore 
part of the day at his toilet, arranging his dress and 
ornamenting his body for his picture. 

The Artist Becomes a Medicine-Man 89 

At that hour, then, bedaubed and streaked with paints 
of various colors, with bear’s grease and charcoal, with 
medicine-pipes in his hands and foxes’ tails attached to 
his heels, entered Mah-to-he-hah (the old bear), with 
a train of his own profession, who seated themselves 
around him; and also a number of boys, whom it was 
requested should remain with him, and whom I sup¬ 
posed it possible might have been pupils, whom he was 
instructing in the mysteries of materia medica and hoca 
poca. He took his position in the middle of the room, 
waving his qagle calumets in each hand, and singing his 
medicine-song, which he sings over his dying patient, 
looking me full in the face until I completed his picture, 
which I painted at full length. His vanity has been 
completely gratified in the operation; he lies for hours 
together, day after day, in my room, in front of his 
picture, gazing intensely upon it, lights my pipe for me 
while I am painting, shakes hands with me a dozen 
times on each day, and talks of me, and enlarges upon 
my medicine virtues and my talents wherever he goes, 
so that this new difficulty is now removed, and instead 
of preaching against me he is one of my strongest and 
most enthusiastic friends and aids in the country. 

In addition to these chiefs, braves, and doctors, there 
is another celebrity of whom each tribe seems to possess 
at least one. This is the Indian dandy, who may' be 
seen strutting through the village always dressed in his 
best clothes, unadorned, however, with such honorable 
trophies as scalps and the claws of the grizzly. The 
dandy never puts his life in peril; he stays about the 


The Boy’s Catlin 

wigwams to take care of the women. His dress is 
made of such animals as he can easily kill. He adorns 
himself with swan’s down and duck quills, and with 
braids of sweet-scented grass and other meaningless 
decorations. These elegant gentlemen are held in little 
estimation by the chiefs and braves, who call them 
“faint hearts” and “old women.” But these names do 
not seem to trouble them. For the most part they seem 
to enjoy the admiration of the women and children, and 
enjoy their lives as men of leisure. 

These gay and tinselled bucks may be seen on a 
pleasant day in all their plumes, astride of their pied or 
dappled ponies, with a fan in the right hand, made of a 
turkey’s tail; with whip and a fly-brush attached to the 
wrist of the same hand, and underneath them a white 
and beautiful and soft pleasure-saddle, ornamented 
with porcupine quills and ermine, parading through 
and lounging about the village for an hour or so, when 
they will cautiously bend their course to the suburbs of 
the town, where they will sit or recline upon their 
horses for an hour or two, overlooking the beautiful 
games where the braves and the young aspirants are 
contending in manly and athletic amusements. When 
they are fatigued with this severe effort, they wend their 
way back again, lift off their fine white saddle of doe¬ 
skin, which is wadded with buffalo’s hair, turn out their 
pony, take a little refreshment, smoke a pipe, fan them¬ 
selves to sleep, and doze away the rest of the day. 

While I have been painting from day to day, there 
have been two or three of these fops continually strut- 

The Artist Becomes a Medicine-Man 91 

ting and taking their attitudes in front of my door, 
decked out in all their finery, without receiving other 
benefit or other information than such as they could 
discover through the cracks and seams of my cabin. 
The chiefs, I observed, passed them by without notice, 
and of course without inviting them in, and they seemed 
to figure about my door from day to day in their best 
dresses and best attitudes, as if in hopes that I would 
select them as models for my canvas. It was natural 
that I should^do so, for their costume and personal 
appearance was entirely more beautiful than anything 
else to be seen in the village. My plans were laid, and 
one day when I had got through with all of the head 
men who were willing to sit to be painted, and there 
were two or three of the chiefs lounging in my room, I 
stepped to the door and tapped one of these fellows on 
the shoulder, who took the hint and stepped in, well 
pleased and delighted with the signal and honorable 
notice I had at length taken of him and his beautiful 
dress. Readers, you cannot imagine what was the ex¬ 
pression of gratitude which beamed forth in this poor 
fellow’s face, and how high his heart beat with joy and 
pride, at the idea of my selecting him to be immortal, 
alongside of the chiefs and worthies whose portraits he 
saw arranged around the room, and by which honor 
he undoubtedly considered himself well paid for two 
or three weeks of regular painting, and greasing, and 
dressing, and standing alternately on one leg and the 
other at the door of my premises. 

Well, I placed him before me, and a canvas on my 


The Boy’s Catlin 

easel, and “chalked him out” at full length. He was 
truly a beautiful subject for the brush, and I was filled 
with enthusiasm—his dress from head to foot was 
of the skins of the mountain-goat, dressed so neatly 
that they were almost as soft and as white as Canton 
crape; around the bottom and the sides it was trimmed 
with ermine, and porcupine quills of beautiful dyes gar¬ 
nished it in a hundred parts; his hair which was long 
and spread over his back and shoulders, extending 
nearly to the ground, was all combed back and parted 
on his forehead like that of a woman. He was a tall 
and fine figure, with ease and grace in his movements 
that were well worthy of a man of better caste. In his 
left hand he held a beautiful pipe, and in his right 
hand he plied his fan, and on his wrist was still attached 
his whip of elk’s horn and his fly-brush made of the 
buflPalo’s tail. 

I was painting my subject with the greatest pleasure 
when the two or three chiefs seated in my lodge, and 
whose portraits I had previously painted, arose sud¬ 
denly and, wrapping themselves tightly in their robes, 
crossed the room with a quick, heavy step and took an 
informal leave. I was apprehensive of their dis¬ 
pleasure, although I continued my work. In a few mo¬ 
ments the interpreter came furiously into my room. 

“My God, sir, this will never do. You have given 
great offence to the chiefs. They have Complained to 
me of your conduct. They tell me this is a worthless 
fellow, a man of no account in their nation, and if you 
paint his picture you must instantly destroy theirs. 

The Artist Becomes a Medicine-Man 93 

You have no alternative, my dear sir. The quicker this 
chap is out of your lodge the better.” 

The matter v?as explained to my sitter by the inter¬ 
preter. Picking up his robe, he wrapped himself in it 
and, plying his fan about his face, walked out of the 
lodge in silence but with a consequential smile. He 
took his old position in front of the door for a time, 
when he walked quietly away. It was interesting to 
me to note how highly the Mandan braves esteem the 
honor of being painted, and also to observe how little 
they value a man who has not the pride and noble bear¬ 
ing of the warrior. 



M AH-TO-TOH-PAH'^(the four bear!), whose 
portrait was one of the first I painted, de¬ 
serves something more than this statement. 
Although the second in office, he is the first and most 
popular man in the nation. I have found him to be 
not only a high-minded and gallant warrior, but a 
polished gentleman. Mah-to-toh-pah had agreed to 
stand for his portrait early in the morning. I had my 
palette prepared, and waited until noon. Mah-to-toh- 
pah was dressing. At length the word came that 
“Mah-to-toh-pah was coming in full dress.” 

I looked out of the door and saw him approaching' 
with a firm, elastic step, accompanied by a crowd of 
women and children, who were gazing on him with 
admiration and escorting him to my wigwam. No 
tragedian ever trod the stage or gladiator entered the 
Roman Forum with more grace and manly dignity 
than did Mah-to-toh-pah my wigwam where I received 
him. He took his attitude before me with the sternness 
of a Brutus and the stillness of a statue. There he 
stood before me until the darkness of night fell on our 
silence. His dress, which was a very splendid one, was 
complete in all its parts, and consisted of a shirt or 


A Mandan Feast 


tunic, leggings, moccasins, head-dress, necklace, shield, 
bow and quiver, lance, tobacco-sack and pipe, robe, 
belt, and knife, medicine-bag, tomahawk, and war- 
club, or po-ko-mo-kon. 

The shirt, of which I have spoken, was made of two 
skins of the mountain-sheep beautifully dressed, and 
sewed togethfei by seams which rested upon the arms, 
one skin hanging in front, upon the breast, and the 
other falling down upon the back, the head being passed 
between them, and they falling over and resting on the 
shoulders. Across each shoulder, and somewhat in 
the form of an epaulet, was a beautiful band, and 
down each arm from the neck to the hand was a similar 
one, of two inches in width (and crossing the other at 
right angles on the shoulder), beautifully embroidered 
with porcupine quills worked on the dress and cover¬ 
ing the seams. To the lower edge of these bands the 
-whole way, at intervals of half an inch, were attached 
long locks of black hair, which he had taken with his 
own hand from the heads of his enemies whom he had 
slain in battle, and which he thus wore as a trophy and 
also as an ornament to his dress. The front and back 
of the shirt were curiously garnished in several parts 
with porcupine quills and paintings of the battles he had 
fought, and also with representations of the victims 
that had fallen by his hand. The bottom of the dress 
was bound or hemmed with ermine skins, and tassels of 
ermines’ tails were suspended from the arms and the 

The leggings, which were made of deerskins beauti- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

fully dressed and fitting tight to the leg, extended from 
the feet to the hips, and were fastened to a belt which 
was passed around the waist. These, like the shirt, 
had a similar band, worked with porcupine quills of 
richest dyes, passing down the seam on the outer part 
of the leg, and fringed also the whole length of the leg 
with the scalp-locks taken from his enemies’ heads. 

The moccasins were of buckskin, and covered in al¬ 
most every part with the beautiful embroidery of por¬ 
cupine quills. 

The head-dress, which was superb and truly mag¬ 
nificent, consisted of a crest of war-eagles’ quills grace¬ 
fully falling back from the forehead over the back part 
of the head, and extending quite down to his feet, set the 
whole way in a profusion of ermine, and surmounted 
on the top of the head with the horns of the buffalo 
shaved thin and highly polished. 

The necklace was made of fifty huge claws or nails 
of the grizzly bear, ingeniously arranged on the skin of 
an otter, and worn, like the scalp-locks, as a trophy. 

His shield was made of the hide of the buffalo’s neck 
and hardened with the glue that was taken from its 
hoofs; its boss was the skin of a pole-cat, and its edges 
were fringed with rows of eagles’ quills and hoofs of 
the antelope. 

His bow was of bone and as white and beautiful as 

The quiver was made of a panther’s skin and hung 
upon his back charged with its deadly arrows; some 
were poisoned and some were not; they were feathered 

A Mandan Feast 


with hawks’ and eagles’ quills; some were clean and 
innocent and pure, and others were stained all over 
with animal and human blood that was dried upon 
them. Their blades or points were of flint, and some 
of steel, and altogether were a deadly magazine. 

The lance or spear was held in his left hand; its 
blade was two-edged and of polished steel, and the 
blood of several human victims was seen dried upon it, 
one over the other; its shaft was of the toughest ash, 
and ornamented at intervals with tufts of war-eagles’ 

His tobacco-sack was made of the skin of an otter 
and tastefully garnished with quills of the porcupine. 
In it was carried his k’nick-k’neck (the bark of the red 
willow, which is smoked as a substitute for tobacco). 
It contained also his flint and steel and punk for 

His pipe was ingeniously carved out of the red 
steatite, or pipe-stone, the stem of which was three 
feet long and two inches wide, made from the stalk of 
the young ash; about half its length was wound with 
delicate braids of the porcupine’s quills, so ingeniously 
wrought as to represent figures of men and animals 
upon it. It was also ornamented with the skins and 
beaks of woodpeckers’ heads and the hair of the white 
buffalo’s tail. The lower half of the stem was painted 
red, and on its edges it bore the notches he had recorded 
for the snows (or years) of his life. 

His robe was made of the skin of a young buffalo 
bull, with the fur on one side, and the other finely and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

delicately dressed, with all the battles of his life em¬ 
blazoned on it by his own hand. 

His belt, which was of a substantial piece of buck¬ 
skin, was firmly girded around his waist, and in it were 
worn his tomahawk and scalping-knife. 

His medicine-bag was the skin of a beaver curiously 
ornamented with hawks’ bills and ermine. It was held 
in his right hand, and his po-ko-mo-kon (or war-club), 
which was made of a round stone tied up in a piece of 
rawhide and attached to the end of a stick, somewhat 
in the form of a sling, was laid with others of his weap¬ 
ons at his feet. 

The horns of the head-dress are allowed only to a 
chief or warrior of extraordinary renown. Mah-to-toh- 
pah, although second in rank, was the only man in his 
tribe permitted to wear them. They are made of about 
a third part of the horns of the buffalo bull, split from 
end to end, shaved thin and light, and highly polished. 
These two pieces are attached to the head-dress on 
each side in the same place that they rise on the head 
of the buffalo, and from a mass of ermine skins and tails 
hanging over the top of the head-dress to resemble the 
locks of hair that hang over the head of the buffalo bull. 

This custom seems to belong to all the Northern tribes 
of Indians, and is no doubt of ancient origin and has 
some classic meaning. One is impressed with its re¬ 
semblance to the horns worn by the Abyssinian chiefs 
and the Hebrews as a symbol of power and command. 

“The false prophet Zedekiah made him horns of 
iron.” (I Kings 22 : 2.) 

A Mandan Feast 


“ Lift not your horns on high; speak not with a stiff 
neck.” (Psalms 75: 5.) 

The horns on these head-dresses are loosely attached 
at the bottom so that they can fall backward and for¬ 
ward, and by an ingenious movement of the head, so 
slight as to be almost imperceptible, they are made to 
balance to and fro, like a horse’s ears, giving an appear¬ 
ance of force and character to the person wearing them. 
This head-dress with horns is worn only on great formal 
occasions such as the visit of foreign chiefs, Indian 
agents, or at the celebration of victories and great 
public festivals. A chief, however, who determines to 
lead his warriors to battle, will decorate his head with 
this symbol of power to stimulate his men, and thus 
invite the enemy to concentrate their shafts on him. 
Such, then, was the dress of Mah-to-toh-pah when he 
entered my wigwam. Much of this ornament I was 
forced to reject, since it interfered with the grace and 
simplicity of the figure. 

About a week after the portrait was painted he came 
into my room at noon again in full dress, and passing 
his arm through mine led me through the village to his 
own lodge where a fine feast awaited us. His lodge was 
a room of immense size, circular, about fifty feet in 
diameter and twenty feet high, with a sunken curb of 
stone in the centre five feet across and a foot deep. In 
the centre of this was a fire and a pot boiling. I was 
led near the edge of the curb and seated on a handsome 
robe, ingeniously ornamented and painted with hiero¬ 
glyphics. At a little distance from me Mah-to-toh- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

pah seated himself gracefully on another. A beautiful 
rush mat was placed between us, and on this the 
dishes were served. 

Our feast consisted of three dishes only, two of which 
were contained in wooden bowls, and the third in an 
earthen vessel of Mandan manufacture and resem¬ 
bling in form our own bread-tray. This dish held a 
quantity of pemmican and marrow fat; and one of the 
former held a fine brace of buffalo ribs delightfully 
roasted, and the other was filled with a kind of paste 
or pudding, made of the flour of the “pomme hlanche,” 
as the French call it, a delicious turnip of the prairie, 
finely flavored with the buffalo-berries, which are col¬ 
lected in great quantities in this country, and used with 
divers dishes in cooking, as we in civilized countries use 
dried currants, which they very much resemble. 

A handsome pipe and a tobacco-pouch made of the 
otter-skin, filled with k’nick-k’neck (Indian tobacco), 
lay by the side of the feast; and when we were seated 
mine host took up his pipe and deliberately filled it, and 
instead of lighting it by the fire, which he could easily 
have done, he drew from his pouch his flint and steel, 
and raised a spark with which he kindled it. He drew 
a few strong whiff's through it, and presented the stem 
of it to my mouth, through which I drew a whiff or two 
while he held the stem in his hands. This done, he 
laid down the pipe, and drawing his knife from his belt 
cut off a very small piece of the meat from the ribs, and 
pronouncing the words “ Ho-pe-ne-chee wa-pa-chee” 
(meaning a medicine sacrifice), threw it into the fire. 

A Mandan Feast 


He then, by signals, requested me to eat, and I com¬ 
menced, after drawing out from my belt my knife 
(which it is supposed that every man in this country 
carries about him, for at an Indian feast a knife is never 
offered to a guest). Be not astonished that I sat and 
ate my dinner alone, for such is the custom of this 
strange land. In all tribes in these Western regions 
it is an invariable rule that a chief never eats with his 
guests invited to a feast; but while they eat he sits by, 
at their service, and ready to wait upon them, deliber¬ 
ately charging and lighting the pipe which is to be 
passed around after the feast is over. Such was the 
case in the present instance, and while I was eating, 
Mah-to-toh-pa sat cross-legged before me, cleaning his 
pipe and preparing it for a cheerful smoke when I had 
finished my meal. For this ceremony I observed he was 
making unusual preparation, and I observed as I ate, 
that after he had taken enough of the k’nick-k’neck, or 
bark of the red willow, from his pouch, he rolled out of 
it also a piece of the “castor,” which it is customary 
among these folks to carry in their tobacco-sack to give 
it a flavor, and, shaving off a small quantity of it, mixed 
it with the bark with which he charged his pipe. This 
done, he drew also from his sack a small parcel contain¬ 
ing a fine powder which was made of dried buffalo dung, 
a little of which he spread over the top (according also 
to custom), which was like tinder, having no other effect 
than that of lighting the pipe with ease and satisfaction. 
My appetite satiated, I straightened up, and with a 
whiff the pipe was lit, and we enjoyed together for a 


The Boy’s Catlin 

quarter of an hour the most delightful exchange of good 
feelings, amid clouds of smoke and pantomimic signs 
and gesticulations. 

The dish of “pemmican and marrow fat,” of which 
I spoke, was thus: The first, an article of food used 
throughout this country as familiarly as we use bread 
in the civilized world. It is made of buffalo meat dried 
very hard, and afterward pounded in a large wooden 
mortar until it is nearly as fine as sawdust. When 
packed in this dry state in bladders, it may be easily 
carried to any part of the world in good order. Marrow 
fat is collected by the Indians from buffalo bones, which, 
broken in pieces, yield an immense amount of marrow. 
This is boiled out and put into buffalo bladders, which 
have been distended. When this fat cools it is as hard 
as tallow, but has the appearance, and much of the 
taste, of the richest yellow butter. 

At a feast chunks of this marrow fat are cut off and 
placed in a bowl with the pemmican, and the two are 
eaten together. We civilized people in this region think 
these a very good substitute for bread and butter. In 
this dish, at our feast, lay a spoon made of buffalo 
horn beautifully polished. In one of the other dishes 
was a spoon of even more ingenious workmanship, 
made of the horn of the mountain-sheep, or gros come, 
as the French trappers call them. This was large 
enough to hold several pints and was almost entirely 

While sitting at this feast the wigwam was as silent 
as death, although we were not alone in it. This chief. 

A Mandan Feast 


as most of the others, has a number of wives, and all of 
them, some six or seven, were seated around the sides 
of the lodge on robes or mats on the ground, and not 
allowed to speak, although ready to obey his orders, 
which were given by manual signs and executed in the 
neatest and most silent manner. 

When I rose to leave, the pipe through which we had 
smoked was presented to me, and the robe on which 
I had sat he raised by the corners and offered me, 
explaining that on it were the representations of the 
battles of his life in which he had killed with his own 
hand fourteen of his enemies. He had been two weeks 
painting it and had made this occasion to present it to 

Some days after Mah-to-toh-pah called up«n me 
with Mr. Kipp, who is the trader and interpreter of the 
Mandans, and I had from his own lips the story of these 
battles, which I wrote down, and accept as historical fact, 
since the Indians are very jealous of their honor and 
standing, and in so small a community each man’s 
deeds are known, and it would not be even safe for a 
warrior to wear on his robe battles he had never fought. 

The sixth of the rude pictures represented the most 
extraordinary of these exploits, and gives an interesting 
view not only of this man but of the Indian character. 
In a skirmish with the Ricarees, Mah-to-toh-pah found 
the body of his brother, and in it a handsome spear 
which had pierced his heart. At the Mandan village this 
spear was recognized as belonging to a noted Ricaree 
brave named Won-ga-tap. With the blood on the 


The Boy’s Catlin 

spear, Mah-to-toh-pah swore that he would yet revenge 
the death of his brother with the same spear. He kept it 
in his wigwam for four years, when one day he ran 
through the village brandishing the spear, exclaiming 
that the blood of his brother on its blade was yet fresh 
and called loudly for revenge. “Let every Mandan,” 
said he, “ be silent, and let no one sound the name of 
Mah-to-toh-pa—let no one ask for him, nor where he 
has gone, until you hear him sound the war-cry in front 
of the village, when he will enter it and show you the 
blood of Won-ga-tap. The blade of this lance shall 
drink the heart’s blood of Won-ga-tap, or Mah-to-toh- 
pa mingles his shadow with that of his brother.” 

With this he sallied forth from the village and over the 
plains, with the lance in his hand. His direction was 
toward the Riccaree village, and all eyes were upon 
him, though none dared to speak till he disappeared 
over the distant grassy bluffs. He travelled the distance 
of two hundred miles entirely alone, with a little parched 
corn in his pouch, making his marches by night and 
lying secreted by days, until he reached the Riccaree 
village, where, being acquainted with its shapes and its 
habits, and knowing the position of the wigwam of his 
doomed enemy, he loitered about in disguise, mingling 
himself in the obscure throng, and at last, silently and 
alone, observed through the rents of the wigwam the 
last motions and movements of his victim, as he retired 
to bed with his wife; he saw him light his last pipe and 
smoke it “to its end”; he saw the last whiff and saw 
the last curl of blue smoke that faintly steeped from its 

A Mandan Feast 


bowl; he saw the village awhile in darkness and silence, 
and the embers that were covered in the middle of the 
wigwam gone nearly out, and the last flickering light 
which had been gently playing over them; when he 
walked softly, but not slyly, into the wigwam and 
seated himself by the fire, over which was hanging a 
large pot, with a quantity of cooked meat remaining 
in it, and by the side of the fire the pipe and tobacco- 
pouch which had just been used; and knowing that 
the twilight of the wigwam was not sufficient to dis¬ 
close the features of his face to his enemy, he very 
deliberately turned to the pot and completely satiated 
the desperate appetite, which he had got in a journey 
of six or seven days with little or nothing to eat, and 
then, as deliberately, charged and lighted the pipe, 
and sent (no doubt in every whilF that he drew through 
its stem) a prayer to the Great Spirit for a moment 
longer for the consummation of his design. While eat¬ 
ing and smoking, the wife of his victim, while lying in 
bed, several times inquired of her husband what man 
it was who was eating in their lodge, to which he as 
many times replied, “It’s no matter; let him eat, for he 
is probably hungry.” 

Mah-to-toh-pa knew full well that his appearance 
would cause no other reply than this from the dignitary 
of the nation; for, from an invariable custom among 
these Northern Indians, any one who is hungry is allowed 
to walk into any man’s lodge and eat. While smoking 
his last gentle and tremulous whiffs on the pipe, Mah-to- 
toh-pa (leaning back and turning gradually on his side. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

to get a better view of the position of his enemy, and to 
see a little more distinctly the shapes of things) stirred 
the embers with his toes (readers, I had every word of 
this from his own lips, and every attitude and gesture 
acted out with his own limbs) until he saw his way was 
clear, at which moment, with his lance in his hands, he 
rose and drove it through the body of his enemy, and 
snatching the scalp from his head, he darted from the 
lodge, and quick as lightning, with the lance in one 
hand and the scalp in the other, made his way to the 
prairie! The village was in an uproar, but he was off, 
and no one knew the enemy who had struck the blow. 
Mah-to-toh-pa ran all night and lay close during the 
days, thanking the Great Spirit for strengthening his 
heart and his arm to this noble revenge, and prayed 
fervently for a continuance of his aid and protection 
till he should get back to his own village. His prayers 
were heard, and on the sixth morning, at sunrise, he 
descended the bluffs, and entered the village amid 
deafening shouts of applause, while he brandished and 
showed to his people the blade of lance, with the blood 
of his victim dried upon it, over that of his brother, 
and the scalp of Won-ga-tap suspended from its 

Such was the story that Mah-to-toh-pa had repre¬ 
sented on his robe. As he stood for his portrait he held 
in his left hand a lance. Its blade was two-edged and 
of polished steel, and the blood of his victims was dried 
on its surface. Its shaft was of the toughest ash, and or¬ 
namented at intervals with the tufts of war-eagle’s quills. 

A Mandan Feast 


Balanced on the hilt of the lance was an eagle’s quill 
severed from the others and loose on the weapon. When 
he came for the portrait he had the quill in his hand and 
carefully balanced it, telling me he wished me to be 
very exact in painting it, as he wished the spot of blood 
on it to show. I did as he desired, and he then gave me 
his reason. “That quill,” said he, “is great medicine; it 
belongs to the Great Spirit, and not to me. When I was 
running out of the lodge of Won-go-tap, I looked back 
and saw that quill hanging to the wound in his side. I 
ran back, and pulling it out, brought it home in my left 
hand, and I have kept it for the Great Spirit to this 

“Why do you not then tie it on to the lance again, 
where it came off?” 

“Hush-sh,” said he, “if the Great Spirit had wished 
it to be tied on in that place, it never would have come 
off; he has been kind to me, and I will not offend him.” 



T he Mandan women are both pretty and modest, 
and, among the better families of the tribe, as 
unapproachable as in society anywhere. At the 
same time, a chief may marry a dozen women if he 
pleases, and so may a white man. The most desirable 
maiden in the tribes may be secured for two horses, a 
gun with powder and ball for a year, five or six pounds 
of beads, a couple of gallons of whiskey, and a handful 
of awls. 

Polygamy is practised among all the North American 
Indians. But those who avail themselves of this privilege 
are the chiefs and medicine-men. While there is no law 
preventing a poor or obscure man from taking more than 
one wife, he does not do so because either his position 
in the tribe would not satisfy the father, or because he 
has not enough worldly goods. Wives in this country 
are bought and sold, and the bargain is conducted always 
by the father as a purely mercenary contract, in which 
he stands out for the highest possible price. This does 
not prevent mutual fondness, the exchange of vows, and 
other assurances of affection as in the civilized world 
among the young people. But the marriage is not con-- 
summated without the necessary presents to the father. 


The Mandan Women 


The number of wives in the Indian country indicates 
a man’s rank and his wealth. A chief must keep open 
house; to be popular he must entertain. As there are 
no daily laborers or wage-workers among the Indians, 
the dignitary must have wives and hand-maidens to 
perform the duties and the drudgeries of his wigwam. 
All labor among the tribes is done by the women, who 
are not only a source of convenience but of wealth. 
While the Indian is far behind the civilized world in 
acquisitiveness, he more or less has a passion for wealth 
and the luxuries of life. 

There are other and very rational grounds on which 
the propriety of such a custom may be urged, one of 
which is as follows: as all nations of Indians in their 
natural condition are unceasingly at war with the tribes 
that are about them, for the adjustment of ancient and 
never-ending feuds, as well as from a love of glory, to 
which in Indian life the battle-field is almost the only 
road, their warriors are killed off to that extent that in 
many instances two and sometimes three women to a 
man are found in a tribe. In such instances I have found 
that the custom of polygamy has kindly helped the 
community to an evident relief from a cruel and pro¬ 
digious calamity. 

It is a matter of policy among the white men who are 
traders in this country to ally themselves with one or 
more of the important families in the tribe. These fam¬ 
ily connections facilitate their business transactions, 
r'iaturally only maidens of the best families can aspire 
to such marriages, which on their part are considered 


The Boy's Catlin 

very desirable; not without reason. Marriage with a 
white man exempts them from the drudgery of the 
Indian wigwam. They are generally permitted to live 
in idleness, to wear mantles of blue and scarlet, decked 
with beads, trinkets, and ribbons, in which they flounce 
and flirt about, the envy of all the other maidens of the 
tribe. In arranging these marriages, if they may be so 
called, the Indian fathers are very shrewd, and exact the 
largest price possible from the white men, who, they 
think, should, and are able to, pay well for such precious 
wares. The trader, on his part, enters into the arrange¬ 
ment as he would bargain for a horse, and annuls it with 
just as little ceremony when he wishes to leave the 
country. The woman is in that case a fair and proper 
candidate for marriage or speculation if another suitor 
should come along, and her father equally desirous for 
another horse or gun. Yet it would be untrue and do¬ 
ing injustice to the Indians to say that they are in 
the least behind us in conjugal, in filial, or parental 

The girls of this tribe, as those of the other North¬ 
western tribes, marry at the age of twelve or fourteen, 
sometimes, indeed, at eleven years. Their beauty, from 
their youth and the slavish lives they lead, vanishes soon 
after marriage. Their work is seldom finished, and they 
go at it, as if from choice and inclination, without a mur¬ 
mur. In this village it consists of getting the wood and 
water, in cooking, in dressing robes and skins, in drying 
meat and wild fruit and raising corn. The Mandans are 
rather good agriculturists. They raise a good deal of 

The Mandan Women 


corn and some pumpkins and squashes. This is all 
done by the women, who make their hoes of the shoulder- 
blade of the buffalo or the elk, and dig the ground over 
instead of ploughing it, at a great cost of labor. The 
corn is very small, the ears not being longer than a man’s 
thumb. This, however, is better suited to the climate, 
which is too cold to allow larger ears to ripen. 

The green-corn season is a continual festival, and 
most of the crop is eaten at this time, and the remainder 
is gathered and dried ofi the cob, before it has ripened, 
and packed away in “caches” (as the French call them), 
holes dug in the ground, some six or seven feet deep, 
the insides of which are somewhat in the form of a jug, 
and tightly closed at the top. The corn, and even dried 
meat and pemmican, are placed in these caches, being 
packed tight around the sides, with prairie grass, and 
effectually preserved through the severest winters. 

Com and dried meat are generally laid in in the fall in 
sufficient quantities to support them through the winter. 
These are the principal articles of food during that long 
and inclement season; and in addition to them they 
oftentimes have in store great quantities of dried 
squashes and dried “ pommes blanches” a kind of turnip 
which grows in great abundance in these regions, and 
of which I have before spoken. These are dried in great 
quantities, and pounded into a sort of meal, and cooked 
with the dried meat and corn. Great quantities also of 
wild fruit of different kinds are dried and laid away in 
store for the winter season, such as buffalo-berries, 
service berries, strawberries, and wild plums. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

The buffalo meat, however, is the great staple and 
“staff of life” in this country, and seldom, if ever, fails 
to afford them an abundant and wholesome means of 
subsistence. There are, from a fair computation, some¬ 
thing like 250,000 Indians in these Western regions, who 
live almost exclusively on the flesh of these animals 
through every part of the year. During the summer and 
fall months they use the meat fresh, and cook it in a great 
variety of ways—by roasting, broiling, boiling, stewing, 
smoking, etc.—and by boiling the ribs and joints with 
the marrow in them make a delicious soup, which is 
universally used, and in vast quantities. The Mandans, 
I find, have no regular or stated times for their meals, 
but generally eat about twice in the twenty-four hours. 
The pot is always boiling over the fire, and any one who 
is hungry (either of the household or from any other part 
of the village) has a right to order it taken off, and to fall 
to eating as he pleases. Such is an unvarying custom 
among the North American Indians, and I very much 
doubt whether the civilized world has in its insti¬ 
tutions any system which can properly be called more 
humane and charitable. Every man, woman, or child 
in Indian communities is allowed to enter any one’s 
lodge, and even that of the chief of the nation, and eat 
when they are hungry, provided misfortune or necessity 
has driven them to it. Even so can the poorest and most 
worthless drone of the nation; if he is too lazy to hunt or 
to supply himself, he can walk into any lodge and every 
one will share with him as long as there is anything to 
eat. He, however, who thus begs when he is able to hunt 

The Mandan Women 


pays dear for his meat, for he is stigmatized with the 
disgraceful epithet of a poltroon and a beggar. 

The Mandans, like all other tribes, sit at their meals 
cross-legged, or rather with their ankles crossed in front 
of them, and both feet drawn close under their bodies, 
or, which is very often the case also, take their meals in 
a reclining posture, with their legs thrown out and the 
body resting on one elbow and fore-arm, which are under 
them. The dishes from which they eat are invariably 
on the ground or floor of the lodge, the group resting 
on buffalo-robes or mats of various structure and man¬ 

The position in which the women sit at their meals 
and on other occasions is different from that of the men, 
and one which they take and rise from again with great 
ease and much grace. By merely bending the knees 
both together, inclining the body back and the head and 
shoulders quite forward, they squat entirely down to the 
ground, inclining both feet either to the right or the 
left. In this position they always rest while eating, and 
it is both modest and graceful, for they seem, with 
apparent ease, to assume the position and rise out of it 
without using their hands in any way to assist them. 

These women, however, although graceful and civil 
and ever so beautiful or ever so hungry, are not allowed 
to sit in the same group with the men while at their 
meals. So far as I have yet travelled in the Indiarv 
country, I never have seen an Indian woman eating 
with her husband. Men form the first group at the 
banquet, and women and children and dogs all come 

The Boy’s Catlin 


together at the next, and these gormandize and glut 
themselves to an enormous extent, though the men very 
seldom do. 

It is time that an error on this subject, which has gone 
generally abroad in the world, was corrected. It is 
everywhere asserted, and almost universally believed, 
that the Indians are “enormous eaters,” but, compara¬ 
tively speaking, I assure my readers that this is an error. 
I venture to say that there are no persons on earth who 
practise greater prudence and self-denial than the men 
do (among the wild Indians), who are constantly in 
war and in the chase, or in their athletic sports and 
exercises, for all of which they are excited by the high¬ 
est ideas of pride and honor, and every kind of excess 
is studiously avoided; and for a very great part of their 
lives the most painful abstinence is enforced upon them¬ 
selves for the purpose of preparing their bodies and 
their limbs for these extravagant exertions. 

Their mode of curing and preserving the buffalo meat, 
which is done by the women, is not only curious but 
almost incredible, for it is all cured and dried in the sun 
without the aid of smoke or salt. The choicest parts of 
the flesh from the buffalo are cut out by the squaws, and 
carried home on their backs or on horses. It is then cut 
across the grain, so as to secure alternate layers of lean 
and fat in strips of about a half inch in thickness. It is 
then hung up by thousands of pounds on poles resting 
on crotches, out of the way of dogs or wolves, and ex¬ 
posed to the sun for several days. It is by that time 
so effectually dried that it can be carried everywhere, 

The Mandan Women 


even during the hottest months of the year, or in any 
latitude without damage. I can only account for it by 
the extraordinary rarity and purity of the air on these 
great buffalo plains near the base of the Rocky 
Mountains. Although their country abounds in salt 
springs, none of the Indian tribes I am familiar with 
use salt in any manner. The squaws cook their meat 
longer than we are accustomed to do, and I have found 
that meat thus cooked can be eaten and relished without 
salt or any other condiment. 

The squaws not only prepare the food, but they make 
the dishes. The earthen bowls in which the food is 
served are manufactured by the women of this tribe in 
a thousand different forms and styles. They are made 
from a tough black clay and baked in kilns built for 
the purpose. Although they have not the secret of 
glazing, the pottery is as hard as that of our part of the 
country. Seemingly they are as serviceable as our iron 
pots, for they are hung over the fire and the meat is 
boiled in them. The pottery found in Indian tombs we 
regard as a novelty and place in museums. Here on 
any fine summer day women can be seen modelling 
bowls and trays by the hundred in many fanciful forms 
and passing them through the kilns. 

When these women have dried the meat, cooked it, 
and made the dishes in which it is served, there remain 
the skins to prepare for the robes and dresses. The skin¬ 
dressing of the Indians is unequalled. The first part of 
the process is called graining. The skin is stretched on 
the ground or on a frame, the fleshy side up, and covered 


The Boy’s Catlin 

with a paste made from the brains of the buffalo or elk. 
Thus covered it lies for several days, when the women, 
with a chisel made from buffalo bone, scrape it until all 
the flesh is removed. This is so beautifully done that 
the skin seems apparently finished. But it remains to 
be smoked. A hole is dug two or three feet deep and 
in it a smothered fire is kindled of rotten wood, which 
produces a peculiar smoke. Over this a tent is made 
of buffalo-skins to keep the smoke from escaping, and 
in it the skins are hung for several days, when they are 
ready for use. As I have said, skins prepared in this 
manner dry perfectly soft no matter how long exposed 
to the rain. 

While alluding to these women as the slaves of their 
husbands, since they perform all the acts of drudgery, 
while the men may be seen lying on the ground smok¬ 
ing at their ease, it is fair to say that the division of 
labor is more equal than appears. It is the man who 
mounts his horse and dashes among the wild herds of 
the prairie to secure the food for his wife and children, 
enduring many hardships, and frequently at the risk of 
his life, and it is the man who scours the prairie night and 
day to protect his wigwam from the assaults of the en¬ 
emy. The relationship is, after all, one of mutual interest 
and mutual existence. Indeed, I do not believe that 
among the poorer classes of any civilized people on earth 
a better and a more voluntary division of the toils of 
conjugal life can be found than exists among the Amer¬ 
ican Indians. One thing should be remarked. Every 
individual within the pale of the domestic relations is 

The Mandan Women 


considered sacredly protected from the lash or a blow. 
There does not exist among the Indians one that has 
beaten his wife or child. Nor is there a pleasanter 
sight than to see the Indian women in the enjoyment of 
their domestic happiness, with their little children and 
dogs around them, and the little cupids taking their 
first lesson in archery, which is the most important 
feature of their education. 

To the Indian woman’s care of her pappoose is due, 
in my opinion, the handsome, well-proportioned forms 
of the American Indian, as much as to their constant 
exercise of their naked limbs in the open air. The child 
after birth is kshed to a straight board, and secured by 
bandages which pass arou-nd it in front and are laced 
on the back as tightly as is necessary to hold it in 
a straight and healthy position. The feet rest on a 
broad hoop placed around the foot of the cradle. In 
this manner the child is held on the mother’s back by 
a broad strap that passes across her forehead. The 
child’s position consequently is that of standing erect, 
a position that it seems to me contributes to a straight 
back, sound lungs, and a long life. These bandages 
that serve to hold the child in and keep it in place 
are frequently beautifully embroidered with porcupine 
quills and ingenious representations of horses and men. 
A broad hoop of elastic wood passes around in front of 
the child’s face, to protect it in case of a fall, from the 
front of which is suspended a little toy of exquisite 
embroidery for the child to handle and amuse itself 
with. To this and other little trinkets hanging in front 


The Boy’s Catlin 

of it there are attached many little tinselled and tink¬ 
ling things, of the brightest colors, to amuse both the 
eyes and the ears of the child. While travelling on 
horseback, the arms of the child are fastened under the 
bandages, so as not to be endangered if the cradle falls; 
and when at rest they are generally taken out, allowing 
the infant to reach and amuse itself with the little toys 
and trinkets that are placed before it and within its 

The child is carried in this manner until it is about 
seven months old, when it is taken out and carried on 
the back held within the folds of the robe. If the infant 
dies during the time that is allotted to it to be carried in 
this cradle, it is buried, and the disconsolate mother fills 
the cradle with black quills and feathers, in the parts 
which the child’s body had occupied, and in this way 
carries it around with her wherever she goes for a year 
or more, with as much care as if her infant were alive 
and in it; and she often lays or stands it leaning against 
the side of the wigwam, where she is all day engaged in 
her needle-work, and chatting and talking to it as famil¬ 
iarly and affectionately as if it were her loved infant, 
instead of its shell, that she was talking to. So lasting 
and so strong is the affection of these women for the 
lost child, that it matters not how heavy or cruel their 
load, or how rugged the route they have to pass over, 
they will faithfully carry this, and carefully from day 
to day, and even more strictly perform their duties to 
it than if the child were alive and in it. 



T he Mandans, like all other tribes, lead lives of 
idleness and leisure, and of course devote a 
great deal of time to their sports and amuse¬ 
ments, of which they have a great variety. Of these, 
dancing is one of the principal, and may be seen in a 
variety of forms—such as the buffalo dance, the boasting 
dance, the begging dance, the scalp dance, and a dozen 
other kinds of dances, all of which have their peculiar 
characters and meanings or objects. 

These exercises are exceedingly grotesque in their 
appearance, and to the eye of a traveller who knows not 
their meaning or importance they are an uncouth and 
frightful display of starts, and jumps, and yelps, and 
jarring gutturals, which are sometimes truly terrifying. 
But when one gives them a little attention, and has 
been lucky enough to be initiated into their mysterious 
meaning, they become a subject of the most intense 
and exciting interest. Every dance has its p^uliar step, 
and every step has its meaning; every dance also has 
its peculiar song, and that is so intricate and mysterious 
oftentimes that not one in ten of the young men who are 
dancing and singing it know the meaning of the song 
which they are chanting over. None but the medicine- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

men are allowed to understand them; and even they are 
generally only initiated into these secret arcana, on the 
payment of a liberal stipend for their tuition, which 
requires much application and study. There is evi¬ 
dently a set song and sentiment for every dance, for the 
songs are perfectly measured, and sung in exact time 
with the beat of the drum, and always with a uniform 
and invariable set of sounds and expressions, which 
clearly indicate certain sentiments, which are expressed 
by the voice, though sometimes not given in any known 
language whatever. 

They have other dances and songs which are not so 
mystified, but which are sung and understood by every 
person in the tribe, being sung in their own language, 
with much poetry in them, and perfectly metered, but 
without rhyme. 

My ears have been almost continually ringing since 
I came here, with the din of the yelping and beating of 
the drums; but I have for several days past been pecul¬ 
iarly engrossed, and my senses almost confounded with 
the stamping, and grunting, and bellowing of the buffalo 
dance, which closed a few days since at sunrise, thank 
Heaven, and which I must needs describe to you. 

Buffaloes, it is known, are a sort of roaming creatures, 
congregating occasionally in huge masses, and strolling 
away about the country from east to west, or from north 
to south, or just where their whims or strange fancies 
may lead them; and the Mandans are sometimes, by 
this means, most unceremoniously left without anything 
to eat; and being a small tribe, and unwilling to risk 

Mandan Dances and Games 


their lives by going far from home in the face of their 
more powerful enemies, are oftentimes left almost in a 
state of starvation. In an emergency of this kind every 
man musters and brings out of his lodge his mask (the 
skin of the buffalo’s head with the horns on), which he 
is obliged to keep in readiness for this occasion; and 
then commences the buffalo dance, of which I have 
above spoken, which is held for the purpose of making 
“buffalo come” (as they term it), of inducing the buffalo 
herds to change the direction of their wanderings and 
bend their course toward the Mandan village, and 
graze about on the beautiful hills and bluffs in its vicin¬ 
ity, where the Mandans can shoot them down and cook 
them as they want them for food. 

For the most part of the year the young warriors and 
hunters, by riding out a mile or two from the village, can 
kill meat in abundance; and sometimes large herds of 
these animals may be seen grazing in full view of the 
village. There are other seasons also when the young 
men have ranged about the country as far as they are 
willing to risk their lives, on account of their enemies, 
without finding meat. This sad intelligence is brought 
back to the chiefs and doctors, who sit in solemn 
council and consult on the most expedient measures to 
be taken, until they are sure to decide upon the old and 
only expedient which “never has failedi” 

The chief issues his order to his runners or criers, who 
proclaim it through the village, and in a few minutes 
the dance begins. The place where this strange opera¬ 
tion is carried on is in the public area in the centre of the 


The Boy^s Catlin 

village, and in front of the great medicine or mystery 
lodge. About ten or fifteen Mandans at a time join in 
the dance, each one with the skin of the buffalo’s head 
(or mask), with the horns on, placed over his head, and 
in his hand his favorite bow or lance with which he 
used to slay the buffalo. 

I mentioned that this dance always had the desired 
effect, that it never fails, nor can it, for it cannot be 
stopped (but is going incessantly day and night) until 
“buffalo come.” Drums are beating and rattles are 
shaken, and songs and yells incessantly are shouted, and 
lookers-on stand ready, with masks on their heads and 
weapons in hand, to take the place of each one as he 
becomes fatigued and jumps out of the ring. 

During this excitement spies, or “lookers,” are kept on 
the hills in the neighborhood of the village, who, when 
they discover buffaloes in sight, give the signal by 
“throwing their robes.” This is seen in the village 
and understood by the whole tribe. There is an im¬ 
mediate shout of thanks to the Great Spirit, and to the 
mystery-men and the dancers, who have, of course, 
combined to bring it about. Then comes the prep¬ 
aration for the chase. 

Every man in the Mandan village is required to keep 
the mask of the buffalo hanging on a post at the head 
of his bed, which he can put on whenever he is called by 
the chiefs to dance for the coming of the buffaloes. The 
mask is put over the head and generally has a strip of 
skin the length of the animal with the tail attached. 
When a dancer becomes tired he signifies it by bending 

Mandan Dances and Games 


forward. Another then draws his bow upon him and 
hits him with a blunt arrow, when he falls to the ground 
like a buffalo, and is seized by the by-standers, who drag 
him out by the heels and go through the motions with 
their knives of skinning him and cutting him up, while 
another dancer with his mask on comes into the ring. 
This scene is kept up night and day until the “buffalo 
come.” It is easy to see why the dance never fails. 

The dance which I have just seen had lasted four 
days when the signal was given from a distant bluff. It 
was the more grateful from the fact that the chiefs and 
doctors had been giving out minimum rations from their 
private caches, and even their meat was almost used 
up. Instantly all was joy and gladness; the stamping of 
the horses was heard; the young men threw off their 
robes and shirts, and, snatching a handful of arrows from 
their quivers and stringing their sinewy bows, with a 
glance of their eyes and smiles for their sweethearts, 
mounted their ponies. While bows were twanging and 
spears were polished by running their blades into the 
ground, Louison Frenie, an interpreter of the Fur 
Company, galloped through the village with his rifle in 
his hand, his powder-flask at his side, his head and waist 
tied up with handkerchiefs, and his shirt-sleeves rolled 
up to his shoulders. The hunter’s yell was on his lips 
and echoed through the village. He flew to the bluffs, 
and behind him over the graceful swells of the prairie 
galloped the young Indians. 

All the hidden emergency stores were now brought 
out from the caches, and the village joined in a general 


The Boy’s Catlin 

carouse of eating; the dishes were half emptied and the 
bones, half picked, given to the dogs. Nor was I for¬ 
gotten; generous bowls of pemmican and other food were 
sent to my painting-room. After this banquet, and after 
the dogs had licked the dishes, followed the usual games 
and other amusements, and mirth took possession of every 
corner of the village. Suddenly piercing screams were 
heard. Women and children scrambled to the tops of 
their wigwams, with their eyes and their hands stretched 
in agonizing earnestness to the prairie, while blackened 
warriors ran furiously through every winding maze of 
the village, and issuing their jarring gutturals of ven¬ 
geance, as they snatched their deadly weapons from their 
lodges, and struck the reddened post as they furiously 
passed it by! Two of their hunters were bending their 
course down the sides of the bluff toward the village, 
and another broke suddenly out of a deep ravine, and 
yet another was seen dashing over and down the green 
hills, and all were goading on their horses at full speed! 
And then came another, and another, and all entered 
the village amid shouts and groans of the villagers who 
crowded around them. The story was told in their looks, 
for one was bleeding, and the blood that flowed from 
his naked breast had crimsoned his milk-white steed as 
it had dripped over him; another grasped in his left hand 
a scalp that was reeking in blood, and in the other his 
whip; another grasped nothing save the reins in one 
hand and the mane of the horse in the other, having 
thrown his bow and his arrows away and trusted to the 
fleetness of his horse for his safety. Yet the story was 

Mandan Dances and Games 


audibly told, and the fatal tragedy recited in irregular 
and almost suffocating ejaculations; the names of the 
dead were in turns pronounced, and screams and shrieks 
burst forth at their recital; murmurs and groans ran 
through the village, and this happy little community 
were in a moment smitten with sorrow and distraction. 

Their proud band of hunters, who had started full of 
glee and mirth in the morning, had been surrounded by 
their enemy, the Sioux, and eight of them killed. The 
Sioux, who had probably reconnoitred their village 
during the night, and ascertained that they were dancing 
for buffaloes, laid a strategem to entrap them in the fol- 
owing manner: Some six or eight of them appeared the 
next morning (on a distant bluff, in sight of their senti¬ 
nel) under the skins of buffaloes, imitating the move¬ 
ments of those animals while grazing, and being dis¬ 
covered by the sentinel, the intelligence was telegraphed 
to the village, which brought out their hunters as I have 
described. The masked buffaloes were seen grazing on 
the top of the high bluff, and when the hunters had 
approached within half a mile or so of them they sud¬ 
denly disappeared over the hill. Louison Frenie, who 
was leading the little band of hunters, became at that 
moment suspicious of so strange a movement, and came 
to a halt. 

“Look!” said a Mandan, pointing to a little ravine 
to the right, and at the foot of the hill, from which sud¬ 
denly broke some forty or fifty furious Sioux, on fleet 
horses and under full whip, who were rushing upon 
them. They wheeled, and in front of them came another 


The Boy’s Catlin 

band more furious from the other side of the hill! They 
started for home, poor fellows, and strained every 
nerve; but the Sioux were too fleet for them. Several 
miles were run in this desperate race. Frenie got home 
with several of the Manhans, but eight were killed and 
scalped by the way. So ended the day and the hunt. 

But all the dances of the Mandans are not liable to 
end so tragically. Of these, one of the most pleasing is 
the sham fight and sham scalp dance of the Mandan 
boys, which is a part of their regular exercise, and 
constitutes a material branch of their education. During 
the pleasant mornings of the summer, the little boys be¬ 
tween the ages of seven and fifteen are called out, to the 
number of several hundred, and being divided into two 
companies, each of which is headed by some experienced 
warrior, who leads them on, in the character of a teacher, 
they are led out into the prairie at sunrise, where this 
curious discipline is regularly taught them. Their 
bodies are naked, and each one has a little bow in his 
hand and a number of arrows made of large spears of 
grass, which are harmless in their effects. Each one 
has also a little belt or girdle around his waist, in which 
he carries a knife made of a piece of wood and equally 
harmless; on the tops of their heads are slightly attached 
small tufts of grass, which answer as scalps, and in this 
plight they follow the dictates of their experienced 
leaders, who lead them through the judicious evolutions 
of Indian warfare, of feints, of retreats, of attacks— 
and at last to a general fight. Many manoeuvres are 
gone through, and eventually they are brought up face 

Mandan Dances and Games 


to face, within fifteen or twenty feet of each other, with 
their leaders at their head stimulating them on. Their 
bows are bent upon each other and their missiles flying, 
while they are dodging and fending them off. 

If any one is struck with an arrow on any vital part of 
his body he is obliged to fall, and his adversary rushes 
up to him, places his foot upon him, and, snatching from 
his belt his wooden knife, grasps hold of his victim’s 
scalp-lock of grass, and making a feint at it with his 
wooden knife, twitches it off and puts it into his belt, 
and enters again into the ranks and front of battle. 

This mode of training generally lasts an hour or 
more in the morning, and is performed on an empty 
stomach, affording them a rigid and wholesome exer¬ 
cise, while they are instructed in the important science 
of war. Some five or six miles of ground are run over 
during these evolutions, giving suppleness to their 
limbs and strength to their muscles which last and bene¬ 
fit them through life. 

After this exciting exhibition is ended, they all return 
to their village, where the chiefs and braves pay pro¬ 
found attention to their vaunting, and applaud them 
for their artifice and valor. 

Those who have taken scalps then step forward, 
brandishing them and making their boast as they enter 
into the scalp dance (in which they are also instructed 
by their leaders or teachers), jumping and yelling, 
brandishing their scalps, and reciting their sanguinary 
deeds, to the great astonishment of their tender-aged 
sweethearts, who are gazing with wonder upon them. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

The favorite amusement of the Mandans seems to be 
unknown to the neighboring tribes. This is called 
Tchung-kee, an attractive athletic exercise which is 
played unceasingly. Near the village is a pavement of 
clay which has been used for this game until it is as hard 
as a floor. Two champions are named and choose 
alternately the best players until the sides are made up. 
The bets are then made, and the stakes held by one of 
the chiefs or important men. The play then begins by 
two men, one from each side, starting oflF abreast at a 
little trot, one rolling in advance of them a little ring two 
or three inches in diameter cut out of a stone. Each man 
holds in his hand his tchung-kee. This is a stick about 
six feet long with little pieces of leather projecting from 
its sides an inch or more. Each player throws his tchung- 
kee before him as he runs by sliding it along the ground. 
His game is to have it in such position when it stops 
that the ring may fall on one of the pieces of leather. 
This counts for game, one, two, three, or four, according 
to the manner in which the leather catches the ring. 
The last winner has always the rolling of the ring, and 
both start and throw their tchung-kees together.^ If 
either fails to receive the ring, he gives up his place to 
another player. It is a game difficult to describe, but 
of great beauty and a fine physical exercise. These 
people often gamble away everything they possess, and 
will even stake their own liberty. 

There are days on which I look on at games and plays 
until I am weary. Sometimes I lend a hand, but in such 
manner that I only furnish criticism and laughter for 



Mandan Dances and Games 

12 ^ 

the women and children. It would be strange if a people 
having no office hours to attend to, no professions to 
study, did not spend the time spared from the chase for 
food in games and become proficient in them. One of 
these games among the Mandans they call the “game 
of the arrow.” The young men having paid their en¬ 
trance fee, a shirt, robe, pipe, or some other article, 
assemble a short distance away on the prairie, where 
each in turn sees how many arrows he can have in the 
air at the same time, shot from the same bow. To do 
this each archer holds in his bow hand from eight to ten 
arrows. The first arrow he sends to such height that it 
will remain in the air while the others follow. These are 
sent as rapidly as possible, and whoever gets up the 
greatest number takes the stake. One is surprised not 
so much at the distance the arrows are sent as at the 
rapidity with which they are fixed on the string, and 
their quick succession. One rarely sees Indians shoot¬ 
ing at a target. I doubt if their skill would rival that of 
civilized people in this respect. The most successful use 
of the bow in the Indian country is on horseback, riding 
at full speed, with the object of drawing the bow sud¬ 
denly and with instant effect. In this manner both game 
and enemies are killed. 

The horses which the Indians ride in this country are 
invariably the wild horses which are found in great 
numbers on the prairies, and have, unquestionably, 
strayed from the Mexican borders, into which they were 
introduced by the Spanish invaders of that country, and 
now range and subsist themselves, in winter and sum- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

mer, over the vast plains of prairie that stretch from the 
Mexican frontiers to Lake Winnipeg on the north, a 
distance of three thousand miles. These horses are all 
of small stature, of the pony order, but a very hardy and 
tough animal, being able to perform for the Indians a 
continual and essential service. They are taken with 
the lasso, which is a long halter, or thong, made of 
rawhide, of some fifteen or twenty yards in length, 
which the Indians throw with great dexterity. It has a 
noose at one end of it, which drops over the head of the 
animal they wish to catch while running at full speed, 
when the Indian dismounts from his own horse and, 
holding to the end of the lasso, chokes the animal down, 
and afterward tames and converts him to his own use. 

Scarcely a man in these regions is to be found who is 
not the owner of one or more of these horses, and in 
many instances of eight, ten, or even twenty, which he 
values as his own personal property. 



B efore I arrived at the Mandan village I had 
heard of its annual religious ceremony called 
O-kee-pa. While painting one, of the chiefs I 
asked him when this ceremony would take place. 

“As soon as the willow-trees are full-grown under the 
bank of the river,” he replied. 

I then asked him what the willow had to do with it. 
“The twig which the bird brought to the Big Canoe 
was a willow bough and had full-grown leaves on it.” 

This from the lips of a wild man in the heart of the 
Indian country was indeed a surprise. I then asked 
him what bird he alluded to. Taking me by the atm, 
he led me through the wandering paths of the village 
until he discovered two mourning doves pecking at the 
side of one of the earth-covered wigwams. Pointing to 
it, he said: “There is the bird. It is great medicine.” 

I had previously been warned against harming any 
of the doves, of which there were numbers in the village, 
as they were held in great veneration. 

In the centre of the village is an open space about a 
hundred and fifty feet in diameter where festivals and 
public games are held. In the centre of this space stands 
a hogshead about ten feet high, made of planks and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

hoops containing some of the choicest mysteries or med¬ 
icine. Although it has remained there many years it is 
without a scratch. This hogshead is regarded as the 
symbol of the Big Canoe. The lodges around this open 
space have doors looking toward the centre. One of 
these is the medicine lodge, and in it is held the astound¬ 
ing ceremonies I am about to transcribe. 

Thank God they are over, that I have seen them, and 
am able to tell them to the world, although I shrink from 
the task. The celebration began by the leading mystery- 
man presenting himself on the top of a wigwam one 
morning before sunrise, when he told the people he had 
discovered something very strange in the western hori¬ 
zon, and he believed that at the rising of the sun a great 
white man would enter the village from the west and 
open the medicine lodge. In a few moments the tops 
of the wigwams were covered with men, women and 
children on the lookout. 

I was sitting at breakfast with the agent, Mr. Kipp, 
when we were suddenly startled by the shrieking and 
screaming of the women, the howling of the dogs, all 
in apparent alarm, preparing their weapons and se¬ 
curing their horses, as if an enemy were at their door. 
I seized my sketch-book and we joined the crowd at the 
entrance of the picket, where at the distance of a mile or 
more a solitary human figure was seen descending the 
prairie hills and approaching the village in a straight 
line where the warriors were drawn up in battle array. 
The leader advanced and called out to the stranger to 
make his errand known and to tell from whence he came. 

0 -kee-pa —A Religious Ceremony 133 

He replied that he had come from the high mountains 
in the West and he had come to open the medicine 
lodge of the Mandans, and that he must not be opposed 
or certain destruction would be the fate of the tribe. 

The head chief and his council assembled in the coun¬ 
cil-house were sent for, and came in a body with their 
faces painted black. These recognized the visitor as 
one they had known before, and called him Nu-mohk- 
muck-a-nah (the first or only man), and invited him 
inside the picket. 

The body of this strange personage, which was chiefly 
naked, was painted with white clay, so as to resemble at 
a little distance a white man; he wore a robe of four 
white wolfskins falling back over his shoulders; on his 
head he had a splendid head-dress made of two ravens’ 
skins, and in his left hand he cautiously carried a large 
pipe, which he seemed to watch and guard as something 
of great importance. After passing the chiefs and braves 
as described, he approached the medicine or mystery 
lodge, which he had the means of opening, and which 
had been religiously closed during the year except for 
the performance of these religious rites. 

Having opened and entered it, he called in four 
men whom he appointed to clean it out and put it in 
readiness for the ceremonies by sweeping it and strew¬ 
ing a profusion of green willow-boughs over its floor, 
and with them decorating its sides. Wild sage also, and 
many other aromatic herbs, they gathered from the 
prairies, and scattered over its floor, and over these were 
arranged a curious group of buffalo and human skulls 


The Boy’s Catlin 

and other articles, which were to be used during this 
strange and unaccountable transaction. 

During the whole of this day, and while these prep- 
parations were making in the medicine lodge, Nu-mohk- 
muck-a-nah travelled through the village, stopping in 
front of every man’s lodge, and crying until the owner 
of the lodge came out and asked who he was, and 
what was the matter, to which he replied by relating 
the sad catastrophe which had happened on the earth’s 
surface by the overflowing of the waters, saying that 
“he was the only person saved from the universal 
calamity; that he landed his Big Canoe on a high moun¬ 
tain in the West, where he now resides; that he had come 
to open the medicine lodge, which must needs receive a 
present of some edged tool from the owner of every wig¬ 
wam, that it may be sacrificed to the water; for, he says, 
“if this is not done there will be another flood, and no 
one will be saved, as it was with such tools that the Big 
Canoe was made.” 

Having visited every lodge or wigwam in the village, 
during the day, and having received such a present at 
each as a hatchet, a knife, etc. (which is undoubtedly al¬ 
ways prepared and ready for the occasion), he returned at 
evening and deposited them in the medicine lodge, where 
they remained until the afternoon of the last day of the 
ceremony, when, as the final or closing scene, they were 
thrown into the river in a deep place, from a bank thirty 
feet high, and in presence of the whole village, from 
whence they can never be recovered, and where they 
were, undoubtedly, sacrificed to the Spirit of the Water. 

O-kee-pa—A Religious Ceremony 135 

During the first night of this strange character in the 
village no one could tell where he slept. As soon as he 
entered the cries of the people instantly ceased, and 
orders were given by the chiefs that the women and 
children should go to the wigwams and that the dogs 
should be muzzled, for the day belonged to the Great 

The next morning at sunrise Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah 
came out in front of the medicine lodge and called for 
all the young men who were candidates for the O-kee-pa 
honors. In a few moments about fifty young men, who 
I learned were those who had arrived at maturity during 
the year, appeared in a beautiful group, their graceful 
limbs naked but covered with clay from head to foot, 
some red, some white, yellow, blue, and green, each one 
carrying his shield of bull’s hide on his left arm, his 
bow in his left hand and his medicine-bag in his right. 
In this manner they followed Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah, 
Indian file, into the lodge, where each one hung his bow, 
quiver, shield, and medicine-bag over him as he reclined 
on the floor of the wigwam. Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah took 
his place in the circle, and having lighted and smoked 
his medicine-pipe for their success, made them a short 
speech, in which he urged them to trust in the Great 
Spirit to protect them in the great ordeal they were to go 
through. He then called into the lodge the principal 
medicine-man of the tribe, whom he appointed O-kee-pa 
Ka-se-kah, or conductor of ceremonies by giving him 
the large pipe he had brought which is the symbol of 
authority. After this Nu-mohk-muck-a-nah shook hands 


The Boy’s Catlin 

with him and bade him good-by, saying that he would 
return to the West, whence he came, and be back in a 
year’s time to open the medicine lodge again. 

I was fortunate enough to be permitted to enter the 
lodge while the young men were being addressed. Al¬ 
though Mr. Kipp had lived in the village eight years he- 
had never been allowed even to glance inside of the medi¬ 
cine lodge. Luckily I had only completed the por¬ 
trait of the medicine-man in authority the day before, 
and he had been so pleased with it that he mounted a 
wigwam holding it up before the villagers, claiming that 
he must be the greatest man among the Mandans 
because 1 had painted his portrait before I painted the 
great chief. Because I could make so perfect a picture 
of him, even making his eyes move, I must be the great¬ 
est medicine-man of the whites. I was accordingly 
given this honor by the unanimous voice of the doctors, 
and pronounced Te-ho-pee-nee-wash-ee-waska-pooska, 
the white medicine painter. 

We were now standing in front of the door of the 
medicine lodge trying to get a glimpse within, when the 
master of ceremonies came out and, taking me by the 
arm, led me within, allowing Mr. Kipp and the two 
clerks to follow through a vestibule of some length 
guarded with a double screen and two or three dark and 
frowning sentinels with spears and war-clubs in their 
hands. Here we took our seats, where for four days we 
sat from sunrise to sundown, and where I made many 
sketches of the scenes we witnessed, the accuracy of 
which Mr. Kipp and the two men have attested. 

O-kee-pa—A Religious Ceremony 137 

We were now in full view of everything that took place 
in the lodge. The master of ceremonies lay by a small 
fire in the centre, with his medicine-pipe in his hand, 
crying to the Great Spirit incessantly, and watching that 
none of the young men escape or hold any communi¬ 
cation whatever with the people outside for four days, 
during which time they are not allowed to eat, drink, or 
sleep; for it is by such denial, producing great lassi¬ 
tude and even emaciation, that the young men are pre¬ 
pared for the tortures of the fourth day. 

In addition to the preparations and arrangements of 
the interior of this sanctuary, as above described, there 
was a curious though a very strict arrangement of buf¬ 
falo and human skulls placed on the floor of the lodge, 
and between them (which were divided into two par¬ 
cels), and in front of the reclining group of young candi¬ 
dates, was a small and very delicate scaffold, elevated 
about five feet from the ground, made of four posts or 
crotches, not larger than a gun rod, and placed some 
four or five feet apart, supporting four equally delicate 
rods resting in the crotches, thus forming the frame of 
the scaffold, which was completed by a number of still 
smaller and more delicate sticks transversely resting 
upon them. On the centre of this little frame rested 
some small object, which I could not exactly understand 
from the distance of twenty or thirty feet which inter¬ 
vened between it and my eye. I started several times 
from my seat to approach it, but all eyes were instantly 
upon me, and every mouth in the assembly sent forth a 
hush-sh! which brought me back to my seat again; 

The Boy’s Catlin 

and I at length quieted my stifled curiosity as well as I 
could upon learning the fact that so sacred was that 
object, and so important its secrets or mysteries, that 
not I alone, but even the young men who were passing 
the ordeal, and all the village, save the conductor of the 
mysteries, were stopped from approaching it or know- 
nig what it was. 

This little mystery thing, whatever it was, had the 
appearance, from where I sat, of a small tortoise or 
frog lying on its back, with its head and legs quite ex¬ 
tended, and wound and tasselled off with exceedingly 
delicate red and blue and yellow ribbons or tassels, and 
other bright-colored ornaments, and seemed, from the 
devotions paid to it, to be the very nucleus of their 
mysteries—the sanctissimus sanctorum from which 
seemed to emanate all the sanctity of their proceedings, 
and to which all seemed to be paying the highest 
devotional respect. 

This strange yet important essence of their mysteries 
I made every inquiry about; but got no further infor¬ 
mation of than what I could learn by my eyes, at the 
distance at which I saw it, and from the silent respect 
which I saw paid to it. I tried with the doctors, and all 
of the fraternity answered me that that was “great medi¬ 
cine,” assuring me that it “could not be told.” 

Immediately under the little frame or scaffold de¬ 
scribed, and on the floor of the lodge, was placed a knife, 
and by the side of it a bundle of splints or skewers, which 
were kept in readiness for the infliction of the cruelties 
directly to be explained. There were seen also, in this 

O-kee-pa—A Religious Ceremony 139 

stage of the affair, a number of cords of rawhide hang¬ 
ing down from the top of the lodge, and passing through 
its roof, with which the young men were to be suspended 
by the splints passed through their flesh, and drawn up 
by men placed on the top of the lodge for the purpose, 
as will be described in a few moments. 

There were also four articles of great veneration and 
importance lying on the floor of the lodge, which were 
sacks, containing in each some three or four gallons of 
water. These also were objects of superstitious regard, 
and made with great labor and much ingenuity; each 
one of them being constructed of the skin of the buf¬ 
falo’s neck, and most elaborately sewed together in the 
form of a large tortoise lying on its back, with a bunch 
of eagle’s quills appended to it as a tail; and each of 
them having a stick, shaped like a drum-stick, lying on 
them, with which, in a subsequent stage of these cere¬ 
monies, as will be seen, they are beaten upon by several 
of their mystery-men, as a part of their music for the 
strange dances and mysteries. By the side of these sacks, 
which they call Eeh-teeh-ka, are two other articles of 
equal importance, which they call Eeh-na-dee (rattles), 
in the form of a gourd-shell made also of dried skins, 
and used at the same time as the others, in the music (or 
rather noise and diri) for their dances, etc. 

These four sacks of water have the appearance of very 
great antiquity; and by inquiring of my very ingenious 
friend and patron, the medicine man, after the ceremonies 
were over, he very gravely told me that “those four tor¬ 
toises contained the waters from the four quarters of the 


The Boy’s Catlin 

world; that these waters had been contained therein 
ever since the settling down of the waters!” I did not 
think it best to advance any argument against so ridicu¬ 
lous a theory, and therefore could not even enquire or 
learn at what period they had been instituted, or how 
often or on what occasions the water in them had been 
changed or replenished. 

I made several propositions, through my friend Mr. 
Kipp, the trader and interpreter, to purchase one of 
these strange things by offering them a very liberal price, 
to which I received in answer that these, and all the very 
numerous articles used in the ceremonies, being a society 
property, were sacred and could not be sold. So I aban¬ 
doned all attempts to obtain anything beyond the exer¬ 
cise of my pencil. Even this they seemed to regard with 
apprehension as a sort of sacrilege. 

Such, then, was the group and such the appearance of 
the interior of the medicine lodge during the first three 
and part of the fourth day of the Mandan religious cere¬ 
monies. The medicine-man had his young aspirants 
under his sole control, as was every article and imple¬ 
ment to be used, and the sanctity of this gloomy and 
impressive interior which could not be entered without 
his permission. Meanwhile many curious and gro¬ 
tesque spectacles in connection with these ceremonies 
were taking place outside around the Big Canoe. 



W HILE the O-kee-pa is regarded by the Man- 
dans as a religious ceremony and is conducted 
in some parts with the solemnity of religious 
worship, there are three other distinct objects for which 
it is held. The first is the annual celebration of the sub¬ 
sidence of the great flood. The second is the Bel-lohck- 
na-pic (the bull dance), to which they attribute the 
coming of the buffalo to supply them with food for the 
coming year. The third is the testing of the young 

It is the second of these, the bull dance, which was 
now being celebrated around the Big Canoe. This dance, 
which is exceedingly amusing and grotesque, is danced 
four times the first day, eight times the second day, 
twelve times the third day, and sixteen times the fourth 
day. There were eight dancers, whose bodies, limbs, and 
faces were entirely covered with black, red, and white 
paint. Each joint was marked with two big white rings, 
even to the joints of the under jaw and of the fingers 
and toes, and on their abdomens was the representation 
of a baby’s face. Each one of the dancers had a lock of 
buffalo’s hair tied around his ankles, and carried in the 
right hand a rattle and in the left a slender staff about 


The Boy’s Catlin 

six feet long. Over their backs they wore buffalo-skins 
with the horns, hoofs, and tails intact, while they looked 
out of the eyes as through a mask. Above the buffalo- 
skin on his back each dancer carried a bunch of willow 
boughs the size of a sheaf of straw. 

These eight dancers were divided into pairs, and took 
their positions on the four sides of the Big Canoe, repre¬ 
senting the four points of the compass. Between each 
pair was another figure, with his back to the hogshead, 
keeping step with staff and rattles. The bodies of these 
four men were entirely naked beyond a kilt of eagle 
quills and ermine and very splendid head-dresses made 
of the same materials. Two of these figures were painted 
entirely black with pounded charcoal and grease, whom 
they called the “firmament or night,” and the numerous 
white spots which were dotted all over their bodies they 
called “stars.” The other two were painted from head 
to foot as red as vermilion could make them; these they 
said represented the day, and the white streaks which 
were painted up and down over their bodies were 
“ghosts which the morning rays were chasing away.” 

These twelve are the only persons actually engaged 
m this strange dance, which is each time repeated in the 
same form without the slightest variation. There are, 
however, a great number of characters engaged in giv¬ 
ing the whole effect and wildness to this strange and 
laughable scene, each one acting well his part, and 
whose offices, strange and inexplicable as they are, I 
will endeavor to point out and explain as well as I can, 
from what I saw elucidated by their own descriptions. 

Dances of the O-kee-pa 


The bull dance was conducted by the master of cere¬ 
monies, O-kee-pa Ka-se-ka, carrying his medicine- 
pipe, his body entirely naked, and covered even to his 
hair with yellow clay. At a signal for the dancers to 
assemble this old'man danced out of the lodge singing 
a mournful strain until he reached the Big Canoe 
against which he leaned, continuing his strain. At this 
moment four patriarchal men whose bodies were painted 
red came out of the lodge carrying the four sacks of 
water, which they placed near the casks, and thump¬ 
ing on them with sticks and brandishing rattles, raised 
their voices to the highest pitch possible, and the dancing 
began, continuing for fifteen minutes or more in perfect 
time and without intermission. 

While this was going on two men, whose naked bodies 
were covered with yellow clay and wearing the skins and 
masks of the grizzly bears, were growling and threaten¬ 
ing to interfere with the ceremony. To appease them 
the women continued bringing dishes of meat, which, 
placed before them, were immediately seized by two men 
whose bodies and limbs were painted black while their 
heads, feet, and hands were whitened with clay. These 
men were called bald eagles and carried their prey to 
the prairie, where they were in turn chased by hundreds 
of small boys whose bodies were painted yellow, their 
heads white, and wearing tails of white deer’s hair. 
These represented antelopes and eventually got the 

Besides these were two men, their bodies naked and 
painted white, and their noses and feet painted black, 


The Boy’s Catlin 

representing swans; two men, whose bodies were curi¬ 
ously painted to represent rattlesnakes, each holding a 
rattle in one hand and a bunch of wild sage in the other; 
two men covered with buffalo-skins and wearing beaver 
tails at their belts; two men with their bodies painted 
brown, their heads and shoulders blue, and their noses 
red, who were called vultures, and two men wearing 
wolfskins, who pursued the antelope boys on the prairie 
to seize their food. All these characters closely copied 
the habits of the animals they imitated, and all had 
some peculiar songs, which they constantly sang and 
chanted during the dances, without perhaps knowing the 
meaning of them, since they are strictly medicine songs, 
and are kept as secrets even from the tribe. At the 
close of each of these bull dances all these animals and 
birds set up the howl or cry peculiar to their species in 
a deafening chorus, some dancing, some jumping, some 
apparently flying, the beavers clapping their tails, the 
rattlesnakes shaking their rattles, the bears striking 
with their paws, the wolves howling, the buffaloes rolling 
in the sand and rearing on their hind feet. Then all 
danced off together to an adjoining lodge used for 
painting their bodies and for rest between the dances. 
A medicine-man was allowed to show me the interior 
while they were ornamenting their bodies, and the most 
vivid imagination could scarcely conceive so wild and 
curious a scene. No man painted himself, but sub¬ 
mitted like a statue to other hands. Each painter 
seemed to have a special department, and worked, ambi¬ 
tious of the effect when he turned out his figure. Of the 

Dances of the O-kee-pa 


one hundred and thirty men and boys engaged in this 
picturesque scene not a single inch of the natural color 
of their bodies or hair could be seen. 

But alas! in the last of these dances, on the fouth day, 
in the midst of all their mirth and joy, and about noon, 
and in the height of all these exultations, an instant scream 
burst forth from the tops of the lodges—men, women, 
dogs, and all seemed actually to howl and shudder with 
alarm as they fixed their glaring eyeballs upon the 
prairie bluff, about a mile in the west, down the side of 
which a man was seen descending at full speed toward 
the village! This strange character darted about in a 
zigzag course in all directions on the prairie, like a boy 
in pursuit of a butterfly, until he approached the pickets 
of the village, when it was discovered that his body was 
entirely naked, and painted as black as a negro, with 
pounded charcoal and bear’s grease. His body was there¬ 
fore everywhere of a shining black, except occasionally 
white rings of an inch or more in diameter, which were 
marked here and there all over him, and frightful in¬ 
dentures of white around his mouth resembling canine 
teeth. Added to his hideous appearance, he gave the 
most frightful shrieks and screams as he dashed through 
the village and entered the terrified group, which was 
composed (in that quarter) chiefly of females, who had 
assembled to witness the amusements which were taking 
place around the Big Canoe. 

This unearthly-looking creature carried in his two 
hands a wand or staff of eight or nine feet in length, 
with a red ball at the end of it, which he continually 


The Boy’s Catlin 

slid on the ground ahead of him as he ran. All eyes in 
the village, save those of the persons engaged in the 
dance, were centred upon him, and he made a desper¬ 
ate rush toward the women, who screamed for pro¬ 
tection as they were endeavoring to retreat, and falling 
in groups upon each other as they were struggling to get 
out of his reach. In this moment of general terror and 
alarm there was an instant check, and all for a few mo¬ 
ments were as silent as death. 

The old master of ceremonies, who had run from 
his position at the Big Canoe, had met this monster of 
fiends, and, having thrust the medicine-pipe before him, 
held him still and immovable under its charm! This 
check gave the females an opportunity to get out of his 
reach, and when they were free from their danger, though 
all hearts beat yet with the instant excitement, their 
alarm soon cooled down into the most exorbitant laugh¬ 
ter and shouts of applause at his sudden defeat, and 
the awkward and ridiculous posture in which he was 
stopped and held. The old man was braced stiff by his 
side, with his eyeballs glaring him in the face, while 
the medicine-pipe held in its mystic chains his Satanic 
Majesty, annulling all the powers of his magical wand, 
and also depriving him of the powers of locomotion! 
Surely no two human beings ever presented a more 
striking group than these two individuals did for a few 
moments, with their eyeballs set in direst mutual hatred 
upon each other, both struggling for the supremacy, 
relying on the potency of their medicine or mystery, the 
one held in check, with his body painted black, repre- 

Dances of the O-kee-pa 


senting (or rather assuming to be) his Sable Majesty, 
O-kee-hee-de (the Evil Spirit) frowning everlasting 
vengeance on the other, who sternly gazed back at him 
with a look of exultation and contempt as he held him 
in check and disarmed under the charm of his sacred 

In this distressing dilemma, an old woman came 
slyly up behind him and dashed a handful of yellow 
clay in his face. His body being covered with grease, 
after he had received handful after handful from every 
direction he was in a lamentable plight. One woman 
seizing his wand broke it in pieces over her knee, and 
others threw the bits in his face. His power thus gone, 
he began to cry, and bolting through the crowd ran for 
the prairie. But here he fell into a band of fresh women 
and girls, who assailed him with hisses and dirt and beat 
him with sticks. From these he at length escaped when 
the women entered the village, and the woman who had 
deprived him of his wand, supported on each side by two 
matrons, was lifted by four attendants on to the top of 
the medicine lodge, where she addressed the crowd. 
By virtue of her deeds she claimed the power of cre¬ 
ation and of life and death; she was the father of all the 
buffaloes, and could make them come and go as she 
pleased. In return she demanded the handsomest 
woman’s dress in the village, in which to lead the dance 
at the Feast of the Buffaloes, which was to take place 
that night. 

After having presented this dress to her, the master 
of ceremonies said, “Young woman, you have gained 


The Boy’s Catlin 

great fame this day, and the honor of leading the dance 
to-night belongs to you.” 

She then ordered the bull dance to stop and the 
dancers to retire to their wigwam. The four musicians 
were then commanded to carry their tortoise drum into 
the medicine lodge, and the buffalo skulls to be hung 
on the four posts. This being done, the chiefs were in¬ 
vited to enter the medicine lodge, where the voluntary 
tortures of the young men were to begin. 



HE third and last rite of these ceremonies is al¬ 

most too revolting to be told were it not a part of 

the whole of this ancient religious celebration, 
founded on superstitions and mysteries of which the 
Mandans know not the origin, but constitute a mate¬ 
rial part of the code and forms of their belief. 

The chiefs having seated themselves in their robes 
and splendid head-dresses on one side of the lodge, and 
the band of music placed in another part, the old medi¬ 
cine-man, the 0-kee-pa Ka-se-ka, sat down by a little 
fire in the centre of the lodge and began smoking vio¬ 
lently for the success of the young men, whose ordeal 
was about to take place. Around the room lay the 
emaciated group who had neither eaten, drunk, nor slept 
for nearly four days. The two men who were to inflict 
the tortures now entered and took their positions in the 
middle of the lodge. These were doubtless medicine¬ 
men. But their bodies were painted red and their 
hands and feet black, and the one who made the in¬ 
cisions wore a mask, that the young men would never 
know who inflicted their wounds. Moreover, the sears 
on their own bodies were conspicuously marked with 
paint, as evidence that they had passed through the 

The Boy’s Catlin 


same ordeal. The man with the mask carried a large, 
sharp-pointed knife with two edges that had been 
notched in order to inflict as much pain as possible. 
The other had in his hand a bundle of splints to be 
passed through the wounds as soon as the knife was 

Toward these two men the pitiable candidates 
crawled one by one and submitted themselves. An inch 
or more of the flesh on each shoulder or each breast was 
taken up between the thumb and finger by the man v/ho 
held the knife in his right hand, and the knife, which 
had been ground sharp on both edges, and then hacked 
and notched with the blade of another, to make it pro¬ 
duce as much pain as possible, was forced through the 
flesh below the fingers, and, being withdrawn, was fol¬ 
lowed with a splint or skewer from the other, who held 
a bunch of such in his left hand and was ready to force 
them through the wound. There were then two cords 
lowered down from the top of the lodge (by men who 
were placed on the lodge outside, for the purpose), 
which were fastened to these splints or skewers, and 
they instantly began to haul him up. He was thus raised 
until his body was suspended from the ground where he 
rested, until the knife and a splint were passed through 
the flesh or integuments in a similar manner on each arm 
below the shoulder (over the brachialis externus), below 
the elbow (over the extensor carpi radialis), on the thighs 
(over the vastus externus), and below the knees (over the 

In some instances they remained in a reclining position 

The Making of Braves 


on the ground until this painful operation was finished, 
which was performed, in all instances, exactly on the 
same parts of the body and limbs, and which, in its 
progress, occupied some five or six minutes. 

Each one was then instantly raised with the cords, 
until the weight of his body was suspended by them, and 
then, while the blood was streaming down their limbs, 
the by-standers hung upon the splints each man’s ap¬ 
propriate shield, bow, and quiver, etc.; and in many in¬ 
stances the skull of a buffalo, with the horns on it, was 
attached to each lower arm and each lower leg, for the 
purpose, probably, of preventing, by their great weight, 
the struggling which might otherwise have taken place 
to their disadvantage while they were hung up. 

When these things were all adjusted, each one was 
raised higher by the cords, until these weights all swung 
clear from the ground, leaving his feet, in most cases, 
some six or eight feet above the ground. In this plight 
they at once became appalling and frightful to look at— 
the flesh, to support the weight of their bodies, with the 
additional weights which were attached to them, was 
raised six or eight inches by the skewers, and their heads 
sunk forward on the breasts, or thrown backward, in 
a much more frightful condition, according to the way 
in which they were hung up. 

The unflinching fortitude with which every one of 
them bore this part of the torture surpassed credulity; 
each one, as the knife was passed through his flesh, sus¬ 
tained an unchangeable countenance; and several of 
them, seeing me making sketches, beckoned me to look 


The Boy’s Catlin 

at their faces, which I watched through all this horrid 
operation, without being able to detect anything but the 
pleasantest smiles as they looked me in the eye, while I 
could hear the knife rip through the flesh, and feel 
enough of it myself to start involuntary and uncon¬ 
trollable tears over my cheeks. 

When the victim was suspended as above described, 
another candidate promptly gave himself into the 
bloody hands of the two executioners. Each then in 
his turn passed into the charge of others, who instantly 
introduced him to a new and improved stage of their 
refinements in cruelty. 

Surrounded by imps and demons as they appear, a 
dozen or more, who seem to be concerting and devising 
means for his exquisite agony, gather around him, when 
one of the number advances toward him in a sneering 
manner, and commences turning him around with a pole 
which he brings in his hand for the purpose. This is 
done in a gentle manner at first, but gradually increased, 
when the brave fellow, whose proud spirit can control 
its agony no longer, bursts out in the most lamentable 
and heartrending cries that the human voice is capable 
of producing, crying forth a prayer to the Great Spirit to 
support and protect him in this dreadful trial, and con¬ 
tinually repeating his confidence in his protection. In 
this condition he is continued to be turned, faster and 
faster—and there is no hope of escape from it nor chance 
for the slightest relief, until, by fainting, his voice falters 
and his struggling ceases, and he hangs, apparently, a 
still and lifeless corpse! When he is, by turning, gradu- 

The Making of Braves 


ally brought to this condition, which is generally done 
within ten or fifteen minutes, there is a close scrutiny 
passed upon him among his tormentors, who are check¬ 
ing and holding each other back as long as the least 
struggling or tremor can be discovered, lest he should 
be removed before he is, as they term it, “entirely 

When brought to this alarming and most frightful con¬ 
dition, and the turning has gradually ceased, as his 
voice and his strength have given out, leaving him to 
hang entirely still and apparently lifeless; when his 
tongue is distended from his mouth and his medicine- 
bag, which he has affbctionately and superstitiously 
clung to with his left hand, has dropped to the ground, 
the signal is given to the men on top of the lodge, by 
gently striking the cord with the pole below, when they 
very gradually and carefully lower him to the ground. 

In this helpless condition he lies, like a loathsome 
corpse to look at, though in the keeping, as they call it, 
of the Great Spirit, whom he trusts will protect him, and 
enable him to get up and walk away. As soon as he is 
lowered to the ground thus, one of the by-standers 
advances and pulls out the two splints or pins from the 
breasts and shoulders, thereby disengaging him from 
the cords which hung him up, but leaving all the weights 
hanging to his flesh. 

The excessive pain caused by this turning, and the 
sickening distress of the rotary motion, probably no 
human being but a Mandan ever knew. There were 
usually two or three bodies hanging at the same timCw 


The Boy’s Catlin 

When lowered they lay on the ground for several min¬ 
utes like the dead, for no one is allowed to assist them. 
Each victim as he got strength dragged his body with 
all the weights to another part of the lodge, where sat an 
Indian with a hatchet and a dried buffalo skull before 
him, his body painted red and his feet and hands black, 
and over his face a mask. To him each held up the 
little finger of his left hand as a sacrifice to the Great 
Spirit, theOj laying it on the buffalo skull, the execu¬ 
tioner struck it off with one blow of the hatchet. In sev¬ 
eral instances I saw them also give the forefinger of the 
same hand, leaving only two to hold the bow. The young 
men seemed to take no notice of their wounds, and 
neither bleeding nor inflammation ensued, although ar¬ 
teries were severed. This was probably owing to the low 
circulation caused by their previous fasting. 

During the whole of the time of this cruel part of these 
most extraordinary inflictions the chiefs and dignitaries 
of the tribe are looking on, to decide who are the hardiest 
and. “ stoutest-hearted ”—who can hang the longest by 
his flesh before he faints, and who will be soonest up 
after he has been down—that they may know whom to 
appoint to lead a war-party or place at the most hon¬ 
orable and desperate post. The four old men are 
incessantly beating upon the sacks of water and sing¬ 
ing the whole time, with their voices strained to the 
highest key, vaunting forth, for the encouragement of 
the young men, the power and efficacy of the medicine- 
pipe, which has disarmed the monster O-kee-hee-de (the 
Evil Spirit) and driven him from the village, and will be 

The Making of Braves 


sure to protect them and watch over them through their 
present severe trial. 

As soon as six or eight had passed the ordeal as above 
described, they were led out of the lodge, with their 
weights hanging to their flesh and dragging on the 
ground, to undergo another, and a still more appalling 
mode of suffering in the centre of the village, and in 
presence of the whole nation, in the manner as follows: 

The signal of the commencement of this part of the 
cruelties was given by the old master of ceremonies, who 
again ran out as in the buffalo dance, and leaning against 
the Big Canoe, with his medicine-pipe in his hand, 
began to cry. This was done several times in the after¬ 
noon, as often as there were six or eight who had passed 
the ordeal just described within the lodge, who were 
then taken out in the open area, in the presence of the 
whole village, with the buffalo skulls and other weights 
attached to their flesh and dragging on the ground! 
There were then in readiness, and prepared for the pur¬ 
pose, about twenty young men, selected of equal height 
and equal age, with their bodies chiefly naked, with 
beautiful (and similar) head-dresses of war-eagles’ quills 
on their heads, and a wreath made of willow boughs 
held in the hands between them, connecting them in a 
chain or circle in which they ran around the Big Canoe, 
with all possible speed raising their voices in screams and 
yelps to the highest pitch that was possible, and keeping 
the curb or Big Canoe in the centre as their nucleus. 

Then were led forward the young men who were fur¬ 
ther to suffer, and being placed at equal distances apart, 


The Boy’s Catlin 

and outside of the ring just described, each one was 
taken in charge by two athletic young men, fresh and 
strong, who stepped up to him, one on each side, and by 
wrapping a broad leather strap around his wrists, with¬ 
out tying it, grasped it firm underneath the hand, and 
stood prepared for what they call Eh-ke-nah-ka-nah-pick 
(the last race). This the spectator looking on would 
suppose was most correctly named, for he would think 
it was the last race they could possibly run in this world. 

In this condition they stand, pale and ghastly from 
abstinence and loss of blood, until all are prepared and 
the word is given, when all start and run around, out¬ 
side of the other ring; and each poor fellow, with his 
weights dragging on the ground, and his two conductors 
ran around the Big Canoe amid the deafening shouts of 
the spectators, who thus endeavored to drown the cries 
of the poor sufferers. 

The ambition of these young warriors is to see who 
can run the longest without fainting, and who can soonest 
get his feet after fainting. However, so exhausted were 
they that the greater number fainted before they had 
run half the circle. They were then dragged with their 
faces on the ground until every weight attached to their 
flesh was left behind. This must be done to produce 
honorable scars, which could not be made by drawing 
out the splints. The flesh must be broken through, and 
to do this there were several instances in which the buf¬ 
falo skulls adhered so long they were jumped upon by the 
by-standers as the victims were being dragged at full 
speed. In this pitiable condition each sufferer was left 

The Making of Braves 


praying to the Great Spirit for his recovery, while his 
two torturers, having dropped their willow boughs, ran 
for the prairie as if to escape punishment for their crime. 
This reliance on the Great Spirit for recovery is so 
implicit that no chief or relation would dare step for¬ 
ward to aid the victim. When at last he is able to rise 
he staggers like a drunken man to the wigwam, where 
his wounds are doubtless dressed and he is permitted to 
eat and sleep. 

In this frightful scene, as in the bulFalo dance, the 
whole nation was assembled as spectators, and all raised 
the most piercing and violent yells and screams they 
could possibly produce, to drown the cries of the suffer¬ 
ing ones that no heart could even be touched with sym¬ 
pathy for them. I have mentioned before that six or 
eight of the young men were brought from the medicine 
lodge at a time, and when they were thus passed through 
this shocking ordeal, the medicine-men and the chiefs 
returned to the interior, where as many more were soon 
prepared and underwent a similar treatment; and after 
that another batch, and another, and so on, until the 
whole number, some forty-five or fifty, had run in this 
sickening circle, and, by leaving their weights, had 
opened the flesh for honorable scars. I say all, but 
there was one poor fellow, though (and I shudder to tell 
it), who was dragged around and around the circle, with 
the skull of an elk hanging to the flesh on one of his legs 
•—several had jumped upon it, but to no effect, for the 
splint was under the sinew, which could not be broken. 
The dragging became every instant more and more 


The Boy’s Catlin 

furious, and the apprehensions for the poor fellow’s life, 
apparent by the piteous howl which was set up for him 
by the multitude around; and at last the medicine-man 
ran, with his medicine-pipe in his hand, and held them 
in check, when the body was dropped and left upon the 
ground with the skull yet hanging to it. The boy, who 
was an extremely interesting and fine-looking youth, 
soon recovered his senses and his strength, looking 
deliberately at his torn and bleeding limbs, and also with 
the most pleasant smile of defiance, upon the misfortune 
which had now fallen to his peculiar lot, crawled through 
the crowd (instead of walking, which they are never 
again at liberty to do until the flesh is torn out and the 
article left) to the prairie, and over which, for the dis¬ 
tance of half a mile, to a sequestered spot, without any 
attendant, where he laid three days and three nights yet 
longer, without food, and praying to the Great Spirit 
until suppuration took place in the wound, and by the 
decaying of th^ flesh the weight was dropped, and the 
splint also, which he dare not extricate in another way. 
At the end of this he crawled back to the village on his 
hands and knees, being too much emaciated to walk, 
and begged for something to eat, which was at once given 
him, and he was soon restored to health. 

These extreme and difficult cases often occur, and I 
learn that in such instances the youth has it at his option 
to get rid of the weight that is thus left upon him in such 
way as he may choose, and some of those modes are 
almost more terrible than the affliction itself. 

As soon as six or eight were thus treated as many 

The Making of Braves 


more were led out of the medicine-lodge and went 
through the same or kindred ordeals until the entire fifty 
had suffered in succession. The number of wounds 
inflicted were required to be the same on each, and the 
number of weights the same, but the candidates had the 
choice of being suspended By the shoulders or the breast, 
and in the last race of being dragged, or of wandering 
in the prairies without food, until their weights were re¬ 
leased by the decay of the flesh. 

I inquired if any of the young men had lost their lives 
in this ceremony. In their recollection I was told there 
was once a young man who lay for three days on the 
ground before they were quite certain the Great Spirit 
did not intend to help him. They all spoke of his death, 
however, as a rather enviable fate. After the medicine- 
lodge had been thus cleared of its victims, the master 
of ceremonies returned to it alone, and gathering up the 
edged tools that had been collected at the door of every 
man’s wigwam, accompanied by all the tribe he went to 
the bank of the river, and sacrificed them to the water by 
throwing them into the deepest part that they might 
never be recovered. This part of the rites took place 
exactly at sundown and closed the scene, being the end 
of the Mandan religious ceremony. 

The Feast of the Buffaloes, which follows the religious 
ceremonies, I did not see, but this has been described to 
me by another white man who had visited the Mandans. 
This is not to be confounded with the buffalo feast, which 
is another ceremony. In this case the buffaloes are 
the eight dancers described in the bull dance, with the 


The Boy’s Catlin 

medicine-men, the musicians, and the old chiefs, who are 
invited to participate by the young woman who disarmed 
the Evil Spirit and is for the time in temporary control 
of her tribe. Assisting her are eight or ten of the young 
married women, who serve the wooden bowls of food, 
pass the pipe, and dance. This feast partakes of the 
nature of a debauch, while all the rest of the village are 
required to keep within their wigwams. 



T hat these people should have a tradition of the 
Flood is by no means surprising, as I have learned 
from every tribe I have visited that they all have 
some high mountain in their vicinity where they insist 
upon it that the Big Canoe landed; but that these people 
should hold an annual celebration of the event, and the 
season of that decided by such circumstances as the full 
leaf of the willow, and the medicine-lodge opened by 
such a man as Nu-mohk-muck-a-na (who appears to 
be a white man), and making his appearance “from the 
high mountains of the West,” and some other circum¬ 
stances, is surely a very remarkable thing and requires 
some extraordinary attention. 

This Nu-mohk-muck-a-na (first or only man) is un¬ 
doubtedly some mystery or medicine-man of the tribe, 
who has gone out on the prairie on the evening previous, 
and having dressed and painted himself for the occasion, 
comes into the village in the morning, endeavoring to 
keep up the semblance of reality ; for their tradition says 
that at a very ancient period such a man did actually 
come from the West; that his body was of the white color, 
as this man’s body is represented; that he wore a robe 


The Boy’s Catlin 


of four white wolfskins; his head-dress was made of two 
ravens’ skins; and in his left hand was a huge pipe. He 
said he was at one time the only man—he told them 
of the destruction of everything on the earth’s surface 
by the water; that he stopped in his Big Canoe on a high 
mountain in the West, where he landed and was saved; 
that the Mandans and all other people were bound 
to make yearly sacrifices of some edged tools to the 
water, for of such things the big canoe was made; that 
he instructed the Mandans how to build their medicine- 
lodge, and taught them also the forms of these annual 
ceremonies, and told them that as long as they made 
these sacrifices, and performed their rites to the full 
letter, they might be assured of the fact that they would 
be the favorite people of the Almighty, and would al¬ 
ways have enough to eat and drink; and that so soon 
as they should depart in one tittle from these forms they 
might be assured that their race would decrease and 
finally run out; and that they might date their nation’s 
calamity to that omission or neglect. 

It seems from their tradition of the willow branch and 
the dove that these people must have at some time come 
into contact with the civilized world, since these two 
emblems are peculiar to this tribe, although the tradi¬ 
tion of the Deluge is held by every tribe. Two legends as 
related to me by old chiefs enforce this theory by seem¬ 
ing to relate to the transgression of Eve and the birth of 
Jesus. I will give you two curious stories I heard from 
several of the old chiefs that are evidently accredited 
traditions with their tribe: 

Mandan Legend of the Deluge 


“The Mandans, or People of the Pheasants, were the 
first people created in the world. Originally they lived 
inside the earth, where they raised many vines. One 
of these vines pushed its way through a hole in the 
earth overhead, and one of our young men climbed up 
it until he came out on top of the ground. Here he 
found himself on the banks of a river. He looked 
around and admired the prairies and the beautiful 
country about him. He also saw many buffaloes, and 
killed one with his bow and arrow and found the meat 
good to eat. 

“He then came back and told what he had seen. 
Then a number of others climbed up the vine with him 
and saw the same things. Among those who went were 
two pretty girls, who were great favorites and permitted 
to go. There was also among those trying to climb up 
a large, fat woman, who was forbidden to go by the 
chiefs. But her curiosity was too great, and as soon as 
she got an opportunity, when no one was by, she began 
to climb the vine, and when she got partly up the vine 
broke under the great weight of her body and she fell 
down. She was very much hurt by the fall, but she did 
not die. 

“The Mandans were very sorry about this, and she 
was forever disgraced for the calamity she had brought 
upon them, for no more Mandans could ever climb out, 
and those outside could never get back. These built 
the Mandan village, where it formerly stood far down 
the river, but the remainder of the Mandan people live 
under the ground to this day.” 


The Boy’s Catlin 

This story is told with great gravity by the chiefs and 
mystery-men, and the latter profess to talk with their 
friends undertheearth and to frequently get their advice. 

The next tradition runs thus: 

“At a very ancient period, O-kee-hee-de (the Evil 
Spirit, the black fellow mentioned in the religious cere¬ 
monies) came to the Mandan village with Nu-mohk- 
muck-a-na (the first or only man) from the West, and 
sat down by a woman who had but one eye and was 
hoeing com. Her daughter, who was very pretty, came 
up to her, and the Evil Spirit desired her to go and bring 
some water, but wished that, before she started, she 
would come to him and eat some buffalo meat. He told 
her to take a piece out of his side, which she did, and ate 
it, which proved to be buffalo fat. She then went for 
the water, which she brought, and met them in the vil¬ 
lage where they had walked, and they both drank of it. 

“The girl then went off to the upper Mandan village 
without telling any one. There was great excitement in 
the tribe, for she could not be found. When she was 
discovered a child had been born to her. Owing to 
these strange circumstances they believed that this 
child would be ‘great medicine’ and important to the 
welfare of the tribe. This soon became true in the won¬ 
derful things he did at a very early age. Among other 
miracles he performed, when the Mandans were like to 
starve, he gave them four buffalo bulls, which filled the 
whole village, leaving as much meat as there was be¬ 
fore they had eaten, and saying that these four bulls 
would supply them forever. Nu-mohk-muck-a-na was 

Mandan Legend of the Deluge 165 

bent on the destruction of the child, and, after making 
many fruitless searches for it, found it hidden in a dark 
place, and put it to death by throwing it into the river. 

“When O-kee-hee-de heard of the death of this 
child he sought for Nu-mohk-muck-a-na with intent 
to kill him. He traced him a long distance, and at 
length found him at Heart River, about seventy miles 
below the village, with the big medicine-pipe in his 
hand, the charm or mystery of which protects him 
from all of his enemies. They soon agreed, however, 
to become friends, smoked the big pipe together, and 
returned to the Mandan village. The Evil Spirit was 
satisfied, and Nuh-mohk-muck-a-na told the Mandans 
never to pass Heart River to live, for it was the centre 
of the world, and to live beyond it would be destruction 
to them; and he named it Nat-com-pa-sa-hah (heart or 
centre of the world).” 

I am travelling in this country not to prove theories, 
but to see all that I am able to see and to tell it in the 
simplest manner. But I find so many peculiarities in 
this decaying tribe that I am led to believe that it is an 
amalgam of some foreign and some aboriginal stock. I 
should like, for example, to revive inquiry concerning 
the ten ships that sailed from north Wales, under 
Prince Madoc, in the early part of the fourteenth cen¬ 
tury, for this country. It has been pretty clearly shown 
that it landed somewhere on the coast of the Gulf of 
Mexico, and the legends and poetry of Wales relate 
that it settled somewhere in the interior of America, 
where it remained mingled with the Indian tribes. 

The Boy’s Catlin 


In no other tribe have I met anything that might seem 
to account for the existence of this colony. Among the 
Mandans there is much. The Mandan method of con¬ 
structing their houses is much like that of the rude 
peasant huts of north Wales. The pottery made by 
the Mandans is very similar to that made in Wales at 
the present time, and is exactly like that found in the 
tumuli on the banks of the Ohio and Muskingham 
Rivers. This seems to suggest that the Mandans for¬ 
merly lived by those rivers. A peculiar and beautiful 
sort of blue beads is made by the Mandans, the secret of 
which they carefully guard. These beads command a high 
price among the neighboring tribes, and the Fur Com¬ 
pany has vainly made liberal offers to buy from them the 
secret of their composition. Beads like these and those 
found in the tumuli are now manufactured in Wales. 

Moreover, the canoes or boats of the Mandans differ 
from those of all other tribes. These are precisely like 
the Welsh coracle. They are made by stretching a 
bull’s hide over a frame of willow rods bent and inter¬ 
locked, and are pulled over the water by the paddle in 
the same manner as the coracle is pulled, by reaching 
forward with the paddle instead of passing it by the side 
of the boat, which is nearly round, with the paddler 
seated or kneeling in front. From the translation of 
their name, Nu-mah-ka-kee (pheasants), the inference 
is that at one time they lived much farther south, since 
the pheasant is not found on the prairies of the upper 
Missouri, but exists in numbers in the forests of Ohio 
and Indiana. Their familiar name—Mandan—is not 

Mandan Legend of the Deluge 167 

an Indian word. They themselves know nothing of 
the name or how they got it. But the word Mandan, 
in the Welsh language, means red dye. Now the Man- 
dans are celebrated among the tribes for their beautiful 
dyes. It seems a reasonable conjecture that the half- 
castes, who were the result of intermarriage with the 
Indians, formed, as is the custom, a separate but ad¬ 
jacent village, supporting themselves by embroidery 
with porcupine quills, to which they gave the dyes for 
which the Mandans are famous, and were called by 
their Welsh neighbors, in the Welsh language. Man- 
dans, or red dyers. 

At the time of the extermination of the colony by the 
savages, those who intermarried with the Indians doubt¬ 
less escaped. Forming a separate community and liv¬ 
ing on the hunting lands of the powerful tribe, they 
were repeatedly obliged to move. This fact the nu¬ 
merous remains of their old lodges, which cannot be 
mistaken for those of other tribes on the Missouri River, 
clearly show. 

When an Indian story is told it is, like all other gifts, 
“to be taken for what it is worth,” and for any seeming 
inconsistency in their traditions there is no remedy; for, 
as far as I have tried to reconcile them by reasoning 
with or questioning them, I have been entirely de¬ 
feated, and, more than that, have generally incurred 
their distrust and ill-will. One of the Mandan doctors 
told me very gravely a few days since that the earth was 
a large tortoise, that it carried the dirt on its back; 
that\ tribe of people, who are now dead and whose 

The Boy’s Catlin 


faces were white, used to dig down very deep in this 
ground to catch badgers; and that one day they stuck a 
knife through the tortoise-shell and it sunk down so 
that the water ran over its back and drowned all but 
one man. And on the next day, while I was painting 
his portrait, he told me there were four tortoises —one in 
the north, one in the east, one in the south, and one in 
the west; that each one of these rained ten days, and 
the water covered over the earth. 

I have dwelt longer on the appearance, customs, and 
peculiarities of this tribe because I believe them to be a 
people of different origin from the other tribes. This 
seems the more important because the powerful Sioux 
are continually waging war against them, and they are 
not likely to hold out long in their struggle for existence.* 

From the ignorant and barbarous and disgusting cus¬ 
toms just recited the world would naturally infer that 
these people must be the most cruel and inhuman beings 
in the world; yet such is not the case, and it becomes 
my duty to say it—a better, more honest, hospitable, and 
kind people, as a community, are not to be found in the 
world. No set of men that ever I associated with have 
better hearts than the Mandans, and none are quicker 
to embrace and welcome a white man than they are; 
none will press him closer to his bosom, that the pulsa¬ 
tion of his heart may be felt, than a Mandan; and no 
man in any country will keep his word and guard his 
honor more closely. 

* The Mandans were entirely destroyed as a tribe by an epidemic of 
small pox in 1837.—Ed. 



T he Minatarees, or people of the willows, is a 
small tribe occupying three villages on the river 
Knife, which meanders through a lovely prairie 
into the Missouri. The Minatarees are undoubtedly a 
part of the Crow tribe, which they resemble in appear¬ 
ance and stature, and from which they were doubtless 
run off by a war party. At present they are part of the 
Mandan confederacy, whose wigwams and many of 
whose customs they have adopted. Although scarcely 
a man in the tribe can speak Mandan, the Mandans can 
speak the tongue of the Minatarees, who, by the way, 
are called by the French traders Gros Ventres. 

Their chief sachem, whose guest I am, is a patriarchal 
man named Eeh-tohk-pah-shee-pee-shah (the black 
moccasin), who claims more than a “hundred snows.” 
His voice and sight are nearly gone, but his gestures are 
still energetic and youthful. I have been treated in the 
kindest manner by this old chief, and have painted his 
portrait seated on the floor of his wigwam smoking his 
pipe, a beautiful Crow robe thrown around him, and 
his hair wound in the form of a cone on the top of his 
head and fastened by a wooden pin. 


The Boy’s Catlin 


As I painted he related to me some of the extraor¬ 
dinary events of his life. He distinctly recalls Lewis 
and Clarke, who have told how kindly they were treated 
by this chief. He inquired earnestly for Red Hair and 
Long Knife, as he called them. I told him that Long 
Knife had long been dead, but that Red Hair lived in 
St. Louis and would be glad to hear of him. This 
pleased him greatly. 

I have also painted his son, the Red Thunder, who is 
one of the most desperate of the Minatarees, who are a 
warlike people, unlike their neighbors the Mandans. 
He was painted in his war-dress; that is, he was almost 
naked, and his body so profusely daubed with red and 
black paint that it was almost disguised. This is the 
custom of all Indian warriors, the chief only pluming 
himself to lead his band and form a conspicuous target 
for the enemy. 

The women of this tribe are unusually good-looking, 
voluptuous, and free with their bewitching smiles. 
But I have only been able to get one to consent to be 
painted, and she was compelled to stand for her por¬ 
trait by her relatives, who were of the family of the old 
chief. All the while she modestly urged that “she was 
not pretty enough to be painted and her picture would 
be laughed at.” She wore a beautiful costume of the 
skin of the mountain-sheep, handsomely embroidered 
with quills and beads, and even if she were not comely, 
the beauty of her name, Seet-se-be-a (the mid-day sun), 
would make up for it. 

The only places where I find I can write is under the 

Corn Dance of the Minatarees 171 

shade of some remote tree, or in my bed, where I now 
am, lying on sacking of buffalo hide, and surrounded by 
curtains made from the skins of the elk or buffalo. 
Meanwhile the roar and unintelligible din of savage 
conviviality is going on under the same roof. There 
are other distinguished guests here besides myself. 
Two Crow chiefs are visiting Black Moccasin in re¬ 
turn for a visit made the Crows by several Minatarees. 
I have already said that no people present a more pict¬ 
uresque and thrilling appearance than the Crows in all 
their plumes and trappings in a war parade or sham 

From among these showy fellows, who have been 
entertaining us and pleasing themselves with their ex¬ 
traordinary feats of horsemanship, I have selected one 
of the most conspicuous, and transferred him and his 
horse, with arms and trappings, as faithfully as I could, 
to the canvas, for the information of the world, who will 
learn vastly more from lines and colors than they could 
from oral or written delineations. 

I have painted him as he sat for me, balanced on his 
leaping wild horse, with his shield and quiver slung on 
his back and his long lance decorated with the eagle’s 
quills trailed in his right hand. His shirt and his leggings 
and moccasins were of the mountain-goat skins, beauti¬ 
fully dressed, and their seams everywhere fringed with 
a profusion of scalp-locks taken from the heads of his 
enemies slain in battle. His long hair, which reached 
almost to the ground while he was standing on his feet, 
was now lifted in the air and floating in black waves 


The Boy’s Catlin 

over the hips of his leaping charger. On his head and 
over his shining black locks he wore a magnificent crest 
or head-dress made of the quills of the war-eagle and 
ermine-skins. On his horse’s head also was another 
of equal beauty and precisely the same in pattern and 
material. Added to these ornaments there were yet 
many others which contributed to his picturesque 
appearance, and among them a beautiful netting of 
various colors that completely covered and almost ob¬ 
scured the horse’s head and neck, and extended over its 
back and its hips, where it terminated in a most ex¬ 
travagant and magnificent crupper, embossed and 
fringed with rows of beautiful shells and porcupine 
quills of various colors. 

With all these pictuesque trappings about him, with 
a noble figure and the stamp of a wild gentleman on 
his face, he leaned gracefully forward, his long locks and 
fringes floating in the wind, sending forth startling 
though smothered yelps in unison with the leaps of his 
wild horse. He was clearly pleased at displaying in 
this manner the extraordinary skill in the managment 
of his horse, as well as the graceful motion of his 
weapons as he brandished them in the air, and of his 
ornaments as they floated in the wind. 

These people raise an abundance of corn or maize, 
and it is my good fortune to visit them in the season of 
their festivities, which annually take place when the 
ears of corn are of the proper size for eating. The green 
corn is considered a great luxury by all those tribes who 
cultivate it, and is ready for eating as soon as the ear is 

Corn Dance of the Minatarees 


of full size and the kernels are expanded to their full 
growth but are yet soft and pulpy. In this green state 
of the corn it is boiled and dealt out in great profusion 
to the whole tribe, who feast and surfeit upon it while 
it lasts, rendering thanks to the Great Spirit for the 
return of this joyful season, which they do by making 
sacrifices, by dancing, and singing songs of thanksgiv¬ 
ing. This joyful occasion is one valued alike, and con¬ 
ducted in a similar manner, by most of the tribes who 
raise the corn, however remote they may be from each 
other. It lasts but for a week or ten days, being limited 
to the longest term that the corn remains in this tender 
and palatable state, during which time all hunting and 
all war excursions and all other avocations are positively 
dispensed with, and all join in the most excessive in¬ 
dulgence of gluttony and convivialitj/ that can possibly 
be conceived. The fields of corn are generally pretty 
well stripped during this excess, and the poor improvi¬ 
dent Indian thanks the Great Spirit for the indulgence 
he has had, and is satisfied to ripen merely the few ears 
that are necessary for his next year’s planting, without 
reproaching himself for his wanton lavishness, which 
has laid waste his fine fields and robbed him of the 
golden harvest which might have gladdened his heart, 
with those of his wife and little children, through the 
cold and dreariness of winter. 

The most remarkable feature of these joyous occasions 
is the green-corn dance, which is always given as pre¬ 
paratory to the feast and by most of the tribes in the 
following manner: 


The Boy’s Catlin 

At the usual season, and the time when from the out¬ 
ward appearance of the stalks and ears of the corn it is 
supposed to be nearly ready for use, several of the old 
women, who are the owners of fields or patches of corn 
(for such are the proprietors and cultivators of all crops 
in Indian countries, the men never turning their hands 
to such degrading occupations), are delegated by the 
medicine-men to look at the corn fields every morning 
at sunrise, and bring into the council-house, where the 
kettle is ready, several ears of corn, the husks of which 
the women are not allowed to break open or even to 
peep through. The women then are from day to day 
discharged and the doctors left to decide, until, from 
repeated examinations, they come to the decision that 
it will do, when they despatch runners or crierSy an¬ 
nouncing to every part of the village or tribe that the 
Great Spirit has been kind to them, and that they must 
all meet on the next day to return thanks for his good¬ 
ness; that all must empty their stomachs and prepare 
for the feast that is approaching. 

On the day appointed by the doctors the villagers are 
all assembled, and in the midst of the group a kettle is 
hung over a fire and filled with the green corn, which is 
well boiled, to be given to the Great Spirit as a sacrifice 
necessary to be made before any one can indulge the 
cravings of his appetite. While this first kettleful is 
boiling, four medicine-men, with a stalk of the corn in 
one hand and a rattle (she-she-quoi) in the other, and 
with their bodies painted with white clay, dance around 
the kettle, chanting a song of thanksgiving to the Great 

Corn Dance of the Minatarees 


Spirit to whom the offering is to be made. At the same 
time a number of warriors are dancing around in a more 
extended circle, with stalks of the corn in their hands, 
and joining also in the song of thanksgiving, while the 
villagers are all assembled and looking on. During this 
scene there is an arrangement of wooden bowls laid upon 
the ground, in which the feast is to be dealt out, each 
one using a spoon made of the buffalo or mountain- 
sheep’s horn. 

In this wise the dance continues until the doctors 
decide that the corn is sufficiently boiled; it then stops 
for a few moments, and again assumes a different form 
and a different song while the doctors are placing the 
ears on a little scaffold of sticks, which they erect imme¬ 
diately over the fire, where it is entirely consumed as 
they join again in the dance around it. 

The fire is then removed, and with it the ashes, which 
together are buried in the ground, and new fire is origi¬ 
nated, on the same spot where the old one was, by fric¬ 
tion. This is done with desperate and painful exertion 
by three men seated on the ground, facing each other 
and violently drilling the end of a stick into a hard block 
of wood by rolling it between the hands, each one catch¬ 
ing it in turn from the others without allowing the 
motion to stop until smoke, and at last a spark of fire, 
is seen and caught in a piece of spunk, when there is 
great rejoicing in the crowd. With this a fire is kindled 
and the kettle of corn again boiled for the feast at which 
the chiefs, doctors, and warriors are seated. After this 
permission is given to the whole tribe to indulge, which 


The Boy’s Catlin 

they do to excess and until the corn is too hard for 

Having heard that I was “great medicine,” a party 
of young men, accompanied by some of the chiefs and 
doctors, came in a formal body to present a grievance 
which it was hoped I might remedy. After several 
profound speeches, it appeared that a few years ago an 
unknown small animal was seen stealing slyly among 
the pots and kettles of one of the chief’s wigwams. It 
was described as having the size of a ground-squirrel, 
but with a long, round tail, and was regarded as such 
“great medicine” that hundreds came to see it. On 
one occasion this little animal was seen devouring a 
deer-mouse, which is very destructive to the wearing 
apparel of the Indians. It was at once decided that the 
little creature had been sent by the Great Spirit to pro¬ 
tect their clothing, and a council issued a solemn decree 
for its preservation. Having been thus preserved, the 
numbers of these little animals, which my man Batiste 
calls Monsieur Ratipon, had so increased that the wig¬ 
wams were now infested by rats, the caches that con¬ 
tained the corn and other food were robbed, and the 
very pavements of their wigwams were so vaulted and 
sapped that they were falling in. The object of this 
meeting was to see if I could not relieve them of this 
public calamity. I could only assure them of my deep 
regret, but there was too much medicine in the thing 
for me to undertake it. 

As I wished to visit another Minataree village on the 
other side of the river Knife, the old chief gave directions 

Corn Dance of the Minatarees 


to one of the numerous women of his household, who 
took upon her head a skin canoe, called in this country 
a bull boat, made in the form of a tub, of buffalo’s hide, 
and, carrying it to the water’s edge, made signs for the 
three of us to get in. When we were seated flat in the 
bottom, with scarcely room to adjust our legs and our 
feet (as we sat necessarily facing each other), she 
stepped before the boat, and, pulling it along, waded 
toward the deeper water, with her back toward us, care¬ 
fully with the other hand attending to her dress. This 
seemed to be but a light slip, floating upon the sur¬ 
face until the water was above her waist, when it was 
instantly turned off, over her head, and thrown ashore, 
and she boldly plunged forward, swimming and draw¬ 
ing the boat with one hand, which she did with apparent 
ease. In this manner we were conveyed to the middle 
of the stream, where we were soon surrounded by a 
dozen or more beautiful girls, from twelve to fifteen and 
eighteen years of age, who were at that time bathing on 
the opposite shore. 

They all swam in a bold and graceful manner, and as 
confidently as .so many otters or beavers, as they 
gathered around us, with their long black hair floating 
about on the water, while their faces were glowing 
with jokes and fun, which they were cracking about 
us, and which we could not understand. 

In the midst of this delightful little aquatic group we 
three sat in our little skin-bound tub (like the “three 
wise men of Gotham who went to sea in a bowl,” etc.), 
floating along down the current, losing sight and all 


The Boy’s Catlin 

thoughts of the shore, which was equidistant from us 
on either side, whilst we were amusing ourselves with 
the playfulness of these dear little creatures who were 
floating about under the clear blue water, catching their 
hands onto the sides of our boat, occasionally raising 
one-half of their bodies out of the water, and sinking 
again, like so many mermaids. 

In the midst of this bewildering and tantalizing en¬ 
tertainment, in which poor Batiste and Bogard, as well 
as myself, were all taking infinite pleasure, and which 
we supposed was all intended for our especial amuse¬ 
ment, we found ourselves suddenly in the delightful 
dilemma of floating down the current in the middle of 
the river, and of being turned round and round, to the 
excessive amusement of the villagers, who were laughing 
at us from the shore, as well as these little tyros, whose 
delicate hands were besetting our tub on all sides, and 
for an escape from whom, or for fending off, we had 
neither an oar nor anything else that we could wield in 
self-defence or for self-preservation. In this awkward 
predicament our feelings of excessive admiration were 
immediately changed to those of exceeding vexation as 
we now learned that they had peremptorily discharged 
from her occupation our fair conductress, who had 
undertaken to ferry us safely across the river, and had 
also very ingeniously laid their plans, of which we had 
been ignorant until the present moment, to extort from 
us in this way some little evidences of our liberality, 
which, in fact, it was impossible to refuse them, after so 
liberal and bewitching an exhibition on their part, as 

Corn Dance of the Minatarees 


well as from the imperative obligation which the awk¬ 
wardness of our situation had laid us under. I had 
some awls in my pockets, which I presented to them, 
and also a few strings of beautiful beads, which I placed 
over their delicate necks as they raised them out of the 
water by the side of our boat. They all then joined 
in conducting our craft to the shore, by swimming by 
the sides of and behind it, pushing it along in the direc¬ 
tion where they designed to land it, until the water be¬ 
came so shallow that their feet were upon the bottom, 
when they waded along with great coyness, dragging us 
toward the shore so long as their bodies, in a crouching 
position, could possibly be half concealed under the 
water. They then gave our boat the last push for the 
shore, and, raising a loud and exulting laugh, plunged 
back again into the river, leaving us the only alternative 
of sitting still where we were or of stepping out into the 
water at half-leg deep and of wading to the shore, which 
we at once did, and soon escaped from the view of our 
little tormentors, and the numerous lookers-on, on our 
way to the upper village which I have before mentioned. 

Here I was very politely treated by Yellow Moc¬ 
casin, quite an old man, and who seemed to be chief of 
this band or family, constituting their little community 
of thirty or forty lodges, averaging perhaps’ twenty 
persons to each. I was feasted in this man’s lodge, and 
afterward invited to accompany him and several others 
to a beautiful prairie, a mile or so above the village, 
where the young men and young women of this town, 
and many from the village below, had assembled for 


The Boy's Catlin 

their amusements, the chief of which seemed to be that 
of racing their horses. In the midst of these scenes, 
after I had been for some time a looker-on, and had 
felt some considerable degree of sympathy for a fine- 
looking young fellow, whose horse had been twice 
beaten on the course, and whose losses had been con¬ 
siderable — for which his sister, a very modest and 
pretty girl, was most piteously howling and crying—I 
selected and brought forward an ordinary-looking pony, 
that was evidently too fat and too sleek to run against 
his fine-limbed little horse that had disappointed his 
high hopes; and I began to comment extravagantly 
upon its muscle, etc., when I discovered him evidently 
cheering up with the hope of getting me and my pony 
onto the turf with him, for which he soon made me a 
proposition. I, having lauded the limbs of my little 
nag too much to 'Tack out,'’ agreed to run a short race 
with him of half a mile, for three yards of scarlet cloth, 
a knife, and half a dozen strings of beads, which I was 
willing to stake against a handsome pair of leggings, 
which he was wearing at the time. The greatest im¬ 
aginable excitement was now raised among the crowd 
by this arrangement, to see a white man preparing to 
run with an Indian jockey, and that with a scrub of a 
pony in whose powers of running no Indian had the 
least confidence. Yet there was no one in the crowd 
who dared to take up the several other little bets I was 
willing to tender (merely for their amusement and for 
their final exultation), owing, undoubtedly, to the bold 
and confident manner in which I had ventured on the 

Corn Dance of the Minatarees i8i 

merits of this little horse, which the tribe had all over¬ 
looked and needs must have some medicine about it. 

So far was this panic carried that even my champion 
was ready to withdraw, but his friends encouraged him, 
and at length we galloped our horses to the other end of 
the course, accompanied by a number of horsemen to 
see the “set-off.” Here a condition was named to me 
that I had not anticipated. In all the races of this day 
the riders were to be naked and to ride a naked horse. 
I found that remonstrance availed little, and as I had 
volunteered to ride to gratify them it seemed wise to 
comply. Accordingly I took off my clothes, straddled 
the naked back of my round and glossy little pony, by 
the side of my competitor, who was also mounted and 
stripped to the skin eager for the start. 

Can any one imagine that a man in middle life could 
be so suddenly transported back to infancy and breathe 
the air of naked, untasted liberty. If not, disrobe, and 
fancy yourself, as I was, naked, with my trembling 
little steed under me, and the cool breeze ready to close 
and embrace me, as it did the next moment when we 
“were off.” Though my little Pegasus seemed to dart 
through the clouds, and I to be wafted on the wings of 
Mercury, yet my red adversary soon left me far behind. 
No longer a competitor, I wheeled to the left and made 
the circuit of the prairie back to the starting-point, 
much to the satisfaction of the jockeys, but greatly to 
the disappointment of the women and children, who 
had come out in throngs to witness the “coming out” 
of the white medicine-man. 

The Boy’s Catlin 


I clothed myself rapidly and came back acknowledg¬ 
ing my defeat and the superior skill of my competitor, 
as well as the wonderful muscle of his little charger, 
which pleased him greatly. His sister’s disappointment 
I soon turned to joy by giving her a fine scarlet robe 
and a profusion of varicolored beads, which she was 
soon parading on her copper-colored neck. 

The Minatarees as well as the Mandans had suf¬ 
fered for some months for want of meat. It was feared 
that the buffalo herds were emigrating and actual star¬ 
vation might ensue. Suddenly one morning a herd was 
sighted, and a hundred or more young men jumped on 
their horses, with their weapons, and made for the 
prairie. The chief offered me one of his horses and 
said I had better go and see an interesting sight. I took 
my pencil and sketch-book and took my position in the 
rear, where I could witness every manoeuvre. The plan 
of attack in this country is called a “surround.” The 
hunters were all mounted on their “buflPalo horses,” 
and armed with bows, arrows, and long lances. 

Dividing into two columns and taking opposite direc¬ 
tions, they drew themselves gradually around the herd 
a mile or more distant from it, forming a circle of horse¬ 
men at equal distances apart, who gradually closed in 
upon them with a moderate pace, at a signal given. 
The unsuspecting herd at length “got the wind” of the 
approaching enemy, and fled in a mass in the greatest 
confusion. To the point where they were aiming to 
cross the line the horsemen were seen at full speed, 
gathering and forming in a column, brandishing their 


Corn Dance of the Minatarees 183 

weapons, and yelling in the most frightful manner, by 
which means they turned the black and rushing mass, 
which moved off in an opposite direction, where they 
were again met and foiled in a similar manner and 
wheeled back in utter confusion. By this time the 
horsemen had closed in from all directions, forming a 
continuous line around them, while the poor affrighted 
animals were eddying about in a crowded and confused 
mass, hooking and climbing upon each other, when the 
work of death commenced. I had ridden up in the rear 
and occupied an elevated position at a few rods’ dis¬ 
tance, from which I could (like the general of a battle¬ 
field) survey from my horse’s back the nature and the 
progress of the grand melee, but (unlike him) without 
the power of issuing a command or in any way directing 
its issue. 

In this grand turmoil a cloud of dust was soon raised, 
obscuring the throng where the hunters were galloping 
their horses around and driving the whizzing arrows 
or their long lances to the hearts of these noble ani¬ 
mals. These, in many instances becoming infuriated 
with deadly wounds in their sides, plunged forward at 
the sides of their assailants’ horses, sometimes goring 
them to death at a lunge and putting their dismounted 
riders to flight for their lives. Sometimes their dense 
crowd was opened, and the blinded horsemen, too 
intent on their prey amid the cloud of dust, were 
hemmed and wedged in amid the crowding beasts, 
over whose backs they were obliged to leap for security, 
leaving their horses to the fate that might await them 


The Boy’s Catlin 

in the results of this wild and desperate war. Many 
were the bulls that turned upon their assailants and 
met them with desperate resistance, and many were the 
warriors who were dismounted and saved themselves 
by the superior muscles of their legs; some, who 
were closely pursued by the bulls, wheeled suddenly 
around, and, snatching the part of a buffalo-robe from 
around their waists, threw it over the horns and the 
eyes of the infuriated beast, and darting by its side 
drove the arrow or the lance to its heart. Others sud¬ 
denly dashed off upon the prairies by the side of the 
affrighted animals which had escaped from the throng, 
and, closely escorting them for a few rods, brought down 
their hearts’ blood in streams and their huge carcasses 
upon the green and enamelled turf. 

I had sat in trembling silence upon my horse and 
witnessed this extraordinary scene, which allowed not 
one of these animals to escape out of my sight. Many 
plunged off upon the prairie for a distance, but were 
overtaken and killed; and although I could not dis¬ 
tinctly estimate the number that were slain, yet I am 
sure that some hundreds of these noble animals fell in 
this grand melee. 

The scene after the battle was over was novel and 
curious in the extreme; the hunters were moving about 
among the dead and dying animals, leading their 
horses by their halters, and claiming their victims by 
the private marks upon the arrows, which they were 
drawing from the wounds in the animals’ sides. 

The poor affrighted creatures that had occasionally 

Corn Dance of the Minatarees 185 

dashed through the ranks of their enemy and sought 
safety in flight upon the prairie (arid in some in¬ 
stances had undoubtedly gained it), I saw stand 
awhile, looking back when they turned, and, as if 
bent on their own destruction, retrace their steps and 
mingle themselves and their deaths with those of the 
dying throng. Others had fled to a distance on the 
prairies, and for want of company, of friends or of foes, 
had stood and gazed on till the battle-scene was over, 
seemingly taking pains to stay and hold their lives in 
readiness for their destroyers until the general destruc¬ 
tion was over, to whose weapons they fell easy vic¬ 
tims—making the slaughter complete. 

After this scene, and after arrows had been claimed 
and recovered, a general council was held, when all 
hands were seated on the ground and a few pipes 
smoked, after which all mounted their horses and rode 
back to the village. 

Several of the warriors were sent to the chief, to 
inform him of their success; and the same intelligence 
was soon communicated by little squads to every family 
in the village, and preparations were at once made for 
securing the meat. For this purpose some hundreds of 
women and children, to whose lot fall all the drudgeries 
of Indian life, started out upon the trail which led them 
to the battle-field, where they spent the day in skinning 
the animals and cutting up the meat, which was mostly 
brought into the villages on their backs, as they tugged 
and sweated under their enormous and cruel loads. 

I rode out to see this curious scene, and I regret ex- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

exceedgly that I kept no memorandum of it in my 
sketch-book. Amid the throng of women and children 
that had been assembled, and all of whom seemed busily 
at work, were many superannuated and disabled nags, 
which they had brought out to assist in carrying in the 
meat, and at least one thousand semi-loup dogs and 
whelps, whose keen appetites and sagacity had brought 
them out to claim their share of this abundant and 
sumptuous supply. 

I stayed and inspected this curious group for an hour 
or more, during which time I was almost continually 
amused by the clamorous contentions that arose and 
generally ended in desperate combats, both among 
dogs and women, who seemed alike tenacious of their 
rights and disposed to settle their claims tooth and 

When I had seen enough of this I withdrew to the top 
of a beautiful prairie bluff a mile or two from the scene, 
and overlooking the route through the undulating green 
fields, watched the continuous passing of women, dogs, 
and horses carrying home their heavy burdens to the 
village, resembling from afar nothing so much as a 
busy community of ants sacking and carrying away the 
treasures of a cupboard or the sweets of a sugar-bowl. 



B efore leaving that part of the country I visited 
the lower Mandan village of about eighty lodges, 
which appears to be a summer resort for some 
of the most noted families and in winter is untenanted. 
Here I experienced again the unbounded hospitality of 
these people and something more. 

Suffering from influenza, I left my bed by the side of 
the lodge and, wrapped in my blanket of buffalo-hide, 
lay on the floor, with my feet to the fire in the centre, 
Indian fashion. Here a young man, whom I had ob¬ 
served reverently watching the movements of my brush, 
insisted on the honor of offering his body as a pillow for 
my head. It was impossible to resist his importunities, 
and for several nights I lay pillowed on his bear-greased, 
bedaubed body. I took some pains to inquire concern¬ 
ing him, and learned that he was a Riccaree brave 
named Pah-too-ca-ra (he who strikes), who, with sev¬ 
eral others of his tribe, are on a friendly visit to this 
hostile village. I think he hoped in this manner to gain 
my protection, and I in return have tried to give him 
immortality by painting his portrait. By his side I have 

painted a beautiful little girl of the same tribe named 



The Boy’s Catlin 

Pshan-shaw (the sweet-scented grass), giving a very 
pretty specimen of the dress and fashion of the women 
of this tribe. The inner garment, which is like a slip 
or frock, is in one piece, lavishly ornamented with em¬ 
broidery and, beads, and for a necklace, elks’ teeth pass¬ 
ing across her breast. A young buffalo’s skin, tastefully 
and elaborately embroidered, was gracefully thrown 
over her shoulders and hung down to the ground in the 

The Riccaree village is about two hundred miles 
down the river. Coming up on the steamer I made a 
sketch of it on the open prairie, with the graceful and 
verdant undulating prairie for a background, and not 
a bush to be seen. It is impossible to visit them, for at 
present they have sworn death to every white man who 
comes in their way. When Lewis and Clarke first 
visited these people, as they have stated in their writ¬ 
ings, the Riccarees received them with great kindness 
and hospitality. Since that time the system of trade, 
as it is conducted in this country, has inflicted on them 
wrongs, real or imaginary—they and the fur traders 
are the best judges of which—so, having no desire to 
have my “scalp danced,” I passed them by. 

The last I saw of my friends the Mandans was at 
the shore of the river in front of their village. My canoe 
and all my packs were brought down to the water’s edge, 
with the whole tribe on the beach. My friends Mah-to- 
toh-pa, the Wolf Chief, and the Great Medicine each 
embraced me, warriors and braves shook hands with me, 
and the women and children saluted me with shouts of 

The Attack on the Canoe 


farewell; then Batiste, Bogard, and I were again afloat. 
When we were well under way a gallant young warrior 
I recognized followed us, and at the water’s edge leaned 
over and safely tossed a bundle he took out from under 
his robe into the canoe. I attempted to unfold it, when 
he waved his hand, shook his head, and made a sign for 
me to lay it down in the canoe, which I did. After we 
had paddled a mile away from the village, by untying 
many thongs I opened the package, and found the most 
beautiful pair of leggings I had ever seen, fringed with a 
profusion of scalp-locks and ornamented with porcupine 
quills. These I instantly recognized as belonging to the 
son of a famous chief, the Four Men, and I had been 
for some time trying to buy them. I had offered the 
young man a horse, but his only reply was that he 
could not sell them, as the scalp-locks were precious as 
trophies and his fellow-warriors would laugh at him 
if he sold them. 

Having parted from me without the least prospect of 
ever seeing me again, and enveloped with an intricacy 
of thongs that I could not possibly untie before the cur¬ 
rent had carried me beyond the power of making any 
compensation, he had compelled me to accept as a 
present what he could not sell to me the day before for 
the price of a horse. 

On and on glided our little boat, every turn presenting 
a new and cheerful landscape. We indeed seemed to 
be passing through an old and beautifully cultivated 
country, whose ploughed fields had become greensward 
and whose houses and hedges were only removed. Such 

The Boy’s Catlin 


is the American prairie. Night after night, and for 
weeks of nights, our little craft was hauled ashore and 
our robes spread upon the grass or sand-bars, while the 
silvery but discordant notes of the bands of howling 
wolves serenaded us. When our larder was low and a 
lazy little herd sleeping or quietly grazing tempted us, 
we would silently land the canoe and secure two or 
three tongues and humps without the slightest trouble. 
When we had enough to eat and our paddles were at 
work, we would sing, whistle, and tell stories for our 

Once while Batiste and Bogard were relating some 
amusing and exciting stories about the Crows and 
Blackfeet, bang! went a gun, and a bullet skipped be¬ 
fore us on the water. An Indian was seen standing alone 
at the water’s edge. A shot fired ahead is the usual 
friendly mode of inviting parties ashore on this river, 
but it is the second invitation; the first is by signalling 
or calling. Bogard was anxious to go ashore, but I did 
not exactly like the position of things. The man had 
placed himself on the shore just above a sudden bend 
in the river, where the current would carry us inshore 
if we drifted, and here his companions could easily 
await us if they had any unfriendly design; and there 
were many unsettled feuds between the Indians and the 
fur traders for which I or any other traveller might 

The river was very wide where we were and I steered 
for the opposite shore. Bogard, who thought this might 
be an opportunity for a drink, said in rather an authori- 

The Attack on the Canoe 


tative tone, “We will go ashore.” Batiste echoed him, 
“Oui, oui.” “No,” I said, “the canoe is mine, and I 
won’t go ashore. I don’t like the look of things.” Both 
men threw their paddles in the bottom of the canoe 
and looked over their shoulders for their rifles, which 
were lying under a bufl^alo-robe between us. I instantly 
seized my double-barrelled gun and, cocking it, laid it 
across my knee. They understood this movement and 
what would be the consequence if either reached for his 
gun. I then commenced paddling the canoe myself, 
forcing it toward the opposite side. 

Just at this moment, when the two men were growling 
at me for “being afraid of one poor solitary Indian,” 
some twenty or thirty naked warriors rose from behind 
the rocks and, raising the war-whoop, ran down the 
shore to meet us behind the bend. 

“Sacre, diable, il faut combattre!” exclaimed Ba¬ 
tiste as he seized his rifle. “No,” said I. “On ne com¬ 
bat pas. II faut ramer, ramer.” “On rame,” an¬ 
swered Batiste, laying down his gun and taking up his 
paddle, and all three paddled with all our might. In 
order to take advantage of the strongest current, I kept 
the canoe amid-stream, while the Indians, sounding the 
war-whoop, ran along the beach. Notwithstanding our 
exertions they were soon a little ahead of us, when eight 
or ten sprang into the water and came swimming toward 
us, holding their bows and arrows in their left hands 
above the water. 

Seeing them nearing the boat, I said, “Now take up 
your rifles, but don’t fire until I give the word.” 


The Boy’s Catlin 

I signalled the Indians to go back, but, advancing to 
within a few rods of the boat, I raised my rifle as if to 
fire, when they sank almost under the water and turned 
toward the shore. Meanwhile those on shore were still 
running, yeilling, and setting them on us again. As they 
were armed only with bows and arrows I felt no further 
alarm, for, if obliged to fire, we could easily have killed 
them all. Whether they were Sioux or Riccarees we 
were never able to learn. 

A few days’ more paddling brought us to the country 
of the Sioux, as they are called by the French traders, 
or the Dacotahs, as they are known in their own lan¬ 
guage. This tribe is one of the most numerous as it 
is one of the most vigorous and warlike on the plains. 
It could undoubtedly send forth eight or ten thousand 
well-mounted, well-armed warriors, which estimate al¬ 
lows for forty or fifty thousand Indians in the lodges. 
The greater number are armed with bows and arrows, 
although many are supplied with guns. The personal 
appearance of these people is most prepossessing. 
They are tall; at least one-half of the warriors are over 
six feet, and their movements are elastic and graceful. 
No tribe is better clad or better supplied with the 
necessaries of life. This part of the great plain is finely 
stocked with buffaloes and wild horses, and no people 
are more bold in destroying the one for food or appro¬ 
priating the other. 

I am living here with a Scotchman named Laidlaw, 
who, with Mr. McKenzie and Lamont, has the whole 
agency of the Fur Company in the upper Missouri and 

The Attack on the Canoe 


the Rocky Mountains. This gentleman has a finely 
equipped fort two or three hundred feet square, en¬ 
closing eight or ten of their factories, houses, and stores, 
in the centre of which he occupies comfortable and 
spacious apartments, well supplied with the luxuries of 
life, and neatly and respectably conducted by a fine- 
looking, modest, and dignified Sioux woman, the kind 
and affectionate mother of his little flock of pretty and 
interesting children. The fort is called Fort Pierre, 
after Mr. Pierre Chouteau, one of the members of the 
company, whose hospitality I enjoyed on the steamer 

This was not my first visit to the Sioux. Coming up 
the river the “Yellowstone” ran aground on a sand-bar. 
After a week’s delay, Mr. Chouteau determined to send 
twenty men across the prairie, two hundred miles to the 
fort. Having heard there was an encampment of Sioux 
at the fort, I decided to accompany them. We were a 
week making the march over the continuous prairie, in 
which the grass, half a foot high, was enamelled with 
flowers and abounding in strawberries. This discourag¬ 
ing sea of green soon became monotonous, and the half- 
breeds and Frenchmen, whose lives are spent on the 
prairie, set us a killing^ pace. I got on for a couple of 
days finely, but at length, with several others, fell be¬ 
hind, and finally felt like throwing myself on the ground 
in helpless despair. 

Our delay at length brought the leaders back to us, 
and I explained that the pain in my legs was too great 
to go further. One of the half-breeds then told me in 


The Boy’s Catlin 

French that if I would turn my toes in like the Indians 
I could go on very well. We halted half an hour while 
he gave me a lesson, and I found that by turning my 
toes in my feet not only went more easily through the 
grass but the weight of my body was more equally dis¬ 
tributed on each toe, instead of throwing it all on the 
joints of the great toe, as one does in walking with the 
toes turned out. I soon got relief, and on the third and 
fourth days I took the lead of the whole party and kept 
it until the end of the journey. 

At last we found a landmark in a distant range of blue 
hills, called the Bijou Hills by a French fur trader, who 
was finally killed by the Sioux. Some miles back of 
these we came suddenly upon a singular scene. This 
was a depression of some hundreds of acres, so in- 
crusted with salt that the ground seemed to be covered 
with snow, in vivid contrast to the green fields that 
hemmed them in. Through these salt meadows mean¬ 
ders a small stream of water fed by salt springs. On 
nearing the banks we were amazed at the buffaloes in 
incredible numbers stretching down to lick up the salt, 
a vast mass of black contrasting with the snow white 
and vivid green. This salt meadow required us to make 
a long detour, and at last we arrived, pretty well jaded, 
at Fort Pierre, where six hundred lodges of Sioux were 
encamped waiting for the steamer of which they had 
heard and were eager to see. 



A fter resting a few days and making the ac¬ 
quaintance of the village, I made known my 
desire to the chiefs and white men, to paint 
some portraits. A tent was prepared as a studio, 
and my first sitter was the head civil chief, Ha-won- 
je-tah (The One Horn), a man of middle age, medium 
stature, a noble countenance, and the figure of an 
Apollo. He told me that he took his name from a small 
shell that hung around his neck rather than from any 
of his own deeds. This shell had descended to him 
from his father, and he valued it more than anything 
else in life. This was a striking instance of the affection 
of these people for their dead, for he owed his position as 
chief to his athletic achievements. He was the fleetest 
of his tribe, and could run down a buffalo on his own 
legs and pierce it to the heart. 

His costume was of elk-skins, beautifully dressed and 
hung with scalp-locks and porcupine quills. But the 
most significant feature was his hair. This was divided 
into two locks and wound around his head like a Turk¬ 
ish turban. 

This portrait was finished before any one of the tribe 



The Boy’s Catlin 

knew about it. A few of the big men were allowed in 
to see it, and at last it became a matter of gossip and 
numbers of the people gathered about the tent. The 
chief and the big medicine then carried the painting out 
and held it up before them, while the big medicine ad¬ 
dressed the crowd. 

“Look, my friends. We have now got two chiefs. 
When one is dead the other will be alive. Look at him 
and be ashamed. He smiles upon you and is alive. To¬ 
morrow you will see me. Be patient, my friends. I am 
but a little boy.” I had made a dead coloring of the old 
man and had put it aside to dry. “Mine is put in a box 
to grow overnight. To-morrow my face will shine upon 
you. This is the wonderful work of a great white 
medicine-man. He is now sitting and smoking with the 
chief. You cannot see him; but perhaps he will some¬ 
times walk through the village, and then you can look 
at him. The Great Spirit has shown him how to do 
these things, and you must make but little noise. He 
says that I can do the same thing, and I think so, too, 
my friends.” 

The doctor’s address was long and very curious. 
Looking through the crevices in my tent I beheld an 
interminable mass of red and painted heads, of eagles’ 
quills or ermine-skins, of beads and brooches, of shields, 
spears, lances, and quivers. Some were mounted, others 
were raised on shoulders, and all gazing in astonish¬ 
ment on the chief that had life, the corners of whose 
mouth many said they could see move, and the eyes of 
which turned as they changed their positions. 

The Death of Little Bear 


After the exhibition of the portrait the village was in 
great excitement. The other medicine-men took a 
decided stand against me, predicting bad luck and 
premature death to all who subjected themselves to so 
mysterious an operation. The women and children 
were crying with their hands over their mouths, making 
the most pitiful and doleful sounds, and the result was 
I could get no sitters. In this perplexing dilemma the 
old chief addressed them, assuring them there was no 
harm in what I did, since he had gone through it. His 
speech had the desired effect, and some of the chiefs 
went immediately away to dress for their portraits. 

I now had all I could do. One of the first to present 
himself was Black Rock, of the Nee-caw-wee-gee band, 
a man of six feet or more, in a splendid dress, lance in 
hand, with his pictured robe thrown over his shoul¬ 
ders, his head-dress of war-eagle quills and ermine- 
skins falling quite down to his feet, and surmounted 
with a pair of horns, which, as I have said, denoted 
that he was the leader of his band. Another chief 
was The Stone with Horns, chief of the Yanckton 
band, who was so curiously tattooed with gunpowder 
and vermilion that at a little distance it appeared like a 
finely embroidered dress. Around his body was a robe 
of the grizzly bear and on his neck several strings of 
wampum. This is very unusual. Wampum is rarely 
seen in this country, having been so cheapened by the 
imitations manufactured by the fur traders that the 
Indians no longer use it in barter. I was much amused 
by the vanity of this man, who, as he sat, kept the inter- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

preter engaged telling me of the wonderful effects his 
oratory produced on the tribes. It was an easy thing, 
he said, to set all the women crying, and that the chiefs 
listened seriously to his voice before they went to war. 
My wigwam was full of the chiefs waiting their turn, 
smoking and talking gayly, generally at the expense of 
the sitter, whose mouth was shut and unable to reply, 
while they related anecdotes, creditable and otherwise, 
of his life, and were unsparing in criticisms about his 

The necessity of observing their rank gave rise to 
various difficulties. As there are forty bands among 
the Sioux, each with its chief, and ten times that num¬ 
ber of big men, jealousies were rife. I now desired to 
paint some of the younger men for their looks. At this 
juncture Mr. Laidlaw brought to me a fine young man, 
in his war-dress, Mah-to-chee-ga (the little bear), telling 
me that he was a warrior of such distinction that he was 
sure the chiefs would be willing to have him painted. 
To this the chiefs agreed, and I began immediately. 
The first attitude of the young man was so beautiful 
that I did not change it. He was looking off toward 
the sides of the wigwam, as if gazing over the bound¬ 
less prairie. The face was therefore what we painters 
call a three-quarter face, one half in shadow. 

While I was painting and had the portrait pretty well 
along, one of the secondary chiefs, Shonka (the dog), a 
surly fellow I had painted a few days before, crept round 
behind me, and, watching my brush for a time, said, 
“I see you are but half a man.” 

The Death of Little Bear 


“Who says that said Mah-to-chee-ga in a low tone, 
and without the change of a muscle or the direction of 
his eye. “Shonka says it,” replied The Dog. “Let 
Shonka prove it,” answered Mah-to-chee-ga. “Shonka 
proves it this way. The white medicine-man knows that 
one half your face is good for nothing, as he has left it 
out in the picture.” Mah-to-chee-ga, still with his eyes 
as if gazing over a distant prairie, said, “If I am but 
half a man, I am man enough for Shonka in any way 
he pleases to try it.” This repartee kept up for some 
minutes, to the amusement of the chiefs, as Mah-to- 
chee-ga seemed to have the advantage, Shonka sprang 
upon his feet, and, wrapping his robe around him, 
darted out of the wigwam in a rage. 

The chiefs, from their manner, seemed somewhat 
disturbed, but my subject, still without change or ap¬ 
parent emotion, stood until the portrait was finished, 
when he took olF of his legs a beautiful pair of leggings 
fringed with scalp-locks, and asked me to accept them. 
After smoking a pipe with the chiefs and hearing their 
comments on his portrait, with which they were all 
pleased, he got up, shook hands with me, and went to 
his own wigwam, which was but a few paces from mine. 
There, fearing what The Dog might do, he took down 
his gun and loaded it, and, according to their custom 
when danger is near, he prostrated himself before the 
Great Spirit. While doing this his wife, to prevent mis¬ 
chief, took the ball from his rifle unknown to him. 

Just then the voice of Shonka was heard without. 
“If Mah-to-chee-ga is man enough for Shonka, let him 


The Boy’s Catlin 

come and prove it.” Like a flash the young man rushed 
out, and the two guns, overlapping each other, were 
fired. Mah-to-chee-ga fell, that side of his face blown 
away which had been “left out” in the painting. The 
Dog fled to the outer part of the village and called on 
his warriors to protect him. At the firing of the guns 
the chiefs all rushed out of my wigwam. I was left 
alone and heard nothing for some time. Peeping 
through the cracks in my wigwam, I saw women and 
children running; the horses were brought in at full 
gallop, and the dogs were all howling. As I was slip¬ 
ping my pistols in my belt Laidlaw dashed into my 

“Now we shall have it. That splendid fellow. The 
Little Bear, is dead. All that side of the face you left 
out in the portrait has been shot away. The devil take 
the pictures! I have been afraid of them. They say 
you are the cause of Little Bear’s death, and if they 
can’t kill The Dog they will look to you for satisfaction.” 
At this moment guns were heard on the outskirts of the 
village, and we fled to the Fort. Here we took possession 
of one of the unarmed bastions, barricaded the doors 
and windows as well as we could, and with several dozen 
of the company’s muskets awaited results. We kept 
our quarters dark through the night, and from the 
sound of the guns on the prairie concluded that The 
Dog and his warriors were retreating, pursued by the 
friends of The Little Bear. 

In the morning the village was silent but sullen. 
Several young men were reported dead. I found my 

The Death of Little Bear 


wigwam just as I left it, my paintings untouched. We 
joined in burying the fallen warrior and raising an 
honorable monument over his grave. I made liberal 
presents to his wife and relations, which doubtless saved 
us from violence. Fortunately, the steamer “Yellow¬ 
stone” being released, I was able to continue my jour¬ 
ney. But this was not the first time I got myself into 
serious perplexity during this visit to the Sioux. 

Having painted the chiefs and braves I proposed to 
paint some of the women. This unaccountable con¬ 
descension on my part brought on me the laughter of 
the whole tribe. Those who had been painted were now 
jeered at by those who had not been painted for assum¬ 
ing as a special honor that now to be given to squaws. 
These immediately came to me and asked to have their 
portraits destroyed. I had told them I wished their por¬ 
traits to show to great white chiefs because they were 
distinguished men. The women had never taken any 
scalps. They only built fires and dressed skins. 

This was very awkward for me, but I explained that 
I wanted the portraits of the women to hang under 
those of their husbands, merely to show how their 
women looked and how they dressed, without saying 
any more of them. After some considerable delay in 
my operations, and much deliberation on the subject 
through the village, I succeeded in getting a number of 
women’s portraits. One was the daughter of Black 
Rock, an unmarried girl and much admired in the tribe 
for her modesty and beauty. She was beautifully 
dressed in skins ornamented with brass buttons and 


The Boy’s Gatlin 

beads, with her hair plaited and over her ears a pro¬ 
fusion of beads. Another of these women had the up¬ 
per part of her garment covered with brass buttons, 
and her hair, left free, fell over her shoulders in soft, 
glossy waves, produced by braiding it, for their hair 
is naturally straight and graceless. 

The vanity of these men, after they had agreed to be 
painted, was beyond all description, and far surpassing 
that which is oftentimes immodest enough in civilized 
society, where the sitter generally leaves the picture, 
when it is done, to speak for and to take care of itself; 
while an Indian often lies down from morning till night 
in front of his portrait, admiring his own beautiful face, 
and faithfully guarding it from day to day to save it 
from accident or harm. 

This guardianship was of great service to me, since 1 
frequently was anxious lest my paintings be injured by 
the great crowds. 



D uring the time that I was engaged in painting 
my portraits I was occasionally inducing the 
young men to give me their dances, a great vari¬ 
ety of which they gave me by being slightly paid, and 
I was glad to say in order to enable me to study their 
character and expression thoroughly, which I am sure I 
have done. The dancing is generally done by the young 
men, and it is considered undignified for the chiefs or 
doctors to join in. Yet so great was my medicine that 
chiefs and medicine-men turned out and agreed to com¬ 
pliment me with a dance. I looked on with great satis¬ 
faction, having been assured by the interpreters and 
traders that this was the highest honor they had ever 
known them to pay to any stranger among them. 

This dance, which I have called “the dance of the 
chiefs,” for want of a more significant title, was given by 
fifteen or twenty chiefs and doctors, many of whom were 
very old and venerable men. All of them came out in 
their head-dresses of war-eagle quills, with a spear or 
staff in the left hand and a rattle in the right. It was 
given in the midst of the Sioux village, in front of the 

head chief’s lodge; and, besides the medicine-man who 



The Boy’s Catlin 

beat on the drum and sang for the dance, there were 
four young women standing in a row and chanting a 
sort of chorus for the dancers, forming one of the very 
few instances that I have ever known where the women 
are allowed to take any part in the dancing or other 
game or amusement with the men. 

This dance was a very spirited thing, and pleased me 
much, as well as all the village, who were assembled 
around to witness what most of them never before had 
seen—their aged and venerable chiefs united in giving a 

Dancing is one of the principal and most frequent 
amusements among all the tribes. In their dances both 
vocal and instrumental music are introduced. These 
dances are made up of not more than four different 
steps, but the figures are numerous. These are pro¬ 
duced by violent jumps and contortions, accompanied 
by songs and beats of the drum, given in exact time 
with the movements of the dancers. It has been said 
that the Indian has neither harmony nor melody in his 
music. I grant that in their vocal exercises what the 
musical world calls melody is absent. Their songs are 
made up, for the most part, of a sort of violent chant 
of harsh and jarring gutturals, of yelps and barks and 
screams. But these are given out in perfect time 
and with at least harmony in their madness. There 
are times, as every traveller in the Indian country 
will attest, when the Indian lies by his fireside, his 
drum in his hand, lightly touching it as he murmurs 
dulcet sounds that might come from the most tender 

The Dances and Music of the Sioux 205 

and delicate woman. These quiet and tender songs are 
very different from those which are sung at their dances 
in full chorus and with wild gesticulation. Many of 
them seem to be quite rich in plaintive expression and 
melody although barren of change and variety. 

I saw so many of their different varieties of dances 
among the Sioux that I should almost be disposed to 
denominate them the “dancing Indians.” It would 
actually seem as if they had dances for everything. 
And in so large a village there was scarcely an hour in 
any day or night but the beat of the drum could 
somewhere be heard. These dances are almost as 
various and different in their character as they are nu¬ 
merous. Some of them are so exceedingly grotesque and 
laughable as to keep the by-Standers in an irresistible 
roar of laughter. Others are calculated to excite his pity 
and forcibly appeal to his sympathies; while others 
disgust and yet others terrify and alarm him with their 
frightful threats and contortions. 

All the world has heard of the bear dance, though 
I doubt whether more than a very small proportion of 
persons have ever seen it. The Sioux, like all the 
others of these Western tribes, are fond of bear’s meat, 
and must have good stores of the “bear’s grease” 
laid in, to oil their long and glossy locks as well as 
the surface of their bodies. And they all like the 
fine pleasure of a bear hunt, and also a participation 
in the bear dance, which is given several days in suc¬ 
cession previous to their starting out, and in which 
they all join in a song tQ the Bear Spirit, which they 


The Boy’s Catlin 

think holds somewhere an invisible existence, and 
must be consulted and conciliated before they can en¬ 
ter upon their excursion with any prospect of success. 
For this grotesque and amusing scene one of the chief 
medicine-men placed over his body the ent ' skin of 
a bear, with a war-eagle’s quill on his head, taking 
the lead in the dance, and looking through the skin 
which formed a mask that hung over his face. Many 
others in the dance wore masks on their faces made 
of the skin from the bear’s head; and all, with the 
motions of their hands, closely imitated the movements 
of that animal; some representing its motion in run¬ 
ning, and others the peculiar attitude and hanging of 
the paws when it is sitting up on its hind feet and 
looking out for the approach of an enemy. This gro¬ 
tesque and amusing masquerade oftentimes is con¬ 
tinued at intervals for several days previous to the start¬ 
ing of a party on the bear hunt, who would scarcely 
count upon a tolerable prospect of success without a 
strict adherence to this most important and indispen¬ 
sable form. 

Dancing is done here, too, as it is oftentimes done in 
the enlightened world, to get favors—to buy the world’s 
goods—and in both countries danced with about equal 
merit, except that the Indian has surpassed us in hon¬ 
esty by christening it in his own country the “beggar’s 
dance.” This spirited dance was given, not by a set of 
beggars though, literally speaking, but by the first and 
most independent young men in the tribe, beautifully 
dressed e., not dressed at all, except with their breech 



The Dances and Music of the Sioux 207 

clouts, or kelts, made of eagles’ and ravens’ quills), with 
their lances and pipes and rattles in their hands, and a 
medicine-man beating the drum and joining in the song 
at the highest key of his voice. In this dance every one 
sings as loud as he can halloo, uniting his voice with 
the others in an appeal to the Great Spirit to open the 
hearts of the by-standers to give to the poor and not to 
themselves, assuring them that the Great Spirit will be 
kind to those who are kind to the helpless and poor. 

There are two dances among the Sioux for the pur¬ 
pose of teaching courage and endurance. One is the 
war dance, in which each warrior must dance through 
a fire in order to touch a red post, at the same time 
vaunting his prowess and taking an oath. The other is 
the straw dance. In this the children are made to 
dance with burning straws tied to their bodies to make 
them tough and brave. The scalp dance is given as a 
celebration of a victory, and among this tribe, as I 
learned while residing with them, danced in the night 
by the light of their torches and just before retiring to 
bed. When a war party returns from a war excursion, 
bringing home with them the scalps of their enemies, 
they generally “dance them” for fifteen nights in suc¬ 
cession, vaunting the most extravagant boasts of their 
wonderful prowess in war, while they brandish their 
war weapons in their hands. A number of young 
women are selected to aid, although they do not actu¬ 
ally join in the dance, by stepping into the centre of the 
ring and holding up the scalps that have been recently 
taken, while the warriors dance, or rather jump, around 


The Boy’s Catlin 

in a circle, barking and yelping in a frightful manner, 
using both feet at a time as they threaten with their 
weapons, as if they were actually cutting one another 
to pieces. 

During these frantic leaps and thrusts every man 
distorts his face to the utmost of his muscles, darting 
his glaring eyeballs, snapping his teeth, and breathing 
through his inflated nostrils the very hissing death of 
battle. No description could be written that would do 
more than feebly convey the frightful effect of these 
scenes enacted in the darkness of night under the 
glaring light of their flaring flambeaux. 

Something should be said of the custom of scalping as 
it is practised by all of the North American Indians. 
A genuine scalp must contain and show the crown of 
the head, that part directly over what the phrenologists 
call “self-esteem,” or where the hair divides and ra¬ 
diates from the centre. This is a precaution lest two 
scalps be taken from the same head. Scalping is done 
by passing the knife under the skin and removing a 
piece as large as the palm of a man’s hand. It is not 
an operation that destroys life, since it must be done 
without injury to the bone. Besides the scalp, the 
Indian usually cuts off as much of the hair of his enemy 
as he can. This hair his wife uses in fringing the seams 
of his leggings and shirt with what are called “scalp- 

In his native state the Indian makes his scalping-knife 
of a sharpened bone or the edge of a piece of silex, while 
his v/ar-club is carved from wood, and often with con« 

The Dances and Music of the Sioux 209 

siderahle grace. The Indian does not work in metals. 
His scalping-knives are now made expressly for Indian 
use and shipped into the Indian country by the tens of 
thousands. The knife resembles a common butcher 
knife with one edge, and is made at Sheffield for perhaps 
a sixpence, and is sold to the Indian for the price of a 
horse. Every scalping-knife I have found bears on its 
blade the impress of “G. R.,” which English people 
will understand. His war-club is also another civilized 
refinement. It is a blade of steel about ten inches long 
set in a club studded around with hundreds of brass 
nails. The scabbards of these weapons the Indian 
makes for himself and often ornaments handsomely. 

The scalp itself is preserved as a trophy. The 
most usual way of preparing and dressing the scalp 
is that of stretching it on a little hoop at the end of 
a stick two or three feet long, for the purpose of “ dan¬ 
cing it,” as they term it, which will be described in the 
scalp dance in a few moments. There are many, again, 
which are small and not “dressed,” sometimes not 
larger than a crown piece, and hung to different parts 
of the dress. In public shows and parades they are 
often suspended from the bridle-bits or halter when 
they are paraded and carried as trophies. Sometimes 
they are cut out, as it were, into a string, the hair form¬ 
ing a fringe to line the handle of a war-club. Some¬ 
times they are hung at the end of the club, and at other 
times, by the order of the chief, they are hung over the 
wigwams suspended from a pole called the “ scalp 


The Boy’s Catlin 

“Scalp day” is a national holiday. The Sioux have 
several days for scalp counting. The pole is stuck out 
of the side of the wigwams like a flagpole. When the 
chief has his pole ready it is the signal for the rest of 
the tribe to make ready, so that all the village can count 
each warrior’s scalps and claims to promotion. 

As the scalp is an evidence of the death of an enemy, 
an Indian has neither business nor inclination to take it 
from the living. It of course, sometimes happens on 
the frontier, when a man is stunned by a war-club or 
receives a gun-shot and falls, that an Indian rushing 
over his body snatches his scalp supposing him dead. 
But a scalp is supposed to be from the head of a dead 
enemy or it subjects its owner to disgrace. 

There is no custom practised by the Indians held in 
greater horror than that of scalping. At the same time 
there is some excuse for them, I think, since they have 
no other means of keeping what from ancient times 
they have held to be a glorious record of service to their 
tribe. Among the Indians there is no historian to pre¬ 
serve the heroic deeds of those who have gained their 
laurels in battle as there is in Christian countries. The 
poor Indian is bound to do this for himself or he loses 
such laurels. The motives for the scalp dance, which 
is a strict ceremony among all tribes, is certainly public 
exultation. But there seems to be in it something more. 
Among some of the tribes it is the custom, after thus 
publicly displaying the scalps and formally receiving 
credit for them, to require their burial. The great re¬ 
spect which seems to be paid the scalps while they re- 

The Dances and Music of the Sioux 211 

tain them, and the pitying and mournful song which 
they howl to the manes of their unfortunate victims, as 
well as the precise care and solemnity with which they 
bury them, convinces me that they have a superstitious 
dread of the spirits of their slain enemies and perform 
these conciliatory offices to appease them. 

If the reader thinks that I am taking too much pains 
to defend the Indians for this and others of their seem¬ 
ingly abominable customs, he will bear it in mind that 
I have lived with these people until I have learned the 
necessities of Indian life in which these customs are 
founded; and also, that I have met with so many acts of 
kindness and hospitality at the hands of the poor Indian 
that I feel bound, when I can do it, to render what 
excuse I can for a people who are dying with broken 
hearts and never can speak in the civilized world in 
their own defence. 

The musical instruments used among these people 
are few, and these are rude and imperfect, consisting 
chiefly of rattles, drums, whistles, and flutes. 

The rattles (or she-she-quois) most generally used are 
made of rawhide, which becomes very hard when dry, 
and charged with pebbles or something of the kind, 
which produce a shrill noise to mark the time in their 
dances and songs. Their drums are made in a very 
rude manner, oftentimes with a mere piece of rawhide 
stretched over a hoop, very much in the shape of a tam¬ 
bourine, and at other times are made in the form of a 
keg, with a head of rawhide at each end; on these they 
beat with a drum-stick, which oftentimes itself is a 


The Boy’s Catlin 

rattle, the bulb or head of it being made of rawhide and 
filled with pebbles. In other instances the stick has at 
its end a little hoop wound and covered with buckskin, 
to soften the sound, with which they beat on the drum 
with great violence as the chief and heel-inspiring 
sound for all their dances, and also as an accompani¬ 
ment for their numerous and never-ending songs of 
amusement, of thanksgiving, and medicine or metai. 
The mystery whistle is another instrument of their in¬ 
vention, and very ingeniously made, the sound being 
produced on a principle entirely different from that of 
any wind instrument known in civilized inventions, 
and the notes produced on it by the sleight or trick of 
an Indian boy in so simple and successful a manner as 
to baffle entirely all civilized ingenuity, even when it is 
seen to be played. An Indian boy would stand and 
blow his notes on this repeatedly for hundreds of white 
men who might be lookers-on, not one of whom could 
make the least noise on it, even by practising with it for 
hours. When I first saw this curious exhibition I was 
charmed with the peculiar sweetness of its harmonic 
sounds and completely perplexed (as hundreds of white 
men have no doubt been before me, to the great amuse¬ 
ment and satisfaction of the women and children) as to 
the mode in which the sound was produced, even though 
it was repeatedly played immediately before my eyes 
and handed to me for my vain and amusing endeavors. 
The sounds of this little simple toy are liquid and sweet 
beyond description, and though among the Indians 
only given in harmonics, I am inclined to think might. 

The Dances and Music of the Sioux 213 

by some ingenious musician or musical instrument 
maker, be modulated and converted into something 
very pleasing. 

The war whistle is a well-known and valued little in¬ 
strument of six or nine inches in length, invariably 
made of the bone of the deer or turkey’s leg, and gener¬ 
ally ornamented with porcupine quills of different colors 
which are wound around it. A chief or leader carries 
this to battle with him, suspended generally from his 
neck, and worn under his dress. This little instrument 
has but two notes, which are produced by blowing in 
the ends of it. The note produced in one end, being 
much more shrill than the other, gives the signal for 
battle, while the other sounds a retreat, a thing that is 
distinctly heard and understood by every man, even in 
the heat and noise of battle, where all are barking and 
yelling as loud as possible, and of course unable to hear 
the commands of their leader. 

The signals in war are many and very intelligent as 
well as curious. The world-wide notorious war-whoop 
is one of these and is given by all tribes, both in North 
and South America, exactly alike when rushing into 
battle. It is a shrill, piercing note, sounded long, and 
with a swell on the highest key of the voice made by 
striking the palm or the fingers against the lips in order 
to produce the most rapid vibration possible. 

There is nothing so frightful in the sound itself. 
There are many sounds more terrifying than the war- 
whoop. But no other sound can be so distinctly heard 
in the noise and confusion of battle. It is its association 


The Boy’s Catlin 

that gives it terror, for it is always the signal for attack, 
and is never made until the rush is made and weapons 
drawn for blood. No Indian is allowed to sound the 
war-whoop in time of peace, except in the war dance 
and countenanced by the chief, lest it be echoed by the 
sentinels, and hunting parties alarmed. 

There is yet another wind instrument which I have 
added to my collection, and which from its appearance 
would seem to have been borrowed, in part, from the 
civilized world. This is what is often on the frontier 
called a “deer-skin flute,” a “Winnebago courting 
flute,” a “tsal-eet-quash-to,” etc.; it is perforated with 
holes for the fingers, sometimes for six, at others for four, 
and in some instances for three only, having only so 
many notes with their octaves. These notes are very 
irregularly graduated, showing clearly that they have 
very little taste or ear for melody. These instruments 
are blown in the end, and the sound produced much on 
the principle of a whistle. 

In the vicinity of the upper Mississippi, I often and 
familiarly heard this instrument called the Winnebago 
courting flute, and was credibly informed by traders 
and others in those regions that the young men of that 
tribe meet with signal success, oftentimes, in wooing 
their sweethearts with its simple notes, which they blow 
for hours together and from day to day from the bank 
of some stream, some favorite rock or log on which they 
are seated, near to the wigwam which contains the 
object of their tender passion, until her soul is touched, 
and she responds by some welcome signal that she is 

The Dances and Music of the Sioux 215 

ready to repay the young Orpheus for his pains with the 
gift of her hand and her heart. How true these repre¬ 
sentations may have been I cannot say, but there 
certainly must have been some ground for the present 
cognomen by which it is known in that country. 



I T was several weeks before the steamer “Yellow¬ 
stone” arrived at Fort Pierre. The excitement and 
dismay among the six thousand Indians encamped 
here, as the puffing of the steam and the thundering of 
the cannon was heard, was very amusing. But when 
their old friend and agent. Major Sanford, stepped off 
the boat his presence seemed to restore courage, and 
they showed no further curiosity about it. We were 
now treated to numerous sights and amusements, some 
entertaining, others shocking. 

It was announced that a grand feast would be held 
in honor of the great white chiefs. The two chiefs, 
Ha-wan-je-tah and Tchan-dee, brought their two tents 
together, forming a semicircle, enclosing a space suffi¬ 
ciently large to accommodate one hundred and fifty men, 
and sat down with that number of the principal chiefs and 
warriors of the Sioux nation, with Mr. Chouteau, Major 
Sanford, the Indian agent, Mr. McKenzie, and myself, 
whom they had invited in due time and placed on ele¬ 
vated seats in the centre of the crescent; while the rest 
of the company all sat upon the ground, and mostly 
cross-legged, preparatory to the feast being dealt out. 


A Dog Feast 


In the centre of the semicircle was erected a flag¬ 
staff, on which was waving a white flag, and to which 
also was tied the calumet, both expressive of their 
friendly feelings toward us. Near the foot of the flag¬ 
staff were placed in a row on the ground six or eight 
kettles, with iron covers on them shutting them tight, 
in which were prepared the viands for our voluptuous 
feast. Near the kettles and on the ground also, bottom- 
side upward, were a number of wooden bowls, in which 
the meat was to be served out, and in front two or three 
men, who were there placed as waiters, to light the pipes 
for smoking, and also to deal out the food. 

In these positions things stood, and all sat, with thou¬ 
sands climbing and crowding around for a peep at the 
grand pageant, when at length Ha-wan-je-tah (the one 
horn), head chief of the nation, rose in front of the 
Indian agent, in a very handsome costume, and ad¬ 
dressed him thus: “My father, I am glad to see you here 
to-day. My heart is always glad to see my father when 
he comes. Our Great Father who sends him here is 
very rich and we are poor. Our friend Mr. McKenzie, 
who is here, we are also glad to see; we know him well, 
and we shall be sorry when he is gone. Our friend who 
is on your right hand we all know is very rich, and we 
have heard that he owns the great medicine canoe; he 
is a good man and a friend to the red men. Our friend 
the White Medicine, who sits with you, we did not know 
—he came among us a stranger and he has made me 
very well—all the women know it, and think it very 
good; he has done many curious things and we have all 

The Boy’s Catlin 


been pleased with him; he has made us much amuse¬ 
ment and we know he is great medicine. 

“My father, I hope you will have pity on us; we are 
very poor; we offer you to-day not the best that we have 
got, for we have plenty of good buffalo hump and mar¬ 
row; but we give you our hearts in this feast—we have 
killed our faithful dogs to feed you—and the Great 
Spirit will seal our friendship. I have no more to say.” 

After these words he took off his beautiful war-eagle 
head-dress, his shirt and leggings, his necklace of grizzly 
bears’ claws, and his moccasins, and, tying them to¬ 
gether, laid them gracefully down at the feet of the 
agent as a present; and laying a handsome pipe on top 
of them, he walked around into an adjoining lodge, 
where he got a buffalo-robe to cover his shoulders, and 
returned to the feast, taking the seat which he had before 

Major Sanford then rose and made a short speech in 
reply, thanking him for the valuable present which he 
had made him and for the very polite and impressive 
manner in which it had been done, and sent to the 
steamer for a quantity of tobacco and other presents, 
which were given to him in return. After this, and after 
several others of the chiefs had addressed him in a simi¬ 
lar manner, and, like the first, disrobed themselves and 
thrown their beautiful costumes at his feet, one of the 
three men in front deliberately lit a handsome pipe and 
brought it to Ha-wan-je-tah to smoke. He took it, and, 
after presenting the stem to the north, to the south, to 
the east, and the west, and then to the sun that was over 

A Dog Feast 


his head, he pronounced the words “How—how— 
how!” and drew a whiff or two of smoke through it. 
Then holding the bowl of it in one hand and its stem in 
the other, he held it to each of our mouths as we suc¬ 
cessively smoked it; after which it was passed around 
through the whole group, who all smoked through it, 
or as far as its contents lasted, when another of the three 
waiters was ready with a second, and at length a third 
one in the same way, which lasted through the hands 
of the whole number of guests. This smoking was 
conducted with the strictest adherence to exact and 
established form. After the pipe is charged and 
lighted, until the time that the chief has drawn the 
smoke through it, it is considered an evil omen for any 
one to speak; and if any one break silence in that time, 
even in a whisper, the pipe is instantly dropped by the 
chief, and their superstition is such that they would not 
dare to use it on this occasion; but another one is called 
for and used in its stead. If there is no accident of the 
kind during the smoking, the waiters then proceed to 
distribute the meat, which is soon devoured in the feast. 

The lids were now raised from the kettles which were 
filled with dog meat. > Being well cooked and made 
into a sort of stew, it sent forth a savory smell and 
promised to be a palatable food. Each of us civilized 
guests had a wooden bowl placed before us, the dog’s 
flesh floating in rich gravy, with a large spoon of 
buffalo’s horn in the dish. In this most painful dilemma 
we sat, knowing the solemnity and good feeling with 
which it was offered and the necessity of falling to and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

devouring at least a little of it. We tasted it a few 
times and then resigned our dishes, which were quite 
willingly taken and devoured by others. After eating, 
each one rose and walked off without uttering a word. 
In this way the feast ended, when the space was left to 
the waiters or officers who had charge of the occa¬ 

The dog feast, I feel competent to say, should be re¬ 
garded as a religious ceremony in which the Indian 
sacrifices his most faithful companion to bear witness to 
the sacredness of his vows of friendship. The dog, 
among all Indian tribes, is more valued than in any part 
of the civilized world. The Indian has more time to 
devote to his company, and his untutored mind more 
nearly assimilates with that of his faithful servant. 
They hunt together and are equal sharers of the chase. 
Their bed is one, and on the rocks and on their coats 
of arms they carve his image as the symbol of fidelity. 
Yet he will end his affection with his faithful follower, 
and with tears in his eyes will offer him as a sacrifice to 
seal his friendship with man. A feast of venison or of 
buffalo meat is due to every one who enters his wigwam, 
and conveys no significance. I have seen the master 
take from the bowl the head of his victim and descant 
on its former affection and fidelity with tears in his eyes. 
I have also seen guests sneer and jest at the Indian’s 
folly, and I have said in my heart that they did not 
deserve a name so good or so honorable as that of the 
poor animal whose bones they were picking. 

The flesh of these dogs, though apparently relished 

A Dog Feast 


by the Indians, is, undoubtedly, inferior to the venison 
and buffalo meat of which feasts are constantly made 
where friends are invited, as they are in civilized society, 
to a pleasant and convivial party. From this fact alone 
it would seem clear that they have some extraordinary 
motive, at all events, for feasting on the flesh of that 
useful and faithful animal, even when, as in the instance 
I have been describing, their village is well supplied 
with fresh and dried meat of the buffalo. The dog 
feast is given, I believe, by all tribes in North America; 
and by them all, I think, this faithful animal, as well as 
the horse, is sacrificed in several different ways to ap¬ 
pease offended Spirits or Deities, whom it is considered 
necessary that they should conciliate in this way, and 
by giving the best in the herd or the kennel. 

In the after-part of the day of the dog feast I was 
called to ride a mile or so to the base of the bluff near 
the Teton River, where on a little plain was a group of 
lodges of the Ting-ta-to-ah band of Sioux, to see a man 
“looking at the sun.” We found him naked except for 
his breech-cloth, with splints or skewers run through the 
flesh of his breasts, and leaning back and hanging with 
the weight of his body to a pole, by a cord attached to the 
splints. The top of the pole was bent forward by the 
weight, allowing his body to sink about half-way to the 
ground. His feet were still upon the ground supporting 
a small part of his weight, and he held in his left hand 
his favorite bow, and in his right, with a desperate grip, 
his medicine-bag. In this condition, with the blood 
trickling down over his body, which was covered with 


The Boy’s Catlin 

white and yellow clay, and amid a great crowd who 
were looking on, sympathizing with and encouraging 
him, he was hanging and “looking at the sun,” without 
paying the least attention to any one about him. In the 
group that was reclining around him were several 
mystery-men beating their drums and shaking their 
rattles, and singing as loud as they could yell, to en¬ 
courage him and strengthen his heart to stand and look 
at the sun from its rising in the morning until its setting 
at night; at which time, if his heart and his strength have 
not failed him, he is “cut down,” receives the liberal 
donation of presents (which have been thrown into a 
pile before him during the day), and also the name and 
the style of a doctor, or medicine-man, which lasts him 
and insures him respect through life. 

This most extraordinary and cruel custom I never 
heard of among any other tribe, and never saw an in¬ 
stance of it before or after the one I have just named. 
It is a sort of worship or penance of great cruelty 
disgusting and painful to behold, with only one palliat¬ 
ing circumstance about it, which is, that it is a voluntary 
torture and of very rare occurrence. The poor and 
ignorant, misguided and superstitious man who under¬ 
takes it puts his everlasting reputation at stake upon 
the issue; for when he takes his stand he expects to face 
the sun and gradually turn his body in listless silence 
till he sees it go down at night. If he faints and falls, 
of which there is imminent danger, he loses his reputa¬ 
tion as a brave or mystery-man, and suffers a signal 
disgrace in the estimation of the tribe, like all men who 

A Dog Feast 


have the presumption to set themselves up for braves or 
mystery-men, and fail justly to sustain the character. 

During my stay with the Sioux I received many 
presents from them as tokens of friendship, and among 
these many pipes. Tobacco was made known to the In¬ 
dians by the white man, who at the same time supplied 
them with whiskey. But smoking has always been one 
of their customs. There are leaves and the bark of many 
trees which grow wild that have mild narcotic proper¬ 
ties. These the Indians dry, pulverize, and carry in 
their pouches. When thus prepared it is called “k’nick- 
k’neck,” and is an innocent luxury, as its effect on the 
system is very feeble and harmless. 

The Indian in his native state seems to be smoking 
one-half of his life. He has neither trade nor business, 
and he fills his leisure with amusement and smoking. 
The pipe is his constant companion through life. It is 
his messenger of peace, he pledges his friends through 
its stem and bowl, and when its care-drowning fumes 
cease to rise it takes a place with him in his solitary 
grave, with the tomahawk and war-club, on his journey 
to the “mild and beautiful hunting-grounds” of his 
fancy. The Indian accordingly spends much time on 
his pipe, which he makes himself. The bowls are gen¬ 
erally made of red steatite, called in the language of the 
country pipe-stone. This stone is different from any 
other variety of steatite either in this country or Europe, 
and is traceable thus far to only one source, and that 
lies somewhere between these plains and the upper 


The Boy’s Catlin 

According to the Sioux tradition: “ Before the creation 
of man the Great Spirit, whose tracks are yet to be seen 
in the form of those of a large bird, used to slay the 
buffaloes and eat them on the ledge of the Red Rocks 
on the top of the Coteau des Prairies, and the blood 
running on the rocks turned them red. One day, when 
a large snake had crept into the nest of the bird to eat 
his eggs, one of the eggs hatched out in a clap of thun¬ 
der. The Great Spirit then, picking up a piece of the 
stone to throw at the snake, moulded it into a man. 
This man’s feet grew fast in the ground, where he stood 
for many ages like a great tree. He grew very old, older 
than a hundred men to-day. At last another tree grew 
up by the side of him, and the snake ate them both off 
at the roots, when they wandered off together, and from 
them sprang all the people on the earth.” 

This red stone the Indians say is great medicine, and 
has been given to them by the Great Spirit for their 
pipes, and it is strictly forbidden to use it for any other 
purpose. As yet the place has been visited only by the 
red man, but I shall certainly lay my course to it in 
time and make known its mysteries. The color of the 
stone is cherry red and admits of a beautiful polish. 
The Indian makes a hole in the solid stone, which is not 
quite as hard as marble, by drilling into it with a hard 
stick shaped to the desired size, using plenty of sharp 
sand and water in the hole; this is a work of great labor 
and much patience. Many of the bowls are afterward 
carved with much taste and skill with figures and groups 
in high relief. 

A Dog Feast 


The shafts or stems of these pipes are from two to 
four feet long, sometimes round, but usually flat, 
of an inch or two in breadth, and wound half their 
length or more with braids of porcupine quills, and 
often ornamented with the beaks and tufts from the 
woodpecker’s head, with ermine-skins and long red hair, 
dyed from white horsehair or the white buffalo’s tail. 

The stems of these pipes will be found to be carved 
in many ingenious forms, and in all cases they are per¬ 
forated through the centre, quite staggering the wits of 
the enlightened world to guess how the holes have been 
hored through them; until it is simply and briefly ex¬ 
plained that the stems are uniformly made of the stalk 
of the young ash, which generally grows straight, and 
has a small pith through the centre, that is easily 
burned out with a hot wire, or with a piece of hardwood 
by a much slower process. 

The calumet, or pipe of peace, ornamented with the 
war-eagle’s quills, is a sacred pipe, and never allowed to 
be used on any other occasion than that of peace-making, 
when the chief brings it into treaty and, unfolding the 
many bandages which are carefully kept around it, has 
it ready to be mutually smoked by the chiefs after the 
terms of the treaty are agreed upon, as the means of 
solemnizing or signing by an illiterate people, who can¬ 
not draw up an instrument and sign their names to it as 
is done in the civilized world. 

The mode of solemnizing is by passing the sacred 
stem to each chief, who draws one breath of smoke only 
through it, thereby passing the most inviolable pledge 


The Boy’s Catlin 


that they can possibly give for the keeping of the peace. 
This sacred pipe is then carefully folded up and stowed 
away in the chief’s lodge, until a similar occasion calls it 
out to be used in a similar manner. 



I N the heart of the buffalo country, where there 
are no extremes of heat and cold, the finest animals 
are to be found. I could never send from a better 
source some account of these noble animals that are 
being hurried to their final extinction. The Sioux are a 
a bold and desperate set of horsemen and great hunters. 
Here also in the midst of them is an extensive assortment 
of goods, of whiskey, and a number of indefatigable men, 
who are calling for every robe that can be stripped from 
these animals’ backs. Like the poor savage himself, 
it is but a question of time when they will fade away 
before the approach of civilized man and exist only on 
canvas and in books. 

The American bison, or buffalo, as I shall call him, 
is the largest of the ruminating animals on the prairie, 
where he seems to have been placed by the Great Spirit 
for the use and subsistence of the red men, who live 
almost exclusively upon his flesh and clothe themselves 
with his skin. Their color is dark brown, which changes 
with the seasons, exposure to the weather turning it 
quite light, while the new coat in the spring is jet black. 
The buffalo bull often grows to the enormous weight 



The Boy's Catlin 

of two thousand pounds, and shakes over his head and 
shoulders, and often down to the ground, a long and 
shaggy black mane. During the ^Tunning season,'^ in 
August and September, they congregate in such masses 
as literally to blacken the prairie for miles. In these 
scenes the whole mass is in constant motion, and their 
bellows and roars at the distance of a mile or two sound 
like distant thunder. During this time the traveller may 
traverse miles of the vacated country without seeing a 
single buffalo. But a few weeks after, if he retraces his 
steps, he will find little flocks grazing in every direction, 
some at play and others indulging in their favorite 

In the summer these animals suffer greatly from heat, 
and wherever there is a little stagnant water lying 
in the grass, and the ground underneath, the enormous 
bull, lowered down upon one knee, will plunge his horns, 
and at last his head, driving up the earth, and soon 
making an excavation in the ground. Into this the 
water filters from among the grass, forming for him in a 
few moments a cool and comfortable bath, into which 
he plunges like a hog in his mire. 

In this delectable laver he throws himself flat upon his 
side, and forcing himself violently around, with his 
horns and his huge hump on his shoulders presented to 
the sides, he ploughs up the ground by his rotary motion, 
sinking himself deeper and deeper in the ground, con¬ 
tinually enlarging his pool, into which he at length be¬ 
comes nearly immersed. The water and mud about 
him mixed into a complete mortar, drips in streams 


a:-,, ., ,: . / ... 

The Buffalo Chase 


from every part of him as he rises up on his feet, a 
hideous monster of mud and ugliness, too frightful and 
too eccentric to be described! 

It is generally the leader of the herd that takes upon 
himself to make this excavation; but if another one 
opens the ground, the leader (who is conqueror) 
marches forward, and driving the other from it plunges 
in himself. Having cooled his sides and changed his 
color to a walking mass of mud and mortar, he stands 
in the pool until inclination induces him to step out and 
give place to the next in command, who stands ready, 
and another, and another, who advance forward in their 
turns to enjoy the luxury of the wallow, until the whole 
band (sometimes a hundred or more) will pass through 
it, each one throwing his body around in a similar 
manner, and each one adding a little to the dimensions 
of the pool, while he carries away in his hair an equal 
share of the clay, which dries to a gray or whitish color 
and gradually falls off. By this operation, which is done 
perhaps in the space of half an hour, a circular excava¬ 
tion of fifteen or twenty feet in diameter and two feet in 
depth is completed, and left for the water to run into, 
which soon fills it to the level of the ground. 

To these sinks the waters lying on the surface of the 
prairies are continually draining and lodging their 
vegetable deposits. These after a lapse of years fill 
them up to the surface with a rich soil, which throws up 
an unusual growth of grass and herbage, forming con¬ 
spicuous circles that arrest the eye of the traveller and 
are calculated to excite his surprise for ages to come 


The Boy’s Catlin 

Many travellers who have penetrated not quite far 
enough into the Western country to see the habits of 
these animals and the manr ^r in which these mysterious 
circles are made, but who have seen the prairies 
strewn with bleached bones, and have beheld these 
strange circles, which often occur in groups and of 
different sizes, have come home with beautiful and in¬ 
genious theories (which must needs be made) for the 
origin of these singular and unaccountable appearances 
For want of a rational theory, these have generally been 
attributed to fairy feet and gained the appellation of 
“fairy circles.” 

Many travellers, again, have supposed that these 
rings were produced by the dances of the Indians, which 
are oftentimes (and in fact most generally) performed 
in a circle; yet a moment’s consideration disproves such 
a probability, inasmuch as the Indians always select the 
ground for their dancing near the sites of their villages, 
and that always on a dry and hard foundation, while 
these “fairy circles” are uniformly found to be on low 
and wet ground. 

The female buffalo is much smaller than the male, 
and always distinguishable by the peculiar shape of the 
horns, which are much smaller and more crooked, 
turning their points more in toward the centre of the 

The horns of the male are short but very large, and 
have but one turn, /. e., they are a simple arch, without 
the least approach to a spiral form, like those of the 
common ox or of the goat species. 

The Buffalo Chase 


One of the most remarkable characteristics of the 
buffalo is the peculiar formation and expression of the 
eye, the ball of which is very large and white and the 
iris jet black. The lids of the eye seem always to be 
strained quite open and the ball rolling forward and 
down, so that a considerable part of the iris is hidden 
behind the lower lid, while the pure white of the eyeball 
glares out over it in an arch, in the shape of a moon at 
the end of its first quarter. 

-' The chief occupation of the Indian is the chase of the 
buffalo. He is mounted on the small but useful horse 
which is caught wild on the prairie running in numerous 
bands. When pursuing a large herd, the Indian gener¬ 
ally rides close in the rear until he selects the animal he 
wishes to kill, which he separates from the herd as soon 
as he can, by dashing his horse between it and the herd 
and forcing it off alone, in order that he may not 
himself be trampled to death in the throng. No bridle 
whatever is used by the Indians as they have no knowl¬ 
edge of a bit. A short halter, however, which answers 
in place of a bridle, is in general use, of which they usu¬ 
ally form a noose around the under jaw of the horse, 
by which they get great power over the animal, and 
which they use generally to stop rather than guide the 
horse. This halter is called by the French traders in 
the country Varret, the stop, and has great power in 
arresting the speed of a horse, though it is extremely 
dangerous to use too freely as a guide, since it interferes 
too much with the freedom of his limbs for the 
certainty of his feet and security of his rider. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

When the Indian then has directed the course of his 
steed to the animal which he has selected, the training 
of the horse is such that it knows the object of its rider’s 
selection, and exerts every muscle to give it close com¬ 
pany, while the halter lies loose and untouched upon its 
neck, and the rider leans quite forward and off from the 
side of his horse, with his bow drawn and ready for the 
deadly shot, which is given at the instant he is opposite 
to the animal’s body. The horse, being instinctively 
afraid of the animal (though he generally brings his 
rider within the reach of the end of his bow), keeps his 
eye strained upon the furious enemy he is so closely en¬ 
countering, and the moment he has approached to the 
nearest distance required and has passed the animal, 
whether the shot is given or not, he gradually sheers off, 
to prevent coming on to the horns of the infuriated 
beast, which often are instantly turned and presented 
for the fatal reception of its too familiar attendant. 
These frightful collisions often take place, notwithstand¬ 
ing the sagacity of the horse and the caution of its rider; 
for in these extraordinary (and inexpressible) exhilara¬ 
tions of chase, which seem to drown the prudence alike 
of instinct and reason, both horse and rider often seem 
rushing on to destruction, as if it were mere pastime and 

I have always counted myself a prudent man, yet I 
have often waked, as it were, out of the delirium of the 
chase (into which I had fallen, as into an agitated sleep, 
and through which I had passed as through a delightful 
dream), where to have died would have been but to 


jo-V-' ■ 

The Buffalo Chase 


have remained riding on without a struggle or a 

In some of these, too, I have arisen from the prairie, 
covered with dirt and blood, having severed company 
with gun and horse, the one lying some twenty or thirty 
feet from me with a broken stock, and the other coolly 
browsing on the grass at half a mile distance, without 
man and without other beast remaining in sight. 

For the novice in these scenes there is much danger 
to his limbs and his life, and he finds it a hard and a des¬ 
perate struggle that brings him in at the death of these 
huge monsters, except where it has been produced by 
hands that have acquired more sleight and tact than his 

With the Indian, who has made this the every-day 
sport and amusement of his life, there is less difficulty 
and less danger; he rides without “losing his breath,” 
and his steady hand deals certainty in its deadly 

A part of the equipment I have not mentioned is the 
lasso, which is a long thong of rawhide ten or fifteen 
yards in length, made of several braids, which is chiefly 
used in catching wild horses. But in running bulFaloes 
and in war the lasso is allowed to drag on the ground 
for several rods, so that if a man is dismounted, which 
is often the case, by the tripping or stumbling of the 
horse he can lay hold of the lasso and thus secure his 
horse and rejoin the chase. 

In the winter, when horses, on account of the snow, 
are not available for the chase, the Indian uses snow- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

shoes. These snow-shoes are made in many forms, gen¬ 
erally two or three feet long, a foot wide, of bent hoops, 
with strips of rawhide netted across on which the feet 
rest and to which they are fastened with straps like a 
skate. With these the Indian will glide over the snow 
with astonishing quickness, while the great weight of 
the buffaloes sinks them down and insures their be¬ 
coming an easy prey to the bow and lance of their 

As in winter the buffalo fur is at its thickest, it is in 
greatest demand and the slaughter is at its height. The 
carcass is quickly stripped, the fur taken and sold to the 
traders, and the flesh left for the wolves, inasmuch as 
the Indians generally kill and dry meat enough in the 
fall, when it is fat and juicy, to last them through the 

Thus at all seasons of the year the poor buffaloes 
have their enemy, man, devising ways for their destruc¬ 
tion. He dashes among them on the plains with his 
wild horse, he chases them into the deep snow-drifts on 
his snow-shoes, where they fall an easy prey, and they 
unwittingly behold him under the skin of a white wolf, 
while they are peaceably grazing, and are shot down 
before they are aware of their danger. The white wolf 
sneaks about in gangs on the green prairie, looking like 
nothing so much as a flock of sheep. They are always 
seen following the herds ready to pick the bones of 
those the hunters leave on the ground or to slay and 
devour the wounded. So long as the herd of buffaloes 
is together they seem to have little dread of the wolf, 

The Buffalo Chase 


and allow it to come near. The Indian takes advan¬ 
tage of this fact, and, hiding under the skin of the wolf, 
will crawl a half-mile or more on his knees, until he gets 
within a few rods of the unsuspecting group, and easily 
shoots down the fattest of the herd. 

The buffalo is a very timid animal, and shuns man, 
yet, when overtaken and harassed or wounded, turns 
in fury. In their desperate resistance the finest horses 
are often destroyed; but the Indian, with his superior 
sagacity and dexterity, generally finds some effective 
mode of escape. 

During the season of the year while the calves are 
young the male seems to stroll about by the side of the 
dam, as if for the purpose of protecting the young, at 
which time it is exceedingly hazardous to attack them. 
The buffalo calf during the first six months is red, and 
has so much the appearance of a red calf in cultivated 
fields that it could easily be mingled and mistaken 
among them. In the fall, when it changes its hair, it 
takes a brown coat for the winter which it always re¬ 
tains. In pursuing a large herd of buffaloes in the 
season when their calves are but a few weeks old, I have 
often been exceedingly amused with the curious ma¬ 
noeuvres of these shy little things. Amid the thunder¬ 
ing confusion of a throng of several hundreds or several 
thousands of these animals, there will be many of the 
calves that lose sight of their dams; and being left behind 
by the throng and the swift-passing hunters, they en¬ 
deavor to secrete themselves, on the level prairie, 
where naught can be seen but the short grass of 


The Boy’s Catlin 

six or eight inches in height, save an occasional 
bunch of wild sage a few inches higher. To this 
the poor affrighted things will run, and, dropping 
on their knees, will push their noses under it and into 
the grass, where they will stand for hours, with their 
eyes shut, imagining themselves securely hid, while 
they are standing up quite straight on their hind feet 
and can easily be seen at several miles’ distance. It is 
a familiar amusement for us, accustomed to these scenes, 
to retreat and approach these little trembling things, 
which stubbornly maintain their positions, with their 
noses pushed under the grass and their eyes strained 
upon us, as we dismount from our horses and are passing 
around them. From this fixed position they are sure 
not to move until hands are laid upon them, and then 
for the shins of a novice we can extend our sympathy; 
or, if he can preserve the skin on his bones from the 
furious buttings of its head, we know how to congratu¬ 
late him on his signal success and good luck. In these 
desperate struggles, for a moment, the little thing is con¬ 
quered and makes no further resistance. And I have 
often, in concurrence with a known custom of the coun¬ 
try, held my hands over the eyes of the calf and breathed 
a few strong breaths into its nostrils, after which I have, 
with my hunting companions, ridden several miles into 
our encampment, with the little prisoner busily follow¬ 
ing the heels of my horse the whole way, as closely and 
as affectionately as its instinct would attach it to the 
company of its dam! 

This is one of the most extraordinary things that I 


. • > v-.‘ r-;-' 

The Buffalo Chase 


have met with in the habits of this wild country, and 
although I had often heard of it and felt unable exactly 
to believe it, I am now willing to bear testimony to the 
fact because of the numerous instances I have witnessed 
since I came to this country. In this way, before we 
left the head-waters of the Missouri, we had collected 
about a dozen of these little calves, which followed 
at our horses’ heels even into the stables at the Fort, 
where our horses were led. With the aid of a good milch 
cow, Mr. Laidlaw was successfully raising them to be 
sent to Mr. Chouteau’s plantation at St. Louis. 

It is melancholy for the traveller in this country to 
perceive that the time is not far distant when these noble 
animals will at last perish before the cruel and improvi¬ 
dent rapacity of the white men and the red. Only a 
few days before I arrived, an immense herd showing in 
the distance, a band of several hundred Sioux crossed 
the river at mid-day, and after a few hours brought in 
fourteen hundred fresh buffalo tongues for which they 
received a few gallons of whiskey. Not a skin did they 
bring; it was not the season for fur. Not a pound of 
flesh did they bring; the camp required no fresh meat. 
This is but one instance of the profligate waste of the 

The Indians look to the white men as beings wiser 
than they, and think it no harm to drink the beverage 
the white man offers and drinks himself. Thus the 
Indian easily acquires a taste for whiskey, and for it 
will strip the last buffalo of its skin, which his squaw 
vdll dress, that he may sell it for a pint of diluted alcohol. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

On the other hand, under some great protecting 
policy of the government, how delightful to contemplate 
a magnificent park in this region, preserved in its pris¬ 
tine beauty and wildness, where the world could see in 
time to come the native Indian, his sports, his language, 
his manners and customs as they exist to-day in his 
isolation from the civilized world! What a beautiful 
and thrilling sight in the future would be the Indian, in 
his classic attire, with his sinewy bow, his shield and 
lance, on his wild horse chasing the fleeting herds of elk 
and buffalo! Such scenes might easily be preserved on 
the great plains of the West without detriment to the 
country or its borders, for those lands on which the 
buffaloes have assembled are uniformly sterile, and it is 
where the buffalo is found that the finest specimens of 
the Indian race are to be seen. 

I would ask no other monument to my memory, nor 
any other enrolment of my name among the famous 
dead, than the reputation of having been the founder 
of such an institution. 



M y voyage from the mouth of the Teton River to 
Fort Leavenworth has been the most rugged 
yet the most delightful of my whole tour. Our 
canoe was generally landed at night on the point of 
some projecting barren sand-bar, where we straightened 
our limbs on our buffalo-robes, secure from the annoy¬ 
ance of mosquitoes and out of the walks of Indians and 
grizzly bears. In addition to the opportunity which 
this descending tour has afforded me—of visiting all the 
tribes of Indians on the river and leisurely filling my 
portfolio with the beautiful scenery which its shores 
present—the sportsman’s fever was roused and satisfied; 
the swans, ducks, geese, and pelicans, the deer, antelope, 
elk, and buffaloes were “stretched” by our rifles; and 
sometimes—“pull, boys, pull! a war party! for your 
lives, pull, or we are gone!” 

I often landed my skiff and mounted the green-car¬ 
peted bluffs, whose soft, grassy tops invited me to recline, 
where I was at once lost in contemplation. Such a 
place was “Floyd’s Grave,” a name given to one of 
the most lovely and imposing bluffs on the Missouri 
River about twelve hundred miles above St. Louis. 



The Boy’s Catlin 

Here was buried Sergeant Floyd, of the Lewis and 
Clarke expedition, in 1806, a cedar post bearing the 
initials of his name marking his grave. I landed my 
canoe in front of this grass-covered mound and we 
went into camp at its base. Several times I ascended 
the blulF and beheld the infinite windings of the Mis¬ 
souri and its thousand domes and hills of green vanish¬ 
ing into the blue distance. I could not hunt on this 
ground, but roamed from hill top to hill top gathering 
wild flowers, and seeing into the future when these hills 
and dales will be streaked by the plough, yellow with the 
harvest, and spotted with kine and groups of hamlets 
and villas. 

This voyage in my little canoe afforded me infinite 
pleasure, mingled with pains and privations I shall 
never wish to forget. Gliding along from day to day, 
my merry voyageurs were continually chanting their 
cheerful boat songs, and every now and then taking up 
their rifles to bring down stately elks or antelopes. 

But a few miles from “Floyd’s Bluff” we landed 
our canoe and spent a day in the vicinity of “Black 
Bird’s Grave.” This is a celebrated point on the Mis¬ 
souri, which all the travellers in these realms, both 
white and red, are in the habit of visiting. This elevated 
bluff has received the name of “Black Bird’s Grave” 
from the fact that a famous chief of the O-ma-has, by 
the name of the Black Bird, was buried on its top, over 
whose grave a cedar post was erected by his tribe, some 
thirty years ago, which is still standing. The 0 -ma- 
ha village was about sixty miles above this place, and 

A Prairie Fire 


this very noted chief, who had been on a visit to Wash¬ 
ington city in company with the Indian agent, died of 
the small-pox near this spot on his return home. 
When dying he requested his warriors to take his body 
down to the river to this, his favorite haunt, and on the 
pinnacle of this towering bluff to bury him on the back 
of his favorite war-horse, alive under him, from whence 
he could see, as he said, “the Frenchmen passing up and 
down the river in their boats.” 

He owned, among many horses, a noble white steed 
that was led to the top of the grass-covered hill, and 
with great pomp and ceremony, in presence of the 
whole nation and several of the fur traders and the 
Indian agent, he was placed astride of his horse’s back, 
with his bow in his hand and his shield and quiver 
slung, with his pipe and his medicine-bag, with his 
supply of dried meat and his tobacco-pouch replen¬ 
ished to last him through his journey to the “ beau¬ 
tiful hunting-grounds of the shades of his fathers,” with 
his flint and steel and his tinder to light his pipes by 
the way. The scalps that he had taken from his ene¬ 
mies’ heads were hung to the bridle of his horse; he 
was in full dress and fully equipped, and on his head 
waved to the last moment his beautiful head-dress of 
the war-eagle’s plumes. In this plight, and the last 
funeral honors having been performed by the medicine¬ 
men, every warrior of his band painted the palm and 
fingers of his right hand with vermilion, which was 
stamped and perfectly impressed on the milk-white 
sides of his devoted horse. This all done, turf was 


The Boy’s Catlin 

brought and placed around the feet and legs of the 
horse and gradually laid up'to its sides, and at last over 
the back and head of the unsuspecting animal, and last 
of all over the head and even the eagle plumes of its 
valiant rider, which have remained there undisturbed 
to the present day. 

There have been some surprising tales told of this 
man. The traders say that his almost superhuman 
authority in his tribe was obtained by poisoning his 
enemies with arsenic. If this is true it is an instance of 
Indian depravity that in my travels I have never en¬ 
countered. But I do know how Black Bird exposed 
his life and shed his blood rescuing victims from torture, 
and abolished that savage custom in his tribe; how he 
led on and headed his warriors against the Sacs and 
Foxes, and saved his women and children from butchery; 
how he received the Indian agent and entertained him 
in his hospitable wigwam, and how he conducted and 
acquitted himself in his embassy to the civilized world. 

In this voyage Batiste and Bogard were my constant 
companions, and we all had our rifles and used them 
often. We often went ashore among the herds of 
buffaloes, and were obliged to do so for our daily food. 
We lived the whole way on buffaloes’ flesh and venison 
—we had no bread—but laid in a good stock of coffee 
and sugar. These, however, from an unforeseen acci¬ 
dent, availed us but little, as on the second or third day 
of our voyage, after we had taken our coffee on the 
shore and Batiste and Bogard had gone in pursuit of a 
herd of buffaloes, I took it into my head to have an extra 


A Prairie Fire 


fine dish of coffee for myself, as the fire was fine. 
For this purpose I added more coffee-grounds to the pot 
and placed it on the fire, which I sat watching, when I 
saw a fine buffalo cow wending her way leisurely over 
the hills but a little distance from me, for whom I 
started at once with my rifle trailed in my hand; and 
after creeping and running and heading for half an hour 
without getting a shot at her, I came back to the encamp¬ 
ment, where I found my two men with meat enough, but 
in the most uncontrollable rage, for my coffee had all 
boiled out and the coffee-pot was melted to pieces! 

This was truly a deplorable accident and one that 
could in no effectual way be remedied. We afterward 
botched up a mess or two of it in our frying-pan, but to 
little purpose, and then abandoned it to Bogard alone, 
who thankfully received the dry coffee-grounds and 
sugar at his meals, which he soon entirely demolished. 

We met immense numbers of buffaloes in the early 
part of our voyage. In one instance, near the mouth of 
the White River, we met the most immense herd crossing 
the Missouri River, and from an imprudence got our 
boat into imminent danger among them, from which 
we were highly delighted to make our escape. It was 
in the midst of the “ running season,” and we had heard 
the “roaring” (as it is called) of the herd when we were 
several miles from them. When we came in sight we 
were actually terrified at the immense numbers that 
were streaming down the green hills on one side of the 
river and galloping up and over the bluffs on the other. 
The river was filled and in parts blackened with their 


The Boy’s Catlin 

heads and horns as they were swimming about, follow¬ 
ing up their objects and making desperate battle while 
they were swimming. 

I deemed it imprudent for our canoe to be dodging 
among them, and ran it ashore for a few hours, where 
we lay, waiting for the opportunity of seeing the river 
clear; but we waited in vain. At length we pushed off, 
and successfully made our way among them. The 
immense numbers that had passed the river at that 
place had torn down the prairie bank of fifteen feet 
in height so as to form a sort of road or landing- 
place, where they all in succession clambered up. 
Many in their turmoil had been wafted below this land¬ 
ing, and, unable to regain it against the swiftness of the 
current, had fastened themselves along in crowds, hug¬ 
ging close to the high bank under which they were 
standing. As we were drifting by these, and supposing 
ourselves out of danger, I drew up my rifle and shot 
one of them in the head. He tumbled into the water, 
and brought with him a hundred others, which in a 
moment were swimming about our canoe and placing 
it in great danger. No attack was made upon us, and 
in the confusion the poor beasts knew not, perhaps, the 
enemy that was among them; but we were liable to be 
sunk by them, as they were furiously hooking and climb¬ 
ing on to each other. I rose in my canoe, and by my 
gestures and hallooing kept them from coming in con¬ 
tact with us until we were out of their reach. Fort 
Leavenworth is the extreme outpost on the frontier 
and is in the heart of the Indian country. This gar- 

A Prairie Fire 


rison is placed here for the purpose of protecting the 
frontier inhabitants from the Indians and also to pre¬ 
serve peace among the tribes. 

In this delightful cantonment there are generally 
stationed six or seven companies of infantry and ten or 
fifteen ofRcers, several of whom have their wives and 
daughters with them, forming a very pleasant little 
community. Of pastimes they have many, such as 
riding on horseback or in carriages over the beautiful 
green fields of the prairies, picking strawberries and 
wild plums, deer-chasing, grouse-shooting, horse-racing, 
and other amusements of the garrison, in which they are 
almost constantly engaged. I have joined several times 
in the deer-hunts, and more frequently in grouse-shoot¬ 
ing, which constitutes the principal amusement of this 

This delicious bird, which is found in great abundance 
in nearly all the North American prairies, and most gen¬ 
erally called the prairie hen, is, from what I can learn, 
very much like the English grouse, or heath hen, both in 
size, in color, and in habits. They make their appear¬ 
ance in these parts in the months of August and Sep¬ 
tember, from the higher latitudes, where they go in the 
early part of the summer to raise their broods. 

I was lucky enough the other day, with one of the 
officers of the garrison, to gain the enviable distinction 
of having brought in together seventy-five of these fine 
birds, which we killed in one afternoon; and although I 
am quite ashamed to confess the manner in which we 
killed the greater part of them, I am not so professed a 


The Boy’s Catlin 

sportsman as to induce me to conceal the fact. We had 
a fine pointer and had legitimately followed the sports¬ 
man’s style for a part of the afternoon, but seeing the 
prairies on fire several miles ahead of us, and the wind 
driving the fire gradually toward us, we found these 
poor birds driven before its long line, which seemed to 
extend from horizon to horizon, and they were flying in 
swarms or flocks that would at times almost fill the air. 
They generally flew half a mile or so and lit down again 
in the grass, where they would sit until the fire was close 
upon them and then they would rise again. We ob¬ 
served by watching their motions that they lit in great 
numbers in every solitary tree, and we placed ourselves 
near each of these trees in turn, and shot them down as 
they settled in them, sometimes killing five or six at a 
shot by getting a range upon them. 

In this way we retreated miles before the flames, 
murdering poor birds, and getting much credit at the 
Fort for our good shooting, as we were mutually 
pledged to keep our secret. 

A burning prairie is one of the most sublime scenes 
in this country. There are many ways in which fire is 
communicated to them by both the white men and the 
Indians—by accident, as they call it. 

It is frequently done for the purpose of getting a fresh 
crop of grass for grazing, and also to secure easier 
travelling, inasmuch as the old grass is liable to entangle 
the feet of man and horse. 

Over the high prairie, where the grass is short, the fire 
creeps with a flame so feeble that one can easily step 

A Prairie Fire 


over it. The wild animals often rest in their lairs until 
the flames touch their noses. Then they reluctantly 
rise, leap over the fire, and trot off" among the cinders, 
where the fire has left the ground as black as jet. 
These scenes at night are indescribably beautiful, when 
the flames, seen from miles distant, appear to be spar¬ 
kling and brilliant chains of liquid fire hanging in grace¬ 
ful festoons from the skies, for the hills are entirely 

But the burning plain has another aspect when the 
grass is seven or eight feet high and the flames are 
driven by the hurricanes that often sweep over the 
meadows of the Missouri, the Platte, and the Arkansas. 
This grass is so high that we were obliged to stand in 
our stirrups to look over its waving tops. The fire in 
this grass before such a wind travels at a frightful speed, 
and often destroys parties of Indians on their fleetest 
horses who are so unlucky as to be overtaken by it. 
The high grass, being filled with wild-pea vines and other 
impediments, render it necessary to take the zigzag 
trails of the deer and buflFalo. At length the dense 
column of smoke, which is swept along in advance of 
the fire, terrifies the horse, and he refuses to move until 
the burning grass is upon him, and he falls, while the 
swelling flood of smoke moves on like a thunder cloud 
rolling over the earth, with the glare of lightning and 
its thunder rumbling as it goes. 

Batiste, Bogard, and Patrick Raymond, from the 
Fort, who, like Bogard, had been a free trapper in the 
Rocky Mountains, with our Indian guide Pah-me-o- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

ne-quah (the red thunder), were jogging back from a 
neighboring village over a high blulF which over¬ 
looked an immense valley of high grass, when I said 
to my comrades as we were about to descend the 
bluff: “We will take that buffalo trail, where the 
travelling herds have slashed down the high grass, and 
making for that blue point rising, as you can just 
discern, above this ocean of grass, a good day’s work 
will bring us over this vast meadow before sunset.” 
Soon after we entered my Indian guide dismounted 
slowly from his horse, and lying prostrate on the ground, 
with his face in the dirt, he cried, and was talking to the 
spirits of the brave—“For,” said he, “over this beau¬ 
tiful plain dwells the Spirit of Fire! He rides in yonder 
cloud; his face blackens with rage at the sound of the 
trampling hoofs; the fire-how is in his hand; he draws it 
across the path of the Indian, and quicker than lightning 
a thousand flames rise to destroy him. It was here,” 
said he, “that the brave son of Wah-chee-ton and the 
strong-armed warriors of his band, just twelve moons 
since, licked the fire from the blazing wand of that great 
magician. A circular cloud sprang up from the prairie 
around them! it was raised, and their doom was fixed 
by the Spirit of Fire! Friends! it is the season of fire; 
and I fear, from the smell of the wind, that the Spirit is 

Pah-me-o-ne-qua said no more, but mounted his wild 
horse and, waving his hand, glided through the thick 
mazes of waving grass. We were on his trail and busily 
traced him until the mid-day sun brought us to a 

A Prairie Fire 


halt. He stood like a statue, while his black eyes, in 
sullen silence, swept the horizon round; and then, with a 
deep-drawn sigh, he gracefully sunk to the earth, and 
lay with his face to the ground. Our buffalo tongues 
and pemmican and marrow-fat were spread before us, 
and we were in the full enjoyment of these dainties of 
the Western world when, quicker than the frightened 
elk, our Indian friend sprang upon his feet. His eyes 
skimmed again slowly over the prairie’s surface, and then 
laid himself as before on the ground. 

“Red Thunder seems sullen to-day,” said Bogard; 
“he startles at every rush of the wind and scowls at the 
whole world that is about him.” 

“There’s a rare chap for you, a fellow who would 
shake his fist at Heaven when he is at home, and here, 
in a grass-patch, must make his fire-medicine for a cir¬ 
cumstance that he could easily leave at a shake of his 
horse’s heels.” 

“I know by the expression of your face, mon, you 
neever have seen the world on fire yet, and therefore 
you know nothin’ at all of a hurly burly of this kind— 
did ye ? Did ye iver see the fire in high grass, runnin’ 
with a strong wind, about five mile and the half, and 
thin hear it strike into a slash of dry canebrake ? If I 
were advisin’ I would say that we are gettin’ too far in 
this imbustible meadow, for the grass is too dry to make 
a light matter of, at this season of the year. An’ now 
I’ll tell ye how McKenzie and I were served at this 
place about two years ago—hollo, what’s that.?” 

Red Thunder was on his feet, his long arm was 


The Boy’s Catlin 

stretched over the grass, and his blazing eyeballs starting 
from their sockets. 

“White man,” said he, “see that small cloud rising 
from the prairie. He rises. The hoofs of horses have 
waked him. The Fire Spirit is awake; this wind is from 
his nostrils, and his face is this way.” 

He said no more, but his swift horse darted under him, 
and he slid over the waving grass as it was bent before 
the wind. We were quickly on his trail. The ex¬ 
traordinary leaps of his wild horse occasionally raised 
his shoulders to view, then he sank again in the waving 
billows of grass. On the wind above our heads was an 
eagle. His neck was stretched for the towering bluff, 
and his thrilling screams told of the secret that was be¬ 
hind him. Our horses were swift and we struggled 
hard, but our hope was feeble, for the bluff was yet blue 
and nature nearly exhausted. The cool shadow ad¬ 
vancing over the plain told that the sun was setting. 
Not daring to look back we strained every nerve. The 
roar of a distant cataract seemed gradually overtaking 
us. The wind increased, and the swift winged beetle 
and the heath hens drew their straight lines over our 
heads. The fleet bounding antelope passed us, and 
the still swifter, long legged hare, who leaves but a 
shadow as he flies. Here was no time for thought, but 
I recollect that the heavens were overcast, the distant 
thunder was heard, and the lightning reddening the 
scene, and the smell that came on the wind struck terror 
to my soul. 

The piercing yell of my savage guide at this moment 

A Prairie Fire 


came back on the wind, his robe was seen waving in the 
air, as his foaming horse leaped up the bluff. 

Our breath and our sinews were just enough, in this 
last struggle for life, to carry us to the summit. We had 
risen from a sea of fire. Now looking back, still 
trembling from our peril, I saw beneath me a cloud of 
black smoke which extended from one extremity of this 
vast plain to the other, and seemed to roll over the sur¬ 
face of a bed of liquid fire. Above this mighty desola¬ 
tion the white smoke rose like magnificent cliffs to the 
skies. Then behind all this we saw the black and 
smoking desolation left by this storm of fire. 



T he Indians who belong to this neighborhood, and 
constantly visit the post, are such primitive 
tribes as the lowas, Kansas, Pawnees, Omahas, 
Ottoes and Missouries, and the remnants of the semi- 
civilized tribes, the Delawares, Kickapoos, Pottawa- 
tamies, Peorias, Shawnees, and Kaskaskias. These 
latter named tribes are becoming agriculturists, and 
now get their living by ploughing, raising corn, cattle 
and horses. They have been left on the frontier sur¬ 
rounded by civilized neighbors to whom they have been 
induced to sell their lands, or to exchange them for 
much larger tracts of wild lands which the government 
has purchased from the savage tribes. 

Of the tribes first mentioned, the lowas, a small tribe 
of about two thousand souls, have departed further 
from their primitive ways. Although their wigwams, 
dress, customs, and personal appearance are those of 
the wilder tribes, they depend chiefly on their cornfields 
for subsistence. The present chief is Notch-ce-ning-a 
(the white cloud). He is the son of the distinguished 
chief of the same name, who died recently, loved by his 
tribe and respected by all of the civilized world who 


Songs and Dances of the lowas 253 

knew him. The son of White Cloud is a young man 
thirty-two years old, who has performed many noble 
and humane acts since he inherited his office. I have 
painted him in a buffalo robe, with a necklace of the 
grizzly bear claws and a profusion of wampum strings 
around his neck, and armed with his shield, bow and 

The lowas have a peculiar way of wearing their hair, 
which I have seen only in two other tribes. They 
shave the hair from the entire head leaving only a patch 
the size of the hand on the top. In the centre of this is 
the scalp lock, which grows to its utmost length. The 
rest of the patch is cut to about two inches long, and to 
it is attached a crest made of the deer’s tail and horse 
hair dyed the most brilliant vermillion. The scalp lock, 
which is kept braided, is passed through a curiously 
carved bone that holds the crest in place and distributes 
it uniformly. Outside this bone the scalp lock braid is 
again passed through a small wooden or bone key. 
The lowas boast that this extravagant hair dressing, 
which resembles in effect a Grecian helmet, and is ac¬ 
companied by the quills of the war eagle, is done that 
their enemies may “lose no time in hunting for the scalp 
lock.” These same tribes ornament the greater part of 
the face with vermillion. Red, green, black and white 
are the colors of all the American Indians, and none use 
them more lavishly than the lowas. These are put on 
in the morning, and arranged according to the business 
of the day, or the society they are to mingle with. In 
the evening the paint is carefully washed off. In mov- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

ing their camps as do the other tribes, following the 
ranges of the buffalo, they halt upon the ground, and 
the doctor or medicine man invokes the favor and pro¬ 
tection of the Great Spirit by throwing tobacco on the 
spot chosen for each wigwam. After this is done the 
women come, raise the wigwam, arrange the interior, 
and light the fires, while the men sit around in a circle 
smoking their pipes. As the other tribes, they are also 
very fond of amusements and dancing. Their principal 
musical instrument is the drum. This is made by 
hollowing out a log, leaving a thin rim around the out¬ 
side, and stretching over each end of a section about as 
big as a keg a piece of rawhide. In the bottom of this 
they always have a quantity of water which sends out 
a remarkably rich and liquid tone. * 

Among their dances is the Welcome Dance given to 
strangers, to whom in respect all the spectators as well as 
the musicians rise to their feet. The song is at first a 
lament for the friends who have died or have gone away, 
but it ends in a gay and lively strain and step, announc¬ 
ing that their place is taken by the friend who has ar¬ 
rived. The War Dance as it is given by the lowas is 
divided into a number of parts. The first of these is 
called Eh-ros-ka. The song in this dance seems to be 
addressed to the enemy, since the word means a body 
rather than an individual, and runs thus: 


Why run you from us when you 

Are the most powerful? 

But it was not you. 

Songs and Dances of the lowas 255 


It was your body that ran, 
It was your body, O-ta-pa, 
It was your body that ran. 

The War song, which is for the last part of this dance, 
is quicker and begins with the ejaculation: 

How-a. How-a. 


I am proud of being at home. 

I am proud, O-ta-pa. 

I am at home, my enemy ran. 

I am proud, I am proud, O-ta-pa. 

This song is accompanied by many boasts and threats 
to the enemy to whom it is addressed. A spirited part 
of the dance is the approach, in which the dancers show 
their method of advancing on the enemy. The song 
which accompanies this dance is: 


I am creeping on your track. 

Keep on your guard, Oh-ta-pa. 

Or I will hop on your back. 

I will hop on you, I will hop on you. 

Stand back my friends, I see them. 

The enemies are here, I see them. 

They are in a good place, I see them. 

War songs are many in each tribe and always consist 
of vaunts and self-praise, undervaluing the enemy and 
taunting him with past victories. Besides these each 
tribe has one war song which is as purely national as 
^"God Save the Queen” or '' Yankee Doodle.” The War 


The Boy’s Catlin 

whoop is sounded at the instant the Indians rush into 
battle as the signal of attack, and thus gets its terror 
from association rather than from anything peculiarly 
terrifying in the sound itself. It is a shrill sounded note 
on a high key, given out with a gradual swell, and 
shaken by a vibration made by the four fingers of the 
right hand over the mouth. This note is not allowed 
to be given unless in battle or in the war dances where it 
has its place. The Death song is strictly national in 
every tribe, and is sung by any one in the tribe either 
resolved or condemned to die. It is generally sung the 
night previous to the execution, and is kept up to 
the last moment. It is very doleful, and is addressed 
to the Great Spirit, and offers back the soul, which 
“entered in at the breast, and is now going out at the 

The Wolf song is, I believe, peculiar to the lowas, 
and belongs to the medicine or mystery man. When a 
party of young men, having fatigued the whole village 
for several days with the war dance and boasts of how 
they are going to kill their enemies, go to bed, in order 
to rise early for their expedition, they are serenaded in 
the dead of night just as they have got into a sound 
sleep. The serenading party is made up of young men 
who care more for fun than taking scalps. Stealing be¬ 
hind the wigwams of the “war party,” they begin a song 
which has been taken from the howling of a gang of 
wolves. This is so admirably adapted for music that 
they make of it duet, quartet and chorus. With this 
song and its howling, barking chorus they make it 

Songs and Dances of the lowas 257 

impossible to sleep, and the warriors get up, light the 
fire, divide the luxuries they have prepared for their 
journey, and smoke until daylight, when they are 
thanked by their tormentors, and wished a successful 

A very beautiful dance of the lowas is the Eagle dance, 
and is generally made part of the war dance, since the 
war eagle conquers all other birds of its species. In 
this dance each dancer imagines himself a soaring eagle, 
and as they dance forward from behind the musicians, 
they take the positions of eagles heading against the 
wind, and looking down, prepare to swoop on their 
prey below. The wind seems too strong for them, and 
they fall back, advance again, imitating the chattering 
of the bird, with the whistles they carry in their hands, 
while they sing: 

It’s me. I am a war eagle. 

The wind is strong, but I am an eagle. 

Tm not ashamed. No, I am not. 

The twisting eagle’s quill is on my head. 

I see my enemy below me. 

I am an eagle, a war eagle. 

Of Indian games I have previously spoken of the 
game of the Moccasin, called in the Iowa tongue Ing- 
kee-ko-kee. This is played by two, four or six persons 
seated in a circle on the ground with three or four moc¬ 
casins lying in the centre. The player lifts each moc¬ 
casin in turn, and leaves under one a small stone about 
the size of a hazel nut. The game is for his opponent 


The Boy’s Catlin 

to determine under which moccasin the stone is hid. 
Accompanying the game is this song; 

Take care of yourself. Shoot well or you lose. 

You warned me, but see, I have defeated you. 

I am one of the Great Spirit’s children. 

Wakonda, I am. I am Wakonda. 

This is sung with perfect rhythm, suiting the move¬ 
ments of the game, and often for hours without inter¬ 
mission, for this is one of the principal gambling games 
of a people fond of gambling. 

The women have a game exclusively their own called 
Kon-tho-gra, or the game of the platter. This is played 
with a number of blocks the size of a half dollar, marked 
with certain points for counting the game. These are 
shaken in a bowl, and the bowl is turned over on a sort 
of pillow. After the bowl is turned the bets are made, 
and decided by the number of points and colors that 

The Kickapoos have long lived in alliance with the 
Sacs and Foxes, and speak a language so similar that 
they seem almost to be of one family. The present 
chief of this tribe, whose name is Kee-an-ne-kuk (the 
foremost man), usually called the Shawnee Prophet, is 
a very shrewd and talented man. When he sat for his 
portrait, he took the attitude of prayer. And I soon 
learned that he was a very devoted Christian, regularly 
holding meetings in his tribe on the Sabbath, preaching 
to them and exhorting them to a belief in the Christian 
religion, and to an abandonment of the fatal habit of 

Songs and Dances of the lowas 259 

whiskey drinking, which he strenuously represented as 
the bane that was to destroy them all, if they did not en¬ 
tirely cease to use it. I went on the Sabbath to hear this 
eloquent man preach when he had his people assembled 
in the woods, and although I could not understand his 
language, I was surprised and pleased with the natural 
ease and emphasis and gesticulation, which carried 
their own evidence of the eloquence of his sermon. 

How far the efforts of this zealous man have succeeded 
in christianizing I cannot tell, but it is quite certain 
that his constant endeavors have completely abolished 
the practice of drinking whiskey in his tribe. 

It was told to me in the tribe by the Traders (though 
I am afraid to vouch for the whole truth of it) that 
while a Methodist preacher was soliciting him for per¬ 
mission to preach in his village, the Prophet refused 
him the privilege, but secretly took him aside and sup¬ 
ported him until he learned from him his creed, and his 
system of teaching it to others, when he discharged him, 
and commenced preaching among his people himself; 
pretending to have had an interview with some super¬ 
human mission or inspired personage. If there was 
anything to be gained he concluded he might as well 
have it as another person; and with this view he insti¬ 
tuted a prayer which he ingeniously carved on a maple 
stick of an inch and a half in breadth, in characters 
somewhat resembling Chinese letters. These sticks, 
with the prayers on them, he has introduced into every 
family of the tribe, and into the hands of every individual, 
and as he makes them all, he sells them at his own price, 

26 o 

The Boy’s Catlin 

and has thus added lucre to fame. Every man, woman 
and child in the tribe, so far as I saw them, were in the 
habit of saying their prayer from this stick when going 
to bed at night, and also when rising in the morning, 
which was invariably done by placing the forefinger of 
the right hand under the upper character, until they re¬ 
peat a sentence or two, which it suggests to them, and 
then slipping it under the next, and the next, and so on, 
to the bottom of the stick, which altogether required 
about ten minutes, as it was sung over in a sort of a 
chant, to the end. In any case he has effectually 
turned their attention toward temperance and industry 
in the pursuits of agriculture and the arts. 

Among the Omahas I painted the portrait of a young 
man which was generally approved. A few days after 
I saw him looking at the portrait, and then walking 
surlily away. At length he came back with the inter¬ 
preter and told me that I had painted all the others 
looking straight forward. He, too, had always looked 
the white man straight in the face, but I had shown him 
looking the other way, as if he was ashamed. I learned 
shortly afterward, that if I did not alter it and make his 
eyes look straight in front of him, I must fight him. He 
was even then in front of my wigwam and ready for me. 

Palette in hand, I went out and found him sure enough, 
naked and ready. I explained that I loved him too 
much to fight him, but if he only wanted me to change 
his eyes I could easily do it the next day. The next day 
he promptly presented himself, and with some water 
colors and white lead, I painted him a new pair of eyes, 

Songs and Dances of the lowas 261 

while he sat staring over the bridge of his nose in a most 
extraordinary manner. These pleased him greatly, 
since they were looking straight forward. He then 
shook hands with me and presented me with a pair of 
\eggings. A sponge and some clean water were only 
necessary afterward to take off the new pair of eyes 
from a portrait which is one of the most interesting I 



M y little bark has been soaked in the water again, 
and Batiste and Bogard have paddled, and I 
have steered and tlodged our little craft among 
the snags and sawyers until at last we landed the humble 
little thing among the huge steamers and floating pal¬ 
aces at the wharf of this bustling and growing city of 
St. Louis. 

And first of all I must relate the fate of my little boat, 
which had borne us safe over two thousand miles of the 
Missouri’s turbid and boiling current, with no fault, 
excepting two or three instances, when the waves became 
too saucy, and she, like the best of boats of her size, went 
to the bottom and left us soused, to paddle our way to the 
shore and drag out our things and dry them in the sun. 

When we landed at the wharf my luggage was all 
taken out and removed to my hotel, and when I returned 
a few hours afterward to look for my little boat, some 
mystery or medicine operation had relieved me from any 
further anxiety or trouble about it—it had gone and 
never returned, although it had safely passed the coun¬ 
tries of mysteries, and had often lain weeks and months 


Painting Black Hawk and His Warriors 263 

at the villages of red men, with no laws to guard it; and 
had also often been taken out of the water by mystery- 
men, and carried up the bank and turned against 
my wigwam, and by them again safely carried to the 
river’s edge, and put afloat upon the water when I was 
ready to take a seat in it. 

St. Louis, which is fourteen hundred miles west of 
New York, is a flourishing town of fifteen thousand in¬ 
habitants, and destined to be the great emporium of the 
West—the greatest inland town in America. 

This is the great depot of all the fur trading companies 
to the Upper Missouri and Rocky Mountains, and their 
starting-place; and also for the Santa Fe, and other 
trading companies, who reach the Mexican borders over¬ 
land to trade for silver bullion from the extensive mines 
of that rich country. 

In my sojourn in St. Louis, among many other kind 
and congenial friends I met, I have had daily interviews 
with GovernorClarke, who, with Captain Lewis, were the 
first explorers across the Rocky Mountains and down 
the Columbia river to the Pacific ocean thirty-two years 
ago. He is now Superintendent of Indian Affairs for 
all the western and north-western regions, and the in¬ 
terests of these people could not be in better hands. 
His whitened locks are still shaken with roars of laughter 
and jests among the numerous citizens, who all love him 
and rally around him continually in his hospitable 

Batiste and Bogard, I found, after remaining here a 
few days, had been about as unceremoniously snatched 


The Boy’s Catlin 

ofF as my little canoe. Bogard particularly had hard 
luck, as he had made a show of a few hundred dollars 
which he had saved of his hard earnings in the Rocky 
Mountains. He came down with a liberal heart, which 
he had gained in an Indian life of ten years, and a 
strong taste, which he had acquired for whiskey in a 
country where it was sold for twenty dollars a gallon, 
and with an independence which illy harmonized with 
the rules and regulations of a country of laws. The 
consequence was that by the “Hawk and Buzzard” 
system, and Rocky mountain liberality and Rocky 
mountain prodigality, the poor fellow was soon 
“jugged,” where he could dream of beavers and the 
free and cooling breezes of the mountain air, without 
the pleasure of setting his trap for the one or the hope 
of ever having the pleasure of breathing the other. 

Mr. Gatlin’s narrative was here broken off by a visit 
to Pensacola, but elsewhere in his notes it appears that 
this was not his first acquaintance with Governor Clark. 
In the notes to his Indian catalogue, it appears that he 
had accompanied Governor Clarke on one of his visits 
to the Kansas tribe, and, returning to St. Louis, painted 
the portraits of Black Hawk and five of his warriors, 
who at the time were prisoners at Jefferson Barracks. 

The Black Hawk war, of which every school boy has 
heard, was fought in the summer of 1832. Black Hawk 
was the old chief of the Sacs and Foxes. These were 
once two distinct tribes, but having a similar language, 
at some time not very remote, were united and after- 

Painting Black Hawk and His Warriors 265 

ward known under their joint name. Keokuk, one of 
the younger chiefs, with others of the tribe, made a 
treaty of sale of their lands in Illinois, and agreed to 
move further west. Black Hawk was not only not a 
party to the treaty, but opposed it, and subsequently, 
with others of his tribe, recrossed the Mississippi, and 
recovered their corn fields, that were then owned and 
cultivated by the whites. 

General Scott accordingly sent out a detachment of 
regulars from Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and called for 
volunteers. Among the regulars was Lieutenant Jeffer¬ 
son Davis, and among the volunteers, private Abraham 
Lincoln, of Captain Iles’s Company of Illinois Mounted 
Rangers. The rendezvous was John Dixon’s Ferry, 
now Dixon, Illinois. On the 27th of August, 1832, 
Black Hawk, with several of his warriors, was captured 
at Bad Axe by two Winnebago Indians, and was taken 
to General Street at Prairie du Chien, where he made 
his memorable speech. 

With other prisoners Black Hawk was taken by 
Lieutenant Jefferson Davis to Jefferson Barracks at St. 
Louis, where Mr. Catlin painted them during this visit. 
Of them he says; 

We were immediately struck with admiration at the 
gigantic and symmetrical figures of these warriors, who 
seemed, as they reclined in native ease and gracefulness, 
with their half-naked bodies exposed to view, rather like 
statues from some master hand than like beings of a 
race called degenerate and debased. We extended our 
hands, which they rose to grasp, and to our greeting 


The Boy’s Catlin 

‘How d’ ye do?’ they responded in the same words, 
accompanying them with a hearty shake of the hand. 
They were all clad in leggings and moccasins of buck¬ 
skin, and wore blankets thrown around them like a 
Roman toga, which leaves one arm bare. The youngest 
of them had their necks painted bright vermillion, and 
their faces transversely streaked with alternate stripes 
of red and black. From their faces and eyebrows the 
hair was carefully plucked out. They had also shaved 
or pulled it from their heads, with the exception of a 
tuft about three inches wide from the crown to the 
back of the head. This was plaited in a queue, 
with the edges cut down to an inch in length, and was 
plastered with vermillion until it stood up like a cock’s 

Muk-a-ta-mish-a-kah-kaik (the black hawk) was the 
leader of the Black Hawk War [Mr. Catlin continues.] 
Although his name has carried terror through the coun¬ 
try, he has heretofore been distinguished as a speaker 
and councillor rather than as a warrior. I believe 
it has been pretty generally admitted that Nah-pope 
and the Prophet were, in fact, the instigators of the 
war. Both of these had much higher claims to the 
name of warrior than Black Hawk ever had. This 
chief. Black Hawk, I painted in a plain suit of buck¬ 
skin, with strings of wampum in his ears and on his 
neck. He held in his hand his medicine-bag, which 
was the skin of a black hawk, from which he had taken 
his name, and the tail of which made him a fan that he 
was constantly using. 

Painting Black Hawk and His Warriors 267 

The eldest son of Black Hawk, Nah-see-us-kuk (the 
whirling thunder), is a very handsome young warrior, 
and one of the finest looking Indians I ever saw. There 
is a strong party in the tribe that is anxious to make this 
young man chief, and I think it is more than likely that 
Keokuk may meet his fate by his hand, or by some of 
the tribe, who are anxious to reinstate the family of 
Black Hawk. 

Of this young man the Hon. Augustus Murray writes 
in 1837: 

“Whirling Thunder is a fine young chief. . . . After 
the defeat of his tribe in 1832 he was taken prisoner 
with his father and paraded through the Atlantic states. 
One evening he was present at a party where a young 
lady sang a ballad with much taste and pathos. Nah- 
see-us-kuk, who was standing at a distance, listened with 
profound attention, and at the close of the song took an 
eagle’s feather from his head-dress, and giving it to a 
by-stander said: ‘Take that to your mocking-bird 

Wah-pi-kee-suck (the white cloud), and more widely 
known as the Prophet, was an even more important his¬ 
torical character painted at this time by Mr. Catlin, 
since he was believed to be the principal mover in the 
Black Hawk war. He was distinguished by the white 
cloth head-dress he wore in fight, when he also carried 
a white flag in his hand, and dressed in very white deer¬ 
skin with fringed seams. In his portrait he carried a 
pipe over a yard long, the stem of which was orna- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

merited with the neck feathers of the duck and beads 
and ribbon streamers. According to Mr. Gatlin’s notes, 
he was endeavoring to secure the favor of the whites by 
letting his hair grow out like that of the white men. 

Nah-pope (the soup) was the brother of the Prophet, 
and Black Hawk’s second in command. Drake in 
his Book of the Indians relates that when Mr. Catlin 
was about to paint Nah-pope he seized the chain and 
cannon ball that were fastened to his leg, and, holding 
them up, said: “Make me so, and show me to the Great 
Father.” When Mr. Catlin refused to do as he wished 
he made grimaces to prevent the artist from catching 
his likeness. Mr. Catlin merely remarks in his notes 
that he wished to be painted with a white flag in his 
hand. His own narrative is resumed in the next 



F ort gib son is the extreme south-western post 
on the United States frontier. It is beautifully 
situated on the Arkansas river, in the midst of an 
extensive and lovely prairie, and is at present occupied 
by the Seventh Regiment of Infantry under the com¬ 
mand of General Arbuckle, one of the oldest officers 
on the frontier, and the builder of the fort. 

Having the permission of Secretary of War Cass I 
accompanied the dragoons in their summer campaign. 
The object of this campaign seems to have for its object 
a better acquaintance with the Pawnees and Caman- 
ches. These are two large tribes of roaming Indians, 
who have not yet recognized the United States through 
treaty, and have accordingly struck frequent blows on 
the prairie and plundered the traders. For this I can¬ 
not much blame them, for the Spaniards advancing 
gradually on one side and the Americans on the other, 
are fast destroying the fur and game of the country, 
which furnish them their subsistence. The movement 
of the dragoons seems to be most humane, and I hope 
may prove so both for ourselves and the Indians. 

The regiment of eight hundred men with whom I am 
to travel is composed of young men of respectable 



The Boy’s Catlin 

families, who would act on all occasions from feelings 
of pride and honor, in addition to those of the common 
soldier. After many difficulties they have had to en¬ 
counter they have at length all assembled, and the 
grassy plains are resounding with the trampling hoofs of 
the prancing war horse, and already the hills are echoing 
back the notes of the spirit-stirring trumpets. Day be¬ 
fore yesterday the troops were reviewed by General 
Leavenworth, who has just arrived to take command. 

Both regiments were drawn up in battle array, in 
fatigue dress, and passing through a number of the 
manoeuvres of battle, of charge and repulse, etc., pre¬ 
senting a novel and thrilling scene in the prairie, to the 
thousands of Indians and others who had assembled to 
witness the display. The proud and manly deportment 
of these young men remind one forcibly of a regiment of 
Independent Volunteers, and the horses have a most 
beautiful appearance from the arrangement of colors. 
Each company of horses has been selected of one color 
entire. There is a company of bays, a company of 
blacks, one of whites, one of sorrels, one of grays, one of 
cream color, etc., etc., which render the companies dis¬ 
tinct, and the effect exceedingly pleasing. This regi¬ 
ment goes out under the command of Colonel Dodge, 
and from his well-tested qualifications, and from the 
beautiful equipment of the command, there can be little 
doubt but that they will do credit to themselves and 
honor to their country, so far as honors can be gained 
and laurels can be plucked from their wild stems in a 
savage country. 

With the Army at Fort Gibson 


It is a pretty thing for an army of mounted men to be 
gayly prancing over the boundless green fields of the 
west. Although the first part of the journey will be 
picturesque and pleasing, the after part will be fa¬ 
tiguing and tiresome in the extreme. As the troops 
advance the grass, and consequently the game, will 
diminish, and water in many places will not be found. 
Meanwhile, with half famished horses and exhausted 
men, we may have to contend with an enemy on its own 
ground, with horses fresh and ready for action. The 
plan to be pursued is to send out runners to the different 
bands, explaining the friendly intentions of our govern¬ 
ment, and to invite them to a meeting. For this pur¬ 
pose several Camanche and Pawnee prisoners have 
been bought from the Osages, who may be of service in 
securing a friendly interview. During the delay I have 
been recording the deeds and looks of the Osages. 

The Osages, or as they call themselves, the Wa-waw- 
see, are a tribe of about five thousand members, living 
on the head-waters of the Arkansas and Grand rivers. 

The Osages may justly be said to be the tallest race of 
men in North America, either of red or white skins; 
there being very few indeed of the men, at their full 
growth, who are less than six feet in stature, and very 
many of them six and a half, and others seven feet. 
They are at the same time well-proportioned in their 
limbs, and good looking; being rather narrow in the 
shoulders, and, like most all very tall people, a little in¬ 
clined to stoop; not throwing the chest out and the head 
and shoulders back quite as much as the Crows and 

The Boy’s Catlin 

Mandans and other tribes among which I have been 
familiar. Their movement is graceful and quick, and 
in war and the chase.I think they are equal to any of 
the tribes about them. 

This tribe, though living, as they long have, near the 
borders of the civilized community, have studiously re¬ 
jected everything of civilized customs, and are uniformly 
dressed in skins of their own dressing, strictly maintain¬ 
ing their primitive looks and manners, excepting in the 
blankets, which have been recently admitted to their 
use instead of the buffalo robes that are now getting 
scarce among them. 

The Osages are one of the tribes who shave the head, 
as I have before described, and they decorate and paint 
it with great care and some considerable taste. There is 
a peculiarity in the heads of these people which is very 
striking to the eye of a traveller, and which I find is pro¬ 
duced by artificial means in infancy. Their children, 
like those of all the other tribes, are carried on a board 
and slung upon the mother’s back. The infants are 
lashed to the boards, with their backs upon them, ap¬ 
parently in a very uncomfortable condition; and with 
the Osages, the head of the child bound down so tight 
to the board as to force in the occipital bone, and create 
an unnatural deficiency on the back part, and conse¬ 
quently more than a natural elevation of the top of the 
head. This custom they told me they practised because 
“it pressed out a bold and manly appearance in front ” 

These people, like all those tribes who shave the 
head, cut and slit their ears, and suspend from them 

With the Army at Fort Gibson 


great quantities of wampum and tinsel ornaments. 
Their necks are generally ornamented also with a pro¬ 
fusion of wampum and beads; and as they live in a 
warm climate, where there is not so much necessity for 
warm clothing, as among the more northern tribes, of 
whom I have been heretofore speaking, their shoulders, 
arms, and chests are generally naked, and painted in a 
great variety of picturesque ways, with silver bands on 
the wrists, and oftentimes a profusion of rings on the 

The head chief of the Osages at this time is a young 
man by the name of Clermont, the son of a very dis¬ 
tinguished chief of that name who recently died. I 
painted the portrait of this chief at full length, in a 
beautiful dress, his leggings fringed with scalp-locks, 
and in his hand his favorite and valued war-club. 

By his side I have painted also at full length his wife 
and child. She was richly dressed in costly cloths of 
civilized manufacture, which is almost a solitary instance 
among the Osages, who so studiously reject every 
luxury and every custom of civilized people; and, 
among those, the use of whiskey, which is on all sides 
tendered to them—but almost uniformly rejected! 
This is an unusual and unaccountable thing, unless the 
influence which the missionaries and teachers have 
exercised has brought about this result. 

Three of the braves came to me and asked to be 
painted together. It was explained to me that they 
were of the best families of the Osage nation, and having 
a peculiar attachment for one another, they desired me 


The Boy’s Catlin 

to paint them all on one canvas, which I did. These 
portraits fairly set forth the dress and ornaments of the 
young men of the tribe. The only dress they wear in 
warm weather is the breech-cloth, leggings, and moc¬ 
casins of dressed skins, with garters worn below the 
knee that are ornamented lavishly with beads and 

Their names are Ko-ha-tun-ka (the big crow), Nah- 
com-e-shee (the man of the bed), and Mun-ne-pus-kee 
(he who is not afraid). These three young men have 
been, with eight or ten others, set aside by Black Dog 
to accompany the dragoons as guides and hunters, so I 
shall doubtless see much of them. Joseph Chadwick, 
a young man from St. Louis, whom I have long known 
and greatly esteem, and myself will be the only guests 
on this campaign. Although I have an order from the 
Secretary of War to the commanding officer to protect 
and supply me, I shall ask but for protection, as I have, 
with my friend Joe, laid in our own supplies for the 
campaign, not putting the government to any expense 
when I am in pursuit of my own private objects. 

Again I am in the land of the buffalo and the fleet 
bounding antelope. We are in camp on the point of 
land between the Red River and its junction with the 
False Wachita, and in a country too beautiful to be 
adequately described with the pen. The verdure about 
us is of the deepest green, and the plains literally 
speckled with buffalo. Lieutenant Wheelock, Joseph 
Chadwick and I rode to the top of some of the prairie 
bluffs, and we agreed that even our horses looked and 

With the Army at Fort Gibson 


admired. They gave no heed to the rich herbage under 
their feet, but, with deep-drawn sighs, curved their necks 
loftily, and with wide-open eyes gazed over the land¬ 
scape beneath us. There over the pictured vales, 
bounded by mountain streaks of blue, the “bold 
dragoons” were marching in beautiful order, forming a 
train a mile in length. From the point where we stood 
the line was seen in miniature, and, bending its way over 
the undulating hills, looked like a huge black snake 
gracefully gliding over a carpet of green. 

Scarcely a day has passed in which we have not 
crossed oak ridges where the ground was almost literally 
covered with vines of delicious grapes, five-eighths of an 
inch in diameter, and hanging in endless clusters. 

The next hour we would be trailing through broad 
and verdant valleys of green prairies, and oftentimes 
find our progress completely arrested by hundreds of 
acres of small plum-trees of four or six feet in height, 
so closely woven and interlocked as to dispute our prog¬ 
ress, and send us several miles around. Every bush 
that was in sight was so loaded with the weight of its 
delicious wild fruit that they were without leaves on 
their branches and bent quite to the ground. Among 
these, and in patches, were beds of wild roses, wild cur¬ 
rants, and gooseberries; and underneath them huge 
masses of the prickly pears, and beautiful and tempting 
wild flowers that sweetened the atmosphere above; 
while an occasional huge yellow rattlesnake or a 
copperhead could be seen gliding over or basking 
across their tendrils and leaves. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

On the eighth day of our march we met, for the first 
time, a herd of buffaloes, being in advance of the 
command in company with General Leavenworth, 
Colonel Dodge, and several other officers. General 
Leavenworth and Colonel Dodge, with their pistols, 
gallantly and handsomely belabored a fat cow, and were 
in together at the death. I was not quite so fortunate 
in my selection, for the one which I selected of the same 
sex, younger and coy, led me a hard chase, when, at 
length, the full speed of my horse forced us to close 
company, and she desperately assaulted his shoulders 
with her horns. My gun was aimed, but, missing its 
fire, and the muzzle becoming entangled in her mane, 
was instantly broken in two in my hands, and fell over 
my shoulder. My pistols were then brought to bear 
upon her, and, though severely wounded, she succeeded 
in reaching the thicket, and left me without “ a deed of 
chivalry to boast.” 

We are halting here for a few days to recruit horses 
and men, and if the Pawnees are as near to us as we 
have strong reason to believe, from their recent trails 
and fires, it is probable that within a few days we shall 
“thrash” them or “get thrashed,” unless they elude our 
search by flying before us to their hiding-places. 

Colonel Dodge had employed two famous Delaware 
Indians, semi-civilized, as guides and hunters. They 
entertained Chadwick and myself by the ingenious 
preparations they were making for decoying and trap¬ 
ping game. Among these was a sort of whistle made 
of the bark of a young sapling, two or three inches long. 

With the Army at Fort Gibson 


which they carried in their pouches, and with it could 
imitate exactly the bleating of a young fawn. Being 
impatient with the delay, we concluded to do a little 
deer stalking on Maple Ridge, in a heavy timbered 
country said to be full of deer and turkeys. Taking 
with us a half-breed Indian, we drove, approached, and 
saw their white flags many times, but could not get near 
enough for a shot. 

At length at the edge of a small prairie I heard the 
sudden “ma, ma, ma,” the sound of the bleating of the 
small fawn. I was sure the little creature was in the 
shade of a small copse, so I dropped into the grass to 
wait until it came out. Presently I began to creep 
slowly on my hands and knees toward the bushes, sure 
that I would get a shot at one or both of its parents. I 
was now quite near, with my rifle cocked and drawn to 
my shoulder, when to my surprise the little thing called 
out “ma” directly behind me. I turned, and there 
within two feet of me lay the Delawares laughing at me. 
My hunting pretensions were a good deal cut down by 
this occurrence. 

We are in camp on the ground on which Judge Martin 
and servant were killed, and his son kidnapped by 
either the Pawnees or Camanches but a few weeks ago. 

Judge Martin, living on the lower part of the Red 
River, was in the habit of taking his children and a 
couple of black men-servants with him every summer 
into these wild regions, where he spent several months in 
killing buflPaloes and other wild game. The news came 
to Fort Gibson but a few weeks before we started that 


The Boy’s Catlin 

he had been set upon by a party of Indians. A detach¬ 
ment of troops was speedily sent to the spot, where they 
found his body horridly mangled, and also that of one of 
his negroes; and it is supposed that his son, a fine boy of 
nine years of age, has been taken home to their villages 
by them, where they still retain him, and where it is our 
hope to recover him. 

It belongs now to the regiment of dragoons to demand 
the surrender of the murderers. The moment the In¬ 
dians discover us in a large body they will probably 
think that we are seeking revenge, and will either attack 
us or will elude our search. As enemies I do not believe 
they will stand to meet us. But as friends I think we 
may bring them to a talk, if the proper means are 



G eneral Leavenworth, Coionei Dodge, 

Lieutenant Wheelock and myself were jogging 
along, and all in turn complaining of the lame¬ 
ness of our bones, when the General, who had long ago 
had his surfeit of the chase on the Upper Missouri, 
remonstrated in the following manner: “Well, Colonel, 
this running for buffaloes is bad business for us—^we are 
getting too old; I have had enough of this fun in my life; 
it is the height of folly for us, but will do well enough for 
boys.” Colonel Dodge assented at once, while I, who 
had tried it in every form on the Upper Missouri, 
joined my assent to the folly of our destroying our horses. 

In the midst of this conversation, as we were jogging 
along in “Indian file,” General Leavenworth taking the 
lead, when just rising to the top of a little hill, over which 
it seems he had had an instant peep, he dropped himself 
suddenly upon the side of his horse and wheeled and 
told us with an agitated whisper that a snug little band 
of buffaloes was quietly grazing just over the knoll, and 
that if I would take to the left and Lieutenant Wheelock 
to the right and let him and the Colonel dash right into 
the midst of them we could play the devil with them. 


28 o 

The Boy’s Catlin 

One half of this at least was said after he had got upon 
his feet and taken off his portmanteau and valise. I 
am almost sure nothing else was said, and if it had been 
I should not have heard it, for I was too eagerly gazing 
and plying the whip to hear or to see anything but the 
trampling hoofs and the blackened throng and the dart¬ 
ing steeds and the flashing of guns! As my horse was 
darting into the timber the limb of a tree scraped me 
into the grass, from which I soon raised my head, and all 
was silent an<i all out of sight save the dragoon regiment, 
which I could see in the distance creeping along on the 
top of a high hill. I found my legs under me in a few 
moments, and at last got them to work, and brought 
“Charley” out of the bushes, where he had “brought 
up” in the top of a fallen tree without damage. 

Neither buffalo, horse, nor rider was harmed in this 
attack. Colonel Dodge and Lieutenant Wheelock had 
joined the regiment, when General Leavenworth joined 
me, with too much game expression yet in his eye to 
allow him more time than to say, “I’ll have that calf 
before I quit!” and away he sailed in pursuit of a fine 
calf that had been hidden on the ground during the 
chase, and was now making its way over the prairies in 
pursuit of the herd. I rode to the top of a little hill to 
witness the success of the General’s second effort, and 
after he had come close upon the little affrighted animal, 
it dodged about in such a manner as evidently to perplex 
his horse, which at last fell in a hole, and both were 
instantly out of my sight. I ran with all possible speed 
to the spot, and found him on his hands and knees, en- 



Lassoing Wild Horses 281 

deavoring to get up. I dismounted and raised him on 
to his feet, when I asked him if he was hurt, to which he 
replied “no, but I might have been,” when he instantly 
fainted. I had left my canteen with my portmanteau, 
nor was there water near us. I took my lancet from 
my pocket and was tying his arm to open a vein when 
he recovered, assuring me that he was not in the least 
injured. I caught his horse and after two or three 
hours we joined the regiment. 

We had been gayly advancing, although, in some ap¬ 
prehension from the Indians, when on the second night, 
when we were in camp and sound asleep, there was the 
flash and the sound of a gun within a few paces of us, 
followed by frightful groans. In an instant we were all 
upon our hands and knees, and our snorting horses, 
breaking their lassos, were over our heads in full speed, 
and the cries of “Indians! Pawnees! Indians!” from 
every part of the camp. In a few moments quiet was 
restored, and a general inquiry revealed that a raw 
recruit standing sentry saw, as he supposed, an Indian 
creeping through the bushes. As he did not, when 
called, advance and give the countersign, the sentry “ let 
off” his rifle and shot a poor dragoon horse that had 
strayed away the day before, but had faithfully followed 
our trail, and poking through the bushes had come up 
to rejoin his comrades and take up his army life again. 
In the meanwhile we could hear the trampling hoofs of 
our horses, which were making off in all directions. 

Our camp was usually in four lines forming a square 
of fifteen or twenty rods in diameter. On these lines 


The Boy’s Catlin 

our packs and saddles were laid about five feet apart. 
Each man, after grazing his horse, tied it to a stake a 
little distance from his feet, thus inclosing the horses 
within the square to secure them in case of attack or 
alarm. In this manner we lay at the time of the alarm, 
and our horses, breaking their ropes, dashed out over 
the heads of their masters. 

It took us two days after this disaster to recover them, 
with the exception of about thirty, who took up again 
their free life on the plains. Indian trails began to 
grow fresh, and their smoke was seen in various direc¬ 
tions ahead of us. On the fourth day of our march at 
noon we discovered a large party at several miles dis¬ 
tance, sitting on their horses and looking at us; From 
the glistening of the blades of their lances, which were 
blazing as they turned them in the sun, it was at first 
thought that they were Mexican cavalry, who might 
have been apprized of our approach into their country. 
On drawing a little nearer, however, and scanning them 
closer with our spy-glasses, they were soon ascertained 
to be a war-party of Camanches, on the lookout for 
their enemies. 

The regiment was called to a halt, and the requisite 
preparations having been made and orders issued, we 
advanced in a direct line toward them until we were 
within two or three miles of them, when they suddenly 
disappeared over the hill, and soon after showed them¬ 
selves on another mound further off. The course of the 
regiment was then changed, and another advance toward 
them was commenced, and as before they disappeared 

Lassoing Wild Horses 


and showed themselves in another direction. After 
several such efforts, which proved ineffectual, Colonel 
Dodge ordered the command to halt, while he rode 
forward with a few of his staff and an ensign carrying 
a white flag. I joined this advance, and the Indians 
stood their ground until we had come within half a mile 
of them. We then came to a halt, and the white flag 
was sent a little in advance, at which one of their 
party galloped out in advance of the war-party, on a 
milk white horse, carrying a piece of white buffalo skin 
on the point of his long lance in reply to our flag. 

This moment was the commencement of one of the 
most thrilling and beautiful scenes I ever witnessed. 
All eyes, both from his own party and ours, were fixed 
upon the manoeuvres of this gallant little fellow, and he 
well knew it. 

The distance between the two parties was perhaps 
half a mile, and that a beautiful and gently sloping 
prairie, over which he was for the space of a quarter of 
an hour reining and spurring his maddened horse, and 
gradually approaching us by tacking to the right and 
the left, like a vessel beating against the wind. He at 
length came prancing and leaping along till he met the 
flag of the regiment, when he leaned his spear for a 
moment against it, looking the bearer full in the face, 
wheeled his horse, and dashed up to Colonel Dodge, 
with his extended hand, which was instantly grasped 
and shaken. We all had him by the hand in a moment, 
and the rest of the party seeing him received in this 
friendly manner, instead of being sacrificed, as they un- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

doubtedly expected, started under “full whip” in a 
direct line toward us, and in a moment gathered, like a 
black cloud, around us! The regiment then moved up 
in regular order, and a general shake of the hand ensued, 
which was done by every warrior riding along the ranks 
and shaking the hand of every one as he passed. This 
took some time, but during it my eyes were fixed on the 
gallant and wonderful appearance of the little fellow 
who bore us the white flag on the point of his lance. 
He rode a fine and spirited wild horse, which was as 
white as the drifted snow, and had a luxuriant mane, 
and a long and bushy tail that swept the ground. In 
his hand he tightly drew the reins upon a heavy Spanish 
bit, and at every jump plunged into the horse’s side a 
huge pair of spurs, plundered doubtless from the 
Spaniards in the border wars which are continually 
waged on the Mexican frontiers. The eyes of this noble 
little steed seemed to be squeezed almost out of its head, 
and its fright had brought out a perspiration fretted into 
white foam and lather. The warrior’s quiver was slung 
on the warrior’s back, and his bow, grasped in his left 
hand, was ready for instant use. His shield was on his 
arm, and across his thigh, in a beautiful buckskin cover, 
his gun was slung. In his right hand he held a lance 
fourteen feet long. 

Thus armed and equipped was this dashing cavalier, 
and the rest of the party in much the same manner. 
Many of them were leading an extra horse, which we 
learned was the favorite war horse, for this was a war 
party in search of the enemy. After a shake of the hand 

Lassoing Wild Horses 


we dismounted, the pipe was lit and passed around. 
Afterward Colonel Dodge explained, through a Caman- 
che who spoke some Spanish, that we were sent by the 
President to see the chiefs of the Camanches and Paw¬ 
nee Piets, shake hands, smoke the pipe of peace, and 
establish an acquaintance with them, and a system of 
trade that would benefit both. 

They listened attentively, and taking Colonel Dodge 
at his word with perfect confidence, told him that their 
great town was within a few days march, and pointing 
in the direction, offered to abandon their war excursion 
and escort us to it. This they did in good faith. Dur¬ 
ing this march over one of the loveliest countries in the 
world we had much to amuse and excite us. The whole 
country seemed to be alive with buffaloes and bands of 
wild horses. There is no other animal on the prairie 
so wild and so sagacious as the horse. So remarkably 
keen is their eye that they will generally run “at sight” 
a mile distant. There is no doubt but that they are 
able to distinguish the character of the enemy approach¬ 
ing, and, when off, will generally run three or four miles 
before they stop. I made many attempts to approach 
them by stealth, when they were grazing or gambolling, 
and never succeeded but once. 

On this occasion I left my horse, and, with my friend 
Chadwick, skulked through a ravine for a couple of 
miles until within gun shot of a fine herd, when under 
the cover of a little hedge I used my pencil sketching 
them. In this herd we saw all the colors that can be 
seen in a kennel of English hounds. Some were milk 


The Boy’s Catlin 

white, some jet black, others were sorrel, bay and cream 
color, many were iron gray, others were pied. Their 
manes were very thick, and hanging in the wildest con¬ 
fusion over their necks and faces. Their long tails 
swept the ground. After we had satisfied our curiosity 
in looking at these proud and playful animals, we agreed 
that we would try the experiment of “creasing” one, 
as it is termed in this country. This is done by shooting 
them through the gristle on the top of the neck, which 
stuns them so that they fall, and are secured with the 
hobbles on the feet, after which they rise again without 
fatal injury. This is a practice often resorted to by 
expert hunters, with good rifles, who are not able to 
take them in any other way. My friend Joe and I were 
armed on this occasion, each with a light fowling-piece, 
which has not quite the preciseness in throwing a bullet 
that a rifle has, and having both levelled our pieces at 
the withers of a noble, fine-looking iron gray, we pulled 
trigger, and the poor creature fell, and the rest of the 
herd were out of sight in a moment. We had the most 
inexpressible mortification of finding that we never had 
thought of hobbles or halters to secure him, and in a 
few moments more had the still greater mortification, 
and even anguish, to find that one of our shots had 
broken the poor creature’s neck, and that he was quite 
dead. The laments of poor Chadwick for the wicked 
folly of destroying this noble animal were such as I 
never shall forget. 

The usual mode of taking the wild horses is by throw¬ 
ing the lasso, while pursuing them at full speed, and 

Lassoing Wild Horses 287 

dropping a noose over their necks, by which their speed 
is soon checked, and they are “choked down.” The 
lasso is a thong of rawhide, some ten or fifteen yards in 
length, twisted or braided, with a noose fixed at the end 
of it. This, when the coil of the lasso is thrown out, 
drops with great certainty over the neck of the animal, 
which is soon conquered. 

The Indian, when he starts for a wild horse, mounts 
one of the fleetest he can get, and coiling his lasso on his 
arm, starts off under the “full whip,” till he can enter 
the band, when he soon gets it over the neck of one of the 
number, when he instantly dismounts, leaving his own 
horse, and runs as fast as he can, letting the lasso pass 
out gradually and carefully through his hands, until the 
horse falls for want of breath, and lies helpless on the 
ground, at which time the Indian advances slowly 
toward the horse’s head, keeping his lasso tight upon 
its neck, until he fastens a pair of hobbles on the animal’s 
two forefeet, when he loosens the lasso (giving the horse 
chance to breathe), and gives it a noose around the 
under jaw, by which he gets great power over the 
affrighted animal, which is rearing and plunging when 
it gets breath, and by which, as he advances, hand over 
hand, toward the horse’s nose, he is able to hold it down 
and prevent it from throwing itself over on its back, at 
the hazard of its limbs. By this means he gradually 
advances, until he is able to place his hand on the 
animal’s nose, and over its eyes, and at length to breathe 
in its nostrils, when it soon becomes docile and con¬ 
quered, so that he has little else to do than to remove 


The Boy’s Catlin 

the hobbles from its feet, and lead or ride it into 

It is a curious fact known to all the Indians that the 
wild horse, the deer, elk and other animals never run in 
a straight line, but curve almost invariably to the left. 
The Indian, seeing the direction in which the horse is 
“ leaning, ” knows just about the point where it will stop, 
and steers in a straight line to it, where they will arrive 
at about the same time, the horse having run a mile, and 
his pursuer a little more than half the distance. The 
alarmed animal is then off again, and, by a series of such 
curves, before sundown the horse’s strength is about 
gone, and it is easy to get near enough to throw the 
lasso. One must imagine the rest—^what kindness and 
caressing during the night, for they camp on the spot, 
enables the Indian to ride his captured horse into the 
village the next morning. 

I have said that the horse and other animals generally 
turn to the left. How curious this fact, and from what 
cause ? All animals bend their course, because they 
wish to return to their wonted abodes; but why bend to 
the leftOnce on the Upper Missouri with one man I 
started thirty miles over the prairie to a Sioux village. 
The second day being cloudy we had nothing to guide 
us. Everywhere was short grass, and the horizon a 
straight line. Late in the afternoon, very tired, we 
found ourselves at the same camp we had made the 
night before. All the time we thought we were walking 
in a straight line we were traveling in a circle. The next 
day, the sun shining, we kept our course. On arriving 


Lassoing Wild Horses 


at the Sioux village the Indians laughed heartily at our 
adventure, and all the chiefs agreed in telling me that 
when a man is lost on the prairie he travels in a circle 
and invariably to the left. 

The “breaking down” or taming is not, however, 
without the most desperate trial on the part of the horse, 
which tries in every manner to escape, until at last its 
power is exhausted, and the poor animal seems to be 
so completely conquered that it submits quietly, and is 
led or ridden away with but little difficulty. Great care, 
however, is taken not to destroy the spirit of the animal, 
which is carefully preserved, although the Indians are 
cruel masters. 

The wild horse of these regions is a small but very 
powerful animal, with a prominent eye, sharp nose, high 
nostril, small feet and delicate leg. Undoubtedly it 
sprang from stock introduced by the Spaniards at the 
time of the invasion of Mexico, which having strayed off 
to the plains, has stocked them as far north as Lake 
Winnipeg. Many of the Indian tribes have their tradi¬ 
tions about the first appearance of horses. The Sioux 
call the wild horse Shonk-a-wa-wakon (the medicine 
dog). To the Indian the wild horse is very important. 
Vast numbers are killed by them for food when game 
is scarce. But their chief use is in enabling him to take 
his game more easily and to carry his burdens. 

While on our march we had several times the oppor¬ 
tunity of seeing the Indians take them with the lasso. 
But the first successful attempt was by one of our guides 
named Beatte, a Frenchman, whose parents had lived 


The Boy’s Catlin 

nearly all their lives in an Osage village, where he had 
been reared from infancy, and had acquired all the skill 
and tact of his Indian teachers. This took place at 
noon one day while the regiment halted. Beatte and 
several others had asked Colonel Dodge’s permission to 
pursue a drove of horses then in sight. They started 
off, and, by following a ravine, got near the unsuspecting 
animals and chased them for several miles in full view 
of the regiment. After a race of two or three miles 
Beatte was seen with his wild horse down, and the 
band and the other hunters rapidly leaving him. 

Seeing him in this condition I galloped off to him as 
rapidly as possible, and had the satisfaction of seeing 
the whole operation of “breaking down,” and bringing 
in the wild animal. When the command resumed its 
march, Beatte, astride of his wild horse, rode quietly 
and without difficulty, until night, the whole thing, the 
capture, and breaking, all having been accomplished 
within the space of one hour, our usual and daily halt at 



A t last our Camanche guides told us we were 
approaching their village. From the top of the 
gentle elevation to which they led us, in the 
midst of this lovely valley, we could just discern in the 
midst of the shrubbery that lined the watercourse the 
tops of the wigwams and their curling smoke. 

The chiefs of the war party asked us to halt so they 
could ride on and tell their people we were coming. 
We dismounted for an hour or more, and could see 
them hurrying to catch their horses, and at length 
several hundreds of the braves came dashing on at full 
speed to welcome us. We immediately mounted, and 
they, wheeling their horses, formed a line “dressed” 
like well disciplined cavalry. Our regiment was drawn 
up in three columns, with a line in front formed of 
Colonel Dodge and his staff. In this rank my friend 
Chadwick and I were also paraded, and had a fine view 
of the whole manoeuvre, which was most picturesque 
and thrilling. 

In the centre of our advance was our white flag, and 
the Indians responded by planting by its side one they 
had sent forward. A fact that I think here worth noting 



The Boy’s Catlin 

is that, even among the most primitive tribes I have vis¬ 
ited, the white flag is always the flag of truce, and is in¬ 
violable. The chief going to war always carries in 
some form or other a piece of white skin or bark 
wrapped around a stick under his arm. He also carries 
a red flag which is to be unrolled if the occasion calls 
for “blood.” 

The two lines were thus drawn up, face to face, 
within twenty or thirty yards of each other, and, to the 
everlasing credit of the Camanches, whom the world had 
always looked upon as murderous and hostile, they had 
all come out, with their heads uncovered, and without 
a weapon of any kind, to meet a war-party bristling 
with arms, and trespassing to the middle of their coun¬ 
try. They had every reason to look upon us as their 
natural enemy, and yet, instead of arms or defences, or 
even of frowns, they galloped out without an expression 
of fear or dismay, and evidently with expressions of joy 
and impatient pleasure, to shake us by the hand, on the 
bare assertion of Colonel Dodge, which had been made 
to the chiefs, that “we came to see them on a friendly 

After we had sat and gazed at each other in this way 
for some half an hour or so, the head chief of the band 
came galloping up to Colonel Dodge, and having shaken 
him by the hand, passed on to the other officers in 
turn, and then rode alongside of the different columns, 
shaking hands with every dragoon in the regiment; he 
was followed in this by his principal chiefs and braves, 
which took up nearly an hour longer. Then the In- 

Visiting the Camanches 



dians escorted us to the banks of a fine clear stream, a 
half mile from their village, suitable for our camp, and 
we were soon bivouacked. 

No sooner were we in camp than Major Mason, 
Lieutenant Wheelock, Captains Brown and Duncan, 
and Chadwick and myself galloped off to the village, 
and through it to the prairie, where at least three thou¬ 
sand horses were grazing, eager to see the splendid 
Arabian horses we had heard were owned by the Caman- 
che warriors. We returned to camp quite crestfallen. 
Although there were some tolerable nags among this 
motley group of all colors and shapes, the beautiful 
Arabian must be further south than this, or it must be 
a horse of the imagination. The Camanche horses 
are generally small, all of them being of wild breed, and 
are tough and serviceable. From what I can learn 
there are better horses near the Mexican border. But 
this information may be no more correct than that we 
had in the East of the horses here. Among these im¬ 
mense herds we found many mules, and these are more 
valuable than the horses. 

The officers and men have bought a number of horses 
by giving for them a cheap blanket and a butcher knife, 
both worth about four dollars. In the East these horses 
would be worth from eighty to a hundred dollars. If 
we had goods to trade for them great profit could be 
made. A fine looking Indian was hanging about my 
tent for several days, scanning an old half-worn cotton 
umbrella that I carried to keep off the sun, as I was 
suffering from ague. At last he offered to buy it with a 


The Boy's Catlin 

neat limbed and pretty pied horse, if I would throw in a 
knife. I refused, for I did not know whether there was 
another umbrella in the regiment, and I needed this one. 
He came a second time and offered the horse for the 
umbrella alone. This offer I rejected. He seemed to 
think that the horse was not good enough, and returned 
with another of better quality. I tried to make him 
understand that I was sick and could not part with it. 
He rode back to the village and in a short time returned 
with one of the largest and finest mules I ever saw. 
This too I refused, and he disappeared. Captain Dun¬ 
can coming in, I told him the circumstance, when he 
sprang to his feet. 

‘‘Where has the fellow gone ^ Here, Gosset, get my 
old umbrella out of the pack. I rolled it up with my 
wiper and the frying-pan. Get it as quick as lightning.’’ 

With the umbrella the Captain ran and overtook the 
Indian, and went with him to the village, but returned 
not with the mule, but with the second horse offered me. 

The village of the Camanches, by the side of which 
we are in camp, is composed of six or seven hundred 
skin-covered lodges, like those of the Sioux and the 
other Missouri tribes. This village, with its thousands 
of wild inmates, horses and dogs, wild sports and do¬ 
mestic occupations, and the manners and looks of the 
people, presents a most curious scene. 

We white men, strolling among the wigwams, are 
looked on with as much curiosity as if we had come from 
the moon, and evidently send a chill through the blood 
of the children and dogs when we appear. I was pleased 


W0i ' 

Visiting the Camanches 


to-day with the simplicity of a group which came out of 
the chief’s lodge, and sketched it as quick as lightning, 
while Joe captured their attention by some trick I did 
not see, for I had no time to turn around. These were 
the younger members of the chief’s family, left at home, 
while he and his wives had gone to visit the camp. I 
have also had the chance to see and sketch one of those 
extraordinary and amusing scenes which daily happen 
where so many dogs and so many squaws are traveling 
in such a confused mass. Each horse drags his load, 
and each dog, i. e. each dog that will do it, also dragging 
his wallet on a couple of poles, and each squaw with her 
load, and each ready for a quarrel, there is generally 
a fight. It commences usually among the dogs, and is 
sure to result in fisticuffs of the women; while the men, 
riding leisurely on the right or the left, take infinite 
pleasure in overlooking these desperate conflicts, at 
which they are sure to have a laugh, and in which as 
sure never to lend a hand. 

The Camanches, like the northern tribes, have 
many games. In their ball-plays and some other 
games they are far behind the Sioux and others of the 
northern tribes, but in racing horses and riding they 
are not equalled by any other Indians on the Continent. 
Racing horses is their chief exercise and their principal 
mode of gambling; perhaps a more finished set of 
jockeys are not to be found. Among their feats of 
riding there is one that has astonished me more than 
anything of the kind I have ever seen, or expect to see, 
in my life: a stratagem of war, learned and practised 


The Boy’s Catlin 

by every young man in the tribe, by w-hich he is able to 
drop his body upon the side of his horse at the instant 
he is passing, effectually screened from his enemies’ 
weapons as he lies in a horizontal position behind the 
body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horse’s 
back, by which he has the power of throwing himself up 
again, and changing to the other side of the horse if 
necessary. In this wonderful condition he will hang 
while his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his 
bow and his shield, and also his long lance of fourteen 
feet in length, all or either of which he will wield upon 
his enemy as he passes, rising and throwing his arrows 
over the horse’s back, or with equal ease and equal suc¬ 
cess under the horse’s neck. This astonishing feat, 
which the young men have been repeatedly playing off 
to our surprise as well as amusement, while they have 
been galloping about in front of our tents, completely 
puzzled the whole of us, and appeared to be the result 
of magic rather than of skill through practise. I tried 
several times to get near them in order to see by what 
means their bodies could be suspended in this manner, 
where nothing could be seen but the heel hanging over 
the horse’s back. But I was continually frustrated 
until I coaxed a young fellow within a short distance of 
me by a few plugs of tobacco. I found, on examination, 
that a short halter was passed around the neck of the 
horse, and both ends tightly braided into the mane near 
the withers. This left a loop hanging under the neck 
and on the breast, which being caught up in the hand 
made a sling into which the elbow fell, taking the weight 

Visiting the Camanches 


of the body on the middle of the upper arm. Into this 
loop the rider drops suddenly and fearlessly, leaving his 
heel to hang over the back of the horse to steady him, 
and also to enable him to recover an upright position 
when he desires. This solved the matter, but left it an 
extraordinary result of persistent practice. 

The Camanches are rather low in stature and ap¬ 
proach corpulency. In their movements they are 
heavy and ungraceful, and on their feet one of the most 
unattractive and slovenly looking tribes of Indians I 
have ever seen. Indeed a Camanche on his feet is as 
awkward as a monkey on the ground without a limb to 
cling to. But the moment he lays his hand upon his 
horse, his face even becomes handsome, and he flies 
away a different being, surprising one with the ease and 
elegance of his movements. These people have several 
other feats of horsemanship, that are both pleasing and 
wonderful, of which they are very proud, and are always 
showing off. A people who spend the greater part of 
their lives on their horses’ backs must become expert 
in everything that pertains to riding, and I can say that 
the Camanches are the most extraordinary horsemen 
I have seen, and I doubt whether they can be surpassed 
in any other part of the world. 

For several days after we arrived there was a huge 
mass .of flesh Ta-wah-que-nah (mountain of rock), 
who was put forward as the chief of the tribe, and all 
honors were paid to him by the regiment of dragoons. 
A perfect personification of Jack Falstaff in size and 
figure, he had an African face and a beard on his chin 


The Boy’s Catlin 

two or three inches long. His name he told me he got 
from having conducted a large party of Camanches 
through a secret and subterraneous passage in a moun¬ 
tain of granite rock lying back of the village, thus 
saving their lives from a more powerful enemy from 
whom there was no other escape. But it seems his 
name would have been more appropriate if it had been 
“mountain of flesh,” for he weighs quite three hundred 
pounds. He proved to be, however, not the head chief, 
who was away on a war-party, and when he arrived the 
Mountain of Rock stepped quite into the background. 

The head chief is Ee-shah-ko-nee (the bow and 
quiver). He is a mild and pleasant looking gentleman, 
dressed in a humble manner, with few ornaments and 
his hair carelessly falling about his face and over his 
shoulders, and seems to have the confidence of the en¬ 
tire tribe. Ish-a-ro-yeh (he who carries the world) 
and Is-sa-wah-tam-ah (the wolf tied with hair) are also 
chiefs of standing and of influence, as they were put 
forth by the head chiefs to be painted. The first of the 
two was the leader of the war-party that brought us 
here, and Colonel Dodge has presented him with a very 
fine gun. One of the most distinguished men in this 
country, and one of the leading warriors, is His-oo-san- 
ches (the Spaniard). He is a Spanish half-breed, for 
whom the Indians generally have only contemptuous 
feeling. But this man has always been in the front of 
battle and danger, and commands the highest respect 
and admiration of the tribe. It was he who dashed out 
so boldly from the war-party with the white flag on the 

Visiting the Camanches 


point of the lance I have before described, and of whom 
I have made a sketch. This extraordinary little man, 
whose figure was slight, seemed to be all bone and muscle, 
and exhibited immense power by the curve of the bones 
in his legs and his arms. We had many exhibitions of 
his extraordinary strength as well as agility, and of his 
gentlemanly politeness and friendship we had as fre¬ 
quent evidences. As an instance of this, I will recite 
an occurrence which took place but a few days since, 
when we were moving our encampment to a more de¬ 
sirable ground on another side of their village. We had 
a deep and powerful stream to ford, when we had 
several men who were sick and obliged to be carried on 
litters. My friend “Joe” and I came up in the rear of 
the regiment where the litters with the sick were passing, 
and we found this little fellow up to his chin in the 
muddy water, wading and carrying one end of each 
litter on his head, as they were in turn passed over. 
After they had all passed, this gallant little fellow beck¬ 
oned to me to dismount, and take a seat on his shoulders, 
which I declined, preferring td stick to my horse’s back, 
which I did, as he took it by the bridle and conducted it 
through the shallowest ford. When I was across, I 
took from my belt a handsome knife and presented it to 
him, which seemed to please him very much. 



S O many of the men and officers fell sick that, after 
building a sort of fort with breastworks of timbers 
and bushes, we left them, and, much crippled in 
numbers, set out for the village of the Pawnee Piets, 
with several Camanches who agreed to pilot us. 

We were four days marching over a fine country, 
mostly prairie, for the most part along the base of a 
stupendous range of mountains of reddish granite. 
These were without a tree or shrub, and looked as if 
they had dropped from the clouds and lay in a confused 
mass just where they had fallen. These mountains in¬ 
closed the Pawnee village on the bank of the Red River, 
about ninety miles from the Camanche town. The 
dragoons were drawn up within a half mile of the village, 
and camped in a square, where we remained three days. 
We found a numerous village of five or six hundred 
wigwams made of prairie grass thatched over poles, 
which are fastened in the ground and bent over at the 
top, resembling nothing so much as straw beehives. 

To our great surprise we found these people cultivat¬ 
ing extensive fields of corn, pumpkins, melons, beans 
and squashes. With these and an abundant supply of 


The Sto.'ei Boy 


buffalo meat, they may be said to live very well. The 
next day after our arrival here Colonel Dodge opened 
a council with the chiefs in the chief’s lodge, with most 
of his officers around him. He first explained to them 
the friendly intentions which brought him, and the wish 
of the government to establish a lasting peace with them. 
This they seemed at once to appreciate and regard with 
favor. The head chief is a very old man, and several 
times replied to Colonel Dodge in a very eloquent 

After Colonel Dodge had explained in general terms 
the objects of our visit, he told them that he should 
expect from them some account of the foul murder of 
Judge Martin and his family on the False Wachita, 
which had been perpetrated but a few weeks before, and 
which the Camanches had told us was done by the Paw¬ 
nee Piets. The Colonel told them, also, that he learned 
from the Camanches that they had the fit-tie boy, the son 
of the murdered gentleman, in their possession, and that 
he should expect them to deliver him up, as an indispen¬ 
sable condition of the friendly arrangement that was now 
making. They positively denied the fact and all knowl¬ 
edge of it. The demand was repeatedly made, and as 
often denied, until at length a negro was discovered 
living with the Pawnees, who spoke good English, and 
coming into the council house said that such a boy had 
recently been brought into their village, and was now 
a prisoner among them. This excited great surprise 
and indignation in the council, and Colonel Dodge then 
informed the chiefs that the council would not take 


The Boy’s Catlin 

place until the boy was brought in. In this alarming 
dilemma all remained in gloomy silence for awhile, 
when Colonel Dodge further informed the chiefs that, 
as an evidence of his friendly intentions toward them, 
he had, on starting, purchased, at a very great price, 
from their enemies the Osages, two Pawnee (and one 
Kiowa) girls, who had been held by them for some 
years as prisoners, and whom he had brought the whole 
way home, and had here ready to be delivered to their 
friends and relations, but whom he certainly would never 
show until the little boy was produced. He also made 
another demand, which was for the restoration of a 
United States ranger, by the name of Abbe, who had 
been captured by them during the summer before. 
They acknowledged the seizure of this man, and all 
solemnly declared that he had been taken by a party of 
the Camanches, over whom they had no control, and 
carried beyond the Red River into the Mexican prov¬ 
inces, where he was put to death. They held a long 
consultation about the boy, and seeing their plans de¬ 
feated by the evidence of the negro, and also being con¬ 
vinced of the friendly disposition of the Colonel, by 
bringing home their prisoners from the Osages, they 
sent out and had the boy brought in from the middle of 
a corn-field where he had been secreted. He is a smart 
and very intelligent boy of nine years of age, and when 
he came in he was entirely naked, as they keep their own 
boys of that age. There was a great excitement in the 
council when the little fellow was brought in, and as he 
passed amongst them, he looked around and exclaimed 

The Stolen Boy 


with some surprise, “What! are there white men here ?” 
to which Colonel Dodge replied, and asked his name, 
and he promptly answered, “My name is Matthew 
Wright Martin.” 

He was then received into Colonel Dodge’s arms, and 
an order was given for the Pawnee and Kiowa girls to be 
brought in. When they entered the council house 
they were at once recognized by their friends and rela¬ 
tives, who embraced them with the most extravagant 
expressions of joy and satisfaction. 

The heart of the old chief was melted at this evidence 
of the white man’s friendship. He rose to his feet and, 
taking Colonel Dodge in his arms, placed his left cheek 
against the left cheek of the Colonel, and held him for 
some minutes without saying a word, while the tears 
were flowing from his eyes. He then embraced each 
officer in turn, in the same silent and affectionate man¬ 
ner. This form took half an hour before it was finished. 

From this moment the council, which before had been 
very grave and uncertain, became familiar and pleasing, 
and this excellent old man ordered the women to supply 
the dragoons with food. The little camp was indeed 
hungry, as they had eaten their last rations twelve hours 
before. The soldiers were now gladdened by the ap¬ 
proach of a number of women, who brought their “ back 
loads” of dried buffalo meat and green corn and threw 
it down among them. 

The council thus proceeded successfully and pleas¬ 
antly for several days, while the warriors of the Kiowas 
and Wicos, two adjoining and friendly tribes, and a 


The Boy’s Catlin 

number of Camanche bands who had heard of our 
arrival, were coming in. At length over two thousand 
of these wild and fearless looking fellows were assembled, 
and all from, their horse’s backs, with weapons in hand, 
saw our pitiful little encampment in a state of depend¬ 
ence and almost of starvation, for the country between 
this place and the Camanche village had been desti¬ 
tute of game. In addition, nearly one-half of our two 
hundred men were sick, and would have been incapable 
of resistance if we had been attacked. 

These Pawnee Piets are undoubtedly a numerous and 
powerful tribe, and with Kiowas and Wicos, occupy the 
whole country on the head-waters of the Red River, and 
quite into and through the southern part of the Rocky 
Mountains. The old chief told me by signs, enumer¬ 
ating with his hands and fingers, that they had altogether 
three thousand warriors. These then, in an established 
alliance with the great tribe of Camanches, hunting and 
feasting together, and ready to join in common defence 
of their country, become a very formidable enemy when 
attacked on their own ground. 

The name of the Pawnee Piets, we find to be in their 
own language, Tow-ee-ahge, the meaning of which I 
have not yet learned. I have ascertained, also, that 
these people are in no way related to the Pawnees of the 
Platte, who reside a thousand miles or more north of 
them, and know them only as enemies. There is no 
family or tribal resemblance, nor any in their language 
or customs. The Pawnees of the Platte shave the head, 
and the Pawnee Piets abominate the custom, allowing 

The Stolen Boy 


their hair to grow like the Camanches and other 

The Pawnee Piets, as well as the Camanches, are 
generally a very clumsy and ordinary looking set of 
men, when on their feet, but being fine horsemen, are 
equally improved in appearance as soon as they mount 
upon their horses’ backs. 

Among the women of this tribe there were many 
that were exceedingly pretty in feature and in form, 
and also in expression, though their skins are very dark. 
The dress of the men in this tribe, as among the Ca¬ 
manches, consists generally in leggings of dressed skins 
and moccasins, with a flap or breech-clout, made also 
of dressed skins or furs, and often very beautifully orna¬ 
mented with shells. Above the waist they seldom wear 
any drapery, owing to the warmth of the climate, which 
will rarely justify it, and their heads are generally with¬ 
out a head-dress, unlike the northern tribes who live in 
a colder climate, and actually require them for comfort. 

The women of the Camanches and Pawnee Piets 
are always decently and comfortably clad, being covered 
generally with a gown or slip, that reaches from the chin 
quite down to the ankles, made of deer or elk skins, 
often garnished very prettily, and ornamented with long 
fringes of elk’s teeth, which are fastened on them in rows, 
and more highly valued than any other decoration. 

The two Pawnee girls, who had been purchased as 
prisoners from the Osages by the Indian Commissioner, 
the Rev. Samuel Schemmerhorn, and given to their 
friends, were Kah-kee-tsee (the thighs) and She-de-a 


The Boy’s Catlin 

(the wild sage). Wun-pan-to-me (the white weasel) and 
Tunk-aht-o-ye (the thunderer) were a Kiowa boy and 
girl bought at the same time and taken to their tribe by 
the dragoons. The girl was taken with us the whole 
distance on horseback to the Pawnee village. The 
boy, unhappily, was killed at Fort Gibson by being 
butted by a ram. He was a beautiful boy of nine, 
whose portrait I painted the day before he was killed. 

The Kiowas are a much finer looking tribe than either 
the Camanches or the Pawnees. They are tall, erect, 
with an easy, graceful gait, and cultivate their hair so as 
to nearly reach the ground. They have for the most 
part that fine and Roman outline of head that is found 
among the northern tribes, and that is very unlike that 
of the Camanches and Pawnee Piets. Their language, 
moreover, is so different that they appear quite like 
strangers. The head chief of the Kiowas, Teh-toot-sah, 
we found to be a gentlemanly, high-minded man, who 
treated the dragoons and officers with great kindness 
while in his country. His long hair was put up in 
several long club-like divisions, and he wore many silver 
brooches extending quite down to his knees. 

The chief of the Wicos is Ush-ee-kitz (he who fights 
with a feather). He is a very polite and polished Indian 
and very remarkable in his manner of embracing the 
officers and others in council. In all our talks and 
councils this man has been a conspicuous speaker. At 
the close of his speeches he steps forward and, taking 
each person, friend or foe, holds them closely and affec¬ 
tionately in his arms for several minutes. Another of 

The Stolen Boy 


the extraordinary men of this tribe is Kots-a-to-ah (the 
smoked shield). This man is seven feet tall, and is not 
only a great warrior, but so swift a runner that he chases 
the buffalo on foot and slays it with his knife. 

Smoking the shield is one of the most curious as it is 
one of the most important of the Indian customs. A 
young man about to make him a shield digs a hole two 
feet deep in the ground and as large in diameter as he 
means to make his shield. In this he builds a fire, and 
over it a few inches higher than the ground he stretches 
the rawhide horizontally over the fire by means of little 
pegs driven through holes made near the edges of the 
skin. This skin is at first twice as large as the size of 
the shield is to be. Having got together his especial 
friends in a ring, they dance and sing around it, begging 
the Great Spirit to instil into it the power to protect him 
from his enemies. While these sing he spreads glue 
over the skin which is rubbed and dried in as the skin 
is heated. As the skin contracts the pegs are drawn 
out and others inserted. This process is continued 
until the skin, taking up the glue and increasing in 
thickness, his friends think they have sung and danced 
long enough to make it almost arrow and bullet proof. 
The dance then ceases and the fire is put out. When 
the skin, now half the original size, is cooled, it is cut 
into the desired shape, and painted with the figure of an 
eagle, owl, buffalo, or whatever may be the bird 01 
animal he has chosen to keep him from harm. 



F rom the Camanche,village to Fort Canadian, 
Texas, was a six days severe march. The coun¬ 
try was entirely prairie, the most of it high and 
dry ground, without water, for lack of which we suffered 
greatly. From day to day we have dragged along, ex¬ 
posed to the hot and burning rays of the sun, without a 
cloud to relieve its intensity, or a bush to shade us, or 
anything to cast a shadow except the bodies of our 
horses. The grass for a great part of the way was dried 
up, scarcely affording a bite for our horses, and some¬ 
times, for the distance of many miles, the only water we 
could find was in stagnant pools, lying on the highest 
ground, in which the buffaloes had been lying and 
wallowing like hogs in a mud-puddle, and into which 
our poor and almost dying horses ran and plunged their 
noses, sucking up the dirty and poisonous draught, 
until, in some instances, they fell dead in their tracks. 
The men also (and oftentimes the writer of these lines) 
sprang from their horses, and ladled up and drank the 
disgusting and tepid draught, and with it filled their 
canteens, from which they were sucking the bilious 
contents during the day. 


A Cruel March 


In our march we found many deep ravines, in the 
bottoms of which there were the marks of wild and 
powerful streams, except an occasional one, where we 
found the water dashing along in the coolest and clearest 
manner, but so salt that even our horses could not drink 

This poisonous and indigestible water, with the in¬ 
tense rays of the sun in the hottest part of the summer, 
is the cause of the sickness of the horses and men. 

During this march over these dry and parched plains 
we picked up many curious things of the fossil and 
mineral kind, and besides them a number of the horned 
frogs. In our portmanteaux we had a number of tin 
boxes in which we had carried Seidlitz powders, in 
these we caged a number of them safely in hopes to 
carry them home alive. My friend Joe has secured 
several remarkable specimens with horns three-quarters 
of an inch in length and very sharp at the points. 
Joe’s fancy for horned frogs has grown into a sort of 
frog-mania, and his eyes are strained all day gazing into 
the grass and pebbles as he rides along for his little 

We have just learned of the deaths of General Leaven¬ 
worth, Lieutenant McClure, and ten of the fifteen men 
we left at the mouth of the False Wachita. It seemst that 
the General had moved on our trail a few days after we 
left, to the Cross Timbers, a distance of fifty or sixty 
miles, where he died. I am inclined to believe that his 
death is in consequence of the injury he received in fall¬ 
ing from his horse when running a buffalo calf. From 


The Boy’s Catlin 

that moment he was different. Riding by his side several 
days after I said: “General, you have a bad cough!” 
“Yes,” he replied, “I have killed myself in running 
that devilish calf. It was a lucky thing, Catlin, you 
painted that portrait of me before we started. It is all 
my dear wife will ever see of me.” 

Of the four hundred and fifty fine fellows who started 
from Fort Gibson four months since about one-third 
have died, and I believe the fates of as many more are 
sealed. After leaving the head-waters of the Canadian 
River my illness so increased that I had to be lifted on 
and off my horse. At length I could not ride at all, and 
was put in the baggage wagon with several sick soldiers, 
and for eight days, the most of the time delirious, I was 
jolted on the hard planks until the skin from my elbows 
and knees was worn through. At length we reached 
Fort Gibson, where I heard the sound of “Roslin 
Castle” with muffled drums six or eight times a day 
under my window, and could see as I lay each poor 
fellow lowered into his silent and peaceful habitation. 

During my illness my friend Joe has been almost con¬ 
stantly at my bedside, and has given me every aid and 
every comfort that has been in his power. Such tried 
friendship as this one must always remember. When 
we started we were fresh and eager for the adventures 
before us. Our little pack-horse carried our bedding 
and culinary articles, among which we had a frying-pan 
and a coffee pot, coffee in good store and plenty of sugar. 
When we spread our bear-skin by night and kindled our 
fire in the grass we were sure of a delightful repast to- 

A Cruel March 


gether and a refreshing sleep. During the march, as 
we were subject to no military subordination, we gal¬ 
loped about as we saw fit, and popped away at whatever 
we chose to spend our ammunition upon, and ran our 
noses into every wild crevice we chose. One of the 
most curious places we met in all our route was a moun¬ 
tain ridge of fossil shells. This was several hundred 
feet high and from a quarter to a half mile in breadth, 
composed of nothing but clam and oyster shells in a per¬ 
fect state of petrifaction. Seen either individually or 
in the mass they were nothing but pure shells both in 
color and shape. In many instances they had never 
been opened, and taking out our knives and splitting 
them as one would an oyster, the fish was seen petrified 
in perfect form. By dipping it in water it showed the 
color and freshness of an oyster just opened and laid 
upon a plate ready to be eaten. In my opinion this is 
one of the greatest geological curiosities in this country, 
as it lies some thousands of feet above the level of the 
ocean, and seven hundred miles at least from the sea 

In another section over which we passed was a ridge 
of several miles running parallel to this ridge with 
neither grass nor earth under our feet. Our horses 
tread on a solid reddish rock. Dismounting I struck 
it with a hatchet and it resounded like an anvil. I 
found it to contain from sixty to eighty per cent, of solid 
iron. In other parts between the Camanche village 
and the Canadian River we found miles of surface en¬ 
tirely denuded except for small patches of grass and 


The Boy’s Catlin 

wild sage. This was a solid surface of dark gray 
gypsum, in which, from west to east, were streaks from 
three to five inches wide literally as white as the drifted 
snow. So it will be seen that the savage, who never 
converts these inexhaustible mineral resources of this 
wild country to his own use, must in time yield them to 
the enlightened and cultivating white man. 

Since we came in from the prairies Colonel Dodge, 
Major Armstrong, the Indian Agent, and General 
Stokes, the Indian Commissioner, have been in council, 
with seven or eight of the neighboring Indian tribes in¬ 
vited to meet the Pawnee Piets, Camanches and Kio- 
was who came back with us. I cannot think of a scene 
more interesting than this in which the civilized, half- 
civilized, and wild have met, embraced, smoked the 
calumet together for the first time, and pledged lasting 
peace and friendship. Here were three stages of man 
fearlessly asserting their rights, their happiness, and 
their friendship for each other. The vain orations of 
the half-polished and half-breed Choctaws and Chero- 
kees, with all their finery and art, found their match in 
the brief and jarring gutturals of the wild and naked 

Bringing these unknown people to a knowledge of one 
another and a general peace has been a handsome 
achievement. Yet I have strong doubts whether it will 
better their condition unless they are protected by the 
strong arm of the government in their rights. There 
is already a company of men fitted out which will start 
to-morrow to overtake these Indians and accompany 

A Cruel March 


them home with a large stock of goods, with traps for 
catching beavers, intending to build a trading house 
among them, where they, being the first traders in that 
country, will immediately amass a large fortune. 

I have travelled too much among Indian tribes and 
seen too much not to know the evil consequences of such 
a system. Goods are sold at such exorbitant prices 
that the Indian gets a mere shadow for his peltries. If 
the government would promptly prohibit such estab¬ 
lishments, and invite these Indians to our frontier posts, 
they would bring in their furs, their robes, horses,* mules, 
etc., to this place, where there is an honorable competi¬ 
tion, and where they would get four or five times as 
much for their articles of trade as they would get from a 
trader in the village, out of the reach of competition, and 
out of sight of the civilized world. 

At the same time they would be continually coming 
where they would see good and pciished society, they 
would be gradually adopting our modes of living, intro¬ 
ducing to their country our vegetables, our domestic 
animals, poultry, etc., and at length, our arts and manu¬ 
factures. They would then see and estimate our mili¬ 
tary strength and advantages, and would be led to fear 
and respect us. In short, it would undoubtedly be the 
quickest and surest way to a general acquaintance— 
to friendship and peace, and at last to civilization. 



I N the Indian country I have always attended every 
ball game I could hear of, if I could manage it by 
riding twenty or thirty miles. My custom has 
been to straddle the back of my horse and look on to 
the best advantage. In this way I have sometimes sat, 
oftentimes reclined, and sometimes almost dropped 
from my horse’s back in laughing at the droll tricks, 
kicks and scuffles that follow in these almost super¬ 
human struggles for the ball. These plays generally 
begin about nine o’clock in the morning. More than 
once I have balanced myself on my pony from that time 
until sundown, without one minute of intermission, 
before the game has been decided. 

While at the Choctaw agency it was announced that 
there was to be a great play on a certain day within a 
few miles. Of course I attended. Monday afternoon 
at three o’clock I rode out to a very pretty prairie, about 
six miles distant, to the ball playground of the Choc¬ 
taws, where we found several thousand Indians en¬ 
camped. There were two points of timber about half 
a mile apart, in which the two parties for the play, with 
their families and friends, were encamped. My com- 


A Choctaw Ball Game 


panions and myself, although we had been apprised 
that to see the whole of a ball play we must remain on 
the ground all the night previous, had brought nothing 
to sleep upon, resolving to keep our eyes open and see 
what happened through the night. During the after¬ 
noon we loitered about and afterward, at sundown, 
witnessed the ceremony of measuring out the ground, 
and erecting the “byes” or goals which were to guide 
the play. Each party had their goal made with two 
upright posts, about twenty-five feet high and six feet 
apart, set firm in the ground, with a pole across at the 
top. These goals were about forty or fifty rods apart, 
and at a point just half-way between was another small 
stake driven down, where the ball Vas to be thrown up 
at the firing of a gun. All this preparation was made 
by some old men who were, it seems, selected to be the 
judges of the play. They drew a line from one bye to 
the other, to which a great concourse of women and old 
men, boys and girls, with dogs and horses, came to make 
their bets. The betting was all done across this line, 
and seemed to be chiefly left to the women. Goods and 
chattels, knives, dresses, blankets, pots and kettles, 
dogs and horses and guns were placed in the possession 
of stake-holders, who sat by them and watched them on 
the ground all night preparatory to the play. 

The sticks with which this tribe play are bent into an 
oblong hoop at the end, with a sort of slight web of small 
thongs tied across to prevent the ball from passing 
through. The players hold one of these in each hand, 
and by leaping into the air, they catch the ball between 


The Boy’s Catlin 

the two nettings and throw it, without being allowed to 
strike it or catch it in their hands. 

In every ball-play of these people it is a rule of the 
play that no man shall wear moccasins on his feet, or 
any other dress than his breech-cloth around his waist, 
with a beautiful bead belt and a “tail,” made of white 
horsehair or quills, and a “mane” on the neck of horse¬ 
hair, dyed of various colors. 

This game had been arranged and “made up” three 
or four months before the parties met to play it, and in 
the following manner; The two champions who led the 
two parties, and had the alternate choosing of the 
players through the whole tribe, sent runners, with the 
ball-sticks most fantastically ornamented with ribbons 
and red paint, to be touched by each one of the chosen 
players, who thereby agreed to be on the spot at the ap¬ 
pointed time and ready for the play. The ground 
having been all prepared and preliminaries of the game 
all settled, and the bets all made, and goods all “ staked,” 
night came on without the appearance of any players on 
the ground. But soon after dark a procession of lighted 
flambeaux was seen coming from each encampment to 
the ground, where the players assembled around their 
respective byes, and at the beat of the drums and chants 
of the women, each party of players commenced the 
“ball-play dance.” Each party danced for a quarter 
of an hour around their respective byes in their ball- 
play dress, rattling their ball-sticks together in the most 
violent manner, and all singing as loud as they could 
raise their voices, while the women of each party who 


A Choctaw Ball Game 


had their goods at stake formed into two rows on the 
line between the two parties of players and danced also, 
in a uniform step, and all their voices joined in chants 
to the Great Spirit, in which they solicited his favor in 
deciding the game to their advantage, and also en¬ 
couraged the players to exert every power they pos¬ 
sessed in the struggle that was to ensue. In the mean¬ 
time, four old medicine-men, who were to start the ball, 
and who were to be judges of the play, were smoking 
to the Great Spirit that they might judge rightly and 
impartially in so important an affair. 

This dance was one of the most picturesque scenes 
imaginable, and was repeated at intervals of every half 
hour during the night, and exactly in the same manner. 
In the morning, at the hour, the two parties and all 
their friends were drawn out and over the ground, when 
at length the game commenced by the judges throwing 
up the ball at the firing of a gun. The players, who 
were some six or seven hundred in numbers, endeavored 
to catch the ball in their sticks and throw it home and 
between their respective stakes, which counts one for 
game. In this game every player was dressed alike, 
that is, divested of all dress except the girdle and the 
tail which I have before described. In these desperate 
struggles, when the ball is up, hundreds are running, 
leaping over one another’s heads, and darting between 
their opponents’ legs, tripping, and throwing, and foiling 
each other in every possible way, and every voice raised 
to the highest key in shrill yelps and barks; the rapid 
succession of feats and incidents is astonishing. Fre- 

The Boy’s Catlin 


quently there is individual resistance, which ends in 
violent scuffles and fisticuffs. At such times their sticks 
are dropped and they fight it out unmolested. Every 
weapon, by a rule in all ball games, is left in their 
camps, and no one is allowed to go for one, so their 
broils are settled without much personal injury. 

There are times when the ball falls to the ground, 
that for a quarter of an hour a confused mass of ball- 
sticks, shins, bloody noses are carried around to different 
parts of the grounds, without any one of the players 
being able to see the ball. For each time the ball was 
passed between the stakes of either side one was counted 
for game and a halt of a minute given. The judges 
then started the play again, and a similar struggle was 
carried on until the successful party gained one hun¬ 
dred, which was the limit, and took the stakes. These, 
then, by previous agreement, produced several jugs of 
whiskey, which sent them all home merry but not drunk. 

After this exciting day we went to the agency house 
where we had a number of dances. One I had not seen 
before was the Eagle dance, and a very pretty scene. 
This is got up by the young men in honor of that bird, 
for which they seem to have a religious regard. This 
picturesque dance was given by twelve or sixteen men, 
whose bodies were almost naked and painted white 
with white clay. Each dancer held in his hand the tail 
of an eagle, while his head was decorated with an eagle’s 
quill. Spears were stuck in the ground around which 
the dance was performed by four men at a time, who 
had simultaneously, at the beat of the drum, jumped up 

A Choctaw Ball Game 


from the ground where they had all sat in rows of four, 
one row immediately behind the other, and ready to 
take the place of the first four when they left the ground 
fatigued, which they did by hopping or jumping around 
behind the rest, and taking their seats, ready to come up 
again in their turn, after each of the other sets had been 
through the same forms. 

In this dance the steps, or rather jumps, were different 
from anything I had ever witnessed before, as the 
dancers were squat down, with their bodies almost to 
the ground, in a severe and most difficult posture. 

From Ha-tchoo-tuck-nee (the snapping turtle), whom 
the whites call familiarly Peter Pinchlin, a gentlemanly 
and well educated man, I have heard several of the 
curious traditions of this tribe, which I will try to give 
in his own words. 

The Deluge. “Our people have always had a tradi¬ 
tion of the Deluge, which happened in this way: there 
was total darkness for a great time over the whole of the 
earth; the Choctaw doctors or mystery-men looked out 
for daylight for a long time, until at last they despaired 
of ever seeing it, and the whole nation was unhappy. 
At last a light was discovered in the North, and there 
was great rejoicing until it was found to be great moun¬ 
tains of water rolling on, which destroyed them all ex¬ 
cept a few families who had expected it and built a great 
raft, on which they were saved.” 

Future State. “Our people all believe that the spirit 
lives in a future state, that it has a great distance to 
travel after death toward the West, that it has to cross 


The Boy’s Catlin 

a dreadful deep and rapid stream, which is hemmed in 
on both sides by high and rugged hills; over this stream, 
from hill to hill, there lies a long and slippery pine-log, 
with the bark peeled off, over which the dead have to pass 
to the delightful hunting-grounds. On the other side 
of the stream there are six persons of the good hunting- 
grounds, with rocks in their hands, which they throw at 
them all when they are on the middle of the log. The 
good walk on safely to the good hunting-grounds, where 
there is one continual day, where the trees are always 
green, where the sky has no clouds, where there are con¬ 
tinual fine and cooling breezes, where there is one con¬ 
tinual scene of feasting, dancing and rejoicing, where 
there is no pain or trouble, and people never grow old, 
but forever live young and enjoy the youthful pleasures. 

“The wicked see the stones coming and try to dodge, 
by which they fall from the log, and go down thousands 
of feet to the water which is dashing over the rocks. 
There the trees are all dead, and the dead are always 
hungry and have nothing to eat, are always sick and 
never die. There thousands crawl up the sides of a 
high rock where they can overlook the good hunting- 
grounds they can never reach. 

“Our people have a crawfish band. A long time 
ago they lived under the ground, and used to come up 
out of the mud as crawfish, and go about on their hands 
and feet. They spoke no language at all, nor could they 
understand any. The entrance to their cave was 
through the mud, so for a long time the Choctaws were 
unable to molest them. The Choctaws used to lie and 


A Choctaw Bail Game 


wait for them to come out and lie in the sun, where they 
would try to make their acquaintance. 

“ One day a party of them were run upon so suddenly 
by the Choctaws that they had no time to go through 
the mud to their cave, but were driven into another 
entrance they had through the rocks. The Choctaws 
then determined to smoke them out, and at last suc¬ 
ceeded. They afterward treated them very kindly, 
taught them the Choctaw language, made them walk on 
two legs, cut their toe-nails, and pluck the hair from 
their bodies. Then they adopted them into the nation. 
The remainder of the crawfish band is living under¬ 
ground to this day.” 

The tradition among the Choctaws is that they came 
from the region beyond the Rocky Mountains. “Many 
winters ago,” said Peter Pinchlin, “the Choctaws began 
moving from the country where they then lived, which 
was a great distance to the west of the great river and the 
mountains of snow. They were many years on the way. 
A big medicine-man led them by going before with a 
long red pole. This he stuck in the ground every night 
when they went into camp. Every morning this pole 
was found leaning to the east. Then he told them they 
must keep on traveling until the pole stood upright in 
camp. There the Great Spirit meant that they should 
live. Finally they came to a place called Nah-ne-wa-ye 
(the sloping hill). There the pole stood upright. They 
then pitched their camp a mile square, with the men 
outside and the women in the centre. This is the 
centre of the old Choctaw nation to this day.” 



A S soon as I recovered sufficient strength I made 
up my mind that if I could get out on the prairies 
and move northward I could save myself from 
that voracious burial ground that lay in front of my 
window, and where for so long I lay and imagined my¬ 
self going with the other poor fellows, whose mournful 
dirges were played from day to day under my window. 
Rather die on the prairies and be devoured by wolves, 
rather fall in fight with the Indians and be scalped, than 
the lingering death that would consign me to that in¬ 
satiable grave. 

So having packed my canvases and brushes to be 
sent by river to St. Louis, one fine morning my horse 
Charley was brought up and saddled. A bearskin and 
a buffalo robe being spread on the saddle, and a tin 
coffee pot and cup tied to it, with a few pounds of hard 
biscuit in my portmanteau, with my fowling piece in my 
hand and my pistols in my belt, with my sketch book 
slung across my back, and my little compass in my 
pocket, I took leave of Fort Gibson against the advice 
of my surgeon and all the officers of the garrison, who 
gathered around me to bid me farewell. 


Alone with Charley 


Thus alone, without any other companion than my 
affectionate horse, Charley, I turned my face northward, 
to find my way over the five hundred miles of prairie 
that lay between me and the Missouri river. No one 
can ever know the pleasure of that moment which placed 
me alone upon the boundless sea of waving grass, over 
which my proud horse was prancing, and I with my life 
in my own hands. 

Day by day I thus pranced and galloped along the 
whole way, through waving grass and green fields, occa¬ 
sionally lying in the grass an hour or so, until the grim 
shaking and chattering of an ague chill had passed off, 
and through the nights slept on my bearskin spread 
upon the grass, with my saddle for my pillow, and my 
buffalo robe drawn over me for my covering. My 
horse Charley was picketed near me at the end of his 
lasso, which gave him room for his grazing, and thus we 
snored and never were denied the doleful serenades of 
the gangs of sneaking wolves that in the morning we saw 
gazing at us, impatient to pick up the crumbs and bones 
that were left when we moved away from our feeble 
fire that, in the absence of timber, had been made of 
dried buffalo dung. 

Charley was a noble animal, a wild Camanche half- 
breed, the color of a clay bank, and with a sweeping 
black mane and tail. I had bought him from Colonel 
Burbank of the Ninth Infantry before the journey to 
the Camanche village, and he was considered the finest, 
as he was the best known horse in that part of the coun¬ 
try. Charley and I, although heretofore the best of 


The Boy’s Catlin 

friends, had always too much company to fully realize 
how much we loved one another. We both required 
the solitary and mutual dependence we were now enter¬ 
ing upon to fully develop the actual strength of the 
sympathy that had long existed between us. Another 
advantage arose from the fact that we were old cam¬ 
paigners, and knew exactly how to go at our work. 
There was yet another advantage that helped us very 
much. Twenty-five days is a long time to be without 
speaking to any one, or hearing the cheering sound of a 
human voice. From our long companionship and 
practice Charley and I had established a sort of lan¬ 
guage that was very significant, and helped to break the 
awful monotony of a solitary campaign on the prairie. 

When I went into the field to catch Charley after a 
separation of two months, I said, “ Charley, is that you 
He instantly replied, “ Eegh-ee-e-eeh ” (yes). This was 
distinctly an affirmative. Some might call this gibber¬ 
ish, but it had its meaning, and he was always sure to be 
right provided I put to him the right sort of questions. 
He had one agreeable trait which does not always be¬ 
long to those one meets in far-away countries, he always 
answered immediately. 

I generally halted on the bank of some little stream, 
at half an hour’s sun, where feed was good for Charley, 
and where I could get wood to kindle my fire and water 
for my coffee. The first thing was to undress “ Charley ” 
and drive down his picket, to which he was fastened, to 
graze over a circle that he could describe at the end of 
his lasso. In this wise he busily fed himself until night- 

Alone with Charley 


fall, and after my coffee was made and drank, I moved 
him up, with his picket by my head, so that I could lay 
my hand upon his lasso in an instant, in case of any 
alarm that was liable to drive him from me. On one of 
these evenings, when he was grazing as usual, he slipped 
the lasso over his head, and deliberately took his supper 
at his pleasure, wherever he chose to prefer it, as he was 
strolling around. When night came I went as usual to 
catch him, but he evaded me. He led me a chase for 
a half-mile, and it seemed that I would have to make the 
rest of my journey on foot. At last I went back and 
laid myself on my bearskin and went to sleep. 

In the middle of the night I half opened my eyes and 
saw a huge figure leaning over me, which I took to be an 
Indian about to take my scalp. I was too paralyzed 
to move, but at length I realized that it was my faithful 
horse, Charley, who, whether from fear or affection, 
stood with his forefeet at the edge of my bed, his head 
hanging over me, and fast asleep. 

The next morning I saw him some distance off brows¬ 
ing, and after breakfast started to catch him. But he 
refused to be caught. I recalled the affection he had 
shown me in the night, so I thought I would try a new 
method. Slinging my saddle on to my back and trail¬ 
ing my gun I started on. After I had gone about a 
quarter of a mile I looked around, and there by our 
camp fire Charley stood, with his head and tail on high, 
gazing over the prairie. Presently I heard him neighing 
loudly behind me, and galloping at full speed he passed 
me, when suddenly he wheeled and stood before me, 


The Boy’s Catlin 

trembling like an aspen. I walked up to him, and he 
held down his head for the bridle, and literally stooped 
for the saddle, both of us equally pleased at being to¬ 
gether again. 

On the night of this memorable day Charley and I 
stopped in an enchanting little lawn of five or six acres, 
on the banks of a cool and rippling stream, that was 
alive with fish, and every now and then a fine brood of 
young ducks, just old enough for delicious food, and too 
unsophisticated to avoid an easy and simple death. 
This little lawn was surrounded by bunches and copses 
of the most luxuriant foliage, spreading out their 
branches as if offering protection, groups of cherry and 
plum trees that supported festoons of purple grapes. 
Everywhere the green carpet was decked out with wild 
flowers, from the drooping head of the modest sun¬ 
flower to the erect lilies and violets that crept beneath 
them. By the side of this cool stream Charley was 
fastened, and near him my bearskin was laid. I soon 
brought a fine string of perch from the brook for my 
little fire, and had with it a broiled duck and a fine cup 
of coffee for my dinner and supper united, at half an 
hour’s sun. After this I strolled about this sweet little 
paradise, which I found was chosen, not only by myself, 
but by the wild deer. 

The Indians also, I found, had loved it once and left 
it, for here and there were their solitary and deserted 
graves which told, though briefly, of former chants and 
sports, and perhaps of wars and deaths, that had once 
rung and echoed through this little silent vale. 

Alone with Charley 


On my return to my camp I lay down and looked 
awhile into the blue sky above, over which the milk-white 
clouds were passing, with the sun setting in the west, and 
the silver moon rising in the east, and felt anew my own 
insignificance as I contemplated that wonderful clock 
whose time is infallible and whose motion is eternal. 
At last I trembled at the expanse of my thoughts, and 
turning, my eyes rested on a newspaper I had brought 
from the garrison. This was The National Intelligencer 
I had read for years, but never with the zest and relish 
as now, in this clean sweet valley of dead silence. 

After reading it I laughed at what I had almost for¬ 
gotten while among the Minatarees on the Upper Mis¬ 
souri. I had in my painting kit a copy of the Commer¬ 
cial Advertiser, edited by my friend. Colonel Stone. 
The Minatarees thought me mad when they saw me for 
hours poring over its columns. They had various con¬ 
jectures, but the most popular was that I was looking at 
it to cure my sore eyes, and they called it the “ medicine 
cloth for sore eyes.” I had several liberal offers for it 
but I had already accepted a beautiful painted robe for 
it from a young medicine-man, who told me that if he 
could employ a good interpreter, he could travel among 
the Minatarees, Mandans, and Sioux after I left, and it 
would make him a great medicine-man. Just before 
I left I saw him taking it from some eight or ten folds of 
birch bark and deer-skins, all of which were carefully 
enclosed in a sack made of a pole-cat skin, and un¬ 
doubtedly destined to become his mystery or medicine- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

With the exception of one night in twenty-five I man¬ 
aged to bivouac on the bank of some little stream or 
river, where there was water to make my coffee and 
wood to make a fire. We generally halted a little before 
sundown, so as to give Charley plenty of time to get his 
supper before I took up his picket and brought him in. 
The moment his saddle was off I drove his picket down 
where the grass was plenty and fresh, and gave him the 
full length of his lasso. I would then gather my wood, 
make my fire, and that well going, I would dress my 
prairie hen or prepare my venison steak, and fasten 
them on top of litttle sharpened stakes before the fire. 
Then I would put my little tin coffee pot on the fire, and 
spread out all my traps, such as a tin cup, a bowie knife, 
an iron spoon, a little sack of salt, some sugar, and a 
slice or two of cold ham. 

It was a habit of Charley’s and mine at this time to 
take him a little salt, of which he was very fond, and 
which he took with added relish out of my hand. This 
might have been possibly one of the causes of Charley’s 
affectionate attachment to me, and, on this occasion, I 
took care to lay in enough salt to keep up friendly feel¬ 
ings between us during our campaign. He was so 
accustomed to receiving this little attention when his 
meal was half over, and mine just to begin, and he had 
learned the time so well, that if I was not ready at the 
moment, his head was up and his tail spread out like a 
turkey cock while he stood and gazed inquiringly at me. 
I would say to him “Charley, do you want your salt ?” 
“Eegh-ee-e,” he never failed to answer. 

Alone with Charley 


Once we crossed a large prairie of many miles in ex¬ 
tent, without a tree or bush in sight, and so perfectly 
level that, in the language of the region, we were “out 
of sight of land.” Here night overtook us, and we were 
obliged to bivouac without water. I had no coffee that 
night, but I cooked very nicely a venison steak with a fire 
of dried buffalo dung which I gathered from the prairie. 

In the middle of the night I was awakened by a 
terrific thunder storm. I got up and drove Charley’s 
picket doubly strong, and folding up one of my robes, 
laid it across the saddle to sit upon, and spread the other 
robe over my head. This fell all around me to the 
ground and formed a tent that not only sheltered me, 
but all my things from the rain. This fell in torrents, 
and the flashes of lightning seemed to run like fiery 
snakes over the prairie, as if they were hunting for some¬ 
thing to strike. At every flash I feared that Charley 
and I might be snapped up. Notwithstanding I had to 
sit upright all night, I got some sleep. 

The monotony of these broad level prairies was some¬ 
times not only tedious, but doleful. I repeatedly fell 
asleep while riding, and when waking found Charley 
not only going forward, but keeping the course. Some¬ 
times for hours together, creeping along without a bird 
or beast in sight, while both were in deep thought, I 
would say, “Charley, a penny for your thoughts.” 
“Eegh-ee-e,” Charley would reply. Thus we both 
braced up our nerves and moved along with new life. 

One day while we were thus jogging along, suddenly 
a stately buck, with a pair of horns that looked as if he 


The Boy’s Catlin 

had a chair on his head, sprang up before us. While I 
was getting my left barrel to bear upon him, Charley 
trembled so I could scarcely get my aim. When I fired, 
the deer staggered back a little but recovered, and 
bounded off. A few rods took him over the hill, and he 
was out of sight. I pushed Charley up to where he 
stood, and seeing the blood on the grass, knew I had hit 
him. We could easily track him by the blood, but at 
length struck the high grass, which came quite up to 
Charley’s back. But I could feel by his movements 
and the extraordinary excitement he was under that he 
was tracing the deer. I had the curiosity to slacken 
rein and let him take his course. He went on in an 
unnaturally fast walk, snuffing and smelling as pre¬ 
cisely as a hound could have done. We went on for 
a half-mile or more, when breaking out of the grass 
at the foot of a small hill, he suddenly turned and 
raised his head to the left, his ears pointing forward. 
“Eegh-ee-e,” he exclaimed. I looked in the direction, 
and there lay our noble buck with his frightful horns, 
quite dead. 

I did not straighten the rein even then, but Charley 
started up on a trot, with his head and tail up, and bring¬ 
ing me within a few paces of him, stopped. I then 
pushed him up, and he smelled of the animal’s nose and 
bleeding wound. “Are you sorry, Charley.^” said I. 
“Eegh-ee-e.” “No, you are not. I put the question 
wrong.” “Eegh-ee-e.” “That’s right.” I dismounted, 
and Charley looked on while I cut a nice steak, and 
looked and smelled back at me while I was tying it to 

Alone with Charley 


the saddle. He knew as well as I that he was going to 
carry it home, and I was going to have it for supper. 

Sometimes we came upon deep sunken streams, like 
ditches, when I was within a few steps of plunging into 
them from their perpendicular sides, which were over¬ 
hung with long wild grass. Into one of these canals 
which I had followed for several miles in the vain hope 
of finding a shoal or an accustomed ford, I plunged with 
Charley where it was about six or eight yards wide (and 
God knows how deep, for we did not go to the bottom), 
and swam him to the opposite bank, to which I clung, 
and which being perpendicular and of clay, and three or 
four feet higher than the water, was an insurmountable 
difficulty to Charley. I led the poor fellow at least a mile 
as I walked on the top of the bank, with the bridle in 
my hand, holding his head above the water as he was 
swimming, and I at times almost inextricably entangled 
in the long grass that was often higher than my head. 
I at length (and just before I was ready to drop the rein 
of faithful Charley in hopeless despair) came to an old 
buffalo ford, where the banks were graded down, and 
the poor exhausted animal at last got out, and was ready 
and willing to take me and my luggage (after I had dried 
them in the sun) on the journey again. 

The Osage River, which is a powerful stream, I struck 
at a place which was sixty or eighty yards in width, with 
a current that was sweeping along at a rapid rate. I 
stripped everything from Charley and tied him with his 
lasso until I travelled the shores up and down for some 
distance and collected drift wood enough for a small 


The Boy’s Catlin 

raft which I constructed to carry my clothes and saddle 
and other things safe over. I then took up Charley’s 
picket, and leading him to the water’s edge and taking off 
his lasso, I said, “Charley, do you know what you have 
to do.?” “Eegh-ee-e.” There was no mistake about 
this, as it was a thing he was used to. I pointed to the 
other bank and drove him in, and he started for the 
other shore. The current swept him down some dis¬ 
tance, but he got to the bank and out upon the prairie. 
Then he turned about and looked at me with a tre¬ 
mendous “eegh-ee-eh,” and went to grazing. 

Having arranged my things on it I moved my raft into 
the stream, and swimming behind, with one hand on it, 
proceeded very slowly down the stream. Approaching 
the opposite shore, I saw with alarm that the rotten 
timbers of my raft were absorbing the water so fast that 
some of my things were already under water. Mean¬ 
while the shore was lined with logs and tree tops where 
I was to land. Some of the long timbers of my raft, as 
I had no axe to make them of equal length, caught in the 
limbs of a tree, and whirling it around the raft, began to 
go to pieces, and I was thrown again out into the stream. 
A second effort got me a better landing, and at length 
I got myself and my traps safely on to the ground. I 
was then in front of a dense forest, and full a mile below 
where I had last seen Charley standing, with his head 
and tail up and watching me as I disappeared behind a 
point of timber. I was just making ready to go in 
search of him when I was startled by a cracking noise 
behind me, and as I turned around “Eegh-ee-e” said 

Alone with Charley 


Charley, as he crowded through the thick weeds and 

Such are a few incidents of this journey of five hun¬ 
dred miles which I made entirely alone, and which at 
last brought me out at Boonville, on the western bank 
of the Missouri River. 



A fter recruiting my health during the winter in 
recreation and amusement on the coast of Florida, 
like a bird of passage I started, at the rallying 
notes of the swan and the wild goose, for the cool, fresh 
North. But the gifted passengers soon left me behind. 
I found them here, their nests built, their eggs hatched, 
and their offspring fledged and figuring in the world 
before I arrived at Fort Snelling, on the Falls of St. 
Anthony, from which place I will begin my summer’s 

With several hundred of the wildest of the Chippewas, 
and as many Sioux, we celebrated the Fourth of July in 
an unusual and interesting manner. To aid me in 
getting sketches of the customs and manners of these 
Indians, Major Talliaferro, the Indian agent at this 
place, told them I was a great medicine-man who had 
visited many of the tribes and witnessed their sports, 
and I had come to see if the Indians of this region were 
their equals in ball-play and other games. If they 
would come on the next day, which was the Fourth of 
July, and give us a ball-play and some of their dances, 
he would have the big gun fired twenty-one times. 


Canoeing on the Upper Mississippi 335 

This they easily construed into a great compliment to 

I gave them an even stronger inducement in a barrel 
of flour and a quantity of pork and tobacco. Ac¬ 
cordingly, on tbe Day of Independence, about eleven 
o’clock, which is the hour the Indians usually make 
their appearance on great occasions, the young men 
who were to play came onto the ground. Their dress 
consisted of the flap, and attached to their girdle a tail 
reaching nearly to the ground, made of the choicest 
arrangement of quills and feathers, or of the hair of the 
tails of white horses, with the ball-sticks in their hands. 
After an excited and warmly contested play of two hours 
they gave a number of their most fanciful and pic¬ 
turesque dances. The most beautiful of these was the 
Dance of the Braves. 

During this dance, at intervals, they stop, and one of 
them steps into the ring, and as loud as possible, with 
the most significant gestures, relates the feats of bravery 
he has performed, boasts of the scalps he has taken, 
of the enemies he has vanquished, going through all the 
motions which accompanied these scenes he described. 
At the end of his boasting all assent to the truth of his 
story, and give in their approbation by the guttural 
“waugh!’* and the dance again commences. At the 
next interval another makes his boasts, and another, 
and another, and so on. 

During this scene a little trick was played off in the 
following manner, which produced much amusement 
and laughter. A woman of goodly size, and in woman’s 


The Boy’s Catlin 

attire, danced into the ring (which seemed to excite 
some surprise, as women are never allowed to join in the 
dance), and commenced “sawing the air,” and boasting 
of the astonishing feats of bravery she had performed, 
of the incredible number of horses she had stolen, of the 
scalps she had taken, etc., until her feats surpassed all 
that had ever been heard. They all gave assent, how¬ 
ever, to what she had said, and apparently credence, too, 
and to reward so extraordinary a feat of female prowess, 
they presented to her a kettle, a cradle, beads, ribbons, 
etc. After getting her presents and placing them safely 
in the hands of another matron for safekeeping, she 
commenced disrobing herself, and, almost instantly 
divesting herself of a loose dress, in the presence of the 
whole company, came out in a soldier s coat and panta¬ 
loons! and laughed at them excessively for their mistake! 
She then commenced dancing and making her boasts 
of her exploits, assuring them that she was a man, and a 
great brave. They all gave unqualified assent to this, 
acknowledged their error, and made her other presents 
of a gun, a horse, of tobacco, and a war-club. She then 
deliberately threw off the pantaloons and coat, and pre¬ 
sented herself at once, and to their great astonishment 
and confusion, in a beautiful woman’s dress. The tact 
with which she performed these parts so uniformly 
pleased, that it drew forth thundering applause from the 
Indians as well as from the spectators, and the chief 
stepped up and crowned her head with a beautiful 
plume of the eagle’s quill, rising from a crest of the 
swan’s down. 




Canoeing on the Upper Mississippi 337 

The Sioux occupy all the country on the west bank of 
this river, while the Chippewas claim all lying east from 
the Chippewa River at the mouth of Lake Pepin to the 
source of the Mississippi. These two tribes are hostile, 
and from time out of mind have been at war. They are 
now encamped on different sides of the fort, and at 
present their difficulties have been arranged by the 
Indian agent, whom they call Great Father, and whose 
advice they listen to with the greatest attention. For 
two weeks past they have been making speeches before 
him, and have united in their dances, games, feasts and 
smokes. But this does not mean that when again on 
their hunting-grounds the war cry and tomahawk will 
not be raised. 

I have been a daily visitor to the camp of the Chippe¬ 
was. Their wigwams are made of slight poles stuck in 
the ground and bent over so as to give a roof-like shape 
to the lodge. This framework is then covered with birch 
bark. I was strolling through the village with my wife 
when the Indian women gathered around her, anxious 
to shake hands with her and show her their children, 
of which she took especial notice. They literally filled 
her arms with muk-kuhs of maple sugar, of which they 
make great quantities for sale. 

The Sioux in this region who are out of the reach of 
beavers and buffaloes are poor and meanly clad, com¬ 
pared to their tribe on the Missouri, where the skins of 
the wild animals supply them with picturesque and 
comfortable dresses. The same deterioration is also 
seen in the morals and constitutions of these, as of all 


The Boy’s Catlin 

the other Indians who live on the frontier, owing to 
whiskey, small-pox, and other diseases that shorten their 

After the great business of the treaty between the 
Sioux and Chippewas was over the Chippewas struck 
their tents by taking them down and rolling up their 
bark coverings and packing them, with vTomen, dogs 
and all, into their canoes. 

The bark canoe of the Chippewas is perhaps the 
most beautiful and light model of all the water crafts 
that were ever invented. It is generally made'entirely 
of the rind of one birch tree, so ingeniously shaped and 
sewed together with the roots of tamarack that the 
canoes are water-tight, and ride the water as light as 
cork. Under the skilful guidance of the Indian or the 
ugliest squaw, they gracefully dodge about, but, like 
everything wild, are timid and treacherous with the 
white man, who, unless he is very skilful in balancing, 
is pretty sure to get soused a few times in his first efforts 
to make their acquaintance. 

A few days after these scenes, I embarked in a light 
birch canoe with one companion. Corporal Allen, a 
young man of considerable taste, who thought he would 
relish the transient scenes of such a voyage with a 
painter down the Mississippi for Prairie du Chien. 

In the afternoon of the first day of our journey we 
discovered three lodges of Sioux on the bank, hallooing 
and waving their blankets for us to come in shore. As 
we had no business with them we held to our course, 
when one of them ran into his lodge, and, coming out 

Canoeing on the Upper Mississippi 339 

with his gun, levelled it at us and gave us a charge of 
buckshot about our ears. One of them passed through 
several folds of my cloak lying in front of my knee, and 
several others so near as to spatter our faces with water. 
There was no fun in this. I ran the canoe to the shore 
as fast as possible, and men, women and children ran to 
the shore to meet us with yells and laughter as we landed. 
As the canoe struck the shore I rose, artd throwing all 
the infuriated demon I could into my countenance, 
thrust my pistols into my belt, a half dozen bullets into 
my mouth, and my doubled barrel gun in my hand, I 
leaped ashore. By a nearer route I got between them 
and their wigwams, where, with my barrels presented, I 
made them understand I could annihilate the whole of 
them in a minute. I slipped my sketch book and pencil 
into my hand, and, under the muzzle of my gun, each 
fellow stood for his likeness, which I made them under¬ 
stand by signs were to be sent to “Muzzabucksa” 
(iron cutter), the name they gave to Major Talliaferro, 
their agent at St. Peters. 

We went on peaceably and pleasantly during the rest 
of our voyage, having ducks, deer, and bass for our 
game and our food, and for our bed the grass at the foot 
of some towering bluff. Our light bark ran to every 
ledge, dodged into every cut-off, every cave was explored, 
and almost every great bluff ascended. One of these is 
“The Lovers’ Leap” on Lake Pepin, a bold projecting 
rock six or seven hundred feet high. From the sum¬ 
mit of this, it is said, a beautiful Indian girl, the daughter 
of a chief, threw herself off in the presence of the tribe, 


The Boy’s Catlin 

some fifty years ago, and dashed herself to pieces rather 
than marry a man her father had decided should be her 

In the midst, or half-way of Lake Pepin, Corporal 
Allen and I hauled our canoe out upon the beach of Point 
aux Sables, where we spent a couple of days, feasting on 
plums and fine fish and wild fowl, and filling our pockets 
with agates and carnelians we picked up along the 
pebbly beach, at last started on our way for the outlet 
of the lake, with a fair north-west wind, as I sat in the 
stern and steered, while the corporal was “catching the 
breeze” in a large umbrella which he spread open and 
held in the bow. 

This has been one of the earliest trading-posts of the 
Fur Company. The prairie is a beautiful elevation of 
several miles above the river, with a picturesque range 
of grassy bluffs in the rear. The government has built 
a substantial fort in which generally several companies 
are stationed for the purpose of keeping peace among 
the hostile tribes and to protect the inhabitants of the 

While I was there Wabesha’s band of Sioux came to 
get their annuities, which came very far from paying off 
their accounts, which the traders take care to have 
standing against them for the goods furnished on a year’s 
credit. However, whether they pay or not, they can 
always get whiskey enough for a carouse and a brawl, 
which lasts a week or two. At the end of this time it 
was announced that the women were going to have a 
ball game. A pole was stretched on crotches, and on 

Canoeing on the Upper Mississippi 341 

this was hung the ribbons and calicoes and other pres¬ 
ents that would appeal to women. These were guarded 
by an old man who was to umpire the game. 

In this game the women have two balls attached to 
the ends of a string about a foot and a half long. Each 
woman has in each of her hands a short stick. With 
these she endeavors to catch the string with the two balls, 
and throws them over toward her own goal. This 
game sometimes lasts for hours; meanwhile the men, 
who are often half-drunk, roll over the ground, shouting 
with laughter at the women who are tumbling about in 
every direction and in all attitudes, scuffling for the ball. 



M y canoe I beached at Dubuque. This is a 
small town of two hundred houses, all built 
witbin two years, in the heart of the richest part 
of this mining region. It has the advantage over other 
mining districts, inasmuch as the soil overlying the lead 
mines produces the finest of corn. Here I met my wife, 
and we proceeded to Camp Des Moines, the winter post 
of Colonel Kearney and three companies of dragoons. 
Then placing my wife and two friends in my bark, I 
paddled them fourteen miles through the Des Moines 
rapids, that they might take the steamer for St. Louis, 
while I returned to the wild and romantic life I love to 

At Camp Des Moines I joined General Street, the 
Indian agent, in a tour to Keokuk’s village of Sacs and 
Foxes. Colonel Kearney gave us a corporal’s com¬ 
mand of six or eight dragoons, and in two days we 
reached the village, sixty miles up the Des Moines River, 
finely situated on a prairie as rich as a garden. We 
found Keokuk (running fox) to be a chief of fine and 
portly figure, with a good countenance, a dignified and 
proud man, yet very vain, and of great grace of move¬ 


Painting the Portrait of Keokuk 343 

General Street had some messages from Washington 
to read to him. To these he and his chiefs listened pa¬ 
tiently, after which he placed before us some good 
brandy and wine, and invited us to lodge with him. He 
then called up five runners, to whom in low and em¬ 
phatic tones he told the substance of General Street’s 
talk and communication. These started off at full 
gallop, one to proclaim it through the village, the others 
to carry his message to the other villages of the nation. 

It is with Keokuk that the treaty was made by Gen¬ 
eral Scott at the close of the Black Hawk war. This 
was owing to the fact that during the war he had kept 
two-thirds of the warriors neutral, and thus averted 
much bloodshed. The poor dethroned monarch. Black 
Hawk, was at Rock Island at the time, and an object 
of pity. With an old frock coat and brown'hat on, 
and a cane in his hand, he stood outside of the group 
in dumb and dismal silence, his two sons by his side. 
They were not allowed to speak nor to sign the treaty. 
Nah-pope, the Prophet, however arose, and commenced 
a very earnest speech on the subject of temperance. 
But Governor Dodge ordered him to sit down, being out 
of order. This saved him a much more peremptory 
order from Keokuk, who was rising at that moment 
with a look on his face that the devil might have shrunk 

During this time I painted his portrait. He brought 
in all his costly wardrobe that I might select the dress 
that suited me; but, at once, of his own accord, named 
the dress that was most purely Indian. In that he 


The Boy’s Catlin 

paraded for several days, and in it I painted him at full 
length. He was vain enough to say to me that he made 
a fine appearance on horseback, and that he wished me 
to paint him mounted. The horse that he rode was the 
finest on the frontier. It was a black, blooded horse, 
beautifully caparisoned, with his scalps attached to the 
bridle bits. He rode and nettled his prancing steed in 
front of my door until its sides were covered with blood, 
making a great display, until the picture was finished. 
He expressed much satisfaction, and after finishing him 
I painted the portrait of his favorite wife, the oldest of 
seven, and the only one that could be painted. This 
seemed to be an honor accorded to her because she was 
the mother of his favorite son. Her dress, of civilized 
stuffs, had been made and ornamented by herself. It 
was truly a splendid affair, the upper part being almost 
entirely covered with silver brooches. I also painted 
this son, who is to be his successor, and eight or ten of 
his principal men and women. 

When General Street and I arrived at Keokuk’s 
village we were just in time to see one of the very curi¬ 
ous customs of the Sacs and Foxes. This is called 
“smoking horses.” The Foxes were just making up a 
war party to go against the Sioux, and lacked twenty 
horses. Accordingly they had sent word to the Sacs, 
the day before, that they were coming at a certain hour 
on that day to “smoke” that number of horses, and 
they must not fail to have them ready. At that hour 
the twenty young men, who needed the horses, were on 
the spot, and seated themselves on the ground, in a 

Painting the Portrait of Keokuk 345 

circle, and began smoking. The villagers flocked 
around them in a dense crowd, and soon after appeared 
on the prairie, at half a mile distance, an equal number 
of young men of the Sac tribe, who had agreed, each to 
' give a horse, and who were then galloping them about at 
full speed, and gradually, as they went around in a cir¬ 
cuit, coming in nearer to the centre, until they were at 
last close around the ring of young fellows seated on the 
ground. While dashing about thus, each one, with a 
heavy whip in his hand, as he came within reach of the 
group on the ground, selected the one to whom he de¬ 
cided to present his horse, and as he passed him gave 
him the most tremendous cut with his lash over his 
naked shoulders, and as he darted around again he 
plied the whip as before, and again and again, with a 
violent “crack!” until the blood could be seen trickling 
down over his naked shoulders, upon which he instantly 
dismounted, and placed the bridle and whip in his 
hands, saying, “here, you are a beggar; I present you a 
horse, but you will carry my mark on your back.” In 
this manner they were all in a little time “whipped up,” 
and each had a good horse to ride home and into battle. 

The dances among this tribe were exceedingly spirited 
and amusing. The slave dance is a picturesque scene, 
and the custom on which it is founded a very curious 
one. This tribe has a society called “The Slaves,” 
composed of a number of young men of the best families, 
who volunteer to be slaves for two years, when they will, 
at the order of the chief, perform any service, no matter 
how humiliating or degrading it may be. One of the 


The Boy’s Catlin 

number is the master, and he receives the commands of 
the chief. On one day in the year they have a feast, 
and before it perform this dance. After serving two 
years they are exempt from labor for the rest of their 

A very droll dance is called the Discovery dance. In 
this there is a great deal of pantomine, and no music or 
noise except the patting of the feet. They advance 
two and four at a time, as if stealing secretly along over¬ 
looking the country, and, professing to announce the 
discovery of animals and enemies, signal back to the 
leader of the dance. 

The dance to the medicine of the brave is worth re¬ 
cording for its beautiful moral. When a party of Sac 
warriors, returning with scalps, have lost one of their 
number, they appear and dance in front of his wigwam 
fifteen days in succession, about an hour on each day, 
when the widow hangs his medicine-bag on a green bush 
which she erects before her door, and under which she 
sits and cries, while the warriors dance and brandish the 
scalps they have taken, and at the same time recount the 
deeds of bravery of their deceased comrade in arms, 
while they are throwing presents to the widow to heal 
her grief and afford her the means of a living. 

The Sacs and Foxes draw from the government 
twenty-seven thousand dollars annually. By treaty 
they conveyed to the government two hundred and fifty- 
six thousand acres of land on the Iowa River, known as 
the Black Hawk purchase, for seventy-five cents an 
acre. The price paid for this tract is a liberal one. 

Painting the Portrait of Keokuk 347 

although even one dollar an acre would not have been 
too much to have paid for it, since every acre of it can 
be sold to actual settlers in one year for one dollar and 
a quarter an acre. 

After the treaty was signed the Indians were told that 
one month would be given them to wind up their affairs, 
move their families and property from the tract before 
the white settlers arrived. Considerable excitement was 
created among the chiefs and braves by this suggestion, 
and a hearty laugh ensued, the cause of which was soon 
after explained by one of them in the following manner: 

“My father, we have to laugh; we require no time to 
move; we have all left the lands already, and sold our 
wigwams to Chemokemons (white men)—some for one 
hundred and some for two hundred dollars—before we 
came to this treaty. There are already four hundred 
Chemokemons on the land, and several hundred more 
on their way moving in; and three days before we came 
away one Chemokemon sold his wigwam to another 
Chemokemon for two thousand dollars, to build a great 



D O not be amazed if I now invoke the Indian 
Muse, for here she dwells, nor if my story 
savors of poetry or has the air of romance. 
Here, according to the traditions, happened the mys¬ 
terious birth of the red pipe, which has blown its fumes 
of peace and war to the remotest corners of the con¬ 
tinent, which has visited every warrior and passed 
through its reddened stem the irrevocable oath of war 
and desolation. Here, also, the peace-breathing calu¬ 
met was born and, fringed with eagles’ quills, has 
soothed the savage fury. 

In my varied wanderings among the Indian tribes, 
everywhere I had heard of this sacred spot. When on 
the upper Missouri a distinguished Knisteneaux pre¬ 
sented me with a handsome red-stone pipe, he told me: 

“ In the time of a great freshet, which took place many 
centuries ago and destroyed all the nations of the earth, 
all the tribes of the red men assembled on the Coteau du 
Prairie to get out of the way of the waters. After they 
had all gathered here from all parts, the water continued 
to rise, until at length it covered them all in a mass, and 

* The red-pipe stone is now known as Catlinite.—E d. 


The Land of the Red-Pipe Stone 349 

their flesh was converted into red-pipe stone. Therefore 
it has always been considered neutral ground; it be¬ 
longed to all tribes alike, and all were allowed to get it 
and smoke it together. 

“While they were all drowning in a mass, a young 
woman, K-wap-tah-w (a virgin), caught hold of the foot 
of a very large bird that was flying over, and was carried 
to the top of a high clilF, not far off) that was above the 
water. Here she had twins, and their father was the war- 
eagle, and her children have since peopled the earth. 

“The pipe stone, which is the flesh of their ancestors, 
is smoked by them as the symbol of peace, and the 
eagle’s quill decorates the head of the brave.” 

When I painted the portrait of a Mandan chief four 
years ago, he said: 

“My brother, I am a young man, but my heart is 
strong. I have jumped on to the medicine-rock; I have 
placed my arrow on it and no Mandan can take it 
away. The red stone is slippery, but my foot was true; 
it did not slip. My brother, this pipe which I give to 
you I brought from a high mountain; it is toward the 
rising sun. We left our totems or marks on the rocks; 
we cut them deep in the stones, and they are there now. 
The Great Spirit told all nations to meet there in peace, 
and all nations hid the war-club and the tomahawk. 
My friend, we want to visit our medicines; our pipes are 
old and worn out. My friend, I wish you to speak to 
our Great Father about this.” 

The chief of the Puncahs, on the upper Missouri, also 
made the following allusion to this place in a speech 


The Boy’s Catlin 

which he made to me on the occasion of presenting me 
a very handsome pipe about four years since: 

“My friend, this pipe which I wish you to accept was 
dug from the ground, and cut and polished, as you now 
see it, by my hands. I wish you to keep it, and when 
you smoke through it recollect that this red stone is a 
jjart of our flesh. This is one of the last things we can 
wer give away.” 

The tradition of the Missouri Sioux I have given else¬ 
where. The Sioux of the Mississippi, who live in 
the region of the Pipe Stone Quarry, have not a less 
strange tradition, which says: “Many ages after the red 
men were made, when all the different tribes were at 
war, the Great Spirit sent runners and called them all 
together at the ‘Red Pipe.’ He stood on the top of the 
rocks and the red people were assembled in infinite 
numbers on the plains below. He took out of the rock a 
piece of the red stone and made a large pipe; he smoked 
it over them all; told them that it was part of their flesh; 
that though they were at war they must meet at this 
place as friends; that it belonged to them all; that they 
must make their calumets from it and smoke them to 
him whenever they wished to appease him or get his 
good-will. The smoke from his big pipe rolled over them 
all, and he disappeared in its cloud. At the last whiff 
of his pipe a blaze of fire rolled over the rocks and 
melted their surface. At that moment two squaws went 
in a blaze of fire under the two medicine-rocks, where 
they remain to this day, and must be consulted and 
propitiated whenever the pipe stone is to be taken away.” 

The Land of the Red-Pipe Stone 351 

Such are a few of the traditions of this curious place 
which long ago determined me to visit it. With an 
English traveller, Mr. Robert Serril Wood, for my com¬ 
panion, and an Indian guide, 0-kup-pee, I left the Falls 
of St. Anthony for the Coteau du Prairie, where the Pipe 
Stone Quarry is to be found. We traversed the beau¬ 
tiful shores of the St. Peters River, which we crossed at a 
place called Traverse des Sioux. Here, while halting 
at the hut of a trader named Le Blanc, we were held up 
by a band of Sioux for daring to approach the sacred 
source of the pipe. 

A murky crowd of dark-visaged warriors and braves 
gathered around the house, cramming and closing every 
means of escape, while one of them, in an insulting 
harangue, informed us that we were prisoners. About 
twenty spoke in turn, and we were doomed to sit the 
entire afternoon without being allowed to speak in our 
own behalf until they were through, while they brand-' 
ished their fists in our faces and overwhelmed us with 
threats. After these copper-visaged advocates of fheir 
country’s rights had assembled about us and filled up 
every avenue of the cabin, the grave council was opened 
in the following manner. Te-o-kun-hko (the swift 
man) first rose and said; 

“ My friends, I am not a chief but the son of a chief, 
and when he is gone away it is my duty to speak for 
him; he is not here, but what I say is the talk of his 
mouth. We have been told that you are going to the 
Pipe Stone Quarry. We come now to ask for what pur¬ 
pose you are going and what business you have to go 


The Boy’s Catlin 

there. (“How! how!” vociferated all of them, thereby 
approving what was said, giving assent by the word 
how, which is their word for yes.) 

“Brothers, we look at you and we see that you are 
Che-mo-ke-mon capitains (white men officers); we know 
that you have been sent by your government to see what 
that place is worth, and we think the white people want 
to buy it. (‘Hqw! how!’) 

“ Brothers, we have seen always that the white people, 
when they see anything in our country that they want, 
send officers to value it, and then if they can’t buy it 
they will get it some other way. (‘How! how!’) 

“Brothers, we know that the whites are like a great 
cloud that rises in the East and will cover the whole 
country. We know that they will have all our lands; 
but if ever they get our Red Pipe Quarry they will have 
to pay very dear for it. (‘How! how! how!’) 

“ Brothers, we know that no white man has ever been 
to the Pipe Stone Quarry, and our chiefs have often 
decided in council that no white man shall ever go to it. 
(‘How! how!’) 

“Brothers, you have heard what I have to say, and 
you can go no further, but you must turn about and go 
back. (‘How! how! how!’) 

“ Brothers, you see that the sweat runs from my face, 
for I am troubled.” 

Then I commenced to reply in the following manner: 

“ My friends, I am sorry that you have mistaken us so 
much and the object of our visit to your country. We 
are not officers; we are two poor men travelling to see 

The Land of the Red-Pipe Stone 353 

the Sioux and shake hands with them. This man who 
is with me is my friend; he is a Sa-ga-nosh (English¬ 
man). (‘How! how! how!’ All rising and shaking hands 
with him, and a number of them taking out and show¬ 
ing British medals which were carried in their bosoms.) 

“We have heard that the Red Pipe Quarry was a 
great curiosity, and we have started to go to it and we 
will not be stopped.” (Here I was interrupted by a grim 
and black-visaged fellow, who shook his long, shaggy 
locks as he rose, with his sunken eyes fixed in direst 
hatred on me and his fist brandished within an inch of 
my face.) 

“Pale faces, you cannot speak till we have all done; 
you are our prisoners; you must listen to what we have 
to say. What has been said to you is true; you must go 
back. (‘How! how!’) 

“ I brought a large piece of the pipe stone and gave it 
to a white man to make a pipe; he was our trader, and I 
wished him to have a good pipe. The next time I went 
to his store I was unhappy when I saw that stone made 
into a dish! (‘Eugh!’) 

“This is the way the white men would use the red- 
pipe stone if they could get it. Such conduct would 
offend the Great Spirit and make a red man’s heart 
sick.” (‘How! how!’) 

To this I replied in the following manner: 

“My friends, I think as you do that the Great Spirit 
has given that place to the red men for their pipes. 
(‘ How! how! ’) But we have started to go and see it, 
and we cannot think of being stopped.” 


The Boy’s Catlin 

During this scene the son of M. le Blanc was stand¬ 
ing by, and, seeing this man shaking his fist in my face, 
told him to stand back at a respectful pace or he would 
knock him down. Le Blanc advised us that these were 
the most treacherous part of the Sioux nation and we 
had better go back as they ordered. But I made a few 
remarks declaring our intention of going on, for this we 
intended to do even at the risk of our lives, and this we 
did the next morning, riding off through the midst of 

On our way we were notified at several villages 
through which we passed to go back. But we kept our 
way over a hundred miles of beautiful prairie until we 
reached the trading-house of an old friend of mine, 
M. la Framboise, where we rested pleasantly a couple 
of days. La Framboise has some good Indian blood 
in his veins, and from his mode of life, as well as from 
a natural passion that seems to belong to these French 
adventurers, is fond of songs and stories, of which he has 
many, and which makes him a most amusing companion. 
My friend Wood sings delightfully, and as I cannot sing, 
but now and then can tell a story, we passed our even¬ 
ings in our humble bivouac over buffalo meat and 
prairie-hens with much fun and amusement. 

We were now but forty or fifty miles from the base of 
the Coteau des Prairie, and, with our kind companion 
La Framboise, pushed on. For many miles we had the 
Coteau before us like a blue cloud settling down on the 
horizon. When we had arrived at its base we were 
scarcely sensible of it from the graceful and almost im- 

The Land of the Red-Pipe Stone 355 

perceptible terraces gently rising one above the other 
until we reached the summit. Bivouacked on its ridge, 
the air as light to breathe as nitrous oxide, nothing could 
be seen in the distance but a thousand treeless, bushless, 
weedless hills of vivid green vanishing into an infinity of 
blue and azure. 

Such is the Coteau des Prairie, the dividing ridge be¬ 
tween the St. Peters and the Missouri Rivers, equi¬ 
distant from both. This wonderful feature is several 
hundred miles in length, and, varying from fifty to a 
hundred miles in width, is perhaps the noblest mound 
of its kind in the world. On the very top of the ridge 
we found the famous quarry of the red pipe. Its most 
striking feature is a perpendicular wall of close-grained 
compact quartz, thirty feet high, nearly two miles long, 
with its face to the west and its ends disappearing by 
running under the prairie. This rock, and the only rock 
in view, is as polished as if a liquid glazing had been 
poured over its surface. Not far from our camp in the 
solid rock are the deep “footsteps of the Great Spirit,” 
in the forms of the tracks of a large bird, where he 
formerly stood when the blood of the b\ilFaloes he was 
eating ran into the rocks and turned them red. 

A few yards distant leaped a beautiful little stream 
from the top of the precipice into a deep basin below. 
Here among rocks of the loveliest hues but of the wildest 
contour a poor Indian was bathing. At a little distance 
beyond, at the base of five huge granite bowlders, he 
humbly propitiates the guardian spirits of the place by 
sacrifices of tobacco for permission to take away a small 


The Boy’s Catlin 

piece of the red stone for a pipe. The surface of these 
five bowlders is in every part covered with a gray moss 
which gives them a very venerable appearance. It is 
under these blocks that the two holes, or ovens, are seen 
in which the two old women, according to Indian tradi¬ 
tion, as guardian spirits of the place, reside. 

The fact alone that these blocks differ in character 
from all other specimens which I have seen in my 
travels among the thousands of bowlders which are 
strewed over the great valley of the Missouri and Missis¬ 
sippi, from the Yellowstone almost to the Gulf of 
Mexico, raises in my mind an unanswerable question as 
regards the location of their native bed and the means 
by which they have reached their isolated position, like 
five brothers, leaning against and supporting each other, 
without the existence of another bowlder within many 
miles of them. Further on are seen, like gopher hills, 
the excavations of the Indians, ancient and recent, and on 
the surface of the rocks their sculptured hieroglyphics— 
their wakons, totems, and medicines. Graves, mounds, 
and fortifications lay in sight, and above all the medi¬ 
cine or leaping rock. This is a part of the precipice 
that has become severed from the main part, and, about 
seven feet in diameter, stands about seven feet from the 
wall, its equal in height. This is to say that it stands 
like an immense column thirty-five feet high, and highly 
polished on its top and sides. It requires a bold heart 
to leap on to its top from the main wall and back again. 
This is the ambition of the young brave. Some have 
tried it with success and have left their arrows in its 

The Land of the Red-Pipe Stone 357 

\:revices. Others have tried it and, unable to cling to 
Its slippery surface, have been dashed to pieces on the 
crags and rocks below. Those who have succeeded are 
allowed to boast of the feat for the rest of their lives. 

While there a Sioux chief with thirty of his tribe came 
■^o visit the Pipe Stone Quarry and weep over the grave 
of his son. This was a conical mound near by, where 
tve stood with him as he told the story of the daring leap 
and death of his son two years before. 

While at the Pipe Stone Quarry the Indians told us 
We were within twenty miles of the “Thunder’s Nest.” 
‘“Thunder’s Nest!’ What on earth is that?” “It is 
the place where the thunders are hatched out,” said the 

“ The thunder comes out of an egg ? It must be a 
very large egg?” 

“No, it is a very small egg, about the size of your 
finger,” said the Sioux. “ Most of the medicine-men of 
the Sioux have seen it.” 

Our interpreter and guide told us that this was on the 
highest ridge of the Coteau, and the Indians believed 
that in the very hottest days, before the thunder showers, 
the bird sits on her eggs, and when they hatch out they 
make the thunder. Accordingly, we took an early start 
the next morning, with three of the Indians, to the 
Thunder’s Nest and the Stone Man medicine. We 
reached the latter first, and found on a couple of acres 
of lightly rounded surface the Stone Man medicine. It 
was the figure, tolerably well-proportioned, of a man 
lying on his back, some three or four hundred feet long. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

made entirely of flat stones that had been brought by 
Indians, probably through centuries, and deposited 
there. The Indians tell us that every hunting party 
coming in this direction brings a flat stone and adds to 
it. No stone lies on top of another; the number is 
countless, and in size and color represent the features 
and even the toes and fingers. I could not discover a 
stone the size of a pigeon’s egg within several miles of it. 

The Thunder’s Nest was on the top of a high prairie 
mound where was a group of hazel bushes. Blue 
Mountain, who led the party, requested us all to dis¬ 
mount and wait a little. The Indians took all the 
plumes out of their heads, and, placing them under their 
robes, smoothed out their black locks and took a squint 
at their faces in their little looking-glasses to see if 
the paint was all right. Then wrapping their robes 
around them, with the medicine-man at their head, all 
marched slowly toward the bushes leading the horses. 

Within two or three rods of the bushes the Indians 
halted and each tossed a plug of tobacco into the grass. 
I started with my gun in my hand, as if to shoot a bird 
on the wing, toward the hallowed ground, when deep 
groans caused me to look back, and I saw the Indians 
in great distress, with their hands over their mouths. I 
retreated without seeing anything except some hundreds 
of bits of tobacco lying on the grass, that had been 
thrown as sacrifices to the Thunder Spirit in dread of 
which they always live. 



O VER two thousand miles I have wandered to 
paint the portrait of that great Seminole, Osce¬ 
ola, who, with two hundred and fifty warriors, 
is imprisoned at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. With 
the Seminoles the government has been at war for four 
or five years in the endeavor to remove them from their 
lands, in compliance with a treaty stipulation, which 
the government claims was justly made and which the 
Seminoles aver was not. 

The Cherokees, the Creeks, the Choctaws, and the 
Seminoles are semi-civilized tribes that owned valuable 
tracts of the best cotton lands in Georgia and Alabama, 
and were therefore rich. These lands are too valuable 
for Indians to own, and Indians are bad neighbors. 
General Jackson was elected President, and decided 
that all the Indian tribes should be removed west of the 
Mississippi. The Seminole chiefs, however, refused to 
sign the treaty. One day the eleven subordinate chiefs 
of this tribe were told that on the next day the treaty 
was to be signed by Charley Omalatla, the head chief. 
With their rifles in their hands they went to the govern¬ 
ment agent’s office at the appointed time to see for 


The Boy’s Catlin 


themselves if their chief was capable of such treachery 
to his tribe. With these chiefs came Osceola. 

The treaty was spread upon the table, and Charley 
Omlatla, according to the agreement, step{>ed forward 
and made his signature, expecting the other chiefs to 
follow him. As he rose from the table Osceola fired, 
and before the body of the chief could fall to the ground 
the bullets of six other chiefs went through him. The 
treaty went to Washington and was there ratified, not¬ 
withstanding that it was proven that Charley had re¬ 
ceived a bribe of seven thousand dollars. The tribe 
was now removed by force to the West. Osceola, how¬ 
ever, fled to the Everglades of Florida, the other chiefs 
following him as their leader; for, by the custom of all 
the tribes, he who kills the chief of his own tribe is the 
leader, if his act is approved. If it is not approved he 
is immediately put to death. 

For six years Osceola kept an army of ten thousand 
men at bay. At last he was captured by a stratagem 
that I doubt if any Indian tribe would practise. Under 
a flag of truce Osceola, with two hundred of his war¬ 
riors, advanced, unarmed, carrying a white flag. They 
were at once surrounded, made prisoners of war, and, 
tied to the backs of horses, were sent to Fort Moultrie. 
This disgraceful act, I am glad to say, was condemned 
by every officer of the United States Army except the 
one that was guilty of it. 

Summoned to paint his portrait, I found an extraor¬ 
dinary character. Osceola is a half-breed, his father 
being white, his mother a Creek. The word Seminole 

The Sad Fate of Osceola 361 

is a Creek word, meaning “runaway,” and was given 
to that part of the Creek nation that emigrated further 
South. Osceola, who was commonly called Powell, has 
always been a leader and master-spirit in his tribe, al¬ 
though not a chief. From boyhood he had led an 
active, desperate sort of life, and in some way, whether 
he deserved it or not, had acquired an influence and a 
name that was known even among the remote tribes of 
the Rocky Mountains. 

I found him an easy, affable man. He is only of 
medium height, elastic and graceful in his movements, 
very good-looking, with rather an effeminate smile, 
but of so peculiar a character that I doubt if its like 
could be found elsewhere. He is polite and gentle¬ 
manly in manner, and spoke English well enough to 
describe to me many of the events of the Seminole war 
and the shameful manner in which he had been en¬ 
trapped. At Fort Moultrie I occupied a large room in 
the officers’ quarters, where I painted the portraits of 
Osceola, Mick-e-no-pa, Ye-how-lo-gee (the cloud). 
King Philip, and others. As Osceola stood for his por¬ 
trait he wore three ostrich feathers in his head and a 
turban made of a varicolored cotton shawl. His dress 
was of calico, with a handsome dead belt around his 
waist and his rifle in his hand. Thus I painted him to 
every string and trinket. 

Mick-e-no-pa took great pleasure in being in my 
room while I was painting the others. When at length 
he agreed to be painted, it was on the condition that I 
could make a fair likeness of his legs, which he had 


The Boy’s Catlin 

tastefully dressed in a handsome pair of red leggings. 
As he sat cross-legged, I began on these at once, painting 
them on the lower part of the canvas, leaving room above 
in which to get his body and head. The Cloud I 
found to be a very good-natured, jolly man, growing fat 
in his imprisonment, where he gets enough to eat and is 
a great favorite with the officers. 

One of the young men of the party, and one of the 
handsomest men I ever saw, was one morning accused 
by a white man of having stolen a chicken from him the 
night before. The matter was laid before the chiefs, 
who heard the evidence, which the white man made very 
conclusive. The young man had no evidence to give, 
only asking the chiefs, “Did any Seminole ever know 
Chee-ho-ka to steal ?” 

However, the white man’s story was so strong that 
the Indian was convicted, and the sentence of the chiefs 
was that he should be publicly whipped the next morn¬ 
ing at nine o’clock. But the next morning at seven 
o’clock his body was found hanging from a spike in the 
wall of the Fort by a thong of rawhide, quite dead. 
Not long after, while the officers and the Indians 
were still grouped about him, the white man came up 
with the chicken under his arm and admitted that it 
had not been stolen. 

The wretch was standing by my side, and from an 
impulse, without thought, I seized his throat with both 
hands, and with a grip that I was never capable of 
before or since. The officers came up and begged me 
to use no violence, but what had ten times more effect 

The Sad Fate of Osceola 


was the hand of Osceola laid lightly on my shoulder, 
and his whisper in my ear, “Don’t, don’t, my friend; 
don’t hurt him—don’t strike a dog.” 

It was apparent then that Osceola was broken¬ 
hearted and ready to die. I myself saw his rapid decline, 
and Dr. Weedon, the surgeon of the post, who had 
charge of him, said that he did not think he would live 
many weeks. I had scarcely reached New York with 
my portraits when I received word that he had died the 
morning after I left Fort Moultrie. 



H aving now a Uttle leisure, and no particular 
tribes before my eye, I will take a brief survey 
of the Indian, and write of the things I have 
seen but have yet only told in part. I have had toils, 
difficulties, and dangers to encounter in visiting these 
wild people, yet I have had my pleasures as I went along 
in shaking the friendly hands that never knew the con¬ 
taminating touch of money or the withering embrace of 
pockets. I have shared the comforts of their hospitable 
wigwams and have always been preserved unharmed 
in their country. If I have spoken or am to speak of 
them with a seeming bias, you will know what allowance 
to make for me, who am standing as the champion of a 
people who have treated me kindly, of whom I feel 
bound to speak well, and who have no means of speak¬ 
ing of themselves. 

Of the general appearance of the Indians it may be 
said that their average in height is about equal to that 
of their fellow-men in the civilized world. In girth 
they are less, lighter in limb, and almost free from use¬ 
less flesh. Their bones are lighter, their skulls are 

thinner, and their muscles, except in the legs and feet 


The Indian as an All-Around Man 365 

are less hard than those of the white men. Their con¬ 
tinual and violent exercise on foot and horseback gives 
them great strength of leg, and swells the muscles as 
conspicuously as those in the shoulders and arms of our 
laboring men. 

Although the Indians are narrow in the shoulder and 
less powerful with their arms, yet it does not always 
happen that these are as effeminate as they look or so 
inferior in strength as the smooth and rounded surface 
seems to indicate. 

The Indian who exercises his limbs for the most of his 
life, denuded and exposed to the air, gets over his 
muscles a thicker and more compact layer of integu¬ 
ments, which hide them from view, leaving the casual 
spectator, who sees them only at rest, to suppose them 
too decidedly inferior to those which are found among 
people of his own color. Of muscular strength in the 
legs, I have met many of the most extraordinary in¬ 
stances in the Indian country that ever I have seen in my 
life; and I have watched and studied such for hours to¬ 
gether, with utter surprise and admiration, in the violent 
exertions of their dances, where they leap and jump 
with every nerve strung and every muscle swelled, till 
their legs will often look like a bundle of ropes rather 
than a mass of human flesh. And from all that I have 
seen I am inclined to say that whatever differences 
there may be between the North American Indians and 
their civilized neighbors in the above respects, they are 
decidedly the results of different habits of life and modes 
of education rather than of any difference in constitu- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

tion. And I would also venture the assertion that he 
who would see the Indian in a condition to judge of his 
muscles must see him in motion, and he who would get 
a perfect study for a Hercules or an Atlas should take 
a stone-mason for the upper part of his figure and a 
Camanchee or a Blackfoot Indian from the waist down¬ 
ward to the feet. 

There is a general and striking character in the facial 
outline of the North American Indians, which is bold 
and free and would seem at once to stamp them as dis¬ 
tinct from natives of other parts of the world. Their 
noses are generally prominent and aquiline, and the 
whole face, if divested of paint and of copper-color, 
would seem to approach to the bold and European 
character. Many travellers have thought that their eyes 
were smaller than those of Europeans; and there is good 
cause for one to believe so, if he judges from first im¬ 
pressions without taking pains to inquire into the truth 
and causes of things. I have been struck, as most 
travellers no doubt have, with the want of expansion and 
apparent smallness of the Indians’ eyes, which I have 
found, upon examination, to be principally the effect of 
continual exposure to the rays of the sun and the wind, 
without the shields that are used by the civilized world; 
and also when in-doors, and free from those causes, sub¬ 
jected generally to one more distressing and calculated 
to produce similar results, the smoke that almost con¬ 
tinually hangs about their wigwams, which necessarily 
contracts the lids of the eyes. 

The teeth of the Indians are generally regular and 

The Indian as an All-Around Man 367 

sound, and wonderfully preserved to old age, owing, no 
doubt, to the fact that they live without the spices of 
life, without saccharine, and without salt, which are 
equally destructive to teeth in civilized communities. 
Their teeth, though sound, are not white, having a 
yellowish cast; but for the same reason that a negro’s 
teeth are “like ivory,” they look white, set as they 
are in bronze, as any one with a tolerable set of 
teeth can easily test by painting his face the color 
of an Indian and grinning for a moment in his look- 

Beards they generally have not, esteeming them great 
vulgarities, and using every possible means to eradicate 
them whenever they are so unfortunate as to be annoyed 
with them. 

From the best information that I could obtain among 
forty-eight tribes that I have visited, I feel authorized 
to say that, among the wild tribes, where they have 
made no efforts to imitate white men, at le^st the pro¬ 
portion of eighteen out of twenty by nature are entirely 
without the appearance of a beard; and of the very few 
who have them by nature, nineteen out of twenty 
eradicate it by plucking it out several times in succession, 
precisely at the age of puberty, when its growth is suc¬ 
cessfully arrested; and occasionally one may be seen 
who has omitted to destroy it at that time, and .subjects 
his chin to the repeated pains of its extractions, which 
he is performing with a pair of clam-shells or other 
tweezers nearly every day of his life. Wherever there 
is a cross of the blood with the European or Afri- 


The Boy’s Catlin 

can, which is frequently the case along the frontier, a 
proportionate beard is the result, and it is allowed to 
grow or is plucked out with much toil and with great 

There has been much speculation and great variety 
of opinions as to the results of the intercourse between 
the European and African population with the Indians 
on the borders. The finest-built and most powerful 
men that I have ever yet seen have been some of the 
last-mentioned, the negro and the North American 
mixed, of equal blood. These instances are rare, to be 
sure, yet are occasionally to be found among the Semi- 
noles and Cherokees, and also among the Camanchees, 
even, and the Caddoes, and I account for it in this way: 
From the slave-holding States to the heart of the coun¬ 
try of a wild tribe of Indians, through almost impassible 
wilds and swamps for hundreds of miles, it requires a 
negro of extraordinary leg as well as courage and per¬ 
severance to travel. Stealing from his master’s fields 
to throw himself among a tribe of wild and hostile 
Indians in order to enjoy their liberty, such a negro, 
when he succeeded, was admired by the Indians. As 
they come with a good share of the tricks and arts of 
civilization, they are at once looked upon by the tribe 
as important personages, and generally marry the 
daughters of chiefs, thus uniting with theirs the best 
blood in the nation, and thus are produced those re¬ 
markably fine and powerful men I have mentioned. 

The Indian women live lives of drudgery, but they 
give strong constitutions to their children. I feel that 

The Indian as an All-Around Man 369 

Nature deals impartially, and that if from their child¬ 
hood our mothers had, like Indian women, carried loads 
like beasts of burden in long journeys and over high 
mountains; if they had swum broad rivers and galloped 
about for months and even years of their lives astride 
the backs of horses, we should have taxed them as little 
in stepping into the world as an Indian pappoose does 
its mother, who ties her horse under the shade of a tree 
for a half an hour, and before night overtakes her 
travelling companions with her infant in her arms. 

An Indian family rarely consists of over four or five 
children; there are generally but two or three. The 
childish diseases of these are few and simple. I asked 
the chief of a Guarani village in South America how 
many children under ten had died in his recollection. 
He talked with his wife, who said but three. One was 
drowned, another kicked by a horse, and a third bitten 
by a rattlesnake. 

Sleepy Eye, the chief of a band of fifteen hundred 
Sioux, told me that they never lost a child from teething 
but had lost several through accidents. The Mandans 
preserve the skulls of their dead, and among these I 
found but eleven skulls of children. Nor in visiting over 
two millions of Indians have I ever seen a hunchback, 
an idiot, or one deaf and dumb. I have heard of several 
lunatics and as many deaf and dumb. It has been said 
that the reason of this is that such unfortunates are not 
allowed to live. This is untrue, for in every such case 
that I heard of they were cared for superstitiously as re¬ 
ceptacles of some medicine or mystery bequeathed by 


The Boy’s Catlin 

the Great Spirit for the benefit of their families. 
Shah-ra-tar-rusti, chief of the Pawnee Piets, and Cler¬ 
mont, chief of the Osages, told me the same thing. 

The savage has the advantage of moving about and 
sleeping in the open air. The civilized races have the 
advantages of houses and comfortable beds, also of 
skilled physicians, surgeons, and dentists. The Indian 
mother straps her child to a board and preserves its back 
and limbs straight. From the first sleep of its existence, 
the pappoose has its mouth closed. When I have seen 
a poor Indian woman in the wilderness press the lips of 
her child together as it falls asleep, and swing its cradle 
in the open air, I have said, “Here is the nurse for 

The consequence is that while the teeth are forming 
they meet and feel one another, and, taking their natural 
positions, they form that healthful and pleasing regu¬ 
larity which has given to the Indian, as a race, the most 
beautiful mouths perhaps in the world. The American 
savage often smiles but rarely laughs. He meets most 
of the emotions of life, however sudden or exciting, 
with his mouth closed. He is garrulous, fond of 
anecdote and fun at his fireside, but he feels and ex¬ 
presses his pleasures without the explosive action of the 
muscles of his face and without gesticulation. If by 
extreme excitement he is forced to laugh or cry, he in¬ 
variably hides his mouth behind his hand. 

In England I asked one of the lowas who had come 
over what he thought of the people. “Well, white 
man—suppose mouth shut—putty coot,” he said; 

The Indian as an All-Around Man 371 

“mouth open—no coot; me no like um—not much.” 
The chief then told me that nothing astonished an 
Indian so much as any derangement or absence of the 
teeth. This they believed was caused by the number 
of lies that had passed over them. 

In the mechanic arts the Indians have advanced but 
little, probably because they have had but little use for 
them. In the fine arts they are still more rude. The 
materials and implements they work with are rare and 
simple. Their principal efforts at pictorial effects are 
found on their buffalo-robes. 

I have been unable to find anything like a system of 
hieroglyphic writing among them, yet their picture¬ 
writing on the rocks and on their robes approaches some¬ 
what toward it. I have satisfied myself that they are 
generally the totems (symbolic names), merely, of In¬ 
dians who have visited those places, and, from a similar 
feeling of vanity that everywhere belongs to man much 
alike, have been in the habit of recording their names 
or symbols, such as birds, beasts, or reptiles. 

I was able also to secure a copy of an Indian song 
written, or rather drawn, on a piece of birch bark. 
This was used by the Chippewas before starting on a 
medicine hunt. For the bear, the moose, the beaver, 
and for nearly every animal they hunt, they have a cer¬ 
tain season to commence and for which they “make 
medicine” for several days, in order to conciliate the 
bear or other spirit. For this purpose the doctors, to the 
beat of the drum, come forth and sing these songs, to the 
chorus of which all sing and dance, although they have 


The Boy’s Catlin 

no idea of the meaning of the words. These are the 
secret of the doctors. 

Their governments, if they have any, are generally 
alike, each tribe having at its head a chief (and most 
generally a war and a civil chief), who, it would seem, 
alternately hold the ascendency, as the circumstances 
of peace or war may demand their respective services. 
These chiefs, whose titles are generally hereditary, hold 
their offices only as long as their ages will enable them to 
perform the duties of them by taking the lead in war 
parties, etc., after which these devolve upon the next 
incumbent, who is the eldest son of the chief, provided 
he is as worthy of it as any other young man in the tribe. 
If he is not worthy, a chief is elected from among the 
sub-chiefs, so that the office is hereditary on condition 
and elective in emergency. 

The chief has no control over the life or limbs or 
liberty of his subjects, nor other power whatever, ex¬ 
cepting that of influence, which he gains by his virtues 
and his exploits in war, and which induces his warriors 
and braves to follow him, as he leads them to battle, or 
to listen to him when he speaks and advises in council. 
In fact, he is no more than a leader, whom every young 
warrior may follow, or turn about and go back from, as 
he pleases, if he is willing to meet the disgrace that 
awaits him who deserts his chief in the hour of danger. 

The influence of names and families is strictly kept up 
and preserved in heraldic family arms. Wealth is sel¬ 
dom amassed by any persons in Indian communities, 
and most sure to slip from the hands of chiefs who often- 

The Indian as an All-Around Man 373 

times, for the sake of popularity, render themselves the 
poorest of any in the tribe. 

These people have no written laws, nor others, save 
the penalties affixed to certain crimes by long-standing 
custom or by the decisions of the chiefs in council, who 
form a sort of court and congress too for the investiga¬ 
tion of crimes and transaction of the public business. 
For the sessions of these dignitaries each tribe have, in 
the middle of their village, a government or council 
house, where the chiefs often try and convict for capital 
offences, leaving the punishment to be inflicted by the 
nearest of kin, to whom all the eyes of the nation are 
turned, and who has no means of evading it without 
suffering disgrace in his tribe . 

In their treatment of prisoners they are in the habit 
of inflicting cruel tortures; but these are always in 
retaliation for similar treatment to relatives, whose 
spirits they thus appease. Other prisoners are adopted 
into the tribe or are married to the widows of those who 
have fallen in battle. These are respected and enjoy 
all the rights and immunities of the tribe. If these 
punishments are certain and cruel, they are few, and 
confined only to their enemies. 

No man in their communities is subject to any re¬ 
straints upon his liberty or to any corporal or degrading 
punishment, each one valuing his limbs and his liberty 
to use them as his inviolable right, which no power in 
the tribe can deprive him of, while each one holds the 
chief as amenable to him as the most humble individual 
in the tribe. 


The Boy’s Catlin 

On an occasion when I had interrogated a Sioux chief 
on the upper Missouri about their government—their 
punishments and tortures of prisoners, for which I had 
freely condemned them for the cruelty of the practice— 
he took occasion when I had got through to ask me 
some questions relative to modes in the civilized world, 
which, with his comments upon them, were nearly as 
follows, and struck me, as I think they must every one, 
with great force: 

“Among white people, nobody ever take your wife— 
take your children—take your mother; cut olF nose— 
cut eyes out—burn to death?” No! “Then you no 
cut off nose —you no cut out eyes —you no burn to 
death—very good.” 

He also told me he had often heard that white people 
hung their criminals by the neck and choked them to 
death like dogs, and those their own people, to which I 
answered “yes.” He then told me he had learned that 
they shut each other up in prisons, where they keep them 
a great part of their lives because they can't pay money ! 
I replied in the affirmative to this, which occasioned 
great surprise and excessive laughter, even among the 

For their religion, which is chiefly Theism, they are 
indebted to the Great Spirit. I can fearlessly assert 
that the North American Indian, in his native state, is a 
moral and religious being, endowed by his maker with 
an intuitive knowledge of some great author of his being 
and of the universe, in the dread of whose displeasure 
he constantly lives, since ne expects to be rewarded or 

The Indian as an All-Around Man 375 

punished according to the merits he has gained or for¬ 
feited in this world. Of the sincerity of his worship I 
speak with equal confidence. I never saw any people 
of any color who spend so much time in humbling 
themselves before and worshipping the Great Spirit 
as some of these tribes do, nor any whom I would not 
as soon suspect of insincerity and hypocrisy. 

By nature the Indians are decent, modest, and inof¬ 
fensive, and all history proves them at first to have been 
friendly and hospitable. I am proud to add out of my 
experience my testimony to that which was given by 
the immortal Columbus, who wrote back to his royal 
master and mistress; 

“ I swear to your Majesties that there is not a better 
people in the world than these—more affectionate, 
affable, or mild. They love their neighbors as them¬ 
selves, and they always speak smilingly.” 


Abbe, Sanger, 302. 

Allen, Corporal, 338. 

Antelope, 58. 

Ark, legend of, 133. 

Armstrong, Major, 312. 

Arrow game, 129. 

Vrtist, Medicine-man, 81. 

Artists, Mandan, 144. 

Assinniboines, 38. 

Batiste, 12, 44, 190, 242, 262, 264. 
Beatte, 289. 

Bijou Hills, 194. 

Bison. See Buffalo. 

“Black Bird’s Grave,^' 240, 242. 
Blackfeet, portraits, 15, 16; band, 
27; country of, 28. 

Black Hawk, 264, 266, 343; war, 

Bogard, 44, 47, 51, 53, 191, 242, 262, 

Bows and arrows, Indian, 17-20. 
Braves, torture of, 149-159 
Bridles, Indian, 231 
Brown, Captain, 293. 

Buffalo, curing meals of, 114; dance 
of, 120-124; feast of, 159; habits 
of,227; calves, 235-237; bush, 56. 
Bull dance, 141-143. 

Caches, Indian, iii.. 

Calumet, 225. 

Camanches, 282; a warrior of, 284, 
291; horses, 293; village of, 294; 
racing, 295; squaws, riding, 296; 
29s; appearance, 297; chief, 298; 
half-breed, 298. 

Camping in rain, 324. 

Canadian, Fort, 308. 

Canoe, attack on, 191; the Chippewa 
model, 338. 

Canoeing on Missouri, 48-60; on 
Mississippi, 334~34i* 

Caravan, Indian, 35. 

Cass, Secretary of War, 269. 

Chadwick, Joseph, 274, 284. 

Chardon, M., 9-12. 

“Charley,” 323; talk of, 324; faith¬ 
fulness of, 325; camping, 328; 
fording, 331. , 

Cherokees, 312. 

Chiefs’ dance, 203. 

Chippewas, 334; celebrating the 
Fourth of July, 335; women’s 
dance, 336; wigwams of, 337; 
canoe of, 338. 

Choctaws, 3.12; ball game, 315, 318; 
eagle dance, 318; legends, 319- 

Chouteau, Pierre, 2, 193, 216, 237. 

Circling to the left, 288. 

Clermont, Osage chief, painting, 
273 - 

Columbus, Christopher, 375. 

Commercial Advertisery 327. 

Cooking, Mandan, 112; dishes, 115. 

Corn, Indian, in; dance, 174. 

Coteau des Prairies, 224, 354, 356. 

Cradle, Indian, 117. 

Crawfish band, legend of, 320. 

Crees, 24, 37. 

Crows, 28; skin dressing, 33; chief, 
171, 172. 

Curiosity, Indian, 82. 

Dacotas. See Sioux. 

Dance of the Braves, Chippewa, 335. 

Dances, buffalo dance, 120; bull 
dance, 141; com dance, 174; 
chiefs’ dance, 203; scalp dance, 
207; beggars’ dance, 206; bear 
dance, 206; welcome dance, 254; 
war dance, 255; braves’ dance, 
335; discovery dance, 346; Slave 
dance, 345; woman’s dance, 336. 

Dancing, Mandans, 119; Sioux, 204; 
Sacs and Foxes, 345* 

Dandies, Indian, 90-92. 



Delawares, joke of, 277. 

Deluge, legends, Mandan, 161. 

Des Moines, Camp, 342. 

Discovery dance, 346. 

Dixon’s Ferry, 265. 

Dodge, Colonel, 276, 279, 283, 292, 

Dog feast, 217-221. 

Domestic relations, Mandan, 116. 
Dubuque, 342. 

Duncan, Captain, 293, 294. 

Eagle dance, 257. 

Eve, legend of, 163. 

Evil Spirit, personified, 145. 

Eyes, painting, 260. 

Fairy circles, 230. 

Falstaff, a Camanche, 297. 

Ferry, Indian, 177-179. 

“First Man,” Mandans, 133. . 

Flag of truce, 291. 

“Floyd’s Grave,” 239. 

Fording the Osage River, 331. 
Fourth-of-July dance, Indian, 335. 
Frenie, Louison, 123, 125. 

Games, Moccasin, 257; platter, 
258; tchuneg-kee, 128; arrow, 
129; hall game, 315; women’s 
game, 341. 

Generosity, Indian, 189. 

Gibson, Fort, 269; illness at, 310; 

powwow at, 312; leaving, 321, 
Grand Dome, 58. 

Great Spirit, footsteps of, 355. 

Ha-won-je-tah, speech of, 196. 

He who fights with a feather, 

Horned toads, 309. 

Horses, wild, 129. 

Hospitality, 112. 

Hunting, buffalo, 9-11; a “sur¬ 
round,” 182-185; at Fort Gibson, 
280; on snow-shoes, 234. 

Iles, Captain, 265. 

Illinois Mounted Rangers, 265. 
Illness of artist, 311, 

Indian, description of, 364; exercise, 
365; traits, 366; lack of beards, 367; 
negro half-breeds, 368; families, 
369; mortality of children, 369; 
teeth of children, 370; laughter, 
370 - 

lowas, 252; hair of, 253; songs and 
dances, 254. 

Jefferson Barracks, 265. 

Jefferson Davis, 265. 

Jesus, legend of, 164. 

Keokuk, 265; village of, 342; por¬ 
trait of, 344. 

Kickapoos, 258. 

Kiowas, 304. 

Kipp, Mr., 60, 83, 103, 136, 149. 

K^nick, k’neck, loi, 223. 

Knistenaux. See Crees. 

La Framboise, M., 354. 

Laidlaw, Mr. 192, 200, 237. 

Leavenworth, Fort, 239, 244; sports 
at, 245. 

Leavenworth, General, 276, 279- 
280; death of, 309. 

Lewis and Clarke, 263. 

Lincoln, Abraham, 265. 

Little Bear, portrait of, 198; death 
of, 200. 

Looking at the sun, 221. 

McClure, Lieutenant, 309. 

McKenzie, Mr., ii^ 192, 216. 

Mah-to-he-tah, medicine-man, 89. 

Mah-to-toh-pa, dress of, 94-99; feast 
of, 99-103; battle robe of, 103- 

Mandans, village of, 60; interiors, 65; 
domestic life, 67; burials, 69; hos¬ 
pitality, 72; looks, 73; swimming, 
75; vapor baths, 78; boats, 166; 
meaning of, 167; origin of, 167. 

Marriage, 109; with whites, no. 

Marrow fat, 102. 

Martin, Judge, 277. 

Martin, Matthew Wright, 302 

Mason, Major, 293. 

Medicine-bag, making of, 21-24. 

Medicine-men, 25, 87, 89. 



Minatarees, 169; Red Thunder, 170; 
corn dance, 174; women, 174; race 
with, 181; chase, 184; on journal¬ 
ism, 327. 

Missouri River, i, 52, ^7. 

Moccasin game, 257. 

Moultrie, Fort, 361. 

Mountain-sheep, 50. 

Murray, Hon. Augustus, 267. 
Musical instruments, 211-214. 

Nah-pope, 268. 

National Intelligencer^ 327. 

Night alarm, 281. 

Noah, legend of, 133. 

OjiBBEWAYS, 37. 

Old Cale, 53. 

Omalatla, Charley, 359. 

One Horn, speech of, 256. 

Osages, 271; lair of, 274. 

Osceola, 360; portrait of, 361; death 

of, 363- 

Oyster cliiff, 311. 

Pappoose, 117; cradle, 118. 

Pawnee Piets, 300; farmers, 300; 
stolen boy, 301-303; customs of, 


Pemmican, 102. 

Pepin, Lake, 340. 

Pierre, Fort, 193, 216. 

Pinchlin, Peter, 319-3 21. 

Pipe dance, 40. 

Pipe, Indian, 224-226. 

Pipe stone, 223; legends of Missouri 
Sioux, 224; Cree, 349; Mississippi 
Sioux, 350. 

Pipe Stone Quarry, 351; hold-up at, 
351-353; column at, 356. 

Platter game, 258. 

Polygamy, 108. 

Pommes blanches 100, in. 
Pottery, Indian, 115. 

Prairie-dogs, 59. 

Prairie-hens, 245. 

Racing an Indian, 180-182. 

Rats, prairie, 176. 

Raymond, Patrick, 248. 

Red River prairie, 275. 

Red Thunder, 247-251. 

Riccarees, 187; a brave, 187. 
Running season, 243. 

Sacs and Foxes, 342; smoking 
horses, 345; the slaves, 345; dan¬ 
cing, 346. 

St. Louis, 263. 

Sanford, Major John, 2, 216. 
Scalping, 208-211. 

Scalping knife, 209. 

Seminoles, 359; meaning of, 360; 

trial by, 362. 

Sham fight, boys’, 126. 

Shawnee prophet, 258. 

Shepperdia^ buffalo bush, 56. 

Shield, Indian, 17; smoking the, 


Shonka, the dog, 199. 

Sioux, stratagem, 125; portraits, 197; 

dancing, 204-208. 

Skin dressing, 115. 

“Smoking horses,” 344. 

Smoking the shield, 307. 

Snelling, Fort, 324, 335. 

Squaw view of art, 84. 

Stokes, General, 311. 

Stolen boy, 302. 

Stone boilers, 39. 

Stone, Colonel, 327. 

Stone man, medicine, 357. 

Street, General, 342. 

Talliaferro, Major, 334; Indian 
name, 339. 

Tchung-kee, game, 128. 
Tent-making, 33; striking, 33. 
Thunder’s Nest, 357, 358. 

Tobacco, Indian, 101, 223. 

Wabesha’s Sioux, 340; women’s 
game, 341. 

War Eagle, 51. 

War whoop, 213. 

Wheelock, Lieutenant, 274, 293. 
Whirling Thunder, 267. 

White Cloud, the prophet, 267. 
White Cloud, Iowa, 253. 

Wicos, 304. 

Wi-jun-jon, 41, 49. 



Wild horses, creasing, 286; lassoing, 

Wolf song, 256. 

Wolf, white, 235. 

Women’s game, 341. 

Wood, Robert Serril, 351. 
Wun-nes-toa, 25. 

Yellowstone, Fort, 2. 
“Yellowstone,” steamer, 2, 216, 


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