CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE HISTORY, CUSTOMS,
AND OPINIONS OF THE DACOTA TRIBE
BY PHILANDER PRESCOTT
TRANSMITTED FROM THE ST. PETERS AGENCY
[Extracted from Schoolcraft's Archives of Aboriginal Knowledge, vol. 2 (1860), pp. 168-99.]
[THE following responses to interrogatories drawn up by the Indian Bureau of the United States in 1847, are from Mr. Philander Prescott, U.S. Interpreter at St. Peters. The respondent is himself allied to the Sioux tribe; of whom he records the customs and traditions, speaks their language fluently, and has lived many years among them in various situations and positions. His means of personal observation have, therefore, been ample; he is, moreover, a man of entire integrity of character, and unimpeachable veracity. A plain man, without pretence to education, he records simply what he has seen and heard. There is no attempt to assimilate the native words he employs to any plan of orthography. It has been deemed better, in all respects, to leave his paper in its original garb. The testimony it bears to the actual state of Indian opinion and tradition is important; and its manifest truthfulness commends it to respect. The question of the popular division of the Sioux tribe into six or seven bands, he discusses himself, more at length, in a note. Their numbers, according to the most recent count, as given by him, will be found under the statistical head. H. R. S.]
ANSWER TO MEMORANDUM OF TOPICS FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 1847.
2. "By what name are they called among themselves; and by
what name, or names, are they known among other tribes; and what is the meaning
of these respective names?"
Dacota is the word generally used for the Sioux nation, but they have different names for separate bands or villages.
|Mendawahkanton||.....................||People of sacred or spirit lakes.|
|Wahkpatons||.....................||" the leaves.|
|Wahkpacoota||.....................||" who shoot in the leaves.|
|Eyank-ton-wah||.....................||People of sacred or spirit lakes.|
|Tetons1||.....................||" " "|
Supposed to be eight thousand inhabiting the Mississippi, St.
Peters, Shiane, and Devil's Lake. These are the great divisions; but the tribe
is still separated into smaller bands and villages, numbering from fifty to one
Of the eight thousand Dacotas inhabiting the Mississippi and St. Peters country, also Shiane and Devil's Lake, we will say two thousand are men, who hunt more or less; and we should average them at one fourth of a pack each, of furs and peltries. This would make five hundred packs, which I think is a full average for several years. Some seasons they come short of this average, and at others overrun it. Last year, 1847, there were over five hundred packs taken from the Sioux country.
Some of the Sioux interpreters interpret the word Dacota to mean confederacy or a nation united, which no doubt is correct.
The word Sioux is given by old French traders; what it was taken from, no person knows. The Indians know not what it originated from. If you talk about Sioux, among those Indians who are not acquainted with the whites, they will not understand you; but the moment you mention Da-co-tas, the whole nation know who you mean.
9. "Does the tribe speak one or more dialects, or are there parts of several languages spoken, or incorporated in it, requiring more than one interpreter in transacting business with them?"
The Men-da-wa-kan-ton Eyankton (Yanktons) differ somewhat in dialect; but they are readily understood by the other bands. No separate interpreter is wanted for a Da-co-ta to pass through and converse with the whole nation.
10. "What rank and relationship does the tribe bear to others?"
Each nation thinks or considers itself superior to other nations of Indians.
The traditions of other tribes or nations do not admit that any nation of Indians is superior or more humane than their own. The mode to settle discordant pretensions to original rank, &c., is, to give them law, and a protection of rights and property
11. "Are there belts of wampum, quippas, or monuments of any kind, such as heaps of stone, &c., to prove the former existence of alliances, leagues, or treaties among the tribes?"
The Dacotas rear no monuments, &c.; all the proof that I can find is tradition.
12. "What is the totemic system of the tribe; or, if it consist of separate clans or primary families, what is the number of these clans, and what is the badge of each? And, do these totems or badges denote the rank or relationship which is sought to he established by these queries?"
The badge or name of a village is generally taken from the
position or place in which it is situated, as in the following instances, viz.:
Wi-atta-che-chah, or Bad; Ohah-hans-hah, situated on a long
reach of the river; Hamine-chan, from the mountain of rocks above Lake
Pepin; Wahk-patons, from their being settled where there is a large
quantity of foliage; Kah-po-sia, from the Indians having gone on a
hunting tour. Some of them took up their burdens, which were said to be heavy,
and walked off lightly, and made long marches, which gave rise to the name
Kahr-po-sia, which means light.
As for clans, there are many, and there are secret badges. All that can be noticed, as to clans, is, that all those that use the same roots for medicines constitute a clan. These clans are secretly formed. It is through the great medicine-dance, that a man or a woman gets initiated into these clans. Although they all join in one general dance, still the use, properties, &c., of the medicine that each clan uses is kept entirely secret from each other. They use many roots of which they know not the properties themselves; and many of them have little if any medicinal properties in them. These clans keep up constant feuds with each other; for each clan supposes that the other possesses supernatural powers, and can cause the death of any person, although he may be living at a remote distance from it. These clans have been kept up from time immemorial, and are the cause of most of the blood shed among the Sioux. If a person dies, it is laid on some one of a different clan; and from that time, revenge is sought by the relations of the deceased, and all the supernatural powers are set to work to destroy the supposed offender. If this fails, then medicine is tried; and if that does not succeed, then the more destructive weapons, such as the knife, axe, or gun, are made use of, and often prove effectual. When the Indians are drinking strong or spirituous liquors, and are intoxicated, revenge is sought after with avidity. After an Indian has succeeded in killing a supposed murderer, the relatives of the deceased seek to retaliate; and so their troubles are kept up from one generation to another. It is as much an impossibility to get one of the members of these clans to divulge any of their secrets, as it is to get a freemason to disclose those of his lodge. They pretend to have the power to heal as well as to kill; and if a conjurer cannot heal a sick person, he says at once, some one of another clan is opposing him; and the nation never will have peace and happiness until these superstitions and juggleries are broken up by civilization and by sending physicians among them.
13. "Have geographical features, within the memory of tradition, or the abundance or scarcity of game, had any thing to do with the division and multiplication of tribes and dialects, either among the Atlantic or Western States? Are there any remembered feuds, family discords, or striking rivalries among chiefs or tribes, which have led to such separations, and great multiplication of dialects?"
Tradition informs us that the Dacota or Sioux were much more numerous on the [p.172] lower part of the St. Peters river than at present; that after the traders came into the country, and purchased furs and peltries, &c., the wild animals began to recede, and a large number of the Sioux kept pace with the game; that they were in the habit of killing for food, and for the peltries. The territory now claimed by the Sioux nation is about nine hundred miles in length, and from
two to five hundred miles in breadth.
The Sioux have suffered much for want of food, and have been compelled to divide into small parties, to enable them to embrace a larger circuit of country to find food. Notwithstanding, they have been compelled to eat those that had died of starvation and cold. The different villages and bands have arisen mostly from feuds amongst the clans.
14. "What great geographical features, if any, in North America, such as the Mississippi River, Alleghany Mountains, &c., are alluded to in their traditions of the original rank and movements of the tribe; and was the general track of their migration from or towards the North or the East?"
The Sioux migrate, at this time, from the North to South-west. Tradition informs us that they once inhabited the head-waters of the Mississippi. They used to go to war to the Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior; and when they went on long hunting excursions, they came down the Mississippi to hunt. At that time there were different nations of Indians on the St. Peters and Mississippi, below its mouth.
16. "What are the chief rivers in the territory or district occupied by the tribe?"
The principal river is St. Peters, which is three hundred miles in length, navigable for steamboats, in high water, about one hundred and twenty miles, to Traverse de Sioux. There is one rapid about thirty miles above Fort Snelling, which is not perceived in high water. The St. Peters takes its rise in the Coteau de Prairie. The Chiane river is a large stream; it empties into the Red river of the North. Goods are landed at Traverse de Sioux from Mackinac boats and small durhams, and from these taken to all parts of the Sioux country in carts.
17. "Are there any large springs or lakes in the district, and what is their character, size, and average depth; and into what streams have they outlets?"
There are large springs at the commencement of the Big Wood on the St. Peters, the largest of which can be seen only at low water. At this place there is an Indian village, the chief of which told me he had found mineral of a yellow colour. There was also a spring which possessed medicinal properties. There are many lakes in the Sioux country, varying from one mile to ten in length, and from half a mile to two miles in width. The valley of St. Peters river abounds with springs of the finest water in the world. Many of the streams have good water-power.
18. "What is the general character of the surface of the
country occupied by the tribe? Is it hilly or level, fertile or sterile;
abundant or scanty in wood and water; abounding or restricted in the extent of
its natural meadows or prairies?"
The Dacota country is generally level, and very fertile; scanty in wood; abounds with water. There are a great many natural meadows. The Indians raise small quantities of corn. The agricultural advantages are good throughout the Dacota country.
19. "Are cattle and stock easily raised? Do the prairies and woods afford an abundant supply of herbage spontaneously? Are wells of water to be had at moderate depths, where the surface denies springs or streams; and is there a practicable market for the surplus grain and stock?"
Cattle and stock are easily raised by cutting wild grass for the winter's hay. The prairies and woods furnish a spontaneous growth of herbage that millions of cattle can graze upon. There is no market for any great quantity of produce at present.2
20. "Has the old practice of the Indians, of burning the prairies to facilitate hunting, had the effect to injure the surface of the soil, or to circumscribe, to any extent, the native forests?"
The practice of firing the prairies is generally condemned by the Indians; and many of them will not do it. They say the fires destroyed a large amount of game. The fire does much injury to the soil, and destroys large quantities of timber, particularly pine.
21. "Are there extensive barrens or deserts, marshes or swamps, reclaimable or irreclaimable, and what effect do they produce on the health of the country; and do they offer any serious obstacles to the construction of roads?"
There are but few barrens in the Dacota country. There are many marshes and swamps, some reclaimable and others not. Some seasons, particularly when the water is low, the Indians are more or less sickly. The summer of 1846 and 1847, they suffered severely from sickness. Some of the swamps will be serious obstacles to the construction of roads.
22. "Is the quantity of arable land diminished by large areas of arid mountain, or of volcanic tracts of country, with plains of sand and cactus?"
There are no visible signs of volcanic tracts in the Dacota country.
23. "Is the climate generally dry or humid? Does the heat of the weather vary greatly, or is it distributed through the different seasons with regularity and equability? What winds prevail? Is it much subject to storms of rain, with heavy thunder, or [p.174] tornadoes, and do these tempests of rain swell the streams so as to overflow their banks and destroy fences, and injure the crops?"
The climate is generally dry. The heat varies, in summer, from temperate to rising of 90 Fahrenheit, in two, or three days, and then falls as much in the same time. The winds are about .equal from all points of the compass. Southeast, east, and north east, are the prevailing winds for rain and snow. Some winters, we have not more than two inches of snow at a time, and no sleighing at all by land during the whole season; and then again, the snow is a foot and a half in depth. The thermometer ranges from freezing to 40 below zero. However, the intense cold does not last but a few days at a time. Very heavy rain storms are not frequent, neither are very heavy peals of thunder common. Tornadoes are seldom heard of. The low grounds of the St. Peters sometimes overflow in the spring freshets and injure the Indian corn. The valley of the St. Peters is from one to two miles wide. This is the only part that overflows. The prairies are from fifty to one hundred and fifty feet above the valley of the St. Peters. (Plate 24.) The Indians say "that a number of years since there came a great freshet in July, that destroyed all the corn in the Mississippi and St. Peters valley."
24. "Does the. district produce any salt-springs of value, any caves yielding saltpetre earth, or any beds of gypsum, or plaster of paris; or of marl, suitable for agricultural purposes?"
The Eyanktori (Yankton) country in the neighborhood of Devil's Lake abounds with salt lakes.3
25. "Has the country any known beds of stone-coal, iron, lead, copper-ores, or any other valuable deposites of useful metals or minerals?"
The country in the vicinity of Lake Pepin is said to contain lead-ore on the half-breed tract and Indian lands. I once saw a lump of lead-ore that a Sioux Indian said he found near Lake Pepin, but never could .be persuaded to show the place where he found it, on account of a superstitious notion that some persons of his family would die if he should cause a mine to be opened on their lands. There is said to be copper-ore on Rum river, that enters into the Mississippi, above the falls of St. Anthony. Something like slate is found on Red-wood river by the Indians. It possibly may be coal; if so, it will be of great value, as wood is scarce.
26. "What is the general character and value of the animal productions of the district? What species of quadrupeds most abound?"
There are deer, but this animal is now scarce; bears, beavers, raccoons, otters, minks, muskrats, weasels, wolves, (large and small,) foxes, (gray and cross,) red fox, lynx, badger, ground-hog, (wood-chuck,) porcupine, red squirrel, three kinds of striped [p.175] squirrel that burrow in the ground, no gray or black squirrel, some rabbits or conies. Of all these animals the muskrat is the most numerous; buffalo, elks, and deer, are next in quantity. Tradition says that most of the above mentioned animals were very numerous before the fur-traders came into the country; but they began to diminish as soon as traps and fire-arms began to be used to collect furs and peltries for the traders. I have heard old hunters say that there are thousands of buffalo killed for the hide and tongue. The bear, the Indians say, began to decrease first, and then the buffalo.
27. "Do the Indian traditions make any mention of larger or gigantic animals in former periods?"
The Indians say that large animals had existed once in that country, of which they have pieces of bones that they use for medicine. They assert that formerly there was a giant who could stride over the largest rivers and the tallest pines with ease, but he was pacific in his nature, lived on the fat of animals, and carried a large bow and arrow. The Indians have a tune that they sing to the giant, particularly when they have done something they wish to boast of. There are still giants of great power, it is believed, but where they are they cannot tell; but they are sure these giants can destroy the thunder, and kill all kinds of animals by a look of the eye.
29. "Have they any peculiar opinions or striking traditions respecting the serpent, wolf, turtle, grizzly bear, or eagle, whose devices are used as symbols on their arms or dwellings, and how do such opinions influence their acts on meeting these species in the forests?"
These animals are held in great veneration by some of the Indians, owing to the clan-system spoken of in No. 12. The men, when initiated into the great medicine-dance and clan, have some animate object of veneration, which they hold to, as sacred through life. Whatever it may be, they cannot, or dare not kill it, or eat any part of the flesh thereof. Some fix on a wolf, some a bear, some a deer, a buffalo, an otter; others different kinds of birds, or different parts of animals; some will not eat the tail or rump-piece, others the head, the liver, and so on. Some will not eat the right wing, some the left, of a bird; the women also are prohibited from eating many of the parts of the animal that are forbidden. When they enter into the clan, any person that breaks any of these rules, by eating any thing forbidden, brings upon himself trouble of some kind. The offence is the same, even if accidentally committed. If an Indian has bad luck in hunting, he at once says some one has been breaking their laws, either by eating some parts of the animal forbidden, or they have stepped over it, or on it, particularly a woman; if she steps over any of the things held sacred, great trouble is soon expected in the family; therefore precaution is taken, as soon as possible to appease the animal held in veneration, for they think that diseases arise from some animal entering in spirit into their system, which kills them.
31. "Are they expert in drawing maps or charts of the rivers,
or sections of country which they inhabit?"
Their capacity is very limited. All their drawings or figures are very inaccurate. They have no knowledge of the rules of proportion.
33. "What is generally thought, by men of reflection, to be the probable origin and purpose of the western mounds?"
Mounds are not common in the Dacota country. There are a few about seven miles west of Fort Snelling, in which human bones are found. The Indians say the Iowas once inhabited this country, and that it is very probable these mounds were made by them. The mounds are in the vicinity of St. Peters river; there are some also at the mouth of the St. Croix river, but they are low, running east and west. The oldest Indians know nothing about the structure, neither have they been opened to see what they contain. They are some fifteen or twenty in number, round in form, and from ten to twenty feet in diameter. I am informed there are more mounds in the Sioux country.4
40. "If pipes are found, what is the material; is it stone, steatite, or clay how are they formed to admit a stem, or to be smoked without, and what are their shapes, sizes, and ornaments?"
Pipe-stone is found at the Coteau des Prairie, of a deep and pale red colour. It is similar to slate in substance. It is imbedded between two strata of sand and lime-rock, from five to ten feet deep. It is surprising to see what work the Indians have performed to get this stone: they make with their knives beautiful pipes from it. The stone is quarried with axes and hoes. There are no forests here. The Indians have to carry wood from twelve to twenty miles to cook with, while quarrying. The pipe-stone quarry is about twelve miles from Big Sioux river, its nearest point. Mr. Catlin claims to be the first white man that visited the pipe-stone, but this is not so. In 1830 I found a 61b. cannon-ball there.
41. "How many kinds of cooking utensils were there? Describe them."
Tradition informs us that the Dacotas once used the skin of the animals they killed to cook in. This was done by putting four stakes in the ground, and fastening the four corners of the skin to the stakes, so as to leave a hollow in the centre, into which was poured water from one to two gallons. Then a quantity of meat was cut very fine, and put in with the water. Then stones were heated and thrown in. They say three or four stones, the size of a six-pound shot, cooked the meat and made a good dish of soup.
42. "What was the process of manipulation of their darts?"
The darts, in former times, were worn down on a coarse
sandstone. This stone is very hard in its natural state, but they burn it, which
softens it, and makes a very sharp grit, which will wear away iron very fast by
constant rubbing. In this way, the arrow-points were made, and some few are
still manufactured in the same way of iron. The arrow used for hunting is
differently shaped from that they use for war. The arrow-heads are from two to
four inches in length, formerly made of bone, and deer and elk horn, and sinews
from the necks of buffalo.
44. "How many kinds of wampum were there? What shells were employed? What was the value of each kind? How was it estimated?"
Wampum has been in use only since the whites commenced trade with the Indian tribes, and is valued as white people value property. Wampum is manufactured by people on the sea-coast, from shells found in the ocean. Traders formerly sold from two to five strings for an otter. At the present time, ten to twenty strings are given for an otter s skin.
48. "Have they any idea of the universe, or other creations in the field of space, which have, in their belief, been made by the Great Spirit?"
The Dacotas believe the Great Spirit made all things except rice and thunder.
52. "How many moons or months compose the Indian year, &c.?"
The Dacotas count time by seasons spring, summer, autumn, and winter, which is counted one year. Twenty-eight days or nights are counted one moon. They can tell, pretty well, about what time the new moon will appear.
53. "Do they notice the length of the summer and winter solstices, and of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes?"
The Dacotas count three months for spring, three for summer, three for fall, and three for winter, and each month or moon has a name, viz., January, the severe or hard moon, February, the moon in which raccoons run, March, the moon of sore eyes. April, the moon that the geese lay, May, the moon for planting, June, the moon for strawberries and hoeing corn, July, midsummer, August, the moon that corn is gathered, September, the moon that they make wild rice, October and November, running of the does, December, the moon when the deer shed their horns.
55. "Have they any name for the year, as contra-distinguished from a winter?"
56. "Have they names for any considerable number of the stars?"
The Dacotas have a few names for stars.
60. "In what part of the heavens or the planetary system do
the Indians locate their paradise, or their happy hunting grounds and land of
The Dacotas have no particular place in the heavens for their departed souls. They say there are large cities somewhere in the heavens, where they will go to, but still be in a state of war with their former enemies, and have a plenty of game.
61. "Does the tribe count by decimals?"
The Dacotas count commences 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Then they commence again and double the count, by saying ten and one, ten and two, ten and three, ten and four, and so on to two tens; then it is two tens and one, two tens and two, two tens and three, and so on to three tens, or thirty. They keep on counting tens, until they arrive at ten times ten, which is a hundred. Some can count a thousand very readily. Others can count ten million, but they cannot understand anything about the quantity, without saying it.5
63. "How were accounts formerly kept?"
Accounts were formerly kept in skins. A buck-skin was the standard currency. After the beaver failed, five to ten bucks was the price of blankets of different qualities. Five muskrat-skins were valued as equal to one buck-skin. A beaver or an otter was called a plue, the French for furs. Buffalo-robes are taken so many for a blanket, from two to five at this time. Where Indians receive annuities, their accounts are kept in dollars and cents by the traders. The Indian mode of trading among themselves is merely an exchange of articles; for instance, an Indian wants a horse, a lodge, or a canoe; he will take what he thinks is the value of the articles wanted, and carry it to some person that he believes most likely to strike a bargain with him. He then tells him what he wants, and although what he brings may not be sufficient in the estimation of the other, to purchase what he wants, still the offer or price is not refused; because it is understood that such refusal might cause his horse to be killed, or his lodge to be cut, or his canoe broken, or some kind of mischief might happen to him.
65. "Did a single perpendicular stroke stand for one, and each additional stroke mark the additional number?" &c. &c.
Their count is by one single stroke. For a hundred they make one hundred marks. Their ages are not accurately known. Some of their grave-posts are marked by characters of the number of persons killed. Although an Indian may never have actually killed one of his enemies, he may count with those that do kill. After an enemy is killed, or shot down, four of the first persons of the war-party count it an honor, or can wear an eagle s feather, and be entitled to as much honor as the man that shot the enemy.6 Therefore there is great strife amongst the warriors to see who [p.179] shall touch the body first, to gain a feather, which is a great distinction, or mark of bravery. Sometimes, however, they are sadly disappointed; as if the enemy is not dead, the first one that approaches is apt to get shot, and then a pair of them die together.
66. "What is the general character of their medical practice?"
Their sick are attended as well as could be expected by a people so ignorant and superstitious. Children and youth are better nursed than the old and decrepit. The Indians say that many years ago, the Eyankton of the plains had an old man that could scarcely walk, and his sons and relations got tired of handing him about, and therefore told the old man they were going to leave him, but not to suffer a lingering death; that they would give him a gun, and put him out on the plain to be shot at by the young warriors, that he might defend himself the best way he could, and that if he succeeded in killing any one of them, it would be an honor he could take with him to the land of spirits. The young warriors, however, were quite too active for the old man, who could not hit one of them, before he himself was shot.
67. "Have their professed doctors and practitioners of medicine any exact know ledge of anatomy, of the theory of the circulation of the blood, or the pathology of diseases?"
68. "How do they treat fevers, pleurisy, consumption of the lungs, obstructions of the liver, deranged or impeded functions of the stomach, constipation, or any of the leading complaints?"
By charming, or singing over the sick, and shaking a gourd-shell over them. (Plate 46, Part 1st.) The gourd-shell has beads in it, to make it rattle. They also stuff the patient with meat and strong soup.
69. "What species of plants or other roots are employed as emetics or cathartics?"
They have many plants and roots that they use, but know not the properties of but few of them. Some of them use old bones of a large animal that they say once existed in the country, and others use pieces of stone for medicine. They dig the roots and dry them, to preserve them, and then pound them when they want to use them. They have one root that is very powerful, and used as a cathartic; but it often operates as an emetic also.
70. "Do they bleed in fevers? and what are the general principles of the application of the Indian lancet? Is the kind of cupping which they perform with the horn of the deer efficacious, and in what manner do they produce a vacuum?"
The Indians bleed in the arm, but not when they are very
sick. When they bleed, it is generally before they get very low. They cup
sometimes for the headache. The Indian's knife or lancet, in these cases, is a
piece of flint. A scale of the common flint is knocked off, generally with the
fire-steel, which is very sharp, and a piece of this is used for scarifying and
for cupping. Sometimes they tie a small piece of wood, six or eight inches long,
to the flint, and use it like a phlegm. The point of the flint is laid on the
vein, and struck a light tap with a small stick; the blood then runs very
freely. They most generally use the tip-end of a buffalo horn for cupping.
71. "Have they any good styptics, or healing or drawing plasters?"
They have some roots that heal new wounds very easily. Bandages and lint are not skilfully applied, nor removed in time.
72. "Is the known success with which they treat gun-shot wounds, cuts, or stabs, the result of the particular mode of treatment, or of the assiduity and care of the physicians?"
The healing-art of gun-shot wounds is mostly in nature itself.
73. "Do they ever amputate a limb, and how, and with what success? Are the arteries previously compressed?"
They seldom amputate a limb. They have no surgical instruments. They are not skilful in splints. If a limb is broken, it is almost sure to be crooked afterwards. The mode of carrying the sick or wounded is in a litter on two poles lashed together, and a blanket fastened on to it. (Plate 25.) Two men carry it, one at each end of the litter, by his head-strap, which he fastens to each side of the litter, then brings the strap over his neck. It is wonderful to see how far two Indians will carry a heavy man in this way.
74. "What is the state of the Indian Materia Medica?"
They have some medicine, that is, roots and plants. They have no metallic medicine. Their compound decoctions are simple, but no reliance can be placed on them. They have some roots that are healing to wounds. They all use one kind of medicine for cathartics. They have also medicine for injections; but the principal catholicon for all diseases is the gourd-shell, or a shell made of birch- bark, by which they charm away sickness and pain. They say the sick person has been afflicted by some quadruped, biped, or amphibious animal. The remedy to remove the animal from the body of the sick is for the doctor or conjurer to get the shape of the animal cut out of bark, which is placed outside of the lodge near the door, in a small bowl of water with some red earth mixed in it. The juggler is inside of the lodge, where the sick person is, making all sorts of noises, shaking his shell, and gesticulating in every [p.181] way. The animal made of bark in the vessel outside is to be shot: two or three Indians are in waiting, standing near the bowl with guns loaded with powder and wad, to shoot the animal when the conjurer makes his appearance out of the lodge. But to be sure that the conjuring shall have the desired effect, a woman must stand astride of the bowl, when the men fire into it, with her dress raised as high as the knees. The men are instructed how to act by the conjurer, and as soon as he makes his appearance out of doors, they all fire into the bowl, and blow the little bark animal to pieces. The woman steps aside, and the juggler makes a jump at the bowl upon his hands and knees, and commences blubbering in the water, and singing, and making all manner of noises. While this is going on, the woman has to jump on the juggler's back, and stand there a moment; then she gets off, and as soon as he has finished his incantations, the woman takes him by the hair of his head, and pulls him along into the lodge from whence he emerged. If there are any fragments found of the animal that has been shot, they are carefully buried, and then the ceremony is over for the present.
If this does not cure the sick, a similar ceremony is performed, but some other kind of an animal is shaped out and shot at.
75. "How do they treat imposthumes and eruptions of the skin? Do men ever interpose their skill in difficult cases of parturition; and what is the general character of the medical treatment of mothers and children? Do they employ vapor-baths efficaciously for the health of their patients?"
There is not much done for eruptions of the skin except greasing it with such soft fat meat as they can get. Small-pox is a disease they know nothing about the treatment of; and in fact any diseases that are dangerous and difficult they have no idea of a remedy for. In cases of parturition the men seldom, if ever, are called upon to assist; but if a man and his wife should be on a hunting excursion, and such a thing should happen, then of course he is forced to do what he can to assist her. The women crack many jokes at the men for their unskilfulness in such matters.
It is seldom they have a difficult case in parturition, owing, I suppose, to the women being accustomed to hardships. There have been instances known of women going out after a load of wood, and returning in a short time with the wood on their backs and a new-born babe on the top of the load. (Plate 26.) There is seldom any thing done to the mother in these cases, as she is generally well enough in one or two days to do any ordinary work. The child is wrapped in a new blanket, and kept very warm a few days. Then they begin to lash it on the cradle for carrying about on the back, by a strap attached to each side of the cradle, and then brought over the forehead. (Fig. 2, Plate 15.) In this way they will carry a child half a day, and sometimes a whole day, and the child appears perfectly at ease.
They have no treatment for paralysis but shaking the shell and singing, and [p.182] shooting the animals that the jugglers think have caused the disease. Vapor-baths are used by them, but not frequently. The manner of preparing this bath is to set four sticks in the ground, and bend them all inward, which, makes them cross, and become round on the top. This enclosure is three or four feet in diameter, and about three or four feet high, with two or three blankets thrown over, which excludes the air all round. In the centre, of this is. placed a red-hot .stone, that would weigh from six to eight pounds. The patient s posture is half-sitting or stooping over the stone. Another Indian is inside, and pours water over the stone. The steam arising from it is very oppressively hot, and causes great perspiration in a short time. After the patient has endured it as long as he can, he goes with the other man, and they both plunge into the water, which ends the vapor-bath.
76. "Does the tribe consist of one or more clans or subdivisions, &c.?"
See No. 12, for clans. See No. 2, of this book.
78. "Were the chiefs originally hereditary or elective? If hereditary, is the descent in the male or female line, &c.?"
The chieftainship is of modern date; that is, since the Indians first became acquainted with the whites. Tradition says, they knew of no chiefs until the white people began to make distinctions. The first Sioux that was ever made a chief among the Dacotas, was Wah-ba-shaw, and this was done by the British. Since that time, chieftainship has been hereditary. There are small bands existing that have no recognized chiefs. The females have nothing to do with, nor any rights in the chieftainship. There is no particular ceremony to instal a man chief, only the father, before he dies, may tell the band that he leaves his son to take his place. The son generally presents himself to the Indian agent, the principal soldier speaking for him, saying .to the agent, "Our former chief has left this his son to be our chief." This is about all of the ceremony.
79. "To what extent is an Indian Council a representative assembly of the tribe, and how far are the chiefs invested with authority to act for the mass of the tribe?"
The chiefs have but little power. If an Indian wishes to do mischief, the only way a chief can influence him is to give him something, or pay him to desist from his evil intentions. The chief has no authority to act for the tribe, and dare not do it. If he does, he will be severely beaten, or killed at some future time. Their office is not of much consequence as chief, for they have no salary, and are obliged to seek a livelihood in the same way that a common Indian does; that is, by hunting. A chief is not better dressed than the rest of the Indians, and often not so well. The chief is sustained by relationship. The band of which an Indian is chief is almost always of a kin totem, which helps to sustain him.
80. "Do the chiefs, in public council, speak the opinions and
sentiments of the warrior class, previously expressed by the latter in their
separate or home councils; or do they particularly consult the old men, priests,
warriors, and young men composing the tribe, &c.?"
The democratic principle is implanted a little too deep in the Indians in general. They all wish to govern and not to be governed. Every Indian thinks he has a right to do as he pleases, and that no one is better than himself; and he will fight before he will give up what he thinks right. No votes are cast. All business is done by the majority of the band assembling and consulting each other. Some one will set up for or against a motion; and the one that appears the best is adopted by general consent. The voice of the chief is not considered decisive until a majority of the band have had a voice, and then the chief has to be governed according to that voice or opinion of the tribe.
82. "In what manner are the deliberations opened, conducted and closed, &c.?"
Councils are generally opened by some chief. When the subject-matter concerns the soldiers or "braves," the first or principal soldier is authorized to speak or act as orator for the party assembled. There is most generally some remark made about the weather, as an omen that the Great Spirit accords with or opposes their wishes. Questions of a grave character, that is, with the white people, are deliberated upon by all interested; and cases of revenge acted on precipitately. (Plate 27.)
83. "Are decisions made by single chiefs, or by a body of chiefs in council, carried implicitly into effect, &c.?"
Decisions made by a delegation are considered lawful and binding, but the acts of a single chief are binding only upon his own village. In cases of murder, the parties aggrieved generally seek revenge themselves, although there are some instances where a murderer is put to death by the authority of the council. An instance of this kind happened near this place in 1846, at Little Crow's village.
An old chief had three wives, and also had children by each of the three, who were always wrangling with each other, although the father had taken great pains to bring them up to be good men. After the old chief's death, the eldest son of each of these three sets of children, set up claims to the chieftainship, although their father had previously given it to his first son. The younger brothers were very jealous, and made an attempt to kill him, and very nearly succeeded. They shot him with ball and shot; both his arms were broken, and he was also wounded in the face and breast. After this heinous act, the young men made their escape, and a month afterwards returned home again, got drunk, and threatened to kill other persons. The village called a council, and resolved to put the young men to death. One of them had fallen asleep, the other was awake. The three appointed to kill them, one of whom was a [p.184] half-brother, went to the lodge where they had been drunk, and shot them. No notice, or time, or place, was given them. The executioner seeks the most favorable opportunity he can find to kill the man. Guns are generally used for this business, although the tomahawk or clubs sometimes are preferred. Messengers are sent out for the restoration of property. The most of the pilfering among themselves is done by women and children. The men say it is too low a practice for them to live by. Stealing horses, however, from an enemy, the men regard as an act of bravery and right. The women have severe and bloody fights on account of stealing from each other. The men scarcely ever interfere in these quarrels. Polygamy also generates bloody battles among the women, and the strongest generally keeps the lodge. The men attend to their own difficulties, and let the women settle theirs.
84. "Is the succession of a chief to an office vacated by death, or otherwise debated and decided in council, or may a person legally in the right line of descent, forthwith assume the functions of office?"
At the death of a chief, the one nearest of kin, in a right line, has a right to set himself up as chief. If there are no relatives, a chief is made by a council of the band. It seldom happens that a chief is deposed. There is but one chief in each band or village. Some villages have a second chief, but his functions are very limited. The custom of wearing medals is modern, and from the whites.
85. "What is the power of the priesthood as an element in the decision of political questions, &c.?"
The power of the priesthood is very great. The priests or jugglers sit in council, and have a voice in all national affairs. They are the persons that make war, and they also have a voice in the sale or cession of lands.
86. "Define the power of the war-chiefs."
The power of a civil and the power of a war chief is distinct; the civil chiefs scarcely ever make a war-party. The war chiefs often get some of the priests or jugglers to make war for them. In fact, any of the jugglers can make a war-party when they choose. The war chiefs are generally distinguished from the other officers of the band. The young men often sit in councils, but seldom speak before they are twenty-five or thirty years old. Matrons never appear in council, but the women express their opinion at home; in fact, I have seen cases where the wishes of women have been carried.
89. "State what is the law of retaliation, or the private right to take life."
Any one, two, or three, may revenge the death of a relative, and it sometimes happens that two or three are killed for one. A compromise is frequently made by the offending party giving large presents. Fleeing, too, from justice has saved the [p.185] life of a murderer for years, and he sometimes escapes altogether, and dies a natural death. Other murderers are killed years after the offence; when they think all is forgotten, revenge is taken in a moment, and they are killed. They have no particular place of escape, as the people of old had. In feuds arising from polygamy, if a death occurs, the relatives of the deceased almost always seek revenge.
90. "What are the game laws, or rights of the chase, &c.?"
Each village has a certain district of country they hunt in, but do not object to families of other villages hunting with them. Among the Dacotas, I never knew an instance of blood being shed in any disputes or difficulties on the hunting grounds. The Sesetons and Yanktons have sometimes objected to the Hendawahkantons hunting on their lands, but they can obtain permission to do so by giving some small presents.
91. "Are furs surreptitiously hunted on another man's limits subject to be seized by the party aggrieved, &c.?"
All furs and game are held in common. The person that finds and kills game is the rightful owner. There are instances of great contention over the carcase of an animal, and some get severely cut; but this only occurs when the Indians are starving. The furs they seldom quarrel about, unless it is from stealing from each other which is the cause of quarrels among some of them. The chief rarely meddles in these contentions.
92. "Are warnings of local intrusions frequently given? or is injury to property redressed privately, like injury to life?"
Injury to property is sometimes privately revenged by destroying other property in place thereof. Indians sometimes kill each other for killing horses.
93. "If hunting parties or companions agree to hunt together for a special time, or for the season, what are the usual laws or customs regulating the hunt?"
The rules of the hunters are, to divide the meat of the animal they kill. There are many instances where an Indian kills a deer, and reserves only the hide and the very smallest portion for himself. If four or five others should come up while he is dressing the deer, they must all get a piece. As soon as a deer is killed, the Indians kindle a fire and commence roasting bits of it, so that they generally make a good meal in a few minutes. While the deer is being dressed and divided out, if an Indian wounds another deer, and it runs a considerable distance, and then another Indian kills it, he claims the animal and gets the hide, but the first man, if he comes up in time, will get a part of the meat. Stealing from each other s traps is a frequent occurrence. The loser satisfies himself by doing the same thing to the one that he suspects, or some one else.
94. "If a tribe or band pass over the lines, and hunt on the
lands of another tribe, and kill game there, is it deemed a just cause of war?"
Yes, but they remonstrate first with each other.
95. "Has commercial intercourse promoted the general cause of Indian civilization?"
We believe that commerce has done nothing towards civilizing the Indians, but rather retarded it, and many of the traders oppose civilization, because they say it will stop the Indians from hunting, and the trade will decrease on that account. The traffic in furs and skins is carried on by companies, and by individuals. The goods, most of them, come from England to New York, then are re- shipped, with a profitable tariff, west to Mackinac and St. Louis. At these places the traders assemble once a year, and take their outfits, with another tariff put upon the goods. These outfits are taken into the Indian country, and petty traders and voyagers are furnished or outfitted again. So it is tariff upon tariff, and when the goods get into the hands of the Indians, the blankets cost from eight to fifteen dollars a pair, and sometimes that much for single blankets. The risk in trade is considerable; first, failures in hunting, and second, irregular prices in furs. A trader in the wilderness is guided by his last year s prices, and pays the Indians accordingly. Being so far from market, he does not learn the fluctuations, and then when he makes his return of furs, he will probably find that they are not worth half as much as the year before. So the Indians are benefited by the high price, and the actual trader has to be the loser; while the equippers at New York hoard up immense fortunes. Look at John J. Astor, for instance, as equipper.
96. "Are the chiefs and hunters shrewd, cautious, and exact in their dealings, making the purchases with judgment, and paying up their debts faithfully?" &c.
The chiefs and hunters are shrewd enough in dealing and bartering. Many people say the poor Indians are imposed upon, but it is a rare case that the trader gets the advantage. Competition is so great, that an Indian can go from one trader to another until he gets a fair price for his furs. In fact I have known instances where an Indian has got one-third more for his furs than they were worth. They rely on memory to keep their accounts, but sometimes an Indian notches on his pipe-stem, to keep an account of the amount he gets on credit. Some Indians are punctual in paying their debts, but many of them fail. I have known some of them to fall short four and five hundred dollars, which amounts stand on the trader s books until the next year. But the trader does not often get any of the old debt paid; for the Indians, owing to their improvidence, are alike every year needy, consequently the trader is compelled to give as much credit the following year, and the old debt stands unpaid for years, and probably never is paid at all. Furs diminish sometimes, owing to low water or drought, and only a small quantity of snow, so that the ponds and lakes freeze to the bottom, [p.187] and all the animals perish in the ice. The Indians seldom make any opposition to having the old debts charged, but seldom pay the amounts, or any part of them.
97. "Is it necessary for the trader to send runners to the Indian hunters camps, or private lodges, to collect their debts, &c.?"
It is frequently necessary to send runners after debtors, because some other trader might come along and purchase the furs, or a part of them, and so the proper claimant lose his debt. The runners are generally Canadians, employed by companies or individuals. Floods do not affect the animals only for the better. Seasons of abundant rain and high water are considered good years for furs, but dry seasons arc always the contrary.
98. "Is the tariff of exchanges such as generally to protect the trader from loss?"
The tariff of the traders would protect them from loss if the Indians would punctually pay, but many of the traders make shipwreck in Indian trade, owing to the many bad debts. Those debts are hardly ever thought of by the Indians after the first year, and the actual Indian trader becomes bankrupt, of which there are many instances. It is customary for the trader to give large quantities of provisions to hungry Indians, particularly to the Dacotas, who are always hungry. The sick also get a considerable quantity of necessaries. These are seldom paid for: in fact, the Indian thinks the white man ought to give him all he asks for, because they have an idea that a white man has only to ask in order to get what he wants at the very lowest rates. The trader seldom makes a charge of provisions, unless an Indian wants a large quantity. Three and four, and sometimes as many as ten, arrive at a trader s house, with furs to sell or to pay a debt. They all get supper and breakfast, and even sometimes stay two or three days, without any charge being made. I think a small trader gives away as many as a thousand meals a year in this way, and, in many instances, saves families from suffering by such liberality.
99. "Have the purposes of commerce, since the discovery of the continent, had the effect to stimulate the hunters to increased exertions, and thus to hasten the diminution or destruction of the races of animals whose furs are sought?"
The introduction of fire-arms, and traps, and commerce, has caused all kinds of animals, whose furs and peltries are sought by the white people, to decrease.
100. "What animals flee first, or diminish in the highest ratio, on the opening of a new district of the remote forest to trade? Is the buffalo first to flee? is the beaver next?"
It is difficult to tell which diminishes first, the buffalo or the beaver. The buffalo is more abundant in the Dacota country than the beaver, at the present time.
101. "Are the lands, when denuded of furs, of comparatively
little value to the Indians while they remain in the hunter state? Is not the
sale of such hunted lands beneficial to them?"
An Indian's land, without game, is of little value to him, for he cultivates but a small part of it say from one-fourth to two acres is about the extent of the farm of any one family; and Indians drawing an annuity of fifteen to thirty dollars per capita, is more than most of them make by hunting at present, or for many years past.
102. "What quantity of territory is required to be kept in its wilderness state, in order to afford a sufficient number of wild animals to sustain an Indian family?"
The territory required to sustain an Indian family would be two thousand and two hundred acres of land, or thereabouts.
103. "What are the ultimate effects of the failure of game on the race? Does it not benefit by leading the native tribes to turn to industry and agriculture? And is not the pressure of commerce on the boundaries of hunting a cause of Indian civilization? Has not the introduction of heavy and coarse woollen goods, in place of valuable furs and skins, as articles of clothing, increased the means of subsistence of the native tribes?"
The failure of wild animals has, in some instances, led the Indians to believe in planting corn as a safeguard against want; but the greatest obstacle to the success of agricultural life among them is the unqualified laziness of the men and the boys, who will not work. They have a haughty spirit of pride, and I dare say you would as soon see a president or a king working with the hoe, as a young man of the Indian race. The men hunt a little in summer, go to war, kill an enemy, dance, lounge, sleep, and smoke. The women do every thing nurse, chop wood, and carry it on their backs from a half to a whole mile; hoe the ground for planting, plant, hoe the corn, gather wild fruit, carry the lodge, and in winter cut and carry the poles to pitch it with; clear off the snow, &c., &c.; and the men often sit and look on. Commerce, I believe, does little towards the civilization of the Indians. I have resided among them twenty odd years, and I do believe they are more filthy and degraded than when I first came. I cannot observe that the introduction of woollen goods increases civilization in the least, or aids them materially in subsistence.
104. "What are the moral consequences of civilized intercourse, &c., &c.? Has not the introduction of ardent spirits been by far the most fruitful, general, and appalling cause of the depopulation of the tribes?"
The evil effects of whiskey-traders is immense, but the moral effects of Indian trade by lawful traders in the Indian country has not been detrimental, especially when carried on by the American people. The Indians complain bitterly of the white people [p.189] settling down on the lines with large quantities of whiskey. They say they believe it is done on purpose to ruin them, and they have often in council called the attention of the President to this fact, and hoped their great father would take pity on them, and stop the white people from bringing the spirit-water so near their settlements. Some of these whiskey-shops are within a half mile of Indian camps; in fact, all they have to do is to cross the Mississippi, and they can get it by barrels full. The introduction of fire-arms does not appear to have changed their condition, only by making the game more scarce. As to their moral character, fire-arms do not appear to have changed them any. The war-spirit, one hundred years ago, was as great as at present. They make peace and smoke and eat together, but break the peace the first opportunity they can get of surprising one or two persons alone. The prominent cause of discord and war, from time immemorial, is aggressions upon the rights of their hunting grounds. Trade and commerce has had but little to do with the Indian wars. Its influence has been exerted to try and make the nations live in peace with each other; for these wars are very injurious to trade and commerce, and therefore it is to the interest of the traders that there should be peace among the Indians.
105. "Are there any serious or valid objections on the part of the Indians to the introduction of schools, agriculture, the mechanic arts, or Christianity?"
The Indians think all people are bad except themselves, and they have no faith in the whites. They say the white people cannot be trusted; that if they make a treaty with them for land, the stipulations are not fulfilled; and that Indians are always imposed on by the white people, (which is not the case.) The Indians make strong opposition to schools, but the money is the cause of this. The traders want the money, and they encourage the Indians to oppose schools, by telling them that the school-fund would be paid over to them if there were no schools, and that the money would do them much more good than the schools ever would. The Indian, fond of idleness, would like to drink and smoke away the remainder of his days, and let his family look out for themselves.
Our government ought not to listen to the Indians, but go on and establish good schools; and then, when the traders find the funds are appropriated, and there is no chance of getting hold of the money, the opposition will cease. Agriculture is an art that the Indians are as fond of the proceeds of, as any human being. The most of them are the greatest gormandizers that ever lived. The only way to make them till the soil, and become civilized, is to take from them all their war-implements, and stop their jugglers, and give them physicians in the place thereof. The jugglers or Indian doctors are a curse to the nation, and help them on to ruin as fast as any thing else can. They oppose the schools on account of this system. The jugglers say schools will break up the system after a time, and cause their ruin. Christianity they acknow- [p.190] ledge to be good for white people; but they say they cannot resist temptation like white people, therefore it is useless for them to adopt the system, as they would soon break the commandments, and be worse than ever. They also say many of the white men are worse than they are. As much as Indians are opposed to religion, I never heard them scoffing or making a mock of Christianity.
106. "Are the existing intercourse laws of the United States, as last revised, efficient in removing causes of discord, and preserving peace between the advanced bodies of emigrants or settlers on the frontiers and the Indian tribes?"
The existing laws have very little practical effect on the Indians or the white people. All that keeps the .Indians in subjection is the troops stationed in the Indian country. I have heard them say, "If it was not for the stone walls at Fort Snelling, they would have fine times." The laws now existing have no influence between tribe and tribe. The Indians set all laws at defiance, and go to war, and murder or kill whenever they choose. They say the white people make war when they please, and they will do the same. It is of no use to make laws for Indians, unless they are carried out. It only makes the matter worse. The late law respecting the whiskey-trade the Indians say is all a humbug, and can avail nothing. The most contemptible of the whiskey-traders laugh at the law, and sell as much, if not more, than if there was no law on the subject; because there is no one to enforce it. The late law of making Indian testimony lawful in the Indian country, is also of no effect at all, because the Indians go to the ceded land for the whiskey. The whiskey traders are very careful about crossing the Mississippi with whiskey; when they do so, it is at a time when no person can see them. In fact, it is almost impossible to get any testimony against them, under the now existing laws. The Indians came and reported the white people for selling whiskey to Indians on the ceded lands, and they were told that their testimony was good only in their own country. They laughed, and said such laws were of no use.
107. "From whence do causes of difficulties and war usually arise, and how are they best, prevented?"
The sources of discord have existed from time immemorial. One of the causes is, that the different nations cannot understand each other; another is revenge; and another the evil and wicked propensities of the heart. The only way to prevent Indian wars, is to hang the guilty. It would require only a few examples to put a stop to them, within any reasonable distance of a military force. Some might say this would be hard usage, but by hanging a few guilty ones, you may save the lives of many of the innocent, and establish a permanent peace amongst the tribes and the nations.
108. "What provisions of existing laws appear susceptible, in
your opinion, of amendment, in order to secure more effectually the rights or
welfare of the Indians?"
The existing laws protect the Indians from the intrusion of white people upon their rights, and also keep the white people from entering their country or purchasing their land. Of course the white man can take no advantage, unless sanctioned by the government. In order to secure more effectually the rights of Indians among themselves, give them law, and help them to enforce it, until they are capable of doing it themselves. Give to each family or individual a tract of land, to be held for life, and then for the heirs to inherit in succession, but never allow them to sell it. This would give them a permanent home and protection of property, and would lead them to industry; but as it now is, the Indians are in villages of from two to five hundred souls. The children steal every thing in the vegetable line before it is half-grown, and the owner seeing the fruits of his or her labour taken away from him in this way, feels discouraged from planting when if they were scattered, say a half mile or a mile apart, it would be a great preventive against pilfering children.
109. "Could important objects be secured by the introduction of any modifications of the provisions respecting the payment or distribution of annuities, the subsistence of assembled bodies of Indians, or the investment or application of treaty funds?"
We perceive that annuities facilitate the means of the Indians getting whiskey, particularly the money part. If the Government would give the Indians goods in lieu of money, the whiskey-dealers would have but a small inducement to give as much liquor td the Indians. Their annuities could then be applied to better purposes, for farming and houses, and stock, and schooling; but Government would have to control the whole business for several years; but this might be done at the expense of the Indians. The investment of the treaty fund could be advantageously employed by laying off farms for the Indians, and employing farmers to instruct them by families, say one farmer for four families, and keep them at least half a mile apart, and have good plain warm houses built for them, for they suffer very much in the winter from cold in their open lodges.
The Dacotas have two kinds of huts or wigwams; one of a conical form, made of dressed buffalo-skins, which are easily transported. This kind of wigwam is used in the winter season, and when on their hunting excursions. To erect one of them, it is only necessary to cut a few saplings about fifteen feet in length, place the large ends on the ground in a circle, letting the tops meet, thus forming a cone. The buffalo-skins, sewed together in the form of a cape, are then thrown over them, and fastened together with a few splints. The fire is made on the ground, in the centre of the wigwam, and the smoke escapes through an aperture at the top. These wigwams are warm and comfortable. (Plate 28.)
The other kind of hut is made of bark, usually that of the elm. A frame-work for [p.192] the walls and roof is first made of saplings, fastened together by withes, or sinews of the buffalo. On this frame the bark is laid, which is kept in its place by saplings laid over it, and fastened to the under frame. There are openings for entrance left at each end. The fire is made on the ground, apertures being left in the roof for the smoke to escape. These huts are used in the summer season, when they are raising corn, and forms their permanent villages. (Plate 29.)
110. "Is there any feature in the present laws which could be adapted more exactly to their present location, or to the advanced or altered state of society at present existing in the tribe?"
Keep up the intercourse law, or else forbid the Indians from passing over into the ceded country, and be sure to punish any of them who pass over the boundary. Give them traders who will supply their wants as far as their money will go, and ensure the trader; or traders their payment. In this way the Indians will have no excuse for crossing into the ceded territory for goods.
111. "What provisions would tend more effectually to shield the tribes from the introduction of ardent spirits into their territories, and from the pressure of lawless or illicit traffic?"
There is but a small quantity of alcoholic drink carried into the Indian country by white men. It is done mostly by the Indians themselves. Some of the Indians travel as many as four hundred miles, and come into the ceded territory where the whiskey-traders are, and get whole barrels of whiskey, and carry it off to the Sisseton country.
112. "Is there any feature in the present system of negotiation with the tribes susceptible of amendment and improvement?"
The chiefs prefer going to Washington to treat, but the Indians, in general, would prefer treating in their own country. It would be easier to treat with the Dacotas at Washington than in their own. country, on account of the influence of the traders and their relatives. The expenses would be about the same either way. The Indians often speak of the President, and say his views or orders are not carried out; that they believe their great father wishes to do them justice, but his officers will not do as he tells them.
113. "Are the game, and wood, and timber of the tribes subject to unnecessary or injurious curtailment, or trespass from the intrusion of emigrating bands, abiding for long periods on their territories?"
The principal complaint is against other nations destroying their game. Chippewas and British half-breeds are the ones they complain of most.
114. "Are any of the tribes sufficiently advanced in your
district to have their funds paid to a treasurer of the tribe, to be kept by him
and disbursed, agreeably to the laws of their local legislature?"
No; there is none.
115. "Are payments of annuities to chiefs, or to separate heads of families, most beneficial? Should the principal of an Indian fund be paid in annuities to the Indians at the present period, under any circumstances, and are members of the tribe generally capable of the wise or prudent application of money?"
It is best to pay annuities to separate heads of families; and it is far more beneficial to the Indians to receive only the interest of the principal. A large number of the Indians spend their money for the benefit of their families.
116. "How is the elective franchise expressed and guarded, &c. &c.?"
In giving a vote, no qualifications are required, no individual rights are surrendered. Murder, and the other crimes, are sometimes punished by council; and, frequently, individual murderers stand as high in office as the best of them. No boon is offered as security for life.
117. "Have original defects been remedied by adapting them more exactly to the genius and character of the people than they were, apparently, in the first rough drafts?"
This is what is very much wanted, but it has never been tried by this people.
118. "Have the legislative assemblies adopted a practical system of laws for the enforcement of public order, the trial of public offences, the collection of debts, the raising of revenue, the erection of public buildings, and ferries, and school-houses, and churches; or the promotion of education, the support of Christianity, and the general advance of virtue, temperance, and the public welfare, &c. &c.?"
No; but could such a system as this be established, it would, no doubt, save this nation from ruin.
119. "What ideas have the Indians of property? How do they believe private rights accrued? Have they any true views of the legal idea of property, &c. &c.?"
Private rights are held and respected by this people. Purchase, conquest, or labor, give private or national rights as long as life lasts. The starting of a deer, and pursuing it, gives no right if another Indian kills it; but if the man that first started the deer wounds it, he naturally claims it, even if another should kill it, but they generally divide the meat, the skin going to the first shot. The fact of an Indian going and planting on another person s field gives him no right to the land. Instances [p.194] of this kind have taken place; sometimes the land is given up with a little compensation for use and labor; at other times, the crop has been divided. The Indians understand what is right and wrong among themselves, as well as white people do. As to the rights of debtor and creditor, the following is a summary evidence.
Two brothers were Indian traders. One was trading with the Dacotas, the other with the Chippewas. The debtors of the Dacota trader went to war, and killed one of the debtors of the Chippewa trader, (who was hunting and stealing on the Dacota hunting grounds,) and took his furs that he had collected, and brought them to the Dacota trader in payment of his debts. The Chippewa trader claimed the furs, and applied to his brother, the Dacota trader, for them, but his brother refused to give them up, on the ground that he came lawfully by them. The Indians highly approved of the decision, as they were taken by conquest, and the Chippewa had been stealing off of the Dacota hunting ground.
120. "Was the right of a nation to the tract of country originally possessed by it, acquired by its occupancy of it by them, to the exclusion of all others, &c. &c.?"
They believe the Great Spirit gave them their land, and that no other nation has a right to hunt within the circle or territory that they occupy from time to time. They have no idea in what way they came in possession of the land they formerly possessed. Each nation thinks it is doing itself justice in taking from the enemy s land all the game it can kill. The Indians do not pretend to own or claim any country but that they occupy in hunting. As to the rights of invasion of territory, the Indians acknowledge the claims of each nation to the country they travel over in hunting; and the murderous war which is carried on they say is right, because each nation should stay within their hunting boundaries.
121. "Is the descent of property fixed? Is the eldest son entitled to any greater rights or larger share of property than the other children? Does a parent express his will or wishes before death, as the descendant of Uncas did, how his property should be disposed of, &c. &c.?"
As to property among the Dacotas, there is rarely any thing of any consequence left at the death of a parent. All the property is most generally used up in employing jugglers to sing, or charm, or drive away the disease by magic.
Orphan children among the Indians are very miserable, although their relations do all they can for them. The eldest son of the chief is entitled to his father's office. Sometimes a chief is suddenly killed in war, or by accident, on which occasion the band or village make his eldest son chief. The general usage, when a parent dies, is that the other Indians step in and take what little property is left without any sort of ceremony, and the children consequently are thrown upon their relations, to get a [p.195] living the best way they can. As to heirship in property, they seem to know nothing at all about it, or if they do, they have no chance to leave it to their children.
122. "What are the obligations felt by the Indians to pay debt? Does time greatly diminish, in their view, these obligations, and how? Does the Indian fancy that ill luck in hunting is a dispensation from the Great Spirit, and that he is exonerated thereby from the obligation of paying his debts, &c.?"
Time does diminish, in their view, the obligation to pay a debt, because they say the white people can get goods by merely going after them, or writing for them, and that when a trader obtains a new supply of goods, he is not in want of the debts due him, and that the Indian is in greater need of the amount than the trader is. Therefore they often cheat the trader by selling his furs to some person they do not owe.
If an Indian has bad luck in hunting, he says it is caused by the misconduct of some of his family, or by some enemy; that is, his family have not properly adhered to the laws of honoring the spirits of the dead, or some one owes him a spite, and by supernatural powers has caused his bad success and misery, for which he will take revenge on the person he suspects the first time an opportunity offers.
The Indians are, many of them, punctual in paying their debts as far as lies in their power. There is, I think, a general inclination to pay their national debts, which are, by Indian rule, individual debts of such long standing, that they cannot pay them within themselves. They know they all owe their traders, and they are willing to make it a national business to pay them.
As to the value of property in skins and furs, they always over-estimate it. Indeed any kind of property that they are judges of, is valued too high, and they often suffer by so doing. There are cases where Indians have sold the same article twice, but this rarely happens.
123. "What constitutes crime? Has man a right to take his fellow s blood? Is the taking of life an offence to the individual murdered, or to the Great Spirit, who gave him his life, &c. &c.?"
The Indians say it is lawful to take revenge, but otherwise, it is not right to take their fellow s blood; they consider it a great crime. When murder is committed, they regard the victim as injured, and not the Great Spirit, because all have a right to live. They have very little notion of punishment for crime hereafter in eternity: indeed, they know very little about whether the Great Spirit has any thing to do with their affairs, present or future. All the fear they have is of the spirit of the departed. They stand in great awe of the spirits of the dead, because they think it is in the power of the departed spirits to injure them in any way they please; this superstition has, in some measure, a salutary effect. It operates on them just as strong as our laws [p.196] of hanging for murder. Indeed, fear of punishment from the departed spirits keeps them in greater awe than the white people have of being hung.
124. "Can the Deity be offended? Is a man under high obligations, by the fact of his creation, to worship the Great Spirit?"
The Deity, they say, is always offended with them. They do not know by what means they were created; and when any calamity befalls them, they do not understand why. They worship, it is true, but what? they hardly know themselves. Large stones are painted and worshipped; these stones they call their grandfathers. For the expiation of sins or crimes, a sacrifice is made of some kind of an animal. Some times, the skin of an animal dressed, sometimes, rare pieces of white cotton and new blankets, are made use of for sacrifices, all of which are suspended in the air.
125. "Is falsehood a moral offence, because the Great Spirit abhors it, or because injuries may result to man, &c. &c.?"
The practice of lying, among the Indians, is considered very bad. In this respect, every one sees the mote in his brother's eye, but does not discover the beam that is in his own. They often would like to see falsehood punished, but have not the moral stamina to speak truth themselves. Many even desire to reward truth, but have not the ability to do so, often.
126. "Is want of veneration a crime among the Indians? Is an Indian priest or a chief more venerated than a common man, &c. &c.?"
Veneration is very great in some Indians for old age, and they all feel it for the dead. Their priests or jugglers, also, are very much venerated, but it is from fear, as much as any thing else, of some supernatural punishment. The Indians are very remarkable for their fear of uttering certain names. The father-in-law must not call the son-in-law by name; neither must the mother-in-law: and the son-in-law must not call his father-in-law or mother-in-law by name. There are also many others, in the line of relationship, who cannot call each other by name. I have heard of instances where the forbidden name has been called, and the offender was punished by having all of his or her clothes cut off of their backs and thrown away. An Indian priest or juggler is fully as much venerated as a father or mother, but it is from superstitious fear. Indian children sometimes, but very rarely, strike their parents: the punishment is generally a blow in return. We have no accounts of Indians having been stoned to death. I have known Indians killed, however, in a drunken riot, both with stones and clubs.
127. "What can the sages and wise men of the tribe say, in defence of the Indian rode of doing like for like?"
There are cases where the Indians say retaliation is wrong,
and they try to prevent it, and sometimes succeed in pacifying the parties. If a
bad deed is done, and the offender is punished in some way, they say he has got
what he gave. A person of bad character among the Indians, is scorned by them;
but from fear of his cutting their lodges, killing their horses, or doing some
mischief, they are obliged to invite him to their feasts. A bad man often runs
at large amongst the Indians for years, on account of the above named fears.
They even are obliged to let him join in their great medicine-dance. The
chastity of the women is much more attended to than many people would suppose.
There are but few lewd, loose women among them, and only a few will drink ardent
128. "Do they believe that there is a Deity pervading the Universe, who is the maker of all things. What ideas do they possess of the Great Spirit?" &c. &c.
The Indians believe there is a Great Spirit; his powers they do not comprehend, nor by what means man was created, or for what purpose. They believe the Deity consists of two persons, or as they themselves express it, "The Great Spirit and his wife." How man became possessed of the power he now possesses over the animal creation they cannot account for. They have no knowledge of God's having given any laws for the Indians to follow, and they do not know or believe that they will have to give an account of their deeds in another world.
129. "How does the Great Spirit manifest his presence on the earth, or in the sky? In what forms is he recognized? Is thunder considered his voice? Are storms regarded as his acts? Are cataracts evidences of his power?"
The Indians say there is a Great Spirit, but where he is they know not. They say the Great Spirit did not make the wild-rice, it came by chance. All things else the Great Spirit made. There are instances where the Indians charge the Deities with being angry with them, in cases of heavy storms; and they even go so far as to say the Deity is bad, for sending storms to give them misery.
130. "Is death the act of the Great Spirit? Do war and peace happen according to his will?" &c. &c.
Some of the Indians say that death is caused by the Great Spirit; others, that it is caused by the supernatural power of individuals. All evil, they say, comes from the heart; but who or what implanted it there, they know not. The Indians know nothing of the Devil, except what the white people have told them. All the punishment they expect to receive is in this world.
They fear the persons they have offended, and the spirits of the dead more than any thing else.
131. "How are they excused from offences against the Great
The Indians make sacrifices to appease the spirits, but they hardly know what kind of spirits sacrifices are made to. All of their sacrifices are made upon supposition. They often say after a violent
storm, and when much injury has been done by it, "Now that the storm has done so and so, it will stop."
132. "Have they any idea whatever of atonement, or a belief or expectation that some great personage was to come on earth and answer for them to the Great Spirit?"
They have no idea of atonement, nor do they show in any of their religious ceremonies any signs of Christianity. The sacrifice of animals is to appease something that they suppose is offended with them. We never heard of but one human sacrifice, and that was a father who offered up his infant child, but for what cause we never could learn. The bad treatment of prisoners is from revenge.
133. "What is the moral character of the Priesthood? Do they bear any badge of office, &c.?"
The Indian Priesthood is made up of the very worst class. They have no badge of the office. There is but one kind or class. The priest is both prophet and doctor. Any person belonging to the great medicine-dance has a right to perform its rites and ceremonies. The office of the priests is not hereditary. Women take part in the ceremonies; they pretend to foretell events, and also to find lost articles. I once lost my watch, and told an Indian juggler that I wanted him to find it. He said yes, but I must first give him a looking-glass to look through. I gave him a small glass, and he looked into it for some time, when he asked for a black silk handkerchief, which I also gave him, together with some other little things. And when he wanted to know if I could show him pretty near the place where I had lost the watch, I told him I thought I had lost it in a certain footpath. He asked me to go along with him there, so I went. Every now and then he would look in his glass, and keep on walking, and at last nearly stept on the watch, but did not see it either with his glass or the naked eye; so I found it myself, and showed it to him. He did not appear to care any thing about it, as he had already got possession of the glass, the black silk handkerchief, and some other little things, and he walked off. There is a class of Indians that say they can bring blessings or curses by their own power. This class is called We-chas-tah-wah-kan, or spiritual men. They attend the sick, and doctor them, when well paid for it. If an Indian is taken sick, some of the family will go to the lodge of the juggler, carrying with him a gun, a new blanket, or some other article; sometimes a horse. With a pipe filled with tobacco, this messenger approaches the juggler, pipe and payment in hand. The pipe is lighted, and the messenger presents the stem to him. Sometimes the messenger makes great lamentations while the doctor or juggler is smoking. He then takes the payment, puts it aside, and goes to see the sick man, [p.199] but seldom takes any medicine with him. When he arrives at the lodge he walks in, and sits down a little distance from the sick. He never touches his pulse to see what state he is in, but calls for a rattle, (which is made of a gourd-shell, cleaned out, with beads put inside.) Sometimes birch-bark is used for a rattle, when gourds cannot be had. The doctor then strips himself naked, except the cloth around the loins; the leggins and moccasins are also kept on. In this state of nudity the doctor or juggler commences to sing, and shake his rattle to charm away the disease. The words of the song are, hi, le, li, lah—hi, le, li, lah—hi, le, li, lah, uttered in quick succession for half a minute; then a chorus commences, ha ha ha ha-ha-ha-ha. This is gone over three or four times, and then the juggler stops to smoke; after which, he sings and rattles again, and commences to suck the parts supposed to be diseased. After he sucks and draws for half a minute, shaking the shell all the time, he rises half-way up from his seat, apparently almost suffocated, hawking and gagging, and thrusts his face into a little bowl of water, gurgling and making all sorts of gestures and noises. This water is used to wash his mouth with, and cleanse it from the disease that he has drawn from the sick person. They pretend that they can draw bile from a sick person in this way; but a disease that has been brought on by super natural powers must be treated in another manner. (See No. 74.) Many of the Indians have faith in this mode of doctoring; but it had not the desired effect in the summer of 1847, when about one hundred and fifty of them died of bilious and other fevers, which they were compelled to confess. Some Indians punctually attend funerals, and in many instances appropriate addresses are made; the habits of the deceased are narrated; advice is given; the customs of their forefathers they are admonished to keep, &c. Any of his relations may draw devices on the grave-post of the deceased. The only device I ever saw on a grave-post was the number of persons he had killed or taken prisoners of his enemies, men, women, and children. For a person killed, it was represented without a head; for a prisoner, a full figure with the hands tied; for a female, a woman's dress was on it.
134. "What general beliefs and superstitions prevail? Are there some points in which all agree? Do they believe in angels or special messengers of the Great Spirit, &c. &c.?"
Superstition prevails throughout the Indian tribes. They believe in spirits, and also that if the Indians do not live up to the laws or customs of their forefathers, the spirits will punish them for their misconduct, particularly if they omit to make feasts for the dead. They suppose these spirits have power to send the spirit of some animal to enter their bodies, and make them sick. (See No. 74.)
1 These bands having been usually represented to be seven, whereas the writer states them to be but six, this point was again referred to him. He discusses it, as follows:
SAINT PETERS SUB-AGENCY, February 24th, 1851.
SIR, Yours of the 25th January came to hand seven days since.
Since that time I have been collecting what information I could in reference to
the grand divisions of the Sioux.
I will give you Little Crow's definition of the term Seven Fires, which language is often used among the Sioux. Seven Fires or Seven Divisions, Little Crow says, means seven different nations of Indians, as follows, viz.:
The Sioux, 1st; the Indians west of them, 2d; Chippewas, 3d; Winnebagoes, 4th; Menomonees, 5th; Fox and Sauks, 6th; Iowas, 7th.
This is Little Crow's interpretation of the Seven Fires or Seven Divisions. Singular as this appears, yet there may be much sense in it.
Bad Hail says he has often heard the Indians talking of the Seven Fires or Divisions, but he could not make out but six, viz.:
Mendawakantons, 1st; Wahkpatons, 2d; Wahkpaeootas, 3d; Sussetons, 4th; Yanktons, 5th; Tetons, 6th.
The Seventh he did not know where to find, nor who.
The Bad Hail says there are divisions amongst the Yanktons; but still they are one people as much as the Mendawakanton Sioux are; they are one division, yet there are several bands of them, and so it is with the Yanktons.
Mock-pu-we-chastah is the next one that I called on for information. He says that Wabushaw, the first acknowledged chief by the English, went to Quebec, and when he (Wabushaw) was about to start back for home, the governor asked him how many large medals he wanted, and he says Wabushaw told him seven, wanting one large medal for each chief or village that were his friends. Here is where the Seven Fires or Divisions took its rise from, according to Mock-pu-we-chastah; and the following, he believes, are the bands which Wabushaw called Seven Fires, for which he wanted seven medals, viz.:
Wabushaw, 1st; Red Wing, 2d; Little Crow, 3d; Little Six,
4th;* Good Road, 5th; Little Rapids, 6th; Traverse de Sioux, 7th.
This is Mock-pu-we-chastah's interpretation of the Seven Fires or Divisions.
Tom-o-haw says the Yanktons are divided into bands for the purpose of hunting, but they are all one people; one party is called the South, and the other party, the North Yanktons; but there is no difference in dialect, and he considers them all as one people or division.
The next and most reliable information is Mr. Hazen Mooer's Indian farmers for Blackdog's band of Mendawakanton Sioux:
Mr. Mooer says he has lived in the Yankton country sixteen years; he says the following are the bands that he always considered to be one division of the Yanktons, viz.:
Ku-ux-aws, 1st; Pah-bax-ahs, 2d; Wah-zu-cootas, 3d; Hen-ta-pah-tus, 4th, or Yank-ton-us, or South Yanktons.
The three first named bands roam and hunt over the country from Lake Traverse to the Devil's Lake and the Missouri. The Hen-tee-pah-tees, or Yank-ton-ees, roam and hunt south of the Couteau de Prairie; but in chasing the buffalo these different bands meet together; and are nearly related to each other; and he considers them all one division.
Mr. Mooer says that if he was a going to make a seventh division, he should call the Assindboins the seventh. He says he believes they speak the original Sioux dialect.
The Assinaboins probably are a band of the Yanktons, but they have become entirely alienated from them, and are at war with the Sioux; therefore, they cannot now be considered a division of the Sioux, notwithstanding they speak a similar dialect. So after all, I believe I am right in making only six grand divisions of the Sioux nation. If any thing more should be wanting, let me know, and I will answer as far as I can.
Hoping this will satisfy you, I remain your most obedient and humble servt,
* Good Road should be before Little Six, and should be 4th, and Little Six 5th.
2 [The subsequent incorporation of Minnesota Territory from the Sioux country, and the ascent of steamboats to that point, on the Upper Mississippi, must soon render this remark no longer applicable. H. K. S.]
3 [This fact may prove one of high importance in the future history of that remote, high, and arable tract of country. H. R. S.]
4 [These small tumuli have been the subject of fanciful description. The larger piles have been pronounced by Mr. R. D. Owen. H. R. S.]
5 [See Dacota Numeration, VI. B.]
6 [See Manners and Customs, ante, II. A.]
VALLEY OF ST. PETERS
TRANSPORTING THE WOUNDED
INDIAN WOMAN PROCURING FUEL
INDIANS IN COUNCIL