BY FANNY KELLY
On the 20th of July  we had nearly reached the Indian village [after our wagon train had been massacred by the Oglala on July 15, with I and 5-year old Mary taken prisoner on a forced ride deep into Indian country] when we camped for the night, as usual, when such a locality could be gained, on the bank of a stream of good water. Here was a stream of sparkling, rippling water, fresh from the melting snow of the mountain. It was a warm, still night. Soon the sky began to darken strangely, and great ragged masses of clouds hung low over the surrounding hills. The air grew heavy, relieved occasionally by a deep gust of wind, that died away, to be succeeded by an ominous calm. Then a low, muttering thunder jarred painfully on the ear. My shattered nerves recoiled at the prospect of the coming storm. From a child I had been timid of lightning, and now its forked gleam filled me with dismay in my unsheltered helplessness. The Indians, seeing the approaching tempest, prepared for it by collecting and fastening their horses, and covering their fire-arms and ammunition, and lying flat on the earth themselves.
I crouched, too, but could not escape the terrible glare of the lightning, and the roar of the awful thunder grew deafening. On came the storm with startling velocity, and the dread artillery of heaven boomed overhead, followed closely by blinding flashes of light; and the velocity of the whirlwind seemed to arise in its might, to add desolation to the terrible scene. When the vivid gleams lit up the air, enormous trees could be seen bending under the fierceness of the blast, and great white sheets of water burst out of the clouds, as if intent on deluging the world. Every element in nature united in terrific warfare, and the security of earth seemed denied to me while I clung to its flooded bosom, and, blinded by lightning and shocked by the incessant roaring of the thunder and the wild ravaging of the ungovernable wind, felt myself but a tossed atom in the great confusion, and could only cling to God’s remembering pity in silent prayer.
Huge trees were bent to the earth and broken; others, snapped off like twigs, were carried through the frenzied air. Some forest monarchs were left bare of leaves or boughs, like desolate old age stripped of its honors. The rain had already swelled the little creek into a mighty stream, that rolled its dark, angry waters with fury, and added its sullen roar to the howlings of the storm. I screamed, but my voice was lost even to myself in the mightier ones of the furious elements. Three hours—three long, never-to-be-forgotten hours—did the storm rage thus in fury, and in those hours I thought I lived a life-time! Then, to my joy, it began to abate, and soon I beheld the twinkling stars through rents in the driving clouds, while the flashing lightning and the roaring thunders gradually becoming less and less distinct to the eye and ear, told me the devastating storm was speeding on toward the east; and when, at dawn of day, the waters were assuaged, the thunder died away, and the lightnings were chained in their cell, the scene was one of indescribable desolation. The wind had gone home; daylight had cowed him from a raging giant into a meek prisoner, and led him moaning to his cavern in the eastern hills. A strangely solemn calm seemed to take the place of the wild conflict; but the track of destruction was there, and the swollen water and felled trees, the scattered boughs and uprooted saplings, told the story of the havoc of the storm.
It was a night of horror to pass through, and I thankfully greeted the returning day, that once more gave me the comfort of light, now almost my only solace, for my position grew more bitter, as the chief’s savage-like exultation in my capture and safe abduction increased as we neared the village where their families were, and where I feared my fate would be decided by bloodshed or the fearful stake.
On the 21st of July [sixth day of captivity] we left camp early, the day being cool and favorable for traveling. Our route lay over rolling prairie, interspersed with extensive tracts of marsh, which, however, we easily avoided crossing. A few miles brought us to a high, broken ridge, stretching nearly in a north and south direction. As we ascended the ridge we came in sight of a large herd of buffalo, quietly feeding upon the bunch, or buffalo grass, which they prefer to all other kinds. These animals are short-sighted, and scent the approach of an enemy before they can see him, and thus, in their curiosity, often start to meet him, until they approach near enough to ascertain to their satisfaction whether there be danger in a closer acquaintance. In this case they decided in the affirmative, and, when they had once fairly made us out, lost no time in increasing the distance between us, starting on a slow, clumsy trot, which was soon quickened to a gait that generally left most pursuers far in the rear. But the Indians and their horses both are trained buffalo hunters, and soon succeeded in surrounding a number.
They ride alongside their victim, and, leveling their guns or arrows, send their aimed shot in the region of the heart, then ride off to a safe distance, to avoid the desperate lunge which a wounded buffalo seldom fails to make, and, shaking his shaggy head, crowned with horns of most formidable strength, stands at bay, with eyes darting, savage and defiant, as he looks at his human foe. Soon the blood begins to spurt from his mouth, and to choke him as it comes. The hunters do not shoot again, but wait patiently until their victim grows weak from loss of blood, and, staggering, falls upon his knees, makes a desperate effort to regain his feet, and get at his slayer, then falling once more, rolls over on his side, dead.
Sometimes these animals number tens of thousands, in droves. The Indians often, for the mere sport, make an onslaught, killing great numbers of them, and having a plentiful feast of ” ta-tonka,” as they call buffalo meat. They use no economy in food. It is always a feast or a famine; and they seem equally able to gorge or fast. Each man selects the part of the animal he has killed that best suits his own taste, and leaves the rest to decay or be eaten by wolves, thus wasting their own game, and often suffering privation in consequence. They gave me a knife and motioned me to help myself to the feast. I did not accept, thinking then it would never be possible for me to eat uncooked meat. They remained here over night, starting early next morning. We were now nearing the village where the Indians belonged. Jumping Bear, the young Indian who had shown me so many marks of good will, again made his appearance, with a sad expression on his face, and that day would ride in silence by my side; which was an act of great condescension on his part, for these men rarely thus equalize themselves with women, but ride in advance. They had traveled nearly three hundred miles, and, despite my fears, I began to rejoice in the prospect of arriving among women, even though they were savages; and a dawning hope that I might find pity and companionship with beings of my own sex, however separated their lives and customs might be, took possession of me. I had read of the dusky maidens of romance; I thought of all the characters of romance and history, wherein the nature of the red man is enshrined in poetic beauty. The untutored nobility of soul, the brave generosity, the simple dignity untrammelled by the hollow conventionalities of civilized life, all rose mockingly before me, and the heroes of my youthful imagination passed through my mind in strange contrast with the flesh and blood realities into whose hands I had fallen. The stately Logan, the fearless Philip, the bold Black Hawk, the gentle Pocahontas: how unlike the greedy, cunning and cruel savages who had so ruthlessly torn me from my friends! Truly, those pictures of the children of the forest that adorn the pages of the novelist are delightful conceptions of the airy fancy, fitted to charm the mind. They amuse and beguile the hours they invest with their interest; but the true red man, as I saw him, does not exist between the pages of many volumes. He roams his native wastes, and to once encounter and study him there, so much must be sacrificed that I could scarcely appreciate the knowledge I was gaining at such a price. Notwithstanding all I had seen and experienced, I remembered much that was gentle and faithful in the character ascribed to the Indian women. Perhaps I might be able to find one whose sympathy and companionship could be wrought upon to the extent of aiding me in some way to escape. I became hopeful with the thought, and almost forgot my terror of the threats of my captors, in my desire to see the friendly faces of Indian women.
The country around was rich and varied. Beautiful birds appeared in the trees, and flowers of variety and fragrance nodded on their stems. Wild fruits were abundant, and I plucked roses and fruit for food, while my savage companions feasted on raw meat. They did not seem to care for fruit, and urged me to eat meat with them. I refused, because of its being raw. A young Indian, guessing the cause of my refusal to eat, procured a kettle, made a fire, cooked some, and offered it to me. I tried to eat of it to please them, since they had taken the trouble to prepare a special dish, but owing to the filthy manner in which it was prepared a very small portion satisfied me.
We were now nearing a river, which, from its locality, must have been the Tongue River, where we found refreshing drink, and rested for a short time. The Indians gave me to understand that when we crossed this stream, and a short distance beyond, we would be at their home. Here they paused to dress, so as to make a gay appearance and imposing entrance into the village. Except when in full dress, an Indian’s wearing apparel consists only of a buffalo robe, which is also part of a fine toilet [meaning: dressing, attending to one’s appearance]. It is very inconveniently disposed about the person, without fastening, and must be held in position with the hands. Here the clothing taken from our train was brought into great demand, and each warrior that had been fortunate enough to possess himself of any article of our dress, now arrayed himself to the best advantage the garments and their limited ideas of civilization permitted; and, in some instances, when the toilet was considered complete, changes for less attractive articles of display were made with companions who had not been so fortunate as others in the division of the goods, that they might also share in the sport afforded by this derisive display. Their peculiar ideas of tasteful dress rendered them grotesque in appearance. One brawny face appeared under the shade of my hat, smiling with evident satisfaction at the superiority of his decorations over those of his less fortunate companions; another was shaded from the scorching rays of the sun by a tiny parasol, and the brown hand that held it aloft was thinly covered by a silk glove, which was about the only article of clothing, except the invariable breech-cloth, that the warrior wore. Vests and other garments were put on with the lower part upward ; and they all displayed remarkable fertility in the arrangement of their decorations. They seemed to think much of their stolen goods, some of which were frivolous, and others worthless. Decorating themselves by way of derision, each noble warrior endeavored to outdo the other in splendor, which was altogether estimated by color, and not by texture. Their horses were also decked in the most ridiculous manner. Ottawa, or Silver Horn, the war chief, was arrayed in full costume. He was very old, over seventy-five, partially blind, and a little below the medium height. He was very feroci-ous and savage looking, and now, when in costume, looked frightful. His face was red, with stripes of black, and around each eye a circlet of bright yellow. His long, black hair was divided into two braids, with a scalp-lock on top of the head. His ears held great brass wire rings, full six inches in diameter, and chains and bead necklaces were suspended from his neck; armlets and bracelets of brass, together with a string of bears’ claws, completed his jewelry. He wore also leggings of deer skin, and a shirt of the same material, beautifully ornamented with beads, and fringed with scalp-locks, that he claimed to have taken from his enemies, both red and white. Over his shoulders hung a great, bright-colored quilt, that had been taken from our stores. He wore a crown of eagle feathers on his head; also a plume of feathers depending from the back of the crown. His horse, a noble-looking animal, was no less gorgeously arrayed. His ears were pierced, like his master’s, and his neck was encircled by a wreath of bears’ claws, taken from animals that the chief had slain. Some bells and a human scalp hung from his mane, forming together, thus arrayed, a museum of the trophies of the old chief’s prowess on the war path, and of skill in the chase.
When all was arranged, the chief mounted his horse and rode on in triumph toward the village, highly elated over the possession of his white captive, whom he never looked back at or deigned to notice, except to chastise on account of her slowness, which was unavoidable, as I rode a jaded horse, and could not keep pace.
The entire Indian village poured forth to meet us, amid song and wild dancing, in the most enthusiastic manner, flourishing flags and weapons of war in frenzied joy as we entered the village, which, stretched for miles along the banks of the stream, resembled a vast military encampment, with the wigwams covered with white skins, like Sibley tents in shape and size, ranged without regard to order, but facing one point of the compass. We penetrated through the irregular settlement for over a mile, accompanied by the enthusiastic escort of men, women, and children. We rode in the center of a double column of Indians and directly in the rear of the chief, till we reached the door of his lodge, when several of his wives came out to meet him. He had six, but the senior one remained in the tent, while a younger one was absent with the Farmer or Grosventre Indians. Their salutation is very much in the manner of the Mexicans; the women crossed their arms on the chief’s breast, and smiled. They met me in silence, but with looks of great astonishment. I got down as directed, and followed the chief into the great lodge or tent, distinguished from the others by its superior ornaments. It was decorated with brilliantly colored porcupine quills and a terrible fringe of human scalp-locks, taken in battle from the Pawnees. On one side was depicted a representation of the Good Spirit, rude in design, and daubed with colors. On the other side was portrayed the figure of the spirit of evil in like manner.
The Indians believe in these two deities and pay their homage to them. The first they consider as entirely benevolent and kind; but the second is full of vile tricks and wicked ways. They fear him, and consider it only safe to propitiate him occasionally by obedience to his evil will. This may account for some of their worst ferocities, and explain that horrible brutality of nature which they so often exhibit. The senior wife, who had remained in the lodge, met her husband with the same salutation as the others had done. I was shown a seat opposite the entrance on a buffalo skin. The chief’s spoil was brought in for division by his elderly spouse. As it was spread out before them, the women gathered admiringly round it, and proved their peculiarities of taste; and love of finery had a counterpart in these forest belles, as well defined as if they had been city ladies. Eagerly they watched every new article displayed, grunting their approval, until their senior companion seized a piece of cloth, declaring that she meant to retain it all for herself. This occasioned dissatisfaction, which soon ripened to rebellion among them, and they contended for a just distribution of the goods. The elder matron, following her illustrious husband’s plan in quelling such out breaks, caught her knife from her belt, sprang in among them, vowing that she was the oldest and had the right to govern, and threatening to kill every one if there was the least objection offered to her decrees. I had so hoped to find sympathy and pity among these artless women of the forest, but instead, cowed and trembling, I sat, scarcely daring to breathe. The chief noticed my fear and shrinking posture, and smiled. Then he rose, and made a speech, which had its effect. The women became quiet. Presently an invitation arrived for the chief to go to a feast, and he rose to comply. I followed his departing figure with regretful glances, for, terrible as he and his men had been, the women seemed still more formidable, and I feared to be left alone with them, especially with the hot temper and ready knife of the elder squaw. Great crowds of curious Indians came flocking in to stare at me. The women brought their children. Some of them, whose fair complexion astonished me, I afterward learned were the offspring of fort marriages. One fair little boy, who, with his mother, had just returned from Fort Laramie, came close to me. Finding the squaw could speak a few words in English, I addressed her, and was told, in reply to my questions, that she had been the wife of a captain there, but that, his white wife arriving from the East, his Indian wife was told to return to her people; she did so, taking her child with her. The little boy was dressed completely in military clothes, even to the stripe on his pantaloons, and was a very bright, attractive child of about four years. It was a very sad thought for me to realize that a parent could part with such a child, committing it forever to live in barbarous ignorance, and rove the woods among savages with the impress of his own superior race, so strongly mingled with his Indian origin. I saw many other fair-faced little children, and heard the sad story from their mothers, and was deeply pained to see their pale, pinched features, as they cried for food when there was none to be had; and they are sometimes cruelly treated by the full-blooded and larger children on account of their unfortunate birth. Now that the question of property was decided between the women of the chief’s family, they seemed kindly disposed toward me, and one of them brought me a dish of meat; many others followed her example, even from the neighboring lodges, and really seemed to pity me, and showed great evidences of compassion, and tried to express their sympathy in signs, because I had been torn from my own people, and compelled to come such a long fatiguing journey, and examined me all over and over again, and all about my dress, hands, and feet particularly. Then, to their great surprise, they discovered my bruised and almost broken limbs that occurred when first taken, also from the fall of the horse the first night of my captivity, and proceeded at once to dress my wounds.
I was just beginning to rejoice in the dawning kindness that seemed to soften their swarthy faces, when a messenger from the war chief arrived, accompanied by a small party of young warriors sent to conduct me to the chief’s presence. I did not at first comprehend the summons, and, as every fresh announcement only awakened new fears, I dreaded to comply, yet dared not refuse. Seeing my hesitation, the senior wife allowed a little daughter of the chief’s, whose name was Yellow Bird, to accompany me, and I was then conducted to several feasts, at each of which I was received with kindness, and promised good will and protection. It was here that the chief himself first condescended to speak kindly to me, and this and the companionship of the child Yellow Bird, who seemed to approach me with a trusting grace and freedom unlike the scared shyness of Indian children generally, inspired hope. The chief here told me that henceforth I could call Yellow Bird my own, to take the place of my little girl that had been killed. I did not at once comprehend all of his meaning, still it gave me some hope of security. When at nightfall we returned to the lodge, which, they told me, I must henceforth regard as home, I found the elder women busily pounding a post into the ground, and my fears were at once aroused, being always ready to take alarm, and suggested to me that it betokened some evil. On the contrary, it was simply some household arrangement of her own, for presently, putting on a camp kettle, she built a fire, and caused water to boil, and drew a tea, of which she gave me a portion, assuring me that it would cure the tired and weary feeling and secure me a good rest. This proved true. Soon a deep drowsiness began to steal over the weary captive. My bed of furs was shown me. Yellow Bird was told to share my couch with me, and from this time on she was my constant attendant. I laid down, and the wife of the chief tenderly removed my moccasins, and I slept sweetly—the first true sleep I had enjoyed in many weary nights. Before my eyes closed in slumber, my heart rose in gratitude unspeakable to God for his great and immeasurable mercy. I readily adapted myself to my new position. The chief’s three sisters shared the lodge with us. The following day commenced my labors, and the chief’s wife seemed to feel a protecting interest in me.
The day of the 25th of July was observed by continual feasting in honor of the safe return of the braves. There was a large tent made by putting several together, where all the chiefs, medicine-men, and great warriors met for consultation and feasting. I was invited to attend, and was given an elevated seat, while the rest of the company all sat upon the ground, and mostly cross-legged, preparatory to the feast being dealt out. In the center of the circle was erected a flag-staff, with many scalps, trophies, and ornaments fastened to it. Near the foot of the flag-staff were placed, in a row on the ground, several large kettles, in which was prepared the feast. Near the kettles on the ground, also, were a number of wooden bowls, in which the meat was to be served out. And in front, two or three women, 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 thousands climbing and crowding around for a peep at me, as I appeared at the grand feast and council, when at length the chief arose, in a very handsome costume, and addressed the audience, and in his speech often pointed to me. I could understand but little of his meaning. Several others also made speeches, that all sounded the same to me. I sat trembling with fear at these strange proceedings, fearing they were deliberating upon a plan of putting me to some cruel death to finish their amusement. It is impossible to describe my feelings on that day, as I sat in the midst of those wild, savage people. Soon a handsome pipe was lit and brought to the chief to smoke. He took it, and after presenting the stem to the north, the south, the east, and the west, and then to the sun that was over his head, uttered a few words, drew a few whiffs, then passed it around through the whole group, who all smoked. This smoking was conducted with the strictest adherence to exact and established form, and the feast throughout was conducted in the most positive silence. The lids were raised from the kettles, which were all filled with dog’s meat alone, it being well cooked and made into a sort of stew. Each guest had a large wooden bowl placed before him, with a quantity of dog’s flesh floating in a profusion of soup or rich gravy, with a large spoon resting in the dish, made of buffalo horn. In this most difficult and painful dilemma I sat, witnessing the solemnity; my dish was given me, and the absolute necessity of eating it was painful to contemplate. I tasted it a few times after much urging, and then resigned my dish, which was taken and passed around with others to every part of the group, who all ate heartily. In this way the feast ended, and all retired silently and gradually, until the ground was left to the waiters, who seemed to have charge of it during the whole occasion. The women signified to me that I should feel highly honored by being called to feast with chiefs and great warriors; and seeing the spirit in which it was given, I could not but treat it respectfully, and receive it as a very high and marked compliment. Since I witnessed it on this occasion, I have been honored with numerous entertainments of the kind, and all conducted in the same solemn and impressive manner. As far as I could see and understand, I feel authorized to pronounce the dog-feast a truly religious ceremony, wherein the superstitious Indian sees fit to sacrifice his faithful companion to bear testimony to the sacredness of his vows of friendship for the Great Spirit. He always offers up a portion of the meat to his deity, then puts it on the ground to remind him of the sacrifice and solemnity of the offering. The dog, among all Indian tribes, is more esteemed and more valued than among any part of the civilized world. The Indian has more time to devote to his company, and his untutored mind more nearly assim-ilates to the nature of his faithful servant. The flesh of these dogs, though apparently relished by the Indians, is undoubtedly inferior to 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 which 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 was well supplied with fresh and dried meat of the buffalo and deer. The dog-feast is given, I believe, by all tribes of America, and by them all, I think, this faithful animal, as well as the horse, is sacrificed, in several different ways, to appease offended spirits or deities, whom it is considered necessary that they should conciliate in this way, and when done, is invariably done by giving the best in the herd or the kennel.
That night was spent in dancing. Wild and furious all seemed to me. I was led into the center of the circle, and assigned the painful duty of holding above my head human scalps fastened to a little pole. The dance was kept up until near morning, when all repaired to their respective lodges. The three kind sisters of the chief were there to convey me to mine.
Note: Having published Chapters 9 and 10 in our February issue, which follow the above excerpt of Fanny Kelly’s narrative, in June we will move forward beyond that point in Kelly’s ordeal to later episodes (for those who missed Chapters 9 and 10, see Feb. 2013 issue of the Montana Pioneer. To request back copies, send $12 to Montana Pioneer Publishing, PO Box 441, Livingston, MT 59047.