Among the Blackfeet
(Originally published in 1872)
BY FANNY KELLY
My last days with the Ogalalla Sioux Indians were destined to be marked by a terrible remembrance. On the first of October, while the savages lingered in camp about the banks of the Yellowstone River, apparently fearing, yet almost inviting attack by their near vicinity to the soldiers, a large Mackinaw, or flat-boat, was seen coming down the river. From their hiding-places in the rocks and bushes, they watched its progress with the stealthy ferocity of the tiger waiting for his prey.
At sundown the unsuspecting travelers pushed their boat toward the shore, and landed for the purpose of making a fire and camping for the night. The party consisted of about twenty persons, men, women, and children. Suspecting no danger, they left their arms in the boat. With a simultaneous yell, the savages dashed down upon them, dealing death and destruction in rapid strokes. The defenseless emigrants made an attempt to rush to the boat for arms, but were cut off, and their bleeding bodies dashed into the river as fast as they were slain.
Then followed the torture of the women and children. Horrible thought! from which all will turn with sickened soul, and shuddering, cry to Heaven, “How long, O Lord! how long shall such inhuman atrocities go unpunished?” Not a soul was left alive when that black day’s work was done; and the unconscious river bore away a warm tide of human blood, and sinking human forms.
When the warriors returned to camp, they brought their frightful trophies of blood-stained clothes and ghastly scalps. My heart-sick eyes beheld the dreadful fruits of carnage; and, among the rest, I saw a woman’s scalp, with heavy chestnut hair, a golden brown, and four feet in length, which had been secured for its beauty. The tempting treasure lost the poor girl her life, which might have been spared; but her glorious locks were needed to hang on the chief’s belt.
Nearly all the flat-boats that passed down the Yellowstone River to the Missouri mining regions, during that season, were attacked, and in some instances one or more of the occupants killed. The approach of this boat was known, and the Indians had ample time to plan their attack so that not a soul should escape.
That night the whole camp of braves assembled to celebrate the fearful scalp dance; and from the door of my tent I witnessed the savage spectacle, for I was ill, and, to my great relief, was not forced to join in the horrid ceremony. A number of squaws occupied the center of the ring they formed, and the pitiless wretches held up the fresh scalps that day reaped in the harvest of death. Around them circled the frantic braves, flourishing torches, and brandishing weapons, with the most ferocious barks and yells, and wild distortions of countenance. Some uttered boasts of bravery and prowess, and others lost their own identity in mocking their dying victims in their agony. Leaping first on one foot, then on the other, accompanying every movement with wild whoops of excitement, they presented a scene never to be forgotten.
The young brave who bore the beautiful locks as his trophy, did not join in the dance. He sat alone, looking sad. I approached and questioned him, and he replied that he regretted his dead victim. He brought a blood-stained dress from his lodge, and told me it was worn by the girl with the lovely hair, whose eyes haunted him and made him sorry.
After being cognizant of this frightful massacre, I shrank more than ever from my savage companions, and pursued my tasks in hopeless despondence of ever being rescued or restored to civilized life.
One day I was astonished to notice a strange Indian, whom I had never seen before, making signs to me of a mysterious nature. He indicated by signs that he wanted me to run away with him to the white people. I had become so suspicious, from having been deceived so many times, that I turned from him and entered the chief’s tent, where, despite his cruelty and harshness to me, I felt comparatively safe. I afterward saw this Indian, or rather white man, or half-breed, as I believe him to have been, though he could not, or would not speak a word of English. His long hair hung loosely about his shoulders, and was of a dark brown color. He had in no respect the appearance of an Indian, but rather that of a wild, reckless frontier desperado.
I had never seen him before, though he seemed well known in the camp. One thing that perhaps made me more suspicious and afraid to trust any one, was a knowledge of the fact that many of the Indians who had lost relatives in the recent battles with General Sully, were thirsting for my blood, and would have been glad to decoy me far enough away to wreak their vengeance, and be safe from the fury of the old chief, my task-master.
This stranger came one day into a tent where I was, and showed me a small pocket bible that had belonged to my husband, and was presented to him by his now sainted mother many years before. His object was to assure me that I might trust him; but such an instinctive horror of the man had taken possession of me that I refused to believe him; and at last he became enraged and threatened to kill me if I would not go with him. I plead with him to give me the bible, but he refused. How dear it would have been to me from association, and what strength and comfort I would have received from its precious promises, shut out, as I was, from my world and all religious privileges and surrounded by heathen savages.
Soon after the foregoing incident, the old chief and his three sisters went away on a journey, and I was sent to live with some of his relatives, accompanied by my little companion, Yellow Bird. We traveled all day to reach our destination, a small Indian village. The family I was to live with until the return of the chief and his sisters, consisted of a very old Indian and his squaw, and a young girl. I had a dread of going among strangers, but was thankful for the kindness with which I was received by this old couple. I was very tired, and so sad and depressed, that I cared not to ask for any thing, but the old squaw, seeming to understand my feelings, considerately placed before me meat and water, and kindly ministered to my wants in every way their means would allow.
I was with this family nearly three weeks, and was treated with almost affectionate kindness, not only by them, but by every member of the little community. The children would come to see me, and manifest in various ways their interest in me. They would say, “Wasechawea (white woman) looks sad; I want to shake hands with her.”
I soon began to adapt myself to my new surroundings, and became more happy and contented than I had ever yet been since my captivity began. My time was occupied in assisting the motherly old squaw in her sewing and other domestic work. There was but once a cloud come between us. The old chief had given orders that I was not to be permitted to go out among the other villagers alone, orders of which I knew nothing.
Feeling a new sense of freedom, I had sometimes gone out, and on one occasion, having been invited into different tipis by the squaws, staid so long that the old Indian sent for me, and seemed angry when I returned. He said it was good for me to stay in his tent, but bad to go out among the others. I pacified him at last by saying I knew his home was pleasant, and I was happy there, and that I did not know it was bad to go among the other tents.
The old chief returned, finally, and my brief season of enjoyment ended. He seemed to delight in torturing me, often pinching my arms until they were black and blue. Regarding me as the cause of his wounded arm, he was determined that I should suffer with him.
While in this village Man- Afraid-of-His-Horses arrived, and I was made aware of his high standing as a chief and warrior by the feasting and dancing which followed. He was splendidly mounted and equipped, as also was another Indian who accompanied him. I have since learned from my husband that the treacherous chief made such statements of his influence with the hostile Indians as to induce him to purchase for them both an expensive outfit, in the hope of my release. I saw and conversed with him several times, and though he told me that he was from the Platte, he said nothing of the real errand on which he was sent, but returned to the fort and reported to Mr. Kelly that the band had moved and I could not be found.
Captain Fisk had made known to General Sully the fact of my being among the Indians, and the efforts he had made for my release; and when the Blackfeet presented themselves before the General, asking for peace, and avowing their weariness of hostility, anxious to purchase arms, amunition, and necessaries for the approaching winter, he replied: “I want no peace with you. You hold in captivity a white woman; deliver her up to us, and we will believe in your professions. But unless you do, we will raise an army of soldiers as numerous as the trees on the Missouri River and exterminate the Indians.”
The Blackfeet assured General Sully that they held no white woman in their possession, but that I was among the Ogalallas. “As you are friendly with them,” said the General, “go to them and secure her, and we will then reward you for so doing.”
The Blackfeet warriors appeared openly in the village a few days afterward, and declared their intentions, stating in council the determination of General Sully. The Ogalallas were not afraid, they said, and refused to let me go. They held solemn council for two days, and at last resolved that the Blackfeet should take me as a ruse, to enable them to enter the fort, and a wholesale slaughter should exterminate the soldiers.
While thus deliberating as to what they thought best—part of them willing, the other half refusing to let me go—Hunkiapa, a warrior, came into the lodge, and ordered me out, immediately following me. He then led me into a lodge where there were fifty warriors, painted and armed—their bows strung and their quivers full of arrows. From thence, the whole party, including three squaws, who, noting my extreme fear, accompanied me, started toward a creek, where there were five horses and warriors to attend us to the Blackfeet village.
Placing me on a horse, we were rapidly pursuing our way, when a party of the Ogalallas, who were unwilling, came up with us, to reclaim me. Here they parleyed for a time, and, finally, after a solemn promise on the part of my new captors that I should be returned safely, and that I should be cared for and kindly treated, we were allowed to proceed. In their parleying, one of the warriors ordered me to alight from the horse, pointing a pistol to my breast. Many of them clamored for my life, but, finally, they settled the matter, and permitted us to proceed on our journey.
After so many escapes from death, this last seemed miraculous; but God willed it otherwise, and to him I owe my grateful homage. It was a bitter trial for me to be obliged to go with this new and stranger tribe. I was unwilling to exchange my life for an unknown one, and especially as my companionship with the sisters of the chief had been such as to protect me from injury or insult. A sort of security and safety was felt in the lodge of the chief, which now the fear of my new position made me appreciate still more. Savages they were, and I had longed to be free from them; but now I parted with them with regret and misgiving. Though my new masters, for such I considered them, held out promise of liberty and restoration to my friends, knowing the treacherous nature of the Indians, I doubted them. True, the Ogalallas had treated me at times with great harshness and cruelty, yet I had never suffered from any of them the slightest personal or unchaste insult. Let me bear testimony to this redeeming feature in their treatment of me. At the time of my capture I became the exclusive property of Ottawa, the head chief, a man over seventy-five years of age, and partially blind, yet whose power over the band was absolute. Receiving a severe wound in a melee I have already given an account of, I was compelled to become his nurse or medicine woman; and my services as such were so appreciated, that harsh and cruel as he might be, it was dangerous for others to offer me insult or injury; and to this fact, doubtless, I owe my escape from a fate worse than death.
The Blackfeet are a band of the Sioux nation; consequently, are allies in battle. The chief dared not refuse on this account; besides, he was an invalid, and wounded badly. The Blackfeet left three of their best horses as a guarantee for my safe return. The chief of the Ogalallas had expressed the desire that, if the Great Spirit should summon him away, that I might be killed, in order to become his attendant to the spirit land.
It was now the commencement of November, and their way seemed to lead to the snowy regions, where the cold might prove unendurable. When I heard the pledge given by the Blackfeet, my fears abated; hope sprang buoyant at the thought of again being within the reach of my own people, and I felt confident that, once in the fort, I could frustrate their plans by warning the officers of their intentions. I knew what the courage and discipline of fort soldiers could accomplish, and so hoped, not only to thwart the savage treachery, but punish the instigators.
During my forced sojourn with the Ogalallas, I had abundant opportunity to observe the manners and customs peculiar to a race of people living so near, and yet of whom so little is known by the general reader. A chapter devoted to this subject will doubtless interest all who read this narrative.
Nothing can be more simple in its arrangement than an Indian camp when journeying, and especially when on the war path. The camping ground, when practicable, is near a stream of water, and adjacent to timber. After reaching the spot selected, the ponies are unloaded by the squaws, and turned loose to graze. The tents, or ” tipis,” are put up, and wood and water brought for cooking purposes. All drudgery of this kind is performed by the squaws, an Indian brave scorning as degrading all kinds of labor not incident to the chase or the war path.
An Indian tipi is composed of several dressed skins, usually of the buffalo, sewed together and stretched over a number of poles, the larger ones containing as many as twenty of these poles, which are fifteen to twenty feet long. They are of yellow pine, stripped of bark, and are used as “travois ” in traveling. Three poles are tied together near the top or small ends, and raised to an upright position, the bottoms being spread out as far as the fastening at the top will permit. Other poles are laid into the crotch thus formed at the top, and spread out in a circular line with the three first put up. This comprises the frame work, and when in the position described is ready to receive the covering, which is raised to the top by means of a rawhide rope, when, a squaw seizing each lower corner, it is rapidly brought around, and the edges fastened together with wooden pins, a squaw getting down on all fours, forming a perch upon which the tallest squaw of the family mounts and inserts the pins as high as she can reach. A square opening in the tent serves for a door, and is entered in a stooping posture. A piece of hide hangs loosely over this opening, and is kept in position by a heavy piece of wood fastened at the bottom.
When in position, the Indian tipi is of the same shape as the Sibley tent. In the middle is built a fire, where all the cooking is done, a hole at the top affording egress for the smoke. The preparation for a meal is a very simple affair. Meat was almost their only article of diet, and was generally roasted, or rather warmed through over the fire, though sometimes it was partially boiled, and always eaten without salt or bread. They have no set time for eating; will fast all of one day, and perhaps eat a dozen times the next. The outer edge of the tent contains the beds of the family, which are composed of buffalo robes and blankets. These are snugly rolled up during the day, and do service as seats. If there is reason to suppose an enemy near, no fire is allowed in the camp; and in that case each one satisfies appetite as best he or she can, but generally with pa-pa, or dried buffalo meat.
An Indian camp at close of day presents a most animated picture. The squaws passing to and fro, loaded with wood and water, or meat, or guiding the sledges drawn by dogs, carrying their all; dusky warriors squatted on the ground, in groups, around fires built in the open air, smoking their pipes, or repairing weapons, and recounting their exploits; half naked and naked children capering about in childish glee, furnish a picture of the nomadic life of these Indians of strange interest.
Not more than ten minutes are required to set up an Indian village. When it becomes necessary to move a village, which fact is never known to the people, a crier goes through the camp, shouting, Egalakapo! Egalakapo! when all the squaws drop whatever work they may be engaged in, and in an instant are busy as bees, taking down tipis, bringing in the ponies and dogs, and loading them; and in less than fifteen minutes the cavalcade is on the march.
The squaws accompany the men when they go to hunt buffalo, and as fast as the animals are killed, they strip off their hides, and then cut off the meat in strips about three feet long, three to four inches wide, and two inches thick; and such is their skill that the bones will be left intact and as free from meat as though they had been boiled. The meat is then taken to camp and hung up to dry. It is most filthy, being covered with grass and the excrement of the buffalo.
The medicine men treat all diseases nearly alike. The principal efforts are directed to expelling the spirit, whatever it may be, which it is expected the medicine man will soon discover, and having informed the friends what it is, he usually requires them to be in readiness to shoot it, as soon as he shall succeed in expelling it. Incantations and ceremonies are used, intended to secure the aid of the spirit, or spirits, the Indian worships. When he thinks he has succeeded, the medicine man gives the command, and from two to six or more guns are fired at the door of the tent to destroy the spirit as it passes out.
Many of these medicine men depend wholly on conjuring, sitting by the bedside of the patient, making gestures and frightful noises, shaking rattles, and endeavoring, by all means in their power, to frighten the evil spirit. They use fumigation, and are very fond of aromatic substances, using and burning cedar and many different plants to cleanse the tent in which the sick person lies. The native plants, roots, herbs, and so forth, are used freely, and are efficacious. They are very careful to conceal from each other, except a few initiated, as ell as from white me, a knowledge of plants used as medicine, probably believing that their efficacy, in some measure, depends on this concealment.
There is a tall, branching plant, growing abundantly in the open woods and prairies near the Missouri River, which is used chiefly by the Indians as a purgative, and is euphorbia corrallata [flowering spurge], well known to the botanist.
Medicines are generally kept in bags made of the skin of some animal. All the drinks which are given the sick to quench thirst are astringent, sometimes bitter and sometimes slightly mucilaginous. The most common is called red-root (ceanothus canadensis), a plant abounding in the western prairies, although they seem to have more faith in some ceremony. A dance peculiar to the tribe where I was, called the pipe dance, is worth mentioning, and is called by the Indians a good medicine. A small fire is kindled in the village, and around this the dancers, which usually consist of young men, collect, each one seated upon a robe.
The presiding genius is a chief, or a medicine man, who seats himself by a fire, with a long pipe which he prepares for smoking. Offering it first to the Great Spirit, he then extends it toward the north, south, east, and west, muttering unintelligibly. Meanwhile an equally august personage beats a drum, singing and leaping and smoking. The master of ceremonies sits calmly looking on, puffing away with all the vigor imaginable. The dance closes with piercing yells, and barking like frightened dogs, and it lasts an hour or more.
When the mother gives birth to her child, it is not uncommon for no other person to be present. She then lives in a hut or lodge by herself until the child is twenty-five or thirty days old, when she takes it to its father, who then sees his child for the first time.
Females, after parturition, and also in other conditions, bathe themselves—swim, as they express it—in the nearest river or lake. This is, no doubt, a most efficacious means of imparting strength and vigor to the constitution, and it is certain that Indian females are less subject to what are termed female complaints than white women. It is an uncommon occurrence that an Indian woman loses her life in parturition. When the child is old enough to run alone, it is relieved of its swathings, and if the weather is not too cold, it is sent off without a particle of clothing to protect it or impede the action of its limbs, and in this manner it is allowed to remain until it is several years old, when it receives a limited wardrobe.
Despite the rugged and exposed life they lead, there are comparatively few cripples and deformed persons among them. It is said that deformed infants are regarded as unprofitable and a curse from the Great Spirit, and disposed of by death soon after birth. Sometimes, at the death of a mother, the infant is also interred. An incident of this kind was related to me. A whole family had been carried off by small-pox except an infant. Those who were not sick had as much to do as they could conveniently attend to, consequently there was no one willing to take charge of the little orphan. It was placed in the arms of its dead mother, enveloped in blankets and a buffalo-robe, and laid upon a scaffold in their burying-place. Its cries were heard for some time, but at last they grew fainter, and finally were hushed altogether in the cold embrace of death, with the moaning wind sounding its requiem, and the wolves howling in the surrounding gloom, a fitting dirge for so sad a fate.
The Indians believe that God, or the Great Spirit, created the universe and all things just as they exist. They believe the sun to be a large body of heat, and that it revolves around the earth. Some believe it is a ball of fire. They do not comprehend the revolution of the earth around the sun. They suppose the sun literally rises and sets, and that our present theory is an invention of the white man, and that he is not sincere when he says the earth moves around the sun. They say that paradise, or the happy hunting grounds, is above, but where, they have no definite idea, though all think the future a happier state. They regard skill in hunting or success in war as the passport to eternal happiness and plenty, where there is no cold or wet season. Still they all acknowledge it is the gift of the Wa-hon Tonka, the Great Spirit.
The manner of disposing of their dead is one of the peculiar customs of the Indians of the plains which impresses the beholder for the first time most forcibly. Four forked posts are set up, and on them a platform is laid, high enough to be out of reach of wolves or other carnivorous animals, and on this the body is placed, wrapped in buffalo-robes or blankets, and sometimes both, according to the circumstances of the deceased, and these are wound securely with a strip of buffalo hide. If in the vicinity of timber, the body is placed on a platform, securely fixed in the crotch of a high tree. The wrappings of buffalo-robe or blankets protect the body from ravenous birds that hover around, attracted by the scent of an anticipated feast. All that pertained to the dead while living, in the way of furs, blankets, weapons, cooking utensils, etc., are also deposited with the body. In some instances, the horse belonging to the deceased is shot. They believe that the spirit wanders off to distant hunting grounds, and as it may have to pass over a country where there is no game, a quantity of dried buffalo meat is usually left with the body for its subsistence.
While on a journey, these burial places are held sacred as those of a Christian nation, and when a tribe is passing such localities they will make a detour rather than go the more direct road by the resting-place of their dead, while the relatives leave the trail and go alone to the spot, and there renew and repeat their mourning as on the occasion of his death. They also leave presents for the dead of such little trinkets as he most prized before he departed to his new hunting-grounds.
The boys are early taught the arts of war. A bow and arrows are among the first presents that an Indian youth receives from his parents, and he is soon instructed in their use. Indeed, the skill of a hunter seems to be a natural endowment, and, although some are more accurate and active than others, they all shoot with wonderful precision and surprising aptitude, seeming to inherit a passionate love for the sports of the chase.
The Indian boy receives no name until some distinguishing trait of character or feat suggests one, and changes it from time to time as more fitting ones are suggested. Some of their names are very odd, and some quite vulgar.
The wife is sometimes wooed and won, as if there was something of sentiment in the Indian character, but oftener purchased without the wooing. When the desired object is particularly attractive, and of a good family, the courting and purchasing both may be required.
When a young brave goes courting, he decorates himself out in his best attire, instinctively divining that appearances weigh much in the eyes of a forest belle, or dusky maiden, who receives him bashfully, for a certain kind of modesty is inherent in Indian girls, which is rather incongruous when considered in connection with their peculiar mode of life. Discretion and propriety are carefully observed, and the lovers sit side by side in silence, he occasionally producing presents for her acceptance. These express a variety of sentiment, and refer to distinct and separate things; some signifying love; some, strength; some, bravery; others allude to the life of servitude she is expected to live if she becomes his wife. If they are accepted graciously, and the maiden remains seated, it is considered equivalent to an assurance of love on her part, and is acted upon accordingly. Although no woman’s life is made less slavish by the marriage connection, and no one is treated with respect, it is scarcely known in Indian life that a girl has remained unmarried even to middle age.
When a chief desires to multiply the number of his wives, he often marries several sisters, if they can be had, not because of any particular fancy he may have for any but the one who first captivated him, but because he thinks it more likely to have harmony in the household when they are all of one family. Not even squaws can live happily together, when each may have a part interest in the same man as their husband jointly. Polygamy is inconsistent with the female character, whether in barbarism or civilization.
As many skins as they can transport on their ponies, of the game killed while on their hunts, are dressed by the squaws, and then taken to some trading post, military station, or agency, and bartered off for such articles as are most desired by them, such as beads, paints, etc., and powder, lead, and caps. They are willing to allow much more proportionately for ammunition than any other articles. They are most outrageously swindled by the traders whom our Government licenses to trade with them. A buffalo-robe which the trader sells for from ten to fifteen dollars, is bought from the Indians for a pint cup of sugar and a small handful of bullets, while furs of all kinds are exchanged for paints and trinkets at equally disproportionate rates. The Indians know they are cheated whenever they barter with the white traders, but they have no remedy, as there is no competition, and hence much of their disaffection. Buffalo-robes, bearskins, and deer, and antelope skins are brought in in great numbers, and they shoot and trap the beaver and otter expressly for their furs.
The Indians are almost universally fond of whisky, and have a strong propensity for gambling. They will risk at cards almost every thing they own, and if unsuccessful appear quite resigned to their loss, resting in the gambler’s hope of “better luck next time.” The squaws play a game with small bones of oblong shape, which seems to have a great fascination for them, as I have known them to spend whole days and nights at it, and in many instances gambling away every thing they owned.
They have a peculiar way of defining time. When they wish to designate an hour of the day, they point to the position the sun should be in at that time. The number of days is the number of sleeps. Their next division of time is the number of moons, instead of our months; and the seasons are indicated by the state of vegetation. For instance, spring is when the grass begins to grow, and the autumn when the leaves fall from the trees, while years are indicated by the season of snows.
There is a language of signs common to all the tribes, by which one tribe may communicate with another without being able to speak or understand its dialect. Each tribe is known by some particular sign.
The Indian is noted for his power of endurance of both fatigue and physical pain. I have thought much upon the fear manifested by these reputed brave barbarians; they seem to be borne down with the most tormenting fear for their personal safety at all times, at home or roaming for plunder, or when hunting, and yet courage is made a virtue among them, while cowardice is the unpardonable sin. When compelled to meet death, they seem to muster sullen, obstinate defiance of their doom, that makes the most of a dreaded necessity, rather than seek a preparation to meet it with submission, which they often dissemble, but never possess.
Instinct, more than reason, is the guide of the red man. He repudiates improvement, and despises manual effort. For ages has his heart been imbedded in moral pollution. The blanket, as worn by the Indian, is an insuperable barrier to his advance in arts or agriculture. When this is forever dispensed with, then his hands will be free to grasp the mechanic’s tools or guide the plow. It is both graceful and chaste in their eyes, and to adopt the white man’s dress is a great obstacle, a requirement too humiliating, for they have personal as well as national pride. No hat is worn, but the head is covered with feathers and rude ornaments. A heavy mass of wampum, often very expensive, adorns the neck. Frequently the entire rim of each ear is pierced with holes, and adorned with jewels of silver, or something resembling it.
The Indian does every thing through motives of policy. He has none of the kindlier feelings of humanity in him. He is as devoid of gratitude as he is hypocritical and treacherous. He observes a treaty, or promise, only so long as it is dangerous for him to disregard it, or for his interest, in other ways, to keep it. Cruelty is inherent in them, and is early manifested in the young, torturing birds, turtles, or any little animal that may fall into their hands. They seem to delight in it, while the pleasure of the adult in torturing his prisoners is most unquestionable. They are inveterate beggars, but never give, unless with a view to receive a more valuable present in return.
The white man, he has been taught, is his enemy, and he has become the most implacable enemy of the white man. His most fiendish murders of the innocent is his sweetest revenge for a wrong that has been done by another. The youth are very fond of war. They have no other ambition, and pant for the glory of battle, longing for the notes of the war song, that they may rush in and win the feathers of a brave. They listen to the stories of the old men, as they recall the stirring scenes of their youth, or sing their war songs, which form only a boasting recapitulation of their daring and bravery. They yearn for the glory of war, which is the only path to distinction. Having no arts or industrial pursuits, the tribes are fast waning from war, exposure, and disease. But few of the tribes cultivate the soil, the nature of the Indian rendering in his eyes as degrading all labor not incident to the chase or the war-path; and notwithstanding the efforts of missionaries, and the vast sums of money expended by the Government to place them on reservations and teach them the art of agriculture, the attempts to civilize the Indian in that way may be considered almost a total failure. The results bear no comparison to their cost.
Their ideas of the extent and power of the white race are very limited, and after I had learned the language sufficiently to converse with them, I frequently tried to explain to them the superior advantages of the white man’s mode of living. They would ask me many questions, as to the number of the white men on this side of the big water, and how far that extended; and on being told of two big oceans, they would ask if the whites owned the big country on the other side, and if there were any Indians there. Many of my statements were received with incredulity, and I was often called a liar, especially when I told of the number and rapid increase of the white race; some times the older ones would get angry. The younger ones were often eager listeners, and especially in times of scarcity and hunger would they gather around me to learn about the white man, and then would I endeavor to impress them with the advantages of a fixed home and tilling the soil over their wild, roaming life.
…To be continued.
From Narrative of My Captivity Among The Sioux Indians, by Fanny Kelly (abducted July 12, 1864, in present day eastern Wyoming, probably near what is now the city of Gillette, after the massacre of her wagon headed for Montana). Her narrative was published in 1872.