Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

mat-constructed hut on his furs and skins. The school-house opens its doors to him in vain, for he despises the letters of the “pale-face.” In the varied book that Nature spreads out before him he learns his lessons, and his poetry (if poetry he has) he drinks from the heavens where sentinel stars keep their watch in the night. The missionary has gone to him with a heart overflowing with kindness and Christian love; but whatever balm the Bible may possess, it has borne on its wings little healing to the hut of the Indian. With an apathetic, confused,

[graphic][merged small]

indefinite, and dreamy faith he looks for fairer hunting-grounds in the spirit-land, where the streams abound in salmon, the woods are filled with game, and where his every material want is supplied by the hand of the Great Spirit who directs them thither. “Westward the star of empire takes its way,” and not afar off he hears the sure, sullen noise of that march of the white man," where soon shall roll a human sea.” Confused and saddened, he sees the wonders of the white man. “ They are perfect devils,” he says, as he sees the wonderful arts; but he makes no attempt to imitate them. Now and then some dreamer, like Leschi, will revive their hopes of once more regaining their fair heritage ; but hope dies off as they see the futility of the dream. When I lived at the Dalles of the Columbia, a locality well known to all readers of Washington Irving's “ Astoria,” and other stirring tales of the old fur-traders, I was shown an Indian who dreamt often that some day the Indians sball yet gain back all, and that the white man shall then be his slave. No doubt the dull, frowsy denizens of the lodge brighten as they listen to that pleasant, moving tale; but their hearts sink again, for, as the chief of an Indian tribe told me, after he had been for eight years at war with the United States —“Kill off one Boston man, and two start in his place; they are like grass on the prairie ; burn it, and it comes up next year fresher and more plentiful than ever—ugh!” Those who have seen most of the Indians cannot congratulate those Governments that like that of the United States) have attempted to do something towards the civilisation of the Indians. But the purpose of the red man's creation in the economy of Nature is, to the west as well as to the east of the Rocky Mountains, well-nigh accomplished, and no human hand can avert his early extermination from the face of the continent. Silently, but irresistibly, the purposes of Providence take their way through ages, and across the line of their march treaties would seem but straws, and the plans of man on the tide of history but waifs upon the sea.

CHAPTER V.

THE INDIANS OF THE CENTRAL PLAINS.

The country to the west of the Rocky Mountains is, with the exception of the semi-treeless desert (or dry country) between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains, generally densely wooded. Cross the Rocky Mountains, and we come into a region widely different. As soon as we pass beyond the influence of the moisture afforded by the melting snows of the Rocky Mountains, we enter the country of the great prairies stretching north, south, and eastward -mile after mile. These are familiarly known as the “ plains," and are for the most part covered with grass or low bush, the only trees found on them being in the vicinity of the few watercourses which intersect the region. The more southerly plains are covered with the sage brush (Artemisia), and are exceedingly dry and desert; while those further to the northcommonly distinguished as the “prairies” proper—are more fertile, and covered with grass. Far as the eye can see all is grass, wave after wave, a long, silent sea of undulating, grassy land, bounded by a dim horizon in the far distance, the only sight or sound to break the monotony being the curl of the smoke from the little camp-fire lit by a solitary traveller or merchant who does his business in these wild tracts, the bark of a prairie-dog, the amble of an antelope, the sight of a herd of bison (or buffalo) which still cover a great extent of these regions, or what, possibly, the solitary traveller cares less to see—the dash of a party of Indian horsemen, bent on plunder, war, or the chase of the buffalo or other wild animals of the prairie. Roaming over this wide extent of central, treeless plains, are numerous tribes of Indians,

alike in many characteristics, but all differing widely from those which inhabited at a former time the country east of the Mississippi, and in many respects also from the numerous tribes west of the Rocky Mountains, whose habits we have described in the preceding chapters. These Indians are divided into numerous tribes--Crees, Sioux, Dacotahs, Cheyennes, Araphoes, Kioways, Blackfeet, Kickapoos, Comanches, Apaches, &c., all alike in many characteristics of rrgabondism, and frequently of lawless marauding. Nearly all are possessed of horses, and few d them have stationary villages, moving about from place to place as the circumstances of the bant, &c., may determine. Let us describe some of the more marked characteristics of the chief of these tribes.

We first hear of these “plain Indians” in 1511, from Castenada, who wrote the account of the expedition of Coronado, which set out from New Mexico in search of the “golden city" of Quivero. In those days these “buffalo-eaters” lived on the raw flesh of the bison, and dwelt in tents made of its skins, but had no horses, the horses possessed by nearly all of the prairie tribes being descended from those originally introduced by the Spaniards into America. The tribes on the Pacific slope of the Rocky Mountains obtained horses at a still later period. The old Cyuse chief who had a few years ago upwards of 3,000 horses (it is said), told me that he remembers an old man who recollected the first horse which was brought to his tribe. An Indian da inquiring turn of mind had gone far to the south, and after a long absence returned with a extraordinary animal which he was afraid to mount, and had accordingly led all the way. It was a horse. He had obtained it from some of the southern tribes-probably the Shoshones, or some of the New Mexican tribes, and for a long time it was led out at high feasts and festivals, no one venturing to get on its back. At last a daring youth essayed the task, and after having himself carefully bound on its back, trotted off, to the consternation of the female members of his family and the admiration of the rest of the village. No mishap came to him, and soon 'his feat was no nine days' wonder. Other youths mounted, and by-and-by they also went south and got horses, until they became quite common, and the Cyuse are now some of the best horsemen among the Indians, and until they went to war with the United States and lost the greater portion of their stock, were exceedingly rich in horseflesh; yet they did not care to sell any, though in times of scarcity they would live upon them.

To return, however, to the plain Indians. At the time of Coronado's expedition these tribes had 10 horses, but large troops of dogs, which they employed to transport their baggage, as some of the more northern tribes do at the present day. They were then a mild and peaceable people, showing great hospitality to the Spaniards, and we have no record that they were addicted to the horrible practices which prevailed among the Indians in New Mexico and Sonora at that date. Their dress, their mode of preparing food, and (with the exception of the few changes which the introduction of the horses and other more questionable bits of civilisation has caused among them) their habits were exactly the same as those of their descendants at the present day. All the prairie tribes agree in these respects--they all follow the buffalo, use the bow and arrow, lance and shield, take the war-path, and fight their battles mounted on horseback in the open prairie, transport their lodges and all their worldly effects wherever they go, never till the ground, and subsist almost exclusively, with the exception of a few berries, on a fresh-meat diet. All equally use the sweat or “medicine lodges,” which I described in a former chapter, and religiously believe in the efficacy of incantations and jugglery

in curing diseases, and in preparing for war and the chase. On the contrary, as General Marcy (on whose experience with these tribes we have drawn to a great extent) points out, the tribes in what are now the eastern United States, from the time of the first discovery of the country,

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]

lived in permanent villages, cultivated fields of corn, and possessed strong attachment to their abodes, and the graves of their dead, visiting them at long intervals, and preserving, even when removed by the strong hand of the Government, the most vivid and accurate traditional accounts of the sites of the sepulchres of their fathers. Unlike the tribes of the plains, they seldom wandered far from home, used no horses, and always made their hunting or warlike expeditions

on foot, and sought the shelter of trees when in action. Their treatment of prisoners was also essentially different; while the eastern tribes put their captives to tortures of the most horrible description, yet I cannot learn that the chastity of the females was violated, while among the plain Indians we have the most abundant evidence that the contrary always was, and, as the facts before me while I write prove with sufficient horror, is still the case. In a word, these prairie tribes are the Arabs of the plains of Central America, with little of the reverence and few of the virtues of that people. They have no permanent abodes, the skin lodge, once pitched, being their home until they again require to remove. Laws they have none, except what vague, and often vacillating, undefined custom requires, and their government is essentially patriarchaltheir chief only leading them in war, but guided in his acts by the advice of the old men, or the unanimous opinion of the people in mob assembled. Poverty and riches are alike unknown, and being insensible to the wants and luxuries of civilisation, and it may be also said to vice or equally to virtue, the revolution of Fortuna's wheel brings no change to them. With the exception of the worthless “loafers” who hang about the frontier settlements, or block-houses on the plains—and I presume about the stations of the Pacific Railroad now—they are all pretty much on a dead level of social equality. Like the Arabs, they are expert horsemen, and esteem their horses highly. Their only property, with the exception of a few articles of domestic economy, consists in these horses or mules, pillaged from the whites, for among their other accomplishments they are most expert horse-thieves. The chief's office is hereditary, but it lasts only so long as his rule is pleasing to the mass of his subjects, for should he disgrace himself in war or in council, he is speedily replaced by a more competent successor. The subordinate chiefs execute the behests of the council, whether for reward or punishment, and in the performance of this duty these aboriginal lictors do not, assuredly, let the grass grow under their mocassins. In respect to their right of property, they are, Marcy remarks, truly Spartan. No more arrant freebooters exist upon the earth. Stealing from strangers is a virtue which raises the thief high in public esteem-indeed, a young man who has not made one or two predatory expeditions into Mexico is, among the more southern plain tribes, held in little esteem, and considered a person deficient in public spirit. An old Comanche chief told a friend of mine that he was the father of four sons-fine fellows-as fine young men as could be found, and that in his old age they were a great comfort to him a great comfort indeed, they could steal more horses than any other eight in all his band! Sometimes a party of young men will start out on their predatory expeditions, and be absent two or three years, before their success is such that in their opinion they can return to their tribe with honour. They will sweep down on some quiet district in Mexico, and with shouts and yells drive off the herd of horses or cattle, while if the terror-stricken herdsman offers the slightest resistance, his scalp is speedily added to their trophies. The bow of the osage orange, or bois d'arc (Maclura aurantiaca), is their favourite weapon and constant companion, and so skilful are they with this that not unfrequently a good archer will send an arrow right through a buffalo. His shield is composed of two layers of hard, undressed buffalo-hide separated by a padding of hair about one inch in thickness. This shield he carries on his left arm, and so effectual is it as a means of protection to the body, that even a musketball, unless it strike it perpendicularly, will not penetrate it. They also use a war-club, made of a shaft of wood, about fourteen inches long, bound with buffalo-hide, and weighted at the end with a hard stone, weighing a couple of pounds or so, firmly secured by means of a withe into

« AnteriorContinuar »