Imágenes de páginas

without exchanging a spoken word, while, in reality, holding a tolerably animated conversation. It is even said that so much is this pantomimic language used, and so limited the verbal vocabulary, that the Araphoe Indians, whose language contains a very small number of words, can with difficulty converse in the dark, but must adjourn to the camp-fire before they can fully communicate their ideas to each other. This sign-language is commonly used by distant tribes to communicate with each other when they do not understand each other's language. For hours they will thus talk without a spoken word being exchanged, except now and then one of a language, such as that of the Crows, which is understood by different tribes, being used as connecting links to the signs. This pantomimic vocabulary is used and understood easily by nearly all the tribes from the Gila River to the Columbia, and is very graceful and significant. It is said to be nearly the same as that practised by the mutes of deaf and dumb institutions. General Marcy, to whom we are indebted for this curious fact, informs us that he went to one of these institutions, and some five or six boys were directed to take their places at the blackboards, and interpret what he proposed to say. Then, by means of the pantomimic signs used by the prairie Indians, he told them that he had gone to a buffalo-hunt, saw a herd, chased them on horseback, fired, and killed one, cut it up, ate some of the meat, and went to sleep, every word of the narrative being written down by each boy as the signs were made, the only mistake being the very natural one of mistaking the buffalo for deer. Each tribe has a particular sign by which the tribe is meant, and this sign is well understood by all the plain tribes. Thus the Comanche is indicated by making with the hand a wavy motion in imitation of a snake, the Comanches being sometimes called “Snakes ;” the Cheyennes, or “Cut-arms,” by drawing the hand across the arm, to imitate the cutting of it with a knife; the Araphoes, or “Smellers,” by seizing the nose with the thumb and forefinger; the Sioux, or “Cut-throats," by drawing the hand across the throat; the Pawnees, or “Wolves,” by placing a hand on each side of the forehead, with two fingers pointing to the front, to represent the narrow sharp ears of the wolf ; the Crows, by flapping the palms of the hand, so as to imitate the motion of the bird's wings.*

"On approaching strangers the prairie Indians put their horses at full speed, and persons not familiar with their peculiarities and habits might interpret this as an act of hostility; but it is their custom with friends as well as enemies. When a party is discovered approaching theirs,' and are near enough to distinguish signals, all that is necessary in order to ascertain their disposition, is to raise the right hand with the palm in front, and gradually push it forward and back several times. They all understand this to be a command to halt, and if they are not hostile, it will at once be obeyed. After they have stopped, the right hand is raised again as before, and slowly moved to the right and left, which signifies, 'I do not know you ; who are you?' They will then answer the inquiry by giving their signal. If this should not be understood, they may be asked if they are friends by raising both hands grasped in the manner of shaking hands, or by locking the two forefingers firmly, while the hands are held up. If friendly, they will respond with the same signal, but if enemies, they will, probably, disregard the command to halt, or give the signal of anger by closing the hand, placing it against the forehead, and turning it back and forth while in this position.”

* " Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border," p. 33.

No people value military renown more than the plain Indians, and probably in no part of the world does success as a warrior bring more social consideration. From their earliest boyhood they are initiated in all the customs of war by mimic fights, in which murder and scalp-taking are imitated, with all the fearful yells and horrid rites peculiar to such scenes. War, with them, is a mere hand-to-hand fight. There is a leader, but he must be in the thick of the fray, fighting like the rest, the idea of a general directing a large body of men to act in concert having never occurred to them. In addition to the weapons I have already mentioned, most of the tribes also carry a small axe (or tomahawk), and all the invariable scalping.

[graphic][merged small]

knife—the latter being merely an ordinary butcher's knife-made, like the formidable tomahawk, by Britons in Birmingham and Sheffield for “the Indian trade.” Most of the tribes, have, of late years, obtained fire-arms, often of an excellent description, but few Indians are good shots; though with the bow and arrow they are, at short range, excellent marksmen, being able to discharge arrow after arrow with surprising quickness. These arrows (in most cases pointed with flints, and in some cases poisoned with the venom of the rattlesnake) make ngly wounds, and Indians, as we have noticed before, are not unfrequently able, with their stout, short, sinewstrengthened bows of osage-wood, to send an arrow right through a buffalo, so that it drops on the opposite side of the animal to which it was put in. Before proceeding to war they paint and decorate themselves, and undergo other ceremonies of the most grave description. Young men will set out on war parties, against tribes with whom they may be unfriendly (and few of the plain tribes are on "speaking terms ” with all their neighbours), and will not return, if they can possibly help it, without scalps or other trophies. For long periods they have carried on their plundering, murderous expeditions in Northern Mexico, and have perfectly devastated the greater part of Sonora and Chihuahua. Horses, mules, and scalps are the objects of these marauding forays, and they will not unfrequently extend to two or three years. If they return unsuccessful, there is a strong temptation to waylay any weaker party they may meet on the homeward journey, rather than return without the trophies which secure, both in war and in the council, such consideration. The proprietor of the greatest number of scalps has obtained the blue ribbon of Indian warfare. Hence these ambitious youths ought to be particularly sharply looked after by the traveller who may meet them on the prairie, for the desire to obtain the scalp of an enemy will often make them more reckless than the older men. Gratitude is an unknown virtue among the prairie Indians, even more so than among the coast tribes of the Pacific. Indeed, I question much if they understand the meaning of the word, or experience at all the feeling which it expresses. Benevolence and kindness are only, in their eyes, dictated by fear or expectation of reward. A present given means simply a bait for a larger one in return. With them gratitude is truly, according to the Rochefoucauldian maxim, only “a lively sease of favours to receive.” A limited space would be sufficient for the narration of any other virtues they possess. They are most inveterate beggars. Our friend General Marcy met with an amusing illustration of this; but the sequel proves that they mistook their man. “A party of Kechis,” says he, "once visited my camp with their principal chief, who said he had some important business to discuss, and demanded a council with the capitan. After consent had been given, he assembled his principal men, and going through the usual preliminary of taking a 'big smoke,' he arose, and with a great deal of ceremony commenced his pompous and flowery speech, which, like all others of a similar nature, amounted to nothing, until he had touched upon the real object of his visit. He said he had travelled a long distance over the prairies to see and have a talk with his white brothers; that his people were very hungry and naked. He then approached me with six small sticks, and after shaking hands, laid one of the sticks in my hand, which he said represented sugar, another signified tobacco, and the other four, pork, flour, whisky, and blankets, all of which he assured me his people were in much need of, and must have. His talk was then concluded, and he sat down, apparently much gratified with the graceful and impressive manner with which he had executed his part of the performance.

“ It then devolved upon me to respond to the brilliant efforts of the prairie orator, which I did in something like the following manner. After imitating his style for a short time, I closed my remarks by telling him that we were poor infantry soldiers, who were always obliged to go on foot; that we had become very tired of walking, and would like much to ride. Furthermore, I had observed that they had among them many fine horses and mules. I then took two small sticks, and imitating as nearly as possible the manner of the chief, placed one in his hand, which I told him was nothing more nor less than a first-rate horse, and then the other, which signified a good large mule. I closed by saying that I was ready to exchange presents when it suited his convenience. They looked at each other for some time without speaking, but finally got up and walked away, and I was not troubled with them again.”

• The cxperienced prairie traveller will notice that though there is much in common in the method of constructing the lodges, fires, &c., of all the tribes, yet that each tribe has it own peculiarities in this respect. The Osages, for example, make lodges of the shape of a wagon-cover, of bent rods or willows covered with skins, blankets, or bark; while the Kickapoo lodges are made “in an oval form, something like a rounded haystack, of poles set in the ground and united at the top,” the whole being covered with cloths or bark. The Crees, Sioux, Araphoes, Cheyennes, Utahs, Comanche, Blackfeet, and Kioways use a conical lodge (or tepic) covered with buffalo-hides ; and so on. These particular tribes carry along with them their lodge-poles and coverings when they remove from one place to another, and hence the trail of such a party can be traced by the marks left in the mud or dust of the path by the trailing of the poles fastened on each side of a horse, but touching the ground. The tribes, however, that construct lodges different from that last mentioned, leave the framework standing when they quit any encampment.

Whatever may be the religious beliefs of the prairie tribes, like all the race to which they belong they implicitly believe in “medicine-work," and the medicine-men are important individuals in every tribe. Unlike the Pacific tribes, medicine-work is not confined to a certain class, but every warrior must undergo some ceremonies of this nature before he can take his place among the councillors of the nation. Among some tribes—the Sioux and the now extinct tribe of Mandans, who lived on the Missouri (see engravings on pp. 89, 93, and 108)—these rites were of a most complicated and cruel character, the young men who were candidates for the honours of warriors having to suffer the most excruciating tortures under the eyes of the chiefs, who were watching them closely, and the slightest sign of impatience, or inability to bear the pain, would have disgraced the novice for life.

Among them, as among all tribes, the “medicine-bag” figures prominently. A young fellow goes out into the prairie, or into some lonely place, and sleeps until he dreams of some animal. This animal is then his “medicine.” He kills it, and turning its skin into a bag, he wears it continually about his person. The skin may be small enough to be put next to his breast under his garment, or so large as to be rather an encumbrance, but carry it he must. Everything wonderful and strange is a medicine. Painting is a great medicine ; photography is a still greater; while the six-shooter, especially if they experience the effect of it on their own persons, is a most wonderful medicine. There is a medicine for everything, and specialists among the medicine-men. There are medicine-men who can bring the buffalo, and rain-makers who can produce rain, and some even who will pretend to stop it. These latter gentlemen are generally fair practical meteorologists, and their exertions are not unfrequently only a cloak to conceal the fact that they are prophesying on a certainty. The power to produce rain is of importance to the few tribes who cultivate a little corn, and is accordingly well paid for. Medicine-work is successful, the medicine-men tell their dupes, just in proportion to the length of time occupied in making preparations for it: if you continue your work long enough, rain is sure to come!

One of the most extraordinary medicine-rites I have heard of is found among the Tonkawas, one of the prairie tribes, who are regarded as renegades and aliens from social intercourse with the other tribes. They are, in fact, not unlike the Diggers of the Sierra Nevadas, and do not attempt to cultivate the soil or build houses, but live in temporary bark or brush tenements, and eke out a miserable existence on reptiles, roots, or any other garbage affording the least nutriment. They seem but little elevated above the brutes; indeed, the “medicine” scene which follows shows that they hold rather advanced views on that subject themselves. They consider that their original progenitor was brought into the world by the agency of wolves, and to celebrate the event the “wolf-dance” is performed on certain occasions, though always with the utmost solemnity and secrecy. Major Neighbors, by great interest, managed to get concealed in the lodge before the dance commenced, and could observe what was going on without himself being seen. Soon after the major was hidden, about fifty warriors, all dressed in wolf-skins from head to foot, so as to represent the animal very perfectly, made their entrance upon all-fours in single file, and passed round the lodge, howling, growling, and making other demonstrations peculiar to that carnivorous quadruped. After this had continued for some time, they to put down their noses and sniffed the earth in every direction, until at length one of them suddenly stopped, uttered a shrill cry, and commenced scratching the ground at a particular spot. The others immediately uttered a shrill cry, and followed his example, then, gathering round, they all set to work scratching up the earth with their hands, imitating the motions of the wolf in so doing, and in a few minutes, they exhumed from the spot a genuine live Tonkawa, who had previously been interred for the performance. As soon as they had unearthed this strange biped, they ran round him, scenting his person and examining him from head to foot with the greatest apparent delight and · curiosity. The advent of this curious and novel creature was an occasion of no small moment to them, and a council of venerable and sage old wolves was at once assembled to determine what disposition should be made of him. The Tonkawa addressed them as follows:-“ You have taken me from the spirit-land, where I was contented and happy, and brought me into a world where I am a stranger, and I know not what I shall do for subsistence and clothing. It is better you should place me back where you found me, otherwise I shall freeze and starve.” After mature deliberation the council declined returning him to the earth, and advised him to gain a livelihood as the wolves did; to go out into the wilderness, and rob, kill, and steal whenever opportunity presented. They then placed a bow and arrows in his hands, and told him with these he must furnish himself with food and clothing; that he could wander about from place to place like the wolves, but that he must never build a house or cultivate the soil; that if he did, he would surely die. This injunction, the chief assured our informant, had always been strictly adhered to by the Tonkawas, and for once he lied not. This rite is very peculiar, and may be compared with the wolf-attack among the Seshahts, mentioned at p. 31, and with other superstitions in which the wolf figures.

Buffalo-hunting is likewise an occupation common to all the plain tribes. They are hunted by the tribesmen at áll seasons, and the bullet, the long lance, and the arrow play an equal part in the work of destruction. They will even entice them into “pounds,” V-shaped enclosures, or rather traps, where they will be slaughtered remorselessly. Sometimes a herd will be driven in the direction of a high precipice, and one after another, either unaware of the danger or unable to avoid it, will tumble over and be killed on the spot. If the animals attempt to turn back in time, their fate is almost equally certain, for few escape this running the gauntlet of the Indians. In the winter they are pursued by the Indians in snow-shoes, and numbers are killed while struggling almost helplessly through the snow-drifts. Sometimes the buffalo will attempt to cross a lake

« AnteriorContinuar »