Title: Among The Indians

Periodical: Daily Post

Date: September 11, 1891

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It is a happy dispensation of Providence that the more an Indian waxes fat the less he kicks. If his ways were those of Jeshurun [1] of pious memory, the Aston Lower Grounds could be visited only by persons indifferent to peril. The writer saw the Sioux of the Wild West Show take their dinner Thursday, and they took a great deal of dinner. They ate till the perspiration rolled down their painted faces, and they fell asleep and smiled. They have found a happy hunting ground where the game, so to speak, walks into their mouths ready cooked, and they are as fat as prize cattle. It seemed reasonable to think that if one of them could be roused a little, and kept awake for twenty minutes or so by a lively fire of questions, he would be just in the mood to talk of his first impressions of civilisation. The privilege of putting those questions could not have been more highly esteemed if he had been an inhabitant of Saturn. He had doubtless been just as much astonished by one thing and another since leaving his little reservation as a visitor from another planet could have been. Which of the placid braves should be chosen for this unique interrogatory? Whom but the mystic prophet of the Ugallalla [2] tribe—the leader of the esoteric ghost dance, the preacher of [?] im marvels—Short Bull? In spite of his unromantic name (and, after all, it was not of his choosing) you might read in his dreamy but observant eyes, his finely-chiselled features and his dome-like forehead, the intellectual enthusiast. Mr. Crager, the interpreter, undertook to break to him as gently as might be the tremendous mission of the writer, and to picture with a free, perhaps a fanciful, hand the breathless expectancy with which the great white people hung upon his lightest word. We approached his canvas "tipi," and Mr. Crager, with a sans façon which, even in a Yankee, can only have been the result of long familiarity, put his head in and stirred him up. The prophet came out into the sunshine and stretched himself. He was still perspiring and vaguely smiling. Mr. Crager spoke a few words in a guttural but gentlemanly tone of voice, and Short Bull was kind enough to hold out his hand and say "How?" Overcoming a little nervousness natural to such an occasion, the writer imitated his greeting—made bold, indeed, to address him with "How, coola?" which is understood to be more friendly. The red man laughed softly, and made a remark which Mr. Crager interpreted to mean that he had got a stomach-ache. Perhaps it was unkind to such a nice old gentleman to trouble him further; but what was to be done? Every Indian in the camp was probably suffering from the same kind of indisposition. Besides, Mr. Crager is an American journalist, and might have mistaken one's delicacy for a lack of enterprise. Short Bull was victimised. Mr. Crager unfolded the momentous purpose of the visit, and, to do him justice, waxed eloquent upon it. The Indian tongue is a language of metaphor, and it would appear from his gestures that he called in aid all that is in the heaven above, the earth beneath, or the waters that are under the earth. Short Bull nodded, smiled, and, when it was all over, grunted. We waited ten minutes or more for his reply, while his eyes wandered dreamily in search of ideas. We casually offered him some cigars, as a guarantee of good faith, and he laughed again. We tried him with a few specific questions, and he shook his head in modest deprecation. After that the conversation seemed to flag; indeed, we presently remarked that the gaze of the tawny prophet was no longer restless, but that, with a soft and somnolent expression of regret, it rested upon a man in a blouse who was cutting up the supper beef.

"No, sir," said Mr. Crager, when we had dismissed Short Bull to his slumbers. "You can't get an idea out of them. It's like digging at an old root. It took me years to do it, and I've been among Indians since I was ten years old." So we went and saw the squaws threading beads on to mocassins, with shreds of dried sinew. This is a distinct kind of early decorative art; yet it is modern, for it was unknown among these people before the whites sold beads to them. Mr. Crager has his tent decorated with little else than beadwork, and some of it, designed in a conventional leaf pattern, is almost beautiful. That cannot be said of the "totems" which adorn the various tents   —rude drawings that constitute the signatures of their occupants. Lone Wolf, for example, has drawn himself hunting antelopes. You may be sure he did it himself, because it is a libel on his physique which, on the part of anyone else, would presume too much on his lack of the sense of humour. On a short straight line, which presumably represents the horizon, you see the heads of four antelopes he has killed that day, and by drawing another with its body and legs on he desires to convey that he is still on the lookout for the single animal of the herd that escaped him. The eagle in chase of an exhausted horse that appears on the tent opposite is straddling like the two-headed one of the Russian standard. You would not think it possible to draw a buffalo uglier than he is, but they have done it. Decidedly the tents are prettier inside. If you visit them in the morning, before the show begins, you find the posts hung with those gorgeous fineries that Indians so eagerly covet. Except in the centre, where a fire of wood smoulders amid white ashes, the earth is laid with gaudy blankets, on which, here and there, some Indian reposes, smoking a cigarette. In a corner, hanging from the point of his upright spear, is the chief's plumed head-dress. There are only four of those big feathers in the tail of an eagle, and the chief must kill his own eagles. The commercial value of the head-dress must be considerable. Two men are squatted with a board between them, playing dominos with rudely fashioned pieces. It is the national game, and they never tire of it. Another is patiently sharpening a pen-knife on the side of a cylindrical whetstone. Someone has thrown aside a piece of work which, when it is finished, will form part of the chief's panoply. It is a breastplate of leather, covered with tubes of bone, which are fastened on horizontally with thongs. They say that in the old bad days those tubes were made of the bones of enemies slaughtered in battle. Now they are manufactured out of some less gruesome raw material by a New York firm, which, possessing a monopoly, charges 10d. each for them. Probably they cost a penny a dozen to make. The little hand mirror which lies in a corner is perhaps the property of a squaw, but every Indian carries just such a mirror when he travels in an unknown piece of country.

It is used in the sign language, in which Indians of every tribe communicate when they do not know each other's speech. Long before the heliograph [3] was thought of they exchanged signals on the same principle by means of bright metal surfaces. One flash means "I don't know you," two flashes "Come nearer," three "Friendship." The approach effected, they converse without the mirrors in a sign vocabulary which is, doubtless, much more extensive than the classical sign language of the Italians. Like these latter, the Indians signify hunger by making believe to chew the forefinger. When a man makes love to an alien woman he beckons her towards him and spreads his blanket. If she accepts, she is thenceforth his wife without ceremony of any kind, and with polygamy in force she need never fear an act of conjugal infidelity. If she does not accept, she runs away; and where the number of a man's wives is the mark of his rank, to be declined is dishonourable as well as painful. The capacious earthenware pipes you may see in some of the tents are used on ceremonial occasions. But those bowls two inches deep are rarely filled, even then, with tobacco. At home, almost invariably, the Indian smokes with his "weed" the dried bark of a kind of osier, called Ka-lik-a-lik, which modifies its narcotic effect. He lights the pipe in token of amity, and smokes it, turn about, with his visitor. Each man raises the bowl above his head and inverts it, an action which signifies, "I am your friend till death." And, according to Mr. Crager, the word of an Indian may be relied on till he is himself deceived. Colonel Cody's designation in the sign language is a passing of the hand behind the ear and back over the shoulder, and expresses his Sioux name, Pa-he-haska, "The Long-haired." And that is about as much as the writer gathered in a chat which, as the Americans say, he "hated" to interrupt. For here Mr. Crager, who himself won distinction at Pine Ridge, as the representative of the New York World, grew enthusiastic about his chief, and almost angry that the English public should be quite unable, at such a distance from the scene of Colonel Cody's exploits, to realise their actual importance and the sterling excellence of his character; upon which theme every man on the ground appears ready to talk as long as you will listen.

Note 1: Jeshurun is a poetic name for the people of Israel that means "the dear upright people." [back]

Note 2: Oglala meaning "They Scatter Their Own" is one of the seven bands or "sub-tribes" of the Lakota, the westernmost peoples of the Sioux Nation who occupied North and South Dakota. [back]

Note 3: A heliograph is a mirror-type device for sending signals or messages a distance by reflecting sunlight. [back]

Title: Among The Indians

Periodical: Daily Post

Source: McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West , MS6.3772.027.01 (Crager Scrapbook)

Date: September 11, 1891

Topics: Lakota Performers

Keywords: American bison American Indians Drawing Eagles Ghost dance Horses Indian beadwork Indian sign language Indian women Indians of North America--Clothing Indians of North America--Social life and customs Lakota dialect Language and languages Moccasins Oglala Indians Pronghorn Sioux Nation Tipis Tobacco Translators

People: Short Bull, -1915 Wovoka, approximately 1856-1932

Place: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (S.D.)

Sponsor: This project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Geraldine W. & Robert J. Dellenback Foundation.

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