Funeral by J. T.
"Call me, Washington, when they are
going to bury him," said the doctor.
George Washington, evidently not quite
sure that he understood the doctor, said
with an interrogative glance, "You like—see
him—dead man—put in ground?"
And, pointing downward and alternately
bending and extending one knee, he
made a semblance of delving.
The doctor nodded.
"Good! Me tell you."
"I want to go, Washington," said the
"And I too," said the lieutenant's
George Washington was one of the
Nez Percé prisoners surrendered by Joseph
to General Miles after the battle of
Bear-Paw Mountain. The dead man
was one of the wounded in that action
who died from his wounds, aggravated,
no doubt, by fatigue and exposure while
the prisoners were marching to the east
in the winter of 1877 under orders from
the War Department. George spoke a
few words of English, and was quite an
intelligent Indian. He was very clean—for
an Indian—and was comfortably
"How soon?" asked the doctor.
"He—call me—when he ready: me
"Good! Then I shall go to dinner."
"We had better eat our dinner," said the
lieutenant: "it is growing late.—Come
and have some dinner, Washington."
Washington seemed not quite sure that
he understood correctly. He had a modest
distrust of his English. In the matter
of an invitation to dinner doubt is admissible.
"You—want me—" here George
Washington tapped himself on the savage
breast—"eat—with you?" And
here, gracefully reversing his hand, with
the index extended, he touched the lieutenant
on the civilized bosom.
"Yes: come in."
We three entered the tent. As it was
an ordinary "A" tent, with a sheet-iron
stove in it, it was pretty full with the addition
of two good-sized white men and
an Indian of no contemptible proportions.
The lieutenant and I sat on the
blankets, camp-fashion: Washington sat
on my heavy riding-boots, with the stove
perforce between his legs.
"Good wahrrm!" ejaculated George
Washington, hugging the stove.
"Hustleburger!" shouted the lieutenant.
"George Washington will take dinner
with us. Set the table for three."
"All right, sir, lieutenant!"
"Good man—docther," Washington
remarked, nodding several times to emphasize
his observation: "ver'—good
We eagerly assented, pleased to see
that the Indian appreciated the doctor's
kindness to his people.
Rabelais's quarter of an hour began to
hang heavily on us. Washington was
equal to the occasion: taking a survey
of the tent, he nodded approvingly and
remarked, "Good tepee."
"Not bad this weather."
"Good eyes!" said Washington in a
burst of enthusiasm.
These two simple words in their Homeric
immensity of expression meant all
this: "The fire made on the ground in
our Indian lodges fills them with continual
smoke, and consequently we Indians
suffer very much from sore eyes. Now,
your little stove, while it warms the tent
much better than a fire, does not smoke,
and your eyes are not injured."
Our habitual table, a small box, was
not constructed on the extension plan.
It would not accommodate three. So
Hustleburger handed directly to each
guest a tin cup of macaroni soup. Washington
disposed of the liquid in a very
short time, but the elusive nature of the
macaroni rather troubled him. We showed
him how to overcome its slippery tendency.
Smacking his lips, he said, with
a broad smile, "Good! What you call
"Maclony? Good! Maclony—maclony."
he continued, repeating the word
to fix it in his memory.
Our only vegetable was some canned
asparagus. Washington was delighted
with it after he had been initiated into
the mystery of its consumption. He did
not stop at the white. "What you call—him?"
"Did you never eat asparagus before,
"Never eat him—nev' see him. Spalagus—spalagus!
Hustleburger now brought in the dessert,
which consisted of canned currant-jelly,
served in the can. Each guest
helped himself from the original package,
using a "hard tack" for a dessert-plate,
more antiquo. Washington was
bidden to help himself. Before doing
so, however, he wished to test the substance
placed before him, and, taking a
little on the end of his spoon, he carried
it to his lips. Then an expression of intense
enjoyment overspread his dusky
face; his black eyes sparkled like diamonds;
his full lips were wreathed in a
smile. "Ah! goo-oo-oo-d!" he cried,
with a mouthful of o's. "What you call
"Yelly? Ah! yelly goo-oo-ood! Me—like—yelly—much."
And he helped
A smell of burning woollen became
unpleasantly noticeable. Washington
still had the stove between his legs: it
was red-hot. He never moved, but ate
"Washington, you're burning!" cried
Washington smiled. "Much wah-r-rum!"
he remarked in the coolest manner
"Throw open the front, then."
A long, shrill cry now rang through
the silence and the darkness. Washington
jumped up suddenly, ran out of
the tent, and uttered a cry in response
so similar that it might pass for an echo
of the first. Then, returning, he said,
"He call. He—ready—put—dead man—down.
Come! Me—come back—eat—yelly."
Fortunately, the Indian camp was not
far off. The night was pitch-dark. Led
by Washington, we got through the thick
underbrush without much trouble. The
grave was dug near the water's edge,
where the Missouri and the Yellowstone,
meeting, form an angle. A large fire of
dry cottonwood at the head of the grave
fitfully lit up the dismal scene. A bundle
of blankets and buffalo-robes lay by the
open grave. Some Indians of both sexes
with bowed and blanketed heads stood
near it. Washington was evidently awaited.
As soon as he appeared a little
hand-bell was rung, and a number of
dark, shrouded figures with covered faces
crept forth like shadows from the lodges
throughout the camp and crowded around
the grave, a mute and gloomy throng.
The bell was rung again, and the
dark crowd became motionless as statues.
Then Washington in a mournful
monotone repeated what I supposed to
be prayers for the dead. At the end of
each prayer the little bell was rung and
responses came out of the depths of the
surrounding darkness. Then the squaws
chanted a wild funeral song in tones of
surpassing plaintiveness. At its close the
bell tinkled once more, and the figures
that surrounded the grave vanished as
darkly as they came. Washington, one
or two warriors and ourselves alone remained.
"You like—see—him—dead man?"
The question was addressed to me.
I never want to look on a dead face
if I can avoid it; so with thanks I declined.
Washington seemed a little disappointed,
as if he considered we showed
a somewhat uncourteous want of interest
in the deceased. Noticing this, the
lieutenant said he would like to see the
dead man's face, and, preceded by Washington,
we moved toward the bundle of
blankets and buffalo-robes that lay by
the side of the grave. Washington threw
back the buffalo-robes, and a bright gleam
of the cottonwood fire disclosed the upturned
face of the dead Nez Percé and
lightened up the long, thick locks of
glossy blue-black hair. It was the face
of a man about thirty—bold, clear-cut
features and long, aquiline nose: a good
face and a strong face it seemed in death.
When we had looked upon the rigid
features a few moments, Washington
covered the face of his dead brother.
The body, coffined in blankets and
skins, was placed in the grave, and the
men began to throw the earth upon it.
"That's—all," said Washington.
And he moved away toward our tent.
He seemed to think some apology
necessary for the simplicity of the ceremonial.
"If," said he, "Chapman [the
interpreter]—he tell—we sleep here
to-morrow—we put dead man—in ground—when
sun he ver' litt'; an' Yoseph he
come—an' you come—an' I come—all
come—white man an' Injun."
"He was a fine-looking young man,"
I remarked, alluding to the dead Indian.
Washington was pleased by the compliment
to his departed brother. He stopped
short, and, turning toward me, said,
"Yes, he fine young man—good man—good
"I thought he was rather an oldish
man," remarked the lieutenant.
"No, no," replied Washington, touching
his head—"all black hairs—no white
hairs. Good young man."
And Washington led the way back toward
the lieutenant's tent, saying, "Let
us go—eat up—yelly."