AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES
ZITKALA-SA (Gertrude Bonnin)
Dakota Sioux Indian
Lecturer; Author of "Old Indian Legends," "Americanize The First
American," and other stories; Member of the Woman's National Foundation,
League of American Pen-Women, and the Washington Salon
"There is no great; there is no small; in the mind that causeth all"
Impressions of an Indian Childhood
The School Days of an Indian Girl
An Indian Teacher Among Indians
The Great Spirit
The Soft-Hearted Sioux
The Trial Path
A Warrior's Daughter
A Dream of Her Grandfather
The Widespread Enigma of Blue-Star Woman
America's Indian Problem
IMPRESSIONS OF AN INDIAN CHILDHOOD
A wigwam of weather-stained canvas stood at the base of some irregularly
ascending hills. A footpath wound its way gently down the sloping land
till it reached the broad river bottom; creeping through the long swamp
grasses that bent over it on either side, it came out on the edge of the
Here, morning, noon, and evening, my mother came to draw water from the
muddy stream for our household use. Always, when my mother started for
the river, I stopped my play to run along with her. She was only of
medium height. Often she was sad and silent, at which times her full
arched lips were compressed into hard and bitter lines, and shadows fell
under her black eyes. Then I clung to her hand and begged to know what
made the tears fall.
"Hush; my little daughter must never talk about my tears"; and smiling
through them, she patted my head and said, "Now let me see how fast you
can run today." Whereupon I tore away at my highest possible speed, with
my long black hair blowing in the breeze.
I was a wild little girl of seven. Loosely clad in a slip of brown
buckskin, and light-footed with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I
was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a
bounding deer. These were my mother's pride,—my wild freedom and
overflowing spirits. She taught me no fear save that of intruding myself
Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath, and laughing
with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly
conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It
was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only
experiments for my spirit to work upon.
Returning from the river, I tugged beside my mother, with my hand upon
the bucket I believed I was carrying. One time, on such a return, I
remember a bit of conversation we had. My grown-up cousin, Warca-Ziwin
(Sunflower), who was then seventeen, always went to the river alone for
water for her mother. Their wigwam was not far from ours; and I saw her
daily going to and from the river. I admired my cousin greatly. So I
said: "Mother, when I am tall as my cousin Warca-Ziwin, you shall not
have to come for water. I will do it for you."
With a strange tremor in her voice which I could not understand, she
answered, "If the paleface does not take away from us the river we
"Mother, who is this bad paleface?" I asked.
"My little daughter, he is a sham,—a sickly sham! The bronzed Dakota is
the only real man."
I looked up into my mother's face while she spoke; and seeing her bite
her lips, I knew she was unhappy. This aroused revenge in my small soul.
Stamping my foot on the earth, I cried aloud, "I hate the paleface that
makes my mother cry!"
Setting the pail of water on the ground, my mother stooped, and
stretching her left hand out on the level with my eyes, she placed her
other arm about me; she pointed to the hill where my uncle and my only
sister lay buried.
"There is what the paleface has done! Since then your father too has
been buried in a hill nearer the rising sun. We were once very happy.
But the paleface has stolen our lands and driven us hither. Having
defrauded us of our land, the paleface forced us away.
"Well, it happened on the day we moved camp that your sister and uncle
were both very sick. Many others were ailing, but there seemed to be no
help. We traveled many days and nights; not in the grand, happy way that
we moved camp when I was a little girl, but we were driven, my child,
driven like a herd of buffalo. With every step, your sister, who was not
as large as you are now, shrieked with the painful jar until she was
hoarse with crying. She grew more and more feverish. Her little hands
and cheeks were burning hot. Her little lips were parched and dry, but
she would not drink the water I gave her. Then I discovered that her
throat was swollen and red. My poor child, how I cried with her because
the Great Spirit had forgotten us!
"At last, when we reached this western country, on the first weary night
your sister died. And soon your uncle died also, leaving a widow and an
orphan daughter, your cousin Warca-Ziwin. Both your sister and uncle
might have been happy with us today, had it not been for the heartless
My mother was silent the rest of the way to our wigwam. Though I saw no
tears in her eyes, I knew that was because I was with her. She seldom
wept before me.
During the summer days my mother built her fire in the shadow of our
In the early morning our simple breakfast was spread upon the grass west
of our tepee. At the farthest point of the shade my mother sat beside
her fire, toasting a savory piece of dried meat. Near her, I sat upon my
feet, eating my dried meat with unleavened bread, and drinking strong
The morning meal was our quiet hour, when we two were entirely alone. At
noon, several who chanced to be passing by stopped to rest, and to share
our luncheon with us, for they were sure of our hospitality.
My uncle, whose death my mother ever lamented, was one of our nation's
bravest warriors. His name was on the lips of old men when talking of
the proud feats of valor; and it was mentioned by younger men, too, in
connection with deeds of gallantry. Old women praised him for his
kindness toward them; young women held him up as an ideal to their
sweethearts. Every one loved him, and my mother worshiped his memory.
Thus it happened that even strangers were sure of welcome in our lodge,
if they but asked a favor in my uncle's name.
Though I heard many strange experiences related by these wayfarers, I
loved best the evening meal, for that was the time old legends were
told. I was always glad when the sun hung low in the west, for then my
mother sent me to invite the neighboring old men and women to eat supper
with us. Running all the way to the wigwams, I halted shyly at the
entrances. Sometimes I stood long moments without saying a word. It was
not any fear that made me so dumb when out upon such a happy errand; nor
was it that I wished to withhold the invitation, for it was all I could
do to observe this very proper silence. But it was a sensing of the
atmosphere, to assure myself that I should not hinder other plans. My
mother used to say to me, as I was almost bounding away for the old
people: "Wait a moment before you invite any one. If other plans are
being discussed, do not interfere, but go elsewhere."
The old folks knew the meaning of my pauses; and often they coaxed my
confidence by asking, "What do you seek, little granddaughter?"
"My mother says you are to come to our tepee this evening," I instantly
exploded, and breathed the freer afterwards.
"Yes, yes, gladly, gladly I shall come!" each replied. Rising at once
and carrying their blankets across one shoulder, they flocked leisurely
from their various wigwams toward our dwelling.
My mission done, I ran back, skipping and jumping with delight. All out
of breath, I told my mother almost the exact words of the answers to my
invitation. Frequently she asked, "What were they doing when you entered
their tepee?" This taught me to remember all I saw at a single glance.
Often I told my mother my impressions without being questioned.
While in the neighboring wigwams sometimes an old Indian woman asked me,
"What is your mother doing?" Unless my mother had cautioned me not to
tell, I generally answered her questions without reserve.
At the arrival of our guests I sat close to my mother, and did not
leave her side without first asking her consent. I ate my supper in
quiet, listening patiently to the talk of the old people, wishing all
the time that they would begin the stories I loved best. At last, when I
could not wait any longer, I whispered in my mother's ear, "Ask them to
tell an Iktomi story, mother."
Soothing my impatience, my mother said aloud, "My little daughter is
anxious to hear your legends." By this time all were through eating, and
the evening was fast deepening into twilight.
As each in turn began to tell a legend, I pillowed my head in my
mother's lap; and lying flat upon my back, I watched the stars as they
peeped down upon me, one by one. The increasing interest of the tale
aroused me, and I sat up eagerly listening to every word. The old women
made funny remarks, and laughed so heartily that I could not help
The distant howling of a pack of wolves or the hooting of an owl in the
river bottom frightened me, and I nestled into my mother's lap. She
added some dry sticks to the open fire, and the bright flames leaped up
into the faces of the old folks as they sat around in a great circle.
On such an evening, I remember the glare of the fire shone on a tattooed
star upon the brow of the old warrior who was telling a story. I watched
him curiously as he made his unconscious gestures. The blue star upon
his bronzed forehead was a puzzle to me. Looking about, I saw two
parallel lines on the chin of one of the old women. The rest had none. I
examined my mother's face, but found no sign there.
After the warrior's story was finished, I asked the old woman the
meaning of the blue lines on her chin, looking all the while out of the
corners of my eyes at the warrior with the star on his forehead. I was a
little afraid that he would rebuke me for my boldness.
Here the old woman began: "Why, my grandchild, they are signs,—secret
signs I dare not tell you. I shall, however, tell you a wonderful story
about a woman who had a cross tattooed upon each of her cheeks."
It was a long story of a woman whose magic power lay hidden behind the
marks upon her face. I fell asleep before the story was completed.
Ever after that night I felt suspicious of tattooed people. Wherever I
saw one I glanced furtively at the mark and round about it, wondering
what terrible magic power was covered there.
It was rarely that such a fearful story as this one was told by the camp
fire. Its impression was so acute that the picture still remains vividly
clear and pronounced.
Soon after breakfast mother sometimes began her beadwork. On a bright,
clear day, she pulled out the wooden pegs that pinned the skirt of our
wigwam to the ground, and rolled the canvas part way up on its frame of
slender poles. Then the cool morning breezes swept freely through our
dwelling, now and then wafting the perfume of sweet grasses from newly
Untying the long tasseled strings that bound a small brown buckskin bag,
my mother spread upon a mat beside her bunches of colored beads, just as
an artist arranges the paints upon his palette. On a lapboard she
smoothed out a double sheet of soft white buckskin; and drawing from a
beaded case that hung on the left of her wide belt a long, narrow blade,
she trimmed the buckskin into shape. Often she worked upon small
moccasins for her small daughter. Then I became intensely interested in
her designing. With a proud, beaming face, I watched her work. In
imagination, I saw myself walking in a new pair of snugly fitting
moccasins. I felt the envious eyes of my playmates upon the pretty red
beads decorating my feet.
Close beside my mother I sat on a rug, with a scrap of buckskin in one
hand and an awl in the other. This was the beginning of my practical
observation lessons in the art of beadwork. From a skein of finely
twisted threads of silvery sinews my mother pulled out a single one.
With an awl she pierced the buckskin, and skillfully threaded it with
the white sinew. Picking up the tiny beads one by one, she strung them
with the point of her thread, always twisting it carefully after every
It took many trials before I learned how to knot my sinew thread on the
point of my finger, as I saw her do. Then the next difficulty was in
keeping my thread stiffly twisted, so that I could easily string my
beads upon it. My mother required of me original designs for my lessons
in beading. At first I frequently ensnared many a sunny hour into
working a long design. Soon I learned from self-inflicted punishment to
refrain from drawing complex patterns, for I had to finish whatever I
After some experience I usually drew easy and simple crosses and
squares. These were some of the set forms. My original designs were not
always symmetrical nor sufficiently characteristic, two faults with
which my mother had little patience. The quietness of her oversight made
me feel strongly responsible and dependent upon my own judgment. She
treated me as a dignified little individual as long as I was on my good
behavior; and how humiliated I was when some boldness of mine drew forth
a rebuke from her!
In the choice of colors she left me to my own taste. I was pleased with
an outline of yellow upon a background of dark blue, or a combination of
red and myrtle-green. There was another of red with a bluish-gray that
was more conventionally used. When I became a little familiar with
designing and the various pleasing combinations of color, a harder
lesson was given me. It was the sewing on, instead of beads, some tinted
porcupine quills, moistened and flattened between the nails of the thumb
and forefinger. My mother cut off the prickly ends and burned them at
once in the centre fire. These sharp points were poisonous, and worked
into the flesh wherever they lodged. For this reason, my mother said, I
should not do much alone in quills until I was as tall as my cousin
Always after these confining lessons I was wild with surplus spirits,
and found joyous relief in running loose in the open again. Many a
summer afternoon a party of four or five of my playmates roamed over the
hills with me. We each carried a light sharpened rod about four feet
long, with which we pried up certain sweet roots. When we had eaten all
the choice roots we chanced upon, we shouldered our rods and strayed off
into patches of a stalky plant under whose yellow blossoms we found
little crystal drops of gum. Drop by drop we gathered this nature's
rock-candy, until each of us could boast of a lump the size of a small
bird's egg. Soon satiated with its woody flavor, we tossed away our gum,
to return again to the sweet roots.
I remember well how we used to exchange our necklaces, beaded belts, and
sometimes even our moccasins. We pretended to offer them as gifts to one
another. We delighted in impersonating our own mothers. We talked of
things we had heard them say in their conversations. We imitated their
various manners, even to the inflection of their voices. In the lap of
the prairie we seated ourselves upon our feet, and leaning our painted
cheeks in the palms of our hands, we rested our elbows on our knees, and
bent forward as old women were most accustomed to do.
While one was telling of some heroic deed recently done by a near
relative, the rest of us listened attentively, and exclaimed in
undertones, "Han! han!" (yes! yes!) whenever the speaker paused for
breath, or sometimes for our sympathy. As the discourse became more
thrilling, according to our ideas, we raised our voices in these
interjections. In these impersonations our parents were led to say only
those things that were in common favor.
No matter how exciting a tale we might be rehearsing, the mere shifting
of a cloud shadow in the landscape near by was sufficient to change our
impulses; and soon we were all chasing the great shadows that played
among the hills. We shouted and whooped in the chase; laughing and
calling to one another, we were like little sportive nymphs on that
Dakota sea of rolling green.
On one occasion I forgot the cloud shadow in a strange notion to catch
up with my own shadow. Standing straight and still, I began to glide
after it, putting out one foot cautiously. When, with the greatest care,
I set my foot in advance of myself, my shadow crept onward too. Then
again I tried it; this time with the other foot. Still again my shadow
escaped me. I began to run; and away flew my shadow, always just a step
beyond me. Faster and faster I ran, setting my teeth and clenching my
fists, determined to overtake my own fleet shadow. But ever swifter it
glided before me, while I was growing breathless and hot. Slackening my
speed, I was greatly vexed that my shadow should check its pace also.
Daring it to the utmost, as I thought, I sat down upon a rock imbedded
in the hillside.
So! my shadow had the impudence to sit down beside me!
Now my comrades caught up with me, and began to ask why I was running
away so fast.
"Oh, I was chasing my shadow! Didn't you ever do that?" I inquired,
surprised that they should not understand.
They planted their moccasined feet firmly upon my shadow to stay it, and
I arose. Again my shadow slipped away, and moved as often as I did. Then
we gave up trying to catch my shadow.
Before this peculiar experience I have no distinct memory of having
recognized any vital bond between myself and my own shadow. I never gave
it an afterthought.
Returning our borrowed belts and trinkets, we rambled homeward. That
evening, as on other evenings, I went to sleep over my legends.
One summer afternoon my mother left me alone in our wigwam while she
went across the way to my aunt's dwelling.
I did not much like to stay alone in our tepee for I feared a tall,
broad-shouldered crazy man, some forty years old, who walked loose among
the hills. Wiyaka-Napbina (Wearer of a Feather Necklace) was harmless,
and whenever he came into a wigwam he was driven there by extreme
hunger. He went nude except for the half of a red blanket he girdled
around his waist. In one tawny arm he used to carry a heavy bunch of
wild sunflowers that he gathered in his aimless ramblings. His black
hair was matted by the winds, and scorched into a dry red by the
constant summer sun. As he took great strides, placing one brown bare
foot directly in front of the other, he swung his long lean arm to and
Frequently he paused in his walk and gazed far backward, shading his
eyes with his hand. He was under the belief that an evil spirit was
haunting his steps. This was what my mother told me once, when I
sneered at such a silly big man. I was brave when my mother was near by,
and Wiyaka-Napbina walking farther and farther away.
"Pity the man, my child. I knew him when he was a brave and handsome
youth. He was overtaken by a malicious spirit among the hills, one day,
when he went hither and thither after his ponies. Since then he can not
stay away from the hills," she said.
I felt so sorry for the man in his misfortune that I prayed to the Great
Spirit to restore him. But though I pitied him at a distance, I was
still afraid of him when he appeared near our wigwam.
Thus, when my mother left me by myself that afternoon I sat in a fearful
mood within our tepee. I recalled all I had ever heard about
Wiyaka-Napbina; and I tried to assure myself that though he might pass
near by, he would not come to our wigwam because there was no little
girl around our grounds.
Just then, from without a hand lifted the canvas covering of the
entrance; the shadow of a man fell within the wigwam, and a large
roughly moccasined foot was planted inside.
For a moment I did not dare to breathe or stir, for I thought that could
be no other than Wiyaka-Napbina. The next instant I sighed aloud in
relief. It was an old grandfather who had often told me Iktomi legends.
"Where is your mother, my little grandchild?" were his first words.
"My mother is soon coming back from my aunt's tepee," I replied.
"Then I shall wait awhile for her return," he said, crossing his feet
and seating himself upon a mat.
At once I began to play the part of a generous hostess. I turned to my
Lifting the lid, I found nothing but coffee grounds in the bottom. I set
the pot on a heap of cold ashes in the centre, and filled it half full
of warm Missouri River water. During this performance I felt conscious
of being watched. Then breaking off a small piece of our unleavened
bread, I placed it in a bowl. Turning soon to the coffeepot, which would
never have boiled on a dead fire had I waited forever, I poured out a
cup of worse than muddy warm water. Carrying the bowl in one hand and
cup in the other, I handed the light luncheon to the old warrior. I
offered them to him with the air of bestowing generous hospitality.
"How! how!" he said, and placed the dishes on the ground in front of his
crossed feet. He nibbled at the bread and sipped from the cup. I sat
back against a pole watching him. I was proud to have succeeded so well
in serving refreshments to a guest all by myself. Before the old warrior
had finished eating, my mother entered. Immediately she wondered where I
had found coffee, for she knew I had never made any, and that she had
left the coffeepot empty. Answering the question in my mother's eyes,
the warrior remarked, "My granddaughter made coffee on a heap of dead
ashes, and served me the moment I came."
They both laughed, and mother said, "Wait a little longer, and I shall
build a fire." She meant to make some real coffee. But neither she nor
the warrior, whom the law of our custom had compelled to partake of my
insipid hospitality, said anything to embarrass me. They treated my
best judgment, poor as it was, with the utmost respect. It was not till
long years afterward that I learned how ridiculous a thing I had done.
THE DEAD MAN'S PLUM BUSH.
One autumn afternoon many people came streaming toward the dwelling of
our near neighbor. With painted faces, and wearing broad white bosoms of
elk's teeth, they hurried down the narrow footpath to Haraka Wambdi's
wigwam. Young mothers held their children by the hand, and half pulled
them along in their haste. They overtook and passed by the bent old
grandmothers who were trudging along with crooked canes toward the
centre of excitement. Most of the young braves galloped hither on their
ponies. Toothless warriors, like the old women, came more slowly, though
mounted on lively ponies. They sat proudly erect on their horses. They
wore their eagle plumes, and waved their various trophies of former
In front of the wigwam a great fire was built, and several large black
kettles of venison were suspended over it. The crowd were seated about
it on the grass in a great circle. Behind them some of the braves stood
leaning against the necks of their ponies, their tall figures draped in
loose robes which were well drawn over their eyes.
Young girls, with their faces glowing like bright red autumn leaves,
their glossy braids falling over each ear, sat coquettishly beside their
chaperons. It was a custom for young Indian women to invite some older
relative to escort them to the public feasts. Though it was not an iron
law, it was generally observed.
Haraka Wambdi was a strong young brave, who had just returned from his
first battle, a warrior. His near relatives, to celebrate his new rank,
were spreading a feast to which the whole of the Indian village was
Holding my pretty striped blanket in readiness to throw over my
shoulders, I grew more and more restless as I watched the gay throng
assembling. My mother was busily broiling a wild duck that my aunt had
that morning brought over.
"Mother, mother, why do you stop to cook a small meal when we are
invited to a feast?" I asked, with a snarl in my voice.
"My child, learn to wait. On our way to the celebration we are going to
stop at Chanyu's wigwam. His aged mother-in-law is lying very ill, and
I think she would like a taste of this small game."
Having once seen the suffering on the thin, pinched features of this
dying woman, I felt a momentary shame that I had not remembered her
On our way I ran ahead of my mother and was reaching out my hand to pick
some purple plums that grew on a small bush, when I was checked by a low
"Sh!" from my mother.
"Why, mother, I want to taste the plums!" I exclaimed, as I dropped my
hand to my side in disappointment.
"Never pluck a single plum from this brush, my child, for its roots are
wrapped around an Indian's skeleton. A brave is buried here. While he
lived he was so fond of playing the game of striped plum seeds that, at
his death, his set of plum seeds were buried in his hands. From them
sprang up this little bush."
Eyeing the forbidden fruit, I trod lightly on the sacred ground, and
dared to speak only in whispers until we had gone many paces from it.
After that time I halted in my ramblings whenever I came in sight of the
plum bush. I grew sober with awe, and was alert to hear a
long-drawn-out whistle rise from the roots of it. Though I had never
heard with my own ears this strange whistle of departed spirits, yet I
had listened so frequently to hear the old folks describe it that I knew
I should recognize it at once.
The lasting impression of that day, as I recall it now, is what my
mother told me about the dead man's plum bush.
THE GROUND SQUIRREL.
In the busy autumn days my cousin Warca-Ziwin's mother came to our
wigwam to help my mother preserve foods for our winter use. I was very
fond of my aunt, because she was not so quiet as my mother. Though she
was older, she was more jovial and less reserved. She was slender and
remarkably erect. While my mother's hair was heavy and black, my aunt
had unusually thin locks.
Ever since I knew her she wore a string of large blue beads around her
neck,—beads that were precious because my uncle had given them to her
when she was a younger woman. She had a peculiar swing in her gait,
caused by a long stride rarely natural to so slight a figure. It was
during my aunt's visit with us that my mother forgot her accustomed
quietness, often laughing heartily at some of my aunt's witty remarks.
I loved my aunt threefold: for her hearty laughter, for the cheerfulness
she caused my mother, and most of all for the times she dried my tears
and held me in her lap, when my mother had reproved me.
Early in the cool mornings, just as the yellow rim of the sun rose above
the hills, we were up and eating our breakfast. We awoke so early that
we saw the sacred hour when a misty smoke hung over a pit surrounded by
an impassable sinking mire. This strange smoke appeared every morning,
both winter and summer; but most visibly in midwinter it rose
immediately above the marshy spot. By the time the full face of the sun
appeared above the eastern horizon, the smoke vanished. Even very old
men, who had known this country the longest, said that the smoke from
this pit had never failed a single day to rise heavenward.
As I frolicked about our dwelling I used to stop suddenly, and with a
fearful awe watch the smoking of the unknown fires. While the vapor was
visible I was afraid to go very far from our wigwam unless I went with
From a field in the fertile river bottom my mother and aunt gathered an
abundant supply of corn. Near our tepee they spread a large canvas upon
the grass, and dried their sweet corn in it. I was left to watch the
corn, that nothing should disturb it. I played around it with dolls made
of ears of corn. I braided their soft fine silk for hair, and gave them
blankets as various as the scraps I found in my mother's workbag.
There was a little stranger with a black-and-yellow-striped coat that
used to come to the drying corn. It was a little ground squirrel, who
was so fearless of me that he came to one corner of the canvas and
carried away as much of the sweet corn as he could hold. I wanted very
much to catch him and rub his pretty fur back, but my mother said he
would be so frightened if I caught him that he would bite my fingers. So
I was as content as he to keep the corn between us. Every morning he
came for more corn. Some evenings I have seen him creeping about our
grounds; and when I gave a sudden whoop of recognition he ran quickly
out of sight.
When mother had dried all the corn she wished, then she sliced great
pumpkins into thin rings; and these she doubled and linked together
into long chains. She hung them on a pole that stretched between two
forked posts. The wind and sun soon thoroughly dried the chains of
pumpkin. Then she packed them away in a case of thick and stiff
In the sun and wind she also dried many wild fruits,—cherries, berries,
and plums. But chiefest among my early recollections of autumn is that
one of the corn drying and the ground squirrel.
I have few memories of winter days at this period of my life, though
many of the summer. There is one only which I can recall.
Some missionaries gave me a little bag of marbles. They were all sizes
and colors. Among them were some of colored glass. Walking with my
mother to the river, on a late winter day, we found great chunks of ice
piled all along the bank. The ice on the river was floating in huge
pieces. As I stood beside one large block, I noticed for the first time
the colors of the rainbow in the crystal ice. Immediately I thought of
my glass marbles at home. With my bare fingers I tried to pick out some
of the colors, for they seemed so near the surface. But my fingers
began to sting with the intense cold, and I had to bite them hard to
keep from crying.
From that day on, for many a moon, I believed that glass marbles had
river ice inside of them.
THE BIG RED APPLES.
The first turning away from the easy, natural flow of my life occurred
in an early spring. It was in my eighth year; in the month of March, I
afterward learned. At this age I knew but one language, and that was my
mother's native tongue.
From some of my playmates I heard that two paleface missionaries were in
our village. They were from that class of white men who wore big hats
and carried large hearts, they said. Running direct to my mother, I
began to question her why these two strangers were among us. She told
me, after I had teased much, that they had come to take away Indian boys
and girls to the East. My mother did not seem to want me to talk about
them. But in a day or two, I gleaned many wonderful stories from my
playfellows concerning the strangers.
"Mother, my friend Judéwin is going home with the missionaries. She is
going to a more beautiful country than ours; the palefaces told her
so!" I said wistfully, wishing in my heart that I too might go.
Mother sat in a chair, and I was hanging on her knee. Within the last
two seasons my big brother Dawée had returned from a three years'
education in the East, and his coming back influenced my mother to take
a farther step from her native way of living. First it was a change from
the buffalo skin to the white man's canvas that covered our wigwam. Now
she had given up her wigwam of slender poles, to live, a foreigner, in a
home of clumsy logs.
"Yes, my child, several others besides Judéwin are going away with the
palefaces. Your brother said the missionaries had inquired about his
little sister," she said, watching my face very closely.
My heart thumped so hard against my breast, I wondered if she could hear
"Did he tell them to take me, mother?" I asked, fearing lest Dawée had
forbidden the palefaces to see me, and that my hope of going to the
Wonderland would be entirely blighted.
With a sad, slow smile, she answered: "There! I knew you were wishing to
go, because Judéwin has filled your ears with the white man's lies.
Don't believe a word they say! Their words are sweet, but, my child,
their deeds are bitter. You will cry for me, but they will not even
soothe you. Stay with me, my little one! Your brother Dawée says that
going East, away from your mother, is too hard an experience for his
Thus my mother discouraged my curiosity about the lands beyond our
eastern horizon; for it was not yet an ambition for Letters that was
stirring me. But on the following day the missionaries did come to our
very house. I spied them coming up the footpath leading to our cottage.
A third man was with them, but he was not my brother Dawée. It was
another, a young interpreter, a paleface who had a smattering of the
Indian language. I was ready to run out to meet them, but I did not dare
to displease my mother. With great glee, I jumped up and down on our
ground floor. I begged my mother to open the door, that they would be
sure to come to us. Alas! They came, they saw, and they conquered!
Judéwin had told me of the great tree where grew red, red apples; and
how we could reach out our hands and pick all the red apples we could
eat. I had never seen apple trees. I had never tasted more than a dozen
red apples in my life; and when I heard of the orchards of the East, I
was eager to roam among them. The missionaries smiled into my eyes and
patted my head. I wondered how mother could say such hard words against
"Mother, ask them if little girls may have all the red apples they want,
when they go East," I whispered aloud, in my excitement.
The interpreter heard me, and answered: "Yes, little girl, the nice red
apples are for those who pick them; and you will have a ride on the iron
horse if you go with these good people."
I had never seen a train, and he knew it.
"Mother, I am going East! I like big red apples, and I want to ride on
the iron horse! Mother, say yes!" I pleaded.
My mother said nothing. The missionaries waited in silence; and my eyes
began to blur with tears, though I struggled to choke them back. The
corners of my mouth twitched, and my mother saw me.
"I am not ready to give you any word," she said to them. "Tomorrow I
shall send you my answer by my son."
With this they left us. Alone with my mother, I yielded to my tears, and
cried aloud, shaking my head so as not to hear what she was saying to
me. This was the first time I had ever been so unwilling to give up my
own desire that I refused to hearken to my mother's voice.
There was a solemn silence in our home that night. Before I went to bed
I begged the Great Spirit to make my mother willing I should go with the
The next morning came, and my mother called me to her side. "My
daughter, do you still persist in wishing to leave your mother?" she
"Oh, mother, it is not that I wish to leave you, but I want to see the
wonderful Eastern land," I answered.
My dear old aunt came to our house that morning, and I heard her say,
"Let her try it."
I hoped that, as usual, my aunt was pleading on my side. My brother
Dawée came for mother's decision. I dropped my play, and crept close to
"Yes, Dawée, my daughter, though she does not understand what it all
means, is anxious to go. She will need an education when she is grown,
for then there will be fewer real Dakotas, and many more palefaces. This
tearing her away, so young, from her mother is necessary, if I would
have her an educated woman. The palefaces, who owe us a large debt for
stolen lands, have begun to pay a tardy justice in offering some
education to our children. But I know my daughter must suffer keenly in
this experiment. For her sake, I dread to tell you my reply to the
missionaries. Go, tell them that they may take my little daughter, and
that the Great Spirit shall not fail to reward them according to their
Wrapped in my heavy blanket, I walked with my mother to the carriage
that was soon to take us to the iron horse. I was happy. I met my
playmates, who were also wearing their best thick blankets. We showed
one another our new beaded moccasins, and the width of the belts that
girdled our new dresses. Soon we were being drawn rapidly away by the
white man's horses. When I saw the lonely figure of my mother vanish in
the distance, a sense of regret settled heavily upon me. I felt
suddenly weak, as if I might fall limp to the ground. I was in the hands
of strangers whom my mother did not fully trust. I no longer felt free
to be myself, or to voice my own feelings. The tears trickled down my
cheeks, and I buried my face in the folds of my blanket. Now the first
step, parting me from my mother, was taken, and all my belated tears
Having driven thirty miles to the ferryboat, we crossed the Missouri in
the evening. Then riding again a few miles eastward, we stopped before a
massive brick building. I looked at it in amazement, and with a vague
misgiving, for in our village I had never seen so large a house.
Trembling with fear and distrust of the palefaces, my teeth chattering
from the chilly ride, I crept noiselessly in my soft moccasins along the
narrow hall, keeping very close to the bare wall. I was as frightened
and bewildered as the captured young of a wild creature.
THE SCHOOL DAYS OF AN INDIAN GIRL
THE LAND OF RED APPLES.
There were eight in our party of bronzed children who were going East
with the missionaries. Among us were three young braves, two tall girls,
and we three little ones, Judéwin, Thowin, and I.
We had been very impatient to start on our journey to the Red Apple
Country, which, we were told, lay a little beyond the great circular
horizon of the Western prairie. Under a sky of rosy apples we dreamt of
roaming as freely and happily as we had chased the cloud shadows on the
Dakota plains. We had anticipated much pleasure from a ride on the iron
horse, but the throngs of staring palefaces disturbed and troubled us.
On the train, fair women, with tottering babies on each arm, stopped
their haste and scrutinized the children of absent mothers. Large men,
with heavy bundles in their hands, halted near by, and riveted their
glassy blue eyes upon us.
I sank deep into the corner of my seat, for I resented being watched.
Directly in front of me, children who were no larger than I hung
themselves upon the backs of their seats, with their bold white faces
toward me. Sometimes they took their forefingers out of their mouths and
pointed at my moccasined feet. Their mothers, instead of reproving such
rude curiosity, looked closely at me, and attracted their children's
further notice to my blanket. This embarrassed me, and kept me
constantly on the verge of tears.
I sat perfectly still, with my eyes downcast, daring only now and then
to shoot long glances around me. Chancing to turn to the window at my
side, I was quite breathless upon seeing one familiar object. It was the
telegraph pole which strode by at short paces. Very near my mother's
dwelling, along the edge of a road thickly bordered with wild
sunflowers, some poles like these had been planted by white men. Often I
had stopped, on my way down the road, to hold my ear against the pole,
and, hearing its low moaning, I used to wonder what the paleface had
done to hurt it. Now I sat watching for each pole that glided by to be
the last one.
In this way I had forgotten my uncomfortable surroundings, when I heard
one of my comrades call out my name. I saw the missionary standing very
near, tossing candies and gums into our midst. This amused us all, and
we tried to see who could catch the most of the sweetmeats.
Though we rode several days inside of the iron horse, I do not recall a
single thing about our luncheons.
It was night when we reached the school grounds. The lights from the
windows of the large buildings fell upon some of the icicled trees that
stood beneath them. We were led toward an open door, where the
brightness of the lights within flooded out over the heads of the
excited palefaces who blocked our way. My body trembled more from fear
than from the snow I trod upon.
Entering the house, I stood close against the wall. The strong glaring
light in the large whitewashed room dazzled my eyes. The noisy hurrying
of hard shoes upon a bare wooden floor increased the whirring in my
ears. My only safety seemed to be in keeping next to the wall. As I was
wondering in which direction to escape from all this confusion, two warm
hands grasped me firmly, and in the same moment I was tossed high in
midair. A rosy-cheeked paleface woman caught me in her arms. I was both
frightened and insulted by such trifling. I stared into her eyes,
wishing her to let me stand on my own feet, but she jumped me up and
down with increasing enthusiasm. My mother had never made a plaything of
her wee daughter. Remembering this I began to cry aloud.
They misunderstood the cause of my tears, and placed me at a white table
loaded with food. There our party were united again. As I did not hush
my crying, one of the older ones whispered to me, "Wait until you are
alone in the night."
It was very little I could swallow besides my sobs, that evening.
"Oh, I want my mother and my brother Dawée! I want to go to my aunt!" I
pleaded; but the ears of the palefaces could not hear me.
From the table we were taken along an upward incline of wooden boxes,
which I learned afterward to call a stairway. At the top was a quiet
hall, dimly lighted. Many narrow beds were in one straight line down the
entire length of the wall. In them lay sleeping brown faces, which
peeped just out of the coverings. I was tucked into bed with one of the
tall girls, because she talked to me in my mother tongue and seemed to
I had arrived in the wonderful land of rosy skies, but I was not happy,
as I had thought I should be. My long travel and the bewildering sights
had exhausted me. I fell asleep, heaving deep, tired sobs. My tears were
left to dry themselves in streaks, because neither my aunt nor my mother
was near to wipe them away.
THE CUTTING OF MY LONG HAIR.
The first day in the land of apples was a bitter-cold one; for the snow
still covered the ground, and the trees were bare. A large bell rang for
breakfast, its loud metallic voice crashing through the belfry overhead
and into our sensitive ears. The annoying clatter of shoes on bare
floors gave us no peace. The constant clash of harsh noises, with an
undercurrent of many voices murmuring an unknown tongue, made a bedlam
within which I was securely tied. And though my spirit tore itself in
struggling for its lost freedom, all was useless.
A paleface woman, with white hair, came up after us. We were placed in a
line of girls who were marching into the dining room. These were Indian
girls, in stiff shoes and closely clinging dresses. The small girls wore
sleeved aprons and shingled hair. As I walked noiselessly in my soft
moccasins, I felt like sinking to the floor, for my blanket had been
stripped from my shoulders. I looked hard at the Indian girls, who
seemed not to care that they were even more immodestly dressed than I,
in their tightly fitting clothes. While we marched in, the boys entered
at an opposite door. I watched for the three young braves who came in
our party. I spied them in the rear ranks, looking as uncomfortable as I
felt. A small bell was tapped, and each of the pupils drew a chair from
under the table. Supposing this act meant they were to be seated, I
pulled out mine and at once slipped into it from one side. But when I
turned my head, I saw that I was the only one seated, and all the rest
at our table remained standing. Just as I began to rise, looking shyly
around to see how chairs were to be used, a second bell was sounded. All
were seated at last, and I had to crawl back into my chair again. I
heard a man's voice at one end of the hall, and I looked around to see
him. But all the others hung their heads over their plates. As I glanced
at the long chain of tables, I caught the eyes of a paleface woman upon
me. Immediately I dropped my eyes, wondering why I was so keenly watched
by the strange woman. The man ceased his mutterings, and then a third
bell was tapped. Every one picked up his knife and fork and began
eating. I began crying instead, for by this time I was afraid to venture
But this eating by formula was not the hardest trial in that first day.
Late in the morning, my friend Judéwin gave me a terrible warning.
Judéwin knew a few words of English; and she had overheard the paleface
woman talk about cutting our long, heavy hair. Our mothers had taught us
that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled
by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and
shingled hair by cowards!
We discussed our fate some moments, and when Judéwin said, "We have to
submit, because they are strong," I rebelled.
"No, I will not submit! I will struggle first!" I answered.
I watched my chance, and when no one noticed, I disappeared. I crept up
the stairs as quietly as I could in my squeaking shoes,—my moccasins
had been exchanged for shoes. Along the hall I passed, without knowing
whither I was going. Turning aside to an open door, I found a large room
with three white beds in it. The windows were covered with dark green
curtains, which made the room very dim. Thankful that no one was there,
I directed my steps toward the corner farthest from the door. On my
hands and knees I crawled under the bed, and cuddled myself in the dark
From my hiding place I peered out, shuddering with fear whenever I heard
footsteps near by. Though in the hall loud voices were calling my name,
and I knew that even Judéwin was searching for me, I did not open my
mouth to answer. Then the steps were quickened and the voices became
excited. The sounds came nearer and nearer. Women and girls entered the
room. I held my breath and watched them open closet doors and peep
behind large trunks. Some one threw up the curtains, and the room was
filled with sudden light. What caused them to stoop and look under the
bed I do not know. I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by
kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried
downstairs and tied fast in a chair.
I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold
blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of
my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day I was taken from
my mother I had suffered extreme indignities. People had stared at me. I
had been tossed about in the air like a wooden puppet. And now my long
hair was shingled like a coward's! In my anguish I moaned for my mother,
but no one came to comfort me. Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as
my own mother used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals
driven by a herder.
THE SNOW EPISODE.
A short time after our arrival we three Dakotas were playing in the
snowdrift. We were all still deaf to the English language, excepting
Judéwin, who always heard such puzzling things. One morning we learned
through her ears that we were forbidden to fall lengthwise in the snow,
as we had been doing, to see our own impressions. However, before many
hours we had forgotten the order, and were having great sport in the
snow, when a shrill voice called us. Looking up, we saw an imperative
hand beckoning us into the house. We shook the snow off ourselves, and
started toward the woman as slowly as we dared.
Judéwin said: "Now the paleface is angry with us. She is going to punish
us for falling into the snow. If she looks straight into your eyes and
talks loudly, you must wait until she stops. Then, after a tiny pause,
say, 'No.'" The rest of the way we practiced upon the little word "no."
As it happened, Thowin was summoned to judgment first. The door shut
behind her with a click.
Judéwin and I stood silently listening at the keyhole. The paleface
woman talked in very severe tones. Her words fell from her lips like
crackling embers, and her inflection ran up like the small end of a
switch. I understood her voice better than the things she was saying. I
was certain we had made her very impatient with us. Judéwin heard enough
of the words to realize all too late that she had taught us the wrong
"Oh, poor Thowin!" she gasped, as she put both hands over her ears.
Just then I heard Thowin's tremulous answer, "No."
With an angry exclamation, the woman gave her a hard spanking. Then she
stopped to say something. Judéwin said it was this: "Are you going to
obey my word the next time?"
Thowin answered again with the only word at her command, "No."
This time the woman meant her blows to smart, for the poor frightened
girl shrieked at the top of her voice. In the midst of the whipping the
blows ceased abruptly, and the woman asked another question: "Are you
going to fall in the snow again?"
Thowin gave her bad passwood another trial. We heard her say feebly,
With this the woman hid away her half-worn slipper, and led the child
out, stroking her black shorn head. Perhaps it occurred to her that
brute force is not the solution for such a problem. She did nothing to
Judéwin nor to me. She only returned to us our unhappy comrade, and left
us alone in the room.
During the first two or three seasons misunderstandings as ridiculous as
this one of the snow episode frequently took place, bringing
unjustifiable frights and punishments into our little lives.
Within a year I was able to express myself somewhat in broken English.
As soon as I comprehended a part of what was said and done, a
mischievous spirit of revenge possessed me. One day I was called in from
my play for some misconduct. I had disregarded a rule which seemed to me
very needlessly binding. I was sent into the kitchen to mash the turnips
for dinner. It was noon, and steaming dishes were hastily carried into
the dining-room. I hated turnips, and their odor which came from the
brown jar was offensive to me. With fire in my heart, I took the wooden
tool that the paleface woman held out to me. I stood upon a step, and,
grasping the handle with both hands, I bent in hot rage over the
turnips. I worked my vengeance upon them. All were so busily occupied
that no one noticed me. I saw that the turnips were in a pulp, and that
further beating could not improve them; but the order was, "Mash these
turnips," and mash them I would! I renewed my energy; and as I sent the
masher into the bottom of the jar, I felt a satisfying sensation that
the weight of my body had gone into it.
Just here a paleface woman came up to my table. As she looked into the
jar, she shoved my hands roughly aside. I stood fearless and angry. She
placed her red hands upon the rim of the jar. Then she gave one lift and
stride away from the table. But lo! the pulpy contents fell through the
crumbled bottom to the floor I She spared me no scolding phrases that I
had earned. I did not heed them. I felt triumphant in my revenge, though
deep within me I was a wee bit sorry to have broken the jar.
As I sat eating my dinner, and saw that no turnips were served, I
whooped in my heart for having once asserted the rebellion within me.
Among the legends the old warriors used to tell me were many stories of
evil spirits. But I was taught to fear them no more than those who
stalked about in material guise. I never knew there was an insolent
chieftain among the bad spirits, who dared to array his forces against
the Great Spirit, until I heard this white man's legend from a paleface
Out of a large book she showed me a picture of the white man's devil. I
looked in horror upon the strong claws that grew out of his fur-covered
fingers. His feet were like his hands. Trailing at his heels was a scaly
tail tipped with a serpent's open jaws. His face was a patchwork: he had
bearded cheeks, like some I had seen palefaces wear; his nose was an
eagle's bill, and his sharp-pointed ears were pricked up like those of a
sly fox. Above them a pair of cow's horns curved upward. I trembled with
awe, and my heart throbbed in my throat, as I looked at the king of evil
spirits. Then I heard the paleface woman say that this terrible creature
roamed loose in the world, and that little girls who disobeyed school
regulations were to be tortured by him.
That night I dreamt about this evil divinity. Once again I seemed to be
in my mother's cottage. An Indian woman had come to visit my mother. On
opposite sides of the kitchen stove, which stood in the center of the
small house, my mother and her guest were seated in straight-backed
chairs. I played with a train of empty spools hitched together on a
string. It was night, and the wick burned feebly. Suddenly I heard some
one turn our door-knob from without.
My mother and the woman hushed their talk, and both looked toward the
door. It opened gradually. I waited behind the stove. The hinges
squeaked as the door was slowly, very slowly pushed inward.
Then in rushed the devil! He was tall! He looked exactly like the
picture I had seen of him in the white man's papers. He did not speak to
my mother, because he did not know the Indian language, but his
glittering yellow eyes were fastened upon me. He took long strides
around the stove, passing behind the woman's chair. I threw down my
spools, and ran to my mother. He did not fear her, but followed closely
after me. Then I ran round and round the stove, crying aloud for help.
But my mother and the woman seemed not to know my danger. They sat
still, looking quietly upon the devil's chase after me. At last I grew
dizzy. My head revolved as on a hidden pivot. My knees became numb, and
doubled under my weight like a pair of knife blades without a spring.
Beside my mother's chair I fell in a heap. Just as the devil stooped
over me with outstretched claws my mother awoke from her quiet
indifference, and lifted me on her lap. Whereupon the devil vanished,
and I was awake.
On the following morning I took my revenge upon the devil. Stealing into
the room where a wall of shelves was filled with books, I drew forth The
Stories of the Bible. With a broken slate pencil I carried in my apron
pocket, I began by scratching out his wicked eyes. A few moments later,
when I was ready to leave the room, there was a ragged hole in the page
where the picture of the devil had once been.
A loud-clamoring bell awakened us at half-past six in the cold winter
mornings. From happy dreams of Western rolling lands and unlassoed
freedom we tumbled out upon chilly bare floors back again into a
paleface day. We had short time to jump into our shoes and clothes, and
wet our eyes with icy water, before a small hand bell was vigorously
rung for roll call.
There were too many drowsy children and too numerous orders for the day
to waste a moment in any apology to nature for giving her children such
a shock in the early morning. We rushed downstairs, bounding over two
high steps at a time, to land in the assembly room.
A paleface woman, with a yellow-covered roll book open on her arm and a
gnawed pencil in her hand, appeared at the door. Her small, tired face
was coldly lighted with a pair of large gray eyes.
She stood still in a halo of authority, while over the rim of her
spectacles her eyes pried nervously about the room. Having glanced at
her long list of names and called out the first one, she tossed up her
chin and peered through the crystals of her spectacles to make sure of
the answer "Here."
Relentlessly her pencil black-marked our daily records if we were not
present to respond to our names, and no chum of ours had done it
successfully for us. No matter if a dull headache or the painful cough
of slow consumption had delayed the absentee, there was only time enough
to mark the tardiness. It was next to impossible to leave the iron
routine after the civilizing machine had once begun its day's buzzing;
and as it was inbred in me to suffer in silence rather than to appeal to
the ears of one whose open eyes could not see my pain, I have many times
trudged in the day's harness heavy-footed, like a dumb sick brute.
Once I lost a dear classmate. I remember well how she used to mope along
at my side, until one morning she could not raise her head from her
pillow. At her deathbed I stood weeping, as the paleface woman sat near
her moistening the dry lips. Among the folds of the bedclothes I saw
the open pages of the white man's Bible. The dying Indian girl talked
disconnectedly of Jesus the Christ and the paleface who was cooling her
swollen hands and feet.
I grew bitter, and censured the woman for cruel neglect of our physical
ills. I despised the pencils that moved automatically, and the one
teaspoon which dealt out, from a large bottle, healing to a row of
variously ailing Indian children. I blamed the hard-working,
well-meaning, ignorant woman who was inculcating in our hearts her
superstitious ideas. Though I was sullen in all my little troubles, as
soon as I felt better I was ready again to smile upon the cruel woman.
Within a week I was again actively testing the chains which tightly
bound my individuality like a mummy for burial.
The melancholy of those black days has left so long a shadow that it
darkens the path of years that have since gone by. These sad memories
rise above those of smoothly grinding school days. Perhaps my Indian
nature is the moaning wind which stirs them now for their present
record. But, however tempestuous this is within me, it comes out as the
low voice of a curiously colored seashell, which is only for those ears
that are bent with compassion to hear it.
FOUR STRANGE SUMMERS.
After my first three years of school, I roamed again in the Western
country through four strange summers.
During this time I seemed to hang in the heart of chaos, beyond the
touch or voice of human aid. My brother, being almost ten years my
senior, did not quite understand my feelings. My mother had never gone
inside of a schoolhouse, and so she was not capable of comforting her
daughter who could read and write. Even nature seemed to have no place
for me. I was neither a wee girl nor a tall one; neither a wild Indian
nor a tame one. This deplorable situation was the effect of my brief
course in the East, and the unsatisfactory "teenth" in a girl's years.
It was under these trying conditions that, one bright afternoon, as I
sat restless and unhappy in my mother's cabin, I caught the sound of the
spirited step of my brother's pony on the road which passed by our
dwelling. Soon I heard the wheels of a light buckboard, and Dawée's
familiar "Ho!" to his pony. He alighted upon the bare ground in front
of our house. Tying his pony to one of the projecting corner logs of the
low-roofed cottage, he stepped upon the wooden doorstep.
I met him there with a hurried greeting, and, as I passed by, he looked
a quiet "What?" into my eyes.
When he began talking with my mother, I slipped the rope from the pony's
bridle. Seizing the reins and bracing my feet against the dashboard, I
wheeled around in an instant. The pony was ever ready to try his speed.
Looking backward, I saw Dawée waving his hand to me. I turned with the
curve in the road and disappeared. I followed the winding road which
crawled upward between the bases of little hillocks. Deep water-worn
ditches ran parallel on either side. A strong wind blew against my
cheeks and fluttered my sleeves. The pony reached the top of the highest
hill, and began an even race on the level lands. There was nothing
moving within that great circular horizon of the Dakota prairies save
the tall grasses, over which the wind blew and rolled off in long,
Within this vast wigwam of blue and green I rode reckless and
insignificant. It satisfied my small consciousness to see the white foam
fly from the pony's mouth.
Suddenly, out of the earth a coyote came forth at a swinging trot that
was taking the cunning thief toward the hills and the village beyond.
Upon the moment's impulse, I gave him a long chase and a wholesome
fright. As I turned away to go back to the village, the wolf sank down
upon his haunches for rest, for it was a hot summer day; and as I drove
slowly homeward, I saw his sharp nose still pointed at me, until I
vanished below the margin of the hilltops.
In a little while I came in sight of my mother's house. Dawée stood in
the yard, laughing at an old warrior who was pointing his forefinger,
and again waving his whole hand, toward the hills. With his blanket
drawn over one shoulder, he talked and motioned excitedly. Dawée turned
the old man by the shoulder and pointed me out to him.
"Oh, han!" (Oh, yes) the warrior muttered, and went his way. He had
climbed the top of his favorite barren hill to survey the surrounding
prairies, when he spied my chase after the coyote. His keen eyes
recognized the pony and driver. At once uneasy for my safety, he had
come running to my mother's cabin to give her warning. I did not
appreciate his kindly interest, for there was an unrest gnawing at my
As soon as he went away, I asked Dawée about something else.
"No, my baby sister, I cannot take you with me to the party tonight," he
replied. Though I was not far from fifteen, and I felt that before long
I should enjoy all the privileges of my tall cousin, Dawée persisted in
calling me his baby sister.
That moonlight night, I cried in my mother's presence when I heard the
jolly young people pass by our cottage. They were no more young braves
in blankets and eagle plumes, nor Indian maids with prettily painted
cheeks. They had gone three years to school in the East, and had become
civilized. The young men wore the white man's coat and trousers, with
bright neckties. The girls wore tight muslin dresses, with ribbons at
neck and waist. At these gatherings they talked English. I could speak
English almost as well as my brother, but I was not properly dressed to
be taken along. I had no hat, no ribbons, and no close-fitting gown.
Since my return from school I had thrown away my shoes, and wore again
the soft moccasins.
While Dawée was busily preparing to go I controlled my tears. But when I
heard him bounding away on his pony, I buried my face in my arms and
cried hot tears.
My mother was troubled by my unhappiness. Coming to my side, she offered
me the only printed matter we had in our home. It was an Indian Bible,
given her some years ago by a missionary. She tried to console me.
"Here, my child, are the white man's papers. Read a little from them,"
she said most piously.
I took it from her hand, for her sake; but my enraged spirit felt more
like burning the book, which afforded me no help, and was a perfect
delusion to my mother. I did not read it, but laid it unopened on the
floor, where I sat on my feet. The dim yellow light of the braided
muslin burning in a small vessel of oil flickered and sizzled in the
awful silent storm which followed my rejection of the Bible.
Now my wrath against the fates consumed my tears before they reached my
eyes. I sat stony, with a bowed head. My mother threw a shawl over her
head and shoulders, and stepped out into the night.
After an uncertain solitude, I was suddenly aroused by a loud cry
piercing the night. It was my mother's voice wailing among the barren
hills which held the bones of buried warriors. She called aloud for her
brothers' spirits to support her in her helpless misery. My fingers Grey
icy cold, as I realized that my unrestrained tears had betrayed my
suffering to her, and she was grieving for me.
Before she returned, though I knew she was on her way, for she had
ceased her weeping, I extinguished the light, and leaned my head on the
Many schemes of running away from my surroundings hovered about in my
mind. A few more moons of such a turmoil drove me away to the eastern
school. I rode on the white man's iron steed, thinking it would bring me
back to my mother in a few winters, when I should be grown tall, and
there would be congenial friends awaiting me.
INCURRING MY MOTHER'S DISPLEASURE.
In the second journey to the East I had not come without some
precautions. I had a secret interview with one of our best medicine men,
and when I left his wigwam I carried securely in my sleeve a tiny bunch
of magic roots. This possession assured me of friends wherever I should
go. So absolutely did I believe in its charms that I wore it through all
the school routine for more than a year. Then, before I lost my faith in
the dead roots, I lost the little buckskin bag containing all my good
At the close of this second term of three years I was the proud owner of
my first diploma. The following autumn I ventured upon a college career
against my mother's will.
I had written for her approval, but in her reply I found no
encouragement. She called my notice to her neighbors' children, who had
completed their education in three years. They had returned to their
homes, and were then talking English with the frontier settlers. Her few
words hinted that I had better give up my slow attempt to learn the
white man's ways, and be content to roam over the prairies and find my
living upon wild roots. I silenced her by deliberate disobedience.
Thus, homeless and heavy-hearted, I began anew my life among strangers.
As I hid myself in my little room in the college dormitory, away from
the scornful and yet curious eyes of the students, I pined for sympathy.
Often I wept in secret, wishing I had gone West, to be nourished by my
mother's love, instead of remaining among a cold race whose hearts were
frozen hard with prejudice.
During the fall and winter seasons I scarcely had a real friend, though
by that time several of my classmates were courteous to me at a safe
My mother had not yet forgiven my rudeness to her, and I had no moment
for letter-writing. By daylight and lamplight, I spun with reeds and
thistles, until my hands were tired from their weaving, the magic design
which promised me the white man's respect.
At length, in the spring term, I entered an oratorical contest among the
various classes. As the day of competition approached, it did not seem
possible that the event was so near at hand, but it came. In the chapel
the classes assembled together, with their invited guests. The high
platform was carpeted, and gaily festooned with college colors. A bright
white light illumined the room, and outlined clearly the great polished
beams that arched the domed ceiling. The assembled crowds filled the air
with pulsating murmurs. When the hour for speaking arrived all were
hushed. But on the wall the old clock which pointed out the trying
moment ticked calmly on.
One after another I saw and heard the orators. Still, I could not
realize that they longed for the favorable decision of the judges as
much as I did. Each contestant received a loud burst of applause, and
some were cheered heartily. Too soon my turn came, and I paused a moment
behind the curtains for a deep breath. After my concluding words, I
heard the same applause that the others had called out.
Upon my retreating steps, I was astounded to receive from my
fellow-students a large bouquet of roses tied with flowing ribbons.
With the lovely flowers I fled from the stage. This friendly token was
a rebuke to me for the hard feelings I had borne them.
Later, the decision of the judges awarded me the first place. Then there
was a mad uproar in the hall, where my classmates sang and shouted my
name at the top of their lungs; and the disappointed students howled and
brayed in fearfully dissonant tin trumpets. In this excitement, happy
students rushed forward to offer their congratulations. And I could not
conceal a smile when they wished to escort me in a procession to the
students' parlor, where all were going to calm themselves. Thanking them
for the kind spirit which prompted them to make such a proposition, I
walked alone with the night to my own little room.
A few weeks afterward, I appeared as the college representative in
another contest. This time the competition was among orators from
different colleges in our State. It was held at the State capital, in
one of the largest opera houses.
Here again was a strong prejudice against my people. In the evening, as
the great audience filled the house, the student bodies began warring
among themselves. Fortunately, I was spared witnessing any of the noisy
wrangling before the contest began. The slurs against the Indian that
stained the lips of our opponents were already burning like a dry fever
within my breast.
But after the orations were delivered a deeper burn awaited me. There,
before that vast ocean of eyes, some college rowdies threw out a large
white flag, with a drawing of a most forlorn Indian girl on it. Under
this they had printed in bold black letters words that ridiculed the
college which was represented by a "squaw." Such worse than barbarian
rudeness embittered me. While we waited for the verdict of the judges, I
gleamed fiercely upon the throngs of palefaces. My teeth were hard set,
as I saw the white flag still floating insolently in the air.
Then anxiously we watched the man carry toward the stage the envelope
containing the final decision.
There were two prizes given, that night, and one of them was mine!
The evil spirit laughed within me when the white flag dropped out of
sight, and the hands which hurled it hung limp in defeat.
Leaving the crowd as quickly as possible, I was soon in my room. The
rest of the night I sat in an armchair and gazed into the crackling
fire. I laughed no more in triumph when thus alone. The little taste of
victory did not satisfy a hunger in my heart. In my mind I saw my mother
far away on the Western plains, and she was holding a charge against me.
AN INDIAN TEACHER AMONG INDIANS
MY FIRST DAY.
Though an illness left me unable to continue my college course, my pride
kept me from returning to my mother. Had she known of my worn condition,
she would have said the white man's papers were not worth the freedom
and health I had lost by them. Such a rebuke from my mother would have
been unbearable, and as I felt then it would be far too true to be
Since the winter when I had my first dreams about red apples I had been
traveling slowly toward the morning horizon. There had been no doubt
about the direction in which I wished to go to spend my energies in a
work for the Indian race. Thus I had written my mother briefly, saying
my plan for the year was to teach in an Eastern Indian school. Sending
this message to her in the West, I started at once eastward.
Thus I found myself, tired and hot, in a black veiling of car smoke, as
I stood wearily on a street corner of an old-fashioned town, waiting
for a car. In a few moments more I should be on the school grounds,
where a new work was ready for my inexperienced hands.
Upon entering the school campus, I was surprised at the thickly
clustered buildings which made it a quaint little village, much more
interesting than the town itself. The large trees among the houses gave
the place a cool, refreshing shade, and the grass a deeper green. Within
this large court of grass and trees stood a low green pump. The queer
boxlike case had a revolving handle on its side, which clanked and
I made myself known, and was shown to my room,—a small, carpeted room,
with ghastly walls and ceiling. The two windows, both on the same side,
were curtained with heavy muslin yellowed with age. A clean white bed
was in one corner of the room, and opposite it was a square pine table
covered with a black woolen blanket.
Without removing my hat from my head, I seated myself in one of the two
stiff-backed chairs that were placed beside the table. For several heart
throbs I sat still looking from ceiling to floor, from wall to wall,
trying hard to imagine years of contentment there. Even while I was
wondering if my exhausted strength would sustain me through this
undertaking, I heard a heavy tread stop at my door. Opening it, I met
the imposing figure of a stately gray-haired man. With a light straw hat
in one hand, and the right hand extended for greeting, he smiled kindly
upon me. For some reason I was awed by his wondrous height and his
strong square shoulders, which I felt were a finger's length above my
I was always slight, and my serious illness in the early spring had made
me look rather frail and languid. His quick eye measured my height and
breadth. Then he looked into my face. I imagined that a visible shadow
flitted across his countenance as he let my hand fall. I knew he was no
other than my employer.
"Ah ha! so you are the little Indian girl who created the excitement
among the college orators!" he said, more to himself than to me. I
thought I heard a subtle note of disappointment in his voice. Looking in
from where he stood, with one sweeping glance, he asked if I lacked
anything for my room.
After he turned to go, I listened to his step until it grew faint and
was lost in the distance. I was aware that my car-smoked appearance had
not concealed the lines of pain on my face.
For a short moment my spirit laughed at my ill fortune, and I
entertained the idea of exerting myself to make an improvement. But as I
tossed my hat off a leaden weakness came over me, and I felt as if years
of weariness lay like water-soaked logs upon me. I threw myself upon the
bed, and, closing my eyes, forgot my good intention.
A TRIP WESTWARD.
One sultry month I sat at a desk heaped up with work. Now, as I recall
it, I wonder how I could have dared to disregard nature's warning with
such recklessness. Fortunately, my inheritance of a marvelous endurance
enabled me to bend without breaking.
Though I had gone to and fro, from my room to the office, in an unhappy
silence, I was watched by those around me. On an early morning I was
summoned to the superintendent's office. For a half-hour I listened to
his words, and when I returned to my room I remembered one sentence
above the rest. It was this: "I am going to turn you loose to pasture!"
He was sending me West to gather Indian pupils for the school, and this
was his way of expressing it.
I needed nourishment, but the midsummer's travel across the continent to
search the hot prairies for overconfident parents who would entrust
their children to strangers was a lean pasturage. However, I dwelt on
the hope of seeing my mother. I tried to reason that a change was a
rest. Within a couple of days I started toward my mother's home.
The intense heat and the sticky car smoke that followed my homeward
trail did not noticeably restore my vitality. Hour after hour I gazed
upon the country which was receding rapidly from me. I noticed the
gradual expansion of the horizon as we emerged out of the forests into
the plains. The great high buildings, whose towers overlooked the dense
woodlands, and whose gigantic clusters formed large cities, diminished,
together with the groves, until only little log cabins lay snugly in the
bosom of the vast prairie. The cloud shadows which drifted about on the
waving yellow of long-dried grasses thrilled me like the meeting of old
At a small station, consisting of a single frame house with a rickety
board walk around it, I alighted from the iron horse, just thirty miles
from my mother and my brother Dawée. A strong hot wind seemed determined
to blow my hat off, and return me to olden days when I roamed bareheaded
over the hills. After the puffing engine of my train was gone, I stood
on the platform in deep solitude. In the distance I saw the gently
rolling land leap up into bare hills. At their bases a broad gray road
was winding itself round about them until it came by the station. Among
these hills I rode in a light conveyance, with a trusty driver, whose
unkempt flaxen hair hung shaggy about his ears and his leather neck of
reddish tan. From accident or decay he had lost one of his long front
Though I call him a paleface, his cheeks were of a brick red. His moist
blue eyes, blurred and bloodshot, twitched involuntarily. For a long
time he had driven through grass and snow from this solitary station to
the Indian village. His weather-stained clothes fitted badly his warped
shoulders. He was stooped, and his protruding chin, with its tuft of dry
flax, nodded as monotonously as did the head of his faithful beast.
All the morning I looked about me, recognizing old familiar sky lines of
rugged bluffs and round-topped hills. By the roadside I caught glimpses
of various plants whose sweet roots were delicacies among my people.
When I saw the first cone-shaped wigwam, I could not help uttering an
exclamation which caused my driver a sudden jump out of his drowsy
At noon, as we drove through the eastern edge of the reservation, I grew
very impatient and restless. Constantly I wondered what my mother would
say upon seeing her little daughter grown tall. I had not written her
the day of my arrival, thinking I would surprise her. Crossing a ravine
thicketed with low shrubs and plum bushes, we approached a large yellow
acre of wild sunflowers. Just beyond this nature's garden we drew near
to my mother's cottage. Close by the log cabin stood a little
canvas-covered wigwam. The driver stopped in front of the open door, and
in a long moment my mother appeared at the threshold.
I had expected her to run out to greet me, but she stood still, all the
while staring at the weather-beaten man at my side. At length, when her
loftiness became unbearable, I called to her, "Mother, why do you stop?"
This seemed to break the evil moment, and she hastened out to hold my
head against her cheek.
"My daughter, what madness possessed you to bring home such a fellow?"
she asked, pointing at the driver, who was fumbling in his pockets for
change while he held the bill I gave him between his jagged teeth.
"Bring him! Why, no, mother, he has brought me! He is a driver!" I
Upon this revelation, my mother threw her arms about me and apologized
for her mistaken inference. We laughed away the momentary hurt. Then she
built a brisk fire on the ground in the tepee, and hung a blackened
coffeepot on one of the prongs of a forked pole which leaned over the
flames. Placing a pan on a heap of red embers, she baked some unleavened
bread. This light luncheon she brought into the cabin, and arranged on a
table covered with a checkered oilcloth.
My mother had never gone to school, and though she meant always to give
up her own customs for such of the white man's ways as pleased her, she
made only compromises. Her two windows, directly opposite each other,
she curtained with a pink-flowered print. The naked logs were unstained,
and rudely carved with the axe so as to fit into one another. The sod
roof was trying to boast of tiny sunflowers, the seeds of which had
probably been planted by the constant wind. As I leaned my head against
the logs, I discovered the peculiar odor that I could not forget. The
rains had soaked the earth and roof so that the smell of damp clay was
but the natural breath of such a dwelling.
"Mother, why is not your house cemented? Do you have no interest in a
more comfortable shelter?" I asked, when the apparent inconveniences of
her home seemed to suggest indifference on her part.
"You forget, my child, that I am now old, and I do not work with beads
any more. Your brother Dawée, too, has lost his position, and we are
left without means to buy even a morsel of food," she replied.
Dawée was a government clerk in our reservation when I last heard from
him. I was surprised upon hearing what my mother said concerning his
lack of employment. Seeing the puzzled expression on my face, she
continued: "Dawée! Oh, has he not told you that the Great Father at
Washington sent a white son to take your brother's pen from him? Since
then Dawée has not been able to make use of the education the Eastern
school has given him."
I found no words with which to answer satisfactorily. I found no reason
with which to cool my inflamed feelings.
Dawée was a whole day's journey off on the prairie, and my mother did
not expect him until the next day. We were silent.
When, at length, I raised my head to hear more clearly the moaning of
the wind in the corner logs, I noticed the daylight streaming into the
dingy room through several places where the logs fitted unevenly.
Turning to my mother, I urged her to tell me more about Dawée's trouble,
but she only said: "Well, my daughter, this village has been these many
winters a refuge for white robbers. The Indian cannot complain to the
Great Father in Washington without suffering outrage for it here. Dawée
tried to secure justice for our tribe in a small matter, and today you
see the folly of it."
Again, though she stopped to hear what I might say, I was silent.
"My child, there is only one source of justice, and I have been praying
steadfastly to the Great Spirit to avenge our wrongs," she said, seeing
I did not move my lips.
My shattered energy was unable to hold longer any faith, and I cried out
desperately: "Mother, don't pray again! The Great Spirit does not care
if we live or die! Let us not look for good or justice: then we shall
not be disappointed!"
"Sh! my child, do not talk so madly. There is Taku Iyotan Wasaka, to
which I pray," she answered, as she stroked my head again as she used to
do when I was a smaller child.
[Footnote 1: An absolute Power.]
MY MOTHER'S CURSE UPON WHITE SETTLERS.
One black night mother and I sat alone in the dim starlight, in front of
our wigwam. We were facing the river, as we talked about the shrinking
limits of the village. She told me about the poverty-stricken white
settlers, who lived in caves dug in the long ravines of the high hills
across the river.
A whole tribe of broad-footed white beggars had rushed hither to make
claims on those wild lands. Even as she was telling this I spied a small
glimmering light in the bluffs.
"That is a white man's lodge where you see the burning fire," she said.
Then, a short distance from it, only a little lower than the first, was
another light. As I became accustomed to the night, I saw more and more
twinkling lights, here and there, scattered all along the wide black
margin of the river.
Still looking toward the distant firelight, my mother continued: "My
daughter, beware of the paleface. It was the cruel paleface who caused
the death of your sister and your uncle, my brave brother. It is this
same paleface who offers in one palm the holy papers, and with the
other gives a holy baptism of firewater. He is the hypocrite who reads
with one eye, 'Thou shalt not kill,' and with the other gloats upon the
sufferings of the Indian race." Then suddenly discovering a new fire in
the bluffs, she exclaimed, "Well, well, my daughter, there is the light
of another white rascal!"
She sprang to her feet, and, standing firm beside her wigwam, she sent a
curse upon those who sat around the hated white man's light. Raising her
right arm forcibly into line with her eye, she threw her whole might
into her doubled fist as she shot it vehemently at the strangers. Long
she held her outstretched fingers toward the settler's lodge, as if an
invisible power passed from them to the evil at which she aimed.
Leaving my mother, I returned to the school in the East. As months
passed over me, I slowly comprehended that the large army of white
teachers in Indian schools had a larger missionary creed than I had
It was one which included self-preservation quite as much as Indian
education. When I saw an opium-eater holding a position as teacher of
Indians, I did not understand what good was expected, until a Christian
in power replied that this pumpkin-colored creature had a feeble mother
to support. An inebriate paleface sat stupid in a doctor's chair, while
Indian patients carried their ailments to untimely graves, because his
fair wife was dependent upon him for her daily food.
I find it hard to count that white man a teacher who tortured an
ambitious Indian youth by frequently reminding the brave changeling that
he was nothing but a "government pauper."
Though I burned with indignation upon discovering on every side
instances no less shameful than those I have mentioned, there was no
present help. Even the few rare ones who have worked nobly for my race
were powerless to choose workmen like themselves. To be sure, a man was
sent from the Great Father to inspect Indian schools, but what he saw
was usually the students' sample work made for exhibition. I was
nettled by this sly cunning of the workmen who hookwinked the Indian's
pale Father at Washington.
My illness, which prevented the conclusion of my college course,
together with my mother's stories of the encroaching frontier settlers,
left me in no mood to strain my eyes in searching for latent good in my
At this stage of my own evolution, I was ready to curse men of small
capacity for being the dwarfs their God had made them. In the process of
my education I had lost all consciousness of the nature world about me.
Thus, when a hidden rage took me to the small white-walled prison which
I then called my room, I unknowingly turned away from my one salvation.
Alone in my room, I sat like the petrified Indian woman of whom my
mother used to tell me. I wished my heart's burdens would turn me to
unfeeling stone. But alive, in my tomb, I was destitute!
For the white man's papers I had given up my faith in the Great Spirit.
For these same papers I had forgotten the healing in trees and brooks.
On account of my mother's simple view of life, and my lack of any, I
gave her up, also. I made no friends among the race of people I loathed.
Like a slender tree, I had been uprooted from my mother, nature, and
God. I was shorn of my branches, which had waved in sympathy and love
for home and friends. The natural coat of bark which had protected my
oversensitive nature was scraped off to the very quick.
Now a cold bare pole I seemed to be, planted in a strange earth. Still,
I seemed to hope a day would come when my mute aching head, reared
upward to the sky, would flash a zigzag lightning across the heavens.
With this dream of vent for a long-pent consciousness, I walked again
amid the crowds.
At last, one weary day in the schoolroom, a new idea presented itself to
me. It was a new way of solving the problem of my inner self. I liked
it. Thus I resigned my position as teacher; and now I am in an Eastern
city, following the long course of study I have set for myself. Now, as
I look back upon the recent past, I see it from a distance, as a whole.
I remember how, from morning till evening, many specimens of civilized
peoples visited the Indian school. The city folks with canes and
eyeglasses, the countrymen with sunburnt cheeks and clumsy feet, forgot
their relative social ranks in an ignorant curiosity. Both sorts of
these Christian palefaces were alike astounded at seeing the children of
savage warriors so docile and industrious.
As answers to their shallow inquiries they received the students' sample
work to look upon. Examining the neatly figured pages, and gazing upon
the Indian girls and boys bending over their books, the white visitors
walked out of the schoolhouse well satisfied: they were educating the
children of the red man! They were paying a liberal fee to the
government employees in whose able hands lay the small forest of Indian
In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during
the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North
American Indian. But few there are who have paused to question whether
real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of
THE GREAT SPIRIT
When the spirit swells my breast I love to roam leisurely among the
green hills; or sometimes, sitting on the brink of the murmuring
Missouri, I marvel at the great blue overhead. With half-closed eyes I
watch the huge cloud shadows in their noiseless play upon the high
bluffs opposite me, while into my ear ripple the sweet, soft cadences of
the river's song. Folded hands lie in my lap, for the time forgot. My
heart and I lie small upon the earth like a grain of throbbing sand.
Drifting clouds and tinkling waters, together with the warmth of a
genial summer day, bespeak with eloquence the loving Mystery round about
us. During the idle while I sat upon the sunny river brink, I grew
somewhat, though my response be not so clearly manifest as in the green
grass fringing the edge of the high bluff back of me.
At length retracing the uncertain footpath scaling the precipitous
embankment, I seek the level lands where grow the wild prairie flowers.
And they, the lovely little folk, soothe my soul with their perfumed
Their quaint round faces of varied hue convince the heart which leaps
with glad surprise that they, too, are living symbols of omnipotent
thought. With a child's eager eye I drink in the myriad star shapes
wrought in luxuriant color upon the green. Beautiful is the spiritual
essence they embody.
I leave them nodding in the breeze, but take along with me their impress
upon my heart. I pause to rest me upon a rock embedded on the side of a
foothill facing the low river bottom. Here the Stone-Boy, of whom the
American aborigine tells, frolics about, shooting his baby arrows and
shouting aloud with glee at the tiny shafts of lightning that flash from
the flying arrow-beaks. What an ideal warrior he became, baffling the
siege of the pests of all the land till he triumphed over their united
attack. And here he lay—Inyan our great-great-grandfather, older than
the hill he rested on, older than the race of men who love to tell of
his wonderful career.
Interwoven with the thread of this Indian legend of the rock, I fain
would trace a subtle knowledge of the native folk which enabled them to
recognize a kinship to any and all parts of this vast universe. By the
leading of an ancient trail I move toward the Indian village.
With the strong, happy sense that both great and small are so surely
enfolded in His magnitude that, without a miss, each has his allotted
individual ground of opportunities, I am buoyant with good nature.
Yellow Breast, swaying upon the slender stem of a wild sunflower,
warbles a sweet assurance of this as I pass near by. Breaking off the
clear crystal song, he turns his wee head from side to side eyeing me
wisely as slowly I plod with moccasined feet. Then again he yields
himself to his song of joy. Flit, flit hither and yon, he fills the
summer sky with his swift, sweet melody. And truly does it seem his
vigorous freedom lies more in his little spirit than in his wing.
With these thoughts I reach the log cabin whither I am strongly drawn by
the tie of a child to an aged mother. Out bounds my four-footed friend
to meet me, frisking about my path with unmistakable delight. Chän is a
black shaggy dog, "a thoroughbred little mongrel" of whom I am very
fond. Chän seems to understand many words in Sioux, and will go to her
mat even when I whisper the word, though generally I think she is guided
by the tone of the voice. Often she tries to imitate the sliding
inflection and long-drawn-out voice to the amusement of our guests, but
her articulation is quite beyond my ear. In both my hands I hold her
shaggy head and gaze into her large brown eyes. At once the dilated
pupils contract into tiny black dots, as if the roguish spirit within
would evade my questioning.
Finally resuming the chair at my desk I feel in keen sympathy with my
fellow-creatures, for I seem to see clearly again that all are akin. The
racial lines, which once were bitterly real, now serve nothing more than
marking out a living mosaic of human beings. And even here men of the
same color are like the ivory keys of one instrument where each
resembles all the rest, yet varies from them in pitch and quality of
voice. And those creatures who are for a time mere echoes of another's
note are not unlike the fable of the thin sick man whose distorted
shadow, dressed like a real creature, came to the old master to make him
follow as a shadow. Thus with a compassion for all echoes in human
guise, I greet the solemn-faced "native preacher" whom I find awaiting
me. I listen with respect for God's creature, though he mouth most
strangely the jangling phrases of a bigoted creed.
As our tribe is one large family, where every person is related to all
the others, he addressed me:—
"Cousin, I came from the morning church service to talk with you."
"Yes?" I said interrogatively, as he paused for some word from me.
Shifting uneasily about in the straight-backed chair he sat upon, he
began: "Every holy day (Sunday) I look about our little God's house, and
not seeing you there, I am disappointed. This is why I come today.
Cousin, as I watch you from afar, I see no unbecoming behavior and hear
only good reports of you, which all the more burns me with the wish that
you were a church member. Cousin, I was taught long years ago by kind
missionaries to read the holy book. These godly men taught me also the
folly of our old beliefs.
"There is one God who gives reward or punishment to the race of dead
men. In the upper region the Christian dead are gathered in unceasing
song and prayer. In the deep pit below, the sinful ones dance in
"Think upon these things, my cousin, and choose now to avoid the
after-doom of hell fire!" Then followed a long silence in which he
clasped tighter and unclasped again his interlocked fingers.
Like instantaneous lightning flashes came pictures of my own mother's
making, for she, too, is now a follower of the new superstition.
"Knocking out the chinking of our log cabin, some evil hand thrust in a
burning taper of braided dry grass, but failed of his intent, for the
fire died out and the half-burned brand fell inward to the floor.
Directly above it, on a shelf, lay the holy book. This is what we found
after our return from a several days' visit. Surely some great power is
hid in the sacred book!"
Brushing away from my eyes many like pictures, I offered midday meal to
the converted Indian sitting wordless and with downcast face. No sooner
had he risen from the table with "Cousin, I have relished it," than the
church bell rang.
Thither he hurried forth with his afternoon sermon. I watched him as he
hastened along, his eyes bent fast upon the dusty road till he
disappeared at the end of a quarter of a mile.
The little incident recalled to mind the copy of a missionary paper
brought to my notice a few days ago, in which a "Christian" pugilist
commented upon a recent article of mine, grossly perverting the spirit
of my pen. Still I would not forget that the pale-faced missionary and
the hoodooed aborigine are both God's creatures, though small indeed
their own conceptions of Infinite Love. A wee child toddling in a wonder
world, I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens
where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds,
the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers.
Here, in a fleeting quiet, I am awakened by the fluttering robe of the
Great Spirit. To my innermost consciousness the phenomenal universe is a
royal mantle, vibrating with His divine breath. Caught in its flowing
fringes are the spangles and oscillating brilliants of sun, moon, and
THE SOFT-HEARTED SIOUX
Beside the open fire I sat within our tepee. With my red blanket wrapped
tightly about my crossed legs, I was thinking of the coming season, my
sixteenth winter. On either side of the wigwam were my parents. My
father was whistling a tune between his teeth while polishing with his
bare hand a red stone pipe he had recently carved. Almost in front of
me, beyond the center fire, my old grandmother sat near the entranceway.
She turned her face toward her right and addressed most of her words to
my mother. Now and then she spoke to me, but never did she allow her
eyes to rest upon her daughter's husband, my father. It was only upon
rare occasions that my grandmother said anything to him. Thus his ears
were open and ready to catch the smallest wish she might express.
Sometimes when my grandmother had been saying things which pleased him,
my father used to comment upon them. At other times, when he could not
approve of what was spoken, he used to work or smoke silently.
On this night my old grandmother began her talk about me. Filling the
bowl of her red stone pipe with dry willow bark, she looked across at
"My grandchild, you are tall and are no longer a little boy." Narrowing
her old eyes, she asked, "My grandchild, when are you going to bring
here a handsome young woman?" I stared into the fire rather than meet
her gaze. Waiting for my answer, she stooped forward and through the
long stem drew a flame into the red stone pipe.
I smiled while my eyes were still fixed upon the bright fire, but I said
nothing in reply. Turning to my mother, she offered her the pipe. I
glanced at my grandmother. The loose buckskin sleeve fell off at her
elbow and showed a wrist covered with silver bracelets. Holding up the
fingers of her left hand, she named off the desirable young women of our
"Which one, my grandchild, which one?" she questioned.
"Hoh!" I said, pulling at my blanket in confusion. "Not yet!" Here my
mother passed the pipe over the fire to my father. Then she, too, began
speaking of what I should do.
"My son, be always active. Do not dislike a long hunt. Learn to provide
much buffalo meat and many buckskins before you bring home a wife."
Presently my father gave the pipe to my grandmother, and he took his
turn in the exhortations.
"Ho, my son, I have been counting in my heart the bravest warriors of
our people. There is not one of them who won his title in his sixteenth
winter. My son, it is a great thing for some brave of sixteen winters to
Not a word had I to give in answer. I knew well the fame of my warrior
father. He had earned the right of speaking such words, though even he
himself was a brave only at my age. Refusing to smoke my grandmother's
pipe because my heart was too much stirred by their words, and sorely
troubled with a fear lest I should disappoint them, I arose to go.
Drawing my blanket over my shoulders, I said, as I stepped toward the
entranceway: "I go to hobble my pony. It is now late in the night."
Nine winters' snows had buried deep that night when my old grandmother,
together with my father and mother, designed my future with the glow of
a camp fire upon it.
Yet I did not grow up the warrior, huntsman, and husband I was to have
been. At the mission school I learned it was wrong to kill. Nine winters
I hunted for the soft heart of Christ, and prayed for the huntsmen who
chased the buffalo on the plains.
In the autumn of the tenth year I was sent back to my tribe to preach
Christianity to them. With the white man's Bible in my hand, and the
white man's tender heart in my breast, I returned to my own people.
Wearing a foreigner's dress, I walked, a stranger, into my father's
Asking my way, for I had not forgotten my native tongue, an old man led
me toward the tepee where my father lay. From my old companion I learned
that my father had been sick many moons. As we drew near the tepee, I
heard the chanting of a medicine-man within it. At once I wished to
enter in and drive from my home the sorcerer of the plains, but the old
warrior checked me. "Ho, wait outside until the medicine-man leaves your
father," he said. While talking he scanned me from head to feet. Then he
retraced his steps toward the heart of the camping-ground.
My father's dwelling was on the outer limits of the round-faced village.
With every heartthrob I grew more impatient to enter the wigwam.
While I turned the leaves of my Bible with nervous fingers, the
medicine-man came forth from the dwelling and walked hurriedly away. His
head and face were closely covered with the loose robe which draped his
He was tall and large. His long strides I have never forgot. They seemed
to me then the uncanny gait of eternal death. Quickly pocketing my
Bible, I went into the tepee.
Upon a mat lay my father, with furrowed face and gray hair. His eyes and
cheeks were sunken far into his head. His sallow skin lay thin upon his
pinched nose and high cheekbones. Stooping over him, I took his fevered
hand. "How, Ate?" I greeted him. A light flashed from his listless eyes
and his dried lips parted. "My son!" he murmured, in a feeble voice.
Then again the wave of joy and recognition receded. He closed his eyes,
and his hand dropped from my open palm to the ground.
Looking about, I saw an old woman sitting with bowed head. Shaking hands
with her, I recognized my mother. I sat down between my father and
mother as I used to do, but I did not feel at home. The place where my
old grandmother used to sit was now unoccupied. With my mother I bowed
my head. Alike our throats were choked and tears were streaming from our
eyes; but far apart in spirit our ideas and faiths separated us. My
grief was for the soul unsaved; and I thought my mother wept to see a
brave man's body broken by sickness.
Useless was my attempt to change the faith in the medicine-man to that
abstract power named God. Then one day I became righteously mad with
anger that the medicine-man should thus ensnare my father's soul. And
when he came to chant his sacred songs I pointed toward the door and
bade him go! The man's eyes glared upon me for an instant. Slowly
gathering his robe about him, he turned his back upon the sick man and
stepped out of our wigwam. "Ha, ha, ha! my son, I can not live without
the medicine-man!" I heard my father cry when the sacred man was gone.
On a bright day, when the winged seeds of the prairie-grass were flying
hither and thither, I walked solemnly toward the centre of the
camping-ground. My heart beat hard and irregularly at my side. Tighter I
grasped the sacred book I carried under my arm. Now was the beginning of
Though I knew it would be hard, I did not once feel that failure was to
be my reward. As I stepped unevenly on the rolling ground, I thought of
the warriors soon to wash off their war-paints and follow me.
At length I reached the place where the people had assembled to hear me
preach. In a large circle men and women sat upon the dry red grass.
Within the ring I stood, with the white man's Bible in my hand. I tried
to tell them of the soft heart of Christ.
In silence the vast circle of bareheaded warriors sat under an afternoon
sun. At last, wiping the wet from my brow, I took my place in the ring.
The hush of the assembly filled me with great hope.
I was turning my thoughts upward to the sky in gratitude, when a stir
called me to earth again.
A tall, strong man arose. His loose robe hung in folds over his right
shoulder. A pair of snapping black eyes fastened themselves like the
poisonous fangs of a serpent upon me. He was the medicine-man. A tremor
played about my heart and a chill cooled the fire in my veins.
Scornfully he pointed a long forefinger in my direction and asked:
"What loyal son is he who, returning to his father's people, wears a
foreigner's dress?" He paused a moment, and then continued: "The dress
of that foreigner of whom a story says he bound a native of our land,
and heaping dry sticks around him, kindled a fire at his feet!" Waving
his hand toward me, he exclaimed, "Here is the traitor to his people!"
I was helpless. Before the eyes of the crowd the cunning magician turned
my honest heart into a vile nest of treachery. Alas! the people frowned
as they looked upon me.
"Listen!" he went on. "Which one of you who have eyed the young man can
see through his bosom and warn the people of the nest of young snakes
hatching there? Whose ear was so acute that he caught the hissing of
snakes whenever the young man opened his mouth? This one has not only
proven false to you, but even to the Great Spirit who made him. He is a
fool! Why do you sit here giving ear to a foolish man who could not
defend his people because he fears to kill, who could not bring venison
to renew the life of his sick father? With his prayers, let him drive
away the enemy! With his soft heart, let him keep off starvation! We
shall go elsewhere to dwell upon an untainted ground."
With this he disbanded the people. When the sun lowered in the west and
the winds were quiet, the village of cone-shaped tepees was gone. The
medicine-man had won the hearts of the people.
Only my father's dwelling was left to mark the fighting-ground.
From a long night at my father's bedside I came out to look upon the
morning. The yellow sun hung equally between the snow-covered land and
the cloudless blue sky. The light of the new day was cold. The strong
breath of winter crusted the snow and fitted crystal shells over the
rivers and lakes. As I stood in front of the tepee, thinking of the vast
prairies which separated us from our tribe, and wondering if the high
sky likewise separated the soft-hearted Son of God from us, the icy
blast from the North blew through my hair and skull. My neglected hair
had grown long and fell upon my neck.
My father had not risen from his bed since the day the medicine-man led
the people away. Though I read from the Bible and prayed beside him upon
my knees, my father would not listen. Yet I believed my prayers were not
unheeded in heaven.
"Ha, ha, ha! my son," my father groaned upon the first snowfall. "My
son, our food is gone. There is no one to bring me meat! My son, your
soft heart has unfitted you for everything!" Then covering his face
with the buffalo-robe, he said no more. Now while I stood out in that
cold winter morning, I was starving. For two days I had not seen any
food. But my own cold and hunger did not harass my soul as did the
whining cry of the sick old man.
Stepping again into the tepee, I untied my snow-shoes, which were
fastened to the tent-poles.
My poor mother, watching by the sick one, and faithfully heaping wood
upon the centre fire, spoke to me:
"My son, do not fail again to bring your father meat, or he will starve
"How, Ina," I answered, sorrowfully. From the tepee I started forth
again to hunt food for my aged parents. All day I tracked the white
level lands in vain. Nowhere, nowhere were there any other footprints
but my own! In the evening of this third fast-day I came back without
meat. Only a bundle of sticks for the fire I brought on my back.
Dropping the wood outside, I lifted the door-flap and set one foot
within the tepee.
There I grew dizzy and numb. My eyes swam in tears. Before me lay my
old gray-haired father sobbing like a child. In his horny hands he
clutched the buffalo-robe, and with his teeth he was gnawing off the
edges. Chewing the dry stiff hair and buffalo-skin, my father's eyes
sought my hands. Upon seeing them empty, he cried out:
"My son, your soft heart will let me starve before you bring me meat!
Two hills eastward stand a herd of cattle. Yet you will see me die
before you bring me food!"
Leaving my mother lying with covered head upon her mat, I rushed out
into the night.
With a strange warmth in my heart and swiftness in my feet, I climbed
over the first hill, and soon the second one. The moonlight upon the
white country showed me a clear path to the white man's cattle. With my
hand upon the knife in my belt, I leaned heavily against the fence while
counting the herd.
Twenty in all I numbered. From among them I chose the best-fattened
creature. Leaping over the fence, I plunged my knife into it.
My long knife was sharp, and my hands, no more fearful and slow, slashed
off choice chunks of warm flesh. Bending under the meat I had taken for
my starving father, I hurried across the prairie.
Toward home I fairly ran with the life-giving food I carried upon my
back. Hardly had I climbed the second hill when I heard sounds coming
after me. Faster and faster I ran with my load for my father, but the
sounds were gaining upon me. I heard the clicking of snowshoes and the
squeaking of the leather straps at my heels; yet I did not turn to see
what pursued me, for I was intent upon reaching my father. Suddenly like
thunder an angry voice shouted curses and threats into my ear! A rough
hand wrenched my shoulder and took the meat from me! I stopped
struggling to run. A deafening whir filled my head. The moon and stars
began to move. Now the white prairie was sky, and the stars lay under my
feet. Now again they were turning. At last the starry blue rose up into
place. The noise in my ears was still. A great quiet filled the air. In
my hand I found my long knife dripping with blood. At my feet a man's
figure lay prone in blood-red snow. The horrible scene about me seemed a
trick of my senses, for I could not understand it was real. Looking
long upon the blood-stained snow, the load of meat for my starving
father reached my recognition at last. Quickly I tossed it over my
shoulder and started again homeward.
Tired and haunted I reached the door of the wigwam. Carrying the food
before me, I entered with it into the tepee.
"Father, here is food!" I cried, as I dropped the meat near my mother.
No answer came. Turning about, I beheld my gray-haired father dead! I
saw by the unsteady firelight an old gray-haired skeleton lying rigid
Out into the open I started, but the snow at my feet became bloody.
On the day after my father's death, having led my mother to the camp of
the medicineman, I gave myself up to those who were searching for the
murderer of the paleface.
They bound me hand and foot. Here in this cell I was placed four days
The shrieking winter winds have followed me hither. Rattling the bars,
they howl unceasingly: "Your soft heart! your soft heart will see me die
before you bring me food!" Hark! something is clanking the chain on the
door. It is being opened. From the dark night without a black figure
crosses the threshold. * * * It is the guard. He comes to warn me of my
fate. He tells me that tomorrow I must die. In his stern face I laugh
aloud. I do not fear death.
Yet I wonder who shall come to welcome me in the realm of strange sight.
Will the loving Jesus grant me pardon and give my soul a soothing sleep?
or will my warrior father greet me and receive me as his son? Will my
spirit fly upward to a happy heaven? or shall I sink into the
bottomless pit, an outcast from a God of infinite love?
Soon, soon I shall know, for now I see the east is growing red. My heart
is strong. My face is calm. My eyes are dry and eager for new scenes. My
hands hang quietly at my side. Serene and brave, my soul awaits the men
to perch me on the gallows for another flight. I go.
THE TRIAL PATH
It was an autumn night on the plain. The smoke-lapels of the cone-shaped
tepee flapped gently in the breeze. From the low night sky, with its
myriad fire points, a large bright star peeped in at the smoke-hole of
the wigwam between its fluttering lapels, down upon two Dakotas talking
in the dark. The mellow stream from the star above, a maid of twenty
summers, on a bed of sweetgrass, drank in with her wakeful eyes. On the
opposite side of the tepee, beyond the centre fireplace, the grandmother
spread her rug. Though once she had lain down, the telling of a story
has aroused her to a sitting posture.
Her eyes are tight closed. With a thin palm she strokes her wind-shorn
"Yes, my grandchild, the legend says the large bright stars are wise old
warriors, and the small dim ones are handsome young braves," she
reiterates, in a high, tremulous voice.
"Then this one peeping in at the smoke-hole yonder is my dear old
grandfather," muses the young woman, in long-drawn-out words.
Her soft rich voice floats through the darkness within the tepee, over
the cold ashes heaped on the centre fire, and passes into the ear of the
toothless old woman, who sits dumb in silent reverie. Thence it flies on
swifter wing over many winter snows, till at last it cleaves the warm
light atmosphere of her grandfather's youth. From there her grandmother
"Listen! I am young again. It is the day of your grandfather's death.
The elder one, I mean, for there were two of them. They were like twins,
though they were not brothers. They were friends, inseparable! All
things, good and bad, they shared together, save one, which made them
mad. In that heated frenzy the younger man slew his most intimate
friend. He killed his elder brother, for long had their affection made
The voice of the old woman broke. Swaying her stooped shoulders to and
fro as she sat upon her feet, she muttered vain exclamations beneath her
breath. Her eyes, closed tight against the night, beheld behind them the
light of bygone days. They saw again a rolling black cloud spread itself
over the land. Her ear heard the deep rumbling of a tempest in the
west. She bent low a cowering head, while angry thunder-birds shrieked
across the sky. "Heyã! heyã!" (No! no!) groaned the toothless
grandmother at the fury she had awakened. But the glorious peace
afterward, when yellow sunshine made the people glad, now lured her
memory onward through the storm.
"How fast, how loud my heart beats as I listen to the messenger's
horrible tale!" she ejaculates. "From the fresh grave of the murdered
man he hurried to our wigwam. Deliberately crossing his bare shins, he
sat down unbidden beside my father, smoking a long-stemmed pipe. He had
scarce caught his breath when, panting, he began:
"'He was an only son, and a much-adored brother.'
"With wild, suspecting eyes he glanced at me as if I were in league with
the man-killer, my lover. My father, exhaling sweet-scented smoke,
assented—'How,' Then interrupting the 'Eya' on the lips of the
round-eyed talebearer, he asked, 'My friend, will you smoke?' He took
the pipe by its red-stone bowl, and pointed the long slender stem
toward the man. 'Yes, yes, my friend,' replied he, and reached out a
long brown arm.
"For many heart-throbs he puffed out the blue smoke, which hung like a
cloud between us. But even through the smoke-mist I saw his sharp black
eyes glittering toward me. I longed to ask what doom awaited the young
murderer, but dared not open my lips, lest I burst forth into screams
instead. My father plied the question. Returning the pipe, the man
replied: 'Oh, the chieftain and his chosen men have had counsel
together. They have agreed it is not safe to allow a man-killer loose in
our midst. He who kills one of our tribe is an enemy, and must suffer
the fate of a foe.'
"My temples throbbed like a pair of hearts!
"While I listened, a crier passed by my father's tepee. Mounted, and
swaying with his pony's steps, he proclaimed in a loud voice these words
(hark! I hear them now!): "Ho-po! Give ear, all you people. A terrible
deed is done. Two friends—ay, brothers in heart—have quarreled
together. Now one lies buried on the hill, while the other sits, a
dreaded man-killer, within his dwelling." Says our chieftain: "He who
kills one of our tribe commits the offense of an enemy. As such he must
be tried. Let the father of the dead man choose the mode of torture or
taking of life. He has suffered livid pain, and he alone can judge how
great the punishment must be to avenge his wrong." It is done.
"'Come, every one, to witness the judgment of a father upon him who was
once his son's best friend. A wild pony is now lassoed. The man-killer
must mount and ride the ranting beast. Stand you all in two parallel
lines from the centre tepee of the bereaved family to the wigwam
opposite in the great outer ring. Between you, in the wide space, is the
given trial-way. From the outer circle the rider must mount and guide
his pony toward the centre tepee. If, having gone the entire distance,
the man-killer gains the centre tepee still sitting on the pony's back,
his life is spared and pardon given. But should he fall, then he himself
has chosen death.'
"The crier's words now cease. A lull holds the village breathless. Then
hurrying feet tear along, swish, swish, through the tall grass. Sobbing
women hasten toward the trialway. The muffled groan of the round
camp-ground is unbearable. With my face hid in the folds of my blanket,
I run with the crowd toward the open place in the outer circle of our
village. In a moment the two long files of solemn-faced people mark the
path of the public trial. Ah! I see strong men trying to lead the
lassoed pony, pitching and rearing, with white foam flying from his
mouth. I choke with pain as I recognize my handsome lover desolately
alone, striding with set face toward the lassoed pony. 'Do not fall!
Choose life and me!' I cry in my breast, but over my lips I hold my
"In an instant he has leaped astride the frightened beast, and the men
have let go their hold. Like an arrow sprung from a strong bow, the
pony, with extended nostrils, plunges halfway to the centre tepee. With
all his might the rider draws the strong reins in. The pony halts with
wooden legs. The rider is thrown forward by force, but does not fall.
Now the maddened creature pitches, with flying heels. The line of men
and women sways outward. Now it is back in place, safe from the kicking,
"The pony is fierce, with its large black eyes bulging out of their
sockets. With humped back and nose to the ground, it leaps into the air.
I shut my eyes. I can not see him fall.
"A loud shout goes up from the hoarse throats of men and women. I look.
So! The wild horse is conquered. My lover dismounts at the doorway of
the centre wigwam. The pony, wet with sweat and shaking with exhaustion,
stands like a guilty dog at his master's side. Here at the entranceway
of the tepee sit the bereaved father, mother, and sister. The old
warrior father rises. Stepping forward two long strides, he grasps the
hand of the murderer of his only son. Holding it so the people can see,
he cries, with compassionate voice, 'My son!' A murmur of surprise
sweeps like a puff of sudden wind along the lines.
"The mother, with swollen eyes, with her hair cut square with her
shoulders, now rises. Hurrying to the young man, she takes his right
hand. 'My son!' she greets him. But on the second word her voice shook,
and she turned away in sobs.
"The young people rivet their eyes upon the young woman. She does not
stir. With bowed head, she sits motionless. The old warrior speaks to
her. 'Shake hands with the young brave, my little daughter. He was your
brother's friend for many years. Now he must be both friend and brother
"Hereupon the girl rises. Slowly reaching out her slender hand, she
cries, with twitching lips, 'My brother!' The trial ends."
"Grandmother!" exploded the girl on the bed of sweet-grass. "Is this
"Tosh!" answered the grandmother, with a warmth in her voice. "It is all
true. During the fifteen winters of our wedded life many ponies passed
from our hands, but this little winner, Ohiyesa, was a constant member
of our family. At length, on that sad day your grandfather died, Ohiyesa
was killed at the grave."
Though the various groups of stars which move across the sky, marking
the passing of time, told how the night was in its zenith, the old
Dakota woman ventured an explanation of the burial ceremony.
"My grandchild, I have scarce ever breathed the sacred knowledge in my
heart. Tonight I must tell you one of them. Surely you are old enough
"Our wise medicine-man said I did well to hasten Ohiyesa after his
master. Perchance on the journey along the ghostpath your grandfather
will weary, and in his heart wish for his pony. The creature, already
bound on the spirit-trail, will be drawn by that subtle wish. Together
master and beast will enter the next camp-ground."
The woman ceased her talking. But only the deep breathing of the girl
broke the quiet, for now the night wind had lulled itself to sleep.
"Hinnu! hinnu! Asleep! I have been talking in the dark, unheard. I did
wish the girl would plant in her heart this sacred tale," muttered she,
in a querulous voice.
Nestling into her bed of sweet-scented grass, she dozed away into
another dream. Still the guardian star in the night sky beamed
compassionately down upon the little tepee on the plain.
A WARRIOR'S DAUGHTER
In the afternoon shadow of a large tepee, with red-painted smoke lapels,
sat a warrior father with crossed shins. His head was so poised that his
eye swept easily the vast level land to the eastern horizon line.
He was the chieftain's bravest warrior. He had won by heroic deeds the
privilege of staking his wigwam within the great circle of tepees.
He was also one of the most generous gift givers to the toothless old
people. For this he was entitled to the red-painted smoke lapels on his
cone-shaped dwelling. He was proud of his honors. He never wearied of
rehearsing nightly his own brave deeds. Though by wigwam fires he prated
much of his high rank and widespread fame, his great joy was a wee
black-eyed daughter of eight sturdy winters. Thus as he sat upon the
soft grass, with his wife at his side, bent over her bead work, he was
singing a dance song, and beat lightly the rhythm with his slender
His shrewd eyes softened with pleasure as he watched the easy movements
of the small body dancing on the green before him.
Tusee is taking her first dancing lesson. Her tightly-braided hair
curves over both brown ears like a pair of crooked little horns which
glisten in the summer sun.
With her snugly moccasined feet close together, and a wee hand at her
belt to stay the long string of beads which hang from her bare neck, she
bends her knees gently to the rhythm of her father's voice.
Now she ventures upon the earnest movement, slightly upward and
sidewise, in a circle. At length the song drops into a closing cadence,
and the little woman, clad in beaded deerskin, sits down beside the
elder one. Like her mother, she sits upon her feet. In a brief moment
the warrior repeats the last refrain. Again Tusee springs to her feet
and dances to the swing of the few final measures.
Just as the dance was finished, an elderly man, with short, thick hair
loose about his square shoulders, rode into their presence from the
rear, and leaped lightly from his pony's back. Dropping the rawhide rein
to the ground, he tossed himself lazily on the grass. "Hunhe, you have
returned soon," said the warrior, while extending a hand to his little
Quickly the child ran to her father's side and cuddled close to him,
while he tenderly placed a strong arm about her. Both father and child,
eyeing the figure on the grass, waited to hear the man's report.
"It is true," began the man, with a stranger's accent. "This is the
night of the dance."
"Hunha!" muttered the warrior with some surprise.
Propping himself upon his elbows, the man raised his face. His features
were of the Southern type. From an enemy's camp he was taken captive
long years ago by Tusee's father. But the unusual qualities of the slave
had won the Sioux warrior's heart, and for the last three winters the
man had had his freedom. He was made real man again. His hair was
allowed to grow. However, he himself had chosen to stay in the warrior's
"Hunha!" again ejaculated the warrior father. Then turning to his little
daughter, he asked, "Tusee, do you hear that?"
"Yes, father, and I am going to dance tonight!"
With these words she bounded out of his arm and frolicked about in glee.
Hereupon the proud mother's voice rang out in a chiding laugh.
"My child, in honor of your first dance your father must give a generous
gift. His ponies are wild, and roam beyond the great hill. Pray, what
has he fit to offer?" she questioned, the pair of puzzled eyes fixed
"A pony from the herd, mother, a fleet-footed pony from the herd!" Tusee
shouted with sudden inspiration.
Pointing a small forefinger toward the man lying on the grass, she
cried, "Uncle, you will go after the pony tomorrow!" And pleased with
her solution of the problem, she skipped wildly about. Her childish
faith in her elders was not conditioned by a knowledge of human
limitations, but thought all things possible to grown-ups.
"Hähob!" exclaimed the mother, with a rising inflection, implying by the
expletive that her child's buoyant spirit be not weighted with a denial.
Quickly to the hard request the man replied, "How! I go if Tusee tells
This delighted the little one, whose black eyes brimmed over with light.
Standing in front of the strong man, she clapped her small, brown hands
"That makes me glad! My heart is good! Go, uncle, and bring a handsome
pony!" she cried. In an instant she would have frisked away, but an
impulse held her tilting where she stood. In the man's own tongue, for
he had taught her many words and phrases, she exploded, "Thank you, good
uncle, thank you!" then tore away from sheer excess of glee.
The proud warrior father, smiling and narrowing his eyes, muttered
approval, "Howo! Hechetu!"
Like her mother, Tusee has finely pencilled eyebrows and slightly
extended nostrils; but in her sturdiness of form she resembles her
A loyal daughter, she sits within her tepee making beaded deerskins for
her father, while he longs to stave off her every suitor as all unworthy
of his old heart's pride. But Tusee is not alone in her dwelling. Near
the entrance-way a young brave is half reclining on a mat. In silence he
watches the petals of a wild rose growing on the soft buckskin. Quickly
the young woman slips the beads on the silvery sinew thread, and works
them into the pretty flower design. Finally, in a low, deep voice, the
young man begins:
"The sun is far past the zenith. It is now only a man's height above the
western edge of land. I hurried hither to tell you tomorrow I join the
He pauses for reply, but the maid's head drops lower over her deerskin,
and her lips are more firmly drawn together. He continues:
"Last night in the moonlight I met your warrior father. He seemed to
know I had just stepped forth from your tepee. I fear he did not like
it, for though I greeted him, he was silent. I halted in his pathway.
With what boldness I dared, while my heart was beating hard and fast, I
asked him for his only daughter.
"Drawing himself erect to his tallest height, and gathering his loose
robe more closely about his proud figure, he flashed a pair of piercing
eyes upon me.
"'Young man,' said he, with a cold, slow voice that chilled me to the
marrow of my bones, 'hear me. Naught but an enemy's scalp-lock, plucked
fresh with your own hand, will buy Tusee for your wife,' Then he turned
on his heel and stalked away."
Tusee thrusts her work aside. With earnest eyes she scans her lover's
"My father's heart is really kind. He would know if you are brave and
true," murmured the daughter, who wished no ill-will between her two
Then rising to go, the youth holds out a right hand. "Grasp my hand once
firmly before I go, Hoye. Pray tell me, will you wait and watch for my
Tusee only nods assent, for mere words are vain.
At early dawn the round camp-ground awakes into song. Men and women sing
of bravery and of triumph. They inspire the swelling breasts of the
painted warriors mounted on prancing ponies bedecked with the green
branches of trees.
Riding slowly around the great ring of cone-shaped tepees, here and
there, a loud-singing warrior swears to avenge a former wrong, and
thrusts a bare brown arm against the purple east, calling the Great
Spirit to hear his vow. All having made the circuit, the singing war
party gallops away southward.
Astride their ponies laden with food and deerskins, brave elderly women
follow after their warriors. Among the foremost rides a young woman in
elaborately beaded buckskin dress. Proudly mounted, she curbs with the
single rawhide loop a wild-eyed pony.
It is Tusee on her father's warhorse. Thus the war party of Indian men
and their faithful women vanish beyond the southern skyline.
A day's journey brings them very near the enemy's borderland. Nightfall
finds a pair of twin tepees nestled in a deep ravine. Within one lounge
the painted warriors, smoking their pipes and telling weird stories by
the firelight, while in the other watchful women crouch uneasily about
their center fire.
By the first gray light in the east the tepees are banished. They are
gone. The warriors are in the enemy's camp, breaking dreams with their
tomahawks. The women are hid away in secret places in the long thicketed
The day is far spent, the red sun is low over the west.
At length straggling warriors return, one by one, to the deep hollow. In
the twilight they number their men. Three are missing. Of these absent
ones two are dead; but the third one, a young man, is a captive to the
"He-he!" lament the warriors, taking food in haste.
In silence each woman, with long strides, hurries to and fro, tying
large bundles on her pony's back. Under cover of night the war party
must hasten homeward. Motionless, with bowed head, sits a woman in her
hiding-place. She grieves for her lover.
In bitterness of spirit she hears the warriors' murmuring words. With
set teeth she plans to cheat the hated enemy of their captive. In the
meanwhile low signals are given, and the war party, unaware of Tusee's
absence, steal quietly away. The soft thud of pony-hoofs grows fainter
and fainter. The gradual hush of the empty ravine whirrs noisily in the
ear of the young woman. Alert for any sound of footfalls nigh, she holds
her breath to listen. Her right hand rests on a long knife in her belt.
Ah, yes, she knows where her pony is hid, but not yet has she need of
him. Satisfied that no danger is nigh, she prowls forth from her place
of hiding. With a panther's tread and pace she climbs the high ridge
beyond the low ravine. From thence she spies the enemy's camp-fires.
Rooted to the barren bluff the slender woman's figure stands on the
pinnacle of night, outlined against a starry sky. The cool night breeze
wafts to her burning ear snatches of song and drum. With desperate hate
she bites her teeth.
Tusee beckons the stars to witness. With impassioned voice and uplifted
face she pleads:
"Great Spirit, speed me to my lover's rescue! Give me swift cunning for
a weapon this night! All-powerful Spirit, grant me my warrior-father's
heart, strong to slay a foe and mighty to save a friend!"
In the midst of the enemy's camp-ground, underneath a temporary
dance-house, are men and women in gala-day dress. It is late in the
night, but the merry warriors bend and bow their nude, painted bodies
before a bright center fire. To the lusty men's voices and the rhythmic
throbbing drum, they leap and rebound with feathered headgears waving.
Women with red-painted cheeks and long, braided hair sit in a large
half-circle against the willow railing. They, too, join in the singing,
and rise to dance with their victorious warriors.
Amid this circular dance arena stands a prisoner bound to a post,
haggard with shame and sorrow. He hangs his disheveled head.
He stares with unseeing eyes upon the bare earth at his feet. With jeers
and smirking faces the dancers mock the Dakota captive. Rowdy braves and
small boys hoot and yell in derision.
Silent among the noisy mob, a tall woman, leaning both elbows on the
round willow railing, peers into the lighted arena. The dancing center
fire shines bright into her handsome face, intensifying the night in her
dark eyes. It breaks into myriad points upon her beaded dress. Unmindful
of the surging throng jostling her at either side, she glares in upon
the hateful, scoffing men. Suddenly she turns her head. Tittering maids
whisper near her ear:
"There! There! See him now, sneering in the captive's face. 'Tis he who
sprang upon the young man and dragged him by his long hair to yonder
post. See! He is handsome! How gracefully he dances!"
The silent young woman looks toward the bound captive. She sees a
warrior, scarce older than the captive, flourishing a tomahawk in the
Dakota's face. A burning rage darts forth from her eyes and brands him
for a victim of revenge. Her heart mutters within her breast, "Come, I
wish to meet you, vile foe, who captured my lover and tortures him now
with a living death."
Here the singers hush their voices, and the dancers scatter to their
various resting-places along the willow ring. The victor gives a
reluctant last twirl of his tomahawk, then, like the others, he leaves
the center ground. With head and shoulders swaying from side to side, he
carries a high-pointing chin toward the willow railing. Sitting down
upon the ground with crossed legs, he fans himself with an outspread
Now and then he stops his haughty blinking to peep out of the corners of
his eyes. He hears some one clearing her throat gently. It is
unmistakably for his ear. The wing-fan swings irregularly to and fro. At
length he turns a proud face over a bare shoulder and beholds a handsome
"Ah, she would speak to a hero!" thumps his heart wildly.
The singers raise their voices in unison. The music is irresistible.
Again lunges the victor into the open arena. Again he leers into the
captive's face. At every interval between the songs he returns to his
resting-place. Here the young woman awaits him. As he approaches she
smiles boldly into his eyes. He is pleased with her face and her smile.
Waving his wing-fan spasmodically in front of his face, he sits with his
ears pricked up. He catches a low whisper. A hand taps him lightly on
the shoulder. The handsome woman speaks to him in his own tongue. "Come
out into the night. I wish to tell you who I am."
He must know what sweet words of praise the handsome woman has for him.
With both hands he spreads the meshes of the loosely woven willows, and
crawls out unnoticed into the dark.
Before him stands the young woman. Beckoning him with a slender hand,
she steps backward, away from the light and the restless throng of
onlookers. He follows with impatient strides. She quickens her pace. He
lengthens his strides. Then suddenly the woman turns from him and darts
away with amazing speed. Clinching his fists and biting his lower lip,
the young man runs after the fleeing woman. In his maddened pursuit he
forgets the dance arena.
Beside a cluster of low bushes the woman halts. The young man, panting
for breath and plunging headlong forward, whispers loud, "Pray tell me,
are you a woman or an evil spirit to lure me away?"
Turning on heels firmly planted in the earth, the woman gives a wild
spring forward, like a panther for its prey. In a husky voice she hissed
between her teeth, "I am a Dakota woman!"
From her unerring long knife the enemy falls heavily at her feet. The
Great Spirit heard Tusee's prayer on the hilltop. He gave her a
warrior's strong heart to lessen the foe by one.
A bent old woman's figure, with a bundle like a grandchild slung on her
back, walks round and round the dance-house. The wearied onlookers are
leaving in twos and threes. The tired dancers creep out of the willow
railing, and some go out at the entrance way, till the singers, too,
rise from the drum and are trudging drowsily homeward. Within the arena
the center fire lies broken in red embers. The night no longer lingers
about the willow railing, but, hovering into the dance-house, covers
here and there a snoring man whom sleep has overpowered where he sat.
The captive in his tight-binding rawhide ropes hangs in hopeless
despair. Close about him the gloom of night is slowly crouching. Yet the
last red, crackling embers cast a faint light upon his long black hair,
and, shining through the thick mats, caress his wan face with undying
Still about the dance-house the old woman prowls. Now the embers are
gray with ashes.
The old bent woman appears at the entrance way. With a cautious, groping
foot she enters. Whispering between her teeth a lullaby for her sleeping
child in her blanket, she searches for something forgotten.
Noisily snored the dreaming men in the darkest parts. As the lisping old
woman draws nigh, the captive again opens his eyes.
A forefinger she presses to her lip. The young man arouses himself from
his stupor. His senses belie him. Before his wide-open eyes the old bent
figure straightens into its youthful stature. Tusee herself is beside
him. With a stroke upward and downward she severs the cruel cords with
her sharp blade. Dropping her blanket from her shoulders, so that it
hangs from her girdled waist like a skirt, she shakes the large bundle
into a light shawl for her lover. Quickly she spreads it over his bare
"Come!" she whispers, and turns to go; but the young man, numb and
helpless, staggers nigh to falling.
The sight of his weakness makes her strong. A mighty power thrills her
body. Stooping beneath his outstretched arms grasping at the air for
support, Tusee lifts him upon her broad shoulders. With half-running,
triumphant steps she carries him away into the open night.
A DREAM OF HER GRANDFATHER
Her grandfather was a Dakota "medicine man." Among the Indians of his
day he was widely known for his successful healing work. He was one of
the leading men of the tribe and came to Washington, D.C., with one of
the first delegations relative to affairs concerning the Indian people
and the United States government.
His was the first band of the Great Sioux Nation to make treaties with
the government in the hope of bringing about an amicable arrangement
between the red and white Americans. The journey to the nation's capital
was made almost entirely on pony-back, there being no railroads, and the
Sioux delegation was beset with many hardships on the trail. His visit
to Washington, in behalf of peace among men, proved to be his last
earthly mission. From a sudden illness, he died and was buried here.
When his small granddaughter grew up she learned the white man's tongue,
and followed in the footsteps of her grandfather to the very seat of
government to carry on his humanitarian work. Though her days were
filled with problems for welfare work among her people, she had a
strange dream one night during her stay in Washington. The dream was
this: Returning from an afternoon out, she found a large cedar chest had
been delivered to her home in her absence. She sniffed the sweet perfume
of the red wood, which reminded her of the breath of the forest,—and
admired the box so neatly made, without trimmings. It looked so clean,
strong and durable in its native genuineness. With elation, she took the
tag in her hand and read her name aloud. "Who sent me this cedar chest?"
she asked, and was told it came from her grandfather.
Wondering what gift it could be her grandfather wished now to confer
upon her, wholly disregarding his death years ago, she was all eagerness
to open the mystery chest.
She remembered her childhood days and the stories she loved to hear
about the unusual powers of her grandfather,—recalled how she, the wee
girl, had coveted the medicine bags, beaded and embroidered in porcupine
quills, in symbols designed by the great "medicine man," her
grandfather. Well did she remember her merited rebuke that such things
were never made for relics. Treasures came in due time to those ready to
In great expectancy, she lifted the heavy lid of the cedar chest. "Oh!"
she exclaimed, with a note of disappointment, seeing no beaded Indian
regalia or trinkets. "Why does my grandfather send such a light gift in
a heavy, large box?" She was mystified and much perplexed.
The gift was a fantastic thing, of texture far more delicate than a
spider's filmy web. It was a vision! A picture of an Indian camp, not
painted on canvas nor yet written. It was dream-stuff, suspended in the
thin air, filling the inclosure of the cedar wood container. As she
looked upon it, the picture grew more and more real, exceeding the
proportions of the chest. It was all so illusive a breath might have
blown it away; yet there it was, real as life,—a circular camp of white
cone-shaped tepees, astir with Indian people. The village crier, with
flowing head-dress of eagle plumes, mounted on a prancing white pony,
rode within the arena. Indian men, women and children stopped in groups
and clusters, while bright painted faces peered out of tepee doors, to
listen to the chieftain's crier.
At this point, she, too, heard the full melodious voice. She heard
distinctly the Dakota words he proclaimed to the people. "Be glad!
Rejoice! Look up, and see the new day dawning! Help is near! Hear me,
She caught the glad tidings and was thrilled with new hope for her
THE WIDESPREAD ENIGMA CONCERNING BLUE-STAR WOMAN
It was summer on the western plains. Fields of golden sunflowers facing
eastward, greeted the rising sun. Blue-Star Woman, with windshorn braids
of white hair over each ear, sat in the shade of her log hut before an
open fire. Lonely but unmolested she dwelt here like the ground squirrel
that took its abode nearby,—both through the easy tolerance of the land
owner. The Indian woman held a skillet over the burning embers. A large
round cake, with long slashes in its center, was baking and crowding the
capacity of the frying pan.
In deep abstraction Blue-Star Woman prepared her morning meal. "Who am
I?" had become the obsessing riddle of her life. She was no longer a
young woman, being in her fifty-third year. In the eyes of the white
man's law, it was required of her to give proof of her membership in the
Sioux tribe. The unwritten law of heart prompted her naturally to say,
"I am a being. I am Blue-Star Woman. A piece of earth is my birthright."
It was taught, for reasons now forgot, that an Indian should never
pronounce his or her name in answer to any inquiry. It was probably a
means of protection in the days of black magic. Be this as it may,
Blue-Star Woman lived in times when this teaching was disregarded. It
gained her nothing, however, to pronounce her name to the government
official to whom she applied for her share of tribal land. His
persistent question was always, "Who were your parents?"
Blue-Star Woman was left an orphan at a tender age. She did not remember
them. They were long gone to the spirit-land,-and she could not
understand why they should be recalled to earth on her account. It was
another one of the old, old teachings of her race that the names of the
dead should not be idly spoken. It had become a sacrilege to mention
carelessly the name of any departed one, especially in matters of
disputes over worldy possessions. The unfortunate circumstances of her
early childhood, together with the lack of written records of a roving
people, placed a formidable barrier between her and her heritage. The
fact was events of far greater importance to the tribe than her
reincarnation had passed unrecorded in books. The verbal reports of the
old-time men and women of the tribe were varied,—some were actually
contradictory. Blue-Star Woman was unable to find even a twig of her
She sharpened one end of a long stick and with it speared the fried
bread when it was browned. Heedless of the hot bread's "Tsing!" in a
high treble as it was lifted from the fire, she added it to the six
others which had preceded it. It had been many a moon since she had had
a meal of fried bread, for she was too poor to buy at any one time all
the necessary ingredients, particularly the fat in which to fry it.
During the breadmaking, the smoke-blackened coffeepot boiled over. The
aroma of freshly made coffee smote her nostrils and roused her from the
The day before, friendly spirits, the unseen ones, had guided her
aimless footsteps to her Indian neighbor's house. No sooner had she
entered than she saw on the table some grocery bundles. "Iye-que,
fortunate one!" she exclaimed as she took the straight-backed chair
offered her. At once the Indian hostess untied the bundles and measured
out a cupful of green coffee beans and a pound of lard. She gave them to
Blue-Star Woman, saying, "I want to share my good fortune. Take these
home with you." Thus it was that Blue-Star Woman had come into
unexpected possession of the materials which now contributed richly to
The generosity of her friend had often saved her from starvation.
Generosity is said to be a fault of Indian people, but neither the
Pilgrim Fathers nor Blue-Star Woman ever held it seriously against them.
Blue-Star Woman was even grateful for this gift of food. She was fond of
coffee,-that black drink brought hither by those daring voyagers of long
ago. The coffee habit was one of the signs of her progress in the white
man's civilization, also had she emerged from the tepee into a log hut,
another achievement. She had learned to read the primer and to write her
name. Little Blue-Star attended school unhindered by a fond mother's
fears that a foreign teacher might not spare the rod with her darling.
Blue-Star Woman was her individual name. For untold ages the Indian
race had not used family names. A new-born child was given a brand-new
name. Blue-Star Woman was proud to write her name for which she would
not be required to substitute another's upon her marriage, as is the
custom of civilized peoples.
"The times are changed now," she muttered under her breath. "My
individual name seems to mean nothing." Looking out into space, she saw
the nodding sunflowers, and they acquiesced with her. Their drying
leaves reminded her of the near approach of autumn. Then soon, very
soon, the ice would freeze along the banks of the muddy river. The day
of the first ice was her birthday. She would be fifty-four winters old.
How futile had been all these winters to secure her a share in tribal
lands. A weary smile flickered across her face as she sat there on the
ground like a bronze figure of patience and long-suffering.
The breadmaking was finished. The skillet was set aside to cool. She
poured the appetizing coffee into her tin cup. With fried bread and
black coffee she regaled herself. Again her mind reverted to her
riddle. "The missionary preacher said he could not explain the white
man's law to me. He who reads daily from the Holy Bible, which he tells
me is God's book, cannot understand mere man's laws. This also puzzles
me," thought she to herself. "Once a wise leader of our people,
addressing a president of this country, said: 'I am a man. You are
another. The Great Spirit is our witness!' This is simple and easy to
understand, but the times are changed. The white man's laws are
Blue-Star Woman broke off a piece of fried bread between a thumb and
forefinger. She ate it hungrily, and sipped from her cup of fragrant
coffee. "I do not understand the white man's law. It's like walking in
the dark. In this darkness, I am growing fearful of everything."
Oblivious to the world, she had not heard the footfall of two Indian men
who now stood before her.
Their short-cropped hair looked blue-black in contrast to the faded
civilian clothes they wore. Their white man's shoes were rusty and
unpolished. To the unconventional eyes of the old Indian woman, their
celluloid collars appeared like shining marks of civilization. Blue-Star
Woman looked up from the lap of mother earth without rising. "Hinnu,
hinnu!" she ejaculated in undisguised surprise. "Pray, who are these
would-be white men?" she inquired.
In one voice and by an assumed relationship the two Indian men addressed
her. "Aunt, I shake hands with you." Again Blue-Star Woman remarked,
"Oh, indeed! these near white men speak my native tongue and shake hands
according to our custom." Did she guess the truth, she would have known
they were simply deluded mortals, deceiving others and themselves most
of all. Boisterously laughing and making conversation, they each in turn
gripped her withered hand.
Like a sudden flurry of wind, tossing loose ends of things, they broke
into her quiet morning hour and threw her groping thoughts into greater
chaos. Masking their real errand with long-drawn faces, they feigned a
concern for her welfare only. "We come to ask how you are living. We
heard you were slowly starving to death. We heard you are one of those
Indians who have been cheated out of their share in tribal lands by the
Blue-Star Woman became intensely interested.
"You see we are educated in the white man's ways," they said with
protruding chests. One unconsciously thrust his thumbs into the
arm-holes of his ill-fitting coat and strutted about in his pride. "We
can help you get your land. We want to help our aunt. All old people
like you ought to be helped before the younger ones. The old will die
soon, and they may never get the benefit of their land unless some one
like us helps them to get their rights, without further delay."
Blue-Star Woman listened attentively.
Motioning to the mats she spread upon the ground, she said: "Be seated,
my nephews." She accepted the relationship assumed for the occasion. "I
will give you some breakfast." Quickly she set before them a generous
helping of fried bread and cups of coffee. Resuming her own meal, she
continued, "You are wonderfully kind. It is true, my nephews, that I
have grown old trying to secure my share of land. It may not be long
till I shall pass under the sod."
The two men responded with "How, how," which meant, "Go on with your
story. We are all ears." Blue-Star Woman had not yet detected any
particular sharpness about their ears, but by an impulse she looked up
into their faces and scrutinized them. They were busily engaged in
eating. Their eyes were fast upon the food on the mat in front of their
crossed shins. Inwardly she made a passing observation how, like
ravenous wolves, her nephews devoured their food. Coyotes in midwinter
could not have been more starved. Without comment she offered them the
remaining fried cakes, and between them they took it all. She offered
the second helping of coffee, which they accepted without hesitancy.
Filling their cups, she placed her empty coffeepot on the dead ashes.
To them she rehearsed her many hardships. It had become a habit now to
tell her long story of disappointments with all its petty details. It
was only another instance of good intentions gone awry. It was a paradox
upon a land of prophecy that its path to future glory be stained with
the blood of its aborigines. Incongruous as it is, the two nephews, with
their white associates, were glad of a condition so profitable to them.
Their solicitation for Blue-Star Woman was not at all altruistic. They
thrived in their grafting business. They and their occupation were the
by-product of an unwieldly bureaucracy over the nation's wards.
"Dear aunt, you failed to establish the facts of your identity," they
told her. Hereupon Blue-Star Woman's countenance fell. It was ever the
same old words. It was the old song of the government official she
loathed to hear. The next remark restored her courage. "If any one can
discover evidence, it's us! I tell you, aunt, we'll fix it all up for
you." It was a great relief to the old Indian woman to be thus
unburdened of her riddle, with a prospect of possessing land. "There is
one thing you will have to do,—that is, to pay us half of your land and
money when you get them." Here was a pause, and Blue-Star Woman answered
slowly, "Y-e-s," in an uncertain frame of mind.
The shrewd schemers noted her behavior. "Wouldn't you rather have a half
of a crust of bread than none at all?" they asked. She was duly
impressed with the force of their argument. In her heart she agreed, "A
little something to eat is better than nothing!" The two men talked in
regular relays. The flow of smooth words was continuous and so much like
purring that all the woman's suspicions were put soundly to sleep. "Look
here, aunt, you know very well that prairie fire is met with a
back-fire." Blue-Star Woman, recalling her experiences in fire-fighting,
quickly responded, "Yes, oh, yes."
"In just the same way, we fight crooks with crooks. We have clever white
lawyers working with us. They are the back-fire." Then, as if
remembering some particular incident, they both laughed aloud and said,
"Yes, and sometimes they use us as the back-fire! We trade fifty-fifty."
Blue-Star Woman sat with her chin in the palm of one hand with elbow
resting in the other. She rocked herself slightly forward and backward.
At length she answered, "Yes, I will pay you half of my share in tribal
land and money when I get them. In bygone days, brave young men of the
order of the White-Horse-Riders sought out the aged, the poor, the
widows and orphans to aid them, but they did their good work without
pay. The White-Horse-Riders are gone. The times are changed. I am a poor
old Indian woman. I need warm clothing before winter begins to blow its
icicles through us. I need fire wood. I need food. As you have said, a
little help is better than none."
Hereupon the two pretenders scored another success.
They rose to their feet. They had eaten up all the fried bread and
drained the coffeepot. They shook hands with Blue-Star Woman and
departed. In the quiet that followed their departure she sat munching
her small piece of bread, which, by a lucky chance, she had taken on her
plate before the hungry wolves had come. Very slowly she ate the
fragment of fried bread as if to increase it by diligent mastication. A
self-condemning sense of guilt disturbed her. In her dire need she had
become involved with tricksters. Her nephews laughingly told her, "We
use crooks, and crooks use us in the skirmish over Indian lands."
The friendly shade of the house shrank away from her and hid itself
under the narrow eaves of the dirt covered roof. She shrugged her
shoulders. The sun high in the sky had witnessed the affair and now
glared down upon her white head. Gathering upon her arm the mats and
cooking utensils, she hobbled into her log hut.
Under the brooding wilderness silence, on the Sioux Indian Reservation,
the superintendent summoned together the leading Indian men of the
tribe. He read a letter which he had received from headquarters in
Washington, D.C. It announced the enrollment of Blue-Star Woman on their
tribal roll of members and the approval of allotting land to her.
It came as a great shock to the tribesmen. Without their knowledge and
consent their property was given to a strange woman. They protested in
vain. The superintendent said, "I received this letter from Washington.
I have read it to you for your information. I have fulfilled my duty. I
can do no more." With these fateful words he dismissed the assembly.
Heavy hearted, Chief High Flier returned to his dwelling. Smoking his
long-stemmed pipe he pondered over the case of Blue-Star Woman. The
Indian's guardian had got into a way of usurping autocratic power in
disposing of the wards' property. It was growing intolerable. "No doubt
this Indian woman is entitled to allotment, but where? Certainly not
here," he thought to himself.
Laying down his pipe, he called his little granddaughter from her play,
"You are my interpreter and scribe," he said. "Bring your paper and
pencil." A letter was written in the child's sprawling hand, and signed
by the old chieftain. It read:
"I make letter to you. My heart is sad. Washington give my tribe's land
to a woman called Blue-Star. We do not know her. We were not asked to
give land, but our land is taken from us to give to another Indian. This
is not right. Lots of little children of my tribe have no land. Why this
strange woman get our land which belongs to our children? Go to
Washington and ask if our treaties tell him to give our property away
without asking us. Tell him I thought we made good treaties on paper,
but now our children cry for food. We are too poor. We cannot give even
to our own little children. Washington is very rich. Washington now
owns our country. If he wants to help this poor Indian woman, Blue-Star,
let him give her some of his land and his money. This is all I will say
until you answer me. I shake hands with you with my heart. The Great
Spirit hears my words. They are true.
"CHIEF HIGH FLIER.
"X (his mark)."
The letter was addressed to a prominent American woman. A stamp was
carefully placed on the envelope.
Early the next morning, before the dew was off the grass, the
chieftain's riding pony was caught from the pasture and brought to his
log house. It was saddled and bridled by a younger man, his son with
whom he made his home. The old chieftain came out, carrying in one hand
his long-stemmed pipe and tobacco pouch. His blanket was loosely girdled
about his waist. Tightly holding the saddle horn, he placed a moccasined
foot carefully into the stirrup and pulled himself up awkwardly into the
saddle, muttering to himself, "Alas, I can no more leap into my saddle.
I now must crawl about in my helplessness." He was past eighty years of
age, and no longer agile.
He set upon his ten-mile trip to the only post office for hundreds of
miles around. In his shirt pocket, he carried the letter destined, in
due season, to reach the heart of American people. His pony, grown old
in service, jogged along the dusty road. Memories of other days thronged
the wayside, and for the lonely rider transformed all the country. Those
days were gone when the Indian youths were taught to be truthful,—to be
merciful to the poor. Those days were gone when moral cleanliness was a
chief virtue; when public feasts were given in honor of the virtuous
girls and young men of the tribe. Untold mischief is now possible
through these broken ancient laws. The younger generation were not being
properly trained in the high virtues. A slowly starving race was growing
mad, and the pitifully weak sold their lands for a pot of porridge.
"He, he, he! He, he, he!" he lamented. "Small Voice Woman, my own
relative is being represented as the mother of this strange
Blue-Star—the papers were made by two young Indian men who have
learned the white man's ways. Why must I be forced to accept the
mischief of children? My memory is clear. My reputation for veracity is
"Small Voice Woman lived in my house until her death. She had only one
child and it was a boy!" He held his hand over this thumping heart,
and was reminded of the letter in his pocket. "This letter,—what will
happen when it reaches my good friend?" he asked himself. The chieftain
rubbed his dim eyes and groaned, "If only my good friend knew the folly
of turning my letter into the hands of bureaucrats! In face of repeated
defeat, I am daring once more to send this one letter." An inner voice
said in his ear, "And this one letter will share the same fate of the
Startled by the unexpected voice, he jerked upon the bridle reins and
brought the drowsy pony to a sudden halt. There was no one near. He
found himself a mile from the post office, for the cluster of government
buildings, where lived the superintendent, were now in plain sight. His
thin frame shook with emotion. He could not go there with his letter.
He dismounted from his pony. His quavering voice chanted a bravery song
as he gathered dry grasses and the dead stalks of last year's
sunflowers. He built a fire, and crying aloud, for his sorrow was
greater than he could bear, he cast the letter into the flames. The fire
consumed it. He sent his message on the wings of fire and he believed
she would get it. He yet trusted that help would come to his people
before it was too late. The pony tossed his head in a readiness to go.
He knew he was on the return trip and he was glad to travel.
The wind which blew so gently at dawn was now increased into a gale as
the sun approached the zenith. The chieftain, on his way home, sensed a
coming storm. He looked upward to the sky and around in every direction.
Behind him, in the distance, he saw a cloud of dust. He saw several
horsemen whipping their ponies and riding at great speed. Occasionally
he heard their shouts, as if calling after some one. He slackened his
pony's pace and frequently looked over his shoulder to see who the
riders were advancing in hot haste upon him. He was growing curious. In
a short time the riders surrounded him. On their coats shone brass
buttons, and on their hats were gold cords and tassels. They were Indian
"Wan!" he exclaimed, finding himself the object of their chase. It was
their foolish ilk who had murdered the great leader, Sitting Bull.
"Pray, what is the joke? Why do young men surround an old man quietly
"Uncle," said the spokesman, "we are hirelings, as you know. We are sent
by the government superintendent to arrest you and take you back with
us. The superintendent says you are one of the bad Indians, singing war
songs and opposing the government all the time; this morning you were
seen trying to set fire to the government agency."
"Hunhunhe!" replied the old chief, placing the palm of his hand over his
mouth agap in astonishment. "All this is unbelievable!"
The policeman took hold of the pony's bridle and turned the reluctant
little beast around. They led it back with them and the old chieftain
set unresisting in the saddle. High Flier was taken before the
superintendent, who charged him with setting fires to destroy government
buildings and found him guilty. Thus Chief High Flier was sent to jail.
He had already suffered much during his life. He was the voiceless man
of America. And now in his old age he was cast into prison. The chagrin
of it all, together with his utter helplessness to defend his own or his
people's human rights, weighed heavily upon his spirit.
The foul air of the dingy cell nauseated him who loved the open. He sat
wearily down upon the tattered mattress, which lay on the rough board
floor. He drew his robe closely about his tall figure, holding it
partially over his face, his hands covered within the folds. In profound
gloom the gray-haired prisoner sat there, without a stir for long hours
and knew not when the day ended and night began. He sat buried in his
desperation. His eyes were closed, but he could not sleep. Bread and
water in tin receptacles set upon the floor beside him untouched. He was
not hungry. Venturesome mice crept out upon the floor and scampered in
the dim starlight streaming through the iron bars of the cell window.
They squeaked as they dared each other to run across his moccasined
feet, but the chieftain neither saw nor heard them.
A terrific struggle was waged within his being. He fought as he never
fought before. Tenaciously he hung upon hope for the day of
salvation—that hope hoary with age. Defying all odds against him, he
refused to surrender faith in good people.
Underneath his blanket, wrapped so closely about him, stole a luminous
light. Before his stricken consciousness appeared a vision. Lo, his good
friend, the American woman to whom he had sent his messages by fire, now
stood there a legion! A vast multitude of women, with uplifted hands,
gazed upon a huge stone image. Their upturned faces were eager and very
earnest. The stone figure was that of a woman upon the brink of the
Great Waters, facing eastward. The myriad living hands remained uplifted
till the stone woman began to show signs of life. Very majestically she
turned around, and, lo, she smiled upon this great galaxy of American
women. She was the Statue of Liberty! It was she, who, though
representing human liberty, formerly turned her back upon the American
aborigine. Her face was aglow with compassion. Her eyes swept across the
outspread continent of America, the home of the red man.
At this moment her torch flamed brighter and whiter till its radiance
reached into the obscure and remote places of the land. Her light of
liberty penetrated Indian reservations. A loud shout of joy rose up from
the Indians of the earth, everywhere!
All too soon the picture was gone. Chief High Flier awoke. He lay
prostrate on the floor where during the night he had fallen. He rose and
took his seat again upon the mattress. Another day was ushered into his
life. In his heart lay the secret vision of hope born in the midnight of
his sorrows. It enabled him to serve his jail sentence with a mute
dignity which baffled those who saw him.
Finally came the day of his release. There was rejoicing over all the
land. The desolate hills that harbored wailing voices nightly now were
hushed and still. Only gladness filled the air. A crowd gathered around
the jail to greet the chieftain. His son stood at the entrance way,
while the guard unlocked the prison door. Serenely quiet, the old
Indian chief stepped forth. An unseen stone in his path caused him to
stumble slightly, but his son grasped him by the hand and steadied his
tottering steps. He led him to a heavy lumber wagon drawn by a small
pony team which he had brought to take him home. The people thronged
about him—hundreds shook hands with him and went away singing native
songs of joy for the safe return to them of their absent one.
Among the happy people came Blue-Star Woman's two nephews. Each shook
the chieftain's hand. One of them held out an ink pad saying, "We are
glad we were able to get you out of jail. We have great influence with
the Indian Bureau in Washington, D.C. When you need help, let us know.
Here press your thumb in this pad." His companion took from his pocket a
document prepared for the old chief's signature, and held it on the
wagon wheel for the thumb mark. The chieftain was taken by surprise. He
looked into his son's eyes to know the meaning of these two men. "It is
our agreement," he explained to his old father. "I pledged to pay them
half of your land if they got you out of jail."
The old chieftain sighed, but made no comment. Words were vain. He
pressed his indelible thumb mark, his signature it was, upon the deed,
and drove home with his son.
* * * * *
AMERICA'S INDIAN PROBLEM
The hospitality of the American aborigine, it is told, saved the early
settlers from starvation during the first bleak winters. In
commemoration of having been so well received, Newport erected "a cross
as a sign of English dominion." With sweet words he quieted the
suspicions of Chief Powhatan, his friend. He "told him that the arms (of
the cross) represented Powhatan and himself, and the middle their united
DeSoto and his Spaniards were graciously received by the Indian Princess
Cofachiqui in the South. While on a sight-seeing tour they entered the
ancestral tombs of those Indians. DeSoto "dipped into the pearls and
gave his two joined hands full to each cavalier to make rosaries of, he
said, to say prayers for their sins on. We imagine if their prayers were
in proportion to their sins they must have spent the most of their time
at their devotions."
It was in this fashion that the old world snatched away the fee in the
land of the new. It was in this fashion that America was divided
between the powers of Europe and the aborigines were dispossessed of
their country. The barbaric rule of might from which the paleface had
fled hither for refuge caught up with him again, and in the melee the
hospitable native suffered "legal disability."
History tells that it was from the English and the Spanish our
government inherited its legal victims, the American Indians, whom to
this day we hold as wards and not as citizens of their own freedom
loving land. A long century of dishonor followed this inheritance of
somebody's loot. Now the time is at hand when the American Indian shall
have his day in court through the help of the women of America. The
stain upon America's fair name is to be removed, and the remnant of the
Indian nation, suffering from malnutrition, is to number among the
invited invisible guests at your dinner tables.
In this undertaking there must be cooperation of head, heart and hand.
We serve both our own government and a voiceless people within our
midst. We would open the door of American opportunity to the red man and
encourage him to find his rightful place in our American life. We would
remove the barriers that hinder his normal development.
Wardship is no substitute for American citizenship, therefore we seek
his enfranchisement. The many treaties made in good faith with the
Indian by our government we would like to see equitably settled. By a
constructive program we hope to do away with the "piecemeal legislation"
affecting Indians here and there which has proven an exceedingly
expensive and disappointing method.
Do you know what your Bureau of Indian Affairs, in Washington, D.C.,
really is? How it is organized and how it deals with wards of the
nation? This is our first study. Let us be informed of facts and then we
may formulate our opinions. In the remaining space allowed me I shall
quote from the report of the Bureau of Municipal Research, in their
investigation of the Indian Bureau, published by them in the September
issue, 1915, No. 65, "Municipal Research," 261 Broadway, New York City.
This report is just as good for our use today as when it was first made,
for very little, if any, change has been made in the administration of
Indian Affairs since then.
"While this report was printed for the information of members of
Congress, it was not made a part of the report of the Joint Commission
of Congress, at whose request it was prepared, and is not available for
UNPUBLISHED DIGEST OF STATUTORY AND TREATY PROVISIONS GOVERNING INDIAN
"When in 1913 inquiry was made into the accounting and reporting methods
of the Indian Office by the President's Commission on Economy and
Efficiency, it was found there was no digest of the provisions of
statutes and treaties with Indian tribes governing Indian funds and the
trust obligations of the government. Such a digest was therefore
prepared. It was not completed, however, until after Congress adjourned
March 4, 1913. Then, instead of being published, it found its way into
the pigeon-holes in the Interior Department and the Civil Service
Commission, where the working papers and unpublished reports of the
commission were ordered stored. The digest itself would make a document
of about three hundred pages."
UNPUBLISHED OUTLINE OF ORGANIZATION.
"By order of the President, the commission, in cooperation with various
persons assigned to this work, also prepared at great pains a complete
analysis of the organization of every department, office and commission
of the federal government as of July 1, 1912. This represented a
complete picture of the government as a whole in summary outline; it
also represented an accurate picture of every administrative bureau,
office, and of every operative or field station, and showed in his
working relation each of the 500,000 officers and employes in the public
service. The report in typewritten form was one of the working documents
used in the preparation of the 'budget' submitted by President Taft to
Congress in February, 1913. The 'budget' was ordered printed by
Congress, but the cost thereof was to be charged against the President's
appropriation. There was not enough money remaining in this
appropriation to warrant the printing of the report on organization. It,
therefore, also found repose in a dark closet."
TOO VOLUMINOUS TO BE MADE PART OF THIS SERIES.
"Congress alone could make the necessary provision for the publication
of these materials; the documents are too voluminous to be printed as a
part of this series, even if official permission were granted. It is
again suggested, however, that the data might be made readily accessible
and available to students by placing in manuscript division of the
Library of Congress one copy of the unpublished reports and working
papers of the President's Commission on Economy and Efficiency. This
action was recommended by the commission, but the only official action
taken was to order that the materials be placed under lock and key in
the Civil Service Commission."
NEED FOR SPECIAL CARE IN MANAGEMENT.
"The need for special care in the management of Indian Affairs lies in
the fact that in theory of law the Indian has not the rights of a
citizen. He has not even the rights of a foreign resident. The Indian
individually does not have access to the courts; he can not individually
appeal to the administrative and judicial branches of the public service
for the enforcement of his rights. He himself is considered as a ward of
the United States. His property and funds are held in trust. * * * The
Indian Office is the agency of the government for administering both the
guardianship of the Indian and the trusteeship of his properties."
CONDITIONS ADVERSE TO GOOD ADMINISTRATION.
"The legal status of the Indian and his property is the condition which
makes it incumbent on the government to assume the obligation of
protector. What is of special interest in this inquiry is to note the
conditions under which the Indian Office has been required to conduct
its business. In no other relation are the agents of the government
under conditions more adverse to efficient administration. The
influence which make for the infidelity to trusteeship, for subversion
of properties and funds, for the violation of physical and moral welfare
have been powerful. The opportunities and inducements are much greater
than those which have operated with ruinous effect on other branches of
public service and on the trustees and officers of our great private
corporations. In many instances, the integrity of these have been broken
GOVERNMENT MACHINERY INADEQUATE.
"* * * Behind the sham protection, which operated largely as a blind to
publicity, have been at all times great wealth in the form of Indian
funds to be subverted; valuable lands, mines, oil fields, and other
natural resources to be despoiled or appropriated to the use of the
trader; and large profits to be made by those dealing with trustees who
were animated by motives of gain. This has been the situation in which
the Indian Service has been for more than a century—the Indian during
all this time having his rights and properties to greater or less extent
neglected; the guardian, the government, in many instances, passive to
conditions which have contributed to his undoing."
OPPORTUNITIES STILL PRESENT.
"And still, due to the increasing value of his remaining estate, there
is left an inducement to fraud, corruption, and institutional
incompetence almost beyond the possibility of comprehension. The
properties and funds of the Indians today are estimated at not less than
one thousand millions of dollars. There is still a great obligation to
be discharged, which must run through many years. The government itself
owes many millions of dollars for Indian moneys which it has converted
to its own use, and it is of interest to note that it does not know and
the officers do not know what is the present condition of the Indian
funds in their keeping."
"* * * The story of the mismanagement of Indian Affairs is only a
chapter in the history of the mismanagement of corporate trusts. The
Indian has been the victim of the same kind of neglect, the same
abortive processes, the same malpractices as have the life insurance
policyholders, the bank depositor, the industrial and transportation
shareholder. The form of organization of the trusteeship has been one
which does not provide for independent audit and supervision. The
institutional methods and practices have been such that they do not
provide either a fact basis for official judgment or publicity of facts
which, if made available, would supply evidence of infidelity. In the
operation of this machinery, there has not been the means provided for
effective official scrutiny and the public conscience could not be
AMPLE PRECEDENTS TO BE FOLLOWED.
"Precedents to be followed are ample. In private corporate trusts that
have been mismanaged a basis of appeal has been found only when some
favorable circumstance has brought to light conditions so shocking as to
cause those people who have possessed political power, as a matter of
self-protection, to demand a thorough reorganization and revision of
methods. The same motive has lain back of legislation for the Indian.
But the motive to political action has been less effective, for the
reason that in the past the Indians who have acted in self-protection
have either been killed or placed in confinement. All the machinery of
government has been set to work to repress rather than to provide
adequate means for justly dealing with a large population which had no
political rights."—Edict Magazine.
* * * * *
This Book should be in every home
Old Indian Legends
25 Seminole Avenue, Forest Hill, L.I., N.Y.,
August 25, 1919.
I thank you for your book on Indian legends. I have read them with
exquisite pleasure. Like all folk tales they mirror the child life of
the world. There is in them a note of wild, strange music.
You have translated them into our language in a way that will keep them
alive in the hearts of men. They are so young, so fresh, so full of the
odors of the virgin forest untrod by the foot of white man! The thoughts
of your people seem dipped in the colors of the rainbow, palpitant with
the play of winds, eerie with the thrill of a spirit-world unseen but
felt and feared.
Your tales of birds, beast, tree and spirit can not but hold captive the
hearts of all children. They will kindle in their young minds that
eternal wonder which creates poetry and keeps life fresh and eager. I
wish you and your little book of Indian tales all success.
I am always
Sincerely your friend,
(Signed) HELEN KELLER.