CHAPTER XI. INDIAN TRIBES ON THE TRAIL.
The Otoes, once occupying the region at the mouth of the Platte, were a very brave and interesting tribe. When first known to the whites, in the early part of the century, the chief of the nation was I-e-tan, a man of great courage, excellent judgment, and crafty, as are always the most intelligent of the North American savages. His leading attributes were penetration of character, close observation of everything that occurred, and a determination to carry out his ideas, which were remarkable in their development. An old regular army officer, long since dead, who knew I-e-tan well and spoke his language, said that he had known him to form estimates of men, judicious, if not accurate, from half an hour's acquaintance, and without understanding a word that was spoken. But beneath his calm exterior there burned a lava of impetuous passions, which, when strongly moved, burst forth with a fierce and blind violence.
I-e-tan had the advantage of a fine and commanding figure, so remarkable, indeed, that once at a dinner, on a public occasion, at Jefferson Barracks, his health was drunk, with a complimentary allusion to the lines from Shakespeare:
A combination and a form indeed, Where every god did seem to set his seal To give the world assurance of a man.
In a deep carousal which took place one night in the village, in 1822, his brother, a fine fellow, named Blue-eyes (that colour being rare among the Indians), had the misfortune to bite off a small piece of I-e-tan's nose. So soon as he became sensible of this irreparable injury, to which, as an Indian, he was, perhaps, even more sensitive than a white man, I-e-tan burned with a mortal resentment. He retired, telling his brother that he would kill him. He got a rifle, returned, and deliberately shot him through the heart. He had found Blue-eyes leaning with folded arms against a pillar of his lodge, and thus, with a heroic stoicism, which has been rightly attributed as a characteristic of the race, without a murmur, or the quiver of a muscle, he submitted to his cruel fate.
Then was I-e-tan seized with a violent remorse, and exhibited the redeeming traits of repentance and inconsolable grief, and of greatness, in the very constancy of the absorbing sentiment. He retired from all intercourse with his race, abstaining wholly from drink, for which he had a propensity, and, as if under a vow, he went naked for nearly two years. He also meditated suicide, and was probably only prevented from committing it by the influence of a white friend. He sought honourable death in desperate encounters with all the enemies he could find, and in this period acquired his name, or title, from a very destructive attack he made upon a party of another tribe. He lived a year or two with the Pawnees, acquiring perfectly their difficult language, and attaining a great influence over them, which he never lost. After several years of such penance, I-e-tan revisited the villages of his nation, and, in 1830, on the death of La Criniere, his elder brother, succeeded him as principal chief.
I-e-tan married many of the finest girls of his own and neighbouring tribes, but never had any children. Latterly one of his wives presented him with a male child, which was born with teeth. I-e-tan pronounced it a special interposition of the Great Spirit, of which this extraordinary sign was proof.
I-e-tan was the last chief who could so far resist the ruinous influence of the increasing communication of his tribe with the villanous, the worse than barbarous, whites of the extreme frontier as to keep the young men under a tolerable control, but his death proved a signal for license and disorder.