CHAPTER XII. SIOUX AND THEIR TRADITIONS.

A little more than half a century ago the many bands of the great Sioux nation[45] hardly knew anything of the civilization of the whites in any part of the continent; none of their chiefs had ever visited the capital of the nation, or, for that matter, any American settlement. They knew nothing of the English language. The few whites they had ever met were those employed by the great fur companies. They regarded them to be a wise sort of a people, a little inferior, however, to themselves, living in lodges like their own and subsisting on the buffalo and other wild game constituting the food of the Indians.

When that relatively great exodus from the States commenced, beginning with the Mormon hegira, closely followed by emigrants on their way to Oregon, this tide, with its great number of oxen, wagons, and other means of transportation, at first so astonished the Sioux, who had never believed for a moment that the world contained so many white men, that they were completely dumbfounded. When, however, they saw the wanton slaughter of buffalo by this army of men, their amazement turned to hatred and a desire for revenge, and then commenced that series of wars and skirmishes, with their attendant horrible massacres, ending with the battle of Wounded Knee.

In the summer of 1846 there was a pall of sorrow and disaster hovering over all of the bands of the western Dakotas; the year previous they had met with great reverses. Many large war-parties had been sent out from the various villages, the majority of which were either badly whipped or entirely cut off. The few warriors who returned to their homes were heartbroken and discouraged; so that the whole nation was in mourning.

Among these war-parties, ten of the Sioux warriors made a raid into the Snake country. They were led by the son of a prominent Ogallalla chief, called the Whirlwind. When they reached the Laramie Plains they were met by a superior number of their enemies, and every warrior killed to a man. The Snakes having accomplished this, they became greatly alarmed at what they had done, dreading the revenge of the Dakotas, which they knew would be inevitable; so, desiring to signify their wish for peace, they sent the scalp of one of their victims, with a small piece of tobacco attached, to his relations. The Snakes induced one of the Indian traders to act as their messenger on this mission of peace, and the scalp was hung up in a room at Fort Laramie, but Whirlwind, the father of the dead warrior who had led the unfortunate band, was inexorable. He hated the Snakes with his whole soul, and long before the scalp had arrived he had consummated his preparations for revenge. He despatched runners loaded with presents of tobacco and other trinkets to all the Dakotas within three hundred miles of his village. They were to propose a grand combination for the purpose of war, and to determine upon a place and time for the meeting of the warriors. Ever ready for war, as is the normal attitude of the average North American savage, the Whirlwind's plan was readily acceded to, and a camp on the Platte, known as Labonte's, was the point designated as the rendezvous. At that place their war-like ceremonies were to be celebrated with great dignity and solemnity; a thousand warriors, it is declared, were to be sent out into the enemy's country; but the thing ended in smoke. True, a great many Indians gathered there, but they went on a big buffalo hunt instead of fighting the Snakes.

The Sioux are noted for their individual bravery, and whole chapters might be written of their prowess, but the following incident will suffice to show the character of their daring. In 1846 a celebrated warrior performed a notable exploit at the Pawnee village on the Loup Fork of the Platte. He arrived there all alone, late one dark night, and climbing up the outside of one of the lodges, quietly gazed for a few moments, through the round hole for the escape of smoke at the top, at the unsuspecting inmates sleeping peacefully under their buffalo-robes around the expiring fire. Dropping himself lightly through the opening, he noiselessly unsheathed his knife, and, stirring the embers, stood for a moment as if selecting his victims, then one by one he stabbed and scalped them. Just as he had wrenched the reeking locks from the last victim, a child suddenly sat up and began to scream violently, upon which the warrior rushed out of the door of the lodge uttering the terrible Sioux war-cry. Then shouting his own name in triumph and defiance, he darted out upon the dark prairie, leaving the whole village behind him in a tumult with the howling of a hundred dogs, the screams of the women, and the yells of the enraged Pawnee braves.

The folk-lore and tales of the Sioux, though not so numerous, perhaps, as among the more sociable Pawnees, are full of interest and the superstitions of the tribe.

Many years ago, in a camp of delighted trappers, one of the chiefs of the Brule Sioux related the following story of his own experience when only a young brave in the councils of his nation: -

        When I was a youthful warrior, I used to delight in war, and very seldom did a party go out on the war-path without me. My scars (which the old fellow showed on his body) prove to you that I am speaking the truth, and that I was always to be found in the thickest of the fight. We hardly ever came back to our village without a dozen or more scalps torn from the heads of our enemies. Sometimes, too, we returned like fools, without a single scalp, and then were ashamed to present ourselves at the dances.

        Once we were out after the Crows, and our spies were far in advance of the main body of warriors. We were hurrying on, expecting soon to meet the enemy, when we saw the spy, whom we had sent ahead, come back without any bows or arrows; his scalp was torn off and his face was covered with blood.

        When questioned about his strange appearance, he replied that the enemy were aware of the approach of our band, and were lying in ambush for us in great numbers. He suddenly came upon their runners, who robbed him of his arms, tore off his scalp, and left him for dead. He stated that he remained quietly where he had fallen until night came on, and when the breeze came down from the mountains it gave him strength to come to us and warn us of the enemy's nearness and great numbers.

        Believing his story to be true, we turned tail and made our way back to our village empty-handed, to be laughed at.

        Three moons passed, and we again started for the country of our enemies. The warrior who had lost his scalp having recovered, and being again with us, he was sent out as a spy. He soon returned with the scalps of two of the enemy dangling from his spear-point. He did not stop to tell of his adventures, but hurried us on to meet the foe, and following him eagerly, we soon came to where they were, and after a hard fight came out victorious.

        Among those who were killed was a warrior whose scalp was missing. Who did this? asked one of the other, but no one answered. At last our spy laughingly said, "Behind that hill over there," pointing with his spear to a large mountain, "there is a fountain that sings a melody fit for the ears of great warriors; let's go to it and drink."

        Following his footsteps, he led us to a beautiful spring whose water was as shining as silver, and which fell in beautiful song over the rocks in its bed, and all around the charming spot were large old cottonwoods, which threw a grateful shade over the fountain, making it clear and always cool.

        "Drink freely, warriors," said the spy; then hiding himself for a moment he returned among us, having with him all his arms and the robe he wore when he had first left us on his mission to hunt the enemy, so many moons before.

        We gazed at him in astonishment, when, seeing our amazement, he said: -

        "Brother warriors, you wondered at my misfortune and hard luck when we last visited the Crow country; you wondered at my sorrowful condition among the killed just now, but you will be more astonished to know that I now stand among you having what I had lost. Would you also like to know how I procured the scalps of two of the enemy?

        "Three times has the full moon turned her face upon us Sioux since at this very spot I met an enemy. We rushed at each other for the attack, when he cried: -

        "Are we not both braves? Why should we fight? When our warriors meet in the heat of the battle, then we may join them - until then let us have a truce.

        "To this I answered, Says the Crow peace?

        "This said, we shook hands and sat down by the fountain. To amuse my enemy I proposed a game of 'hand.'[46] He accepted my challenge, and we first played for an arrow against an arrow, then bow for bow, robe for robe, and scalp for scalp. I was out of luck and lost everything. I handed to him all the things, but with a promise from him that I should have another chance when we met again.

        "We did meet again. The Great Spirit smiled upon me and I won back everything. Then I said, Crow, scalp for scalp. He accepted the challenge and we played. He lost, and I with my winnings arose to leave.

        "Sioux warrior, said he, meet me in the fight that we may try the game of arms.

        "That pleases me, I replied; will the Crow name the place?

        "A valley lies beyond this hill, said he; there my people await their enemies; let me hope to see you with them.

        "To that place I led you, said our spy. We fought and conquered. My opponent was among the killed. Need I tell you who took the scalp?"

There is an affluent of the Cheyenne River called by the Sioux "Weur-sena-wakpa." The stream rises at the base of a lofty mountain of the same name. This mountain is held in great veneration by the Sioux nation, and a member of that tribe rarely went into the neighbourhood without making an offering to it.

The legend concerning its mystery is one of the beautiful myths of the Sioux.

Many ages ago, when the Sioux lived to the north and the Shoshone or Snake tribe of Indians lived in the region of the mountains, planting their villages and hunting all over the country for game, the whole region was a series of lakes and creeks; only the highlands bordering them were left for the deer and buffalo to graze. Then the creeks and rivers slowly rose, and the land of the Shoshones was greatly reduced by the encroachment of the water. Years passed on, and the tribe, attracted by some more suitable region, went away, or were driven off by the hostile bands, especially the Scarred-Arms (the Cheyennes[47]).

In the course of a great many years the Sioux and the Scarred-Arms always fought with each other with varying success, whenever they met; sometimes one tribe, sometimes the other, was victorious.

Once a band of the Sioux entered into the very heart of the country of the Scarred-Arms, and while on their return to their own country, fell into an ambush of the enemy, and only six out of the whole party escaped to convey the terrible news to their village.

These six, hotly pursued by the Scarred-Arms, sought refuge in the mountains. They found there a hidden passage leading into a recess in the mountain's side, which they hurriedly entered. They were delighted with it, for it had a gravelly floor, with a spring of pure, sweet, cool water gushing out of the side of its rocky wall. There, believing they might remain secure from their enemy, they proposed to rest for a short time and recuperate themselves; for they were nearly exhausted by their efforts to escape from the bloody scalping-knives of the Scarred-Arms. They kindled a fire, around which the six warriors huddled, telling each other, as is the savage wont, of their numerous hairbreadth escapes and single combats with the common enemy; also trying to devise some means of eluding the Scarred-Arms, who they knew to be still searching for them.

While they were thus discussing the probabilities of the affair, they were startled by a strange noise, like the rustling of leaves, in a dark corner of the cave; but they were more frightened when they suddenly saw the dim form of a person moving about in the subdued light. The figure advanced toward them, and they discovered it to be that of a feeble old woman, who said as she approached them: -

"Children, you have been against the Scarred-Arms, you have fought them, and of a large party you alone are left alive. I know it all.

"You come here into my lodge to escape from your pursuers, and the sound of your voices and the heat of your council fire has disturbed my rest and waked me from a long trance. By your eager looks you would know my strange story. Many ages have gone by (for days, moons, seasons, and ages are painted before me as they pass) since the Shoshones, who lived where now live the Scarred-Arms, visited the lodges of the Sioux and made the prairie drink the blood of slaughtered warriors. I was their captive, and, with scalps of the slain, I was taken from the graves of my people. The Shoshones brought me to this country, when yet the buffalo grazed upon the hills and mountains; for the valleys and plains were the home of the waters.

"Living with the Shoshones, I was not happy. I thought of my people; of all those dear to me; and I prayed to the Good Spirit that I might again behold them ere my passage to the death-land. I fled, hoping to reach the home of my birth; but age had enfeebled me; and being pursued, I sought refuge in this cave. Here, having passed a night and a day in earnest communion with the 'Big Medicine,' a strange feeling came upon me. I slumbered in a dreamy state from then until now. But your looks again ask, who are the Shoshones? what became of them? and from whence are the Scarred-Arms?

"The Sioux will soon know the Shoshones, and bring from their lodges many scalps and medicine-dogs. Divided into two tribes, that nation long since sought homes in other lands. One crossed the Snow-hills, toward the sun-setting; the Sioux shall visit them and avenge the blood and wrongs of ages. The other journeyed far toward the sun of winter, and now live to the leftward of the places where Hispanola builds his earth-lodge.[48]

"Then came the Scarred-Arms from a far-off country, a land of much snow and cold. Pleased with the great numbers of buffalo and other game that they found here, they stopped for the chase, and by many generations of possession have claimed these regions for their own; but they are not theirs. The Great Spirit gave this country to the Sioux, and they shall inhabit the land of their daughter's captivity.

"Why are you waiting here? Go and avenge the blood of your comrades upon the Scarred-Arms. They even now light their camp-fire by the stream at the mountain's base. Fear not; their scalps are yours. Then return to my people, that ye may come and receive your inheritance.

"Haste ye, that I may die; and oh! War-ka-tun-ga! Inasmuch as thou hast answered the prayer of thy handmaid, and shown to me the faces of my people, take me from hence."

The awe-struck warriors withdrew. They found the enemy encamped at the foot of the mountain, as they had been told by the mysterious woman. They attacked them, and were victorious. Thirty-five scalps were the reward of their bravery.

On arriving at their village, their strange adventures excited the astonishment of all the warriors, chiefs, and medicine-men. They planned an expedition against the Scarred-Arms, having been nerved up to a pitch of extraordinary bravery by the story of the old woman of the cave. Thus their enemies were eventually driven from the country, and the Sioux came into possession of their own.

The thankful warriors went to the cave en masse, to do reverence to the memory of the strange medicine-woman who had told them so many wonderful things. They found, upon their arrival there, only a small niche in the side of the mountain, and a sparkling little stream. Both the cave and the woman had disappeared.

For years after this strange occurrence the Sioux warriors visited the land of the Shoshones for scalps, and, as they passed the mountain where the old woman had been seen, they always offered something to the spirit of the place, and stopped to quench their thirst at the sparkling little stream.

On White River there is a bluff against which the full force of the stream has dashed for ages, until it has formed a precipice several hundred feet high. It is called by the Indians The Place of the Death Song. There is a legend which says that at one time the bands of the Ogallallas and Brules lived upon this river, immediately opposite the precipice. While residing there one of the braves of the Ogallallas offered to the father of a beautiful squaw six horses for her, according to the savage custom of thus purchasing a wife. The offer was immediately accepted by the father of the young girl, for he was very poor and needed the animals to use on the impending annual hunt after buffalo.

When the maiden heard that she was to become the wife of the Ogallalla, she burst into tears, and so obstinate was her resistance that the marriage was deferred for some days because of her inconsolable grief.

The cause of her unwillingness to become the bride of the Ogallalla was that she was in love with a young warrior of her own village, and she would not, as Indian maidens generally do, love at her sire's mere bidding.

Her father was determined, however, that his child should be governed by the customs of the tribe, and was only waiting for her sorrow to subside a little before he turned her over to the Indian he had chosen for her.

During this probation, however, the girl contrived to meet the warrior whom she had promised to marry, and they determined to elope. They accordingly fled to a remote village, where they hoped to live undisturbed.

They were pursued by the relentless father, both were captured, and the young warrior's life was forfeited by the laws of the tribe, for his presumption in stealing the maiden, while she was most unmercifully whipped and confined in her father's lodge. The Ogallalla had already paid the price agreed upon for the maiden, and the horses were then picketed among those of the irate father.

Early the next morning, after the death of her lover, the girl rose from her bed of buffalo-robes, and dressing herself in her best clothes, left the lodge. Not one of the villagers thought it at all strange that she should thus array herself, for they knew it was to be her wedding-day, and as she walked through the village, many a young warrior looked upon her with feelings of envy toward the Indian who was then to make her his bride.

She wandered toward the river, crossed it, and ascended the high peak on the opposite side. She then seated herself at the edge of the fearful precipice, and looked calmly down from its giddy height.

She soon became the cynosure of all eyes in the village, not only because of her remarkable beauty, but of her charmingly formed person, so plainly exposed to the view of all.

Presently the captivated gazers were surprised to hear her begin to sing in a mournful chant, and the strange words of her plaintive melody were wafted through the clear mountain air so that all could catch every word. They listened: -

"Why should I stay? he is gone. Light of my eyes; joy of my soul; show me my dwelling! 'Tis not here; 'tis far away in the Spirit Land. Thither he is gone. Why should I stay? Let me go!" "She sings her death song," exclaimed all who were watching and listening to her from their places in the village.

"She will throw herself from the precipice," said her father. And immediately a dozen warriors rushed toward the top of the cliff to rescue her from the terrible fate which she had chosen, and the leader of them all was the Ogallalla who was to have her for his bride.

She saw them coming, and as soon as they started she began again: -

"Spirit of death, set me free! Heart, thou art desolate. Farewell, O sun. Vain are the plains of the earth, its flowers, and purling streams. I loved you all once - but now no longer love. Thee I woo, kind Death! Wa-shu-pa calls me hence. In life we were one. We'll bask together in the Spirit Land. Short is my pass to thee. Wa-shu-pa, I come!"

Concluding her song, she threw herself forward, just as the foremost warriors arrived at the summit, in time to catch at her robe as she pitched down, leaving the garment in their hands; in another instant she was a mangled mass at the base of the cruel mountain.

In the winter of 1835 Ash Hollow was the scene of a fierce and bloody battle between the Pawnees and Sioux, hereditary enemies. The affray commenced very early in the morning, and continued until nearly dark. It was a closely fought battle. Every inch of ground was hotly contested. The arrows fell in showers, bullets whistled the death song of many a warrior on both sides, and the yells of the combating savages filled the wintry air. At length all the ammunition was completely exhausted on both sides, but still the battle raged. War-clubs, tomahawks, and scalping-knives rattled in the deadly personal conflict, and terrible war-whoops resounded, as now one side then the other gained some slight advantage.

As darkness drew over the scene, the Pawnees abandoned the field to the victorious Sioux, leaving more than sixty of their best warriors dead on the bloody sod. But the Sioux had not escaped a terrible loss. Forty-five of their bravest fighters were lying dead, and the defeated party of Pawnees were pursued but a very little distance when the chase was abandoned and they returned to their village at the forks of the Platte.

It is alleged that this disaster so humiliated the Pawnees that they at once abandoned their town. They moved down the Platte more than four hundred miles, and at the same time also abandoned their town on the Republican Fork of the Kansas River, and rarely ever ventured up the river as far as the scene of their great defeat, unless in very large parties.

For twenty years afterward the evidences of the terrible battle could be seen in the bleached bones scattered all over the vicinity of the conflict.

Many of the Indian tribes of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains have a tradition of a flood, but as they differ only in the matter of detail, a single one is presented here, that of the Sioux. It was told around the camp-fire, on General Carr's expedition against the hostile bands of that nation, in 1869, when Colonel W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) was chief of scouts.

One day some of the men brought into camp a large bone, which the surgeons pronounced to be the femur, or thigh-bone of a man. Some Indian prisoners, who had been captured a short time before, were sent for and asked to give their opinion of this find. As soon as they saw it, they, too, said it was the thigh-bone of a man.

Its peculiarity was its unusual size; in circumference it was as large as a man's body. The general asked the Indians how they knew it was the thigh-bone of a man. They replied that a great many years ago, living on the plains, there was a race of men who were so big that it was said they were tall enough to run alongside of a buffalo, pick him up, put him under one of their arms, and tear off a whole quarter of his meat and eat it as they walked on. These large men became so powerful in their own estimation that they defied the Great Spirit. This angered the Great Spirit, and he made the rain come. It kept on raining until the rivers and creeks were full of water and flooded over their banks. The Indians were compelled to move out of the valleys and go up on the divides and small hills; but they were not allowed to remain there long. The water kept rising and rising until it covered the divides and little hills; so the Indians kept moving up, higher and higher, until they reached the top peaks of the Rocky Mountains, but the water still rose until it covered the highest points, and all these big people were drowned. After they were all dead, it ceased raining; the water began to recede, and finally returned to the original channels of the rivers and creeks. Then the Great Spirit made a race of people of the size that we are to-day; people whom he could handle and who would not defy him.

The word "medicine" in all of the tribes in some sense is a misnomer;[49] it really signifies dreamer, or prophet, and is synonymous with the word "prophet" in the Old Testament. The Indian form of government may be characterized as a theocracy, and the medicine-man is the high priest. His dreams and his prophecies are held sacred by the people. Should what he tells them turn out to be untrue, the fault lies with themselves, and he claims that his instructions have been disregarded. If by accident his dreams are exactly verified, the confidence of the tribe in their medicine-man surpasses all belief. The medicine lodge is their tabernacle of the wilderness - the habitation of the Great Spirit, the sacred ark of their faith.