CHAPTER XII. SIOUX AND THEIR TRADITIONS.
A little more than half a century ago the many bands of the great Sioux nation 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.