CHAPTER 39: Indian Warfare

ALL THESE [plains] tribes are warlike, and have as much strategy for protection against enemies as if they had been reared in Italy in continual feuds. When in a part of the country where enemies might attack, they place their houses on the skirt of a scrub wood "forest," the thickest and most tangled they can find, and dig a ditch in which they sleep. The warriors cover themselves with small brush, leaving loopholes, and are so camouflaged that, if come upon, they are not discovered.

They open a very narrow pathway into the interior of the scrub stand, where a spot is prepared for the women and children to sleep. At nightfall they kindle fires in their lodges to make possible spies think the tribe is inside them. Before daybreak they relight these fires. Should an enemy come to assault the lodges, the defenders in the ditch sally out and inflict much injury before they are seen or located. When no timber presents itself for this kind of shelter and ambush overnight, they arrange themselves on selected open ground and invest it with trenches covered with brush, spacing apertures to shoot arrows through.

Once while I was with the Aguenes [Doguenes], their [Quevene] enemies fell upon them suddenly at midnight, killed three, and wounded many. The Aguenes ran from their houses into the fields facing. When they perceived their assailants had retired, they went back to pick up all the arrows the latter had shot and followed after them so stealthily that the aggressors did not suspect their arrival in the village that night. At 4 A.M. the Aguenes attacked, killed five, and wounded quite a few. The Quevenes fled from their houses, leaving their bows and all they owned behind. In a little while, the wives of the Quevene warriors came to the Aguenes and made a treaty of friendship. The women, on the other hand, sometimes are the cause of war.

All these nations, when they have personal enmities and are not related, assassinate at night, waylay, and inflict gross atrocities on each other.

They are the most vigilant in danger of any people I ever knew. If they fear an enemy, they stay awake all night, each warrior with a bow and a dozen arrows at his side. If one inclines to doze, he tests his bow and gives the string a twist if it is not taut enough.

Warriors often issue from their houses bending to the ground so they cannot be seen, peering all around to catch every object. If they detect anything suspicious, they at once are in the bushes with their bows and arrows, and remain there all day, running from place to place - where they think they need to be or where they think the enemy lurks. With daylight they unbend their bows until they go out to hunt. The strings are deer sinews.

The way they battle is to bend low to the ground, constantly speaking [yelling], and leap from one point to another, avoiding the shafts shot at them. Their maneuvering is so effective that a crossbow or musket does them little damage; they rather scorn them, especially when they can move nimbly about on an open field. Our weapons are, however, good for defiles and in water. Everywhere else, the horse will best subdue, being what the natives universally dread [to generalize from Spanish experience in Florida, Mexico, and the West Indies].

Whoever fights them must show no fear and no desire for anything that is theirs. While a war is on, they must be treated with utmost rigor; for if they detect the slightest timidity or covetousness, they are a race who readily note and exploit opportunities for vengeance. They draw strength from any weakness in their adversaries.

When they exhaust their supply of arrows in battle, each side withdraws his own way, neither following the other even if preponderant, such being their custom. At times an Indian will be run through by an arrow; but if it does not hit the entrails or heart, he recovers.

I believe these people see and hear better and have keener senses in general than any in the world. They know great hunger, thirst, and cold, as if they were made for enduring these more than other men, by habit and nature.

I have wanted to say this much, not merely to indulge the curiosity of humans about each other, but to impart a knowledge of usages and artifices which would be of value to those who might sometime in the future find themselves among these people.