Print
Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

About midway between our party and the dusky group that stood watching us the four ambassadors met. The Indians proved to be a band of Cheyennes, under White Wolf, or, as he is more frequently called, Medicine Wolf, out on the war-path against the Pawnees. The Wolf was a fine-looking man, six feet four in height, straight as an arrow, and developed like a giant. Being a chief, he possessed the regalia and warranty deed of one, consisting of a ragged military coat without any tail, and a dirty letter from some Indian agent, with a lie in it over which even a Cheyenne must have smiled, telling how White Wolf loved the whites. Perhaps he did; his namesake loves spring lamb.

Our guide was an indifferent interpreter, but had no difficulty in understanding that the Indians were hungry and wished something to eat. In all my experience from that day to this I have never found an Indian who was not hungry, except once. The exception was an old fellow who, although enough of an Indian to be habitually drunk, was so degenerate a specimen in other respects as to be somewhat dyspeptic. His stomach had repudiated, after receiving a deposit from a trader of one hundred pickled oysters, and had temporarily closed its doors. His stock of gastric juices seemed to have been well-nigh bankrupted by a fifty years' discounting of jerked buffalo. The one hundred tons of this compound which the noble warrior had dissolved would have exhausted the liquid of a tannery. Let these savages of the plains meet a white man, whenever or wherever they may, their first demand is always for meat and drink, followed not infrequently by another for his scalp. The victim may have but a day's rations, and be a hundred miles from any station where more can be obtained, but his all is taken as greedily and remorselessly as if he commanded a commissary train.

The Professor and our guide motioned White Wolf and his companion to wait, and rode back to us for the purpose of casting up our account of ways and means. The only chance of balancing it seemed to be by sight draft on Shamus' wagon or an entry of war. We dare not refuse them and go on; they would be sure to dog our steps, and at the first convenient opportunity attack and probably murder us. Shamus, with recovered courage, stoutly protested against a raid upon his department. "To think," he expostulated, "of the swate sausage and ham bein' used to wad such painted carcasses as them divils!" The guide suggested as the best alternative that we should invite the Indians to return with us to Hays. We caught at the idea and adopted it immediately; and while the guide rode back as the bearer of our invitation, we "stood to arms," awaiting the result with silent but ill-concealed solicitude.

Should the Indians consider it an attempt to trap them, our bones might have an opportunity to rest in some neighboring ravine until the ready spades of some future geological expedition should disturb them, and we be at once reconstructed into some rare species of ancient ape or specimens of extinct salamanders. Or, if happily resurrected at a somewhat earlier period, might not some enterprising Barnum of the twentieth century place on our bones the seal of centuries, and lay them with the mummies in his showcases? Our expedition was partly intended for diving into the past, but not quite so deep or so permanent a dive as that. What wonder that incipient ague-chills played up and down and all about our spinal column, as we reflected how completely we were dependent on the caprice of those Native Americans sitting out there, in half-naked dignity, on their tough ponies? Or that we gazed anxiously at the huge chief as he sat, silent and motionless, awaiting the approach of our guide?

Our ideas of the savage had been so thoroughly Cooperised during boyhood, that when our guide approached the Wolf, and, with a gesture to the south, invited him back to Hays, I was prepared to see the tall form straighten in the saddle, and pictured to my imagination some such specimen of untutored eloquence as this:

"Pale-face, the blood of the Cheyenne burns quick. He meets you trailing like a serpent across his war-path, seeking to steal treasures from the red man's land. He asks food, and you tell him to come into your trap and get it. Pale-faces, remove your hats; noble Cheyennes, remove their scalps!"

Nothing of this kind occurred, however. Our guide informed us that the bold savage simply fastened one button of his tailless coat, grunted out "Ugh!" in a satisfied way, and motioned his band to follow. This they did, and we were soon retracing our steps to Hays; by the guide's advice, making the savages keep a fair distance behind us.

The roofs of Hays glistened across the plains, as they say those of Damascus do in the East. We had formed a boy's romantic acquaintance with that land, where the sun burns and the simooms frolic, and once were quite enamored of its wild Bedouins of the desert. Our manhood was now experiencing the sensation of seeing a tribe fiercer than their eastern brethren, not exactly at our doors, because we had none, but following very closely at our heels.

As our strange cavalcade re-entered the town the people stopped to gaze a moment, and then came out to meet us. News flew to the fort, and some of the officers rode over. The Land Company's office was selected for a council room, the Cheyennes tying their ponies to the stage corral near. The Indians were a strange-looking crew. Sachem declared them all women, and Dobeen affirmed that they looked more like a covey of witches than warriors. With their long hair divided in the middle, and falling, sometimes in braids and again loosely, over their shoulders, and their blankets hanging around them, they did really look much like the traditional squaw who so kindly assists one in cutting his eye-teeth at Niagara Falls, with her sharp practice and cheap bead-work. Their faces were as smooth as a woman's, without the least trace of either mustache or whiskers; so that, altogether, when we essayed to pick out some females, we got completely "mixed up," and were at length forced to the conclusion that the majestic White Wolf was traveling over the plains with a copper-colored harem.

Cooper having told us that the Indian term of reproach is to be or to look like a woman, we avoided offense and the "arrows of outrageous fortune" which an Indian is so dexterous in using, and gained the information desired by addressing a direct inquiry to White Wolf, through the interpreter, whether he had any squaws along. He replied by holding up two fingers and pointing out the couple thus designated. We tried to find, first in their features and then in their clothing, some distinguishing characteristic but found it impossible; so that when they changed positions an instant afterward, I was entirely at a loss to recognize them again.

All had extremely uninviting countenances, any one of which would have sufficed to hang three ordinary men, and a common villainy made them as much alike as forty-six nutmegs. White Wolf alone differed in appearance. He was stoutly built, as well as tall and straight, with broad features, the bronze of his complexion merging almost into white, and he smiled pleasantly and readily. The others were no more able to smile than Satan himself, the expression which their faces assumed when attempting it being simply diabolical. Dobeen was so startled by one who tried that contortion on and asked for "tobac," that he retreated in disorder from the council-chamber.

White Wolf and the more important members of his band took the chairs proffered them, and sat in a circle, the Professor, Sachem, and two leading citizens of Hays being sandwiched in at proper intervals. The object of the gathering was gravely announced to be that the Indians might smoke the pipe of peace with the towns-people. As war was a chronic passion with these wild horsemen of the plains, none of them had ever been near the place in friendly mood before, and the novelty of the occasion, therefore, brought the entire population around the building. The postmaster of Hays, Mr. Hall, had once traded among the Cheyennes and, understanding their sign-language, acted as interpreter. This curious race has two distinct ways of conversing--one by mouth, in a singularly unmusical dialect, and the other by motions or signs with the hands. The latter is that most generally understood and employed by scouts and traders.

THE PIPE OF PEACE--THE PROFESSOR'S DILEMMA.

One of the Indians now took from a sack a red-clay pipe, with a ridiculously long bowl and longer shank, and inserted into it a three-foot stem, profusely ornamented with brass tacks and a tassel of painted horse hair. This was handed to White Wolf, together with a small bag of tobacco, in which the Killikinnick leaves had been previously crumbled and mixed. These were a bright red, evidently used for their fragrance, as they only weakened the tobacco without adding any particular flavor. We were struck with the Indian mode of smoking. The chief took a few quick whiffs, emitting the fumes with a hoarse blowing like a miniature steam-engine. He then passed it, mouth-piece down so that the saliva might escape, and it commenced a slow journey around the circle. When it reached our worthy professor he found himself in a sore dilemma. No smoke had ever curled along the roof of his mouth, or made a chimney of his geological nose. For an instant the philosopher hesitated; then, reflecting that passing the pipe would be worse than choking over it, the excellent man put the stem to his mouth and gave a pull which must have filled the remotest corner of his lungs with Killikinnick. Gasping amid the stifling cloud, it poured from both mouth and nose, and called on the way at his stomach, which gave unmistakable symptoms of distress. We feared that he would be forced to forsake the council, but, with an effort worthy of the occasion and himself, he kept his seat, and opening wide his mouth, waited patiently until the fiend of smoke had withdrawn from his interior its trailing garments.

The council disappointed us. In White Wolf we had found as fine-looking an Indian as ever murdered and stole upon his native continent. His people were first in war, first to break peace, and the last to keep it, their excuse being that the white man trespassed on their hunting grounds. We had rather expected that burly form to rise from his seat, and, with flashing eyes, utter then and there a flood of aboriginal eloquence: "White man, your people live where the sun rises, ours where it sets. When did you ever come to us hungry and be fed, or clothed and go away so," and so on _ad infinitum_. Instead of all this there was a tremendous smoking and grunting, more like a farmer's fumigation of hogs than one of those pipe-of-peace councils which I had so often studied on canvas and in books. I have often regretted since that our aborigines can not read. If they could only learn from the white man's literature what they ought to be, the contrast between it and what they really are would be so violent that it might make an impression, even upon an Indian.

For a happy mingling of lies and truth our "big talk" could hardly be excelled. A reporter could have taken down the proceedings somewhat as follows:

SCENE--Six Indians and as many white men in a ring. Postmaster Hall in the center, acting as interpreter.

_Indian_--"Cheyenne love white man much (lie). Forty-six warriors all hungry (truth). Us good Indians" (lie). And so on, alternately.

_Pale Brother_--"White man love Cheyenne. Got lots of food, but no whisky" (the latter a lie which almost choked the speaker).

It would not interest the reader to know all the repetitions or nonsense uttered, and we spare him the infliction of even attempting to tell him. The Indians had for their object food, and they got it. The whites had for their object permanent peace, and did not get it.

BUREAU OF ILLUSTRATION BUFFALO_WHITE WOLF AT HOME."The red man is noble, big injun is me."

In due time the council broke up, and in an incredibly short time thereafter many of the Indians were reeling drunk. That White Wolf did not become equally so was owing altogether to his being a man of iron constitution. Any thing but metal, it seemed to me, must have been burnt out by the fiery draughts which we saw the noble chief take down. A tin cupful of "whisk," such as would have made the cork in a bottle tight, was tossed off without a wink.

Sachem, who took notes, rendered White Wolf's speech at the council in verse, as follows:

  White brother, have pity; the White Wolf is poor, The skin of his belly is shrunk to his back; A gallon of whisky is good for a cure, If followed by plenty of "bacon and tack."

  The red man is noble, big Injun is me: Like berries all crimson and ready to pick, The scalps on my pole are a heap good to see--Good medicine they when poor Injun is sick.

  The red man is truth, and the white one is lies; The first suffers wrong at hand of the other; The way they skin us is good for sore eyes, The way we skin them astonishing, rather.

  They rob us of guns and offer us plows, And tell us to farm it, to go into corn; We're good to raise hair, and good to raise rows, And good to raise essence of corn--in a horn.

  Go back to your cities and leave us our home, Or off with your scalp and that remnant of shirt; Go, let the poor Injun in happiness roam, And live on his buffalo, puppies, and dirt.

Two or three of the Indians mounted their ponies and took a race through the streets. The animals were thin, despondent brutes, but as wiry as if their hides were stuffed, like patent mattresses, full of springs. The Indians, as is their universal custom, mounted from the right side, instead of the left as we do. At the lower end of the street they got as nearly in line as their inebriated condition would permit, and when the word was given set off toward us with frightful shouts, which made the ponies scamper like so many frightened cats.

The animal which came out ahead had no rider to claim the honors, that blanketed jockey having fallen off midway. He was now sitting on his hams, looking the wrong way down the track, and evidently adding up the "book" which he had made for the race. As he soon arose, with a dissatisfied grunt, we thought his figures probably read about as follows:

Given--A gallon of Hays whisky in the saddle, and a race-horse under it. Endeavor to divide the latter by a rawhide whip, and the result is a sore-headed Indian, who stands forfeit to his peers for "the drinks."

As we wandered back to the council-chamber, the scene there had changed somewhat. White Wolf had been transformed into a cavalry colonel, and was strutting around with two gilt eagles on his broad shoulders, looking fully as important as many a real colonel whom we have caught in his pin feathers and, withal, much more of the hero. Our warrior had seen some of the officers from the fort strolling around, and straightway fell to coveting his neighbors' straps, which observing, Sachem at once purchased from a store the emblems of power and pinned them upon him. He whispered to us that when White Wolf took his first step as a colonel, it had been accompanied by a snort of pain, the unlucky slipping of a pin having evidently conveyed to the chief the idea that one of the eagles had grasped his shoulder in its talons.

The chief modestly requested similar honors for his "papoose," and that individual was treated to the straps of a captain. A different application of strap, it occurred to me, would have seemed more proper upon the six feet of unpromising humanity which appeared above the "papoose's" moccasins.

It had been a matter of surprise to us how the Indians could make such inferior looking stock as theirs capable of such speed and extraordinary journeys; but it ceased to excite our wonder after an examination of their whips. These ingenious instruments of torture have handles, which in form and size resemble a policeman's club. To one end are attached some thongs of thick leather, half a yard in length, and to the other a loop of the same material, just large enough to go over the hand and bind slightly on the wrist. Dangling from the latter, the handle can be instantly grasped, and the body of thongs brought down on the pony's skin, with a crack like a flail on the sheaves, and the result is what Sachem called an astonishing "shelling out" of speed.

We explained to White Wolf that Tammany Sachem was one of many great chiefs who had a mighty wigwam in the big city of the pale-faces, far away toward the rising sun; that they were all good men, and never lied like the chiefs of the Cheyennes, or took any thing belonging to others; and that their women, instead of carrying heavy burdens, spent all their time in distributing the money and goods of the big wigwam to the needy.

White Wolf signified, through the interpreter, that such a wigwam was too good for earth, and ought to be pitched on the happy hunting grounds as soon as possible.

Sachem thought the savage meant to be sarcastic.

 

powered by social2s