Submitted by scott on Mon, 10/17/2016 - 20:06

This occurred west of Alkali Station:

Yesterday and to-day we have been in a line of Indian "removes.” The wild people were shifting their quarters for grass; when it becomes a little colder they will seek some winter abode on the banks of a stream which supplies fuel and where they can find meat, so that with warmth and food, song and chat-they are fond of talking nonsense as African negroes—and smoke and sleep, they can while away the dull and dreary winter. Before describing the scene, which might almost serve for a picture of Bedouin or gipsy life—so similar are the customs of all sayages -I have something to say about the Red Man.

This is a country of misnomers. America should not, according to the school-books, have been named America, consequently the Americans should not be called Americans. A geographical error, pardonable in the fifteenth century, dubbed the old tenants of these lands Indians,  but why we should still call them the Red Men can not be conceived. I have now seen them in the north, south, east and west of the United States, yet never, except under the influence of ochre or vermilion, have I seen the Red Man red. The real color of the skin, as may be seen under the leggins, varies from a dead pale olive to a dark dingy brown. The parts exposed to the sun are slightly burnished, as in a Tartar or an Affghan after a summer march. Between the two extremes above indicated there are, however, a thousand shades of color, and often the skin has been so long grimed in with pigment, grease, and dirt that it suggests a brick-dust tinge which a little soap or soda would readily remove. Indeed, the color and the complexion, combined with the lank hair, scant beard, and similar peculiarities, renders it impossible to see this people for the first time without the strongest impression that they are of that Turanian breed which in prehistoric ages passed down from above the Himalayas as far south as Cape Comorin.

Another mistake touching the Indian is the present opinion concerning him and his ancestors. He now suffers in public esteem from the reaction following the high-flown descriptions of Cooper and the herd of minor romancers, who could not but make their heroes heroes. Moreover, men acquainted only with the degenerate Pawnees, or Diggers, extend their evil opinions to the noble tribes now extinct—the Iroquois and Algonquins, for instance, whose remnants, the Delawares and Ojibwas, justify the high opinion of the first settlers. The exploits of King Philip, Pontiac, Gurister Sego, Tecumseh, Keokuk, Ietan, Captain J. Brant, Black Hawk, Red Jacket, Osceola, and Billy Bowlegs, are rapidly fading away from memory, while the failures of such men as Little Thunder, and those like him, stand prominently forth in modern days. Besides the injustice to the manes and memories of the dead, this depreciation of the Indians tends to serious practical evils. Those who see the savage lying drunk about stations, or eaten up with disease, expect to beat him out of the field by merely showing their faces; they fail, and pay the penalty with their lives—an event which occurs every year in some parts of America.

The remove of the village presented an interesting sight -- an animated, shifting scene of bucks and braves, squaws and pappooses, ponies dwarfed by bad breeding and hard living, dogs and puppies struggling over the plains westward. In front, singly or in pairs, rode the men, not gracefully, not according to the rules of Mexican manège, but like the Abyssinian eunuch, as if born upon and bred to become part of the animal. Some went barebacked, others rode, like the ancient chiefs of the Western Islands, upon a saddle-tree, stirrupless, or provided with hollow blocks of wood: in some cases the saddle was adorned with bead hangings, and in all a piece of buffalo hide with the hair on was attached beneath to prevent chafing. The cruel ring-bit of the Arabs is not unknown. A few had iron curbs, probably stolen; for the most part they managed their nags with a hide thong lashed round the lower jaw and attached to the neck. A whip, of various sizes and shapes, sometimes a round and tattooed ferule, more often a handle like a butcher's tally-stick, flat, notched, one foot long, and provided with two or three thongs, hung at the wrist. Their nags were not shod with parflèche, as among the horse-Indians of the South. Their long, lank, thick, brownish-black hair, ruddy from the effects of weather, was worn parted in the middle, and depended from the temples confined with a long twist of otter or beaver's skin in two queues, or pig-tails, reaching to the breast: from the poll, and distinct from the remainder of the hair, streamed the scalp-lock. This style of hair-dressing, doubtless, aids in giving to the coronal region that appearance of depression which characterizes the North American Indians as a race of “Flatheads,” and which, probably being considered a beauty, led to the artificial deformities of the Peruvian and the Aztec. The parting in men, as well as in women, was generally colored with vermilion, and plates of brass or tin, with beveled edges, varying in size from a shilling to half a crown, were inserted into the front hair. The scalp-lock-in fops the side-locks also—was decorated with tin or silver plates often twelve in number, beginning from the head and gradually diminishing in size as they approached the heels; a few had eagle's, hawk's, and crow's feathers stuck in the hair, and sometimes, grotesquely enough, crownless Kossuth hats, felt broadbrims, or old military casquettes, surmounted all this finery. Their scanty beard was removed; they compare the bushy-faced European to a dog running away with a squirrel in its mouth. In their ears were rings of beads, with pendants of tin plates or mother of pearl, or huge circles of brass wire not unlike a Hindoo tailor's; and their fore-arms, wrists, and fingers were, after an African fashion, adorned with the same metals, which the savage ever prefers to gold or silver. Their other decorations were cravats of white or white and blue, oval beads, and necklaces of plates like those worn in the hair. The body dress was a tight-sleeved waistcoat of dark drugget, over an American cotton shirt; others wore tattered flannels, and the middle was wrapped round with a common blanket, presented by the government agent, -- scarlet and blue being the colors preferred, white rare: -- a better stuff is the coarse broadcloth manufactured for the Indian market in the United States. The leggins were a pair of pantaloons without the body part—in their palmy days the Indians laughed to scorn their future conquerors for tightening the hips so as to impede activity-looped up at both haunches with straps to a leathern girdle, and all wore the breech-cloth, which is the common Hindoo languti or T-bandage. The cut of the leggins is a parallelogram, a little too short and much too broad for the limb; it is sewn so as to fit tight, and the projecting edges, for which the light-colored list or bordering is usually preserved, answers the effect of a military stripe. When buckskin leggins are made the outside edges are fringed, producing that feathered appearance which distinguishes in our pictures the nether limbs of the Indian brave. The garb ends with moccasins, the American brogues, which are made in two ways. The simplest are of one piece, a cylinder of skin cut from above and below the hock of some large animal-moose, elk, or buffalo—and drawn on before shrinking, the joint forming the heel, while the smaller end is sewn together for a toe. This rough contrivance is little used but as a pis aller. The other kind is made of tanned hide in two pieces; a sole and an upper leather, sewn together at the junction; the last is a bit of board rounded off at the end. They are open over the instep, where also they can be laced or tied, and they fit as closely as the Egyptian mizz or under-slipper, which they greatly resemble. They are worn by officers in the Far West as the expatriated Anglo-Indian adopts the “Juti.” The greatest inconvenience to the novice is the want of heel; moreover, they render the feet uncomfortably tender, and, unless soled with parflèche or thick leather, they are scant defense against stony ground; during dry weather they will last fairly, but they become, after a single wetting, even worse than Bombay-made Wellingtons. A common pair will cost $2; when handsomely embroidered with bead-work by the squaws they rise to $15.

The braves were armed with small tomahawks or iron hatchets, which they carried with the powder-horn, in the belt, on the right side, while the long tobacco-pouch of antelope skin hung by the left. Over their shoulders were leather targes, bows and arrows, and some few had rifles; both weapons were defended from damp in deer-skin cases, and quivers with the inevitable bead-work, and the fringes which every savage seems to love. These articles reminded me of those in use among the Bedouins of El Hejaz. Their nags were lean and ungroomed; they treat them as cruelly as do the Somal; yet nothing -- short of whisky—can persuade the Indian warrior, like the man of Nejd, to part with a favorite steed. It is his all in all, his means of livelihood, his profession, his pride; he is an excellent judge of horse-flesh, though ignoring the mule and ass; and if he offers an animal for which he has 'once refused to trade, it is for the reason that an Oriental takes to market an adult slave—it has become useless. Like the Arab, he considers it dishonorable to sell a horse; he gives it to you, expecting a large present, and if disappointed he goes away grumbling that you have "swallowed” his property. He is fond of short races -- spurts they are called, — as we had occasion to see; there is nothing novel nor interesting in the American as there is in the Arabian hippology; the former learned all its arts from Europeans, the latter taught them.

Behind the warriors and braves followed the baggage of the village. The lodge-poles, in bundles of four and five, had been lashed to pads or pack-saddles, girthed tight to the ponies' backs, the other ends being allowed to trail along the ground, like the shafts of a truck; the sign easily denotes the course of travel. The wolf-like dogs were also harnessed in the same way; more lupine than canine, they are ready when hungry to attack man or mule; and, sharp-nosed and prick-eared, they not a little resemble the Indian pariah dog. Their equipments, however, were of course on a diminutive scale; a little pad girthed round the barrel, with a breastplate to keep it in place, enabled them to drag two short light lodge poles tied together at the smaller extremity. One carried only a hawk on its back—yet falconry has never, I believe, been practiced by the Indian. Behind the ponies the poles were connected by cross-sticks, upon which were lashed the lodge covers, the buffalo robes, and other bulkier articles. Some had strong frames of withes or willow basket-work, two branches being bent into an oval, garnished below with a net-work of hide thongs for a seat, covered with a light wicker canopy, and opening, like a cage, only on one side; a blanket or a buffalo robe defends the inmate from sun and rain. These are the litters for the squaws when weary, the children, and the puppies, which are part of the family till used for feasts. It might be supposed to be a rough conveyance; the elasticity of the poles, however, alleviates much of that inconvenience. A very ancient man, wrinkled as a last year's walnut, and apparently crippled by old wounds, was carried, probably by his great-grandsons, in a rude sedan. The vehicle was composed of two pliable poles, about ten feet long, separated by three cross-bars twenty inches or so apart; a blanket had been secured to the foremost and hindermost, and under the centre-bit lay Senex secured against falling out. In this way the Indians often bear the wounded back to their villages; apparently they have never thought of a horse-litter, which might be made with equal facility, and would certainly save work.

While the rich squaws rode, the poorer followed their packhorses on foot, eyeing the more fortunate as the mercer's wife regards what she terms the “carriage lady.” The women's dress not a little resembles their lords'; the unaccustomed eye often hesitates between the sexes. In the fair, however, the waistcoat is absent, the wide-sleeved shift extends below the knees, and the leggins are of somewhat different cut. All wore coarse shawls, or white, blue, and scarlet cloth-blankets round their bodies. Upon the Upper Platte we afterward saw them dressed in cotton gowns, after a semi-civilized fashion, and with bowie-knives by their sides. The grandmothers were fearful to look upon, horrid excrescences of nature, teaching proud man a lesson of humility, and a memento of his neighbor in creation, the “humble ape;" -- it is only civilization that can save the aged woman from resembling the gorilla. The middle-aged matrons were homely bodies, broad and squat like the African dame after she has become mère de famille; their hands and feet were notably larger from work than those of the men, and the burdens upon their backs caused them to stoop painfully. The young squaws -- pity it is that all our household Indian words, pappoose, for instance, tomahawk, wigwam, and pow-wow, should have been naturalized out of the Abenaki and other harsh dialects of New England -- deserved a more euphonious appellation. The belle savage of the party had large and languishing eyes and dentists' teeth that glittered, with sleek, long black hair like the ears of a Blenheim spaniel, justifying a natural instinct to stroke or pat it, drawn straight over a low, broad, Quadroon-like brow. Her figure had none of the fragility which distinguishes the higher race, who are apparently too delicate for human nature's daily food — porcelain, in fact, when pottery is wanted; -- nor had she the square corpulency which appears in the negro woman after marriage. Her ears and neck were laden with tinsel ornaments, brass-wire rings adorned her wrists and fine arms, a bead-work sash encircled her waist, and scarlet leggins, fringed and tasseled, ended in equally costly moccasins. When addressed by the driver in some terms to me unintelligible, she replied with a soft clear laugh—the principal charm of the Indian, as of the smooth-throated African woman -- at the same time showing him the palm of her right hand as though it had been a looking-glass. The gesture would have had a peculiar significance in Sindh; here, however, I afterward learned, it simply conveys a refusal. The maidens of the tribe, or those under six, were charming little creatures, with the wildest and most piquant expression, and the prettiest doll-like features imaginable; the young coquettes already conferred their smiles as if they had been of any earthly value. The boys once more reminded me of the East; they had black beady eyes, like snakes, and the wide mouths of young caymans. Their only dress, when they were not in “birth-day suit," was the Indian languti. None of the braves carried scalps, finger-bones, or notches on the lance, which serve like certain marks on saw-handled pistols farther east, nor had any man lost a limb. They followed us for many a mile, peering into the hinder part of our traveling wigwam, and ejaculating “How! How !" the normal salutation. It is supposed to mean "good," and the Western man, when he drinks to your health, says “Here, how !" and expects a return in kind. The politeness of the savages did not throw us off our guard; the Dakotah of these regions are expert and daring kleptomaniacs; they only laughed, however, a little knowingly as we raised the rear curtain, and they left us after begging pertinaciously-Bakhshish is an institution here as on the banks of the Nile—for tobacco, gunpowder, ball, copper caps, lucifers, and what not. The women, except the pretty party, looked, methought, somewhat scowlingly, but one can hardly expect a smiling countenance from the human biped trudging ten or twenty miles under a load fit for a mule. A great contrast with these Indians was a train of “Pike's Peakers," who, to judge from their grim looks, were returning disappointed from the new gold diggings. I think that if obliged to meet one of the two troops by moonlight alone, my choice would have fallen upon “messieurs les sauvages.”

Citations

Burton, Richard. 1861. The City Of The Saints. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.

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