Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Buffalo-chip. Photo Lot 24, Neg. 4196-a.

 

 

 

Standing Bear's tent

 

 

 

Ponca house, where a council was held

October 1, 1881

Rose early, saw the sun rise as I made my toilet by the Niobrara river. Mr. T. Went to town after our breakfast of roast beef prepared by our friend, Mrs. Riggs. I finished my article for Womens Congress, on Indian Women. Wrote other letters. Buffalo-chip and friend came over, will go with us. We were just stepping into the boat to go to Standing Bear's when Wajapa called out, "Here come the Poncas!" So they did, in wagons, ox-carts and horseback, galloping along the bank, Standing Bear in good black clothes, but gay moccasins, got out of his wagon, came forward to greet us. His wife, a comely woman, in cloth skirt and saque sat with handkerchief about her head. She wore rings and bracelets, was very courteous and returned our greeting. The women had the seam of the hair painted red. Red cloth dress with ribbon embroidery on the front of skirt, beads by the hundreds about their necks. One little boy had on yellow breeches, they are made two straight pieces sewed up with a lap to stand out at the seam and fastened by a strip of cloth as a belt - no seat, only legs covered, these of bright yellow. Breech cloth worn like to bandage a tail behind - formed by the end passing under the belt and then hanging over the buttock. This of green. A gay calico shirt, a short skirt-shaped jacket of blue, trimmed with bits of blue glass about the neck, armhole and down the back, bracelets, beads, hanging to his waist a piece of shell on the end - face painted bright red, scalp locks, a circular parting on the back part of crown about three inches diameter, the hair braided in pigtail, end ornamented, the circular part painted red. Younger in yellow trousers, red jacket, face painted red, streak across nose two spots on cheeks, and upward line on – [?]Women with a circular tattoo in forehead about size of sixpence. Standing Bear has a circle, Smoke a greek Cross on forehead. Women very shy - all with shawl drawn over head, babies and boys and girls, few of the latter. We all drove to town, got meat and flour then back to our camp where they gathered and we went on to the Ponca Reservation.

The Niobrara has several large islands so we forded successfully the five stream branches. The main river very treacherous channel changing every few hours. The Indians had placed stakes to mark when they crossed. This channel had changed. Our wheels went down, the water came in. I had taken off my rubber for sitting on the ground and then riding in the bottom of a springless wagon made my legs ache. I was wet to my skin in a moment but although one horse fell down we got through safely. An ox team that followed us got stuck, the Indian wading, flogged, the women ditto, in the wagon, bye and bye the oxen up to their backs in water pulled out of the hole and all arrived safely at the camp. The people are building houses and none live in tents. Pigs, horses, chickens, children, men and women, various debris, and not overnice. Went to Standing Bear’s tent - see picture - a stove stood in the middle, beds at the left of entrance, trunks, bags of grain at the back edge, rocking and two chairs. We enter silently and sit at the back part, a blanket on the ground under our feet. Bye & bye we go out. Wife prepares the meal. We return and seated on the floor, partake of it. A clean table cloth, roast pork, stewed beef, soup, bread - sit on the left legs. I am awkward. Standing Bear at Mr. T’s right, then Susette, then me. Old Smoke came in after we had finished. Standing Bear’s wife sat on bed. No particular duties except for us. Silver spoons, very nice - pet dog, without hair. Wind blew like hurricane, very hot inside.

After dinner a council held. Standing Bear in chair. Three chairs at his left, Mr. T. S. and I. First Buffalo-chip arose - shook hands, Mr. T. S. and me and spoke - Each speaker shook hands with all before he spoke. I spoke after the general talk.

Friend, you have come to us with these women and we are glad. When you went east to work for us, not only the men were glad but the women and children. We are all friends here. You were good to us and pitied us, God would pity us. Your women helped us. You are welcome to us.

Standing Bear.

I cannot thank you as the others here can in the name of your little children. We are glad to see you and the woman. This woman helped us and now she has come to see us. You are welcome. When we heard you had come and were camped all these men gladly left their work and came to see you.

Old Smoke.

Today we are glad to see you so well and good. You took this friend east and he said the women helped us to do the work you did. It seems to us that we were in darkness, but when you came you brought light. I stand on this ground and it is ours. When I see anything strong I thank God that it is so. When it came to us you had gained us the land. It was as though we had had bags of gold.

I am glad I can work now. Your coming with this woman has made me happy, that is why we are glad today, when we see you today like new life and when the children grow up and have good it will have come from you and the women. You have helped us. People from other tribes come to us for help.

We were glad when we heard you were here and had brought a woman. We had heard the woman had helped us, now we know it to be true for one has come.

The tribe will have[?] when they hear who you are and that this woman has come to see them.

We thank you for the fact that we can work on our own land.

Brave Heart.

Up only two days, pale and sick, ran away from the Indian Territory in eight days. You slept in his tent, when he wanted to come, you said he could. When he came he left four cows, two horses, two wagons, two harnesses, left everything. When he left owed twenty-five dollars traders store. Left them in no ones care, all in confusion. Shall he pay his bill? Mr. T. says pay no attention to the agent, to his things and let the agent pay it.

Jack Paniska.

Say something entirely different.

When they were very poor you helped them. When the Omahas had council he was there. When he heard how poor they were, he came here to be with them. Since yesterday wanted to tell about white man. He met white men stealing wood. He accosted the men who paid no attention. The man said, land don’t belong to Poncas but government. I told him this belonged to Indians the other side for whites. Help them that the police may do something.

Give the papers so that if they trespass for wood he can hold them till the people pay. The white people who live on the border as though they would tear the flesh off of us. You do good for us. We want to help ourselves so that our policemen may do something.

A thoughtful, slender, oval faced, high forehead.

White Shirt wants to bring his old mother from Indian Territory. J.H. Sherburne, Licensed U.S. Indian Trader, Arkansas City, Cowley County, Kansas.

Picture wild feathers, tattoo. I am a Ponca Indian chief, J.H. Sherburne is our trader. He buys of us and keeps for sale our make of pipes, moccasins, gloves, necklaces and all Indian curiosities.

The faces of the men gathered were very interesting. The old men sat next the chief, the young ones on the outer part and opposite the chief. The pipe was lighted by Standing Bear and passed round. After the welcoming speeches, then the special questions were asked, mostly referring to land. Mr. T. spoke and explained. Each one must build a hut, 160 acres and cultivate it. If when the men from Washington come they found a man off a land then he would get none. They seemed pleased and glad a christian woman has come. The tales of oppression were pitiful. They showed bills sent in by traders to swindle them out of money. They are children as faced toward us. Know nothing of the power of law and organization. Their implicit faith in a white man they think friendly is very plaintive.

After my speech, which S. interpreted, we shook hands all around and bade goodbye. Buffalo-chip drove us to the river near our camp. The channel was not wide but very swift. Buffalo-chip took off his pants, waded to his waist and drew us across. It was a struggle but we got safely over. A strange experience, the boat swung round the traveled length several times the width of the river to get across. We landed on a great island, Mr. T. and S. waded some places. I was carried. At last after a mile we came to the branch of the river on which we camped. Arrived there to find the boat gone. Wajapa stood on the opposite bank and from him we learned a white man had come and taken it, a few minutes before. Nothing to do but wade. We made bundles of our wraps, my notes very carefully packed. Mr. T. went across to test the passage found it only three feet or more deep, called to Wajapa to come and help carry. He stripped and started. Just then Buffalo-chip came along on his way to our camp, and I was to go on his back. It was a hard tug for me, for he did not hold me by his arms, but I had to cling about his neck, and bend up my legs to keep clear of the water. When I was two thirds over Wajapa rushed past and as I landed panting on the bank Susette cried out from Mr. T.’s back, "The prairie’s on fire". "Where?" "The camp" she shouted. I ran and as I reached the top of the bluff there was the camp in a blaze. The tent still stood. In an instant we were all fighting fire with feet, sticks, the remnants of clothing and stopped it before it reached the high grass and so saved us all from going to the penitentiary. Wajapa had lit the fire and while he looked for us a spark flew out and lit the stubble. The grass had been mown, and the stubble only two or three inches high. It seemed incredible that in less than five minutes. Wajapa’s coat, comforter, bridle, our clothes, one side of my valise and other things should have been burned. Had the wind tossed the spark into the tent as it could easily have done, all would have gone in a moment.

After the tussel we sat down wondering, what next. Indians came over for papers stating why we wished to go here and there &c. Wajapa disappeared. He had said he would go home. Our mishaps are rendering him superstitious. We fed the Indians meat, and then ate some fruit ourselves and to bed. I went down to the river in the moonlight to bathe my face and comb my hair and think. The world seemed small, yet wide and empty and the stars too. Echoless, echoless.


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