Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

White Cloud (or White Thunder). Photograph by Charles Milton Bell, 1880. Photo Lot 24, BAE GN 3143.

 

 

 

Ma-To-Lousah (Swift Bear) wearing Peace Medal and holding fan. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, 1872. Photo Lot 24, BAE GN 3134-a.

 

 

 

Omaha dance at the Rosebud Agency, So. Dakota. Photograph by William R. Cross, 1891 Photo Lot 24. BAE 4464 Inv 00529200.

 

 

 

Ornamented case for a part of the naval string of a baby.

 

October 15, 1881

[Diary Book II]

Rosebud Agency, Oct 15, 1881

The Oglalla and Brule Indians

At Rosebud Agency the Agent is Mr. John Cook.

At Pine Ridge Agency the Agent is Dr. McGillicuddy.

On Saturday called on White Thunder. Lives in a large log house. He is not well, has not been since in Washington. Mr. Tibbles said inflammation of the left lung and malaria. He prescribes quinine.

An old Indian sat there and when we came in, said, "How you do?" and extended his hand. Quite polite to give his sole English.

White Thunder was on the bed. He was not very cordial toward me, I thought. We all sat on chairs. He brought out his papers, the Treaty concerning the Ponca Band, the list of articles to be issued at the Rosebud Agency for 1881 and 1882. I copied this in Book II -

Several other Indians there, two young men and an old man. Swift Bear came in and stayed.

While we sat there, White Thunder’s wife began to cook. She made bread and baked it, wretched stuff, heavy and poor. Coffee and some sort of stripped and dried meat boiled with pork. A cloth was put on the floor between White Thunder’s bed and the stove and the meal served on china plates and cups and saucers. At the back of the chief’s bed was a bed spread on the floor, back of this was stored the various packs all covered with beads, I think four or five of them. There were trunks and valises and bags.

A pair of paddles lay on a few nails like brackets. Don’t know what they are. A doll, French, was dressed with a necklace, whereon 10 cent pieces were strung. She was put in one of the baby hoods. This is a long bag open at one side. The back is a plain strip the sides joined to it, at the top a little ornamental flap. Sometimes the end is trimmed with little brass sleigh bells - these about the baby’s face. The baby is laid in there and carried in the mother’s arms. The doll belonged to her daughter, a girl of ten or twelve. She had her hair in braids with beads at the end a tassel of brass beads.

The girl wore a blanket most of the time. The mother wore the usual dress, calico, red. She was painted, bright red cheeks, her hair part being red. A young comely girl came in, brought in meat and looked bright and pleasing. This was the wife’s younger sister, had been at Carlisle school. She is about eighteen years old.

I understand that White Thunder wants to marry this girl as his second wife. She declines. It is rather startling and unpleasant to contemplate this woman’s future. I hope she will hold out.

After the meal, White Thunder began his speech. It seemed to me that the speech lacked in cordiality. He wanted to know what we were here for, why Mr. T. &c. Mr. T. said he heard they had been to Washington and signed a paper and that he feared there would be trouble, and he had come to see about it, &c.

He constantly said there were women by the sea who had the interest of the Indians at heart and one had come here, this woman, my friend.

White Thunder made no acknowledgement. Mr. T. made long speech, all he had done, &c. &c. After all had talked, Swift Bear made a most courteous speech. I ventured to speak and plainly set forth their need. I said that I wanted to say something because I had their good at heart. I had heard that this summer many of the children were coming home from the eastern schools. These children can all speak English and understand figures. Now what I propose may seem very strange and hard and it will be difficult, it is, that the chiefs and the leading men, will spend a part of every day with some of the children and learn the meaning and use of figures and master as much English as possible. If they can learn but little, that little will help them to protect themselves against the white men who wish to cheat them,

Swift Bear received this with interest. White Thunder did not say a word. This visit was rather uninteresting. I felt the influence of the man to be less single and noble, in some ways.

Susette received a pair of saddle bags, a little match bag and a knife sheath. The women wanted to make her moccasins. S. gave a silk handkerchief and the owl pin to the daughter.

At the dinner, there were present Buffalo-chip and wife, Wajapa, Asanpi, who went with us, Mr. & Mrs. T., Swift Bear, the old man who welcomed us and was the Father of the wife, the old man with a handkerchief tied about his head knotted in front, and a young man. The Indians ate with their fingers, tearing the meat with their hands and teeth.

The walk there was as usual, over the hills, and down gullies and across creeks and round ledges avoiding the many creeks.

Wife kneaded bread on a board on the floor and rolled it with a bottle.

In the afternoon, Asanpi gave a dance, A meeting of the Woman’s club, Ka-ta-lah. Asanpi’s wife, Wa-ste-we, the chief or president. It has five officers.

1 - President.

2 - One who presides at the drum but does no drumming.

3 - & - 4 - Two who carry the rattle.

5 - Mistress of Ceremonies. This person, I think called the others. She was a lively old woman.

All this society is composed of matrons. Few young women. Several had the round blue spot tattooed on the forehead.

The account of this society in Book II.

The dancing was a sort of jump rising on the toes. Had difficult steps. Sometimes the dancers moved on with both feet sideways. The Mistress of Ceremonies stirred up the others. She would rise first and dance round touching with her right foot the women who were sitting about the sides of the tent, giving a sort of poke. It seemed as though it was partly humorous. There was much laughing and glee.

The calling of relationship was attended with much laughing and jesting.

The providing was very ample and this caused much fun. The asking for a blessing was quite solemn. The feeding with the spoon was quite grave.

The clatter of pans and eating contrasted strangely. Dresses were given. Those receiving dresses put them on over the dress they had on. One woman had two dresses given. The first she put on the second she put about her neck. There was one song which had quite a little melody, this was sung with words and rather lofty. The drum was not used, only the sticks tapped lightly on the frame. It was rather pleasant. Most of the singing is on one word or tone - a sort of nasal twang - whae - They quaver and turn and drone. The rhythm is peculiar, syncopated and jarring - the intervals are not our own. The singing is flat to our ears but as every time they sing they take the same tones, I am inclined to think it is a fixed scale.

In one dance the time will often change from fast to slow or slow to fast.

At the close of one movement the women shout the wa-wa-wa, which we supposed to be the Indian man’s cry.

The drum was at the left as you enter, not far from the place where the wife sits. Four sticks are driven in the ground and from these the drum is hung. They had faces at the end and were decked with ribbons and brass ornaments. I think the drum is at the right hand as you enter with male dances.

While the dance was in progress, the women gathered outside suddenly fell back, and the women in the tent were suddenly quiet, then I heard a queer shouting that grew nearer and nearer and in a moment a man with his hair out short and naked, all but his shirt, appeared at the opening of the tent wailing and crying. In an instant every woman in the tent was howling, her head covered with the shawl. This wailing man passed round laying his hand on every ones head, as he was fully in. A woman rose and threw a blanket over him. He had this on his shoulder hanging loosely when he passed me and laid his hand on my head. The cause of his grief was the sudden death of his mother from rapid inflammation of the bowels only a few hours. She was a member of the Club - had had the drum position recently. The blanket was given in her honor. I attended her funeral and it was placed over the coffin before the earth was thrown on. The women cried tears. The Mistress of Ceremonies must have been a near relative for she went at once, so did the head singer at the drum.

It was very weird and strange. It was in the late afternoon, the fire not yet lighted. A girl some fourteen or fifteen was at the dance. She had a tunic covered with shell ornaments. She rose and danced whenever the woman with the rattle danced. It may be, I was told by Mr. Shaw, whose wife was at one time, President, that her mother gave a horse to have her daughter admitted. The women wore leather belts studded with brass beads. These were buckled not round the waist but low as if to support the abdomen in dancing. They wore the little match bags at their belt, left side toward the back.

A part of the navel string of the child preserved, put in among sweet scented grasses - a little case made for it – the shape of a turtle, a little head and slender neck, a tail and four legs of long bead and small one at the ends. The body about 3 or 3 1/2 inches long. The case is worked with beads. This kept as long as the child will be well and pampered. The child wears it on state occasions on its back or breast.

Buffalo-chip said, if one is asked to take it off and did so the child was given a horse! Poncas do this as well as the Sioux.

The method of smoking is to take a loud, sipping breath and then emit two or three puffs of smoke. It sounds as though they were drinking hot soup.


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