Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

An Indian death scene.

 

 

 

Standing Elk's house.

 

Tuesday, October 18, 1881

Rode over to Standing Elk’s camp. As we drove down the barren hills, saw over on the plateau, several tepees and log houses. About one of the tepees, crowds were gathered. Buffalo-chip, who was in advance with Standing Elk, rode back and said, some one was dying or about to die in the tepee.

An Indian Death Scene.

This man, Kiek, was at the beef issue. He went home and worked hauling some logs. He felt a sort of click in his chest and became weak and lay down, grew weaker and weaker and died at daybreak. The nearest of kin goes out of the tent door and calls, a fore runner has gone to the spirit land, come and meet him. His horse, the last one, is shot as soon as possible. The wives open their packs and empty their store, calico, bead work, &c.. These are thrown on the railing beside the tent.

This man held the Drum of the Fox Club and carried the pipe of peace, in battle. If, in the midst of conflict, this pipe was held in a certain manner - hostility must cease, and if the opposing party touch the stem, the peace must follow. He belonged also to the Omaha Club.

His horse lay dead, as in the sketch - The row of heads were the Omaha Club. These chanted long and slow the death song. His dog came out these men shot it. It turned and cried piteously, was shot three times and then fled on, on up the hill at the rear of the tent and there lay down and died. Bye and bye one of the women went up to where it lay and with wailing dragged it down and it lay as in the sketch. The tent was open as in the sketch - people went about it, women wailing. There was some sort of feather ornament hanging over his head - sketch - This was his war bonnet. The women wailed the gay colored calico fluttered, and the bright bead work, contrasting strangely. Bye and bye, a man came and called this was the giving away of the dead man’s horses. Then the wife and mother came out wailing. The dog was dragged toward the Omaha Club. This was a gift for a dog feast. They carried two bunches of the calico and threw them before the Club. Then they passed down the line laying their hands on the head of each man, wailing as they passed. Bead work and calico were given to the women.

The women cut their hair as soon as the death is known and put it on the body. This is buried with the person.

I saw all the household utensils being carried away, boiler, iron pots and the like. Nothing will be left in the tent, not even a meal. The relatives too, must give away, so that the widow and orphans will be without anything. A family are ridiculed who retain things. The wife &c., will stay with one friend and another - this divides property but makes all beggars. Missionaries preach against it. Just before the man called out the gift of horses, I noticed a man clad in a light blanket, leaned over the dead man and painted his face red and yellow. When this was done he called out the horses given away. Several women went into the tent after the giving away, the Omahas went in. The women seemed to keep to the left side of the tent. The man lay on the right as you enter. Women kept to that side as well as inside. While the Omahas went in, a group of men gathered at the left side and began to smoke.

The man was buried in the afternoon. His knife, pistol, drum and horse put with him. The men, with mouth and chin and end of nose, a sort of triangle, painted black signifiers one who had been wounded and bled. Red stripes indicated horses given away in pipe dance. Yanktons affect yellow and red, sometimes, striped, some times, spotted, red or yellow - I don’t recollect, yellow or red. Red mostly used and black by the others.

Saw rations - One tin cup of green coffee for a family of two and four. Less than 1/2 lb. of sugar. A strip of bacon about an inch to 1 1/2 wide and from 18 to 30 inches long, and 5 to 3 inches wide for 11 in family. Bacon thrown into flour bag.


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