Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Portrait of Family, Rosebud Reservation, 1880. Photo Lot 24, Inv. 00508800.

 

 

 

View of buildings at Rosebud Agency, South Dakota. Photo Lot 24, BAE 4598 #1-6, Inv. 00561800.

October 19, 1881

Bade good bye to Mr. Cleveland and family. He urges me not to venture, but Mr. and Mrs. T. eager to go and Wajapa said our horses had already eaten a stack of Asanpi's hay and we must be off. They were for hustling me quite suddenly, but I wanted to get a few items, so I said I would follow. Fortunately, the trader, one Mr. Pratt at Fort Randall loaned Mr. Cleveland his buffalo robe to use on his way home and so I could have it for the long journey across country and Mr. Pratt get his robe back speedily.

Wajapa was to come for my bag, hamsack and robe. Mrs. Cleveland gave me a roll of pamphlets to leave at a Mr. Raymond’s on Turtle Creek at the crossing. Definite directions, but everything is in that way. They were kindly and Miss Cleveland insisted on my taking her mittens and mailing them to her on my arrival - Where? The Lord knows. I know nothing of my future.

Went to the agency to buy meat - Mr. Cook not there, think I saw his long hair, for a man with like villainous locks was talking to Spotted Tail, Jr., in the yard.

I told Mr. Leland my errand. He was most polite and gave me the order for 25 pounds refusing pay. One of the Yankton Chiefs was there.

I surrendered the key to the stockade, reminded Mr. L. of his promise to collect things for me and started, an employee going with me to let me out.

The Interpreter, Louis R., said he would give me the meat for he thought all was issued.

I hurried over to the log house, met Asanpi and his wife on the way, shook hands and bade them good bye. Arrived at the house to find no one there but Ga-ha. She made me understand that Mr. and Mrs. T. W. and B-c, had gone to Spotted Tail’s. So there I was not knowing what to do. I endorsed the meat order in a note for Mr. T. and started back to pay the washing bill at Mr. Smith’s which I had forgotten.

Called at Mr. Shaw’s to enquire the way. The women are unused to directions and I can’t find out till Mr. S. returns and I get on my - finds his wife wants earrings, he offers to buy - I give. It may or may not help him to remember my commission.

On by the little yellow foot paths between the tall weeds, up the banks and down the gullies across the creeks to Mr. Smith’s. He lives in a log cabin, one large room - said he wanted to make two but couldn’t get the wood. The white men at the Black Hills stole his horses so he could draw none and therefore there was nothing to do but get on as best he could. Tried to get his daughter to tell me how much the clothes washing was. She was rather a pretty girl, tall and seemly. She would blush and laugh and say nothing. The senseless laugh of the women is very trying. Everything has its compensation and I suppose the women must laugh when the men are morose - pity they can’t be shaken up together.

It was rather provoking not to get a sensible answer when I had but a few minutes. Mr. S. tried to make her speak, said, "Well, you are the most bashful girl!" and laughed and talked in broken English and as fractured Indian, I suppose. I worried at the matter - knew she washed for 1/2 a day for the Clevelands and tried to find out how long it took her. Indians seem unable except after long training to get at a definite idea not their own. I paid her 75 cents for washing that was a curiosity of bad workmanship. Pity the Indian women can’t be taught to wash. They do none. Wear their clothes and articles till they throw them away. I saw little or nothing that indicated washing and ironing. Then, I came back over the horrid, desolate path.

All the Indian dogs were out and yelping, and a queer little group of children watched me, and then one - I can’t make out whether a boy or girl, ran toward me shouting, "How, How!" or something like it and holding out a little brown arm and fist - dirty! - looked as if one could raise flowers on it, but with such a pleasant jolly little face that I halted while the child sped toward me. I shook hands and it was but an instant that I touched the child for it ran back up the hill to its astounded companions while I passed on.

Nothing can describe the lack of cleanliness and order of Rosebud Agency. Cattle are slaughtered on the hills here, and then the bones left here to bleach - bones and debris are about every house and one must be careful not to step into worse filth. The people eat chokecherries and one can tell it for one runs on the effect upon their bowels. It is too bad that no one can help them or will try persistently. The Missionary is hampered by the agent and others are too busy making money. No one tells them how to place their houses, which they build, each man as best he can, making his experiment and his final effort at another and same time. The creeks which supply them with water are so far away often from the tent or houses that it takes some time for the women and children to carry water for the cooking. One don’t blame them for not washing their clothes or themselves. They have only iron pails and tin pans - if any one washes he must use his eating utensils.

In the camp washing water is warmed in the frying pan. Nothing but dire necessity and sickness brought me to the use of it. Now how can Indians do better, hemmed in as they are at the agency deprived of their native life, poor enough but having its compensation and not fully introduced to our ways, they are stranded between two modes of life.

It is not unusual for all to eat out of the pan or kettle helping themselves or the man and wife out of one dish. I understand this is not mere vileness but in out of door life, food cools almost instantly and becomes unpleasant, so they keep it in the mass to hold the heat. This my camping experience has shown, for I have had to have my meat warmed.

Bade good bye to all. Asanpi wanted his eldest grandson given to me, but the father said the child was too young. This confidence touched me deeply.

After a long delay - a horrid dinner, we were off. Buffalo-chip did not grease his wagon and the wheels were singing lustily. At the top of the hill stopped and then and there it was greased and we pushed on. A motley crew we were. At a fork in the road no advice was asked or given and consequently we went out of our way. No one had looked to it that the Indians had carried wood as we started - a motley set, I think.

No wood, very cold, afraid of storm. Water froze in our tent, ground hard, very ill. A desolate camp - miles and miles of vista - prairie fire to our right.

October 19, 1881.

Camped at 5.30 P.M. - a place void of wood, bleak, the hills stretch far away. The creek winds round the headlands, these some 5 or 6 feet high. The low lands were black with fire and short lines of fire were creeping off toward the west. Hay stacks were visible here and there. On the top of the hills were piles of stones. These stood sheer against the sky. Wajapa and Buffalo-chip said that they meant that Indians claimed land where they stood.

All hunted for wood - a few brush and chips were found. Ga-ha put up the tent, leaving out a pole to burn. The tent was set, horses hobbled and lariated and after a supper on dirty dishes we turned in. The Buffalo robe a great blessing. Had a nervous chill - my cough hard and lungs painful. A fearful night, sleep but little, pain all over, dream of wild scenes. Lay and longed for day - sang in thought, St. Paul from Elisha, "Watchman will the night soon pass?"

The tent door blew open - lay and watched the east toward which it looked. Horses whinnied and knew something the matter. Wajapa got up and went out. Buffalo-chip’s ponies had made off. He hurried out and against the tent opening the sky lined in growing color. Wajapa’s form stood out chopping wood, our tent pole and feeding box. The wind was blowing hard and when I peered out from under the robe could see no stars and feared a blizzard, but the good Lord ordained otherwise.

As we sat at breakfast Wajapa said all tribes had a story of how once they had no wood and cooked their meat with one arrow. Wajapa suggested, it may have been one tent pole as in our case.

It was a horrible night of suffering and torment. I thought my end might be near. The vile smell of the manure being burned in the fire, the dirty dishes, the mess pot of meat and scrapings as well, made the whole thing horrid, together with the Indian drum beating in our ears, though miles away.

We were in this forlorn phase just because no one looked to see that the Indians took wood, and secondly, when we came to a fork in the road Mr. T. did ask and the Indians did not hail him, so we did not camp by the blacksmith’s. Everything seems awry and with ill temper on one side and my misery it takes all my pluck to go on.


September                                                                                                   October
16 17 18 21 22 23 24 25 26 30 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 30