Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Ma-he-ga-tha-be-ga. Sandstone.

 

October 22, 1881

Our road had not been as good as yesterday, more sand. After crossing Turtle Creek, we were up and down hill all the time - a rough horrid road, but still not so bad as we have seen and gone over. Fifteen miles over bleak country, the elevation not more than one to three hundred feet, but looked like mountains owing to formation and lack of contrast and real height.

We reached the camping place - bushes and a few trees up the creek behind the hills. On a hill just behind us was a pile of stones, high, some ten feet, I judge. One pile was on a promontory, for here, ledges of a white rock, which wears into holes and is sometimes mottled in color. I judge it to be valueless, but do not know. This pile was on the very edge. The Indians give very unsatisfactory answers. I don't think they wish to tell, perhaps it is taboo.

The wind blew so hard that we sought shelter in the weeds and grasses. The fire was built in the middle of the road, where the grass grows, this being hoed away, and one would hardly credit how this tall grass protects from the wind. We ate heartily and just as we finished it began to rain. Buffalo-chip had not quite eaten all and he drew his blanket over his head so as to form a sort of shed over his plate, and so in peace and quietness went on to the end.

We gave the order to move on, and with my rubber hood on and rubber blanket - the buffalo robe was put up to Susette’s and my chin and tied behind us, we went on in a pelting rain. Wood - 18 miles away!

Our cavalcade spread out and at the hills we noticed that the wagon and all the herd stopped. Buffalo-chip’s horse had given out. Wajapa’s horse, which he rode yesterday had a sore back from saddle, so the Avenger was taken from Wajapa, the sore-shouldered horse put in, but he gave out, so the Avenger was harnessed.

- Unfinished -

Folktale

Once there was a white man who had an orphan boy to work for him. This orphan boy, although his brother was treated very hardly and made to work early and late, and for his pay had now and then a pair of trousers given to him. He was often scolded until his life was weary and he did not care to live at all. One day the white man scolded and said, he would kill the orphan, who replied, "Do so. I don’t care". One day the orphan was herding the cattle and they were late in reaching the home of the white man.

Buffalo-chip tells a Story

Folktale

Once upon a time there was a family living in a town, father, mother, four sons and two daughters, one of the latter, a little girl. The children were all fond of playing, particularly on a certain bank. The eldest girl was very fond of playing bear and making mud houses. One day she went playing with the little girl and she scratched her and one of her playmates cried out, "Why do you scratch her and hurt her?" "Oh, never mind, I'll go and get the bear’s claws and play better".

One day her four brothers went hunting and this same girl put on the bear’s claws and while playing with a little boy she hurt him so that he cried. Then the other children looked and behold, her arms were like bear’s claws and she slowly turned into a bear and all the people came to see her, and she began to chase them, and getting angry, killed one of them. The little girl ran crying to her mother, saying, "Oh, my sister is changed into a bear and living in a mud hole" and her mother wondered. Then the bear chased and chased the people till she killed nearly all the town.

When the brothers came home from hunting, they said, "Why, look, what can have happened, there is no one hardly living in the town". The brothers had a rabbit and the little girl hungry in the deserted village. They gave the rabbit to the little girl.

The little girl went crying to her brothers and said, "Oh, my sister was playing bear and she turned into one, and she is dreadful. She has killed nearly all the town and she lives away off in that hole".

The oldest sister, the bear came home and she said, to the little sister, "Where have you been, you been in the town with people", and she answered, "No, I been nowhere". "Yes, you have, I smell people about you" . "Oh, no, I been nowhere". Then the bear went to smell and the little sister ran to her brothers and said, "Oh, run as fast as you can, she is coming to kill you". Bear said rabbit smelled of people, wouldn’t let her eat it. So they ran and the first brother made a creek to run between him and the sides covered with pine, but the bear jumped this. The second brother made a deep wide stream and caused the water to run rapidly, but the bear crossed that too. The third brother made a great barren waste, full of sand burrs and cactus, but the bear crossed this. Then the little brother made great cracks in the earth - The bear jumped many of them, but at last fell into a wide one and the earth closed over her. She cried out, "Let me cross". The brother laid his spear across the chasm and she tried to cross over on it, the brother turned it and she fell down, down, down crying, and the earth slowly closed. Then the four brothers went back, and lo! the town was as at first.

Folktale

Sioux Story, Buffalo-chip, Ish-din-e-ka.

The monkey was traveling along the road and he came to a town of a great many elks and the monkey wanted to be an elk. The New-donega elk said, "Well, old man, it isn't always pleasant weather with us, sometimes you can’t get any grass. I don’t think you will like it, think again, but if you say so, I’ll turn you into an elk, you go stand there, away off and I will run toward you and when my side touches your side you will be an elk". Every time the elk ran and came toward the monkey, the monkey would dodge, so that the elk failed to touch the monkey. At last he touched him and the monkey became an elk. Then the monkey began to eat and he ate the green weed. It was bitter and dropped from his mouth - Then the monkey wanted to be Newdonega, and lead the way. To do this, he had to make many gifts. He led off the elks and as they went, he would mistake weeds for people and the elk all laughed at him, but bye and bye he led them toward his town and he ran in and told the monkeys, game was near, run out and chase them, but the monkeys when they saw the elk, desired to become like them. The monkey elk would give false alarms, but only when hunters. One day he led the way and met hunters. He met the hunters and whispered to them, "Don’t shoot, I lead the whole herd up to you".

He circled round the hunters every time coming closer, then he killed one by one the whole herd. When all were killed, he threw off the antlers and cried, "Ha, ha, this is the way I do".

The wolf played this trick on the buffalo and got killed. He wandered off and meeting another wolf, said, "Do you want to be turned into an animal like me?" "Yes", so he said he must run and touch him, so he made himself fierce and the wolf was afraid. At the fourth time he touched the wolf and was turned into a wolf himself. He went back to the herd and begged to be turned in again, and he said, you stand, and he ran at him. At the fourth time he tossed him in the air and killed him, saying, "That is what you desire".

Last night all were tired and wet. I was wet to my skin. The water ran into puddles on my blanket and the puddles emptied into my pockets and lap. My pocket book was soaked and papers injured. I was a column of steam, and perhaps it was funny, for crossness was the order of the evening.

When we had made 15 miles or so we came to a ravine where there was a little wood, we halted and waited for Buffalo-chip to come up. When he came he said we could camp at this spot but we had better go on to where the large trees were over the hill, meant across a divide. We were very wet and tired, the horses ditto, but we pushed on. We learned that Buffalo-chip’s horse had given out. He was afraid it would die. He and Wajapa would make our camp sometimes in the night. Wajapa was walking, driving the two horses, his and Buffalo-chip’s. I can’t tell you how funny Buffalo-chip looked on the little contemptible horse he had received in exchange. It paces like a puppy and will do nothing. Buffalo-chip looks like a large boy on a small dog. He claps his heels and whips the animal but to no avail. The three colts wander at their will, eating or running in front of us, so that our horses brush them or the tongue of the buggy runs into them.

On, on we went over hills and down gullies - no trees. It began to get dark. Buffalo-chip’s wife, who had been driving the wagon all day kept up with our mares. At last in the twilight, from the top of a hill, we saw a solitary tree - not very hopeful for shelter with a blizzard in prospect. We reached the tree, no water! but we thought we saw more trees beyond the road which lay like the two fingers of fate across the never ending billowy hills. We pushed on, yes, trees, a few, and there must be water but how to get down the "benches" between us and the terrace where the trees stood.

Mr. T. got out and went ahead for no one knew what was before us. At last we went down a pitch indeed, but at the bottom, the grass as tall as where we sat, broke on headway and we reached bottom safely. The little Sioux wife gallantly following. It was quite dark. The only thing she said, was, "The horses are very tired". She was asked to get the tent ready. We sat tied up. The horses too tired to try and feed even. The little wife untackled the horses and then in the tall grass and spitting rain she made up the tent. Mr. T. disappeared in the darkness after wood. He returned declaring it the toughest kind. We sat tied for some time, S. singing loudly. Bye and bye, a faint light appeared in the tent. It was long before the fire was really started. Meanwhile, I heard a call from the hills. No one would credit me. Again, a call - I replied. Ga-ha became nervous, and said, "They are ghosts", and refused to call. Mr. T. said, it was not possible. Again, a call - still no one heard but me, and it was incredible to all. After a while when the horses were unhitched and while we sat still tied, I said, "Some one is coming, I hear them, and Buffalo-chip is near". Still I was not believed and it was not until the shadowy forms came near, even in sight.

We got out and began carrying our things in . Buffalo-chip sat down and smoked silent and melancholy, Wajapa, reticent and cross. Mr. T. had been working hard doing all the outside work and was tired. Wajapa never offered help. He sat and fussed. "We must have driven very slowly". "Why wasn’t supper ready?" "He and Buffalo-chip were tired", &c. &c. It was rather trying and everybody on the edge of ill temper. The two Indians were quite dumpish.

I feared Buffalo-chip was ill, so I asked S. to ask him as he had had a bad cold, a sore thumb and sore on his wrist, "No," he said, "He felt bad for his horse". Wajapa was spunky and ugly. Buffalo-chip said, "had we stopped where Mr. T. first intimated, then I should not lose my horse". Soon Buffalo-chip roused himself and told the stories I have written out. Wajapa got a little over his moodiness, but would do nothing. We went to bed and slept pretty well.


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