Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

"Gave Buffalo-chip and Wajapa first lesson in writing figures."

Monday, October 3, 1881

Rain - and trouble. Mr. Tibbles not well. Rides back to Niobrara - says we must change our course and make Fort Randall.

I note that when anything is carried to the mouth, the elbow is crooked out. There is much swaying and movement - at times, evidently this is airy - One is displeased or putting on dignity. Much sudden laughter or giggle among women. The frowning and puckering of the face due, I fancy, to cooking and working over an open fire. The eyes often affected by the smoke.

Sitting on the ground makes them all stoop and the women get high shouldered as well as round-shouldered resting on their arms and working in that way; also having to bend under the slant of the tent. Everything indicates the individual standpoint without reference to organized society. Then moodiness [?] and unreasonableness is of this character. The necessity for privacy seems to me to first find expression in this manner. We gave it by separate apartments when we master ourselves, they by their moods, get displeased, go off into woods or retire into a sulkiness that insures their being let alone.

The language and their limitation are interesting, having no written language there is no accretion of intelligence. Nothing for the fairly gifted mind to react upon. Memory, individual observation, hearsay, superstition are all that is left for them to mould over. No wonder they do not progress. All is emotion, one way or the other.

Buffalo-chip and his wife are preparing kinikonick, niniga he, tobacco, ne-ne. Strip off the outer bark and then peel off the inner in thin shavings and then dry it by the fire. Wife chops it with a hatchet on a cloth - made from dogwood and willow.

The tents put up by women - three poles securely tied together a few feet from the top and set up at first a tripod. then in the forks the other poles are laid, their ends forced into the ground. The tent cover is cut circular and opens at one side where the flap is cut which forms the chimney. At the long hind peak a rope ties it to a pole, this pole set opposite the entrance and then the tent cover wrapped around on either side and pinned with sticks thrust through button holes. The entrance about three feet high.

Corn gathered in the hard milk, a little too hard for our cooking but not ripe, then pull back the husk, and braid the husk and stalk and dry it. When they eat it they thrust a sharp stick down the cob, hold it on the coals and roast it. Corn has dark kernels on it, known as "squaw corn".

Buffalo-chip claims the antiquity of the corn. Says his grandmother planted it long, long before the white men came.

To make black skin for moccasins, a peculiar clay found in Santee Reservation. Take maple and make a tea from the bark, mix it with the peculiar clay which is black and dye the skin - These are very handsome embroidered in bright colors.

To make yellow dye for skin - Take sumach [sic] and corn cobs, put these in pits, let them smug and smoke, put the skin in folded as a pillow case.

It took twenty buffalo skins for an ordinary tent. Poor folk had to put with ten. Big bugs used thirty.

These Indians always took their crotch stick when they broke camp. When they made a fine tent, they stripped the bark in bands and the same with the tent pins.

Gave Buffalo-chip and Wajapa first lesson in writing figures. They wrote fine - 1 to 10 doing each figure several times, calling the names in Omaha, and then writing them. It took the better part of an hour. Wajapa very tired and much surprised. Learned his first lesson in the fatigue of head work.

Told stories in the evening - Buffalo-chip of a visit to Apachie [sic]. He and party approached their camp, pipes in hand, as they had to stand still, extended. Soon all was stir, horses were being lured, people pulling feathers &c., and then led by a woman the people issued out on horseback, circled round and round, Buffalo-chip’s party yelling. "It sounded like thunder" he said. The duet rose in clouds - This went on for some time, while Buffalo-chip’s party must stand still holding the pipes or else be killed if they flinched. After a while a man rode out of the flying line and ordered a halt, then they came forward and entertained their much tried guests. These people offered Buffalo-chip a horse, but he would not accept it. "Did not want to make friends with such people".

The women wore but little dress. S. told of a tribe in the Rocky Mountains where her mother and grandmother went with her father to visit. As they approached the camp some men came forward and after saluting laid down two buffalo skins, the mother got in one, grandmother on the other, four men took each skin by the corner and carried them and laid the skin down by the door of the tent so that they entered without stepping on the ground.

Mr. T. told a horse trading story. Wajapa said he would like to trade off Standing Bear’s horse for stiff necked one at Spotted Tail’s. Rain all day and Eve. - A strange, memorable day in many respects.


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