Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Fletcher's fieldwork diary, Sept. 16, 1881

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 16, 1881

Rain - Left Omaha City at 9.45. Up in the AM. at 5.30 - A lively breakfast. Mrs. Tibbles, Sr., as gay, and eager and bright as a girl - her 80 years seeming to melt in the stir of the house. Ambulance arrived at 7.30, trunks, bundles, bags, comforters, blankets, pillows, boxes, camp outfit filling the vehicle - Locked up the house and started. The driver, Mr. Baker, a tall, clean, clever and pleasant man, been 5 years in Army - and a careful, skillful driver, managed his 4 mules and the yellow carriage - But for the U.S. on the lower part it looked like a country Peddler’s conveyance. The tins and provisions, attractive wares being taken in on account of the storm.

Mrs. Tibbles, Sr., sat erect, her kindly strong face concealed under the heavy black barage veil, holding a basket and handbag with a long roll like a baton tied to the cross strings of the box. She was full of glee and sententious remarks. Susette in her picturesque gaping hat, the red ribbons contrasting with her bright black eyes and hair and rich colored skin - had a blue shawl tight about her and kept her seat opposite Mrs. Tibbles. The step was high, too high for me to reach so I had to appeal to Baker. No amount of stepping on my part could reach it, and so Baker lifted me bodily until I could catch at the step end so mount into the ambulance.

Mr. Tibbles followed me in his slouch hat beaded with rain drops and his black coat splashed with mud and rain. The door was shut, and we were in a dull yellow light, sitting high, perched up on our bedding and bobbing as the ambulance dipped and plunged in the muddy streets. We gathered our groceries at the store but while the canned fruits were tightly boxed, the sugar, flour and perishable articles were in a porous box too large to be got inside and it must go out on the high driver’s seat, and turn to syrup and paste. We drove to the [?] and took in Miss Bowles' bag for which there was no room so I sat on bundles and bags, having had Susette take the back seat, as riding backward was making her ill. Mr. T. began to feel the effect of riding backward, so in the yellow light the faces looked pinched. Drove to Mrs. Tibbles, Sr. granddaughters, and she kissed us goodbye and sprang lightly to the ground, while her son followed with the bundles, band-boxes &c. Then we recollected that we had not the harness. I had been haunted with the notion that there were two packages to be taken in when the supplies were shipped in: so, declining Mr. T’s. suggestion that we have the harness sent on after us we retraced our steps and made for the town once more. The driver recollected a forgotten article, and after two hours we were all packed in and off. The people by the way looking at the turnout wondering as they caught glimpses of the gypsy women inside. It rained and blew - and was cold, cold, cold. Mr. T. and Susette were seasick. On we went over the road where I had dashed so gaily only 36 hours before. On past the State Fair Grounds, where the flags hung - wet rags, clinging to the posts - and the windmills were motionless. Yesterday 30,000, so said, were then looking at huge turnips and parsnips, at gasoline store and latest invention for domestic inconvenience, and last but not least at a woman ride 10 miles in 20 minutes - leaping about from one tired horse to a fresh one. It was a comment on the mutability of human designs.

On we went, the rain increasing and the wind whistling. Concern for our driver dividing my thoughts with concern for the sick ones inside. Susette says - "This smooth gilding motion is horrible, a jolting wagon is better". The ambulance was wonderfully easy.

We made Florence, a queer little hamlet, and drove to the hotel. "Closed up" - was written on a card and pinned to the door. Next the deserted house was a store where every lower pane in the ample window was filled with the face of a tow-headed child – a-gaping at the "yellow coach". Nobody could take us in - Our driver was shaking with cold - what to do? Mr. T. searched for some one. At last a man was found who said, "Miss Smith, a mile and a half on the road takes homeless in, there’s a large barn there for the animals". So we pushed on. A side curtain had been raised to give air to the sick ones and we all sat wrapped up in comforters, as the ambulance wound up the hills. After a steep ascent we could see the bluffs on the opposite side of the Mo. [Missouri River], blue and hazy in the storm - the river winding in a broad silver band among the wooded patches and broad stretches of the bottom lands. On we went, one mile, two miles, no house save one little one of a single room capacity. 2 1/2 miles -no house. It was nearly three miles when a large newly ploughed field was discerned some settler must be near -Bye and bye fruit trees, yes, a house must be at hand. Then a large orchard and at a distance from the road down a field, stood a sizable house with large out buildings, and we turned toward it, the mules sinking their fetlocks in the oozy, muddy grass, and the yellow coach bending and bowing like an old time dancing master. Soon we reached a picket fence, beyond its line were flowers of various kinds, honeysuckle, morning glories, roses, marigolds. We pulled up at the gate and Mr. T. went to ask hospitality. A tall woman in black, with gray hair parted and put in plain bands over her eyes - her silver spectacles on the top of her head, appeared to answer the knock at the portico door. She was comely and prim. Her deep sunken gray eyes, steadily looking at us, she consented to be our hostess. We all dismounted and the driver turned down toward the barn. The door entered into a sitting-room. Three rocking-chairs - A green lounge, like a single bed with red coverlid and lace-covered pillow, was under the window. A tall bureau with looking glass, had two piles of books - "Thousand Receipts" - by A. Clark, M.D. "Maxims of Worth and Wealth" by Freeman Hunt. Stories of men who saved - One by a man who had a thrifty wife and she induced her husband to read the perspective of a savings bank - Bye and bye, through her persistent questioning he began to see what his 5 cent cigars cost - so his cobblers &c., &c., and that that was where the bulk of his salary went. He determined to save at least $50. of his salary and put it in the savings bank -Moral - How worth while it is to "Read perspectives of savings banks and put in ones money" - Not one word of the wife.

We went into the kitchen, ate apples, while Mrs. Smith asked me questions. Where I came from? where going? Had I been to the State Fair? &c. She was busy paring apples. We talked of the weather and she called on some rough men and put up a "heating stove", a new distinction in the grade of stoves. We had dinner - eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, apple sauce and pie, bread and butter and coffee. Mr. Thomas had thawed out his fingers and dried his gloves. He told me of his chills and fever, his driving &c., as he sat back of the stove. Susette and Mr. T. were feeling better and S. read out of the Youth’s Companion. After dinner, at which only Mrs. Smith and her son joined us - the two daughters were busy with a reed organ in another room, and the round-faced adopted son was somewhere about. Mrs. Smith sat down beside the stove in the sitting-room to ask more questions. "What do you do?" I tried to tell her. "What is Ethnology?" I again tried. Did the Government pay me a salary? "Now tell me how you are going to work". I couldn't do it. I tried to explain that to one who had studied races it was not difficult but I feared I could not in a few moments make it clear to her. She replied, "Well, I suppose there’s a way to do such things as everything else". I thought there was. "Now tell me your name for one of these days you’ll be famous, make a name for yourself, and when I see it I’ll say - I know her, she stopped here at my house". I told her my name but said I doubted if I was ever famous. She answered by telling me of their best school teacher who was from Maine. She came out and she meant to make a name for herself. She was going west to write for newspapers and teach - to Idaho, and she meant to make her name known. I ventured to put in - Work was the worthy thing, if one did a thing only for notoriety, little was gained. To which wisdom she said, "Oh, yes". We had talk of her early days. She had been there nearly 30 years - came from Pennsylvania. Her husband died six years since. Had 4 daughters and 3 sons. One daughter married in Omaha - one at school in Illinois with her aunt - two were at home. Tall, long-waisted thin girls - not very promising. The sons - one was a trader at Omaha, one at Winnebago, one was at home, a sallow cross-eyed man, but with some redeeming lines in his face. She said people who lived west didn’t like to go back east to live. Enterprize and stir here old fashioned at east.

About 2. P.M. we decided to go on. The rain had ceased and the clouds lifted but lay in long bands, threatening and gloomy. We packed in once more and in a cold wind, mist and mud, strained on to make Calhoun, Fort Calhoun it claims to be. There the first fort was built in Nebraska. We drove up to the hotel. A lank woman holding a baby with 5 little ones crowding about her, said the hotel was closed. At the saloon they took in travelers. We reached saloon by turning the corner - Men in slouched hats, dun colored coats, with pants tucked in the muddy boots sauntered out of the little one story building, their hands in their pockets, and curiosity in their faces, disguised by a very marked indifference. One room for all comers was the result of inquiry. One man who had passed and repassed the yellow coach said, "I guess you can get a place for your ladies at a house down here, and you can turn in at this place". So, he piloted the way, the ambulance drawing up at a little house in the center of a square of locust trees. A large woman opened the door and said, "Yes you can stay but if you’re cold you’ll have to sit in the kitchen". We said we would so our bags were handed out and we made our way into a large room with a slanting floor. Straw under the large figured red and green carpet, bed in one corner. The bureau, table and chairs distributed over the room. On a bracket was china and painted portraits grouped about it. In the kitchen, the walls of plank, ceiling ditto. The stove was at one corner. A large old woman with strong face, small eyes, with flabby lids, sat on a rocking-chair holding a pale dirty-faced little girl of 10 months - a little boy, about 4 years, thin sensitive face mounted on the wood box. In the further corner back of the wood box at the entrance of the small space between the stove and wall, sat a man of 55, gray haired, small eyes, listless, with a spittoon between his lank limbs, coughing, spitting chewing tobacco and the brown fluid dripped over his scrabby beard. It smells, no words can tell how horribly. I couldn’t stand it and went out to walk. On the corner opposite was a country store, kept by a Frenchman and his German wife, as pretty a store as I ever saw. In the south window at the back part were flowers, birds in a cage, over head - the old ones and the young ones. The goods were all sorted, neatly piled and even grouped so as to contrast. We chatted with them. They had been there 30 years, daughter grew up and married. Old folks had gone back to Europe, but all was changed - old people gone, young ones grew up, and they traveled and then came back. He was short, comely. She was ditto, tidy and franish. It smelled sweet. We walked in the mist and then turned back. Supper was served leading from the bedroom to the kitchen - It was well enough, but I ate bread and milk. The night was fearful. All the smells of my life experience were concentrated, all in one room - the odors wakened me, made me ill. I rose and went out doors – horrible! Before I went to bed I was warming my feet before the kitchen stove. The old woman who is dying of inanition, said, "Are you exploring the country?" "No, going to do some scientific work". Lifting his bent head, a sharp glitter coming into his bleared eyes, "Do you make it pay?" he droned out. He is held in toleration by his wife, contempt by his mother-in-law –"more bother than all the children, so childish and self-willed", she huskily whispered to me. The wife was energetic and human. She asked me if I thought "the Indians could ever be civilized?" I quite respected her. She supports the household taking boarders. Heaven help their night hours and noses.


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