Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Wajapa, called Ezra Freemont. Photograph by John K. Hillers, ca. 1881-84. Photo Lot 24, BAE 3935-a.

 

 

Omaha earth lodge. Photo Lot 24, BAE 4558 Inv. 01598600

 

 

September 21, 1881

En route from Omaha Reservation to Santee Agency. Left at 10 - traveled over deep ruts (trails) struck the agency road. Passed through the Winnebago Reserve, on by the side of Omaha Creek, crossed it over a large bridge braced with iron rods some 20 feet above the water. This bridge brought down by the heavy spring flood of this year which devastated the upper Mo.

The wagon was loaded with trunk and boxes, behind them the bags, over them the bedding in bundles, over all Susette’s buffalo skin decorated with gilt threads rosette of red.

Mr. Tibbles drove, Susette lay on the robe behind and I beside Mr. T. Horses walked rapidly - made 18 miles in 4 1/2 hours.

Camped under a clump of ash trees. Wajapa lariated out the well horse. He overtook us near the creek. We passed through Homer, bought feed, watermelon and grapes at a Winnebago store. We caught a meat man on the Winnebago Reserve and got beef steak. On the right the site of an old Omaha village - mud lodges built about a circle. High hill on left, the place where the dead were buried. The body was laid out on its back.

This hill is now called Grave Hill. The Indians speak of it as the Hill of Graves.

The Sioux drove them out and great battles took place in the valleys - Wajapa remembers living here and going off on the trail over the distant hills on the buffalo hunts. The trail can now be seen.

James and John Springer remember one of these great battles. Their father, mother and family were all killed. The little boys hid under a raw buffalo skin. The Sioux trampled over them, but the children never stirred and so were undiscovered. One of Susette’s uncles was killed.

As we sat eating our dinner Wajapa said, "I believe all the white men tell lies". He had been telling of the old site and evidently his mind had traveled over the long years, and the many changes to his people. I looked up as he spoke and found him looking at me with a seriousness and concentration of gaze that I can never forget.

It had in it memory, judgment, based on hard facts. There was seemingly no appeal - Two races confronted each other, and mine preeminently guilty. I said, thro Susette, "Not all white men are bad, there are some good ones". He replied, "Perhaps so, a few". I responded, "I don’t wonder that you think them all bad, your people have been wronged by white men."

Wajapa showed me the ford over the creek where the tribe used to pass when going on the hunt. The Sioux contested with the Omaha the hunting fields. Battles took place wherever the two met on the hunt. One time a battle lasted all day and night. The Omaha retreated. This battle seems to have been the cause of the Omahas going further south where Bellevue is now situated.

Wajapa is very courteous - He is quite a typical Indian. His ears have each two holes, one in the lower lobe, one on the edge. Teeth regular and worn down even. This I noticed on several men. He belongs to the citizens party and affects white man’s clothes. It is the pressure of civilization that brings this about, hardly conviction or free choice.

We drove along the woods. The road was all mud. S. and I got out and walked. Wajapa drove after camp, and Mr. T. rode on horseback.

We passed out of the woods and drove through seemingly endless plains bounded in the distance by bluffs. Passed a Winnebago camping ground where they had come for coarse grass to make the mats with which they cover their tents. The Winnebago tent is formed of sticks placed in a circle and bent together at the top, making the tent like a sort of half globe. When the mats are on it looks like a bundle of patchwork quilt - skeleton of one.

We did not camp on the old Winnebago ground because Mr. T. who had rode on ahead to find a place, saw that under the mats it was full of fleas. A mile or so beyond, we stopped at a clump of trees. Here we camp - Mosquito Camp - Susette calls it. The fire was built - supper of bacon and coffee. The hammock was slung. Mr. and Mrs. T. slept on the ground at my head, Wajapa beside the fire. Mosquitoes were many to the inch. Slept with our hats over our heads but about midnight we all wakened. Mr. T. said he had not slept at all. S. had, so had I. Mr. T. built two fires. There was no wind - one tall fire near us, one low one further away. The smoke drove out the mosquitoes and we slept till dawn.


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