Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

House on the Omaha Reservation. The photographer was probably Francis La Flesche, 1898. Photo Lot 24, BAE 4558, No. 4466.

 

September 24, 1881

The dawn was wonderfully fine, the sky clear, a few rippling clouds. I watched the soft gray become primrose and deepen into gold. From under the drapery of the tent hanging over wagon, made my toilet partly under cover and partly out on the prairie, while the others still slept. A herd of cattle came along as I was waiting and stood astonished in a circle about me, bye and bye a frisky heifer lifted her heels and made off with a snort, as much as to say, "I’ve seen enough of civilized nonsense". After the level rays of the sun had touched with color leaves and flowers and tall grass, the others stirred and soon our camp was all activity, fire burning, coffee boiling and tent out drying. I went to the house near by to purchase eggs and bacon, eight cents per dozen. Eggs I got but not the other. A slender girl answered my knock and said she would call the lady of the house. She came, a good natured Irish woman with broad brogue, far less lady-like than my Jane or Jennie. I bought the eggs, She put them in a sack. I said it was too heavy and the road slippery with mud, I might break it. "Bless yo heart, I would not feel bad to you if you did. Where are you going?" "Some hundreds of miles west" "Ach! I’m high enough, bright enough any day!" "You’ve a nice house". "Yes, and I worked hard to get it". "I’ve no doubt". "Bad rain last night". "Yes, and ye camping too, camping is nice when the weather is fine, it’s mighty bad when it isn’t." I bade her goodbye and passed out through the sanded walk with flowers on either side, wall flowers, morning glories.

The bay mare’s back being sore from the saddle and made worse by the rain, she was put in harness and we all prepared for a struggle for the mare is peculiar. When she wont she wont and there’s the end on it. She favored us and we sped on. Wajapa was driver. We made good speed over moor and prairies. Not a house save now and then. At noon we pulled up at camp. Road bad, lost our way, ruts. Wajapa rides ahead, buying bread, butter and milk at a log house near by, where dirt and children were equally plenty. Germans. Wajapa gathered wood by the creek and brought a steak which has been sawed by kavers. We had scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and coffee, a jolly good dinner and by 2.30 were off.

1 1/2 hours at camp. We drove all the afternoon through a treeless country, here and there a settler burning fire breaks preparing for prairie fires. Passed a lone post office and sketch as I ride. Mr. T. is not well. At 5.30 or 6 , we camped at "Hidden Trees". On the way there Wajapa pointed out spots where Indians had rested, and their camp fires. He thought they were Omahas who had last June visited Spotted-tail.

We had supper of hard boiled eggs, coffee and pancakes.

The talk about the camp fire was serious. The future struggles of the Indians.

Wajapa - Grandfather a chief, father, leader of band. S.'s father succeeded. Five years ago the Omahas lived in a village, mud lodges. Now he has a fine farm. Two years since changed to citizen’s dress, has sent daughter east to Miss Read's school. Indians think him hard hearted to send away a little girl. He says "No, I look to the future, I shall sleep easy when I die if my children are prepared to meet the struggle that is coming when they must - cope with the white settlers". His mind is alert and of a statesman like character, tho he is rather restless, made so by the uncertainty of Indian tenure of land. Indians love their land as no white man realizes, and will not part from it for any cause if possible to prevent it. Wajapa rides ahead, when the road is good he will sometimes make short cuts. When a distance off he will sing in the expressive Indian fashion. At every high hill he gallops to the top and then stands, he and his horse silhouetted against the clear blue sky. He picks out the way for us. The trails lie over the boundless, billowy prairie, like the marks of two fingers a little apart, drawn side by side. Often the ruts are deep and the gutter nearly perpendicular. It is a desolate wilderness, yet it is not without charm. On some of the high lands, for we are up and down all the time, we could see nearly one hundred miles, off into Dakota. Log houses, dirt roofs, clay walls, Dug out. Snakes made their way in. Mr. T. lying in bed once in a dugout saw a great snake crawl along the center beam.

We made our beds early before the dew began to fall and went to bed by 8.30 or earlier. My first night under the stars. I waken about midnight for the ground makes me ache very badly. The stars were wonderfully fine. The dew on my waterproof was in puddles. I had put my hat over my head for the cold was great. Orion was just coming up over the horizon. By turning over and taking a fresh side I fell asleep but pain wakened me again. Then I tried all sorts of ways and at last slept once more, when I wakened again I was thankful for the sight of the morning star. I watched and waited for the first grey light when I rose and began to dress. It was wet and cold but clear.



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