Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Santee Manual Training School, 1880. Photo Lot 24, BAE 23 Inv. 00509700

 

 

 

Omaha village, north and south Blackbird Creeks, near Blackbird Hill. Photograph by William Henry Jackson, 1868-69. Neg. No. 4038.

 

September 25, 1881

Breakfasted on corn beef and coffee. This 7. A.M. the bay mare balked, not a step would she go, so she was unharnessed. I had passed up the hill from the camping ground to save my weight in the pulling. As I was writing this journal, the mare made off for home, Wajapa running to head her off by the creek, the mare gained and Mr. T. jumped on the other horse and galloped to the rescue, a lively hunt and the refactory animal was captured.

The other horse was put in but as the mare’s back was very sore Wajapa started to walk, leading her, up over steep hills, up, up, up, as we wish greatly to reach Santee for church and to see the Indians. Another trial was made with the mare. She went, but would not pull, the yellow horse doing all the work. At last we came in sight of the Indian tents but before that learned from a white settler just on the line we were four miles out of our way. We went on and in going down and up and up gully, snap went a whiffle-tree on the bay mare’s side and the wagon began to descend. Wajapa managed to turn the horse, stopped and after a half hour of work, Mr. T. galloping off to a sioux tent, getting a stick and tied with ropes and started once more.

Mr. T. said "Some fellers would swear. I’ve been thinking whether it would do any good. I never had such a streak of luck as this since we started". He didn’t swear! Just as we started we came to another gully, a pitch like a - - [drawing]- with mud at the bottom. S. and I got out, wagon went over in safety. Then the rope was discovered to be too slender and another halt was made and a piece of lariat cut off and tied on and at 10.30 were off once more.

Santee sioux tents, here and there, a tall dance pole like a great tent pole on a hill we skirted.

A shed like a high table by every little log or frame house, here hangs the corn, long yellow fringe, the husks are only loosened but still clinging to the cob, the stalks braided, very picturesque.

Susette asked Wajapa to sing as he drove. "What is there for me to be so happy about that I should sing", he made answer.

Shortly after we entered the Reservation. Wajapa pointed out the plateaus where, when he was a boy, the Omahas camped. While there, there came a fearful storm, the creek raised and the water rose to the top of the hill, fifty feet. Two little girls were drowned, packs carried off by the flood, and the place is known as "The place where the Omahas were flooded".

Buffalo grasses are scarce, the bluejoint crowds it out.

Wajapa says it seems as though after the white men came in two years the buffalos were gone.

Wajapa says that the Indians call the bluejoint, Red Grass. It comes where the white people are while the other fine grass follows the buffalo. He thinks the white race may have sprung from Red grass, there is such an affinity - believes the white people are this grass.

Over sandhills, desolation let loose. Mr. T. rode up one of the hills to see if we were well on our way. At a turn of the road he returned, said he had stirred up a den of rattle snakes. The yellow bluffs of the Missouri came in sight. We seemed perched high in the air. The land appears of little value. As we went over one of the hills we met a wagon load of people. They accosted Wajapa but he could not understand. Then a handsome woman talked English to us. We told her we were on our way to Mr. Riggs. Bye and bye the Mission buildings came in sight, a pretty village. We rode down the steep hills and on to the level ground, passed the Episcopal Mission, on by the Govt. School, and leaving Mr. Riggs Mission at the right went on past the hill were the Indian men in their tent over a rise and down by the creek where we camped, ate our dinner and then the tent was rigged up on a pole and the carriage pole, and S. and I made our toilet for "Meeting". All the Indians came down to the point to water their horses. Women came, girls came, and when they spied us hid in the bushes. Horses hobbled on front feet, got caught in quicksands. [?] making little speed.

The Meeting very interesting.

The Sioux a fine looking race of men. The women good looking, often. They all stoop, and bind their shawls about their shoulders, which increases the difficulty. Some had tattooing on their foreheads. All looked keen yet not with a wide outlook.

Hymn in Dakota service. Missionary Meeting native preachers and missionaries. Mr. Williamson presided with a native preacher.

The Indians raised over five hundred dollars the past year to defray missionary expenses among their own people.

Mr. and Mrs. Riggs took us to their home, lovely sitting room, extension full of flowers, library and study opening off.

Mr. Hall of Fort Berthold there, and old Mr. Riggs - the father, Miss Illsley of New Jersey, there to teach music, having been at Yankton. Mr. Williamson of Yankton and others.

Prayer meeting in the evening - the christian self devotion very marked. So full of simplicity. The women prayed most earnestly for patience and to be careful in their lives and not lose courage in their work. One felt that these were the picked and advanced guard in the Lord’s Army.


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