Camping With the Sioux: Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Mon-Chu-Non-Zhin or Ma-Chu-Nu-Zhe (Standing Bear). Photograph by Charles Milton Bell. Photo Lot 24, Neg. 4176-a.

 

 

 

Niobrara River. Sept. 30, Oct 1 and 2.

 

September 30, 1881

Up early and Mrs. Riggs all aglow with hospitable thoughts. We packed - I leaving every extra article at Mrs. Riggs until my return. Just as we were ready I learned that the mate of the yellow mare had been gored by an ox and we must travel with the refactory mare. Wajapa walking. We determined to push on . Mrs. Riggs gave us dinner and lunch daintily put up and with her good wishes we started. The trunk had been left behind and my gifts and extra clothing put in a box.

The roads were very heavy - We followed the bottom - the clay bluffs were often like cliffs, and the various colored clays made them gay in color. Flowers were on every hand and grass taller than our heads as we sat in the wagon. The yellow sunflowers were darkened faces as we passed them. "Gumbo" Mr. T. called the mud, which stuck in lumps to the wheels. After some seven miles we came to a hill. S. and I got out and walked with Wajapa over the hill and the horses and wagon went round about.

Wajapa was delighted to use the Opera-glass, he said, "This will be good when we get far away from houses and then when any one is coming we can see who they are, whether friend or enemy!" A delicious bit of barbarous remains.

We bought some corn of an Indian who had served two years in the war. Afterward when we had camped he came down with a gift of milk. He said he thought of going and taking a farm with the Poncas because they had good title to their lands. The one thing the Indian craves is a title to his land that he may be free and remain as a white man at home. Forded my first stream with quicksands and on to Niobrara through a willow shaded road. The town keeps down the fires and the trees begin to grow – reach the town which is on the move since the flood.

As we crossed the creek dividing the old side from the new, i.e. at the foot of the "2nd bench" Wajapa, who was walking behind met some Indians riding our way. They stopped and greeted each other, in a few moments further Indians had driven ahead of us. The wagon stopped and the Indians jumped out and came, saying, "How!" and taking off their hats shook hands with Mr. T. Wajapa rode through the new town with them and after a mile or two, Wajapa left them and joined us, our ways parting. Wajapa retailed the conversation. "What are you all doing?" asked the Indian. "Going to visit". "What is that woman doing?" "Going to visit the Indians". "Who is the man?" "The one who helped the Poncas". "Ah, he is the only good man, I’ve wanted to see him", and then it was that the Indian, a Sioux jumped out and came to us.

After they returned to the wagon, conversation on the woman ensued, concerning me. Wajapa said, "She is a christian woman, I hear she is one of the very good ones but I have not known her long enough yet to tell myself!" We all heartily enjoyed this recital and voted it to be put upon the minutes.

In the evening Wajapa told us of the Indian constellations. The Great Dipper is a [ ? ] the handle the three horses, the cup, the two poles with the buffalo skin like a bag carrying the sick. A circle of stars shown, the tent circle.

Heard the wild geese flying overhead. Many thoughts and little sleep. Oh, the desolation of life when the heart has no echo. I wonder as I write at the vanity and solitariness of life.

After dinner Standing Bear’s wife went with Susette and me and we called on a large number of the families. In the tent drawn on the preceding page lived, a man and his two wives, the old wife sat on the left side, the younger wife on the right as you enter. The little baby sat on a skin while the mother was looking over things in a trunk. The baby laughed and crowed at me and was a jolly little fellow. The father lay on his back, his hands under his head, beside his old wife - two other children, now to which was the mother I know not. It was a singular experience. Women were grinding, cooking. Children made play tents.

No stated occupation - women wore many rings, [brass?] bracelets like bangles, drops made of tassels of beads where the hair was tied together on the married women and at the end of the pendent braids on young girls. Men wore bears-skin bound about their front hair braided or twisted at the side.


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