Indian Sketches, Taken During an Expedition to the Pawnee and Other Tribes of American Indians (Vol. 1 of 2) online

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Having accompanied you throughout the whole of your bold and perilous
expedition to the Pawnee Towns, permit me to congratulate you upon its
success, and upon the benefits secured both to your own countrymen,
and to the wild tribes beyond the border, by your enterprise and

With me it was the juvenile excursion of a minor, where every thing
was fraught with novelty and pleasurable excitement; but with you it
was an official undertaking, full of anxiety and forethought, and I
cannot but fear that to the cares of your office was occasionally added
solicitude for the safety of your young and heedless fellow-traveller.

As it was partly at your own suggestion that the following pages were
written, I beg you will accept this dedication of them as a slight
testimonial of my respect and esteem, and an acknowledgment of the
kindness manifested by you throughout our wild campaign. If they
present but imperfect sketches of the vivid scenes we have witnessed
together, you will recollect that they are the first attempts of an
inexperienced pencil.





* * * * *

Introductory Account of the Object of the
Expedition, and the Persons who composed
it 1


The Indian Country 9


The Rangers.—Indian Habits.—Crossing
the Kanzas River 19


Shawanese and the Delawares 29


The Prairie.—Arrival at Fort Leavenworth 35


The Sac Indian 41


The Kanzas 47


The Kanzas Chief 64


The Forest.—The Kickapoos 68


Departure for the Pawnees.—Prairie Life 83


The Party of Sac Indians 93


The Journey.—Saline River 103


The Legend of the Saline River 110


The Otoe Messengers 117


An Otoe Warrior.—The Iotan Chief 123


The Iotan and his Brother, or Indian Revenge 129


The Reception.—The Town 136


Indian Habits.—The Escape 151


The Rival Chiefs.—Indian Feasts 160


Domestic Grievances 170


A Man of the World 179


The Chase 184


The Metamorphosis 194


Indian Dogs 201


Indian Life 208


The Indian Guard 213


The Otoe Council 219


Distribution of Presents 226


Departure of Otoes for the Hunting Grounds 238


Departure from the Otoe Village 243


The Alarm 247


Preparations for Reception.—Reception by
Grand Pawnees 258


* * * * *



For several years past the government of the United States, as is well
known, has been engaged in removing the Indian tribes, resident within
the States, to tracts of wild but fertile land, situated beyond the
verge of white population. Some of the tribes thus removed, however,
when they came to hunt over the lands assigned them, encountered
fierce opposition from the aboriginal tribes of the prairies, who
claimed the country as their own, and denied the right of the United
States to make the transfer. The migratory tribes were thus placed in
a disastrous predicament: having sold their native lands to the United
States, they had no place to which they might retreat; while they could
only maintain a footing in their new homes, by incessant fighting.

The government of the United States hastened to put an end to the
bloody conflicts thus engendered, by purchasing the contested lands,
and effecting treaties of peace between the jarring tribes. In
some instances, however, the aboriginals remained unappeased. This
especially was the case, with a fierce and numerous tribe of Pawnees,
inhabiting the banks of the Platte river, and who were backed in their
hostilities by their allies the Otoes, who, though less numerous,
were even more daring than themselves. These two tribes laid claim
to all the land lying between the Platte and Kanzas rivers; a region
comprising several hundred square miles. It had long been their
favourite hunting ground, in which it was death for a strange hunter
to intrude. This forbidden tract, however, had been granted by the
United States to the Delawares; and the latter had made it the scene
of their hunting excursions. A bitter feud was the consequence. The
tract in question became a debateable ground in which war parties were
continually lurking. The Delawares had been attacked, while hunting,
by the Pawnees, and many of their tribe had fallen. The Delawares, in
revenge, had surprised and burnt one of the Pawnee towns, while the
warriors were absent on a buffalo hunt.

The hostile feelings, thus awakened among the aboriginal tribes of the
prairies, had been manifested toward the white men. Several trappers
and traders had been massacred by the Pawnees, who looked upon them as
intruders; and who were too far from the settlements, too confident of
their own prowess, and too ignorant of the power of the whites, to care
much either for their friendship or their enmity.

In this state of things, the commissioners, appointed by government to
superintend the settlement of the migratory tribes, were instructed
to proceed to the region in question, purchase the contested lands
of the Pawnees, and induce them to remove to the north of the river
Platte, and effect a treaty of peace between them and their new
neighbours. For this purpose, in the summer of 1833, Mr. Ellsworth,
the same commissioner who in the preceding year had explored a tract
of the hunting grounds between the Arkansas and the Grand Canadian[A],
set out from Washington for Fort Leavenworth, a frontier post on the
Missouri river, about forty miles beyond the boundary line of the State
of Missouri, where he was to await the arrival of one of his fellow
commissioners, before proceeding to visit the hostile tribes. In this
expedition he was accompanied by the writer of the following pages, who
was glad of the opportunity to visit strange scenes and strange people,
of which he had only heard wild and exaggerated rumours. There was
another volunteer, a Scotch gentleman, travelling for information and
amusement; and a son of the commissioner (Mr. Edward Ellsworth), who
acted as secretary to the expedition, made up our party.

[A] See a Tour on the Prairies by W. Irving.

At St. Louis we hired two servants to accompany us throughout the
expedition. One was a half breed, a cross between the Creek Indian and
the Negro; he was named Mordecai, and inherited the lazy propensities
of both races, but entertained a high opinion of his own merits. The
other was a tall awkward boy, with a low forehead, and a dull, sleepy
countenance, nearly hidden by elf locks. His name was Joseph. He spoke
a mixture of French and English, and would fain have passed for a full
blooded white; but his mother was a thorough squaw, wife to a little
Creole Frenchman, named Antoine or Tonish, who had accompanied the
commissioner on the preceding year, in his expedition to the Arkansas
frontier.[B] Joseph inherited from his father a gasconading spirit,
and an inveterate habit of lying. Like him, too, he was a first-rate
horseman, and a hard rider, who knocked up every horse entrusted to
him. To add to his hereditary qualities, he inherited from his mother
an inveterate habit of stealing. Though a downright coward, he boasted
much of his valour, and even told me, in confidence, “that he could
lick his daddy.” Being of an obstinate disposition, he was wisely
appointed by the commissioner to drive a dearborn waggon, drawn by
two mules; and many a stubborn contest took place between him and his
fellow brutes, in which he was sure to carry the day.

[B] See Tour on the Prairies.

Such was our party when we left St. Louis, on our route to Fort



It was late upon a fine glowing afternoon in July that we first crossed
the Indian frontier, and issued from the forest upon a beautiful
prairie, spreading out, as far as the eye could reach, an undulating
carpet of green, enamelled with a thousand flowers, and lighted up by
the golden rays of the setting sun. Occasionally a grouse, frightened
at our approach, would bustle from among the high grass, and fly
whirring over the tops of the neighbouring hills.

We had ridden for more than an hour over the green waste. The heat
of the afternoon was yielding to the cool breezes of sunset; the sun
itself had just hid its crimson disk below the prairie hills, and the
western sky was still glowing with its beams.

The deer, which, during the scorching heat of mid-day, had nestled
among the thick groves which dot the prairie, now began to steal from
their hiding places, and were seen bounding over the green sward, or
standing buried up to their heads among the tall flowers, and gazing
wildly and fearfully at our party.

At a distance, too, we could perceive the gaunt form of a vagabond
wolf, sneaking through the grass, and stealing snake-like upon his
beautiful, though timid, co-tenant of the prairie.

An exclamation from our guide attracted our attention to a solitary
Indian, mounted upon a horse, and standing, statue-like, upon a
distant hill directly in our route.

Although we had often seen straggling Indians in the frontier towns,
they had in general so degraded an air as to attract but little
attention. The appearance of this one, however, standing alone on his
own soil, where he was bowed by no feeling of inferiority, must, we
thought, be as noble as the soil of which he was the master; and we
pushed forward to gaze upon him. He remained unmoved, neither advancing
a single pace to meet us, nor retiring on our approach. He proved to be
a Shawnee; one of the remnant of that brave tribe who, under Tecumseh,
had made such a desperate attack upon the whites near the banks of the

Some years since, they had been removed from their old hunting
grounds, and stationed about ten miles beyond the boundary which
separates the state of Missouri from the territory bearing the same
name. They had left the graves of their fathers, the home of their
childhood, to seek in a strange land that freedom which they could no
longer enjoy in the homestead handed down to them by their unfettered
ancestors; but not before the sapping influence of their communion with
the whites had exerted its sway over them, and reduced them to that
abject state which distinguishes the civilised from the savage Indian.

A feeling of disappointment, mingled with sorrow, came over us as we
rode up to this solitary being. At a distance our fancies had painted
him possessed of all that was noble in the Indian character; but a
nearer view dispelled the illusion. He could not have been older than
thirty, but intemperance had left its mark upon his features. His
hair was thick and matted, and hung nearly to his eyes. His legs were
covered with leggings of deerskin, ornamented with a yellow binding.
Over a dirty calico shirt he wore a long surtout coat, with immense
brass buttons; and upon his shoulder he bore a very long and heavy

He saluted us with the usual guttural salutation of “ugh!” and, turning
round, rode slowly ahead of our party. His horse was one of those tough
little Indian ponies celebrated for hard heads, hard mouths, hard
constitutions, and a fund of obstinacy which it would puzzle Satan
himself to overcome. He wriggled through the grass with a sideling
ricketty pace, that would have wearied any other than an Indian; and,
between the incessant drumming of the heels of the rider into the ribs
of his steed, and the jerking, hitching pace of the animal, I could not
well determine which underwent the most labour, the horse or his master.

He had not ridden in front of us long before we saw, at a distance,
another of the same class galloping towards us. He came forward over
the prairie at the full speed of a lean raw-boned nag; and we hoped to
find in him a character which might redeem the first, but in this we
were disappointed.

He was short and broad; dressed in a dirty calico shirt, and an equally
dirty and ragged pair of pantaloons. On his head was cocked, with a
very knowing air, a something which once might have been called a hat.
On his shoulder he carried a long rifle, while he plied its wiping rod
lustily upon the flanks of his horse until he reached the party.

After gazing at us with some curiosity, he rode off to our first
acquaintance. A short conversation then took place, after which they
thumped their heels into the ribs of their horses, and scampered off
over the prairie; rising at one moment over the top of some ridge, and
then again disappearing in the hollow which lay beyond it, until at
last we lost sight of them behind a grove which jutted out into the

So,—these are the Indians! This is a specimen of the princely race
which once peopled the wilds of America, from the silent wilderness
which still borders the Pacific, to the now humming shores of the
Atlantic! We were disappointed, and did not reflect that we were
looking only upon the dregs of that people; that these were but
members of those tribes who had long lived in constant intercourse
with the whites, imbibing all their vices, without gaining a single
redeeming virtue; and that the wild savage could no more be compared
with his civilised brother, than the wild, untamed steed of his
own prairie could be brought in comparison with the drooping,
broken-spirited drudge horse, who toils away a life of bondage beneath
the scourge of a master.

Upon their departure we urged our horses forward; for the creaking of
the prairie insects warned us of the approach of night, and the place
of our destination was yet some miles distant. A rapid and silent ride
of an hour brought us to the wished-for spot.

It was a single log cabin, built in the edge of the wood, and inhabited
by a white man, the blacksmith appointed by the United States to take
charge of, and keep in repair, the arms paid as an annuity to the
Shawnee tribe; a measure of government highly pleasing to the Indians,
who detest labour of all kinds, and would willingly travel a hundred
miles to get another to perform some trivial job, which they might
themselves accomplish with but a few hours’ labour.

The house of the blacksmith bore all the marks which characterise
the backwoodsman. It consisted of two small cabins, formed of rough
unbarked logs, and united to each other by a covered shed. One or
two heavy vehicles were standing in front of it. At about a hundred
yards’ distance was a large field of Indian corn. Two cows, two horses,
and a cozy bevy of pigs, who were snuffing and grunting from a deep
mud-hole a few yards from the house, made up the live stock of the
establishment, and were all that were considered necessary for the
comfort of a backwoodsman.



It was daylight on the following morning when we commenced our journey
towards Cantonment Leavenworth. It is situated in the Indian country,
about forty miles beyond the line which separates the State from the
Territory of Missouri. Our guide took the lead, and struck into a
narrow foot-path which led through the forest, while the rest of us
followed in Indian file.

There is a deep silence in a western wilderness. No sound is heard, not
even the note of a bird, to break the deathly stillness.

Occasionally a spectre-like raven would flit across our path, saluting
us with his ill-omened croak; or poising himself upon his wings, to
take a more minute survey of the strange beings who had invaded his
secluded haunts.

The silence was thrilling. Our voices echoed beneath the leafy canopy
with a sound that rendered them strange even to our own ears. Even the
crackling of the dry twigs, as they snapped beneath the hoofs of our
horses, had a strange and solemn sound: but, as we grew familiarized
with it, this feeling wore off, nor was it long before the jest and
merry laugh went on as usual; and, I imagine, many a long day had
passed since those aged forests had rung to such sounds of boisterous
merriment as burst from the lips of the band, as we galloped towards
the prairie, which lay but a few miles beyond.

In half an hour we reached it. A loud whoop from our guide announced
that something more than usual had met his eye. At the same time he
struck his spurs into his horse and galloped out into the open prairie.

At a short distance, a long troop of horsemen was trailing through the
high grass, and preparing to enter a small thicket of timber which rose
in the prairie at a short distance. They were a body of the United
States’ Rangers, and had just returned from escorting the Santa Fé
traders across a portion of the perilous route, which they are obliged
to take, in carrying on their profitable, though hazardous, trade with
that inland mart. When we met, they had been more than a month absent
from the garrison, seeing none but their own party, or occasionally a
straggling band of friendly Indians, carrying their whole wardrobe in
the small valise attached to their saddles; dependent for subsistence
on hunting alone, and continually on the look-out for an enemy,—an
enemy that always came when least expected, tarried but to strike the
blow, and retreated with equal celerity to the fastnesses of their own

There is always a feeling of vagabond companionship engendered by
travelling in the wilderness; and, although we were not a day’s ride
beyond the settlements, we hailed the sight of this tatterdemalion band
with as much joy as if we had been united by the links of a long and
well-tried friendship.

We spent half an hour with them; then spurring on, we soon reached the
bank of the Kanzas river.

This is one of the largest tributaries of the Missouri; being from a
quarter to two miles in width, and varying in depth from one to thirty

Upon reaching its brink, we found attached to a tree a large scow,
which was used as a ferry-boat. Its owner, a tall thin Delaware, was
quietly seated in one corner, pouring out a flood of smoke from a small
pipe which garnished one corner of his mouth.

There is always an air of gentlemanly laziness hanging about the
Indians. They live they know not how, and they care not where. A little
suffices them: if they can get it, they are satisfied; if not, they are
satisfied without it. They belong to a sect of philosophers ranging
between the Epicureans and the Stoics. When pleasure presents its cup,
they drink it to the dregs; and when the reverse is the case, they bear
it without a murmur.

They have no objection to beg, or, if it is equally convenient, to
steal; for, to tell the truth, they are much troubled with confused
memories, and are terribly given to mistaking the property of other
people for their own. It is a universal practice among them, and
brings with it no disgrace. To all this is added a most gentlemanly
abhorrence of labour of all descriptions, and a great store of patience
in enduring the pinching hunger which is often the result of indolence.
On a wet day you may travel for miles over the prairies, or through the
thickets, and not a single Indian will cross your path; but let the
sun again beam forth, and you will see them around in every direction,
lounging in the long grass or sunning themselves upon some high prairie
peak, with a most profound forgetfulness of the past, and lordly
contempt for the future; for they are marvellously fond of fulfilling
the general sense, though not the literal meaning of the old adage,
which says, “make hay while the sun shines.”

Upon our hailing this Charon of the Kanzas, he quietly rose from his
seat, and, stepping to the shore, made signs for us to lead our horses
into the scow. He remained upon the bank until they were all safely
embarked. He did not offer to aid in the least in getting them on
board; nor did our guide appear to expect any assistance from him. When
every thing was in readiness, he loosed the fastening, and seizing a
long pole, thrust it into the sandy bottom, and whirled the ticklish
vessel far out into the rushing current of the river. The water, at
this spot, was not very deep; and by means of his pole, he soon ran
the scow upon the sand of the opposite shore. He then secured it to
a tree, and, having received his pay, pocketed it, and strolled off,
leaving the party to land, or stay on board, as they might think fit.

We disembarked and galloped up the bank. On the top was a large log
house, inhabited by the blacksmith of the Delaware Indians, and the
last building we were to meet in the route to the garrison. We had
scarcely reached it when the woods on the opposite bank of the river
began to ring to the shouts of the Rangers; and the whole troop, as
fantastically arrayed as a band of Italian banditti, slowly wound among
the tall tree trunks until they reached the bank which overhung the

There was a pause of some moments upon the brink; then a heavy splash

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Online LibraryJr.Indian Sketches, Taken During an Expedition to the Pawnee and Other Tribes of American Indians (Vol. 1 of 2) → online text (page 1 of 9)