Alexander Henry.

Alexander Henry's Travels and adventures in the years 1760-1776, ed. with historical introduction and notes by Milo Milton Quaife online

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— Author.

This is an error on the part of Henry. Before the
Sioux obtained firearms from Europeans they used fUnt
knives and arrowheads, made from flint which they
found on the banks of the Thousand Lakes — called by
them Isan-ta-mde, or "Lake of Knives." From this
circumstance the eastern Sioux were called Isan-ya-ti,
which has in time been corrupted into modern Santee.
The Santee include the Wahpetans and the Wa/ikute;
the Siouan division from which the Assiniboin separ-
ated are the Yankton. — Editor.


^Icjtranticr i^cnrp

that of the Indians in general. His appearance
was greatly injured by the condition of his
head of hair, and this was the result of an
extraordinary superstition.

The Indians universally fix upon a partic-
ular object as sacred to themselves; as the
giver of their prosperity, and as their preserver
from evil. The choice is determined either by
a dream, or by some strong predilection of
fancy, and usually falls upon an animal, or
part of an animal, or something else which is to
be met with by land or by water : but the Great
Road had made choice of his hair — placing,
like Sampson, all his safety in this portion of
his proper substance! His hair was the foun-
tain of all his happiness; it was his strength and
his weapon, his spear and his shield. It pre-
served him in battle, directed him in the chase,
watched over him in the march, and gave length
of days to his wives and children. Hair of a
quality hke this was not to be profaned by the
touch of human hands. I was assured that it
had never been cut nor combed from his child-
hood upward; and that when any part of it
fell from his head he treasured up that part
with care: meanwhile, it did not escape all
care, even while growing on the head; but was
in the special charge of a spirit, who dressed it
while the owner slept. All this might be: but
the spirit's style of hair dressing was at least
peculiar, the hair being suffered to remain
very much as if it received no dressing at all,

Crabdi^ axUy ^tibenture^

and matted into ropes which spread them-
selves in all directions.

The same evening we were invited to a
second feast. Everything was nearly as before,
except that in the morning all the guests were
men, and now half were women. All the women
were seated on one side of the floor of the tent,
and all the men on the other, with a fire placed
between them. The fire rendering the tent
warm, the men, one after another, dropped the
skins which were their garments, and left
themselves entirely naked. The appearance
of one of them in particular having led us, who
were strangers, into an involuntary and ill-
stifled laugh, the men calmly asked us the
occasion of our mirth; but one of the women
pointing to the cause, the individual restored
the covering of his robe.

The women are themselves perfectly modest,
both in dress and demeanor, and those who
were now present maintained the first rank
in the village; but custom had rendered the
scene inoffensive to their eyes.

Our repast concluded, we departed, taking
with us our dishes, in which the greater part
of the ox tongues which had been laid upon
them remained unconsumed.

All night in our tent we had a guard of six
soldiers; and when I awoke, as several times
I did, I always found them smoking their pipes
in silence.

We rose at daybreak, according to the


^Icjranticr ipcnrp

custom of the Indians, who say that they follow
it in order to avoid surprises, this being the
hour at which the enemy uniformly makes his

Our waiting-women arrived early, bringing
wood and water. Washing appeared to me to
be a ceremony of religion among the Osini-
poilles; and I never saw anything similar
among other Indians.

Leaving our tent, we made a progress
through the village, which consisted of about
two hundred tents, each tent containing from
two to four families. We were attended by
four soldiers of our guard, but this was insuf-
ficient for keeping off the women and children,
who crowded around us with insatiable curi-
osity. Our march was likewise accompanied
by a thousand dogs, all howling frightfully.

From the village I saw for the first time one
of those herds of horses which the Osinipoilles
possess in numbers. It was feeding on the
skirts of the plain. The masters of these herds
provide them with no fodder; but leave them
to find food for themselves by removing the
snow with their feet till they reach the grass,
which is everywhere on the ground in plenty.

At ten o'clock we returned to our tent, and
in a short time the great chief paid us a visit,
attended by nearly fifty followers of distinc-
tion. In coming in he gave his hand to each of
us, and all his attendants followed his example.
When we were seated one of the officers went


€rabd^ anU ^tibcntureiei

through the ceremony of the pipe, after which
the great chief delivered a speech, of which the
substance was as follows: That he was glad to
see us; that he had been, some time since, in-
formed of a fort of the white men's being
estabhshed on the Pasquayah, and that it had
always been his intention to pay a visit there;
that we were our own masters, to remain at our
pleasure in his village, free from molestation,
and assured of his especial protection; that the
young men had employed themselves in collect-
ing meat and furs, for the purpose of purchas-
ing certain articles, wherewith to decorate
their wives; that within a few days he proposed
to move, with his whole village, on this errand;
that nothing should be omitted to make our
stay as agreeable as possible; that he had al-
ready ordered a party of his soldiers to guard
us, and that if anything should occur to dis-
please us, his ear was always open to our

For all these friendly communications we
offered our thanks. His visit to the fort it had
been a principal object to invite.

After the speech the chief presented us with
twenty beaver skins, and as many wolf. In
return we gave two pounds of vermiHon, and a
few fathoms of twisted tobacco, assuring him
that when he should arrive at our habitation
we would endeavor to repay the benefits which
we were receiving from him, and at the same
time cheerfully exchange our merchandise for

^lerantier l^cnrp

the dried meat and skins of his village. It
was agreed that he should strike his camp at
the end of five days, and that we should remain
in it so long, and accompany it to the fort.
The chief now departed; and I believe that we
were reciprocally pleased with each other.

A short time after he was gone we received
an invitation to a feast from a subordinate
chief. Our dishes were again filled with tongues,
but roasted and not boiled. To furnish us with
water we saw an ox's paunch employed as a
kettle. This being hung in the smoke of a
fire, was filled with snow, and as the snow
melted more was added till the paunch was full
of water. The lower orifice of the organ was
used for drawing off the water, and stopped
with a plug and string.

During our whole stay we never had occasion
for cookery at home; but my kettle was in
constant use, and for the most part in prepara-
tion of the feasts at which we were daily
guests. In our tent we were regularly suppHed
with water, either by the women or by the

The guards were changed daily. They fre-
quently beat the people for disobedience of
orders, and the offenders made no resistance to
the chastisement. We were informed that
there was at both extremities of the camp, or
village, a picket of two men, whose duty it was
not to allow any person to go beyond the
bounds. The intention of this was to prevent

stragglers from falling a prey to the enemy.
General orders were issued by the chief
morning and evening, and published by a crier
in every part of the camp.

In the course of the day the great chief in-
formed us that he proposed hunting the wild ox
on the following morning, and invited us to be
of the party.


Cl^apter 13


IN the morning we went to the hunt accord-
ingly. The chief was followed by about
forty men and a great number of women.
We proceeded to a small island on the plain, at
the distance of five miles from the village. On
our way we saw large herds of oxen at feed,
but the hunters forbore to molest them, lest
they should take the alarm.

Arrived at the island, the women pitched a
few tents while the chief led his hunters to its
southern end where there was a pound, or
enclosure. The fence was about four feet high,
and formed of strong stakes of birchwood,
wattled with smaller branches of the same.
The day was spent in making repairs, and by
the evening all was ready for the hunt.

At daylight several of the more expert
hunters were sent to decoy the animals into the
pound. They were dressed in ox skins, with
the hair and horns. Their faces were covered,
and their gestures so closely resembled those
of the animals themselves that had I not been
in the secret I should have been as much de-
ceived as the oxen.

At ten o'clock one of the hunters returned,
bringing information of the herd. Immediately


all the dogs were muzzled and, this done, the
whole crowd of men and women surrounded
the outside of the pound. The herd, of which
the extent was so great that I cannot pretend to
estimate the numbers, was distant half a mile,
advancing slowly and frequently stopping to
feed. The part played by the decoyers was
that of approaching them within hearing and
then bellowing like themselves. On hearing
the noise the oxen did not fail to give it atten-
tion, and whether from curiosity or sympathy,
advanced to meet those from whom it pro-
ceeded. These, in the meantime, fell back de-
liberately toward the pound, always repeating
the call whenever the oxen stopped. This was
reiterated till the leaders of the herd had fol-
lowed the decoyers into the jaws of the pound,
which, though wide asunder toward the plain,
terminated like a funnel in a small aperture,
or gateway, and within this was the pound
itself. The Indians remark that in all herds of
animals there are chiefs, or leaders, by whom the
motions of the rest are determined.

The decoyers now retired within the pound
and were followed by the oxen. But the former
retired still farther, withdrawing themselves at
certain movable parts of the fence, while the
latter were fallen upon by all the hunters, and
presently wounded and killed by showers of
arrows. Amid the uproar which ensued the
oxen made several attempts to force the fence,
but the Indians stopped them, and drove them

^Icranticr i^cnrp

back by shaking skins before their eyes. Skins
were also made use of to stop the entrance,
being let down by strings as soon as the oxen
were inside. The slaughter was prolonged till
the evening, when the hunters returned to their
tents. Next morning all the tongues were pre-
sented to the chief, to the number of seventy-

The women brought the meat to the village
on sledges drawn by dogs. The liunps on the
shoulders, and the hearts, as well as the
tongues were set apart for feasts, while the rest
was consumed as ordinary food, or dried for
sale at the fort.

The time was now passed in dancing and
festivity in all quarters of the village. On the
evening of the day after the hunt the chief
came to our tent, bringing with him about
twenty men and as many women, who sep-
arately seated themselves as before; but they
now brought musical instruments, and soon
after their arrival began to play. The instru-
ments consisted principally in a sort of tam-
bourine, and a gourd filled with stones, which
several persons accompanied by shaking two
bones together; and others with bunches of
deer hoofs, fastened to the end of a stick.
Another instrument was one that was no more
than a piece of wood of three feet with notches
cut on its edge. The performer drew a stick
backward and forward along the notches, keep-
ing time. The women sang; and the sweetness


of their voices exceeded whatever I had heard

This entertainment lasted upward of an
hour; and when it was finished a dance com-
menced. The men formed themselves into a
row on one side, and the women on the other,
and each moved sidewise, first up and then
down the room. The sound of bells and other
jinghng materials attached to the women's
dresses enabled them to keep time. The songs
and dances were continued alternately till
near midnight, when all our visitors departed.

These amusements were given to us com-
plimentarily by the chief. He took no part
in the performances himself, but sat smoking
while they proceeded.

It had been my wish to go farther on the
Plains, till I should have reached the mountains,
at the feet of which, as I have already ob-
served, they he; but the chief informed me that
the latter were still at the distance of many days'
journey, and that the intervening country was
a tract destitute of the least appearance of
wood. In the winter, as he asserted, this tract
cannot be crossed at all, and in the summer the
traveler is in great danger of perishing for
want of water; and the only fuel to be met with
is the dung of the wild ox. It is intersected by
a large river, which runs to the sun's rising,
and which has its sources in the mountains.

With regard to the country of the Osini-
poilles he said that it lay between the head of the

^lejcanlier i^enrp

Pasquayah, or Sascatchiwaine, and the coun-
try of the Sioux, or Nadowessies, who in-
habit the heads of the Missisipi. On the
west, near the mountains, were the Snake
Indians and Blackfeet, troublesome neigh-
bors, by whose hands numbers of his warriors

The Osinipoilles have many villages com-
posed of from one to two hundred tents each.
Few exceed the latter number. They often go
to the mountains on war parties, and always on
horseback. When the great chief intends to go
to war he sends messengers to the several
villages directing the warriors to meet him at an
appointed place and time. With regard to
the latter, it is described by the moon, as the
beginning, full, or end. In obedience to the
summons they assemble in greater numbers
than can be counted,^'' armed with the bow,
sling, and spear, and with quivers full of ar-
rows. They have still another weapon, formed
of a stone of about two pounds weight, which
is sewed in leather and made fast to a wooden
handle two feet long. In using it the stone is
whirled round the handle by a warrior sitting
on horseback and attacking at full speed.
Every stroke which takes effect brings down a
man or horse; or, if used in the chase, an ox.
To prevent the weapon from slipping out of the
hand a string, which is tied to the handle, is
also passed round the wrist of the wearer. The

*" This was the chief's expression. — Author.

horses of the Osinipoilles were originally pro-
cured from white people with beards who live
to the southward; that is, the Spanish colonists
in New Mexico.

The animals which I saw alive on the plains
are oxen, red deer and wolves; but I saw also
the skins of foxes, bears and a small number of
panthers, sometimes called tigers and, most
properly, cougars.^^

In their reUgious notions as well as in their
dress, arms, and other particulars, there is a
general agreement between the Osinipoilles
and the Cristinaux.*^ They believe in a creator
and governor of the world, in a future life, and
in the spirits, gods, or manitos, whom they
denominate wakons. Their practices of devo-
tion consist in the singing of songs, accom-
panied by the drum, or rattle, or both; and the
subjects of which are prayers and praises: in
smoking feasts, or feasts of the pipe, or calumet,
held in honor of the spirits, to whom the smoke
of tobacco is supposed to be a most acceptable
incense: and in other feasts, as well as in fasts
and in sacrifices. The victims of sacrifice are
usually dogs, which being killed and hung
upon poles are left there to decay.

"' Felis concolor. — Author.

^- Such of the Christinaux as inhabit the plains have
also their horses, like the Osinipoilles. By language the
Osinipoilles are allied to the Nadovvessies, but they are
always at war with them. Of the language of theNado-
wessies, Carver has given a short vocabulary. — Author.


^Icjcanlin: f$tnt^

Many travelers have described the marriages
of the Indians, but as they have greatly dis-
agreed in their deUneations, I shall venture
to set down such particulars as have presented
themselves to my immediate view. Though
inserted here, they have no exclusive relation
to the Osinipoilles, all the Indians whom
I have seen having similar customs on this

A young man, desirous of marrjdng a partic-
ular young woman, visits the lodge in which she
lives at night and when all the family, or rather
families, are sleeping on their mats around.
He comes provided with a match, or splint
of wood, which he Hghts among the embers of
one of the fires which are in the middle of
the lodge. The only intention of this is the very
obvious one of finding by the help of the light
the young woman whom he means to visit, and
whom, perhaps, he has to awaken. This done,
he extinguishes the light. In speaking to her
he whispers, because it is not necessary to
disturb all the lodge, and because something
hke privacy and secrecy belong to the nature
of the occasion. If she makes no reply to his
address, he considers his attempts at acquain-
tance as repulsed, and in consequence retires.
If the young woman receives him with favor
he takes part of her mat. He brings with him
his own blanket. I consider this practice as
precisely similar to the bundling of New
England and other countries; and, to say the


least, as not more licentious.^^ Children born
out of wedlock are very rare among the Indians.

The lover who is permitted to remain re-
tires before daybreak. When the young woman
has consented to be his wife he opens the af-
fair to his own mother, by whom it is com-
municated to her's; and if the two mothersagree
they mutually apply to their husbands.

The father of the young man then invites
the father of the young woman to a stew, or
sudatory, prepared for the occasion, and at
which he communicates the wishes of his son.
The father of the young woman gives no
reply till the day following, when in his own
turn he invites the other to the sweating house.
If he approves of the match, the terms upon
which it is to be made are now settled.

Stews, sudatories, or sweating houses are
resorted to for cure of sickness, for pleasure,
or for giving freedom and vigor to the faculties
of the mind when particular deliberation and
sagacity are called for. To prepare them for a
guest is, therefore, to offer every assistance to
his judgment, and manifest the reverse of a
disposition to take an unfair advantage of
him: it is the exact opposite of offering him
liquor. They are constructed of slender
branches of trees, united at the top and closely
covered with skins or blankets. Within, water

^ On the custom of bundling, see H. R. Stiles,
Bundling; Us Origin, Progress, and Decline in America
(Albany, 1869).— Editor.


^lexantiet ^enrp

is poured upon a red-hot stone, till the steam
induces perspiration.

The terms are either that the young man, as
was most usual in older times, shall serve the
father of the young woman for a certain period
(as for three years) or that he shall redeem
himself from this obligation by a present.

If he be to serve, then, at the time fixed, he
goes, accompanied by his father and mother,
to the lodge of the young woman's family.
There he is desired by her mother to sit down
on the same mat with her. A feast is usually
served, and the young woman's father delivers
a suitable speech. The young man is thence-
forward regarded as one of his wife's family,
and remains in the lodge accordingly.

If, on the other hand, he redeems himself by
a present, then his father and mother go alone
to the lodge of the young woman's family,
carr}'ing a present. If the present be accepted,
they leave it and return home; and shortly
after the father and mother, accompanied by
their daughter, go to the lodge of the bride-
groom's family, where the bride is desired to
sit down beside her husband. The feast and
speech are now made by the young man's
father, and the young woman is received into
his family.

Every man marries as many wives as he
pleases, and as he can maintain; and the usual
number is from one to five. The oldest in
most cases is the mistress of the family, and


Crabd^ and ^titenture^

of the other wives among the rest. They
appear to Hve in much harmony. Polygamy
among the Indians conduces little to popula-
tion. For the number of adults the children
are always few.

In naming a child the father officiates, and
the ceremony is simple. The relations are
invited to a feast, when he makes a speech, in-
forming the guests of the name by which the
child is to be called, and addresses a prayer to
the Great Spirit, petitioning for the child's
Hfe and welfare.

With respect to the burial of the dead, if the
death happen in the winter season and at a
distance from the burial ground of the family,
the body invariably accompanies all the wan-
derings and journeys of the survivors till the
spring, and till their arrival at the place of
interment. In the meantime it is everywhere
rested on a scaffold, out of the reach of beasts
of prey. The grave is made of a circular form,
about five feet deep, and lined with bark of the
birch or some other tree, or with skins. A seat
is prepared, and the body is placed in a sitting
posture, with supporters on either side. If
the deceased be a man, his weapons of war
and of the chase are buried with him, as also
his shoes, and everything for which as a Hving
warrior or hunter he would have occasion, and,
indeed, all his property; and I beheve that
those whose piety alone may not be strong
enough to ensure to the dead the entire


^kjtranticr i^enrp

inventory of what is supposed to be necessary
for them, or is their own, are compelled to do
them justice by another argument, and which
is the fear of their displeasure. A defrauded or
neglected ghost, although invisible, can dis-
perse the game of the plains or forests so that
the hunter shall hunt in vain; and either in the
chase or in the war, turn aside the arrow, or
palsy the arm that draws the bow: in the lodge
it can throw a child into the fire.

The body and its accompaniments are cov-
ered with bark, the bark with logs, and the
logs with earth. This done, a relation stands
up and pronounces an eulogium on the de-
ceased, extoUing his virtues and relating his
exploits. He dwells upon the enemies whom he
slew, the scalps and prisoners which he took, his
skill and industry in the chase, and his deport-
ment as a father, husband, son, brother,
friend, and member of the community. At
each assertion which he makes the speaker
strikes a post which is placed near the grave,
a gesture of asseveration, and which enforces
the attention of the audience and assists in
counting up the points delivered. The eulo-
gium finished, the post is painted,** and on it
are represented the number of prisoners taken,
by so many figures of men; and of killed and
scalped, by figures without heads. To these
are added his badge, called, in the Algonquin

«^ Hence The Painted Post, the name of a village in
Pennsylvania. — Author.


tongue, a totem, and which is in the nature of an
armorial bearing. It informs the passing Indian
of the family to which the deceased belonged.
A serious duty at the grave is that of placing
food for the use of the dead on the journey to
the land of souls. This care is never neglected,
even under every disadvantage of molestation.
In the neighborhood of the traders, dishes of
cooked venison are very commonly placed on
the graves of those long buried and as com-
monly removed by Europeans, even without
offense to those who placed them there. In
situations of great want I have more than once
resorted to them for food.

The men among the Osinipoilles are well
made, but their color is much deeper than that
of the more northern Indians. Some of the
women are tolerably handsome, considering
how they live, exposed to the extremes of heat
and cold and placed in an atmosphere of smoke
for at least one-half of the year. Their dress is
of the same materials and of the same form with
that of the female Cristinaux. The married

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Online LibraryAlexander HenryAlexander Henry's Travels and adventures in the years 1760-1776, ed. with historical introduction and notes by Milo Milton Quaife → online text (page 17 of 20)