Amelia M. Paget.

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or dream. This medicine bag was kept
hanging on a pole outside the medicine
man s wigwam ; no other sign was necessary
to show you where the gifted Indian lived
or camped.

When he was not engaged looking for
medicinal herbs the medicine man was shut
up in his wigwam singing different weird
songs and incantations to his particular
Pow-wah-kun to bring him greater skill
in his profession or calling. They were not
supposed to be interrupted during these
secret ceremonies.

The more reserved of the medicine men
and women were respected according to
their exclusiveness, and were only ap
proached in time of great necessity. These
old Indians always made use of the medi
cine rattles (see-see-quans) and, if called


upon to cure any really sick person they
would sing and rattle these little see-see-
quans right over the head of the patient.
These remedial rites were practised in case
of fever and delirium especially. Such a
noise did they make in the wigwam of the
poor unfortunate Indian that it is a wonder
he ever survived a " treatment " by these
old medicine men.

In explaining their reasons for using the
see-see-quans and drums over a sick person,
an old Indian said : " When it has been
very hot during the summer for days at a
time, all the flowers, trees, and grasses
droop and fade. Now to revive these the
Great Spirit sends the thunder and light
ning and rain, and in a little while all
nature is refreshed and lives again. He
awakens them with the thunder, we try to
awaken our sick with the see-see-quans and
drums, and at the same time give him medi
cine to drink, just as the Great Spirit sends
the rain to help the drooping leaves and

When a person became delirious or de
mented the Indians imagined him pos-


sessed of the spirit of a cannibal (Ween-
de-go), and if the unfortunate patient re
mained delirious for any length of time he
was usually killed by being burned. The
medicine man confessed himself baffled by
delirium, or any alienation of the mind,
and after trying without success to give
some relief to the afflicted person, would
warn his friends that unless some Indian
or member of his family, who was known to
be on unfriendly terms with the patient,
did not come forward and help do away
with the Ween-de-go, the bad spirit
would enter into him. The Indians had
strong superstitions regarding cannibals
and lunatics, and with tears in their eyes
would help burn the poor patient. The In
dians, having no asylums or any means of
isolating their unfortunate lunatics, were
compelled to do away with them. It was
utterly impossible for an Indian to go on a
hunting expedition and leave his family to
the mercy of a lunatic; so that any person
showing marked signs of insanity was dis
patched by his sorrowing and superstitious
friends. Fortunately, years ago there was


very little fever, and, consequently, less
delirium amongst the Indians.

The medicine man was often appealed to
by Indians who were unfortunate in their
love affairs. He was supposed to have
medicine or charms which would bring
about the desired results. If any young
woman knew her rejected suitor had gone
to the medicine man (and the information
was usually conveyed to her), she at once
tried to treat her lover more kindly. And
this was supposed to be the result of the
" medicine," whereas it was really the fear
of harm from the old medicine man which
brought about the change. The medicine
used on these occasions was sprinkled
liberally over two little wooden images,
supposed to represent the young man and
woman whose love was not reciprocal.
After they had been sprinkled with the
medicine, some hair from the head of the
person whose love was desired would be
bound around the two images, and then
they would be wrapped up in fine deerskin.
They would be carried about by the person
who was desirous of being loved. Then the


information was conveyed that the medi
cine man had made " love medicine," and,
as has been said before, the results were
usually satisfactory. If they were not, the
two little images would be thrown away,
and, in consequence, the person for whom
the " love medicine " was intended would
suffer for years with very severe headaches.
This is the reason why Indians were always
so careful to burn any hair which they lost
from their heads (the scalp lock excepted;
it could not be destroyed, and it was sel
dom combed after once being plaited and
tied into position).

Another peculiar medicine which was
very much dreaded by the Indians was
a "bad medicine" (Muchie-mus-kee-kee)
which made them turn black and caused a
growth of down to appear all over their
faces. This was the revenge taken by some
Indian who had suffered any real or imagi
nary wrong at the hands of another. The
poor Indian who was afflicted by this form
of poison was disfigured for life, and if he
or she had ever possessed any attractive
ness it was most effectively obliterated. A


strange thing in connection with this phase
of poisoning was that the medicine men
and women were more often poisoned than
any other members of the tribe. This may
be accounted for by the unusual amount of
jealousy which existed among them. As a
matter of fact, there was more unfriendli
ness between the medicine men than among
all the rest of the tribe. The Indians, as a
rule, were most friendly and kind to each
other, but were very sensitive, and often
took exception to remarks made by thought
less persons who had really intended no
harm, but caused it by their tactlessness.
If the remarks caused him to be ridiculed
the injured person would frequently brood
over the gossip or jibe until it assumed such
importance that he would strive to be re
venged, and would consult the medicine
man, who would administer the poison. It
was no wonder, then, that the respect which
the medicine men should have commanded
was so often tinged with fear.

Though they charged as much as they
could possibly get from their patients, the
medicine men never dressed as well as the


other Indians. It was a common thing to
hear of an Indian paying the medicine man
for his services with a pony, or even two.
Yet when the band was travelling from one
point to another the medicine man would
usually tramp along laden with his impedi
menta while the rest of the band rode on

A noticeable possession of the medicine
man was his collection of canines. One
might well wonder where an Indian could
possibly have gathered so many specimens
of that animal, and why he kept them. The
dogs w r ere so ugly and vicious that they
served their master as a body-guard ; no one
could approach him or his wigwam with
out raising a loud protest from them. So
when any Indian wished to visit the medi
cine man he had to summon his courage
and arm himself with a good stout stick.
The most aggravating part of the visit
would be the utter indifference of the old
medicine man to the yelping and snarling
of his dogs and to the discomfort of his
visitor. Not until the very last minute
would the dogs be remonstrated with by



their owner. The old medicine women
would have even a larger number of these
dogs, and if possible, a more vicious lot.
One can readily understand, then, how
easy it was for these old Indians to keep to
themselves. The wigwam of the medicine
man was really the only one in the whole
encampment which was not entered with
out " knocking at the door," so to speak.

In the years long past, when our Indians
were at war with so many other tribes, it
was customary to keep a great many dogs
around each camping-ground, so that they
would sound an alarm at the approach of
the enemy. But latterly these were kept by
the medicine men and women only, for
though there are usually any number of
dogs roaming around an encampment of
Indians, the most of them will invariably
be found to belong to that particular class
of old Indian. In fact, it is impossible to
imagine these Indians without their faith
ful, if noisy, companions.

As has been said before, the medicine
man was usually feared quite as much, if
not more, than respected; and there were



many Indians who tried in different ways
to make existence for them unpleasant,
especially for those who were known to be
too free with their knowledge of " bad medi
cine." They would often find themselves
minus a pony which perhaps only a few
days before had been received in payment
for administering poison to some unfor

There were, nevertheless, many of the
old medicine men and women who were
loved and respected by the band, and who
never made use of their knowledge to hurt
or injure others by harmful medicines.
These old Indians did all they possibly
could to alleviate the ills and afflictions of
their patients, and some of the cures they
wrought were really wonderful.

A great many of their methods of treat
ing the sick will remain unknown to us, as
they are, with many other practices, a
thing of the past. It is very doubtful if the
medicine man ever revealed to any white
man all the secrets of his healing art. It
was such a solemn thing to them that they
very seldom spoke of it even among them-



selves; so very naturally they would be
even more reticent about it when with
strangers. There is no doubt that many of
their methods, such as bleeding and the
vapour baths, were copied by any of the
Indians who felt they could safely employ
these means of lessening their ills, but
there were many things known only to the
medicine man which will never be known
to anyone else. That some of these old In
dians devoted their lives to the healing of
their sick goes without saying, and that
they looked to the Great Spirit for His
blessing and assistance is also very true of
those Indians who did so much to alleviate
the ills of their race. They tried to do good,
and in many cases accomplished much, for
which they earned the gratitude of the
members of their band. They firmly be
lieved that Kichie Manitou had planted in
the ground all manner of healing things,
and if they only could find them and use
them there would never be any sickness
among the Indians. Many of them devoted
their lives to searching for those healing
plants; and when they were nearing the


end of their journey on this earth would
remind those who were following in their
calling to keep up the good work, as they
felt there was so much more to be dis
covered than they had found.

Surely the journey of these old Indians
to the Happy Hunting Grounds was made
pleasant for them by the Great Spirit who
watched over all their patients, and gave
them knowledge to do good when they ap
pealed to Him.

Years ago there was comparatively little
sickness among the Indians. The outdoor
life they led, the food they ate, everything
made for a healthful existence. One never
heard of epidemics breaking out among the
Indians then. They kept themselves clean,
and never stayed for any length of time in
one camping-place. They moved their
tepees on an average two or three times a
week in the summer season, and in winter
would have a plentiful supply of clean
spruce boughs or hay and moss, with which
they would cover the ground in their
tepees; and this was changed every few
days to ensure cleanliness. If it were
5 65


known that an Indian did not keep his tepee
in a clean and fresh condition he was
avoided by the rest of the band, and, if
necessary, was told why. In this way, it
was easy to keep up their standard of

Long ago the Indians used to indulge in
a vapour bath which they called ma-too-
tah-win. This bath was taken in a small
tent covered securely with buffalo robes.
The steam or vapour was obtained by
pouring water on a few large stones
which had previously been heated and
placed in a hole in the ground inside the
little tent. Even now one may see occa
sionally a place where an Indian had en
joyed his Turkish bath. The " ma-too-tah-
wee-ca-mick," or vapour lodge, was built by
bending strong and supple boughs of the wil
low, and sticking the larger ends firmly into
the ground, forming a circle, the smaller
ends being tied or braided at the top.
This was four or even six feet in diameter
and about three feet high. It was covered
by buffalo robes or dressed leather, having
a small opening by which the Indian


crawled inside; this he did after the hot
stones had been rolled into the hole made
for them. After he was inside the little
lodge, a vessel containing some water
would be handed him, and the opening or
door securely closed. Then, when un
dressed, he would splash the water on the
hot stones, causing the steam to rise. The
Indian would remain in the tent for quite
a long time afterwards, in order to avoid
taking cold. They claimed this vapour
bath rid their bodies of any impurities and
fortified them against diseases.

Their food was always nourishing; the
main part of it consisted of buffalo meat,
dried and pounded, or powdered and made
into pemmican. They also used a great
quantity of dried fruits, and occasionally
wild rice (Zizania aquatica) an ideal
food, being sufficiently rich and starchy to
constitute a perfect diet in itself.



The buffalo Hunting on the plains Method of
dressing the hides Embroidery and dyeing
Picture writing Pemmican and other food

WHAT the Indians did not owe to the
buffalo one can hardly imagine. This
noble beast provided them with almost
everything they required in the olden
times. Every part of its flesh was con
verted into food, dried and preserved so
that it could be kept for months and
even years, without losing any of its
nutritive qualities, and on it they could
subsist entirely, if they were not in a
position to obtain any of the wild vegeta
tion which constituted the cereal part of
their food. The hides of the animals were
worn instead of blankets, which they never
saw until the white man brought them into
their country. The buffalo skins were also
tanned or dressed into soft leather, which
they used in making their wigwams or


tepees, and for their bedding. The buffalo
skins when dressed and smoked were used
for their clothing and footwear. The un-
tanned skins or parchments were used to
make their saddles and bridles, and for
lassoes and thongs. The horns were shaped
into spoons and drinking cups. The
brains were used in the tanning of the
skins. The bones were used for the differ
ent implements required in the tanning and
dressing of the skins, for saddle horns, and
for war clubs. The bones were also
crushed, and all the marrow fat contained
in them was boiled or melted out. The
sinews were dried and used for makng
thread for sewing their garments, as well
as for strings for their bows. The feet and
hoofs were boiled for the glue they con
tained, which the Indians used for fasten
ing their arrow points and for other pur
poses. The long hair from the head and
shoulders was twisted and plaited into hal
ters, and the tail was used for a brush with
which to kill flies and mosquitoes.

The Indians took great pride in the skill
required to kill these animals, and were


justly proud when they possessed a strong,
swift pony, trained to run after the buffalo.
As the latter often showed fight when hard
pressed, the ponies required to be very
well trained indeed, and the Indian to have
more than ordinary courage. It was no
mean accomplishment to be a good buffalo
hunter; and one can imagine no greater
sport than that of a genuine buffalo hunt,
as indulged in years ago by the Indians. In
those days the noble animal of the plains
travelled over the prairies in great herds,
and often the Indians would have to ride
for miles after them in order to get near
enough to be able to kill them with their
bows and arrows, or spears. When guns
and rifles were first introduced it revolu
tionized the buffalo hunt, and helped to
exterminate these animals, as the In
dians soon became very skilled in the
use of these weapons. The bow and arrow,
however, was the favourite weapon for
hunting the buffalo, as it was swift and
silent. The Indians have been known to
shoot an arrow through one animal and
into another. One cannot write of the


Indians of the prairies without mentioning
the buffalo; and anyone interested in the
former must regret the extermination of
the latter. One can sympathize with the
older Indians, types of a dying race, in their
lament for the days gone by when they were
the sole inhabitants of the vast prairies in
the West, free to roam wherever they felt
inclined to go ; free to hunt the buffalo and
other game, which they firmly believed were
there only for their use, provided by the
Great Spirit, who took such care of them.

One old Indian, in speaking of their early
life as he knew it, said : " They were
wealthy because they had all they could
possibly desire. They were happy because
they were healthy, and had such a beautiful
country. Kichie Manitou took care of
them in those days. He held them in the
palm of His hand, as if they were frail
as an egg-shell; when there were storms
and tempests, and in the winter time, He
would cover them w T ith His other hand and
shield them from all harm." To a people
who believed so firmly in the goodness and
protection of the Great Spirit that they


turned to Him for every little want, whose
faith in Him was beyond the ordinary con
ception of the word, came the white man,
and, alas, with his coming came their un

Certainly it would appear that the white
men helped to exterminate the buffalo,
which provided the Indians with food and
raiment, by buying as many of the robes as
they could possibly get, out of season as
well as in season. The Indians would kill
hundreds of them just for their pelts alone.

The hides were dressed in the following
manner by the Indian women. After the
hide had been taken from the animal, it was
hung over the branch of a tree and a sharp
instrument was used to scrape off any fat
or flesh adhering to the skin. This little
implement, usually made from the lower
bone of the foreleg of the animal, had
nicked or serrated edges at the wider end
of the bone, which had first been filed down
as flat and as sharp as possible. The part
used as a handle was bound around by a
thong of dressed buffalo skin, with a loop at
the end into which the arm was slipped, to


enable it to be more securely held by the
operator. After all the fat and flesh had
been removed from the skin, it was
stretched flat on the ground, with the skin
next to the earth, and left there till dried
by the heat of the sun. When it was per
fectly dry, and the hide was to be dressed
or tanned into leather, the hair was scraped
off by another sharp instrument, resem
bling a small hoe, and made from the horn
of an elk, the crook in the horn being filed
down flat and as sharp as it could be made.
The filing was done by stones, the only
thing they could use for this purpose years
ago. This little tool was used by the In
dian women with a peculiar swaying
motion of the body, and it was surprising
how quickly every particle of the hair was
removed from the skin. In this state it was
called parchment, and was used to make
thongs and lassoes, and also to make canoes
or boats.

After all the hair was removed, the parch
ment was hung or placed on poles over a
fire for a few minutes, and then taken
down, spread on the ground again, and


grease sprinkled over it, usually squirted
through the mouth of the person tanning it.
Then it was again placed on the poles over
the fire, and left until the grease was per
fectly absorbed. Great care was taken all
the time it was hanging over the fire not to
scorch the parchment in the least, as that,
of course, would ruin it.

After the grease had been thoroughly ab
sorbed by the skin or hide a mixture com
posed of the brains of the buffalo and
wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) was
rubbed well into the hide, and left for a
short time to be absorbed by it, and when
this was partially accomplished the cooked
liver of the animal, after it had been
crushed and pounded up, usually by a flat
stone in a shallow vessel made of clay or
birch bark, was rubbed or spread all over
it, and a few minutes after warm water
was gently poured on the skin until it was
thoroughly soaked through. It was then
folded up and left over night. The next
morning it would be hung over a pole or
strong line, and all the brain, wormwood
and liver would be carefully scraped off.


It was then washed and wrung out per
fectly dry. This wringing was done by pass
ing the folded hide around a strong post or
small tree and around a short, stout stick
of about a yard in length, which would be
twisted in the hands of the tanner until
almost every particle of moisture was
squeezed or wrung out of it. After this it
was hung out in the sun and allowed to
dry, but during this process of drying it
was frequently taken down and rubbed
through a hoop made of coarse sinew, so
that when it was dry the skin was almost
as soft as flannel. This final process was
really the most tedious part of the whole
work, as it would take hours to thoroughly
soften it. The older the animal, the more
tedious would be the softening process.

The leather was always comparatively
white, but if it was to be used for making
moccasins or other wearing apparel it was
smoked. The smoking was done by stitch
ing up the skin in the form of a bag, build
ing a fire, or rather, smudge, of decayed or
rotten wood, and stretching the bag over it;
the bag being held firmly in place by small


poles, and pegged securely to the ground
over the smudge, which was built in a small
round hole in the ground. None of the
smoke was allowed to escape. After one
side had been thoroughly smoked and had
taken on a rich golden brown colour, the
bag would be removed, turned inside out,
placed over the smudge again, and that side
also thoroughly smoked. This finish by
smoking would ensure the leather being
kept perfectly soft after any number of con
tacts with rain and water.

When the Indians made their wigwams
or tepees of the leather, it was used without
being smoked, as the fires which were built
in their tepees very soon did all that was
necessary in that particular. The hides of
the wapiti, moose and deer made a much
softer leather after being dressed and
smoked than that of the buffalo, but were
not so durable. In dressing the buffalo pelts
for robes they went through the same pro
cess of tanning, but the hair was not re

Tn cases where the leather was required
for ornamented apparel and trimmings it


was dyed with different roots and clays.
When this coloured leather was em
broidered with quills from the porcupine,
and beaded, and decorated with shells, it
could be employed in making picturesque
and effective garments. As the Indians
were all very fond of gay colours, and used
them in artistic combinations, they pre
sented when dressed in their best a barbaric
and brilliant spectacle.

They also made use of the dyes which
they obtained from the roots of different
shrubs and plants, in ornamenting their
tepees or wigwams and in painting upon
them the notable events in the careers of
their owners.

Every Indian of note drew and coloured
the form of his guardian spirit or Pow-
wah-kun on different parts of his tepee or
wigwam. In some cases this form or figure
would occupy almost a quarter of the space,
and around it would be grouped crude
drawings illustrating the history of the In
dian, principally events in his career as a
warrior. These adventures were supposed
to have called for great daring and courage,


and the illustrations or drawings were a
silent but effective way of showing what
manner of man the Indian was. It was an
easy matter for a tactful visitor to make a
remark which would lead the conversation
to his host s many deeds of bravery. Once
that topic was introduced one could spend
hours listening to some interesting remin

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Online LibraryAmelia M. PagetThe people of the plains → online text (page 3 of 9)