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iscences. And the introduction of the sub
ject was taken as a mark of courtesy and
appreciation on the part of the visitor.

The Indians preserved every bit of the
flesh of the buffalo, and though this was a
very simple process it was nevertheless a
wonderfully effective one. If during the
very hottest part of the summer the Indians
killed ten, twenty or even many more
buffalo, not a pound of flesh was allowed to
spoil. The bones were also crushed, and all
the marrow fat extracted from them. This
was done by boiling the bones in sufficient
water to cover them, and as the marrow or
grease rose to the surface it was carefully
skimmed off and poured into the bladder
of the buffalo after it had been thoroughly
washed and cleaned. This fat was eaten


with " pounded meat/ and was also used
in the making of pemmican.

The flesh of the buffalo was cut off the
bones and sliced into very thin layers by
the Indian women, every woman in the
band taking part in this work when neces
sary. After being cut as thin as possible
into sheets ( often measuring twenty-four by
thirty-six inches), the meat was dried by
being hung on a scaffolding of poles erected
over a fire which was kept burning until
the drying and smoking process was accom
plished. This fire together with the intense
rays of the sun quickly dried the meat,
which was turned frequently to allow of an
even distribution of heat and smoke, both
being necessary for its complete preserva
tion. This was the way they made " dried
meat," and in this form it could be kept for
years, retaining all its nourishment.

When this was to be converted into
" pounded meat " for pemmican, etc., it was
placed on parchment hides, and with a flail
pounded into a fine powder. For pemmi
can the Indians would mix into this
"pounded meat" sufficient marrow fat to


form the whole into the consistency re
quired for packing. This resembled flour
"shortened" for "puff paste;" the colour
of it was a yellowish brown. In this form
it was packed very tightly into strong
parchment bags of a uniform size, which
were sewn up with thread made of sinew,
which was also obtained from the buffalo.

An inferior grade of pemmican was made
by using coarser " pounded meat," together
with " drippings " made of the rendered fat
of the animal.

The Indians also made a very fine pem
mican with the " pounded meat," marrow
fat, and dried fruits, such as the saska-
toomin (a blueberry) and crushed choke-

The favorite part of the buffalo flesh was
that cut off the " boss " or " hump." The
meat was cut into small pieces, then smoked
and dried in the usual way. In this form
it was called " chee-sa-wa-nah," and was

The tongue of the buffalo was dried in
the same way, and could be kept for years
in any climate without losing its flavor.


The buffalo sinew which the Indians used
for sewing their garments and wigwams,
for making strings for their bows, etc., was
taken from the shoulder blade and back
part of the animal. It was very carefully
cut out, all the flesh scraped off, then it was
dried, after which it was ready for use.



The scalp-lock Bravery in war Reckless daring in
hunting Endurance of pain Akoose and his
hundred-mile race Courage of women.

THE courage and daring of the Indians
has often been discussed, and usually very
much to their disadvantage; but anyone
knowing them well would never question
their bravery.

The Indians of our Western Provinces
always wore in a plait a small portion of
their hair, gathered from a spot at the
crown of the head, about the size of a silver
dollar. Many may have noticed this
peculiar style of hair-dressing, yet may
never have understood its significance. To
wear it was a sign of bravery, for there it
fluttered in the sight of the foe, inciting him
to closest combat for the possession of this
proud crest. Naturally an Indian consid
ered it a grave misfortune to lose his scalp,
but it was a greater disgrace not to have
the scalp-lock ready from the day he was


able to take part in any fighting. The
scalp-lock was also very much ornamented.
After being separated from the rest of the
hair, the lock was plaited and twined
around with strips of fur, preferably otter,
ermine, mink or beaver, and then decorated
with beads or porcupine quills. Very often
a shell or small brass disc would be
slipped over the plait and fastened securely
against the head. In Avar time the scalp-
lock was very conspicuous by its decora
tion, and was worn in that fashion as a
special incitement to the foe. During the
dangers and excitement of forays or battles
they never showed an atom of fear. They
made ideal scouts ; and that alone called for
great bravery and courage. One has often
heard of small expeditions led by certain
Indians accomplishing wonderful feats of
bravery, and defeating overwhelmingly
larger numbers of the enemy, returning
with scores of horses in triumph to their
friends. These raids were often the result of
trivial bets between certain members of the
band, but, in the event, they furnished evi
dence of the stuff the Indian was made of.



That they had no fear of death, but in
deed, often seemed to court it, may in a
measure be accounted for by their ideas of
the life beyond ; this earthly life being con
sidered only as of short duration, and at
best full of trials and sorrows, while the
life in the Happy Hunting Grounds was
supposed to be perfect, with no enemies to
fight, no parting from loved ones, game in
abundance, and never any fear of famine.

The courage displayed at the time of the
Sun Dance, when they endured cruel self-
inflicted tortures, is another indication of
bravery. Where else could one find so
many candidates for such a test of courage
and endurance as among these Indians?

Before closing this subject mention must
be made of their wonderfully heroic endur
ance of pain. One can easily imagine what
this must have been when years ago they
suffered so often from broken limbs. This
was only too common an occurrence in the
days when they hunted the buffalo over the
prairies. Mounted upon their fleet-footed
ponies, racing after their game, it very
often happened that both rider and pony



would be laid low by the latter stepping
into a badger s hole, or other sudden de
pression in the ground. Though the In
dians were splendid riders, and their ponies
wonderfully clever in avoiding these holes,
the excitement of the chase made it almost
impossible for the horse to keep clear of all
such pitfalls, and the rider, intent on taking
aim at a buffalo, would perhaps be forgetful
of the dangers of riding on the prairies, and
thus the two would often be thrown to the
hard ground w^ith disastrous results to
both. In the days when the killing was
done with bow and arrow and spear, it was
bad enough when the rider was not hurled
among the buffalo; if an Indian was
thrown he usually fell among the herd, and
was rescued with difficulty by his com
panions, and often not before he had sus
tained serious injuries. These wounds,
abrasions, or fractures were bandaged up
by some of the Indians, very seldom by the
medicine men, who were not, as a rule, very
proficient in surgery. The poor Indians
would suffer greatly from these broken
limbs and the rough treatment which was


intended to repair them, more especially
during the heat of summer, but they en
dured all the pain and discomfort with
great fortitude; in fact, with never a mur
mur or sound of complaint. And in all
other cases of suffering they showed the
same silent and uncomplaining patience.

They also displayed great endurance
when running after game on foot. Many
Indians in the old days did not possess a
horse or pony of any description, so would
have to depend upon their own fleetness of
foot to catch up with the buffalo or deer.
This meant running for hours at a time,
no mean feat, over prairie covered by
a heavy growth of grass, which grew to
enormous height on the plains, but which
also helped to conceal the Indian so that he
was often enabled to approach to within
shooting distance of his game. This was
often done at a time when the killing
of a few buffalo or deer meant the saving
of their families from starvation, perhaps
after days of necessary fasting, which
would, of course, test their strength as well
as powers of endurance.


There is at the present time an Indian,
Akoose, at the Crooked Lakes Agency in
Saskatchewan, on Sakimay s (Mosquito)
Reserve, who in the year 1884 ran after
seven jumping deer from Moose Mountain
to a point where the present agency build
ings at Crooked Lakes stand. He had ex
hausted his ammunition at Moose Moun
tain, and the only place where he could ob
tain a further supply was at the Hudson s
Bay Company s post on the reserve. Here
he got more powder and ball for an old-
fashioned but highly prized muzzle-loading
gun, and killed all the deer, after a run of
nearly a hundred miles. This Indian comes
of a well known family of runners and
hunters; his father being one of the very
oldest Indians alive, at this time (1907)
aged 102. Qui-witch is a name well known
to the past two generations, as its possessor
was one of the bravest Indians, and has
seen many wonderful changes on the west
ern prairies. He is a remarkably intelli
gent old man, and though he has suffered
complete loss of eyesight, is most inter
ested in all things concerning the welfare



of his fellow Indians. His sons were brave
men in the days of their warfare with the
Blackfoot and other nations, and were
handsome specimens of the Saulteaux.

Many such personal examples might be
cited in support of the courage and endur
ance of the Indians. Piapot s name should
be mentioned as a brave warrior; he was of
Cree and Assiniboine extraction. Muscow-
petung (Saulteaux) is another old Indian
whose name was always spoken when brave
men were named. Kak-keeg-ca-way (Voice
of an Eagle) is another valiant Saulteaux.
These Indians and many others are still
alive, whose deeds of bravery, courage and
endurance would inspire even a coward to
do things he never would have dreamed of
doing without their example. In another
chapter will be found some particular anec
dotes of the courageous dead, the great
Koo-min-ah-koush, the intrepid Yellow-
Head, and the cunning Chim-ass-couse.

The women of these tribes were also very

brave, and did much to help their husbands,

brothers and friends to victory when hard

pressed by the enemy. Many women, in-



deed, took part in these lights when the men
were outnumbered, and by their daring and
courage often turned the tide in their
favour. But the women never spoke of any
such exploits, and were ever most modest
as to their acts of bravery and cour
age in rendering assistance when necessity
compelled them to do so.

To see the many privations and hard
ships of the Indian women and children
even at the present day is to realize how
much they must formerly have suffered in
times of sickness. But they endured every
thing most uncomplainingly, and often
had to travel with the band when they
should have been resting. Usually, if there
was any sickness in the camp travelling
was only done under compulsion. If they
were being hard pressed by their enemies
they would have to keep moving in the
hope of falling in with friendly tribes.
Upon these occasions the sick and wounded
would have to be moved too, and with their
crude modes of transportation these forced
marches were most painful and trying
ordeals for the sufferers, whose endurance
was truly heroic.



Transportation The travois Beautiful camping
places Making a wigwam Tea and Labrador
tea A strange tea-chest Painting the tepee
Women s work Story-telling Bead work
An ideal existence Fire-making Cooking.

NOT the least interesting feature of the
life of the Indian was his mode of travel
ing. They took the greatest possible com
fort out of the camper s life, and had all its
procedure reduced to a science. They could
" pitch camp " in a few minutes and be on
their way to some other place in a wonder
fully short space of time. In camping and
travelling they had a place for everything
and everything was always in its place, and
this, more than anything else, made for
comfort and dispatch. They had the happy
knack of making the best use of everything,
and this quality helped them in no small
degree when inconveniences were unexpect
edly met with. Anyone who had " camped
out " and travelled to any extent in the


West before railways and stages had ap
peared would recall this resourcefulness
and quick adaptability.

Years ago the Indians did not have in
their equipment the historic " Ked River
cart," which in after years was to them
such a necessary conveyance. In its place
they used the " travois," a conveyance
formed of two poles, very light and strong,
tied together a foot or two from the smaller
ends with buffalo thongs, in such a way as
to form a saddle which rested upon the
horse s back. Two cross-pieces, about
three feet apart, towards the larger ends of
the poles, gave firmness to the contrivance,
and betAveen these lower pieces would be
slung a shallow basket made of thongs or
rawhide, which could bear a weight of two
hundred pounds or more.

Upon this they would pack their wig
wams and other possessions, the basket
being far enough from the larger ends of
the poles to prevent its touching the
ground when loaded to its full capacity. A
much smaller " travois " was made for their
dogs to haul, these useful little animals be-


ing as a rule the only ones used by the older
women of the tribes, as they were more
easily managed than the ponies. The dogs
were the primitive travois-bearers, and even
after the introduction of ponies were often
used by a whole band to convey their goods
and chattels after a successful raid by an
enemy, who might perhaps have captured
every pony they possessed.

Although the invention of the travois is
obvious when the conditions under which
it was evolved are considered, yet it was
nicely adapted for its various functions,
which are thus described by Mr. Geo. B.
Grinnell :* "On the platform of the travois
are carried loads of meat from the buffalo-
killing, the various possessions of the owner
in moving camp from place to place, a sick
or wounded individual too weak to ride, and
sometimes a wickerwork cage shaped like
a sweat lodge, in which are confined small
children, or even a family of tiny puppies
with their mother. Things that cannot be
conveniently packed on the backs of the

* "The Story of the Indian," by Geo. B. Grinnell.
Appleton s.



horses are put upon the travels. Some
times the travois bears the dead, for with
certain tribes it is essential to the future
welfare of the departed that they be
brought back to the tribal burying-ground
near the village."

When the Indian travelled at leisure he
always chose some particularly picturesque
place in which to camp ; and the young men,
who generally rode ahead of the band, were
always on the watch for a suitable camp
ing-ground. If, with its other attractions,
it had good water, the band would stay there
for weeks at a time, sending out hunting and
raiding expeditions. Here they would stay
and put up provisions for the winter; the
men hunted the buffalo while the women
made dried meat, pemmican and marrow
fat, and dressed or tanned the hides into
leather and robes. If the hunt was success
ful, the women would make new tepees or
wigwams, and this was very interesting, as
many willing workers would offer their
help in sewing up the skins required for the
tents. It was customary to have a feast upon
the completion of the work, and all the



women of the band were bidden to this cere
mony; no men ever attended. In mak
ing the wigwam, a level piece of ground
would be found, and on this would be spread
the skins; as many as twenty were required
for a large tent, but ten, twelve and fourteen
skins went to make the ordinary size. While
the skins were being picked over and spread
out on the ground, the expert woman who
did the cutting-out was busily engaged
sharpening her knife, in fact four or five
knives would be sharpened in readiness for
use, as one after the other became dulled by
cutting the thick leather. While all this
was going on a group of the women would
be making the sinews for the sewing, so that
once the actual work began, it took only a
few hours for the wigwam to be finished.
The sewing was done on each seam or piece
as it lay on the ground, necessitating the
sewer doing her work in a stooping position.
None of the threads of sinew were cut off,
even if a piece ten inches long was left
over. If the ends of the sinews were
cut off the occupants of the wigwam were
supposed to become very stingy and mean


in all their dealings, and indeed might
actually want for the common necessities
of life before the tent was worn out.

After all the sewing and trimming, such
as fringes, etc., were finished, the women
were asked to partake of refreshments in
the form of fine dried meat, pemmican, chee-
sa-wa-nah, and smoked tongue and tea.
This latter beverage was obtained years ago
from the swamp-shrub known as Labrador
Tea (Ledum latifolium). This the Indians
called Medicine water (Mus-kie-kee-wa-poo)
and it certainly tasted like medicine. They
liked the flavour of it very much, however,
and as it was not easily obtained, appre
ciated it when they got it. The old women
of the band generally collected this plant
from swamps in parts of the country where
there were pine forests, and after gathering
it, would dry it carefully, and pack it in air
tight parchment bags. These bags were
in fact the complete skin of an unborn calf
obtained from a buffalo cow that had been
killed. The skin was taken from the animal
with only one incision, through which every
part of the body was drawn. This small


hide was washed and during the drying was
rubbed soft, without undergoing any of the
usual process of tanning or dressing given
the larger skins. Being completely air-tight,
it answered admirably the purpose for which
it was used. Many an old woman took
pride in having two or three of these skins
packed so full of this tea that they re
sembled the original shape of the little
animal. There are a few of these bags still
to be seen, which their owners prize very

The decorating or painting of the tepees
was always done by the braves, who took
great pride in the crude drawings on the
white leather, illustrating the principal
deeds of bravery and prowess to the credit
of their owners. Sometimes the illustra
tions would refer to an especially successful
hunting expedition, perhaps after days of
fasting by the band, which made it an
event of no small importance in the Indian s
career. The principal drawing, however,
was always of the dream (Pow-wah-
kun) or guardian spirit; this always occu
pied a most prominent place among the


drawings and was also traced over the door
of the tent.

These tepees or wigwams were most com
fortable and roomy, and could be kept fresh
and clean; the opening at the top of the
doorway caused a constant current of air,
and they were very healthy places of abode.
In rainy weather and also in the autumn
and winter, fires were kept burning in the
very centre, the smoke escaping through
the opening at the top by means of the ears
or wings of the tent, a sort of rude chim
ney-jack which the occupants very easily
arranged, with poles that were stuck into
the small pockets of the ears. These ears
acted as a shield against the breezes and
permitted the smoke to escape. In warm
weather, the eaves of the tent were always
drawn up a foot or two from the ground,
causing a constant circulation of pure air.
No Indian ever kept his wigwam standing
on one place for more than a few days at a
time, as the grass was soon trampled into
the earth, giving an untidy appearance to
the interior of the tent; so, to avoid this,
they kept constantly changing the tepee
7 97


from one place to another, within a certain

Having secured a pleasant camping-
ground, the Indians would spend their time
in many useful ways. When the men were
not off on a hunting expedition they would
be busy mending harness, or making new
sets; repairing their saddles, which w r ere
made of buffalo leather; or years ago, be
fore they had rifles and guns, in making
bows and arrows. These required the
greatest amount of labour, as in their
strength lay all safety and sustenance. The
bows were made from the cherry tree, which
is strong and supple, and the arrows from
the saskatoomin tree.

While the men were thus engaged, the
women were busily employed in the making
of dried meat, pemmican and marrow fat, in
tanning and dressing the leather, making
moccasins, and other sewing. They also car
ried all the water and wood they used. One
must bear in mind, however, that the carry
ing of wood was no great hardship, as they
used very little fuel during the summer,
especially on the prairies, where they had


only scrub and willow to burn, often indeed
not even these ; then they had to use the dry
buffalo " chips" (excrement). And during
the winter weather, if the women had to
haul, or carry on their backs, any wood, it
was always of the very lightest kind, and
they never overburdened themselves. The
heavy logs required during the cold weather
were drawn to the camp by horses ; and the
younger men did all the chopping and
cutting. Of course, there were times when
this work had to be done by the women,
when the men were away on their hunting
trips, but only when the supply provided
by the men was exhausted. The popular
idea of the poor Indian woman doing all the
hard work has too often been overdrawn.

In the evening, when their day s work was
done, they exchanged visits, and over the
camp fires many interesting reminiscences
were recalled and discussed by the men, the
women being at such times very attentive
listeners. One sometimes met with a par-
ticularly interesting old woman whose life
had been passed in keen observation of all
the triumphs and trials of her band, who


in a quiet and gentle manner would recount
the many events she had lived through.
These were at times most thrilling, relat
ing to narrow escapes from the merciless
clutches of their enemies, the Blackfoot and
other nations, who were most cruel and
powerful adversaries, and who from all
accounts made life most precarious for the
Crees, Saulteaux and Assiniboines. During
the summer no stories founded on fiction
were ever told; the Indians, with their in
tensely superstitious natures, believing that
if any " fairy " tales were told during that
season when they were supposed to use all
their time to the very best advantage, the
narrator would have his or her life destroyed
by the lizard, which would suck all his
blood. The Indians very naturally were in
terror of this little reptile, which was never
actually known to have been the cause of
any loss of life among them ; but they assert
as a reason for this that no Indian ever gave
it an opportunity to put to the test its
evil powers. So in the long summer even
ings, only actual happenings in their lives
were recited. The younger women of the


band would at that time of the day do fancy-
work, which they looked upon as a recrea
tion. And in those days every brave had at
least one costume covered with porcupine
quill-work, and with gaily coloured seed
beads when these were obtainable.

The Indian women displayed much art
istic taste in their fancy-work. Their de
signs were perfect as to detail. The bead
and quill work done upon finely dressed
deerskin, or even soft buffalo skin, was
almost everlasting, the stitching and
threading of the beads and quills being
done with fine sinew. The garments
were unfortunately subjected to the
very hardest wear, in all kinds of
weather, during the four seasons. But
even under these conditions they lasted

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Online LibraryAmelia M. PagetThe people of the plains → online text (page 4 of 9)