Amelia M. Paget.

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tiful language. Their thoughts were poeti
cal, and though they never made any actual
rhymes or poems they had beautiful ex
pressions. This may easily be accounted
for, as they lived so much with nature and
saw beauty in all around them.

They were fond of setting forth certain
ideas by similes. For instance, one Indian,
who is still alive and well known for his
brilliant speeches, was once heard to say
that he hoped the ideas he was about to ex
press would not be as short-lived as the
ripples which were made by throwing a
stone into a perfectly calm lake. When
the stone first dropped in it caused a sharp
disturbance which formed a distinct but
small circle, then one after another fol
lowed more circles, which, though extend
ing much farther around than the first, did
not leave so deep an impression, until they
gradually lost themselves and the lake be
came perfectly calm again. The stone had
been thrown in with a splash, which rip
pled almost over the whole surface of the
lake, but after a few minutes there was no
sign of it and it lay forgotten in the waters.


Nothing ever came of it. He wished to
speak seriously of things which concerned
their future welfare, and hoped, if nothing
came of his advice immediately, his words
might bear fruit in after years and flourish.
Let his words be as the tiny seeds which
little birds carry away and leave in far-off
lands. Here the seed grows as well as if it
were on its native heath, and each year it
brings forth fresh flowers, fruits or trees.

This speech was made in the Salteaux
language, and must have made a deep im
pression on all who heard it. The speaker
possessed a low, musical voice which added
greatly to the beauty of this expressive and
poetical language.

There were certain speakers among the
Indians who introduced a very cutting
satire into some of their speeches. This
was especially marked upon one occasion
when the Indian first quoted had made a
particularly flattering tribute to a certain
educational institution, which was not ap
preciated by the old Cree Indian who spoke
after him. This old man was also noted
for his powers of oratory, and perhaps felt


slighted at not having been called on first.
But as he has always been most truthful
and outspoken he may have only expressed
his true opinions after all. However, on
first rising to his feet to speak he said he
was very sorry all the sugar had been used
up in sweetening the previous speaker s
words. There was none left to sweeten his
tongue. The Indians years ago, when
starting off to fight with their enemy, were
always cautioned to keep their knives
sharp and from this came the saying,
" May your knife always be sharp !" He
didn t remember anyone ever having said to
him, " May your tongue always be sharp !"
but it was generally in that condition.
With which introduction he began a scath
ing criticism of the methods employed by
the white man to better the condition of his

Many other examples might be quoted of
their way of expressing themselves, but the
foregoing will illustrate their general


Hospitality An Indian welcome Friendly terms of
address No beggars Decline in good manners
Ingratiating speeches Practical jokes.

FROM the earliest accounts of the meet
ings between the two races, the whites and
the Indians, the hospitality of the latter has
always been acknowledged. Every white
man who came to them in friendliness found
them most courteous and kind. When the
Jesuit missionaries first came upon the
Saulteaux, in 1640, they Avere kindly re
ceived. And again, years after, when Cat-
lin spent some time among them he wrote
most feelingly of their kind treatment of
him. He travelled among the tribes who
were noted for their warlike bearing, In
dians who never hesitated a moment to face
their enemies in times of war, yet he was
received most kindly and hospitably, for he
came as a friend, not as an enemy. With
his two guides, Catlin was entirely at their
mercy, and had they been of the savage


nature so many writers have made them out
to be they would never have spared him to
write his letters, letters that speak so highly
of all their good qualities.

The Indians have many phrases handed
on for generations which show how easily
they can express their feelings of hospi
tality. One of their favourite expressions
when welcoming a stranger or a friend into
their midst is " Ta-ta-wah," which means,
" There is always room for you." Another
expression when serving a visitor to a meal
or any refreshment is " Kes-poo," meaning
" May it satisfy you, or may it refresh you."

They never hesitated to entertain perfect
strangers. As an example, if some friendly,
though strange, Indian came riding into
their midst, he would stop quite near the
encampment and, after unsaddling his pony,
would go into the nearest wigwam and be
made perfectly welcome. After silently
shaking hands with his unknown host, who
always said something in the nature of a
friendly greeting, they would both fill their
pipes and smoke for a few minutes in
silence, then proceed to introduce them-


selves. The stranger was never for one
minute made to feel that he was unwel
come. In a very short time as many In
dians as the tepee could hold would come
in to make the acquaintance of the stranger,
so that he would very soon feel perfectly at
home with the whole band.

Years ago this stranger often proved to
be " an angel unawares/ 7 as he might bring
the news of the approach of an enemy,
and perhaps save the camp from complete
destruction. But it must be said to the
credit of the Indians that it was with no
idea of such reward that they entertained
strangers. It was a pleasure to show any
one hospitality, and when they were in a
position to do so they never thought of

The Indians had many friendly expres
sions which they were in the habit of using
when addressing strangers. They were
usually terms of relationship, such as " Nes-
tah" (brother-in-law), " Enjoe-wah-mish "
(cousin). Nothing served to put the
stranger so much at his ease as being ad
dressed in this friendly way by his host and


the other members of the band he was visit
ing. As a matter of fact, if a stranger be
longing to the same tribe came to visit any
Indians whom he had never seen before,
they would soon manage to trace some real
or imaginary relationship. They trace
their kindred to wonderfully distant
sources, and one might almost believe that
the whole Cree nation was related or con
nected in some way. This may in many
cases have been due to the way strangers
were addressed by their hosts. Some one
nearly related to this stranger would come
some months after and claim relationship
from this source alone, and this kinship was
acknowledged without any question. Their
natural consideration for each other would
not permit anyone to disclaim this relation
ship. In this way one can easily under
stand the wide inter-relationship or connec
tion existing among the Indians.

Perhaps few realize how hard it is for
our Indians to have to beg for the common
necessities of life. They are naturally very
proud and reserved, and among the older
ones to beg is most humiliating. Being


brought up to look upon everything as for
the " common good," it is hard for them to
have to remind people by begging that they
are in want. There is, as a matter of fact,
no such word in either the Cree or Saul-
teaux languages as " beg." The only thing
approaching such a word in their language
is " Puck-oo-she-twan " (Share with me).
A nation whose expressive vocabulary holds
no such words as " beg " or " beggar " we
should be proud to help if ever it happens
to be in need.

Looking upon everything as their common
property, they shared with one another all
their belongings. Though some, of course,
had more than other members of the band,
none were allowed to be in want. They
never asked for anything; their require
ments were anticipated by the Indians who
were in a position to give.

There is no doubt whatever as to the
remarkable decline of good manners and
polite usages among the Indians; years
ago, everyone who studied their ways inti
mately was impressed with their natural
dignity and fine manners. The Indian


women taught their children certain things,
but there were many customs which they
seemed to acquire naturally and which only
came from generations of dignified ances

Then, again, not so very long ago there
were many of the older Indians who were
noted for their fine speeches; and these
were pointed out as the remnants of what
all the Indians had once been. A few of
these tactful little sayings might be quoted
just as an illustration. They were never
addressed directly to the person for whom
they were intended, but to someone near-by,
thus avoiding any cause for embarrassment.
For instance, if someone, especially a white
woman, were introduced, the Indian would
say, in acknowledging the introduction:
" Now I know why the gods were good to
me and spared my life till this day. They
know how I love beautiful things," or " I
have faced hundreds of our enemies without
fear, and this pleasure is my reward."
They would also say many complimentary
things when they were speaking to each
other. These remarks were usually made


in reference to some brave deed or especial
skill of the person whom they desired to
please. They were most modest as to their
own good points, leaving to their friends
all expressions of praise.

There is no doubt that among the young
men of the different tribes there was a cer
tain amount of vanity and pride. But un
fortunately for them there were also many
wags who were ever ready to effect a cure
for such cases.

The Indians, though always appearing
so dignified and haughty, were nevertheless
very fond of playing practical jokes on each
other; all of which were taken most good-
naturedly and returned in kind. They
possess a very keen sense of humour, and
some of their jokes were wonderfully clever
and well-planned.

One has heard very often from the In
dians themselves of the practical jokes
which they delighted to play upon each
other. Perhaps none was so popular
among them in the past as that of a false
alarm during the dead of night. When
every Indian literally took his sleep with


" one eye open " to prevent being surprised
by the enemy this joke was very easily per
petrated ; and the old Indians who are still
alive take the greatest delight in relating the
many ridiculous exclamations and antics of
the startled and sleepy Indians. When
the inerry-naaker was found out he had to
be prepared for a return joke, and his life
was not wanting in excitement until he had
been paid back, with interest, for his work.
Sometimes a scout, coming upon friendly
Indians, would wait until nightfall be
fore approaching them, and without any
warning would throw a stone into the
middle of the encampment; whereupon
every dog in the camp would set up the
most hideous yelps and barkings, to the
alarm of all the Indians. In a moment
every brave would rush for his own par
ticular pony and be prepared to do or die,
when from the distance they would be
greeted by some jocular remark in their
own tongue from the author of the alarm.
Perhaps they would be informed that the
Blackfoot nation was sound asleep many
hundreds of miles away, and that the


speaker was very sorry that his sneezing
had been mistaken for a fusilade of the
enemies guns, and in conclusion the
speaker would remark that he was delighted
to join a band of Indians who slept so
lightly, as he was particularly in need of
a few nights rest at the time, and would
be happy to leave the watching for the
enemy to them. But, as stated before, this
Indian would surely be paid back in full
for his trick.

There were many stories such as these
told by the Indians, and even if the joke
was at their own expense they would enjoy
relating the fun and merriment thus



Social feasts Council meetings Arranging the
signal code Scouts and scouting A narrow
escape Kou-min-ah-koush (Like-a- Pine-Tree)
A brave grandmother The boy s first raid The
subtle warrior How the Blackf eet were deceived
Chim-ass-cous A foray and a Sun Dance A
night battle A prophecy Kin-ah-cas.

INDIANS were always very fond of enter
taining their friends to a feast of any de
scription, the most skilful hunter in the
band being the one who usually furnished
these entertainments. These feasts could
not be classified as luncheons or dinners,
as they were served at any hour of the day,
from sunrise till dark. When the hunter
returned from a successful expedition,
bringing home with him some particularly
dainty piece of game, he would have his
wife or daughters cook every bit of it, and
when the meal was ready to be served would
invite his friends to partake of it. They
had only one form of invitation for all
occasions, for a council meeting, which
usually ended with a meal, as well as for


a feast. The host, standing at the door of
his tepee, would call out the name of the
Indian whose presence was desired, and
say, " This is where you are wanted ; bring
your plate and cup with you, and also a
good appetite." Some Indians would vary
this form slightly by adding some remark,
such as " Bring a good appetite; we may be
able to furnish you with dishes to eat off,
but cannot supply a good appetite."

The Indians thoroughly enjoyed them
selves at these informal feasts, and during
their progress would keep each other in
continual merriment by relating all manner
of stories, and as there were some very
good story-tellers among them the repast
was always a great success. The menu was
very seldom a lengthy one, but the Indians
managed very easily to make the meal last
for an hour or two. After it was finished,
the guests, before departing, would make
many complimentary remarks on their
host s skill in the hunting field and their
pleasure in being his guests. These little
flatteries were repaid, very naturally, by an
invitation for some future occasion.


Council meetings were called by invita
tion of the chief or headmen of the band,
and were only attended by the men of the
tribe. Here were discussed matters per
taining to the welfare of the whole band or
tribe. When things ran smoothly and the
Indians were at peace no councils were
called. But w r hen game was scarce, as
sometimes happened, or the winter sea
son severe, they held these council meet
ings to consider the best way in which
to meet these trials and hardships. Each
speaker was given the closest attention and
was never interrupted except by expres
sions of approval from those who were of
his opinion.

During the times when they were on the
war-path, their council meetings consisted
of discussions as to the best tactics to be
employed in attacking the enemy. At
such meetings any of the younger men who
had shown some particular ability during
an encounter with the foe were honoured
by being called to attend. Here were de
cided the signals to be used by their scouts,
and these were seriously considered, as


being of so much importance to each band.
They varied with each expedition or foray
of importance, for they must needs be in
telligible only to themselves, and the adver
sary was keen to become possessed of any
code which would give his scouts informa
tion of intended movements. From long
experience they had become skilful in elab
orating their systems, which they success
fully practised by means of reflections from
mirrors, or some other polished or smooth
article of wood or stone dipped in water to
make it glitter in the sun by day,, or by a
bright fire at night.

They had also a system of signal
ling with smoke which they could prac
tise with desired effect on dull or cloudy
days. Each tribe had a secret sign which
had to be given before any information
could be exchanged between the operators.
By these contrivances news was conveyed
from point to point with a speed mystifying
to anyone who was not aware of the sig
nificance of those glints of light or waver
ing shafts of smoke.

In time of war between any two or more


tribes their scouts were ever vigilant and
selected the highest hills or ridges from
which to overlook the surrounding country
and watch any movements or approaches of
the enemy, and also to be in a position to
convey information to their respective
camps through their established or fixed
chain of watchmen.

After the council was over the Indian
who called it would invite them all to par
take of some refreshment, and they would
very soon be laughing and joking, seemingly
forgetful of their serious conference of but
a few minutes before.

The scouts were always chosen from
among the younger men of the band. These
by their powers of endurance and acts of
bravery and cunning would win the con
fidence of all their friends, and were re
warded by being called upon to perform
this duty.

After the scouts had been gone a few
hours (or even an hour, when in the vicinity
of the enemy) another little band of Indians
would station themselves upon the highest
elevation or hill near their camp and keep


a constant watch for any signals from the
scouting party. These watchers were re
lieved from time to time, and were in con
stant communication with the whole band,
so it was almost impossible for an enemy
to steal upon them unawares. It is easily
understood, then, why the different tribes
of Indians had so many skilled scouts; so
much in fact everything depended upon
their watchfulness.

The old Indians have many interesting
stories to tell of their experiences while
upon this duty. One old man told of a
narrow escape he had had upon a certain
occasion when he unexpectedly stumbled
upon a hostile outpost. Sometimes the
scout would have to leave his horse and
go on foot to certain exposed places,
where the foe might be seen. On this par
ticular occasion he had tied his pony in the
shelter of some scrub and w r as climbing up
a steep hill near-by. As he advanced he
got down upon his hands and knees and
very cautiously crawled up to the very top
in order to look down into the valley on
the other side. Imagine his surprise when


he came upon one of the enemy s scouts who
had become tired with long watching and
had fallen fast asleep. From his position
he had evidently been looking out in the
direction from which the Indian had come,
but fortunately had fallen asleep before
he had seen him. Now the narrator, find
ing himself in this position, knew that the
minute his enemy awoke he would raise an
alarm, and perhaps be the means of kill
ing his friends, who had trusted to him for
their safety. In an instant he realized that
he must do away with his foe, and that
without firing a shot, which would of course
alarm the whole camp. Near-by was a
good-sized stone, and this he managed to
reach without wakening the sleeper, and it
was only the work of a moment to despatch
him by a well-aimed blow on the head. He
left him there and, taking a careful survey
of the valley and the encampment within
its shelter, managed to get back to his pony
and reach his friends without arousing the
enemy. He soon returned with a small
force and routed the foe. He, together with
some friends, climbed the hill and buried


the Indian who had, so fortunately for them,
fallen asleep and been the means of their
victory. With stones they made the figure
of a man over the Indian s grave; and it
is likely that upon that hill there still re
mains the memorial to an Indian who failed
in his duty. The old Indian who told of
this personal incident is still alive (1907),
and in his day was one of the best scouts
that the Saulteaux and Crees had. He was
a splendid rider, had any amount of daring,
and was an unerring marksman with bow
and arrow as well as with the rifle.

The scouts had to depend many a time
upon their bows and arrows, which in
skilled hands were as deadly as firearms,
and did their work silently. When a scout
was surprised everything depended upon
quickness and silence. If his adversary
had time to raise an alarm by firing off his
rifle or giving a war-whoop (which was an
even more effective signal in such a case)
the scout had small chance of escaping from
pursuers as clever as he was in the art of
tracking an enemy.

The favorite hero among the Cree story-


tollers is an Indian whose whole life was
full of adventure. This Indian, who started
life under the humblest circumstances, was
one of the bravest of their band and was
the pride of the w r hole Cree nation. Koo-
min-ah-koush (Like-a-Pine-Tree) was a
poor orphan boy brought up by his aged
grandmother in as wretched a state of pov
erty as was possible among the Indians.
At the time of his first appearance the
Crees and Saulteaux were at almost con
tinuous warfare with the Blackfeet, as
w r ell as with the Sioux. From the first
this poor little boy (whose father had been
killed by his enemies and his mother kid
napped by them) had heard nothing but
talk of w<ars and raids. He was old for his
years, being the constant companion of his
grandmother, for w r hom he did as much as
he possibly could. He seldom had any
thing new to wear, being clad in the cast-
off garments of the children of his own size
who were more fortunate than he. He
never had any moccasins for his feet in the
summer, and was altogether an object of
charity and pity to the rest of the band.
10 145


His grandmother had three or four dogs,
and these, with a travois, constituted their
sole means of transportation when on the
march. Koo-min-ah-koush, however, had
learned to ride by herding the ponies be
longing to different members of the band,
and by even the youngsters who possessed
their own mounts was acknowledged
the best rider for his age. One can easily
imagine how fond this little Indian boy
became of riding, and how ambitious to
possess a pony of his own. To his old
grandmother he confided his few secret am
bitions : to own a good, swift pony, to be a
good shot with his bow and arrow, and to
fight their enemies. The old woman was
very clever at making bows and arrows, and
it was her greatest pleasure to help her
little grandson to fulfil one of his ambitions
by furnishing him with one size after an
other as he grew up, and urging him to per
fect himself in their use by constant prac
tice. This he was only too glad to do, and
with great success, as his future use of them

His first adventure of note was at the age


of eleven. At this time there were almost
weekly skirmishes with the enemy, who
were pressing upon them and following
them north into their own part of the coun
try. The Crees were encamped somewhere
near the Saskatchewan River, where the
city of Edmonton now stands. Koo-min-
ah-koush had wandered into the tepee of
one of the headmen of the band, who had
called a council meeting. His presence was
not objected to, as the Indians were only
too anxious to teach the younger generation
the arts of warfare, and the boys were
usually encouraged to attend these meet
ings. At this particular one the Crees were
planning an attack upon the enemy and
arranging to send out a party of scouts
early the following morning. There were to
be five or six in the party, and these were
chosen from their bravest men. Koo-min-
ah-koush hurried to his grandmother s little
tepee and begged her to get him a pair of
moccasins and some buffalo thong for a
lasso for catching horses. He informed her
that he intended joining the scouting party
which was leaving early the following


morning. His old grandmother got him all
he required, but warned him that he might
not be allowed to accompany them.

However, the boy was determined, and
started off with the party at daybreak the
next morning. His presence was not no
ticed until they had gone some miles and

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Online LibraryAmelia M. PagetThe people of the plains → online text (page 6 of 9)