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had halted for a rest. Here the older In
dians told him he must return to the camp,
as his youth was against him, and he might
by some blunder bring disaster to the party.
He begged to be allowed to accompany them,
and promised he should do nothing to cause
them to regret his presence in their party.
They would not hear of it, however, and
told him he was nothing but a baby and had
no courage or endurance. Then some of
them actually taunted him with his up
bringing by an old woman, who was hardly
likely to have taught him the arts of war
fare. Koo-min-ah-koush then hid near
them and waited patiently all day long till
the darkness made it safe for more scout
ing. Just at dusk a member of the party
returned from a reconnoitre of the enemy s
camping-ground. The boy overheard them
148



A NIGHT ATTACK

plan the attack, and was ready to follow
them when they started.

The party had decided to steal all the
horses they possibly could without awaken
ing the enemy, and if possible accomplish
this without killing any of them. So they
crept upon the sleeping camp, and each pro
ceeded to cut loose a horse from the doors
of the tepees where they were tied. The
best horses were always tied near the door
of the owner s tent, so as to be near at hand
in case of an alarm, and also for the safety
of the horses themselves.

But alas for their plans ! the watch-dogs
were aroused and by their barking gave the
alarm. The Crees had already cut the
lines securing the horses, and in this way
managed to get a good start of their pur
suers, but one of their number was slain.
The boy, on account of his youth, had been
unobserved, and by good luck had secured
one of the fleetest horses in the camp, and
riding away ahead of his party was able
to get assistance from their own band, and
himself led the way back to the rescue of
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THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

the first scouting party he had ever gone
out with.

This was the turning-point in his career.
All the Indians had to acknowledge his
bravery and endurance, and gave him every
opportunity to fulfil his ambitions. He was
soon recognized as their best scout, and he
never returned from any expedition without
bringing home some horses or other trophies
of war.

He disappeared from the band when
about eighteen years of age, only to return
three years after with a complete mastery
of the Blackfoot language, which made him
invaluable as a scout to the Crees and Saul-
teaux. He had lived among the enemy and
could pass as a Blackfoot. His achieve
ments are thus summed up : " Koo-min-ah-
koush was a great warrior and a strong
medicine man. He killed fourteen Black-
feet before he lost his own life. His right
eye was shot out by Low Horn in the fight
when that warrior was killed. He was
twice tossed by buffalo bulls, and each time
severely injured; twice thrown from his
horse, each time breaking some bones ; and
150



SUCCESSFUL STRATEGY

had three scars on his right side from
Blackfoot bullets. It was thought by his
own people, and even by some of the Black-
feet, that he could not be killed."*
One of his exploits is thus narrated:
" On one occasion a party of Blackfeet
surprised him with six of his young men,
and drove them out on a small point of
land on a lake. The Crees dug rifle-pits,
and by firing from them kept the Blackfeet
at bay all through the day. Night fell dark
and cloudy, and Koo-min-ah-koush told his
young men to swim across the lake, leaving
their guns and ammunition with him, and
he would fight the Blackfeet alone. After
they had gone he ran from one hole to an
other, firing a shot from each, until his
men had had time to get away. Then he
crept out to the Blackfoot lines and began,
like them, to fire at the deserted holes, and
getting near to a Blackfoot he shot and
scalped him, passed through the lines and
escaped. In the morning the Blackfeet

* "The Story of the Indian," by Geo. B. Grinnell,
pp. 107, 108.

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THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

found the Crees gone, and only their own
dead to look at."

Koo-min-ah-koush was a paragon of the
Cree race and lived to be a very old man,
dying near Fort Pitt in the sixties. In
trepid in war, he was noted in peace for his
many acts of kindness, especially to the old
women of his tribe, as he never forgot the
grandmother who had cared for him in his
youth.

Chim-ass-cous was another Cree Indian
who was noted for his bravery. He was a
medicine man, and at the time of his activity
as a warrior, in the early part of the last
century, was credited with having wonder
ful powers of second sight. All medicine
men were not blessed with this power, and
when one was supposed to possess it he was
looked upon with much awe and honour by
all other Indians.

The last expedition Chim-ass-cous led was
when he was quite an old man, in the year
1851. The Crees had a large encampment
at the Side Woods, a place south-west of
Touchwood Hills, north of the Qu Appelle
Valley. Hearing of the approach of a band
152



A SUN DANCE

of Blackfeet, Chim-ass-cous suggested that
a party be sent out to intercept their march
northward into the Cree territory. He told
his friends that after " making medicine "
he felt confident of the successful issue of
their raid should they start immediately
and place themselves entirely under his
instructions. It was never a difficult mat
ter to secure volunteers for such expedi
tions, and Chim-ass-cous soon found his
party large enough to warrant a start to
wards the enemy s camp.

They intended making a detour south of
the place the scouts had reported, so they
started for the elbow of the South Saskat
chewan River and on to the Big Hill, which
lay between Islet Hill and Ochre Hill. After
sending out a scouting party from the Big
Hill, the main body moved south to Ochre
Hill, and, it being the early part of the sum
mer, Chim-ass-cous decided to hold a Sun
Dance ( Nee-pah-quah-see-mun ) while they
were encamped there. It was an ideal spot
for the ceremony, with good water and beau
tifully wooded. Their scouting party, being
informed of the contemplated move from
153



THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

the Big Hill to Ochre Hill, were to join
them in the dance. The scouts also, acting
as bearers of an invitation from him-ass-
cous, got word to quite a number of other
Orees and Saulteaux, who joined the little
band at Ochre Hill with the intention of
taking part in the Sun Dance.

Unfortunately for them, a party of twenty
or more Blackfeet had also been sent out
upon a scouting expedition, and, by some
peculiar chance of war, stumbled upon the
dance at the Ochre Hill during the second
night of its progress. The Crees and their
friends, expecting the return of their own
scouts, were most unprepared for a surprise,
and were all intent upon their ceremony,
when the party of Blackfeet rode into their
midst. In a moment all was confusion, but
they were not so excited as to forget to put
out all fires and torches, thus leaving every
thing in total darkness. Chini-ass-cous and
his friends had the advantage of knowing
every bit of the ground upon which they had
camped ; and being unmounted, managed
to overcome their enemy, as it was an easy
matter to pick off the riders as they rode
154



A BLACKFOOT DEFEAT

by and around the Crees, who, of course,
had crouched upon the ground as soon as all
the fires and torches in the camp had been
extinguished. Some of the party escaped
to the hill and signalled danger to their
scouts, should they be in the vicinity.

The next morning the ground was gone
over, and from evidence found Chim-ass-
cous decided that their enemy of the night
before had been a scouting or raiding party.
They found the body of an old Blackfoot
Indian with white hair, and as this sign of
age is unusual even among the very oldest
Indians, the place was renamed by them,
" Where the white-headed old man was
killed. 7 From here they followed the few
Blackfeet who had escaped, and overtaking
them before they reached the main body
from which they were an offshoot, managed
to overcome a large number of them, and
carried home many spoils of the fight, be
sides capturing an unusually fine lot of
horses.

Chim-ass-cous remarked to his band of
followers, as they wended their way back to
the Side Woods, " I am an old man, and
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THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

not white-headed. White hairs do not al
ways mean success," referring to the old
Indian they had killed during the night of
their surprise. The Indians often use the
expression which Chim-ass-cous used that
day. For instance, if an old Indian has
accomplished something out of the ordinary
in hunting or in walking a long distance
under trying circumstances, he may say :
" I am old, but I can do more than one
white-haired Indian did." Many such ex
pressions have originated in just such a
way as this one of Chim-ass-cous.

One of the peculiar incidents in connec
tion with this expedition was the return of
one of their scouting parties with the un
welcome information that they were being
met by some of the enemy returning south
from the Side Hills. This naturally caused
a great deal of uneasiness among Chim-ass-
cous party, as almost every warrior had
gradually joined them, and left in the camp
with their wives and daughters were only
very old men, almost unable to defend the
camp.

The scouts had come upon the party at
156



SECOND SIGHT

night on the return from their successful
fight, and just one day s journey from the
Blackfoot camp. All that night Chim-
ass-cous prayed to Kichie Manitou (The
Great Spirit) to give him second sight to
see into the midst of the camping-party his
friends had reported as being their enemy.
The next morning he aroused his sleeping
companions and informed them that instead
of the approaching party being an enemy
they were friends, traders from the Hud
son s Bay fort at Touchwood Hills. And
this turned out to be true, as they were
shortly joined by the party of traders and
induced to do some hunting before return
ing to their families at the " Side Hills."

It may, of course, have been possible that
Chim-ass-cous had information of the in
tended departure of the Hudson s Bay
traders at just such a time as would bring
them to the vicinity of the Ochre Hills when
they were seen by the scouts. Be that as
it may, the Indians always refer to this
instance in particular as being one of the
most wonderful in Chim-ass-cous career as
a medicine man.

157



THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

Another Indian in whose prophecies of
success or disaster in their undertakings
the Cree and Saulteaux had great faith was
" Kin-ah-cas " (You are leading), whose
father was an Assiniboine and whose
mother was a Cree. He was a great medi
cine man and was thought to have the help
of very powerful spirits in his petitions to
Kichie Manitou.

So successful were his predictions and
instructions as to one of their expeditions
that, upon the return of the victorious
party, the chief gave him his young daugh
ter to wed, this being the highest honour
he could confer upon anyone.

Referring to the mixed parentage of
" Kin-ah-cas," it may safely be said that
some of their bravest men were the off
spring of Cree or Saulteaux and Assini
boine parents. One of the Indians of such
parents was " Piapot," who in latter years
was looked upon as a great orator and a
most courageous man.

A typical clash between two hostile
tribes is preserved in a tradition of the fight
between Yellow Head, a Cree leader, and
158



A TYPICAL ENCOUNTER

the Blackfeet. It contains all the elements
of desperate, sudden attack and intrepid,
furious bravery which characterize their
battles on the plains. This chief, with one
hundred followers, returning from a hunt
ing expedition and as yet many miles from
the main camp, was ambuscaded by a war
party of the Blackfeet. Outnumbered,
miles from reinforcement, the light-hearted
hunters, but an hour before sweeping along
carelessly, laden with peaceful spoils, sud
denly driven together became a band of
heroes bound to sell their lives dearly.
Skilfully and bravely commanded by Yel
low Head, they fought for hours, beating
back their assailants at every point and
finally driving them off, but at what a cost !
Yellow Head was killed, and sixty of the
braves. The remaining forty, many of them
desperately wounded, gathered up the
horses of the force, and adding the trophies
of war to the burdens of the chase limped,
broken but victorious, into the astonished
camp.



159



CHAPTER XII.

Poetry and music Constant improvisation The
minor mode No poetic or musical literature
The march song Love songs " The Calling
River" The farewell song A hoy s first song.

A PECULIAR lack of poetry is one of the
features of the Indians songs. Though
they repeat words for the different tunes
they sing, there is a lack of rhyme and
rhythm in proportion to their naturally
poetic language which is hard to account
for. Each time a tune is sung new words
seem to be composed for it, though, of
course, they are always applicable to the
particular song. In this composing or im
provising of words for the different songs
some Indians show very much more poetic
feeling than others.

As a matter of fact, very few of their
songs are sung to words except those which
might be called love songs, and these, hav
ing once been sung by a certain Indian,
are repeated by others, with a variation of
words upon the original theme.
160



INDIAN MUSIC

All their music is sung in the minor key.
Even their festival music has a minor
strain, especially when sung by both men s
and women s voices, the latter always sing
ing the harmony in the minor. It is hard
to account for this peculiarity of their mu
sic, unless it be from their love of nature
and solitude. The Indians as a whole are
passionately fond of the pine tree, and any
one who has listened to the play of the
winds in the pine forests will remember the
strange minor moanings among the
branches. It is more than likely that from
this source springs their fondness for the
minor strain in all their songs.

To most people who hear the Indian sing
his different songs there is an apparent
sameness in them all. But this is certainly
not the case, as there are entirely different
airs to each of their several songs, though
all are founded upon one rhythmical motif.

One must always take into consideration
the fact that the Indian had no way of
writing down his thoughts. This made it
impossible to have any poetic literature or
any fixed traditional melodies. As has
11 161



THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

been remarked before, each Indian made up
the words for his song, and these naturally
varied when repeated by others, even
though treating on a definite subject.

Their memory for the songs they sang
was truly wonderful, and indicated a strong
racial love for music. Take, for instance,
the march song which the Indians used to
sing on returning from a successful hunting
or raiding expedition. Perhaps hundreds
would join in the singing, yet every voice
sang in most perfect tune and harmony.
Then as the party drew near the camp the
women would join in, and they also were
wonderfully correct as to time and har
mony. The voices of the women were
pitched in a higher key, and had a peculiar
tone, resembling the notes of a flute more
than anything else.

Each Indian composed his or her own
love song, and the words were generally
only suitable to one particular case, treat
ing as they did of certain localities. Per
haps the valley of the Qu Appelle ("The
Calling River "), with its beautiful scenery,
was responsible for most of their senti-
162



SONGS AND SINGING

mental songs, the echo in the valley appeal
ing at once to their fancy and superstition.
One of the prettiest of the many traditions
relating to the valley was that of the young
woman who, imagining her lover was call
ing to her from one of the hills, pushed off
in her little bark canoe and was never heard
of any more. Her voice was left in the
valley and answers back in plaintive tones
when anyone calls. Her lover returned a
short time after her departure, but, though
he followed her, never found even a trace
of her canoe. At twilight her canoe would
appear for a few minutes upon the surface
of one of the many beautiful lakes in the
valley, only to disappear again in a soft
mist if anyone tried to approach it.

This was a favourite theme for the In
dian, and the tune to which the many dif
ferent words are sung is most fascinating.
In the olden days there was never an
occasion of any importance which was
not marked by its song. The meeting
of a friendly band of Indians was always
an occasion for singing. Their departure
was also marked by its own farewell mel-
1H3



THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

ody. When they were living peacefully,
with no fear of the enemy, they passed most
of their leisure time in singing and dancing.

It is a matter of regret that the Indians
had no way of writing down or recording
words and music. To many of them these
are but a memory of happier times when
upon every possible occasion they broke out
into song. For them these times have gone,
like the passing of the buffalo, never to
return.

How proud the fond mother was of the
first flight of song from her young son, and
if she were fortunate enough to commit it
to memory, she would often sing it when
her son was away, hoping and believing its
notes would be wafted through the dividing
space and be a charm to protect him from
harm and danger.



164



CHAPTER XIII.

The Algonquin divinity Wee- sack- ka-chackNaphv
Nay-na-push Two creation myths.

THE Indians have a mythic romance
woven around an imaginary being whom
they claim to have been the first man upon
this earth; a personage volatile and de
lusive, who has as many characteristics and
attributes as vapour may have shapes and
movements.

He is the pervading and ever-present
Algonquin divinity, if the latter term be not
too suggestive of worship to apply. He is
called, among the Crees, Wee-sack-ka-chack ;
among the O jib ways, Nay-na-push or Nay-
nu-boo-shoo. The Blackfeet know him as
Napiw, or Old Man, the Micmacs as Gloos-
cap; and he appears in the legends and
tales of every branch of this wide-spread
people from Nova Scotia to the Rocky
Mountains and as far south as Virginia.
Around him has been gathered, through
165



THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

ages, all the imaginative invention of minds
given over to poetic and interpretative ideas,
and his doings and sayings embrace every
thing from attempted explanations of nat
ural phenomena to crude and often gross
conceptions of humour. He has been treated
as a " creator, a defender, a teacher and at
the same time a conqueror, a robber, a de
ceiver." To a nature-myth Dr. Brinton
refers his origin, a nature-myth represent
ing, "on the one hand, the unceasing
struggle of day with night, of light with
darkness, and, on the other, that no less
important conflict which is ever waging
between the storm and sunshine, the win
ter and summer, the rain and the clear sky."
But whatever the conception of this enor
mous and ever-changing figure, each Indian
who in the days of the past had the gift
of expression and the desire to create added
to the store of legends his crude interpreta
tion of nature or his tale of magic or ad
venture.

Wee-sack-ka-chack is represented as be
ing a most wonderful personage, claiming
to have created the earth after the flood
166



AN ALGONQUIN DIVINITY

and to have been the means of saving all
the birds of the air and beasts of the field
by his wisdom. He is also claimed to have
understood and conversed with all the
animals, birds, fishes and insects, and also
with all manner of plants.

He was sometimes wonderfully wise, and
upon other occasions most simple. He was
tremendously self-opinionated and was al
ways boasting of his attainments. This
naturally made him try his powers upon all
he came in contact with, and though almost
invariably worsted in these contests, he
never acknowledged himself beaten.

So wise did he consider himself that he
looked upon everybody and everything as
being much younger than he was, and in
sisted upon being addressed by them all as
their elder brother, as an acknowledgment
of the wisdom of old age. He never ad
dressed anyone, or any bird, animal or
plant, except as his " young brother."

Certain birds and animals who had
treated him disrespectfully he punished by
some peculiarity which changed their ori
ginal appearance and was a lasting rebuke
167



THE PEOPLE OP THE PLAINS

to all their kind forever after. There were
others, again, whose appearance he im
proved, in return* for some courtesy they
had shown him.

The Indians say that all the ravines run
ning from the tops of the mountains and
hills into the valleys below were made by
Wee-sack-ka-chack sliding down them in
stead of walking, as he was generally too
lazy to Avalk down hill, and in many locali
ties peculiar natural formations are pointed
out as having been occasioned by some
escapade of this ever-present, never-resting
being.

There is a great deal of uncertainty as to
where Wee-sack-ka-chack makes his home.
The Indians say that for some reason or
other he left these parts years ago and took
up his abode on an island far away towards
the rising sun (the east). They say if one
were to walk till they came to the big water
(Kichie-kamee) and were to look to the
east they would see an island in the ocean ;
if they could get to that island they would
see another much farther away, and upon
that one it is supposed Wee-sack-ka-chack
168





riSOUAPlTA (HAIR IX KNOT), CREE.



STORIES AND STORY-TELLING

now lives. But when anyone lands upon
the island he disappears from view and goes
under the ground. He is so old that he has
lost his good looks and is ashamed to be
seen.

The Indians have a large number of myths
relating to Wee-sack-ka-chack and his do
ings. There are usually one .or two Indians
in every band who are acknowledged to be
good Wee-sack-ka-chack story-tellers. But
they never tell any of these stories during
the summer season, when they are, or
should be, busy putting up stores for their
winter use. In fact, Wee-sack-ka-chack
himself made this rule, and in order to have
it carried out instructed his young brother,
the lizard, to keep careful watch that his
instructions are observed. If they are not,
the lizard must attack the story-teller when
he is fast asleep and suck all the blood from
his heart. So firmly do the Indians believe
in this threat of Wee-sack-ka-chack ? s that
it is impossible to get them to tell any of
the stories during the summer, or, indeed,
so long as there are any lizards in the
autumn.

169



THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAINS

The following are a few of the stories
which are told of Wee-sack-ka-chack.
Two versions of the story of the flood are
given. Almost every Indian has his own
version of these interesting fables.

Once upon a time, many hundreds of
years ago, Wee-sack-ka-chack was warned
in a dream that the earth was going to be
submerged and the whole world was to be
one huge ocean. He awoke from his sleep
early one morning and found the whole sky
overcast and showing every appearance of
a heavy rain. He arose and made all pos
sible haste to reach the very highest hill he
could see. On his way he called to all the
birds and beasts to follow him, as he was
going to save them from drowning, telling
them of the warning he had received in his
dream. When he reached the hill he
began to build an immense raft of large
poles. In the centre of the raft he placed
a tall tree with many branches. As soon
as the raft was ready he told the birds and
beasts to get on, as the flood might come at
any moment.

170



A CREATION MYTH

Very soon it began to rain, and Wee-sack-
ka-chack noticed all the rivers and lakes
within sight begin to overflow their banks
and cover all the surrounding country. All
this time he kept calling to the birds and
beasts to get on the raft and be saved, tell
ing them if they did not do so they would
surely be drowned. In a short time the
waters had reached the top of the hill and
the raft began to float aw r ay. There was
no wind, only a steady rain and a dense
sky overhead.

Many animals who had not reached the
hill in time came swimming up to the raft
and, resting their chins on the edge of it,
begged to be taken on, which, of course, was
done; Wee-sack-ka-chack was too kind to
leave any of his young brothers to perish


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