George Pfauts Belden.

Belden, the white chief; or, Twelve years among the wild Indians of the plains online

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out when an animal is struck. The blood flows along the little
gutters in the wood and runs off the end of iihe arrow. The
arrow-head is made of steel or stone. It is shaped like a heart
or dart, and has a stem about an inch long. The sides of the
stem are nicked or filed out like saw-teeth. Nearly all the wild
Indians now use steel arrow-heads, they being a great article of
trade among the savages. There are 'firms in the East, who
manufiicture many hundreds of thousands every year and send
them out to the traders, who sell them to the Indians for furs.

When the shaft is ready for the head, the warrior saws a slit,
with a nicked knife, in the end opposite the notch, and inserts

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the stem of the arrow-head. The slit must be exactly in the
center of the shaft, and as deep as the stem is long. When
properly adjusted, the teeth of the stem show themselves on
each side of the slit. Buffalo, deer, or elk sinew is then soft-
ened in water, and the wood is wrapped firmly to the arrow-
head, taking care to 'fit the sinew in the teeth of the stem,
which will prevent the head from pulling out.

The next process is to put on the feathers. To do this

properly great care must be
taken. Turkey . or eagle
quills are soaked in warm
water, to make them split
easily and uniformly. The
feather is then stripped from
the quill and put on the shaft
of the arrow. Three feathers
are placed on each shaft, and
they are laid equi-distant
along the stem. The big
end of the feather is fast-
ened near the notch of the
shaft and laid six or eight
inches straight along the
wood. The feathers are glued
to the shaft, and wrapped at

Old Stone Arrow-heada.

each end with fine sinew.
The arrow is next painted, marked, dried, and is ready for use,
It takes a warrior a whole day to make an arrow, for which the
trader allows him ten cents.

Arrow-heads are put up in packages of a dozen each. They
cost the trader half a cent, or six cents per package, and are sold

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to the Indians at enormous profits. Thos^ twelve arrow-heads
will be exchanged for a bnffido robe^ worth (8 or ^9, and three,
for a beaver skin, worth (4. Indians often bny arrow-heads^ at
these enormous prices, and then sell the arrow back to the trader
at ten cents, in exchange for goods, beads, or knives. The paints
used by Indians in ornamenting arrows are purchased from
traders. It is put up in small packagies, and sold at 500 per
cent, above cost. Of late years there has been a house in St. Louis
that has made a speciality of Indian paints, and every Indian
tribe on the plains knows their brand. These paints are in-
delible and excellent, the Indians being willing to pay any
price for them. Generally, imitation of Chinese vermillion,
yellow and green cromes, indigo, lamp-black, and ink are sold
to the savages for paints.

To make war arrows, the Indians manufacture the shafts the
same as for game arrows. The head is then listened loosely in
the wood, and when it is fired into the body it can not be got
out. If you pull at the shaft the barbs catch and the shaft
pulls off, leaving the arrow-head in the wound. Some war
arrows have but one barb, and when this arrow is fired into
the body, if the shaft be pulled, the barb catches in the flesh
and the steel turns cross-wise in the wound, rendering it im-
possible to extract it.

F^tunately but few Indian tribes now use the poisoned
arrow. This deadly weapon is made like other arrows, except
that it has a poisoned point. For years past, in the wars along
the Platte, on the upper Missouri, and in all our contests with
the Indians, not a single soldier or citizen has been shot with
a poisoned arrow. Civilization can never be sufficiently grate-
ful, to even savages, for having diiscarded a practice so bar«

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A Santee warrior once showed me the method used by Indiana
in poisoning arrows, which I will here describe: .

A large, bloated, yellow rattlesnake, the most deadly reptile in
the world, was caught, and his head held fast by a forked stick.
An In lian then tickled him with a small switch, by passing it
along his body from head to tail. The rage of the snake was
unbounded; he threshed the ground with his body, hissed,
rattled hi« tail, and his eyes grew bright as diamonds. I could
not imagine why so simple a thing should make him so angry,
but his rage was as great as it was amusing. A small' deer had
been brought out alive, and when the snake was most furious,
tb<^ animal was killed, the smoking liver torn out, and, hot and
bloody, laid before the reptile. The stick was then removed
from his neck, and in an instant he struck it, his teeth sinking
deep into the soft flesh. His rage seemed to increase each mo-
ment, and he hit it again and again. When he tired, and would
have gone away, the forked stick was brouglit, his neck pinned
to the earth, and the tickle used until he became enraged. This
was kept up as long as the hideous creature could be induced to
strike the liver. He was then killed, a sharpened pole stuck
into the liver, and it was carried to the village. It soon be-
came very black, and emitted a sour smelL Arrows' were
brought, the heads thrust into the liver, and left there tor half
an hour, when they were withdrawn, and laid in the sun to dry.
A thin, glistening yellow scum adhered to the arrow, and if it
but so much as touched the raw flesh, it was certain to poison to
the death.

Formerly the Indians $ilways carried their poisoned arrows
in the skins of rattlesnakes, and ih^ were very careful of them,^
selecting and poisoning only such as had long shafts, peculiar
points, or different marks. Still, mistakes would o6cur, warri<»r'8

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norses, dogs, and children, got accidentally poisoned and died,
and at last the Indians quit using them, more on account of theii
own safety than for any humanitarian reasons.

A liver prepared in the way I have described, would* contain
virus enough to poison a thousand arrows. Years ago, each war
party carried a poisoned liver, wrapped in a piece of buckskin,
and it, with many arrows, was packed on a pony, called the
" dead horse." When they found arrows of the enemy, they
would poison and throw them on the trails, where they would
be picked up and used by the foe to shoot game.

Travelers on the prairie have often seen the Indians throw-
ing up signal lights at night, and have wondered how it was
done. I will tell you all about it : They take off the head of
the arrow and dip the shaft in gunpowder, mixed with glue.
This they call making fire arrows. The gunpowder adheres to
the wood, and coats it three or four inches from its end, to
the depth of one-fourth of an inch. Chewed bark mixed with
dry gunpowder is then fastened to the stick, and the arrow is
ready for use. When it is to be fired, a warrior places it on
his bow-string and draws his bow ready to let it fly; the point
of the arrow is then lowered, another warrior lights the dry
bark, and it is shot high in the air. When it has gone up a
little distance, it bursts put into a flame, and bums brightly
until it falls to the ground. Various meanings are attached to
these fire-arrow signals. Thus, one arrow meant, among the
Santees, "The enemy are about;" two arrows from the same
point, " Danger ; " Three, " Great danger ; " many, " They are too
strong, or we are falling back ; " two arrows sent up at the same
moment, " We will attack ; " three, '' Soon ; " four, '^ Now ; " if
shot diagonally, "In that direction." These signals are con-
stantly changed, and are always agreed upon when the party

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goes out, or before it separates^ The Indians send their signals
very intelligently, and seldom make mistakes in telegraphing
each other by these silent monitors. The amount of informa-
tion they can communicate, by fires and burning arrows, is
perfectly wonderful. Every -^ar party carries with it bundles
of signal arrows.

Every tribe of Indians make their arrows differently. The
Snakes put but two feathers on their shafts ; the Sioux, when
they make their own arrow-points, or buy them, always prefer
long, slim points; the Cheyennes, blunt points, sharp on the
edges; the Pawnees, medium points; and the Crows, Blackfeet,
XJtes, Omahas, Ottoes, and Winnebagoes, long points. The
Pawnees wrap their arrow-heads with elk sinew, the Crows
with deer, and the Santees, with sinew taken from the inside
of the shoulder-blade of a buffiilo bull. Not many years ago,
the hunters and frontiersmen could tell to what tribe the
Indians who attacked them belonged by their arrows, but now
that is impossible. Many tribes trade and exdiange arrows, while
others pick up and keep all the arrows they find. It is a
practice among the Pawnees, to carefully collect all the arrows
of their enemies and keep them to shoot again, or trade, while
many wily Indians^ when they wish to attack the whites, or
commit an outrage, purposely use arrows belonging to other
tribes. To find a white man dead, with a Pawnee arrow stick-
ing in him, is no longer, aj in former days, evidence that a
Pawnee killed him, for, most likely, the deed was done by a
Cheyenne or Sioux, and the blame thus sought to I)e thrown
(m the poor Pawnees.

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rilHE bow — ^the weapon so long in use among the different
-■- Indian tribes of this continent^ so typical of Indian life, and
the mere mention of which always associates our ideas with the
red men — is made of various kinds of wood, and its manu-
fiicture is a work of no little labor. Even at this day the
bow is much used, and although an Indian may have a gun,
he is seldom seen without his long bow, and quiver well filled
with arrows. The gun may get out of order, and he can not
mend it ; the ammunition may become wet, and there is an end
of hunting ; but the faithful bow is always in order, and its swift
arrows ready to fly in wet as well as dry weather. Thus
reasons the savage, and so keeps his bow to &1I back upon in
case of accident.

Until the invention of breech-loaders, it is a &ct well known
to frontiersmen that the bow was a far more deadly weapon at
dose range than the best rifle. A warrior could discharge his

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belden: the white chief, IW

arrows with much greater rapidity and precision than the most
expert woodsman could charge and fire a muzzIe-]oading

The antiquity of the bow is so great that its origin is per-
haps coincident with war and the necessities of mankind. It
is painfcnl on the ruins of Nineveh ; it is i^entioned in the first
lK)ok of the Bible^ and it is known to have been used on the
eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, where the human race
probably first had its origin.

The Indian boy's first lesson in life is to shoot with a bow.
He is furnished with a small bow and " beewaks/' or blunt
arrows, so he will hurt nobody, and with these he shoots at
marks. By and by, when he has acquired some skill in hand-
ling his weapon, he is given small arrow-points, and with
these he shoots birds, squirrels, and small beasts. As he grows
older he receives the long-bow, and at last the strong-bow.

These strong-bows are powerful weapons, and I have seen
them so stiff that a white man could not bend them scarce four
inches, while an Indian would, with apparent ease, draw them
to the arrow's hea^J. A shaft fired from one of these bows will
go through the body of a buffalo, and arrow-heads have been
found so firmly imbedded in the thigh bones of a man that no
force could extract them.

The parents take great pride in teaching young Indians to
shoot, and the development of the muscles and strength of
their arms is watched with much interest. A stout arm, oma -
mented with knots of muscles, is a great honor to an Indian,
and no one but those who can handle the strong-bow are
deemed fit for war.

Of all the Indians of the West, the Sioux and Crows make
the best bows. The Sioox bow is generally four feet long, one


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and a half Inches wide^ and an inch thick at the middle. It
tapers from the center, or " grasp/' toward the ends, and ia
but half an inch wide and half an inch thick at the extrem-
ities. At one end the bow-string is notched into the wood and
made permanently fast, while at the other end two notches are
cut in the wood, and the string at that end of the bow is uade
like' a slip-knot or loop. When the bow is to b6 used, the
warrior sets the end to which the string is made fast firmly
on the ground, and then bends down the other end until
the loop slips into the notch. This is called *' stringing " the
bow. The )bow is never kept strung except when in actual
use, as it would lose its strength and elasticity by being con-
stantly bent. When unstrung, a good bow is perfectly
straight, and, if properly made and seascmed, will always retain
its elasticity.

The wood generally used in manufacturing bows is ash,
hickory, iron-wood, elm, and cedar. No hickory grows west of
the Missouri, and it is very difficult to get ; and an Indian will
always pay a high price for a piece of this wood.

When the bow is made of cedar, it need not be seasoned ;
but all other woods require seasoning, and are not worked
until perfectly dry. Every teepee has its bow-wood hung up
with the arrows in the smoke of the fire, but well out of reach
of the flames. A warrior with a sharp knife and a sandstone,
or file, can make a bow in three days if he works hard, but
it most generally takes a week, and sometimes a month, to
finish a fancy bow. When done, it is worth three dollars in

All the bows differ in length and strength, being gauged for
the arms of those who are to use them; but a white man
would, until he learned the slight of it, find himself unable to

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belden: the white chief. Ill

bend even the weakest war-bow. This has given rise lo tW
impression that the Indian^ are stronger than white men^ which
is an error ; for, although only a slight man myself; I learned^
after some practice, to bend the strongest boW; and could send
ft shaft as &r or as deep as any savi^. On one occasion I
shot an arrow^ while running, into a bufi&lo so that the point
came out on the opposite side; another arrow disappeared in
the buffalo, not even the notch being visible. The power of
the bow may be better understood when I tell you that the
most powerful Colt's revolver will not send a ball through a
buffalo. I have seen a bow throw an arrow five hundred
yards, and have myself often discharged one entirely through
a board one inch thick. Once I found a man's skull trans-
fixed to a tree by an arrow which had gone completely through
the bones, and imbtjdded itself so deep in the wood as to sus-
tain the weight of the head. He had probably been tied up to
the tree and shot.

The Sioux and Cheyenne bows are generally strengthened
on the back by a layer of sinew glued to the wood. This
sinew, as well as the bow-string, is taken from the back of the
buffalo. It starts at the hump and runs along the spinal
column to the tail, and is about six feet in length.

The surface of the bow is made perfectly flat, then roughened
with a file or stone, the sinew being dipped in hot glue and
laid on the wood. The sinew is then lapped at the ends and
on the middle, or grasp of the bow. The string is attached
while green, twisted, and left to dry on the bow. The whole
outside of the wood and sinew is now covered with a thick
volution of glue, and the bow is done. Rough bows look like
hickory limbs with the bark on, but some of them are beauti-
6illy painted and ornamented. I once knew a trader ^o glue

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some red velvet on a bow^ and the Indians paid hioi an im *
mense price for it^ thinking it very wonderful

' The Crows make bows out of Elk horn. Co do this they
take a large horn or prongs and saw a slice off each side of it;
these slices are then filed or rubbed down until the flat sides
fit nicelj together^ when they are glued and wrapped at the ends.
Four slices make a bow^ it being jointed. Another piece of
horn is laid on the center of the bow at the grasp^ where it is
glued fiist The whole is then filed down until it is perfectly
proportioned^ when the white bone is ornamented^ carved^ and
painted. Nothing can exceed the beauty of these bows^ and it
takes an Indian about three months to make one. They are
very expensive^ and Indians do not sell them ; but I once
managecl to get one from a firiend for thirty-two dollars in gold.

In travelings the bow is carried in a sheath attached to the
arrow quiver^ and the whole is slung to the back by a belt of
elk or buckskin^ which passes diagonally across the breast^ and
is fastened to the ends of the quiver. The quiver and bow-
sheath is generally made of the skin of an ox or some wild
animal, and is tanned with the hair on. The quiver is orna-
mented with tassals, fiinge of buckskin, and the belt across
the breast is painted or worked with beads. Each Indian has
his sign or name on his belt, bow, sheath, or arrow quiver.
The celebrated Sioux chief, Spotted Tail, or "Sin-ta Galles-
9ca,'' had his bow-sheath made from the skin of a spotted
ox he had killed in a train his warriors captured, and as the
tail was left dangling at the end of the sheath, the Indiana
ever afterward called him Spotted Tail, or " The man with the
Spotted Tail.'' * You may be curious to know what this In-

*Mr. Belden is likely mistaken as to the origin of Spotted Tail's
I have often been told by soldiers and old frontiersmen that when

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Bows, Arrows, and Quivers.

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belden: the white chief. 116

dian's name was Jbefore he was called Spotted Tail; and I must
tell you many Indians never have a name^ while others have
half a dozen. Some act of bravery, or an article of clothing,
generally fixes an Indian's name, but a new deed, or a new
head-dress, may change it

To shoot with the bow properly, it must be held firmly in
three fingers of the right hand ; the arrow is fixed on the bow-
string with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, and the
other three fingers are used to pull the string. The shaft of
the arrow lays between the thumb and forefinger of the right
hand, which rest over the grasp of the bow. To shoot, the
bow is turned slightly, so one end is higher than the other, and
the arrow is then launched.

Not only is the bow used as a weapon, but it serves as an
implement with which to disgrace a man. Thus, an Indian
who is struck with a bow is as much disgraced and insulted as
a white man who has been cowhided. To strike one with a
bow means in the Indian language, "Go, coward;" or, "You
are not worthy of being killed by arrows;" or, "I do not
consider you a brave or honorable man," which is the worst of
all insults to a savage.

Spotted Tail was a young man he wore a coon's tail in his hair, and from
thin took his name of Spotted Tail, or " The man with the spotted tail"
Our soldiers have often soon him wearing this coon tail in battle, and I
think it was from it he derived his name. — ^Editoe.

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TIJ"OST of the Indian tribes of the west, have obtained
■^"-'- from traders, many articles of civilization, but among
the Santees, I found they relied almost wholly upon their own
skill to produce tools and household utensils. These were
generally manufactured by old men and squaws, except axes,
hammers, mallets, files, rasps, and hoes, which were made by
the warriors.

The axes were of three diflFerent kinds — ^stone, bone, and
flint. The stone ax is made from a large pebble, or river
stone. It is first split in two parts, which gives each section
a sharp edge and a flat side. The st)ne is then enveloped in
rawhide, except the edge. The hiue is put on when green,
and strongly sewed with sinew, and when dry, it is almost as
hard and tight as the stone. While the hide is still soft, a
handle covered with rawhide, and having a long slip projecting,
is laid on the flat side of the stonC; and strongly sewed* to the
skin covering the ax. The slip is th^n wrapped around tiie

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az-head and handle^ and sewed fast^ after which the whde is
lapped with sinew, and set away to dry. As soon as it is
thoroughly dried, the ax is brought out, the edge filed up,
or sharpened by rubbing it against a sandstone, and it is ready
for use. It is astonishing how firmly the contracted rawhide
ftiid sinews hold this rude ax on its handle ; the stone often
breaks, however, and the ax can only be used for cutting soft
wood and brush. Three or four of these axes can be made by
an Indian- in a day, so they are of no great value, and are
thrown away as soon as they break.

The flin^ axes are more difficult to make, but are manu-
&ctured in the same manner, except that a notch is. sawed in
the handle, and the ax set in the notch to give it greater

Indian Axes and OlnlM.

The bone ax is the best as well as the hardest to make.
Bufialo bones (generally the 1^ or shoulder-blade) are taken,
split in two, and trimmed down to the right thickness. A sap-
ling, young tree, or UmV, is then split near a knot, and the
bone shaved through, where it is left to grow fast. This U

done an the spring, and by fidl the sap will have filled up


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118 belden: the white chief.

the interstices; and the wood 1>eoome firm around the bone.
The wood is then cut at the right length, and the handle
shaved out. The whole is next covered with rawhide sewed
and lapped with sinew, the bone ground up, and the implement
18 ready for service. One of these axes will last a year and
carry a fair edge, but the' great objection to them is, that they
are too light for eflFective chopping. Elk ham-bone makes a
very good ax head.

Mallets, hammers, and hatchets, are made in the same man-
ner as described for axes, except that the big mallet, used for
driving stakes and tent-pins, is made of a round stone, in the
side of which a trench has been pecked, into which the handle
is laid. The whole is then covered with rawhide, and when
dry, the hide is pared off one end of the stone, and it is flat-
tened by rubbing it against a rock, or dressing it as a miller
does his millstone.

Hoes are made of flat stones and bones, covered with raw-
hide, and a handle is fastened with buffalo sinews. These hoes
are used to dig earth, wild artichokes, and for scraping tLv hair
off hides when tanning.

The most curious process was making files and raris^ To
do this, an alderberry stick was taken and split in *wo. The
pith was then scraped out, and in the grove thus {ormed, was
poured glue, mixed with pounded flint. "When dry, the parti-
cles of flint formed the teeth of the rasp, or file. If the file
became dull, it was only necessary ix wash it in hot water,
when the glue and old pieces of flint washed out and new
teeth appeared. These files were very handy, and of vast use
to the Indians. What steel is to iron, they are to the wood
and stone used by the Indian. When ponies hoofe became too

Online LibraryGeorge Pfauts BeldenBelden, the white chief; or, Twelve years among the wild Indians of the plains → online text (page 7 of 32)