Sunday, June 10, 2012

Among the Arrapahoe Indians

"He's a puller."
Arrapaho Indians Friday and "A Puller""He's a puller."

"A puller?" - inquiringly.

"Yes, a puller."

I ride on in silence, not wishing to be­tray undue curiosity; but presently I ask, "Friday, what is a puller!"

"A squaw that pulls hair."

Friday is an Arrapaho Indian. Lost when eleven years old, he was found by a party of returning emigrants, taken to St. Louis, and there educated. At twenty-one he returned to his people, over whom, by his unusual attainments and civilization, he soon exercised great in­fluence. At fifty he had relapsed into barbarism. He had forgotten how to read and write, possessed as many squaws as fingers, and was a pander of the vilest description. His knowledge of English facilitated the practice of this vocation at the agency and military posts, and pro­cured him employment as official inter­preter, in which capacity he accompanies me. Like his cannibal yet scarcely more savage prototype, Robinson Crusoe's man, his discovery, fortunate albeit on Friday, caused him to be named after that un­luckiest day of the week. The subject of our conversation is one of his numerous wives, whom a jealous disposition and irascible temper make an unruly help­mate. Because of her small eyes, she is called The-one-who-sleeps.


These are two of my compagnons de voyage. Black Coal is chief. He is remarkably intelligent. Ordinarily he dresses in a semi-civilized garb, compris­ing a white shirt, a vest, and the conven­tional blanket and breech-clout of the In­dian; but upon especial occasions these are discarded for a broadcloth suit pre­sented him by the Secretary of the In­terior when in Washington. A watch and chain, and a white felt hat, to the crown of which is attached his eagle's feather, complete his attire. His hair is worn in a scalplock and two braids, the latter being wrapped in fur. To one of these, and in convenient proximity to his nose, is attached a little buckskin sack that exhales the pungent odor of the musk-rat. His tipi (lodge) is the largest in the village, and is adorned with em­broidered bead circles, from the centers of which dangle human scalps. Black Coal says they were taken in battle from the Utes. Several years ago he surprised their principal village, which he despoiled and burned. In commemoration of this victory he stripped and wallowed naked in the hot ashes and cinders until he was black as a coal, from which cir­cumstance he derived his name The third and little fingers of his right hand were shot off in the combat, and Black Coal avers that the wound was miracu­lously healed by this means, which at least was well adapted to hasten its cure. In camp he is usually attended by an aged and crippled Indian, who, ascending any convenient eminence, cries out the instructions of the chief to the village. Meals, and the hour and order of march, are thus announced.

Arrapaho Indian Black Coal
The squaws are first astir; and in the early morning they cut and collect huge bundles of fire-wood, which are strapped to and carried on their backs. Breakfast is soon cooked, and now the buck makes his appearance. He is a veritable mon­arch, although a dirty and an exceeding­ly ill-bred one. He will do nothing to assist his wife or wives, and those charm­ing amenities which the very name of woman suggests to, and that are distinct­ive of, civilized man, rarely animate his soul. Among the Arrapahoes there  is not even the semblance of a marriage ceremony . A squaw is bought, and becomes the absolute property - the slave - of her purchaser. If he tires of her, he may cast her off; if she is unfaithful, he may kill her, but oftener he cruelly dis­figures her by cutting off her nose. For the squaw there is no relief.

On the march, after breakfast, she sad­dles his pony, and he is away like the wind. In summer, grass, in winter, a cottonwood bough thrown across the sad­dle, furnishes ample food for his wiry little mount. The tipi is then "struck" and packed. The poles are utilized as shafts, and for this purpose are equally divided on either side of and attached to a pony, the heavier ends dragging. Joining these, and as near the animal as practicable, is frequently constructed a basket or wicker seat, upon which ride the children, perhaps an old squaw, and not unfrequently a litter of puppies. If she has a nursing infant, the mother car­ries it in her arms or on her back. Mean­while she rides one, leads several, and drives many more ponies that are often unmercifully packed. When camp is reached, they are immediately freed from head when lying down. My hostess now presented me with a pair of moccasins uniquely embroidered with colored porcu­pine quills, which I was gratified to ob­serve fitted perfectly, and I expressed my pleasure and thanks to the dusky donor in my choicest Arrapaho. Cigarettes, of which they are exceedingly fond, being produced, we complacently smoked, while the fire burned brightly in the center of the lodge, maintaining a comfortable and uniform temperature, and the smoke gracefully curled through its appointed aperture.

Arrapaho Indian Sharp Nose
Their language is the most difficult to acquire of all Indian tongues, and it is said, indeed, that two Arrapahoes cannot thoroughly comprehend each other in the dark, that is, without the intervention of the sign - manual common to all North American tribes. My earlier attempts at a conversation by this means were neces­sarily crude, and my mistakes often ludi­crous. Prominent among my Arrapaho friends is Washington, so called at the agency because of a three-cornered hat he wears, the similarity of winch to that of the Continental period has dignified the wearer into a real or fancied resemblance to the "Father of his Country." He is a "medicine man," happily unfettered by al­lopathic or homoeopathic schools. What­ever the diagnosis, his remedy is invaria­bly the same, and consists of beating upon a " tom-tom," yelling hideously, and dan­cing wildly about the patient, until he is either frightened to death or recovers by natural processes. In the latter case the food Spirit triumphs; in the former, the Evil. It is merely a question of success­ful invocation or exorcism. But Wash­ington is an empiric, and when these means fail, he has recourse to others not less fallible - he comes to me. I carry a small case of medicines, and upon one occasion, misunderstanding his signs, I prescribed an astringent in copious quantities, when the unfortunate victim was almost dying for want of a laxative, and narrowly es­caped prematurely sending the poor devil to the happy hunting grounds.

A few examples of this curious method of communication may not be uninteresting.

The Arrapahoes call themselves "The Good Hearts," and are universally desig­nated by touching the left breast. A tipi is indicated by both forefingers crossed near the nails, as in the cut A, so as to present the general outline of a lodge; while the hands partly folded, as in B, in imitation of the corner of an ordinary rail fence, signify a settlement or town. The sign for "on horseback" is made by sepa­rating the fore and middle fingers (C) of the right hand over the fingers of the left, extended and joined. The forefingers crossed at right angles (D) mean a trade, or " swap."

Arrapaho Indian Washington
Darkness or night is expressed by a simultaneous motion of the hands from a position at their respective sides, fore-arms horizontal, and palms up, in a circularly approaching manner, so as to bring them palms down, one above the other, in front of the body (E), as though to say that "everything is closed." "Ev­erything open," that is, day or daylight, is this motion reversed (F), and both are very significant.

Sharp Nose is Black Coal's lieutenant, or head soldier, and the finest scout I have encountered on the plains. He derives his name from a physiognomical fact, and not from acute scent, which, however, he possesses in an astonishing degree. His eyes are as bright and as piercing as an eagle's. Nothing escapes his vision, In Colonel Mackenzie's winter campaign against the Cheyennes in 1876-77, Sharp Nose rendered invaluable service. His son, an intelligent and active little fellow of eight summers, frequently accompanies him upon less hostile expeditions.

Judged by the Caucasian standard of, beauty, a handsome buck or squaw is rarely found among the Arrapahoes, al­though fine physiques are common; but the reverse obtains with their children. In them roundness of outline conceals high cheek-bones and other prominent angu­larities, and they are generally pretty, and very prepossessing in manner. They are obedient, and seldom quarrel; hence they are not often punished. Parental affection and filial are equally strong. As I have before remarked, the squaws are generally ill-treated by the bucks, but otherwise fighting is uncommon, and thefts seldom occur. Individual differ­ences are amicably adjusted; if of a se­rious nature, by arbitration. Murder - unless the massacre of their enemies, against whom they fiendishly delight to perpetrate every atrocity, be so regarded - is almost unknown. These facts appear the more remarkable when their mode of life is considered. Two or more families are not un frequently crowded into a sin­gle lodge, but great delicacy characterizes their intercourse. Does the civilized lover ask how this warrior of the plains wooes? There are no moon-lit groves for him; only the boundless and treeless prairie. But he folds his blanket around his nut-­brown mistress, and under its common shelter they sue and sigh undisturbed. And this barbarian, as we call him, when he receives his death-wound, calmly sur­renders to the knife of his adversary a scalp-lock neatly braided by himself in anticipation of this very fatality. Than this nothing in modern warfare savors more strongly of the chivalric courtesy of feudal ages.

Arrapaho Indian Feather Head
In approaching the buffalo range a dance ensues. The tribe assembles about an open space, in the middle of which are squatting many of the young men of the village, hideously painted and almost naked. A monotonous chant, accompa­nied by a regular beating upon "tom-toms," is begun. The shrill treble of the squaws mingles not discordantly with the guttural tones of the bucks; and to this wild refrain the central group begin a rude and savage dance, hopping upon one foot and then upon the other, and yelling horribly the while. Those who join in this grotesque sport thus enroll themselves as a sort of "citizen soldiery," the chief purpose of which is the prevention of any interference with the buffaloes until, by a concerted action of the village, a "big surround" and great slaughter can be effected.

A buffalo hunt by Indians has been often described. The buffaloes are generally approached from such direction that, in the chase that ensues, they will run toward camp, and by this means facilitate the transportation of their own flesh. Hun­dreds are killed, and the meat, cut into thin slices, is hung upon poles outside the lodge to dry in the sun. Cured by this process, it is said to be "jerked." Nothing pertaining to the animal is thrown away. The entrails, and especially the tripe, indif­ferently cleaned, are eaten raw, or thrown upon live coals, where they shrivel and broil into fragrant crispness. The skull is cracked, and the squaws insert their slen­der fingers into its crevices, and greedily devour the bloody and uncooked brains.

The days that succeed a successful hunt, after the hides are in process of tanning, are passed in general idleness. All hands have eaten their fill, and with an Indian a full stomach means a glad but slothful heart. The bucks lie listlessly about, while the squaws scratch their heads, comb and plait the long straight hair, and disgustingly catch and eat the vermin that abound therein. If cleanliness is next to godliness, the foulness of the Indian is his greatest sin. A peculiar and disagreeable odor pervades everything that belongs to them, although much of it is due to other causes than personal filth. The tanning, drying of beef or buffalo, cooking, etc., simultaneously in progress in and about the lodge, produce a variety of unpleasant scents, which permeate their clothing and impregnate the atmosphere. The unfrequent change of the former is also a fruit­ful source of physical impurity. The Turco-Russian bath is, however, of very common application among them. It is their panacea.

The manner of its preparation is neces­sarily primitive. Willow wands are sharp­ened and thrust into the ground, and their smaller ends are interlaced so as to form a bower little more than a yard in height, and eight or ten in circumference. Over this is stretched and secured a piece of can­vas or skin, under which, after several large stones have been brought to a red heat and rolled to its center a dozen or more Arrapahoes crowd and crouch. Wa­ter is slowly poured upon the stones, from which arise hot air and vapor. After pro­fuse perspiration, the inmates leap into an adjoining stream, or wallow naked in the snow. This bathing establishment is call­ed a "wicky-up," and they dot the banks of water-courses in all Indian countries.

An Arrapaho belle, before she retires, greases her hair and face with liquid mar­row from a bone set upright near the fire to reduce its contents to the proper con­sistency. Her hair is then braided a la Marguerite. In this manner the Sioux and Cheyenne squaws wear theirs; but in the morning our Arrapaho maiden un­does the careful plaiting of the evening, which has given her hair a wavy appear­ance, and permits it to fall unconfined about her shoulders. Her face now pre­sents an excellent surface for the recep­tion of paint, the use of which, by-the-­way, is as-much for protection against in­clement weather as for supposed adorn­ment. The most approved mode is to make a general application of chrome-yellow, with finishing touches of vermil­ion, but often only a little rouge is em­ployed.

Son of Arrapaho Indian Chief Sharp Nose
Feather Head, whose features are here reproduced, is a typical Arrapaho girl; and when riding astride of her pony, her jet-black hair falling loosely upon the red blanket that envelops her, she is a pictur­esque and interesting object. Her only ornaments are several score of brass bangles, not dissimilar to those worn by a Murray Hill belle. Her dress, other than the indispensable blanket, ordinarily comprises buckskin leggings and moccasins and a calico gown. The latter is generally a mere sack, with a drawn opening for the head, and with short, full sleeves, through which, in charming ignorance of or indifference to the use of hooks and eyes or buttons, the aboriginal mother gives natural sustenance to her child.

Originally published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in March 1880.

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