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III: My Plays and Playmates
THE Indian boy was a prince of the wilderness. He had but very little work to do during the period of his boyhood. His principal occupation was the practice of a few simple arts in warfare and the chase. Aside from this, he was master of his time.
Whatever was required of us boys was quickly performed: then the field was clear for our games and plays. There was always keen competition among us. We felt very much as our fathers did in hunting and war — each one strove to excel all the others.
It is true that our savage life was a precarious one, and full of dreadful catastrophes; however, this never prevented us from enjoying our sports to the fullest extent. As we left our teepees in the morning, we were never sure that our scalps would not dangle from a pole in the afternoon!
It was an uncertain life, to be sure. Yet we observed that the fawns skipped and played happily while the gray wolves might be peeping forth from behind the hills, ready to tear them limb from limb.
Our sports were molded by the life and customs of our people; indeed, we practiced only what we expected to do when grown. Our games were feats with the bow and arrow, foot and pony races, wrestling, swimming and imitation of the customs and habits of our fathers. We had sham fights with mud balls and willow wands; we played lacrosse, made war upon bees, shot winter arrows (which were used only in that season), and coasted upon the ribs of animals and buffalo robes.
No sooner did the boys get together than, as a usual thing, they divided into squads and chose sides; then a leading arrow was shot at random into the air. Before it fell to the ground a volley from the bows of the participants followed. Each player was quick to note the direction and speed of the leading arrow and he tried to send his own at the same speed and at an equal height, so that when it fell it would be closer to the first than any of the others.
It was considered out of place to shoot by first sighting the object aimed at. This was usually impracticable in actual life, because the object was almost always in motion, while the hunter himself was often upon the back of a pony at full gallop. Therefore, it was the off-hand shot that the Indian boy sought to master. There was another game with arrows that was characterized by gambling, and was generally confined to the men.
The races were an every-day occurrence. At noon the boys were usually gathered by some pleasant sheet of water and as soon as the ponies were watered, they were allowed’ to graze for an hour or two, while the boys stripped for their noonday sports. A boy might say to some other whom he considered his equal:
“I can’t run; but I will challenge you to fifty paces.”
A former hero, when beaten, would often explain his defeat by saying: “I drank too much water.”
Boys of all ages were paired for a “spin,” and the little red men cheered on their favorites with spirit.
As soon as this was ended, the pony races followed. All the speedy ponies were picked out and riders chosen. If a boy declined to ride, there would be shouts of derision.
Last of all came the swimming. A little urchin would hang to his pony’s long tail, while the latter, with only his head above water, glided sportively along. Finally the animals were driven into a fine field of grass and we turned our attention to other games.
Lacrosse was an older game and was confined entirely to the Sisseton and Santee Sioux. Shinny, such as is enjoyed by white boys on the ice, is still played on the open prairie by the western Sioux. The “moccasin game,” although sometimes played by the boys, was intended mainly for adults.
The “mud-and-willow” fight was rather a severe and dangerous sport. A lump of soft clay was stuck on the end of a limber and springy willow wand and thrown as boys throw apples from sticks, with considerable force. When there were fifty or a hundred players on each side, the battle became warm; but anything to arouse the bravery of Indian boys seemed to them a good and wholesome diversion.
Wrestling was largely indulged in by us all. It may seem odd, but wrestling was done by a great many boys at once — from ten to any number on a side. It was really a battle, in which each one chose his opponent. The rule was that if a boy sat down, he was let alone, but as long as he remained standing within the field, he was open to an attack. No one struck with the hand, but all manner of tripping with legs and feet and butting with the knees was allowed. Altogether it was an exhausting pastime — fully equal to the American game of football and only the young athlete could really enjoy it.
One of our most curious sports was a war upon the nests of wild bees. We imagined ourselves about to make an attack upon the Ojibways or some tribal foe. We all painted and stole cautiously upon the nest; then, with a rush and war-whoop, sprang upon the object of our attack and endeavored to destroy it. But it seemed that the bees were always on the alert and never entirely surprised, for they always raised quite as many scalps as did their bold assailants! After the onslaught upon the nest was ended, we usually followed it by a pretended scalp dance.
On the occasion of my first experience in this mode of warfare, there were two other little boys who were also novices. One of them particularly was really too young to indulge in an exploit of that kind. As it was the custom of our people, when they killed or wounded an enemy on the battle field, to announce the act in a loud voice, we did the same. My friend, Little Wound (as I will call him, for I do not remember his name), being quite small, was unable to reach the nest until it had been well trampled upon and broken and the insects had made a counter charge with such vigor as to repulse and scatter our numbers in every direction. However, he evidently did not want to retreat without any honors; so he bravely jumped upon the nest and yelled:
“I, the brave Little Wound, to-day kill the only fierce enemy!”
Scarcely were the last words uttered when he screamed as if stabbed to the heart. One of his older companions shouted:
“Dive into the water! Run! Dive into the water!” for there was a lake near by. This advice he obeyed.
When we had reassembled and were indulging in our mimic dance, Little Wound was not allowed to dance. He was considered not to be in existence — he had been killed by our enemies, the Bee tribe. Poor little fellow! His swollen face was sad and ashamed as he sat on a fallen log and watched the dance. Although he might well have styled himself one of the noble dead who had died for their country, yet he was not unmindful that he had screamed, and this weakness would be apt to recur to him many times in the future.
We had some quiet plays which we alternated with the more severe and warlike ones. Among them were throwing wands and snow-arrows. In the winter we coasted much. We had no “double-rippers” or toboggans, but six or seven of the long ribs of a buffalo, fastened together at the larger end, answered all practical purposes. Sometimes a strip of bass-wood bark, four feet long and about six inches wide, was used with considerable skill. We stood on one end and held the other, using the slippery inside of the bark for the outside, and thus coasting down long hills with remarkable speed.
The spinning of tops was one of the all-absorbing winter sports. We made our tops heart-shaped of wood, horn or bone. We whipped them with a long thong of buckskin. The handle was a stick about a foot long and sometimes we whittled the stick to make it spoon-shaped at one end.
We played games with these tops — two to fifty boys at one time. Each whips his top until it hums; then one takes the lead and the rest follow in a sort of obstacle race. The top must spin all the way through. There were bars of snow over which we must pilot our top in the spoon end of our whip; then again we would toss it in the air on to another open spot of ice or smooth snow-crust from twenty to fifty paces away. The top that holds out the longest is the winner.
Sometimes we played “medicine dance.” This, to us, was almost what “playing church” is among white children, but our people seemed to think it an act of irreverence to imitate these dances, therefore performances of this kind were always enjoyed in secret. We used to observe all the important ceremonies and it required something of an actor to reproduce the dramatic features of the dance. The real dances occupied a day and a night, and the program was long and varied, so that it was not easy to execute all the details perfectly; but the Indian children are born imitators.
The boys built an arbor of pine boughs in some out-of-the-way place and at one end of it was a rude lodge. This was the medicine lodge or headquarters. All the initiates were there. At the further end or entrance were the door-keepers or soldiers, as we called them. The members of each lodge entered in a body, standing in single file and facing the headquarters. Each stretched out his right hand and a prayer was offered by the leader, after which they took the places assigned to them.
When the preliminaries had been completed, our leader sounded the big drum and we all said “A-ho-ho-ho!” as a sort of amen. Then the choir began their song and whenever they ended a verse, we all said again “A-ho-ho-ho!” At last they struck up the chorus and we all got upon our feet and began to dance, by simply lifting up one foot and then the other, with a slight swing to the body.
Each boy was representing or imitating some one of the medicine men. We painted and decorated ourselves just as they did and carried bird or squirrel skins, or occasionally live birds and chipmunks as our medicine bags and small white shells or pebbles for medicine charms.
Then the persons to be initiated were brought in and seated, with much ceremony, upon a blanket or buffalo robe. Directly in front of them the ground was levelled smooth and here we laid an old pipe filled with dried leaves for tobacco. Around it we placed the variously colored feathers of the birds we had killed, and cedar and sweet-grass we burned for incense.
Finally those of us who had been selected to perform this ceremony stretched out our arms at full length, holding the sacred medicine bags and aiming them at the new members. After swinging them four times, we shot them suddenly forward, but did not let go. The novices then fell forward on their faces as if dead. Quickly a chorus was struck up and we all joined in a lively dance around the supposed bodies. The girls covered them up with their blankets, thus burying the dead. At last we resurrected them with our charms and led them to their places among the audience. Then came the last general dance and the final feast.
I was often selected as choir-master on these occasions, for I had happened to learn many of the medicine songs and was quite an apt mimic. My grandmother, who was a noted medicine woman of the Turtle lodge, on hearing of these sacrilegious acts (as she called them) warned me that if any of the medicine men should discover them, they would punish me terribly by shriveling my limbs with slow disease.
Occasionally, we also played “white man.” Out knowledge of the pale-face was limited, but we had learned that he brought goods whenever he came and that our people exchanged furs for his merchandise. We also knew that his complexion was pale, that he had short hair on his head and long hair on his face and that he wore coat, trousers, and hat, and did not patronize blankets in the daytime. This was the picture we had formed of the white man.
So we painted two or three of our number with white clay and put on them birchen hats which we sewed up for the occasion; fastened a piece of fur to their chins for a beard and altered their costumes as much as lay within our power. The white of the birch-bark was made to answer for their white shirts. Their merchandise consisted of sand for sugar, wild beans for coffee, dried leaves for tea, pulverized earth for gun-powder, pebbles for bullets and clear water for the dangerous “spirit water.” We traded for these goods with skins of squirrels, rabbits and small birds.
When we played “hunting buffalo” we would send a few good runners off on the open prairie with a supply of meat; then start a few equally swift boys to chase them and capture the food. Once we were engaged in this sport when a real hunt by the men was in progress; yet we did not realize that it was so near until, in the midst of our play, we saw an immense buffalo coming at full speed directly toward us. Our mimic buffalo hunt turned into a very real buffalo scare. Fortunately, we were near the edge of the woods and we soon disappeared among the leaves like a covey of young prairie-chickens and some hid in the bushes while others took refuge in tall trees.
We loved to play in the water. When we had no ponies, we often had swimming matches of our own and sometimes made rafts with which we crossed lakes and rivers. It was a common thing to “duck” a young or timid boy or to carry him into deep water to struggle as best he might.
I remember a perilous ride with a companion on an unmanageable log, when we were both less than seven years old. The older boys had put us on this uncertain bark and pushed us out into the swift current of the river. I cannot speak for my comrade in distress, but I can say now that I would rather ride on a swift bronco any day than try to stay on and steady a short log in a river. I never knew how we managed to prevent a shipwreck on that voyage and to reach the shore.
We had many curious wild pets. There were young foxes, bears, wolves, raccoons, fawns, buffalo calves and birds of all kinds, tamed by various boys. My pets were different at different times, but I particularly remember one. I once had a grizzly bear for a pet and so far as he and I were concerned, our relations were charming and very close. But I hardly know whether he made more enemies for me or I for him. It was his habit to treat every boy unmercifully who injured me. He was despised for his conduct in my interest and I was hated on account of his interference.
HATANNA was the brother with whom I passed much of my early childhood. From the time that I was old enough to play with boys, this brother was my close companion. He was a handsome boy, and an affectionate comrade. We played together, slept together and ate together; and as Chatanna was three years the older, I naturally looked up to him as to a superior.
Oesedah was a beautiful little character. She was my cousin, and four years younger than myself. Perhaps none of my early playmates are more vividly remembered than is this little maiden.
The name given her by a noted medicine-man was Makah-oesetopah-win. It means The-four-corners-of-the-earth. As she was rather small, the abbreviation with a diminutive termination was considered more appropriate, hence Oesedah became her common name.
Although she had a very good mother, Uncheedah was her efficient teacher and chaperone. Such knowledge as my grandmother deemed suitable to a maiden was duly impressed upon her susceptible mind. When I was not in the woods with Chatanna, Oesedah was my companion at home; and when I returned from my play at evening, she would have a hundred questions ready for me to answer. Some of these were questions concerning our every-day life, and others were more difficult problems which had suddenly dawned upon her active little mind. Whatever had occurred to interest her during the day was immediately repeated for my benefit.
There were certain questions upon which Oesedah held me to be authority, and asked with the hope of increasing her little store of knowledge. I have often heard her declare to her girl companions: “I know it is true; Ohiyesa said so!” Uncheedah was partly responsible for this, for when any questions came up which lay within the sphere of man’s observation, she would say:
“Ohiyesa ought to know that: he is a man — I am not! You had better ask him.”
The truth was that she had herself explained to me many of the subjects under discussion.
I was occasionally referred to little Oesedah in the same manner, and I always accepted her childish elucidations of any matter upon which I had been advised to consult her, because I knew the source of her wisdom. In this simple way we were made to be teachers of one another.
Very often we discussed some topic before our common instructor, or answered her questions together, in order to show which had the readier mind.
“To what tribe does the lizard belong?” inquired Uncheedah, upon one of these occasions.
“To the four-legged tribe,” I shouted.
Oesedah, with her usual quickness, flashed out the answer:
“It belongs to the creeping tribe.”
The Indians divided all animals into four general classes: 1st, those that walk upon four legs; 2nd, those that fly; 3rd, those that swim with fins; 4th, those that creep.
Of course I endeavored to support my assertion that the lizard belongs where I had placed it, because he has four distinct legs which propel him everywhere, on the ground or in the water. But my opponent claimed that the creature under dispute does not walk, but creeps. My strongest argument was that it had legs; but Oesedah insisted that its body touches the ground as it moves. As a last resort, I volunteered to go find one, and demonstrate the point in question.
The lizard having been brought, we smoothed off the ground and strewed ashes on it so that we could see the track. Then I raised the question:
“What constitutes creeping, and what constitutes walking?”
Uncheedah was the judge, and she stated, without any hesitation, that an animal must stand clear of the ground on the support of its legs, and walk with the body above the legs, and not in contact with the ground, in order to be termed a walker; while a creeper is one that, regardless of its legs, if it has them, drags its body upon the ground. Upon hearing the judge’s decision, I yielded at once to my opponent.
At another time, when I was engaged in a similar discussion with my brother Chatanna, Oesedah came to my rescue. Our grandmother had asked us:
“What bird shows most judgment in caring for its young?”
Chatanna at once exclaimed:
“The eagle!” but I held my peace for a moment, because I was confused — so many birds came into my mind at once. I finally declared:
“It is the oriole.”
Chatanna was asked to state all the evidence that he had in support of the eagle’s good sense in rearing its young. He proceeded with an air of confidence:
“The eagle is the wisest of all birds. Its nest is made in the safest possible place, upon a high and inaccessible cliff. It provides its young with an abundance of fresh meat. They have the freshest of air. They are brought up under the spell of the grandest scenes, and inspired with lofty feelings and bravery. They see that all other beings live beneath them, and that they are the children of the King of Birds. A young eagle shows the spirit of a warrior while still in the nest.
“Being exposed to the inclemency of the weather the young eaglets are hardy. They are accustomed to hear the mutterings of the Thunder Bird and the sighings of the Great Mystery. Why, the little eagles cannot help being as noble as they are, because their parents selected for them so lofty and inspiring a home! How happy they must be when they find themselves above the clouds, and behold the zig-zag flashes of lightning all about them! It must be nice to taste a piece of fresh meat up in their cool home, in the burning summer-time! Then when they drop down the bones of the game they feed upon, wolves and vultures gather beneath them, feeding upon their refuse. That alone would show them their chieftainship over all the other birds. Isn’t that so, grandmother?” Thus triumphantly he concluded his argument.
I was staggered at first by the noble speech of Chatanna, but I soon recovered from its effects. The little Oesedah came to my aid by saying “Wait until Ohiyesa tells of the loveliness of the beautiful Oriole’s home!” This timely remark gave me courage and I began:
“My grandmother, who was it said that a mother who has a gentle and sweet voice will have children of a good disposition? I think the oriole is that kind of a parent. It provides both sunshine and shadow for its young. Its nest is suspended from the prettiest bough of the most graceful tree, where it is rocked by the gentle winds; and the one we found yesterday was beautifully lined with soft things, both deep and warm, so that the little featherless birdies cannot suffer from the cold and wet.”
Here Chatanna interrupted me to exclaim:
“That is just like the white people — who cares for them? The eagle teaches its young to be accustomed to hardships, like young warriors!”
Ohiyesa was provoked; he reproached his brother and appealed to the judge, saying that he had not finished yet.
“But you would not have lived, Chatanna, if you had been exposed like that when you were a baby! The oriole shows wisdom in providing for its children a good, comfortable home! A home upon a high rock would not be pleasant — it would be cold! We climbed a mountain once, and it was cold there; and who would care to stay in such a place when it storms? What wisdom is there in having a pile of rough sticks upon a bare rock, surrounded with ill-smelling bones of animals, for a home? Also, my uncle says that the eaglets seem always to be on the point of starvation. You have heard that whoever lives on game killed by some one else is compared to an eagle. Isn’t that so, grandmother?”
“The oriole suspends its nest from the lower side of a horizontal bough so that no enemy can approach it. It enjoys peace and beauty and safety.”
Oesedah was at Ohiyesa’s side during the discussion, and occasionally whispered into his ear Uncheedah decided this time in favor of Ohiyesa.
We were once very short of provisions in the winter time. My uncle, our only means of support, was sick; and besides, we were separated from the rest of the tribe and in a region where there was little game of any kind. Oesedah had a pet squirrel, and as soon as we began to economize our food had given portions of her allowance to her pet.
At last we were reduced very much, and the prospect of obtaining anything soon being gloomy, my grandmother reluctantly suggested that the squirrel should be killed for food. Thereupon my little cousin cried, and said:
“Why cannot we all die alike wanting? The squirrel’s life is as dear to him as ours to us,” and clung to it. Fortunately, relief came in time to save her pet.
Oesedah lived with us for a portion of the year, and as there were no other girls in the family she played much alone, and had many imaginary companions. At one time there was a small willow tree which she visited regularly, holding long conversations, a part of which she would afterward repeat to me. She said the willow tree was her husband, whom some magic had compelled to take that form; but no grown person was ever allowed to share her secret.
When I was about eight years old I had for a playmate the adopted son of a Sioux, who was a white captive. This boy was quite a noted personage, although he was then only about ten or eleven years of age. When I first became acquainted with him we were on the upper Missouri river. I learned from him that he had been taken on the plains, and that both of his parents were killed.
He was at first sad and lonely, but soon found plenty of consolation in his new home. The name of his adopted father was “Keeps-the-Spotted-Ponies.” He was known to have an unusual number of the pretty calico ponies; indeed, he had a passion for accumulating property in the shape of ponies, painted tents, decorated saddles and all sorts of finery. He had lost his only son; but the little pale-face became the adopted brother of two handsome young women, his daughters. This made him quite popular among the young warriors. He was not slow to adopt the Indian customs, and he acquired the Sioux language in a short time.
I well remember hearing of his first experience of war. He was not more than sixteen when he joined a war-party against the Gros-Ventres and Mandans. My uncle reported that he was very brave until he was wounded in the ankle; then he begged with tears to be taken back to a safe place. Fortunately for him, his adopted father came to the rescue, and saved him at the risk of his own life. He was called the “pale-face Indian.” His hair grew very long and he lavished paint on his face and hair so that no one might suspect that he was a white man.
One day this boy was playing a gambling game with one of the Sioux warriors. He was an expert gambler, and won everything from the Indian. At a certain point a dispute arose. The Indian was very angry, for he discovered that his fellow-player had deliberately cheated him. The Indians were strictly honest in those days, even in their gambling.
The boy declared that he had merely performed a trick for the benefit of his friend, but it nearly cost him his life. The indignant warrior had already drawn his bow-string with the intention of shooting the captive, but a third person intervened and saved the boy’s life. He at once explained his trick; and in order to show himself an honorable gambler, gave back all the articles that he had won from his opponent. In the midst of the confusion, old “Keeps-the-Spotted-Ponies” came rushing through the crowd in a state of great excitement. He thought his pale-face son had been killed. When he saw how matters stood, he gave the aggrieved warrior a pony, “in order,” as he said, “that there may be no shadow between him and my son.”
One spring my uncle took Chatanna to the Canadian trading-post on the Assiniboine river, where he went to trade off his furs for ammunition and other commodities. When he came back, my brother was not with him!
At first my fears were even worse than the reality. The facts were these: A Canadian with whom my uncle had traded much had six daughters and no son; and when he saw this handsome and intelligent little fellow, he at once offered to adopt him.
“I have no boy in my family,” said he, “and I will deal with him as with a son. I am always in these regions trading; so you can see him two or three times in a year.”
He further assured my uncle that the possession of the boy would greatly strengthen their friendship. The matter was finally agreed upon. At first Chatanna was unwilling, but as we were taught to follow the advice of our parents and guardians, he was obliged to yield.
This was a severe blow to me, and for a long time I could not be consoled. Uncheedah was fully in sympathy with my distress. She argued that the white man’s education was not desirable for her boys; in fact, she urged her son so strongly to go back after Chatanna that he promised on his next visit to the post to bring him home again.
But the trader was a shrewd man. He immediately moved to another part of the country; and I never saw my Chatanna, the companion of my childhood, again! We learned afterward that he grew up and was married; but one day he lost his way in a blizzard and was frozen to death.
My little cousin and I went to school together in later years; but she could not endure the confinement of the school-room. Although apparently very happy, she suffered greatly from the change to an indoor life, as have many of our people, and died six months after our return to the United States.
IT will be no exaggeration to say that the life of the Indian hunter was a life of fascination. From the moment that he lost sight of his rude home in the midst of the forest, his untutored mind lost itself in the myriad beauties and forces of nature. Yet he never forgot his personal danger from some lurking foe or savage beast, however absorbing was his passion for the chase.
The Indian youth was a born hunter. Every motion, every step expressed an inborn dignity and, at the same time, a depth of native caution. His moccasined foot fell like the velvet paw of a cat — noiselessly; his glittering black eyes scanned every object that appeared within their view. Not a bird, not even a chipmunk, escaped their piercing glance.
I was scarcely over three years old when I stood one morning just outside our buffalo-skin teepee, with my little bow and arrows in my hand, and gazed up among the trees. Suddenly the instinct to chase and kill seized me powerfully. Just then a bird flew over my head and then another caught my eye, as it balanced itself upon a swaying bough. Everything else was forgotten and in that moment I had taken my first step as a hunter.
There was almost as much difference between the Indian boys who were brought up on the open prairies and those of the woods, as between city and country boys. The hunting of the prairie boys was limited and their knowledge of natural history imperfect. They were, as a rule, good riders, but in all-round physical development much inferior to the red men of the forest.
Our hunting varied with the season of the year, and the nature of the country which was for the time our home. Our chief weapon was the bow and arrows, and perhaps, if we were lucky, a knife was possessed by some one in the crowd. In the olden times, knives and hatchets were made from bone and sharp stones.
For fire we used a flint with a spongy piece of dry wood and a stone to strike with. Another way of starting fire was for several of the boys to sit down in a circle and rub two pieces of dry, spongy wood together, one after another, until the wood took fire.
We hunted in company a great deal, though it was a common thing for a boy to set out for the woods quite alone, and he usually enjoyed himself fully as much. Our game consisted mainly of small birds, rabbits, squirrels and grouse. Fishing, too, occupied much of our time. We hardly ever passed a creek or a pond without searching for some signs of fish. When fish were present, we always managed to get some. Fish-lines were made of wild hemp, sinew or horse-hair. We either caught fish with lines, snared or speared them, or shot them with bow and arrows. In the fall we charmed them up to the surface by gently tickling them with a stick and quickly threw them out. We have sometimes dammed the brooks and driven the larger fish into a willow basket made for that purpose.
It was part of our hunting to find new and strange things in the woods. We examined the slightest sign of life; and if a bird had scratched the leaves off the ground, or a bear dragged up a root for his morning meal, we stopped to speculate on the time it was done. If we saw a large old tree with some scratches on its bark, we concluded that a bear or some raccoons must be living there. In that case we did not go any nearer than was necessary, but later reported the incident at home. An old deer-track would at once bring on a warm discussion as to whether it was the track of a buck or a doe. Generally, at noon, we met and compared our game, noting at the same time the peculiar characteristics of everything we had killed. It was not merely a hunt, for we combined with it the study of animal life. We also kept strict account of our game, and thus learned who were the best shots among the boys.
I am sorry to say that we were merciless toward the birds. We often took their eggs and their young ones. My brother Chatanna and I once had a disagreeable adventure while bird-hunting. We were accustomed to catch in our hands young ducks and geese during the summer, and while doing this we happened to find a crane’s nest. Of course, we were delighted with our good luck. But, as it was already midsummer, the young cranes — two in number — were rather large and they were a little way from the nest; we also observed that the two old cranes were in a swampy place near by; but, as it was moulting-time, we did not suppose that they would venture on dry land. So we proceeded to chase the young birds; but they were fleet runners and it took us some time to come up with them.
Meanwhile, the parent birds had heard the cries of their little ones and come to their rescue. They were chasing us, while we followed the birds. It was really a perilous encounter! Our strong bows finally gained the victory in a hand-to-hand struggle with the angry cranes; but after that we hardly ever hunted a crane’s nest. Almost all birds make some resistance when their eggs or young are taken, but they will seldom attack man fearlessly.
We used to climb large trees for birds of all kinds; but we never undertook to get young owls unless they were on the ground. The hooting owl especially is a dangerous bird to attack under these circumstances.
I was once trying to catch a yellow-winged wood-pecker in its nest when my arm became twisted and lodged in the deep hole so that I could not get it out without the aid of a knife; but we were a long way from home and my only companion was a deaf mute cousin of mine. I was about fifty feet up in the tree, in a very uncomfortable position, but I had to wait there for more than an hour before he brought me the knife with which I finally released myself.
Our devices for trapping small animals were rude, but they were often successful. For instance, we used to gather up a peck or so of large, sharp-pointed burrs and scatter them in the rabbit’s furrow-like path. In the morning, we would find the little fellow sitting quietly in his tracks, unable to move, for the burrs stuck to his feet.
Another way of snaring rabbits and grouse was the following: we made nooses of twisted horsehair, which we tied very firmly to the top of a limber young tree, then bent the latter down to the track and fastened the whole with a slip-knot, after adjusting the noose. When the rabbit runs his head through the noose, he pulls the slip-knot and is quickly carried up by the spring of the young tree. This is a good plan, for the rabbit is out of harm’s way as he swings high in the air.
Perhaps the most enjoyable of all was the chipmunk hunt. We killed these animals at any time of year, but the special time to hunt them was in March. After the first thaw, the chipmunks burrow a hole through the snow crust and make their first appearance for the season. Sometimes as many as fifty will come together and hold a social reunion. These gatherings occur early in the morning, from daybreak to about nine o’clock.
We boys learned this, among other secrets of nature, and got our blunt-headed arrows together in good season for the chipmunk expedition.
We generally went in groups of six to a dozen or fifteen, to see which would get the most. On the evening before, we selected several boys who could imitate the chipmunk’s call with wild oat-straws and each of these provided himself with a supply of straws.
The crust will hold the boys nicely at this time of the year. Bright and early, they all come together at the appointed place, from which each group starts out in a different direction, agreeing to meet somewhere at a given position of the sun.
My first experience of this kind is still well remembered. It was a fine crisp March morning, and the sun had not yet shown himself among the distant tree-tops as we hurried along through the ghostly wood. Presently we arrived at a place
where there were many signs of the animals. Then each of us selected a tree and took up his position behind it. The chipmunk caller sat upon a log as motionless as he could, and began to call.
Soon we heard the patter of little feet on the hard snow; then we saw the chipmunks approaching from all directions. Some stopped and ran experimentally up a tree or a log, as if uncertain of the exact direction of the call; others chased one another about.
In a few minutes, the chipmunk-caller was besieged with them. Some ran all over his person, others under him and still others ran up the tree against which he was sitting. Each boy remained immovable until their leader gave the signal; then a great shout arose, and the chipmunks in their flight all ran up the different trees.
Now the shooting-match began. The little creatures seemed to realize their hopeless position; they would try again and again to come down the trees and flee away from the deadly aim of the youthful hunters. But they were shot down very fast; and whenever several of them rushed toward the ground, the little red-skin hugged the tree and yelled frantically to scare them up again.
Each boy shoots always against the trunk of the tree, so that the arrow may bound back to him every time; otherwise, when he had shot away all of them, he would be helpless, and another, who had cleared his own tree, would come and take away his game, so there was warm competition. Sometimes a desperate chipmunk would jump from the top of the tree in order to escape, which was considered a joke on the boy who lost it and a triumph for the brave little animal. At last all were killed or gone, and then we went on to another place, keeping up the sport until the sun came out and the chipmunks refused to answer the call.
When we went out on the prairies we had a different and less lively kind of sport. We used to snare with horse-hair and bow-strings all the small ground animals, including the prairie-dog. We both snared and shot them. Once a little boy set a snare for one, and lay flat on the ground a little way from the hole, holding the end of the string. Presently he felt something move and pulled in a huge rattlesnake; and to this day, his name is “Caught-the-Rattlesnake.” Very often a boy got a new name in some such manner. At another time, we were playing in the woods and found a fawn’s track. We followed and caught it while asleep; but in the struggle to get away, it kicked one boy, who is still called “Kicked-by-the-Fawn.”
It became a necessary part of our education to learn to prepare a meal while out hunting. It is a fact that most Indians will eat the liver and some other portions of large animals raw, but they do not eat fish or birds uncooked. Neither will they eat a frog, or an eel. On our boyish hunts, we often went on until we found ourselves a long way from our camp, when we would kindle a fire and roast a part of our game.
Generally we broiled our meat over the coals on a stick. We roasted some of it over the open fire. But the best way to cook fish and birds is in the ashes, under a big fire. We take the fish fresh from the creek or lake, have a good fire on the sand, dig in the sandy ashes and bury it deep. The same thing is done in case of a bird, only we wet the feathers first. When it is done, the scales or feathers and skin are stripped off whole, and the delicious meat retains all its juices and flavor. We pulled it off as we ate, leaving the bones undisturbed.
Our people had also a method of boiling without pots or kettles. A large piece of tripe was thoroughly washed and the ends tied, then suspended between four stakes driven into the ground and filled with cold water. The meat was then placed in this novel receptacle and boiled by means of the addition of red-hot stones.
Chatanna was a good hunter. He called the doe and fawn beautifully by using a thin leaf of birch-bark between two flattened sticks. One morning we found the tracks of a doe and fawn who had passed within the hour, for the light dew was brushed from the grass.
“What shall we do?” I asked. “Shall we go back to the teepee and tell uncle to bring his gun?”
“No, no!” exclaimed Chatanna. “Did not our people kill deer and buffalo long ago without guns? We will entice her into this open space, and, while she stands bewildered, I can throw my lasso line over her head.”
He had called only a few seconds when the fawn emerged from the thick woods and stood before us, prettier than a picture. Then I uttered the call, and she threw her tobacco-leaf-like ears toward me, while Chatanna threw his lasso. She gave one scream and launched forth into the air, almost throwing the boy hunter to the ground. Again and again she flung herself desperately into the air, but at last we led her to the nearest tree and tied her securely.
“Now,” said he, “go and get our pets and see what they will do.”
At that time he had a good-sized black bear partly tamed, while I had a young red fox and my faithful Ohitika or Brave. I untied Chagoo, the bear, and Wanahon, the fox, while Ohitika got up and welcomed me by wagging his tail in a dignified way.
“Come,” I said, “all three of you. I think we have something you would all like to see.”
They seemed to understand me, for Chagoo began to pull his rope with both paws, while Wanahon undertook the task of digging up by the roots the sapling to which I had tied hint
Before we got to the open spot, we already heard Ohitika’s joyous bark, and the two wild pets began to run, and pulled me along through the underbrush. Chagoo soon assumed the utmost precaution and walked as if he had splinters in his soles, while Wanahon kept his nose down low and sneaked through the trees.
Out into the open glade we came, and there, before the three rogues, stood the little innocent fawn. She visibly trembled at the sight of the motley group. The two human rogues looked to her, I presume, just as hard as the other three. Chagoo regarded her with a mixture of curiosity and defiance, while Wanahon stood as if rooted to the ground, evidently planning how to get at her. But Ohitika (Brave), generous Ohitika, his occasional barking was only in jest. He did not care to touch the helpless thing.
Suddenly the fawn sprang high into the air and then dropped her pretty head on the ground.
“Ohiyesa, the fawn is dead,” cried Chatanna. “I wanted to keep her.”
“It is a shame,” I chimed in.
guilty ones came and stood around her helpless form. We all looked very
sorry; even Chagoo’s eyes showed repentance and regret. As for Ohitika,
he gave two great sighs and then betook himself to a respectful
distance. Chatanna had two big tears gradually swamping his long, black
eye-lashes; and I thought it was time to hide my face, for I did not
want him to look at me.