RED SKINS AND PALE FACES
Howlin´ Wolf, i.e Chester Arthur Burnett (1910-1976), was great in several meanings of the word. Not only was he one and ninety-eight centimetres tall, weighed one hundred and twenty-five kilograms and had fifty-one in shoe number. Howlin´ Wolf was also one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, a resident of the blues' Parnassus where he shares company with the foremost among the Delta - and Chicago blues men. As Louis Armstrong was jazz, Howlin´ Wolf was blues; a rhythmic genius who became part of a chain connecingt a vast array of other musical genres. An inspiration for giants like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop, or unforgettable rock bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Rolling Stones. It was the great Stones fan Stefan Tell who when we were classmates introduced me to Howlin´ Wolf. Since then, I have never become tired of listening to Howlin´Wolf and the other blues masters of his generation – Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and John Lee Hooker. All coming from the state of Mississippi, with hard lives behind them and roots deep down in the soil and misery of the South, which strength, pain and depth they interpreted and spread through their masterful musicality.
No wonder when I recently in a magazine came across a drawing by Howling Wolf came to wonder if the great blues artist had been an able draftsman as well, but it turned out that it was not the great Chester Burnett who artist who created the artwork but a Cheyenne Indian who went by the same . What Chester Arthur Burnett had in common with the Wolf maybe not more than the name, ythogh both had in reality another the name. The one of the Cheyenne's was Ho-na-nist-to. Another unifying factor was, of course, that they both belonged to population groups that often have been victims of the contempt from many members of the "white" majority of their country. In addition, Chester Arthur Burnett, like many other blacks from The Deep South, had some Native American ancestry – his grandfather was a Choktaw, the largest indigenous population of Mississippi.
Howling Wolf´s picture had been with ink and watercolor on a lined sheet similar to those in my childhood´s school notebooks. The colours and the sharp contour lines reminded me of the hundreds of drawings I used to sit and tinker with when I got home from school. A habit that I certainly shared with a lot of other children of my age. But Howling Wolf's drawings were based on a specific tradition and imbued with an elegant and ornamental character that made them far from being "childish". They were part of a genre I found to have been exercised by more artists than Howling Wolf. It was Native American prisoners who practiced this so-called ledger art, so-called because most of the preserved drawings had been made on pages from second-hand ledgers they had been given in the forts and penitentiaries where they had been incarcerated.
Soon I found several ledger artworks and while looking at them I remembered the great in Native American I nurtured during my childhood and early youth. I did not start speaking until several months after I had turned three and I did not learn how to read until I began school at seven years. However, after I started talking I have seldom kept quiet and as soon as I had learned to read I have at the slightest opportunity to do so devoured book after book, and continued to do so, becoming nervous if I do not have any reading material at hand.
Shortly after learning to read, I immersed myself in an all-encompassing interest in "wild animals" and "Indians." I stepped far into one "Indian adventure" after another and had soon absorbed all of Edward S. Ellis's books about Deer Foot. Those that were published by B. Wahlström's Youth Books and had green spines to indicate they were boys' reading. Girls´ books had red spines.
I owned a war bonnet and was particularly fond of a small rifle, I imagined it looked like the one Simon Kenton had owned, one of the heroes in the Deer Foot books, carrying it with him when he, in the early nineteenth century, with his friend, the Christian Shawnee Deerfoot, was sneeking around in the unpaved, primeval forests along the Kentucky and Ohio rivers. The fur trader and pathfinder Kenton and his faithful Indian friend were constantly threatened by unreliable and murderous warriors from the pagan Iroquois tribe, who, unlike the noble Deer Foot, hated white settlers, whom they gladly slaughtered as soon as they came across them.
I remember how I tried to make my steps as quiet av Deer Foot's when I passed through tmy childhood´s beech forests. I drew scenes from the Indian books and played with my Native American figurines in the mountain landscapes my father had for me by chicken nets and plaster. Since Dad was the night editor of the local paper he stayed at home during the day and when I came back from school he had time to play with me.
Of course, I also read Fenimore Cooper and Karl May and a lot of other authors who had written thrilling tales about Native American book and at the movie matinees I and my friends cheered when the redskins appeared. It was until when I received from my father received the yearbooks of Indianklubben. The Indian Club, that I began to realize who the Native Americans really had been and still are. Those books contained exciting and often outrageous depictions of a different reality than the one described in my adventure stories and Indians gradually became into “real” people.
I also read the Indianklubben´s “special editions”, such as George Catlin's fascinating Medicine Men and Warriors written in 1841, in which the artist Catlin sympathetically and with insight portrayed his travels among various Native American peoples living on the prairies, their lives and thoughts – open-minded and curious he succeeded iun describing their lifestyle in a manner that apperntly was free from paternalism and chauvinsim. When it was exhibited in Paris in 1846, none other than the great poet and art connoisseur Charles Baudelaire, became impressed by Catlin's portrait of Stu-mick-o-súcks, warlord of the Blackfeet Káínawa klan:
Mr. Catlin has in an excellent manner succeed in depicting the proud and straightforward character, as well as noble expression of this brave people. […] Through their beautiful appearance and the boldness of their body language, these savages make us realize the beauty of ancient sculptures. When it comes to colour, it has something mysterious about it that appeals to me more than I can express.
The chief's strange name was translated with the Bison's Back Fat, but it is not as strange as it sounds since the bison's back hump was considered to be a great delicacy and the name was thus an honorary title.
Another of The Indian Club's Best Choice was the Swedish author Albert Widén's The Swedes and the Sioux Uprising, a book that deepened what I already had learned from Stig Ericsson's fairly simple adventure story The Indian Rebellion. When I much later encountered the far superior Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg's emigrant epic, written between 1951 and 1961, I carried with me impressions from Widén's depictions of the cultural crash between Swedish settlers and the desperate Sioux warriors. In Moberg's Last Letter Home, there is a poignant description of the mass execution of thirty-eight Dakota warriors:
It was a cold winter morning with a biting Northern sweeping from the praries across the prison yard. The prisoners were brought out in a group, their hands tied behind their backs. Not one of them uttered a defiant word. As soon as they were in the yard they saw before them the large gallows with the rops swaying in the wind. Then a stir went through the group: They began to sing. All at one time. They were singing their death song in unison.
An eerie penetrating sound came from the condemned prisoners´ throats; it sounded like a prolonged ij: ijiji – ijiji – ijiji. One single syllable of complaint, the eternal, sad ijijiji – ijijiji – ijiji – ijiji. The Indians were singing their death song. It came from thirty-eight human throats, it was thirty-eight beings´final utterance: ijiji – ijiji -ijiji.
The prisoners approached the great gallow – the iron ring with the thirty-eight swinging ropes – and they sang uninterruptedly as they walked, they sang the whole way. They sang as they climbed the scaffold, they sang as they stood under the ropes, they continued to sing as the ropes were placed around their necks. They sang in their lives last minute.
Like Moberg's narrative, Widén's descriptions of Native Americans were based on a solid familiarity with preserved sources about Swedish American migration – letters, diaries and scientific literature. Nevertheless, Widén's storytelling is quite different from Moberg's and his tale is far too stereotyped for my taste, something I dound out when I now after fifty-fours years reared his book and numerous articles in the yearbooks of the Indianklubben.
I get the feeling that Widén that even if he tries to nuance older Native American representations and convey a positive image of the America´s indigenous peoples his views are hopelessly lost in tenacious conventions tinged by Swedish chauvinism, The last is apparent in his often repeated statements that Swedes in general revealed a great tolerance towards Sioux and other indigenous peoples, something that certainly not always have been the case. Likewise, Widén's efforts to nuance the "common image of the Indian" easily lapsed into the cliche of the "noble savage." A tendency that is noticeable in most of the essays in the Indian Club's yearbooks, which in addition were almost entirely male-dominated. When I flip through all 18 books in the series I only find contributions from two women.
Anyhow, Widén managed to convey the feeling of desperation among starving Sioux who had experienced how the bison have disappeared from their hunting grounds, while settlers cut down the forests, cultivated the land, fished in their waters and shot their game. When merchants and politicians cheated them of the treaty money and necessities they were promised when they gave up their land and equal rights, the patience of several Sioux and Cheyenne warriors broke down. A wave of violence swept across central and southern Minnesota. An estimated 800 settlers were killed, including several Swedes and Norwegians, while more than 30,000 fled to the east in panic, among them were at least 3,000 Swedish immigrants.
The counter-reaction of the US central government became violent and ruthless. It led to several massacres on the indigenous population and imprisonment of the "rebel leaders". Following a summary trial, 303 Dakota warriors were sentenced to death. Following a call for "mercy to prevail" Minnesota's Anglican Bishop Henry Whipple succeeded in persuading President Lincoln to sanction the public hanging of “only” 38 “mass murderers” in the town of Mankato. The verdict was executed on December 26, 1862. It is and was the largest collective mass execution that has taken place in the US. Significantly, it affected an entire group of people, instead of individuals. It was "Indians" who were executed, not people like you and me.
It is not easy to find the individual behind the templates, something I assume has been experienced by most fellow human beings belonging to more or less powerless population – to be constantly forced to carry a stamp on skin and soul as “Indian”, “Negro”, “Chinese”, “Alien”, “Infidel”, in other words – a stranger. Vine Deloria (1933-2005) who was a Sioux has described such a feeling in several books:
The problem of stereotyping is not so much a racial problem as it is a problem of limited perspective. Even through minority groups have suffered in the past by ridiculous characterizations of themselves by white society, they must not fall into the same trap by simply reversing the process that has stereotyped them. Minority groups must thrust through the rhetorical blockade by creating themselves a sense of ”peoplehood.” This ultimately means the creation of a new history and not mere amendments to the historical interpretation of white America.
The second volume in the book series The Best of the Indian Club was Thomas B. Marquis's Wooden Leg: A Worrier Who Fought Custer. I was also prepared for that reading after reading an adventure book about Indians. In that case, it had been Harry Kullman's Buffalo Bill, which was actually more effectively and excitingly told than the Deer Foot books. For being written in the fifties it was also surprisingly nuanced in its description of Native Americans, maybe due to the fact that as writer for “young readers” Kullman did not hide his “socialist” convictions.
Kullman made me read Marquis' book, which was based on interviews with several elderly Cheyennes who had participated in the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, when all 235 soldiers from one of the Seventh Cavalry's three battalions, as well as their leader, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, were killed to the last man. The Hunkpapa-Lakota Sioux leader Gall, who Kullman in his novel wrongly claimed had been chased and eventually killed by Buffalo Bill, also took part in that battle. In fact, Gall escaped the revenge of the US Army by fleeing to Canada, where he actually was contacted by Buffalo Bill Cody who offered him amployment in his Wild West Show. Unlike Sitting Bull, Gall declined the offer, stating that “I am not an animal and can thus refuse to be exposed to a paying audience.” Gall later returned to the United States where became both a settled farmer and a judge, before dying in 1895.
It was when Thomas Marquis was working as a doctor in various reservations for indigenous people of Montana that he came in contact with Cheyennes who had taken part in the so-called Great Sioux War, which included the Battle of Little Bighorn. Several of Marquis' informants were excellent narrators and his account of their experiences, as well as his own research into the customs and practices of the Cheyenne, became exciting reading for young Indian fan.
In early 1922, the Marquis ended up in the Indian Agency of the Lame Deer Reservation, where he opened a medical practice. Most of his patients were poor and in an appalling state of health, abandoned and without illusions. In addition, Dr. Marquis appeared during an unusually extensive tuberculosis epidemic, which during his time in the reserve during several years reaped an elevated number of casualties.
At first the Cheyenne were distrustful of the white doctor. However, when Marquis showed them understanding and respect and also demonstrated his interest in their customs and history, he won the trust of several of them. Those who could speak English put Marquis in touch with old warriors who could tell him about what interested him most of all – their war against the US army. Soon Marquis was able to speak the Cheyenne language, wrote down the stories of the ancients, and began publishing books about their lives and history. Below is a photo taken by Marquis presenting how the veterans Little Sun, Wolf Chief, Big Beaver and Richard Wooden Leg are studying a map of the area around the Little Big Horn. All had been present during the fight. In their hands they have fans made from eagle wings.
While I read about Marquis during these worrisome COVID-19 times, I find that it was its deadly predecessor, The Spanish Flu, which between March 1918 and June 1920 harvested between 50 and 100 million deaths worldwide, which brought Thomas B. Marquis to Montana. As a young doctor, he had volunteered to participate in what eventually became World War I, but instead of being sent to France Marquis had to care of recruits who dying like flies in a camp near the city of Lytle in Georgia.
In Haskell County, a municipality with 1,720 inhabitants, Dr. Loring Miner had in February 1918 found that a number of his patients had contracted an aggressive influenza which for several of them developed into a form of fatal pneumonia. Loring suspected that the disease was spreading from sick pigs and in a detailed report communicated his concerns to the authorities. Loring suspected that he had discovered the source of what might develop into an extremely contagious and deadly epidemic. His warnings were ignored.
At Funston, fifty miles from Haskell, was a huge military camp with more than 56,000 recruits waiting to be shipped to the French battlefields. Several Haskell residents visited sons and relatives in the camp and soon soldiers began to die of pneumonia. On March 18, the infection reached the Forrest and Greenleaf Camps in Georgia, where the army sent Thomas Marquis.
When Thomas Marquis in August 1918 finally arrived in Europe, he was sent as an "expert on the Spanish Flu" to the large hotels on the French Riviera, which now served as hospitals for terminally ill soldiers. When Marquis in June 1919 returned to the US, he too was seriously ill with the deadly flu. When he had recovered Marquis wanted to get as far away as possible from soldiers and mass deaths and thus ended up in remote Montana.
Among the Cheyenne, the Marquis found the prairie culture that has become the archetype of people's perception of the North American Indian, despite the wide variety of different cultures, customs, and languages embraced by the Native Americans. It was a nomadic buffalo-hunting and horse dependent culture that had developed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and came to shape the lives of population groups like the Sioux, Blackfoot, Apache, Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples.
If people in general imagine an “Indian”, they see a mounted figure with a magnificent war bonnet, an adventurously romantic appearance, which has become the symbol of a noble, unbound and eloquent character living in close contact and harmony with nature. Nevertheless, that image also has its obverse in howling lunatics whose reckless murderous and scalping bestiality afflicted hapless settlers, who if they were fortunate enough could be rescued by Blue Coats in the service of US Army´s audacious and heroic cavalry.
The horse and the buffalo had radically changed the way of life of the Cheyenne. Like several other Prairie Indians, they had previously lived in forest areas south of the vast lakes of Michigan and Erie, where they had subsisted on crops of corn, zucchini, beans and rice, as well as fishing, hunting and gathering what they found in the forest. During the seventeenth century they had begun to move westward, probably forced to do so due to strife and displacement caused by the expansion of the well-organized Iroquois.
Struggles between Native American groups were apparently endemic and marked by raids into neighboring territories, kidnappings, ritual torture, and envy that could be manifested through violent cruelty. However, this did not prevent traditional “enemies” from spending time in peaceful coexistence. As in several other places in America, the Cheyenne lived in the neighborhood of other groups with languages that were incomprehensible to them, with different beliefs and traditions, something that nevertheless did not hinder marriages, as well as the exchange of ideas, experiences and goods.
Like many other groups of Native Americans, the Cheyenne believed it had been a prophet who once had made them change their way of life. Tomȯsévėséhe, Upright Horn, had been bestowed a vision telling him that the Cheyenne, like the people of the prairies, must unite and find strength though the Sun. By the end of spring they the entire Cheyenne nation had to gather to seek wisdom and insights through the purification and power bestowed upin them by the almighty Sun. After undergoing such an experience, Tomȯsévėséhe had became a medicine man, realizing that the Cheyenne had to leave the huts of plait and clay in which they were living and instead make conical teepes made out of buffalo hides, which they could bring with them while following the bison's migrations. From now on, Cheyenne would eat buffalo meat instead of fish and vegetables. They would become feared warriors, strengthened by insights and experiences gained during the Sundance.
As they began to wander across the prairies, few Cheyenne had seen a white man, but they had heard about their arrival in the East and how it had brought about great changes and killed the unfortunate people affected by the devastating presence of the Whites. It was not only through their numbers and the deadly weapons that the Whites had brought with them across the Eastern Sea, that killed and displaced the rightful owners of the land, but it was mainly the evil medicine they were spreading that caused unimaginable misery. Smallpox, influenza, whooping cough, typhus and a host of other previously unknown diseases were killing huge numbers of victims among indigenous peoples. At an incomprehensible speed entire villages were wiped out.
As the Cheyenne and other ethnic groups in increasing numbers moved across the prairies, they encountered huge herds of bison. An estimated 60 million buffaloes roamed in herds that could include hundreds of thousands of individual animal. If the herds stampeded they made the ground vibrate. The roaring of the beasts and th galloping hooves of the panicked animals were by the people of plains called the Thunder of the Prairie. The extensive western savannas were also grazed by herds of feral horses coming from areas that further south had been conquered by Spanish warriors. Without natural enemies and plenty of food, the horses would had rapidly multiplied. They were called Mustangs, from the Spanish word mesteño, lost, and it was not long before the Indians managed to tame them, and in a surprisingly short time most of the prairie people had become astonishingly skilled riders, who effectively chased the numerous buffaloes from the horse backs. Soon the prairie people had adapted their entire culture and outlook on life to to this entirely new existence.
The Lakota Sioux John Tȟáȟča Hušté, Lame Fire Deer, (1903-1976) explained:
The buffalo gave us everything we needed. Without it we were nothing. Our tipis were made of his skin. His hide was our bed, our blanket, our winter coat. It was our drum, throbbing through the night, alive, holy. Out of his skin we made our water bags. His flesh strengthened us, became flesh of our flesh. Not the smallest part of it was wasted. His stomach, a red-hot stone dropped into it, became our soup kettle. His horns were our spoons, the bones our knives, our women's awls and needles. Out of his sinews we made our bowstrings and thread. His ribs were fashioned into sleds for our children, his hoofs became rattles. His mighty skull, with the pipe leaning against it, was our sacred altar. When you killed off the buffalo you also killed the Indian—the real, natural, "wild" Indian.
There was within Native American religiosity a prominent element of mysticism, meaning that in dreams, in solitude, and through traditional forms of self-torture, believers tried to enter the spirit worlds they assumed they were surrounded by. An experienced shaman could step in and out between different worlds. A Pawne song:
Now they pass across the threshold,
softly they slide
into the innermost.
Softly they glide – Holy Visions!
Entering the innermost.
It was a search for the meaning of life and our place in existence:
Let us see, is this real.
Let us see, is this real,
this life I am living?
You, gods, who dwell everywhere,
let us see if this is real,
This life I am living?
In the Spirit Worlds, the visionary met helpers and demons and he could himself be transformed into such creatures. As in this 1880 ledger drawing by the Lakota warrior and shaman Čhetáŋ Sápa', The Black Hawk. It depicts Heyókȟa, a trickster and thunder god who equipped with buffalo horns rides a horse-like creature, also with buffalo horns and eagle claws. The creature's tail is in the shape of a rainbow leads to the Spirit Worlds. The dots on demon horse and rider represent hail. Heyókȟa was the spirit of opposites and thus represented both cold and heat. Next to the picture, Čhetáŋ Sápa' has written: "The dream of, or the vision of myself when I had been transformed into a destroyer riding a buffalo eagle."
Like other mystery cults, the religion of the prairie people was multifaceted and difficult to understand, especially for someone who has not experienced any visions. Their conceptions of “God” had a pantheistic streak, at the same time as they had something questioning about them, apparent in the following explanation of his faith the Osage Indian Playful Calf gave Francis La Flesche. La Flesche (1857-1932), whose grandfather was French, hence the name, became America's first Native American university graduate in Ethnography.
My son ... the ancients, No-ho-zhi-ga, gave us in their songs wi-ge-i, ceremonies, symbols and all that surrounding mysteries had taught them. About this they had gained knowledge through the power that exists in wa-thi-ghto, the ability to seek with the soul. They taught us about the mysteries of light,, which during the day flow down over the earth and feed all that lives; about the mysteries of the night, which open to us visions of the celestial bodies of the upper world, how they travel, each on his own path, without touching each other. They searched, for a long time, for the source of all life and finally came up with the idea that everything flows from an invisible force, which they named Wa-kon-tah.
Wa-kon-tah, which in Osage was the name of the almighty creative power, can possibly be roughly equated with the Cheyenne notions of Ma´heo´o. Osage, like the Cheyenne were Prairie Indians and, like them they were devoted to the Sundance. The Sun is not synonymous with Ma´heo´o, but has created the earth on its behalf.
A legend from Siksika, Blackfeet, tells about the origin of the first Sundance. A young man named Payoo, Scarface, was deeply in love with a beautiful aakíí wa, woman, though her father explained to him that his daughter had told him that she did not belong to her father but to Ki´sómma, The Sun. To be able to marry, Payoo had to undergo a trial to determine if he was really worthy of marrying the aakíí wa. After great hardship, Payoo arrived at Ki´sómma 's abode. Ki´sómma paid tribute to Payoo's coveted bride who had proved to be endowed with such great wisdom that she, contrary to most earthlings, had realised that she belonged to and was sustained by Ki´sómma, ruler of Heaven and Earth. Ki´sómma now declared that through his suffering and sacrifices done in the name of love Payoo had finally proved himself worthy of his confidence and allowed him to marry the aakíí wa.
Ki´sómma took Payoo by the hand and brought him to the edge of the sky and from there she showed him the entire world while he told everything that was important to understand. Among other things, Ki´sómma explained:
Which of all the animals is most Nat-ó-ye (having sun power, sacred)? The buffalo is. Of all animals, I like him best. He is for the people. He is your food and your shelter. [...]Which is the best, the heart or the brain? The brain is. The heart often lies, the brain never.
Ki´sómma then demanded that Payoo together with the woman he now gave him, would build the first Sundance arena. It would be like Heaven and Earth. Ki´sómma also explained why people must dance in his honor:
I am the only chief. Everything is mine. I made the earth, the mountains, prairies, rivers, and forests. I made the people, an all the animals. This is why I say I alone am the chief. I can never die. True, the winter makes me old and weak, but every summer I grow young again, and you can support m in this. […] Half of it shall be painted red. That is me. The other half you will paint black. That is the night.
Most of the Cheyenne's various clan and tribal leaders were visionary mystics who, through the charisma they acquired through dreams and visions, were revered as Medicine Men. The word medicine has caused confusion among the uninitiated. It is an overall translation of a variety of words for a concept that seems to be shared by the members of different tribal communities, with widely differing languages. Perhaps the concept of medicine might to some extent be explained by stating that it is the presence of a spiritual force manifested in a person, in a place or through an event, in an object, or as a natural phenomenon. The word has become a unifying concept of spirituality, power, energy and virtually all that is inexplicable, but nevertheless provide insights to the mystery of life. A medicine, yes… even a medicine man, encloses and retains such power.
Medicine may come as a gift from other spheres, but must generally be looked for and earned. A way to gain insight into whether you are worthy of receiving a medicine, or not, may be done through participation in the Sundance. In general, such a ceremony takes the form of a common ritual, but it may also happen that an individual seeks certainty about his calling by publicly undergoing a painful Sun Dance ritual. The aforementioned George Catlin described how he watched a trial called Look-into-the-Sun.
A man wearing only a loincloth had in the flesh between each nipple and clavicle inserted finger-thick, pointed pieces of wood to which bison hide ropes were attached and connected to the tip of a long, strong, but flexible, pole firmly anchored in the ground. The man then leaned back to thigten the ropes were and the long pole bent towards him. In a tight grip he was in one hand holding his medicine bag and in the other, sacred arrows. He began, with his gaze fixed at the sun, to move around the tensely bent pole. Very slowly he followed, from dawn to dusk, with one step at a time, to the monotonously rhythmic beats of a drum, the sun's journey across the firmament.
His friends stood around him, singing hymns praising his strength, virtues and endurance, while enemies and skeptics laughed and mocked him. If he succeeded in passing the test without fainting or falling over, it meant that he had good medicine and deserved the trust of his tribal brethren. If, on the other hand, he did not succeed in enduring his torments, he was given not afforded another chance and was subsequently regarded as a “weak man who believed more of himself than he actually could substantiate.”
Like the People of Israel, who had their tablets and holy ark, the Cheyenne had a sacred object as well. A medicine containing the power of their creator god – the Maahotse, a bundle with the holy arrows. It enclosed four arrows; two for war luck, two for successful buffalo hunting. They had been bestowed by Ma´heo´o, perhaps sometime in the early eighteenth century, to the medicine man Motsé'eóeve. Ma´heo´o was the source of cosmic energy, Ex´Ahest´Otse, symbolized by the four arrows, which also corresponded to Ex´Ahest´Otse's four spirit stewards. These mighty spirits ruled over the four directions (North, South, East and West), the moon, the animals, the birds, and the fish. The Sun, who gave life to everything was Ex´Ahest´Otse's main manifestation in this world – there are seven other Spheres besides the earth. Through fasting, prayer, sacrifice, and participation in the sacred ceremonies, you can partake in the power of Ex´Ahest´Otse.
Ex´Ahest´Otses' force is not constant, like nature it changes and is at its weakest in winter time, accordingly it must be strengthened with the help of the Sun at the time of year when it is at its most powerful. Then Maahotse also must be imbued with renewed strength and this is provided by the members of the Cheyennes four most important warrior leagues, generally in connection with the Sundance.
The one believed to have been chosen by Ma´heo´o to teach the Cheyenne about all this was Motsé'eóeve, whose name derived from motsé'eonȯtse, sweet grass, a plant used in most religious rites of the Prairie Indians and which also was rubbed onto their skin, as some kind of deodorant. Several who met them have told about the distinct scent of Prairie Indians.
As bestower of the sacred arrows, Motsé'eóeve becam able to predict the taming of horses, as well as the arrival of the white men and their cows. He organized the four warrior leagues of the Cheyenne, established their laws, and instituted the governing and legislative assembly of the four véhooós, leaders of each one of the ten manahos, the clans, who during the celebration of the jointly celebrated Sundance appointed four Elders to be chiefs of the whole Cheyenne nation.
The Sundance was prepared during months, its foundation and ideology were consistent but its character differed in the details depending on the Elder who arranged it, but once he had determined each detail nothing could be changed. The Sundance gathered all members of the tribe, but the time and reason could vary. However, the Sun Dance was generally an annual ceremony that took place:
When the buffaloes are at their fattest.
When the buds of the sage appear
and the hawthorn's berries ripen.
When the moon rises and the sun sets.
The ceremonies lasted for four days. It was a time to gather and regain lost strength, but also to demonstrate courage and personal sacrifice. Intentions that were reflected in one of the prayers that the keeper of the Maahotse led the people in at the beginning of the Sundance:
Great Force of the Sun! I pray for my people that they may be happy in the summer and that they may live through the cold of winter. Many are sick and in need. Have pity on them, let them survive. Grant that they may live long and in abundance! May we perform these ceremonies properly, as you taught our ancestors in days gone by. If we make a mistake, have mercy on us. […] Bless our children, friends and visitors with a happy life. May our paths be straight and even. Let us all live and grow old. We are all your children and ask for this with good hearts.
After the prayers, the men went to the teepe where the Maahotse rested and gave it their reverence. Women were not allowed to enter, but remained outside singing the sacred hymns. The men who have chosen to “see the sun” were then for some time back residing within the Noceom, The Solitary Teepe, where they were instructed by a Medicine Man. During the four days of dancing, partying and ceremonies included the Sundance ritual, the initiands, who were to submit themselves to the Trial, fasted and during the fourth day when it took place, they had to remain silent during the entire, painful procedure.
The area had been cleansed of evil forces. To drive them away, riders had galloped back and forth. The tallest and strongest poplar tree, it had to be at least twenty meters high, had been chosen with great care; pruned, erected and painted with the colours of the four directions; black, red, yellow and white. This high centre pole was decorated with coloured ribbons, scalps taken from enemies, skulls and bison hides. At the top, branches and herbs were used to create a nest for the Thunderbird, who guards and protects the upper world, while on the ground the symbol of the Horned Snake, guardian of the underworld, was painted.
Before the surrounding tent of buffalo hides was erected around the dance floor, a doll was hung from the center pole, probably symbolizing strife and evil forces. Warriors rode forward to give the puppet hard blows with their coupe sticks, after that they shot arrows at it, or shelled it with rifle fire.
Then followed a mock battle between the different warrior leagues and after a symbolic peace was broken, the canvas was finally risen, though by the Thunderbird´s nest a wide opening was left so the Sun's rays could reach the entire dance floor. Hest´Osanest´Oste , The Arena of New Life, was completed and prepared for the fourth day when the initiands were going to Watch-The-Sun.
There is plenty of conflicting information about what tales place during the last day of a Sundance and those who have participated in such a ritual are generally reluctant to tell an outsider about what happened. It is the Prairie Indians most sacred ceremony and many of them fear that outsiders may defile its solemn status, destroy its mystery. According to their belief, it would be fatal if a Sundance was not carried out in accordance with´its smallest, previously determined detail. The slightest mistake, or violation of tradition, would upset the balance that Ma´heo´o maintains.
What happens cannot be described or written down by someone who has not watched the sun himself and even those who have done so are either unable to describe their experience, or reluctant to do so. However, some great medicine men, like Sitting Bull, have eloquently communicated some of the visions they received during a Sundance. Furthermore, US authorities did everything in their power to wipe out the Sundance and thus also tried to destroy the Cheyenne as a community, a people. The Sundance was in 1883 by completely banned and it was not until 1978, through the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, that it was no longer a criminal offense to organize or participate in a Sundance.
We thus generally lack descriptions of what happens during a Sundance, though there are some exceptions. The aforementioned George Catlin, who after painting a portrait of an Elder in charge of a Sundance, made him declare that Catlin through his masterful rendering of him had proved that he was in possession of powerful medicine and thus gave the artist permission to witness a Sundance. Catlin wrote meticulously down what he had seen and furthermore published his description, which unfortunately became a contributing factor for banning the Sundance forty years later.
Nevertheless, the tradition did not disappear. Sundances continued to be practiced more or less in secret. For example, during the 1960s and 1970s several Sundances were attended by the Jesuit priest Paul Steinmetz, who in 1980 defended his doctoral dissertation concerning the Oglala-Lakota Sioux religion and Medicin Men´s cooperation with the Catholic Church. Steinmetz mentioned in his dissertation, presented at Stockholm University, that it had happened that “white men” asked to Watch-The-Sun during Sundances but their requests had been rejected with the argument: “You have destroyed your own religion and we do not want you to do the same with ours as well.”
Catlin and Steinmetz described at an intervals of more than a hundred years how those who are to be initiated into the innermost mystery of the Sundance are prepared for their trial. They are painted all over the body with yellow or white clay, provided with a crown of herbs and/or eagle feathers, given a bouquet of sage in one hand and in the other they carry their personal Medicine Pouch. They are then introduced into the Hest´Osanest´Oste among the men who previously have participated in the Sundance.
After their long fast the young men are noticeably distraught. They are accompanied by red-painted Medicine Men, whose soles and palms are red as well, while the wounds that indicate that their bearers previously have endured the Sundance are covered with white clay. The Medicine Men have sharp-edged knives in their hands and generally wear masks so the initiates will not be able to see who is inflicting the wounds upon them. With their knives, the Medicine Men cut parallel wounds in the skin and flesh of the breasts and backs of the initiands, widening them carefully to insert pointed sticks. The pain must be almost unbearable.
Catlin wrote that he was surprised that the incised men did not bleed more profusely – perhaps their fasting had driven the blood deep into their bodies? A young man who discovered that Catlin was recording everything he saw asked the Medicine Men to be placed on a mat in front of the white man. The initiand gently touched the artist's shoulder and signed that Catlin ought to look deep into his eyes while the Medicine Men made their cuts. Catlin obeyed and discovered that the smiling man did not show the slightest sign of pain during the extremely agonizing procedure.
While the cuts were being made, straps were lowered down from crossbars, or from the top of the centre pole, and then attached to the pointed sticks inserted in the initiands´ flesh. Then the Sun-watchers were hoisted up until their feet hovered freely a few meters above the ground. The skin of their chests tightened and became painfully stretched. Heavy buffalo skulls were attached on straps hanging from the backs or thighs, their weight hindered the hanging men from wriggling and twisting in pain.
As the initiands were hoisted up, the men who sat, or stood, around them sang soothing songs. The hanging men demonstrated no signs of pain, though tears flowed down their cheeks as they stiffly looked up at the sun disk that shone down in Hest´Osanest´Oste from the wide opening by Thunderbird´s nest. They hung seemingly lifeless and gradually fainted, one by one. It was at that moment visions came to them.
As I read this, I came to think of how the Viking god Odin sought wisdom by hanging from a tree, “sacrificing himself to himself”
I know that I hung, on wind-rocked tree,
nine whole nights,
with a spear wounded. And to Odin offered,
myself to myself.
Bread no one gave me,
nor a horn to drink from.
Downward I peered,
to runes applied myself,
wailing I learned them,
then I fell down.
Then I began to prosper,
and know many things,
to grow and well thrive:
Word by word I sought out words,
fact by fact I sought out facts.
After a while the Sundancers' heads hung downwards. When someone ended up in this state, the congregation shouted: “Death! Death!" and after a short while the lifeless man was lowered. The hanging lasted between fifteen and twenty minutes and during that time high-ranking dignitaries watched intently the dangling men very, to determine who had shown the greatest courage and composure. Who had endured the pain the longest, without complaining or fainting. Such observations indicated who could conceivably lead a war raid, or eventually occupy high positions within the Cheyenne administration.
Showing strength, reckless courage, and enduring pain were desirable qualities for any Cheyenne warrior. Anyone who aspired to be part of one of the prestigious Nótȧxévėstotȯtse, warrior leagues – The Deer, The Shield, The Fox, or The Bowstring – must have endured the Sundance Trial. Within these associations, they could furthermore increase their prestige by “counting coups”, from the French word for blow/coup. A coup that had been witnessed by other warriors meant that the achiever of such a feat could attach a feather to his war bonnet, where each feather indicated various kinds of coups – for example if the wearer of the bonnet had killed an enemy, been wounded in battle, taken a scalp, or carried out the boldest coup of them all – approached an armed enemy and struck him with a coup stick and after that returned unharmed to his comrades-in-arms.
Below is a coup stick, a ledger drawing depicting a Cheyenne warrior giving a coup to a rifle-armed Crow warrior and a photograph of a war-ready Nótȧxévėstotȯts warrior with his long coup stick.
Members of the Bowstring Fraternity often used a bow, instead of a coup stick. Below is one of Bowstrings's warriors, perhaps the highly admired Woo-ka-nay, by the whites called The Roman Nose, performing an unusually bold coup by throwing bows at two mounted Blue Coats, i.e. U.S. Army cavalry soldiers. We also see how Howling Wolf has jumped off his horse and rushed forward to give a coup to a bow-armed Pawne warrior.
When they went into battle against their opponents, Cheyenne warriors carried with them the sacred arrow bundle Maahotse and until 1830 it had given them strength and victory. That year Wakingan Ska, White Thunder, rode into battle against the Pawnes. By Wakingan Ska's side, his wife rode with the Maahotse tied to her back. During their ride to the battlefield, they were surprised by four Pawne warriors and Wakingan Ska fell from his horse. However, he managed to rush up to his wife tear at Maahotse from her back and threw over it over to the war shaman Bull, who immediately tied it to his spear. The Pawne warriors understood that the Cheyenne had not had any time to utter the Words of Power necessary for activating Maahostse's force before a battle. A mortally wounded Pawne now saw his chance to gain access to The Happy Hunting Grounds through a heroic coup. He rushed forward toward Bull who thrust his spear into him, but before the Pawne warrior died he had managed to tear Maahotse off Bull's spear and throw it to his fellow fighters. In this manner, the Cheyenne lost Ma´heo´o's protection and their misfortunes piled up.
At a meeting in 1835, the Cheyenne managed to buy back one arrow from the Maahotse bundle, it cost them a hundred horses and in 1843 they did for the for the same price buy the entire bundle from Lakota warriors who as a war trophy had conquered it from the Pawnes, but two arrows were missing.
It seems that luck was with them before the Cheyenne lost their Maahostse. Admittedly, they continued their merciless fighting with neighbouring trivs, especially the Pawne, Crow, Kiowa, and Comanche peoples. However, they made alliances with the Sioux, the southern Apaches, and especially the Arapaho, who became their brothers-in-Arms. Below, Howling Wolf describes how the leaders of the two peoples enter into their ever-lasting agreement.
The battles with Crow and Kiowa were also successful. Here you can see how Woo-ka-nay and his warriors return with scalp spears after a battle with Kiowas.
But ... after the Maahotse was lost, signs of misfortune became more and more common. No less than 48 bowstring warriors were killed in 1836 during an ambush arranged by Kiowa warriors. The revenge was gruesome when the Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors attacked a Kiowa camp in 1838, though the battle became so bloody that all parties were terrified and made peace in 1840. A raid to steal cattle in Mexico, which in 1853 was carried out together with the former enemies of Kiowa, Cheyenne and Apache warriors ended in disaster when a large number of them were killed by units from the Mexican army – the feared Lancers.
However, a far worse catastrophe was approaching. The American Civil War, fought between 1861 and 1865, led to the liberation of four million slaves and the eventual unification of the United States into a successful nation, but it also spelled disaster for the Indians. A ruthless, racist onslaught by the United States Government almost caused their final annihilation.
Due to the need for fast troop transport during the war, the railway network in the Northern States developed at an unprecedented speed and with great efficiency. To link the western regions more closely to the war effort and facilitate access to natural resources further west, the The Government of the United States (the Union) began in 1862 to build a transcontinental railway line that would link the east coast to the west coast and along its path lead to the construction of cities that would develop surrounding areas.
An initiative linked to the so-called Homestead Act, which in May 1862 stipulated that every American citizen who had reached “mature age”, and/or was a “breadwinner,” and for five years undertook to cultivate, or otherwise productively utilize, an area of no more than 160 acres (65 hectares), would then become its rightful owner. This initiative gradually led to an increase in immigration from Europe's poor agricultural areas. After the Civil War, agricultural production increased at great speed favouring a rapid development of food-, weapons - and textile industries.
Long before the war, US governments had seen the Indians as a major obstacle to such a development. A thought made clear by Donald J. Trump's great idol Andrew Jackson in his inaugural address delivered in 1830:
Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborignees of this country and Philantopy has long been busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a minute been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from earth. To follow to the tomb the last of his race and to tread the graves of extinct nations exite melancholy reflections. But true philantropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another. What good man would prefer a country covered by wild forests and ranged by a few thousands savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms.
According to Pesident Jackson, the Indians had to disappear from fertile agricultural lands and under his leadership the so-called Indian Removal Act was enacted, which made it possible to forcibly deport indigenous peoples from the lands of their ancestors. Under Jackson's leadership, more than 45,000 Indians were forcibly expelled from their land. A ruthless policy that continued under his successor Martin van Buren, whose first action as president was to realise Jackson's planned “relocation” of the Cherokees, an endeavour killing more than 4,000 men, women and children during the so-called Trail of Tears, when an entire population was forced to settle on much more barren lands in buffalo-poor areas. Below is Donald J. Trump portrayed in front of a copy in of Andrew Jackson's equestrian statue, now located in front of the White House. Trump is apparently contemplating to adorn the White House with this painting now when his presidency, thank God, is ended. Apart from the indigenous people of the United States, who for good reason regard him with disgust, Jackson is also not particularly popular among the black population of the United States. He was a plantation owner, with a large number of slaves working on his estate, 150 of whom ran his whiskey brewery, of course unpaid and subjected to arbitrary violence.
The Civil War´s victorious General Ulysses S. Grant became president in 1869 after Andrew Johnson, who took over the presidency after the assassination of Lincoln in 1865 and had mismanaged his mandate leading to his impeachment. Grant was not any anti-Native American, but inherited a policy that imprisoned indigenous peoples in reservations, where they became dependent on capricious arriving food transports, something that as we have seen above had devastating effects in Minnesota in 1862.
As a self-confessed, deeply Christian person, Grant declared at the time of taking power that he could not accept a view that declared God as the creator of a race that just because it considered itself stronger than others gave itself the right to destroy those it considered weaker. Grant had been in contact with Indians in California and Oregon, and declared that they had fallen victims to lies about supplies and rights promised them by government officials during the signing of a variety of treaties. In addition, they had been decimated by smallpox and measles brought to the continent by white settlers.
Ulysses Grant appointed his friend the Native American lawyer Eloy S. Parker, whose original name was Ha-sa-no-an-da, as High Commissioner for Indian Affairs and devised with him a policy aimed at making members of the Native Americans equal to American citizens. Unfortunately, the Board of Directors of The Bureau of Indian Affairs was largely composed of wealthy entrepreneurs who were rabid opponents to its chairman. One outspoken racist member in particular, William Welsh, led a campaign against Ely Parker, whom he considered to be an arrogant savage who had been audacious enough to become a close friend with and confidant of the president of the United States, marry a white woman and was now allowed to exercise his biased influence over affairs. concerning his “racial relatives”. Welsh made sure that Parker was accused of embezzling state funds, and although a congressional committee acquitted him of all suspicions, the scandal was a fact. Parker resigned and Grant's Indian policy suffered major setbacks, especially after an Indian leader, chief Kintepuasch who together with his small tribe, the Medoc, had been expelled from his territory and after “illegally” returning was forced to negotiate with members of the US Army, in despair had shot down the chief negotiator General Edward Canby.
The rage of Grant's opponents knew no bounds. After fierce fighting, Kintepuasch was captured and executed. It got even worse after Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer's defeat at Little Bighorn, which Grant blamed on “rave tactical errors during a regular war.” Grant's presidency faltered in the face of public outrage against his “failed” indians policies, further fueled by irritation over corruption and abuse of power that had become endemic during jispresidency, although Grant apparently did everything he could to curb it. The President had to crawl to the cross and leave the “solution to the Indian question” to his comrade-in-arms, General William Sherman, and his subordinate, the notorious Native American hater General Philip Sheridan, also a hero of the Civil War´s Union side.
If Grant actually was sympathetic to the Native Americans, it seems strange that he appointed Sherman as military in charge for all territory west of the Mississippi River and thus main responsible for the protection of railroad construction to the west and the settler caravans that brought peasants who benefited of the Homestead Act. Sherman's mission would undoubtedly lead to confrontations with the Prairie Indians, many of whom opposed the construction of the railway, well aware that it was another step towards the annihilation of their way of life.
Even before Grant became president, Sherman had written to him that he considered that a precondition for railway construction would be not to let any “thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress of the railroads.” When guerrilla warrior Crazy Horse as leader of a band of 10 Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne warriors in 1866 tricked 81 American soldiers into an ambush and killed to the last man, a furious Sherman wrote to Grant advising him that as soon as he became president “we must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children.” It can not possibly be interpreted as an Indian-friendly act to appoint such a man as commander of the US Western military forces.
When Grant finally gave up his plans to grant American citizenship to the indigenous people, he reluctantly announced that the “reservation solution” probably was the only possible step that eventually could lead to the “pacification of the Indians”. He declared that he only wished that :
They are being cared for in such a way, it is hoped, as to induce those still pursuing their old habits of life to embrace the only opportunity which is left them to avoid extermination.
An unfortunate development of Grant's retreat was that his “peace policy” allowed for the extermination of the bison as a method of forcing the Prairie Indians to become farmers. Furthermore, if you got rid of the huge buffalo herds, they would not hinder the progress of the trains and destroy the farmers' crops.
General Sherman's disastrous choice for handling the “pacification of the Indians” was General Philip Henry Sheridan. He was only 165 cm tall, but compensated for his insignificant height with a hard attitude and a flagrant aptitude for flattery. During the Civil War, Sheridan became a hero through his bold operations, for example, a wildly popular poem making a unabashed tribute to him was spread across the Northern States – Sheridan's ride by a certain Thomas Buchanan Read:
Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!
Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!
And when their statues are placed on high,
Under the dome of the Union sky,
The American soldier's Temple of Fame;
There with the glorious general's name,
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright,
"Here is the steed that saved the day,
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
From Winchester, twenty miles away!"
During the Civil War, Sheridan was the Union commander who most successfully carried out the “scorched-earth policy” that between the 15th and 21th December was first practiced by General William Sherman during his so called March to the Sea in Georgia. The intention was to destroy the enemy troops' ability to use the natural resources they needed for their maintenance. A technique Sheridan then used in his fight against the Indians. For him, it mainly meant the extinction of the buffaloes, the firm base for the livelihood and culture of the Prairie Indians.
The companies that built and maintained the railway – Western Pacific, Cnetral Pacific and Union Pacific, declared war on the buffaloes. Hunters like Buffalo Bill were hired to deliver bison meat to the navvies and also kill as many buffalos as they could. When the railway was completed in 1869, the outright slaughter intensified even more. Thousands of hunters arrived in the West to engage in recreational hunting. There were even special buffalo trains from which hunters from windows and roofs shot countless of 700 kilos´ bulls, which carcasses were left to rot on the prairie. Unlike the Indians who killed bison for food, clothing and shelter, these amusement hunters killed the animals for their own pleasure.
No wonder the trains were frequently attacked, nor can it be denied that the growing numbers of settlers by many Native American warriors were considered to be a threat and wagon trains and settlements were attacked. Settler families were killed, but significantly more Native American families were massacred by the U.S. military, which superiority and effectiveness were a hundred times greater than the Native American warrior units.
When Texas lawmakers in the Senate introduced a bill to stop a total extinction of buffaloes, the proposal was opposed by General Sheridan, who stated that if the bison disappeared the Native American problem would be solved. He took the opportunity to pay tribute to the buffalo hunters' efforts:
These men have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary. And it is a well known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle.
When the Native Amerikan chieftain Tosawi in 1869 before Sheridan lamented the fate of his people and declared: “I Tosawi. I am a good Indian,” Sheridan replied: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
By the end of the 1880s, only 300 bison lived in their natural state. Congress decided that the only surviving flock of buffalo would be protected at all costs. It was located in the Yellowstone National Park, which had been established in 1872 and among its initiators counted no less than General Sheridan. Five years later, in his Annual Report to the Congress, Sheridan pointed out the role of the railroad in the war against the Indians and furthermore squeezed out a couple of crocodile tears over the sad fate of Native Americans:
We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?
Over time, Sheridan had become thoroughly hated by his classmate from The US Military Academy at West Point, General George Crook, who here sits to Sheridan´s left during their time at the Academy.
Unlike Sheridan, Crook was not an Indian hater, though in his dealings with indigenous people he constantly commuted between negotiation and battle, between compassion and attack. Part of Crook's tactics was to exploit the Indians' internal strife and make use of the different tribes´ knowledge of their foes. His friendship with several Native Americans and h“excessive” use of indigenous scouts and mercenaries angered his closest superior – General Sheridan, thois ugh the practice also angered Native American warriors who generally dealt merciless with “brethren” who had chosen to fight them together with the white man. Cheyenne warriors found it difficult to come to terms with the Pawnes who battled them alongside the US Cavalry side and killed them merciless if they crossed their war paths.
Despite General Sheridan's harsh criticism of his subordinate, Crook in 1888 eventually became Military Commander west of the Mississippi. Crook was by then disillusioned and to a great extent regretted his contributions to what he considered to have been an entirely misguided policy by the US Government and finally became a spokesman for Native Americans equal rights as American citizens.
Unlike Crook, Sheridan has remained one of the Nation's Heroes. If he knew who Sheridan was, which is not entirely certain, I am convinced that Donald J. Trump would include him among the American Greats he hailed in his speech on the last US Independence Day and whose memory, according to him, must be revered and not defiled:
We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody [...] and yet, as we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure. Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.
The “campaign” referred to by Trump is an attempt to nuance a self-glorifying patriotism that denies shadows cast by genocide, slavery and racism. I am writing this on the seventh of November 2020, the day when we could finally glimpse some light at the end of a dark tunnel of presidential idiocy, contempt for women and chauvinism.
The ruthless exterminator of US indigenous peoples, General Philip Henry Sheridan, has been portrayed on stamps and his impressive equestrian statue adorns central squares in major cities such as Chicago and Albany.
Back to Ho-na-nist-to, Howling Wolf, and the ledger drawings:
The attack came just before dawn. Sound is carried far and wide over the treeless and often deserted prairie. Even before the riders became visible by the horizon, several of the camp's residents had gathered around Mo'ôhtavetoo'o and lloked with him anxiously across the grassy plain, where thin mist gilded by the rising sun still lingered. A distant bugle sounded and soon a battle line with fast galloping Blue Coats became visible. In full career they burst forward towards the slightly more than hundred tepees pitched along Sand Creek's almost dried up brook. Chief Mo'ôhtavetoo'o, the Black Cauldron, had hoisted the Stars and Stripes next to his tepee, which was placed right on the edge of the camp, and he now asked his tribesmen to wave white pieces of cloth to indicate that they were not hostile. Nevertheless, Mo'ôhtavetoo'o understood that it was pointless and was deeply concerned. Most of the tribe's warriors were out hunting a few bison, which the day before that had been sighted a few kilometers beyond the camp.
Some weeks earlier, Mo'ôhtavetoo'o had met with officers at a military camp just outside Denver, and been assured that his starving people did not have to worry as long as they camped at the place they had been assigned. This was not true. Those who should have protected them were now about to attack them. The fast approaching blue-clad riders were already opening fire from the horse backs. With outstretched hands, Mo'ôhtavetoo'o approached the oncoming cavalry, though their leader fired his revolver straight at the unarmed chief.
As hell broke out around them, Mo'ôhtavetoo'o and his wife Ar-no-ho-wok fled between wildly shooting soldiers and terrified women and children. Only when he had thrown himself into a ditch just outside the camp did Mo'ôhtavetoo'o discover that Ar-no-ho-wok was no longer with him.
He rushed back, into the camp, where soldiers mad with blood lust rushed into the tepees, women were raped, men were scalped, not even children were spared from their uninhibited, drunken wrath. Mo'ôhtavetoo'o found his wife bleeding on the ground, shot no less than nine times. In the midst of the tumult, he managed to carry Ar-no-ho-wok to safety and she survived as if by a miracle.
The massacre at Sand Creek was the culmination of a period of violent tension between the Cheyenne and settler communities in Colorado, which would not be recognized as a state until twelve years later. The citizens of Denver were gripped by fear, anxiety and hatred after a white family had been killed just outside town. The crime was attributed to looting Cheyenne or Arapaho warriors. The territorial governor, John Evans, had called on Denver's men to organize a militia to “kill and annihilate hostile natives” while ensuring that the 3rd Colorado Cavalry was relocated to the city.
This Cavalry Unit was under the command of the ruthless former preacher John Chivington, who due to his efforts during the not-yet-concluded Civil War recently had been promoted to colonel. Chivington was a giant; almost two meters tall, weighed more than 100 kilos and was filled with confidence after his successes while battling the Confederate troops. He was now hoping to win new laurels by fighting the Indians and aimed at being elected to Congress.
Evans had ordered all “friendly Indians” to seek “security” from the hostile militia in places controlled by the US military. Sand Creek was such a place, and Mo'ôhtavetoo'o had been promised that if he could keep his people calm, the starving Indians would be provided with food supplies and be protected by the US Army from possible attacks. Too late Mo'ôhtavetoo'o realized that it was a big mistake to trust the Whites. Governor Evans' intention had, in fact been to gather the Cheyenne in a strategically convenient location so that Chivington's cavalry could attack them without difficulty and “teach them a lesson.” When Chivington, through his Pawne scouts had learned that most of the Cheyenne warriors from Sand Creek were away on a buffalo hunt and the large camp lay virtually unprotected, he immediately led about 800 men on a night trek toward the Indian camp.
In the midst of the bloody pandemonium the Cheyenne warriors returned from their buffalo hunt and rode in full career against the soldiers, who quickly went in shooting position by the edges of the camp. The attacking Cheyennes were temporarily halted by Pawne warriors who allied with the Blue Coats circled the camp to warn the murderous posse if the hunters would return. During a brief skirmish during one of the Cheyenne warriors killed a Pawne, who had fallen from his horse and were running towards the camp.
While Cheyenne warriors chased the Pawne “traitors” toward the camp the US soldiers were ready to confront them. They had more or less finished their looting and murder spree and from behind teepes facing the steppe they opened a lethal fire at the attacking Cheyenne warriors, led by a young Howling Wolf. As soon as the mounted warriors had come within firing range several of them were mowed down by the cavalry's Springfield rifles and a Parrott Rifle Cannon.
Dead and wounded Cheyennes were thrown off the horse backs, but some reached the soldiers´ firing line and managed to kill and wound several of them. But the superiority was far too big and the warriors had to retreat, among them Ho-na-nist-to, Howling Wolf. The bitter Bowstring warriors later joined forces with their warlord Woo-ka-nay and united with Arapaho and Lakota warriors they attacked trains, settlements and wagon caravans, in an increasingly hopeless battle against the encroaching Pale Faces.
Charington and his cavalry burned down the large tepee village and returned in triumph to Denver, where, in front of jubilant townspeople, they displayed war trophies in the form of scalps and other body parts they had cut from their victims. That same evening, Chivington submitted a written statement to Governor Evans:
At daylight this morning attacked Cheyenne village of 130 lodges, from 900 to 1,000 warriors strong. My men waged a furious battle against well-armed and entrenched foes, ending in a great victory: the deaths of several chiefs, between 400 and 500 other Indians, and almost an annihilation of the entire tribe.
Captain Silas Soules had been involved in the negotiations between Governor Evans, Chivington and Mo'ôhtavetoo'o and witnessed how authorities and the military guaranteed the security of the his camp. Soules had also taken part in the nightly march toward Sand Creek. However, when Chivington ordered an attack, Captain Soules and a couple of other cavalrymen restrained their horses and from a distance were with disgust forced to witness a chaotic massacre, without any possibility of intervening and hinder the crazed blood bath. On the same day as Chivington submitted his report, Soules wrote a letter to a good friend, a major, who made it reach a congressman:
Hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy, only to be shot and have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized. The Indians did not fight from trenches; they fled up the creek and desperately dug into its sand banks for protection. From there, some young men defended themselves as well as they could, with a few rifles and bows, until overwhelmed by carbines and howitzers. Others were chased down and killed as they fled across the plains. An estimated 200 Indians died, all but 60 of them women and children. Our soldiers not only scalped the dead but cut off the ears and privates of chiefs. Squaws snatches were cut out for trophies. There was no organization among our troops, they were a perfect mob — every man on his own hook. Given this chaos, some of the dozen or so soldiers killed were likely hit by friendly fire.
The Congress appointed an investigative commission, which confirmed the information provided by Captain Soules and concluded that Chivington had “deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre and surprised and murdered, in cold blood Indians who had every reason to believe that they were under [U.S.] protection.”
Since Chivington had already left the army, he could not be court-martialed and no local court dealt with the case. No one was convicted of involvement in the massacre, though Silas Soules, who during the ongoing process had married and served as provost marshal in Denver, was shot dead two months after his testimony before a military court in Washington. No one pointed out the well-known killers and the murder was not prosecuted.
The 1970 film Soldier Blue, which at the time was perceived as a protest against the Vietnam War, was inspired by the Sand Creek massacre. I saw the it one summer when I was sixteen years old and working as a waiter in a Swedish coastal town, I became quite touched by it and bought the single with the main theme written and sung by the Canadian Cree Indian Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Ooh, soldier blue, soldier blue.
can not you see that there's another way to love her.
This is my country.
I ran from here
and I'm learning how to count upon her.
Tall trees and the corn is high country.
Yes, I love her
and I'm learning how to take care of her.
With his severely wounded wife and the sorry remains of his humiliated, injured, and starving tribe, Mo'ôhtavetoo'o headed east to a reservation by the Washita River in Oklahoma. Despite betrayals and hardships, Mo'ôhtavetoo'o remained a pragmatic man who had accepted the impossibility of defying a disastrous development and fighting the US Army. When he in 1865 once again signed a treaty with the US government, Mo'ôhtavetoo'o declared:
Although wrongs have been done me, I live in hopes. I have not got two hearts.... I once thought that I was the only man that persevered to be the friend of the white man, but since they have come and cleaned out our lodges, horses, and everything else, it is hard for me to believe white men any more.
In 1868, Cheyenne fighters did in Kansas attack settlements, trains and wagon caravan, resulting in 79 “white” casualties. General Sheridan decided it was time to “teach the Cheyenne a lesson, once and for all.” He recalled Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who a few months earlier had for a year been deprived of his command by a court-martial, due to “unprovoked assault omn rank and file”, and ordered him to “punish” the Cheyenne. Sheridan believed that the most appropriate time for such an endeavor would be during the winter season when the Indians were largely “inactive” within their camps. Custer chose to attack an “Indian village"”within the Washita Reservation that had been “guaranteed protection” by the commander of Fort Cobb.
During the night of November 26, Custer's cavalry unit had surrounded an arbitrarily chosen camp. He brought with him the Seventh Cavalry´s brass band, and to the tune of the Irish march Garry Owen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IMFX6rEp7k&ab), the cavalrymen attacked the unprotected and caught off guard camp, which happened to be under Mo'ôhtavetoo's leadership. The unfortunate chieftain had as usual hoisted both Stars and Stripes and a white flag in front of his teepe. Most Indians, including about twenty women and children, were killed during the first wave of attacks. Some Cheyenne warriors managed to offer resistance, but after a few hours it was all over. Custer announced that 103 Cheyennes had been killed, including Mo'ôhtavetoo'o and his wife Ar-no-ho-wok, who were shot in the back as they on horseback tried to cross the partly ice-covered Washita River. It was neither the first nor the last time that Custer, "the hero of Little Bighorn," attacked an unprotected Native American village and his men in cold blood killed women and children.
When Custer was criticized for attacking a white-flagged Native American settlemnt within a government-protected reservation, he was defended by General Sheridan, who explained that it could hardly have been considered as an “innocent” village because no less than twenty-one of Custer's cavalrymen had been killed during the “battle”. and by the way: "If a village comes under attack and women and children are killed, it is not actually our soldiers who are to blame for the violence, but those whose crimes necessitated the attack."
According to Sheridan the peace-seeking Cheyenne in Washita had to suffer due to ravages by Bowstring Warriors in Kansas, where Woo-ka-nay had formed an alliance with Oglala warriors. Yet another case of guilt by association where an entire people had to suffer for the crimes of a small group. On September 10, 1868, Cheyenne and Sioux warriors had successfully stopped and looted a freight train on the Kansas Pacific Line and were after that pursued by a fifty-man militia recruited by General Sheridan.
One week later, the buffalo hunters, wagon train guides and other guns for hire, were surprised by the Indian warriors. Several of them were mowed down by the militia-men's fast-firing Spencer rifles, but a dozen of the commandos were also killed before they after a couple of days were rescued by a cavalry unit. The greatest loss for the Cheyenne was the death of Woo-ka-nay.
During the winter of 1873-1874, the Southern Prairie Indians' situation became precarious. The catastrophic decline of the buffalo herds, combined with a growing number of new settlers and increasingly aggressive military patrols, had forced most of them into heavily guarded reservation. The situation of the Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Apache, and Arapaho who were still on the warpath was unsustainable. The American army consisted of professional soldiers and scouts, while the increasingly hard-pressed Native American warriors traveled with women, children, and the elderly.
The Bowstring Warriors had not recovered from the loss of Woo-ka-nay, and although they did not give up in the face of superiority, they seldom went on the offensive, but had for seven years been almost constantly on the run from their pursuers. The Washita Massacre initiated General Sheridan's increasingly ruthless war against Native American warriors and the skirmishes culminated during the winter of 1873 through the so-called Red River War. Groups such as the remnants of the Woo-ka-nay´s Bowstring Warriors were circumvented by a large military operation consisting of the Fourth, Sixth and Eleventh Cavalris, which succeeded in driving the “hostile Indian hordes” down to Northen Texas, encircling them and systematically fighting them with the support of the Fourth Infantry and units consisting Native American scouts. After years of fighting and persecution, the starving Indian warriors were completely exhausted. The bison were extinct, trains and caravans had brought with them an ever-increasing stream of settlers and the U.S. Army gave them no respite.
In the spring of 1874, most of the warriors gave up the fighting, including the Bowstring League, which members with wives and children surrendered at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, where members of various tribes already had gathered. Some had volunteered to come, others had been captured.
Among the prisoners, 35 Cheyennes, 27 Kiowa, 11 Commanche and one Caddo were selected without trial transported to Saint Augustine in Florida. General Sheridan had that the arbitrarily condemned Indians had acted as a belligerent unit and therefore could not be convicted as individuals. Nor could they be described as prisoners of war because, according to Sheridan, they were Americans and thus could not be counted as “soldiers in the service of a foreign power.” They would therefore be brought to a fortress the East to be kept in custody until their further fate could be determined on the basis of federal jurisdiction.
The prisoners were chained for 28 days brought on foot, by ox-carts, trains and steamboats to Fort Marion outside the town of Saint Augustine. During the journey two of the prisoners attempted suicide, one died of pneumonia and another was shot “during attempt to escape”. When the prisoners had arrived at their final destination, the Deputy Director of the facility, Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, was horrified by their pitiful state:
I had never seen a more pitifully demoralized group than the travel-weary warriors who clutched ragged blankets about them.
The conditions were miserable at first. The prisoners slept directly on the floor of their cells and during the first weeks two more prisoners died. However, Pratt gradually improved the situation. He obtained army uniforms, beds and bedding, abolished shackles and left the cells open. Furthermore, he got his sueriors´ permission for the prisoners to "carry non-operational rifles", as well as to organize their own guard duty and law enforcement.
When the Native American prisoners appeared outside Saint Augustine, the picturesque small town had since a few years back begun to attract wealthy summer visitors. Several of them were curious about Fort Marion's exotic inmates, some of whom had obtained a certain fame through books and newspaper articles. Eventually, Pratt allowed outsiders to visit the fortress. The prisoners had by then then achieved a “certain degree of civilization” after being forced to attend daily lessons for several hours in English, Christianity and general “civilization”, organized by ladies from Saint Augustine's high society.
Sermons and guest lectures were also provided by benevolent philanthropists. For example, Henry Whipple from Minnesota often visited and preached in the church on the Anastasia Island, located opposite Fort Marion, where the prisoners were taken every Sunday. This Whipple was the same bishop who had persuaded President Lincoln to pardon some of the Sioux warriors and save them from the mass execution in Mankota. Due to bishop's wife´s weak lungs, the Whipple couple spent their summer months in Saint Augustine. Henry Whipple was now known as the Advocate of the Indians and declared that if they accepted Jesus and a civilized way of life, primitive natives could be “just as decent as any other American citizen.”
Howling Wolf, a loyal supporter of Woo-ka-nay and survivor from the Sand Creek massacre, who had fought the Whites as long as long as he was able to do it, quickly learned English (he was already fluent in Spanich), enthusiastically attended all the lessons and to gain some income he entertained visitors by dressing up in his traditional costume to dance, instructed them in archery, aw well as he sold drwings and sold signed photographs of himself, like the stereoscope image below.
During the three years that most of the Indians were imprisoned in Fort Marion, they eventually became popular in San Augustine. They were commonly called “our Florida Boys” and almost all prisoners made an effort to provide and impression of being hard-working, disciplined and benevolent young men who without protest were trying to embrace “American culture”. All of them learned English, and even if they at first had been reluctant to allow themselves to be instructed by women, they soon accepted the benevolent treatment they received from their female teachers. Here, a group of chieftains from different tribes have been photographed together with Captain Pratt and Sarah Mather, good friend of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Richard Pratt's well-behaved Indians became a national success, despite General Sherdian's muttering that the endeavour smelled of “Indian twaddle”. Societies for “Native American welfare” were established and several schools founded to educate young Indians to “socially useful citizens”. Several wealthy ladies visited Fort Marion. For example, Alice Key Pendleton, married to the influential Senator George Hunt Pendleton. Alice especially cared for the former Cheyenne warriors O-kuh-ha-tuh, Caryl Zotom (Snakehead) and Ho-na-nist-to (Howling Wolf). Her friend Mary Douglass Burnham, who was a deaconess at the American Episcopal Church and together with Sarah Mather worked as a teacher at Fort Marion, ensured that Zotom and O-kuh-ha-tuh were further trained after their release, with the financial support of the Pendletons. Both fomer warriors were eventually ordained as deacons of the Episcopal Church. O-kuh-ha-tah, was in 1985 canonized as a saint by the Episcopal Church, while Zotom early on abandoned his Christian faith, returned to the remains of his tribe, and resumed his traditional way of life.
When he was baptized as a Christian, O-kuh-ha-tah took the name David Pendleton Oakerhater, probably as a sign that he had definitely left his original faith. His previous name meant Sun Dancer and among the Cheyenne he was from a young age regarded as an unusually talented Medicine Man and as the youngest warrior who ever had submitted himself to and endured entire Sundance ordeal. Already at the age of fourteen, O-kuh-ha-tah had become a member of Woo-ka-nay´s Bowstring League. Before he was imprisoned, O-kuh-ha-tah was a well-known warrior who had taken part in battles against hostile Otoe and Missouri tribes. After surviving both the Sand Creek and Washita massacres, O-kuh-ha-tah had actively fought the U.S. Army for several years before surrendering with Howling Wolf and arriving at Fort Sill. Like Howling Wolf, O-kuh-ha-tah was initially proud of his past as one of the Cheyenne's youngest and boldest warriors, and as such, he appeared in his ledger drawing below. Together with Howling Wolf and Zotom, David Pendleton is now considered as the best among Fort Marion´s many ledger artists.
Although most of Fort Marion's prisoners proved to be astonishingly adaptable, there were exceptions. For example, Mochi, Buffalo Calf. Her bloody past and refusal to attend classes made both teachers and the white guards fear and avoid her. Julia Gibbs, another of the teachers, wrote about Mochi:
She spent hours staring out at the sea and never wavered in her refusal “to take the white man’s road.”
Mochi had been twenty-four years old when a drunken soldier during the Sand Creek massacre broke into her parents' teepe, killed her mother bya shot to the head and raped Mochi, who then shot the perpetrator with her grandfather's rifle. She managed to escape the massacre and a few years later married the famous Medicine Man and warrior Medicine Water, known as one of Woo-ka-nay's toughest fighters. For ten years, Mochi actively fought alongside her husband.
The couple was high on the army's list of “murderous Indians”. In 1874 they had participated in an assault on a reconnaissance party led by Captain Oliver Francis Short. The captain and five of his men were killed and scalped. One month later, Medicine Water's gang ambushed John German and his family, who were traveling through Kansas with their ox-drawn wagon. German, his son and two daughters were killed and scalped. Mochi killed his wife Liddia with a tomahawk blow. Four of the killed couple's daughters were spared and later handed over to a fort where they could testify about what had happened.
Both Medicine Water and Mochi refused to cooperate with anyone in the fort. According to their fellow prisoners, Medicine Water was openly aggressive towards Captain Pratt, whom he considered to be a cloven-tongued manipulator who used “his trained Indians” as pawns in a political game intended to increase his personal prestige and career. Medicine Water's “stubborn refuse to cooperate” meant that he on several occasions was placed in solitary confinement.
Mochis and Medicine Water's lack of cooperation, as well as the fact that several of Fort Marion's prisoners after their release chose to return to a miserable life on the reservations, instead of embracing the blessings of civilization, suggest that Pratt's project to transform “his” Florida Boys into well-behaved American citizens were not entirely successful. Model students like Zotom and Howling Wolf returned after a couple of years as “well-adjusted Americans”, to the faith and life of their fathers. A ledger drawing by Howling Wolf depicts how a group of Native American students attentively listen to an enthusiastic teacher, while a somewhat spooky, Native American spirit figure seems to smile at the spectacle.
What is seldom pointed out in connection with so-called acculturation processes is that they do not always mean that so-called indigenous peoples adopt to “modern life”. Among the prisoners was a “Kiowa”, a certain “Dick” who actually was a former escaped black slave from the Southern States who had been “adopted” by the Kiowas. Julia Gibbs also mentions that a Cheyenne warrior who in fact
was an Irishman who had been abducted as a child – we called him Irish and he was always full of fun and joy.
A couple of other Cheyenne warriors were mestizos from Mexico. Speaking of “Dick”, I might mention an excellent book that gives a completely different picture of the Wild West than the one I had been used to from books and movies, namely Willam Katz´s The Black West, about African-American cowboys, cavalrymen, fur hunters, settlers and "Indians".
In interwar Europe, there was, just like nowadays, a tension between internationally/globally oriented groups and nationalist/chauvinist ideologies. The Belgian folklorist Albert Marinus and the French social anthropologist Arnold van Gennep treid to convince the League of Nations (NF) to establish an organization that would promote cultural exchange between all countries of the world. Van Gennep in particular was preoccupied by what he considered to be a dangerous trend in European populism. van Gennep, whose studies on rites de passages have had a major impact on a number of behavioral sciences, not least History of Religions and Social Anthropology, was born in Germany to a German father and a Dutch mother, but mainly worked at universities in Switzerland and France.
At that time and even now, something I discovered when I worked at UNESCO in Paris a few years ago is that world leaders were well aware that culture and power are interlinked and many of them are consequently reluctant to accept such cultural expressions they considerto be dangerous for their political agendas. Accordingly, it took a long time before the NF was bold enough to support a project that paid homage to all the world's different cultures, intending to present them as a quest for community, joy and creativity.
On condition that they absolutely did not engage in oral storytelling traditions and so-called popular religion, 1928 gave a go-ahead for the Commission des Arts et Traditions Populaires (CIAP) to convene a congress in Prague with the participation of a large number of the world's leading ethnographers and social anthropologists. The event was unusually extensive and successful. Not only researchers were welcomed but also representatives of different indigenous peoples, who were treated with far greater respect than has previously been the case at international gatherings.
The Congress Secretariat received 230 academic papers, of which 180 were printed in an epoch-making book – Art Populaire published in 1931 in Paris. Like the Congress, the contributions emphasized art and a feature that attracted much attention in Prague was when a group of Prairie Indians and ethnologists presented a collection of ledger drawings from Fort Marion, made by Howling Wolf, David Pendleton Oakerhater and Zotom, among others. Howling Wolf and Zotom were dead and the eighty-four-year-old Oakhalter could not attend, but their art ignited an interest in Native Americans that had been thriving in Europe ever since the so called era of Romantic Art, expressed in works like François-René de Chateaubriand's wildly popular novel Atala from 1801.
The Prague Congress coincided with the a Czechoslovak popular movement called trampling, which meant that young people sought refuge in the wilderness that remained in the country, where live “Indian life”, mainly inspired by Karl May's books. As early as 1930, there were more than 50,000 active trampers in the Czechoslovakia. The movement has survived, something I found a year ago when I saw an exhibition about Czech tramps at the Ethnographic Museum in Prague. There I once again, among other things, saw Zdeněk Burian's illustrations for my childhood's Karl May books.
The Ledger Artists had almost all been imrpisoned Native American warriors who at the same time and for a short while had parctised their art a various prison institutions. In Prague, Congress visitors discovered that the ledger artists portrayed a self-perceived reality and thus offered a unique insight into how the indigenous people of the United States perceived their existence. Suddenly, these coloured drawings on loose-leaf sheets and notebook that previously generally had been despised as awkward attempts to make a small profit visitors who had come to gape at exotic prisoners.
Captain Richard Pratt and the benevolent female teachers at Fort Marion had more or less consciously been engaged in what Pratt in a speech he gave at George Mason University in 1892, describes as “killing the Indian and saving the Man”:
It is a great mistake to think that the Indian is born an inevitable savage. He is born a blank, like all the rest of us. Left in the surroundings of savagery, he grows to possess a savage language, superstition, and life. We, left in the surroundings of civilization, grow to possess a civilized language, life, and purpose. Transfer the infant white to the savage surroundings, he will grow to possess a savage language, superstition, and habit. Transfer the savage-born infant to the surroundings of civilization, and he will grow to possess a civilized language and habit. [If] we cease to teach the Indian that he is less than a man then we will recognize that he is capable in all respects as we are, and that he only needs the opportunities and privileges which we possess to enable him to assert his humanity and manhood.
The idealistic Richard Pratt realized the importance of art as a culture carrier and understood that if he wanted to make the general public concerned about the welfare of Native Americans he had to make it interested in the uniqueness of Native American culture, the next step would then be to obliterate these “primitive traits” from the Indians mind.
During weekdays, Captain Pratt forbade his prisoners to speak their respective languages and under threat of punishment forced them to speak English and they were also forced to wear their prison uniforms. During weekends, however, visitors were invited to the facility and then the prisoners were allowed to wear traditional costumes and weapons they had manufactured in the prison's textile studio and workshops. In such outfits they were also allowed to move relatively freely in the town where they also were free to sell their handicrafts and drawings. Pratt tried to inspire his prisoners to depict their dreams and hopes in their notebooks, though if he had hoped that they would draw and paint expectations of a “civilized” existence, he was mistaken. Ledger Art came to be nostalgic depictions of Native American´s earler life in freedom; their rites, visions, wars and history.
Joyce Szabo, who has written extensively about Ledger Art, stated that her discovery
of it was such an emotional experience for me. I realized that the drawings were not about hunting or battle, they were about freedom. It’s kinda like the blues.
Her observation is highly applicable to Howling Wolf's drawings. By and large, he painted and drew only during his time as a prisoner of war, and he sold all his work, almost all of which was autobiographical. When he presented himself in the drawings, he did so together with a small hieroglyph depicting a howling wolf.
He never repeated himself and several of Howling Wolf's drawings have an almost abstract ornamentation.
The art of the Ledger Artists did not spring from nowhere. It was based on a long tradition in which mainly women had painted abstract, meaningful patterns on clothes, moccasins, teepes, shields and many more everyday objects.
Men decorated themselves and their horses with “war paint”, remembered and exposed their exploits through the feathers that they artistically arranged in their magnificent war bonnets. On buffalo and deer skins they kept “count of the days”, i.e. depicted hunting, war scenes and visions.
Admittedly, even most ledger drawings describe hunting and fighting, often quite cruel incidents, several nevertheless depict the quiet everyday life in the Cheyenne villages.
Some of them also depict of romantic encounters and non-ritual dances, such as here where Howling Wolf and his friend The Feathered Bear try to impress two girls fetching water.
Cheyenne and Sioux are often portrayed as misogynistic and bloodthirsty warriors, though in their poetry and art there are plenty of love poems and depictions of romantic cravings. As in this song that was recorded by the beginning of the last century by the music anthropologist Frances Theresa Densmore:
In her canoe I see her,
maiden of my delighted eyes.
I see in the rippling of the water
the trailing sipped from her paddling blade,
a signal sent to me.
Ah, maiden of my desire,
give me a place in your canoe.
Hand me the paddle blade,
and I will steer you away wherever you would go.
Virtually all of the prioners at Fort Marion had been members of Warrior Leagues and were thus visionaries who had suffered the trials of the Sundance, a prerequisite for entering the warrior communities. This could have been a contributing reason to why several Prairie Indians later converted to Catholicism, which often emphasizes the torments Christ as a sacrificial death that proved his greatness. How Jesus through a personal sacrifice overcame the suffering and humiliation brought about through of life and thus to his fellow beings gave hope of salvation. A true Medicine Man.
While imprisoned at Fort Marion, Howling Wolf's eye sight deteriorated and it was feared that he would become blind. The fort's doctors recommended expert help that at the time was available in Boston, where a well-known doctor performed so-called extra-capsular cataract extractions. Alice Key Pendleton paid for Howling Wolf's travel, treatment, and subsistence. Unexpectedly, the complicated operation succeeded and Howling Wolf's vision improved. During his several-month-long convalescence in Boston, Howling Wolf became impressed by “the white man's way of life”. He already spoke fluent English and Spanish and now dressed in European clothes. When he was after his return to Fort Marion was pardoned after five months, Howling Wolf moved back to his relatives, together with his father, Minimic, Eagle's Head, with whom he had shared his imprisonment.
For five years Howling Wolf worked in the Oklahoma reservation as teacher and policeman. However, when his father, who had never given up his traditional faith and remained a revered member of the Bowstring League, died in 1881 Howling Wolf renounced his Christian faith and retrieved his former name, Ho-na- nist-to. He shouldered his father's leadership over the Bowstring League and began to propagate for his tribe's return to their former traditions. He wrote a letter to Captain Pratt at Fort Marion declaring that:
You opened the white man's path to me and that was good. At the fort you gave us clothes,
but when we had been here one year they were about all gone […] When I hunted the Buffalo I was not poor. When I was with you I did not have want for anything, but here I am poor. I would like to go out on the planes hunting, since there I could roam at will and never come back again.
Like his father, Ho-na-nist-to had been a great admirer of Woo-ka-nay, who among White Men had been labeled as a bad Indian. Howver, according to Ho-na-nist-to, Woo-ka-nay had been a great Medicine Man. "He could spend hours preparing his medicine, his mind and his spirit." A Medicine Man called Ice had given Woo-ka-nay the first feathers for what would become an impressive war bonnet. Ice, who later came to be known as White Bull, had assured Woo-ka-nay that as long as he wore his war bonnet in battle he would not be killed, but it was on the condition that he never took a white man by the hand and before a battle did not touch iron.
At Fort Marion, Howling Wolf drew and painted a several pictures of his hero Woo-ka-nay. As in the drawing below where we see Howling Wolf at the top right and Woo-ka-nay at the bottom left. The artwork depicts how in a place surrounded by tepees, the Bowstring League prepares for battle. In the middle are seven warriors seated, six of them carry the league´s sacred spears, while the man in carries its coupe stick. Stars and Stripes sway over them as a sign that the ceremony is taking place before one of the warrior skirmishes with the US Army.
Ho-na-nist-to was present when Woo-ka-nay was killed during the battle of Beecher Island. The warlord had before and during the fighting touched iron in the sense that he had received a rifle from one of his followers. During the battle, Woo-ka-nay dropped his war bonnet and in the isntant after that was hit by a rifle shot straight in his heart. An incident that that convinced Ho-na-nist-to that, after all, the old visionaries had been right in their beliefs and predictions. It was because of this conviction that Hoewling Wolf after his father had died took back his Native American name and returned to the faith of his ancestors.
As he approached the age of seventy, Ho-na-nist-to realized that his family was suffering from its chronic poverty and decided to take advantage of the Pale Faces' interest in Native American exoticism, which he had experienced during his time at Fort Marion. Together with his sons, Ho-na-nist-to decided to organize a Wild West Show with dance numbers, indigenous music and horse shows. The show became relatively successful and Ho-na-nist-to was able to acquire both a house and a car. It was when he drove home to Oklahoma from one of his shows in Houston, Texas, that he in 1927 died in a car accident.
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