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(voyage icon)1835

We left this place about 4 P.M., and landed for the night at six, at a blacksmith's shop built by the United States Government, for the use of a band of Indians in this neighbourhood, but now abandoned. There was, however, a log hut, a blacksmith's shop, an anvil, some iron and steel, but nobody to take care of them. As soon as the tent was pitched, and our fires lighted, a very respectable old-looking Sioux Indian, who had espied us from an island in the river, crossed over to our camp in his canoe with two children, a boy and a girl about nine and ten years old. He walked up to me as I was entering some memoranda in my note-book, and extending his hand, said "Capitaine! Capitaine!"--the only word he knew out of his own language. I now took out my vocabulary, and sending for the serjeant, we soon got into a way of understanding each other. About the names of things we had little or no difficulty, for he soon saw that I wanted him to give me the pronunciation, and when I pointed to anything, he would name it two or three times, and when I had caught the sound, and pronounced it to him from my book, he would give an approving grunt and smile. But when I wanted to ask him questions about their enemies, the Ojibways, whether any marauding bands of either nation were out, and whether I was likely to meet with any of them before I reached Fort Snelling, we got into a perfect colloquial bog. ...

... The old man remained very contentedly about two hours; I gave him a part of my supper, and biscuits and sugar for his children, which they were quite delighted with, the word "washtay" escaping them several times when they licked the fair white loaf sugar, which they put by after tasting it. When my supper was over, he rose, took his children to the canoe, and I saw him by the moonlight paddling over to the island. I now entered the tent and began my evening's work of bringing up my notes, at the close of which, hearing some unknown voices at my fire, I looked out, and lo! my Indian acquaintance, his two children, and two of his wives, each of them carrying a male papoose. I now understood why he had taken his departure so abruptly, without bidding me "Good bye;" the truth being, that, pleased with my kind treatment of him, he had determined to bring his ladies to my camp, and introduce them to the Capitaine. I received them of course very kindly, shewed them the tent, of which they expressed great admiration, and presented them with various delicacies, one of which had such an insinuating effect upon them, that they lost all their Indian reserve, ate everything that I placed before them, laughed as heartily as ever I saw women do, and seemed to be perfectly happy.

The irresistible elixir which unstarched these Indian belles was kept by me more as a medicine than as a cordial, for use upon extraordinary occasions, in various bottles inclosed in wicker-work to prevent breakage, for I never taste anything of the kind myself; and the form in which I administered it to these ladies may be best described, perhaps, as a "glass of pretty stiff hot brandy and water, with plenty of sugar in it." Seated amidst them near the cheerful fire, under the brilliant moon, I could not but contemplate with interest the condition of these poor people. It was evident they were good-tempered, confiding, cheerful, and grateful, and might in time, by kind and judicious treatment, be raised from their degraded position. Beau Pré now came up and said that L'Amirant had passed several winters amongst the upper Sioux, and spoke the Yankton dialect pretty well. I was delighted to hear this, and sending for him, asked him if he really could converse with these people. Upon which he immediately addressed the man, and in a few minutes I found, to my perfect satisfaction, that he could interpret betwixt us.

The Indian now informed me that his name was Ompaytoo Wakee, or Daylight; that he was brother to Wabeshaw, a celebrated chief, who with his band resided at their village built on a prairie on the right bank of the Mississippi, which we should see as we passed up the river. Minnay Chon ka hah, the outlier we had visited in the afternoon, was in fact, he said, a sort of island, as there was an obscure passage round it. Finding I could now keep up a conversation with him, I asked him "where the moon went to when it set?" and he answered that "it went travelling on until it came up on the east again." I then asked him "who was the father of the two little papooses?" when he answered that he was. We now came back to the old question which the serjeant had so bungled, and I asked him "who was the maker of the moon?" when he immediately replied "Wakon." I asked him "who Wakon was?" and he said that every Indian knew that the moon (wee), the sun (wee ompaytoo, "sun day"), the lakes (minday), the river (wahpadah), the trees (chagn), the sky (mahpayah), the stars (weechahpee), were all made by Wakon; and here he pointed to the heaven, and said that the Indians after death went to the hunting-ground where the sun rises, and afterwards to Wakon. I asked him if they ever offered anything to Wakon, and he replied that good Indians never forgot to offer to him; and said that it was the custom of his band to go to the top of Minnay Chon ka hah, at the season for hunting wild geese, and that they made offerings to Mangwah* Wakon ("wild goose god"), that he might be favourable to them in their hunting.

Ompaytoo seemed pleased to be talked to about such matters; he expressed himself like a sensible and rational man, and convinced me that the Indians entertained juster opinions of natural theology than they had credit for. When we parted I gave the women pork and biscuit, and they presented me with some teal in return. At the last moment I desired L'Amirant to tell Ompaytoo that all good white men believed Wakon made everything as well as he did, and that they prayed to him to be good to them. That there was only one Wakon; and, as he made both the Indians and the white men, they were brothers, and Wakon was their father. That, therefore, we ought all to love one another, and that I hoped he would tell the Indians a white man had said so. He shook hands very kindly with me, and it was late in the night when they left my camp to go to their weetah, or island.

Scalp Ceremony

* The Indians are not polytheists: they believe in one Creator of all things, and when they speak of the wild goose god, it is only on the particular occasion when they pray to Wakon to give them a good hunting season of wild geese. An experienced western trader told me that he was once with a tribe of the south-western Indians on a wild horse hunt; and that the chief, on the morning they went out, put a piece of bear's meat on a stake, and holding it up, said "I have always given you a share of everything I have killed since I was a man; but I am growing old like yourself now, and cannot hunt as well as I used to do. I hope you will remember that, and help me to catch a good lot of horses, and I shall always think well of you as a "wild horse god."