BEFORE THE RED COATS CAME
Survivors of Indians Who Roved Plains Before Civilization Reached West, Relate View-point of White Man’s “Invasion"
CHIEF BUFFALO CHILD LONG LANCE
CHIEF B. C. LONG LANCE is a full-blooded Indian who is now engaged in uncovering and recording eye-witness accounts, from various Indian warriors, many now nearing the, century mark, of what Western Canada was like before the white man came. Long Lance is admirably fitted for this woork. He is a journalist of proven ability and has been on the regular staffs of several Canadian papers, including the Calgary Herald and Vancouver Sun. He is a graduate of Carlisle Indian School (an athletic contemporary of the famous Jim Thorpe) ; of St. John's Military Academy, Manlius; and was appointed to West Point by then President Wilson in 1915. He game up this appointment to go overseas with the C. E. F. early in 1916. He enlisted as a private, was twice wounded, and returned as a captain. He, is chief of the Blood Tribe of Southern Alberta.
old-time Indian is slow and deliberate in all of his actions and words—and besides, the chief must have time to “prepare the pipe.” He draws forth the.long tribal pipe— some of which are hundreds of years old—from his fire bag, and then reaches his hand into the bag and pulls forth a handful of kinnikinic, which he places on the ornamented tobacco board on the ground n front of him. Kinnikinic is the Indian word for “tobacco.” It is
through the air several times, passes it to me, whence it is started on its course around the circle. This pipe is kept going continuously during the remainder of the pow-wow. Smoking with the old Indian is an institution, a ceremonious art as formal in its procedure as the serving of tea in the white man’s drawing room. The white man calls any noisy gathering a pow-wow. No two persons ever speak at the same time at an Indian council pow-wow.
Modesty of the Red Man
The First of a Series of Two Articles
WE ARE now sitting at a pow-wow on the Starblanket Reserve in the historic File Hills of Saskatchewan. Smoking-Old-Man, ninety-four years old, who has been recognized as chief since the death of the late Chief Starblanket, is the first to break the silence after the pipe has been lighted:
“You are a chief of the Blood tribe?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Do you Blackfeet people ("Bloods) feel unfriendly towards us for the fights we used to have?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, we Cree people can tell you much about our wars with the Blackfeet and the Sioux—they were our worst enemies in the old days. I was just thinking how good it is that we can sit here now like this and talk about the old times. Before the ‘Red Coats’ came we could not sleep at night. We did not know when we would be attacked. Sometimes we would build fires in our tepees to light them up, and then we would go out on the prairie close-by and sleep. But everything is changed now. We go to bed and sleep soundly.”
The council pow-wows among the Plains Crees, with whom I am dealing in these two articles, were held in accordance with the dignified regulations of the old-time Indian—in large teepees filled with distinguished warriors who take their seats according to their attainments on the warpath. We sit on the ground, in a large circle around a glowing fire, with the chief presiding at the seat of honor opposite the entrance. His councilmen sit on either side of him, and the warriors take up their relative positions on the left flank, the most renowned sitting next to the outermost councilman. In this position the more distinguished braves get the sweetest smokes of the pipe, which are the first few puffs, while those down, towards the door get the strong tobacco juice.
After the chief has formally welcomed me as a visiting chief, we sit in silence for about fifteen minutes; for the
made from the leaves and bark of red willow or sumac.
He chops this into small bits and rakes -t into a neat pile in the centre of the board. Then he fills the pipe, takes a few puffs himself and, after flourishing the pipe
WHEN everyone has taken his smoke on the pipe, the chief says, “Anh-h,” denoting that we are ready to proceed. The warriors have been gazing gravely at the ground in front of them. They raise their eyes and begin to scrutinize the circle. Finally one of them singles out the most distinguished individual present and asks him to relate a given noted exploit of which he was the hero. The Indian has a code of modesty which prevents him telling voluntarily of any brave or noble deed which he has performed. That is why an Indian will never tell his own name, invariably turning to some other tribesman to tell it for him. His name has usually been earned through some brave act, and he is too modest to mention the descriptive cognomen which the tribe has bestowed upon him.
Now that the reader has been given the atmosphere of the pow-wow, I shall take him through some of these sittings, endeavoring to make his presence by my side as real as possible without too much word-painting.
My object in doing this is two-fold; firstly, I want to give the white man the first opportunity he has ever had of hearing the Indian’s own story of his own battles, experiences and customs, told in his own language and around his own fireside; and, secondly, I want to preserve the Indian’s own history of himself before it is too late; before all of our old men who were here before the white man came have passed away.
It is needless for me to remark that those Indians who are able to leave this history to posterity will not be with us a few years hence; and that the young and middleaged Indians have been too busy learning the “new way” to remember very much of what he has heard about the camp-fire. Too much of Indian history has already been left to the tale-teller.
Will the Indian “Come Back”?
UNMASKING the fascinating history of the Indians of Saskatchewan and delving back into those stern days preceding the coming of the white man—and then reviewing their progress during the last twenty years— one encounters a true story which dampens the most exaggerated pranks of fiction. Story writers have calloused their imaginations trying to enshroud the Indian in a glamor of romance; but the actual narrative of the Red Man as told to me by those warriors who were roaming these plains from eighty to one hundred years ago, requires no artificial embellishment to inspire it with the zest of universal human interest.
Struck as by a thunderbolt with an entirely new set of ideals and living conditions in the heyday of their supremacy as rulers of the western plains, the Indians of Saskatchewan and the neighboring territory have within jess than a generation evolved from roving bands of semi-barbarians into settled communities of self-respect-
ïng, industrious Canadian subjects. The impact of this sudden change has left its mark upon the health and native moral fibre of the race, as might be expected, but this recoil has already given way to signs of an uphill climb, which indicates that the prairie Indian has now reached his lowest ebb, and that, thus recovered from his first shock, he is destined once again to become the virile individual that he once was. His hardest task has been to convert his old fighting nitiative which has lain dormant for years, into that realm of mental aggressiveness required by civilization. The present generation is just now learning to do that.
The older Indians who received the full force of the blow dealt by this whirlwind change, and who have since passed from barbarism to civilization, are still visibly dazed by the hurricane of changes that has taken place under their eyes. It was they who made treaties with the incoming race, heard glowing accounts of what their future would be, and then waited. Many of them are still waiting, stolid-faced and thoughtful.
WESTERN Indians of the younger generation have been led by the circumstances of their birth to accept things as they found them, and they are to-day striving to compete with their environment. With continued encouragement of the right kind, they will do so in a marked degree; and with better educational facilities than those available at present, their children should far exceed their efforts, which are indeed gratifying at the present moment.
Many and severe are the handicaps under which the Indian has had to fight since the advent of the new era; for everyone knows that civilization’s first gifts to him were the worst it had to give: drunkenness, immorality and disease. These were thrust upon him by the lower elements of the incoming race before he had yet heard of the better things which civilization had to offer. None of these curses was comprehended by him before and therefore for a time they made ravaging inroads upon his well-being. But he recuperated as perhaps few aboriginal races could have done; and although still bearing the scars of his experience, he is to-day a good example of stability: peaceful and living on a higher moral plane than many civilized communities.
Saskatchewan is the home of 10,000 Indians who are distributed over sixty-eight reserves; twelve of these I have visited during the past four months. These reserves are grouped under thirteen agencies, each supervised by a resident Indian agent and his staff of farm instructors, clerks and laborers. Four tribes reside in Saskatchewan: the Crees, Saulteaux, Sioux and Assiniboines. They hold 1,173,381 acres of land valued at $12,637,568. They have 43,003 acres under cultivation, a considerable portion of their remaining land being suitable only for hunting and wood limits. 5,730 are of Protestant faith; 3008, Roman
Catholic and 1,630 still cling to their own native beliefs.
It will further assist the understanding of the reader, to point out that the Crees and Saulteaux are really the same people, speaking the same language with a slight variation of accent. The Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans of Southern Alberta are likewise really one tribe, speaking the Blackfoot language. They were split into these three so-called tribes some time before the white man came; and, with the foreign tribe of Sarcees, near Calgary, they were known in the old days as the Blackfoot Confederation. The Sioux and the Assiniboines of Saskatchewan, and the Stonys of Alberta, are also one people who were formerly known as the Siouan or Dakota tribe, whose original home was in the United States where most of the Sioux reside to-day. Like the Cree and Saulteaux tribes, the Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans have always banded together when fighting, but, strange, to say, the Assiniboines and Stonys have remained the deadliest enemies of the Sioux ever since they broke away from this parent body more than 300 years ago. Ever since their advent into the Northwest, the Assiniboines have been the strongest allies of the Crees and the Saulteaux against their common enemy, the Blackfoot tribes, and the common enemy of all tribes, the Sioux.
Although the Sioux have always been lone fighters, they were a brave and noble people, and it is largely from their history and appearance that the white man draws his prevailing conception of the North American Indian. The above tribes constitute all of what are commonly called the Canadian Plains Tribes.
But we must continue our pow-wow with Chief Smoking-Old-Man and his braves. After a pause, Red Dog, fifty-five years-old son of the late Chief Starblanket, turns to Night Owl and asks him to tell me of an attack on the Sioux in which Night Owl came out as the only survivor, with his leg broken in three places.
Night Owl, now seventy years old, is the son of Chief White Buffalo who died a number of years ago; and in spite of his age he still bears that redoubtable appearance of the warrior of the old school which is seldom met with in the younger generation.
Night Owl’s Escapade
A FORMIDABLE host of Sioux had circled the Qu’Appelle Valley and had pitched their camp a little to the west of the present town of Balcarres. This was in the fall of 1869, when Night Owl was an adventurous youth of seventeen. A close relative of his had lately been killed by the Sioux and he had vowed his vengeance upon the “Cut-throats,” as the Sioux were called by the
plains tribes in the old days. So he organized a raiding party of six Crees and started west to find the enemy. They sighted the Sioux shortly before sundown; and, as darkness grew on, they crawled closer and closer to their encampment, until finally, when it was dark and the Sioux were asleep, they lay resting on their weapons barely twenty paces from the enemy tepees.
N ght Owl’s chum was delegated to go ahead and enter one of the tepees, slay its occupants and return, when the other members of the party would be required to do likewise. But just as his chum was lifting his hand to raise the flap covering the door, a shot burst forth, and he dropped mortally wounded. Night Owl ran forward to rescue him, and received a bullet through the knee. At this stage his companions started to'run away, but they were overtaken by the Sioux and killed a few yards away. Thus he was left to battle alone in the fierce hand-tohand encounter which followed. He killed several of them without firing a shot, and then managed to reach the underbrush a few yards away. The Sioux came after him, but in the darkness, were unable to find him as he lay breathless at their feet. He had received two other wounds as he retreated, and his leg was now shattered in three places.
He had crawled about a mile when dawn overtook him and the Sioux resumed their search. They found him sitting in a field. He fired upon them first, killing two of them, and they retreated. Realizing that he would have to cover more ground than he had crawled over during the past few hours, he placed the butt of his gun against his stomach, grasped the stock with both hands and, using this piece as a crutch, retreated as fast as he could, with his shattered limb dragging along the ground. He traveled five days in this manner without food. On the fifth day he shot a badger and a duck. He ate this meat, made himself a pair of moccasins from the badger skin, and resumed his journey.
Late on the following afternoon he was discovered by two men from the United States who took him to Wood Mountain. They kept him there a year, doctoring his wounds. At the end of this period, however, he heard one day that they were going to amputate his leg; and that night, during a raging snow-storm, he ran away barefooted, without even moccasins. He would rather have died than lose his leg, he said. Two days later he was picked up by a party of “stranger Indians” and taken to the Cypress Hills of Southwestern Saskatchewan, where he was doctored back to physical fitness by the tribal Medicine Man. Early that summer he was returned to his people as sound as ever. He found that he had long since been given up for dead, and that his favorite horse had been shot, that it might serve him in the Spirit Land. “I killed five Sioux in that fight,” he said, “and I know I hurt many of them, but that is the only bad thing I ever did.”
Continued on page 48
Continued from page 13
HE THOUGHT for a moment and then continued reminiscently:
“In the old days when I was a boy—before the white man came—there were plenty of buffalo and animals everywhere. At that time there were a lot of old men and it was nice to be around. Now we have no old men. They seldom reach a hundred years. In those days we ate plenty, of meat and we were strong and healthy. These (pointing to his teeth) never came out nor grew rotten then; now they are bad in the young people; for when the white man came we started to eat bread, sweets and everything. We did not have to weigh our food in those days; we ate all we wanted whenever we were hungry.”
At this point Smoking-Old-Man joined in:
“When I was a boy my grandfather, Conahachapao, told me that the white man would come into this country. He said that some day they would be everywhere. I did not believe him. He said that the white man would drive the buffalo away, and he told me everything that the white man would do. I saw the first white man when I was fifteen. Since then the Cree people went clear to the Rocky Mountains after the buffalo, but did not see any. We got many promises at the treaty, but I do not see all of them. I see now that everything my grandfather said was true, and I wonder if he can see it.” He relapsed into reverie, and I left him to his thoughts. The old man’s eyes were misty.
The Blackfeet, the Crees and Saulteaux used to paint their faces according to how they happened to feel upon rising in the morning. Thus if one felt happy, sad, revengeful or war-like, these moods or any others would be painted on one’s face for the day.
The Crees, on special occasions when they strip off to the breech-cloth, reproduce their old wounds on their body in paint, at the exact spot where they occurred. Usually these wounds are reproduced with such perfection that it is difficult to tell them fromfresh lacerations or bullet holes. Frog legs, brother of Chief Masqua of the Piapot Reserve, came in for a lot of envy from the Blackfoot delegation at the last Winnipeg Stampede. He noticed, as he stood stripped off as above on the Stampede grounds, that he was the center of curiosity for the Blackfoot delegation of old warriors, wrho crowded around him and regarded his wound-covered back with grudging mien. Finally one of them, with true Indian curiosity .stepped up from the rearand un-
ceremoniously poked one of the roundred nodules which stood out luridly from the rest just above the shoulder blade. Frog Legs uttered a muffled grunt and jumped several feet. They were boils, which his envious admirers had mistaken for painted bullet wounds.
The Indian as a Farmer
IN THE preceding paragraphs I have taken the reader into friendly intimacy with the older Indians because their side of the story is more interesting to the general reader. But there is another side to the Indian story: that revealing the progress made by the present generation of the western Indian. The 30,000 Treaty Indians in the three prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had in crop during the past season 50,000 acres of land, which yielded nearly 1,000,000 bushels of grain. They have ready for crop this year 32,000 acres of land, and with the spring plowing yet to be done, it is expected that this year’s acreage under cultivation will exceed the 1922 figures. They own 350,000 head of cattle and stock. Additional importance is added to these figures when it is considered that the western Indian commenced farming only a few years ago, and that they are still in that generation which lived here when the white man first came into the west.
Canada is the home of 105,998 Indians; British Columbia and Ontario being the two leading Indian provinces, with 24,744 and 20,967 aboriginal inhabitants, respectively. Alarming decreases of population were shown between 1909 and 1915, but on most of the reserves visited by me from Manitoba to the Pacific coast, and in Alaska, during the past year, I have found small yearly increases since the influenza epidemic of 1918, which took an enormous toll from the younger generation.
The Indians of Canada may be divided arbitrarily into four groups: the Pacific Coast Indians, the Plains Indians, the Eastern Indians and the Northern Indians. Each of these groups has its distinctive physical features and set of customs. This geographical grouping, for which I make myself solely responsible, in order to present exhibits for the following remarks, is more characteristic of the Indians of Canada at this stage of their history than their true arrangement by linguistic families, which are: the Salishans of Central, Southern and Coastal British Columbia; the Tsimshians of Northern British Columbia; the Athabascans of the Northern countries; the
Algonquins from the Atlantic Coast to the Rocky Mountains; the Iroquoians of Quebec and the Siouans jutting into the Algonquins on the prairies.
Of these four geographical groups, the Plains Indians have had the least touch with the white man and civilization. The Coastal Indians have been in contact with the white man since 1792, the North*ern Indians during the last 150 years, the Eastern Indians since 1608; but comparatively young Plains Indians can remember the first white man they saw. And most of them have seen very little of him since; for their reserves are far removed from towns and railroads.
That is why many eastern sight-seers are disappointed when they get off the train at Regina and Calgary expecting to find painted Indians loitering about the station. They may remain several months and fail to see an Indian. If they want to see the Indian they will, in most instances, take a branch line train and travel fifty or one hundred miles, get off at a small village and then drive ten or fifteen miles to the reserve. There are arguments for and against this isolation, but in the long run it may prove best for the Plains Indian; for, unlike most other Indians, he has the opportunity of developing in his own environment, out of touch with the temptations which would befall him ín a city. I think those acquainted with the western Indian will agree that the moral habits of the Indians on these reserves are better than those in the average modern community; that is, there is no drunkenness to be found there, no fighting nor thieving occurs and immorality is exceedingly rare. Although the Plains Indian still likes his sweatbath over heated stones, he has practically ceased taking his morning plunge in the river, his rain and snow baths; and he is not quite so tidy about his tepee as he used to be. He lives in houses during the winter and in tepees during the Spring, Summer and Fall months.
His Two Big Needs
HIS two greatest needs are better educational and medical facilities. At present the church denominations control Indian education in Canada, the government paying $165 a year for each student entered in a church boarding school. The younger Plains Indians are arriving at that stage where they are becoming critical on the subject of education, and they are no longer satisfied with the meagre learning afforded them in the past. The Indians seem to have advanced farther than many of the institutions which were provided for their requirements in the old days and have not since kept pace with Indian development. The great need seems to be an educational outlet for those Indian youths who are mentally equipped to benefit by higher learning. Some of the present Indian schools are earnestly striving to solve this and other educational problems. Many of them are attaining excellent results. But the petty jealousies existing between many of the religious denominations prove an almost insurmountable handicap everywhere, this or that denomination holding back the best efforts of another which desires to climb out of the rut. Most Indians believe that this condition, approaching chaos in many districts, would be done away with if -Indian education were separated from the church, as has been done in the white schools. The great task accomplished by all of the churches, in relieving the Indian of his superstition, is not to be overlooked, however. But many believe that their efforts in this direction would be strengthened if they were relieved of the necessity of gaining converts through the schools, as is the practice in many districts.
The Indian department has just introduced an innovation in the system of Indian education which no doubt will greatly improve past conditions. The department has arranged to utilize the services of the regular public school inspectors in seven provinces, in an effort to bring the Indian schools, from an academic standpoint, up to the standard of the public schools. Indications are that the department is instituting a policy of expanding the system and rapidly conforming to the programme of studies laid down by the various provincial departments of education. This will enable Indians everywhere to qualify to enter the high schools, which has not been possible under
the past low standard of training. In my travels through the reserves on the West I have met several of these regular school inspectors on their first inspection tour of the Indian schools. They all are a very high type of man, keenly qualified to make Indian education what it should be, if their recommendations are accepted.
Without good, common-sense education, all of the advantages to be obtained by improving the Western Indian in his own environment will be rendered worthless. Growing industrious but ignorant, he will be anything but an asset to Canadian society twenty years hence.
The North American Indian has been described as the finest raw material civilization ever had presented to it for working into a better product. His native qualities earned for him in the old days the appellation “noble.” What will his acquired qualities earn for him? With better education, better medical attention and with more contact with the better elements of the white race, I would say, a substantial and desirable place in Canada’s man and womanhood.
(The second and concluding article will appear in the next issue.)