The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Mysterious methods used in securing a new member.—Medicine Pipe given to the Blackfeet ages ago by the Thunder Chief.—Disturbing sounds in the big camp at night.—Excitement at daybreak caused by herald announcing an election to the Medicine Pipe Society.—Initiation of the new member.—Initiation ceremonial in Tearing Lodge's tipi because of a superstition.—Large fee for membership.
As I walked through the camp of the Grease Melters, bright inside fires lighted up the Otter, Elk and Antelope Tipis, revealing the characteristic animal paintings in soft Indian colours on the canvas. A fresh breeze blew from the mountains, gently moving the lodge ears, and tinkling the small bells attached to their decorations of buffalo tails. Hearing strange noises from a tipi, I went near to listen. The fire had burned so low that I could see nothing, but from the grunting and blowing sounds I knew that a medicine man was doctoring within, by invoking the power of the grizzly bear.
While standing in the dark shadow I noticed two men, with blankets drawn closely over their heads, moving stealthily towards Big Spring's lodge. A bright fire was burning inside. When they drew near, they stopped, as if listening. One of them approached cautiously to peer inside, and then both hurried away. When I told Mad Wolf, he explained that they were
two members of the Medicine Pipe society, choosing a new member in place of Lone Chief, who had kept his Pipe for four years and was ready to give it up. He
Click to enlarge
MEDICINE PIPE BUNDLE OVER LODGE DOOR.
(Position when in a permanent camp.)
said, "It is a difficult matter to secure an acceptable member, because the society can only take in prominent men, who can afford to pay well for the Pipe, and
to give the customary feasts and ceremonials. It is always known when a member is to be taken in, so that those who are unwilling to be chosen can sleep away from their lodges. Big Spring is sleeping to-night on a ridge to the west of camp, because he is unwilling to stand the expense and trouble of keeping a Medicine Pipe. The society is now assembled in Lone Chief's lodge, singing Owl songs and drumming. They will keep representatives out all night, with Lone Chief as leader, carrying the Pipe hidden beneath his blanket and endeavouring to find a prominent chief inside his lodge. If they catch a man unawares and offer the Pipe to him, he dare not refuse, lest sickness or even death come to him, or to some member of his family. The Medicine Pipe was given to the Blackfeet long ago, when the Thunder struck down a man. While he lay on the ground, the Thunder Chief appeared in a vision, showing him a pipe, and saying, 'I have chosen you that I might give you this Pipe. Make another just like it. Gather together also a medicine bundle, containing the skins of the many animals and birds, which go with it. Whenever any of your people are sick, or dying, a vow must be made and a ceremonial given with a feast. The sick will then be restored to health.' The Grizzly Bear afterwards appeared to this same man, and said to him, 'I give you my skin to wrap around the sacred bundle, because it is larger than the skins of other animals. Whenever you transfer the Pipe to anyone, steal quietly upon him just before daybreak, the time I am on the move, and take him by surprise, just as I do, chanting my song, and making the sound of a bear charging. When you catch a man and offer him the Pipe, he will not dare to refuse, but must accept it and smoke. It is sure death to refuse,
because no one may dare to turn away from a grizzly bear.'
"The Owl is also a prominent figure in the Pipe ceremonial, because he is a bird of the night. When the society are after a new member, they chant Owl songs and pray to the Owl for power to enable them to catch him in a deep sleep. In this way a spell is cast over him and he cannot escape. In order to propitiate the Owl they also, in the ceremonial, make use of the Siksocasim-root, which is his favourite food. The Indian made the Medicine Pipe, just as the Thunder and the Bear had instructed him. It is wrapped with raw hide and decorated with feathers and the winter skins of weasels. He also gathered together many animal and bird skins for the sacred bundle, wrapping them in a large grizzly bear skin. In the spring, when the first Thunder was heard, the Pipe was brought forth and held up. The Blackfeet had never before seen a Medicine Pipe, but they have ever since continued the ceremony."
When I finally lay down upon my blanket-bed, it was not to sleep. All in our lodge were disturbed by the many different sounds and even little Tears-in-her-eyes was restless in her hammock cradle. There were numberless dogs throughout the camp, fighting and barking. Some were on foraging expeditions, sneaking silently into the lodges in search of food. Menake saw a thieving dog in the act of making away with a side of bacon from our lodge. She made such an outcry, that he fled through the doorway with frightened yelps.
Although it was late at night, two small boys, the sons of Running Fisher and Long-time-sleeping, came to our lodge and sang a Night song as a serenade.
[paragraph continues] According to the Blackfeet custom, it was expected from me to go outside and give them food.
In Morning Plume's lodge near by, a small boy was very restless. The night air was cold and, when the fire burned low, he kept begging his old grandmother to cover him more warmly. She finally went to him, but had no sooner returned to her own bed than he began to whimper that the robes were not tucked underneath.
Click to enlarge
THE DAY HERDER.
[paragraph continues] As he was the old woman's pet, she went to him again, but said very sharply, that the night was not cold and she would do nothing more for him. Then his baby brother cried violently and I heard his mother softly crooning as she rocked him to sleep.
Beyond Morning Plume's was the small tipi of a poor young Indian named Okio. His only child, a young baby, was very sick. During the night a medicine man was sent for. The monotonous drumming, so different in sound from the dance drum, began after
midnight. It was not loud but rapid and regular, like the beating of a human heart. With the first grey signs of dawn the drum suddenly ceased, and I knew the little life was gone. For a brief moment there was a deep stillness. The mother sobbed violently, as she took the lifeless body to her breast; then, suddenly realising that it was dead, she broke into a mournful
Click to enlarge
THE NIGHT HERDER.
wail, the universal utterance, the world over, for a mother's grief over a dead child.
Such incidents in the daily life of an Indian camp are like the human experiences we constantly find in the compact cities of civilisation. Though the striking extremes of wealth and poverty are absent, the lights and shadows of domestic joy and sorrow, of health and sickness, of pathos and humour, of the grave and the gay, of love and hate, of the old man's wisdom
and thoughtfulness and the young man's folly and recklessness—all of these are present in an Indian camp, with even sharper and more impressive contrasts, because of the close association of the people.
With the dawn, a light breeze came from the Rockies, making a low humming sound in the tightly stretched canvas and causing the lodge ears to flap gently like a loose sail. The quick movement of horses’ hoofs, passing in the direction of the meadow, where the herd of horses was feeding, meant that the day-man was going to the relief of the night-herder. A sudden beating of many drums, accompanied by shouting and singing, came from the clan of Grease Melters. When I opened my door, the morning star had risen above the plains. In the uncertain light, I could distinguish a crowd marching through the camp. People in the surrounding lodges were talking excitedly and I knew something unusual had happened. Then the powerful voice of Elk Horn, the herald and a leader of the Grease Melters was heard, as he rode around the camp circle beating upon a drum. He called upon all members of the clan to build their fires and prepare the morning meal, announcing:
"The Medicine Pipe men have caught Mu-koi-sa-po, one of the leaders of our band. He has smoked the Pipe and will now become a member of their society. I call upon all of you to do your share towards the expense, for it is a great honour and will cost many horses and blankets. Do not delay for day is breaking, and the sun will soon rise. Let each one of you carry what you can give to Mu-koi-sa-po's lodge, whether it is a horse, robe, blanket, or provisions. Let everyone come."
The drums began again and Mad Wolf called to me that the society had clothed Mu-koi-sa-po in his ceremonial dress. It was the signal for them to appear and, if I did not hasten, I would be too late
to see them march through the camp bearing the Medicine Pipe. I hurried forth with my camera and was just in time to see them emerging from Lone Chief's lodge. I was fortunate in securing several photographs of this unusual and interesting ceremony. The light, however, was very weak. It was between three and four in the morning and the sun had not
Click to enlarge
ELK HORN, THE HERALD, AROUSING THE CAMP.
yet risen. Lone Chief and Mu-koi-sa-po were in the lead, the latter bearing the sacred Pipe covered with weasel tails and feathers. Etomo-waki, his wife, accompanied the wife of Lone Chief, bearing together the medicine bundles and the tripod. Then came the drummers with the rest of the society and their wives.
Before entering the lodge, prepared for their reception, they paused to perform certain rites. I noticed
[paragraph continues] Mu-koi-sa-po's old mother standing near the door, waiting to receive them. She was bent with age and leaned heavily upon her staff. As they marched up with Mu-koi-sa-po bearing the sacred Pipe, singing in unison and with the beating of drums, the old woman was so overwhelmed with delight that she waved her staff in the air, calling loudly to her son, and joining in the chant. Then the society slowly entered and took
Click to enlarge
WOMEN CARRYING MEDICINE PIPE BUNDLES.
their accustomed seats. The ceremony was performed in the tipi of Tearing Lodge, Mu-koi-sa-po's father-in-law, because Mu-koi-sa-po owned a Beaver Bundle, which did not permit of drums. The beating of rattles on a buffalo hide was required in the Beaver ceremonial, because it was supposed to resemble the striking of the water by the beaver's tail. The Medicine Pipe, on the other hand, required drums, because they imitated the drumming of the grouse, which had given its power to the Pipe. The drums were decorated with symbols
representing the sun, moon, and stars. The figures also of birds and animals were used as decorations, in accordance with the requirements of the dream, which originated the ceremonial.
The women deposited the sacred bundles against the back of the lodge. Mu-koi-sa-po and his wife, with the wife of Lone Chief and other women, sat on the right, while Lone Chief, who was giving up the Pipe, and the members of the society, were on the left of the medicines. Mu-koi-sa-po was dressed in the ceremonial clothes by Lone Chief, and Etomo-waki (his wife) by the women. Mu-koi-sa-po wore around his head a decorated band of buffalo hide and a feather in his hair, a beaded buckskin shirt, fringed with scalps and ermine; also beaded leggings with ermine tails and moccasins to correspond. His blanket was decorated with red marks to represent the stars. In addition to the clothes, Lone Chief gave him the horse, saddle, bridle, whip and lariat which belong to the sacred Pipe. Etomo-waki, his wife, received from Lone Chief's wife the buckskin dress, beaded moccasins and leggings, and the soft tanned elk-skin robe decorated with red paint, which were to be worn by her, only during the Pipe ceremonials. Spectators from all sections of the camp thronged about the lodge. The clan of the Grease Melters came, leaving their presents with Tearing Lodge, who announced them and the names of the givers in a loud voice. Menake brought my gift of a blanket in bright colours, which was announced with the rest. Because of the high honour conferred on one of their clansmen, the Grease Melters gave to Mu-koi-sa-po forty horses and an enormous pile of clothing, blankets, and provisions. These, with many additional presents were all turned over by Mu-koi-sa-po to
[paragraph continues] Lone Chief as his fee for transferring the Medicine Pipe.
The Blackfoot esprit de corps and large-hearted generosity were strikingly displayed on this occasion. But, it was not unusual, for they were characteristic of the tribe. The support of their Sun-worship by offerings, always of their best; their generous gifts to their chiefs, medicine men, and leaders of their societies, and their open-handed hospitality to visiting tribes, were always conspicuous when the opportunity offered. The aged, the fatherless and widow, the sick and helpless, and those who had no one to hunt for them, were not allowed to suffer for want of clothing, or meat, or a place by a lodge-fire. The strong and successful hunters were always ready to give of their abundance to those who lacked.