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Native American Indians, Red Willow and it's Uses




To the Indians of the great Western plains the red willow, which is only found in that country, proves so very useful that its loss would be greatly felt by them. It is a bushy growth, never reaching more than fifteen or twenty feet in height, and is found along the river-banks, where it grows rapidly and in great abundance.

The Indian most values the red willow because from its bark he makes what to him is a very good substitute for tobacco. To do this he strips one of the long, slender shoots of its leaves, and with his knife cuts the bark until it hangs from the wood in little shreds. Then he thrusts the stick into the fire, but not so that it will burn, only so that the bark will become thoroughly dried. When this is done, he carefully rubs it between his hands until it is crumbled almost to a powder.

This willow-bark powder he mixes with a small quantity of real tobacco, if he has any; if not, he mixes it with the dried and crumbled leaf of a small and very bitter shrub that grows on the mountain-sides, and has a leaf looking somewhat like our box-wood. The Indians call it killicanick, and often mix it with tobacco when they have no red willow. So fond are the Indians of their red-willow tobacco that they prefer it to the real unmixed article, which seems to be too strong for them.

The squaws use the red willow to make temporary shelters or wick-i-ups, which are used instead of the heavy skin lodges, or tepees, when the Indians are on the move, and only camp in one place for a night or so.

When a pleasant spot by some running stream, where there is plenty of red willow, has been fixed upon for a camping-place, and a fire has been lighted, the squaws cut a quantity of the willow, and, making a rude framework of the larger branches, of which the butt-ends are fixed firmly into the ground, and the small ends bound together to look like a small dome, they weave the smaller branches and twigs in and out until the whole affair looks like a great leafy basket turned upside down. The entrance is very low, and when once inside, a grown person can only lie or sit down, for if he should stand up, he would probably lift the house with him.

While the squaws are building the wick-i-ups the Indian has been stretched on the ground, smoking his long-stemmed pipe, with its stone or iron bowl, or else he has been kneeling beside the fire preparing his much-loved red-willow tobacco. Over the same fire is hung a jack rabbit, skinned, and spitted upon a slender red-willow stick, and from a tree near by the baby swings in his red-willow cradle.

From the same red willow the squaws make baskets and mats. On its tender twigs the ponies browse in winter, when the grass is covered deep with snow. And to these same red-willow thickets the Indians go in winter in search of deer or antelope, which are pretty sure to be found browsing among them.

So you see the Indian has good reason to be fond of the red willow, and he dreads the approach of white farmers, who clear it off from the rich bottom-lands wherever they locate, for it is on these lands that they can raise their heaviest crops of corn.