A wigwam of weather-stained canvas stood at the base of some irregularly
ascending hills. A footpath wound its way gently down the sloping land
till it reached the broad river bottom; creeping through the long swamp
grasses that bent over it on either side, it came out on the edge of the
Here, morning, noon, and evening, my mother came to draw water from the
muddy stream for our household use. Always, when my mother started for
the river, I stopped my play to run along with her. She was only of
medium height. Often she was sad and silent, at which times her full
arched lips were compressed into hard and bitter lines, and shadows fell
under her black eyes. Then I clung to her hand and begged to know what
made the tears fall.
"Hush; my little daughter must never talk about my tears"; and smiling
through them, she patted my head and said, "Now let me see how fast you
can run today." Whereupon I tore away at my highest possible speed, with
my long black hair blowing in the breeze.
I was a wild little girl of seven. Loosely clad in a slip of brown
buckskin, and light-footed with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I
was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a
bounding deer. These were my mother's pride,—my wild freedom and
overflowing spirits. She taught me no fear save that of intruding myself
Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath, and laughing
with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly
conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It
was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only
experiments for my spirit to work upon.
Returning from the river, I tugged beside my mother, with my hand upon
the bucket I believed I was carrying. One time, on such a return, I
remember a bit of conversation we had. My grown-up cousin, Warca-Ziwin
(Sunflower), who was then seventeen, always went to the river alone for
water for her mother. Their wigwam was not far from ours; and I saw her
daily going to and from the river. I admired my cousin greatly. So I
said: "Mother, when I am tall as my cousin Warca-Ziwin, you shall not
have to come for water. I will do it for you."
With a strange tremor in her voice which I could not understand, she
answered, "If the paleface does not take away from us the river we
"Mother, who is this bad paleface?" I asked.
"My little daughter, he is a sham,—a sickly sham! The bronzed Dakota is
the only real man."
I looked up into my mother's face while she spoke; and seeing her bite
her lips, I knew she was unhappy. This aroused revenge in my small soul.
Stamping my foot on the earth, I cried aloud, "I hate the paleface that
makes my mother cry!"
Setting the pail of water on the ground, my mother stooped, and
stretching her left hand out on the level with my eyes, she placed her
other arm about me; she pointed to the hill where my uncle and my only
sister lay buried.
"There is what the paleface has done! Since then your father too has
been buried in a hill nearer the rising sun. We were once very happy.
But the paleface has stolen our lands and driven us hither. Having
defrauded us of our land, the paleface forced us away.
"Well, it happened on the day we moved camp that your sister and uncle
were both very sick. Many others were ailing, but there seemed to be no
help. We traveled many days and nights; not in the grand, happy way that
we moved camp when I was a little girl, but we were driven, my child,
driven like a herd of buffalo. With every step, your sister, who was not
as large as you are now, shrieked with the painful jar until she was
hoarse with crying. She grew more and more feverish. Her little hands
and cheeks were burning hot. Her little lips were parched and dry, but
she would not drink the water I gave her. Then I discovered that her
throat was swollen and red. My poor child, how I cried with her because
the Great Spirit had forgotten us!
"At last, when we reached this western country, on the first weary night
your sister died. And soon your uncle died also, leaving a widow and an
orphan daughter, your cousin Warca-Ziwin. Both your sister and uncle
might have been happy with us today, had it not been for the heartless
My mother was silent the rest of the way to our wigwam. Though I saw no
tears in her eyes, I knew that was because I was with her. She seldom
wept before me.
During the summer days my mother built her fire in the shadow of our
In the early morning our simple breakfast was spread upon the grass west
of our tepee. At the farthest point of the shade my mother sat beside
her fire, toasting a savory piece of dried meat. Near her, I sat upon my
feet, eating my dried meat with unleavened bread, and drinking strong
The morning meal was our quiet hour, when we two were entirely alone. At
noon, several who chanced to be passing by stopped to rest, and to share
our luncheon with us, for they were sure of our hospitality.
My uncle, whose death my mother ever lamented, was one of our nation's
bravest warriors. His name was on the lips of old men when talking of
the proud feats of valor; and it was mentioned by younger men, too, in
connection with deeds of gallantry. Old women praised him for his
kindness toward them; young women held him up as an ideal to their
sweethearts. Every one loved him, and my mother worshiped his memory.
Thus it happened that even strangers were sure of welcome in our lodge,
if they but asked a favor in my uncle's name.
Though I heard many strange experiences related by these wayfarers, I
loved best the evening meal, for that was the time old legends were
told. I was always glad when the sun hung low in the west, for then my
mother sent me to invite the neighboring old men and women to eat supper
with us. Running all the way to the wigwams, I halted shyly at the
entrances. Sometimes I stood long moments without saying a word. It was
not any fear that made me so dumb when out upon such a happy errand; nor
was it that I wished to withhold the invitation, for it was all I could
do to observe this very proper silence. But it was a sensing of the
atmosphere, to assure myself that I should not hinder other plans. My
mother used to say to me, as I was almost bounding away for the old
people: "Wait a moment before you invite any one. If other plans are
being discussed, do not interfere, but go elsewhere."
The old folks knew the meaning of my pauses; and often they coaxed my
confidence by asking, "What do you seek, little granddaughter?"
"My mother says you are to come to our tepee this evening," I instantly
exploded, and breathed the freer afterwards.
"Yes, yes, gladly, gladly I shall come!" each replied. Rising at once
and carrying their blankets across one shoulder, they flocked leisurely
from their various wigwams toward our dwelling.
My mission done, I ran back, skipping and jumping with delight. All out
of breath, I told my mother almost the exact words of the answers to my
invitation. Frequently she asked, "What were they doing when you entered
their tepee?" This taught me to remember all I saw at a single glance.
Often I told my mother my impressions without being questioned.
While in the neighboring wigwams sometimes an old Indian woman asked me,
"What is your mother doing?" Unless my mother had cautioned me not to
tell, I generally answered her questions without reserve.
At the arrival of our guests I sat close to my mother, and did not
leave her side without first asking her consent. I ate my supper in
quiet, listening patiently to the talk of the old people, wishing all
the time that they would begin the stories I loved best. At last, when I
could not wait any longer, I whispered in my mother's ear, "Ask them to
tell an Iktomi story, mother."
Soothing my impatience, my mother said aloud, "My little daughter is
anxious to hear your legends." By this time all were through eating, and
the evening was fast deepening into twilight.
As each in turn began to tell a legend, I pillowed my head in my
mother's lap; and lying flat upon my back, I watched the stars as they
peeped down upon me, one by one. The increasing interest of the tale
aroused me, and I sat up eagerly listening to every word. The old women
made funny remarks, and laughed so heartily that I could not help
The distant howling of a pack of wolves or the hooting of an owl in the
river bottom frightened me, and I nestled into my mother's lap. She
added some dry sticks to the open fire, and the bright flames leaped up
into the faces of the old folks as they sat around in a great circle.
On such an evening, I remember the glare of the fire shone on a tattooed
star upon the brow of the old warrior who was telling a story. I watched
him curiously as he made his unconscious gestures. The blue star upon
his bronzed forehead was a puzzle to me. Looking about, I saw two
parallel lines on the chin of one of the old women. The rest had none. I
examined my mother's face, but found no sign there.
After the warrior's story was finished, I asked the old woman the
meaning of the blue lines on her chin, looking all the while out of the
corners of my eyes at the warrior with the star on his forehead. I was a
little afraid that he would rebuke me for my boldness.
Here the old woman began: "Why, my grandchild, they are signs,—secret
signs I dare not tell you. I shall, however, tell you a wonderful story
about a woman who had a cross tattooed upon each of her cheeks."
It was a long story of a woman whose magic power lay hidden behind the
marks upon her face. I fell asleep before the story was completed.
Ever after that night I felt suspicious of tattooed people. Wherever I
saw one I glanced furtively at the mark and round about it, wondering
what terrible magic power was covered there.
It was rarely that such a fearful story as this one was told by the camp
fire. Its impression was so acute that the picture still remains vividly
clear and pronounced.
Soon after breakfast mother sometimes began her beadwork. On a bright,
clear day, she pulled out the wooden pegs that pinned the skirt of our
wigwam to the ground, and rolled the canvas part way up on its frame of
slender poles. Then the cool morning breezes swept freely through our
dwelling, now and then wafting the perfume of sweet grasses from newly
Untying the long tasseled strings that bound a small brown buckskin bag,
my mother spread upon a mat beside her bunches of colored beads, just as
an artist arranges the paints upon his palette. On a lapboard she
smoothed out a double sheet of soft white buckskin; and drawing from a
beaded case that hung on the left of her wide belt a long, narrow blade,
she trimmed the buckskin into shape. Often she worked upon small
moccasins for her small daughter. Then I became intensely interested in
her designing. With a proud, beaming face, I watched her work. In
imagination, I saw myself walking in a new pair of snugly fitting
moccasins. I felt the envious eyes of my playmates upon the pretty red
beads decorating my feet.
Close beside my mother I sat on a rug, with a scrap of buckskin in one
hand and an awl in the other. This was the beginning of my practical
observation lessons in the art of beadwork. From a skein of finely
twisted threads of silvery sinews my mother pulled out a single one.
With an awl she pierced the buckskin, and skillfully threaded it with
the white sinew. Picking up the tiny beads one by one, she strung them
with the point of her thread, always twisting it carefully after every
It took many trials before I learned how to knot my sinew thread on the
point of my finger, as I saw her do. Then the next difficulty was in
keeping my thread stiffly twisted, so that I could easily string my
beads upon it. My mother required of me original designs for my lessons
in beading. At first I frequently ensnared many a sunny hour into
working a long design. Soon I learned from self-inflicted punishment to
refrain from drawing complex patterns, for I had to finish whatever I
After some experience I usually drew easy and simple crosses and
squares. These were some of the set forms. My original designs were not
always symmetrical nor sufficiently characteristic, two faults with
which my mother had little patience. The quietness of her oversight made
me feel strongly responsible and dependent upon my own judgment. She
treated me as a dignified little individual as long as I was on my good
behavior; and how humiliated I was when some boldness of mine drew forth
a rebuke from her!
In the choice of colors she left me to my own taste. I was pleased with
an outline of yellow upon a background of dark blue, or a combination of
red and myrtle-green. There was another of red with a bluish-gray that
was more conventionally used. When I became a little familiar with
designing and the various pleasing combinations of color, a harder
lesson was given me. It was the sewing on, instead of beads, some tinted
porcupine quills, moistened and flattened between the nails of the thumb
and forefinger. My mother cut off the prickly ends and burned them at
once in the centre fire. These sharp points were poisonous, and worked
into the flesh wherever they lodged. For this reason, my mother said, I
should not do much alone in quills until I was as tall as my cousin
Always after these confining lessons I was wild with surplus spirits,
and found joyous relief in running loose in the open again. Many a
summer afternoon a party of four or five of my playmates roamed over the
hills with me. We each carried a light sharpened rod about four feet
long, with which we pried up certain sweet roots. When we had eaten all
the choice roots we chanced upon, we shouldered our rods and strayed off
into patches of a stalky plant under whose yellow blossoms we found
little crystal drops of gum. Drop by drop we gathered this nature's
rock-candy, until each of us could boast of a lump the size of a small
bird's egg. Soon satiated with its woody flavor, we tossed away our gum,
to return again to the sweet roots.
I remember well how we used to exchange our necklaces, beaded belts, and
sometimes even our moccasins. We pretended to offer them as gifts to one
another. We delighted in impersonating our own mothers. We talked of
things we had heard them say in their conversations. We imitated their
various manners, even to the inflection of their voices. In the lap of
the prairie we seated ourselves upon our feet, and leaning our painted
cheeks in the palms of our hands, we rested our elbows on our knees, and
bent forward as old women were most accustomed to do.
While one was telling of some heroic deed recently done by a near
relative, the rest of us listened attentively, and exclaimed in
undertones, "Han! han!" (yes! yes!) whenever the speaker paused for
breath, or sometimes for our sympathy. As the discourse became more
thrilling, according to our ideas, we raised our voices in these
interjections. In these impersonations our parents were led to say only
those things that were in common favor.
No matter how exciting a tale we might be rehearsing, the mere shifting
of a cloud shadow in the landscape near by was sufficient to change our
impulses; and soon we were all chasing the great shadows that played
among the hills. We shouted and whooped in the chase; laughing and
calling to one another, we were like little sportive nymphs on that
Dakota sea of rolling green.
On one occasion I forgot the cloud shadow in a strange notion to catch
up with my own shadow. Standing straight and still, I began to glide
after it, putting out one foot cautiously. When, with the greatest care,
I set my foot in advance of myself, my shadow crept onward too. Then
again I tried it; this time with the other foot. Still again my shadow
escaped me. I began to run; and away flew my shadow, always just a step
beyond me. Faster and faster I ran, setting my teeth and clenching my
fists, determined to overtake my own fleet shadow. But ever swifter it
glided before me, while I was growing breathless and hot. Slackening my
speed, I was greatly vexed that my shadow should check its pace also.
Daring it to the utmost, as I thought, I sat down upon a rock imbedded
in the hillside.
So! my shadow had the impudence to sit down beside me!
Now my comrades caught up with me, and began to ask why I was running
away so fast.
"Oh, I was chasing my shadow! Didn't you ever do that?" I inquired,
surprised that they should not understand.
They planted their moccasined feet firmly upon my shadow to stay it, and
I arose. Again my shadow slipped away, and moved as often as I did. Then
we gave up trying to catch my shadow.
Before this peculiar experience I have no distinct memory of having
recognized any vital bond between myself and my own shadow. I never gave
it an afterthought.
Returning our borrowed belts and trinkets, we rambled homeward. That
evening, as on other evenings, I went to sleep over my legends.
One summer afternoon my mother left me alone in our wigwam while she
went across the way to my aunt's dwelling.
I did not much like to stay alone in our tepee for I feared a tall,
broad-shouldered crazy man, some forty years old, who walked loose among
the hills. Wiyaka-Napbina (Wearer of a Feather Necklace) was harmless,
and whenever he came into a wigwam he was driven there by extreme
hunger. He went nude except for the half of a red blanket he girdled
around his waist. In one tawny arm he used to carry a heavy bunch of
wild sunflowers that he gathered in his aimless ramblings. His black
hair was matted by the winds, and scorched into a dry red by the
constant summer sun. As he took great strides, placing one brown bare
foot directly in front of the other, he swung his long lean arm to and
Frequently he paused in his walk and gazed far backward, shading his
eyes with his hand. He was under the belief that an evil spirit was
haunting his steps. This was what my mother told me once, when I
sneered at such a silly big man. I was brave when my mother was near by,
and Wiyaka-Napbina walking farther and farther away.
"Pity the man, my child. I knew him when he was a brave and handsome
youth. He was overtaken by a malicious spirit among the hills, one day,
when he went hither and thither after his ponies. Since then he can not
stay away from the hills," she said.
I felt so sorry for the man in his misfortune that I prayed to the Great
Spirit to restore him. But though I pitied him at a distance, I was
still afraid of him when he appeared near our wigwam.
Thus, when my mother left me by myself that afternoon I sat in a fearful
mood within our tepee. I recalled all I had ever heard about
Wiyaka-Napbina; and I tried to assure myself that though he might pass
near by, he would not come to our wigwam because there was no little
girl around our grounds.
Just then, from without a hand lifted the canvas covering of the
entrance; the shadow of a man fell within the wigwam, and a large
roughly moccasined foot was planted inside.
For a moment I did not dare to breathe or stir, for I thought that could
be no other than Wiyaka-Napbina. The next instant I sighed aloud in
relief. It was an old grandfather who had often told me Iktomi legends.
"Where is your mother, my little grandchild?" were his first words.
"My mother is soon coming back from my aunt's tepee," I replied.
"Then I shall wait awhile for her return," he said, crossing his feet
and seating himself upon a mat.
At once I began to play the part of a generous hostess. I turned to my
Lifting the lid, I found nothing but coffee grounds in the bottom. I set
the pot on a heap of cold ashes in the centre, and filled it half full
of warm Missouri River water. During this performance I felt conscious
of being watched. Then breaking off a small piece of our unleavened
bread, I placed it in a bowl. Turning soon to the coffeepot, which would
never have boiled on a dead fire had I waited forever, I poured out a
cup of worse than muddy warm water. Carrying the bowl in one hand and
cup in the other, I handed the light luncheon to the old warrior. I
offered them to him with the air of bestowing generous hospitality.
"How! how!" he said, and placed the dishes on the ground in front of his
crossed feet. He nibbled at the bread and sipped from the cup. I sat
back against a pole watching him. I was proud to have succeeded so well
in serving refreshments to a guest all by myself. Before the old warrior
had finished eating, my mother entered. Immediately she wondered where I
had found coffee, for she knew I had never made any, and that she had
left the coffeepot empty. Answering the question in my mother's eyes,
the warrior remarked, "My granddaughter made coffee on a heap of dead
ashes, and served me the moment I came."
They both laughed, and mother said, "Wait a little longer, and I shall
build a fire." She meant to make some real coffee. But neither she nor
the warrior, whom the law of our custom had compelled to partake of my
insipid hospitality, said anything to embarrass me. They treated my
best judgment, poor as it was, with the utmost respect. It was not till
long years afterward that I learned how ridiculous a thing I had done.
THE DEAD MAN'S PLUM BUSH.
One autumn afternoon many people came streaming toward the dwelling of
our near neighbor. With painted faces, and wearing broad white bosoms of
elk's teeth, they hurried down the narrow footpath to Haraka Wambdi's
wigwam. Young mothers held their children by the hand, and half pulled
them along in their haste. They overtook and passed by the bent old
grandmothers who were trudging along with crooked canes toward the
centre of excitement. Most of the young braves galloped hither on their
ponies. Toothless warriors, like the old women, came more slowly, though
mounted on lively ponies. They sat proudly erect on their horses. They
wore their eagle plumes, and waved their various trophies of former
In front of the wigwam a great fire was built, and several large black
kettles of venison were suspended over it. The crowd were seated about
it on the grass in a great circle. Behind them some of the braves stood
leaning against the necks of their ponies, their tall figures draped in
loose robes which were well drawn over their eyes.
Young girls, with their faces glowing like bright red autumn leaves,
their glossy braids falling over each ear, sat coquettishly beside their
chaperons. It was a custom for young Indian women to invite some older
relative to escort them to the public feasts. Though it was not an iron
law, it was generally observed.
Haraka Wambdi was a strong young brave, who had just returned from his
first battle, a warrior. His near relatives, to celebrate his new rank,
were spreading a feast to which the whole of the Indian village was
Holding my pretty striped blanket in readiness to throw over my
shoulders, I grew more and more restless as I watched the gay throng
assembling. My mother was busily broiling a wild duck that my aunt had
that morning brought over.
"Mother, mother, why do you stop to cook a small meal when we are
invited to a feast?" I asked, with a snarl in my voice.
"My child, learn to wait. On our way to the celebration we are going to
stop at Chanyu's wigwam. His aged mother-in-law is lying very ill, and
I think she would like a taste of this small game."
Having once seen the suffering on the thin, pinched features of this
dying woman, I felt a momentary shame that I had not remembered her
On our way I ran ahead of my mother and was reaching out my hand to pick
some purple plums that grew on a small bush, when I was checked by a low
"Sh!" from my mother.
"Why, mother, I want to taste the plums!" I exclaimed, as I dropped my
hand to my side in disappointment.
"Never pluck a single plum from this brush, my child, for its roots are
wrapped around an Indian's skeleton. A brave is buried here. While he
lived he was so fond of playing the game of striped plum seeds that, at
his death, his set of plum seeds were buried in his hands. From them
sprang up this little bush."
Eyeing the forbidden fruit, I trod lightly on the sacred ground, and
dared to speak only in whispers until we had gone many paces from it.
After that time I halted in my ramblings whenever I came in sight of the
plum bush. I grew sober with awe, and was alert to hear a
long-drawn-out whistle rise from the roots of it. Though I had never
heard with my own ears this strange whistle of departed spirits, yet I
had listened so frequently to hear the old folks describe it that I knew
I should recognize it at once.
The lasting impression of that day, as I recall it now, is what my
mother told me about the dead man's plum bush.
THE GROUND SQUIRREL.
In the busy autumn days my cousin Warca-Ziwin's mother came to our
wigwam to help my mother preserve foods for our winter use. I was very
fond of my aunt, because she was not so quiet as my mother. Though she
was older, she was more jovial and less reserved. She was slender and
remarkably erect. While my mother's hair was heavy and black, my aunt
had unusually thin locks.
Ever since I knew her she wore a string of large blue beads around her
neck,—beads that were precious because my uncle had given them to her
when she was a younger woman. She had a peculiar swing in her gait,
caused by a long stride rarely natural to so slight a figure. It was
during my aunt's visit with us that my mother forgot her accustomed
quietness, often laughing heartily at some of my aunt's witty remarks.
I loved my aunt threefold: for her hearty laughter, for the cheerfulness
she caused my mother, and most of all for the times she dried my tears
and held me in her lap, when my mother had reproved me.
Early in the cool mornings, just as the yellow rim of the sun rose above
the hills, we were up and eating our breakfast. We awoke so early that
we saw the sacred hour when a misty smoke hung over a pit surrounded by
an impassable sinking mire. This strange smoke appeared every morning,
both winter and summer; but most visibly in midwinter it rose
immediately above the marshy spot. By the time the full face of the sun
appeared above the eastern horizon, the smoke vanished. Even very old
men, who had known this country the longest, said that the smoke from
this pit had never failed a single day to rise heavenward.
As I frolicked about our dwelling I used to stop suddenly, and with a
fearful awe watch the smoking of the unknown fires. While the vapor was
visible I was afraid to go very far from our wigwam unless I went with
From a field in the fertile river bottom my mother and aunt gathered an
abundant supply of corn. Near our tepee they spread a large canvas upon
the grass, and dried their sweet corn in it. I was left to watch the
corn, that nothing should disturb it. I played around it with dolls made
of ears of corn. I braided their soft fine silk for hair, and gave them
blankets as various as the scraps I found in my mother's workbag.
There was a little stranger with a black-and-yellow-striped coat that
used to come to the drying corn. It was a little ground squirrel, who
was so fearless of me that he came to one corner of the canvas and
carried away as much of the sweet corn as he could hold. I wanted very
much to catch him and rub his pretty fur back, but my mother said he
would be so frightened if I caught him that he would bite my fingers. So
I was as content as he to keep the corn between us. Every morning he
came for more corn. Some evenings I have seen him creeping about our
grounds; and when I gave a sudden whoop of recognition he ran quickly
out of sight.
When mother had dried all the corn she wished, then she sliced great
pumpkins into thin rings; and these she doubled and linked together
into long chains. She hung them on a pole that stretched between two
forked posts. The wind and sun soon thoroughly dried the chains of
pumpkin. Then she packed them away in a case of thick and stiff
In the sun and wind she also dried many wild fruits,—cherries, berries,
and plums. But chiefest among my early recollections of autumn is that
one of the corn drying and the ground squirrel.
I have few memories of winter days at this period of my life, though
many of the summer. There is one only which I can recall.
Some missionaries gave me a little bag of marbles. They were all sizes
and colors. Among them were some of colored glass. Walking with my
mother to the river, on a late winter day, we found great chunks of ice
piled all along the bank. The ice on the river was floating in huge
pieces. As I stood beside one large block, I noticed for the first time
the colors of the rainbow in the crystal ice. Immediately I thought of
my glass marbles at home. With my bare fingers I tried to pick out some
of the colors, for they seemed so near the surface. But my fingers
began to sting with the intense cold, and I had to bite them hard to
keep from crying.
From that day on, for many a moon, I believed that glass marbles had
river ice inside of them.
THE BIG RED APPLES.
The first turning away from the easy, natural flow of my life occurred
in an early spring. It was in my eighth year; in the month of March, I
afterward learned. At this age I knew but one language, and that was my
mother's native tongue.
From some of my playmates I heard that two paleface missionaries were in
our village. They were from that class of white men who wore big hats
and carried large hearts, they said. Running direct to my mother, I
began to question her why these two strangers were among us. She told
me, after I had teased much, that they had come to take away Indian boys
and girls to the East. My mother did not seem to want me to talk about
them. But in a day or two, I gleaned many wonderful stories from my
playfellows concerning the strangers.
"Mother, my friend Judéwin is going home with the missionaries. She is
going to a more beautiful country than ours; the palefaces told her
so!" I said wistfully, wishing in my heart that I too might go.
Mother sat in a chair, and I was hanging on her knee. Within the last
two seasons my big brother Dawée had returned from a three years'
education in the East, and his coming back influenced my mother to take
a farther step from her native way of living. First it was a change from
the buffalo skin to the white man's canvas that covered our wigwam. Now
she had given up her wigwam of slender poles, to live, a foreigner, in a
home of clumsy logs.
"Yes, my child, several others besides Judéwin are going away with the
palefaces. Your brother said the missionaries had inquired about his
little sister," she said, watching my face very closely.
My heart thumped so hard against my breast, I wondered if she could hear
"Did he tell them to take me, mother?" I asked, fearing lest Dawée had
forbidden the palefaces to see me, and that my hope of going to the
Wonderland would be entirely blighted.
With a sad, slow smile, she answered: "There! I knew you were wishing to
go, because Judéwin has filled your ears with the white man's lies.
Don't believe a word they say! Their words are sweet, but, my child,
their deeds are bitter. You will cry for me, but they will not even
soothe you. Stay with me, my little one! Your brother Dawée says that
going East, away from your mother, is too hard an experience for his
Thus my mother discouraged my curiosity about the lands beyond our
eastern horizon; for it was not yet an ambition for Letters that was
stirring me. But on the following day the missionaries did come to our
very house. I spied them coming up the footpath leading to our cottage.
A third man was with them, but he was not my brother Dawée. It was
another, a young interpreter, a paleface who had a smattering of the
Indian language. I was ready to run out to meet them, but I did not dare
to displease my mother. With great glee, I jumped up and down on our
ground floor. I begged my mother to open the door, that they would be
sure to come to us. Alas! They came, they saw, and they conquered!
Judéwin had told me of the great tree where grew red, red apples; and
how we could reach out our hands and pick all the red apples we could
eat. I had never seen apple trees. I had never tasted more than a dozen
red apples in my life; and when I heard of the orchards of the East, I
was eager to roam among them. The missionaries smiled into my eyes and
patted my head. I wondered how mother could say such hard words against
"Mother, ask them if little girls may have all the red apples they want,
when they go East," I whispered aloud, in my excitement.
The interpreter heard me, and answered: "Yes, little girl, the nice red
apples are for those who pick them; and you will have a ride on the iron
horse if you go with these good people."
I had never seen a train, and he knew it.
"Mother, I am going East! I like big red apples, and I want to ride on
the iron horse! Mother, say yes!" I pleaded.
My mother said nothing. The missionaries waited in silence; and my eyes
began to blur with tears, though I struggled to choke them back. The
corners of my mouth twitched, and my mother saw me.
"I am not ready to give you any word," she said to them. "Tomorrow I
shall send you my answer by my son."
With this they left us. Alone with my mother, I yielded to my tears, and
cried aloud, shaking my head so as not to hear what she was saying to
me. This was the first time I had ever been so unwilling to give up my
own desire that I refused to hearken to my mother's voice.
There was a solemn silence in our home that night. Before I went to bed
I begged the Great Spirit to make my mother willing I should go with the
The next morning came, and my mother called me to her side. "My
daughter, do you still persist in wishing to leave your mother?" she
"Oh, mother, it is not that I wish to leave you, but I want to see the
wonderful Eastern land," I answered.
My dear old aunt came to our house that morning, and I heard her say,
"Let her try it."
I hoped that, as usual, my aunt was pleading on my side. My brother
Dawée came for mother's decision. I dropped my play, and crept close to
"Yes, Dawée, my daughter, though she does not understand what it all
means, is anxious to go. She will need an education when she is grown,
for then there will be fewer real Dakotas, and many more palefaces. This
tearing her away, so young, from her mother is necessary, if I would
have her an educated woman. The palefaces, who owe us a large debt for
stolen lands, have begun to pay a tardy justice in offering some
education to our children. But I know my daughter must suffer keenly in
this experiment. For her sake, I dread to tell you my reply to the
missionaries. Go, tell them that they may take my little daughter, and
that the Great Spirit shall not fail to reward them according to their
Wrapped in my heavy blanket, I walked with my mother to the carriage
that was soon to take us to the iron horse. I was happy. I met my
playmates, who were also wearing their best thick blankets. We showed
one another our new beaded moccasins, and the width of the belts that
girdled our new dresses. Soon we were being drawn rapidly away by the
white man's horses. When I saw the lonely figure of my mother vanish in
the distance, a sense of regret settled heavily upon me. I felt
suddenly weak, as if I might fall limp to the ground. I was in the hands
of strangers whom my mother did not fully trust. I no longer felt free
to be myself, or to voice my own feelings. The tears trickled down my
cheeks, and I buried my face in the folds of my blanket. Now the first
step, parting me from my mother, was taken, and all my belated tears
Having driven thirty miles to the ferryboat, we crossed the Missouri in
the evening. Then riding again a few miles eastward, we stopped before a
massive brick building. I looked at it in amazement, and with a vague
misgiving, for in our village I had never seen so large a house.
Trembling with fear and distrust of the palefaces, my teeth chattering
from the chilly ride, I crept noiselessly in my soft moccasins along the
narrow hall, keeping very close to the bare wall. I was as frightened
and bewildered as the captured young of a wild creature.