by George Catlin

(First published in London in 1844)

LETTER No. 34.


SINCE Writing the last epistle, some considerable time has elapsed, which has, nevertheless, been filled up and used to advantage, as I have been moving about and using my brush amongst different tribes in this vicinity. The Indians that may be said to belong to this vicinity, and who constantly visit this post, are the loways -- Konzas -- Pawnees -- Omahas -- 0ttoes, and Missouries (primitive), and Delawares -- Kickapoos -- Potawatomies -- Weahs -- Peorias -- Shawanos -- Kaskaskias (semi-civilized remnants of tribes that have been removed to this neighborhood by the Government, within the few years past). These latter-named tribes are, to a considerable degree, agriculturalists; getting their living principally by ploughing, and raising corn, and cattle and horses. They have been left on the frontier, surrounded by civilized neighbors, where they have at length been induced to sell out their lands, or exchange them for a much larger tract of wild lands in these regions, which the Government has purchased from the wilder tribes.

Of the first named, the Ioways may be said to be the farthest departed from primitive modes, as they are depending chiefly on their corn-fields for subsistence; though their appearance, both in their dwellings and personal looks, dress, modes, &c., is that of the primitive Indian.

The Ioways are a small tribe, of about fourteen hundred persons, living in a snug little village within a few miles of the eastern bank of the Missouri River, a few miles above this place.

The present chief of this tribe is Notch-ee-ning-a (The White Cloud), the son of a very distinguished chief of the same name, who died recently, after gaining the love of his tribe, and the respect of all the civilized world who knew him. If my time and space will admit it, and I should not forget it, I shall take another occasion to detail some of the famous transactions of his signal life.

The son of White Cloud, who is now chief, and whose portrait I have just named, was tastefully dressed with a buffalo robe, wrapped around him, with a necklace of grizzly bear's claws on his neck; with shield, bow, and quiver on, and a profusion of wampum strings on his neck.

Wy-ee-yogh (The Man of Sense), is another of this tribe, much distinguished for his bravery and early warlike achievements. His head was dressed with a broad silver band passing around it, and decked out with the crest of horsehair.

Pah-ta-coo-che (The Shooting Cedar), and Was-com-mun! (The Busy Man), are also distinguished warriors of the tribe; tastefully dressed and equipped, the one with his war-club on his arm, the other with bow and arrows in his hand; both wore around their waists beautiful buffalo robes, and both had turbans made of vari-coloured cotton shawls, purchased of the Fur Traders. Around their necks were necklaces of the bears' claws, and a profusion of beads and wampum. Their ears were profusely strung with beads; and their naked shoulders curiously streaked and daubed with red paint.

Others of this tribe will be found amongst the paintings in my Indian Museum; and more of them and their customs given at a future time.

The Konzas, of 1560 souls, reside at the distance of sixty or eighty miles from this place, on the Konzas River, fifty miles above its union with the Missouri, from the West.

This tribe has undoubtedly sprung from the Osages, as their personal appearance, language and traditions clearly prove. They are living adjoining to the Osages at this time, and although a kindred people, have sometimes deadly warfare with them. The present chief of this tribe is known by the name of the "White Plume"; a very urbane and hospitable man, of good portly size, speaking some English, and making himself good company for all white persons who travel through his country and have the good luck to shake his liberal and hospitable hand.

It has been to me a source of much regret, that I did not get the portrait of this celebrated chief; but I have painted several others distinguished in the tribe, which are fair specimens of these people. Sho-me-cos-se (The Wolf), a chief of some distinction, with a bold and manly outline of head ; exhibiting, like most of this tribe, an European outline of features, signally worthy the notice of the enquiring world. The head of this chief was most curiously ornamented, and his neck bore a profusion of wampum strings.

Meach-o-shin-gaw (The Little White Bear). Chesh-oo-hong-ha (The Man of Good Sense), and Wa-hon-ga-shee (No Fool), are portraits of distinguished Konzas, and all furnish striking instances of the bold and Roman outline that I have just spoken of.

The custom of shaving the head, and ornamenting it with the crest of deer's hair, belongs to this tribe; and also to the Osages, the Pawnees, the Sacs, and Foxes, and Ioways, and to no other tribe that I know of; unless it be in some few instances, where individuals have introduced it into their tribes, merely by way of imitation.

With these tribes, the custom is one uniformly adhered to by every man in the nation; excepting some few instances along the frontier, where efforts are made to imitate white men, by allowing the hair to grow out.

In another drawing, is a fair exhibition of this very curious custom -- the hair being cut as close to the head as possible, except a tuft the size of the palm of the hand, on the crown of the head, which is left of two inches in length: and in the centre of which is fastened a beautiful crest made of the hair of the deer's tail (dyed red) and horsehair, and oftentimes surmounted with the war-eagle's quill. In the centre of the patch of hair, which I said was left of a couple of inches in length, is preserved a small lock, which is never cut, but cultivated to the greatest length possible, and uniformly kept in braid, and passed through a piece of curiously carved bone; which lies in the centre of the crest, and spreads it out to its uniform shape, which they study with great care to preserve. Through this little braid, and outside of the bone, passes a small wooden or bone key, which holds the crest to the head. This little braid is called in these tribes, the "scalp-lock," and is scrupulously preserved in this way, and offered to their enemy if they can get it, as a trophy; which it seems in all tribes they are anxious to yield to their conquerors, in case they are killed in battle; and which it would be considered cowardly and disgraceful for a warrior to shave off, leaving nothing for his enemy to grasp for, when he falls into his hands in the events of battle.

Amongst those tribes who thus shave and ornament their heads, the crest is uniformly blood-red ; and the upper part of the head, and generally a considerable part of the face, as red as they can possibly make it with vermilion. I found these people cutting off the hair with small scissors, which they purchase of the Fur Traders; and they told me that previous to getting scissors, they cut it away with their knives; and before they got knives, they were in the habit of burning it off with red-hot stones, which was a very slow and painful operation.

With the exception of these few, all the other tribes in North America cultivate the hair to the greatest length they possibly can; preserving it to flow over their shoulders and backs in great profusion, and quite unwilling to spare the smallest lock of it for any consideration.

The Pawnees are a very powerful and warlike nation, living on the river Platte, about one hundred miles from its junction with the Missouri; laying claim to, and exercising sway over, the whole country, from its mouth to the base of the Rocky Mountains.

The present number of this tribe is ten or twelve thousand; about one half the number they had in 1832, when that most appalling disease, the small-pox, was accidentally introduced amongst them by the Fur Traders, and whiskey sellers; when ten thousand (or more) of them perished in the course of a few months.

The Omahas, of fifteen hundred ; the Ottoes of six hundred; and Missouries of four hundred, who are now living under the protection and surveillance of the Pawnees, and in the immediate vicinity of them, were all powerful tribes, but so reduced by this frightful disease, and at the same time, that they were unable longer to stand against so formidable enemies as they had around them, in the Sioux, Pawnees, Sacs, and Foxes, and at last merged into the Pawnee tribe, under whose wing and protection they now live.

The period of this awful calamity in these regions, was one that will be long felt, and long preserved in the traditions of these people. The great tribe of the Sioux, of whom I have heretofore spoken, suffered severely with the same disease; as well as the Osages and Konzas; and particularly the unfortunate Puncahs, who were almost extinguished by it.

The destructive ravages of this most fatal disease amongst these poor people, who know of no specific for it, is beyond the knowledge, and almost beyond the belief, of the civilized world. Terror and dismay are carried with it; and awful despair, in the midst of which they plunge into the river, when in the highest state of fever, and die in a moment; or dash themselves from precipices; or plunge their knives to their hearts, to rid themselves from the pangs of slow and disgusting death.

Amongst the formidable tribe of Pawnees, the Fur Traders are yet doing some business; but, from what I can learn, the Indians are dealing with some considerable distrust, with a people who introduced so fatal a calamity amongst them, to which one half of their tribe have fallen victims. The Traders made their richest harvest amongst these people, before this disease broke out; and since it subsided, quite a number of their lives have paid the forfeit, according to the Indian laws of retribution.

The Pawnees have ever been looked upon, as a very warlike and hostile tribe; and unusually so, since the calamity which I have mentioned. Major Dougherty, of whom I have heretofore spoken, has been for several years their agent; and by his unremitted endeavors, with an unequaled familiarity with the Indian character, and unyielding integrity of purpose, has successfully restored and established, a system of good feeling and respect between them and the "pale faces", upon whom they looked, naturally and experimentally, as their destructive enemies.

Of this stern and uncompromising friend of the red man, and of justice, who has taken them close to his heart, and familiarized himself with their faults and their griefs, I take great pleasure in recording here for the perusal of the world, the following extract from one of Iris true and independent Reports, to the Secretary of War; which sheds honour on his name, and deserves a more public place than the mere official archives of a Government record.

"In comparing this Report with those of the years preceding, you will find there has been little improvement on the part of the Indians, either in literary acquirements or in agricultural knowledge.

"It is my decided opinion, that, so long as the Fur Traders and trappers are permitted to reside among the Indians, all the efforts of the Government to better their condition will be fruitless; or, in a great measure checked by the strong influence of those men over the various tribes.

"Every exertion of the agents, (and other persons, intended to carry into effect the views of the Government, and humane societies,) are in such direct opposition to the Trader and his interest, that the agent finds himself continually contending with, and placed in direct and immediate contrariety of interest to the Fur Traders or grossly neglecting his duty by overlooking acts of impropriety; and it is a curious and melancholy fact, that while the General Government is using every means and expense to Promote the advancement of those aboriginal people, it is at the same time suffering the Traders to oppose and defeat the very objects of its intentions. So long as tire Traders and trappers are permitted in the Indian country, the introduction of spirituous liquors will be inevitable, under any penalty the law may require; and until its prohibition is certain and effectual, every effort of Government, through the most faithful and indefatigable agents, will be useless. It would be, in my humble opinion, better to give up every thing to the Traders, and let them have the sole and entire control of the Indians, than permit them to contend at every point, with the views of the Government; and that contention made manifest, even to the most ignorant Indian.

"While the agent is advising the Indians to give up the chase and settle themselves, with a view to agricultural pursuits, the Traders are urging them on in search of skins.

"Far be it from me to be influenced or guided by improper or personal feeling, in the execution of my duty; but, Sir, I submit my opinion to a candid world, in relation to the subject, and feel fully convinced you will be able to see at once the course which will ever place the Indian Trader, and the present policy of Government, in relation to the Indians, at eternal war.

"The missionaries sent amongst the several tribes are, no doubt, sincere in their intentions. I believe them to be so, from what I have seen; but, unfortunately, they commence their labours where they should end them. They should teach the Indians to work, by establishing schools of that description among them: induce them to live at home, abandon their restless and unsettled life, and live independent of the-chase. After they are taught this, their intellectual faculties would be more susceptible of improvement of a moral and religious nature; and their steps towards civilization would become less difficult."

The Pawnees are divided into four bands, or families -- designated by the names of Grand Pawnees --Tappage Pawnees -- Republican Pawnees, and Wolf Pawnees.

Each of these bands has a chief at its head; which chiefs, with all the nation, acknowledge a superior chief at whose voice they all move.

At the head of the Grand Pawnees, is Shon-ka-ki-he-ga (The Horse Chief); and by the side of him, Haw-che-Ke-sug-ga (He Who Kills The Osages), the aged chief of the Missouries, of whom I have spoken, and shall yet say more.

La-doo-Ke-a (The Buffalo Bull), With his medicine or totem (the head of a buffalo) painted on his breast and his face, with bow and arrows in his hands, is a warrior of great distinction in the same band.

Le-shaw-loo-lah-le-hoo (The Big Elk), Chief of the Wolf Pawnees, is another of the most distinguished of this tribe In addition to the above, I have also painted of this tribe, for my Museum.

Ah-shaw-wah-rooks-te (The Medicine Horse); La-Kee-too-wi-ra-sha (The Little Chief); Loo-ra-we-re-coo (The Bird That Goes To War); Ah-shn-la-coots-a (Mole In The Forehead); La-shaw-le-staw-hix (The Man Chief); Te-ah-Ke-ra-le-recoo (The Cheyenne); Lo-loch-to-hoo-la (The Big Chief); La-wah-ee.-coots-lashaw-no (The Brave Chief); and L'har-e-tar-rushe (The Ill-Natured Man).

The Pawnees live in four villages, some few miles apart, on the banks of the Platte river, having their allies are, Omahas and Ottoes so near to them as easily to act in concert, in case of invasion from any other tribe; and from the fact that half or more of them are supplied with guns and ammunition, they are able to withstand the assaults of ally tribe that may come upon them.

Of the Ottoes, No-way-ke-sug-ga (He Who Strikes Two At Once); and Raw-no-way-woh-Krah (The Loose Pipe-Stem), I have painted at full length, and beautiful costumes -- the first with a necklace of grizzly bear's claws, and his dress profusely fringed with scalp-locks; the second, in a tunic made of the entire skin of a grizzly bear, with a head-dress of the war-eagle's quills.

Besides these, I painted, also, Wah-ro-nee-sah (The Surrounder); Nonje-ning-a (No Heart) ; and We·-ke-ru-law (He Who Exchangrs).

Of the Omahas, Ki-ho-ga-waw-shu-shee (The Brave Chief), is the head chief; and next to him in standing and reputation, is Om-pa-ton-ga (The Big Elk,), with his tomahawk in his hand, and his face painted black, for war.

Besides these, I painted Man-sha-qui-ta (The Little Soldier), a brave; Shaw-da-mon-nee (There He Goes) ; and Nom-ba-mon-nee (The Double Walker).

Of these wild tribes I have much more in store to say in future, and shall certainly make another budget of Letters from this place, or from other regions from whence I may wish to write, and possibly, lack material! All of these tribes, as well as the numerous semi-civilized remnants of tribes, that have been thrown out from the borders of our settlements, have missionary establishments and schools, as well as agricultural efforts amongst them; and will furnish valuable evidence as to the success that those philanthropic and benevolent exertions have met with, contending (as they have had to do) with the contaminating influences of whiskey-sellers, and other mercenary men, catering for their purses and their unholy appetites.

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