Texts by and about Natives: Texts

14. Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket), Cogewea, The Half-Blood

From Mourning Dove (Humishuma) [Christine Quintasket], Co-ge-we-a, The Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range
(Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1927), 119-30, 143-47.

. . . . Cogewea saw to it that they were not belated at the lodge. Entering, they found the occupant sitting on the bedding of blankets. At the girl’s prompting, Densmore shook hands with the aged woman and then sat down on a buffalo robe which had been placed for him. Cogewea took place at the side of her grandparent, and after an interval spoke:

"We have come to hear the Stemteemä tell of other

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snows; when the tribes were strong, and of the coming of the Shoyahpee.”

Unhurriedly and in but a few words the ancient squaw made reply. Cogewea explained that in conformity to an epochal custom, the grandmother would, before beginning her story, take a smoke, that she might be in the mood for talking. She must have time to gather her mind’s thoughts.

The girl then gently took the tobacco pouch from the trembling hands and bringing the small stone pipe from the same receptacle, filled it with the fragrant kinnikinnick; and lighting it, returned it to the smoker. During the ensuing “peace pipe invocation”, Cogewea, at Densmore’s request, elucidated on the mysteries of this rite of antiquity:

"Smoking is an exclusive characteristic of our race,” she said. “Its origin is scarce preserved in the dim legends of the past. The oldest pipes were straight, tapering trumpet-like tubes, made of clay or stone. Perhaps these were closely contemporaneous with the non-angular variety, showing the funnel-like orifice for both the stem and tobacco. Ofttimes these later pipes assumed fantastic forms, representing animals, birds, reptiles, human and mythical beings; many of them evidently of a sacred nature. They are found in certain old burial grounds and are claimed by some writers to have belonged to a different race than ours. But we were always here. I hate this latest supposition that we came from China or Japan. Neither of those people nor any other ever smoked until they had learned it directly or indirectly from us. They modeled their pipes after ours in a general way, though improved in form. The Indian recognizing this proficiency, copied the white man’s pattern, which is traceable from the primitive to the present conformation.

"We had our peace pipes and our war pipes and no important undertaking was ever attempted without a smoke-prayer. These were usually assembly, or council smokes; the pipe being passed from one person to

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another. There always have been, and are still some individual men who do not smoke; but in our tribe, as in many others, even the women indulge, but not universally. It is not uncommon to see a young woman drawing on a cigarette in just the same manner as a white society lady. But these ‘coffin-nails’ are of the white man’s inception, along with his multitudinous diseased adjuncts of civilization: whiskey, beer, wine and opium with attending crimes and ills. And to cap the irony of it all, he brings the ‘glad tidings’ of an endlessly burning hell where we are roasted for emulating his ‘superior’ examples.

"Smoking is the only ideal of our race that the Caucasian has deemed worthy of perpetuation. This, perhaps, is because it has been considered the worst of our vices. But the Shoyahpee converted it into vice. We did not use strong, straight tobacco and virus-infected wrappers. We employed a very mild and almost, if not entirely harmless mixture of bark and leaves, and among some of the tribes, a minute amount of tobacco; such as you see Stemteemä now smoking. Southern Indians used more of this narcotic plant than did their northern cousins, and here in the far northwest, we had none of it. Often the smoking material was slightly oiled by rubbing it with buffalo, or other melted fats. This was especially true of the plains Indians. The process improved the flavor and also augmented the fire-holding qualities.”

Further dissertation by Cogewea was interrupted by the Stemteemä, who, putting aside her pipe, spoke in a low gutteral tone. She was ready to begin her story. . . .

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. . . . “THIS was long ago,” began Stemteemä, “many many snows. It happened in the time of my grandfather, when he was a young chief of the powerful Schw-ayl-pk and the Okanogans. This story I am telling you is true. It was given to me by my father who favored me among his many children. I was his youngest child from his youngest wife, who was cherished among his twelve wives. He told me the tales that were sacred to his tribe; honored me with them, trusted me. Treasured by my forefathers, I value them. I know that they would want them kept only to their own people if they were here. But they are gone and for me the sunset of the last evening is approaching and I must not carry with me this history.

"In that time the pale face and his vices had not reached us. The country was wild and the Great Spirit was kind to the tribes. Berries grew on the fruit-bushes in abundance, while game and fish were plentiful. Buffaloes were to be killed on these plains, all ample for food, robes and lodge-sheltering. There were so many that the prairies showed black like the shadows from passing clouds.

"My ancestors were warriors and medicine men; the one brave and fearless, the other wise in the wisdom of spirits. My grandfather and father could not have become chiefs had they not been courageous from small to great things. A leader must be a good hunter. He

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must not know the word ‘fear’. He must endure the hardships of war, waged every spring and fall against the fierce Blackfeet and Sioux. If favored by the Great Spirit, he would win in battle and return from war more beloved by his tribe. Ponies were taken from the enemy, and their best looking women brought home to become wives. Any others were killed, or some times retained as slaves. A warrior’s ability and bravery was estimated by the number of captured ponies or scalps he could display in the village. These evidenced that he had met the foe, that he was not boasting the lie. This was why scalping was practiced by all the tribes.

"Always, the falling of the first snow was the sign that the Great Spirit was calling. The tribesmen then ceased hunting the buffalo, deer, elk, moose and antelope. Gathering in the village, everything was laid aside for the Spirit’s Days, which were fourteen sundowns. They danced in worship to the Spirit, to continue His favors to the tribe; that the trees, the grass and herbs be perpetual; that the deer and all game be plentiful the coming season and that the red salmon again swarm up the Swanitkqah. I am old and I am wondering why the salmon no longer come as when I was a child. The stream then throbbed with the big fish.

"We have been told that it is wrong to pray to the Great Spirit as we were taught. But since we adopted prayers to the white man’s God-spirit, we have died from pestilences which he brought. Even the buffalo are no more; gone to the shadowy Hunting Grounds of the hereafter, with the warriors of old. I shall soon follow, where the pale face can not dispossess us, for he will not be there. He will no longer lure our children from us with his smooth tongue and books, which here serves to make them bad by imitating the destroyers of our race.

"With this whitening of the first snow—this calling of the Spirit—the medicine man had built a great lodge of poles and bark, or of dressed skins. A long fire-hearth

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was in the center, that the dancing might be lighted at night, as well as give warmth for the people. These lodges I have myself seen before the Black Robes stopped us from such worship of the Indian Spirit.

"They danced for fourteen sundowns, thankful for the past successful season, for health and victory in war. Each hunter and warrior supplicated that he again be permitted to see the new life of spring. All that time, day and night they danced, as long as strength lasted. Some of the warriors did not sleep. This was to show their endurance, their ability to stand the rigors of the warpath and the chase. It was at one of these dances that this story I am telling you, happened.

"Berries, game and fish had been abundant and the people had plenty of dried foods for the winter moons. They danced the fourteen sundowns, when suddenly and without any illness, one medicine man died. He was perfectly well when he dropped dead. Immediately the wind came up and it stormed fiercely, shutting the dancers in.

"They used to bury the dead in tops of trees, or, if he was a chief, medicine man or a great warrior, his body was left in his own tepee and his best horse killed at its doorway. This was, that he might ride the swifter to the Spirit Land. Their finest robes and skins were also left with the dead, as a gift to the Great Spirit, that He might take pity on the family and call no more of them over the death trail. The village then moved to a new location, leaving the dead alone.

"The medicine man was really dead and cold for two sundowns. The storm was bad and they could not take the body to its own tepee for burial. On the third sunrise, to the astonishment of the people, the dead man came back from the death-sleep. Life returned and he stood up from the robes in which he was wrapped. The women, frightened, ran away, but the warriors dared not run. It would be cowardly to fly even though they could not understand. The newly alive medicine man called:

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'Come all you braves and warriors! I have something to tell you, for your own benefit. I came back to warn you, to show you the right way to go. It is important and I will speak before I go again and forever.

“'‘The messenger of the Great Spirit took me away. He took me high, up very high. I could see you, oh! my people, around my poor body. You were wailing over that which is but a part of the earth; only useful here but nowhere else. While I was in the clouds, I could see that which is moving towards you from the sunrise, slowly—driving—surging in big herds like the buffaloes we hunt on the plains, only more vast. Terrible it comes, and gathering force it sweeps the land like the cloud-rack of death. Listen! Oh! my people. I saw the future as you see the mountains when the sun is undimmed by vapor from the waters. I asked my guide, whom I could not see yet felt his presence, to let me return and warn you; but he refused.

“‘'We ascended higher, still higher until we reached the big bright doorway of the sun, which shines that the flowers, the grass and trees may grow to gladden you[r] hearts. Again I begged my guide to permit me to come warn you of what is to be. Then some one I could not see, heard only his loud voice like the rushing of the wind through the forest—mingled with the melody of the waterfalls—calling to me:

“‘'Go! man! go back! I am not ready to take you into the Happy Hunting Grounds till you have performed a duty assigned you. Go! warn your people of what is coming over the morning trail!’

“‘'Then taking my hand, my guide pointed to the future—what is in store for you, my people—what the future holds for you. Listen!

“‘'I saw a pale-faced nation moving from the sunrise; as many as the trees of the forest. My guide said to me: ‘They are coming to take your hunting grounds from you’. Then knowing my thoughts, he exclaimed in pity:

“‘'No! You cannot fight them as you do the common enemies of your tribe. They are many! Many more than

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your own race; many as the stars you see. When you kill the front of them, others come from the back of them; many more, double the number. This is to be! Do not attempt war with them. You would be crushed like the pine-cone by the mountain avalanche.

“‘'The first of the strangers will come to work for your good,’ said my guide. ‘Only a few of them will strive to help the tribes; not for this life’s benefit, but for the Hereafter; where the warriors gather when they leave this earth. You will know them; with their white skins and with hair on their faces. They will show you a new trail to the Great Spirit. You must believe them! for they, too, point to the hunting grounds of the future life which cannot be taken from you. These good men will help you from becoming lost on the night trail.

“‘'Again my guide pointed and I saw the pale faces fighting among themselves for the possession of our lands. Their feet were drowned in human blood of war which thundered everywhere.

“‘'See!’ said my guide. ‘When this takes place, your people will long be gone. The land will be no more as it was. Go! now, man! go back to your people with the message given you. Tell them what you have seen, and to listen to the first pale face who comes to them. He will not deceive them, but will show them a better trail to the Spirit Land.’

"'Then it seemed that I was falling! falling! falling! Plunging through wet clouds and it was far. But when I awoke, I was back here in my old, deserted body. I saw this body from the high, and I did not care to live in it again. I had not regretted leaving it for a better life.

"'My friends and relations! I have now done that which the Great Spirit demanded of me. I am ready to leave you again, never to return. I want to go back where all is beauty and goodness, where the hardships of the warpath are unknown.’

"With this, the medicine man fell back among his robes and died forever. My grandfather heard his

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words. He told the strange story to my father, who in turn gave it to me. I know that it must be true, for my father never spoke the lie. He did not talk two ways. I have heard the old Indians in my childhood time, wonder at the story. This is why the Black Robes were believed when they at last did come.

"The tribe watched and waited for the coming of the pale faces, but it was many snows before they came. It was so long that the prophecy of the dead-man was almost forgotten. The younger generation began to think it untrue; only some chip-chap-tiqulk of the older Indians.

"My father was then a young man, a big chief, who ruled after the death of his father.  He won fame for bravery among the tribes. One day a warrior came to him in haste and deep trouble. He had found a pale faced man almost dead with cold and starvation and had brought him to his tepee in the night to be fed and warmed. What should be done with the strange being?

"The Chief ordered him brought to his own lodge, where it was discovered that he had hair growing on his face. The Chief then remembered the dead man’s words and that the stranger must be treated well.

"After the white-skinned man had revived, he began teaching the way of the new trail to the Spirit Land. He wore a long black robe, from which he was called ‘Black Robe’. He remained all winter with the Okanogans and learned much of our language. He told them that there were many more pale faces from where he came, that it was far away in the snow country towards the sunrise. That he and another Black Robe came together, but the bad Indians of the north had killed his companion. He had escaped. Maybe the Great Spirit took pity on him.

"When he began telling the Okanogans about the good White Spirit, they must not have understood, for they prayed to the Black Robe himself. They believed that he was more than a man. Had not the dead man told them that the first to come would be able to show them a

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better way to reach the Hereafter? He must be in communication with the Great Spirit and thus understood their petitions. He forbid them praying to the sun, moon and stars, which the Indians thought to be the lodges of spirits.

"The Black Robe stayed till the snow disappeared before the Warm-winds, when he went towards the sunset. He said he was going to teach the tribes living there how to reach the White Spirit. That was the last ever heard of him. Maybe the bad Indians killed him, but we never knew.

"The Okanogans prayed the ‘new way’ for many snows, when they grew tired and almost forgot the words of the Black Robe. Then they saw the pale face again, two of them. They had no black robes, but the people tried to pray to them, as they remembered the words of the Black Robe. The pale faces only laughed at them. But this is another story which I may tell you some time.

"I have told you of the first pale face to come to our village and tribal grounds. The land is now all turned to the production of the white man’s food, which we must also use. But we old people prefer our natural food; that which the earth gave us without scarring its bosom. The deer and other game; the fish, the berries and the roots were always here; placed here for us.

"It was good to live in a lodge with no roof to smother you; where you could breathe fresh all the time. It was this former life that we loved; when the men were brave and the women were true. This is all that I will talk today.”

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. . . . [Densmore stated: ] “It may appear harsh, but the day has come when the Indian must desist from his wild, savage life. The Government is working hard for his betterment, and he should respond with a willingness to advance by adjusting himself to the new order of things. The opening of this reservation to settlement, tends to mingle him with his white brother, leading to an inter marriage of

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the two races. The tribesman will learn wisdom from his new neighbors, who will teach him how best to wrest his new food supplies from the soil. The change was inevitable, and why should you go on the warpath? You are too broad minded for such antiquated ideas. Educated, you should put improbable concepts aside.”

"I believe you mean well,” was the impatient reply [from Cogewea], “and a few whites do try to uplift my race. They purpose right, but they do not understand the Indian mind; never will, it would seem. Had a tribesman gone to your European homes with the ultimatum: ‘Desert your heavy house; come into the open and adopt our way of life,’ I am sure you Caucasians would have regarded him as an unreasonably brainless arrogant. Preposterous as such analogy may be, it adequately expresses the native conception of foreign intolerance. But I suppose that what is, was to be, and we must accept the inevitable.”

"Obviously the transition from savagery to the civilized state has been a stormy one for the Red man, but the voyage having been accomplished, he will, under the benificent guidance of a liberal and just Government, steadily advance to the highest plane of mental, and physical development. Doubtless he endured some hardships during the days of warfare, but all that is compensated by his present day treatment.”

"Compensated by present day treatment!” repeated Cogewea scornfully. “Such density is excusable, since your sojourn has been in the North-country, for not one in twenty thousand of true citizenry are informed on the ‘Indian Problem’, past or present. Partisan writers have chronicled the story of conquest, and political stranglers see to it that the public is kept blinded to actual conditions. And the Indian’s ‘mental and physical development!’ What a joke, if it were not so pathetically tragic.”

"But, my little war-maid,” expostulated the obdurate Easterner, “are you not a bit over zealous, and therefore mistaken in your contentions in this respect?

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While I came from Canada directly, I was raised in the Atlantic states, and have seen reports from the Indian Commissioner covering the administrations on all the reservations. From the statements therein contained, the Indian Bureau is. . . .”

"A nasty smear the Government escutcheon,” broke in the girl fiercely. “A stagnant cesspool swarming with political hatched vermin! Stenchful with the fumes of avarice and greed; selfishly indifferent to the Macedonian cry of its victims writhing under the lash wielded by the hand of Mammon! Pitch is a fastidious cosmetic, compared with the Bureau slime.”

"Now, you are surveying the situation through colored lenses,” persisted Densmore. “It can not be that the tribes in general are grossly manhandled. Doubtless there are occasional mistakes in the appointment of Indian agents, as in any other branch of business, but these are removed. In the North-country you would hardly dare criticise the administrative government so severely.”

"I know! I have been in the North-country, in fact have lived across the border. But I am not there now, nor am I criticising our Government. It is of the Indian Bureau that I am speaking. A child of unnatural parentage, fostered by undemocratic principles, it has no legitimate place under a flag claimed to stand for all that is embodied in the word ‘Liberty.’ If you think that I am prejudiced, that I am unfair in statements, look up the facts for yourself, but do not depend too strongly on information emanating from the Bureau. Its reek can be found on any of the reservations. It is here with the Flatheads, with the Crows, with the Nez Perces, the Colvills, the Yakimas, and the Chipewas of the White Earth. The Pueblos have their troubles . . . but the California tribes should not be cursed with agents. They have no reservations, all their lands having been stolen from them.”

"Cogewea, I can not agree with you on that score. The public would not tolerate such conditions.”

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"Easy there! for the ice is thin. The great mass of people who have to struggle for existence, have not the time nor ability to investigate or fight other than their own battles. The wealthy, church-going Christians, have irons in the fire and are too busy with their prayer bribes—ofttimes coming up on the collection plate, whereby they are to squeeze through the celestial gate—to bother casting a crust to the under dog of an ‘inferior’ race. This leaves the business man and politician a free hand with the ‘Indian Problem.’ Although brought up in the tenets of Christianity, do you wonder that at times I revert to the more simple beliefs of my ancient people?”

"Perhaps not, but does not the Indian’s taciturn and solitary nature stand in the way of his assimilating the highest standards of life?”

"If you refer to the white man’s highest standards, I do not know. There has never been an adequate test of his ability along that line, never having come in general contact with them. He has been kept too busy absorbing the lower standards so bounteously thrust upon him, to ponder on the possibility that perhaps his white brother was not treating him to his best stock. The tendency to measure your neighbor by your own code of morals, holds good with the Red man, and, since his gifts are always the best that he possesses, he judges the pale face accordingly; by the goods which he delivers.”

"Well, the native excelled in the art of refined hair-lifting if nothing more,” interjected Densmore with a forced laugh. “Nor was he altogether a failure at kindling torture fires, though averse to supplying the ember-fuel for his own tepee hearthstone.”

"Scalping was not an exclusive American fashion,” parried Cogewea. “The ancient Scythians, at least were addicted to this pastime, who also used enemy skulls for drinking cups. The stake roasting, however cruel and revolting, was never mixed with religious creeds and the worship of a God whose chief attributes,

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we are taught, are love, justice and mercy. A born fighter, the Indian preferred death to ignominious servitude; and these qualities, instead of being detrimental may yet prove his redemption, if only he can survive the imbecilities and harsh supervision of an obsolete Department. Once secure in his battle for a square deal, he will go forward, and his racial affinities—the product of climatic and celestial influences—will stamp themselves on the entire Nation. This characteristic at times urges me on. I must go on the war path and have my say or I’ll bust! Savey?” [sic]

The Easterner regarded his companion with open amusement, as he rejoined:

"Yes! you are evidently right in that. Are you in the scalping mood to-day, my little Joan of Arc?”

"If I were, the subject material immediately available would hardly suffice for the appeasement of my warlike proclivities.” was the spirited retort. “But it seems that every time I come to this butte of hidden mysteries, sympathy for my trampled race—the once dignified native Americans—throbs my very being. When I remain here till nightfall, I can hear the death chant and wailing of the spirit-Indians whose bones are being disturbed by the homesteader’s plow. I can see the tepeed villages melting before the blaze of conquest and the shattered nations sweeping desolately towards the ocean-laved portals of the sunset. . . .”

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