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MAH-TO-KHAY TO-PAH, 'THE FOUR-BEARS.'
The Four-Bears was the second chief of the Mandan tribe in rank; but, from his prëeminent bravery, the first in consideration and authority. He derived his somewhat singular name from the fact of having slain, with his own hand, four grizzly bears; no contemptible exploit, for this animal is the sovereign of the great American Desert
, to whom the lion and the tiger would be as rats and mice. Mah-to-khay To-pah — But stay; before we plunge inter inedias res, the reader will not perhaps be displeased to know something of his people,
"To whom nor relative nor blood remains;
No, not a kindred drop that runs in human veins!' They were swept from the face of the earth, three years ago, by the small-pox. They knew not the disease, nor its remedies; and the terror it created was in proportion to their ignorance. The mother forsook her child, the wife her husband, when smitten, as they conceived, by the hand of the Great Spirit; and the men of the last seven surviving families, after having slain their women and children, stabbed themselves upon their dead bodies, in the frenzy of utter despair. So perished a tribe that could muster four thousand warriors; the most gentle, the most civilized, and the most chivalrous of the North-west. Let us make one faint effort to rescue them from oblivion.
Whether the Mandans were the Welsh Indians of former writers, or the descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel, we are unable to say; certain it is, that they differed in language, in complexion, in the color of the hair and eyes, and in religion, from every other known tribe on the continent. To us, they appeared a mixed people, the offspring of a whiter foreign race, engrafted upon the original aboriginal stock. Their language was not Sioux, although it contained a great many Sioux words. Some of them were perfect Sioux in complexion and feature; others, to whom the blood of their ancestors had descended pure, had handsome Jewish countenances, and were fairer than most of the natives of the south of Europe. Some had gray and blue eyes, and bright, silky, auburn hair; features unknown in any other tribe. Others, though young, had coarse gray hair, and not a few had it of three different colors, gray, black, and red at the ends. Some of the Mandan maidens would have been accounted belles in Broadway or Pennsylvania Avenue. The men were all elegantly formed. They were a mixed people, varying in every shade, from one of the two races from which they sprang, to the other, like our people of color.
The 'poor savages !' The Mandans were not savages, nor poor. Worse savages, and poorer people, may be found by thousands in any of our large cities. No man, not even an enemy, ever appealed to their humanity in vain. They lived in villages of huts, of very large dimensions. Hundreds of smaller, worse-built, and less convenient edifices are taxed in New York as dwelling-houses. Twenty families
inhabited one hut, but each individual or pair had a separate crib, with its curtains. No drop of rain could penetrate. They were rich in horses and wives — for among Indians wives are wealth — and in the inexhaustible, never failing wealth of the prairies. The soil almost spontaneously produced corn, beans, melons, gourds, etc., sufficient for consumption, and these were raised by the women; for the men considered it derogatory to their dignity to labor, and the women thought it no hardship. But there was no need to cultivate the ground at all. The vast herds of buffaloes were a sure resource ; and if they chanced to remove far from his village, the Mandan warrior mounted his whole family on horseback, and followed them.
The Mandans were uniformly well and even gorgeously clad. The fops of our cities would have made a pitiable figure among their flowing robes, and fringed tunics and leggins. The men killed the buffalo, the deer, the elk, and the antelope, and the women converted the skins into garments softer, finer, and much more durable, than cloth. The white clay of the prairies gave them the whiteness of snow. There could not be a nobler or more picturesque figure than a Mandan on horseback, in his gala dress. We have him before our mind's eye now.
From the crown of his head to the crupper of his horse, streams a long tissue of swans' feathers. The steed wears a coronal of the same material, and prances proudly beneath his rider. He deserves the distinction, for he is of the best blood of Barbary ; in no wise deteriorated by its transmission through Andalusia and Mexico. His saddle is a cushion of the softest doe-skin, his crupper of the same; both, as well as the reins, curiously inwrought with porcupine quills. A hundred hawk-bells jingle from the bridle. From each corner of his mouth depends the scalp of a slain foeman. The rider wears a loose white tunic, which leaves the arms bear, and over it is a robe, which rather graces than hides his person. In his head are the feathers of the war-eagle, denoting the number of the enemies he has slain, otherwise he would not dare to wear them. The women of the village would pluck them from his head. Certain small painted sticks, affixed in like manner to his top-knot, indicate the number and manner of his wounds. A necklace of grizzly bears' claws encircles his neck. His robe is covered with hieroglyphics, and tells the history of his life. His leggins are fringed with scalp-locks, each of which is the price of a horse. On his left arm is his shield, of tough bull-bide, which will stop an arrow, or turn a bullet. At his back hangs his bow, which will bury every one of the sixty shafts in the quiver beside it, to the feather; and his right hand grasps his quivering lance, twenty feet long; its head an entire sword-blade, rusty with blood. Such is the costume of the 'poor Indian.'
The 'poor Indian!' He eats, the river supplies him with drink, the prairie clothes him, and furnishes him with a bed. His horse and his bow are to him plough and spade. He toils not, neither does he speculate. He is independent of all the world, excepting his wives. He despises the religion of the whites, because he sees how little their practice accords with it; of their learning he knows nothing, and their civilization he contemns. He needs nothing of them; not even a gun; his bow is a better weapon. He has enough, and he is satisfied with it. The exertion by which he sustains his life, is his
sport, and the toils of war are his glory. We do not pretend to decide whether or not plenty with ignorance, be preferable to toil and want with knowledge; but certain it is, that he who has enough for the
present, and a certainty of its continuance, cannot be called poor.
To return. The Mandans were, perhaps, the most religious people the sun ever shone upon. Like the Jews, they were theists ; but their imagination peopled the whole universe with spirits of good and of evil. They had their Ahrimanes, like all other Indians, and prayed to him that he should do them no harm; making true the supposition that so shocked our 'Pilgrim Fathers,' that the heathen worshipped the devil. To the Mandan, every remarkable place had its presiding spirit; every event, no matter how trifling, was the effect of supernatural agency; but the Supreme was ever uppermost in his mind. Sacrifices to him were strewn all over the country; the first fruits of the season, the best part of the animal slain in the chase, the most costly of the goods obtained from the trader. A Mandan would not eat a morsel of a buffalo, till he had first made a burnt-offering, though he were starving. The . Medicine-House,' that is to say, the temple, stood in the midst of the village. On its top were several tall poles, on which were constantly suspended blankets, broadcloth, etc., the best these devout worshippers could procure, there to rot, as a thing acceptable to God. The like was seen in a thousand other places. Into the Medicine-House no woman was ever permitted to enter ; and in it, every spring, were enacted and suffered such cruelties as were never surpassed by the Holy Inquisition, all for the glory of God. There was this difference, however, between the Inquisition and the Medicine-House, that in the former the suffering was compulsory; whereas in the latter, the victims underwent the most horrible tortures voluntarily, and gloried in their torments. Nay, as the latter part of the ceremony was performed out of doors, wives and mothers looked on, and exulted in the pangs of their sons and husbands, and even assisted in increasing them. It were tedious to describe these barbarous rites : they involved an allegory, in which the Spirit of Evil was supposed to enter the village, and to be driven out of it again by the Spirit of Good. Mah-to-khay To-pah suffered these unheard of tortures five several times. How any man could survive them once, is wonderful ; but that anyone should desire to undergo them even a second time, is little less than miraculous. Catlin is the only white man who was ever admitted into the Medicine-House, during the performance of these rites; and four pictures of them may be seen in his gallery of paintings. Persons of weak nerves, however, had better not listen to his explanation of them.
Turtle doves swarmed in and about the Mandan villages, and it was held sacrilegious to molest them ; because,' said the Mandans, 'this was the bird that brought the willow-branch back to the canoe. It was at the time, too, when the first willow-buds opened into leaves, that the ceremonies of which we have spoken took place. Some persons might argue, from these premises, that the Mandans were certainly descended from the Israelites, and possibly the supposition might have been corroborated by other traditions ; but as no one has ever yet had opportunity and inclination to inquire, and as the Man. dans are all past hope of any farther explanations, the question must
rest on this solitary fact, and on the decidedly Jewish physiognomy of the whiter half of the tribe.
After this long preamble, we come to our story. Before Mah-tokhay To-pah arrived at maturity, he offered himself as a candidate for the dreadful honors of the Feast of the Willow Leaf. His father and brother dissuaded, and his mother prayed, in vain. martyr was proof alike to entreaties, tears, and lamentations. The family appealed to the elders of the village, and the elders appealed to the Medicine Man, or master of the ceremonies, to prevent his intention, but the latter was not to be won. I am the servant of the Great Spirit,' said he, and do you think I will offend him? If the young man dies under the torture, it will be an acceptable sacrifice, and he will have the reward of his piety in another world. It would be throwing away my own life.'
• But he will certainly die,' said old Sintaypay Chahpah,' and not he alone, but his father, too. The old man has vowed that if his son perishes, he will go to the Pawnee village, and throw away his body,' (i. e., he will rush upon assured death; a very common practice with Indians, when suffering severe affliction.)
• His father will think better of it,' replied the Medicine Man. *He has another son to comfort him in his old age, and if he had not, I cannot help it.'
You can help it, if you will,' rejoined Hayhahkhah, the boy's uncle. “You, and you only, can.'
'I cannot, if I would,' said the priest, "unless I should be expressly commanded, in a dream, to forbid his initiation.'
It is very well,' said Hayhahkhah,' coolly knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and folding his robe around him to withdraw. It is very well
. The boy must die. I have been through the ordeal myself, and I know that he must be a strong man who lives through it. Forty brave men have I seen die on the third day. This lad cannot go through the second. Peace be with you! If you should have a dream to-night, and the Great Spirit should forbid the sacrifice, it is my intention to give you ten horses to-morrow.'
That is right! grunted old Sintaypay Chahpah, “that is right; the boy is my cousin, and I shall send you five more, beside ten new robes.'
And thus each of the old men endeavored, with simple cunning, to influence the dreams of the holy man, according to their several ability, or their earnestness in the task they had undertaken. Now we beg to be understood, that if we have not made our Indians talk upon stilts, and speak of themselves and others in the third person, like the Mohegaus and Mingoes of Mr. Cooper's imagination, it is for a very good reason. We could easily make them discourse in tropes, and soar above the fixed stars, and the human comprehension, in metaphor, as he does, and other American novelists, of far less merit, but even more pretension, do also; and perhaps it would accord better with the prevailing taste; but the fact is, Indians speak as plainly and as directly to the point as we do, on all ordinary occasions. It is only in premeditated harangues, that they adorn and obscure their discourse with the flowers and clouds of imagination and poetry.
In the mean while, the object of so much solicitude was undergoing a torture little less painful than that to which he had devoted
himself; we mean the objurgations of friends who knew better what was good for him than he did himself. His mother howled, and gashed her arms and bosom with an arrow-head, in token of grief. His sisters followed ber example, and a score of squaws in and about their dwelling made the night hideous with a song of lamentation, which had for its burthen, 'I shall see you no more! I shall see you no more !' The father smoked his pipe, which he only took from his mouth to enforce the expostulations of his eldest born. The devoted listened unshaken, though not unmoved.
• Better to die like a man, than to live like an old woman,' said the Four-Bears, in reply to some remark of his brother. • But you are not a man,' returned the other.
You did not think so last year, when Letalesba killed your horse under you. I was just in time, then; and there hangs his hair in the smoke, and here is the eagle's feather in my head. Manhood is not reckoned by years. I have earned the right to call myself a man.'
• The Master of Breath smiles not upon parricides,' interposed the father. My son dies after two sleeps, and my scalp will be at some Pawnee's bridle-rein.'
• Take pity on your mother,' cried the other afflicted parent. 'O my son, my son! I shall see you no more! I shall see you no more !'
* We shall see you no more ! we shall see you no more !' chimed in the rest of the women.
The youth drew himself proudly up. “Father, mother, brother, sisters, friends,' said he, 'I have heard all you have said, and you can say no more. I have seen but fifteen snows, as you say; but if no other Mandan boy has ever attempted the ordeal of men at that age, so much the more honor for me. It is the will of the Master of Life, which no one can resist. He commanded me in a dream. If it is his will that I should die, die I must; and you ought to rejoice at being so honored in your son.
If it is his will that I should live, you will have so much the more cause to rejoice. Therefore, mother, cease your clamors, and dry your tears. We must all die, and why not as well now, as at any other time? Kill my black horse over my grave, and bury my bow and arrows with me, that I may not start for the world of shadows like a beggar, on foot and unarmed. Haply I may meet the revengeful ghost of Letalesha there! But I will not have our family's captives put to death to be my slaves. You, father and brother, must send me slaves fit to attend a warrior ; slaves who shall receive their message on the ground where they fall. What is life, after all ? It is but a cloud of smoke hanging over the house, which the first breath of wind will drive away. I have spoken, and henceforth I am deaf.'
• Well, then,' said one of the women, more anxious than ever to save so brave a boy, there is but one way. Let us send for the Spotted Fawn. I am sure he can refuse her nothing.'
The Four-Bears, at the conclusion of his harangne, had seated himself very quietly, with his elbows upon his knees, and stopped his ears with his thumbs; not so closely, however, but that the name of the Skipping Fawn reached his tympanum. She was a year his junior, and betrothed to him; for Indians marry very young. Well he knew that her supplications and her tears would shake his resolution. He rose with a wild cry, scattered the crowd of womon right and left,