Letter V

Rocky Mountains, July 12, 1836.

Dear Brother.

- Feeling a disposition to write, and having met with no incident worth notice, for some days past, I have concluded to give you some details connected with the Sioux Indians, - a nation, perhaps the most numerous, and occupying the most extensive range of country, of any tribe in North America. They have no permanent villages, like their neighbours, the Pawnees, Rees, Mandans and Gros-vants; nor do they, like them, cultivate the soil, but depend for subsistence solely on game, moving about with their leathern lodges from place to place, as their wants or wishes may prompt them.

Their immense numbers rendering unity of purpose and action almost impossible, they are subdivided into tribes, having independent chiefs, occupying distinct portions of territory, and known by different names: Thus we have the Sioux of St. Peters, on the Mississippi; the Sioux of Missouri; the Yanhtoneys, and the Assinnaboines. The two latter tribes are sometimes at war with each other, but it is generally of short duration. At present they are firm and friendly allies; waging war with their neighbours, the Mandans and Gros-vants.

The Assinnaboines, who occupy the northern portion of Sioux territory, call themselves E-ao-ka or Nar-ko-ta. When the white man first visited this country, they were called by their neighbours, the Cree Indians, Assin-poinee, (or the Stone Roasters,) which for sake of easier pronunciation, we have slightly changed. They are the poorest of the Sioux bands, having no horses - an important item of Indian wealth.

Nearly all their baggage is transported by dogs, and I have known 60, 80 or even 100 lb. to be hauled by these poor animals, a days march, with no great apparent fatigue. The Assinnaboines, are not, however insensible to the value of horses; for it is no uncommon occurrence to see one of them offer a horse, in the fall season, for half a gallon of whiskey, which he will buy in the following spring, at the rate of thirty Buffalo robes; and all this difference in consequence of the difficulty of wintering horses in their cold and inhospitable climate. Their principal trading points, are with the British on North Red River, and at the American fur company's post at the mouth of Yellow Stone. The former is visited in the summer, where they dispose of light peltries; and the latter in the fall and winter, where their robes, and other articles of a heavy description, find a better market.

I was forcibly struck with the remarkable similarity which some of their traditions respecting creation, bear to divine revelation. One of their prophets gave me a long history of the formation of things "animate and inanimate," the substance of which I now record for your amusement - and I may as well premise, that as yet, these people have never had either missionary or other instructor amongst them.

The Assinnaboines believe that at a very remote period, the Great Spirit, formed the earth out of a confused mass. He then made a Fox out of clay, which he sent forth to see if the world was large enough. The Fox returned from the survey and reported it too small. By a sudden convulsion, the Great Spirit then made it larger; and again the Fox went forth, but did not return to report the dimensions; from which it was known that the earth was sufficiently capacious. Trees were then made, and when they grew large enough, a man and a woman were made of the timber. Every other living thing was made of clay - male and female of its kind - and all were sent forth, with a command to multiply. It seems the work of creation was done, on the borders of a lake, and amongst the most absurd portion of the creed, is a belief that a fish swam to the shore, - offered itself as a sacrifice - and told the newly created pair, to boil and eat it all, except the scales and bones, which they were directed to bury in the earth. From this sprang up powder, balls, fuzees, knives and other implements of warfare.

In the course of time men had become very numerous. Amongst them were two brothers - great chiefs - who were formed for skill and bravery. One of them was slain by an enormous animal, (for which they have no name) and the other, to revenge his brother's death, afterwards attacked and killed it. This animal was a great favourite with the Great Spirit, and in order to shew his disapprobation of the act, he determined to drown all mankind. The surviving brother heard this, and built himself a large raft, on which he placed a male and female of every animal. The rain poured down, and the earth was covered, over the top of the highest mountain; but the raft floated in security. The chief at length becoming tired of sailing, determined to make land for himself - for he was "strong medicine," and knew every thing. All he wanted was a little earth, or mud. A Beaver went out, but soon returned, reporting (as sailor's say) "no bottom." Another was next sent, with no better success. Last of all, a musk rat was employed, and after some time returned with a mouth full of mud. From this our earth, as we have it, was formed - which accounts for it being no better than it is.

Yours, &c.