by George Catlin

(First published in London in 1844)

LETTER -- No. 43.


The above Letter it will be seen, was written some time ago, and when all hands (save those who were too sick) were on the start for the Pawnee arrived; and as the dragoons have made their visit there and returned in a village. Amongst those exceptions was I, before the hour of starting had most jaded condition, and I have again got well enough to write, I will render some account of the excursion, which is from the pen and the pencil of my friend Joe, who went with them and took my sketch and note-books in his pocket.

"We were four days travelling over a beautiful country, most of the way

prairie, and generally along near the base of a stupendous range of mountains of reddish granite, in many places piled up to an immense height without tree or shrubbery on them; looking as if they had actually dropped from the clouds in such a confused mass, and all lay where they had fallen.

Such we found the mountains enclosing the Pawnee village, on the bank of Red River, about ninety miles from the Camanchee town. The dragoon regiment was drawn up within half a mile or so of this village, and encamped in a square, where we remained three days. We found here a very numerous village, containing some five or six hundred wigwams, all made of long prairie grass, thatched over poles which are fastened in the ground and bent In at the top; giving to them, in distance, the appearance of straw beehives, as in, which is an accurate view of it, shewing the Red River in front, and the "mountains of rocks" behind it.

"To our very great surprise, we have found these people cultivating quite extensive fields of corn (maize), pumpkins, melons, beans and squashes; so, with these aids, and an abundant supply of buffalo meat, they may be said to be living very well.

"The next day after our arrival here, Colonel Dodge opened a council with the chiefs, in the chief's lodge, where he had the most of his officers around him. He first explained to them the friendly views with which he came to see them; and of the wish of our Government to establish a lasting peace with them, which they seemed al once to appreciate and highly to estimate.

"The head chief of the tribe is a very old man, and he several times replied to Colonel Dodge in a very eloquent manner; assuring him of the friendly feelings of his chiefs and warriors towards the pale faces, in the direction from whence we came.

"After Colonel Dodge had explained in general terms, the objects of our visit, he told them that he should expect from them some account of the foul murder of Judge Martin and his family on the False Washita, which had been perpetrated but a few weeks before, and which the Camanchees had told us was done by the Pawnee Picts. The Colonel told them, also, that he learned from the Camanchees, that they had the little boy, the son of the murdered gentleman, in their possession; and that he should expect them to deliver him up, as an indispensable condition of the friendly arrangement that was now making. They positively denied the fact, and all knowledge of it ; firmly assuring us that they knew nothing of the murder, or of the boy. The demand was repeatedly made, and as often denied; until at length a negro-man was discovered, who was living with the Pawnees, who spoke good English; and coming into the council-house, gave information that such a boy had recently been brought into their village, and was now a prisoner amongst them. This excited great surprise and indignation in the council, and Colonel Dodge then informed the chiefs that the council would rest here; and certainly nothing further of a peaceable nature would transpire until the boy was brought in. In this alarming dilemma, all remained in gloomy silence for awhile; when Colonel Dodge further informed the chiefs, that as an evidence of his friendly intentions towards them, he had, on starting, purchased at a very great price, from their enemies the Osages, two Pawnee (and one Kiowa) girls; which had been held by them for some years as prisoners, and which he had brought the whole way home, and had here ready to be delivered to their friends and relations; but whom he certainly would never show, until the little boy was produced. He also made another demand, which was for the restoration of an United States ranger, by the name of Abbe, who had been captured by them during the summer before. They acknowledged the seizure of this man, and all solemnly declared that he had been taken by a party of the Camanchees, over whom they had no control, and carried beyond the Red River into the Mexican provinces, where he was put to death. They held a long consultation about the boy, and seeing their plans defeated by the evidence of the negro; and also being convinced of the friendly disposition of the Colonel, by bringing home their prisoners from the Osages, they sent out and had the boy brought in, from the middle of a corn-field, where he had been secreted. He is a smart and very intelligent boy of nine years of age, and when he came in, he was entirely naked, as they keep their own boys of that age. There was a great excitement in the council when the little fellow was brought in; and as he Passed amongst them, he looked around and exclaimed with some surprise, "What! Are there white men here?" To which Colonel Dodge replied, and asked his name; and he promptly answered. "My name is Matthew Wright Martin."

He was then received into Colonel Dodge's arms; and an order was immediately given for the Pawnee and Kiowa girls to he brought forward; they were in a few minutes brought into the council-house, when they were at once recognized by their friends and relatives, who embraced them with the most extravagant expressions of joy and satisfaction. The heart of the venerable old chief was melted at this evidence of white man's friendship, and he rose upon his feet, and taking Colonel Dodge in his arms, and placing his left cheek against the left cheek of the Colonel, held him for some minutes without saying a word, whilst tears were flowing from his eyes. He then embraced each officer in turn, in the same silent and affectionate man -- which form took half an hour or more, before it was completed.

"From this moment the council, which before had been a very grave and uncertain one, took a pleasing and friendly turn. And this excellent old man ordered the women to supply the dragoons with something to eat, as they were hungry.

(The little encampment, which heretofore was in a woeful condition, having eaten up their last rations twelve hours before, were now gladdened by the approach of a number of women, who brought their "back loads" of dried buffalo meat and green corn, and threw it down amongst there. This seemed almost like a providential deliverance, for the country between here and the Camanchees, was entirely destitute of game, and our last Provisions were consumed.

"The council thus Proceeded successfully and pleasantly for several days, whilst the warriors of the Kiowas and Wicos, two adjoining and friendly tribes living further to the West, were arriving; and also a great many from other bands of the Camanchees, who had heard of our arrival; until two thousand or more of these wild and fearless-looking fellows were assembled, and all, from their horses' backs, with weapons in hand, were looking into our pitiful little encampment, of two hundred men, all in a state of dependence and almost literal starvation; and at the same time nearly one half the number too sick to have made a successful resistance if we were to have been attacked."

The command returned to this village after an absence of fifteen days, in a fatigued and destitute condition, with scarcely anything to eat, or chance of getting anything here; in consequence of which, Colonel Dodge almost instantly ordered preparations to be made for a move to the head of the Canadian river, a distance of an hundred or more miles, where the Indians represented to us there would be found immense herds of buffaloes; a place where we could get enough to eat, and by lying by awhile, could restore the sick, who are now occupying a great number of litters. Some days have elapsed, however, and we are not quite ready for the start yet. And during that time, continual parties of the Pawnee Picts and Kioways have come up; and also Camanchees, from other-villages, to get a look at us, and many of them are volunteering to go in with us to the frontier.

The world who know me, will see that I can scarcely be idle under such circumstances as these, where so many subjects for my brush and my pen are gathering about me.

The Pawnee Picts, Kioways, and Wicos are the subjects that I am most closely scanning at this moment, and I have materials enough around me.

The Pawnee Picts are undoubtedly a numerous and powerful tribe, occupying, with the Kioways and Wicos, the whole country on the head waters of the Red River, and quite into and through the southern part of the Rocky Mountains. The old chief told me by signs, enumerating with his hands and fingers, that they had altogether three thousand warriors; which if true, estimating according to the usual rule, one warrior to four, would make the whole number about twelve thousand; and, allowing a fair per-centage for boasting or bragging, of which they are generally a little guilty in such cases, there would be at a fair calculation from eight to tell thousand. These then, in an established alliance with the great tribe of Camanchees, hunting and feasting together, and ready to join in common defence of their country become a very formidable enemy when attacked on their own ground.

The name of the Pawnee Picts, we find to be in their own language, Tow-ee-ahge, the meaning of which I have not yet learned. I have ascertained also, that these people are in no way related to the Pawnees of the Platte, who reside a thousand miles or more North of them, and know them only as enemies. There is no family or tribal resemblance; nor any in their language or customs. The Pawnees of the Platte shave the head, and the Pawnee Picts abominate the custom; allowing their hair to grow like the Camanchees and other tribes.

The old chief of the Pawnee Picts, of whom I have before spoken, and whose name is We-ta-ra-sha-ro, is undoubtedly a very excellent and kind-hearted old man, of ninety or more years of age, and has consented to accompany us, with a large party of his people, to Fort Gibson; where Colonel Dodge has promised to return him liberal presents from the Government, for the friendship he has evinced on the present occasion.

The second chief of this tribe, Sky-se-ro-ka, we found to be a remarkably clever man, and much approved and valued in his tribe.

The Pawnee Picts, as well as the Camanchees, are generally a very clumsy and ordinary looking set of men, when on their feet; but being fine horsemen, are equally improved in appearance as soon as they mount upon their horses' backs.

Amongst the women of this tribe, there were many that were exceedingly pretty in feature and in form; and also in expression, though their skins are very dark. The dress of the men in this tribe, as amongst the Camanchees, consists generally in leggings of dressed skins, and moccasins; with a flap or breech clout, made also of dressed skins or furs, and often very beautifully ornamented with shells, &c. Above the waist they seldom wear any drapery, owing to the warmth of the climate, which will rarely justify it; and their heads are generally uncovered with a head-dress, like the Northern tribes who live in a colder climate, and actually require them for comfort.

The women of the Camanchees and Pawnee Picts, are always decently and comfortably clad, being covered generally with a gown or slip, that reaches from the thin quite down to the ankles, made of deer or elk skins; often garnished very prettily, and ornamented with long fringes of elk's teeth, which are fastened on them in rows, and more highly valued than any other ornament they can put upon them.

I have given the portraits of two Pawnee girls, Kah-kee-tsee (The Thighs), and She-de-a (Wild Sage), the two Pawnee women who had been held as prisoners by the Osages, and purchased by the Indian Commissioner, the Reverend Mr. Schemmerhom, and brought home to their own people, and delivered up in the Pawnee town, in the manner that I have just described.

The Kioways are a much finer looking race of men, than either the Camanchees or Pawnees -- are tall and erect, with an easy and graceful gait -- with long hair, cultivated oftentimes so as to reach nearly to the ground.

They have generally the fine and Roman outline of head, that is so frequently found at the North,-and decidedly distinct from that of the Camanchees and Pawnee Picts. These men speak a language distinct from both of the others; and in fact, the Camanchees and Pawnee Picts -- and Kioways, and Wicos, are all so distinctly different in their languages, as to appear in that respect as total strangers to each other.

The head chief of the Kioways, whose name is The-toot-sah we found to be a very gentlemanly and high minded man, who treated the dragoons and officers with great kindness while in his country. His long hair, which was put up in several large clubs, and ornamented with a great many silver broaches, extended quite down to his knees. This distinguished and, as well as several others of his tribe, have agreed to join us on the march to Fort Gibson; so I shall have much of their company yet, and probably much more to say of them at a future period. Bon-son-gee (the new fire) is another chief of this tribe, and called a very good man; the principal ornaments which he carried on his person were a boar's tusk and his war-whistle, which were hanging on his breast.

Quay-ham-kay (The Stone Shell), is another fair specimen of the warriors of this tribe; and, if I mistake not, somewhat allied to the mysteries and arcana of the healing art, from the close company he keeps with my friend Dr. Findley, who is surgeon to the regiment, and by whom I have been employed to make a copy of my portrait of this distinguished personage.

Wun-pan-to-mee (The White Weasel), a girl; and Tunk-aht-oh-ye (The Thunderer), a boy; who are brother and sister, are two Kioways who were purchased from the Osages, to be taken to their tribe by the dragoons. The girl was taken the whole distance with us, on horseback, to the Pawnee village, and there delivered to her friends, as I have before mentioned; and the fine little boy was killed at the Fur Trader's house on the banks of the Verdigris, near Fort Gibson, the day after I painted his portrait, and only a few days before he was to have started with us on the march. He was a beautiful boy of nine or ten gears of age, and was killed by a ram, which struck him in the abdomen, and knocking him against a fence, killed him instantly.

Kots-a-to-ah (The Smoked Shield), is another of the extraordinary men of this tribe, near seven feet in stature, and distinguished, not only as one of the greatest warriors, but the swiftest on foot, in the nation. This man, it is said, runs down a buffalo on foot, and slays it with his knife or his lance, as he runs by its side!

I made a portrait of Ush-ee-kitz (He Who Fights With A Feather), head chief of the Wi-co tribe, a very polite and polished Indian, in his manners, and remarkable for his mode of embracing the officers and others in council.

In the different talks and councils that we have had with these people, this man has been a conspicuous speaker; and always, at the end of his speeches, has been in the habit of stepping forward and embracing friends and foes, all that were about him, taking each one in turn, closely and affectionately in his arms, with his left cheek against theirs, and thus holding them tightly for several minutes.

All the above chiefs and braves, and many others, forming a very picturesque cavalcade, will move off with us in a day or two, on our way back to Fort Gibson, where it is to be hoped we may arrive more happy than we are in our present jaded and sickly condition.

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