by George Catlin

(First published in London in 1844)

LETTER--No. 8.


SINCE my last Letter, nothing of great moment has transpired at thi place; but I have been continually employed in painting my portraits an making notes on the character and customs of the wild folks who are about me. I have just been painting a number of the Crows, fine looking an noble gentlemen. They are really a handsome and well-formed set of me as can be seen in any part of the world. There is a sort of ease and grac added to their dignity of manners, which gives them the air of gentlemen ; once. I observed the other day, that most of them were over six teet higl and very many of these have cultivated their natural hair to such an almo incredible length, that it sweeps the ground as they walk; there are frequel instances of this kind amongst them, and in some cases, a foot or more it will drag on the grass as they walk, giving exceeding grace and beauty their movements. They usually oil their Lair with a profusion of bear grease every morning, which is no doubt one cause of the unusual length which their hair extends; though it cannot be the sole cause of it, for tl other tribes throughout this country use the bear's grease in equal profusic without producing the same result. The Mandans, however, and the Sioux of whom I shall speak in future epistles, have cultivated a very great growth of the hair, as many of them are seen whose hair reaches near to the ground.

This extraordinary length of hair amongst the Crows is confined to the men alone; for the women, though all of them with glossy and beautif hair, and a great profusion of it, are unable to cultivate it to so great length; or else they are not allowed to compete with their lords in a fashion so Ornamental (and on which the men so highly pride themselves), and a obliged in many easer, to cut it short off.

The fashion of long hair amongst the men, prevails throughout all the Western and North Western tribes, after passing the Sacs and Foxes; ar the Pawnees of the Platte, who, with two or three other tribes only, a in the habit of shaving nearly the whole head.

The present chief of the Crows, who is called "Long-hair", and he received his name as well as his office from the circumstance of having the longest hair of any man in the nation, I have not yet seen: but I hope I may. Here I leave this part of the country. This extraordinary man known to several gentlemen with whom I am acquainted, and particular to Messrs. Sublette and Campbell, of whom I have before spoken, who told me they had lived in his hospitable lodge for months together; and assured me that they had measured his hair by a correct means, and found it to be ten feet and seven inches in length; closely inspecting every part of it at the same time, and satisfying themselver that it war the natural growth.

On ordinary occasions it is wound with a broad leather strap, from his head to its extreme end, and then folded up into a budget or block, of some ten or twelve inches in length, and of some pounds weight; which when he walks is carried under his arm, or placed in his bosom, within the folds of His robe; but on any great parade or similar occasion, his pride is to unfold it, oil it with bear's grease and let it drag behind him, some three or four feet ofit spread out upon the grass, end black and shining like a raven's wing.

It is a common custom amongst most of these upper tribes, to splice or add on several lengths of hair, by fastening them with glue; probably for the purpose of imitating the Crows, upon whom alone Nature has bestowed this conspicuous and signal ornament.

Amongst the Crows of distinction now at this place, I have painted the portraits of several, who exhibit some striking peculiarities. Amongst whom is Chah-ee-chopes, the fourwolves; a fine looking fellow, six feet in stature, and whose natural hair sweeps the grass as he walks; he is beautifully clad, and carries himself with the most graceful and manly men -- he is in mourning for a brother; and according to their custom, har cut off a number of locks of his long hair, which is as much as a man can well spare of so valued an ornament, which he has been for the greater part of his life cultivating; whilst a woman who mourns for a husband or child, is obliged to crop her hair short to her head, and so remained till it grows out again; ceasing gradually to mourn as her hair approaches to its former length.

Duhlr-pits-a-bo-shee, the red bear, a clistinguirhed warrior; and Oo-je-en-a-he-ha, the woman who lives in the bear's den. I have also painted Pa-ris-ka-roo-pa (two crows) the younger, one of the most extraordinary men in the Crow nation; not only for his loots, from the form of his head, which seems to be distortion itself -- and curtailed of all its fair proportions; but from his extraordinary sagacity so a counsellor and orator, even at an early stage of his life.

There is something very uncommon in this outline, and sets forth the striking peculiarity of the Crow tribe, though rather in an exaggerated form. The semilunar outline of the Crow head, with an exceedingly low and retreating forehead, is certainly a very peculiar and striking characteristic; and though not so strongly marked in most of the tribe as in the present instance, is sufficient for their detection whenever they are met; and will be subject For further comment in another place.

The Crow women(and Blackfeet also) are not handsome, and I shall at present ray but little of them. They are, like all other Indian women, the slaves of their husbands: being obliged to perform all the domestic work and drudgeries of the tribe, and not allowed to join in their religious rit or ceremonies, nor in the dance or other amusements.

The women in all these upper and western tribes are decently dresse and many of them with great beauty and taste; their dresses are all of deer or goat skins, extending from their chins quite down to the feet; the dresses are in many instances trimmed with ermine, and ornamented with porcupine quills and beads with exceeding ingenuity.

The Crow and Blackfeet women, like all others I ever saw in any Indian tribe, divide the hair on the forehead, and paint the separation or crease with vermilion or red earth. Far what purpose this little, but universal, custe is observed, I never have been able to learn.

The men amongst the Blackfeet tribe, have a fashion equally simple, an probably of as little meaning, which seems strictly to be adhered to by evt man in the tribe; they separate the hair in two places on the forehe; leaving a lock between the two, of an inch or two in width, which is ca fully straightened down on to the bridge of the nose, and there cut squr off. It is more than probable that this is done for the purpose of distinction that they may thereby be free from the epithet of effeminacy, which mig otherwise attach to them.

These two tribes, whom I have spoken of connectedly, speak two distin and entirely dissimilar languages; and the language of each is differe and radically so, from that of all other tribes about them. As these peel are always at war, and have been, time out of mind, they do not int marry or hold converse with each other, by which any knowledge each other's language could be acquired. It would he the work of man's life-time to collect the languages of all the different tribes whicl am visiting; and I shall, from necessity, leave this subject chiefly others, who have the time to devote to them, to explain them to the wor I have, however, procured a brief vocabulary of their words and sentene in these tribes; and shall continue to do so amongst the tribes I all visit, which will answer as a specimen or sample in each; and which, in a sequel to these Letters (if they should ever be published), will probably arranged.

The Blackfeet are, perhaps, the most powerful tribe of Indians on this Continent; and being sensible of their strength, have stubbornly resisted traders in their country, who hare been gradually forming an acquaintar with them, and endeavouring to establish a permanent and profitable syste of trade. Their country abounds in beaver and buffalo, and most of Fur-bearing animals of North America; anti the American Fur Company with an unconquerable spirit of trade and enterprize, has pushed its esta lishments into their country; and the numerous parties of trappers a tracing up their streams and rivers, rapidly destroying the beavers which Indian languages of North America can all be traced to two or three rooty. The language of the Dohcotas is entirely end radically distinct from that of the Maudans, and theirs equally so from the Blaclrfoot and the Crows. And from the lips of Mr. Brazeau, a gentleman of education and strict observation, who has lived several years with the Blackfeet and Shiennes, and who speaks the language of tribes on either side of them, assures me that these languages are radically distinct and dissimilar, as I have above stated; and also, that although he has been several years amongst those tribes, he has not been able to trace the slightest resemblance between the Cree, Dohcotas, and Blackfoot, and Shienne, and Crow, and Mandan tongues; and from a great deal of corroborating information, which I have got from other persons acquainted with these tribes, I am fully convinced of the correctness of his statements.

Besides the Blackfeet and Crows, whom I told you were assembled at this place, are also the Knisteneaux (or Crees, as they are commonly called), a very pretty and pleasing tribe of Indians, of about 3000 in number, living on the north of this, and also the Assinneboins and Ojibbeways; both of which tribes also inhabit the country to the north and north-east of the mouth of Yellow Stone.

The Knisteneaux are of small stature, but well-built for strength and activity combined; are a people of wonderful prowess for their numbers, and have waged an unceasing warfare with the Blackfeet, who are their neighbours and enemied on the west From their disparity in numbers, they are rapidly thinning the ranks of their warriors, who bravely sacrifice their lives in contentions with their powerful neighbours. This tribe occupy the country from the mouth of the Yellow Stone, in a north-western direction, far into the British territory, and trade principally at the British N. W. Company's forts.

The Assinneboins of seven thousand, and the Ojibbeways of six thousand, occupy a vast extent of country, in a north-eastern direction front this; extending also into the British possessions as high north as Lake Winnepeg; and trading principally with the British Company. These three tribes are in a state of nature, living as neighbours, and are also on terms of friendship with each other. This friendship, however, is probably but a temporary arrangement, brought about by the Traders amongst them; and which, like most Iudian pace establishments, will be of short duration.

The Ojibbeways are, undoubtedly, a part of the tribe of Chippeways, with whom we are more familiarly acquainted, and who inhabit the south-west shore of Lake Superior. Their language is the same, though they are separated several hundred miles from any of them, and seem to have on knowledge of them, or traditions of the manner in which, or of the time when, they became severed ·from each other.

The Assinneboins are a part of the Dohcotas, or Sioux, undoubtedly; for their personal appearance as well as their language is very similar.

At what time, or in what manner, these two parts of a nation got strayed away from each other is a mvstery; yet such cases have often occurred, of which I shall say more in future. Large parties who are, straying offin pursuit of game, or in tbs occupation of war, are oftentimes intercepted by their enemy; and beiug prevented from returning, are run off to a distant region, where they take up their residence and establish themselves as a nation.

There is a very curious custom amongst the Assinneboins, from whiclh they have taken their name; a name given them by their neighbours, from a singular mode they have of boiling their meat, which ir,done in the following manner -- when they kill meat, a hole is dug in the ground about the size of a common pot, and a piece of the raw hide of the animal, as taken from the back, is put over the hole, and then pressed down with the hands close around the sides, and filled with water. The meat to be boiled is then put in this hole or pot of water; and in a fire, which is built near by, several large stones are heated to a red heat, which are successively dipped and held in the water until the meat is boiled; from which singular and peculiar custom, the Ojibbeways have given them the appellation of Assinneboins or stone boilers.

This custom is a very awkward and tedious one, and used only as an ingenious means of boiling their meat, by a tribe who was too rude and ignorant to construct a kettle or pot.

The Traders have recently supplied these people with pots; and even long before that, the Mandans had instructed them in the secret of manufacturing very good and serviceable earthen pots; which together have entirely done away the custom, excepting at Public festivals; where they seem, like all others of the human family, to take pleasure in cherishing and perpetuating their ancient customs.

Of these three tribes, I have also lined my painting-room with a number of very interesting portraits of the distinguished and brave men; and also representations of their games and ceremonies, which will be found in my INDIAN GALLERY, if I live, and they can be preserved until I get home.

The Assinneboine, or stone boilers, are a fine and noble looking race of Indians; bearing, both in their looks mid customs, a striking resemblance to the Docotas or Sioux, from whom they have undoubtedly sprung. The men are tall, and graceful in their movements; and wear their pictured robes of the buffalo hide with great skill and pleasing effect. They are good hunters, and tolerably supplied with horses; and living in a country abounding with buffaloes, are well supplied with the necessaries of Indian life, and may be said to live well. Their games and amusements are many, of which the most valued one is the ball-play; and in addition to which, they have the game of the moccasin, horse-racing, and dancing; some one of which, thev seem to be almost continually practicing, slid of all of which I shall hereafier give the reader (as well as of many others of their amusemeuts) a minute account.

Their dances, which were frequent and varied, were generally erectly the same as those of the Sioux, of which I have given a faithful account in my Notes on the Sioux, and which the reader will I meet with. There was one of these scenes, however, that I witnessed the other day, which appeared to me to be peculiar to this tribe, and exceedingly picturesque in its effect; which was described to me as the pipe-dance, and was as follows -- On a hard-trodden pavement in front of their village, which place is used for all their public meetings, and many of their amusements, the young men, who were to compose the dance, had gathered themselves around a small fire, and each one seated on a buffalo-robe spread upon the ground. In the centre and by the fire, was seated a dignitary, who seemed to be a chief (perhaps a doctor or medicine-man), with a long pipe in his hand, which he lighted at the fire and smoked incessantly, grunting forth at the same time, in half-strangled gutturals, a sort of song, which I did not get translated to my satisfaction, and which might have been susceptible of none. While this was going on, another grim-visaged fellow in another part of the group, commenced beating on a drum or tambourine, accompanied by his voice; when one of the young men seated, sprang instantlv on his feet, and commenced singing in time with the taps of the drum, and leaping about on one foot and the other in the most violent manner imaginable, In this way he went several times around the circle, bowing and brandishing his fists in the faces of each one who was seated, until at length he grasped one of them by the hands, and jerked him forcibly up upon his feet; who joined in the dance for a moment leaving the one who had pulled him up, to continue his step and his song in the centre of the ring; whilst he danced around in a similar manner, jerking up another, and then joining his companion in the centre; leaving the third and the fourth, and so on to drag into the ring, each one his man, until all were upon their feet; and at last joined in the most frightful gesticulations and yells that seemed almost to make the earth quake under our feet. This strange manoeuvre, which I did but partially understand, lasted for halfer three-quarters of an hour; to the great amusement of the gaping multitude who were assembled around, and broke up with the most piercing yells and barks like those of so many affrighted dogs.

The Assinneboins, somewhat like the Crows, cultivate their hair to a very great length, in many instances reaching down nearly to the ground; but in most instances of this kind, I find the great length is produced by splicing or adding on several lengths, which are fastened very ingeniously by means of glue, and the joints obscured by a sort of paste of red earth and glue, with which the hair is at intervals of every two or three inches tilled, and divided into locks and slabs of an inch or so in breadth, and falling straight down over the back to the heels have painted the portrait of a very distinguished young man, and son of the chief, his dress is a verv handsome one, and in every respect answers well to the descriptions I have given above. The name of thir man is Wi-jun-jon (the pigeon's egg head), and by the ride of him & his wife, Chin-cha-pee (the fire bug that creeps), a fine looking squaw, in a handsome dress of the mountainsheep skin, holding in her band 8 stick curiously carved, with which every woman in this country is supplied; for the purpose of digging up the "Pomme Blanche", or prairie turnip, which is found in great quantities in these northern prairies, and furnishes the Indians with an abundant and nourishing food. The women collect these turnips by striking the end of the stick into the ground, and prying them out; after which they are dried and preserved in their wigwams for use during the season.

I have just had the satisfaction of seeing this travelled-gentleman (Wi-jun-jon) meet his tribe, his wife and his little children; after an absence of a year ormore, on his journey of 6000 miles to Washington City, and back again (in company with Major Sanford, the Indian agent); where, he has been spending the winter amongst the fashionables in the polished circles of civilized society. And I can assure you, readers, that his entrCe amongst his own people, in the dress and with the airs of a civilized beau, was one of no ordinary occurrence; and produced no common sensation amongst the red-visaged Assinneboins, or in the minds of those who were travellers, and but spectators to the scene.

On his way home from St. Louis to this place, a distance of 2000 miles, I travelled with this gentleman, on the steamer Yellow-Stone; and saw him step ashore (on a beautiful prairie, where several thousands of his people were encamped), with a complete suit in military a colonel's uniform of blue, presented to him by the President of the United States, with a beaver hat and feather, with epaulettes of gold -- with sash and belt, and broad sword; with high-heeled boots -- with a keg of whiskey under his arm, and a blue umbrella in his hand. In this plight and metamorphose, he took his position on the bank, amongst his friends. His wife and other relations; not one of whom exhibited, for an half-hour or more, the least symptoms of recognition, although they knew well who was before them. He also gazed upon them -- upon his wife and parents, and little children, who were about, as if they were foreign to him, and be had not a feeling or thought to interchange with them. Thus the mutual gazings upon and from this would-be-stranger, lasted for full half an hour; when a gradual, but cold and exceedingly formal recognition began to take place, and an acyuaintance ensued, which ultimately and smoothly resolved itself, without the least apparent emotion, into its former state; and the mutual kindred intercourse seemed to dow on exactly where it had been broken off, as if it had been but for a moment, and nothing had transpired in the interim to check or change its character or expression.

Such is one of the stoic instances of a custom which belongs to all the North American Indians, forming one of the most striking features in theirm character; valued, cherished and practiced, like many others of their strange notiong for reasons which are difficult to be learned or understood; and which probably will never be justly appreciated by others than themselves.

This man, at this time, is creating a wonderful sensation amongst his tribe, who are daily and nightly gathered in gaping and listless crowds around him, whilst he is descanting upon what he has seen in the fashionable world; and which to them is unintelligible and beyond their comprehension; for which I find they are already setting him down as a liar and impostor.

What may be the final results of his travels and initiation into the fashiouable world, and to what disasters his incredible narrations may yet subject the poor fellow in this strange land, time only will develope.

He is now in disgrace, and spurned by the leading men of the tribe, and rather to be pitied than envied, for the advantages which one might have supposed would have flown from his fashionable tour. More of this curious occurrence and of this extraordinary man, I will surely give in some future epistles.

The women of this tribe are often comely, and sometimes pretty; the dresses of the women and children, which are usually made of the skins of the mountain-goat, and ornamented with porcupine's quills and rows of elk's teeth.

The Knisteneaux (or Crees, as they are more familiarly called in this country) are a very numerous tribe, extending from this place as high north as the shorer of Late Winnepeg; and even much further in a north-westerly direction, towards, and even through, a great part of the pocky Mountains.

I have before said of these, that they were about 3000 in numbers -- be that, I meant but a small part of this extensive tribe, who are in the habit dr visiting the American Fur Company's Establirhment, at this place, to do their trading; and who themselves, scarcely know anything of the great extent of country over which this numerous and scattered family range. Their customs may properly be paid to be primitive, as no inroads of civilized habits have been as yet successfully made amongst them. Like the other tribes in these regions, they dress in skins, and gain their food, and conduct their wars in a very similar manner. They are a very daring and most adventurous tribe; roaming vast distances over the prairies and carrying war into their enemy's country. With the numerous tribe of Blackfeet, they are always waging an uncompromising warfare ; and though fewer in numbers and less in stature, they have shewn themselves equd in sinew, and not less successful in mortal combats.

Amongst the foremost and most renowned of their warriors, is Bro-cas-sit?, the broken arm, in a handsome dress; and by the side of him, his wife, a simple and comely looking woman. In a scetch, will be seen the full length portrait of a young woman with a child on her back, shewing fairly the fashion of cutting and ornamenting the dresses of the females in this tribe; which, without further comment, is all I shall say at this time, of the valorous tribe of Crees or Kniteneaur.

The Ojibbeways I have briefy mentioned in a former place, and of them should say more; which will be done at a proper time, after I shall have visited other branches of this great and scattered family.

The chief of that part of the Ojibbeway tribe who inhabit these northern regions, and whose name is Sha-co-pay (the Sir), is a man of huge size; with dignity of manner, and pride and vanity, just about in proportion to his bulk. He sat for his portrait in a most beautiful dress, fringed with scalp locks in profusion; which he had snatched, in his early life from his enemies' heads, and now wears as proud trophies and proofs of what his arm has accomplished in battles with his enemies. His shirt of buckskin is beautifully embroidered and painted in curious hieroglyphics, the history of his battles and charts of his life. This, and also each and every article of his varied dress, had been manufactured by his wives, of which he had several; and one, though not the most agreeable.

I have much to see of these people yet, and much consequently to write; 80 for the present I close my book.

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