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The Adventures of Daniel Boone: the Kentucky rifleman By Francis L. Hawks Characters: 13390

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

EFORE we go on, let me tell you of some of the curious customs which Boone noticed among the Indians, during his captivity. He had a fine opportunity for observation, and I think these strange customs will interest you.

It is not wonderful that Indian men and women are so hardy; they are trained to it from their youth: and Boone tells us how they are trained. When a child is only eight years old, this training commences; he is then made to fast frequently half a day; when he is twelve, he is made to fast a whole day. During the time of this fast, the child is left alone, and his face is always blacked. This mode of hardening them is kept up with girls until they are fourteen-with boys until they are eighteen. At length, when a boy has reached the age of eighteen, his parents tell him that his education is completed, and that he is old enough to be a man! His face is now to be blacked for the last time. He is taken to a solitary cabin far away from the village; his face is blacked, and then his father makes to him a speech of this kind: "My son, the Great Spirit has allowed you to live to see this day. We have all noticed your conduct since I first began to black your face. All people will understand whether you have followed your father's advice, and they will treat you accordingly. You must now remain here until I come after you." The lad is then left alone. His father then goes off hunting, as though nothing had happened, and leaves his boy to bear his hunger as long it is possible for him to starve and live. At length he prepares a great feast, gathers his friends together, and then returns. The lad is then brought home, his face is washed in cold water, his hair is shaved, leaving nothing but the scalp-lock; they all commence eating, but the food of the lad is placed before him in a separate dish. This being over, a looking-glass and a bag of paint are then presented to him. Then they all praise him for his firmness, and tell him that he is a man. Strange as it may seem, a boy is hardly ever known to break his fast when he is blacked this way for the last time. It is looked upon as something base, and they have a dread that the Great Spirit will punish them if they are disobedient to their parents.

Another curious habit which surprised Boone was that of continually changing names. A white man carries the same name from the cradle to the grave, but among these people it was very different. Their principal arms, as you know, are the tomahawk and scalping-knife, and he who can take the greatest number of scalps is the greatest man. From time to time, as warriors would return from an attack upon some enemy, these new names would begin to be known. Each man would count the number of scalps he had taken, and a certain number entitled him to a new name, in token of his bravery. It is not wonderful that they were revengeful, when they were stimulated by this sort of ambition. Besides this, they believed that he who took the scalp of a brave man received at once all his courage and other good qualities; and this made them more eager in their thirst for scalps. In this way, names of warriors were sometimes changed three or four times in a year.

Marriages in this tribe were conducted very decently. When a young warrior desired to marry, he assembled all his friends, and named the woman whom he wished for his wife. His relations then received his present, and took it to the parents of the young woman. If they were pleased with the proposal, they would dress the young woman in her gayest clothes, and take her, with bundles of presents, to the friends of the warrior; then, if she pleased, she was to be married. There was no compulsion in the matter. If she was not satisfied, she had only to return his present to the young warrior, and this was considered a refusal.

Their mode of burying their dead was very much like that of all the Indians. The dead body was sometimes placed in a pen made of sticks and covered over with bark; sometimes it was placed in a grave, and covered first with bark, and then with dirt; and sometimes, especially in the case of the young, it was placed in a rude coffin, and suspended from the top of a tree. This last was a common mode of infant burial, and the mother of the child would often be found, long after, standing under the tree, and singing songs to her babe.

Boone witnessed, too, the mode in which war-parties start off for war. The budget, or medicine-bag, is first made up. This bag contains something belonging to each man of the party-something usually representing some animal, such as the skin of a snake, the tail of a buffalo, the horns of a buck, or the feathers of a bird. It is always regarded as a very sacred thing. The leader of the party goes before with this; the rest follow in single file. When they come to a stand, the budget is laid down in front, and no man may pass it without permission. To keep their thoughts upon the enterprise in which they are engaged, no man is allowed to talk of women or his home. At night, when they encamp, the heart of whatever animal has been killed during the day is cut into small pieces and then burnt. During the burning no man is allowed to step across the fire, but must always walk around it in the direction of the sun. When they spy the enemy, and the attack is to be made, the war-budget is opened. Each man takes out his budget, or totem, and fastens it to his body. After the fight, each man again returns his totem to the leader. They are all again tied up, and given to the man who has taken the first scalp. He then leads the party in triumph home.

Boone had not long been a prisoner among them when a successful war-party returned home and celebrated their victory. When the party came within a day's march of the village, a messenger was sent in to tell of their success. An order was instantly issued that every cabin should be swept clean, and the women as quickly commenced the work. When they had finished, the cabins were all inspected, to see if they were in proper order. Next day the party approached the village. They were all frightfully painted, and each man had a bunch of white feathers on his head. They were marching in single file, the chief of the party leading the way, bearing in one hand a branch of cedar, laden with the scalps they had taken, and all chanting their war-song. As they entered the village, the chief led the way to the war-pole which stood in front of the council-house. In this house the council-fire was then burning. The waiter, or Etissu of the leader, then fixed two blocks of wood near the war-pole, and placed upon them a kind of ark, which was regarded by the

m as one of their most sacred things. The chief now ordered that all should sit down. He then inquired whether his cabin was prepared, and everything made ready, according to the custom of his fathers. They then rose up and commenced the war-whoop, as they marched round the war-pole. The ark was then taken and carried with great solemnity into the council-house, and here the whole party remained three days and nights, separate from the rest of the people. Their first business now was to wash themselves clean, and sprinkle themselves with a mixture of bitter herbs. While they were thus in the house, all their female relatives, after having bathed and dressed themselves in their finest clothes, placed themselves in two lines facing each other on each side of the door. Here they continued singing a slow monotonous song all day and night; the song was kept up steadily for one minute, with intervals of ten minutes of dead silence between. About once in three hours the chief would march out at the head of his warriors, raise the war-whoop, and pass around the war-pole, bearing his branch of cedar. This was all that was done for the whole three days and nights. At length the purification was ended, and upon each of their cabins was placed a twig of the cedar with a fragment of the scalps fastened to it, to satisfy the ghosts of their departed friends. All were now quiet as usual, except the leader of the party and his waiter, who kept up the purification three days and nights longer. When he had finished, the budget was hung up before his door for thirty or forty days, and from time to time Indians of the party would be seen singing and dancing before it. When Boone asked the meaning of all this strange ceremony, they answered him by a word which he says meant holy.

As this party had brought in no prisoners, he did not now witness their horrible mode of torture. Before he left them, however, he saw enough of their awful cruelty in this way. Sometimes the poor prisoner would be tied to a stake, a pile of green wood placed around him, fire applied, and the poor wretch left to his horrible fate, while, amid shouts and yells, the Indians departed. Sometimes he would be forced to run the gauntlet between two rows of Indians, each one striking at him with a club until he fell dead. Others would be fastened between two stakes, their arms and legs stretched to each of them, and then quickly burnt by a blazing fire. A common mode was to pinion the arms of the prisoner, and then tie one end of a grape-vine around his neck, while the other was fastened to the stake. A fire was then kindled, and the poor wretch would walk the circle; this gave the savages the comfort of seeing the poor creature literally roasting, while his agony was prolonged. Perhaps this was the most popular mode, too, because all the women and children could join in it. They were there, with their bundles of dry sticks, to keep the fire blazing, and their long switches, to beat the prisoner. Fearful that their victim might die too soon, and thus escape their cruelty, the women would knead cakes of clay and put them on the skull of the poor sufferer, that the fire might not reach his brain and instantly kill him. As the poor frantic wretch would run round the circle, they would yell, dance, and sing, and beat him with their switches, until he fell exhausted. At other times, a poor prisoner would be tied, and then scalding water would be poured upon him from time to time till he died. It was amazing, too, to see how the warriors would sometimes bear these tortures. Tied to the stake, they would chant their war-songs, threaten their captors with the awful vengeance of their tribe, boast of how many of their nation they had scalped and tell their tormentors how they might increase their torture. In the midst of the fire they would stand unflinching, and die without changing a muscle. It was their glory to die in this way; they felt that they disappointed their enemies in their last triumph.

While Boone was with them, a noted warrior of one of the western tribes, with which the Shawanese were at war, was brought in as a captive. He was at once condemned, stripped, fastened to the stake, and the fire kindled. After suffering without flinching for a long time, he laughed at his captors, and told them they did not know how to make an enemy eat fire. He called for a pipe and tobacco. Excited by his bravery, they gave it to him. He sat down on the burning coals, and commenced smoking with the utmost composure; not a muscle of his countenance moved. Seeing this, one of his captors sprang forward and cried out that he was a true warrior. Though he had murdered many of their tribe, yet he should live, if the fire had not spoiled him. The fire had, however, well nigh done its work. With that, he declared that he was too brave a man to suffer any longer. He seized a tomahawk and raised it over the head of the prisoner: still a muscle did not move. He did not even change his posture. The blow was given, and the brave warrior fell dead.

While among them, Boone also witnessed the mode in which, the Shawanese make a treaty of peace. The warriors of both tribes between which the treaty was to be made, met together first, ate and smoked in a friendly way, and then pledged themselves in a sacred drink called cussena. The Shawanese then waved large fans, made of eagles' tails, and danced. The other party, after this, chose six of their finest young men, painted them with white clay, and adorned their heads with swans' feathers; their leader was then placed on what was called the "consecrated seat." After this they all commenced dancing, and singing their song of peace. They danced first in a bending posture; then stood upright, still dancing, and bearing in their right hands their fans, while in their left they carried a calabash, tied to a stick about a foot long, and with this continually beat their breasts. During all this, some added to the noise by rattling pebbles in a gourd. This being over, the peace was concluded. It was an act of great solemnity, and no warrior was considered as well trained, who did not know how to join in every part of it.

Many other strange things were seen by Boone among these people, but these are enough to show you that he was among a strange people, with habits very unlike his own. It is not wonderful that he sighed to escape, when he looked upon their horrid tortures. Independently of his love for Boonesborough, he did not know but that such tortures might be his at any moment, when they became excited. Fortunately, as we have seen, he did escape, and we will now go on with his story.

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