INDIAN PAYMENT -- MRS. WASHINGTON.
THERE were two divisions of the Winnebago Indians, one of which was paid by the Agent, at the Portage, the other at Prairie du Chien, by Gen. Street. The first, between four and five thousand in number, received, according to treaty stipulations, fifteen thousand dollars annually, besides a considerable amount of presents, and a certain number of rations of bread and pork, to be issued in times of emergency throughout the year.
The principal villages of this division of the tribe were at Lake Winnebago, Green and Fox Lakes, the Barribault, Mud Lake, the Four Lakes, Kosh-ko-nong, and Turtle Creek. Messengers were dispatched, at or before the arrival of the annuity-money, to all the different villages, to notify the heads of families or lodges to assemble at "the Portage."
When arrived, the masters of families, under their different chiefs, give in their names, and the number in their lodges, to be registered. As in paying a certain sum of money is apportioned to each individual, it is, of course, an object to make the number registered as great as possible. Each one brings his little bundle of sticks, and presents it to the Agent to register. Sometimes a dialogue like the following occurs:
"How many have you in your lodge?"
The Indian carefully, and with great ceremony, counts his bundle of sticks -- "Fifteen."
"How many men?"
"Two." The Agent lays aside two sticks.
"How many women?"
"Three." Three more sticks are separated.
"How many children?"
"Eight." Eight sticks are added to the heap.
"What is the meaning of these two sticks that remain?"
The culprit, whose arithmetic has not served him to carry out his deception, disappears amid the shouts and jeers of his companions, who are always well pleased at the detection of any roguery in which they have had no share.
The young officers generally assisted in counting out and delivering the money at these payments, and it was no unusual thing, as the last band came up, for the chiefs to take a quantity of silver out of the box, and request their "father" to pay his friends for their trouble, seeming really disturbed at his refusal. In this, as in almost every instance, we see the native courtesy and politeness, which are never lost sight of among them. If a party comes to their "father," to beg for provisions, and food is offered them, however hungry they may be, each waits patiently until one of the company makes an equal distribution of the whole, and then, taking his share, eats it quietly, with the greatest moderation. I never saw this rule violated, save in one instance.
Our friend, Pawnee Blanc, the Old Dandy, once came with a party of Indians, requesting permission to dance for us, in the open space before the door. It was a warm, dusty afternoon, and as our friends grew heated and fatigued with the violent and long-continued exercise, a pitcher of raspberry negus was prepared and sent out to them. Pawnee received the pitcher and tumbler, and pouring the latter about half full, gave it to the first of the circle, then filled the same for the next, and so on, until it suddenly occurred to him to look into the pitcher. What he saw there determined his course of action, so, setting the tumbler upon the ground, he raised the pitcher with both hands to his lips and gave a hearty pull, after which he went on, giving less and less, until he was called to have the pitcher replenished. All present agreed it was the only instance they had ever witnessed, of an Indian's appearing afraid of getting less of a thing than his share.
During the payment a good many kegs of whiskey find their way into the lodges of the Indians, notwithstanding the watchfulness of both officers and Agent. Where there is a demand there will always be a supply, let the legal prohibitions be what they may. The last day of the payment is, too often, one of general carousing.
When the men begin their frolic, the women carefully gather all the guns, knives, tomahawks, and weapons of every description, and secrete them, that as little mischief as possible may be done in the absence of all restraint and reason. I am sorry to record that our little friend, Pawnee Blanc, was greatly addicted to the pleasures of the bottle.
Among the presents for the chiefs, which Shaw-nee-aw-kee had brought from the east, was a trunk of blue cloth coats, trimmed with broad gold lace, and a box of round black hats, ornamented in a similar manner. All who are familiar with Indians, of whatever tribe, will have observed that their first step towards civilization, whether in man or woman, is mounting a man's hat, decorated with tinsel, ribbons, or feathers. Pawnee was among the happy number remembered in the distribution, so donning at once his new costume, and tying a few additional bunches of gay-colored ribbons to a long spear, that was always his baton of ceremony, he came at once, followed by an admiring train, chiefly of women, to pay me a visit of state.
The solemn gravity of his countenance, as he motioned away those who would approach too near, and finger his newly-received finery -- the dignity with which he strutted along, edging this way and that to avoid any possible contact from homely, every-day wardrobes, augured well for a continuance of propriety and self-respect, and a due consideration of the good opinion of all around. But, alas, for Pawnee! Late in the day we saw him assisted towards his lodge by two stout young Indians, who had pulled him out of a ditch, his fine coat covered with mud, his hat battered and bruised, his spear shorn of its gay streamers, and poor Pawnee, himself, weeping and uttering all the doleful lamentations of a tipsy Indian.
Among the women with whom I early made acquaintance was the wife of Wau-kaun-zee-kah, the Yellow Thunder. She had accompanied her husband, who was one of the deputation to visit the President, and from that time forth she had been known as "the Washington woman." She had a pleasant, old-acquaintance sort of air in greeting me, as much as to say, "You and I have seen something of the world." No expression of surprise or admiration escaped her lips, as her companions, with child-like, laughing simplicity, exclaimed and clapped their hands at the different wonderful objects I showed them. Her deportment said plainly, "Yes, yes, my children, I have seen all these things before." It was not until I put to her ear some tropical shells, of which I had a little cabinet, and she heard it roaring in her ear, that she laid aside her apathy of manner. She poked her finger into the opening to get at the animal within, shook it violently, then put it to her ear again, and finally burst into a hearty laugh, and laid it down, acknowledging, by her looks, that this was beyond her comprehension.
I had one shell of peculiar beauty -- my favorite in the whole collection -- a small conch, covered with rich, dark veins. Each of the visitors successively took up this shell, and by words and gestures expressed her admiration, evidently showing that she had an eye for beauty -- this was on the occasion of the parting visit of my red daughters.
Shortly after the payment had been completed, and the Indians had left, I discovered that my valued shell was missing from the collection. Could it be that one of the squaws had stolen it? It was possible -- they would occasionally, though rarely, do such things under the influence of strong temptation. I tried to recollect which, among the party, looked most likely to have been the culprit. It could not have been the Washington woman -- she was partly civilized, and knew better.
A few weeks afterwards Mrs. Yellow Thunder again made her appearance, and carefully unfolding a gay-colored chintz shawl, which she carried rolled up in her hand, she produced the shell, and laid it on the table before me. I did not know whether to show, by my countenance, displeasure at the trick she had played me, or joy at receiving my treasure back again, but at length decided that it was the best policy to manifest no emotion whatever.
She prolonged her visit until my husband's return, and he then questioned her about the matter.
"She had taken the shell to her village, to show to some of her people, who did not come to the payment."
"Why had she not asked her mother's leave before carrying it away?"
"Because she saw that her mother liked the shell, and she was afraid she would say -- No."
This was not the first instance in which Madame Washington had displayed the shrewdness which was a predominant trait in her character. During the visit of the Indians to the eastern cities, they were taken to various exhibitions, museums, menageries, the theatre, &c. It did not escape their observation that some silver was always paid before entrance, and they inquired the reason. It was explained to them. The woman brightened up, as if struck with an idea.
"How much do you pay for each one?"
Her father told her.
"How do you say that in English?"
"Two shinnin -- humph" (good).
The next day, when as usual, visitors began to flock to the rooms where the Indians were sojourning, the woman and a young Indian, her confederate, took their station by the door, which they kept closed. When any one knocked, the door was cautiously opened, and the woman extending her hand, exclaimed -- "Two shinnin."
This was readily paid in each instance, and the game went on, until she had accumulated a considerable sum. But this did not satisfy her. At the first attempt of a visitor to leave the room, the door was held close, as before, the hand was extended, and "Two shinnin" again met his ear. He tried to explain that, having paid for his entrance, he must now go out free. With an inexorable shake of the head, "Two shinnin," was all the English she could understand.
The Agent who had entered a short time before, and who, overhearing the dialogue, sat laughing behind his newspaper, waiting to see how it would all end now came forward and interfered, and the guests were permitted to go forth without a further contribution.
The good woman was moreover admonished that it was far from the custom of white people to tax their friends and visitors in this manner, and that the practice must be laid aside in future.
Another instance of the disposition of the Indians to avail themselves of all the goods that fortune throws in their way, was the following:
Upon the same trip, while passing through Ohio, one of the party inquired of the Agent,
"Do you pay for all those provisions that are set before us at the hotels?"
"Yes, why do you ask?"
"Nothing: I thought you perhaps paid for just what we ate of them."
At the next stopping place a fine breakfast was set upon the table, of which, as usual, they partook plentifully. Just as they had finished, the horn sounded for all to take their places in the stage-coaches. Each sprang to his feet. One seized the plates of biscuits and poured them into the corner of his blanket; another the remains of a pair of chickens; a third emptied the sugar-bowls; each laid hold of what was nearest him, and in a trice nothing was left upon the table but the empty plates and dishes. The landlord and waiters, meanwhile, stood laughing and enjoying the trick as much as any of the spectators.
Upon another occasion, their "father" had endeavored to impress upon them the unseemliness of throwing their refuse pieces, bones, and fragments of food about on the table-cloth, pointing out to them the orderly manner of the whites at table, and the propriety of keeping everything neat and nice around them.
At their next meal, they were served first with a chicken-pie, of which they ate very heartily, and the accumulation of bones on their plates was very abundant. Presently another and more favorite dish appeared. A fine large roasted turkey. A gentleman sat near, and was evidently preparing to carve it. No time was to be lost. What was to be done with the bones? They looked around in some perplexity. A large apple-pie was standing near. The most eager drew it towards him, and quick as thought all the bones were deposited upon it, while with a triumphant laugh at the happy idea, he coolly transferred the bird to his own dish, and proceeded to distribute it among his companions. The amazed stranger soon joined in the laugh at the unceremonious manner in which his share of the dinner had vanished.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 99-108.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.