LITTLE MANDAN VILLAGE, UPPER MISSOURI.
In speaking of the Mandans, in a former Letter, I mentioned that they were living in two villages, which are about two miles apart. Of their principal village I have given a minute account, which precludes the necessity of my saying much of their smaller town, to which I descended a few days since, from the Minatarees; and where I find their modes and customs, precisely the same as I have heretofore described. This village contains sixty or eighty lodges, built in the same mender as those which I have already mentioned, and I have just learned that they have been keeping the annual ceremony here, precisely in the same manner as that which I witnessed in the lower or larger town, and have explained.
I have been treated with the same hospitality here that was extended to me in the other village; and have painted the portraits of several distinguished persons, which has astonished and pleased them very much. The operation of my brush always gains me many enthusiastic friends wherever I go amongst these wild folks; and in this village I have been unusually honoured and even affected, by the friendly importunities of one of these reverencing para sites, who (amongst various other offices of hospitality and kindness which he has been bent upon extending to me), has insisted on, and for several nights been indulged in, the honour as he would term it, of offering his body for my pillow, which I have not had the heart to reject, and of course he has not lacked the vanity to boast of, as an act of signal kindness and hospitality on his part, towards a great and a distinguished stranger.
I have been for several days suffering somewhat with an influenza, which has induced me to leave my bed, on the side of the lodge, and sleep on the floor, wrapped in a buffalo robe, with my feet to the fire in the center of the room, to which place the genuine politeness of my constant and watchful friend has as regularly drawn him, where his irresistible importunities have brought me, night after night, to the only alternative of using his bedaubed and bear-greased body for a pillow. Being unwilling to deny the poor fellow the satisfaction he seemed to be drawing from this singular freak, I took some pains to inquire into his character; and learned that he was a Riccaree brave, by the name of Pah-too-ca-ra (he who strikes), who is here with several others of his tribe, on a friendly visit (though in a hostile village), and living as they are, unprotected, except by the mercy of their enemies. I think it probable, therefore, that he is ingeniously endeavoring thus to ingratiate himself in my affections, and consequently to insure my guardianship and influence for his protection. Be this as it may, he is rendering me many kind services, and I have in return traced him on my canvass for immortality.
By the side of him, I have painted a beautiful little girl of the same tribe, whose name is Pshan-shaw (the sweet-scented grass), giving a very pretty specimen of the dress and fashion of the women in this tribe. The inner garment, which is like a slip or a frock, is entire in one piece, and beautifully ornamented with embroidery and beads, with a row of elks' teeth passing across the breast, and a robe of the young buffalo's skin, tastefully and elaborately embroidered, gracefully thrown over her shoulders, and hanging down to the ground behind her.
I have painted a portrait of one of the chiefs of this tribe by the name of Stan-au-pat (The Bloody Hand), and of Kah-beck-a (The Twin), a good-looking matron, who was painted a few weeks since in the principal Mandan village.
The dresses in both of these portraits are very beautiful, and I have procured them, as well as the one before spoken of, for my collection.
In another drawing, will give a view of the Riccaree village, which is beautifully situated on the west bank of the river, 200 miles below the Mandans; and built very much in the same manner; being constituted of I50 earth covered lodges, which are in part surrounded by an imperfect and open barrier of piquets set firmly in the ground, and of ten or twelve feet in height.
This village is built upon an open prairie, and the gracefully undulating hills that rise in distance behind it are everywhere covered with a verdant green turf, without a tree or a bush anywhere to be seen. This view was taken from the deck of the steamer when I was on my way up the river; and probably it was well that I took it then, for so hostile and deadly are the feelings of these people towards the pale faces, at this time, that it may be deemed most prudent for me to pass them on my way down the river, without stopping to make them a visit. They certainly are harboring the most resentful feelings at this time towards the Traders, and others passing on the river; and no doubt, that there is great danger of the lives of any white men, who unluckily fall into their hands. They have recently sworn death and destruction to every white man, who comes in their way; and there is no doubt, that they are ready to execute their threats.
When Lewis and Clarke first visited these people thirty years since, it will be found by a reference to their history, that the Riccarees received and treated them with great kindness and hospitality; but owing to the system of trade, and the manner in which it has been conducted in this country, they have been inflicted with real or imaginary abuses, of which they are themselves, and the Fur Traders, the best judges; and for which they are now harboring the most inveterate feelings towards the whole civilized race.
The Riccarees are unquestionably a pmt of the tribe of Pawnees, living on the Platte River, some hundreds of miles below this, inasmuch as their language is nearly or quite the same; and their personal appearance and customs as similar as could be reasonably expected amongst a people so long since separated from their parent tribe, and continually subjected to innovations from the neighboring tribes around them; amongst whom, in their erratic wanderings in search of a location, they have been jostled about in the character, alternately, of friends and of foes.
I shall resume my voyage down the river in a few days in my canoe; and I may, perhaps, stop and pay these people a visit, and consequently, be able to say more of them; or, I may be hauled in, to the shore, and my boat plundered, and my "scalp danced", as they have dealt quite recently with the East trader, who has dared for several years past, to continue his residence with them, after they had laid fatal hands on each one of his comrades before him, and divided and shared their goods.
Of the Mandans, who are about me in this little village, I need say nothing, except that they are in every respect, the same as those I have described in the lower village-and in fact, I believe this little town is rather a summer residence for a few of the noted families, than anything else; as I am told that none of their wigwams are tenanted through the winter. I shall leave them in the morning, and take up my residence a few days longer with my hospitable friends Mr. Kipp, Mah-to-toh-pa, &c. in the large village; and then with my canvass and easel, and paint-pots in my canoe; with Ba'tiste and Bogard to paddle, and my own oar to steer, wend my way again on the mighty Missouri towards my native land, bidding everlasting farewell to the kind and hospitable Mandans.
In taking this final leave of them, which will be done with pome decided feelings of regret, and in receding from their country, I shall look back and reflect upon them and their curious and peculiar modes with no small degree of pleasure, as well as surprise; inasmuch as their hospitality and friendly treatment have fully corroborated my fixed belief that the North American Indian in his primitive state is a high-minded, hospitable and honourable being -- and their singular and peculiar customs have raised an irresistible belief in my mind that they have had a different origin, or are of a different compound of character from any other tribe that I have yet seen, or that can be probably seen in North America.
In coming to such a conclusion as this, the mind is at once filled with a flood of enquiries as to the source from which they have sprung, and eagerly seeking for the evidence which is to lead it to the most probable and correct conclusion. Amongst these evidences of which there are many, and forcible ones to be met with amongst these people, and many of which I have named in my former epistles, the most striking ones are those which go, I think, decidedly to suggest the existence of looks and of customs amongst them, bearing incontestible proofs of an amalgam of civilized and savage; and that in the absence of all proof of any recent proximity of a civilized stock that could in any way have been engrafted upon them.
These facts then, with the host of their peculiarities which stare a traveller in the face, lead the mind back in search of some more remote and rational cause for such striking singularities; and in this dilemma, I have been almost disposed (not to advance it as a theory, but) to enquire whether here may not be found, yet existing, the remains of the Welsh colony -- the followers of Madoc; who history tells us, if I recollect right, started with ten ships, to colonize a country which he had discovered in the Western Ocean; whose expedition I think has been pretty clearly traced to the mouth of the Mississippi, or the coast of Florida, and whose fate further than this seems sealed in unsearchable mystery.
I am travelling in this country as I have before said, not to advance or to prove theories, but to see all that I am able to see, and to tell it in the simplest and most intelligible manner I can to the world, for their own conclusions, or for theories I may feel disposed to advance, and be better able to defend after I get out of this singular country; where all the powers of ones faculties are required, and much better employed I consider, in helping him along and in gathering materials, than in stopping to draw too nice and delicate conclusions by the way.
If my indefinite recollections of the fate of that colony, however, as recorded in history be correct, I see no harm in suggesting the inquiry, whether they did not sail up the Mississippi river in their ten ships, or such number of them as might have arrived safe in its mouth; and having advanced up the Ohio from its junction,(as they naturally would, it being the widest and most gentle current) to a rich and fertile country, planted themselves as agriculturalists on its rich banks, where they lived and flourished, and increased in numbers, until they were attacked, and at last besieged by the numerous hordes of savages who were jealous of their growing condition; and as a protection against their assaults, built those numerous civilized fortifications, the ruins of which are now to be seen on the Ohio and the Muskingum, in which they were at last all destroyed, except some few families who had intermarried with the Indians, and whose offspring, being half-breeds, were in such a manner allied to them that their lives were spared; and forming themselves into a small and separate community, took up their residence on the banks of the Missouri; on which, for the want of a permanent location, being on the lands of their more powerful enemies, were obliged repeatedly to remove; and continuing their course up the river, have in time migrated to the place where they are now living, and consequently found with the numerous and almost unaccountable peculiarities of which I have before spoken, so inconsonant with the general character of the North American Indians; with complexions of every shade; with hair of all the colours in civilized society, and many with hazel, with grey, and with blue eyes.
The above is a suggestion of a moment ; and I wish the reader to bear it in mind, that if I ever advance such as a theory, it will be after I have collected other proofs, which I shah take great pains to do; after I have taken a vocabulary of their language, and also in my transit down the river in my canoe, I may be able from my own examinations of the ground, to ascertain whether the shores of the Missouri bear evidences of their former locations; or whether amongst the tribes who inhabit the country below, there remain any satisfactory traditions of their residences in, and transit through their countries.
I close here my book (and probably for some time, my remarks), on the friendly and hospitable Mandans.