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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter II. — Religious and Mythological Opinions of the Mississippi Valley Tribes.

THE office of the Indian seer, prophet, meda, wakon, wapiya, and of the jossakeed, or powwow, was to act as negotiants (it would be a desecration to style them mediators) between the people and the Great Spirit. Hence, the great power which they have wielded throughout all periods of their history. Whether this office was hereditary or assumed, would be a vain inquiry. It does not appear to have been inherited, but rather to have been assumed by persons possessing more than ordinary mental capacity, vigor, shrewdness, or cunning, and art in practising and concealing glaring deceptions. They were aided in their craft by the outward practice of ascetic habits and fasting; by the potent influence of dreams; and by their proficiency in the art of pictography, in which a system of mixed representative, symbolic, and arbitrary signs was employed, to strengthen the popular faith in necromancy, witchcraft, and divination.

No Indian hero, warrior, speaker, or ruler, if we except Uncas, Tahgayuta, 876 Assoyawatha, 877 Skenandoa, and Thyendanagea, 878 ever attained to distinction without an appeal to this class. When the United States have been engaged in hostilities with the tribes, this has always been the most difficult power to conquer — if it can be said to have ever been conquered. Had no appeal been made to the beliefs and superstitions of the Indians, Tuscaloosa, who flourished in De Soto's era, Opechanganough, of Virginia, Sassacus and Pometacom, of New England, or Wappacomigat and Pontiac, of the north-west, could not have aroused the spirit and united the forces of their tribes. Without it, Tecumseh, Osceola, and
Black Hawk would have been destitute of either armies or followers. When John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians, began his philanthropic undertaking at Natic, in 1640, he acknowledged the existence of this great impediment to his labor; and Brainerd actually quailed before the development of it, on the sources of the Susquehannah, in 1744. So hateful were the truths and teachings of Christianity to those Indians who adhered to their own teachers, that Father Lagard was burned at the stake by the Hurons, and his colleague, together with his son, were hurled from

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a canoe into the seething waters of the rapids which fill the river St. Lawrence, below Lachine. Those fearful cascades have ever since retained the name of his order, and have been called the Recollet rapids.

We must not, however, in our retrospect, confound one age with another. The last half century has yielded rich fruits in return for the labor bestowed, and has clearly demonstrated the beneficial effect of patiently teaching the Indians; of which result, tribes of each of the generic Algonquin, Iroquois, and Appalachian groups, have furnished examples. But on the minds of the native hunters, who constitute the large tribes of the Dakotah and Shoshonee stocks, roving over the plains and through the forests of the West, not to mention the vast and predatory hordes of New Mexico, California, and Oregon, subsisting on the flesh of the buffalo and deer, little or no impression has been made. The Rev. Gideon H. Pond, of Minnesota, who has had experience, describes the opinions and rites of the Dakotah tribes of the prairies and plains in the following words:

"The terms by which the medicine-men are known among the Dakotahs, suggest both their character and occupation. They are these: Wicaxta Wakan (Wee-chash-tah Wah-kon), and Taku Wakan ihamnanpi (Tah-koo Wah-kon e-ham-nan-pe). The former term signifies mysterious, supernatural, or god-men; and the latter, mysterious, supernatural, or god-dreamers — inspired by the gods.

"By the term ‘medicine-man,’ or
Indian doctor, therefore, I mean those persons among the Dakotahs who lay claim to mysterious, supernatural, or god-like abilities; and they may be divided into two great classes, namely, Zuya Wakan (Zoo-yah Wah-kon), and Wapiya (Wah-pe-yah); the former signifying War-prophet, and the latter, Renovator, or Restorer.

"The questions which I propose to myself in pursuing this subject, are the following, namely, WHAT ARE THE POWERS OF THE MEDICINE-MEN? HOW DO THEY COME IN POSSESSION OF THEM? and WHAT USE DO THEY MAKE OF THEM?

"It seems to be necessary, first, to advert to the Dakotah divinities, by whom the medicine-men are inspired; while, at the same time, this is a subject into which it is next to impossible to penetrate; for little can be obtained from these men concerning it, except by stratagem; and that which they do disclose is often exceedingly confused and contradictory. One will affirm, another deny, and a third, perhaps, inform you that both the others are wrong. After a residence of eighteen years among the Dakotahs, and embracing every opportunity to acquaint myself with matters of this sort, they are still, in a great measure, involved in mystery.

"The most prominent characteristic of the Dakotah deities, is that which they express by the word wakan. This word signifies, generally, any thing which a Dakotah cannot comprehend. Whatever is wonderful, mysterious, superhuman, or supernatural, is wakan. The generic name for gods is Tahuwakan, i. e. that which is wakan. The Dakotah, therefore, sees a god in everything; to use an expression of one of their most

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intelligent men, ‘There is nothing which they do not revere as God.’ The chief, and, perhaps, the only difference that exists among the ten thousands of the divinities of the Dakotahs, is, that some are wakan to a greater, and others to a less degree; some for one purpose, and some for another; but wakan expresses the chief quality of them all — the only quality, I believe, which the Indians deify.

"I have never been able to discover from the Dakotahs themselves, the least degree of evidence that they divide the gods into classes of good and evil; and am persuaded that those persons who represent them as doing so, do it inconsiderately, and because it is so natural to subscribe to a long-established popular opinion. I cannot believe that the Dakotahs ever distinguished the Great Spirit, or Great Wakan, as they term it, from others of their divinities, till they learned to do so from their intercourse with white men; because they have no chants, nor feasts, nor dances, nor sacrificial rites, which have any reference to such a being; or, if they have any reference to the Great Wakan, in any religious act whatsoever, there is satisfactory evidence that it is of recent origin, and does not belong to their system of religion. The acts of worship, which Carver tells us particularly that they performed to the Great Spirit, had no reference to the Deity, though that traveller doubtless thought they had. It is, indeed, true, that the Dakotahs do sometimes appeal to the Great Spirit in council with white men, but it is always as to the being whom the white man worships.

"As specimens of the supernatural beings, who, it is believed, preside over the destinies of the Dakotahs, and whose wakan qualities are imparted to the medicine-men, I will mention more particularly three or four classes of the most respectable of them.

"The Onkteri (Onk-tay-he). — The signification of the name of this class of the Dakotah gods is unknown. In their external manifestation, they resemble the ox, but are very large. They can instantaneously extend their tail and horns so as to reach the skies, and these are the seat of their power. They are male and female, and propagate their kind like animals, and are mortal; which is true of all the gods of the Dakotahs. It is believed that the earth is animated by the spirit of the Onkteri goddess, while the water, and the earth beneath the water, is the dwelling-place of the male god. Hence the Dakotahs, in their addresses to the water, in religious acts, give to it the name of Grandfather, and that of Grandmother to the earth. The Onkteri have power to issue from their bodies a mighty wakan influence, which is irresistible, and which the Dakotahs term tonwan. The signification of tonwan is quite similar to that of ‘arrow,’ where it sometimes occurs in the Bible. All the gods are armed with a similar power. One of the Onkteri gods, it is believed, dwells under the falls of
St. Anthony, in the Mississippi river. A few years ago, at the season when the ice was running, it gorged, and so obstructed the channel between the Falls and Fort Snelling, that the water suddenly rose to an exceeding height. When the pressure became sufficient to open the channel, the water rushed down with a tremendous force which swept all before it; and a cabin which stood on the low bank of the river, near the

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fort, was carried away, with a soldier in it, who was never afterwards heard of. It is universally believed by these Indians that the whole was caused by the Onkteri, who passed down the channel of the river at the time, and that the soldier was taken by him for food, as he feeds upon human souls. The following chant, which is much used in the medicine-dance (wakan dance), shows the character of this class of the gods, in this respect:

"‘I lie mysteriously across the lake,
Decoying some souls.
Let me eat him alive.’

"The sacrifices which the Onkteri requires of his worshippers, are the down of the female of the swan and goose, dyed scarlet, white cotton cloth, deer-skins, tobacco, dogs, medicine (wakan) feast, and the medicine-dance. Subordinate to the Onkteri are the serpent, lizard, frog, leech, owl, eagle, fish, spirits of the dead, &c. These gods made the earth and men, instituted the medicine-dance, &c., prescribed the manner in which earth-paints must be applied, which have a wakan virtue to protect life, and are often worn by the warrior for this purpose on the field of carnage. Among all the myriads of the Dakotah deities, the Onkteri is the most respected; and it might be said, without much exaggeration, ‘seven times a day they worship him,’ or some of the numerous gods which are his subjects.

"The Wakinyan (Wah-keen-yon). — The name of this class of the gods signifies flyer, from the verb kinyan, to fly. As the night-hawk produces a hollow, jarring sound, by a peculiar motion of the wings, so the Wakinyan produces the thunder, which the Dakotahs denominate ‘the voice of the Wakinyan.’ It is said by some that there are three varieties of the external manifestations of these gods, and others say that there are four varieties; in character, however, they are but one. One of these varieties in form is black, with a very long beak, and four joints in each pinion; another is yellow, beakless, and has also four joints in each pinion, but only six quills; the third, which is of a scarlet color, is remarkable for the length of his wings, each of which contains eight joints; and the fourth is blue, globular, and has no face, eyes, nor ears; but immediately above where the face should appear, is a semicircular line, resembling an inverted half-moon, from below which project two chains of lightning, which diverge from each other as they descend. Two plumes, like soft down, coming out just above the chains of lightning, serve for wings. Each of these varieties represents a numerous race. The Wakinyan created
wild rice, and one variety of prairie-grass, the seed of which, in shape, bears a strong resemblance to rice. At the western extremity of the earth (which is a circular plain surrounded by water), is a high mountain, surmounted by a beautiful mound, on the summit of which is the dwelling-place of the Wakinyan. Watchers are stationed at each door-way of their dwelling, one of which opens towards each of the four cardinal points. A butterfly stands at the east opening, at the west a

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bear, a reindeer at the north, and a beaver at the south. Except the head, each of these watchers is enveloped in scarlet down.

"The Wakinyan are ruthless and destructive in their character, and they ever exert their mighty power for the gratification of their ruling propensity, at the expense of whatever may come in their way. The enmity which exists among all the classes or races of the gods, is like that which is seen to exist among the different Indian tribes; but the Wakinyan and Onkteri bear a particular hatred to each other, which is hereditary and deep-rooted, like that which exists between the Dakotah and Ojibwa nations, and neither can resist the tonwan of each other's wakan. It is unsafe for either to cross the other's track. The fossil remains of the mastodon, which are sometimes found by the Dakotahs, they confidently believe to be the bones of the Onkteri; and they are preserved by them most sacredly, and are universally esteemed for their wakan qualities, being used with wonderful effect as a sanative medicine. The Wakinyan are the Dakotah's chief war-gods, from whom they have received the spear and tomahawk, and those paints which will shield them from harm when exposed to the murderous weapons of their enemies.

"Takuxkanxkan (Tah-koo-shkan-shkan). — This god is invisible and ubiquitous. The name signifies ‘that which stirs.’ In cunning and passion, the Takuxkanxkan exceeds any of the other gods, and has a controlling influence over both intellect and instinct. He resides in the consecrated spear and tomahawk, in boulders (which are hence universally venerated by the Dakotahs), and in the ‘Four Winds.’ The ceremony of the ‘vapor bath’ is a sort of sacrifice to this god. He is never better pleased than when men fall in battle, or otherwise. The object of that strange ceremony of the Dakotahs, in which the performer, being bound hand and foot with the greatest care, is suddenly unbound by an invisible agent, is to obtain an interview with this object of Dakotah superstition, instead of the Great Spirit, as Carver supposed when he witnessed its performance, as related in his book of travels among the Indians. Subordinate to the Takuxkanxkan, are the buzzard, raven, fox, wolf, and some other animals of a similar nature.

"The Heyoka (Hay-o-kah). — Of the Heyoka, like the Wakinyan, there are said to be four external forms; but it would be tedious to particularize. They are represented as being armed with bows and arrows, and deer-hoof rattlers, into which is infused the electric fluid; and one carries a drum, which is filled with the same. For a drum-stick a Wakinyan is used, the tail serving for a handle. One of the varieties of these gods, like the Takuxkanxkan, is invisible; it is the gentle whirlwind. By the virtue of their medicines and tonwan powers, they aid men in seeking the gratification of their libidinous passions, in the chase, in inflicting diseases, and in restoring health. The traits of the Heyoka are the opposite of nature, i. e. they express joy by sighs and groans, and sorrow by laughter; they shiver when warm, and pant and perspire when cold; they feel perfect assurance in danger, and are terrified when safe; falsehood, to them,

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is truth, and truth is falsehood; good is their evil, and evil their good. I might proceed with an almost endless specification of Dakotah deities, but those already mentioned will suffice for the present purpose.

"In these, and divinities like these, as various as their imaginations can create, or their wants demand, the Dakotahs find all that they desire. The abilities and powers of the gods, combined, are the abilities and powers of the wakan-men.

"How do the medicine-men come in possession of these powers?

"Dakotah wakan-rnen do not spring into existence under the ordinary operations of natural laws, but, according to their faith, these men and women (for females too are wakan) first arouse into conscious intellectual existence in the form of winged seeds, such as the thistle, and are wafted, by the intelligent influence of the Four Winds, through the aerial regions, till eventually they are conducted to the abode of some one of the Taku Wakan, by whom they are received into intimate communion. Here they remain till they become acquainted with the character and abilities of the class of gods whose guests they happen to be, and until they have themselves imbibed their spirit, and are acquainted with all the chants, feasts, dances, and sacrificial rites which the gods deem it necessary to impose on men. In this manner some of them pass through a succession of inspirations with different classes of the divinities, till they are fully wakanized, and prepared for human incarnation. Particularly they are invested with the invisible wakan powers of the gods, their knowledge and cunning, and their omnipresent influence over mind, instinct, and passion. They are taught to inflict diseases and heal them, discover concealed causes, manufacture implements of war, and impart to them the tonwan power of the gods; and also the art of making such an application of paints, that they will protect from the powers of enemies.

"This process of inspiration is called ‘dreaming of the gods.’ Thus prepared, and retaining his primitive form, the demi-god now again rides forth, on the wings of the wind, over the length and breadth of the earth, till he has carefully observed the characters and usages of all the different tribes of men; then selecting his location, he enters one about to become a mother, and, in due time, makes his appearance among men, to fulfil the mysterious purposes for which the gods designed him. It is proper, perhaps, here to state, that when one of these wakan-men dies, he returns to the abode of his god, from whom he receives a new inspiration; after which he passes through another incarnation, as before, and serves another generation, according to the will of the gods. In this manner they pass through four incarnations (four is a sacred number), and then return to their original nothingness. Thus the
medicine-man comes clothed with power.

"What use does he make of it?

"It would doubtless be impossible for the wakan-man to substantiate his claims with an intelligent and enlightened people, but it is not even difficult to do it among such a people as the Dakotahs. Ignorance is emphatically the mother of credulity; and no

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absurdity is too great to be heartily received by an ignorant savage, when proposed by one of artful cunning; and such the persons in question generally are, who combine their talents for the benefit of the craft.

"The blind savage finds himself in a world of mysteries, oppressed with a consciousness that he comprehends nothing. The earth on which he treads teems with life incomprehensible. It is, without doubt, wakan. In the springs which never cease to flow, and yet are always full, he recognises the ‘breathing places’ of the gods. When he raises his eyes to the heavens, he is overwhelmed with mysteries; for the sun, moon, and stars are so many gods and goddesses gazing upon him. The beast which he pursues to-day shuns him with the ability of an intelligent being, and to-morrow seems to be deprived of all power to escape from him. He beholds one man seized with a violent disease, and in a few hours expire in agony; while another almost imperceptibly wastes away through long years, and then dies. One he sees prostrated with racking pain in an instant, and then as suddenly restored to ease and vigor; while another drops away unnotified of death's approach, and without any cause which he can perceive. Pains which are excruciating will seize upon one part of the body at one moment — at the next, leap to another part, and then vanish. He finds himself a creature of ten thousand wants, which he knows not how to supply; and exposed to innumerable evils, which he cannot avoid. All these, and thousands of other things like these, to the Indian are tangible facts; and under their influence his character is formed. As, therefore, the tinder is susceptible of ignition, so the Indian mind is ready for deception, and hails with joy one who claims to comprehend these mysteries, to be able to contribute to the supply of all these wants, or to successfully contend with all these intolerable evils; and we are prepared to expect that the wakan-men will put bridles into the mouths of their people. To establish their claims, these men and women cunningly lay hold of all that is strange, and turn to their own advantage every mysterious occurrence. They assume great familiarity with whatever astonishes others; they foretell future events, and often with a sufficient degree of accuracy; those at one village affect to be familiar with that which is transpiring at another village, leagues distant; persons who are almost reduced to a skeleton by disease, in a day or two are as suddenly restored to perfect soundness, by their agency. When famine pinches the helpless infant and its disconsolate mother, and even the proud hunter sits down in the gloom of despair, relief often comes suddenly, in an unlooked-for, and even improbable manner, apparently through the influence of the wakan-men; or, if their efforts are for a time unsuccessful, and the suffering is protracted, it is attributed to the sins of the people. By the mental illumination of the wakan fires, obtained by almost superhuman abstinence, watchings, and efforts, they discover the movements of an enemy, wherever he may be; of which fact no doubt remains, when the little handful of warriors are led to victory by these god-men. At times, they appear to raise the storm or calm the tempest; to converse with the lightnings and the thunder, as with familiar friends;

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and if one of them happens to be injured or killed by the electric fluid, it only proves the truth of all he had said concerning the Wakinyan, and his own disobedience to their mandates. To satisfy the cravings of the gods within them, these persons frequently, with great ceremony, publicly tear off with their teeth and eat the raw and bleeding flesh of slaughtered animals, like starving beasts and birds of prey; thus devouring parts of dogs, a fish entire, not excepting bones and scales; and they even quaff considerable quantities of human blood! By the performance of thousands of wonders such as those enumerated, these pretenders triumphantly substantiate their claims to inspiration, and are believed to be ‘the great powers of the gods;’ and if some are looked upon as impostors, this fact only serves to enhance the importance of those who, being more crafty, are successful. I do not know an individual Dakotah who does not yield full credence to the claims of some of these impostors; or if there are a few solitary exceptions, it must be attributed to the introduction of Christianity among them.

"As a priest, with all the assurance of an eye-witness, the wakan-man bears testimony for the divinities — reveals their characters and will — dictates chants and prayers — institutes dances, feasts, and sacrificial rites — defines sin and its opposite — imposes upon the people a system of superstition to suit his own caprices, with an air of authority which may not be resisted, and with a precision which it would be difficult to exceed; a system so artful, so well adapted to the condition of the Indian, that it weaves itself into every act, is embodied in each individual, and ensures his most obsequious surrender to its demands. Sin consists in any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the arbitrary rules prescribed by the priest, or want of respect for his person; and holiness consists in conformity to these rules, and well expressed respect for the wakan-men; while the rewards and punishments are of such a nature that they may be appreciated by the grossest senses. In the capacity of a priest, the influence of the Dakotah medicine-men is so extensive and complete, that scarce an individual can be found in the nation who is not a servile religionist.

"The wakan-man as a warrior. — Every Dakotah warrior looks to the wakan-man as almost his only resource. From him he receives a spear and tomahawk, constructed after the model furnished from the armory of the gods, and painted by inspiration, containing the spirit of the gods, and also those paints which serve as an armature for his body. To obtain these things, the proud applicant is required to become a servant to the Zuya-wakan, while the latter goes through those painful and exhausting performances which are necessary preparatory to the bestowment of them; such as vapor-baths, fastings, chants, prayers, &c. The implements of destruction being thus consecrated, the person who is to receive them, wailing most piteously, approaches the war-prophet and presents the pipe to him as to a god; while in the attitude of prayer, he lays his hands upon his sacred head, and penetrated with a sense of his own impotency, sobs out his request in substance as follows: ‘Pity thou one who is poor and helpless — a woman in action — and bestow on me the ability to perform manly

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deeds.’ The prophet then presents the weapons desired, saying, ‘Go thou, try the swing of this tomahawk and the thrust of this spear, and witness the power of the god to whom they belong; but when in victory thou shalt return, forget not to perform thy vows.’ Each warrior is required to paint himself for battle in the same manner that his arms have been painted by the prophet; and may never paint in the same manner at any other time, except it may be in the performance of extraordinary religious rites. In this mariner every young man is enlisted for life into the service of the war-prophet. These weapons are preserved as sacredly by the Dakotah warriors as was the ‘ark of the covenant,’ by the Israelites. They are carefully wrapped up in a cloth cover, together with plumes and sacred pigments, and are laid outside of the tent every day, except in the storm; and may never be touched by a female who has arrived at the age of puberty. Every warrior feels that his success, both in war and hunting, depends entirely upon the strictness with which he conforms to the rules and ceremonies imposed upon him by the wakan warrior. The ‘armor feasts’ are of almost daily occurrence in the Dakotah camp, when the fruits of the chase are sufficient to supply them, at which time these arms are always religiously exhibited. Thus the influence of the
medicine-man, as a warrior, pervades the whole community, and it is hardly possible to over-estimate it; it is, however, vastly weakened by coming in contact with civilization and Christianity; and the medicine-men themselves seem to be well aware of the fact, that the dissemination of knowledge among the people tends directly to its destruction.

"The wakan-man as a doctor. — In the capacity of a doctor, or wapiya, the influence of the Dakotah medicine-man has scarcely any limits. Health is hardly more necessary to the happiness of the Indian than the wakan-man is for the preservation of health. It is believed that they have in their bodies animals (gods), which have great powers of suction, and which serve as suction-pumps, such as the lizard, bull-frog, leech, tortoise, garter-snake, &c. Other gods confer on them vocal powers, and their chants and prayers are the gifts of inspiration. The following, inserted here as a specimen of the chants which are used by these doctors, is evidently from the wakinyan god; and the manner of the person using it is such as to impress all present that he is conscious that it expresses his own abilities.

INDIAN.
"‘Marpiya mibeya wakanyan awakinye;
Maka cokaya ojanjanwaye.
Tatankadan maka nabaza wanke,
Miye wan iyarpewaye.’

TRANSLATION.
"‘Flying god-like, I encircle the heavens:
I enlighten the earth to its centre.
The little ox lies struggling on the earth, 879
I lay my arrow to the string.’

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"If the doctors are long without practice, they suffer great inconvenience from the restlessness of the gods within them. To pacify these, they sometimes take blood from the arm of some person and drink it. When one of them, having been respectfully and reverently called upon, and liberally prepaid, is about to operate upon a suffering patient — ‘a little ox struggling on the earth’ — he has him placed upon a blanket on the ground, in a tent, with the body chiefly naked. He also generally strips off his own clothes, except the middle-cloth. After chants, prayers, the rattling of the gourd-shell, and innumerable other trite ceremonies, and making a variety of indescribable noises, and muttering something like the following, ‘The god told me that having this, I might approach even a skeleton and set it on its feet,’ he gets down upon his knees, and applying his mouth to the affected part of the patient, sucks with an energy which would seem to be almost superhuman; the gourd-shell still rattling violently. In this manner the god which is in the doctor pumps the disease from the sufferer. After sucking thus for a considerable time, the doctor rises on his feet in apparent agony, groaning so as to be heard a mile if the atmosphere is still, striking his sides, writhing, and striking the earth with his feet so as almost to make it tremble, and holding a dish of water to his mouth, he proceeds with a sing-song bubbling to deposit in the dish that which has been drawn from the sick person. This laborious and disgusting operation is repeated, with short intervals, for hours. The operant is thus enabled not only to relieve the sufferer, but also to discover the sin on account of which he has been afflicted, the spirit of which he sees rush into the lodge, and violently lay hold of the unfortunate sinner, as if he would rend him to atoms. The doctor now makes an image of the offended animal whose enraged spirit he saw, and causes it to be shot by three or four persons in quick succession, when the god that is in him, leaping out, falls upon, not the image, but the spirit of the animal which the image represents, and kills it. Now the sick man begins to convalesce, unless other offended spirits appear to afflict him. Sometimes the doctor is overcome by these spirits and the patient dies, unless one of greater wakan powers can be obtained; for they are wakan to different degrees, corresponding to the strength of this attribute as it exists in the gods by whom they are respectively inspired. It seems to be the general impression that there are wakan-men who are able to repel any foe to health till the superior gods order otherwise; but it is difficult to obtain their aid; for if they are not properly respected at all times, and well remunerated for their services, they let the sufferers perish without exerting their power to save them; doing their work deceitfully. It is also believed that they can inflict diseases as a punishment for sins committed against themselves, and that death is often the effect of their wakan power. When they thus kill a person, they cut off the tip of his tongue and preserve it as a memento of the fact. The people stand in great fear of these medicine-men, and when sick will give all they possess, and all they can obtain on credit, to secure their services; and will often give a horse for a single performance.

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They are always treated with the greatest respect, and generally furnished with the best of everything; and if there are impostors, this fact turns decidedly to the advantage of those who are believed to be true. There are from five to twenty-five of these men and women at each of the villages, most of whom have a fair reputation and considerable employment; and that, notwithstanding these Indians are now receiving so much aid from persons of our own people who follow the medical profession. I do not believe that an individual Dakotah can be found, who does not believe that these jugglers can heal diseases without the help of vegetable or mineral medicines, except as this faith has been destroyed by the introduction among them of science and Christianity; and, even at this day, the persons who do not employ them as wakan jugglers, are very few indeed.

"Thus the Dakotah wakan-men, in their various capacities, exert an influence which flows from the centre to the circumference of Dakotah society — an influence which is deeply felt by every individual of the tribe, and controls all their affairs, except as it has been partially interrupted by coming in contact with civilization and Christianity; and, for reasons too obvious to need to be mentioned, they, as a class, combine their influence to oppose the introduction of knowledge generally, and religious knowledge in particular, among their people. As wakan-men, each in particular, and all together, are not only useless, but a decided and devouring curse to their nation, on whose neck, mentally and morally, they have firmly planted the iron heel of priestly despotism: and, until they are put down by the mighty operations of the Divine Spirit, through the word of Christ, they will effectually baffle any effort to elevate and civilize the Dakotahs." 880

In these superstitions of the Dakotahs, there is much to remind the historical student of the wild and incoherent theories once common among the original tropical tribes of northern Mexico. To that quarter of the continent some of the northern traditions point, as the place of their origin; from the tropics, as we are led to infer from climatic affinities, their ancestors brought the zea maize and the tobacco plant. It would appear that the Vesperic tribes made less use of the theory of demi-gods, impersonations, dryads, or wood-daemons, and stellar magic, than did the tribes who resided on the confines, and in the heart of Mexico; and we should incline to this belief, did we not perceive in the legends and lodge stories of the northern tribes, which are frequently related as creations of imagination, that demigods, giants, wizzards, and spirit-craft, in all its wildness, constituted a prominent part of the poetic machinery of their legendary lore. 881

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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