My Western Trip Continued


November 10, 1904

 

My Western Trip Continued.

 

BY J. FRANK LOYD.

 

Ed Press:  For fear my other letter would consume too much space in your valuable paper, I did not tell your readers of my days I spent among the different tribes of Indians, learning their ways and customs of living, &c., and the grand scenes on the western prairies.

 

Five years ago I spent two months among the Ponca, Osages, Chickasaws and Choctaws.  This trip, including the above with other trips, and found all interesting.  When I reached Ponca, I. T., visited my cousin, who like many others, has made his fortune in the west.  But poor fellow, when I arrived at his home he recognized me and when he held out his hand to give me a welcome hand shake, I saw the tears gushing from his eyes, and his voice trembled with sadness.  I at once realized that some great calamity had befallen him, and we had scarcely entered his beautiful parlor before he commenced telling me his troubles. He had only two children, his favorite, a bright boy of nineteen years, who he almost idolized, while under a surgical operation, had died in a northern city, and his remains were brought back and laid away in the new cemetery west of Ponca.

 

The next day I visited the cemetery where the dear boy had been laid to rest.  The burial ground was one of the objects of interest.  Many of the graves were marked only by one unbroken cluster of beautiful flowers so trimmed and arranged as to form the shape of a monumental mound.  The avenues were like those in many gardens, lined on both sides with hedges of sweet roses.  But it was with an emotion of deep sadness which awoke as I walked along the flowery paths of this lovely cemetery and thought of the day before I left my Kentucky home for my distant wanderings, when I stood at my mother's grave at Chapel Hill cemetery and viewed her last resting place.  Who can tell the hallowedness of a mother's love until he feels its absence?  Who ever shed a holier tear than falls upon a mother's grave?  We all in this life of change, have our private sorrows and tearful remembrances, which the associations of place or time or circumstances bring up the mind's review and resaddens the heart.  As I walked among these graves my thought took its course with reverence to my own kindred dead.  I envy not the man who can walk through a graveyard with a bosom that awaked no sigh, and with a heart that never declares it emotion by the tribute of a tear.

 

Mounting my wheel I rode two miles west and visited the Ponca Indian cemetery.  Each Indian tribe have their custom of putting away their dead.  The Poncas build a house about eight by ten feet and when one dies they put the body in a box and place all their jewelery [sic], fire arms, etc., around the corpse for them to use when they reach "the happy hunting ground."  If it is a child, they will often fold them up in a trunk and place their play things around them and lock the trunk.  Now I would see six or eight of these boxes and trunks in one of the houses on top of the ground, the air being so dry and pure the body would not decay, but dry up.  On my first visit to this cemetery a number of the houses had fallen down and the boxes were bursted [sic] open and I saw a great many bodies that had been dead for ten years, and had I known them in life I believe I have recognized them.  This cemetery being on a high mound I could look over the Indian Nation and see a great many tepees.  The government built each family a frame house to live in but they preferred living in their tepees.  As the weather was warm I began to get thirsty, I decided to go down and spend the rest of the day with the Indians.  I now took a view from that high mound over the beautiful prairie as far as my eyes would serve me, I could see thousands of acres of wheat rolling like waves on the ocean, and to one being raised in a hilly country, like myself, this scene could not be described by pen.  There are many other objects of interests which attracts the gaze, and after continual subjects to amuse and delight the fancy of a stranger, and awaken the emotion of the beautiful, in the bosom of the lover of nature.  As I sat on the crest of that Indian cemetery I looked toward the clouds and saw them in a thousands forms and changes and picturesque grouping of castle and turrent [sic] and falling ruins; and cavescade [sic] and infantry in elementary war; and in the calm of succeeding truce, and the serene of final peace.  And then then [sic] the expanses, like ocean plains in the ever changing skies often lay before me in their green or blue, saffron of gold, with the soft clouds drifting slowly over the bosom of the rich prairies like so many floating islands prepared for the spirit of the blest in their circuit of the universe and of fadeless happiness of years.

 

After viewing the scene I mounted my wheel, going south among the tepees, stopping at one.  I found the family all at home, consisting of five in number--the old buck, his squaw, two grown daughters and a son.  The youngsters had been attending the high Indian school at Chillicotta [?], near the Kansas line, but were home on their vacation.  When I reached the tepee the youngsters came out to welcome me before I reached the entrance, and the old buck rose from his couch and placed me near him with a graceful and cordial hand shake.  I had no sooner displaced my hat than one of the girls in her beautiful and artless simplicity, seized a fan and sweeped it before me, bearing by the graceful current of cooling air.  In a few minutes "Red Hat" the boy, brought in a pail of water and desired me to partake, of which I did with pleasure; then "Red Rose," the youngest daughter, approached her sister, who was using the fan, and with considerable earnestness, desired to relieve her.  But the first had secured the honor of this showing a courteous attention to a guest, and insisted upon her privilege of continuing to perform her part in the civilities and simple hospitality of the artless and handsome Indians.  The three youngsters had a smiling countenance which was the beautiful smile of artless nature.  With smooth features, thin lips, white teeth, dark amber skin and jet hair falling in long rolls behind them.  Each one was doing what they thought to be most agreeable to their guest, but all were ready to spring on any errand for the same purpose.  I found the three youngsters to be well educated and diversed [sic] in English.  I was amused at the old lady; as she sat on her buffalo rug gazing at my bycycle [sic] she raised up and said, "white man lazy, set down and walk."  I am not astonished at the Indians of ancient times becoming astrologers, readers and worshipers of the stars when his home is so constructed as to catch the smiles of the heavenly goddesses, so graciously contemplating their worshiper, and holding their night vigils above his sleeping couch.  I have spent several days among these Indians and watched them cook their meals.  Swinging their pot about six inches above the ground on hooks with fire under it, they proceed to put all their food in one pot and cook it like our dish we call hash.  Dog is a favorite meat.  I always made some excuse for not dining with some of them; for should you eat with them and refuse to eat dog they become offended and say, "Dog don't eat dog."

 

Each tribe of Indians have their own language, and only learns another tribe's like learning the English language.  Some of the Indian languages are hard to learn, and as far as I know, have never had any original set of characters to designate their elementary sounds of speech.  Their words, nouns and verbs, are without inflictions, and therefore a grammar of their language would be hard to form.  I now parted with no little interest from my new made friends, and returned to the high mound I had but a few hours ago visited.  I sat down to take another view of that beautiful land.  No breeze was stiring [sic] at this soft hour, and all was still, save the zehpyr [sic] that rustled the tall wheat that covered thousands of acres before me.  As I looked over the country I said "Oh, land! beautiful land of the west, I have spent many years of the past among the mountainous country of the east, while you belonged to the Red man of the west."  I thought no scene in the west could excel that beautiful scene.

 

It was getting late in the evening and the clouds had been floating on their way, and were now packing themselves up in the south and west, leaving vacant fields in the sky, deep and vast, where they seemed to have laid off the beautiful spaces, as if they had thought on this night, as the hour for making the greatest display of their magnificence and loveliness.

 

The sun was sinking his veiled disk beneath the western rim of the green prairie, and sent back upon the clouds his beams, in his greatest beauty.  One long cloud stretched itself in a horizontal line midway in the scene, dark, low and long, and above and below, were oblique layers so conveying on the green background of the sky, as to exhibit the appearance of an undulating sea a paling green, sending back from its unbroken and mirroring surface a sheet of light in delicate and softest beauty.  Not the gossamer zone of lady ever planted so lightly as here on these waved and elongated curls of fleecy vapors, in their different hues of lightest pink and blue while the heavier layers of clouds filed themselves in strata upon strata, and all were illuminated with every tint of mingling scarlet and deepest Indian red, such as painters might wish to give the highest coloring to the cheek.

 

I again mounted my wheel going back to Ponca, saying, "Oh, nature, beautiful nature, how could I keep from loving thee."  When I reached main street I stopped and gazed at the passerbyers on this princely street, at this hour seemed animated with the equippages [sic] of the young and old, who had been out on their pleasure drives, now returning to their several homes ere the nightfall gathered over them.  I then proceeded to my kinsman's house, at the hour when night is soon to wrap all alike in her deep, and dark mantle of shadow and forgetfulness.

 

Source:  Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1879-1907, November 10, 1904, Image 8 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.

 

[My comments are in brackets.]