THE FEAST OF THE GREEN CORN.
The fields, or more properly speaking,
the patches of corn were quickly ripening, thanks
to the arduous efforts of Wakadahme and his wonderful
arrow, and the whole tribe was waiting impatiently
the time when the signal should announce that the
feast of the green corn was about to commence.
Next to fighting, your Indian likes eating; about one
half of his time is employed in catering to the cravings
of his stomach. When not engaged in fighting
his enemies, or marauding in the vicinity of the Mexican
border-towns, he occupies his energies in the hunt
or chase. At the time of my enforced residence
among the Apaches, they were not restricted and confined
to reservations as at present. They considered
themselves masters of the country which they inhabited,
and were free to roam in any direction their fancy
might dictate. When in search of game, they would
scour the plains to the northward, and on some occasions
would penetrate deep into the country of their enemies,
the Crows and Blackfeet. Numerous encounters
would result from this intrusion on the rights of
others. At times they would meet and repulse their
opponents, and continue the hunt, return laden with
the fruits of the chase, and girdles plentifully garnished
with their victim’s scalps.
At such times, their return home partook
of the character of an ovation; fires would be lighted,
food prepared in abundance, and high revelry be the
order of the day. Gathered around the council
fires, with an eager and attentive multitude of old
men, women and children, constituting themselves an
audience, the braves would indulge in the most fantastic
and highly colored narratives of their deeds of valor
and heroic bearing in the presence of an enemy.
Seated in a circle around the blazing fire, and smoking
their clay pipes, each one in turn would relate the
incidents of his particular case, reciting the most
improbable deeds of valor, and ending up, usually,
with the oft-told tale, of how he gained his sobriquet.
His listeners had doubtless heard
the same story on many similar occasions, but repetition
has no horror for an Indian, and judging from the
flattering silence with which his speech is received,
and the many complimentary expressions with which
he is greeted at its close, one would at once conclude
that the remarks were new and original. Boasting
is an Indian’s weak point; given a listener,
and the amount of bombast and mock heroics which he
will inflict on one, simply staggers belief.
If, on the contrary, the hunting party
has not been successful, but defeat and misfortune
has been their portion, then the scene is changed.
In place of feasting and revelry, they are greeted
with a death-like silence, and, as the remnant of
the party defile through the village, they are objects
of the closest scrutiny by anxious mothers and wives.
If the keen eyes of love, search in vain for the form
of him, who a few weeks before left the village in
the glory and vigor of manhood, a heart-rending wail
goes up, which is instantly echoed by the assembled
women, until the welkin resounds with mournful cries.
As on more joyful occasions, a rush is made in the
direction of the council lodge, and it then becomes
the painful duty of the survivors to relate their mishaps,
and how such and such an one met the enemy with his
accustomed bravery, and foremost fighting, fell.
In these recitals, the party in question
always meet a foe who vastly outnumbers them, and
according to their account, their opponents always
suffer terribly in slain, and would have eventually
been overcome, and completely routed, had not some
trifling accident which could not be foreseen occurred
to mar the effects of their stunning prowess.
I have never seen an Indian fight,
and am not able to judge of their actions on the field
of battle, but, if observations of the red man in
his home, is any criterion, I should venture the opinion
that an Apache would fight valiantly under one condition,
namely: when his party were numerically stronger
than the opposing force. I think they have a just
appreciation of the Falstaffian method of conducting
warfare, and are firmly convinced that “he who
fights and runs away,” has better opportunities
for glory, rapacity and booty, another day.
As these pages are being written,
the country is again startled by the news of fresh
Indian outrages, this time, against the constituted
authority of the country, and close on the heels of
the news of the reopening of Indian hostilities, comes
the thrilling intelligence that a General has been
shot in cold blood, and whilst under the protecting
and sacred influence of a flag of truce. Such
dastardly and treacherous conduct, thrills one with
a righteous indignation, and we are more than ever
impressed with the belief that measures, the most rigorous,
should be instituted, and that the government should
put to one side any feelings of mawkish sentimentality,
and mete out to these red-handed savages the retribution
their desserts merit.
The case under consideration is only
one among many. How many immigrant trains dragging
their slow length over the trackless and boundless
prairies, have met a similar fate; and their misfortune
never so much as heard of. Whole villages on
the borders have been attacked, captured and pillaged;
their inhabitants murdered in cold blood, or carried
off into a captivity that was worse even than the
knife of the savage. Who can count the lonely
victims who have been waylaid on their toilsome journey,
by a party of howling savages, and being surrounded,
before they were aware almost of the presence of an
enemy, set upon and brained in the most cruel manner,
and their bodies left weltering in their own gore,
a repast for wolves and coyotes horrible
reflection; to think of the numbers who have suffered
this fate, and died unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown;
while their murderers were these same gentle red children,
of whose interests the government has exercised such
a watchful care, guarding them against the rigors
of winter by a plentiful supply of food and blankets,
and during the spring furnishing them with powder and
the most improved fire-arms, that they might thereby
be enabled to steal forth from their reservation,
prey on helpless travelers, and returning covered
with the blood of their white brothers; praise their
Great Father at Washington, and thank him, through
their agent, for the many inestimable gifts he has
placed in their hands, by whose judicious use they
have gratified their dominant passions, and turned
many a happy home into a chamber of mourning.
Out upon such a policy! War,
to the bitter end, is the only “policy”
that should be for a moment entertained, in dealing
with these fiends; and when they are at last exterminated
off the face of the earth, it may, perhaps, be safe
for a man to undertake to travel through his own land.
My readers may think I speak with undue heat on this
subject, but the memory of my sufferings and trials,
during the time that I remained among the Apaches,
make it almost imperative that I should speak freely
and without reserve.
Those who are at home, and surrounded
by the protecting influence of a father’s or
husband’s care, cannot fully appreciate the perils
and degradation consequent upon a life of bondage,
and I sincerely trust that it may never be their misfortune
to undergo similar experiences.
I must apologize for this lengthy
digression, and will hereafter endeavor to keep more
closely to the thread of my narrative.
As before stated, the Indians always
made the most extensive preparations for the feast
of the green corn; and it was looked forward to with
the most eager anticipations.
Several weeks before the corn had
fairly ripened, the head chief and medicine men met
in conclave, and decided on what measures were to be
pursued during the festivities. In most instances,
a few of the older women of the tribe were selected,
and appointed to watch the patches of corn attentively.
Every morning they were required to pick a few ears
of corn, and without dividing the husk, bring it to
the medicine chief; Eeh-tohk-pah-shee-pee-shah (the
black moccasin), who would examine it, and if it was
not deemed sufficiently ripe, they would be dismissed
with an injunction to appear again on the following
morning, with another handful of freshly gathered
corn. This performance was continued until the
samples examined were considered to have arrived at
a stage of sufficient ripeness, when the fact was
announced by criers, who went through the village
proclaiming the joyful intelligence.
For several days previous to the announcement
of this gratifying news, the Indians had subjected
themselves to a thorough purgation, using for this
purpose a decoction of various bitter roots and herbs,
which they termed asceola (the black drink).
This course of treatment enabled them to attack the
corn with ravenous appetites, and to gorge themselves
until they could scarcely move.
On the appointed day the tribe are
all assembled, and in the center of the lodge a kettle
is hung over a fire, and filled with the coveted grain.
This is well boiled, and offered to the Great Spirit
as a sacrifice. This is an imperative ceremony,
and must be performed before any one can indulge the
cravings of his appetite. During the time that
the cauldron is boiling, four chiefs and mystery men
dance around the steaming kettle. They are painted
with white clay, and in one hand they hold a stalk
of the corn, while with the other they grasp the rattle.
As they move around the fire, they chant a weird song
of thanksgiving, taking particular pains to remind
the Great Spirit that they are doing all this in his
honor, and restraining their appetites that he may
be pleased, and propitiated, to the extent of furnishing
them with a bountiful supply during the ensuing season.
Whilst the medicine men are performing
in this manner, a number of others form in a circle,
outside of the inner one, and with stalks of corn
in each hand, go through a somewhat similar ceremony.
Wooden bowls are placed on the ground immediately
under a tripod, formed by joining together three poles,
of about twelve feet in length, which are also ornamented
with ears of corn. In each of the bowls is placed
a spoon, made of the horn of the buffalo, or mountain
sheep, in which the feast is to be served. The
dance is continued until the chiefs decide the corn
is sufficiently boiled; when, at a given signal, the
dance is stopped for a few minutes, and again resumed,
this time to a different tune. Then the master
of ceremonies removes the smoking vegetable and places
it upon a small scaffold of sticks, which they erect
over the fire.
Having done this, the first
fire is removed, and the ashes are gathered and buried.
A new fire is then made in the place occupied by the
old one. The new one is started by a very painful
Three men seat themselves on the ground,
facing each other, and procuring a hard block of wood,
commence drilling violently with a stick, by rolling
it between the palms of the hand. Each one catches
it in turn from the other, without allowing the motion
to stop, until smoke, and at last, a spark of fire
is seen, and caught in a piece of punk, whereat there
is great rejoicing among the bystanders. When
this fire is kindled, the kettle is again placed over
the fire, and refilled with the vegetable.
Now the feast begins, an onslaught
is made on the contents of the pot, and the Indians
rush off in all directions to devour the corn.
Soon fires are blazing in every lodge, and all are
indulging in the grossest gluttony. This feast
lasts until the corn is exhausted, or becomes too
hard to eat with any degree of comfort. When an
Indian has gorged himself to the fullest capacity,
he has recourse to his asceola, and is soon
in a condition to recommence with as much vigor as
These scenes filled me with disgust,
and I often thought how happy those brutes would be
if they were only endowed with the wonderful attributes
of that little sea monster, the polyp, who, when his
body is cut in half, suffers no inconvenience, but
gormandizes as much as ever, with this advantage,
that the food, instead of remaining in his stomach,
passes out at the other end; thus allowing him to indulge
in the pleasure of gluttony, without the inconvenience
of being gorged.