Read CHAPTER VIII of Seven and Nine years Among the Camanches and Apaches An Autobiography , free online book, by Edwin Eastman, on


This ceremony over, the priests and worshipers withdrew; my wife was led away by her guards, and I was left for a moment alone with WAKOMETKLA; he stood gazing toward the distant mountains and seemed lost in reverie. At length he roused himself, and turning towards me, approached and taking me by the arm, conducted me once more to the lower part of the temple. We descended to the subterranean apartments, and passing through several, at length entered a room of good size, but so littered with the various utensils of his profession as to be almost impassable. Huge earthen cauldrons, set upon blocks of stone, were ranged across one end, and these were filled with a thick liquid of a dark brown color. Bundles of dried herbs were suspended from the walls and ceiling; the plants seemed to be of many species, but were all strange and unknown to me. A large block of stone standing in the center of the room served as a table, and upon this were a number of piles of bark and small lumps of a thick resinous gum; in one corner, were two or three smaller stone blocks, each with a cavity in the center, and evidently used for the same purpose as a druggist’s mortar.

I viewed the strange apartment and its contents with much interest, for I saw that in this place the old man compounded such simple remedies as he had been taught by experience, were necessary for the treatment of the ailments to which his tribe was subject. On entering, he had motioned me to a seat, and I had accordingly placed myself upon a fragment of rock and sat quietly observing his proceedings and reflecting upon the strange situation in which I found myself. My companion, for sometime paid no attention whatever to me; divesting himself of his robes and ornaments, he enveloped himself in a sort of tunic made from the skin of some wild beast; to what particular kind of animal it had once belonged I was unable to form an idea, as the hair had been removed and the surface painted in many colors, with curious designs; it was without sleeves, showing his muscular arms bared to the shoulder, and with bracelets of roughly beaten gold upon the wrists. Taking a piece of wood, shaped something like a paddle, he commenced stirring the contents of the cauldrons and tasting the mixture, occasionally adding small portions of a transparent liquid of a pale yellow color, which he poured from a small earthen vessel. For some time he continued his employment while I watched and meditated, but at length he ceased his labors and beckoned me to approach him. Taking a portion of bark from the table he placed it in one of the stone basins, and seizing a stone utensil, similar in shape to a large gourd, began crushing the bark, motioning me meantime to watch him, and working with great energy. He continued in this manner for some minutes, until he appeared to conclude that I had become sufficiently familiar with the process, and then directed me by gestures to take his place, and I soon found myself busily engaged reducing the bark to powder. At first the change from my hitherto enforced idleness was a pleasant relief, but I soon found that it was hard and exhausting labor; the perspiration rolled down my face in streams, and I felt a strong inclination to cease operations. My new master, however, plainly looked with disfavor upon such an intention, for the moment that I slackened in my toil, he would shake his head gravely and motion me to continue, and to work more rapidly, and I had no alternative but to obey.

Of one thing I was satisfied, my new occupation was likely to be no sinecure; there was evidently work enough to keep me constantly employed, and WAKOMETKLA would no doubt see to it that I wasted no time. For the remainder of the day I was kept hard at it, with the exception of the brief period allowed me for partaking of my food. So far as quantity was concerned, I had no reason to complain of the fair supplied me, but its quality was not so satisfactory, it was a species of tasajo, or dried meat, but of what animal it had originally formed a part, I was entirely unable to determine.

In place of bread, I was given a sort of cake made from the piñón nuts, and not unpalatable, but a poor substitute for the food to which I had been accustomed. When my day’s toil was over, WAKOMETKLA, motioning me to follow him, led the way into an adjoining apartment, and pointing to a rude couch of skins, indicated that it was to be my resting place for the night. Wearied by my unaccustomed labor, I threw myself down without the formality of undressing, and was soon buried in deep and dreamless slumber.

At an early hour on the following morning I was awakened by WAKOMETKLA, and found myself much refreshed by the first night’s sound sleep I had enjoyed for many days. I was again conducted to the scene of my labors of the day previous and soon found myself at work again. This time, however, I was set at a different employment from that in which I had been hitherto engaged. Seated upon the earthen floor, with a large flat stone before me, I picked over and separated the various strange herbs, sorting them into heaps; the medicine man stood by and directed my operations, uttering a grunt of approval when he saw that I comprehended his pantomimic instructions. At length, seeming satisfied that I could complete the task without further assistance, he left me, and for several hours I worked on alone. About the middle of the forenoon, I had nearly finished my labor, when WAKOMETKLA suddenly entered and motioned me to rise and follow him; we passed through several apartments and entered the mystery room. Approaching a recess in one corner, my master drew back a curtain of skins and disclosed an aperture of considerable size; this he entered and disappeared for a moment, but quickly returned, bearing in his hand a metallic circlet which glittered in the light of the lambent flame that arose from the altar; as he approached me I saw that it was a rudely fashioned collar of silver, its surface covered with engraved lines and strange cabalistic characters; this he speedily fastened around my neck in such a way that I could not displace it, and again motioned me to follow him; leaving me entirely in the dark, as to the object or meaning of this singular proceeding. Reaching the first terrace of the temple, we descended to the plain and passed through the main street of the village until we reached its outskirts.

Although wondering greatly what new experience I was about to meet with, I could not fail to notice the great respect with which my strange protector was treated, a respect seemingly not unmixed with awe. Many curious glances were cast at me as we passed through the crowd of idlers and “dandies” who lounged about the open space before the temple, but no word was spoken as they drew back to make way for us.

At the edge of the plain, and standing apart from the other structures, I had observed a small lodge; it differed in no respect from the others except in size. We walked directly towards this, and on reaching it WAKOMETKLA entered, motioning me to remain outside. Laying down upon the green turf, I abandoned myself to rest and reflection. Naturally, my thoughts were mainly of my wife; and the mystery as to her whereabouts and probable fate constantly occupied my mind. Had I but known it, my suspense was soon to be at an end; but I little dreamed that I was soon to see her again, to meet only to part for years, and with the certainty that she would be subjected to every degradation; and had I known it, such knowledge would have only caused me additional misery. For over an hour I laid motionless; at times watching the movements of a party of Indians who were engaged in ball play; at times lost in thought. At last my savage master, having finished his visit, the object of which I knew not, emerged from the lodge and signed me to rise. We retraced our steps until we reached the temple, when he indicated by gestures that I might remain without. I concluded from his manner that I was at liberty for a time at least to follow my own inclinations, and accordingly occupied myself in making a tour of the village, thinking it possible that I might see something of my wife. As I strolled about, I was surprised to find that I was entirely unmolested, although many of the red warriors looked at me with an expression that indicated a desire to “lift my hair.” I afterward learned that the silver collar I wore was itself a safeguard which the boldest “buck” in the village would not dare to violate.

My search was for the time unavailing; returning to the vicinity of the temple, I laid down upon the ground and awaited the summons of WAKOMETKLA, which I momentarily expected. It seemed, however, that he had either forgotten me, or was busied with something of more importance, as I was suffered to remain by myself for several hours. Watching the various groups around, I saw many sights, both new and strange to me. A number were engaged in gambling for the various trinkets they had procured in their successful foray. Their implements for this pastime were simple enough. Several Indians who sat quite near me were engaged in this amusement, and by watching them carefully, I was soon able to understand the game. They sat in a circle, with a heap of small stones in the center; one of them, grasping a handful of the pebbles would conceal them behind him, at the same time placing before him the article which he wished to wager. The player on his right would then stake against it any article which he deemed of equal value; and if the leader accepted the bet he would signify it; his opponent had then to guess the number of pebbles taken by the first Indian; and if his conjecture was correct, became the possessor of the articles wagered. If he failed to guess the right number, the holder of the stones was the winner; then the next savage seized the pebbles, and so it went round and round the circle, the winners venting their exultation in yells and laughter, while the losers clearly indicated by grunts, expressive of disgust, their disappointment when fortune went against them.

Suddenly my attention was attracted by a party of Indians who came forth from one of the more pretentious lodges. Among them were a number of the principal warriors including the head chief himself; with them were also several of the Apaches, who seemed, by their dress and bearing, to be men of some rank. They were engaged in a very animated discussion, accompanied with as much gesticulation as if they had been a parcel of Frenchmen. Directly two of the Camanches re-entered the lodge, and returned leading three women, white captives. Without a moment’s warning my wife was before me, and I sprang to my feet and ran towards her, scarcely knowing what I was about. My darling saw me at the same instant and stretched out her arms as if to clasp me in her embrace, but she was firmly held in the grasp of one of the savages and could not stir. Seeing that I would not be permitted to approach her I halted, wondering what new scene of savage cruelty was about to be enacted. I was not long in doubt from the gestures of the Indians, and the exhibition of some gaudy ornaments by one of the Apaches, I was convinced that a barter or trade of some sort was in progress, and a few moments sufficed to satisfy me that my surmise was correct, and to plunge me into still deeper wretchedness.

The Camanche head chief, and one who seemed to be the leader of the Apaches conversed apart, the latter frequently pointing to my wife and evidently arguing with great persistence. At length the bargain seemed completed, and Tonsaroyoo the head chief of the Camanches led her to the Apache chieftain and consigned her to his custody; the other women were also taken in charge by the Apaches who delivered a number of ornaments and trinkets and two horses to their Camanche friends. The leader of the Apaches now uttered a peculiar cry, apparently a signal, for immediately the warriors of his party assembled from all parts of the village and ranged themselves before him.

He seemed to give some order, for they ran instantly to where their horses were picketed, and with marvelous celerity prepared for departure. The being I loved best was about to be torn from me, probably forever, and subjected to the most terrible fate that could befall one of her sex. As the fatal truth impressed itself on my mind, I seemed paralyzed in every limb, and stood riveted to the spot, gazing hopelessly upon those dear features, as I then thought, for the last time. My poor wife was quickly mounted behind an Apache warrior, and, as the cavalcade moved off, she uttered a despairing scream, which seemed to rouse me from my lethargy. I endeavored to reach her, animated by a wild desire to clasp her once again to my heart, and welcome death together; but at my first movement I was grasped by a strong arm, and with her cry of anguish sounding in my ears as the party rode away, I found myself drawn within the temple and firmly held by WAKOMETKLA; he did not relax his grasp until we entered the mystery chamber, then releasing me, he regarded me not unkindly, and muttered to himself in his own language. Sinking under this last terrible blow, I threw myself upon the floor, and in the bitterness of my heart prayed for death. But death shuns those who seek it, it is said, and we were destined to suffer for years from the doubts and suspense occasioned by our sudden separation, neither knowing the fate of the other, and each scarcely daring to hope that their loved one could be yet alive.

After a time WAKOMETKLA raised me to my feet and led me to the room in which I had slept previously; here he left me, and for hours I lay in a sort of stupor, sinking at last into a heavy but unrestful slumber. Following, came many weary days, during which I paid little attention to things passing around me. Absorbed in my sorrow, I took no note of time, until a change in occupation brought forth new plans in my mind, causing me to entertain hope for the future. But of this anon.