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

THE “MYSTERY BAG.”

Several months had elapsed since I entered upon my new duties. At first I was stimulated to extra endeavor by that curiosity which impels all novices to take an especially active interest in their profession, but I soon found that pounding bark, and gathering herbs, could become as monotonous as other less novel employments. I envied the women their tasks, as it would have been a change, and consequently a relief. It was a treadmill existence, and day succeeded day with unvarying sameness. I arose before dawn and went to the river; after a plunge in the sparkling water I returned to the temple and renewed the paint on my person, which had been effaced by the water. Constant exposure to wind and weather had tanned my body to the color of leather, and it did not require a great amount of art to enable me to imitate the true Indian complexion. Exposure and coarse wholesome food had made me very hardy, and I found that I could bear fatigue and work that I should have thought I was never capable of performing. To this training I was indebted for the strength that supported me in my arduous journey through the deadly jornada, when in quest of my wife. When my preparations were completed, it was time to ascend to the top of the temple and join in the morning’s devotions. These over, I returned to the underground room and commenced the day’s work. At first WAKOMETKLA would signify what he required by signs, and later, as I acquired a knowledge of the language, he would more fully detail his wishes, and ofttimes explain the effects and purposes of the drug. In this way I became as familiar with his materia medica, as himself; and from time to time offered suggestions that occurred to me, which seemed to please him.

By constant and steady application I amassed a fund of knowledge concerning vegetable medicines that enabled me, on my return to civilization, through the co-operation of DR. CLARK JOHNSON, to make my knowledge available in alleviating suffering humanity.

In my excursions into the woods I was accompanied by the chief, who instructed me how to gather the medicine plants, and where to find them. After a day spent in this manner, we would return to the village each carrying a basket on his back, filled with the results of our labor. By far the most important part of my work, in the estimation of the Indians at least, was the concoction of “medicine,” or mystery in which my master and myself were supposed to be all potent The red men are slaves to superstition, and in order to gain control over them it is absolutely necessary to profess a thorough intimacy with everything that is mysterious and supernatural. They believe in the power of talismans; and no Indian brave would for a moment suppose that his safety in this world, or happiness in the next, could be secured, did he not possess, and constantly keep about him his “mystery bag.” A description of this article, and the manner in which it is made may not prove uninteresting.

When a youth has arrived at the age of sixteen it becomes necessary for him to “make his medicine;” to this end he leaves his father’s lodge, and absents himself for one or two days and nights; entering the woods, where he may be secure from interruption, he seeks some quiet nook, and stretching his length upon the ground, remains in that position until he dreams of his medicine. During this time he abstains from food and water. When in his dreams the bird, reptile, or animal, that is to act as his guardian angel through life appears to him; or rather he imagines it does. As soon as he has learned what to seek for, he retraces his steps and joins his family again, who receive him with demonstrations of great joy; a feast is made in his honor, and he is treated with marked consideration. The festivities having come to an end, he arms himself with bow and arrows, or takes his traps, whichever may be best adapted to secure the animal he seeks, and leaving the village once more goes in pursuit of his quarry, not returning until his hunt has been crowned with success. Great care is to be observed in securing the “medicine” intact. The skin is then stuffed with wool or moss, and religiously sealed; the exterior is ornamented as the fancy of the owner may dictate; the decoration in most instances being of a very elaborate character.

The bag is usually attached to the person, but is sometimes carried in the hand. Feasts are made, and even dogs and horses sacrificed to a man’s medicine, while days of fasting and penance are suffered to appease his medicine, when he fancies he has in some way offended it. The Indian will not sell this charm for any price; indeed, to part with it is considered a disgrace. In battle, he looks to it for protection from death, and if perchance he is killed, it will conduct him safely to the happy hunting grounds, which he contemplates as his inheritance in the world to come. If he should lose it in the fight, let him battle never so bravely for his country, he suffers overwhelming disgrace, and is pointed at by the tribe as “a man without medicine,” and remains a pariah among his people until the sacred mystery bag is replaced. This can only be done by rushing into battle, and wresting one from the enemy, whom he slays with his own hand. Once this is accomplished, lost caste is regained, and he is reinstated in the tribe, occupying a position even higher than before he lost the charm. Medicine thus acquired at the risk of life and limb is considered the best, and entitles the wearer to many privileges to which he could never have aspired before. When a brave has captured a mystery bag belonging to his opponent, he has performed a feat of great valor, far surpassing the glory of innumerable scalps.

It is somewhat singular that a man can institute his medicine but once in a lifetime; and equally curious that he can reinstate himself by the adoption of medicine captured from the enemy. In these regulations are concealed strong inducements to fight: first, to protect himself and his medicine; and again, if the warrior has been unfortunate enough to lose the charm, that he may restore it and his reputation, while in combat with the foes of his community.

I had been for a long time in the village before I was allowed to wander beyond its limits. Indeed, I was kept so constantly employed that I had no opportunity to explore the valley, even if I had been permitted to do so. But the efforts I made to please my Indian master were not without their effect. WAKOMETKLA soon began to place confidence in me, and allow me more freedom of action. I had, it is true, very little spare time, but occasionally my master would dispense with my services while he was occupied with the ceremonies of the temple, and at such times I found myself free to wander where I pleased.

In this way, at odd times, I made myself familiar with the topography of the entire valley. At first I was not without hope, in my solitary rambles, that I might devise some plan of escape; for I had not by any means abandoned all hope of that nature, or resigned myself placidly to my fate. But I was not long in discovering that without a good horse, a supply of provisions, and some weapons of offense or defense, any such idea was entirely futile. The valley was of itself a prison, for it had neither entrance nor exit, except at its two extremities. The one by which I had entered I have already described in a previous chapter, and will not weary the reader by repeating it.

The pass at the western end of the valley was simply a narrow canyon cut through the mountain, during centuries perhaps, by the action of water; its precipitous walls rose to the height of over two thousand feet, and in its gloomy recesses it was always twilight; its length was nearly a mile; and at its outer extremity it debouched upon a barren plain. At each end a guard of two men was constantly posted, relieving each other at regular intervals, and being changed every third day. To pass these vigilant sentinels, afoot and unarmed, was plainly impossible; and I soon banished the idea from my mind.

I had noticed that WAKOMETKLA sometimes left the village and was absent for two or three days, returning laden with various herbs and plant, freshly gathered. I concluded from this that they were of species which did not grow in the valley, and to procure which he was obliged to ascend the various mountain ranges that barred my vision in every direction. I was anxious to accompany him on some one of these expeditions, thinking that I might thereby gain an opportunity for flight; but many long and weary months were to pass before I was to be granted that privilege. My life at this time was monotonous in the extreme; and so severe was the labor required of me, that I was frequently too tired even to think.

In his trips to the borders of the valley in search of the materials for his medicines, WAKOMETKLA often took me with him, and by these means I gradually became familiar with many of the ingredients used. It was a source of never-ending wonder to me that this untutored savage should have been able to discover and prepare so wonderful a remedy as I found it to be. I had many opportunities of observing its effects upon the Indians; for the Camanches, although naturally a hardy race, partly from their mode of life, and partly from the fact that few of them are of pure Indian blood, are subject to very many of the same ailments that afflict more civilized communities.

As the assistant of the great medicine man, I found myself treated with far more consideration than I would have supposed possible, and, in fact, it appeared after a time, as if the Indians considered me one of themselves. This state of affairs was not without its advantages. It ensured my freedom from molestation and at the same time gave me complete facilities for becoming familiar with the Indian character, their manners and customs, and mode of life. Of these I shall treat at length in another chapter.

At the time I was occupied in making the observations and investigations which I shall lay before the reader, I had no expectation of ever placing a record of my experiences before the public. Hence in many things my knowledge of the subject is but superficial. Of those things which interested me, or from their strange nature made a deep impression upon my mind, my recollection is clear and vivid. But many details which might be of interest to those who have never seen, or been among the prairie Indians, have by the lapse of time and the many exciting scenes through which I have passed become in a measure effaced from my mind. But I shall endeavor to relate as fully as possible my checkered experiences; and this narrative, whatever its demerits, will have at least one attribute of excellence, it will adhere strictly to facts.