AN OSAGE WAR DANCE.
The Rev. W. F. Vaill, one of the missionaries of the A.B. C. F. M. among the Indians of the Arkansas country, in a letter to the editors of the New York Observer, dated Union, July 25th, thus describes an Osage War dance, which he witnessed on one of his recent preaching excursions.
In our late preaching tour through the Osage villages, we fell on the Little Osage town, when it was all alive with a war dance. The warriors or braves, fitted out in their wild fantastic style, were all assembled. As we approached, a runner met us, and asked of our interpreter our business, but did not offer us his hand. This was not owing to malice but to custom. Their war dances are their most sacred seasons. During the ceremony they separate themselves from the touch of the vulgar and profane. Being told our business, he ran back and reported, and our approach seemed to cause neither derangement nor suspension. We eagerly rode up to the scene of action, getting our horses as near as we could, although they were affrighted by the music, the fathers (sic), shields, and the Star-Spangled Banner of the United States fluttering in the wind.
The position in which we found these warriors was that of a large ring, one circle standing, and another squatting, and all facing towards the center of the circle. Well, what does this mean? What next? sooner than thought could fancy an answer, one of the circle partly rises with his shield one hand,and tomahawk in the other, and dances towards the center; first facing this and then that way, holding his shield first on this and then on that side, and then occasionally making a brandish with his tomahawk; as though he was saying, 'See here, my comrades in arms, see how I will defend myself with this hand and this shield, while with this I will level my foe.' Having proceeded to the center, he returned, and squatted in his place. Another then performed a similar feat, and then another, till all had given a specimen, by way of anticipation and sample of their approaching conflict, and expected victory. Meantime, the hoarse, hollow sounding criers, who appeared to be already exhausted by constantly over straining their voices, in their zeal to make those hear, who stood only a very short distance-stood yelling, with their hands bracing their empty
stomachs and exciting the warriors to bloody deeds. One perhaps had lost a wife, another a child, or they represented those who had lost them, and now they were inspiring these official murderers to be courageous, and bring home a scalp, and so avenge their loss.
There was much variety in the costume of these Indians. Some had the skins of white wolves, as large species found somewhere to the west in their hunting excursions, hanging behind with the face, eyes, and nose projecting above their heads. Others had ravens' bills or eagles' claws, and all some terrific emblem. One had a snake's skin hanging from his neck to the ground:-I said to him, 'Vateseh hee!' i.e. What a serpent! He answered, by snapping at me so sharply as to startle me. This proved quite amusing to his comrades. All were entirely naked except the usual flap, and their bodies were painted black-black as an African. Of all the human beings I ever saw none approached so near my idea of devils.
Much of the ceremony was taken up in a sort of dancing march round the streets of the town, between their lodges. Their dancing has nothing to do with the light trip of the foot; it is properly a pounding of the earth with both feet at once. As they passed our lodge, it seemed as if a little earthquake was passing by. The osages, and I think all other Indians whom I have seen in their dances, strike the earth with both feet at once, jumping along with their bodies bent, their faces turned, first this way, and that, first looking askance under one arm, and then turning a wild vacant look over the other shoulder, and all the while brandishing shields, tomahawks, 'c.
In their marching around the town, the warriors were followed by a band of musicians, some rattling the gourd shell, some drumming on a piece of deerskin stretched over the head of a keg, and others,singing their wild war songs. Among the retinue I observed a great many youth, about the right age for going to school, who appeared to be young disciples, learning the art of war in the prospect of future renown. Another group followed, who appeared to be mourners, crying for vengeance on their enemies, to reward them for the death of some relative.
So busily employed were these warriors, that the ceremony ceased only for a small part of the night.- Early the next morning, before it was yet day, we heard their music and their singing, and their pounding up and down the streets. Our tarry among them was about 24 hours. When we arrived, we found them in the ceremony, and on our leaving the town they had not finished it. It is attended with extreme fasting, for their custom forbids them to eat, before the sunsets. And I believe they often fast, eating once a day, till the battle is accomplished, and they are returning with their scalps rejoicing. They are not allowed, moreover, to eat with their families; they must sleep separately; must go naked, flap excepted; offer many prayers,- and, as the climax of all, sacrifice a dog. In this ceremony they were engaged as we left the village, for we saw two or three braves most ceremoniously washing the parts of a dog at a branch which we had to pass.
My dear friends! look at their iron chain with which Satan hath bound these people for more than a thousand years. You have heard of the dark places of the earth-here they are, within a month's travel from your own city; and the chains all strong as Indian's cast, or China's imperial veto's (sic).
But you will wish to hear how we got along with preaching. As we stood gazing at the wonderful works of Satan, and waiting to ascertaining which was the chief's lodge, the Big Soldier, a term corresponding with that of General among the whites, came and most pleasantly invited us to his dwelling, and treated us with every mark of hospitality we could desire. He is of a most elegant form, perfectly well proportioned, a little above middling height, as portly and symmetrical as that of our departed friend, Cornelius-while his countenance is even more placid. I think it is the pleasantest (sic) countenance I ever saw.
Having refreshed ourselves, we requested him to send for the crier and give notice of our intention, and invite all to come and her the Gospel. Some came and attended our different meetings, but the greater part cared for none of these things, or cared more for the war ceremony; and its mighty expected profits. Some of the young men would occasionally rush in and stand near the door, displaying their tall, naked forms for a few minutes, then rush back to their favorite ceremony.
In the morning one host told us we were welcome to hold our meetings in his lodge, but he himself had to go to the Agency, 15 miles distant, to procure tobacco, for his warriors to smoke on their expedition, in testimony of his hearty cooperation, he being excused from going out to war himself-there being subordinate officers in abundance.
We held several meetings, and preached the Gospel to all we could collect, and intended to tarry two nights; but as the people were actually under alarm for fear of the Pawnees, having lately lost some horses, and as we had to keep our horses confined over the first night, through fear, we did not deem it prudent to tarry. And moreover, as the leading chiefs were both absent, we feared also some of these braves might most bravely take our horses, and be off to war with them before morning. So we set off for the next village.
I had visited these people, for the first time, the year before,-they being situated 120 miles from Union, and near to Boudinot. Had they improved during the year? Truly the signs were against them. The Government, about three years ago,built a good house for their leading chief, at the expense of 2,000 dollars. In this we lodged and preached the year before. It had three spacious rooms-a frame building, and valuable. Now it was razed to the ground, and the materials had been consumed for common fuel. In the morning, when I visited the site, about half a dozen women were hacking away upon some of the sleepers, cutting and splitting them, and then carrying them away. I asked them why they did so. They said the 'latus saggy'-the wind first started off the shingles-and perhaps some of the roof-so they had followed on to destroy it.
Such is a specimen of the people to whom we were originally sent. So we have turned to the Creek Gentiles, and are doing good among them for which we bless the name of the Lord.