Cherokee Phoenix


Published April, 10, 1828

Page 2 Column 3b


The following account of a dance performed by the Chipaway Indians, is taken from a work lately published by Thomas L. McKenney of the Indian department, entitled, 'Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes,' 'c. A copy of this work has been sent to the Cherokee, by the author, as a token of his friendship. We have it now in our possession, and will endeavor in future to make some other extracts.

Soon after the inspection, and while seated in my room, I heard a yelling and shouting among the Indians. One of the bands had landed from the island about forty strong. Ben came in and told me the Indians were dancing. I went out to witness the ceremony. They came up from the landing in double file, or two abreast, with their drums in the lead, dancing, or rather jumping in short jumps to the time kept by the drummers.- The drums, as I have before stated, are like tambourines, and had rattles to them. Those who beat, or thumped the drums, sang also; but the song was a jumble of sounds; a kind of 'a--ha; a-ha, eh, eh'- the 'eh' aspirated with great force; and at short intervals the whole would yell and shout, and multiply the sounds by clapping their hands on their mouths.

On reaching the ground opposite the door of our quarters the line was formed by this jumping motion into a circle, out of which those who beat the drums kept stations. Round and round, they went, with a kind of double short step, first with one foot, and then with the other; but the motion throughout was up and down.- When they had gone twice or thrice round the circle, the drums would give the signal, when they would scream and whoop, and clap their mouths with their hands-then stand. I could see from their breathing- for they were all naked (except the auzeum) and painted,- that their dancing was a severe exercise. Some were painted black, others one half red, and the other black, and the colors were separated by a nicely dividing line down the spine of the back, and in front; the colors dividing below the body, and one thigh and leg being black and the other red, they might have been taken for halves of two bodies of different colors. Their heads were ornamented with feathers, and their hair plaited, with little bells and other trinkets suspended from the plaits. From the waist string of some, hung small looking glasses, and their knives, and the skins of birds, while their ankles were bound round with pieces of fur, and from the heels of some, would trail out a fox's tail. Some few wore leggings, and a few others moccasins. The faces of all were painted after all manner of devices; with red, green, yellow, and black; in lines, circles, and stars, or points, or all these together. That nothing in this group or medley should be wanting to make the scene a finished grotesque, a little boy, not over five years old, was in the midst, painted black, keeping time to the drum, with an enormous head-dress of feathers, and who went through the whole ceremony with them, which consisted wholly in the 'a-ha-a-o-eh,', and muttering kinds of interludes; of the monotonous though regular thump of the drum, the jumping of the group in time to the sounds in a circular movement, and at intervals the yelling and whooping of the whole together. In the pauses a warrior would tell his exploits; and these would be shouted to vociferously.

This was a pipe dance, a dance of ceremony, or rather, as it ought to be called, a begging dance. Their object was to get presents; and it would have been deemed most ungracious not to have given them. We put out a mocock filled with tobacco, and some whiskey, (the chief object of their visit) well diluted with water. They drank each a wine-glass of this beverage-except those who have children with them. These were brought along to multiply the glasses, for the child, being entitled to his glass in common with the rest, receives it, but never tastes it. He hands it directly to his father, who never fails to discharge the last drop into his mouth; and to feel grateful no doubt, that he has a child present, thus to increase his bliss. Some fell heir to as many as three glasses; and if they had chanced to have had thirty children, the thirty glasses would have been all handed by these dutiful children to their whiskey loving parents.

These presents were distributed by one of the band who is called Machinewa; a kind of attendant, on whom devolves this duty. Almost every chief has one of these, who always receives presents, and distributes them to the members of the family. There is no appeal from his mode of making the division.

On receiving these presents they discharged a gun, shouted, formed in a double file, and went off yelling, and singing and dancing to the Captain's quarters to get an additional supply.

All this my dear friend; impressed me deeply. It was a scene of interest, it is true, but filled with incidents which demonstrate the superior excellence of civilized, and polished, and Christian society, over that of the savage. Tell me not of the happiness of the Indians-of their freedom from restraint-of their independence-it is all fable, at least as the condition of these unfortunates now stands. I believe it was different with them once. Such a sight presents a wide field for moral reflections; and furnished a dark foreground to the picture I have just sketched, of the repose of the peace of the Sabbath! No one can witness such a scene, and look upon bodies of the finest mould for they are all such, and one especially the most perfect I ever beheld, and would in Italy be worth its thousands for a model, without feeling anxious for the arrival of the time (but how slow have been its advances!) when all these unmeaning and barbarous customs shall give place to the refinements of civilized life, and the sensual object which led to this, be changed to the nobler one of which their faculties are so manifestly capable.

I look to a speedy interference of our government in this work of mercy. It is not possible for it to be longer delayed. Public opinion, that secret, but operative and powerful principle, is strong against a further delay. It is too late to tell us that Indians cannot be civilized, aye, and Christianized too. The time was when this doubt formed the barrier to exertion; but that has been broken down. The way is open. Experience has come in with its demonstrations- And while we give up the old Indians to die as they live, and leave them and their destiny to their God, we are bound by ever consideration of moral and religious obligation, to save their off-spring. I will not reason upon it.- The proposition carries with it its own illustration and demonstration. Indians are men-they are within our jurisdiction-they are sufferers-we have the power, and they the capacity; and we are bound to relieve them.