Note: This edition of the Phoenix is printed in four columns only.
From the New York Observer.
GREEN BAY, Sept. 9, 1830
Messrs. Editors- The Menomenies and Winnebagoes are powerful and rival nations, and extremely jealous of each other. The recent convention necessarily brought their chiefs and warriors and common people into near and intimate contact. They very prudently and naturally, however, made the river a division between them, in setting up their lodges or encampments. On the west side of the river, on the plain in rear of Fort Howard during the three days previous to the opening of the council, was seen rapidly rising, first a sparse, and soon a thick and smoking town of the Menomenies. It required but a little stretch and play of the imagination to conceive it a large city, on their scale of reckoning. And once or twice on a morning, in looking through the breaking up of a fog from the river, the first glimpses of the white tops of the lodges, and the curling of the smoke through the interstices of the cloud, have for a moment practised a complete illusion, and there seemed a large and beauteous town opening to the eye. On the east side was the encampment of the Winnebagoes. but every day, by the constant passing and repassing of such a scene, by the intermingling of the crowd at the council booth, the Menomenies and Winnebagoes were brought side by side, and without interruption crossed each other's tracks. The mutual hatred and jealousies of the English and French are proverbial. And it is well known they are not remarkably civil and courteous towards each other, they are scrupulous of their own prerogative, and not indisposed to construe the slightest inadvertence into an insult. So are the Menomenies and Winnebagoes. This state of feeling was pretty clearly demonstrated in the getting up of a war dance which was first done by the Winnebagoes for the amusement of the white people and others assembled on this occasion. The sport went off so well, and so much to the credit of the actors, that the Menomenies resolved they would not be behind nor outdone in a feat of this kind. Accordingly on the next day after the first exhibition, great preparations were making on both sides for a rival war dance. And the motives of emulation were so powerful, the excitement of national pride so great, there could be no doubt that an acting off of this terrific scene was about to be displayed in the highest style and under the most striking and impressive representations.
The Winnebagoes are a proud, high bearing race, exhibiting more of the native wildness and savage independence of Indian character, than any nation around them-looking down with perfect contempt on all other tribes, especially upon their neighbors. The Menomenies, on the present occasion, were by far the most numerous, and under the special excitement of the fresh return of the war party from the Mississippi, who, in alliance with Sioux, have this summer been waging war with the Sacs and Foxes; and brought into the camp of their nation here at the council the head of a Fox Indian, which was daily exhibited on a pole, and tossed about as a trophy of their recent victories.
One of the accompaniments of a war dance, is music-or what the Indians call music-instrumental and vocal. And although Indians, civilized are found to have the most melodious voices of all of human kind, and to be the most passionate lovers of harmony, yet in their wild and savage condition, the character of their music is in perfect keeping with that of their heart--wild, discordant and harsh. (I have noticed however one instrument among them of their own invention, the structure and tones of which are not unlike the flageolet, adapted to the softer passions, and designed no doubt for quiet, domestic scenes, the music of which at a little distance is plaintive beyond anything I have ever heard. A nice observation, however, soon detects a total want of regular intervals) But especially the war dance, would seem to demand a kind of music, making the strongest appeals to the ruder passions of so rude a race. The most prominent instrument is a drum, for the construction of which, an old cast-by keg of three gallon capacity, or a hollow trunk of a tree of the same dimensions will do. I have seen one of each. For the present occasion the Winnebagoes took the former, knocked out one of the heads, stopped the bung hole with a cob, put a little water in the bottom, and stretched a wet deer skin over the other end, attached to pegs, rudely drove into the elongated parts, and as rudely twisted by the rudest sticks, making so many levers, one end of which for permanency, found a place under the before mentioned pegs. I stood for some time to witness the skill and progress in the construction of this instrument. And verily, to see half a dozen of men, gravely and passionately employed in such a piece of work and stretching their wits to make it perfect; showing all the simplicity of so many children of two and three years old, and equally absorbed as such children are in building a cob house, was humiliating and affecting. But to see those very men in a war dance in the evening was a far different scene. When the instrument was supposed to be perfect, one took his knife, and knotty green stick which lay by his side, and in two minutes whittled out the only drum stick, eight inches long, which is necessary for the service. And then, applying it to the drum struck up the customary beating. Instantly every countenance brightened, and a sudden and clamorous shout of applause mingling with the sound of the drum, told most emphatically, that their whole heart was satisfied, and that the instrument was perfect. The sound of it is very like the common bass drum, if it is supposed to be reduced to the same dimensions. It is the beating of this which regulated in time all the movements of the dance. And the quickness of that movement is somewhat more brisk than that displayed in the common ball room of the whites. The leader of the band of the war dance is a Stentorian vociferator, who seems to take his pitch by rubbing violently a long notched wooden pole by another piece of wood. Then by great muscular effort of his whole system, inflating his lungs by a kind of convulsive gasp, he gives a token, and the band and dancers all begin--drumming, singing, shouting, yelling, dingling of metallic rods-at one time running a sort of chant in a low bass monotony, then suddenly passing a wide discrete interval into a sharp falsetto, or scream, which makes the Indian yell, or war-whoop. And no one could believe, did not his eye and ear together certify him, that the two kinds of voice proceed from the same beings. The Indian war whoop is a sharp, piercing falsetto, as elevated as the highest scream of a woman in a fright, broken and trilled, or male tremulous, by the mechanical play of the fingers on the lips. This whoop is repeated by all the dancers every two or three minutes, and seems to be a kind of letting off, or explosion of the highest possible degree of excitement. It is startling and frightful beyond description, breaking, as it does, unexpectedly, from a multitude of voices. Even though one has heard it a thousand times in succession, in the same dance, it always came unexpected. The transition of voice is so sudden and violent, so characteristically diverse from the low and monotonous movement which precedes and follows so unearthly, so like the ideal conception of the sudden breaking loose of hell itself in triumph, that one involuntarily trembles and shudders.
And the other accompaniments of this scene: the naked savage, painted in the most horrible forms, with a crown of feathers shooting from his head, his eye and every feature mad with, and dark as hell, wielding and brandishing in his hand the weapons of death, his body in perpetual and simultaneous movement with the music of the band and his own voice, together 'grating harsh thunder,' himself at the same time inclined, half bent, like a man under a heavy burden, darting with his naked and uplifted weapon through a multitude of others, all accoutred like himself and like himself performing the same indescribable evolutions, sometimes like fighting, and then more circumspect; a spectator fears every moment that they will wound and kill each other, and while absorbed in this anxiety or some other feeling they have excited, they suddenly break into their horrid yell, resembling what one would imagine to be the laughing triumph of fiends, mingled with screams of the agonizing sufferer they have got in their power. Then again immediately resuming their low and monotonous chant and the wild fierce dance, they work up their own passions and the interest of spectators to the highest possible pitch, till, with a surprise as great as ever, their horrid yell bursts again upon the ear, and all for a moment is still as death. And so with the introduction of a thousand successive novelties they continue for hours and for a whole night.
One part of the war dance, which for us would be called beating for recruits, is peculiarly significant and impressive. Those already enlisted or pledged to the war, which in solemn council has been decided on, together with the music, take their seats in a close group upon the ground. A rifle, tomahawk, or some other weapon of war is laid upon the ground a little distance, changing whoever will go and take it up for the war already resolved. And the act of grasping and lifting the weapon is a pledge of enlistment. Then, the group upon the ground, striking up a war song with their voice and instruments, are supposed by this act to challenge the lifting up of the weapon, seeming to say, who will take it up? And they grow more and more impassioned and violent, till someone from the crowd steps out, with his eye fixed upon the weapon, dancing to the music, pointing with his finger, and performing innumerable and most extravagant feats of jumping and significant gesticulations, urged on by the still increasing din of the clamor from the group of challengers. He is naturally reluctant, seems to think of the possible results to himself, to his family and friends, counts the cost of every shape, and then hears the call of his nation to battle. He comes nearer to the weapon, and then retreats. He dances round it and round it; he comes near again, extends his hand, as if to take it up, and then starts back by some sudden and forbidding thought. Like as a bird spellbound and charmed by a serpent, flutters and circles in the air, struggling to escape, but still drawing nearer and nearer, he makes a sudden and desperate plunge, grasps the weapon of death, and lifts himself erect. Then, in an instant, shouts of exultation rend the air, and his name and hand are pledged. Next, to the same music, he performs all the feats of discovery, shooting and scalping and enemy. This done, he replaces the weapon where he took it up, takes his seat with the challenging group, till the same round has added another to their number, and another, and so they fill the ranks for war.
While all this was doing on the east side of the river by the Winnebagoes, the same things were in progress on the west side, among the Menomenies. But unluckily for the latter, their side of the river was not so public, and not receiving their share of attention, they suddenly resolved upon a stratagem, to cross the river in silence, under cover of the dusk of evening, and surprise the Winnebagoes and all their spectators by a feigned attack. In the midst of these sports of the Winnebagoes, which to us had already grown sufficiently grave and frightful, and seemed to mean something more than sport; in an instant, and like the lighting of heaven, a tremendous war-whoop rent the air from behind, and as soon as the thunder follows a flash which wakens it, a horde of savage warriors, in their most hideous forms,and armed with the weapons of death, pounced into the midst of the throng, scattered them like startled sheep, every one for his life; and the aggressors stood in triumph upon the very ground kept vacant for the sports of the Winnebagoes, and commenced their war dance. It was an insult, an outrage. The Winnebagoes felt it, and stood for a moment in sullen silence, till their famous warrior chief, Four Legs kindled into wrath, laid aside his blanket and beckoned in a most significant and menacing manner, the retreat of those rude invaders of his ground. The Menomenies marched without the circle of the Winnebagoes, and in the immediate vicinity recommenced their war dance, seeming to bid defiance to their rivals, and challenge their share of attention. The resentment on either part was manifest and alarming. The Winnebagoes instantly renewed their challenge for recruits and behold, their warrior chief stepped forth, as was well understood for this particular occasion. He fixed his javelin, already laid upon the ground to be lifted up by himself, then looking upon his men in the group, then pointed to the Menomenies who had dared to insult them, them displayed the symbols of his chieftainship about his person, and then commenced a wild and frantic dance, with a muscular energy which made the ground tremble beneath his feet, approached the weapon and repeated in the usual forms with many others peculiar to himself, then seizing the javelin with a mad and convulsive grasp, he darted like lightning into the midst of the Menomenies, and instantly returned leading two of their warriors prisoners, and presented them in triumph before his own. It was unexpected and resistless feat, and full of portentous meaning. The Menomenies were compelled to one of two alternatives; either to suffer it as an atonement for their insult, or quarrel on the instant. And for a moment by the significant and angry murmurings which passed between the parties, it seemed doubtful which way it would turn. The prisoners however, affected to take it in sport, submitted to a brief detention, and were then dismissed. And I am told, that more trifling incidents than this inspired Indian wars.
Truly glad was I and many others, when this affair was over. It gave to the sports of the evening a most grave and serious aspect. And all expected quarrel during the night. Till morning came the whole region rung with the most frightful savage yells; yells which begun in sport, threatened to end in blood. So untamed, fierce, and ungovernable are the passions of these wild children of the forest. But especially was it a perilous hour, in consequence of a preceding and generous distribution of strong drink, dealt out by those who had instigated the exhibition. And an Indian, mad with liquor and passion combined, is of all beings the most uncertain and dangerous. I do not, for one, desire to witness the renewal of such a scene.
The amazing power of pantomime was most wonderfully displayed in all these exhibitions of the war dance. For all the interpretations here given, I am indebted alone to the intelligible and indubitable language of this art. To satisfy myself of the correctness of these interpretation, after having concluded this description, I have made particular inquiry of those who know, and do hot find occasion to alter or correct a single feature of the whole picture.
Yours, gentlemen, respectfully.