Upper Missouri, August 5, 1832
The Mandans or see-phos- kanu-ka-nee, 'People of the Pheasant,' are perhaps one of the most ancient tribes of Indians in America. There(sic) villages is undoubtedly of very ancient origin, and at a former period have been a very numerous and powerful nation; but by the continual wars which have existed between them and their neighbors, they have been reduced to the number of 19 or 18,000 souls.
There (sic) villages situated on the bank, on one of the most beautiful valleys on the river. Their lodges are closely grouped together, leaving but just room for walking and riding between. They appear without to be built of dirt, but one is surprised when he enters to see the neatness, and comfort, of these earth covered dwellings; they all have a circular form, and are from 50 60 feet in diameter.- These cabins contains from 15 to 20 persons-a family and all their connections. They sleep on bedsteads similar to ours, but not quite so high; they are made of round poles rudely framed together. A buffalo skin is strained across it like a sacking bottom, on which they place a number of buffalo skins, making the best bed in the universe. The Mandans have nothing in their personal appearance to distinguish them from the neighboring Indians, excepting the singular appearance of face hair. Their hair has all the shades and variety of a color that are seen among white society. Many children at the age of ten fifteen, are seen with their hair of a bright silver gray, and some almost perfectly white. Many of the young women are extremely beautiful-they marry at a very early age, and dress with much neatness ' practice more pure, native modesty, than any female society that I ever was in. Their beautiful white skin dresses are ornamented in a variety of ways with porcupine quills, beads of different colors, elk's teeth, and shells. After becoming matrons, that blushing modesty in a degree disappear and they wear a dress made of elk skin, shorter and better calculated for the labors duties they have to perform, as slaves to their lords. Perhaps nothing ever more completely astonished these people than the operations of my brush. Soon after arriving in their village, I invited and painted the two principal chiefs; in a very few minutes after having exhibited them, the whole village was crowding upon me to see them. The likenesses were recognized, and some commenced yelling, some singing and others crying. The eager curiosity and astonishment which they gazed upon me, plainly showed they considered me some strange being; they soon resolved, that I was the greatest medicine man in the world, for they said I had made living beings;-said they could see them laugh, and if they could laugh they could speak, and must be alive. The squaws soon raised a cry against me, saying that I was a dangerous man that I could kill them when I pleased, and that some bad luck would happen to these whom I painted. In this way they excited fear in the minds of a number of Chiefs who had agreed to sit; my operations, of course were completed at a stand. I finally had an interview with a number of them, and assured them, that I was but a man like themselves, that my art had no medicine or mystery about it, but could be learned by any of them if they would practice it as long as I had. I was taken by the arm by the Chiefs and led to their lodge where a feast was prepared for me in their best way. In this manner I was taken from one lodge to another, and treated in the cordial manner. I hope is an universal disposition in the Indian character to admire curious works of art, and particularly for paintings, for which they seem to have the greatest passion; it is not therefore to be wondered at that they were astonished at an operation so novel and unthought of by them, and that I should for once in my life, have been considered a great man and a great painter. It was reported in the village that a large herd of buffalo were insight, and in a few minute about one hundred young men were mounted with bows and arrows in their hand and ready for the onset. An old chief offered me a fine horse to ride, which I mounted and swept off in the flying throng to see the sport. We were soon in sight of the unsuspecting band, who knew not their danger until they completely surrounded by their enemy; here then ensued a scene equal to any military manoeuver. The animals, afrighted, rapidly fled in a body, but the fleet cavalry closed so rapidly in front of them, waiving their small robe, and raising their frightful yells, that they turned about in confusion, and bent their course in a different direction, where they also met their yelling foes advancing in the rear-during which time they were so closely hemmed in, that they rushed together in the greatest confusion, being able to move in no other form than in a circle.- The Indians then commenced riding round them in a ring-the whizzing arrows began to fly, and the work of death commenced-not a mere scene of laughter, but a battle scene of the most spirited kind, for the bulls often would turn upon them with the greatest fury, in which case their only safety was flight. I often saw the Indians dismounted in the midst of the confusion and struggle-the instant their feet touched the ground, the small robe from their waist was in readiness for the bull,and as quick as thought, this robe is thrown over his horns and face. The Indian leaps by his side,and his arrow flies to the heart. About fifteen minutes closed the scene and all was silent; about 300 were slain, and not one of the band escaped. Though the scene had been as spirited and picturesque, that I looked upon it with riveted feelings of delight, yet I could not look upon this field of slain, who had so nobly died, without sensations of pity and regret.--Com. Adv.