The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 19, Part II


By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!


Like all other Indians, those of Washington have their regular religious, medicinal, or conjuring and social dances, the coast

Page 317

Indians west of the Cascades holding them most frequently, the rainy and foggy weather of the Sound making indoor amusement more attractive. All take part in these, even the children. Their saltatory exercises, it is needless to say, favor the antics of a bear much more than the Terpsichorean graces of an Elssler or a Taglioni.

Their marriages, like most savage and--sad to relate!--some Christian alliances, are a matter of bargain and sale, love figuring as a minor factor, if indeed such a passion exist, purified from sensuality, among the Indians. The Oriental custom of buying the child wife for a son still of tender years by the boy's parents is not uncommon. Such early betrothals are rather favored than otherwise, as they reason that the young couple, growing up together almost from infancy, would be better able to allow for each other's peculiarities when permanently united. In such a case, should the girl become disgusted or otherwise attached and desire to break the bond, which is always considered to be disgraceful on her part, her patents are obliged to return the price paid for her. The higher the payment the less likely is the match to be "declared off," as her family then become deeply interested in its consummation.

It may gratify the damsels in this, our good State of Washington, to know that a young Indian lady, according to their beauty, graces, and accomplishments, the latter being confined to cooking, moccasin-making, and papoose-tending generally, was valued at from five to fifty horses among the Indians of the plains, which dwindled down to from ten to twenty among those of Eastern Washington, the young squaws rather reversing the order of things as compared with their palefaced sisters, whose value increases, if only from rarity, as they journey toward the setting sun. It was considered a delicate attention, and one mere likely to keep the future helpmeet faithful to her vows, if a good round price was offered for the still unwedded damsel--a theory, by the way, which the lady's father was careful never to discourage.

Indian methods bring to nought all our preconceived ideas as to the relative advantages of sex inn providing for that future. With us a large family of daughters, however charming, suggests certain expense and possible loss--responsibilities to be dressed and dowered, yet, after all, to wither perhaps ungathered on the

Page 318

parent stem; while the Indian, the father of many squaws, as he smoked a meditative pipe had only to multiply the number of his daughters by the prevailing market price, according to the quality of the goods on hand, to calculate what he might safely count upon to dissipate the gloom of a financial rainy day. Then, too, it was a stock that cost little to keep and still less to decorate. Dr. Kuykendall very graphically describes the usual espousals of an Indian maiden in the woods of old-time Washington, or, as he elsewhere expresses it, her entrance into penal servitude for life, for she becomes in all but name the slave of her husband's family.

We will suppose the young man to have made his selection and broken the matter to his own family. The negotiations are favorably ended, the price of the woman fixed and paid. If it were a large one, the young warrior gains new importance in his tribe, and becomes, as we may well suppose, an aspirant for the social honors of the copper-colored "four hundred." But to quote the doctor's own account of the wedding festivities, and a ceremony whose principal rites seems to have been the barter and delivery of the "exchange gifts, and the rendition of the article traded for." He says:

"When the agreement was reached, word was immediately sent to the young man informing him of the success of the negotiations. He was soon on the way to the lodge of his bride's parents, some of his relatives driving the stipulated horses before him. Buffalo, elk, and deer skins and beadwork or articles of apparel were also taken in trade. Arrived at the lodge, a crier announced that such and such parties were to be married. The friends gathered in and the ceremonies began. The Indian wedding rites were considerably longer than those of a modern justice of the peace. Two robes were spread down side by side in the lodge, and the bride was carried to the spot on the back of female relatives, and seated on one of the robes; the young man was then escorted to the other and seated by his affianced. The young man's relatives then combed the bride's hair, and while coming some of the friends poured over her head out of a basket a lot of small bears or shells which were sportively called 'lice' " (A rather needless addition, the author would remark, having frequently witnessed an Indian family shampooing, where catching and eating are almost simultaneous.) "The hair was

Page 321

combed and braided and the beads gathered up, and then began an 'exchanging' of gifts over the heads of the bride and groom. The bride's relatives placed on her head dresses of buckskin, beadwork, and other trinkets, and the groom's family took them and placed them and placed on her head other articles instead, which her friends took away. The same ceremony was performed over the young man's head. It was customary to exchange articles of female use or wear over the bride's head, and articles used by males over the head of the groom. During all this time great interest was taken and much merriment indulged in by the whole party. The girl's father and mother usually got a good deal the best of the bargain in the exchange. This was expected. If the groom was pretty liberal in his offer and paid a good many horses, the old man usually took a few from his own band and presented them to the couple. This 'exchanging' went on until it seemed as if the young man was marrying the whole clan, and that all the property, down to pots and kettles, was being married. Before the marriage ceremony ended, the lady's friends took her on one of her own horses to the groom's lodge, and all her things were taken along. At the groom's lodge further 'exchanges' were made, and the young man was fortunate f he as not stripped of nearly everything. It was considered beggarly ina man if he did not almost rob himself when getting married, and remarks were made indicating that he was little and mean. Then, too, his mother-in-law was likely to mar the harmony between the young couple, for the Indian mother-in-law is mother-in-law to the full extent, with the Indian part extra."

In all this exhibition of savage greed and cunning, is there not a subtle resemblance of the less open but quite as effective matrimonial barter of the white? Are there no Christian maidens as thoroughly bought and sold, perchance even in the State of Washington, though the medium of exchange be real estate and stocks, or possibly a competence and "a home," and is not that oft-quoted mother-in-law quite as autocratic in the house of the paleface as in the lodge of the Siwash? In the Indian's case the only hope of relief lies in a mother-in-law on sides, thereby leaving the young folks in peace while the old women fight out between themselves. The Scotch, with all their fondness for counting cousinship, cannot in this respect compare with the

Page 322

Indian, for the newly made Benedict marries not only his wife, but all her kith and kin--in fact, her whole tribe, gaining in so doing on the decease of his wife the right to a new selection from the same clan, possibly, as the English Army lists say, "without purchase;" or even a sister wife if selected from the same family, with those excellencies by this time he has probably become thoroughly acquainted. Should the lady "levant," she is obliged to leave all her belongings behind her, their tribal laws being so arranged that the property, as in the wills of our own great millionaires, is kept in the family. the woman may depart; but if so, she goes empty-handed.

It is not unusual for the Indians to give their children the name of some animal, as, for instance, the beaver or the bear. A young warrior, however, may of his own volition change the name so bestowed once and again, or have a name forced upon him by some incident of the chase or special exploit in war, as "Rain in-the-face," or "Main-afraid-of-his-horses," "Sitting Bill," etc. A child after the death of his parent might take his father's name, but among the Chinooks this was not permitted till the body of the deceased was supposed to have mouldered away. No Indian will willingly speak the name of a person recently dead; he is only referred to as "the man who died," for fear that the spirit might be offended. Among other queer fancies, it is believed that their babies and the dogs about the lodge converse together, only losing the dog language as they acquire their own; hence it is not well to rashly attack a canine belonging to an Indian, with whom it is "love me, love my dog;" and woe to him who forgets it. some of their medicine-men of lesser note pose as dog and baby-talk interpreters, for a baby is not supposed to die or even fall ill unless of his own accord, and on such occasions always makes the dog its confidant.

There is nothing stranger than their views relating to murder. Homicide, like matrimony, among the Indians is a matter of trade and barter. The value of the victim is appraised by his friends, generally at a liberal rate, and the price fixed must be paid by the murderer. This, however, does not end the matter for the slayer. He has a form, or rather a complication of expiatory forms, to go through with, and indeed is sent to a sort of temporary Coventry by his fellows till thus purified. This

Page 323

social ostracism goes so far that he is not permitted to enter a lodge or sit down with others. If food is being cooked, he must remain outside and sit with his back to the fire. Should he approach those who are eating, they will hide their food from the sight of the guilty man, lest he should blight and poison it by his glance. He must paint his face black, and wear only his worst clothes. Then with the "totem" of his guardian spirit--for every Indian has one--properly displayed, he must, days Dr. Kuykendall, "take his bow and arrows and the weapon with which he did the murder, and go away into some lonely place and there remain, sleepless through the night, while he waves the weapon in the air or thrusts it into the ground. He must then shoot off an arrow into the darkness, find it, return and fire it off again in some other direction. Five times must the instrument of death be thrust into the earth, as often waved in the air. He smut yell loudly, putting his hand rapidly to and from his mouth, making a sound something like the war-whoop. This he must keep doing for five" (again the mystical number) "consecutive nights, taking neither sleep nor food. During the night he must also climb a fir or pine and trip down its branches, leaving a tuft or crest at the top for a sign of murder. If afterward the tree should wither and it was regarded as an evil omen, for so in like manner would the murderer perish. During these nights of expiation it was the criminal's duty to drink water and then produce vomiting by thrusting a twig down his throat. This must be done again and again, as a kind of washing away of the blood of his victim. The five days of vigil completed, he was permitted to take food, but only to eat sparingly with closed eyes. During the continuance of his penance he was to visit the sweat-house and bather and perspire during the hours of daylight. He was fed by an old woman, to whom the Klickitats gave an unpronounceable name. This hag muttered some charm over his food to prevent its otherwise evil influence. He could not even touch his own hair, which was tied at the back of his neck, nor comb it under any consideration, not was he permitted to scratch himself, however great the itch to do so, unless with a stick." (The last two clauses, knowing as we do what the average Indian suffers from errant visitors, should have brought homicide into disrepute among them even without the penitential programme the doctor enumerates.) "During the

Page 324

five nights, though obliged to drink, he was not permitted to empty the vessel; part of the liquid must be thrown upon the ground, and the cup finally fastened to the top of the trimmed tree."

The Indian thus explain the meaning of these ceremonies. The trusting of the weapon into the earth was the wiping away of the blood of the victim; the arrows shot off into the darkness carried with them the sin and responsibility of his crime into the unknown; the water spilt upon the earth was lost in the streams that flow on forever, so the murderer would still live on and yet be purified. The criminal was obliged for some time to sleep on his face, lest the blood of the murdered man should run down his throat, and choke him. Having attended to these little matters, and, above all, paid the stipulated price--horse, beaver skins, or whatever else might have been agreed upon--the murderer was received back into the pale of good Indian society; and being thus rehabilitated in virtue, the friends of the deceased were expected to receive him as a brother in good and regular standing, and make no indiscreet allusions to former transgressions.

The professional antics and tricks of their "medicine-men" would fill chapters. He gets his original diploma and healing power mysteriously enough in the classic shades of some pine forest at night, graduating with an M. D. through animal instructors--Professors Coyote, Owl, and Bear, whose language, through sudden spirit inspiration, he is enabled to understand, he is enabled to understand, becoming his instructors. The president of this institute is thus cheerfully described by Dr. Kuykendall.

"He meets in some dark, lonely place a fiery, shining animal or a walking human skeleton of huge proportions, illuminated by a mysterious light. The eye-sockets shine and flash ina singular manner and emit fiery gleams. Within the chest, between the ribs, is seen a great heart beating and swinging from side to side."

Of course so melodramatic a meeting suggests a background of thunder and lightning, with the fainting away of the neophyte, who while in this condition is duly indoctrinated in all the mysteries of healing. He is now fully fledged and comes forth from his swoon a "big medicine-man," living henceforth under a spell from which through life he is unable to divest himself

Page 327

In Many of the tribes, before announcing himself as a candidate for business this embryo practitioner retires to the mountains, where he fasts, communing with nature, till he suddenly emerges lank, wild, and diabolical, both in temper and appearance. "Raving and yelling like a maniac, he rushes among his friends. Seizing their arms in his teeth, he bites our and devours great morsels of flesh." So far from objecting to these little familiarities, the Indians regard this as a proof of skill, straightway retain him as their family physician, and in many tribes are proud to exhibit the scars of injuries thus inflicted by these self-appointed and highly endowed medicine-men.

The influence of these healing frauds is far-reaching. They not only pretend to cure, but threaten to kill. The average Indian will think twice ere he make an enemy of "the doctor." They take fees for letting people alone, and not infrequently use their power most maliciously, by breaking up marriages and interfering generally in domestic and business affairs. Fortunately for us, they admit that their malign sorcery is limited to their own race, through the "half-breed"--that is to say, if he have an Indian heart, or, in other words, is fool enough to believe in him--they can influence; but the white or "Boston Man," never.

It is curious to know in these days of microbes and bacilli that the "medicine-men" of Washington long ago advanced these theories in the form of "bug in the stomach" and "worms in the limbs," that remedy in such cases being, if possible, to pull them out--just what modern science is trying to do with trichinae. The medicine-man had also power over the warm Chinook wind, could influence the salmon run, and aid or retard the huckleberry crop. In some respects this savage medico resembles his more enlightened rival of the paleface. If his patient dies the medicine-man blames the previous treatment of the "other doctor," with whose diagnosis he is sure to disagree. They make bad confreres for a consultation; but their ways wily as they are, do not always lie in paths of pleasantness and peace. A mistake in treatment or dissatisfaction on the part of the surviving relatives may prove fatal to themselves, and, generally speaking, their personal popularity is such that (strictly in their absence) they are usually referred to as that rattlesnake or wolf.

Page 328

Their treatment of disease was simply horrible. Rheumatism called for cautery with hot irons, nervous fever and prostration, with yells that might wake the dead; headache, with cutting the scalp. Blood-sucking, practiced literally, and always on an extra charge, was therefore very much in vogue with the doctor. In cases of difficulty of breathing, the medicine-man would fill his own mouth with worms, maggots, and beetles, or, if the case was a grave one, a small frog, which he would then pretend to extract from the lungs of his patient, to the great relief of--his friends. Insanity and delirium, always attributed to demoniac possession, called for a five days' diet of black water beetles. A parody on modern spiritualism in its lowest forms entered largely into their jugglery.

With the Indians the dead seemed to have been an object of horror to the living. They feared the evil influence of their departed spirits, and believed that those newly gone hence have a desire to return and to haunt familiar paths and touch the bodies of their beloved ones. They are, therefore, driven away as soon as the breath has departed from the body and the wail always set up on such occasions has died, by sweeping clean the lodge, or, as among the Chinooks, by carrying flaming torches through it. Some cast ashes into the air, thinking that the spirits dread the dust. Ashes are also scattered along the route by which the dead are carried to their graves. Here we find a resemblance to the Chinese custom of strewing paper to occupy the demons and direct their attention from the corpse.

Their mourning for the dead, as in Oriental lands, is for the most part really hired, certain old hags volunteering, but expecting to be paid for their services. This is done as the sun rises. Strewing ashes on the head, as in olden days, is among the Umpquas a sign of mourning. A widow does not wash or comb her hair, and woe be to the reputation of the bereaved wife is she howls not lustily, for should she neglect it, she is regarded with contempt as already anxious to remarry. "East of the mountains the tribes--possibly from dread of the spirits--never mourned at night." To sum up this matter of Indian grieving for the dead, the dirtier and shabbier the mourner, the more sincere and consequently agreeable to the ghost of the departed was supposed to be his sorrow.

As regards the disposition of their dead, their modes of sepul-

Page 329

ture differ. Kuykendall tells us, and his narratives is so full and interesting that it is difficult to resist the temptation to quote him even more fully than our space would admit, "that those east of the Cascades burned their dead, while the Indians of Puget sound committed their corpses to canoes, putting the body in a larger and turned the smaller canoe over it. These canoes were propped up two or three feet from the ground." How much more poetical it would have been if they had given them, thus embarked, to the tides on which they had so often floated, to drift to and fro, like the restless souls that had once inhabited them, upon the equally restless ocean! "On the Columbia River the dead were left in houses built of bark or cedar boards. The corpses was lashed to a post in an inclined position till the fluids were entirely drained away, and then placed horizontally. The dead-houses were covered and kept carefully closed. Islands on the Columbia were favored burial-places, as being more secure from the ravages of wild beats. Some of the Chinooks put their dead infants into quiet, still pools of water. Whatever mode of sepulture might be chosen, much of the personal property of the deceased was placed about the corpse. His pipe, weapons, and domestic utensils, his clothing, ornaments, and money went with him to the grave, that he should not go naked or unarmed to the spirit land. Yet all were broken, so as to render them--doubtless to prevent theft--useless to the living; the robes and blankets in which the body itself was enclosed were left perfect, the presence of the corpse being considered sufficient protection. The burial ceremonies of the Columbia River Indians were more punctilious than those of Northern Washington. In the old days slaves were killed that their master might be waited on in the "happy hunting-grounds." They were strangled, or--horrible to relate!--lashed face to face with the corpse, and thus left to die. His horses and dogs were also put to death, that their owner might ride gallantly into the council chamber of the Great Spirit.

East of the mountains it was the custom to rehabiliment the dead; in other words, they took up their bones, cleaned and redressed them in fresh robes and blankets, and then returned them to their place of rest. Sometimes this was done several times. The river tribes had regular ossuaries, where they stores the remains of the departed. So history repeats itself--the Cata

Page 330

combs of Rome and the ossuaries of the land of which Bryant sings in his "Thanatopsis":

"Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound
Save his own dashings; yet the dead are there,
And millions in those solitudes,
Since first the flight of years began,
Have laid them down in their last sleep."

"At the Cascades there was formerly one extensive ossuary, mentioned b y Lewis and Clarke ninety years ago, when in much better condition that it was sixty years later. It was mostly destroyed by the building of the postage railroad over the Cascades."

The Indians of Klamath Lake at one time burned their dead chiefs and their living slaves with them.

There is much of romantic suggestion in the fact that the Indians of the Northwest believed that there was some mystic influence connected with the wild rosebush, whose perfume, so exquisite the living, they imagined most offensive to the dead; hence their use of it to drive away the ghosts of the departed. They placed the rosebushes about the beds of their sick and dying, that the spirits might tangle and wound them-selves with their thorns, and so be driven from those whom they were striving to win and beckon away to join them in the silent land. the Indian dreads and avoids the grave even of his dearest friend, ghosts and spits being about them, especially at that midnight hour when we are told.

'That churchyards yawn,
And graves give up their dead."

Brave, indeed, would be the squaw who could be induced during the hours of darkness to visit or even pass by the resting-places of those silent sleepers. Should she be obliged to do so while carrying her babe, she does it with infinite dread, and surrounds the papoose-board in which her infant rests with the wild rosebushes already mentioned, to bright away the spirits, whom they believe have a particular love and affinity for these little ones, and are always on the watch, striving to snatch away their souls and bear them to the unseen land.

"Neither salmon nor berries may be eaten after touching a

Page 333

corpse without five days of previous purification;" consequently the dead are only handled by persons supposed to be specially ghost-proof, a guild of spiritual undertakers. Should the eyes of the corpse remain open, the spirit is looking back upon some member of its family doomed erelong to follow it. The lodge in which the soul departed is speedily torn down, lest the spirit should linger there, thus realizing the thought of Longfellow's exquisite poem, which tell us that

"All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses."

If a camp-fire be built over the grave of the dead or where blood had been spilt by murder, it is believed that the apparition of the deceased will appear in the flame and vast its shadow beside the fire upon the earth.

"At a funeral, if anything is dropped, though it be but a hair, they imagine that the individual who drops it will soon sicken and die. They never look back on leaving a graveyard or point to a grave; it is an insult to the dead which their ghosts will surely resent. Should an Indian accidentally sleep where some one had been buried or died, the ghosts will draw his mouth or eye to one side. The effects of facial paralysis are thus accounted for. They have a generic name for such maladies, called, as translated from the Klickitat tongue, "the ghost disease."

The historian to whose research and erudition we are so deeply indebted, Dr. Kuykendall, very wisely suggests that our own superstitions and weaknesses can hardly afford to point the finger of derision at those of these densely ignorant aborigines.

Antiquity called the radiant orbs which roll in the fields of illimitable space after their gods and goddesses and even the lower animals, and the astrologer of to-day talks of their occult influences over human lives and fortunes. Indeed, unless history belie him, the great napoleon himself was a firm believer in signs that bore upon his fate for good or evil. The "sun of Austerlitz" was not more potent in his imagination than the malign or fortunate agencies of the new moon, as it may be seen over the right or left shoulder of the beholder, is to many a man counted wise by the generation of to-day.

So much for the Indian of the past; we will devote our next

Page 334

chapter to the Washington Indian of to-day, premising that, as it narrates occurrences fresh from the pen of the most intelligent observer, it will be found both entertaining and instructive, most original withal, for a "give-away party" of all one has on earth, while still in the land of the living, is to the white man at least a thing hitherto unknown.




You are the 3209th Visitor to this USGenNet Website Since September 6, 2004

Html by Debbie Axtman

[Index][WA AHGP][Mardos Memorial Library]