THREE MONTHS AMONG THE INDIANS (Part 2 of 2)
Written by Ole T. Nystel, of Meridian, Texas
Part 2 of 2
Attempt To Escape.
On the following afternoon I was set to digging roots for food. One Indian stood near me who ate the roots as fast as I could dig them. I had no tool to dig with, but had to scratch them up with my fingers, (it was a root that grew in the edge of ponds and pools of water, from whence they were obtained). It being a very cold day, my fingers became so cold and numb that I could scarcely use them. I finally grew desperate and jumped up from my work, feeling that I could dig no longer, even if I was killed. At this the Indian knocked me into the water. I then arose and gave him such a bolt that he fell to the ground, I started to run. I did not think it possible to do so before this as my leg was stiff and sore from the wound, but it was about the best time I ever made before or since. The Indian jumped to his feet and started after me, but soon found that I was too fast for him, so he got a pony and I was soon overtaken and carried back. This again seemed to awe them. to think I could outrun them, and probably brought to their mind my former feat of ascending to heaven.
The following day which was the ninth from the time I was captured they gave me a little broiled beef, It being the first food I had eaten since leaving home. Doubtless it was well that they did not give me all I wanted, for it would probably have made me sick after going without anything for so long. It was several days before I got as much as I wanted, and after that had to eat raw meat all the time.
From here our course was still northwest. I still suffered greatly from my mound and from a lack of sufficient clothing. Our line of travel was now over the Staked Plains. We soon came to a steep and rugged mountain, and as it was about noon we stopped to rest and get our dinner. I sat down near a heap of leaves and dry brush and was moving the leaves about with my hands when there was disclosed to my view a great ball of shining yellow metal, about as large as a man's two fists. It was about as much as I could lift. I am confident now that it was gold, almost if not wholly in a pure state, for I bit it, and it was soft enough for me to make dents in it with my teeth, which is said to be true of gold before its mixture with any other metaL The Indians saw me lift it up, and came and made me put It down again. From their signs and gestures I think some of them were in favor of taking it off and burying, though they finally concluded to leave it where found.
I have at times since thought of trying to find the place, but again concluded that it would be useless as it would likely prove a vain search, although I have found a rock bearing my initials a few years ago in traversing some of the country we traveled over which I had marked with my knife while with the Indians nearly twenty years before. But have never been out as far as the supposed gold was found, and even if I could find the place, the precious metal, if it was gold, has no doubt long since teen appropriated by someone else and so I dismissed it from my mind.
Reaching an Indian Village.
We had been traveling about three weeks as near as I can remember now, when we came upon the Indian wigwams. We had been there but a few days when several girls were brought me from whom I was to choose a wife according to their custom, but this I refused to do at which they did not seem to be offended. But one of the girls pressed her case and annoyed me greatly by her attentions to me. She was rather homely and not very young and I supposed from her chances growing rather slim, which called for bold measures and in this respect reminds me of some of her white sisters. She annoyed me so much and so constantly that I had to resort to force by giving her a sound thrashing before I could get rid of her botheration. She never troubled me anymore. This was not very gallant, perhaps, but it was the only thing left me to do, and it proved efficacious.
The duties assigned me in my new home were herding horses, carrying water, getting wood and running horse races and occasionally joining in a buffalo hunt. I had not been with them long until they had a shooting match with bows and arrows, a favorite amusement with them. My part of this sport was to stand near the target to act as judge and collect the arrows. They stripped off my overcoat, the only clothing I had on. This left my skin exposed to the sun (and by this time the weather had become very warm) and I felt as if I would certainly burn up, not being accustomed to such exposure. I endured it till my sufferings became intolerable. My skin began to blister, but I knew it was no use to complain, so thought I would run out of it. I had not gone far until I was overtaken by one of them, who on coming within reach, kicked me in the back as I was running down a slope or hill, which sent me sprawling on my face. I was then led back to my post of duty where I had to remain till they finished their sport.
The skin subsequently cracked and peeled off my body from this exposure, which occasioned the greatest suffering I think I ever endured, not excepting the wound, the lashes nor exposure to the cold. You can imagine somewhat how constant burning as if the very fire were all in your body, with the additional torture of the burning of the sun pouring its power down on your unprotected raw flesh would feel, though you can never have any just conception of it until you experienced it yourself. And on lying down to rest or sleep, that very effort to secure rest only increased the agony. But to stand up always was impossible. And one bad feature of it was, I must lie on one side all the while and give the other a chance to get well, for if I turned over that side would be made as bad and pain me as severely as the other. I had to go it "one side at a time."
Occasionally the Indians would move their camping place. I remember one of these occasions quite well. They had a bear's cub which they had caught on one of their hunting expeditions, and on this migration, as usual they had it in a sack, tied fast on a horse with ropes. Upon this horse an old woman was placed in front of the bear to ride. As we were traveling along a storm was seen approaching. Great black, ominous clouds were gathering over us, the lightning played hide and seek among them accompanied by deafening peals of thunder, while in the distance was heard the march of the storm king. They wished to reach a certain spot to erect the tents before the storm broke upon us, so we began to travel at a fast speed. The bear became frightened at such a hub-bub and the shaking up it was getting, and began to sink its claws into the horses back, at which the horse began to sqeal and increase his speed, and by jumping rearing and kicking tried to unseat his ferocious rider, but to no avail. When I took in the situation, feeling sorry for the old woman, I immediately started in pursuit and being mounted on a fleeter animal I soon overtook them, and on coming within reach drew my bowie knife with which my captors had previously supplied me, made a thrust at the rope holding the bear severing it which let his bearskin drop to the ground, not much the worse for the fall.
We had only time to get our tents ready when the storm burst upon us with all its fury. It was a hall storm and appeared to come down in bucketfulls at a time. I think it was the most severe one I ever witnessed. The old tents were completely riddled and afforded but slight protection, the new ones standing the storm very well. The Indians appeared to be frightened out of their wits, although brave and daring enough when threatened with danger from man or beast, yet let them be brought to face danger that they do not understand and they manifest that which is common to most people, fear. On the contrary I did not feel the least uneasiness or fright, for I had ever felt, since my wonderful experience of the eighth day that I had God's protection.
My life from this onward was as one of them. I Joined in the chase and participated in all their amusements, such as feasts, dances etc. I was soon initiated into the mysteries of the war dance. This consisted in forming a circle with hands joined, of young bucks and maidens and moving around in pretty quick time with a jumping, jerky motion, the farthest removed from the graceful, accompanied by the beat of a kind of drum. Such vigorous exercise was too much for my wounded leg, so I thought I would perform part in a more civilized step, but it did not do justice to the occasion, I suppose as they did not adopt it.
My Feast With the Chief.
It was the custom of the chief when he got hold of a supply of coffee and sugar to have a grand feast. I have a very vivid recollection of the one held during my captivity. He did me the honor to invite me to the one in question. I being the only guest at his table. A large kettle full of strong coffee some seven or eight gallons I suppose with plenty of sugar constituted the bill of fare. This was enough for two you no doubt think, especially if one was no great drinker of that beverage. It was a peculiarity of the chief that he never allowed anyone to leave his board until he got enough and the worst of it was, he was to be Judge of that. He insisted that the sugar and coffee should oe in certain proportions, viz: two cups of coffee to one of sugar thoroughly mixed. I soon got enough of this mixture and was anxious to be excused, but he would not hear of it. I suppose it would have been a breach of Indian etiquette. My stomach not being accustomed to such treatment, rebelled by vomiting freely. This In no way disconcerted my companion. I thought he might have let me off then, but he didn't, his rules being very rigid. So from early morn till late in the evening we held one position with no change, except when I was vomiting. which was quite often. Thus ended the feast of coffee and sugar, an honor paid, one which I shall never forget.
An Attempt to Escape and Final Release.
The idea of escaping whenever a favorable opportunity presented itself, never left my mind. This long looked-for time, as I thought, came at last. It was one evening just after night fall, and a very favorable night too - dark and threatening rain. I proceeded cautiously procuring one of their fleetest horses and started, directing my course eastward. I had traveled but a short distance when it commenced to raining and continued to do so all night. I put my horse to about all he could stand and hold out any length of time, in a gallop a good part of the time; but I was doomed to another disappointment, and not to gain my freedom this time, for a little after daybreak, I found that my pursuers were close at my heels, having somehow discovered my flight shortly after I left. When I found that they would certainly overtake me, my horse having given completely out, I dismounted and lay down in the grass. I was laughing when they came up. I tried to treat it as a huge joke so as to disarm them of anger. They asked me if I was trying to run away, and the only reply I made was a laugh, having learned that that was the best way to get out of trouble. But if I manifested sadness by crying or showing other signs of grief it only made it worse for me.
On catching me this time they seemed to make up their minds that it would be best to get rid of me as I was giving them considerable trouble and appeared determined to get away. They could get a ransom for me by taking me to a trading Post or Indian agent and that would be better than to let me go free. We were now at the Big Bend of Arkansas River, Kansas, which we crossed and found a trading Post kept by one Mr. Eli Bewell, and his family, together with two other men for protection. They occupied a little adobe house surrounded by a stockade in which they penned their horses at night. Here they kept such supplies of clothing and provisions as the Indians needed which they exchanged for peltries, furs and sometimes for prisoners the Indians had captured. As well as I can remember this was near Smoky Hills, Kansas. Mr. Bewell proposed to redeem me and after some parlaying, it was agreed that $250.00 should be the price, to be paid in brown paper, blankets, tobacco, flour and sugar and perhaps some money, but as to the latter I am not certain. I was perfectly naked at the time and very much embarrassed. My new-found friend kindly furnished me with a temporary suit of clothes till they could procure one of a better fit.
About a week after Mr. Bewell bought me we moved to Council Grove, Kan., on the Neosho River. Mr. B. and wife took a great liking to me and wanted me to stay with them. They treated me as kindly as anyone possibly could but I was anxious to return home to my people, I did everything I could while with them to please them, always quick to anticipate their wants, and never slow about attending to all the chores that I could see needed doing, which seemed to make them love me, and let me say to my young readers who may chance to read these lines, that if you would always be respected and treated well, make yourself useful to those with whom you may be associated. Be strictly honest and do your whole duty towards God and man and you will never regret it. Faithfulness is always rewarded, both in this world and the one to come. If all boys and girls too, would act on this principle, I believe none would ever lack for friends or a home.
Mr. B. became so attached to me and was so anxious to keep me that for two months he moved from place to place to evade the search of the Indian Agent, knowing that if he found me he would send me home if I wished to go. He thought that by keeping me awhile I would become reconciled to remain with him. And if there had been a man with whom I could consent to stay, it was Mr. Bewell. But I was bent on going home. And let me say to the credit of Mr. B, that I do not think they wanted to keep me just for selfish purposes, to be a burden bearer for him. In fact their actions showed that they did not. They felt an interest in me and wanted to make something out of me. He promised me if I would stay with him he would adopt me as his son, educate me and give me half he had (and he was wealthy), and if I would not do that, he wanted to educate me and make me his head clerk and bookkeeper if I would stay till I was grown. He carried on a large business, running three stores all the time, and this position would have been a lucrative one.
During this two months of hiding and dodging, I was sometimes left at other houses. I remember quite well, while at a hotel in Emporia, Kan., the proprietor gave me a room for occupancy which was considered "haunted" and scared everyone out who tried to occupy it. They did not tell me about it, but as soon as I had retired, the lapping on the wall commenced. It was in an upper story room, and I know no one from the ground could reach it. So I raised up, opened my window and looked to see the cause of the disturbance, whereupon I saw the limb of a tree striking the house as the wind would blow it. Having discovered the cause of the noise, I lay down again and went to sleep. Next morning the landlady asked me if I heard any noise during the night and I soon found that they all considered It a 'seamy' room and I supposed thought I would not sleep in it that night, but would run from the noise as others had done, but surprised to find that I did not. I then informed her that if they would give me a saw I would cure that "haunt" which seemed to greatly surprise her, but when I explained the matter to her, it was seen that there was nothing of It. And that is about the way all the "ghost tales" turn out if we would look into them.
It seems to have been by mere accident. looking at it from a human standpoint, that I got to come home as I did. The Indian Agent, Col. Leavenworth, had heard of me it seems, but Mr. Bewell being so anxious to keep me had informed him that I did not want to go home. But being pointed out to him one day, he motioned me to come to him to have a friendly chat with me, and during the course of conversation learned that I was anxious to return home and promised that I should start the next day, which I did. But before starting he gave me three dollars in money, a valuable blanket, buffalo robe, and bought a fine Indian bow and arrows which cost $15.00 and made me a present of it. On leaving, Mrs Bewell was so grieved that she ran off and hid to keep from bidding me farewell.
Col. Leavenworth had a talk with Mr. Bewell and the result was, we all went with him to the mouth of Little Arkansas River where he reimbursed to Mr. Bewell the amount he had paid as my ransom. Here I saw the same Indians that captured me. I went with them to their tents and partook of their hospitality. They wanted me to return with them but I refused, telling them I was going to Texas. At this they manifested great indignation and astonishment that I would go to such a state. They were willing for me to go to Kansas if I did not want to go with them, but would not hear of my coming back to Texas, suggesting to me that the Texans were "bad" would "kill" etc. But I could understand the whole thing. The facts were just these: Here were these Indians receiving at the hands of the government in Kansas and other points their supplies—tame Indians you know—and still the same miserable creatures going off along the frontier of Texas, committing their acts of atrocity, killing, plundering, stealing, etc., in the role of wild Indians, and they knew the difference between the people of Kansas and Texas too. They knew those of Kansas looked upon them rather in the light of civilized Indians and even if they commit crimes, were disposed to look at it, them, something as they would those of a citizen of the State. Or at any rate they would not fight them as would the Texans, for they (the Texans) would follow and fight them to the bitterest end, and they were afraid of them. And they were afraid too, that my return to Texas and the relation of my experience would make the Texans still worse on them. So they said if I did not stay in Kansas and remain away from Texas they would kill me, when one of them caught me by the wrist. In the scuffle which ensued, his blanket fell off revealing a bowie knife, which he attempted to use. I had a pistol which Involuntary drew as quick as thought and fired at his head. It took effect causing him to release me at once. I then ran back to our camp, he running in an opposite direction. I never learned the result of that shot.
At this point I bid a sad adieu to my kind friends who had released me from bondage. Just before separating from them I noticed Mr. Bewell going off down a branch, and having discovered in conversation with Col. Leavenworth that he was sad, depressed and apparently much affected. I was confident that he too, like his wife, was trying to hide to keep from bidding me goodbye. I hastily ran the opposite direction and headed him. I asked him why he did me that way just as I was leaving, that I wanted to bid him farewell and thank him for his kind treatment. He sank to the ground choked up so that he could scarcely speak and said he couldn't bear to bid me adieu. I shall never forget this family.
From this point—the mouth of the Little Arkansas River—I went to Ft. Washita In the Indian Territory with a government train in charge of supplies for the Indians, thence to Sherman, Texas with an ox wagon, walking all the way myself; thence to Milford. Texas walking most of this distance also. Here I was taken very sick, so that I became unconscious. On regaining consciousness I found myself in a hotel, having been taken up by someone, but I know not who. I had then been there three days, so I was informed by the landlady who was very kind to me during my sickness. A physician was attending on me and everything being done just as if I had been at home. I had been there about a week and was recovering from my sickness when some of my old acquaintances, Messrs. K. Hanson, Y. and K. Orimland, called by to inquire the way to Hillsboro, Hill county. On seeing them I jumped up and ran out, unmindful of my weakness, for I never felt it, and said: "Yes, Mr. Grimland, I can tell you the way." They seemed to be thunderstruck. Fear and surprise seemed to lock their mouths. Finally Mr. Y. Orlmland spoke, asking me where I came from, etc. I then related to them my experiences and adventures with the Indians. Our excited conversation called quite a crowd of people around us. My expenses for board and medical attendance, which was only $18, a small amount, as I thought, was arranged for, my friends standing surety for the amount and once more I started with them for my home. Just before reaching home we met my father going after me, he having received word from the people at Milford that I was there. He was in a great hurry and did not notice me being with our friends and was passing by when I jumped out and stopped him. Imagine our joy at meeting after a separation of six months: a six months filled up with inexpressible anxieties, both on the part of father and myself. I reached home on Saturday, the same day in the week on which I was captured, and the same day of my liberation from the Indians. Captured on Saturday bought back on Saturday and reached home on Saturday; a rather strange coincidence.
My father soon sent the amount of my indebtedness to Milford and settled my bill.
Some Peculiarities of the Indians.
The writer does not claim that this little work is a book of authority upon the habits habits and customs of the Indians, but merely designed to mention some things which cane under his observation while associated with them. Nor could this be expected of one whose sojourn with them was so brief—about three months—and should any conclusions drawn from their actions be found to be incorrect, by those who may have had a better chance of ascertaining the exact truth it will be accounted for on the ground that many times my only source of information was just what I could gather from their actions, signs, gestures. etc. As I stated before, this work does not claim to be a book of authority on these subjects. There are works which leave nothing to be desired in that direction. and to these many have access. But some actual occurrences I can mention of an interesting nature from which the reader may draw his own conclusions.
1. The Indians give unmistakable evidence of their belief In a Supreme Being, a Deity of some kind to whom they pray. I will relate an instance. On one occasion while with them a party of the men went off on some expedition and only one returned the remainder I suppose getting killed, whereupon some women, I suppose the wives of the killed, commenced praying. They sat with their hand s upstretched and eyes fixed heavenward uttering in a pitiful tone a lot of to me, meaningless Jabber, and cutting themselves with the glass which caused the blood to fly furiously. As if to see who could punish themselves the most, they would repeat this process over and over, plowing deep furrows in their legs and arms. And strange to say, they would do it with the utmost composure, never flinching from it. It is remarkable what nerve they showed. Try to imagine how you could stand frequent repetitions of this cutting with glass and you have some idea of the ordeal to be borne.
They were, doubtless, doing penance to atone for their own wrongs which they, perhaps, thought had occasioned the loss of their husbands, or else praying for the dead--a practice of some of the more enlightened and civilized brothers which, to my mind, make it appear wholly inexcusable in them, though we might expect such things of the Indians.
But however wrong in their mode of worship, and however unavailing and misdirected their prayers, it showed their strong faith irr the "Great Spirit," and ought to be a lesson to an enlightened people who have a more intelligent conception of God, and especially we who claim to worship him. That a people so degraded morally would subject themselves to such torture to appease the wrath of their God certainly shows great faith in the existence.of a Supreme Being, which is but the language of every other race of people, civilized or uncivilized, which even nature itself seems to impress upon the mind, and leaves no room for that belief, or rather non-belief called atheism.
2. There exists among them some form of government, though I could get but little idea of this. Still the following occurence shows that they have some law by which they punish the offender. One day an Indian came into camp who had not seen me before, and wished to jump right on me and injure me and probably kill me for all I know. The others kept him off, but he persisted in trying to get to me. Finally, after some jabbering among them, they took him and tied his feet and hands together hard and fast, hog fashion, and laid him out naked in the hot sand where they let him remain all day. At night they loosed him and made us sleep together. He never tried to harm me any more.
Another instance Is very remarkable, and was to me very dangerous. We were returning from a turkey hunt and came upon some Kiowa Indians just as they were getting ready to leave their camping place for another. They had a mare all packed ready for travel that was claimed by the Comanches. On seeing that the Kiowas were appropriating her to their use, one of the Comanches ran up and cut the pack loose, which raised a difficulty between them. It was immediately arranged to settle the matter by choosing twenty men on each side to fight it out. They formed lines about fifty yards apart, the bow and arrow being the weapons used, and placed me on a little pony which I must ride up and down the line between them while they were to shoot. I had to go full speed. The arrows were flying thick and fast, aiming by my ears on every side, and although I ran through the line five or six times, not an arrow touched me or my horse. It is to my mind a plain case of providential protection. Kind reader, do you ever stop to consider how much God does for you in protecting you from dangers, perhaps unseen by you? Whether it is customary to have someone ride through the line of battle this way or whether they just wished to gratify their desire for my blood, I do not know.
The result of the battle was the death of two Comanches and one Kiowa, but the former got the mare while they gave the latter the pony which I had ridden. They buried the dead and wound up the matter by having a grand war dance.
Their custom of choosing a wife, which they wished me to do, as mentioned in this chapter, is a peculiar one. The man who makes a choice of a bride, before he can count her as his wife, must Iie all night on his back without moving even a finger or toe, while his chosen girl, together with other Indians, dance around the fire. The groom is watched by two men all the time, the spies changing occasionally for a rest, to see that he does not move. If he does he loses his expected bride at this time but is granted the privilege of trying again at another time. Thus you see some of their practices are very peculiar indeed to us.
I desire to be understood here as speaking only of the Comanches. What I have said In the foregoing all the way through has reference to them. Other tribes of Indians may differ in many of their customs, I cannot tell.
Read Part 1 of this story here.
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