The dance to the Giant is now rarely celebrated among the Dahcotahs. So severe is the sacrifice to this deity, that there are few who have courage to attempt it; and yet Haokah is universally reverenced and feared among the Sioux.
They believe in the existence of many Giants, but Haokah is one of the principal. He is styled the anti-natural god. In summer he feels cold, in winter he suffers from the heat; hot water is cold to him, and the contrary.
The Dahcotah warrior, however brave he may be, believes that when he dreams of Haokah, calamity is impending and can only be avoided by some sort of sacrifice to this god.
The incident on which this story is founded, occurred while I resided among the Sioux. I allude to the desertion of Wenona by her lover. It serves to show the blind and ignorant devotion of the Dahcotah to his religion.
And as man is ever alike in every country, and under every circumstance of life as he often from selfish motives tramples upon the heart that trusts him so does woman utterly condemn a sister, feeling no sympathy for her sorrow, but only hatred of her fault.
Jealous for the honor of the long-reverenced feasts of the Dahcotahs the “Deer Killer” thought not for a moment of the sorrow and disgrace he would bring upon Wenona, while Wauska loved the warrior more than ever, triumphing in his preference of her, above her companion. And Wenona
A cloud came o’er the prospect of her life,
And evening did set in
Early, and dark and deadly.
But she loved too truly to be jealous, and departed without the revenge that most Indian women would have sought, and accomplished too. Her silence on the subject of her early trial induced her friends to believe that her mind was affected, a situation caused by long and intense suffering, and followed by neglect; in such cases the invalid is said to have no heart .
The girl from whom I have attempted to draw the character of Wauska, I knew well.
Good looking, with teeth like pearls, her laugh was perfect music. Often have I been roused from my sewing or reading, by hearing the ringing notes, as they were answered by the children. She generally announced herself by a laugh, and was welcomed by one in return.
She was pettish withal, and easily offended, and if refused calico for an okendokenda, or beads, or ribbon to ornament some part of her dress, she would sullenly rest her chin on her hand, until pacified with a present, or the promise of one.
It is in Indian life as in ours youth believes and trusts, and advancing years bring the consciousness of the trials of life; the necessity of enduring, and in some cases the power to overcome them. Who but she who suffers it, can conceive the Sioux woman’s greatest trial to feel that the love that is her right, is gone! to see another take the place by the household fire, that was hers; to be last where she was first.
It may require some apology that Wauska should have vowed destruction upon herself if the Deer Killer took another wife, and yet should have lived on and become that most unromantic of all characters a virago. She was reconciled in time to what was inevitable, and as there are many wives among the Sioux, there must be the proportion of scolding ones. So I plead guilty to the charge of wanting sentiment, choosing rather to be true to nature. And there is this consideration: if there be among the Dahcotahs some Catharines, there are many Petruchios.
A group of Indian girls were seated on the grass, Wauska in the centre, her merry musical laugh echoed back by all but Wenona. The leaves of the large forest tree under which they were sheltered seemed to vibrate to the joyous sounds, stirred as they were by a light breeze that blew from the St. Peter’s. Hark! they laugh again, and “old John” wakes up from his noon-day nap and turns a curious, reproving look to the noisy party, and Shah-co-pee, the orator of the Sioux, moves towards them, anxious to find out the cause of their mirth.
“Old John,” after a hearty stretch, joins them too, and now the fumes of the pipe ascend, and mix with the odor of the sweet-scented prairie grass that the young girls are braiding.
But neither Shah-co-pee the chief, nor old John the medicine man, could find out the secret; they coaxed and threatened in turns but all in vain, for their curiosity was not gratified. They might have noticed, however, that Wenona’s face was pale, and her eyes red with weeping. She was idle too, while the others plaited busily, and there was a subdued look of sadness about her countenance, contrasting strangely with the merry faces of the others.
“Why did you not tell Shah-co-pee what we were laughing at, Wenona?” said Wanska. “Your secret is known now. The Deer-killer told all at the Virgin’s feast. Why did you not make him promise not to come? If I had been you, I would have lain sick the day of the feast, I would have struck my foot, so that I could not walk, or, I would have died before I entered the ring.
“The Deer-killer promised to marry me,” replied Wenona. “He said that when he returned from his hunt I should be his wife. But I know well why he has disgraced me; you have tried to make him love you, and now he is waiting to take you to his lodge. He is not a great warrior, or he would have kept his word.”
“Wenona!” said Wanska, interrupting her, “you have not minded the advice of your grandmother. She told you never to trust the promises of the bravest warriors. You should not have believed his words, until he took you to his wigwam. But do not be afraid that I will marry the
Deer-killer. There was never but one woman among the Dahcotahs who did not marry, and I am going to be the second.”
“You had better hush, Wanska,” said the Bright Star. “You know she had her nose cut off because she refused to be a wife, and somebody may cut yours off too. It is better to be the mother of warriors than to have every one laughing at you.”
“Enah! then I will be married, rather than have my nose cut off, but I will not be the Deer-killer’s wife. So Wenona may stop crying.”
“He says he will never marry me,” said Wenona; “and it will do me no good for you to refuse to be his wife. But you are a liar, like him; for you know you love him. I am going far away, and the man who has broken his faith to the maiden who trusted him, will never be a good husband.”
“If I were Wenona, and you married the Deer-killer,” said the Bright Star to Wanska, “you should not live long after it. She is a coward or she would not let you laugh at her as you did. I believe she has no heart since the Virgin’s feast; sometimes she laughs so loud that we can hear her from our teepee, and then she bends her head and weeps. When her mother places food before her she says, ‘Will he bring the meat of the young deer for me to dress for him, and will my lodge be ever full of food, that I may offer it to the hungry and weary stranger who stops to rest himself?’ If I were in her place, Wanska,” added the Bright Star, “I would try and be a medicine woman, and I would throw a spell upon the Deer-killer, and upon you too, if you married him.”
“The Deer-killer is coming,” said another of the girls. “He has been watching us; and now that he sees Wenona has gone away, he is coming to talk to Wanska. He wears many eagle feathers: Wenona may well weep that she cannot be his wife, for there is not a warrior in the village who steps so proudly as he.”
But he advanced and passed them indifferently. By and by they separated, when he followed Wanska to her father’s teepee.
Her mother and father had gone to dispose of game in exchange for bread and flour, and the Deer-killer seated himself uninvited on the floor of the lodge.
“The teepee of the warrior is lonely when he returns from hunting,” said he to the maiden. “Wanska must come to the lodge of the Deer-killer. She shall ever have the tender flesh of the deer and buffalo to refresh her, and no other wife shall be there to make her unhappy.”
“Wanska is very happy now,” she replied. “Her father is a good hunter. He has gone to-day to carry ducks and pigeons to the Fort. The promises of the Deer-killer are like the branch that breaks in my hand. Wenona’s face is pale, and her eyes are red like blood from weeping. The Deer-killer promised to make her his wife, and now that he has broken his word to her, he tells Wanska that he will never take another wife, but she cannot trust him.”
“Wanska was well named the Merry Heart,” the warrior replied; “she laughs at Wenona and calls her a fool, and then she wishes me to marry
her. Who would listen to a woman’s words? And yet the voice of the Merry Heart is sweeter than a bird’s her laugh makes my spirit glad. When she sits in my lodge and sings to the children who will call me father, I shall be happy. Many women have loved the Deer-killer, but never has he cared to sit beside one, till he heard the voice of Wanska as she sang in the scalp-dance, and saw her bear the scalp of her enemy upon her shoulders.”
Wanska’s face was pale while she listened to him. She approached him, and laid her small hand upon his arm “I have heard your words, and my heart says they are good. I have loved you ever since we were children. When I was told that you were always by the side of Wenona, the laugh of my companions was hateful to me the light of the sun was darkness to my eyes. When Wenona returned to her village with her parents, I said in the presence of the Great Spirit that she should not live after you had made her your wife. But her looks told me that there was sadness in her heart, and then I knew you could not love her.
“You promise me you will never bring another wife to your wigwam. Deer-killer! the wife of the white man is happy, for her husband loves her alone. The children of the second wife do not mock the woman who is no longer beloved, nor strike her children before her eyes. When I am your wife I shall be happy while you love me; there will be no night in my teepee while I know your heart is faithful and true; but should you break your word to me, and bring to your lodge another wife, you shall see me no more, and the voice whose sound is music to your ears you will never hear again.”
Promises come as readily to the lips of an Indian lover as trustfulness does to the heart of the woman who listens to them; and the Deer-killer was believed.
Wanska had been often at the Fort, and she had seen the difference between the life of a white and that of an Indian woman. She had thought that the Great Spirit was unmindful of the cares of his children.
And who would have thought that care was known to Wanska, with her merry laugh, and her never-ceasing jokes, whether played upon her young
companions, or on the old medicine man who kept everybody but her in
awe of him.
She seemed to be everywhere too, at the same time. Her canoe dances lightly over the St. Peter’s, and her companions try in vain to keep up with her. Soon her clear voice is heard as she sings, keeping time with the strokes of the axe she uses so skillfully. A peal of laughter rouses the old woman, her mother, who goes to bring the truant home, but she is gone, and when she returns, in time to see the red sun fade away in the bright horizon, she tells her mother that she went out with two or three other girls, to assist the hunters in bringing in the deer they had killed. And her mother for once does not scold, for she remembers how she used to love to wander on the prairies, when her heart was as light and happy as her child’s.
When Wanska was told that the Deer-killer loved Wenona, no one heard her sighs, and for tears, she was too proud to shed any. Wenona’s fault had met with ridicule and contempt; there was neither sympathy nor excuse found for her. And now that the Deer-killer had slighted Wenona, and had promised to love her alone, there was nothing wanting to her happiness.
Bright tears of joy fell from her eyes when her lover said there was a spell over him when he loved Wenona, but now his spirit was free; that he would ever love her truly, and that when her parents returned he would bring rich presents and lay them at the door of the lodge.
Wanska was indeed “the Merry Heart,” for she loved the Deer-killer more than life itself, and life was to her a long perspective of brightness. She would lightly tread the journey of existence by his side, and when wearied with the joys of this world, they would together travel the road that leads to the Heaven of the Dahcotahs.
She sat dreaming of the future after the Deer-killer had left her, nor knew of her parents’ return until she heard her mother’s sharp voice as she asked her “if the corn would boil when the fire was out, and where was the bread that she was told to have ready on their return?”
Bread and corn! when Wanska had forgot all but that she was beloved. She arose quickly, and her light laugh drowned her mother’s scolding. Soon her good humor was infectious, for her mother told her that she had needles and thread in plenty, besides more flour and sugar, and that her father was going out early in the morning to kill more game for the Long Knives who loved it so well.
A few months ago, the Deer-killer had told Wenona that Wanska was noisy and tiresome, and that her soft dark eyes were far more beautiful than Wanska’s laughing ones. They were not at home then, for Wenona had accompanied her parents on a visit to some relations who lived far above the village of Shah-co-pee.
While there the Deer-killer came in with some warriors who had been on a war party; there Wenona was assured that her rival, the Merry Heart, was forgotten.
And well might the Deer-killer and Wenona have loved each other. “Youth turns to youth as the flower to the sun,” and he was brave and noble in his pride and power; and she, gentle and loving, though an Indian woman; so quiet too, and all unlike Wanska, who was the noisiest little gossip in the village.
Often had they wandered together through the “solemn temples of the earth,” nor did she ever fear, with the warrior child for a protector. She had followed him when he ascended the cliffs where the tracks of the eagle were seen; and with him she felt safe when the wind was tossing their canoe on the Mississippi, when the storm spirits had arisen in their power. They were still children when Wenona would know his step among many others, but they were no longer children when Wenona left Shah-co-pee’s village, for she loved with a woman’s devotion and more than loved. She had trembled when she saw the Deer-killer watch Wanska as she tripped merrily about the village. Sleeping or waking, his image was ever before her; he was the idol to which her spirit bowed, the sun of her little world.
The dance to the giant was to be celebrated at the village where they were visiting; the father of Wenona and “Old John” the medicine man, were to join in it. The maiden had been nothing loath to undertake the journey, for the Deer-killer had gone on a war party against the Chippeways, and she thought that in the course of their journey they might meet him and when away from Wanska, he would return to her side. He could not despise the love she had given him. Hope, that bright star of youth, hovered over her, and its light was reflected on her heart.
When they arrived at the village of the chief Markeda, or “Burning Earth,” the haughty brow of the chief was subdued with care. He had dreamed of Haokah the giant, and he knew there was sorrow or danger threatening him. He had sinned against the giant, and what might be the consequence of offending him? Was his powerful arm to be laid low, and the strong pulse to cease its beatings? Did his dream portend the loss of his young wife? She was almost as dear to him as the fleet hunter that bore him to the chase.
It might be that the angry god would send their enemies among them, and his tall sons would gladden his sight no more. Sickness and hunger, phantom-like, haunted his waking and sleeping hours.
There was one hope; he might yet ward off the danger, for the uplifted arm of the god had not fallen. He hoped to appease the anger of the giant by dancing in his honor.
“We have traveled far,” said old John the medicine man, to Markeda, “and are tired. When we have slept we will dance with you, for we are of the giant’s party.”
“Great is Haokah, the giant of the Dahcotahs,” the chief replied; “it is a long time since we have danced to him.”
“I had been hunting with my warriors, we chased the buffalo, and our arrows pierced their sides; they turned upon us, bellowing, their heads beating the ground; their terrible eyes glared upon us even in death; they rolled in the dust, for their strength was gone. We brought them to the village for our women to prepare for us when we should need them. I had eaten and was refreshed; and, tired as my limbs were, I could not sleep at first, but at last the fire grew dim before my eyes, and I slept.
“I stood on the prairie alone, in my dream, and the giant appeared before me. So tall was he that the clouds seemed to float about his head. I trembled at the sound of his voice, it was as if the angry winds were loosed upon the earth.
“‘The warriors of the Dahcotahs are turned women,’ said he; ‘that they no longer dance in honor of the giant, nor sing his songs. Markeda is not a coward, but let him tremble; he is not a child, but he may shed tears if the anger of the giant comes upon him.’
“Glad was I when I woke from my dream and now, lest I am punished for my sins, I will make a sacrifice to the giant. Should I not fear him who is so powerful? Can he not take the thunder in his hand and cast it to the earth?
“The heart of the warrior should be brave when he dances to the giant. My wigwam is ready, and the friends of the giant are ready also.”
“Give me your moccasins,” said the young wife of Markeda to old John; “they are torn, and I will mend them. You have come from afar, and are welcome. Sleep, and when you awake, you will find them beside you.” As she assisted him to take them off, the medicine man looked admiringly into her face. “The young wife of Markeda is as beautiful as the white flowers that spring up on the prairies. Her husband would mourn for her if the giant should close her eyes. They are bright now, as the stars, but death would dim them, should not the anger of the giant be appeased.”
The “Bounding Fawn” turned pale at the mention of the angry giant; she sat down, without replying, to her work; wondering the while, if the soul of her early love thought of her, now that it wandered in the Spirit’s land. It might be that he would love her again when they should meet there. The sound of her child’s voice, awakening out of sleep, aroused her, and called to her mind who was its father.
“They tore me away from my lover, and made me come to the teepee of the chief,” was her bitter reflection. “Enah! that I cannot love the father of my child.”
She rose and left the teepee. “Where is the heaven of the Dahcotahs,” she murmured, as she looked up to the silent stars. “It may be that I shall see him again. He will love my child too, and I will forget the many tears I have shed.”
The dance to the Giant is always performed inside the wigwam. Early in the morning the dancers were assembled in the chief’s lodge. Their dress was such as is appointed for the occasion. Their hats were made of the bark of trees, such as tradition says the Giant wears. They were large, and made forked like the lightning. Their leggings were made of skins. Their ear-rings were of the bark of trees, and were about one foot long.
The chief rose ere the dawn of day, and stood before the fire. As the flames flickered, and the shadows of the dancers played fantastically about the wigwam, they looked more like Lucifer and a party of attendant spirits, than like human beings worshipping their God.
Markeda stood by the fire without noticing his guests, who awaited his motions in silence. At last, moving slowly, he placed a kettle of water on the fire, and then threw into it a large piece of buffalo meat.
Lighting his pipe, he seated himself, and then the dancers advanced to the fire and lit theirs; and soon they were enveloped in a cloud of smoke.
When the water began to boil, the Indians arose, and, dancing round the fire, imitated the voice of the Giant.
“Hah-hah! hah hah!” they sung, and each endeavored to drown the voice of the other. Now they crouch as they dance, looking diminutive and contemptible, as those who are degrading themselves in their most sacred duties. Then they rise up, and show their full height. Stalwart warriors as they are, their keen eyes flash as they glance from the fire to each others’ faces, distorted with the effort of uttering such discordant sounds. Now their broad chests heave with the exertion, and their breath comes quickly.
They seat themselves, to rest and smoke. Again the hellish sounds are heard, and the wife of the chief trembles for fear of the Giant, and her child clings closer to her breast. The water boils, and, hissing, falls over into the fire, the flames are darkened for a moment, and then burst up brighter than before.
Markeda addresses the dancers “Warriors! the Giant is powerful the water which boils before us will be cold when touched by a friend of the Giant. Haokah will not that his friends should suffer when offering him a sacrifice.”
The warriors then advanced together, and each one puts his hand into the kettle and takes the meat from the boiling water; and although suffering from the scalds produced, yet their calmness in enduring the pain, would induce the belief that the water really felt to them cool and pleasant.
The meat is then taken out, and put into a wooden dish, and the water left boiling on the fire. The dancers eat the meat while hot, and again they arrange themselves to dance. And now, the mighty power of the Giant is shown, for Markeda advances to the kettle, and taking some water out of it he throws it upon his bare back, singing all the while, “The water is cold.”
“Old John” advances and does the same, followed by the next in turn, until the water is exhausted from the kettle, and then the warriors exclaim, “How great is the power of Haokah! we have thrown boiling water upon ourselves and we have not been scalded.”
The dance is over the sacrifice is made. Markeda seeks his young wife and fears not. He had fancied that her cheeks were pale of late, but now they are flushed brilliantly, his heart is at rest.
The warriors disperse, all but the medicine man, and the chief’s store of buffalo meat diminishes rapidly under the magic touch of the epicure.
Yes! an epicure thou wert old John! for I mind me well when thou camest at dinner time, and how thou saidst thou couldst eat the food of the Indian when thou wert hungry, but the food of the white man was better far. And thou! a Dahcotah warrior, a famous hunter, and a medicine man. Shame! that thou shouldst have loved venison dressed with wine more than when the tender meat was cooked according to the taste of the women of thy nation. I have forgotten thy Indian name, renegade as thou wert! But thou answerest as well to “old John!”
Thou art now forgotten clay, though strong and vigorous when in wisdom the Sioux were punished for a fault they did not commit. Their money was not paid them their provisions were withheld. Many were laid low, and thou hast found before now that God is the Great Spirit, and the Giant Haokah is not.
And it may be that thou wouldst fain have those thou hast left on earth know of His power, who is above all spirits, and of His goodness who would have all come unto Him.
Wenona had not hoped in vain, for her lover was with her, and Wanska seemed to be forgotten. The warrior’s flute would draw her out from her uncle’s lodge while the moon rose o’er the cold waters. Wrapped in her blanket, she would hasten to meet him, and listen to his assurances of affection, wondering the while that she had ever feared he loved another.
She had been some months at the village of Markeda, and she went to meet her lover with a heavy heart. Her mother had noticed that her looks were sad and heavy, and Wenona knew that it would not be long ere she should be a happy wife, or a mark for the bitter scorn of her companions.
The Deer-killer had promised, day after day, that he would make her his wife, but he ever found a ready excuse; and now he was going on a long hunt, and she and her parents were to return to their village. His quiver was full of arrows, and his leggings were tightly girded upon him. Wenona’s full heart was nigh bursting as she heard that the party were to leave to-morrow. Should he desert her, her parents would kill her for disgracing them; and her rival, Wanska, how would she triumph over her fall?
“You say that you love me,” said she to the Deer-killer, “and yet you treat me cruelly. Why should you leave me without saying that I am your wife? Who would watch for your coming as I would? and you will disgrace me when I have loved you so truly. Stay tell them you have made me your wife, and then will I wait for you at the door of my teepee.”
The warrior could not stay from the chase, but he promised her that he would soon return to their village, and then she should be his wife.
Wenona wept when he left her; shadows had fallen upon her heart, and yet she hoped on. Turning her weary steps homeward, she arrived there when the maidens of the village were preparing to celebrate the Virgin’s Feast.
There was no time to deliberate should she absent herself, she would be suspected, and yet a little while ere the Deer-killer would return, and her anxious heart would be at rest.
The feast was prepared, and the crier called for all virgins to enter the sacred ring.
Wenona went forward with a beating heart; she was not a wife, and soon must be a mother. Wanska, the Merry Heart, was there, and many others who wondered at the pale looks of Wenona she who had been on a journey, and who ought to have returned with color bright as the dying sun, whose light illumined earth, sky and water.
As they entered the ring a party of warriors approached the circle. Wenona does not look towards them, and yet the throbbings of her heart were not to be endured. Her trembling limbs refused to sustain her, as the Deer-killer, stalking towards the ring, calls aloud “Take her from the sacred feast; should she eat with the maidens? she, under whose bosom lies a warrior’s child? She is unworthy.”
And as the unhappy girl, with features of stone and glaring eyes, gazed upon him bewildered, he rudely led her from the ring.
Wenona bowed her head and went even as night came on when the sun went down. Nor did the heart of the Deer-killer reproach him, for how dare she offend the Great Spirit! Were not the customs of his race holy and sacred?
Little to Wenona were her father’s reproaches, or her mother’s curse; that she was no more beloved was all she remembered.
Again was the Deer-killer by the side of Wanska, and she paid the penalty. Her husband brought other wives to his wigwam, though Wanska was ever the favorite one.
With her own hand would she put the others out of the wigwam, laughing when they threatened to tell their lord when he returned, for Wanska managed to tell her own story first; and, termagant as she was, she always had her own way.
Wenona has ceased to weep, and far away in the country of the Sissetons she toils and watches as all Indian women toil and watch. Her young son follows her as she seeks the suffering Dahcotah, and charms the disease to leave his feeble frame.
She tells to the child and the aged woman her dreams; she warns the warrior what he shall meet with when he goes to battle; and ever, as the young girls assemble to pass away the idle hours, she stops and whispers to them.
In vain do they ask of her husband: she only points to her son and says, “My hair, which is now like snow, was once black and braided like his, and my eyes as bright. They have wept until tears come no more. Listen not to the warrior who says he loves.” And she passes from their sight as the morning mists.