The portrait is a perfect likeness of the wife of Mahaskah, a sketch of whose life precedes this. Rantchewaime means, Female Flying Pigeon. She has been also called, the beautiful Female Eagle that flies in the air. This name was given to her by the chiefs and braves of the nation, on account of her great personal beauty.
We have already, in the sketch of her husband’s life, made the reader acquainted with the tragic end of this interesting woman. It remains for us to speak of her character. General Hughes, the agent of the tribe, who was well acquainted with her, speaks of her in terms of unmixed approbation. She was chaste, mild, gentle in her disposition, kind, generous, and devoted to her husband. A harsh word was never known to proceed from her mouth; nor was she ever known to be in a passion. Mahaskah used to say of her, after her death, that her hand was shut when those who did not want came into her presence; but, when the poor came, it was like a strainer, full of holes, letting all she held in it pass through. In the exercise of this generous feeling she was uniform. It was not indebted for its exercise to whim, or caprice, or partiality. No matter of what nation the applicant for her bounty was, or whether at war or peace with her tribe, if he were hungry, she fed him; if naked, she clothed him; and if houseless, she gave him shelter. The continual exercise of this generous feeling kept her poor. She has been known to give away her last blanket all the honey that was in the lodge, the last bladder of bears’ oil,1 and the last piece of dried meat.
Rantchewaime was scrupulously exact in the observance of all the religious rites which her faith imposed upon her. Her conscience is represented to have been extremely tender. She often feared that her acts were displeasing to the Great Spirit, when she would blacken her face, and retire to some lone place, and fast and pray. The Ioway, like all other Indians, believe in a Great Spirit, and in future rewards and punishments; and their priests make frequent sacrifices of dogs and horses, to appease the anger of their God. For their virtue, which, with these Indians, means courage, kindness, honesty, chastity, and generosity, they believe most sincerely they will be rewarded; and, for bad actions, they as fully believe they will be punished. Among these they enumerate dishonesty, laziness, the sacrifice of chastity, &c. But they do not view the stealing of a horse in the light of a dishonest act they class this among their virtues.
Rantchewaime has been known, after her return from Washington, to assemble hundreds of the females of her tribe, and discourse to them on the subject of those vicious courses which she witnessed during that journey, among the whites, and to warn them against like practices. The good effect of such a nice sense of propriety has been singularly illustrated among the Ioway. It is reported, on unquestionable authority, that an illegitimate child has never been known to be born among them. It is true, uncles (parents do not interfere, the right being in the uncle, or the nearest relative) sometimes sell their nieces for money or merchandise, to traders and engages. Marriages thus contracted frequently produce a state of great connubial happiness; but, if the purchaser abandon his purchase, she is discarded, and never taken for a wife by a brave, but is left to perform all the drudgery of the lodge and the field, and is treated as an outcast.
An affecting incident occurred in 1828, on the Missouri. A connection, by purchase, had been formed between a trader and an Ioway maid. They lived together for some time, and had issue, one child, The trader, as is often the case, abandoned his wife and child. The wife, agitated with contending emotions of love and bereavement, and knowing how hard would be her fate, strapped her child to the cradle, and throwing it on her back, pursued her faithless husband. She came within sight of him, but he eluded her. Arriving at the top of a high bluff that overlooked the country, and after straining her eyes by looking in every direction to catch a glimpse of him, or to see the way he was traveling, in vain, she stepped hastily to a part of the bluff that overhung the Missouri, and exclaiming, ” O God! all that I loved in this world has passed from my sight; my hopes are all at an end; I give myself and child to thee!” sprang into the river, and with her child was drowned.
We have spoken of the firm belief of the Ioway in a future state. What that state is, in their view of it, we will now briefly state. They believe that, after death, and after they are found by the Great Spirit who, as we have said in a preceding sketch, is constantly going about with a pipe of peace in his mouth, seeking the bodies of the dead they are guided by him to a rapid stream, over which always lies a log that is exceedingly slippery. Those who are destined to be happy are sustained by the Good Spirit in crossing upon this slippery log. The moment they reach the opposite shore, they are transported to a land filled with buffalo arid elk, the antelope and beaver; with otters, and raccoons, and muskrats. Over this beautiful land the sun always shines; the streams that irrigate it never dry up, whilst the air is filled with fragrance, and is of the most delightful temperature. The kettles are always slung, and the choicest cuts from the buffalo, the elk, &c., are always in a state of readiness to be eaten, whilst the smoke of these viands ascends for ever and ever. In this beautiful and happy country, the departed good meet, and mingle with their ancestors of all previous time, and all the friends that preceded them, all recognizing and saluting each other.
But when the wicked die, they are guided to this slippery log, and then abandoned, when they fall into the stream, and, after being whirled about in many directions, they awake and find themselves upon firm ground, but in the midst of sterility, of poverty, and of desolation. All around them are snakes, lizards, frogs, and grass hoppers; and there is no fuel to kindle a fire. This barren land is in full view of the beautiful country, and of all its delights, whilst over it constantly pass the odors of the viands; but from a participation in any thing there, they are for ever debarred.
In this belief Rantchewaime grew up. It was to gain admission into this heaven, and to avoid this place of punishment, she so often went into retirement to pray; and all her virtues and good works, she believed, were put down as so many titles to this beautiful heaven. There can be little doubt, that a mind thus formed, and a conscience thus tender, would, under the guidance of the Christian faith, and the enlightening influence of our most holy religion, have carried their possessor to the highest attainments, and made her a bright and a shining light. It is impossible to contemplate a child of nature so gifted in all that is excellent, without feeling a regret that the principles of a more rational religion had not reached Rantchewaime, and that she had not participated in its enjoyments. But He to whom she has gone will know how to judge her. Certain it is, of those to whom a little has been given, but little will be required; and although Rantchewaime may not have found the heaven she aspired to reach, she has found one far more delightful, and as eternal.
Bears’ oil is kept in bladders, and used by the Indians in cooking, for the same purposes for which we use lard’ or butter. ↩