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The Crane Dance

Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Native American | No Comments

The crane dance often lasts two or three days. When this is over, we feast again and have our national dance. The large square in the village is swept and prepared for the purpose. The chiefs and old warriors take seats on mats, which have been spread on the upper end of the square, next come the drummers and singers, the braves and women form the sides, leaving a large space in the middle. The drums beat and the singing commences. A warrior enters the square keeping time with the music. He shows the manner he started on a war party, how he approached the enemy, he strikes and shows how he killed him. All join in the applause, and he then leaves the square and another takes his place. Such of our young men have not been out in war parties and killed in enemy stand back ashamed, not being allowed to enter the square. I remember that I was ashamed to look where our young men stood, before I could take my stand in the ring as a warrior.

What pleasure it is to an old warrior, to see his son come forward and relate his exploits. It makes him feel young, induces him to enter the square and “fight his battles o’er again.”

This national dance makes our warriors. When I was traveling last summer on a steamboat on the river, going from New York to Albany, I was shown the place where the Americans dance the war-dance, (West Point), where the old warriors recount to their young men what they have done to stimulate them to go and do likewise. This surprised me, as I did not think the whites understood our way of making braves.

When our national dance is over, our cornfields hoed, every weed dug up and our corn about knee high, all our young men start in a direction toward sundown, to hunt deer and buffalo and to kill Sioux if any are found on our hunting grounds. A part of our old men and women go to the lead mines to make lead, and the remainder of our people start to fish and get meat stuff. Every one leaves the village and remains away about forty days. They then return, the hunting party bringing in dried buffalo and deer meat, and sometimes Sioux scalps, when they are found trespassing on our hunting grounds. At other times they are met by a party of Sioux too strong for them and are driven in. If the Sioux have killed the Sacs last, they expect to be retaliated upon and will fly before them, and so with us. Each party knows that the other has a right to retaliate, which induces those who have killed last to give way before their enemy, as neither wishes to strike, except to avenge the death of relatives. All our wars are instigated by the relations of those killed, or by aggressions on our hunting grounds. The party from the lead mines brings lead, and the others dried fish, and mats for our lodges. Presents are now made by each party, the first giving to the others dried buffalo and deer, and they in return presenting them lead, dried fish and mats. This is a happy season of the year, having plenty of provisions, such as beans, squashes and other produce; with our dried meat and fish, we continue to make feasts and visit each other until our corn is ripe. Some lodge in the village a feast daily to the Great Spirit. I cannot explain this so that the white people will understand me, as we have no regular standard among us.

Every one makes his feast as he thinks best, to please the Great Spirit, who has the care of all beings created. Others believe in two Spirits, one good and one bad, and make feasts for the Bad Spirit, to keep him quiet. They think that if they can make peace with him, the Good Spirit will not hurt them. For my part I am of the opinion, that so far as we have reason, we have a right to use it in determining what is right or wrong, and we should always pursue that path which we believe to be right, believing that “whatsoever is, is right.” If the Great and Good Spirit wished us to believe and do as the whites, he could easily change our opinions, so that we could see, and think, and act as they do. We are nothing compared to his power, and we feel and know it. We have men among us, like the whites, who pretend to know the right path, but will not consent to show it without pay. I have no faith in their paths, but believe that every man must make his own path.

When our corn is getting ripe, our young people watch with anxiety for the signal to pull roasting ears, as none dare touch them until the proper time. When the corn is fit for use another great ceremony takes place, with feasting and returning thanks to the Great Spirit for giving us Corn.

I will has relate the manner in which corn first came. According to tradition handed down to our people, a beautiful woman was seen to descend from the clouds, and alight upon the earth, by two of our ancestors who had killed a deer, and were sitting by a fire roasting a part of it to eat. They were astonished at seeing her, and concluded that she was hungry and had smelt the meat. They immediately went to her, taking with them a piece of the roasted venison. They presented it to her, she ate it, telling them to return to the spot where she was sitting at the end of one year, and they would find a reward for their kindness and generosity. She then ascended to the clouds and disappeared. The men returned to their village, and explained to the tribe what they had seen, done ad heard, but were laughed at by their people. When the period had arrived for them to visit this consecrated ground, where they were to find a reward for their attention to the beautiful woman of the clouds, they went with a large party, and found where her right hand had rested on the ground corn growing, where the left hand had rested beans, and immediately where she had been seated, tobacco.

The two first have ever since been cultivated by our people as our principal provisions, and the last is used for smoking. The white people have since found out the latter, and seem to it relish it as much as we do, as they use it in different ways: Smoking, snuffing and chewing.

We thank the Great Spirit for all the good he has conferred upon us. For myself, I never take a drink of water from a spring without being mindful of his goodness.

We next have our great ball play, from three to five hundred on a side play this game. We play for guns, lead, homes and blankets, or any other kind of property we may have. The successful party takes the stakes, and all return to our lodges with peace and friendship. We next commence horse racing, and continue on, sport and feasting until the corn is secured. We then prepare to leave our village for our hunting grounds.


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