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Waapashaw, Sioux Chief
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This distinguished man is head chief of the Keoxa tribe, of tho Dacotah nation. His father was a great warrior; the present chief is a wise and prudent man, who holds his station by hereditary tenure, while he sustains himself in the estimation of his people by his talents. He devotes a portion of his time to agriculture. The name by which this tribe is distinguished signifies, “relationship overlooked;” because, in their marriages, they unite between nearer relations than the other Sioux. First cousins, uncles, and nieces, and even brothers and sisters, intermarry.
We extract, from the account of Long’s Second Expedition, art anecdote in reference to a curious and much vexed question, in which the name of this chief is honorably mentioned. It is a matter of some doubt, to what extent the practice of cannibalism has pre ailed among the North American Indians. It is certain that some of the tribes have been guilty of this outrage upon decency; it is probable that most of them have participated in it; but we are inclined to believe that there is no evidence of the eating of human flesh by our Indians, from choice, as an article of food; but that they have devoured the flesh of victims, sacrificed in their war-feasts, in obedience to some principle of revenge, or of superstition. The Dacotah repel the imputation of cannibalism with great horror; they assert that they have never been guilty of it, but charge their neighbors with the crime. The following incident is in the work to which we have referred, stated, on the authority of Renville, an interpreter, to have taken place at Fort Meigs, in 1813.
“The fort was besieged by General Proctor, at the head of the British army, attended by a corps of about three thousand Indians, consisting of Dacotah, Pottawatimie, Miamis, Ottowa, Wolves, Huron, Winnebago, Shawanoes, Sauk, Foxes, Menominie, &c. They had all shared in the battle, except the Dacotah, who had not yet engaged against the Americans, and who were then on their way to Quebec. While Renville was seated, one afternoon, with Waapashaw and Chetauwakoamane, a deputation came to invite them to meet the other Indians, the object of the meeting not being stated; the two chiefs complied with the request. Shortly after, Frazier, an interpreter, came, and informed Renville that the Indians were engaged in eating an American, and invited him to walk over to the place. He went thither, and found the human flesh cut up, and portioned out into dishes, one for each nation of Indians. In every dish, in addition to the flesh, there was corn. At that moment, they called upon the bravest man in each nation to come and take a portion of the heart and head; one warrior from each nation was allowed a fragment of this choice morsel. In the group of Indians present, there was a brave Dacotah, the nephew of Chetauwakoamane, known by the name of the * Grand Chasseur.’ They invited him to step forward, and take his share; and, among others, a Winnebago addressed him, and told him that they had collected their friends to partake of a meal prepared with the flesh of one of that nation that had done them so much injury. Before the Sioux warrior had time to reply, his uncle arose, and bade his nephew to depart thence; he then addressed himself to the Indians. “My friends,” said he, ‘ we came here, not to eat the Americans, but to wage war against them; that will suffice for us; and could we even do that, if left to our own forces? We are poor and destitute, while they possess the means of supplying themselves with all they require; we ought not, therefore, to do such things.’ Waapashaw added, “We thought that you, who live near to white men, were wiser than we who live at a distance; but it must, indeed, be otherwise, if you do such deeds.”They then rose and departed.”
It appears that, on this occasion, human flesh was not resorted to for want of provisions, as the camp was plentifully supplied; nor did fondness for this species of food lead to the dreadful repast, which seems to have been regarded with a natural aversion. The Dacotah speak of that case in terms of the most decided reproba tion. But one instance of cannibalism is known to have occurred among them; when, during a famine, three women, urged by a necessity which few could have controlled, partook of the flesh of a man who had died of hunger; but, two of them dying shortly after, the Indians attributed their decease to this fatal meal. The third lived in degradation, induced by this single act; the nation regard her with horror, and suppose that a state of corpulence into which she has grown, has been induced by that food, which, they predict, will eventually prove fatal to her.
During the war between the United States and Great Britain, which commenced in 1812, the British took possession of the out post which had been established at Prairie du Chien, for the convenience of our intercourse with the Indians, but afterwards abandoned it. The little village, consisting of a few houses, occupied by French Canadians, was left defenseless, and the Winnebago Indians, a fierce and restless tribe, who occupied the surrounding country, seemed disposed to create a quarrel, which might afford them an opportunity for plunder. Although the whites had long been established there, and had lived in amity with them, they came to the village, took some articles of private property by force, and threatened to massacre the inhabitants, and plunder the town. The alarmed villagers, intimately acquainted with the reckless and desperate character of their neighbors, and aware of their own danger, immediately dispatched a messenger to Waapashaw, at his residence on the opposite shore of the Mississippi, not far above Prairie du Chien. His interposition was claimed on account of his great influence, as well in his own tribe as among his neighbors; he was at peace with the surrounding Indians, and with the whites; and there was, between his own band and the Winnebago, a long standing friendship. These tribes had intermarried, and there were then at Prairie du Chien many individuals, the offspring of these marriages, who stood in an equal degree of relationship to both, and some of whom were nearly allied to Waapashaw. Obeying the request, he went down to the village immediately, attended by but one person. The inhabitants, seeing him thus, without the imposing train of warriors by which they had expected to see him followed, gave themselves up as lost; justly apprehending that the Winnebago, ascertaining that no force would be opposed to them, would now put their sanguinary threats into execution. To an intimation of their fears, and an earnest appeal which they had made to him, the chief, with the characteristic taciturnity of his race, gave no reply; but sent his attendant to the Winnebago, with a message, requiring them to meet him in council, during that day, at an hour and place which he appointed. In the mean while, he remained silent and reserved, apparently wrapped in deep thought.
The Indian chief is careful of his reputation, and never appears in public without the preparation which is necessary to the dignity of his personal appearance, and the success of any intellectual effort he may be called upon to make. His face is skillfully painted, and his person studiously decorated; his passions are subdued, his plans matured, and his thoughts carefully arranged, so that, when he speaks, he neither hazards his own fame nor jeopardizes the interest of the tribe. At the appointed hour, the Winnebago chiefs assembled, and Waapashaw seated himself among them; the warriors formed a circle around their leaders, and the individuals of less consequence occupied the still more distant places. A few minutes were passed in silence; then Waapashaw arose, and, placing himself in an attitude of studied, though apparently careless, dignity, looked round upon the chiefs with a menacing look. His countenance was fierce and terrible; and cold and stern were the faces upon which his piercing eye was bent. He plucked a single hair from his head held it up before them and then spoke in a grave and resolute tone: ” Winnebago! do you see this hair? Look at it. You threaten to massacre the white people at the Prairie. They are your friends, and mine. You wish to drink their blood. Is that your purpose? Dare to lay a finger upon one of them, and I will blow you from the face of the earth, as I now” suiting the action to the word “blow this hair with my breath, where none can find it.” Not a head was turned at the close of this startling and unexpected annunciation; not a muscle was seen to move the keen, black, and snake-like eyes of that circle of dusky warriors remained fixed upon the speaker, who, after casting around a look of cool defiance, turned upon his heel and left the council, without waiting for a reply. The insolent savages, who had been vaporing about the village in the most arrogant and insulting manner, hastily broke up the council, and retired quietly to their camp. Not a single Winnebago was to be seen next morning in the vicinity of the village. They knew that the Sioux chief had the power to exterminate them, and that his threats of vengeance were no idle words, uttered by a forked tongue; and, taking counsel from wisdom, they prudently avoided the conduct which would have provoked his resentment.
The Keoxa tribe have two villages on the Mississippi, one near Lake Pepin, and the other at the Iowa River; and they hunt on both banks of the Great River.
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