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Great War Dance

I shall close this paper with an account of the great war dance which was performed by all the braves which could be mustered among the five thousand Indians here assembled. The number’ who joined in the dance was probably about eight hundred. Although I cannot give the precise day, it must have occurred about the last of August 1835. It was the last war dance ever performed by the natives on the ground where now stands this great city, though how many thousands had preceded it no one can tell. They appreciated that it was the last on their native soil that it was a sort of funeral ceremony of old associations and memories, and nothing was omitted to lend to it all the grandeur and solemnity possible. Truly I thought it an impressive scene of which it is quite impossible to give an adequate idea by words alone. They assembled at the council-house, near where the Lake House now stands, on the north side of the river. All were entirely naked, except a strip of cloth around the loins. Their bodies were covered all over with a great variety of brilliant paints. On their faces, particularly, they seemed to have exhausted their art of hideous decoration. Foreheads, cheeks, and noses were covered with curved stripes of red or vermilion, which were edged with black points, and gave the appearance of a horrid grin over the entire countenance. The long, coarse, black hair was gathered into scalp locks on the tops of their heads, and decorated with a profusion of hawk’s and eagle’s feathers, some strung together so...

War Dance

In the war dance1 (R. GucuuwiGaocan, Gu, where, cuuwi, men, braves, Gaocan, dance), the men bunch around the drum and move dancing around the dance floor. They carry a tomahawk or a scalp on a stick, and wear the typical war bonnet of eagle feathers fastened to a strip of cloth. On the face is painted the characteristic mark of the dancer’s supernatural partner Coon, Fox, Lightning.2 (Fig. 4.) The women, wearing their buckskin dress, stand together, on the outside, moving slightly. If a feather falls out of the bonnet of a dancer or off the decorations of his person, some senior with war experience has to pick up the feather and “tell an old story of some place where they had a fight and won it.3 At the end of the story everybody who has a drumstick beats once on the drum, then the dance goes on.FootnotesSaid by Absentee Shawnee to have been borrowed about 1888 from the Caddo they visited. The Caddo borrowed this “bunched” or “round” dance from Winnebago, say Shawnee. “The Caddo went up to the Winnebago and caught all these songs of the Winnebago scalp dance and brought them back” (Voegelin). ↩Tattooing, universal in the Southeast, was formerly practiced. Men tattooed themselves with birds and animals or, half the body, with zigzag lines [?to represent lightning]. Women used geometrical designs (Joutel, 349, 363). The fact that the Frenchman whom Joutel found living in a Caddoan group just like a “savage” was tattoed suggests that he had been. ↩In the modern iruska ceremonial of the Pawnee a dance chief says, “You dancers must be careful with the...

A Letter About the Green Corn Dance

This letter was written by the late John Howard Payne to a relative in New York, in 1835. The Green-Corn Dance which it describes was, it is believed, the last ever celebrated by the Creeks east of the Arkansas. Soon after, they were removed to the West, where they now are.

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