Discover your family's story.
Enter a grandparent's name to get started.
Tshizunhaukau, or He who runs with the deer, is a Winnebago warrior, of remarkable genius and singular character. He unites the characters of the conjurer and medicine-man with that of the brave, without losing any of his reputation for manliness and courage.
It is a peculiarity of savage life, that but one high road to distinction exists. War is the only occupation which is considered as capable of giving exercise to the highest powers of manhood. Hunting is the business of their life, and expertness in this employment, and in the various arts belonging to it, is highly estimated; but to be a successful hunter confers respectability rather than distinction. The spoils of the chase afford sustenance, and to the able or fortunate hunter give that competency which stands in the place of wealth; but the standing gained by this employment, in its best aspect, is only equal to that of a successful man of business in civilized communities. Oratory ranks a little higher, and carries with it a certain degree of popular influence, which is eagerly sought after by the aspiring savage. Strength, swiftness, expertness in horsemanship, and other qualities which enable their possessor to triumph in athletic sports, and give grace and manliness to his movements, are highly prized. But all these are but the accomplishments considered desirable to give finish to the character of the warrior; for without military distinction all else is as the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.
A few men among the Indians have gained high repute, and maintained a commanding influence through life, without the aid of a military reputation. One of these was Red Jacket, who never attained any standing as a warrior, nor set up any pretensions to martial skill or fame; and some other instances have been recorded in this work. But these were men of consummate ability, whose talents were useful to their people, and whose genius elevated them above the operation of general rules; and, in the case of Red Jacket, there were a nationality, a zeal, and tenacity, with which he adhered to the side of his own people, right or wrong, in all their controversies with the whites, and clung to the customs and prejudices of his ancestors, that endeared him to the Seneca. But these are rare examples, in which the strong law of human nature prevails over the peculiarities of national character.
It follows, that those who are incapacitated by indolence, bodily debility, and mental weakness, from earning laurels on the field of battle, sink into insignificance and even contempt, unless they can strike out some other mode of securing respectability. The same causes which render them unfit for warriors, operate equally against their success in either of the occupations we have alluded to. But no debility, either physical or mental, prevents a man from becoming a doctor; as in this occult science, skilful practice and skilful imposture approach as nearly as the sublime and the. ridiculous. We think that the majority of the Indian prophets, conjurers, and medicine-men, have their origin in this principle. Though indolent, or pusillanimous, or unfortunate in laboring under some physical deficiency, they have been compensated by a sufficient portion of that cunning which Nature bestows upon inferior creatures, to enable them to impose on the credulity of the people. A few of these persons have undoubtedly been fanatics, who were self-deluded; but we suppose the greater part of them to be crafty impostors, whose highest motive is to gain a livelihood, without incurring the danger and fatigue of war or hunting, and to rise above the contempt of a wholly idle and useless life.
The standing of this class may be readily imagined. A savage people, without arts or literature, who scarcely ever reason, and act almost entirely from impulse, are easily imposed upon. Superstition is one of the thriftiest plants in the wilderness of an uncultivated intellect; it flourishes under the rude culture of the most bungling impostor. The number of such persons is small, for the reasons indicated above; inactive employments are unsuited to the habits and genius of the savage; few will condescend to follow such pursuits, and still more few will undertake the mental exertion of thought and deception required for the office. The conjurers, therefore, rank high, because they are a small class, practicing an occult art, among a superstitious people.
The failures of this class, on the other hand, are numerous, be cause the capital of intellect embarked in it is small, and the indolence and improvidence of the race are such, that few persevere long in any occupation requiring continued attention. The medicine men and prophets, therefore, often fall into disrepute, either from repeated want of success in their incantations and predictions, or from the laziness or dissoluteness of life consequent upon a brief harvest of successful practice; and the same man who was revered on account of his supposed intercourse with the world of spirits, is heartily despised when discovered to be a cheat. The brother of Tecumthe, whose reputation was very high, and whose influence, extending through several tribes besides his own, lasted for several years, dwindled into a very insignificant person, and in his old age there were “none so poor to do him reverence.” There are some who, from honesty of purpose, or great native sagacity, become skilful in public business, or useful counselors in sickness and domestic calamity, and retain the confidence of the people; but we think that usually this class of persons, like the quacks and hum bugs of civilized society, enjoy a short-lived celebrity; the delusion itself survives in ever-blooming vigor; the gullibility of mind which sustains it remains fresh and prolific as the bountiful earth, while the impostors flourish and fade, like the annual plants, in rapid succession.
We need not enlarge upon the practice of the Indian conjurer, for although the details of the modes of operation may exhibit considerable variety, none of them exhibit much ingenuity, and the leading features are few, and exceedingly superficial. The Indians are not an imaginative people; they have no poetry, no sprightliness of fancy, scarcely any perceptible creative faculty. They have no mythology, no belief nor theory in regard to another world, which is general, or which lasts from one generation to another. The whole subject is to them a blank. The conception or idea, inseparable from the existence of spirit, and which the human mind, in a sane state, nourishes under every modification of life, of a hereafter, and a superhuman power, is prevalent among them; but the conception is so vague and feeble as to be fruitless of any practical result. No system of worship obtains amongst them, no fabric of superstition has been reared. When their minds awaken for a moment from the lethargy that benumbs them, and soar into the regions of speculation, the flight is too feeble, and the newly acquired vision too dim, to yield materials for any connected chain of reasoning, and the only product of such efforts, consists of the most puerile and shapeless vagaries. A few traditions are handed down from times past, but so mutilated as to be scarcely traced from one generation to another. The legends, dreams, and visions in current circulation, are mostly of modern date, but are fabricated from the fragments and reminiscences of other times.
Their knowledge of the medicinal qualities of herbs is not extensive. The medicine-men have a few simple remedies of this character, which are efficacious in ordinary cases of disease and injury, and in the use of these the women are equally expert. In more difficult cases they resort to incantations and prayers addressed to good or evil spirits. To produce dreams they resort to fasting and bodily penance, carried often to the utmost power of endurance, and by these means a disturbed state of mind is induced, which gives rise to visions of more or less coherence. Great confidence is placed in these dreams; and this circumstance affords a sufficient temptation to cunning men to feign them, while it points out to sagacious chiefs an efficient mode through which a secret though powerful influence may be exerted over the people.
Tshizunhaukau was not a regular medicine-man, but he practiced the art when it suited his convenience, and had the reputation of possessing the gift. He was a sagacious man, who knew and thought more than those around him. He noticed the seasons and changes of the atmosphere, and had a strong memory for dates and events. The portrait represents him holding in his hand a rod, which was an invention of his own, and was covered with marks and figures representing the divisions of time, and certain changes of the seasons, to which were added signs, indicating the results of certain calculations he had made respecting the weather. It was a curious and original invention, the fruit of an inquisitive and active mind, and the indication of a spirit that rose above the sluggish incuriousness of his race. He had noticed the phenomena which took place around him, with deep attention, and had recorded upon the tablet of a retentive memory all that seemed worthy of remark. He had endeavored, to the extent of his limited knowledge and means of information, to trace effects to their causes, and to find out the reasons of uncommon events. The results of these inquiries were carved upon his wand, which became thus an almanac, and doubtless as complete a one, in reference to his wants, as our common almanacs are to the enlightened astronomer. He maintained a high character as a warrior, and was one of the deputation who accompanied Nawkaw, the principal chief of the Winnebago, to Washington, in 1828.