Watchemonne, Ioway Chief
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Watchemonne, or, The Orator, the third chief of the Ioway, was born at the old Ioway village, on Des Moines River, at this time occupied by Keokuk, and, in 1838, was about fifty-two years of age. In recalling his earliest recollections, he tells, as the Indians mostly do, that he began in boyhood to kill small game with the bow and arrow. When he became large enough to use firearms, he procured a fowling-piece, or, as the phrase is upon the border, a shot-gun a weapon considered of far inferior dignity to the more deadly rifle. But such was the awe inspired in his mind by the effects of gunpowder, that he was at first afraid to discharge his gun, and threw a blanket over his breast and shoulder before he ventured to level the piece. His first experiment was upon a wild turkey, which he killed, and after that he hunted without fear. This occurred before he was thirteen, for at that age he killed deer with his gun. At sixteen, he went to war, killed an Osage, and took a piece of a scalp. His leader, on that occasion, was Wenugana, or, The man who gives his opinion. After a long time, he again went out with a war-party under Notoyaukee, or One rib. Approaching a camp of the Missouris, some of their swiftest young men went forward, dashed into the camp, dispatched three men, and returned, saying they had killed all. He was in the same affair with Notchemine, when the eleven were killed, and remembers that among the slain was a great chief. He slew none himself, but struck the dead and took three scalps, which is regarded as the greater exploit.
After these events, the Orator had the misfortune to lose a brother, who w s slain by the Osages, and whose death it became his duty, as a warrior, and a man of spirit, to avenge. On such occasions, the Indian does not act upon the principle of the civilized duelist, whose chief aim seems to be to vindicate his own courage, by making a show of resentment. His object is to appease the spirit of his deceased friend by the death of the slayer, and, if that be not practicable, by shedding the blood of some other enemy of his family or tribe; and he prepares himself for the exploit with every care and solemnity which is conceived necessary to insure success Every aid suggested by superstition is invoked, while a studied attention is given to every circumstance indicated by the more rational sagacity and experience of the warrior, as tending to render the meditated blow swift and fatal. He accordingly fasted and prayed a long time; then he went out and killed a deer and a bear, and made a feast in honor of the Great Spirit, to which all the warriors of his village were invited. He now became very angry, and professed to mourn greatly for his brother, whose spirit was very unhappy, and could find no rest so long as the murderer lived to boast in triumph over him. He called upon his friends who were willing to follow him, and all warriors who loved the war path, and all young men who thirsted for distinction, to gather around his war-pole; and, when the volunteers were collected, he sang for them, and they danced he recounting the virtues of the deceased, and imprecating vengeance, and they responding by grunts of approbation, and yells of passion. Then he sang to the women, who also danced and all united in hoping the Great Spirit would prosper his praiseworthy undertaking. Finally, he told his party that, at the end of thirteen days, he would lead them out to seek the foe that in a dream he had seen an old man, and was told that, if he succeeded in killing him, he would also slay many others. He believed the vision, and accordingly they had not one far when they met an aged Missouri, who was very bald; and, as he was recognized as one who had slain many Ioway, they attributed his baldness to the numerous murders he had committed. Him they slew; but the rest of the dream was not fulfilled, though the Orator comforted himself with the belief that it would prove true in the end. He, therefore, called his young men together again; but they were dispirited by his former ill success, and only one agreed to follow him. With this companion, he went to the west fork of Grand River, and, having collected some of his tribe whom he met by the way, found himself, at length, at the head of twenty^two men. Meeting with a party of Osages, they attacked them, and killed one man, which seems to have been considered satisfactory by the living, if not by the dead, for the party returned in good spirits. He states that, previous to his going out on this expedition, it was understood that, if an enemy was killed, he was to be considered as a general or leader; and he accordingly received his present name, Watchemonne, which signifies roar leader, or, as we should say, general. The title of Orator, by which he is known more commonly, was given him by the whites, because he speaks well in council, and is usually appointed to receive visitors and deputations.
On one occasion, when this warrior was engaged in an expedition against the Sioux, he conceived that he should not have luck to kill, and, quitting his companions, he wandered off by himself in search of adventure. His object seems to have been to fall in with some individual of the enemy, whom he could slay either by stealth or courage, so that, by shedding blood, his evil destiny might be changed. The notions of the Indians on these subjects are so con fused that they do not give any very distinct account of their superstitions; but we apprehend that, on occasions like this, they imagine there are bad spirits, who may be propitiated by bloodshed, and that it matters not how the victim is slain. The only Sioux that he met with was a little girl. Had it been a boy, he would have killed him; but he captured the girl, and made her a present to his captain, who, in return, gave him a string of wampum.
Besides these warlike incidents, we are happy to record other anecdotes which we have received of this chief. The first one he calls the beginning of his making presents. The Sauk had killed two Ioway, and, to avert the accustomed vengeance on the part of the latter, a deputation was sent to offer a compensation for the injury. The deputies, fearful that they might not be well received, halted near the Ioway village, sent for the Orator to come to them, and solicited his interposition. Having consented to become the peacemaker, he made a present of seven Mackinaw blankets to the Ioway chief, and then gave the Sauk a keg of whisky to revive their spirits, and enable them to enter the village without fear.
The Ioway being at war with the sages, one of the war-parties of the former nation, returning home from an unsuccessful expedition, passed an American settlement on the frontier of Missouri, and, with that desperate propensity for mischief which the Indian always evinces under those circumstances, they stole four horses. The danger of such an act arose, not out of the value of the property taken, but from the alarm the outrage would create, and the retribution that the men of the frontier would be sure to visit upon what they would consider the preliminary act of an Indian war. The chief, therefore, desired the young men to return the horses; but this they declined, and Watchemonne immediately bought them, and sent them back to the owners. This act gained him great credit among the people of the border, who have ever since treated him with confidence, and spoken in his praise. After that, a number of the Sauk came on a visit of ceremony to the Ioway probably on one of the occasions alluded to in the life of Keokuk when the Orator, for the credit of his tribe, presented them with two horses. At another time, an Otto paying him a visit, he gave his guest, at his departure, a horse and a fine chief coat, such as the government distributes annually among the lead ing men of the tribes; and he has always, when it has been in his power, displayed this kind of liberality to those who visit him.
This chief says he has no knowledge of any tradition of his tribe beyond Lake Pepin that is, before they crossed that lake a very expressive form of speech, indicating the migratory character of the people, and their own conviction that they are strangers in the land they inhabit. He only knows that, on the shores of that water, dwelt his nation before it had become divided into the Winnebago, the Omaha, the Missouri, and the Ioway tribes, and this he was told by his father, who derived it through eight preceding ancestors. It was the will of the Great Spirit that they should not be stationary, but travel from place to place, cultivating different ground; and they believe that they will only continue to have good crops and healthy children so long as they obey this law of their nature. They had better corn, and were more prosperous, before the division of their nation than since. They have a secret among them about the Great Spirit, which it would be unlucky to tell. They have a number of medicine bags, containing the herbs and other articles used in juggling, and in propitiating the Great Spirit, and other spirits, which they keep in a lodge, that is usually shut up, and that no woman is permitted to enter. Before they go to war, they engage, for four days, in religious ceremonies, during which time they practice entire abstinence. A deer or a bear having been provided beforehand, a feast is made when the fasting is over, and a general invitation given to all who choose to attend. The old men are invited to pray. Those who are going out to war engage frequently in secret prayer; and they believe that those who pray insincerely will have bad luck. When any disagreement occurs in the tribe, a similar feast is made for the purpose of effecting a reconciliation, and the chief offers to the parties, between whom the quarrel exists, a pipe filled with a mixture of dried herbs, which they call the Great Spirits tobacco. It is believed that death would speedily follow a refusal to smoke the pipe thus tendered. A singular example of superstition occurred in this tribe recently. A man, having lost three children by sick ness, thought it his duty to go to war and shed blood, in order to change his luck. The chief, White Cloud’s brother, assembled the people of his band, and endeavored to prevail on the unfortunate person to smoke the pipe of peace, by which he would be pledged to forego his sanguinary purpose. Finding him obstinate, and fearing, perhaps, that the tribe would be involved in a war by the infatuation of one individual, he presented the bereaved father with seven horses as a compensation for his loss. Still the pipe was refused; and, a few days afterwards, the poor man lost his wife, in consequence, as the tribe believed, of his non-compliance with an ancient usage; but in punishment, as he thought, of his having delayed to shed the blood of an enemy. He went out, therefore, and killed an Omaha, and was satisfied. They consider themselves authorized, and sometimes constrained, to avenge the death of friends who die a natural death.
This chief is a cousin of White Cloud, whose biography was given in a former volume. He was a good man, and greatly be loved by his tribe; and Watchemonne was much struck with our picture of him, which he declared to be an excellent likeness. When a copy of that portrait was sent to the tribe, they were grieved so much that they could not bear to look at it. Even the children remember him well, although several years have elapsed since his death, and he is still mourned. They have never been accustomed to pictures of their friends, and are pained to see those they have loved thus exhibited.
Shortly after the death of a chief, it is usual to hold a meeting for the purpose of consoling the surviving family. The whole company is formally seated, the chiefs in one place, the braves in another, and the relatives of the deceased in a third, while the women and children of the tribe form a circle around. Presents are then made to the family, one giving a horse, another a blanket, and so on; after which, the chiefs and braves speak of the virtues of the departed, and narrate his exploits, each speaker rising in turn, and the whole auditory listening with great decorum. The one who pronounces the most satisfactory eulogy is treated to some thing to drink. Two or three such meetings have been held in honor of the White Cloud. Watchemonne relates that, after his brother, the Crane, died, when he thought they had mourned long enough, he led the warriors to the grave, and seated them around it. He told them they had mourned long enough, and that it was time to rub the black paint off of their faces, and to resume the red paint. He then distributed red paint among them, and afterwards liquor.
In 1838, this chief had but one wife, and several children. One of his sons, then about nineteen years of age, had been for six years at the Choctaw academy; and a daughter, whose Indian name signifies the Rainbow, was, at that time, under the care of the missionaries, who called her Mary.