IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
THE INDIAN AT HOME
Before the Black Hawk War few white people lived in Iowa. Only Indians lived in teh villages which the traveller found here and there on the prairie or in the timber by the lakes and rivers. There were no churches, no factories, and no school buildings in these Indians villages. There were only the tepees or wickiups of the Indians, the only paving was the prairie grass, the only lights were the camp fires.
The Indians who lived in Iowa used both the tepee and the wickiup as homes. The tepee, as you know, was made by tying a number of long poles together at the top and then covering this frame with skins stretched tight. The Sauk and Fox Indians lived in houses called wickiups. They made these by bending light poles over to form a framework and covering this with woven mats, sheets of bark, or skins. These wickiups had a rounded top and were shaped something like a haystack. Perhaps you have seen some of these wickiups near Tama. Many of the Indians there still prefer to live in their native lodges, although they now also have frame houses.
You entered one of these lodges through an opening at one end. In cold weather a buffalo hide or deer skin might be hung across this opening. The fire was made in a pit usually in the center of the room, and the smoke escaped through a hole in the roof. Around the sides of the tepee or wickiup were the beds used by the family - not beds like ours, to be sure, but piles of skins or blankets raised above the earthen floor on mats of woven twigs.
Around the sides, too, were the belongings of the various members of the family. The war club, bow and arrows, scalping knife, pipe, blankets, guns, clothing, and jars of paint belonging to the master of the lodge were at the side opposite the doorway. This was the place of honor, where guests were seated.
In another place were the things which belonged to the woman. Her prized possessions were the things she needed to feed and clothe her family. There was the loom on which she could weave rough cloth or mats, jars for water and food, the mortar in which she ground the corn, a bowl or two for serving food, some knives, a hoe, and perhaps other objects. Food supplies were packed away in jars or baskets or in sacks made from the skin of an animal.
If there was a baby, it was usually kept in a cradle which was shaped something like a large slipper. Perhaps you have seen an Indian baby's cradle. When the mother went anywhere she carried the cradle slung across her back and the baby could look around or sleep. At home the cradle might be fastened to one of the poles of the wickiup, where the little black-eyed baby would be safe from the fire and the dogs.
The Indian woman cooked over the fire built on the dirt floor of the lodge or over a camp fire outside. Perhaps she boiled venison with corn or beans in a pot set among the coals. Another day she might have pork or fish, or perhaps she cooked one of the dogs. Sometimes the squaw rolled a fish or a piece of meat in clay or in leaves and baked it in the coals. For dessert, once in a while, the Indians had fresh strawberries, plums, grapes, crabapples, or maple sugar, but an Indian woman never baked a cake, a pie, or a pudding. She did not even bake bread such as ours.
The Indians did not have three meals a day as we do. They ate whenever they were hungry and had food to eat. When the meal was ready the man and his guests were served first. After they had finished the woman and children ate what was left. There were no chairs or tables. The family sat around the bowl or pot and dipped out the food with spoons, or took pieces of meat or fish in their hands.
Where did the Indians get their food? There were no stores in their villages, so they could not buy it. They often went on long hunting trips to get meat to eat. Deer, turkeys, quail, and prairie chickens were plentiful. There were many fish in the lakes and rivers. Wild plums, cherries, crabapples, and grapes grew in the thickets. Wild strawberries could be found among the grasses and flower son the prairies. Hickory nuts, walnuts, and hazel nuts could be had for the picking. But even with all these things, there were many days when the Indians were hungry.
In the spring the squaws usually planted a garden. They had no horses and plows to turn over the tough prairie sod. They did not even have sharp spades and hoes. With sharp pointed sticks or crude hoes made of shell or a flat bone fastened to a handle, they planted corn, beans, and pumpkin, melon, and squash seeds for food, and perhaps some gourd seed for rattles and dippers.
But it was not all hard work. When the sap began to run in the early spring, some of the squaws made maple sugar. This was great fun for the boys and girls. The sap was boiled in kettles over an open fire until it became a thick syrup. To test the syrup the squaws would dip out a spoonful on the snow. Then the boys and girls had delicious maple candy. There was not much candy, however.
In the fall the women worked hard digging up the roots they might need during the winter. The corn which had not been used as roasting ears was picked, ground into meal in the rude mortars, and stored away in bags. Meat also might be dried before a slow fire and packed away. The men put their bows and arrows in order and repaired their traps.
When the women were not preparing or cooking food or hoeing in the gardens, they might be busy tanning the skins of the deer or other animals, or sewing garments for their families. For this they might have only a needle made of bone.
There was usually some hard work for them to do, but even the squaws played sometimes. Shinny was one of their popular games. For this they used a ball made of deerskin stuffed with hair or moss. Another game which the Indian women liked was played with two balls fastened together by a string about a foot and a half long. Each player had a short stick in each hand and with either one of these she tried to catch the string and throw the balls over a goal.
The men usually had more time to rest and to play than the women did. When they were on the warpath or on a hunting trip the Indian men worked hard; but when they were at home in the village, life was easy for them. In the summer they could rest and smoke under the trees, while the women hoed in the garden.
The young men liked to race their ponies. They sometimes played a game called lacrosse. Perhaps you have seen white boys play this game. The ball used was made of a hard substance covered with leather. The racquets or bats were about three feet long with a small net-covered loop at the end. The ball was thrown up in the center of the field, and each player tired to catch it in his racquet, run with it, and throw it through his opponents' goal, or toss it to another player on his side. These goals were usually about half a mile apart.
The Indians also liked to dance. Sometimes they danced in the evening merely to entertain one another, but more often they danced as a part of their regilious or social ceremonies. The principal musical instruments were the drum, the rattle or tambourine, and a kind of flute. The different tribes did not all have the same dances, yet there was much similarity. The medicine dance was common, as were also the buffalo dance, scalp dance, calumet dance, and feast dance. Sometimes the women were included in these dances, but usually only the men took part.
The Indian boys did not have to do much work, so they could go swimming, or fishing, or shoot squirrels or birds with their little bows and arrows. Often they tried their skill by shooting at rosinweed blossoms at a distance of about one hundred feet. The boys became expert swimmers, too, and often had matches to see who could stay under water longest. They were also taught to hide themselves on the bank of a stream and catch fish with their hands. Hide and seek was a favorite game. You see this was practice for war, too. In winter they had great fun snaring rabbits.
the girls had to help their mothers dress the game, tan the skins, work in the gardens, pick berries, and prepare the clothing for the family. But even the girls played some of the time. They, too, learned to swim, and ride, and paddle a canoe. Sometimes they played with dolls which their mothers made for them.
The Indians were very kind to their children and seldom punished them. They thought it was cruel to whip a child. The Indian mother loved her baby and padded its cradle with the softest things she could find.
In the summer the Indian children has a very pleasant time. But in the winter when the snow was deep and the wind was cold, sometimes there was not food enough to eat and the children did not find life so pleasant. Of course the children did not go to school. They were taught what they needed to know by their parents or grandparents. They learned the history of their tribe and its religion by listening to the stories of the old men and women.
When the Indians went on a hunting trip or moved from one place to another, they travelled in single file over the prairies. Usually the men rode their ponies, while the squaws took care of the children and the goods. Of course they did not have wagons. When a squaw had more things than she could carry, she tied the ends of two long poles together with a piece of buffalo hide and hung this across the neck of a pony so the ends dragged on the ground. Between these two poles she tied a blanket or buffalo robe so that it made a sort of basket. In this she placed her robes, blankets, food, and cooking utensils. Often you could see the head of a papoose peeping out. Sometimes, too, there might be some puppies not yet old enough to run about.
After the white men came, the Indians changed their way of living. The men trapped animals and sold the furs to the white traders. Sometimes they bought blankets, or food, or clothing, but often they bought whisky. When they had whisky there was always trouble. Then the fathers beat their children and men fought and killed each other.
Before long the game began to disappear and the Indians could not get meat to eat or skins and furs for clothing. Then they had to sell more of their land to the white people so they could pay the traders for the pork, flour, clothing, traps, guns, and whisky they bought. Finally there was no more land left in Iowa for the Indians to sell, and they all had to move away.
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