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Chapter XV Our Ideas of the Continent and Civilization

THE Kiowas had a pretty accurate idea of the size of North America. This knowledge was obtained partly from members of other tribes and from white men. However, our people had travelled extensively when the country was mapped only by the trails of unshod feet.

I have heard the old men tell of a time when the tribe lived in the far north. This is not tradition alone. It is also history recorded many generations ago on skins and carried down by the hands of those fitted for such work. From time to time these records were transferred to fresh skins.

I remember an old man spreading upon the ground a large skin covered with lines and queer-looking figures. Pointing to certain spots upon it he talked about the places where the tribe had camped and of the happenings therein many, many moons ago.

Judging from these maps of their joumeyings, their first habitat must have been between Hudson Bay and the Rocky Mountains. Indeed I have heard them tell that their forefathers left the land that was covered with snow nearly all of the time, and came to a land where no snow ever fell, where it was always warm and where the Indians lived in houses which were very much like those of the white men. Forced out of this country they had made their way back to the cold north, and had been driven south again.

It is quite certain that they reached the Gulf of Mexico, for I recall their having taken a captive—a blond-haired white man—on the “edge of a big water which the eye could not go across,” and by the location on the skins the “big water” must have been the Gulf. I have also heard them talk about the “big water where the sun walks down”—the Pacific Ocean.

But they had little knowledge of the white man’s way or of his complex civilisation.

They had no adequate idea of the value of money and didn’t even know what paper money was. In my childhood’s time a number of our most restless young men raided a store and among the plunder they brought home were some pieces of paper queerly coloured and cut into uniform shape. Ignorant of its value they used it for “smoke paper.” I now know that it was paper money. A bale of such money wouldn’t have appealed to them as a substitute for a twenty-five-cent silver piece—a fact of which the white man was never slow to take advantage.

Some of the chiefs had visited the national capital and other cities, but nearly everything they saw they found very confusing.

As I now recollect their talk concerning these visits, they must have been in churches and in other places where large numbers of people congregated. But connected with these places were many things which they did not understand and for which they could see no use.

Altogether there were so many useless things everywhere, even in the houses where the white people slept and ate, that a strong contempt for the dominant race was begotten in their minds.

The things the white men ate—white man’s food— made the Indians sick in their “middles,” they said; the way they ate them; the soft beds they slept in; the things they did and did not do; the way the women, especially, dressed—all left a very unfavourable impression upon the red men of the plains.

Neither could these sons of the free life understand why there were white men compelled to work from morning to night, or all night long, for those who did nothing but ride around wearing fine clothes.

The savage Indian placed no value upon his property or his services but gladly helped his fellows in need without thought of material reward. He was naturally courteous. Many years ago when the men of the camp were in council, a warrior belonging to a tribe but recently at war with the Kiowas, suddenly appeared in the tepee. He stood silently erect until invited to speak. The men were even then laying plans for a campaign against his tribe. When the visitor told of a strange sickness of which many of his people had died, of the poverty and starvation from which they were suffering, he was given food and allowed to depart in peace. Afterward the two tribes became friends.

Once a stranger from some other tribe came into our tepee. His moccasins were worn out, and Father gave him the only pair he had. And when Mother learned that his wife and children were sitting on the ground outside, hungry and almost naked, she brought them all in and provided for their necessities.

The Indian is a natural socialist. Before his faith was modified by contact with the white intruder, he believed that The-One-Who-Makes created the earth and all things for all of the people. Private ownership of any part of the earth was entirely foreign to his mind. Although any one might occupy a place as long as he wished, no one could sell any of it any more than he could sell the air. He believed there should be no rich and no poor. As long as he had anything anybody was welcome to share it.

Trained by the inheritance of centuries to feel himself equal with his brother-man in the ownership of the mountains, prairies and forests he roamed and hunted, the streams he rode and fished, is it strange that he has little understood the white man’s greed? Strange that he has resented the white man’s encroachment on his primitive rights? Strange that that resentment should have smouldered and burst into the flame of warfare?

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