Wild Indians

There are no really wild Indians left in the United States. Formerly there were many tribes of them, but some have disappeared, and others have lost their old-time spirit.

To-day our Indians live idly on the reservations or work their little farms with fair industry. Sometimes a tribe, roused by new wrongs inflicted on it by the white man, takes the war-path; sometimes some religious idea goes from tribe to tribe creating great excitement, like the Ghost Dance. But such outbreaks and excitements are less and less common.

Mr. Lummis has written of the Apache warrior and described the war led by Geronimo. It was a daring thing. There was but a handful of the Indians. “Thirty-four men, eight well-grown boys, ninety-two women and children”—that was all. Only forty-two who could be called fighters. On May 17, 1885, the little band broke forth from their reservation and headed for Mexico. It took the United States a year and a half of useless trouble and expense to pursue them. Time after time, when it seemed certain that the Indians were trapped, they vanished. They never stood for a pitched battle. But anywhere, concealed behind rocks or hidden in brush, they picked off the soldiers sent to capture them. The forces of the United States and Mexico were both kept constantly upon the move. When a year had passed about sixty of the Indians returned home. Twenty warriors, with fourteen women, kept up the battle, when they too went home. During the year and a half of fighting more than four hundred whites and Mexicans were killed; only two of the Indian band were destroyed. During that time Arizona and New Mexico and all the northern part of Mexico were kept in constant terror. These Apaches were truly “wild Indians.”

The Navajo are not wild Indians though they are related to the Apaches and were formerly bold fighters. They live near the settled Pueblos and have learned from them many things. They are a prosperous tribe, numbering fully ten thousand. They are well-to-do, having nine thousand cattle, one hundred and nineteen thousand horses, and one million six hundred thousand sheep and goats. They dress well in their own way and wear many ornaments.

A Navajo house is a simple affair. It consists of sticks or poles stacked up so as to meet in a point above; they are then covered over with bark, weeds, or earth, a hole being left for an entrance and one at the top for smoke escape: an old blanket hung over the entrance hole serves as a door. Near this hut there is often a little shelter of boughs where the family spend most of their time on fine days. The Navajo also build sweat houses for vapor baths. These are like the regular hut, but have no smoke hole, and are thickly covered over with earth. Stones are heated in a fire outside and carried into the sweat house between sticks; water is dashed over them, and in the steam thus made the bather sits.

The Navajo are good workers in silver and are all the time improving in their art. They make spherical beads, bracelets, and rings of several sorts, breast ornaments, decorations for harness and bridle, and many other things out of coins or other silver furnished them. The Navajo excel as weavers of blankets, though they use extremely simple looms. The yarn is home-spun from wool taken off their own flocks; they do, however, buy some yarn ready-made from the white man. Formerly they dyed their yarn with dyes taken from various plants or colored earths, but now they mostly use white men’s dyes. Their blankets are firm and closely woven and shed water finely. They are woven in bright patterns. All the Indians who live near the Navajo like their blankets and pay good prices for them. The Navajo greatly like turquoise beads, but they do not find turquoise on their reservation. For these beads and ornaments they trade their fine blankets, and silverware, and good ponies with the Pueblo Indians who live near the mines of this handsome greenstone.

The Navajo are great singers and have many songs; but it is the men who sing and not the women. They have also many interesting stories and curious customs, but we cannot stop to tell about them. The Apaches and Navajo are but two tribes out of the hundreds of American Indian tribes. In another book, American Indians, you may read about their manners and customs, their songs and music, their stories and worship.


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