From Chap. 43, Louisiana Purchase, 1828

  War Dance in a Kansa Indian Lodge. Kansas State Historical Society

 

War Dance in a Kansa Indian Lodge. Kansas State Historical Society

 

The Osages brought out some enemy scalps that interested the eastern Indians, who watched and listened intently while an Osage demonstrated the taking and finishing off of a scalp. First he recruited a friend with unusually long hair to lie on the floor and serve as the victim. He put one foot on the neck of his friend, then seized the hair with his left hand, twisting it around his fingers for a good grip. At the same time he whipped a knife from his belt with his right hand. Then he pretended to cut a circular incision about three inches in diameter around the crown of the victim's head. With a jerk he "tore" the hairy skin from the skull.

Mograin leaned toward me and whispered, "Survivors say that makes popping sounds." Flinching, I thought of Corbly Martin's mother.

The demonstrator before us recruited another Osage friend, one with the usual shaved head. The two showed us how to scalp a man with a small tuft of hair, how the tuft was circled with a knife and pulled from the skull with the conqueror's teeth. Mograin leaned toward me again, grinning. "That's why these Indians remove most of their hair; so the enemy might lose some teeth."

Another Osage man brought out a scalp that was stretched within a round willow hoop, the hair remaining on it. He showed how the fleshy side was rubbed to appear like buff leather, then reddened with vermilion. He and others displayed applications for scalps cut into strips, some decorating leggings, tobacco bags, and bridles. After witnessing all this I went outside White Hair's house and relieved myself of my partially digested buffalo meat.

The Choctaws wanted one of the scalps to take back home and show their people. With some ceremony, an Osage warrior came forward and presented the principal Choctaw chief the scalp of a Pawnee. The acceptance was followed by an Osage speech. It ended with the implication that because of certain customs, the Osages would henceforward understand that the Choctaws, who were about to become their neighbors, would also become their allies in war. This turn of events appeared to be as unwelcome as it was unexpected by the Choctaws. These eastern Indians weren't good at concealing their reactions. Their chins dropped as white men's chins would have dropped. They made no reply. Instead, they requested the Osages to exhibit some examples of their dances.

While this was going on, I contemplated the noticeable situation of the visiting Indians. Having been reared in the midst of white civilization, they appeared as awkward as did most white men when in council proper with remote tribes. Now, with their hosts having urged them to join the dancing, they became mere children, always a movement or two behind those they were imitating. Stamping, squatting, leaping, pivoting, folding arms, turning this way, that way, the Osages moved through the ceremony with fine-honed precision. I could see the fear of embarrassment in the eyes of the Choctaws, and was glad when the whole thing ended.