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To Pitch the Tipi

  Native American Nations | Among the Arrapaho                    


      To pitch the tipi, a circular space of ground is cleared--no easy task in deep snow-of the required dimensions. Three poles are then tied together at the smaller ends, and raised, others are laid on, and a cord is drawn around to secure them. The canvas or skin is elevated by a final pole on the side of the wind, and by its agency is made to envelop the conical frame. The edges are provided with eyelets and are joined by wooden pins. The base is now increased to the fullest extent, and the poles are thrust into holes prepared, and the canvas securely fastened to pegs and driven into the ground. The smaller ends of two poles are inserted into loops near the vertex, by which means a smoke exit is formed, and its position shifted with the wind.  Fire is at last lighted, the simple interior arrangements are completed  and preparations for cooking inaugurated, all of which is often performed it, by a single squaw. Not until he perceives these evidences of comfort does her lord appear, and meanwhile he has probably been loitering over a few coals, or under the friendly shelter of a neighboring hillock.

     My first dinner with the Arrapalores was by invitation of Six Feathers, a very hospitable and friendly Indian. It was served upon common white china, and comprised stewed dog, boiled rice slightly sweetened, bread baked by reflection, and tea. Observing that my host shook the contents of a perforated tin box into his cup, and supposing it was sugar, I followed his example, and found it was black pepper-not, however, an unpalatable mixture in extremely cold weather. Dog meat is considered a great luxury, and is reserved for feasts and special occasions. After dinner Six Feathers seated me upon a couch of buffalo-robes and bright red blankets, spread upon a willow mat that lay upon the ground and against two poles of a tripod, to which could be given any inclination. This formed a support for the back when sitting, and for the head when lying down. My hostess now presented me with a hair of moccasins uniquely embroidered with colored porcupine quills, which I was gratified to observe fitted perfectly, and I expressed my pleasure and thanks to the dusky donor in my choicest Arrapaho. Cigarettes, of which they are exceedingly fond, being produced, the complacently smoked, while the fire burned brightly in the centre of the lodge, maintaining a comfortable and uniform temperature and the smoke gracefully curled through its appointed aperture.

    Their language is the most difficult to acquire of all Indian tongues, and it is said, indeed, that two Arrapahoes can not thoroughly comprehend each other in the dark, that is, without the intervention of the, sign-manual common to all North American tribes. My earlier attempts at a conversation by this means were necessarily crude, and my mistakes often ludicrous.  Prominent among my Arrapaho friends is Washington, so called at the agency because of a three-cornered hat he wears, the similarity of which to that of the Continental period has dignified the wearer into a real or fancied resemblance to the "Father of his Country." He is a “medicine man," happily unfettered by allopathic or homoeopathic schools. What ever the diagnosis, his remedy is invariably the same, and consists of beating upon a " tom-tom," yelling hideously, and dancing wildly about the patient, until he is, either frightened to death or recovers by natural processes. In the latter case the Good Spirit triumphs; in the former, the Evil. It is merely a question of successful invocation or exorcism. But Washington is an empiric, and when these means fail, lie has recourse to others not less fallible he comes to me. I carry a small case of medicines, and upon one occasion, misunderstanding his signs, I prescribed an astringent in copious quantities, when the unfortunate victim was almost dying for want of a laxative, and narrowly escaped prematurely sending the poor devil to the happy hunting grounds.

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