Meskwaki Warparty: an Oral History

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This war story was written in the Meskwaki language by Alfred Kiyana in about 1915 on the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County, Iowa. It is among some 27,000 pages of Meskwaki written by numerous speakers of this Algonquian language for Truman Michelson of the Bureau of American Ethnology, then a component of the Smithsonian Institution.

Kiyana (Meskwaki Kyânâwa; the family spelling now Keahna), then a widower raising three boys, was the most gifted and prolific of the more than three dozen men and women who wrote for Michelson. He was a member of the War Chief subclan, the highest lineage of the Fox Clan and the one from which the tribal war leader was traditionally drawn. He was the namesake and perhaps the direct patrilineal descendant of the Meskwaki war chief that the French called Kiala and captured and shipped off to become a slave in Martinique in 1734. Kiyana died in 1918 in the Spanish Influenza pandemic at the age of forty-one.

The Meskwakis have six major clans, which comprise a number of subclans or lineages; membership is essentially passed on by patrilineal inheritance, with some alternatives.  Crosscutting clans and families are the dual divisions, the Tohkans and Kishkos; membership in these is in most cases assigned alternately to the children of a man. The Tohkans and Kishkos have ceremonial functions and automatically constitute the teams or sides for games and contests. The good-natured ribbing between them probably accounts for why Kiyana, a Tohkan himself, describes the Tohkans in his story as ending up with more to eat.


More about the Meskwakis

The Fox Wars: the Mesquakie
Challenge to New France

by R. David Edmunds
and Joseph L. Peyser

The Heartland Chronicles
by Douglas E. Foley

Black Eagle Child:
the Facepaint Narratives
by Ray A. Young Bear


This war story describes two expeditions against the Siouxs, traditional enemies of the Meskwakis, four years apart. The two are threaded together by the participation on both of two men who are uncle and nephew, a man and his sister’s son, whose story adds psychological complexity. Men related this way had an absolute obligation never to abandon each other in combat, and the nephew’s behavior is culturally deviant and incomprehensible. As is typical of Meskwaki oral literature, those mentioned for their deeds are not named or even minimally described; in fact, there are no superfluous descriptions of anything. The spareness of the narrative style serves to enrich the experience of the listener (or reader), who, for example, may deduce that the uncle whose hunter’s reward is honey on the expedition he leads (highlighted by his nephew’s gentle teasing) must have been the winner of top war honors on the first expedition, whose reward was the same. Kiyana’s narrative skills can also be seen when he summarizes the returned nephew’s account with a succession of overlays that push the embedded tale back to its beginning.

Kiyana in effect provides a short introduction to the ethnography of traditional small-scale warfare. The leader of a warparty derived his mission, as well as the power and knowledge to carry it out, from the blessing of a manitou, a spirit that had appeared to him in a dream or vision, perhaps in animal form, as he fasted. The manitou would specify the direction, location, and numbers of the enemy, and such details as whether or not non-combatants should be killed. A warrior had power derived from his individual blessing, and carried on his back a small medicine bundle (mîshâmi) containing one or more powerful objects, such as, in this story, a raptor skin (penêsiwaya). Warriors had the power to invoke the blessing of their war deeds to obtain as a warrior’s reward a food source for the whole warparty. Slain warriors were honorably buried by being seated against a large tree.

A war party leader was considered fully successful (shayôshkwêwesiwa ortêyêpesiwa) if he returned home with scalps or captives, or both, and lost no men, or if (as on the first expedition) those who died were acting against the dictates his blessing. War honors were won according to an established ranking of valorous deeds, or, as in this story, when the warparty leader simply decrees that an important contribution to the success of the expedition deserves one. But if there were not enough enemies, a man might return home without credit for anything and would not achieve the full status of a warrior (wêtâsêwa) until perhaps another time. The return of a successful warparty set off wild celebrations. Women streamed out to greet the returning men, and some (called mênimotâchiki) playfully pelted and smeared them with mud and collected the men’s clothing, with the excuse that it was “bloody.” The scalps were stretched and dried, and tied to scalp-sticks for the owners’ “nieces” (sisters’ daughters or fathers’sisters’ daughters) to carry aloft in scalp dances. Dances, general merriment, and promiscuous sex went on for days.

The Smithsonian manuscripts exist because the Meskwakis had providentially learned to write their language using an alphabetic syllabary (letters grouped into syllables). This was apparently originally developed by speakers of the neighboring and closely related Potawatomi language on the basis of primers prepared by francophone Roman Catholic missionaries. As the syllabary does not indicate the meaningful speech sounds that were phonetically elusive, or any punctuation besides an often-omitted word-divider, it was easy to learn to write fluently but can be challenging to read.  In transcribing and translating the text I am grateful for the help I received from Adeline Wanatee, Horace White Breast, Frank Pushetonequa, Jr, and Everett Kapayou during my fieldwork from 1990 to 2005. The manuscripts were paid for by the page and are in the national collections in the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland.

The Meskwaki manuscripts preserve in written form what was still an oral literature, and the phrase-line format of the translation is intended to evoke the measured oral presentation that Kiyana, a master storyteller, would have given. The translation also reflects the use of two features of Meskwaki grammar that serve to foreground and background participants and other components of the narrative: the marking for proximate or obviative status, which indicates the degree of current centrality or “aboutness,” and the liberal use of verbs inflected for indefinite subject (like French on and German man), which can be passives with no agent expressed or intransitives.

Ives Goddard, translator


Ed note: This translation includes scenes of violence and sexuality that some readers may find uncomfortable.


Long ago a certain Indian who fasted earnestly learned what he was to do in the future.
First, he led a warparty, and many men went with him.
Now it was winter, and the middle of winter was the time he headed out,
going on the warpath against the Siouxs.

|      After they were ten days out, he made an announcement.
“Time for us to eat, men,” he said to those he was traveling with.
|      The leader’s suggestion drew ready assent.
And he gave orders to four Tohkans and four Kishkos.
|      “Tohkans, you will kill two bears.
|      “And these Kishkos, two albino elk,” the Kishkos were told.
|      The direction the Tohkans were told to go in was towards the north.
And they were told, “You’ll kill them right nearby, for sure.”
|      And as for the Kishkos, they were told to go towards the south.
“You’ll kill them right nearby, for sure,” they were told.
|      “O.K.,” they all said.
|      “Another thing, you must hunt quickly.
You’ll have a competition to see who will be the first ones to make a kill,” they were told.
|      They stood back to back.
And then a certain Tohkan was designated as one who would give four shouts.
|      “After he gives the fourth shout, then you must start running,” they were told.
|      “But you mustn’t run fast,” they were told.
|      “You must jog along,” they were told.
|      After he gave the fourth shout, they jogged off.
|      Sure enough, two bears were killed, black ones.
And also two elk with marvelous bodies that were white.
|      At just the same time they came back with their loads of game.
And they set to cooking.
|      The elk were cooked to the south.
And the bears were cooked to the north.
|      Both teams finished their cooking at the same time.
The Tohkans in one group ate the bears,
and the Kishkos the elk.
|      It was extremely cold.
And what’s worse, the snow was blowing around.
|      There were many Kishkos
and a moderate number of Tohkans.
So, the Tohkans really ate their fill.
And the Kishkos ate kind of small portions.
They basically did not get enough.
And the Tohkans had food left over.
|      And one Kishko who was an accomplished warrior ate some bear.
Now, he was told not to by the leader,
but he went ahead and ate it anyway.
At the moment his stomach was full, while he was still eating, he died
and fell over backwards.
|      And what had happened to him was explained.
“He didn’t listen,” was said about him.
|      “Even though I admonished him,
still he didn’t credit what I told him,” was said about him.
|      “No one else did it to him.
He did it to himself,” was said about him.
|      He was taken a short distance away and laid out.
And his head was placed on his war bundle.
He had only a thin covering snow.
No grave was dug.

|      The next day they went on.
|      And the next day he explained things to those he had taken with him.
“Listen, men, here is where my path forks,” he said to the warriors.
|      “One path stretches away to the south,
the other to the west,” he said.
|      “On the one that goes to the south there is much meat,
Sioux meat, you understand.
On the one that goes to the west there are only four lodges,” he said.
|      “It’s an easy go.
The men don’t have many weapons,
and there also are not many men,” the warriors were told.
And they counciled.
|      And then some did not think much of the prospect of going west,
while some others liked the idea of going there.
|      And then some said, “It’s so the young men will be sure to know what combat is like,
that’s why we’re unwilling to attack only four lodges of men, those of us that are unwilling,
and desire to attack many men.”
|      And then eventually, two were selected to run a race,
one to go to the south if he won,
and the other to go to the west if he won.
What’s more, whichever one won the race would win war honors, so it was said about them.
They went off.
And they started running from a little ways away.
For a long time they ran along side by side,
kicking up the snow.
And one lost the race, and the one that wanted to go south won.
|      “So that must be where the manitou wants us to go,” they said.
And they set out the next day.
|      When noon of the day after came,
they were told, “Alright, here’s the deal, men: it’s time for us to eat.
|      “When we camp this time,
we’ll have there what we’re going to eat,” the warparty leader said.
|      Sure enough, there was a grove, and they went in among the trees.
In a deep ravine, where the sides provided shelter from the wind, they camped.
And just when they finished making their fires, they saw two raccoons.
|      A good climber climbed the tree
and chopped open their den.
And he threw out as many as twelve of them.
|      The cooks raised an appalling confusion of smells as they singed the hair off them.
|      They slept right there.

|      The next day he addressed them.
“Alright, men, tomorrow night I’ll come to where I’m going,” he told them.
|      The ones that wanted to go that way were glad.
|      Now, the warparty started out quite early,
in bitter-cold silence.
|      The Siouxs could not go anywhere.
All they did was stay inside warming themselves by the fire.
|      The whole day long the warparty walked on.
In the early evening the leader said, “Wait here.”
Now, there were people’s tracks running in all directions,
and they kept seeing firewood.
And they stopped.
|      And then two men were called on to go ahead as scouts.
Two that were willing to be scouts were found only with difficulty.
And they set out.
|      “You are to count how many lodges there are,” they were told.
“And you must look at how the longhouse is situated.
You must take careful note of it.
It will be distinguished by feathers with bent tips standing in front.
And with them will be one pair of straight ones stuck in the ground side by side.” they were told.
|      Now, just then the sun set.
And the clouds were red where the sun sank out of sight.
The scouts were told which way to go.
And as soon as they ran out from behind a steep hillside,
there were lodges in huge numbers.
|      “Wow!” they said.
And they set to counting the lodges.
They counted more than a hundred of them.
And that particular one was right in the middle.
Sure enough, they could see feathers with bent tips standing in front,
and also straight ones stuck in the ground side by side.
When they looked closely, here they could see a single Sioux man having a fuck.
(Remember, it was very cold.)
The woman was bent over
as they went at it standing up.
|      “He’s busy doing something else,” they said.
And they went back.
When they got back there on the run, the other men quickly assembled, every one of them.
The jaws of some were trembling from the cold.
|      “Well?” they were asked.
|      “Oh, there’s more than a hundred of them,” they said.
|      “And the longhouse?” they were asked.
|      “Oh, there’s one of those standing right in the middle,” they said.
|      “Did you see the feathers?” they were asked.
|      “Oh, we saw one pair with bent tips and one pair that was straight,” they said.
|      And then last of all they told about how the one fucking was doing it.
|      “Oh, really!” was the reaction they got.
|      And then he circled around them.
|      “First you must warm yourselves up,” they were told.
Sure enough, in a little while they were sweating.
|      And the one that had taken them with him began saying words.
“It will be as severely cold as it can be,” said the warparty leader.
|      “It will be very cold until midnight,” he said.
|      “And after midnight, it will be an extremely warm night,” the leader said.
|      As they listened, they ceased to be cold.
|      Finally they were told, “Alright, now get ready.”
And they got ready.
They set about stripping themselves down
and ran for their war bundles.
|      After they were all set,
the men were told, “You must right away kill everyone in the place where those bent-tipped feathers are.”

|      They attacked.
And they went about clubbing with resounding blows.
|      The Siouxs slept soundly.
And later the night turned warm.
|      One household was spared from clubbing.
|      The snow was spotted with blood.
|      Many were clubbed to death.

|      They headed back.
And, understand, a great road extended off the way they went.

|      Now it turned out, in fact, that the Siouxs had built a second village, making a pair.
|      There were even more lodges.

|      On top of everything else, the few that had been spared woke up late.
One of those spared just happened to be the town crier.
And on top of everything else, he did not wake up for a long time.
When he did wake up, he began calling out his cries,
telling the people to wake up early.
And no one answered him.
After he ended his call, he looked around at the houses.
And there was no smoke rising anywhere.
He ran immediately to check the place where their chief lived.
And he discovered him lying there with his head scalped.
He had even been half burned.
|      Only then did he look closely.
And he then saw that there was blood all over.
He started running from that very spot,
crying out as he went,
informing those in the lodge where he lived.
|      They all went rushing out.
And it turned out that all of the others had been killed,
every one of his fellow Siouxs.
|      They ran stumbling to the other village
and told what had happened.
|      “We were all killed,” they said.
“We must have all been clubbed to death last night,” they said.
|      He reported exactly what he had done.
|      They all first took the time to weep.
They first mourned their chief.
And they first went around looking at all those that had been slain.
|      After they had looked at all of them,
The Siouxs held a council.
One who would pursue them was sought.
And after a while, one who would pursue them was found.
Almost every one of the Siouxs went in pursuit.

|      And as for the band of Meskwakis, meanwhile,
the one that had taken them with him had no concerns about anything.
At some point he made an announcement.
(Remember, it was very cold.)
|      “Alright, men, look at this great elm,” they were told.
|      The elm tree even had large branches.
|      “Well, two bears live here,” he said.
|      “But they could be said to bode ill.
In fact, they do bode ill,” he said.
|      “If we kill them, the Siouxs will catch up to us.
Since we are being pursued,” the men were told.
|      “You must take over and have the say regarding it,” they were told.
|      “Since I will not be able to tell you what to do,” the men were told.
|      “So, the great warriors here must have the say over it,” the great warriors were told.
|      Then the great warriors could not come to any decision.
|      And then eventually a suggestion was made about the young men:
“Oh, alright then, these new warriors must give the orders, if they will.”
And it was turned over to them to give the orders.
|      In accordance with that, a certain new warrior stood to speak.
“Alright, men, this leader has now come through everything safely with no casualties at all.
Here now we see each other safe, every one.
We don’t notice anyone missing.
And also there’s no one wounded slowing us down.” he said,
one who had become a young warrior on that occasion, a young man indeed.
|      And then when he finished talking he sat down.
|      Many said, “What the new warrior says is good.”
|      And then another young warrior stood to speak.
|      “No, listen, that just won’t do,” he said.
|      “This way that you speak is not good,” the other was instantly told.
|      “Because you’re begrudging the young men a chance to see what war is like,” he was told.
|      “So, we must climb up after these bears,” the speaker insisted.
|      “Frankly, every one of us men here has a wish to see what war is like,” the other was told.
|      “So, we must not flee straight off like women,” said another.
|      “That’s what I say, men,” the speaker said.
|      And what he proposed was liked more.
|      They had reached an agreement to stop and eat some meat.
|      And the bears had people climbing up.
|      One of them went in after one of them
and killed it.
|      And then the other one got the other one to leave the den
and killed it outside.
|      They set about clearing a space in the snow with their feet
and began cooking.
|      “There’s a lot of them, I daresay,” they were told.
|      “But believe me, they will not have a one-sided fight against us,” the leader told them.
|      “Though, of course, there are more of them than there are of us,” the fighters were told.
|      “What’s more, here is where the leader ends,” the leader of the Meskwakis said.
|      “And this is when he will come,” he said.
|      “Tomorrow at noon,” said that warparty leader.
|      Remember now, it was as severely cold as it could be.
And they sank into the snow to a little below their knees.

|      And as for the one that had spoken for stopping to fight,
early in the morning he said, “Well, I think I’ll indulge myself with a little hunt.”
|      “At least then, if I should happen to survive,
I can roast myself a few little slices of sun-dried meat,” he said.
He had his bundle slung over one shoulder crosswise.
|      “Don’t do it! Don’t go anywhere,” his uncle, his mother’s brother, said to him.
|      “After all, you’re not a woman to be running away!” he was told.
|      “I wonder what you can be thinking.
I mean, we always seek to know war.
We men always hope to see it,” his uncle told him.
|      “No, I assure you I’m not going anywhere,” he insisted to him.
|      “Here’s why I admonish you, Nephew:
It’s your speech that’s the reason for what’s going down,” his uncle told him.
|      “Well, I’m not planning on doing what you think I am,” he said to him.
|      “Alright, come on,” he said to one man.
|      “I want you to come with me to get one deer,” he said,
speaking to that man.
|      “Nephew, I warn you that, if you leave,
whenever you get back home,
you will not avoid seeing how cruel this war is,” he told his nephew.
|      “For, it will be cruel here now,” the youth was told.
|      After they were out of sight, he told the other fellow his plan.
“Alright, boy, let’s run away,” he said to him.
|      “No, that’s completely out of the question,” the one who went with him told him.
|      “Well, I’m leaving now,” he told the other,
and he started running.
|      The one who went after a deer came back.
|      “What do you know, you came back,” was what was said to him.
|      And, “Did he really take off?” was the question asked about the man not there.
|      “To be precise, he said to me, ‘Let’s run away.’
But I told him, ‘That’s out of the question.’
He said to me, ‘Well I’m taking off now.’
And then he immediately started running.” (Such was his report.)
|      “And I was left to start walking back,” he said.

|      And then when it was nearly noon, two of them climbed trees.
And they looked back the way they had come.
Sure enough they saw the others emerge into view,
and there were just a few of them.
They reported,
saying, “There’s only a few of them.”
|      In fact, it turned out the mass of them had come another way.
And those were guides that had come the way that they had come.
|      The warparty leader began saying words.
“You must capture eight of them,” he declared.
|      “But the leader, I will go and capture,”said the leader.
|      “It will be extremely cold,” he said.
|      “So, their fingers will be so cold they’ll be numb.
So, don’t be afraid of them.
Even though I shall leave two of you behind here,” the men were told.
|      Sure enough, it rapidly became very cold.

|      At some point the Siouxs’ bows started going, “Tah!” as the wood split from the cold.
And their headed arrows, also, at some point started going, “Tah!” from the cold.
Some of them got quite scared.

|      Meanwhile, the Meskwakis were not cold themselves.
And sure enough at noon a shout was raised against them.
They realized that they were boxed in.
And they began to fight.
At first the others truly were in warriors’ frenzy.
Later, the arrows began to slack off,
at the time when the Siouxs got really cold.
|      Pretty soon one of the Meskwakis’ companions was hit.
And then they were really in warriors’ frenzy.
And after a while another of their companions was hit.
|      And the leader himself went rushing across.
And here he found the other leader obscured by what he had over him,
and he came at him him from behind.
|      For a brief time snow filled the air
as they went at each other.
|      After a short time the Sioux was tied up,
given a kick in the backside,
and taken away.
|      Sure enough, eight Siouxs were captured.
And almost all of them were killed,
as they stopped fighting.
Exactly at midnight they stopped going at each other.

|      And meanwhile that one that had run away even managed to get lost.

|      And then that very night they scalped them.
And they also arranged their companions who had been killed with great care,
seating them on top of Siouxs.
|      They say each of the slain men was seated on four Siouxs.
And the two of them were tied against a tree.
|      After they had finished carefully arranging them the right way, they went on.
And first the warparty leader said more words,
calling for there to be a heavy snowfall.
|      “This is the last speech I will give,” he said.
|      And the Siouxs were cold as they walked on.

|      And another man, after they camped, the one who had won the top war honors, was asked to provide something for the others to eat.
|      (As I said, they had already camped.)
|      And he began speaking.
“As a boy, whenever I was told to paint my face,
I smeared it with charcoal.
And now I never think there’s anything we’re not up to.
So, a deer that has fawned is my modest reward from the war honor I’ve just won.” he said.
|      After he finished speaking, one came running out of cover,
and they all gazed at it.
It ran up exactly to the place where they were
and came right to them.
And they surely did kill it.
And they cooked it,
and everyone ate a little.
|      And then that night that same man spoke some words.
|      “So, it shall be foggy,” he said.
|      “It shall be extremely warm,” he said.
|      “The fog shall last for four days,” he said.

|      After four days the snow was gone.
|      And then they continued on in earnest.

|      Oh, I almost forgot about the Sioux speaker.
After they had traveled with the captives for six days, one who knew Sioux was spoken to.
|      “Alright, let’s sit and rest,” those being taken were told.
So, at that time the Siouxs were asked how bad they had been made to feel.
One decided he might as well answer for himself,
and he said, “Well, in my case, you really made me angry.”
|      “Is that so,” was the response he drew.
|      And then another said as well, “I think the same way he thinks.”
|      “Is that so,” was the response he drew.
|      And then another said, “In my case, I just wanted to come and fight,” he said.
|      “Is that so,” was the response he drew.
|      “So, what about you?” another was asked.
|      And the former leader of the Sioux warparty spoke up.
|      “We wanted to fight, you understand,
which is how it happened that you captured us there,” he said, on behalf of the Siouxs.
|      And they were instructed.
“Alright, tell it straight,” they were told.
“Including that we would throw you into confusion,” they were told.
|      “Oh, well, that’s what happened to us.
We were in complete confusion when the town crier came stumbling over,” they said.
|      “‘They’ve all been killed,’ he said.
And we all wept, especially because you killed our chief,” they said.
|      “And as you killed a huge number we wept for them also,” they said.
|      “And then we looked among ourselves for someone to head out this way.
And then it was I who headed out this way
and came in pursuit of you.
Though I did explain the situation to them.
In particular, I told them, ‘Now I have to tell you, the Meskwaki leader has manitou powers.’
|      And when we got over near here, I explained them, ‘We’d better turn back.
I just know that not even I will be returning,’ I told them.
‘So that’s why I say to you, “Let’s turn back.” ’
And some insisted.
So, that’s why we did continue this way.
|      ‘And here’s what it will be like at the time we fight:
It will be very cold,’ I told them.
‘What’s more, we’ll be all but passing out from the cold on the way,’ I told them.
And they insisted.
So that’s why we came on.
After that, sure enough, some, despite their determination, were crying out from the cold.
And that’s why I told them, ‘Do your best when you fight.’
That’s what we did,” the Sioux said.
|      After he finished his account,
he said, “So, whoever clubbed our chief to death shall strike the post.
And after striking it,
he shall say, ‘And this is how I struck him,’
and club me to death.”
|      “You’re no kind of person to be giving orders.
Remember, you’re a captive here,” he was told.
|      “Oh, I only said that because I really want to hear what he says,” he said.
|      “Oh, you’ll do nothing if not hear what I say,” he was told by the one that had “killed” him (that is, captured him).
|      “When we arrived over there,
my friend here and I were called on to go together and count the lodges.
So we counted how many lodges there were.
And then when we looked closely,
here we could see some guy having a fuck.
A woman was bent over,
and they were going at it standing up.
We almost had balls banging us in the face,” he said.
|      “So, when we attacked,
for my part I attacked a place at random.
I thought, ‘Maybe this is a menstrual hut.
I’ll run inside.’
And when I ran on in, I clubbed one that made an especially high mound lying there.
And I realized that maybe there were two women lying there.
When I threw the covers off them, it was women.
After I had clubbed them both, I felt embarrassed.
I threw one in the middle of the fire.
And it turns out it was your chief that I halfway roasted,” he told him.
|      The Siouxs were made to weep by what they heard.

|      The next day they moved out.
And that evening they camped.
|      And then the one who had won top war honors said words,
to the effect that they would have a meal early in the morning when they woke up.
|      When they awoke early in the morning, they found some honey in a small log.
There was a huge amount of honey,
and they ate it.
It had an excellent effect on them
and restored their strength.
And they went on.
|      They went a long distance before camping.
And then they began asking each other to provide things.
And after some time, yet another man agreed to do so,
apparently just for the heck of it.
|      “So, tomorrow at noon, exactly at noon, we will have a meal.
We’ll eat nannyberries,” he said.
And his suggestion drew ready assent.
|      And they set out, early in the morning.
They went through the middle of the prairie.
When it was nearly noon, some said to each other, “I wonder where the heck they’re going to come from.”
|      Exactly at noon they saw them.
|      They say, the place had been a buffalo wallow, of all things.
They were those nannyberries that are on the bush in winter,
but the lumpy part looked quite fresh to them.
|      They really did eat their fill.
What’s more, they wrapped them in little bundles as well.

|      And early the next morning they ate some before starting out.
And what’s more, they were then going to get home at noon.
Swift runners were called on to go on ahead and announce the news.
|      And those going to announce the news left.
And in particular, they told about those that had been killed.
|      The parents were not upset but proud.
|      And then women went out to meet their menfolk.
And sure enough the men came into view,
and they went to meet them.
The women tried to pelt the men with things
and began smearing them all over with mud.
|      In addition, those scalps were stretched on frames.
And after they were stretched, the warriors made the scalp-sticks.
And then their “nieces” (paternal aunts’ daughters) held those scalp-sticks when they danced.
|      The scalps were held up on the sticks.
|      They had a great time.
They danced all night long every night.
|      What’s more, the women were having illicit sex as well.
And the women collecting the warriors’ “bloody” clothing were proceeding to collect it.
They went on entertaining each other for a long time.
|      After a while they set about sending home the ones they had “killed.”
And they also feasted.
They were cooking meat and in fact anything.
|      And meanwhile the captives feasted as well.

|      And exactly when they had come to the end of any kind of entertainment of each other,
that fellow who had run away arrived.
He had wrapped what scalps he had in a bundle.
And it turned out that, in fact, he was the one who had killed the chieftain.
|      (Now, among all the scalps the Siouxs had not seen one that looked like it would be his.)
|      And then that man’s scalps were stretched on frames.
He had been carrying eight with him.
|      And then they recognized it.
|      A narrow strip of buckskin painted green was tied around the hair.
In fact, the scalp was decorated.
|      When they saw it, they had tears in their eyes.
|      And that other fellow who had said he killed him was embarrassed.
|      They had a little celebration for not a great length of time.
They did have all-night dances as well, however.
They danced for a long time.

|      After they were done with their doings and had finished feasting,
they began to deliberate over their captives,
whether they would kill them or otherwise keep them with them.
And in fact, they had not cut them at all.
|      And one spoke up.
“Oh, as for me, this is the one I captured.
No one will have a say over him besides me,” he said.
|      “I will be the one in control of him,” he said.
|      “So, in four days I will send him home,” he said.
|      “At that time is when he will depart,” he said.
|      “My wife will now start making moccasins,” he said.
|      (Now, some trees were just then budding out.)
|      And everyone declared, “That’s it,” that they should go home.
|      And their moccasins began to be made for them.
|      Women were making moccasins all over,
and some also leggings.
|      When the time came, it was decided early that morning what to do with them.
They were made to lie flat on their stomachs.
And the sacred raptor skin that had gone after them was laid along the back of each in turn.
It ate them, in effect.
And they were instructed.
“You must depart,” they were told.
They were taken a short distance away.
And from the place some ways away that they had been taken to they departed.
They went home in good shape.
Every one of the men went off carrying a bundle on his back when they departed.

|      And then, when those who had sent them home got back,
they started hunting.
|      What’s more, the warriors that had come back still hadn’t put on new clothes.

|      And as for that fellow who had run away,
it turned out that he had spent all winter in a rocky cave,
and his scalps he had let freeze.
And after, it seems, there began to be warm weather,
he had searched randomly for other people.
After some time, when he had almost collapsed from hunger, he found them.
|      Now, he hadn’t had any arrows, they say.
In that cave, he had just, when a bear showed up, killed it without a weapon,
using the knife he had,
which was an “owl knife,” a large discarded projectile point.
|      So, that’s what he used to chop holes in it.
And all winter long that is where he stayed eating that bear.
Right when it was almost spring, he ate the last of it.
So, that is when he set out to look for the other people.
Just when he had given up, he started recognizing things.
|      Also, for quite a long time he had apparently lost his mind.
He did not know for how long he was not thinking right.
All of a sudden, when he came to his senses, he was sitting there someplace.
(Remember, it was extremely cold.)
He was blithely sitting there with his scalps in his hand.
So, it was then that he went to find that cave.
That is how he always told the story of what happened to him at that time.

|      And then his uncle came to see him.
“Nephew,” he said to him.
|      “In four years’ time you’ll see what I told you about back then,” he was told.
|      His uncle’s words made him bow his head.
And all the while he did not speak to him at all.
|      After his uncle had finished talking,
he said to him, “Uncle.
|      I wasn’t among those that came walking back peacefully and unimpeded.
And I also didn’t bed down anywhere I liked along the way.
And also I didn’t eat wherever I wanted to,” he said to him.
|      “I had a harder time of it.
I made it harder, indeed, for myself than you others had it.
Since, I didn’t even realize that I had, apparently, untied and opened my medicine bundle.
When I came to my senses, I discovered my medicine bundle lying open.
So, that’s why I think I had a harder time of it.
And here you are, still bringing it up to me,” he said to him.
|      “What’s more, I’m also not against what you say I should do.
I’m indeed willing, if you take me out with you,” he said to his uncle.
|      “What’s more, I’m not thinking, ‘My uncle must be teasing me.’
I hear you as definitely saying, ‘Yes!’”

|      Four years later his uncle led a warparty,
and he did indeed go along.
(Now, that is what his uncle asked him to do.)
|      After they were four days out, he learned where his uncle was going.
He was going after a single lodge of Siouxs.
That is, he was not going far,
but just a fair distance.
And it was fall at that time.
|      At some point he specified the direction he was going in.
And the veteran warriors were spoken to,
for them to assign tasks,
and for two young men to be called on who would go and count how many lodges they had.
|      “So, what are they going to go count?” he asked his uncle.
|      “Oh, the houses,” he said.
|      “Do you think there’s a lot?” he asked him.
|      “There’s just that one house, remember,” he said to him.
And he told his uncle how many were living there.
His uncle just didn’t believe him.
The two were sent out, anyway.
And their report was exactly what he had said.
As they gave it, he thought, “After all that, aren’t they reporting anything different!”

|      Right away they attacked those Siouxs.
And they killed them all.
They even burned that lodge, that tepee.
|      There was not enough fighting for the men who wanted to become warriors.
Only a few became warriors there.
|      And he, as well, swung a baby against something to crack its head open.

|      When they departed for home, he asked his uncle to provide something.
“Uncle, what’s your warrior’s reward?” he asked his uncle.
|      “Oh, Nephew, you will eat honey,” his uncle told him.
|      “Right when we camp,” he told him.
|      Right when they camped, they chipped it out.
It was in the base of a tree.
They took out a lot of it.
And they truly did feast on it.
And he did also.
They even put it in pieces of bark.
They took a lot of it out of there.

|      And then his uncle spoke to him.
“O.K., Nephew, now I, in turn, will speak to you,” his uncle said to him.
|      “Alright,” he said to him.
|      “I ask you, in turn, to provide food for us,” his uncle said to him.
|      “Well, I will provide you with food that will stimulate your craving for meat.
I’ll use my blessing to get you something that will have a good effect on you,” he told his uncle.
|      “Even though you didn’t use your blessing that way for me,” he told his uncle.
|      “So, it will be specifically a buck deer that we eat,” he told his uncle.
|      “Right at the time we camp is when we’ll get our shares of game,” he told his uncle.
|      Sure enough, they camped,
and just as soon as they camped, they killed a buck.
And they all feasted on fresh meat.
|      Remember, his uncle had been a fully successful warparty leader, bringing away scalps with no casualties.
So, they went along unworried, as if at play.

|      After that it was not long before they arrived back where they had come from.
The warparty leader went in the lead.
And here again, they were met by women coming out to them.
It was his nieces, his sisters’ daughters, who went on from that spot singing,
performing victory songs as they went.
|      Instantly on all sides women whose uncles had gone along were singing victory songs.
They just stood there outside their houses swaying.
Meanwhile, the ones whose uncle had been the warparty leader circled the whole town singing.
Before very long there came to be many of them,
as they came to find out their uncles had become warriors.
|      When they were done with these activities, they began dances.
All night long, night after night, for many days, people went right on doing victory dances.
They danced all night long, every night.
And at the same time women also engaged in sex with wild abandon.
|      For a long time the people made merry entertaining each other.
And after they were through with their dances,
then they feasted.
|      After all their doings were over,
the whole Meskwaki town was dead.
|      The young people felt especially forlorn.
And some of the divorced women
were saying, “It’s time the men started out on the warpath again,
so we would again be going to dance”
—some of the looser sort.
And young girls also had secret thoughts of sex.
And young women were wishing badly for a warparty to head out.
There were some thinking they would get a husband if it came about that that happened again.

|      For they say as well, when they came back victorious like that they would pair off with wild abandon.
In fact, some took each other’s wives as wives.
A warparty returning with captives or scalps removed the constraints on illicit sex for the occasion.
Women had sex with anyone.
Not necessarily one that was looked for,
but just anyone, they say.

|      Those are things that are told about the people of long ago.

|      That’s all.

 


Translator Ives Goddard is curator and senior linguist in the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. A specialist in Algonquian languages, he serves as the linguistic editor and technical editor of the Handbook of North American Indians.

 

Image: Two braves with faces painted. Left to right: Massica, a Sauk, and Wakusasse, a Fox, 1833. Karl Bodmer (1809–1893).

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About Alfred Kiyana

Alfred Kiyana (1877-1918; Meskwaki spelling Kyânâwa) was a member of the War Chief subclan of the Meskwaki, the highest lineage of the Fox Clan and the one from which the tribal war leader was traditionally drawn. He was the most gifted and prolific of the more than three dozen men and women who wrote for Truman Michelson of the Bureau of American Ethnology, then a component of the Smithsonian Institution.