Reiseliteratur weltweit

Geschichten rund um den Globus

1873 - Elizabeth Custer
Among the Sioux
Near Yankton, South Dakota

[Elizabeth Custer was the wife of General George Armstrong Custer who was killed in the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.]

The march took us through the grounds set apart by the Government for the use of the Sioux Indians at peace with our country. We had not made much progress before we began to see their graves. They do not bury their dead, but place them on boards lashed to the limbs of trees, or on high platforms raised from the ground by four poles perhaps twenty feet. The body is wound round and round with clothing or blankets, like a mummy, and inside the layers are placed fire-arms, tobacco, and jerked beef, to supply them on the imaginary journey to the happy hunting-grounds. In the early morning, when it was not quite light, as we filed by these solitary sepulchres, it was uncanny and weird and the sun, when it came, was doubly welcome. Our first visitor from Agency Indians was a Sioux chief. He was tall, commanding, really a fine face. When he was ready to go home he invited us to come to his village before we left on our next march. At twilight my husband and I walked over. The village was a collection of tepees of all sizes, the largest being what is called the Medicine Lodge, where the councils are held. It was formed of tanned buffalo-hides, sewed together with buckskin thongs and stretched over a collection of thirty-six poles. These poles are of great value to the Indians, for in a sparsely timbered country like Dakota it is difficult to find suitable trees. It is necessary to go a distance to procure the kind of sapling that is light and pliable and yet sufficiently strong for the purpose. The poles are lashed together at the tops and radiate in a circle below. The smoke was pouring out of the opening above, and the only entrance to the tepee was a round aperture near the ground, sufficiently large to allow a person to crawl in. Around the lodge were poles from which were suspended rags; in these were tied their medicines of roots and herbs, supposed to be a charm to keep off evil spirits. Sound of music came from within; I crept trembling in after the general, not entirely quieted by his keeping my hand in his, and whispering something to calm my fears as I sat on the buffalo robe beside him. In the first place, I knew how resolute the Indians were in never admitting one of their own women to council, and their curious eyes and forbidding expressions towards me did not add to my comfort. The dust, smoke, and noise in the fading light were not assuring. Fool-dog [a Sioux Chief] arose from the circle of what composed their nobility, and solemnly shook hands with the general; those next in rank followed example. The pipe was then smoked, and the general had to take a whiff when it came his turn. Fortunately we escaped the speeches, for we had not brought an interpreter.
   Coming out of the light into this semi-darkness with the grotesque figures of the plebeians, as they danced around their chiefs and contorted their bodies to the sound of the Indian drum and minor notes of the singers, made it something unearthly in appearance; their painted faces, grunts and grins of serious mirth they wheeled around the tepee, made me shiver. I relieved I felt when the final pipe was smoked and the good-bye said! The curious eyes of the squaws, who stood in the vicinity of the lodge, followed us, as they watched me clinging to the general's arm while we disappeared, in the direction of camp, through the thickening gloom.

Custer, Elizabeth
Boots and Saddles
New York/London 1913

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