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Kansas Historical Quarterly - Kickapoo-Pottawatomie Grand Indian Jubilee

by Frank A. Root

February 1936 (vol. 5, no. 1, pages 15 to 21
Transcribed by lhn; additional HTML by Susan Stafford
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.

DURING the last year of overland staging out of Atchison, it was my privilege on a hot day in the month of July, 1867, to be present at and witness the festivities connected with a grand Indian tournament and powwow. The festival took place on the Kickapoo reserve in northeastern Kansas, in the southwestern corner of Brown county, something over thirty miles a little north of west from Atchison. The chosen spot was only a short distance from the great overland wagon road built across the plains and over which the Concord stage to California passed. The pow-wow was gotten up on quite an elaborate scale. Of the Indians who were present and took part, there were less than one hundred Pottawatomies and fully twice that number of Kickapoos, while the white guests in attendance were little more than half a dozen.

The event to be celebrated had for a long time been in practice by these two tribes. It was the regular annual visit of the Pottawatomies [2] to their oldtime friends, the Kickapoos. For a long time it had been the custom of these two tribes, from their intimate relations, to alternately visit each other once a year, on which occasion there would be a sort of jubilee and a general rejoicing, and this would be followed by an exchange of presents between the members of each tribe.

I was present at this aboriginal entertainment through an invitation extended by Judge F. G. Adams, agent of the Kickapoos in the latter '60's, as his guest. This was an opportunity I had long sought. I had frequently heard about their pow-wows, and, while I had seen

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several thousands of the "noble red men" in a stretch of more than five hundred miles on the plains, I never had spent a day among them in the country. Being on the ground in person and witnessing the weird festivities that followed this annual gathering, was indeed a rare pleasure.

The exercises were held at the wigwams of Ke-o-Quack, [3] near the west bank of Walnut creek, a handsome stream that courses down through the Kickapoo reservation. The spot selected-near the southwest corner of the reserve-was a very beautiful one, no doubt one of the finest to be found in that lovely portion of Kansas. It was an elevated section of prairie, surrounded on the east, north and south sides with belts of elm, oak and walnut timber, while on the west an unbroken view was had for a considerable distance over the green landscape. The prairies were decked with a profusion of choice wild flowers and this added much to the appearance of the surroundings.

The Indians had assembled on the premises a short time before I reached there, having come from almost every direction. In a few minutes, dividing up into four parties, they were each arranged in a different position on the ground they had selected for the exercises. Beginning their program, a party of between thirty and forty Pottawatomies on foot were stationed on the west side. They began by hopping and jumping several feet above the ground, at the same time hooting and yelling at the tops of their voices at every jump. At the same time they chanted a number of their peculiar tribal songs, to the strains of the most outlandish sounding music, their orchestra comprising a sort of drum that had been gotten up for the occasion by stretching the skin of some animal over the top of an old paint keg. I listened, of course, to the music, but the discordant sounds that came from this improvised instrument were little less than torturing to all the paleface guests. The drum was placed on the ground and surrounding it were seated as many squaws and bucks as could comfortably get around it, each one being provided with a set of sticks. These musicians thumped away industriously on their instrument, at the same time chanting some of their hideous-sounding airs. It was a rum-dum, rum-dum, rum-dum, for several hours, and nothing I had ever before heard was so monotonous.

While this musical part of the program was being gone over, a dozen or more of the bucks were out in front dancing, while another

ROOT: KICKAPOO-POTTAWATOMIE JUBILEE 17

band was singing and dancing near by. During this part of the exercises a number of the braves were flourishing above their heads scalping knives, tomahawks, and several other promiscuous war trophies they were in possession of. On the south side of the enclosure was another delegation of Pottawatomies-mostly squaws, boys and papooses. The squaws and boys were left in charge of the ponies belonging to that tribe. On the north side was still another delegation on foot, but to which tribe they belonged I did not learn, for nearly all the Indians looked alike though dressed differently. Stationed at the east end and nearest the wigwams were the Kickapoos, the whole number, as arranged on the grounds, representing three sides of a rectangle, or perhaps more properly, a sort of oblong square. The most of the Kickapoos engaged in these exercises were mounted upon their fleetest ponies.

The costumes worn by the Indians were varied and numerous. They consisted of a great variety of outlandish and ludicrous styles, while their dusky faces, and in many cases a goodly portion of their bodies, were daubed and striped with several different colors of paint

What seemed to me the strangest thing about the whole business was that no two of the Indians assembled were dressed exactly alike. Many of them had their heads ornamented in styles simply ridiculous, while some of them were indescribable. A few were fixed up with gaily colored ribbons and cords with tassels of gaudy colors streaming from their slouch hats; a few had bead ornaments, with wild turkey, hawk and buzzard feathers in the tops of their hats and caps; some had plug hats with different kinds and styles of overcoats; one had on a pair of fine doeskin pants and a yellow calico blouse; some were attired in leggins, with blankets of various colors wrapped around them. One tall fellow waltzed around with one foot bare, clad in a heavy buffalo overcoat, while the mercury was soaring in the 90's. One brave was carelessly wrapped in a heavy red blanket doubled and tied around his body, on his feet were Stogy 4 shoes, while his head was covered with a chip hat, striped off in several colors of paint with a few feathers sticking out of the top. Another fellow was attired in a calico shirt, a pair of leggins, and on one foot was a buckskin moccasin, while a heavy cowhide shoe was on the other; another was dressed in corduroy pants and stogy boots with heavy spurs attached to them; another cut a big swell, clad in a long, turkey-red shirt and moccasins, his

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head covered with a dilapidated old plug hat; another wore a red shirt, white hat and blue pants. Another was in a gaudy calico shirt with buckskin leggins, while on his head was one of the ugliest looking caps imaginable; it was made from the fur of a beaver, and was minus the crown; in its front was a buffalo horn sticking out about eight inches, while the tail of a buffalo dangled down his back. Another was cutting up all sorts of queer antics, attired solely in a breech-clout; another was dressed in a peculiarly odd-looking suit with a string of fancy beads around his neck and three crescents made of tin or German silver, which dangled behind. Still anotherand his was the most beautiful dress in the entire outfit--wore a fur cape made of otter and silk, tapering down to a point, which dragged at least a foot on the ground. This was fixed up with a variety of silver ornaments of various shapes and sizes and tapered all the way down from the neck to the bottom of the lovely rich garment. A pair of buffalo horns protruded from the head of one of the Pottawatomie braves, while around his neck was a rather singular looking ornament-a necklace manufactured from the claws of wolves. This made him look fierce enough, still he may have been as gentle and innocent as a lamb.

It is hardly necessary to describe more than a few of the varied costumes worn by the Indians at this pow-wow. Some of them were extremely ridiculous and decidedly funny; two or three were perfectly hideous; a number of them were ludicrous in the extreme. Such a contrast in styles and garments in an equal number of visitors from two tribes of "noble reds" may never have been seen in Kansas before or will ever be seen again. In a great measure the exercises became somewhat tiresome, still I rather enjoyed the dusky reunion as one of the rarest treats of the kind my eyes had ever feasted upon.

The plan for distributing the presents was an interesting feature and this part of the exercises I also enjoyed. A short time after the arrival of our paleface party on the premises, one of the Kickapoos, mounted upon a fine horse and dressed in an elaborate costume, galloped around the band of Pottawatomies stationed on the west side of the "square," at the same time going through all manner of gestures known to but few besides the members of the two tribes, finally returning to the spot from whence he started. A young man-John C. Anderson [5] -a fine-looking half-breed who had been educated and spoke English fluently, was employed as the Kickapoo interpreter. He informed the writer that the exercises I had just

ROOT: KICKAPOO--POTTAWATOMIF, JUBILEE 19

witnessed was the first "sign." It signified that a pony was to be donated by the fellow mounted on the fine horse to one of the Pottawatomie visitors. In the various exercises that followed at intervals of a few minutes, some thirty Kickapoos rode around the band stationed at the west end, each giving away a pony at the conclusion of the ride. A number rode up to within a few feet of the Pottawatomie line and returned without going outside and around to the rear of the dusky visitors. This was a "sign" that the gifts they were about to bestow upon their guests were of another nature, intrinsically worth considerably less than the price of a pony.

In going through the various exercises out on the open prairie where the delegations formed the hollow square the time consumed was less than an hour. Following these the leader of the band of Kickapoos-Ke-o-Quackrode forward on his fine horse and, in his native tongue, made a brief speech to his men. At the conclusion of his remarks all of the Indians then repaired to the wigwams which had been neatly arranged in the Walnut creek bottom, where they seated themselves, some on the fence, some on benches, stools, boxes, barrels, logs, etc., while a number were squatted around promiscuously on the grass. It seemed that there was not a breath of air stirring at one time and the heat from the broiling sun became oppressive. Repairing to one of the wigwams close by was a relief to me, for there I was out of the intense heat and was able for several hours to watch the exercises that followed with a far greater degree of comfort than at any time before.

Ali-co-the-one of the prominent Kickapoos-made a neat little speech in his native tongue. In his talk he took occasion to remind his brethren not to forget to be liberal in the donations to their visitors; at the same time he also reminded them that the time would swiftly pass when they would next become the guests of the Pottawatomie visitors. At the conclusion of his remarks another and not less interesting part of the program followed, that of "smoking" for the presents. This feature of the exercises was done in the following manner: A Kickapoo with a pipe-the stem of which is at least three feet long-desires to present a favorite small Pottawatomie boy with a substantial gift. Walking over to the little fellow he places the pipe to the lad's lips for a few seconds; then taking it away, he repairs a short distance to one side. In a minute or two he returns, leading a handsome pony which the young aborigine accepts, without even a smile-no expression on his face indicating the least sign of gratification by the gift. The next "smoking" was done by an Indian clad in his favorite (though not very

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becoming) suit-a breechclout-his entire covering being little more than enough to wad an old flint-lock musket. In his practically naked condition the Indian was presented with a gunny sack filled with clothing-under the circumstances quite an appropriate gift. A young squaw put the pipe to the lips of one of her female visitors and presented her with a piece of calico. She next unhooked and took off her skirt and gave that to her also. One old gray-headed, gray-bearded man-Mo-she-no [6] -whose make-up appeared to be about three-quarters French and one-quarter Pottawatomie, was a rather conspicuous and somewhat prominent character on the scene. He was present bare-headed, with nothing but a calico shirt on his back and a pair of moccasins on his feet. After smoking a whiff or two he was presented with a skunk's skin stuffed with tobacco, something doubtlessly relished by the thinly-clad recipient. In addition to the various ponies presented there were a goodly number of other gifts bestowed, still the greater portion of them were of slight value.

At the conclusion of the presentation of gifts by the "smoking" plan, the next exercises consisted of dancing. An Indian carpet made of rushes and flag (or iris) leaves was spread out on the ground near the host's home and in front of the large wigwam the drum was placed. A half dozen or more Indians at once seated themselves around this instrument of torture and soon there was "music" in earnest. A few taps on the "drum" was the signal, and those seated around it at once began to render another selection of vocal and instrumental music in true aboriginal style. Almost instantly a dozen or more Prairie Pottawatomies jumped up and began dancing around the musicians. This was a scene interspersed with a number of antics that would do credit to an ordinary circus acrobat. Only a faint idea can be given of these dances; no two of the dancers resembled each other in dress. The exercises embraced at least half a dozen different dances, but the motions and gestures made by the participants as the various figures were being gone through, were decidedly ludicrous. One of the Indian braves had an old-style rifle and a horse pistol; another a flintlock musket; another had a pistol of the Colt patent; several had bows with quivers filled with arrows; two or three had lances; some had tomahawks and several flourished hunting or scalping knives; a few had war clubs, while the balance were provided with a variety of other weapons. Some fearful shouts/

ROOT: KICKAP00-POTTAWATOMIE JUBILEE 21

arose when dancing begun. It seemed as if one was in the midst of a. weird pandemonium. At first they would leap several feet into the air, coming down and alighting first on one foot and alternately on the other, at the same time flourishing their guns, knives, pistols, tomahawks, etc., in savage warlike fashion, and all the while yelling at the top of their voices. At the conclusion of each dance a volley of doleful yells and the most hideous whoops and shouts would be sent up which sounded almost deafening.

As the exercises connected with the festival were held on the premises of Ke-o-Quack, courtesy naturally gave this popular Kickapoo the position of "captain," "marshal," "great mogul," or "highcock-a-lorum" of the day. He was an exceedingly bright Indian-one of the most useful, intelligent, deserving and prosperous members of the tribe. He was past the half century mark in age when this "blowout" took place. His squaw was a prominent lady in the tribe, being the daughter of "Wa-the-na," after whom one of the prominent towns and the first county seat of Doniphan county was named in the latter '50's. Previous to the treaty of 1854-the year the Kansas-Nebraska bill passed Congress-she resided where that handsome town named for her father now stands, six miles west of the Missouri river from St. Joseph.

From the "spirited" condition of some of the Indians appearing at this gathering, it would seem that the festival might more properly have been called a regular old-fashioned jamboree. It is a fact that quite a number of the members of both tribes had provided themselves with an ample supply of the vilest liquor. During the exercises they had been slipping away to secretly imbibe of this hidden store, and from the quantity they had gotten away with at this time, it was evident that they were not behind the pale faces in learning how to get their booze.

In late years a religious form of worship, embracing a portion of the doctrines of a number of the Christian churches has appeared and is now practiced by some of the members of both the Kickapoo and Pottawatomie tribes. Only a few of these, however, are said to be earnest, consistent members of this church; yet they are an honor to their tribes. The most of them still believe in and practice the aboriginal doctrines taught by their "illustrious predecessors." The annual feasts connected with their jubilees and dances, which usually continue for several days, are illustrations of the manner in which the Indians express their loyalty and devotion to the one who, in their belief, they will join when they drop off and finally enter their new home in the "happy hunting ground."

Notes

1. Frank Albert Root was born in Binghamton, N. Y., July 3, 1837. He attended school in New York and Pennsylvania, and entered the printing business at Wellsboro, Pa., where he completed his apprenticeship In April, 1857, lie came to Kansas, and worked in newspaper offices in Lawrence, Quindaro, Highland and Atchison. He served as assistant postmaster at Atchison, and also was city clerk. Later be was appointed express messenger on the Holladay Overland Stage line, and during 1863-1864 he was in the service of the government as Overland mail agent at Latham station, Weld county, Colorado territory, handling mails brought in from the Pacific slope. He retired from the Overland service in 1865. That Year he became part owner of the Atchison Daily Free Press. Later he became a partner of John A. Martin in the publication of the Atchison Daily and Weekly Champion and Press. He was one of the first route agents on the Central Branch line of the Union Pacific from Atchison to Waterville. He started newspapers in Waterville Seneca, Holton, Topeka, North Topeka, and Gunnison Colo., and is author of The Overland Stage to California. He died in Topeka Or' .June 20, 1926. The paper published here was written in the early 1890's.
2. Since about 1819 or 1820, a number of Pottawatomies had been living with the Kickapoos, and had intermarried with them. By a treaty or national compact, in 1851, they had been adopted into the Kickapoo tribe. This accounted for the friendly relations existing between the two tribes.
3. Ke-o-Quack, Kickapoo, married a daughter of Wathena a Kickapoo chief.
4. "Stogies" was the common name of the coarse, heavy cowhide boots and shoes made for rough manual labor and farm work. This designation was a common one up to about the last decade of the nineteenth century.
5. John C. Anderson was government interpreter for the Kickapoo Indians, with headquarters at the Kickapoo and Pottawatomie and Great Nemaha agency, during the 1860's.
6. Mo-she-no (Ma-she-nah) or the Elk Home, was with Tecumseh, in his confederation against the whites. He took part in the battle of Tippecanoe, and later moved to Kansas with the tribe and lived at Kickapoo for twenty-two years.-Remsburg, Geo. J., "Scrap Books," v. B, p. 5, in library of the Kansas Historical Society.