previous next

Chapter 22: Indian seers.

Red Cloud is an example, and no more than an example, of a Red Brigham Young. At Green River, in the territory of Utah, we find the details of a recent drama, every scene in which would be a parody on the Mormon pope, if Brigham Young were not himself a parody on these Indian seers.

In March last year an Indian prophet came into a camp of wandering Utes near Tierra Amarilla, in New Mexico, bringing a message to this tribe of Utes from their Great Spirit. The man was known to be a Saint; a Red dervish and magician, with a great repute among his people; a wizard who had passed through many circles and was privileged to talk with God.

The Utes were hunters, living in their tents under Sabeta and Cornea, two big chiefs, and several smaller chiefs. Their camp was pitched in [216] pleasant places, on a running water, in the midst of grass, shaded by cedar and cotton-wood. Each tent was set apart, the cross-poles peering upwards through the buffalo skins. Each wigwam showed a side of elk or antelope. The winter chase was done, the summer ramble yet unfixed. The younger bucks were eager for a raid: more than the others, Manuel, a restless member of Cornea's band. Manuel aspired to be a chief. Already he was known along the Border as the biggest thief in New Mexico. But he raged and raved in vain. The hunters needed rest, and were enjoying the delights of spring. Cornea, Sabeta, and the other captains, smoked the pipe of peace, while Manuel and the younger bucks lay sprawling in the sunshine, watching their squaws at work, and dallying with their tawny imps. Old squaws were drying skins and pounding maize; young squaws were gathering twigs and lighting fires. The Ute encampment was an image of the pastoral life, as lived by all these pagan tribes.

“ Get up, my children!” cried the seer; “ come up with me into the land of the Green River-our ancient hunting-grounds. There you shall see the Great Spirit face to face. There you shall tread [217] on soft grass, and drink from wholesome springs. There you shall find swift ponies and abundant game. Come up with me into the country of Green River, and see the Great Spirit face to face!”

They listened to his words; not only Manuel and the younger bucks, but Cornea, Sabeta, and other chiefs. Green River is the chief water in the Ute territory; draining the great dip between the Elk Mountains and the Wahsatch chain. Regarding that valley as their ancient home, the bands were not surprised to hear a call from their Great Spirit to return. Their fathers had received such messages of grace. The seer was only calling them, according to their Indian legends, to the happy hunting-fields they had been forced to leave. Cornea listened to the seer, as to a voice from heaven. His tribe was moved, and Cornea, acting on a popular impulse, gave the sign to them to go.

Striking their tents, the Indians packed the jerked antelope and pounded maize. But they were poor in ponies, and the journey to Green River was a long and arduous ride. “ Let us go out and steal,” cried Manuel and the younger bucks. “No,” urged the prophet, “you must only borrow what you want.” [218] So Manuel and the younger men went out into the White settlements and “ borrowed” about thirty horses and as many cows. Then starting for the promised land, they drove their stolen herds in front, and helped themselves to anything else they wanted on the road.

Vexed by their losses, and caring nothing for the Great Spirit, the White men gathered in from ranch and mine, and going into Tierra Amarilla, where the Indian agent, John S. Armstrong, lived, requested that officer to recover and restore their stock. An Indian agent has to answer for his tribe, and Green River is not only a station on the railway, but the chief artery of White settlement in the mountains. Chacen, a half-breed interpreter, was called into the agency and sent out with an order.

“Follow the trail,” said Armstrong, “and when you catch the raiders bring them back, together with the stolen cattle.” Chacen over-rode the tribe. A mixed blood, high in favour with the Whites, he seemed a great man to these Utes. At any other time, they would have listened to his advice and acted on his warnings, but now, inflamed by holy zeal, they told him to go back. The Great Spirit [219] had called them; they would bend no longer to the Whites. Sabeta was as full of fight as Manuel and the youthful braves. Chacen rode back, and Armstrong, on receiving his report, sent out for troops. who soon came rattling into Tierra Amarilla, under Captain Stevenson. They had not long to wait for a collision with the “ sacred race.” Aflame with pride, and promised a great victory over the pale devils, the Indians turned back on the settlements. Sabeta pricked into the agency, while Cornea lay in ambush, three or four miles behind, unseen by any of the Whites.

Sabeta meant to take the agency, to scalp the officers, and to secure the stores. To his surprise he found a troop of horse, and was compelled to parley where he had prepared to strike.

“ Bring in the stolen stock and yield the thieves to punishment,” said Captain Stevenson, taking an imperious tone. Sabeta, not yet ready for the fray, replied with Indian cunning, that he might be able to restore the cows and ponies, but he could not yield the thieves for punishment, as they were gone into the mountains and were strangers to his band. Some of the worst thieves, as Armstrong knew, [220] were sitting on their ponies at Sabeta's side, but night was coming on, and he was anxious not to have a fight if he could gain his point without shedding blood. Sabeta's band far outnumbered Stevenson's troop.

“You must encamp, for the night.”

A place was named, with wood and water, near the spot where Cornea lay in secret ambush. The Indians were content, and a squad of cavalry was told off as escort. Stevenson set out, but when they neared the camping ground, the Indians broke, ran out in rings, and yelling to their comrades, whirled into array of battle. The interpreter argued with them, but the day for talk was gone. Two braves laid hold of him and beat him badly, while a third brave drew a pistol from his belt, and boasted that the Utes were now going to whip and scalp the troops.

As soon as Chacen got away, the soldiers opened fire on the Utes, a signal which uncovered the Indian ambush, and brought up their own reserves. The skirmish lasted for an hour, when darkness put an end to firing and pursuit. One trooper fell and two of his companions were unhorsed. The [221] Indians suffered more, but they retreated in the night across the Rio Charma, carrying off their slain.

Beyond the Rio Charma, these flying Indians met a Mexican herder with his flock. They scalped the man and stole his stock, which served them for a time as food; yet in the country where they sought a refuge, they were harassed by the Apaches, and after starving for five or six weeks, and losing nearly all their cows and ponies, they returned to Tierra Amarilla in an abject plight and spirit.

Armstrong resolved to separate the bands, and send them, not to Green River in Utah, but to the Ute reservations in Colorado. On giving his promise not to plunder any more, Sabeta was allowed to leave for Los Pinos; on a similar pledge, Cornea was allowed to leave for Pagota Springs. In future these Ute bands would have to dwell apart, divorced from each other, for the offence of listening to an Indian seer, and acting on a call from heaven.

Their numbers thinned, their wealth reduced, their pride subdued, the bands set out. The faces of their chiefs were dark. No one save Manuel talked of moving from the track laid down for them to keep. The braves hung down their heads like squaws. [222] When Manuel offered to lead a band of young bucks in search of prey, Cornea stopped his tongue, for Manuel, more than any other of the braves, had brought them into grief and shame. Nor would the younger men go out. In savage wrath the untaineable robber swore that he would go alone.

Manuel had a cousin in the band, who was his nearest chum. He had two ponies also, and he hoped his chum, a matchless rider, would join him ; but on hearing his proposals for a new raid, the young man turned away his face. It was not for himself he feared, but for the squaws and little ones of his band. Cornea's pledge was given. If any members of his band were found at large, Cornea would be blamed; if they were caught with scalps and stolen stock, the chief would have to answer for their crimes.

When Manuel was ready to depart, his cousin and some other braves crept noiselessly to his tent, with rifles in their clutch, and finding his two ponies hitched to a tree, fired into them. The ponies both fell dead. Manuel ran out. His comrades sprang to their feet. With cold and haughty gesture, he exclaimed: [223]

“You have shot my ponies, you may now shoot me.”

Without a word, his cousin drew a pistol, faced the intending raider, and shot him through the heart. He fell without a groan, and instantly expired; on which the broken band covered up his face with dust, and then resumed their march, utterly broken and impoverished by their holy war.

Red Cloud, like Brigham, is elected to his office by the acclamation of his people; like Brigham he may be deposed by popular vote; but while he keeps his throne, he reigns by grace of God and is divinely aided to fulfil his task. The Indian legend runs, that when the tribe, divine in origin, assemble for a pow-wow, every one is touched and led by an invisible and unfallible guide. “Let us have Red Cloud for our chief;” a warrior cries, on which the bucks and braves all raise their wild yep, yep. This chorus is the call of heaven. So too, when the Saints are gathered in their church, divine in origin, each Saint is assumed to be fired and guided by the Holy Ghost. “Let us have brother Brigham for our prophet, seer, and revelator,” cries some elder, and the crowd of male and female Saints respond-Amen! [224] The voice of the people is the voice of God. Seceders may go out from either Sioux camp or Mormon church, but to depose an Indian chief is no less hard than to dethrone a Mormon seer. Sitting Bull has separated from Red Cloud, carrying with him a thousand lodges of his nation; David Smith has separated from Brigham Young, carrying with him more than a thousand families of his people; yet Red Cloud remains the Sioux chief and Brigham remains the Mormon seer.

Seceders cannot take away the grace which covers an appointed chief. The seer not only talks with the Great Spirit, but executes his judgments on the earth. A buck falls sick-he grovels to his chief. That chief, he thinks, can wither him by a spell. If that magician is not softened, he must die. So thinks the Mormon of his own relation to his pope. An Indian learns that sickness is a sign of sin. He thinks a devil has entered his flesh, and when, amidst the toil and hardship of a hunter's life, he feels the fever in his veins, the ague in his joints, the ulcer in his lungs, he crawls to his sorcerer, who groans and prays, makes passes with his palms, and puts the sinner under spells and charms. [225] The same things happen to a Mormon, who believes that sickness is a sign of sin, and that a member who appears to be unsound in either mind or body is possessed of a “ bad spirit.” A bishop is a doctor, and his remedies are prayers and invocations; his object in crying to the heavens being to cast out the demon which torments his brother's flesh.

Every one who comes into the Indian country finds these notions on the soil and in the air.

At Santa Clara, Fray Tomas found a medicineman ruling the people by divine and patriarchal right, as seer and father of his tribe. Fray Tomas took his place, but left the law on which that seer and patriarch reigned untouched. A change of person introduced no change of plan. Each governed with despotic sway. Though chosen to his post, the Indian ruled in the name and with the power of his Great Spirit. The rule was priestly and the kingdom was of God. Fray Tomas governed in the name of his Great Spirit-his Holy Trinity, his Three in One. Such are the methods, such the pretensions, of Brigham Young. The Mormon prophet only goes beyond a teacher like [226] Fray Tomas, where Fray Tomas fell behind such chiefs as Red Cloud. A Christian friar is chastened in his exercise of power by the remembrance of his vows and by the habits and restraints of civilized life. An Indian seer admits no check on his authority, and a Mormon pontiff admits no check on his authority; yet, like the Franciscan prior, an Indian seer and Mormon pontiff find a limit even to “ divine” commission.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Manuel (13)
Tomas (5)
John S. Armstrong (5)
Brigham Young (3)
Stevenson (3)
Brigham (3)
White (1)
David Smith (1)
Pinos (1)
John Bull (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
March (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: