November 26, 1833
26 November: Early, beautiful, bright weather and clear sky. At seven thirty, 25°F (-3.9°C), wind northwest, light frost with hoarfrost. Mr. Bodmer had climbed the pickets often during the night looking for wolves. He always saw some, but they did not come close enough. Breakfast was ordered earlier (than usual), because we wanted to accompany Charbonneau to the Hidastas eight hours away. At eight thirty we left the fort-Bodmer, Charbonneau, a Hidasta, and I. We (started off) behind the first Mandan village, where several worn trails, side by side, show the way to Ruhptare. (The route) runs fairly straight, parallel to the Missouri, and fol-lows the (edge) of the elevation (bordering) the lowlands. There, besides the river, the Mandan cornfields stretch among the willow thickets. (The trail) there(after) runs on a high plateau from which one can look down into the deep lowlands. To the left the prairie stretches up the hills; it looked dead, covered with dry, low grass.
After approximately an hour, we (encountered) a rock on the trail, doubtless a piece of granite, individual pieces of (which) are scattered over all of these prairies, as at the Yellowstone and all (such) areas. Some are painted red and - (due to) superstition-often surrounded with little sticks from which feathers hang. To many an Indian, (such a) stone is sacred, or as it is put here-medicine. How-ever, what they think about this particular stone, I could not find out. A bit farther (along) the trail, in a small ravine, there is an elm (that is) also a medicine tree. The rock (we saw that day) is painted red in places; red-colored and other rags hung on it, also a small sack (of) red paint. Many prairie hens skimmed along the ravine mentioned above.
In this region 1,000 to 1,200 Dacotas camped thirty years ago. [They] attacked the Hidastas and the Mandans the day afterward but lost about a hundred men. An Indian [did not want] to continue on the trail, because he suspected wolf traps there. The partisan, or chief, wanted to shame him and went ahead but immedi- ately fell into one of these traps, [a pit] studded with upright arrows. [So] I was told. He died instantly.
From this point we reached Ruhptare after about half an hour. It stood entirely deserted. The architecture, medicines, [and] scaffolds of the dead were all the same as at Mih-Tutta-Hangkusch, except at the latter [they] were even closer to the vil- lage. Crows sat on them. There were even more medicine signs and figures. To the left of the village is a small hill, which, like a place of execution, was completely covered with them. We walked through the village, which had at its center a round [plaza] with the ark, exactly like the other village, [and] also the black[-faced] man in front of the medicine lodge.
Near the village we went down to the river and saw three Indians on the ice, whom we followed. They had set up a few stakes that marked the trail. The ice [on] the Missouri was rough. In places it was solid, frozen together with an ele- vated strip on the edge; on the opposite bank, it had a smooth, broad surface. We searched [for the trail] for a while and walked carefully. [Then] the old chief Kähka-Chamahän (Little Raven) came to us on the ice, and we followed him. Af- ter a short distance on the sandy beach—where a few beautifully and elegantly dressed Mandans approached us—we turned into the dense willow thickets bor- dering the vast extended forest there.
The winding trail continued to the winter village of the inhabitants of Ruhptare, located in thickets of willow, cottonwood, Cornus, ash, and elm. Here the chief said goodbye to us, because we could not stay [and accept] his invitation to his lodge. On his head he wore a round, black hat with a tuft of black feathers like a German stagecoach driver. Everywhere we saw individual women or several together, busy tanning hides [or] chopping or fetching wood. From here the forest extended far. There was little old wood left, but rather a dense underbrush of thorns, Cornus, willows, young cottonwoods, and, especially, a bush 3 to 4 feet high, similar to Symphoria or Lonicera, with round elliptical leaves and whitish greenish berries together in small clusters, now quite ripe [and] blue-blackish. This plant is present in numbers as underbrush in all forests of this area. In the thickets, Clematis, Celastrus scandens, and Vitis climbed here and there, but the latter grows no thicker than a little finger in these northern areas. In the forest there are open areas with high withered grass (the same I noticed at (Fort Union) and overgrown with other, more reedlike species. In some places reeds grow, too. Typha I did not see. We followed the winding forest trail up to the hills marking the edge of the forest and continued at their foot. [Some are] strange hills of clay; springs frequently originate in them, now all frozen solid. These springs form swamps in some areas, overgrown with reeds for long stretches. [There are] also, solitary bushes at the foot of the hills.
The Indians had laid traps here for the small prairie fox, covering them with twigs and buffalo bones. We saw individual Indians in the bushes and heard the long wailing of one, what the French call pleurer. We heard a shot by an Indian hunter. Near the hills we found the tracks of deer (Cervus virginianus).
Only a few birds were visible, crows and ravens, as well as Parus atricapillus and mberiza nivalisE. Half an hour later, the hills retreated and there was a wide prairie at the Missouri where the forest ends. We had eaten corn on the riverbank here on the day of our arrival at [the lodge of] Garde Flêche Rouge (Íta-Widáhki- Hischä́). The whole prairie was covered with yellow dry grass. Bleached white buffalo bones, especially heads, lay around everywhere. We followed the trail for several hours through this plain, which had only now and then [slight] elevations. Farther to the right, gentle hills. We met a few Indians carrying skins, resting on the ground, who right away asked for tobacco. We did not stay long, however.
Farther on we found a wolf trap on the trail. [These are] frequently constructed by Indians; they set arrows upright in them so that the animals get killed. [The tops are] covered above with brushwood, grass, and hay and are not supposed to be visible at all. Far ahead of us, we saw the corner of the hill chain that protrudes toward the Missouri; the top has several sections. We had to travel between two of them, but when we reached a slight elevation, we saw that we had as much ahead of us as before, and we had to walk a long way until we finally approached them. We rested a short while on a small creek, now dry. It was surrounded on all sides by very high grass, lying flat now. We would have liked to travel this distance on horseback, but Mr. Kipp could not give us any horses, because he had just yester- day sold five of them for beavers.
I was wearing heavy, wide boots that caused my feet to become very sore. Mr. Charbonneau gave me his [Indian] moccasins, and these helped until almost eve- ning, but [I] suffered much pain in my feet.
A wolf appeared on the plain. To our left beyond the Missouri, the Fontaine Rouge was located, where we saw the petrified tree trunk while traveling down- river by boat. When we reached the hilltops ahead of us, Charbonneau led us to the left, away from the trail, passing below the hills, where our feet were much harmed by the hard ground and grass as well as by the thorns of the small, round Cactus [——]. We went through a few small, shrubby ravines. Then we reached the corner of the hill chain and turned to the right, [going] around it. Here, be- tween the hills and the river, an extended mud ground began, on which we still had to walk a few miles to the Hidatsa village. Earlier, [we passed] other living quarters of these people, located to our left, also three lodges on an island in the river. A young, slender Indian had horses grazing near the hills. He rode without a bridle on one of [them] with us. The trail soon [went] into the forest and made various turns. Women were busy everywhere, cutting and hauling wood [in] large, wide bundles on their backs.
We encountered a tall, slim Indian who wanted to carry my gun. He was an Arikaras by birth [who] had been taken prisoner and brought up among the Hidat- sas. He was a modest, handsome young man with small, long, narrow eyes and a somewhat aquiline nose; his face was painted vermilion. We reached the village in the dense forest at dusk. The large lodges [were] built so close to each other that hardly anyone could pass between them. We heard crying and lamentation; a child had recently died, and on tree branches we saw cross-poles where a corpse had been laid. At the other end, we saw Mr. Dougherty’s house, a low log house with three rooms. He lives in the one farthest to the right. In the center is the store, and to the left, the room for the men. We were received [in a] very friendly [manner] here and found many Indians congregated around the fireplace. Altogether lame, we went inside, after a difficult trek of at least nine hours, and rested. We learned that buffalo were near, [and] twenty Indians want to hunt for them tomorrow. In prep- aration they [will] celebrate in the evening the great buffalo medicine festival, the reason we had come here. They had already erected a large medicine lodge. The Indians left, one after another. We ate, since we had not eaten anything from break- fast until night. At six thirty we went to the women’s medicine festival.
Between the lodges, in the middle of the village, there was an enclosed area 30 or more paces long and a bit more narrow, with a 10- to 12-foot-high fence, built of willow branches and reeds (‘b’) leaning toward the inside. [There was] an entrance (‘c’) on the long side in front, [and] four fires (‘a’) burned inside. [At] (‘d’), somewhat to the right of the entrance, old men sat; to their right, the elderly chief Lachpitzí-Síhrisch (Yel- low Bear). His face was painted red in some places, and he wore a band of yellow skin around his head. Women sat around the fence, not directly at the fires. Chil- dren sat opposite them, alternately [feeding] willow branches into the fire. The whole inner space was full of young, mostly tall, slender men, some of them dressed nicely, others poorly or half naked. When we arrived at the door of this so-called medicine lodge, led by Charbonneau, six elderly men in a row filed out of the lodge opposite and stopped in front of the entrance. They were chosen by the young men, were given pres- ents, and were decorated to represent the buffalo bulls. In their hands they carried long sticks with three to four black feathers on top, hooves of buffalo calves hanging at intervals, [and] at the lower end, bells. In their left hands, these men carried their battle-axes or head breakers [war clubs]; two of them [had] the so-called badger. They stood and shook their sticks contin- ually, sang alternately, and imitated the rasping, rattling sound of the buffalo bull with great perfection. Behind them walked a slim man with a marked Botocudo physiognomy who wore a cap on his head, trimmed with fur, because he had been scalped earlier in a skirmish (meaning he had been robbed of his hair, including the skin of his head). He represented the leader of the bulls and [was] the head of the festival; [he] walked behind the bulls. They went into the lodge and took a seat in the corner beside the door. In front of them, a stuffed sack, made out of [——], which they called the badger, was beaten instead of a drum during the dance. Each one of the buffalo bulls stuck his weapon in front of him into the ground; two of them had a round head with a carved face on a short stick in front of them. We followed the bulls, and one motioned us to sit down to the right of chief Yellow Bear. Several young men were now moving everywhere to distribute bowls with corn cooked in water and others with beans. The bowls were passed on after one had eaten something from them. Empty wooden bowls were often brought and set in front of us. I did not know what this meant but soon saw it [happen] to my neighbor, the old chief. One of the food servers, a colossal, muscular, handsome, young man, almost naked—wearing only his breechcloth—hair braids hanging down low on his back, came first to pick up such an empty bowl. The old chief cupped his hand in front of his face, sang, and made a long speech, like a prayer, in a low voice. In [this prayer] they express nothing but well wishes for the buffalo hunt, war, and ask the heavenly powers to favor the hunters and weapons. In this manner all empty bowls were returned. Out of politeness, they sometimes put two of them in front of my feet at the same time. Mr. Dougherty and I also made our speeches, wishing well in good German or English [and] making expressive ges- tures that the Indians could understand. If the speech lasted a long time, they were especially pleased with it [and] one was touched from his shoulders down one arm or both, to his hand(s). The one carrying the bowl replied his with a few words of thanks. Thus this eating ceremony continued often for a long time, perhaps an hour. Everywhere they ate, made speeches, or [spoke] prayers of incantation for the buffalo. In the meantime the young people prepared the pipes in the center of this place. They brought them to the sitting old men and the strangers and, in turn, offered each one the mouthpiece of the pipe stem, continuing from right to left. We took a few puffs [and] often spoke some kind of wish or prayer beforehand.
Among those carrying bowls and pipes there was another man, famous for his achievements during war. He, too, had been scalped and wore a cap with false hair. Many wounds were visible on his body. He is called la Chevelure Levée, because the Sioux scalped him; his name is [actually] Bídda-Chóhki (‘ch’ velar) (le Bois Clair). Frequently the pipe was turned toward the cardinal points before it was received, and all kinds of hand [gestures] were carried out with it. In the mean- time, behind their fire, the buffalo bulls continued to sing and beat a rhythm on the so-called badger. One of them stuck a head breaker [war club] of painted, red- dish brown wood in front of him in the ground, like the one I got from the Poncas.They shook their medicine sticks with their right hands.
Finally they stood up, leaned their upper bodies forward, and danced—meaning they jumped in the air with both feet, sang loudly at the same time, and rattled; an- other one hit the badger. The singing was always the same, consisting of loud sounds and exclamations. When they had danced for a while, they sat down again. After we had eaten and smoked for more than two hours, the women’s role followed.
A woman approached her husband [and] gave him her belt and her undergar- ment, so she was naked, wrapped only in her robe. Then they began to walk sin- gly toward the elderly men, approached them, and with their right hand stroked a chosen man on his arm down to his wrist. Then they slowly left the lodge. The chosen man had to follow [her]. The woman led him a short distance through the forest to a secluded spot and lay down on the ground, expecting a certain tribute. One is not obliged to accept [the offer] but can do as one wishes. Then it was our turn, and [when] we returned to the medicine lodge, we again received [some- thing] to smoke. The fires were now burning low, and many Indians had left. We asked the chief whether we could retreat, and even though he did not want to al- low [it] at first, we were permitted to do so.
Sitting on the cold ground for perhaps more than two hours in the lodge caused me pain in my side during the night, but my very sore feet got some rest. The view of the medicine lodge was excellent during the night. The high cottonwood and dense diverse kinds of trees, as well as the closely packed lodges around, were illu- minated by bright fires. Everywhere one heard singing, shouting, [and] the drum- ming of the music: the hustle and bustle prevailed the whole night in the forest and around our house. More interesting by far was the sight of the mass of red people in the medicine lodge in various strange garb and original faces. The festi- val described here is usually followed by dances of various kinds. If the villages are located close to each other, each society dances its own. But that could not happen now, because there were not enough men present. On such an occasion, one man wears a buffalo head, horns and all.
The pipes [that] we smoked were all Dacota products, except for a few; some of them had beautifully decorated pipestems. The Hidastas themselves make a few black pipe bowls. They are stone and painted black. This festival is always repeated four consecutive nights.