A Letter About the Green Corn Dance

We now heard firing and whooping on all sides. At length in the high corn on one side we saw crouching savages, some with guns of every sort, some, especially the boys, with corn stalks to represent guns. A naked chief with a long saber, the blade painted blood color, came before them, flourishing his weapon and haranguing vehemently. In another corn field appeared another party. The two savages already mentioned as having given the war dance in the sacred square, now hove in sight on a third side, cowering. One of them I understood was the person who had shot the chief I mentioned in the first part of this letter the chief who made an objectionable treaty, and whose house was burned. Both these warriors crept slyly towards the outer square. One darted upon one of the puppets, caught him from behind, and stole him off; another grasped another puppet by the waist, flung him in the air, tumbled on him as he fell, ripped him with his knife, tore off the scalp, and broke away in triumph. A third puppet was tomahawked, and a fourth shot. These were the emblems of the various forms of warfare.

After the first shot, the two parties whooped, and began to fire indiscriminately, and every shot was answered by a whoop. One shot his arrow into the square, but falling short of the enemy, he covered himself with corn and crept thither to regain the arrow, and bore it back in safety, honored with a triumphant yell as he returned. After much of this bush skirmishing, both parties burst into the square. There was unremitted firing and war whooping, the music of chanting and of the pebbled gourd going all the while. At length the fighters joined in procession, dancing a triumphal dance around the mound, plunging thence headlong into the sacred square and all around it, and then scampering around the outside, and pouring back to the battle square; and the closing whoop being given, the entire multitude from the battle square rushed, helter skelter, yelping, some firing as they went, and others pelting down the spectators from their high places, with the corn stalks that had served for guns, and which gave blows so powerful that those who laughed at them as weapons before, rubbed their shoulders and walked away ashamed.

We resumed our conveyances homeward, and heard the splashing and shouting, as we departed, of the warriors in the water.

Leave was now given to taste the corn, and all ate their fill, and, I suppose, did not much refrain from drinking; for I heard that every pathway and field around was in the morning strewed with sleeping Indians.

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We passed the day following in visits to the picturesque scenery of the neighborhood. We saw the fine falls of the Tallapoosa, where the broken river tumbles over wild and fantastic precipices, varying from forty to eighty or a hundred feet in height; and when wandering among the slippery rocks, we passed an old Indian with his wife and child and bow and arrows. They had been shooting fishes in the stream, from a point against which the fishes were brought to them by the current. The scenery and the natives would have formed a fine picture. An artist of the neighborhood made me a present of a view of these falls, which I will show you when we meet.

The next part of the festival among the red folks and which I did not see, being that day on my ‘tour in search of the picturesque’ consisted, I was told, in the display of wives urging out their husbands to hunt deer. When, from our travels among fine scenery, we went down to the sacred square, towards night, we met Indians with deer slung over their horses. The skin of the first that is shot is presented to a priest, who flings it back to the slayer to be retained by him as a trophy, and at the same time asks from the Great Spirit that this may prove only the harbinger of deer in abundance whenever wanted. There was some slight dancing that evening in the sacred square, but not of significance enough to make it an object with me to remain for it, and as so many were reserving themselves for the winding up assembly of the ladies, on Sunday morning, I thought I would do the same. Some of our party stayed, however, for the night. They found a miscellaneous dance at a house in the vicinity, negroes, borderers, and reprobate Indians, all collected in one incongruous mass. A vagabond frontier man there asked a girl to dance. She refused, and was going to dance with another. The first drew his pistol, and swore if she would not dance with him she should not dance at all. Twenty pistols were clicked in an instant; but the borderer, with a horse laugh, asked if they thought he didn’t know there was not a soul in that section of country who dared to draw a trigger against him? He was right, for the pistols were dropped and the room cleared on the instant; whereupon the bully borderer clapped his wings and crowed and disappeared.

The assemblage of the females I was rather solicitous to see, and so I was at my post betimes. I had long to wait. I heard the gathering cry from the men on all sides, in the corn fields and bushes; it was like the neighing to each other of wild horses. After a while the ladies began to arrive. The spectators crowded in.

The Indian men went to their places, and among them a party to sing while the women danced, two of the men rattling the gourds. The cauldrons had disappeared from the centre of the sacred square.

And now entered a long train of females, all dressed in long gowns, like our ladies, but all with gay colors, and bright shawls of various hues, and beads innumerable upon their necks, and tortoise shell combs in their hair, and ears bored all around the rim, from top to bottom, and from every bore a massive ear drop, very long, and generally of silver. A selected number of the dancers wore under their robes, and girded upon their calves, large squares of thick leather, covered all over with terrapin shells closed together and perforated and filled with pebbles, which rattled like so many sleigh bells. These they have the knack of keeping silent until their accompaniment is required for the music of the dance. The dresses of all the women were so long as nearly to conceal the feet, but I saw that some had neither shoes nor stockings on, while others were sandaled. The shawls were principally worn like mantles. Broad ribbons, in great profusion and of every variety of hue, hung from the back of each head to the ground, and, as they moved, these, and the innumerable sparkling beads of glass and coral and gold, gave the wearers an air of graceful and gorgeous, and, at the same time, unique wildness.

The procession entered slowly, and wound around the central fire, which still blazed gently there, although the cauldrons had been removed; and the train continued to stretch itself out, till it extended to three circles and a half. The shorter side then became stationary, and stood facing the men, who were seated in that building which contained the chanters. This last rank of dancers seemed to include the principal wearers of the terrapin leg bands, which they continued to rattle, keeping time with the chant, without shifting their position. At each end of their line was a leader, one an old woman and the other not young, both bearing a little notched stick, with two feathers floating from it. At a particular turn of the general figure of the dance, these two broke off from their fixed rank, and made a circuit outside of all the rest, and more briskly, while the main body of the dancers, the three circles before mentioned, which had never ceased to move, still proceeded slowly round and round, only turning at a given signal to face the men, as the men had turned to face the emblem of the Deity, the central fire. Every eye among the women was planted on the ground. I never beheld such an air of universal modesty. It seemed a part of the old men’s privilege to make comments aloud, in order to surprise the women into a laugh. These must often have been very droll, and always personal, I understand, and not always the most delicate. I saw a few instances among the young girls where they were obliged to smother a smile by putting up their handkerchiefs. But it was conquered on the instant. The young men said nothing; but the Indian men, whether old or young, seemed all to take as much interest in the show as we. The chief, Apotheola, had two daughters there. Both are very elegant girls, but the eldest delighted me exceedingly. She seemed about seventeen or eighteen. She is tall, a fine figure; her carriage graceful and distingué, and quite European. She had a white muslin gown; a black scarf, wrought all over with flowers in brilliant colors; an embroidered white collarette, I believe you call it; gold chains, coral beads, gold and jeweled earrings, single ones, not in the usual Indian superabundance, her hair beautifully dressed in the Parisian style; a splendid tortoise shell comb, gemmed; and from one large tuft of hair upon one temple to that upon the other there passed a beautiful gold ornament. Her sister’s head dress was nearly the same. The aforesaid elder Princess Apotheola, I am happy to say, looked only at me. Some one must have told her that I meant to run away with her, for I had said so before I saw her to many of her friends. There was a very frolicksome, quizzical expression in her eye; and now and then it seemed to say, ‘No doubt you think all these things wonderfully droll. It diverts me to see you so puzzled by them.’ But, excepting the look at me, which only proved her excellent taste, her eye dwelt on the ground, and nothing could have been more interestingly reserved than her whole deportment.

The dance over, all the ladies went from the square in the same order that they entered it.

In about an hour, the same dance was repeated. When it ended, signal was made for what they call The Dance of the Olden Time, the breaking up of the ceremonial, when the men and women are again allowed to intermingle.

This was done in a quick movement around and around and around again, all the men yelping wildly and merrily, as struck their fancy, and generally in tones intended to set the women laughing, which they did, and heartily. The sounds most resembled the yelping of delighted dogs. Finally came the concluding whoop, and all the parties separated.

Between these two last dances, I sent for a chief, and desired him to take charge of some slight gifts of tobacco and beads which I had brought for them. The chief took them. I saw the others cut the tobacco, and share it. Ere long my ambassador returned, saying, ‘The chiefs are mighty glad, and count it from you as very great friendship.’ I had been too bashful about my present, and kept it back too long, through over shyness. If I had sent it before, I might have seen the show to more advantage. As it was, I was immediately invited to sit inside the square, and witness the last dance from one of the places of honor.

But I was now obliged to depart, and to give up all hopes of ever again seeing my beautiful Princess Apotheola. My only chance of a guide through the wilderness would have been lost had I delayed. So I reluctantly mounted my pony; and I left the Indians of Tuckabatchie and their Green Corn Festival, and their beautiful Princess Apotheola.

It was a great gratification to me to have seen this festival; with my own eyes to have witnessed the Indians in their own nation, with my own ears to have heard them in their own language. Nor was it any diminution of the interest of the spectacle to reflect that this ceremony, so precious to them, was now probably performing in the land of their forefathers for the last, last time. I never beheld more intense devotion; and the spirit of the forms was a right and a religious one. It was beginning the year with fasting, with humility, with purification, with prayer, with gratitude. It was burying animosities, while it was strengthening courage. It was pausing to give thanks to Heaven, before daring to partake its beneficence. It was strange to see this, too, in the midst of my own land; to travel, in the course of a regular journey in the New World, among the living evidences of one, it may be, older than what we call the Old World; the religion, and the people, and the associations of the untraceable past, in the very heart of the most recent portion of the most recent people upon earth. And it was a melancholy reflection for ourselves, that, comparing the majority of the white and red assemblage there, the barbarian should be so infinitely the more civilized and the more interesting of the two.

Old chiefs were seated at the back of the council house, and of the four houses of the square. They had sharp instruments, sail needles, awls, and flints. Children of from four to twelve, and youths, and young men, presented their limbs, and the instrument was plunged into the thighs and the calves of the legs, and drawn down in long, straight lines. As the blood streamed, the wounded would scoop it up with bark or sticks, and dash it against the back of the building; and all the building thus became clotted with gore. The glory of the exercise seemed to be to submit without flinching, without even consciousness. The youngest children would sometimes show the most extraordinary self control. All offered themselves to the experiment voluntarily. If a shudder were detected, the old chiefs gashed deeper. But where they saw entire firmness, an involuntary glow of admiration would flit over their stony faces.

We now left, and went to an infant town and a savage infant it seemed over the river to break our fast, an indulgence which to our Indian friends is not permitted. They may neither eat nor sleep until the ceremonies close. The town we went to is named Tallassee. It has but about a dozen houses as yet, but is delightfully situated, and I should not wonder to see a large place there in another twelvemonth. It belongs to the region of a clan different from the one we left, though part of the same tribe. Here the investigating agent held his court; and the place was crowded with drunken Indians, and more uncivilized speculators, parading about, as some had done among the spectators at the festival, with blacked eyes and lacerated faces, the trophies of civil war for savage plunder. At the house where we dined, I found the landlady and her family implacable Indian haters. I was afterwards told the cause. Her husband is continually marrying Indian wives, probably to entitle himself to their lands. He, being a sneezer, and keeping a tavern, is a great man among them. I saw a very comely young squaw promenading, who believed herself to be one of the sneezer chubco mico’s last wives. The man’s white and original wife and daughters made an excuse to walk by, to have a look at the aboriginal interloper. The latter had just received from my landlord a present of a pair of gaudy bracelets, for which he had paid eighteen dollars at another sneezer’s, bracelets worth about four. I was told how the man came by this red mate of his. He had taken a young chiefs wife in her husband’s absence. The chief, returning while my landlord was absent, got his young wife back. The landlord, on reappearing, is said to have threatened the chief with General Jackson and big guns. The chief said he was partial to his wife; but he had a sister much prettier, and, for the sake of peace, if nothing were said about the matter, Mr. Landlord should have her for a wife. The bargain was struck. The handsome little squaw I have spoken of is that same young chief’s sister. This stealing of wives is beginning to excite some commotion. I heard that there had been a council of chiefs in the neighborhood of Tallassee. It was a very animated one, and the wrong of wife stealing was violently discussed. It was thought by some almost as bad as land stealing. Others felt rather relieved by it. One of the drunken Indians whom I saw reeling and whooping about, as I stood at the door of the log hut where we dined, seemed of the latter party. I asked a linkister the meaning of a song the Indian was singing with such glee. The black linkister laughed, and was reluctant to explain; but when I pressed him, the following proved to be the meaning of the burthen:

A man may have a wife, And that wife an untrue one; And yet the man won’t die, But go and get a new one.

No doubt the poor fellow had been robbed in the same way, and, between music and whiskey, was providing himself with consolation.

I was invited to ‘camp out,’ as they call it, near the sacred square. A Mr. Du Bois, a man with an Indian wife and family, had arrangements for the purpose in a neighboring field; so I went to the evening dance, and left my party to the enjoyment of a sheltering roof at the frontier Blue Beard’s in Tallassee; having made up my mind, after I had seen enough more of the Indian festival for the night, to accept the proffered ‘field bed’ which was so conveniently nigh, and sleep, for the first time, in a real ‘sky parlor.’

I sat to look at the evening dances till very late. The blazing fire through the darkness gave a new aspect and still more striking wildness to the fantastic scene. Some ceremonies yet unattempted seemed to be going on over the drinks in the deep cauldrons; and the figures around them, with those of the dancers, reminded me of the witch scenes in Macbeth, as conceived by Shakespeare, not by the actors of them upon the stage. Four grim figures were stirring the cauldrons incessantly, with a sort of humming incantation, the others dancing around. In one of their dances they used a sort of small kettle drum, with a guitar like handle to it. But after a while, the evening dances seemed to vary from the devotional to the complimentary and to the diverting; but the daylight ones were altogether devotional. Apotheola led one of the less lofty order, and he is one of the most popular and respected of their chiefs. Its music seemed to consist of an exclamation from him of Yo, ho, ho! yo, ho, ho! to which the response appeared as if complimentary, and to contain only the animated and measured repetition of ApotheoLA! ApotheoLA! Another dance, which excited most boisterous mirth, was led by a chief who is called by the borderers Peter the Gambler. He is a great humorist, and famous for his love of play, famous even among the Indians, who are all gamblers. Once throwing dice with a chief, he staked himself against a negro slave, and won the negro. I never saw a party more diverted than were the lookers on at this dance. It was all monkey capers, but all with a meaning to the Indians beyond the perception of the whites. The Indian spectators made their remarks from their couches as the solemn mockeries proceeded, and the object of the remarks seemed to be to provoke the dancers to laugh by making fun, and the object of the dancers to provoke the fun makers to laugh by performing extravagant caricatures with imperturbable gravity.

Our semi civilized inviter got a bench for us. Some Indians, when it was not entirely filled, tried to pull it away. Several young ones, as a fellow was trying to tug it from under us, seemed vastly amused at Du Bois for saying, ‘Keep your seats! keep your seats!’ and mimicked him and laughed. But we were entirely unmolested in any other way, excepting for an instant by one white rascal on the road, as I was coming, who galloped up towards me violently, in the dark, and shouted, ‘Who the hell may you be, if one were to let you alone?’ Just then, however, I got up to my party, and he said no more.

I have not mentioned, I believe, that no one is allowed in the sacred square who tastes food during the devotional part of the ceremonies; but to get drunk on this occasion is a specially great offence. It is also considered as a desecration for an Indian to allow himself to be touched by even the dress of a white man, until the ceremony of purification is complete. There was a finely, though slightly, built Indian, more French than Tartar in his look and manner, a linkister, too, the whites called him Charley, and Charley had got very drunk. He was, of course, compelled to keep among the crowd outside. During the evening dance, a chief censured those who stayed from the ceremony, and those who dishonored it by appearing in this unworthy state. Charley was by that time very drunk indeed, but very good humored. He came nearly naked to listen. He heard the lecture; and, as he reeled around, pretending to cover his face for shame, it was amusing to see his tricks to evade tumbling against any of the bystanders, lifting his hands with an air of dandified disdain as he staggered to one side, and repeating the mock contemptuousness when rolling towards the same peril on the other. Next morning I heard numbers of the natives, sitting all along the outside of the sacred square, laughing very loud, and very good naturedly quizzing poor Charley, who had slept off somewhat of his exhilaration, but none of his good humor. Charley laughed, too, and looked foolish, and laughed again.

So, to go back and resume my story.

We went to our ‘field bed.’ It consisted of a shed of loose boards on tall stakes, and under it a raised platform of loose boards upon shorter stakes. There were several human forms already wrapped in blankets and asleep upon the platform. One of our party, attempting to get among them, was told by Milly, Du Bois’s Indian wife, who just then awoke, ‘No here, no here! dat not de rule!’ It seems this was the female side of the house. My buffalo robe was spread at the opposite end. I pulled off my boots, and set them in the grass under the bed, and slept delightfully. The only time I awoke, I saw the eyes of a towering black figure fixed upon me. The chap was seeking a spot for a snooze among us; but finding every inch of room occupied, gazed for a moment at a tree, flung down his blanket, and tumbled on the grass, the tall tree he had been eyeing, at his head, and a lesser one at his heels. The female side of my house was divided from the male side by Du Bois, who slept between the ladies and the gentlemen. Our party consisted of nine in all, Indian ladies included. In the morning, at day break, we were up. With a joke to Milly about ‘de rule,’ which she answered with a good humored smile, covering her face as she smiled, we went back to the sacred square among the Indians, who had been all night awake and at their devotions.

I found them preparing for the ceremonies which close the fast. Many were standing about, and all intent on the preparations for the morning forms. They went through the taking of the black drink, repeating all they had done the day previous. But on this occasion I more particularly observed two circular plates of brass and steel, which appeared the remains of very antique shields. They were borne with great reverence by two chiefs. The natives do not pretend to explain whence they came. They keep them apart, as something sacred. They are only produced on great occasions. I was told, too, that ears of green corn were brought in at a part of the ceremony to day, which I missed, and that they were presented to a chief. He took them, and, after an invocation that the corn might continue plentiful among them the year through, handed them back.

This seemed the termination of the peace offerings, and the religious part of the affair was now to wind up with emblems of war. These were expressed in what they call a Gun Dance. When the dispositions were making for it, some persons in carriages were desired by a white linkister to fall back and to remove their horses to a distance. Some ladies, especially, were warned. ‘Keep out of their way, ma’am,’ said the linkister to a lady, ‘for when they come racing about here with their guns, they gits powerful sarcy.’ I saw them dressing for the ceremony, if it may be called dressing to throw off nearly every part of a scanty covering. But the Indians are especially devoted to dress, in their way. Some of them went aside to vary their costume with nearly every dance.

Now appeared a procession of some forty or fifty women. They entered the square, and took their seats together in one of the open houses. Two men sat in front of them, holding gourds filled with pebbles. The gourds were shaken so as to keep time, and the women began a long chant, with which, at regular intervals, was given a sharp, short whoop from male voices. The women’s song was said to be intended for the wail of mothers, wives, and daughters at the departure of the warriors for the fight; the response conveyed the resolution of the warriors not to be withheld, but to fight and conquer. And now were seen two hideous looking old warriors, with tomahawks and scalping knives, painted most ferociously. Each went half round the circle, exchanged exclamations, kept up a sort of growl all the while, and at length stopped with a war whoop.

At this juncture, we were told to hurry to the outer square. The females and their male leaders left their places inside, and went to the mound in the centre of the outer square. The mound became entirely covered with their forms, and the effect was very imposing. Here they resumed their chant. The spectators mounted on the embankment. I got on a pile of wood, holy wood, I believe, and heaped there to keep up the sacred fires. There were numbers of Indian women in the crowd. Four stuffed figures were placed, one in each of the four corners of the square.

We now heard firing and whooping on all sides. At length in the high corn on one side we saw crouching savages, some with guns of every sort, some, especially the boys, with corn stalks to represent guns. A naked chief with a long saber, the blade painted blood color, came before them, flourishing his weapon and haranguing vehemently. In another corn field appeared another party. The two savages already mentioned as having given the war dance in the sacred square, now hove in sight on a third side, cowering. One of them I understood was the person who had shot the chief I mentioned in the first part of this letter the chief who made an objectionable treaty, and whose house was burned. Both these warriors crept slyly towards the outer square. One darted upon one of the puppets, caught him from behind, and stole him off; another grasped another puppet by the waist, flung him in the air, tumbled on him as he fell, ripped him with his knife, tore off the scalp, and broke away in triumph. A third puppet was tomahawked, and a fourth shot. These were the emblems of the various forms of warfare.

After the first shot, the two parties whooped, and began to fire indiscriminately, and every shot was answered by a whoop. One shot his arrow into the square, but falling short of the enemy, he covered himself with corn and crept thither to regain the arrow, and bore it back in safety, honored with a triumphant yell as he returned. After much of this bush skirmishing, both parties burst into the square. There was unremitted firing and war whooping, the music of chanting and of the pebbled gourd going all the while. At length the fighters joined in procession, dancing a triumphal dance around the mound, plunging thence headlong into the sacred square and all around it, and then scampering around the outside, and pouring back to the battle square; and the closing whoop being given, the entire multitude from the battle square rushed, helter skelter, yelping, some firing as they went, and others pelting down the spectators from their high places, with the corn stalks that had served for guns, and which gave blows so powerful that those who laughed at them as weapons before, rubbed their shoulders and walked away ashamed.

We resumed our conveyances homeward, and heard the splashing and shouting, as we departed, of the warriors in the water.

Leave was now given to taste the corn, and all ate their fill, and, I suppose, did not much refrain from drinking; for I heard that every pathway and field around was in the morning strewed with sleeping Indians.

We passed the day following in visits to the picturesque scenery of the neighborhood. We saw the fine falls of the Tallapoosa, where the broken river tumbles over wild and fantastic precipices, varying from forty to eighty or a hundred feet in height; and when wandering among the slippery rocks, we passed an old Indian with his wife and child and bow and arrows. They had been shooting fishes in the stream, from a point against which the fishes were brought to them by the current. The scenery and the natives would have formed a fine picture. An artist of the neighborhood made me a present of a view of these falls, which I will show you when we meet.

The next part of the festival among the red folks and which I did not see, being that day on my ‘tour in search of the picturesque’ consisted, I was told, in the display of wives urging out their husbands to hunt deer. When, from our travels among fine scenery, we went down to the sacred square, towards night, we met Indians with deer slung over their horses. The skin of the first that is shot is presented to a priest, who flings it back to the slayer to be retained by him as a trophy, and at the same time asks from the Great Spirit that this may prove only the harbinger of deer in abundance whenever wanted. There was some slight dancing that evening in the sacred square, but not of significance enough to make it an object with me to remain for it, and as so many were reserving themselves for the winding up assembly of the ladies, on Sunday morning, I thought I would do the same. Some of our party stayed, however, for the night. They found a miscellaneous dance at a house in the vicinity, negroes, borderers, and reprobate Indians, all collected in one incongruous mass. A vagabond frontier man there asked a girl to dance. She refused, and was going to dance with another. The first drew his pistol, and swore if she would not dance with him she should not dance at all. Twenty pistols were clicked in an instant; but the borderer, with a horse laugh, asked if they thought he didn’t know there was not a soul in that section of country who dared to draw a trigger against him? He was right, for the pistols were dropped and the room cleared on the instant; whereupon the bully borderer clapped his wings and crowed and disappeared.

The assemblage of the females I was rather solicitous to see, and so I was at my post betimes. I had long to wait. I heard the gathering cry from the men on all sides, in the corn fields and bushes; it was like the neighing to each other of wild horses. After a while the ladies began to arrive. The spectators crowded in.

The Indian men went to their places, and among them a party to sing while the women danced, two of the men rattling the gourds. The cauldrons had disappeared from the centre of the sacred square.

And now entered a long train of females, all dressed in long gowns, like our ladies, but all with gay colors, and bright shawls of various hues, and beads innumerable upon their necks, and tortoise shell combs in their hair, and ears bored all around the rim, from top to bottom, and from every bore a massive ear drop, very long, and generally of silver. A selected number of the dancers wore under their robes, and girded upon their calves, large squares of thick leather, covered all over with terrapin shells closed together and perforated and filled with pebbles, which rattled like so many sleigh bells. These they have the knack of keeping silent until their accompaniment is required for the music of the dance. The dresses of all the women were so long as nearly to conceal the feet, but I saw that some had neither shoes nor stockings on, while others were sandaled. The shawls were principally worn like mantles. Broad ribbons, in great profusion and of every variety of hue, hung from the back of each head to the ground, and, as they moved, these, and the innumerable sparkling beads of glass and coral and gold, gave the wearers an air of graceful and gorgeous, and, at the same time, unique wildness.

The procession entered slowly, and wound around the central fire, which still blazed gently there, although the cauldrons had been removed; and the train continued to stretch itself out, till it extended to three circles and a half. The shorter side then became stationary, and stood facing the men, who were seated in that building which contained the chanters. This last rank of dancers seemed to include the principal wearers of the terrapin leg bands, which they continued to rattle, keeping time with the chant, without shifting their position. At each end of their line was a leader, one an old woman and the other not young, both bearing a little notched stick, with two feathers floating from it. At a particular turn of the general figure of the dance, these two broke off from their fixed rank, and made a circuit outside of all the rest, and more briskly, while the main body of the dancers, the three circles before mentioned, which had never ceased to move, still proceeded slowly round and round, only turning at a given signal to face the men, as the men had turned to face the emblem of the Deity, the central fire. Every eye among the women was planted on the ground. I never beheld such an air of universal modesty. It seemed a part of the old men’s privilege to make comments aloud, in order to surprise the women into a laugh. These must often have been very droll, and always personal, I understand, and not always the most delicate. I saw a few instances among the young girls where they were obliged to smother a smile by putting up their handkerchiefs. But it was conquered on the instant. The young men said nothing; but the Indian men, whether old or young, seemed all to take as much interest in the show as we. The chief, Apotheola, had two daughters there. Both are very elegant girls, but the eldest delighted me exceedingly. She seemed about seventeen or eighteen. She is tall, a fine figure; her carriage graceful and distingué, and quite European. She had a white muslin gown; a black scarf, wrought all over with flowers in brilliant colors; an embroidered white collarette, I believe you call it; gold chains, coral beads, gold and jeweled earrings, single ones, not in the usual Indian superabundance, her hair beautifully dressed in the Parisian style; a splendid tortoise shell comb, gemmed; and from one large tuft of hair upon one temple to that upon the other there passed a beautiful gold ornament. Her sister’s head dress was nearly the same. The aforesaid elder Princess Apotheola, I am happy to say, looked only at me. Some one must have told her that I meant to run away with her, for I had said so before I saw her to many of her friends. There was a very frolicksome, quizzical expression in her eye; and now and then it seemed to say, ‘No doubt you think all these things wonderfully droll. It diverts me to see you so puzzled by them.’ But, excepting the look at me, which only proved her excellent taste, her eye dwelt on the ground, and nothing could have been more interestingly reserved than her whole deportment.

The dance over, all the ladies went from the square in the same order that they entered it.

In about an hour, the same dance was repeated. When it ended, signal was made for what they call The Dance of the Olden Time, the breaking up of the ceremonial, when the men and women are again allowed to intermingle.

This was done in a quick movement around and around and around again, all the men yelping wildly and merrily, as struck their fancy, and generally in tones intended to set the women laughing, which they did, and heartily. The sounds most resembled the yelping of delighted dogs. Finally came the concluding whoop, and all the parties separated.

Between these two last dances, I sent for a chief, and desired him to take charge of some slight gifts of tobacco and beads which I had brought for them. The chief took them. I saw the others cut the tobacco, and share it. Ere long my ambassador returned, saying, ‘The chiefs are mighty glad, and count it from you as very great friendship.’ I had been too bashful about my present, and kept it back too long, through over shyness. If I had sent it before, I might have seen the show to more advantage. As it was, I was immediately invited to sit inside the square, and witness the last dance from one of the places of honor.

But I was now obliged to depart, and to give up all hopes of ever again seeing my beautiful Princess Apotheola. My only chance of a guide through the wilderness would have been lost had I delayed. So I reluctantly mounted my pony; and I left the Indians of Tuckabatchie and their Green Corn Festival, and their beautiful Princess Apotheola.

It was a great gratification to me to have seen this festival; with my own eyes to have witnessed the Indians in their own nation, with my own ears to have heard them in their own language. Nor was it any diminution of the interest of the spectacle to reflect that this ceremony, so precious to them, was now probably performing in the land of their forefathers for the last, last time. I never beheld more intense devotion; and the spirit of the forms was a right and a religious one. It was beginning the year with fasting, with humility, with purification, with prayer, with gratitude. It was burying animosities, while it was strengthening courage. It was pausing to give thanks to Heaven, before daring to partake its beneficence. It was strange to see this, too, in the midst of my own land; to travel, in the course of a regular journey in the New World, among the living evidences of one, it may be, older than what we call the Old World; the religion, and the people, and the associations of the untraceable past, in the very heart of the most recent portion of the most recent people upon earth. And it was a melancholy reflection for ourselves, that, comparing the majority of the white and red assemblage there, the barbarian should be so infinitely the more civilized and the more interesting of the two.

[box]Source: Payne, John Howard. The Green-Corn Dance. From an Unpublished Manuscript.[/box]


Surnames:
Payne,

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