Mahaskah or White Cloud, Ioway Chief

Mahaskah or White Cloud
An Ioway Chief

Mahaskah, or White Cloud, the elder, was the son of Mauhawgaw, or the Wounding Arrow, who was principal chief of the Pauhoochee, or pierced-nose nation of Indians. Mauhawgaw emigrated, some hundred and fifty years ago, from Michillimacinac to the west bank of the Ioway river, and selected a position near its mouth, where his band kindled their fires and smoked their pipes to the Great Spirit. The name given to this river, by Mauhawgaw, was Neohoney. or the Master of Rivers. Having built his village, he was greeted with a salutation from the Sioux. A pipe was sent to him by that tribe, with an invitation to a dog feast, made in honor of the Great Spirit. He accepted the invitation, and joined in the ceremony. Whilst at the feast, and, no doubt, reposing in the most perfect security, he was suddenly attacked; but, though surprised, he succeeded in killing one man and three women, before he was slain. This outrage upon the national honor has never been forgiven.

The portrait before the reader is that of the son of Mauhawgaw, who was thus treacherously slain. The Ioway, indignant at the conduct of the Sioux, resolved immediately on revenge. They raised a war party. Of this party, the son, Mahaskah, was the legitimate chief; but. being young, and having never distinguished himself in battle, he declined taking the command, but, by virtue of his right, he conferred upon a distinguished and tried warrior the authority to lead his warriors against the Sioux stating, at the time, that he would accompany the expedition as a common soldier. and fight till he should acquire experience, and gain trophies enough to secure to him the confidence of his people. Arrangements being made, the party marched into the Sioux country, and gained a great victory, taking ten of the enemy’s scalps. The young Mahaskah brought home, in his own hand, the scalp of the Sioux chief, in whose lodge the life of his father had been so treacherously taken.

Having thus shown himself a brave, he assumed the command of his warriors and of his tribe. His war adventures were numerous and daring. He was in eighteen battles against various bands, and was never defeated. In one of his expeditions against the Osages, with whom his conflicts were many, he arrived on the north bank of the Missouri, and while there, and engaged in trying to stop an effusion of blood from his nose, he espied a canoe descending the river, in which were three Frenchmen. Wishing to cross over with his party, he called upon the Frenchmen to land and assist him. The Frenchmen not only refused, but fired upon the Indians, wounding one of White Cloud’s braves. The fire was instantly returned, which killed one of the Frenchmen. White Cloud had, so far, taken no part in this little affair, but, on seeing one of his braves wounded, he called for his gun, saying “You have killed one of the rascals, I’ll try if I cannot send another along with him to keep him company to the Chee” Chee means the house of the Black Spirit.

As usual, the whites raised a great clamor against the Ioway, giving out, all along the borders, that they were killing the settlers. A party was raised and armed, and marched forthwith against Mahaskah and his warriors. They were overtaken. White Cloud, not suspecting their designs, and being conscious of having committed no violence, was captured, and thrust into prison, where he remained many months. He finally made his escape, and succeeded in reaching his own country in safety. He then married four wives. It is the custom of the tribe, when husbands or brothers fall in battle, for a brave to adopt their wives or sisters.

White Cloud found, on his return, four sisters who had been thus deprived of their protector, all of whom he married. Of these, Rantchewaime, or the Female Flying Pigeon, was one, and the youngest. Her fine likeness, with a sketch of her character, will succeed this narrative.

Often, after White Cloud had thus settled himself, was he known to express his regret at having permitted his warriors to fire upon the Frenchmen. On these occasions he has been seen to look upon his hand, and heard to mutter to himself “There is blood on it.” He rejoiced, however, in the reflection, that he had never shed the blood of an American. And yet his father’s death, and the manner of it, made him restless, and rendered him implacable against the perpetrators of that outrage, and their allies. Not long after his escape from prison, and return to his home, and soon after his marriage, he planned an expedition against the Osages. He resolved to march with a select party of ten braves to the Little Osage plains, which lie south of the Missouri river, and about two hundred and fifty miles above St. Louis. Arriving at the plains, a favorable opportunity soon offered, which was seized by Mahaskah, and’ the battle commenced. It was his misfortune, early in the conflict, to receive a rifle ball in his leg, just above the ankle. He had succeeded, however, before he was wounded, in taking three of the enemy’s scalps, when he sought a retreat, and found one under a large log that lay across a water-course. The Osages followed close upon him being guided by the blood that flowed from his wound; but they lost the trail on arriving at the water-course, for Mahaskah had taken the precaution to step into the water some distance below the log, by which stratagem he misled his pursuers, for they supposed he had crossed over at the place where they last saw blood. He remained under the log, which lay on the water, with just so much of his nose out as to enable him to breathe.

In the night, when all was silence, save the tinkling of the bells of the Indian horses in the plains below, Mahaskah left his place of concealment, and coming up with one of the horses, mounted him and made off in the direction of his home, which was on the river Des Moines. Arriving at the Missouri, he resorted to the Indian mode of crossing, which is, to tie one end of the halter around the head or neck of the horse, and, taking the other end between his teeth, he drives the animal into the water, and unites his own exertions, as a swimmer, to those of the horse, and is by this means carried over in safety. In all these difficulties he took care not to part with either his gun or his scalps. On arriving at home he paraded his trophies, and ordered the scalp dance to be danced. Not being able, on account of his wound, to lead the dance himself, he placed the scalps in the hand of Inthehone, or the Big Axe, who, being the first brave of his band, was entitled to the distinction. Mahaskah accompanied the presentation of the scalps to Big Axe with these words: “I have now revenged the death of my father. My heart is at rest. I will go to war no more. I told Maushuchees, or Red Head, (meaning General Clark,) when I was last at St. Louis, that I would take his peace talk. My word is out. I will fight no more.”

In the year 1824, Mahaskah left home, being one of a party on an embassy to Washington, leaving his wives behind him, their number having increased to seven. When about one hundred miles from home, and near the mouth of the river Des Moines, having killed a deer, he stopped to cook a piece of it. He was seated, and had just commenced his meal, when he felt himself suddenly struck on the back. Turning round, he was astonished to see Rantchewaime standing before him with an uplifted tomahawk in her hand. She thus accosted him “Am I your wife? Are you my husband? If so, I will go with you to the Mawhehunneche, (or the American big house,) and see and shake the hand of Incohonee,” which means great father. Mahaskah answered “Yes, you are my wife; I am your husband; I have been a long time from you; I am glad to see you; you are my pretty wife, and a brave man always loves to see a pretty woman.”

The party arrived at Washington. “A talk” was held with President Monroe; the present of a medal was made to Mahaskah, arid a treaty was concluded between the United States and the Ioway. It was a treaty of cession, of limits, &c., and of considerations there for. These considerations include a payment, in that year, of five hundred dollars, and the same sum annually, for ten years thereafter. Provision is made for blankets, farming utensils, and cattle; and assistance is promised them in their agricultural pursuits, under such forms as the President might deem expedient.

The following occurrence happened at Washington during that visit. Mahaskah would occasionally indulge in a too free use of ardent spirits. On one of these occasions he was exercising one of an Indian husband’s privileges on the Flying Pigeon. The agent, hearing the scuffle, hastened to their room. Mahaskah, hearing him coming, lifted up the window sash and stepped out, forgetting that he was two stories from the ground. In the fall he broke his arm; yet so accustomed had he been to fractures and wounds, that he insisted on riding the next day, over rough roads and pavements, a distance of at least two miles, to see a cannon cast. A few days after, he sat to King, of Washington, for his portrait. The reader will remark a compression of his eyebrows. This was caused by the pain he was enduring whilst the artist was sketching his likeness.

On his return to his country and home, Mahaskah began in earnest to cultivate his land he built for himself a double log house, and lived in great comfort. This, he said, was in obedience to the advice of his great father.

Soon after his return to his home, it was his misfortune to lose his favorite wife, and under very painful circumstances. They were crossing a tract of country. Mahaskah, having reason to apprehend that hostile bands might be met with, kept in advance. Each was on horseback; the Flying Pigeon carrying her child, Mahaskah the younger, then about four years old. Turning, at a certain point, to look back to see what distance his wife was from him, he was surprised, his position being a high one, enabling him to overlook a considerable extent of country, not to see her. He rode back, and, sad to relate, after retracing his steps some five or six miles, he saw her horse grazing near the trail, and presently the body of his wife, near the edge of a small precipice, with her child resting its head upon her body. The horror-stricken chief, alighting near to the spot, was soon assured of her death! Standing over her corpse, he exclaimed, in his mother tongue, “Wau-cunda-menia-bratuskunnee, shungau-menia-nauga-nappo!” which being interpreted, means “God Almighty! I am a bad man. You are angry with me. The horse has killed my squaw!” At the moment, the child lifted its head from the dead body of its mother, and said “Father, my mother is asleep!”

The inference was, that the horse had stumbled and thrown her. The occurrence took place about four days’ journey from his home. Mahaskah, within that time, was seen returning to his lodge, bear ing the dead body of Rantchewaime, with his child in his arms. He proceeded at once to dispose of the corpse. His first business was to gather together all the presents that had been made to her at Washington; also whatever else belonged to her, and to place them, with the body, in a rude box; and then, according to the custom of the Indians of that region, the box was placed upon a high scaffold. This mode of disposing of the dead has a twofold object one is, to elevate the body as high as possible in the direction of the home of the Great Spirit; that home being, according to their belief, in the sky; the other is to protect the corpse from the wolves, whose ravages would disfigure it, and render it unsightly in the eyes of the Great Spirit. This much of the ceremony over, the chief killed a dog, made a feast, and called his braves together. A second dog, and then a horse were killed. The dog was fastened, with his head upwards, to the scaffold, while the tail of the horse had a position assigned to it on that part of the scaffold nearest the head of the deceased. On the head of the dog was placed a twist of tobacco.

These ceremonies have their origin in a superstition of the nation, which attributes every death to the anger of the Great Spirit, who is supposed to be always in motion, searching for the spirits of those who have recently died, with the calumet, or pipe of peace in his mouth. As the scaffold is approached by the mysterious being, the watchful dog is expected to see and address him inform him of the locality of the body, and invite him to take the tobacco, and smoke. This offer the Indian believes is always accepted. The Great Spirit then proceeds to reanimate and remodel the dead body; to restore the trinkets and property of the deceased; impart vitality to the dog and the horse, and commission them, forth with, the one to bear the deceased to the land of game and of plenty the other, to hunt the deer in the regions of the blessed.

In 1833, the son of an Ioway chief of distinction, named Crane, was killed by the Omaha. A party of Ioway applied to Mahaskah to head them in the pursuit of the enemy. He replied, “I have buried the tomahawk; I am now a man of peace.” He added; “the treaty made with our great father provides for the punishment of such outrages.” The party, however, resolved that they would punish the aggressors. They made an incursion into the enemy’s country, and returned, bringing with them six scalps. The customary feast was prepared, and all was made ready for the scalp dance; but Mahaskah refused to partake of the one, or participate in the other.

The murders, on both sides, having been reported to the government, General Clark was directed to cause the Ioway to be arrested. This duty was assigned to their agent, General Hughes who called on the chief, Mahaskah, to whom he made known the order. Mahaskah answered, “It is right; I will go with yon.” The offenders were arrested and conveyed to Fort Leavenworth. While confined there, one of the prisoners called Mahaskah to the window of his dungeon, and looking him full in the face, said; “Inca, (father,) if ever I get out of this place alive, I will kill you. A brave man should never be deprived of his liberty, and confined as I am. You should have shot me at the village.”

Unfortunately for Mahaskah, that Indian succeeded in making his escape from prison. He forthwith went in pursuit of the object of his revenge. Mahaskah was found encamped on the Naudaway, about sixty miles from his village. His pursuer and party attacked him with guns, tomahawks, and clubs, and slew him. After he was dead, one of the party remarked, that ” he was the hardest man to kill he ever knew.” This was in 1834, Mahaskah being then about fifty years old.

The tidings of Mahaskah’s death soon reached his village. One of the murderers escaped, arid sought refuge among the Oto; but, on learning the cause of his visit to them, they shot him in their camp. The other, with the utmost indifference, returned to the village of the murdered chief. Young Mahaskah, now the successor of his father, and principal chief of the nation, on hearing the news of his father’s death, and that one of the murderers had re turned to the village, went immediately to his lodge, killed his dogs and horses, and with his knife cut and ripped his lodge in every possible direction. This last act, especially, is an insult to which no brave man will submit. Having hurled this defiance at one of the murderers of his father, and expressed his contempt for him under every possible form, he turned to the assassin, who had ob served in silence the destruction of his property, and, looking him sternly in the face, said “You have killed the greatest man who ever made a moccasin track on the Naudaway; you must, therefore, be yourself a great man, since the Great Spirit has given you the victory. To call you a dog would make my father less than a dog.” The squaw of the murderer exclaimed to her husband, “Why don’t you kill the boy?” He replied, “He is going to be a great brave; I cannot kill him.” So saying, he handed the young chief a pipe, which he refused, saying, “I will leave you in the hands of the braves of my nation.” To which the inflexible murderer replied, “I am not going to run away; I’ll meet your braves tomorrow.” The Indian knew full well the fate that awaited him. He felt that his life was forfeited, and meant to assure the young chief that he was ready to pay the penalty.

The next day a general council was convened. The case was submitted to it. The unanimous voice was, “He shall die.” It was further decreed, that young Mahaskah should kill him; but he declined, saying, “I cannot kill so brave a man;” whereupon he was shot by one of the principal braves. His body was left on the ground, to be devoured by wolves, as a mark of the disgust of the tribe, and of their abhorrence of the assassin of their chief.

It is customary among the Ioway, and the neighboring tribes, for the wives and children of the deceased to give away every thing which had belonged to him and his family. This custom was rigidly adhered to on the occasion of Mahaskah’s death. His surviving squaws went into mourning and poverty. The mourning is kept up for six moons, and consists, in addition to the blacking of the face, in much wailing, and in the utterance of long and melancholy howls. At its expiration, the tribe present the mourners with food and clothing, and other necessaries of savage life. One of Mahaskah’s widows, however, named Missorahtarrahaw, which means, the Female Deer that bounds over the plains, refuses to this day to be comforted, saying, her husband “was a great brave, and was killed by dogs” meaning, low, vulgar fellows.

The subject of this memoir was six feet two inches in height, possessed great bodily strength and activity, and was a man of perfect symmetry of person, and of uncommon beauty.

The Ioway were once the most numerous and powerful, next to the Sioux, of all the tribes that hunt between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. They have been reduced by wars, by the small pox, and by whisky, to about thirteen hundred souls.

Biography, Iowa, Ioway,

McKenny, Thomas & Hall, James & Todd, Hatherly & Todd, Joseph. History of the Indian tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co. 1872.

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