Peyote stage

The Peyote Cult Among the Caddo Indians

Before the night meetings everyone takes a bath in the creek “to wash away sins,” or a sweat bath. For sweat bath is made a dome-shaped frame of willows, over it a canvas wagon-cover. At the fire outside, the stones are heated, taken into the house and a little water poured over them to make steam. One man says a prayer while he beats the stones with white-leaf (?sage) brush. Ten to twelve men take the sweat bath at the same time.

After the bath everybody goes into the tipi that has been put up for the ceremony, and sits down in the circle anywhere except at the entrance in the east where the two fire builders sit and except opposite in the west, at the “road,” where the two leaders sit. After the tipi has filled up, the leader rolls a cigarette of corn husk and tobacco (Bull Durham), draws in and puffs the smoke upward. All the others present, women as well as men, roll themselves a cigarette. The leader or road-man (R. niya·’tsi hit’o’caa’, road he was sitting) holds his cigarette a second or two over the piece of peyote lying in front of him, Father Peyote (R. a’asiga’o’, father, ear), puffs again, and prays (tumbakauutsihadina). Then he lays down in front of himself what is left of his cigarette, as do all the others. Now the peyote is passed around, either in liquid form or dry. 1 After passing his hands over Father Peyote, barely touching it, and then over his own person, each takes what he wants, what he can stand, of the peyote that is being passed around. After swallowing, the recipient sprays his hands, and rubs them over his face and body (R. haahatwiDdao’’ta’, good to do to oneself)

The road-man starts to sing, on his right the drummer. In his right hand the road-man carries a gourd rattle, in his left, a long stick surmounted by a cross, which is referred to as arrow (b’a). This is ornate with beadwork and eagle feathers. After singing four songs, he hands the “arrow” and gourd to the drummer, and takes the drum. Now the ex-drummer sings four songs. After these, the man on the left of the road-man gets the drum and the man beyond him the gourd and “arrow,” and the act is repeated, and so it goes, in sunwise circuit, couple by couple, until all but the women have both drummed and sung. Four times the complete circuit has to be made, then the performers may have a drink of water. There are two water carriers (kuku naik’aniwaha).

Should any one have to go out of the tipi during the night, on his return he stands near the fire and the two fire-builders (nehpink’ania) brush him with eagle feathers. 2 This is “to drive the evil spirits away.” The dark is evil. 3 That is why the fire has to be kept up throughout the night. The fire sticks are laid one above the other like fingers imbricated, the crossing toward the tips.

Peyote stage
Peyote stage

This fire is in the centre of the tipi and of the pear-shaped stage of clay which is raised about half a foot. East of the fire is outlined in the clay a diamond-shaped space for those who are smoked to stand on. Around the western 4 and broader part of the clay stage or platform lies in crescent moon shape a higher elevation in clay. On this foot-high “moon,” lies,where the imaginary “road” from the bucket of water, through the fire, meets it, the fetich peyote referred to as Father Peyote. Here on the west side is, therefore, the altar (Fig. 3). Hanging to the tipi wall, back of the road-man, is a picture of Jesus. (Yet “Christians are against Peyote.”)

At dawn, before sunrise, all go out and line up, facing the sun. 5 All raise up their hands, palms outward, and pass them down over the body (haatdaot’a). They re-enter, sit down, sing a little, and then take a drink of sweetened water and parched and pounded corn supplied by the man holding the meeting. Now any one may go home, but some stay to eat dinner at noon. The dinner is placed in the centre of the tipi. No salt may be served at either meal, and while under the influence of peyote no knife, no weapon may be used. Alcohol is of nature taboo, for drunkards are nauseated by peyote. Evil thoughts during the ceremonial are taboo, for whatever evil you might think of at that time, would subsequently come upon you. You are told “to set your head just for the good.”

After dinner anybody may come into the tipi. Cedar is put on the fire and with the eagle feathers the participants brush the smoke over themselves–the final rite.

There may be considerable significance for the development of the cult in the fact that a Peyote meeting is apt to be held the night before a memorial death feast i.e. the memorial dinner and the Peyote dinner are the same.

But any one who has peyote plants 6 may call a Peyote meeting. Various men at Sugar Creek call meetings and serve as leaders or Peyote chiefs or road-men-Enoch Hoag 7 (Gen. I, 7) the chief, 8 Sorrel (Gen. I, 20), Worthless (Gen. I, 19), Mr. Fish (Gen. II, 22). Mr. Squirrel (Gen. II, 24) 9 serves as a fire builder. Nishkantuh or Moon-head 10 (Gen. II, 20), (deceased 1897), was “a wonder in Peyote meeting.” Had you any evil in your mind when you came to meeting Moon-head would point you out. 11 “If that is the kind of thought you come here with, get out!” he would say. “This is no place for it.” Moon-head was run over by a train and killed. With him was killed the wife he had been given as “a kind of pay” by the Quapaw he had been visiting. He was taking her home, although he had another wife. 12 It was claimed that anybody could have seen that train coming. Other Peyote leaders said that this was a punishment, Moon-head had come to know too much, he was overdoing it, “going to extremes.” It was Moon-head who started the cult among the Caddo, taking it from the Kiowa and passing it on to the Osage. Osage have permanent Peyote houses and in them hangs a picture of Moon-head. Osage and Caddo have joint Peyote meetings. Likewise Caddo and Quapaw. It was at Peyote meetings that Vincent Johnson met his first wife, a Quapaw.

From Enoch Hoag White Moon heard the following account of how peyote was found.

A Kiowa was out scouting when he lost his horse. There he was in the desert, without water, and almost dead. He lay there thinking that he would never see his people again. It was early in the morning, still dark, when he heard somebody talking to him. He could not see him. Somebody said, “Follow me! There are lots of us living down there.” So he followed the voice, he walked and walked and walked. He stopped. All he could see was peyote growing there, lots of it. The voice said that what he saw was what was going to save him. He picked some and ate it. It gave him strength. The voice told him to take some with him. The voice led him out of the desert, to water. That was the way peyote was found.

According to Pardon, peyote is good medicine for gun-shot wounds. He himself was cured by it of a bad “spider” bite. Another time after nine months in bed he was cured by peyote. One sickness, tuberculosis, peyote does not cure.

This contemporary cult of Peyote among the Caddo has been described as a sequence of the Ghost dance cult, but the Peyote cult here, as in some other tribes, has older roots also. At the close of the seventeenth century it was reported of the Caddo that they had in their dances men and women who got “drunk on peyote or frixolillo” [mescal bean] and that the people believed everything these persons told them they had seen. 13Citations:

  1. Dried peyote is supposed to look like an ear.[]
  2. Cp. Kiowa, Parsons, 135; see pp. 36, 52; very common rite among Pueblos.[]
  3. Cp. La Barre, 152 n. 5, 157-158.[]
  4. In a few cases eastern; but this reversing of the positions of tipi, moon, etc. is not generally approved of.[]
  5. Once, on this occasion, White Moon “heard the sun coming up,” a Peyote cliche.[]
  6. They are bought at $2.00 a hundred from an agent in Mexico. See Parsons, 118, for mention of a trip to Mexico to get peyote by a Kiowa, a Comanche, and a Caddo.[]
  7. He is possessed of an “arrow” or cross stick, as was also Mr. Blue.[]
  8. The “moon” or ritual of Enoch Hoag was coming to be considered more “pure” and aboriginal than the “big moon” of the famous leader and innovator Moon-head or John Wilson (La Barre, 161).[]
  9. He is mentioned as one of the two delegates sent in 1891 by the Caddo to see the Paiute messiah of the new cult, the Ghost dance (Mooney, 903), and he is still prominent in the Ghost dance, see p. 49.[]
  10. Cp. La Barre, 151 ff.[]
  11. For his reputation as mind reader, cp. La Barre, 159.[]
  12. All this may be something of an ex paste statement, since the other wife was a kinswoman of White Moon. In White Moon’s opinion, however, the punishment attached not to the polygynous act, but to taking a woman in connection with the Peyote cult. Cp. La Barre, 159.[]
  13. Hatcher, XXXI, 55-56; cp. La Barre, 110.[]


Parsons, Elsie Clews. Notes on the Caddo, Memories of the American Anthropological Association. Supplement to American Anthropologist, Volume 43, No. 3, Part 2. 1921.

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