Wa-pel-la The Prince, A Musquakee Chief

Wapella, Musquakee Chief

Wapella, whose name signifies the Prince, or the Chief, is the head man of the Musquakee, or Fox tribe. He was one of the delegation led by Keokuk to Washington in 1837, and made a favorable impression by the correctness of his deportment on that occasion. In stature he is shorter, and more heavily built than most of the Indians, and has the appearance of great strength and activity.

In the council held by the Secretary of War, for the purpose of reconciling the Sioux with the Sauk and Foxes, Wapella spoke next after Keokuk, and acquitted himself well. Although he possessed not the fine form and striking manner of Keokuk, many thought his speech not inferior to that of the principal chief. It was well digested, sensible, and pertinent. We remarked that, in the opening of his harangue, the authority of Keokuk was distinctly recognized, as well as the identity of interest of the tribes represented respectively by these two chiefs. “My father,” said Wapella, “you have heard what my chief has said. He is the chief of our nation. His tongue is ours. What he says we all say whatever he does we will be bound by it.”

Having concluded their visit at Washington, the delegates were conducted to several of the principal cities of the Atlantic states, where they excited much curiosity, and, we are happy to say, were treated with uniform kindness and hospitality. Unfortunate as are the relations between our government and the Indians, imposed by a train of circumstances for which, as a people, we are not accountable, there is evidently no lack of generous sympathy towards that race in any part of our country.

The reception of these Indian delegates at Boston was conducted with more ceremony than at any other place, and must have been highly gratifying to them, as well as interesting to numerous assemblages of citizens, most of whom saw, for the first time, the American savage in his native costume. It is said that so great a multitude was never assembled in that city to witness a public spectacle. In the morning from ten to twelve, the chiefs held a levee at Faneuil Hall, for the reception of ladies exclusively, when it might doubtless have been said of the Boston ladies, as a New England poet wrote long ago,

“All longed to see and touch the tawny man;”

for we are told that this ancient hall was crowded in every part, floor and gallery, by the fair citizens.

At noon the chiefs and warriors were conducted to the State-house, where the Governor, the members of the Legislature, and other dignitaries, were prepared to receive them. Governor Everett, whose celebrity as a scholar, statesman, and philanthropist, would have naturally placed him in a conspicuous position at this exhibition of civic hospitality, independently of his office, addressed them in a bland and spirited manner. The chiefs replied separately. As usual, Keokuk spoke first, and after him Wapella. The remarks of the latter were as follows :

“I am very happy to meet my friends in the land of my fore fathers. When a boy I recollect my grandfather told me of this place, where the white man used to take our fathers by the hand. I am very happy that this land has induced so many white men to come upon it; by that I think they get a living on it, and I am pleased that they content themselves to stay on it. (Great applause.) I am always glad to give the white man my hand and call him brother. The white man is the eldest of the two; but perhaps you have heard that my tribe is respected by all others, and is the oldest among the tribes. I have shaken hands with a great many different tribes of people. I am very much gratified that I have lived to come and talk with the white man in this house, where my fathers talked, which I have heard of so many years ago. I will go home and tell all I have seen, and it shall never be forgotten by my children.”

When the speaking was concluded, the Governor and the chiefs repaired to the balcony of the State-House, which overlooks a beautiful and extensive open square, where presents were distributed to the Indians. Keokuk received a splendid sword and a pair of pistols; his little son a pretty little rifle. The principal chiefs were presented with costly swords, and others of less value were given to the warriors. Black Hawk had a sword and pistols. Shawls, calico, and trinkets, were given to the women. “During this ceremony,” says one of the Boston editors, “a mass of at least fifteen acres of people stood below, filling the streets and the common. The chiefs were escorted to the common by the cadets, and began their war dance. The crowd very patiently kept outside the lines, leaving a space of many acres, in the center of which were the Indians. Their war exercises were not very striking. One beat a drum, to which they hummed monotonously, and jumped about grotesquely. This lasted half an hour, when they moved off in carriages to their lodgings.”

At Philadelphia, the delegations were taken to Cooke’s splendid circus, and witnessed the equestrian exercises, which were probably more to their taste than any exhibition with which they were gratified during their tour. At New York they visited Mr. Catlin’s extensive gallery of Indian portraits, and are said to have borne testimony to the fidelity of the likenesses of their acquaintances in that valuable collection.

Perhaps the most amusing incident of this tour was that which occurred at the Washington theater, to which the several Indian delegations had access every evening during their stay in the metropolis. Their conduct on these occasions did not evince the apathy usually attributed to them, but struck us rather as characterized by the habitual decorum and gravity of this singular people, mingled with an indifference resulting from their indistinct under standing of the subject. There were exceptions to this general deportment. They sometimes whispered to each other, with an appearance of interest, and more than once laughed heartily at some stroke of buffoonery. But the occurrence alluded to was of a more decided character. Miss _____ was acting the part of a sylph, which she did very charmingly. The merit of the performance consisted in her graceful attitudes, and in movements so light and easy that they seemed to be effected by means of mere mental volition, independently of the vulgar locomotive machinery commonly used by mortals. The Sioux occupied a stage box, and were so much delighted that, in the midst of the performance, one of them rose, and, taking a dressed buffalo robe from his shoulders, threw it at the feet of the actress, with a speech, which, according to the established phraseology, should doubtless be called an appropriate address; another threw a head-dress, a third something else, until the whole company had each given a token of his approbation. Though taken by surprise, the sylph showed great presence of mind; indeed, if there is any thing for which a woman is never wholly unprepared, it is admiration. Gathering up the unexpected tribute, she threw the articles over her arm, and continued to act in character, until showers of Indian finery became so thick that she was obliged to seek assistance to remove them. After a momentary absence she reappeared with a sheaf of ostrich feathers, which she distributed among the warriors with an appropriate address.

We may mention, in connection with the foregoing anecdotes, the conduct of some Pawnee and Oto chiefs and warriors, who visited the Cincinnati theater, on their way to Washington, during the same season. The Ravel family were exhibiting their wonderful feats of strength and agility, and the Indians evidently shared the universal admiration excited by these surprising performances They confined themselves, however, to the ordinary expressions of pleasure, until the lad who was called the “Infant Hercules” exhibited a feat which displayed great muscular power, when the whole band evinced their admiration by loud shouts.

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.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top