A Long Way From The Buffalo Road


In a family tepee, everything was neat and orderly. Right by the entrance, as one came in from the east, were the boxes from the trader’s store, where the white man’s goods—sugar and salt and flour and coffee- were kept. Beyond that, the furnishings and their arrangement were just as the Arapaho had always had them, made in the old way and placed in the lodge as they had been from the beginning. The beds were always around the edge of the circle, and a well-furnished lodge usually had three—one on the south, one on the west, and one on the north. As you entered the tepee and turned to the left, the first bed belonged to the women of the family. Then the western part of the lodge, opposite the entrance, belonged especially to the father. Here, on a pole or a tripod, were hung his painted shield and his quiver of arrows; here he kept the bundle, wrapped in skin, containing the things that were his particular protection and power, things that the rest of the family never used or handled; and here he kept his saddle. Here was his bed, with its back rests and robes, where he sat when he worked or entertained his friends; and behind the bed on the wall of the tepee he might have a finely dressed skin painted with designs and figures that represented important happenings and influences in his life. Beyond this, on the north side of the tepee, was the third bed, where the boys in the family slept and where visitors usually sat. A specially honored visitor, or one whose friendship with the father was close, might sit with him on his bed, at his left. When the family entered the tepee, they turned to the left, while a visitor went to the right.

There was room for everything in our lodge, and to us it never seemed crowded. Bags of meat and fruit that my mother had dried hung from the lodgepoles, out of our way; and around the outer circle of the room, in the space where the beds were and underneath them, folded robes and clothing, our toys, and our mother’s tools and materials for handwork were kept. Except in bad weather, most of our work and play went on outside our tepee. When we came inside, it seemed dim and cool in summer, and rosy and warm in winter. A kettle of food was usually on the fire, ready for us and for any visitors who might come in. It was unheard of among us for visitors to come and leave unfed, as long as there was anything to eat.

One of the great old-time chiefs that I remember as a boy at Darlington was named Powder Face. He was a real leader in taking up the new road laid out for us by the white man. He set the example by raising corn and planting a garden and setting out fruit trees. But he often had bad luck with his corn because of floods or dry weather, or by having fences around his fields burned in a prairie fire and his crops destroyed by livestock that got into them. He soon decided that on much of our reservation the cattle road would be a better one to follow than the corn road. He then built up a fine herd of cattle, and put his own brand on them just as the white cattleman did.

Powder Face not only set the example himself but encouraged the rest of us to raise livestock and care for them and sell them, never neglecting them when we wanted to go on a hunt or to hold a medicine dance. For an old warrior who had made a name for himself, even among white soldiers, that was a long road to travel. His father, old Powder Face, had given him his shield years before, when he was about seventeen, and had told him to carry it in battle against the Pawnees. Powder Face had returned from that battle with six Pawnee scalps, and then had been given thirty young warriors over whom he was to be chief. Before he had taken up the white man’s road, he had scalped white men as well as Indians. When he related his war story, he told how he had had fifty-five horses shot out from under him by white soldiers, and had been wounded four times. After the Treaty of Medicine Lodge, when he left the warpath, he went with white officers to Lawrence, Kansas, where he saw more white men and women and children than he had realized there were in all the world. He knew then that he had been wise to sign the treaty, because his people must live in the white man’s way or perish. After that he helped gather the Arapaho villages together, out on the western plains, and bring them in to sit down on the reservation. There he encouraged parents to send their children to school and to learn about the white man’s religion. He often came to the Sunday school at Darlington to talk to the children there.