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Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers
Chapter XIX


WE now come to the mode of courtship and the rites of marriage observed among these people. The law of the land, or rather the established custom of the country is, that parents betroth or promise their children in marriage while they are still very young; and these contracts are in most cases held valid when the minors come of age.

When a marriage alliance is thus entered into between parties on behalf of their infant children, reciprocal presents exchanged immediately between them serve as a seal to the marriage contract. These presents are occasionally repeated afterwards; but not by both parties, as in the first instance. The friends of the young woman cease to give, but are always ready to receive what the friends of the young man may from time to time choose to bestow, until the parties come of age. What these presents consist of is immaterial, and depends on the means of the parties. Sometimes horses, or a horse, or a dressed skin, or a few trinkets of but little value; but as soon as the young man attains the age of fourteen or fifteen years, and the young woman that of eleven or twelve, he then goes and pays his addresses to her in person; which is done in this way:—After the people are all in bed, the young man goes to the lodge or wigwam of his intended bride, enters it in the dark, makes a small fire, and sits by it till he is observed by some of the inmates. The whisper then goes round. If he be welcome, the girl's mother gets up, and without speaking to the young man herself, she awakens her daughter, who sits up with him by the fire; but the matron immediately retires to rest, leaving the young couple by themselves. During the tÍte-a-tÍte, no person in the lodge ever interrupts them. The interview is not long: the young man then departs, and the girl retires to rest again. These visits are repeated some three or four times, or more; and if the suitor be welcomed on every occasion, all goes on well. He then goes in the day-time, pretty sure of success, to his intended father-in-law, accompanied by some near relative, and bringing with him the purchase- money; that is, horses, robes, skins, and trinkets, more or less, according to the rank of the parties. On arrival they sit down opposite to the door of the lodge. If invited in, all is well; then the pipe of peace is smoked; one side of the lodge is put in order; a new mat is spread out, and the young man seated thereon. The young woman is then brought by her father and mother, each taking her by an arm, and placed near her intended husband. They are thenceforth considered lawfully married. This done, the pipe of peace is again produced; and during the ceremony of smoking, the father-in-law and young man's relative expatiate on the worth of their respective families; after which the parties regale, the bridegroom's companion returns home, and the whole business is ended.

Now in all cases of first marriage the wife must be purchased by her husband; for there is no greater disgrace to a family than for a parent to give his daughter away in marriage for nothing, as they call it. In this, as in many other instances, the custom here is exactly the reverse of that which prevails in civilized life; for in place of giving a portion with the daughter, the parents require a portion for her; and the nobler the family, the greater must be the donation, for the quality of the bride is on all occasions measured by the price paid for her by the husband. I have seen, however, the property tendered more than once refused; nor is it uncommon to increase the offer once or twice till it is accepted. We have now shown the fair and natural side of the question, and shall next turn to take a view of the reverse side.

It sometimes happens that the plighted virgin rejects the parents' choice. The parents themselves also change their sentiments in this case; and the young woman marries, not the person she was betrothed to, but another. This never fails to produce feuds and quarrels between the families concerned; the tide of animosity runs high—so high, sometimes, that the tribe splits into two portions, which separate from each other, perhaps permanently.

We need not touch on second or subsequent marriages; they are made and unmade according to circumstances, whim, or fancy, without being subject to any other law than the will of the parties themselves.

We now come to a rather mysterious part of our subject, which I could never rightly understand, and therefore do not expect to guide the reader satisfactorily through this labyrinth of superstition and jugglery. It refers to a class of functionaries called medicine-men, or priests, or perhaps, what would be nearer the true meaning, conjurors; for I know not exactly which of these terms would be the most applicable to them, as the class of men to which we allude act occasionally in all these capacities. They are called Tla-quill-aughs, which signifies, in their language, men of supernatural gifts, who pretend to know all things, and can kill and cure by magic whom they please. Among the whites they go by the name of doctors or jugglers.

There are no acquirements, so far as I know, deemed essential to qualify a person for the office of a Tla-quill-augh. In all Indian tribes there are three or four characters of this description. The Tla-quill-aughs are men generally past the meridian of life; in their habits grave and sedate, with a certain shyness and cunning about them. Like most Indians, they possess a good knowledge of herbs and roots, and their virtues. All classes stand in awe of the Tla-quill-aughe's power or ill will, and their opinions have much influence in most matters. They are consulted in all cases of sickness. All classes avoid, as much as possible, giving them offence, from a belief that they have the power of throwing, as they express it, their bad medicine at them, whether far or near, present or absent The people believe they can converse with the good and the bad spirits; and the Tla-quill-aughs, on their part, make it their chiefest study to impose on popular credulity, leading others to credit what they do not believe themselves.

During our stay among these people, it sometimes happened that the Tla-quill-aughs were offended with us for our want of faith. On such occasions, the other Indians, seeing us act with so much unconcern in matters which they considered so hazardous to ourselves, would stare at our ignorance, and look on us as the barbarians of old did on St. Paul when the viper fastened on his hand, expecting every moment to see us fall down dead!

From what has now been said on the subject, the reader will no doubt at once conclude that the Tla-quill-aughs are of all men the most happy. Let him not, however, be deceived, but look upon them as of all men the most miserable. Every misfortune sudden death, mishap, or unexpected disaster that happens to any of the people, is immediately attributed to some Tla-quill-augh, and he, however innocent pays with his life for the calamity. On whomsoever the imagination fixes, be he far or near, he is secretly hunted out, waylaid, and put to death; and this is generally the fate of all of them!

When any person is dangerously ill, a Tla-quill-augh is consulted, and the price of his services fixed, without his ever seeing the patient. As soon, therefore, as this preliminary part of the business is arranged, the price agreed upon is forthwith sent to his abode, and he repairs to the sick person and begins his operations. He is always paid beforehand—that payment being according to the quality of the sick person; and it is believed that the more is given the sooner and the better will be the case. It is no wonder, therefore, that they should be liberal on such occasions; but if the patient dies the fee is all returned again.

When the Tla-quill-augh enters the wigwam or lodge, he views the patient with an air of affected gravity, such as we see some of our own doctors assume on entering the dwelling of a sick person, and tells the bystanders, with a shake of the head and a groan, that the case is a very bad one, and that without him the patient would have surely died. The first thing he then does is to paint himself; and while this is going on he keeps constantly eyeing the patient, ties up his head with a leather strap and his waist with a thong, then lays the patient on his back, takes a piece of strong line, and girds him round the waist as tight as possible; in which position he is not allowed to stir, or to receive any kind of nourishment, until the whole ceremony, is ended, which lasts for upwards of three hours every morning and evening until there is a change; and I have known them for weeks together to continue the business without intermission, when it would be hard to tell whether the doctor or the patient was most exhausted.

After the patient is thus placed, the Tla-quill-augh, standing over him in a stooping position, bends down, and with his whole force presses him with his two fists in the pit of the stomach, as if intending to push through his body; then, suddenly standing up again, be opens his fists, and keeps blowing through his fingers, every now and then ejaculating a short prayer in a loud and frantic mariner, stamping with his feet, blowing with his mouth, and making various gesticulations with his body and arms, always ending the last sentence, in a tremulous voice and quaver of the lips, in these words—"Ho! ho! ho! ho! oh! oh!" All this, the doctor says, is necessary to drive away the evil spirit, for he must be expelled before a cure can be effected! The moment the bad spirit is gone out of the sick person, the Tla-quill-augh sucks the part affected with his mouth to extract the bad blood through the pores of the skin, which, to all appearance, he does effectually. How he manages to do it I know not; but I have often watched him, and seen him throw out whole mouthfuls of blood, and yet not the least mark would appear on the skin. I have also examined the Tla-quill-augh's mouth, supposing he might have cut it, but I could never discover anything of the kind. By the colour and quantity of the blood he announces the character of the disease. He goes through the same ceremony with various parts of the body till he expels the evil spirit altogether; or if he fails to do so, and the patient dies, he fixes the death on some rival in the profession.

Having now detailed the course pursued by the honest and zealous Tla-quill-augh himself, we next come to describe the accompaniment performed by his assistants. The moment the Tla-quill-augh commences his operations, four other persons, men and women indiscriminately, are placed in the same wigwam with the doctor and the sick person, two and two, face to face—that is, opposite to each other, and sitting tailor fashion, with a small stick in each hand. Between these four persons is then laid, flat on the ground, a piece of wood about eight feet long, and on this they keep beating time with their sticks in a loud and noisy manner, singing all the while; but the moment the Tla-quill-augh comes to the words "Ho, ho, ho!" the assistants who keep drumming on the piece of wood stop singing, and with their sticks beat one, two, three, for three successive times, by way of an amen to the doctor's invocations. Then silence ensues for about two minutes, when the whole commences anew, and so on to the end of the ceremony, which, as I have already said, continues every morning and evening about three hours.

The noise made by drumming on the stick, in conjunction with the tla-quill-augh's hallooing, is intended to frighten away the evil spirit, and prepare the patient for medicine; so that, between the doctor's bawling and stamping, and the drummer's. beating and singing, the noise may be heard a quarter of a mile round. With all this absurdity, many extraordinary cures are performed by these people. They have a profound knowledge of all simples, and if the complaint be manifest, as in cases of cuts and wounds, or the like, their skill is really astonishing. I once saw an Indian who had been nearly devoured by a grizzly bear, and had his skull split open in several places, and several pieces of the bone taken out just above the brain, and measuring three-fourths of an inch in length, cured so effectually by one of these jugglers, that in less than two months after he was riding on his horse again at the chase. I have also seen them cut open the belly with a knife, extract a large quantity of fat from the inside, sew up the part again, and the patient soon after perfectly recovered. The bite of the rattleanake they cure effectually; and as to vomits, purges, decoctions, and the knowledge of phlebotomy, none can be more expert and successful than the tla-quill-aughs; and I have witnessed two or three cases, which baffled the skill of a regular surgeon, cured by them.

The diseases most frequent among these people, are indigestion, fluxes, asthinas, and consumptions. Instances of longevity are here and there to be found among them, but not very, often.

From the doctor we now turn to the gambler. Play or gambling is a favourite pastime among all classes of the Oakinackens. The principal game is called tsill-all-a-come, differing but little from the chall-chall played by the Chinooks or Indians along the sea-coast. This game is played with two small, oblong, polished bones, each two inches long, and half an inch in diameter, with twenty small sticks of the same diameter as the bones, but about nine inches long.

The game does not set any limits to the number of players at a time, provided both sides be equal. Two, four, or six, as may be agreed upon, play this game; but, in all large bets, the last number is generally adopted. When all is ready, and the property at stake laid down on the spot, the players place themselves in the following manner: the parties kneel down, three on one side, and three on the other, face to face, and about three feet apart; and in this position they remain during the game. A piece of wood is then placed on the ground between them: this done, each player is furnished with a small drum-stick, about the size of a rule, in his right hand, which stick is used for beating time on the wood, in order to rivet attention on the game. The drumming is always accompanied with a song. The players, one and all, muffle their wrists, fists, and fingers with bits of fur or trapping, in order the better to elude and deceive their opponents. Each party then takes one of the two small polished bones, and ten of the small sticks, the use of which will hereafter be more fully explained. In all cases the arms and body are perfectly naked, the face painted, the hair clubbed up, and the head girt round with a strap of leather.

The party is now ready to begin the game, all anxious and on the alert: three of the players on one side strike up a song, to which all keep chorus, and this announces the commencement. The moment the singing and drumming begin on one side, the greatest adept on the other side instantly takes the little polished bone, conceals it in one of his fists, then throws it into the other, and back again, and so on from one fist to the other, nimbly crossing and recrossing his arms, and every instant changing the position of his fists. The quickness of the motions and the muffling of the fists make it almost impossible for his opponents to guess which hand holds the bone, and this is the main point. While the player is manoeuvring in this manner, his three opponents eagerly watch his motions with an eagle's eye, to try and discover the fist that contains the bone; and, the moment one of them thinks he has discovered where the bong is, he points to it with the quickness of lightning: the player at the same time, with equal rapidity, extends his arm and opens his fist in the presence of au; if it be empty, the player draws back his arm and continues, while the guesser throws the player one of the little sticks, which counts one. But if the guesser hits upon the fist that contains the bone, the player throws a stick to him and ceases playing, his opponent now going through the same operation: every miss costs a stick on either side. It is not the best of three, but three times running: all the sticks must be on one side to finish the game. I have seen them for a whole week at one game, and then not conclude, and I have known the game decided in six hours.

It sometimes happens, however, that after some days and nights are spent in the same game, neither party gains: in that case, the rules of the game provide that the number of players be either increased or diminished; or, if all the parties be agreed, the game is relinquished, each party taking up what it put down: but so intent are they on this favourite mode of passing their time, that it seldom happens that they separate before the game is finished; and while it is in progress every other consideration is sacrificed to it: and some there are who devote all their time and means solely to gambling; and when all is lost, which is often the case, the loser seldom gives way to grief. They are a happy people, never repining at what cannot be remedied. Various other games and amusements occupy their time: among which, the females have several that are innocent and amusing; but singing and dancing are their delight, and in these they often indulge to excess.

Next we come to the description of their hot baths, or rather fiery trial. To construct one of these baths a good deal of trouble and labour is required. A hole, fifteen feet in diameter, and about four feet deep, is dug in some convenient place for wood and water. The hole is then covered over with a thick coat of earth, as close as possible, leaving only a small aperture or opening in one side, barely sufficient to admit a single person to creep in and out on all fours. This done, a pile of wood, with a considerable number of stones laid thereon, is set on fire in the centre; and when the wood is consumed, and the stones red hot, water is thrown over them, causing a dense vapour and intense heat; yet in the midst of this suffocating cloud, where one would suppose a salamander itself could hardly live, the Indians enter stark naked, and no sooner in than the aperture or hole is closed upon them. Here they keep singing and recounting their war adventures, and invoking the good spirit to aid them again, rolling and groaning all the time in this infernal cell for nearly an hour; when all at once they bound out one by one, like so many subterranean spectres issuing from the infernal regions. Besmeared with mud, and pouring down with sweat, they dash into the cold water, and there plunge and swim about for at least a quarter of an hour, when they return again to their cell, going through this fiery, trial twice—morning and evening —on all great occasions. On all occasions of peace or war; of success in their enterprises, and good luck in hunting, the bath is resorted to. In short, great virtues are supposed to arise from the regular observance of this general custom of purification.

In the wide field of gymnastic exercise, few Indians—I might say none—have been found to cope with civilized man. In all trials of walking, of running, of fatigue, feats of agility, and famine, even in the Indian's own country, he has to yield the palm of victory to the white man. In the trials of the hot bath alone the savage excels.

The ceremony of the bath is not peculiar to the Qakinackens: it is practised by all the aboriginal tribes on the American continent.


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