PRAYER was important in
the life of every Indian. Every act of his life was an act of prayer.
Song was one of the most
habitual methods of appeal. An Indian never sang for the purpose of
entertaining an audience. He sang to give voice to his feelings and to
convey his hopes and desires to that invisible power permeating all
things. He chose the unseen voice as the best means of communication
with the unseen Mystery. Whether in a religious ceremony or while
gambling, before starting on the warpath or while dying, he supplicated
the Invisible in song. His death-song was a call to the Mysterious One
for strength to meet the unknown, unflinching and unafraid. It was also
an appeal to The Above-Ones to witness his dying like a man.
Often when the men were
on the war-path, the women gathered about the tepee of the chief, fixed
their minds on the absent ones, and sang heart-cheer. They believed this
would fill the warriors with renewed strength and courage.
Some of these songs were
individual, and no one ever thought of using one of them unless it was
given him by the owner. The gift of a song to a visitor from another
tribe was not an infrequent occurrence.
To us God was everywhere.
The life in a tree, the beauty in a flower, the curative properties in
an herb, the gorgeous-hued cloud, each was the Great Mysterious One. We
There was a messenger of
the storm, of calamity, of prosperity. Every mountain and valley and
plain had its guardian spirit. And frequently, moved by a sense of
gratitude, a warrior would leave beside a spring or upon some spot where
he had been successful in war or the chase, a votive offering.
Often have I known my
father to rise before the sun walked up and go down to the stream to
worship. He would dip up a handful of water and present it to Him, face
turned to the east until the sun looked over the shoulder of the hill.
After a prayer of gratitude to the Spirit of Light, he would return to
the tepee and Mother would go alone to worship.
As we children grew up
under the example of our parents, our minds and hearts were open to the
Four Winds. When we drank from a clear bubbling spring, we could not
help thinking of its mother and of the Spirit which watched over it.
When I was thirteen or
fourteen years of age and I knew that it was about time for me to stop
thinking of myself as a child, there came into my heart a yearning for
something—I knew not what. So I went away into a place of silence where
only the sighing of the breeze and the songs of the birds could be
heard. There my soul answered to the mysterious calling of God as the
flower sleeping in the earth answers to the voice of the sun in the
I became so exalted in
spirit that I lost all sense of place and time, and in my ecstasy fell
into a kind of dream.
I saw in my vision a
rattlesnake. The snake glided near and coiled as though to strike its
fangs into me. Then it turned from me, still coiled, and struck at some
object invisible to me.
I heard a voice.
“The rattlesnake is your
friend,” it said. “He will be your defender.”
Afterwards I had a
medicine man put the figure of the rattlesnake on my left breast with
unfading dye. I did not tell him why I wished it. He seemed to know.
While engaged in the work he remarked that the rattlesnake is the
fairest enemy in the world; that before it strikes it always gives
warning with its rattles; that henceforth I must be like it
So the rattlesnake became
my “medicine.” Later I acquired an additional medicine—a bear’s tooth.
When I awoke from my
trance I found myself physically weak. I returned to camp and learned to
my surprise that I had been gone three days and nights.
One of the older men who
must have been through a like experience, quietly said that I had come
The place of my spiritual
ecstasy became my sanctuary. Often I stole away to it to pour out my
soul in gratitude to the Mysterious One for His goodness.
This experience, or
something like it, was that of every Indian youth, I believe. We never
talked much of such occurrences. They seemed too holy. But what any man
did say of them was listened to with deep respect.
We never mentioned the
name of God except with reverence. Indeed there were no words in which
blasphemy could be expressed; and this is true of every Indian language
of which I have any knowledge. “The fire bum you; the water drown you;
the cold freeze you,” were our curse words. Before the Indian could
blaspheme he had to learn the white man’s tongue.
He had to learn of the
white man, too, of a devil and a hell. In the old Kiowa belief there was
no devil and no hell. The white man brought the Indian the devil and has
given him hell—I might add ever since—to-day the aborigine’s religious
belief is greatly modified by contact with the white race.
We believed in evil
spirits, but we also believed they could be propitiated. We did not
locate them in a single place of origin, nor give power to a chief bad
spirit. Indeed, heaven and hell were together on The Other Side of
Darkness. Thither, with the righteous and respected went the coward and
the liar— these latter to become eventually brave and truthful.
The Kiowas had their
unwritten scriptures which gripped their minds and hearts and influenced
their lives more strongly, I believe, than do the sacred writings of any
other people. Because of a lack of knowledge of this in detail, many
earnest folk who have sought to enlighten them, have made most woful
mistakes. It is folly to attempt to change a people’s ideas suddenly,
and the Indian’s religion is strongly interwoven with every fibre of his