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Tahan
Chapter XVIII Choosing a Medicine Man


IN such a motley company as that of the Estized-delebe, there was naturally a wide difference in religious ideas and ceremonies. But no one interfered with any other one’s belief—an affair looked upon as wholly individual.

Still the Indians all felt the need of a common ground upon which to meet and worship.

The Cheyennes and Arapahoes had their peculiar kinds of Sun Dances, as did the Kiowas. But the Seminoles, for instance, could not celebrate the ceremonies of the Buskita, or Green-Com Dance. They lacked both the com and the Black Drink necessary to the rites. Could they have got the com, the Black Drink would still have been wanting. Only their Medicine Man knew how to make that, and they had no Medicine Man.

Indeed, for the matter of that, our tribe had none. This caused most of the men grave concern.

The Seminoles, strange to say, were the least disturbed over the matter. They held that the most necessary things to have were a wise chief, good guns, plenty of ammunition and watchful eyes.

But the others talked a great deal about it. They argued that without some one to listen to the voices of The Above-Ones to tell us what to do and how to do it, we could not hope to survive.

There was an old Pueblo, Quohahles, who did not have much to say. He never said much, but when he did talk it was with wisdom. And he lived apart from the others.

Always he kept a piece of buffalo meat hanging on a pole back of his tepee. This, he told me, was an offering to The Above-Ones. He had, moreover, a large mystery bundle.

Some one thought of him as the most likely one to meet the need and fill the place of Medicine Man.

One night, as the men sat in talk, he quietly entered the circle and remained standing in silence for a long time. Finally he spoke.

“We must move. The warning has come in a dream. Before the sun walks up, we must move.”

His manner was so impressive the men thought it wise to do as he counselled.

Before daylight the next morning we started. Just at sunup, when we were on a hilltop on our way westward, Quohahles called attention to a low, rumbling sound like distant thunder. This increased in volume until we recognised the noise.

It was a buffalo stampede.

As we stood there on the hilltop we saw the buffaloes coming from the north—a great brown mass as far as the eye could reach. It looked as if the hills were moving. We saw them sweep over our camping place which we had left but a few hours before. Had we remained there we would have been trampled into the earth. Quohahles’s dream had saved us. This placed him still higher in the estimation of the entire band.

Then the warriors began to talk of the way they had seen men tried or tested as to their genuineness before they were received as medicine men by their tribes.

One of them said that among his former people a man used to go away and fast and pray for three or four years in order to fit himself for his office. Then he came back and announced himself qualified to cure diseases and to hear the voice of The Great Mysterious One.

Thereupon some one of the tribe killed a prairie dog and took out its liver, while others found a rattlesnake. They made the snake bite into the liver until it was black with poison. After dipping their arrows into it they returned to camp.

The chief called for the claimant. He came, naked body painted red, and took his stand opposite four waiting warriors—a few steps away. They fired the poison arrows at him.

If an arrow so much as scratched his skin the man would die of poisoning and thus be proved an impostor. But if he was truly prepared, the arrows would fall harmlessly to the ground.

Our men did not try Quohahles in this way. But they saw him scoop his hands full of red coals of fire and rub them over his body without injury. So he became our Medicine Man.

As I watched the holy man with his quiet dignity which nothing could ruffle, and as I witnessed the wonders he performed at times, the desire took possession of me to become like him, a Medicine Man.

When I told him of my desire, he thought it over for several days. Then he called me into his tepee and asked me if I fully realised what it meant to fit myself for one through whom The Great One could speak. He informed me that it would take years of prayer and fasting and thought and great self-denial; that if I had the desire to become a warrior

I would have to give it up; and that I would have to fulfil every vow that I had made before beginning my novitiate.

After that, I sought seclusion away from camp to meditate upon the goodness and power of God, who was in every tree and leaf and flower and breeze, and whose messengers watched over every stream and valley and mountain.

Sometimes on such occasions I fell into a kind of sleep in which I seemed to be awake, and to feel a presence which I could not see.

When I told Quohahles of these things, he advised me to continue my devotions and in due time he would give me further instructions.

He laid down certain rules of conduct for me to follow. Among the number were these warnings—not to look at my reflection in the water nor to enter a tepee if there were dogs in it; to keep away from the fire when meat was being cooked; and to abstain from certain kinds of food.

Once Quohahles fell into a trance in which he remained two days as one dead. When he revived he told me that his spirit had left his body and travelled great distances; that he felt neither hunger nor weariness; and that he had learned mysteries of which as yet he could not speak.

This wonderful man possessed a working knowledge of the laws of the human mind such as I have never found in books. He could not explain how he performed his wonders, but he knew what to do in order to produce certain definite results.

Often, for instance, during religious ceremonies, I have seen men fall to the ground in a deep sleep and become rigid and stiff, after Quohahles had waved his sacred fan of crow feathers before their faces.

On a time when the moon looked like a buffalo’s horn—far gone in the last quarter—Quohahles, who had been engaged in prayer since the day before, called me to him. At his word I laid aside my robe so that I was naked save for the breech-clout

“You have been earnest and diligent in seeking the mysteries/’ he said, “I will now prepare you for the office of Quo-dle-quoit. Your medicine shall be strong. For four years nothing can kill you.”

Then while he prayed to The Above-Ones and to the Four Ways, I almost held my breath in awe. The prayer finished, he painted my body white from waist to feet, which he made black. From waist to neck he smeared me with yellow. Around my forehead at the roots of the hair he drew two streaks of black, which he extended on each side of my face down to the chin. On each cheek bone he put the shape of the crescent moon. On each breast he drew a picture of the sun in white. To each wrist, which he coloured red, he tied a bunch of leaves.

During the ceremony he chanted a prayer; also, while painting the crescent-shaped moon, he explained that among his own people—the house dwellers—it was sometimes cut into the flesh. Which was not necessary in my case, since I had followed his instructions in every particular.

The painting finished, he put on my head a cap made of jack-rabbit skins with the ears sticking up.

Believing as I did, without doubting in the least anything he told me, after this ceremony I was ready and anxious for the most dangerous duties. But according to his instructions I was always as careful and discreet when in danger, as though The-Ones-of-the-Four-Ways did not insure my safety.

I shall not tell of narrow escapes I had, lest they pass the bounds of the reader's belief.

Quohahles also taught me several secret and mysterious things.

Once when the camp was very quiet he had me stand before him in his tepee. He approached me with his sacred fan of crow feathers in his hand and began to wave it in a circle before my face.

“You shall now see many things,” he said.

And after an interval of silence, during which I kept my eyes fixed on the circling fan, he spoke again.

“Look at that herd of deer running across the hill, yonder. See those buffaloes—those white men on horseback—that beautiful valley—that camp of painted tepees.”

All of these things I did see very distinctly, although we were shut in by the walls of the tepee.

Afterwards he taught me how to cause others to see what I wished them to see.

The days that I passed with the Medicine Man were wonderful days to me, and I hoped to continue to learn many mysteries. But there came a sudden change in the life of the tribe, and my studies ended.

Much of what I did learn, however, has been of practical use to me in the years that have followed.


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