These were my father s new views, and in this radical change of life he had persuaded a few other families to join him. They formed a little colony at Flandreau, on the Big Sioux River.
To be sure, his beginnings in civilization had not been attended with all the success that he had hoped for. One year the crops had been devoured by grasshoppers, and another year ruined by drought. But he was still satisfied that there was no alternative for the Indian. He was now anxious to have his boys learn the English language and some thing about books, for he could see that these were the “bow and arrows” of the white man.
“O-hee-ye-sa!” called my father, and I obeyed the call. “It is time for you to go to school, my son,” he said, with his usual air of decision. We had spoken of the matter more than once, yet it seemed hard when it came to the actual undertaking.
My First School Days
I remember quite well how I felt as I stood there with eyes fixed upon the ground. “And what am I to do at the school?” I asked finally, with much embarrassment. “You will be taught the language of the white man, and also how to count your money and tell the prices of your horses and of your furs. The white teacher will first teach you the signs by which you can make out the words on their books. They call them A, B, C, and so forth. Old as I am, I have learned some of them.”
The matter having been thus far explained, I was soon on my way to the little mission school, two miles distant over the prairie. There was no clear idea in my mind as to what I had to do, but as I galloped along the road I turned over and over what my father had said, and the more I thought of it the less I was satisfied. Finally I said aloud : “Why do we need a sign language, when we can both hear and talk?” And unconsciously I pulled on the lariat and the pony came to a stop.
I suppose I was half curious and half in dread about this “learning white men s ways.” Meanwhile the pony had begun to graze. While thus absorbed in thought, I was suddenly startled by the yells of two other Indian boys and the noise of their ponies hoofs. I pulled the pony s head up just as the two strangers also pulled up and stopped their panting ponies at my side.
They stared at me for a minute, while I looked at them out of the corners of my eyes. “Where are you going? Are you going to our school?” volunteered one of the boys at last. To this I replied timidly: “My father told me to go to a place where the white men s ways are taught, and to learn the sign language.”
“That s good we are going there too! Come on, Red Feather, let s try another race ! I think, if we had not stopped, my pony would have outrun yours. Will you race with us?” he continued, addressing me; and we all started our ponies at full speed. I soon saw that the two strange boys were riding erect and soldier-like.
“That must be because they have been taught to be like the white man,” I thought. I allowed my pony a free start and leaned forward until the animal drew deep breaths, then I slid back and laid my head against the pony s shoulder, at the same time raising my quirt, and he leaped forward with a will ! I yelled as I passed the other boys, and pulled up when I reached the crossing. The others stopped, too, and surveyed pony and rider from head to foot, as if they had never seen us before.
“You have a fast pony. Did you bring him back with you from Canada?” Red Feather asked. “I think you are the son of Many Lightnings, whom he brought home the other day,” the boy added. “Yes, this is my own pony. My uncle in Canada always used him to chase the buffalo, and he has ridden him in many battles.” I spoke with considerable pride. “Well, as there are no more buffalo to chase now, your pony will have to pull the plow like the rest. But if you ride him to school, you can join in the races. On the holy days the young men race horses, too.”
Red Feather and White Fish spoke both together, while I listened attentively, for everything was strange to me.
“What do you mean by the holy days ?” I asked.
“Well, that s another of the white people s customs. Every seventh day they call a holy day , and on that day they go to a Holy House , where they pray to their Great Mystery. They also say that no one should work on that day.”
This definition of Sunday and church- going set me to thinking again, for I never knew before that there was any difference in the days. “But how do you count the days, and how do you know what day to begin with?” I inquired. “Oh, that s easy! The white men have everything in their books. They know how many days in a year, and they have even divided the day itself into so many equal parts ; in fact, they have divided them again and again until they know how many times one can breathe in a day,” said White Fish, with the air of a learned man.
“That s impossible,” I thought, so I shook my head. By this time we had reached the second crossing of the river, on whose bank stood the little mission school. Thirty or forty Indian children stood about, curiously watching the newcomer as we came up the steep bank. I realized for the first time that I was an object of curiosity, and it was not a pleasant feeling. On the other hand, I was considerably interested in the strange appearance of these school-children. They all had on some apology for white man s clothing, but their pantaloons belonged neither to the order short nor to the long. Their coats, some of them, met only half way by the help of long strings. Others were lapped over in front, and held on by a string of some sort fastened round the body. Some of their hats were brimless and others without crowns, while most were fantastically painted. The hair of all the boys was cut short, and, in spite of the evidences of great effort to keep it down, it stood erect like porcupine quills. I thought, as I stood on one side and took a careful observation of the motley gathering, that if I had to look like these boys in order to obtain something of the white man s learning, it was time for me to rebel.
The boys played ball and various other games, but I tied my pony to a tree and then walked up to the schoolhouse and stood there as still as if I had been glued to the wall. Presently the teacher came out and rang a bell, and all the children went in, but I waited for some time before entering, and then slid inside and took the seat nearest the door. I felt singularly out of place, and for the twentieth time wished my father had not sent me.
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