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Captivity of the Oatman Girls
The Mohaves Their Sports An Expedition of Hostility against the Cochopas Its Design Tradition concerning it The Preparation Their Custom of Sacrificing a Prisoner on the Death in "War of One of their own Number The Anxiety of Olive They depart Their Return The Fruit of the Expedition The Five Cochopa Captives Nowereha Her Attempt to Escape Her Recapture and Horrid Death The Physicians Evil Spirits The Mohave Mode of Doctoring The Yumas " Francisco," the Yuma Indian Hopes of Escape.
"IN the spring of 1854, the project of some exciting hostile expedition against a distant tribe was agitated among the Mohaves. It was some time before any but the 'Council' knew of the definite purpose of the expedition. But when their plans had been laid, and all their intentions circulated among the tribe, it proved to be one of war upon the Cochopas, a large tribe seven hundred miles away. The Cochopas were a tribe with whom the Mohaves had never been at peace. According to tradition, this hostility had been kept actively flaming through all past generations. And the Mohaves were relying with equal certainty upon the truth of traditional prophecy that they were ultimately to subject the Cochopas to their sway, or obliterate them. The Mohaves had as yet been successful in every engagement. They were confident of success, and this was all the glory their ambition was capable of grasping. As for any intrinsic merit in the matter of the contest, none was known to exist. About sixty warriors made preparations for a long time to undertake the expedition.
"Bows and arrows and war-clubs were prepared in abundance, also stone-knives. The war-club was made of a very solid wood that grew upon the mountain. It was of a tree that they called Cooachee,' very hard and heavy, and lost but very little of its weight in the seasoning process:
" Great preparations were also made by the squaws, though with much reluctance, as most of them were opposed to the expedition, as they had been also in the past to kindred ones. Those of them ^ho had husbands and brothers enlisted in the expedition, tried every expedient in their power to dissuade them from it. They accused them of folly and a mere lust of war, and prayed them not thus to ex pose their own lives and the lives of their dependent ones. It was reported that since the last attack upon them, the Cochopees had strengthened themselves with numerous and powerful allies, by uniting several surrounding tribes with themselves for purposes of war. This was pleaded by these interested women against the present purpose, as they feared that this distant tribe would be now able to avenge past injury, besides beating the Mohaves in this projected engagement. But go they would, and on the day of their departure there was a convocation of nearly the whole tribe, and it was a time of wild, savage excitement and deep mourning.
" I soon learned, though by mere accident, that so far as life was concerned, I had an interest in this expedition equal to that of the most exposed among the warriors. It had been an unvarying custom among them that if any of their number should be slain in battle, the lives of prisoners or captives must be sacrificed therefore, up to the number of the' slain, (if that number should be among them,) and that in the most torturing manner. This was not done to appease their gods, for they had none, but was a gift to the spirits of the other spheres. Their only theory about a Supreme Being is that there is a chief of all the Indians who reigns in splendor and pomp, and that his reign is one of wisdom and equity, and would last forever. They believed that at the gate of their Elysium a porter was in constant attendance, who received all good, brave Indians, and welcomed them to immense hunting-grounds and all manner of sensual pleasures; that if one sought admittance there without a bow and hunting implements, he was to subsist as best he could, for no provision was to be made for him after leaving his tribe. Many were the questions they asked me after they had ascertained what I believed concerning the nature of the heaven of which I spoke, and the employments there. But generally they would wind up the conversation with ridicule and mockings. When they saw me weep or in trouble they would sometimes say: 'Why don't you look up and call your great God out of the sky, and have him take you up there.' But under all this I could plainly see that their questions were not wholly insincere. They frequently marveled, and occasionally one would say: 'You whites are a singular people; I should like to know what you will be when a great many moons have gone by?' Sometimes they would say as did the Apaches, that we must be fools for believing that heaven was above the sky; that if it were so the people would drop down. One of the squaws said tauntingly to me : ' When you go to your heaven you had better take a strong piece of bark and tie yourself up, or you will be coming down among us again.' After the soldiers had departed they told me plainly that my life must pay for the first one that might be slain during this contest.
"I had but a little before learned that we were not much further from the white settlements than when among the Apaches, and had been fondly hoping that as parties of the tribe occasionally made excursions to the settlements, I might yet make my situation known and obtain relief. But now I was shut up to the alternatives of either making an immediate effort to escape, which would be sure to cost my life if detected, or to wait in dreadful suspense the bare probability of none of these soldiers being slain, as the only chance for myself if I remained.
" The report of the strengthening of the Cochopas since their last expedition gave me reason to fear the worst. Thus for a long time, and just after having reached a bright place (if such there can be in such a situation) in my captivity, I was thrown into the gloomiest apprehensions for my life. I could not calculate upon life; I did not.
" For five months not a night did I close my eyes for a troubled sleep, or wake in the morning but last and first were the thoughts of the slender thread upon which my life was hung. The faint prospect in which I had been indulging, that their plans of increasing traffic with the Mexicans and whites might open the doors for my return, was now nearly blasted.
"I had been out one fine day in August several miles gathering roots for the chief's family, and re turning a little before sunset, as I came in sight of the village I saw an Indian at some distance beyond the town descending a hill to the river from the other side. ' He was so far away that it was impossible for me to tell whether he was a Yuma or a Mohave. These two tribes were on friendly terms, and frequent * criers' or news-carriers passed between them. I thought at once of the absent warriors, and of my vital interest in the success or failure of their causeless, barbarous crusade. I soon saw that he was a Mohave, and tremblingly believed that I could mark him as one of the army.
"With trembling and fear I watch his hastened though evidently wearied pace.- He went down into the river and as he rose again upon the bank I recognized him. ' He is wearied,' I said, ' and jogs heavily along as though he had become nearly exhausted from long travel. "Why can he be coming in alone?' Questions of this character played across my mind, and were asked aloud by me ere I was aware, each like a pointed javelin lashing and tormenting my fears. 'Have the rest all perished?' again I exclaimed; 'at any rate the decisive hour has come with me.'
" I stopped ; my approach to the village had not been observed. I resolved to wait and seek to cover one desperate effort to escape under the first shades of night. I threw myself flat upon the ground; I looked in every direction ; mountain chains were strung around me on every side like bulwarks of adamant, and if trails led through them I knew them not. I partly raised myself up. I saw that Indian turn into a hut upon the outskirts of the town. In a few moments the 'criers' were out and bounding to the river and to the foot hills. Each on his way started others, and soon the news was flying as on telegraphic wires. ^But what news I could but exclaim. I started up and resolved to hasten to our hut and wait in silence the full returns.
"I could imagine that I saw my doom written in the countenance of every Mohave I met. But each one maintained a surly reserve or turned upon me a sarcastic smile. A crowd was gathering fast, but not one word was let fall for my ear. In total, awful silence I looked, I watched, I guessed, but dared not speak. It seemed that every one was reading and playing with my agitation. Soon the assemblage was convened, a fire was lighted, and 'Ohitia' rose up to speak ; I listened, and my heart seemed to leap to my mouth as he proceeded to state, in substance, thus: 'Mohaves have triumphed; five prisoners taken; all on their way; none of our men killed; they will be in to-morrow !'
" Again one of the blackest clouds that darkened the sky of my Mohave captivity broke, and the sun shine of gladness and gratitude was upon my heart. Tears of gratitude ran freely down my face. I buried my face in my hands and silently thanked God. I sought a place alone, where I might give full vent to rny feelings of thanksgiving to my heavenly Father. I saw his goodness, in whose hands are the reins of the wildest battle storm, and thanked him that this expedition, so freighted with anxiety, had issued so mercifully to me.
"The next day four more came in with the captives, and in a few days all were returned, without even a scar to tell of the danger they had passed. The next day after the coming of the last party, a meeting of the whole tribe was called, and one of the most enthusiastic rejoicing seasons I ever witnessed among them it was. It lasted, indeed, for several days. They danced, sung, shouted; and played their corn-stalk flutes until for very weariness they were compelled to refrain. It was their custom never to eat salted meat for the next moon after the coming of a captive among them. Hence our salt fish were for several days left to an undisturbed repose.
"Among the captives they had stolen from the unoffending Cochopas, and brought in with them, was a handsome, fair complexioned young woman, of about twenty-five years of age. She was as beautiful an Indian woman as I have ever seen ; tall, graceful, and ladylike in her appearance. She had a fairer, lighter skin than the Mohaves or the other Cochopa captives. But I saw upon her countenance and in her eyes the traces of an awful grief. The rest of the captives appeared well and indifferent about themselves.
"This woman called herself 'Nowereha.' Her language was as foreign to the Mohaves as the American, except to the few soldiers that had been among them. The other captives were girls from twelve to sixteen years old ; and while they seemed to wear a ' don't care' appearance, this Nowereha was perfectly bowed down with grief. I observed she tasted but little food. She kept up a constant moaning and wailing, except when checked by the threats of her boastful captors. I became very much interested in her, and sought to learn the circum stances under which she had been torn from her home. Of her grief I thought I knew something. She tried to converse with me.
" "With much difficulty I learned of her what had happened since the going of the Mohave warriors among her tribe, and this fully explained her extreme melancholy. Their town was attacked in the night by the Mohave warriors, and after a short engagement the Cochopas were put to flight; the Mohaves hotly pursued them. Nowereha had a child about two months old ; but after running a short distance her husband came up with her, grasped the child, and run on before. This was an act showing a humaneness that a Mohave warrior did not possess, for he would have compelled his wife to carry the child, he kicking her along before him. She was overtaken and captured.
" For one week Nowereha wandered about the village by day, a perfect image of desperation and despair. At times she seemed insane : she slept but little at night. The thieving, cruel Mohaves who had taken her, and were making merry over her griefs, knew full well the cause of it all. They knew that without provocation they had robbed her of her child, and her child of its mother. They knew the attraction drawing her back to her tribe, and they watched her closely. But no interest or concern did they manifest save to mock and torment her.
"Early one morning it was noised through the village that Nowereha was missing. I had observec her the day before, when the chief's daughter gave her some corn, to take part of the same, after grinding the rest, to make a cake and hide it in her dress. "When these captives were brought in, they were assigned different places through the valley at which to stop. Search was made to see if she had not sought the abiding-place of some of her fellow-captives. This caused some delay, which I was glad to see, though I dared not express my true feelings.
" "When it was ascertained that she had probably undertaken to return, every path and every space dividing the immediate trails was searched, to find if possible some trace to guide a band of pursuers. A large number were stationed in different parts of the valley, and the most vigilant watch was kept during the night, while others started in quest of her upon the way they supposed she had taken to go back. When I saw a day and night pass in these fruitless attempts, I began to hope for the safety of the fugitive. I had seen enough of her to know that she was resolved and of unconquerable determination. Some conjectured that she had been betrayed away; others that she had drowned herself, and others that she had taken to the river and swam away. They finally concluded that she had killed herself, and gave up the search, vowing that if she had fled they would yet have her and be avenged.
" Just before night, several days after this, a Yuma Indian came suddenly into camp, driving this Cochopa captive. She was the most distressed-looking being imaginable when she returned. Her hair disheveled, her -few old clothes torn, (they were woolen clothes,) her eyes swollen, and every feature of her noble countenance distorted.
"'Criers' were kept constantly on the way between the Mohaves and Yumas, bearing news from tribe to tribe. These messengers were their news- carriers and sentinels. Frequently two criers were employed, (sometimes more,) one from each tribe. These would have their meeting-stations. At these stations these criers would meet with promptness, and by word of mouth each would deposit his store of news with his fellow-expressman, and then each would return, to his own tribe with the news. When the news was important, or was of a warning character, as in time of war, they would not wait- for the fleet foot of the 'runner,' but had their signal fires well understood, which would telegraph the news hundreds of miles in a few hours. One of these Yuma criers, about four days after the disappearance of Nowereha, was coming to his station on the road connecting these two tribes, when he spied a woman under a shelf of the rock on the opposite side of the river. He immediately plunged into the stream and went to her. He knew the tribe to which she belonged, and that the Mohaves had been making war upon them. He immediately started back with her to the Mohave village. It was a law to which they punctually lived, to return all fleeing fugitives or captives of a friendly tribe.
" It seemed that she had concealed that portion of the corn meal she did not bake, with a view of undertaking to escape.
" When she went out that night she plunged immediately into the river to prevent them from tracking her. She swam several miles that night, and then hid herself in a willow wood; thinking that they would be in close pursuit, she resolved to re main there until they should give up hunting for her. Here she remained nearly two days, and her pursuers were very near her several times. She then started, and swam where the river was not too rapid and shallow, when she would out and bound over the rocks. In this way, traveling only in the night, she had gone near one hundred and thirty miles. She was, as she supposed, safely hid in a cave, waiting the return of night, when the Yuma found her.
" On her return another noisy meeting was called, and they spent the night in one of their victory dances. They would dance around her, shout in her ears, spit in her face, and show their threats of a murderous design, assuring her that they would soon have her where she would give them no more trouble by running away.
" The next morning a post was firmly placed in the ground, and about eight feet from the ground a cross-beam was attached. They then drove large, rough wooden spikes through the palms of poor Nowereha's hands, and by these they lifted her to the cross and drove the spikes into the soft wood of the beam, extending her hands as far as they could. They then, with pieces of bark stuck with thorns, tied her head firmly back to the upright post, drove spikes through her ankles, and for a time left her in this condition.
"They soon returned, and placing me with their Cochopa captives near the sufferer, bid us keep our eyes upon her until she died. This they did, as they afterward said, to exhibit to me what I might expect if they should catch me attempting to escape. They then commenced running round Nowereha in regular circles, hallooing, stamping, and taunting like so many demons, in the most wild and frenzied manner. After a little while several of them supplied them selves with bows and arrows, and at every circlet would hurl one of these poisoned instruments of death into her quivering flesh. Occasionally she would cry aloud, and in the most pitiful manner. This awakened from that mocking, heartless crowd the most deafening yells.
HORRID DEATH OF THE INDIAN CAPTIVE.
" She hung in this dreadful condition for over two hours ere I was certain she was dead, all the while bleeding and sighing, her body mangled in the most shocking manner. When she would cry aloud they would stuff rags in her mouth, and thus silence her. "When they were quite sure she was dead, and that they could no longer inflict pain upon her, they took her body to a funeral pile and burned it.
"I had before this thought, since I had come to know of the vicinity of the whites, that I would get borne knowledge of the way to their abodes by means of the occasional visits the Mohaves made to them, and make my escape. But this scene discouraged me, however, and each day I found myself, not with out hope it is true, but settling down into such contentment as I could with my lot. For the next eighteen months during which I was witness to their conduct, these Mohaves took more care and exercised more forethought in the matter of their food. They did not suffer, and seemed to determine not to suffer the return of a season like 1852.
"I saw but little reason to expect anything else than the spending of my years among them, and I had no anxiety that they should be many. I saw around me none but savages, and (dreadful as was the thought) among whom I must spend my days. There were some with whom I had become intimately acquainted, and from whom I had received humane and friendly treatment, exhibiting real kind ness. I thought it best now to conciliate the best wishes of all, and by every possible means to avoid all occasions of awakening their displeasure, or enkindling their unrepentant, uncontrollable temper and passions.
" There were some few for whom I began to feel a degree of attachment. Every spot in that valley that had any attraction, or offered a retreat to the sorrowing soul, had become familiar, and upon much of its adjacent scenery I delighted to gaze. Every day had its monotony of toil, and thus I plodded on.
"To escape seemed impossible, and to make an unsuccessful attempt would be worse than death. Friends or kindred to look after or care for me, I had none, as I then supposed. I thought it best to receive my daily allotment with submission, and not darken it with a borrowed trouble ; to merit and covet the good-will of my captors, whether I received it or not. At times the past, with all its checkered scenes, would roll up before me, but all of it that was most deeply engraven upon my mind was that which I would be soonest to forget if I could. Time seemed to take a more rapid flight ; I hardly could wake up to the reality of so long a captivity among savages, and really imagined myself happy for short periods.
"I considered my age, my sex, my exposure, and was again in trouble, though to the honor of these savages let it be said, they never offered the least unchaste abuse to me.
" During the summer of 1855 I was eye-witness to another illustration of their superstition, and of its implacability when appealed to. The Mohaves had but a simple system or theory of medicine. They divide disease into spiritual and physical, or at least they used terms that conveyed such an impression as this to my mind. The latter they treated mainly to an application of their medical leaf, generally sweating the patient by wrapping him in blankets and placing him over the steam from these leaves warmed in water. For the treatment of their spiritual or more malignant diseases they have physicians. All diseases were ranked under the latter class that had baffled the virtue of the medical leaf, and that were considered dangerous.
"In the summer of 1855 a sickness prevailed to a considerable extent, very much resembling in its workings the more malignant fevers. Several died. Members of the families of two of the sub-chiefs were sick, and their physicians were called. These 'M.D.s' were above the need of pills, and plasters, and powders, and performed their cures by manipulations, and all manner of contortions of their own bodies, which were performed with loud weeping and wailing of the most extravagant kind over the sick. They professed to be in league and intimacy with the spirits of the departed, and from whose superior knowledge and position they were guided in all their curative processes. Two of these were called to the sick bedside of the children of these chiefs. They wailed and wrung their hands, and twisted themselves into all manner of shapes over them for some time, but it was in vain, the patients died. They had lost several patients lately, and already their medical repute was low in the market. Threats had already followed them from house to house, as their failures were known. After the death of these children of rank, vengeance was sworn upon them, as they were accused of having bargained themselves to the evil spirits for purpose of injury to the tribe. They knew of their danger and hid themselves on the other side of the river. For several days search was made, but in vain. They had relatives and friends who kept constant guard over them. But such was the feeling created by the complainings of those who had lost children and friends by their alleged conspiracy with devils, that the tribe demanded their lives, and the chief gave orders for their arrest. But their friends managed in a sly way to conceal them for some time, though they did not dare to let their managery be known to the rest of the tribe. They were found, arrested, and burned alive.
" The Mohaves believe that when their friends die they depart to a certain high hill in the western section of their territory. That they there pursue their avocation free from the ills and pains of their present life, if they had been good and brave. But they held that all cowardly Indians (and bravery was the good with them) were tormented with hard ships and failures, sickness and defeats. This hill or Hades, they never dared visit. It was thronged with thousands who were ready to wreak vengeance upon the mortal who dared intrude upon this sacred ground.
" Up to the middle of February, 1856, nothing occurred connected with my allotment that would be of interest to the reader. One day as I was grinding musquite near the door of our dwelling, a lad came running up to me in haste, and said that Francisco, a Yuma crier, was on his way to the Mohaves, and that he was coming to try and get me away to the whites. The report created a momentary strange sensation, but I thought it probably was a rumor gotten up by these idlers (as they were wont to do) merely to deceive and excite me to their own gratification. In a few moments, however, the report was circulating on good authority, and as a reality. On e of the sub-chiefs came in said that a Yuma Indian, named Francisco, was now on his way with positive orders for my immediate release and safe return to the fort.
" I knew that there were white persons at Fort Yuma, but did not know my distance from the place. I knew, too, that intercourse of some kind was constantly kept up with the Yumas and the tribes extending that way, and thought that they had per haps gained traces of my situation by this means. But as yet I had nothing definite upon which to place confidence.
" I saw in a few hours that full credit was given to the report by the Mohaves, for a sudden commotion was created, and it was enkindling excitement throughout the settlement. The report spread over the valley with astonishing speed, by means of their criers, and a crowd was gathering, and the chiefs and principal men were summoned to a council by their head 'Aespaniola,' with whom I stayed. Aespaniola was a tall, strongly built man, active and generally happy. He seemed to possess a mildness of disposition and to maintain a gravity and seriousness in deportment that was rare among them. He ruled a council (noisy as they sometimes were) with an ease and authority such as but few Indians can command, if the Mohaves be a fair example. This council presented the appearance of an aimless convening of wild maniacs, more than that of men, met to deliberate. I looked upon the scene as a silent but narrowly watched spectator, but was not permitted to be in the crowd or to hear what was said.
"I knew the declared object of the gathering, and was the subject of most anxious thoughts as to its issue and results. I thought I saw upon the part of some of them, a designed working of themselves into a mad frenzy, as if preparatory to some brutal deed. I queried whether yet the report was not false ; and also as to the persons who had sent the reported message, and by whom it might be conveyed. I tried to detect the prevailing feeling among the most influential of the council, but could not. Sometimes I doubted whether all this excitement could have been gotten up on the mere question of my return to the whites.
" For some time past they had manifested but little watchfulness, care, or concern about me. But still, though I was debarred from the council, I had heard enough to know that it was only about me and the reported demand for my liberty.
"In the midst of the uproar and confusion the approach of Francisco was announced. The debate suddenly ceased, and it was a matter of much interest to me to be able to mark, as I did, the various manifestations by which different ones received him.
"Some were sullen, and would hardly treat him with any cordiality; others were indifferent, and with a shake of the head would say, 'Degee, degee, ontoa, ontoa,' (I don't care for the captive;) others were angry, and advised that he be kept out of the council and driven back at once ; others were dignified and serious.
" I saw Francisco enter the council, and I was at once seized by two Indians and bade be off to another part of the village. I found myself shut up alone, unattended, unprotected. A message as from a land of light had suddenly broken in upon my dark situation, and over it, and also over my destiny ; the most intense excitement was prevailing, more vehement, if possible, than any before, and I denied the privilege of a plea or a word to turn the scale in favor of my rights, my yearnings, my hopes, or my prayers.
"I did pray God then to rule that council. My life was again hung up as upon a single hair. The most of my dread for the present was, that these savages of untamed passions would become excited against my release, and enraged that the place of my abode had been found out. I feared and trembled for my fate, and could not sleep. For three days and most of three nights this noisy council continued; at times the disputants became angry (as Francisco afterward told me) as rival opinions and resolutions fired their breasts. As yet I knew not by what means my locality had become known, or who had sent the demand; nor did I know as yet that anything more than a word of mouth message had been sent."
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