22 July 2013

How Indians Catch Eagles - Dacotah Territory

The son of a physician of Dubuque, who is now stationed at Fort Buford, Dacotah Territory, has written a long letter to his father giving some interesting items with regard to the Indians. An extract is appended:

The camp of Indians which we visited were chiefly engaged in catching war eagles, to make head dresses. They have a wooden lodge built in the camp, where the medicine ceremony necessary to catch is performed. No women is allowed to enter the lodge. They can come to the door and hand in provisions, but must not cross the threshold. You will not be allowed to spit on the floor, and must sit in a certain position of the lodge. You must enter and pass out at the north door. Wash and I were let in to see the ceremonies.

When a man goes to trap the eagles, he first goes to the medicine lodge, and is not allowed to go to sleep until midnight; he then eats a little and sleeps until the morning star rises. He, with his comrades, then go out to the traps without food or drink, and sit all day in the traps watching for the eagles. At night they return and enter the medicine lodge, and at midnight only do they eat and drink, and break their long fast of twenty-four hours' duration. They then are allowed to sleep until dawn, when they go out again, and stay four days, during which time they have food and drink four times and have never entered their own lodges or spoken to their friends, unless each as may be trapping with them. After the four days are up, they go back to their lodges, lean, and tired and sleepy, and sleep and eat and hunt deer until they are able to try another four days' trapping excursion. The eagles are brought alive into the camp, and after some ceremony the tails are pulled out, and they are let go to grow another tail for the next year. The traps consist of a hole in the ground covered with sticks and grass. A dead rabbit, fox or prairie chicken is tied to the top; the eagle swoops down and fasten his claws into it and tries to fly away with it, but the Indian (who is concealed in the hole) puts out his hand, catches the eagle by both legs, hauls him into the hole and ties him. He then fixes the top and waits for another eagle. We saw one man there who had caught six eagles in one day in this way.

They say if they do not fast and do their medicine properly, the eagle will get one of his claws loose and tear their hands. Some have had their hands ruined forever in this way. If a man does not catch an eagle during the day, he is obliged to moan and cry all night; we could hardly sleep with the noise made at night by the unsuccessful hunters.

Anonymous. June 14, 1872. How Indians catch eagles. Cuthbert Appeal 6(24): 1.