Life of one Indian Child

portrait Zitkala-SaHere are a couple of brief excerpts from “Impressions of an Indian Childhood – Mother” by Zitkala-Sa (Gerturde Bonnin). The full story is found in  American Indian Stories, available free online at

“I was a wild little girl of seven. Loosely clad in a slip of brown buckskin, and light-footed with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer. These were my mother’s pride,–my wild freedom and overflowing spirits. She taught me no fear save that of intruding myself upon others.”  

About learning beadwork she wrote… “When I became a little familiar with designing and the various pleasing combinations of color, a harder lesson was given me. It was the sewing on, instead of beads, some tinted porcupine quills, moistened and flattened between the nails of the thumb and forefinger. My mother cut off the prickly ends and burned them at once in the centre fire. These sharp points were poisonous, and worked into the flesh wherever they lodged. For this reason, my mother said, I should not do much alone in quills until I was as tall as my cousin Warca-Ziwin.”


Meeting Chipeta, Part 3

The story that follows appeared in the The American Indian Magazine, a Journal of Race Ideals, Sept 30, 1917. It was written by Zitkala-Sa, editor of the magazine. Another story about meeting Chipeta appeared in previous posts Part 1 and Part 2

Chipeta in shawl          I…heard an amazing story. It was about my friend Chipeta. It was like a tale in a night-mare and I could scarcely believe it…This is what I heard said:
          In some way the idea was started that the Government ought to give a gift to Chipeta in grateful memory of Chief Ouray, faithful friend of…settlers and loyal advocate of obedience to Federal orders. It was to be a token of regard also to Chipeta for the valuable service she, too, had rendered.
          The plan was presented to the Great White Father in Washington and was approved.
          The question then came up as to the kind of gift that would be useful to Chipeta and at the same time suitable as a memento.
          I heard the story of the discussion and light streamed into my heart.  My fancy moved ahead of the story and I thought of the kind of gifts that were within range of possibility.
          What if the gift should be a genuine guarantee of water rights to the Ute Indians,
          …or the title to their 250,000 acres of grazing lands to be held intact for the future unallotted children [those who had not received a piece of reservation land],
          …or a message from the Great White Father giving news of Federal action against the peyote drug?
          All these things and more were needed and any one would have been a royal gift to…Chipeta. Then dimly in my ears the story went on.
          With a sudden shock I heard that the gift chosen was a pair of trading store shawls. Scarcely could I believe my ears, for was this a suitable gift with which to honor loyal service through a period of many years?
          The shawls were purchased at a little trading station [in Utah] and sent to Washington. There they were tagged as a gift from the Great White Father, in honor of the past friendship of Chief Ouray and of Chipeta to the white people. Then the shawls were reshipped to their starting point in Utah.
          With innocent joy Chipeta received them.
          At once she returned the compliment by sending the donor a large and expensive Navaho blanket. It was a free will offering, paid for by personal money and given out of the gratitude of her heart for the small token that someone in Washington had given her.
          Little did Chipeta realize that she had never really received a gift, but that without her consent she had been made to pay for the “gift shawls.”
          The bill for the shawls was sent to the government office at the Uintah and Ouray Agency where Chipeta lived. [The bill] was paid out of Ute money known as “Interest on the Ute 5% Funds.” [This was money the government had paid to the Utes for their lands that were taken from them when they were moved out of Colorado.]
          If the spirit eyes of Chief Ouray could see, his heart must be made sad. His widow had given away a beautiful blanket rug to reciprocate what she [thought was] a gift of tender sentiment.
          Poor unsuspecting Chipeta, loyal friend of the whites in the days when Indian friendship counted! …No shawl is big enough to obscure or to cover the gifts you have given freely and for which no material thing will ever repay you.

Note: Chipeta wears one of the gift shawls in the photo above.

Meeting Chipeta, Part 2

McCookThis is a continuation of a story by Zitkala-Sa about her 1917 visit to the camp of Chipeta and McCook. Read Part 1. McCook then spoke. Terse and deeply significant was his reply. “When the Great White Father in Washington sent a letter to me telling that whiskey was bad, I stopped our people from its use.” “When the Great White Father sent a letter to me telling me that gambling was bad, I forbade our people to play cards.” There was a momentary pause. I wondered what he would say next. I hoped he would say he now decided to give up the drug peyote and stop its use among his people. McCook concluded briefly. “Now the Great White Father has sent me no letter telling me peyote is bad. Therefore, as log as he permits its use, we will continue to use it.” It was with a sad heart that I returned to the Agency. A great longing filled me for some message from the Great White Father telling his red children that peyote was bad for them and asking them to refuse to use or sell it. “Chief Ouray, friend of the white man, would that your old friends might befriend your aged widow and the people whom you loved. Would that federal action might be taken before it is too late.” These were the burden of my thoughts as I rode back from my visit with Chipeta. Continued next week.

Published in: on January 20, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Meeting Chipeta, Part 1

Chipeta early 1900sThe story that follows appeared in the The American Indian Magazine: a Journal of Race Ideals, Sept 30, 1917. It was written by a woman named Zitkala-Sa. She was the editor of the magazine produced quarterly by the Society of American Indians.

          This fall it was my special privilege to be the guest of Chipeta. I had gone to her for a heart to heart talk about the use of peyote, a powerful narcotic, used by the Ute people.
          Within her nephew’s tepee…were gathered friends, relatives and neighbors—for word had gone out that I was coming to talk about matters of large importance with Chipeta. And Chipeta is an honored woman for she is the widow of Ouray, a red patriot who had many times saved the lives of white settlers and who had in many an emergency saved his tribe from disaster.
          Our conversation drifted pleasantly to the days of Chipeta’s girlhood. It is an old time custom among Indians to enter upon a subject slowly and not rush to discussion at once, nor try to say all one desired to voice in one breath.
          Chipeta was not boastful. More often she sat silently smiling and nodding her assent to the stories one related of her wild rides through the hills, risking her own personal safely to give warning to her white friends of impeding raids.
          With these stories told, came the plunge into the talk about present day conditions.
          I told of the rumors that [Chipeta] and her brother McCook had been deceived into the use of a dangerous drug. [A]nd that they were being fleeced by the mercenary traffickers in peyote buttons.
          [Chipeta] scanned my face as I told them of the inevitable degeneration that follows the habitual and indiscriminate use of narcotics.
          She told me that peyote eased her brother’s rheumatism and hers. She added, “I have noticed that the pain returns when I stop the use of the drug.”

(Part 2 follows next week)

Published in: on January 13, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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