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BIOGRAPHY OF BLACKBIRD.
The principal chief of the Omaha tribe of Indians, the location of whose village is sixty miles above Council Bluffs, and on the same side the right bank of the river, died A. D. 1802. He was a brave of iron nerves and unlimited ambition. The authority which an Indian exercises is at first obtained by winning the approbation of the people of the tribe, in the same manner that a white politician obtains the suffrages of his countrymen. There is a small difference in the moral qualities which distinguish the white and red man. The former, it is believed, could never recommend himself by horse-stealing; whereas the red aspirant is esteemed honourable in proportion to the grand larcenies he may be able to perpetrate ; and this engaging quality of horse-stealing is esteemed a virtue next in grade to that of taking scalps. An Indian, therefore, has a table on his war-club, with two columns, in which he enters, in hieroglyphics, the number of these transactions of each class that are to render him illustrious. Although the government of Indian tribes is generally of a democratic character, yet there are many instances where the popularity of a chief enables him to encroach on the freedom of his countrymen extensively; and there are occasions where great achievements in war and in horse-stealing enable a chief to attain absolute authority. This despotism is, however, generally fixed by the united exertions of the chief and prophet, or big medicine-man. The instances of Tecumseh and his prophet, and Black Hawk and his prophet, show that the ambitious red man, like a white prince, unites church and state in his strides to absolute power. The subject of this biography had likewise the efficient aid of a cunning medicine-man, who furnished mental prescriptions for the people of his nation, and imposed on the superstitious magic incantations.
Blackbird had distinguished himself in the usual manner, and was acknowledged principal chief. The usual authority was conceded with cheerfulness. But Blackbird was not content with the executive duties and patriarchal authority of a democracy, and the honours attending such distinguished trust. In order to effect his purposes, he had tried in vain all the force of military achievement, the influence of grand larceny, and the power of eloquence. He had called in to his aid the juggling cunning of his medicine-man, with no better success. There existed in the nation a party of stern warriors, who valued freedom as highly as white patriots. They were unyielding in their opposition to the usurpations of Blackbird. He denominated this party a faction, or a “bad moccasin band;" but his reproaches were disregarded. The ambitious aspirant meditated their destruction. Blackbird desired the trader, who supplied his nation with merchandise, to bring him from St. Louis some “strong medicine" which he believed the whites possessed, that he might destroy the wolves of the prairies. The trader subsequently supplied a quantity of crude arsenic. Soon after the chief had tried his experiments, to test the force of the poison, the disaffected braves were invited to a dog-feast at the lodge of the chief. Blackbird professed to them a disposition to heal all party dissensions, and sixty of the factious warriors sat down with him to the dog-soup, which is esteemed a great delicacy. When all had done ample justice to the hospitality of the entertainer, the pipe was passed ; and when this dessert was lending its happy influence to the circle of warriors, Blackbird arose to speak. He reminded his children of their factious course in opposing his authority--authority that he claimed to derive from the “ Master of Life ;” and for confirmation of this suggestion he appealed to his medicine-man near him ; "and,” continued he, "that Omahas may for ever remember that Blackbird has the entire control of their destinies, every factious dog
you shall die before the sun rises again! I have said it, and Blackbird never lies!” The whole party, on hearing this unspa
ring denunciation, in wild affright ran howling out of the lodge of their chief. Sixty warriors expired that night. During the life of the chief, his authority was never again opposed in the slightest particular.
It was his practice, when the trader arrived with the annual supply of merchandise in the Omaha village, to inquire of him how great an amount of furs and peltries he required for his entire stock. The chief then selected from the assortment as great a variety and amount as he would need for his own use, and for his numerous family. When this had been arranged, and an account had been opened with the nation by the trader, the warriors were required to furnish the number of beaver-skins, robes, and buffalo-tongues that the trader desired to obtain in exchange for his goods. In this off-hand manner the chief drew his revenues, and the trader realized his profits, during all the subsequent reign of the despot. This rude dignitary was becoming inactive; and when his braves and hunters were toiling to sustain the reputation of the Omahas in war, or to subsist the people with the products of the chase, the chief and his prime minister, the medicine-man, were reposing in the village. It was the custom of the chief to indulge, in warm weather, in the siesta despues comer, or sleep after dinner. While in the enjoyment of this luxury, he took occasion to make it the more perfect by the polite attentions of his wives. He had six of these, and they formed three relieves. Two were employed while he slept, one scratching his back, and the other fanning his highness with the tail of a turkey! If it was ever important to ask his instructions in the affairs of the nation when he chanced to be sleeping, there was only one person in the village who would venture to awaken the chief. This was the medicine-man; and his manner of approaching him was on his hands and feet, with the utmost humility and circunspection. When awakened with a feather cautiously drawn over the soles of his feet, if he made a discouraging motion with the hand, the application was abandoned. But if he beckoned the applicant to approach, the chief was respectfully invited to attend " a dog-feast which has been provided for my father.”
Blackbird was a respectable warrior, and had attained his early popularity by conquest; but the distinction he most coveted was unlimited power in his own nation. When he had attained this he became pacific towards the neighbouring nations. But a partisan leader had taken a Pawnee girl, who was, by command of the medicine-man, to be sacrificed at the stake. The son of Blackbird had seen her, and interposed in council to save her life. He laid down all the moveable property he possessed, and urged the purchase of the girl from her captor. The medicine-man was inflexible, and persisted in his vow to sacrifice her to the Great Spirit. The council approved the vow, for Blackbird had per-. mitted it. When, on the day appointed, the captive was led out to execution, young Split Cloud, son of the chief, was leading his buffalo-horse, not far from the head of the column where the victim was marching. After the medicine-man, with the captive and a few old warriors, had crossed a ravine in the route, and were rising to the plain, the place appointed for the sacrifice, the young warrior cut asunder the cords that confined the arms of the girl, lifted her to his saddle, and with his bow. lashed his horse to full speed before his countrymen could comprehend the meaning of his movements. He was half across the plain before pursuit was determined on; and then there were no horses at hand. He had concealed one in the next ravine, and the fugitives escaped the ill-arranged and worse-conducted pursuit of the Omahas. A solitary runner came within arrowshot of Split Cloud, but his race terminated there-he was shot to the heart. The fugitives retired to the recesses of the Black Mountains, and took up their abode there, until home affairs . should present a more inviting prospect. Their wedding was thinly attended; but the blush of affection glowed as vividly on the cheek of the bride as that which mantles over the neck more tastefully adorned, in civilized circles, on like occasions. The self-married pair passed a year in the solitude to which they had retired, content with the society each was able to afford the other, when Split Cloud deemed it advisable to revisit his nation. In this lone retreat he left his spouse, with the purpose of retracing his steps in the brief space of a few weeks. A sufficient
supply of dried meat was left in the cave with its tenant, for the period of his intended absence. “The interesting state of her health” was no bar to the departure of her husband, for red women rarely trouble the neighbouring matrons at the nativity of their children. When a tribe of Indians happen to be on the march on such an occasion, the sufferer halts for an hour or two near a stream, and, after the birth of her infant, mounts with it on her horse, and overtakes the column generally the same evening.
When Split Cloud reached his native village, he found the whole tribe chanting the death-song over an infinite number of the dead inhabitants of the nation. The smallpox had reached the Omahas, and many had already been swept off : very few recovered. The medicine-man claimed to have power over the disease, but his practice hitherto had been unsuccessful. He looked grave, and was evidently suffering with great alarm. The most common treatment of the patients, when afflicted with the inflammatory action of the disease, was immersion in cold water. This usually afforded speedy relief, and terminated all the ills of life—with extinction of life itself. At last, after
many new and imposing tricks, death itself played the last masterly act on the impostor--and old Medicine himself departed. Blackbird had lived moodily apart from the tribe, and his dignity was likely to secure him against the infection. But when his highpriest died he attended his funeral obsequies. This happened a few days before the return of his son. Blackbird was considering what disposition should be made of the prodigal when he was taken ill. From the moment the first symptoms were felt by the chief, he yielded to despair, and made his arrangements for the hunting-grounds beyond the grave. He desired that he might be buried with suitable variety of arms and ammunition, that his enemies might get no advantage of him. He probably anticipated meeting with the poisoned warriors on the banks of the river Phlegethon. As he himself had apprehended, Blackbird was a victim to the disease. The funeral was grand and imposing. The warrior was placed erect on his hunting-horse, and thus, followed by the whole nation, he was conveyed into