The Life History and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, 1847

Chapter IV

Our people believed much in omens. The barking of foxes and of wolves, the bleating of the deer, the screeching of owls, bad luck in hunting, the flight of uncommon kinds of birds, the moaning noise of a partridge, the noise of a chuck chack ske sey,[1] were ominous of ill; the two last were certain omens of death. But the sailing of an eagle to and fro, and the noise of a raven, were omens of good.

Dreams, too, were much relied on by our nation. They thought the spirits revealed to them what they were to do, and what they should be, viz. good hun. ters, warriors, and medicine men. I would fast sometimes two, and sometimes even four days. When fasting, we were to leave the wigwam early in the morning, and travel all day from one place to another, in search of the favor of the gods. I was taught to believe that the gods would communicate with me, in the shape of birds, amimals, etc., etc. When I fell asleep in the woods, and dreamed some strange dream, I felt confident that it was from the spirits. I will now relate what I dreamed when I was but twelve years old, and also my father’s interpretation of my dream.

Myself and others were sleeping far from the wigwam, near a large pine. I saw, in my dream, a person coming from the east; he approached, walking on the air: he looked down upon me, and said, “Is this where you are?” I said “yes.” “Do you see this pine?” “Yes, I see it.” “It is a great and high tree.” I observed that the tree was lofty, reaching towards the heavens. Its branches extended over land and water, and its roots were very deep. “Look on it while 1 sing, yes, gaze upon the tree.” He sang, and pointed to the tree; it commenced waving its top; the earth about its roots was heaved up, and the waters roared and tossed from one side of their beds to the other. As soon as he stopped singing, and let fall his – hands, every thing became perfectly still and quiet. “Now,” said he, “sing the words which I have sung.” I commenced as follows:

“It is I who travel in the winds,
It is I who whisper in the breeze,
I shake the trees.
I shake the earth,
I trouble the waters on every land.”

While singing, I heard the winds whistle, saw the tree waving its top, the earth heaving, heard the waters roaring, because they were all troubled and agitated. Then said he, “I am from the rising of the sun, I will come and see you again. You will not see me often; but you will hear me speak.” Thus spoke the spirit, and then turned away towards the road from which he had come. I told my father of my dream, and after hearing all, he said, “My son, the god of the winds is kind to you; the aged tree, I hope, may indicate long life; the wind may indicate that you will travel much; the water which you saw, and the winds, will carry your canoe safely through the waves.”

I relied much on my dream, for then I knew no better. But, however, little reliance can be placed in dreams, yet may not the Great Spirit take this method, sometimes, to bring about some good result?

There was no such thing known among our people as swearing, or profaning the name of the Great Spirit in vain. The whites first taught them to swear, I often swore, when I knew not what I said, I have seen some white faces with black hearts, who took delight in teaching them to profane the name of God. O merciless, heartless, and wicked white men, may a merciful God forgive you your enormous turpitude and recklessness!

There was a custom among us, before Christianity visited us, that when the Ojebwas intended to take a general whiskey “spree,” several young men were appointed by the head chief to collect all the fire arms, knives, war-clubs and other weapons, and keep them in a secret place, till the Indians had completed their frolic. This was done to prevent them from murdering each other when intoxicated. By this means many lives have been saved; although many have been killed during their drunken fights. They would walk very far for a dram of liquor. I once heard of an individual, whom I had seen many times, who would travel all day for a single drink of fire-water. When he arrived at the trading post, he obtained and guzzled down a cup full of whiskey. When the poison had operated, he said, that he felt as if his head was going down his throat; and added, “Whah! I wish my neck was a mile long, so that I might feel and near the whiskey running all the way down!”

A certain Indian once teased a Mrs. F. for whiskey, which he said was to cure his “big toe,” that had been badly bruised the preceding night. Mrs. F. said, “I am afraid you will drink it.” He declared he would not drink it; and after much pleading, she handed him some; he took it, and looking first at his toe, and then at the liquor, alternately, all of a sudden he slipped the whiskey down his gullet, at the same time exclaiming, as he pointed to his toe, “There, whiskey, go down to my poor big toe.

One of our people, who had much resolution, and was determined to seek religion, when he heard that the Methodist Indians were not to drink any more fire-water, remarked as follows:—

Well, if that is the case, I’ll go to-night, and bid my old friend whiskey a final farewell.” He went, and drank and caroused with his rum-companions all night. On the following day, about noon, he came staggering towards his wigwam, singing out to all whom he met, “Me goes to Methodist; me no drink little more; me am Methodist.He was true to his word, for he drank no more, and the Lord blessed him in the forgiveness of all his sins. For eighteen years he was a consistent Christian, and died last June, with the brightest hopes of immortal bliss. Oh! the heights and depths of the goodness and mercy of God!

In view of these things, I have often exclaimed from the bottom of my heart, in the language of “Indian’s Regret,” and which is the language of all, who have been brought from darkness, to the marvelous light of the gospel:—

“O had our Indian fathers known
What Prophets told of Christ and heaven!
For them, we drop a tear and mourn,
But weep for joy, our sins forgiven.”

  1. To this bird I have given its Indian name, because I have not been able to discover it among the collection of the various birds in the books and in the museums. It is about the size of the smaller kind of parrot. The color of its feathers is like those of a jay, having short wings small and broad peak, with an upper and lower row of teeth, like a human being. In this last respect, it is different from any other bird. It takes its name from sound it utters, viz. chuck, chuck. I hope that the celebrated ornithologist Audabon, to whom I intend to present a copy of my work, will throw some light upon this subject.


Icon for the Public Domain license

This work (The Life History and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, 1847 by George Copway) is free of known copyright restrictions.