Indian Scout Craft and Lore

Indian Scout Craft and Lore

by Charles A. Eastman

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The life of the Indian boy — living close to nature, learning the ways of the wild animals, playing games and learning stories that developed the strength of body and spirit — has long been noted for its ability to develop character. In this book Charles Eastman ("Ohiyesa"), a full-blooded Sioux Indian raised as a young warrior in the 1870's and 80's, describes that life — the lessons he learned, games he played, and feelings about life that he developed as he worked to become a young Indian scout.
Among the many areas of craft and lore described are the physical training of young boys, making friends with the wild animals, learning the language of footprints, hunting with slingshot and bow and arrow, trapping and fishing, making canoes, setting up camp, building wigwams and other shelters, making fire without matches and cooking without pots, blazing a trail, using Indian signals, gesture language and picture-writing, reading the signs of nature and storytelling, as well as information on winter and summer sports of the Indian boys, names and ceremonies of Indian boys and Indian girls, and the etiquette of the wigwam. Throughout, not only the practices but the reasons and feelings behind them are described. Twenty seven illustrations show many of the crafts and signs described.
Scouts and others who enjoy camping and learning the lessons of outdoor life will find in this book not only new ideas but a feeling of life as it was lived by young Indian boys and girls nearly a century ago. In learning the lessons described in this book you will make new discoveries — about nature, about outdoor life, and about yourself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486149516
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 11/27/2012
Series: Native American
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Indian Scout Craft and Lore

By Charles A. Eastman

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14951-6



TO be in harmony with nature, one must be true in thought, free in action, and clean in body, mind, and spirit. This is the solid granite foundation of character.

Have you ever wondered why most great men were born in humble homes and passed their early youth in the open country? There a boy is accustomed to see the sun rise and set every day; there rocks and trees are personal friends, and his geography is born with him, for he carries a map of the region in his head. In civilization there are many deaf ears and. blind eyes. Because the average boy in the town has been deprived of close contact and intimacy with nature, what he has learned from books he soon forgets, or is unable to apply. All learning is a dead language to him who gets it at second hand.

It is necessary that you should live with nature, my boy friend, if only that you may verify to your own satisfaction your schoolroom lessons. Further than this, you may be able to correct some error, or even to learn something that will be a real contribution to the sum of human knowledge. That is by no means impossible to a sincere observer. In the great laboratory of nature there are endless secrets yet to be discovered.

We will follow the Indian method, for the American Indian is the only man I know who accepts natural things as lessons in themselves, direct from the Great Giver of life.

Yet there exists in us, as in you, a dread of strange things and strange places; light and darkness, storm and calm, affect our minds as they do yours, until we have learned to familiarize ourselves with earth and sky in their harsher aspects. Suppose that you are absolutely alone in the great woods at night! The Indian boy is taught from babyhood not to fear such a situation, for the laws of the wilderness must necessarily be right and just, and man is almost universally respected by the animals, unless he himself is the aggressor. This is the normal attitude of trust in our surroundings, both animate and inanimate; and if our own attitude is normal, the environment at once becomes so. It is true that an innate sense of precaution makes us fear what is strange; it is equally true that simplicity and faith in the natural wins in the end.

I will tell you how I was trained, as a boy, to overcome the terror of darkness and loneliness. My uncle, who was my first teacher, was accustomed to send me out from our night camp in search of water. As we lived a roving life in pursuit of game, my errand led me often into pathless and unfamiliar woods. While yet very young, all the manhood and self-reliance in me was called forth by this test.

You can imagine how I felt as I pushed forward alone into the blackness, conscious of real danger from possible wild beasts and lurking foes. How thrilling, how tantalizing the cry of the screech-owl! Even the rustling of a leaf or the snapping of a dry twig under foot sent a chill through my body. Novice that I was, I did not at once realize that it is as easy as swimming; all I needed was confidence in myself and in the elements.

As I hurried through the forest in the direction my uncle had indicated, there seemed gradually to develop sufficient light for me to distinguish the trees along my way. The return trip was easier. When, as often happened, he sent me for a second pailful, no protest or appeal escaped my lips, thanks to my previous training in silent obedience. Instinct helped me, as he had foreseen, to follow the trail I had made, and the trees were already old acquaintances. I could hear my own breathing in the silence; my footfall and heartbeat sounded as though they were those of another person coming behind me, and while this disturbed me at first, I quickly became accustomed to it. Very soon I learned to distinguish different kinds of trees by the rustling of their leaves in the breeze which is caused by the stir of man or animal.

If you can accustom yourself to travel at night, how much more you will be able to see and appreciate in the daytime! You will become more sensible of the unseen presences all about you and understand better the communications of the wild creatures. Once you have thrown off the handicap of physical fear, there will develop a feeling of sympathetic warmth, unknown before.

In the event of sudden danger, I was taught to remain perfectly motionless — a dead pause for the body, while the mind acts quickly yet steadily, planning a means of escape. If I discover the enemy first, I may be passed undiscovered. This rule is followed by the animals as well. You will find it strictly observed by the young ones who are hidden by their mother before they are able to run with her; and they are made to close their eyes also. The shining pupil of the eye is a great giveaway.

It is wonderful how quickly and easily one can adjust himself to his surroundings in wild life. How gentle is the wild man when at peace! how quick and masterful in action! Like him, we must keep nature's laws, develop a sound, wholesome body, and maintain an alert and critical mind. Upon this basis, let us follow the trail of the Indian in his search for an earthly paradise!



THE desire to be a man — the native spirit of the explorer and the hero — this is the strong inner motive which leads a boy out on the wilderness trail to discover the world anew. First of all, he discovers what he himself must be in order to overcome difficulties, to resist pain and hardship, and to win the object of his quest.

With these impulses at their purest and strongest, the Indian boy begins his career with the building of a sound and efficient body. The rivers and lakes present themselves as obstacles in his path, and as a very young child he starts in to swim, as naturally, almost, as he begins to walk. The writer barely remembers standing on the white, pebbly beach with his grandfather at his side; standing silent, full of sincere reverence for the spirit of the deep, as he stood before the towering cliff, or the majestic, solitary tree. In advance of every undertaking, the Indian loves to meet thus the all-pervading Spirit in the attitude of wordless prayer.

Now the grandfather makes the plunge with a boyish shout. "See, see!" he calls to the boy as he comes up, breathless and exultant, from his dive. "I am happy as I lie here cradled by the yielding water. You can be as happy, if you will but make up your mind to try!"

Do you see the idea? The simple effort, the plunge, that is the important thing. The boy is neither frightened nor forced; he follows soon of his own accord, and the lesson is begun aright under the eye of an experienced master.

As the child grows, he becomes more and more expert and daring; from this time on he eagerly seeks perfection in his new art. His idea of perfection is, first, endurance, then swiftness; grace and form come naturally while aiming at these two. Therefore he swims at all times, in rough water and against strong currents. When some day he is cast suddenly into the water at a disadvantage, wounded, it may be, or obliged to swim long under water in order to escape the enemy, he knows how to utilize his strength to the utmost, and often overcomes tremendous odds with the remarkable tact and skill of the Indian athlete.

Clear your mind of all dread and suspicion; this is the first step in the wilderness life. Think not the water will drown you, or that anything in the water or on land will bite or poison you. Have confidence in nature and yourself. Perhaps three-fourths of your physical failures are due to lack of nerve and will-power.

It is not my purpose to teach you to swim, but to tell you how to use the art of swimming toward perfecting an out-of-door body and a logical mind. The Indian swims freely at all seasons of the year when the water is open. The usual method of bathing in winter is to go into a sweat lodge (the original Turkish bath) for five or more minutes; then he jumps into a hole in the ice, which he has cut large enough to enter safely, and comes out in a few minutes. After a short run, he wraps himself in a buffalo robe with the hair inside and sleeps for a while. This makes him a new man. The Indian boy often rolls in the snow naked when fresh snow is on the ground.

A perfectly trained outdoor man has much natural heat in his body, and can generate much more by exercise. Little clothing is actually needed, and I have seen Indians sleep all night without covering, in fairly cool weather at that. Much depends upon habit and early training; yet it is quite possible to learn new habits after one is well grown.

One of the first things to do is to accustom yourself to lie on the ground until your muscles make the necessary adjustment to its hardness and unevenness, and you can rest in comfort. Do not worry about snakes or insects; they will rarely do you harm; nor is there any danger from dampness, once you are in training. A few evergreen boughs over frozen or wet ground are protection enough. The best way to sleep in camp is feet toward the fire. There are several reasons for this. If, by any mischance, the fire escapes, your feet are very sensitive and will awaken you in time. Also, it is easy to get up without disturbing any one.

The Indian must always arouse every fiber of his body before he begins the day. The first thing he does when he awakes is to stretch every limb to the utmost, and finally the entire body. He takes pleasure in the most tremendous yawns. He rises and starts up the fire; then he runs to the nearest stream or lake shore and either plunges in or splashes the fresh cold water upon his face, chest, and arms. Often he holds his face and eyes under water for several seconds. After that, he rinses his mouth and throat, rubs himself vigorously with the palms of his hands, and combs his hair, with the placid pool or spring for his only mirror.

In awakening his sleeping body, the Indian patterns after his animal friends. You will observe that no dog gets up and walks off without thoroughly stretching himself, from the nose to the tip of his tail. This is an excellent cure for early morning laziness.

Before winter sets in, he begins to take ice-cold foot-baths, and as soon as the first snow comes, he walks barefoot in it until he gets up a fine glow; then puts on warm, fur-lined moccasins. He is perfectly able to enjoy life out-of-doors at any season of the year, and has no use for the artificial house-heat of civilization. If he wets his feet at any time, he puts dry hair or even grass inside his moccasins, and runs until his feet are dry and warm.

The Indian's stomach is very strong, and this is something you should look well to, for much depends upon a perfect digestion. The teeth are valuable assistants, and these he exercises vigorously on tough muscle and fiber and keeps them clean without a toothbrush; in return they give him excellent service. He washes out his stomach twice a year, after fasting for twenty-four hours, by taking a mild decoction of herbs in a quart or two of lukewarm water and then tickling his throat with a feather. Sometimes he repeats the process.

His best meal is in the evening, when he eats heartily, sometimes taking another meal later in the night. His breakfast is a light one, and if he expects to run much, he eats nothing at all. At noon, he cooks some game for himself, if convenient. An occasional short fast is enjoined upon the Indian boy, as a means of developing his endurance and self-restraint.

Although trained from babyhood to awaken easily, his sleep is sound and sweet; such sleep as comes after a day of healthful bodily exercise in the open air, when a good evening meal and the warmth of a cheerful camp-fire bring on that delicious drowsiness to which it is a luxury to yield.



THERE is in the human mind a deep-seated and not wholly reasonable suspicion of the "silent people," as the Indian calls the wild animals, more especially of the hunting or carnivorous animals. They, on their part, are equally cautious, and take note of the scent as well as the looks and actions of the people they meet. Instinct is to them a sure guide, and when they do venture to disobey her voice, they almost always come to grief. Like children, the animals are very curious, and, even though terrified, they will sometimes stop to investigate the cause of their fright.

I have seen, in the old buffalo days upon the upper Missouri, a coyote or gray wolf go unnoticed by a herd of buffalo, elk, or even the timid antelope. The reason for this is that it was not the wolf's hunting season, which is when there are calves or fawns with the herd. Should a wolf come in sight at this time, every mother runs with her young for safety, and the whole herd becomes excited.

The wolf on the open prairie and the silver-tip bear, a near cousin to the grizzly, will sometimes take a fancy to keep company with you for several miles, if he thinks you did not see him. In such a case, he will not follow you, but keeps abreast, just far enough away to avoid discovery. He will occasionally stop and watch you from behind cover; but do not be alarmed! He has no intention of attacking you. Probably he has a home and little ones not far off, and wishes to assure himself that the stranger has no designs upon his peace.

It is well known to Indian hunters that no animal offers battle to man except under very strong provocation. The grizzly bear is the notable exception to this rule. Others, even the so-called ferocious beasts, need not be feared except when pushed to the wall.

No doubt you have been more or less influenced by what you have read in books of adventure, which are mainly highly spiced fiction. If I were to relate to you all the fireside stories of the wild Indian, whose hunters were constantly in the field, you would find that hand-to-hand combats with beasts were few indeed. If the buffalo and other large animals were aggressive in temper, what chance had the poor Indian — on foot, and, before the coming of the European, armed only with bow and arrows or a bone spear?

There are several things, therefore, which you may put down as general truths. First, the animals are accustomed to mind strictly their own business and are not likely to interfere with you unless you molest them first. Second, there is a way to learn the peculiarity of each and make his acquaintance. Third, it is possible to influence them greatly, even in critical circumstances, by firmness and self-control.

If ever a grizzly bear happens to charge upon you, with wide-open lips showing his powerful teeth and eyes flashing with anger, have the nerve to stand your ground! Without moving a muscle, your eyes fixed on his, you may threaten him with a mere sharp stick, and he will change his mind. He growls, but you do not answer his challenge; he concludes to pass on. Here is a clear demonstration of our Indian axiom: "Silence is greater than speech."

A few years ago, an instance of this kind came to my ears among the Assiniboine Sioux. Four Stars, a brave, followed one side of a deep gulch while his two companions were on the other side, hunting deer. As he approached the ravine, which was full of wild cherry and plum bushes, his friends saw from the opposite bank a female silver-tip with her two nearly full-grown cubs lurking within the thicket. They made every effort to attract his attention, but in vain. He walked right down the slope, apparently to his death.

When the three bears charged, Four Stars was taken completely by surprise, but he showed no fear. He stopped short in his tracks and assumed a rigid pose, his old single-loading musket extended from his shoulder. The bears came on until they could plainly see his eyes; then they paused and crouched, displaying their teeth and claws. A puff of smoke from Four Stars' gun; the mother fell and rolled on the ground. The young bears leaped savagely forward, but the young man ripped off his shirt and threw it in their path, causing them to hesitate. Meanwhile, as his ejector was broken, he used a ramrod to push out the shell of his cartridge, calmly re-loaded and fired, killing the two.

Here was a hero. The odds were against him. He knew the peculiar weakness of the foe, but to take advantage of this knowledge required something equally important — the nerve of a master man!

I need scarcely tell you that the animals are suspicious of man. They have every reason to be. You must have real love and sympathy for them and be consistent and straightforward in your dealings, in order to gain their friendship. They will accept your peace-offering of food as soon as they trust you, and in many cases their confidence is not hard to win.

Some will come to you when called, and a very interesting instance of this occurred last summer, at the country home of a friend upon the Rock River in Illinois. While a group of us sat on the veranda, I gave an imitation of the mother rabbit's whistle; and, to our delighted surprise, a tiny rabbit crept out from under the big leaves of some plants near the house. It came trustingly up close to the railing, and sat there watching us out of its bright eyes until I gave the cry of the coyote, when the little thing raced for cover!


Excerpted from Indian Scout Craft and Lore by Charles A. Eastman. Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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