student resources
Ioway Library
Ioway tribe today
links and list
search and site index
about this site

Ioway Cultural Institute : The Ioway Virtual Library

Extracts from Mr. Hamilton's MS - Iowa & Otoe

(Note: This is is not an exact transcription of the extracts as the manuscript is full of abbreviations, unorthodox use of punctuation that would make a straight transcription very difficult to read. But otherwise, as far as the wording, it is a straight transcription. J Kearns)

* * * * * *

The three principle families of the Iowa, are the Eagle, Bear, and Wolf. The other families are the Pigeon, Owl, Elk, Buffalo, and Snake families. The Snake, Owl & Elk families are nearly extinct. The Bear family they say existed among them as it does at present among the Otoes, who speak the same language, but has become entirely extinct. [Transcriptionist note - Hamilton would have likely meant to say the Beaver clan was entirely extinct.]

In speaking of their first origin or appearance as men, they say "Long ago when we first came out of the ground". They do not mean by this when God first created man out of the dust of the earth, but they allude to a tradition that when they first began to live on the earth, they came out of the ground with the exception of the Eagle family, which they say came from above.

In conversing with one not long since on the subject of religion, he said his father and ancestors taught him the same truths, that God governed all things, our eating, sleeping, and what ever we do, God controls us. They tell us we formerly come out of the ground. The Eagle family came from above and brought the corn and fire. The Wolf family came out of the ground and brought the bow and arrows, and taught us how to hunt. The Bear family also came out of the ground and taught us to farm. The Wolf and Bear came out of the ground on the other side of the sea to this county, and these three, the Eagle, Wolf and Bear family made friends and are the first families. I do not know much about the other families, as they tell their history secretly. These are sacred things, and I don't like to tell them, as it is not our custom to do so only when we make a feast, and collect the people together and have the Sacred Pipe. There are four kinds in each family, as the Golden Eagle, or the genuine Eagle as they call it. The Grey Eagle, the Bald, and the Hra-hinga [transcriptionist note, hope I got that right] Spotted Eagle said to have some white on its wings, with a yellow beak. The Wolf family has four kinds. The White, Grey, Black and Prairie Wolf. I am of the White Wolf family (he is found only on the prairies or in the Buffalo country) "Pumpkin" was of the Prairie Wolf family Four divisions in the Bear family. The chief Bear was a large black bear with a white spot on his breast, another had a red nose, the third is a short black bear and the fourth is a little reddish bear, without a mother, and has but little hair. He seems very fast. The Pigeon family is related to the Buffalo (and there are four divisions of them) Pigeon, Dove and two other kinds. "They say we came out of the ground at the Red bank at the south of a stream flowing into the Mississippi or at the fork of the Miss". This is the common tradition, that they came out of the ground at the Red bank, but they do not seem to know very well where the place is.

[Transcriptionist note: Hamilton did not adequately provide quotation marks so that we may be able to see what was directly quoted in the above paragraph.]

The Otoes marry into the same family but the Iowas do not. A man of the Wolf family never marries a woman of the same family, because they are relations. Some nations will not eat the animals to which their families belong but it is not so among the Iowas. The White Bear and the Grizzly are not included in the Bear family.

The man who told me this is called Little Wolf. But since he went on the war party, he is called Little Branch. I passed him the other day while he was engaged in skinning a prairie wolf. Looking up he said, "This is my younger brother."

An Indian of the Eagle family told me they had a great medicine house or sacred house up above in thee shape of a skin lodge. In this house the Eagle and Pigeon families lived and while there they held a council to consider where they should go. They were all brothers. The Chief collected all his younger brothers together, to hold a council. They concluded to come down to the earth and speak the Winnebago Language as they were the first that made any discoveries about God. When they left the Sacred house they saw a blue cloud in the west, which is the cause of their painting their faces blue. One told his brothers he could make a blue cloud appear in the sky, and he did so.

When they first came to the earth, they eat people, and hunted them for that purpose. The Bird family considered themselves superior to the other families who were then living on the earth, but they became friendly with one another and then eat animals. "When they got down to the earth, the Chief said, My younger brothers what shall we eat." Then he sent the young men to hunt game. They killed a deer and cooked it with a stick, turning it around in the hand at the fire. They made fire by rubbing two sticks together. After they had eaten they traveled on their journey and scared away devils and evil spirits with the war club! made in the shape of the butt end of a gun." Little devils kept running across the road before they drove them away with the war club. When they first came down, they came in the form of birds, and lighted on an island where there was a lake, or pond of water near a mountain singing.

"On what tree have I lighted,

On what land have I come!"

It was then that they proposed to go and hunt up men or people. In their travels, they met first with the Bear family in the form of Bears. They saw the track and followed them till they came to a hole in the ground or den, when striking on the ground with the war club out came a bear, saying, My Older brothers it is I. I am your brother. These two families then traveled on, till they saw a wolf track coming out of the island, this they followed until they came to another hole in the ground, when striking as before, out came a wolf saying, Brother, it is I, I am your brother. The wolves spoke different languages, according to the different tribes of that family. They all traveled on together to a certain place, where they made a village, and surrounded it by a fort of wood by digging in the ground and putting in posts, against which they threw the earth.

This place they call Mag-ka-shu-cha (man-ka = shu-cha), a hill or bank of red earth, all the Indians lived there at that time. It was while these first families lived here, that the other families came and asked to be admitted into their village, and they took pity on them and let them in. The Bear, Wolf and Elk families all came from the island, crossing the island in about ten days on horseback to the water.

The Buffalo family some say came from above and brought the corn. The Owl family (mainly extinct among the Iowas but numerous among the Otoes) came out of a hollow tree, at the Red bank. The snake family came out of the bank near the water. The Beaver (extinct among the Iowas) came out of a little stream on the island. The Pigeon and Eagle family brought the war club, pipe and fire. The Wolf fam brought the arrows which are the cause of mans wounding one another. The others asked the wolf to go and kill the buffalo for them when they sing

"I am your brother
I am of the wolf family
I am invited to a buffalo chase,
I am your younger brother,
Staggering, it is about to die,
The tail trembles!"

The Bear family brought the pipe but they say that most of the families brought the pipe. Some say they also brought the canoe.

Those of the Elk family are generally waiters for the chiefs, and act in that capacity, because when they first came they sang,

"Who is that
I am of the Elk family.
Brother, I think that man is a chief.
No, I am of the Elk family, I am a soldier
He fears me because I have this club."

The Snake family brought nothing that I know of. They also say the owl brought the pipe, and the wolf it is thought brought the tobacco as they have among them names of that kind. The Eagle had bodies with wings, and when they came down, they said to the others, You had better cut off our wings, or we will kill you! And they cut them off.

The Pigeon came from a distance and accompanied them from the Red bank and island to the tent. The different families have each some badge peculiar to themselves. The badge of the Eagle fam is three locks of hair left on the head.

The badge of the Bear family is to have on one side the hair longer than the other.

The Pigeon family, three locks, two before, one behind.

The wolf family leaves (illegible) of hair over the head to show that they came out of an island.

The badge of the Buffalo is to have a bunch of hair from the forehead to the neck, and one bunch on each side of that to present horns.

Each of these families has what is called a medicine bag, which descends to the oldest son, if there is such. But all these bags were originally from one, they sometimes make new ones for worthy persons. While at the fort a nation Shunga-wathe came to visit them, saying let us shake hands, and be friendly. After they got them into a sacred house within the fort, they shut the door and killed them. They numbered over one hundred persons. They took all their arms, before they got into the house and afterwards put them to death.

The above is an old man's account of their origin.

The Omahas, Otoes, Missourias and Iowas (doubtless others) were all Winnebagoes, but left them. The Omaha take their name from Enomaha, because they camped above on the stream. Missouria, called Noyutaca (?), so called from having their camp at ne-u-coe-ta [ne-u-cee-te is also written], the mouth of the stream. [ni-u-ca-ci. accent mark above u].

The Iowa, Pahuche, encamped on or near a sand bar and the wind blew the dust on their faces. Hence they were called Pa-hace [Pa-hu-ce, accent mark over u], Dusty Noses. The Otoes, Watota, derive their name from a transaction that occurs between the son of an Otoe chief and the daughter of an Iowa chief. [wa-to-hita-ta, accent on second syllable). Since the above separation took place, the language of each tribe differs somewhat from each other. But the Iowas, Otoes and Missouris speak so much alike, a person being able to converse with one, would also be able to converse with the other two.

One tradition is that the Wolf and Bear families used to fight and eat one another, when one day meeting together they said, We are both black (it was the black wolf) we have teeth alike, hair alike, eyes alike, and ears alike, we must be brethren, let us not fight any more, so they made peace and ever after lived in friendship, but they preyed upon the buffalo, who was greatly worried, when one day it same to them, Here is some corn, eat it it is good, they eat it, but being hard and raw, it made their mouths bleed, and the blood stained their corn red, which is the reason of the Indian corn being so much of it red.

Afterwards, the Eagle called them to the large skin tent, where they indulged in their sinful passions and killed about a thousand men, when the Eagle (who brought the fire) said, You have killed one another to your satisfaction, let there be an end to the murdering of one another, and he made them a feast and cooked the corn with the fire, which made it quite pleasant, so they afterwards lived in peace.

The children take names of their father's clan. There are religious ceremonies peculiar to each clan but one family will unite with another in the performance of their religious rites.

It is often said that the Indians are not idolators, that they believe in one Supreme Being whom they call the Great Spirit. I do not now recollect that I ever heard the Iowas use that term Great Spirit since I have been among them. They speak of God, and sometimes of the Great God or Bad God of an in firoses (?) character. But of the true character of God they are entirely ignorant, as much so as those heathen who lived in the days of the Apostles, or other heathen of the present day. Many of them speak of God as the Creator of All things, and use a term that signifies Creator of the earth. Sometimes they call him Grandfather. But they imagine him to be possessed of like passions with themselves and pleased with their war parties, scalp dances, thefts, and such like sin. They do not feel that God abhors sin even in thought, as the Bible teaches us.

They sometimes speak of the sun as a God, because it gives light and heat. The moon they sometimes speak of as a God, because it seems to be to the night what the sun is to the day. I asked an Indian the other day how many Gods the Iowas had and he promptly replied "seven", when asked to tell me what they were he said, Thunder, wind, calm, thunder storm, fair day and bright, but he said there were a great many.

Ko is the name for thunder and hra the term for Eagle. But choer-hoe-ta the name of the Eagle family, and this he gave as the name of the God thunder. When they hear thunder they as often call it wa-kan-ta, God, as they do ka, thunder, and they suppose it to be a large bird, doubtless the sacred bird from which the Eagle family descended.

When they first hear thunder in the spring they have a sacred feast in honor of this God. I suppose to greet him on his return after having been absent all winter. The Indian name of one of our scholars, of the Eagle family is wakantaeinga, literally, Little God, but it has reference not to God but to thunder, and is doubtless a name handed down in this family for many generations.

Thus it is that each family has its appropriate names, handed down from time immemorial until few can tell the meaning of them. The circumstances under which they were assumed being all forgotten.

Another Indian once told me he once killed a bear and made an offering to the sun of it and he let it lie where he killed it, giving it to the sun. He had also made offerings to the south wind. This they consider a favorable God, but the north-east wind as an unfavorable one. They often speak of Gods in the earth, and in the water, and some say they have seen them.

No Heart told me he saw one in the water once, up the Missouri river, where a man was drowned.

When a person gets drowned, they sometimes say the God that lives in the water has take him for a servant.

Not a year since some Iowas went over the river for meat, a young girl set down in the canoe with her load on her back, near this shore, the canoe way by some upset, and the girl drowned. They thought they heard a god halloo in the water and that he took her. One told me that the Heavenly Gods, or Gods of the air, fought the Gods of the water, and when these latter came out of the water, the others steal upon them and killed them.

A whirlpool would be called a god, and I suppose the Falls of the Niagara. High rocks are also supposed to be their dwelling. An Indian in a drunken spree became deranged, and ran wild for some days. They supposed his derangement was caused by one of the gods in the earth, or the devil which had seen, and the picture of which they said he had marked on the earth, and that it had large horns. There is a story among the Iowas that a Winnebago once saw two of these gods fighting and he watched them all day, each asked his assistance to overcome the other promising him great reward. Sometimes the god of the air, took the god of the water up into the air, and at other times the other one brought him down to the water. He did not know which to help at last he shot this one from the water with an arrow and the other took him up into the air, but the wounded one said, after he was shot, You may become a great man yourself but your relations will die, and so they say it turned out. He became very great but his relations died.

They also seem to think that persons may become gods and in this respect they are like the Mormons, for one told me a few years ago that he believed he would become a god himself and perhaps be sent to save the world.

There is another Winnebago tradition that a woman with a child was running from her enemies and jumped down a steep place and was turned into a rock, and now when ever they pass that place they make offerings to her. Another story is that two Winnebagos were walking together and saw a coon run up a tree, but when they went to it, it was a fish. One of the eat of it, but his companion refused for a long time to eat, but was finally persuaded by his friend to eat some, when he became very thirsty and his friend brought him water several times, but could not satisfy him. At last he told him to go to the river to drink. He did so, and his friend on going down after him found his head and body turned into a fish, and on going to take hold of his feet he caught a fish's tail. His companion then told him to make offerings to him and he should always be successful. He went and raised a war party and returned to the place and made offerings to the fish, which held up a stick out of the water with a number of scalps on it telling him he should take so many scalps and he took so many and as often as he visited the spot and made offerings, he was shown what success he would have.

They often speak about buffaloes being like gods as the following Pawnee story, told me by an Iowa only a few days ago will illustrate. Two Pawnees, sons of chiefs started on a war party against the Comanches, they traveled some days and found the snow very deep, it covered the tops of the trees in the hollows and along the small streams, but on the ridges of the prairie it had blown away. The buffalo had gone under the snow along a stream to get grass and lived there and their breath made an opening up through the snow like a chimney. These men came to the place and while standing there, the snow gave way, and they both fell down with it, each one straddle of a buffalo! How, my grandfather, said one of them, 'How my friend' said the other. The buffalo thanked them for opening up the snow, that they might see the light and the sun for it was now like a wall around them.

At night the buffaloes lay down together and the two men lay between their necks and kept warm. In the morning they were hungry but could not eat grass like the buffalo and they told them they were hungry. The buffalo then took from their own bodies pieces of flesh and gave them to eat, one said, 'You called me my Grandfather,' that was right. The other said, 'You called me my friend' you have done wrong. Grand father you will remember is a term some times applied to god. The buffalo then said to them, "You may now go and in four days the snow will be all gone and you will kill six men and get twelve horses." They started and there came a warm day and melted the snow and raised the streams, and on the fourth day they saw some Indians. They waited until evening when they crept to them and one went and stole three quivers full of arrows. Then this other went and stole three quivers full of arrows, for they were sound asleep. They then commenced shooting then and killed all the men and women and took one woman prisoner. They also got twelve horses, besides, two mules a piece. As the buffaloes had told them.

The Indian has his sacred pipe used only on solemn occasions and at all times kept wrapped up carefully in its case of skin. He has his medicine bag called waruhowa, from the skin of animals and birds which it contains, and which he esteems as sacred and to which he pays as much reverence as he does to God and in which he relies with more confidence than he does in [an empty space here] for he could not, I suppose be persuaded to go on a war party against another nation without his medicine bag, which is always carried with great care head [illegible word like formuch ce], the heads of the skins of the animals are left towards the front part and the turning (?) of this medicine bag on one occasion by a Sac chief, who followed a band of his men going on a war party, turned the party and broke it up. The Iowas have something by which they try men, or swear them to speak the truth, enveloped in seven coverings of skins, but has not been seen within the recollection or traditions of any of them. They do not allow women to see the outer covering and told that if I were to see it I would die. I told them I was not afraid to look at it, but should you die said they the white people would say the Indians killed you! One great requisite in the performance of their devotions is to have something to eat and so fully impressed are they with the importance of this that they often object to our mode, because we have nothing to eat, telling us if we would feast them, they would listen to us, but "who" say they, "worship God without making a feast". This being the case, they have no regular sacred days, if we except perhaps the day following the one when they first hear thunder. When they make a feast for it. Whenever therefore they have a beef, or some other animal to make a feast for the nation, they make a sacred day but it is not inconsistent with their views of it to spend it as other days with the exception of the time spent at the feast. At these feasts some of the men may make a few remarks about their customs, and if the feast has been made to give their men a talk upon any subject, they will speak about it. The feast they say helps to make their hearts good.

It used to be customary and is to some extent yet for the trader to make them a feast just before the payment, to make their hearts good and thus secure their pay.

Their religion is connected with their history, and with their practice of medicine or doctoring, especially doctoring, wounds received in battle or in their drunken sprees. One of their most common acts of worship is, and such as seems to be practiced daily, is when they are about to take a smoke, they look up towards heaven, say "God here is the tobacco" and then they puff a mouthful of smoke up towards heaven, after which the commence smoking.

They also make offerings of tobacco by throwing a small quantity into the fire, and when I speak to them about serving God, they not unfrequently tell me they do not serve him. They are diligent in throwing away (offering) tobacco. I have already mentioned their offerings of tobacco and a puff of smoke.

They often offer a small portion of food at their feasts, before they commence eating. I have also seen dogs hung by the neck to a tree or stick in the ground as an offering. No Heart told me that when the smallpox raged among them so violently, that they made a great many offerings to God. Said he, "We threw away a great many clothes, blankets and offered a great many dogs to god. My father also threw away a flag the British [sic] and when we threw these things away to God the smallpox left us. These offerings, we make to God was the cause of checking it." To throw away is the source to give or offer.

Besides feasting they have other articles which they seem to consider necessary to the performance of their devotions, especially on important occasions.

The oldest medicine bag, of which there are seven related to each other, as brothers and sisters, when they return from a war party, these are opened and used in their scalp dances. They contain the skins of animals, birds, with medicine in them. There wild tobacco and other sacred or war medicine, also the war club of which there was one to each of the seven, but only six now as on the last war party, the war club was lost from the principle one, also the pipes or whistles.

The next is the wathee wareehowee, and of these there are seven. This is the bad medicine bag, and with it they profess to deprive their enemies of power when discouraged by blowing the whistle. Owing to this enchantment they say their enemies cannot run or shoot and are soon killed.

The next is the Cha wareehewee, or buffalo medicine bag, which is used not in war but in doctoring the wounded and this is considered the greatest medicine. These contain medicine and the sticks with the deer hoofs attached which they shake while doctoring the sick also a piece of buffalo tail and perhaps a piece from the skin covering the throat of the elk.

The la wareehowee, [looks like La, not Ta] or deer medicine bag contain the sacred otter skin used in the otter dance. There are perhaps others, but I am not acquainted with their nature, these are the most important and ancient. Some of these are considered good teaching good things others bad teaching war.

They have also a round stone in some of these, which they rub over themselves before going to war to prevent their being shot. A drum. This is made by stretching a deer skin over on end of a keg and tightening it with cords and sticks. They are seldom without this when they dance. Pipes or whistles, these are generally made of cane and are from fifteen inches to two feet in length, with the reed hollow at the end, it makes a sound some thing like a fife. These are kept in the medicine bag and only used on occasion, when they profess to worship God either by doctoring the sick, dancing or going to war.

Another stick of about the same length, to which are attached a number of deer or antelope hoofs perhaps eight or ten. They are strung around the stick for about half its length, the other end is held in the hand and shook while the dry hoofs striking each other produce quite a rattling noise, these sticks are used only by the doctors.

Gourds filled with some small hard substance which also produce quite a rattling noise when shaken.

The medicine bag which consists of a deer skin contains various small sacks, open at both ends, in which are the skins of small animals and sacred birds, which they suppose to be holy and possessed of great virtue. The whistles or pipes with the skins etc. are wrapped up in the deer skin. The gourd hangs out side and the scalps of their enemies are also attached to the outside of the bundle. The whole is hung upon a tree, or stick set in the ground for the purpose, beside or within a few feet of their lodge or skin tent and covered with some other skin to protect it from the weather.

When living in their bark houses during the summer they frequently place them on the top of the house.

The sacred pipe which is sometimes kept in the tent in a separate corner wrapped up with the others. The sacred stones or (illegible) by which they decide doubtful points and compel disrupting persons to speak the truth.

Creation. They often speak of God as the creator of the world, but there is a tradition among them that it was made by a muskrat which found a shallow place in the great deep and began to carry mud there, until it built a mound above the water and then others added to it until they formed the earth. But the tradition of the Iowas seems to be more clear and practic.

According to their account the world was made by Eshchengka. Eshchengka they say is the oldest son of the Sun and that on a certain occasion when he was asleep he saw his father was covered and touched him with a stick and spoke to his father when he touched him, saying you are ncoverd. His father waking up told him to go down, so he did not wish to see him again to go down to mingle with foolish men. When he came here there was nothing but water and a pigeon said to him, you had better make land for people. I will bring you wood from a far and it flew away to a great distance. A muskrat also came and he told the muskrat to bring some mad or earth. He then was in a boat and took a long cord and tied it to the muskrat tail and sent it down into the deep, a great distance, and told it when it came to the earth and got its hands or paws full to shake the rope, and he would pull it up. It did so, after going down a great way, into the water, it got its hands full of mud and shook the rope and Eschengka pulled it up almost dead, with its hands full of mud. The pigeon also came bringing a branch of a tree exhausted and fell down into the water, when he pulled it into the boat. Eschengka then took the mud and branch and beat them together fine and scattered them around upon the water, which caused the dry land and trees to appear.

He next took mud and earth and made of it all kinds of animals and placed them around him and said "who will now be animals." The Elk said, "I alone will be an animal," and with that he snatched the spirits from the other images and putting them into his mouth was about to run off with them but Eschengka took the spirits out of his mouth, saying, "Why should you be the only animal" and gave them back to the images and they became living animals.

He next brought a very large trough of fat and said to them, "Who will be a fat animal." "I will" said the rabbit and jumped into the fat in the trough, but Eschengka said, "You are too small to be a fat animal," so he took it out and with his hands stroked the fat off except a little about the loins, which si the reason the rabbit has only a little fat on it. He then asked again, "Who will be a fat animal." "I will" said the Bear and jumped into the trough of fat. "You had better stay in their quietly, till it dries on you," said Eschengka and the bear did so and this is the reason of its being so fat. He then put the question again, "Who will be a fat animal with a mixture of lean." I will" said the deer and jumped in. He then took the deer and stroked the fat off its fore shoulder and legs, leaving a little about the kidneys and rumps. He then put the question again and again and then soon a polecat jumped into the fat, which is the cause of their being so fat.

After he had made the animals, he made man. But Eschengka became bad and sinned and would kill the children of the people and eat them and kill persons also, and transformed himself sometimes into a woman and do many wicked things. On account of his wickedness the Indians would frequently tie him and throw him into a large fire until he was burnt up, but he would appear again in another place. At one time they tided him hand and foot to cut the flesh off his bones and boiled them, but still he appeared again.

All the Indians knew about him, it is said and that he had his seat in a large rock on the Mississippi. The print of his feet are in front of the rock and of his hands on each side. The god of the water took a stick and large stone to kill him and left the stone sticking in the ground by the side of the rock. He killed him it is said to eat him. His bad conduct and teaching the Indians so many bad things is, it is supposed, the reason why they do wrong.

* * * * * * *

Extracts from Manuscripts by William Hamilton concerning the Iowa and Oto

Image name: NAA MS 4800: (3.3.1) [296] [NMNH-4800_296_cat_card] Repository: Smithsonian Institution, NAA-Natl. Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Transcribed by JKearns

Return to top
Return to Ioway Virtual Library main page

Copyright information | This site is hosted by NativeWeb.