Early Pioneer Days in Texas
Indian Songs and Dances
The Indian idea of war was more logical than human. He carried out in cold blood the old song that "All's fair in love and war." As a fighter he had no idea of giving quarters, and, of course, rarely expected it, although he cunningly learned the tenderness of the white man's heart and his tendency to mercy, though he himself remained obdurate, vicious and unmerciful so long as he was in power. When the early pioneers came here they were always on the alert for fear of the wily savages, who, in hunting for game, thought nothing of pouncing down on settlements at an unguarded moment, taking away with them scalps of the victims fastened to their belts or bridles, and kept them for exhibition at certain times of the moon. Notwithstanding their treachery, their merciless slaughter of men and women, they did not talk of the scalps or scalping, but used high sounding phrases. This ghastly trophy is to them the "sacred hair," an offering to their gods. It used to be told that two boys who smoked before they had proved themselves men were rebuked by a chief and told they must go to the camps of the white man and bring "some bark from the oak" before they could call themselves brave. The boys innocently went and peeled the bark from several trees, and when they brought it to the chief, were greatly chagrined when they were told sternly to go and try again. Afterwards, when they helped to attack a caravan of travelers and brought back the "bark" from the head of one of the poor settlers then the boys were entitled thereafter to the privilege of smoking.
A band of Indian warriors came suddenly on the camp of a little settlement one night to steal what stock they might. There were a lot of horses in the corral, made of poles, whose tops were bound with iron-like ropes of rawhide. One Indian climbed quietly into the enclosure with the end of a rawhide lasso in his hand. He at one end, and a companion on the other end, sawed the rope back and forth till the ropes were cut; then several of the posts were uprooted, the horses let out, and off ran the thieves with their loot without arousing anyone. At daybreak the alarm was given, and the settlers organized and gave pursuit and overtook them some twenty miles away. The Indians resorted to their favorite tactics of savages by circling and shooting from their horses, then hiding behind their horses, thereby inviting the white men to waste their powder; and would have finally been victorious and beaten the settlers, but the settlers were too wise, and by well- placed firing from their guns, soon made the Indians take flight. The settlers recovered their stolen horses, besides a few of the Indians, but two or three of the men lost their scalps.
The Indian takes these scalps as trophies and proof of prowess, and chiefly because he believes that with it the valor and skill of the former possessor becomes his own. The scalp is taken by cutting a rough circle around the top of the skull and then tearing off the patch of skin and hair by brute force. It is a dreadful sight, never to be forgotten by anyone who has ever seen it. The scalp is cured by the one who takes it, and he takes great care in preparing it. Many magical powers are supposed to dwell in that scalp even if touched either accidently or by design by a third person, it is supposed to transmit some of its virtues.
At certain periods of the month, when the moon is at a point equal to their festive dancing days, they gather together to hold their "mad dance," or dance in commemoration of their victory. The dancers form in two lines facing each other, with alternate men and women. The braves, in their war paint and clad in their paraphernalia of war, each carries in his left hand a bow and in' his right a single arrow, pointing upward. The women wear their trinkets and their gayest costumes, but have nothing in their hands. The dancers move in perfect rhythm to the monotone of the chanters and the thump of the drum. This chanting is a metrical account of the battle and a musical explanation of how the scalps were taken.
When the dance is well under way one of the Indians, whose special duty it is to take charge of the scalps, brings them forward and walks slowly and solemnly up and down between the lines of dancers with the precious tokens of victory. At the conclusion of the scalp dance they finish with a lively dance. At the end of every phrase they give imitations of the war hoop, or "enemy yells." The whole performance is weird and disgusting, and usually lasts two or three nights.