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First Person Account of Life on a Native American Reservation, 1897

Updated on March 27, 2013

Memories of my grandmother, who was 11-years-old at the time

This is Part Two of a non-fiction account my grandmother wrote many years ago, recounting an incident that occurred during her time spent living on an Indian Reservation in Kansas. The previous page, Murder on Native American Reservation, 1897 will tell you about a murder that was the sad conclusion of domestic violence. But this page will tell you more about what life was like in 1897 on an American Indian Reservation,from the point of view of an 11-year-old Caucasian farm girl (My grandmother)

In her own words: " father rented a large tract of land from this Indian, Frank Kabamse, who was French and Indian. Mother was reluctant to move to the reservation, but finally consented to move, as it would be too far to drive down there to farm - farming was all done then with horses. We were a mile in from the west line of the reserve on the northwest corner."

Please realize that this was written a long time ago. When my grandmother used the term "indian," that was written many years before the popular use of "Native American."

Rattlesnake Bite

Native American Remedy Saved Sister's Life

Quammie was instrumental in saving my sister's life as the following incident will reveal. One time my sister, Nancy, was bitten by a rattlesnake on her way home from school, which was two and one-half miles had run on ahead of me and when I overtook her, she was creeping on one knee and her hands. Her foot had already swollen and was getting blue. We were a mile from home and I carried her the rest of the way home although she was only three years younger that I. If I hadn't been frightened, I could not have done so.

Father was hauling hay and had to ford the creek. Sister Nellie and my cousin Della ran to meet him and tell him to go for the doctor. He unhitched the team right there where he was in the middle of the creek and rode one horse home and led the other, going on the gallop. He hitched the spring wagon and drove to a telephone which was about six miles distant and called Dr. Seon from Circleville. While we waited for the doctor to arrive, Mr. And Mrs. Sam Blackbird, English-speaking Indians, came over and brought weeds which they pounded with a hammer and kept the bite poulticed until the doctor arrived.

Circleville* was approximately 13 miles distant and the doctor came in buggy and team of horses. Nancy's life was despaired of for about four weeks. The doctor visited every day or two, but one day she became desperately ill and we sent for the doctor again. Quammie heard of this and came bringing a bundle of herbs from which she made tea. She would take the lea in her mouth and blow it on the swollen limb and body until the doctor came. Dr. Scott remained with us all through the long night and said he had to do something to keep awake so he offered to pull teeth free. My aunt, who was visiting at our home at the time, had two teeth extracted. The next morning little Nancy was much improved and

continued to feel better and in a few weeks was able to go to school again.

The reason I knew these Indians, my father rented a large tract of land from this Indian, Frank Kabamse, who was French and Indian. Mother was reluctant to move to the reservation, but finally consented to move, as it would be too far to drive down there to farm - farming was all done then with horses. We were a mile in from the west line of the reserve on the northwest corner.

Father cut timber on the land and hauled it to a sawmill and had our house built out of native lumber. He built a long shed stable for our horses; we always kept about 20, mostly work animals. He had a large hog shed too and kept at least 60 hogs all the time. Corn was the main crop and such corn it was, almost like sticks of stove wood. We lived near the creek and one year there came a flood and the water came up over two big cribs of corn and father sold it to a cattleman, a Mr. Mack, for II cents a bushel. The water was 9 inches deep in our house, the barn and cribs were on lower ground and a cousin, Marion Marts, who was working for my father that summer, swam into the barn and cut loose the horses. They were standing with their heads out of water. The water was backwater from the creek and it was three o'clock in the morning, The folks slept downstairs and mother happened to get up for something and noticed the water was then coming into the house.

The men hitched the team to the wagon and we cut across toward the hill. We didn't live on the reservation but for a few years after that although we lived there 8 years) and were glad to move back on higher ground again. The worst part about the reservation was the long distance to school.

We attended Prairie View School two miles west of us a a half mile north. We seldom rode horses to school because they would have to stand out in the cold all day and in northeastern Kansas it really gets cold in winter. The reserve was II miles square. We did our shopping

in Holton which was 15 miles away.

There was a prairie trail across the reservation and after we crossed Big Soldier Creek which was near our home, we had prairie most of the way. One time I remember a snowfall during the afternoon and a spring wagon load of Indians lost their way that night. One old woman fell from the back of the wagon and they didn't miss her until they finally found their way home and when they found her, she had frozen to death. We always made the trip in the morning and returned home in the afternoon. Mother seldom went to town, but usually we girls would go and such a cold trip in winter' But we enjoyed going-at least it was some place to go. We drove about 7 miles to the United Brethren church, but during cold weather we were able to attend only once in awhile.

There were a good many white families living on the reserve-- the Indians rented their land to white farmers and they spent their time hunting. Of course some of the Indian men farmed their own land but not many. The Indian women did a lot of bead work and dried squash and pumpkins for winter use; they did a lot of sewing and made rugs out of rushes.

Their yards were always clean and they were dressed clean. They always attended to their own affairs. There were four of us girls older than my brothers and we helped my father with the farming. He would not let us pitch hay, but we raked it and sometimes stacked hay, cultivated corn, cut weeds, husked corn, helped saw wood, milked the cows, and we loved to ride the horses.

*Probably Circleville KS


One form of recreation we enjoyed was playing the dulcimer which we owned. It was the only one I have ever seen. My grandfather spent about 3 months of the year With us and he taught us to play the dulcimer. It is a stringed instrument and is played with mallets. He had an accordion and would play of evenings. He played mostly sacred music and would sing.

My parents knew a great many songs and sometimes we would get them to sing with us. I remember we made two trips to the Indian dance grounds, a distance of 9 miles, to see the Indians dance. They had a large dance ring they used when the weather was fair; when it rained, they danced in another ring with a roof over it. These two dance rings, as they were called, covered several acres of ground. The ground was packed hard and smooth. They danced about six abreast in hippity-hop fashion to the beat of drums which were placed flat on the ground. The drummers sat in groups of about two to each drum and about three drums in a group. The drums were large and made considerable noise. The drummers also sang while drumming.

One of the drums I noticed had some upright pieces of wood about two feet high fastened to the sides of the drum and dangling from these were a number of scalps of blond hair. 'They looked old and had been handed down from generation to generation. They were hanging at the top of the wood pieces and a large number of coins adorned the wood from there on down to the drum. It was said this drum was adorned with $2000 worth of coins. It was kept in the home of the Chief.

Most Indians who danced were dressed in the feathered headdress, especially the older ones. The women sat in groups near the drummer. The drums were placed either end of the dance ring and in the center. They wore the wampum belt which looked like a feathered apron, hanging down the back and buckled at the front; they took turns wearing it. Pipes of peace were passed around, each man taking a puff or two.

Hundreds of white people came for miles to see them dance. Most of the older men wore shirts outside their trousers, the shirts were homemade with narrow ribbon in bright colors sewn up and down the bosom. Many wore large ropes of glass beads. Young Indians dressed like white people. The traveler driving across that reserve today would be impressed by the well-kept homes and as many white people as Indians living there.

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    • Darla Dixon profile imageAUTHOR

      Darla Dixon 

      8 years ago

      @TapIn2U: How great! I will go check out your first lens!

    • TapIn2U profile image


      8 years ago

      This is an important part of history and one that is every bit worth knowing. Thanks for sharing! Hey, your Tweets were one of the ones I followed from Twitter when I found Squidoo. I have just finished my first Lens and now have great ideas to add thanks to you. Sundae ;-)


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