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Title [Letter] [manuscript]: Ponca Indian Reservation, to my dear brother & sister, 1873 Mar. 10
Author Tom
Document Type Correspondence
Description From the Newberry Library Catalogue: Letter, dated March 10, 1873 on the Ponca Indian Reservation, written by a man identified only as "Tom", formerly of Omaha, Neb., to his brother & sister, possibly living in England. The letter describes the Ponca Indian Reservation as a "wild wilderness of a place, situated on a low piece of table land on the upper Missouri River in Dacotah Terrotory. The River runs through it, and the mountains on each side, & to all appearances, all round it." The writer, who left home in Omaha on Feb. 10th or 11th, 1873, is one of 12 whites on the reservation, living with 740 Indians, who subsist on supplies of pork, flour, coffee, sugar and salt, issued to them by the U.S. Government. Although there is a missionary who preaches to them in their language, and "3 mission ladies" who try to teach the Indians to sew, the Indians remain "perfectly wild." Many of them die of scrofula, and the writer has helped to make several coffins since he arrived. He describes the funeral and burial customs of the Indians, and notes that some are laid to rest in trees. Male mourners show their grief by dancing, and crying at the teepe of the deceased, and cutting off pieces of their own flesh with their knives. Some Indians are buried along with their horses, and food and other possessions to help them on their journey to the happy hunting grounds. During burial ceremonies, a party of armed Poncas must guard the mourners from marauding tribes who frequently trespass onto the reservation, steal cattle, and scalp anybody they catch. There are no government soldiers on the reservation for protection. The writer does not explain why he is on the reservation--only that extreme cold weather, ice three-feet-thick on the river, and illness have hindered him. He expresses his unwillingness to bring his family to such a wild area, so far from civilization. He closes by mentioning his desire to return to England and visit with his brothers George, Henry, and Sam, and sisters Mary and Lizie, and urges them to write to him at his old address, "in care [of] H.L. Latey, Omaha, Nebraska". The letter is signed "Your brother Tom."
Places Omaha, Nebraska, United States; England, United Kingdom
Keywords reservation, supplies, subsistence, missionary, government, language, education, death, custom, ceremony, dance, cattle, scalping, attack, soldiers
Theme Observation, Representation and Cultural Encounters
Tribe / Nation
Culture Area Great Plains
Library The Newberry Library
Copyright The Newberry Library
Collection The Edward E. Ayer Collection
Reference VAULT Ayer MS 2202
Catalogue Link The Newberry Library Catalogue