Indian burial described by Custer

by Jim Morgan

Our second day’s march brought us to the Saline River, where we encamped for the night. From our camp ground we could see on a knoll some two miles distant a platform or scaffold erected, which resembled somewhat one of our war signal stations. Curious to discover its purpose, I determined to visit it.

Taking with me Comstock and a few soldiers, I soon reached the point, and discovered that the object of my curiosity and surprise was an Indian grave. The body, instead of being consigned to mother earth, was placed on top of the platform. The latter was constructed of saplings, and was about twenty feet in height. From Comstock I learned that with some of the tribes this is the usual mode of disposing of the body after death. The prevailing belief of the Indian is that when done with this world the spirit of the deceased is transferred to the happy hunting-ground, where he is permitted to engage in the same pleasures and pursuits which he preferred while on earth. To this end it is deemed essential that after death the departed must be supplied with the same equipment and ornaments considered necessary while in the flesh. In accordance with this belief a complete Indian outfit, depending in extent upon the rank and importance of the deceased, is prepared, and consigned with the body to the final resting place.

The body found on this occasion must have been that of a son of some important chief; it was not full grown, but accompanied with all the arms and adornments usually owned by a warrior. There was the bow and quiver full of steel-pointed arrows, the tomahawk and scalping-knife, and a red clay pipe with a small bag full of tobacco. In order that the departed spirit should not be wholly dependent upon friends after his arrival at the happy hunting-ground, he had been supplied with provisions, consisting of small parcels containing coffee, sugar, and bread. Weapons of modern structure had also been furnished him, a revolver and rifle with powder and ball ammunition for each, and a saddle, bridle, and lariat for his pony. Added to these was a supply of wearing apparel, embracing every article known in an Indian’s toilet, not excepting the various colored paints to be used in decorating himself for war. A handsome buckskin scalping-pocket, profusely ornamented with beads, completed the outfit. But for fear that white women’s scalps might not be readily obtainable, and desiring no doubt to be received at once as a warrior who in his own country at least was not without renown, a white woman’s scalp was also considered as a necessary accompaniment, a letter of introduction to the dusky warriors and chieftains who had gone before. As the Indian of the Plains is himself only when on horseback, provision must be made for mounting him properly in the Indian heaven. To accomplish this, the favorite war pony is led beneath the platform on which the body of the warrior is placed at rest and there strangled to death.

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