One of the most remarkable women of her day and nation was Eyatonkawee, She-whose-Voice-is-heard-afar. It is matter of history among the Wakpaykootay band of Sioux, the Dwellers among the Leaves, that when Eyatonkawee was a very young woman she was once victorious in a hand-tohand combat with the enemy in the woods of Minnesota, where her people were hunting the deer. At such times they often met with stray parties of Sacs and Foxes from the prairies of Iowa and Illinois.
Now, the custom was among our people that the doer of a notable warlike deed was held in highest honor, and these deeds were kept constantly in memory by being recited in public, before many witnesses. The greatest exploit was that one involving most personal courage and physical address, and he whose record was adjudged best might claim certain privileges, not the least of which was the right to interfere in any quarrel and separate the combatants. The peace-maker might resort to force, if need be, and no one dared to utter a protest who could not say that he had himself achieved an equal fame.
There was a man called Tamahay, known to Minnesota history as the "One-eyed Sioux," who was a notable character on the frontier in the early part of the nineteenth century. He was very reckless, and could boast of many a perilous adventure. He was the only Sioux who, in the War of 1812, fought for the Americans, while all the rest of his people sided with the British, mainly through the influence of the English traders among them at that time. This same "One-eyed Sioux" became a warm friend of Lieutenant Pike, who discovered the sources of the Mississippi, and for whom Pike's Peak is named. Some say that the Indian took his friend's name, for Tamahay in English means Pike or Pickerel.
Unfortunately, in later life this brave man became a drunkard, and after the Americans took possession of his country almost any one of them would supply him with liquor in recognition of his notable services as a scout and soldier. Thus he was at times no less dangerous in camp than in battle.
Now, Eyatonkawee, being a young widow, had married the son of a lesser chief in Tamahay's band, and was living among strangers. Moreover, she was yet young and modest.
One day this bashful matron heard loud warwhoops and the screams of women. Looking forth, she saw the people fleeing hither and thither, while Tamahay, half intoxicated, rushed from his teepee painted for war, armed with tomahawk and scalping-knife, and approached another warrior as if to slay him. At this sight her heart became strong, and she quickly sprang between them with her woman's knife in her hand.
"It was a Sac warrior of like proportions and bravery with your own, who, having slain several of the Sioux, thus approached me with uplifted tomahawk!" she exclaimed in a clear voice, and went on to recite her victory on that famous day so that the terrified people paused to hear.
Tamahay was greatly astonished, but he was not too drunk to realize that he must give way at once, or be subject to the humiliation of a blow from the woman-warrior who challenged him thus. The whole camp was listening; and being unable, in spite of his giant frame and well-known record, to cite a greater deed than hers, he retreated with as good a grace as possible. Thus Eyatonkawee recounted her brave deed for the first time, in order to save a man's life. From that day her name was great as a peace-maker – greater even than when she had first defended so gallantly her babe and home!
Many years afterward, when she had attained middle age, this woman averted a serious danger from her people.
Chief Little Crow the elder was dead, and as he had two wives of two different bands, the succession was disputed among the half-brothers and their adherents. Finally the two sons of the wife belonging to the Wabashaw band plotted against the son of the woman of the Kaposia band, His-Red-Nation by name, afterward called Little Crow – the man who led the Minnesota massacre.
They obtained a quantity of whisky and made a great feast to which many were invited, intending when all were more or less intoxicated to precipitate a fight in which he should be killed. It would be easy afterward to excuse themselves by saying that it was an accident.
Mendota, near what is now the thriving city of Saint Paul, then a queen of trading-posts in the Northwest, was the rendezvous of the Sioux. The event brought many together, for all warriors of note were bidden from far and near, and even the great traders of the day were present, for the succession to the chieftainship was one which vitally affected their interests. During the early part of the day all went well, with speeches and eulogies of the dead chief, flowing and eloquent, such as only a native orator can utter. Presently two goodly kegs of whisky were rolled into the council teepee.
Eyatonkawee was among the women, and heard their expressions of anxiety as the voices of the men rose louder and more threatening. Some carried their children away into the woods for safety, while others sought speech with their husbands outside the council lodge and besought them to come away in time. But more than this was needed to cope with the emergency. Suddenly a familiar form appeared in the door of the council lodge.
"Is it becoming in a warrior to spill the blood of his tribesmen? Are there no longer any Ojibways?"
It was the voice of Eyatonkawee, that stronghearted woman! Advancing at the critical moment to the middle of the ring of warriors, she once more recited her "brave deed" with all the accompaniment of action and gesture, and to such effect that the disorderly feast broke up in confusion, and there was peace between the rival bands of Sioux.
There was seldom a dangerous quarrel among the Indians in those days that was not precipitated by the use of strong liquor, and this simple Indian woman, whose good judgment was equal to her courage, fully recognized this fact. All her life, and especially after her favorite brother had been killed in a drunken brawl in the early days of the American Fur Company, she was a determined enemy to strong drink, and it is said did more to prevent its use among her immediate band than any other person. Being a woman, her sole means of recognition was the "brave deed" which she so wonderfully described and enacted before the people.
During the lifetime of She-whose-Voice-isheard-afar – and she died only a few years ago – it behooved the Sioux men, if they drank at all, to drink secretly and in moderation. There are many who remember her brave entrance upon the scene of carousal, and her dramatic recital of the immortal deed of her youth.
"Hanta! hanta wo! (Out of the way!)" exclaim the dismayed warriors, scrambling in every direction to avoid the upraised arm of the terrible old woman, who bursts suddenly upon them with disheveled hair, her gown torn and streaked here and there with what looks like fresh blood, her leather leggins loose and ungartered, as if newly come from the famous struggle. One of the men has a keg of whisky for which he has given a pony, and the others have been invited in for a night of pleasure. But scarcely has the first round been drunk to the toast of "great deeds," when Eyatonkawee is upon them, her great knife held high in her wrinkled left hand, her tomahawk in the right. Her black eyes gleam as she declaims in a voice strong, unterrified:
"Look! look! brothers and husbands – the Sacs and Foxes are upon us! Behold, our braves are surprised – they are unprepared! Hear the mothers, the wives and the children screaming in affright!
"Your brave sister, Eyatonkawee, she, the newly made mother, is serving the smoking venison to her husband,
just returned from the chase! Ah, he plunges into the thickest of the enemy! He falls, he falls, in full view of his young wife!
"She desperately presses her babe to her breast, while on they come yelling and triumphant! The foremost of them all enters her white buffalo-skin teepee: Tossing her babe at the warrior's feet, she stands before him, defiant; But he straightway levels his spear at her bosom. Quickly she springs aside, and as quickly deals a deadly blow with her ax: Falls at her feet the mighty warrior!
"Closely following on comes another, unknowing what fate has met his fellow! He too enters her teepee, and upon his feather-decked head her ax falls – Only his death-groan replies!
"Another of heroic size and great prowess, as witnessed by his war-bonnet of eagle-feathers, Rushes on, yelling and whooping – for they believe that victory is with them! The third great warrior who has dared to enter Eyatonkawee's teepee uninvited, he has already dispatched her husband! He it is whose terrible war-cry has scattered her sisters among the trees of the forest!
"On he comes with confidence and a brave heart, seeking one more bloody deed – One more feather to win for his head! Behold, he lifts above her woman's head his battle-ax! No hope, no chance for her life! . . . Ah! he strikes beyond her – only the handle of the ax falls heavily upon her tired shoulder! Her ready knife finds his wicked heart, – Down he falls at her feet!
"Now the din of war grows fainter and further. The Sioux recover heart, and drive the enemy headlong from their lodges: Your sister stands victorious over three! "She takes her baby boy, and makes him count with his tiny hands the first 'coup' on each dead hero; Hence he wears the 'first feathers' while yet in his oaken cradle.
"The bravest of the whole Sioux nation have given the war-whoop in your sister's honor, and have said: 'Tis Eyatonkawee who is not satisfied with downing the mighty oaks with her ax – She took the mighty Sacs and Foxes for trees, and she felled them with a will!'"
In such fashion the old woman was wont to chant her story, and not a warrior there could tell one to surpass it! The custom was strong, and there was not one to prevent her when she struck open with a single blow of her ax the keg of whisky, and the precious liquor trickled upon the ground.
"So trickles under the ax of Eyatonkawee the blood of an enemy to the Sioux!"