Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/54

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50
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

weeks, and at still others once a month. This was all the real business he had to occupy him—travelling between cabin and agency ware-houses for twenty-five years! All this time he was brooding over the loss of his freedom, his country rich in game, and all the pleasures and satisfactions of wild life. Even the arid plains and wretched living left him he was not sure of, judging from past experience with a government that makes a solemn treaty guaranteeing him a certain territory "forever," and takes it away from him the next year if it appears that some of their own people want it, after all.

Like the Israelites in bondage, our own aborigines have felt the sweet life-giving air of freedom change to the burning heat of a desert as dreary as that of Egypt under Pharaoh. It was during this period of hopeless resignation, gloomily awaiting—what? no Indian could even guess—that his hardy, yet sensitive, organization gave way. Who can wonder at it? His home was a little, one-roomed log cabin, about twelve by twenty feet, mud-chinked, containing a box stove and a few sticks of furniture. The average cabin has a dirt floor and a dirt roof. They are apt to be overheated in winter, and the air is vitiated at all times, but especially at night, when there is no ventilation whatever. Families of four to ten persons lived, and many still live, in these huts. Fortunately the air of the plains is dry, or we should have lost them all!

Remember, these people were accustomed to the purest of air and water. The teepee was little more than a canopy to shelter them from the elements; it was pitched every few days upon new, clean ground. Clothing was loose and simple, and frequent air and sun baths, as well as baths of water and steam, together with the use of emollient oils, kept the skin in perfect condition. Their food was fresh and wholesome; largely wild meat and fish, with a variety of wild fruits, roots, and grain, and some cultivated ones. At first they could not eat the issue bacon, and on ration days one might see these strips of unwholesome-looking fat lying about on the ground where they had been thrown on the return trip. Flour, too, was often thrown away before the women had learned to make bread raised with cheap baking-powder and fried in grease. But the fresh meat they received was not enough to last until the next ration day. There was no end of bowel trouble when they were forced by starvation to swallow the bacon and ill-prepared bread. Water, too, was generally hauled from a distance with much labor, and stood about in open buckets or barrels for several days.

As their strength waned, they made more fire in the stove and sat over it, drinking rank coffee and tea that had boiled all day on the same stove. After perspiring thus for hours, many would go out into the bitter cold of a Dakota winter with little or no additional clothing, and bronchitis and pneumonia were the inevitable result. The uncured cases became chronic and led straight to tuberculosis in its various forms.