Annual Address of the Chiefs -- The Feast-Dance -- The Carouse -- Savage Intoxication -- The End of the Feast

A solemn silence prevailed. At length the oldest chief rose and began to recite the history of his tribe. He laid down the principles of their religion and government, and urged upon his young men the great importance of their duties. They should not only become acquainted with these things, but remember, support and honor them. They must perpetuate the principles of their religion, preserve the correct history of their tribe, and, at proper times, impress it upon the succeeding generation.

The two other purified chiefs followed with a similar address. When the last of these was concluded the assembled Indians prepared for their feast-dance, which was conducted in the same tent. This performance lasted about an hour, and was the most peculiar scene of the feast. The dance was conducted according to a system more complex, and, perhaps, more difficult to perform than any of those known to civilization. Yet each participant entered into it with an ease and grace truly admirable.

The only music was performed on a bark drum partly filled with corn, which, when beaten with a short stick, measured the time so accurately followed by the performers.

During the dance, some of the women, who took no part in the exercise, busied themselves in hiding the guns and other weapons, preparatory to the carouse which was to follow. At the conclusion of the exercises in the great tent the Indians repaired to the wigwam of their chief, where the whisky awaited their further action. The barrels were tapped and the liquid freely distributed among the thirsty savages, who soon became exceedingly happy. They kept up a continual drinking and shouting, and leaping, and performing all manner of acrobatic feats, until silenced in the sleep of intoxication. But during all this hilarity not a squaw tasted the liquor. They were, for the time being, contented with laughing at the curious feats of their drunken husbands or lovers. No sooner, however, had the joyous yells of the men subsided than the women began their indulgence, and the scene that followed is beyond all description. A drunken Indian cuts an amusing figure, but what shall we say of the intoxicated squaw? She adds to his coarse jollity vulgar and mello-dramatic situations, from which the civilized eye turns away in horror and disgust.

But the woman had their debauch with all its accompanying scenes of shameful indulgences, and were soon prostrated among the senseless bodies of the men. Thus the scene changed. As evening drew near thousands of Indian forms lay motionless upon the green valley, while the mischievous children ran about leaping over them as if to act their part in the curious drama.

When darkness closed in upon the scene the stillness was broken only by the prattle of the children, with an occasional shout from some reviving savage, who bewildered with the situation, seemed anxious to awaken his companions.

The night passed in comparative silence, and when the sun rose on the following morning, nearly all signs of intoxication had disappeared. The feast was continued several days, and not until serious differences began to arise among the Indians did they break up their time-honored exercises.

Document Source: Tuttle, Charles R., History of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids: Tuttle & Cooney, 1874.
Transcriber: Jennifer Godwin

Created: 24 August 2000