At present there are no men or women among the
Jicarillas who have the power to heal the sick and perform other miracles
that entitle them to rank as medicine men or medicine women--at least none
who are in active practice and are popular. This being the case, medicine
feasts have not been held for several years on the reservation. But in
August and September 1898, two such feasts were conducted by the old
Apache woman, Sotli, who now lives in Pueblo of San Ildefonso. Sotli made
the journey of nearly a hundred miles to the Jicarillas on a burro. She
was delayed for some time on the way by the high waters of Chama Creek, so
rumours of her arrival were repeatedly spread for some weeks, before she
For festive dances, the U.S. Indian Agent or his
representative, the clerk at Dulce, issue extra rations of beef and flour,
and the Indians themselves buy all the supplies from the traders that
their scanty funds will permit. Edible supplies do not keep well in Indian
camps, and successive postponements threatened to terminate a feast
without adequate provisions. But fortunately Sotli arrived in time.
The preliminary arrangements were made by Satl, the
husband of the invalid Kes-nos'-un-da, in whose behalf the ceremonies were
to be performed. Satl presented Sotli with a pipe of ancient pattern, a
short cylinder of clay; a few eagle feathers and a new basket as well.
As the Jicarilla Apaches live in scattered tipis and
cabins about the reservation, there is no specified place, such as the
plaza of a pueblo tribe, where religious ceremonies are performed. Sotli
chose a spot in La Jara Canon where Satl and his friends built a medicine
lodge with an enclosure surrounded by a pine brush fence. The lodge was
begun on the morning of August 22 and the fence was completed by noonday.
The builders were served food by the women of Satl's family.
At noon of the 22nd, the first day, about a dozen of
the older men gathered in the medicine lodge. According to Gunsi, these
men were selected by Sotli because of their ability in outlining the dry
paintings, which they made in the lodge under her direction. No one but
Apaches are admitted to the medicine lodge, so that I have depended upon
the account of it given by Gunsi in the following description:
"The ground was cleared at the back of the lodge--between the
fire and the western wall--over a space about six feet in diameter, and
covered with a layer of clean gray sand. The sand painting the first day
contained the figures of snakes only, having their heads directed toward
the west, with the exception of the sun symbol, which was drawn each day
during the ceremony around a shallow hole six or eight inches in diameter
at the centre of the painting.
"The sun was represented by a ring of white sand around the
margin of the hole; next came a circle of black, and then a ring of red
with white rays. After the painting had been completed, the invalid woman,
in an ordinary gown not especially prepared for the occasion, entered the
enclosure, laid aside her blanket, and passed into the lodge, on the floor
of which four "bear tracks" had been made, leading to the dry painting.
(Presumably because she had the snake and bear disease.)
"The patient stepped upon the footprints in going to the sand
painting, on which she spread pollen (kat-u-tin) from the cattail flag,
and sacred meal. She then sat down upon the painting, facing the east.
Songs were sung and prayers were offered to the sun, after which the women
brought food from the camps into the enclosure. Those within the lodge
seated themselves around the wall and were served by the doorkeeper, who
began at the left and carried food to each in turn. After all were served,
the doorkeeper gathered a morsel of food from each and threw it outside
the enclosure, as a sacrifice to the sun, followed by prayers to the sun.
Then the doorkeeper joined the others in the lodge and ate his food, as
did the invalid. All others dined within the enclosure. The remaining food
was gathered for the next meal. The men carried the food vessels from the
lodge into the enclosure, later removed by the women.
"When darkness fell in the evening, the men again
painted snakes in the medicine lodge, where a fire had been built. A young
pine tree was placed at the right and another at the left of the sand
painting. The children were then expelled from the enclosure.
"The patient entered as in the morning, offering pollen and
meal, then seated herself upon the painting. A terrifying figure rushed
into the semidarkness of the lodge, lunged toward the invalid, but seemed
unable to reach her, gave forth two or three cries similar to those
uttered by the bear, and then made his exit.
"Gunsi admitted 'I was frightened, although I knew it was only one
of the men in disguise, who had been painted black with charcoal and
covered with pine branches. He wore no mask. Since the invalid suffered
from snake and bear disease, the painting with prayer meal and pollen
offerings represented snakes and the bear was called upon to drive away
"While the bear was in the lodge the singing men yelled at
the tops of their voices to scare the bear. The invalid fell shaking to
the ground. An eagle feather was waved rapidly to and fro above her head
as she continued to rise, fall, shake, and cry out. I thought she was
"Sotli then placed a live coal in a dish of blue corn
meal and allowed the invalid to inhale the smoke. This quieted her
somewhat as she sat upright but staring just like a drunk. Sotli then
handed her the medicine pipe filled with 'Mexican' tobacco. After smoking
this, the patient seemed to recover her senses. Two or three songs
concluded the day's serious part of the ceremony. The ex-patient then
moved to the north side of the lodge and remained there for the rest of
the evening. An old buffalo hide was spread over the sand painting, and
the sacred basket given to Sotli was inverted with the hide over the hole
in the centre of the painted area. The hide was then doubled over the
basket, and the margin of the hide was held down by the feet of the men
sitting around it.
"The white basket was ornamented with conventional red
butterflies. The ex-patient removed her moccasins from a tight bundle and
used them as drumsticks, striking four times upon the basket drum as a
signal for the whole encampment to gather inside for the dance.
"Two notched sticks were placed upon the basket drum, a black
one on the east, a white one on the west side. The sticks were laid with
one end resting upon the drum and the other end upon the ground. A tarsal
bone of a deer was rubbed across the notches, at the sound of which the
young women began to dance.
"The women occupied the southern portion of the enclosure and
the men arranged themselves along the wall opposite them. The lodge was
brilliantly lighted by a circle of fires around the inside wall. The
women's dance was ended by repetition of the same drum signal by which it
had begun--four strokes upon the basket drum.
"When again the drum sounded, those afflicted with ailments of any
kind placed their hands upon the affected part of their bodies and made a
hand gesture of casting off the disease. When the sticks were scraped
again, the women chose partners from the men and boys and all danced
together. This became the lighter aspect of the ceremonies: serious
thoughts, the desire to propitiate the gods, and the awe inspired by the
priestess and the deity symbolized by the bear, all gave way to
lighthearted, merrymaking spirit, which by no means exhausted itself
before the sound of the drum ceased, about midnight, and the voice of one
of the old men within the lodge was heard, directing the assembly to
"Second day ceremonies resembled those of the first, except
the figures outlined upon the sand were of bears, foxes, and other
animals, with here and there a snake. The same patient was not induced
into a trance, nor was the general ceremony of casting off diseases
"The third day differed only in the character of the sand
painting. Animals differed from those of the previous days. Sotli forbade
representation of the horse or elk at any time.
"On the fourth day, the figures of two deities were drawn in
the dry painting, along with all kinds of animals. A black circle outside
the painting symbolized the ocean. The program of the evening consisted of
two groups of men, painted and dressed in the manner prescribed by the
rites in the tradition of Jicarillas.
"One party of six men were the clowns with bodies and limbs
painted with white and black horizontal rings. Ragged remnants of old
blankets served as loincloths. On necks and shoulders appeared necklaces
and festoons of bread, which had been baked in small fantastic shapes.
Four wore old buffalo-skin caps, with the skin sewed to look like buffalo
horns, projecting laterally and downward; to one horn was attached an
eagle feather, to the other a turkey feather. Two men dressed their hair
in the shape of horns.
"The other group of twelve men, painted white with oblique
black stripes extending downward from the inner corners of their eyes,
wore necklaces and an eagle feather in their hair. Bands of pine brush
were wrapped around their waists, arms, and ankles.
"As on the other evenings, the women began the dance; then
the general dance followed in which the women selected their partners from
among the men. Then the two deities entered the enclosure and marched
directly to the medicine lodge, around which four circuits were made in a
sunwise direction. The twelve then took positions on the south side of the
pathway from the gate to the lodge. Clowns ran about among the crowd. Two
men led the singing and also took the lead during the exit back through
the medicine lodge. Clowns created much amusement for everyone. The dance
continued until sunrise."
As the disc of the sun rose above the mountaintops, every
man, woman, and child present joined in the dance. The ceremony again took
on a serious nature, as the sun's rays clear and bright in that rare and
arid atmosphere lit up the valley and the whole band of Jicarilla-Apaches
marched in line out of the enclosure toward the sun.
Sotli led the way, carrying the two young pines from the ends
of the dry sand painting, along with the sacred basket containing the
meal. Each person marched past the old medicine woman, took a pinch of the
meal from the basket, and cast it upon the pine trees. The line was
re-formed, facing the lodge, then one of the older men stepped forward and
shook his blanket four times. At this signal, all shook their blankets to
frighten away diseases and then ran into the enclosure.
The ceremonies ended. Every tipi in that vicinity must be
moved at once. The invalid was cured, but Sotli warned her not to sleep on
a rope or string or the disease would return. No one should sing the
medicine songs for some time or a bear would kill the offender. Severe
illness would overtake the twelve should they forget and sleep with their
heads toward any clay vessel.
Sotli accepted food only as remuneration for her
services. Her terms were known in advance, so a considerable quantity of
provisions were laid aside for her. The only article of food that was
taboo during the four-day celebration was bread baked in ashes.
I did not see the invalid after the feast, but when I left
the reservation three weeks later, the Indian of whom I inquired all
insisted that she was then in perfect health.
This story first appeared in The Indigenous Peoples
Literature pages at