Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Southward Ho! A Spell of Sunshine >> Chapter XVII / Legend of Missouri: Or, The Captive of the Pawnee >> Page 409

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Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1854
Transcription THE AUGURY. 409
exciting fires, they danced, they sang, they ran, and sent up,
meanwhile, the most horrid howls to their demon. Filled with
a sacred fury, they rushed hither and thither, smiting them-
selves unsparingly with sharp flints, which covered their breasts
and arms with blood. Thus maddened, they divined, and the
nation hung trembling, as with a single heart, upon the awful
revelations from their lips. The scene is one for the most vivid
and intense of the melodramas. Talk of your Druid sacrifices,
as seen in your operas. They are not, for the picturesque and
terrible, to be spoken of in the same hour with those of our
aboriginal tribes.
In the case of both nations, as might be expected, the priests
divined and predicted general success. They took care, how-
ever, as is usually the case with the prophets of the superstitious,
to speak in language sufficiently vague to allow of its application
to any sort of events ; or they rested solely upon safe predic-
tions which commonly bring about their own verification. They
did not, however, content themselves with prophesying the
events of the war. They consulted as well the course of the
action to be pursued�the plans to be adopted the leaders
chosen ; and this, too, in such manner as to leave no loopholes
for evasion. Thus they encouraged their favorites, rebuked
and kept down leaders whom they feared, and kept the nation
subject wholly to their own exclusive despotism.
The response especially made by the Pawnee priesthood,
when consulting their gods with reference to the approaching
campaign, announced the victory to rest with that nation which
should first succeed in making a captive. This captive was
doomed to the torture by fire. Such a response as this, how-
ever cruel and barbarous it may seem, was yet of a highly mer-
ciful tendency, calculated. really to ameliorate the horrors of
war, and to promote the safety of human life. The effect upon
the Pawnees � a people eager and impetuous�was to restrain
their appetite for battle. Their great policy was to escape
unnecessary risks of any sort, while employing all their sub-
tlety for the possession of a native Omaha. To this the war-
riors addressed themselves with wonderful unanimity, but to
the grievous sacrifice of their chief appetites, all of which indi-
cated the fiercer conflict as their true delight.