Dahcotah means a confederacy. A number of bands live near each other on terms of friendship, their customs and laws being the same. They mean by the word Dahcotah what we mean by the confederacy of states in our union. The tribe is divided into a number of bands, which are subdivided into villages; every village being governed by its own chief. The honor of being chief is hereditary, though for cause a chief may be deposed and another substituted; and the influence the chief possesses depends much more upon his talents and capacity to govern, than upon mere hereditary descent. To every village there is also a war-chief, and as to these are ascribed supernatural powers, their influence is unbounded. Leading every military excursion, the war-chief’s command is absolute with his party.
There are many clans among the Sioux, and these are distinguished from each other by the different kinds of medicine they use. Each clan takes a root for its medicine, known only to those initiated into the mysteries of the clan. The name of this root must be kept a secret. Many of these roots are entirely destitute of medicinal power. The clans are governed by a sort of free-masonry system. A Dahcotah would die rather than divulge the secret of his clan. The clans keep up almost a perpetual warfare with each other. Each one supposes the other to be possessed of supernatural powers, by which they can, cause the death of any individual, though he may live at a great distance. This belief is the cause of a great deal of bloodshed. When a Dahcotah dies, it is attributed to some one of another clan, and revenge is sought by the relatives of the deceased. All their supposed supernatural powers are invoked to destroy the murderer. They first try the powers of their sacred medicine, imagining they can cast a fatal spell on the offender; if this fail, they have recourse to more destructive weapons, and the axe, knife or gun may be fatally used. After the supposed murderer is killed, his relations retaliate, and thus successive feuds become perpetual.
The Dahcotahs, though a reckless, are a generous people, usually kind and affectionate to their aged, though instances to the contrary frequently occur. Among the E-yanktons, there was a man so feeble and decrepit from age as to be totally unable to take care of himself; not being able to walk, he occasioned great trouble. When the band went out hunting, he entreated the young men to drag him along, that he might not fall a prey to the Chippeways, or to a fate equally dreaded, cold and starvation. For a time they seemed to pity him, and there were always those among the hunting party who were willing to render him assistance. At last he fell to the charge of some young men, who, wearied with carrying him from place to place, told him they would leave him, but he need not die a lingering death. They gave him a gun, and placed him on the ground to be shot at, telling him to try and kill