Nothing seems to anger the educated Indian, to-day, more than the oft-repeated absurdity that his race was of a gloomy, silent nature. Any one that has ever been in an Indian village knows what a scene of joy and good cheer it normally was. In every such gathering there was always at least one recognized fun-maker, who led them all in joke and hilarious jest. Their songs, their speeches, their fairytales are full of fun and dry satire. The reports of the Ethnological Bureau sufficiently set forth these facts.
Eastman, the Sioux, says on this subject:
"There is scarcely anything so exasperating to me as the idea that the natives of this country have no sense of humor and no faculty for mirth. This phase of their character is well understood by those whose fortune or misfortune it has been to live among them, day in and day out, at their homes. I don't believe I ever heard a real hearty laugh away from the Indians' fireside. I have often spent an entire evening in laughter with them, until I could laugh no more. There are evenings when the recognized wit or story-teller of the village gives a free entertainment which keeps the rest of the community in a convulsive state until he leaves them. However, Indian humor consists as much in the gestures and inflections of the voice, as in words, and is really untranslatable." ("Indian Boyhood," p, 267).
And, again, Grinnell:
"The common belief that the Indian is stoical, stolid, and sullen, is altogether erroneous. They are really a merry people, good-natured and jocular, usually ready to laugh at an amusing incident or a joke, with a simple mirth that reminds one of children." (" Ind. To-day," p. 9).
There is, however, an explanation of our widespread misconception. Many a time in Indian camp or village, I have approached some noisy group of children or hilarious ring of those more grown. My purpose was wholly sympathetic, but my presence acted as a wet-blanket. The children were hushed or went away. I saw shy faces, furtive glances, or looks of distrust. They hate us; they do not want us near. Our presence is an evil influence in their joy. Can we wonder?