Nothing will convince some persons but that "Yankees have tails," because, in their nursery days, these persons always heard it was so. That is exactly the attitude of the world on the subject of dirty Indians.
Alexander Henry II., a fur and whiskey trader, who did his share in degrading the early Indians, and did not love them, admits of the Mandans, in 1806:
" Both men and women make it a rule to go down to the river and wash every morning and evening." ("Journal," Vol. i., P. 325).
"These people, like their neighbors, have the custom of washing, morning and evening." ("Journal," Vol. i., p. 348).
Catlin, after eight years in their lodges (1832-40) says that notwithstanding many exceptions, among the wild Indians the "strictest regard to decency and cleanliness and elegance of dress is observed, and there are few people, perhaps, who take more pains to keep their persons neat and cleanly, than they do." (Vol. 1., p. 96).
"In their bathing and ablutions at all seasons of the year, as a part of their religious observances - having separate places for men and women to perform these immersions - they resemble again [the Jews]." (Vol. II., p. 233).
J. W. Schultz, who spent his life among the Blackfeet, comments on their wonderful hardiness. During the intensest zero weather, he, himself, wore twice as much clothing as they did, and yet was suffering severely, while "They never froze, nor even shivered from the cold. They attributed their indifference to exposure, to the beneficial effect of their daily baths, which were always taken, even if a hole had to be cut in the ice for the purpose. And they forced their children to accompany them, little fellows from three years of age up, dragging the unwilling ones from ther beds, and carrying them under their arms to the icy plunge." ("My Life as an Indian," pub. 1907; p. 63).
This same experienced observer says:
" I have seen hundreds of white homes - there are numbers of them in any city - so exceedingly dirty, their inmates so slovenly, that one turns from them in absolute disgust, but I have seen nothing like that among the Blackfeet." (P. 413).
Friendly enthusiasts like Catlin may sometimes get only part of the facts, but the trained observers of the Smithsonian Institution usually have absolute and complete evidence to offer. Here is J. 0. Dorsey's paragraph on Omaha cleanliness:
"The Omahas generally bathe (hica) every day in warm weather, early in the morning and at night. Some who wish to do so, bathe also at noon. Jackson, a member of the Elkgens, bathes every day, even in winter. He breaks a hole in the ice on the Missouri River, and bathes, or else he rubs snow over his body. In winter the Omahas heat water in a kettle and wash themselves (kigcija). . . . The Ponkas used to bathe in the Missouri every day." (Dorsey, 3th Ann. Dep. Eth.; p. 269).
Every Indian village in the old days had a Turkish bath, as we call it; a "Sweat Lodge," as they say, used as a cure for inflammatory rheumatism, etc. Catlin describes this in great detail, and says:
"I allude to their vapor baths, or sudatories, of which each village has several, and which seem to be a kind of public property - accessible to all, and resorted to by all, male and female, old and young, sick and well." (Vol. I., p. 97).
The "Sweat Lodge" is usually a low lodge covered with blankets or skins. The patient goes in undressed and sits by a bucket of water. In a fire outside, a number of stones are heated by the attendants. These are rolled in, one or more at a time. The patient pours water on them. This raises a cloud of steam. The lodge becomes very hot. The individual drinks copious draughts of water. After a sufficient sweat, he raises the cover and rushes into the water, beside which, the lodge is always built. After this, he is rubbed down with buckskin, and wrapped in a robe to cool off.
This was used as a bath, as well as a religious purification.
I have seen scores of them. Clark says they were " common to all tribes," (p. 365). Every old-timer knows that they were in daily use by the Indians and scoffed at by the white settlers who, indeed, were little given to bathing of any kind.