IN September last a party of army officers, cut off for a week from mail and telegraph communication whilst passing through the wilderness between Forts McKinney and Washakie, was approaching the latter Post when late one night a courier arrived bringing dispatches and a mail. In one of the letters the death of Capt. W. P. Clark, 2d Cavalry, was mentioned. A day or two afterward the courier, who was the Post guide and interpreter at Fort Washakie, told us something which excited great curiosity and surprise. A few days ...
IN September last a party of army officers, cut off for a week from mail and telegraph communication whilst passing through the wilderness between Forts McKinney and Washakie, was approaching the latter Post when late one night a courier arrived bringing dispatches and a mail. In one of the letters the death of Capt. W. P. Clark, 2d Cavalry, was mentioned. A day or two afterward the courier, who was the Post guide and interpreter at Fort Washakie, told us something which excited great curiosity and surprise. A few days before leaving he was riding some miles from the Post when he met an Indian, who, without uttering a word, and by means of the sign language alone, told him that Capt. Clark was dead! The Indian had heard the news at the Agency, and imparted it to a man of whose language he could not speak a word. Now, that Indians, like deaf-mutes, could communicate by "signs" we all know, but here was an unexpected event occurring thousands of miles away, and yet this Indian, without using his tongue at all, was enabled to communicate it to another. The assertion was at first rather startling. Capt. Clark, although well known in person to many of the Plains Indians, could be known by his name to the very few capable of speaking English, but those who did know him must have some way of designating him, and here was the key to the whole mystery. Indians designate each other by some attribute of the person, or by some incident in the life of the person referred to (see page 266). Capt. Clark, whilst serving with Indian scouts, wore a white felt hat, and hence was known as " the chief with the white hat." His proficiency in the sign language was such as to make him a marked man amongst them, and hence it was easy for an Indian to designate him as " the chief of the white hat who talked so well with his hands." Of course, if the man spoken to had not known of Capt. Clark, he could not have guessed who was alluded to, nor indeed could you or I know who was alluded to when Washington's name was mentioned if we had never before heard of him. All can understand how the person once being designated, it was an easy matter for the Indian to state by signs that he had gone to sleep, died, or "gone under." (See page 150.) The distinguished officer, whose death was in this way spread amongst the people who held him in high regard, left behind him a lasting monument of his skill, industry, and untiring energy. His book on the "sign language" exhibits not only these qualities, but deep and careful research. Every language must have its dictionary, but this one of Capt. Clark's gives, not only what we may call the " pronunciation " of words by the hands, but the meaning and derivation of the signs used, as well as descriptions of most of the interesting ceremonies, customs, and habits of Indians; and these not only make his "dictionary" exceedingly interesting reading to the general student, but must add very much to the popular information regarding a race not well understood, even in this country, and now rapidly disappearing before the advance of civilization. The quickness with which the Indian picks up and adopts " signs " for persons and things, novel to them, is remarkable. The distinguishing peculiarity of a person will be hit upon instantly, and even a white man will at once recognize the sign used to designate an individual.... One who, like Capt. Clark, was quick to note, understand, and use these designations, would at once become a marked man amongst Indians, and having extensive communication with them, he soon established for himself a great reputation and influence. His untimely death was a great loss not only to them, but to the military service in which he had already distinguished himself. -"Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States," Volume 6
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