Culture , Columns

Dancing Around the Drum

My first memory, or what I can still remember, of the In-Lon-Schka Pawhuska dances was when I was about five years old in the year 1941.

Back then the arbor was made of oak posts set vertically from the oil field with bits of oil residue still on them. The posts were wrapped to protect our dance clothes from the residue. Between the oil posts were wooden benches attached to the oil posts for the dancers to sit. On top of the oil cross were tree limbs that would hold the willow branches placed on them for shade while we rested and danced underneath them. The tree limbs and the willow branches kept the arbor cool letting the heat ventilate through them as well as openings for the summer breeze to enter.

In a five-year-old’s eyes the arbor seemed like a Roman Coliseum but compared to Pawhuska’s current arbor, and the two arbors that preceded the current one, it was small in comparison.

At that time the Head Committeeman and Drumkeeper was Leo Miles. The Whipman was Tom Halfmoon, a Delaware, and the two Tail Dancers were my Uncle Wakon Iron and Andrew Brave. It seemed there were only about 20 total dancers at that time under the arbor, not including the lady dancers which were about five or six.

There were about eight to 10 men singers, most of them Ponca. As I remember, it was around this time that the women started sitting in chairs behind the men to accompany the men singers around the drum.

Before the dance the town crier, Charley Gives Water, Ponca, would walk around Indian Camp and with his big booming voice let us know that it was time to get ready for the dance and then eventually tell us it was time to walk to the arbor because it was time to dance.

Back then there were only about five or six of us children under the age of 10 that were dancing. Those boys sat and danced beside my older brother C.R., younger brother Jim, Bits (Louis) and Doon (Paul) Stabler and Wakon Red Corn. As I remember it, Louis Stabler was the only one of our group who had danced before that day.

Our mothers, grandmothers and aunts would sit behind us. When it was time for us to dance our group would only dance back and forth in front of our families. For some reason, going around the drum was a long way to go and somewhat intimidating.

Then it was my brave older brother C.R. that broke from the little boy dancers and danced with the men dancers, cutting and weaving his way through them to eventually dance around the drum, back to where we were still dancing. After that song, we all congratulated C.R. and then when the next song started we all broke away to dance around the drum. And as we grew up from that time we all formed our own individual paths in the In-Lon-Schka, but always sitting close together.