The History of the Butterfly, Part 75: The Meskwaki Secret Society

I spent some time in a book store recently with my two sons, and ended up picking up a special “Collector’s Edition” from U.S. News and World Report called Mysteries of History:  Secret Societies.  It has stories about the Masons, religious cults, Skull & Bones, and a whole host of secret societies.

Taiomah (or Tyeema or Tama) was the head of a secret society.

To quote McKinney, 1872:

“The name of this brave, when interpreted, signifies ‘The bear whose voice makes the rocks to tremble.’  He is of the Musquakee tribe, and has always borne a good character, especially in reference to his uniform friendship and good faith towards the United States.  He is at the head of a secret society which has long existed among the Sauks and Foxes, and may be considered as a national institution.  The meetings of this body are held in a spacious lodge, erected for the purpose, the entrance to which is guarded by a sentinel, who admits none but the initiated.  They are understood to have a ceremony of initiation which is solemn and protracted, and a secret that may not be divulged without fatal consequences.  Candidates for admission are subjected to careful trial and scrutiny and none are received but such as give undoubted evidence of courage and prudence.  Women are eligible to membership; but, as those only are admitted who are exemplary for discretion, and have sustained characters wholly unblemished through life, we regret to say that the number of females who have attained this honor is very small.  They have a peculiar dress, and mode of painting, and like our free masons, from whom the institution may have been derived, exhibit themselves to the public in costume on certain great occasions.  Taiomah is also called  ‘the medicine man’, in virtue of his office as the presiding functionary of this society, by means of which he is supposed to have acquired some valuable occult knowledge.  The members are all considered as more or less expert in such information, and are called medicine men.  When a young man proposes to join this society, he applies to a member to propose and vouch for him.  The application is communicated to the head man of the order, who, in a few days, returns an answer, which is simply affirmative or negative, without any reason or explanation.  If accepted, the candidate is directed to prepare himself.  Of this preparation we have no knowledge; but we are informed that a probation of one year is imposed previous to initiation.  The society is sometimes called the Great Medicine of the Sauks and Foxes; it is said to embrace four roads or degrees—something is to be done or learned to gain the first degree; a further progress or proficiency leads to the second; and so on.  Admission is said to cost from forty to fifty dollars, and every subsequent step in the four roads is attended with some expense.  There are few who have attained to the honors of the fourth road.  These particulars have been gathered in conversation with intelligent Indians, and embrace all that is popularly known, or, rather, believed, on this curious subject.  The traders have offered large bribes for the purpose of obtaining information in regard to the mysteries of the society, but these temptations, and the promises of secrecy failed alike to lead to any disclosures.  Many of the tribes have similar institutions.”


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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