My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Medicine Man’s Lament

This interview was written in 1965 and published as a feature article in the August 15, 1965 issue of The Missoulian. The editor's note stated: "Plassie Incashola is one of the few remaining Indian medicine men. The following account is largely his own story as recorded by Mildred Chaffin of Seeley Lake with the aid of Harriett Whitworth, who served as interpreter."


Faith and two songs, acquired during a lonely night in the forest, have carried Plassie Incashola through most of his seventy-eight years.

Plassie is one of the vanishing Indian medicine men.

He and his little wife live on the outskirts of St. Ignatius, not many miles from where both were born, near the Flathead, or "Big" river in the Dixon area, seventy-eight years ago. Their declining years find them a little lonely. Although they reared most of their grandchildren, all are gone, save one. They cannot visit between themselves for Agnes, his wife, cannot hear what he is saying.

Plassie himself is not well. He must take pills for his heart, and suffers much discomfort from his stomach.

Like the white doctors, the Indian medicine men specialize. Plassie's method of healing is spiritual. His powers were inculcated when he was "just so high," possibly eight to ten years old. Like any small boy of today Plassie had a pet, which he loved—a little dog that died, leaving its master broken-hearted. Plassie cried alone at night, and finally went to the place near the river where he had left his little dead pet.

As he drew near he became frightened at strange singing. He smothered his fears and looked down a high bank to the water to find that the strange sounds came from his own little dog.

The dog told Plassie that he was an exceptionally smart boy and if he could will the dog up the steep bank and back to earth he would always have wonderful powers of healing, that he would even be able to cure a disease after one day of death.

But, although Plassie tried and tried, the little dog would rise and fall back—rise again and fall back. This, and some other tests, Plassie failed to pass, so he was endowed with only partial powers. But the dog told him never to be without a pinto pony and to this day he has never disobeyed.

One day, Plassie and his mother were picking huckleberries in the hills between Missoula and Lolo, and, according to the custom of the tribe for procuring medicine men, Plassie was left to find his way home alone, or with the guidance of some creature of nature.

Upon discovering that his mother had left him he became afraid. Night came on, and crying, he crawled into a rotted, hollow log. The howl of the coyote and the hoot of the owl were fearsome noises to the small boy and these were the first sounds he heard. He lay cramped in the log all night and after a while he grew quiet, listening. A song had come to him from out of nowhere and somehow he knew it was to be his medicine song.

Soon there came another and it was to aid him in gambling. He has kept them in his mind and uses them still. No one could doubt his faith as he chants them; one for his medicine ritual, the other when he takes part in the Indian stick games.

At about seventeen to eighteen, (years) Plassie himself suffered terrific headaches and would go out of his head with pain. Someone referred him to a medicine man named Big Knife, who held a medicine dance for him. People came from far and near. Plassie took the treatments and was cured and that was when he began seriously to believe in medicine men.

Plassie has visions, and when someone is ill he knows about it several days before they come for his help. He hesitates to doctor people, but will when necessary. He once cured a girl who was bitten by a poison spider, and a dog that had been bitten by a rattlesnake. He has had no call to treat a human for snake bite.

Always, as now, there have been unbelievers. Plassie was once given to know that a friend was going to have a terrible illness. He tried to persuade the man to go into the sweathouse with him but the man only laughed. In a few days the man was paralyzed, losing the use of his legs.

Plassie attended the first school at Arlee, which was operated by the Sisters of Charity, near the old agency. At the time there was a camp near St. Ignatius, segregated and under the care of a white doctor, for smallpox. Plassie's aunt told him to stay at the school and he escaped the dread disease.

He remembers other Indian children, now grown old, who were there also, and recalls the first powwow at Arlee, in 1902.

His grandmother tried to teach him to observe the signs, such as: an orange sun denotes a windy day—and long ago, when the tribes were wont to fight, riffly clouds tinged with red, were an ominous sign of blood.

But, like the young people of today he showed little interest. Now, he wishes he had paid more attention.

Plassie was baptized in 1887, and married in 1908. He had always kept a wooden whistle decorated with rattler buttons, which depicted the song of the wild goose, blowing it in the spring and fall as part of his medicine rituals.

A white woman kept insisting that he sell it, and one time in a moment of weakness and thinking to cure her of pestering him, he told her she could have it for $15. To his surprise the woman laid the money down and he regretfully let the token go. The whistle was an important part of his powers of healing and he now believes that parting from it was the beginning of his ill health.

A wonderful old couple, the Incasholas. Generations of faith, sadness, and resignation—all are evident in Plassie's intelligent face. A smile transfigures the features of his wife, making one think of a little Indian doll.

After hearing Plassie's story one could not help a feeling of regret at the passing of the Indian medicine men.