Blackfoot Lodge Tales
George Bird Grinnell
Part 3 out of 6
his body, and the man fell down in the water and died. Api-k[)u]nni caught
the body, and dived under the water with it, and came up on the other side
where he had left his friend. Then all the Blackfeet set up the war whoop,
for they were glad, and they could hear a great crying in the camp. The
people there were sorry for the man who was killed.
People in those days never killed one another, and this was the first man
ever killed in war.
They dragged the man up on the bank, and Api-k[)u]nni said to his brother,
"Cut off those long hairs on the head." The young man did as he was
told. He scalped him and counted _coup_ on him; and from that time forth,
people, when they went to war, killed one another and scalped the dead
enemy, as this poor young man had done. Two others of the main party came
to the place, and counted _coup_ on the dead body, making four who had
counted _coup_. From there, the whole party turned about and went back to
the village whence they had come.
When they came in sight of the lodges, they sat down in a row facing the
camp. The man who had killed the enemy was sitting far in front of the
others. Behind him sat his friend, and behind Wolf Tail, sat the two who
had counted _coup_ on the body. So these four were strung out in front of
the others. The chief of the camp was told that some people were sitting on
a hill near by, and when he had gone out and looked, he said: "There is
some one sitting way in front. Let somebody go out and see about it." A
young man ran out to where he could see, and when he had looked, he ran
back and said to the chief, "Why, that man in front is the poor young man."
The old chief looked around, and said: "Where is that young woman, my wife?
Go and find her." They went to look for her, and found her out gathering
rosebuds, for while the young man whom she loved was away, she used to go
out and gather rosebuds and dry them for him. When they found her, she had
her bosom full of them. When she came to the lodge, the chief said to her:
"There is the man you love, who has come. Go and meet him." She made ready
quickly and ran out and met him. He said: "Give her that hair of the dead
man. Here is his knife. There is the coat he had on, when I killed
him. Take these things back to the camp, and tell the people who made fun
of you that this is what you promised them at the time of that dance."
The whole party then got up and walked to the camp. The woman took the
scalp, knife and coat to the lodge, and gave them to her husband. The chief
invited Api-kunni to come to his lodge to visit him. He said: "I see that
you have been to war, and that you have done more than any of us have ever
done. This is a reason why you should be a chief. Now take my lodge and
this woman, and live here. Take my place and rule these people. My two
wives will be your servants." When Api-kunni heard this, and saw the young
woman sitting there in the lodge, he could not speak. Something seemed to
rise up in his throat and choke him.
So this young man lived in the camp and was known as their chief.
After a time, he called his people together in council and told them of the
strange things the beaver had taught him, and the power that the beaver had
given him. He said: "This will be a benefit to us while we are a people
now, and afterward it will be handed down to our children, and if we follow
the words of the beaver we will be lucky. This seed the beaver gave me, and
told me to plant it every year. When we ask help from the beaver, we will
smoke this plant."
This plant was the Indian tobacco, and it is from the beaver that the
Blackfeet got it. Many strange things were taught this man by the beaver,
which were handed down and are followed till to-day.
THE BUFFALO ROCK
A small stone, which is usually a fossil shell of some kind, is known by
the Blackfeet as I-nis'-kim, the buffalo stone. This object is strong
medicine, and, as indicated in some of these stories, gives its possessor
great power with buffalo. The stone is found on the prairie, and the
person who succeeds in obtaining one is regarded as very fortunate.
Sometimes a man, who is riding along on the prairie, will hear a peculiar
faint chirp, such as a little bird might utter. The sound he knows is made
by a buffalo rock. He stops and searches on the ground for the rock, and if
he cannot find it, marks the place and very likely returns next day, either
alone or with others from the camp, to look for it again. If it is found,
there is great rejoicing. How the first buffalo rock was obtained, and its
power made known, is told in the following story.
Long ago, in the winter time, the buffalo suddenly disappeared. The snow
was so deep that the people could not move in search of them, for in those
days they had no horses. So the hunters killed deer, elk, and other small
game along the river bottoms, and when these were all killed off or driven
away, the people began to starve.
One day, a young married man killed a jack-rabbit. He was so hungry that he
ran home as fast as he could, and told one of his wives to hurry and get
some water to cook it. While the young woman was going along the path to
the river, she heard a beautiful song. It sounded close by, but she looked
all around and could see no one. The song seemed to come from a cotton-wood
tree near the path. Looking closely at this tree she saw a queer rock
jammed in a fork, where the tree was split, and with it a few hairs from a
buffalo, which had rubbed there. The woman was frightened and dared not
pass the tree. Pretty soon the singing stopped, and the I-nis'-kim [buffalo
rock] spoke to the woman and said: "Take me to your lodge, and when it is
dark, call in the people and teach them the song you have just heard. Pray,
too, that you may not starve, and that the buffalo may come back. Do this,
and when day comes, your hearts will be glad."
The woman went on and got some water, and when she came back, took the rock
and gave it to her husband, telling him about the song and what the rock
had said. As soon as it was dark, the man called the chiefs and old men to
his lodge, and his wife taught them this song. They prayed, too, as the
rock had said should be done. Before long, they heard a noise far off. It
was the tramp of a great herd of buffalo coming. Then they knew that the
rock was very powerful, and, ever since that, the people have taken care of
it and prayed to it.
[NOTE.--I-nis'-kims are usually small _Ammonites_, or sections of
_Baculites,_ or sometimes merely oddly shaped nodules of flint. It is said
of them that if an I-nis'-kim is wrapped up and left undisturbed for a long
time, it will have young ones; two small stones similar in shape to the
original one will be found in the package with it.]
ORIGIN OF THE WORM PIPE
There was once a man who was very fond of his wife. After they had been
married for some time they had a child, a boy. After that, the woman got
sick, and did not get well. The young man did not wish to take a second
woman. He loved his wife so much. The woman grew worse and
worse. Doctoring did not seem to do her any good. At last she died. The man
used to take his baby on his back and travel out, walking over the hills
crying. He kept away from the camp. After some time, he said to the little
child: "My little boy, you will have to go and live with your
grandmother. I am going to try and find your mother, and bring her back."
He took the baby to his mother's lodge, and asked her to take care of it,
and left it with her. Then he started off, not knowing where he was going
nor what he was going to do.
He travelled toward the Sand Hills. The fourth night out he had a dream. He
dreamed that he went into a little lodge, in which lived an old woman. This
old woman said to him, "Why are you here, my son?" He said: "I am mourning
day and night, crying all the while. My little son, who is the only one
left me, also mourns." "Well," said the old woman, "for whom are you
mourning?" He said: "I am mourning for my wife. She died some time ago. I
am looking for her." "Oh!" said the old woman, "I saw her. She passed this
way. I myself am not powerful medicine, but over by that far butte lives
another old woman. Go to her, and she will give you power to enable you to
continue your journey. You could not go there by yourself without
help. Beyond the next butte from her lodge, you will find the camp of the
The next morning he awoke and went on to the next butte. It took him a long
day to get there, but he found no lodge there, so he lay down and went to
sleep. Again he dreamed. In his dream, he saw a little lodge, and an old
woman came to the door-way and called him. He went in, and she said to him:
"My son, you are very poor. I know why you have come this way. You are
seeking your wife, who is now in the ghost country. It is a very hard thing
for you to get there. You may not be able to get your wife back, but I have
great power, and I will do all I can for you. If you do exactly as I tell
you, you may succeed." She then spoke to him with wise words, telling him
what he should do. Also she gave him a bundle of medicine, which would help
him on his journey.
Then she said: "You stay here for a while, and I will go over there [to the
ghosts' camp], and try to bring some of your relations; and if I am able to
bring them back, you may return with them, but on the way you must shut
your eyes. If you should open them and look about you, you would die. Then
you would never come back. When you get to the camp, you will pass by a big
lodge, and they will say to you, 'Where are you going, and who told you to
come here?' You will reply, 'My grandmother, who is standing out here with
me, told me to come.' They will try to scare you. They will make fearful
noises, and you will see strange and terrible things; but do not be
Then the old woman went away, and after a time came back with one of the
man's relations. He went with this relation to the ghosts' camp. When they
came to the big lodge, some one called out and asked the man what he was
doing, and he answered as the old woman had told him to do. As he passed on
through the camp, the ghosts tried to scare him with all kinds of fearful
sights and sounds, but he kept up a brave heart.
He came to another lodge, and the man who owned it came out, and asked him
where he was going. He said: "I am looking for my dead wife, I mourn for
her so much that I cannot rest. My little boy, too, keeps crying for his
mother. They have offered to give me other wives, but I do not want them. I
want the one for whom I am searching."
The ghost said to him: "It is a fearful thing that you have come here. It
is very likely that you will never go away. There never was a person here
before." The ghost asked him to come into the lodge, and he went.
Now this chief ghost said to him: "You will stay here four nights, and you
will see your wife; but you must be very careful or you will never go
back. You will die right here."
Then the chief went outside and called out for a feast, inviting this man's
father-in-law and other relations, who were in the camp, saying, "Your
son-in-law invites you to a feast," as if to say that their son-in-law was
dead, and had become a ghost, and had arrived at the ghost camp.
Now when these invited people, the relations and some of the principal men
of the camp, had reached the lodge, they did not like to go in. They called
out, "There is a person here." It seems as if there was something about him
that they could not bear the smell of. The ghost chief burned sweet pine in
the fire, which took away this smell, and the people came in and sat
down. Then the host said to them: "Now pity this son-in-law of yours. He is
seeking his wife. Neither the great distance nor the fearful sights that he
has seen here have weakened his heart. You can see for yourselves he is
tender-hearted. He not only mourns for his wife, but mourns because his
little boy is now alone with no mother; so pity him and give him back his
wife." The ghosts consulted among themselves, and one said to the person,
"Yes, you will stay here four nights; then we will give you a medicine
pipe, the Worm Pipe, and we will give you back your wife, and you may
return to your home."
Now, after the third night, the chief ghost called together all the people,
and they came, the man's wife with them. One of them came beating a drum;
and following him was another ghost, who carried the Worm Pipe, which they
gave to him. Then said the chief ghost: "Now, be very careful. Tomorrow
you and your wife will start on your homeward journey. Your wife will carry
the medicine pipe, and some of your relations are going along with you for
four days. During this time, you must not open your eyes, or you will
return here and be a ghost forever. You see that your wife is not now a
person; but in the middle of the fourth day you will be told to look, and
when you have opened your eyes, you will see that your wife has become a
person, and that your ghost relations have disappeared."
His father-in-law spoke to him before he went away, and said: "When you get
near home, you must not go at once into the camp. Let some of your
relations know that you have arrived, and ask them to build a sweat house
for you. Go into this sweat house and wash your body thoroughly, leaving
no part of it, however small, uncleansed; for if you do you will be nothing
[will die]. There is something about us ghosts difficult to remove. It is
only by a thorough sweat that you can remove it. Take care, now, that you
do as I tell you. Do not whip your wife, nor strike her with a knife, nor
hit her with fire; for if you do, she will vanish before your eyes and
return to the Sand Hills."
Now they left the ghost country to go home, and on the fourth day, the wife
said to her husband, "Open your eyes." He looked about him and saw that
those who had been with them had vanished, but he found that they
were standing in front of the old woman's lodge by the butte. She came out
and said: "Here, give me back those mysterious medicines of mine, which
enabled you to accomplish your purpose." He returned them to her, and
became then fully a person once more.
Now, when they drew near to the camp, the woman went on ahead, and sat down
on a butte. Then some curious persons came out to see who it might be. As
they approached, the woman called out to them: "Do not come any nearer. Go
tell my mother and my relations to put up a lodge for us, a little way from
camp, and to build a sweat house near by it." When this had been done, the
man and his wife went in and took a thorough sweat, and then they went into
the lodge, and burned sweet grass and purified their clothing and the Worm
Pipe; and then their relations and friends came in to see them. The man
told them where he had been, and how he had managed to get back his wife,
and that the pipe hanging over the door-way was a medicine pipe, the Worm
Pipe, presented to him by his ghost father-in-law. That is how the people
came to possess the Worm Pipe. This pipe belongs to that band of the
Piegans known as _Esk'-sin-i-tup'piks,_ the Worm People.
Not long after this, in the night, this man told his wife to do something;
and when she did not begin at once, he picked up a brand from the fire, not
that he intended to strike her with it, but he made as if he would hit her,
when all at once she vanished, and was never seen again.
THE GHOSTS' BUFFALO
A long time ago there were four Blackfeet, who went to war against the
Crees. They travelled a long way, and at last their horses gave out, and
they started back toward their homes. As they were going along they came to
the Sand Hills; and while they were passing through them, they saw in the
sand a fresh travois trail, where people had been travelling.
One of the men said: "Let us follow this trail until we come up with some
of our people. Then we will camp with them." They followed the trail for a
long way, and at length one of the Blackfeet, named E-k[=u]s'-kini,--a very
powerful person,--said to the others: "Why follow this longer? It is just
nothing." The others said: "Not so. These are our people. We will go on
and camp with them." They went on, and toward evening, one of them found a
stone maul and a dog travois. He said: "Look at these things. I know this
maul and this travois. They belonged to my mother, who died. They were
buried with her. This is strange." He took the things. When night overtook
the men, they camped.
Early in the morning, they heard, all about them, sounds as if a camp of
people were there. They heard a young man shouting a sort of war cry, as
young men do; women chopping wood; a man calling for a feast, asking people
to come to his lodge and smoke,--all the different sounds of the camp. They
looked about, but could see nothing; and then they were frightened and
covered their heads with their robes. At last they took courage, and started
to look around and see what they could learn about this strange thing. For
a little while they saw nothing, but pretty soon one of them said: "Look
over there. See that pis'kun. Let us go over and look at it." As they were
going toward it, one of them picked up a stone pointed arrow. He said:
"Look at this. It belonged to my father. This is his place." They started
to go on toward the pis'kun, but suddenly they could see no pis'kun. It had
disappeared all at once.
A little while after this, one of them spoke up, and said: "Look over
there. There is my father running buffalo. There! he has killed. Let us go
over to him." They all looked where this man pointed, and they could see a
person on a white horse, running buffalo. While they were looking, the
person killed the buffalo, and got off his horse to butcher it. They
started to go over toward him, and saw him at work butchering, and saw him
turn the buffalo over on its back; but before they got to the place where
he was, the person got on his horse and rode off, and when they got to
where he had been skinning the buffalo, they saw lying on the ground only a
dead mouse. There was no buffalo there. By the side of the mouse was a
buffalo chip, and lying on it was an arrow painted red. The man said: "That
is my father's arrow. That is the way he painted them." He took it up in
his hands; and when he held it in his hands, he saw that it was not an
arrow but a blade of spear grass. Then he laid it down, and it was an arrow
Another Blackfoot found a buffalo rock, I-nis'-kim.
Some time after this, the men got home to their camp. The man who had
taken the maul and the dog travois, when he got home and smelled the smoke
from the fire, died, and so did his horse. It seems that the shadow of the
person who owned the things was angry at him and followed him home. Two
others of these Blackfeet have since died, killed in war; but
E-k[=u]s'-kini is alive yet. He took a stone and an iron arrow point that
had belonged to his father, and always carried them about with him. That is
why he has lived so long. The man who took the stone arrow point found
near the pis'kun, which had belonged to his father, took it home with
him. This was his medicine. After that he was badly wounded in two fights,
but he was not killed; he got well.
The one who took the buffalo rock, I-nis'-kim, it afterward made strong to
call the buffalo into the pis'kun. He would take the rock and put it in his
lodge close to the fire, where he could look at it, and would pray over it
and make medicine. Sometimes he would ask for a hundred buffalo to jump
into the pis'kun, and the next day a hundred would jump in. He was
STORIES OF OLD MAN
THE BLACKFOOT GENESIS
All animals of the Plains at one time heard and knew him, and all birds of
the air heard and knew him. All things that he had made understood him,
when he spoke to them,--the birds, the animals, and the people.
Old Man was travelling about, south of here, making the people. He came
from the south, travelling north, making animals and birds as he passed
along. He made the mountains, prairies, timber, and brush first. So he went
along, travelling northward, making things as he went, putting rivers here
and there, and falls on them, putting red paint here and there in the
ground,--fixing up the world as we see it to-day. He made the Milk River
(the Teton) and crossed it, and, being tired, went up on a little hill and
lay down to rest. As he lay on his back, stretched out on the ground, with
arms extended, he marked himself out with stones,--the shape of his body,
head, legs, arms, and everything. There you can see those rocks
to-day. After he had rested, he went on northward, and stumbled over a
knoll and fell down on his knees. Then he said, "You are a bad thing to be
stumbling against"; so he raised up two large buttes there, and named them
the Knees, and they are called so to this day. He went on further north,
and with some of the rocks he carried with him he built the Sweet Grass
Old Man covered the plains with grass for the animals to feed on. He marked
off a piece of ground, and in it he made to grow all kinds of roots and
berries,--camas, wild carrots, wild turnips, sweet-root, bitter-root,
sarvis berries, bull berries, cherries, plums, and rosebuds. He put trees
in the ground. He put all kinds of animals on the ground. When he made the
bighorn with its big head and horns, he made it out on the prairie. It did
not seem to travel easily on the prairie; it was awkward and could not go
fast. So he took it by one of its horns, and led it up into the mountains,
and turned it loose; and it skipped about among the rocks, and went up
fearful places with ease. So he said, "This is the place that suits you;
this is what you are fitted for, the rocks and the mountains." While he was
in the mountains, he made the antelope out of dirt, and turned it loose, to
see how it would go. It ran so fast that it fell over some rocks and hurt
itself. He saw that this would not do, and took the antelope down on the
prairie, and turned it loose; and it ran away fast and gracefully, and he
said, "This is what you are suited to."
One day Old Man determined that he would make a woman and a child; so he
formed them both--the woman and the child, her son--of clay. After he had
moulded the clay in human shape, he said to the clay, "You must be people,"
and then he covered it up and left it, and went away. The next morning he
went to the place and took the covering off, and saw that the clay shapes
had changed a little. The second morning there was still more change, and
the third still more. The fourth morning he went to the place, took the
covering off, looked at the images, and told them to rise and walk; and
they did so. They walked down to the river with their Maker, and then he
told them that his name was _Na'pi,_ Old Man.
As they were standing by the river, the woman said to him, "How is it? will
we always live, will there be no end to it?" He said: "I have never thought
of that. We will have to decide it. I will take this buffalo chip and throw
it in the river. If it floats, when people die, in four days they will
become alive again; they will die for only four days. But if it sinks,
there will be an end to them." He threw the chip into the river, and it
floated. The woman turned and picked up a stone, and said: "No, I will
throw this stone in the river; if it floats we will always live, if it
sinks people must die, that they may always be sorry for each other."
The woman threw the stone into the water, and it sank. "There," said Old
Man, "you have chosen. There will be an end to them."
[Footnote 1: That is, that their friends who survive may always remember
It was not many nights after, that the woman's child died, and she cried a
great deal for it. She said to Old Man: "Let us change this. The law that
you first made, let that be a law." He said: "Not so. What is made law must
be law. We will undo nothing that we have done. The child is dead, but it
cannot be changed. People will have to die."
That is how we came to be people. It is he who made us.
The first people were poor and naked, and did not know how to get a
living. Old Man showed them the roots and berries, and told them that they
could eat them; that in a certain month of the year they could peel the
bark off some trees and eat it, that it was good. He told the people that
the animals should be their food, and gave them to the people, saying,
"These are your herds." He said: "All these little animals that live in the
ground--rats, squirrels, skunks, beavers--are good to eat. You need not
fear to eat of their flesh." He made all the birds that fly, and told the
people that there was no harm in their flesh, that it could be eaten. The
first people that he created he used to take about through the timber and
swamps and over the prairies, and show them the different plants. Of a
certain plant he would say, "The root of this plant, if gathered in a
certain month of the year, is good for a certain sickness." So they
learned the power of all herbs. In those days there were buffalo. Now the
people had no arms, but those black animals with long beards were armed;
and once, as the people were moving about, the buffalo saw them, and ran
after them, and hooked them, and killed and ate them. One day, as the Maker
of the people was travelling over the country, he saw some of his children,
that he had made, lying dead, torn to pieces and partly eaten by the
buffalo. When he saw this he was very sad. He said: "This will not do. I
will change this. The people shall eat the buffalo."
He went to some of the people who were left, and said to them, "How is it
that you people do nothing to these animals that are killing you?" The
people said: "What can we do? We have no way to kill these animals, while
they are armed and can kill us." Then said the Maker: "That is not hard. I
will make you a weapon that will kill these animals." So he went out, and
cut some sarvis berry shoots, and brought them in, and peeled the bark off
them. He took a larger piece of wood, and flattened it, and tied a string
to it, and made a bow. Now, as he was the master of all birds and could do
with them as he wished, he went out and caught one, and took feathers from
its wing, and split them, and tied them to the shaft of wood. He tied four
feathers along the shaft, and tried the arrow at a mark, and found that it
did not fly well. He took these feathers off, and put on three; and when he
tried it again, he found that it was good. He went out and began to break
sharp pieces off the stones. He tried them, and found that the black flint
stones made the best arrow points, and some white flints. Then he taught
the people how to use these things.
Then he said: "The next time you go out, take these things with you, and
use them as I tell you, and do not run from these animals. When they run at
you, as soon as they get pretty close, shoot the arrows at them, as I have
taught you; and you will see that they will run from you or will run in a
circle around you."
Now, as people became plenty, one day three men went out on to the plain to
see the buffalo, but they had no arms. They saw the animals, but when the
buffalo saw the men, they ran after them and killed two of them, but one
got away. One day after this, the people went on a little hill to look
about, and the buffalo saw them, and said, "_Saiyah_, there is some more of
our food," and they rushed on them. This time the people did not run. They
began to shoot at the buffalo with the bows and arrows _Na'pi_ had given
them, and the buffalo began to fall; but in the fight a person was killed.
At this time these people had flint knives given them, and they cut up the
bodies of the dead buffalo. It is not healthful to eat the meat raw, so Old
Man gathered soft dry rotten driftwood and made punk of it, and then got a
piece of hard wood, and drilled a hole in it with an arrow point, and gave
them a pointed piece of hard wood, and taught them how to make a fire with
fire sticks, and to cook the flesh of these animals and eat it.
They got a kind of stone that was in the land, and then took another harder
stone and worked one upon the other, and hollowed out the softer one, and
made a kettle of it. This was the fashion of their dishes.
Also Old Man said to the people: "Now, if you are overcome, you may go and
sleep, and get power. Something will come to you in your dream, that will
help you. Whatever these animals tell you to do, you must obey them, as
they appear to you in your sleep. Be guided by them. If anybody wants help,
if you are alone and travelling, and cry aloud for help, your prayer will
be answered. It may be by the eagles, perhaps by the buffalo, or by the
bears. Whatever animal answers your prayer, you must listen to him." That
was how the first people got through the world, by the power of their
After this, Old Man kept on, travelling north. Many of the animals that he
had made followed him as he went. The animals understood him when he spoke
to them, and he used them as his servants. When he got to the north point
of the Porcupine Mountains, there he made some more mud images of people,
and blew breath upon them, and they became people. He made men and women.
They asked him, "What are we to eat?" He made many images of clay, in the
form of buffalo. Then he blew breath on these, and they stood up; and when
he made signs to them, they started to run. Then he said to the people,
"Those are your food." They said to him, "Well, now, we have those animals;
how are we to kill them?" "I will show you," he said. He took them to the
cliff, and made them build rock piles like this; and he made the people
hide behind these piles of rock, and said, "When I lead the buffalo this
way, as I bring them opposite to you, rise up."
After he had told them how to act, he started on toward a herd of
buffalo. He began to call them, and the buffalo started to run toward him,
and they followed him until they were inside the lines. Then he dropped
back; and as the people rose up, the buffalo ran in a straight line and
jumped over the cliff. He told the people to go and take the flesh of those
animals. They tried to tear the limbs apart, but they could not. They tried
to bite pieces out, and could not. So Old Man went to the edge of the
cliff, and broke some pieces of stone with sharp edges, and told them to
cut the flesh with these. When they had taken the skins from these animals,
they set up some poles and put the hides on them, and so made a shelter to
sleep under. There were some of these buffalo that went over the cliff that
were not dead. Their legs were broken, but they were still alive. The
people cut strips of green hide, and tied stones in the middle, and made
large mauls, and broke in the skulls of the buffalo, and killed them.
After he had taught those people these things, he started off again,
travelling north, until he came to where Bow and Elbow rivers meet. There
he made some more people, and taught them the same things. From here he
again went on northward. When he had come nearly to the Red Deer's River,
he reached the hill where the Old Man sleeps. There he lay down and rested
himself. The form of his body is to be seen there yet.
When he awoke from his sleep, he travelled further northward and came to a
fine high hill. He climbed to the top of it, and there sat down to rest. He
looked over the country below him, and it pleased him. Before him the hill
was steep, and he said to himself, "Well, this is a fine place for sliding;
I will have some fun," and he began to slide down the hill. The marks where
he slid down are to be seen yet, and the place is known to all people as
the "Old Man's Sliding Ground."
This is as far as the Blackfeet followed Old Man. The Crees know what he
did further north.
In later times once, _Na'pi_ said, "Here I will mark you off a piece of
ground," and he did so. Then he said: "There is your land, and it is
full of all kinds of animals, and many things grow in this land. Let no
other people come into it. This is for you five tribes (Blackfeet, Bloods,
Piegans, Gros Ventres, Sarcees). When people come to cross the line, take
your bows and arrows, your lances and your battle axes, and give them battle
and keep them out. If they gain a footing, trouble will come to you."
[Footnote 1: The boundaries of this land are given as running east from a
point in the summit of the Rocky Mountains west of Fort Edmonton, taking in
the country to the east and south, including the Porcupine Hills, Cypress
Mountains, and Little Rocky Mountains, down to the mouth of the Yellowstone
on the Missouri; then west to the head of the Yellowstone, and across the
Rocky Mountains to the Beaverhead; thence to the summit of the Rocky
Mountains and north along them to the starting-point.]
Our forefathers gave battle to all people who came to cross these lines,
and kept them out. Of late years we have let our friends, the white people,
come in, and you know the result. We, his children, have failed to obey his
THE DOG AND THE STICK
This happened long ago. In those days the people were hungry. No buffalo
nor antelope were seen on the prairie. The deer and the elk trails were
covered with grass and leaves; not even a rabbit could be found in the
brush. Then the people prayed, saying: "Oh, Old Man, help us now, or we
shall die. The buffalo and deer are gone. Uselessly we kindle the morning
fires; useless are our arrows; our knives stick fast in the sheaths."
Then Old Man started out to find the game, and he took with him a young
man, the son of a chief. For many days they travelled the prairies and ate
nothing but berries and roots. One day they climbed a high ridge, and when
they had reached the top, they saw, far off by a stream, a single lodge.
"What kind of a person can it be," said the young man, "who camps there all
alone, far from friends?"
"That," said Old Man, "is the one who has hidden all the buffalo and deer
from the people. He has a wife and a little son."
Then they went close to the lodge, and Old Man changed himself into a
little dog, and he said, "That is I." Then the young man changed himself
into a root-digger, and he said, "That is I."
[Footnote 1: A carved and painted stick about three feet long, shaped like
a sacking needle, used by women to unearth roots.]
Now the little boy, playing about, found the dog, and he carried it to his
father, saying, "Look! See what a pretty little dog I have found." "Throw
it away," said his father; "it is not a dog." And the little boy cried, but
his father made him carry the dog away. Then the boy found the root-digger;
and, again picking up the dog, he carried them both to the lodge, saying,
"Look, mother! see the pretty root-digger I have found!"
"Throw them both away," said his father; "that is not a stick, that is not
"I want that stick," said the woman; "let our son have the little dog."
"Very well," said her husband, "but remember, if trouble comes, you bring
it on yourself and on our son." Then he sent his wife and son off to pick
berries; and when they were out of sight, he went out and killed a buffalo
cow, and brought the meat into the lodge and covered it up, and the bones,
skin and offal he threw in the creek. When his wife returned, he gave her
some of the meat to roast; and while they were eating, the little boy fed
the dog three times, and when he gave it more, his father took the meat
away, saying, "That is not a dog, you shall not feed it more."
In the night, when all were asleep, Old Man and the young man arose in
their right shapes, and ate of the meat. "You were right," said the young
man; "this is surely the person who has hidden the buffalo from us."
"Wait," said Old Man; and when they had finished eating, they changed
themselves back into the stick and the dog.
In the morning the man sent his wife and son to dig roots, and the woman
took the stick with her. The dog followed the little boy. Now, as they
travelled along in search of roots, they came near a cave, and at its mouth
stood a buffalo cow. Then the dog ran into the cave, and the stick,
slipping from the woman's hand, followed, gliding along like a snake. In
this cave they found all the buffalo and other game, and they began to
drive them out; and soon the prairie was covered with buffalo and
deer. Never before were seen so many.
Pretty soon the man came running up, and he said to his wife, "Who now
drives out my animals?" and she replied, "The dog and the stick are now in
there." "Did I not tell you," said he, "that those were not what they
looked like? See now the trouble you have brought upon us," and he put an
arrow on his bow and waited for them to come out. But they were cunning,
for when the last animal--a big bull--was about to go out, the stick
grasped him by the hair under his neck, and coiled up in it, and the dog
held on by the hair beneath, until they were far out on the prairie, when
they changed into their true shapes, and drove the buffalo toward camp.
When the people saw the buffalo coming, they drove a big band of them to
the pis'kun; but just as the leaders were about to jump off, a raven came
and flapped its wings in front of them and croaked, and they turned off
another way. Every time a band of buffalo was driven near the pis'kun, this
raven frightened them away. Then Old Man knew that the raven was the one
who had kept the buffalo cached.
So he went and changed himself into a beaver, and lay stretched out on the
bank of the river, as if dead; and the raven, which was very hungry, flew
down and began to pick at him. Then Old Man caught it by the legs and ran
with it to camp, and all the chiefs came together to decide what should be
done with it. Some said to kill it, but Old Man said, "No! I will punish
it," and he tied it over the lodge, right in the smoke hole.
As the days went by, the raven grew poor and weak, and his eyes were
blurred with the thick smoke, and he cried continually to Old Man to pity
him. One day Old Man untied him, and told him to take his right shape,
saying: "Why have you tried to fool Old Man? Look at me! I cannot die. Look
at me! Of all peoples and tribes I am the chief. I cannot die. I made the
mountains. They are standing yet. I made the prairies and the rocks. You
see them yet. Go home, then, to your wife and your child, and when you are
hungry hunt like any one else, or you shall die."
Now Old Man was walking along, and far off he saw many wolves; and when he
came closer, he saw there the chief of the wolves, a very old one, and
sitting around him were all his children.
Old Man said, "Pity me, Wolf Chief; make me into a wolf, that I may live
your way and catch deer and everything that runs fast."
"Come near then," said the Wolf Chief, "that I may rub your body with my
hands, so that hair will cover you."
"Hold," said Old Man; "do not cover my body with hair. On my head, arms,
and legs only, put hair."
When the Chief Wolf had done so, he said to Old Man: "You shall have three
companions to help you, one is a very swift runner, another a good runner,
and the last is not very fast. Take them with you now, and others of my
younger children who are learning to hunt, but do not go where the wind
blows; keep in the shelter, or the young ones will freeze to death." Then
they went hunting, and Old Man led them on the high buttes, where it was
At night, they lay down to sleep, and Old Man nearly froze; and he said to
the wolves, "Cover me with your tails." So all the wolves lay down around
him, and covered his body with their tails, and he soon got warm and slept.
Before long he awoke and said angrily, "Take off those tails," and the
wolves moved away; but after a little time he again became cold, and cried
out, "Oh my young brothers, cover me with your tails or I shall freeze."
So they lay down by him again and covered his body with their tails.
When it was daylight, they all rose and hunted. They saw some moose, and,
chasing them, killed three. Now, when they were about to eat, the Chief
Wolf came along with many of his children, and one wolf said, "Let us make
pemmican of those moose"; and every one was glad. Then said the one who
made pemmican, "No one must look, everybody shut his eyes, while I make the
pemmican"; but Old Man looked, and the pemmican-maker threw a round bone
and hit him on the nose, and it hurt. Then Old Man said, "Let me make the
pemmican." So all the wolves shut their eyes, and Old Man took the round
bone and killed the wolf who had hit him. Then the Chief Wolf was angry,
and he said, "Why did you kill your brother?" "I didn't mean to," replied
Old Man. "He looked and I threw the round bone at him, but I only meant to
hurt him a little." Then said the Chief Wolf: "You cannot live with us any
longer. Take one of your companions, and go off by yourselves and hunt." So
Old Man took the swift runner, and they went and lived by themselves a long
time; and they killed all the elk, and deer, and antelope, and moose they
One morning they awoke, and Old Man said: "Oh my young brother, I have had
a bad dream. Hereafter, when you chase anything, if it jumps a stream, you
must not follow it. Even a little spring you must not jump." And the wolf
promised not to jump over water.
Now one day the wolf was chasing a moose, and it ran on to an island. The
stream about it was very small; so the wolf thought: "This is such a little
stream that I must jump it. That moose is very tired, and I don't think it
will leave the island." So he jumped on to the island, and as soon as he
entered the brush, a bear caught him, for the island was the home of the
Chief Bear and his two brothers. Old Man waited a long time for the wolf to
come back, and then went to look for him. He asked all the birds he met if
they had seen him, but they all said they had not.
At last he saw a kingfisher, who was sitting on a limb overhanging the
water. "Why do you sit there, my young brother?" said Old Man. "Because,"
replied the kingfisher, "the Chief Bear and his brothers have killed your
wolf; they have eaten the meat and thrown the fat into the river, and
whenever I see a piece come floating along, I fly down and get it." Then
said Old Man, "Do the Bear Chief and his brothers often come out? and where
do they live?" "They come out every morning to play," said the kingfisher;
"and they live upon that island."
Old Man went up there and saw their tracks on the sand, where they had been
playing, and he turned himself into a rotten tree. By and by the bears came
out, and when they saw the tree, the Chief Bear said: "Look at that rotten
tree. It is Old Man. Go, brothers, and see if it is not." So the two
brothers went over to the tree, and clawed it; and they said, "No, brother,
it is only a tree." Then the Chief Bear went over and clawed and bit the
tree, and although it hurt Old Man, he never moved. Then the Bear Chief was
sure it was only a tree, and he began to play with his brothers. Now while
they were playing, and all were on their backs, Old Man leaned over and
shot an arrow into each one of them; and they cried out loudly and ran back
on the island. Then Old Man changed into himself, and walked down along the
river. Pretty soon he saw a frog jumping along, and every time it jumped it
would say, "_Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu_!" And sometimes it would stop and sing:--
"_Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu! Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu!_ Chief Bear! Chief Bear!
_Nap'-i I-nit'-si-wah Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu!"_ Old Man kill him Chief
Bear! "What do you say?" cried Old Man. The frog repeated what he had said.
"Ah!" exclaimed Old Man, "tell me all about it."
"The Chief Bear and his brothers," replied the frog, "were playing on the
sand, when Old Man shot arrows into them. They are not dead, but the arrows
are very near their hearts; if you should shove ever so little on them, the
points would cut their hearts. I am going after medicine now to cure them."
Then Old Man killed the frog and skinned her, and put the hide on himself
and swam back to the island, and hopped up toward the bears, crying at
every step, "_Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu!_" just as the frog had done.
"Hurry," cried the Chief Bear.
"Yes," replied Old Man, and he went up and shoved the arrow into his heart.
"I cured him; he is asleep now," he cried, and he went up and shoved the
arrow into the biggest brother's heart. "I cured them; they are asleep
now"; and he went up and shoved the arrow into the other bear's heart. Then
he built a big fire and skinned the bears, and tried out the fat and poured
it into a hollow in the ground; and he called all the animals to come and
roll in it, that they might be fat. And all the animals came and rolled in
it. The bears came first and rolled in it, that is the reason they get so
fat. Last of all came the rabbits, and the grease was almost all gone; but
they filled their paws with it and rubbed it on their backs and between
their hind legs. That is the reason why rabbits have two such large layers
of fat on their backs, and that is what makes them so fat between the hind
[NOTE.--The four preceding stories show the serious side of Old Man's
character. Those which follow represent him as malicious, foolish, and
THE WONDERFUL BIRD
One day, as Old Man was walking about in the woods, he saw something very
queer. A bird was sitting on the limb of a tree making a strange noise, and
every time it made this noise, its eyes would go out of its head and fasten
on the tree; then it would make another kind of a noise, and its eyes would
come back to their places.
"Little Brother," cried Old Man, "teach me how to do that."
"If I show you how to do that," replied the bird, "you must not let your
eyes go out of your head more than three times a day. If you do, you will
"Just as you say, Little Brother. The trick is yours, and I will listen to
When the bird had taught Old Man how to do it, he was very glad, and did it
three times right away. Then he stopped. "That bird has no sense," he
said. "Why did he tell me to do it only three times? I will do it again,
anyhow." So he made his eyes go out a fourth time; but now he could not
call them back. Then he called to the bird, "Oh Little Brother, come help
me get back my eyes." The little bird did not answer him. It had flown
away. Then Old Man felt all over the trees with his hands, but he could not
find his eyes; and he wandered about for a long time, crying and calling
the animals to help him.
A wolf had much fun with him. The wolf had found a dead buffalo, and taking
a piece of the meat which smelled bad, he would hold it close to Old
Man. "I smell something dead," Old Man would say. "I wish I could find it; I
am nearly starved to death." And he would feel all around for it. Once,
when the wolf was doing this, Old Man caught him, and, plucking out one of
his eyes, he put it in his own head. Then he could see, and was able to
find his own eyes; but he could never again do the trick the little bird
had taught him.
Once Old Man was travelling around, when he heard some very queer
singing. He had never heard anything like this before, and looked all
around to see who it was. At last he saw it was the cottontail rabbits,
singing and making medicine. They had built a fire, and got a lot of hot
ashes, and they would lie down in these ashes and sing while one covered
them up. They would stay there only a short time though, for the ashes were
"Little Brothers," said Old Man, "that is very wonderful, how you lie in
those hot ashes and coals without burning. I wish you would teach me how to
"Come on, Old Man," said the rabbits, "we will show you how to do it. You
must sing our song, and only stay in the ashes a short time." So Old Man
began to sing, and he lay down, and they covered him with coals and ashes,
and they did not burn him at all.
"That is very nice," he said. "You have powerful medicine. Now I want to
know it all, so you lie down and let me cover you up."
So the rabbits all lay down in the ashes, and Old Man covered them up, and
then he put the whole fire over them. One old rabbit got out, and Old Man
was about to put her back when she said, "Pity me, my children are about to
"All right," replied Old Man. "I will let you go, so there will be some
more rabbits; but I will roast these nicely and have a feast." And he put
more wood on the fire. When the rabbits were cooked, he cut some red willow
brush and laid them on it to cool. The grease soaked into these branches,
so, even to-day if you hold red willow over a fire, you will see the grease
on the bark. You can see, too, that ever since, the rabbits have a burnt
place on their backs, where the one that got away was singed.
Old Man sat down, and was waiting for the rabbits to cool a little, when a
coyote came along, limping very badly. "Pity me, Old Man," he said, "you
have lots of cooked rabbits; give me one of them."
"Go away," exclaimed Old Man. "If you are too lazy to catch your food, I
will not help you."
"My leg is broken," said the coyote. "I can't catch anything, and I am
starving. Just give me half a rabbit."
"I don't care if you die," replied Old Man. "I worked hard to cook all
these rabbits, and I will not give any away. But I will tell you what we
will do. We will run a race to that butte, way out there, and if you beat
me you can have a rabbit."
"All right," said the coyote. So they started. Old Man ran very fast, and
the coyote limped along behind, but close to him, until they got near to
the butte. Then the coyote turned round and ran back very fast, for he was
not lame at all. It took Old Man a long time to go back, and just before he
got to the fire, the coyote swallowed the last rabbit, and trotted off over
THE BAD WEAPONS
Once Old Man was fording a river, when the current carried him down stream,
and he lost his weapons. He was very hungry, so he took the first wood he
could find, and made a bow and arrows, and a handle for his knife and
spear. When he had finished them, he started up a mountain. Pretty soon he
saw a bear digging roots, and he thought he would have some fun, so he hid
behind a log and called out, "No-tail animal, what are you doing?" The
bear looked up, but, seeing no one, kept on digging.
Then Old Man called out again, "Hi! you dirt-eater!" and then he dodged
back out of sight. Then the bear sat up again, and this time he saw Old Man
and ran after him.
Old Man began shooting arrows at him, but the points only stuck in the
skin, for the shafts were rotten and snapped off. Then he threw his spear,
but that too was rotten, and broke. He tried to stab the bear, but his
knife handle was also rotten and broke, so he turned and ran; and the bear
pursued him. As he ran, he looked about for some weapon, but there was
none, not even a rock. He called out to the animals to help him, but none
came. His breath was almost gone, and the bear was very close to him, when
he saw a bull's horn lying on the ground. He picked it up, placed it on his
head, and, turning around, bellowed so loudly that the bear was scared and
Old Man was very hungry. He had been a long time without food, and was
thinking how he could get something to eat, when he saw a band of elk on a
ridge. So he went up to them and said, "Oh, my brothers, I am lonesome
because I have no one to follow me."
"Go on, Old Man," said the elk, "we will follow you." Old Man led them
about a long time, and when it was dark, he came near a high-cut bank. He
ran around to one side where there was a slope, and he went down and then
stood right under the steep bluff, and called out, "Come on, that is a nice
jump, you will laugh."
So the elk jumped off, all but one cow, and were killed.
"Come on," said Old Man, "they have all jumped but you, it is nice."
"Take pity on me," replied the cow. "My child is about to be born, and I am
very heavy. I am afraid to jump."
"Go on, then," answered Old Man; "go and live; then there will be plenty of
elk again some day."
Now Old Man built a fire and cooked some ribs, and then he skinned all the
elk, cut up the meat to dry, and hung the tongues up on a pole.
Next day he went off, and did not come back until night, when he was very
hungry again. "I'll roast some ribs," he said, "and a tongue, and I'll
stuff a marrow gut and cook that. I guess that will be enough for
to-night." But when he got to the place, the meat was all gone. The wolves
had eaten it. "I was smart to hang up those tongues," he said, "or I would
not have had anything to eat." But the tongues were all hollow. The mice
had eaten the meat out, leaving only the skin. So Old Man starved again.
OLD MAN DOCTORS
A pis'kun had been built, and many buffalo had been run in and killed. The
camp was full of meat. Great sheets of it hung in the lodges and on the
racks outside; and now the women, having cut up all the meat, were working
on the hides, preparing some for robes, and scraping the hair from others,
to make leather.
About this time, Old Man came along. He had come from far and was very
tired, so he entered the first lodge he came to and sat down. Now this
lodge belonged to three old women. Their husbands had died or been killed
in war, and they had no relations to help them, so they were very
poor. After Old Man had rested a little, they set a dish of food before
him. It was dried bull meat, very tough, and some pieces of belly fat.
"_Hai'-yah ho_!" cried Old Man, after he had tasted a piece. "You treat me
badly. A whole pis'kun of fat buffalo just killed; the camp red with meat,
and here these old women give me tough bull meat and belly fat to eat.
Hurry now! roast me some ribs and a piece of back fat."
"Alas!" exclaimed one old woman. "We have no good food. All our helpers are
dead, and we take what others leave. Bulls and poor cows are all the people
"Ah!" said Old Man, "how poor! you are very poor. Take courage now. I will
help you. To-morrow they will run another band into the pis'kun. I will be
there. I will kill the fattest cow, and you can have it all."
Then the old women were glad. They talked to one another, saying, "Very good
heart, Old Man. He helps the poor. Now we will live. We will have marrow
guts and liver. We will have paunch and fat kidneys."
Old Man said nothing more. He ate the tough meat and belly fat, and rolled
up in his robe and went to sleep.
Morning came. The people climbed the bluffs and went out on to the prairie,
where they hid behind the piles of rock and bushes, which reached far out
from the cliff in lines which were always further and further apart. After
a while, he who leads the buffalo was seen coming, bringing a large band
after him. Soon they were inside the lines. The people began to rise up
behind them, shouting and waving their robes. Now they reached the edge of
the bluff. The leaders tried to stop and turn, but those behind kept
pushing on, and nearly the whole band dashed down over the rocks, only a
few of the last ones turning aside and escaping.
The lodges were now deserted. All the people were gone to the pis'kun to
kill the buffalo and butcher them. Where was Old Man? Did he take his bow
and arrows and go to the pis'kun to kill a fat cow for the poor old women?
No. He was sneaking around, lifting the door-ways of the lodges and
looking in. Bad person, Old Man. In the chiefs lodge he saw a little child,
a girl, asleep. Outside was a buffalo's gall, and taking a long stick he
dipped the end of it in the gall; and then, reaching carefully into the
lodge, he drew it across the lips of the child asleep. Then he threw the
stick away, and went in and sat down. Soon the girl awoke and began to
cry. The gall was very bitter and burned her lips.
"Pity me, Old Man," she said. "Take this fearful thing from my lips."
"I do not doctor unless I am paid," he replied. Then said the girl: "See
all my father's Weapons hanging there. His shield, war head-dress, scalps,
and knife. Cure me now, and I will give you some of them."
"I have more of such things than I want," he replied. (What a liar! he had
none at all.)
Again said the girl, "Pity me, help me now, and I will give you my father's
white buffalo robe."
"I have plenty of white robes," replied Old Man. (Again he lied, for he
never had one.)
"Old Man," again said the girl, "in this lodge lives a widow woman, my
father's relation. Remove this fearful thing from my lips, and I will have
my father give her to you."
"Now you speak well," replied Old Man. "I am a little glad. I have many
wives" (he had none), "but I would just as soon have another one."
So he went close to the child and pretended to doctor her, but instead of
that, he killed her and ran out. He went to the old women's lodge, and
wrapped a strip of cowskin about his head, and commenced to groan, as if he
was very sick.
Now the people began to come from the pis'kun, carrying great loads of
meat. This dead girl's mother came, and when she saw her child lying dead,
and blood on the ground, she ran back crying out: "My daughter has been
killed! My daughter has been killed!"
Then all the people began to shout out and run around, and the warriors and
young men looked in the lodges, and up and down the creek in the brush, but
they could find no one who might have killed the child.
Then said the father of the dead girl: "Now, to-day, we will find out who
killed this child. Every man in this camp--every young man, every old
man--must come and jump across the creek; and if any one does not jump
across, if he falls in the water, that man is the one who did the
killing." All heard this, and they began to gather at the creek, one behind
another; and the women and children went to look on, for they wanted to see
the person who had killed the little child. Now they were ready. They were
about to jump, when some one cried out, "Old Man is not here."
"True," said the chief, looking around, "Old Man is not here." And he sent
two young men to bring him.
"Old Man!" they cried out, when they came to the lodge, "a child has been
killed. We have all got to jump to find out who did it. The chief has sent
for you. You will have to jump, too."
"_Ki'-yo!_" exclaimed the old women. "Old Man is very sick. Go off, and let
him alone. He is so sick he could not kill meat for us to-day."
"It can't be helped," the young men replied. "The chief says every one must
So Old Man went out toward the creek very slowly, and very much scared. He
did not know what to do. As he was going along he saw a _ni'-po-muk-i_
and he said: "Oh my little brother, pity me. Give me some of your power to
jump the creek, and here is my necklace. See how pretty it is. I will give
it to you."
[Footnote 1: The chickadee.]
So they traded; Old Man took some of the bird's power, and the bird took
Old Man's necklace and put it on.
Now they jump. _Wo'-ka-hi!_ they jump way across and far on to the
ground. Now they jump; another! another! another! Now it comes Old Man's
turn. He runs, he jumps, he goes high, and strikes the ground far beyond
any other person's jump. Now comes the _ni'-po-muk-i. "Wo'-ka-hi!_" the men
shout. "_Ki'-yo!_" cry the women, "the bird has fallen in the creek." The
warriors are running to kill him. "Wait! Hold on!" cries the bird. "Let me
speak a few words. Every one knows I am a good jumper. I can jump further
than any one; but Old Man asked me for some of my power, and I gave it to
him, and he gave me this necklace. It is very heavy and pulled me
down. That is why I fell into the creek."
Then the people began to shout and talk again, some saying to kill the
bird, and some not, when Old Man shouted out: "Wait, listen to me. What's
the use of quarrelling or killing anybody? Let us go back, and I will
doctor the child alive."
Good words. The people were glad. So they went back, and got ready for the
doctoring. First, Old Man ordered a large fire built in the lodge where the
dead girl was lying. Two old men were placed at the back of the lodge,
facing each other. They had spears, which they held above their heads and
were to thrust back and forth at each other in time to the singing. Near
the door-way were placed two old women, facing each other. Each one held a
_puk'-sah-tchis,_--a maul,--with which she was to beat time to the
singing. The other seats in the lodge were taken by people who were to
sing. Now Old Man hung a big roll of belly fat close over the fire, so that
the hot grease began to drip, and everything was ready, and the singing
began. This was Old Man's song:--
[Footnote 1: A round or oblong stone, to which a handle was bound by
rawhide thongs, used for breaking marrow bones, etc.]
Ahk-sa'-k[=e]-wah, Ahk-sa'-k[=e]-wah, Ahk-sa'-k[=e]-wah, etc. I don't
care, I don't care, I don't care.
And so they sung for a long time, the old men jabbing their spears at each
other, and the old women pretending to hit each other with their mauls.
After a while they rested, and Old Man said: "Now I want every one to shut
their eyes. No one can look. I am going to begin the real doctoring." So
the people shut their eyes, and the singing began again. Then Old Man took
the dripping hot fat from the fire, gave it a mighty swing around the
circle in front of the people's faces, jumped out the door-way, and ran
off. Every one was burned. The two old men wounded each other with their
spears. The old women knocked each other on the head with their mauls. The
people cried and groaned, wiped their burned faces, and rushed out the
door; but Old Man was gone. They saw him no more.
Once Old Man was travelling, and becoming tired he sat down on a rock to
rest. After a while he started to go on, and because the sun was hot he
threw his robe over the rock, saying: "Here, I give you my robe, because
you are poor and have let me rest on you. Always keep it."
He had not gone very far, when it began to rain, and meeting a coyote he
said: "Little brother, run back to that rock, and ask him to lend me his
robe. We will cover ourselves with it and keep dry." So the coyote ran back
to the rock, but returned without the robe. "Where is the robe?" asked Old
Man. "_Sai-yah!"_ replied the coyote. "The rock said you gave him the
robe, and he was going to keep it."
Then Old Man was very angry, and went back to the rock and jerked the robe
off it, saying: "I only wanted to borrow this robe until the rain was over,
but now that you have acted so mean about it, I will keep it. You don't
need a robe anyhow. You have been out in the rain and snow all your life,
and it will not hurt you to live so always."
With the coyote he went off into a coulee, and sat down. The rain was
falling, and they covered themselves with the robe and were very
comfortable. Pretty soon they heard a loud noise, and Old Man told the
coyote to go up on the hill and see what it was. Soon he came running back,
saying, "Run! run! the big rock is coming"; and they both ran away as fast
as they could. The coyote tried to crawl into a badger hole, but it was too
small for him and he stuck fast, and before he could get out, the rock
rolled over him and crushed his hind parts. Old Man was scared, and as he
ran he threw off his robe and what clothes he could, so that he might run
faster. The rock kept gaining on him all the time.
Not far off was a band of buffalo bulls, and Old Man cried out to them,
saying, "Oh my brothers, help me, help me. Stop that rock." The bulls ran
and tried to stop it, but it crushed their heads. Some deer and antelope
tried to help Old Man, but they were killed, too. A lot of rattlesnakes
formed themselves into a lariat, and tried to catch it; but those at the
noose end were all cut to pieces. The rock was now close to Old Man, so
close that it began to hit his heels; and he was about to give up, when he
saw a flock of bull bats circling over his head. "Oh my little brothers,"
he cried, "help me. I am almost dead." Then the bull bats flew down, one
after another, against the rock; and every time one of them hit it he
chipped off a piece, and at last one hit it fair in the middle and broke it
into two pieces.
Then Old Man was very glad. He went to where there was a nest of bull bats,
and made the young ones' mouths very wide and pinched off their bills, to
make them pretty and queer looking. That is the reason they look so to-day.
THE THEFT FROM THE SUN
Once Old Man was travelling around, when he came to the Sun's lodge, and
the Sun asked him to stay a while. Old Man was very glad to do so.
One day the meat was all gone, and the Sun said, "_Kyi_! Old Man, what say
you if we go and kill some deer?"
"You speak well," replied Old Man. "I like deer meat."
The Sun took down a bag and pulled out a beautiful pair of leggings. They
were embroidered with porcupine quills and bright feathers. "These," said
the Sun, "are my hunting leggings. They are great medicine. All I have to
do is to put them on and walk around a patch of brush, when the leggings
set it on fire and drive the deer out so that I can shoot them."
"_Hai-yah_!" exclaimed Old Man. "How wonderful!" He made up his mind he
would have those leggings, if he had to steal them.
They went out to hunt, and the first patch of brush they came to, the Sun
set on fire with his hunting leggings. A lot of white-tail deer ran out,
and they each shot one.
That night, when they went to bed, the Sun pulled off his leggings and
placed them to one side. Old Man saw where he put them, and in the middle
of the night, when every one was asleep, he stole them and went off. He
travelled a long time, until he had gone far and was very tired, and then,
making a pillow of the leggings, lay down and slept. In the morning, he
heard some one talking. The Sun was saying, "Old Man, why are my leggings
under your head?" He looked around, and saw he was in the Sun's lodge, and
thought he must have wandered around and got lost, and returned
there. Again the Sun spoke and said, "What are you doing with my leggings?"
"Oh," replied Old Man, "I couldn't find anything for a pillow, so I just
put these under my head."
Night came again, and again Old Man stole the leggings and ran off. This
time he did not walk at all; he just kept running until pretty near
morning, and then lay down and slept. You see what a fool he was. He did
not know that the whole world is the Sun's lodge. He did not know that, no
matter how far he ran, he could not get out of the Sun's sight. When
morning came, he found himself still in the Sun's lodge. But this time the
Sun said: "Old Man, since you like my leggings so much, I will give them to
you. Keep them." Then Old Man was very glad and went away.
One day his food was all gone, so he put on the medicine leggings and set
fire to a piece of brush. He was just going to kill some deer that were
running out, when he saw that the fire was getting close to him. He ran
away as fast as he could, but the fire gained on him and began to burn his
legs. His leggings were all on fire. He came to a river and jumped in, and
pulled off the leggings as soon as he could. They were burned to pieces.
Perhaps the Sun did this to him because he tried to steal the leggings.
One day Old Man went out hunting and took the fox with him. They hunted for
several days, but killed nothing. It was nice warm weather in the late
fall. After they had become very hungry, as they were going along one day,
Old Man went up over a ridge and on the other side he saw four big buffalo
bulls lying down; but there was no way by which they could get near
them. He dodged back out of sight and told the fox what he had seen, and
they thought for a long time, to see if there was no way by which these
bulls might be killed.
At last Old Man said to the fox: "My little brother, I can think of only
one way to get these bulls. This is my plan, if you agree to it. I will
pluck all the fur off you except one tuft on the end of your tail. Then you
go over the hill and walk up and down in sight of the bulls, and you will
seem so funny to them that they will laugh themselves to death."
The fox did not like to do this, but he could think of nothing better, so
he agreed to what Old Man proposed. Old Man plucked him perfectly bare,
except the end of his tail, and the fox went over the ridge and walked up
and down. When he had come close to the bulls, he played around and walked
on his hind legs and went through all sorts of antics. When the bulls first
saw him, they got up on their feet, and looked at him. They did not know
what to make of him. Then they began to laugh, and the more they looked at
him, the more they laughed, until at last one by one they fell down
exhausted and died. Then Old Man came over the hill, and went down to the
bulls, and began to butcher them. By this time it had grown a little
"Ah, little brother," said Old Man to the fox, "you did splendidly. I do
not wonder that the bulls laughed themselves to death. I nearly died myself
as I watched you from the hill. You looked very funny." While he was saying
this, he was working away skinning off the hides and getting the meat ready
to carry to camp, all the time talking to the fox, who stood about, his
back humped up and his teeth chattering with the cold. Now a wind sprang up
from the north and a few snowflakes were flying in the air. It was growing
colder and colder. Old Man kept on talking, and every now and then he would
say something to the fox, who was sitting behind him perfectly still, with
his jaw shoved out and his teeth shining.
At last Old Man had the bulls all skinned and the meat cut up, and as he
rose up he said: "It is getting pretty cold, isn't it? Well, we do not care
for the cold. We have got all our winter's meat, and we will have nothing
to do but feast and dance and sing until spring." The fox made no
answer. Then Old Man got angry, and called out: "Why don't you answer me?
Don't you hear me talking to you?" The fox said nothing. Then Old Man was
mad, and he said, "Can't you speak?" and stepped up to the fox and gave him
a push with his foot, and the fox fell over. He was dead, frozen stiff with
OLD MAN AND THE LYNX
Old Man was travelling round over the prairie, when he saw a lot of
prairie-dogs sitting in a circle. They had built a fire, and were sitting
around it. Old Man went toward them, and when he got near them, he began to
cry, and said, "Let me, too, sit by that fire." The prairie-dogs said: "All
right, Old Man. Don't cry. Come and sit by the fire." Old Man sat down,
and saw that the prairie-dogs were playing a game. They would put one of
their number in the fire and cover him up with the hot ashes; and then,
after he had been there a little while, he would say _sk, sk_, and they
would push the ashes off him, and pull him out.
Old Man said, "Teach me how to do that"; and they told him what to do, and
put him in the fire, and covered him up with the ashes, and after a little
while he said _sk, sk_, like a prairie-dog, and they pulled him out
again. Then he did it to the prairie-dogs. At first he put them in one at a
time, but there were many of them, and pretty soon he got tired, and said,
"Come, I will put you all in at once." They said, "Very well, Old Man," and
all got in the ashes; but just as Old Man was about to cover them up, one
of them, a female heavy with young, said, "Do not cover me up; the heat may
hurt my children, which are about to be born." Old Man said: "Very well. If
you do not want to be covered up, you can sit over by the fire and watch
the rest." Then he covered up all the others.
At length the prairie-dogs said _sk, sk_, but Old Man did not sweep the
ashes off and pull them out of the fire. He let them stay there and die. The
old she one ran off to a hole and, as she went down in it, said _sk,
sk_. Old Man chased her, but he got to the hole too late to catch her. So
he said: "Oh, well, you can go. There will be more prairie-dogs by and by."
When the prairie-dogs were roasted, Old Man cut a lot of red willow brush
to lay them on, and then sat down and began to eat. He ate until he was
full, and then felt sleepy. He said to his nose: "I am going to sleep
now. Watch for me and wake me up in case anything comes near." Then Old Man
slept. Pretty soon his nose snored, and he woke up and said, "What is it?"
The nose said, "A raven is flying over there." Old Man said, "That is
nothing," and went to sleep again. Soon his nose snored again. Old Man
said, "What is it now?" The nose said, "There is a coyote over there,
coming this way." Old Man said, "A coyote is nothing," and again went to
sleep. Presently his nose snored again, but Old Man did not wake up. Again
it snored, and called out, "Wake up, a bob-cat is coming." Old Man paid no
attention. He slept on.
The bob-cat crept up to where the fire was, and ate up all the roast
prairie-dogs, and then went off and lay down on a flat rock, and went to
sleep. All this time the nose kept trying to wake Old Man up, and at last
he awoke, and the nose said: "A bob-cat is over there on that flat rock. He
has eaten all your food." Then Old Man called out loud, he was so angry. He
went softly over to where the bob-cat lay, and seized it, before it could
wake up to bite or scratch him. The bob-cat cried out, "Hold on, let me
speak a word or two." But Old Man would not listen; he said, "I will teach
you to steal my food." He pulled off the lynx's tail, pounded his head
against the rock so as to make his face flat, pulled him out long, so as to
make him small-bellied, and then threw him away into the brush. As he went
sneaking off, Old Man said, "There, that is the way you bob-cats shall
always be." That is the reason the lynxes look so today.
Old Man went back to the fire, and looked at the red willow sticks where
his food had been, and it made him mad at his nose. He said, "You fool, why
did you not wake me?" He took the willow sticks and thrust them in the
coals, and when they took fire, he burned his nose. This pained him
greatly, and he ran up on a hill and held his nose to the wind, and called
on it to blow hard and cool him. A hard wind came, and it blew him away
down to Birch Creek. As he was flying along, he caught at the weeds and
brush to try to stop himself, but nothing was strong enough to hold him. At
last he seized a birch tree. He held on to this, and it did not give
way. Although the wind whipped him about, this way and that, and tumbled
him up and down, the tree held him. He kept calling to the wind to blow
gently, and finally it listened to him and went down.
So he said: "This is a beautiful tree. It has kept me from being blown away
and knocked all to pieces. I will ornament it and it shall always be like
that." So he gashed it across with his stone knife, as you see it to-day.
THE STORY OF THE THREE TRIBES
THE PAST AND THE PRESENT
Fifty years ago the name Blackfoot was one of terrible meaning to the white
traveller who passed across that desolate buffalo-trodden waste which lay
to the north of the Yellowstone River and east of the Rocky Mountains. This
was the Blackfoot land, the undisputed home of a people which is said to
have numbered in one of its tribes--the Pi-k[)u]n'-i--8000 lodges, or
40,000 persons. Besides these, there were the Blackfeet and the Bloods,
three tribes of one nation, speaking the same language, having the same
customs, and holding the same religious faith.
But this land had not always been the home of the Blackfeet. Long ago,
before the coming of the white men, they had lived in another country far
to the north and east, about Lesser Slave Lake, ranging between Peace River
and the Saskatchewan, and having for their neighbors on the north the
Beaver Indians. Then the Blackfeet were a timber people. It is said that
about two hundred years ago the Chippeweyans from the east invaded this
country and drove them south and west. Whether or no this is true, it is
quite certain that not many generations back the Blackfeet lived on the
North Saskatchewan River and to the north of that stream. Gradually
working their way westward, they at length reached the Rocky Mountains,
and, finding game abundant, remained there until they obtained horses, in
the very earliest years of the present century. When they secured horses and
guns, they took courage and began to venture out on to the plains and to go
to war. From this time on, the Blackfeet made constant war on their
neighbors to the south, and in a few years controlled the whole country
between the Saskatchewan on the north and the Yellowstone on the south.
[Footnote 1: For a more extended account of this migration, see _American
Anthropologist_, April, 1892, p. 153.]
It was, indeed, a glorious country which the Blackfeet had wrested from
their southern enemies. Here nature has reared great mountains and spread
out broad prairies. Along the western border of this region, the Rocky
Mountains lift their snow-clad peaks above the clouds. Here and there, from
north to south, and from east to west, lie minor ranges, black with pine
forests if seen near at hand, or in the distance mere gray silhouettes
against a sky of blue. Between these mountain ranges lies everywhere the
great prairie; a monotonous waste to the stranger's eye, but not without
its charm. It is brown and bare; for, except during a few short weeks in
spring, the sparse bunch-grass is sear and yellow, and the silver gray of
the wormwood lends an added dreariness to the landscape. Yet this seemingly
desert waste has a beauty of its own. At intervals it is marked with green
winding river valleys, and everywhere it is gashed with deep ravines, their
sides painted in strange colors of red and gray and brown, and their
perpendicular walls crowned with fantastic columns and figures of stone or
clay, carved out by the winds and the rains of ages. Here and there, rising
out of the plain, are curious sharp ridges, or square-topped buttes with
vertical sides, sometimes bare, and sometimes dotted with pines,--short,
sturdy trees, whose gnarled trunks and thick, knotted branches have been
twisted and wrung into curious forms by the winds which blow unceasingly,
hour after hour, day after day, and month after month, over mountain range
and prairie, through gorge and coulee.
These prairies now seem bare of life, but it was not always so. Not very
long ago, they were trodden by multitudinous herds of buffalo and antelope;
then, along the wooded river valleys and on the pine-clad slopes of the
mountains, elk, deer, and wild sheep fed in great numbers. They are all
gone now. The winter's wind still whistles over Montana prairies, but
nature's shaggy-headed wild cattle no longer feel its biting blasts. Where
once the scorching breath of summer stirred only the short stems of the
buffalo-grass, it now billows the fields of the white man's
grain. Half-hidden by the scanty herbage, a few bleached skeletons alone
remain to tell us of the buffalo; and the broad, deep trails, over which
the dark herds passed by thousands, are now grass-grown and fast
disappearing under the effacing hand of time. The buffalo have disappeared,
and the fate of the buffalo has almost overtaken the Blackfeet.
As known to the whites, the Blackfeet were true prairie Indians, seldom
venturing into the mountains, except when they crossed them to war with the
Kutenais, the Flatheads, or the Snakes. They subsisted almost wholly on the
flesh of the buffalo. They were hardy, untiring, brave, ferocious. Swift
to move, whether on foot or horseback, they made long journeys to war, and
with telling force struck their enemies. They had conquered and driven out
from the territory which they occupied the tribes who once inhabited it,
and maintained a desultory and successful warfare against all invaders,
fighting with the Crees on the north, the Assinaboines on the east, the
Crows on the south, and the Snakes, Kalispels, and Kutenais on the
southwest and west. In those days the Blackfeet were rich and powerful.
The buffalo fed and clothed them, and they needed nothing beyond what
nature supplied. This was their time of success and happiness.
Crowded into a little corner of the great territory which they once
dominated, and holding this corner by an uncertain tenure, a few Blackfeet
still exist, the pitiful remnant of a once mighty people. Huddled together
about their agencies, they are facing the problem before them, striving,
helplessly but bravely, to accommodate themselves to the new order of
things; trying in the face of adverse surroundings to wrench themselves
loose from their accustomed ways of life; to give up inherited habits and
form new ones; to break away from all that is natural to them, from all
that they have been taught--to reverse their whole mode of existence. They
are striving to earn their living, as the white man earns his, by toil. The
struggle is hard and slow, and in carrying it on they are wasting away and
growing fewer in numbers. But though unused to labor, ignorant of
agriculture, unacquainted with tools or seeds or soils, knowing nothing of
the ways of life in permanent houses or of the laws of health, scantily
fed, often utterly discouraged by failure, they are still making a noble
fight for existence.
Only within a few years--since the buffalo disappeared--has this change
been going on; so recently has it come that the old order and the new meet
face to face. In the trees along the river valleys, still quietly resting
on their aerial sepulchres, sleep the forms of the ancient hunter-warrior
who conquered and held this broad land; while, not far away, Blackfoot
farmers now rudely cultivate their little crops, and gather scanty harvests
from narrow fields.
It is the meeting of the past and the present, of savagery and
civilization. The issue cannot be doubtful. Old methods must pass away. The
Blackfeet will become civilized, but at a terrible cost. To me there is an
interest, profound and pathetic, in watching the progress of the struggle.
DAILY LIFE AND CUSTOMS
Indians are usually represented as being a silent, sullen race, seldom
speaking, and never laughing nor joking. However true this may be in regard
to some tribes, it certainly was not the case with most of those who lived
upon the great Plains. These people were generally talkative, merry, and
light-hearted; they delighted in fun, and were a race of jokers. It is true
that, in the presence of strangers, they were grave, silent, and reserved,
but this is nothing more than the shyness and embarrassment felt by a child
in the presence of strangers. As the Indian becomes acquainted, this
reserve wears off; he is at his ease again and appears in his true colors,
a light-hearted child. Certainly the Blackfeet never were a taciturn and
gloomy people. Before the disappearance of the buffalo, they were happy and
cheerful. Why should they not have been? Food and clothing were to be had
for the killing and tanning. All fur animals were abundant, and thus the
people were rich. Meat, really the only food they cared for, was plenty and
cost nothing. Their robes and furs were exchanged with the traders for
bright-colored blankets and finery. So they wanted nothing.
It is but nine years since the buffalo disappeared from the land. Only nine
years have passed since these people gave up that wild, free life which was
natural to them, and ah! how dear! Let us go back in memory to those happy
days and see how they passed the time.
The sun is just rising. Thin columns of smoke are creeping from the smoke
holes of the lodges, and ascending in the still morning air. Everywhere the
women are busy, carrying water and wood, and preparing the simple meal.
And now we see the men come out, and start for the river. Some are
followed by their children; some are even carrying those too small to
walk. They have reached the water's edge. Off drop their blankets, and with
a plunge and a shivering _ah-h-h_ they dash into the icy waters. Winter and
summer, storm or shine, this was their daily custom. They said it made them
tough and healthy, and enabled them to endure the bitter cold while hunting
on the bare bleak prairie. By the time they have returned to the lodges,
the women have prepared the early meal. A dish of boiled meat--some three
or four pounds--is set before each man; the children are served as much as
they can eat, and the wives take the rest. The horses are now seen coming
in, hundreds and thousands of them, driven by boys and young men who
started out after them at daylight. If buffalo are close at hand, and it
has been decided to make a run, each hunter catches his favorite buffalo
horse, and they all start out together; they are followed by women, on the
travois or pack horses, who will do most of the butchering, and transport
the meat and hides to camp. If there is no band of buffalo near by, they go
off, singly or by twos and threes, to still-hunt scattering buffalo, or
deer, or elk, or such other game as may be found. The women remaining in
camp are not idle. All day long they tan robes, dry meat, sew moccasins,
and perform a thousand and one other tasks. The young men who have stayed
at home carefully comb and braid their hair, paint their faces, and, if the
weather is pleasant, ride or walk around the camp so that the young women
may look at them and see how pretty they are.
Feasting began early in the morning, and will be carried on far into the
night. A man who gives a feast has his wives cook the choicest food they
have, and when all is ready, he goes outside the lodge and shouts the
invitation, calling out each guest's name three times, saying that he is
invited to eat, and concludes by announcing that a certain number of
pipes--generally three--will be smoked. The guests having assembled, each
one is served with a dish of food. Be the quantity large or small, it is
all that he will get. If he does not eat it all, he may carry home what
remains. The host does not eat with his guests. He cuts up some tobacco,
and carefully mixes it with _l'herbe_, and when all have finished eating,
he fills and lights a pipe, which is smoked and passed from one to another,
beginning with the first man on his left. When the last person on the left
of the host has smoked, the pipe is passed back around the circle to the
one on the right of the door, and smoked to the left again. The guests do
not all talk at once. When a person begins to speak, he expects every one
to listen, and is never interrupted. During the day the topics for
conversation are about the hunting, war, stories of strange adventures,
besides a good deal of good-natured joking and chaffing. When the third and
last pipeful of tobacco has been smoked, the host ostentatiously knocks out
the ashes and says "_Kyi"_ whereupon all the guests rise and file out.
Seldom a day passed but each lodge-owner in camp gave from one to three
feasts. In fact almost all a man did, when in camp, was to go from one of
these gatherings to another.
A favorite pastime in the day was gambling with a small wheel called
_it-se'-wah._ This wheel was about four inches in diameter, and had five
spokes, on which were strung different-colored beads, made of bone or
horn. A level, smooth piece of ground was selected, at each end of which
was placed a log. At each end of the course were two men, who gambled
against each other. A crowd always surrounded them, betting on the
sides. The wheel was rolled along the course, and each man at the end
whence it started, darted an arrow at it. The cast was made just before
the wheel reached the log at the opposite end of the track, and points were
counted according as the arrow passed between the spokes, or when the
wheel, stopped by the log, was in contact with the arrow, the position and
nearness of the different beads to the arrow representing a certain number
of points. The player who first scored ten points won. It was a very
difficult game, and one had to be very skilful to win.
Another popular game was what with more southern tribes is called "hands";
it is like "Button, button, who's got the button?" Two small, oblong bones
were used, one of which had a black ring around it. Those who participated
in this game, numbering from two to a dozen, were divided into two equal
parties, ranged on either side of the lodge. Wagers were made, each person
betting with the one directly opposite him. Then a man took the bones, and,
by skilfully moving his hands and changing the objects from one to the
other, sought to make it impossible for the person opposite him to decide
which hand held the marked one. Ten points were the game, counted by
sticks, and the side which first got the number took the stakes. A song
always accompanied this game, a weird, unearthly air,--if it can be so
called,--but when heard at a little distance, very pleasant and
soothing. At first a scarcely audible murmur, like the gentle soughing of
an evening breeze, it gradually increased in volume and reached a very high
pitch, sank quickly to a low bass sound, rose and fell, and gradually died
away, to be again repeated. The person concealing the bones swayed his
body, arms, and hands in time to the air, and went through all manner of
graceful and intricate movements for the purpose of confusing the
guesser. The stakes were sometimes very high, two or three horses or more,
and men have been known to lose everything they possessed, even to their
The children, at least the boys, played about and did as they pleased. Not
so with the girls. Their duties began at a very early age. They carried
wood and water for their mothers, sewed moccasins, and as soon as they were
strong enough, were taught to tan robes and furs, make lodges, travois, and
do all other woman's--and so menial--work. The boys played at mimic
warfare, hunted around in the brush with their bows and arrows, made mud
images of animals, and in summer spent about half their time in the
water. In winter, they spun tops on the ice, slid down hill on a
contrivance made of buffalo ribs, and hunted rabbits.
Shortly after noon, the hunters began to return, bringing in deer,
antelope, buffalo, elk, occasionally bear, and, sometimes, beaver which
they had trapped. The camp began to be more lively. In all directions
persons could be heard shouting out invitations to feasts. Here a man was
lying back on his couch singing and drumming; there a group of young men
were holding a war dance; everywhere the people were eating, singing,
talking, and joking. As the light faded from the western sky and darkness
spread over the camp, the noise and laughter increased. In many lodges, the
people held social dances, the women, dressed in their best gowns, ranged
on one side, the men on the other; all sung, and three or four drummers
furnished an accompaniment; the music was lively if somewhat jerky. At
intervals the people rose and danced, the "step" being a bending of the
knees and swinging of the body, the women holding their arms and hands in
various graceful positions.
With the night came the rehearsal of the wondrous doings of the gods. These
tales may not be told in the daytime. Old Man would not like that, and
would cause any one who narrated them while it was light to become
blind. All Indians are natural orators, but some far exceed others in their
powers of expression. Their attitudes, gestures, and signs are so
suggestive that they alone would enable one to understand the stories they
relate. I have seen these story-tellers so much in earnest, so entirely
carried away by the tale they were relating, that they fairly trembled with
excitement. They held their little audiences spell-bound. The women
dropped their half-sewn moccasin from their listless hands, and the men let
the pipe go out. These stories for the most part were about the ancient
gods and their miraculous doings. They were generally related by the old
men, warriors who had seen their best days. Many of them are recorded in
this book. They are the explanations of the phenomena of life, and contain
many a moral for the instruction of youth.
The _I-k[)u]n-[)u]h'-kah-tsi_ contributed not a little to the entertainment
of every-day life. Frequent dances were held by the different bands of the
society, and the whole camp always turned out to see them. The animal-head
masks, brightly painted bodies, and queer performances were dear to the
Such was the every-day life of the Blackfeet in the buffalo days. When the
camp moved, the women packed up their possessions, tore down the lodges,
and loaded everything on the backs of the ponies or on the
travois. Meantime the chiefs had started on, and the soldiers--the Brave
band of the _I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi_--followed after them. After these leaders
had gone a short distance, a halt was made to allow the column to close
up. The women, children, horses, and dogs of the camp marched in a
disorderly, straggling fashion, often strung out in a line a mile or two
long. Many of the men rode at a considerable distance ahead, and on each
side of the marching column, hunting for any game that might be found, or
looking over the country for signs of enemies.
Before the Blackfeet obtained horses in the very first years of the present
century, and when their only beasts of burden were dogs, their possessions
were transported by these animals or on men's backs. We may imagine that
in those days the journeys made were short ones, the camp travelling but a
In moving the camp in ancient days, the heaviest and bulkiest things to be
transported were the lodges. These were sometimes very large, often
consisting of thirty cow-skins, and, when set up, containing two or three
fires like this [Illustration:] or in ground plan like this
[Illustration:]. The skins of these large lodges were sewn together in
strips, of which there would be sometimes as many as four; and, when the
lodge was set up, these strips were pinned together as the front of a
common lodge is pinned to-day. The dogs carried the provisions, tools, and
utensils, sometimes the lodge strips, if these were small enough, or
anything that was heavy, and yet could be packed in small compass; for
since dogs are small animals, and low standing, they cannot carry bulky
burdens. Still, some of the dogs were large enough to carry a load of one
hundred pounds. Dogs also hauled the travois, on which were bundles and
sometimes babies. This was not always a safe means of transportation for
infants, as is indicated by an incident related by John Monroe's mother as
having occurred in her father's time. The camp, on foot of course, was
crossing a strip of open prairie lying between two pieces of timber, when a
herd of buffalo, stampeding, rushed through the marching column. The
loaded dogs rushed after the buffalo, dragging the travois after them and
scattering their loads over the prairie. Among the lost chattels were two
babies, dropped off somewhere in the long grass, which were never found.
There were certain special customs and beliefs which were a part of the
every-day life of the people.
In passing the pipe when smoking, it goes from the host, who takes the
first smoke, to the left, passing from hand to hand to the door. It may not
be passed across the door to the man on the other side, but must come
back,--no one smoking,--pass the host, and go round to the man across the
door from the last smoker. This man smokes and passes it to the one on his
left, and so it goes on until it reaches the host again. A person entering
a lodge where people are smoking must not pass in front of them, that is,
between the smokers and the fire.
A solemn form of affirmation, the equivalent of the civilized oath, is
connected with smoking, which, as is well known, is with many tribes of
Indians a sacred ceremony. If a man sitting in a lodge tells his companions
some very improbable story, something that they find it very hard to
believe, and they want to test him, to see if he is really telling the
truth, the pipe is given to a medicine man, who paints the stem red and
prays over it, asking that if the man's story is true he may have long
life, but if it is false his life may end in a short time. The pipe is then
filled and lighted, and passed to the man, who has seen and overheard what
has been done and said. The medicine man says to him: "Accept this pipe,
but remember that, if you smoke, your story must be as sure as that there
is a hole through this pipe, and as straight as the hole through this
stem. So your life shall be long and you shall survive, but if you have
spoken falsely your days are counted." The man may refuse the pipe, saying,
"I have told you the truth; it is useless to smoke this pipe." If he
declines to smoke, no one believes what he has said; he is looked upon as
having lied. If, however, he takes the pipe and smokes, every one believes
him. It is the most solemn form of oath. The Blackfoot pipes are usually
made of black or green slate or sandstone.
The Blackfeet do not whip their children, but still they are not without
some training. Children must be taught, or they will not know anything; if
they do not know anything, they will have no sense; and if they have no
sense they will not know how to act. They are instructed in manners, as
well as in other more general and more important matters.
If a number of boys were in a lodge where older people were sitting, very
likely the young people would be talking and laughing about their own
concerns, and making so much noise that the elders could say nothing. If
this continued too long, one of the older men would be likely to get up and
go out and get a long stick and bring it in with him. When he had seated
himself, he would hold it up, so that the children could see it and would
repeat a cautionary formula, "I will give you gum!" This was a warning to
them to make less noise, and was always heeded--for a time. After a little,
however, the boys might forget and begin to chatter again, and presently
the man, without further warning, would reach over and rap one of them on
the head with the stick, when quiet would again be had for a time.
In the same way, in winter, when the lodge was full of old and young
people, and through lack of attention the fire died down, some older person
would call out, "Look out for the skunk!" which would be a warning to the
boys to put some sticks on the fire. If this was not done at once, the man
who had called out might throw a stick of wood across the lodge into the
group of children, hitting and hurting one or more of them. It was taught
also that, if, when young and old were in the lodge and the fire had burned
low, an older person were to lay the unburned ends of the sticks upon the
fire, all the children in the lodge would have the scab, or itch. So, at
the call "Look out for the scab!" some child would always jump to the fire,
and lay up the sticks.
There were various ways of teaching and training the children. Men would
make long speeches to groups of boys, playing in the camps, telling them
what they ought to do to be successful in life. They would point out to
them that to accomplish anything they must be brave and untiring in war;
that long life was not desirable; that the old people always had a hard
time, were given the worst side of the lodge and generally neglected; that
when the camp was moved they suffered from cold; that their sight was dim,
so that they could not see far; that their teeth were gone, so that they
could not chew their food. Only discomfort and misery await the old. Much
better, while the body is strong and in its prime, while the sight is
clear, the teeth sound, and the hair still black and long, to die in battle
fighting bravely. The example of successful warriors would be held up to
them, and the boys urged to emulate their brave deeds. To such advice some
boys would listen, while others would not heed it.
The girls also were instructed. All Indians like to see women more or less
sober and serious-minded, not giggling all the time, not silly. A Blackfoot
man who had two or three girls would, as they grew large, often talk to
them and give them good advice. After watching them, and taking the measure
of their characters, he would one day get a buffalo's front foot and
ornament it fantastically with feathers. When the time came, he would call
one of his daughters to him and say to her: "Now I wish you to stand here
in front of me and look me straight in the eye without laughing. No matter
what I may do, do not laugh." Then he would sing a funny song, shaking the
foot in the girl's face in time to the song, and looking her steadily in
the eye. Very likely before he had finished, she would begin to giggle. If
she did this, the father would stop singing and tell her to finish
laughing; and when she was serious again, he would again warn her not to
laugh, and then would repeat his song. This time perhaps she would not
laugh while he was singing. He would go through with this same performance
before all his daughters. To such as seemed to have the steadiest
characters, he would give good advice. He would talk to each girl of the
duties of a woman's life and warn her against the dangers which she might
expect to meet.
At the time of the Medicine Lodge, he would take her to the lodge and point
out to her the Medicine Lodge woman. He would say: "There is a good
woman. She has built this Medicine Lodge, and is greatly honored and
respected by all the people. Once she was a girl just like you; and you, if
you are good and live a pure life, may some day be as great as she is
now. Remember this, and try to live a worthy life."
At the time of the Medicine Lodge, the boys in the camp also gathered to
see the young men count their _coups_. A man would get up, holding in one
hand a bundle of small sticks, and, taking one stick from the bundle, he
would recount some brave deed, throwing away a stick as he completed the
narrative of each _coup_, until the sticks were all gone, when he sat down,
and another man stood up to begin his recital. As the boys saw and heard
all this, and saw how respected those men were who had done the most and
bravest things, they said to themselves, "That man was once a boy like us,
and we, if we have strong hearts, may do as much as he has done." So even
the very small boys used often to steal off from the camp, and follow war
parties. Often they went without the knowledge of their parents, and poorly
provided, without food or extra moccasins. They would get to the enemy's
camp, watch the ways of the young men, and so learn about going to war, how
to act when on the war trail so as to be successful. Also they came to know
The Blackfeet men often went off by themselves to fast and dream for
power. By no means every one did this, and, of those who attempted it, only
a few endured to the end,--that is, fasted the whole four days,--and
obtained the help sought. The attempt was not usually made by young boys
before they had gone on their first war journey. It was often undertaken by
men who were quite mature. Those who underwent this suffering were obliged
to abstain from food or drink for four days and four nights, resting for
two nights on the right side, and for two nights on the left. It was deemed
essential that the place to which a man resorted for this purpose should be
unfrequented, where few or no persons had walked; and it must also be a
place that tried the nerve, where there was some danger. Such situations
were mountain peaks; or narrow ledges on cut cliffs, where a careless
movement might cause a man to fall to his death on the rocks below; or
islands in lakes, which could only be reached by means of a raft, and where
there was danger that a person might be seized and carried off by the
_S[=u]'-y[=e] t[)u]p'-pi_, or Under Water People; or places where the dead
had been buried, and where there was much danger from ghosts. Or a man
might lie in a well-worn buffalo trail, where the animals were frequently
passing, and so he might be trodden on by a travelling band of buffalo; or
he might choose a locality where bears were abundant and dangerous.
Wherever he went, the man built himself a little lodge of brush, moss, and
leaves, to keep off the rain; and, after making his prayers to the sun and
singing his sacred songs, he crept into the hut and began his fast. He was
not allowed to take any covering with him, nor to roof over his shelter
with skins. He always had with him a pipe, and this lay by him, filled, so
that, when the spirit, or dream, came, it could smoke. They did not appeal
to any special class of helpers, but prayed to all alike. Often by the end
of the fourth day, a secret helper--usually, but by no means always, in the
form of some animal--appeared to the man in a dream, and talked with him,
advising him, marking out his course through life, and giving him its
power. There were some, however, on whom the power would not work, and a
much greater number who gave up the fast, discouraged, before the
prescribed time had been completed, either not being able to endure the
lack of food and water, or being frightened by the strangeness or
loneliness of their surroundings, or by something that they thought they
saw or heard. It was no disgrace to fail, nor was the failure necessarily
known, for the seeker after power did not always, nor perhaps often, tell
any one what he was going to do.
Three modes of burial were practised by the Blackfeet. They buried their
dead on platforms placed in trees, on platforms in lodges, and on the
ground in lodges. If a man dies in a lodge, it is never used again. The
people would be afraid of the man's ghost. The lodge is often used to wrap
the body in, or perhaps the man may be buried in it.
As soon as a person is dead, be it man, woman, or child, the body is
immediately prepared for burial, by the nearest female relations. Until
recently, the corpse was wrapped in a number of robes, then in a lodge
covering, laced with rawhide ropes, and placed on a platform of lodge
poles, arranged on the branches of some convenient tree. Some times the
outer wrapping--the lodge covering--was omitted. If the deceased was a man,
his weapons, and often his medicine, were buried with him. With women a few
cooking utensils and implements for tanning robes were placed on the
scaffolds. When a man was buried on a platform in a lodge, the platform was
usually suspended from the lodge poles.
Sometimes, when a great chief or noted warrior died, his lodge would be
moved some little distance from the camp, and set up in a patch of
brush. It would be carefully pegged down all around, and stones piled on
the edges to make it additionally firm. For still greater security, a rope
fastened to the lodge poles, where they come together at the smoke hole,
came down, and was securely tied to a peg in the ground in the centre of
the lodge, where the fireplace would ordinarily be. Then the beds were made
up all around the lodge, and on one of them was placed the corpse, lying as
if asleep. The man's weapons, pipe, war clothing, and medicine were placed
near him, and the door then closed. No one ever again entered such a
lodge. Outside the lodge, a number of his horses, often twenty or more,
were killed, so that he might have plenty to ride on his journey to the Sand
Hills, and to use after arriving there. If a man had a favorite horse, he
might order it to be killed at his grave, and his order was always carried
out. In ancient times, it is said, dogs were killed at the grave.
Women mourn for deceased relations by cutting their hair short. For the
loss of a husband or son (but not a daughter), they not only cut their
hair, but often take off one or more joints of their fingers, and always
scarify the calves of their legs. Besides this, for a month or so, they
daily repair to some place near camp, generally a hill or little rise of
ground, and there cry and lament, calling the name of the deceased over and
over again. This may be called a chant or song, for there is a certain tune
to it. It is in a minor key and very doleful. Any one hearing it for the
first time, even though wholly unacquainted with Indian customs, would at
once know that it was a mourning song, or at least was the utterance of one
in deep distress. There is no fixed period for the length of time one must
mourn. Some keep up this daily lament for a few weeks only, and others much
longer. I once came across an old wrinkled woman, who was crouched in the
sage brush, crying and lamenting for some one, as if her heart would
break. On inquiring if any one had lately died, I was told she was mourning
for a son she had lost more than twenty years before.
Men mourn by cutting a little of their hair, going without leggings, and
for the loss of a son, sometimes scarify their legs. This last, however, is
never done for the loss of a wife, daughter, or any relative except a son.
Many Blackfeet change their names every season. Whenever a Blackfoot counts
a new _coup_, he is entitled to a new name. A Blackfoot will never tell his
name if he can avoid it. He believes that if he should speak his name, he
would be unfortunate in all his undertakings. It was considered a gross
breach of propriety for a man to meet his mother-in-law, and if by any
mischance he did so, or what was worse, if he spoke to her, she demanded a
very heavy payment, which he was obliged to make. The mother-in-law was
equally anxious to avoid meeting or speaking to her son-in-law.
HOW THE BLACKFOOT LIVED
The primitive clothing of the Blackfeet was made of the dressed skins of
certain animals. Women seldom wore a head covering. Men, however, in winter
generally used a cap made of the skin of some small animal, such as the
antelope, wolf, badger, or coyote. As the skin from the head of these
animals often formed part of the cap, the ears being left on, it made a
very odd-looking head-dress. Sometimes a cap was made of the skin of some
large bird, such as the sage-hen, duck, owl, or swan.
The ancient dress of the women was a shirt of cowskin, with long sleeves
tied at the wrist, a skirt reaching half-way from knees to ankles, and
leggings tied above the knees, with sometimes a supporting string running
from the belt to the leggings. In more modern times, this was modified, and
a woman's dress consisted of a gown or smock, reaching from the neck to
below the knees. There were no sleeves, the armholes being provided with
top coverings, a sort of cape or flap, which reached to the
elbows. Leggings were of course still worn. They reached to the knee, and
were generally made, as was the gown, of the tanned skins of elk, deer,
sheep, or antelope. Moccasins for winter use were made of buffalo robe, and
of tanned buffalo cowskin for summer wear. The latter were always made with
parfleche soles, which greatly increased their durability, and were often
ornamented over the instep or toes with a three-pronged figure, worked in
porcupine quills or beads, the three prongs representing, it is said, the
three divisions or tribes of the nation. The men wore a shirt, breech-clout,
leggings which reached to the thighs, and moccasins. In winter both men and
women wore a robe of tanned buffalo skin, and sometimes of beaver. In
summer a lighter robe was worn, made of cowskin or buckskin, from which the
hair had been removed. Both sexes wore belts, which supported and confined
the clothing, and to which were attached knife-sheaths and other useful
Necklaces and ear-rings were worn by all, and were made of shells, bone,
wood, and the teeth and claws of animals. Elk tushes were highly prized,
and were used for ornamenting women's dresses. A gown profusely decorated
with them was worth two good horses. Eagle feathers were used by the men to
make head-dresses and to ornament shields and also weapons. Small bunches
of owl or grouse feathers were sometimes tied to the scalp locks. It is
doubtful if the women ever took particular care of their hair. The men,
however, spent a great deal of time brushing, braiding, and ornamenting
their scalp locks. Their hair was usually worn in two braids, one on each
side of the head. Less frequently, four braids were made, one behind and in
front of each ear. Sometimes, the hair of the forehead was cut off square,
and brushed straight up; and not infrequently it was made into a huge
topknot and wound with otter fur. Often a slender lock, wound with brass
wire or braided, hung down from one side of the forehead over the face.
As a rule, the men are tall, straight, and well formed. Their features are
regular, the eyes being large and well set, and the nose generally
moderately large, straight, and thin. Their chests are splendidly
developed. The women are quite tall for their sex, but, as a rule, not so
good-looking as the men. Their hands are large, coarse, and knotted by hard
labor; and they early become wrinkled and careworn. They generally have
splendid constitutions. I have known them to resume work a day after
childbirth; and once, when travelling, I knew a woman to halt, give birth to
a child, and catch up with the camp inside of four hours.
As a rule, children are hardy and vigorous. They are allowed to do about as
they please from the time they are able to walk. I have often seen them
playing in winter in the snow, and spinning tops on the ice, barefooted and
half-naked. Under such conditions, those which have feeble constitutions
soon die. Only the hardiest reach maturity and old age.
It is said that very long ago the people made houses of mud, sticks, and
stones. It is not known what was their size or shape, and no traces of them
are known to have been found. For a very long time, the lodge seems to have
been their only dwelling. In ancient times, before they had knives of
metal, stones were used to hold down the edges of the lodge, to keep it
from being blown away. These varied in size from six inches to a foot or
more in diameter. Everywhere on the prairie, one may now see circles of
these stones, and, within these circles, the smaller ones, which surrounded
the fireplace. Some of them have lain so long that only the tops now
project above the turf, and undoubtedly many of them are buried out of
Lodges were always made of tanned cowskin, nicely cut and sewn together, so
as to form an almost perfect cone. At the top were two large flaps, called
ears, which were kept extended or closed, according to the direction and
strength of the wind, to create a draft and keep the lodge free from
smoke. The lodge covering was supported by light, straight pine or spruce
poles, about eighteen of which were required. Twelve cowskins made a lodge
about fourteen feet in diameter at the base, and ten feet high. I have
heard of a modern one which contained forty skins. It was over thirty feet
in diameter, and was so heavy that the skins were sewn in two pieces which
An average-sized dwelling of this kind contained eighteen skins and was
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