Manataka American Indian Council

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Alexander Eastman, (Ohiyesa)

1858-1939

 


[The entire book "Old Indian Days" is published here from the original 1907 edition published

by the McClure Company. A cut-out of the original book cover showing the title is above.]

 

 


 

  CONTENTS
  INTRODUCTION
PART I.   THE WARRIOR

         I.

       THE LOVE OF ANTELOPE

  II.

       THE MADNESS OF BALD EAGLE

 III.

       THE SINGING SPIRIT

IV.

       THE FAMINE

  V.

       THE CHIEF SOLDIER

VI.

        THE WHITE MAN'S ERRAND

VII.

       THE GRAVE OF THE DOG
PART II. 

  THE WOMAN

 I. 

       WINONA, THE WOMAN-CHILD

  II.

       WINONA, THE CHILD-WOMAN
  III.         SNANA'S FAWN
 IV.        SHE-WHO-HAS-A-SOUL
   V.        THE PEACE-MAKER
VI.          BLUE SKY
VII.         THE FAITHFULNESS OF LONG EARS
VIII.         THE WAR MAIDEN
       GLOSSARY

(CONTINUED)

BLUE SKY

     Many years ago a large body of the Sioux were encamped at midsummer in the valley of the Cheyenne. It was customary at that period for the Indians to tie up their ponies over night within the circle of the teepees, whenever they were in disputed territory, for they considered it no wrong to steal the horses of the enemy. Hence this long procession of young men and maidens, returning at sunset to the camp with great bundles of green grass hanging gracefully from their saddles I

     The "green grass parade" became a regular custom, and in fact a full-dress affair, since it was found to afford unusual opportunities for courtship.

     Blue Sky, the pretty daughter of the Sioux chief, put on her best doeskin gown trimmed with elks' teeth, and investing her favorite spotted pony with his beaded saddle-blanket, she went forth in company with one of her maiden friends. Soon two young warriors overtook the pair; and as they approached they covered their heads with their robes, exposing only the upper part of the face disguised with paint and the single eagle feather standing upright. One carried a bow and quiver full of arrows; the other, a war-club suspended from his right arm.

     "Ah, hay, hun, hay!" saluted one of them; but the modest maidens said never a word! It was not their way to speak; only the gay calico ponies pranced about and sportively threw back their ears to snap at the horses of the two young men.

     "'Tis a brave welcome your horses are giving us!" he continued, while the two girls merely looked at one another with perfect understanding.

     Presently Matoska urged his pony close to the Blue Sky's side.

     "It may be that I am overbold," he murmured in her ear, "to repeat so soon my tale of love! I know well that I risk a reprimand, if not in words, then by a look or action!"

     He paused to note the effect of his speech; but alas! it is the hard rule of savage courtship that the maiden may with propriety and dignity keep silence as long as she wishes, and it is often exasperatingly long.

     "I have spoken to no maiden," he resumed, "because I wished to win the war-bonnet before doing so. But to you I was forced to yield!" Again he paused, as if fearing to appear unduly hasty; but deliberate as were speech and manner, his eyes betrayed him. They were full of intense eagerness mingled with anxiety.

     "Sometimes I have imagined that I am in the world with you alone, traveling over the prairie of life, or sitting in our lonely white teepee, as the oriole sits with his mate before their swaying home. Yet I seemed to be never lonely, because you were there!" He finished his plea, and with outward calmness awaited her reply.

     The maiden had not lost a word, but she was still thinking. She thought that a man is much like the wind of the north, only pleasant and comfortable in midsummer! She feared that she might some time have to furnish all the fuel for their love's fires; therefore she held her peace. Matoska waited for several minutes and them silently withdrew, bearing his disappointment with dignity.

     Meanwhile the camp was astir with the returning youths and maidens, their horses' sides fringed with the long meadow grass, singing plaintive serenades around the circular rows of teepees before they broke up for the night.

     It was a clear and quiet night; the evening fires were kindled and every teepee transformed into an immense Chinese lantern. There was a glowing ring two miles in circumference, with the wooded river bottom on one side and the vast prairie on the other. The Black Hills loomed up in the distance, and the rapids of the wild Cheyenne sent forth a varying peal of music on the wind. The people enjoyed their evening meal, and in the pauses of their talk and laughter the ponies could be heard munching at the bundles of green grass just outside the teepees.

     Suddenly a chorus of yells broke cruelly the peace of the camp, followed by the dashing charge of the Crow Indian horsemen! It was met as bravely and quickly by the Sioux; and in the clear, pale moonlight the dusky warriors fought, with the occasional flash of a firearm, while silent weapons flew thick in the air like dragon-flies at sunset.

     The brave mothers, wives, and sisters gave their shrill war-cry to inspire their men, and show the enemy that even the Sioux women cannot be daunted by such a fearful surprise.

     When the morning sun sent its golden shafts among the teepees, they saw it through glistening tears -- happy tears, they said, because the brave dead had met their end in gallant fight -- the very end they craved! And among those who fell that night was Brave Hawk, the handsome brother of the Blue Sky.

     In a few days the camp was moved to a point further up the Cheyenne and deeper into the bosom of the hills, leaving behind the decorated grave lodges belonging to the honored dead. A great council teepee was pitched, and here the people met to credit those who had earned them with the honors of the fight, that they might thereafter wear the eagle feathers which they had won.

     "The first honor," declared the master of ceremonies, "belongs to Brave Hawk, who fell in the battle! He it was who compelled the Crows to retreat, when he bravely charged upon them and knocked from his horse the Crow chief, their war leader."

     "Ho, it is true!" exclaimed the warriors in chorus.

     "The second honor," he resumed, "belongs to Matoska, the White Bear!"

     "Hun, hun, hay!" interposed another, "it is I, Red Owl, who touched the body of the Crow chief second to Brave Hawk!"

     It was a definite challenge.

     "The warriors who witnessed the act give the coup to Matoska, friend!" persisted the spokesman.

     Red Owl was a brave youth and a close rival of Matoska, both for war honors and for the hand of the prettiest maiden in the tribe. He had hoped to be recognized as one who fought in defense of their homes by the side of Brave Hawk; that would please the Blue Sky, he thought; but the honor was conferred upon his rival.

     There was a cloud of suppressed irritation on his dusky face as he sullenly departed to his own tent -- an action which displeased the council-men. Matoska had not spoken, and this caused him to appear to the better advantage. The worst of it was that Blue Sky herself had entered the ring with the "orphan steed," as it was called -- the war-horse of her dead brother, and had therefore seen and heard everything! Tanagila, or Hummingbird, the beautiful charger, decorated according to custom with the honors won by his master, was led away by the girl amidst resounding war-whoops.

     Unable to remain quiet, Red Owl went out into the hills to fast and pray. It was sunset of the next day when he again approached the village, and behind a little ridge came suddenly upon Matoska and the girl standing together. It was the first time that they had met since the "green grass parade," and now only by accident, as the sister of Brave Hawk was in deep mourning. However, the lover had embraced his opportunity, and the maiden had said that she was willing to think of the matter. No more words were spoken.

     That very night the council drum was struck three times, followed by the warriors' cheer. Everybody knew what that meant. It was an invitation to the young men to go upon the war-path against the Crows I

     Blue Sky was unconsciously startled by this sudden announcement. For the first time in her life she felt a fear that she could not explain. The truth was that she loved, and was not yet fully aware of it. In spite of her fresh grief, she had been inexplicably happy since her last meeting with Matoska, for she had seen in him that which is so beautiful, so compelling in man to the eyes of the woman who loves. He, too, now cherished a real hope, and felt as if he could rush into the thickest of the battle to avenge the brother of his beloved!

     In a few days the war-party had reached the Big Horn and sent out advance scouts, who reported a large Crow encampment. Their hundreds of horses covered the flats like a great herd of buffalo, they said. It was immediately decided to attack at daybreak, and on a given signal they dashed impetuously upon the formidable camp. Some stampeded and drove off a number of horses, while the main body plunged into the midst of the Crows.

     But the enemy were not easily surprised. They knew well the Sioux tactics, and there was a desperate struggle for supremacy. War-club was raised against war-club, and the death-song of the arrow filled the air! Presently the Sioux were forced to retreat, with the Crows in hot pursuit, like wolves after their prey.

     Red Owl and Matoska had been among the foremost in the charge, and now they acted as a rear-guard, bravely defending the retreat of their little army, to the admiration of the enemy. At last a Crow raised his spear against Matoska, who in a flash dismounted him with a stroke of his oaken bow; but alas! the blow snapped the bow-string and left him defenseless. At the same instant his horse uttered a scream and fell, throwing its rider.  

     There was no one near except Red Owl, who clapped his heels to his pony and joined in the retreat, leaving Matoska behind. He arose, threw down his quiver, and advanced alone to meet the oncoming rush of the Crows!

     The Sioux had seen him fall. In a few moments he was surrounded by the enemy, and they saw him no more.

     The pursuit was stopped, and they paused upon a hilltop to collect the remnant of their force. Red Owl was the last to come up, and it was observed that he did not look like himself.

     "Tell us, what were Matoska's last words?" they asked him.

     But he silently dismounted and sent an arrow through his faithful steed, to the astonishment of the warriors. Immediately afterward he took out his knife and stabbed himself to the heart.

     "Ah!" they exclaimed, "he could not live to share our humiliation!"

     The war-party returned defeated and cast down by this unexpected ending to their adventure, having lost some of their bravest and best men. The camp was instantly thrown into mourning. Many were in heavy grief, but none was more deeply stricken than the maiden called the Blue Sky, the daughter of their chief.

     She remained within her teepee and wept in secret, for none knew that she had the right to mourn. Yet she believed that her lover had met with misfortune, but not death. Although his name was announced among those warriors who fell in the field, her own heart assured her that it was not so. "I must go to him," she said to herself. "I must know certainly whether he is still among the living!"

     The next evening, while the village was yet in the confusion of great trouble and sorrow, Blue Sky rode out upon her favorite pony as if to take him to water as usual, but none saw her return! She hastened to the spot where she had concealed two sacks of provisions and her extra moccasins and materials for sewing. She had no weapon, save her knife and a small hatchet. She knew the country between the Black Hills and the Big Horn, and knew that it was full of perils for man and much more for woman. Yet by traveling only at night and concealing herself in the daytime she hoped to avoid these dangers, and she rode bravely forth on the trail of the returning warriors.

     Her dog, Wapayna, had followed the maiden, and she was not sorry to have so faithful a companion. She cautioned him not to bark at or attack strange animals unless they attacked first, and he seemed to understand the propriety of remaining on guard whenever his mistress was asleep.

     She reached the Powder River country in safety, and here she had more than once to pick her way among the buffaloes. These wily animals seemed to realize that she was only a woman and unarmed, so that they scarcely kept out of her path. She also crossed the trails of riders, some of them quite fresh, but was fortunate enough not to meet any of them.

     At last the maiden attained the divide between the Tongue and the Big Horn rivers. Her heart beat fast, and the sudden sense of her strange mission almost overwhelmed her. She remembered the only time in her life that the Sioux were upon that river, and so had that bit of friendly welcome from the valley -- a recollection of childhood!

     It was near morning; the moon had set and for a short time darkness prevailed, but the girl's eyes had by this time become accustomed to the dark. She knew the day was at hand, and with its first beams she was safely tucked into one of those round turns left by the river long ago in changing its bed, now become a little grassy hollow sheltered by steep banks, and hidden by a fringe of trees. Here she picketed her pony, and took her own rest. Not until the afternoon shadows were long did she awake and go forth with determination to seek for the battlefield and for the Crow encampment.

     It was not long before she came upon the bodies of fallen horses and men. There was Matoska's white charger, with a Sioux arrow in his side, and she divined the treachery of Red Owl! But he was dead, and his death had atoned for the crime. The body of her lover was nowhere to be found; yet how should they have taken the bravest of the Sioux a captive?

     "If he had but one arrow left, he would stand and fight! If his bow-string were broken, he would still welcome death with a strong heart," she thought.

     The evening was approaching and the Crow village in plain sight. Blue Sky arranged her hair and dress as well as she could like that of a Crow woman, and with an extra robe she made for herself a bundle that looked as if it held a baby in its many wrappings. The community was still celebrating its recent victory over the Sioux, and the camp was alive with songs and dances. In the darkness she approached unnoticed, and singing in an undertone a Crow lullaby, walked back and forth among the lodges, watching eagerly for any signs of him she sought.

     At last she came near to the council lodge. There she beheld his face like an apparition through the dusk and the fire-light! He was sitting within, dressed in the gala costume of a Crow.

     "O, he is living! he is living!" thought the brave maiden. "O, what shall I do?" Unconsciously she crept nearer and nearer, until the sharp eyes of an Indian detected the slight difference in her manner and dress, and he at once gave the alarm.

     "Wah, wah! Epsaraka! Epsaraka! A Sioux! A Sioux!"

     In an instant the whole camp had surrounded the girl, who stood in their midst a prisoner, yet undaunted, for she had seen her lover, and the spirit of her ancestors rose within her.

     An interpreter was brought, a man who was half Crow and half Sioux.

     "Young and pretty daughter of the Sioux!" exclaimed the chief, "tell us how you came here in our midst undetected, and why!"

     "Because," replied the Blue Sky, "your brave warriors have slain my only brother, and captured my lover, whom you now hold a prisoner. It is for his sake that I have thus risked my life and honor!"

     "Ho, ho! You are the bravest woman I have ever seen. Your lover was betrayed into our hands by the treachery of one of his own tribe, who shot his horse from behind. He faced us without fear, but it was not his courage that saved his life. He resembles my own son, who lately fell in battle, and according to the custom I have adopted him as my son!"

     Thus the brave maiden captured the heart of the wily Crow, and was finally allowed to return home with her lover, bearing many and rich presents. Her name is remembered among the two tribes, for this act of hers resulted in a treaty of peace between them which was kept for a generation.


THE FAITHFULNESS OF LONG EARS

     Away beyond the Thin Hills, above the Big Lone Tree upon the Powder River, the Uncpapa Sioux had celebrated their Sun Dance, some forty years ago. It was midsummer and the red folk were happy. They lacked for nothing. The yellowish green flat on either side of the Powder was studded with wild flowers, and the cottonwood trees were in full leaf. One large circle of buffalo skin teepees formed the movable village. The Big Horn Mountains loomed up against the deep blue sky to the westward, and the Black Hills appeared in the far southeast.

     The tribal rites had all been observed, and the usual summer festivities enjoyed to the full. The camp as it broke up divided itself in three parts, each of which had determined to seek a favorite hunting-ground.

     One band journeyed west, toward the Tongue River. One followed a tributary of the Powder to the south. The third merely changed camp, on account of the grazing for ponies, and for four days remained near the old place.

     The party that went west did not fail to realize the perilous nature of their wanderings, for they were trespassing upon the country of the warlike Crows.

     On the third day at sunrise, the Sioux crier's voice resounded in the valley of the Powder, announcing that the lodges must be razed and the villagers must take up their march.

     Breakfast of jerked buffalo meat had been served and the women were adjusting their packs, not without much chatter and apparent confusion. Weeko (Beautiful Woman), the young wife of the war-chief Shunkaska, who had made many presents at the dances in honor of her twin boys, now gave one of her remaining ponies to a poor old woman whose only beast of burden, a large dog, had died during the night.

     This made it necessary to shift the packs of the others. Nakpa, or Long Ears, her kitten-like gray mule, which had heretofore been honored with the precious burden of the twin babies, was to be given a heavier and more cumbersome load. Weeko's two-year-old spotted pony was selected to carry the babies.

     Accordingly, the two children, in their gorgeously beaded buckskin hoods, were suspended upon either side of the pony's saddle. As Weeko's first-born, they were beautifully dressed; even the saddle and bridle were daintily worked by her own hands.

     The caravan was now in motion, and Weeko started all her ponies after the leader, while she adjusted the mule's clumsy burden of kettles and other household gear. In a moment:

     "Go on, let us see how you move with your new load! Go on!" she exclaimed again, with a light blow of the horse-hair lariat, as the animal stood perfectly still.

     Nakpa simply gave an angry side glance at her load and shifted her position once or twice. Then she threw herself headlong into the air and landed stiff-legged, uttering at the same time her unearthly protest. First she dove straight through the crowd, then proceeded in a circle, her heels describing wonderful curves and sweeps in the air. Her pack, too, began to come to pieces and to take forced flights from her undignified body and heels, in the midst of the screams of women and children, the barking of dogs, and the war-whoops of the amused young braves.

     The cow skin tent became detached from her saddle, and a moment later Nakpa stood free. Her sides worked like a bellows as she stood there meekly indignant, apparently considering herself to be the victim of an uncalled-for misunderstanding.

     "I should put an arrow through her at once, only she is not worth a good arrow," said Shunkaska, or White Dog, the husband of Weeko. At his wife's answer, he opened his eyes in surprised displeasure.

     "No, she shall have her own pack again. She wants her twins. I ought never to have taken them from her!"

     Weeko approached Nakpa as she stood alone and unfriended in the face of her little world, all of whom considered that she had committed the unpardonable sin. As for her, she evidently felt that her misfortunes had not been of her own making. She gave a hesitating, sidelong look at her mistress.

     "Nakpa, you should not have acted so. I knew you were stronger than the others, therefore I gave you that load," said Weeko in a conciliatory tone, and patted her on the nose. "Come, now, you shall have your own pet pack," and she led her back to where the young pony stood silently with the babies.

     Nakpa threw back her ears and cast savage looks at him, while Shunkaska, with no small annoyance, gathered together as much as he could of their scattered household effects. The sleeping brown-skinned babies in their chrysalis-like hoods were gently lowered from the pony's back and attached securely to Nakpa's padded wooden saddle. The family pots and kettles were divided among the pack ponies. Order was restored and the village once more in motion.

     "Come now, Nakpa; you have your wish. You must take good care of my babies. Be good, because I have trusted you," murmured the young mother in her softest tones.

     "Really, Weeko, you have some common ground with Nakpa, for you both always want to have your own way, and stick to it, tool tell you, I fear this Long Ears. She is not to be trusted with babies," remarked Shunkaska, with a good deal of severity.

     But his wife made no reply, for she well knew that though he might criticise, he would not actually interfere with her domestic arrangements.

     He now started ahead to join the men in advance of the slow-moving procession, thus leaving her in undivided charge of her household. One or two of the pack ponies were not well-trained and required all her attention. Nakpa had been a faithful servant until her escapade of the morning, and she was now obviously satisfied with her mistress' arrangements. She walked alongside with her lariat dragging, and perfectly free to do as she pleased.

     Some hours later, the party ascended a slope from the river bottom to cross over the divide which lay between the Powder River and a tributary stream. They had hitherto followed that river in a westerly direction, but here it took its course southward, winding in a blue streak until lost to view among the foot-hills of the Big Horn Mountains. The ford was deep, with a swift current. Here and there a bald butte stood out in full relief against the brilliant blue sky. The Sioux followed a deep ravine until they came almost up to the second row of terraces.

     "Whoo! whoo!" came the blood-curdling signal of danger from the front. It was no unfamiliar sound -- the rovers knew it only too well. It meant sudden death -- or at best a cruel struggle and frantic flight.

     Terrified, yet self-possessed, the women turned to fly while yet there was time. Instantly the mother looked to Nakpa, who carried on either side of the saddle her precious boys. She hurriedly examined the fastenings to see that all was secure, and then caught her swiftest pony, for, like all Indian women, she knew just what was happening, and that while her husband was engaged in front with the enemy, she must seek safety with her babies.

     Hardly was she in the saddle when a heart-rending war-whoop sounded on their flank, and she knew that they were surrounded! Instinctively she reached for her husband's second quiver of arrows, which was carried by one of the pack ponies. Alas! the Crow warriors were already upon them! The ponies became unmanageable, and the wild screams of women and children pierced the awful confusion.

     Quick as a flash, Weeko turned again to her babies, but Nakpa had already disappeared!

     Then, maddened by fright and the loss of her children, Weeko became forgetful of her sex and tenderness, for she sternly grasped her husband's bow in her left hand to do battle.

     That charge of the Crows was a disastrous one, but the Sioux were equally brave and desperate. Charges and counter-charges were made, and the slain were many on both sides. The fight lasted until darkness came. Then the Crows departed and the Sioux buried their dead.

     When the Crows made their flank charge, Nakpa apparently appreciated the situation. To save herself and the babies, she took a desperate chance. She fled straight through the attacking force.

     When the warriors came howling upon her in great numbers, she at once started back the way she had come, to the camp left behind. They had traveled nearly three days. To be sure, they did not travel more than fifteen miles a day, but it was full forty miles to cover before dark.

     "Look! look!" exclaimed a warrior, "two babies hung from the saddle of a mule!"

     No one heeded this man's call, and his arrow did not touch Nakpa or either of the boys, but it struck the thick part of the saddle over the mule's back.

     "Lasso her! lasso her!" he yelled once more; but Nakpa was too cunning for them. She dodged in and out with active heels, and they could not afford to waste many arrows on a mule at that stage of the fight. Down the ravine, then over the expanse of prairie dotted with gray-green sage-brush, she sped with her unconscious burden.

     "Whoo! whoo!" yelled another Crow to his comrades, "the Sioux have dispatched a runner to get reinforcements! There he goes, down on the flat! Now he has almost reached the river bottom!"

     It was only Nakpa. She laid back her ears and stretched out more and more to gain the river, for she realized that when she had crossed the ford the Crows would not pursue her farther.

     Now she had reached the bank. With the intense heat from her exertions, she was extremely nervous, and she imagined a warrior being [in] every bush. Yet she had enough sense left to realize that she must not satisfy her thirst. She tried the bottom with her fore-foot, then waded carefully into the deep stream.

     She kept her big ears well to the front as she swam to catch the slightest sound. As she stepped on the opposite shore, she shook herself and the boys vigorously, then pulled a few mouthfuls of grass and started on.

     Soon one of the babies began to cry, and the other was not long in joining him. Nakpa did not know what to do. She gave a gentle whinny and both babies apparently stopped to listen; then she took up an easy gait as if to put them to sleep.

     These tactics answered only for a time. As she fairly flew over the lowlands, the babies' hunger increased and they screamed so loud that a passing coyote had to sit upon his haunches and wonder what in the world the fleeing long-eared horse was carrying on his saddle. Even magpies and crows flew near as if to ascertain the meaning of this curious sound.

     Nakpa now came to the Little Trail Creek, a tributary of the Powder, not far from the old camp. No need of wasting any time here, she thought. Then she swerved aside so suddenly as almost to jerk her babies out of their cradles. Two gray wolves, one on each side, approached her, growling low -- their white teeth showing.

     Never in her humble life had Nakpa been in more desperate straits. The larger of the wolves came fiercely forward to engage her attention, while his mate was to attack her behind and cut her hamstrings. But for once the pair had made a miscalculation. The mule used her front hoofs vigorously on the foremost wolf, while her hind ones were doing even more effective work. The larger wolf soon went limping away with a broken hip, and the one in the rear received a deep cut on the jaw which proved an effectual discouragement.

     A little further on, an Indian hunter drew near on horseback, but Nakpa did not pause or slacken her pace. On she fled through the long dry grass of the river bottoms, while her babies slept again from sheer exhaustion. Toward sunset, she entered the Sioux camp amid great excitement, for some one had spied her afar off, and the boys and the dogs announced her coming.

     "Whoo, whoo! Weeko's Nakpa has come back with the twins! Whoo, whoo!" exclaimed the men. " Tokee! tokee!" cried the women.

     A sister to Weeko who was in the village came forward and released the children, as Nakpa gave a low whinny and stopped. Tenderly Zeezeewin nursed them at her own motherly bosom, assisted by another young mother of the band.

     "Ugh, there is a Crow arrow sticking in the saddle! A fight! a fight!" exclaimed the warriors.

     "Sing a Brave-Heart song for the Long-Eared one! She has escaped alone with her charge. She is entitled to wear an eagle's feather! Look at the arrow in her saddle! and more, she has a knife wound in her jaw and an arrow cut on her hind leg. -- No, those are the marks of a wolf's teeth! She has passed through many dangers and saved two chief's sons, who will some day make the Crows sorry for this day's work!"

     The speaker was an old man who thus addressed the fast gathering throng.

     Zeezeewin now came forward again with an eagle feather and some white paint in her hands. The young men rubbed Nakpa down, and the feather, marked with red to indicate her wounds, was fastened to her mane. Shoulders and hips were touched with red paint to show her endurance in running. Then the crier, praising her brave deed in heroic verse, led her around the camp, inside of the circle of teepees. All the people stood outside their lodges and listened respectfully, for the Dakota loves well to honor the faithful and the brave.

     During the next day, riders came in from the illfated party, bringing the sad news of the fight and heavy loss. Late in the afternoon came Weeko, her face swollen with crying, her beautiful hair cut short in mourning, her garments torn and covered with dust and blood. Her husband had fallen in the fight, and her twin boys she supposed to have been taken captive by the Crows. Singing in a hoarse voice the praises of her departed warrior, she entered the camp. As she approached her sister's teepee, there stood Nakpa, still wearing her honorable decorations. At the same moment, Zeezeewin came out to meet her with both babies in her arms.

     "Mechinkshee! meechinkshee! (my sons, my sons!)" was all that the poor mother could say, as she all but fell from her saddle to the ground. The despised Long Ears had not betrayed her trust.


THE WAR MAIDEN

     The old man, Smoky Day, was for many years the best-known story-teller and historian of his tribe. He it was who told me the story of the War Maiden. In the old days it was unusual but not unheard of for a woman to go upon the war-path -- perhaps a young girl, the last of her line, or a widow whose well-loved husband had fallen on the field -- and there could be no greater incentive to feats of desperate daring on the part of the warriors.

     "A long time ago," said old Smoky Day, "the Unkpapa and the Cut-Head bands of Sioux united their camps upon a vast prairie east of the Minne Wakan (now called Devil's Lake). It was midsummer, and the people shared in the happiness of every living thing. We had food in abundance, for bison in countless numbers overspread the plain.

     "The teepee village was laid out in two great rings, and all was in readiness for the midsummer entertainments. There were ball games, feasts and dances every day, and late into the night. You have heard of the festivities of those days; there are none like them now," said the old man, and he sighed heavily as he laid down the red pipe which was to be passed from hand to hand during the recital.

     "The head chief of the Unkpapas then was Tam koche ( His Country) . He was in his time a notable warrior, a hunter and a feast-maker, much beloved by his people. He was the father of three sons, but he was so anxious to make them warriors of great reputation that they had all, despising danger, been killed in battle.

     "The chief had also a very pretty daughter, whose name was Makátah. Since all his sons were slain he had placed his affections solely upon the girl, and she grew up listening to the praises of the brave deeds of her brothers, which her father never tired of chanting when they were together in the lodge. At times Makátah was called upon to dance to the 'Strong-Heart' songs. Thus even as a child she loved the thought of war, although she was the prettiest and most modest maiden in the two tribes. As she grew into womanhood she became the belle of her father's village, and her beauty and spirit were talked of even among the neighboring bands of Sioux. But it appeared that Makátah did not care to marry. She had only two ambitions. One was to prove to her father that, though only a maid, she had the heart of a warrior. The other was to visit the graves of her brothers -- that is, the country of the enemy.

     "At this pleasant reunion of two kindred peoples one of the principal events was the Feast of Virgins, given by Makátah. All young maidens of virtue and good repute were invited to be present; but woe to her who should dare to pollute the sacred feast! If her right to be there were challenged by any it meant a public disgrace. The two arrows and the red stone upon which the virgins took their oath of chastity were especially prepared for the occasion. Every girl was beautifully dressed, for at that time the white doeskin gowns, with a profusion of fringes and colored embroidery, were the gala attire of the Sioux maidens. Red paint was added, and ornaments of furs and wampum. Many youths eagerly surveyed the maiden gathering, at which the daughter of Tam koche outshone all the rest.

     "Several eligible warriors now pressed their suits at the chieftain's lodge, and among them were one or two whom he would have gladly called son-in-law; but no! Makátah would not listen to words of courtship. She had vowed, she said, to the spirits of her three brothers -- each of whom fell in the country of the Crows -- that she would see that country before she became a wife.

     "Red Horn, who was something of a leader among the young men, was a persistent and determined suitor. He had urged every influential friend of his and hers to persuade her to listen to him. His presents were more valuable than those of any one else. He even made use of his father's position as a leading chief of the Cut-Head band to force a decision in his favor; and while the maiden remained indifferent her father seemed inclined to countenance this young man's pretensions.

     "She had many other lovers, as I have said," the old man added, "and among them was one Little Eagle, an orphan and a poor young man, unknown and unproved as a warrior. He was so insignificant that nobody thought much about him, and if Makátah regarded him with any favor the matter was her secret, for it is certain that she did not openly encourage him.

     "One day it was reported in the village that their neighbors, the Cut-Head Sioux, would organize a great attack upon the Crows at the mouth of the Redwater, a tributary of the Missouri. Makátah immediately inquired of her male cousins whether any of them expected to join the war-party.

     "'Three of us will go,' they replied.

     "'Then,' said the girl, 'I beg that you will allow me to go with you! I have a good horse, and I shall not handicap you in battle. I only ask your protection in camp as your kinswoman and a maid of the war-party.'

     "'If our uncle Tam koche sanctions your going,' they replied, 'we shall be proud to have our cousin with us, to inspire us to brave deeds!'

     "The maiden now sought her father and asked his permission to accompany the war-party.

     "'I wish,' said she, 'to visit the graves of my brothers! I shall carry with me their war-bonnets and their weapons, to give to certain young men on the eve of battle, according to the ancient custom. Long ago I resolved to do this, and the time is now come.'

     "The chief was at this time well advanced in years, and had been sitting quite alone in his lodge, thinking upon the days of his youth, when he was noted for daring and success in battle. In silence he listened as he filled his pipe, and seemed to meditate while he smoked the fragrant tobacco. At last he spoke with tears in his eyes.

     "'Daughter, I am an old man! My heart beats in my throat, and my old eyes cannot keep back the tears. My three sons, on whom I had placed all my hopes, are gone to a far country!

You are the only child left to my old age, and you, too, are brave -- as brave as any of your brothers. If you go I fear that you may not return to me; yet I cannot refuse you my permission!"

     "The old man began to chant a war-song, and some of his people, hearing him, came in to learn what was in his mind. He told them all, and immediately many young men volunteered for the war-party, in order to have the honor of going with the daughter of their chief.

     "Several of Makátah's suitors were among them, and each watched eagerly for an opportunity to ride at her side. At night she pitched her little teepee within the circle of her cousins' campfires, and there she slept without fear. Courteous youths brought to her every morning and evening fresh venison for her repast. Yet there was no courting, for all attentions paid to a maiden when on the war-path must be those of a brother to a sister, and all must be equally received by her.

     "Two days later, when the two parties of Sioux met on the plains, the maiden's presence was heralded throughout the camp, as an inspiration to the young and untried warriors of both bands to distinguish themselves in the field. It is true that some of the older men considered it unwise to allow Makátah to accompany the war-party.

     "'The girl,' said they to one another, 'is very ambitious as well as brave. She will surely risk her own life in battle, which will make the young men desperate, and we shall lose many of them!'

     "Nevertheless they loved her and her father; therefore they did not protest openly.

     "On the third day the Sioux scouts returned with the word that the Crows were camping, as had been supposed, at the confluence of the Redwater and the Missouri Rivers. It was a great camp. All the Crow tribe were there, they said, with their thousands of fine horses.

     "There was excitement in the Sioux camp, and all of the head men immediately met in council. It was determined to make the attack early on the following morning, just as the sun came over the hills. The councilors agreed that in honor of the great chief, her father, as well as in recognition of her own courage, Makátah should be permitted to lead the charge at the outset, but that she must drop behind as they neared the enemy. The maiden, who had one of the fleetest ponies in that part of the country, had no intention of falling back, but she did not tell any one what was in her mind.

     "That evening every warrior sang his war-song, and announced the particular war-charm or 'medicine' of his clan, according to the custom. The youths were vying with one another in brave tales of what they would do on the morrow. The voice of Red Horn was loud among the boasters, for he was known to be a vain youth, although truly not without reputation. Little Eagle, who was also of the company, remained modestly silent, as indeed became one without experience in the field. In the midst of the clamor there fell a silence.

     "'Hush! hush!' they whispered. 'Look, look! The War Maiden comes!'

     "All eyes were turned upon Makátah, who rode her fine buckskin steed with a single lariat.


Look! Look! The War Maiden comes!


He held his head proudly, and his saddle was heavy with fringes and gay with colored embroidery. The maiden was attired in her best and wore her own father's war-bonnet, while she carried in her hands two which had belonged to two of her dead brothers. Singing in a clear voice the songs of her clan, she completed the circle, according to custom, before she singled out one of the young braves for special honor by giving him the bonnet which she held in her right hand. She then crossed over to the Cut-Heads, and presented the other bonnet to one of their young men. She was very handsome; even the old men's blood was stirred by her brave appearance.

     "At daybreak the two war-parties of the Sioux, mounted on their best horses, stood side by side, ready for the word to charge. All of the warriors were painted for the battle prepared for death -- their nearly nude bodies decorated with their individual war-totems. Their well-filled quivers were fastened to their sides, and each tightly grasped his oaken bow.

     "The young man with the finest voice had been chosen to give the signal -- a single high-pitched yell. This was an imitation of the one long howl of the gray wolf before he makes the attack. It was an ancient custom of our people.

     "'Woo-o-o-o!' -- at last it came! As the sound ceased a shrill war-whoop from five hundred throats burst forth in chorus, and at the same instant Makátah, upon her splendid buckskin pony, shot far out upon the plain, like an arrow as it leaves the bow. It was a glorious sight! No man has ever looked upon the like again!"

     The eyes of the old man sparkled as he spoke, and his bent shoulders straightened.

     "The white doeskin gown of the War Maiden," he continued, "was trimmed with elk's teeth and tails of ermine. Her long black hair hung loose, bound only with a strip of otter-skin, and with her eagle-feather war-bonnet floated far behind. In her hand she held a long coup-staff decorated with eagle-feathers. Thus she went forth in advance of them all!

     "War cries of men and screams of terrified women and children were borne upon the clear morning air as our warriors neared the Crow camp. The charge was made over a wide plain, and the Crows came yelling from their lodges, fully armed, to meet the attacking party. In spite of the surprise they easily held their own, and even began to press us hard, as their number was much greater than that of the Sioux.

     "The fight was a long and hard one. Toward the end of the day the enemy made a counter-charge. By that time many of our ponies had fallen or were exhausted. The Sioux retreated, and the slaughter was great. The Cut-Heads fled womanlike; but the people of Tam koche fought gallantly to the very last.

     "Makátah remained with her father's people. Many cried out to her, 'Go back! Go back!' but she paid no attention. She carried no weapon throughout the day -- nothing but her coup-staff -- but by her presence and her cries of encouragement or praise she urged on the men to deeds of desperate valor.

     "Finally, however, the Sioux braves were hotly pursued and the retreat became general. Now at last Makátah tried to follow; but her pony was tired, and the maiden fell farther and farther behind. Many of her lovers passed her silently, intent upon saving their own lives. Only a few still remained behind, fighting desperately to cover the retreat, when Red Horn came up with the girl. His pony was still fresh. He might have put her up behind him and carried her to safety, but he did not even look at her as he galloped by.

     "Makátah did not call out, but she could not help looking after him. He had declared his love for her more loudly than any of the others, and she now gave herself up to die.

     "Presently another overtook the maiden. It was Little Eagle, unhurt and smiling.

     "'Take my horse!' he said to her. 'I shall remain here and fight!'

     "The maiden looked at him and shook her head, but he sprang off and lifted her upon his horse. He struck him a smart blow upon the flank that sent him at full speed in the direction of the Sioux encampment. Then he seized the exhausted buckskin by the lariat, and turned back to join the rear-guard.

     "That little group still withstood in some fashion the all but irresistible onset of the Crows. When their comrade came back to them, leading the War Maiden's pony, they were inspired to fresh endeavor, and though few in number they made a counter-charge with such fury that the Crows in their turn were forced to retreat!

     "The Sioux got fresh mounts and returned to the field, and by sunset the day was won! Little Eagle was among the first who rode straight through the Crow camp, causing terror and consternation. It was afterward remembered that he looked unlike his former self and was scarcely recognized by the warriors for the modest youth they had so little regarded.

     "It was this famous battle which drove that warlike nation, the Crows, to go away from the Missouri and to make their home up the Yellowstone River and in the Bighorn country. But many of our men fell, and among them the brave Little Eagle!

     "The sun was almost over the hills when the Sioux gathered about their campfires, recounting the honors won in battle, and naming the brave dead. Then came the singing of dirges and weeping for the slain ! The sadness of loss was mingled with exultation.

     "Hush! listen! the singing and wailing have ceased suddenly at both camps. There is one voice coming around the circle of campfires. It is the voice of a woman! Stripped of all her ornaments, her dress shorn of its fringes, her ankles bare, her hair cropped close to her neck, leading a pony with mane and tail cut short, she is mourning as widows mourn. It is Makátah!

     "Publicly, with many tears, she declared herself the widow of the brave Little Eagle, although she had never been his wife! He it was, she said with truth, who had saved her people's honor and her life at the cost of his own. He was a true man!

     "'Ho, ho!' was the response from many of the older warriors; but the young men, the lovers of Makátah, were surprised and sat in silence.

     "The War Maiden lived to be a very old woman, but she remained true to her vow. She never accepted a husband; and all her lifetime she was known as the widow of the brave Little Eagle." 

THE END


GLOSSARY

A-nó-ks =  white on both sides (Bald Eagle).

A-tay'  =  father.

Chm-tn'-sk  =  White Hawk.

Chn'-tem-dah  =  Lives-in-the-Wood.

Chin'-t  =  yes, indeed.

E-n'-k-nee  =  hurry.

E'-y-tonk'-wee  =  She-whose-Voice-is-heard-afar.

E-y'-tnk  =  rise up, or sit down.

H-h'-ton-wan =  Ojibway.

H-n'-k-p  =  a grave.

H'-t-wom!  = Out of the way!

H'-ch-tu  =  it is well.

H-y'-py!  =  come here!

Hm!  =  An exclamation of thanks.

Hunk'-p-tees =  a band of Sioux.

K-p-sia =  Light Lodges, a band of Sioux.

K-chu'-w  = darling.

K-d' = friend.

M-g'-sk-wee = Swan Maiden.

M-k'-tah = Earth Woman.

M-t' = bear.

M-t'-sk = White Bear.

M-t'-s-p = Black Bear.

M-chink'-sh = my son or sons.

M-ta' = my.

Mn'-n-w-kan' = Sacred Water (Devil's Lake.)

Mn-n-y'-t  = By-the-Water.

Nk-p' = Ears or Long Ears.

N'-ny'-y! = run fast!

O-glu'-g-chn  =  Mysterious Wood-Dweller.

Psay = snow-shoes.

Shunk' =  dog.

Shunk'-ska =  White Dog.

Shunk-ibk'-chk =  domestic dog.

Sk-sk'-t-tonk' =  Sault Sainte Marie.

Sn'-n =  Rattle.

St&ab;-s&um;', Shield (Arickaree).

T'-k-ch-t =  his soldier.

T-chin'-ch-l =  fawn.

Tk-ch =  doe.

T-lum'-ta =  Scarlet.

T-m'-hay = Pike.

T-m'-k-ch = His Country.

T-n'-g-l =  Humming-Bird.

T-tnk'-t =  Many Buffaloes.

T-t'-y-p  = Her Door

T-t'-k  =  Antelope

T-w-s'-t  = Many Hailstones

Tee'-pee  =  tent

T-yo'-tee-pee =  Council lodge

T'-k-ynun-k' hu-w?  =  where are you?

Tunk'-sh-dah =  grandfather

Un-chee'-dah  =  grandmother

Unk'papas = band of Sioux

U-y'-y! =  come here!

W'-b-shaw =   Red Hat (name of a Sioux chief)

W-h'-dah =  Buyer of Furs

Wah-pay'-ton, =  a band of Sioux

W-hom' =  Howler

Wa-kan'  =  sacred, mysterious

Wk-pay'-ku-tay  =  a band of Sioux

W-pay'-n =  Little Barker

Wee-k'  =  Beautiful Woman

W-nom'-na  = Firstborn Daughter

W-sh'-wee  = Red Girl

W'-w-tay  =  a sharpened pole

W'-yn-n  =  little woman

W-zee' =  Smoky Lodge

Yn-nais'  =  a band of Sioux

Zee-zee  =  Yellow Woman

Zu-y  =  Walks-to-War

 


University of Nebraska Press, London, and Lincoln, NE ( 1991) from the Smithsonian Libraries, E99 D1E18X SO 

A Creation of machine-readable version: Judy Boss.
Creation of digital images: University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center.

THANK YOU FOR READING 'OLD INDIANS DAYS'

 

EMAIL          HOME          INDEX          TRADING POST