Manataka American Indian Council
Story of the White Buffalo Calf Maiden - Ptehincalaska
The following version of the story of the White Buffalo Calf Maiden was provided by an Oglala Lakota named Lone Man or Isna'lawica' . Lone Man was born in 1850, fought at the Little Big Horn in 1876, and died in April 1918. In 1912, Lone Man was interviewed by Frances Densmore through an interpreter named Robert High Eagle, and this version of the story was recorded and later published in 1918 in a larger work titled "Teton Sioux Music". It is considered one of the oldest recorded versions.
In the olden times it was a general custom for the Sioux tribe to assemble in a body once at least during the year. This gathering took place usually about that time of midsummer when everything looked beautiful and everybody rejoiced to live to see nature at it's best-that was the season when the Sundance ceremony took place and vows were made and fufilled. Sometimes the tribal gathering took place in the Fall when the wild game was in the best condition, when wild fruits of all kinds were ripe, and when the leaves on the trees and plants were the brightest.
One reason the people gathered as they did was that the tribe as a whole might celebrate the victories, successes on the warpath, and other good fortunes which had occurred during the year while the bands were scattered and each band was acting somewhat independently. Another reason was that certain rules or laws were made by the head chiefs and other leaders of the tribe, by which each band of the tribe was governed. For instance, if a certain band got into trouble with some other tribe, as the Crows, the Sioux tribe as a whole should be notified. Or if an enemy or enemies came on their hunting grounds the tribe should be notified at once. In this way the Teton Sioux was protected as to it's territory and it's hunting grounds.
After these gatherings there was a scattering of the various bands. On one such occasion the Sans Arc band started toward the west. They were moving from place to place, expecting to find buffalo and other game which they would lay up for their winter supply, but they failed to find anything. A council was called and two young men were selected to go in quest of buffalo and other game. They started on foot. When they were out of sight they each went in a different direction, but met again at a place which they had agreed upon. While they were planning and planning what to do, there appeared from the west a solitary object advancing toward them. It did not look like a buffalo; it looked more like a human being than anything else. They could not make out what it was, but it was coming rapidly. Both considered themselves brave, so they concluded that they would face whatever it might be. They stood still and gazed at it very eagerly. At last they saw it was a beautiful young maiden. She wore a beautiful fringed buckskin dress, leggings, and moccasins. Her hair was hanging loose except at the left side, where was tied a tuft of buffalo hair. In her right hand she carried a fan made of flat sage. Her face was painted with red vertical stripes. Not knowing what to do or say, they hesitated, saying nothing to her.
She spoke first, thus: "I am sent by the Buffalo tribe to visit the people you represent. You have been chosen to perform a difficult task. It is right that you should try to carry out the wishes of your people, and you must try to accomplish your purpose. Go home and tell the chief and headmen to put up a special lodge in the middle of the camp circle, with the door of the lodge and the entrance into the camp toward the direction where the sun rolls off the earth. Let them spread sage at the place of honor, and back of the fireplace let a small square place be prepared. Back of this and the sage let a certain frame, or rack, be made. Right in front of the rack a buffalo skull should be placed. I have something of importance to present to the tribe, which will have a great deal to do with their future welfare. I shall be in the camp about sunrise."
While she was thus speaking to the young men one of them had impure thoughts. A cloud came down an enveloped this young man. When the cloud left the earth the young man was left there-only a skeleton. The Maiden commanded the other young man to turn his back toward her and face in the direction of the camp, then to start for home. He was ordered not to look back.
When the young man came in sight of the camp he ran in a zigzag course, this being a signal required of such parties on returning home from a searching or scouting expedition. The people in the camp were on alret for the signal, and preparations were begun at once to escort the party home. Just outside the council lodge, in front of the door, an old man qualified to perform the ceremony was waiting anxiously for the party. He knelt in the direction of the coming of the party to receive the report of the expedition. A row of old men were kneeling behind him. The young man arrived at the lodge. Great curiosity was shown by the people on account of the missing member of the party. The report was made and the people received it with enthusiasm.
The special lodge was made, and the other requirements were carried out. The crier announced in the whole camp what was to take place on the following morning. Great preparations were made for the occasion. Early the next morning, at daybreak, men, women and children assembled around the special lodge. Young men who were known to bear unblemished characters were chosen to escort the Maiden into the camp. Promptly at sunrise she was in sight. All eyes were fixed on the Maiden. Slowly she walked into the camp. She was dressed as when she first appeared to the two young men except that instead of the sage fan she carried a pipe-the stem was carried with her right hand and the bowl with the left.
The chief, who was qualified and authorized to receive the guest in behalf of the Sioux tribe, sat outside, right in front of the door of the lodge, facing the direction of the coming of the Maiden. When she was at the door the chief stepped aside and made room for her to enter. She entered the lodge, went to the left of the door, and was seated at the place of honor.
The chief made a speech welcoming the Maiden as follows:
"My dear relatives, this day Waka'ntanka has again looked down and smiled upon us by sending us this young Maiden, whom we shall recognize and consider as a sister. She has come to our rescue just as we are in great need. Waka'ntanka wishes us to live. This day we lift up our eyes to the sun, the giver of light, that opens our eyes and gives us this beautiful day to see our visiting sister. Sister, we are glad that you have come to us, and trust that whatever message you have brought we may be able to abide by it. We are poor, but we have a great respect to visitors, especially relatives. It is our custom to serve our guests with some special food. We are at present needy and all we have to offer you is water, that falls from the clouds. Take it, drink it, and remember that we are very poor."
Then braided sweetgrass was dipped into a buffalo horn containing rain water and was offered to the Maiden. The chief said, "Sister, we are now ready to hear the message you have brought." The pipe which was in the hands of the Maiden, was lowered and placed on the rack. Then the Maiden sipped the water from the sweetgrass.
Then, taking up the pipe again, she arose and said:
"My relatives, brothers and sisters, Waka'ntanka has looked down, and smiles upon us this day because we have met as belonging to one family. The best thing in a family is a good feeling toward every member of the family. I am proud to become a member of your family-a sister to you all. The sun is your grandfather, and he is the same to me. Your tribe has the distinction of being always very faithful to promises, and of possessing great respect and reverence toward sacred things. It is known also that nothing but good feeling prevails in the tribe, and that whenever any member has been found guilty of committing any wrong, that member has been cast out and not allowed to mingle with the other members of the tribe. For all these good qualities in the tribe you have been chosen as worthy and deserving of all good gifts. I represent the Buffalo tribe, who have sent you this pipe. You are to receive this pipe in the name of all the common people. Take it, and use it according to my directions. The bowl of the pipe is red stone-a stone not very common and found only at a certain place. This pipe shall be used as a peacemaker. The time will come when you shall cease hostilities against other nations. Whenever peace is agreed upon between two tribes or parties, this pipe shall be a binding instrument. By this pipe the medicine-men shall be called to administer help to the sick."
Turning to the women, she said:
"My dear sisters, the women, you have a hard life to live in this world, yet without you this life would not be what it is. Waka'ntanka intends that you shall bear much sorrow-comfort others in time of sorrow. By your hands the family moves. You have been given the knowledge of making clothing and of feeding the family. Waka'ntanka is with you in your sorrows and joins you in your griefs. He has given you the great gift of kindness toward every living creature on earth. You he has chosen to have a feeling for the dead who are gone. He knows that you remember the dead longer than do the men. He knows that you love your children dearly."
Then turning to the children:
"My little brothers and sisters, your parents were once little children like you, but in the course of time they became men and women. All living creatures were once small, but if no one took care of them they would never grow up. Your parents love you and have made many sacrifices for your sake in order that Waka'ntanka may listen to them, and that nothing but good may come to you as you grow up. I have brought this pipe for them, and you shall reap some benefit from it. Learn to respect and reverence this pipe, and above all, lead pure lives. Waka'ntanka is your great grandfather."
Turning to the men:
"Now my dear brothers, in giving you this pipe you are expected to use it for nothing but good purposes. The tribe as a whole shall depend upon it for their necessary needs. You realize that all your necessities of life come from the earth below, the sky above, and the four winds. Whenever you do anything wrong against these elements they will always take some revenge upon you. You should reverence them. Offer sacrifices through this pipe. When you are in need of buffalo meat, smoke this pipe and ask for what you need and it shall be granted you. On you it depends to be a strong help to the women in the raising of children. Share the women's sorrow. Waka'ntanka smiles on the man who has a kind feeling for a woman, because the woman is weak. Take this pipe, and offer it to Waka'ntanka daily. Be good and kind to the little children."
Turning to the chief:
"My older brother, you have been chosen by these people to receive this pipe in the name of the whole Sioux tribe. Waka'ntanka is pleased and glad this day because you have done what it is required and expected that every good leader should do. By this pipe the tribe shall live. It is your duty to see that this pipe is respected and reverenced. I am proud to be called a sister. May Waka'ntanka look down on us and take pity on us and provide us with what we need. Now we shall smoke the pipe."
Then she took the glowing buffalo chip which lay on the ground, lighted the pipe, and pointing to the sky with the stem of the pipe she said, "I offer this to Waka'ntanka for all the good that comes from above." Pointing to the earth, "I offer this to the earth, whence come all good gifts." Pointing to the cardinal points, "I offer this to the four winds, whence come all good things." Then she took a puff of the pipe, passed it to the chief, and said, "Now my dear brothers and sisters, I have done the work for which I was sent here and now I will go, but I do not wish any escort. I only ask that the way be cleared before me."
Then, rising, she started, leaving the pipe with the chief, who ordered that the people be quiet until their sister was out of sight. She came out of the tent on the left side, walking very slowly, as soon as she was outside the entrance she turned into a white buffalo calf.