Music: Great Plains by John Serrie
|A Legend of Devil's Tower
A Brule Sioux Legend
Out of the plains of Wyoming rises Devil's Tower. It is really a rock, visible for hundreds of miles around, an immense cone of basalt which seems to
touch the clouds. It sticks out of the flat prairie as if someone had pushed it up from underground.
Of course, Devil's Tower is a white man's name. We have no devil in our beliefs and got along well all these many centuries without him. You people
invented the devil and, as far as I'm concerned, you can keep him. But everybody these days knows that towering rock by this name, so Devil's Tower it is.
No use telling you its Indian name. Most tribes call it bear rock. There is a reason for that - if you see it, you will notice on its sheer sides many, many
streaks and gashes running straight up and down, like scratches made by giant claws.
Well, long, long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost in the prairie. You know how it is. They had played shinny ball and whacked it a few
hundred yards out of the village. And then they had shot their toy bows still farther out into the sagebrush. And then they had heard a small animal make
a noise and had gone to investigate.
They had come to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while. They had come to a hill and wanted to see what was on the other
side. On the other side they saw a herd of antelope and, of course, had to track them for a while.
When they got hungry and thought it was time to go home, the two boys found that they didn't know where they were. They started off in the direction
where they thought their village was, but only got farther and farther away from it. At last they curled up beneath a tree and went to sleep.
They got up the next morning and walked some more, still headed the wrong way. They ate some wild berries and dug up wild turnips, found some
choke-cherries, and drank water from streams. For three days they walked toward the west. They were footsore, but they survived.
Oh, how they wished that their parents, or aunts or uncles, or elder brothers and sisters would find them. But nobody did.
On the fourth day the boys suddenly had a feeling that they were being followed. They looked around and in the distance saw Mato, the bear. This was no
ordinary bear, but a giant grizzly so huge that the two boys would only make a small mouthful for him, but he had smelled the boys and wanted that
mouthful. He kept coming close, and the earth trembled as he gathered speed.
The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, but there was no such place and the grizzly was much, much faster than they.
They stumbled, and the bear was almost upon them. They could see his red, wide-open jaws full of enormous, wicked teeth. They could smell his hot, evil
breath. The boys were old enough to have learned to pray, and they called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator: "Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save
All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up until it was more than a thousand
feet high. And the boys were on top of it. Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into the clouds.
Have I said he was a giant bear? This grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach to the top of the rock, trying to get up, trying to get those boys. As he
did so, he made big scratches in the sides of the towering rock. But the stone was too slippery; Mato could not get up. He tried every spot, every side. He
scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use. The boys watched him wearing himself out, getting tires, giving up. They finally saw him going
away, a huge, growling, grunting mountain of fur disappearing over the horizon.
The boys were saved. Or were they? How were they to get down? They were humans, not birds who could fly.
Some ten years ago, mountain climbers tried to conquer Devil's Tower. They had ropes, and iron hooks called pitons to nail themselves to the rockface,
and they managed to get up. But they couldn't get down. They were marooned on that giant basalt cone, and they had to taken off in a helicopter. In the
long-ago days the Indians had no helicopters.
So how did the two boys get down? The legend does not tell us, but we can be sure that the Great Spirit didn't save those boys only to let them perish of
hunger and thirst on the top of the rock.
Well, Wanblee, the eagle, has always been a friend to our people. So it must have been the eagle that let the boys grab hold of him and carried them safely
back to their village.
Or do you know another way?
[Told by Lame Deer in Winner, Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1969.]
All Rights Reserved
|How Grandfather Peyote Came To The People
A Brule Sioux Legend
This is how Grandfather Peyote came to the Indian people.
Long ago, before the white man, there was a tribe living far south of the Sioux in a land of deserts and mesas. These people were suffering from a
sickness, and many died of it.
One old woman had a dream that she would find a herb, a root, which would save her people. The woman was old and frail but, taking her little
granddaughter, she went on a vision quest to learn how to find this sacred herb. They walked away from the camp until they were lost.
Arriving at the top of a lonely hill, the grandmother made a brush shelter for herself and the young one. Without water or food they were weak and as
night fell they huddled together, not knowing what to do.
Suddenly they felt the wing beats of a huge bird, an eagle flying from the east toward the west. The old woman raised her arms and prayed to the eagle for
wisdom and power.
Toward morning they saw the figure of a man floating in the air about four steps above their heads. The old woman heard a voice: "You want water and
food and do not know where to find it. I have a medicine for you. It will help you."
This man's arm was pointing to a spot on the ground about four steps from where the old woman was sitting. She looked and saw a peyote plant -a large
Grandfather Peyote Plant with sixteen segments. She did not know what it was, but she took her bone knife and cut the green part off. And there was
moisture, the peyote juice, the water of life. The old woman and her granddaughter drank it and were refreshed.
The sun went down again and the second night came. The old woman prayed to the spirit: "I am sacrificing myself for the people. Have pity on me. Help
me!" And the figure of a man appeared again, hovering above her as before, and she heard a voice saying: "You are lost now, but you will find your
people again and you will save them. When the sun rises two more times, you will find them."
Thee grandmother ate some more of the sacred medicine and gave some to the girl. And a power entered them through the herb, bringing them
knowledge and understanding and a sacred vision. Experiencing this new power, the old woman and her granddaughter stayed awake all night. Yet in
the morning when the sun rose and shone upon the hide bag with the peyote, the old one felt strong. She said: "Granddaughter, pray with this new herb.
It has no mouth, but it is telling me many things."
During the third night the spirit came again and taught the old woman how to show her people the proper way to use the medicine. In the morning she got
up, thinking: "This one plant won't be enough to save my people. Could it have been the only herb in this world? How can I find more?" Then she heard
many small voices calling: "Over here, come over here. I'm the one to pick."
These were peyote plants guiding her to their hiding places among the thorn bushes and chaparral. So the old woman and the girl picked the herbs and
filled the hide bag with them.
At nightfall once more they saw the spirit man, silhouetted against the setting sun. He pointed out the way to their camp so that they could return quickly.
Though they had taken no food or water for four days and nights, the sacred medicine had kept them strong-hearted and strong-minded.
When they arrived home, their relatives were happy to have them back, but everybody was still sick and many were dying. The old woman told the
people: "I have brought you a new sacred medicine which will help you."
She showed the men how to use this *pejuta*, this holy herb. The spirit had taught her the ceremony, and the medicine had given her the knowledge
through the mind power which dwells within it.
Under her direction the men put up a tipi and made a fire. At that time there was no leader, no road man to guide them, and the people had to learn how to
perform the ceremony step by step, from the ground up.
Everybody, men and women, old and young, ate four buttons of the new medicine. A boy baby was breast nursing, and the peyote power got into him
through his mother's milk. He was sucking his hand, and he began to shake it like a gourd rattle.
A man sitting next to the tipi entrance got into the power and caught a song just by looking at the baby's arm. A medicine man took a rattle of rawhide
and began to shake it. The small stones inside the rattle were the voice of Grandfather Peyote, and everybody understood what it was saying.
Another man grabbed a drum and beat it, keeping time with the song and the voice inside the rattle. The drumming was good, but it did not yet have the
right sound, because in that first ceremony there was no water in the drum.
One woman felt the spirit telling her to look for a cottonwood tree.
After the sun rose, all the people followed her as Grandfather Peyote guided her toward the west. They saw a rabbit jumping out of a hole inside a dried-up
tree and knew that this was the sacred cottonwood. They cut down the tree and hollowed out the trunk like a drum where the rabbit hole had been. At the
woman's bidding they filled it with fresh spring water -the water of life.
On the way back to camp, a man felt the power telling him to pick up five smooth, round pebbles and to cover the drum with a piece of tanned moose hide.
He used the pebbles to make knobs around the rim of the drum so that he could tie the hide to it with a rawhide thong. And when he beat the drum it
sounded good, as if a spirit had gotten hold of it.
When night came, the people made a fire inside the tipi and took the medicine again. Guided by peyote power, the old woman looked into the flames and
saw a heart, like the heart-shaped leaf of the cottonwood tree. Thus she knew that the Great Spirit, who is also in Grandfather Peyote, wanted to give his
heart to the red men of this continent. She told the man tending the fire to form the glowing embers into the shape of a heart, and the people all saw it beat
in rhythm with the drum.
A little later, one helper who was under the spirit power saw that the hide rope formed a star at the bottom of the drum. He shaped the flowing coals of the
fire into a star and then into a moon, because the power of the star and the spirit of the moon had come into the tipi.
One man sitting opposite the door had a vision in which he was told to ask for water. The old woman brought fresh, cool water in a skin bag, and they all
drank and in this way came under the power. Feeling the spirit of the water, the man who was in charge of the fire shaped the embers into the outline of a
water bird, and from then on the water bird became the chief symbol of the holy medicine.
Around the fire this man made a half-moon out of earth, and all along the top of it he drew a groove with his finger. Thus he formed a road, the road of
life. He said that anybody with the gift of *wacankiyapi*, which means having love and heart for the people, should sit right there.
And from that day on, the man who is running a meeting was called the "road man".
In this way the people made the first peyote altar, and after they had drunk the water, they thanked the peyote. Looking at the fire in the shape of the
sacred water bird, they prayed to the four directions, and someone sprinkled green cedar on the fire.
The fragrant, sweet-smelling smoke was the breath of Grandfather Peyote, the spirit of all green and growing things. Now the people had everything they
needed: the sacred herb, the drum, the gourd, the fire, the water, the cedar. From that moment on, they learned to know themselves. Their sick were
cured, and they thanked the old woman and her grandchild for having brought this blessing to them. They were the Comanche nation, and from them the
worship of the sacred herb spread to all the tribes throughout the land.
----Told by Leonard Crow Dog at Winner, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1970.
|How the Crow Came to be Black
A Brule Sioux Legend
In days long past, when the earth and the people on it were still young, all crows were white as snow. In those ancient times the people had neither horses
nor firearms nor weapons of iron. Yet they depended upon the buffalo hunt to give them enough food to survive.
Hunting the big buffalo on foot with stone-tipped weapons was hard, uncertain, and dangerous. The crows made things even more difficult for the
hunters, because they were friends of the buffalo. Soaring high above the prairie, they could see everything that was going on. Whenever they spied
hunters approaching a buffalo herd, they flew to their friends and, perching between their horns, warned them: "Caw, caw, caw cousins, hunters are
coming. They are creeping up through that gully over there. They are coming up behind that hill. Watch out! Caw, caw, caw!" Hearing this, the buffalo
would stampede, and the people starved.
The people held a council to decide what to do. Now, among the crows was huge one, twice as big as all the others. This crow was their leader. One wise
old chief got up and made this suggestion: "We must capture the big white crow," he said, "and teach him a lesson. It's either that or go hungry."
He brought out a large buffalo skin, with the head and horns still attached. He put it on the back of a young brave, saying: "Nephew, sneak among the
buffalo. They will think you are one of them, and you can capture the big white crow."
Disguised as a buffalo, the young man crept among the herd as it he were grazing. The big, shaggy beasts paid him no attention.
Then the hunters marched out from their camp after him, their bows at the ready. As they approached the herd, the crows came flying, as usual, warning
the buffalo: "Caw, caw, caw, cousins the hunters are coming to kill you. Watch out for their arrows. Caw, caw, caw!" And as usual, all the buffalo
stampeded off and away --all, that is, except the young hunter in disguise under his shaggy skin, who pretended to go on grazing as before.
Then the big white crow came gliding down, perched on the hunter's shoulders, and flapping his wings, said: "Caw, caw, caw, brother, are you deaf? The
hunters are close by, just over the hill. Save yourself!"
But the young brave reached out from under the buffalo skin and grabbed the crow by the legs.
With a rawhide string he tied the big bird's feet and fastened the other end to a stone. No matter how the crow struggled, he could not escape.
\Again the people sat in council. "What shall we do with this big, bad crow, who has made us go hungry again and again?"
"I'll burn him up!" answered one angry hunter, and before anybody could stop him, he yanked the crow from the hands of his captor and thrust it into the
council fire, string, stone and all. "This will teach you," he said.
Of course, the string that held the stone burned through almost at once, and the big crow managed to fly out of the fire. But he was badly singed, and
some of his feathers were charred. Though he was still big, he was no longer white.
"Caw, caw, caw," he cried, flying away as quickly as he could, "I'll never do it again; I'll stop warning the buffalo, and so will the Crow nation. I promise!
Caw, caw, caw."
Thus the crow escaped. But ever since, all crows have been black.
----Told by Good White Buffalo at Winner, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1964.
|Iktome and the Ignorant Girl
A Brule Sioux Legend
A pretty winchinchala had never been with a man yet, and Iktome was eager to sleep with her.
He dressed himself up like a woman and went looking for the girl. He found her about to cross a stream. "Hau mashke, how are you, friend," he said.
"Let's wade across together."
They lifted their robes and stepped into the water. "You have very hairy legs," said the girl to Iktome. "That's because I am older. When women get older,
some are like this."
The water got deeper and they lifted their robes higher. "You have a very hairy backside," said the winchinchala to Iktome. "Yes, some of us are like that,"
The water got still deeper and they lifted their robes up very high. "What's that strange thing dangling between your legs?" asked the girl, who had never
seen a naked man. "Ah," complained Iktome, "it's a kind of growth, like a huge wart."
"It's very large for a wart."
"Yes. Oh my! An evil magician wished it on me. It's cumbersome; it's heavy; it hurts; it gets in the way. How I wish to be rid of it!"
"My elder sister," said the girl, "I pity you. We could cut this thing off."
"No, no, my younger sister. There's only one way to get rid of it, because the evil growth was put there by a sorcerer."
"What might this be, the way to get rid of it?"
"Ah, mashke, the only thing to do is to stick it in there, between your legs."
"Is that so? Well, I guess we women should help each other."
"Yes, pilamaye, thanks, you are very kind. Let's get out of this water and go over there where the grass is soft."
Spider Man made the girl lie down on the grass, got on top of her, and entered her.
"Oh my," said the girls, "it sure is big. It hurts a little."
"Think how it must hurt me!" said Iktome, breathing hard.
"It hurts a little less now," said the girl.
Iktome finished and got off the girl. The winchinchala looked and said: "Indeed, it already seems to be smaller."
"Yes, but not small enough yet," answered Spider Man.
"This is hard work. Let me catch my breath, then we must try again."
After a while he got on top of the girl once more. "It really isn't so bad at all," said the ignorant winchinchala, "but it seems to have gotten bigger. It is
indeed a powerful magic."
Iktome did not answer her. He was busy. He finished. He rolled off. "There's little improvement," said the girl. "We must be patient and persevere,"
So after a while they went at it again. "Does it hurt very much, mashke?" the girl asked Iktome.
"Oh my, yes, but I am strong and brave," answered Iktome, "I can bear it."
"I can bear it too," said the girl. "It really isn't altogether unpleasant," said the girl after they did it a fourth time, "but I must tell you, elder sister, I don't
believe you will ever get rid of this strange thing."
"I have my doubts too," answered Spider Man.
"Well," said the ignorant winchinchala, "one could get used to it."
"Yes, mashke," answered Iktome, "one must make the best of it, but let's try once more to be sure."
-----Told in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
|Iktome Has A Bad Dream
A Brule Sioux Legend
Once in the middle of the night, Iktome woke up in a cold sweat after a bad dream. His friend Coyote, who was visiting, noticed something was wrong.
"Friend, what's the matter?" he asked.
"I had a very bad dream," said Iktome.
"What did you dream of?"
"I dreamed I saw a very pretty winchinchala about to take a bath in the stream."
"It doesn't sound like a very bad dream," said Coyote.
"This girl was taking her clothes off. I saw her naked. She had a very fine body."
"My friend, decidedly, this is not a bad dream."
"I dreamed I was hiding behind some bush at quite a distance from her. As I watched her, my penis began to grow. It grew exceedingly long. It was
winding toward her like a long snake."
"There's nothing wrong with this dream, my friend, I'm telling you."
"My penis was like a long, long rope. It went all the way over to that girl. It went into the water. It touched her."
"Kanji, cousin, let me tell you, I wish I had such a dream."
"Now, my friend, the tip of my penis entered that girl. She didn't even notice it at first."
"Kola, I'm telling you, this is a fine dream."
"Then my penis entered the girl all the way. She seemed to like it."
"This is as good a dream as I ever heard of, my friend."
"Just at that moment I heard a great noise. I had been so excited in my dream that I hadn't noticed a team of horses pulling a big wagon. It was right on
top of me, a wasichu's - a white man's - wagon. It was coming at a dead run, and the white was whipping his horses. This wagon was very heavy, my
friend, it had heavy wheels of iron. It was going between me and that girl....."
"Friend, you were right. This is indeed a very bad dream," said Coyote.
[Told in a bar at Winner, South Dakota, 1969.]
|Remaking the World
A Brule Sioux Legend
There was a world before this world, but the people in it did not know how to behave themselves or how to act human. The Creating Power was not
pleased with that earlier world. He said to himself: "I will make a new world." He had the pipe bag and the chief pipe, which he put on the pipe rack that he
had made in the sacred manner. He took four dry buffalo chips, placed three of them under the three sticks, and saved the fourth one to light the pipe. The
Creating Power said to himself:
"I will sing three songs, which will bring a heavy rain. Then I'll sing a fourth song and stamp four times on the Earth and the earth will crack wide open.
Water will come out of the cracks and cover all the land."
When he sang the first song, it started to rain. When he sang the second, it poured. When he sang the third, the rain-swollen rivers overflowed their beds.
But when he sang the fourth song and stamped on the Earth, it split open in many places like a shattered gourd, and water flowed from the cracks until it
covered everything. The Creating Power floated on the sacred pipe and on his huge pipe bag. He let himself be carried by waves and wind this way and
that, drifting for a long time.
At last the rain stopped, and by then all the people and animals had drowned. Only Kangi, the crow, survived, though it had no place to rest and was very
tired. Flying above the pipe. "Tunkshila, Grandfather, I must soon rest." And three times the crow asked him to make a place for it to light.
The Creating Power thought: "It's time to unwrap the pipe and open the pipe bag."
The wrapping and the pipe bag contained all manner of animals and birds, from which he selected four animals known for their ability to stay under
water for a long time. First he sang a song and took the loon out of the bag. He commanded the loon to dive and bring up a lump of mud. The loon did
dive, but it brought up nothing.
"I dived and dived but couldn't reach the bottom," the loon said. "I almost died. The water is too deep."
The Creating Power sang a second song and took the otter out of the bag. He ordered the otter to dive and bring up some mud. The sleek otter at once
dived into the water, using its strong webbed feet to go down, down, down. It was submerged for a long time, but when it finally came to the surface, it
Taking the beaver out of the pipe's wrapping, the Creating Power sang a third song. He commanded the beaver to go deep below the water and bring some
mud. The beaver thrust itself into the water, using its great tail to propel itself downward. It stayed under water longer than the others, but when it finally
came up again, it too brought nothing.
At last the Creating Power sang the fourth song and took the turtle out of the bag. The turtle is very strong. Among our people it stands for long life and
endurance and the power to survive. A turtle heart is great medicine, for it keeps on beating a long time after the turtle is dead.
"You must bring the mud," the Creating Power told the turtle. It dove into the water and stayed below so long that the other three animals shouted: "The
turtle is dead; it will never come up again!"
All the time, the crow was flying around and begging for a place to light. After what seemed to be eons, the turtle broke the surface of the water and
paddled to the Creating Power. "I got to the bottom!" the turtle cried. "I brought some earth!" And sure enough, its feet and claws - even the space in the
cracks on its sides between its upper and lower shell - were filled with mud.
Scooping mud from the turtle's feet and sides, the Creating Power began to sing. He sang all the while that he shaped the mud in his hands and spread it on
the water to make a spot of dry land for himself. When he had sung the fourth song, there was enough land for the Creating Power and for the crow.
"Come down and rest," said the Creating Power to the crow, and the bird was glad to. Then the Creating Power took from his bag two long wing feathers
of the eagle. He waved them over his plot of ground and commanded it to spread until it covered everything. Soon all the water was replaced by earth.
"Water without earth is not good," thought the Creating Power, "but land without water is not good either." Feeling pity for the land, he wept for the Earth
and the creatures he would put upon it, and his tears became oceans, streams, and lakes. "That's better," he thought.
Out of his pipe bag the Creating Power took all kinds of animals, birds, plants and scattered them over the land. When he stamped on the earth, they all
came alive. From the earth the Creating Power formed the shapes of men and women. He used red earth and white earth, black earth and yellow earth,
and made as many as he thought would do for a start. He stamped on the earth and the shaped came alive, each taking the color of the earth out of which it
was made. The Creating Power gave all of them understanding and speech and told them what tribes they belonged to. The Creating Power said to them:
"The first world I made was bad; the creatures on it were bad. So I burned it up. The second world I made was bad too, so I drowned it. This is the third
world I have made. Look; I have created a rainbow for you as a sign that there will be no more Great Flood. Whenever you see a rainbow, you will know
that it has stopped raining."
The Creating Power continued: "Now, if you have learned how to behave like human beings and how to live in peace with each other and with the other
living things - the two-legged, the four-legged, the many-legged, the fliers, the no-legs, the green plants of this universe - then all will be well. But if you
make this world bad and ugly, then I will destroy this world too. "It's up to you."
The Creating Power gave the people the pipe. "Live by it," he said. He named this land the Turtle Continent because it was there that the turtle came up with
the mud out of which the third world was made.
"someday there might be a fourth world," the Creating Power thought. Then he rested.
|The Legend of the Flute
A Brule Sioux Legend
Well, you know our flutes, you've heard their sounds and seen how beautifully they are made. That flute of ours, the siyotanka, is for only one kind of
music, love music. In the old days the men would sit by themselves, maybe lean hidden, unseen, against a tree in the dark of night. They would make up
their own special tunes, their courting songs.
We Indians are shy. Even if he was a warrior who had already counted coup on a enemy, a young man might hardly muster up enough courage enough to
talk to a nice-looking winchinchala - a girl he was in love with. Also, there was no place where a young man and a girl could be alone inside the village.
The family tipi was always crowded with people. And naturally, you couldn't just walk out of the village hand in hand with your girl, even if hand holding
had been one of our customs, which it wasn't. Out there in the tall grass and sagebrush you could be gored by a buffalo, clawed by a grizzly, or
tomahawked by a Pawnee, or you could run into the Mila Hanska, the Long Knives, namely the U.S. Cavalry.
The only chance you had to meet your winchinchala was to wait for her at daybreak when the women went to the river or brook with their skin bags to get
water. When that girl you had your eye on finally came down to the water trail, you popped up from behind some bush and stood so she could see you.
And that was about all you could do to show her that you were interested, standing there grinning, looking at your moccasins, scratching your ear, maybe.
The winchinchala didn't so much either, except get red in the face, giggle, maybe throw a wild turnip at you. If she liked you, the only way she would let
you know was to take her time filling her water bag and peek at you a few times over her shoulder.
So the flutes did all the talking. At night, lying on her buffalo robe in her parents tipi, the girl would hear that moaning, crying sound of the siyotanka. By
the way it was played, she would know that it was her lover who was out there someplace. And if the Elk Medicine was very strong in him and her, maybe
she would sneak out to follow that sound and meet him without anybody noticing it.
The flute is always made of cedarwood. In the shape it describes the long neck and head of a bird with a open beak. The sound comes out of the beak, and
that's where the legend comes in, the legend of how the Lakota people acquired the flute.
Once many generations ago, the people had drums, gourd rattles, and bull-rorers, but no flutes. At that long-ago time, a young man went out to hunt.
Meat was scarce, and the people in his camp were hungry. He found the tracks of an elk and followed them for a long time. The elk, wise and swift, is the
one who owns the love charm. If a man possesses Elk Medicine, the girl he likes can't help sleeping with him. This young man I'm talking about had no
After many hours he finally sighted his game. He was skilled with bow and arrows, and had a fine new bow and quiver full of arrows. Yet the elk always
managed to stay just out of range, leading him on and on. The young man was so intent on following his prey that he hardly noticed where he went.
When night came, he found himself deep inside a thick forest. The tracks had disappeared and so had the elk, and there was no moon. He realized that he
was lost and that it was too dark to find his way out. Luckily, he came upon a stream with cool, clear water. And he had been careful enough to bring a
hide bag of wasna, dried meat pounded with berries and kidney fat, strong food that will keep a man going for a few days. After he had drunk and eaten,
he rolled himself into his fur robe, propped his back against a tree and tried to rest. But he couldn't sleep, the forest was full of strange noises; the cries of
night animals, the hooting owls, and the groaning of trees in the wind. It was as if he heard these sounds for the first time.
Suddenly there was an entirely new sound, of a kind that neither he nor anyone else had ever heard before. It was mournful and ghost like. It made him
afraid, so that he drew his robe tightly about himself and reached for his bow to make sure that it was properly strung. On the other hand the sound was
like a song, sad but beautiful, full of love, hope, and yearning. Then before he knew it, he was asleep. He dreamed that the bird called wagnuka, the
redheaded woodpecker, appeared singing the strangely beautiful song and telling him, "Follow me and I will teach you."
When the hunter awoke, the sun was already high. On a branch of the tree against which he was leaning, he saw a redheaded woodpecker. The bird flew
away to another tree, and another, but never very far, looking back all the time at the young man as if to say, "Come on!" Then once more he heard that
wonderful song, and his heart yearned to find the singer. Flying toward the sound, leading the hunter, the bird flitted through the leaves, while it's bright
red top made it easy to follow. At last it lighted on a cedar tree and began hammering on a branch, making a noise like the fast beating of a small drum.
Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and again the hunter heard the beautiful sound right above him.
Then he discovered that the song came from the dead branch that the woodpecker was tapping his beak on. He realized also that it was the wind that made
the sound as it whistled through the hole the bird had drilled.
"Kola, friend," said the hunter, "let me take this branch home. You can make yourself another."
He took the branch, a hollow piece of wood filled with woodpecker holes that was about the length of his forearm. He walked back to the village bringing
no meat, but happy all the same.
In his tipi the young man tried to make the branch sing for him. He blew on it, he waved it around, but no sound came. It made him sad, he wanted so
much to hear that wonderful new sound. He purified himself in the sweat lodge and climbed to the top of a lonely hill.
There, resting with his back against a large rock, he fasted, going without food or water for four days and nights, crying for a vision which would tell him
how to make the branch sing. In the middle of the fourth night, wagnuka, the bird with the bright red top appeared saying, "Watch me." turning himself
into a man, showing the hunter how to make the branch sing, saying again and again, "Watch this, now." And in his dream the young man watched and
observed very carefully.
When he awoke, he found a cedar tree. He broke off a branch and, working many hours, hollowed it out with a bowstring drill, just as he had seen the
woodpecker do in his dream. He whittled the branch into the shape of the birds with a long neck and an open beak. He painted the top of the bird's head
with washasha, the sacred red color. He prayed. He smoked the branch up with the incense of burning sage, cedar, and sweet grass. He fingered the holes
as he had seen the man-bird do in his vision, meanwhile blowing softly into the mouthpiece. All at once there was the song, ghost like and beautiful beyond
words drifting all the way to the village, where the people were astounded and joyful to hear it. With the help of the wind and woodpecker, the young man
had brought them the first flute.
In the village lived an itanchan, a big chief. This itanchan had a daughter who was beautiful, but also very proud, and convinced that there was no young
man good enough for her. Many had come courting, but she had sent them all away. Now, the hunter who had made the flute decided that she was just the
woman for him. Thinking of her he composed a special song, and one night, standing behind a tall tree, he played it on his siyotanka in hopes that it might
have a charm to make her love him.
All at once the winchinchala heard it. She was sitting in her father's tipi eating buffalo hump meat and tongue, and feeling good. She wanted to stay there,
in the tipi by the fire, but her feet wanted to go outside. She pulled back, but her feet pulled forward, and the feet won. Her head said, "Go slow, go slow!"
but the feet said, "Faster, faster!" She saw the young man standing in the moonlight, she heard the flute. Her head said, "Don't go to him, he's poor." Her
feet said, "Go, run!" and again the feet prevailed.
So they stood face to face. The girl's head told her to be silent, but the feet told her to speak, and speak she did, saying. "Koshkalaka, young man, I am
yours altogether." So they lay down together, the young man and the winchinchala, under one blanket.
Later she told him, "Koshkalaka, warrior, I like you. Let your parents send a gift to my father, the chief. No matter how small, it will be accepted. Let your
father speak for you to my father. Do it soon! Do it now!"
And so the two fathers quickly agreed to the wishes of their children. The proud winchinchala became the hunters wife, and he himself became a great
chief. All the other young men had heard and seen what the flute did for the hunter, soon they too began to whittle cedar branches into the shape of birds'
heads with long necks and open beaks. The beautiful love music traveled from tribe to tribe, and made girls feet go where they shouldn't. And that's how
the flute was brought to the people, thanks to the cedar, the woodpecker, and this young man, who shot no elk, but knew how to listen.
|White Buffalo Calf Woman
A Brule Sioux Legend
In the beginning of the world, all was water. Whee-me-me-ow-ah, the Great Chief Above, lived up in the sky all alone. When he decided to make the
world, he went down to the shallow places in the water and began to throw up great handfuls of mud that became land.
He piled some of the mud so high that it froze hard and made the mountains, When the rain came, it turned into ice and snow on top of the high
mountains, Some of the mud was hardened into rocks. Since that time the rocks have not changed - they have only become harder.
The Great Chief Above made trees grow on the earth, and also roots and berries. He made a man out of a ball of mud and told him to take fish from the
waters, and deer and other game from the forests. When the man became lonely, the Great Chief Above made a woman to be his companion and taught
her how to dress skins, how to find bark and roots, and how to make baskets out of them. He taught her which berries to gather for food and how to pick
them and dry them. He showed her how to cook the salmon and the game that the man brought.
Once when the woman was asleep, she had a dream, and in it she wondered what more she could do to please the man. She prayed to the Great Chief
Above for help. He answered her prayer by blowing his breath on her and giving her something which she could not see or hear, smell or touch. This
invisible something was preserved in a basket. Through it, the first woman taught her daughters and granddaughters the designs and skills which had
been taught her.
But in spite of all the things the Great Chief Above did for them, the new people quarreled. The bickered so much that Mother Earth was angry, and in her
anger she shook the mountains so hard that those hanging over the narrow part of Big River fell down. The rocks, falling into the water, dammed the
stream and also made rapids and waterfalls. Many people and animals were killed and buried under the rocks and mountains.
Someday the Great Chief Above will overturn those mountains and rocks. Then the spirits that once lived in the bones buried there will go back into them.
At present those spirits live in the tops of the mountains, watching their children on the earth and waiting for the great change which is to come. The voices
of these spirits can be heard in the mountains at all times. Mourners who wail for their dead hear spirit voices reply, and thus they know that their lost
ones are always near.
We did not know all this by ourselves; we were told it by our fathers and grandfathers, who learned it from their fathers and grandfathers. No one knows
when the Great Chief Above will overturn the mountains. But we do know this; the spirits will return only to the remains of people who in life kept the
beliefs of their grandfathers. Only their bones will be preserved under the mountains.
One summer so long ago that nobody knows how long, the Oceti-Sakowin, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Oyate, the nation, came together
and camped. The sun shone all the time, but there was no game and the people were starving. Every day they sent scouts to look for game, but the scouts
Among the bands assembled were the Itazipcho, the Without-Bows, who had their own camp circle under their chief, Standing Hollow Horn.
Early one morning the chief sent two of his young men to hunt for game. They went on foot, because at that time the Sioux didn't yet have horses.
They searched everywhere but could find nothing. Seeing a high hill, they decided to climb it in order to look over the whole country. Halfway up, they
saw something coming toward them from far off, but the figure was floating instead of walking. From this they knew that the person was "wakan", holy.
At first they could make out only a small moving speck and had to squint to see that it was a human form. But as it came nearer, they realized that it was a
beautiful young woman, more beautiful than any they had ever see, with two round, red dots of face paint on her cheeks.
She wore a wonderful white buckskin outfit, tanned until it shone a long way in the sun. It was embroidered with sacred and marvelous designs of
porcupine quill, in radiant colors no ordinary woman could have made.
This wakan stranger was Ptesan-Wi, White Buffalo Calf Woman. In her hands she carried a large bundle and a fan of sage leaves. She wore her
blue-black hair loose except for a strand at the left side, which was tied up with buffalo fur. Her eyes shone dark and sparkling, with great power in them.
The two men looked at her open-mouthed. One was overawed, but the other desired her body and stretched his hand out to touch her. This woman was
"lila wakan", very sacred, and could not be treated with disrespect. Lightning instantly struck the brash young man and burned him up, so that only a
small heap of blackened bones was left. Or some say that he was suddenly covered by a cloud, and within it he was eaten up by snakes that left only his
skeleton, just as a man can be eaten up by lust.
To the other scout who had behaved rightly, the White Buffalo Calf Woman said: "Good things I am bringing, something holy to your nation. A message I
carry for your people from the buffalo nation. Go back to the camp and tell the people to prepare for my arrival. Tell your chief to put up a medicine lodge
with twenty-four poles. Let it be made holy for my coming."
This young hunter returned to the camp. He told the chief, he told the people, what the sacred woman had commanded. The chief told the *eyapaha*, the
crier, and the crier went through the camp circle calling: "Someone sacred is coming. A holy woman approaches. Make all things ready for her." So the
people put up the big medicine tipi and waited.
After four days they saw the White Buffalo Calf Woman approaching, carrying her bundle before her. Her wonderful white buckskin dress shone from
afar. The chief, Standing Hollow Horn, invited her to enter the medicine lodge. She went in and circled the interior sun-wise.
The chief addressed her respectfully, saying: "Sister, we are glad you have come to instruct us." She told him what she wanted done.
In the center of the tipi they were to put an *owanka wakan*, a sacred altar, made of red earth, with a buffalo skull and a three-stick rack for a holy thing
she was bringing. They did what she directed, and she traced a design with her finger on the smoothed earth of the altar.
She showed them how to do all this, then circled the lodge again sun-wise. Halting before the chief, she now opened the bundle. The holy thing it contained
was *chanunpa*, the sacred pipe.
She held it out to the people and let them look at it. She was grasping the stem with her right hand and the bowl with her left, and thus the pipe has been
held ever since.
Again the chief spoke, saying: "Sister, we are glad. We have had no meat for some time. All we can give you is water." They dipped some *wacanga*,
sweet grass, into a skin bag of water and gave it to her, and to this day the people dip sweet grass or an eagle wing in water and sprinkle it on a person to
White Buffalo Calf Woman showed the people how to use the pipe. She filled it with *chan-shasha*, red willow-bark tobacco. She walked around the lodge
four times after the manner of Anpetu-Wi, the great sun. This represented the circle without end, the sacred hoop, the road of life.
The woman placed a dry buffalo chip on the fire and lit the pipe with it. This was *peta-owihankeshni*, the fire without end, the flame to be passed on from
generation to generation.
She told them that the smoke rising from the bowl was Tunkashila's breath, the living breath of the great Grandfather Mystery.
The White Buffalo Calf Woman showed the people the right way to pray, the right word and the right gestures. She taught them how to sing the pipe-filling
song and how to lift the pipe up to the sky, toward Grandfather, and down toward Grandmother Earth, to Unci, and then to the four directions of the
"With this holy pipe," she said, "you will walk like a living prayer. With your feet resting upon the earth and the pipe stem reaching into the sky, your body
forms a living bridge between the Sacred Beneath and the Sacred Above.
"Wakan Tanka smiles upon us, because now we are as one: earth, sky, all living things, the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged ones, the trees, the
grasses. Together with the people, they are all related, one family. The pipe holds them all together."
"Look at this bow," said the White Buffalo Calf Woman. "Its stone represents the buffalo, but also the flesh and blood of the red man. The buffalo
represents the universe and the four directions, because he stands on four legs, for the four ages of creation.
"The buffalo was put in the west by Wakan Tanka at the making of the world, to hold back the waters. Every year he loses one hair, and in every one of
the four ages he loses a leg.
"The sacred hoop will end when all the hair and legs of the great buffalo are gone, and the water comes back to cover the Earth. The wooden stem of this
*chanunpa* stands for all that grows on the earth.
"Twelve feathers hanging from where the stem - the backbone - joins the bowl - the skull - are from Wanblee Galeshka, the spotted eagle, the very sacred
bird who is the Great Spirit's messenger and the wisest of all flying one. You are joined to all things of the universe, for they all cry out to Tunkashila.
"Look at the bowl: engraved in it are seven circles of various sizes. They stand for the seven sacred ceremonies you will practice with this pipe, and for the
Oceti Sakowin, the seven sacred campfires of our Lakota nation."
The White Buffalo Calf Woman then spoke to the women, telling them that it was the work of their hands and the fruit of their bodies which kept the people
"You are from the Mother Earth," she told them. "What you are doing is as great as what the warriors do. And therefore the sacred pipe is also something
that binds men and women together in a circle of love.
"It is the one holy object in the making of which both men and women have a hand. The men carve the bowl and make the stem; the women decorate it
with bands of colored porcupine quills. When a man takes a wife, they both hold the pipe at the same time and red trade cloth is wound around their
hands, thus tying them together for like."
The White Buffalo Calf Woman had many things for her Lakota sisters in her sacred womb bag - corn, *wasna* (pemmican), wild turnip. She taught
them how to make the hearth fire. She filled a buffalo paunch with cold water and dropped a red-hot stone into it. "This way you shall cook the corn and
the meat," she told them.
The White Buffalo Calf Woman also talked to the children, because they have an understanding beyond their years. She told them that what their mothers
and fathers did was for them, that their parents could remember being little once, and that they, the children, would grow up to have little ones of their
She told them: "You are the coming generation, that's why you are the most important and precious ones. Some day you will hold this pipe and smoke it.
Some day you will pray with it."
She spoke once more to all the people: "The pipe is alive; it is a red being showing you a red life and a red road. And this is the first ceremony for which
you will use the pipe. You will use it to keep the soul of a dead person, because through it you can talk to Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery Spirit.
"The day a human dies is always a sacred day. The day when the soul is released to the Great Spirit is another. Four women will become sacred on such a
day. They will be the one to cut the sacred tree - the *can-wakan* - for the sun dance."
She told the Lakota that they were the purest among the tribes, and for that reason Tunkashila had bestowed upon them the holy *chanunpa*. They had
been chosen to take care of it for all the Indian people on this turtle continent.
She spoke one last time to Standing Hollow Horn, the chief, saying, "Remember: this pipe is very sacred. Respect it and it will take you to the end of the
road. The four ages of creation are in me; I am the four ages. I will come to see you in every generation cycle. I shall come back to you."
The sacred woman then took leave of the people, saying: "Toksha ake wancinyankin (/wacinyanktin) ktelo - I shall see you again."
The people saw her walking off in the same direction from which she had come, outlined against the red ball of the setting sun. As she went, she stopped
and rolled over four times. The first time, she turned into a black buffalo; the second into a brown one; the third into a red one; and finally, the fourth time
she rolled over, she turned into a white female buffalo calf.
A white buffalo is the most sacred living thing you could ever encounter. The White Buffalo Calf Woman disappeared over the horizon. Sometime she
might come back.
As soon as she had vanished, buffalo in great herds appeared, allowing themselves to be killed so that the people might survive.
And from that day on, our relations, the buffalo, furnished the people with everything they needed - meat for their food, skins for their clothes and tipi's,
bones for their many tools.
[Told by Lame Deer at Winner, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1967]