Music: Vision Quest by Bill Miller
|Brave Woman Counts Coup
A White River Lakota Sioux Legend
Over a hundred years ago, when many Sioux were still living in what now is Minnesota, there was a band of Hunkpapa Sioux at Spirit Lake under a chief
called Tawa Makoce, meaning His Country.
It was his country, too - Indian country, until the white soldiers with their cannon finally drove the Lakota tribes across the Mni Shoshay: The Big Muddy,
In his youth the chief had been one of the greatest warriors. Later when his fighting days were over, he was known as a wise leader, invaluable in council,
and as a great giver of feasts, a provider for the poor.
The chief had three sons and one daughter. The sons tried to be warriors as mighty as their father, but that was a hard thing to do. Again and again they
battled the Crow Indians with reckless bravery, exposing themselves in the front rank, fighting hand to hand, until one by one they all were killed.
Now only his daughter was left to the sad old chief. Some say her name was Makhta. Others call her Winyan Ohitika, Brave Woman.
The girl was beautiful and proud. Many young men sent their fathers to the old chief with gifts of fine horses that were preliminary to marriage proposals.
Among those who desired her for a wife was a young warrior named Red Horn, himself the son of a chief, who sent his father again and again to ask for
her hand. But Brave Woman would not marry.
"I will not take a husband," she said, "until I have counted coup on the Crows to avenge my dead brothers."
Another young man who loved Brave Woman was Wanblee Cikala, or Little Eagle. He was too shy to declare his love, because he was a poor boy who
had never been able to distinguish himself.
At this time the Kangi Oyate, the Crow nation, made a great effort to establish themselves along the banks of the upper Missouri in country which the Sioux
considered their own.
The Sioux decided to send out a strong war party to chase them back, and among the young men riding out were Red Horn and Little Eagle.
"I shall ride with you," Brave Woman said.
She put on her best dress of white buckskin richly decorated with beads and porcupine quills, and around her neck she wore a choker of dentalium shells.
She went to the old chief.
"Father," she said, "I must go the place where my brothers died. I must count coup for them. Tell me that I can go."
The old chief wept with pride and sorrow. "You are my last child," he said, "and I fear for you and for a lonely old age without children to comfort me. But
your mind has long been made up. I see that you must go; do it quickly. Wear my war-bonnet into battle. Go and do not look back."
And so his daughter, taking her brothers' weapons and her father's war-bonnet and best war pony, rode out with the warriors.
They found an enemy village so huge that it seemed to contain the whole Crow nation -hundreds of men and thousands of horses. There were many more
Crows than Sioux, but the Sioux attacked nevertheless.
Brave Woman was a sight to stir the warriors to great deeds. To Red Horn she gave her oldest brother's lance and shield. "Count coup for my dead
brother," she said. To Little Eagle she gave her second brother's bow and arrows. "Count coup for him who owned these," she told him. To another young
warrior she gave her youngest brother's war club. She herself carried only her father's old, curved coup-stick wrapped in otter fur.
At first Brave Woman held back from the fight. She supported the Sioux by singing brave-heart songs and by making the shrill, trembling war cry with
which Indian women encourage their men.
But when the Sioux, including her own warriors from the Hunkpapa band, were driven back by overwhelming numbers, she rode into the midst of the
battle. She did not try to kill her enemies, but counted coup left and right, touching them with her coup-stick. With a woman fighting so bravely among
them, what Sioux warrior could think of retreat?
Still, the press of the Crow and their horses drove the Sioux back a second time. Brave Woman's horse was hit by a musket bullet and went down. She was
on foot, defenseless, when Red Horn passed her on his speckled pony. She was too proud to call out for help, and he pretended not to see her.
Then Little Eagle came riding toward her out of the dust of the battle. He dismounted and told her to get on his horse. She did, expecting him to climb up
behind her, but he would not.
"This horse is wounded and too weak to carry us both," he said. "I won't leave you to be killed," she told him.
He took her brother's bow and struck the horse sharply with it across the rump. The horse bolted, as he intended, and Little Eagle went back into battle on
foot. Brave Woman herself rallied the warriors for a final charge, which they made with such fury that the Crows had to give way at last.
This was the battle in which the Crow nation was driven away from the Missouri for good. It was a great victory, but many brave young men died.
Among them was Little Eagle, struck down with his face to the enemy.
The Sioux warriors broke Red Horn's bow, took his eagle feathers from him, and sent him home.
But they placed the body of Little Eagle on a high scaffold on the spot where the enemy camp had been. They killed his horse to serve him in the land of
"Go willingly," they told the horse. "Your master has need of you in the spirit world."
Brave Woman gashed her arms and legs with a sharp knife. She cut her hair short and tore her white buckskin dress. Thus she mourned for Little Eagle.
They had not been man and wife; in fact he had hardly dared speak to her or look at her, but now she asked everybody to treat her as if she were the young
Brave Woman never took a husband, and she never ceased to mourn for Little Eagle.
"I am his widow," she told everyone. She died of old age. She had done a great thing, and her fame endures.
All Rights Reserved
|Iktome, Coyote and the Rock
A White River Sioux Legend
Coyote was walking with his friend Iktome.
Along their path stood Iya, the rock. This was not just any rock; it was special. It had those spidery lines of green moss all over it, the kind that tell a
story. Iya had power.
Coyote said: "Why, this is a nice-looking rock. I think it has power."
Coyote took off the thick blanket he was wearing and put it on the rock.
"Here, Iya, take this as a present. Take this blanket, friend rock, to keep you from freezing. You must feel cold."
"Wow, a giveaway!" said Iktome. "You sure are in a giving mood today, friend."
"Ah, it's nothing. I'm always giving things away. Iya looks real nice in my blanket."
"His blanket, now," said Iktome.
The two friends went on. Pretty soon a cold rain started. The rain turned to hail. The hail turned to slush. Coyote and Iktome took refuge in a cave,
which was cold and wet.
Iktome was all right; he had his thick buffalo robe. Coyote had only his shirt, and he was shivering. He was freezing. His teeth were chattering.
"Kola, friend of mine," Coyote said to Iktome, "go back and get me my fine blanket. I need it, and that rock has no use for it. He's been getting along
without a blanket for ages. Hurry; I'm freezing!"
Iktome went back to Iya, saying: "Can I have that blanket back, please?"
The rock said: "No, I like it. What is given is given."
Iktome returned and told Coyote: "He won't give it back." "That no-good, ungrateful rock!" said Coyote. "Has he paid for the blanket? Has he worked
for it? I'll go get it myself."
"Friend," said Iktome, "Tunka, Iya, the rock-there's a lot of power there! Maybe you should let him keep it."
"Are you crazy? This is an expensive blanket of many colors and great thickness. I'll go talk to him."
Coyote went back and told Iya: "Hey, rock! What's the meaning of this? What do you need a blanket for? Let me have it back right now!"
"No," said the rock, "what is given is given."
"You're a bad rock! Don't you care that I'm freezing to death? That I'll catch a cold?"
Coyote jerked the blanket away from Iya and put it on. "So there; that's the end of it."
"By no means the end," said the rock.
Coyote went back to the cave. The rain and hail stopped and the sun came out again, so Coyote and Iktome sat before the cave, sunning themselves,
eating pemmican, fry-bread and wojapi, berry soup. After eating, they took out their pipes and had a smoke.
All of a sudden Iktome said: "What's that noise?"
"What noise? I don't hear anything."
"A crashing, a rumble far off."
"Yes, friend, I hear it now."
"Friend Coyote, its getting stronger and nearer, like thunder or an earthquake."
"It is rather strong and loud. I wonder what it can be."
"I have a pretty good idea, friend," said Iktome.
Then they saw the great rock. It was Iya, rolling, thundering, crashing upon them.
"Friend, let's run for it!" cried Iktome; "Iya means to kill us!"
The two ran as fast as they could while the rock rolled after them, coming closer and closer. "Friend, let's swim the river. The rock is so heavy, he sure
can't swim!" cried Iktome.
So they swam the river, but Iya, the great rock, also swam over the river as if he had been made of wood.
"Friend, into the timber, among the big trees," cried Coyote. "That big rock surely can't get through this thick forest."
They ran among the trees, but the huge Iya came rolling along after them, shivering and splintering the big pines to pieces, left and right.
The two came out onto the flats. "Oh! Oh!" cried Iktome, Spider Man. "Friend Coyote, this is really not my quarrel. I just remembered, I have pressing
business to attend to. So long!"
Iktome rolled himself into a tiny ball and became a spider. He disappeared into a mouse hole.
Coyote ran on and on, the big rock thundering close at his heels. Then Iya, the big rock, rolled right over Coyote, flattening him out altogether.
Iya took the blanket and rolled back to his own place, saying: "So there!"
A wasichu rancher riding along saw Coyote lying there all flattened out. "What a nice rug!" said the rancher, picking Coyote up, and he took the rug home.
The rancher put Coyote right in front of his fireplace. Whenever Coyote is killed, he can make himself come to life again, but it took him all the whole night
to puff himself up into his usual shape. In the morning the rancher's wife told her husband: "I just saw your rug running away."
Friends, hear this: Always be generous in heart. If you have something to give, give it forever.
[Told by Jenny Leading Cloud in White River, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1967.]
|Chief Roman Nose Loses His Medicine
A White River Lakota Legend
The Lakota and the Shahiyela - the Sioux and the Cheyenne - have been good friends for a long time. Often they have fought shoulder to shoulder. They
fought the white soldiers on the Bozeman Road, which we Indians called the Thieves' Road because it was built to steal our land. They fought together on
the Rosebud River, and the two tribes united to defeat Custer in the big battle of the Little Bighorn. Even now in a barroom brawl, a Sioux will always
come to the aid of a Cheyenne and vice versa. We Sioux will never forget what brave fighters the Cheyenne used to be.
Over a hundred years ago the Cheyenne had a famous war chief whom the whites called Roman Nose. He had the fierce, proud face of a hawk, and his
deeds were legendary. He always rode into battle with a long war bonnet trailing behind him. It was thick with eagle feathers, and each stood for a brave
deed, a coup counted on the enemy. Roman Nose had a powerful war medicine, a magic stone he carried tied to his hair on the back of his head. Before a
fight he sprinkled his war shirt with sacred gopher dust and painted his horse with hailstone patterns. All these things, especially the magic stone, made
him bullet proof. Of course he could be slain by a lance, a knife, or a tomahawk, but not with a gun. And nobody ever got the better of Roman Nose in
There was one thing about Roman Nose's medicine: he was not allowed to touch anything made of metal when eating. He had to use horn or wooden
spoons and from wooden or earthenware bowls. His meat had to be cooked in a buffalo's pouch or in a clay pot, not in a white man's iron kettle.
One day Roman Nose received word of a battle going on between white soldiers and Cheyenne warriors. The fight had been swaying back and forth for
over a day. "Come and help us; we need you" was the message. Roman Nose called his warriors together. They had a hasty meal, and Roman Nose
forgot about the laws of his medicine. Using a metal spoon and a white man's steel knife, he ate buffalo meat cooked in an iron kettle.
The white soldiers had made a fort on a sand spit island in the middle of a river. They were shooting from behind and they had a new type of rifle which
was better and could shoot faster and further than the Indians' arrows and old muzzle loaders.
The Cheyenne were hurling themselves against the soldiers in attack after attack, but the water in some spots came up to the saddles of their horses and the
river bottom was slippery. They could not ride up quickly on the enemy, and they faced murderous fire. Their attacks were repulsed, their losses heavy.
Roman Nose prepared for the fight by putting on his finest clothes, war shirt, and leggings. He painted his best horse, with hailstone designs, and he tied
the pebble which made him bullet proof into his hair at the back of his head.
But an old warrior stepped up to him and said: "You have eaten from an iron kettle with a metal spoon and a steel knife. Your medicine is powerless; you
must not fight today. Purify yourself for four days so that your medicine will be good again."
"But the fight is today, not in four days<" said Roman Nose. "I must lead my warriors. I will die, but only the mountains and the rocks are forever." He
put on his great war bonnet, sang his death song, and then charged. As he rode up to the whites' cottonwood breastwork, a bullet hit him in the chest. He
fell from his horse; his body was immediately lifted by his warriors, and the Cheyenne retreated with their dead chief. To honor him in death, to give him a
fitting burial, was more important than to continue the battle. All night the soldiers in their fort could hear the Cheyenne's mourning songs, the keening of
the women. They too knew that the great chief Roman Nose was dead. He had died as he had lived. He had shown that sometimes it is more important to
act like a chief than to live to a great old age.
|White River Sioux Legends
|My Balls For Your Dinner?
A White River Sioux Legend
Iktome, the wicked Spider Man, and Skunk-Manitou, Coyote, are two no-good loafers. They lie, they steal, they are greedy, they are always after women.
Maybe because they are so very much alike, they are friends, except when they try to trick each other.
One day Iktome invited Coyote for dinner at his lodge. Iktome told his wife: "Old woman, here are two fine, big buffalo livers for my friend Coyote and
myself. Fry them up nicely, the way I like them. And get some timpsila, some wild turnips, on the side, and afterwards serve us up some wojapi, some
berry soup. Use choke-cherries for that. Coyote always likes something sweet after his meal."
"Is that all?" asked Iktome's wife.
"I guess so; I can't think of anything else."
"There's no third liver for me?" the wife inquired.
"You can have what's left after my friend Coyote and I have eaten," said Iktome. "Well, I'll go out for a while; maybe I can shoot a fine plump duck too.
Coyote always stuffs himself, so one liver may not be enough for him. But watch this good friend of mine; don't let him stick his hands under your robe.
He likes to do that. Well, I go now. Have everything ready for us; Coyote never likes to wait."
Iktome left and his old woman got busy cooking. "I know who's always stuffing himself," she thought. "I know whose hands are always busy feeling
under some girl's robe. I know who can't wait - it's that no-good husband of mine."
The fried livers smelled so wonderful that the wife said to herself: "Those greedy, stingy, overbearing men! I know them; they'll feast on these fine livers,
and a few turnips will be all they leave for me. They have no consideration for a poor woman. Oh, that liver here looks so good, smells so good; I know it
tastes good. Maybe I'll try a little piece, just a tiny one. They won't notice."
So the wife tasted a bit of the liver, and then another bit, and then another, and in no time at all that liver was gone.
"I might as well eat the other too," the wife said to herself, and she did.
"What will i do now?" she thought. "When Iktome finds out, he'll surely beat me. But it was worth it!"
Just then Coyote arrived. He had dresses himself up in a fine beaded outfit with fringed sleeves. "Where is my good friend Iktome?" he asked. "What's he
up to? Probably nothing good."
"How are you friend?" said the woman. "My husband, Iktome, is out taking care of some business. He'll be back soon. Sit down; be comfortable."
"Out on business - you don't say!" remarked Coyote, quickly sticking his hand under the woman's robe and between her legs.
"Iktome told me you'd try to do that. He told me not to let you."
"Oh, Iktome and I are such good friends," said Coyote, "we share everything."
He joked, he chuckled the woman under the chin, he tickled her under the arms, and pretty soon he was all the way in her; way, way up inside her. "It feels
good," said the woman, "but be quick about it. Iktome could be back any time now."
"You think he'd mind, seeing we are such good friends?"
"I'm sure he would. You'd better stop now."
"Well, all right. It smells very good here, but I see no meat cooking, just some timpsila. Meat is what I like."
"And meat is what you'll get. One sees this is the first time that you've come here for dinner; otherwise you'd know what you'll get. We always serve a
guest the same thing. Everybody likes it."
"Is it really good?"
"It's more than good. It's lila washtay, very good."
Coyote smacked his lips, his mouth watering. "I can't wait. What is it? Tell me!"
"Why, you itka, your susu, your eggs, your balls, your big hairy balls! We always have the balls of our guests for dinner."
"Oh my! This must be a joke, a very bad joke."
"It's no joke at all. And I'd better cut them off right now with my big skinning knife, because it's getting late. Iktome gets mad when I don't have his food
ready, he'll beat me. And there I was, fooling around with you instead of doing my cooking. I'll do it right now; drop your breechcloth. You won't feel a
thing, I do this so fast. I have practice."
The woman came after Coyote with the knife in her hand. "Wait a bit," said Coyote. "Before you do this, let me go out and make some water. I'll be right
back," and saying this, he ran out of the lodge.
But he didn't come back. He ran and ran as fast as his feet would carry him.
Just then Iktome came back without any ducks; he had caught nothing. He saw Coyote running away and asked, "Old Woman, what's the matter with
that crazy friend of mine? Why is he running off like that?"
"Your good friend is very greedy. He doesn't have the sharing spirit," his wife told Iktome. "Never invite him again. He has no manners. He doesn't know
how to behave. He saw those two fine buffalo livers, which I cooked just as you like them, and didn't want to share them with you. He grabbed both and
made off with them. Some friend!"
Iktome rushed out of the lodge in a frenzy, running after Coyote as fast as he could, shouting: "Coyote! Kola! Friend! Leave me at least one! Leave one
for me! For your old friend Iktome!"
Coyote didn't stop. He ran even faster than Iktome. Running, running, he looked back over his shoulder and shouted: "Cousin, if you catch me, you can
have both of them!"
[Told by one of the Left Handed Bull family in White River, Rosebud Indian Reservation.]
|Rabbit Boy aka Blood Clot Man
A White River Sioux Legend
In the old, old days, before Columbus "discovered" us, as they say, we were even closer to the animals than we are now. Many people could understand
the animal languages; they could talk to a bird, gossip with a butterfly. Animals could change themselves into people and people into animals.
It was a time when the earth was not quite finished, when many kinds of mountains and streams, animals and plants came into being according to
In these far-gone days, hidden from us as in a mist, there lived a rabbit - a very lively, playful, good-hearted rabbit.
One day this rabbit was walking, enjoying himself, when he came across a clot of blood. How it got there, nobody knows. It looked like a blister, a little
bladder full of red liquid. Well, the playful rabbit began toying with that clot of blood, kicking it around as if it were a tiny ball.
Now, we Indians believe in Takuskanskan, the mysterious power of motion. Its spirit is in anything that moves. It animates things and makes them
Well, the rabbit got into this strange moving power without even knowing it, and the motion of being kicked around, or rather the spirit of the motion -
and I hope you can grasp what I mean by that - began to work on the little blob of blood so that it took shape, forming a little gut.
The rabbit kicked it some more, and the blob began to grow tiny hands and arms. The rabbit kept nudging it, and suddenly it had eyes and a beating
heart. In this way the rabbit, with the help of the mysterious moving power, formed a human being, a little boy.
The rabbit called him "We-Ota-Wichasha", Much-Blood Boy, but he is better known as Rabbit Boy.
The rabbit took him to his wife,and both of them loved this strange little boy as if he were their only son. They dressed him up in a beautiful buckskin shirt,
which they painted with the sacred red color and decorated with designs made of porcupine quills.
The boy grew up happily among the rabbits. When he was almost a man, the old rabbit took him aside and said: "Son, I must tell you that you are not
what you think you are - a rabbit like me. You are a human. We love you and we hate to let you go, but you must leave and find your own people."
Rabbit Boy started walking until he came to a village of human being, where he saw boys who looked like himself. He went into the village. The people
could not help staring at this strange boy in his beautiful buckskin clothes.
"Where are you from?" they asked him. "I am from another village," said Rabbit Boy, though this was not true. There was no other village in the whole
world, for as I told you, the earth was still in its beginning.
In the village was a beautiful girl who fell in love with Rabbit Boy, not only for his fine clothes, but also for his good looks and kind heart. Her people, too,
wanted him to marry into the village, wanted a man with his great mystery power to live among them.
And Rabbit Boy has a vision. In it he was wrestling with the sun, racing the sun, playing hand games with the sun - and always winning.
But Iktome, the wicked Spider Man, the mean trickster, prankster, and witch doctor, wanted that beautiful girl for himself. He began to say bad things
about Rabbit Boy.
"Look at him," Iktome said, "showing off his buckskin outfit to us who are too poor to have such fine things." And to the men he also said: "How come
you're letting him marry a girl from your village?"
He also told them: "In case you want me to, I have a magic hoop to throw over that Rabbit Boy. It will make him helpless."
Several boys said, "Iktome is right." They were jealous of Rabbit Boy on account of his strange power, his wisdom and generosity. They began to fight
him, and Spider Man threw his magic hoop over him. Though it had no effect on Rabbit Boy, he pretended to be helpless to amuse himself.
The village boys and young men tied Rabbit Boy to a tree with rawhide thongs. All the time, the evil Spider Man was encouraging them: "Let's take our
butchering knives and cut him up!"
"Friends, kola-pila,.." said Rabbit Boy, "if you are going to kill me, let me sing my death song first." And he sang:
I have fought the sun.
He tried to burn me up,
But he could not do it.
Even battling the sun,
I held my own.
After the death song, the villagers killed Rabbit Boy and cut him up into chunks of meat, which they put in a soup pot.
But Rabbit Boy was not hurt easily. A storm arose, and a great cloud hid the face of the sun, turning everything into black night.
When the cloud was gone, the chunks of meat had disappeared without a trace. But those who had watched closely had seen the chunks forming up again
into a body, had seen him going up to heaven on a beam of sunlight.
A wise old medicine man said, "This Rabbit Boy really has powerful medicine: he has gone up to see the sun. Soon he will come back stronger than before,
because up there he will be given the sun's power. Let's marry him to that girl of ours."
But the jealous spider, Iktome, said, "Why bother about him? Look at me: I am much more powerful than Rabbit Boy! Here, tie me up too; cut me up! Be
Iktome thought he remembered Rabbit Boy's song. He thought there was power in it - magic strength. But Iktome did not remember the words right. He
I have fought the moon,
She tried to fight,
But I won.
Even battling the moon,
I came out on top.
They cut Iktome up, as he had told them, but he never came to life again.
The spider had finally outsmarted himself. Evil tricksters always do.
[Told by Jenny Leading Cloud in White River, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1967, and recorded by Richard Erdoes.]
|Spotted Eagle and Black Crow
A White River Sioux Legend
Many lifetimes ago there lived two brave warriors. One was named Wanblee Gleshka, Spotted Eagle. The other was Kangi Sapa, Black Crow.
They were friends but, as it happened, were also in love with the same girl, Zintkala Luta Win - Red Bird. She was beautiful as well as accomplished in
tanning and quill-work, and she liked Spotted Eagle best, which made Black Crow unhappy and jealous.
Black Crow went to his friend and said: "Let's go on a war party against the Pahani. We'll get ourselves some fine horses and earn eagle feathers."
"Good idea," said Spotted Eagle, and the two young men purified themselves in a sweat bath. They got out their war medicine and their shields, painted
their faces, and did all that warriors should do before a raid. Then they rode out against the Pahani.
The raid did not go well. The Pahani were watchful, and the young warriors could not get near the herd. Not only did they fail to capture any ponies, they
even lost their own mounts while they were trying to creep up to the enemy's herd.
Spotted Eagle and Black Crow had a hard time escaping on foot because the Pahani were searching for them everywhere.
At one time the two had to hide underwater in a lake and breathe through long, hollow reeds which were sticking up above the surface. But at least they
were clever at hiding, and the Pahani finally gave up the hunt.
Traveling on foot made the trip home a long one. Their moccasins were tattered, their feet bleeding. At last they came to a high cliff. "Let's go up there,"
said Black Crow, "and find out whether the enemy is following us."
Clambering up, they looked over the countryside and saw that no one was on their trail. But on a ledge far below them they spied a nest with two young
eagles in it. "Let's get those eagles, at least," Black Crow said.
There was no way to climb down the sheer rock wall, but Black Crow took his rawhide lariat, made a loop in it, put the rope around Spotted Eagle's chest,
and lowered him.
When his friend was on the ledge with the nest, Black Crow said to himself: "I can leave him there to die. When I come home alone, red Bird will marry
He threw his end of the rope down and went away without looking back or listening to Spotted Eagle's cries.
At last it dawned on Spotted Eagle that his friend had betrayed him, that he had been left to die. The lariat was much too short to lower himself to the
ground; an abyss of three hundred feet lay beneath him. He was alone with the two young eagles, who screeched angrily at the strange, two-legged
creature that had invaded their home.
Black Crow returned to his village. "Spotted Eagle died a warrior's death," he told the people. "The Pahani killed him."
There was loud wailing throughout the village, because everybody had liked Spotted Eagle. Red Bird slashed her arms with a sharp knife and cut her hair
to make her sorrow plain to all. But in the end because life must go on, she became Black Crow's wife.
Spotted Eagle, however, did not die on his lonely ledge. The eagles got used to him, and the old eagles brought plenty of food - rabbits, prairie dogs, and
sage hens - which he shared with the two chicks.
Maybe it was the eagle medicine in his bundle, which he carried on his chest that made the eagles accept him. Still, he had to tie himself to a little rock
sticking out of the cliff to keep from falling off in his sleep. In this way he spent some uncomfortable weeks, after all, he was a human being and not a bird
to whom a crack in the rock face is home.
At last the young eagles were big enough to practice flying. "What will become of me now?" thought the young man. "Once the fledglings have flown the
nest, the old birds won't bring any more food."
Then he had an inspiration, and told himself, "Perhaps I'll die. Very likely I will. But I won't just sit here and give up."
Spotted Eagle took his little pipe out of his medicine bundle, lifted it up to the sky and prayed: "Wakan Tanka, onshimala ye: Great Spirit, pity me. You
have created man and his brother, the eagle. You have given me the eagle's name. Now I will try to let the eagles carry me to the ground. Let the eagles
help me; let me succeed."
He smoked and felt a surge of confidence. Then he grabbed hold of the legs of the two young eagles. "Brothers," he told them, "you have accepted me as one
of your own. Now we will live together, or die together. Hoka-hey!" and he jumped off the ledge.
He expected to be shattered on the ground below, but with a mighty flapping of wings, the two young eagles broke his fall and the three landed safely.
Spotted Eagle said a prayer of thanks to the ones above. Then he thanked the eagles and told them that one day he would be back with gifts and have a
giveaway in their honor.
Spotted Eagle returned to his village. The excitement was great. He had been dead and had come back to life. Everybody asked him how it happened that
he was not dead, but he wouldn't tell them. "I escaped," he said, "that's all."
He saw his love married to his treacherous friend and bore it in silence. He was not one to bring strife and enmity to his people, to set one family against
the other. Besides, what had happened could not be changed. Thus he accepted his fate.
A year or so later, a great war party of the Pahani attacked his village. The enemy outnumbered the Sioux tenfold, and Spotted Eagle's band had no chance
for victory. All the warriors could do was fight a slow rear-guard action to give the aged, the women, and the children time to escape across the river.
Guarding their people this way, the handful of Sioux fought bravely, charging the enemy again and again, forcing the Pahani to halt and regroup. Each
time, the Sioux retreated a little, taking up a new position on a hill or across a gully. In this way they could save their families.
Showing the greatest courage, exposing their bodies freely, were Spotted Eagle and Black Crow. In the end they alone faced the enemy.
Then, suddenly, black Crow's horse was hit by several arrows and collapsed under him. "Brother, forgive me for what I have done," he cried to Spotted
Eagle, "let me jump on your horse behind you."
Spotted Eagle answered: "You are a Kit Fox member, a sash wearer. Pin your sash as a sign that you will fight to the finish. Then, if you survive, I will
forgive you; and if you die, I will forgive you also."
Black Crow answered: "I am a Fox. I shall pin my sash. I will won here or die here."
He sang his death song. He fought stoutly. There was no one to release him by unpinning him and taking him up on a horse. He was hit by lances and
arrows and died a warrior's death. Many Pahani died with him.
Spotted Eagle had been the only one to watch Black Crow's last fight. At last he joined his people, safe across the river, where the Pahani did not follow
them. "Your husband died well," Spotted Eagle told Red Bird.
After some time had passed, Spotted Eagle married Red Bird. And much, much later he told his parents, and no one else, how Black Crow had betrayed
him. "I forgive him now," he said, "because once, long ago, he was my friend, and because Red Bird and I are happy now."
After a long winter, Spotted Eagle told his wife when spring came again: "I must go away for a few days to fulfill a promise. And I have to go alone."
He rode off by himself to that cliff and stood again at its foot, below the ledge where the eagles' nest had been. He pointed his sacred pipe to the four
directions, then down to Grandmother Earth and up to the Grandfather sky letting the smoke ascend to the sky, calling out: "Wanblee Mishunkala, little
Eagle Brothers, hear me."
High above in the clouds appeared two black dots, circling. These were the eagles who had saved his life. They came at his call, their huge wings spread
royally. Swooping down, uttering a shrill cry of joy and recognition, they alighted at his feet.
He stroked them with his feather fan, thanked them many times, and fed them choice morsels of buffalo meat. He fastened small medicine offerings
around their legs as a sign of friendship, and spread tobacco offerings around the foot of the cliff. Thus he made a pact of friendship and brotherhood
between Wanblee Oyate - the eagle nation - and his own people.
Afterwards the stately birds soared up again into the sky, circling motionless, carried by the wind, disappearing into the clouds.
Spotted Eagle turned his horse's head homeward, going back to Red Bird with deep content.
[Told by Jenny Leading Cloud in White Rive, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1967.]
|How People Learned to Fish
A White River Lakota Legend
Mahto was a very small bear when he came into this world. He was born in a cave deep within the earth and was not big enough to harm anybody. His
mother called him Mahtociqala in the language of the people.
When his mother awoke from her long sleep, she took Small Bear out into the bright sunshine of spring. "What are these creatures flying high above my
head?" asked Small Bear. "Wambli," his mother replied in her low gruff voice. "It is from Eagle that we learn to live our life in dignity." "Eagle's eyes are
keener than our own, so we always listen to warnings he sends from above."
Small Bear's mother led him across the sweet-smelling meadow to the edge of a river where she would teach him to drink. He put his nose into the cold,
clear water and took a taste. The shock of the rushing water made him instantly alert and watchful. Many years later, when he had grown into his
warrior name, Mahto would remember his first drink. Whenever he needed clarity of thought or alertness for hunting, he would plunge himself into the
river to prepare himself for the task.
Mahto remembered his early days with fondness, for his mother was a great teacher. She always protected him and gave him guidance for living the
fullness of life.
She taught him how to hunt for grubs inside the rotting trunks of fallen fir trees. She taught him which flowers and grasses were sweetest, which roots
would make him strong, and which berries would fill out his flesh for his first long winter's sleep.
And she taught him how to catch the red fish as they came crashing up against him in the slippery river. Mahto's mother showed him a special place
between two craggy rocks where he could lodge himself.
"Wait quietly and with patience in this place," she said, "and the great red flashing, thrashing things will jump right into your mouth."
And so it was that the people learned to fish - - by watching Mahto and his mother. From that time forth, Mahto and the people never went hungry, as
long as he and his brothers could be seen fishing in the river. And the people sang praises and danced for the gift of Mahto and his Mother.