The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Clearing skies.—Big game driven close to the ranch.—Tragedy of Red Rover, an Indian dog.—Bitter cold.—Starving cattle.—A Chinook.—Mad Wolf talks about former days.—Tells how the Blackfeet first met Long Teeth (Father De Smet).—He taught the people to rest every seventh day.—Fate of Motokis who scoffed at his ceremonial.—Its salutary effect upon the Blackfeet.—Two Black Robes took the place of Father De Smet.—One of them went to the Gros Ventres.—Was badly treated and returned to the Blackfeet.—Gros Ventres routed by the Blackfeet.—Legend of "The Yellow Buffalo Tipi."—Buffalo Bull bestows supernatural power upon Chief Mastopeta.—His death and farewell words.—His body disappears from the Death lodge.—Final message from his disembodied spirit.—Father De Smet's tactful use of occurrences for converting the Blackfeet.
A SUCCESSION of storms and blizzards followed each other during the entire moon. Old Indians could not recall another early winter of such severity. At the close of one of these gloomy days an unusual light appeared along the northern horizon and low hanging white clouds were rising from the plains. The Indians watched them at first apprehensively, thinking it might forebode another blizzard. But, when the strange light extended towards the zenith they said it indicated a change of weather.
On the following morning the clouds had rolled away and the sky was of deepest blue. The plains were an unbroken expanse of white, so dazzling in the brilliant sunlight, that I did not dare to remain outside for fear of snow blindness. Ah-see-tuck reported the
tracks of two mountain lions that had passed during the night close to the ranch. Their tracks were like those of a large mastiff and there were signs of their long tails dragging in the snow. Antelope appeared in large numbers. They had been driven before the storm from the great plains of the North. Many were killed by the Indians for the sake of their meat and for their skins, to be soft tanned by the women for clothing. The big grey wolves and coyotes held nightly carnivals over the carcases of strayed cattle which had perished on the surrounding ridges. When their howling seemed close to the ranch I went after them with my rifle, but never succeeded in getting a successful night-shot.
Two Indian dogs, Isakami and Eko-ats-kene (Red Rover), disappeared—I finally discovered their warm kennel beneath the haystack and visited them daily with food. Isakami, who was accustomed to frequent the lodges, was friendly, but Red Rover was very wild. His father was a coyote, and he had been known to run with coyote packs. At first he slunk away, growling and showing his fangs. But, after several feedings, his distrust disappeared and his friendship was completely won. Whenever I wandered off with my rifle, he came along to join in the hunt. One day Ah-see-tuck and I went upon the hills with a supply of poisoned wolf-baits. Red Rover followed at a distance and, when I drove him back, kept slyly out of sight, behind the ridges. He found and ate one of the wolf baits, probably believing that I had left it for him. It was not very long before he came to me with a pitiful, appealing look in his eyes, staggering and running sideways. He followed me back to the lodge, where he had never dared to come before, and, struggling to a drift beside the door, lay down and died.
The snow lay so deep on the plains, it became necessary to feed the famishing cattle. With the temperature at forty degrees below zero, Ah-see-tuck and I rode along the river, hunting for cattle among the willows, where they had sought shelter from the blizzard. We galloped swiftly along their deeply worn trails, heading off, rounding up and finally driving the bellowing herd, with clouds of steam rising from their nostrils, safely back to the ranch.
When heavy clouds piled up behind the Rocky Mountains, Mad Wolf predicted that a Chinook (warm wind) was coming. There was a sudden rise of eighty degrees in temperature, and, within a few hours, a strong warm wind blew from the west, carrying the snow before it in dense clouds. During the three days of violent wind that followed, when the snow melted so rapidly that it disappeared in streams of water from the ridges, we remained indoors, while Mad Wolf talked about former days, and told some interesting stories about the life of the Jesuit missionary, Father De Smet, among the Blackfeet.
"My mind reaches far back to the days before the white man came into our country. Then the buffalo were plentiful, and the rest of the game also. It is for this reason that we old Indians can neither read nor write, for we did not then need the talk of the white man. We were taught about the habits of wild animals, and how to cure their skins. We knew about the plains and mountains, and could read the voices of animals and birds. In those days the Indian tribes fought each other, and, in accordance with our custom, I was continually on the warpath. Then we killed white men, but, when the Great Father asked us to cease going to war, I advised the laying aside of our weapons. The
old custom of killing our enemies is now under and the white man's way is on top. The only way white men now get killed in our country is by killing themselves. When my father died I looked up to the Sun and vowed I would give the festival sacred to him, not realising that I would one day become a leader of the Sun-dance. From that time I became interested in the mysteries of the medicines, and thoughtful concerning the future of my tribe, praying to the Sun and to the Morning Star, that we might have food to eat and that we might live to be old.
"When Big Lake was our head chief, an expedition, made up from the clan of Small Robes, crossed the Rocky Mountains to visit the Flathead Indians. They met there a Black Robe 1 (Father De Smet). He was a good man, so they persuaded him to return with them. We named him Innu-e-kinni (Long Teeth), because of the appearance of his teeth. He lived with us for a long time, occupying a large tipi near the centre of our camp, in which he kept his religious outfit and held his ceremonials. He had a large bell which he always rang before beginning. Whenever our hunters or warriors returned to camp, he visited their lodges and taking them, with their wives and children, to his big tent, bade them all kneel down and give thanks to the Great Spirit for their safe return. He taught the people to rest every seventh day, and, on that day, to remain in camp, and not to go off on war and hunting expeditions. On the seventh day he always held an important ceremonial, which began in the morning and lasted until midday.
"One spring, just after the big rains, when we were camped close to the Rocky Mountains hunting grizzly
bears, Long Teeth rang his bell and rode through the camp announcing that it was the seventh day, and he would hold a ceremony in the lodge of O-mis-tai-poye. It happened that a man named Motokis, when he heard the bell, began preparing for a hunt. His wife made objections, and said they should go together to the ceremonial. But Motokis derided her and scoffed at the ceremonial, declaring defiantly that he intended to go on a hunt to kill a bear. He ordered his son to bring in the horses and to go with him on the hunt. When O-mis-tai-poye saw these preparations he went to Motokis and requested him to wait until after the ceremony, saying, 'Even if you do not want to pray yourself, come over to my lodge and listen to what the Black Robe has to say. You can then go off on your hunt.' Long Teeth himself warned Motokis not to go. But it was in vain. Motokis laughed at them all and started with his son towards the mountains. Soon after the ceremonial, when the sun was high, the boy rode into the camp at a gallop, shouting that a grizzly bear was killing his father. He said that soon after he and his father had entered the mountains, they discovered a grizzly bear turning over stones and hunting for grubs. The bear did not see them, so Motokis directed his son to hold the horses while he crawled up to kill him. Motokis circled around for an approach through some trees. But the bear turned and made a sudden charge. The boy saw the grizzly bear rise on its hind legs and seize his father, who fell with the bear standing over him. He did not wait longer, but rode as fast as he could to camp. The men caught their horses and followed the boy to the place, where they found Motokis dead. The bear had killed him and then covering the body with dirt had gone away. They followed the
bear's tracks to the heavy timber, where they hesitated to go further, fearing that the grizzly might have supernatural power. They firmly believed that death came upon Motokis because he had disobeyed the Black Robe. Afterwards Long Teeth made a speech, warning the people against disobedience, and declaring that Motokis had been punished by the Great Spirit for scoffing at the sacred ceremony.
"From that time, the Blackfeet believed Long Teeth was endowed with supernatural power. When some of the women saw that their lives were made easier by his good influence over their men, they said the Black Robe's power was very great and advised everyone to obey him. The three clans, Worm People, Buffalo Chips, and Small Robes became his followers and were obedient to his teachings. Little Plume, the great war chief and leader of the Worm People, was the first man to be baptised by him and many people then followed his example.
When Long Teeth left us and returned to the Flatheads, he sent two Black Robes (priests) to take his place. We named one of them Short Man and the other Scar Cheek because of a mark on his face. Short Man remained with the Blackfeet, but Scar Cheek went eastward to visit the Gros Ventres.
"When Scar Cheek appeared in the Gros Ventre camp he was set upon and roughly treated. They stripped him of his robe, making him wear a buffalo skin coat and leggings like themselves. Scar Cheek remonstrated with the Gros Ventres, saying he would rather be killed than stripped of his robe and have his ceremony ridiculed. The young men scoffed at him and treated him with so much indignity that Scar Cheek finally returned to the Blackfeet, after warning the Gros
[paragraph continues] Ventres that the Great Spirit would surely punish them for their wickedness.
"The things I will now tell you happened in spring, at the time we were beginning to gather buffalo tongues for the Sun-dance. Scar Cheek accompanied us to the Cypress Hills, where we went, because the buffalo were plentiful. Early in the moon when berries are ripe, according to our custom, the most prominent of our young men were sent on a buffalo hunt, to secure raw hide for binding together the poles of the Sun lodge. Among those selected for this honour were Seven Head, Lazy Boy and Prairie Chicken. They killed a buffalo bull and were taking off the hide when they were surprised and killed by a war party of Gros Ventres. When it became known that seven of our leading young men were killed, there was mourning throughout the entire camp. Our warriors held a council and decided that they would at once follow and punish the Gros Ventres. But Scar Cheek, the Black Robe, walked through camp admonishing the people:
"'My children, my heart is heavy because these brave young men were killed, and it makes me sad to hear the women mourning and to see them cutting themselves. But I warn you not to go to war against the wicked Gros Ventres. The Great Spirit is watching. He will punish them and help you if you remain here and pray.'
"The Blackfeet were afraid to disregard the warning of the Black Robe. They did not go to war, but continued their mourning for the dead warriors six days and six nights.
"Soon after this, a heavy fog settled down upon the plains. The war party of the Gros Ventres, surprised that we did not pursue them, returned. Four of their
warriors, hidden in the thick fog, stole unobserved into camp. We saw them, when the fog suddenly lifted. They were in the very centre of the camp, and were preparing to drive away a herd of horses. We killed all four, but when we made no further sign of revenge, the Gros Ventres thought we were afraid, and became very insolent. One of their warriors rode to a butte overlooking our camp and called out:
"'You Blackfeet are cowards. You have short horns like buffalo calves, and are helpless and unable to fight. We intend to kill all of your warriors, and will take your women and your children prisoners.'
"The following day, when the sun was high, we saw objects moving on a distant ridge. At first we thought it was a herd of buffalo, but, when they came nearer, we saw that a large party of Gros Ventres were approaching. They flashed mirrors into our camp, making signs and daring us to come out and fight. Our people hurriedly prepared for battle. The warriors marched out fully armed, while our women followed, carrying additional powder and bullets. Scar Cheek, the Black Robe, also came upon the battle field to encourage the warriors, and to help our wounded. It was midday when we began the fight, but before the sun was setting the Gros Ventres were in flight. We followed them until dark, shooting them down like buffalos, and taking their scalps. Sitting Woman, who was their war chief, saved himself by hiding in the underbrush. We have always taunted him with this fight; even his own people ridiculed him. After this battle Scar Cheek had great influence over both Gros Ventres and Blackfeet."
The following story of the origin of Chief Ma-sto-peta's Yellow Buffalo Tipi indicates the tact with which
[paragraph continues] Father De Smet utilised events and circumstances for converting the Blackfeet to Christianity.
"A large band of our people were once camped on the Okoan River hunting buffalo in the moon when the
Click to enlarge
YELLOW BUFFALO TIPI.
leaves were falling. Ma-sto-peta, a prominent chief, brought down a large bull with his spear. While he was removing the hide, the bull rose unexpectedly to its feet and, catching him upon its horns, tossed him many times into the air. The other hunters, hearing it bellow, and seeing it run with hide hanging loose, hastened to his aid. They found him lying as if dead, and carried him back to his lodge. While they were
doctoring, Ma-sto-peta opened his eyes and said, 'My children, it is useless for you to try to cure these wounds. While I was lying on the ground the Buffalo Bull stood over me saying, 'My son, I have done this because you showed me no pity, and to prove to you my supernatural power. You must die from the injuries I have inflicted, but I will bestow upon you my power, through which your spirit will return to your body, if you follow my directions. You must be painted all over with yellow paint, which is sacred to me (the yellow paint was secured from the buffalo's gall). Your body must be wrapped with your pipe in a buffalo robe, coloured with yellow paint, and thrown into the river, where the current is swift and the water deep. In this way you will recover from these injuries, and you will come forth unharmed from the river.' When the sun was setting Ma-sto-peta's spirit left his body. The instructions of the Buffalo Bull were carefully followed by the Blackfeet. After painting Ma-sto-peta's body they wrapped him with his pipe in a buffalo robe painted yellow. Four noted warriors bore him to a place where the banks of the river were steep. They swung the bundle three times, and after the fourth swing tossed it far out into the stream where the current was swift and the water deep. The shores of the river were thronged with people. When they saw the bundle sink beneath the water many thought they would never again see Ma-sto-peta, but some ran to the summit of a ridge to look down the stream and see if he might appear. To their astonishment, they beheld him walk unharmed from the river. After this the Buffalo Bull continued to appear in dreams to Ma-sto-peta, giving him the Yellow Buffalo Tipi and instructing him in the ceremonial. The Yellow Buffalo Tipi can be
seen in our big camps. It now belongs to Mu-koi-sapo. You will recognise it by two buffaloes painted yellow around the middle. A yellow buffalo calf skin is used for a door flap. The top is painted black to represent a night sky, with many small discs for stars, and around the bottom is a black band with a single row of dusty stars.
"Many years later, in the moon, when the grass is green (spring), Ma-sto-peta was taken very sick. Realising that he must die, he summoned his friends and relatives and bade them farewell, saying, 'My children, you may well feel anxious about me now, for I will not recover. My spirit has left my body three times during my life, but has always returned. This time I must go away for ever.' Ma-sto-peta died soon after daybreak. His wives made a Death-lodge to receive his body, pitching it in a dense thicket where it would not be disturbed by heavy winds. They used new poles, pinning the bottom of the lodge securely to the ground and tightly lacing the front with raw-hide so that no wild animals could enter. They dressed him in war clothes, decorated with porcupine quills, placing his spear and bow and arrows beside him, and tying his Pipe to the lodge poles over his head. All of Ma-sto-peta's possessions were distributed among his relatives. As a proof of their sorrow his wives gave away everything they had. They kept only the clothing they wore, also a robe and a travois. The youngest wife, because she had a young baby, retained also a parfleche of buffalo meat for food. Not long after Ma-sto-peta's death, when the tribe were preparing to move camp, Sa-koi-niski, his favourite wife, with her daughter, Akaniki, went to visit the death lodge. They found the door securely fastened, just as they had left it, but when they looked
inside Ma-sto-peta was gone. The Pipe still hung from the lodge poles over the spot where the body had lain, and everything, including his spear, bow and quiver full of arrows, were undisturbed. The women aroused the camp and everybody joined in the search. They thought perhaps he had come back to life and wandered away. They examined carefully the thicket around the lodge, but could find no signs. Some rode far out on the plains and watched from the high buttes. After the tribe had moved camp, the relatives remained behind to continue the search, but it was in vain. No trace of Ma-sto-peta was ever found. Sa-koi-niski and Akaniki continued their mourning for Ma-sto-peta. By day, they walked through the camp, scourging themselves and cutting their bodies with sharp arrow heads and, at night, they went to the summit of a lonely ridge to cry and mourn.
"During the time of heavy rains (early spring) Sa-koi-niski and Akaniki were camped with the clan of Small Robes. They were alone in the Yellow Buffalo lodge and were startled to hear a long deep sigh as from someone with a heavy heart. They sat in silence and to their surprise heard the voice of Ma-sto-peta. It seemed to come from overhead down through the top of the lodge and said:
"'Tamasa! no-kok-siks ki-taki-ma-po-ans,' etc. 'Alas! my poor children, I pity you still living where you are. I do not desire to come back again to your life, for I would soon long to return again to the spirit world. There always will be trouble upon your earth, because the people who live there must suffer from famine and pain. Here is a beautiful country. It is neither too hot nor too cold. There is plenty of game here, and the people never suffer from pain. Your unhappiness alone troubles me. My heart is heavy when I see you cutting your bodies and when I hear you crying and mourning upon the ridges. I have now come to tell you that I am happy in the spirit world, and to ask that you mourn for me no
more. If you lead straight lives and keep your heart good towards all people, when you die you too will come to this country where I now live. My Children! This is the last time I will come near you, and you will never again hear my voice. Farewell!'
"Sa-koi-niski and Akaniki told these things throughout the camp of the Small Robes, so that none of them mourned again for Ma-sto-peta. It happened that, at this very time, Long Teeth (Father de Smet) was living among our people. When Sa-koi-niski and Akaniki told these things to him, the Black Robe said, 'What the spirit of your father has told you is true. There is a beautiful country, where those who have lived good lives will go when they die and will be happy. Your father is there now and you too will go there, if you lead good lives just as he did.' Akaniki, with her children, and many of the clan of Small Robes were baptised by Long Teeth, the Black Robe. They and their children have ever since attended his church and believed in the white man's heaven after death."
157:1 See Appendix.