The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Jealous anger of Bull Plume.—He urges me to visit his camp.—Brings-down-the-Sun is angered by the intrusion.—Onesta explains the cause of the rivalry.—Brings-down-the-Sun makes a friendly visit.—He agrees to impart his knowledge.—Stories of his father Running Wolf.—Origin of the name.—Winter counts kept by him as head chief of the tribe.—His initiation into the Medicine Pipe Society.—Discovers cavern of the Thunder-bird on Chief Mountain, who gives him a sacred Pipe.
ON the day of the Crow Beaver ceremonial, while seated by the door of the sacred lodge, I was honoured by Brings-down-the-Sun seating himself beside me. To the Indians his act was a conspicuous recognition of me, and was noticed by everyone. Bull Plume was inside the lodge seated opposite to Onesta. When he observed Brings-down-the-Sun's action, he was much disturbed. Unable to control his jealous anger, he harangued the people seated near him. Even the family of Brings-down-the-Sun heard his words. He said: "My heart is now black because A-pe-ech-eken, who is my friend, has not come to my camp. I know that someone must have turned his heart against me." During the rest of the ceremonial Bull Plume was morose and silent. Next morning he came early to our camp to see me. We seated ourselves on the ground, and while engaged in a friendly smoke he made inquiries as to my journey, and how long I intended remaining in his country. He said he felt
offended because I, an old friend, was visiting another man. He suggested that his camp was not far distant, on the other side of the river, and asked me to return with him. Knowing well the jealousy that pervades an Indian tribe, and the rivalry between all medicine men, my replies were careful and guarded. I explained that I had come a stranger to visit in his country, along with relatives of the chief, in whose camp I was now staying. It was necessary that I should remain with the people, with whom I was travelling. Bull Plume then became more urgent. He said, "I have some interesting tribal records to show you. They were handed down by Wolf Child, my grandfather, and are very old. If you come, you may copy them and you can make as many pictures in my camp as you wish." I replied that I was eager to see his records, and to take the pictures, but that our horses were running loose upon the hills, and I had no means of crossing the river. Bull Plume then departed, leaving me much disturbed in mind. It was the last I saw of him.
I learned afterwards, that he was so disappointed at my refusal to visit his camp, and angered, because Brings-down-the-Sun had practically won a victory over him, that he and all his followers struck their lodges and started for the north. Onesta explained this very strange occurrence by the fact, that Bull Plume and Brings-down-the-Sun were rival leaders. Bull Plume was a comparatively young man, ambitious for reputation and influence, while the aged Brings-down-the-Sun was universally revered, because of his honesty and kindness of heart, and his life-long reputation for high character and knowledge of their sacred ceremonials. Onesta said that Bull Plume was also a constant source of irritation to Brings-down-the-Sun, because of his
aggressive methods, and that, if I had associated with him, it would have injured me greatly in the estimation of the older chief.
Political human nature is the same the world over. How like the rival ambitions and struggles for preeminence between the chiefs of our political parties, and political antagonists anywhere, was this manœuvring for recognition and leadership between these rival chiefs of the Blackfeet!
When Brings-down-the-Sun heard that Bull Plume had been in the South Piegan camp, trying to persuade the white man to go with him, he was very indignant. In the afternoon he entered our camp for the first time. Seating himself upon a big log, near the outside fire, and, filling his every-day pipe, he spoke as follows:
"For several years I have endured many things from this Bull Plume. I will no longer be silent, but will now speak plainly. If you desire to go to the camp of this man, I will not hinder you." When I replied that I intended remaining with him, he seemed relieved and continued: "I would prefer to have you stay with me, inasmuch as you came first to my camp and I have been preparing myself to relate to you many things that have happened to my people in former days. If you should be instructed by another man, there might be confusion. However, I do not wish to interfere, if you want to learn from Bull Plume." I again assured him that I desired to learn from him alone, and said, "When I started north with the South Piegans, they promised they would take me to your camp, because you know more than any of the chiefs. When I met the Blood Indians, I told them also that I was on my way to visit you. I do not care to go to the camp of Bull Plume and I want to learn from you alone." Gazing steadily
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THE WAR CHIEF
into my face for a moment, he said, "I can read a man's character in his eyes and by the look I see in his face. I know this Bull Plume is tricky, because he cannot look a man straight in the eyes. He is like a crooked stick and his words and his schemes are as many as the branches in yonder thicket. He told you that he has in his possession tribal records handed down to him from his grandfather. This is not true. Bull Plume is a young man. We do
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(Eagle feathers fastened
on both sides of head.)
to know. I also take as my friends your white father and mother who live towards the rising sun. I ask you to send them word that my heart feels good towards them."
After expressing, in a few words, my deep appreciation of his kindness and goodwill, I asked him to tell me about his father, and also about his own life.
His manner was very impressive as he turned and,
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“I WILL TELL YOU NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.”
pointing towards the setting sun, addressed me. "The Sun looks down upon us both, sitting here together, and hears everything that we say. I declare, before the Great Mystery in the Sun, that I will tell you nothing but the truth.
"When my father became a man he was named A-pe-so-muckka (Running Wolf). My grandfather, Little Mountain, was once alone in the mountains, when a wolf came to him in a dream saying, 'My son, you have often heard my voice, for I am Running Wolf, the head chief of all the wolves. I run all over the
country. My tracks are to be found everywhere, and I will always continue to wander. If you should ever have sons, name one of them Running Wolf after me. If he should have a son, let the name be handed down. All of your descendants, who bear my name, will be blessed with long life.' I was the only one of my father's sons to be named Running Wolf, and I in turn have given this name to my son whose tipi stands there next to mine. My father was the third son, and I will relate the events, which proved that he was worthy to bear the name of Running Wolf.
"When he was a boy fifteen years old, he was watching a large war party, of which his two older brothers were members, making ready to start on an expedition against the Snake (Shoshone) Indians. They rode to my grandfather's big lodge, in the centre of the camp, dressed in war clothes, and with horses painted, singing a wolf song and beating time on their parfleches. When they finished their song with the wolf-howl, Little Mountain directed his wives to go out and join them in another song, that their expedition might be successful. After smoking a pipe with their head chief, they marched four times around the camp circle, stopping to sing at the four largest tipis, located towards the four main directions (cardinal points). They then dispersed, and after saying farewell to their friends and families, started for the south. All these preparations were very thrilling to my father, and, as they rode away, he longed to accompany them, but he well knew that they would say he was too young. After the war party had gone, young Running Wolf secured his father's rifle, making the excuse that he was going on a hunt. Instead, he circled around, and, by fast riding, finally overtook them. The war-chief was not
pleased to see him, and ordered him to turn back, explaining that they were starting upon a long and dangerous expedition, and that he, as their leader, would be held responsible for his safe return. Running Wolf made no reply, but his two brothers spoke: 'If he is so eager to go to war, let him come along. He can make himself useful by leading these two travois dogs.' No further objections were made, so Running Wolf took charge of the dogs and remained with the war party. Nothing of interest happened for many days. One night, after crossing the Yellowstone River, when the boy was sleeping on the outskirts of the camp, he was awakened by the growling of his dogs, and discovered not far away a band of Snake Indians. He gave the alarm, and the Blackfeet hastily made ready, but waited to make their attack just before dawn. When they were starting out, my two uncles directed Running Wolf to hand over his rifle, because it might be needed, and because he was too young to enter the fight. He pleaded with them to allow him to try at least one shot at the enemy. When the Snakes saw the Blackfeet coming, they hastily retreated towards some high cliffs. The Blackfeet warriors followed, but held their fire, thinking the Snakes were out of range. Young Running Wolf was the only one to fire a gun. He took a long shot, and, strange to say, killed a Snake warrior, the bullet entering his head. When he fell, my uncles ran out and took his scalp and clothes. The Snakes reached the cliffs, where they were in such a strong position that our warriors could not dislodge them. The victory had already belonged to the Blackfeet, so they left the country to return home. It was in midsummer when they came back. The people were all outside the lodges, the women playing a game of
bones, and the young men gambling with the wheel and arrow, when a band of horsemen unexpectedly appeared upon a high butte. It was the returning war-party. They had come back so quickly, no one believed it possible they could have gone far enough to encounter the enemy. The warriors tied the scalp to some long willow branches. The chief instructed young
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WAR-PARTY RIDING THROUGH CAMP HOLDING UP SCALPS.
[paragraph continues] Running Wolf to hold them aloft when they entered camp, and to cry out, 'My name is Running Wolf. I am the youngest of the war-party, but I was the only one to kill a Snake Indian. Behold! here is his scalp.' Then they marched around the camp, shooting their rifles in the air, and singing the song of victory, 'We have hair.' Many years afterwards the Blackfeet were told by the Snakes, that the man my father killed was also the son of their head chief, and that his name was Running Wolf.
"My father was the leader of the clan of Grease Melters. Later, when he was chosen head chief of the Blackfeet, he was known by the name of Iron Shirt, because he wore a buckskin shirt decorated with pieces of shining metal. He was a large, muscular man, with a wonderful memory and a great knowledge of our customs. He could tell a horse's age by its whinny, and a man's by the sound of his voice. He kept winter counts on buffalo hides, marking the principal events in the history of the tribe. He recorded our tribal camps, the battles, the names of our leaders, when the great chiefs died, the years of sickness (scourge of smallpox), the summers of droughts and the hard winters, when game was scarce and snows lay deep.
"Sixty-nine winters have passed, since we had our first 'Great Sickness' (smallpox, 1836). Fifty winters, since eight Indian tribes assembled together in a big camp on the Yellowstone River, when Little Dog, Big Snake and Lame Bull were the head chiefs (1855). Thirty-one winters since the coming of the Mounted Police (1874), and twenty-nine since the severe winter, when many of our horses were frozen (1876). One year later, there was a big camp in the north, when Big Crow Foot was head chief (1877).
"Other important events that my father marked in his 'winter counts' were: the winter, when many of our people died from the 'Cough Sickness.'
"The winter, when the children broke through the ice.
"The winter, when the moose came into camp.
"The winter, when our horses had the mange.
"The winter, when it was necessary to eat dogs to keep from starving.
"The winter, when the antelopes broke through the ice.
The winter, when buffalo were scarce.
"The winter, when we caught antelope in the deep snow.
"The winter, when a treaty was made with the white men.
"I was born in the year, when white men were seen for the first time in our country, and in the spring, during the moon, when the grass is green. Grass, as you know, is the head chief of everything. The animals depend upon the grass for food, and without the animals our children could not live.
"I was still a young boy when my father was made a member of the Medicine Pipe society. It happened at the time of the Sun-dance camp in midsummer. Wolf Child had owned a Pipe for four years. It was time for him to give it up and to select his successor. He chose my father, and told the society that they must catch him. Now my father was a Bear Man, that is, his power came from the grizzly bear. His medicine, which was a bear skin, always hung from the lodge poles over his bed It was for this reason, that the Medicine Pipe men had never chosen my father before. The word 'bear' was believed to exert an evil power over the Pipe, and should never be spoken in its presence. They feared to offer the Pipe to my father, with the bear skin so near, lest it bring misfortune upon all of the society. But, Wolf Child, the owner of the Pipe to be transferred, finally prevailed, urging that, 'Iron Shirt is head chief and is so powerful, no harm can come to him. For our part, I believe we can safely take the Pipe into the presence of the bear skin without danger, if all of us are careful to use the word 'Badger,' instead of 'Bear' and, at the same
time, burn sweet pine as incense, which will avert the evil power. We must catch both Iron Shirt and his wife inside their lodge. Don't let either of them escape.' In this way he persuaded them and overcame their fears. It was after midnight, when I heard them come into our lodge. Wolf Child entered first, holding the sacred Pipe hidden beneath his blanket. My mother tried to run out, but Wolf Child held her fast, until the others entered. He offered the Pipe to my father and, when he grasped it with both hands, the society men began to drum and sing. When my father had finished smoking, he said: 'I have many horses, which of them is it you wish to take?' Wolf Child said: 'Your black buffalo horse.' He knew well that he was the most valuable of the herd and the fastest horse in camp. He was so high spirited that it required three raw hide bridles to hold him. My father answered quickly: 'Take him! He is yours.' It was an honour, but also a great burden for my father and mother to own a Medicine Pipe. But few men dare to refuse it, I remember the case of a young man, who declined a Medicine Pipe, because the society asked for his racehorse. As a result his father-in-law soon died, then the racehorse, and finally the young man himself.
"I was once camped with my grandfather and father on the Green Banks (St. Mary's River), close to the Rocky Mountains. They were digging out beavers, which were very plentiful. My father went off for a hunt to supply our camp with meat. He followed the trail of some elk up the side of a steep mountain, until he came to timber-line, where he saw a herd of mountain sheep. He followed them towards Nin-ais-tukku (Chief Mountain). When he drew near the summit, he discovered a dense, foul-smelling smoke rising from a deep
pit. He pushed a huge boulder into it to hear it fall. There came back no sound, but a cloud of smoke and gas arose so dense and suffocating, that he turned to flee, but it was only to meet a black cloud coming up the mountain side. He was frightened and tried to escape, but suddenly there came a terrible crash, and my father fell to the ground. He beheld a woman standing over him. Her face was painted black and red zig-zag streaks like lightning were below her eyes. Behind the woman, stood a man holding a large weapon. My father heard the man exclaim impatiently, 'I told you to kill him at once, but you stand there pitying him.' He heard the woman chant, 'When it rains the noise of the Thunder is my medicine.' The man also sang and fired his big weapon. The report was like a deafening crash of thunder, and my father beheld lightning coming from the big hole on the mountain top. He knew nothing more, until he found himself lying inside a great cavern. He had no power to speak, neither could he raise his head, but, when he heard a voice saying, 'This is the person who threw the stone down into your fireplace,' he realised that he was in the lodge of the Thunder Maker. He heard the beating of a drum, and, after the fourth beating, was able to sit up and look around. He saw the Thunder Chief, in the form of a huge bird, with his wife and many children around him. All of the children had drums, painted with the green talons of the Thunderbird and with Thunder-bird beaks, from which issued zig-zag streaks of yellow lightning.
"We call the thunder Isis-a-kummi (Thunder-bird). We believe that it is a supernatural person. When he leaves his lodge to go through the heavens with the storm-clouds, he takes the form of a great bird with
many colours, like the rainbow, and with long green claws. The lightning is the trail of the Thunder-bird.
"Whenever the Thunder Maker smoked his pipe, he blew two whiffs upwards toward the sky, and then two whiffs towards the earth. After each whiff the thunder crashed. Finally the Thunder-bird spoke to my father, saying, 'I am the Thunder Maker and my name is Many Drums (expressive of the sound of rolling thunder). You have witnessed my great power and can now go in safety. When you return to your people, make a pipe just like the one you saw me smoking, and add it to your bundle. Whenever you hear the first thunder rolling in the spring-time, you will know that I have come from my cavern, and that it is time to take out my pipe. If you should ever be caught in the midst of a heavy thunder-storm and feel afraid, pray to me, saying, 'Many Drums! pity me, for the sake of your youngest child,' and no harm will come to you. (This prayer is often used by the Blackfeet during dangerous storms.) As soon as my father returned, he added to his Medicine Bundle a Pipe similar to the one shown to him by the Thunder-bird."