The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Death of his father.—The sacred Pipe and leadership of the tribe were handed down to him.—He chose instead to become a medicine man.—His wise and benevolent manner of dealing with the people.—Eagle-catching his means of livelihood.—His method of trapping eagles.—The Spirit of the Mountain gives him a Medicine Robe.—His reasons for not using the sweat lodge.—He tells the names of his children and of their remarkable deliverance from a dangerous flood.
"MY father was not killed in battle, nor did he die of sickness, but of old age. When he knew the end was near, he called me to him, and gave into my care the Pipe of the Thunder Maker, explaining that it was a Long Time Pipe, and should not be buried with him. I still have it in my possession, and smoke it only upon important occasions. He also gave me a large silver medal, which he wore as head chief, saying, 'My son, it is yours now. Take with it also my wisdom and power, and lead our people straight.' After my father's death, I came north to live. I became deeply interested in the mysteries of the medicines, which I have continued to study diligently. I was formerly called A-pe-so-mucca (Running Wolf), and am still known to many by that name. But, afterwards, when I became the leader of their Sun-dance, and their instructor in the worship of the Sun, the North Piegans called me Natosin Nepe-e (Brings-down-the-Sun, literally the Sun Bringer). I have always tried to give my people
sound advice, and to lead them in the right trail. Whenever they gather in assemblies, I go among them to guide them straight. At horse races, I endeavour to keep them from fighting, and, if they quarrel, I reason with them, and try to persuade them to hold the matter over until another day. I advise the women to be obedient to their men, and am continually impressing upon the young, to keep their hearts kind and not to be wild or quarrelsome. Some of our leaders become angry with the people, when they go wrong. I believe you have more power with men, if you are patient with them, when they wander from the right trail.
"For many years I have helped to support my family by catching eagles. I dispose of most of the feathers among the South Piegans, who use them for their headdresses and medicine bonnets. It is very difficult and exhausting work to take eagles alive. When I was a young man my father taught me his methods, for he was a skilled eagle-catcher. I camp in an unfrequented place, near the foot of the mountains. After digging a deep hole, so that I can stand erect inside, I kill a coyote and stretch the tanned hide on sticks, with raw meat laid along the sides, as if it had just been cut open. Long before sunrise, I enter the hole, covering the top over with branches and leaves. The coyote bait lies on top, just over my head. I must stand in the hole all day, not able to eat, nor drink, nor even smoke, lest the eagles scent the smoke. All day long I chant the coyote medicine song,
[paragraph continues] The power of this song draws the eagles towards the bait. First I see the Mami-as-ich-imi (Long Tails or Magpies) coming. They walk around chattering
and talking, saying to each other over and over again, 'Magpies go on ahead, and hang your sack upon a tree.' An eagle sees the Longtails feasting, and swoops down beside the bait. He first walks suspiciously around and around the coyote, and at last steps over upon the branches and begins to eat. I then push my hands through the branches and, grasping him firmly, first by one leg and then by the other, I pull him quickly down into the hole, and kill him by breaking his back with my foot. In this way the wings fall to either side, and the feathers are uninjured. After sunset, my wife comes to the pit with food. She uncovers the top and helps me out. I desire most to catch the Peta (Golden Eagle), because its feathers are the most valuable. Its head and breast are light brown, with white beneath the wings. Its tail feathers are also white, with black tips. We never use Black Eagles, and White Heads (Bald Eagles) are very scarce, as well as dangerous. They are so strong, they have almost lifted me out of the pit.
"In former days, when grizzly bears were plentiful, eagle-catching was very dangerous. I remember one Indian, who was in his pit, when a big grizzly came to the bait, and started to drag it away. The man foolishly held to his bait, and the bear turned to investigate. He scratched off the branches and, seeing a man in the hole, dragged him out and, in a rage, tore him to pieces. His friends found nothing but his bones. There are now so many white men in the country, it is difficult to find a locality wild enough to catch eagles. At present I go to a place on the other side of the Porcupine Mountains."
Pointing towards the north, Brings-down-the-Sun said: "You can see from here the highest peak of the Porcupine Mountains. It is surrounded by a thick
forest and no trail leads to that peak. Its summit is precipitous and covered with scrub pines. You will notice that our most severe storms come from the direction of that peak. When my eldest son died, I felt his loss so deeply, that I climbed to its summit and lay there fasting, for ten days and ten nights. During that time I had a dream, in which the Spirit of the Mountain appeared and gave me a Medicine Robe 1 with a song. He instructed me how to make the robe, and said that, if I used it in doctoring, or when I appeared before the assembled people, I would be endowed with wisdom and supernatural power.
"The Spirit of the Mountain warned me never to enter the sweat lodge at the Sun-dance, lest my children should die; nor to use it even for purification, but to wash daily in the river instead, and afterwards, to purify my body in the sweet smoke of the incense. Since that time, I have bathed in the river every morning, even in winter, when it is necessary to break the ice. When I am in the water, I call to my sons to come in, that they might be clean. After the men have finished bathing, the women also go into the water. I believe that, by keeping the body clean, and by using the sweet smoke as incense for purification, sickness may be warded off. I am convinced that the reason O-mis-tai-po-kah and Running Crane lost so many members of their families by death was because of their continued use of the sweat lodge. O-mis-tai-po-kah lost a wife, three sons and a daughter, while Running Crane lost one of his wives and four children."
Brings-down-the-Sun remained in our camp for the evening meal. He took his seat at a little distance from the rest, where he waited in dignified silence,
apparently paying no heed to the ceaseless chatter of the women, who were busily engaged around the outside fire preparing the food. Instead of allowing his plate to rest upon the bare ground like the rest, he produced a clean piece of paper, which he smoothed out and then placed his plate upon it. While the women were removing the food, he filled his everyday pipe for a smoke. When we were again seated around the fire, Menake was surrounded by a group of children, eagerly watching her making toy lodges out of leaves of the balsam poplar. She formed the two ears by cutting out the top of the leaf, then, winding it around her fingers, in the form of a lodge, she fastened it together by means of an inserted twig. After making several of these remarkable little lodges, she grouped them into a miniature camp, to the great delight of the children. Nitana was making whistles for Yellow Mink and Walks Underneath, by means of two pieces of cottonwood bark, with a leaf between. Long Hair, seated near Brings-down-the-Sun, held in her arms Feather Woman, her granddaughter, but a few months old, of whom she was evidently very proud. Its little buckskin dress was trimmed across the front with many kernels of corn. Long Hair was pleased at my notice of the baby, for she held it out towards me, and said to it, "Show A-pe-ech-eken how the good children look." I was surprised at seeing the little thing turn its diminutive face towards me and wrinkle up its nose (one of her baby tricks).
When I inquired of Brings-down-the-Sun as to the number of his children, 1 he said, "There are nine living, four sons and five daughters; Running Wolf (named as directed by the Medicine Wolf), Iron Shirt (after his
grandfather), Double Walker and Three Eagles. The daughters are: Long Hair (because of her unusually long hair when a young girl), Turns-back-the-whole-herd-alone (I once performed this feat in buffalo days), Whistling-all-night (she was born in January, the time the jack rabbit, like the bull elk, whistles at night, when calling his mate), also Good Kill and Double-Gun-Woman." At this point, Bird joined the circle, and Menake, pointing towards me, said, to frighten her, "Look out! Did you not notice your son-in-law sitting there?" The old woman turned to run, but, when she saw it was only intended as a joke, she laughed, saying, "A-pe-ech-eken, you should give me a good horse, even if you are not my son-in-law, because you gave me such a fright."
Brings-down-the-Sun, who had been smoking in silence, said: "This is the third summer since the heavy rain. It came during the moon of High Water, (June). At that time, I was in the country of the South Piegans, disposing of eagle feathers, and visiting my daughter Pretty Blanket. I also intended to remain for the Sun-dance, but a messenger came from the north with the news that the Crow Lodge River had overflowed its banks and my camp was washed away. I hastened back and found, that there had been such a storm that, in a few hours, the river came out from its banks. My son, Running Wolf, was here with our family. The river rose so suddenly in the night that, before they could realise it, they were upon an island, cut off from the mainland by the swift current. The water continued to rise so fast, that Running Wolf made the women and children climb into a big tree. There was no other way of escape. When daylight came, and the women felt the swaying of the tree, and
could see the swift current, they became so dizzy and frightened, that Running Wolf had to tie them to the branches. They saw the carcasses of many horses and cattle floating past. One of my daughters had a young baby, which she held all the time in her arms. They were two days and two nights in the tree without food. When they were finally rescued, they were exhausted from exposure and lack of food."
430:1 See Appendix.
431:1 See Appendix.