The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Brings-down-the-Sun comments on his boyhood name Running Wolf.—He tells about the Old North Trail formerly used by Indian tribes.—The Lone Pine Tree land-mark.—A former Blackfoot expedition into Mexico along the Old North Trail.—It returns with the Dancing Pipe.—Blackfeet names for rivers, mountains and other land-marks along the trail.
THE long silence following Brings-down-the-Sun's talk was broken by the mournful, long-drawn howl of a wolf from among the hills to the north. The sound suggested another topic to the old chief and he continued, "We consider the wolf a friend of man, and do not believe it is right to shoot him. We have a saying, 'the gun that fires upon a coyote or wolf will never again shoot straight.' Did you ever know of a wolf that did not wander? They never stay long in one locality. They raise their young in one place and then go to another. They are continually roving over the country and are always on the move. My father named me Running Wolf, and I believe that, by nature, I am like the wolf, for I love to roam over the prairies and among the mountains. I cannot stay still very long, I, too, have always kept moving.
"There is a well known trail we call the Old North Trail. It runs north and south along the Rocky Mountains. No one knows how long it has been used by the Indians. My father told me it originated in the
migration of a great tribe of Indians from the distant north to the south, and all the tribes have, ever since, continued to follow in their tracks. The Old North Trail is now becoming overgrown with moss and grass, but it was worn so deeply, by many generations of travellers, that the travois tracks and horse trail are still plainly visible.
"On Crow Lodge River, just across from our present camp, a lone pine tree once stood. It was a land-mark for people travelling north and south along the Old North Trail, because it stood upon the plain and could be seen from a long distance. Finally the Lone Tree fell, but two children took its place. They have grown large and now they mark the former course of the North Trail. The Indians still speak of the spot as the Lone Tree. In many places the white man's roads and towns have obliterated the Old Trail. It forked where the city of Calgary now stands. The right fork ran north into the Barren Lands as far as people live. The main trail ran south along the eastern side of the Rockies, at a uniform distance from the mountains, keeping clear of the forest, and outside of the foothills. It ran close to where the city of Helena now stands, and extended south into the country, inhabited by a people with dark skins, and long hair falling over their faces (Mexico). In former times, when the Indian tribes were at war, there was constant fighting along the North Trail. In those days, Indians, who wanted to travel in peace, avoided it and took to the forest. My father once told me of an expedition from the Blackfeet, that went south by the Old Trail, to visit the people with dark skins. Elk Tongue and his wife, Natoya, were of this expedition, also Arrow Top and Pemmican, who was a boy of twelve
at that time. He died only a few years ago at the age of ninety-five. They were absent four years. It took them twelve moons of steady travelling to reach the country of the dark skinned people, and eighteen moons to come north again. They returned by a longer route through the 'High Trees' or Bitter Root country, where they could travel without danger of being seen. They feared going along the North Trail because it was frequented by their enemies, the Crows, Sioux, and Cheyennes. Elk Tongue brought back the Dancing Pipe. He bought it nearly one hundred years ago and it was then very old. The South Man, who gave it to him, warned him to use it only upon important occasions, for the fulfilment of a vow, or the recovery of the sick. Whenever anyone was starting on a war, or hunting expedition, a safe return could be secured by vowing to give a feast to the Dancing Pipe. In the Medicine Bundle that went with it, were the skins of animals and birds. The otter and lynx were the largest, the otter belonging to the head man and the lynx to the woman. The South Man also told Elk Tongue that, it had been their custom, in giving the Pipe ceremonial, to cut open a badger, and to place inside a preparation mixed with paint. Everyone who attended the ceremonial looked into the badger, trying to see themselves. If their reflection looked black, or wrinkled, it was a sign of death, but, if they looked gray haired, they would live to be old. The South Man advised discontinuing this part of the ceremonial, saying it was not well to try to read the future, because people were made unhappy by it. When the Pipe was unrolled, it was shaken, and, if any of the skins, or feathers fell, misfortune would be sure to overtake the man who made the vow.
"I have followed the Old North Trail so often, that I know every mountain stream and river far to the south, as well as towards the distant north. We call the Three Tetons in the south (Wyoming), Teat Buttes, because of their shape. North of the Mud Head Creek is a stream along whose banks many berries grow, so we named it Sweet Creek. North of it is another stream we call the Ghost Piskun 1 Creek. On its shore is a miniature cliff about three feet high. At the base of the cliff are small circles of stones, similar to those made by the Indians for their lodge fires. It looks to us as if, at one time, there must have been a miniature Indian camp there. If you visit the place early in the morning you will see many mice. We believe these mice are the ghosts of buffalo, which take the forms of mice, whenever people look at them. North of the Ghost Piskun Creek is a place called 'Where-war-parties-meet.' Many years ago, a Blackfoot war party was travelling north by the Old Trail. The chief's name was Koko-nút-stokè (Owl), so called because of his large eyes. One day, when Owl was in advance of the others, he discovered a war party of Crow Indians coming south by the same trail. Owl ambushed himself in a thicket. The Crow war party had secured plunder and the chief was in advance, carrying in his arms the sacrifices he was about to make to the Sun. He happened to enter the same thicket and was preparing to fasten his gifts in a tree when Owl killed him and took his scalp. Ever since that time we have called that spot, and the stream near by, 'Where-war-parties-meet.' Farther south is Mosquito Creek. Anyone who is foolish enough to camp there, will be almost eaten up by mosquitoes. Just beyond is low
ground which we have named 'Big Timber,' because trees grow very large there. Birch Creek was named because of the groves of birches along its shores; Badger Creek, on account of the many large badgers seen along its banks; Black Tail, because of the quantity of black tail deer in the thickets near that stream. Mud Head River was named, because of the
Click to enlarge
PISKUN NEAR TWO MEDICINE RIVER.
(Top of cliff.)
piskun we had there. When we ran a herd of buffalo over the cliff they fell into the mud which was so soft it covered their heads. Two Medicine River was named, because we once had a double piskun there. We drove the buffalo over one, or the other, as we chose. Lee's Creek is called 'Banks-roped-together' by our people. An Indian when on a hunt killed a buffalo there, marking the spot by cutting the raw hide into strips
and making them into a rope, which he fastened to stakes on both sides of the stream. When the Indians saw the rope they named the place 'Where-the-banks-are-roped-together.' The stream finally became known by that name.
"In the mountains, at the head of the Green Banks (St. Mary's), are two lakes. We cal] them the In Lakes,
Click to enlarge
PISKUN NEAR TWO MEDICINE RIVER.
(Base of cliff.)
because they run so far into the mountains. At the head of Swift Current River, is another lake, surrounded by thick forests and high peaks, and with falls at the outlet. We have named it Moose Lake. When some of our people were once hunting there, a moose dived into the lake and escaped.
"At the place, where the Kootenai River flows out of the mountains, there is an old trail leading past some
large rocks, which we have named the Rockies. It leads up to a pass over the Big Mountains (Rocky Mountains), which a large war party named Bad Luck Fat Pass. When they were crossing the summit, they were caught in a storm so severe, that they were forced to camp there. The snow was very deep and they spent their time hunting. They killed so many elk and moose, that it was very difficult to pack out the fat meat and hides, so they called the pass, 'Bad Luck Fat.'
"There is a high peak in the Rockies, where this river rises, which we call Crow Lodge Mountain, because it is the home for enormous flocks of crows. They gather every evening, and roost in the trees on the mountain side during the night, but they always leave in the morning. An Indian secured there the dream for the Crow Lodge, and we have given the river the same name, because he made the lodge in a ravine, not far from this camp. A short distance up the river, is a high cliff, called the Women's Piskun. It is the place where a large band of women once camped. They supported themselves by running buffalo and antelope over their piskun. We have a tradition, that men and women have not always lived separated into families, but ran in bands like the animals. Napi (Old Man) is said to have started our living together in families."
437:1 See Appendix.