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The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, [1910], at

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Our ride across the plains.—Individuality of pack horses.—Difficulties of mountain travel.—A mountain camp.—Fresh grizzly bear tracks.—Siksikakoan's bear story at the camp fire.—Climbing for Rocky Mountain Sheep.—A thrilling adventure with a huge grizzly.—Siksikakoan relates the legend of A-koch-kit-ope, the Medicine Grizzly of Cutbank Canyon.—Story of Meneopka and the coyotes.

EARLY on the following morning, the herd was driven into the corral, the pack and saddle horses selected and roped. In a short time the packs were on and we started across the plains for the mountains. The sky was of the deepest blue. In the clear air the high peaks of the Rockies, white with fresh snow, appeared deceptively near. Siksikakoan led the way, while I followed driving the pack horses. From the start, instead of keeping in line and moving at their usual gait, they persistently straggled off over the plain. It is a peculiarity of most pack horses that, at the beginning of an expedition, they realise the work ahead and spend their first energies in seeking to avoid their task.

They very much resemble men in disposition. First of all, there is the ambitious horse, who is only content when leading the rest, and in that capacity is invaluable; then the reliable hard-working horse, who attends strictly to business; the crafty and lazy horse, whose

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wits are devoted to shirking rather than working. Baldy, my own pack horse, was an animal of the latter kind. His ingenuity in dodging work, his cuteness in eluding capture when getting ready for an early start, his habit of puffing out his sides during the cinching of the pack-saddle, necessitating a halt in a short time to tighten, and his readiness for leadership in a stampede, made him a disturbing and exasperating element in the

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outfit, requiring constant vigilance. On this occasion he was lightly packed, for he carried only my blankets and personal effects. With the intuition of an experienced veteran, he realised that there was hard work ahead and made such loud grunts that one, not familiar with his disposition, would have thought him abused and overburdened. When I took no notice of his complaints, he lay down, closed his eyes and groaned as

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if in great distress. But I saw through his crafty tricks. Dismounting, I seized a stick and, brandishing it with much energy, ran towards him with a shout. Baldy was so taken by surprise, that he quickly rose to his feet and, with an angry snort and toss of his head (a horse's imprecation), joined the outfit. Although he

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failed to have his pack removed, no further complaints were heard from him.

No pack horse outfit is complete without its Buckskin, distinguished alike for his colour and for his endurance and tractability. Our Buckskin was no exception. The hardest drives never seemed to tire him. At the day's finish he was still fresh and generally in the lead. After his long rest, Buck was feeling in fine trim and was eager for adventure. The chance soon came. His

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sides were so round and yielding from his recent high living that, after we were well under way, the cinches became loose and the saddle slipped. He expressed his disapproval in one of his highest bucks, landing stiff-legged on all-fours, and giving the pack such a jar that it turned, and away he went. As the pots and kettles began to fly, his example proved instantly contagious to the other horses, for they turned at once and galloped in an opposite direction across the plain. It was a complete stampede. Siksikakoan followed the main outfit, while I started to overtake Buck, who was fast disappearing in the distance. On coming up with him, I saw that everything had been kicked off except the cinch-rope and pack-cover, which were dragging behind. Going back over Buck's trail, which was plainly marked by cooking utensils and provisions of all kinds, we gathered together, little by little, the precious contents of his pack. Such an experience brought forcibly to mind the difference between the cayuse of the Rocky Mountains and the plodding horse of the city. The wits of the former become sharpened by hard knocks, unexpected emergencies and the necessity of hustling for a living, developing both a capacity for mischief and a resourcefulness in danger that the latter, made dull and plodding by the featureless routine of daily work, is a stranger to.

Passing through the foot hills, and riding along the Cutbank River, we entered the mountains. Siksikakoan followed the old Blackfoot war-trail, used by them in the early days, when they crossed the Rockies on war expeditions against the Pend d’Oreille, Kutenai, and Flathead tribes. We passed through small parks of luxuriant bunch grass brilliant with wild flowers, and along the shores of lakes hidden away among the

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mountains. Then we plunged into a dark forest of fir, spruce, and pine. When the trail became well nigh impassable, because of fallen timber, Siksikakoan went

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ahead with an axe and chopped a way through. This trying situation again put to test the real disposition of our pack horses, bringing out the bad traits of the vicious. The bell-mare promptly chose to turn aside

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and go down the mountain, while I dodged through the thick timber to head her off. The obstinate Baldy led the other horses away from the trail and, in driving them back, many of their packs were torn and loosened by the trees, and it became necessary to repack them. The Blackfoot language being deficient in curse words, Siksikakoan, suitably to express his feelings, fell back upon a picturesque and expressive assortment of English imprecations he had learned, while a scout, from army officers. Under similarly irritating conditions I have seen men, who were never known to swear, become suddenly profane, and no man, who has not himself driven a pack outfit along a steep trail and through thick, or fallen timber, is competent to sit in judgment upon such offenders.

While fording a swift stream, the horses stopped to drink. When Baldy, my pack horse, had his fill, he began pawing the water, a sign that he intended lying down for a roll. I prevented this catastrophe by jerking his neck-rope, but to my dismay, my trusty saddle-horse, catching his frolicsome impulse from Baldy, suddenly lay down in midstream and took a roll, dumping me off into the icy water.

We finally passed from the forest into an open basin surrounded by lofty peaks. I marvelled at the luxuriant growth of the grass and the variety and brilliant colouring of the flowers, caused by the abundant precipitation. There was the beautiful dark blue flower of the camass, the violet red of the wild geranium, the violet blue of the western virgin's bower, and the yellow of the wild parsley; also forget-me-nots, mountain lilies, spring daisies, and blue larkspurs.

A stream of clear water, cold as ice, flowed along one side of the meadow, the pines standing tall and

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straight on the farther bank. At the upper end of the basin was a lake surrounded by an unbroken forest,

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which extended from the north and south shores high up on the mountain sides. To the south, Mount Rising

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[paragraph continues] Wolf and a pair of twin peaks rose abruptly, and to the west, like a massive wall, the Continental Divide, with its imposing procession of snowy peaks. This was a welcome haven of rest for our weary outfit, and we hastily prepared camp for the night. Our lodge was pitched at the edge of the forest near an old fir tree, a thick grove of spruces protecting us from the west winds.

After a warm supper, we forgot our hard day's work and sat closely together around a small fire. The Indian invariably builds a small fire. He will tell you that it is more convenient for cooking and better for warmth, and will speak with derision of the white man's fire as too large and wasteful.

The horses were quietly feeding close to camp. We felt secure in turning them loose because of the rich pasturage, their weariness, and the difficult back-trail. Suddenly we heard loud snorting, and a clatter of hoofs as they galloped madly through the valley. Hurrying to discover the cause of their fright, we found among their tracks the huge footprints of a grizzly bear. Unmindful of our presence, until discovered by the horses, he had been feasting on huckleberries, tearing up the ground, and turning over large stones for insects.

Returning again to our camp fire, Siksikakoan said: "I once had an experience with a bear in this same locality so unusual, that the bear himself can hardly have forgotten it. It was in the early spring, about the time when bears leave their winter dens. I had followed so long and eagerly the fresh trail of a large mountain ram, that nightfall overtook me unprepared. The weather luckily was warm and pleasant. Finding a depression in the ground filled with long soft grass,

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[paragraph continues] I stood my rifle against a neighbouring tree and lay down in the hollow place to sleep. During the night I was aroused by the heavy breathing of a large animal, and an oppressive and disagreeable odour. At first I was dazed and only half conscious, as in a dream, of something standing over me, but I lay perfectly still. A grunting and snuffing, close by my head,

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quickly forced me to realise that I was in the strange and horrible predicament of lying beneath a grizzly bear. A cold sweat came over me, and I was half paralysed with terror. The grizzly had been prowling about, led to my bed by his scent of the remnants of my supper, and so happened to walk over my body, partly covered by the grass and hidden in the depression. It was of course impossible to reach my rifle standing against the tree. Acting on a sudden

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impulse, I doubled up my knees, and with all my strength plunged my fists and feet simultaneously against the belly of the brute. It was a complete surprise for the grizzly, who was, if possible, the more frightened of the two, for he ran bellowing into the forest, while I quickly gathered up my small outfit and started away in the dark."

On the following morning, while Siksikakoan was examining the surrounding heights for game, he caught sight of a band of Rocky Mountain sheep. They were quietly feeding above timber line. While considering the best way of approaching them, the band suddenly took flight. Then a dark form appeared with awkward gait, following the sheep over the boulders. My glasses showed it to be a large grizzly bear. Siksikakoan said: "It is our old friend of last evening," and seizing his rifle called to me to follow him. We climbed the mountain facing us, crawling through thick underbrush and scaling difficult ledges. In one place we discovered the grizzly's freshly-made tracks in the soft earth beside a small stream. But the excitement over our seeming proximity to the monster was of short duration. When we reached the timber line, Siksikakoan stopped and said dejectedly, "the wind has shifted and old grizzly is gone." But I must confess that the announcement gave me great relief.

During the following two days, from early morning until sunset, Siksikakoan and I hunted in vain for sheep and goats on the surrounding mountains. We saw many tracks but no more game. On the third day we came upon a camp of two lodges, beyond a high wooded ridge to the south-east, belonging to Sis-ta-wau (Bird-Rattle), and A-po-at-sis-ipo (Looking for Smoke). Having reported that they had secured six sheep, we

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knew that they had frightened the game from our vicinity. Siksikakoan then resolved to go among the high peaks at the head of the canyon. There the mountains were difficult of access and he could take but one horse, so I consented to remain in camp as guard for our provisions and outfit. To increase his chances of success in hunting, I made him take my large Winchester rifle, while he left with me his inferior gun of small calibre. After he had gone, I busied myself with caring for the horses, securing a plentiful supply of trout from the stream near-by and some small game in the forest.

My active life and a Rocky Mountain appetite, with abundance of good food, the best of water and plenty of sleep gave me such a feeling of vigour and exhilaration, that I could not remain idle, but occupied myself in hunting with the camera, climbing to the summit of the Continental Divide, and to other high points in quest of new scenes. The most beautiful landscapes were along the old Indian war-trail, which skirted our camp. It was flanked by magnificent snowy mountain peaks and disappeared in a forest of firs, arching overhead, and thickly carpeted with pine-needles underfoot.

I spent my evenings completing my notes and reading, while lying in my comfortable blanket bed beside the lodge fire. It was made of small, resinous pine sticks, which gave out an abundance of light and heat. I was awakened early each morning by the shrill cries of a flock of blue jays. The leader, or chief of the flock, made himself especially obnoxious by sitting in the big fir tree, close to the lodge, as if remonstrating against my wanting to sleep after sunrise. His chatter was so incessant, and so like a challenge, that I finally took a shot at him from the doorway. But my bullet went

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too high and he flew away with a parting cry, very like a derisive laugh.

I prepared an out-of-door kitchen, about twenty feet distant, but stored the bulk of the provisions within the lodge, for protection from storms and invasion by wild animals. During the afternoon the sky became overcast. Dark clouds gathered along the divide. In the evening, a storm broke suddenly, the wind rushing down with a roar from the high peaks at the head of the canyon. The lodge would have been carried away, if it had not been for the protection of the small grove of gnarled and twisted balsams, through which the wind whistled as through the rigging of a ship. I lay comfortably wrapped in my blankets, gazing into the fire and listening with peaceful indifference to the howling storm. I watched the fire burn low, until there were but a few glowing embers, and then fell asleep. During the night I was awakened by the horses coming close to the lodge. I wondered at their having left their feeding grounds and went outside to drive them back. The wind had ceased, and all signs of the storm had disappeared. I stood for a moment, fascinated by the wildness of my surroundings. The deep stillness was broken only by the subdued roar of rapids in the valley below, the distant howling of wolves in the forest on the mountain side, and the hooting of a pair of owls; I could distinguish between the voice of the male and the answering call of his mate.

When I was again under my warm blankets, I fell into a doze but had a vague feeling that something was prowling about. Startled by heavy footsteps near the lodge, I sat up and listened They led in the direction of the kitchen some twenty feet away, and then followed a rattling of pans. I seized a stick and ran

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out to investigate. I saw a large, black-looking object near by, and thinking that one of the horses had returned, was about to hurl my club. But a sudden intuition changed my mind. This intruder could not be a horse. It stood too high in front and low behind. It looked steadily at me with head lowered and moving slowly from side to side. When I heard a vicious "woof!" the terrible reality flashed over me that I was in close quarters with a huge grizzly bear. The thought of having conic so near charging upon him with a club made me shudder and my knees feel weak. A cold chill crept up my back and over my scalp, with the feeling that my hair was standing on end. I backed into the lodge and sat down, debating what could be done. I realised that, in such close quarters with a large grizzly at night, and with an inferior rifle, my large rifle having been taken by Siksikakoan, it would be madness to shoot. A bold front is the best defence, and to run from a grizzly is but to invite attack. Any further deliberation was cut short by his moving towards the lodge. He stopped for an instant a few feet away, sniffing the scent of the provisions stored inside the lodge, but fortunately turned again towards the kitchen. Believing. that the fire-light might drive him off, I cut a few shavings and soon revived my smouldering fire. Hearing him coming again, I seized the small rifle and jumped to the side farthest from him. While I stood waiting, the suspense and strain upon my nerves were terrible. He came straight to the lodge door, but again turned aside to investigate my saddles. His curiosity being satisfied, he stopped at the side of the lodge where my provisions were stored. I cocked the rifle and knelt in readiness to receive him. Rising on his hind legs, he placed his

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fore paws against the lodge poles. I saw the canvas pressed in with his weight, and heard his deep breathing, for I was underneath him. I had now recovered my nerve. My heart beat steadily and I held the rifle without a tremor, although I thought my end had surely come. I quickly loosened the canvas from its pegs and prepared to escape from under, for I thought his weight would break through. But he stood there sniffing the air and seemingly undecided as to his next move. Then I stood erect and gave a loud yell. He must have thought my "power" was stronger than his own, for he turned away and the next moment I heard him at the kitchen, tearing off the canvas covering from a mess of trout. Having safely passed through what I thought was the crisis of his visit, I actually began to take a friendly interest in the old grizzly's performances, and watched him from the doorway. He tore open the parfleches 1 containing flour and sugar and smelled at the heavy iron "dutch-oven" containing a small piece of butter, my greatest delicacy, although not very fresh. He turned the oven over and over, but the lid held fast. Finally he gave it a heavy blow with his big fore paw, and the lid flew off. Its contents were quickly disposed of and I heard his rough tongue licking with relish the inside of the kettle. With the hope that I might drive him away, I opened the lodge door that the fire-light might show more brightly, and stepping out fired my rifle into the air. But he only threw up his head, as if annoyed at the interruption, and dropped it quickly to finish a bowl of stewed peaches, the last of my store of provisions at the kitchen. When the first faint streaks of dawn appeared, my dangerous visitor suddenly departed into the deep forest. Having built a cheerful

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and comfortable fire, I at once wrote in my note book. the details of the grizzly's visit, and then, wrapping myself in my blankets, slept soundly until wakened by the squirrels racing over the frozen canvas above my head. The thrilling events of the night seemed like a dream and I hastened to find the grizzly's tracks and prove the reality of the adventure. Close beside the lodge, I found prints of his feet measuring thirteen inches in length, six inches broad at the heel and seven inches across the toes. When Siksikakoan returned from his hunt, and saw the tracks, he said that a grizzly of that size would weigh as much as a large horse. He brought back with him a Rocky Mountain sheep and two goats. In the evening, while seated beside our outside fire, after telling about his hunt, Siksikakoan said: "We are now camped within the range of a grizzly bear, who has been famous for many years among the Blackfeet for his size and daring. I will tell you the story, just as Mad Wolf told it to me."


"When Mad Wolf was a young man, he was chief of a war party, that crossed the Rocky Mountains against the Flathead Indians. Two of his brothers also started with the expedition, but turned back, before they reached the Flathead country. Mad Wolf and his party returned later by the Cutbank Pass. After crossing the summit, they entered the dense forest near the head of the canyon. Mad Wolf was in the lead, while the others followed in two separate columns along each side of the trail, as was the custom of war parties in those days. They rode in silence because the trees were so dense they could not see far in

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advance. Suddenly Mad Wolf stopped and signed to the others that he heard someone ahead striking his horse with a quirt (whip). The Blackfeet quickly ambushed themselves among the trees. A war party of Kutenai (Mountain Indians) were returning from an expedition into the Blackfeet country. They ran into the ambush and there was a fierce battle. Mad Wolf, as chief of the expedition, was entitled to the first shot. He singled out the leader, but the Kutenai chief was very brave. Although badly wounded, he ran into the thick woods where Mad Wolf killed him. While taking his scalp, Mad Wolf recognised on his belt the scalps of his own two brothers. He hurried back to his people, who were by this time hard pressed by the Kutenai and were retreating. Mad Wolf, now aroused to great courage and daring, rallied the Blackfeet to another attack and soon turned the rout into a victory. They killed all of the Kutenai save one old squaw. After scalping the dead, they clothed her in a soft tanned buckskin dress, ornamented with elk teeth and with leggings and moccasins decorated with porcupine quills. They painted her face black and giving her a warm blanket and a sack of dried meat, set her free, with the prayer that the Sun would take pity on themselves, just as they had pitied their helpless enemy. They then continued on their way until they came upon the camp of Running Wolf, Black Bear, Ear Rings, Stock-stchi, Ahpasis, and other well-known Blackfeet chiefs pitched in this same glade near yonder big fir tree, by which our people have ever since identified this camping ground. It was in early summer, the time when the camass is in bloom and they were engaged in cutting and peeling lodge poles. In those days the Blackfeet travelled so far in a year that their

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lodge poles were worn too short. 1 Every spring they went into the mountains to cut new poles and to dig camass roots.

"It happened that in the evening, the chiefs were assembled in Stock-stchi's lodge, listening to Mad Wolf's story of his war expedition against the Flatheads. It was a warm moonlight night and the women were sitting outside singing and talking together. Stock-stchi called to his wife to go to the stream for water. But she was afraid, saying, 'The woods are dark down there and the water deep.' But her husband made her go. She soon returned, badly frightened, and said, 'I was dipping my bucket, when a man came from the forest. He jumped across the stream and ran up the trail. He carried a rifle and wore a war bonnet.' Just then another woman came into the lodge saying,

We saw a stranger go to the big fir tree yonder. He hung his war bonnet there and then stole over to the lodge. He looked in and went away. He was an enemy. We saw him plainly in the bright moonlight.'

"Mad Wolf and the other chiefs hurriedly seized their rifles and ran down to the stream just in time to see a small party of Gros Ventres emerging from the forest. The Blackfeet opened fire and killed all except their leader. He stood his ground until his ammunition gave out, when he took refuge in the underbrush.

"Our people clipped the branches off all around him with their bullets, but could not hit him. Finally they made a charge, but the Gros Ventre chief fought savagely with his knife, roaring all the time like a grizzly bear at bay and calling to the Blackfeet 'Come on, I am not afraid. My name is A-koch-kit-ope and my medicine is powerful. When day broke, our

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people were uneasy, thinking the Gros Ventre chief might have supernatural power. They told him he was free to go, but they would scalp the others. A-koch-kit-ope replied, 'No, they are my brothers and I will not leave them.' Feeling thirsty, he walked to the river and drank, daring any of the Blackfeet to stand forth for a hand-to-hand conflict. When our people finally killed him, they discovered that the grizzly bear was his medicine. He had a grizzly claw tied in his front hair. The Blackfeet were so afraid that some of his power might escape, that they built a fire and burned A-koch-kit-ope's body. If a spark or coal flew out, they carefully threw it back into the fire, to prevent the possible escape of any of his power. They scalped the other dead Gros Ventres and had a scalp dance around the fire.

"When the fire had burned out, the Blackfeet hurriedly moved camp. But in spite of their precautions, A-koch-kit-ope transformed himself into an enormous grizzly bear and followed them. He came upon the Blackfeet when they were pitching camp, killing some, while the rest escaped by flight.

"The next spring when our people went up the canyon to cut lodge poles, they camped again near the big fir tree in the same park. Early in the night, while the horses were still picketed close to the lodges, an enormous grizzly bear came into camp. The horses were frightened and stampeded, just as ours have done. The dogs attacked him, and he killed some of them and put the others to flight. The people were afraid to shoot, because they recognised the bear as A-koch-kit-ope. He appeared beside the fir tree, where the year before the Gros Ventre medicine man had hung his war bonnet. The grizzly boldly went through camp

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eating all the food he found and tearing to pieces hides and parfleches. Whenever our people camp near the fir tree in the canyon they see the medicine grizzly, whom they have named A-koch-kit-ope. He comes only at night and disappears before daybreak. The Blackfeet know his medicine is strong and are afraid to shoot at him. When we made peace with the Gros Ventres, we told them about this medicine grizzly and they said that he was A-koch-kit-ope, their great medicine man. They declared he could not have been killed, if all of his followers had not been slain first. A-koch-kit-ope had predicted to them that he would be killed, if he should ever be left alone in battle with no one to make a 'medicine smoke.' As this happened many years ago, A-koch-kit-ope, the medicine grizzly, must now be very old."

After Siksikakoan had finished telling the legend of the Medicine Grizzly I went out into the night. I gazed with a deeper interest at the big fir tree, where the Gros Ventre warrior hung his war bonnet, while making the night attack upon the Blackfeet, and at the black, wall-like line of forest, where the Blackfoot woman first encountered A-koch-kit-ope. I felt convinced that the huge grizzly, who had frightened me the night before, must be the dreaded "Medicine Grizzly, A-koch-kit-ope," who had already made this locality famous by so many manifestations of his supernatural power. Beyond were the massive mountains, their snowy summits dimly lighted by the myriads of brightly shining stars. I saw the dog star in the north-east, rising with remarkable brilliancy over the tops of the tall spruces and pines. I could faintly distinguish the horses at the edge of the timber and heard Baldy give a frightened whinny when he suddenly realised that

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he was feeding alone, too near the ghostly woods, and hurriedly joined his companions. Returning to the lodge, which looked most picturesque, lighted up by the golden glow from the fire within, and showing in clear outline the weird decorations on the canvas, and the tapering poles overhead, we turned into our comfortable blanket-beds beside the fire. The deep stillness of the night was broken by the mournful howl of a wolf in the forest close by. He was answered by another and then another, until they all united in a chorus of long howls. Siksikakoan said: "When the wolves howl like that, it is a sign of coming storm. This morning when the sun rose, I saw two large sun dogs in the eastern sky, that resembled enormous crosses, and at midday there was a huge circle around the sun,—nature's warning signs of a big storm."

I asked Siksikakoan if he had ever known of a man being attacked by wolves. He said: "Wolves and coyotes are very wise, their wisdom having been given to them by Napi (Old Man). Although savage by nature, they sometimes use their wisdom to help people when in danger and distress. I recall a strange incident that happened many years ago, when we were camped far out on the plains. It was a cold winter. There had been a big storm and the snow lay deep. Menepoka, an old man, went alone and on foot from camp to look for horses. He carried a quirt and was dragging a long rawhide lariat. He felt something tugging, and turning about, saw a large coyote biting at the other end of his lariat. He stopped and yelled at the coyote, calling him evil names to scare him away. The coyote trotted to the summit of a butte near by, and howled four times to the north, south, east and west. Before long another coyote appeared. Then another came running up to

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him, and they kept on coming, until Menepoka found himself surrounded by them. The terrible circle, with hideous cries, red mouths and glittering eyes, drew closer and closer. He tried to drive them away with his quirt, but without effect. He expected that, in a moment, they would rush upon him and tear him to pieces. He was old and not strong, and in his terror his legs gave way and he sank down into the snow. It happened that an Indian on horseback had ridden to the summit of a neighbouring butte looking for his horses. Hearing the coyote pack making an unusual outcry, he rode towards them, thinking they had made a kill of game they had run down in the snow. Discovering a human body lying on the ground, he gave a shrill cry and galloped towards them, shooting an arrow into their midst. The coyotes quickly scattered, and he then saw that it was Menepoka lying in the snow as if dead. Lifting him upon his horse he took him back to camp. Our medicine man tried to drive out the evil spirit, going through with the motions of pulling something from his body, explaining that, when the coyotes were closing in upon Menepoka, they were constantly shooting their hairs into him. But the incantations were of no avail, because the evil spirit was one over which the medicine man had no power. Menepoka lived for only a few days. When he died, his body was placed upon the summit of the high butte, where the famous chief Big Nose now lies. They both belonged to the Ich-poch-semo band (clan of Grease Melters)."


50:1 See Appendix.

53:1 See Appendix.

Next: Chapter IV. A Rocky Mountain Blizzard