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- The Great Salt Lake Trail - 50/86 -
must constantly burn sweet grass as an offering to the god of the day.
He must necessarily fast when engaged in this duty, and when he was ready to make his appearance on the prairie the warriors all followed him, hiding themselves behind the temporary fence that bounded the pis-kun. He then dressed himself in a bonnet which was made of the head of a buffalo, and with a robe of the same animal thrown around him slowly approached the peacefully grazing herd.
Arriving in the immediate vicinity, the buffalo, attracted by the apparition, looked up. The medicine-man walked then very deliberately toward the opening of the pis-kun. Generally the buffalo began to follow him, and as he saw that they did so he increased his pace, the animals, whose curiosity was aroused, at the same time doing the same.
When the herd was securely within the corral, the hidden Indians suddenly rose from their places, yelling as only savages can, at the same instant shaking their robes, and the stampeded animals rushed headlong to their death over the precipice. Hundreds were instantly killed, while others were so dreadfully disabled as to make them an easy prey. Then commenced an indiscriminate skinning and cutting up, the chiefs and most noted warriors receiving the choicest meat.
As has been the fate of nearly all the Indian tribes west of the Missouri River, the smallpox made fearful inroads among the Blackfeet. It first appeared in 1845, and the tribe was decimated. In fact, it is said that the disease almost swept the plains of Indians. In 1757-1758, it again visited them, but was not so virulent as at its first appearance. The measles carried off thousands in 1864; and again, in 1869, the smallpox broke out in the Blackfeet villages. In 1883-1884, strange as it may appear, twenty-five per cent of the Piegan band actually died from hunger! The cause of this terrible disaster was that the buffalo had been driven from the Blackfoot country, or rather exterminated, and the tribe, which had ever wholly depended upon that animal for their subsistence, in a short time was reduced to a state of absolute starvation.
Like the buffalo, the once powerful Blackfeet are nearly all gone. The few left are living on a small reservation, and are somewhat self-sustaining. What a sad commentary! Fifty years ago the Blackfeet numbered over forty thousand warriors, and their name was a terror to the white man who had the temerity to travel through their country.
The Blackfoot account of creation is not a very definite one; portions of it are too vulgar for refined ears, but in it is to be found a story of a once great flood, which seems to be common to the cosmogony of all tribes.
CHAPTER XIV. FOLK-LORE OF BLACKFEET.
The folk-lore of the Blackfeet is very voluminous and full of humour. Of course, as in other tribes, superstition and enchantment make up the basis of their stories; and it will be noticed by the student of their traditions, that there is that same marked similarity to those related in the lodges of widely separated tribes, indicating a common origin for them all. Two of the more interesting of these tales are “The Lost Children” and “The Wolf-Man.”
Once a camp of people stopped on the bank of a river. There were but a few lodges of them. One day the little children in the camp crossed the river to play on the other side. For some time they stayed near the bank, and then they went up over a little hill and found a bed of sand and gravel; and there they played for a long time.
There were eleven of these children. Two of them were daughters of the chief of the camp, and the smaller of these wanted the best of everything. If any child found a pretty stone she would try to take it for herself. The other children did not like this, and they began to tease the little girl, and to take her things away from her. Then she got angry and began to cry, and the more she cried the more the children teased her; so at last she and her sister left the others and went back to camp.
When they got there they told their father what the other children had done to them, and this made the chief very angry. He thought for a little while and then got up and went out of the lodge, and called aloud, so that everybody might hear, saying: “Listen! listen! Your children have teased my child and made her cry. Now we will move away and leave them behind. If they come back before we get started they shall be killed. If they follow us and overtake the camp they shall be killed. If the father and mother of any one of them take them into their lodge I will kill that father and mother. Hurry now, hurry and pack up, so that we can go. Everybody tear down the lodges as quickly as you can.”
When the people heard this they felt very sorry, but they had to do as the chief said; so they tore down the lodges and quickly packed the dog travois, and started off. They packed in such a hurry that they left many little things lying in camp—knives and awls, bone needles and moccasins.
The little children played about in the sand for a long time, but at last they began to get hungry; and one little girl said to the others, “I will go back to the camp and get some dried meat and bring it here, so that we may eat.” And she started to go to the camp. When she came to the top of the hill and looked across the river she saw that there were no lodges there, and did not know what to think of it. She called down to the children and said, “The camp is gone”; but they did not believe her, and went on playing. She kept on calling and at last some of them came to her, and then all saw that it was as she had said. They went down to the river and crossed it, and went to where the lodges had stood. When they got there they saw on the ground the things that had been left out in the packing; and as each child saw and knew something that had belonged to its own parents it cried, and sang a little song, saying: “Mother, here is your bone needle; why did you leave your children?” “Father, here is your arrow; why did you leave your children?” It was very mournful, and they all cried.
There was among them a little girl who had on her back her baby brother, whom she loved dearly. He was very young, a nursing child, and already he was hungry and beginning to fret. This little girl said to the others: “We do not know why they have gone, but we know they have gone. We must follow the trail of the camp and try to catch up with them.” So the children started to follow the camp. They travelled on all day; and just at night they saw a little lodge near the trail. They had heard the people talk of a bad old woman who killed and ate people, and some of the children thought that this old woman might live here; and they were afraid to go to the lodge. Others said: “Perhaps some one lives here who has a good heart. We are very tired and very hungry, and have nothing to eat, and no place to keep warm. Let us go to this lodge.”
They went to it; and when they went in they saw an old woman sitting by the fire. She spoke kindly to them, and asked them where they were travelling; and they told her that the camp had moved on and left them, and that they were trying to find their people, that they had nothing to eat, and were tired and hungry. The old woman fed them and told them to sleep there to-night, and to-morrow they could go on and find their people. “The camp,” she said, “passed here to-day when the sun was low. They have not gone far. To-morrow you will overtake them.” She spread some robes on the ground and said: “Now lie here and sleep. Lie side by side with your heads towards the fire, and when morning comes you can go on your journey.” The children lay down and soon slept.
In the middle of the night the old woman got up and built a big fire, and put on it a big stone kettle full of water. Then she took a big knife, and, commencing at one end of the row, began to cut off the heads of the children, and to throw them into the pot. The little girl with the baby brother lay at the other end of the row, and while the old woman was doing this she awoke and saw what was taking place. When the old woman came near to her she jumped up and began to beg that she would not kill her. “I am strong,” she said. “I will work hard for you. I can bring your wood and water, and tan your skins. Do not kill my little brother and me. Take pity on us and save us alive. Everybody has left us, but do you have pity. You shall see how quickly I will work, how you will always have plenty of wood. I can work quickly and well.” The old woman thought for a little while, then she said: “Well, I will let you live for a time, anyhow. You shall sleep safely to-night.”
The next day, early, the little girl took her brother on her back, and went out and gathered a big pile of wood, and brought it to the lodge before the old woman was awake. When she got up she called to the girl, “Go to the river and get a bucket of water.” The girl put her brother on her back, and took the bucket to go. The old woman said to her: “Why do you carry that child everywhere? Leave him here.” The little girl said: “Not so. He is always with me, and if I leave him he will cry and make a great noise, and you will not like that.” The old woman grumbled, but the girl went on down to the river.
When she got there, just as she was going to fill her bucket, she saw a great bull standing by her. It was a mountain buffalo, one of those which live in the timber; and the long hair of its head was all full of pine needles and sticks and branches, and matted together. (It was a Su-ye-stu-mik, a water-bull.) When the girl saw him, she prayed him to take her across the river, and so to save her and her little brother from the bad old woman. The bull said, “I will take you across, but first you must take some of the sticks out of my head.” The girl begged him to start at once; but the bull said, “No, first take the sticks out of my head.” The girl began to do it, but before she had done much she heard the old woman calling her to bring the water. The girl called back, “I am trying to get the water clear,” and went on fixing the buffalo's head. The old woman called again, saying, “Hurry, hurry with that water.” The girl answered, “Wait, I am washing my little brother.” Pretty soon the old woman called out, “If you don't bring that water, I will kill you and your brother.” By this time the girl had most of the sticks out of the bull's head, and he told her to get on his back, and went
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