Our camp on a summer’s evening was a cheerful scene. At this hour, fires burned before most of the tepees; and, as the women had ended their day’s labors, there was much visiting from tent to tent. Here a family sat eating their evening meal. Yonder, a circle of old men, cross-legged or squat-on-heels in the firelight, joked and told stories. From a big tent on one side of the camp came the tum-tum tum-tum of a drum. We had dancing almost every evening in those good days.
“Do the spirits eat the food?” I asked. I had seen my grandfather set food before the two skulls of the Big Birds’ ceremony.
“No,” said my grandfather, “They eat the food’s spirit; for the food has a spirit as have all things. When the gods have eaten of its spirit, we often take back the food to eat ourselves.”
“At this hour fires burned before most of the tepees.” In fall or winter the fire was within the tepee, under the smoke hole.
Autumn came; my mothers harvested their rather scanty crops; and, with the moon of Yellow Leaves, we struck tents and went into winter camp. My tribe usually built their winter village down in the thick woods along the Missouri, out of reach of the cold prairie winds. It was of earth lodges, like those of our summer village, but smaller and more rudely put together. We made camp this winter not very far from Like-a-Fishhook Point.
To eke out our store of corn and keep the pot boiling, my father hunted much of the time. To hunt deer he left the lodge before daybreak, on snowshoes, if the snow was deep. He had a flintlock gun, a smoothbore with a short barrel. The wooden stock was studded with brass nails. For shot he used slugs, bits of lead which he cut from a bar, and chewed to make round like bullets. Powder and shot were hard to get in those days
My father stabled his horses at night in our lodge, in a little corral fenced off against the wall. “I do not want the Sioux to steal them,” he used to say. In the morning, after breakfast, he drove them out upon the prairie, to pasture, but brought them in again before sunset. In very cold weather my mothers cut down young cottonwoods and let our horses browse on the tender branches.
Turtle was old-fashioned in her ways and did not take kindly to iron tools. “I am an Indian,” she would say, “I use the ways my fathers used.” Instead of grubbing out weeds and bushes, she pried them from the ground with a wooden digging stick. I think she was as skillful with this as were my mothers with their hoes of iron.
Turtle’s hoe was made of the shoulder bone of a buffalo set in a light-wood handle, the blade firmly bound in place with thongs. The handle was rather short, and so my grandmother stooped as she worked among her corn hills.
She used to keep the hoe under her bed. As I grew a bit older my playmates and I thought it a curious old tool, and sometimes we tried to take it out and look at it, when Turtle would cry, “Nah, nah! Go away! Let that hoe alone; you will break it!”
Indians, when journeying, made the campfire outside the lodge in summer; inside the lodge, in winter. Usually a slight pit was dug for the fireplace, thus lessening danger of sparks, setting fire to prairie or forest. The fire was smothered with earth when camp was forsaken.
Old Turtle made me a dolly of deer skin stuffed with antelope hair. She sewed on two white bone beads for eyes. I bit off one of these bone beads, to see if it was good to eat, I suppose. For some days my dolly was one-eyed, until my grandmother sewed on a beautiful new eye, a blue glass bead she had gotten of a trader. I thought this much better, for now my dolly had one blue eye and one white one.
“We had a hard time,” he said. “Perhaps the gods, for some cause, were angry with us. We had gone five days; evening came and it began to rain. We were on the prairie, and our young men sat all night with their saddles and saddle skins over their heads to keep off the rain.
“In the morning, the rain turned to snow. A heavy wind blew the snow in our faces, nearly blinding us.
The next morning when I went out of the lodge, I saw that the black-bear skin was bound to one of the posts at the entrance. This was a sign that my father was going to lead out a war party. I was almost afraid to pass the bear skin, for I knew it was very holy.
One evening in the corn planting moon, she was making ready her seed for the morrow’s planting. She had a string of braided ears lying beside her. Of these ears she chose the best, broke off the tip and butt of each, and shelled the perfect grain of the mid-cob into a wooden bowl. Baby-like, I ran my fingers through the shiny grain, spilling a few kernels on the floor.
“Do not do that,” cried my grandmother. “Corn is sacred; if you waste it, the gods will be angry.”
I was too little to note very much of what was done. I remember that my father set up boundary marks—little piles of earth or stones, I think they were—to mark the corners of the field we claimed. My mothers and Turtle began at one end of the field and worked forward. My mothers had their heavy iron hoes; and Turtle, her old-fashioned digging stick.
One morning, having come to the field quite early, I grew tired of my play before my grandmother had ended her work. “I want to go home,” I begged, and I began to cry. Just then a strange bird flew into the field. It had a long curved beak, and made a queer cry, cur-lew, cur-lew.
I stopped weeping. My grandmother laughed.
“That is a curlew,” she said.
The small lodges we built for winter did not stand long after we left them in the spring. Built on low ground by the Missouri, they were often swept away in the June rise; for in that month the river is flooded by snows melting in the Rocky Mountains.
The loss of our winter lodges never troubled us, however; for we thought of them as but huts. Then, too, we seldom wintered twice in the same place. We burned much firewood in our winter lodges, and before spring came the women had to go far to find it. The next season we made camp in a new place, where was plenty of dead-and-down wood for fuel.
We looked upon our summer lodges, to which we came every spring, as our real homes. There were about seventy of these, earth lodges45 well-built and roomy, in Like-a-Fishhook village. Most of them were built the second summer of our stay there.
The beds of the rest of the family stood in the back of the lodge, against the wall. They46 were less simply made than my father’s, being each covered with an old tent skin drawn over a frame of posts and poles. The bedding was of buffalo skins. As these could not be washed, my mothers used to take them out and hang them on the poles of the corn stage on sunny days, to air.
Most of the earth lodges—at least most of the larger ones—had each a bed like my father’s before the fireplace; for this was the warmest place in the lodge. Usually the eldest in the family, as the father or grandfather, slept in this bed.
Her face washed, Red Blossom sat on the edge of her bed and finished her toilet. She had a little fawn-skin bag, worked with red porcupine quills. From this bag she took her hairbrush, a porcupine tail mounted on a stick, with the sharp points of the quills cut off. She brushed her hair smooth, parting it in two braids that fell over each shoulder nearly hiding her ears. Red Blossom was no longer young, but her black tresses had not a grey hair in them.
But if the weather was cold, we did not go to the river to bathe. An earthen pot full of water stood by one of the posts near the fire. It rested in a ring of bark, to keep it from falling. My mothers dipped each a big horn spoon full of water, filled her mouth, and, blowing the water over her palms, gave her face a good rubbing.
My mothers dipped each a big horn spoon full of water, filled her mouth, and, blowing the water over her palms, gave her face a good rubbing.
White people seem to think that Indian children never have any play and never laugh. Such ideas seem very funny to me. How can any child grow up without play? I have seen children at our reservation school playing white men’s games—baseball, prisoners’ base, marbles. We Indian children also had games. I think they were better than white children’s games.
I look back upon my girlhood as the happiest time of my life. How I should like to see all my little girl playmates again! Some still live, and when we meet at feasts or at Fourth-of-July camp, we talk of the good times we had when we were children.
I remember one morning, just after breakfast, I heard singing, as of a dozen or more men coming toward our lodge. I started to run out to see what it was, but my mothers cried, “Do not go. It is the Black Mouths.” My mothers, I thought, looked rather scared. We were still speaking, when I heard the tramp of feet. The door lifted, and the Black Mouths came in.
They looked very terrible, all painted with the lower half of the face black. Many, but not all, had the upper half of the face red. Some had eagles’ feathers in their hair, and all wore robes or blankets. Some carried guns. Others had sticks about as long as my arm. With these sticks they beat any woman who would not help in the clean-up.
My little half sister was my usual playmate. She was two years younger than I, and I loved her dearly. She had a pretty name, Cold Medicine. On our prairies grows a flower with long, yellow root. In old times, if a warrior was running from enemies and became wearied he chewed a bit of the root and rubbed it on his eyelids. It made his eyes and tongue feel cold and kept him awake. The flower for this reason was called cold medicine. When my father spoke my sister’s name, it made him think of this flower and of the many times he had bravely gone out with war parties.
We had a game of ball much like shinny. It was a woman’s game, but we little girls played it with hooked sticks. We also had a big, soft ball, stuffed with antelope hair, which we would bounce in the air with the foot. The game was to see how long a girl could bounce the ball without letting it touch the ground. Some girls could bounce it more than a hundred times. It was lots of fun.
A girl now lay downward on the hide. With a quick pull, the others tossed her into the air, when she was expected to come down on her feet, to be instantly tossed again. The game was to see how many times she could be tossed without falling. A player was often tossed ten or more times before she lost her balance.59 Each time, as she came down, she kept turning in one direction, right or left. When at last she fell, the pile of weeds saved her from any hurt.
Until I was about nine years old, my hair was cut short, with a tuft on either side of my head, like the horns of an owl. Turtle used to cut my hair. She used a big, steel knife. In old times, I have heard, a thin blade of flint was 60used. I did not like Turtle’s hair cutting a bit, because she pulled.
“Do the spirits eat the food?” I asked. I had seen my grandfather set food before the two skulls of the Big Birds’ ceremony.
“No,” said my grandfather, “They eat the food’s spirit; for the food has a spirit as have all things. When the gods have eaten of its spirit, we often take back the food to eat ourselves.”
“Once in Five Villages,” my grandfather went on, “there lived a brave man who owned a gun. One day a storm blew up. As the man sat in his lodge, there came a clap of thunder and lightning struck his roof, tearing a great hole.
“This did not frighten the man at all. Indeed, it angered him. He caught up his gun and fired it through the hole straight into the sky. ‘You thunder bird,’ he shouted, ‘stay away from my lodge. See this gun. If you come, I will shoot at you again!’”
We Hidatsas do not reckon our kin as white men do. If a white man marries, his wife is called by his name; and his children also, as Tom Smith, Mary Smith. We Indians had no family names. Every Hidatsa belonged to a clan; but a child, when he was born, became a member of his mother’s, not his father’s clan.
An Indian calls all members of his clan his brothers and sisters. The men of his father’s clan he calls his clan fathers; and the women, his clan aunts. Thus I was born a member of the Tsistska, or Prairie Chicken clan, because my mother was a Tsistska. My father was a member of the Meedeepahdee, or Rising Water clan. Members of the Tsistska clan are my brothers and sisters; but my father’s clan brothers, men of the Meedeepahdee, are my clan fathers, and his clan sisters are my clan aunts.
But it is never good for a man not to know his faults, and so we let one’s clan cousins tease him 68for any fault he had. Especially was this teasing common between young men and young women. Thus a young man might be unlucky in war. As he passed the fields where the village women hoed their corn, he would hear some mischievous girl, his clan cousin, singing a song taunting him for his ill success. Were any one else to do this, the young man would be ready to fight; but, seeing that the singer was his clan cousin, he would laugh and call out, “Sing louder cousin, sing louder, that I may hear you.”
In those days, when a man mourned he cut off his hair, painted his body with white clay, and threw away his moccasins. He also cut his flesh with a knife or some sharp weapon. Now when a man sought a vision from the gods, he wept and mourned, that the gods might have pity on him; and for this he went away from the village, alone, into the hills. So it happened, that Snake Head-Ornament, on his way to the hills, went mourning and crying past a field where sat a woman, his clan cousin, on her watch-stage. Seeing him, she began a song to tease him:
He said, “I am a young bird!”
If a young bird, he should be in his nest;
But he comes here looking gray,
And wanders about outside the village!
He said, “I am a young snake!”
If a young snake, he should be in the hills among the red buttes;
But he comes here looking gray and crying,
And wanders aimlessly about!
Not long after, he was made a member of the Black Mouth society. It happened one day, that the women were building a fence of logs, set upright around the village, to defend it from enemies. Snake Head-Ornament, as a member of the Black Mouths, was one of the men overseeing the work. This woman, his clan cousin, was slow at her task; and, to make her move more briskly, Snake Head-Ornament came close to her and fired off his gun just past her knees. She screamed, but seeing it was Snake Head-Ornament who had shot, and knowing he was her clan cousin, she did not get angry. Nevertheless, she did not forget! And, years after, she had revenge in her taunting song.
In old times we Indian people had no horses, and not many families of my tribe owned them when I was a little girl. But I do not think there ever was a time when we Hidatsas did not own dogs. We trained them to draw our tent poles and our loaded travois. We never used dogs to chase deer, as white men do.
When the puppies were ten days old my grandmother brought in some fresh sage, the kind we Indians use in a sweat lodge. She laid the sage by the fireplace and fetched in the puppies, barring the door so that the mother dog could not come in. I could hear the poor dog whining pitifully.
“What are you going to do, grandmother?” I asked.
“I am going to smoke the puppies.”
“Why, grandmother?” I cried.
“Because the puppies are old enough to eat cooked meat, for their teeth have come through. The sage is a sacred plant. Its smoke will make the puppies hungry, so that they will eat.”
While she was speaking, she opened my little pet’s jaws. Sure enough, four white teeth were coming through the gums.
Turtle raked some coals from the ashes, and laid on them a handful of the sage. A column of thick white smoke arose upward to the smoke hole.
My grandmother took my puppy in her hands and held his head in the smoke. The poor puppy struggled and choked. Thick spittle, like suds, came out of his mouth. I was frightened, and thought he was going to die.
“The smoke will make the puppy healthy,” said Turtle. “Now let us see if he will grow up strong, to carry my little granddaughter’s tent.”
She lifted the puppy, still choking, from the floor, and let him fall so that he landed on his feet. The puppy was still young and weak, and he was strangling; but his little legs stiffened, and he stood without falling.
“Hey, hey,” laughed my grandmother. “This is a strong dog! He will grow up to carry your tent.” For in old times, when traveling, we Hidatsas made our dogs drag our tents on poles, like travois.
n daytime lookouts were always on the roofs of some of the lodges watching if enemies or buffaloes were about. If they saw our hunters, with meat, coming home over the prairie, these lookouts would cry out, “Hey-da-ey!” And the dogs, knowing what the cry meant, would 75join in with “wu-u-u-u." They liked fresh buffalo meat no less than the Indians.
It must have been a funny sight to see me take my puppy out for a walk. Stooping, I would lay the puppy between my shoulders and draw my tiny robe up over his back; and I would walk off proud as any Indian mother of her new babe. The old mother dog would creep half out of her kennel, following me with her gentle eyes. I was careful not to go out of her sight.
She laid the grass thickly over the sides of the little tepee, leaning chunks of wood against it to keep the grass in place. She left a door, or opening, in front; and she even bound a stick over the door, like the pole over the door of a hunting lodge. Last, she put grass inside, as if for a bed.
But, as the puppies grew up, we began to feed them raw meat. My grandmother sometimes boiled corn for them, into a coarse mush. They were fond of this. As they grew older, any food that turned sour or was unfit for the family to eat was given me for my doggies. They ate it greedily. It did not seem to harm them.
Even in famine times we did not forget our dogs; but we sometimes had only soft bones to give them that had been broken for boiling. The dogs gnawed these, and so got a little food.
We Hidatsas loved our good dogs, and were kind to them.
My father had two pack horses loaded with our stuff and our dogs dragged well-laden travois.
My mothers harnessed their dogs, four in number and started off. They returned a little after midday; first, Red Blossom, with a great pack of wood on her back; after her, Strikes-Many Woman; then the four dogs, marching one behind the other, Took-from-Him in the lead. Each dog dragged a travois loaded with wood.
The harness was of two pieces: a collar, to go around the dog’s neck; and a breast thong, that was drawn across his chest and through a loop in the saddle, was lapped once or twice around one of the travois poles, and was finally carried under the dog’s body to the other pole, where it was made fast.
My mothers began to teach me household tasks when I was about twelve years old. “You are getting to be a big girl,” they said. “Soon you will be a woman, and marry. Unless you learn to work, how will you feed your family?”
One of the things given me to do was fetching water from the river. No spring was near our village; and, anyhow, our prairie springs are often bitter with alkali. But the Missouri river, fed by melting snows of the Montana mountains, gave us plenty of fresh water. Missouri river water is muddy; but it soon settles, and is cool and sweet to drink. We Indians love our big river, and we are glad to drink of its waters, as drank our fathers.
“The third day after, they saw two great fires sweeping toward them over the prairie. The women cried out with fear. All thought that they should die.
“When the fires came near, the people saw that they were the two dogs, Death and Sickness.
“‘Do not fear,’ said the dogs. ‘Our hearts are not all evil. True, we will bite you, because you forgot us; but we will also live with you and be your friends. We will carry your burdens; and when we die, you shall eat us.’
But there were few pails of metal in my tribe, when I was a little girl. I used to fetch water in a clay pot, sometimes in a buffalo-paunch lining skewered on a stick; but my commonest bucket was of a buffalo heart skin. When my father killed a buffalo, he took out the heart skin, and filled it with grass until it dried. This he gave to Red Blossom, who sewed a little stick on each side of the mouth; and bound a short stick and sinews between them for handle. Such a bucket held about three pints. It was a frail looking vessel, but lasted a long time.
My grandmother Turtle made scarecrows to frighten away the birds. In the middle of the field she drove two sticks for legs, and bound two other sticks to them for arms; on the top, she fastened a ball of cast-away skins for a head. She belted an old robe about the figure to make it look like a man. Such a scarecrow looked wicked! Indeed I was almost afraid of it myself. But the bad crows, seeing the scarecrow never moved from its place, soon lost their fear, and came back.
Many families now built stages in their fields, where the girls and young women of the household came to sit and sing as they watched that crows and other thieves did not steal the ripening grain.
A watchers’ stage was not hard to build. Four posts, forked at the tops, upheld beams, on which was laid a floor of puncheons, or split small logs, at the height of the full grown corn. The floor was about four feet long by three wide, roomy enough for two girls to sit together comfortably. Often a soft robe was spread on the floor. A ladder made of the trunk of a tree rested against the stage. The ladder had three steps.
At one side of our field Turtle had made a booth, diamond willows thrust in the ground in a circle, with leafy tops bent over and tied together. In this booth, my sister and I, with our mothers and old Turtle, cooked our meals. We started a fire in the booth as soon as we got to the field, and ate our breakfast often at sunrise. Our food we had brought with us, usually buffalo meat, fresh or dried. Fresh meat we laid on the coals to broil. Dried meat we thrust on a stick and held over the fire to toast.
Sometimes we brought a clay cooking pot, and boiled squashes. We were fond of squashes and ate many of them. We sometimes boiled green corn and beans. My sister and I shelled the corn from the cob. We shelled the beans or boiled them in the pod. My grandmother poured the mess in a wooden bowl, and we ate with spoons which she made from squash stems. She would split a stem with her knife and put in a little stick to hold the split open.
My father’s earth lodge and Bear Man’s both faced eastward, with the lodge of Blue Paint’s family standing between; but, as I stood at my father’s lodge entrance, I could see the flat top of Bear Man’s lodge over Blue Paint’s roof. Sacred-Red-Eagle-Wing had joined the Stone Hammer Society a short while before, and had begun to paint his face like a young man. He would get up on his father’s roof, painted, and decked out in hair switch, best leggings, and moccasins, and sing his society’s songs. He had a fine voice, I thought; and when I went out with my buck-brush broom to sweep the ground about our lodge entrance, Sacred-Red-Eagle-Wing would sing harder than ever. I thought perhaps he did this so that I would hear him. I was too well-bred to look up at him, but I did not always hurry to finish my sweeping.
June berry time had come. I was now fourteen years, old and had begun to think myself almost a young woman. Some of the young men even smiled at me as I came up from the watering place. I never smiled back, for I thought: “My father is a chief, and I belong to one of the best families in my tribe. I will be careful whom I choose to be my friends.”
There had been plenty of rain, and the June berry trees were now loaded with ripe fruit. We Indians set great store by these berries, and almost every family dried one or more sackfuls for winter. June berries are sweet, and, as we had no sugar, we were fond of them.
We were off the next morning before the sun was up. I walked with my mothers and the other women. The men went a little ahead, armed, some with guns, others with bows. Sacred-Red-Eagle-Wing walked behind the men. On his back I saw a handsome otter-skin quiver, full of arrows. I felt safer to see those arrows. Enemies might be lurking anywhere in the woods, ready to capture us or take our scalps. We Indian women dared not go far into the woods without men to protect us.
When my sack was filled, I tied it shut and slung it on my back by my packing strap. Sacred-Red-Eagle-Wing laid some sweet smelling leaves under the sack that the juices from the ripe berries might not ooze through and stain my dress.
As he lay there he heard some one riding toward him, but thought it was one of his party. It was a Sioux; and right in the midst of the song—poh!—the Sioux fired, wounding Weasel Arm in the hip. Luckily the wound was slight, and Weasel Arm sprang for the near-by woods. The Sioux dared not follow him, for he saw that Weasel Arm had a gun.”
“‘The Crow Indians eat rose berries,’ said Ear-Eat. ‘My mother used to dry them for winter food.’
“His words but vexed Yellow Blossom more.
“‘I am a Hidatsa woman, not a Crow,’ she cried. ‘We Hidatsas are not wild people. We live in earth lodges and eat foods from our gardens. When we go berrying we put our berries into clean baskets, not into our leggings.’ And she turned the leggings up and poured the rose berries out on the ground.”
And then came the corn harvest, busiest and happiest time of all the year. It was hard work gathering and husking the corn, but what fun we had! For days we girls thought of nothing but the fine dresses we should wear at the husking.
While the ears were ripening my sister and I went every morning to sit on our watch stage110 and sing to the corn. One evening we brought home with us a basketful of the green ears and were husking them by the fire. My father gathered up the husks and took them out of the lodge. I wondered why he did so.
My two mothers, I knew, were planning a big feast. “We have much corn to husk,” they said, “and we must have plenty of food, for we do not want our huskers to go away hungry.”
We loaded our two pack horses with strings of braided ears, ten strings to a pony. The smaller ears we bore to the village in our baskets, to dry on our corn stage before threshing.
Suddenly a Sioux warrior, in trailing eagle-feather bonnet, and mounted on a beautiful spotted pony, dashed down the hillside toward us, waving his bow over his head; and from our side I saw Red Hand, gun in hand, riding to meet him.
As they drew near one another the Sioux swerved, and an arrow, like a little snake, came curving through the air. Red Hand’s pony stumbled and fell, the shaft in its throat; but Red Hand, leaping to the ground, raised his gun and fired. I saw the Sioux drop his bow and ride back clinging desperately to his pony’s mane. Red Hand put his hand to his mouth and I heard his yi-yi-yi-yi-yah, the yell that a warrior made when he had wounded an enemy.
All that night we danced the scalp dance. A big fire was built. Men and women painted their faces black and sang glad songs. Old women cried a-la-la-la-la! Young men danced, yelled and boasted of their deeds. All said that Red Hand was a brave young man and would become a great warrior.
Turning to me he spoke: “My daughter, I have tried to raise you right. I have hunted and worked hard to give you food to eat. Now I want you to take my advice. Take this man for your husband. Try always to love him. Do not think in your heart, ‘I am a handsome young woman, but this man, my husband, is older and not handsome.’ Never taunt your husband. Try not to do anything that will make him angry.”
I did not answer yes or no to this; for I thought, “If my father wishes me to do this, why that is the best thing for me to do.” I had been taught to be obedient to my father. I do not think white children are taught so, as we Indian children were taught.
For nigh a week my father and my two mothers were busy getting ready the feast foods for the wedding. On the morning of the sixth day, my father took from his bag a fine weasel-skin cap and an eagle-feather war bonnet. The first he put on my head; the second he handed to my sister, Cold Medicine. “Take these to Hanging Stone’s lodge,” he said.
As we two girls sat on the floor, with ankles to the right, as Indian women always sit, Magpie’s mother filled a wooden bowl with dried buffalo meat pounded fine and mixed with marrow fat, and set it for my sister and me to eat. We ate as much as we could. What was left, my sister put in a fold of her robe, and we arose and went home. It would have been impolite to leave behind any of the food given us to eat.
I lifted the skin door—it was an old-fashioned one swinging on thongs from the beam overhead—and entered the lodge. Hanging Stone sat on his couch against the puncheon fire screen. I went to him and put the weasel-skin cap on his head. The young man who was to be my husband was sitting on his couch, a frame of poles covered with a tent skin. Cold Medicine and I went over and shyly sat on the floor near-by.
My young husband and I lived together but a few years. He died of lung sickness; and, after I had mourned a year, I married Son-of-a-Star, a Mandan. My family wished me to marry again; for, while an Indian woman could raise corn for herself and family, she could not hunt to get meat and skins.
Son-of-a-Star was a kind man, and my father liked him. “He is brave, daughter,” Small Ankle said. “He wears two eagle feathers, for he has twice struck an enemy, and he has danced the death dance. Three times he has shot an arrow through a buffalo.” It was not easy to shoot an arrow through a buffalo and few of my tribe had done so.
Spring had come, and in the moon of Breaking Ice we returned to Like-a-Fishhook village. Our hunters had not killed many deer the winter before, and our stores of corn were getting low. As ours was a large family, Son-of-a-Star thought he would join a hunting party that was going up the river for buffaloes. “Even if we do not find much game,” he said, “we shall kill enough for ourselves. We younger men should not be eating the corn and beans that old men and children need.”
We were clad warmly, for the weather was chill. All had robes. I wore a dress of two deer skins sewed edge to edge; the hind legs, thus sewed, made the sleeves for my arms.
I had made my husband a fine skin shirt, embroidered with beads. Over it he drew his robe, fur side in. He spread his feet apart, drew the robe high enough to cover his head, and folded it, tail end first, over his right side; then the head end over his left, and belted the robe in place. He spread his feet apart when belting, to give the robe a loose skirt for walking in.
The hunters returned before evening. Son-of-a-Star was the first to come in. “I shot two fat cows,” he cried. “I have cut up the meat and put it in a pile, covered with the skins.” He had brought back the choice cuts, however, the tongues, kidneys and hams. We ate the kidneys raw.
While the two hunters went back for the rest of the meat, I put on my copper kettle and made blood pudding. It was hot and ready to serve by the time they came back. I had stirred the pudding with a green chokecherry stick, giving it a pleasant, cherry flavor.
“We ran to the bank of the creek and, sure enough, something that looked as big as a man was struggling and floundering in a pool. The water was roiled and thick with mud.
“We could not think what it could be. Some thought it was an enemy trying to hide in the mud.
“A brave young man named Skunk threw off his leggings, drew his knife, and waded out to the thing. Suddenly he stooped, and in a moment started to land with the thing in his arms. It was a great fish, a sturgeon. It had a smooth back, like a catfish. We cut up the flesh and boiled it. It tasted sweet, like catfish flesh. I do not remember if we drank the broth, as we do when we boil catfish.”
“Tell us the story,” said Son-of-a-Star.
“A brave young Dakota led out a war party, of six men,” began Scar. “They came into the Chippewa country and wandered about, seeking to strike an enemy. They found deserted camps, sometimes with ashes in the fire pit still warm; but they found no enemies.
“One day they came to a beautiful lake. On the shore, close to the water, was a grassy knoll, rising upward like the back of a great turtle.
“The leader of the party had now begun to lose heart. ‘We have found no enemy,’ he said. ‘I think the gods are angry with us. We should return home. If we do not, harm may come to us.’
“‘Let us rest by this knoll,’ said one. ‘When we have smoked, we will start back home.’
“They had smoked but one pipe when the leader said, ‘I think we should go now. There is something strange about this knoll. Somehow, I think it is alive.’
“There was a young man in the party, reckless and full of life, whom the others called the Mocker. He sprang up crying, ‘Let us see if it is alive. Come on, we will dance on the knoll.’
“‘No,’ said the leader, ‘an evil spirit may be in the knoll. The hill may be but the spirit’s body. It is not wise to mock the gods.’
“‘Hwee—come on! Who is afraid?’ cried the Mocker. He ran to the top of the knoll, and three of the party followed him laughing. They leaped and danced and called to the others, ‘What do you fear?’
“Suddenly the knoll began to shake. It put out legs. It began to move toward the lake. It was a huge turtle.