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.
- Waheenee--An Indian Girl's Story
as told to Gilbert Livingstone Wilson
Illustrator: Frederick N. Wilson
Published in 1921
Available from gutenberg.org
- Posted on
- Monday 10 January 2022