There was once a man who had but one wife. He was not a chief, but a very brave warrior. He was rich, too, so he could have had plenty of wives if he wished; but he loved his wife very much, and did not want any more. He was very good to this woman. She always wore the best clothes that could be found. If any other woman had a fine buckskin dress, or something very pretty, the man would buy it for her.
It was summer. The berries were ripe, and the woman kept saying to her husband, “Let us go and pick some berries for winter.” “No,” replied the man. “It is dangerous now. The enemy is travelling all around.” But still the woman kept teasing him to go. So one day he told her to get ready. Some other women went, too. They all went on horseback, for the berries were a long way from camp. When they got to the place, the man told the women to keep near their horses all the time. He would go up on a butte near by and watch. “Be careful,” he said. “Keep by your horses, and if you see me signal, throw away your berries, get on your horses and ride towards camp as fast as you can.”
They had not picked many berries before the man saw a war party coming. He signalled the women, and got on his horse and rode towards them. It happened that this man and his wife both had good horses, but the others, all old women, rode slow old travois horses, and the enemy soon overtook and killed them. Many kept on after the two on good horses, and after a while the woman’s horse began to get tired; so she asked her husband to let her ride on his horse with him. The woman got up behind him, and they went on again. The horse was a very powerful one, and for a while went very fast; but two persons make a heavy load, and soon the enemy began to gain on them. The man was now in a bad plight; the enemy were overtaking him, and the woman holding him bound his arms so that he could not use his bow.
“Get off,” he said to her. “The enemy will not kill you. You are too young and pretty. Some one of them will take you, and I will get a big party of our people and rescue you.”
“No, no,” cried the woman; “let us die here together.”
“Why die?” cried the man. “We are yet young, and may live a long time together. If you don’t get off, they will soon catch us and kill me, and then they will take you anyhow. Get off, and in only a short time I will get you back.”
“No, no,” again cried the woman; “I will die here with you.”
“Crazy person!” cried the man, and with a quick jerk he threw the woman off.
As he said, the enemy did not kill her. The first one who came up counted coup and took her. The man, now that his horse was lightened, easily ran away from the war party, and got safe to camp.
Then there was great mourning. The relatives of the old women who had been killed, cut their hair and cried. The man, too, cut off his hair and mourned. He knew that his wife was not killed, but he felt very badly because he was separated from her. He painted himself black, and walked all through the camp, crying. His wife had many relations, and some of them went to the man and said: “We pity you very much. We mourn, too, for our sister. But come. Take courage. We will go with you, and try to get her back.”
“It is good,” replied the man. “I feel as if I should die, stopping uselessly here. Let us start soon.”
That evening they got ready, and at daylight started out on foot. There were seven of them in all. The husband, five middle-aged men, the woman’s relations, and a young man, her own young brother. He was a very pretty boy. His hair was longer than any other person’s in camp.
They soon found the trail of the war party, and followed it for some days. At last they came to the Big River, and there, on the other side, they saw many lodges. They crept down a coulée into the valley, and hid in a small piece of timber just opposite the camp. Toward evening the man said: “Kyi, my brothers. To-night I will swim across and look all through the camp for my wife. If I do not find her, I will cache and look again to-morrow evening. But if I do not return before daylight of the second night, then you will know I am killed. Then you will do as you think best. Maybe you will want to take revenge. Maybe you will go right back home. That will be as your hearts feel.”
As soon as it was dark, he swam across the river and went all about through the camp, peeping in through the doorways of the lodges, but he did not see his wife. Still, he knew she must be there. He had followed the trail of the party to this place. They had not killed her on the way. He kept looking in at the lodges until it was late, and the people let the fires go out and went to bed. Then the man went down to where the women got their water from the river. Everywhere along the stream was a cut bank, but in one place a path of steps had been made down to the water’s edge. Near this path, he dug a hole in the bank and crawled into it, closing up the entrance, except one small hole, through which he could look, and watch the people who came to the river.
As soon as it was daylight, the women began to come for water. Tum, tum, tum, tum, he could hear their footsteps as they came down the path, and he looked eagerly at every one. All day long the people came and went,—the young and old; and the children played about near him. He saw many strange people that day. It was now almost sunset, and he began to think that he would not see his wife there. Tum, tum, tum, tum, another woman came down the steps, and stopped at the water’s edge. Her dress was strange, but he thought he knew the form. She turned her head and looked down the river, and he saw her face. It was his wife. He pushed away the dirt, crawled out, went to her and kissed her. “Kyi,” he said, “hurry, and let us swim across the river. Five of your relations and your own young brother are waiting for us in that piece of timber.”
“Wait,” replied his wife. “These people have given me a great many pretty things. Let me go back. When it is night I will gather them up, steal a horse, and cross over to you.”
“No, no,” cried the man. “Let the pretty things go; come, let us cross at once.”
“Pity me,” said the woman. “Let me go and get my things. I will surely come to-night. I speak the truth.”
“How do you speak the truth?” asked her husband.
“That my relations there across the river may be safe and live long, I speak the truth.”
“Go then,” said the man, “and get your things. I will cross the river now.” He went up on the bank and walked down the river, keeping his face hidden. No one noticed him, or if they did, they thought he belonged to the camp.
As soon as he had passed the first bend, he swam across the river, and soon joined his relations.
“I have seen my wife,” he said to them. “She will come over as soon as it is dark. I let her go back to get some things that were given her.”
“You are crazy,” said one of the men, “very crazy. She already loves this new man she has, or she would not have wanted to go back.”
“Stop that,” said the husband; “do not talk bad of her. She will surely come.”
The woman went back to her lodge with the water, and, sitting down near the fireplace, she began to act very strangely. She took up pieces of charred wood, dirt, and ashes in her hands and ate them, and made queer noises.
“What is it?” asked the man who had taken her for a wife. “What is the matter with you?” He spoke in signs.
The woman also spoke in signs. She answered him: “The Sun told me that there are seven persons across the river in that piece of timber. Five of them are middle-aged, another is a young boy with very long hair, another is a man who mourns. His hair is cut short.”
The Snake did not know what to do, so he called in some chiefs and old men to advise with him. They thought that the woman might be very strong medicine. At all events, it would be a good thing to go and look. So the news was shouted out, and in a short time all the warriors had mounted their best horses, and started across the river. It was then almost dark, so they surrounded the piece of timber, and waited for morning to begin the search.
“Kyi,” said one of the woman’s relations to her husband. “Did I not speak the truth? You see now what that woman has done for us.”
At daylight the poor husband strung his bow, took a handful of arrows from his quiver, and said: “This is my fault. I have brought you to this. It is right that I should die first,” and he started to go out of the timber.
“Wait,” said the eldest relative. “It shall not be so. I am the first to go. I cannot stay back to see my brother die. You shall go out last.” So he jumped out of the brush, and began shooting his arrows, but was soon killed.
“My brother is too far on the road alone,” cried another relation, and he jumped out and fought, too. What use, one against so many? The Snakes soon had his scalp.
So they went out, one after another, and at last the husband was alone. He rushed out very brave, and shot his arrows as fast as he could. “Hold!” cried the Snake man to his people. “Do not kill him; catch him. This is the one my wife said to bring back alive. See! his hair is cut short.” So, when the man had shot away all his arrows, they seized and tied him, and, taking the scalps of the others, returned to camp.
They took the prisoner into the lodge where his wife was. His hands were tied behind his back, and they tied his feet, too. He could not move.
As soon as the man saw his wife, he cried. He was not afraid. He did not care now how soon he died. He cried because he was thinking of all the trouble and death this woman had caused. “What have I done to you,” he asked his wife, “that you should treat me this way? Did I not always use you well? I never struck you. I never made you work hard.”
“What does he say?” asked the Snake man.
“He says,” replied the woman, “that when you are done smoking, you must knock the ashes and fire out of your pipe on his breast.”
The Snake was not a bad-hearted man, but he thought now that this woman had strong medicine, that she had Sun power; so he thought that everything must be done as she said. When the man had finished smoking, he emptied the pipe on the Piegan’s breast, and the fire burned him badly.
Then the poor man cried again, not from the pain, but to think what a bad heart this woman had. Again he spoke to her. “You cannot be a person,” he said. “I think you are some fearful animal, changed to look like a woman.”
“What is he saying now?” asked the Snake.
“He wants some boiling water poured on his head,” replied the woman.
“It shall be as he says,” said the Snake; and he had his women heat some water. When it was ready, one of them poured a little of it here and there on the captive’s head and shoulders. Wherever the hot water touched, the hair came out and the skin peeled off. The pain was so bad that the Piegan nearly fainted. When he revived, he said to his wife: “Pity me. I have suffered enough. Let them kill me now. Let me hurry to join those who are already travelling to the Sand Hills.”
The woman turned to the Snake chief, and said, “The man says that he wants you to give him to the Sun.”
“It is good,” said the Snake. “To-morrow we move camp. Before we leave here, we will give him to the Sun.”
There was an old woman in this camp who lived all alone, in a little lodge of her own. She had some friends and relations, but she said she liked to live by herself. She had heard that a Piegan had been captured, and went to the lodge where he was. When she saw them pour the boiling water on him, she cried and felt badly. This old woman had a very good heart. She went home and lay down by her dog, and kept crying, she felt so sorry for this poor man. Pretty soon she heard people shouting out the orders of the chief. They said: “Listen! listen! To-morrow we move camp. Get ready now and pack up everything. Before we go, the Piegan man will be given to the Sun.”
Then the old woman knew what to do. She tied a piece of buckskin around her dog’s mouth, so he could not bark, and then she took him way out in the timber and tied him where he could not be seen. She also filled a small sack with pemmican, dried meat, and berries, and put it near the dog.
In the morning the people rose early. They smoothed a cotton-wood tree, by taking off the bark, and painted it black. Then they stood the Piegan up against it, and fastened him there with a great many ropes. When they had tied him so he could not move, they painted his face black, and the chief Snake made a prayer, and gave him to the Sun.
Every one was now busy getting ready to move camp. This old woman had lost her dog, and kept calling out for him and looking all around. “Tsis’-i!” she cried. “Tsis’-i! Come here. Knock the dog on the head! 1 Wait till I find him, and I’ll break his neck.”
The people were now all packed up, and some had already started on the trail. “Don’t wait for me,” the old woman said. “Go on, I’ll look again for my dog, and catch up with you.”
When all were gone, the old woman went and untied her dog, and then, going up to where the Piegan was tied, she cut the ropes, and he was free. But already the man was very weak, and he fell down on the ground. She rubbed his limbs, and pretty soon he felt better. The old woman was so sorry for him that she cried again, and kissed him. Then the man cried, too. He was so glad that some one pitied him. By and by he ate some of the food the old woman had given him, and felt strong again. He said to her in signs: “I am not done. I shall go back home now, but I will come again. I will bring all the Piegans with me, and we will have revenge.”
“You say well,” signed the old woman.
“Help me,” again said the man. “If, on the road you are travelling, this camp should separate, mark the trail my wife takes with a stick. You, too, follow the party she goes with, and always put your lodge at the far end of the village. When I return with my people, I will enter your lodge, and tell you what to do.”
“I take your speech,” replied the old woman. “As you say, so it shall be.” Then she kissed him again, and started on after her people. The man went to the river, swam across, and started for the North.
Why are the people crying? Why is all this mourning? Ah! the poor man has returned home, and told how those who went with him were killed. He has told them the whole story. They are getting ready for war. Every one able to fight is going with this man back to the Snakes. Only a few will be left to guard the camp. The mother of that bad woman is going, too. She has sharpened her axe, and told what she will do when she sees her daughter. All are ready. The best horses have been caught up and saddled, and the war party has started,—hundreds and hundreds of warriors. They are strung out over the prairie as far as you can see.
When they got to the Missouri River, the poor man showed them where the lodge in which they had tortured him had stood. He took them to see the tree, where he had been bound. The black paint was still on it.
From here, they went slowly. Some young men were sent far ahead to scout. The second day, they came back to the main body, and said they had found a camping place just deserted, and that there the trail forked. The poor man then went ahead, and at the forks he found a willow twig stuck in the ground, pointing to the left hand trail. When the others came up, he said to them: “Take care of my horse now, and travel slowly. I will go ahead on foot and find the camp. It must be close. I will go and see that old woman, and find out how things are.”
Some men did not want him to do this; they said that the old woman might tell about him, and then they could not surprise the camp.
“No,” replied the man. “It will not be so. That old woman is almost the same as my mother. I know she will help us.”
He went ahead carefully, and near sunset saw the camp. When it was dark, he crept near it and entered the old woman’s lodge. She had placed it behind, and a little way off from, the others. When he went in the old woman was asleep, but the fire was still burning a little. He touched her, and she jumped up and started to scream; but he put his hand on her mouth, and when she saw who it was she laughed and kissed him. “The Piegans have come,” he told her. “We are going to have revenge on this camp to-night. Is my wife here?”
“Still here,” replied the old woman. “She is chief now. They think her medicine very strong.”
“Tell your friends and relations,” said the Piegan, “that you have had a dream, and that they must move into the brush yonder. Have them stay there with you, and they will not be hurt. I am going now to get my people.”
It was very late in the night. Most of the Snakes were in bed and asleep. All at once the camp was surrounded with warriors, shouting the war cry and shooting, stabbing, and knocking people on the head as fast as they came out of the lodges.
That Piegan woman cried out: “Don’t hurt me. I am a Piegan. Are any of my people here?”
“Many of your relations are here,” some one said. “They will protect you.”
Some young men seized and tied her, as her husband had said to do. They had hard work to keep her mother from killing her. “Hai yah!” the old woman cried. “There is my Snake woman daughter. Let me split her head open.”
The fight was soon over. The Piegans killed the people almost as fast as they came out of their lodges. Some few escaped in the darkness. When the fight was over, the young warriors gathered up a great pile of lodge poles and brush, and set fire to it. Then the poor man tore the dress off his bad wife, tied the scalp of her dead Snake man around her neck, and told her to dance the scalp dance in the fire. She cried and hung back, calling out for pity. The people only laughed and pushed her into the fire. She would run through it, and then those on the other side would push her back. So they kept her running through the fire, until she fell down and died.
The old Snake woman had come out of the brush with her relations. Because she had been so good, the Piegans gave her, and those with her, one-half of all the horses and valuable things they had taken. “Kyi!” said the Piegan chief. “That is all for you, because you helped this poor man. To-morrow morning we start back North. If your heart is that way, go too and live with us.” So these Snakes joined the Piegans and lived with them until they died, and their children married with the Piegans, and at last they were no longer Snake people.