Native American Legends
Apache Chief punishes his Wife
A Tewa Legend
The Yellow House People were traveling. They stopped by a lake,
and to reach the deep water they put down a buffalo head to step
on. The chief's wife, who was a good-looking woman, picked up her
basket and went to fetch some water. When she came to the lake she
looked at the head and said, "My father, what a handsome man
you were! I would like to have seen you alive. What a pity you're
being trampled in this mud!"
As she finished speaking, up sprang a big white buffalo. He said,
"I'm the man you speak of. I am White Buffalo Chief. I want
to take you with me. Sit on my head between my horns!" She
left her water basket right there, and climbed up. The sun was going
down, and the chief's wife did not come home. "Something has
happened," he said. "I should go and see." When he
got to the lake, he found the basket, and looking around, saw his
wife's track and the track of a big buffalo leading to the east.
He said, "The buffalo head has taken my wife!" He went
back to his camp and for many days made arrows. When he had enough,
he set out to find his wife.
As he walked, he nearly stepped on the house of Spider Old Woman.
She said, "Sho! sho! sho! My grandchild, don't step on me!
Grandchild, you are Apache-Chief-Living-Happily; what are you doing
"Grandmother, I am looking for my wife. Buffalo Chief took
her away. Can you help me?" "He is a powerful person,
but I will give you medicine. Go now to Gopher Old Woman."
He went along, and on the plain he came to Gopher's house. Said
Gopher Old Woman, "What are you doing around here? You are
Apache-Chief-Living-Happily. Why are you here?" "Yes,
grandmother, I was living happily when my wife went to get water.
Buffalo stole her. I am going after her, and I would like to ask
you for help."
Gopher Old Woman said, "My grandson, your wife now has as
husband a powerful man. He is White Buffalo Chief. She is the tribe's
female in-law, and when they go to sleep, she is in the middle and
they lie close around her. Her dress is trimmed with elk teeth,
and it makes such a noise that it will be difficult to get her out.
You go to the edge of where they lie, and I will do the rest. "Apache
Chief came to the buffalo territory and hid to watch them. White
Buffalo Chief had the stolen wife dancing, and the buffalo sang:
Ya he a he
Ya he iya he
Ya he e ya
He ya hina he
Hina ye ne
He mah ne!
The Apache crept near the dance and spat out the medicine Spider
Old Woman had given, and all the buffalo went sleep. Gopher Old
Woman burrowed underground to the girl's ear and said, "I have
come for you. Apache-Chief-Living-Happily is waiting outside the
herd. "The girl said, "My present husband is a powerful
man. My dress is made of elk teeth, and it makes such a noise that
it will wake my husband." Gopher told her to gather the dress
up under her arms. Then Gopher led the way, and they slipped through
the group of sleeping buffalo.
Her husband was waiting. "I have come for you," he said,
"You are my wife and I want to take you back." And she
told him they must hurry to a safe place.
The plain was large. As they came to three cottonwood trees, they
could feel the earth trembling. White Buffalo had waked up and was
shouting to his clan, "Someone took my wife!" The herd
followed the track toward the trees.
Apache Chief said to the first cottonwood, "Brother, the buffalo
are coming. I want you to hide us." the tree said, "Go
to your next brother! I am old and soft." He went to the next
tree. "Brother, the buffalo are coming. I want you to hide
us!" The tree said, "Go to your next brother." He
went to the third tree, a young tree with one branch. "Apache
Chief," it said, "come up into my branches and I will
After they were safely up, the wife said she had to urinate. Apache
Chief folded up his buffalo hide and told her to urinate on it,
but her water leaked through. The buffalo were passing, the dust
was rising, and the earth was trembling. In the rear of the pack
were a shabby old buffalo and a small one. As they came under the
tree, the little buffalo said, "Grandfather, I can smell the
water of our daughter-in-law." They looked up and saw the man
and woman in the tree.
The old buffalo said, "Grandchild, you are fast. Run on and
tell the first one you reach, and each will tell the next one."
Soon the whole herd had turned back. Each one in succession butted
the tree, and Apache Chief tried to shoot them.
Then White Buffalo Chief took a running start and crashed against
the tree. The young cottonwood was nearly down, and Apache Chief
could not kill White Buffalo Chief.
Crow was calling above them, "Kaw, kaw, kaw!"
Apache Chief said angrily to Crow, "Why are you calling out
when I am in such a bad way?" "I came to tell you to shoot
him in the anus. That's where his life is. "So the Apache Chief
shot White Buffalo Chief in the anus and killed him.
He and his wife came from the tree, and he started to butcher the
buffalo beside a little fire. The tears ran down her cheek. "Are
you crying because I'm butchering White Buffalo?" "No,
I'm crying from the smoke."
Apache Chief kept on butchering. He looked at her again and said,
"You are crying!" "No, it's just the smoke."
He stared at her. "You are crying! After all our trouble, you
still want this man! Now you die with him!" And he took his
bow and arrow and shot her.
"I am Apache Chief, chief of a roaming tribe," he said.
"I will wander over these plains watching the earth, and if
any woman leaves her husband, what I have done to my wife may be
done to her."
Based on a tale recorded by Elsie Clews Parsons in 1940.
Like other tales told in pueblos near Taos, New Mexico, this Tewa
story features Apache characters. Taos, because of its proximity
to the Plains area, had a close relation to the tribes of that region,
and they have shared many elements in their culture, this story
being one of them. The Yellow House people refer to people who settled
toward the East, nearer the sun.
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