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Native American Legends

Arikara Corn: The first to know maize

An Arikara Legend

A young Arikara man was the first to discover maize. While hunting atop a high hill he scouted a large bull buffalo standing at the confluence of two rivers. While deciding how to best approach the buffalo the young man was forced to look around him closely, and was taken with the beauty of his surroundings.

Though the banks of the river were nice and timbered, the buffalo was facing north, so the young man could not take a shot from either side. He decided he would wait until the buffalo moved nearer the timbered banks or wandered into the hills or ravines where the young man could hide in shrubs.

By sundown, the buffalo had not moved at all, so the young man returned to camp disappointed. His night was not easy. He spent it thinking about how scarce food was among the people, and how much good he could have done if he had taken the buffalo.

Just before dawn the young man got up and went back to the place he left the buffalo to see if it was still nearby, had it moved at all. As the sun rose, from his spot on the high hill, the young man saw the buffalo was still in the same spot but now it faced the east. And so it stood again, all day.

Disappointed again, the young man spent another sleepless night wondering why the buffalo would stand so steadfastly in one spot without eating, drinking or lying down to rest.

The next day was the same, except the buffalo faced south and the next day west. Now the young man was determined to know why the buffalo acted in this way. He settled in to watch, and told himself the buffalo was behaving this way for some mysterious purpose, and that he, too now, was under the same mystery. He went home to sleep and yet again spent the entire night wondering.

The next day he rose before dawn and ran to his mysterious scene. The buffalo was gone! Where it had stood there was a small bush. The young man approached with disappointment, but also curiosity and awe. The plant was nothing familiar to him, surrounded by buffalo tracks, north to east and south to west. In the center was a single buffalo track from which this strange plant grew. No buffalo tracks led away from the plant.

He ran back to camp and told the chiefs and elders of his strange experience. They all traveled to the spot and found what he told them to be true. They saw the tracks of the buffalo at the spot, but no tracks coming or going from the site of the strange plant.

Now while all these men believed this plant had been given to the people by Wakanda for their use, they were not sure what that use might be.

Thinking it might need time to ripen like other plants they knew, they posted a guard to wait and see if more information would come. Soon a spike of flowers appeared, but they knew from other plants this was a flower and not the fruit. Soon a new growth appeared. First it appeared as if it had hair at its top, soon turning from green to brown.

They determined this growth was the fruit of the plant, and approached with caution and although they wanted to know what it would provided no one dared touch it. The young man finally spoke:

"Everyone knows how my life since childhood has been useless, that my deeds among you more evil than good. So, since no one would regret should any evil befall me, I will be first to touch the plant and taste its fruit."

The young man gave thanks and prayer and grasped the plant. He told the people it was firm and ripe and inside the husk it was red. He took a few kernels, showed them to the people and then carefully replaced the husks. When the youth suffered no ill effects, the people were then convinced the plant was given to them as food so they would never be hungry.

The kernels were dispersed among the people and a great, fruitful harvest was gathered in the fall. The Arikaras decided to hold a feast and they invited many tribes and six came. The Arikara's shared the kernels with their guests, and so the knowledge of maize was spread among all.

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