Native American Legends
Blackfoot Creation Story
A Blackfoot Legend
Old Man came from the south, making the mountains, the prairies,
and the forests as he passed along, making the birds and the animals
also. He traveled northward making things as he went, putting red
paint in the ground here and there --arranging the world as we see
He made the Milk River and crossed it; being tired, he went up
on a little hill and lay down to rest. As he lay on his back, stretched
out on the grass with his arms extended, he marked his figure with
stones. You can see those rocks today, they show the shape of his
body, legs, arms and hair.
Going on north after he had rested, he stumbled over a knoll and
fell down on his knees. He said aloud, "You are a bad thing
to make me stumble so." Then he raised up two large buttes
there and named them the Knees. They are called the Knees to this
day. He went on farther north, and with some of the rocks he carried
with him he built the Sweet Grass Hills.
Old Man covered the plains with grass for the animals to feed on.
He marked off a piece of ground and in it made all kinds of roots
and berries to grow: camas, carrots, turnips, bitterroot, sarvisberries,
bull-berries, cherries, plums, and rosebuds. He planted trees, and
he put all kinds of animals on the ground.
When he created the bighorn sheep with its big head and horns,
he made it out on the prairie. But it did not travel easily on the
prairie; it was awkward and could not go fast. So Old Man took it
by its horns, led it up into the mountain, and turned it loose.
There the bighorn skipped about among the rocks and went up fearful
places with ease. So Old Man said to it, "This is the kind
of place that suits you; this is what you are fitted for, the rocks,
and the mountains."
While he was in the mountains, he made the antelope out of dirt
and turned it loose to see how it would do. It ran so fast that
it fell over some rocks and hurt itself. Seeing that the mountains
were not the place for it, Old Man took the antelope down to the
prairie and turned it loose. When he saw it running away fast and
gracefully, he said, "This is what you are suited to, the broad
One day Old Man decided that he would make a woman and a child.
So he formed them both of clay, the woman and the child, her son.
After he had molded the clay in human shape, he said to it,"You
must be people." And then he covered it up and went away. The
next morning he went to the place, took off the covering, looked
at the images, and said "Arise and walk." They did so.
They walked down to the river with their maker, and then he told
them that his name was Napi, Old Man.
This is how we came to be people. It is he who made us.
The first people were poor and naked, and they did not know how
to do anything for themselves. Old Man showed them the roots and
berries and said "You can eat these." Then he pointed
to certain trees, "When the bark of these trees is young and
tender, it is good. Then you can peel it off and eat it."
He told the people that the animals also should be their food.
"These are your herds," he said. "All these little
animals that live on the ground -- squirrels, rabbits, skunks, beavers,
are good to eat. You need not fear to eat their flesh. All the birds
that fly, these too, I have made for you, so that you can eat of
Old Man took the first people over the prairies and through the
forests, then the swamps to show them the different plants he had
created. He told them what herbs were good for sicknesses, saying
often, "The root of this herb or the leaf of this herb, if
gathered in a certain month of the year, is good for certain sickness."
In that way the people learned the power of all herbs.
Then he showed them how to make weapons with which to kill the
animals for their food. First, he went out and cut some sarvisberry
shoots, brought them in, and peeled the bark off them. He took one
of the larger shoots, flattened it, tied a string to it, and thus
made a bow. Then he caught one of the birds he had made, took feathers
from its wing, split them, and tied them to a shaft of wood.
At first he tied four feathers along the shaft, and with this bow
sent the arrow toward its mark. But he found that it did not fly
well. When he used only three feathers, it went straight to the
mark. Then he went out and began to break sharp pieces off the stones.
When he tied them at the ends of his arrows, he found that the black
flint stones, and some white flint, made the best arrow points.
When the people had learned to make bow and arrows, Old Man taught
them how to shoot animals and birds. Because it is not healthful
to eat animals' flesh raw, he showed the first people how to make
fire. He gathered soft, dry rotten driftwood and made a punk of
it. Then he found a piece of hard wood and drilled a hole in it
with an arrow point. He gave the first man a pointed piece of hard
wood and showed him how to roll it between his hands until sparks
came out and the punk caught fire. Then he showed the people how
to cook the meat of the animals they had killed and how to eat it.
He told them to get a certain kind of stone that was on the land,
while he found a harder stone. With the hard stone he had them hollow
out the softer one and so make a kettle. Thus, they made their dishes.
Old Man told the first people how to get spirit power: "Go
away by yourself and go to sleep. Something will come to you in
your dream that will help you. It may be some animal. Whatever this
animal tells you in your sleep, you must do. Obey it. Be guided
by it. If later you want help, if you are traveling alone and cry
aloud for help, your prayer will be answered. It may be by an eagle,
perhaps by a buffalo, perhaps by a bear. Whatever animal hears your
prayer you must listen to it."
That was how the first people got along in the world, by the power
given to them in their dreams.
After this, Old Man kept on traveling north. Many of the animals
that he had created followed him. They understood when he spoke
to them, and they were his servants. When he got to the north point
of the Porcupine Mountains, he made some more mud images of people,
blew his breath upon them, and they became people, men and women.
They asked him, "What are we to eat?"
By way of answer, Old Man made many images of clay in the form
of buffalo. Then he blew breath upon them and they stood up. When
he made signs to them, they started to run. Then he said to the
people, "Those animals--buffalo--are your food."
"But how can we kill them?" the people asked.
"I will show you," he answered.
He took them to a cliff and told them to build rock piles: "Now
hide behind these piles of rocks," he said. "I will lead
the buffalo this way. When they are opposite you, rise up."
After telling them what to do, he started toward the herd of buffalo.
When he called the animals, they started to run toward him, and
they followed him until they were inside the piles of rock. Then
Old Man dropped back. As the people rose up, the buffalo ran in
a straight line and jumped over the cliff.
"Go down and take the flesh of those animals," said Old
The people tried to tear the limbs apart, but they could not. Old
Man went to the edge of the cliff, broke off some pieces with sharp
edges, and told the people to cut the flesh with these rocks. They
obeyed him. When they had skinned the buffalo, they set up some
poles and put the hides on them. Thus they made a shelter to sleep
After Old Man had taught the people all these things, he started
off again, traveling north until he came to where the Bow and Elbow
Rivers meet. There he made some more people and taught them the
same things. From there he went farther north. When he had gone
almost to the Red Deer River, he was so tired that he lay down on
a hill. The form of his body can be seen there yet, on the top of
the hill where he rested.
When he awoke from his sleep, he traveled farther north until he
came to a high hill. He climbed to the top of it and there he sat
down to rest. As he gazed over the country, he was greatly pleased
by it. Looking at the steep hill below him, he said to himself,
"This is a fine place for sliding. I will have some fun."
And he began to slide down the hill. The marks where he slid are
to be seen yet, and the place is known to all the Blackfeet tribes
as "Old Man's Sliding Ground."
Old Man can never die. Long ago he left the Blackfeet and went
away toward the west, disappearing in the mountains. Before he started,
he said to the people, "I will always take care of you, and
some day I will return."
Even today some people think that he spoke the truth and that when
he comes back he will bring with him the buffalo, which they believe
the white men have hidden. Others remember that before he left them
he said that when he returned he would find them a different people.
They would be living in a different world, he said, from that which
he had created for them and had taught them to live in.
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