Native American Legends
Heavy Collar and the Ghost Woman
A Blackfoot Legend
The Blood camp was on Old Man's River, where Fort McLeod now stands.
A party of seven men started to war toward the Cypress Hills. Heavy
Collar was the leader. They went around the Cypress Mountains, but
found no enemies and started back toward their camp. On their homeward
way, Heavy Collar used to take the lead. He would go out far ahead
on the high hills, and look over the country, acting as scout for
the party. At length they came to the south branch of the Saskatchewan
River, above Seven Persons' Creek. In those days there were many
war parties about, and this party traveled concealed as much as
possible in the coulees and low places.
As they were following up the river, they saw at a distance three
old bulls lying down close to a cut bank. Heavy Collar left his
party, and went out to kill one of these bulls, and when he had
come close to them, he shot one and killed it right there. He cut
it up, and, as he was hungry, he went down into a ravine below him,
to roast a piece of meat; for he had left his party a long way behind,
and night was now coming on. As he was roasting the meat, he thought,
for he was very tired, "It is a pity I did not bring one of
my young men with me. He could go up on that hill and get some hair
from that bull's head, and I could wipe out my gun." While
he sat there thinking this, and talking to himself, a bunch of this
hair came over him through the air, and fell on the ground right
in front of him. When this happened, it frightened him a little;
for he thought that perhaps some of his enemies were close by, and
had thrown the bunch of hair at him. After a little while, he took
the hair, and cleaned his gun and loaded it, and then sat and watched
for a time. He was uneasy, and at length decided that he would go
on further up the river, to see what he could discover. He went
on, up the stream, until he came to the mouth of the St. Mary's
River. It was now very late in the night, and he was very tired,
so he crept into a large bunch of rye-grass to hide and sleep for
The summer before this, the Blackfeet (Sik-si-kau) had been camped
on this bottom, and a woman had been killed in this same patch of
rye-grass where Heavy Collar had lain down to rest. He did not know
this, but still he seemed to be troubled that night. He could not
sleep. He could always hear something, but what it was he could
not make out. He tried to go to sleep, but as soon as he dozed off
he kept thinking he heard something in the distance. He spent the
night there, and in the morning when it became light, there he saw
right beside him the skeleton of the woman who had been killed the
That morning he went on, following up the stream to Belly River.
All day long as he was traveling, he kept thinking about his having
slept by this woman's bones. It troubled him. He could not forget
it. At the same time he was very tired, because he had walked so
far and had slept so little. As night came on, he crossed over to
an island, and determined to camp for the night. At the upper end
of the island was a large tree that had drifted down and lodged,
and in a fork of this tree he built his fire, and got in a crotch
of one of the forks, and sat with his back to the fire, warming
himself, but all the time he was thinking about the woman he had
slept beside the night before. As he sat there, all at once he heard
over beyond the tree, on the other side of the fire, a sound as
if something were being dragged toward him along the ground. It
sounded as if a piece of a lodge were being dragged over the grass.
It came closer and closer.
Heavy Collar was scared. He was afraid to turn his head and look
back to see what it was that was coming. He heard the noise come
up to the tree in which his fire was built, and then it stopped,
and all at once he heard some one whistling a tune. He turned around
and looked toward the sound, and there, sitting on the other fork
of the tree, right opposite to him, was the pile of bones by which
he had slept, only now all together in the shape of a skeleton.
This ghost had on it a lodge covering. The string, which is tied
to the pole, was fastened about the ghost's neck; the wings of the
lodge stood out on either side of its head, and behind it the lodge
could be seen, stretched out and fading away into the darkness.
The ghost sat on the old dead limb and whistled its tune, and as
it whistled, it swung its legs in time to the tune.
When Heavy Collar saw this, his heart almost melted away. At length
he mustered up courage, and said: "Oh ghost, go away, and do
not trouble me. I am very tired; I want to rest." The ghost
paid no attention to him, but kept on whistling, swinging its legs
in time to the tune. Four times he prayed to her, saying: "Oh
ghost, take pity on me! Go away and leave me alone. I am tired;
I want to rest." The more he prayed, the more the ghost whistled
and seemed pleased, swinging her legs, and turning her head from
side to side, sometimes looking down at him, and sometimes up at
the stars, and all the time whistling.
When he saw that she took no notice of what he said, Heavy Collar
got angry at heart, and said, "Well, ghost, you do not listen
to my prayers, and I shall have to shoot you to drive you away."
With that he seized his gun, and throwing it to his shoulder, shot
right at the ghost. When he shot at her, she fell over backward
into the darkness, screaming out: "Oh Heavy Collar, you have
shot me, you have killed me! You dog, Heavy Collar! there is no
place on this earth where you can go that I will not find you; no
place where you can hide that I will not come."
As she fell back and said this, Heavy Collar sprang to his feet,
and ran away as fast as he could. She called after him: "I
have been killed once, and now you are trying to kill me again.
Oh Heavy Collar!" As he ran away, he could still hear her angry
words following him, until at last they died away in the distance.
He ran all night long, and whenever he stopped to breathe and listen,
he seemed to hear in the distance the echoes of her voice. All he
could hear was, "Oh Heavy Collar!" and then he would rush
away again. He ran until he was all tired out, and by this time
it was daylight. He was now quite a long way below Fort McLeod.
He was very sleepy, but dared not lie down, for he remembered that
the ghost had said that she would follow him. He kept walking on
for some time, and then sat down to rest, and at once fell asleep.
Before he had left his party, Heavy Collar had said to his young
men: "Now remember, if any one of us should get separated from
the party, let him always travel to the Belly River Buttes. There
will be our meeting-place." When their leader did not return
to them, the party started across the country and went toward the
Belly River Buttes. Heavy Collar had followed the river up, and
had gone a long distance out of his way; and when he awoke from
his sleep he too started straight for the Belly River Buttes, as
he had said he would.
When his party reached the Buttes, one of them went up on top of
the hill to watch. After a time, as he looked down the river, he
saw two persons coming, and as they came nearer, he saw that one
of them was Heavy Collar, and by his side was a woman. The watcher
called up the rest of the party, and said to them: "Here comes
our chief. He has had luck. He is bringing a woman with him. If
he brings her into camp, we will take her away from him." And
they all laughed. They supposed that he had captured her. They went
down to the camp, and sat about the fire, looking at the two people
coming, and laughing among themselves at the idea of their chief
bringing in a woman. When the two persons had come close, they could
see that Heavy Collar was walking fast, and the woman would walk
by his side a little way, trying to keep up, and then would fall
behind, and then trot along to catch up to him again. Just before
the pair reached camp there was a deep ravine that they had to cross.
They went down into this side by side, and then Heavy Collar came
up out of it alone, and came on into the camp.
When he got there, all the young men began to laugh at him and
to call out, "Heavy Collar, where is your woman?" He looked
at them for a moment, and then said: "Why, I have no woman.
I do not understand what you are talking about." One of them
said: "Oh, he has hidden her in that ravine. He was afraid
to bring her into camp." Another said, "Where did you
capture her, and what tribe does she belong to?" Heavy Collar
looked from one to another, and said: "I think you are all
crazy. I have taken no woman. What do you mean?" The young
man said: "Why, that woman that you had with you just now:
where did you get her, and where did you leave her? Is she down
in the coulee? We all saw her, and it is no use to deny that she
was with you. Come now, where is she?" When they said this,
Heavy Collar's heart grew very heavy, for he knew that it must have
been the ghost woman; and he told them the story. Some of the young
men could not believe this, and they ran down to the ravine, where
they had last seen the woman. There they saw in the soft dirt the
tracks made by Heavy Collar, when he went down into the ravine,
but there were no other tracks near his, where they had seen the
woman walking. When they found that it was a ghost that had come
along with Heavy Collar, they resolved to go back to their main
camp. The party had been out so long that their moccasins were all
worn out, and some of them were footsore, so that they could not
travel fast, but at last they came to the cut banks, and there found
their camp seven lodges.
That night, after they had reached camp, they were inviting each
other to feasts. It was getting pretty late in the night, and the
moon was shining brightly, when one of the Bloods called out for
Heavy Collar to come and eat with him. Heavy Collar shouted, "Yes,
I will be there pretty soon." He got up and went out of the
lodge, and went a little way from it, and sat down. While he was
sitting there, a big bear walked out of the brush close to him.
Heavy Collar felt around him for a stone to throw at the bear, so
as to scare it away, for he thought it had not seen him. As he was
feeling about, his hand came upon a piece of bone, and he threw
this over at the bear, and hit it. Then the bear spoke, and said:
"Well, well, well, Heavy Collar; you have killed me once, and
now here you are hitting me. Where is there a place in this world
where you can hide from me? I will find you, I don't care where
you may go." When Heavy Collar heard this, he knew it was the
ghost woman, and he jumped up and ran toward his lodge, calling
out, "Run, run, a ghost bear is upon us!"
All the people in the camp ran to his lodge, so that it was crowded
full of people. There was a big fire in the lodge, and the wind
was blowing hard from the west. Men, women, and children were huddled
together in the lodge, and were very much afraid of the ghost. They
could hear her walking toward the lodge, grumbling, and saying:
"I will kill all these dogs. Not one of them shall get away."
The sounds kept coming closer and closer, until they were right
at the lodge door. Then she said, "I will smoke you to death."
And as she said this, she moved the poles, so that the wings of
the lodge turned toward the west, and the wind could blow in freely
through the smoke hole. All this time she was threatening terrible
things against them. The lodge began to get full of smoke, and the
children were crying, and all were in great distress almost suffocating.
So they said, "Let us lift one man up here inside, and let
him try to fix the ears, so that the lodge will get clear of smoke."
They raised a man up, and he was standing on the shoulders of the
others, and, blinded and half strangled by the smoke, was trying
to turn the wings. While he was doing this, the ghost suddenly hit
the lodge a blow, and said, "Un!" and this scared the
people who were holding the man, and they jumped and let him go,
and he fell down. Then the people were in despair, and said, "It
is no use; she is resolved to smoke us to death." All the time
the smoke was getting thicker in the lodge.
Heavy Collar said: "Is it possible that she can destroy us?
Is there no one here who has some strong dream power that can overcome
His mother said: "I will try to do something. I am older than
any of you, and I will see what I can do." So she got down
her medicine bundle and painted herself, and got out a pipe and
filled it and lighted it, and stuck the stem out through the lodge
door, and sat there and began to pray to the ghost woman. She said:
"Oh ghost, take pity on us, and go away. We have never wronged
you, but you are troubling us and frightening our children. Accept
what I offer you, and leave us alone."
A voice came from behind the lodge and said: "No, no, no;
you dogs, I will not listen to you. Every one of you must die."
The old woman repeated her prayer: "Ghost, take pity on us.
Accept this smoke and go away."
Then the ghost said: "How can you expect me to smoke, when
I am way back here? Bring that pipe out here. I have no long bill
to reach round the lodge." So the old woman went out of the
lodge door, and reached out the stem of the pipe as far as she could
reach around toward the back of the lodge. The ghost said: "No,
I do not wish to go around there to where you have that pipe. If
you want me to smoke it, you must bring it here." The old woman
went around the lodge toward her, and the ghost woman began to back
away, and said, "No, I do not smoke that kind of a pipe."
And when the ghost started away, the old woman followed her, and
she could not help herself.
She called out, "Oh my children, the ghost is carrying me
off!" Heavy Collar rushed out, and called to the others, "Come,
and help me take my mother from the ghost." He grasped his
mother about the waist and held her, and another man took him by
the waist, and another him, until they were all strung out, one
behind the other, and all following the old woman, who was following
the ghost woman, who was walking away.
All at once the old woman let go of the pipe, and fell over dead.
The ghost disappeared, and they were troubled no more by the ghost
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