Native American Legends
Mik-A'pi Red Old Man
A Blackfoot Legend
It was in the valley of "It
fell on them" Creek, near the mountains, that the Pikun'i
were camped when Mik-a'pi went to war. It was far back, in the days
of stone knives, long before the white people had come. This was
the way it happened.
Early in the morning a band of buffalo were seen in the foot-hills
of the mountains, and some hunters went out to get meat. Carefully
they crawled along up the coulees and drew near to the herd; and,
when they had come close to them, they began to shoot, and their
arrows pierced many fat cows. But even while they were thus shooting,
they were surprised by a war party of Snakes, and they began to
run back toward the camp. There was one hunter, named Fox-eye, who
was very brave. He called to the others to stop, saying: "They
are many and we are few, but the Snakes are not brave. Let us stop
and fight them." But the other hunters would not listen. "We
have no shields," they said, "nor our war medicine. There
are many of the enemy. Why should we foolishly die?" They hurried
on to camp, but Fox-eye would not turn back. He drew his arrows
from the quiver, and prepared to fight. But, even as he placed an
arrow, a Snake had crawled up by his side, unseen. In the still
air, the Piegan heard the sharp twang of a bow string, but, before
he could turn his head, the long, fine-pointed arrow pierced him
through and through. The bow and arrows dropped from his hands,
he swayed, and then fell forward on the grass, dead. But now the
warriors came pouring from the camp to aid him. Too late! The Snakes
quickly scalped their fallen enemy, scattered up the mountain, and
were lost to sight.
Now Fox-eye had two wives, and their father and mother and all
their near relations were dead. All Fox-eye's relatives, too, had
long since gone to the Sand Hills. So these poor widows had no one
to avenge them, and they mourned deeply for the husband so suddenly
taken from them. Through the long days they sat on a near hill and
mourned, and their mourning was very sad.
There was a young warrior named Mik-a'pi. Every morning he was
awakened by the crying of these poor widows, and through the day
his heart was touched by their wailing. Even when he went to rest,
their mournful cries reached him through the darkness, and he could
not sleep. So he sent his mother to them. "Tell them,"
he said, "that I wish to speak to them." When they had
entered, they sat close by the door-way, and covered their heads.
"Kyi!" said Mik-a'pi. "For days and nights I have
heard your mourning, and I too have silently mourned. My heart has
been very sad. Your husband was my near friend, and now he is dead
and no relations are left to avenge him. So now, I say, I will take
the load from your hearts. I will avenge him. I will go to war and
take many scalps, and when I return, they shall be yours. You shall
paint your faces black, and we will all rejoice that Fox-eye is
When the people heard that Mik-a'pi was going to war, many warriors
wished to join him, but he refused them; and when he had taken a
medicine sweat, and got a medicine-pipe man to make medicine for
him during his absence, he started from the camp one evening, just
after sunset. It is only the foolish warrior who travels in the
day; for other war parties may be out, or some camp-watcher sitting
on a hill may see him from far off, and lay plans to destroy him.
Mik-a'pi was not one of these. He was brave but cautious, and he
had strong medicine. Some say that he was related to the ghosts,
and that they helped him. Having now started to war against the
Snakes, he traveled in hidden places, and at sunrise would climb
a hill and look carefully in all directions, and during the long
day would lie there, and watch, and take short sleeps.
Now, when Mik-a'pi had come to the Great Falls (of the Missouri),
a heavy rain set in; and, seeing a hole in the rocks, he crawled
in and lay down in the farther end to sleep. The rain did not cease,
and when night came he could not travel because of the darkness
and storm; so he lay down to sleep again. But soon he heard something
coming into the cave toward him, and then he felt a hand laid on
his breast, and he put out his hand and touched a person. Then Mik-a'pi
put the palm of his hand on the person's breast and jerked it to
and fro, and then he touched the person with the point of his finger,
which, in the sign language, means, "Who are you?"
The strange person then took Mik-a'pi's hand, and made him feel
of his own right hand. The thumb and all the fingers were closed
except the forefinger, which was extended; and when Mik-a'pi touched
it the person moved his hand forward with a zigzag motion, which
means "Snake." Then Mik-a'pi was glad. Here had come to
him one of the tribe he was seeking. But he thought it best to wait
for daylight before attacking him. So, when the Snake in signs asked
him who he was, he replied, by making the sign for paddling a canoe,
that he was a Pend d'Oreille, or River person. For he knew that
the Snakes and the Pend d'Oreilles were at peace.
Then they both lay down to sleep, but Mik-a'pi did not sleep. Through
the long night he watched for the first dim light, so that he might
kill his enemy. The Snake slept soundly; and just at daybreak Mik-a'pi
quietly strung his bow, fitted an arrow, and, taking aim, sent the
thin shaft through his enemy's heart. The Snake quivered, half rose
up, and with a groan fell back dead. Then Mik-a'pi took his scalp
and his bow and arrows, and also his bundle of moccasins; and as
daylight had come, he went out of the cave and looked all about.
No one was in sight. Probably the Snake, like himself, had gone
alone to war. But, ever cautious, he traveled only a short distance,
and waited for night before going on. The rain had ceased and the
day was warm. He took a piece of dried meat and back fat from his
pouch and ate them, and, after drinking from the river, he climbed
up on a high rock wall and slept.
Now in his dream he fought with a strange people, and was wounded.
He felt blood trickling from his wounds, and when he awoke, he knew
that he had been warned to turn back. The signs also were bad. He
saw an eagle rising with a snake, which dropped from its claws and
escaped. The setting sun, too, was painted, a sure warning to people
that danger is near. But, in spite of all these things, Mik-a'pi
determined to go on. He thought of the poor widows mourning and
waiting for revenge. He thought of the glad welcome of the people,
if he should return with many scalps; and he thought also of two
young sisters, whom he wanted to marry. Surely, if he could return
and bring the proofs of brave deeds, their parents would be glad
to give them to him.
It was nearly night. The sun had already disappeared behind the
sharp-pointed gray peaks. In the fading light the far-stretching
prairie was turning dark. In a valley, sparsely timbered with quaking
aspens and cotton-woods, stood a large camp. For a long distance
up and down the river rose the smoke of many lodges. Seated on a
little hill overlooking the valley, was a single person. With his
robe drawn tightly around him, he sat there motionless, looking
down on the prairie and valley below.
Slowly and silently something was crawling through the grass toward
him. But he heard nothing. Still he gazed eastward, seeking to discover
any enemy who might be approaching. Still the dark object crawled
slowly onward. Now it was so close to him that it could almost touch
him. The person thought he heard a sound, and started to turn round.
Too late! Too late! A strong arm grasped him about the neck and
covered his mouth. A long jagged knife was thrust into his breast
again and again, and he died without a cry. Strange that in all
that great camp no one should have seen him killed!
Still extended on the ground, the dark figure removed the scalp.
Slowly he crawled back down the hill, and was lost in the gathering
darkness. It was Mik-a'pi, and he had another Snake scalp tied to
his belt. His heart was glad, yet he was not satisfied. Some nights
had passed since the bad signs had warned him, yet he had succeeded.
"One more," he said. "One more scalp I must have,
and then I will go back." So he went far up on the mountain,
and hid in some thick pines and slept. When daylight came, he could
see smoke rise as the women started their fires. He also saw many
people rush up on the hill, where the dead watcher lay. He was too
far off to hear their angry shouts and mournful cries, but he sung
to himself a song of war and was happy.
Once more the sun went to his lodge behind the mountains, and as
darkness came Mik-a'pi slowly descended the mountain and approached
the camp. This was the time of danger. Behind each bush, or hidden
in a bunch of the tall rye grass, some person might be watching
to warn the camp of an approaching enemy. Slowly and like a snake,
he crawled around the outskirts of the camp, listening and looking.
He heard a cough and saw a movement of a bush. There was a Snake.
Could he kill him and yet escape? He was close to him now. So he
sat and waited, considering how to act. For a long time he sat there
waiting. The moon rose and traveled high in the sky. The Seven Persons
slowly swung around, and pointed downward. It was the middle of
the night. Then the person in the bush stood up and stretched out
his arms and yawned, for he was tired of watching, and thought that
no danger was near; but as he stood thus, an arrow pierced his breast.
He gave a loud yell and tried to run, but another arrow struck him
and he fell.
At the sound the warriors rushed forth from the lodges and the
outskirts of the camp; but as they came, Mik-a'pi tore the scalp
from his fallen enemy, and started to run toward the river. Close
behind him followed the Snakes. Arrows whizzed about him. One pierced
his arm. He plucked it out. Another struck his leg, and he fell.
Then a great shout arose from the Snakes. Their enemy was down.
Now they would be revenged for two lately taken lives. But where
Mik-a'pi fell was the verge of a high rock wall; below rushed the
deep river, and even as they shouted, he rolled from the wall, and
disappeared in the dark water far below. In vain they searched the
shores and bars. They did not find him.
Mik-a'pi had sunk deep in the water. The current was swift, and
when at last he rose to the surface, he was far below his pursuers.
The arrow in his leg pained him, and with difficulty he crawled
out on a sand-bar. Luckily the arrow was lance-shaped instead of
barbed, so he managed to draw it out. Near by on the bar was a dry
pine log, lodged there by the high spring water. This he managed
to roll into the stream; and, partly resting on it, he again drifted
down with the current. All night he floated down the river, and
when morning came he was far from the camp of the Snakes. Benumbed
with cold and stiff from the arrow wounds, he was glad to crawl
out on the bank, and lie down in the warm sunshine. Soon he slept.
The sun was already in the middle when he awoke. His wounds were
swollen and painful; yet he hobbled on for a time, until the pain
became so great he could go no further, and he sat down, tired and
"True the signs," he said. "How crazy I was to go
against them! Useless now my bravery, for here I must stay and die.
The widows will still mourn; and in their old age who will take
care of my father and my mother? Pity me now, oh Sun! Help me, oh
great Above Medicine Person! Look down on your wounded and suffering
child. Help me to survive!"
What was that crackling in the brush near by? Was it the Snakes
on his trail? Mik-a'pi strung his bow and drew out his arrows. No;
it was not a Snake. It was a bear. There he stood, a big grizzly
bear, looking down at the wounded man. "What does my brother
here?" he said. "Why does he pray to survive?"
"Look at my leg," said Mik-a'pi, "swollen and sore.
Look at my wounded arm. I can hardly draw the bow. Far the home
of my people, and my strength is gone. Surely here I must die, for
I cannot travel and I have no food."
"Now courage, my brother," said the bear. "Now not
faint heart, my brother, for I will help you, and you shall survive."
When he had said this, he lifted Mik-a'pi and carried him to a
place of thick mud; and here he took great handfuls of the mud and
plastered the wounds, and he sung a medicine song while putting
on the mud. Then he carried Mik-a'pi to a place where were many
sarvis berries, and broke off great branches of the fruit, and gave
them to him, saying, "Eat, my brother, eat!" and he broke
off more branches, full of large ripe berries, for him; but already
Mik-a'pi was satisfied and could eat no more. Then said the bear,
"Lie down, now, on my back, and hold tight by my hair, and
we will travel on." And when Mik-a'pi had got on and was ready,
he started off on a long swinging trot.
All through the night he traveled on without stopping. When morning
came, they rested awhile, and ate more berries; and again the bear
plastered his wounds with mud. In this way they traveled on, until,
on the fourth day, they came close to the lodges of the Pik[)u]n'i;
and the people saw them coming and wondered.
"Get off, my brother, get off," said the bear. "There
are your people. I must leave you." And without another word,
he turned and went off up the mountain.
All the people came out to meet the warrior, and they carried him
to the lodge of his father. He untied the three scalps from his
belt and gave them to the widows, saying: "You are revenged.
I wipe away your tears." And every one rejoiced. All his female
relations went through the camp, shouting his name and singing,
and every one prepared for the scalp dance.
First came the widows. Their faces were painted black, and they
carried the scalps tied on poles. Then came the medicine men, with
their medicine pipes unwrapped; then the bands of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi,
all dressed in war costume; then came the old men; and last the
women and children. They all sang the war song and danced. They
went all through the village in single file, stopping here and there
to dance, and Mik-a'pi sat outside the lodge, and saw all the people
dance by him. He forgot his pain and was proud, and although he
could not dance, he sang with them.
Soon they made the Medicine Lodge, and, first of all the warriors,
Mik-a'pi was chosen to cut the raw-hide which binds the poles, and
as he cut the strands, he counted the coups he had made. He told
of the enemies he had killed, and all the people shouted his name
and praised him. The father of those two young sisters gave them
to him. He was glad to have such a son-in-law. Long lived Mik-a'pi.
Of all the great chiefs who have lived and died, he was the greatest.
He did many other great and daring things. It must be true, as the
old men have said, that he was helped by the ghosts, for no one
can do such things without help from those fearful and unknown persons.
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