Native American Legends
Origin of the Sacred Arrow
A Gros Ventre Legend
Charred Body had his origin in the skies. There was a big village
up there and this man was a great hunter. He used to go out and
bring in Buffalo, Elk, Antelope until the Buffalo became scarce
- they scattered out far from the village. So one day he told his
close relatives, "The Buffalo seem to have gone far away from
here, and I am tired of hunting them so long. Some day they may
multiply again, but now I am going to build a mound to sit on and
look over the country." He made a practice of going up to his
mound at intervals of three or four days to survey the land and
listen to its sounds. One day toward nightfall he heard Buffalo
bellowing. He was excited. He could not tell from what direction
the sound came. He was in the habit of changing himself into an
arrow shot from a bow and thus making in one day a journey such
as a man would ordinarily make in ten days. The next day he went
out to the mound, changed himself into an arrow, and went into every
direction, but found no Buffalo. Back on the mound he again heard
the Buffalo, and they seemed so close that he thought it strange
he could not place them. The next day when he went out to the mound
he took an arrow and stuck it into the ground, and as the ground
opened up a crack, he worked the hole. There below he saw Buffalo
as if the Chokeberries are half ripe, and the bulls were fighting
and bellowing. This was the sound he had heard.
He went back to his lodge and told his relatives that he had seen
the Buffalo, thousands upon thousands, but since, if he went down
below, it would be difficult to pack the meat back, he decided to
go down ahead and build a dwelling and his brothers and sisters-in-law
should follow afterwards. They could themselves see by looking down
the hole that there would be Buffalo enough for all.
The chief of the village was named Long Arm. He was regarded as
a holy man. He usually knew what was going on from day to day. Charred
Body told him of the land he had found, so beautiful and plentiful
in game. Charred Body said, "I want to leave this place and
go down there, but it will not be possible to pack the meat back
up here or to drive the Buffalo up here from the Earth. So I shall
go down there to live and take with me all those near relatives
of mine who are bound to me like a thread of the Spider web, and
we shall make our home there." Long Arm said neither yes nor
no; he uttered no word. The hunter went back to the hole, transformed
himself into an arrow and flew through the air to Earth.
He came down so swiftly that as he landed on the ground the arrow
struck the Earth, and it seemed as if he were stuck there for good.
The place where he landed was near Washburn by a creek some People
call Turtle, but which we call Charred Body Creek. There was an
evil spirit in the creek whose moccasin tops were like a flame of
fire so that when he went through the forest the Cottonwood Trees
would burn down. He would undo the flap of the moccasin when he
went to Windward and wave it back and forth over the ground; when
he tied it up again the flame ceased. This man feared the man from
Heaven lest he establish villages or take away his land or even
kill him, so he caused a Windstorm and set the Prairie on fire and
the flames charred the arrow here and there. Hence the name "Charred
Body" is derived. Since the arrow could not pull himself out,
he decided to make a spring; thus he loosened himself. So he decreed
that the spring would flow as long as the World would last; you
can see even today where the spring is.
Charred Body established thirteen lodges, First, he looked about
and found a good site and established one lodge, then another, until
he had thirteen built. Then he went back into the heavens and told
what had happened and how the old man with flame about the foot
had tried to kill him, how he had found the spring and how good
the game was. He made it sound so attractive. He said that he went
by the arrow and hence could take down only as many families as
there were parts to the arrow. He would take his nearest relatives
only, with their children. The groove at the end of the arrow to
put the string into was one lodge. The three feathers were regarded
as lodges; that made four. The two sinews bound about it were two
others, making six. The three points of the arrowhead were three
other lodges, making nine. The three grooves circling around the
arrow in a spiral made twelve. The arrow itself was the thirteenth;
there were thirteen lodges all told. The spiral is considered as
Lightning; hence the arrows power. If it does not come into contact
with a bone, it will penetrate the Buffalo right through.
He called his nearest relatives and embraced them, and in embracing
them he gave them the power of the arrow and encouraged them to
follow him. First, he went down, then all came after and he assigned
them lodges. When they first came down, the mysterious bodies down
there knew that he was also mysterious and tried to kill him, but
when he pulled himself out (of the hole made by the arrow point)
they knew that they had no power against him. Before coming down,
the People had made preparations and they brought seeds of corn,
beans and so forth and began to plant corn on the ground by the
river and to build scaffolds for drying the corn the meat. So they
lived happily for a long time. You can see today the remains of
their thirteen villages, but obscured by high water and the ploughing
farmers. I have heard that People have found arrowheads in the thirteen
After a number of years, First Creator happened to come to the
village. He asked some boys playing outside who was chief. They
showed him the way to the large lodge in the center which was Charred
Body's lodge. He asked Charred Body how he came there and Charred
Body told him. He said it was well and that he wished to make friends
with Charred Body; when there were two they could talk matters over
and act more effectively (than one), three were even better, but
two were strong. They must therefore love one another. So they became
friends, ate and talked together, and First Creator stayed in the
lodge several nights before he went on again.
When he came back, he reported that there was a big village East
of them whose chief had a beautiful daughter. It was the custom
in that village afternoon for the maidens to go along a wide path
to the river for water and for the men to line up along the path
and do their courting. The married women would go along the path
outside the row. When a young girl came opposite a man who like
her, he would clear his throat and if the girl liked him, it was
a good sign. The next day he would ask a drink, and if she gave
him a drink it was a better sign. So People took notice, and if
a girl gave a man a drink it became a matter of gossip, the parents
came together to find out whether the two were industrious and able
to run a household, and if everything was favorable, they were married.
Now the chief's daughter had a strong will and never looked at the
young men. When they tried to catch her eye she paid them no attention.
"Now, my friend," said First Creator, "You are handsome,
not too slender, too tall or too short. Your hair is long and beautiful.
No one could find a blemish upon you. You would certainly make a
hit with the girl, so lets go over and try our luck. If you can
get her and be a son-in-law to a great chief, you will be a renowned
So it was agreed, and when they came to the edge of the village
to a place where the moles had dug up a mound of earth, they began
to dress themselves up. Charred Body mixed the dirt with water and
daubed mud across his chin from ear to ear and upon his cheeks,
brought his hair together in a big pompadour in front and stuck
a plume in at the place where he tied it up. This feather the wind
waved to and fro. His robe he wore open with his bow and arrows
inside. Today we say of a person who combs his hair to the side
in a pompadour that "he wears his hair like Charred Body."
They went to a certain lodge in the village and were kindly received.
When First Creator told them who Charred Body was they said, "We
have heard about him and how he had a beautiful land in the skies
and liked the country down here." When he said that they had
come courting, the People said, "It is well." They went
down to the path by the river and stood opposite each other and
Coyote, which is another name for First Creator, said he would give
a signal when the chief's daughter came so that his friend would
pay no attention to the others. She came dressed in tanned white
Deerskin with a robe of Elkskin from which the hair had been scraped,
light and pliable as a plume. Charred Body stepped in front of her
and she swerved. He turned also and she swerved again. When he was
almost in front of her he said, "I wish to drink out of your
cup." She said, "What you have done is not according to
our custom; you should not have moved from the line but just cleared
your throat, and I shall give you no drink!" "Do you make
those streaks across your face in imitation of the charring?"
He was angry, took out his bow and arrows and, as she turned to
flee, shot her twice in the back and killed her. A tumult arose
and the two visitors fled back to the village.
Coyote warned Charred Body that he had done an evil deed and that
this would not be the end of it. The chief was not likely to sit
still and do nothing. He had owned the land before Charred Body
came there, and Charred Body must therefore build barricades and
protect himself. Charred Body paid little attention to him. "I
go by the arrow and it can pierce through them." he said. "Even
then, " said Coyote, "You are often out hunting, and while
you are away they may send out scouts and kill all in the village.
More than one village may combine against you. You may think that
you can fight them single-handed, but you have done a bad deed and
this will cause your mind to stray, and while it is occupied with
other things, they will overcome you. So whatever you do, don't
let anything distract your attention or you may be destroyed."
Day after day, Charred Body would go and sit on top of a hill where
he had a mound and look over in the direction of the village where
he had committed the crime. He told the young men to cut up sticks
for arrows and sort them out into bundles and put them under his
bed. When they came back, the sticks would be already made into
arrows. Soon all the young men were supplied. But he was always
in deep thought, first because of the crime he had committed and
second lest the village come against him. One day Coyote offered
to go over the village and find out what they were planning. He
said that it would take corn-balls and pemmican and spread them
on the outskirts of the village, and if anyone was wounded he would
give him the food and tell him it was Good Medicine for wounds.
He would pretend that he had left Charred Body because of his crime.
He met them on the way in such numbers as completely to surround
the village. All who had children remained. When he had passed them,
on the other side of the hill, he saw Meadowlark and sent him on
an errand to fly to Charred Body on his mound and tell him to prepare
four barricades as a great force was coming against him to avenge
his crime. Meadowlark carried the message, but as soon as Charred
Body got back to the village to prepare the barricades, he forgot
all about it. The enemy employed a Holy Man to make him forgetful;
the Holy Man raised his hand against him and Charred Body forgot
what was to happen. Three times Coyote sent Meadowlark with the
message, and three times Charred Body forgot it as soon as he reached
the village. The fourth time Meadowlark told him to make some sign
on his body to attract attention. Charred Body stuck a bunch of
grass in his hair and went back to the village. Again he forgot
the message. He went back to the lodge, but his head itched; he
told his wife to scratch his head, and she found the grass and said.
"This is the cause of your itching!" He gave a groan and
sent word to the People that the next day the enemy would come against
them; they must prepare a barricade, get arrows ready and be brave
even to death. He went out and cut Bog Brush, put them under his
bed and commanded it to turn to June Bushes. When he took it out,
it had become June Bush, and he peeled the bark and made more arrows.
Coyote (in the enemy's camp) said, "You have been sending
out scouts but their reports are not clear. I will go myself to
see what is going on." He started on a run, fell with his foot
out of joint, and claimed it was too painful to put in again and
that he was now too disabled to fight with them in the attack against
the village. He said, "Way down on the river they are performing
rites for Medicine, so I will go there and bring back corn-balls
and pemmican." He caused an announcement to be sounded at a
distance (He must been a ventriloquist) which said; "All you
who have Medicine Bags and Mysteries, come and join in this ceremony
to be performed."
He told them that he had an adopted son in the enemy's camp who
was Mysterious in battle. He could not be shot by an arrow and they
must keep away from him. "You will find him dressed with a
bladder covering his head daubed with white clay. His body will
have streaks lengthwise and crosswise. His quiver is a Coyote's
hide. He will wound many of you, but I will bring a hide for the
wounded to lie on and feed them corn-balls and pemmican." As
soon as he was out of sight, he threw away his crutch, set his foot
again, turned into a Coyote and ran around another way into the
village and became a man again. He asked after Charred Body and
learned that he was making arrows. But a weasel had just been in
to see Charred Body, and it had scattered and trampled arrows. Charred
Body had been angry and struck four times at the weasel; the fourth
time it ran out and Charred Body after it. "I told him whatever
happened, not allow anything to distract him!" said Coyote.
"But never mind, I am here. Don't turn into women!" Charred
Body's sister was at this time with child, and Coyote told her to
go inside a celler-hole, and he would cover her over so that she
would not be burned.
When the battle took place, there were four among the enemy's band
who had supernatural power. One had no head, but only a big mouth
from shoulder to shoulder into which he sucked his enemies; another
was an old woman with a basket which. whenever she turned, sucked
in People or birds of the air; a third was the man with the flaming
moccasins; a fourth was a Beaver (called Tail-With-A-Knife) whose
tail was sharp both sides. These four helped the enemy. Tail-With-A-Knife
chopped down the barricade, Flame-Around-His-Ankle encircled the
village and set it on fire. Coyote was in the thick of the battle
dressed as he had described. When he saw that all was lost, he disappeared
in a cloud of smoke.
Meanwhile, Charred Body was still chasing Yellow Weasel. It seems
that there was a transformation of the Earth so that Charred Body
found himself far to the North. Yellow Weasel said "Look back
and see your own village!" He looked and saw the smoke. He
wanted to get back as quickly as possible. His eyesight would be
too slow, for he would have to stop at the end of each sight, so
he used his thinking power, transformed himself into thought, and
wished himself back to his village. There he found the place in
Now after the battle, the enemy had withdrawn and were relating
their exploits. It seemed to them as if Coyote had fought in the
battle, and Coyote heard their word as he came limping back with
the hide, corn-balls and pemmican. An old bear was appointed to
discover whether Coyote had been in the battle. The way he did this
was to lift up his paw and put it on a person, then put his paw
to his nose and smell it. When Coyote entered, the paw was raise
to test him, but Coyote put a corn-ball into the paw, saying, "You
greedy fellow, you want this all to yourself!" then he had
the wounded brought in and laid upon the robe, and gave them corn-ball
and pemmican. He said, "However wounded you may be yourselves,
you have destroyed the village and enticed Charred Body away."
And he said, "These People were just like relatives to me,
and I want to go back there and walk through the place where young
men and maidens formally walked, and think about their sports and
laughter and mourn there for them." So they consented and he
went on his way.
Close to the village he saw Charred Body walking among the dead.
As was the custom in those days, Coyote walked up to him, put his
arm about his neck, and wept over him. Then he told him where he
had hidden the sister, and they went to the cellar to see if she
were alive. When they lifted up the hide she came out, but when
she saw the desolation of the village she wept and the men with
her. Coyote proposed that they have a lodge, to live in together.
He faced the North, raised both eyes, and he said, "I wish
for a lodge facing South furnished with bedding and all things necessary
and with a scaffold in front." When they opened their eyes,
there it stood just like Coyote had said. There was no food, so
Coyote said, "There is all kinds of food on the hoof; let us
go out and see what we can take." They followed up the creek
and killed Buffalo, cut it up, left the backbone, head and shoulders
and took the best pieces. The kidney, back-gut and liver they washed
to be eaten raw. These raw parts are considered a tonic today to
keep one from sickness. The woman at the lodge cooked for them.
She began to slice the meat and roast the ribs close to the fire
and they felt themselves at home once more.
After they had lived thus from day to day, bringing in game until
there was plenty, Coyote went away to the enemy's camp to see what
the People were doing, promising to return again. It is an old custom
with both Mandan and Gros Ventre that when a sister is alone in
the house, a brother must not enter out of respect to his sister.
Only if someone else is with her is it right for him to enter. Hence
Charred Body did not think it was right to stay alone with his sister,
so he went off hunting by day to bring in his choice bits of food
for her and told his sister on no account to let anyone into the
house if anyone should come round asking for at the door. "No
one can come in if you do not take out the crossbar," he said.
One day when he came back from hunting, he saw his sister outside
looking as if she were laughing, and he took the meat and waited
for her, but she did not come in.
This is what happened...........
While he was away on the hunt she had heard a voice crying, "Tuk,
tuk, tuk! my daughter, where can the door be?" She forgot that
her brother had told her and undid the door for the stranger. There
entered a headless monster. He said, "Place me on the West
side between the pillows." She said, "Grandfather, what
will you have to eat?" He said, "The best is the fat of
the stomach. When I eat this fat I must have a pregnant woman lie
on her back and then I place the hot fat upon her and eat in this
way." The woman was frightened and only half cooked it. He
held it himself to the fire, and the flames wrapped his hands but
he did not seem to feel it. He made her lie down on the floor and
place the hot fat upon her. The woman screamed and twins were born
and the woman died. The monster took one by the leg and threw it
into the center of the lodge and said, "Lodge center, make
this boy your slave!" The other he threw into the spring and
said, "Spring, take this child for yours!" Then he took
the door-posts which forked and set them outside and place the woman
against them and held out her lips with two sticks as if she were
laughing. Then he gathered up all the food and was gone.
When Charred Body knew that his sister was dead, he made a burial
scaffold for her and by means of a crude lattice he placed her body
upon it and cried bitterly. In the evening he came home and was
preparing an evening meal when he heard a wee voice from the center
of the lodge say, "Brother, give me something to eat."
Twice this happened; then he investigated. He cut up a splinter
and wrapped fat into it and, using a torch, he looked into the dark
spot from which the voice came and found a baby boy. He brought
the child to his knee. This was the child who called him "brother"
When Coyote drifted back, he found to his amazement that their
sister had been killed, and he mourned her loss. One day he said,
"Can't we do something for our brother here? Let us take this
baby up and wish that he grow to a certain height." This is
the song that Charred Body sang: First he took sweet grass and smoked
him; then he raised him up and sang, "I want my child to grow
high!" Coyote did the same. Charred Body raised him again and
sang and he became a boy of twelve. Coyote got up and raised him
and sang, "I want my brother to be the height of a man,"
and he became like a boy of eighteen. And at the same time, since
the boys were twins, the Spring-Boy attended the same height also.
Since the boy was now grown, he was left to look after the lodge
when the two went hunting, and every time this happened, Spring-Boy
came out and played with him. The name of the Lodge-Boy was A-tu-tish,
which means, "Near-the-edge-of-the-lodge" and Spring-Boy
was Ma-hash from Ma-ha, meaning "Spring" He was dark and
his brother was light and a little taller than Spring-Boy. The two
men kept Buffalo tongues strung up and wondered why they disappeared
so rapidly. "Are there two of you?" they asked, but the
boy denied it. They had to bite the tongue, and compared the mark
left by Spring-Boy's teeth, and they were different. At last, Lodge-Boy
confessed that he had known all the time what happened when his
mother was killed by the stranger and he was taken by the leg and
given to the edge of the wall as a slave, and his brother had been
thrown into the spring. The brother did not recall this. Spring-Boy
seems to have been a kind of maverick - he did not belong to anyone.
He had a long tusk and lived on water creatures and was influenced
by his wild life in the spring. If anyone tried to catch him, he
would tear him to pieces with his tusk. They arranged a plan to
catch him. The boys used to play with gambling sticks and a round
stone with a hole bored through. The men fixed up two Buffalo hides
as a kind of armor with a lace down the back to hold it tight. In
the game there was to be a dispute, and when the boy got down on
his knees to look and see if the ring lay on the stick, Lodge-Boy
was to jump on his back, tangle up his hair and thrust a stick to
which a bladder was fastened. If he ran for the spring, they would
catch him by the bladder. They then prepared a sweat lodge with
hot stones and water ready, and transformed themselves into arrowheads.
Spring-Boy came trotting up, quick and agile, and encircled the
lodge to see if there was anyone about. He complained of smelling
his brother, but Lodge-Boy told him that was because they had been
there before going out hunting. He came into the lodge and was surprised
to see the bladder; Lodge-Boy told him it was used to separated
the marrow from the bones. He asked about the sweat-bath and was
told it was for the men when they came home from hunting. They began
to play, and when Spring-Boy knelt down to see how the ring had
fallen, Lodge-Boy jumped upon him, wound his legs about his body,
and the two boys rolled on the ground, and Spring-Boy's tusk could
be heard snapping at his brother. The two men dashed in, dragged
him to the sweat-bath and began to switch him, crying, "What
kind of a person are you? You are a human being and you should behave
like one." Spring-Boy cried out, "I am coming to myself!"
They drew him out and examined his mouth, but the tusk still showed.
Three times they returned him to the bath and poured water and switched
his flesh; the fourth time the tusk disappeared and he lay exhausted.
So they fastened up his hair and thrust a stick through it, to which
the bladder was attached. The moment he was released he ran to the
spring and jumped in, but was unable to go under because of the
bladder. After the fourth time of trying to get under water, he
surrendered. They gave him water to drink, inserted two fingers
into his mouth, and he vomited up all the water creatures which
he had eaten and was restored to the ways of the men.
Now there were four occupants of the lodge. Several days passed
before Spring-Boy came entirely to his senses. The men he was accustomed
to call, "Your brothers" and one day he said, "I
wish you would tell your brothers to make bow and arrows, two painted
red and two black for me and the same for you." Lodge-Boy said,
"You always talk indirectly to our brothers, but we are twins.
We are from the Sky. There is a big village where we came from.
The chief is Long-Arm and he knows everything that is going on and
is called a Holy Man. When our brother Charred Body wanted to come
down here to this Earth, he asked permission, and although Long-Arm
said neither yes nor no, he took it upon himself to come down here,
and this had led to the destruction of all our relatives. But the
Holy Man knows what is going on below there. Our brother and Coyote
went courting and our brother killed the chief's daughter. So there
was a fight, but our brother Coyote stowed our mother away in a
cellar, and I knew all these things that were going on. One of the
formidable men who took part in the fight was a monster with no
head but a big mouth from shoulder to shoulder who lives around
the bend of the creek. He killed our mother, and I knew all about
it and thought that you did too." Spring-Boy said that through
living in the spring, he had forgotten all these things. The arrows
he had asked for the men made for the boys. Then they went through
a ceremonial and Spring-Boy said that these arrows, one painted
black and one red for each boy, were to be kept sacred and used
in an emergency, and they were to have other arrows for daily use.
One day as they walked near their mother's grave, Spring-Boy proposed
that they use the sacred arrows to bring their mother to life. The
two brothers had watched the arrow rite. When the two hunters had
gone out before sunrise, they took down the arrows from the quiver,
burned sweet grass and sang the arrow song. They did the same for
the bow, resting one end of the bow on Buffalo bull manure while
they strung it. Then they went out where their mother lay. Spring-Boy
placed one arrow in position, sang the arrow song and let it fly.
They could see it go up into the sky like a streak of flame. As
it fell the boys cried, "Mother! Mother! Look out! The arrow
is going to hit you!" The figure began to move. Spring-Boy
sent the third arrow, and this time mother sat up. Lodge-Boy shot
the fourth arrow and the mother yawned and stretched her arms. She
said, "I must have slept a long time; I feel tired." The
boy set up a ladder to the scaffold and the mother came down to
embrace them and said, "My spirit remained here and was about
to return to my People when you sent the arrow. You are motherless
and it is a joy that you have done this for me and my spirit has
returned to my body." When they returned to the lodge, she
noticed at once how the meat was cut in strings, not in the nice
flat pieces that a woman is accustomed to cut. So she ate a hearty
meal. In time came Charred Body and Coyote home from hunting, and
as Charred Body threw down his pack he recognized his sister and
they all cried for joy, and she told him how her spirit had pitied
the children and had lingered about until it had been restored to
her body by means of the sacred arrows.
Charred Body warned the boys that although they had more supernatural
power than he did, they must never lie down to take a nap without
setting four arrows in the ground, one at each of the four directions,
and lying within the arrows with the head resting to the North or
to the West (for even the ordinary person should never rest his
head South or to the East) and they must place their moccasins to
point to the West, not toward the East, because all spirits go to
the East. Among Mandan and Gros Ventre a dead person is always placed
with the head to the East.
On day the boys went out to survey the country and they came to
an old man who they knew to be Flame-Around-The-Ankle. They stood
side-by-side and asked him to give them a demonstration of his power.
He loosened the strings of his moccasin, let the flap fall, and
they saw flames leaping. They asked him to run about a cottonwood
tree; he trotted about the tree; he trotted about it in a circle
and the tree fell over in flames. Spring-Boy asked to try the moccasin.
"Surely you may!" He ran about a tree, then back to his
brother, and then all at once he circled the old man and burned
him to ashes. Then the boys ran shouting and laughing home to their
mother pretending that Flames was chasing them.
Again the boys wandered out, and as they followed up the creek,
Lodge-Boy said, "Brother, right in that dense timber on the
side of the hill lives the monster without a head who carried his
mouth on his shoulders. Let us go over and have a look at him!"
They approached cautiously; then turning into Chickadees, they flew
over the monster's den and, perching on a tree, began to call. They
filled a water bag made out of a Buffalo paunch and had a heated
stone red-hot and caused it to shrink so that they could carry it
in the curve of a stick. They first got a big stone, then went into
their Mysteries and rubbed it until it became small. To this day,
when we heat a stone red-hot for the sweat-bath we call it "The
Chickadees' stone." When the monster came out and opened his
mouth to swallow them, they dropped the hot stone. As it went down
his gullet, he thought, It must be their claws that scratch so!
"Enlarge, enlarge!" called the boys to the stone. He snatched
the water-bag to drink and they said, "Enlarge yourself and
hold more water!" The water began to boil in his stomach and
the monster burst. The boys burned up his lodge, skinned him and
placed the skin on Spring-Boy and ran back to the lodge as if the
monster were after them. Its body was black; it had two tails and
claws like a wildcat's. The mother was so delighted with the victory
that she danced with joy, so from that time they dance when one
wins a victory, generally the women but sometimes both women and
There was another mysterious spot where an old woman sucked People
into a basket hung upon a post. They asked her to demonstrate her
power. The woman was afraid of them, knowing they had supernatural
power. A flock of birds was passing; she waved her basket to and
fro and then to the side, and brought down the birds into the basket.
Spring-Boy asked her to let him try. He took the basket, waved it
as the old woman had done, and drew the woman into the basket. Thus
he killed her. Great was the joy of their mother when he brought
her home dead in the basket.
All those Mysterious beings lived in the vicinity of Turtle Creek,
which the People called Charred Body Creek, just about a couple
of miles from Washburn.
Some time later the boys heard about the Beaver-With-Tail-Like-A-Knife,
who could tear open the Earth with a blow. Even today you can see
where his tail struck the Earth; it looks something like a shell-hole.
The Beaver had sharp ears, but the boys laid in wait for him and
Lodge-Boy shot an arrow through his head as if it were a big pumpkin.
When the Beaver was dead they cut off his tail and brought it home.
These were the beings who lived about Washburn and had allied themselves
with the enemy. There might be others living at a distance, but
those who lived near were all destroyed. So their mother's brothers
urged them to attempt no more such exploits, and the boys agreed
that their mother's safety was now assured. The wished, however,
to wander further into the country, so they told their mother not
to worry if they did not return and took their leave.
While all this was going on down below, the People in the Sky became
uneasy lest the boys who had killed so many Mysterious beings below
come up to the Sky and kill them. So they held a council and asked
Long-Arm to bring Spring-Boy, who was dark and reckless, up into
the Sky and put him to death. Long-Arm told them he saw nothing
wrong with the boys and did not wish their death. They belonged
to their own People. The father and mother had had hard treatment
and they avenged themselves justly. But the People cried out all
the more against Spring-Boy and Long-Arm accordingly used his magic
power to throw the boys into a sleep in the moon. That is the origin
of daytime napping. The boys grew sleepy and, remembering their
brother's instruction, they set up the arrows and placed their moccasins
Westward with the bow and arrow beside them and went to sleep. Sun
cast his direct rays upon them, making them sleepy. Then Long-Arm
reached down to Earth to where Spring-Boy lay and picked him up
and carried him up into the air.
The People arranged for Spring-Boy's death. They dug a hole and
the chief bade them set up a tree there with forked branches, but
all feared to cut the tree lest Spring-Boy come out alive and destroy
the one who cut it down. They tried to persuade the woman to cut
it, but they said, "If you are afraid, how much more should
we weak women fear!" Then the chief decreed that a hermaphrodite
should cut the three on which Spring-Boy was to be hung. As soon
as Long-Arm brought Spring-Boy up, the People rushed upon him and
beat him until he was nearly dead. They had already prepared the
form of death he was to die. A rawhide was stretched across the
arms of the crotch and wound around the tree while it was wet; when
dry it was much tighter. The boy's arms were lanced next to the
bone and his feet through the cords and rawhide strips were run
through and brought right around the tree so that they hung by wrists
and feet. After he was securely tied, they raised the tree and set
it forth into the hole. They had put an Antelope hide, tanned soft,
about his waist so that it hung below the knee, this on account
of the number of women present. Over the tree they erected a kind
of bower, the cross-pieces of which were inserted into the rawhide
at the top of the tree. The hole was covered in leaves. All this
time the boy said nothing, but now he spoke: "I have been delivered
into your hands and I do not think evil of you, for my mother was
one of you and I do not wish to destroy you. If this were done by
an enemy it would not be strange, but as you are my own People,
it does not seem right for you to cause me this agony. But you need
not fear me." The People did not answer; they could not accuse
him of nothing. (Today they do not put up a man, but kill a Buffalo
and cut a strip along the back leaving the tail and raise it as
if the Buffalo were angry and on the other end they put the Buffalo
skull without the horns and hang this up to represent the Buffalo.
They set up a bower about it and gather up the earth into a ridge
on the North side and stick bog bush into it, beginning at each
end leaving a place vacant between. They use to leave this space
so that when the boy died his body could be laid down. Today they
lay there the sacred Weasel or other Animals used in the ceremony.
To the ridge of the West side sits the Holy Man in a robe worn hair
For three days Spring-Boy hung on the tree, then he began to get
weary. Now when Lodge-Boy awoke from sleep he could not see his
twin brother, he was alarmed and, taking the shape of flaming arrow,
he flew over the Earth even to both sides of the Ocean, calling
the name of Spring-Boy and, finding nothing, he returned to the
place from which his brother had vanished. There he lay looking
up into the sky, when he saw a streak of light at the point where
Spring-Boy had been taken through. Flying through the air he entered
at the same place and saw that the land was empty where all the
multitudes had flocked after Spring-Boy. So he changed himself into
a little boy with shaggy, uncombed hair and a big belly, who was
nevertheless old enough to talk, and followed the People to the
field where they massed about the bower. At the edge of the field
was a lodge in which an old woman was sitting. He asked her for
food and the old woman adopted him as a grandson; he waited upon
her and she was glad. All this time they could hear singing going
on in the bower. He said, "Grandmother, what is going on there?"
So she related the whole story of Charred Body's descent to Earth
and his crime and how the People feared the boys and especially
Spring-Boy because he was dark of color and reckless and how they
had cut a tree and what Spring-Boy had said about his own People
destroying him. "This is the third day and night and tomorrow
at noon they will place his body on the ridge of the bower,"
she said, and she told him how they danced in the morning, at noon
and in the evening and sang ten songs in rotation, and how they
could not stop dancing until the ten songs were sung or extend the
dance beyond them. For a drum they used a long rawhide without hair
which they beat with sticks, and the dancers whistled to the rhythm
of the song. The best singers beat with sticks on four small round
drums of wood covered with string on one side like a tambourine,
which were to indicate the four nights of the dance. It was difficult
to remember the order of the songs correctly. These four led the
singing and the whole society must sing with the leader.
So the little boy asked the women to take him to the bower. At
the door she picked him up so that he could see and asked the People
to make way for her and her grandchild. They were singing a song
and dancing with whistles in their mouths and shouting to the man
on the tree, "Be a man for one day more," As Spring-Boy
looked about and saw his brother, a light shone about his head and
he began to move and stretch as if he had been strengthened. Lodge-Boy,
fearing he would be recognized, begged the old woman to take him
outside. That evening they heard again the sound of songs and dancing.
An announcer came through the village warning the young men and
maidens not to sleep that night, but to keep watch lest Lodge-Boy
come to his brother's rescue, for the Holy Man thought when he saw
the light that Spring-Boy's brother must have come there to strengthen
him. "My grandchild, did you hear what he was saying? He says
Lodge-Boy is here!" said the grandmother. There she was, speaking
to Lodge-Boy in person!
Rows of People slept at the bower to watch the place. When the
old woman was snoring, the boy got up, took some Buffalo fat and
went over to the place. Some slept, others were talking and moving
about. It seemed impossible to reach his brother. He changed himself
into a great Spider and crawled up to the post where his brother
was. With the fat he greased his wounds, then he cut the thongs
and the came down to the ground. There he found a stone hatchet
with eyes, the very one used to cut the pole, and the Holy Man knew
all about it but could do nothing because the two together were
too powerful for him. Long-Arm went and placed his hand over the
hole by which they passed through so as to catch them. Spring-Boy
made a motion with the hatchet as if to cut it off the wrist and
said, "This is the second time your hand has committed a crime,
and it shall be a sign to the People on Earth." So it is today
that we see the hand in the heavens. Some People call it Orion.
The belt is where they cut across the wrist: the thumb and fingers
also show; they are hanging down like a hand. "The Hand Star"
it is called.
The boys went back to the place where they had left the arrows
sticking in the ground, pulled out the arrows. and went home to
their mother. She told them that the People in the sky where like
birds; they could fly about as they pleased. Since the opening was
made in the heavens, they may come down to Earth. If a person lives
well on Earth, his spirit takes flight to the skies and is able
to come back again and be reborn, but if he is evil, he will wander
about the Earth and never leave it for the skies. A baby born with
a slit in the ear at the place where earrings are hung is such a
reborn child from the People in the skies.
While the People sang and danced about Spring-Boy in the bower,
he had ten songs learned and he instituted the ceremony on Earth
in order to get power from the skies. In place of a man's body he
told them to use a Buffalo skin. They should hang themselves at
the wrist and tied cords to their bodies and suspend the cords to
the nose of the Buffalo skull and hang there just as he had been
suspended. He said, "The person who performs the ceremony in
memory of me may have the picture of the Sun on his chest and the
half moon on his back. The Sun causes things to grow and the moon
causes the moisture. Since I have named the Buffalo hide as my own
body, the Buffalo shall range where People are. In regard to the
tree, the maidens of the village must be examined, and one who is
a virgin shall cut down the tree and a young man, brave and unblemished,
shall help her haul the tree to the dance place. In course of time
they shall marry and their seed multiply so that the People may
live and not go out of existence."
The Gros Ventre (Hidatsa) People have believed in those rites.
You can see where I have lanced across the chest in those ceremonies.
They took hold of the flesh, lanced it through with a sharp knife
and thrust a Juneberry stick cut about four inches long and wet
with saliva through the lance-thrust and tied it with buckskin so
that it would not slip off, then pushed back the chest. It hurt
at first but not later. As I ran around (after being suspended to
the tree) my feet would leave the Earth and I was suspended in air.
Above my head I heard sounds like those made by Spirits and I believed
them to be the Spirits of my helpers.
The chief celebrant at these ceremonies has usually killed an enemy.
He cuts off the hand, brings it home, skins it, removes the bones
and fills it with sand. After it dies he empties out the sand and
wears it at the back of the neck where it flaps up and down at the
back and a white Antelope hide about his loins just as Spring-Boy
wore it. Every night he uses the ridge of earth as a pillow. Since
Spring-Boy hung on a tree for three days, and it took a fourth to
escape back to the lodge, the ceremony lasts four days. The men
lanced have to fast. The man who sleeps with his head on the ridge
is naked and sage is strewn. The ceremony is called the Sundance
in some tribes, but among the Hidatsa it is the "Hide-Beating"
The boys were worried for their mother's safety and the mother
for that of the boys, so they sent the two older men and the mother
to join the People in the sky and take back the hatchet and give
it to the owner. The boys promised their mother to stay below and
help the People on Earth in spirit as long as the world lasted and
at the end of the world she would see them again. The greasing of
Spring-Boy's wounds by Lodge-Boy was the origin of the use of grease
and tallow to heal wounds.
Native American Legends
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