Native American Legends
Origin of the Sweat Lodge
A Blackfoot Legend
The Piegan tribe was southernmost at the headwaters of the Missouri
River in Montana, a subtribe belonging to the Siksika Indians of
North Saskatchewan in Canada. Piegans were of the Algonquian linguistic
family, but warlike toward most of their neighboring tribes, since
they had horses for raiding and were supplied with guns and ammunition
by their Canadian sources. Piegans also displayed hostility toward
explorers and traders. Several smallpox epidemics decimated their
population. Now they are gathered on reservations on both sides
of the border.
A girl of great beauty, the Chief's daughter, was worshipped by
many young handsome men of the Piegan tribe. But she would not have
any one of them for her husband.
One young tribesman was very poor and his face was marked with
an ugly scar. Although he saw rich and handsome men of his tribe
rejected by the Chief's daughter, he decided to find out if she
would have him for her husband. When she laughed at him for even
asking, he ran away toward the south in shame.
After traveling several days, he dropped to the ground, weary and
hungry, and fell asleep. From the heavens, Morning-Star looked down
and pitied the young unfortunate youth, knowing his trouble.
To Sun and Moon, his parents, Morning-Star said, "There is
a poor young man lying on the ground with no one to help him. I
want to go after him for a companion."
"Go and get him," said his parents.
Morning-Star carried the young man, Scarface, into the sky. Sun
said, "Do not bring him into my lodge yet, for he smells ill.
Build four sweat lodges."
When this was done, Sun led Scarface into the first sweat lodge.
He asked Morning-Star to bring a hot coal on a forked stick. Sun
then broke off a bit of sweet grass and placed it upon the hot coal.
As the incense arose Sun began to sing, "Old Man is coming
in with his body; it is sacred," repeating it four times.
Sun passed his hands back and forth through the smoke and rubbed
them over the face, left arm, and side of Scarface. Sun repeated
the ceremony on the boy's right side, purifying him and removing
the odors of earthly people.
Sun took Scarface into the other three sweat lodges, performing
the same healing ceremony. The body of Scarface changed color and
he shone like a yellow light.
Using a soft feather, Sun brushed it over the youth's face, magically
wiping away the scar. With a final touch to the young man's long,
yellow hair, Sun caused him to look exactly like Morning-Star. The
two young men were led by Sun into his own lodge and placed side
by side in the position of honor.
"Old Woman," called the father. "Which is your son?"
Moon pointed to Scarface, "That one is our son."
"You do not know your own child," answered Sun.
"He is not our son. We will call him Mistaken-for-Morning-Star,"
as they all laughed heartily at the mistake.
The two boys were together constantly and became close companions.
One day, they were on an adventure when Morning-Star pointed out
some large birds with very long, sharp beaks.
"Foster-Brother, I warn you not to go near those dangerous
creatures," said Morning-Star. "They killed my other brothers
with their beaks."
Suddenly the birds chased the two boys. Morning-Star fled toward
his home, but Foster-Brother stopped, picking up a club and one
by one struck the birds dead.
Upon reaching home, Morning-Star excitedly reported to his father
what had happened. Sun made a victory song honoring the young hero.
In gratitude for saving Morning-Star's life, Sun gave him the forked
stick for lifting hot embers and a braid of sweet grass to make
incense. These sacred elements necessary for making the sweat lodge
ceremony were a gift of trust.
"And this my sweat lodge I give to you," said the Sun.
Mistaken-for-Morning-Star observed very carefully how it was constructed,
in his mind preparing himself to one day returning to earth.
When Scarface did arrive at his tribal village, all of his people
gathered to see the handsome young man in their midst. At first,
they did not recognize him as Scarface.
"I have been in the sky," he told them. "Behold
me, Morning-Star looks just like this. The Sun gave me these things
used in the sweat lodge healing ceremony. That is how I lost my
Scarface explained how the forked stick and sweet grass were used.
Then he set to work showing his people how to make the sweat lodge.
This is how the first medicine sweat lodge was built upon earth
by the Piegan tribe.
Now that Scarface was so very handsome and brought such a great
blessing of healing to his tribe, the Chief's beautiful daughter
became his wife.
In remembrance of Sun's gift to Scarface and his tribe, the Piegans
always make the sweat lodge healing ceremony an important part of
their annual Sun Dance Celebration.
Origin Of The Medicine Lodge
In the earliest times there was no war. All the tribes were at
peace. In those days there was a man who had a daughter, a very
beautiful girl. Many young men wanted to marry her, but every time
she was asked, she only shook her head and said she did not want
"How is this?" asked her father. "Some of these
young men are rich, handsome, and brave."
"Why should I marry?" replied the girl. "I have
a rich father and mother. Our lodge is good. The parfleches are
never empty. There are plenty of tanned robes and soft furs for
winter. Why worry me, then?"
The Raven Bearers held a dance; they all dressed carefully and
wore their ornaments, and each one tried to dance the best. Afterwards
some of them asked for this girl, but still she said no. Then the
Bulls, the Kit-foxes, and others of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi held their
dances, and all those who were rich, many great warriors, asked
this man for his daughter, but to every one of them she said no.
Then her father was angry, and said: "Why, now, this way? All
the best men have asked for you, and still you say no. I believe
you have a secret lover."
"Ah!" said her mother. "What shame for us should
a child be born and our daughter still unmarried!" "Father,
mother!" replied the girl, "pity me. I have no secret
lover, but now hear the truth. That Above Person, the Sun, told
me, 'Do not marry any of those men, for you are mine; thus you shall
be happy, and live to great age'; and again he said, 'Take heed.
You must not marry. You are mine.'"
"Ah!" replied her father. "It must always be as
he says." And they talked no more about it.
There was a poor young man, very poor. His father, mother, all
his relations, had gone to the Sand Hills. He had no lodge, no wife
to tan his robes or sew his moccasins. He stopped in one lodge today,
and tomorrow he ate and slept in another; thus he lived. He was
a good-looking young man, except that on his cheek he had a scar,
and his clothes were always old and poor.
After those dances some of the young men met this poor Scarface,
and they laughed at him, and said: "Why don't you ask that
girl to marry you? You are so rich and handsome!" Scarface
did not laugh; he replied: "Ah! I will do as you say. I will
go and ask her." All the young men thought this was funny.
They laughed a great deal. But Scarface went down by the river.
He waited by the river, where the women came to get water, and by
and by the girl came along. "Girl," he said, "wait.
I want to speak with you. Not as a designing person do I ask you,
but openly where the Sun looks down, and all may see."
"Speak then," said the girl.
"I have seen the days," continued the young man "You
have refused those who are young, and rich, and brave. Now, today,
they laughed and said to me, 'Why do you not ask her?' I am poor,
very poor. I have no lodge, no food, no clothes, no robes and warm
furs. I have no relations; all have gone to the Sand Hills; yet,
now, today, I ask you, take pity, be my wife."
The girl hid her face in her robe and brushed the ground with the
point of her moccasin, back and forth, back and forth; for she was
thinking. After a time she said: "True. I have refused all
those rich young men, yet now the poor one asks me, and I am glad.
I will be your wife, and my people will be happy. You are poor,
but it does not matter. My father will give you dogs. My mother
will make us a lodge. My people will give us robes and furs. You
will be poor no longer."
&nsbsp; Then the young man was happy, and he started to kiss
her, but she held him back, and said: "Wait! The Sun has spoken
to me. He says I may not marry; that I belong to him. He says if
I listen to him, I shall live to great age. But now I say: Go to
the Sun. Tell him, 'She whom you spoke with heeds your words. She
has never done wrong, but now she wants to marry. I want her for
my wife.' Ask him to take that scar from your face. That will be
his sign. I will know he is pleased. But if he refuses, or if you
fail to find his lodge, then do not return to me."
"Oh!" cried the young man, "at first your words
were good. I was glad. But now it is dark. My heart is dead. Where
is that far-off lodge? where the trail, which no one yet has traveled?"
"Take courage, take courage!" said the girl; and she
went to her lodge.
Scarface was very sad. He sat down and covered his head with his
robe and tried to think what to do. After a while he got up, and
went to an old woman who had been kind to him. "Pity me,"
he said. "I am very poor. I am going away now on a long journey.
Make me some moccasins."
"Where are you going?" asked the old woman. "There
is no war; we are very peaceful here."
"I do not know where I shall go," replied Scarface. "I
am in trouble, but I cannot tell you now what it is."
So the old woman made him some moccasins, seven pairs, with parfleche
soles, and also she gave him a sack of food, pemmican of berries,
pounded meat, and dried back fat; for this old woman had a good
heart. She liked the young man.
All alone, and with a sad heart, he climbed the bluffs and stopped
to take a last look at the camp. He wondered if he would ever see
his sweetheart and the people again. " Hai'-yu! Pity me, O
Sun," he prayed, and turning, he started to find the trail.
For many days he traveled on, over great prairies, along timbered
rivers and among the mountains, and every day his sack of food grew
lighter; but he saved it as much as he could, and ate berries, and
roots, and sometimes he killed an animal of some kind. One night
he stopped by the home of a wolf. "Hai-yah!" said that
one; "what is my brother doing so far from home?"
"Ah!" replied Scarface, "I seek the place where
the Sun lives; I am sent to speak with him."
"I have traveled far," said the wolf. "I know all
the prairies, the valleys, and the mountains, but I have never seen
the Sun's home. Wait; I know one who is very wise. Ask the bear.
He may tell you."
The next day the man traveled on again, stopping now and then to
pick a few berries, and when night came he arrived at the bear's
"Where is your home?" asked the bear. "Why are you
traveling alone, my brother?"
"Help me! Pity me!" replied the young man; "because
of her words I seek the Sun. I go to ask him for her."
"I know not where he stops," replied the bear. "I
have traveled by many rivers, and I know the mountains, yet I have
never seen his lodge. There is some one beyond, that striped-face,
who is very smart. Go and ask him."
The badger was in his hole. Stooping over, the young man shouted:
"Oh, cunning striped-face! Oh, generous animal! I wish to speak
"What do you want?" said the badger, poking his head
out of the hole.
"I want to find the Sun's home," replied Scarface. "I
want to speak with him."
"I do not know where he lives," replied the badger. "I
never travel very far. Over there in the timber is a wolverine.
He is always traveling around, and is of much knowledge. Maybe he
can tell you."
Then Scarface went to the woods and looked all around for the wolverine,
but could not find him. So he sat down to rest "Hai'-yu! Hai'-yu!"
he cried. "Wolverine, take pity on me. My food is gone, my
moccasins worn out. Now I must die."
"What is it, my brother?" he heard, and looking around,
he saw the animal sitting near.
"She whom I would marry," said Scarface, "belongs
to the Sun; I am trying to find where he lives, to ask him for her."
"Ah!" said the wolverine. "I know where he lives.
Wait; it is nearly night. Tomorrow I will show you the trail to
the big water. He lives on the other side of it."
Early in the morning, the wolverine showed him the trail, and Scarface
followed it until he came to the water's edge. He looked out over
it, and his heart almost stopped. Never before had any one seen
such a big water. The other side could not be seen, and there was
no end to it. Scarface sat down on the shore. His food was all gone,
his moccasins worn out. His heart was sick. "I cannot cross
this big water," he said. "I cannot return to the people.
Here, by this water, I shall die."
Not so. His Helpers were there. Two swans came swimming up to the
shore. "Why have you come here?" they asked him. "What
are you doing? It is very far to the place where your people live."
"I am here," replied Scarface, "to die. Far away,
in my country, is a beautiful girl. I want to marry her, but she
belongs to the Sun. So I started to find him and ask for her. I
have traveled many days. My food is gone. I cannot go back. I cannot
cross this big water, so I am going to die."
"No," said the swans; "it shall not be so. Across
this water is the home of that Above Person. Get on our backs, and
we will take you there."
Scarface quickly arose. He felt strong again. He waded out into
the water and lay down on the swans' backs, and they started off.
Very deep and black is that fearful water. Strange people live there,
mighty animals which often seize and drown a person. The swans carried
him safely, and took him to the other side. Here was a broad hard
trail leading back from the water's edge.
"Kyi" said the swans. "You are now close to the
Sun's lodge. Follow that trail, and you will soon see it."
Scarface started up the trail, and pretty soon he came to some
beautiful things, lying in it. There was a war shirt, a shield,
and a bow and arrows. He had never seen such pretty weapons; but
he did not touch them. He walked carefully around them, and traveled
on. A little way further on, he met a young man, the handsomest
person he had ever seen. His hair was very long, and he wore clothing
made of strange skins. His moccasins were sewn with bright colored
feathers. The young man said to him, "Did you see some weapons
lying on the trail?"
"Yes," replied Scarface; "I saw them."
"But did you not touch them?" asked the young man.
"No; I thought some one had left them there, so I did not
"You are not a thief," said the young man. "What
is your name?"
"Where are you going?"
"To the Sun."
"My name," said the young man, "is A-pi-su'-ahts.
The Sun is my father; come, I will take you to our lodge. My father
is not now at home, but he will come in at night."
Soon they came to the lodge. It was very large and handsome; strange
medicine animals were painted on it. Behind, on a tripod, were strange
weapons and beautiful clothes the Sun's. Scarface was ashamed to
go in, but Morning Star said, "Do not be afraid, my friend;
we are glad you have come."
They entered. One person was sitting there, Ko-ko-mik'-e-is, the
Sun's wife, Morning Star's mother. She spoke to Scarface kindly,
and gave him something to eat. "Why have you come so far from
your people?" she asked.
Then Scarface told her about the beautiful girl he wanted to marry.
"She belongs to the Sun," he said. "I have come to
ask him for her."
When it was time for the Sun to come home, the Moon hid Scarface
under a pile of robes. As soon as the Sun got to the doorway, he
stopped, and said, "I smell a person."
"Yes, father," said Morning Star; "a good young
man has come to see you. I know he is good, for he found some of
my things on the trail and did not touch them."
Then Scarface came out from under the robes, and the Sun entered
and sat down. "I am glad you have come to our lodge,"
he said. "Stay with us as long as you think best. My son is
lonesome sometimes; be his friend."
The next day the Moon called Scarface out of the lodge, and said
to him: "Go with Morning Star where you please, but never hunt
near that big water; do not let him go there. It is the home of
great birds which have long sharp bills; they kill people. I have
had many sons, but these birds have killed them all. Morning Star
is the only one left."
So Scarface stayed there a long time and hunted with Morning Star.
One day they came near the water, and saw the big birds.
"Come," said Morning Star; "let us go and kill those
"No, no!" replied Scarface; "we must not go there.
Those are very terrible birds; they will kill us."
Morning Star would not listen. He ran towards the water, and Scarface
followed. He knew that he must kill the birds and save the boy.
If not, the Sun would be angry and might kill him. He ran ahead
and met the birds, which were coming towards him to fight, and killed
every one of them with his spear: not one was left. Then the young
men cut off their heads, and carried them home. Morning Star's mother
was glad when they told her what they had done, and showed her the
birds' heads. She cried, and called Scarface "my son."
When the Sun came home at night, she told him about it, and he too
was glad. "My son," he said to Scarface, "I will
not forget what you have this day done for me. Tell me now, what
can I do for you?"
"Hai'-yu" replied Scarface. "Hai'-yu, pity me. I
am here to ask you for that girl. I want to marry her. I asked her,
and she was glad; but she says you own her, that you told her not
"What you say is true," said the Sun. "I have watched
the days, so I know it. Now, then, I give her to you; she is yours.
I am glad she has been wise. I know she has never done wrong. The
Sun pities good women. They shall live a long time. So shall their
husbands and children. Now you will soon go home. Let me tell you
something. Be wise and listen: I am the only chief. Everything is
mine. I made the earth, the mountains, prairies, rivers, and forests.
I made the people and all the animals. This is why I say I alone
am the chief. I can never die. True, the winter makes me old and
weak, but every summer I grow young again."
Then said the Sun: "What one of all animals is smartest? The
raven is, for he always finds food. He is never hungry. Which one
of all the animals is most Nat-o'-ye? The buffalo is. Of all animals,
I like him best. He is for the people. He is your food and your
shelter. What part of his body is sacred? The tongue is. That is
mine. What else is sacred? Berries are. They are mine too. Come
with me and see the world." He took Scarface to the edge of
the sky, and they looked down and saw it. It is round and flat,
and all around the edge is the jumping-off place [or walls straight
down]. Then said the Sun: "When any man is sick or in danger,
his wife may promise to build me a lodge, if he recovers. If the
woman is pure and true, then I will be pleased and help the man.
But if she is bad, if she lies, then I will be angry. You shall
build the lodge like the world, round, with walls, but first you
must build a sweat house of a hundred sticks. It shall be like the
sky [a hemisphere], and half of it shall be painted red. That is
me. The other half you will paint black. That is the night."
Further said the Sun: "Which is the best, the heart or the
brain? The brain is. The heart often lies, the brain never."
Then he told Scarface everything about making the Medicine Lodge,
and when he had finished, he rubbed a powerful medicine on his face,
and the scar disappeared. Then he gave him two raven feathers, saying:
"These are the sign for the girl, that I give her to you. They
must always be worn by the husband of the woman who builds a Medicine
The young man was now ready to return home. Morning Star and the
Sun gave him many beautiful presents. The Moon cried and kissed
him, and called him "my son." Then the Sun showed him
the short trail. It was the Wolf Road (Milky Way). He followed it,
and soon reached the ground.
It was a very hot day. All the lodge skins were raised, and the
people sat in the shade. There was a chief, a very generous man,
and all day long people kept coming to his lodge to feast and smoke
with him. Early in the morning this chief saw a person sitting out
on a butte near by, close wrapped in his robe. The chief's friends
came and went, the sun reached the middle, and passed on, down towards
the mountains. Still this person did not move. When it was almost
night, the chief said: "Why does that person sit there so long?
The heat has been strong, but he has never eaten nor drunk. He may
be a stranger; go and ask him in."
So some young men went up to him, and said: "Why do you sit
here in the great heat all day? Come to the shade of the lodges.
The chief asks you to feast with him."
Then the person arose and threw off his robe, and they were surprised.
He wore beautiful clothes. His bow, shield, and other weapons were
of strange make. But they knew his face, although the scar was gone,
and they ran ahead, shouting, "The scarface poor young man
has come. He is poor no longer. The scar on his face is gone."
All the people rushed out to see him. "Where have you been?"
they asked. "Where did you get all these pretty things?"
He did not answer. There in the crowd stood that young woman; and
taking the two raven feathers from his head, he gave them to her,
and said: "The trail was very long, and I nearly died, but
by those Helpers, I found his lodge. He is glad. He sends these
feathers to you. They are the sign."
Great was her gladness then. They were married, and made the first
Medicine Lodge, as the Sun had said. The Sun was glad. He gave them
great age. They were never sick. When they were very old, one morning,
their children said: "Awake! Rise and eat." They did not
move. In the night, in sleep, without pain, their shadows had departed
for the Sand Hills.
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