Native American Legends
Spotted Eagle and Black Crow
A White River Sioux Legend
Many lifetimes ago there lived two braves warriors. One was named
Wanblee Gleshka, Spotted Eagle. The other was Kangi Sapa, Black
They were friends but, as it happened, were also in love with the
same girl, Zintkala Luta Win - Red Bird. She was beautiful as well
as accomplished in tanning and quill-work, and she liked Spotted
Eagle best, which made Black Crow unhappy and jealous.
Black Crow went to his friend and said: "Let's go on a war
party against the Pahani. We'll get ourselves some fine horses and
earn eagle feathers."
"Good idea," said Spotted Eagle, and the two young men
purified themselves in a sweat bath. They got out their war medicine
and their shields, painted their faces, and did all that warriors
should do before a raid. Then they rode out against the Pahani.
The raid did not go well. The Pahani were watchful, and the young
warriors could not get near the herd. Not only did they fail to
capture any ponies, they even lost their own mounts while they were
trying to creep up to the enemy's herd.
Spotted Eagle and Black Crow had a hard time escaping on foot because
the Pahani were searching for them everywhere.
At one time the two had to hide underwater in a lake and breathe
through long, hollow reeds which were sticking up above the surface.
But at least they were clever at hiding, and the Pahani finally
gave up the hunt.
Traveling on foot made the trip home a long one. Their moccasins
were tattered, their feet bleeding. At last they came to a high
cliff. "Let's go up there," said Black Crow, "and
find out whether the enemy is following us."
Clambering up, they looked over the countryside and saw that no
one was on their trail. But on a ledge far below them they spied
a nest with two young eagles in it. "Let's get those eagles,
at least," Black Crow said.
There was no way to climb down the sheer rock wall, but Black Crow
took his rawhide lariat, made a loop in it, put the rope around
Spotted Eagle's chest, and lowered him.
When his friend was on the ledge with the nest, Black Crow said
to himself: "I can leave him there to die. When I come home
alone, Red Bird will marry me."
He threw his end of the rope down and went away without looking
back or listening to Spotted Eagle's cries.
At last it dawned on Spotted Eagle that his friend had betrayed
him, that he had been left to die. The lariat was much too short
to lower himself to the ground; an abyss of three hundred feet lay
beneath him. He was alone with the two young eagles, who screeched
angrily at the strange, two-legged creature that had invaded their
Black Crow returned to his village. "Spotted Eagle died a
warrior's death," he told the people. "The Pahani killed
There was loud wailing throughout the village, because everybody
had liked Spotted Eagle. Red Bird slashed her arms with a sharp
knife and cut her hair to make her sorrow plain to all. But in the
end because life must go on, she became Black Crow's wife.
Spotted Eagle, however, did not die on his lonely ledge. The eagles
got used to him, and the old eagles brought plenty of food - rabbits,
prairie dogs, and sage hens - which he shared with the two chicks.
Maybe it was the eagle medicine in his bundle, which he carried
on his chest that made the eagles accept him. Still, he had to tie
himself to a little rock sticking out of the cliff to keep from
falling off in his sleep. In this way he spent some uncomfortable
weeks, after all, he was a human being and not a bird to whom a
crack in the rock face is home.
At last the young eagles were big enough to practice flying. "What
will become of me now?" thought the young man. "Once the
fledglings have flown the nest, the old birds won't bring any more
Then he had an inspiration, and told himself, "Perhaps I'll
die. Very likely I will. But I won't just sit here and give up."
Spotted Eagle took his little pipe out of his medicine bundle,
lifted it up to the sky, and prayed: "Wakan Tanka, onshimala
ye: Great Spirit, pity me. You have created man and his brother,
the eagle. You have given me the eagle's name. Now I will try to
let the eagles carry me to the ground. Let the eagles help me; let
He smoked and felt a surge of confidence. Then he grabbed hold
of the legs of the two young eagles. "Brothers," he told
them, "you have accepted me as one of your own. Now we will
live together, or die together. Hoka-hey!" and he jumped off
He expected to be shattered on the ground below, but with a mighty
flapping of wings, the two young eagles broke his fall and the three
landed safely. Spotted Eagle said a prayer of thanks to the ones
above. Then he thanked the eagles and told them that one day he
would be back with gifts and have a giveaway in their honor.
Spotted Eagle returned to his village. The excitement was great.
He had been dead and had come back to life. Everybody asked him
how it happened that he was not dead, but he wouldn't tell them.
"I escaped," he said, "that's all."
He saw his love married to his treacherous friend and bore it in
silence. He was not one to bring strife and enmity to his people,
to set one family against the other. Besides, what had happened
could not be changed. Thus he accepted his fate.
A year or so later, a great war party of the Pahani attacked his
village. The enemy outnumbered the Sioux tenfold, and Spotted Eagle's
band had no chance for victory. All the warriors could do was fight
a slow rear-guard action to give the aged, the women, and the children
time to escape across the river.
Guarding their people this way, the handful of Sioux fought bravely,
charging the enemy again and again, forcing the Pahani to halt and
regroup. Each time, the Sioux retreated a little, taking up a new
position on a hill or across a gully. In this way they could save
Showing the greatest courage, exposing their bodies freely, were
Spotted Eagle and Black Crow. In the end they alone faced the enemy.
Then, suddenly, Black Crow's horse was hit by several arrows and
collapsed under him. "Brother, forgive me for what I have done,"
he cried to Spotted Eagle, "let me jump on your horse behind
Spotted Eagle answered: "You are a Kit Fox member, a sash
wearer. Pin your sash as sign that you will fight to the finish.
Then, if you survive, I will forgive you; and if you die, I will
forgive you also."
Black Crow answered: "I am a Fox. I shall pin my sash. I will
win here or die here."
He sang his death song. He fought stoutly. There was no one to
release him by unpinning him and taking him up on a horse. He was
hit by lances and arrows and died a warrior's death. Many Pahani
died with him.
Spotted Eagle had been the only one to watch Black Crow's last
fight. At last he joined his people, safe across the river, where
the Pahani did not follow them. "Your husband died well,"
Spotted Eagle told Red Bird.
After some time had passed, Spotted Eagle married Red Bird. And
much, much later he told his parents, and no one else, how Black
Crow had betrayed him. "I forgive him now," he said, "because
once, long ago, he was my friend, and because Red Bird and I are
After a long winter, Spotted Eagle told his wife when spring came
again: "I must go away for a few days to fulfill a promise.
And I have to go alone."
He rode off by himself to that cliff and stood again at its foot,
below the ledge where the eagles' nest had been. He pointed his
sacred pipe to the four directions, then down to Grandmother Earth
and up to the Grandfather sky letting the smoke ascend to the sky,
calling out: "Wanblee Mishunkala, little Eagle Brothers, hear
High above in the clouds appeared two black dots, circling. These
were the eagles who had saved his life. They came at his call, their
huge wings spread royally. Swooping down, uttering a shrill cry
of joy and recognition, they alighted at his feet.
He stroked them with his feather fan, thanked them many times,
and fed them choice morsels of buffalo meat. He fastened small medicine
bundles around their legs as a sign of friendship, and spread tobacco
offerings around the foot of the cliff. Thus he made a pact of friendship
and brotherhood between Wanblee Oyate - the eagle nation - and his
Afterwards the stately birds soared up again into the sky, circling
motionless, carried by the wind, disappearing into the clouds.
Spotted Eagle turned his horse's head homeward, going back to Red
Bird with deep content.
- Told by Jenny Leading Cloud in White River, Rosebud Indian Reservation,
South Dakota, 1967.
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