Native American Legends
The bad wife
A Blackfoot Legend
There was once a man who had but one wife. He was not a chief,
but a very brave warrior. He was rich, too, so he could have had
plenty of wives if he wished; but he loved his wife very much, and
did not want any more. He was very good to this woman. She always
wore the best clothes that could be found. If any other woman had
a fine buckskin dress, or something very pretty, the man would buy
it for her.
It was summer. The berries were ripe, and the woman kept saying
to her husband, "Let us go and pick some berries for winter."
"No," replied the man. "It is dangerous now. The
enemy is traveling all around." But still the woman kept teasing
him to go. So one day he told her to get ready. Some other women
went, too. They all went on horseback, for the berries were a long
way from camp. When they got to the place, the man told the women
to keep near their horses all the time. He would go up on a butte
near by and watch. "Be careful," he said. "Keep by
your horses, and if you see me signal, throw away your berries,
get on your horses and ride towards camp as fast as you can."
They had not picked many berries before the man saw a war party
coming. He signaled the women, and got on his horse and rode towards
them. It happened that this man and his wife both had good horses,
but the others, all old women, rode slow old travois horses, and
the enemy soon overtook and killed them. Many kept on after the
two on good horses, and after a while the woman's horse began to
get tired; so she asked her husband to let her ride on his horse
with him. The woman got up behind him, and they went on again. The
horse was a very powerful one, and for a while went very fast; but
two persons make a heavy load, and soon the enemy began to gain
on them. The man was now in a bad plight; the enemy were overtaking
him, and the woman holding him bound his arms so that he could not
use his bow.
"Get off," he said to her. "The enemy will not kill
you. You are too young and pretty. Some one of them will take you,
and I will get a big party of our people and rescue you."
"No, no," cried the woman; "let us die here together."
"Why die?" cried the man. "We are yet young, and
may live a long time together. If you don't get off, they will soon
catch us and kill me, and then they will take you anyhow. Get off,
and in only a short time I will get you back."
"No, no," again cried the woman; "I will die here
"Crazy person!" cried the man, and with a quick jerk
he threw the woman off.
As he said, the enemy did not kill her. The first one who came
up counted _coup_ and took her. The man, now that his horse was
lightened, easily ran away from the war party, and got safe to camp.
Then there was great mourning. The relatives of the old women who
had been killed, cut their hair and cried. The man, too, cut off
his hair and mourned. He knew that his wife was not killed, but
he felt very badly because he was separated from her. He painted
himself black, and walked all through the camp, crying. His wife
had many relations, and some of them went to the man and said: "We
pity you very much. We mourn, too, for our sister. But come. Take
courage. We will go with you, and try to get her back."
"It is good," replied the man. "I feel as if I should
die, stopping uselessly here. Let us start soon."
That evening they got ready, and at daylight started out on foot.
There were seven of them in all. The husband, five middle-aged men,
the woman's relations, and a young man, her own young brother. He
was a very pretty boy. His hair was longer than any other person's
They soon found the trail of the war party, and followed it for
some days. At last they came to the Big River, and there, on the
other side, they saw many lodges. They crept down a coulee into
the valley, and hid in a small piece of timber just opposite the
camp. Toward evening the man said: "Kyi, my brothers. Tonight
I will swim across and look all through the camp for my wife. If
I do not find her, I will cache and look again tomorrow evening.
But if I do not return before daylight of the second night, then
you will know I am killed. Then you will do as you think best. Maybe
you will want to take revenge. Maybe you will go right back home.
That will be as your hearts feel."
As soon as it was dark, he swam across the river and went all about
through the camp, peeping in through the doorways of the lodges,
but he did not see his wife. Still, he knew she must be there. He
had followed the trail of the party to this place. They had not
killed her on the way. He kept looking in at the lodges until it
was late, and the people let the fires go out and went to bed. Then
the man went down to where the women got their water from the river.
Everywhere along the stream was a cut bank, but in one place a path
of steps had been made down to the water's edge. Near this path,
he dug a hole in the bank and crawled into it, closing up the entrance,
except one small hole, through which he could look, and watch the
people who came to the river.
As soon as it was daylight, the women began to come for water.
Tum, tum, tum, tum, he could hear their footsteps as they came down
the path, and he looked eagerly at every one. All day long the people
came and went, the young and old; and the children played about
near him. He saw many strange people that day. It was now almost
sunset, and he began to think that he would not see his wife there.
Tum, tum, tum, tum, another woman came down the steps, and stopped
at the water's edge. Her dress was strange, but he thought he knew
the form. She turned her head and looked down the river, and he
saw her face. It was his wife. He pushed away the dirt, crawled
out, went to her and kissed her. "Kyi," he said, "hurry,
and let us swim across the river. Five of your relations and your
own young brother are waiting for us in that piece of timber."
"Wait," replied his wife. "These people have given
me a great many pretty things. Let me go back. When it is night
I will gather them up, steal a horse, and cross over to you."
"No, no," cried the man. "Let the pretty things
go; come, let us cross at once."
"Pity me," said the woman. "Let me go and get my
things. I will surely come tonight. I speak the truth."
"How do you speak the truth?" asked her husband.
"That my relations there across the river may be safe and
live long, I speak the truth."
"Go then," said the man, "and get your things. I
will cross the river now." He went up on the bank and walked
down the river, keeping his face hidden. No one noticed him, or
if they did, they thought he belonged to the camp. As soon as he
had passed the first bend, he swam across the river, and soon joined
"I have seen my wife," he said to them. "She will
come over as soon as it is dark. I let her go back to get some things
that were given her."
"You are crazy," said one of the men, "very crazy.
She already loves this new man she has, or she would not have wanted
to go back."
"Stop that," said the husband; "do not talk bad
of her. She will surely come."
The woman went back to her lodge with the water, and, sitting down
near the fireplace, she began to act very strangely. She took up
pieces of charred wood, dirt, and ashes in her hands and ate them,
and made queer noises.
"What is it?" asked the man who had taken her for a wife.
"What is the matter with you?" He spoke in signs.
The woman also spoke in signs. She answered him: "The Sun
told me that there are seven persons across the river in that piece
of timber. Five of them are middle-aged, another is a young boy
with very long hair, another is a man who mourns. His hair is cut
The Snake did not know what to do, so he called in some chiefs
and old men to advise with him. They thought that the woman might
be very strong medicine. At all events, it would be a good thing
to go and look. So the news was shouted out, and in a short time
all the warriors had mounted their best horses, and started across
the river. It was then almost dark, so they surrounded the piece
of timber, and waited for morning to begin the search.
"Kyi," said one of the woman's relations to her husband.
"Did I not speak the truth? You see now what that woman has
done for us."
At daylight the poor husband strung his bow, took a handful of
arrows from his quiver, and said: "This is my fault. I have
brought you to this. It is right that I should die first,"
and he started to go out of the timber.
"Wait," said the eldest relative. "It shall not
be so. I am the first to go. I cannot stay back to see my brother
die. You shall go out last." So he jumped out of the brush,
and began shooting his arrows, but was soon killed.
"My brother is too far on the road alone," cried another
relation, and he jumped out and fought, too. What use, one against
so many? The Snakes soon had his scalp.
So they went out, one after another, and at last the husband was
alone. He rushed out very brave, and shot his arrows as fast as
he could. "Hold!" cried the Snake man to his people. "Do
not kill him; catch him. This is the one my wife said to bring back
alive. See! his hair is cut short." So, when the man had shot
away all his arrows, they seized and tied him, and, taking the scalps
of the others, returned to camp.
They took the prisoner into the lodge where his wife was. His hands
were tied behind his back, and they tied his feet, too. He could
As soon as the man saw his wife, he cried. He was not afraid. He
did not care now how soon he died. He cried because he was thinking
of all the trouble and death this woman had caused. "What have
I done to you," he asked his wife, "that you should treat
me this way? Did I not always use you well? I never struck you.
I never made you work hard."
"What does he say?" asked the Snake man.
"He says," replied the woman, "that when you are
done smoking, you must knock the ashes and fire out of your pipe
on his breast."
The Snake was not a bad-hearted man, but he thought now that this
woman had strong medicine, that she had Sun power; so he thought
that everything must be done as she said. When the man had finished
smoking, he emptied the pipe on the Piegan's breast, and the fire
burned him badly.
Then the poor man cried again, not from the pain, but to think
what a bad heart this woman had. Again he spoke to her. "You
cannot be a person," he said. "I think you are some fearful
animal, changed to look like a woman."
"What is he saying now?" asked the Snake.
"He wants some boiling water poured on his head," replied
"It shall be as he says," said the Snake; and he had
his women heat some water. When it was ready, one of them poured
a little of it here and there on the captive's head and shoulders.
Wherever the hot water touched, the hair came out and the skin peeled
off. The pain was so bad that the Piegan nearly fainted. When he
revived, he said to his wife: "Pity me. I have suffered enough.
Let them kill me now. Let me hurry to join those who are already
traveling to the Sand Hills."
The woman turned to the Snake chief, and said, "The man says
that he wants you to give him to the Sun."
"It is good," said the Snake. "Tomorrow we move
camp. Before we leave here, we will give him to the Sun."
There was an old woman in this camp who lived all alone, in a little
lodge of her own. She had some friends and relations, but she said
she liked to live by herself. She had heard that a Piegan had been
captured, and went to the lodge where he was. When she saw them
pour the boiling water on him, she cried and felt badly. This old
woman had a very good heart. She went home and lay down by her dog,
and kept crying, she felt so sorry for this poor man. Pretty soon
she heard people shouting out the orders of the chief. They said:
"Listen! listen! Tomorrow we move camp. Get ready now and pack
up everything. Before we go, the Piegan man will be given to the
Then the old woman knew what to do. She tied a piece of buckskin
around her dog's mouth, so he could not bark, and then she took
him way out in the timber and tied him where he could not be seen.
She also filled a small sack with pemmican, dried meat, and berries,
and put it near the dog.
In the morning the people rose early. They smoothed a cotton-wood
tree, by taking off the bark, and painted it black. Then they stood
the Piegan up against it, and fastened him there with a great many
ropes. When they had tied him so he could not move, they painted
his face black, and the chief Snake made a prayer, and gave him
to the Sun.
Every one was now busy getting ready to move camp. This old woman
had lost her dog, and kept calling out for him and looking all around.
"Tsis'-i!" she cried. "Tsis'-i! Come here. Knock
the dog on the head! Wait till I find him, and I'll break his neck."
The people were now all packed up, and some had already started
on the trail. "Don't wait for me," the old woman said.
"Go on, I'll look again for my dog, and catch up with you."
When all were gone, the old woman went and untied her dog, and
then, going up to where the Piegan was tied, she cut the ropes,
and he was free. But already the man was very weak, and he fell
down on the ground. She rubbed his limbs, and pretty soon he felt
better. The old woman was so sorry for him that she cried again,
and kissed him. Then the man cried, too. He was so glad that some
one pitied him. By and by he ate some of the food the old woman
had given him, and felt strong again. He said to her in signs: "I
am not done. I shall go back home now, but I will come again. I
will bring all the Piegans with me, and we will have revenge."
"You say well," signed the old woman.
"Help me," again said the man. "If, on the road
you are traveling, this camp should separate, mark the trail my
wife takes with a stick. You, too, follow the party she goes with,
and always put your lodge at the far end of the village. When I
return with my people, I will enter your lodge, and tell you what
"I take your speech," replied the old woman. "As
you say, so it shall be." Then she kissed him again, and started
on after her people. The man went to the river, swam across, and
started for the North.
Why are the people crying? Why is all this mourning? Ah! the poor
man has returned home, and told how those who went with him were
killed. He has told them the whole story. They are getting ready
for war. Every one able to fight is going with this man back to
the Snakes. Only a few will be left to guard the camp. The mother
of that bad woman is going, too. She has sharpened her axe, and
told what she will do when she sees her daughter. All are ready.
The best horses have been caught up and saddled, and the war party
has started, hundreds and hundreds of warriors. They are strung
out over the prairie as far as you can see.
When they got to the Missouri River, the poor man showed them where
the lodge in which they had tortured him had stood. He took them
to see the tree, where he had been bound. The black paint was still
From here, they went slowly. Some young men were sent far ahead
to scout. The second day, they came back to the main body, and said
they had found a camping place just deserted, and that there the
trail forked. The poor man then went ahead, and at the forks he
found a willow twig stuck in the ground, pointing to the left hand
trail. When the others came up, he said to them: "Take care
of my horse now, and travel slowly. I will go ahead on foot and
find the camp. It must be close. I will go and see that old woman,
and find out how things are."
Some men did not want him to do this; they said that the old woman
might tell about him, and then they could not surprise the camp.
"No," replied the man. "It will not be so. That
old woman is almost the same as my mother. I know she will help
He went ahead carefully, and near sunset saw the camp. When it
was dark, he crept near it and entered the old woman's lodge. She
had placed it behind, and a little way off from, the others. When
he went in the old woman was asleep, but the fire was still burning
a little. He touched her, and she jumped up and started to scream;
but he put his hand on her mouth, and when she saw who it was she
laughed and kissed him. "The Piegans have come," he told
her. "We are going to have revenge on this camp tonight. Is
my wife here?"
"Still here," replied the old woman. "She is chief
now. They think her medicine very strong."
"Tell your friends and relations," said the Piegan, "that
you have had a dream, and that they must move into the brush yonder.
Have them stay there with you, and they will not be hurt. I am going
now to get my people."
It was very late in the night. Most of the Snakes were in bed and
asleep. All at once the camp was surrounded with warriors, shouting
the war cry and shooting, stabbing, and knocking people on the head
as fast as they came out of the lodges.
That Piegan woman cried out: "Don't hurt me. I am a Piegan.
Are any of my people here?"
"Many of your relations are here," some one said. "They
will protect you."
Some young men seized and tied her, as her husband had said to
do. They had hard work to keep her mother from killing her. "Hai
yah!" the old woman cried. "There is my Snake woman daughter.
Let me split her head open."
The fight was soon over. The Piegans killed the people almost as
fast as they came out of their lodges. Some few escaped in the darkness.
When the fight was over, the young warriors gathered up a great
pile of lodge poles and brush, and set fire to it. Then the poor
man tore the dress off his bad wife, tied the scalp of her dead
Snake man around her neck, and told her to dance the scalp dance
in the fire. She cried and hung back, calling out for pity. The
people only laughed and pushed her into the fire. She would run
through it, and then those on the other side would push her back.
So they kept her running through the fire, until she fell down and
The old Snake woman had come out of the brush with her relations.
Because she had been so good, the Piegans gave her, and those with
her, one-half of all the horses and valuable things they had taken.
"Kyi!" said the Piegan chief. "That is all for you,
because you helped this poor man. Tomorrow morning we start back
North. If your heart is that way, go too and live with us."
So these Snakes joined the Piegans and lived with them until they
died, and their children married with the Piegans, and at last they
were no longer Snake people.
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