Native American Legends
The Lame Warrior
An Arapaho Legend
In the days before horses, a party of young Arapaho set off on
foot one autumn morning in search of wild game in the western mountains.
They carried heavy packs of food and spare moccasins, and one day
as they were crossing the rocky bed of a shallow stream a young
warrior felt a sudden sharp pain in his ankle. The ankle swelled
and the pain grew worse until they pitched camp that night.
Next morning the warrior's ankle was swollen so badly that it was
impossible for him to continue the journey with the others. His
companions decided it was best to leave him. They cut young willows
and tall grass to make a thatched shelter for him, and after the
shelter was finished they collected a pile of dry wood so that he
could keep a fire burning.
"When your ankle gets well," they told him, "don't
try to follow us. Go back to our village, and await our return."
After several lonely days, the lame warrior tested his ankle, but
it was still too painful to walk upon. And then one night a heavy
snowstorm fell, virtually imprisoning him in the shelter. Because
he had been unable to kill any wild game, his food supply was almost
Late one afternoon he looked out and saw a large herd of buffalo
rooting in the snow for grass quite close to his shelter. Reaching
for his bow and arrow, he shot the fattest one and killed it. He
then crawled out of the shelter to the buffalo, skinned it, and
brought in the meat. After preparing a bed of coals, he placed a
section of ribs in the fire for roasting.
Night had fallen by the time the ribs were cooked, and just as
the lame warrior was reaching for a piece to eat, he heard footsteps
crunching on the frozen snow. The steps came nearer and nearer to
the closed flap of the shelter. "Who can that be?" he
said to himself. "I am here alone and unable to run, but I
shall defend myself if need be." He reached for his bow and
A moment later the flap opened and a skeleton clothed in a tanned
robe stood there looking down at the lame warrior.
The robe was pinned tight at the neck so that only the skull was
visible above and skeleton feet below. Frightened by this ghost,
the warrior turned his eyes away from it.
"You must not be frightened of me," the skeleton said
in a hoarse voice. "I have taken pity on you. Now you must
take pity on me. Give me a piece of those roast ribs to eat, for
I am very hungry."
Still very much alarmed by the presence of this unexpected visitor,
the warrior offered a large piece of meat to an extended bony hand.
He was astonished to see the skeleton chew the food with its bared
teeth and swallow it.
"It was I who gave you the pain in your ankle," said
the skeleton. "It was I who caused your ankle to swell so that
you could not continue on the hunt. If you had gone on with your
companions you would have been killed. The day they left you here,
an enemy war party made a charge upon them, and they were all killed.
I am the one who saved your life."
Again the skeleton's bony hand reached out, this time to rub the
warrior's ankle. The pain and swelling vanished at once. "Now
you can walk again," the ghost said. "Your enemies are
all around, but if you will follow me I can lead you safely back
to your village."
At dawn they left the shelter and started off across the snow,
the skeleton leading the way. They walked through deep woods, along
icy streams, and over high hills. Late in the afternoon the skeleton
led the warrior up a steep ridge. When the warrior reached the summit,
the ghost had vanished, but down in the valley below he could see
the smokes of tepees in his Arapaho village.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends