Native American Legends
The Peace with the Snakes
A Blackfoot Legend
In those days there was a Piegan chief named Owl Bear. He was a
great chief, very brave and generous. One night he had a dream:
he saw many dead bodies of the enemy lying about, scalped, and he
knew that he must go to war.
So he called out for a feast, and after the people had eaten, he
said: "I had a strong dream last night. I went to war against
the Snakes, and killed many of their warriors. So the signs are
good, and I feel that I must go. Let us have a big party now, and
I will be the leader. We will start to-morrow night."
Then he told two old men to go out in the camp and shout the news,
so that all might know. A big party was made up. Two hundred men,
they say, went with this chief to war. The first night they traveled
only a little way, for they were not used to walking, and soon got
tired. In the morning the chief got up early and went and made a
sacrifice, and when he came back to the others, some said, "Come
now, tell us your dream of this night."
"I dreamed good," said Owl Bear. "I had a good dream.
We will have good luck." But many others said they had bad
dreams. They saw blood running from their bodies. Night came, and
the party started on, traveling south, and keeping near the foot-hills;
and when daylight came, they stopped in thick pine woods and built
war lodges. They put up poles as for a lodge, and covered them very
thick with pine boughs, so they could build fires and cook, and
no one would see the light and smoke; and they all ate some of the
food they carried, and then went to sleep.
Again the chief had a good dream, but the others all had bad dreams,
and some talked about turning back; but Owl Bear laughed at them,
and when night came, all started on. So they traveled for some nights,
and all kept dreaming bad except the chief. He always had good dreams.
One day after a sleep, a person again asked Owl Bear if he dreamed
"Yes," he replied. "I have again dreamed of good
luck." "We still dream bad," the person said, "and
now some of us are going to turn back. We will go no further, for
bad luck is surely ahead."
"Go back! go back!" said Owl Bear. "I think you
are cowards; I want no cowards with me." They did not speak
again. Many of them turned around, and started north, toward home.
Two more days' travel. Owl Bear and his warriors went on, and then
another party turned back, for they still had bad dreams.
All the men now left with him were his relations. All the others
had turned back.
They traveled on, and traveled on, always having bad dreams, until
they came close to the Elk River.
Then the oldest relation said, "Come, my chief, let us all
turn back. We still have bad dreams. We cannot have good luck."
"No," replied Owl Bear, "I will not turn back."
Then they were going to seize him and tie his hands, for they had
talked of this before. They thought to tie him and make him go back
with them. Then the chief got very angry. He put an arrow on his
bow, and said: "Do not touch me. You are my relations; but
if any of you try to tie me, I will kill you.
Now I am ashamed. My relations are cowards and will turn back.
I have told you I have always dreamed good, and that we would have
good luck. Now I don't care; I am covered with shame. I am going
now to the Snake camp and will give them my body. I am ashamed.
Go! go! and when you get home put on women's dresses. You are no
longer men." They said no more. They turned back homeward,
and the chief was all alone. His heart was very sad as he traveled
on, and he was much ashamed, for his relations had left him.
Night was coming on. The sun had set and rain was beginning to
fall. Owl Bear looked around for some place where he could sleep
dry. Close by he saw a hole in the rocks. He got down on his hands
and knees and crept in. Here it was very dark. He could see nothing,
so he crept very slowly, feeling as he went. All at once his hand
touched something strange. He felt of it. It was a person's foot,
and there was a moccasin on it. He stopped, and sat still. Then
he felt a little further. Yes, it was a person's leg. He could feel
the cowskin legging. Now he did not know what to do. He thought
perhaps it was a dead person; and again, he thought it might be
one of his relations, who had become ashamed and turned back after
Pretty soon he put his hand on the leg again and felt along up.
He touched the person's belly. It was warm. He felt of the breast,
and could feel it rise and fall as the breath came and went; and
the heart was beating fast. Still the person did not move. Maybe
he was afraid. Perhaps he thought that was a ghost feeling of him.
Owl Bear now knew this person was not dead. He thought he would
try if he could learn who the man was, for he was not afraid. His
heart was sad. His people and his relations had left him, and he
had made up his mind to give his body to the Snakes. So he began
and felt all over the man,--of his face, hair, robe, leggings, belt,
weapons; and by and by he stopped feeling of him. He could not tell
whether it was one of his people or not.
Pretty soon the strange person sat up and felt all over Owl Bear;
and when he had finished, he took the Piegan's hand and opened it
and held it up, waving it from side to side, saying by signs, "Who
Owl Bear put his closed hand against the person's cheek and rubbed
it; he said in signs, "Piegan!" and then he asked the
person who he was. A finger was placed against his breast and moved
across it zigzag. It was the sign for "Snake."
"Hai yah!" thought Owl Bear, "a Snake, my enemy."
For a long time he sat still, thinking. By and by he drew his knife
from his belt and placed it in the Snake's hand, and signed, "Kill
me!" He waited. He thought soon his heart would be cut. He
wanted to die. Why live? His people had left him.
Then the Snake took Owl Bear's hand and put a knife in it and motioned
that Owl Bear should cut his heart, but the Piegan would not do
it. He lay down, and the Snake lay down beside him. Maybe they slept.
So the night went and morning came. It was light, and they crawled
out of the cave, and talked a long time together by signs. Owl Bear
told the Snake where he had come from, how his party had dreamed
bad and left him, and that he was going alone to give his body to
Then the Snake said: "I was going to war, too. I was going
against the Piegans. Now I am done. Are you a chief?"
"I am the head chief," replied Owl Bear. "I lead.
All the others follow."
"I am the same as you," said the Snake. "I am the
chief. I like you. You are brave. You gave me your knife to kill
you with. How is your heart? Shall the Snakes and the Piegans make
"Your words are good," replied Owl Bear. "I am glad."
"How many nights will it take you to go home and come back
here with your people?" asked the Snake.
Owl Bear thought and counted. "In twenty-five nights,"
he replied, "the Piegans will camp down by that creek."
"My trail," said the Snake, "goes across the mountains.
I will try to be here in twenty-five nights, but I will camp with
my people just behind that first mountain. When you get here with
the Piegans, come with one of your wives and stay all night with
me. In the morning the Snakes will move and put up their lodges
beside the Piegans."
"As you say," replied the chief, "so it shall be
done." Then they built a fire and cooked some meat and ate
"I am ashamed to go home," said Owl Bear. "I have
taken no horses, no scalps. Let me cut off your side locks?"
"Take them," said the Snake.
Owl Bear cut off the chiefs braids close to his head, and then
the Snake cut off the Piegan's braids. Then they exchanged clothes
and weapons and started out, the Piegan north, the Snake south.
"Owl Bear has come! Owl Bear has come!" the people were
The warriors rushed to his lodge. _Whish_! how quickly it was filled!
Hundreds stood outside, waiting to hear the news.
For a long time the chief did not speak. He was still angry with
his people. An old man was talking, telling the news of the camp.
Owl Bear did not look at him. He ate some food and rested. Many
were in the lodge who had started to war with him. They were now
ashamed. They did not speak, either, but kept looking at the fire.
After a long time the chief said: "I travelled on alone. I
met a Snake. I took his scalp and clothes, and his weapons. See,
here is his scalp!" And he held up the two braids of hair.
No one spoke, but the chief saw them nudge each other and smile
a little; and soon they went out and said to one another: "What
a lie! That is not an enemy's scalp; there is no flesh on it He
has robbed some dead person."
Some one told the chief what they said, but he only laughed and
"I do not care. They were too much afraid even to go on and
rob a dead person. They should wear women's dresses."
Near sunset, Owl Bear called for a horse, and rode all through
camp so every one could hear, shouting out: "Listen! listen!
To-morrow we move camp. We travel south. The Piegans and Snakes
are going to make peace. If any one refuses to go, I will kill him.
All must go."
Then an old medicine man came up to him and said: "Kyi, Owl
Bear! listen to me. Why talk like this? You know we are not afraid
of the Snakes. Have we not fought them and driven them out of this
country? Do you think we are afraid to go and meet them? No. We
will go and make peace with them as you say, and if they want to
fight, we will fight. Now you are angry with those who started to
war with you. Don't be angry. Dreams belong to the Sun. He gave
them to us, so that we can see ahead and know what will happen.
The Piegans are not cowards. Their dreams told them to turn back.
So do not be angry with them any more."
"There is truth in what you say, old man," replied Owl
Bear; "I will take your words."
In those days the Piegans were a great tribe. When they travelled,
if you were with the head ones, you could not see the last ones,
they were so far back. They had more horses than they could count,
so they used fresh horses every day and travelled very fast. On
the twenty-fourth day they reached the place where Owl Bear had
told the Snake they would camp, and put up their lodges along the
creek. Soon some young men came in, and said they had seen some
fresh horse trails up toward the mountain.
"It must be the Snakes," said the chief; "they have
already arrived, although there is yet one night." So he called
one of his wives, and getting on their horses they set out to find
the Snake camp. They took the trail up over the mountain, and soon
came in sight of the lodges. It was a big camp. Every open place
in the valley was covered with lodges, and the hills were dotted
with horses; for the Snakes had a great many more horses than the
Some of the Snakes saw the Piegans coming, and they ran to the
chief, saying: "Two strangers are in sight, coming this way.
What shall be done?"
"Do not harm them," replied the chief. "They are
friends of mine. I have been expecting them." Then the Snakes
wondered, for the chief had told them nothing about his war trip.
Now when Owl Bear had come to the camp, he asked in signs for the
chiefs lodge, and they pointed him to one in the middle. It was
small and old. The Piegan got off his horse, and the Snake chief
came out and hugged him and kissed him, and said: "I am glad
you have come to-day to my lodge. So are my people. You are tired.
Enter my lodge and we will eat." So they went inside and many
of the Snakes came in, and they had a great feast.
Then the Snake chief told his people how he had met the Piegan,
and how brave he was, and that now they were going to make a great
peace; and he sent some men to tell the people, so that they would
be ready to move camp in the morning. Evening came. Everywhere people
were shouting out for feasts, and the chief took Owl Bear to them.
It was very late when they returned. Then the Snake had one of his
wives make a bed at the back of the lodge; and when it was ready
he said: "Now, my friend, there is your bed. This is now your
lodge; also the woman who made the bed, she is now your wife; also
everything in this lodge is yours. The parfleches, saddles, food,
robes, bowls, everything is yours. I give them to you because you
are my friend and a brave man."
"You give me too much," replied Owl Bear. "I am
ashamed, but I take your words. I have nothing with me but one wife.
She is yours."
Next morning camp was broken early. The horses were driven in,
and the Snake chief gave Owl Bear his whole band,--two hundred head,
all large, powerful horses.
All were now ready, and the chiefs started ahead. Close behind
them were all the warriors, hundreds and hundreds, and last came
the women and children, and the young men driving the loose horses.
As they came in sight of the Piegan camp, all the warriors started
out to meet them, dressed in their war costumes and singing the
great war song. There was no wind, and the sound came across the
valley and up the hill like the noise of thunder. Then the Snakes
began to sing, and thus the two parties advanced. At last they met.
The Piegans turned and rode beside them, and so they came to the
camp. Then they got off their horses and kissed each other. Every
Piegan asked a Snake into his lodge to eat and rest, and the Snake
women put up their lodges beside the Piegan lodges. So the great
peace was made.
In Owl Bear's lodge there was a great feast, and when they had
finished he said to his people: "Here is the man whose scalp
I took. Did I say I killed him? No. I gave him my knife and told
him to kill me. He would not do it; and he gave me his knife, but
I would not kill him. So we talked together what we should do, and
now we have made peace. And now (turning to the Snake) this is your
lodge, also all the things in it. My horses, too, I give you. All
So it was. The Piegan took the Snake's wife, lodge, and horses,
and the Snake took the Piegan's, and they camped side by side. All
the people camped together, and feasted each other and made presents.
So the peace was made.
For many days they camped side by side. The young men kept hunting,
and the women were always busy drying meat and tanning robes and
cowskins. Buffalo were always close, and after a while the people
had all the meat and robes they could carry. Then, one day, the
Snake chief said to Owl Bear: "Now, my friend, we have camped
a long time together, and I am glad we have made peace. We have
dug a hole in the ground, and in it we have put our anger and covered
it up, so there is no more war between us. And now I think it time
to go. To-morrow morning the Snakes break camp and go back south."
"Your words are good," replied Owl Bear. "I too
am glad we have made this peace. You say you must go south, and
I feel lonesome. I would like you to go with us so we could camp
together a long time, but as you say, so it shall be done. To-morrow
you will start south. I too shall break camp, for I would be lonesome
here without you; and the Piegans will start in the home direction."
The lodges were being taken down and packed. The men sat about
the fireplaces, taking a last smoke together.
They were now great friends. Many Snakes had married Piegan women,
and many Piegans had married Snake women. At last all was ready.
The great chiefs mounted their horses and started out, and soon
both parties were strung out on the trail.
Some young men, however, stayed behind to gamble a while. It was
yet early in the morning, and by riding fast it would not take them
long to catch up with their camps. All day they kept playing; and
sometimes the Piegans would win, and sometimes the Snakes.
It was now almost sunset. "Let us have one horse race,"
they said, "and we will stop." Each side had a good horse,
and they ran their best; but they came in so close together it could
not be told who won. The Snakes claimed that their horse won, and
the Piegans would not allow it. So they got angry and began to quarrel,
and pretty soon they began to fight and to shoot at each other,
and some were killed.
Since that time the Snakes and Piegans have never been at peace.
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