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Native American Legends

The story of Hungry Wolf

An Assiniboin Legend

A young man and his wife were up hunting in the breaks North of Little Missouri, back by Kildeer Mountains. The man camped there with his wife. He was successful as a hunter, and his wife cured the hides and fried strips of jerked meat. One night he told her to pack up everything, as the next day they would be leaving. Early the next morning he went out to get some fresh meat for the journey and returned with parts of a Rocky Mountain Sheep and its hide, which the people regard as very valuable. He found the packages on the scaffold just as he had left them, but his wife and dog were gone.

Circling about the tent he found no trace, but the fourth day he found a few tracks of men. With the tracks of men were the tracks of his wife and dog heading South. He went back to the camp and pounded the meat and roasted the fattest meat and stored it away in bags to eat on the way, then he followed the trail. The fugitives hid their trail by spreading out and then coming together again, so that the tracks were hard to follow. Thus he followed a party which he judged to consist of twelve persons. When he came to Looks-Like-A-Chicken-Tail butte, he turned South-West and saw smoke rising from a camp. He waited till sunset, then he walked into the camp. There he stood for a while, considering. He covered his head with his robe, carrying bows and arrows under his robe in case of attack. He could see young men walking about engaged in courting. As he went from tent to tent listening for signs of his wife, their dog ran out from a tent and jumped about his master. He gave it meat. The dog returned to the tent, whined, wagged its tail and ran out again to its master. He went and stood in the doorway. Within he could see his wife sitting. An old woman came in, and to his surprise his wife spoke to him in Gros Ventres. She was an old woman who had also been taken prisoner and had lived among the enemy until she was old.

He surveyed the situation of the camp. On the outskirts was a ravine where a spring had made a small pond. A trail led down to this pond, made by the woman going after water. Beside the pond grew Beaver Grass, long and fine, right down to the water's edge. There he hid, hoping that when his wife came down to get water, they might plan an escape. His plan was to start in the night, go Westward toward the mountains, and come back home. In the morning a stream of women came down to the water. At noon fewer came. In the early afternoon he saw the dog coming down the bank wagging its tail. His wife came to the edge of the spring and, standing on a stone, leaned over to dip water. He said "Stay just where you are, my own heart. I heard you talking last night with the old woman. My plan is for you to come out here when everyone is asleep. The people will expect us to go back to our old camp, so we will go towards the mountains and live on game on the way home. Afterwards we will go back and get our packages at the camp,"

He laid behind the grass. In the evening after the woman had left who came down to the water, the men came down and encircled the pond. They overpowered him, took away his bow and arrows and carried him away to a tent and gave him food. His wife came and looked into the tent. He said, "I believe it is you who have betrayed me."

They dug two holes in a circle, set in two posts, lanced his muscles next to the bone at wrists and ankles, stretched his arms and legs to the posts; then they scalped him, and tying the scalp to a long pole, they sent out drummers and all came out and danced the victory dance and carried his scalp about on the pole. They brought firewood and made a pile of it before and behind him, intending to burn him; but just then an old man came out who seemed to have authority, and stopped the dancing and made signs towards the Sun, but his words were unintelligible. The old Gros Ventre woman came to him and said, "My dear, it is all your wife's fault. You communicated with her when she went down to get water. When she returned she told the camp that there was a Corn Man down in the water-hole. I was taken away when young by these people and have been here ever since. I married and have children and grandchildren and hence been contented to live among them. When they brought the Gros Ventre woman here, as she was one of our tribe. I went over to her tent to comfort her. It was your wife who advised that you be captured and tortured to death. You cannot expect a woman to keep a secret. The man who spoke to the people told them that when we fight and kill an enemy we kill him quickly. He said, "The great God in the heavens is looking down upon us. If you burn this man, that Great Spirit will some day avenge this deed. He will punish us. Let us wait and see what will happen."

The next day when the people broke camp, some came over and pierced his eyes; then they left him and went away. For four days he remained hanging. On the fourth day towards dusk he heard an Owl hooting. He came nearer and hooted again. He could hear the grass rustling as from a man walking close to him. The steps stopped in front of him and a man said, "My son, the hooting of the Owl was myself. I have come to see what I can do to restore your sight." He heard him spitting on his hands and rubbing his palms together. The man told him to look up, and he rubbed the palms of his hands over his eyes, and his eyesight was restored. The man told him, "Fear not, the torture from which you were suffering has been caused by your wife. But you shall live and see your home again. You must stand and listen at daybreak when the Sun comes over the hill and you will hear the Earth trembling and the sound of something falling to Earth. That which you hear falling and whose vibration you feel is white clay, which is being made for you in the sky and dropped from the sky to Earth. You will find it near Red Grass butt beside Knife River. When you get home, when you give a dance, let the Grandma society clean a lodge site and pile the grass in the center as a symbol of your standing here. Strip a cane in four places as a symbol of the four days you have stood here without food and water. It will be a token of long life and prosperity. Give another such cane to a brother or some relative. The two canes are symbols of the two torture posts. There shall be a circle for the Wolf society and the old scouts shall circle around you. Take one winder to prepare all the articles for the dance. Ask all your friends and relatives to help you. They shall make arrows and give them as payment to the scouts who sing and tell their exploits as they shall give them to their sons and young relatives to use against those who torture you. Next year you will find these same people camping here, and you shall kill a hundred of them. You shall capture this old Gros Ventre woman and your wife. Save their lives, but do not make the woman your wife again. You shall marry the daughters of your chief. Teach your warriors to use in the battle shields made of Buffalo hide hardened by burning with hot stones.

The Owl Man told him that in the morning he would see Wolf-Of-The-Sunset dancing with his warriors. He must watch their dress and learn their songs and make this dance a part of his Mystery. In the morning Wolf-Of-The-Sunset came with his warriors, who were a pack of Wolves. They freed him and took him into their company by the name of Hungry Wolf. The scouts come in the rear. The Raven as he flies over the country seeing all that is going on is like the scout. It was the Raven who had told the Owl how the man was being tortured and had reported it to Wolf-Of-The-Sunset. That is why the two men who led the Wolf Dance and impersonate Wolf-Of-The-Sunset and Hungry Wolf wear Raven feathers. Just as the Wolves do for the "fasters" in the dance, so the Wolves came that day, removed the rawhides that bound him and gave him the feast of fat of the Buffalo to eat. They said, "This will drive away the pain of the torture. When your people kill a Buffalo, after skinning the breastbone, they must take a mouthful of the fat, and whatever their sickness this will cure it." They took fat and anointed his wounds in his arms and feet and on the forehead. They daubed him with white clay all over and then, as a sign of healing, they made scratches with their fingernails in the clay on his calves, his forearm, and on his forehead, thus leaving the clay in streaks. This white clay is used in the Wolf ceremony. The heap in the center of the clearing is the symbol of his torture. When they dance about , they must go over to the right side (and dance from the right to the left) in order to insure long life and prosperity; if they start from the left, it is a sign of misery. So when people smoke, the pipe is handed to the extreme right of the circle and then handed around.

The Wolves told him to follow them. When he got over the divide, he found a Buffalo butchered and blood and kidney, liver and guts, laid aside from the Buffalo's head, sang a song, and his torn scalp was healed and the hair turned to the color of his own hair. Thus he reached home, Then he climbed up to his old lodge, face to the West, and said, "Hee-hay!" (which signifies "Listen!"). He spoke to the Wolves of the West and said, "This winter I shall have bedding (Buffalo hides) scraped for you and shall bring the Wolves into my lodge (meaning warriors) in order to conquer my enemies." Taking hunters and Dogs, he returned to his old camp and brought back his bundles. He placed food in those lodges where the societies met and in return they gave arrows and other things for the ceremony. He sent one of his sisters to the chief's lodge and asked for the hand of the chiefs two daughters in marriage.

During the winter he instructed the Wolves in the scout songs he had learned from the Wolves. In the summer he sent for the white clay and had the dance performed. After this he called for the young men through the announcer and for the old men who had endurance and speed and provided them with moccasins and provisions for the war path. On the outskirts of the village the warriors assembled. When they reached the butte, he was told that this was the place to mine the bright red ochre which is to be found there in pockets. Since he had too many scouts, he selected from the forty-five the fourteen who were the fastest runners. They had to run one by one between the two goals while the rest in the center tried to catch them.

This is called "running by." If anyone was caught before he reached the opposite goal, he was put out. They went on and sent out scouts ahead. They reported a hundred and fifty tents. There were 2500 persons in the village. They got close to camp, whooped, and attacked at daybreak. After a hundred warriors had been killed, he gave the signal to stop by waving his robe in the air. No women or children were killed, or any old people. The old Gros Ventre woman and the young man's wife were taken. The old woman was allowed to go back to the tribe; the wife was brought back to the village. No one would marry her, and it was she who introduced harlotry.

In the village they danced the greatest village dance ever known. Hungry Wolf lived to old age and had children and grandchildren. The mystery he conferred upon his son, and so it was handed down from generation to generation.

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