Native American Legends
Two War Trails
A Blackfoot Legend
Many years ago there lived in the Blood camp a boy named Screech
Owl (A'-tsi-tsi). He was rather a lonely boy, and did not care to
go with other boys. He liked better to be by himself. Often he would
go off alone, and stay out all night away from the camp. He used
to pray to all kinds of birds and animals that he saw, and ask them
to take pity on him and help him, saying that he wanted to be a
warrior. He never used paint. He was a fine looking young man, and
he thought it was foolish to use paint to make oneself good looking.
When Screech Owl was about fourteen years old, a large party of
Blackfeet were starting to war against the Crees and the Assinaboines.
The young man said to his father: "Father, with this war party
many of my cousins are going. I think that now I am old enough to
go to war, and I would like to join them." His father said,
"My son, I am willing; you may go." So he joined the party.
His father gave his son his own war horse, a black horse with a
white spot on its side a very fast horse. He offered him arms, but
the boy refused them all, except a little trapping axe. He said,
"I think this hatchet will be all that I shall need."
Just as they were about to start, his father gave the boy his own
war headdress. This was not a war bonnet, but a plume made of small
feathers, the feathers of thunder birds, for the thunder bird was
his father's medicine. He said to the boy, "Now, my son, when
you go into battle, put this plume in your head, and wear it as
I have worn it."
The party started and traveled north-east, and at length they came
to where Fort Pitt now stands, on the Saskatchewan River. When they
had got down below Fort Pitt, they saw three riders, going out hunting.
These men had not seen the war party. The Blackfeet started around
the men, so as to head them off when they should run. When they
saw the men, the Screech Owl got off his horse, and took off all
his clothes, and put on his father's war plume, and began to ride
around, singing his father's war song. The older warriors were getting
ready for the attack, and when they saw this young boy acting in
this way, they thought he was making fun of the older men, and they
said: "Here, look at this boy! Has he no shame? He had better
stay behind." When they got on their horses, they told him
to stay behind, and they charged the Crees. But the boy, instead
of staying behind, charged with them, and took the lead, for he
had the best horse of all. He, a boy, was leading the war party,
and still singing his war song.
The three Crees began to run, and the boy kept gaining on them.
They did not want to separate, they kept together; and as the boy
was getting closer and closer, the last one turned in his saddle
and shot at the Screech Owl, but missed him. As the Cree fired,
the boy whipped up his horse, and rode up beside the Cree and struck
him with his little trapping axe, and knocked him off his horse.
He paid no attention to the man that he had struck, but rode on
to the next Cree. As he came up with him, the Cree raised his gun
and fired, but just as he did so, the Blackfoot dropped down on
the other side of his horse, and the ball passed over him. He straightened
up on his horse, rode up by the Cree, and as he passed, knocked
him off his horse with his axe. When he knocked the second Cree
off his horse, the Blackfeet, who were following, whooped in triumph
and to encourage him, shouting, "A-wah-heh'" (Take courage).
The boy was still singing his father's war song.
By this time, the main body of the Blackfeet were catching up with
him. He whipped his horse on both sides, and rode on after the third
Cree, who was also whipping his horse as hard as he could, and trying
to get away. Meantime, some of the Blackfeet had stopped to count
coup on and scalp the two dead Crees, and to catch the two ponies.
Screech Owl at last got near to the third Cree, who kept aiming
his gun at him. The boy did not want to get too close, until the
Cree had fired his gun, but he was gaining a little, and all the
time was throwing himself from side to side on his horse, so as
to make it harder for the Cree to hit him. When he had nearly overtaken
the enemy, the Cree turned, raised his gun and fired; but the boy
had thrown himself down behind his horse, and again the ball passed
over him. He raised himself up on his horse, and rushed on the Cree,
and struck him in the side of the body with his axe, and then again,
and with the second blow, he knocked him off his horse.
The boy rode on a little further, stopped, and jumped off his horse,
while the rest of the Blackfeet had come up and were killing the
fallen man. He stood off to one side and watched them count coup
on and scalp the dead.
The Blackfeet were much surprised at what the young man had done.
After a little while, the leader decided that they would go back
to the camp from which they had come. When he had returned from
this war journey this young man's name was changed from A'-tsi-tsi
to E-kus'-kini (Low Horn). This was his first war path.
From that time on the name of E-kus'-kini was often heard as
that of one doing some great deed.
E-kus'-kini started on his last war trail from the Black-foot
crossing (Su-yoh-pah'-wah-ku). He led a party of six Sarcees. He
was the seventh man.
On the second day out, they came to the Red Deer's River. When
they reached this river, they found it very high, so they built
a raft to cross on. They camped on the other side. In crossing,
most of their powder got wet. The next morning, when they awoke,
E-kus'-kini said: "Well, trouble is coming for us. We had
better go back from here. We started on a wrong day. I saw in my
sleep our bodies lying on the prairie, dead." Some of the young
men said: "Oh well, we have started, we had better go on. Perhaps
it is only a mistake. Let us go on and try to take some horses anyhow."
E-kus'-kini said: "Yes, that is very true. To go home is
all foolishness; but remember that it is by your wish that we are
going on." He wanted to go back, not on his own account, but
for the sake of his young men to save his followers.
From there they went on and made another camp, and the next morning
he said to his young men: "Now I am sure. I have seen it for
certain. Trouble is before us." They camped two nights at this
place and dried some of their powder, but most of it was caked and
spoilt. He said to his young men: "Here, let us use some sense
about this. We have no ammunition. We cannot defend ourselves. Let
us turn back from here." So they started across the country
for their camp.
They crossed the Red Deer's River, and there camped again. The
next morning E-kus'-kini said: "I feel very uneasy today.
Two of you go ahead on the trail and keep a close lookout. I am
afraid that today we are going to see our enemy." Two of the
young men went ahead, and when they had climbed to the top of a
ridge and looked over it on to Sarvis Berry (Saskatoon) Creek, they
came back and told E-kus'-kini that they had seen a large camp
of people over there, and that they thought it was the Piegans,
Bloods, Blackfeet, and Sarcees, who had all moved over there together.
Saskatoon Creek was about twenty miles from the Blackfoot camp.
He said: "No, it cannot be our people. They said nothing about
moving over here; it must be a war party. It is only a few days
since we left, and there was then no talk of their leaving that
camp. It cannot be they." The two young men said: "Yes,
they are our people. There are too many of them for a war party.
We think that the whole camp is there." They discussed this
for some little time, E-kus'-kini insisting that it could not
be the Blackfoot camp, while the young men felt sure that it was.
These two men said, "Well, we are going on into the camp now."
Low Horn said: "Well, you may go. Tell my father that I will
come into the camp tonight. I do not like to go in the daytime,
when I am not bringing back anything with me."
It was now late in the afternoon, and the two young men went ahead
toward the camp, traveling on slowly. A little after sundown, they
came down the hill on to the flat of the river, and saw there the
camp. They walked down toward it, to the edge of the stream, and
there met two women, who had come down after water. The men spoke
to them in Sarcee, and said, "Where is the Sarcee camp?"
The women did not understand them, so they spoke again, and asked
the same question in Blackfoot. Then these two women called out
in the Cree language, "Here are two Blackfeet, who have come
here and are talking to us." When these men heard the women
talk Cree, and saw what a mistake they had made, they turned and
ran away up the creek. They ran up above camp a short distance,
to a place where a few willow bushes were hanging over the stream,
and pushing through these, they hid under the bank, and the willows
above concealed them. The people in the camp came rushing out, and
men ran up the creek, and down, and looked everywhere for the two
enemies, but could find nothing of them.
Now when these people were running in all directions, hunting for
these two men, E-kus'-kini was coming down the valley slowly
with the four other Sarcees. He saw some Indians coming toward him,
and supposed that they were some of his own people, coming to meet
him, with horses for him to ride. At length, when they were close
to him, and E-kus'-kini could see that they were the enemy, and
were taking the covers off their guns, he jumped to one side and
stood alone and began to sing his war song. He called out, "Children
of the Crees, if you have come to try my manhood, do your best."
In a moment or two he was surrounded, and they were shooting at
him from all directions. He called out again, "People, you
can't kill me here, but I will take my body to your camp, and there
you shall kill me." So he advanced, fighting his way toward
the Cree camp, but before he started, he killed two of the Crees
there. His enemies kept coming up and clustering about him: some
were on foot and some on horseback. They were thick about him on
all sides, and they could not shoot much at him, for fear of killing
their own people on the other side.
One of the Sarcees fell. E-kus'-kini said to his men, "A-wah-heh'"
(Take courage). "These people cannot kill us here. Where that
patch of choke-cherry brush is, in the very centre of their camp,
we will go and take our stand." Another Sarcee fell, and now
there were only three of them. E-kus'-kini said to his remaining
men: "Go straight to that patch of brush, and I will fight
the enemy off in front and at the sides, and so will keep the way
open for you. These people cannot kill us here. There are too many
of their own people. If we can get to that brush, we will hurt them
badly." All this time they were killing enemies, fighting bravely,
and singing their war songs. At last they gained the patch of brush,
and then with their knives they began to dig holes in the ground,
and to throw up a shelter.
In the Cree camp was Kom-in'-a-kus (Round), the chief
of the Crees, who could talk Blackfoot well. He called out: "E-kus'-kini,
there is a little ravine running out of that brush patch, which
puts into the hills. Crawl out through that, and try to get away.
It is not guarded." E-kus'-kini replied: "No, Children
of the Crees, I will not go. You must remember that it is E-kus'-kini
that you are fighting with a man who has done much harm to your
people. I am glad that I am here. I am sorry for only one thing;
that is, that my ammunition is going to run out. Tomorrow you may
All night long the fight was kept up, the enemy shooting all the
time, and all night long E-kus'-kini sang his death song. Kom-in'-a-kus
called to him several times: "E-kus'-kini, you had better
do what I tell you. Try to get away." But he shouted back,
"No," and laughed at them. He said: "You have killed
all my men. I am here alone, but you cannot kill me." Kom-in'-a-kus,
the chief, said: "Well, if you are there at daylight in the
morning, I will go into that brush and will catch you with my hands.
I will be the man who will put an end to you." E-kus'-kini
said: "Kom-in'-a-kus, do not try to do that. If you
do, you shall surely die." The patch of brush in which he had
hidden had now been all shot away, cut off by the bullets of the
When day came, E-kus'-kini called out: "Eh, Kom-in'-a-kus,
it is broad daylight now. I have run out of ammunition. I have not
another grain of powder in my horn. Now come and take me in your
hands, as you said you would." Kom-in'-a-kus answered:
"Yes, I said that I was the one who was going to catch you
this morning. Now I am coming."
He took off all his clothes, and alone rushed for the breastworks.
E-kus'-kini's ammunition was all gone, but he still had one load
in his gun, and his dagger. Kom-in'-a-kus came on with
his gun at his shoulder, and E-kus'-kini sat there with his gun
in his hand, looking at the man who was coming toward him with the
cocked gun pointed at him. He was singing his death song. As Kom-in'-a-kus
got up close, and just as he was about to fire, E-kus'-kini threw
up his gun and fired, and the ball knocked off the Cree chiefs forefinger,
and going on, entered his right eye and came out at the temple,
knocking the eye out. Kom-in'-a-kus went down, and his
gun flew a long way.
When Kom-in'-a-kus fell, the whole camp shouted the war
whoop, and cried out, "This is his last shot," and they
all charged on him. They knew that he had no more ammunition.
The head warrior of the Crees was named Bunch of Lodges. He was
the first man to jump inside the breastworks. As he sprang inside,
E-kus'-kini met him, and thrust his dagger through him, and killed
him on the spot. Then, as the enemy threw themselves on him, and
he began to feel the knives stuck into him from all sides, he gave
a war whoop and laughed, and said, "Only now I begin to think
that I am fighting." All the time he was cutting and stabbing,
jumping backward and forward, and all the time laughing. When he
was dead, there were fifteen dead Crees lying about the earthworks.
E-kus'-kini body was cut into small pieces and scattered all
over the country, so that he might not come to life again.
That morning, before it was daylight, the two Sarcees who had hidden
in the willows left their hiding-place and made their way to the
Blackfoot camp. When they got there, they told that when they had
left the Cree camp E-kus'-kini was surrounded, and the firing
was terrible. When E-kus'-kini's father heard this, he got on
his horse and rode through the camp, calling out: "My boy is
surrounded; let us turn out and go to help him. I have no doubt
they are many tens to one, but he is powerful, and he may be fighting
yet." No time was lost in getting ready, and soon a large party
started for the Cree camp. When they came to the battle-ground,
the camp had been moved a long time. The old man looked about, trying
to gather up his son's body, but it was found only in small pieces,
and not more than half of it could be gathered up.
After the fight was over, the Crees started on down to go to their
own country. One day six Crees were traveling along on foot, scouting
far ahead. As they were going down into a little ravine, a grizzly
bear jumped up in front of them and ran after them. The bear overtook,
and tore up, five of them, one after another. The sixth got away,
and came home to camp. The Crees and the Blackfeet believe that
this was the spirit of E-kus'-kini, for thus he comes back. They
think that he is still on the earth, but in a different shape.
E-kus'-kini was killed about forty years ago. When he was killed,
he was still a boy, not married, only about twenty-four years old.
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