Native American Legends
Unknown One, Son of Two Men
A Gros Ventre Legend
The twins now went by the name of Two Men. Their former lodge was
abandoned and they roamed at will all over the country and made
a permanent camp on the West side of the Missouri by Knife River.
There you can see the ruins of the old village. The Two Men would
come back to the village for ceremonial rites, then they would be
off again. When a young man of the village performed such a ceremony,
if he had a young wife he would call together all the men of the
clan and deliver her to them in turn. Meanwhile they sang the Holy
songs and prayed for blessings upon their daughter-in-law. Thus
these Two Men were given their son's wife and they took her out
and sang songs and, without having any intercourse with her, she
bore them a son. As he grew, Two Men visited him in spirit as often
as they could until he attained manhood. They drove the Buffalo
within hunting distance of the village and assured rain to bring
good corn crops. Thus one day his father was killed in an Indian
war and his mother died through miscarriage. Before dying she called
in a man whom she adopted as a brother because, though not a blood
relative, he belonged to the same clan, and entrusted her son to
him as a brother and her mother to him as a mother. The man accepted
the charge and the woman died. She was her mother's only child.
From this time on the man looked after the boy and loved him dearly.
His lodge was placed closed to the grandmother's, and if they went
on a winter's hunt, their camps were always beside each other. The
two never quarreled; hence it was a rule that when two camps are
beside each other, there is to be no quarreling or backbiting between
From time to time they went hunting, as the custom was, or made
gardens. Sometimes before the winter hunt the women and old men
would recount the deeds of the hunters and compare their ability
to find a helping Spirit or to endure bravely the torture of hanging
themselves over a cliff. Then, pipe in hand, they would proceed
to the lodge of some warrior who had shown himself brave and give
him the charge of the winter camp for that year.
One year the leader decided to place the winter camp near the mouth
of the Yellowstone. The people harvested their corn and stored into
cellars what corn and squash they could not carry. In those days,
nine varieties of corn were known, differing in color or hardness
in grain, but today some of those varieties have today disappeared.
Almost up to today it was the custom for heralds to go through the
village four days before the start and announce the departure. In
those days they depended upon dogs for transportation and the dogs
were well fed and cared for. They were harnessed with a strap of
soft fur cut from the Buffalo where the fur is thickest and fastened
to poles each side. Almost over the back was a round withe bent
in a circle to which was fastened rods as in basket work, and to
this luggage was fastened. This year they made camp at Beaver Creek
(on the south side of the river). Below this creek is another creek
called Beardancing Creek where there is a big meadow like a river
flat, and here they made their fourth camp.
Unknown One was now grown to be a young man and was a good hunter
for his age. As they came up the river, he was successful in killing
Deer, Elk and other game so that his brother was well provided.
One night he came in with only a small portion of the game he had
killed and said to his grandmother, "On our way up I went in
advance of the camp and saw a few herds to be sure, but the bulls
looked scabby. I think it is going to be poor hunting and propose
that you go home and I will provide for you through the winter.
But let us not tell my brother anything." So the next day he
delayed starting until the camp had gone over the hill and then
the two packed up and returned to the village. At a certain place
where a man eloping with a girl had tried to shoot a rabbit and
always missed it, hence called, "The place where the man missed
the Jack Rabbit," they could look over the whole village and
from one hut they saw smoke rising. The boy said, "Grandmother,
there must be someone remaining in the village." "That
must be the man who broke up the gambling-stick. I have heard that
although he is only a middle-aged man he has been poisoned and cannot
use his legs." It was in fact this man; he had remained with
his wife and daughter, a girl of marriageable age. She ran out joyfully
to meet them and the young man shared his game - the ham of the
Deer, a rib, and such pieces also as are eaten raw. They insisted
that the two must share their lodge, the cornmeal was already cooked,
and bull hide was placed for the old lady to sit upon.
Early next morning at dawn Unknown One rose and went hunting. About
daybreak he came to a river where the antelope crossed, killed four
and carried back the parts to be eaten raw and as many ribs as he
could carry. In those days they had a big log of wood burning all
night covered with ashes and the ashes were brushed away to kindle
a fire in the morning. The old man was overjoyed. "I had thought
that we would make snares and catch Snow birds, but we are now provided
for the whole winter," he said. Toward spring the old man proposed
to his wife that as they liked the young man, he should become their
son-in-law. The wife consented. They proposed the match to the old
woman, promising to look after her until the day of her death. She
told her grandson of the proposal, but he refused to consent. "I
should be the laughing stock of the people if I should marry before
performing any warriors deed!" The old woman begged him to
consider her loneliness, but he refused to yield. Three times the
proposal was mad, three times he rejected it. The fourth time was
the last chance. The old lady sat by the fire mending. She told
him how old she was and how she could not live much longer, how
his own mother would wish the match, and even threatened suicide
unless he would marry the girl; so rather than this happen he promised
to marry. The old people rejoiced at the news. All was prepared
and there was a marriage. The young girl loved the man dearly, as
he was a handsome fellow, and she herself was a beauty. Her father
gave to his daughter for his son-in-law his Eagle-tail ornament
made out of twelve feathers, and the young man was well pleased
with it and hung it up in its case.
One day as he was out hunting, he shot a Deer and was skinning
it when he saw two men whom he recognized as his fathers. The men
told him that in order to honor their daughter-in-law, they were
driving down a herd of Buffalo from the North and among them a White
Buffalo out of which to prepare a robe for their daughter-in-law
to hang on the scalp-pole in front of the lodge. They made him cover
the fire so that there should be no flame, muzzle the dogs so that
they would not bark. Also he must burn incense. The wife prepared
a dish of corn cooked with fat and prepared the father-in-law's
tobacco for smoking. At night as the stars appeared one by one in
the heavens they would come to visit his lodge. So all was done
as directed and at the appointed time Two Men lifted the bullhide
at the door and entered the lodge. The coals burned without flame
and the lodge was dim. Unknown One took the pipe from a square of
buffalo hide and passed it to Spring-Boy who lit it at the coals
and smoked by inhaling the sweet smoke; it was then cleaned out,
refilled and passed to Lodge-Boy. Unknown One then divided the Eagle
feathers, giving six to each, which they stuck in their hair. It
is for this reason that feathers are valued today by the people.
Unknown One dished out the sweet corn and in no time they had cleaned
out the pot, neglecting the meat which was there in abundance. After
smoking again, the visitors advised them to bring in ice and drinking
water in preparation for a heavy fog which would last four days
while the Buffalo were being brought in; then left the lodge.
Two Men had observed that the father-in-law was lame, and Spring-Boy
now agreed to doctor the man. They came to the lodge a second time.
Spring-Boy had the fire rekindled with split wood and water brought
in. He dipped up some of the water into his mouth and gargled four
times. Then he took more water into his mouth, chewed up some black
medicine and going over to the man, took hold of the leg by the
ankle, lifted it up and blew the finely chewed medicine four times
from the man's leg up to his hips. Something was seen twitching
in the man's leg. Spring-Boy reached into the instep and drew out
a male bull snake and placed it in the ashes. Lodge-Boy did the
same and drew out a female bull snake from the left leg, which he
laid on the ashes beside the other. He told the husband and wife
to tie cords to the snakes, spit black medicine over their legs
and draw the snakes out on the snow and leave them with their heads
pointing to the West, then cleanse their hands with sage-brush and
lay sage-brush at the rear, pointing to the West. The man was now
perfectly well. All that night they kept a light in the house lest
the snakes escape, and the next morning they took them far outside
the village and left them on the snow as directed. Four times the
young man would have stopped to leave them, and four times the wife
insisted that they should be carried farther from the village.
When the two returned they hauled the ice as directed and placed
it on blocks of wood close to the door. Four days the fog lasted
when they must muzzle the dogs and keep inside. Voices were to be
heard like those of women, which were Spirit voices. After four
days they could see through the smoke-hole that the sky was clear.
Outside they found all the scaffolds throughout the village loaded
with meat, the scaffold outside their own door as well, and on the
scalp-pole hung the white Buffalo hide. This the mother took down
immediately to tan. Buffalo were to be seen roaming about everywhere.
The old man was delighted. Day by day he went through the village
to drive the Ravens and Magpies from the meat. Their own store of
meat for the family was put away, the grandmother helping as she
could. The bones were then crushed with a stone hammer over a flat
stone, the grease melted out and stored in Buffalo bladders. When
spring came, the man erected shelters over the scaffolds to protect
the dried meat. One day the Two Men came to the boy and told him
that the people were returning and would camp that night by the
Little Missouri. They would send four runners to the village and
these must be well fed and given bundles of meat to carry back,
for the people were famishing. So they got a good rib roasting slowly
by the fire to feed the runners and give them bundles of jerked
meat to carry back to the others. Just about where the ferry is
today, that is where the camp began, and it was stretched West to
the upper crossing. The next day there was a string of young men
and women all the way into the village, some hurrying to preserve
meat and others to take food back to the others. Old people hobbled
along on their canes eager to see what had happened. Soon the whole
village was lively with people.
Unknown One was hunting and his two fathers came to him. They told
him that they could not come to his lodge now, for his father-in-law
was the kind of man in whose lodge men congregate. They warned him
that although he had mysterious power, he was nevertheless human
and the evil spirits would not fear him as they did his two fathers.
Whatever happened therefore, he must never allow himself to feel
fear or they would get the better of him.
He was more cautious after this and formed the habit of going up
on the lodge and looking off in a Southwesterly direction over the
village. One day he saw a big Buffalo on a ridge headed toward the
river and, thinking to get a shot at it as it came to the river,
he took his bow and arrows, explained to his wife where he was going
and hid himself in a ravine in the Buffalo's path. As it came along
he was surprised to see that at times its body appeared to contract.
He shot, but the animal contracted its body so that all the ribs
showed, and the arrow fell off harmlessly. The Buffalo ran; he pursued.
Four times he shot, but the arrow had no effect. He followed it
up a coulee, came to a lodge, and was amazed to see the Buffalo
change into a human being and walk into the lodge. "I told
you to bring him along; did you bring him?" said a voice inside.
"Yes, he's standing outside." said another voice. "I
had all the points arranged where he was to shoot, but the four
shots were the limit of my power. With every shot I drew the distance
toward me and succeeded in getting him here." "Son, enter
in!" said the first voice.
Inside was a great serpent with a concave snake face, a big mouth,
four legs with claws and a tail coiled in a heap. As the boy entered
there came a hissing sound and flames shot forth. This so frightened
him that he went around the fireplace, and because of this fear
he lost his memory and could not recall his own mysterious power.
A man reproved the snake and said, "Only if he brings home
no game or tries to escape are you to kill and eat him!" and
to the youth he explained how the Buffalo had drawn in the country
at every shot with its paw so that he was now in the North country
in a land of springs and running water where it was useless for
him to try to escape. His task was to hunt Deer and bring home the
whole body without skinning it. He must then skin it and boil the
guts and head for the serpent and feed him without tasting a bit
himself. Then he must fill the pouch with water and raise it to
the snake's lips, throw out the remainder and taste no drop himself.
This man had been in a fight with Charred Body and formed an alliance
with the chief whose daughter he had killed. He knew that Unknown
One was his enemy's grandchild and had sent the Buffalo to draw
him to his lodge.
The boy went out, shot and killed a Deer, cut down the skin over
the shinbone and took out the bone, leaving the hoof, which he brought
crosswise through a slit cut in the skin so that he could hang the
Deer over his shoulder. The snake hissed loudly as he came in, and
even when the man quieted it, still it humped it's back and grumbled.
The boy saw no way of escape. He skinned the Deer in the customary
manner by cutting the throat and drawing out the insides. These
he threw to the snake and watched him swallow them down without
chewing just like feeding grain to a threshing machine. He roasted
ribs, brought pieces of board and placed them in front of the man
and laid cooked meat before him. When the man had eaten, he threw
every bone into the fire so that the boy could not get a taste.
After this the boy took the water-bag made of Buffalo pouch laced
into a kind of kettle, carried it to the river and, wading out to
the middle where the water ran clear and cool, he brought it back
filled to the brim and lifting it with great difficulty to the man's
mouth, gave him what he could drink and poured out the rest outside
without tasting a drop. Then he took string and a stone axe and
went after firewood. He was commanded to bring no rotten sticks
but dry wood fit for firewood and to drink no water on the way.
"Should you disobey me in the slightest in one of these commands,
" said the man, "you will die. This Earth with us is like
a small dish out of which you cannot escape." So during his
captivity the boy had little liberty except when out hunting; it
was just as if he were shut up in a penitentiary. During the night
the fear of the serpent kept him awake. The man slept on the left
of the door, the boy on the right, the bull near the center. Under
him there was not even straw and he had neither pillow or robe.
For three days the same thing happened. On the fourth day he had
become so weak that when he got the Deer on his back he was unable
to lift it. As he lay on his back crying he saw a bright light pass
across the sky and heard a voice crying, "Where are you?"
The Two Men had become alarmed and were out looking for him. With
their backs against each other they were traveling all over the
sky. They had searched the mountains in the West, the ocean, but
had not thought of the North. The boy suddenly realized that he
also had mysterious powers but had allowed his mind to become distracted.
He got up, took up his arrow that slid farthest and wet it across
his mouth to indicate that it was the voice that the arrow was to
carry, with a call for help. Had he not wet it, the arrow would
have gone through the air with a flash of light but carried no sound
with it. He strung his bow, tested the string, strung the arrow
and called out twice to Spring-Boy and Lodge-Boy, "Hey-h-h!
Heh-h-h!" Then he let go the arrow and it shot through the
air like a flame with a sound tearing and came down again beside
the boy. The Two Men followed it and he was overjoyed. Lodge-Boy
looked at him sadly, thinking how he must have suffered, but Spring-Boy
laughed and asked how he could possibly have become so emaciated.
"Whoever it is, the enemy shall not escape my hand today."
The boy related this story and as he laid his ear against the Deer
he heard a ringing sound in his right ear. This is the sign of glad
news; a ringing sound in the left ear is a sign of bad luck. The
men told him that the serpent had caused him to lose his wits and
this ringing sound was the return of his consciousness of power.
The men shot a fat old Buffalo for the boy to eat. They cut out
the leg bone and used it to strike the backbone loose so that they
could cut up the ribs and gave him a piece of the raw liver to eat.
Then they accompanied him to the lodge and told him to go in as
usual, but when the man had finished drinking to throw the rest
of the water upon him and they would enter and take care of the
All was done as they had said. They bound the serpent from its
head to its tail and threw it into the fire. They shot the man and
burned him with the serpent. But the Buffalo they spared. This was
the leader of the Buffalo who had brought in the herd for the boy's
marriage feast, but he had been taken into captivity by the man.
He promised to do them no harm; only when they made sacrifices and
did not perform the ritual correctly would he allow them or their
ponies to be gored. Then the two set the boy between them, Spring-Boy
to the right and Lodge-Boy to the left, and made a leap and landed
beside the river near the village. All the family who had been mourning
for him rejoiced. The young man became a great chief.
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