Pretty Feathered Forehead
A Lakota Legend
There was once a baby boy who came into the world with a small cluster of different colored feathers grown fast to his forehead. From this he derived his name "Pretty Feathered Forehead." He was a very pleasant boy as well as handsome, and he had the respect of the whole tribe. When he had grown up to be a young man, he never, like other young men, made love to any of the tribe's beauties. Although they were madly in love with him, he never noticed any of them. There were many handsome girls in the different camps, but he passed them by.
One day he said: "Father, I am going on a visit to the Buffalo nation." The father gave his consent, and away went the son. The father and mother suspected the object of their son's visit to the Buffalo nation, and immediately commenced preparing a fine reception for their intended daughter-in-law. The mother sewed together ten buffalo hides and painted the brave deeds of her husband on them. She made these into a fine large tipi, and had work bags and fine robes and blankets put inside. This was to be the dwelling of their son and daughter-in-law. In a few weeks the son returned, bringing with him a beautiful Buffalo girl. The parents of the boy gave a big feast in honor of the occasion, and the son and his wife lived very happily together.
In the course of time a son came to the young couple, and the father was very proud of his boy. When the boy became a year old, the father said to his wife: "I am going for a visit to the Elk nation." The mother was very sad, as she knew her husband was going after another wife. He returned, bringing with him a very beautiful Elk girl. When the Buffalo woman saw the Elk girl she was very downcast and sad, but the husband said: "Don't be sad; she will do all the heavy work for you."
They lived quite happily together for a long time. The Elk girl also became the mother of a fine boy. The two boys had grown up large enough to play around. One day the Elk woman was tanning hides outside and the two boys were playing around near their mothers, when all at once the buffalo boy ran across the robe, leaving his tracks on the white robe which his step-mother had nearly completed. This provoked the Elk woman and she gave vent to her feelings by scolding the boy: "You clumsy flat mouth, why couldn't you run around my work, instead of across it?" The buffalo cow standing in the door, heard every word that the Elk woman had said, and when she heard her son called flat mouth it made her very angry, although she did not say a word to any one. She hurriedly gathered some of her belongings and, calling her son, she started off in a westerly direction.
The husband being absent on a hunting expedition did not return until late in the afternoon. Upon his return his oldest boy always ran out to meet him, but this time as the boy did not put in an appearance, the father feared that something had happened to the boy. So hurriedly going to his tent he looked around, but failing to see the boy or his mother, he asked his elk wife, where the boy and his mother were. The elk wife answered: "She took her boy on her back and started off in that direction," (pointing towards the west). "How long has she been gone?" "Since early morning." The husband hurriedly caught a fresh horse and, without eating anything, rode off in the direction taken by his buffalo wife and boy. Near dark he ascended a high hill and noticed a small tent down in the valley. It was a long distance down to the tent, so it was very late when he arrived there. He tethered his horse and went into the tent and found the boy and his mother fast asleep. Upon lying down beside them the boy awoke, and upon seeing his father, motioned to him to go outside with him.
On going outside the boy told his father that it would be useless for him to try and coax his mother to return, as she was too highly insulted by the elk wife to ever return. Then the boy told about what the elk wife had said and that she had called him flat mouth. "My mother is determined to return to her people, but if you want to follow us you may, and perhaps, after she has visited with her relatives a little while, you may induce her to return with you. In the morning we are going to start very early, and as the country we will travel through is very hard soil, I will stamp my feet hard so as to leave my tracks imprinted in the softest places, then you will be able to follow the direction we will take."
The two went into the tent and were soon fast asleep. The father, being very much fatigued, slept very soundly, and when he awoke the sun was beating down upon him. The mother and boy were nowhere to be seen. The tent had been taken down from over him so carefully that he had not been awakened. Getting his horse, he mounted and rode after the two who had left him sleeping. He had no trouble in following the trail, as the boy had stamped his feet hard and left his little tracks in the soft places.
That evening he spied the little tent again and on getting to it found them both asleep. The boy awoke and motioned for his father to go outside. He again told his father that the next day's travel would be the hardest of all. "We will cross a great plain, but before we get there we will cross a sandy hollow. When you get to the hollow, look at my tracks; they will be deep into the sand, and in each track you will see little pools of water. Drink as much as you can, as this is the only chance you will get to have a drink, there being no water from there to the big ridge, and it will be dark by the time you get to the ridge. The relations of my mother live at that ridge and I will come and talk to you once more, before I leave you to join my mother's people."
Next morning, as before, he awoke to find himself alone. They had left him and proceeded on their journey. He mounted again and when he arrived at the sandy hollow, sure enough, there, deep in the sand, were the tracks of his son filled to the top with water. He drank and drank until he had drained the last one. Then he arose and continued on the trail, and near sundown he came in sight of their little tent away up on the side of the ridge. His horse suddenly staggered and fell forward dead, having died of thirst.
From there he proceeded on foot. When he got to where the tent stood he entered, only to find it empty. "I guess my son intends to come here and have his last talk with me," thought the father. He had eaten nothing for three days, and was nearly famished. He lay down, but the pangs of hunger kept sleep away. He heard footsteps outside and lay in readiness, thinking it might be an enemy. Slowly opening the covering of the door, his son looked in and seeing his father lying awake, drew back and ran off up the ridge, but soon returned bringing a small parcel with him. When he entered he gave the parcel to his father and said: "Eat, father; I stole this food for you, so I could not get very much." The father soon ate what his son had brought. When he had finished, the son said: "Tomorrow morning the relatives of my mother will come over here and take you down to the village. My mother has three sisters who have their work bags made identically the same as mother's. Were they to mix them up they could not each pick out her own without looking inside so as to identify them by what they have in them. You will be asked to pick out mother's work bag, and if you fail they will trample you to death. Next they will tell you to pick out my mother from among her sisters, and you will be unable to distinguish her from the other three, and if you fail they will bury you alive. The last they will try you on, in case you meet the first and second tests successfully, will be to require you to pick me out from my three cousins, who are as much like me as my reflection in the water. The bags you can tell by a little pebble I will place on my mother's. You can pick my mother out by a small piece of grass which I will put in her hair, and you can pick me out from my cousins, for when we commence to dance, I will shake my head, flop my ears and switch my tail. You must choose quickly, as they will be very angry at your success, and if you lose any time they will make the excuse that you did not know, that they may have an excuse to trample you to death."
The boy then left, after admonishing his father to remember all that he had told him. Early next morning the father heard a great rumbling noise, and going outside, he saw the whole hillside covered with buffalo. When he appeared they set up a loud bellowing and circled around him. One old bull came up and giving a loud snort, passed on by, looking back every few steps. The man, thinking he was to follow this one, did so, and the whole herd, forming a half circle around him, escorted him down the west side of the range out on to a large plain, where there stood a lone tree. To this tree the old bull led him and stopped when he reached the tree. A large rock at the foot of the tree served as a seat for the man. As soon as he was seated there came four female buffaloes, each bearing a large work box. They set the boxes down in a row in front of the man, and the herd crowded around closer in order to get a good view. The old bull came to the front and stood close to the bags, which had been taken out of the four boxes.
The man stood up, and looking at the bags, noticed a small pebble resting on the one next to the left end. Stepping over he pulled the bag towards him and secretly pushed the little pebble off the bag, so that no one would notice it. When they saw that he had selected the right one, they set up a terrific bellow.
Then came the four sisters and stood in a line before the man. Glancing along from the one on the right to the last one on the left, he stepped forward and placed his hand on the one next to the right. Thanks to his boy, if he hadn't put that little stem of grass on his mother's hair, the father could never have picked out his wife, as the four looked as much alike as four peas. Next came the four boy calves, and as they advanced they commenced dancing, and his son was shaking his head and flopping his ears and switching his tail. The father was going to pick out his boy, when a fainting spell took him, and as he sank to the ground the old bull sprang forward on top of him, and instantly they rushed upon him and he was soon trampled to a jelly. The herd then moved to other parts.
The elk wife concluded that something had happened to her husband and determined upon going in search of him. As she was very fleet of foot it did not take her long to arrive at the lone tree. She noticed the blood splashed on the base of the tree, and small pieces of flesh stamped into the earth. Looking closer, she noticed something white in the dust. Stooping and picking it out of the dust, she drew forth the cluster of different colored feathers which had been fastened to her husband's forehead. She at once took the cluster of feathers, and going to the east side of the ridge, heated stones and erected a wickiup, placed the feathers inside, and getting water, she sprinkled the stones, and this caused a thick vapor in the wickiup. She continued this for a long time, when she heard something moving inside the wickiup. Then a voice spoke up, saying: "Whoever you are, pour some more water on and I will be all right." So the woman got more water and poured it on the rocks. "That will do now, I want to dry off." She plucked a pile of sage and in handing it in to him, he recognized his elk wife's hand.
They went back home and shortly after the buffalo, hearing about him coming back to life, decided to make war on him and kill him and his wife, she being the one who brought him back to life. The woman, hearing of this, had posts set in the ground and a strong platform placed on top. When the buffalo came, her husband, her son and herself, were seated upon the bough platform, and the buffalo could not reach them. She flouted her red blanket in their faces, which made the buffalo wild with rage. The hunter's friends came to his rescue, and so fast were they killing the buffalo that they took flight and rushed away, never more to bother Pretty Feather Forehead.
Return to Lakota Legends