Native American Legends
The Hunter and the Buffalo
An American Indian Legend - Nation Unknown
Imagine a young man who has distinguished himself as a great hunter.
The coyotes follow him to pick over what he leaves behind. Behind
them come crows and vultures. When people are hungry, they count
on this young man to find the buffalo on the great plains. He always
finds the herds and gets their meant, so the people can survive
another winter. He is careful when he hunts to follow the sacred
traditions of praying and thanking the buffalo for the gift of their
meat for the people to eat.
One August morning, the young man comes to a place by a stream
where he knows the buffalo will come to drink. He waits with his
bow ready.Butterflies and dragonflies buzz around him excitedly,
knowing what is going to happen. He sees a buffalo cow coming toward
him, and he draws back his arrow. But before he can let it go, something
magical happens. He doesn't know if he fell asleep or if the world
turned upside down. A beautiful young woman steps from the weeds
to the pebbles at the edge of the stream and takes a drink from
a buffalo horn. He stands up and walks toward her. Her hair is wild
and tangled. She smells of wild sage and prairie flowers. In less
than a moment he knows he loves her. He stands before her unable
She says, "I come from the buffalo people. My father sent
me here because of your good feelings toward all buffalo. The buffalo
council knows that you are a good, kind man, so I was sent her to
be your wife. So that we can set an example for people of both persuasions-
the stand-upright people and the walk-on-all-fours people- of how
to live together in peace and harmony."
They get married and live happily for a time. They have a son and
name him Calfboy. But you can imagine how it goes in a small village-
people talk. There are some people who don't like this woman because
she doesn't comb her hair the right way. She doesn't smell like
everyone else or talk like everyone else. She doesn't follow the
same customs or eat the same foods. "Where does she come from,
anyway?" they ask."Who does she think she is?"
Pretty soon, people in the village are saying she's an animal and
will never be one of them. One day when the young man is out hunting,
his relatives get together and tell the woman that she has to leave.They're
menacing, she picks up Calfboy and runs away. When the young man
comes back from hunting, he sees his wife and child leaving in the
distance and he runs into the village to see what has happened.
When he finds out, he's very angry. He sets out right away to bring
them back, but they have a head start and are moving quickly.
All day long he follows their trail. When he loses it, the grasshoppers
speak to him to tell him which way to go. By evening he reaches
a painted tipi. He sees smoke from the cooking fire coming out the
top. He sees Calfboy playing outside. When Calfboy sees him, he
says, "Come on in, Papa. Mama has dinner ready. She's cooking
a good meal. " And so the hunter enters the tipi and eats corn
and turnips, which is what they would have at that time of year,
maybe with wild greens from the trail, flavored with sage and other
things like that.
While his wife is feeding him, she says, "I've got to go home
to my people. I can't live anymore with your people. You can't follow
me because, if you do, my people will kill you. They will be so
angry about this whole situation that they'll kill you dead."
And he says, "I don't care if I die. I love you and I'm going
to go where you go." Next morning he wakes up and the tipi
has disappeared and he is lying there in the grass. He sees a circle
of dew around him, so he knows he didn't hallucinate. He sees the
tracks of his wife and child leading off and he follows them all
day long. Once again at the end of the day he finds the tipi and
his son comes out to meet him.
"Mama's going to make it really hard for you to follow us
tomorrow, so you won't be killed. She's going to make the rivers
run dry. When you're thirsty, look in my tracks and you'll find
some water there."
Then his wife comes over. She points out a distant high ridge and
says, "My people live over there. You really can't come because
they'll be so angry they'll kill you on the spot."
But again he looks at her and says, "It doesn't matter whether
I die. Nothing is going to make me turn back. I do this because
I love you both." While his wife is asleep that night he buckles
his belt through hers, and he wraps her hair around his arm. Still,
in the morning he wakes up alone. He sees tracks leading away from
where he is, but they are the tracks of a buffalo and a small calf,
not a woman and child. but a flock of ravens comes to tell him that
the tracks belong to his family. And they lead up to the high ridge.
He follows those tracks across a dry, winding river, and he finds
the water in Calfboy's tracks, which keeps him going. Finally he
gets to the top of the ridge and, from behind a rock, looks out
in awe over the whole buffalo nation. There are buffalo everywhere
as far as the eye can see.
Calfboy, his son, has been looking out for him. When he spots his
father, Calfboy comes running up on all fours and says, "Papa!
Go back! They're going to kill you."
The hunter says, "No, son. I came to stay with you. I'm not
going anywhere. This is where I belong."
You'll have to be brave, then," Calfboy warns. "Don't
show any fear or my grandfather will kill you. He's the chief of
the whole buffalo nation. He's going to ask you to find me and Mama.You'll
know it's me because I'll twitch my left ear like a fly is bothering
me. You'll know Mama because I'll put a cocklebur on her back. Be
alert, Papa, and you'll survive this trial."
And so the hunter comes down off the ridge, and the old buffalo
charges him like nothing you ever saw. The old buffalo paws the
earth with his hooves and tosses sagebrush with his horns, and still
the young man stands his ground. He doesn't flinch. He doesn't move
a muscle. He doesn't show any fear. Finall the old buffalo stops
and says, "This stand-upright person has a strong heart. He
doesn't show any fear. I guess I won't kill him outright."
You can see that his courage saved him. The old buffalo leads him
back to the painted tipi in the middle of the buffalo nation. All
the buffalo gather to form a circle around them. The little calves
are in the inner circle, then the yearlings, then the youngest cows,
and all the way out to the oldest bulls, in circles according to
age. And the old buffalo says, "If you're so smart, if you're
such a good man, show me who your son is."
And so the young man walks around and around until he finally sees
a young buffalo with a twitch in his left ear. He says, "This
is my son." And all the buffalo are really surprised.
"What a wonderful person," they say. "This guy must
be really smart."
The old buffalo says, "Okay, stand-up-right person, if you
think you're so smart, find your wife for me."
And so the man walks around and around again and finally sees the
cocklebur. He says, "This is my wife," as he pats her
on the head. The buffalo are amazed. A tear falls from his wife's
eye. The old buffalo announces that because this stand-upright person
loves his family so much and because he is willing to die for them,
they will make him one of the buffalo. And they will have a big
ceremony to do this.
The old buffalo says to everyone. "Make a circle around the
tipi. We're all going to join in with our thoughts and make him
a buffalo." And so they take off all the young man's clothes
and cover him with a buffalo robe with horns and hooves attached.
Then they put him inside the tipi and tie the door shut. For three
days and three nights the buffalo surround the tipi and fill the
air with their grunts and bellowing. They sing songs in the buffalo
language while they paw at the earth. On the fourth day the oldest
buffalo make a sudden rush and push the tipi over. They roll the
young man over and over until he's covered with dirt. They squeeze
the breath out of his body and breathe new breath into his lungs
They lick him and rub him until all of his human smell is gone.
When this is over he tries to stand up, but he can't stand up straight
anymore. Finally he struggles to his feet on all fours like a newborn
calf. And when they hear him grunting and talking in the buffalo
language, everybody makes a big shout and they work even harder,
turning him over and over in the grass until he is truly one of
them. At last he can stand strong on all four feet.
It was this day that made the buffalo a friend of the human being.
Because that brave young man loved his family so much that he was
willing to become a buffalo, the buffalo agreed that they would
give their flesh to the humans so that little children and unborn
babies would have meat to eat to survive the winter. A covenant
was created between the people and the buffalo nation.
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