The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Our camp on Two Medicine River.—Sudden plans to start for Canada.—Members composing our expedition and its object.—First camp at foot of Hudson's Bay Divide.—Evening visit to tipi of the widow of Screaming Owl, a former head chief.—She talks about former days and of her dead son.—His ghost makes a night visit to our camp.—Crossing the Hudson's Bay Divide.—Descent of its northern slope into the beautiful valley of the North Fork.—Arrival at Spotted Eagle's camp on St. Mary's River.
IN the early summer of 1905, I was in camp with Kionama and Onesta on Two Medicine Lake in northern Montana. The sun had set behind Mount Rising Wolf. The rugged summits of the Rockies were silhouetted in sharp outlines against the golden light, which still lingered in the western sky. The distant snow-capped peaks, the intervening forest-covered ridges and the silver crescent of the new moon hanging over all, were reflected in the quiet lake. Menake and Nitana, their wives, were busily engaged preparing our evening meal, over an outside fire. They were, at the same time, taking a prominent part in discussing with their husbands a proposed trip across the border into Canada, to visit relatives and friends among the northern divisions of the Blackfeet.
Menake was in favour of starting at once, urging that the weather was undoubtedly settled, and that it was the best time of year for travel. But Kionama doubted
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TWO MEDICINE LAKE (Mount Rising Wolf in the distance.).
if permission to leave the reservation could be secured from the Kino (father or agent), and besides, we would not be able to get through the "Red Coats" (the Canadian North-western Mounted Police). He knew permits to go north had been refused to Ne-sots-kena, Ketamoken and many others. I reassured them by saying that I was a friend of their agent, and as I had
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LODGES OF KATOYA AND HER SON.
come into their country with the permission of Ka-ach-sino (the Great Grandfather, or President), I could secure the permit, and we would go together. All were greatly pleased, and Onesta said, "We will not only visit our relatives and friends among the Blood Indians, but we will also see my uncle, Natosin Nepeë (Brings-down-the-Sun). He is a noted authority upon our ancient customs and religion. He lives in a camp with
his children and grand-children near the Porcupine Mountains, on the Crow Lodge River. If you will go with us on the north trip, we will make you chief of our expedition. We will take you to Brings-down-the-Sun as our friend, and will persuade him to tell you about the old days." When I agreed to their plan, all doubts as to our ability of making the expedition were removed, and they decided, in characteristic Indian fashion, to start at once.
Next morning the horses were driven in at daybreak, and soon after sunrise we were on our way towards the north, over the Old North Trail, which has been trodden by unnumbered generations of Indians, and used long before the white race came to divide the country and to fix a border line. We had two teams, Kionama driving the first wagon with .Menake, his wife, Onesta following with Nitana, their little daughter, O-tak-kai, (Yellow Mink), and Moiyami (Woolly One), the dog. I rode on horse-back in company with Sinopa (Kit Fox), daughter of Kionama, and her two brothers, Emonissi (Otter) and Seeyea.
We camped, for the first night, in a meadow of tall bunch grass, at the foot of the Hudson's Bay Divide, and near a stream of cold and sparkling water, fresh from the snow peaks of the Rockies. Not far distant, were the black timbered slopes of the mountains from which came a gentle breeze laden with the fragrance of the pine forest.
The Indians were delighted to be upon the trail again. They were as light-hearted and happy as children. When we gathered around the fire, Menake and Nitana busied themselves preparing the meat for our long journey, cutting it into broad strips and hanging it to dry upon poles near the fire. Thin strips
were roasted on the hot embers for supper, and the "boss ribs" boiled in a large kettle for the morning meal. Not far distant, up the river, were two lodges, where lived Katoya, widow of See-pis-tok-komi (Screaming Owl), former head chief of the Blackfeet, and her married son Ekum-makon.
In the evening Kionama and I went to pay our
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OUR CAMP NEAR THE HUDSON'S BAY DIVIDE.
respects to the old woman. There was no apparent sign of life about her tipi, save the blue smoke, slowly curling from the top, and carrying the sweet scent of burning cottonwood. Katoya was at home and bade us be seated. I leaned against the comfortable lodge backs, made of small pine branches skilfully woven together, and sat gazing at the medicines and the other objects of interest in the lodge, revealed by the cheerful
firelight. I broke the long silence, by asking her to relate the circumstances that brought her husband into prominence before the tribe. She lapsed into a reverie, but finally, after filling her pipe, began:
"Many years ago, when we were at war with the whites, and in great dread of them, our tribe was camped near the Cypress Mountains. It was then that my husband, Screaming Owl, made a treaty with the white men. Early one morning he awoke me, saying, 'Catch our best horses and dress in your finest clothes, for I intend to start to-day for the camp of the Long Knives' (United States Cavalry). When this news had spread throughout the camp, there was great excitement. The people thought we were going to certain death and, crowding round our lodge, urged us not to go. But Screaming Owl said to them, 'Are you all women, that you should so fear the Long Knives? I know the whites will do me no harm, for I go to make friends with them. Many times in the past I have advised you not to fight. It does no good to kill them, for they are as many as the grass on the prairies. Whenever we have taken their scalps they have brought bad luck and caused us much trouble.' We started off on our long journey and travelled towards the south for many days. When we drew near the white settlement, my husband rode to the summit of a high butte. He made signals with a mirror, flashing it into the fort, and then walked four times along the butte, backwards and forwards. The white chief rode towards us with some other men, making signs of peace. My husband also made signs to them that his heart was good, and we rode together down the hill. They shook hands with us, and, having entered their camp, we smoked a pipe with them. We remained there ten days, and
then returned again to our people. We found the Blackfeet camped on Milk River. They were anxious for our safety and had followed our trail, but turned back, when it approached the white settlement. Screaming Owl told them of our journey, and how kindly the white men had received us. He finally persuaded the whole tribe to return with him to Fort Benton, where they camped many days. The great treaty was then made. My husband was given a medal by the Great Father, and he was also made head chief of the Blackfeet."
It was late when we returned to camp. The night air was cold, and we sat closely around the fire, built at the edge of the willows. Menake was relating the story of a ghost, which took the form of a large owl, and harassed a camp of Blackfeet. In the midst of her story, she abruptly stopped, and, turning, gazed intently towards the meadow. For a moment there was a deep stillness. Then a rustling was distinctly heard in the long grass, just beyond the circle of firelight. We all rose to our feet, while Kionama reached for his rifle. The strange object continued to move stealthily through the grass of the meadow and glided into the thick willows. Onesta said, "It must be a cougar, or a lynx." But Menake thought it was an Indian watching our camp. Before retiring to my blanket-bed, I stood, for a moment, looking up at the bright moon, and again closely scrutinised the dark line of the willows where the mysterious visitor had entered. As the sequel proved, it was my first meeting, face to face, with a real ghost, which has always remained a mysterious and inexplicable experience.
The following morning, when we went back to Katoya's tipi, she unconsciously furnished us
with a startling explanation of the apparition. She said:
"Our talk yesterday brought back to me many things, and, since you left, I have been going over in my mind the happy days of the past. Last night I did not sleep, but lay thinking until the darkness became pale, and I watched the dawn as it came into the tipi. The spirit of my dead son, Pakapse, came here. He is my protector, and often visits me. Whenever he comes he is hungry; and last night, while eating, he said: 'My mother, there are strangers near you, but you need not be afraid, for they are good people and will do you no harm. I have been watching their camp and recognised Kionama, A-pe-ech-eken (referring to myself), and Menake. They were seated by the fire, talking together. I went too close, for they heard me, and Kionama picked up his rifle. I feared lest he might shoot and alarm you, so I went away. I then met the ghost of my dead father, Screaming Owl, coining down from the ridge, where his body lies. He said he was coming to watch over you, my mother. I advised him to go back and rest quietly, because I would see that no harm came to you.'"
Katoya continued in a reminiscent mood, "I was seven years old when I became the wife of Screaming Owl. I lived with him until death separated us. During our married life I gave the Sun ceremonial three times; the first, when I was fourteen years of age. The vow for our last Sun-dance was made by my son, Pakapse, when he was living on Badger Creek. I had been very sick, and some one brought to him word that I was dying. It was night when he received the message, and the moon was in the sky. He had always before prayed to the Sun, but, that night,
he stood before his lodge, and looking up to the sky, prayed,
"'Great Spirit in the Moon and in the Stars! Have mercy on my mother that she may live. Pity her, for she is a pure woman, and I vow that if she recovers from the sickness of this night she will give the festival sacred to the Sun.'
"When Pakapse came in the morning he kissed me, saying, 'Rise up now and get well, because I have made the vow and have prayed for you.' I became strong again, and in midsummer, we gave the Sun-dance, as our son had promised. Since my husband died, I have been very poor. The agent has taken away my ration ticket, and I know not where I will get food. I would not have clothes, if my son Ekum-makon, did not provide for me. He is also poor and has a wife and family to care for. The agent now says he must take me from my home and send me, with other old Indians, to the 'Country of the Dead' (referring to the 'Old Agency,' which was so named by the Blackfeet because of its dreary surroundings, the many graves on the hills and the quantity of bones lying around, bleaching in the sun). If this is done there will soon be no old people, for we shall all die of loneliness. We need our children around us. They provide for us, when we are in want, and care for us, when we are sick. I wish to live always on the banks of this river, where I lived with my husband, where his body now lies, and my children and sister are buried. When I die, I want my body to be placed beside theirs, on the summit of yonder ridge." When Katoya ended her talk, she bowed her head in silence, allowing her long hair to cover her face in order to hide her tears. We quietly left her to the companionship of
her ghostly dead and returned to our camp, for we had a long drive ahead of us.
Heavy clouds settled down so low over the divide, that our camp was enveloped in a thick fog. Fearing that a heavy storm was gathering, we hurriedly finished breakfast, packed our outfit, and started in the face of a cold north wind. I lagged behind to get out my thick gloves and heavily lined leather coat. Closely muffled in their blankets the Indians made an interesting procession, moving forward through the heavy mists, and slowly climbing towards the summit of the divide. While we were descending its northern slope, a magnificent view was spread before us. The clouds were lifting from the Rocky Mountains, and the higher peaks stood out sharply in the clear sunlight. When we at last rode down into the broad valley of the North Fork of Milk River it was a lovely summer day, with balmy air and sky of deepest blue. At the head of the grassy valley, the sharp peak of Chief Mountain rose like a great pyramid. On either side of the stream the luxuriant meadows were radiant with masses of sweet-briar roses, and its course was marked by green groves of balsam poplars and willow thickets.
Arriving at the Green Banks (St. Mary's River), we camped beside the lodges of Spotted Eagle and Big Smoke at the edge of a grassy plateau overlooking the river. Spotted Eagle, a medicine man of the South Piegans, was recrossing the border with his wife and family bound south, having made a long stay among the northern divisions of the Blackfeet in Alberta. Big Smoke was a Blood Indian. He and his wife were on their way to visit their daughter who had married among the South Piegans.