The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Gift of supernatural power from the Sun, conveyed to men through certain animals.—Onesta's watchful care of the Bear Spear.—He gives the ceremonial for an auspicious entrance into a new country.—Relates legend of the origin of the Bear Spear.—The Mink Ceremonial.—Curiosity of white emigrants visiting our camp.—Extreme heat.—Changed outlook after crossing the International Line.—Indian theories for "Fairy Rings" on the plains.—My botanical collection of herbs and plants used by the Blackfeet.—Perfumes used by women.—Arrival in the Blood Country.
MANY of the Blackfeet legends relate to the origin of their medicines, and the manner in which supernatural power was transmitted to men by the Sun. When an Indian desired to know the future course of his life, or to receive knowledge, that would be of value to his tribe, he went off alone upon the plains, or to a remote region among the Rocky Mountains, to fast and pray, sometimes for many days, that he might receive a dream or vision. If he was worthy, a message would be transmitted to him from the Sun, through some animal, or supernatural being, whose compassion had been excited by his fasting and exhausted condition. The revelation, and with it the gift of power, generally came in a dream through the medium of one of the more powerful animals, such as the buffalo, beaver, wolf or grizzly bear, which were believed to have supernatural attributes, or through one of the personified natural forces, such as the Thunder Chief, the Wind Maker, or Es-to-ne-a-pesta,—Maker of Storms and
[paragraph continues] Blizzards. The Blackfeet believed that this power was conferred upon the animals by the Sun, and they in turn were able to transmit it to men. If, for instance, the grizzly bear bestowed his power upon a man, that man would attain the nature of a grizzly. It would be difficult to kill him in battle, because of his wonderful vitality, or
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ONESTA WITH THE BEAR SPEAR.
life force, and like the bear, he would inspire fear among his enemies. At the death of the owner of this power, or medicine, it was handed down to his son, or someone worthy to possess it, along with the ceremonial and the story of its origin, which became one of the most valuable of his possessions and was made known only upon special occasions.
Onesta was the owner of the sacred Bear Spear. During our travels I found it very interesting to observe his watchful care of it. When we made camp, the Bear Spear was always attended to first. It was never allowed to lie upon the ground, but hung from the tripod behind the lodge. After sunset, it was carried inside and tied to the lodge poles. In the morning, it was again taken outside to hang in the sunlight, but was never exposed to a storm. The evening we camped on the border of the reservation of the Kainau (Blood tribe), Onesta made preparations for the ceremonial necessary before entering a strange country. He and Nitana put on their ceremonial clothes of yellow,—the colour sacred to the Bear Spear. Nitana led Yellow Mink, their small daughter, to a stream, where she was washed, her hair was neatly braided, and she was clothed in her little yellow dress, with beaded leggings and moccasins to match. Onesta and Nitana burned sweet grass as incense and painted their faces. They sang a chant over the Bear Spear, which was laid before them, and made prayers for a prosperous journey. Having become familiar with the chants, I joined with them in the singing, doing my part in giving more power to their prayers. When the ceremonial was finished, and we were gathered around the evening fire, Onesta related the following legend of
"Many generations have passed since the events I am about to relate took place. They happened at the time, when the Blackfeet used dogs, instead of horses, as beasts of burden. Our people were travelling in the moon, when the leaves fall (late autumn). One
evening, when they went into camp for the night, a herald announced that a dog travois owned by the head chief was missing. The herald said further, that the chief's ermine skin-suit, and his wife's buck-skin dress., and her sacred elk-skin robe were all on this travois. No one could recall having seen the dog during the
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ONESTA HOLDING UP PIPE WHILE PRAYING TO THE BEAR SPEAR, WHICH HANGS FROM THE TRIPOD.
day. A band of warriors rode back to their former camp, but they could find no sign of the missing travois. Sokumapi, a young boy about twelve years old, was the only son of the head chief. When the warriors returned, after their fruitless search, he went to his father, and said: 'My father, let me return to our old camp. I am now old enough to make this trip alone, and I feel that there is in me the power to find out what has become of our travois dog.' The head chief was, at first, unwilling
that his son should go so far alone, but the boy was so eager, that he finally consented. Sokumapi travelled alone to their former camping grounds, which were close to the Rocky Mountains. He went first to the place where their tipi had stood, believing that, if the dog had strayed away, he would return there. Then he walked slowly around the circle of their old encampment, carefully examining the ground. When he discovered a single travois track leading away from the camp, he followed it, until it ran into a well-worn trail, leading in turn into a deep and rocky ravine. Near the head of this ravine, he discovered the entrance to a large cave. Its mouth was almost covered with large sarvis berry and choke-cherry bushes. On a fresh mound of earth, in front of the cave, he found the missing travois. While he stood gazing at it, and was wondering what had become of the dog, a huge grizzly bear suddenly appeared in the entrance. He walked out from the cave and, rising upon his hind legs, gave a terrible roar, which so frightened Sokumapi, that he could neither speak, nor move. The grizzly grasped the boy in his paws and carried him back into the cave, where it was very dark. Gradually Sokumapi's eyes became accustomed to the darkness and when he discovered the enormous size of the bear that held him, his spirit left his body. When he came to himself, he was lying on the floor of the cave. He was so close to the head of the grizzly, he could feel his hot breath. When he moved, the bear placed his heavy paw across his body and stretched out his great claws. After that, the boy lay still; for a long time he did not even move, but gazed straight ahead. Finally, the grizzly spoke to him saying: 'Do not be alarmed, my son, for I will do you no harm. I am the head chief of all the bears and my
power is very great. I know that you have wandered to my den because you are trying to help your father. It was my supernatural power that drew you here, because I want to help you. Live with me here while the snows are deep. I have provided plenty of food and no harm will come to you. Before you leave my cave in the spring I will bestow upon you some of my supernatural power, so that you will be of great help to your people.' The grizzly then stood upon his hind legs, his head almost touching the roof. He first walked around and around and then led the boy to a large pile of branches bearing different kinds of berries and said: 'You will have plenty of berries for food. The bear eats them, stems and all, but you can pick the berries from the stems if you prefer.' Taking Sokumapi to the other side of the cave, the bear uncovered a hole filled with buffalo chips. He showed him how to transform them into food. Lifting one, he held it between his paws and danced slowly four times around a circle, making many mysterious motions. As the boy watched the buffalo chip, he saw it change into rich pemmican and wild berries. Sokumapi lived all winter in the cave with the bear, doing just as he did. His eyes became so accustomed to the darkness, that he could see just as well as the bear himself. He observed that, when the snows lay deep the bear lay on one side. He did not even move. But when the warm winds of spring began to blow, he became restless. One day he rolled upon his back, and, after lying for some time with his legs in the air, he sat up. Finally, he yawned and rising walked around the cave, turning now and then to look out of the entrance. The bear then told the boy that spring had come and it was time for them to leave the
cave. When Sokumapi looked out, he saw that a Chinook (warm wind) was blowing and that the snow had melted from the hills. But, before they left the cave, the Medicine Grizzly bestowed upon Sokumapi his supernatural power. He brought forth a long stick and, raising himself upon his hind legs, stretched out his arms and extended his claws. Throwing up his head, he snorted and rolled back his lips, showing his long sharp teeth. He said, 'Behold my nose, with its keen scent, and my claws and teeth which are my weapons! Everything fears the grizzly bear. There is nothing living upon the earth that dares to defy my power. When you return again to your people make a Bear Spear. Secure a long stick like this I am holding. To one end of it attach a sharp point, to represent my tusks. Tie bear's teeth to the staff and a bear's nose, which must always go with the teeth. Fasten eagle feathers to the handle and cover the staff with bear skin painted with sacred red paint. Grizzly claws should also be tied to the handle, so that they rattle like the noise a grizzly makes when he runs. When you go into battle, always wear a grizzly claw in your hair, and my power will go with you. Whenever you attack, imitate the noise a grizzly makes when he charges, so that your enemy will be afraid and will run away, just as everything that lives on earth runs from a grizzly.' The bear taught him the chants to be used in healing the sick. He also showed him how to paint his face and body, so that he would not be struck in battle, red over his body, black across the forehead, and two curved black lines at either side of his mouth, to represent bear's tusks. The bear warned him that the Spear must be kept sacred. Its supernatural power must be
used, only in battle and for healing the sick. When anyone is near death, a relative can make a vow to purchase the Bear Spear, and the sick will then be restored to health by the supernatural power that goes with it. The Medicine Grizzly accompanied Sokumapi, until they saw an Indian seated on a distant butte. The bear then left him, saying, 'Go now, my son. That person is a sentinel of your people and the camp is not far distant.' The sentinel recognised Sokumapi and inquired where he had spent the winter, and told him that his father and mother had mourned him as dead. But the boy was silent. He would not answer. When the sentinel called out that the lost son of their head chief had returned, the entire camp was thrown into great excitement. Everyone came out to meet him. The head chief was proud of his son. He gave a feast and invited many prominent men to his lodge. When they had finished eating, and all were seated to listen, Sokumapi related the story of his journey, the visit to the den of the Medicine Grizzly, and the gift of the sacred Bear Spear. Sokumapi began at once to make the Spear, as the grizzly had directed, and the tribe did not move camp, until it was finished."
Not long after Sokumapi's return, it happened that the Blackfeet were preparing to meet the Crow Indians in battle. The two battle lines were drawn up, but, before they met, Sokumapi appeared in front of the Blackfeet warriors, bearing the sacred Spear on his back, with the sharp point up, and the feathers hanging down. He was stripped and his body was painted red. There were black curving lines at either side of his mouth for tusks, and in his hair he wore a huge grizzly claw. He walked along the line, singing one of the Bear songs, and back again, singing another, then
holding the Spear up towards the sun, so that all could see, he prayed, and started a charge against the enemy, calling upon all the warriors to follow. The Blackfeet followed the sacred Spear and, knowing that the power of the Bear was with them, rushed upon the Crows with such fury, that they turned in flight. It was a great victory. The Blackfeet killed many of their enemy and, when the battle was over, they put Sokumapi on a large horse and he led the warriors back to the tribal camp, chanting the Bear songs. After this victory, Sokumapi was made a war chief, and the people knew that the Bear Spear was endowed with supernatural power. It was often taken to war, and was also used for healing the sick. Its ceremonial lasted an entire day. The man, who made the vow to receive the Spear, pitched his lodge at a distance from the main camp, on the side where the sun rises. He remained there alone for four days and four nights. If during that time, the tribe moved camp, one of his relatives was required to change his camping place four times, before his lodge could be pitched again in the main camp. After the Spear changed hands the owner hunted for a bear-den, and securing some of the dung, he placed it on the ground, where the Spear was uncovered, and also upon the spot where the incense was burned. Sweet grass is used as incense in the spring and in summer, when it is at its best. In the autumn and winter, the root of the big turnip is used instead, because it gives forth such a strong odour at that time of the year. The owner of the Bear Spear must always keep it near him. It cannot be placed on the ground, but must hang from a tripod. No dogs are allowed within the lodge, because they fight bears. All openings must be kept closed and parfleches placed
against the door, so that dogs cannot find an entrance. The sacred Spear is unrolled and taken out in the spring, when the first thunder is heard, just as with the Medicine Pipe, because the bear appears in the spring, and remains out all summer, like the thunder. In the late autumn, when the bear disappears for the winter, the sharp point is removed from the staff and the Spear is put away. Wipes-his-eyes owns a Bear Knife given him by the Black Bear. The songs belonging to its ceremonial are different from the Bear Spear songs. Women are not allowed to handle, either the Bear Knife, or the Bear Spear. When Onesta was leaving camp, not expecting to return before dark, he asked me to remove the Bear Spear from its tripod at sunset and hang it from the poles inside the lodge. He explained that his wife could not do this for him, because women were not allowed to touch the sacred Spear.
Next morning, Onesta brought forth a Mink Shin, over which he held a short ceremonial, explaining to me that it had been in his possession for thirty years, and had formerly belonged to the Bear Spear Medicine. The incense he burned for the Mink Skin consisted of small dried seeds which gave forth a pleasing odour. He called it Pono-kan-sinni (Elk Food) (Narrow Leaved Puccoon), and said it was prepared by drying the tops of the plant. While painting his face he said, "A-pe-ech-eken, it would be well for you to paint your face also, in order that the Bloods may know that you are an Indian, and besides, the red paint protects the face from the hot sun." Nitana then decorated my moccasins with paint, thinking that it improved their appearance.
At some distance down the stream, was a camp of
white people. They were evidently emigrants moving into Canada, for they had several prairie schooners and a large herd of horses. They all came in a crowd, men, women and children, to stare, and to gape at the Indians, and to examine everything belonging to us. Many were the surprised and curious glances directed at me, but I escaped by going upon the prairie after my
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ONESTA AND NITANA HOLDING CEREMONIAL WITH SACRED MOUNTAIN LION CLAW NECKLACE.
(Onesta is chanting while painting necklace. Nitana is praying with the Pipe.)
saddle horse. By the time we were ready to start the sun was intensely hot, with a warm breeze from the south. My thermometer registered 98 degrees in the shade and 125 degrees in the sun. Suddenly the wind changed, and blew furiously from the north, carrying with it clouds of dust and sand, which filled our eyes and mouths. In a few minutes there was a
fall of more than 60 degrees in the temperature, compelling me to dismount and walk, to keep warm.
A great change now appeared in the face of the country. Instead of the high and rocky ridges of Northern Montana, the Alberta country was undulating. The soil was rich and black and the prairie covered with luxuriant grass. I saw everywhere many "Fairy Rings," both large and small, made by the peculiar growth of a species of fungus, or puff balls. They are identical with the mushroom growths common in our eastern fields, and popularly known as "Fairy Rings," or "Fairy Dances," supposed to be caused by fairies in their dances. Kionama's idea of them was, that they were buffalo wallows, which had gradually filled up. But Onesta advanced the Indian belief, that they had been caused in olden times by the dances of buffalo, the large circles by old buffaloes, and the small circles by buffalo calves. Puff Balls, called Dusty Stars by the Blackfeet, because supposed to be meteors fallen during the night, grow around the circles and emit A, puff of dust when pressed. We may have in this belief the origin of their use of the broad band of dark colour, with its circle of discs or Dusty Stars, as the bottom decoration of the Blackfoot tipi. This band, usually painted in red, with the discs in yellow or other colour, suitably symbolises the Earth as the foundation for all things.
Menake and Nitana were industrious collectors of medicinal herbs and edible plants. Whether in camp, or on the trail, whether in the forest, or along the streams, or even on the dry and dusty plains, they never lost an opportunity for collecting them. They dried them before the camp fire, or in the hot sun. They used some of them in seasoning the meats and stews, others
as medicines for the children's sore throats and other complaints, and as a tonic for Kionama's weak stomach. Menake showed me a special collection she was taking as a present to Brings-down-the-Sun, containing plants he used in doctoring, but did not grow in the north country. When I started a botanical collection 1 of my own, the women were constantly on the look-out to aid me, pointing out the different varieties, telling their. Indian names, and explaining their different uses and methods of preparation. Our outfit was frequently halted to secure additional specimens.
It surprised me to learn the number of perfumes used by the Blackfeet. Menake said that sweet grass was the most popular among the women. It is dried and made into braids and placed among their clothes, or carried in small bags. They also use beaver musk, red cedar, punk from the cottonwood tree, buds from the balsam poplar and dried blossoms of dog fennel and meadow rue. The leaves of sweet pine are also valued for their delightful odour, when confined in small buckskin bags, and are also used to give a pleasant fragrance to hair grease. In gathering sweet pine, the women distinguished the right species from others by its branches turning upwards.
In the late afternoon I saw, in the far distance, a green line, which Kionama said consisted of trees, marking the course of the river Okoan ( Belly), so named, because the outlines of the hills along its course resemble those of a buffalo's paunch.
Riding ahead of our party, I was the first to enter the valley, and soon found myself in the midst of the Kainau camp (Blood Indians). I looked with keen interest at everything about me,—the decorations on
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CAMP OF THE BLOODS.
their lodges, the picturesque travois and the costumes of men, women and children. It was a warm evening, and the fronts and sides of the lodges were lifted for better ventilation. The centre of interest was a large gathering of Indians near a big lodge. It was evidently a ceremonial, for they were seated in a circle, beneath a shelter made of an old lodge lining, and held in place by a cluster of poles tied together near the top. Because of the warm day, the men had discarded their clothing. At the back reclined a distinguished looking Indian, one of their leading chiefs, and, in front of him, was seated an elderly chief, who was evidently a visitor. He held a long red-stone pipe, from which he drew copious whiffs of smoke. A fire burned at one side, over which a large kettle hung from a tripod. A squaw had arrived from the river, with a travois, to which were fastened pails filled with water. On the edge of a high cut-bank nearby, an old Indian was seated, placidly smoking, facing the setting sun.
Meanwhile, a horseman came to meet me. When he saw I was a stranger, he raised his hand, and signed to know who I was. I replied, that I was travelling with a party of Pi-kun-ni (South Piegans), and that my people were behind. He closely inspected everything I had, from my horse's brand to each article of clothing I wore. Kionama, with the rest of the party, soon came in sight, and my new companion rode back to meet them. He proved to be Wolf Robe, an old friend of Onesta's. After conversing a few minutes, Wolf Robe led the way down the river to One Spot's camp, a near relative of Menake's. One Spot, with Snake Woman, his wife, also Cotton Tail, Good-young-man, and others hurried
forth to greet us. One Spot insisted upon our sharing his lodge, but Kionama and Onesta replied, that in such warm weather we preferred camping in the open. He directed us to a place, sheltered from the west wind by a large grove of poplars and cottonwoods, and where the Pome-piskun (Greasy Cliff) stream flows into the Okoan River. Before our wagons were unpacked, the Blood women came with presents of food. This is an old Indian custom, originating in the desire to obviate the inconvenience to visitors of preparing their first meal, when the tipis had to be pitched. Snake Woman, wife of One Spot, was the first to come with her baby on her back, bearing sarvis berries, a pail of tea and dried meat. To the South Piegans these sarvis berries were the first of the season and therefore it was necessary, before eating, to make an offering to the Sun. All waited, while Onesta held a berry up, with the prayer that we all might have abundance of food during the coming year, and then we followed his example, by planting a berry in the ground, with a similar prayer to the Underground Spirits.
When the Blood women returned to their lodges, their presents were promptly repaid by Menake and Nitana with tobacco, rice, flour and meat.
364:1 See Appendix.