The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
North Piegans gather around our camp fire.—Dances by the children Emonissi and Yellow Mink.—Embarrassing relations between a mother-in-law and son-in-law.—Running Wolf and myself entertain a gathering with Blackfeet songs.—At Onesta's request I sleep in the sacred Thunder Tipi.—Story of my vision has an advantageous result.
ONESTA was drumming and chanting religious songs, inside his tipi, when he requested me to join with him and help in the singing. The women, having finished their evening cooking, opened the front of the lodge and seated themselves to listen. The North Piegans, attracted by the chanting and sound of the drum, also came to our camp and joined the audience. Onesta and I continued our singing, while his little daughter, Yellow Mink, danced for the amusement of the company. When she had finished, Kionama directed his son, Emonissi, a young boy about eight years of age, to go through some of the Medicine Pipe dances he was teaching him. When his father picked up the drum, and began beating time, the little fellow started off with the Grizzly Bear dance, stepping slowly backwards and forwards, imitating the clumsy movements of a bear, holding out his arms, with his hands hanging, and then moving them about, just as a bear does, all the while breathing hard like a grizzly, when running. In the Antelope dance, Emonissi imitated, with his hands,
the graceful movements of an antelope, and turned his head alertly, like an antelope. For the Swan dance, he held his arms in front with the palms spread out, in imitation of the swan sailing through the air. Kionama explained that the boy was representing the chief swan, who leads the flock. In the Thunder, or Pipe dance,
Click to enlarge
(“Lookout Butte” in distance.)
[paragraph continues] Emonissi held a pipe in his right hand, while his left was extended, to represent the Thunder Bird flying. After the performance, Onesta announced that he and Nitana would give the Sup-we-yok-kinni (Crow Beaver ceremonial), and invited all the North Piegans to attend. He had been so pleased with my singing during our evening dance, that he asked my help for his ceremonial, and suggested that I should be the
owner of a medicine drum. Nitana had spent the entire day gathering sarvis berries for the feast, also sage and the different herbs required for the ceremonial.
Early in the morning of the day of the dance, the women pitched the sacred Thunder Tipi. The top was painted black to represent a cloudy sky, with a cross at the back, symbolising the Butterfly, the Bringer of Dreams. A band of Dusty Stars circled the bottom, symbolising the earth and, resting upon it, were representations of mountains. Between the top and bottom decorations were four serpentine bands of red representing the trails of the Thunder Bird (Lightning).
A huge kettle hung from the tripod over our outside fire, in which the sarvis berry stew was cooked. Onesta and Nitana chanted and offered prayers, while placing the berries in the kettle, and when all preparations had been completed, they reverently carried the food and their medicine bundles to the sacred tipi. Onesta beat loudly upon his drum, the signal to the people to assemble. The North Piegans, having never before witnessed the Crow Beaver ceremonial, attended in great numbers. One exception was a fine-looking man, who was holding himself aloof from the rest of the company. Noticing that he remained apart in the South Piegan camp, and wondering what could be the cause of his absence, I made inquiries. Menake explained that Bird was his mother-in-law and, according to the tribal custom, two persons of such relationship could not be present at the same time. If she chanced to meet him face to face, she would be greatly annoyed. If a man came unexpectedly into the presence of his mother-in-law, he would be expected to make her a handsome present for such a breach of etiquette.
Brings-down-the-Sun did not enter the sacred tipi,
neither did his wife, nor any of the family, but sat outside, for only those who took part in the ceremonial were expected to enter. Menake said, that, "It was their custom to refrain from participation in any ceremonial, excepting that of the Sun-dance. He was the high priest of the Sun-dance and his wife one of its sacred women. It was necessary for them to be careful,
Click to enlarge
ONESTA GIVES THE CROW BEAVER CEREMONIAL.
(Onesta is second from right end.)
not only in respect to their own, but also their children's actions. They were expected by the tribe to lead straight lives and to be above reproach." In this instance, they all attended as onlookers, because Onesta was a relative, but maintained their dignity by not participating.
The Crow Beaver Society ceremonial was introduced in recent years by a Blackfoot Chief, after a visit to the Crow Indians. It is participated in by both men and
women. Their ceremonial is generally given for healing the sick. The society is invited to the home of the sick person, where the ceremonial is held. They bring their medicine bundles, and opening them, dance, with feathers and skins of the different birds and animals, and offer prayers for the recovery of the sick.
The priests, assisting Onesta in the ceremonial, were seated by his side. The North Piegans, who were to be instructed sat opposite, or were "against him," as the Indians expressed it.
When the Crow Beaver dance was over, and the people had dispersed, Onesta inquired if I would be willing to sleep in the sacred Thunder Tipi, explaining that it was contrary to the rules of the medicine to leave it unoccupied during the night. He said that, if I slept inside, I might possibly secure a dream, or a vision. He was much gratified, when I agreed to the proposal. Onesta, Nitana, Kionama and Menake came to sit with me during the evening. We were also joined by Running Wolf, Star-that-sets-over-the-hill, and their wives.
When we were all gathered around the lodge fire, Running Wolf asked me to sing some Indian songs. I agreed, if he would sing in turn. In reply to my wolf song, he sang a dance song, used by young warriors during a test for bravery. He gave me the following explanation of the occasion, when it is used.
"The bark of a pitch pine tree was set on fire. A group of men stripped naked, and holding hands, gathered in a circle about the tree. Two of them with long poles stood close to the tree, scraping the burning bark. This caused showers of sparks, which fell upon the hare bodies of the candidates, dancing around the tree, and singing 'Sats-to-o-komo' (Rub under the jaw). When the live sparks struck the faint hearted and cowardly, they could not withstand the pain and ran from the circle, but the men with brave, strong hearts continued dancing and singing, unmindful of their burns."
After my dance song, Running Wolf sang a song used in a man's game. The oldest man present takes two burning brands from the fire. All the others fall in line, each holding tightly to the one in front, and all singing in unison. The leader strikes the burning brands together, throwing off showers of sparks, while he leads them, winding in and out. The sparks falling on their bare bodies make the faint hearted shrink from the ordeal.
Nitana sang the song of a maiden disappointed in love. The words were,
"My lover looked like an eagle from a distance, but alas! when he came nearer I saw that he was nothing but a buzzard."
My guests, especially the women, were much interested, when I sang the love song I had heard in Mad Wolf's Sun-dance camp, and they insisted upon hearing it over and over again. When Mysterious Woman entered the lodge, a request was made that I would again sing the love song for her.
It was after midnight, when my visitors departed. Before they left, Onesta was careful to inform me of certain things I must avoid, while occupying the sacred Thunder Tipi, to guard against bad luck. Running Wolf also warned me, that a skunk visited the locality every morning, just before daybreak, but assured me that if he were to enter the lodge, he would go out without causing any trouble, if I would lie perfectly still.
The night was very cold, after the Indians had departed. I built a warm fire and, comfortably wrapped in my blankets, lay for a long time, thinking of the varied events of the past day. It was a strange experience to be occupying a sacred tipi, to fulfil the laws of the medicine and to await a vision, like a
medicine man. The rustling of the cottonwoods overhead, the faint murmur of the river rapids near by, and the weird shapes of the lodge decorations, in the fitful glow of the dying fire, made favourable conditions for a vision. As I went to sleep I remembered having seen a large eagle, sailing high above the plains, on the day we entered the North Piegan country. He stood beside me in the night, advising what message I should bring to the North Piegans.
I was wakened by the bright rays of the morning sun, shining into the lodge. Smoke was slowly rising in the still air from our South Piegan camp fire. Menake and Nitana were already cooking breakfast. Kionama called me, while I was at the river endeavouring to wash the red paint from my face and hair. Before long, as I had expected, Onesta inquired if anything had disturbed me during the night. I replied, "No," and relapsed into silence. Menake then asked if I had seen a vision. When I replied that I had had a very strong vision, Onesta urged me to tell it. I said, with the greatest seriousness,
"Before sunrise, just as day was breaking, an eagle stood beside me, saying, 'My son, it is the chief of all the eagles that is speaking to you. I am going to help you because you are alone among a strange people. It is a good thing for you to visit the North Piegans, to learn about them, and to take their pictures. It will bring good luck to you and to those, who take part in the ceremonials. Good fortune and long life will come to all who may help you.
My companions looked to see if I were joking, but, when I maintained a solemn countenance, nothing further was said, and I knew that my vision was taken seriously, and would soon be heralded and discussed, in its smallest detail, throughout the North Piegan camp.
During the day a violent storm passed over the camp. Onesta questioned me closely as to my having disobeyed any rules of the Thunder Tipi. When I told him I had washed off the red paint in the early morning, he said that that was undoubtedly the cause of the storm.