The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Brings-down-the-Sun tells of its origin.—Weapons and characteristic dress of members.—Their society dance and customs.—A courageous mother saves the life of a Brave Dog.—Usefulness of Blackfeet Societies.
"I MYSELF am a member of the Mutsaix, which has the reputation of being the most exacting of the Blackfeet societies. We have even been known to kill men, who refused to obey our orders. It was started by Red Blanket and his wife, Generous Woman, who died of old age many years ago. She became so old, that she lost all. of her teeth, and, before she died, it became necessary to move her everywhere on a travois. Their graves are close together on the summit of a high ridge, near the entrance to Cutbank Canyon, overlooking the river and the plains.
"When the Blackfeet were once travelling across the plains, Generous Woman told her husband, Red Blanket, that one of her dogs was missing with a loaded travois. Red Blanket turned back, but could find no trace of the dog. When he came to their former camping ground, it was dark and he lay down to sleep. During the night he heard a strange voice calling, 'Lone Chief invites you to prepare for the dance.' Then a drum began to beat and Red Blanket, supposing he was in a camp, looked around, but saw no lodges, nor people;
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THREE LODGES OF BRAVE DOG SOCIETY NEAR THE CENTRE OF ENCAMPMENT.
there was no sign of life,—nothing but the barren plains. When he lay down, he again heard a drum and the same voice calling, saying: 'Lone Chief invites you to come and eat, for he is ready to give a dance.' This time Red Blanket jumped to his feet, thinking he must be dreaming. While walking around the old camp, he found some dried meat that had been left behind. A
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INTERIOR OF SOCIETY LODGE SHOWING MANNER OF HANGING CLOTHES AND HEADDRESSES.
female dog ran out from a thicket of willows and stood gazing at him. He supposed that this dog must have been doing the mysterious talking, so he threw her the meat, which she ate and immediately returned to the bushes. When Red Blanket lay down again, he went to sleep and the spirit of his lost dog came to him, saying: 'I am giving this dance here to-night, in behalf of a poor mother and her six little boy dogs.
[paragraph continues] They were left behind, when the camp moved, and I am. trying to help them. If you feel sorry for this unfortunate mother and her children, carry them with you and save their lives. We will show you our dance and, when you return again to camp, you can make use of it to found a dog society.' In his dream, Red Blanket followed the dog spirit into the bushes, where he saw
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BUCKSKIN SHIRT OF MAD DOG SOCIETY.
(Decorated with beads and trimmed with ermine.)
many dogs dancing. One of their chiefs wore a long black robe, dragging behind like a tail, while others wore decorations and streamers, trailing behind for tails. In the morning, when Red Blanket awoke, he found the dog family among the willows. He took up the pups and, placing them in his shirt, carried them back to camp, followed by their mother. He then started the
society of Brave Dogs, taking members as the dog spirit had instructed, and teaching them to dance, just as he had seen the dogs dancing. Red Blanket, as the founder, wore a small rattle tied through the flesh of his wrist, the medicine of the Brave Dogs. He first took in three prominent chiefs, Many Eagles, Lost Feather,
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and Lone Chief. They together selected other members. We formerly gave our dance, when the camp was to be moved. We first marched around, beating drums, and singing our society songs, and then we went to the centre of the camp, where we lay on the ground, curled up like dogs sleeping. We wore no clothes, but painted our bodies all over. Our moccasins were decorated with
porcupine quills, but had no ankle-tops. Each man carried a knife, bow and a big quiver filled with arrows. Next morning, when camp was broken, we went around the deserted circle, and ate food that was left behind, just like dogs. Then we followed the tribe slowly, always coming in after the people had their lodges pitched and were settled. We first went to the head chief's tipi, where we danced four times, and then we
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BUCKSKIN SHIRT FRINGED AND DECORATED WITH COLOURED PORCUPINE QUILLS.
went to the centre of camp, and curled upon the ground to sleep. We did this for four successive nights. On the fourth morning, all of the Brave Dogs returned to their own lodges, where we painted, dressed in our best clothes, ate good food, and acted like dogs no more, until our next dance. While we were giving our dance, we stole anything we wanted, even food, while it was cooking, just as dogs do. Sometimes we danced at the lodges of prosperous chiefs. If they gave us clothes as presents, we could not wear them until after our dance,
so we gave them meanwhile into the care of our wives.
"We placed stones in a circle, near the centre or a new camp ground, where we intended pitching our big dancing tipi. We always entered it early in the morning of the day of our dance. We carried long sticks as spears, with the bark peeled off and wrapped with red and black cloth. Feathers, with small bells attached, were fastened at intervals along the staff and a spear point tied to the end. The leader was called Wolf-Skin-Man. He wore a coyote skin, with the head in front, and tail hanging behind. To the left of the chief sat two men, with white spears driven into the ground before them. Their bodies were painted white and they had yellow stripes across the nose and eyes. This was their distinguishing mark, because the others had red and black stripes over the nose and eyes. Another man, holding a long willow stick, wore a blanket made from an old lodge top, well browned with smoke. To his blanket were tied many buffalo hoofs, so that they would rattle when he moved. Two other men, called "Water Braves," painted black over their bodies, carried on their backs pieces of old lodges made into small bags, which were filled with back-fat and pemmican. They also carried water-bottles.
"There were two dancers representing Grizzly Bears. They were stripped, wearing only a waist band of bear skin. They always painted as hideously as possible to inspire the spectators with awe. They covered their faces with thick red paint, and made black streaks downward across their eyes. They made their front hair stand erect with thickened paint. They carried bows and arrows with large points, and wore headdresses made from grizzly bears’ heads, with the ears on,
and two buffalo horns added, to make them look like double ears. The bears were separated from the other dancers, lying in a hole for a den, and covering themselves over with robes. Wolf-Skin-Man, the leader, arose first to dance, the entire circle following him. All wore blankets and carried spears. They also held whistles in their mouths, which were blown while dancing. The two white-painted dancers pushed into the circle, driving the others away with their spears. When the black-painted water carriers passed the white dancers in the circle, they stopped. Then the man with the willow stick entered, but he could not sit down, until after the bears had stopped dancing. Every time these five leaders arose, the entire society must dance, with the exception of the bears. They always did as they pleased, lying lazily in their den, covered with robes. When the spectators, eager to see them dance, threw things at them, they pretended four times that they were going to begin. After the fourth feint, they stood up, holding their hands hanging down, just as bears hold their paws. While dancing, they carried their bows and arrows, pretending to aim at the dancers. The Brave Dogs kept going around in a circle, just like a dog looking for a place to lie down. When we had danced four times, the bears held the sharp pointed arrows ready to shoot, but, changing them quickly to two painted arrows without points, they took aim at the crowd, as if to shoot them, but the arrows were sent high over their heads. The rest of us ran off over the prairie, following in the direction the arrows flew, and throwing our moccasins into the air as we ran. Many boys followed us to pick them up, for we wore finely decorated dance-moccasins, but no one was allowed to pick up the two painted arrows, which the Grizzly Bears
followed to recover. When the bears again returned to our ranks, we formed into line and marched through camp, singing our society song. If any of our members held back, the bears shot at them, or at any people, who might interfere with us. When we had completed the camp circle, we announced the events that would take place on the following day, and then entered our society tipi and feasted. After the feast, we went off on a hunt and killed two buffalo bulls. Each member took two pieces of the meat. One he left in the society tipi, the other he took back to his family. The Brave Dogs always said the opposite of what they really meant. The people understood this custom. If we announced that camp was not to be moved in the morning, we really meant that camp was to be moved. If we returned from a scouting expedition for game, and reported that there were no buffalo in sight, and that there was no need of their sharpening their knives and arrows, they felt glad and started at once to prepare for a hunt, for they knew well that buffalo were near at hand. If one of our members stepped into a hole and fell, when we were running and throwing away our moccasins, he could not get up by himself. He had to lie there and wait, until the society came back, when we lifted him up with our spears.
"A Brave Dog must always face the enemy, no matter how much he feared them. We were once camped near Chief Mountain, when the Pend d’Oreilles attacked us. It happened that one of our number, named 'Nose,' walked out alone and faced the enemy. According to the rules of our society, he could not turn back, unless one of his relatives drove him back like a dog, so he stood there in plain sight, chanting and shaking his rattle. His mother, Red Flower, realising her son's
danger, ran through camp, imploring someone to drive her son back, but no one was willing. When the Pend d’Oreilles caught sight of him and began shooting, she ran out herself. She had to run in front of him, and strike him four times in the face with a switch, before he could turn. After her fourth blow, he ran for the brush like a dog, and they both escaped in safety. Because of this brave deed, the Piegans changed his name from 'Nose' to 'Brave Dog.'
"Whenever it became necessary to move camp, the Mad Dogs always prepared a feast, and sent a messenger to the head chief, inviting him to eat in our society lodge. After we had finished eating, and were seated, talking and smoking together, he would enquire:
"'My children! Why have you asked me to come here? What is it that you desire?' Our leader would then say, 'It is now the time for the tribe to move. The camp ground has become foul, the water supply is no longer good, and it has become necessary to drive our horses a long distance to secure good grass.' The chief would reply, 'It is too late for us to move to-day. Have your herald announce that we will break camp early to-morrow morning. Instruct everyone to bring in their horses before dark, and to picket them close to their lodges, that we may not be delayed in the morning. We shall start before sunrise.'
"Men did not join the Blackfeet societies for pleasure, but to fulfil vows, generally made because of sickness, or for some remarkable escape from danger. The leading societies ruled the camp, and helped the chiefs to administer public discipline. They protected the tribes’ sources of food and secured equal opportunities
for all. They strictly enforced the rule that private advantages must be surrendered to the public good. Under the exercise of such police regulations 1 and the enjoyment by all of equal rights and a joint ownership of game and lands, no individual could claim or enjoy special privileges. The roaming herds of buffalo, a gift from the Great Spirit in the Sun, and their chief source of food and materials for shelter, were owned in common. The society-men alone had authority to decide when and how they should be hunted. If an Indian disregarded their authority, and hunted for himself alone, they followed him, forced him to return, and took away his horse and weapons. If his selfish hunting scared away the buffaloes, they punished him severely, destroying his saddle and tipi, stripping him of his clothes, and even whipping him. Sometimes, when several Indians started for a hunt, without their knowledge, the society-men took a position on a hill and waited, watching the direction the hunters had taken. If, in returning, the hunters sought to avoid them, the society-men followed them, and seized their meat and horses.
"If they had given an order against picking berries, and a woman disobeyed, they spilled all she gathered. If a husband and wife fought, and their quarrels disturbed other people, one of the societies would punish them, by cutting their lodge to pieces, or by destroying their saddles and parfleches. The societies compelled everyone to submit to their rule, but they never annoyed or interfered with people who obeyed their commands."
465:1 See Appendix.