The Old North Trail, by Walter McClintock, , at sacred-texts.com
Brings-down-the-Sun tells the beautiful star-legend of Poïa, who was born in the sky as Star Boy, came down to earth, lived in poverty among the Blackfeet, and was called Poïa (Scarface) in derision.—Through his bravery he reached the home of the Sun, where his scar was removed.—The Sun God sent him back to earth to instruct the Blackfeet in Sun worship.—After establishing the ceremonial of the Sun-dance Poïa returned to the home of the Sun and became a Morning Star.—Brings-down-the-Sun explains the conjunction of two Morning Stars.—Tells about the constellations.—Sacred articles brought from the home of the Sun. His explanation of a brilliant meteor.—Interruptions to my slumber.—In early dawn on Lookout Butte I behold Venus and Jupiter in conjunction.—Sunrise on the plains.—An early start.—Farewell of Brings-down-the-Sun.
"THERE are two bright stars that sometimes rise together, just before the sun comes up, Morning Star and Young 'Morning Star or Star Boy (referring to the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter before daybreak). 1 I will tell you the story of these two Morning Stars, as it was related to me by my father, having been handed down to him through many generations."
"We know not when the Sun-dance had its origin. It was long ago, when the Blackfeet used dogs for
beasts of burden instead of horses; when they stretched the legs and bodies of their dogs on sticks to make them large, and when they used stones instead of wooden pegs to hold down their lodges. In those days, during the moon of flowers (early summer), our people were camped near the mountains. It was a cloudless night and a warm wind blew over the prairie. Two young girls were sleeping in the long grass outside the lodge. Before daybreak, the eldest sister, So-at-sa-ki (Feather Woman), awoke.
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SUMMER CAMP OF THE BLACKFEET NEAR THE MOUNTAINS.
[paragraph continues] The Morning Star was just rising from the prairie. He was very beautiful, shining through the clear air of early morning. She lay gazing at this wonderful star, until he seemed very close to her, and she imagined that he was her lover. Finally she awoke her sister, exclaiming, 'Look at the Morning Star! He is beautiful and must be very wise. Many of the young men have wanted to marry me, but I love only the Morning Star.' When the leaves were turning yellow (autumn), So-at-sa-ki became very unhappy, finding herself with child. She was a pure maiden, although not knowing the father of her child.
[paragraph continues] When the people discovered her secret, they taunted and ridiculed her, until she wanted to die. One day while the geese were flying southward, So-at-sa-ki went alone to the river for water. As she was returning home, she beheld a young man standing before her in the trail. She modestly turned aside to pass, but he put forth his hand, as if to detain her, and she said angrily, 'Stand aside! None of the young men have ever before dared to stop me.' He replied, 'I am the Morning Star. One night, during the moon of flowers, I beheld you sleeping in the open and loved you. I have now come to ask you to return with me to the sky, to the lodge of my father, the Sun, where we will live together, and you will have no more trouble.'
"Then So-at-sa-ki remembered the night in spring, when she slept outside the lodge, and now realised that Morning Star was her husband. She saw in his hair a yellow plume, and in his hand a juniper branch with a spider web hanging from one end. He was tall and straight and his hair was long and shining. His beautiful clothes were of soft-tanned skins, and from them came a fragrance of pine and sweet grass. So-at-sa-ki replied hesitatingly, 'I must first say farewell to my father and mother.' But Morning Star allowed her to speak to no one. Fastening the feather in her hair and giving her the juniper branch to hold, he directed her to shut her eyes. She held the upper strand of the spider web in her hand and placed her feet upon the lower one. When he told her to open her eyes, she was in the sky. They were standing together before a large lodge. Morning Star said, 'This is the home of my father and mother, the Sun and the Moon,' and bade her enter. It was day-time
and the Sun was away on his long journey, but the Moon was at home. Morning Star addressed his mother saying, 'One night I beheld this girl sleeping on the prairie. I loved her and she is now my wife.' The Moon welcomed So-at-sa-ki to their home. In the evening, when the Sun Chief came home, he also gladly received her. The Moon clothed So-at-sa-ki in a soft-tanned buckskin dress, trimmed with elk-teeth. She also presented her with wristlets of elk-teeth and an elk-skin robe, decorated with the sacred paint, saying, 'I give you these because you have married our son.' So-at-sa-ki lived happily in the sky with Morning Star, and learned many wonderful things. When her child was born, they called him Star Boy. The Moon then gave So-at-sa-ki a root digger, saying, 'This should be used only by pure women. You can dig all kinds of roots with it, but I warn you not to dig up the large turnip growing near the home of the Spider Man. You have now a child and it would bring unhappiness to us all.'
"Everywhere So-at-sa-ki went, she carried her baby and the root digger. She often saw the large turnip, but was afraid to touch it. One day, while passing the wonderful turnip, she thought of the mysterious warning of the Moon, and became curious to see what might be underneath. Laying her baby on the ground, she dug until her root digger stuck fast. Two large cranes came flying from the east. So-at-sa-ki besought them to help her. Thrice she called in vain, but upon the fourth call, they circled and lighted beside her. The chief crane sat upon one side of the turnip and his wife on the other. He took hold of the turnip with his long sharp bill, and moved it backwards and forwards, singing the medicine song,
"He repeated this song to the north, south, east and west. After the fourth song he pulled up the turnip. So-at-sa-ki looked through the hole and beheld the earth. Although she had not known it, the turnip had filled the same hole, through which Morning Star had brought her into the sky. Looking down, she saw the camp of the Blackfeet, where she had lived. She sat for a long while gazing at the old familiar scenes. The young men were playing games. The women were tanning hides and making lodges, gathering berries on the hills, and crossing the meadows to the river for water. When she turned to go home, she was crying, for she felt lonely, and longed to be back again upon the green prairies with her own people. When So-at-sa-ki arrived at the lodge, Morning Star and his mother were waiting. As soon as Morning Star looked at his wife, he exclaimed, 'You have dug up the sacred turnip!' When she did not reply, the Moon said, 'I warned you not to dig up the turnip, because I love Star Boy and do not wish to part with him.' Nothing more was said, because it was day-time and the great Sun Chief was still away on his long journey. In the evening, when he entered the lodge, he exclaimed, 'What is the matter with my daughter? She looks sad and must be in trouble.' So-at-sa-ki replied, 'Yes, I am homesick, because I have to-day looked down upon my people.' Then the Sun Chief was angry and said to Morning Star, 'If she has disobeyed, you must send her home.' The Moon interceded for So-at-sa-ki, but the Sun answered, 'She can no longer be happy with us. It is better for her to return to her own people.' Morning Star led So-at-sa-ki to the home of the Spider Man, whose web had drawn her up to the sky. He placed on her head the sacred Medicine
[paragraph continues] Bonnet, which is worn only by pure women. He laid Star Boy on her breast, and wrapping them both in the elk-skin robe, bade her farewell, saying, 'We will let you down into the centre of the Indian camp and the people will behold you as you come from the sky.' The Spider Man then carefully let them down through the hole to the earth.
"It was an evening in midsummer, during the moon when the berries are ripe, when So-at-sa-ki was let down from the sky. Many of the people were outside their lodges, when suddenly they beheld a bright light in the northern sky. They saw it pass across the heavens and watched, until it sank to the ground. When the Indians reached the place, where the star had fallen, they saw a strange looking bundle. When the elk-skin cover was opened, they found a woman and her child. So-at-sa-ki was recognised by her parents. She returned to their lodge and lived with them, but never was happy. She used to go with Star Boy to the summit of a high ridge, where she sat and mourned for her husband. One night she remained alone upon the ridge. Before daybreak, when Morning Star arose from the plains, she begged him to take her back. Then he spoke to her, 'You disobeyed and therefore cannot return to the sky. Your sin is the cause of your sorrow and has brought trouble to you and your people.'
"Before So-at-sa-ki died, she told all these things to her father and mother, just as I now tell them to you. Star Boy's grandparents also died. Although born in the home of the Sun, he was very poor. He had no clothes, not even moccasins to wear. He was so timid and shy that he never played with other children. When the Blackfeet moved camp, he always followed barefoot, far behind the rest of the tribe. He feared to
travel with the other people, because the other boys stoned and abused him. On his face was a mysterious scar, which became more marked as he grew older. He was ridiculed by everyone and in derision was called Poïa (Scarface).
"When Poïa became a young man, he loved a maiden of his own tribe. She was very beautiful and the daughter of a leading chief. Many of the young men wanted to marry her, but she refused them all. Poïa sent this maiden a present, with the message that he wanted to marry her, but she was proud and disdained his love. She scornfully told him, she would not accept him as her lover, until he would remove the scar from his face. Scarface was deeply grieved by the reply. He consulted with an old medicine woman, his only friend. She revealed to him, that the scar had been placed on his face by the Sun God, and that only the Sun himself could remove it. Poïa resolved to go to the home of the Sun God. The medicine woman made moccasins for him and gave him a supply of pemmican.
"Poïa journeyed alone across the plains and through the mountains, enduring many hardships and great dangers. Finally he came to the Big Water (Pacific Ocean). For three days and three nights he lay upon the shore, fasting and praying to the Sun God. On the evening of the fourth day, he beheld a bright trail leading across the water. He travelled this path until he grew near the home of the Sun, when he hid himself and waited. In the morning, the great Sun Chief came from his lodge, ready for his daily journey. He did not recognise Poïa. Angered at beholding a creature from the earth, he said to the Moon, his wife, 'I will kill him, for he comes from a good-for-nothing-race,' but she interceded and saved his life. Morning Star, their only
son, a young man with a handsome face and beautifully dressed, came forth from the lodge. He brought with him dried sweet grass, which he burned as incense. He first placed Poïa in the sacred smoke, and then led him into the presence of his father and mother, the Sun and the Moon. Poïa related the story of his long journey, because of his rejection by the girl he loved. Morning Star then saw how sad and worn he looked. He felt sorry for him and promised to help him.
"Poïa lived in the lodge of the Sun and Moon with Morning Star. Once, when they were hunting together, Poïa killed seven enormous birds, which had threatened the life of Morning Star. He presented four of the dead birds to the Sun and three to the Moon. The Sun rejoiced, when he knew that the dangerous birds were killed, and the Moon felt se grateful, that she besought her husband to repay him. On the intercession of Morning Star, the Sun God consented to remove the scar. He also appointed Poïa as his messenger to the Blackfeet, promising, if they would give a festival (Sun-dance) in his honour, once every year, he would restore their sick to health. He taught Poïa the secrets of the Sun-dance, and instructed him in the prayers and songs to be used. He gave him two raven feathers to wear as a sign that he came from the Sun, and a robe of soft-tanned elk-skin, with the warning that it must be worn only by a virtuous woman. She can then give the Sun-dance and the sick will recover. Morning Star gave him a magic flute and a wonderful song, with which he would be able to charm the heart of the girl he loved.
"Poïa returned to the earth and the Blackfeet camp by the Wolf Trail (Milky Way), the short path to the earth. When he had fully instructed his people concerning
the Sun-dance, the Sun God took him back to the sky with the girl he loved. When Poïa returned to the home of the Sun, the Sun God made him bright and beautiful, just like his father, Morning Star. 1 In those days Morning Star and his son could be seen together in the east. Because Poïa appears first in the sky, the Blackfeet often mistake him for his father, and he is therefore sometimes called Poks-o-piks-o-aks, Mistake Morning Star.
"I remember," continued Brings-down-the-Sun, "when I was a young man, seeing these two bright stars rising, one after the other, before the Sun. Then, if we were going on a war, or hunting expedition, my father would awake me, saying, 'My son, I see Morning Star and Young Morning Star in the sky above the prairie. Day will soon break and it is time we were started.' For many years these stars have travelled apart. I have also seen them together in the evening sky. They went down after the sun. This summer, Morning Star and Poïa are again travelling together. I see them in the eastern sky, rising together over the prairie before dawn. Poïa comes up first. His father, Morning Star, rises soon afterwards, and then his grandfather, the Sun.
"Morning Star was given to us as a sign to herald the coming of the Sun. When he appears above the horizon, we know a new day is about to dawn. Many medicine men have dreamed of the Sun, and of the Moon, but I have never yet heard of one so powerful as to dream of Morning Star, because he shows himself in the sky for such a short time.
"The 'Star that stands still' 1 (North Star) is different from other stars, because it never moves. All
the other stars walk round it. It is a hole in the sky, the same hole through which So-at-sa-ki was first drawn up to the sky and then let down again to earth. It is the hole, through which she gazed upon the earth, after digging up the forbidden turnip. Its light is the radiance from the home of the Sun God shining through. The half circle of stars to the east (Northern Crown) is the lodge of the Spider Man, and the five bright stars just beyond (in the constellation of Hercules) are his Eve fingers, with which he spun the web, upon which So-at-sa-ki was let down from the sky. Whenever you see the half-buried and overgrown circles, or clusters of stones on the plains, marking the sites of Blackfeet camps in the ancient days, when they used stones to hold down the sides of their lodges, you will know why the half-circle of stars was called by our fathers, 'The Lodge of the Spider Man.'
"When So-at-sa-ki came back to earth from the lodge of the Sun, she brought with her the sacred Medicine Bonnet and dress trimmed with elk teeth, the Turnip Digger, Sweet Grass (incense), and the Prongs for lifting hot coals from the fire. Ever since those days, these sacred articles have been used in the Sun-dance by the woman who makes the vow. The Turnip Digger is always tied to the Medicine Case, containing the Medicine Bonnet, and it now hangs from the tripod behind my lodge."
Brings-down-the-Sun then arose saying, "The Last Brother is now pointing towards the horizon. Day will soon dawn and it is time for us to sleep." As we turned to gaze at the constellation of the Great Bear, a ball of fire suddenly appeared high in the northern sky. It flashed across the heavens, leaving in its wake a beautiful light, and burst into a shower of sparks. as
it vanished in the southern sky. The Indians were filled with awe and broke out in exclamations of wonder and of fear. Some said it was a Dusty Star (Meteor), others that it was too large for a Dusty Star, which is always small and looks like a star changing its place in the sky. Those, who were filled with dread, spoke of it in subdued whispers as Is-tsi,—"The Fire"; and said it was an omen of bad luck.
Brings-down-the-Sun had been silent. When I asked his explanation of the strange sign, he said, "The Sun God is all powerful, he watches over every one and sees everything. The Great Mystery may have sent this wonderful star as a warning, that there will be much sickness during the coming winter, or, it may be a sign that a great chief has just died. By a great chief I mean a man who had a good heart and has lived a straight life." When Brings-down-the-Sun had finished speaking, the North Piegans quietly withdrew to their lodges.
When I laid down on my blankets, beneath the big cottonwood, the moon had risen over Lookout Butte, and was shining upon my bed, through an opening in the trees. My mind was filled with thoughts of the poetical beauty of the legends I had just heard from Brings-down-the-Sun; of the wonderful imagination of the ancient Blackfeet medicine men who originated them; of the brilliant beauty of the night skies, which had inspired them, and of the scrupulous care with which they had been handed down from father to son.
These inspiring thoughts about the heavens were rudely interrupted by my old enemy, Kops-ksis-e, the North Piegan watch dog. He came prowling through the trees, as if in search of lurking enemies. But he
was really on a thieving expedition to our camp for food. creeping stealthily along, like a moving shadow in the moonlight. When he came very suddenly and unexpectedly on my bed, covered with white canvas, he was at first startled, and stood with half-suppressed growls, but when he discovered that it belonged to the white man, whom he had, from the first, hated and distrusted, his fear quickly changed to anger. With fierce barks and bristling hair, he advanced to drive me out. Fortunately, I understood the ways of Indian dogs. If I had shown any sign of fear, he would have attacked me with a sudden rush. But I seized a big stick, and went so quickly into action, that the thoroughly frightened Kops-ksis-e gave a series of frightened yelps and fled into the forest.
Returning to my blankets, I had no sooner fallen into a light sleep, than I was again aroused, by the sound of an Indian riding furiously down the steep embankment from the plain. When I heard him enter the woods, the thought at once flashed through my mind, that it was Bull Plume, the defeated medicine man, coming to make me the victim of some vindictive purpose, before I could leave his country. My bed was near a small path, a short cut from the main trail, which ran around our camp. I heard the rider coming down the trail, until he had turned into the side path, which would bring him directly to my bed. Jumping from my blankets, I hid in the thick underbrush. When his horse came to my canvas, shining in the moonlight, it reared and with a snort plunged to one side. For a moment, the rider lost his balance and swayed, as if to fall, but, quickly recovering himself, he tried to force his horse across my bed. But the frightened animal went crashing aside into the underbrush and, to my
great relief, disappeared in the forest, his rider singing a Wolf song until lost in the distance.
When the moon was high, I fell asleep. It seemed but a brief interval, until I was aroused, before daybreak, by Menake and Nitana preparing our morning meal. I rolled from my warm blankets into the chill air, with a "tired feeling." I was soon refreshed by a cold bath in the river and by the fresh air of the woods in the early dawn. Taking my lariat, I hurried past the silent white lodges of the North Piegans to the hills, where our horses were feeding. Passing from the shadows of the big trees to the open prairie, I was met by a gentle breeze, coming from the mountains, fragrant with the sweet odour of wild flowers and growing grass. I climbed Lookout Butte and, from its summit, saw the shadowy forms of our horses in a meadow nearby. On the eastern horizon I beheld the two magnificent planets, Venus and Jupiter, now in conjunction. Jupiter had risen first, and I realised that he was Poïa (Scarface), and that the other planet was his father, Morning Star.
While driving the horses back to camp, I heard the distant cries of wolves and coyotes. The Rockies were beginning to flush with a soft rosy light, reflected from the eastern sky. Then the higher summits were touched by the first direct rays of the sun. The red glow crept slowly down, lighting up in turn the dark timbered slopes below, until, at length, the sun rose majestically above the plains, and the whole landscape was flooded with the brilliant and glorious light of a new day. Directly, there burst forth, on all sides, a bird chorus of wonderful harmony and gladness, as if all nature joined in welcoming the Sun-God's coming. I recognised the bird notes of thrushes, white-crowned
sparrows and Maryland yellow-throats, from the willows and cottonwoods of the river valley, and of prairie larks, Savanna sparrows and horned larks, from the near-by ridges of the plains.
The camp had been dismantled and the morning meal was ready, when I returned. When our outfit was packed, and we were prepared to start, Brings-down-the-Sun and his family came to say farewell. We wondered at seeing the old chief leading his favourite saddle horse, Soks-kinne (Loud Voice). Soks-kinne, with his beautiful head and long silvery mane and tail, was a familiar friend with all the tribe. Although a noted race-horse, he was intelligent, docile and reliable, and a child could safely ride him. Brings-down-the-Sun was greatly attached to him, as to an old and faithful friend. To our astonishment, he presented the horse to Menake, saying: "I now give you Soks-kinne, because I have felt grateful to you, ever since you cared for the dead bodies of my daughter, Pretty Blanket, and her three children. I know that your heart is good, because you alone, of all your people, were not afraid to go to them, when they were murdered in your country by Wakes-up-last, when he was crazed by the white man's fire water." 1 But Menake refused to take Soks-kinne, explaining that she knew how highly he valued the horse, and she wanted no reward. Brings-down-the-Sun laid his hand affectionately on Soks-kinne's head, saying, "I prize this horse more than anything else that I possess. I resolved to give him to you, because you were kind to my dead children, but I am glad that you have refused to take him, and now I know that your heart is good. Whenever any of your friends or relatives may come to visit in our
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SUNRISE FROM LOOKOUT BUTTE
country, they will always be well cared for in my camp."
I shook hands with all of my Indian brothers and sisters. When I came to say farewell to the old chief, he presented me with his stone pipe, explaining that it was his "everyday pipe," which he had smoked for many years. He said in his farewell talk, "My children, I have never before gone into any camp to sit and talk, day after day, with strangers, as I have done with you. My heart will be heavy after you have gone, and I will feel lonely every time I look at your camping ground."
When I mounted my horse, the old chief gazed towards the rising sun and, lifting his hand impressively, prayed,
As we rode slowly away towards the open plains, I turned in my saddle for a last look, and saw Brings-down-the-Sun walking with bowed head, along the wooded trail toward his camp, leading his favourite horse, Soks-kinne, and followed by his faithful old dog, Kops-ksis-e.
491:1 See Appendix.
499:1 See Appendix.
504:1 See Appendix.