Monday, April 14, 2014

Bird Brings Spotted Black Horse To The People

Light and shadow fall on a horse made of light and shadow. A spotted black horse grazes on fresh spring grass along the Long Soldier Creek, near Fort Yates, N.D. Photo by Dakota Wind.
Little Prairie Bird Brings Prosperity
The Gift Of The Horse
By Ella Deloria
STANDING ROCK, N.D. & S.D. - The Gift Of The Horse appears in Ella Deloria’s “Dakota Texts.” Deloria refers to this story as Ohúŋkakaŋ, as something that is regarded to be true, and that it happened to our people in comparatively recent times, perhaps in the lifetime of the aged narrator’s grandfather or great-grandfather. Ohúŋkakaŋ are only to be told after sunset. 

One winter the people lived without want, on the Powder River[1] where buffaloes were abundant, and everyone was happy; and then, now that spring was here, about the time of the Sore Eyes Moon[2] (March), the cry went forth from the council-tipi[3] that the people were to move about, visiting other parts. So everyone broke camp, and soon they were gone.

Only one man and his wife were left behind. The reason was that they owned one horse, a mare that was not much good, and with it they could not hope to keep up to the pace of the tribe, and hence, they stayed behind.

They went from campsite to campsite, picking up what they found, of discarded bone[4], or bits of meat; and to the south, there was a lake, so they walked around it, gathering wood.

A spotted black horse along Long Soldier Creek, on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. Photo by Dakota Wind.

Then the man ascended a hill, and sat down to rest and view the surrounding country, when he saw something come up over the horizon, in the spot where the sun rises, and advanced towards his direction. When it was near enough to be observed, it proved to be a beautiful black spotted horse which was coming to drink at the lake.

After drinking, he stopped under a tree, and stood rubbing against it, and then he lay down and rolled, and then he rose and went back the way he came. Then, a tiny grey bird[5] flew to the man and sitting down next to him said, “I’ll bring you a horse.[6] Go home and make a bridle and apply this medicine to it, and hang it, in the form of a noose, from that tree where he rubs himself. When his head becomes caught in the rope, chew this root, and apply it on yourself, and catch him. Rub some of this medicine on the mare which you already have.”

So the man went home and carried out the orders in detail.

Now the black spotted horse was again coming, so he caught him and blew some of the medicine on his nose, which made the horse stand still and permitted himself to be held. He stared at the man every second and yet he did not try to get away, so the man stroked him and took him home.

A brown-grey hermit thrush. Photo by Tom Grey.

Again the little grey bird talked to him, “The days of your hardship in the tribe are now over. By and by this black spotted horse is going to sire many horses; he will thus multiply himself, but on both sides.”[7] So he allowed the horse to stay with the mare he already owned, and the following summer, there was a colt, as beautiful as, and marked exactly like, the black spotted horse. It was a male. Another year and then a female colt was born. Again the following summer a male was born. So from that horse which the bird had brought him, the man owned three horses, exactly alike, possessing inconceivable speed.

In the tribe they became famous, and the man who owned them was now far different from that poor man he used to be; now his name was held high in the tribe.

During the night he used to picket these horses in front of his door; and one night, someone crept up to them, planning evil against them; but the first black spotted horse spoke, “Wake up, and come out. Someone approaches with the intention of causing our death.” He said this while neighing[8] and his master heard it and came outside.

This is what he [the master] said, “I do not keep these horses in order that you shall insult me through them. I keep them for the sole purpose of bringing good to the tribe, and in that spirit, I lend them to you to hunt meat for your children, as you know; you have used them freely in war and, as a result, have achieved glory. These horses are here to serve. Yet when I tied them for the night and then came in to rest, someone sneaked up on them causing them to run home. You see then it is useless to anything  to them secretly.”

A spotted black horse grazes in an open area between thick brush. Photo by Dakota Wind.

That man understood the speech of the horses, they say. Then the first horse spoke this way; so his master announced it, “In order that you in this tribe might be fortunate in all things, I and my young have multiplied; and from that, you have benefited in the past; yet now, because an evil thing has entered the tribe, this source of good shall stop. You must go back to your former state when things were hard for you, all because that one who tried to kill us has by his act brought it upon the entire tribe.”

In that way he spoke, so his owner told the people. The horses now lost their power to run as of old, and no more colts were born, until at last that entire breed became extinct. In that way, this tribe which was so fortunate, took a backward step to their former state of hardships. That man who owned them and permitted the tribe to rely on them was named Táya Máni U (He always Walks Guardedly, as in free of pitfalls).

He was pitied and caused to have good fortune himself; had he so wished, he might have enjoyed it all alone; but that was not what he wanted. He caused all the tribe to share in it; and then, regretful fact, one, through jealousy perhaps, brought ill fortune on them all.

Keúŋkeyapi. (They Said.)



[1] Čȟaȟlí Wakpá translates as “Charcoal River” or “Gun Powder River.”

[2] Ištáwičhayazaŋ Wí translates as, “Sore Eyes Moon.” Deloria says: “In that part of the country, the sun shining very brightly while the snow is yet on the ground causes snowblindness. March is given its name for this reason.”

[3] Thípiyókhiheya translates as “Council Tipi.”

[4] Discarded bone, if still green, can be pounded and boiled, and the grease that rises to the top is skimmed off to be used later in pemmican, and other rich dishes.

[5] Waǧíyoǧi, the Hermit Thrush is possibly what Deloria mentions. She says: “A bird resembling the common prairie blackbird, and which the same habits of staying around buffaloes and cows, but with a grey instead of a black coat.”

[6] According to Deloria, the bird “uses the un-contracted term for horse, šúŋkawakȟáŋ, mysterious dog. In songs, and formal speech and religious language of the old days, this form was always used when the horse was spoken of with the respect due it.

[7] Deloria wrote, “…the black horse was destined to sire a breed through both a male and female line.”

[8] The Dakȟóta sometimes hear things in the utterances of animals. Once, a man heard a person wailing, far, far away; and stood listening intently, wondering who was dead, and what it was all about. He thought he understood the words, telling who was dead, when he had died, and the details of his death. Then he found that he was listening to a common fly, which, very near his ear, was trying to free itself. All the same, in due time, the message came that so and so had died, and that friend of the dead man had gone wailing, using the words he had heard. Old people used to say the wolves told the future, when they howled at night. Anyone, with or without supernatural power, can understand the meadowlark. Its song is not indicative of impending evil; only amusing, and a welcome note of spring. 

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