Monday, April 21, 2014

Horse Appears In Village One Morning, A First Encounter

"The head of this strange animal was not shaggy like that of the buffalo," illustration by Herbert Morton Stoops, as it appears in Standing Bear's "Stories of The Sioux."
The First Horse In The Early Morning
Šúŋkawakáŋ: The Holy Dog
By Óta Kté (Kills Many), Luther Standing Bear
GREAT PLAINS - Luther Standing Bear’s “Stories of The Sioux,” was published in 1938. Standing Bear was an Oglála Lakȟóta. He attended the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, worked in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, appeared in twelve motion pictures, and authored six books. “The Holy Dog,” a chapter of Standing Bear’s “Stories of The Sioux” details a first encounter with the horse.

GREAT PLAINS - In the olden days the Sioux[1] did not have horses. They had never even heard of one. Their travois[2] were dragged along by large dogs,[3] and when the camp was moved these big dogs served as pack animals carrying tipis[4] and household goods, and dragging the travois. Dogs were indispensible to the Sioux, and they had great numbers of them.

The Sioux dogs were big shaggy fellows, strong and intelligent. They had lived with the Sioux in this country had been his companion, for a long, long time.

In those days the Indians lived peaceably with all animals. Even the buffalo[5] would often wander into the camp of the Sioux and eat the grass that grew within the circle of the village. They would usually come during the night, and when the Sioux awoke in the morning there would be the buffalo feeding on the green grass. When the smoke began to rise from the tipis and the people began to stir about, the buffalo would move away. It was as if the Great Mystery[6] sent the buffalo, so that if meat were needed it would be there at hand. In fact, many times if there was need for meat, a buffalo could be had for the morning meal. Those were the days of plenty for the Sioux.

One morning the Sioux came out of their tipis and there were the buffalo close by feeding as usual. Soon they moved away, but still feeding around was a strange looking object such as had never before been seen. It seemed very gentle, not heeding the people, who stared at it curiously. No one ventured near it at first, for the animal was too strange, and no one knew its habits. They did not know whether it bite or kick or run. Everyone stared, but still the animal fed on, scarcely lifting its head to look at those who began to walk closer for a better view. The head of this strange animal was not shaggy like that of the buffalo. Its eyes were large and soft-looking, like those of the deer, and its legs were slender and graceful. A mane flowed from its neck, and its tail reached nearly to the ground. The beauties of this strange animal were greatly praised by first one and then another.

Then some hunter got some rawhide rope. Maybe this animal would permit being tied, for it seemed so gentle. The rope was thrown, but the animal escaped, for it raised its head on its long slender neck and raced around a short distance, not in fright nor in anger, but as if annoyed. How handsome this animal was when it ran! It did not resemble the buffalo, nor the deer, nor wolf, but was more beautiful than any of these.

The rope was thrown again and again, and at last it was on the neck of the animal. It seemed only more kind and gentle, and stood tamely while some dared to stroke it gently. Now and then it nibbled at the grass as if aware it was among friends. Admiration for the lovely animal grew. All wanted to stroke its neck and forehead, and the creature seemed at once to enjoy this extra attention. Finally a warrior grew brave enough to mount upon its back. Then all laughed and shouted with joy. What a wonderful creature! It must have come straight from the Great Mystery!

The people did not know that in later years this animal was to come to them in great numbers and was to become as great a friend to them as the dog. Both the hunter and the warrior came in time to think of it as an inseparable companion in peace and war, for it faithfully shared the work of the long-time friend of the Sioux, the dog.

The Sioux loved their dogs, their daily companions in camp or on the trail. And liking the strange lovely animal so well, they could think of no better name to call it than the Holy Dog.

So to this day the horse to the Sioux is Sunke Wakan, “Holy Dog.”[7]




[1] The “Sioux” refer to themselves as the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, the Seven Council Fires.

[2] Hupáwaheyuŋpi, lit. “Poles Pack-things-up-to-travel,” or travois. When using English this writer has heard the travois referred to as a “pony drag.” Šúŋk’ók’iŋ is the dog travois. Waŋžíkšilá is the type of travois that was employed by a person, a one-person travois.

[3] Šúŋka is dog. Khečhá refers to a long haired dog or a shaggy dog.

[4] Tiíkčeya, is the proper word, thípi, or tipi is also used.

[5] Ptéȟčaka is the traditional Lakȟóta term for bison. Tȟatȟáŋka, bison bull, has become the common term for bison.

[6] Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka (Great Mystery; Great Spirit) and Tȟuŋkášila (Grandfather) are used to address prayer to the Creator. Wawíčhaȟya is "Creator."

[7] Šúŋka Wakȟáŋ, lit. “Dog With-Energy.” Wakȟáŋ is often translated as “Holy,” “Sacred,” or “Mysterious.”