Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Elder Says "Live For The Living"

"The simple boy drives sorrow away from the mourner" from the story "The Simpleton's Wisdom" which appears in McLaughlin's "Myths And Legends Of The Sioux."
Live For The Living
Simple Wisdom

By Marie L. McLaughlin
GREAT PLAINS - "The Simpleton's Wisdom" comes from Marie L. McLaughlin’s “Myths And Legends Of The Sioux.” It is retold here with minor edits.

There was a man and his wife who had one daughter. Mother and daughter were deeply attached to one another, and when the daughter died, the mother was disconsolate. She cut off her hair, cut gashes in her cheeks, and sat before the corpse with her robe drawn over her head, mourning for her dead child. Nor would she let anyone touch the body to take it to a funeral scaffold.

She had a knife in her hand, and if anyone came near the body the mother would wail, “I am weary of life. I do not care to live. I will stab myself with this knife and join my daughter in the land of the spirits.”

Her husband and relatives tried to get the knife from her, but could not. They feared to use force lest she kill herself. They came together to see what they could do.

“We must get the knife away from her,” they agreed.

At last they called a boy, a simple fellow who possessed a good deal of shrewdness. He was an orphan and was very poor. His moccasins were badly worn through and he was dressed in wizí (course smoked hide).[1]

“Go to the thípi[2] of the mourning mother,” they told him, “and in some way contrive to make her laugh and forget her grief. Then try to get the knife away from her.”

The boy went to the tent[3] and sat down at the door as if waiting to be given something. The deceased girl lay in the place of honor where she had slept in life. The body was wrapped in a rich robe and wrapped about with ropes. Friends had covered it with rich offerings out of respect to the dead.

Mourners often took to wearing robes or blankets over their heads, smothering themselves in shadow. Anyone who saw such a person dressed in such a state knew that person was expressing profound sadness. 

As the mother sat on the ground with her head covered she did not at first see the boy, who sat silent. But when his reserve had away a little he began at first lightly, then more heavily, to drum his hands upon the ground. After a while he began to sing a humorous song. Louder and louder he sang until carried away with his own singing he sprang up and began to dance, at the same time gesturing and making all manner of contortions with his body, all while singing his song. As he approached the corpse he waved his hands over it in blessing.

The mother put her head out of the blanket and when she saw the simple fellow with his strange grimaces trying to do honor to her deceased daughter with his solemn waving, and with his song, she burst out laughing. Then she reached over and handed her knife to the simple fellow.

The simple fellow left the thípi and brought the knife to the astonished husband and relatives.

“How did you get it? Did you force it away from her, or did you steal it?” they asked.

“She gave it to me. How could I force it from her or steal it when she held it blade uppermost, in her hand? I sang and danced for her and she burst out laughing. Then she gave it to me,” he answered.

When the old men of the village heard the orphan’s story they became very silent. It was a strange thing for a boy to dance in a thípi where there was mourning, yet stranger still that a mother should laugh before her dead daughter. The old men gathered at last in a council. They sat a long time without saying anything, for they did not want to make a hasty decision.

The pipe was filled and passed many times, until at last an elder man spoke, “We have a hard decision. A mother has laughed before the body of her dead daughter, and many think that she was foolish to do so, but I think the woman did wisely. The boy was simple and of no training, and we cannot expect him to know how to do as well as one with a good home and parents to teach him otherwise. Besides, he did the best that he knew. He danced to make the mother forget her grief, and he tried to honor the dead daughter by waving his hands over her corpse.”

“The mother did right to laugh,” he continued, “for when one does try to do good for us, even if what one does causes us discomfort, we should remember the motive rather than the deed. And besides, the simple fellow’s dancing saved the woman’s life, for she gave up her knife. In this, too, she did well, for it is always better to live for the living than to die for the dead.”

[1] “Wizí” refers to the topmost part of the thípi, that which is weathered and smoked. This part of the old thípi may be recycled into moccasin soles or other use.

[2] “Tepee” in the original text. “Thípi” is the present spelling according to the Lakota Language Consortium’s standard orthography. “Thiíkčeya” or “thipȟéstola” is the proper word in reference to the conical tent of the Great Plains.

[3] Wakhéya is a general word for tents, thípi, lodge, or shelter. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Light And Warmth Like The Sun: A First Fire Story

Hupȟéstola, aka Soapweed or Yucca, is a common sight in western North Dakota. Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Light And Warmth Like The Sun
The First Fire

By Óta Kté (Kills Many), Luther Standing Bear
GREAT PLAINS - Luther 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 First Fire,” appears in Standing Bear’s “Stories of The Sioux,” published in 1938.

A Sioux[1] scout, tired and weary from a long journey, sat down on the plain to rest. Beside him lay a fallen yucca[2] plant with its long body stretched upon the ground. The scout aimlessly picked up a small stick that lay nearby, and, rubbing it between his hands upon the yucca, noticed a thin blue vapor arising.[3]

This vapor smelled very pleasant as it rose in the air and disappeared. The scout thought that, since it went up and out of sight, it must go to the land of the Sky People. And going up so far it would, no doubt, carry a message to those who lived in the sky.

So the scout played on, enjoying the blue clouds of smoke as they ascended and disappeared in the air. After a while a small red and orange flame[4] burst from the tip of the stick. It was beautiful, and the heat that came with it was very agreeable. Interested now beyond all care to continue his journey, the scout watched the stick and yucca plant change into this lovely flame that sprang up, looking like a beautiful plume, only to fade away and form into another just as beautiful. How strange and yet how beautiful it is, thought the scout. He never wanted to lose this beautiful being, whatever it was.

So he fed the flame with more yucca, and it lived and grew. He could not leave it here to perish, and yet he was forced to go home at last. So he carried a burning wand back to the village with him, and in the center, where all could see, he made it grow with more yucca. All the people of the village came and sat about, marveling at the wonder of it all.

"Lakota Oglala Campfire" by Hubert Wackerman.

This gorgeous red flame was warming to the hands and body, but could hurt severely if one got too close. It looked soft and caressing, but stung the fingers if one tried to catch and hold the lovely curling feathers of fire. The wood which was put in these flames to keep them alive turned into brilliant red coals that sparkled and changed color too. So all day the village people watched, and when evening came they were still gathered there. This marvel was something like the sun, for it lighted up the space in which they sat. Strange it did not do this in daytime. Only at night. This fascinating being had wondrous ways hard to understand.

Since the beautiful flame burned one’s hand and toes, what would it do to meat? A piece of buffalo meat was held close, and as the flame wound about it the odor was strangely tempting. The meat was tasted, and it was good. Everyone tasted the meat that came from the red hot coals, and all found it delicious. No longer would the Sioux prepare their meat only by the heat of the sun.[5]

And so this is the way fire was brought to the Sioux people. The man who brought it to them is great in their history.

Note: The introduction of fire brought cultural changes, such as the fire-starting, or carrying the fire - which involved carrying a live coal, perhaps from a council fire, and bringing it to the next campsite, to using fire to hunt with as in driving game, and even communicating as with smoke signals.

[1] Očhetí Šakówiŋ, the Seven Council Fires, is how the “Sioux” refer to themselves.

[2] Hupȟéstola, also known as soapweed or yucca. The roots of the plant are harvested, peeled, and pounded. The soapweed powder can then be mixed with water and produces suds which one can wash one’s hair.

[3] Paíle, is to ignite or burn as with friction.

[4] Pȟéta, fire or flame. Čhethí, is also fire, but a fire built for a purpose (i.e. Očhetí, as in Očhetí Šakówiŋ, the Seven Council Fires).

[5] The Lakȟóta have several words to describe cooking by fire: Pasnúŋ, to roast something on a spit; Wačhók’iŋ: to cook by roasting in the coals; Ğağáya: to roast something over an open fire as with meat on a stick; etc.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Horse Appeared When Lightning Struck

"When the storm had cleared, on a great rock close by the village was plainly to be seen the hoofprint of a great horse. It is there to this day for all to see." From this summit, on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, one can make out what appears to be three great horse hoof prints.
A Horse Appeared When Lightning Struck
Thunder Horse
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. “Thunder Horse,” appears in Standing Bear’s “Stories of The Sioux.”

The Thunder Dreamer knows that in the sky swell the warriors of Thunder[1] and Lightning,[2] for he has seen and spoken to them in his vision.

These warriors ride wildly about on the black clouds astride their handsome horses, holding in their hands the lightning-sticks which flash during a thunderstorm. Everyone has seen them flash as the warriors dash about in the stormy sky. Whenever the hoofs of the horses boom the lightning-sticks flash blindly.

One day the Sioux[3] were all in their tipis[4] waiting for a thunderstorm to pass. The Thunder and Lightning warriors were dashing back and forth across the sky. Their horses ran madly, for the noise from their feet was deafening. Mingled with the noise of trampling hoofs were the frequent flashes from the lightening-sticks. Great drops of rain fell and ran off the sides of the tipis. The women threw cedar leaves on the fire, and everyone huddled closer.

Suddenly the noise increased to one awful roar. Two lightning-sticks came together, for there was a blinding flash of white light. The tipis shook and the people were fear-stricken.

Two warriors had rushed together, and their horses, losing their balance, fell to the earth, where they struggled for an instant, then dashed back to the sky. When the storm had cleared, on a great rock close by the village was plainly to be seen the hoofprint of a great horse. It is there to this day for all to see.

[1] Wakíŋyaŋ, Thunder.

[2] Wakȟáŋgli. Lightning.

[3] Očhetí Šakówiŋ, the Seven Council Fires, is how the “Sioux” refer to themselves.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The New Year Begins In Spring

Western meadowlark, by Gregg Thompson, Bird Note.
O’iyókiphiyA Ómakȟa Théča Yeló!
Joyous Season Of The New Earth Is Here!

By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - In the span of a few weeks, the ice has broken on the Missouri River and melted away, the song birds have returned, the first rainfall has cleansed the air and earth, and the trees have begun to bud new leaves.

The wind has changed too. It smells somehow different, warm and clean. The Lakȟóta call this spring wind Niyá Awičhableze, the Enlightening Breath. It is the first spring wind upon which the tȟašíyagmuŋka, western meadowlark, returns.

“O’iyókiphiyA Ómakȟa Théča Yeló! [The joyous season of the new earth is here!],” sings the western meadowlark. This is the song that starts Wetú, the Spring season. The meadowlark has been singing in the new year for about a month, and has been recently joined by the cooing of the Wakíŋyela, the mourning dove. 

The horned lark sits atop some snow, North Dakota Birding Society.

The ištáŋičatȟanka, or horned lark, also returns in the spring, and its songs often compete with the meadowlark to announce spring's arrival. "Optéptečela, Optéptečela!" sings the horned lark. They say that it thinks there is going to be another freeze and hurries to lay its eggs. The horned lark is known the Lakȟóta by a second name, Maštékȟola. They called it so when it sang and flew straight up into the air. They say that good weather soon followed. 

This is the start of the Lakȟóta new year. According to Leroy Curley, “The meadowlark is the forerunner who announces a new season, a new earth and the beginning of the Lakota New Year.”

Curley believed that the meadowlark was the smartest bird, “Tȟašíyagmuŋka, the smartest bird stays within the regions where it is always springtime, and that is why, without the meadowlark, there would not be quite the same Ómakȟa Théča.”

The Northern Flicker in flight, courtesy of Butch Thunder Hawk. 

Another bird sings in the new year and fair weather. The Suŋzíča, or Northern Flicker. According to Lekší Butch Thunder Hawk (Standing Rock Sioux), this bird heralds the arrival of thunderstorms and hail, and is an associate of the moon as well. When the Northern Flicker sings, it is said to say, "Aŋpétu wašté, aŋpétu wašté," or "Its a beautiful day, its a beautiful day."

The Black Capped Chickadee, about to land. Photo by Blobber.

The Lakȟóta say that the Škípipila, or Chikadee, has a seven-cleft tongue. They say its tongue begins to split in the springtime and by fall has split seven times. When spring returns, its tongue has just healed. Each spring the Škípipila asks the He
čá, or Turkey Vulture, "Glí huwó," or, "Are you returning?" The Lakȟóta would respond on to the Škípipila on behalf of the Hečá, "Glí yeló!" or, "Return indeed!" They say that the Škípipila is satisfied with this response and remains silent for a long time. When the Hečá does return, they say, there will be no more snow.

In the Lakȟóta calendar there are thirteen months, each numbering about twenty-eight days. This month, or moon, is called Maǧáksiča Aglí Wí, the Moon When Geese Return.

According to Joseph Marshall III (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) the day of the new moon in the month the 
Lakȟóta call Mağáksiša Aglí Wí (Moon When Geese Return), April 18, 2015, marks the beginning of the new year for the Lakȟóta. The Lakȟóta record their history on waníyetu wówapi, the winter count. Each spring, the thiyóšpaye, extended families, who kept winter counts, would gather and determine how to remember the year with a name and an image. The Waníyetu Wówapi tȟa Wapȟóštaŋ Ğí, the Brown Hat Winter Count, a record of pictographic history, reaches back to AD 901.

But how far back does the archaeological record of the Lakȟóta reach? Ask any Lakȟóta, and he or she will be quick to tell you, “We’ve always been here.”

In 2010, Curley offered this wonderful summary on his thoughts about how long the Lakȟóta have been here: "In verbal and symbolic Thítȟuŋwaŋ Lakȟóta history, the medicine wheel built of large boulders in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming and the other sacred circle built near Sioux Valley, Manitoba, Canada show carbon-dating at 20 to 40,000 years old of man-made structures. Thus this new year is Lakȟóta Year 40,010 as most nearly the correct annual record of our Thítȟuŋwaŋ Lakȟóta history in this region of the world."

"In the alternative star knowledge and in the sacred Lakȟóta language, the Lakȟóta people and the tȟašíyagmuŋka have always been here," Curley concluded. 

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.” 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Legend Of Devil's Lake

Sunrise on Devils Lake by Mitchell's Guide Service.
The Heart Of The Mysterious Land
A Legend Of Devil’s Lake
By Ohíyesa (The Winner), aka Dr. Charles Eastman
GREAT PLAINS - Ohíyesa’s wonderful first person narrative, "Indian Boyhood," is about his life growing up as a traditional Dakȟóta. “I have put together these fragmentary recollections of my thrilling wild life expressly for the little son who have to late to behold for himself he drama of savage existence,” he wrote, in dedication to his son, also named Ohíyesa. Here is an excerpt from his book, “Indian Boyhood."

The Animals Are Given Different Form
“Tell me, good Weyuha, a legend of your father’s country,” I said to him one evening, for I knew the country which is now known as North Dakota and South Dakota and Southern Manitoba was their ancient hunting ground. I was prompted by Uncheedah[1] to make this request, after the old man had eaten at our lodge.

Many years ago, he began, as he passed the pipe to uncle, we traveled from the Otter Tail to Minnewakan[2] (Devil's Lake). At that time the mound was very distinct where Chotanka lies buried. The people of his immediate band had taken care to preserve it.

This mound under which lies the great medicine man is upon the summit of Minnewakan Chantay,[3] the highest hill in all that region. It is shaped like an animal's heart placed on its base, with the apex upward.

A view of Spirit Heart Butte from above. It is popularly known as "Devil's Heart Butte."

The reason why this hill is called Minnewakan Chantay, or the Heart of the Mysterious Land, I will now tell you. It has been handed down from generation to generation, far beyond the memory of our great-grandparents. It was in Chotanka's line of descent that these legends
were originally kept, but when he died the stories became everybody's, and then no one believed in them. It was told in this way.

I sat facing him, wholly wrapped in the words of the storyteller, and now I took a deep breath
and settled myself so that I might not disturb him by the slightest movement while he was reciting his tale. We were taught this courtesy to our elders, but I was impulsive and sometimes forgot.

A long time ago, resumed Weyuha, the red people were many in number, and they inhabited all the land from the coldest place to the region of perpetual summer time. It seemed that they were all of one tongue, and all were friends.

All the animals were considered people in those days. The buffalo, the elk, the antelope, were tribes of considerable importance. The bears were a smaller band, but they obeyed the mandates of the Great Mystery[4] and were his favorites, and for this reason they have always known more about the secrets of medicine. So they were held in much honor. The wolves, too, were highly regarded at one time. But the buffalo, elk, moose, deer and antelope were the ruling people.

These soon became conceited and considered themselves very important, and thought no one could withstand them. The buffalo made war upon the smaller tribes, and destroyed many. So one day the Great Mystery thought it best to change the people in form and in language.

The hill, or butte, resembles a great lodge in shape. 

He made a great tent and kept it dark for ten days. Into this tent he invited the different bands, and when they came out they were greatly changed, and some could not talk at all after that. However, there is a sign language given to all the animals that no man knows except some medicine men, and they are under a heavy penalty if they should tell it.

The buffalo came out of the darkened tent the clumsiest of all the animals. The elk and moose were burdened with their heavy and many branched horns, while the antelope and deer were made the most defenseless of animals, only that they are fleet of foot. The bear and the wolf were made to prey upon all the others.

Man was alone then. When the change came, the Great Mystery allowed him to keep his own shape and language. He was king over all the animals, but they did not obey him. From that day, man's spirit may live with the beasts before he is born a man. He will then know the animal language but he cannot tell it in human speech. He always retains his sympathy with them, and can converse with them in dreams.

I must not forget to tell you that the Great Mystery pitched his tent in this very region. Some legends say that the Minnewakan Chantay was the tent itself, which afterward became earth and stones. Many of the animals were washed and changed in this lake, the Minnewakan, or Mysterious Water. It is the only inland water we know that is salt. No animal has ever swum in this lake and lived.

"Tell me," I eagerly asked, "is it dangerous to man also?"

Yes, he replied, we think so; and no Indian has ever ventured in that lake to my knowledge. That is why the lake is called Mysterious, he repeated.

"Attacking the Grizzly Bear" by George Catlin.

Life As A Grizzly Bear
I shall now tell you of Chotanka. He was the greatest of medicine men. He declared that he was a grizzly bear before he was born in human form. Weyuha seemed to become very earnest when he reached this point in his story. Listen to Chotanka's life as a grizzly bear.
“As a bear,” he used to say, “my home was in sight of the Minnewakan Chantay. I lived with my mother only one winter, and I only saw my father when I was a baby. Then we lived a little way from the Chantay to the north, among scattered oak upon a hillside overlooking the Minnewakan.”

“When I first remember anything, I was playing outside of our home with a buffalo skull that I had found nearby. I saw something that looked strange. It walked upon two legs, and it carried a crooked stick, and some red willows with feathers tied to them. It threw one of the willows at me, and I showed my teeth and retreated within our den.’”

“Just then my father and mother came home with a buffalo calf. They threw down the dead calf, and ran after the queer thing. He had long hair upon a round head. His face was round, too. He ran and climbed up into a small oak tree.”

“My father and mother shook him down, but not before he had shot some of his red willows into their sides. Mother was very sick, but she dug some roots and ate them and she was well again.” It was thus that Chotanka was first taught the use of certain roots for curing wounds and sickness, Weyuha added.

"Hunting of the Grizzly Bear" by Karl Bodmer.

“One day,” he, Weyuha, resumed the grizzly's story, “when I was out hunting with my mother, my father had gone away and never came back, we found a buffalo cow with her calf in a ravine. She advised me to follow her closely, and we crawled along on our knees. All at once mother crouched down under the grass, and I did the same. We saw some of those queer beings that we called ‘two legs' riding upon big-tail deer (ponies). They yelled as they rode toward us. Mother growled terribly and rushed upon them. She caught one, but many more came with their dogs and drove us into a thicket. They sent the red willows singing after us, and two of them stuck in mother's side. When we got away at last she tried to pull them out, but they hurt her terribly. She pulled them both out at last, but soon after she lay down and died.”

“I stayed in the woods alone for two days. Then I went around the Minnewakan Chantay on the south side and there made my lonely den. There I found plenty of hazel nuts, acorns and wild plums. Upon the plains the teepsinna[5] were abundant, and I saw nothing of my enemies.”

“One day I found a footprint not unlike my own. I followed it to see who the stranger might be. Upon the bluffs among the oak groves I discovered a beautiful young female gathering acorns. She was of a different band from mine, for she wore a jet black dress.”

“At first she was disposed to resent my intrusion, but when I told her of my lonely life she agreed to share it with me. We came back to my home on the south side of the hill. There we lived happy for a whole year. When the autumn came again Woshepee, for this was her name, said that she must make a warm nest for the winter, and I was left alone again.”

"Purple Lightning" over Morton County, ND. Photo by Dee Brausch.

A Race Between Lightning And A Bear
Now, said Weyuha, I have come to a part of my story that few people understand. All the long winter Chotanka slept in his den, and with the early spring there came a great thunder storm. He was aroused by a frightful crash that seemed to shake the hills, and lo! A handsome young man stood at his door. He looked, but was not afraid, for he saw that the stranger carried none of those red willows with feathered tips. He was unarmed and smiling.

“’I come,’”said he, “’with a challenge to run a race. Whoever wins will be the hero of his kind, and the defeated must do as the winner says thereafter. This is a rare honor that I have brought you. The whole world will see the race. The animal world will shout for you, and the spirits will cheer me on. You are not a coward, and therefore you will not refuse my challenge.’”

“’No,” replied Chotanka, after a short hesitation. The young man was fine looking, but
lightly built.

“’We shall start from the Chantay,[6] and that will be our goal. Come, let us go, for the universe is waiting!’ impatiently exclaimed the stranger.’”

He passed on in advance, and just then an old, old wrinkled man came to Chotanka's door. He leaned forward upon his staff.

“My son,” he said to him, “I don't want to make you a coward, but this young man is the greatest gambler of the universe. He has powerful medicine. He gambles for life. Be careful! My brothers and I are the only ones who have ever beaten him. But he is safe, for if he is killed he can resurrect himself. I tell you he is great medicine.”

“However, I think that I can save you. Listen! He will run behind you all the way until you are within a short distance of the goal. Then he will pass you by in a flash, for his name is Zig-Zag Fire![7] (Lightning!). Here is my medicine.” So speaking, he gave Chotanka a rabbit skin and the gum of a certain plant. “When you come near the goal, rub yourself with the gum, and throw the rabbit skin between you. He cannot pass you.”
“And who are you, grandfather?” Chotahka inquired.

“I am the medicine turtle,” the old man replied, “The gambler is a spirit from heaven, and those whom he outruns must shortly die. You have heard, no doubt, that all animals know beforehand when they are to be killed; and any man who understands these mysteries may also know when he is to die.”

The race was announced to the world. The buffalo, elk, wolves and all the animals came to look on. All the spirits of the air came also to cheer for their comrade. In the sky the trumpet was sounded, the great medicine drum was struck.[8] It was the signal for a start. The course was around the Minnewakan.[9] Everywhere the multitude cheered as the two sped by.

The young man kept behind Chotanka all the time until they came once more in sight of the Chantay. Then he felt a slight shock and he threw his rabbit skin back. The stranger tripped and fell. Chotanka rubbed himself with the gum, and ran on until he reached the goal. There was a great shout that echoed over the earth, but in the heavens there was muttering and grumbling. The referee declared that the winner would live to a good old age, and Zig-Zag Fire promised to come at his call. He was indeed great medicine, Weyuha concluded.

“But you have not told me how Chotanka became a man," I said.

Ohíyesa, Dr. Charles Eastman.

The Bear Is Reborn As A Man
One night a beautiful woman came to him in his sleep. She enticed him into her white teepee[10] to see what she had there. Then she shut the door of the teepee and Chotanka could not get out. But the woman was kind and petted him so that he loved to stay in the white teepee. Then it was that he became a human born. This is a long story, but I think, Ohiyesa, that you will re- member it, said Weyuha, and so I did.

[1] Uŋčí is the Dakȟóta/Lakȟóta word for maternal grandmother.

[2] Mníwakȟáŋ is literally “Water-With-Energy,” which is taken in the context of this story to mean present-day Spirit Lake in North Dakota.

[3] Mníwakȟáŋ Čhaŋté is literally “Water-With-Energy Heart,” is in reference to the mound, a sand volcano on the south side of Spirit Lake. According to tradition, the butte resembles a heart, and it is this heart that serves as the lodge of a water spirit. The butte, according to Ohíyesa, was the Creator’s lodge where he transformed the animals into their present shape. After the animals were transformed, the lodge became earth and stone. Contemporary North Dakotans call this site, “Devil’s Heart Butte.”

[4] Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka is most often freely translated as “Great Mystery,” it is literally “With-Energy Great,” and serves as a way to address the Creator.

[5] Thíŋpšiŋla, the prairie turnip.

[6] Mníwakȟáŋ Čhaŋté, the butte.

[7] Wakȟáŋgli is “Lightning.”

[8] Wakíŋyaŋ, or “Thunder.”

[9] According to Ohíyesa,That means around the earth or the ocean.”

[10] Thiíkčeya is the proper word for “Teepee,” though some use “Tipi” or Thipí interchangeably.