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Age suitability 8 Plus.
From Blackfeet Indian Stories by George Bird. Grinnell.
Start of Story
It was long, long ago, very far back, that this happened. In those
days the people used to kill the buffalo by driving them over a
steep place near the river, down which they fell into a great pen
built at the foot of the cliff, where the buffalo that had not been
killed by the fall were shot with arrows by the men. Then the people
went into the pen and skinned the buffalo and cut them up and
carried the meat away to their camp. This pen they called piskun.
In those days the people had built a great piskun with high, strong
walls. No buffalo could jump over it; not even if a great crowd of
them ran against it, could they push it down.
The young men kept going out, as they always did, to try to bring
the buffalo to the edge of the cliff, but somehow they would not
jump over into the piskun. When they had come almost to the edge,
they would turn off to one side or the other and run down the
sloping hills and away over the prairie. So the people could get no
food, and they began to be hungry, and at last to starve.
Early one morning a young woman, the daughter of a brave man, was
going from her lodge down to the stream to get water, and as she
went along she saw a herd of buffalo feeding on the prairie, close
to the edge of the cliff above the great piskun.
"Oh," she called out, "if you will only jump off into the piskun I
will marry one of you." She did not mean this, but said it just in
fun, and as soon as she had said it, she wondered greatly when she
saw the buffalo come jumping over the edge, falling down the cliff.
A moment later a big bull jumped high over the wall of the piskun
and came toward her, and now truly she was frightened.
"Come," he said, taking hold of her arm.
"No, no," she answered, trying to pull herself away.
"But you said if the buffalo would only jump over, you would marry
one of them. Look, the piskun is full."
She did not answer, and without saying anything more he led her up
over the bluff and out on the prairie.
After the people had finished killing the buffalo and cutting up the
meat, they missed this young woman. No one knew where she had gone,
and her relations were frightened and very sad because they could
not find her. So her father took his bow and quiver and put them on
his back and said, "I will go and find her"; and he climbed the
bluff and set out over the prairie.
He travelled some distance, but saw nothing of his daughter. The sun
was hot, and at length he came to a buffalo wallow in which some
water was standing, and drank and sat down to rest. A little way off
on the prairie he saw a herd of buffalo. As the man sat there by the
wallow, trying to think what he might do to find his daughter, a
magpie came up and alighted on the ground near him. The man spoke to
it, saying, "M[)a]m-[=i]-[)a]tīs[=i]-k[)i]m[)i]--Magpie--you are a
beautiful bird; help me, for I am very unhappy. As you travel about
over the prairie, look everywhere, and if you see my daughter say to
her, 'Your father is waiting by the wallow.'"
Soon the magpie flew away, and as he passed near the herd of buffalo
he saw the young woman there, and alighting on the ground near her,
he began to pick at things, turning his head this way and that, and
seeming to look for food. When he was close to the girl he said to
her, "Your father is waiting by the wallow."
"Sh-h-h! Sh-h-h!" replied the girl in a whisper, looking about her
very much frightened, for her bull husband was sleeping close by.
"Do not speak so loud. Go back and tell him to wait."
"Your daughter is over there with the buffalo. She says 'Wait,'"
said the magpie when he had flown back to the poor father.
After a little time the bull awoke and said to his wife, "Go and
bring me some water." Then the woman was glad, and she took a horn
from her husband's head and went to the wallow for water.
"Oh, why did you come?" she said to her father. "They will surely
"I came to take my daughter back to my lodge. Come, let us go."
"No," said the girl, "not now. They will surely chase us and kill
us. Wait until he sleeps again and I will try to get away." Then she
filled the horn with water and went back to the buffalo.
Her husband drank a swallow of the water, and when he took the horn
it made a noise. "Ah," he said, as he looked about, "a person is
somewhere close by."
"No one," replied the girl, but her heart stood still. The bull
drank again. Then he stood up on his feet and moaned and grunted,
"M-m-ah-oo! Bu-u-u!" Fearful was the sound. Up rose the other bulls,
raised their tails in the air, tossed their heads and bellowed back
to him. Then they pawed the earth, thrust their horns into it,
rushed here and there, and presently, coming to the wallow, found
there the poor man. They rushed over him, trampling him with their
great hoofs, thrust their horns into his body and tore him to
pieces, and trampled him again. Soon not even a piece of his body
could be seen--only the wet earth cut up by their hoofs.
Then his daughter mourned in sorrow. "_Oh! Ah! Ni-nah-ah! Oh! Ah!
Ni-nah-ah!_"--Ah, my father, my father.
"Ah," said her bull husband; "now you understand how it is that we
feel. You mourn for your father; but we have seen our fathers,
mothers, and many of our relations fall over the high cliffs, to be
killed for food by your people. But now I will pity you, I will give
you one chance. If you can bring your father to life, you and he may
go back to your camp."
Then said the woman, "Ah, magpie, pity me, help me; for now I need
help. Look in the trampled mud of the wallow and see if you can find
even a little piece of my father's body and bring it to me."
Swiftly the magpie flew to the wallow, and alighting there, walked
all about, looking in every hole and even tearing up the mud with
his sharp beak. Presently he uncovered something white, and as he
picked the mud from about it, he saw it was a bone, and pulling
hard, he dragged it from the mud--the joint of a man's backbone.
Then gladly he flew back with it to the woman.
The girl put the bone on the ground and covered it with her robe and
began to sing. After she had sung she took the robe away, and there
under it lay her father's body, as if he had just died. Once again
she covered the body with the robe and sang, and this time when she
took the robe away the body was breathing. A third time she covered
the body with the robe and sang, and when she again took away the
robe, the body moved its arms and legs a little. A fourth time she
covered it and sang, and when she took away the robe her father
The buffalo were surprised and the magpie was glad, and flew about
making a great noise.
"Now this day we have seen a strange thing," said her bull husband.
"The people's medicine is strong. He whom we trampled to death, whom
our hoofs cut to pieces and mixed all up with the soil, is alive
again. Now you shall go to your home, but before you go we will
teach you our dance and our song. Do not forget them."
The buffalo showed the man and his daughter their dance and taught
them the songs, and then the bull said to them, "Now you are to go
back to your home, but do not forget what you have seen. Teach the
people this dance and these songs, and while they are dancing it let
them wear a bull's head and a robe. Those who are to be of the
Bulls Society shall wear them."
When the poor man returned with his daughter, all the people were
glad. Then after a time he called a council of the chiefs and told
them the things that had happened. The chiefs chose certain young
men to be Bulls, and the man taught them the dance and the song, and
told them everything that they should do.
So began the Bull Society.