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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter XVI
He Leads His Followers on a Far Campaign


AWAY south in the valley of the Swan, and that great big country which is tributary to it, White Buffalo and his camp were busy making provisions and trapping furs. The seer had fully recovered his strength. Nagos was now thoroughly at home with her husband's people, and except that she possessed one of the most energetic and restless hunters in the whole range of the great west at this time, and his constant absences and sometimes long journeys in the ardent pursuit of the life he was leading, her life was full of happiness. Every now and then a messenger would come in from their sister camps. As was the habit of those days, there were runners between the camps, and communication was kept up all through the year. And it was apparent that preparations were going on for the contemplated war enterprise of the coming season. Already the seer had ventured to prophesy, and had told the people that again the spirits would favor White Buffalo as he led their warriors against their enemies. He said:

"The journey will be long, and White Buffalo will have opportunity of seeing more distant country on this trip, but his victory will be strong:"

These words of the seer were sent out throughout the groups of camps, and many a warrior felt that he must prepare himself for the long trip, and for this great expedition, which was to bring glory to his people. White Buffalo did his best in the life that was before him and perhaps of all who might anticipate taking part in the coming quest for revenge and glory, he worried the least about it. As we have said before, he was naturally a man of peace, and would greatly prefer the life of the hunter and trapper to that of the warrior.

During the months of this winter he performed several brave deeds. Travelling out on the hunt during the strong winter moon, when the weather was intensely cold, himself and companions, for there were two with him, were caught by a terrible storm, and while all Indians are trained out of the centuries to meet with and stand against nature in her forces, yet, as with other men, some are faint-hearted. And so it was with this little group of men. To reach their camp they had an open country to traverse, and when they were out in the bleakest part, and the storm was at its worst, one of the men began to quail before the intense cold, and said when he felt that his strength was gone, or thought that it was gone:

"Never mind me, let me die here, go on and save your own lives." And White Buffalo gave his arms to the other Indian to carry, and picking this man up caried him a long distance until they found some scrub and sufficient fuel wherewith to make a fire, and thus he saved this man's life. The wonderful strength manifest in this effort raised him in the estimation of the camp. A man possessed of superhuman strength, thus they thought when they spoke of White Buffalo. Also devoid of selfishness in every respect, willing to strain and struggle and be spent that another might have life.

Another day he heard a shout, and running across through the scrub and timber, he found one of his people in the grip of a big bear. The bear had been laired up for the winter, and the Indian had roused him without mortally wounding him, and when White Buffalo came upon the scene, he had to abandon his bow and quiver, and as before depend upon his knife, and again was victorious. He killed the bear, and bound up the wounded man and brought him into camp. When the man was strong enough to tell the story, it was White Buffalo and his wonderful pluck which had saved his life.

Another time men of different camps, who had long been at enmity, and were thirsting for each other's blood, happened to meet in White Buffalo's encampment, and immediately that they learned of the presence of each other they prepared for battle. And just then someone said:

"Oh, that White Buffalo were here! He would prevent this bloodshed. He would prevail upon these men to abandon their foolish enmity."

And then there came a cry through the camp:

"Here he comes!" And immediately he was upon the scene. Rushing in between the combatants, he speedily flung them apart, and then with commanding voice told them to desist. And when they, being overawed by his presence, stood looking at him and glaring at each other, he spoke to them in such a manner as that they became ashamed of their conduct. And presently they followed him to his lodge, and before the day was over they were smoking the same pipe, and pledged to forget the past and be friends for the future.

All these things added to White Buffalo's prestige among the people of his own camp and wherever in other camps these occurrences were told. And thus the winter went on, and it was now the end of the eagle moon, and White Buffalo and Nagos were becoming very anxious about Snake Skin. Where was Snake Skin? Had Snake Skin and Niska found the northern people? The distance was so great, the country was so large, the chances of disaster so many, that they were full of anxious thought concerning their friends.

But one day, while they were looking northward, a boy came on the run back to camp, and his news was that away in the distance there were two men approaching.

"Ah," said White Buffalo, "that will be Snake Skin " and to their great joy, here were both Snake Skin and Niska. It was unnecessary to tell either Nagos or White Buffalo that Snake Skin's trip was successful. Notwithstanding the long winter journey, notwithstanding the hardship of making trail through pathless forests and across long stretches of river and lake, in the depth of a northern winter, his every action, his every gesture, the tone of his voice, told of his joy in the purpose of his trip.

And Niska was glad to be back. He had longed to come back. This maiden in Papamotao's lodge, of course she was the great attraction, but there was also this wonderful new life. He had seen the prairie, he had participated in the great race after the buffalo. He had taken part in the big battle, and he longed to come out again from the quiet northland into these more stirring experiences, which suited his young life. Then here was the home of his sister, and where she was queen.

Many messages of love and good wishes did they bring from the northern people to White Buffalo and Nagos. Snake Skin, when the opportunity came, spoke the message which the North Wind Maker had sent by him. Said the North Wind Maker:

"Tell my daughter that her brother has told us how she lives, how wonderfully happy she is, as the wife of White Buffalo. We are truly glad to hear such welcome tidings. And tell White Buffalo that we are proud of him, and we are thankful unto him, and we will forever petition the great spirit and all the spirits to bless him and his lodge. We send our greetings to all his people. For, after all, like them, we are Crees."

Snake Skin's story in brief was thus:

"I did just about as you did, White Buffalo. I watched my opportunity, and when I had made sure that the Little Star thought of me from her heart, I then spoke to her father, and he, like his older brother, said: 'We will let the moons pass, and as your great friend has pledged himself to bring his wife and meet her people on the spot from whence he took her last autumn, we will promise you that if you come with him at that time, and the heart of our daughter and yours also are as we believe they are today. we will give her to you.' So you see, White Buffalo, I and the Little Star are walking on your trail."

And his friends congratulated him, and Nagos said she would be delighted if her sister became the wife of Snake Skin, and if Snake Skin really would bring the Little Star into their camp.

And now these friends who have been so much together in enmity and again in friendship constant, being united, the latter moons of the winter passed quickly. In those days many costly furs brought but little in the exchange that was made. Blankets and strouds and trinkets brought all the way from England by way of Hudson's Bay, and packed and pulled over the many portages up into the interior, were exceedingly costly, and the Indian, trap as much as he might, still had but very little in excess of his need when he made his barter at the distant post. Piles of beaver, strings of marten and otter and fisher and mink and bear skins, and muskrats and lynx, and his packs may have been big, and the number of them many when he entered the trading post, but when he came forth, having received in exchange cloth and blankets and trinkets, and possibly gun and powder and ball, his pack would be a small one. Thus if he coveted these articles, which the white man brought from across the great waters, he must be forever during the season on the quest. And this was the experience of White Buffalo and his companions, forever setting snares, forever seeking to trap by deadfall marten and mink and fisher, forever going forth with his hunting dogs, treeing his game, and by all the means in his power seeking for the pelts of these valuable animals, but for which, because of the long distance and the costly methods of transport obtaining at the time of which we write, he received but little in return.

And it was spring, and the snows were melting, and the rivers were running free, and the messengers were beginning to pass from camp to camp, and the organization for the coming summer was now on foot.

"We will meet on the banks of the Beaver, where the portage between the two rivers is the shortest."

This was the message that went from one group of lodges to the other all over a wide stretch of country, and slowly each party began to converge towards the meeting place. In the meantime messengers came from the still farther west, these being sent by the people of the camp our hero and his party had joined for a time during the last season. And the purport of this message was:

"We have heard that you contemplate going on the warpath early this summer. We have heard of your war chief's great success, and our young men desire to join yours and go out with you under White Buffalo's command. If this our wish is pleasing to you; send us word by our messengers."

So White Buffalo sent out runners to the various groups of his own camp explaining this request and asking their opinion, and from every one there came the answer:

"Tell them to come and join us, that is if you think it best." So White Buffalo said to the messengers:

"You can return to your people and tell them that when the egg moon is small the warriors of our camp will meet the warriors of their camp at the place where our people were slain some moons since."

Thus the whole plan of the start for the big war enterprise was arranged. To make ready for their purpose every warrior was now intent. He had his weapons to look after, he prepared his lines, he took pains with his quirt, for in the mind of every one of these men was the thought If I do go forth on foot, I may return on horseback." Then he also must needs importune the spirits; he must go away alone; he must commune in solitude; he must re-consecrate himself; he must renew his vows, and thus the time of preparation was continuous, even up to the day of starting. All the while these men were the commissariat, and the food that their people lived upon was the meat of wild animals. These were migratory, these were subject to storm and sometimes disappearance. So these men had plenty of employment, to feed the camp, to help make provision for the future, to prepare for war. And anyone who has the idea that the Indian of a hundred years ago was a lazy man makes a mistake. The life was strenuous, and exceedingly busy, and in the case of our hero he was forever at work. So the days passed quickly, and every little while runners coming in told him and his party of the converging of the tribes.

And now they are all at the meeting place, and every heart is glad. Feasting and dancing and thanks- giving become the order of the time. In the morning of the day in large camp the chief instructed the crier, and he vent forth, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback, and he told the people what the wise men of the camp wished them to do, and would have them to be. His messages were often like short sermons. The philosophy of the ages, the instruction of generations of experience, this was cried with stentorian voice throughout the circles of lodges forming the great camp.

Then during the few days of the living together on the meeting ground, the big council was held, and the orators among the people had their opportunity. Some of these men were intensely eloquent. The language they used was classic, their figures of speech were beautiful. Oftentimes the writer has sat with the assembled crowd and listened to these men who have been described as untutored. But when one understood the language, when one became familiar with the idiom of their speech, then one was filled with amazement, and oftentimes have we said to ourselves:

"Whence have these men this wisdom?"

We have felt rebuked because we had been led to think we were advantaged. We had gone to school. we had had in measure the privilege of education, but here were men who were speaking understandingly and eloquently and logically about matters which were full of thought and wisdom. We sat at their feet and did learn. These wild nomads became to us as our Gamaliels. What wrapt attention these orators would command! The women and the children gathered with the warriors and aged men to listen. The games in the camp were stayed, and with hushed interest every ear was attent to the orators magnificent address.

But now the war lodge has been erected. and the war dance is being performed, and for several days this big tabernacle is the scene of assembling of all who from this camp intend to set out on warpath. In White Buffalo's lodge everything is quiet. He is ready. Nagos has finished all preparation, such as she learned was needed. Her heart was full. Oh, this war! How she dreaded it, and yet like women of her type, she would have her husband go. She would not lift a finger to keep him at home. She would say to herself, "How can I let him go?" and again she would say to herself, "I want him to go." In this anomaly of feeling she was even like the women of her type throughout all the ages. Shrinking and yet intensely brave; timid, but full of ardent pluck.

Snake Skin would comfort her by telling how she need not worry, White Buffalo was invulnerable; his dream, his Pawakun, would protect him.

"He," said Snake Skin, "your husband, Nagos, is a good man. He performs all his vows. He neglects not even the smallest matter. His Pawakun is forever pleased with him, and the Great Good Spirit cannot help but love your husband, for he is truly his child, his obedient child. So, my sister, drive away your fears, believe that your husband will come safely home, and you will love him all the more, and be happier with him because of his great accomplishments. As for myself, I am glad to go. I know how White Buffalo felt when he was hoping to win you, how he wanted to try himself, and see if he was worthy. I feel like that. I am always thinking about the Little Star, and I want to go forth and be brave and true, and I want to come back and feel that you and all your friends will be proud of me. And I will be worthy of going into the north next autumn with you, and when we come back, if the Spirits will it, ah, then I will have the Little Star with me."

Thus Snake Skin talked and cheered up the Little Mother. In the meanwhile the war song was stimulating the multitude, and presently the time set arrived, and on the morrow fully half of the men of this camp would go forth on the quest for their enemies.


 


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