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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter XIX
A Brave Trip Among the Sioux


IT WAS NOW MIDSUMMER, and all wood and plain animals were in good order. The berries were ripening. It was a period of comfort and fatness with the people of the great West. Nature was taking on beauty and richness every day, and these nomadic people in their philosophic way gratefully acknowledged the Good Spirit's lavish bestowment and with full hearts enjoyed life. These were great days with Nagos and her husband. She was beginning to learn that she could not always have him with her. These long trips to war, they were lonesome times, and again there were days and nights when he was away on the hunt. But in all this she found great happiness. Nagos had won the hearts of these plain peoples. Her husband's reputation had made them to take great interest in this young woman he had brought from the far north. But, by this time, they had come to know that Nagos was also a great woman. She was beautiful, she was brave, she was forever kind. Anyone in trouble felt that they could go to Nagos, she would help. Her father and mother were both more than usual in herb lore. This they had taught her, and she, being naturally quick and an adept in nursing, had already acquired a strong influence in this camp of her adoption. Thus these young people were the admired and the much loved of their friends, and the days were full of joy.

However, Snake Skin was anxious that his young chief and himself should do something that would bring more glory and respect to themselves and their people. So he began to sound White Buffalo. Said he:

"We have gone into the hunting grounds of the Blackfeet and the Bloods, but there are the great warriors, the Sioux, the unconquerable."

The Cree word for the Sioux is Pwotuk, signifying "those you balk at," really meaning the unconquered, and Snake Skin would day after day bring up this subject, doing what he could to stir White Buffalo's ambition, out on a quest after the Sioux.

At last there came a time when White Buffalo turned upon him and said: "We will go into the Sioux country, you and I, without letting our people know, without asking anyone to accompany us. Are you willing?"

And at first Snake Skin was almost afraid to say yes, but he thought how he had brought this on himself, and he answered: "I am willing."

And so very soon there came a night and neither White Buffalo nor Snake Skin returned to camp, and the next night came and Nagos and her new mother and all the camp were anxious, but there were no tidings, and during the third day Kosapachekao went into a trance, and returning, having sent his spirit afar, he told the expectant multitude that these young men were away south striking for the Sioux country. He, moreover, told them that he believed their effort would be successful.

"They will enter the Sioux camp, they will come home with horses from the Sioux. Such is the skill of White Buffalo, such is his pluck, as that himself and friend will do great things before they return to us. But they will return unharmed. This I believe."

Thus the Seer comforted Nagos and her mother. But the days were long and the nights seemed longer, and the camp moved on further, and the young men came not.

Following the war party of two, we will cross what is now the forty-ninth parallel, we will leave the fountain heads of the streams that flow northward and eastward into the Hudson's Bay, and presently we will find our hero and his companion camped on the banks of a little stream whose waters are stretching away to reach the Gulf of Mexico. Only by hearing of it had either of these men any knowledge of this country. All was new. Every day and every move was adventure. They had now travelled ten nights, and no sign of the people they were looking for. On south and a little west was their course, and in that great big region which is fittingly termed today Dakota. Presently they found tracks of strange Indians. They eagerly examined these tracks, and came to the conclusion that they were those of hunters belonging to some camp still farther south. They concluded to follow these tracks, and the next day came upon others, then they were sure that somewhere in advance was a camp. Carefully and stealthily they scouted and that evening sighted a large group of Sioux lodges.

Secreting themselves, they watched their enemies. These were the men that their people dreaded. These were the men whose valor had been told in story all over the northern half of the continent. The Indians of all the tribes conceded that the Sioux stood at the head among men as a warrior, and now in sight of this large camp these two brave hearts were planning some feat that would prove to the Sioux, as also to their own people, that there were men of pluck and daring, willing to venture and even die, among the Crees as well as among the Sioux.

When night came upon them, White Buffalo said to his friend: "I propose that we stay here until tomorrow night, that we rest tonight, and then tomorrow find out all we can about these people, count their lodges, watch them in their life, as much as we can take stock of their horses, and who knows, perhaps we may see them hunting, perhaps we may see them racing, and in that way we can find out which of their horses it will be worth while for us to risk our lives for. I do not know how you feel, Snake Skin, but I do not want to kill any of these people unless I have to. I think that if we can take some good horses out of their camp and perhaps some of their equipment, then we will have done sufficient."

And Snake Skin said:

"You are my chief, verily I think as you do." And they rested.

The wolves howled on the hills on every hand. The coyotes joined in their nightly choruses. But these men slept. And the daylight came, and from the most advantageous summit they watched the camp of the Sioux, and before the sun was high they had their first opportunity, for not far from where they were in hiding a bunch of buffalo was feeding, and presently they saw a mounted man come out and reconnoitre, and soon they knew by the stir in camp that a run was on, and in a little while they had the satisfaction of watching the hunters ride forth, and the run take place within a reasonable distance of where they were. They saw some splendid horses dashing out from the rest in the race, and easily overtaking the buffalo and giving their riders a first chance at the game.

"There," said White Buffalo, "Snake Skin, do you see that white horse?"

"Yes," was the answer.

"Keep your eye on him. I will watch that big black, for we know that they are good. No matter how many we may be able to secure, let us try and bring them out."

So they watched the hunt and the return to the camp from the hunt, and they followed up, and from a nearer vantage point located the lodges in the camp to which these horses belonged. Thus they spent the day. They might have killed some Sioux who ventured out from camp, White Buffalo's unerring archery would have permitted him thus to do, but as he had said, he did not want to kill. To come and see these great warriors in their own home land, to have travelled thus afar in an entirely new country, and now to have been fortunate in placing good horses and to have the possibilities before them during the corning night in making these horses their own in accord with the code of honor of the day and time, was in his thought sufficient. Quietly, he hummed his hymn and waited with his friend for the night, but while they waited and watched suddenly a little way from the summit of a hill, there stood a wolf. Snake Skin saw him first, and he pointed and White Buffalo looked. Ah, here was the spirit of his dream, and both young men hummed a song of thanksgiving. White Buffalo was not alone, his Powakun had come with him away into the land of the Sioux. Both were now exultant. What they had seen augured success, and thus they were stimulated and greatly encouraged.

As the evening came on they drew up nearer to the camp. So carefully had they scouted, so wisely had they covered their approach, and chosen the ground, that they felt sure there was hardly any possibility of detection. They could see but as they felt could not be seen. White Buffalo was a born scout, and his life up to this time had been full of practice. And thus darkness came.

"And now," said White Buffalo, "we know this country and where we are will be a good place for us to meet, if we live to come out of that camp. You, my friend, are going after that white horse, and as many others as you can bring. I am going after that black horse, and as many others as I can I saw him just as it got dark being led up to the lodge. Doubtless you watched the white horse."

"Yes, I did," said Snake Skin.

"Well now, as the fires go out, as the people who are not on guard fall asleep, we will separate, and each go his own way, and then, if we may, here we will meet again."

Thus these men separated. Out into the darkness of the rank summer's night, in a strange land, and right into and among the lodges of a strange people, and these people renowned for their warlike skill and great bravery. Yet neither of these young Crees flinched in their enterprise. With White Buffalo, he never thought of danger to himself. He was one of those serene, cool, ever ready hearts, forever willing to do and dare. With Snake Skin it was a case of emulation and imitation and sublime confidence in his leader. Nevertheless, it takes pluck and strong nerve to enter into the home of watchful foes, men trained to listen and perceive. On in among the lodges, to be a Sioux if possible for the time being, to avoid the dogs, to steal in around the watchful guards, to be noiseless, and imperceptible. This requires strength of muscle as well as force of will. Crawling, crouching, creeping, hardly breathing, patiently, perseveringly, each made his way towards the goal he had set before him.

White Buffalo well remembered the location of the lodge. He had marked it, the very spot it stood upon was photographed on his memory. There he had seen the big black led up to. And now he was close upon the lodge. All was quiet. How many guards he had passed he did not know, but here, in the inner circles of the camp, was this one, and now he saw the horse, and with the greatest stealth and quietness of action, he presently touched the horse and the horse did not start. Then he slipped up and felt the lariat from the neck of the horse, and then, feeling for the other end, he soon knew that it went into the lodge.

"Aha," he thought. "the Sioux has gone to sleep with the other end of the lariat in his hand. Well, let him keep it."

So he cut the line just outside the lodge, and then he felt around for anything that might he left outside belonging to this lodge, and here just back of the lodge on a triangle was a robe and under that robe were some moccasins. So lie took the robe and put it around him, and tucked the moccasins in his belt, and then began to cut the lines of other horses, and to drive before him some loose animals; and thus slowly he worked his way through between the lodges, moving this bunch before him. Always leading the big black. He knew well that the greatest danger was before him, when that he would reach the outskirts of the camp. There the vigilance of the guards would be keenest.

Unless one has lived with these native peoples and travelled with them, and become acquainted with their language and life, and listened to the many tales of the past, one can hardly appreciate the patient skill of a warrior situate as White Buffalo was at this time. To get away from this camp with these horses without being felt, without having given a sign, was his object, inasmuch as if he was discovered, then his friend would also in all probability be discovered, and as they were now separate, and each acting independent of the other, it behooved them to give no alarm if possible.

After a long time White Buffalo felt that he was beyond the last guard, and still he continued to silently and quietly herd this bunch of horses towards the place appointed for their meeting. Midnight was past when he reached the place, and now he waited in expectancy, and by and by was glad to catch the note of a coyote not many arrow-shots from him. Then he quietly answered. Then an owl hooted, and he knew Snake Skin was coming, and in a little while Snake Skin was with him, and out of the darkness there came in view some horses, and among these was the white one.

"What did you bring?" said Snake Skin.

"I brought a robe and some moccasins."

"Well, I have a saddle blanket and some good lines," said Snake Skin; and they each counted their horses. White Buffalo had ten, and Snake Skin eight, and they were each holding the horses that they had picked during the day as they saw them race in the hunt. More than this, they had gone into the very centre of the great camp of the much-dreaded Sioux. This to both men was much more satisfactory than the capture of the horses, however much they delighted in this. So now they sat them down side by side and chanted a little hymn of victory and praise. Then they mounted and started northward, and for hours they travelled. They knew full well that perhaps before morning these horses would be missed. At any rate with daylight the hue and cry, and then the chase would come, but they felt quite secure, and on they went. And now they ran as men in those days could run, for miles and miles they ran, driving the horses before them. All that day they journeyed with little stop, watching forever, inasmuch as they might meet a war party, they might be seen. Therefore under cover as much as possible they travelled steadily north, every little while breaking out in song. And not until darkness covered them did they stop to rest the horses, and themselves, for a little while.

Snake Skin said: "I am glad we came. I am glad you consented to come. No young men of our age in all the camps of our people have gone as far as we have, and have done what we have."

"Yes," said White Buffalo, "I am glad for your sake. It was mostly for your sake, Snake Skin, that I came. I wanted you to prove yourself, and you have done so, and with good heart you can travel north this autumn. When the earth is painted and the world is glad, then verily, my friend, I trust, will be greatly glad also. Yes, look up, Snake Skin, behold the stars, and think of the Little Star."

"Oh, you need not tell me to do that," said Snake Skin, " I am always thinking of her."

And they slept a little while, and with the stars still studding the heavens they started northward.

Away back in yonder camp the life was going on as usual. Men were hunting; men, women and children were picking berries, and drying them for future use. Immense quantities of the saskatoon and choke-cherry were annually gathered and dried and packed away for winter use by these nomads. The camp had gone well into the park country, and in measure because of this was comparatively safe from the persistent enemy. The plain Indian shunned the timber as much as possible. While all were anxious about the absent leader and his companion, still the multitude put great faith in the seer's prophetic announcement. He had assured them that our warriors would return in due time. In the lodge of White Buffalo there was constant anxiety, and Nagos was forever petitioning the great good spirit and all the spirits on behalf of her absent husband.

Nothing special had occurred in the lives of those who belonged to this moving home. Going back to our little party of two, we find them travelling steadily northward, resting in hidden spots during the day, and travelling by night. If the Sioux had made any attempt to follow them, they had given up, for now White Buffalo and Snake Skin were a long distance from the scene of their capture. However, as much as they might desire to escape from actual battle on this trip, it was their fate to meet one, for as they journeyed with the band of horses they had secured, it was almost impossible for them to cover their advance, and one day they were discovered by a war party which turned out to be some Sioux who were on their homeward journey, having failed to find the enemy. And now, descrying this little party of two men and their horses, they felt sure of taking them, and with whoops and yells they charged down upon White Buffalo and his companion.

"When they came in full view, Snake Skin, counting their number, said:

"There are just twelve of them," and at first he proposed that they rush their horses and thus escape a fight, but White Buffalo was in mood for this. His plan was to bunch the horses in a little swamp, and then on foot meet these footmen who were running down upon himself and friend. Said he to Snake Skin:

"Not until we cannot hold them back or drive them off will we take to our horses, and try to escape. In the meantime, let us show them how far our arrows will fly and do good work."

And then he calmly pulled some arrows from his quiver and began to straighten them, and Snake Skin, stimulated by his example, did likewise. By this time they made sure that the party running towards them was Sioux. The twelve men, being Sioux, and also as six to one, had no doubt of the issue. Who were these that were driving horses from the south country? Who would dare to go down single-handed among their people, and bring away their stock in this manner? Thus they thought and thus they communed with one another, as they shortened the distance between themselves and the two men, whom they felt were already in their hands.

However, White Buffalo thought otherwise. He had been measuring the distance; he had been calculating the strength of the breeze; he had been testing his bow, and looking along his arrow, and now was calmly waiting for the foremost Sioux to come within the range of his unerring aim. Presently, the swiftest man of the twelve was near enough, and White Buffalo pulled his bow and let his first arrow fly, and met his foe squarely in the chest with its sharp thrust. And the Sioux, dropping his weapons, staggered and fell. Such audacity enraged the others, and they came rushing on, but the first one that bounded within the range of this great archer also met his fate, for another arrow came circling through the air and struck him likewise. And thus White Buffalo shot arrow after arrow, until his share of the enemy lay prone and dying on the plain. Snake Skin had stood and looked and wondered, he reserving his arrows for nearer shooting. But feeling now greatly emboldened by the skill and wonderful aim of his friend.

The Sioux on their part had learned the folly of coming within the range, and thus the six survivors withdrew, and gathering on a knoll seemed to take council as to what should be done. Here was a wonderful foe, a man of long reach and sure aim, such as they had never met before. And there he stood as calm and cool as if all this was commonplace to him. These were brave men whom he had shot, and their companions wisely felt it would be utter folly for them to thus continue the fight, and they concluded to withdraw; and White Buffalo, seeing this, said to Snake Skin, "Run back and bring up our horses, and I will move on to where our enemies are lying." And in a short time they were up among the dead and dying Sioux. Said White Buffalo:

"We will wait until all are dead," and before long this came to pass. Then, in their way and in accord with the code of the time, they scalped their foes and took their weapons, and such portion of their apparel as they thought fit. And in all this they were watched by the balance of the Sioux from a respectful distance. Then, mounting their horses, and singing a hymn of victory, they drove their captured bunch northward. Said White Buffalo:

"I did not want to kill these men, but they were twelve to two. If we allowed them to come near, they would have killed us. I hoped that when I shot the first one they would stop. I hoped when I shot the second one they would stop, but on they came, foolish brave men." And Snake Skin answered:

"Who would have thought that you could kill men with an arrow at such a distance? It was reasonable for them to think that your first shot was a chance one, but you never missed. Now they know and I know, as never before, how perfect you are in this art."

And he broke out into a song of victory. But White Buffalo did not join, for already he was lamenting the act of killing these men. For days they travelled and met no further incident, and now they crossed the Chain of Lakes River. They were coming into their own country, and their hearts were full of hope as to meeting their people somewhere shortly.

As yet they had seen no fresh tracks. The people might be near or far. This was a big country, and a few hundred nomadic Indians were as lost in it, and it was the third day from the Qu'Appelle before they found their people, and rode triumphantly into their home camp. There was great joy throughout this camp because of their coming. Nagos had endeared herself to these people, and her constant looking and waiting and longing had become part of the life of the whole camp. All were in sympathy. All were anxious about White Buffalo and his companion. And now this wonderful woman, who had become their queen, was forever thinking and longing for White Buffalo, all the people of the camp had been for days in ardent sympathy with her. The seer had sent his Spirit forth.

"They are coming," said he, but he could not tell how many nights might intervene.

"They are comming, but I do not know where they are," was his message, and now here they were with the horses and equipments and scalps and arms of the dreaded Sioux. Seldom had any of these come thus far into this northland at this time. And in this way White Buffalo had proved to his people that he was brave and skilful, and neither distance nor yet the undaunted quality of his enemy stayed him in his course. He was a chief, born to the place, and the spirits were in his favor.

And thus Snake Skin also won his place among the people, and to his own great satisfaction felt that he had done something worthy of the maiden he longed to possess.


 


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