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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter IV
A Lone Northern Expedition


AS EVER IN HUMAN EXPERIENCE, the moons waxed and waned, and the seasons came and went, and the people were in the timber country, the camp having moved northward. And once more White Buffalo was out afield, and at his familiar work, namely, the hunting of woodland game. He was at this time about nineteen years of age, medium height, straight and strong, swift on foot, and full of muscle. He could pull the stiffest bow; he could run the short race with the quickest in the camp, and already it was said he was long-winded, and had won several long races. We will run with him some day, but just now we have a better story to tell concerning White Buffalo's life.

It was autumn; the world was full of glory. Certainly White Buffalo's world was full of glory. Summer rich and rank and full had gently passed away, and autumn, ripe and rank, had come and grasped the field. Her hand was busy painting the landscape, tinting the hill slopes, crowning the summits, bathing in rich color the valley. And the pulse of her strong life was stirring the blood of all who dwelt in the forest, or who ran and fed across the plains. Nature's mating season had come. The moose and elk and the handsome deer of many kinds knew this was the fact. Some one seemed to whisper, and the bleating of the deer, the calls of the moose, were common sounds in the early morning, and in the waning of the day, and even through the silent night. It was in such a time and amid such scenes, and with a sounding of such calls in the ears that White Buffalo found himself far from camp and in new country where, until now, he had never been. And yet such was the influence of the time and scene that on he went, and as he went he said: "I am too far to seek to kill; it would be too distant to come and bring the meat and hides. No, no; I will not kill in this country, even should I have a good chance. But I will go on, and as the day passes I will seek a rabbit or partridge and camp tonight in this strange new land. And reaching tomorrow the summit of yonder distant hill, I will hope to see what is beyond."

Ah, this has always been the thought and language of those somewhat braver than the rest in this life's long quest. They have lifted their eyes to the hills beyond and fain would reach the summit, but when they seem to reach, behold, the summit is still beyond. When will mortal vision reach the highest level and see as seen?

Our hero camped that night beside a spring whence bubbled the choicest water, fresh and clean. He had slipped an arrow from his bow and hit a rabbit, and again he twanged the bow and the partridge fell at his feet, and with the rabbit and the partridge in his belt, he came as by instinct to the very fountain head of this splendid spring, and his heart leaped in gratitude to him above, the great creator, the ever good, whose heart is always full of love. Here he made camp. He broke the bows of the balsam, whose fragrance was as incense sweet. He made his fire. All day with careful eye he had watched for sign of human being, but seen it not. So far as he knew he was alone. Though the native of a great big country, and himself one of a few people, who in tribes and in camps, sometimes large, sometimes small, forever roamed this region, yet nevertheless this was White Buffalo's first night absolutely without human companionship. Doubtless he was a wise man who is reported as saying, "It is not good for man to be alone." All day White Buffalo had steadily crossed the country; all day his trained eye had watched for fresh traces of humanity, and now he found himself as sole representative of his kind in this great wilderness. But a sense of his mission gave him company. Speculating on this he built up his camp fire, and plucked his partridge and skinned his rabbit and cut the opwanask or roasting stick, and broiled his game, and all the while was wondering what might be his fortune. Later, curling up in his autumn robe, he slept the sleep of strenuous youth. Glorious condition, when the heart beats regularly, and every nerve is strong, and life is in the morning of its sweetness, and bright visions and pleasant dreams are forever stirring the thought! Thus our young hunter slept until the day sky dawned. Then hastily making his toilet in the running waters of the spring, and finishing the little left of the game, he pursued his journey.

The hill was distant, and in the freshness of the morning he made haste towards it. The sun was high in the heavens when he stood on the summit and looked upon the great land stretching down towards the big lake. Thus far he had not discerned the sign of humanity, but now, carefully scanning the sloping of the country at his feet, presently he saw the thin dim spire of a column of what seemed to be the smoke from a single lodge. "Ah," he thought, "that is not a forest fire, that must be where someone's camp is, and I will carefully approach, and find out who they are."

Having thus determined, White Buffalo sat him down and took the little mirror from the pouch on his breast, and untied the small bags of buckskin which held his paints, and, smoothing his braids, and fixing his hair, he painted his face according to the manner of his people. Having thus arranged his toilet, he carefully inspected his bow, and saw that the string was true and strong. He took several arrows from his quiver and straightened them wherever they needed it. He took a pair of moccasins which were hanging in his belt, and put them on, in the meanwhile carefully stretching those he had been wearing, so that they might dry as he travelled. Then he set out for the distant smoke. All this time he had been watching the action of this smoke, and he was now pretty sure that it came from a lodge fire. Carefully and only as men of his breed can did he approach what turned out to he a lone lodge. The spot surrounding this was gloriously beautiful. Thickly wooded hills and symmetrical forest, alternating valley and upland lent rich variety to the scene. A small stream made its circuitous winding down the valley, and in a nook among the trees, where a beaver meadow was struggling against the encroaching progress of the forest, stood the moose-skin lodge. For here was the moving home of a wood and lake hunting Cree. These people whose camp White Buffalo was now approaching had never gone south on to the plains. Moose and caribou and beaver and bear and rabbit formed a part of their diet. These might be termed their upland food. The rest of their fare was made up of fish and fowl. As White Buffalo took in the scene he said to himself, "These are the Sakowweenewuk, the forest people. Now for the first time in my life do I behold one of their lodges."

Several wood animal hides were stretched on frames and leaning up against the trees around the lodge. Slowly, silently, stealthily, craftily, White Buffalo approached the lodge. Not even the dogs felt his presence. Keenly watching for humanity, he saw a woman, evidently the wife and mother in this lodge, come out and begin to scrape one of these hides. He wondered what language these people would speak, and as if in answer to his wonderment, he heard the woman call "Nagos!" which means "The Little Mother."

"Ah," thought White Buffalo, "they speak Cree," and his heart throbbed with gladness, for he said: "Surely these people will be my friends; but who can be the little mother who may answer to the call?" And he watched the door of the lodge and presently his eyes opened with delight, and he saw a maiden such as he had never seen in tents of his own people. As the girl stepped forth at her mother's call, and assisted in moving the frame on which the great hide was stretched, White Buffalo wondered no more as to why he had come afar into this strange land. Hitherto his life had been taken up with the romance and also the necessity of the hunter and the trapper, and in these pursuits his ambition was intense. There was no one of his age in the lodges of his people to compare with him as a hunter, and even his father, who was the most renowned trapper in all that section of country, whose medicines for beaver and lynx were noted and eagerly sought after—even this man was beginning to feel that very soon he would have to give way to his son because of the latter's great success. Many a matron in the gatherings of the people, having heard of the hunting and trapping renown of White Buffalo, had said to herself: "If we could secure that young man as the husband of our daughter, then the food supply of our lodge would be made sure." And when the scattered camps did meet as was their wont, eager eyes looked for the appearance of White Buffalo. They wanted to see who this was, and what was the style of this man, and when they beheld the stalwart youth, with his comely, kindly face, and saw him as with springy step he strolled through camp, or mounting his horse and galloping away even as part of the horse himself. Then the matchmakers throughout the lodges became busy, each thinking that the other could not possibly surmise what he or she had been plotting.

However, White Buffalo and his thought had not yet turned womanward. But now a new emotion stirred his whole being. It came as in a moment. From his secret viewpoint he keenly watched this maiden. He said to himself:

"Surely she shall be mine! For this I left my southern home. For this I came all day and hunted not. Some one seemed to lead me on. I wondered why. Sometimes I thought I should stop and return to my people, and again my heart said:

"Go on, White Buffalo, go on towards the star that never moves. Go on!' And I wondered why. But I know now the reason of my coming."

And as he thought he forever watched the beautiful girl who now in the dawn of her womanhood was moving to and fro with grace and gladness before his eager eyes.

White Buffalo was struck with her name, Nagos. It sounded pleasant as it came from the mother's lips, but it was peculiar for the girl to be entitled ''Our little mother." It seemed strange, yet nevertheless it gave pleasure to our young hero's heart. It stirred the domestic side of his nature, which is always to the front in every true man's makeup.

For a long time he looked and watched and drank in with intense pleasure these glimpses of this unknown girl. He speculated how he would approach the tent, and he wondered where the men-folk might be, and were there any others besides the real mother of the lodge and the little mother, the daughter of the camp, and already, the queen in White Buffalo's heart. Presently he heard the voice of a child coming from the lodge, and saw Nagos with tender words on her lips rush into the tent and come forth with a child in her arms. It was exquisite pleasure to our young hunter to watch this girl as she with affection and love did caress and sing to and care for this child. No wonder they call her ''the little mother." And bye and bye in the days that were coming he found out that this had been characteristic of this girl all through her life. She was kind to everybody. Children and animals were her pets. And it came to pass that her people and friends gave her the name Nagos, or "Little Mother."

In White Buffalo's eyes there lay a charm in her every movement. To him she was gloriously beautiful, exquisite in form and radiant in feature. Thus she appeared to White Buffalo as the mate the great spirit had designed for him.

And now he heard the mother say to the daughter, "Your father is coming." And the daughter answered, "How do you know, mother? I hear him not; I see him not."

And the mother smiled and said "Oh, my daughter, when you have lived with and loved a good man as I have lived with and loved your father for many summers and winters, you will know when he is near. Something will tell you that he is near, that even now he is approaching."

Nagos smiled to herself, as she wondered when it would be in her life such experiences would come. And then upon the scene there appeared two men, and for the moment White Buffalo's heart stood still. Then he saw that these approaching were father and son, and both fine-looking men. The elder, the wood hunter and canoe man in his prime, and the younger still in his teens and younger than our hero. Each had a pack of meat and skins on his back, and as they reached the lodge both mother and daughter sprang to help them with their loads. "Some more small deer-skins for me to dress," said Nagos.

Now that the man of the lodge had returned White Buffalo felt that it was time to make his presence known, and as he stepped from his hiding place out on to the prairie, the dogs rushed and raised a furious barking, and both men sprang out with their weapons in their hands, the father with his flintlock, and the son with his bow and quiver. But White Buffalo raised his hand and said:

"I am one of your people. We are the same people."

Then the father welcomed him to their lodge, and White Buffalo became the guest in the camp of the northern Cree.

The evening was spent in descriptions of the country and manner of life of these distinct people, who while speaking dialects of the same language were yet strange to one another. White Buffalo learned of the great lakes and mighty rivers in the north, of the wonderful migrations of the small caribou. How these came south in the early winter, and went far north as spring approached: how their number was like sand upon the shore. He heard about the great abundance of whitefish and sturgeon. He found out by tactful questioning that his host's name was Kewatenokao, (the North Wind Maker). He in his turn told his hosts about the great plain, and the big semi-wood and plain country that his people roamed in. He also had seen great herds, and these were not the small deer but the big buffalo. Only once or twice he caught the eye of Nagos, but he knew she was listening to his story. He felt the thrill of her presence. It was as if he had come into a new life. This wonderful emotion which charged his whole being. And the maiden also was perfectly conscious of her new experience. Even as it has been in all human history, and doubtless will continue while man remains on this sphere. The next day White Buffalo took his departure. He had not spoken one single word to the maiden who had unconsciously wrapped her very image about his heart. He merely thanked her father and mother for their hospitality, and they expressed the hope that White Buffalo might again visit their humble lodge, and as the father said this Nagos lifted her eyes and looked at the young man, and that look was sufficient to cheer him on his way through the forest and across the ranges of hills on his journey to his own home lodge. Indeed, he lived upon that glance for many months that were coming. As he travelled southward he said to himself:

"Now, I must prove myself. Hitherto I have been a boy. Since yesterday I feel that I have become a man. But I am not yet consecrated, neither have I gone to war against the enemies of my people. How do I know that the spirits will think me worthy of their intercourse? How do I know that my heart will stand me true in the time of serious danger?"

Thus White Buffalo soliloquised and introspected, as with light step and at times with steady trot he made his way across the country, and in the evening of the second day was received with joy by his own people who had anxiously awaited his coming and wondered what possibly could have occurred to keep him from camp so long. Shortly after this, and when his father's lodge was placed down the Swan and in the vicinity of Thunder Hill, the night again came, and White Buffalo had not returned, and the morning and the night came and he was still absent, and again this was repeated, and his young companions sought him far and near, and his mother had worried much. But if our reader had been in that camp and observant he would have noticed that the older men manifested no extra anxiety. They merely kept silence. The young people and some women might gossip and wonder and say:

"Have our enemies destroyed him? Has he met the Mistava, the great grizzly, and been slain by him?"

But no answer came from the lips of the older men, the experienced hunters and warriors, the priests and medicine men and conjurors. These kept silent, and to his mother's great joy about the middle of the fourth day White Buffalo came into camp. He looked weary and worn, but there was something in his presence that said to all his fellows: "He is changed he has passed through the ordeal: the spirits have revealed themselves to him."

Suppose we go in thought with White Buffalo during these four days' absence. If so, we would cross the valley of the Swan, we would climb the steep slope of the Thunder Bird Hill. We would wend our way through the thick forest which in those days covered its summit. We would stay not till we stood on its highest peak, then we would watch White Buffalo, who having come thus far without food and drink and in wrapt meditation and full of anxious wonderment, we would see him cast his eyes heavenward and his whole attitude would be that of supplication, and thus becoming weary with long standing he would at last sit down, but forever supplicating, forever waiting, constantly watching, and thus in the receptive and responsive mood, and the days and the long nights would follow one another, neither eating nor drinking. And two nights and two days have come and gone, and White Buffalo has cried out and earnestly importuned, and the evening of the third day finds him faint and alone, and during the hours of that night he falls asleep. Indeed, it is more than sleep, it is absolute unconsciousness to this present time and place, and there comes to him a spirit in answer to his cry, and he hears the words:

"My son, your prayer is heard, and I am sent to become Kepawokan, the spirit of your dream, and you will do thus and so when you hunt, and when you go to war, and when you seek to wed. And if you strictly observe these rules I have laid down for you, I will be your guide and helper, and should there come times in your life of great need for assistance, when of yourself you could not but fail, then I will come to your rescue."

And White Buffalo would say: "My ear is all attent, my mind will never forget, I will surely perform what you have said unto me."

Then the spirit of his dream would say unto White Buffalo: "Well, my son, you will know me when I come by my shape."

And White Buffalo did say: "And what shape will you take, the spirit of my dream?"

And the answer would come: "I will forever take the shape of a forest wolf, the Sakowmayekun, who always henceforth will be your friend."

And the sun of the fourth day would be high in the heavens when White Buffalo, awaking from his long tramp, would feel that his consecration was answered, and that henceforth as he lived he was under vow. And rubbing his eyes and looking around him he beheld, a little way off from where he had slept, and there stood a great timber wolf, and White Buffalo looked into the eye of the wolf, and the wolf looked into his eye, and there was mutual understanding, and the man and the wolf were without fear. And as White Buffalo turned to come down the hill, behold, the wolf came also, and thus they travelled down the steep slope and across the luxuriant valley. In silence both tramped, and not until the lodges of the man's people were in sight did the wolf disappear. And White Buffalo stood and looked long in the direction the wolf had gone. Then he turned and came into the camp.

Oh, the joy of that mother's heart! Her boy was home again, and his father coming from the hunt that evening saw and was abundantly gratified to recognize by the lad's appearance that his son had gone and conquered and come back a victor. From that day on never more did White Buffalo set a trap for a wolf or speed an arrow or a bullet after one of the kind. Moreover, it was noted by the people of the camp that no matter whose meat cache was destroyed by wolves, those of White Buffalo were never molested.

In this way our hero passed one testing of himself.


White Buffalo and His Pawakun


 


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