AFTER the triumphant return
of the party after the great feast and the big dance that ensued, the large
camp broke up into a number of small camps. White Buffalo's and Snake Skin's
people moved on over the divide between the two river systems, and followed
down the course of the Swan. Hunting meat, trapping and slaying fur-bearing
animals for trade purposes, these were their pursuits for the next half
moon, and the winter came on strong, and the rivers and lakes bridged over,
and White Buffalo said to himself: "I must make ready and search the north
country before the snow becomes deep."
Snake Skin, who was now his
inseparable companion, said to him one day when they were out hunting: "What
is the matter with you, White Buffalo? For some moons I have seen that there
was something on your mind."
And thus he talked to his
friend, and reaching the summit of a hill, where they stopped to rest for a
brief moment, White Buffalo told Snake Skin where he had been, and whom he
had found. He, moreover, told him that very shortly he was going to start on
another journey, and discover if possible where these people now dwelt. He
would hunt them up in their own country, and hoped to renew his acquaintance
with the North Wind Maker and his family. Then up spoke Snake Skin: "That is
right, my friend, and as it is too far and too dangerous for you to go
alone, I will go with you."
White Buffalo answered: "If
you so wish I will be glad."
So in the midst of their
hunting and trapping the two young men secretly planned and made ready for
their trip into the north. In the meanwhile White Buffalo's mother had said
to her husband:
"It is not for nothing that
our son disappeared in the early part of the autumn. He found people. His
heart has been touched. I knew it when he came back. Never a word has he
spoken, but all this time some maiden whom we have never seen is in his
mind, is on his heart."
Thus spoke the mother, wise
in her intuitions, and the father with a quiet smile did answer:
"Well, if it is so, he is but
doing as I did."
And then they beamed with
love and affection into each other's eyes, and understood the matter and
One day White Buffalo said to
his mother: "Do not be troubled, my mother, if I should not come back for a
few nights. Do not be alarmed."
And with a tremor on her lips
the mother answered: "Be brave, be good, my son; may you be prospered in
what is right."
This was all; so when the
night and the day came, and another night passed, and people in camp
wondered where White Buffalo and Snake Skin had disappeared to, and many
speculations were afloat, and some little search was made for them, and the
word came in:
"Two tracks have been seen
striking into the north country." And in this way our hero had gone on his
second quest. In those days, as in the days long years afterwards, the
Indian went out unburdened. An extra pair of mocassins or two stuck in his
belt, having made sure that in his little kit he was possessed of awl and
sinew, and even of this latter being careless, for could he not replenish by
the way as the result of his hunt? Making sure that he carried flint and
steel, as for the rest, his trust was in the all-merciful provision of the
Great Spirit, and in his own skill in the use of bow or gun or snare. On
towards the star that never moved, on forever looking for the trace of man
who might possibly be found hunting in this forest land which our travellers
had entered upon. On with unwearied limbs and unquenchable desire in the
heart of White Buffalo. On with unwearied limbs, and strong and forever
stronger friendship in the heart of Snake Skin. Thus the short days of early
winter passed, and morning after morning our travellers were far on their
journey when daylight came, but with the shadows lengthening in the evening
they would make themselves as comfortable as they could wish with spruce
bows, with swamp grass, with willow brush, as the case might be. They
quickly and deftly would change the face of things so that coming upon them,
the neatness of the camp, and the welcome there, would be a great surprise.
Habit and knowledge out of the centuries, with life-long adaptation to
environment, helped these men to make out of what would seem extreme poverty
and misery to other men comfort and even luxury. They passed the Spot where
White Buffalo had found Nagos and her people. He lingered fondly on the
scene. They thought it was futile to attempt to take the trail of summer.
These people had travelled by canoe, but they followed down the little
stream until it debouched into a large river, and this in turn to its mouth
in the lake. Then from point to point on to the end of the big lake, and
across the portage, and on down the next lake, then presently to the joy of
White Buffalo and his friend they came upon the track of a man who evidently
was out hunting. Following this trail they came to a long portage through
which there was a beaten road. Every little way there were lynx snares
cunningly hung and alternating with these there were deadfall traps for
marten, and then they knew that somewhere in advance and not very far away
there would be a lodge or lodges. It might be the North Wind Maker's home.
At any rate they hoped for tidings of this camp they had come so far to
find. Quickening their pace and reaching the summit of the portage they were
delighted to see in the distance the smoke of the camp. Travelling on, they
came to where a load of fresh meat had been pulled out from the forest onto
the trail they were following.
"Well done," said they,
"there is meat among the people."
Hurrying on, in due time they
approached this camp, and found that it consisted of two lodges. Eagerly
White Buffalo scanned these lodges, for he well remembered the one he had
seen during the summer. Eagerly he watched the people of the camp as they
moved to and fro, but in all this he was disappointed. This was not the
North Wind Maker's lodge, but doubtless these people had tidings of him. So
our young men, donning their paint and smoothing their braids, walked into
Drawing near, they sang the
travellers' song: O-mane-tao negahmoon. Thus they announced their coming,
and relieved these strangers of anxiety as to their identity. They were
received graciously, and made welcome. As the day was far spent they were
easily persuaded to stay over night. From these Indians they learned that
the North Wind Maker was last heard of near the Big Rapids—that he was
camped in that vicinity some ten nights since. This was good news to White
Buffalo. Without asking directly, he found that all was well in the North
Wind Maker's lodge. Indeed, there were many questions to be asked. But he
left all this for Snake Skin to do, and Snake Skin found out what his friend
desired to know without seeming to have done so.
These men from the borders of
the great plain, where the tribes were forever at war, where the buffalo
were the chief food, came into the lives of these more northern people as
something entirely new. Many were the questions put to them, and Snake Skin
had a glorious opportunity to laud and magnify his friend.
With the early morning,
refreshed and invigorated, with the direct intelligence they had found, our
travellers pursued their journey. Lake and river and portage, land of
cariboo and moose, and full of whitefish and sturgeon, the whole country was
interesting to these young men. They were now farther afield than the most
of their people had ever been. They were closer to the star that never moves
than ever before, and there comes a thrill of delight in the accomplishment
of having come into new fields. White Buffalo was stirred profoundly. This
was the land of Nagos. She was forever in his thought. They had been
directed by the hospitable friends with whom they stopped the night as to
the country ahead. There are no people that can direct a traveller better
than the aboriginal nomads of this continent, and so far as we know there is
no language that lends itself to directions and topography as well as the
So now as with chart and
compass our young men went straight. The next day they heard the roar of the
big rapid. They saw the frosty mist which hung over them, but as yet there
were no fresh indications of humanity. To say that a camp was here ten
nights ago might mean that that camp was ten days travel distant. It would
altogether depend upon the success of the hunter, or the definite purpose of
the trapper. They crossed the Big Saskatchewan above the rapid, they climbed
the hill and portaged clown the river beside the falls, and presently came
upon a track just made. Indeed, they caught the lone hunter on his way home
to camp. lie was startled, but they soon set him at ease, and travelling
with him, it was not long before the diplomatic Snake Skin had found out
that North Wind Maker's camp was still beyond. He and his people had moved
into the greater forest country. However, our young men knew that,
travelling as they were, they could very soon overtake any camp that might
be two or three days ahead of them. Again they yielded to the urgent
invitation, and spent the night with these new-found friends. Once more they
were in the lodges of the north people and partaking of their hospitality.
The same language, but dialetical. It was much easier for their hosts to
understand them than for them to understand these people. Nevertheless, they
thoroughly understood one another. Here they feasted on whitefish and
sturgeon. This was new diet for our Western Indians. Smoked and dressed as a
thrifty 'Indian woman can dress and smoke to a turn, and sturgeon are food
for a king. Here also there was much interchange of life history and
adventure. White Buffalo listened and occasionally asked pertinent
questions, but Snake Skin as ever in his element describing the lives of his
people and the adventures of his friend. With the break of the day they were
away, and as the trail was fresh they made quick time, and the sun was still
high when they approached the North Wind Maker's camp. This time they took
special pains with their costume. The little round mirrors which they
carried in the beaded pouches, hung by strips of otter skin, and these
brightened up with alternating ermine skin, and suspended around the neck
and carried on the breast, these were brought into play, and braids were
smoothened, and face was painted, and garments re-arranged, and again
singing the arrival song, the Omanotao hymn, White Buffalo and Snake Skin
entered the camp. North Wind Maker happened to be at home when they arrived.
Neither parents were very much surprised at White Buffalo's return. Even as
White Buffalo's mother had instinctively known what happened to her son, so
these parents noticed that a new emotion had come into their daughter's
life. They had seen her many times looking westward and southward. They had
watched when she little thought and beheld the wrapt gaze when doubtless her
spirit was travelling far, and then the awakening which came when the
experience was satisfactory. All this these parents had seen, and within the
last few days had noted in a marked manner. So, as we said, they were not
surprised. He had come. Of course he would come. This had been their
thought. They had not had recourse to the medicine man, this man who could
send out his spell and compassing many days journey, enthrall the distant
lover so that perforce he must return, and never cease his travels until he
is once more in the lodge of her who claims him as her mate. Oh, no, they
felt that there was no need for this. They knew the worth of their daughter.
Many a suitor had approached them for her hand, and their answer always had
"She is only the Little
Mother. She is still very young." but when last summer they saw White
Buffalo come into their camp, and again go out from it, and they looked at
Nagos, they felt that this might be indeed the purpose of the Great Spirit.
White Buffalo was in ecstasy, and yet he dare not lift his eye to look at
the maiden of his love, now that he had come into her presence. He heard her
speak, he knew she was there, he heard her answer Snake Skin's questions.
Snake Skin could talk to everybody. Already he was saying to himself: "Just
the wife for my friend; no wonder his first glance at this girl has changed
his whole life, no wonder he has been different since he came back last
summer: no wonder he was so eager to make this long journey. Why, it seems
to me, I could travel for many moons if I could find a girl like this. I am
glad I insisted on coming with White Buffalo. Now I can tell in the tents of
our people what kind of a woman will rule in White Buffalo's lodge." All
this time he was talking to the father and mother, and sometimes to little
Nagos, just as if he had always lived in the lodge with them. But poor White
Buffalo was silent and constrained and abashed. Nevertheless, his whole
being was tingling with joy. North Wind Maker had never gone to war, but he
had been in many a hunting adventure, and also in many a narrow escape in
rapid and fall. He had seen the great ocean Kechegame. Winnipeg was but a
pool of water compared with that. And with stories of adventure and travel,
and recitations of traditional life, he entertained his guests.
The North Wind Maker, and the
few Indians that were with him, were in the big moose country, and one in
which there was grand opportunity for trapping, and the very next day White
Buffalo went with North Wind Maker on a hunt and Snake Skin accompanied the
son on his round to their line of snares and traps. White Buffalo and the
old hunter had not gone very far from camp when they came across fresh
tracks of caribou. White Buffalo had never heretofore had opportunity to
hunt caribou. The Muskrgatik is a very distinct animal from the dog deer of
the barren lands, which are still numerous in the far north. The North Wind
Maker scrutinized the track, and thought of where the wind had come from
since yesterday. Then he took in the topography of the country they were in,
"I expect they are now in the
big muskeg, and that is not very far away." And White Buffalo said:
"I would very much like to
see them," and the elder man answered. "Well, let us give up moose for today
and hunt caribou."
White Buffalo had his bow and
quiver, the North Wind Maker his old flintlock. Quietly but quickly they
made their way through the forest, heeding not the trail of the caribou, but
going straight to where the old hunter thought the game might be found. Now
it was a little run, again it was a fast springing walk, and soon they came
to the edges of the big muskeg. The open spaces grew larger. The spruce and
poplar and birch gave way to the larch and tamarac. The moss began to
thicken under their feet.
"What is that?" said White
Buffalo in a quiet tone. "Where?" came the answer. "Yes, that is one; your
eye is quick, young man."
In the meantime White
Buffalo, now that he knew the form and color of the animal, saw several.
"Would you like to kill one?"
said North Wind Maker to White Buffalo.
"Yes," was the answer, "I am
curious to kill one if I can."
"Well," said the North Wind
Maker, "you had better take my gun." "No," answered White Buffalo, "let me
use my own weapon.''
And he failed to see the
unbelieving smile that went over the face of the old hunter, who in the
meantime reconnoitered the ground and suggested the plan of the hunt.
"We will go this way; we will
approach them from yonder. Where they are situate we cannot expect to come
very near. When we approach as near as we can, you shoot your arrows first
and I will use my gun later."
Then they proceeded to stalk
their game. In this White Buffalo was guided by the old hunter. Silently and
with great circumspection they came as near as they dared to the band of
caribou. Some were lying down, others were feeding quietly beside them.
Stopping under the cover of the nearest vantage point, "What do you think?"
said the North Wind Maker. "Will your arrows reach from here?" "I hope so,"
was the answer.
White Buffalo had in the
interval taken several arrows from his quiver. Then he glanced along the
length of each one carefully, and straightened them where they needed it. He
smoothed down the feathers, saw that the shods were true and plumb in their
fastenings, sprang his bow, and gave it a trial pull, and then looked at the
elder man as if to say, "Well, shall I now attempt my shot?" And the old man
quietly nodded. He also had looked to his gun, had seen to the flint and
steel, and put fresh powder in the pan, and now stood ready.
White Buffalo looked at the
game, and picked without questioning what he thought was the older dam of
the herd, near which there fed an enormous buck, and having in his mind
gauged the distance, and felt the breeze, he pulled his bow, and let the
arrow fly. His calculation was exact. The circle of the arrow through the
air was true, and right into the body of the deer it pierced just behind the
shoulder blade. The old hunter looked at his young friend in wonderment, and
as the deer moved a little, and the effect upon the herd had been the
jumping onto their feet of those that were lying down, he merely waved a
signal to the North Wind Maker and pulled another arrow to its head, and
again this went straight to the mark, and another caribou was plumped, and
the deer, thoroughly startled, stood and looked, knowing not as yet whence
came the disturbance, and by this time he had pulled another arrow and hit
the third deer, and the old hunter, greatly astonished at his wonderful
skill, raised his gun and shot one also. Then the herd jumped, but as they
jumped and were gathering speed, White Buffalo pulled another arrow, and
again it flew where it had been intended for, and hit his fourth deer. This
last shot, which the North Wind Maker keenly watched while he was re-loading
his flintlock gun, but added to his wonder, and he said:
"I am glad that there still
are men who can use the weapons of our fathers with such skill as you do.
These loud-sounding irons which the white man has brought have taken away a
great deal of the marksmanship of our people. In this northern country I do
not know of a single man who could do what you have done today."
White Buffalo was very glad
to hear this praise, and was thankful that he had been given such strength
and skill. Both men went to work at once to skin and cut up the animals. The
common method by hunters is to bury the meat and hides in the snow drift.
The manner of procedure is as follows: Lay each piece on the snow as it is
cut from the animal, then, when the work of butchering is finished, the meat
would have become quite cool. Then hollow out a place in the snow, and lay
the meat in this, and, having also spread the hide upon the surface of the
snow to cool it, you cover the meat with the hide, and then cover the whole
pile with a thick layer of snow, which will in turn freeze solid on the
surface, and act as a protection for the meat. Then put a triangle of poles
right over the meat pit, and hang from the centre of these some article of
your apparel, and if you cannot spare anything else, use your gun coat. Our
hunters at this time made one pit for the five animals. When they were at
the last caribou, the North Wind Maker said:
"You see that mound of hill
up there covered with timber? Passing near that very late this fall, I saw
signs of a bear as if he was going to den up somewhere in that vicinity. If
you do not mind while you are finishing here I will go over there and look.
I might possibly find the den." White Buffalo said:
"Very well," and away went
the North Wind Maker.
When White Buffalo was nearly
through with the cache of caribou, he heard a shot and said to himself:
"The old man has found a bear," and as soon as he had finished with his part
of the work he ran over towards the timber-covered hill, and as he came
nearer, he heard sounds of a tussle, and hastening on he found that he was
just in time to try and save the North Wind Maker's life. He saw the bear
struggling with the man under him, and he said to himself:
"Now, I dare not risk an
arrow for fear I hit the hunter. I must use my knife."
So to be entirely free in the
struggle he threw his bow and quiver on the limb of a tree, and grasping his
scalping knife rushed in to try and save his friend if possible.
The bear was so intent with
his victim that the young hunter was upon him before Bruin was aware, and
White Buffalo grasped the huge animal by the throat with his left hand and
pulled the bear from the prostrate man, and as he did this he struck the
knife home with the other hand. The bear tried to spring at him, but the
young man was strong, and the knife had gone straight, and was still doing
its work, and even as the great brute opened his jaws to snap at the young
hunter, the blood came in heavy volume and very soon he fell back over in a
dying condition. By this time the North Wind Maker had scrambled to his
feet, and White Buffalo was glad to see that his head and face were intact,
and though there was blood streaming down his clothes, he very soon found
that it came from his shoulder. The old hunter, stretching his arm, and
doubling it up, said, with a voice full of gratitude.
"It was only my flesh he was
trying to eat; but, my young friend, if you had not come when you did he
would have finished me! You see I have neither gun nor knife. Both are
somewhere in the snow around here. I found his den, but my gun missed fire
and went off after I had moved my sight, and the bear jumped out unhurt, and
being so strong, he knocked my gun out of my hand, and then before I could
use my knife he knocked that out of my hand also, and he gripped me, and in
our struggle my foot slipped, and I went down, with the bear on top of me.
And being without weapons and my face down fortunately, I said to myself:
"Let me be quiet," because very often I have known that when a bear thinks
he has killed the man he will leave him alone for the time being. However,
he had me altogether at his mercy when you came to my rescue. I am indeed
thankful that you saved my life. You are truly brave and strong!"
They skinned the bear and
cached the meat even as they had the caribou, and, taking some of the
tit-bits with them, they returned to camp, reaching there in the late
evening of the day. In the meanwhile White Buffalo had bound up the North
Wind Maker's wound as well as he could. They found that the son of the camp
and Snake Skin had brought in heavy loads of lynx and marten. The snares and
the traps had done good work, the hunters had to cache some of the strangled
lynx, not being able to pack them home on this trip.
The North Wind Maker, having
had his wounds dressed by his wife and daughter, and as he reclined on a
lean-to in the lodge that night gave the little company a vivid account of
the day's hunt. He told of the wonderful archery and he emphasized the brave
deeds of the young man who rushed in at the peril of his own life and saved
his. The mother of the camp beamed with gratitude towards White Buffalo for
thus coming to the rescue of her husband, and Nagos, who was one of the most
dutiful of children, and dearly loved her father, spoke up and said:
"We thank you for what you
have done for us today."
White Buffalo modestly said
he did not see how he could have done anything else, and it was all even as
the spirits would have it done. "I am glad I saw the caribou, having never
seen them before; and I am glad my first shots at them were true. And I am
very glad I ran over and saw what had happened, and came there in time to
help your father."
Snake Skin spoke up:
"That is just like him. White
Buffalo is a friend of the spirits, therefore the spirits love him. I am
truly glad he has done another brave act."
In the meanwhile as our
travellers visit in these northern camps went on, though but for a few days,
the winter had strengthened, and the snow had deepened, and the North Wind
Maker, being somewhat disabled because of his fight with the bear, improved
his time in the lodge in making a couple of pairs of light snowshoes, such
as the people used in his country. All travellers who have experience will
have noted that snowshoes, even like dialects and tribal language, are very
dissimilar in shape and form all across the continent. One class of Indians
make and use a very different snowshoe from that of another. The North Wind
Maker was an adept at snowshoe making, and when White Buffalo and Snake Skin
were ready to start back, he presented them with these snowshoes. Nagos and
her mother put them up some finely-cured caribou and moose meat, and also
some bear's fat. White Buffalo had taken the opportunity, when all the rest
were engaged in occupations outside, and he and the North Wind Maker were
alone in the lodge, to say to him:
"I desire to become the
husband of your daughter. I have hope that she looks upon me with favor. I
trust that you and her mother will approve of our becoming man and wife.
Ever since I came to your lodge last summer, my heart has been with you. I
have travelled far since then, but my thought has ever turned your way. I
could not rest in the lodges of my people. Therefore, my friend and I have
come and sought you this winter. And now, before I return, will you tell me
what you think?"
And the elder man said:
"My daughter is still
young—she is as the little queen in our camp. Her mother and myself would
fain keep her with us always, but we know this cannot be. As it was with us
so it must come to her, and I will tell you that if the Great Spirit spares
our lives, and if my daughter's heart is as I believe it is now, we will be
camped when the same moon is shining next summer in the same spot, and if
you change not, and come to our lodge then, we will give you Nagos to wife."
And White Buffalo answered:
"So be it. You have filled my heart with joy. If I live I will be there."
It was not the custom in
those days to shake hands and make adieus. Men and women looked into each
other's eyes, and the warrior and hunter threw his little pack over his
shoulder, and fastened his extra moccasins in his belt, and again looking at
his friends, thus departed.
Snake Skin knew it was all
right. He rejoiced in his friend's happiness. It was wonderful, this
transformation that was going on in Snake Skin's life. To be the friend of a
better man than himself, to fully recognize this fact, was Snake Skin's
present condition, and it was working his regeneration.
We will not tramp the long
miles, we will not wait in the winter camp, we will not now walk through the
dark portages under the snow-laden boughs, we will not make the long
stretches across on the ice of the Great Lake, from point to point, from
island to island, and up the valley of the long river, and back to the
height of land between this and another river. But we will enter into the
Cree lodges with White Buffalo and Snake Skin, and rejoice with their people
because of their safe home-coming.
White Buffalo's father and
mother knew that their son's mission was successful. They saw it in his
face. They heard it in his speech. His every act was as the story of his
successful wooing. They could listen to Snake Skin, who would drop into
their lodge, and tell them about the north country and the great lakes and
the big river which overshadowed all the rivers, and the great rapids, and
the sturgeon and the whitefish, and the caribou, and the North Wind Maker
and his wife and their wonderful kindness. But when it came to Nagos, then
he would find it hard to express himself. She was beautiful, she was good,
she was clever. Oh, yes, they were proud of White Buffalo, and well they
might be. He was proud of White Buffalo, but if it ever happened, and he
beleived it would, that White Buffalo brought Nagos to his lodge, then
surely they, White Buffalo's father and mother, and Snake Skin, White
Buffalo's friend, and all the people who belonged to their camp, would be
the proudest and the most favored of the whole Cree nation.
Thus he would talk. Then
White Buffalo's mother would laugh and say:
"Snake Skin, you have a
wonderful tongue." Nevertheless, she was delighted, for she loved her boy
and fully believed that his love would be fitting.