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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter VI
With Snake Skin He Again Journeys North


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 were silent.

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 the camp.

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 Cree.

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 been:

"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, and said:

"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.


 


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