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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter VIII
He Shows His Quality as War Chief


WITHOUT noise or ostentation, this expedition started on its quest for scalps and horses and glory, and incidentally revenge. As to equipment, each man carried all he had. Old flintlock, powder horn, and bullets; bow and quiver, full of selected arrows, scalping or hunting knife, flint and steel and punk, horse lines and quirt, mocassins, awl and shoe needle, small mirror and some little bags of ochre. Some few might carry some roots or herbs, but as for this part these could generally be found by the way. Not a pound of provisions of any kind could be found on the persons of this whole company. Theirs it was to forage as they travelled.

There had been a distinct understanding between White Buffalo and the head men of the camp that when the war party returned, if they lived to return, the place of meeting should be out on the big plain, and soon after the young men had departed the large camp began its movement south and west. The buffalo had moved this same way earlier in the season. White Buffalo led his braves along the course of the last autumn trip. At the first encampment he took stock and arranged the line of march, selecting his captains of groups, making each one understand his place. He said to the assembled crowd:

"Chose me as your leader, and I will exact strict obedience. If there are any who will not give this, let them now return to the camp from whence we came."

But from each and all carne the answer: "We will follow you; we will do your bidding."

And thus White Buffalo and his men understood each other. He made Snake Skin his second in command, and kept him free from any group. He also kept out from any group the seer, the man "who sees beyond,"—Okosapuhchegao. This latter was the only oldish man with the company. The work of organization accomplished, the guards were set, and the scouts sent out in advance, and the rest slept. On the outward path, unless exigency demanded, there were not forced marches. The ordinary day's journey was about thirty miles. Sometimes this distance was covered during the night. The scouts for the day might make double this distance, as a great deal of their movement was on the run. In the development of leg and lung these men of one diet and natural out-of-door life were splendid. The third day out they caught up to the buffalo, and from thence on their commissariat was assured. Their course was westerly, and as they travelled summer came. So long as they had timber, they made their shelters and couches of the fresh and fragrant foliage. To the uninitiated, the cosy comfort of some of these temporary resting places would be astonishing. An Indian with a hunting knife and some brush will create out of small material a sheltering hut, and do this in short time. Our warriors were now travelling amid tens of thousands of buffalo and antelope and they tried as they moved to disturb these as little as possible, for every such disturbance was significant of human presence to anyone who might be looking from the other way. Sometimes for this reason wide detours were made, and always they exercised great prudence when killing for food. When they had travelled some fifteen days, and had not discovered any signs of the enemy, the seer sent his spirit out into the front of their course, and when his spirit returned, and he came out of his trance, he told the eagerly waiting company that after four nights journey they would come into the vicinity of the enemy, and that the lodges of the enemy were numerous. He also told them that he saw much blood and many horses, but he could not tell whose blood it might be. All this was stimulating and exciting to this band of young braves. They moved on with increased carefulness. White Buffalo kept them constantly on the alert. His discipline was kind but strict, and in all his plans he was faithfully supported by Snake Skin, who, from being his enemy, was now his most loyal friend. Association with a natural nobleman was making a true man of Snake Skin.

Sure enough, after two days march, the signs were that humanity of some kind was not so very far away. The buffalo were thinning out and some traces of a hunting trip were found by the scouts. These signs were not many days old, and were those of the Blackfoot tribe. Our war party was now near the Kahnemetawayaskwazog, which means "where the timber runs out on to the plains." This is now known as Maple Creek. After this, the main body moved at night only.

Again the seer went into a trance and sent his spirit out to reconnoitre. This time the report was the enemy was in the valley of the Askawesepe, which means "running open in winter,'' where two small streams meet and run into the big river. They are strong in numbers, but easily approached.

While White Buffalo put a certain amount of faith in these spirit travels, he increased his scouting vigilance, sending out his best and most experienced men, and himself moving on in advance of his party, and it was while engaged in this work he again strengthened the faith of these men by performing another brave act. The first glimmering dawn of approaching day found White Buffalo far in advance of his party. For hours he had moved stealthily on, now listening, sometimes resting, ever and always humming his consecration hymn, fully weighted with a sense of his responsibility as a much trusted leader. Here was his following awaiting his bidding. Yonder in the far eastern distance was the large camp, also waiting and wondering and anxious. Parents and wives and sweethearts and loved ones, young and old, all on the strain. And forever in his thought, and still farther beyond, was little Nagos, the queen of his heart, the mainspring of his purpose. As he thought of her he gathered himself in strong effort and sent his message to his beloved. Would she stir in her sleep on the bank of the distant stream? Yea, verily, she had felt his message of love, her heart moved, and her pulse beat faster, and she sent back the answer: "Yes, my beloved White Buffalo, I love you— I love you." And his whole being tingled with joy, and his soul filled with noble resolve to do and dare for her sake. For Nagos he would brave all things.

And thus the day dawned, and he moved on under cover of undulating plain and hill. He had not gone far, and the sun was just about to appear, when his quick eye caught a distant object, and then another and another, and as he watched these move over the summit of the ridge he quickly moved himself, and presently saw the three objects rise up and become men and run on, taking a westerly course. The thought came at once: "These are the scouts of our enemies. They have discovered us, and are now hurrying home with tidings of our approach. If these men get into camp all our venture on this trip is lost." Thus thought White Buffalo. And then it came to him to resolve to stop these men in their rush homeward. Quickly he took in the topography of the country ahead. Yonder was a range of hills. If he could gain these in advance of the three men he might do something to prevent their carrying tidings of his approach. The idea of one to three never bothered him for a moment. He was not of that breed. Hastily looking for cover, away he ran, taking long draughts of the glorious morning air. Steadily he went into the race set before him, and keenly watched the progress of his enemies. He felt sure that they had not seen himself, but he was equally sure they had seen or heard his party. Yonder, some miles on, and as an Indian would say, "A long run distant" were the hills. Let him outrace these men to those hills, and he would have time to plan the rest. Thus on he rushed. Now he was opposite, now he was gaining, now he was in advance. He must run faster than they were running. He must watch more and quicker than they need to. He must make sure as possible that there are not more of these scouts scattered in the vicinity. And as he ran every facility was fully exercised, and after a steady long run he found himself ahead, and in the shelter of the hillocks and winding valleys of this range athwart the course.

Again he hummed his consecration hymn, and felt courage and strength coming to his being. Then suddenly his glance was caught by the head and shoulders of a great wolf which seemed to spring from nowhere, but yet was there looking at him. Yes, into his eyes came the steady gaze of the huge beast. And White Buffalo was glad, and felt the strength of many men come into his head and arms and lungs and spirit. "The spirit of his dreams " was with him and all was well.

Even as he felt it, the wolf was gone, but the mission of inspiration was done, and White Buffalo felt nerve and muscle tingling with the prospect of fresh opportunity. He saw his enemies coming, he carefully noted the line of their approach. He put himself under cover across their course. He took three arrows from his quiver. He carefully straightened these with teeth and jaws and hands. He felt the edge of his knife, he swung his war club as in practice, and withal kept humming his consecration hymn and thinking of Nagos, the beautiful Little Mother. He seemed to feel her presence and this made him gloriously glad.

Now his three enemies were near. He took stock of them, all stalwart fellows. Bows and quivers and war clubs, like himself, thus they were armed. White Buffalo felt satisfaction in all this. It was fair; and now he heard their heavy breathing as they ran. He felt his bow, and pulled the string, and then quickly placed an arrow, and as his enemies came around the knoll, he pulled and let his arrow fly at the leader, and straight the arrow went into the scout's breast. He dropped. And as the second came up, another arrow caught him, and down he came almost on his fellow. The third man now saw what had happened, and looking up beheld White Buffalo with another arrow pointing straight at him and ready to take its deadly course. He heard the notes of the other's hymn, and as he grasped for his quiver, he felt the arrow of this grim foe piercing through his vitals, and down he also dropped, having finished his last race. These men would arouse no camp. Thus thought White Buffalo, as he carefully scanned the country and noted all things.

Then chanting the death song of his people he walked over to the death scene of his enemies. Two were dead and the third dying fast, and White Buffalo felt sorrow welling up in his breast because of this sad sight before him. Again the question came to this man, "Why should men seek to kill one another?" And even as he thought of this his enemy breathed his last. Then White Buffalo took his arrows out and stuck them up to let the blood of the enemies of his people dry on them. Then he took the bows and quivers and war clubs, and lastly the scalp locks of his slain. And thus laden he made his course to intercept his party. White Buffalo came to his men where they were taking the midday rest, and for the sake of inspiring them and giving them encouragement, he sang the victory song as he walked into their midst. The scalp locks and bows and quivers and war clubs told the story of his deed, and he quietly assured his party that if these were the only men who had discovered their advance, this would not be known in the camp of their enemies.

He then admonished them as to vigilance, for there was no doubt about it, they had been seen. He now redoubled his efforts for a strictly careful movement, and in all this was obeyed to the letter by all his following. Snake Skin went among them emphasizing the significance of White Buffalos deed, inspiring every heart with reverence and profound respect for this wonderful young leader. That night the seer went into another trance, and coming back gave a vivid description of the camp of their enemy and its position, and urged haste, "for," said he, "they are contemplating crossing the big river, and it becomes us to strike them before they move on into the open country beyond."

All the next day our party moved as rapidly as the country allowed, and resting a short time in the evening, again pushed on under cover of darkness, and before daylight scout calls were heard and answered, and the tidings were brought in of a good-sized camp of the enemy down on the bank of the big river, even in the spot where the seer had reported it to be. White Buffalo then moved his men into hidden country and placed his best scouts out on every hand, and himself reconnoitered the Blackfoot camp, and constructed his plan of assault. The charge was to be made with the coming dawn. There was a prairie promontory over-looking the large flat between the river and a small stream which joined the river some distance below. He would some time during the coming night gather his men behind the nose of the hill and, at the proper moment, having arranged his companions, charge down onto the camp on the flat from two sides. One would go down by the river, and the other down the valley of the small stream. Of course, all this depended on his not being discovered by the people of the camp. White Buffalo was determined to frustrate this if possible. For hours he watched this camp. Evidently, as the seer had said, they were preparing to move across the big river. Meat stagings were being taken down and hides and skins unlashed from the stretching poles, and packing up was going on. The hunters and warriors were engaged in games and gambling in many parts of the camp. White Buffalo saw that the situation and the time were both propitious for his venture, and he was thankful. This camp was large, and its warriors very much outnumbered his, but this in no wise disturbed our hero. He had about 150 men. There might be 500 in this camp, it mattered not. The spirits willing, he and his men would charge this camp, which he was now looking down upon, with the dawn of the next morning. And as he quietly hummed his hymn, there stood a little way from him a huge wolf, also looking down on the camp, and presently the wolf turned his head and looked straight at White Buffalo, and even as he returned the gaze, the wolf was gone. But White Buffalo's heart heat with joy, and he felt that his plans were endorsed by "the spirit of his dream"—his Pawakun was with him at this time. Even as with men of old, he also was thankful for a sign.

The camp was not looking for trouble from the down country, as they called it. Were there not three of their good scouts out in that region somewhere? These would bring them word of the approach of any stranger. Little did they dream that already coyotes and buffalo wolves were smelling around the bodies of their friends.

And now darkness fell upon both camp and war party, and the latter, except a few well-instructed scouts, was gathered at the rendezvous. Quietly White Buffalo explained his plans and arranged his men, and exhorted them to brave action. He made them all understand that the spot where they now were would be the gathering place after the battle for all who might survive. Then he moved the whole party on to the place he had seen in the distance as the proper point from whence to charge.

He had divided his company into two equal parts, and given Snake Skin command of the second party. White Buffalo would come down the river side, and Snake Skin charge in from the creek valley.

While all were resting as well as men can who have come a long distance for a specific object, and are now in the immediate presence of the issue, and that one of life and death, and glory and disaster, White Buffalo and Snake Skin were communing apart, and the subject of conversation was the Little Mother, Nagos. Snake Skin knew that his friend was profoundly stirred by the sense of his responsibility; that he keenly felt the weight thereof, and being the friend and diplomat he was, he sought to draw his attention. So he skilfully made an imaginary picture of the North Wind Maker and his camp in the far away lake and forest country. He saw the beautiful Nagos, as she every little while turned her wistful gaze towards the western horizon. He knew her thought was forever with White Buffalo, and he spoke of the contemplated journey into that northern region during the coming autumn. White Buffalo let him talk on, for the subject was dear to himself and stirred his whole being, and did exactly what Snake Skin intended it should, that is, brought him back to his normal self, and fitted him for the fierce struggle which was at hand. By this time the night was far spent, and White Buffalo again quietly went over his instructions to the gathered crowd, and spoke a few words of inspiration and encouragement, and all was ready. The camp was still. Everything indicated that their presence was as yet undiscovered. The spirits were with them, and as if to emphasize this, all at once the seer, Kosapachegao, appeared in a new garb, moving to and fro in their midst. He was chanting in a low voice, and wearing a wonderful head dress.

"Ah," said Snake Skin, "he has put on his great medicine head dress! He believes White Buffalo will be victorious. He sees many scalps and horses coming to us."

And every man felt greatly encouraged, as he beheld this sign of faith in this man who was believed to look beyond. The day was approaching, and White Buffalo told Snake Skin to call in the scouts, and Snake Skin gave the buffalo wolf howl, and several answers came from different directions, and in a short time the scouts were reporting to White Buffalo:

"There are but few of the enemy's people on guard; all was quiet."

Then White Buffalo spoke to Snake Skin:

"Go down on that side and approach the lodges until you are within half an arrow's flight. I will do the same on the other side. Then wait for my voice in the war-whoop and at once answer and charge."

And now as the day sky more fully revealed them to each other, these men looked into each other's eyes and separated for the onslaught. It was a still summer's morning. The current gently rippled around the bends in the creek below. On the other side the mighty river, mountain-fed, and just now beginning to fill with melting snows and dissolving glaciers of the distant heights, swept in stately windings down the slope. Far out on every hand the wild cattle and the beautiful graceful antelope fed in bunches, and great volumes of bird notes and coyote and wolf calls were heard. A few dogs barked in response to these, a colt whinnied, and the mare mother neighed, and stealthily and craftily, and with skill coming out of centuries, Snake Skin on one side and White Buffalo on the other were creeping down on their foe.

So they believed. So their fathers had taught them, and perhaps the only man in all this party who for a moment questioned the righteousness of the act was our hero. And this was because of his higher endowment, of perceptive powers. All history and traditions, all environment, all earthly friendship and association encouraged him in this his present purpose. But still he thought within himself:

"Why this shedding of men's blood?"

But now the lodges are near, yonder is a sleepy-looking fellow. He must be caught before he can give the alarm, and with a gesture to his following, he slipped up behind the Blackfoot, and with one hand on his throat he sent his knife into the poor fellow's heart, and still all was quiet. His men had seen the act, and it stirred them to the core with respect for their leader's strength and skill and courage. Closer in they moved, and paused a little to give the other party time, and as the camp began to stir here and there, White Buffalo filled his lungs and made the valley ring with the battle-cry of the Crees. And at once the answer came from across the flats, and Snake Skin had charged. The rush was simultaneous and strong and quick. War club and knife rather than gun and arrows were the weapons. The startled Blackfeet, as many as could, ran to the bank of the river. But before this could be reached many lives were taken, and scalps were very soon dangling from the belt strings of the young Crees. Hand-to-hand encounters were common, as the Blackfeet fought bravely, but as is generally the case, the advantage was with the attacking party. It was Snake Skin's turn to come to the rescue of his young leader, who was surrounded by a group of the enemy. He was dealing strong blows, and slaying right and left, but could not have stood against the odds much longer, when with a terrific yell Snake Skin jumped in and saved his loved friend.

"Come," said he, "let us scalp these and call off our men. We have done enough for this time," and White Buffalo acquiesced and the sun was not high, and the battle at Medicine Hat was over.


 


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