Indian Mythology | Assiniboin Mythology

The Wakan Girl


Once an old woman was living with a girl whom she called "granddaughter." They were very poor, their lodge was smoked black, and the tipi-cover was dotted with holes. They did not even have enough lodge-poles. The girl was very young; her hair was long, and she was very pretty, but she had to wear ragged clothes. They did not have enough to eat.

In another lodge there lived a youth, whose parents were well-to-do. Many girls were eager to marry him and used to call him in the night, but he declined to have anything to do with them. Once he said, "Father, tell my mother and sisters to look for some really poor girl that has no relatives. If you find such a one, I may marry her." They looked, but could not find such a girl. One day the youth was sitting on a hill. A creek was running by. He watched the women coming to fetch water, but all of those he saw had relatives. At last, on the other side of the creek, near the end of the camp, he espied a little lodge, and saw the poor girl standing outside. He walked in that direction, and sat down at some distance from the tent in order to examine the girl more closely. He-saw her unbraided long black hair, and liked her appearance. He thought she was the girl he was looking for. Returning home, he told his father that they had not done as he had requested. "I asked you to get me an orphan girl, but you did not find one. Now, I have found one myself." His father said they would bring the girl to their lodge, but the boy said he would get her himself. So he got calico and blue flannel, a pair of beautiful beaded moccasins, some blankets, and a toilet-bag, as well as some clothes for the old woman. He wrapped up pemmican with the other gifts, walked to the lodge, and laid down every-thing outdoors. He built a fire, and bade the old woman get up. Then he said, "I also wish your granddaughter to rise. You have heard about me. All the women wish to marry me, but I will have nothing to do with them. I have discovered this girl, and if she takes me, I'll marry her." The girl was willing. She said to the old woman, "If I marry him, you too may get some help." The youth asked the girl to sit beside him. He combed her hair, and asked whether she could sew. Then he took out his calico, measured off enough for her clothes, and she began to sew them. She made a new dress, leggings and moccasins for herself. He handed her a belt, a necklace, brass finger and earrings, and redolent seeds for perfumery, and decorated her with paint. To the grandmother he gave some clothes and the pemmican. All night they feasted on the food he brought, and dressed up. He remained with them all night and the next day.

The youth's parents were wondering where he had gone to. One of the women who had desired him for a husband had seen him enter the ugly lodge. She rushed in, and, scolding him for going to the poorest girl, said he would have done better to marry her. The orphan girl began to cry, but her betrothed bade the jealous woman be gone, and wiped away his bride's tears. The rejected woman returned and told every one in the camp about the young man's marriage. His parents then packed up a travois, brought a lodge and its furnishings to their son, and requested him to set up house. He moved in with his young bride, and the other people gave a new lodge to the old grandmother.

One day the girl said, "That woman is very eager to marry you; you may marry her also." The man refused, being afraid the woman might kill her rival. But the girl replied, "Nothing can kill me, I am wakan'. You are the first one to be told about it. We shall let her do the house-keeping, for I don't know much about it yet. She can cook for us. After she has once moved in, she will not be able to get out. Some day, in the future, I shall lead the whole people. Our first child will be a boy, and he also will be a leader. All the people will depend on us. I shall show the people how to get buffalo." As soon as the young man had married the older woman, the girl said to her, "You wished to marry him. We shall both be his wives; I am not going to be jealous. If you are willing to take care of the lodge, we shall get along; but if you maltreat me, you will not live long. I have something to support me, I am wakan', while you are not. As I am a woman, I shall let my husband do certain things. We three shall live together, if your parents agree." So the three lived together.

The orphan girl asked her husband to get a crow for her. When he had brought one, she fleshed it, dried it, and stuffed it with grass. She bade her husband look whether any of the Indians had a calf skin. He found an old woman who kept one for storing berries in. When the young wife had secured it, she ordered the people to follow her southward where there was plenty of timber. She announced that she was going to corral buffalo. Some of the people followed her. When they had reached a certain spot, she halted and bade the men bring logs for a buffalo-drive. It was constructed in one day. Then she ordered all the dogs to be tied up inside the lodges. She sent out a crow, which flew out through the smoke-hole. Then she dressed up, putting on a flannel shawl with eagle-feathers, and started out with the calf-skin. From the top of a hill she saw a herd of buffalo appearing on a long ridge. She got ahead, so as to be able to enter the corral before the buffalo. Then she took off her flannel and waved it four times, before putting it on again. Suddenly one buffalo took the lead and ran towards her, followed by the rest of the herd. When they were close enough to hear her, she called them, then she stepped back. She called them three times. The fourth time she turned her calf-skin into a live calf, which ran to meet the buffalo. Then the calf suddenly veered about and ran towards the orphan, decoying all the buffalo into the corral.1 The orphan picked up the calf and ran through the entrance which faced south. Followed by the herd, she climbed a lofty tree within the enclosure. She began to sing.2 The men watching her said, "The buffalo don't seem to be at all afraid." The men had been posted along the entrance. When she ceased to sing, she ordered several sharpshooters to shoot the buffalo. She had told the men to kill the entire herd if small, but to spare some if it was large. The old men selected as many of the fattest animals as the orphan girl desired, the remainder was divided among the people. Everything was taken out of the corral.

The second time the orphan's husband called the buffalo, having received the power from his wife. He sent out the crow, then dressed as his wife had at the first calling, and went to the same hill. He stood there for a while, until the buffalo appeared. Then he waved his flannel four times, yelled and stepped back. Three times he did this, the fourth time he dropped the calf-skin as before, and it turned into a calf and decoyed the herd. He climbed up the tree, the buffalo circled around the corral, then stood still, and were shot by the people. Twice after this his wife gave him the power to call buffalo, then she gave him the power to lead in the buffalo-chase.

He started out with a party of good hunters. They found buffalo along some coulees. He sat down, filled his pipe, pointed the stem towards the buffalo, and prayed, telling how he had received power from his wife and asking how many buffalo he was to kill. All smoked. He took his gun, faced the buffalo, sang, and shut his eyes. Then he said, "We are only allowed to kill twenty." Two drivers were sent out after the buffalo, and twenty were killed. The man had the power to lead the chase on two other occasions.

The young woman was now followed by four large bands. She explained to them how she had dreamt the power to call buffalo. "I dreamt that if I married, I would be superior to my husband on account of my wakan' powers. Now I have plenty of people under me. To-day I feel proud. I can hear anyone at a good distance off. I can make any kind of wind in any direction at any time of either day or night. I will not say any more about my powers. From now on people can subsist on buffalo. People will not always live in the world. We can depend only on buffalo meat."

The Bad Wife3

There was a large Indian camp. The chief had a married daughter. One day, when her husband returned home, his wife was gone. He in-formed his father-in-law, and asked all the people whether they had seen her or heard about her whereabouts. He invited many people and questioned them, but no one knew anything about her. Three times he invited people to inquire about his wife. The fourth time one visitor said that a stranger had stayed with him and had disappeared during his host's absence. Then they knew that the stranger had eloped with the chief's daughter. She had often told her husband, when they quarreled, that she would leave him to go north and would never return.

The man packed up his belongings and set out northward. A day after he had started he killed a buffalo, and was going to cook it. A big wolf came and asked, "Where are you going?" "I am looking for my lost wife." "If you feed me and take care of me, I'll go with you and help you find your wife." The young man agreed, and both went on together. They walked until dusk. The next day they continued their journey. The wolf said, "As soon as we get to yonder high hill, I'll go on, and you will wait for me there." He waited all day. The wolf got back late at night. "We have not very far to go," he reported, "but on the way, there are several bad places for you, though not for me." The man said, "I may get through, I have some holy grandmothers (female manitous). If I meet them, they will help me through the bad places." They continued walking until they were able to see a little lodge. The man said, "There is one of my grand-mothers, walk on, and wait for me ahead." The wolf obeyed. The man entered, and found his old grandmother sitting within. "Grandchild, what are you looking for?" When she heard his story, she said, "She was taken through here two days ago. It won't take you long to get there, but I'll give you some things." She took out and handed him several pieces of dried mink-skin. "You will reach a large body of water. Put the mink-skins on your feet, and you will cross without difficulty. On your way you will get to your grandfather, and he may give you something else to help you along." After a while they got to another little lodge, where he found his grandfather, who supplied him with a bow and arrows. The wolf gave him a bunch of his hair. They reached the water. The wolf said, "I shall dig under the water and get across in that way. I'll wait for you." He went. The man tied the mink-skins to his feet and slid across the water as though it were ice. He had some dirt in a bag. As it was night before he got across, he dropped some of his mud, and it turned into an island, on which he slept. The next morning he rose and slid to the shore. He proceeded with the wolf until they reached another expanse of water. Both crossed in the same way as before. The wolf said, "On the other side of yonder big hill is the camp where your wife dwells. I am not sure that you will recover her, but perhaps you may. Her present master is very wakan'. Every day people play a game against him, and he always wins; he wins people that are staked on the issue of the game."

They entered the camp late at night. The man went to the smallest lodge, bidding the wolf wait for him. The wolf said he would remain underground. While the man was attended by the old woman of the little lodge, someone called him. He asked what this meant. "You are wanted at the center of the camp-circle," someone replied. The old woman said, "That chief has four wakan' servants; if anyone enters his lodge, they know about it. They will put you to the test to-morrow. If you lose, you become a slave; if you win, you win half the people." "I will kill him and his guardians," said the young man. "If you do, all the people will be yours." "I am sure, I can kill him, or beat him at a wakan' performance."

The man went to the center lodge, where he found the chief, his former wife, and the four guardians. "What are you coming for? "I am seeking this woman." "My wakan' guardians will do something. If you beat them, you can have your wife and kill me; if not, I will kill you. My men will be ready to-morrow." Next morning the people came to see the contest. There was a large bucket there. The chief said, "My bucket, draw water." It rolled to the creek and fetched water. His servants built a big fire, the bucket set itself on the fire, and the water began to boil. One of the four helpers stripped, climbed into the bucket, and dropped into the boiling water. After a while he got out again unscathed. "Now it is your turn." The young man stripped, climbed into the bucket, and stayed there longer than his predecessor. After a long time he peeped out and said, "Let some one make a bigger fire; if not, I'll come out." They brought more firewood to heat the water. After some time the hero thought it was enough, the caldron burst in two, and he disappeared underground, emerging at some distance. Thus he won the first contest. The four helpers began to cry. Next, one of the four wakan' men picked up his gun and shot at an iron post, breaking off a piece. The young man was asked to do the same. He took one of his blunt arrows, shot it, and broke the post in two. The arrow came whizzing back without ever touching the ground. Thus he won the second contest.

He went to his lodge. The same man again summoned him to appear before the chief on the next day. He went with the half of the tribe he had won, and bade them carry wood. Two of the chief's helpers built a big fire, heated rocks and iron, and threw the red-hot rocks into a pit. Then they got into the pit, while masses of hot iron and rocks were piled up around them and stood there for a long time. When the rocks cooled off, they got out and bade their opponent perform the same feat. All the rocks were heated red-hot, and the hero got into the pit. The helpers were going to kill him with heavy weights thrown on his head, but he dived in head foremost. They thought he would perish from the heat, but he went underground again, and appeared at some distance on a hill, whence he watched his opponents filling the excavation with rocks. Several times he returned to the pit, and escaped underground again. Suddenly he appeared in the chief's lodge. All the guardians cried, because they were beaten. The young man took his arrows and shot them at the four helpers, splitting each in two. The chief begged to be spared, but the man killed him in the same way. He ordered a fire to be built, and had the corpses burnt. Then he became chief of the tribe. He said that anyone so desiring might make a slave of his former wife. Then he bade the half-breed Cree, to whose band the wakan' man had belonged, that they might keep their horses, pigs and chickens, and continue to multiply in that place, while he would take his people home.

They set out and reached the first big sea. The new chief took a handful of dirt, tied on his mink-skins, and walked on the water. He sprinkled dirt as he walked along, it turned into land, and the people were able to follow him across. When all had reached the other shore, the land disappeared again. They got to the second sea, and crossed it in the same way. After a while they got to the old man who had presented him with the bow and arrows. The people gathered many robes, and their chief presented them to the old man, telling him what had happened. The old man bade him go home. They traveled on and got to the old woman, who was also presented with gifts and was told of the hero's adventures. The next day they met the wolf sitting on a hill. He said, "Friend, I am going to leave you, from now on I shall no longer accompany you underground." The hero thanked him for his help, and asked to be allowed to visit his friend's home. First he went to his own lodge, and brought flannels and little bells. Then he re-joined the wolf. They went below a big rock and walked under the surface of the ground. There was a large hall inside. They found ten able-bodied young men, with plenty of buffalo-meat and venison. These ten men were the wolf's sons, and an old wolf couple were his parents. The visitor tore up his flannel, fitted each piece around the neck of one of the wolves, and attached some bells. When he had distributed his gifts, he sat down. The wolf said, "I am very grateful to you, now all my children have the flannel and bells they desire." The old wolves also declared they were satisfied. The wolf said, "I have helped you to recover your wife, and have guided you. Henceforth I shall not be with you. I take away the power I have given you." The chief was satisfied. After having food served to him, he went above ground and walked back to the camp.

When he had gotten back, he ordered the camp broken. They traveled until sunset, and reached the chief's old home. All the people were surprised at the man's having won so many subjects. When his father-in-law heard he was coming, he resolved to butcher his daughter alive. All the people gathered fine articles and distributed them among the relatives of the deceived husband and of his false wife. The next day a post was set up. The bad woman was stripped, tied to the post, and a sinew was passed under her arms and across her breasts. Lower down, another sinew was attached. Her father approached her, holding a big knife. "You have given my son-in-law trouble. I have loved you and done for you what I could. Your husband never abused you. What do you mean by running away?" She did not answer. He seized her right hand and cut it off, then he cut off her left hand, her arms, her legs, and finally severed her head. He threw it down and kicked it. He had a pit dug, and the fragments of her body were thrown in. Then he sent a messenger to his son-in-law, offering him a younger daughter for a wife. Though she was very young, he thought her old enough to marry. The chief replied that she was still too small, but that he would wed her within a year. After a year, he accordingly married her.

1 Calling the buffalo is called oxpa'jax.
2 In his description of a Cree pound, Franklin (1. c., p. 101) writes: There was a tree in the centre of the pound, on which the Indians had hung strips of buffalo flesh and pieces of cloth as tributary or grateful offerings to the Great Master of Life; and we were told that they occasionally place a man in the tree to sing to the presiding spirit as the buffaloes are advancing, who must keep his station until the whole that have entered are killed."
3 Ft. Belknap. Cf. Grinnell, p. 39 (Blackfoot); Kroeber, (e), p. 120 (Gros Ventre); Dorsey
and Kroeber, p. 262, (Arapaho).

Assiniboin Mythology

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Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History, 1909



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