It was in the valley of "It fell on
them"1 Creek, near the
mountains, that the Pik[)u]n'i were camped when Mik-a'pi
went to war. It was far back, in the days of stone
knives, long before the white people had come. This was
the way it happened.
Early in the morning a band of
buffalo were seen in the foot-hills of the mountains,
and some hunters went out to get meat. Carefully they
crawled along up the coulees and drew near to the herd;
and, when they had come close to them, they began to
shoot, and their arrows pierced many fat cows. But even
while they were thus shooting, they were surprised by a
war party of Snakes, and they began to run back toward
the camp. There was one hunter, named Fox-eye, who was
very brave. He called to the others to stop, saying:
"They are many and we are few, but the Snakes are not
brave. Let us stop and fight them." But the other
hunters would not listen. "We have no shields," they
said, "nor our war medicine. There are many of the
enemy. Why should we foolishly die?" They hurried on to
camp, but Fox-eye would not turn back. He drew his
arrows from the quiver, and prepared to fight. But, even
as he placed an arrow, a Snake had crawled up by his
side, unseen. In the still air, the Piegan heard the
sharp twang of a bow string, but, before he could turn
his head, the long, fine-pointed arrow pierced him
through and through. The bow and arrows dropped from his
hands, he swayed, and then fell forward on the grass,
dead. But now the warriors came pouring from the camp to
aid him. Too late! The Snakes quickly scalped their
fallen enemy, scattered up the mountain, and were lost
Now Fox-eye had two wives, and
their father and mother and all their near relations
were dead. All Fox-eye's relatives, too, had long since
gone to the Sand Hills2. So
these poor widows had no one to avenge them, and they
mourned deeply for the husband so suddenly taken from
them. Through the long days they sat on a near hill and
mourned, and their mourning was very sad.
There was a young warrior named
Mik-a'pi. Every morning he was awakened by the crying of
these poor widows, and through the day his heart was
touched by their wailing. Even when he went to rest,
their mournful cries reached him through the darkness,
and he could not sleep. So he sent his mother to them.
"Tell them," he said, "that I wish to speak to them."
When they had entered, they sat close by the door-way,
and covered their heads.
"Kyi!" said Mik-a'pi. "For days and
nights I have heard your mourning, and I too have
silently mourned. My heart has been very sad. Your
husband was my near friend, and now he is dead and no
relations are left to avenge him. So now, I say, I will
take the load from your hearts. I will avenge him. I
will go to war and take many scalps, and when I return,
they shall be yours. You shall paint your faces black,
and we will all rejoice that Fox-eye is avenged."
When the people heard that Mik-a'pi
was going to war, many warriors wished to join him, but
he refused them; and when he had taken a medicine sweat,
and got a medicine-pipe man to make medicine for him
during his absence, he started from the camp one
evening, just after sunset. It is only the foolish
warrior who travels in the day; for other war parties
may be out, or some camp-watcher sitting on a hill may
see him from far off, and lay plans to destroy him.
Mik-a'pi was not one of these. He was brave but
cautious, and he had strong medicine. Some say that he
was related to the ghosts, and that they helped him.
Having now started to war against the Snakes, he
traveled in hidden places, and at sunrise would climb a
hill and look carefully in all directions, and during
the long day would lie there, and watch, and take short
Now, when Mik-a'pi had come to the
Great Falls (of the Missouri), a heavy rain set in; and,
seeing a hole in the rocks, he crawled in and lay down
in the farther end to sleep. The rain did not cease, and
when night came he could not travel because of the
darkness and storm; so he lay down to sleep again. But
soon he heard something coming into the cave toward him,
and then he felt a hand laid on his breast, and he put
out his hand and touched a person. Then Mik-a'pi put the
palm of his hand on the person's breast and jerked it to
and fro, and then he touched the person with the point
of his finger, which, in the sign language, means, "Who
The strange person then took
Mik-a'pi's hand, and made him feel of his own right
hand. The thumb and all the fingers were closed except
the forefinger, which was extended; and when Mik-a'pi
touched it the person moved his hand forward with a
zigzag motion, which means "Snake." Then Mik-a'pi was
glad. Here had come to him one of the tribe he was
seeking. But he thought it best to wait for daylight
before attacking him. So, when the Snake in signs asked
him who he was, he replied, by making the sign for
paddling a canoe, that he was a Pend d'Oreille, or River
person. For he knew that the Snakes and the Pend
d'Oreilles were at peace.
Then they both lay down to sleep,
but Mik-a'pi did not sleep. Through the long night he
watched for the first dim light, so that he might kill
his enemy. The Snake slept soundly; and just at daybreak
Mik-a'pi quietly strung his bow, fitted an arrow, and,
taking aim, sent the thin shaft through his enemy's
heart. The Snake quivered, half rose up, and with a
groan fell back dead. Then Mik-a'pi took his scalp and
his bow and arrows, and also his bundle of moccasins;
and as daylight had come, he went out of the cave and
looked all about. No one was in sight. Probably the
Snake, like himself, had gone alone to war. But, ever
cautious, he traveled only a short distance, and waited
for night before going on. The rain had ceased and the
day was warm. He took a piece of dried meat and back fat
from his pouch and ate them, and, after drinking from
the river, he climbed up on a high rock wall and slept.
Now in his dream he fought with a
strange people, and was wounded. He felt blood trickling
from his wounds, and when he awoke, he knew that he had
been warned to turn back. The signs also were bad. He
saw an eagle rising with a snake, which dropped from its
claws and escaped. The setting sun, too, was painted3,
a sure warning to people that danger is near. But, in
spite of all these things, Mik-a'pi determined to go on.
He thought of the poor widows mourning and waiting for
revenge. He thought of the glad welcome of the people,
if he should return with many scalps; and he thought
also of two young sisters, whom he wanted to marry.
Surely, if he could return and bring the proofs of brave
deeds, their parents would be glad to give them to him.
It was nearly night. The sun had
already disappeared behind the sharp-pointed gray peaks.
In the fading light the far-stretching prairie was
turning dark. In a valley, sparsely timbered with
quaking aspens and cotton-woods, stood a large camp. For
a long distance up and down the river rose the smoke of
many lodges. Seated on a little hill overlooking the
valley, was a single person. With his robe drawn tightly
around him, he sat there motionless, looking down on the
prairie and valley below.
Slowly and silently something was
crawling through the grass toward him. But he heard
nothing. Still he gazed eastward, seeking to discover
any enemy who might be approaching. Still the dark
object crawled slowly onward. Now it was so close to him
that it could almost touch him. The person thought he
heard a sound, and started to turn round. Too late! Too
late! A strong arm grasped him about the neck and
covered his mouth. A long jagged knife was thrust into
his breast again and again, and he died without a cry.
Strange that in all that great camp no one should have
seen him killed!
Still extended on the ground, the
dark figure removed the scalp. Slowly he crawled back
down the hill, and was lost in the gathering darkness.
It was Mik-a'pi, and he had another Snake scalp tied to
his belt. His heart was glad, yet he was not satisfied.
Some nights had passed since the bad signs had warned
him, yet he had succeeded. "One more," he said. "One
more scalp I must have, and then I will go back." So he
went far up on the mountain, and hid in some thick pines
and slept. When daylight came, he could see smoke rise
as the women started their fires. He also saw many
people rush up on the hill, where the dead watcher lay.
He was too far off to hear their angry shouts and
mournful cries, but he sung to himself a song of war and
Once more the sun went to his lodge
behind the mountains, and as darkness came Mik-a'pi
slowly descended the mountain and approached the camp.
This was the time of danger. Behind each bush, or hidden
in a bunch of the tall rye grass, some person might be
watching to warn the camp of an approaching enemy.
Slowly and like a snake, he crawled around the outskirts
of the camp, listening and looking. He heard a cough and
saw a movement of a bush. There was a Snake. Could he
kill him and yet escape? He was close to him now. So he
sat and waited, considering how to act. For a long time
he sat there waiting. The moon rose and traveled high in
the sky. The Seven Persons4
slowly swung around, and pointed downward. It was the
middle of the night. Then the person in the bush stood
up and stretched out his arms and yawned, for he was
tired of watching, and thought that no danger was near;
but as he stood thus, an arrow pierced his breast. He
gave a loud yell and tried to run, but another arrow
struck him and he fell.
At the sound the warriors rushed
forth from the lodges and the outskirts of the camp; but
as they came, Mik-a'pi tore the scalp from his fallen
enemy, and started to run toward the river. Close behind
him followed the Snakes. Arrows whizzed about him. One
pierced his arm. He plucked it out. Another struck his
leg, and he fell. Then a great shout arose from the
Snakes. Their enemy was down. Now they would be revenged
for two lately taken lives. But where Mik-a'pi fell was
the verge of a high rock wall; below rushed the deep
river, and even as they shouted, he rolled from the
wall, and disappeared in the dark water far below. In
vain they searched the shores and bars. They did not
Mik-a'pi had sunk deep in the
water. The current was swift, and when at last he rose
to the surface, he was far below his pursuers. The arrow
in his leg pained him, and with difficulty he crawled
out on a sand-bar. Luckily the arrow was lance-shaped
instead of barbed, so he managed to draw it out. Near by
on the bar was a dry pine log, lodged there by the high
spring water. This he managed to roll into the stream;
and, partly resting on it, he again drifted down with
the current. All night he floated down the river, and
when morning came he was far from the camp of the
Snakes. Benumbed with cold and stiff from the arrow
wounds, he was glad to crawl out on the bank, and lie
down in the warm sunshine. Soon he slept.
The sun was already in the middle
when he awoke. His wounds were swollen and painful; yet
he hobbled on for a time, until the pain became so great
he could go no further, and he sat down, tired and
"True the signs," he said. "How
crazy I was to go against them! Useless now my bravery,
for here I must stay and die. The widows will still
mourn; and in their old age who will take care of my
father and my mother? Pity me now, oh Sun! Help me, oh
great Above Medicine Person! Look down on your wounded
and suffering child. Help me to survive!"
What was that crackling in the
brush near by? Was it the Snakes on his trail? Mik-a'pi
strung his bow and drew out his arrows. No; it was not a
Snake. It was a bear. There he stood, a big grizzly
bear, looking down at the wounded man. "What does my
brother here?" he said. "Why does he pray to survive?"
"Look at my leg," said Mik-a'pi,
"swollen and sore. Look at my wounded arm. I can hardly
draw the bow. Far the home of my people, and my strength
is gone. Surely here I must die, for I cannot travel and
I have no food."
"Now courage, my brother," said the
bear. "Now not faint heart, my brother, for I will help
you, and you shall survive."
When he had said this, he lifted
Mik-a'pi and carried him to a place of thick mud; and
here he took great handfuls5
of the mud and plastered the wounds, and he sung a
medicine song while putting on the mud. Then he carried
Mik-a'pi to a place where were many sarvis berries, and
broke off great branches of the fruit, and gave them to
him, saying, "Eat, my brother, eat!" and he broke off
more branches, full of large ripe berries, for him; but
already Mik-a'pi was satisfied and could eat no more.
Then said the bear, "Lie down, now, on my back, and hold
tight by my hair, and we will travel on." And when
Mik-a'pi had got on and was ready, he started off on a
long swinging trot.
All through the night he traveled
on without stopping. When morning came, they rested
awhile, and ate more berries; and again the bear
plastered his wounds with mud. In this way they traveled
on, until, on the fourth day, they came close to the
lodges of the Pik[)u]n'i; and the people saw them coming
"Get off, my brother, get off,"
said the bear. "There are your people. I must leave
you." And without another word, he turned and went off
up the mountain.
All the people came out to meet the
warrior, and they carried him to the lodge of his
father. He untied the three scalps from his belt and
gave them to the widows, saying: "You are revenged. I
wipe away your tears." And every one rejoiced. All his
female relations went through the camp, shouting his
name and singing, and every one prepared for the scalp
First came the widows. Their faces
were painted black, and they carried the scalps tied on
poles. Then came the medicine men, with their medicine
pipes unwrapped; then the bands of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi,
all dressed in war costume; then came the old men; and
last the women and children. They all sang the war song
and danced. They went all through the village in single
file, stopping here and there to dance, and Mik-a'pi sat
outside the lodge, and saw all the people dance by him.
He forgot his pain and was proud, and although he could
not dance, he sang with them.
Soon they made the Medicine Lodge,
and, first of all the warriors, Mik-a'pi was chosen to
cut the raw-hide which binds the poles, and as he cut
the strands, he counted the coups he had made. He told
of the enemies he had killed, and all the people shouted
his name and praised him. The father of those two young
sisters gave them to him. He was glad to have such a
son-in-law. Long lived Mik-a'pi. Of all the great chiefs
who have lived and died, he was the greatest. He did
many other great and daring things. It must be true, as
the old men have said, that he was helped by the ghosts,
for no one can do such things without help from those
fearful and unknown persons.
1: Armells Creek in
Northern Montana is called Et-tsis-ki-ots-op, "It fell
on them." A longtime ago a number of Blackfeet women
were digging in a bank near this creek for the red clay
which they use for paint, when the bank gave way and
fell on them, burying and killing them.
2: Sand Hills: the shadow land; place of
ghosts; the Blackfoot future world.
3: Sun dogs.
4: The constellation of the Great Bear.
5: The bear's paws are called O-kits-iks,
the term also for a person's hands. The animal itself is
regarded as almost human.