Native American Mythology: Stories, Tales, Traditions, Animal Fables from Col. A. B. Welch interviews

Stories, Tales, Traditions, Animal Fables from Welch interviews of 1910 thru 1940 with Old Men and Women of the Sioux, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara….(Inktomi, the Spider is my personal favorite)    


Ark of the Mandans.         

Atlantis Story.        

Big Buffalo Horn Story.         

Buffalo Yarn.         

Battle between Cheyennes and Mandans.         

Fish Hook Village Monument stories.        

Flower Child Story.        

Ghost Story.        

Good Fur Blanket     


Holy Bundles of the Gros Ventre.         

Inktomi Stories.         

Legend of the Spring at Glayton.         

Chief Looking.     

Magical Beings.     

Man, Conqueror of the Earth.     

Peace Pipe Story 

Prairie Rose Myth 

Sacred Place of the Snake’s Trail 

Sacred Moccasins

Stone Man

Scorched Village and the Creator

Snake and Bear Stories

Snake House Story

Spirit Woman of the Arikara

Sun Boy and the Rainbow

Talking Spirit Bear

Thunderbird Stories

Woman in White

White Woman of the Minniconjou

Myth of the Flowers, Cree Legend

Myth of the Flowers, as told by Inktomi

Turtle Drum and Sacred Pipe Stories

Tyrant and the Mysterious Pool

War Story from a long time ago

Wonderful Turtle Story


Ark of the Mandans

The Ark of the Mandans, (Fortification against the Flood)

Welch notes, mid 1920’s, on the “Tradition of the Flood”

…The high, bluffy southern end of the line of hills at this point is called ‘Bird’s Bill Hill’ by the Indians of today and it was on the point of this hill where a portion of the Mandans were saved from the ‘flood’ which, at one time, covered all the world according to tradition.  This tradition is a peculiar Mandan one and is given as of a date before the unknown time when the Hidatsa came to live with them, and, briefly, is as follows:

In the days of our fathers, the Lord of Life and First Man visited us by the Heart River, which they caused to flow out of the Middle Hole Country.  They told the wise men to prepare for trouble and they took them up to the hill and indicated where they could stand when the trouble came.  Before they went away they selected three men to whom they taught how to meet the trouble when it should come upon the people of the five villages.  And, after a while, Corn Woman had five children and they lived in a village beyond the Turtle Mountains.  One was called Magpie and the others were buffaloes; one of these was Fall Buffalo, another was Winter Buffalo, and one was Spring Buffalo and one was named Summer Buffalo.  The Magpie went to visit the people of the five villages and saw much trouble for those people.  He went back to the Corn Woman’s village and tied her up tight in the mane of the Spring Buffalo.  Then the water came and they all started to swim to the five villages, but after swimming for a long distance, they all drowned except Spring Buffalo, who reached Bird’s Bill Hill and died there, but he had save Corn Woman in his mane and she was changed to an ear of yellow corn.

And when Spring Buffalo came swimming to Bird’s Bill Hill, there went a herald among the lodges of the villages and told the people to go to the hill, where they would find the three men who had received instructions from First Man.  They built an enclosure there on the hill and many people came to it.  The water covered everything then and came into the fence where the people were.  But the three men made a mark upon it as high as a man’s head and told the people that the water would not pass that mark.  So they tied a young tree at that point and the water touched it and stopped coming further.  Then they went away after a while.  The people in the fence were all right.  Those brave, foolish people who were not there, died in the water.  That was at Bird’s Bill Hill place, north of the Little Heart River.

Ever since that time, the most sacred thing of the Mandan Indians is an object which they call the ‘Memorial to the Flood.’  It differs from the Holy Bundles of the Arikara, the talking stones of the Dakotah and the other so-called ‘medicines’ of the tribes, and has been set up in the center of their principal village ever since the time of the flood.  Offerings are still made by it and when last seen by the writer in 1923, in the wild country where the Mandans live, there were piles of tobacco, old rifles, buffalo and antelope skulls, tied bundles of sweet grass and wild sage scattered around its base, while many yards of bright cloth were tied to it.  Those who may be interest in this sacred object, may discover it in the paintings of George Catlin who also describes the terrible ordeals of the Mandan Sun Dance, which he calls the ‘Okippe,’ and it was also painted by Bodmer, the Swiss portrait painted who accompanied Maximilian, the Prince of Wied, to the Mandan villages in 1833.

Place  – Crows Heart’s Camp, south of mouth of Little Missouri, May 31, 1923

Interpreter  – Hawk, educated Mandan-Gros Ventre.

I was looking for this sacred object of the Mandans as I entered the village, but did not at first locate it.  My ideas was that it was about the size of a forty gallon barrel.  I finally saw it to the southwest of the village, and not in the center as I always supposed it to be.  Upon inquiry I learned that it had been removed from the center of the village and placed where it now is.  I could not learn the reason for this, as it always was placed in the center in olden times.  I rather think that it was placed before the village was well established and so was not in the usual place.  Instead of a sacred stone or other object, like the Sioux and Arikara have, the Mandans have this object, which represents the Ark of the Flood.  The Gros Ventres have lived so long with Mandans that they used the same sort of a thing.  ‘Ark,’ though, is not a good translation, and shows the modern biblical idea too strongly.  My interpreter said that ‘Fortification against the Flood’ was a better translation.

I asked the Second Chief, Crows Heart (Sitting Crow was First Chief) if he could tell me the ceremonies attendant thereto.  He said that he was very sorry, but that he “Did not have the right to talk about it.”  I also asked Chase about it and he gave me the same answer.  But Chase said he would tell me as much as he dared to tell:

Chase’s Story about it.

“You see where it is.  It was placed there about forty years ago, when this village was selected.  There is an old woman here who has the right to talk about it.  It will be all right for you to walk around it.  I would not pick up anything there, if I were you.  Some one might not like it very well.  It is made of boards and logs.  When they rot out, another one is put in its place.  There should be no nails in it.  We have had it a long time.  There has been two different floods.  The first one covered all the earth places.  The second one did not go over the highest points.”

“First Man told four (note, not three) men among the Mandan how to build it.  I do not know where we were or when the first flood came. When the second came, we lived at The Lop-Sided Village (this is the village at Fort Lincoln, called by historians, the Village of the Slant).  We set up the fortification against the flood on the hill we call Bird’s Bill Hills, south of that place (The east end of the range of hills, which ends on the river banks, just north of the Little Heart).  These four men were men just like any one, but they were very holy.  They were there and told everyone to get inside.  We got in then.  The water came up nearly to the top, but did not flow in.  The holy men said that they would make the ends of the logs longer if it came any higher.  So all those people got in were saved from this flood.  When the four holy men died, we cut off their heads.  We have them with us yet.  They are in the Holy Bundles.  The only one who can tell you any more about it is a woman.  She has the right to tell about it. She is the only one who performs the ceremonies.  She is the mother of Holding Eagle.”

I went over to examine it alone.  It is built of a few logs set up on end and many boards, which appear to have been rescued from the water of the nearby Missouri river.  It is circular  – six feet in diameter  – straight sides  – and about seven feet high.  Chase told me that it had a mark around at the place where the high water of the second flood reached.  But this mark was not in reality a mark  – but was where the hoop held it together.  This hoop was a double one or one in the inside and one on the outside:  These hoops were of strong, two-inch saplings, and were held together by raw hide through the cracks of the structure, also serving to bind together the entire affair.  No nails or wooden pegs were used.

Around the outside of it, and tied to the outside hoop, were many pieces of calico and other cloth; a buffalo’s skull also lay there, it being splashed across the forehead with red paint, freshly applied.  A pile of tobacco lay in one place, it having been there before the last rain, as it was weathered.  Two rifles were laying on the ground, perhaps a hundred feet away  – the barrels were very rusty; the stock of one had entirely rotted away, while the other stock was much rotted, but still held together by its screws and metal parts.  There was much brass about these old rifles, cut I could not make out the name of the makers.  They both had the action of a repeating Winchester, and had, evidently, laid there for several years without being disturbed.

Inside the Ark, and in the middle, was a cedar post about six inches in diameter, painted entirely red.  There were also several bits of bright cloth laying on the ground, and another buffalo skull splashed with red.  I saw no arrows or anything more ancient than the skulls and rifles.  Some artificial flowers were there, but no oranges or customary grave ‘crackerjack,’ like the Sioux use on graves.

Chase also told me that the red cedar post was to represent a pipe.  That when the First Man told them how to make it, he also gave them their first pipe of red stone.  He told them to use a cedar pole and bend it like a pipe.  This should be painted red and stuck in the middle of the ‘Ark,’ as a remembrance of the pipe which he had given to them.  Consequently, there is always that cedar post, painted red, within the enclosure.  This thing has been the sacred object of the Mandan Indians long before the first white man came among them, and can not in any way be confounded with any modern bible story.


I was told at this meeting that a woman named Little Owl and a man named Bull Head (or Ben Benson) were the only ones who had the ‘right to tell the ceremonies’ of the Mandan ‘Ark.’



Drags Wolf talks to Welch, Feb. 10, 1934

Present:  Chief Drags Wolf, Hidatsa Chief (Head), Chief Bears Arm, Hidatsa Chief (Second), Good Bird, Interpreter.

His story of the “Massacre of the inhabitants of Sperry Village”

“A Mandan village stood on a flat place, where a creek came out of the hills.  It was on the east banks of the Missouri.  It is the first one above the site you call “The Double Ditch.”  There is a ranch there now.  The people who lived there were the Ruptar.  The Mandans had two large bands.  These were the Ruptar(e).  They had not lived there but a life time.  The Hidatsa lived north of them and on the opposite side of the river.

We heard one time that a large war party of Sioux were cleaning them out and killing them.  We got ready then.  We went down there to save those people.  When we arrived there, the Sioux were gone away.  They had taken many prisoners with them  – women and children.  Many dead men were lying all about the village place.  We pursued the enemy trail south to where they crossed the river to the west.  Our scouts could not fine them.  We returned to the village then.  There were only about thirty or forty people saved from death.  It was very sad and we mourned with them there.  We say many young men dead and some old people too.

The Mandans always had the Sacred Corral after the flood.  The Hidatsa were saved at the same time.  They had one just like it too.  But the Mandans saved theirs.  It is very holy.  It was kept at this village where the Ruptar(e) were annihilated.  It stood down close to the timber lands.  It had the red cedar post in it yet.  We found it there.  It had not been disturbed.  The Dakota were afraid to harm that.

Then in another part of the village we found the four sacred turtles of the Mandans.  We kept them all and gave them back to the Mandan people.  They have them all yet.  It is a good thing that the Dakotas did not harm that ting.  They would all have met accidental deaths then.  No one should be unkind to it.  But place sacrifices there.  All the people know this.  So after that the Ruptar went across to the other side of the river.  They have lived there every since that time.”

George Catlin’s description of the “Buffalo Dance” in 1832:

The quotations below are taken from the original manuscript signed Geo. Catlin, and now in the possession of Lt. Col. Whitney, Eng. Res., in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The manuscript was copied by Captain A.W.Shutter, F.A. (DOL), St. Paul, and forwarded to me for my records:

“Folium Reservation”

“The object of this detached page is to complete the links in the chain of events in the singular custom which is described in the foregoing pages as far as could be properly done for general reading.  Scientific men, who study as has been said in the preface, not the proprieties of man, but man, will reserve this addendum in the form and, I believe, only appreciate and protect it

“The bizarre and frightful character already described as O-ke-hee-pe (the owl and evil spirit who approached the village from the prairies and entered the area of the buffalo dancers to terror of women & children, had attached, by a small thong encircling his waist, a buffalo tail behind; & from under a bunch of buffalo hair covering his pelvis, an artificial penis, ingeniously (and naturally) carved in wood, of colossal proportions, pendulous as he ran, & extending somewhat below his knees.  This was, like his body, painted jet-black, with the exception of the ‘glans,’ which was of as glaring a red as vermillion could make it.

“On entering the crowd where the buffalo dance was being performed, he directed his steps toward the group of women, who retreated in the greatest alarm, tumbling over each other & screaming for help as he was advancing toward them, as well they might, from the change of aspect at that moment; for at his near approach to them he elevated with both hands his delicate want & as he raised it over their heads there was a corresponding elevation of the penis. Probably caused by some small invisible thong connecting the two together.

“The medicine pipe of the master of ceremonies being thrust before his eyes, its charm held him motionless for some minutes, until the women and children had retreated to a safe distance, when the pipe was gradually withdrawn, his want lowered to the ground & he regained his power of locomotion.

“After several repeated attempts of this kind, & being defeated in the same way in each, he returned to the buffalo dance, still continued, & being jostled (apparently by accident) against one of the eight buffalo dancers, he stepped back & looking at the animal, placed himself for a moment in the attitude of a buffalo bull in rutting season; & mounting onto one of the dancing buffalos, elevated his wand & consequently the penis, which was inserted under the skin of the animal, whilst the man underneath continued to dance, with his body in a horizontal position.

“An indescribable excitement was produced by the new position of this strange being, endeavoring to time his steps in the dance in which he was now (apparently) taking a part, with the motions of the animal underneath him.  The women and children of the whole tribe, who were onlookers, were instructed to clap their hands and shout their approbation, as they all wanted buffalos to supply them with food during the coming year, and which supply they attributed to this indispensable form.

“The usual time of the buffalo’s leap was occupied in this singular affair, when this strange actor was down; & imitating perfectly the motion and noise of the buffalo bulls on such occasions, he approached and leapt four of the eight in succession, without in the least checking the dance, producing something like a quarter of an hour of the highest excitement & amusement of the crowd.

“ This scene finished (the buffalos still dancing) O-ke-hee’-pe appeared much fatigued and exhausted which brought the children and women around him they being no longer afraid of him.  The women danced up to him and back, in lascivious attitudes, tempting him with challenges which, with all his gallantry, he now (apparently) was unable to accept.  It was in this distressing dilemma, that his wand was broken, and as has been described, & he was driven into the prairies where he was again beset by a throng of women and children, & the frightful appendage was wrested from his body and brought by its captor triumphantly into the village, wrapped in a bunch of wild sage, and carried in her arms as she would have carried an infant.  She was escorted by two matrons on each side, who lifted her onto the front of the Medicine Lodge, directly over its door, from whence she harangued the multitude for some time, claiming that she held the power of creation, and of life and death over them; that she was the father of all the buffalos and that she could make them come or stay away as she pleased.

“She  then ordered the buffalo dance to be stopped and the ‘Phokhong (or torture scenes) to commence in the Medicine Lodge, as has been described.  She demanded the handsomest dress in the Mandan Tribe, which the master of ceremonies had in readiness and presented to her, as he received from her hands the singular trophy, and which he deposited, no doubt, among the sacred archives of the nation, and appointed her to the envied position of conductor of the Feast of the Buffaloes, to be given that night, as had been described.

(signed) Geo. Catlin.

Mandan, a Mandan & Gros Ventre, educated, Mandan, N.D., Oct.  26th, 1926

The Sacred ‘Minnitach’ of the Mandans

I asked him about this sacred object and his story follows:

“I have heard the old people talking about this.  It is a wonderful story and is an old one.  The old people, who have the right, call it ‘Minnitach’ or Holding Water or Keeping Water Back.  They have it yet.  I saw you walking around it one time, where it is.  It appears that when that water was coming, a couple of men had been told how to do it then.  They were told by Lord of Life and First Man or Elder Man.  They built it and told the people to gather there and avoid trouble.  So many did that.  But the water came right along and got deeper and deeper all the time.  All those people were afraid.  But one of the men who had been told what to do, said that they should get some long, slim willows or cottonwood saplings.  So they got them and gave them to that man. He wound them about the Minnitach and said that the water would stop when it touched that sapling where it was.  And it did that. It stopped there.

“Since that time they have always kept it among them.  When a stick gets old and breaks, the Keeper puts another one in.  In the night time, this is done.  No one sees that done.

“When they moved from that principle village they took it along with them and set it up in a new place in the center of the village.  You have seen it and know what it is.  The people were afraid that you would touch it that time you walked around it.  But you know better than that.  It is holy among us.  We have kept it a long time.

“(Catlin) that man, (1833) saw it and he was the only white man who ever saw the ceremonies of the ‘Okippe’ there.  He went into the sacred lodge.  I have heard that he called this thing ‘The Okippe,’ but its name in Minnitach

“Okippe refers to the ceremonies and rites and relics of the ‘Buffalo Dance.’  He was permitted to see that rite.  That man in black which comes over the hills and runs about the village, he tells about it.  He has a big pecker.  It was made of wood and was big.  If he caught a woman he could enter her with his own pecker.  But the woman could strike him.  He had to be very careful or he would be hurt badly when he was in the village.  If a woman could get the wooden pecker and kill him with it, that was all right with everybody.  He represented the devil.  He would run away then and no knew who he was.



Atlantis Story


Marcellus Red Tomahawk was visiting me once in Bismarck, and asked me to tell him a long story for him to take home to tell to the people.

I told him the story of “The Lost Atlantis,”


When I had finished, he surprised me by saying that, “his people had known that story, always.”



Big Buffalo Horn Story

Crow Ghost talks to Welch, 1915:

“Iron White Man could make gunpowder, too.  He had a big buffalo horn and when there was a terrible storm he held it up high and then when he took it down there was some gunpowder in it.  Enough for forty guns.  When they shot these forty guns at the enemy they fell unconscious and were killed easily then.”



Buffalo Yarn

Told to Welch by All Yellow, 1915:

“Some men killed a buffalo once and cut it up and left the hoofs there and, when they looked again, the feet had turned into four buffaloes and run away.”



Battle between Cheyennes and Mandans at Fire Heart Butte

Welch notes, undated, but probably mid 1920’s:

A bunch of cow punchers were telling me about a great battle field of a long time ago.  They said that they had trailed a bunch of mavericks into a deep draw close to Fire Heart Butte, south of Fort Yates.  Here in the draw, laid upon a shelf of sandstone ,were thousands of bones of men killed in this battle.  They said no Indian will go into the place or even in the vicinity.

I inquired about this event of old Fire Heart, a Chief of the Sihasapa, who lives on the east slope of the Butte named above.  This is his story:

“Bears Ear of the Mandans told it to me, about that battle there on ‘The Peak Hill.’  The Cheyennes came into this country here a long time ago.  They disputed the country with any who came in.  Some Mandans came down here to hunt or fight.  They met the Cheyennes there on the slopes of the Butte.  They fought then.  It was a hard fight.  The Mandans sing about it today.  Thirty seven Cheyennes were killed there.  Eleven Mandans also were dead.  Some other people came after that.  They honored men who had died in fighting.  They carried them to the gorge and placed them in a row upon the stone shelf there.  Bears Ear said it was before the Sioux came into the country.  It was a long time ago.  This is his story.”

Continuing, he said, “We do not like to go there.  The bones of dead men lie there.  Their Wanagi (spirits) stay there, I think.  There was a Dakotah dance near there.  A spirit of a dead man came to dance.  He had but one eye.  The people were afraid and stopped dancing.  Another time, some Sihasapa were going up that gorge.  It was at night time.  They heard terrible sounds.  They saw white clouds close to the ground.  It moved fast.  They were afraid and left that place.  I do not talk about it.  I live near there.  I want to be friendly.”

There are human bones there, well preserved, but they appear to be of modern times.  I am sure they are not in the burial place of the Arikara village on Grass Creek.  The Arikaras never went so far to bury the dead.



Fish Hook Village Monument stories

Welch notes on visit to Fort Berthold, Oct. 12-15, 1921:

Close by the cemetery is a strange monument to the memory of a brave fight and the death of brave men.  We build monuments of stone; we make great memorial avenues and bridges and buildings; we commemorate great events in oil paints and tablets of bronze, but this true monument is the strangest one of all.  The following story is told by Young Hawk, Wild and Red Fox, all Arikara:

“The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara lived together in friendship at the ‘Fish Hook Village’ for a long time.  They stayed together to be better prepared to resist the continual harassment of their enemies, but more especially of the Sioux.  Sometimes the Chippewa came in too, to fight us.  But we feared the Sioux and our women used their name to still the children, as every one feared them.  They were so bold that they sometimes came right into the village.  Sometimes the enemy would come from the hills to the north and follow down the little creek called ‘Two Bears Coulee’ and get close before we were prepared.  Once there was a great fight in that coulee and the Sioux got clear to the walls of the United States Fort there and built fires against the palisade.  One man killed seven Sioux that day (this was the Uncle of Mrs. Wild.  He was afterwards the official interpreter for Custer on his last trip and escaped, with Young Hawk…his name Girrard.  He was a Frenchman).

“About 65 years ago the Sioux made such a raid upon the people there.  In the fighting very near the village, right where the cemetery is now, two Mandans were cut off from the village and it looked like they would die there.  The Sioux were all around them.  One was named Left Hand and the other one was named Red Leaf.  They had lost their horses.  They had a brother who saw them that way.  His name was White Crow and he went out to help them.  Left Hand had been killed when he got there and Red Leaf was trying to keep the enemy from taking his scalp.  White Crow was afoot.  The Sioux horseman came along, lying low over his horse’s neck, and shooting from under his neck.  When he got within 10 feet White Crow killed him and he fell off his horse with a thud upon the ground there by Left Hand, Red Leaf and White Crow.  The two brothers then carried Left Hand back to the village with his scalp safe on his head.  It was a very brave thing for White Crow to do and Red Leaf was brave also.  To always remember this thing they had done, the people decided to draw the pictograph of it upon the ground.  This they did and took out the sod so it would always remain that way.  They are there.  I will show you.


Note…We then walked to the place where the monument is.  There were six gigantic tracks of a horse coming from the southeast.  These tracks are about two feet across the heel and the track is made by cutting out the sod six inches wide and the same deep.  From the direction of the village were foot tracks,  a foot long and six inches wide and deep.  There were sixteen of these great steps.  At the closest place of approach to the horse trail (10 feet) there were two foot prints set side by side and three feet apart.  This denotes the place where the brother Red Leaf was standing over the dead body of Left Hand and also denotes the place where the reckless Sioux warrior met his death.  A broken iron kettle, a stick with some faded artificial flowers upon it and a stick with a rag of red cloth, were at this place, denoting prayers and songs.  A hole in the ground also denoted the place where the shot fired at White Crow by the advancing Sioux warrior, hit the ground.  These marks commerating the entire action, which took place in 1853, are plainly marked and as soon as filled with flowing dirt or growth of grass, they are carefully renewed by the Arikara in order to preserve this story of the brave Mandan ally and the death of the reckless, hard-riding Sioux.

Fish Hook Village Monument Story, An Arikara Legend (slightly revised)

Welch notes on visit to Fort Berthold, Memorial Day 1928:

I had always believed that the man on the horse (whose tracks are cut large and deep in the sod) was the Sioux, but they tell me differently now.  Here is the story as told by the old men who got together and decided about it:

The battle was being raged between the attacking Sioux and the villagers, and the lines were very close together and within two or three hundred feet of the palisade wall.  A Sioux fell at the spot where the old kettle lies, directly in front and within three feet of the tracks of the man afoot, where he spread his feet and stood solid.

The Sioux had a broken leg, and Red Leaf, a Mandan, had run toward him to strike him with a lance.  The lance had been taken from a left-handed Sioux warrior.  Red Leaf was also left-handed, and this wounded Sioux was left-handed.  Red Leaf reached the Sioux and struck him, but the Sioux wounded him, and he turned and fell.  As he fell, his own brother, named White Crow, started toward them on a horse and rode upon the Sioux.  Jumping off, he ran to his fallen brother, took the lance and plunged it, time and again, into the body of the fallen Sioux warrior, killing him.  He then carried the body of Red Leaf back to the village.

The tracks, dug in the sod, are all mostly within the present wire fence, on the southeast corner.



Flower Child Story

A Tradition told to Welch by A. McG. Beede, Fort Yates, N.D., July 21st, 1921:

“A flower grew on a tree in the springtime.  As summer days became pleasing, an infant grew in the flower.  This infant left the flower, its mother, and became a beautiful-colored creeping infant on the ground.  And it made itself a little tipi in the earth where it rested at night and in storms.

When this creeping infant saw the birds flying in the air, its strong desire to have wings made wings grow upon this creature and it flew away like a bird.

Then this creature went to see the flower, its grandmother, and tasted the juice of the flower and like it, and ate all the juice of the flower, so that the flower fainted and died.


An Whirlwind was angry when this creature had abused its grandmother, and Whirlwind made a great storm, and this creature fell to the earth with its wings so wet that it could not crawl to its little tipi and be safe, and so it died.

Then the Whirlwind crawled into a hole in the tree to rest.  And Whirlwind said, “Next spring there will be another flower on the tree, and in the flower another infant, and when this infant gets wings and flies away, I hope it will not abuse its grandmother.”

Beede’s comments … That is the story and I have been asked what kind of flower this was.  The myth carries no such exact data.  Such exact data would spoil the myth.  The Indian mind felt this and so did not attach to such myths, exact data, although he had most exact knowledge of trees, flowers and all sorts of chrysalis.  The very nature of myth forbids over-exactness.


Ghost Story

Mrs. John Grass talks to Welch, Mandan Hospital, April 26th, 1921:

Vivian Gayton, interpreter

Welch and Mrs. John Grass, 1921


“Some Dakotah men were out on a long journey a long time ago.  They were getting near to their own people again.  They made a camp at a place where there was some timber and water.  They built a little sun shade of boughs.  They were sitting there and eating something.  They were very tired.  A spirit man came talking there.  He sat down on the ground in the lodge entrance.  He did not say anything.  He sat there.  The men were scared.  They did not say anything either. He sat there.  The men ate meat.  They watched him all the time.  He sat there.  One man had some fat dried meat on the coals.  He was going to eat that meat.  He took it up to eat it.  When he did that he jumped at the ghost and hit him over the head with the meat.  The spirit man walked away over the hills and went away.”


Good Fur Blanket

Newspaper article, possibly written by Welch, undated:







Welch interview, undated, with His Holy Road (Ihankton):

He-Yo-Ka is the name of a Dakotah mythical character…a sort of strangely acting ‘spirit.’

He is exactly opposite of the natural order of things.  He wears a heavy buffalo robe in the hot weather and goes naked in the winter time.  When people cry with sorrow, he laughs with glee.  He mourns when people are happy.

He is supposed to be a small man and lives in a hill called Heyokati (Lodge of Heyoka), which is the name of a little hill about ten miles east of Lac-qui-parle.



Holy Bundles of the Gros Ventre

Photo taken about 1938 after return of the Water Buster Clan Holy Bundle, through the  intercession of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

 Holy Bundle of the Gros Ventre, Left  – Foolish Bear next to Drags Wolf 


Talking with President Roosevelt for the return of the Holy Bundle, containing the skulls of the Thunder Birds, who were First Man and Lord of Life.

President Roosevelt, Drags Wolf, Foolish Bear, Arthur Mandan, 1937myth27-drags-wolf-and-president-roosevelt

News Article on return of the Holy Bundlemyth28-news-article-bundle-return-p1



News Article, Original Story of the Two Skullsmyth22-two-skull-story-p1




Mrs. Wild, Arikara, talks to Welch about traditions, June 26th, 1922:

This  highly-educated woman lives on the Elbowoods Reservation.  Her Indian name is Wild Rose Woman.  She is the grand-niece of Mr. Girrard, the trader, who had a trading station at old village of Fort Clark, later on at Fort Berthold Village, and then went into business at St. Paul, where he was fleeced out of all his money.  He was a friend of Gen. Custer, and acted many times as his interpreter.  He educated all his family at St. Joseph, MO., where they had to travel by boat upon the river.  He was worth much money and Mrs. Wild says they lived in what was then, luxury.

She said that the Pawnees and the Arikara were kin-folks, which is correct, as they are both of Caddoan stock, as is the Witchata people.   She told me of the opening of the “Holy Bundles” of the Arikara.  Her husband was interpreter when permission was obtained by someone, from President Theodore Roosevelt and the Indian Commissioner, to have them opened and examined for a historical paper.  She had never seen them opened herself even, as they are very loath to do this.  Her husband said that they contained fish and birds and other things.  One of the birds is a native of Europe and another is a native of Mexico or the Rio Grande country.  On account of these things and the fact that their traditions point to a journey up from the south, she said they must have come from down in Arizona or the country to the south even of that.

She also said that a long time the Pawnee and Arikara lived together in Nebraska.  That there arose a dispute among the people.  Some wanted to go back south and some wanted to continue northward.  So they did, indeed, separate, and these present Arikara finally came into this country.  But they both, yet, speak the same language and often visit each other.  Continuing, she said, “The father of Sitting Bear was with the Pawnee after the two villages down by the Grande River were destroyed.  They stayed there a number of years, but finally decided to return to the upper Missouri country, and came to the river somewhere near the Knife river mouth and have been in that country up to today.

She also said that the Tree Mother at the ceremonies in the fall of 1921 at the Dead Grass Society Dance Hall, was placed on the wrong side by error.  That it had since that time been discarded and The Mother Tree removed to its proper side, the east side of the old Holy Stone which stood in the old Arikara Village of Berthold.  It has since then been used in the ceremony of the Moccasin Message.

The son of Four Rings, Arikara, talks July 5th, 1923:

“My father’s name is Steve Four Horns, but now his name is Four Rings. He is an old scout and belongs to that society.  He is 67 years old now.  When he dies he will be buried with the other old scouts at Fort Berthold place.

“His father’s name was Big Bell Buffalo.  He was 89 years old when he died in 1887.  His father’s name was White Buffalo and he was 92 years old when he was killed.  I not remember what my mother’s name was.

“I have never seen the things inside it.  A man must first kill a deer or buffalo and lay it at the door.  Then my father may show it all through and explain it.  My father is old and I will kill a deer this coming winter.  It costs something.  He will show it to you or to a society, for some money.  The last time it was opened was last month when your soldier, Young Hawk, was buried.  A man made a feast then and the bundle was opened in a lodge to him.

“I understand that they picked things as they went along from where we came in old times.  So this thing came from someplace, and this other thing came from some other place along the journey.  My father knows all about these things.  We came from the country below California, and they kept track of the different places as we came along the road to the place where we are now.

“At first there were twelve of these holy bundles (note: each tribe had a bundle).  But down on the Niobrara river, we lost some of the people.  They went off and we never heard from them any more (note: the lost Sinew Hunters). They took four of the bundles with them then, so we have only eight now.  I think these people are away up north now, but we cannot find them.

“My father keeps the bundle hanging up in his house.  We children were never allowed to go near them or to touch them.  I was always afraid of the bundles (note: plural of bundle).  In the olden times, they were always out in the air.  They kept them on a high hill top.  But now, they have to keep them in the house.  Someone might steal them.  They are very hold and I believe that they will tell us where we came from.”


Mrs. Byron Wild talks to Welch and Mrs. & Mrs. J.O.Sullivan, Mandan, N.D., Sept 8th, 1924:

There were formerly twelve bundles.  The Sinew Hunters, perhaps, had one of them when they wandered away and never afterward were heard from.  The others were either burned or buried with the keepers of the, although they were not supposed to be buried.  One other was handing in a lodge, but when they went to get it to open one time, they found that the contents had been stolen.  The family was disgraced on that account.

Welch query:  Could these missing objects be in the possession of the Chicago man, who claims he has one which was stolen from a lodge…Mr. Chandler knows this man’s name.

Mrs. Byron Wild talks to Welch, Mandan, N.D., Sept 8th, 1924:

She stated, regarding the Claw Necklace worn by Rogers (Charges Alone) at the presentation of War Testimonials to the Tribes at Mandan, July 4th, 1924, that this was the very last grizzly bear claw necklace among her people; that this set was a very old one and almost holy among them; that it was always kept inside the hold bundle but had been borrowed for the above occasion.  That it formerly belonged to an uncle of hers, and that, at his death, the old man Star had asked for it.  Mrs. Wild went to the house when they were giving away the effects of the dead uncle, as is the Indian custom, and asked for it to be hers.  That her aunt then said, “Why, you are just too late.  Star was in and asked for it and I gave it to him.  He is just walking away with it.”

She also said that she would ask Star for it in a short time after he had owned it for a time.  It would cost her a horse and, perhaps, a beef feast.  This Star is one of the keepers of an Arikara holy bundle and he keeps the necklace inside the bundle.

 Chief Drags Wolf,  the rain maker, July 25, 1940 article concerning the Minneapolis Aquatennielmyth29-rain-maker-p1




Inktomi Stories

Interview with Mrs. Grey Bull at Mandan, N.D., October 6th, 1923:

She told me, today, that the “spider made the stone arrow points.  We had iron for a long time and made them.  The Dakotah never made them.  We say many of these stone rings and pictures on the ground on the high hills.  Someone made them.  I do not know who these people were.  They were not our people.  They were wakan.”

This woman is an Indian of the old buffalo days and knows the stories and traditions of her people.

Conversation with Chasing Fly, Teton, about 70 years of age, September 25th, 1923, Mandan, N.D., Interpreter: Young Bears, Teton school boy, age about 25:


Now Kola, I said, tell me just how you made the stone point.

“We did not make them.  We picked them up when we wanted them.  No one made the stone points.  The Padani picked them up like we did.  Inktomi Nation made them.  Or some animal made them.  No Dakotah ever made good ones.  Some Dakotah prayed at it.  There were many of them then.  The wild plums grow on trees.  The stone arrows lay on the ground.  We picked the plums.  We picked the points.  Inktomi is wakan.  The stone points are wakan.  The plums were placed there for us to eat.  We ate them.  The stone points were put there for us to use.  We used them in arrows.  I cannot talk much about that thing.  My medicine (he used the word ‘wakiyan,’ meaning Thunder, for the word medicine.  This is an instance of Holy Talking or using a different word for what you mean, when speaking of wakan things) is an animal.  I cannot talk of stones much.  Some other man can.  The stone arrow point is wakan.  It is not my medicine.  So I could pick them up when I found them.  But I cannot talk much about them.”

Welch talks with Bull Bear, undated:

Bull Bear, a Sioux can talk some English, but is an old time Indian, nevertheless.  When shown a flint turtle, said,  “This is a turtle.  Sometimes in the past good boys and girls wore such things in a bag which was tied to their hair for good luck.

Inktomi made it like he made all the arrow heads.  Some people have heard him at work, but could never see him.  I have, myself, heard him at work, chipping stones.  It was a small hole south of Fort Yates where I heard him working.  He went slow, chip-chip. We got within a few feet of the hole, when he would stop and we could not find him then.  When we went away he worked again.”

The Badger, The Bear, Blood Man & Inktomi, the Spider

Story told to Welch by John Brown, 1917:

A badger lived all alone; he was happy and fat for he had all the food he wanted to eat.  He lived in some kind of a house, perhaps a dug out.  While he was laying in the shade one day a poor bear came along.  He was weak and appeared to be very downcast.

“Who are you and where are you going?” said the Badger.

“My name is The Bear,” was the answer, “I am trying to get something to eat for my family.  I have a large family and they are starving because I can’t get anything to eat where I live.  The game is all gone and we are in very bad shape.  I am hunting up a country where we can live better.  I am very poor.”

“Well,” said the Badger, “Come on in.  I can give you something to eat.  I have great plenty.”

So the Badger gave the Bear a great feed of things he liked to eat.  After he had been there several days and had got strong again, he said that he would go and bring out his family, as the Badger had more than he needed.  So the Badger said it was all right and for him to do that.

After a while the whole family of the Bear came to live with the Badger.  There were the parents and several young ones in the family.  And the Badger hunted for them and got them all strong again.  But, as the Bear became stronger, he also became more rough with the Badger, and after a time the Badger was almost a servant to the Bear and his family.

Then the Badger commenced to become thin and was often hungry, for the Bear took most of all of everything that was killed.  But the littlest bear of all would sometimes give the Badger a piece of meat and this kept him alive, unknown to the big Bear.

One day the Bear ran to the place where the Badger was and said, “Hurry up.  Come quick.  The whole place is alive the buffaloes.  You must go and kill some of them for me.”

So the Badger went out with the Bear and, while the Bear looked on, he killed a lot of meat.  But the Bear would not even let him smell the blood, and he was very hungry and thirsty.  Seeing a large pool of blood, the Badger and fell upon it.  “What are you doing?’ the Bear said.  “Why, I just fell down,” said the Badger.  But the blood stuck to him and he carried it home.

When he got home he was faint from hunger but he built a sweat lodge and put the blood inside.  By and by he looked into the lodge and saw a beautiful youth in there.  He then knew that he had created a man out of the blood, so he called him Blood Man.

So he wished that he had a blanket for the youth, and there it was, a very good blanket.  “I wish I had a pair of leggings for him,” and there it was before him.  “I wish he had some moccasins,” he said, and they were there, too.  “Now if I only had a sacred bow and arrows,” – and there they were. “I wish he had a sacred quiver out of tiger hide,” he said, and he had it, too.  So now he was all fixed out good.

Pretty soon the young man said he was hungry, and his father told him that he did not have any food because the Bear would not let him have any.  And he told Blood Man all about how the Bear was mean to him and ate up everything.  So the Blood Man said, “show these bears to me,” and the Badger told him that they would soon be there.

Sure enough, pretty soon, along came the Bear and told the Badger to hurry up and come along and shoot some meat for him.  The Badger said that he would not do it any more.  And the Bear began to abuse him, and then Blood Man killed him and all the little bears except the young one who had divided his meat with the Badger.

After a while Blood Man said he wanted to travel and go far away.  The Badger told him to beware, that there were many danger far away, but Blood Man said he would go anyway and get him a wife, and no one could kill him anyhow.  So Badger gave his son some good advice and told him to beware of Inktomi, the spider, for he was very crafty.  Blood Man said he would watch out after him, and started off, for he wanted to get a wife.  As he was going through a wooded place, he saw an old man sitting under a tree; he was very feeble and weak and hungry.

“What is the matter, Grandfather?” Blood Man asked.

“Oh, I am dying,” he said, “but if I only had one of these prairie chickens sitting to eat I would be all right,” he said, and pointed to some chickens sitting on a limb of the tree.  “Won’t you shoot them for me?”

“Yes, I will shoot them for you to eat,” he answered, and raised the bow and shot one.  It dropped down to a limb and caught there.

“Won’t you climb up and get it?” said the old man.  You had better take off your beautiful clothes as they might get torn.”

Blood Man took off his clothes and started to climb.  The old man muttered, “Stick there, Stick there.”  “What are you saying?” asked Blood Man.  “Oh, I said that I hoped you got it all right,” said the old man.

So, he climbed out and shook the tree and the chicken dropped to the ground.  And the old man laughed out loud and then Blood Man discovered that he was fast to the tree and could not get away.  He was grown there like a knot.

And the old man, who was Inktomi in disguise, put on the beautiful clothes and taking up the scared arrows, set off, leaving Blood Man there to die.

Welch talks with Mrs. Crow Ghost, May 11th, 1933:

Today, Mrs. Crow Ghost, an old Sioux woman (born 1853), called to “talk.”  I told her of digging up three old skeletons from the Crying Hill site, yesterday, and showed her three heavy bone hide scrapers, and eagle bone whistle and several “smoothing bones.”  She because greatly interested and examined them all very carefully.

Mrs. Crow Ghost, Welch, Crow Ghost, 1924biog71-crow-ghost-and-wife-photo

“A long time ago, some woman made these things.  She used them to iron out porcupine quills and make them flat.  These hoes of buffalo bone  – she made them and used them.  They are bright and show sand marks.  She is dead now.  How strange.  I think that she was a Hewaktokta (Gros Ventre or Hidatsa) for they made pots of burnt earth and planted corn along the river.  But these stone knives and scrapers and arrow heads  – the spider (Inktomi) made them and put them where that woman could find them to use.”

 Crow Ghost talks to Welch, 1923:

He comments about three Montana Crow’s in woman’s clothing  – “I don’t know, but I think Inktomi played a joke on them some way.  Inktomi is always doing something like that.  She is like a lame horse…no good at all.”

Inktomi and his large pack of Songs

 A story of Inktomi, the spider, told by Mrs. Amanda Grass, wife of Chief John Grass, Mandan, N.D., May 5th, 1921…Vivian Gayton, interpreter:

Welch note:  The spider, among the Dakotah is a sort of all wise creature.  He is the wisest creature of all.  But with his wisdom, he is very crafty and often takes his spite out on innocent people and creatures.  He may change himself into the form of any other creature or mankind and talks the languages of the people, the animals, birds and flowers.  He often plays apparently harmless scheme and when the one against whom he plots is in a helpless condition or position, he kills him.  In olden times, young people were often warned by the old people, to beware of the Spider, when they left home for a journey or war trail.  Many stories are told of him and his crafty, malevolent disposition.

“Unktomi was up north and he started to go south to visit some people.  He carried a large pack of songs upon his back.  He walked along and came to a pleasant valley.  There was water there and trees.  He went down the slopes and journeyed along the water’s edge.  At last he came to some of the duck people swimming around there.

“Where are you going?” said the ducks.

“I am an old man,” he replied, “going to visit some relatives in the south country.  I expect to have a good time and get a lot of presents.”

“What have you on your back?” said one duck.

“Oh, I’ve just got some new songs,” he said.

So the ducks said they would enjoy hearing a song.  Unktomi took off his pack and took out a song.  It was a good song for the ducks to hear.  They were delighted.  They asked him to sing another one.  He told them that he would be glad to entertain them, but that the one he would sing must be with a dance.  They did not want to leave the water, so he began to place his songs away in the bag.  They, at last, said they would dance for him it he would sing for them.  So they left the water and scrambled out upon the bank.  He placed them in a circle a little ways apart and showed them how to dance the dance.  He told them that they must all close their eyes when they danced and, that if any opened their eyes, those ducks would be struck blind right away and never see any more.

So he sang the song and the ducks danced with closed eyes.  They like this way.  As Unktomi sung, he picked up a club and went along the circle and hit each duck on the head.  The ducks died that way.  He was sure of a good dinner now.  When he came to the last duck, that one opened his eyes.  He saw that all the others were struck dead.  He flew away safe.  Unktomi laughed at his luck..  He picked up the dead ducks and went on his journey.

“When the middle of the day came Unktomi has hungry.  He found a nice place to make camp.  It was by the water and he built a fire under a large nice tree.  He started to broil some ducks then.  The wind was blowing very hard then.  The tree squeaked and groaned.  It bothered Unktomi.  He got mad.  He looked up at the tree and said, “You keep still. You squeak too much.  I do not like that.  You stop or I will climb up there and kill you.”  But the wind was so hard that the tree could not keep still. Unktomi picked up a nice club and started to climb up to kill the tree.

“He climbed away up high to hit the tree on the head.  It was hard to climb.  He was very mad to have to do this thing.  When he got away up there, he put his hand in a crotch to lift higher.  The tree closed its limbs on his hands.  It held him.  He could not get away.  He tried hard.  The tree held him fast.  The tree still squeaked all it wanted to.

“While Unktomi was held that way, a coyote came along.

“Go on away from here,”  Unktomi called down to him.

“What’s the matter,” replied the wolf.

“I am fast in this tree,” said Unktomi.

“Can’t you get away?” asked the wolf.

“No, I can’t,” he said, “I am caught very fast.  But you go away.  I have started to cook some meat down there. Don’t you dare to eat it.”

“So the coyote knew Unktomi could not get away.  He smelled the cooking meat.  It smelled very good.  He ate it up.  It was very good to eat.  Then the wolf said, “Thank you,” and went away over the hills.

“At last the wind went down.  The tree let loose of Unktomi.  He went down to get his meat.  There was nothing left the bones and feet of those ducks.

“Unktomi was very angry.  He said, “Well, I have lost my dinner.  I will not go to visit those miserable people in the south.  They are no good anyway.  They will not get to hear my new songs now.”

So he packed his songs into his pack and went back up north, somewhere.

Inktomi and the Water Monsters

A Sioux Legend, by Charles Eastman (Ohhiyesa), Bismarck, Jan 25th, 1925.

He told this when the name of Inktomi, the Spider, came up:

“Inktomi was always tricky and always wanted to be ahead in everything.  Before there were men on earth, but many animals and birds and other creatures, He (meaning the Creator) sale alone in his lodge.  He knew all the languages of the animals and birds, but He was lonesome.

He took a sliver of bone and with it He pricked his toe until the blood came.  The sliver became covered with blood and He threw it out of the smoke hole. It slid down along the side of the tipi until it rested upon the ground.  He then heard the cry of a new-born child outside and went to look.  Then He saw a child were the bloody sliver had settled, and He said, “this shall be my brother.”  He took him inside and administered well to him  He taught him all the languages of the animal nations and many other wise things besides.

At last the beings upon the earth became anxious regarding it, and said, “This must stop.  He is teaching him everything we know and much which we do not know.  Before long he will know more than we do and he will rule us.  It must stop.  Something must be done.”

Therefore, one time when He was away from the lodge, the young brother was taken away by some monsters of the water.  They took him to the water and there they slew him.  He wandered about, asking if anyone had seen his brother, but could not get satisfaction.  But He knew everything and, therefore, knew that his brother was killed.

There was a shore at a place, with a fine water place and it was very lovely there.  He went there and watched for the water monsters.  They would come there every year to lay out and sun themselves.  He changed himself to a big stump and waited.  Soon there was a great wave motion and one of the water monsters came out of the water and floated around there in the sun.  Then there was some more water disturbance and the wife of the monster came also and lay around in the sun.  She said, “See that stump there.  That is something new.  We come every year and we never saw that stump before.  That is something.”  “No,” replied the monster, “we always see that stump there.  It was there the last time we came here.”  But he grasped the stump and tried to drag it into the deep water  But the stump had supernatural powers and he could not move it.  Then, while these two monsters lay in the sun, He went up to them and struck each of them with a spear, and they hurried away, wounded.

Then He saw four loons and said to the chief one, “Give me your medicine, brother, I want to go into the water for a while. So the medicine man gave him his medicine and He went below into the water.

He went far and, at last, came to a great sea turtle who was traveling along, going someplace.  “Where are you going, grandfather?” He said.  “I am going to use my medicine on some of the wounded water monsters,” he said.  So He told the turtle that He could go much faster than he could, and that He was a medicine man, too, and if he would let him borrow his medicine and clothing, He would hurry along and do the doctoring for him.

So, the turtle not being fast, he permitted Him to take his medicine and clothes and go on.  At last He came to the lodges of the water people.  They were all around Him and many of them.  He went right the largest lodge in the middle and stopped to lift the covering to the entrance.  As He did this, He saw that the skin which covered it, was the skin of his brother.  He said, “Oh, my poor Brother.”

He entered and saw that the whole place was full of medicine people, sitting around the lodge.  Inktomi sat at the right hand side of the entrance and asked Him what He wanted.  “I have some powerful medicine,” He said, “and want to try it on the wounded water monsters.”  Well, they had all tried and failed, so Inktomi said, “All right, Brother.  You and I will stay here and work our medicine.  But these other people must go away.”  So He told them to go away over the hills and out of sight, and they went.  Inktomi wanted to be there if his medicine was good, so he could claim the honor,  but He told him to go away too, and so he went.

Inktomi was afraid of Him, and told the others that he had heard Him say, “Oh. My poor Brother,” when He had lifted the flap of the lodge.  But the others told him to keep still.  He insisted that the new medicine man was Him, but they made fun of him and so he kept still and they all went away except Him.

When He was alone with the monsters, He looked at them and asked them where His brother was.  They said they did not know, but that they were wounded and wanted to live, and asked Him to use His medicine.  Then He said, “I know about it.  My Brother’s skin is used as a flap for this lodge.  You are of a bad nation and deserve to die now.  So, prepare to die now.”

So the monsters died there.  Since then there has never been any of these frightful water monsters around.  This was also the first time that Inktomi was heard about, but he has been here ever since, working in his crafty manner, causing much pain and sorrow to the nations.

Inktomi and the Little People of the Sioux

Welch notes, April 30th, 1936:

An old Sioux told me, today, that he had picked up a fine arrow head and wanted a nickel for it.  I asked him if Inktomi made these points and he said, “I do not think so.  Most of us say that he made them, but I think the ‘Little People’ made them.  I think they made these stones, too, the ones with markings on them.”

Note:  Several early explorers and travelers have spoken of certain hills which were supposed to be inhabited by ‘The Little People’ of the Sioux.  These were dwarfish spirit people, and Sioux generally avoided the districts where they were supposed to inhabit.

I have been told by old people that these ‘Little People’ had been enemies of Inktomi and that he had changed them from ordinary people into these little imps.

Inktomi and the Tent of Happy Disillusioning, A Wedding Myth




Legend of the Spring at Glayton

Told to Welch by A. McG. Beede, Fort Yates, N.D., July 1921:

A holy man in visions saw a strange race of white people coming, rolling across the prairie like heated zephyrs, and taking all the country away from the Hunkpatina Sioux. And the holy man told his vision to the people.

Then the brave young men were angry at the old man, and they made him fast, thinking that fasting would make him see visions that were better for his people; and they made him fast so much that he died.

Then they buried him in a hole in the ground, as he said the white people, whom he saw coming, buried their dead.  And at evening after they buried him he arose from the dead, and came up out of the water of the Missouri river, and then they knew that he was a holy man and a truthful prophet, and they gave him the best of food.

In a short time he died again, and he had told them to bury him in the same hole in the ground and that something good would come of it.

When they had buried him, and listened by the grave and saw that he would not arise from the dead again, the women became hysterical and so the people moved away to the northeast where they stayed for a period equal in length to the life of an old man.  Then they came back to the country of the Mandans (where Gayton now is).  The very old men, who were boys when they went away, went on ahead of the people to see what had become of this old prophet’s grave.

The grave had become a water spring with water of fine quality to drink, and this water spring will be a blessing to many peoples forever.


This myth, as here given, is much shortened, but it gives the substance of the myth.  It is an attractive story equal to the Greek myths regarding fountains.



Chief Looking

Chief Looking … Always looking for his son

Mandan story from Bismarck Recorder, September 2, 1930:


“Chief Looking, for whom the village was named, lived, according to the Indians, about 250 years ago.  He was a powerful chief and a smart one.  He led his tribe of Mandans for many years.  In the Dakotah tongue there is recorded history of the man and how he was named ‘Looking.’  The story says that it was because he was always looking for his son, a bold, handsome brave, the idol of his father’s heart.

Chief Looking would sit by the hour, so the legend goes, looking at his son.  From early childhood he watched him at his play, seldom letting him out of his sight.  When the boy grew up to manhood, the old chief would not let him go to war with the others for fear that he would be killed and never return.

One day, the legend says, while the old chief slept, the son stole away and went to war with the others.  When the old man awoke the boy was gone.  Stricken with worry, the chief set out on the war path to follow his son.  He finally came to the spot where a great battle had been fought and found his son had been killed.

Arriving there, Chief Looking advanced alone to the point where his son had been killed.  As he stood mourning beside the body of his son he heard voices and, looking around, he saw the spirit come and enter the body of his son.

The young man got up and talked with his father, telling him about heaven and its wonders.  He asked his father to fetch for him some rawhide, a cornball and some moccasins as he was going back to heave where there was good hunting and his father was not watching him all the time. There was also a young squaw up there that he liked better than any he had seen in his father’s village.

The chief did as he was told and the body was laid away with those things that the spirit had demanded.

From that time on Chief Looking was wont to spend most of his time looking out over the valley where he had last seen his son.



Magical Beings

A story relating to Chief Looking’s Village

Arikara story relating to Village of Chief Looking, from Sept. 2, 1930 article in Bismarck Recorder:




Man, Conqueror of the Earth

Mrs. Young Eagle Woman sends an Arikara Myth story

Elbowoods, N. D., April 1925


When the leaves fall and the night air is filled with the frosty twang of the approaching winter, when the old women take, from their treasured stores, the dried meats and the luscious pounded berries, to make a feast, when the log houses are filled with the scent of cooking food and the room is hazy with the pungent smoke from the pipes of kinnikinnic, the people gather around the glowing fires to listen, as the old men recount the thrilling tales of the might warriors and the holy medicine men of long ago.

The listeners never tire of listening nor do the narrators ever tire of telling, for these stories comprise the unwritten Bible of the Hidatsa.

These recitations, with their glowing accounts of valorous deeds, are the man’s child inspiration, in this atmosphere is his character molded and his little heart is inflamed with the ardent desire to emulate these models of unselfishness, of stoicism and of heroism.

Here patience, modesty and loyalty are exalted and the mind of even the tiniest girl is imbued with the sublimity of these womanly virtues.

I have endeavored to interpret these stories as faithfully as can be done in the English language, in order that you may come to a better understanding of the philosophy of the red man, may better realize something of the hidden and poetic beauty of his soul and I trust that the tale will indicate that moral of self-sacrifice or courage or of virtue which is written there and which forms the basis of the Hidatsa Indian’s Mythology.


Many years ago, when the world was young, a demigod, who was in reality a white eagle, descended to the earth in human form for love of a Hidatsa woman.  Although this girl posses remarkable beauty, it seemed alas, as if the Great Spirit had endowed this gift of loveliness upon her only to withhold the greater ones of virtue and depth of character or, perhaps, had given her physical perfection as a compensation for the lack of other graces.

The demigod soon realized her shortcomings, but lived among the Hidatsa people for a number of years, apparently unconscious of his wife’s imperfections, but when their only child was a stripling he concluded that he could be of no further use to the boy and decided to return to his own people.  The Indian child must, by strength of character, mold himself into the man, must make or mar his destiny by his own doing or, as the Hidatsa say, “he must do his own hoeing, he must do his own weeding.”

Therefore the Eagle gave his son much advice, ever to be remembered, and left for whence he had come, first assuring his wife that if she really loved him and needed him, he would return.

Perhaps he thought that his loss would bring her to a realization of his worth, that the sorrow of waiting would refine her soul. But if such were his hopes, they were vain, for no sooner did the woman find herself free when she indulged in her long secret desire for admiration and openly flaunted her seductive charms in the faces of the susceptible braves, accepting the attentions of first one and then another until she was no longer young nor beautiful, but a faded woman whose allure was cold, whose name was bandied about by the camp loafers and who was passed by with contemptuous shrugs.

Meanwhile Maishu’Ochatish (White Eagle) who had taken his father’s name, had grown into manhood and when his mother saw that he was the image of his father, she began to think of amorously and was jealous of the admiration his stalwart figure always evoked and hated the winsome girls who were anxious to seek his favor.

The young man frequently scolded his mother for her moral laxity and now fairly loathed her for her perverted infatuation and for very shame, shunned the maidens of the village.  He was, in fact, so disgusted with his life that he absented himself from his home all day.

White Eagle was an adept in all the Indian sports and had a clever hand for the implements of the chase and of warfare, so he spent his mornings in exercise or practice, but when these amusements were over and the people returned to their homes, rather than face his mother’s leering countenance, as she sat waiting him in her tawdry finery, he would climb to the top of the steepest hill near the village and make himself a chair of rocks, where he would sit throughout the remaining hours until sundown, communing in silence with the Great Spirit and hoping for the return of his father.  Although he sat in this place every day and longed with intensity each time for some way to ease his sorrow, the situation remained the same, until one day he heard two voices singing, afar off, one from the west and one from the east.

He listened until sundown. When the singing slowly died away and all was silent, he thoughtfully returned to his lodge.  His mother set food before him and attempted to force her foolish attractions upon him, but he rebuked her so curtly that she retired in alarm.

The next day the youth resumed his place on top of the hill, anxious to again hear the voices.  This time the singers were nearer and even though they were still so far distant that he could not understand the words, the melody was quite distinct and the brave thought he had never heard so sweet a song and, drinking in the soft strains until sunset, he waiting until the song was ended, when he slowly made his way home.

The following afternoon found him upon the hill again.  Soon after his arrival the voices took up the same refrain.  Now the singers were quite near and the young man could plainly distinguish the words.

“You are weary and sad.  For your life is so hard.

I have come to ease your pain.  I have come to end your shame.

For I love you.”

This was sung in the time and meter of his own race and the brave thrilled as he realized that two demigods were coming to sooth his sorrow.

He had often determined that he would marry and, like his father, have but one wife, although many of the older men possessed two and seemed to live in perfect peace and contentment, but he now put aside his instinct as being finical.  Who was he, the young man chided himself, to question destiny.

He was not required upon this day, however, to render a decision for, while the enchanting voices came nearer and nearer, they never quite approached him and, as the reddened sun sank below the horizon, the song waned in lingering cadences and once more, in the dusk and silence of the hill top, he was left alone to reluctantly wend his way home.

But on the morrow the hill re-echoed with the song of the singers.  The music closed about him like an invisible veil as he sat in hushed expectancy.

Not wishing to offend either maiden by showing a preference, White Eagle looked neither to the east nor to the west, but cast down his eyes and awaited their coming.  At last he heard the voices beside him, the song floated in his ears like melodious whisperings and as the scented breath of the maidens caressed his cheeks, he saw two marriage moccasins laid at his feet.

He felt the old urge to accept but one for his wife, but obeying what he considered the more chivalrous instinct, he unlaced the moccasins he wore and, removing them, put on the others simultaneously and, arising, he stretched forth his arms and into their shelter there crept two lovely girls.  The one from the east was very fair, with eyes like stars and hair like the silk of ripening corn, while the one from the west was darkly beautiful, with dusky hair and midnight eyes.

White Eagle placed an arm about either and, descending the hill, soon entered the mother’s lodge.  The woman was cooking corn and squash and when her son came in with his two wives and she noticed the moccasins he wore, she started in to upbraid him, but his severe reply made her quickly realize that his act was irrevocable, so she covering her face with ashes, to express despair,  she ran from the lodge to wail out her anguished disappointment.

The brave made two pallets, one on each side of the room and bade the girls be seated and filling two cleansed goat horns with hot food, he offered one to each and then left them to retire for the night.

White Eagle did not know which girl to address first, so spoke to neither.  But one morning, a few days after the girls arrived, the one from the east, who called herself Marokaweash (Elk Woman) spoke to him during the absence of Metaweash (Buffalo Woman).

“Dear Husband,” she said in a voice made soft and sweet with love, “my heart is good and in it there is no room for hate.  I was sorry for your lonesomeness and came to help you, from my pity grows love.  As I approached your retreat I heard Buffalo Woman also singing and, while her presence grieved me, I did not go away for I had come too far to return and I felt that now you had the greater need of me here. I know the heart of Buffalo Woman is not so kind as mine and her temper, when once aroused, is a very unlovely thing.  Therefore, my husband, grant my request that you make her your first wife, while I will be content to fill the secondary place in your affections.  Believe me when I tell you that only thus may you have peace in your household.”

As the brave heard these generous words and listened to the gentle persuasion of this lovely girl, he could not help thinking how happy he would be to possess but one wife and she the sweet girl by his side, but putting aside the desire as being a selfish one, he told her that he would accept her counsel and when Buffalo Woman entered, he apprised her of her status in their home and did not miss the crafty gleam of satisfaction which lighted her eyes, when he told her of his decision.

When the young men of the village saw that White Eagle has two such beautiful wives, they were filled with envy and admiration and many of the unmarried braves begged him to disclose the place of their village that they, too, might secure such lovely maidens for themselves.  But the young husband could give only laughing and evasive answers for, in reality, he knew from whence they had come.

In the course of time Buffalo Woman gave birth to a man child, whom she called Naagacedish (Red Calf), and some time later Elk Woman also became a mother and her child was a boy.  Both children grew with astonishing rapidity and White Eagle wondered at their sturdiness, for no other boys of their age possessed the lusty strength of these little ones.

The father noticed that, very often, the women would take long walks, carrying the babes upon their backs, and that one would walk toward the east and the other towards the west.  His wives frequent absence piqued his curiosity and he determined to follow them for, as heritage from his father, he could assume the form of a bird at will.

Therefore, one day, shortly after the young women’s departure White Eagle flew to the west, but rose to such a height that he appeared but a speck in the sky and was confident that he would be thus safe from casual observation.  Soon his sharp eyes discovered Buffalo Woman as she slowly walked westward and when she came to a buffalo wallow, she stopped and untied the sleeping boy and carried him into the pit and, lying down, she rolled in the dirt four times, and as the dust cloud settled White Eagle was astounded to see a sleek buffalo cow and little calf lying in the wallow.

Becoming tired of nestling at his mother’s side, the calf jumped up and shook himself and stretched his long legs and then, playfully ran around his mother in joyful antics, while the huge cow looked on in said contentment.

“Ah,” thought White Eagle, “it is obvious why my sons are so strong.  They, as my father, are not of the human race.”

Wheeling to the east, the great bird swiftly flew in search of Elk Woman and was just in time to see her enter a patch of brush, but when he flew over her head, he beheld a gentle elk cursing her graceful fawn.

Having discovered his wives secret White Eagle had no intention of betraying them, but hastened home to fetch wood for the fire to make the women comfortable when they returned, for he was indeed, grateful that his life was now so different, even his old mother had resigned herself to the inevitable and had abandoned many of her evil ways, taking great pleasure in the company of her grandchildren.  And, for five years, the household of White Eagle was a model of harmonious peace, but one day, when the two little boys were running around the lodge, the child of Elk Woman gave his brother a playful push, sending him sprawling against a sharp rock.

Red Calf began to cry weirdly and would not be comforted even when his father took him up in his arms, he would not be soothed, but cried the louder.  The first wife had often displayed sullen fits of temper, but as the others were invariably gentle with her, she seemed ashamed to continue, but as the child’s cries increased, so the mother’s wrath grew, until she could no longer control her fury, but vented her rage upon Elk woman, calling her foul and abusive names.

“You dirty, worthless creature,” she screamed, “what kind of a brat have you, to so hurt my son?  Hear him grieve.  The mother of such a son deserves death,” and with these words she advanced as if to strike the other.

The husband had held his peace, hoping that as Elk Woman made no retort, that the other’s passion would soon abate, but her action angered him and, for the first time since their marriage, he spoke harshly to Buffalo Woman.

“Enough of this,” he cried as he seized her uplifted arm, “Have you no shame that you accuse this woman so unjustly?  She can not help it if the child hurt his brother and it was intentional, it was an accident.”

This speech has a peculiar effect upon the small Red Calf, no sooner had his father spoken than he ceased his howling and his face grew white with terror as he desperately clung to the father’s arm, but Buffalo Woman became inarticulate with wrath as she snatched the child from his father’s arms and fled from the lodge.  The brave sunk to the couch and bowed his head in bewilderment.  How came the sudden turmoil into his so happy home?

And the gentle Elk Woman, seeing his misery, came to comfort him, placing her arms about his as she said, “Dear Husband, you are brave and strong.  Do not grieve, but go out and bring them back.”

“Never,” returned the young man, vehemently, “never will I allow that evil woman to again enter and spoil our home.”

“But the little child, your son,” pleaded Elk Woman, “Until today, he has ever been good and kind, and if you do not recover him, your heart will long for the one whose place in your affections another cannot fill.”

“You are right, as always, dear wife,” acknowledged White Eagle, “and it is better for me to go.  But something tells me that I will confront grave danger, so I beg of you to watch over our son carefully, and if I never return, strive to bring him up to become a great warrior, but try to instill into his spirit some of the gentleness of your own.”

“It is very hard for me to send you forth,” sobbed Elk Woman, “and if you were less brave I would not have the courage to urge you, but I know that I need have no fear, for your heroic strength will carry you through.”

“Buffalo Woman is not the only one who has medicine.  I, too, have power and if the time comes when you can no longer conquer your enemies by your own efforts and you fear that you have reach your extremity, think quickly of me and, if your love is staunch, I will come to help you.”

Elk Woman then prepared the meal, making a gravy of venison mixed with dried berries and bade her husband eat heartily so his strength would be equal to the journey and when he had finished the repast, he kissed his wife and son with unusual tenderness for he feared he was leaving them, never to return.  White Eagle was no coward, to be sure, and had never known fear in battle, but he knew that in Buffalo Woman, he was facing an inhuman enemy and his own supernatural powers were as yet an unknown quantity, he knew not fully how potent was his father’s medicine, nor how much of this was his inheritance.

As an eagle, he took up his flight toward the west and soon after, sighted the buffalo cow as she leaped swiftly along the prairie, closely fallowed by her calf.  He traveled in their wake all day and, at sundown, he saw the cow stop at a buffalo wallow and, shoving her calf into the pit, she rolled over and over in the dust, until they had once more had become human forms.

The woman miraculously obtained hides from the hollow and soon pitched a tipi and covered it with these phantom robes and then gathered sticks and entered to lodge to kindle a fire.

The eagle had watched these preparations from a distance and now walked towards the lodge and little Red Calf, peeping out, saw his father and ran to him crying, “Oh, father, I am so glad to see you.  Come in and eat with me.”  But when they entered the lodge, Buffalo Woman pretended not to see him and neither spoke to her husband nor offered him food but sat, in sullen silence, broiling a buffalo tongue.

When the meat was cooked, she called her child and gave him a generous portion and the little boy ran to his father and shared his supper with him and lay down to sleep with his small arms placed protectingly about him.

Upon awakening, White Eagle was surprised to find himself alone, lying in the unprotected buffalo wallow; robes and tipi, wife and child, all had disappeared.  After adopting the bird disguise, he immediately flew after them and soon saw the buffalo, as she skirted a large lake.  The cow followed the shore for many miles and then retraced her steps and, at last, evidently considering the distance around too great, she plunged into the lake and the calf likewise, breasted the cold water.

The lake was very wide and after swimming for a few hours, the little Red Calf became weary and sank lower and lower.  The eagle was at first worried for his son’s safety, but as the little animal’s danger increased he became angry and called upon his father to aid him to destroy the woman should she drown his child.

But even as this vindicating thought was but a half-formed suggestion, the cow dived under the calf and carried him along upon her broad back.  When she tired of her burden, she would allow him to swim until his strength fail, when she would again carry him.

Several times she repeated this and, at last, when the day was ended, they reached the shore and both cow and calf lay, exhausted, in the cool, lush grass which bordered the lake.  It was now nearly dusk and as soon as the cow had recovered, she hunted up a buffalo wallow where she and her son became humans.

“I do not think your father can find us here,” exclaimed Buffalo Woman, with satisfaction, and the little boy, looking back over the broad waters thru which he had come with such peril, sighed with regret and mused, “I fear my mother is right.  My poor father will never find us now.”  But when the tipi was again erected and Buffalo Woman was busily broiling the tongue and Red Calf was gazing longingly from the door, he was delighted to behold his father approaching.

Running to meet him, the child shouted a joyous greeting, “Dear father, how did you get here?  I have been so lonely.  Will you not come in with me and eat?”  And White Eagle took the boy in his arms and entered the lodge but Buffalo Woman took no heed of his presence nor did she offer him any of the tongue, but the child fed his father as before and slept by his side and again, as on the preceding morning, when the man awoke, he was in the wallow, alone.

Determinedly he flew in pursuit and, at noon, was rewarded by the sight of the cow and her calf as they passed into an immense thicket of rose bushes and thorny plum trees.  This dense wood was as wide as the eye could see and the father, flying low, could hear the moans of his little son as the thorns pricked his tender flesh and tore great bunches of hair from his shaggy coat.

But as evening drew near, they cleared the thicket and came out into a low, grassy plain, where Red Calf suckled and then, forgetful of his scratched and wounded body, frolicked and gambled about until his mother led him to another wallow, when all happened as on the two former evenings.

So was the next day a repetition of the others, except that the cow led her calf through many miles of sage brush and prickly cactus and again, after pitching the tent and looking across the arid prairie over which they had come, Buffalo Woman laughed with pleasure as she expressed her hope, “Now I know we have lost your father, for no human could endure the torture of those endless hours and the cactus would have torn the moccasins to shreds and a human’s feet would be a bloody mass of tiny thorns.”

However, White Eagle did appear and this time the boy divined that his father was not all earthly or else must be favored by some protecting demigod and calling upon his own medicine, the child went out, while his mother slept, and prayed for guidance and suddenly, all was made plain to him, it was as if he knew his mother’s people; miraculously, he knew all their plans and their cruel cunning.

Hurriedly returning to the lodge he awakened his father and whispered this information: “I know you now, dear father, and I know also, all the trials which are before you.  On the morrow you will come to the beginning of your hardships for at sundown we will have reached the end of our journey; will have come to this village of my mother’s people.”

“The Chieftess of this village is my grandmother, who is a very cruel and wicked demigod with a burning hatred for all humans and, as she rules the people with absolute power, no one dares to defy her authority.  On the inside of her lodge, on either side of the door, hang two buffalo skulls and after we have entered, she will command these skeletons to put on their flesh and when you follow us in, these animals will charge and crush you between their heavy heads.  I beg of you to be careful, father, for I now realize my love for the Hidatsa and wish to return to them with you, for I am of their race.”

Assuring his son that he would overcome all obstacles, White Eagle quieted the child’s fears and soon they again slumbered.

Although the man arose before the sun, the animals were already upon their way but the eagle soon followed and flew above them all day, over rolling prairies and deep coulees and then over great forbidding hills, beyond which lay a fertile valley and in this were pitched the camps of his wife’s people.  At the end of the journey the eagle watched the cow and calf as they rolled in the dust of a wallow and changed into human form, and then saw them make their way to the largest lodge in the camp.

Then he descended and adorned himself in the gaudy trappings of his race.  Proudly he walked through the village and, as he passed, he heard many comments, both of admiration and pity. “Look,” cried an old man, “how handsome is the husband of Buffalo Woman; “What a pity that he should die,” sighed another.  But White Eagle passed on, indifferent to the stares of the people, unheeding their words of praise and of sympathy and only paused when he came to the door of his wife’s lodge.  There he stood for a moment in perplexing indecision.  “:What shall I be,” he questioned himself, “to evade this cruel woman’s evil design.”

Finally, an idea came to him and instantly he was changed into his thought  – his spirit entered the tiniest feather, a down from the eagle’s breast.  Thus he floated through the door and when the buffaloes charged, the rush of air made by the impact, wafted him over their heads and, as the down sank to the floor, White Eagle arose in the glory of manhood.

The old woman was amazed and angered, but craftily hid her chagrin as she welcomed him, “We are glad to see you, son-in-law, and are indeed surprised that my daughter has chosen such a handsome husband.  But I am anxious to learn how clever you are, so that I may boast of you to my friends.”  “See these children,” she continued, pointing to a dozen little boys who were playing about the room, “Among them is your son.  But they all look alike.  I can see no difference in them for they are exact in age, stature and feature.  Go pick out your son for me,” and she commanded the children to sit in a circle.

White Eagle indeed faced a dilemma, for the children were so truly alike that, even were his life the forfeit, he could not perceive which child was his son.  Knowing that the wicked old woman, with all her desire to kill him, could not do so without the help of the buffaloes, and discerning that the animals would not molest him unless he erred in his choice, he carefully scanned each little countenance, but the little faces, upturned to him, seemed all those of his son.

Finally, he noticed that one of the children was shyly wiggling his right ear, while the others sat immobile and, accepting this sign as a signal from his child, the brave turned and spoke with pretended bravado, “Do you think that I could ever have a son and having once seen him, not know him?  Do you think I could every the child in my arms and not carry his image in my heart? This, then is my son.” And he laid his hand upon the head of the boy who had moved his ear.

“You are very wise,” said the mother-in-law, for he had selected the right one from among the twelve. “But,” she continued, scarcely able to conceal the venom of hate in her tones, “Can you pick out your wife as readily as you have your son?”  And, at her command, the twelve daughters took the boy’s position and again White Eagle was forced to judge.

The young women were so similar that the brave was bewildered, but as the little children began to play about the room, laughing and tagging one another, chasing around the circle of women, he saw that one child often touched the shoulder of one of them as he passed behind her and, again relying on this act as a sign from his son, he boldly advanced and again boasted, “Do you think that I would ever take a wife and not know her? Do you think that I would ever have a child and not know its mother?  This, then is my wife.”  and he placed his hand upon the head of the woman whom the child had touched.

The heart of the Chieftess was inflamed with fury but she endeavored to mask her real feelings as she said, “You are indeed clever, dear son-in-law, but I know your long journey has tired you.  Rest here and I will make haste to prepare the sweat bath for your refreshment.”

Now, to the Indian, the sweat bath is the one great luxury, and a courtesy one always extends to a visitor, so White Eagle dared not refuse but sat near his son, while the old woman hurried out to the sweat house.  This was a cone of plaited willows covered with buffalo robes, built about a small circle of ground bedded with hay, in the center of which a pit had been dug where the red hot stones were thrown, over which water was poured to create steam.

The woman worked quickly to get all in readiness, building a huge fire, without, to heat the stones, and fetching water in large skin bags, and when the stones were red hot and had been placed in the hollow, she dragged several buffalo skulls about the bath, facing them to the covered willow hut.

Meanwhile Red Calf whispered a warning to his father, so that when the mother-in-law came to announce the bath was prepared, White Eagle was aware of her nefarious plans.

“Come to the sweat house,” invited the old woman, as she led the way and entered with him.  It was very dark within, so the brave dropped his blanket and seated himself upon the hay, close to the reddened pit, while the woman stood by holding the bag of water.

“Are you ready, son-in-law?” she inquired, and having received an affirmative reply, she began to throw water over the hissing stones, but she had put twice as many stones into the hollow as was necessary for such a small house and the room was soon filled with so suffocating a steam that no human could withstand its burning heat.  “What shall I be, how can I escape?” thought the man as the steam nearly scaled his body, for he knew that should he attempt to run out, the buffaloes would trample him to death.

As he threw out his hand to grasp some hay to wipe off the perspiration which streamed from his pores, his finger accidentally discovered a hole in the ground and immediately he changed into a spider and crawled into the hole into the cool crevice.

“Is it hot enough,” cried the old witch, exultantly.  “Not yet,” called White Eagle from out of the hole and he thrust a human arm from his hiding place, into the feeble glow of the reddened pit so that the evil woman might see and believe him to be still present.

Make it better,” he urged, “I have not yet begun to perspire.”

The infuriated woman poured on more and more water but could not drive the man out and the heat became so intense that even her wicked medicine could no longer protect her body from its searing warmth but she dared not run out for feat that, in the darkness, the buffaloes might mistake her for the brave.  At last, nearly fainting, she succeeded in cooling the stones and when White Eagle found it was safe to venture out of the crevice, the boldly marched out of the sweat house, leaving the defeated old woman to remove the robes and to drag away the buffalo skulls.

Plunging his sweat-bathed body in a cooling stream and drying himself with towels of soft and sweat scented herbage, he threw his blanket around him and again entered the lodge.

The daughters made no comment, but glanced at one another in consternation and their faces expressed their though. “What manner of man is this?” they wondered, “who can so successfully evade our mother’s evil cunning?”  But the boy, Red Calf, was joyful and shared his bed with his father and placed shielding arms about him.

In the morning, after the man had eaten, he heard a wailing without and soon his mother-in-law came into the lodge, weeping.  “Why does your mother grieve?” inquired White Eagle.  “She is crying because she has no arrows, answered Buffalo Woman.  “She has just come from the home of her friend who has many arrows, but she refuses to share them with my mother.”

The brave was instantly aware that this was but another trap set for him, but swallowed the bait with apparent innocence as he suggested, “Tell her that I will gather some arrows for her if she will direct me to the flint beds.”  The old woman eagerly gave him minute directions for finding the rocks and told him that the best were to be found upon the top of a certain high hill.

When he came to the place he beheld the largest bed of flint he had ever seen, for the edge of the cliff and the deep chasm beneath were a mass of shining flint.  As he knelt to pry up the best pieces, the rocks cracked and slid dangerously, and at once White Eagle arose to his feet and commanded the stones to be quiet.  “Man is god over the earth,” he reminded his inanimate enemy, “and I bid you abandon your desire to aid the wicked sorceress,” and when the cracking had subsided, the man gathered those pieces best suited for arrow making and departed.

His mother-in-law professed great pleasure with the gift, but seeking the first opportunity, she went out and threw the flints away, crying in rage, “I will not keep you, treacherous rocks.  You did not obey me.  You did not kill the man.”

And the next morning she came home weeping and when White Eagle inquired why she sorrowed, his wife told him that her mother had again visited her friend who possessed two beautiful cougar pups and that the friend refused to part with them.  “My mother is a chieftess,” she argued, “and it is not meet that another should have two lions while she has none,” and the husband promised to comfort his mother-in-law by satisfying her desire.

Going into the timbered land he hunted the cougar and soon came upon a track leading to the deep cave which was their home.  The male was gone but the female snarled a warning at the brush screened entrance. White Eagle softly breathed a prayer to his medicine. “:Lend me your babes, kind lioness,” he pleaded, “I only want to borrow them for a while.  Remain at the foot of the hill nearest the village and they will soon return to you.”

The feline’s anger was soothed by the man’s voice and she came and purred as she rubbed her sleek head against his knees and when he gently lifted the sleeping cubs, she made no resistance, but re-entered the cave while the brave carried them away to his mother-in-law.

And when the latter saw the sleepily-blinking little animals, she hid the hate in her heart and smiled with hypocritical joy as she accepted them, but later she went out surreptitiously and loosened the cougars, saying, “Go, treacherous animals, you and your kind are no longer under my protection.”

The following morning, she again gave way to her pretended grief and when White Eagle inquired why she wept, she explained that she had hunted all night for proper sticks upon which to fit her arrows, but as the best wood grew in the marshes, she was unable to reach them and, once more, the brave accepted the task she assigned him.

At first, he too, could not secure the ones best fitted for the purpose, for some were too thick and some were too thin, while others were too weak but, finally, near a spring bubbling in the midst of a marsh, which lay between two sharply overhanging hills, he found the very material he sought.

One glance at the surroundings and he grasped his peril, so quickly investing his spirit in the body of a swallow, he darted hither and thither about the spring.  He knew the great hills were only waiting an opportunity to fall and crush him.  But he could not pluck out the sticks for they grew too sturdily for the swallow’s delicate bill and, becoming angered at his repeated failures, the brave forsook the bird and became an immense tomahawk and with one sweep, cut down first one hill and then the other.  The menacing cliffs were now a harmless mass of crumbling debris, so White Eagle dared take his human form and fearlessly crossed the marsh, avoiding the black pools with which it was dotted, and cautiously stepping upon the clumps of coarse grass which grew between.

When he arrived at the spring, he grasped a stick but to his horror, he found himself mired in quicksand, and before he could think to change his nature, he was sucked down and submerged to his waist.  At last, thought the brave, had his cleverness deserted him, and a last had the wicked chieftess triumphed and accomplished his doom?

White Eagle accepted his fate calmly and his only regret was that he must leave his two sons and could never return to the dear wife who awaited his return to his village.  As he thought of his wife, a startling remembrance leapt into his brain  – had she not implored him to call to her in his extremity?  “Dear wife,” he entreated, “I still love you and thing of you.  Please help me now.”

Hardly had the thought left his mind when a great elk stood over him and, placing her antlers beneath his arms, she dragged him out of his slimy danger and an instant later he found himself standing upon the prairie.

He was alone for the elk had vanished, but in his hands were bundles of sticks.  These he pulled out when in terror at his plight, he had grasped them to uphold his sinking body.

Again, he returned to the lodge and, giving no hint of his vexation, he offered the sticks to his mother-in-law, who pretended great admiration for his courage and skill.

“I have been thinking of a way to show my people my pride in you,” she praised, “and I have decided to ask you to run a race with me.  I am a very swift runner but I know that you can out-distance me and when you beat me, my tribesmen will all wonder at the power of your medicine.

“Certainly,” agreed White Eagle, who realized that this was to be a crucial test.  “I am most willing and we should agree upon some prize for the winner.”

“What will you wager?” asked the old woman, but the brave desired to know her plans and answered, “Why, I can think of nothing worth while, mother-in-law, perhaps you had better name the stakes.”

So great was the woman’s eagerness to destroy this human that she had reached the end of her discretion and was willing to stake her all upon this last chance.  “I will wager my people against yours,” she cried, “have you the courage to accept my terms?”

Now White Eagle knew that this wager was symbolical, that it was a subtle intimation that were he to lose, that his race must ever be subservient to hers, that the rivers and hills and all inanimate things, the birds and the beasts and the creatures beneath the earth would be the masters of men.  The idea was staggering and the brave’s breath came quickly as he grasped her portentous meaning, but he proudly acknowledged the superiority of his race when he accepted her challenge.

“We will start upon the morrow,” insisted the woman, “and it will take four days to complete the race. To mark each quarter of the course, I will have poles erected and whoever reaches a pole first must place a red mark upon it and whoever arrives last must leave a black mark”

This it was agreed and the entire village retired early that they might be on hand early to see the beginning of the race, all but the tried warriors of the woman, who remained up to cry throughout the night and to chant medicine songs, praying for the victory of their chieftess.

But in the night little Red Calf told his father of his grandmother’s staff.  She had only to point the want towards the place where she desired to be and, lo, she was there.

Now the Hidatsa never kills game wantonly, he takes only what he wants for food, and often White Eagle had freed an unhappy mole from his snares and he now sent forth a call to these little animals and reminded them of his mercy and beseeched them to tunnel and burrow about the poles and, in gratitude for his past protection, the moles were busy at the task all night.

In the morning when the race was begun, there was no trace of uneasiness in the cruel face of the chieftess as she advanced with her staff, for she thought that any opposition would prove futile, and while White Eagle took the form of the eagle, he did not hope that even that king of the air could outdistance the staff.

Naturally the woman arrive at the end of the first course far in advance of the eagle but when she placed her staff in the earth and attempted to put a red mark upon the pole, the ground about was so undermined by the industrious moles that she slid far down the hill into a sandy pit and, before she could extricate herself and again ascend the hill, the eagle had arrived and had placed his mark and was flying on.

So it happened at the second and third goals, but now the enraged woman was growing more cautious and did not bend so heavily upon her staff and so did not slide so far down the hill and was thus rapidly gaining upon the eagle.  In fact, so close was the race that the eagle had scarcely time to mark the final goal with a victorious dash of red paint, when the woman, screaming with disappointment, reached his side and with tears of mortification streaming down her face, was forced to leave a black mark as a sign of her defeat.

When the eagle returned to the village, he was surprised to find it deserted, not a camp remaining.  Where the lodges had once stood, only buffalo wallows could be seen and it was in one of these that the child, Red Calf, awaiting his father’s coming, singing an exultant song of his parent’s victory.

Maishu’Ochatish (White Eagle) invested his son with the power of assuming the eagle’s form and, not caring to linger upon the scene of their recent trials, the birds flew toward the east, back to the little brother, back to the gentle Marokaweash (Elk Woman), back to the people of their own race.

Thus it came about that man is supreme upon earth.  No more is he prey of the beasts of the timber and coulee and prairie; no more can the rivers and hills and rocks withhold from him their wealth of hidden treasure, for all are his by right of conquest, subservient to the creature-king, to Man, Conqueror of the Earth.



Peace Pipe Story

From the Bismarck Tribune, October 22, 1916, by A.B.Welch:

Two young men were out strolling one night talking of love affairs.  They passed around a hill and came to a little ravine or coulee.  Suddenly the saw coming up from the ravine a beautiful woman.  She was painted and her dress was of the very finest material

“What a beautiful girl!” said one of the young men.  “Already I love her.  I will steal her and make her by wife.”

“No,” said the other, “Don’t harm her.  She may be holy.”

The young woman approached and held out a pipe which she first offered to the sky, then to the earth and then advanced, holding it out in her extended hands.

“I know what you young have been saying; one of you is good; the other is wicked,” she said.

She laid down the pipe on the ground and at once became a buffalo cow.  The cow pawed the ground, struck her tail straight out behind her and then lifted the pipe from the ground again in her hoofs; immediately she became a young woman again.

“I am come to give you this gift,” she said.  “It is the peace pipe. Hereafter all treaties and ceremonies shall be performed after smoking it.  It shall bring peaceful thoughts into your minds.  You shall offer it to the Great Mystery and to mother earth.

The two young men ran to the village and told what they had seen and heard.  All the village came out where the young woman was.

She repeated to them what she had already told the young men and added:

“When you set free the ghost (the spirit of deceased persons) you must have a white buffalo skin.”

She gave the pipe to the medicine men of the village, turned again to a buffalo cow and fled away to the land of buffaloes.


How Red Catlinite was formed … Welch article, December 1931, The Crescent:

The bowl is of Catlinite, a stone which is commonly found in America, widely distributed, and coloured grey, brown, black, green, but Catlinite coloured red is found in but one spot, and that is in the Land of the Dakotahs, at a place called Pipestone, and which has been in undisputed possession of the Yanktonaise Sioux for three hundred or more years.  The legend states that, at that place, Wakantonka graciously gathered together the blood of those unfortunate people who perished in the great flood, and with it, impregnated this stone until it became blood red, and the legend lives until this time.


Prairie Rose Myth




Sacred Place of the Snake’s Trail

(An Arikara Legend)

A.B.Welch notes, 1922, interviewee unknown:

“One man had a dog.  It was a long time ago.  The dog thought he was not treated right.  He went away from there.  He went over there (pointing down river to a spot about where the old villages were across from old Berthold).  The man went and talked to him.  He would not return to camp.  So the man brought the great Medicine Pipe and placed it in front of him.  The dog walked ahead.  He did not go back.  He walked around the pipe.  The man placed it again in front of him.  He walked around it again.  This happened many times.  He always walked around the pipe.  This made a trail like a snake.  No grass has ever grown there since that time in this trail.  It is like that today.  No one can walk over it.  They have to walk in it and cannot get out.  Only at the ends of it.  Then they can get out.  It is a deep trail now.  We have all walked in it.  It is very sacred.”



Sacred Moccasins

A.B.Welch notes on gift of Moccasins at his adoption ceremonies, June 1913:

Some weeks before the ceremonies, Chief Grass, while paying me a visit, asked for the impress of my foot upon a paper, the outline of the foot was traced with a pencil held upright and moved along the sides, care being taken not to mark under the foot at any place.

During the ceremonies, the moccasins (hampa) were presented.  They are completely covered with bead work in conventional designs.  The colors used are green, red, yellow and blue.  These colors are symbolical and relate to the four cardinal points of the compass.  Red to the east, green to the south, yellow to the west and blue to the north.  Designs representing the earth and the sky appear upon the back, sides and front.  The soles are rawhide and the top is of buckskin in one piece, with the seam in the back and sewed to the soles with sinew. The inset tongue is fully beaded and the ankle flaps are also beaded in round shape.  The upper part is lined with white cloth.

They told me they were “Hampa Wankan,” holy or spirit moccasins, and the party wearing them may pass through the forests, across the rivers and mountains with safety and sure direction, and that they will always bring the wearer home safely.

They have several legends regarding the holy moccasins, generally being tales of great journeying and magical passing through great distances.

They also presented Mrs. Welch with a beautiful pair of moccasins at the time, but they were not holy moccasins.



Stone Man




Scorched Village and the Creator

February 10th, 1934, Chief Drags Wolf and Chief Bears Arm (Hidatsa), Good Bird, Hidatsa Interpreter:


“This village was close to Washburn, on a little creek there. That was a long time ago.  It was a Gros Ventre village.  It got its name this way.  One time an arrow came from the sky.  It fell inside the village.  It went into the ground very deep.  A little of it stuck up through the earth.  That part of it looked like it had been burned.  It had come so fast.  Well, the Creator took off the stone head of an arrow and came down to us as the head of the arrow.  He lived with us there for a considerable length of time.  He was very wise.  He taught us many things.  Among those things, he brought us the red pipe and taught us how to use it.  There are certain men who may go through that ceremony.  He taught us to use it both for war and peace.  We always used the pipe with reverence.  After he had taught us these things, he went away the same way  – up in the air.”



Snake and Bear Stories

Iron Roads talks to Welch, 1915:

“Crow Ghost will tell you many stories.  He knows all about them.  He is 76 years old.  He told us that there were many Rees at the Grande River once.  But not many Rees anywhere now.  Once there was a big snake and he came and ate them up.  There were many snakes.  Another time the bear’s people came and ate them up too.  And the Dakotah killed a lot of them all the time too.  Crow Ghost’s Father is Ree and Mama is Hunkpapa, I think.  He live all time with Dakotah.”


Crow Ghost tells a story about the Snakes, Sept. 20th, 1915,

Interpreter is White Mouse:


“It was a long time ago.  My grandfather told it.  Many Rees were at mouth of the Grande River in a village there.  They all went up Elk Horn Butte there. All but two Hyoke (clowns) men who were still in the valley making funny things there.  The people went down and watched them and one man said, “What are you doing?”  He said, “We have two big snakes here.”  One was red and one was green.  One pointed east and one pointed west.

One man killed them both with an arrow and the Hyoke said, “We will have a bad times now for kill those snakes.”  These two men sing songs and make a willow lodge where they make a thousand arrows for trouble.  Bye and bye, maybe, ten or seven days, a big cloud came like storm the wind blow bad and there was big noise like people yelling.  It was very bad all right.  These mans say “Climb up high as you can in the trees.”  So lots people climb there all right and after storm came lots snakes from all over the village.

They were all kinds and small ones too.  They covered the ground as high as the knees of the people and started to eat them up at the toes and as high as they can reach, all but the bones.  It was bad, all right, and one of these Hyoke said, “I will die now.  I will lie down on the ground here and let the snakes eat me up and then they will go away.”  So he’s going lay down all right and the snakes eat him up and then they went away in all directions.  He was good mans all right and he die so other people they can live some more.

The Rees now have some medicine and they put it on and no snake can hurt them any more. So a rattlesnakes do not kill these Rees any more.  After these snakes eat them up they have some bear too.  These snakes eat one half of the people so these people were not many there any more.



Snake House Story

Welch notes, May 30, 1928, source unknown:

There were two brothers among the Arikaras.  Their grandmother told them to keep away from a certain place where there many snakes.  But one day one of the boys said, “Come.  Let us go to the snake house and get a snake for our grandmother.  We will learn much, too.”  So they went away and came to this place where there were so many snakes that the place was called the Snake House.  They crawled into the hole in the hill and finally came to a large place and there they saw many snakes.  They lay there in a circle, each snake’s head laying upon the tail of the next one.  Then the Chief of the Snakes said, “Come here, you boys, and sit down here and we will tell you many stories.”  They did this so the boys would finally go to sleep and they could then kill them.  So the boys sat down and the snakes told many stories.

The boys got very sleepy, but the Morning Star came and sat down in one of their wyes and the Evening Star sat down in the other eye.  So the snakes thought the boys were still awake all the time.  When in reality they had fallen asleep.  So finally, the snakes themselves began to sleep, and when they were all asleep, one of the boys awoke and touched the other. “Come,” he said, “we will kill the snakes now.”  They got a big knife and began to cut off the heads of the snakes.  One boy went one way around the circle and the other went the other way.  They finally reached each other and had cut off the heads of all the snakes but one.

They were tired, then and as the boy started to cut off the head of a little green snake, the last one, the snake awoke and sunk into the ground and was not killed.  And he made it his life task after that to kill these boys.  He hunted them actively.  They were in danger all the time, everywhere they went.  They watched always, but finally the snake caught one of them alone, and killed him.  The other one started out to find the green snake, and finally he caught him.  The way they had lived for so long was that each of the boys had four arrows and every time they slept they put up these arrows, one to the north, south, east and west, so the snake would disturb them and awake the boys..  But one of the boys had lost his North Arrow and that is the reason why the snake killed him.

Then the remaining boy had caught the snake, he said, “I will kill you now.”  But the snake didn’t want to die and he said that he wanted to live and would never disturb the boy again, so they arranged it that way. When the snake got away, he called back that he thought about it differently now, and would hunt the boy and other people just once in a while and kill a few of them occasionally.  So that is the reason that few people are killed by snakes, but once in a while some one dies from bitten by snakes.

Lewis & Clark mention a place above the village of La Borgne as ‘Snake House,’ on the left bank.  It is marked on their map as just above their camp place of April 8th, 1805.



Spirit Woman of the Arikara

Spirit Woman helps Arikara across the ocean

(An Arikara legend of origin)

Eli Perkins, Armstrong, N.D., talks to Welch, Mandan, N.D., Nov. 17th, 1921:


Perkins had been a soldier in the Filipines in 1906.  He was with the Fourth Cavalry.  His organization went to Jolo.  He said that, while there, he found he could understand the Moros very well; that they spoke his language quite well; that a man told him in Moro language that he certainly was a Filipino and taken captive by the Americans.  Then Perkins told me the following story of their journey to the Filipines:

“The old men say that we came from the south and west and that at one time we lived across the ocean somewhere.  The people started to go somewhere from tht place and, after traveling, they got stuck in the river or ocean.

Then at that time a woman came to them.  She was a spirit woman.  She said, “if you people want to cross this water, I will make a bridge for you.”  So they said they did want to go across.  She worshipped the God then and got spiritual and then said, “Come with me.”  The road was not a bridge but as dry as bone.  The water went away from that place.  She said, “No man must look back now, and must not notice anything only to get across.  If you want to get over you may do it, but if you are afraid you cannot do it.”

“So most of the people got across all right.  Where you see people who can talk like we do, those are the people who were afraid and stayed there.  The old men say that some were that way and did not come with the rest of us.  No one knows where the spirit woman went to.  She was gone one time when they looked for her.”




Sun Boy and the Rainbow

Welch, undated story:

“A long time ago there was a terrible storm and much rain fell to the ground and the rivers got large and dirt was washed away from some places.

After a while the sun was shining and, in the sky, was a colored bow.  A boy said that he would make a vow to climb to the top of it, so he started out to find where it touched the ground and climb it.  The people never heard of him again.

Now, nearly every time it rains, this same colored bow comes and the people point to it and tell about when the boy climbed to the sky.  When it comes the sun always comes with it, so the people call the boy the ‘sun boy’ because of that sun coming too.

He shot a blazing arrow when he got to the top of the bow that time, and the people went to get it, but could never find it and the spirits keep them from finding where the bow touches the ground.  They will always keep the sun boy up there.



Talking Spirit Bear

A Gros Ventre Story

Crow Ghost, September 20, 1915, Interpreter is White Mouse:

Where these Palani were at Grand River, a man had a good garden of corn, squash and tobacco.  His wife he worked in it and sometimes did not come to cook soon enough.  It made the man very mad at her.  So the next day she did not come again and he go into the garden to see for why not come.  There was a big bear sitting alongside that garden and the woman she talk to it and it say to her just like man’s talk too.  This make the Ree man very mad and he shot the bear four times with an arrow.  The bear he run away and swim the river too.  The woman say like this way:

“Now you have bad times.  This bear he was a spirit bear and tell me good things what to do in ten or seven days maybe.  You did not need shoot him.”  So she tell every one to make double corral for look for trouble too.  They didn’t believe her any and didn’t build like she say to them.  The mans, they sit up on house and look for trouble.

Bye and bye some mans he sing out that there was a lot of buffalo all over the hills and coming to cross the river.  They did not pay any attention much to them but went to the river to kill some of them for meat and they stood on the bank there.

When the buffalos crawled up the banks they were bears, thousands of them  The men shot a thousand there and then there were so many that they all run home again.  Too many bears.  And the bears came into the village and ate up one half of all the people and they fight hard long time there.

One man who killed this spirit bear he say, “I go get killed by these bears, maybe they want me.”  So he go fast to the middle of those bears and they killed him and ate him up for kill that talking bear.  Then they went away from there.  That was a long time ago.  Yes, bears and some other animals talk like people some times.”



Thunderbird Stories

Crow Ghost, talks to Welch, Bismarck, Sept. 29th, 1915:

Crow Ghost tells me that the Thunder Bird or Thunder Hawk was in reality a very large black eagle.  He said it was the picture of that bird upon the ‘Seven Fires’ Flag, and that the white people also put the picture of this bird upon their flags, because it was a powerful friend and foe.  He said that if I would make him a flag like his grandfather used to carry he would hold it high in the air when there was a war and sing for me if I was ever in danger upon the battle field.


Crow Man, Hunkpapa, Fort Yates, N.D., July 12th, 1921:

The Thunderbird is a sort of a bird.  He is very large and makes the thunder when he utters his cry and the lightning is from his eyes and everything.  Sometimes he is a sort of Hawk and some old men say he is an eagle.  When he comes there are Heyoka with him then.  He is always the enemy of the earth spirits and the big things which are in the water.  These things are what you call ghosts, I think.  I never saw them, but some old men have dreamed about them.


August 1930 notes, source unnamed:

“Lightning”  .. The Sioux call this Wahkiyan Dewampi.  The literal meaning is ’The Thunder Birds Opens his Eyes.’  They say that he has his eyes shut most of the time, and when he opens them, they appear as lightning.  Thunder is ’wahkiyan,’ and that is also what they call the Thunder Bird.  The thunder is the bird’s screaming.


The Thunderbird, A Gros Ventre Story

Drags Wolf tells the story at the Masonic Temple, Fargo, N.D., Feb. 9th, 1934.  Present:  Bears Arm, Good Bird, all Hidatsa and Elk, Sioux. And about 17


Mandan Indian Shriners.

Interpreter: Good Bird

“The Thunder Bird lived on top of a butte near the mouth of the Little Missouri River.  She laid her eggs there, but a great snake always ate either the eggs or the young birds.  At last some of the young grew until they shed some pin feathers, every morning.  These settled upon the water.  Then there was a young man sleeping at the foot of the butte.  He came from one of these feathers.  The Thunder Bird picked him up and carried him to the top of the butte.  There he was when he awoke.  At last the big snake appeared and the young man fought with him.  The arrow he use was got this way:  The Creator was walking along and discovered a buffalo in a mud hole.  He was dead.  Creator made him live again and he got up, looking about him.  He walked a ways and saw some people and children.  They saw him too and went out to meet him and kill him.  They all shot arrows at him.  He was full of them.  At last he went back to the water hole.  He died there again.  Creator took some of the arrows out of him.  These were the ones used against the snake.  He had to shoot down on his neck as he had but one vulnerable place.  But he killed him.  Then the other end of the snake had a head.  He fought that too.  He killed that end too.  The eggs and young of the Thunder Bird were saved that way.  Then the young man was turned into a water spirit and was under the Missouri river waters.  But at last some Medicine Man got him out and people came from him then.  They have been here ever since that time.”

The telling of this story took about an hour.  Drags Wolf said that he told it just as it always is told; that he added nothing to it neither did he take anything away from it in the telling.  Bears Arm often interjected a remark which Drags Wolf did not remember.


The Thunderbird, Devil’s Hill Story

Welch notes, May 21st, 1929, source unnamed:

Devil’s Hill is situated somewhere upon the Elbowoods Reservation, and is a place somewhat shunned by the Indians there.  It is said to be a high, flat-topped butte, and only one man has been to the summit.  Upon the top of it, the Thunder Birds have their nests, so it is not good to get too close.

This story was told to me today and indicates that the old time idea of strange happenings still maintains a hold upon the lives of these people:

“A long time ago, in the time of my grandfather, one man decided that he would climb to the top of the Devil’s Butte.  He started.  He got part way up and a cloud began to appear hanging over the summit.  He kept on.  After a while this cloud came crawling down the slopes toward the man.  He heard strange noises in the cloud, and lightning went right by his face.  Thunder was awful too.  The cloud covered him close.  He could hardly breathe.  He felt his senses leaving him.  Then he did not know anything more.  When he could see and hear again, he discovered that he was on top of the hill.  It was wonderful up there.  He would never tell about what he saw.  He was there quite a long time and then came down again and went to his lodge.  But ever after that time when he was in the Thunder Bird’s nest, he could hear them talking to him.  They told him where game was.  They warned him about his enemies.  He was a wise man among us then.  The spirits looked after him.”

Now there is a man living who has a white man’s name.  He is Perkins.  He started to climb it to become wise.  He got to a shelf of rock up there.  Then he noticed the white cloud coming.  It came fast and covered him.  He laid down on the shelf of stone then.  The cloud was about a hand’s breadth over the ground.  He could breathe by holding his face close to the ground.  He heard the thunder and saw the lightning.  He was losing his senses fast now.  He rolled off the shelf and a long ways down the hillside.  The cloud followed him.  He got down to the bottom and started to walk and run.  The white cloud than stopped.  It got higher and higher.  It was gone.  The sun was bright in the sky.  For a long time he wandered about.  He did not know which way to go.  But he got back to his lodge.  It is not good to try to get to the top of the Devil’s Hill.”


The Thunderbird, Dream of an old Woman



The Thunderbird, Red Fish’ conception of an ‘Eagle Bird’


The Thunderbird, No Two Horns’  conception of an ‘Eagle Bird’


Drawing taken from the war shield of No Two Horns, a Hunkpapa Dakotah, an old Sioux warrior of the Hunkpapa Division of that people.

The Thunder Bird is a mythical creature spirit of the air.  The thunder is caused by the beating of his great wings and the flashing of his eyes is shown by the lightning of the storm.

To dream of this spirit is ‘good medicine,’ and the dreamer is thereafter protected while upon the trail in pursuit of game or while following enemies in search of pleasure.

The ‘sky’ and ‘earth’ sign with the pendants indicates that the owner of this shield dreamed of the ‘Thunder Bird.’ Wavy lines from the beak, feet and wings are radiations of strength and power, while the attached hawk feathers insure speed and endurance.

Black is the ‘war’; color; green is desire; yellow is the ‘holy’ color; blue often relates to ambition, while red refers to the earth and the forms of life upon it.


The Thunderbird, The Hill of the Calumet Bird,


The Paha Wakan of the sioux



Woman in White

The Woman in White, Blue Thunder’s story

Welch talks with Blue Thunder, Cannon Ball, N.D., June 1915 with All Yellow as interpreter:

Question by Welch:

Blue Thunder, you are an old man.  You are wise.  You know the marks upon the winter counts.  I am a child and ask you, so I will know, too.  What is the story about the woman in white on your winter count (of 1785)?

Answer by Blue Thunder:

I know many things.  I am an old man who remembers what the stories are.  Once there were two men.  They saw a white woman come walking along.  They were starving at that time. One wanted her to lie down with him, and she made him die then.  The other one she showed a lot of buffalo to and he killed a lot of them.  The woman turned into a white buffalo and ran away then.  She was ‘Wea Wankan Mani’ (Holy Woman Walking).



White Woman of the Minniconjou

White Woman of the Miniconjou,

Red Tomahawk’s story

Red Tomahawk talks to Welch, Bismarck, March 1915:

Once a long time ago, there were three Dakotah Indians hunting down on the Cheyenne river.  They saw a white woman coming toward them.  She had no clothes on at all.  She was ‘Wankan.’  She told them to break their bows and arrows and not to fight any more.  She gave them seeds to plant by the water-side. They were afraid.

They broke their weapons and went to a place on the Missouri river in North Dakota and planted the seed she gave them.  So they were called ‘Minniconjou,’ (The people who plant by the water runs).  They thought the seed would no grow anywhere else.  Just like some white people who lives along the rivers.  They raised corn and punkins.  They did not fight any more.  They are farmers and make things to grow out of the ground.  This was about 150 years ago when they saw this woman.  They saw her once since then and she was the same woman, all white and with no clothes.  Her hair was white too.  She was a God Woman.  This is the real truth about that white woman.

Welch Note: This white woman story refers to the pictograph upon the winter counts of the Tetons.  It is the first picture (1785?) upon the count known as Blue Thunder’s Count.



Myth of the Flowers, Cree Legend




Myth of the Flowers, as told by Inktomi

Told to Welch by Mrs. Kick the Corn, Fort Yates, N.D., 1915:

“A long time ago all the flowers lived anywhere they happened to be.  The red rose, the wild grape, the sunflower, the violets and all the rest, lived side by side.  They could not keep their families together.  They were not pleased about this, so it was decided to hold a great council of the flower people and divide the land among them, so that each could have their own places to live in.

So they all gathered together in one place and each made a speech and ate of the feast which was prepared.  After several days of speech-making and joy times, it was decided the red rose should grow on the prairie in the sunshine; the grape should live among the trees in the shade; the violet should grow in the shade of the cool, moist forest places; the sunflower should grow along the hot, dusty trail and all the other flowers and trees should have his own place.

Then the council broke up and everybody started home.  But a poor, ill-favored one came limping into camp just as they were going away.  It was tired, hungry and almost dead.  It had had so far to come to the council that it had not arrived in time to present its claim to any ground to live in.

They decided to hold another council for it, especially.  But there was no other place for it to have, as all the ground was gone.  But Unktomi, the spider, spoke with wisdom and said that there was some ground which had not been taken.  This should be its home and, on account of it having come so far and being so tired, he would call upon the spider people to make it the most lovely flower in the world.

So everyone was satisfied and the council broke up again and the flower people went to their new homes.  The violet went into the cool, shady places; the sunflower joyfully went to the dusty trails; the wild grape started to climb the great trees; the wild, red rose found a warm spot under the sun out on the prairie; and all the rest found their new places.

The ill-favored, stinking, little flower which had come last to the council, also went to its new home in the ground beneath the waters of the ponds and slowly-moving waters of the small creeks, and grew to be the most beautiful of all flowers and, with the most pleasing breath, and it is called the water lily now.”



Turtle Drum and Sacred Pipe Stories

Iron Roads talks to Welch, Sept. 15th, 1915:


“You know the Bear Butte close to Smidt? (Note: several miles south of Mandan on the west side of the River). Well, the Rees were on the east side of the river on another butte which you can see.  The Cheyennes were on Bear Butte.  Someone came and gave the Rees a turtle drum and Cheyennes a pipe.

The drum has a little buffalo in it, alive today, and it grows hair every year, which breaks the skin of the drum.

The pipe has a man’s ear tied to it.  It is a good ear.  All right too.  It is very holy, that pipe.  They have it and will show it to Mato Watakpe (Welch).  Keeps Eagle (Holding Eagle), Mandan Indian, has the drum yet.  An old man has the pipe and when he dies another old man will keep it.  They gave the sacred arrow, too, to the Cheyennes.  The Crows took it away one time.”

Welch note:  This sacred turtle shell drum is with the Mandans and not the Arikaree.


Unnamed Indian talks to Welch, Bismarck, N.D., Sept. 29, 1915, through his granddaughter, a school girl, as interpreter:

“There were nine men at that place.  I do not know where.  A woman came toward them.  She gave four of them a pipe and told them where there were a lot of buffalo.  Then she went away from there.  When she came she was a woman and when she went away she was a white buffalo.  The men went to get the buffaloes and they killed a man there, too.  I do not know who he was or anything about him.  He was a man.  They tied his ear to this pipe.  They have it now and the ear with it.  It is a good ear, yet.  My father’s brother has it now, wrapped in a buffalo hide.  When he dies he gives it to his son and when the son dies he gives it to me.  This story is a long story and takes a day to tell it.  We will show you the pipe and tell it to you some day.  The pipe is very sacred.  The Mandans have turtle drum with a little buffalo in it.  It is not the Palani who have that, but the Mandans.”



Tyrant and the Mysterious Pool

Dr.A.McG.Beede tells a legend (c.1915)

He says, an instructive Indian legend, much shortened runs:

A tyrant in a tribe had slain many men in carrying out his severe ruling of the tribe and its council and its chief.  At last the brave young men formed a secret society for slaying the tyrant, and when the tyrant learned of this, he planned to flee away rather than die, for whom the bad spirits help in wickedness is loath to die.

He started north, and whenever he came to a tribe or people something holy told the people who this tyrant was, and so the people gave him a few days rest and food and then said, “Go on, we do not wish you to remain with our people.”

At last he came to a place in the far north where all waters were frozen except one mysterious pool, and there was no food but moss on the trees and he ate moss for food, and in a booth by the pool he heard a voice, “Who drinks of this pool feels pain unutterable.”  So he refrained from drinking until thirst burning in his throat compelled him to drink, and then he felt unutterable pain.

And thus for many years he drank from this pool and felt pain unutterable from drinking the mysterious waters.

And then a mysterious influence from this pool, and from the pain from drinking the water, changed this tyrant into a good man, and he wept for the misery he had caused.

And an influence from this changed man changed the whole country there so that the sun was warm and the grass grew and the animal’s people came, the rivers flowed, and it became a beautiful country with singing birds.

And this old man sat there in his booth by the pool for many hundred years and, whenever any people who had come to this country went to drink from this pool, they heard the voice say, “Who drinks of the pool will feel pain unutterable.



War Story from a long time ago

Welch talks with Mrs. John Grass, Mandan Hospital, April 26th, 1921, with Vivian Gayton as interpreter:


“A party of Sihasapa went out to war with the Snakes in Montana.  This was a long time ago (Ehanna lilla).  They went a long ways over the country.  It was not a strong party (in numbers).  They made a camp at a nice place where there was much timber and water.

Another Indian party came along.  They saw them.  They prepared to die there then. One man went out and sung a song about how they would die now.  First they wanted to kill some of the enemy.  Then they would be happy to die.  He sang that he would kill any of them.  Three of them he would kill alone.  No one came to him to fight.  He went back.  Another went out and sung about how he would kill five of them.  No one came to fight.  Then they all rushed to fight at once.  The strange Indian people killed them all then. They were brave.

The next day another band of Sihasapa came along and camped at the same place almost.  One man went to get some water at the spring.  It came out of the bank.  When he leaned over to get the water, a man sprang upon his back.  The man grabbed him around his neck.  He could not get him off.  He hung there hard.  He had to drag him to the camp.  He cried for help.  The others took the man off his neck.  He had been scalped.  The skin hung down over his face.  The blood was all over him.  He was one of the party which had got killed by the strange Indians.  He was not a spirit yet.  He was alive.  He had been there all the night.  He suffered and died then.  This is a true story about it.”



Wonderful Turtle Story

From the Bismarck Tribune, October 22nd, 1916, by A.B.Welch:

Near to a Chippewa village lay a large lake, and in this lake there lived an enormous turtle.  This was no ordinary turtle, as he would often come out of his home in the lake and visit with his Indian neighbors.  He paid the most of his visits to the head chief, and on these occasion would stay for hours, smoking and talking with him.

The chief, seeing that the turtle was very smart and showed great wisdom in his talk, took a great fancy to him, and whenever any puzzling subject came up before the chief, he generally sent for Mr. Turtle to help him decide.

One day there came a great misunderstanding between different parties of the tribe, and so excited became both sides that it threatened to cause bloodshed.  The chief was unable to decide for either faction, so he said, “I will call Mr. Turtle.  He will judge for you.”

Sending for the turtle, the chief vacated his seat for the time being, until the turtle should hear both sides, and decide which was in the right.  The turtle came and, taking the chief’s seat, listened very attentively to both sides, and thought long before he gave his decision.  After thinking long and studying each side carefully, he came to the conclusion to decide in favor of both.  This would not cause any hard feelings.  So he gave them a lengthy speech and showed them where they were both in the right, and would up by saying, “You are both in the right in some ways and wrong in others.  Therefore, I will say that you both are equally in the right.”

When they heard this decision they saw that the turtle was right, and gave him a long cheer for the wisdom displayed by him.  The whole tribe saw that had it not been for this wise decision there would have been a great shedding of blook in the tribe.  So they voted him as their judge, and the chief, being so well-pleased with him, gave to him his only daughter in marriage.

The daughter of the chief was the most beautiful maiden of the Chippewa nation, and young men from other tribes traveled hundreds of miles for an opportunity to make love to her, and try to win her for a wife.  It was all to no purpose.  She would accept no one, and only him whom her father would select for her.  The turtle was very homely, but as he was prudent and wise, the father chose him, and she accepted him.

The young men of the tribe were very jealous, but their jealousy was all to no purpose.  She married the turtle.  The young men would make sport of the chief’s son-in-law.  They would say to him, “How did you come to have so flat a stomach”

“My friends, had you been in my place, you, too, would have flat stomachs.  I came by my flat stomach this way:  The Chippewa and Sioux had a great battle, and the Sioux, too numerous for the Chippewa, were killing them off so fast that they had to run for their lives.  I was on the Chippewa side and some of the Sioux were pressing five of us, and were gaining on us very fast.  Coming to some high grass, I threw myself down flat on my face, and pressed my stomach close to the ground, so the pursuers could not see me.  They passed me and kill the four I was with.  After they had gone back, I arose and lo! My stomach was as you see it now. So hard had I pressed to the ground that it would not assume its original shape again.”

After he had explained the cause of his deformity to them they said, “The Turtle is brave.  We will bother him no more.”  Shortly after this the Sioux made an attack upon the Chippewa and everyone deserted the village.  The Turtle could not travel as fast as the rest and was left behind.  It being an unusually hot day in the Fall, the Turtle grew very thirsty and sleepy.  Finally scenting water, he crawled towards the point from whence the scent came, and coming to a large lake, jumped in and had a bath after which he swam towards the center and dived down, and finding some fine, large rocks at the bottom, he crawled in among them and fell asleep.  He had his sleep out and arose to the top.

Swimming to the shore he found it was summer.  He had slept all winter.  The birds were singing, and the green grass and leaves gave forth a sweet odor.

He crawled out and started out looking for the Chippewa camp.  He came upon the camp several days after he had left his winter quarters, and going around in search of his wife, found her at the extreme edge of the village.  She was nursing her baby, and as he asked to see it, she showed it to him.  When he saw that it was a lovely baby and did not resemble him in any respect, he got angry and went off to a large lake, where he contented himself with catching flies and insects and living on seaweed for the remainder of his life.