Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 194


Pipestone, a smooth, hard, even-textured clay, of lively color, from which thousands of red men cut their pipe-bowls, forms a wall on the Coteau des Prairies, in Minnesota, that is two miles long and thirty feet high. In front of it lie five bowlders, the droppings from an iceberg to the floor of the primeval sea, and beneath these masses of granite live the spirits of two squaws that must be consulted before the stone can be dug. This quarry was neutral ground, and here, as they approached it, the men of all tribes sheathed their knives and belted up their axes, for to this place the Great Spirit came to kill and eat the buffalo, and it is the blood of this animal that has turned the stone to red. Here, too, the Thunder Bird had her nest, and her brood rent the skies above it with the clashing of their iron wings.

A snake having crawled into this nest to steal the unhatched thunders, Manitou caught up a piece of pipestone, hastily pressed it between his hands, giving it the shape of a man, and flung it at the reptile. The stone man's feet stuck fast in the ground, and there he stood for a thousand years, growing like a tree and drawing strength and knowledge out of the earth. Another shape grew up beside him—woman. In time the snake gnawed them free from their foundations and the red-earth pair wandered off together. From them sprang all people.

Ages after, the Manitou called the red men to the quarry, fashioned a pipe for them, told them it was a part of their flesh, and smoked it over them, blowing the smoke to north, south, east, and west, in token that wherever the influence of the pipe extended there was to be brotherhood and peace. The place was to be sacred from war and they were to make their pipes from this rock. As the smoke rolled about him he gradually disappeared from view. At the last whiff the ashes fell out and the surface of the rock for miles burst into flame, so that it melted and glazed. Two ovens opened at its foot, and through the fire entered the two spirits Tsomecostee and Tsomecostewondee—that are still its guardians, answering the invocations of the medicine-men and accepting the oblations of those who go to make pipes or carve their totems on the rock.


A game of lacrosse was played by Indian girls on the ice near the present Fort Snelling, one winter day, and the victorious trophies were awarded to Wenonah, sister of the chief, to the discomfiture of Harpstenah, her opponent, an ill-favored woman, neglected by her tribe, and jealous of Wenonah's beauty and popularity. This defeat, added to some fancied slights, was almost more than she could bear, and during the contest she had been cut in the head by one of the rackets—an accident that she falsely attributed to her adversary in the game. She had an opportunity of proving her hatred, for directly that it was known how Wenonah had refused to marry Red Cloud, a stalwart boaster, openly preferring a younger warrior of the tribe, the ill-thinking Harpstenah sought out the disappointed suitor, who sat moodily apart, and thus advised him, "To-morrow is the Feast of Virgins, when all who are pure will sit at meat together. Wenonah will be there. Has she the right to be? Have you not seen how shamelessly she favors your rival's suit? Among the Dakotas to accuse is to condemn, and the girl who is accused at the Virgins' Feast is disgraced forever. She has shown for Red Cloud nothing but contempt. If he shows no anger at it the girls will laugh at him."

With this she turned away and left Red Cloud to his meditations. Wenonah, at the door of her brother's wigwam, looked into the north and saw the stars grow pale through streams of electric fire. "The Woman of the North warns us of coming evil," muttered the chief. "Some danger is near. Fire on the lights!" And a volley of musketry sent a shock through the still air.

"They shine for me," said Wenonah, sadly. "For I shall soon join our father, mother, and sister in the land of spirits. Before the leaves fell I sat beside the Father of Waters and saw a manitou rise among the waves. It said that my sisters in the sunset world were calling to me and I must soon go to them." The chief tried to laugh away her fancies and comforted her as well as he might, then leading her to the wigwam he urged her to sleep.

Next day is the Virgins' Feast and Wenonah is among those who sit in the ring, dressed in their gayest. None who are conscious of a fault may share in the feast; nor, if one were exposed and expelled, might any interpose to ask for mercy; yet a groan of surprise and horror goes through the company when Red Cloud, stalking up to the circle, seizes the girl roughly by the shoulder and orders her away. No use to deny or appeal. An Indian warrior would not be so treacherous or unjust as to act in this way unless he had proofs. Without a word she enters the adjacent wood, draws her knife, and strikes it to her heart. With summer came the fever, and it ravaged through the band, laying low the infant and the counsellor. Red Cloud was the first to die, and as he was borne away Harpstenah lifted her wasted form and followed him with dimming eyes, then cried, "He is dead. He hated Wenonah because she slighted him. I hated her because she was happy. I told him to denounce her. But she was innocent."


Several of the Dakotas, who had been in camp near the site of St. Paul, left their families and friends, when the hunting season opened, and went into the north. On their arrival at another village of their tribe, they stayed to rest for a little, and one of the men used the time to ill-advantage, as it fell out, for he conceived an attachment for a girl of this northern family, and on his way southward he wedded her and took her home with him. Proper enough to do, if he had not been married already. The first wife knew that any warrior might take a second, if he could support both; but the woman was stronger than the savage in her nature, and when her husband came back, with a red-cheeked woman walking beside him, she felt that she should never know his love again. The man was all attention to the young wife, whether the tribe tarried or travelled. When they shifted camp the elder walked or rowed behind with her boy, a likely lad of ten or twelve.

It was when they were returning down the river after a successful hunt that the whole company was obliged to make a carry around the quick water near the head of St. Anthony's Falls. While the others were packing the boats and goods for transportation by hand to the foot of the cataract, the forsaken wife chose a moment when none were watching to embark with her boy in one of the canoes. Rowing out to an island, she put on all her ornaments, and dressed the lad in beads and feathers as if he were a warrior. Her husband, finding her absent from the party, looked anxiously about for some time, and was horrified to see her put out from the island into the rapid current. She had placed the child high in the boat, and was rowing with a steady stroke down the stream. He called and beckoned franticly. She did not seem to hear him, nor did she turn her head when the others joined their cries to his. For a moment those who listened heard her death-song, then the yeasty flood hid them from sight, and the husband on the shore fell to the earth with a wail of anguish.


The Chippewas and Sioux had come together at Fort Snelling to make merry and cement friendships. Flying Shadow was sad when the time came for the tribes to part, for Track Maker had won her heart, and no less strong than her love was the love he felt for her. But a Chippewa girl might not marry among the Sioux, and, if she did, the hand of every one would be against her should ever the tribes wage war upon each other, and war was nearer than either of them had expected. The Chippewas left with feelings of good will, Flying Shadow concealing in her bosom the trinkets that testified to the love of Track Maker and sighing as she thought of the years that might elapse ere they met again.