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When Buffalo Ran by  George Bird Grinnell

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A WARRIOR READY TO DIE

[87] IT was not long after this that buffalo were found, and we began to kill them, as we used to do in the old times; and then a great misfortune happened to me.

One day I was chasing buffalo on a young horse, and as it ran down a steep hill, it stumbled among the stones, and fell down, rolling over, and I was thrown far; and, as I fell to the ground, my knee struck against a large stone. When I got up my leg was useless, and I could not walk, but I managed to catch my horse, and crawling on it I reached the camp. After a little my knee got better, and then again worse, and then better again. Still I could not walk, and for two years I stayed in the camp, crippled, and unable to go from place to place, except when I was helped on my horse. I grew thin and weak, and thought that I should die.

Many of the young men of my age, my friends, were sorry for me. They used to come to my lodge and eat and talk, telling me the news. Sometimes, when I was sitting out in the shade of the lodge, looking over the camp, and feeling the pleasant breeze blow on my face, or the warm sun shine on my body, I saw the young men and boys walking about, and running, and wrestling, and kicking, and jumping on their horses and galloping off, and it made me feel badly to think that I could no longer do the things that I used to do; could no longer hunt, and [88] help to support my relations; could no longer go off on the warpath with my fellows, to fight the enemy, or to take plunder from them. I was useless.

Often during this time, older men—my uncle's friends—used to come to the lodge, and stop there and talk with me for a little time, to cheer me up, for I think they too felt sorry for me. The doctors tried hard to cure my leg, but though they did many things, and I and my uncle paid them many horses, and saddles and blankets, they could not help me. Once in a while, in the morning, after all the men had gone out to chase buffalo, or to hunt for smaller animals, deer or elk or antelope, Standing Alone would come to my mother's lodge, perhaps bringing some little present for her, and would sit and talk with her, and sometimes look at me, and I could see that her eyes were full of tears, and that she too felt sorry. Sometimes she spoke to me, but not often; but it always made me glad to see her, and made me feel more than ever that she had a good heart.

At the end of two years I sent word to my uncle, asking him to come to see me; and when he had come and sat down, I asked my mother and my sisters to leave the lodge, and when they had gone I spoke to my uncle. "Father, you have seen how it has been with me for two years; that I am no longer able to go about; that I am a cripple, lying here day after day, useless to my relations, and very unhappy. Now, I have thought of this for a long time, and I have made up my mind what I shall do. It is time for me to go off with some of the young [89] men on the warpath, and when we meet the enemy, I will ride straight into the midst of them, and will strike one, and he shall kill me. I am no longer glad to live, and it will be well for me to die bravely."

For a long time my uncle said nothing, but sat there looking at the ground. After he had thought, he raised his head and spoke to me, saying: "Son, you can remember how it has been with us since you were a little boy. You have been my son, and I have loved you. I have been glad when you went to war, and glad when you returned with credit; yet I should not have mourned if you had been killed in battle, for that is the way a man ought to die. I have seen your sufferings now for two years, and I know how you feel. I think that it will be well for you to do as you have said, and for you to give your body to the enemy, and to be killed on the open prairie, where the birds and the beasts may feed on your flesh, and may scatter it over the plain. Now, when you are ready to do this, tell me, so that I may see that you go to war as becomes a warrior who is about to die."

It was not very long after this that a party of young men set out to war, all mounted, to go south to look for the Utes. Among them was the one who had been my close friend, and to him I had told what was in my mind; and when I spoke to the leader of the party, he was glad to have me go with him, as were all of them.

I told my uncle, and he gave me his best war horse to ride, and gave me also a sacred headdress that he wore, which had in it some of the feathers of the thunder [90] bird. I took with me no arms, except a stone axe that my father had had from his father, and he from his father, and which had come down in our family through many generations.

The party started, and we traveled fast and far to the south. At first I was very weak, and got very tired during the long marches, but after a time I grew stronger, and could eat better, and felt better; but my leg was as bad as ever.

We had been out many days and were still traveling south, east of the mountains, when, one day our scouts came upon the carcasses of buffalo that had been killed only a little time before, and the meat cut from the bones. From this we knew that enemies were close by, and we went carefully. Not far beyond these carcasses, as we rode up on a hill, we saw before us in the valley two persons butchering a buffalo, and as we watched them at their work, we could see that they were Utes—enemies. All the young men jumped on their horses, and we charged down on them. Before we were near them they had seen us, and had run to their horses, and jumped on them and ridden away. By this time I was far ahead of my friends, for my horse was the fastest of all; and soon I was getting close to these enemies. They rode almost side by side, but one a little ahead of the other.

The one who was on the left and a little behind carried a bow and arrows, while the man on the right had a gun. I said to myself: "I will ride between these two persons, and the man with the bow will then have to shoot toward [91] his right hand, and will very likely miss me, while I may be able to knock him off his horse with my axe." I was not afraid, for I had made up my mind to die.

Before long I had overtaken the Utes, and, riding between them, made ready to strike them. The man with the arrows turned on his horse, and shot at me, but I bent to one side, and the arrow passed by without hitting me, and I struck him with my axe and knocked him off his horse. Then the man with the gun turned and was aiming at me, but when he pulled the trigger his gun snapped and did not go off. I was close to him and caught the barrel in my hand, and struck him with my axe, and knocked him off his horse. Then I rode on, holding his gun in my hand. Before the two men whom I had struck could get on their horses again, my friends had overtaken and killed them.

We traveled on further, but found no more enemies, and at last we gave up, and returned to our village. All the time, as we were journeying about, and going back, I kept feeling better and better. I grew stronger slowly. The swelling on my knee began to go down, so that before we reached the village I could rest my weight on that foot a little. At last we arrived, and when we came in sight of the camp, we could see people looking from the lodges to see who were coming.

As we rode down the hill to charge upon the village, the leader told me to ride far in front, "For," he said, "you are the bravest of all." When we came into the village the men and the women and the children came out to meet [92] us. All of them shouted out my name, and my heart grew big in my breast, for I felt that all the people thought that I had done well. Among the women who came out to meet us, I saw Standing Alone, running along by my mother, and both were singing a glad song. And when I saw this, I came near to crying.

At last I reached my lodge, and before it stood my uncle; and as I rode toward him he called out in a loud voice, and asked a certain man named Brave Wolf to come to his lodge and see his son who had given his body to the enemy, desiring to be killed, but who had done great things and had survived. And when Brave Wolf came to the lodge, my uncle gave to him the best horse that he had, a spotted war pony, handsome and long-winded and fleet.

All that day I sat in the lodge and rested, and talked to my uncle. I told him about our journey to war, and while he did not say much I could see that his heart was glad. Before he got up to leave the lodge, he said to me, "Friend, you have done well; I am glad to have such a son." This made me feel glad and proud—more proud, I think, than I felt when I heard the people shout out my name. I loved my uncle and it seemed good that I had done something that pleased him.

All day long people were coming to our lodge and talking about what had happened to us while on our journey. Those who came were my relations and friends, but, besides these, older men, good warriors, people to whose words all the tribe listened, came and sat and [93] talked with me for a little while. My mother and one or two of her relations were busy all day cooking food for the visitors. It was a happy time.

The leader of our war party sent word to me that this night there would be a war dance over the scalps that had been taken. Although I could walk a little, I could not dance, yet I wished to go to the dance and watch the others. All through the afternoon boys and young men were bringing wood to a level place in the circle of the camp, and there they built what we call a "skunk," piling up long poles together in a shape somewhat like a lodge, so that when finished the "skunk" looked like a war lodge.

Late in the night the people gathered near the "skunk," called together by the sound of the singing and the drumming. Leaning on a stick, I walked down there, and before long the "skunk" was lighted, and the members of our war party and the young women began to dance. Although I could not dance, my face was painted black like those of other men of the war party, and I sat there and watched the young people dance and saw the old men and women carry about the scalps. That was one of the last of the old-fashioned war dances that I ever saw held.

The days went by, and before the birds had flown over on their way to the south, and the weather became cold, I could walk pretty well, and could ride easily. One day about this time a doctor whom I had given many presents a year or two before to cure my sickness came to my [94] lodge and asked me if I did not think I ought to give him a present because he had cured me of the swollen knee that I had had so long. I said to him that I believed that not he but the Great Power, to whom I had prayed and to whom I had offered my body as a sacrifice, had cured me. The doctor said that this was a mistake; that really he had cured me, but that his power had not had time to work until after I had started on my warpath.

I did not think that this was true, but I remembered that this man possessed mysterious power, and I felt that perhaps it would not be wise to refuse what he asked. I told him I must have time to think about this, and that in seven days he should return and I would talk further with him about it. Not long after this I told my uncle what the doctor had said. At first he was angry and said that I would do well to refuse what had been asked of me, but after we had talked about it, he came to think as I thought, that perhaps it would be better to make the doctor a present, rather than to have his ill will, for it was possible that he might be able to harm us. My uncle, therefore, told me to give the doctor a certain horse, and a day or two after that he sent me the horse, to be put with my band and later to be given to the doctor. When he received the horse, the doctor was glad, and he told me that after this he would protect me in case any danger threatened me.

The winter passed, the snow melted, the birds went north in spring, and the buffalo began to get poor. It seemed to me now that I was as strong and well as ever [95] I had been. I walked alike on both legs, and was as active as any of the young men. During this summer I joined one of the soldier societies of the tribe, and in this I followed the advice of my uncle, who had belonged to this same society.


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