When Buffalo Ran - G. B. Grinnell

A Sacrifice

During the next two years I went to war five times, always as a servant, but always I had good luck. This was because early, after my first trip to war, I had asked an old man, one of my relations, to teach me how to make a sacrifice which should be pleasing to those spirits who rule the world.

It was in the early summer, when the grass was high and green, not yet turning brown, that, with this old man, Tom Lodge, I went out into the hills to suffer and to pray, to ask for help in my life, and that I might be blessed in all my warpaths. Tom Lodge had told me what I must do, and before the time came I had cut a pole, and brought it and a rope, and a bundle of sinew, and some small wooden pins near to the place where we were to go, and had hidden them in a ravine.

It was before the sun had risen that we started out, and when we came to the hill where the things were, I carried them to the top of the hill, and there Tom Lodge and I dug a hole in the soil with our knives, and planted the pole, stamping the earth tightly about it, and then putting great stones on the earth, so that the pole should be held firmly. Then Tom Lodge tied the rope to the pole, and with sinew tied the pins to the rope, and then holding the pins and his knife up to the sun, and to the sky, and then placing them on the earth, he prayed to all the spirits of the air, and of the earth, and of the waters, asking that this sacrifice that I was about to make should be blessed, and that I should have help in all my undertakings. Then he came and stood before me, and taking hold of the skin of my breast on the right side, he pinched it up and passed his knife through it, and then passed the pin through under the skin, and tied the end to the rope with another strand of sinew. In the same way he did on the left side of my breast. Then he told me that all through the day I should walk about this pole, always on the side of the pole toward which the sun was looking, and that I should throw myself back against the rope and should try to tear the pins from my skin. Then, telling me to pray constantly, to have a strong heart, and not to lose courage, he set out to return to the village.

All through the long summer day I walked about the pole, praying to all the spirits, and crying aloud to the sun and the earth, and all the animals and birds to help me. Each time when I came to the end of the rope I threw myself back against it, and pulled hard. The skin of my breast stretched out as wide as your hand, but it would not tear, and at last all my chest grew numb, so that it had no feeling in it; and yet, little by little, as I threw my whole weight against the rope, the strips of skin stretched out longer and longer. All day long I walked in this way. The sun blazed down like fire. I had no food, and did not drink; for so I had been instructed. Toward night my mouth grew dry, and my neck sore; so that to swallow, or even to open my mouth in prayer hurt me. It seemed a long time before the sun got overhead and the pole cast but a small shadow; but it seemed that the shadow of the pole grew long in the afternoon much more slowly than it had grown short in the morning.

I was very tired, and my legs were shaking under me, when at last, as the sun hung low over the western hills, I saw someone coming. It was my friend, Tom Lodge; and when he had come close to me, he spoke to me and said, "My son, have you been faithful all through the day?" I answered him, "Father, I have walked and prayed all day long, but I cannot tear out these pins." "You have done well," he said; and, drawing his knife, he came to me, and taking hold first of one pin and then of the other, he cut off the strips of skin which passed about the pins, and set me free. He held the strips of skin that he had cut off, toward the sky, and toward the four directions, and prayed, saying: "Listen! all you spirits of the air, and of the earth, and of the water; and you, O earth! and you, O sun! This is the sacrifice that my son has made to you. You have heard how he cries to you for help. Hear his prayer." Then at the foot of the pole he scraped a little hole in the earth and placed the bits of skin there, and covered them up. Then he gave me to drink from a buffalo paunch waterskin that he had brought.

"Now, my son," said he, "you shall sleep here this night, and to-morrow morning, as the sun rises, leave this; hill, and everything on it, as it is, and return to the camp. It may be that during the night something will come to you, to tell you a thing. If you are spoken to in your sleep, remember carefully what is said to you."

After he had gone I lay down, covering myself with my robe, and was soon asleep, for I was very tired. That night, while I slept, I dreamed that a wolf came to me, and spoke, saying: "My son, the spirits to whom you have cried all day long have heard your prayers, and have sent me to tell you that your cryings have not been in vain. Take courage, therefore, for you shall be fortunate so long as these wars last. You shall strike your enemies; your name shall be called through the camp, and all your relations will be glad.

"Look at me, and consider well my ways. Remember that of all the animals, the wolves are the smartest. If they get hungry, they go out and kill a buffalo; they know what is going to happen; they are always able to take care of themselves. You shall be like the wolf; you shall be able to creep close to your enemies, and they shall not see you; you shall be a great man for surprising people. In the bundle that you wear tied to your necklet, you shall carry a little wolf hair, and your quiver and your bow-case shall be made of the skin of a wolf." The wolf ceased speaking, yet for a time he sat there looking at me, and I at him; but presently he yawned, and stood up on his feet, and trotted off a little way, and suddenly I could not see him.

So then in these five times that I went to war, once I counted the first coup of all on an enemy; and three times I crept into camp and brought out horses, twice going with other men who went in to cut loose the horses, and once going in alone. For these things I came to be well thought of by the tribe. My uncle praised me, and said that the time was coming when I would be a good warrior. All my relations felt proud and glad that I had such good luck.

I knew why all this had come to me. I had done as the wolf had said, and often I went out from the camp—or perhaps I stopped when I was traveling far from the village—and went up on a hill, and, lighting a pipe, offered a smoke to the wolf, and asked him not to forget what he had said to me.

I was now a grown man, and able to do all the things that young men do. I was a good hunter; I had a herd of horses, and had been to war, and been well spoken of by the leaders whose war parties I went with. I was old enough, too, to think about young girls, and to feel that some day I wanted to get married, and to have a lodge and home of my own. There were many nice girls in the camp; many who were hard workers, modest, and very pretty. I liked many of them, but there was no one whom I liked so much as Standing Alone. I often saw her, but sometimes she would not look at me, and sometimes she looked, but when she saw me looking at her she looked down again; but sometimes she smiled a little as she looked down. It was long since we had played together, but I thought that perhaps she had not forgotten the time, so many years ago, when she pretended to be my wife, and when she had mourned over me once when I was killed by a buffalo.

As I grew older I felt more and more that I wished to see and talk with her. Of course I was too young to be married yet, but I was not too young to want to talk with Standing Alone. I used to go out and stand by the trail where the women passed to get water, hoping that I might speak to her, but often there was no chance to do so. Sometimes she was with other girls, who laughed and joked about me, and asked whom I was waiting for. They could not tell who was standing there, for my robe or my sheet covered my whole body, except the hole through which I looked with one eye. But one day when Standing Alone was going by with some girls, one of them recognized the sheet that I had on, and called out my name, and said that she believed that I was waiting for Standing Alone. I was surprised that she should know me, and felt badly, but I did not move, and so I think neither she nor the girls with her knew that she had guessed right; and the next time I went I wore a different sheet, and different moccasins and leggings.

One evening I had good luck; all the women had passed, and Standing Alone had not appeared. I supposed that all had got their water, and was about to go away when she came hurrying along the trail, and passed me and went to the water's edge. She filled her vessel and came back, and when she passed me again I took hold of her dress and pulled it, and dropped my sheet from my head. She stopped and we stood there and talked for a little while. We were both of us afraid, we did not know of what, and had not much to say, but it was pleasant to be there talking to her, and looking at her face. Three times she started to go, but each time I said to her, "Do not go; wait a little longer"; and each time she waited. The fourth time she went away. After that, I think she knew me whenever I stood by the trail, and sometimes she was late in coming for water, and I had a chance to speak to her alone.

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In those days I was happy; and often when the camp was resting, and there was nothing for me to do, I used to go out and sit on the top of a high hill, and think about Standing Alone, and hope that in the time to come I might have her for my wife, and that I might do great things in war, so that she would be proud of me; and might bring back many horses for her, so that she could always ride a good horse, and have a finely ornamented saddle and saddle-cloth. If I could take horses enough, I should be rich, and then whatever Standing Alone might desire, I could give a horse for it.