When Buffalo Ran - G. B. Grinnell

Standing Alone

Always as winter drew near, the camps came closer together, and the people began to make ready to start off on the hunt for buffalo. By this time food was scarce, and the people needed new robes; and now that the cold weather was at hand, the hair of the buffalo was long and shaggy, so that the robes would be soft and warm, to keep out the winter cold.

I remember that before the tribe started there used to be a great ceremony, but I was too young to understand what it all meant, though with the others I watched what the old men did, and wondered at it, for it seemed very solemn. There was a big circle about which the people stood or sat, and in the middle of the circle there were buffalo heads on the ground, and before them stood old men, who prayed and offered sacrifices, and passed their weapons and their sacred implements over the skulls, and then people danced; and not long after this the women loaded their lodges and their baggage on the horses, and put their little children into the cages on the travois, or piled them on the loaded pack horses; and then presently, in a long line, the village started off over the prairie, to look for buffalo.

Most of the way I walked or ran, playing with the other little boys, or looking through the ravines to try and find small birds, or a rabbit, or a prairie chicken. Sometimes I rode a colt, too young yet to carry a load, or to be ridden by an older person, yet gentle enough to carry me. In this way I learned to ride.

When buffalo were found, the young men killed them, and then the whole camp, women and children, went out to where the buffalo lay, and meat and hides were brought in to the camp, where the women made robes, and dried meat. Food was plenty, and everybody was glad.

My grandmother lived in our lodge. She was an old woman with gray hair, and was always working hard. Whenever there were skins in the lodge she worked at them until they were tanned and ready for use. Often she used to talk to me, telling me about the old times; how our tribe used to fight with its enemies, and conquer them, and kill them; and how brave the men always were. She used to tell me that of all things that a man could do, the best thing was to be brave. She would say to me: "Your father was a brave man, killed by his enemies when he was fighting. Your grandfather, too, was brave, and counted many coups; he was a chief, and is looked up to by everyone. Your other grandfather was killed in a battle when he was a young man. The people that you have for relations have never been afraid, and you must not be afraid either. You must always do your best, because you have many relations who have been braves, and chiefs. You have no father to tell you how you ought to live, so now your other relations must try to help you as much as they can, and advise you what to do."

indian grandmother


She used to tell me of the ancient times, and of things that happened then, of persons who had strong spiritual power, and did wonderful things, and of certain bad persons and animals, who harmed people, and of the old times before the people had bows, when they did not kill animals for food, but lived on roots and berries. She told me that I must remember all these things, and keep them in my mind.

Sometimes my grandmother had hard pains in her legs, and it hurt her to walk, and when she had these pains she could not go about much, and could not work. When this happened, sometimes she used to ask me to go down to the stream and fetch her a skin of water; and I would whine, and say to her, "Grandmother, I do not want to carry water; men do not carry water." Then she would tell us some story about the bad things that had happened to boys who refused to carry water for their grandmothers; and when I was little these stories frightened me, and I would go for the water. So perhaps I helped her a little in some things after she was old. Yet she lived until I was a grown man; and so long as she lived she worked hard; except when she had these pains.

Sometimes my mother and some of her relations would go off and camp together for a long time; and then perhaps they would join a larger camp, and stay with them for a while. In these larger camps we children had much fun, playing our different games. We had many of these. Some, like those I have spoken of, we played in winter, and some we played in summer. Often the little girls caught some of the dogs, and harnessed them to little travois, and took their baby brothers and sisters, and others of the younger children, and moved off a little way from the camp, and there pitched their little lodges. The boys went too, and we all played at living in camp. In these camps we did the things that older people do. A boy and girl pretended to be husband and wife, and lived in the lodge; the girl cooked and the boy went out hunting. Sometimes some of the boys pretended that they were buffalo, and showed themselves on the prairie a little way off, and other boys were hunters, and went out to chase the buffalo. We were too little to have horses, but the boys rode sticks, which they held between their legs, and lashed with their quirts to make them go faster. Among those who played in this way was a girl smaller than I, the daughter of Two Bulls—a brave man, a friend to my uncle. The little girl's name was Standing Alone; she was pretty and nice, and always pleasant; but she was always busy about something—always working hard, and when she and I played at being husband and wife, she was always going for wood, or pretending to dress hides. I liked her, and she liked me, and in these play camps we always had our little lodge together; but if I sat in the lodge, and pretended to be resting longer than she thought right, she used to scold me, and tell me to go out and hunt for food, saying that no lazy man could be her husband. When she said this I did not answer and seemed to pay no attention to her words, but sat for a little while, thinking, and then I went out of the lodge, and did as she said. When I came in again, whether I brought anything or not, she was always pleasant.

Once, when we were running buffalo, one of the boys, who was a buffalo, charged me when I got near him, and struck me with the thorn which he carried on the end of his stick, and which we used to call the buffalo's horn. The thorn pierced me in the body, and, according to the law of our play, I was so badly wounded that I was obliged to die. I went a little way toward the village, and then pretended to be very weak. Then my companions carried me into the camp, and to the lodge, and Standing Alone mourned over her husband who had been killed while hunting buffalo. Then one of the boys, who pretended that he was a medicine man, built a sweat lodge, and doctored me, and I recovered.