Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz
Now, upon leaving the North with the Pi-kun'-i, our factor, Terrible Tongue, as the Blackfeet called Hardesty, had charged me to do everything in my power to bring about peace between the Pi-kun'-i and the Cheyennes, and to induce the latter to come north with us in the spring and trade at Mountain Fort. This was no small task that had been imposed upon me. The Blackfeet tribes had ever been at war with the Cheyennes, who were themselves a powerful plains people, great trappers and tanners of robes, and owners of large herds of horses. Indeed, the Black feet name for them was Spotted Horses people, on account of the strain of pinto horses that they particularly bred, and which the Blackfeet raided at every opportunity. Naturally, the Blackfeet, and particularly the Pi-kun'-i, southern most of the tribes, did not wish to make peace with a people from whom they took the beautiful pinto animals. They were foes worth keeping as foes.
To begin with, I had but four helpers, my almost-brother, Red Crow, my almost-sister, Mink Woman, and Bird Woman, son, daughter, and head wife, respectively, of the great chief, Lone Walker, in whose charge I was and in one of whose lodges I lived. Lone Walker was a great chief. He had nineteen wives, living in two lodges, and many children and hundreds of horses. He had, of course, a council of under chiefs, but they always agreed to whatever he decided was best to be done. My other helper was a noted medicine man, brother to Bird Woman, named Red Eagle. These four agreed to do all that they could to bring about peace with the Cheyennes.
As I expected, when I mentioned the matter to Lone Walker, he told me at once that there could be no thought of peace with the Cheyennes. This much I knew about them: they roamed the plains south and east of the Yellowstone, and traded their furs and robes to the Earth House tribes, who lived in fortified villages on the Missouri, below the mouth of the Yellowstone. With these tribes the Blackfeet had ever been upon friendly terms, and Lone Walker had some especially close friends in the chiefs of the Grouse people, or, as the whites called them, the Mandans. As a possible way of getting in touch with the Cheyennes, Red Crow and I began importuning Lone Walker to allow us to visit the Mandans. At first he merely laughed at our request, but we kept at him about it, and he finally agreed that we might go if we could find some of his proved warriors to accompany us, and that we could take with us some presents for his friends. The camp crier was accordingly told to make the round of the lodges and call for volunteers to go with us, but we got no response to the call and were in despair, when, several evenings later, a man named Heavy Robe, and nicknamed Never Talks, came into our lodge and told Lone Walker that he would go with us to the Earth House tribes. Red Crow and I could hardly believe our ears. That Heavy Robe, of all men, should propose to take us on the long trail was almost too good for belief.
"I am very glad that you will go with my boys," Lone Walker told him. "I wanted three or four men, but you are as good as four. When will you be ready to start?"
"Whenever you give the word."
"Then, leave day after to-morrow morning," the chief decided.
Heavy Robe arose, wrapped his robe about him, said, shortly, "I shall be ready at that time," and went out with never a word to Red Crow and me.
A strange, a very strange man was Heavy Robe. He was about thirty-five years of age, tall, well-built, even handsome, but he had never married and lived with his widowed mother. He was not a member of any band of the All Friends Society; he never visited about, never joined in the camp dances, and had no close friend. However, he had the respect of every man, woman, and child in the great camp. He always went alone to war, and always returned with horses and property—and scalps of the enemy. And he was a great hunter. When not off on a raid, he hunted all the time; hardly a day passed but his old mother was to be seen carrying meat, or a hide of some kind, to one or another of the lodges of the sick or the widowed and fatherless. Very kind-hearted was Heavy Robe, quite the opposite of what, from his quiet, taciturn manner, his shunning of people, one would have expected him to be.
Now, you may think that this has nothing to do with Sacajawea. But wait!
We got an early start on the appointed morning, and made quite a cavalcade as we set out, for we each took an extra saddle horse, and with them four fine horses and a pack-load of goods, which Lone Walker and his under chiefs were sending, with many messages of peace and goodwill, to the chiefs of the tribes we were to visit.
It was a long, long way that we had to go, to the villages below the mouth of the Yellowstone. We struck the Musselshell River, followed it down to the Missouri, and then followed the windings of its deep and timbered valley, for the snow was too deep for traveling upon the plains, and below the mouth of the Musselshell it became so deep that we could not travel at all except in the winding, hard-beaten trails of the buffalo and other game. Day after day we went on and on, ever in sight of countless herds of game, but finding no enemies to bar our way. Every evening, near sundown, we made a comfortable camp, and cut quantities of cottonwood browse for our horses. Then, after our hearty meal of broiled meat, Heavy Robe would get out his medicine pipe, which had, when in use, always to be rested upon a buffalo skull, and he had us smoke with him and pray to the gods for success in our journey, and for the long life, good health, and happiness of all the Blackfeet people. His own medicine—his vision, his secret helper—was ancient raven. He made especial appeals to it to ask the gods of the sky, the earth, and the deep waters, to favor us in all our undertakings. As the snow was too deep for us to find a buffalo skull for a pipe-rest at every camp we made, we packed one in our outfit for that purpose. We said nothing to our leader about our desire to meet the Cheyennes, and to induce them to make peace with our people; the time had not come for that, nor did we have the slightest idea how we could meet them. "Just trust in the gods; they will show us the way!" Red Crow kept telling me.
All went well with us until one evening, several days after we had passed the mouth of the Yellowstone, we were about to make camp when a bitterly cold, suddenly rising, north wind brought to us the strong odor of cottonwood smoke. "Ha! We must be near the Earth House people!" I said.
Heavy Robe looked back at me and motioned me to be silent. Then, after looking ahead for some time, he said to us: "If this smoke were coming from a village, we should hear the sounds of it, people talking, children shouting,—anyhow, the barking of dogs. The odor of the smoke is very strong; it is coming from a fire in this grove of timber; either enemies are close ahead of us or a party of hunters from the Earth House villages!"
"What shall we do?" Red Crow asked.
"There is but one thing to do," our leader answered. "We will go on. It may be that we can circle around the camp without being seen. We will try to do so. Look to the priming of your guns! Be watchful!" And with that he led on, branching out from trail to trail away from the river. The wind, with its odor of smoke, came to us in eddying swirls, sometimes in our faces, sometimes on our right or left; we could not determine from it just where the fire was, but we believed it to be in the lower part of the grove and near the river.
On this day I was in the rear of the line, with four horses between me and Red Crow, who was driving the rest of the loose stock close after Heavy Robe. We had not gone on more than a couple of hundred yards, when, suddenly, I heard, rather than felt, something plunk into, the lower flap of my robe in front of my left thigh, and at the same time my horse made a sudden leap that threw me back upon him behind the saddle. I should have gone dear off had I not been pinned to the horse: an arrow in my robe and into his wither pinned me to him. As I jounced back into the saddle with a yell, I looked around and saw a man in a side trail, not fifty yards away. He was fitting a fresh arrow to his bow, and farther out in the grove a dozen men were coming on the run on his trail, holding their weapons ready to attack us. As I fired at the first man, and he fell, one of the others, the only one of them who had a gun, fired and shot down the horse directly in front of me. At that my horse flinched back and I had no little difficulty in making him leap the obstruction. I passed it just as Red Crow and Heavy Robe fired, and out of the corner of my eye, so to speak, I saw another one of the enemy go down. We drew away from them as fast as we could go, their arrows dropping harmlessly behind us.
The snow was so deep that the enemy could not come directly after us from the side trail they were in; they had to follow it up to its junction with our trail and then turn down the main trail. We soon passed out of sight of them. Nevertheless, they kept after us, yelling all the time, and by that we knew that the rest of their party were somewhere ahead of us, gathered around the fire from which came the smoke, now stronger than ever in our nostrils.
We all wore heavy buffalo-robe mittens attached to a long buckskin thong passing over our shoulders, so that we could instantly release our hands from them and they would still be in place when we wanted to slip them on again. But, convenient as that was, we nearly froze our hands while firing our guns and then reloading them. We had no more than finished loading when we saw forty or fifty men ahead, right in our trail and running toward us. Between them and us was no branch trail, and, noting that, Heavy Robe called out that we must turn back and take a branch trail that we had just passed. I turned my horse at once and so became the leader. But it was no easy task for Red Crow and Heavy Robe to turn the loose animals about to follow me. We lost time, and a cloud of arrows and one gunshot were discharged at us by the lower enemy party while we were making the turnabout.
As soon as Heavy Robe had his part of the loose stock turned and following Red Crow, he stopped his animal, and fired back and killed the lead man of the enemy. He then came on, hurrying to overtake us, and as he came he raised the Blackfeet war song, and Red Crow and I joined in it crazily, exultingly, for the fire of battle—of men falling before us—was in our hearts.
I now came to the trail branching from ours obliquely down the valley and toward the river. I passed it, turned my horse square about, hoping thereby to force the loose animals between Red Crow and me to turn into it. They did not understand what was wanted of them, and came to a halt, and Red Crow was obliged to flounder his horse past them and ride into it, and then Heavy Robe urged them on, and as they could not pass me they were obliged to turn into the branch and follow Red Crow. All that took time, valuable time, during which both parties of the enemy were closing in upon us. Heavy Robe's gun was empty, but Red Crow and I fired our pieces, he at the lower, and I at the upper party, and we each wounded a man, how seriously we could not tell. Their comrades passed them and ran after us, firing their two guns and their arrows at long range, and again without effect, and we soon rode out of sight of them.
On and on we went through grove after grove of timber and through open bottoms. We were tired, we were hungry, but we dared not stop. Heavy Robe said that we must keep going until midnight, and we would then halt only long enough to cook and eat some meat. I kept my eyes upon the Seven Persons, the big dipper, and thought that they never had swung around so slowly. And then, when they pointed to a little more than midnight time, we rode into a very heavy trail in the timber, and saw on both sides of it the snow strewn with small tree-cuttings and shreds of bark, and Heavy Robe called back to us, "This is the work of the Earth House people. You shall soon see their village!"
That was good news. We went on faster in the broad, hard-beaten trail, soon emerged from the grove, and saw, away out ahead in the long, wide bottom, a dark splotch in its whiteness which Heavy Robe said was the upper village of the Pi-nap'-ut-se-na, or Lower Gros Ventres, or, as they are otherwise called, the Minnetarees. "There they are, our friends!" he said. "We shall be welcome there—yes, more than welcome, when we tell them that we have certainly killed three Assiniboines and wounded two more, right here in their Big River Valley!"
As we neared the village we saw that it was surrounded with a stockade of tall cottonwood posts. The broad, trail led us to the passageway in it, which we found had been closed for the night with an inset of heavy posts. We came to a halt before it, and Heavy Robe shouted: "Open, friends! Open the way for us!"
Three or four times he shouted that, and then we heard footsteps creaking upon hard frozen snow, and finally four or five men looked down upon us from the top of the stockade, and one of them spoke to us. Of course we could not understand his language, nor he our tongue, but when he spoke he also used the sign language, in which he asked us who we were?
"We are your friends! We are Pi-kun'-i!" Heavy Robe signed in answer, and at once the passageway was cleared for us, and as we rode in and dismounted, the men embraced us and signed to us that we were very welcome in their village.
People were now coming to us from all parts of it, and one of them, a robe-wrapped man who thrust his face almost into mine, gave me quite a shock of surprise by saying to me in French: "You are white! Who are you, and where from?"
"I am Hugh Monroe. We come from the camp of the Pi-kun'-i Blackfeet," I answered.
"Ha! You are English! But you speak French as though you were French!" he exclaimed.
"My mother is a De la Roche," I explained.
"Ha! Yes! The De la Roches of Montreal and Three Rivers!" he exclaimed. "I know the family; that is, I saw them often in my youthful days. Myself, I am Toussaint Charboneau, one-time Nor'wester, now free man! Free! Free! But, of course, you have heard of me!"
"No, I can't say that I have," I answered.
"Is it possible! Well, then, I must tell you," he cried. "Me, I am the man who led the American soldiers, Lewis and Clark, and their men, from here to the Western ocean and back!"
"I have heard of them," I said, "and of a Snake, named Grass Woman, who brought them to her people."
"Ha! My woman! Tsaka'-kawia, Bird Woman, as these Minnetarees named her!" he cried. "But come, M'sieu Monroe. You and your friends, you shall camp with me!"
While Charboneau and I talked together, Heavy Robe and Red Crow were telling the Minnetarees, in the sign language, about our fight with the Assiniboines; and now, as the Frenchman led us to his lodge, the whole village was aroused, and the warriors were hurrying out to saddle their horses and ride up the valley to attack the enemy. After unpacking our outfit and tethering our animals to some piles of cottonwood browse, we went inside and found ourselves in a wonderfully warm, comfortable lodge all of forty feet in diameter. Along its walls, about six feet in height, were several raised couches with buffalo leather curtains. In the center a small fire was burning, the smoke going out of a square opening in the up-slanting, post-and-beam, and pole roof, heavily covered with earth, as was the in-sloping split-log, faced circular wall. As we entered, a woman rose from mending the fire and turned toward us, and, thinking to give her a pleasant surprise, I said to her: "How! Bo-i'-naiv!"
Well, I did surprise her! She started back with a jerk, clapping a hand to her breast; then, recovering herself, addressed me in a torrent of Snake words; to which I shook my head, negatively, and then told her, in signs, that I did not understand the Snake language. I added that a chief of her people, named Black Lance, with many lodges of Snakes, was camping and hunting with our tribe, the Pi-kun! i Blackfeet. And then Charboneau broke our conversation by very crossly ordering her—in French—to hurry and prepare food for us. Right then and there I conceived an intense dislike for him!
"You must excuse me. You called me by my right name; you mentioned my people; I did not think about the food!" she said in good French. And with tears in her eyes she turned to set several earthen pots before the fire. She was a very handsome woman of about thirty years. Not tall, rather slender, and very quick and graceful in all that she did. Her long, well-braided hair hung down over her back to her knees. She had on a gown of blue trade cloth, trimmed across the breast with several rows of elk tushes, and belted at the waist.
I now introduced my friends to Charboneau. He shook hands with them and told me to tell them that they were very welcome in his poor lodge, and then he assigned us our places in it, a couch for my almost-brother and me and another for Heavy Robe. He drew aside the curtains to them, and we were glad enough to lay aside our weapons and heavy buffalo robe wraps and sit down to rest. In a few moments the woman had warmed the food and set it before us in queer little gray earthen jars of native make. It was good food, corn boiled with meat, and we ate a lot of it. We had no sooner finished eating than we tumbled over on our couches, and almost instantly fell asleep.
Near daylight we were awakened by Charboneau, and sat up to find a tall, heavy-set, fine-appearing warrior in the lodge, no other than Red Shield, head chief of the village. He informed us that messengers had come in from the party that had gone out against the Assiniboines and had brought bad news. It appeared that we had seen only a part of the enemy, for his men had come upon more than two hundred of them, and had been driven back with a loss of seven killed. He had sent to the lower villages for reinforcements, but knew that he could not get many, as most of the men were off on a buffalo hunt down the river. He asked us to go with him, with our good guns, and help fight our common enemy. Of course we could not refuse to do that, and soon after daylight we were hurrying with the party he led up the valley. At mid-forenoon we came upon the Minnetarees who had gone out from the village in the night. They were halted before a large grove, at the edge of which the trail was barricaded with a long, high pile of brush. Back of the pile the smoke from several fires was rising in the still, cold air. "There they are, the Cut-Throats," the leader of the night party told us. "There they are, safe behind—their barricade, roasting meat at their fires and comfortable. And we are not strong enough to attack them. They surprised us last night and killed seven of our number!"
"Well, we cannot rush that barricade until help comes from the lower villages," Red Shield declared. And so we waited there in the terrible cold, and some time after noon the reinforcements came to us, about two hundred men from the other Minnetaree village and from the village of the Ahnahaways, or Black Moccasins, and the two Mandan villages. The leader of the Mandans was no other than Ma-to-to'-pa, or Four Bears, Lone Walker's close friend. He gave us more than hearty greeting, and said that we must visit him as soon as possible and stop with him a long time.
We believed that the brush of the barricade concealed heavy dead timber and limbs which our horses could not break through, and, of course, the snow was so deep that we could not rush our animals past the ends of it, and so flank the enemy behind it. We simply had to make the attack on the trail, and it was certain that some, at least, of those in the lead would fall before they could penetrate the barrier. Red Shield took command of the whole party, and ordered that those who had no shield should take the rear of the line. That included Heavy Robe and Red Crow and me, but Heavy Robe declared that as he was now at the head of the line with the chiefs, he would remain with them, and so, of course, Red Crow vowed that he would stick close to his leader, and I had to declare that I would do so, too.
Red Shield looked back at the long line of us, more than two hundred riders strung out in single file in the trail, and gave the order to charge, and away we went, and simultaneously the war song of four different tribes was raised, the most tremendous burst of discord that I ever heard. It quite drowned out the sound of the war song of the Pi-kun'-i, which my companions and I were shouting as loudly as we could.
Back of the barrier the smoke of the enemy camp-fires still rose in the frost-filled air, but not a man could we see as we approached the wide, high brush pile across the trail. We did not doubt that two hundred Cut-Throats were watching us through its interstices, confident that they could kill so many of our lead men that the rest would turn and flee from them. Nearer and nearer we rode to the obstruction, and still we could not see even one of the enemy. I wanted, oh, so much! to see them; it is far easier, let me tell you, to approach seen danger than it is that which is hidden! There wore ten men ahead of me. I saw them one by one burst through the barricade as though it were so much straw, and then with a few jumps 'my horse carried me through the gap they had made in the brush. I looked along the length of the barrier, and then ahead, and laughed a choking, foolish kind of laugh. We had been tricked! The Cut-Throats had cleared six large spaces of snow, and on the bared ground had built carefully constructed fires of mixed dry-and-green wood that was sure to smoulder and smoke for a day or more, and then they had gone their way! Around each fireplace was a great litter of willow cuttings and strands of rawhide rope, and two or three broken, oblong circlets of willow withes. The enemy had made snowshoes, and then gone up the beaten trail down which my companions and I had come the previous evening. Heavy frost stood like fuzz in their footprints in the snow, proving that they were hours ahead of us, but anyhow we followed, and silently enough; the various tribal war songs had come to a sudden end!
Not far above the barricade we came upon the seven Minnetarees that the Cut-Throats had killed. They were all scalped and horribly mutilated. We passed on through the grove, across a long, open bottom, through another grove, and came to the place where the enemy had put on their snowshoes and struck off due north, across the frozen river. On the opposite side a long point ran out from the plain to a small grove, and, screened by it, they had left the valley and struck out for their camp, on Mouse River, perhaps, or farther north, on the Assiniboine. Reluctantly, sullenly, the chase was abandoned right there, and we turned back down the trail, some of the Minnetarees dropping out to bury their dead, others to go on up the trail to take the scalps and weapons of the Cut-Throats that Heavy Robe and Red Crow and I had killed.
Well, when we returned to the village and dismounted in front of Charboneau's lodge, Sacajawea came out and told us to put our horses in a small roped in enclosure that she had made. Defying the bitter cold she had made three or four trips to the distant timber with her travoy horse, and brought in loads of cottonwood browse for the animals and fuel for the lodge.
"You are very good to us. We must try to do something for you," I told her, when we had gone inside and were gathered about the fire.
"I love to do things for real people!" she exclaimed. "I would have done anything—I would have died for Red Hair and Long Knife, the great white chiefs with whom I went to the Western Ocean. Oh, that I could meet them once more, just once before I die!"
"Woman! Cease jabbering in your bad French and prepare for us a little dinner!" her man commanded, and she shrank away from him to her work.
Charboneau had been asleep on his couch when we entered. He now roused up, reached out for his pipe, and listlessly asked me what we had accomplished up-river? I answered as shortly as I could that we had been given the slip by the Assiniboines, and he laughed.
"I expected something like that would happen!" he said. "In one way or another, the Assiniboines generally get the best of these foolish villagers!"
"It is not a laughing matter to them that they have lost seven of their number!" I somewhat angrily replied.
"Ah, but they should not have gone up there in the night; they might have known they would be ambushed!" he sneered.
I had an angry reply ready for that, but just then caught Sacajawea's eyes upon me. She signed me not to argue with him, so I turned to my companions and told them what he had said. They made no comment upon it, but I knew from the expression of their faces that they disliked him as much as I did.
"Eat! Eat heartily!" he told us, when the woman 'set food before us. "I am poor, but what I have I share with you so long as it lasts. Yes, I am very poor! I have only two horses, both small—almost worthless. I have no traps. I am very miserable! Now, if I had even one good horse, I could do something; I could hunt, and set deadfalls for wolves. As I am, I cannot improve my condition."
I turned to my companions: "This man," I told them, "is complaining of his poverty; he is making a talk for one of our horses. As we need him for interpreting, let us give him one."
"Give him my roan horse!" Heavy Robe grimly told me. "I would see him dead before he should have anything of mine, were it not for his woman. She is good to us: for her sake I give him the horse!"
I told Charboneau at once that we gave him our big roan, and at that he brightened up and became very talkative. Later on, when some chiefs came in to visit with us, I found that we could not use him as an interpreter, except in conjunction with his wife. Although he had been with the Minnetarees for years, he had not mastered their language! His way of interpreting was to have Sacajawea tell him in French what the Minnetarees said, and he would then change it into better French, or into English. To save time I had the woman interpret to me in French, and I turned the matter into Blackfeet.
After we had delivered our load of presents to the chiefs, with the messages of friendship from Lone Walker, they soon went their way. Charboneau went out to gamble in a near-by lodge, and left us alone with Sacajawea. That was just what I wanted. I felt that she would help me, and so I said to her: "I want to tell you what is in my heart. My chief, Terrible Tongue, Hudson's Bay Company factor at our Mountain Fort, has ordered me to try to make peace between the Cheyennes and the Blackfeet, and persuade the Cheyennes to go north with us in the spring and trade at our post. Tell me how I shall do this?"
"Be careful; don't talk so loudly," she answered, "and if my man comes in, start talking about some other matter!"
"You have been good to my poor Snake people," she went on, "and that is one reason why I want to help you. Another reason is that I want to help the Cheyennes; many of them are my friends. They are a brave people; a clean, hard-working people. They trap and hunt all winter long, and catch great numbers of beaver, and tan buffalo robes so soft that they fold like trade cloth. Then, in the spring, they come here and get cheated out of the result of their work. If they would only wait for the American traders, they would do well enough. But long before the trade boats come up the river, the Northwesters come from the Assiniboine with pack-trains of goods, and they pay the Cheyennes, and all who will trade with them, almost nothing for their furs. Why, they ask sixty beaver skins for a gun! Twenty skins for a blanket! And for everything else prices beyond reason. Now, your Company charges much less, does it not?"
"Only twenty skins for a gun, ten skins for a blanket, and six skins for three yards of trade cloth, enough for a woman's gown," I answered.
"Reasonable enough," she said, "and oh, how I do love peace! I would like to see peace between all tribes. I cry when I think of my Snake people, all the tribes of the plains against them, and they without guns, and so unable to defend themselves, hiding and starving for the greater part of the time in the forests of little game on the west side of the mountains.
"Now, listen! My man was once a Northwester, and he is still in league with it against all other traders, even the Americans. If he learns that you will try to bring about peace with the Cheyennes, in order to get their trade, he will do something to prevent it. You must tell no one, Minnetaree, Mandan, or Ahnahaway, that you want their trade. Just say that you would like to meet the Cheyennes, and bring about a peace between them and the Blackfeet. You remember that chief, Big Man, who was here to-night, and to whom you gave presents. He asked you to visit him. Do so, for he is really a Cheyenne, adopted by the Mandans, and so a chief in both tribes. Try to get him to go with you to the Cheyenne camp. If he will take you there, you will, at least, be sure to be well received, and get a hearing."
"I shall do as you advise," I told her; and we then talked of other things. She finally wound up the evening by telling me the story of her capture by the Minnetarees.