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First medicine lodge.
From Blackfeet Indian Stories by George Bird Grinell.
Start of Story
The chief god of the Blackfeet is the Sun. He made the world and
rules it, and to him the people pray. One of his names is Napi--old
man; but there is another Napi who is very different from the Sun,
and instead of being great, wise, and wonderful, is foolish, mean,
and contemptible. We shall hear about him further on.
Every year in summer, about the time the berries ripen, the
Blackfeet used to hold the great festival and sacrifice which we
call the ceremony of the Medicine Lodge. This was a time of happy
meetings, of feasting, of giving presents; but besides this
rejoicing, those men who wished to have good-luck in whatever they
might undertake tried to prove their prayers sincere by sacrificing
their bodies, torturing themselves in ways that caused great
suffering. In ancient times, as we are told in books of history,
things like that used to happen among many peoples all over the
It was the law that the building of the Medicine Lodge must always
be pledged by a good woman. If a woman had a son or a husband away
at war and feared that he was in danger, or if she had a child that
was sick and might die, she might pray for the safety of the one she
loved, and promise that if he returned or recovered she would build
a Medicine Lodge. This pledge was made in a loud voice, publicly, in
open air, so that all might know the promise had been made.
At the time appointed all the tribe came together and pitched their
lodges in a great circle, and within this circle the Medicine Lodge
was built. The ceremony lasted for four days and four nights, during
which time the woman who had promised to make the Medicine Lodge
neither ate nor drank, except once in sacrifice. Different stories
are told of how the first Medicine Lodge came to be built. This is
one of those stories:
In the earliest times there was a man who had a very beautiful
daughter. Many young men wished to marry her, but whenever she was
asked she shook her head and said she did not wish to marry.
"Why is this?" said her father. "Some of these young men are rich,
handsome, and brave."
"Why should I marry?" replied the girl. "My father and mother take
care of me. Our lodge is good; the parfleches are never empty; there
are plenty of tanned robes and soft furs for winter. Why trouble me,
Soon after, the Raven Bearers held a dance. They all painted
themselves nicely and wore their finest ornaments and each one tried
to dance the best. Afterward some of them asked for this girl, but
she said, "No." After that the Bulls, the Kit-Foxes, and others of
the All Comrades held their dances, and many men who were rich and
some great warriors asked this man for his daughter, but to every
one she said, "No."
Then her father was angry, and he said, "Why is this? All the best
men have asked for you, and still you say 'No.'" Then the girl
said, "Father, listen to me. That Above Person, the Sun, said to me,
'Do not marry any of these men, for you belong to me. Listen to what
I say, and you shall be happy and live to a great age.' And again he
said to me, 'Take heed, you must not marry; you are mine.'"
"Ah!" replied her father; "it must always be as he says"; and they
spoke no more about it.
There was a poor young man. He was very poor. His father, his
mother, and all his relations were dead. He had no lodge, no wife to
tan his robes or make his moccasins. His clothes were always old and
worn. He had no home. To-day he stopped in one lodge; then to-morrow
he ate and slept in another. Thus he lived. He had a good face, but
on his cheek was a bad scar.
After they had held those dances, some of the young men met this
poor Scarface, and they laughed at him and said, "Why do not you ask
that girl to marry you? You are so rich and handsome."
Scarface did not laugh. He looked at them and said, "I will do as
you say; I will go and ask her."
All the young men thought this was funny; they laughed a good deal
at Scarface as he was walking away.
Scarface went down by the river and waited there, near the place
where the women went to get water. By and by the girl came there.
Scarface spoke to her, and said, "Girl, stop; I want to speak with
you. I do not wish to do anything secretly, but I speak to you here
openly, where the Sun looks down and all may see."
"Speak, then," said the girl.
"I have seen the days," said Scarface. "I have seen how you have
refused all those men, who are young and rich and brave. To-day some
of these young men laughed and said to me, 'Why do not you ask her?'
I am poor. I have no lodge, no food, no clothes, no robes. I have no
relations. All of them have died. Yet now to-day I say to you, take
pity. Be my wife."
The girl hid her face in her robe and brushed the ground with the
point of her moccasin, back and forth, back and forth, for she was
After a time she spoke and said, "It is true I have refused all
those rich young men; yet now a poor one asks me, and I am glad. I
will be your wife, and my people will be glad. You are poor, but
that does not matter. My father will give you dogs; my mother will
make us a lodge; my relations will give us robes and furs; you will
no longer be poor."
Then the young man was glad, and he started forward to kiss her, but
she put out her hand and held him back, and said, "Wait; the Sun has
spoken to me. He said I may not marry; that I belong to him; that if
I listen to him I shall live to great age. So now I say, go to the
Sun; say to him, 'She whom you spoke with has listened to your
words; she has never done wrong, but now she wants to marry. I want
her for my wife.' Ask him to take that scar from your face; that
will be his sign, and I shall know he is pleased. But if he refuses,
or if you cannot find his lodge, then do not return to me."
"Oh!" cried Scarface; "at first your words were good. I was glad.
But now it is dark. My heart is dead. Where is that far-off lodge?
Where is the trail that no one yet has travelled?"
"Take courage, take courage," said the girl softly, and she went on
to her lodge.
Scarface was very unhappy. He did not know what to do. He sat down
and covered his face with his robe, and tried to think. At length he
stood up and went to an old woman who had been kind to him, and said
to her, "Pity me. I am very poor. I am going away, on a long
journey. Make me some moccasins."
"Where are you going--far from the camp?" asked the old woman.
"I do not know where I am going," he replied; "I am in trouble, but
I cannot talk about it."
This old woman had a kind heart. She made him moccasins--seven
pairs; and gave him also a sack of food--pemican, dried meat, and
All alone, and with a sad heart, Scarface climbed the bluff that
overlooked the valley, and when he had reached the top, turned to
look back at the camp. He wondered if he should ever see it again;
if he should return to the girl and to the people.
"Pity me, O Sun!" he prayed; and turning away, he set off to look
for the trail to the Sun's lodge.
For many days he went on. He crossed great prairies and followed up
timbered rivers, and crossed the mountains. Every day his sack of
food grew lighter, but as he went along he looked for berries and
roots, and sometimes he killed an animal. These things gave him
One night he came to the home of a wolf. "Hah!" said the wolf; "what
are you doing so far from your home?"
"I am looking for the place where the Sun lives," replied Scarface.
"I have been sent to speak with him."
"I have travelled over much country," said the wolf; "I know all the
prairies, the valleys, and the mountains; but I have never seen the
Sun's home. But wait a moment. I know a person who is very wise,
and who may be able to tell you the road. Ask the bear."
The next day Scarface went on again, stopping now and then to rest
and to pick berries, and when night came he was at the bear's lodge.
"Where is your home?" asked the bear. "Why are you travelling so far
"Ah," replied the man, "I have come to you for help. Pity me.
Because of what that girl said to me, I am looking for the Sun. I
wish to ask him for her."
"I do not know where he lives," said the bear. "I have travelled by
many rivers and I know the mountains, yet I have not seen his lodge.
Farther on there is some one--that striped face--who knows a great
deal; ask him."
When the young man got there, the badger was in his hole. But
Scarface called to him, "Oh, cunning striped face! I wish to speak
The badger put his head out of the hole and said, "What do you want,
"I wish to find the Sun's home," said Scarface. "I wish to speak
"I do not know where he lives," answered the badger. "I never
travel very far. Over there in the timber is the wolverene. He is
always travelling about, and knows many things. Perhaps he can tell
Scarface went over to the forest and looked all about for the
wolverene, but could not see him; so he sat down on a log to rest.
"Alas, alas!" he cried; "wolverene, take pity on me. My food is
gone, my moccasins are worn out; I fear I shall die."
Some one close to him said, "What is it, my brother?" and looking
around, he saw the wolverene sitting there.
"She whom I wish to marry belongs to the Sun," said Scarface; "I am
trying to find where he lives, so that I may ask him for her."
"Ah," said the wolverene, "I know where he lives. It is nearly night
now, but to-morrow I will show you the trail to the big water. He
lives on the other side of it."
Early in the morning they set out, and the wolverene showed Scarface
the trail, and he followed it until he came to the water's edge.
When he looked out over it, his heart almost stopped. Never before
had any one seen such a great water. The other side could not be
seen and there was no end to it. Scarface sat down on the shore.
This seemed the end. His food was gone; his moccasins were worn out;
he had no longer strength, no longer courage; his heart was sick. "I
cannot cross this great water," he said. "I cannot return to the
people. Here by this water I shall die."
Yet, even as he thought this, helpers were near. Two swans came
swimming up to the shore and said to him, "Why have you come here?
What are you doing? It is very far to the place where your people
"I have come here to die," replied Scarface. "Far away in my country
is a beautiful girl. I want to marry her, but she belongs to the
Sun; so I set out to find him and ask him for her. I have travelled
many days. My food is gone. I cannot go back; I cannot cross this
great water; so I must die."
"No," said the swans; "it shall not be so. Across this water is the
home of that Above Person. Get on our backs, and we will take you
Scarface stood up. Now he felt strong and full of courage. He waded
out into the water and lay down on the swans' backs, and they swam
away. It was a fearful journey, for that water was deep and black,
and in it live strange people and great animals which might reach up
and seize a person and pull him down under the water; yet the swans
carried Scarface safely to the other side. There was seen a broad,
hard trail leading back from the water's edge.
"There," said the swans; "you are now close to the Sun's lodge.
Follow that trail, and soon you will see it."
Scarface started to walk along the trail, and after he had gone a
little way he came to some beautiful things lying in the trail.
There was a war shirt, a shield, a bow, and a quiver of arrows. He
had never seen such fine weapons. He looked at them, but he did not
touch them, and at last walked around them and went on. A little
farther along he met a young man, a very handsome person. His hair
was long; his clothing was made of strange skins, and his moccasins
were sewed with bright feathers.
The young man spoke to him and asked, "Did you see some weapons
lying in the trail?"
"Yes," replied Scarface, "I saw them."
"Did you touch them?" said the young man.
"No," said Scarface; "I supposed some one had left them there, and I
did not touch them."
"You do not meddle with the property of others," said the young man.
"What is your name, and where are you going?" Scarface told him.
Then said the young man, "My name is Early Riser (the morning star).
The Sun is my father. Come, I will take you to our lodge. My father
is not at home now, but he will return at night."
At length they came to the lodge. It was large and handsome, and on
it were painted strange medicine animals. On a tripod behind the
lodge were the Sun's weapons and his war clothing. Scarface was
ashamed to go into the lodge, but Morning Star said, "Friend, do not
be afraid; we are glad you have come."
When they went in a woman was sitting there, the Moon, the Sun's
wife and the mother of Morning Star. She spoke to Scarface kindly
and gave him food to eat, and when he had eaten she asked, "Why have
you come so far from your people?"
So Scarface told her about the beautiful girl that he wished to
marry and said, "She belongs to the Sun. I have come to ask him for
When it was almost night, and time for the Sun to come home, the
Moon hid Scarface under a pile of robes. As soon as the Sun got to
the doorway he said, "A strange person is here."
"Yes, father," said Morning Star, "a young man has come to see you.
He is a good young man, for he found some of my things in the trail
and did not touch them."
Scarface came out from under the robes and the Sun entered the lodge
and sat down. He spoke to Scarface and said, "I am glad you have
come to our lodge. Stay with us as long as you like. Sometimes my
son is lonely. Be his friend."
The next day the two young men were talking about going hunting and
the Moon spoke to Scarface and said, "Go with my son where you
like, but do not hunt near that big water. Do not let him go there.
That is the home of great birds with long, sharp bills. They kill
people. I have had many sons, but these birds have killed them all.
Only Morning Star is left."
Scarface stayed a long time in the Sun's lodge, and every day went
hunting with Morning Star. One day they came near the water and saw
the big birds.
"Come on," said Morning Star, "let us go and kill those birds."
"No, no," said Scarface, "we must not go there. Those are terrible
birds; they will kill us."
Morning Star would not listen. He ran toward the water and Scarface
ran after him, for he knew that he must kill the birds and save the
boy's life. He ran ahead of Morning Star and met the birds, which
were coming to fight, and killed every one of them with his spear;
not one was left. The young men cut off the heads of the birds and
carried them home, and when Morning Star's mother heard what they
had done, and they showed her the birds' heads, she was glad. She
cried over the two young men and called Scarface "My son," and when
the Sun came home at night she told him about it, and he too was
"My son," he said to Scarface, "I will not forget what you have this
day done for me. Tell me now what I can do for you; what is your
"Alas, alas!" replied Scarface, "Pity me. I came here to ask you for
that girl. I want to marry her. I asked her and she was glad, but
she says that she belongs to you, and that you told her not to
"What you say is true," replied the Sun. "I have seen the days and
all that she has done. Now I give her to you. She is yours. I am
glad that she has been wise, and I know that she has never done
wrong. The Sun takes care of good women; they shall live a long
time, and so shall their husbands and children.
"Now, soon you will go home. I wish to tell you something and you
must be wise and listen. I am the only chief; everything is mine; I
made the earth, the mountains, the prairies, the rivers, and the
forests; I made the people and all the animals. This is why I say
that I alone am chief. I can never die. It is true the winter makes
me old and weak, but every summer I grow young again.
"What one of all the animals is the smartest?" the Sun went on. "It
is the raven, for he always finds food; he is never hungry. Which
one of all the animals is the most to be reverenced? It is the
buffalo; of all the animals I like him best. He is for the people;
he is your food and your shelter. What part of his body is sacred?
It is the tongue; that belongs to me. What else is sacred? Berries.
They too are mine. Come with me now and see the world."
The Sun took Scarface to the edge of the sky and they looked down
and saw the world. It is flat and round, and all around the edge it
goes straight down. Then said the Sun, "If any man is sick or in
danger his wife may promise to build me a lodge if he recovers. If
the woman is good, then I shall be pleased and help the man; but if
she is not good, or if she lies, then I shall be angry. You shall
build the lodge like the world, round, with walls, but first you
must build a sweat-lodge of one hundred sticks. It shall be arched
like the sky, and one-half of it shall be painted red for me, the
other half you shall paint black for the night." He told Scarface
all about making the Medicine Lodge, and when he had finished
speaking, he rubbed some medicine on the young man's face and the
scar that had been there disappeared. He gave him two raven
feathers, saying: "These are a sign for the girl that I give her to
you. They must always be worn by the husband of the woman who builds
a Medicine Lodge."
Now Scarface was ready to return home. The Sun and Morning Star gave
him many good presents; the Moon cried and kissed him and was sorry
to see him go. Then the Sun showed him the short trail. It was the
Wolf Road--the Milky Way. He followed it and soon reached the
It was a very hot day. All the lodge skins were raised and the
people sat in the shade. There was a chief, a very generous man,
who all day long was calling out for feasts, and people kept coming
to his lodge to eat and smoke with him. Early in the morning this
chief saw sitting on a butte near by a person close-wrapped in his
robe. All day long this person sat there and did not move. When it
was almost night the chief said, "That person has sat there all day
in the strong heat, and he has not eaten nor drunk. Perhaps he is a
stranger. Go and ask him to come to my lodge."
Some young men ran up to the person and said to him, "Why have you
sat here all day in the great heat? Come to the shade of the lodges.
The chief asks you to eat with him." The person rose and threw off
his robe and the young men were surprised. He wore fine clothing;
his bow, shield, and other weapons were of strange make; but they
knew his face, although the scar was gone, and they ran ahead,
shouting, "The Scarface poor young man has come. He is poor no
longer. The scar on his face is gone."
All the people hurried out to see him and to ask him questions.
"Where did you get all these fine things?" He did not answer. There
in the crowd stood that young woman, and, taking the two raven
feathers from his head, he gave them to her and said, "The trail was
long and I nearly died, but by those helpers I found his lodge. He
is glad. He sends these feathers to you. They are the sign."
Great was her gladness then. They were married and made the first
Medicine Lodge, as the Sun had said. The Sun was glad. He gave them
great age. They were never sick. When they were very old, one
morning their children called to them, "Awake, rise and eat." They
did not move.
In the night, together, in sleep, without pain, their shadows had
departed to the Sandhills.