Okaraxta - Tales from the Great Plains
North American folklore, tales and legends from the First Nation tribes of the Great Plains
There are many sources & traditions within Native American storytelling & mythologies. These tales are a selection of those told by the tribes & peoples of the Great Plains, but by no means does this book cover all aspects even within just this sub-group. It's been one of the absolute delights of the summer discovering just how deep & rich are the veins of folk & tribal lore across the Americas.
This adaptation is taken from a story collected by Mrs. Mary Eastman in Dahcotah, Or, Life And Legends Of The Sioux Around Fort Snelling, originally published by John Wiley, New York, 1849.
“Long ago," said Mock-Pe-En-Dag-A-Win (Checkered Cloud), "the Dahcotah owned lands that the white man now claims. The trees, the rivers, were all our own. But the Great Spirit has been angry with his children. He has taken their forests and their hunting grounds, and given them to others.
"When I was young, I feared not wind nor storm. Days have I wandered with the hunters of my tribe, that they might bring home many buffalo for food, and to make our wigwams. Then, I cared not for cold and fatigue, for I was young and happy. But now I am old. My children have gone before me to the House of Spirits, and the tender boughs have yielded to the first rough wind of autumn, while the parent tree has stood and borne the winter's storm. "My sons have fallen by the tomahawk of their enemies. My daughter sleeps under the foaming waters of the Falls. Twenty winters were added to my life on that day. We had encamped at some distance above the Falls, and our hunters had killed many deer. Before we left our village to go on the hunt, we sacrificed to the Spirit of the woods, and we prayed to the Great Spirit. We lifted up our hands and said, 'Father, Great Spirit, help us to kill deer.' The arrows of our hunters never missed, and as we made ready for our return we were happy, for we knew we should not want for food. My daughter's heart was light, for Haparm was with her, and she never was sad but when he was away.
"Just before we arrived at the Falls, she became sick. Her hands were burning hot, and she refused to eat. As the canoe passed over the Mississippi, she would fill her cup with its waters, to drink and throw over her brow. The medicine men were always at her side, but they said some evil spirit hated her, and prevented their spells from doing her good.
"When we reached the Falls, she was worse. The women left their canoes, and prepared to carry them and the rest of the baggage round the Falls. "But what should we do with We-no-nah? The flush of fever was on her cheek, and she did not know me when I spoke to her, but she kept her eyes fixed upon her lover.
"'We will leave her in the canoe,' said her father, 'and with a line we can carry her gently over the Rapids.' I was afraid, but with her brothers holding the line she must be safe. So I left my child in her canoe, and paddled with the others to the shore.
"As we left her, she turned her eyes towards us, as if anxious to know what we were about to do. The men held the line steadily, and the canoe floated so gently that I began to feel less anxious, but as we approached the rapids, my heart beat quickly at the sound of the waters. Carefully did her brothers hold the line, and I never moved my eyes from the canoe in which she lay. Now the roaring of the waters grew louder, and as they hastened to the rocks over which they would fall they bore with them my child. I saw her raise herself in the canoe, I saw her long hair as it fell on her bosom…I saw no more!
"My sons bore me in their arms to the rest of the party. The hunters had delayed their return that they might seek for the body of my child. Her lover called to her, his voice could be heard above the sound of the waters. 'Return to me, We-no- nah, I will never love maiden but you. Did you not promise to light the fires in my wigwam?' He would have thrown himself after her, had not the young men prevented him. The body rests not in the cold waters. We found it and buried it, and her spirit calls to me in the silence of the night! Her lover said he would not remain long on the earth. He turned from the Dahcotah maidens as they smiled upon him. He died as a warrior should die!
"The Chippeways had watched for us, for they longed to carry the scalp of a Dahcotah home. They did so, but we were avenged.
"Our young men burst in upon them when they were sleeping. They struck them with their tomahawks, they tore their scalps reeking with blood from their heads.
"We heard our warriors at the village as they returned from their war party, and we knew by their joyful cries that they had avenged their friends. One by one they entered the village, bearing twenty scalps of the enemy.
"Only three of the Dahcotahs had fallen. But who were the three? My sons, and he who was as dear as a son to me, the lover of my child. I fled from their cries of triumph. I longed to plunge the knife into my own heart.
"I have lived on. But sorrow and cold and hunger have bowed my spirit, and my limbs are not as strong and active as they were in my youth. Neither can I work with porcupine as I used to, for age and tears have dimmed my sight. I bring you venison and fish, will you not give me clothes to protect me from the winter's cold?"
Ah, Checkered Cloud, he was a prophet who named you. Though the cloud has varied, now passing away, now returning blacker than before, though the cheering light of the sun has for a moment dispelled the gloom, it was but for a moment, for it was sure to break in terrors over your head. Your name is your history, your life has been a checkered cloud. But the storm of the day has yielded to the influence of the setting sun. The thunder has ceased to roll, the wind has died away, and the golden streaks that bound the horizon
promise a brighter morning. So with Checkered Cloud, the storm and strife of the earth have ceased, the "battle of life" is fought, and she has conquered. For she hopes to meet the beloved of earth in the heaven of the Dahcotahs.