One of Floyd Heavy Runner’s great frustrations was the Christian narrative had crept into and changed the very fabric [values] of the Oral History of the Blackfeet. This began with the Jesuit penetration of the culture via the women. In the earliest contact times, it was inconceivable [to the Blackfeet] a religion could present a world view founded on a lie. The Jesuits took advantage of this by promoting the idea only ONE man had to die, for the women to discover all of their departed men in the after-life. This was a very effective subversion because Indian life saw many men die, valued and loved by the women men, titans who did not hesitate to lay down their lives that the women might live. By the time the Blackfeet had discovered the Europeans were invertebrate liars, culturally speaking, it was too late. Christianity had a foothold in the culture and this was not reversed, Blackfoot law prohibited killing one’s own people, the only means to stamp this cultural perversion out. Two centuries later, when the Oral Histories were first recorded, after the Blackfoot had been deprived of all freedom and were confined to their reservation, the additional handicaps of Christian interpreters and the American Indian Religious Crimes Codes which risked jail to demonstrate any association with the old ways of spirit, further eroded the Oral Histories. By this time, the stories simply could not be brought forward in a pure state per the ancient narrative.

What I have done here, with retelling the story of Mik-api, is to remove the Christian bias from the narrative and restore the original Blackfoot values. No doubt, this will not be a perfect effect or return to the narrative of 300 years ago, but should give a more accurate idea of the intended lessons of one of the more important stories of the truly ancients, from the times before horses-


Fox-eye had been punished severely by the gods who took away all his near relations, because he was not worthy. He had two young orphaned sisters (cousins) he kept and had made them his wives, by now all that was left. They confronted Fox-eye and implored him, ‘We can’t do this, look around you at all of our family, your family, our family, gone. This has been a big mistake. Everyone is leaving us’

Fox-eye was known to be stubborn. He understood what he had caused. His pride was great, and he could not bear to live with his mistake openly and honestly, he would not correct himself and go on. So he determined to die at first opportunity.

Meanwhile the sisters discussed what might happen, how they might escape a crime against the laws of spirit, which are not punished by man, rather punished by the gods with terrible luck.

As it happened, there was a great warrior of the people, Mik-api, an older man who had never taken a wife. Mik-api could have had any wife he pleased but his heart was merciful and wise. His great power was in his deep understanding of the truly Ancient Beings, the Great Ghosts we sometimes call upon as gods, not the ordinary ghosts, and any wife he might have taken would have to live a mistake free life, or be at risk. He suffered living alone these many years but this was better than bringing disaster on any wife, this was Mik-api’s thinking. So Mik-api had always acted as though he did not notice the many beautiful women who would not fear to die, if only to honor Mik-api with their love and devotion for his great service to the Blackfoot people.

Then, one of the sisters had cried out ‘If only we could marry Mik-api, our mistake has been great already, to marry Mik-api would make no difference for us!’ The other sister said ‘Be careful what you say! The Ghosts might hear you!’ But in fact they already had.

Fox-eye, soon after, went with a few others on a Buffalo hunt. A Medicine Woman had called the Buffalo into a Pishkun with the little stone that faintly chirps like a small bird, the one whose name we do not often speak aloud, and these men were shooting arrows into the Buffalo trapped in the stone corral when they were nearly surprised by a war party of Snake Indians, but their lookout was keen of sight and warned them in time to run back to camp.

Fox-eye taunted the others ‘Who is afraid of Snakes? Watch me, I will not run away!’

The others called back to him ‘Why be foolish and die for no good reason? Most our arrows are spent on the Buffalo, come, return with us!’

But Fox-eye had already determined to die, and stood his ground, waiting for the Snakes rushing at him. He had his bow and arrow at the ready but it was for nothing, a Snake had out-flanked Fox-eye, un-noticed. An arrow pierced his heart from the backside and he fell dead without giving a fight. By the time the Blackfoot hunting party had been able to return with help, they found Fox-eye dead and the Snakes had run away, out of reach.

When the sisters heard this news, they became badly frightened, the bad luck was drawing ever closer, now, there was none left but themselves.  The sister who had wished aloud to marry Mik-api said ‘There is nothing else to do but this; let us mourn Fox-eye on the little hill behind Mik-api’s lodge, until he calls for us. This we must do.’ Her sister agreed and they began those terrible wails that come from the belly and went on and on, day and night. They were not really mourning Fox-eye, he had abused his trust while keeping his orphaned near cousins, but these young women were genuinely mourning the great mistake they had been trapped into, and their own impending doom.

Finally, Mik-api, when he could no longer bear the sound of the girls mourning, he told his mother who stayed with him, those poor girls! Who will avenge them? Who will hunt for them? Go, call them in to talk to me.’

And so the sisters came into Mik-api’s lodge and sat by the door but kept their faces concealed with their robe. Mik-api was about to speak when the bolder sister, the one who’d wished to marry him, spoke first and confessed the incest, told everything, even to the wish she had stated out loud, how it would make no difference if he married them, because they were certain to die anyway but perhaps they could recover their dignity, at the least.

Mik-api was deeply troubled at what he heard, he fell silent for a long time. Then, finally, he said to them ‘Go, return to your lodge. You are young but even I, Mik-api, find what you have confessed to me, a deeply troubling circumstance, with no easy answer. I must visit with the High Priest of Okan and discuss what you have told me. Perhaps there is a way forward for us but I don’t know. I will try to find a way through this.’

The sisters left Mik-api with the first small hope they had known in their young adult lives. Meanwhile, Mik-api sent his mother to ask the tribe’s headman of Sun Dance, when would be a good time to discuss a matter of the deepest gravity.

Nobody had known the cause of the disasters surrounding Fox-eye, only that it was plain a great mistake had been made and had gone uncorrected. When Mik-api was called to sweat lodge to discuss with the keeper of the laws, finally the truth would be known.

The complications in this circumstance, per the known laws of the spirit world, were great. No one would avenge Fox-eye, or mourn him, were the truth to be known. And you cannot ask people to avenge or mourn falsely. So Fox-eye’s spirit would be lingering for a long time, he would be frustrated at not being alive or moved on to the Great Infinity and likely would do rash and angry things.

Fox-eye had to be drawn away from the sisters, they would be particularly at risk. These things and more were discussed.

After, Mik-api sent his mother to the sisters, to collect Fox-eye’s war hammer, his bow, his chert knife and his shield, these items had to be taken from Fox-eye’s burial scaffold. Then he prepared to depart on the war trail to the camp of the Snakes, he would be leaving his own weapons behind. When it was noticed the great Mik-api was preparing for war, many warriors wished to accompany him but he turned them all away, the famous warrior would go alone on the most legendary war journey of his life.

So Mik-api set out but he did an interesting thing on his way, he went to the valley whose name we do not say aloud and came within calling distance of the Cottonwood tree Fox-eye’s burial scaffold was located in. It was nearly dark when Mik-api called out ‘Fox-eye! I have your weapons of war and there is nothing you can do! Now, I will go to the Snakes and make a good showing with your weapons, something you did not!’ And with this grave insult, Mik-api drew the angry ghost of Fox-eye after himself, while continuing his journey. As it was in the old ways of war, Mik-api ran all night and concealed himself well, to rest during the day.

When night had fallen again, Mik-api resumed running. After this second night’s run, Mik-api was already in the vicinity of the Snakes, the border regions between the tribes, for Mik-api was of the Pikuni people, the southernmost Blackfeet and neighbors to the Snakes. With daybreak, Mik-api took shelter in a shallow cave on a cliff-side, a place with a good view. When nightfall came again, there was a storm and Mik-api delayed leaving his shelter. There was a Snake scout nearby, he did not wish to be in the storm either and the ghost of Fox-eye guided, or put it in his mind to go there, taking the Snake to the very cave Mik-api was sheltered in. In the pitch black they touched and both were startled. They began a hand language conversation by touch, Mik-api inquired ‘Who are you?’ The Snake made the sign for his people in a way Mik-api would feel the symbol and ask Mik-api the identical question. Mik-api made the sign of the River People, an ally of the Snakes, and his enemy relaxed. Both laid down to wait out the storm. Mik-api kept himself awake but the Snake slept, a fact for which he would die.

Lying was not an common thing in those days and Mik-api was disturbed in his spirit, and surprised at himself, he had gained advantage unfairly. But the lie was told, the mistake was made, he knew a lightning strike could give the lie away. He was quietly up after he knew the Snake was asleep, while poised with Fox-eye’s war hammer, waiting for the lightning. When the illumination came, he smashed his enemy’s head with a swift strike. After the storm, Mik-api ran again, for the rest of the night, to daybreak. The ghost of Fox-eye was not pleased at this outcome and continued following Mik-api.

By this time, Mik-api was now properly in the county of the Snakes and at daybreak he saw the smoke from the morning cooking fires of the Snake camp. So he very carefully made his way to a vantage point to study the camp’s layout, to spot the lookout sentries and make his plan. He saw that one of the guards was negligent, preoccupied with some craft-work that he put down from time to time, to study the landscape. He was making arrows.

Mik-api came up close behind, stealthily, while the Snake guard was paying close attention to tying an arrowhead to a shaft with sinew, and in one swift move Mik-api covered the Snake’s mouth with his hand from behind, while his other drove Fox-eye’s stone knife into the Snakes heart. It was a silent killing. Then, quietly, he withdrew.

Working his way to the other side of the camp, Mik-api knew the killing would not go un-noticed for much of the day. He wished to be opposite direction of the attention it would draw, when discovered. Perhaps he could then make one more kill and make his escape. He was nearly where he wished to be but not quite, when there was a great cry over the discovery of the sentry he had killed. Fox-eye had put it into the mind for someone to wander the way of the dead Snake. Many of the Snakes were running over there, and Mik-api was caught between a Snake warrior running towards him and his desired maneuver was failed. He realized there was no way to evade discovery. Rising up from his concealment with Fox-eye’s bow, he called out ‘I am Mik-api’ and the Snake had already begun his death chant when Fox-eye’s arrow pierced him, for these were famous words, known widely. Moments later, a second arrow finished him off. But now all of the Snakes were on the chase and Mik-api did not have the distance he needed, but he would try to make his escape.

Mik-api ran for the river close by the Snake camp, it was his only chance. A Snake arrow pierced his arm and he pulled it out while on the run. He had nearly made it to the edge of a high bank above the river when a second arrow pierced his thigh and Mik-api went down. He rolled over the rim above the river and dropped some distance, into the water. There Mik-api swam deep with the swift current, surfaced for air and could hear the Snakes shouting in the distance, went under again with the current and surfaced again, concealed under a log jam. Here he waited until dark, and was not discovered but he knew the search for him would resume in the morning. He moved a log from the bank, with great difficulty, into the water and floated downstream on the log for much of the night, until he was far away from the Snakes. Meanwhile, the ghost of Fox-eye had lost Mik-api’s trail, for as a spirit, he dared not go where the under-water ones lurked. Fox-eye was trapped in the land of the Snakes, possibly forever.

Mik-api had lived to escape the Snakes but he was in serious trouble, still. Now, he had to remove the arrow from his leg, which he did, but he was left crippled and exhausted. Mik-api shouted out loudly, of pure frustration, ‘To come so close and fail!’ and the great one, our brother we call the ‘Big Badger’ because we don’t dare pronounce his name outside of ceremony, heard Mik-api’s lamentation.

In those days, our people and our animal relatives could still freely communicate, and our brother came out of the forest and queried of Mik-api ‘What is the problem? Why is your spirit disturbed?’

Mik-api said ‘look here my brother, I am wounded in my arm and my leg. I am far from home, I cannot hunt, I cannot even walk.’

The very large bear replied ‘Do not despair Mik-api, for I know who you are and our peoples are related. I will see you home alive.’ He then brought mud with his hands, to dry over Mik-api’s wounds, took Mik-api to bushes ripe with berries so they both might eat and eventually, over the days that followed, brought Mik-api home, hanging onto the hair on his back. When the camp of Mik-api was in sight near the Sun River, below the mountains we call the Backbone, and the camp guards had seen them in the distance, Mik-api’s great brother let him off and vanished into the foothills.

There was a great commotion in the camp of the Pikuni people when it was announced Mik-api had returned alive and as expected, were he able to do this, the Buffalo Bulls society greeted Mik-api with a full regalia dance. But he had yet to do his most difficult task, to complete this journey. After he had healed and was cutting the rawhide strings that would tie his four piercing to the center pole of Okan, he had to confess his mistakes to the pole, in front of all the people. For the first piercing, he confessed he had insulted the dead, as a calculated strategy. For the second piercing, he recounted he had told a lie to gain advantage for a kill. For the third piercing, he confessed on behalf of Fox-eye, so that his spirit might find peace. For the fourth piercing, he confessed on behalf of the sisters he would marry, so their dignity would be restored. And then Mik-api danced the required four days, first a woman’s day, which is under the Moon, and then a man’s day, which is under the Sun, and then each once again. Before he was finished, and the piercing tore away from his breast, each of the sisters had been allowed to bring him a mouthful of water which passed from their lips to Mik-api’s lips, to ease his suffering, a promise of devotion to this in his future. And it was done. Mik-api lived long yet, for these beautiful women ever after lived carefully and cared deeply for our hero.

And so it was in the life of the great Mik-api, our Red Old Man.


In memory of Floyd



Life in Indian Country

Collected stories, folklore and anecdotes concerning my many years life with Blackfeet Indians and traversing Native American territories