Archives for posts with tag: Folk Stories

There was a Whiteman that hired an Indian guide to take him through the Rocky Mountains. This Whiteman was from New York City and he had taken the train as far as the Rocky Mountain Front, but that was as far as the tracks went, in those days. He had a stereotypical idea of Indians, he did not bring food for the journey beyond that point, the Indian guide he would hire would also hunt for him, that was the Whiteman’s thinking

Most of the Indian guides the Whiteman approached did not like the fact that the Whiteman was not prepared for the journey, and he was having a hard time finding anyone to guide his trip. But he approached one of our special people, one of the Indians we always look out for, because hanging out with one of these ‘special’ ones, we know that anything can happen. But the Whiteman did not know he had hired one of these ‘special’ people. Sort of like the Whiteman saying, ‘All Chinamen look alike’, he could not tell the difference between a sane Indian and this savant idiot

So the Whiteman hired his Indian guide, Happy, and they set out together to cross the mountains without any food.

And without weapons or blankets

The Whiteman did not mind, he had read nearly all of the dime novels about the western tribes and he was confident that his Indian guide, Happy, could bring him through anything. Meanwhile, what he did not realize, was what it meant to Happy to be an Indian. Happy was used to privation. He had more often than not slept out of doors with only his light jacket to keep warm, and was no stranger to going for a week at a time without a proper meal. This was the early reservation days

The second day into the trek, the Whiteman was already becoming faint from hunger, Happy had not yet fashioned a bow and arrow, and the Whiteman began to worry. But Happy jovially reassured him about every concern expressed, Happy would make the bow and arrow, Happy would hunt, they would eat, they would have nice tanned hides for blankets so it would not be as cold that night, but in the meanwhile, they just kept walking, the Whiteman had to keep up, because Happy never stopped walking, and the Whiteman did not know where he was

Towards the end of the third day, the Whiteman was both desperate and beginning to get an inkling that Happy did not discern between wishful thinking and reality. He desperately wished Happy would make the bow and hunt, reality was setting in however, and reality was, Happy did not know how. Happy only knew how to go hungry and keep walking and be Happy

On the morning of the fourth day, the Whiteman began to cry when the perfectly happy Happy got up and started walking. He had no choice but to get up and follow. But now Happy was a little bit hungry himself. So Happy watched as he walked that day

Towards dusk, Happy suddenly grabbed up a stone and threw it into a tree, knocking a large Blue Grouse from its perch. Pouncing very quickly, Happy had the big wild chicken by its neck. He was beaming. Happy then stated, “I have a chicken for my dinner”

The Whiteman had other plans for the chicken

First he tried reason, he suggested Happy should share, but no, Happy could reason too, this was Happy’s chicken, the forest was full of chickens and the Whiteman could get his own. The Whiteman knew he was too weak to take the chicken from Happy, so he resorted to guile. He knew from the dime novels that these people were big on dreams. He made a proposal to Happy. Tonight they would dream for the chicken. The most powerful dream would win. By now, the Whiteman had finally, truly realized that Happy was a simpleton. He would have no trouble making up the winning dream. And Happy accepted the challenge

They went to sleep

In the morning, the Whiteman sat up and announced his dream. He had gone back to New York City. Arriving at the Gentlemen’s Club for dinner, there was a raffle for a Blue Grouse from the Rocky Mountains and he had won. The Mayor himself drew the winning ticket from the hat. The large wild chicken was served with salad and croutons. He magnanimously saved 1/2 the chicken to bring back to his Indian friend Happy. Looking at Happy, who suddenly, for the first time, was not looking happy, but was briefly showing genuine remorse, the Whiteman asked “What did you dream?”

Happy said “When I saw you leave in your dream, I followed, to see what you would do. When you arrived at the Gentleman’s Club, I tried to go in for dinner too, but they stopped me at the door. “No Indians allowed.” So I returned here, to eat the chicken, but I forgot to save you some.”

The Whiteman carved his initials on a rock near that dream place: “J.S. Died Here July 14 1884.”

Happy had kept walking



Life in Indian Country

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

Niitssitapi is in the minds and hearts of all who live in the Blackfeet cosmos, those who understand the stories of Oral History and know the Blackfeet gods and their ceremonies.

The story began : “Thunder abducted the wife of the Half Earth Being, Man, her name is Niitssitapi.” Man was crying and the other beings noticed. They gathered among themselves and asked why is Man so pitiful? The sound of his weeping was very disturbing. When Bear explained the cause of Man’s grief, everyone seemed to become afraid. There was no question Niitssitapi had to be rescued, because until she was returned to Man, everyone’s life was hanging in the balance. But who would go against Thunder?

This question was put to another Half Being, Eagle, who knew the road to, and sometimes shared Thunder’s realm in the sky. These two had counciled together in the past.

Eagle said “It cannot be me, for I am Thunder’s relation. Let it be Raven who corrects my cousin’s wrong.”

Raven knew the trail to Thunder’s realm as well, however she would not go there. But Raven stated to Eagle “I will do it. First you must pass along a message, from me to Thunder, you will be my Runner.”

Eagle agreed “This, I am allowed to do.”

Raven then stated “I must go to my lodge, I will not be prepared until the afternoon of the fifth Man Day. Eagle, you must find me then, alone, on the prairie between the meeting place of the Old Man and Lakes Inside Rivers.”

These Beings Peoples then dispersed and Raven went home to make ceremony and paint a glyph on a bit of Aspen bark.

Sak Wo Ma Oui Aki Kwan stood alone on the prairie with her back to the rivers place of coming together.

Eagle arrived at the appointed time and circled above, calling out five times ‘EeKiii’: “Have you seen Raven?”

The Woman Warrior, her Black, Black hair turned loose in the wind, called back to Eagle “Look at the feather tied upon the left side of my glory in this wind, for I AM Raven.”

Eagle then landed at the woman’s feet. He said “Your ceremony is strong. But I will not warn my cousin Thunder.”

Raven gave the painted glyph to Eagle with the warning: “Do not look at this, it would destroy you. When you have delivered it to Thunder, quickly move to the side, before he can have the chance to clearly see it. That is all.”

Eagle said nothing, but took off into the sky with the glyph grasped in his talons, his great wings working hard into the climbing circle, until a thermal updraft lifted him high, soaring to a speck and then finally, out of sight.

Soon, very soon after Eagle had gone out of view, a great Black Boiling Cloud began forming before Sak Wo Ma Oui Aki Kwan: ‘The Woman Who Stood Alone and Challenged the Enemy.’

Thunder’s great rage of wind at this Woman was terrifying to behold, but Raven stood her ground against it. When he came into range, Thunder drew arrows from his quiver and shot them from his bow, the arrows strikes against the ground were deafening… and each one missed! Raven, now a Woman, now a bird, woman-bird, woman-bird, enraged Thunder as never before, Thunder repeatedly fired at a woman, but only to see his strikes evaded by a bird that hopped!

Raven, facing Thunder, had hopped forward one hop, to the south, with each arrow Thunder had sent at her. As she hopped farther and farther away from the place where the rivers joined, she felt Ichs Stui approaching from behind her, and Thunder, whose rage was so great, did not notice.

Ichs Stui’s icy hand took the remaining arrows from Thunder’s quiver and the fight was over. Raven had won. Now they had to sit together, Sak Wo Ma Oui Aki Kwan, Ichs Stui, and Thunder, where the Old Man and Lakes Inside rivers meet, and make the Peace.

Terms of the peace

Sak Wo Ma Oui Aki Kwan sat in the west, looking into the east, Ichs Stui sat in the north, looking into the south and Thunder sat in the east, looking into the west. The south stood open to this lodge they created with their positions. The protocol called for Sak Wo Ma Oui Aki Kwan to speak, Thunder did not like it but he had no choice, for the Woman Warrior was victor.

She first placed a tanned Elk skin bag on the prairie grass before Ichs Stui and then the Woman Warrior spoke to Thunder: “I have brought this Cermonial Stone, a gift to you from Raven handed through my Ceremony and Vision, those things preparing me for this fight, now, to make this peace. It is in the shape of the Man Being when he is a Creator. This is to remind you, Thunder, Niitssitapi is forever free to make her own choice of her mate.”

With these words, the Woman Warrior changed in her body and became pregnant. Her beauty softened. The anger went out of Thunder’s face. He felt compassion and a brother’s love for Niitssitapi as he gazed at her sitting across from him.

“Now, as Niitssitapi”, she continued: “I give this Stone into the keeping of Ichs Stui, on your behalf, my half brother, he will keep it safely for you in his winter home. Each Moon of the Willows Return, Ichs Stui will bring out this Stone and you will use it in ceremony, to commemorate this meeting, and my right to live in Human Dignity, and you will commerate all of my future children’s right to live in Human Dignity, whether my Woman children or my Half Man Being children. Each Moon of the Ripened Cherries, Ichs Stui, whom you cannot stand against, will come and collect this Ceremonial Stone for safe keeping and I will thank Raven who will gather herself again and hop south to remind you.”

This story is my rendition of the Blackfoot story on the origin of matriarchy; ‘The Law of the Black Stone’ or also could be called ‘The Law of the Ninawaki.’ The Blackfoot word for ‘wife’ is ‘ninaki’ (translates ‘Boss’) which is the lesser from of ‘ninawaki’ or the highest form of Blackfoot chief in ancient times. A ninawaki could only be a woman. The term ‘niitsitapi’ is reference to Blackfoot citizenship or all those who adhere to this law.

Note: ‘half-man’ beings are essentially demigods. This would be the expectation based in the ancient matriarchy system demanding the highest ethics and associated abilities.



Life in Indian Country

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

Pat had a medicine man friend over in the Flathead tribe and their main ceremony is the Blue Jay dance. When he was visiting at my house one day, I told Pat about a Stellar Jay coming into my pigeon coop to steal food. Pat was immediately interested, his eyes lighted up. “Is he a young one, can you catch me a young one?” Pat wanted to know. I told Pat I thought so. Over the next several days I kept warning the Jay “I’m going to catch you and give you to Pat!” The Jay paid no attention. So one morning I took a fish landing net out to the coop and cornered the Jay. Next thing he was in the net and then a cage. I called Pat and let him know. Pat waited several weeks to come pick the Jay up (Medicine men are careful, they don’t want something dying on their hands.)  The Jay was eating well, he especially liked earthworms. Finally Pat came and collected the bird, after I had left for Germany on business. So the Jay lived initially in a cage at Pat’s house while they got to know each other. He named the Jay ‘Strawberry’ for his favorite new treat. Eventually the Jay was trusted outside the cage and would steal from the plates at mealtimes. One day it was overlooked that a window was opened while the Jay was out of his cage and he went out the window. But Strawberry was back in the window just at supper time! So Strawberry was ready to be a Medicine Man that was Pat’s plan for the bird.

When it came time of year for Blue Jay ceremony over at Flathead country, Pat arrived and made a great stir when he introduced Strawberry to the Flathead Medicine Men. The bird was a Chief, the Boss Medicine Man, a High Priest, whatever you want to call it. Strawberry learned to mimic the drumbeats to the sacred songs, and if a medicine man was praying over a bowl of berries for the ceremony, the bird could help himself from his perch on the rim of the bowl. The Flathead medicine men wanted to keep Strawberry, but Pat would not let the bird go. So a deal was struck: that Pat had to bring the bird to ceremony each Blue Jay dance season.

It worked out that way for a couple of years. Strawberry was a traveling medicine man  and visited ceremonies in Flathead, Ojibwa, Cree and Blackfeet country. Strawberry became a master of ceremonial drumbeat. But as the way of the world will have things, Pat’s main medicine man friend at the Blue Jay Dance ceremony had passed away, and so Pat set Strawberry free back at my house, and I was not home at the time.

One morning I was up and outside doing chores, when, from a fir tree in my yard, not twenty feet away, I heard the perfect cadence of a Giveaway Dance; a ceremonial song was being tapped out. As the hair stood on the back of my neck, I tried to look out of the corner of my eye to see what on earth was happening. The bird finished off the song perfectly, right to the staccato ending, and made my skin crawl. Then I saw it was a Jay, and he laughed at me and flew off. I went into the house and had a long, quiet cup of coffee at the kitchen table, where I could see the tree through a window.

A couple of days or so later, it was early spring, I noticed a large gathering of Jays in a Cottonwood tree not far from the house. The tree had buds, but was not yet leafed out. I sat on a stump and only watched. There were well over 100 Jays in that tree. Every Stellar Jay for miles around must have been present. One Jay was apparently telling a story, anyway he was the only person speaking for the most part. Every now and again this Jay would pause and the rest of the these Jay people would briefly make a collective racket. Then Strawberry was speaking again and next thing, there it was, he was tapping out a recognizable ceremonial beat for the rest of the birds.

I would not be surprised if, twenty-five years hence, some naturalist notes the peculiar ‘drumming’ of the Stellar Jays in Glacier National Park. The old time Indians would know better.


Chelsea Nied photo credit


Life in Indian Country

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

A story of life in Bear country


I won’t say I’ve had countless encounters with bears, but I’ve met them many times. Living in countryside shared with a dense bear population, when meeting bears, you come to understand mostly, bears simply need talked to and left alone. It was the fate of Bruno, a wandering bear who died for the mere fact of stepping on German soil, causes reflection and this story. Follows are some of my encounters with bears and a lion.

Growing up in the vicinity of wilderness areas, Glacier National Park and the adjacent Great Bear Wilderness, bears were a fact of life. When I was young, my Dad would take me in his pick-up truck to park at a little distance with binoculars and we would watch the Grizzly Bears come to dine at the garbage dumpsters outside of the small village of West Glacier. Eventually there had been a policy change relating to these ‘garbage bears’ and this food supply was shut off, to force the bears back into their natural foraging habits. Years later, there had been a similar circumstance when a train with a grain cargo [maize] had derailed and spilled. The railroad had simply buried the corn and it had fermented. Bears from far and wide had been attracted, began digging up the fermented grain and became horrendously drunk. Again, we would park our vehicle at a distance and watch with binoculars. Semi-comatose, drunk bears would wake up a bit, opening one eye while lying on the ground, reach into the corn and scoop another mouthful and pass out again. Bears that woke up and tried to walk would stumble, fall and roll down the hill. Some were hit by trains while crossing the tracks close to where the corn had been buried. It became an  environmental scandal and the railroad was forced to return to the site, dig up the corn and haul it away.

We had a HUGE blonde Grizzly mother with her two very large and nearly grown cubs, clean out our apple tree one Fall season. It was not a big deal, we let the bears have the apples and the bears left us alone. If by chance we met, they always ran, preferring to harvest our (now theirs, actually) apples alone.

I nearly stepped on a napping Black Bear behind our house, it had found a depression in the cool ground, in the dark shade of a large tree and was sound asleep in the heat of the afternoon. I happened to walk nearly on top of it while out assessing another Fall season’s firewood harvesting. The bear jumped up from seeming nowhere about two meters in front of me as I walked and let out a tremendously frightened yowl, I’m certain both our eyes looked like Mr Magoo on a roller-coaster. The bear ran away from me.

I was walking in the forest with my youngest, at that time a nearly new-born infant, asleep in a baby pack strapped to my chest. I was in a creek drainage where two trails converged as I walked down a hill. I saw a Cinnamon bear walking down the other trail and realized we were on track to meet precisely where the two trails met. I understood that if I stopped and stood still, the Cinnamon would continue walking downhill unmolested. That is what happened, the bear passed us about twenty meters away.

My oldest son went into our garage one evening, from our kitchen, the large garage door was open to the outside and he saw what he thought was our large black dog eating from a big bag of dog food. Going over to give Zeus a pat on the head and scratch his ears, a black bear’s head was what emerged from the bag. He came back into the house with eyes as large as silver dollars, the bear had freaked out too, and ran precisely in the other direction.

Not far away from where we lived, near Bigfork, Montana, a 12 year old boy out playing alone, had inadvertently found himself caught between a mother Black Bear and her cubs. The mother bear had knocked the boy down and laid on top of him while she bawled out the danger call to her kids who went up trees and then let the boy go, unharmed.

I was hiking in the Bob Marshall wilderness and camped beside the Spotted Bear River, by the riverside trail. Along about midnight, a Grizzly bear that left prints as large as a size 16 men’s basketball shoe, walked past on the trail and could have cared less about bothering me in any respect.

On another occasion in the wilderness, I was resting along a hiking trail on a mountainside with one of the most incredible dogs I have ever owned, a female Wolf-Malamute cross. The was a large bolder obstructed our vision but the dog told me, without making a sound, there was a bear nearby by standing on her haunches with the hair up on her back, forelegs out, precisely as bear stands. Moments later a large Grizzly walked around the boulder, point blank, saw us, turned and galloped away.

Back at home, one day I was curious as to why cars were repeatedly slamming on their brakes in front of my house, so I walked outside to have a look. A mother Grizzly and her two cubs were grazing on dandelions alongside our house. I came back inside, told my family we would have to be alert, and not to disturb the bears. For two weeks we would look out the windows of the house to ascertain the location of the bears, before going out of doors to do chores, make a local trip in the car, or whatever. There was never any aggression or fear on any parties part, bear or human. But then one evening one of the cubs took an interest in our cat door and the dynamic had to change. I called our game warden to come and relocate them. He brought three traps, caught both the yearling cubs but not the now thoroughly enraged mother. So, a second warden was placed in a trap that was closed on him, the trap (they are like small steel jails built on trailers) was driven to where the cubs were in their traps and from inside the closed trap the warden shot the mother, who emerged to defend her trapped cubs, with a tranquilizer dart and the problem was solved. The bears were driven 70 miles away, and were back in two weeks (she had been radio collared) but avoided homes and people after.

It was in Yellowstone Park I saw a park ranger with an expression looking like it was the worst day of his life. Alongside the road were many parked cars and about a hundred tourists standing alongside the road. Between the tourists and a large male Grizzly busy over-turning rocks and logs, looking for insects to eat, stood the single, unarmed ranger, his back to the bear, about twenty meters behind him, facing the tourists to keep any one of them trying to approach any closer. We simply kept driving, Grizzly Bears being no novelty. There must not have been a problem, because we did not hear news of any incident.

Arnold was our pet duck that survived a Black Bear nearly eating him. A bear had broken into our chain link pen and grabbed Arnold, but then saw Bill, our goose, and dropped the duck to make off with the larger meal. By the time I’d gotten out of bed, put on some clothes and was outside to investigate, it was too late for Bill, he was carried away by the bear. We brought Arnold into the house, set his broken wing, stitched up a hole in his breast (he bit me the entire time) and Arnold went on to be a proud father of many ducklings. My [Native American  raised] youngest, about 11 years old at the time, although he grieved for Bill, refused to be angry at the bear, expressing an understanding: “The bear was only doing what anyone would do, getting something to eat.”

My Native American teacher, Pat, used to be contacted by the Glacier National Park rangers in the 1970s, to ‘talk to the bears.’ This would happen when bears would show up at the park campgrounds. Pat would approach the animal, explain to it in his native language that only trouble could come of frequenting that particular locale and ‘ask the bear in a nice way’ to leave. It worked, every time. Park administrators changed and after, Pat was no longer contacted to ‘talk to the bears.’

Another acquaintance, Terry, video records bears. When  asked by two Blackfeet brothers what he would do if he suddenly found himself too close to Grizzlies, Terry replied “Talk to them.” The brothers looked at each other and replied “That’s exactly right.”

At five years of age, my dog, Zeus, was a veteran, weighing in at 80+ pounds and extremely fit, he had harried numerous bears off our property including several grizzlies. Zeus technique was to dart at the bears hind end, causing the bear to have to wheel again and again to protect his backside, ultimately convincing the bear that whatever he was attracted to was not worth the bother. It was awesome to listen to the dog on bear contest, tearing up the turf and in turn making their fiercest noise after dark, alternately dog-bear, bear-dog. Most of these encounters had been in the night, due to the nocturnal habits of foraging bears near human habitation. In Winter, when bears are denned up, Zeus, a Wolf/Husky  cross, patrolled his beat mainly concerned with keeping the coyotes at bay.

At dusk on St Valentines Day, February 14th, 2001, bears being denned up, I had no great concern when Zeus put up his great display of black mane standing up in a roach and his most powerful bark to alert me to trouble. Not worried about at all about bears, I stepped outside expecting a Raccoon trying to get into the chicken house. I was without a firearm, when walking over see what the trouble was. As I approached Zeus, I saw a Mountain Lion charging directly at me from 25 meters distance. Instantly I was in full retreat back to the house but it was looking too late, a real race as to whether I would make it to the door. Looking over my shoulder I could see the lion had closed what looked like over half the distance to me and I had only covered about half the distance I needed to be back in the house. Ridiculous thoughts were flashing in my mind, I remembered you don’t run from lions or they will give chase -the lion was after me already- at what the Game Warden later would tell me was a speed approaching 45 miles per hour. But I need not have worried.

Zeus had put himself directly in the lions path and intercepted the charging predator. As I slammed the door behind me and glanced out the window as I ran for a firearm, Zeus and the lion were in what looked a like a ballroom dance pose, both up on their hind legs and embraced, contesting to bite and grasp the others head or throat. I knew at that moment that I was going to have to be fast to save Zeus, because a dog, no matter how brave and strong, is no match for a lion. At the far end of the house I grabbed an old Remington pump action goose gun and a box of #1 Buckshot, spilling shells as I ran back across the house.

Now Army training from 30 years before had kicked in like a well oiled clock- As I was moving, by the numbers, I was pushing a shell into the magazine, opening the action with the pump, locking the action, loaded, with safe off, I pushed open a kitchen window with one hand, dropped the barrel of the weapon through the opening with the other. At this point the lion had Zeus down and the only shot I could take was for the large cats hips. I fired and the lions rear legs went out from under him but he was not dislodged from the dog. But now Zeus was able to roll the cat over and was on top and had the lion by the throat- and I was able to shoot the lion through the head, ear to ear, from about five meters. It was a close call to fire buckshot that close to Zeus but it was a shot that absolutely had to be taken. The cats last move was to wave his long lion’s tail like a flag in slow motion surrender. The lion was shot dead in probably about 30-45 seconds from the time I saw it charging me. Zeus stood back from the large cat at that point, watching intently, willing to quit if the lion was done, but ready to fight some more if need be. What a dog! And what a way to begin my 50th year! Zeus was in remarkably good shape for having had a lion encounter, he had a torn ear, 3 puncture wounds to the head from the lions primary killing fangs and a slight skull fracture resulting. He fully recovered. The lion was estimated to be a five year old adult that was desperate because it had one of its four primary killing teeth broken off and badly abscessed; it was no longer able to effectively take its natural prey of elk and deer. The investigating Game Warden speculated the lion was stalking Zeus when I became the target of opportunity. We had bears, but it was a lion would have killed me.

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Bruno was the first bear to visit Germany in 170 years. Bruno killed a dozen sheep, ate two pet bunnies, a guinea pig and raided some beehives. The entire state of Bavaria was up in arms over Bruno, who’d wandered over the Alps from Italy. Mothers clutched their children in great angst over this bunny killing monster who would no doubt devour God’s little German children. If the army were not mobilized against Bruno, well, it seemed that were on the horizon. Bruno dominated the headlines, the lost juvenile bear who’d slept on the steps of a village police station as though looking for a kind soul to give him a lift back to Italy and away from all the hysteria. No one attempted to talk to Bruno. The Germans were too parsimonious to re-employ shepherds necessary to discourage Bruno’s efforts, having killed off their nation’s bears and had done with it; consequent efforts to trap Bruno looked like a Disney comedy called ‘The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight’ or perhaps the ‘Keystone Cops.’

In the end, Bruno was murdered, shot dead for no reason other than the irrational fear ‘civilized’ people have of a large wild animal’s undeserved stereotype. In fact, Bruno posed less danger to humans than the many wild pigs running free nearly everywhere in Germany. Certainly Bruno was not a threat approaching the threat humans typically pose to each other. Fear and loathing killed Bruno the Bear.


Note: A wolf cross requires the mother to be a friendly variant of domestic dog to be dependable. If the mother is a wolf, you will have a dangerous dog

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