Ah’ani’nin Oral History By Clarena M. Brockie

Ah’ani’nin Oral History By  Clarena M. Brockie
Ah’ani’nin Oral History
Clarena M. Brockie
Copyright Clarena Brockie 2013
A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree of
In the Graduate College
The University of Arizona
This thesis has been submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for an advanced
degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library to be made
available to borrowers under rules of the Library.
Brief quotations from this thesis are allowable without special permission, provided
that accurate acknowledgment of source is made. Requests for permission for extended
quotations from or reproduction of this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by
the copyright holder.
Clarena M. Brockie
This thesis has been approved on the date shown below:
Nancy Parezo
Professor of American Indian Studies
April 11, 2012
Chapter I, INTRODUCTION…………………………………………………………. 5
Chapter IV, THE STORIES…..…………………….…………………………………...51
Chapter V, CONCLUSIONS - WHAT I LEARNED….………………………………166
APPENDIX A…………………………………………………………………………..169
RESEARCH APROVAL………………….……………………………………….…. 169
APPENDIX B…….…………………………………………………………………….174
GR0S VENTRE PULICATIONS….…………………………………….……………174
REFERENCES………………………………………………………………………. .189
In earlier times Ah’ani’nin lived together and in the winter months retold oral
histories and stories, especially those which they wanted to impress upon the people as
important to remember. Children were taught lessons through oral history. The youth
also participated in ceremonies, learned the songs, lived as the Ah’ani’nin taught them
and were told the importance of the way of the life of the Ah’ani’nin. This is how they
kept a record of their ceremonies, culture, their kinship relations, their economy and
governance. By practice and re-telling the history their culture was maintained. Stories
were told as the women worked, in the evening when men were off hunting or at social or
religious gatherings. In this thesis, I have collected stories about the Ah’ani’nin, stories
of legends, history the trickster stories and discussed how these stories in the past helped
the Ah’ani’nin and how can they help the people today.
I do not know how many times I have heard an old story told by my great grandpa
or grandmother or another relative and said to myself, “Why didn’t I write that don?”
When I first came to the University of Arizona I wanted to major in a program that would
help me simply preserve my mother’s stories which had been told to her by her
grandparents. But the more research I did on the Ah’ani'nin, the more I realized that the
Ah’ani’nin have a rich beautiful history with guiding pillars on how to live their lives. It
is important to preserve the history of the Ah’ani’nin, especially in light of the principle
that knowing who you are helps you to preserve what you have. My history, like that of
other Ah’ani’nin individuals and families is filled with oral stories of who we and who
our people are and how they lived and continue to live. It is these stories that are in the
minds of Ah’ani’nin elders. Sometimes these stories have been written down as a way to
record the words. It is thus possible that some versions are sitting on some shelf still
unpublished and unknown. These stories need to be spoken again and told in the
community. My goal is to listen to and collect the historical stories as told by my family,
to record and write about them before they are lost and ensure that these collections are
not confined to some musty shelf.
In addition to the stories themselves, I want to add to scholarship about them and
their role in the Ah’ani’nin culture. How have these stories helped the Ah’ani’nin in the
past and how can they help people today? What is their message? The stories recorded in
this MA thesis in American Indian Studies come from those elders who still know the
oral histories and traditions of the past and they have given permission to record them
herein. Unfortunately these storytellers are now but a few and I have selected these
interviewees based on their knowledge.
Before I begin to relate these stories I would like to place them in their cultural
contest. Thus, I begin with the question, who are the Ah’ani’nin?
The Ah’ani’nin: Th e People and Their Culture
The Ah’ani’nin have been known by several names: the Water Falls people or the
Atsina, while early French traders and fur trappers named them Gros Ventre. The sign
for water fall is the passing of hands over the stomach and the French thought the Indian
were saying “big belly,” hence the French designation, Gros Ventre. But Ah’ani’nin
prefer their name, People of the White Clay. An’ani, just means White Clay. They
believe that they were made from the white clay that is found along the river bottoms in
Ah’ani’nin country.
The Ah’ani’nin today live on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in north central
Montana. Fort Belknap derives its name from William W. Belknap who was the
Secretary of War in the 1880s. The fort was a military and trading post that was
established on the Milk River, which sits on the north end of the reservation. It became
the government agency for the Ah’ani’nin tribe. Fort Belknap (the fort) was sold to the
government by T.C. Powers, another influential person who later became Montana’s
senator. In 1855 the Blackfeet confederacy, including the Ah’ani'nin, signed a treaty
with the federal government called the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The designated area
shows the top half of Montana Territory, later designated as the State of Montana (Barry,
1908, p. 7). This was to be the land on which only the tribes would settle.
However, in 1878 outside capitalist influences and Euro-American settlers wanted
to reduce the size of the reservation and “negotiations” began. It was not until 1888 that
the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation was established by Executive Order. In giving up
their land these tribes lost an important part of life, their ability to hunt freely and live as
they chose.
The Ah’ani’nin were once nomadic hunters and warriors. They followed the
buffalo which provided them with all the necessities of life, their food, clothing and tipis.
The buffalo was the Indian staff of life and the tribe lived a good life. In the nineteenth
century, only one herd of buffalo existed in the area between the Bear Paw Mountains
(west of the reservation), the Little Rocky Mountains, (also known as Fur Cap
Mountains) and the Milk River Valley. Soon thereafter there were no more buffalo for
the tribe to hunt.
Treaties with the United States government in the 19th century confined Indians to
reservation life, which did not allow the freedom to follow the buffalo herds, or were
there any buffalo herds to follow. In addition, other Indian Service and Department of
Interior regulations, Congressional laws and administrative executive orders for many
years forbid the people the freedom to practice their ceremonies, especially the Sun
Dance. The Indian Service agents to the Ah’ani’nin even forbade the practice of telling
stories at one time. The Dawes Act of 1888 was designed to eliminate the other social
organizations and community-centeredness of the Ah’ani’nin by encouraging individual
land ownership through allotment. The Indian New Deal of the 1930s was designed to
shift the government policy to encourage some cultural preservation, eliminate the
problems of the allotment era, while the Indian Reorganization Act established greater
tribal involvement in governance on reservations through a democratic and representative
government based on the model of the U.S. Constitution (Barry, 1972, p. 231).
So much of Native American history has been lost. A significant number of tribes
no longer exist and with them their languages, histories and traditional ways of life have
vanished. The Ah’ani'nin, a small tribe, was in danger of extinction by the turn of the
twentieth century. By 1905 there were less than 500 members compared to over 15,000
people earlier in the century. Today there are only a little over 4,000 tribally enrolled
members according to the Fort Belknap Tribal Enrollment office, 2011. This type of
population drop and then slow recovery means that special measurers must be taken to
ensure the people and their culture survives as well as adapts to changing conditions.
Very little has been written about the Ah'ani’nin, their language, history and
culture. Most of this scholarship was written before 1958. The most noted scholars were
anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber who came in 1903; John Cooper in 1949; Regina
Flannery in 1952; and Loretta Fowler in 1984. The information contained in their books
is important. Without ethnographic and ethno-historical documentation, it is hard to
imagine what knowledge about the old ways would remain, especially for the period
when the tribe was going through extraordinary trials and tribulations. Families were
encouraged to live individually and this change impacted the tribe’s oral history,
traditions and how history, culture and values were taught.
Before the reservation period, Ah’ani’nin lived together and in the winter months
retold stories, including those about the creation of the world, legendary old times and
oral history renditions. Special emphasis was placed on those stories that elders wanted
to impress upon the people as important to remember. Trickster stories, Nee Ott, were
only told in the winter and children were taught lessons through them. In addition all
participated in ceremonies, when the young learned songs and how to live as their
Ah’ani’nin ancestors taught them: oral stories told of the importance of their way of life.
This is how the people kept and conveyed their history--as records of their ceremonies,
discussions of their culture, as well as through kinship and social relations that helped
regulate their economy, diplomatic relations and governance. By practicing oral
storytelling and through the re-telling of history, Ah’ani’nin culture was maintained.
Stories were also told on a daily basis as women worked, in the evening when men were
hunting, at social or religious gatherings. Storytelling is the best way to preserve the
customs, but with modern life this is not always easy. Saving stories so future generations
can share in them through telling in a written form transcribing and then saving them so
they can be retrieved and enjoyed is one way of preserving the stories.
Another means is to preserve oral traditions is through a telling that is recorded,
transcribed, translated into English and then published or distributed. This is not the best
way to retain a story, however. One elder I interviewed said that when oral history is
translated into English and then transcribed into written history, part of the meaning is
lost. Words in one language often do not have a single word equivalent in another
language; a phrase or series of word is needed to begin to translate denotative meaning.
In addition, what is comical in Ah’ani’nin may not have the same effect in English.
Ah'ani'nin elder asked his father why there are discrepancies in the translation of Gros
Ventre and his father said, “Sometimes interviewers will put a different slant on the story
to suit themselves.” In other words, our cultural preconceptions and assumptions about
connotations effects translations. Another reason for differences or variations is that the
elders leave something out deliberately if they feel this was an inappropriate for the
hearer to know. These cultural practices have made oral history conveyed in the form of
translated stories a subject of controversy for historians the extent to which oral history
and tradition can increase our understanding of the a chronologically based past,
particularly where written documents were based upon the circumstances or conditions
under which they were produced. However, for cultures in which history is conveyed
through stories, this is not an issue.
For most Ah’ani’nin families today, story-telling is almost a thing of the past. But
for those who practice oral history, these stories continue. I am delighted when one of
my grandchildren says, “Gramma, tell us about old lady iron foot.” It is with this in
mind, with the hope that writing down my family’s Ah’ani’nin stories is an important act
of cultural preservation.
Oral history has always been an important way for the Ah’ani’nin to maintain
their history, culture and tradition. However, oral historians and storytellers are
becoming an extinct group. I can often hear them saying they want to tell what they know
before they are gone but they need people to closely listen, remember and practice telling
the stories at the appropriate times. Collecting these stories is my goal along with
understanding their message. This literature review is methodological in scope for it
recounts how best to collect these stories and what other authors have done. In addition I
will look at what has already been written about the Ah’ani’nin, and what is said about
oral stories such as the trickster in my and other tribes. As noted above the Ah’ani’nin
are known as the Gros Ventre in publications.
Oral history methodologies
Oral history is a collection or study of person(s), events, account of the past and is
a way of documenting history. Today oral history is written down and provides or
enlightens people to what is happening or happened from another perspective. According
to Yow, “Thucydides” was the first oral historian to interview people and used this
information in a historical thesis “The History of the Peloponnesian War.” It was
important for him to have a written record of events. Historically only the “well-to-do”
people documented their lives. Official documents preserved by those in power
sometimes left out working class people. The “viewpoints” of the non-elite were told by
the elite, usually with a particular slant to them that reflected class differences (Yow,
1994, p.11).
For the Ah’ani’nin oral history was just that. It was told orally over many
centuries and was the only way to learn about accounts of the past. It was a way of
educating children as well as adults, and preserving the traditions, values, customs and
important events in Ah’ani’nin lives. The history of the Ah’ani’nin are in the memories
of the storyteller. Either storytellers were told of these events or witnessed what took
place. Stories were told to instill important values or customs to the tribe, or to provide
entertainment. Certain stories were only told in the winter, in the evening or at night. I
remember my grandmother, Edna Warrior saying how a certain man, Flea would come
by when she was a child and she would bug him to tell her stories. Her Grandmother
Warrior (Coming Daylight) would tell her to “Just leave him alone.” One day he came
by and told my Grandmother Warrior to make tea and bread and he would bring meat and
candy. I guess he went to several homes inviting people to come over since he was going
to tell stories. When he got to Grandmother Warrior’s home, he went down to the brush.
Grandmother Warrior told her granddaughter, Edna, “now go watch and see what he
does.” She said she watched him cut a few willows; he shaved them but left a few leaves
on the end. She wondered what they were for. Later, as the night went on and stories
were told, she got tired and felt herself falling to sleep, but the story teller brushed her
nose with the willow leaves and woke her up. She said she quit bugging him after that.
There is no one right way to acquire oral histories. Yow makes some
recommendations about recording oral history; however that reflect on (1) Researchers
should record everything. They will come across information which originally was not
part of the research project, but may become important to the project especially when
their importance is explained by members of the community; (2) Qualitative researchers
learn about a way of life by studying the people who live it and asking them how they
think about their experiences. Stories are a wonderful way to learn about culture; (3)
Grounded theory is a useful theory to help a researcher understand and interpret
information. Proponents of grounded theory such as social scientists Leonard
Schwartzman and Alselm Strass insist on approaching research without preconceived
notions about how the world works and what are important variables for interpreting
research results; (4) Rely on recorded in-depth interviews. The recorded interview, since
it is based on a discussion between research participants, can offer answers that no other
media can provide. As an example is having knowledge about the context of a story-what was going on at that time in terms of the economy? Was there a drought? Were
there big social issues, and if so, what were they? The researcher can ask about what
may have been happening prior to or after the event. What is not part of the written
record, why was it left out? It is important to ask what is meant by certain statements,
that is, what is left unstated or through silence to get the underlying message. Discussion
is also important so the interviewee can help the researcher understand or provide a
reason why something happened in a particular way. (5) If one does not want to use a
grounded approach in which the interviewee decides on what is important and should be
the topic of discussion, a researcher can start oral history research with articulated
problems or questions that guide the interview process and ask the research participants
to tell stories from there. Ethnographer Renato Rosaldo describes this approach as
“starting with a set of questions and revising them throughout the course of inquiry which
will give you a whole new set of questions” (Yow, 1994, p.8).
I selected the in-depth informal interview method to use in recording oral stories.
I asked the interviewee tell me a story but I also used stories that had already been written
in other historical documents and tried to add anything that may have been missing
according to valuable sources. I wanted to know why these stories were significant and
included in several published documents.
An important part of recording oral history requires understanding how people
remember and the nature of the memory. People can generally recall events if they are
significant and affect them or their relatives, such as the smallpox epidemic or war. Yow
reports that events that lead to well-recalled personal memories have the following
characteristics: (1) uniqueness; (2) consequentiality; (3) unexpectedness: (4) and,
emotional provocation. Events are easily recalled if a person was personally affected or
if there was an association with the event, such as, what happened on 9/11 or if a relative
at Pearl Harbor or actual witness, such as the presence my grandmother when Wovoka
made the ice appear on the Missouri River. A researcher can seek out such a
knowledgeable person and ask to be told of their memories.
Once a researcher selects a topic, which in my case was oral history, he or she
will find that in the process of researching and interviewing he or she will come across
more history than was expected and will find out what is important to a community, that
is what events and processes have affected their lives and how they understand the past
and how the past affects the present and future. A researcher should look at any
published documents about the topic before the interview to familiarize themselves with
what is known of the history and discuss old versions. This is what I have done. I read
Barry’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation: The first hundred years; I have read The Gros
Ventre of Montana, Part I and Part II. I have reviewed Fowler’s Shared Symbols,
contested Meanings. I have read the following: Alfred Kroeber’s Ethnology of the Gros
Ventre and Myths and tales of the Gros Ventre; War Stories of the Gros Ventre; Vern
Dusenberry’s The Significance of the Sacred Pipes to the Gros Ventre; Horse Capture’s
Seven Vision’s of Bull Lodge; Horse Capture’s From our Ancestors, Art of the White Clay
People; Recollections of Fort Belknap’s past. In addition, I have read depositions of The
Boy, a Gros Ventre elder, holy man and son of Lamebull, a Gros Ventre Chief; I have
read depositions of my Gramma Warrior and what she said about the life of the Gros
Ventres. I have looked at historical document of the Gros Ventre. I reviewed the
Handbook of North Americans in particular what is said about Gros Ventre.
When analyzing stories and interview data, Yow advises researchers to: (1)
rearrange the information into appropriate topics; (2) keep an open mind; (3) try to limit
pre-conceived ideas; and, (4) ask what supporting or supplemental historical documents
research participants may have.
The researcher should meet with the interviewee prior to the interview so that the
two are not strangers once the interview begins. Selection of the words used in the
interview or when asking for a story to be told is important, to enable the interviewee to
understand what the researcher is talking about.
Raymond L. Gordon listed several interview skills: (1) wording the questions so
they are clear and appropriate for the topic; (2) listening to the narrator; (3) observing the
narrator’s nonverbal behavior; (4) remembering what the narrator said; and, (5) judging
the relevance, validity and completeness of the answer so that the researcher knows when
to ask follow-up questions, including requests for more details quoted (Yow, 1994, p.
66). He suggests beginning the interview with a signed release and consent form and
insuring that the equipment is in good working order and there are enough recording
tapes. It is always good practice to review the content of the interview with the
interviewee for accuracy and completeness. Always give credit to your sources.
How do we gather enough stories and, information to instill in the reader a desire
to know more about who were the storytellers? It is through the models of authors like
Vine Deloria, Jr. that we are enabled to fulfill our desires to preserve the truth of stories.
Deloria’s last book The World We Used to Live In, is a collection of oral stories about
how medicine men live and their reliance on the Creator. Deloria’s book not only
captures the importance of preserving what Native people have been told or taught, but is
organized in a way that is based on relevant topics, and see which was helpful to me.
These topics include: The Approach of the Sacred; Powers Conferred to the Medicine
Men; Continuing Communications; Interspecies Relations; The Land and Cosmos;
Sacred Stones; Places Unusual; Exploits of Medicine Men; and, the Spiritual Universe.
These stories remind us of who we are as all Native people and lessons from these
Another example, Julie Cruikshank’s book, Life Lived like a Story(1992)is the life
stories of three Yukon women, Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith and Annie Ned. From the
early 1970s to 1984, Julie Cruikshank lived in the Yukon Territory. She wanted to record
the stories of people of Athapaskan and Tlingit ancestry, who lived in the southern
Yukon Territory at the turn of the 20th century. She wanted to know how the people
adapted to social, cultural and economic change. She noticed that men’s stories were
mostly connected to historical events, while women’s were about kinships and places.
Reading these stories can help me look at differences, pay attention to meanings and how
these stories helped in their survival.
For me the storyteller emphasizes the language, places, songs/music and people
who are all part of a story that relates history. As an Ah’ani’nin woman I am not an
outsider. I live this life and my stories are from my own tribe and from my family. I
recognize and understand the references to certain customs, taboos, or places and people.
I grew up with these storytellers and heard them in my grandmother’s home, my mother’s
home and now my home. I participate in the traditional ceremonies. I was there when
some of the historical events took place, giving the story more meaning and for me a
greater chance that I will remember them.
Cruikshank is also the author of The Social Life of Stories: Narrative and
Knowledge in the Yukon Territory. She wrote: “Story telling is a universal activity and
may be the oldest of arts” (preface, ix). Contemporary storytelling as actual
communication occupies a restricted place in anthropology. Her thesis is that in northern
Canada, storytellers of Yukon First Nations ancestry continue to tell stories that make
meaningful connections and provide order and continuity in a rapidly changing world.
She talks about the difference in recording oral history from an outsider versus an inside
The three elder women use stories to teach lessons to children. However it
is harder to teach a cultural outsider even the simplest concepts. How can you convey the
story from one culture to another authentically without losing some of its meaning?
It is always best to capture local history if you have inside knowledge or if you
are a part of the community. It is difficult to talk about yourself, for my mother often
told me, “You shouldn’t have to brag about your accomplishments. Other people should
do that for you, they know who you are.” Having said that, I need to tell the reader
something of myself and why I am different from an outsider working with my tribe. I
come from a family of storytellers and our most resourceful relative was Coming
Daylight, known to my family as Gramma Warrior. Coming Daylight was one of the
informants for authors Dr. Regina Flannery and Dr. Johnson who were at Fort Belknap
Indian Reservation in the early 1940s and published books on the Gros Ventre in the
My grandmother and mother were raised by Coming Daylight and were told the
old stories of the Ah’ani’nin, People of the White Clay. On the other hand, it was my
mother’s father, Dorrance Horseman/BlackWolf, and his family who were the known
Story Tellers. Many of the stories in this thesis were told to me by my mother and
grandfathers, Ben and Dorrance Horseman. My Aunt Mable Horseman Cochran was also
a storyteller. My brother, George Weasel Horse has immerged as a noted storyteller, my
nephew Terry Brockie has taken on a religious role within the Ah’ani’nin tribe and his
father was a Gros Ventre historian.
I come from a large knowledgeable extended family on both sides, maternal and
paternal. My family is traditional and I also am a practicing traditionalist. I am aware of
restrictions or limitations on performing customs or ceremonies and what knowledge can
be shared and what cannot within the community and with outsiders. When an
interviewee talks about Sun Dance Sings, I know what that means. When a “sweat” is
described, I understand because I have been in one and I know what it looks like, how it
feels to be in a lodge, what songs are sung and how long they are. I know these songs. I
know how many Ah’ani’nin there are. I have read most books on the Ah’ani’nin and I
have conducted research on other topics pertaining to the Ah’ani’nin. Both of my parents
are Ah’ani’nin and by today’s standard I would be considered a “full-blood.” I know all
of the traditional leaders and many are related to me. I know the importance of
preserving our stories.
According to Cruikshank, one must pay scholarly attention to “orally narrated”
life stories. The documentation of life stories has always been an accepted method in
anthropology. Cruikshank discusses the controversy between anthropologists and
historians about the extent to which oral history and tradition can increase our
understanding of the past, particularly where written documents are biased by the
circumstances or conditions under which they were produced. Further she states that oral
testimonies are not easily accessible to an outsider (Cruikshank, 1992, p. 3).For Native
Americans, oral history constitutes a personal intimate reflection that conveys an
important message to the listener.
When reading for this literature review I found that there are different ways to
record or document history. I have selected what best worked for me, after reading about
the problems that interviewers may face when recording oral history or traditions. In
addition, these works reinforced the respect for the customs of the interviewee and the
necessity of a continuing dialog to insure that proper credit is given.
The Gros Ventre Ethnography
Ethnographic information based on first hand observation, interviewing, ethnohistory or other forms of scholarly research on the Ah’ani’ninis limited. According to
Fowler and Flannery the first mention of the Gros Ventre by the European explorers was
in 1772 (Fowler and Flannery, 2001, p. 677). The Gros Ventre are an Algonquianspeaking tribe which suggests they originally migrated from the Woodlands area and later
lived in Canada (Flannery, 1953, ix). There has always been scholarly and European,
Canadian and American confusion as to who the Ah’ani’nin truly are. When they were
identified as people living between the tributaries of the Saskatchewan River in Canada
they were referred to as the Water Falls Indians (Fowler and Flannery, 2001, p. 677).
According to Fowler, they at different times have been associated with the Blackfeet,
Piegan, Blood and Sarcee tribes. This group of five was called by the Cree, the
Architinues (Fowler, 1987, p. 49).However, Architinue was also used in referring to the
Slave Tribes. In addition they were referenced as the Earchitinues (Fowler and Flanner,
2001, p. 677). Fowler refers to the Gros Ventre as the aaaaanineninah or White Clay
people (Fowler, 1987, p. 13). Alfred Kroeber refers to the Gros Ventre as
Haaninin(Kroeber, 1908, p. 145).
To make the situation even more confusing, Kroeber records links between the
Gros Ventre and the Arapaho, reflecting the movements and migrations, the creation and
breaking of alliances on the Great Plains during the seventeenth, eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. Arapaho history recalls a group of five people (tribes) of whom the
Gros Ventre were one. In reviewing other Gros Ventre historical documents I found no
other reference to this group of five who came from the south, but the suggestion is that
the Gros Ventre and Arapaho were at one time considered by the Arapaho as one tribe.
According to Kroeber, the Gros Ventre had separated from the Arapaho bands by
1700. The group of five Kroeber refers to are probably the Southern Cheyenne, Southern
Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, along with the Gros Ventre.
Unfortunately Kroeber does not go into further detail about the affiliation and split.
Linguistically the Gros Ventre and Arapaho speak a similar language with only slight
differences; they can understand each other (Kroeber, 1908, p. 145).
Oral history suggests that the Gros Ventre believed that they were once a large
group that was separated several times. Elders believe that while crossing a large body of
water, the water suddenly separated and some were left behind (Kroeber, 1908, p.146).
An older woman was chopping the ice for a fish or frozen animal which cause the ice to
crack while they were crossing. The breaking of the ice story is also told by the
Cheyenne, who lived with the Arapaho. In addition, a similar story is told by the
Blackfeet (Kroeber, 1908, p.146). According to my family what was in the ice was a
horn and the old lady wanted the horn for her granddaughter to play with. According to
my grandmother Edna Warrior, the children would play with horns on the ice. They
would spin on the ice with on a long string.
Historically the buffalo was the mainstay of the historic Gros Ventre as it was for
the other groups mentioned above. The people’s life revolved in part on the buffalo’s
seasonal movements. Large buffalo herds migrated to Canada in the early spring while
smaller herds remained in the Ah’ani’nin hunting area; their numbers were said to be in
the millions in the early 1800s. In the spring the first buffalo hunt, called the seasonal
round, was held and lasted a month. Everything the Gros Ventre needed came from the
buffalo, including their food, utensils, clothing, ropes, tipis, and bedding. After the big
hunt, the spring Pipe rite or Sacrifice Ceremony was held after which the people were
free to travel (Flannery, 1953, p.52).Seasonally the people moved in their band groups.
According to John Ewers, the Gros Ventre became proficient in their use of the
horse for hunting, moving camp and waging war during the period1705 to 1754 (Fowler,
1987, p. 26). Horses were the most valued possessions a person could own. A man with
many horses could hunt more buffalo, and as a result build more lodges and have more
wives. Having property, multiple wives, and many horses gained respect and high social
status for Gros Ventre men. Men took special care of their horses. One Gros Ventre
man, Thick, recalled that his maternal uncle told him, “Above all things try to have
horses, try to have property, people will respect you and look upon you as somebody”
(Flannery, 1953, p. 75). Sharing of food was also an important element in gaining
recognition reflecting the core cultural value of generosity. Children were taught to share
what they had, even if it was just a little. Visitors stopping by were assured of a meal.
The Gros Ventre strove to be wealthy so they could be generous. These values and
pursuits for respect are often discussed in oral histories.
The basic socio-political organizations of the Ah’ani’nin were a moiety system
that consisted of patrilineal bands, cross cut and held together though marriage and young
men’s organizations called companies or societies. According to some informants for Dr.
Flannery’s book Social Life of the Gros Ventre, they were patrilineal but today’s elders
argue that we were and still are matrilineal. One informant said that this is true since we
go to the mother’s family for help; such as my mother’s uncle would be her helper.
Flannery also states that a child would go with her mother’s clan to be raised by her or his
grandmother. In addition, Flannery and Fowler also state that a family would go with a
woman’s clan if the clan were wealthy. My mother, Ruby Brockie who was raised by
Coming Daylight is adamant that we go with our mother’s clan.
Clan members support each other in the fulfillment of religious commitments and
would dance with other members or assist them in other ways. The Gros Ventre had a
social practice called enemy-friends and in-separable friends. In the case of enemyfriends, two individuals from difference clans, aged-graded societies or the companies
could have friendly competitions in games, hunting or counting coup. In the case of the
in-separable friends, they probably formed a bond at a very young age that remained for
life. They would socialize together, hunt together. Support each other in religious
ceremonies. They knew each other’s songs and if one participated in the Sacrifice Dance,
the other would also. These friends went into battle together, each looking out for the
other. They were so close that it was forbidden for their children to marry. Their
families also became close, as close as any relative could be.
The Ah’ani’nin had a social system based on their kinship relationships and that
told how people should relate to another and their roles within the nuclear and extended
family (Flannery, 1953, p. 109). The community played games in the winter and held
competitions, such as horse racing, during the summer. Guessing games with dice or
buttons were popular hand games. Young boys played with arrows or sticks; other
athletic competitions included shiny and sledding; these sleds were called so w haana
(Kroeber, 1908, p. 190). Children’s toys included the bull roarer and a buzzer, known as
nakaa ta. The roarer was made of wood and the other of buffalo bone.
Cleanliness was highly valued. The Gros Ventre believed in daily washing of the
body to prevent illnesses and staying away from things that were considered taboo or
could cause spiritual sickness. There were three types of medicines for illnesses: first
roots were used to cure colds, stomach aches, urinary problems, eye irritations, headaches
and fever. Massages and thermotherapy were performed for individuals with arthritis
(Fowler and Flannery, 2001, p. 685). The second type of remedy consisted of medicines
owned by certain individuals or cures owned by families and were usually only used by
that family. Historically the Flat Pipe keepers (see below) in earlier times were the only
ones who could use certain roots such as sage and peppermint. The third type of remedy
was spiritual rather than ethno-botanically based and involved a request for divine
intervention which was only performed by those who had earned the right to doctor by
fasting or praying. These were used by individuals recognized as the one with “doctoring
power” (Fowler and Flannery, 2001, p. 685).
The Gros Ventre people believed in a Supreme Being known as Ixticbeni:
Nih’atah (Cooper, 1957, p. 2). Another name for the Supreme Being is Beha: tixtc,
meaning master or leader of all, or Ni:nan atc, an older word meaning to think or
meditate. A fourth version is Ioena’an meaning father (Cooper, 1957, p. 3). A fifth and
final version is Initci:t nihene:henixtc, he who owns life.
The Gros Ventre split into two groups when they traveled and each group
followed either the Flat Pipe or the Feathered Pipe, under the direction of its Keeper. A
keeper would wear his hair in a knot above the forehead, distinguishing him as a
medicine man. He and his wife were held in high esteem, and they were considered holy
people. Both pipe keepers could not eat birds or bird eggs, were not allowed to comb
their hair and they did not bath but cleaned themselves with oil. They could not cut their
hair or cry in case of the death of a family member. These two pipes still exist within the
Gros Ventre tribe today.
Gros Ventre religious ceremonies included sacred dances considered integral to
their identity as a people. These religious ceremonies, as described by Kroeber (Kroeber,
1908, p. 229) and Cooper (Cooper, 1957, p. 173) are: The Fly Dance no bao wa; the
Crazy Dance haha tya wu; Kit Fox Dance; The Dog Dance hotibya wu; Tomahawk
Dance Nana naha w; and Drum Dance Biitaha W. The most important religious
ceremony was the Sacrifice Dance or Sun Dance, Aceiha W. There was also one
ceremony for women called Benuxtca w Women’s Buffalo Dance (Kroeber, 1908, p.
260). According to Flannery, these ceremonies flourished in the early to mid-nineteenth
century but declined with the passing of the buffalo and confinement to a reservation
(Fowler, 1987, p. 40-46).
By 1779 the Gros Ventre had become shrewd participants in an expansive
economic system on the northern Great Plains. They interacted willingly with traders,
offering furs in trade for beads, cloth, and cooking utensils. Wanting a large part of this
trade meant that different tribes became antagonists. And warfare and raiding with other
tribes who were friendly with traders caused the Gros Ventre to distrust traders. In 1810 a
story circulated in the American press that the Gros Ventre were attacking several trading
posts near forts. As a result they were labeled vicious.
Neighboring tribes referred to the Gros Ventre as a “fierce” tribe, a people who
were proud and very strong in battle. They were known to have many horses and were
protective of their identity and of their territory. They would fight to the death for what
they believed in (Fowler, 1987, p. 27).
By the 1850s Gros Ventre membership had decreased due to repeated bouts of
infectious illnesses, almost continuous warfare, and the fact that religion, though
practiced, was no longer the focus of their lives. They were also being pushed to share
their lands with settlers. Isaac Stevens, Governor of the Washington Territory assisted in
designating smaller territories for the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre in the upper part of
Montana territory in the treaty of 1855 (Barry, 1908, p. 7). The land was to remain as
their home but this agreement was short lived when another treaty, signed in 1888
significantly reduced the reservation to where Fort Belknap now sits in north central
Montana. Reservation life meant a drastic change in culture. During the late 19th century
the Ah’ani’nin were encouraged to live in a confined territory, not with other groups and
by 1883 Gros Ventre travel was confined to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. The
Commissioner of Indian Affairs described hunting as “a relic of barbarianism and an
obstruction to the progress of Indian civilization” (Barry, 1908, p. 47). Instead he
encouraged small farms in a land too arid for large scale farms.
The federal government outlawed the practice of tribal religions between 1892
and 1904, but this ban was not officially removed until 1934 (Wunder, 1999, p. 12). The
end of religious freedom marked the beginning of other restrictions imposed on the Gros
Ventre by the federal government. They were restricted from any form of communal life,
from participating in informal or formal gatherings or speaking their language. In all
cases, these restrictions violated the U.S. Constitutional rights of the people. As a result,
depression ascended on the community and the population continued to decline. By 1905
the population of the Gros Ventre had dwindled to less than 500 members. Luckily a few
people remembered the old ways and their oral history.
Creation Narratives
According to Regina Flannery, the Gros Ventre had no distinctive creation or
origins story or large corpus of separate stories about early times; however, she
references the stories of the trickster and cultural hero, Nee Ott, who is a creator of
Ah’ani’nin culture and society, and in my opinion constitutes the Gros Ventre views on
creation. The story teller sand Native historians for Flannery were Gros Ventre elders,
Coming Daylight, Singer, The Boy, Tom Main and Al Chandler (Cooper, 1957, p.v and 3
and Flannery, xiii). There were others, but these were the ones mentioned the most often.
These are the people that Flannery choose for her interviews and were recommended by
others as being the most knowledgeable.
Flannery records how Nee Ott (spider)gave the Gros Ventre people the ability to
survive, conduct ceremonies, sacrifice and offer prayer through the Flat Pipe (Fowler and
Flannery, 2001, p 683). Nee Ott gave the people the Flat Pipe and with it the
instructions on how to live their lives, purify, pray and perform sacred ceremonies. To the
Gros Ventre the pipe was the most powerful for prayer. The Flat Pipe, referred to
sometimes as Little Turtle, is said to be the most powerful pipe given to the Gros Ventre.
According to elder The Boy, Nee Ott, the Earthmaker floated on top of the water with the
pipe. According to Flannery there is speculation and uncertainty as to the roles Nee Ott
and Earthmaker play on the origins of human beings. The Boy thinks that Nee Ott and
Earthmaker are the same. However his father Lamebull said that Nee Ott was a man and
never told the people to pray to him but to the Supreme Being (Flannery, 1957: 22).
Flannery states that Nee Ott sent a Turtle and a Waterbird below the water and from the
mud they brought up, he formed earth, man, and woman after the Great Flood (Fowler &
Flannery, 2001:677).
According to Kroeber in the Origins Myth, the people were wild before the flood,
and that Nee Ott did not like the way they lived and he is the one who causes the flood.
This is the story from Kroeber:
“The people before the present were wild. They did not know how to do
anything. Nee Ott did not like to way they lived and what they did. He thought, ‘I will
make a new world.’ He had the chief pipe. He went out doors and hung the pipe on three
sticks. He picked up four buffalo-chips. One he put under each of the sticks on which
the pipe hung, and one he took for his own seat. He said, “I will sing three times and
shout three times. After I have done these things, I will kick the earth, and water will
come all over the earth.” Then he began to sing. After he sang three times, he shouted
three times. Then he kicked the ground and it cracked. The water came out and it rained
for days, and over all the earth was water. By means of the buffalo-chips he and the pipe
floated. Then it stopped raining. There was water everywhere. He floated wherever the
wind took him. For days he drifted thus. Above him the Crow flew about. All the other
birds and animals were drowned. The Crow became tired. It flew about crying, ‘My
father, I am becoming tired. I want to rest.’ Three times it said this. After it had said so
three times, Nee Ott said, ‘Alight on the pipe and rest.’ Repeatedly the Crow cried to him,
and each time was allowed to alight on the pipe. Nee Ott became tired sitting in one
position. He cried. He did not know what to do. After he had cried a long time, he
began to unwrap the chief pipe. The pipe contained all animals. He selected those with a
long breath to dive through the water. First he selected the Large Loon (baasceiby’hi).
The Loon was not alive, but Nee Ott had its body wrapped up in the pipe. Nee Ott sang
and then commanded it to dive and try to bring mud. The Loon dived. It was not halfway
down when it lost its breath and immediately turned back. It came up almost drowned at
the place where Nee Ott was. Then Nee Ott took the Small Loon’s body and sang. Then
the Small Loon dived. It nearly reached the mud at the bottom. Then it lost its breath
and went up again, and nearly dead, reached the place where Nee Ott was. Then he took
the Turtle (Baa’n) He sang and it became alive, and he sent it and it dived. Meanwhile
the Crow did not alight, but flew about crying for rest. Nee Ott did not listen to it. After
a long time the Turtle came up. It was nearly dead. It had filled its feet and cracks along
its sides with mud. When it reached Nee Ott, all the mud had been washed away and it
was nearly dead. Nee Ott said, ‘Did you succeed in reaching the mud?’ The Turtle said,
‘Yes, I reached it. I had much of it in my feet and about my sides, but it all washed away
from me before I came to you.’ Then Nee Ott said to it, ‘Come to me;’ and the Turtle
went to him. Nee Ott looked at the inside of its feet and in the cracks on its sides. On the
inside of its feet he found a little earth. He scraped this into his hand. Meanwhile the
Crow has become very tired. Then Nee Ott when he had scraped the earth into his hand,
began to sing. After he sung three times he shouted three times, ‘Little by little let there
be enough to make a strip of land large enough for me.” Then he began to drop it, little
by little, into the water, opening and closing his hand carefully. And when he dropped it
all, there was a little land, large enough for him to sit on. The he said to the Crow, ‘Come
down and rest. I have made a little piece of land for myself and for you.’ Then the
Crow came down and rested. After it had rested, it flew up again. Then Nee Ott took out
from his pipe two long winged-feathers. He had one in each hand, and began to sing.
After he had sung three times, he shouted three times, ‘Youh, hou hou,’ and spread his
arms and closed his eyes. When he had done this, he said to himself, “Let there be land
as far as my eyes can see around me.’ When he opened his eyes, then indeed there was
land. After he had made the land, there was not water anywhere. He went about with his
pipe and with the Crow. They were all that there was to be seen in the world. Now Nee
Ott was thirsty. He did not know what to do to get water. Then he thought, ‘I will cry.’
He cried. While he cried, he closed his eyes. He tried to think how could be get water.
He shed tears. His tears dropped on the ground. They made a large spring in front of
him. Then a stream ran from the spring. When he stopped crying, a large river was
flowing. Thus he made rivers and streams. He became tired of being alone with the
Crow and the pipe. He decided to make persons and animals. He took earth, and made it
into the shape of a man. He made also the shape of the woman. Then he made more
figures of earth, until he had many men and women. When he thought he had enough
persons, he made animals of all kinds in pairs. When he had finished making these
shapes, he named the tribes of people and the kinds of animals. Then he sang three times
and shouted three times. After he shouted, he kicked the ground, and there were living
pairs of beings standing before him, animals and men. The reason why men are dark in
color is that earth is dark. Nee Ott called the world Turtle because the Turtle was the
animal that helped him to make the world. Then he made bows and arrows for men, and
told them how to use them. The pipe he gave to a tribe he called Ah’ani’nin (Gros
Ventre). Then he said to the people, ‘If you are good and act well, there will be no more
water and no more fire.” Long before the water rose, the world had been burned.
is now the third life/world. Then he showed them the rainbow, and said to them. ‘This
rainbow is the sign that the earth will not be covered with water again. Whenever you
have rain, you will see the rainbow; and when you see it, it will mean that the rain has
gone by. There will be another world after this one.’ He told the people to separate in
pairs and to select habitations in the world for themselves. This is why human beings are
scattered” (Kroeber, p. 59). The earth was referred to a turtle since he helped Nee Ott
make earth.
Kroeber credits seven informants for his myths and tales, They are: 1. Bill
Jones, one of the oldest men of the tribe; 2. Watches-All, an old Gros Ventre Woman; 3.
Flea, a young man; 4. Blackbird, an old man; 5. Paul Plumage, a young man; 6.
Assiniboine, a young middle-aged man; and, 7. Blackwolf, a middle-aged chief. Kroeber
was on the Fort Belknap Indian reservation in 1901 and these were published in 1908,
many years before Flannery.
Another story recounts how Nee Ott as Keeper of the Gros Ventre medicine
bundle, that contains the Flat Pipe, recreated the present world after a flood. “Floating on
top of the water with the Flat Pipe, Earthmaker sent a waterbird and turtle below; from
the mud they brought up to him, he formed the earth and shaped a man and woman. He
also taught the Gros Ventre the Flat Pipe rituals, how to plant tobacco, and taught them to
sing (the song was Earthmaker’s first utterance when alone on water)” (Fowler and
Flannery, p. 683). In one of the Nee Ott stories, the trickster is said to cut off his hair, so
that when Gros Ventre first saw White men with short hair, they thought he was Nee Ott
(Cooper, 1957, p.2).
The Feathered Pipe came to the Gros Ventre through a storm and is said to have
the ability to make rain (Cooper: 1957, p. 77). The Sacred Feather Pipe was also referred
to as the Chief Medicine Pipe and has many birds linked to it. John Cooper describes in
detail the articles included in the Pipe, what the Pipes look like, and the rituals belonging
to each for their care (Cooper, 1957, p. 33). “These pipes seemed to hold the tribe
together” (Fowler, 1987, p. 27) for the Gros Ventre people believe the pipes and their
proper use are their connection to the Supreme Being. It is said that the original
ceremony gave instructions in how to survive and get along with others, as well as how to
gain supernatural powers (Fowler and Flannery, 2001:677).
The Trickster Stories
The Gros Ventre stories of Nee Ott are trickster tales that have been told orally
over the years (Kroeber, 1907, p. 59). Cooper refers to Nee Ott as Nihatah, but to the
Ah’ani, he is known as Nee Ott. In each story there is an embedded lesson about
honesty, humility, trust, guidance, generosity, bravery, and kindness. Nee Ott is said to
have a strange sense of humor. Early anthropologist referred to these stories as myth, an
anthropological term for a story, grounded in the ancient past during a period when
animals could talk and human beings understood them. Myth does not mean that
something is false or legendary. Myths carry truths about the past as well as a tribe’s
philosophy and world view. Other mythical stories are He who Starved to Death, Last
Child, Found in the Grass, Clotted Blood and He who Dreams of Bhaa (Kroeber, 1907,
p. 60-91). According to Kroeber the Gros Ventre believe their trickster stories are also
origin or creation narratives for they tell how the Gros Ventre came to be and that Nee
Ott was a great spirit to whom the Gros Ventre people pray and ask for help.
Trickster stories are an important genre in North America. They are told among all the
Plains, Prairie, Plateau, Upper Great Lakes, and North Eastern tribes and in Southwest
tribes. Who the trickster is varies. This is not to say that there are not cultural
differences. The oral traditions of the Haudenoshaunee and Northeastern Algonquians are
different from the Gros Ventre, although their trickster tales are similar (Day and Foster,
1996, p. 75). For all these groups the telling of myths and tales occurred in the winter
months as a nighttime activity. For the Iroquois the children were restricted from
attending, but for the Gros Ventre storytelling was a time of education and children were
encouraged to sit and listen and learn. Like the Gros Ventre the stories of Algonquians
groups centered on transformative action and change and were dominated by tricksters
who were involved in numerous escapades which called into question moral purpose.
The Cree and Ojibwa have a transformer cultural hero and a host of animal
tricksters, such as the wolverine, hare and raccoon, and a human trickster who is also
referred to as a blundering buffoon (Day and Foster, 1996, p. 74). The adventures of the
trickster are known collectively as the “wigwam tales.” The traditional histories of the
eastern Wabanaki also told of wars with the Inuit and Montagnais. In earlier times when
these stories were told, they were recited along with chanting and prayer, which aided in
The Cayuga, the trickster of the northern Iroquoians stories were told by an older
honored male, referred to as, “He raises up a story” (Day and Foster, 1996, p. 76). If a
story could not be finished he “tied it” for another occasion. Like all other Native groups
in North America the Iroquois societies believed that the stories or mythical narratives
were true explanations about why certain events happened. In this sense they are no
different from the bible, which is simply an oral tradition written down. A set of stories
involved a cultural hero, a young person who overcomes hardships and triumphs over
evil relatives and brought back important knowledge to the people (Day and Foster, 1996,
p. 77).
Change and motion and adaption of tricking death and overcoming evil are
important aspects of these stories as important as the lessons of how to live properly and
respectfully. Native American trickster stories tend to show the Trickster always in
motion or on an adventure. He seems to have an unintended sense of humor and makes
himself the butt of the lesson. In some cultural traditions, the trickster appears in many
forms and wears a variety of masks because he can shift shapes at will.
He is known as
the raven, rabbit, fox, or coyote being the most prevalent across North America for many
(Babcock, 1996, p. 99). His behavior at times is inexplicable, not even the storytellers
can provide a logical explanation for erratic or behavior that causes confusion or even
chaos. But there is always a reason for trickster’s actions, even if we do not understand
them. When asked about the coyote’s contradictory deeds, the Navajo elder Yellow Man
said, “If he did not do all those things then those things would not be possible in the
world… for through the stories everything is made possible” (Babcock, 1996, p. 101).
Tricksters show how one can solve problems, deal with change and also take foreign
elements and make them acceptable to a community.
Publications on Gros Ventre Oral Traditions and Religions
Written documentation is limited for the Ah’ani’nin, in particular the oral stories.
Only the Religious Life of the Gros Ventre included stories of tales and traditions of my
people. Included in the book’s appendix are: 1. Nih’atah Liberates the Bladder People; 2.
Nih’atah Obtains the Buffalo; 3. Earthmaker and the Deluge; 4. Origin of Death; 5. He
who starved to Death; 6. Origin of the Feather Pipe (there are five versions in this book);
7. He who dreams of Bha’a; 8. Loss and Recovery of the Flat Pipe; 9. Man Escapes
from a Cannibal Dwarf; 10. Found in the Grass, and, 11. Blood Clot. Some of these
stories are long forgotten, while others are told during ceremonies, such as He who
starved to Death, Origin of the Feather Pipe and Liberation of the Bladder People. Other
stories are told in Kroeber’s myths and tales of the Gros Ventre. Unexpectly, there is no
reference to oral traditions or how and when they were told in Loretta Fowler’s book,
Shared Symbols and Contested Meanings the Gros Ventre Culture and History. The
Seven Visions of Bull Lodge, as told by Fred Gone is in and of itself, a biography of a
Gros Ventre traditional man, Bull Lodge who was a Pipe Keeper. The most recent
publication I used From Our Ancestors, Art of the White Clay People (2009)contains
artwork of the Ah’ani’nin. This was compiled by Joe Horse Capture, son of George
Horse Capture. There is a reference to an older muslin thought to be lost was on a shelf
at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. This rare pictographic muslin
painting and the interpretive story were separated. On the heels of Kroeber, Clark
Wissler collected Ah’ani’nin items in the early twentieth century. A visit to Berlin’s
Ethnographic Museum by Joe Horse Capture provided the answer in Clark Wissler’s
documented pages of archival material, called “War Sheet” (Horse Capture, 2009, p.23).
It tells the story of brave deeds of the Ah’ani’nin and the story of Horse Capture, Red
Whip, and Bull Lodge historical cultural heroes of the Ah’ani’nin.
The Significance of the Flat Pipe by Verne Dusenberry, Gros Ventre Legends by
Takes a Prisoner/Coming Daylight, translated by Fred Gone, Sr. November 17, 1941
taken at Hays, Montana on March 6-7, 1952; The War Stories of the Gros Ventre was
compiled by the Fort Belknap Curriculum Development Project through interviews with
Gros Ventre elders and was printed locally in 1982. The stories include: 1. Massacre of
Forty Crow Indians on Crow Creek; 2. Red Whip Defends War Party (this has been
written many times with slight versions, according to my mother they left an important
part of the story out and that was what happened a year later, and I have the conclusion to
the story as told by my mother); 3. White Stone; 4. Running Bear (this is a different
version as told by my family); 5.The Woman Rescued from a Water Monster; 6. Cut off
Head; 7, Young man Becomes a Water Monster; 8. The boy who was raised by Seven
Buffalo Bulls; 9. The Woman who revenged Her Brothers; 10. The Woman who married
the Snake Indian; 11. The Man Who was Helped by a Wolf; 12. The Man Who Acquired
Invulnerability; 13. Found in the Grass; 14. Nee Ott obtains Summer and the Buffalo; 15.
Moon Child; 16. The Deserted Children; 17. The Woman and the Horse; 18. The Woman
Who Married a Star and Buffalo; 19. Grows Tallest: A Tipi. These are stories of bravery
and tell of events that happened to the Gros Ventre people. Fred Gone, Sr. interviewed
elders in the 1940s and collected these stories of war exploits. He also told of tribal
myths. These were later published by the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council in
1982. He refused to grammatically have them edited and wanted to preserve the story as
it was told to him. To Mr. Gone, the spoken word was sacred and should not be changed.
Today there is a real danger of losing the important Ah’ani’nin oral history and
traditional stories that are told to small circles of listeners. It is with this in mind the
following collection of stories preserves the traditional history, culture and custom of the
The Stories Oral history of the Ah’ani’nin has always been a way to preserve
the culture, history and traditions. Oral Storytelling continues in the home and on
special occasions although not as often as in the past. Telling stories is becoming
more formal; it now occurs in settings like classrooms and at community gatherings.
It is moving away from the home, although some families continue to tell their stories
in the evening at the proper time of year. More stories are being shared across
families in the hope of maintaining this link to the past as a community activity. The
goal of the research was to collect oral history and traditional stories about the
Ah’ani’nin, people of the White Clay, and information about how these stories help
the Ah’ani’nin understand what messages each story conveys.
It is important to preserve the history of the Ah’ani'nin and the significance of
who we are. The history of my society is filled with oral stories that tell us who we were.
This helps us to know who we are and who we will be. Our history consists of oral
stories, unknown to many, most of which have not been recorded. A few of these stories
have been recorded by anthropologists or local historian in the past but they are now lost
in some book or archival document that no one in our community knows of it. Other
stories are in the minds of elders and need to be recorded before they pass on or others
may be sitting on some shelf unpublished and hence unknown.
The research took place on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation located in north
central Montana in 2008 and 2009. The interviews were conducted within the homes of
the interviewees after they had been contacted by phone. I chose individuals whom the
Gros Ventre felt had the most knowledge of oral stories. Primarily elders or community
historians. There are however storytellers who are knowledgeable about the Gros Ventre
history and oral stories, but choose not to share information or do not want to be quoted
about what they know. The proper way of approaching an elder for information is to offer
tobacco and be very patient in getting your response. It is rude to interrupt an elder when
they are talking. Some interviews took longer than an hour, in some cases four hours. I
have followed this protocol. Some of these stories I already knew about, having read
them or heard them from my mother as I was growing up.
The stories were recorded by notes, observation and video tape unstructured that
involved participants’ observation as I listened to the stories. The video tape was used as
some of the persons spoke softly and re-listening to it helped me transcribe the stories.
Hopefully the stories can be published for retention. The analysis of the stories, show
what kind of lives the Gros Ventre lived, where they lived, who they lived with. They
tell of what their value and beliefs are. In addition the stories reflect what they were
influenced by. Today those values are still within the Ah’ani’nin, such as to be generous,
to be brave, to face your fears, to look out for the less fortunate and to be humble.
Storytellers have always existed. There have been Ah’ani’nin who were
interviewed by outsiders or community historians and provided information about Gros
Ventre by answering questions. And then there are the traditional story tellers. My
mother says good storytellers will tell the story as if the audience were there. They will
describe the time of the year, the weather, the items of clothing worn, what was
happening in detail.
Who are the Story tellers?
In 2008, I wanted to interview Davie Hawley Jr. but he died before I could
interview him. He said that one of the greatest story tellers was Ben Horseman, my
grandfather, but according to my mother Davie was a great story teller and he could
describe the story as if you were there.
The following are the people who contributed part of these stories in my thesis
and a small biography of who they are. Most of story tellers selected were relatives of
the researcher, as is appropriate. My family is noted for its story telling and I and my
relatives are often invited at cultural ceremonies to tell stories.
1. Ruby Brockie – Black Hair
Ruby is the great granddaughter of Coming Daylight, who was the oldest
informant for Regina Flannery. Coming Daylight took Ruby when she was
still a baby and raised her until she was nine years old. Ruby did not speak
any English until she was forced to leave her great-grandmother’s home to
attend school. Coming Daylight was 84 years old when she started caring for
Ruby. Her nickname for Ruby was Nee Sa (grandchild). Ruby was married
at age 16 to Henry Brockie and they had ten children. She is the
granddaughter of Ben Horseman and daughter of Dorrance Blackwolf. Ruby
never went to high school but later on got her GED and attended college at
Montana State University-Northern, where she majored in Elementary
Education. She was raised in a traditional manner and her mother spoke
fluent Gros Ventre as well. She has two children who are retired from the
federal government and one from the local school district. One daughter
completed her Masters in Nursing at Johns Hopkins University and is
currently working on her PhD. One son was valedictorian when he graduated
from Haskell Indian Nations University. Two are working at Fort Belknap
College, Two are working for Indian Health Service and one for the National
Institute of Health and two are at home taking care of children. Both Henry
and Ruby are enrolled as Gros Ventre and are proud of who they are. Ruby is
the mother to the author, Clarena M. Brockie and has told her stories over the
years. She was officially interviewed in 2008. She will be 80 years old in
April 2012.
2. George Weasel Horse –Fat Back – Nih Ni Nih, he was also given the name
Glider, Na Nah nock. He is 58 years old and will be 59 in November.
George is known locally as Stormy Brockie. He recently retired from School
District 12 as a baker and does catering locally. From the time he was a young
boy Stormy was interested in his grandparents stories. He said he learned so
much about the old stories because he took time out to listen. While other
children were outplaying, he was listening to his grandparents. He told some
stories for the Montana Arts Council and is often asked to tell stories about
Gros Ventre. People will ask him, where did you get that story and he will
invariably say, “Listening to my grand folks.”
George is a product of the boarding school experience. He attended school in
Chiloco, Oklahoma. In 1987 he graduated from Southwestern Indian
Polytechnic Institute, where he enrolled as a baker.
3. Terry Brockie – Indian name Horns I-Nee-I-Nih, as he got older another name
was given him, Bay-doe-tsit, which means Red Belt. Terry is 47 years old.
His name was given to him by an Assiniboine man, and he said it in
Assiniboine, In-Pee-Ag-Gee-Sha. From the time Terry was a young boy he
wanted nothing more than to be a traditional Gros Ventre. He started dancing
at the local pow wows when he was about five years old. He went to college
at Haskell Indian Nations University and transferred to Kansas University. He
continued to participate in pow wows at various places across the United
States. One day when he returned to Fort Belknap Indian Reservation,
(around 1995) he decided he wanted to speak Ah’ani’nin--not just a few
words, but fluent. He went on a vision quest, fasting for several days. He
made this decision in order to have a good heart and acquire a spirit helper
each year. Today he still fasts each year. His aunt Madeline Colliflower was
instrumental in helping him learn the language. He works at Hays Lodge Pole
School as a teacher in Gros Ventre. He is an active participant in the
traditional ceremonies, and is one of the four old men for the Sun Dance. He
will receive his bachelor degree in May 2012 from Montana State University
in secondary education. He is currently translating oral stories from English
to Ah’ani’nin, he speaks fluent Ah’ani’nin.
4. Alphonse Obey – Owns A Roan Horse – Bey-e-nih dak-e-nut-dun, his name
as a child was Ges-ee-nin, Little Man. Al is 27 years old.
Al is named after his grandmother Warrior’s husband Owns a Roan Horse.
His mother is Helena Brockie, a Gros Ventre and sister to the author and his
father, Sherwin Obey is a Cree from Piapot First Nations, Canada. Al has
spent a lot of time in Canada at the Piapot First Nations since he was five
years. The older men took a strong liking to him and he participated in their
ceremonies at a young age. At the age of 17 he was selected by Joseph Iron
Man to be one of the four old men for the Gros Ventre Sun dance. This is a
great honor for no young man has ever been chosen at such a young age for
such an honor. He has taken a strong interest in Gros Ventre culture. He is
learning the old ways from his Grandpa Joe and also learning the language
and stories.
5. Davy Belgarde –Oh-In-Nak-Yeah, Crow Bull, age 58
Crow Bull was the uncle to Coming Daylight, Davy’s great grandmother.
Crow Bull was a Pipe Keeper and this was an honor in Gros Ventre tradition.
It is considered an honor to be named after someone who owns a place in
Gros Ventre history. Davy worked for the Fort Belknap Education
Department for many years developing Gros Ventre cultural and historic
curriculum for implementation in local schools. He conducted interviews
with tribal elders relating to the early days of Fort Belknap (1890-1950s).
He was tasked with finding information on the boarding schools, IRA tribal
councilmen, traditional leaders among the Gros Ventre, social events, pipe
ceremonies, Sun Dance and traditional dances. He was involved in the
development of Recollections of Fort Belknap’s Past, and War Stories of The
White Clay People. During these projects the interest in the language really
was revived; he was responsible for starting the cataloging and archiving
information on the language. He has taught Gros Ventre in the local schools.
He is a member of the White Clay Society.
6. Preston Stiffarm – E Gibe Nah Nak – Rides High– He is 61 years old
He is a descendent of Weasel Bear, a Gros Ventre leader. He is the grandson
of Stiffarm, a known medicine and spiritual man among the Gros Ventre.
Preston has a bachelor’s degree in Education with an emphasis History from
the University of Montana. He worked with Davy Belgarde on publishing the
document Recollections of Fort Belknap’s Past, and War Stories of the White
Clay People. He worked for the Fort Belknap Education Department’s Ethnic
Heritage program and also in the archives at Fort Belknap Education
Department. He spent many years interviewing people about the Gros Ventre
history. He was a fellow at the History of American Indians at the Newberry
Library in Chicago. He is an active participant in the cultural and spiritual
ways of his people. He continues to be a valuable source of information on
Gros Ventre history.
The Fort Belknap Indian Community Council granted permission to conduct this
research on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and approval was granted by resolution
# 53-08 (Appendix A). A request for research was submitted in early 2008 to the
Institutional Review Board at the University of Arizona, and approval was received on
July 8, 2008. Interviews were conducted in the summer of 2008 and from January to
March 2009. The Fort Belknap Indian reservation has three main communities, which
are from 25 to 45 miles apart.
In October 2011, I was invited to talk about the Ah'ani'nin and present two of my
stories at the National Oral History conference in Denver, Colorado. In these situations
story tellers were give given an opportunity to review the story for accuracy. How did I,
as a young person get involved in the culture?
When I was a young child living in Hays on the Fort Belknap Indian reservation,
we did not have television. In the winter months when it was too cold to go out, we had
our own entertainment. One of my favorite times was when my grandmother would sit us
down and tell stories. Soon my mother was doing the same. When my mother was
young and when I was the grandchild our favorite story was Old Lady Iron Foot, and
soon my mother’s grandchildren’s favorite story of all time was also Old Lady Iron Foot.
But I preferred Last Star and Running Bear. All the stories are significant to the Gros
Ventre and some have been included in other books, which I have mentioned. Some of
stories have never been written, such as Last Star.
Some of the interviewees volunteered information about other topics, like the
conditions of the boarding schools, especially the Catholic mission. Here is one story. In
the early 1900s there was one case where three young men kept running away from the St
Paul’s Mission School. Indian children were taught not to go out at night for fear of the
enemy, but these young boys kept running away at night. When they were caught, the
school representatives “horsed whipped” them all the way back to the school. On the
third attempt, they ran away in a storm and froze to death. One child was found lying
over his mother’s grave.
I learned other things as well. One of the elders also said that in school some of
the children were called “big Indians” because they held onto their culture. Some of the
children went to the boarding school at the Fort Belknap agency, because they did not
like the mission school. They said they were treated badly and never had enough to eat.
Henry Brockie told a story of his father, and other little Gros Ventre boys attending the
mission school, stealing eggs because they were starving. They would cook them in a
can, but once the eggs were spoiled and they were very sick. His father said he could not
eat eggs for a long time after that. Another story was about how children would work in
the kitchen at the Catholic mission. The nuns guarded the trash and put it close to the
kitchen. One of the children, Fred Lodge, stole the potato peelings to eat. The nuns
knew someone took them and started asking questions. When they got to Fred he said,
“sie sie, no no, taint take it, chicken take it.” Meaning that he did not take it, the chicken
took it. Theresa Lame Bull said at the mission, “They would punish us and whip us if
they heard us talk our language. That is how we almost lost our language. Now we are
trying to revive it.”
As a traditional Ah’ani’nin, many of oral stories were told while visiting with my
mother or if we decided to have a session and invite others who we know have stories. I
am sure there are many other stories told in other families that I don’t’ know about.
story telling on the history of the Ah'ani'nin for the most part for young people is taught
in the classroom or during Native American Week.
I have made a list of the story tellers from various periods of time. I got the list
from my informants and if I left anyone out it was not intentional. As I said there are
those who were interviewed and those who could tell stories.
Early to mid-1900s
Lamebull (died in 1908) – He was a keeper of the Flat Pipe and a Chief of the
Gros Ventre; Stiffarm – He was a noted medicine man within the Gros Tribe;
Mouse – He was a brother to Stiffarm; Al Chandler, Sr. – An Informant of
Flannery’s and he was married to Cora Chandler (also an informant of Flannery),
who was a sister to Ben Horseman; Blackwolf – He is included in Kroeber’s
works, war exploits and is the father to Ben Horse; Horse Capture – a Keeper of
the Flat Pipe and brother to Thick; Thick – brother to Horse Capture and married
to Lamebulls daughter; Charles Buckman – Informant for Flannery; Fork – Noted
for story telling; Benny Takes the Bow – Story Teller; Sits on High – Keeper of
the Feather Pipe and adoptive father of Al Chandler; Four Bear; Fred Gone, Sr.
(He interviewed Gros Ventre in the 1940s); Bracelet; Owns a Roan Horse;
Rufus Warrior – raised by Coming Daylight; Tom Main – Tribal Councilman and
orator ; Henry Dwarf “Hombre”; Garter Snake – daughter of Bull Lodge –
Keeper of the Feathered Pipe; Iron Man- Keeper of the Feathered Pipe;
Coming Daylight – Oldest Informant for Flannery and great great-grandmother of
author; Singer – friend to Coming Daylight; Flea;
Mid to late 1900s
John Stiffarm – son to Stiffarm; Paul Stiffarm – son to Stiffarm; Elmer Main –
son to Tom Main; James Main – son to Tom Main; Davie Hawley, Jr.; Jim
Shortman; Fred Gone Jr.; Bill Cochran, Jr.; Tom Mount; Joe Assiniboine;
Mabel Cochran – daughter to Ben Horseman; Christine Capture Cole –
granddaughter to Coming Daylight; Mabel Bradley – granddaughter to Coming
Daylight; Edna Warrior Ball – granddaughter to Coming Daylight and raised by
her; Teresa Walker Lamebull – married to Andrew Lamebull; Dorrance
Blackwolf – son of Ben Horseman, grandson of Blackwolf; Madeline Skinner
Colliflower – One of the last fluent speakers of Gros Ventre and who taught
classes in Gros Ventre.
There are families who may have a story teller who is knowledgeable about the
Gros Ventre history and oral traditions, but they choose to not share that
information or do not want to be quoted for what they know. As one elder said, in
each big family there is a story teller. Maybe some I don’t know of. Today’s
story tellers are few and some these people were also story tellers in the late
1900s. The people I have listed below are some of today’s story tellers and all are
Ruby Brockie – mother to author and great granddaughter to Coming Daylight
who kept her until she was nine years old; Joe Ironman – Keeper of the Feathered
Pipe Bundle and Gros Ventre Sun Dance; Preston Stiffarm – Great grandson of
Stiffarm and noted historian; Ray Gone, Jr. – grandson of Fred Gone, Sr.; William
Main – Councilman and noted historian on Gros Ventre history and son to James
Main; Robert Walker – Great grandson to Tom Main and grandson to Theresa
Lamebull; George Brockie – Weasel Horse – brother to author, a great story
teller, artist, Gros Ventre historian and semi-fluent in the Gros Ventre language;
Terry Brockie – A teacher and young man who can speak fluent Gros Ventre, and
helper to the Gros Ventre Sun Dance; Alphonse Obey – Helper to the Gros Ventre
Sun Dance and learning the history and language of the Gros Ventre;
Davy Belgarde – Great grandson to Coming Daylight and Gros Ventre Historian.
The Fort Belknap Indian Education Department had several programs where staff
interviewed Gros Ventre elders in the 1980s. Some of these stories were printed in a
document called War Stories of the Gros Ventre. While reviewing the Fort Belknap
College library another frayed document printed by Fort Belknap Education Department
in the 1980s, Recollections of Fort Belknap’s Past was discovered. However not all
stories were included in these documents and there were many interviews conducted and
tapes were either lost or stolen after documents were moved to several departments or left
lying in a box. I have tried to find these tapes but most are lost.
The stories I selected are stories that I talked to interviewees about the value of
them and why they are important in preserving. Some of these stories have never been
published or written in any document to my knowledge. Some oral stories were just
stories for entertainment in the winter months while others were for teaching or lessons
learned. There are the trickster stories that are in a category by themselves. I was
surprised to learn there are more stories on this character than I thought and many of
these stories also have not been written. All these are still told orally. The family
stories were told over the years and new ones were added. They tell about the Gros
Ventre and I am sure they were common stories at one time, but people quit telling them.
There were so many stories in War Stories of the Gros Ventre People, that I have already
listed, but the ones I included as historical stories were the ones that were in The Gros
Ventre of Montana as well as War Stories, like He Who Starved to Death, Found In the
Grass, Loss and Recovery of the Pipe, Nee Ott Liberates the Bladder People. Each story
is a reflection of who the Gros Ventre people are, fearless, strong in their faith and
convictions, survivals, and generous to a fault. These stories are in no particular order
and all are important.
My own regret is that I didn’t do more stories with certain individuals with a
wealth of information. I have to continue to make that commitment. One of the
interviewees, Preston Stiffarm has a wealth of knowledge and I am sorry I did not record
more of his stories. He is currently in a long term health facility in Seattle Washington.
This story repeats itself. Before I could interview Davie Hawley, II, he died. According
to my mother he was a real storyteller and had so much history on Gros Ventre. He was
the one who could tell a story as if we were all there. Another man James Main, wanted
me to come back. He was going to sing me an old Gros Ventre song as I didn’t finish
interviewing him. He died in a few days after I left his place. Preston wanted to tell me
more stories on the Trickster, some I never heard before. I will do my best to collect
these when he returns home. He is one of the Gros Ventre historians and much of the
information was obtained while he worked as an interviewer for years with people who
passed away long ago. He was willing to share this information and wanted to pass it on
to preserve it.
The following are some stories of the Ah’ani’nin, including family stories that
have never been written down or published. I have included some stories from Flannery
and Kroeber’s published documents as I feel they are important stories and belong to the
Gros Ventre.
From Social Life of the Gros Ventre, I selected: (1) Nee Ott Liberates the Bladder
People; (2) Earthmaker and the Deluge; (3) Origins of Death; (4) He Who starved to
Death; and, (5) Lost and Recovery of the Flat Pipe. From Kroeber’s Myths and Tale I
selected: 1. Origin Myth. There is a mystery and controversy as to who Earthmaker was,
some say he is Nee Ott, others say Nee Ott came before Earthmaker. According to
Kroeber, it was Nee Ott who caused the flood and he also created earth, from the mud of
a turtle. From War Stories of the Gros Ventre I selected: (1) Wus Nee a Nee, Running
Bear; (2) and Found in the Grass.
Although many of these stories were told by my Grandmother to my mother and
could be considered family stories, these stories according to a Gros Ventre elder, belong
to the people since they are about the people. The family stories are stories that have
been told in our family for years, and again depending on who is telling them the version
may change. These are the stories that were told when the Ah’ani’nin lived together and
in the winter months retold oral history and stories. Special emphasis was placed on
those stories the story teller wanted to impress upon the people as important to remember.
It was difficult to pick what stories to include so I selected the stories that would
reflect the values and customs of the Ah’ani’nin. In the process I sought advice from my
interviewees. Some of these stories have never been written down, on passed down
orally. They may have changed some but mostly remained the same. These stories tell
how the people learned from their oral history.
The stories selected are organized into the following: (1) Lessons Learned; (2)
Family Stories; (3) Trickster Stories, and (4) Legends of the Ah’ani’Nin stories.
When storytelling were a central focus of the Ah’ani’nin, it was a time when it
was imperative to listen and learn to ensure a person’s survival. Stories were told that
demonstrated what happens when we violate the teaching of our elders. The story of Last
Star is a family story and one with a lesson. The lesson to learn was that Last Star was
impatient to be a part of something that he was really too young to participant in, and as
trauma hit, he realizes this. I am sure at one time many Ah’ani knew of this story but as
time goes on only a few remember these old stories. As far back as my mother could
remember, it was told in her family and never recorded or written down to her
knowledge. The values are patience, respect, listening, survival and strength.
A. Last Star
Young boys were usually not allowed to go out on scouting parties. Sometimes
the party was away from home for over a month or longer. The men usually traveled
quickly and often ran into enemies from other tribes. The older boys and young men
were allowed to travel with the scouts to take care of the warriors’ moccasins at the end
of each day. From so much traveling the warriors would wear out their moccasins and
they would have to be repaired. These older boys were thus referred to as the “Moccasin
Last Star, was an Ah’ani’ boy on the verge of becoming a young man, and eager
to prove himself. The Ah’ani’ men were going out on a scouting party and Last Star
wanted to go. He approached one of the leaders and asked him if he could go. However
he was told, “You are too young and it will be difficult for you.” Still he insisted on
going and went to his uncle who was part of the scouting party. So his uncle, on his
behalf made it possible for him to come; even though part of the party felt he was too
young. So they told him you can come, not as a scout, but as a “Moccasin Carrier.” Last
Star was elated when he heard he could go. This was in the summer, a good time to be
out enjoying Mother Earth.
Each day out proved to be a great one for Last Star. He traveled with his pack
that included buckskin and sinew for repairing moccasins, as well as his own pack of
things. And in the evenings by the fire, he would repair the moccasins. He made friends
with some of the older men as he proved to be very responsible. The scouting party was
looking for not only the next place to camp, but also for a better hunting area.
The scouts had been out approximately three weeks when they were surprised by an
enemy tribe. Too small in number to wage a war, they scattered and ran in all different
directions. Last Star ran for his life for he knew if the enemies caught him they would
kill him. Being the young boy that he was, he was confused by his whereabouts and
soon was lost. By then he had lost his pack that included everything he had, including
those items essential for his survival.
He was in a mountainous area and he ran until he couldn’t run anymore. By then
it was evening time, with the sun almost down. His moccasins were all ragged from
running over rocky areas. He was crying and telling himself he wasn’t as brave as he
thought he was. And he thought of his mother and father and he wished he was at their
camp. He was traveling through the pines on the top of the mountains. Still he could see,
since the moon was out. From afar, he could see a fire at the bottom of a canyon. It was
late at night. He wanted to see someone else and was hoping for some help. He arrived
at the camp and he could see a person at the fire, but she had a blanket over her head and
Last Star couldn’t see her face. Her appearance showed to be a female for she was
wearing dress.
Last Star said, “Wahey” (hello). The person told him, “See gats, zats bits sits”
(come in and eat). He went to her campfire. He was just glad she seemed friendly and he
was hungry. This person told him, “Take off your moccasins and I will repair them.”
(for she had noticed how ragged his moccasins were.) Last Star asked her, “What’s your
name?” But she did not respond as she started to repair his moccasins. It was then he
noticed that she was using “ghost thread.” It was known among the Ah’ani’nin that the
only ones who used “ghost thread” were the ghosts themselves.
Right away Last Star was afraid. He wanted to run, but instead he told her that
“Ut in nok go” (I need to go to the toilet).
Once he got far enough away, Last Star started to run. He got so far when he
could hear someone crashing through the brush. It was the woman with no face. Now he
really was afraid, but continued to run. Last Star ran for his life for a second time in a
day. As Last Star was coming out of the mountains, it was nearing daylight. He turned
often to see the “ghost” following him. As the “ghost” ran, the blanket on her head
would bob up and down. Finally the sun was coming over the horizon. Last Star turned
to see the “Ghost” fade into the ground just as the sun came into full view, leaving
nothing but the blanket there.
When Last Star made it home, he was happy to see his family. And he vowed
that he would not seek to journey into the adult world until he was ready.
B. Old Lady Iron Foot
When I was a young girl, one of our favorite family stories was, “Old Lady Iron
Foot.” This story was told to my mother by her grandfather and she later told it to her
children and grandchildren. My children and grandchildren often say to me, “Grandma
tell me the story of ‘old lady iron foot.” This story is about trust, the value of life,
especially for children, the importance of listening and relying on the things you were
taught as a child, later in a person’s life.
In summer the berries that the Ah’ani’nin gathered were the choke cherries (Dy U
Win) and June berries (A hedge a Ho In).The Ah’ani’nin would dry the berries or
sometimes mix them with dry meat to make “patties.” We didn’t eat dessert, but if one
would want to identify these berries and cherries, this would be considered a “sweet” for
the Ah’ani’nin.
The Ah’ani’nin were getting ready to move camp and planned on leaving as soon
as possible. Some of the children decided to go off to look for berries and an older girl
went with them, as the children couldn’t be left by themselves. The farther they went, the
better the berries. Finally they realized they had gone too far and couldn’t travel at night.
So they made the best camp they could and gathered themselves together. There were
eight children in the bunch. When they arrived home the next day to where their camp
was supposed to be, everyone was gone.
The day before the camp was getting ready to leave, they knew that the children
were missing, but felt that the children could catch up with the camp especially since an
older girl was with them. So they left parts of their lodge material to show them the
direction they had gone.
The children started following the tracks left for them. They traveled for a couple
of days, when they came upon an old camp and on the steps of the camp, stood an old
lady with an iron foot. She told the children that their families wanted them to stay with
her and that they would return for them. At first the old lady was really kind to them.
Then the oldest girl noticed that one of the children was missing. She asked what
happened to her and the old lady said she must have wandered off. Soon more children
were missing and so one night the oldest girl stayed awake to see what was happening to
the children. She saw the old lady heating up her foot. When it was hot enough, she laid
her iron foot across the throat of the child and killed the child. The girl was really
frightened, but was afraid to say anything.
Soon only she and her brother remained. That night when the “old lady” was
going to kill her brother she shouted, “No, No, I will work for you and help you with
your chores.” So the old lady spared her and her brother.
The next day she sent the young girl out for wood. The girl found the best wood,
birch, easy to burn, but long lasting. But the old lady said, “I don’t use that kind of
wood!” So she went out again and brought back diamond willow, a lesser but still good
piece of wood. Again the old lady said, “No that’s not the kind of wood I use.” She went
out again, but this time she was really distressed and was sitting on a log crying, when a
bird appeared to her. The bird told her not to cry, “I will show you the kind of wood she
likes.” So the young girl brought the old lady old, the rotted wood, full of worms that the
old lady preferred.
The old lady demanded, “Who told you I burn this kind of wood?” The young
girl said she just thought it would please her.
The next chore for the young girl was to bring her water. The young girl found
clear, cold water by the creek, which she brought back. The old lady spat the water out
and said, “That is not what I use.” So she went out and brought river water but this too
did not satisfy the old lady. So again she went out and this time she was really distressed
as the old lady seemed to delight in her fear. Again the bird appeared saying to her, “I
will show you the kind of water she likes,” which was stagnant, stinky, slimy water. The
bird told her, “The old lady has no intention of keeping her promise but will kill you and
your brother. Tonight you must escape.” The bird told her, “Tell the old lady that your
brother needs to go to the bathroom and when you leave, place this needle on the steps
and put it where the old lady will use her good foot.”
She brought the water to the old lady and said, “Grandma, look what I brought
you.” The old lady was suspicious, and again she asked the young girl, “Who told you I
use this kind of water?” “No one” said the young girl, “I just thought this is the kind of
water you would like.”
That night she did what the bird told her to do; she said to the old lady, “Grandma
my brother needs to ‘Ut in nok go.” (go to the bathroom) At first she didn’t want her to
go with her brother, but the young girl told her that her brother was afraid of the dark. As
soon as they got outside, she placed the needle on the side where the old lady would step.
Then they fled, running as fast as they could to get away from the old lady. The old lady,
not knowing they already left, hollered at the children and told them “Nun Ho” (hurry
up). But the needle responded in the young boy’s voice saying, “When I go to the
bathroom I pee like a river and when I poop, it’s like a mountain.” Finally the old lady
decided to investigate why they were taking so long. As soon as she stepped outside, she
stepped on the needle, “Ouch, Ouch” she proclaimed. The needle was really stuck on her
foot and it took her a while to get the needle out.
In the meantime, the young children traveled all night. The young girl kept
looking back and said to her brother, “nun ho, nun ho.” (hurry, hurry) That night there
was a big moon, making their travel easier. Towards morning, in the distance she could
see a river up ahead. She turned to look and she could see the old lady coming as fast as
she could, limping along the way. The children got to the river and there was a “water
monster with horns.” They said, “Please, please, take us across. There is someone after
us.” The water monster said, “Yes, I will take you across, but first you must pick nits in
my head.” The young boy had on a beaded necklace, so they pretended to pop the beads
in their mouth to sound as if they were killing his nits.
Finally the water monster told them, “Get between my horns and do not open
your eyes until we get there.” Then the water monster went beneath the water and soon
they were on the other side. The children got off and continued on their journey,
thanking the water monster for his help. The water monster told them not to worry about
the old lady.
When the water monster returned to the other side, the old lady was there,
demanding that he take her across. He told her, “I will, but first you must pick my nits
and kill them with your teeth.” The old lady spat, sputtered, calling his nits, “dirty lice.”
Finally the water monster said, “Get on my back, I will take you across.” Half way
across, the water monster dove underwater, killing the old lady.
Within a short while the children found their camp. Their parents were really
happy to see them and the children told their story. The people were sad to hear what had
happened to the other children and they said that they left a trail of items along the way to
show where they were going, but the old lady must have removed them to her camp.
From that day forward the people decided that from then on they would not let
their children wander too far from camp without an adult.
C. Wus Nee A Nee “Running Bear”
My youngest son carries the name, Running Bear. My mother said that if
someone asked you where you got your name from you needed to defend yourself and
say how it came to be. Someone once asked my mother how my son got his name and he
also told her that his Indian name was Running Bear. She asked him how he got his
name. He could not tell her and she told him “Well this young man, my grandson, was
named after his relative Running Bear and she told him, I know the story of Running
Before we relate this story, I must include a note about the homelands of
The Ah’ani’nin territory extended from the Missouri Breaks and north into what
is now Canada where the Sarcee Indians now reside. In the old days the Ah’ani’nin
traveled extensively through this area. At this time the tribe was organized by their clans;
when the group separated into smaller units after the spring hunt and Sacrifice Dance,
they traveled and camped with their clan relatives. They all came together for sacred
ceremonies and the telling of stories. This is a story of a relative of the Brockie family.
The following story is both a family story and a story of learning. The protagonists were
told through a vision not to do something yet they did it anyway and as a result they
suffered the consequences.
This story has two versions. I am telling the story from the War Stories of the
Gros Ventre, printed by the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council through the Fort
Belknap Education Department, (p. 24-43). This is a different version than that of my
mother’s. In her story according to her paternal grandfather, Ben Horseman, Wus Nee a
Nee was left behind.
In this story, the Ah’ani’nin were camped near the White River, now called the
Judith River. It was customary for men to seek visions for direction or supernatural
power. The Ah’ani’nin had a custom called inseparable friends. Running Bear, a young
Ah’ani’nin went off with his friend, Burnt Off to fast to seek a vision. When a person
would fast they would choose a place and someone to help them. The spiritual person
would choose a place where they would spend three or four days without water or food.
Or they could choose for themselves where they wanted to fast.
Running Bear and Burnt off decided they would go to the highest peak, which
was located in the Belt Mountains, now called the Little Belt. They fasted for four days
and nights. Running Bear never received any visions, but Burnt Off was told not to
partake in any war parties until the snow flies. If he disregarded the order, something
could happen to him. Both of these young men were well respected and known for their
bravery and success during confrontations. According to Burnt off, Running Bear also
could not participate in warring parties.
So summer continued without their participation. Soon the older men began to
notice the Running Bear and Burnt Off were not participating in hunting or scouting
parties, and they wondered about it since these two young men were noted for their
During Berry Ripening Season (August), a well-known Ah’ani’ warrior, Sitting
Woman, was taking a large party of Ah’ani’nin out to look for Crow. By now the
Ah’ani’nin were camped near the Big River (Missouri). They left and Running Bear and
Burnt Off did not go along. Running Bear and Burnt Off were sitting smoking and
visiting, when an elder Ah’ani’ warrior, Sun White Cow, approached them. Sun White
Cow asked Running Bear why they were not partaking in the raids. Running Bear told
him, “As soon as the snow flies we will go, but not sooner. ” Sun White Cow said he was
taking a party out and wanted Running Bear to go. Running Bear said to go on but he
was staying. Sun White Cow told Running Bear, “It is only the helpless, feeble and
women who stay. If you want to stay, you can put on a dress and stay.” He was calling
Running Bear a coward. Quick to anger, Running Bear said he would go; disregarding
the warning. They would leave at dark from a designated place. Sun White Cow was
elated but he worried about why Running Bear had said at first he would not go. Running
Bear had not told Sun White Cow about the vision.
After Sun White Cow left, Burnt Off wanted to know if Running Bear meant what
he said about going and if so he was going with him. But he said, “Remember the
Spirit’s warning.” Burnt Off told Running Bear, “I know you must consider your
family’s standing with the tribe.” Burnt Off added that he was alone and had no one to
consider. So they prepared themselves for war and joined the war party after dark.
There were seven warriors. They were Wolf Chief, Dog Sleep, Many Plumes,
Blood Man, Red Eye Brows, also known as Eats, and two others, their names unknown.
With Sun White Cow, Running Bear and Burnt Off, they made a party of ten. They
started for Crow Country and soon met up with Sitting Woman’s party camped on
Willow Creek, now Flat Willow. But they did not want to camp with them or wanted to
be seen by them, so they camped farther down river.
In the middle of the night, Sun White Cow was taking his party on, but Blood
Man spoke up and decided to stay with Sitting Woman’s party. So they went on without
Sun White Cow pushed his party on; they crossed water, and the prairies,
camping only for short rests. Soon they reached the Shell River (Musselshell) and
shortly after the Elk River (Yellowstone) and proceeded to the Big Sheep River (Big
Horn). Once there, they found a place to camp with a good spring. Along the way they
killed a buffalo and decided to slice and dry their meat. In the evening the scouts went
out looking to see if they were in a safe place to camp. When on a scouting party, there
were always scouts posted who traveled the area insuring safety.
Unknown to them they were in close proximity to the Crows. When Ah’ani’nin
warriors found out they prepared themselves for battle, first making a sweat tent and
making offerings of flesh, asking for protection. After cleansing themselves, they
decided to sleep for a while, all but Wolf Chief. He would stay awake on the lookout for
the enemy. Suddenly he heard drums and what sounded like a victory song. He alerted
others but they couldn’t hear it and made fun of him telling Wolf Chief, “It must be the
wax in your ears.” Wolf Chief could not rest and he noticed that the sleepers were also
restless. He woke them up and told them their restless sleep was a bad omen. The same
warrior who had given him a bad time before now said, “You must be afraid.” Sun
White Cow spoke up and said, maybe he is right and we need to be moving on. Maybe
we can find where the Crows are camped.
This was the time of the season where the sky is smoky and the air is not clear,
making the scouting difficult. They descended off the mountain, near a small creek on
the east slope, near a lot of wild plums. Unknown to the Ah’ani’nin warriors the Crows
were in the same area searching for plums. The Ah’ani’nin warriors followed this creek
into the Big Sheep River (Big Horn).
Sun White Cow sent two of his fastest runners to scout ahead. The rest watched
the scouts move up and over the hill. They appeared to be ducking here and there. Soon
they fled back and informed Sun White Cow that the whole Crow tribe was moving up
the creek, singing a victory song.
The Ah’ani’nin leader, Sun White Cow, told them to hide quickly. But they
mistakenly hid in the biggest plum brush, a favorite picking area of the Crows. It was a
thick area of brush, and they were able to hide without being seen by the Crows. Sun
White Cow told two scouts to crawl out and keep an eye on the Crows. However, the
women gathered in the area, where the two scouts were hiding. One of two women
picking close to the scouts spied them and fled. The women all ran and alerted the Crow
men. The two scouts were able to retreat with the other Ah’ani’nin.
Sun White Cow ordered two scouts to stand guard. One was Running Bear. Soon
a woman appeared; she was an Ah’ani’nin Woman, who had been captured by the Crow
many years before. They recognized her; her name was Woman Chief. She was wellrespected among the Crow. She spotted these two Ah’ani’nin but having been gone so
long, she did not recognize them. But she still understood their language. She ran and
they shot after her, giving away their exact location. Soon they were surrounded by
Crows, who immediately started firing into the brush. The Ah’ani’nin dug a trench. One
Ah’ani’nin man told Running Bear and his friend, if either of you gets shot, I would like
your gun as I am unarmed.
Crows descended on where Running Bear and his companion scout were. The
man without a gun was shot between his eyes. Running Bear and Burnt Off would shift
position after each attack. However, there were too many Crows. Running Bear saw the
other scout shot on the right side of his chest and he died shortly after. Running Bear
called out and said that the other scout had been killed. Sun White Cow said to stay
where he was, or the Crow would kill him off first. Running Bear wanted to better his
position and he spied a Crow trying to sneak up on him. The Crow had in his hand two
small willows tied together, a custom of the Crow for counting coup. He would either
touch the enemy or kill him. The Crow rose up to kill Running Bear, but before he could
do anything, Running Bear shot him in the mouth, killing him instantly.
In the meantime, a one-sided battle was going on as the Crow warriors were
shooting repeatedly into the brush. The Ah’ani’nin would carefully aim when they could
and they knew their shots hit their marks by the crying of the Crows. Suddenly Running
Bear was hit on the right forearm, and then the bullet entered his back, breaking his
shoulder bone, breaking his arm as well, with the bullet lodging in his arm.
Running Bear bled profusely and soon fainted. While lying on the ground, he
also was hit in the head by another bullet, which left only a flesh wound. When he awoke
his scalp was covered in blood. Confused and weak, he didn’t know where he was at
first. Soon he realized his predicament and wondered where his friend Burnt Off was. He
felt that he was not going to survive and called his friend, who answered him
immediately. Running Bear told him he was wounded and that the other scouts had been
killed. Burnt Off told him he too was wounded on his foot and that he would try to get
Running Bear to his trench. Burnt Off crawled to his friend. When he got there, they
both realized that they were of no use to their group. Running Bear told his friend to
gather all the guns and ammunition so they could defend themselves.
Burnt Off was able to get Running Bear to the trench but Sun White Cow would
not let him in. He said, “Leave him out there he is going to die anyway.” Running Bear
was moving in and out of consciousness but could understand what was going on. Red
Eye Brow or Eats was a medicine man and he would jump out of the trench and charge
the Crows, taking one or two out before retreating to the trench. Running Bear saw blood
squirt out of Eats’ sides, so he knew that he was wounded. He soon found out that all of
the warriors were wounded in various places on their bodies. Still they fought on, Eats,
would jump out of the trench every so often to keep the Crows at bay.
Soon someone from the Crow side spoke Piegan and asked what tribe they were.
They named several tribes before they finally got to Ah’ani’nin and one of the Ah’ani’nin
who spoke Piegan responded, “Yes, we are Ah’ani’nin.” Soon a woman asked if they
really were Ah’ani’nin and if they knew of her brothers, Sitting Woman and Blackcrow.
The Ah’ani’nin recognized her as the woman, Two Strikes who left the Ah’ani’nin years
before and had made her home with the Crow. She asked who they were and they called
out their names. When Many Plumes called out, she was touched with pity since he was
a relative. She told them they should do what they could to escape as the Crows were
going to kill all of them, if not that day then the next. The fighting stopped for a while.
But that night several fires were built to keep the Ah’ani’nin from escaping.
In the meantime while the Crows were being distracted, Sitting Woman, who had
followed Sun White Cow, slipped into the Crow camp and stole all their horses.
Remember, Sun White Cow had wanted to beat Sitting Woman to the Crows. Sitting
Woman was very cautious. A Gros Ventre, Black Raven, in Sitting Woman’s party
wanted to help Sun White Cow, but Sitting Woman decided to leave Sun White Cow at
the mercy of the Crows.
In the middle of the night, Sun White Cow sent the only Ah’ani’nin not wounded
to scout for an escape route. He didn’t return immediately but since there was no
indication that he had been caught; it was believed that he had found an opening. Sun
White Cow sent Running Bear to check for an opening. Running Bear followed the
directions of Sun White Cow. He tried the creek first but there were two camp fires
there, so he went in the other direction of the stream and found it was not as closely
guarded. He half crawled and floated down the stream. He made it without being seen,
so we went back and informed the rest of the Ah’ani’nin, who were anxiously waiting.
They knew instantly their chances were slim, but they were ready. As fast as they could,
they proceeded with Burnt Off lagging in the rear due to his leg injury. Running Bear
stayed in the back, not wanting to leave his childhood friend. As they were all escaping,
Running Bear and Burnt Off found a robe they decided to keep with them.
These two moved in a westerly direction towards the Big Sheep River (Big Horn).
They were moving fast despite their wounds. Sun White Cow wanted to be rid of the two
most injured men since they would slow their escape. Sun White Cow wanted to put as
much distance between the Crow their group. Running Bear showed the robe to Sun
White Cow, who took it away from them. The two young men, Running Bear and Burnt
Off, were left alone.
At this time of the year Big Sheep River was shallow and their crossing was not
that difficult. When daylight came they were on the west side of the Big Sheep River and
were looking for a place to hole up for the day. They spotted a valley where they could
go. To their surprise, they caught up with Sun White Cow. Sun White Cow was adamant
about getting as far away from the Crows as possible. They made crutches for Burnt Off,
using the robe to make the crutches easier to handle. The remainder was used for
bandages for his injuries. Once they were on their way, it was difficult for the two
friends as they had to stop often for Burnt Off. Falling behind, they continued to follow
the direction of Sun White Cow’s group. They could see them far off killing buffalo.
This would have been in the area where Pryor, Montana now stands. Catching up with
the group, Running Bear could see where they had already eaten and were resting. Sun
White Cow felt pity for them and gave them the leftovers. It was at this point that they
separated from the group. Sun White Cow wanted to leave them but after some thought
felt that he would have to deal with Running Bear’s family if he left him. He went back
and told Running Bear to leave his friend. Running Bear did not want to leave his
childhood friend and told Sun White Cow to leave them. Sun White Cow and the
warriors started on their way. But Sun White Cow knew that it was not good leaving
Running Bear so he went back and pleaded with Running Bear, telling him that his
family needed him.
Running Bear could not be persuaded to leave his friend. So Sun White Cow
ordered his warriors to take him by force. He was able to get away and went back to his
friend Burnt Off and told him that is was not his wish to leave him. Burnt Off told him to
"leave me and spare yourself.” Both cried and with tears streaming down his face,
Running Bear went with Sun White Cow. It was a sad thing to witness as both were
hardened warriors and used to the hardships of life. The other warriors looked on
solemnly not saying a word.
Burnt Off, left to his own wits to survive, prepared himself for what lay ahead.
He started on in the direction they had gone. Late in the day it was warm and climbing a
slope was difficult for him. Discouraged and desperate, he stopped and lay face down in
some tall grass and just thought about his life. He wasn’t down long, before he began to
hear small bells ringing, as if worn by someone. Thinking this was the enemy, he
prepared to die. Silently, he sang his brave heart song. The noise stopped at his feet, but
he did not look up and the noise circled his body. Still he did not look up. Finally a voice
in his own language told him that he pitied Burnt Off. He told him to sit up and he did.
And there was a coyote, who told him, “Come on, soon they will find you.” He told the
coyote, “My foot is injured and I can hardly move.” He told him to take the crude
bandage off and the coyote began to lick his wound. He said there was something in his
foot and he used his claws to get out a large sliver. Pus and blood came out of the wound
and immediately Burnt Off felt relief. The coyote told him, “I have a cave nearby and I
will take you there.” So with the help of the coyote, they traveled to the cave. Burnt Off
was really sick and may have been getting gangrene. The coyote nursed him back to
health and Burnt Off spent the rest of the summer season with the coyote. It was said the
coyote would find food, regurgitate it so the Burnt Off would have something to eat.
When it was time for him to go, the coyote told him not to be afraid, that his foot
was healed and he could walk on it. The coyote told Burnt Off he would travel with him
and help him along the way. They set out on their journey and by evening they had
reached Arrow Creek which flowed into the Elk River (Yellowstone). They rested for a
while and then went on. At dark they made it to the Elk River, where Billings, Montana
now stands. They continued to travel until dawn, at which time they found a place to rest
in thick brush. For several weeks they traveled, resting during the day to avoid any
By now the Ah’ani’nin had moved camp from the White River (Judith Gap) to
Many Houses (Fort Benton). Fall was in full season with the nights almost as long as the
days. Burnt Off never questioned the wisdom of the coyote and followed his directions.
When they crossed the Missouri River, they were in Ah’ani’nin country. When they
reached the Bear River (Marias) they were within a few miles of the Ah’ani’nin
encampment. Burnt Off was elated to be so close to home and when they topped the hill
he could see the tipis. The coyote told Burnt Off, “You can go home now.” He left the
coyote at the top and traveled down occasionally stopping to see if the coyote was still
there. As he got to the bottom, he turned to look and the coyote was gone. He felt a
touch of sadness; both at leaving the coyote, who saved his life and wondering if his
friend, Running Bear made it home.
Unknown to Burnt Off, Sun White Cow and his warriors had troubles of their
own. Because of their wounds, Sun White Cow and his travelers could not move as fast
as they wanted. At Elk River they killed a buffalo and took what they could carry. Soon
they reached Shell River and camped there for several days. While they were there, two
Blood Indians and one Piegan approached their camp. These two tribes had lived with
the Ah’ani’nin at one time, so they traveled with them. The Bloods, seeing how injured
the Ah’ani’nin were, wanted to do them in. But the Piegan man said no and warned them
that if they continued with their plot he would let the Ah’ani’nin know. Some of the
Ah’ani’nin understood Blackfeet and were able to interpret what they said. Therefore the
Ah’ani’nin were on alert when around the Bloods. By the time they reached the No
Summer Mountains (Snowy Mountains) they met a party of Piegan, led by Running
When Running Rabbit saw the condition of the Ah’ani’nin, he was moved to pity
and gave them clothing and meat. The Piegan that was traveling with the Bloods told
Running Rabbit how the Bloods wanted to kill the Ah’ani’nin. Running Rabbit was livid
and told the Bloods to leave, adding if they tried to return he would kill them. They
stayed with the Piegan until they were well enough to go home. When they left, the
Piegan supplied them with moccasins and dried meat to help them on their way.
Unfortunately, they could not bring Running Bear as his injuries were too severe. After a
couple of weeks, Running Bear’s family came for him. Somehow he had survived. His
mother and father and brother brought him home by travois. Running Bear was glad to
be home but he felt sorrow over his friend Burnt Off. He thought by now he is probably
When they arrived home, to Running Bears surprise not only was Burnt Off alive,
but he had arrived before any of them. Both were happy and grateful to see one another.
They also remembered how they failed to listen to the message in the dream. This is
what they sought by fasting, but they did not obey the instructions of the spiritual vision.
The story of Running Bear has two versions. Some Elders, in the version, insist it
was Running Bear who was left.
Trickster/Nee Ott seems to have started out as a very holy person often referred to
as Earthmaker among the Ah’ani’nin. He is a great spirit who became more established
with the Ah’ani’nin and as this happened he seemed to take on a more human form. In
old times he lived among the people and had a wife and family. He was always having
adventures, getting into trouble, and causing life to change; sometimes he was considered
a blundering fool. He can shift shapes at will and fool many unsuspecting people; hence
the name ‘trickster.”
The Ah’ani’nin say that their trickster is also a cultural hero who was with them
from the beginning of time. Nee Ott gave them the Flat Pipe and with it the instructions
on how to live their lives, the ability to survive, knowledge of how to purify, pray, and
perform sacred ceremonies. Nee Ott’s name also means “spider.” According to the
Ah’ani’nin the spider despite its small size can do many wonderful things with its web. It
can go up or down and generally is in control of the most difficult situation. As a sacred
being, if a spider is killed it is said that rain will come. Despite the crazy stories of Nee
Ott, he is in command of all situations.
The Ah’ani’nin believe these trickster stories tell of how they as a distinct people
came to be and that Nee Ott was a great spirit to whom the Ah’ani’nin could pray and ask
for help. Nee Ott is especially important because he told our people how to pray to the
Supreme Being. There is a story of how Nee Ott, as the original keeper of the Ah’ani’nin
medicine bundle, the Flat Pipe, recreated the world after a devastating flood. He taught
the Ah’ani’nin the Flat Pipe rituals, and how to sing (the song was Earthmaker’s first
utterance when alone on the water). In one of the Nee Otts stories Nee Ott is said to cut
off his hair, so that when the Ah’ani’nin first saw a White man, they thought he was Nee
The numerous Ah’ani’nin stories of Nee Ott have been told orally for centuries.
In each story, there is a lesson to be learned about honesty, humility, trust, guidance,
generosity, bravery, humor, and kindness. The stories also make clear that it is important
to listen to what a wise person is trying to tell you. Nee Ott is said to have a strange
sense of humor.
The following stories are told within the author’s family and with extended family
D. Nee Ott ’s infidelity
Nee Ott liked to look at women and sometimes he got into trouble as he took his
to another level. Nee Ott must have had many wives as time when on. But in this case,
he was young and had only one wife. His wife was not at home, but had gone to looking
for roots and berries. While his wife was gone, Nee Ott noticed a beautiful young maiden
and knew that he had to have her. So he pretended to be single. He spent several days
romancing the young maiden, until finally she gave in to his advances. The young
maiden was really taken with Nee Ott and believed his words of love to her. They met
daily down by the water. This went on for some time and the young maiden was very
impressed with him.
Before long news in camp arrived that the women who were out getting roots and
berries were on their way home with their scouts and protectors. When Nee Ott heard
this he knew he didn’t want to get into trouble, but he wanted to see the maiden one more
time. Everyone was talking of the women root gatherers’ return and who were coming
back; somehow the young maiden found out that Nee Ott had a wife. She was just
devastated and felt really bad. But later she became so angry that she planned her
revenge. She thought of Nee Ott’s beautiful hair and how the Ah’ani’ men valued their
She enticed Nee Ott to spend one more night with her. Nee Ott thought,“Well,
one more night won’t hurt.” So they made a plan to meet. After their lovemaking, Nee
Ott fell asleep. While he was asleep, the young maiden put caca burrs into his hair, as
many as she could. These are sticky burrs, with lots of needles on them. When Nee Ott
awoke his head felt light. He had beautiful long hair. His touched his head and felt that
his hair was all over and all tangled with caca burrs. When he would spin his head, his
hair would go all over. He tried and tried but couldn’t get the burrs out. He knew he had
to do something, so he cut his beautiful hair off. His hair was now all short and sticking
up all over. When his wife saw him, she was very shocked and asked, “What happened
to your beautiful hair.” He told her that “When you didn’t return, I thought you had died,
so I cut my hair in mourning for you.” (which was their custom) Thinking he had gotten
off, they went to their home, but she eventually found out and he sure took a licking from
her. Of course him being the trickster, she eventually forgave him.
E .Nih ’atah loses his eyes: Eyes go up into the Tree:
Nih’atah was walking along trail. It seems that he was always traveling on some
adventure. He came upon a man doing tricks with his eyes. They say this man was
another trickster. He would make his eyes leave their sockets and return. He was just
impressed. He asked the man, “Give me that trick.”
“No, No” said the man, “It is too dangerous.”
But Nee Ott was persistent. Finally the man said, “Okay, I will give you the
power, but you must listen to my instructions and do exactly what I tell you.” The man
told Nee Ott that he could only have his eyes leave him four times. Nee Ott said, “Yeah,
yeah, I will do what you tell me.” So the man went on his way. Nee Ottc ould hardly
wait to try his new tricks. He said Da Da Ga Day(which meant I am thinking about
shooting it)“Eyes go up into the tree,” so there went his eyes into the trees. Nee Ott was
amazed as he could see all over. He went on and continued to have his eyes go here and
there. Finally he got to the last time, the fourth time. He told himself that the first one
was just a practice. So again he said, “Eyes go up into the tree,” and there went his eyes.
He said, “Eyes come back,” and they wouldn’t come back. He said it again, “Eyes come
back.” Again nothing happened.
After several more tries he realized that he was not going to get his eyes back. He
fumbled about, banging into things. He was crawling along, feeling his way, when he
came upon a mouse. He was quick to grab the mouse. He told that mouse he wanted one
of his eyes. The mouse refused, but Nee Ott told the mouse, “I will squeeze you and
squeeze until you give me an eye.” So the mouse relented and gave him an eye. The eye
was so tiny he could hardly see. He was bumping into things. Finally he ran into a
young buffalo calf that pitied him and gave him an eye. So there is Nee Ott, with a small
mouse eye and a huge buffalo calf eye. Nee Ott was glad he could now see. After some
time he did get his eyes back, supposedly after he learned his lesson. He said to himself,
“Next time I will pay better attention.”
F. Nee Ott and the Buffalo Skull
After several days the Creator must have pitied Nee Ott because he got his eyes
back. He said to himself, how wonderful it is to be able to have his senses, to hear and to
see. As he was walking along he could hear noises. Thinking maybe he was hearing
things, he stopped. He heard just a faint sound but when he bent, he heard it more
clearly. His eyes spotted a buffalo skull where the noise was coming from. He peered
into the buffalo skull and saw that the mice are having a pow wow. Dancing was going
on. The mice were in their full regalia, and they were in competitions. Nee Ott said to
himself, “What beautiful dance outfits, and how well they dance! This is a good pow
wow and I want to get a closer look.” So he pushed his head in further. He was really
enjoying himself.
When the pow wow was over, the mice left. Nee Ott tried to remove himself, but
realized that his head was stuck. He could not get the buffalo skull off his head. The
skull was heavy and he must have looked a sight. He tried banging his head into a tree
but all he got was a headache. The buffalo skull would go from side to side, throwing
him off balance.
Walking along he came upon an old grandmother, who was caring for her
beautiful granddaughter. Nee Ott said to his self, “I know how I can get this skull off.”
So he went to the young maiden. He put his hands on her body but she resisted and
called for her grandmother. The grandmother came with an ax and hit Nee Ott with full
force on his head. The buffalo skull broke and Nee Ott made a speedy escape. He knew
if he stuck around the grandmother would give him a severe beating. He smiled to
himself that again, trickster was able to come out okay.
G. Nee OttObtains the Buffalo
Long ago the buffalo were owned by one man. Nee Ott was again traveling along
when he came upon a camp with several tipis. The people were very hungry for they had
no meat. The buffalo were being kept in a cave with a long tunnel by a man who did not
want to share.
Nee Ott felt that this was a shame and set forth with a plan for how he would get
the buffalo from the man. Nee Ott was a trickster so if he had a plan, he was keeping it to
himself. He told the people to leave this area since they had no food and needed to go
where there was food. When the people left, Nee Ott turned himself into a mangy pup.
Before long, a small child, the daughter of the man who had the buffalo wandered into
the deserted camp. She spotted a little puppy. Just as how all children love little puppies,
she too fell in love with the pup. She took him home to her folks but they immediately
felt it was the trickster. The wanted her to get rid of him, and leave him to die. But she
was persistent, and she wanted to keep him. Finally they could not say no to their child.
So the puppy was kept in the lodge with the family and fed very well. He had lots of
buffalo meat.
Their lodge was directly outside the cave where the buffalo were kept. The man
did occasionally give the Ah’ani’nin a buffalo or two. Once a day the man would let the
buffalo wander out for water and grazing and in the evening he would bring them in.
Nee Ott in his disguise watched the situation. In front of the man he did his best
to appear as a real dog, scratching, stretching and barking. The man would tell Nee Ott,
“I know you are not a real dog; you are the trickster.” So the puppy would play with the
little girl, gaining her trust and affections.
Everyday Nee Ott watched the movements of the man, especially when he took
the buffalo out and when he brought them back. He watched to see if there was any time
the man let his guard down. One evening the pup decided that he would hide in the
scrotum of one buffalo. He successfully achieved his first small goal and was able to stay
hidden while the buffalo passed by the man. He was now inside a cave. Once inside, he
turned himself into a huge ferocious dog and started barking at the buffalo. The dog was
strange to the buffalo and they were suddenly afraid; they started to mill about and finally
they stamped. They ran toward the opening of the cave. The man heard the buffalo and
suspected that Nee Ott had caused the problem. The man tried to keep the buffalo from
running outside, but the buffalo had fear in their eyes; with their nostrils snorting and
blowing air, they were not going to be stopped! The man should have gotten out of the
way, but his greed and selfishness got the best of him and he was trampled to death.
Nee Ott wanted to make sure the buffalo did not come back to the cave, so he
chased and barked at them till they were running in all directions. Nee Ott turned
himself back into his old self. He went to the man’s lodge and had sex with his wife. He
then left and went back to the Ah’ani’nin main camp. Upon arriving he told the people
what he had done and that the keeper of the buffalo was now dead. They could now hunt
as much buffalo as they needed. Since that time the buffalo have lived upon the ground
and the Ah’ani’nin have had plenty of meat and not been hungry.
H. Nee Ott, The Island and the Ducks
In one of his many travels Nee Ott ended up on an island. How he got there was
anyone’s guess. It was cool and in the fall. He wandered about looking for something to
eat. The island was really beautiful, but did not seem to have any food, at least not the
kind he liked. After some time he was getting really hungry. Finally looking over a hill,
he spotted some ducks. They were very fat and were playing by the water. Nee Ott
wanted them for supper. He thought to himself, what can I do to get their attention and
also make them trust me?
He approached the ducks and told them how beautiful they were. He said, “We
are going to have a beauty contest, but there is one rule. You must close your eyes.” As
they were standing in line with their eyes closed, he twisted their necks, until one
opened her eyes and saw what he was doing. “Save yourselves,” she yelled, “He is the
trickster.” There is a certain kind of duck today that never closes its eyes. They can
thank Nee Ott for that.
Pleased with himself that he now had something to eat, Nee Ott set about making
a fire with a spit to roast his ducks. The fire was just right, so he set about putting two
ducks over the fire. Soon the smell of the ducks could be detected miles away. The
juicy ducks were just about right for eating. In the meantime, a hungry coyote, (another
trickster) following his nose came upon the scene. He was starved. He too had been
abandoned at the island. He watched Nee Ott and knew the trickster would be hard to
fool. So he too set out a plan for how he could trick the trickster. He said to his self, “I
know what I will do!” The coyote found some alkali to roll in, and soon he was covered
with gray and white looking hairs.
The coyote started to drag one leg and approached Nee Ott. He asked Nee Ott to
share some of his good fortune. Nee Ott was eating by now and had put two more
ducks on the spit. He told the coyote to “Go away, I got this meal myself. You can do
that too.” The coyote insisted again and kept bothering him, telling him how At Tabeno
(pitiful) he was. So finally Nee Ott was forced to pay attention to him. He told the
coyote, “I’ll tell you what. If you can beat me at the race, you can have one of these
ducks. In fact I will give you half of them.” Nee Ott was confident and thought, “I will
win hands down. This old crippled coyote will never beat me.” So they agreed they
would run around the island and the first one back would be the winner.
Once they started out, Nee Ott could see that the coyote was having a hard time.
The coyote had rigged up a stick as a cane to help him along. Soon Nee Ott was
showing off, running backwards, and running circles around the coyote. After a while
he got tired, “Heck, I am going to show this ‘slow as turtle coyote’ how fast I really
am!” Without a look back he took off; he wanted to hurry back to his ducks anyway.
As soon as he got out of sight, the coyote raced back and had himself a wonderful feast.
Nee Ott came flying into his camp. It had not taken him long to get back but he
was all out of breath. Showing off had exhausted him and he wanted to replenish
himself with his ducks. He walked back to his fire and to his amazement; all that was
left was bones. The coyote had tricked the trickster! All Nee Ott could say to himself
was, “I have to make a plan to get off this island.”
Another version of this story was how, Nee Ott had taken a rest while his ducks
were cooking. He told his butt, “Now keep an eye on these ducks.” Then he fell asleep
and so did his butt. Soon other animals were all around the roasting ducks and ate them
up. Nee Ott was so mad at his butt that he took a burning stick and was burning his butt.
His butt would say, “Ouch, Ouch, letting out large farts.” He said he would teach his
butt a lesson, all the while burning himself: sort of like cutting off your nose to despite
your face.
Nee Ott and the Basket of Cherries
One day Nee Ott was walking when he noticed a Basket of Cherries floating
along a river. It was filled with ground cherries made with grease, called “berry grease.”
This was a delicacy to the Ah’ani’nin. It was very rich and tasty, but it had side effects;
one could not eat too much or one would get ill. Seeing the basket get closer Nee Ott
called out, “Come closer, I want to eat you.” The Basket of Cherries told Nee Ott, “No,
you have no self-control and you will get sick.” Not to be deterred, Nee Ott ran along
the river and told the Basket of Cherries, “Come near, I won’t eat that much.” The
Basket of Cherries told him, “I don’t believe you. You are the Trickster. You will eat me
all up.” Nee Ott was after all the Trickster and said, “I am starving and need you. I
promise, I won’t eat that much.” So the Basket of Cherries relented.
Nee Ott was wise, but sometimes he didn’t want to listen to anyone else’s
wisdom. He ate all the “berry grease” and finished off the basket. Pleased with himself,
he started home. Soon he was releasing gas, first in small amounts, but after a while he
couldn’t contain himself. Each time he farted, his whole body shook, and rose. After a
while he was having a hard time keeping on the ground. As he walked and farted, he
grabbed a hold of brush to hold himself down. Soon he was going up and down all the
way home. He was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to return once he was in “the air.”
By the time he arrived home he was barely staying on ground. He got into his tipi
and told his wife what he had done. He told her to “pile everything on me so I will stay
down.” Soon she had all their belongings piled as high as she could put them. He told
her “Now get on my back.” He tried to hold himself in from farting, but by doing that
he only built lots of gas. Finally there was just one big boom. Everything they owned
was blown to smithereens, including his wife.
Nee Ott f in d s “d ry mea t
After so many traumas Nee Ott decided he would just take it easy. It was a
beautiful day as he walked along the river; he could see birds and other animals. He
thought that life was good. By afternoon, he decided to take a rest. He found some flat
rocks along the river, and seeing how comfortable they were, he decided to rest there. It
was starting to get really warm. He fell asleep on the rocks and while he was sleeping the
weather turned very warm. He awoke to find that he had burnt himself in the sun. Since
he only had a breech cloth on, the part of his buttocks that was exposed was extremely
burnt. He said, “I will find a cool place to walk, away from the river.” As he was
walking along, he noticed that he could see something brown in small pieces. He looked
closer and found that they were dried meat. He was elated. Another delicacy of the
Ah’ani’nin was dried meat. The more he walked the more pieces he found. When he
quit paying attention to the trail of dry meat, he looked about him and thought the place
looks familiar; and then he realized he had been walking circles and the dried meat he
was eating was his own dried flesh!
K. Nee Ott Liberates The Bladder People
Nee Ott was out wandering around. He has been traveling for some days without
seeing anyone. One morning he spotted a lodge and went over to see if he could get a
bite of food from the people. A man and woman were there and they invited him in.
They told him that he could rest there, but they had no food. The man turned to his wife
and said, “I can see that he is tired and hungry but we have no food to give him. Let our
children go on a hunt and so we will have something to feed him.” Nee Ott was very
happy that they would go through all this trouble to get him food.
Nee Ott waited, but no food appeared. During the night he woke up to hear
sounds near the lodge. Someone dragged something along and left it by the lodge. Nee
Ott thought this was an odd way to be bringing something in the night, but he just waited.
After a while he could hear no movement. Finally the man told his companion to bring in
the food so they could eat and also feed their guest. When the companion came in, she
had all sorts of meat: kidneys, liver, and delicacies from insides of a buffalo, i.e. many
folds, tripe. They ate the meat raw until they were full.
Nee Ott thought that this was a strange custom, to bring meat at night. He
wondered how this happened. He wanted to ask, but knew this was not an accepted
practice to ask about one’s meal. He was so full, he happily fell asleep.
The next day Nee Ott spent the whole day with the couple. Again when night fell,
the man said in a loud voice, “My children go hunt for meat that we may feed our guest.”
Even though the man called to his children, Nee Ott could not see them. The same thing
happened as it had the previous night.
Nee Ott thought impolite or not, I am going to ask the man how he does this.
“How is it that this food is so good and who are your children?” he asked him. The man
responded, “Do you really want to know?” Nee Ott, being a curious man said of course
he wanted to know. “All right” the man said, “come to this rising ground here and I will
show you.” When they left the lodge the man told him, “look up and you will see the
thing I use.” Nee Ott looked up and saw a bladder above the door. The man said, “This
is what I use.”
The man took the bag and told Nee Ott “I use this bag to get whatever I need; I
use it to make a living, to hunt and get all my needs met. You will see. Make your heart
strong.” The man untied the bag, and soon adults began to come out of the bag. The
crowd got bigger and bigger. When he had enough people, he closed the bag and tied it
up again. These people were at the mercy of the man. He told them to hunt and get the
choicest pieces of meat for him and his guest.
Nee Ott stayed for a while and each day the same thing happened. They ate until
they were full. Then Nee Ott decided to move on. While away he began to think how he
could make this type of hunting happen for himself. He wanted to have this bladder. He
made a plan. He began to cut himself and began crying as he moved back towards the
man’s camp. The man and his wife heard Nee Ott crying, but they also knew he was
tricky and decided not to notice him. Nee Ott kept crying and cried into the night as they
The next day Nee Ott was gone. They went and looked for him but could not find
him. Finally the woman found him not far from their lodge, sleeping. The man
approached Nee Ott and told him “Come into my lodge.” Nee Ott came in and sat down,
but didn’t say anything for a while. Finally the man said, “Why did you cut yourself and
why do you make yourself suffer so?” Nee Ott said, “I have a good reason. I am alone,
all my family, my wife, my children have been killed by my enemies. Everything I own
is destroyed and gone. I have nothing and I don’t know how I am going to survive. You
have been kind to me inviting me into your home. I wanted to use your bladder to seek
revenge on my enemies who destroyed me.” The man immediately said no because he
knew that the trickster was sly. He told Nee Ott that he would abuse the power and not
have a care for how he used the bladder. Nee Ott begged all the more. The man and
woman refused to answer and were silent on the matter.
Nee Ott never gave up; he continued to cry and moan over his family, begging for
help. He was so pitiful that the man and woman finally relented. The woman told the
man, “By the pitiful behavior, he has displayed, I think he has given up his tricky ways.
Have pity on him, for he has suffered a lot.” The man agreed.
The man began immediately to give the trickster instructions on the bladder’s use.
He told him not to use the bladder except on rare occasions when he felt the need to
revenge an enemy or needed food. Nee Ott promised, “Yes, yes, I will do what you ask.”
The man told him further that there was another rule, the most important rule, one that
must be obeyed. “You have to sleep with your head facing the direction you are going to
travel.” This must be strictly followed. Nee Ott anxious to get started quickly agreed.
The last words the man told Nee Ott were, “Now remember use the bladder only when
you really need it.”
Nee Ott set off on his journey and as evening came he got ready to camp. He kept
wondering if the bladder would work for him. No longer able to contain himself, he said
to the bladder, “My children, I am hungry and need something to eat, go find me some
food.” Soon he had all the meat he could eat. He ate to his heart’s content and finally
fell asleep. In the morning, he awoke to find only the bladder, there were no leftovers or
any sign that there had ever been any meat. Again he started on his journey, taking the
bladder with him. He repeated this same scenario for several nights and each morning it
was the same.
Nee Ott got to thinking, “What if something happens to me, what they will do?”
So he told the Bladder people from his camp, “If something should happen to me where I
am killed I give you the following directions, “Make a sweat house with a mound of earth
in front of it. Someone should have a filled pipe and should stand at the mound of earth
and invite the Creator four separate times with a stop after each invitation. Then give a
second invitation, this time to ‘You that Follow One Another’ (sun and moon). This
invitation should be given four different times. Then you should likewise give an
invitation four separate times to the ‘Four Holy Old Men.’ Next you should give the
invitation four separate times to ‘You-that-Starved –To- Death.’ Then you should give
one invitation only to all those who are to take part in the sweat, naming each one and
saying: ‘Come and join the sweat.” Nee Ott told them all these things in the event of his
untimely death. He told them to “Do this for four days and then wait. After some time, I
will appear and I will join you.”
Nee Ott traveled four days and four nights. He had slept four times after leaving
the man’s lodge. On the morning of the fourth night, he could hear sounds of a camp.
He had followers from his main camp with him and he said to them, “Stay here.” He
crawled up a hill and looked over. As far as he could see, there were tipis, with smoke
seeping out the tops. He was so fascinated that he did not notice some hunters of these
people who had come between him and his people.
The hunters killed Nee Ott. They captured the bladder and brought it to their
camp. They were curious as to what it was and why Nee Ott had carried it with him. As
it was still tied up, they untied it. The people began to emerge out of the bladder, more
and more came out. The hunters could not stop them. Soon they were outnumbered and
all the hunters were killed and all the people at the camp were killed.
The Bladder people were now without a leader, and they wondered “What should
we do?” But they remembered what Nee Ott had told them to do if he were killed. They
begin to build the sweat and added the mound in front. Soon all who were going to sweat
were assembled there; one took the pipe, filled it, then stood on the mound and did
exactly as Nee Ott had told them. In a loud voice he invited the Creator to come and
sweat with them. After the fourth calling, someone appeared walking from the direction
the caller was facing. Then the caller went on as Nee Ott had told them, inviting each
one as directed. As all were being called, the person walking kept getting closer. When
all of the invitation was done, the person arrived. It was Nee Ott and he said to them,
“My children, I am back and I am going to sweat with you.” They all gathered into the
sweat, except the man with the pipe who stood at the mound.
Once they were seated inside, Nee Ott said to the man outside, “Come in, hand
me the pipe.” He then told him to “Go get that dry buffalo chip out of the fire and bring
it to me.” The man did so, putting it in front of Nee Ott. Rubbing peppermint between
his fingers, he put it on the chip to make incense. He took the unlit pipe and passed it
over the incense three times.
Nee Ott took hold of the pipe with his left hand, around the stem of the pipe, next
to the bowl. He put his right hand around the pipe stem farther towards its mouth. He
held the pipe up, level towards the smoke, and then he raised the stem end of the pipe
upwards until the pipe was nearly vertical and held it towards the sun. Finally he
reversed the stem towards his mouth. When he was done, Nee Ott turned to the Bladder
People and told them, “Now you are free; you won’t have to go back into the bladder
Nee Ott prayed to the Creator, while still holding the pipe, and asked that he bless
his decision to liberate the people. He asked that the people continue to do whatever he
did while he was with them. They were told to stand at the mound and put a buffalo skull
on the mound in such a way that the forehead would be level with the ground. He said
the children needed to get an elder man to cut off a little piece of flesh from the children’s
arms and to offer it to the Creator by putting it on the top of the buffalo skull. The older
people needed to cut flesh in the shape of the moon off their own arms from between the
shoulder and elbow, and from between the elbow and wrist, from off their thighs to the
knee and from off their legs between the knee and the ankle and from off their chest.
They should cut off as much as they could stand and not fail in doing so. The bits of
flesh again would be placed on the top of the skull.
Nee Ott instructed them also on how to make a sweat lodge, including
constructing the mound, how to heat the rocks and how to place the pipe on the mound.
Within the sweat lodge there was a resting place for Nee Ott just inside to the east
entrance. Two people that assisted would remain outside. One was directed to take two
sticks tied together and place a live coal between them. Then Nee Ott lit the pipe with
this coal. Everyone in the sweat lodge also smoked and when they were done, one of
those assisting outside moved the pipe to the top of the mound. After this the two
assistants closed the doors to the sweat, one faced east and another faced west.
Once the doors were closed Nee Ott began to sing, it was the most beautiful song,
and soon the other people in the sweat were singing with him. They continued to sing
while Nee Ott began to pray, and some of the people prayed with him. Soon they heard a
woman’s voice, a very beautiful voice singing the same song. Two of the songs had
words that translated as follows. The first song started with, “My holiness have pity on
me.” According to Ah’ani’nin belief Nee Ott was praying to himself, because he had the
power to do many things. The second song was “Something long (string-rope) have pity
on me.” (This may have been Last Child who was a water monster’s child and part of the
story of He Who Starved to Death, others refer to the long string as maybe a spider string
or that we as individuals need to stretch ourselves to assist others). When the songs were
sung, the water was ready. All of these songs were sung three times. The third song was
sung without words and the people imitated the songs of the “hell diver.” After the third
song was sung, water was sprinkled on the rocks.
Once they were finished, Nee Ott told them all about the pipe they were going to
get and how to use it. Then suddenly the Flat Pipe appeared. This pipe is also known as
Little Turtle and it is the same pipe the Ah’ani’nin have today. Ever since this time the
Ah’ani’nin have done their sweat this way, as well as piercing.
Nee Ott also decided why there must be death. These stories are how the
Earthmaker provides direction on life and death.
L. Earthmaker and the Deluge
The Flat Pipe in ancient times had a Keeper known as the Earthmaker. The
Earthmaker knew all things and also knew that earth would soon be covered with water.
He got ready to survive the flood. He appeared to be the only one who knew of the flood,
because no one else was getting ready. He made himself a big raft of logs, got on it and
he took the Flat Pipe with him.
After some time all the earth was covered with the water. Earthmaker floated
around on the raft for quite a while. As far as he could see, there was only water. He
floated everywhere, just him, and the pipe on the raft. A period of time had passed when
he saw the top of a mountain sticking out. He drifted over to the mountain and when he
landed he could see there were many birds and some animals. Earthmaker was happy to
see the birds and animals. He was tired of being by himself. He was aware that the
beaver, the helldiver (mud hen), turtle and muskrat were all water beings. He asked each
one to dive down to get some earth from the bottom of the water. Helldiver was the first
to drown, as evidenced by his floating body. The Keeper took the mud from the folds of
Helldiver’s feet and saved it. Next the Turtle made the same effort but he too floated to
the surface drowned. Earthmaker saved the mud from the turtle’s neck. The Beaver then
dove into the water, wanting to help, but drowned as well. He had no mud on his body,
indicating he may not have made it to the bottom. The next water being was the Muskrat
and like the Beaver he also died and had no mud. The Earthmaker took the mud and set
it out to dry in the sun.
The Earthmaker took a pinch of the dirt and rolled it between his fingers. He
faced east and held up the pinch of dry dust towards the east, then moved his finger back
towards his shoulder and sang Nee Ott first song, “My holiness have pity on me.” He
repeated the motion, praying and bringing the pinch of earth to his shoulder and singing
the same song. He repeated this a third time and at the end of the song he let go of the
dust between his thumb and index finger. He said, “Go as far as the eyes can reach” and
immediately ground appeared above the water.
He then took another pinch of dirt and faced the south and completed the whole
procedure again. Then he turned to the east repeating these same motions, singing the
same song. He repeated this in all directions and each time more ground appeared.
When at last he was done, all the birds and animals gave their own songs rejoicing that
now they had ground again.
The Keeper with his pipe was now on dry earth and he began to travel by himself.
He never went anywhere without his pipe. As he traveled he realized that he was the
only human survivor of the flood. After some time, he began to get lonely. So he set out
to make another man like himself. He took mud, shaped it into a human being, held it in
his hand and blew on it three times. After the third breath, a man appeared. Now he had
a male partner. Soon all three were traveling together, the Keeper, the Flat pipe and the
man. They traveled all over. But the Keeper knew that for the people to multiply, they
needed a woman. So while the man slept, he took the last lowest rib on the man’s left
side and blew on it three times. After the third breath, a woman appeared. He told them
to be together and increase their mankind,
The man and woman lived together and had many children. Earthmaker
continued to live with them. The Keeper then decided to teach them about the Pipe, the
Keeper’s Lodge and other important practices. He said, “Whenever the Pipe changes
hands to another Keeper, all the societies in the tribes, age societies, soldiers, Stars, Grass
Dancers, Crazy Dancers and so forth should be there and sing their songs, just like the
birds and animals sang when I first made the land again. If they get mixed up, they must
say, ‘We have lost track of our songs,’ and then stop singing. But they only do this after
three mistakes before they quit singing for good.”
The people continued to go and follow all the instructions of the Flat Pipe.
M. Origins of Death
When Earthmaker was done making man and woman and all earth, the man,
woman and animals were sitting on the ground admiring all of their beautiful
surroundings. Earthmaker decided to put them to a test, with him being the judge. He
asked them, “How is it going to be as you are going to multiply? Once you die, shall you
stay dead or shall you come back to life again?”
The man took a buffalo chip and threw it into the water; the chip sank and soon
floated back to the surface. The man said, “This is how I can cause it to be; we come
back to life again.”
The Bear then interjected, “No. We cannot do that, since the Earth would not be
able to hold all of the people. There will be not enough to eat or places to live.” Bear
took a rock and threw it in the water saying, “Here is the way I want life to be.” The rock
sang and remained down. Earthmaker, seeing the wisdom in his answer decided this is
the way it shall be.
N. Lost and Recovery of The Flat Pipe
The following story is a significant story to the Ah’ani’nin as it is one that is
never forgotten and retold many times. It tells of how the Assiniboine became friends
with their old enemy, the Ah’ani’nin. This story is included in Flannery’s book and she
gives credit to The Boy, a Gros Ventre elder for this story. However following story is
not verbatim of her story. Today the Ah’ani’nin remember it well.
The Ah’ani'nin went about with their lives. Soon there were other tribes in the
area, some friendly tribes and others not so friendly. The Ah'ani’nin had enemies but
none more so with the Sioux and Assiniboine. They went about fighting with their
enemy. One time the Ah’ani’nin were camped along the White River, which empties into
the Missouri River. This particular spot was just south of the Bear’s Paws Mountains.
Suddenly they were attacked from all sides by the Assiniboine and Sioux and their allies
the Cree. These tribes were determined to wipe out the Ah’ani’nin. Knowing they were
outnumbered, the people nevertheless continued to fight for their lives.
The Ah’ani’nin lost the battle and in the turmoil the Flat Pipe was stolen by the
Assiniboine. The man who took the pipe was older and very respected within his tribe.
He took the pipe and assured himself that he would look after it. The pipe was put in a
place of honor within his lodge. When winter came as the first snow falls, the man had a
dream. In his dream, the Flat Pipe told him to “Take me home, I want to go back to my
people.” The man never said anything about the dream to anybody. He thought it was
just a dream. But after a while he had another dream. This time the Flat Pipe told him,
“You must take me home to my father and mother. If you do not, something bad will
happen to your tribe. You will go hungry, and suffer greatly.” Still the man told no one
about his dream.
In the middle of winter it started to snow; it snowed for days and never stopped.
The snow was so deep no one could hunt or travel. The Assiniboine were hungry and
suffering. Again the man had a dream. This time the Flat Pipe told him, “If you don’t
bring me back, I will wipe all of you off the face of earth.” Now the Assiniboine man
was alarmed and worried. The next day he invited all the prominent men into his lodge.
His wife fed them and after they had eaten and smoked, he told them about his dreams.
They discussed this development among themselves and thought that the Flat Pipe and its
power was the cause of their problems.
Even though the Ah’ani’nin were their sworn enemy, they decided that the best
decision was to return the pipe; they wanted no more hardship. So the man told the Flat
Pipe, “I am going to return you to your family, as soon as the grass returns in the spring.”
The following night the man dreamt again about the pipe and the Flat Pipe told him to go
up into the hills and there he would find four buffalo to feed his people. The Pipe also
said “The snow will melt and you will be able to hunt again and your people won’t be so
cold.” The next day the man told the people about the dream he had. He and
Assiniboine hunters did as the Pipe had instructed. When they found the buffalo, the
snow was still high, but with their best hunters they were able to get the buffalo and feed
their people. After three days the warm winds came and the snow melted, and soon there
were more buffalo to feed their people. Before long the people were strong again.
Spring came earlier than expected that year and with it came the new grass. The
Assiniboine prepared themselves to return the Flat Pipe and the man who took it was in
the lead with the Flat Pipe on his back, as they proceeded into Ah’ani'nin country. As
soon as the Ah’ani’nin saw the Assiniboine coming towards them, they prepared for
battle. But as the Assiniboine got close, they noticed the Flat Pipe on the man’s back.
The Ah’ani’nin surrounded the Assiniboine but did not attack. They made peace on the
spot and the peace was a lasting peace. From that day forward the Ah’ani'nin and
Assiniboine have never fought again. At that time the Assiniboine lived east of the
Ah’ani’nin and were not part of the present reservation. The Assiniboine has been
affected by smallpox and had lost many of their people. They had also lost their horses
and were destitute. The Ah’ani’nin were happy to have the Flat Pipe back and they pitied
the Assiniboine, so they invited them to stay. And they have.
Every family has its history. These stories can be about anything. Some family
stories are sad, moving or comical. The storytellers conceptualize and construct the
story. The following stories are from the family of the researcher. In the spring of each
year and usually during the changing of the seasons, the Ah’ani’nin men leave their
homes and fast. These fasts were for spiritual cleansings as well as for asking for certain
visions. In addition an Ah’ani’nin man could make a promise to fast if his wish were
granted. These fasts could include both young men and old men.
When a man fasts he will take only what is necessary with him: his pipe bag,
tobacco, maybe a buffalo robe and possibly an eagle bone whistle. He will spend four
days fasting and at the end of the fast will go home. Sometimes he goes there only for
cleanings, asking the Supreme Being to bless him and his family with another year good
year free from sickness and bad luck. At other times, a man may be seeking a vision or
direction for his life, or fulfilling a promise to fast once a wish has been granted.
In the old stories of the Ah’ani’nin, there is a man named Chief He Who Starved
Himself to Death. In the Religious Life of The Ah’ani’nin, written by John Cooper
(1957), it was said that He Who Starved Himself to Death was able to coax horses out
from the water.
McCann Butte is a land point located on the west side of the Fort Belknap Indian
Reservation and was at one time part of the Ah’ani’nin tribal original land. It sits by
itself on the north side of the Bears Paw Mountains. After the allotment act of 1887,
many Indians were forced to move from the Bears Paw Mountains; some even left
personal property when they left the Bears Paws. However, McCann Butte continued to
be the Sacred Mountain for the Ah’ani’nin where they could fast and seek visions. The
following story was told to me by my mother Ruby Brockie, who was told the story by
the Brockie family.
O. Bear Nose
This is the story of “Bear Nose” an Ah’ani’nin man who decided one spring that
he would do his yearly spiritual and physical cleaning and fast on what is now known as
“McCann Butte.”
As the story it told, no one knows what Bear Nose may have seen
during his fast or if he told anyone about his fast. But on the fourth day, he climbed
down McCann Butte. It was a beautiful day and he was happy that he had completed his
promise. On his way down, Bear Nose could see a man with a determined walk coming
towards him. When the man got to Bear Nose, he told him he had something to show
him. He told him to follow him. He proceeded to take Bear Nose to a lake and as they
watched, horses started to emerge from the water: blacks, sorrels, spotted, appaloosas,
chestnut browns, buckskins, palominos, and bays. They were all different sizes and
The man told him, “These are yours,” and he helped him round them up and drive
them to his home at Fort Belknap.
This had to have taken place in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Bear Nose died in
the 1930s. When he died, he was living with his relative, Clarence Brockie. Clarence
made a small cabin for him to live in and he still had some of the off-spring of those
horses left.
Today McCann Butte is still a sacred place for Ah’ani’nin to fast. Ben Hofeldt a
friend of the Fort Belknap people would let the people pass through his land for fasting.
He died in the last few years and for a while after that, the Ah’ani’nin had difficulty
getting permission to pass over the land. However, this has been resolved, although some
of the people from Fort Belknap don’t want to fast there as many rattle snakes live there.
There are other places located in the Bears Paws where the Ah’ani’nin fast.
These sacred sites include: Stands Tall (Baldy Butte), near the Rocky Boy Reservation;
Running Crow, Eagle Child, both in the Fur Cap Mountains, (Little Rockies Mountains).
Some people have gone as far as the Sweet Grass Hills near the Blackfeet Indian
Reservation and Chief Mountain, in the Glacier National Park regions.
In May of each year the Ah’ani’nin decorate the graves by St. Paul’s Mission. It
is located at the foothills of the Little Rockies Mountains, near the town of Hays. At one
time the Mission served as the boarding school for many Ah’ani’nin children. They had
their own garden, grew alfalfa and wheat, and raised chickens, pigs and cattle. Within the
school property was a cemetery.
My grandmother said that part of the alfalfa field that exists on this property
today, covered the graves of Ah’ani’nin. Grandma Warrior, or Coming Daylight as she
was also known would cry when she told how her relatives were buried there and at some
point the school decided to plowed all these graves under. The new cemetery is now
located west of the old grave site. So many of the graves cannot be identified anymore,
but still people clean up the area out of respect. Some families left many years ago and
only their family graves remain. Others still care for these left behind.
Once while I was walking with my mother at the cemetery, I found the grave of
Teresa Aurelia Brockie. I have a sister named Teresa Nellie Rose Brockie. She is named
after my father’s sister Theresa Nellie Brockie, who was named after Teresa Aurelia.
This story was told to me by my mother Ruby Brockie.
P. Teresa Aurelia Brockie
It is said that Teresa Aurelia was the daughter of Victor Brockie, my grandfather
Clarence’s brother. Both Victor and Clarence served as tribal councilmen. Victor
Brockie served off and on from 1942 until 1959. Clarence was on the first tribal council
and was the Tribal Chairman for about 15 years of that time. He died as the Chairman in
1949, serving on the council for 18 years, longer than any other councilman. His son
Henry “Prince” Brockie served on the tribal council for 12 years, his granddaughter, and
(the author) Clarena Brockie for four years. Today her son, Andrew was re-elected in
2011 for his third term. This is the story of Teresa Aurelia Brockie.
The Brockies lived near Curly Head canyon on the north side of the Little Rockies
Mountains at the southern end of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
When Teresa was a young girl she became very ill and the family did everything
they could to help her. Then it became apparent that she was going to die. She must
have known herself how things were going to be.
Her family asked her what she wanted, she never asked for riches or for the sky.
All she told them she wanted was, “Dy U Win” (chokecherries). The family asked an
Ah’ani’nin medicine man if he would help. So he came to their house. They prepared a
meal for him and talked for a while before he got started. He asked for a branch from the
chokecherries bush. He took a small cloth, covered the cherry branch and started to pray.
I guess the branch started to shake and when he lifted the cloth off, big, fresh choke
cherries were hanging in thick bunches from that branch. Teresa got her small wish
before she died.
My mother used to remember the name of the medicine man, but as she got older,
she forgot.
Q. B rad ley’s
The following story was told to me by my mother Ruby Brockie. Another version of
the story is also told by some members of the Bradley family and is listed within this
The Ah’ani’nin were said to have roamed from the Missouri Breaks and up into
Canada. Ah’ani’nin and the River Crows lived together in the 1860s, which may account
for them practicing some of the same dances or having relatives within the Crow tribe.
In the area of Fort Benton, Fort Browning (which no longer exists) and Fort Belknap, the
following tribes lived: Blackfeet, consisting of three associated tribes, the Blackfoot,
Blood and Piegan; the Ah’ani’nin; the Sarcee; the River Crow; Assiniboine; and, Cree.
When first identified by European and American explorers in the 1600s, the Ah’ani’nin
were living with the Blackfeet between the two branches of the Saskatchewan River.
To the west of the Ah’ani’nin Territory was Fort Benton, Montana, (known as
Many Houses) where many tribal members went to trade. Many of the traders and
military men took up living with the Indian women from the area. Some of the now
enrolled Ah’ani’nin have ancestors such as Colonel Healy and Colonel Bell.
This is the story of Bradley Richardson and his descendants. Bradley Richardson
was a military soldier at Fort Benton. He was living with an Ah’ani’nin woman,
although some say she was a Crow. She moved with Bradley to Fort Benton and took on
the garb of the white settlers; they had two children. Bradley Richardson became a
wealthy man and owned a lot of property near Fort Benton.
The military would often escort stage coaches, especially if they carried
valuables. On one such trip, the stage coach was traveling through the Missouri Breaks.
The Missouri Breaks are just what the words say, breaks in the river where water moves
quickly. The area may appear flat, but suddenly there are short arroyos in the landscape,
that gradually gets bigger; like those near the Fred Robinson bridge and at the bottom
near this big break is the Missouri River located 35 miles south of the Little Rockies
Mountains. This is a haven for many wild animals, such as elk, deer, fox coyotes, and
mountain lions. The area is covered with cotton wood trees, quaking aspen, wild sage
and evergreens. It was also a good place for warriors to hide and many battles were
fought there. At the bottom of the breaks is the Missouri River. Before the current
bridge crossing was constructed, a ferry brought the people to the opposite side of the
riverbank. Some would swim with the horses and cattle. Some of the tribal people tell
stories of crossing by swimming. The river is dangerous with many strong currents.
On this one occasion, Bradley Richardson was part of a military escort, traveling
through the “breaks.” A stage coach was attacked by young Ah’ani’nin men, who stole
its cache of gold. When news reached the Fort that the stage coach had been attacked and
that one of those killed was Bradley Richardson, his wife knew that there would be
trouble. So she got her children ready, changed into her tribal clothing and rode
horseback towards the Ah’ani’nin territory.
She thought her children would be safe there. But one day the military showed up
with the family of Bradley Richardson. They took the young girl, but couldn’t find the
boy, so they gave up. His mother hid him in the lining of her tipi. He grew up to be a
respected man within the Ah’ani’nin tribe and his name was Steve Bradley. He took his
father’s name as his last name.
Another version of this story was that the woman who was with Richardson was a
Crow woman living with her husband at Many Houses (Fort Benton). When she left, she
tried crossing the Missouri River horseback with her two children; the boy fell off and
was swept down river. Thinking he died, she went on with her daughter. The boy was
found shortly after near the Missouri River by a group of Ah’ani’nin hunters. He was
taken to an Ah’ani’nin woman named Singing Pipe. It was she who raised Steve
Bradley. They gave him his father’s first name.
Richardson’s family says that Bradley did not die but survived the attack. He
returned to the east and married again. Years later Steve’s granddaughter, Rita, tried
contacting Bradley Richardson’s eastern descendants but his family said the story of
Steve and his sister was not true. They did not want to be related to Indians and told Rita
not to bother them anymore.
The family wondered what happened to Steve’s sister. But one day they were
approached by their Crow relatives, who said they were related by this Crow woman who
had been with Bradley Richardson.
At one point the family did not talk very much about this story since Steve was
enrolled as a full-blood Gros Ventre, by Singing Pipe. Today many Bradleys’ live on the
Fort Belknap Indian reservation. His daughter-in-law, Mabel Bradley was the first
woman to get elected to the tribal council. As far as the gold is concerned, it has never
been found and the story is that it was buried in the Missouri Breaks.
R. Dorrance Horseman
Dorrance was a famous Ah’ani’nin story teller. Many people loved to hear him
tell stories because he sometimes embellished them—producing what settlers called “tall
tales.” He would tell his grandchildren of how his garden was so big he had to get a
compass to get out of his garden when he was on horse-back. He said his potatoes were
so large that only three could fit into a wheel barrel.
Dorrance was married twice and after his second wife died he moved into a trailer
and lived near “old Hays.” It was said that in the morning he would get up early and in
typical Ah’ani’nin fashion holler in Ah’ani’nin “Nee nah stick in,” good morning, greet
the sun and he would say, “Well, I’m still here!”
One day sitting at home, he wished for trout. So he thought, I don’t have a fishing
pole, but I can make one. So he took a pole, some twine and a small hook. On his merry
way he headed for the creek. He took out his pole, set it and waited for the fish to bite.
After some time, he had caught no fish, not even one bite. Well he thought, "I hear of
people singing while they are fishing, so I'll try it." There’s the old man and the sea and
I'll be Dorrance and the creek.
So he started to sing a Gros Ventre song, “Hey hah, hey
hah, yut ott hey!” Suddenly one fish jumped out of the water. Soon a whole school of
fish was jumping out of the water. At one point, one of the fish took her fin, covered her
mouth and rattled her tongue, “Lou Lou Lou Lou.” (This was a practice of Ah’ani’nin
women when they were happy, proud or want to honor someone.) Of course everyone
had a good laugh, for up to that point they had believed him.
Dorrance tells another story of how when they were children in the 1920s, his
father, Ben Horseman was one of the organizers of the Hays Fair, held near the foot of
the Little Rockies Mountains at the Hays Fair grounds. In the fall of each year the
Ah’ani’nin hosted a fair. There would be teepees, a rodeo, many games and displays of
garden items for competition, as well as canning by the local women. The events were
attended by people from far away as well as local residents. At one of the stands,
Dorrance saw a man eating oranges. Dorrance tells that before the oranges hit the
ground, Dorrance and his sister Mabel, would grab them and eat the leftovers. One of the
local ranchers, told their father Ben about his children and what they were doing. Ben
and his wife Mamie were prominent people among the Ah’ani’nin, being ranchers and
organizers of the fair. Their parents were really embarrassed. So when the kids got
home, Dorrance said, “Papa had a bag of oranges for them and said since they liked
oranges so much you can eat this bag of oranges, so he watched them while they ate it.”
That was their punishment for begging.
Dorrance later changed his last name to Blackwolf, who was his father’s father.
Blackwolf is mentioned in Barry’s document and is noted as a historian and storyteller.
Blackwolf recalls his war exploits. Ben Horseman was Dorrance’s father.
S. Stanley Rye and his Geese
This story was told by Dorrance Horseman and was used in a high school speech
debate and the young girl who recited it won the debate. My mother told me this story.
It took a long time for the Ah’ani’nin to become adjusted to reservation life and
living permanent in one place all year round since they were used to hunting and
traveling. But by the early part of the 1900s, the Ah’ani’nin embraced a settled life of
raising cattle and farming.
Stanley Rye lived on the southern end of the Fort Belknap Indian reservation, near
an area called Eagle Child and Running Crow. Mr. Rye had geese as well as chickens. It
was a fine spring day when he noticed that five of his geese had disappeared.
A local rancher lived near the southern end of reservation border, close to where
Stanley Rye lived, and he also had geese. So Stanley set out to the ranchers place. Upon
his arrival, the white man asked him, “Hello chief, can I help you?” (No matter a man’s
position with the tribe, to a non-Indian, all Indians were called “chief.”) Stanley told him
that some of his geese were missing. So Mr. Whiteman called his wife out and sure
enough, they had five extra geese.
The white man asked him, “How are we going to identify them?” Stanley said,
“I’ll show you.” And Stanley started to sing Indian. He had no drum, but his voice
carried and the geese were used to the singing, at least the ones that he owned did.
Stanley worked himself into a nice rhythm.
Suddenly those that belonged to Stanley started to dance. Sure enough, they
started to follow Stanley as he sang. Their feet were moving to the sound of his singing
and all five followed him.
I guess some of them were bobbing up and down. One even had a crooked neck
and each time it moved, its crooked neck would move with her.
T. Jake Running Crow
The following story is told by the author. It demonstrates how some stories may
get started and then spread.
Near the southwest end of the Fort Belknap Indian reservation is a place called
“Running Crow.” It’s a steep bend in the road and very dangerous. At least five people
are known to have wrecked their cars on the road. It wasn’t until the last five years that I
knew where the name came from. It honors a man named Jake Running Crow lived in
this area.
In the fall of 2006, I wanted to take some canned vegetables and fruit up to an
older lady, “Sweetie” Bell, who lives on the top of Running Crow, among the pine trees.
She has a lovely place, and from her home one can see Lake 17, located near the Three
Buttes. My mother had told me that “spirits” were bothering Sweetie.
Sweetie Bell had left the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation years ago. Her father’s
name was Tom Bell and his parents were Takes the Prisoner I and Colonel Bell, a nonIndian military man who lived at Fort Belknap. Sweetie was married to a non-Indian
whom she had divorced later in life. After that she moved home and has been at Fort
Belknap for the last 15 years or so. She traded for 80 acres of land near Running Crow
and now lives up there by herself.
While visiting her one day I asked her about her story I heard about her and she
told me the following story:
One evening Sweetie was sitting at home in her double wide trailer, just enjoying
the evening. All of a sudden she felt as if someone was watching her. She turned and
there looking in at her from her “bay” window was a man on horseback. Sweetie said he
had a duster on, was dressed in black, with a cowboy hat. He was really nice looking,
with small birdlike eyes, sitting tall on his “blooded horse.” She never got scared but said
that they both looked at each other. She thought, “There is no way he could be up that
high, even on a horse to see into her window.” The trailer was built up on one side.
Suddenly he started to disappear, first the top part of him, then the horse. All of a sudden
there was nothing but a bird’s wing left. Sweetie went outside to look but nothing was
there. But since that time she has been poked in the ribs and has occasionally heard
noises, but has not seen that man since.
I found the story to be really fascinating and told my mother I wondered if it
could be “Jake Running Crow.” At that time, my mom said it was thought that he was
from Oklahoma. I had decided to start having story telling at my home and I invited one
of my good friends, Preston Stiffarm, who worked on a tribal program on oral tradition.
This was under the Fort Belknap Education Department where we both worked years
ago. I invited him as well as his brother Gerald to my home. This was during the winter;
it started to snow while he was there. I told him the story of Sweetie Bell and he said,
“It’s funny that you should mention that. I ran into Annie K. Mount recently.” She had
been staying up near Running Crow at her dad’s small cabin. I guess she was fighting
with her companion. She told him that at night a man rides up to their house, dressed in a
duster with a black hat and black clothes. She had never seen him before and believes it
to be a spirit. She said he races up to their cabin, walks around it and leaves. So she
asked Preston (my friend) if he could come and “smug” their place.” I told him that I
wondered if it was that Jake Running Crow. My mom had told me that her Aunt Mabel
had a picture of Jake Running Crow and I wanted to look at it and show Sweetie to see if
this was the same person that she had seen.
When I had mentioned the name Jake Running Crow to Preston, he said, “I’m
going to tell you a story that my father Tommy Stiffarm told me.” Tommy’s father was
Stiffarm, a well-known medicine man of the Gros Ventre. It is said that he was a
powerful medicine man. Preston said his dad told him that Jake Running Crow would
help old man Stiffarm when he doctored. Once when he was doctoring, Jake Running
Crow told old man Stiffarm to look at his back. Preston said, “Jake Running Crow bent
his shoulder blades and when he did, there were ‘bird wings’ in place of his shoulder
As I started asking about Running Crow I discovered that one of the staff
members where I worked, Harlan Mount, had a pair of spurs that were given to his
grandfather, Rocky Mountain by Jake Running Crow. Another staff member had a
picture of him.
I kind of forgot about the story after that. In March 2007, the Hays/Lodgepole
basketball team made it to the State competitions. My nephew was the coach and I had
several family members playing; I decided to go and took my mother as well as my
grandchildren with me. One morning we were eating breakfast in one of the local
restaurants in Great Falls, Montana. Sitting next to us was a man I had not seen in many
years. He is my age, married to a Crow woman, and has been living on her reservation
for years. I told my mother who he was, so she told him hello. He turned and started
visiting with us and said that he had brought his grandson with him. He said that this was
his grandson, “Jake Running Crow.” Both my mother and I were kind of surprised.
He proceeded to tell us that the Nez Perce family were related to Jake Running
Crow, and that his grandmother Clementine Nez Perce was Jake Running Crow’s sister.
This was a surprise. The Nez Perce family is Gros Ventre, but it is said that old man Nez
Perce was really a Nez Perce, and they he stayed at Fort Belknap when Chief Joseph and
his family were traveling through.
I can only wonder who Jake Running Crow is and why this information came my
way? Is this something I should pursue?
U. Ee-sta-stoke
The following story is told by my great grandfather, Ben Horseman. I was
present when the story was told to my parents but I didn’t hear it until later. The story
has been retold many times. In this version, it contains what Horseman said about his
granddaughter, the author when she was but a young girl.
The author’s great grandfather, Ben Horseman was a great story teller and many
family members inherited his ability to tell a story. His father was Blackwolf and his
mother An Aye (long hair). His Indian name was Ee-sta-stoke. This was a story that was
told about him.
When Ee-sta-stoke was a young man he lived with his mother. His father had
been gone for some time. His mother later married Rider and he had a sister Cora who
married Al Chandler.
One morning when he was young, the camp crier was running through the camp
giving a warning. A bear was approaching their camp at a slow rambling pace. A creek
ran on the east side of the camp where he was approaching. Immediately the warriors
were preparing to protect their camp and to bring the bear down with arrow or bullets.
The bear fell, face down. It was considered a coup to touch the enemy, including the
bear, and whoever could touch the bear, could ask for the choicest pieces of meat.
A young group of men with a company name, the Knifes, gathered about. It was
Ee-sta-stoke, a member of the Knives, who wanted to be the first to touch the bear.
Although he was a member of the Knives, he was younger than many of them. He and
his mother lived a hard life, having no father and he wanted something for his mother.
They were pitiful and they would have meat for a while. He also thought that it would be
an honorable thing and he would be remembered for what he did.
So he proceeded to cross the creek. Feeling extra brave as he thought the bear
dead, he climbed on his back. As soon as he got on his back the bear sensed someone
there and stood up on his hind legs. He was a large bear and he moved forward with the
small young boy, Ee-sta-stoke on his back. He barely made it across the creek and
collapsed with the young boy still clinging to the bear.
Because of his bravery, Ee-sta-stoke was given the first choice of meat that he
wanted. He did not choose the choicest meat but nevertheless, he and his mother had
meat to last them for some time.
At some point in his life Ee-sta-stoke developed the ability to foresee things and
at times could make predictions. One day he was watching his grandchildren and great
grandchildren. He looked at them and he saw his great granddaughter move about
playing. He said that of all my grandchildren, this one is going to make a difference. She
will have many achievements in her life, she will excel at what she does. It was said she
would be a fighter and have faith in what she believed.
Because of his prediction, she was given another Indian name as she got older.
She was given the name Watsi when she was born by her great -great Grandmother
Warrior, who was also known as Coming Daylight. Her Grandmother Warrior died two
months after she was born. Coming Daylight was attributed as much of the history
recorded by anthropologist Regina Flannery. Watsi’s other new name is Ow-wah- zackeats, Brings Plenty, given to her by her brother George Weasel Horse. Her English name
is Clarena Brockie and she currently serves as the Dean of Students at the Aaniiih
Nakoda College.
Ho! Ah ani nin, gah hates, Ow- wah-zack eats!
The following stories are very unique to the Ah’ani’nin. They are legends of the
people and tell of survival and things that are important to the Ah’ani’nin. They are
stories included in Flannery and Johnson’s books, as well as Kroeber’s.
V. He-who-starved-to-death
In the early times of the Ah’ani’nin people, they lived in a land of plenty
game and their lives were good. Whatever their needs were they were able to meet them.
There lived a man who was known as the Keeper of the Flat Pipe. As he was the keeper
of the Flat Pipe, when he had his first son, the boy was declared to be the Pipe Son
according to custom. The child was cherished as he was the first child and his parents
showered all their affections on him. However a new child came along and when this
happened, the attention switched to the second son. So they made him the Pipe child and
he got all the attention and affection from his parents. The oldest son became very
jealous of his little brother, prompted by all the favor showered on the young boy. Up to
the coming of the second child, the family seemed to have the balance and harmony to
maintain a good life. The distraught older son became unhappy and this caused
dissention in the family.
As they grew up the older son was an excellent hunter and warrior, he had earned
the right to carry medicine on his person. While the older son was out hunting buffalo
one day, the Ah’ani’nin camp came under attack from an enemy. By now the Pipe Child
was also a young man and he wanted to show the people that he was capable of all their
respect and praise. The younger brother wished to distinguish himself and so to prove
himself worthy of the esteem which his parents and other people had for him. He
decided to fight. He knew that his brother had medicine and wanting to protect himself,
he took his brother’s medicine. It was a very rare red otter skin and was his brother’s war
medicine. The medicine was very powerful and when he wore it, he was rewarded in
In the middle of the battle, the older son returned home. Seeing that the Ah’ani’
nin were in the midst of a fight, he hurried to get his medicine. But the Red Otter skin
was gone. Immediately he knew where it was, he demanded of his parents, “Where did
my Red Otter skin go?” They told him that your brother took it into battle with him.
The older brother was upset and he thought to himself when this battle if over I
will show him what happens when you take something that doesn’t belong to you. Sure
enough, he gave him such a verbal bawling out, that the younger son was ashamed to be
seen in public. He told his younger brother, “If you want a Red Otter skin, you must
earn it, you know where they come from.” It was an honor to steal from your enemy but
from your own camp stealing was frowned upon. The older son could not see that the
younger man looked up to him and wanted to also prove that he could be good in battle as
The younger son felt so bad that he refused to go anywhere and when he did he
went off by himself. He felt that he shamed his family. His parents also felt bad as this
was their favorite child and he was grieving. He told them that he wanted to get a Red
Otter of his own. The parents were very frightened for him as they knew the place where
the Red Otter came from and it was a dangerous place. He was determined to go to his
place despite the warning of his family and friends. Soon he set out for his journey
following the direction of the rising sun and the place where the red otter lived.
He traveled many days and night and in evening by himself he would cry over his
foolishness. Finally he came upon a large camp of lodges. He entered the camp
unafraid, by now he was determined to get the Red Otter for himself even at the risk of
his own life. These were other Ah’ani’nin from another clan and they were happy to see
someone from another clan as they could ask them news of their relatives and friends.
They asked “Why are you so far from home, what are you doing here?” Everyone knew
he was a Pipe Child and that his father was a Keeper of the Pipe, an honored position
among the Gros Ventre. He told them, “I am traveling to the place where the Red Otter
live.” Since the Red Otter was rare, the older people all knew the stories of the place and
they feared it. They told him, “You must return to your people, surely there were other
ways of obtaining medicine. This is a dangerous place and no one has ever returned from
there.” However the Pipe Child was not dissuaded, he was going to get his Red Otter.
The next day he set out in the direction of the rising sun.
For days he went along his path. Towards evening one day he came upon another
large camp. He was recognized as the son of the Keeper of the Pipe, therefore the Pipe
Child and awarded a big welcome from the Ah’ani’nin. When they became aware of
where he was going, they told him, “You can turn back, no one will think any different,
this is a dangerous place.” But he was a determined young man and he was going to take
this risk. When he reached a third camp and once again given a warm welcome, he was
glad to be with the people. He told them of his journey and where he was going. They
told him, “No one wants to go there, it is too dangerous.” He insisted on going and after
they knew he could not be persuaded they told him, “We accept your determination, but
now you must listen to our advice if you are going to continue on this journey.”
know that you have come a long way and you have you mind set on this otter. But listen
carefully to what we have to tell you.” They told him, “Tomorrow as you start your
journey just before the sun rises, go in that direction. After traveling for a few days you
will come upon a lodge sitting by itself by a large lake.
Before you get to this lodge,
you are to start crying and as you cry, walk around the lodge. As night falls find your
place to sleep at the foot of the first pole to the left of the lodge door. When night comes
the next day, go the foot of the second pole and sleep there. Repeat this same process
until you have slept at all the thirty poles. After you have done this, a man who sits in the
lodge will ask you to come inside. He will ask you ‘Why are you torturing yourself like
this?’ You will answer him by telling him your story and that you want the Red Otter.
Your wish will be granted as you have earned this by your fasting and sleeping at each
pole without any food or water. Whatever this man tells you to do, listen to him, follow
every little detail he asks, as there is another dangerous obstacle for you to overcome.
The man will give you the red otter but he will also offer you one of the many birds he
has. Including a certain red bird that is very evil and tricky. If you pick this bird, he will
bring you great danger. Once you touch the bird, he will take you to an island, where no
one lives and no one survives. You will starve to death there or drown trying to escape.”
The young man was quick to listen to this advice. He sat without interrupting and
carefully took all this in. The next day, he started traveling in the direction of the rising
of the sun. He carried no food with him and he was always hungry and traveling was
making him exhausted. Finally he came over a high hill and sure enough there was the
lone lodge near the water as they told him. He felt relief and as he got closer he started to
cry as told. He began walking around the lodge. At nightfall he slept at the bottom of the
pole to the left of the lodge as told. After each day he found his spot near the foot of each
pole and slept. And each day he walked around the lodge, crying. He repeated this for
many days and after a while he was getting really weak.
Before long he was half way through the thirty poles, but he could no longer stand
up. By now he was at the pole straight back from the opening of the door. He had to
crawl around the lodge as he cried and crawl to the next pole. Soon he could only roll
himself over until he finally reached the last pole. He had no fluids in his body and his
voice was hoarse and he could shed no tears only pitiful sounds. When he reached the last
pole, he passed out. After some time he woke up and he could hear a man talking, he was
telling his wife to bring my son inside.
She went to get him and was astonished by his appearance. She told her husband,
“He is dying and is nothing but bones.” The Pipe Child could not move, so she dragged
him along. Finally he was laid gently on a soft bed of robes. The man said to his wife:
“Give him a drink of water.” With that, she held a small shell filled with the water and
gave it to the young man to drink. The Pipe Child thought, “This small shell of water
will not quench my great thirst.” But the man spoke to him in a kind voice, “Go ahead
and drink. You will get enough.” As long as he was thirsty, the shell stayed full of
Next he told his wife: “Give the young man food to eat.” So he she gave him four
small pieces of meat on the shell. He said to himself, “I will not get full on these four
small pieces of meat they will not satisfy my great hunger.” But the man told him: “Do
not worry. Go ahead and eat the meat.” He began eating the meat, and as he ate, there
was always four pieces after he took one piece.
He stayed in the man’s lodge, sleeping four nights and at the end of this time he
felt like he was fully recovered from all that has happened. The man then asked him,
“What is it that you want and why have you tortured yourself so? The young man
replied, “I was deeply hurt by the words of my older brother who was angry at me for
taking his red otter skin. He was gone at the time and I used it in battle to protect our
family from the enemy. And I wanted to show my family that I was capable of that. But
my brother saw this as only me stealing it. I was so hurt that I could not stay in my home
and I spent days alone. I finally said to myself that I would get my own red otter so I left
home, traveling toward the rising of the sun to acquire a red otter skin. I was told this is
the place to come.” The man said, “I will give you what you ask for, you have earned it.
In addition, I also have many birds here long the shore and you can take one with you.
When you have picked this bird, comeback and get your red otter skin and I will also give
you instructions on the Red Otter’s use.”
The young man went along the shore and after a while there was a big flock of the
most beautiful birds in different colors and shapes. He was astonished by their beauty.
He walked among them and they seemed tame and did not fear him. There were many
and he could not decide which one he wanted. Finally he decided on one. But each time
he reached for this bird, a red bird got in his way. He ignored the red bird and continued
to reach for the other bird. He remembered his warning about the evilness of the red bird.
Again, each time he reached for the other bird, the red bird got in his way. So he stopped
to look at the red bird, he thought the bird didn’t seem that harmful, he was not that big.
He was also a very beautiful bird, being all pure red in color and with a bunch of red
feathers forming a beautiful arch on his head. He made his mind up he would pick the
red bird in all his beauty.
Failing to hear those warnings, he grabbed bird’s legs. When he closed his hands
on the bird’s legs, the bird pulled him up in the air. Soon he was soaring with the bird.
He was afraid he would fall and never released his grip. Up and up they went, soon there
was nothing but water all below him. Finally they reached an island and the bird dropped
the man there.
When he got his bearing, he decided to see where he was at. As he walked
through the different areas on the island, he noticed there were many skeletons. He felt a
sense of fear and danger. These people had met a terrible fate. Now this was his fate.
He looked in vain for food but only found a few berries, some washed ashore moss and
when he could he caught a frog to devour. There was the white clay reminding him of
who he was. He rationed this out to himself. There was no way he could swim back to
the shores where he first grabbed a hold of the red bird. After a while he began to pity
himself and cried asking for divine intervention to save him. Soon he began to see the
red bird flying above him, taunting him, “Oh, the one who eats rosebush berries is still
alive,” and then would fly away.
One day as the young man sat along the shore, crying and pitying himself making
promises if he was ever free, suddenly there near the water was a little water snake. He
picked up the snake and looked at it. It was one of the few living, moving things he had
seen after arriving. He decided, “I’m going to give him something to remember me by,”
so he took a small necklace he had on his neck and he tied it around the neck of the little
water snake and laid down the snake again unharmed.
Time went on and he realized that he was there for over thirty days on the island.
He was hungry weak, tired and again reduced to skin and bones. He was so weak, he
could barely walk, but he tried his best, hoping someone would hear him crying out.
Suddenly he thought he heard something, so he stopped. Soon he could hear singing.
The voice was getting louder, so he waited. He heard the words, “I am here and I am
coming.” Then the singing stopped and he heard a voice said: “Man, my father sent me
here to call you to our lodge.” It was the small snake and he told the man, “Hang on to
me and I will take you there.” The small snake dove under the water and the man held
After some time they came to a large lodge and on the lodge was painted two big
water monsters, their heads meeting at the door. The small water snake told him, “Go
inside. This is my father’s lodge.” He entered the lodge and within it he was astonished
to see a big water monster lying at the back of the lodge. He told the man, “Come here,
sit by me don’t be afraid. So he sat down near the water monster’s head. The water
monster said, “You have done something which must be rewarded. You are the man who
tied the necklace around the neck of the little water snake. This little water snake is my
last child. And his name is, ‘The Last Child.’ Now listen to me and you will see your
parents and all things which you hold dear, for I have pitied you and I am going to rescue
you from your desperate plight and also reward you for what you have done for ‘The Last
The water monster began to sing these words, “Hair Rope, have pity on me.”
When he was done, he gave the young man a hair rope made of the long hair from the
forelegs of the buffalo and from the back of the neck of buffalo bulls. Then he told the
young man, “Use this Hair Rope to get revenge on the red bird, which so ruthlessly
carried you away and left you alone on the island to die. Lay the Hair Rope in a circle on
the round as if setting a trap and say, ‘I want a fat young buffalo to be here.’ When you
say these words immediately a young buffalo will appear. You will become that young
buffalo and soon birds of all kinds will come around and eat you. The red bird will come
as he likes buffalo and if the red bird even so much as steps inside the ring of Hair Rope,
you will trap him and he cannot get lose. He will be completely at your mercy. If that
plan does not fool him, ask for a fat elk and if he still is not fooled, then ask for a fat deer.
If that fails, wish for a white-tailed deer. If all these fail, ask for a fat young wolf and he
will come. The wolf is his favorite and this will not fail. Despite his small size, the red
bird is very powerful above all on top of the ground. I am the ruler under the water. I
will give you my power and it will be yours for all time to come. This power will follow
you everywhere and will be used by all generations of men and will be used for the
purpose of revenge.” When he was done talking he told the young man, “Get on my neck
and I will take you to the mainland. But do not open your eyes until I say to you, ‘Now
get off.’”
The young man was elated, tired and weak he grabbed a hold of the water
monster’s neck and they started for the mainland. They traveled for a long time and
suddenly the young man heard a sound like the scraping on rocks. Anxious to be on the
shore he thought they had reached the mainland and faint as he was he forgot what the
water monster told him to wait for his voice to “get off” so he opened his eyes too soon
and suddenly he was back at the island. The monster scolded him, saying “I told you, you
cannot open your eye until it was time.” Then the water monster told him, “That was the
one and only power I had to help you. There is nothing further I can do for you.”
The young man was devastated, he felt that he was a millions miles from home
now, further then he had ever been. The red otter skin had vanished from his mind, he
only wanted to go home. Crying again, he did this daily for a long time. Tired and weak,
as he was walking along the shore one day crying he heard a voice. He stopped under a
big tree and as he went under it he heard a voice saying, “Stop crying and look up to me.
I am the bald eagle and I am very powerful. I am taking pity on you and am going help
you.” Looking up the young man saw a bald eagle sitting on one of the bigger branches.
The eagle said to the young man, “I am transferring my lodge to you and you are
to have my body as a flag when you put up my lodge. I am going to take you to the
mainland. You must do what I say and you will succeed. But if you do not do as I say,
as you did with the water monster, I will not succeed. Take a hold of my tail feathers
with both hands and close your eyes. You are not to open them until you touch the
ground with your feet.”
The young man did as he was told and grabbing the eagle’s tail feathers and
closed his eyes. The eagle screeched loudly, raised his wings and took flight. As he
soared the young man could feel that he was being carried higher and higher. He said to
himself that this time I am not going to open my eyes until my feet feel the ground under
them, as the eagle told him. He could feel the eagle soaring in a circle and soon he felt
the ground under his feet. When he opened his eyes he was at the front of the lodge
where he had slept and suffered so much for thirty nights.
He stood there for a while thinking, “What shall I do?” Soon he could hear the
voice of the man who owned the lodge and the told him to come in. He entered the lodge
sat down by the man. The man said to him, “I am so sorry for you and have much pity
for what you have gone through. The red bird is evil and without compassion. But now
that you have gone through all these things required and are still alive, I will give you the
red otter skin and also horses and a bunch of leg hoofs of the buffalo to use for a bell
(rattle--dew claws) on the horse’s neck.” The man took down the hoof bell-dew claws
from its place on one of the poles of the lodge and told the young man to follow him to
the shore. Upon arriving at the shore the man shook the dew claws violently and a
beautiful black stallion with a bob tail came out from the water. The man now told him,
“This is your horse and he is the father of all the horses that I am going to give you. And
here is what you must do to get back home with these horses. These horses must not be
abused or treated badly nor shall they be killed. Whoever of your people mistreats them
will not own any horses for in a mysterious way he will lose his ownership. When I
transfer these dew claws (bell) from my hand to yours, shake it as you saw me do, turn
around, and go back to where you came from toward the setting sun. When night comes
you must lay your head forward when you sleep, and for four nights you are not to look
back or around, but walk with your head down and your eyes on the ground. If you do
not do as I say, the horses will disappear and you will have gone through all this suffering
in vain. But if you carry out what I say, you will have wealth, happiness, long-life, and a
‘renown’ (everyone will know who you are) that shall last for a long time to come.
Finally I am giving you all my power and my whole being, but there is one other
condition. Namely, you are not to give a single thing, a horse or anything else, to your
brother. It was he who caused all your suffering and deprivation all this long time. As
you travel home you will pass four Gros Ventre camps and at these camps the people will
be happy to see you knowing that you have accomplished a great thing. You are to give
to each man, woman and child a horse, and in the following manner. Stop a good
distance before you get to each camp with your horses and call one man from the camp
and tell him to go and announce to the other people to bring all of their ropes, that ‘HeWho-Starved-To-death’ would give them each a horse. Now start towards the setting sun
from where you came and do as I have told you.”
Immediately after the man put the hoof dew claws in the hand of He-Who-Starved
To-Death, he started toward the setting sun, shaking the claws as he went along. It was
difficult for him not to turn around as he could hear the tramping of the horses behind
him, and feel their breath at his neck, sometimes nearly running over him in their
frolicking and play. But he had made up his mind firmly to do as he was told for he had
had bitter experiences when he did not listen. When night came he lay down with his
head toward the setting sun as he had been told and repeated this each night as he got
ready for bed. When he arrived at the first camp he did what he was told by giving a
horse to each person there. When he got to the fourth camp, it was his home. The people
were astonished to see him and looked in wonder at all the horses. His family and friends
were elated to see him and gave him a hero’s welcome. He proceeded to give each
person a horse except to his older brother. To him he would not give a single horse or
anything else. It was now his brother’s turn to have shame, for he denied his younger
brother any honor over using his red otter skin. The older brother wept almost
continually and was rarely seen in camp after that. The younger son, Pipe Child of the
Keeper of the Flat Pipe was now home. He had earned his name and from that day
forward he was known as He-Who Starved-To-Death.
But he still had one more goal to accomplish. When he was fully rested and
recovered from his trials and tribulations he began to think about the red bird and how he
caused him so much suffering. He wanted revenge and began his plan. He prepared for
what the monster instructed and he sweated on four different days and in the sweat lodge
told his story to his people. The first of the four sweats were to prepare himself for
getting ready for his revenge on the red bird.
The next three days he also sweated a total of four times on four different days,
and each day after the sweat, he went away from the camp to a knoll and laid down his
Hair Rope trap. He stood in the middle of the circle of the Rope he said, “Let a young fat
young buffalo lie here,” and immediately he turned into a buffalo. Before long a great
number of birds flew from every direction, came to the exact stop to eat of the fat buffalo.
When some time had passed the red bird appeared there. He landed some distance down
windward from where the fat young buffalo lay. He was a powerful bird so when he
asked one of the other birds to give him a piece of fat meat, they immediately complied.
He hopped over to the fat tossed to him and suspiciously inspected it carefully. Then he
suddenly flew up and flew in a circle over the buffalo and said, “The one who eats
rosebush berries cannot trap or fool me, he does not have the power nor is he clever
enough,” and with that the red bird flew away. He-Who-Starved-To-Death left and went
back to camp. He was not done with the red bird.
Some time went by before he prepared to capture the red bird again. He found a
spot away from the main camp in a different area and again set his hair rope trap. This
time he said, “Let there be a fat young elk to lie here,” and instantly he turned into a fat
elk. As in the first trap, birds from all directions came there to eat the fat meat. Sure
enough before long, there was the red bird watching and asking for something to eat. He
carefully inspected the small piece of meat as he had done before and he knew it was the
his enemy disguised as elk. He told the man “You cannot trap me, you are not clever
But He-Who-Starved-To-Death was patient and again he set his Hair Rope trap
for the red bird as he had been told to do and in the order prescribed, -- this time, the third
time he turned into a fat deer. This went on with a fourth time he was a fat white-tailed
deer and finally the fifth time he turned himself into a fat wolf. The fifth and last time
He-Who-Starved-To Death knew that if he put perfume on himself, and the red bird
would be fooled and would not know that the meat from the fat wolf was really He-WhoStarved-To-Death. Sure enough by the time the red bird realized it was not really wolf
meat, it was too late. He excitedly tried to step outside the circle, but he was already
there and the trap closed. But still he flew up, not knowing he was trapped, he begin
calling He-Who-Starved-To-Death names, taunting him.
He-Who-Starved-To-Death proceeded to do what he had been told to do by the
water monster, by the bald eagle and by the man at the lodge by the water’s edge. He
was also a Pipe Child and he knew the Flat Pipe also had power. He felt that he had the
hereditary right to use some of the rites of the Flat Pipe. He was determined to wage allout war against the red bird and totally destroy him. By now he was not fooled by the red
bird and knew he had great power and could make life on top of the ground almost
unbearable for anyone that he did not like or get along with. So he prayed with the Pipe.
The red bird flew higher and higher out of sight into the clouds. He-WhoStarved-To-Death prepared himself and getting himself presentable, he brushed down his
hair, sat down facing the rising sun, and began to sing the song of the water monster at
his home under the water. He begin moving his hands as if pulling something down from
above with a rope, and at the end of each song he uttered the sacred words of the Pipe
song, “Yo-ho-ho-ho.” He sang the song a number of times and would watch and before
long the red bird appeared, spiraling towards him. When He-Who-Starved-To-Death saw
this, he got really excited, with renewed courage he sang with all his heart, and when he
was done, he jerked the rope violently with all his strength. The red bird come crashing
down in a cloud of dust at his feet, one leg securely was snared in the Hair Rope trap.
“Listen red bird,” said He-Who-Starved-To-Death, “I have you at last. Since you have no
pity for any human or animal, I am going to give you far worse and more cruel
punishment than you inflicted on me. In the end you will be destroyed and the human
race will know that I did this and it will be remembered for all time. In a little while you
will no longer live.” He proceeded to pluck the feathers off the red bird and soon there
were only a few down feathers around the bird’s beak. The once proud red bird was
reduced to a pitiful sight, and realizing it, closed his eyes and was filled with shame. HeWho-Starved-To-Death taunted the bird and moving him this way and that way, twisted
his beak as he jerked him around, “If you are as powerful as you claim, save yourself.
For now you have no feathers on your body, soon it will be winter and you will have
nothing to protect yourself from the coming cold, you will freeze.” He continued to taunt
the bird until finally the red bird got angry. He raised his head, opened his eyes and said
to He-Who-Starved-To-Death, “You are right, I am the most powerful one on top of the
ground, and now I will show you. Your power cannot touch me. Watch.” With that, the
bird shook himself violently and when he stopped, all his feathers were in place on his
body. He was returned to his former self, and let the man know of his strength,
reminding the man of his weakness and with that he flew up and disappeared into the
He–Who-Starved-To-Death sat there amazed. He soon recovered and he began to
sing the song belonging to the Hair Rope trap as he has been taught to do by the water
monster under the water and repeated the same pulling-down motions he had made
before. He looked and could see the red bird crashing down. As before he began
plucking him as he did the first time, but the red bird was able to get his feathers back
Four times in all He-Who-Starved-To-Death repeated what he was taught by the
water monster and each time the bird got his feathers back again. But he did not sway, he
was determined. The fifth time he began singing, and believed the red bird had lost his
power the fourth time. He knew this was it, sure enough on this fifth trial after he had
sung the song a number of times, the red bird appeared, crashing out of control at his feet
with the Hair Rope trap still attached to one of his legs. Again, he plucked all the bird’s
feathers off. The red bird still believed his had his power and shook himself violently as
he had done the other four times, but all his efforts failed and his feathers did not come
back again.
He-Who-Starved-To-Death taunted the bird, telling him, “You are alone and you
have lost your power.” He continued this to his heart’s content until he tired of it.
Finally he said to the bird, “You have no pity for anyone, not me or anything. And you
put me on that island against my will and I almost died. I look at you and still you have
no respect or pity. Nor do you honor me with me true name ‘He who starved to death’
for you alone call me “He Who Eats Rosebush Berries,’ and I will not be moved by any
pleading or prayer you might make. On the other hand, I doubt whether you will even
pray for you are too proud and think too much of yourself. You think that you do not
need anyone’s help. It took me a long time to trap you and to get revenge. But now I see
you are completely conquered. Winter is coming soon and you will starve and freeze to
death. I will leave you to your fate.”
He-Who-Starved-to-Death, the Pipe Child and the second son of the Keeper of the
Flat Pipe, for all that he had been through and the promises made to him, was now given
the honor to be the ruler of all the people who lived on top of the ground. He added
many rites to the Flat Pipe rite,---the invocation of the Last Child, the Hair Rope, and the
song of the water monster. From that day on he became a great man with the Ah ani nin.
Long after he died his name was called upon when the Ah’ani’nin prayed in earnest and
to this present day, he is called upon in prayer to assist the Ah’ani’nin.
W. Found-In-the-Grass
Long ago the Ah’ani’nin lived in another land in which it was dangerous to travel
and where there were many mysterious happenings as this story relates. The clans lived
in separate camp sites that were great distances from each other. Getting wood, going out
to hunt or even visiting each other were big challenges.
There was a man and a woman who lived in a separate area from their clan camp
and had no children. The man was an excellent hunter and therefore spent a lot of time
out hunting. He hunted every day and sometimes did not return for many days. One day
he told his wife he was going to hunt in a dangerous part of the country, because the meat
there was abundant. At this time he learned that his wife was pregnant. He was really
happy as this was going to be their first child. Worried about his wife he told her, “Do
not answer any calls or voices to come into the lodge, even if they are calls of help under
any circumstances till I return.”
He set out on his journey. Before he left he told his wife, “We need new bedding
and clothing for the baby, so I am going to hunt in the fur bearing country. Remember
you are to remain quiet if anyone approaches you remain in the lodge, do not answer
voices whether animal or human, then no harm will come to you.” He proceeded to get
ready to leave. As soon as he left, she got ready for the long wait and fixed her place to
appear as if no one was there.
Soon she was preparing for winter, getting her lodge in order and making
everything she needed for the baby. One day she was in her lodge and she heard
someone moaning. She remained really quite and never made a sound. The moaning
went away but after some time the sound came back. It sounded like a human. The
woman immediately put away her work. The call for help sounded so horrible she
wanted to go outside. But she remembered what her husband had told her. So she
remained as silent as possible. Soon the calls for distress seemed to be getting closer to
her lodge and she was sure it was a human. Again she sat very still, thinking if I remain
so the calls will go away. She thought if the maker of the moans tries to fight his way
into this lodge, I am going to fight for my life and my baby’s life. Soon she could hear
someone groping along the lodge as if looking for an opening. The intruder went around
the lodge several times. As he went by the opening he would stop as if trying to find the
opening way inside the lodge.
The woman finally felt that she was in no condition to defend herself and despite
her husband’s warning, she called out to this person and told him where the opening was.
She felt real pity for this person. The person cried out for joy when he heard her tell him
how to come in. He removed the barriers and entered.
When the stranger entered the lodge the woman was shocked, for he was a very
old man and blind. She led him over to a place of honor. He spoke to her kindly and
thanked her for her hospitality. All her fear left her for she felt she could handle this old
blind man. And besides he seemed like a kind man who would not harm her. She went
about preparing a meal for him as she knew that he must have gone a long time without a
The woman did her best with the meal and put the food in one of her best bowls.
She placed the food before the old man. He felt about for the food and when he touched
the bowl, he told her, “I don’t eat my food in this kind of bowl.” Sensing he was no
ordinary man, the woman used another bowl that she rarely used. She thought to herself,
this man may have power even though he is blind. So she was very careful. She placed
the other bowl in front of him. Again he said, “This is not the kind I use.”
She took out her shell bowl. Again the old man said “I cannot eat until you put
the food in the right item.” So she took off her moccasin and put the food in that. This
time he told her, “You are nearer to what you should use than you think but not yet.” So
she took off her leggings and used them, but still he would not eat the food. So she took
off her dress and used that. He told her, “I know you are trying to meet my customs but
if you just try one more time to put my food in the thing that I use for the bowl, you will
succeed.” Finally she thought of what she still had not used, so she laid on the floor and
placed the bowl on her stomach. The old man responded in a loud voice, “You have
guessed how I eat my food, what I use for a bowl.” The old man used a big knife to cut
up the meat and she could see him slashing away.
When he was done eating her told her, “I am going to make a prophecy, so lie still
a moment.” He told her she was a courageous woman and very wise. She would be
known throughout the country and her descendants will be the greatest of all men.
Before that happens he told her however, “there are some things that I must do for the
prophecy to become true.”
Finding the woman naked, he cut her stomach open and took out twin boys, who
was pregnant with. He held one of the twins and said, “You will be known as twin,” and
threw him to the side of the door. The other twin he now held in his hands and said.“You
will be known as “Guyahnoo,” and threw this baby to the other side of the door. The old
man after completing the horrific deed, wiped his knife clean and left, leaving the woman
to die.
The husband returned home after his long dangerous journey. The hunt had been
very successful. He arrived home loaded with furs, and meat. He had some on a sleigh
and some on his back. When he neared the lodge he felt something was wrong. He
removed all the heavy furs and called to his wife to come see what he had brought.
When she did not respond, he felt a great fear. Nevertheless, he thought maybe she was
sleeping. So he entered the lodge. What met with his eyes was an unbelievable sight. It
was total chaos. His beautiful wife laid dead on the floor, her stomach cut open and her
body nude.
His thoughts raced and he started to regret leaving her alone. “How could I have
been so selfish in my desire for hunting?” He took his hair out of the braids, a sign of
mourning. Now he was alone.
Finally after sitting and wondering about what had happened, he took his wife’s
body and laid her on a robe. He continued to think, “What am I going to do?”
He finally came to the conclusion that he was going to just stay put and think of
how he would avenge the brutal and shameful killing of his wife. He spent his days
crying and mourning for his wife. He would leave in the morning but he kept a close ear
to see if anyone, human or animal came near. He talked to people and listened. He
wanted to inquire if anyone knew what had happened to her. At sundown he would
return to the lodge and spend the evening there. As time went on, he made a habit of
doing this every day.
One evening he came home to find some of his belongings scattered about and
some gone. He decided not to make an issue and soon forgot about it. However, the
intrusion happened repeatedly for several days. Finally he began to wonder who was
taking his things and scattering them about. He decided he would use his wits to trick or
trap them into exposing themselves.
One day he set out from his lodge, crying, and he would stop every so often and
cry some more. He tried to make it sound as if he were far away. He then rushed back
into his lodge, just in time to see two young boys begin to play with his arrows and other
things. They were surprised to see him home early. He chased them, but as soon as they
got to the two poles by the entrance to the lodge, they disappeared down the poles on
each side of the door. He was just amazed and wondered, “Who are these two young
He repeated the same trick the next day. He was determined to find out who these
boys were. He started to cry again and made a sound as if he was far away. Soon he
could hear one boy say, “Our father is far away, so we can now come out and play.” Sure
enough the boys went into the lodge as soon as they thought he left. But he was waiting
for them and was able to trap one boy. The boy fought desperately to get away, but the
man held him fast. The man did his best to let the boy know he meant him no harm.
Finally the boy agreed not to protest and he told the man that he would not disappear
down the pole but would stay with him. After some time the boy knew that the man
meant him no harm; he started to get used to living with him. The man asked him to help
in tricking the other boy to come out of his hiding place. The man again started crying
and acting like he was far away. Soon the boy started telling the other boy to come out of
his hiding place. But the other boy told him, “Since my father has tricked you into
coming out of your hiding place, you have a bad smell.” But his brother kept coaxing
him, telling him it would be okay. Finally the second boy came out and started to play
with his brother. The man caught him and would not let him go until he promised to live
on top of the ground with him and his twin.
The man was elated to find out that these boys were really his sons and that now
he was no longer alone. They remained where they were living in the same home where
their mother had died. The father was hoping that someday the man who killed his wife
would return and he would have his revenge.
He made arrows for his sons to play with and told them not to pick up the arrows
once they used them, that he would make new ones. He allowed them only two arrows a
day to play with. His sons grew up rapidly and became very proficient in the use of the
One day the sons told their father to make a sweat lodge with an opening facing
the east and another opening in the top. They told him to dig a pit in the front of the
sweat and gather stones to heat in the pit. He was then told to build another pit inside of
the sweat lodge exactly in the middle. “Once the rocks were heated,” they said, “Bring in
your wife and face her head to the north on the west side of the sweat.” He did exactly as
he was told and when he did he told his sons, “Everything is ready.”
The boys came, carrying the bow and arrows their father had made them. They
told their father to carry the stones from the outside pit to the inside pit and to leave the
flap open while they prayed. He did as he was told, with each of his sons standing on
each side of the door facing east. The sons raised their eyes upward and invited the
Supreme Being to come and join them in the sweat lodge ceremony, so their prayers
would be answered.
Once they were done praying they told their father to pour water on the rocks and
close the lodge. When this was done, one of the boys shot his arrow straight up into the
opening, saying, “Look out, my mother, the arrow is coming down and it might fall on
you and hurt you if you do not move.” Again they told their father to open the sweat and
pour more water on the rocks and close it again.” This time the other twin shot his arrow
into the air, repeating the same words to their mother. This time the lodge started
Once more the father was told to open the sweat and pour more water on the rocks
and then close it. Again the first boy shot his arrow up, saying the same words. This
time the sweat shook violently. The fourth and last time the lodge was opened by the
father and more water was poured on the rocks and the lodge was closed again. The
other twin shot his arrow in the air saying the same words as before and this time the
arrow hit the ground outside the sweat. Their mother rushed out alive from the west side
of the sweat lodge. The father and sons were there to greet her. They were all happy to
be together.
They continued to stay where they were and the father went hunting again. This
time the twins stayed with their mother. One day when their father was gone, the boys
wandered off from the lodge to see how good they were with their bow and arrows. First
they saw a prairie chicken, but missed on all their tries. However the chicken did not fly,
so one of the twins, forgetting his father’s warnings not to pick up the arrows, reached
down for the arrow. Before his brother could stop him, he shot the chicken again.
Instantly there was a loud noise, and a mighty wind stirred. The boys were really
frightened and ran to get back into their lodge. Only one boy made it, while the other
was blown into the air and in his hands was the opening to the lodge. He blew all over
the sky and finally fell back to earth and landed in a tall growth of grass. He still had
ahold of the flap to the lodge in his hand. Not knowing what to do, he lay down covering
himself with the flap. He lay there for several days, afraid to wander about in a strange
One day he heard voices coming in his direction. Afraid, he crouched as low as
he could and listened. As the voices got closer he noticed they were talking in
Ah’ani’nin. The people were from the big camp and were out cutting grass for their
horses. An old woman was helping and she walked closer and closer to the hiding boy.
She finally discovered him under the flap and invited him to come live with her. She
said, “Come live with me, I will adopt you, I will be your grandmother and you will be
my grandson.” So the young boy went with her and lived in the big camp. As time went
on, he grew into a fine young man. However their lives were harsh and hunting was
difficult due to the dangers of their environment.
One day a beautiful Black Fox was seen near their camp. Whenever the fox came
near, things would disappear from their camp. He stole the people’s meat, ropes, sinew
and raw hide straps used for their travois. The people tried without any success to catch
the black fox, but he was too cunning and shrewd. He would chew up anything left
outside and leave it in a big mess. The Black Fox was brave and soon was raiding the
lodges of meat.
Finally the chief of the tribe called the camp crier and told him, “Tell everyone I
am offering a big reward to whoever can catch the fox.” The reward was his oldest
daughter and she was the most beautiful girl in the village. He told them that whoever
catches the fox could have his daughter immediately and take her as his wife. All the
young men were excited about the challenge and wanted to be the one who married the
maiden. But they all failed.
The young man “Found-In-The-Grass” said to his grandmother, “I was going to
try.” He told her to make a trap and he would direct her on how it is to be done. His
grandmother did not question him but did as she had been told. She set about to make the
trap. When she was finished he told her, “Set it just outside the door of our lodge.” They
soon went to lie down for it was nightfall by the time she was done.
The young man stayed awake all night and checked the trap every now and then.
Towards morning he was beginning to get tired. He fell asleep and his grandmother
woke him saying, “The trap is sprung, but there is no fox.” After examining the trap he
noticed black hairs in it. He told his grandmother, “I am sure I caught the fox, but
someone stole him.” He told his grandmother to go to the chief’s camp and see if anyone
had brought it to him. She went to find out. Sure enough the Crow bird had brought in
the fox and was immediately given the oldest daughter.
The young man thought about it and told his grandmother that she needed to tell
the chief that the prize was really his, that he had caught the fox and the Crow stolen it.
The chief believed them, but it was too late. He had already given his oldest
daughter. So he said, “I tell you what, I will let you take my second daughter; she too is
beautiful and old enough to be married.” The old woman returned to her grandson and
told him what the chief had said. He pondered it for a while and asked his grandmother
for advice. She told him, “Take the younger daughter and let there be peace.”
So the young man prepared to receive the second daughter. The old woman and
her grandson brought the young maiden to their home. So the reward for the fox was
Time passed and another era began. The people were starving and needed meat.
They could not hunt freely due to the dangers involved. So the chief sent his wife to the
Crow, who was the husband of the eldest daughter. He told Crow to run the buffalo over
the buffalo run, so they would have meat to eat.
Crow sent another message back, “I will be running the buffalo at daybreak, so be
ready.” The people were happy and got ready to help with the buffalo run. The chief
directed the men to sit at two mounds on the way in to scare the buffalo into the run.
At daylight everyone was in position.
They sat there all day, but Crow could not
run the buffalo in. They went home and said they would try again the next day. But
again Crow failed.
All this time the young man who married the second daughter had gone into
seclusion. His hair was all unkempt and he was dirty. Since Crow failed to bring in the
buffalo and had given up, the young man told his grandmother, “Go tell the chief I will
run in the buffalo. Have the men sit on the mounds again.” The chief did as he was told,
sending the men out to sit on the mounds.
The young man set out early the next day. He gathered up buffalo chips and told
them, “Now turn into buffalo and go into the buffalo run so that my people can eat.”
Then plucking a special kind of grass, he told the grass, “Now you turn into poor, mangy
buffalo and join in the run. When you get to the pitfall make sure one of your legs get
caught in the corrals.” Soon the grass became the live, mangy buffalo.
The young man followed behind as the buffalo passed the mounds and ran into
the buffalo run. The hunt was very successful. The people were happy and went about
skinning the buffalo. They wanted to know, “Who was it that ran in the buffalo?” The
young man heard them and said, “It was I, Found-In-The-Grass.”
After they were all through, Found-In-The-Grass called his grandmother and told
her to look for the buffalo that had his foot caught on the corral. His grandmother found
him, a straggly old buffalo. She told her son, “How can we get meat off this thin
buffalo?” Found in the Grass loosened the buffalo and gave him a kick in the rump.
Soon the buffalo turned into a fat, healthy buffalo which they killed. They skinned him
and cut the meat into pieces so they could carry it to their lodge.
Found-In-The-Grass looked for a certain intestine and filled it with bull’s blood,
tying both ends. Then he secured the intestine with straps, so that it would not break
apart. He, along with his grandmother prepared all their buffalo to go home. But he
would not let his wife help, telling her that on the last trip he would have her carry the
intestine filled with the blood. They would walk single file, with his grandmother first,
the wife and Found-In-The-Grass last.
While they were carrying the meat home the wife noticed her sister collecting
heads of the buffalo. She asked her “Why are you doing that?” and her sister told her,
“The Crow is a scavenger and he is not particular about what he eats, so I am getting him
these heads.” Besides the people have no respect for him now because he could not get
the buffalo into the runs. All the while the Crow perched on the corral. When they began
the final trip, Found-In-The-Grass’s wife commented about Crow. Crow heard what they
were saying and was very offended. He flew about in the air, making loud noises. He
scolded his wife, who was really ashamed. Found-In-The-Grass, his wife and
grandmother got ready to go single file with the intestine filled with blood. She carried
the intestine on her back as she had been instructed. Crow and his wife watched,
admiring them. Found-In-The-Grass punched a hole in the intestine and blood spilled
over his wife. She immediately became the most beautiful woman.
But the wife of Crow became upset and very jealous of her sister. At the same
time she was sad, having to live with Crow.
All the people were happy since everyone had enough meat and no one was
starving anymore. The woman set about making dry meat. It took them days to do this
as this was the biggest buffalo hunt ever known for the Ah’ani’nin.
During this time, the wife of Found-In-The-Grass confided in his mother that
Found-In-The-Grass was the most handsome man and smelled of the rarest beautiful
perfume. But when she went to hold him, he turned into the same ugly and unkempt man
that he always was. The mother told her, “Don’t tell anyone of this. Have confidence in
him, as he has just completed the greatest hunt of all. Everything will be okay.”
However, the mother of the wife of Crow heard this and told her daughter about it
and soon everyone in the camp knew of it. One day the wife of Found-In-The-Grass was
visiting her sister and the conversation soon turned to Found-In-The-Grass. How was it
that at night he turned into this handsome man, but when the sun came up, he was again
an ugly, unkempt, man? The wife of Crow did not believe it, and said that her sister must
have had a bad dream or imagined it. So the wife of Crow decided to find out for herself
and she set out for their lodge.
She saw that Found-In-The-Grass was the same as he always was, and soon she
was making fun of him and calling him names. She finally told him, “You are shameful
in fooling my sister. She is young and innocent and it is shameful for you to fool the
people. You just want to get noticed and be known for something. But you will not
succeed since you are not powerful enough.” Found-In-The-Grass said nothing but
endured the tongue lashing from his sister-in-law.
Crow’s wife went home and her sister was there. She advised her, “Leave
Found-in-The- Grass, for there is nothing to what he says. He is not powerful nor is he a
handsome man at times. In the event that he does get power he will end up using it for
evil purposes and destroy the Ah’ani’nin.” But Found-In-The-Grass’s wife was faithful
to him and would not leave nor take the advice of her sister.
While everyone was making dry meat, Found-In-The-Grass told his wife to go see
the Chief, her father, and tell him to again take the men out the next day and post them at
the mounds and they would run the buffalo again. Found-In-The-Grass then did as
before going to the buffalo chips, commanding them to turn into buffalo and the grass
into mangy buffalo. Like on the first run, he found the people at the pitfall skinning the
buffalo. Again he called his grandmother to help him. They found another pitiful buffalo
caught on the corral; and as before Found-In-The-Grass turned it into a fat buffalo. And s
before, he filled the intestine with the blood of the buffalo, securing it fast with straps.
Crow’s wife again gathered the buffalo heads for Crow to eat. She looked at
Found-In The-Grass with contempt and as she gazed at him, he turned into the most
handsome man. She decided she would steal him from her sister.
Found-In-The-Grass, his wife and grandmother were getting ready to take the
intestine during the last trip. Crow’s wife could not stand it; she rushed over and begged
Found-In-The- Grass to let her carry the intestine. She wanted to be the most beautiful
when the blood spilled out. Found-In-The-Grass granted her request and she got in line
with the others. Found-In-The- Grass did as before but instead of Crows wife becoming
the most beautiful, she turned into a, loathsome creature, horrible to look at.
When she realized what had happened to her, she was so ashamed. She tried to
get support from Crow to use his power to help her, but he had none. And he was more
concerned about the scrapes of food on the ground than with his wife’s appearance.
Found-In-The-Grass told her, “Go your way and leave us alone. Don’t bother us and
mind your own business.”
One day Found-In-The-Grass told his grandmother and wife, “I want to visit the
other camp of the Ah’ani’nin. But his grandmother didn’t want him to go, saying the trail
was too far and in between the two groups lived a big wolf with magic powers. No one
could escape him and once he had his sights on someone he used his powerful jaws to
draw that person in with his mysterious powers. And that was not the only danger. At
the next village was a man who told stories, and when the people listened to him, they
fell asleep. Once they were asleep, he hit them on the head and killed them. His
grandmother further told Found-In-The-Grass, “You have a wife now, and there is no
need for you to leave. Besides you already completed one of the biggest feats ever. You
need no further ambition.”
But Found-In-The Grass told them gently, not to worry about him, as he was a
grown man who did not need direction. “I am not afraid of anything and I am making
this trip.” Unable to make him change his mind, they started getting things ready for him
to take, such as dried meat, pemmican and fat. He gathered his weapons, extra clothing,
and bedding.
Found-In-The-Grass left and was gone many days. Finally he came to a rise in
the ground and there was a clearing in the trail. There was the Great Wolf that his
grandmother warned him of. He approached him cautiously but the wolf opened his
mouth and instantly Found-In-The-Grass was drawn to the wolf and swallowed up. But
Found-In-The-Grass was prepared for this and began slashing left and right and soon the
wolf was dead. Found-In-The- Grass came out unharmed but he was amazed to see all
the remains of human bones. He took them all out and put them in a pile and said, “Get
up, you weaklings and go back to the camp you came from.” Suddenly they were all
alive and they returned to where they had come from.
Found-In-The-Grass finally arrived at the big camp. He cautiously circled the
camp several times and finally entered the lodge of an old woman. She invited him in
and had him sit in a place of honor. She seemed to know all about him and had heard
about the great deeds he had done with the buffalo hunts. He asked her for something to
eat since he had not eaten for a long time.
She told him that she was happy that the wolf had not been able to kill him but
that he had to be careful since it was dangerous where they lived. She told him of a man
who told stories and when the people fell asleep he hit them on the head and killed them
with his stone hammer. She told him that they were poor and hungry most of the time
because it was too dangerous for them to hunt. What little food she had hidden under her
bed was what she shared with him. She urged him to be on his way and out of this
dangerous place. He told her not to worry about him; he was a man and could take care
of himself. Seeing that she had only a small amount of food, he only ate a small portion
and gave the rest to her.
That night the man who told stories invited Found-In-The-Grass to his lodge for
storytelling. He said “My stories will put you to sleep. Surely you are tired and will
want the needed sleep. Then I will cover you with robes so you sleep well.” Found-InThe-Grass pretended to yawn like he was sleepy and soon was pretending to be snoring.
The man got his stone hammer ready but before he could hit Found-In-The-Grass the
young man jumped up and asked the man, “What are you doing?” The man was so
shocked that his stories did not work on Found-In-The-Grass that he lost his balance and
fell. Found-In-The-Grass shot him full of arrows and killed him.
Found-In-The-Grass looked around the lodge and found a pile in the corner. It
was covered by robes but on closer inspection he saw it was a pile of human bones with
the most recent ones on top. He felt sorry for these people who had been fooled by the
story teller. So he told them, “Get up you weaklings and go back to the place you came
from.” Immediately they were all alive and returned to their homes.
Found-In-The-Grass went back to the old woman’s lodge and stayed with her for
the night. The next night he told the old woman to go out and tell all the people in the
camp that he was going to do a buffalo run. The chief was very glad and obeyed all the
commands that Found In-The-Grass gave them. They placed the men on the mounds to
run the buffalo and he used the chips and grass as before. He did this twice as he had at
the other village and he and old woman took the mangy buffalo. The people were all
happy saying “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us.”
Found-In-The-Grass decided to go to the next Ah’ani’nin camp. The old woman
said, “When you go in that direction there is a big river to cross; it is dangerous as a water
monster lives there. When people ride on his back to get across, mid-way he dives down
and soon they drown. Not only that, there is a gambler named Crooked Bull in the next
camp who entices people into playing games with him. If he loses he gets really angry
and turns into a raging bull and gores people to death.” He told the old woman “Do not
worry about me as I am a grown man and can take care of myself.”
Found-In-The-Grass went on his way despite the warnings of the old woman.
After traveling many days through the forest, Found-In-The-Grass came to the river with
the monster. He approached the river cautiously and sure enough there was the river
monster, asleep. He got right on his head and the monster proceeded to take him across
the river. But before the monster could dive, Found-In-The-Grass stabbed him to death.
The monster sank, leaving a trail of red blood.
Found-In-The-Grass swam to the other side and stood on the shore and said, “All
those who drowned by the monster and can hear my voice, come alive.” A great number
of people came out of the water. He told them “Go back to the camps where you came
He next came upon a great village of the Ah’ani’nin and soon found a lodge
owned by another old woman. She too knew of him and had heard of his great deeds.
She invited Found-In-The-Grass to come in and sit in a place of honor. She wanted to
know how he was able to escape the river monster. She told him they were poor people
and had troubles of their own, because of the Crooked Bull. Found-In-The-Grass told the
woman how he had been able to kill the river monster and he said he was not afraid of
Crooked Bull. She set about getting him something to eat. She had her meat hidden in
robes on her bed; it was just a small piece of meat. Before long a camp crier arrived,
telling Found-In-The-Grass that Crooked Bull wanted to play the Shooting Arrow Wheel
game with him. Found-In-The-Grass played the game, and soon he lost most of his
clothes to Crooked Bull. A crowd had gathered to watch. But the tides changed and
Found-In-The-Grass started to beat him at his own game. Crooked Bull lost almost
everything and seeing that he was losing he turned into a raging bull and was going to kill
Found-In-The-Grass. But Found-In-The-Grass disappeared and all that was left was one
feather, a plume. Crooked Bull looked about and could not find Found-In-The-Grass, but
he could hear him. Found-In-The-Grass whispered, “Your time has come and you will
no longer be able to take lives with your rage. You are going to be wiped off the face of
earth.” Found-In-The-Grass sent many arrows into Crooked Bull before he turned back
into a human. He proceeded to Crooked Bulls lodge and sure enough there were the
remains of those he had killed. And like before he commanded them to come to life.
Immediately appeared the people who died and they too went back to their homes.
As before Found-In-The-Grass had the buffalo run, with the chips and grass. The
people were happy for he had saved them from starvation and was able to rid them of
Crooked Bull. The chief offered the man his oldest beautiful daughter in marriage. But
he refused saying that he had a wife in a camp far away. He told the old woman he was
going on to the next camp of Ah’ani’nin. The old woman warned him of the dangers.
Again he said he was a grown man and he could take care of himself.
This time the dangers were a tree that fell on people and a man who wanted to
play football, and when he lost he used his iron leg to kill people by kicking them to
Found-In-The-Grass tricked the tree into breaking itself in many pieces when it
had no one to fall on. He commanded all who had died by the tree to come back to life
and return to the places they came from. In the next village an old woman told him of the
man who kicked people to death. Soon the football player was calling him. They played
football and Found-In-The-Grass beat the football player in front of all the people.
When the man got angry his leg turned into iron. He was now mad and wanted to
use his iron leg on Found-In-The-Grass. However, he missed and his leg got caught on a
knotty tree branch. The man could not remove it, the people laughed and Found-In-TheGrass blew a breath on him and he blew into the air. He flew into a tree and Found-InThe-Grass shot him to death with his arrows. He went to the man’s lodge and found
many bones. He commanded these to come to life and return to where they came from.
He again did a buffalo run as before, using the chips and grass and help of the old
Found-In-The-Grass stayed with the old woman, helping her jerk her meat and the
people were very happy. Found-In-The-Grass soon knew that he must go to the next
camp to help their people. This time it was a buffalo head that was used for a ferry and a
big bear with great forearms that were killing the people. He was able to fool the buffalo
head, who sank to the bottom of the water and was destroyed. He called all those who
had been fooled by the buffalo head to return to life and go back to their homes.
After many days, he reached the big camp and he saw an old lodge with a woman
who lived there. She was scraping a buffalo hide as he entered. She called him to sit in a
place of honor and she asked him, “Where are you going and how did you escape all
these dangers along the way?” He replied, “I have come a long way and it has taken me
many moons to get here. And I have destroyed evil along the way.”
He asked her why she was scraping the hide. She said, “I am so hungry that I was
trying to scrap enough meat to eat off this hide.” He told her to keep to scraping because
he too was hungry and had not eaten in a while. “Make enough for both of us,” he said.
After they had eaten, Found-In-The-Grass told the old woman to tell the chief and
all the people that they were going to have a buffalo run. The old woman said, “We
cannot have a buffalo run, the bear will catch us and eat us before we can. And if anyone
tries to stop the bear, she points her big forearm at them and they died immediately.”
Found-In-The-Grass told her not to worry about the bear; he would kill it. The old
woman did not believe that he could do all this, but she set out to see the chief as
requested. Soon they were having a buffalo run. The bear, hearing of the run, threatened
the people telling them, “I will destroy anyone who tries to get the buffalo before me and
my cubs.” Again Found-In-The-Grass used the buffalo chips and grass to make the
buffalo. But the old woman would not help in the skinning once all the buffalo were
caught. She said the bear would come and get them. Found-In-The-Grass told her not to
be afraid for he would protect her. So the woman, although fearful, helped him prepare
the meat for carrying. When everyone left, there was just the two of them and two young
bear cubs, who were licking up all the scraps. One of the cubs disappeared and when he
returned he said, “My mother the big bear wants all the meat brought to her lodge.”
Found-In-The-Grass told the old woman, “Go and tell her I don’t intend to carry
out her wishes.” The old woman said she was afraid and said the bear will “point her
forearm at me and kill me.” But he insisted that no harm would come to her if she just
did as he said. She was also afraid of Found-In-The-Grass since she knew he had power,
so she went to the bear and told her what Found-In-The-Grass had said. The bear was
angry and said, “Tell him to do as I wish or I will enforce the rule myself.” The old
woman went back and forth between the bear and the man. Finally the bear went to the
corrals where the buffalo run had ended and told Found-In-The-Grass to pack up all the
meat and bring it to her lodge. The bear told him this four times and she said if he did
not do as she said, she would enforce her rule. But he paid her no attention to her.
At last the bear pointed her forearm at him. But instead of killing him like all the
others, her arm broke off. She howled and groaned so loud that she thought everyone in
the camp would hear her. Found-In-The-Grass took a kidney from a buffalo and told the
bear how it was done and pointed the kidney at the bear and she fell over dead. The cubs
ran over to her but Found-In-The-Grass told them to go back to the forest where they
belonged. Their place was not among humans. They left and were never seen again.
Found-In-The-Grass and the old woman brought all their meat back to her lodge.
The meat of the bear was divided among the people. The human slaves who worked for
the mother bear were released and went back to their clans. They had one more buffalo
run before Found-In-The-Grass prepared to return home. The chief offered him his most
beautiful daughter but he told him he already had a wife at home.
So it was that Found-In-The-Grass returned home in great triumph, back to wife
and his grandmother. He had destroyed all things human and animal that had made
traveling difficult and unsafe for the Ah’ani’nin. He also taught the art of running the
buffalo and he made traps to catch the black fox. He ruled his camp with great wisdom
for many years. So it was the prophesy pronounced by the blind man came to pass.
Found-In-The-Grass is a story of great faith and survival. Sometimes our journey
takes us where we do not necessarily want to go but for the benefit of all we meet
challenge. We can overcome our obstacles no matter how insurmountable they seem and
trust in our ability to overcome all odds. We need to believe in ourselves when the
impossible seems to be unachievable. There is always hope.
X. Red Whip
There are noted warriors throughout Indian country, men such as Crazy Horse,
Sitting Bull and Geronimo. For the Ah’ani’nin one of the most famous historical events
tells of a battle where Red Whip gained notoriety and became a cultural hero for the
Ah’ani’nin. This story has been written in several different versions, but all of them fail
to tell the ending of the story. My mother told me her accounts of history as told to her
by her grandparents.
Sometime after Red Whip died, a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent, Superintendent
Wellington had some of Red Whips items and he moved them to a museum in
Lewistown. Wellington told the story of Red Whip and he got this version from a man
named Powerface. This story was told after Red Whip’s family died, it was also printed
in War Stories of the White Clay People. Who does the story belong to? According to
my mother, the Ah’ani’nin.
In the late 1860s the Ah’ani’nin lived together with the River Crow. At this time
they were camped on the White River, now known as Judith River. In the early spring a
group of Crow warriors went out on a war party to look for their enemy, the Sioux.
Within their party were three Ah’ani’nin men. At this time of the year the snow was still
deep and in some areas muddy as it was starting to melt. These young Ah’ani’nin men
were Red Whip and his in-separable friend, Good Strike and another man named Turtle.
They traveled along the White River until it came to the Big River, now known as
Missouri River. They camped for the next and in the morning made preparations to cross
the river. When the Ah’ani’nin came to the river, they would always pray and sing to
Last Child, the water monster to insure a good crossing. Once across the river they
traveled until they reached Big Coulee, now known as Cow Creek. By then it was
getting late, so they decided to camp. They didn’t want to travel late as the weather could
The Ah’ani’ camped together, finding good shelter. That night as Red Whip slept,
he had a dream. In his dream he was told that if they wanted to be successful, they
should follow the course of the Big River. In his dream if they followed the advice, they
would come home successful with a herd of horses. But he was told they should not
travel to the Fur Cap Mountains. This is now the southern location on the Fort Belknap
Indian Reservation and called the Little Rockies. In his dream, he could see the Fur Cap
Mountains and the spirit told him to “look” and as he did he could see the bottom of the
mountain splashed with red blood.
The next day he was really concerned and told the party of men of his dream.
The Crows mocked him, accused him of being a coward and told him if he was afraid to
go home and put a dress on. When the Crows prepared to leave, Red Whip and his
companions left them and went on their own. After traveling several miles, Red Whip
noticed that his friend, Good Strike was quiet and reserved. He asked him in Ah’ani
“What is bothering you, what is the matter?”
He told Red Whip to go on with Turtle, “I
will catch up with you later.” Maybe it was that he didn’t like to be called a coward.
Both him and Red Whip were very young men and easily offended. However Red Whip
and Turtle continued on their way, leaving Good Strike to his journey. After some time
Red Whip and Turtle stopped, from where they were they could still see Good Strike.
They sat down to smoke and waited for him. Finally after waiting for a long time, they
went up on a high ridge and looking in the direction of where the Crow were, they could
see Good Strike join the Crows. Red Whip didn’t want to leave his best friend to fate, so
he and Turtle followed Good Strike. That evening they caught up with the Crows, just
before they began making camp. They were on Bull Creek. Good Strike was elated to
see that his friend Red Whip changed his mind. That night Good Strike was laughing,
playing tricks on everyone, more so with his friend Red Whip. That night they slept side
by side, but Good Strike didn’t even bother to sleep. He continued with his pranks, and
Red Whip told him to quit. He was having the time of his life and continued with his
behavior. Finally the Crow Leader told him that he had to stop, they needed rest and it
was a bad omen for Good Strike to act that way. He told him, “Your soul must have left
your body that is why you can’t sleep and why you are so happy.” He finally settled
down and slept.
In the morning Red Whip could not find his Medicine War Charm. Warriors in
battle wore something for protection. This war charm was said to be a powerful one.
Finally Good Strike seeing that his friend was upset returned the charm. Soon the party
was on their way to the Fur Cap Mountains (Little Rockies). As they got closer, they
stopped on a high ridge and decided to smoke. It was a clear, cool day, snow had melted
in some areas but there was still a lot left. Suddenly one of the warriors noticed
something moving in the trees near the bottom of the mountains. One of the warriors had
a telescope, so he retrieved it to have a look.
It was a hunter stalking a buffalo. As they
watched, the hunter was successful in bringing a buffalo down with his rifle. They
decided they would follow him.
They got themselves ready by removing their clothing, leaving only their breech
cloths, war charms, which they wore in their hair or around their neck. They painted
their faces. The leader of the Crow said we are going to attack this man. He selected
three warriors who were swift runners to go with him. He told the rest to continue on to
Bull Creek so their enemy would be between them. Red Whip and his good friend Good
Strike were among the swift warriors with the Crow leader.
Below them was a small coulee, so the party followed along this creek until they
came to a larger coulee that ran directly into the mountains. They followed it until it took
them to the bottom of the mountains. By then they were only a couple hundred yards
from the hunter. They charged their enemy, but he was also swift and ran in the direction
of where the other warriors were. He didn’t get very far before he was shot.
By his clothing, they knew he was a Sioux. They ate from the buffalo and sat
down to smoke. Red Whip was not satisfied, he knew that something was not right. This
Sioux man should not be here alone. So he spoke up, “This Sioux man being here alone
does not seem right. He just can’t be here alone, there must be others somewhere.”
Again the Crow leader ridiculed him, saying he was afraid. He told him to go home, “If
you are afraid, don’t go out on war parties stay home.”
These were bitter words for Red Whip to swallow. He was calling him a coward
and denouncing his manhood. The leader knew that Red Whip was just a young man,
inexperienced and not many war experiences to his credit. Unknown to Red Whip, his
predictions were just about to come true. They were at the bottom of the mountain and
suddenly they heard the chilling, unmistakable, terrorizing sounds of war cries. Red
Whip turned to look at the Crow leader and said, “I knew he was not alone.” As he
turned to look up the mountainside and there was a whole tribe of Sioux descending upon
them. It looked to be about a 100 Sioux. It was more than the Crow could have imagined
and they were not prepared for it. Red Whip and his companions were more prepared
because they knew that things did not look right.
Red Whip could have left with his Gros Ventre companions, but he saw that they
were needed. He began hollering at the Crows to prepare themselves. Some were so
scared, they needed extra coaxing to arouse them from their stupor. Red Whip had on his
famous medicine war charm that had been handed down for generations. It was made of
otter skin and had an eagle whistle attached to it. They were retreating from the Sioux
trying to run for their lives, but as they were going they would charge the Sioux to keep
them from overrunning them. It was a battle for their lives. Red Whip would jump out
and charge the Sioux. He killed many that day and injured many as well. When Red
Whip charged them he blew his whistle. No matter what the Sioux did, they could not
kill him. It was as if the bullets went around him. They soon recognized that he must
have power, he must be supernaturally protected.
The Red Whip had taken charge of the party and soon had retreated to a small
coulee. The battle went on and there two of the Crows who had burrowed themselves
into a snow bank, died. Blood was ever where. They knew this area was not enough
protection, so they moved to a bigger coulee.
The Sioux crowded them and want to destroy all of them. Whenever they got
close Red Whip would charge them injuring or killing some. It was Red Whip who kept
them at bay. Red Whip ran between warriors, encouraging them to be brave, to fight a
good battle.
One Crow warrior was so frightened that Red Whip to had stop,
hammered him in the chest and said, “look around you, can you see all those Sioux?
They have no intention of capturing you, they want your scalp. Wake up! Be a man, pull
yourself together and get your gun. Holler war cries and try to save yourself.” The
Crows easily let Red Whip lead, seeing how he came to the rescue for everyone. Soon
they were retreating at a faster space, which made it easier for Red Whip to protect them.
Soon the distance between them was great and they knew they had a chance of survival.
The Sioux stopped and watched as they got away. Red Whip and Good Strike turned to
look at the Sioux, when off to the side a Sioux warrior squatted and took careful aim at
Good Strike. Red Whip told him to jump around and confuse him. But Good Strike
thought they were too far away. Red Whip saw the smoke from the gun and not too long
after a smacking sound. Good Strike responded, “I am hit.” He tried to walk and soon
fell flat on his face. He got up and tried again. Again he fell. When the Sioux saw this
there were war hoops as they struck the enemy.
Despite the danger, Red Whip came to
his friends rescue and pulled him to safety. He was really afraid once he seen his friends
injuries. The bone on his ankle was shattered. Bullets were flying all around as they
made it to the washout. Once there, both Red Whip and his friend knew that his injuries
were life threatening. The bone was protruding and he was bleeding profusely. Red
Whip could tell that he was in severe pain. He did what he could to make his friend
comfortable. By now the others in their party had already high tailed it out of there.
Good Strike told his friend Red Whip, “Leave me, I am hurt beyond help. Save yourself.
Nothing can be done for me even if you get me out of here. It has always been my
heart’s desire that my enemies tussle and wrestle over my hair.” Good Strike was a
handsome man and had long flowing hair that fell down his back. He then began to
unloosen his braids and let his hair loose.
Red Whip was not going to leave his friend no matter what. He continued to
blow his eagle bone whistle, shoot and drive the enemy back. He would run back and
check on his friend. As he did this the Sioux would rain bullets upon them, not wanting
them to escape. By now the enemy had advanced closer to their shelter. Red Whip knew
the danger in letting them get close. The warriors were so close he could hear them
talking. When they were close enough Red Whip blew his whistle, jumped out of the
washout. It took them by surprise and he was able to take some of them out and
wounded several. He pushed them back but as he was returning as fast as he could to the
washout, Red Whip heard a sound behind him. He pretended not to notice and slackened
his pace. He wanted his enemy to get as close as he could. The enemy warrior now
knew he was close enough to kill Red Whip and advanced on him as fast as he could.
When Red Whip could hear the sound of heavy breathing, he turned rifle ready
and shot his enemy full in the chest. His enemy was surprised as he had his arm raised in
the act of killing Red Whip. Red Whip hollered and brandished his gun, saying to Good
Strike, “Here is one for you to lay on.” This meaning is so much more than words. This
was Red Whip’s act of protecting his friend and telling him, “If you must go, then so
does your enemy, who will go before you do.”
In addition it demonstrates their livelong tie of “inseparable” friends love and
loyalty. For Red Whip put his own life in danger to protect his friend. He kills the
enemy first laying out the mat with bodies for his friend to lay on when Good Strike is
killed. Red Whip was not seeking notoriety or calling attention to himself. In the
Ah’ani’nin customs, friends were as a sacred blood tie and even in death it does not mar
its existence. The significance is important as these young men were only around 18
years old and shows how they valued what they were taught.
After Red Whip killed the Sioux he jumped back into the washout with his friend.
Good Strike again pleaded with him to leave him and save himself. Good Strike asked
him to come closer. He hugged him and kissed him; he knew he was facing death. He
told Red Whip, “Look at my leg soon I will be out of my misery.” By now the leg was
swollen twice and looked to be infected, the marrow was seeping out and his leg was
smeared with blood and dirt. He kissed his friend Red Whip to let him know it was okay
to leave him and that he released him from any sacred tie of friendship, he was free to go.
Red Whip knew by now he had no choice but to obey his friend Good Strike’s
request. He told him, “Okay, I am going to leave you, but before I leave I am going to
drive these Sioux back once more before I leave you.” Red Whip blew his whistle and
jumped out. He fired continually, driving the Sioux back. As he was retreating, he could
see his enemies taking careful aim at him. He stopped and he fired his gun, wounding
one and killing the other. He shouted, “That is another one for you to lay on!” He started
to leave, but as he was leaving, he could hear his friend crying. He ran back. He scolded
Good Strike and told him not to cry, be brave. But Good Strike silenced him saying,
“These tears are for my mother who will have no one to care for her now. You must
think of her and look after her.”
Good Strike took his looking glass from around his neck and gave it to Red Whip,
saying, “Give this to my mother.” He had a sewing kit and he gave this also to Red Whip
for his mother. He told Red Whip, “Give these to her as well and tell her to keep the little
bay mare of mine. Tell my mother not to grieve me, but rather to feel proud of her son
that he fought a great battle and died a brave man.” Good Strike stopped talking and Red
Whip told his friend, “You must sing, sing our brave heart songs.” Then Red Whip
started to sing this song and Good Strike joined him. Red Whip kissed his friend and bid
him farewell. He told him, “I am going to drive the enemy back one more time before
leaving you.” Red Whip blew his whistle and jumped out of the washout and charged
their enemy. He drove them back as far as he could. He turned to take the coulee that his
escaping party took. As he was leaving he could hear his friend singing the brave heart
It did Red Whip’s heart well to hear his friend sing this song and he did not feel
so bad about leaving him. Then he ran as fast as his legs could carry him. It was close to
noon when Red Whip and his party were first jumped by the Sioux. Now it was late
afternoon, a cool breeze blowing. Red Whip knew he was fleeing for his life. He wanted
to be out of there before he could hear his friend’s cries in the throes of death. He ran a
couple of times before he stopped on a hillside. He looked back and he could see a mass
of warriors descending where his friend Good Strike was. The scene that he took in
would be with him for the rest of his life. He tore his eyes away with an effort that
pierced his heart and he walked slowly up the hill. When he was on top of the hill, he
scanned the area towards the Missouri breaks to see if he could see his party, but there
was no indication of them. He continued on and would stop occasionally to check for his
party. He traveled on in a westerly direction in the path of his party. Avoiding the
roughest places helped him cover ground faster. Before long he caught up with them,
they had stopped as several were wounded and needed to rest.
He had a sad and aching heart by the time he got to where they had stopped. He
remembered the ridicule the Crow warriors had given him. When he arrived he told him
what cowards they were, he blamed them for the loss of his friend. He went so far that
one man gave him his coat in forgiveness. Remember they had abandoned their clothing
when they prepared for battle.
When they had traveled quite a distance, Red Whip told Turtle they needed to get
away from the Crows. Red Whip felt that the Crows would not soon forget what he said.
They were still in the process of absorbing the events of the day. Once they knew they
were far from the Sioux, Red Whip felt they would attack both he and Turtle. Red Whip
could have left Turtle but he was looking out for the safety of him. Soon both were
looking for a place of safety where they could get away. When they came to one, Red
Whip and Turtle stopped and pretended to be busy doing something that delayed them.
This gave the Crows a chance to get out of sight, just before dusk.
Red Whip and Turtle did not go back in the direction where Good Strike was
killed but traveled in another direction along the Big River (Missouri). Soon they came
upon an old trading post called Clagget, Montana that was situated below the town of
Many Houses (Fort Benton). After reaching Clagget, they inquired about the Gros
Ventre encampment and they were told there was one on Bear River (Marias). However
they did not go to the big encampment but traveled on to the smaller scattered clannish
Red Whip was but a young man and in that short span, he made history with the
Ah’ani’nin. The actions of Red Whip shows how well he was trained in the culture and
customs of the Ah’ani’nin, as well as his military skills. That he was chosen to be a
protector of his people by spiritual powers was evident. An experience warrior could not
have done it better. He was able to think clearly and rely on the belief in his power.
The end part of this story has not been told. The author’s mother tells of how a
year later Red Whip, Good Strike’s mother and a small following of family and friends
returned to give Good Strike a proper burial. To their surprise, when they came upon the
area, a burial had been set up. Good Strike was lying on a raised burial platform. He had
not been mutilated nor was his hair cut. His hair fanned out on both sides of his chest.
His rifle lied by his side. He was given an honorable burial for their bravery and the
spiritual power of Red Whip. Today this area is not far from Running Crow or Eagle
Child. At a place where we used to pick berries, my brother said, “I think this is where
the battle took place.”
These are only a few of the stories told by the Ah’ani’nin. It would take a lot
longer to gather all the stories of the Ah’ani’nin. That some of these stories have been
told over and over without having been written down is amazing. According to one
historian some of the stories such as Found-In-The-Grass and Blood Clot are widespread,
told in other tribes as far away as Alaska. This shows how we are all related in some
way: stories link between tribes.
The goal of the researcher has been to collect oral history and traditional stories
about the Ah’ani’nin, the People of the White Clay. Their history is filled with oral
stories that tell who they are and where they have been. Many of these stories have not
been recorded or if they were, the story is now lost in some public or archival document
that no one knows of. Newer versions need to be recorded because oral history is a living
continuous process as well as a collection of narratives. There is never just one version;
we need all of the versions.
Before reservation life the Ah’ani’nin lived together and in the winter months
retold oral history and stories. Special emphasis in storytelling has always been placed
on those stories they felt were important for the people to remember. When youth
participated in ceremonies in some way, they learned the songs, and stories as they lived
as their Ah’ani’nin ancestors taught them. This is how the people kept records of their
ceremonies, culture, kinship relationships, economy and government.
I hope the reader enjoyed these stories as much as I did. They tell of a beautiful
strong people who by remembering their own lessons survived today. They are lessons
and values that include the importance of the sacrifice of self for all, bravery by having
no fear to meet your maker, respect for the Supreme Being, respect for your ways of
knowing and being and the consequences of ignoring that advice. To the Ah’ani’nin
generosity and bravery are some of the most important values and a reflection of who you
are. A leader is chosen by these values, as well as how he treats his people and looks after
them. A child learns by demonstration and storytelling is part of the education an
Ah’ani’nin child.
The concept of oral history for many people living in the Fort Belknap Indian
Community is that it is a thing of the past, replaced now by schools. However for the
people who want to preserve traditional Ah’ani’nin ways, oral history stories will
continue. It is important to preserve the history of the Ah’ani’nin in order to understand
the significance of who we are. These are stories of survival, lessons learned, family
history and Ah’ani’nin ways of knowing and being. Some may have changed slightly,
based on how much the orator wanted to add to make the story more interesting or
exciting. But their basic message remains the same.
Today Ah’ani’nin oral history is told during traditional rituals such as the Sun
Dance ceremonies, the Pipe ceremonies, traditional gatherings, Sun Dance singings, hand
game ceremonies and at family gatherings. The stories selected in this thesis are mostly
family stories, stories from older documents such as the War Stories of the Gros Ventre.
The legends of the Ah’ani’nin are very old stories, stories such as Found-In-The-Grass
and Cut-off Head. According to one story teller these are transnational, the same stories
are told in other parts of this country. He felt that these stories show how we are
connected as people. While these stories continue in a traditional way, a more formal
setting for story telling is taking place today in the classroom in local elementary schools
and secondary school as a frame.
There continues to be a priority to record and document as much as possible of
the remaining stories, legends and history of the Ah’ani'nin. These efforts are being done
by the Aaniiih Nakoda College and other individuals who want to insure these stories
take their place in history of the Ah’ani’nin.
Among the Ah’ani’nin when a person wants to impress something upon people to
listen to he will start with Ah'Ah'hey, which translates to mean something of old. We
need stop and to listen.
Ott Doe Nee Nee Tha (that is the way it is)
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years. 1855- 1955, Bozeman, MT: Big Sky Books.
Cooper, J.M. (1957). The Gros Ventre of Montana: Part II –Religion and
ritual. (R. Flannery, Ed.). Washington, DC: Catholic University of American
Cruikshank, Julie. (1992). Life Lived Like a Story, University of Nebraska Press
Deloria, Vine, Jr. (2006). The World We Used to Live In: Remembering the
Powers of the Medicine Men. Golden Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing.
DeMallie, Raymond I., Ed. (2001). Handbook of North American
Indians, Vol. 13, Part I & Part II. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
Dusenberry, Vern. (1961). The significance of the sacred pipes to the Gros
Ventre of Montana. Ethnos, 26(1-2), 12-29.
Flannery, R. (1953). The Gros Ventre of Montana: Part I – Social life.
Washington, DC: Catholic University of America.
Fort Belknap Education Department. (1986). Recollections of Fort Belknap’s
Past; Fort Belknap Education Department (1982). War Stories of the Gros Ventre. Fort
Belknap Indian Reservation, Montana
Fowler, Loretta. (1987). Shared Symbols, Contested Meanings. Ithaca,
New York: Cornell University Press.
Horse Capture, Joe. (2009) From our Ancestors, Art of The White Clay People.
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Kroeber, A.L. (1908-reprint). Gros Ventre myths and tales: Anthropological
papers of the American Museum of Natural History, I (III), 55-139. New York.
Weaver, Jace, Editor. (1998). Native American Religious Identity. Maryknoll, NY:
Wunder, John, Editor, (1999). Native American Cultural and Religious Freedoms,
Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, Garland Publishing, Inc.
Yow, Valarie Raleigh, (1994), Recording Oral History: A Practical Guide for
Social Scientists, Sage Publications.
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