A Blackfoot Story by Edward Eggleston
Here is a story the Indians tell. It is one of the tales with which
they amuse themselves in long evenings. It may be true. At least, the
Indians tell it for true.
An Indian chief of the tribe called Blackfoot, or Blackfeet, went over
the Rocky Mountains with a war party. He killed some of the enemies of
his tribe, and then started back. For fear their enemies would follow
their tracks, the party did not take the usual path. They went up over
the wildest part of the mountain. But when it came to going down on the
other side, the Indians had a hard time.
They had to clamber over great rocks and down the sides of cliffs.
Drifts of snow blocked their way in places. At last they had to stop.
They stood on the edge of a cliff. Below this cliff was a ridge or
shelf of rock. By tying themselves together, and so helping one another
down, they got to this shelf. Below this they found still another
cliff. It was harder to get down to this.
But when they had got down as far as this ledge, they were in a worse
plight than ever. They stood on the brink of a great cliff. The rocks
were too steep for them to get down. It was hundreds of feet to the
They tried to get back up the mountain, but that they could not do.
Then they sat down and looked over the brink of the cliff. There was no
chance for them to get down alive. They must stay there and starve.
The Indians filled their pipes with kinnikinnick, or willow bark, and
smoked. Then they knocked the ashes out of their pipes, and lay down to
But the chief did not sleep. He could not think of any way of getting
out of the trouble. When morning came, they all went and looked over
the cliff once more. Then they smoked again. After sitting silent for
some time, the chief laid down his pipe quietly, got to his feet, and
went to painting his face as if he were getting ready for a feast. He
arranged his dress with the greatest care. Then he made a little
"It is of no use to stay here and die," he said. "The Great Spirit is
not willing that we should get away. Let us die bravely."
He added other remarks of the same kind. Then he sang his death song.
When this was finished, he gave a shout, and leaped over the cliff.
When the chief had gone, the others sat down and smoked again in
silence. After a long time, a weather-beaten old Indian got up and
walked to the edge of the cliff.
"See," he said, "there is the soul of our chief, waiting for us to go
with him to the land of spirits."
The others looked over, and saw the form of a man far below, waving the
bough of a tree.
The old warrior now threw off his blanket and sang his death song. Then
he leaped off. The others again looked over, and this time they saw two
forms beckoning to them from below.
One after another the Indians jumped, until there were left but two
young men who were little more than boys. These two boys were nephews
of the chief. They had never been in a war party.
The elder of the two showed his young brother the ghosts of the whole
party standing below. He told his brother he must jump off, but the
frightened boy begged to be allowed to stay and die on the bare rock.
The elder seized him, and, after a struggle, pushed him over. Then he
quietly gathered up all the blankets and guns, and threw them off. He
thought the souls of his friends would need these things in their
journey to the land of spirits.
When this was done, the young man sang his own death song and jumped
off. Falling swiftly as an arrow, feet downward, he struck a great snow
drift at the bottom. It received him like an immense feather bed. He
sank in so far that he had hard work to get out. When he had succeeded,
he found all of his party, not spirits, as he had expected, but living
men, safe and sound. The snow had saved them from injury.