OYE-KAR-MANI-VIM; THE TRACK-MAKER.
by Mary Eastman
Legends of the Sioux
It was in the summer of 183-, that a large party of Chippeways visited
Fort Snelling. There was peace between them and the Sioux. Their time
was passed in feasting and carousing; their canoes together flew over
the waters of the Mississippi. The young Sioux warriors found strange
beauty in the oval faces of the Chippeway girls; and the Chippeways
discovered (what was actually the case) that the women of the Dahcotahs
were far more graceful than those of their own nation.
But as the time of the departure of the Chippeways approached, many a
Chippeway maiden wept when she remembered how soon she would bid adieu
to all her hopes of happiness. And Flying Shadow was saddest of them
all. She would gladly have given up everything for her lover. What were
home and friends to her who loved with all the devotion of a heart
untrammeled by forms, fresh from the hand of nature? She listened to his
flute in the still evening, as if her spirit would forsake her when she
heard it no more. She would sit with him on the bluff which hung over
the Mississippi, and envy the very waters which would remain near him,
when she was far away. But her lover loved his nation even more than he
did her; and though he would have died to have saved her from sorrow,
yet he knew she could never be his wife. Even were he to marry her, her
life would ever be in danger. A Chippeway could not long find a home
among the Dahcotahs.
The Track-maker bitterly regretted that they had ever met, when he saw
her grief at the prospect of parting. "Let us go," he said, "to the
Falls, where I will tell you the story you asked me."
The Track-maker entered the canoe first, and the girl followed; and so
pleasant was the task of paddling her lover over the quiet waters, that
it seemed but a moment before they were in sight of the torrent.
"It was there," said the Sioux, "that Wenona and her child found their
graves. Her husband, accompanied by some other Dahcotahs, had gone some
distance above the falls to hunt. While there, he fell in love with a
young girl whom he thought more beautiful than his wife. Wenona knew
that she must no longer hope to be loved as she had been.
"The Dahcotahs killed much game, and then broke up their camp and
started for their homes. When they reached the falls, the women got
ready to carry their canoes and baggage round.
"But Wenona was going on a longer journey. She would not live when her
husband loved her no more, and, putting her son in her canoe, she soon
reached the island that divides the falls.
"Then she put on all her ornaments, as if she were a bride; she dressed
her boy too, as a Dahcotah warrior; she turned to look once more at her
husband, who was helping his second wife to put the things she was to
carry, on her back.
"Soon her husband called to her; she did not answer him, but placed her
child high up in the canoe, so that his father could see him, and
getting in herself she paddled towards the rapids.
"Her husband saw that Unk-tahe would destroy her, and he called to her
to come ashore. But he might have called to the roaring waters as well,
and they would have heeded him as soon as she.
"Still he ran along the shore with his arms uplifted, entreating her to
"Wenona continued her course towards the rapids—her voice was heard
above the waters as she sang her death song. Soon the mother and child
were seen no more—the waters covered them.
"But her spirit wanders near this place. An elk and fawn are often seen,
and we know they are Wenona and her child."
"Do you love me as Wenona loved?" continued the Sioux, as he met the
looks of the young girl bent upon him.
"I will not live when I see you no more," she replied. "As the flowers
die when the winter's cold falls upon them, so will my spirit depart
when I no longer listen to your voice. But when I go to the land of
spirits I shall be happy. My spirit will return to earth; but it will be
always near you."
Little didst thou dream that the fate of Wenona would be less sad than
thine. She found the death she sought, in the waters whose bosom opened
to receive her. But thou wilt bid adieu to earth in the midst of the
battle—in the very presence of him, for whose love thou wouldst venture
all. Thy spirit will flee trembling from the shrieks of the dying
mother, the suffering child. Death will come to thee as a terror, not
as a refuge.
When the Chippeways broke up their camp near Fort Snelling, they divided
into two parties, one party returning home by the Mississippi, the other
by way of the St. Croix.
They parted on the most friendly terms with the Sioux, giving presents,
and receiving them in return.
Some pillagers, who acknowledge no control, had accompanied the
Chippeways. These pillagers are in fact highwaymen or privateers—having
no laws, and acting from the impulses of their own fierce hearts.
After the Chippeways had left, the pillagers concealed themselves in a
path near Lake Calhoun. This lake is about seven miles from
Before they had been concealed one hour, two Dahcotahs passed, father
and son. The pillagers fired, and the father was killed instantly; but
the son escaped, and made his way home in safety. The boy entered the
village calling for his mother, to tell her the sad news; her cries of
grief gave the alarm, and soon the death of the Sioux was known
throughout the village. The news flew from village to village on the
wings of the wind; Indian runners were seen in every direction, and in
twenty-four hours there were three hundred warriors on foot in pursuit
of the Chippeways.
Every preparation was made for the death-strife. Not a Sioux warrior but
vowed he would with his own arm avenge the death of his friend. The very
tears of the wife were dried when the hope of vengeance cheered
The Track-maker was famous as a warrior. Already did the aged Dahcotahs
listen to his words; for he was both wise and brave. He was among the
foremost to lead the Dahcotahs against the Chippeways; and though he
longed to raise his tomahawk against his foes, his spirit sunk within
him when he remembered the girl he loved. What will be her fate! Oh!
that he had never seen her. But it was no time to think of her. Duty
called upon him to avenge the death of his friend.
Woe to the unsuspecting Chippeways! ignorant of the murder that had been
committed, they were leisurely turning their steps homeward, while the
pillagers made their escape with the scalp of the Dahcotah.
The Sioux travelled one day and night before they came up with the
Chippeways. Nothing could quench their thirst but blood. And the women
and children must suffer first. The savage suffers a twofold death;
before his own turn comes, his young children lie breathless around
him, their mother all unconscious by their side.
The Chippeways continued their journey, fearing nothing. They had camped
between the falls of St. Anthony and Rum river; they were refreshed, and
the men proceeded first, leaving their women and children to follow.
They were all looking forward with pleasure to seeing their homes again.
The women went leisurely along; the infant slept quietly—what should it
fear close to its mother's heart! The young children laughed as they hid
themselves behind the forest trees, and then emerged suddenly to
frighten the others. The Chippeway maidens rejoiced when they remembered
that their rivals, the Dahcotah girls, would no longer seduce their
lovers from their allegiance.
Flying Shadow wept, there was nothing to make her happy, she would see
the Track-maker no more, and she looked forward to death as the end of
her cares. She concealed in her bosom the trinkets he had given her;
every feature of his face was written on her heart—that heart that beat
only for him, that so soon would cease to beat at all!
But there was a fearful cry, that banished even him from her thoughts.
The war-whoop burst suddenly upon the defenceless women.
Hundreds of Dahcotah warriors rose up to blind the eyes of the
terror-stricken mothers. Their children are scalped before their eyes;
their infants are dashed against the rocks, which are not more
insensible to their cries than their murderers.
It is a battle of strength against weakness. Stern warrior, it needs
not to strike the mother that blow! she dies in the death of her
children. [Footnote: The Dahcotahs believe, or many of them believe,
that each body has four souls. One wanders about the earth and requires
food; a second watches over the body; the third hovers round its native
village, while the fourth goes to the land of spirits.]
The maidens clasp their small hands—a vain appeal to the merciless
wretches, who see neither beauty nor grace, when rage and revenge are in
their hearts. It is blood they thirst for, and the young and innocent
fall like grass before the mower.
Flying Shadow sees her lover! he is advancing towards her! What does his
countenance say? There is sadness in his face, and she hopes—aye, more
than hopes—she knows he will save her. With all a woman's trust she
throws herself in his arms. "Save me! save me!" she cries; "do not let
them slay me before your eyes; make me your prisoner! [Footnote: When
the Sioux are tired of killing, they sometimes take their victims
prisoners, and, generally speaking, treat them with great kindness.] you
said that you loved me, spare my life!"
Who shall tell his agony? For a moment he thought he would make her his
prisoner. Another moment's reflection convinced him that that would be
of no avail. He knew that she must die, but he could not take her life.
Her eyes were trustingly turned upon him; her soft hand grasped his arm.
But the Sioux warriors were pressing upon them, he gave her one more
look, he touched her with his spear, [Footnote: When a Dahcotah touches
an enemy with his spear, he is privileged to wear a feather of honor, as
if he had taken a scalp.] and he was gone.
And Flying Shadow was dead. She felt not the blow that sent her reeling
to the earth. Her lover had forsaken her in the hour of danger, and what
could she feel after that?
The scalp was torn from her head by one of those who had most admired
her beauty; and her body was trampled upon by the very warriors who had
so envied her lover.
The shrieks of the dying women reached the ears of their husbands and
brothers. Quickly did they retrace their steps, and when they reached
the spot, they bravely stood their ground; but the Dahcotahs were too
powerful for them,—terrible was the struggle!
The Dahcotahs continued the slaughter, and the Chippeways were obliged
at last to give way. One of the Chippeways seized his frightened child
and placed him upon his back. His wife lay dead at his feet; with his
child clinging to him, he fought his way through.
Two of the Dahcotahs followed him, for he was flying fast; and they
feared he would soon be out of their power. They thought, as they nearly
came up to him, that he would loose his hold on his child; but the
father's heart was strong within him. He flies, and the Sioux are close
upon his heels! He fires and kills one of them. The other Sioux follows:
he has nothing to encumber him—he must be victor in such an unequal
contest. But the love that was stronger than death nerved the father's
arm. He kept firing, and the Sioux retreated. The Chippeway and his
young son reached their home in safety, there to mourn the loss of
others whom they loved.
The sun set upon a bloody field; the young and old lay piled together;
the hearts that had welcomed the breaking of the day were all
unconscious of its close.
The Sioux were avenged; and the scalps that they brought home (nearly
one hundred when the party joined them from the massacre at Saint Croix)
bore witness to their triumph.
The other party of Sioux followed the Chippeways who had gone by way of
the St. Croix. While the Chippeways slept, the war-cry of the Sioux
aroused them. And though they fought bravely, they suffered as did their
friends, and the darkness of night added terror to the scene.
The Dahcotahs returned with the scalps to their villages, and as they
entered triumphantly, they were greeted with shouts of applause. The
scalps were divided among the villages, and joyful preparations were
made to celebrate the scalp-dance.
The scalps were stretched upon hoops, and covered with vermilion,
ornamented with feathers, ribbons and trinkets.
On the women's scalps were hung a comb, or a pair of scissors, and for
months did the Dahcotah women dance around them. The men wore mourning
for their enemies, as is the custom among the Dahcotahs.
When the dancing was done, the scalps were buried with the deceased
relatives of the Sioux who took them.
And this is Indian, but what is Christian warfare? The wife of the hero
lives to realize her wretchedness; the honors paid by his countrymen are
a poor recompense for the loss of his love and protection. The life of
the child too, is safe, but who will lead him in the paths of virtue,
when his mother has gone down to the grave.
Let us not hear of civilized warfare! It is all the work of the spirits
of evil. God did not make man to slay his brother, and the savage alone
can present an excuse. The Dahcotah dreams not that it is wrong to
resent an injury to the death; but the Christian knows that God has
said, Vengeance is mine!
The Track-maker had added to his fame. He had taken many scalps, and the
Dahcotah maidens welcomed him as a hero—as one who would no longer
refuse to acknowledge the power of their charms. They asked him eagerly
of the fight—whom he had killed first—but they derived but little
satisfaction from his replies. They found he resisted their advances,
and they left him to his gloomy thoughts.
Every scene he looked upon added to his grief. Memory clung to him,
recalling every word and look of Flying Shadow. But, that last look,
could he ever forget it?
He tried to console himself with the thoughts of his triumph. Alas! her
smile was sweeter than the recollection of revenge. He had waded in the
blood of his enemies; he had trampled upon the hearts of the men he
hated; but he had broken the heart of the only woman he had ever loved.
In the silence of the night her death-cry sounded in his ear; and he
would start as if to flee from the sound. In his dreams he saw again
that trustful face, that look of appeal—and then the face of stone,
when she saw that she had appealed in vain.
He followed the chase, but there he could not forget the battle scene.
"Save me! save me!" forever whispered every forest leaf, or every
flowing wave. Often did he hear her calling him, and he would stay his
steps as if he hoped to meet her smile.
The medicine men offered to cure his disease; but he knew that it was
beyond their art, and he cared not how soon death came, nor in
He met the fate he sought. A war party was formed among the Dahcotahs to
seek more scalps, more revenge. But the Track-maker was weary of glory.
He went with the party, and never returned. Like her, he died in
battle; but the death that she sought to avert, was a welcome messenger
to him. He felt that in the grave all would be forgotten.