The Wanderer, by Mary Eastman
Legends of the Sioux
* * * * *
Chaskč was tired of living in the village, where the young men, finding
plenty of small game to support life, and yielding to the languor and
indolence produced by a summer's sun, played at checker's, or drank, or
slept, from morn till night, and seemed to forget that they were the
greatest warriors and hunters in the world. This did very well for a
time; but, as I said, Chaskč got tired of it. So he determined to go on
a long journey, where he might meet with some adventures.
Early one morning he shouldered his quiver of arrows, and drawing out
one arrow from the quiver, he shot it in the direction he intended
"Now," said he, "I will follow my arrow." But it seemed as if he were
destined never to find it, for morning and noon had passed away, and the
setting sun warned him, not only of the approach of night, but of
musquitoes too. He thought he would build a fire to drive the musquitoes
away; besides, he was both hungry and tired, though he had not yet found
his arrow, and had nothing to eat.
When he was hesitating as to what he should do, he saw in the bushes a
dead elk, and behold! his arrow was sticking in its side. He drew the
arrow out, then cut out the tongue, and after making a fire, he put the
tongue upon a stick to roast. But while the tongue was roasting, Chaskč
fell asleep and slept many hours.
At day-break a woman came up to him and shook him, as if to awake him.
Chaskč started and rubbed his eyes, and the woman pointed to the path
which led across the prairies. Was he dreaming? No, he felt sure he was
awake. So he got up and followed the woman.
He thought it very strange that the woman did not speak to him. "I will
ask her who she is," said he; but as he turned to address her she raised
her arms in the air, and changing her form to that of a beautiful bird,
blue as the sky that hangs over the morning's mist, she flew away.
Chaskč was surprised and delighted too. He loved adventures; had he not
left home to seek them? so he pursued his journey, quite forgetting his
supper, which was cooking when he fell asleep.
He shot his arrow off again and followed it. It was late in the evening
when he found it, and then it was in the heart of a moose. "I will not
be cheated out of my supper to-night," said he; so he cut the tongue out
of the moose and placed it before the fire to roast. Hardly had he
seated himself to smoke, when sleep overcame him, and he knew nothing
until morning, when a woman approached and shook him as before, pointing
to the path.
He arose quickly and followed her; and as he touched her arm, determined
to find out who she was, she, turning upon him a brow black as night,
was suddenly changed into a crow.
The Dahcotah was completely puzzled. He had never cared for women; on
the contrary, had avoided them. He never wasted his time telling them
they were beautiful, or playing on the flute to charm their senses. He
thought he had left all such things behind him, but already had he been
twice baffled by a woman. Still he continued his journey. He had this
consolation, the Dahcotah girls did not turn into birds and fly away. At
least there was the charm of novelty in the incidents. The next day he
killed a bear, but as usual he fell asleep while the tongue was
roasting, and this time he was waked by a porcupine. The fourth day he
found his arrow in a buffalo. "Now," said he, "I will eat at last, and I
will find out, too, who and what it is that wakes me."
But he fell asleep as usual, and was waked in the morning by a female
who touched him lightly and pointed to the path. Her back was turned
towards him, and instead of rising to follow her, he caught her in his
arms, determined to see and talk with her.
Finding herself a prisoner, the girl turned her face to him, and Chaskč
had never seen anything so beautiful.
Her skin was white as the fairest flower that droops its head over the
banks of the "Lac qui parle." Her hair was not plaited, neither was it
black like the Dahcotah maidens', but it hung in golden ringlets about
her face and neck. The warm blood tinted her cheeks as she met the
ardent gaze of the Dahcotah, and Chaskč could not ask her who she was.
How could he speak when his heart was throbbing, and every pulse
"Let me go," said the girl; "why do you seek to detain me? I am a
beaver-woman, [Footnote: According to the wise men of the Dahcotahs,
beavers and bears have souls. They have many traditions about bear and
beaver-women] and you are a Dahcotah warrior. Turn from me and find a
wife among the dark-faced maidens of your tribe."
"I have always despised them," said the Dahcotah, "but you are more
beautiful than the Spirits of the water. I love you, and will make
you my wife."
"Then you must give up your people," replied the girl, "for I cannot
live as the Dahcotah women. Come with me to my white lodge, and we will
be happy; for see the bright water as it falls on the rocks. We will sit
by its banks during the heat of the day, and when we are tired, the
music of its waves will lull us to sleep."
So she took Chaskč by the hand, and they walked on till they came to an
empty white lodge, and there they lived and were very happy. They were
still happier when their little boy began to play about the lodge; for
although they loved each other very much, still it was lonely where they
lived, and the child was company for them both.
There was one thing, however, that troubled the Dahcotah; he could not
turn his mind from it, and day after day passed without relieving him
from his perplexity. His beautiful wife never ate with him. When he
returned in the evening from hunting, she was always glad to see him,
and while he rested himself and smoked, she would cook his meat for him,
and seem anxious to make him comfortable. But he had never seen her eat;
and when he would tell her that he did not like to eat alone, and beg
her to sit down and eat with him, she would say she was not hungry; and
then employ herself about her wigwam, as if she did not wish him to say
any more about it.
Chaskč made up his mind that he would find out what his wife lived upon.
So the next morning he took his bow and arrows, as if he were going out
on a day's hunt. After going a short distance from the lodge, he hid
himself in the trees, where he could watch the motions of his wife.
She left the lodge after a while, and with an axe in her hand she
approached a grove of poplar trees. After carefully looking round to
satisfy herself that there was no one near, she cut down a number of the
small and tender poplars, and, carrying them home, ate them as if she
enjoyed them very much. Chaskč was infinitely relieved when he saw that
his wife did eat; for it frightened him to think that she lived on
nothing but air. But it was so droll to think she should eat young
trees! surely venison was a great deal better.
But, like a good husband, he thought it was his duty to humor his wife's
fancies. And then he loved her tenderly—he had given up country and
home for her. She was so good and kind, and her beautiful hair! Chaskč
called her "The Mocassin Flower," for her golden ringlets reminded him
of that beautiful flower. "She shall not have to cut the trees down
herself," said Chaskč, "I will bring her food while she prepares mine."
So he went out to hunt, and returned in the evening; and while his wife
was cooking his supper, he went to the poplar grove and cut a number of
young trees; he then brought them to the lodge, and, laying them down,
he said to his wife, "I have found out at last what you like."
No one would suppose but that the beaver-woman would have been grateful
to her husband for thinking of her. Instead of that, she was very angry;
and, taking her child in her arms, she left the lodge. Chaskč was
astonished to see his gentle wife angry, but he concluded he would eat
his supper, and then follow her, hoping that in the meantime she would
recover her good temper.
When he went out, she was nowhere to be seen. He called her—he thought
at first that she had hid herself. But, as night came on, and neither
she nor the child returned, the deserted husband grew desperate; he
could not stay in his lodge, and the only thing that he could do was to
start in search of her.
He walked all night, but saw no trace of her. About sunrise he came to a
stream, and following it up a little way he came to a beaver dam, and on
it sat his wife with her child in her arms. And beautiful she looked,
with her long tresses falling into the water.
Chaskč was delighted to find her. "Why did you leave me?" called he. "I
should have died of grief if I had not found you."
"Did I not tell you that I could not live like the Dahcotah women?"
replied Mocassin Flower. "You need not have watched me to find out what
I eat. Return to your own people; you will find there women enough who
The little boy clapped his hands with delight when he saw his father,
and wanted to go to him; but his mother would not let him. She tied a
string to his leg and told him to go, and the child would plunge into
the water, and when he had nearly reached the shore where his father
sat, then would the beaver-woman draw him back.
In the meantime the Dahcotah had been trying to persuade his wife to
come to him, and return to the lodge; but she refused to do so, and sat
combing her long hair. The child had cried itself to sleep; and the
Dahcotah, worn out with fatigue and grief, thought he would go to
After a while a woman came and touched him on the shoulder, and awaked
him as of old. He started and looked at her, and perceiving it was not
his wife, felt inclined to take little notice of her.
"What," said she, "does a Dahcotah warrior still love a woman who hates
"Mocassin Flower loves me well," replied the Dahcotah; "she has been a
"Yes," replied the woman, "she was for a time; but she sighs to return
home—her heart yearns towards the lover of her youth."
Chaskč was very angry. "Can this be true?" he said; and he looked
towards the beaver dam where his wife still sat. In the meantime the
woman who had waked him, brought him some food in bark dishes worked
"Eat," she said to the Dahcotah; "you are hungry."
But who can tell the fury that Mocassin Flower was in when she saw that
strange woman bringing her husband food. "Who are you," she cried, "that
are troubling yourself about my husband? I know you well; you are the
"And if I am," said the Bear woman, "do not the souls of the bears enjoy
forever the heaven of the Dahcotah?"
Poor Chaskč! he could not prevent their quarrelling, so, being very
hungry, he soon disposed of what the Bear woman had brought him. When
he had done eating, she took the bark dishes. "Come with me," she said;
"you cannot live in the water, and I will take you to a beautiful lodge,
and we will be happy."
The Dahcotah turned to his wife, but she gave him no encouragement to
remain. "Well," said he, "I always loved adventures, and I will go and
seek some more."
The new wife was not half so pretty as the old one. Then she was so
wilful, and ordered him about—as if women were anything but dogs in
comparison with a Dahcotah warrior. Yes, he who had scorned the Dahcotah
girls, as they smiled upon him, was now the slave of a bear-woman; but
there was one comfort—there were no warriors to laugh at him.
For a while they got on well enough. His wife had twin children—one was
a fine young Dahcotah, and the other was a smart active little bear, and
it was very amusing to see them play together. But in all their fights
the young Dahcotah had the advantage; though the little bear would roll
and tumble, and stick his claws into the Dahcotah, yet it always ended
by the little bear's capering off and roaring after his mother. Perhaps
this was the reason, but for some reason or other the mother did not
seem contented and happy. One morning she woke up very early, and while
telling her husband that she had a bad dream, the dog commenced barking
outside the lodge.
"What can be the matter?" said Chaskč.
"Oh!" said the woman, "I know; there is a hunter out there who wants to
kill me, but I am not afraid."
So saying, she put her head out of the door, which the hunter seeing,
shot his arrow; but instead of hurting her, the arrow fell to the
ground, and the bear-woman catching up her little child, ran away and
was soon out of sight.
"Ha!" said Chaskč, "I had better have married a Dahcotah girl, for they
do not run away from their husbands except when another wife comes to
take their place. But I have been twice deserted." So saying, he took
the little Dahcotah in his arms, and followed his wife. Towards evening
he came up with her, but she did not seem glad to see him. He asked her
why she left him; she replied, "I want to live with my own people."
"Well," said the Dahcotah, "I will go with you." The woman consented,
though it was plain she did not want him; for she hated her Dahcotah
child, and would not look at him.
After travelling a few days, they approached a grove of trees, which
grew in a large circle. "Do you see that nest of trees?" said the woman.
"There is the great village of the bears. There are many young men there
that loved me, and they will hate you because I preferred you to them.
Take your boy, then, and return to your people." But the Dahcotah feared
not, and they approached the village of the bears.
There was a great commotion among the bears as they discovered them.
They were glad to see the young bear-woman back again, but they hated
the Dahcotah, and determined on his death. However, they received him
hospitably, conducted him and his wife to a large lodge, gave them food,
and the tired travellers were soon asleep.
But the Dahcotah soon perceived he was among enemies, and he kept a
careful look out upon them. The little Dahcotah was always quarrelling
with the young bears; and on one occasion, being pretty hungry, a cub
annoying him at the time very much, he deliberately shot the cub with
his bow and arrow, and ate him up. This aroused the vengeance of the
bears; they had a consultation among themselves, and swore they would
kill both father and son.
It would be impossible to tell of the troubles of Chaskč. His wife, he
could see, loved one of the bears, and was anxious for his own death;
but whenever he contended with the bears he came off victor. Whether in
running a foot race, or shooting with a bow and arrow, or whatever it
might be, he always won the prize, and this made his enemies still
Four years had now passed since Chaskč left his native village, and
nothing had ever been heard of him. But at length the wanderer returned.
But who would have recognized, in the crest-fallen, melancholy-looking
Indian, the gay warrior that had left home but a few years before? The
little boy that held his hand was cheerful enough, and seemed to
recognize acquaintances, instead of looking for the first time on the
faces of his father's friends.
How did the young girls laugh when he told of the desertion of his first
wife; but when he continued his story, and told them of the
faithlessness of the bear woman also, you heard nothing but shouts of
derision. Was it not a triumph for the Dahcotah women? How had he
scorned them before he went away!—Did he not say that women were only
dogs, or worse than dogs?
But there was one among his old acquaintances who would not join in the
laughter. As she looked on the care-worn countenance of the warrior, she
would fain have offered to put new mocassins upon his feet, and bring
him food. But she dared not subject herself to the ridicule of her
companions—though as night came on, she sought him when there was no
one to heed her.
"Chaskč," she called—and the Dahcotah turned hastily towards her,
attracted by the kindness of her voice—"there are no women who love as
the Dahcotah women. I would have gone to the ends of the earth with you,
but you despised me. You have come back, and are laughed at. Care has
broken your spirit, or you would not submit to the sneers of your old
friends, and the contempt of those who once feared you. I will be your
wife, and, mingling again in the feasts and customs of your race, you
will soon be the bold and fearless warrior that you were when you
And her words were true; for the Indians soon learned that they were not
at liberty to talk to Chaskč of his wanderings. He never spoke of his
former wives, except to compare them with his present, who was as
faithful and obedient as they were false and troublesome. "And he.
found," says Chequered Cloud, "that there was no land like the
Dahcotah's, no river like the Father of waters, and no happiness like
that of following the deer across the open prairies, or of listening, in
the long summer days, to the wisdom of the medicine men."
And she who had loved him in his youth, and wept for him in his absence,
now lies by his side—for Chaskč has taken another long journey. Death
has touched him, but not lightly, and pointed to the path which leads to
the Land of Spirits—and he did not go alone; for her life closed with
and together their spirits watch over the mortal frames that they
"Look at the white woman's life," said Chequered Cloud, as she
concluded the story of Chaskč, "and then at the Dahcotah's. You sleep on
a soft bed, while the Dahcotah woman lays her head upon the ground, with
only her blanket for a covering; when you are hungry you eat, but for
days has the Dahcotah woman wanted for food, and there was none to give
it. Your children are happy, and fear nothing; ours have crouched in the
earth at night, when the whoop and yell of the Chippeways sent terror to
their young hearts, and trembling to their tender limbs.
"And when the fire-water of the white man has maddened the senses of the
Dahcotah, so that the blow of his war club falls upon his wife instead
of his enemy, even then the Dahcotah woman must live and suffer on."
"But, Chequered Cloud, the spirit of the Dahcotah watches over the body
which remains on earth. Did you not say the soul went to the house
"The Dahcotah has four souls," replied the old woman; "one wanders about
the earth, and requires food; another protects the body; the third goes
to the Land of Spirits, while the fourth forever hovers around his
"I wish," said I, "that you would believe in the God of the white
people. You would then learn that there is but one soul, and that that
soul will be rewarded for the good it has done in this life, or punished
for the evil."
"The Great Spirit," she replied, "is the God of the Dahcotah. He made
all things but thunder and wild rice. When we do wrong we are punished
in this world. If we do not live up to the laws of our forefathers, the
spirits of the dead will punish us. We must keep up the customs of our
tribe. If we are afraid that the thunder will strike us, we dance in
honor of it, and destroy its power. Our great medicine feasts are given
in honor of our sacred medicine, which will not only heal the sick, but
will preserve us in danger; and we make feasts for the dead.
"Our children are taught to do right. They are not to injure one who has
not harmed them; but where is the Dahcotah who will not rejoice as he
takes the life of his enemy?"
"But," said I, "you honor the thunder, and yet it strikes you. What is
the thunder, and where does it come from?"
"Thunder is a large bird, flying through the air; its bright tracks are
seen in the heavens, before you hear the clapping of its wings. But it
is the young ones who do the mischief. The parent bird would not hurt a
Dahcotah. Long ago a thunder bird fell dead from the heavens; and our
fathers saw it as it lay not far from Little Crow's village.
"It had a face like a Dahcotah warrior, with a nose like an eagle's
bill. Its body was long and slender, its wings were large, and on them
was painted the lightning. Our warriors were once out hunting in the
winter, when a terrible storm came on, and a large thunder bird
descended to the earth, wearing snow-shoes; he took but a few steps and
then rose up, leaving his tracks in the snow. That winter our hunters
killed many bears."