The Bad Wife, by George Bird Grinnell
There was once a man who had but one wife. He was not a chief, but a very
brave warrior. He was rich, too, so he could have had plenty of wives if he
wished; but he loved his wife very much, and did not want any more. He was
very good to this woman. She always wore the best clothes that could be
found. If any other woman had a fine buckskin dress, or something very
pretty, the man would buy it for her.
It was summer. The berries were ripe, and the woman kept saying to her
husband, "Let us go and pick some berries for winter." "No," replied the
man. "It is dangerous now. The enemy is travelling all around." But still
the woman kept teasing him to go. So one day he told her to get ready. Some
other women went, too. They all went on horseback, for the berries were a
long way from camp. When they got to the place, the man told the women to
keep near their horses all the time. He would go up on a butte near by and
watch. "Be careful," he said. "Keep by your horses, and if you see me
signal, throw away your berries, get on your horses and ride towards camp
as fast as you can."
They had not picked many berries before the man saw a war party coming. He
signalled the women, and got on his horse and rode towards them. It
happened that this man and his wife both had good horses, but the others,
all old women, rode slow old travois horses, and the enemy soon overtook
and killed them. Many kept on after the two on good horses, and after a
while the woman's horse began to get tired; so she asked her husband to let
her ride on his horse with him. The woman got up behind him, and they went
on again. The horse was a very powerful one, and for a while went very
fast; but two persons make a heavy load, and soon the enemy began to gain
on them. The man was now in a bad plight; the enemy were overtaking him,
and the woman holding him bound his arms so that he could not use his bow.
"Get off," he said to her. "The enemy will not kill you. You are too young
and pretty. Some one of them will take you, and I will get a big party of
our people and rescue you."
"No, no," cried the woman; "let us die here together."
"Why die?" cried the man. "We are yet young, and may live a long time
together. If you don't get off, they will soon catch us and kill me, and
then they will take you anyhow. Get off, and in only a short time I will
get you back."
"No, no," again cried the woman; "I will die here with you."
"Crazy person!" cried the man, and with a quick jerk he threw the woman
As he said, the enemy did not kill her. The first one who came up counted
coup and took her. The man, now that his horse was lightened, easily ran
away from the war party, and got safe to camp.
Then there was great mourning. The relatives of the old women who had been
killed, cut their hair and cried. The man, too, cut off his hair and
mourned. He knew that his wife was not killed, but he felt very badly
because he was separated from her. He painted himself black, and walked all
through the camp, crying. His wife had many relations, and some of them
went to the man and said: "We pity you very much. We mourn, too, for our
sister. But come. Take courage. We will go with you, and try to get her
"It is good," replied the man. "I feel as if I should die, stopping
uselessly here. Let us start soon."
That evening they got ready, and at daylight started out on foot. There
were seven of them in all. The husband, five middle-aged men, the woman's
relations, and a young man, her own young brother. He was a very pretty
boy. His hair was longer than any other person's in camp.
They soon found the trail of the war party, and followed it for some
days. At last they came to the Big River, and there, on the other side,
they saw many lodges. They crept down a coulée into the valley, and hid in
a small piece of timber just opposite the camp. Toward evening the man
said: "Kyi, my brothers. To-night I will swim across and look all through
the camp for my wife. If I do not find her, I will cache and look again
to-morrow evening. But if I do not return before daylight of the second
night, then you will know I am killed. Then you will do as you think best.
Maybe you will want to take revenge. Maybe you will go right back
home. That will be as your hearts feel."
[Footnote 1: Missouri River.]
As soon as it was dark, he swam across the river and went all about through
the camp, peeping in through the doorways of the lodges, but he did not see
his wife. Still, he knew she must be there. He had followed the trail of
the party to this place. They had not killed her on the way. He kept
looking in at the lodges until it was late, and the people let the fires go
out and went to bed. Then the man went down to where the women got their
water from the river. Everywhere along the stream was a cut bank, but in
one place a path of steps had been made down to the water's edge. Near this
path, he dug a hole in the bank and crawled into it, closing up the
entrance, except one small hole, through which he could look, and watch the
people who came to the river.
As soon as it was daylight, the women began to come for water. Tum, tum,
tum, tum, he could hear their footsteps as they came down the path, and he
looked eagerly at every one. All day long the people came and went,—the
young and old; and the children played about near him. He saw many strange
people that day. It was now almost sunset, and he began to think that he
would not see his wife there. Tum, tum, tum, tum, another woman came
down the steps, and stopped at the water's edge. Her dress was strange, but
he thought he knew the form. She turned her head and looked down the river,
and he saw her face. It was his wife. He pushed away the dirt, crawled
out, went to her and kissed her. "Kyi," he said, "hurry, and let us swim
across the river. Five of your relations and your own young brother are
waiting for us in that piece of timber."
"Wait," replied his wife. "These people have given me a great many pretty
things. Let me go back. When it is night I will gather them up, steal a
horse, and cross over to you."
"No, no," cried the man. "Let the pretty things go; come, let us cross at
"Pity me," said the woman. "Let me go and get my things. I will surely come
to-night. I speak the truth."
"How do you speak the truth?" asked her husband.
[Footnote 1: Blackfoot—Tsa-ki-an-ist-o-man-i? i.e., How you like truth?]
"That my relations there across the river may be safe and live long, I
speak the truth."
"Go then," said the man, "and get your things. I will cross the river now."
He went up on the bank and walked down the river, keeping his face
hidden. No one noticed him, or if they did, they thought he belonged to the
camp. As soon as he had passed the first bend, he swam across the river,
and soon joined his relations.
"I have seen my wife," he said to them. "She will come over as soon as it
is dark. I let her go back to get some things that were given her."
"You are crazy," said one of the men, "very crazy. She already loves this
new man she has, or she would not have wanted to go back."
"Stop that," said the husband; "do not talk bad of her. She will surely
The woman went back to her lodge with the water, and, sitting down near the
fireplace, she began to act very strangely. She took up pieces of charred
wood, dirt, and ashes in her hands and ate them, and made queer noises.
"What is it?" asked the man who had taken her for a wife. "What is the
matter with you?" He spoke in signs.
The woman also spoke in signs. She answered him: "The Sun told me that
there are seven persons across the river in that piece of timber. Five of
them are middle-aged, another is a young boy with very long hair, another
is a man who mourns. His hair is cut short."
The Snake did not know what to do, so he called in some chiefs and old men
to advise with him. They thought that the woman might be very strong
medicine. At all events, it would be a good thing to go and look. So the
news was shouted out, and in a short time all the warriors had mounted
their best horses, and started across the river. It was then almost dark,
so they surrounded the piece of timber, and waited for morning to begin the
"Kyi," said one of the woman's relations to her husband. "Did I not
speak the truth? You see now what that woman has done for us."
At daylight the poor husband strung his bow, took a handful of arrows from
his quiver, and said: "This is my fault. I have brought you to this. It is
right that I should die first," and he started to go out of the timber.
"Wait," said the eldest relative. "It shall not be so. I am the first to
go. I cannot stay back to see my brother die. You shall go out last." So he
jumped out of the brush, and began shooting his arrows, but was soon
"My brother is too far on the road alone," cried another relation, and
he jumped out and fought, too. What use, one against so many? The Snakes
soon had his scalp.
[Footnote 1: Meaning that his brother's spirit, or shadow, was travelling
alone the road to the Sand Hills, and that he must overtake him.]
So they went out, one after another, and at last the husband was alone. He
rushed out very brave, and shot his arrows as fast as he could. "Hold!"
cried the Snake man to his people. "Do not kill him; catch him. This is the
one my wife said to bring back alive. See! his hair is cut short." So, when
the man had shot away all his arrows, they seized and tied him, and, taking
the scalps of the others, returned to camp.
They took the prisoner into the lodge where his wife was. His hands were
tied behind his back, and they tied his feet, too. He could not move.
As soon as the man saw his wife, he cried. He was not afraid. He did not
care now how soon he died. He cried because he was thinking of all the
trouble and death this woman had caused. "What have I done to you," he
asked his wife, "that you should treat me this way? Did I not always use
you well? I never struck you. I never made you work hard."
"What does he say?" asked the Snake man.
"He says," replied the woman, "that when you are done smoking, you must
knock the ashes and fire out of your pipe on his breast."
The Snake was not a bad-hearted man, but he thought now that this woman had
strong medicine, that she had Sun power; so he thought that everything must
be done as she said. When the man had finished smoking, he emptied the pipe
on the Piegan's breast, and the fire burned him badly.
Then the poor man cried again, not from the pain, but to think what a bad
heart this woman had. Again he spoke to her. "You cannot be a person," he
said. "I think you are some fearful animal, changed to look like a woman."
"What is he saying now?" asked the Snake.
"He wants some boiling water poured on his head," replied the woman.
"It shall be as he says," said the Snake; and he had his women heat some
water. When it was ready, one of them poured a little of it here and there
on the captive's head and shoulders. Wherever the hot water touched, the
hair came out and the skin peeled off. The pain was so bad that the Piegan
nearly fainted. When he revived, he said to his wife: "Pity me. I have
suffered enough. Let them kill me now. Let me hurry to join those who are
already travelling to the Sand Hills."
The woman turned to the Snake chief, and said, "The man says that he wants
you to give him to the Sun."
"It is good," said the Snake. "To-morrow we move camp. Before we leave
here, we will give him to the Sun."
There was an old woman in this camp who lived all alone, in a little lodge
of her own. She had some friends and relations, but she said she liked to
live by herself. She had heard that a Piegan had been captured, and went to
the lodge where he was. When she saw them pour the boiling water on him,
she cried and felt badly. This old woman had a very good heart. She went
home and lay down by her dog, and kept crying, she felt so sorry for this
poor man. Pretty soon she heard people shouting out the orders of the
chief. They said: "Listen! listen! To-morrow we move camp. Get ready now
and pack up everything. Before we go, the Piegan man will be given to the
Then the old woman knew what to do. She tied a piece of buckskin around her
dog's mouth, so he could not bark, and then she took him way out in the
timber and tied him where he could not be seen. She also filled a small
sack with pemmican, dried meat, and berries, and put it near the dog.
In the morning the people rose early. They smoothed a cotton-wood tree, by
taking off the bark, and painted it black. Then they stood the Piegan up
against it, and fastened him there with a great many ropes. When they had
tied him so he could not move, they painted his face black, and the chief
Snake made a prayer, and gave him to the Sun.
Every one was now busy getting ready to move camp. This old woman had lost
her dog, and kept calling out for him and looking all around. "Tsis'-i!"
she cried. "Tsis'-i! Come here. Knock the dog on the head! Wait till I
find him, and I'll break his neck."
[Footnote 1: A Blackfoot curse.]
The people were now all packed up, and some had already started on the
trail. "Don't wait for me," the old woman said. "Go on, I'll look again for
my dog, and catch up with you."
When all were gone, the old woman went and untied her dog, and then, going
up to where the Piegan was tied, she cut the ropes, and he was free. But
already the man was very weak, and he fell down on the ground. She rubbed
his limbs, and pretty soon he felt better. The old woman was so sorry for
him that she cried again, and kissed him. Then the man cried, too. He was
so glad that some one pitied him. By and by he ate some of the food the old
woman had given him, and felt strong again. He said to her in signs: "I am
not done. I shall go back home now, but I will come again. I will bring all
the Piegans with me, and we will have revenge."
"You say well," signed the old woman.
"Help me," again said the man. "If, on the road you are travelling, this
camp should separate, mark the trail my wife takes with a stick. You, too,
follow the party she goes with, and always put your lodge at the far end of
the village. When I return with my people, I will enter your lodge, and
tell you what to do."
"I take your speech," replied the old woman. "As you say, so it shall be."
Then she kissed him again, and started on after her people. The man went to
the river, swam across, and started for the North.
Why are the people crying? Why is all this mourning? Ah! the poor man has
returned home, and told how those who went with him were killed. He has
told them the whole story. They are getting ready for war. Every one able
to fight is going with this man back to the Snakes. Only a few will be
left to guard the camp. The mother of that bad woman is going, too. She has
sharpened her axe, and told what she will do when she sees her
daughter. All are ready. The best horses have been caught up and saddled,
and the war party has started,—hundreds and hundreds of warriors. They are
strung out over the prairie as far as you can see.
When they got to the Missouri River, the poor man showed them where the
lodge in which they had tortured him had stood. He took them to see the
tree, where he had been bound. The black paint was still on it.
From here, they went slowly. Some young men were sent far ahead to
scout. The second day, they came back to the main body, and said they had
found a camping place just deserted, and that there the trail forked. The
poor man then went ahead, and at the forks he found a willow twig stuck in
the ground, pointing to the left hand trail. When the others came up, he
said to them: "Take care of my horse now, and travel slowly. I will go
ahead on foot and find the camp. It must be close. I will go and see that
old woman, and find out how things are."
Some men did not want him to do this; they said that the old woman might
tell about him, and then they could not surprise the camp.
"No," replied the man. "It will not be so. That old woman is almost the
same as my mother. I know she will help us."
He went ahead carefully, and near sunset saw the camp. When it was dark,
he crept near it and entered the old woman's lodge. She had placed it
behind, and a little way off from, the others. When he went in the old
woman was asleep, but the fire was still burning a little. He touched her,
and she jumped up and started to scream; but he put his hand on her mouth,
and when she saw who it was she laughed and kissed him. "The Piegans have
come," he told her. "We are going to have revenge on this camp to-night. Is
my wife here?"
"Still here," replied the old woman. "She is chief now. They think her
medicine very strong."
"Tell your friends and relations," said the Piegan, "that you have had a
dream, and that they must move into the brush yonder. Have them stay there
with you, and they will not be hurt. I am going now to get my people."
It was very late in the night. Most of the Snakes were in bed and
asleep. All at once the camp was surrounded with warriors, shouting the war
cry and shooting, stabbing, and knocking people on the head as fast as they
came out of the lodges.
That Piegan woman cried out: "Don't hurt me. I am a Piegan. Are any of my
"Many of your relations are here," some one said. "They will protect you."
Some young men seized and tied her, as her husband had said to do. They had
hard work to keep her mother from killing her. "Hai yah!" the old woman
cried. "There is my Snake woman daughter. Let me split her head open."
The fight was soon over. The Piegans killed the people almost as fast as
they came out of their lodges. Some few escaped in the darkness. When the
fight was over, the young warriors gathered up a great pile of lodge poles
and brush, and set fire to it. Then the poor man tore the dress off his bad
wife, tied the scalp of her dead Snake man around her neck, and told her to
dance the scalp dance in the fire. She cried and hung back, calling out for
pity. The people only laughed and pushed her into the fire. She would run
through it, and then those on the other side would push her back. So they
kept her running through the fire, until she fell down and died.
The old Snake woman had come out of the brush with her relations. Because
she had been so good, the Piegans gave her, and those with her, one-half of
all the horses and valuable things they had taken. "Kyi!" said the Piegan
chief. "That is all for you, because you helped this poor man. To-morrow
morning we start back North. If your heart is that way, go too and live
with us." So these Snakes joined the Piegans and lived with them until they
died, and their children married with the Piegans, and at last they were no
longer Snake people.
[Footnote 1: When the Hudson's Bay Company first established a fort at
Edmonton, a daughter of one of these Snakes married a white employee of the
company, named, in Blackfoot, O-wai, Egg.]