Two War Trails, by George Bird Grinnell
Many years ago there lived in the Blood camp a boy named Screech Owl
(A'-tsi-tsi). He was rather a lonely boy, and did not care to go with other
boys. He liked better to be by himself. Often he would go off alone, and
stay out all night away from the camp. He used to pray to all kinds of
birds and animals that he saw, and ask them to take pity on him and help
him, saying that he wanted to be a warrior. He never used paint. He was a
fine looking young man, and he thought it was foolish to use paint to make
oneself good looking.
When Screech Owl was about fourteen years old, a large party of Blackfeet
were starting to war against the Crees and the Assinaboines. The young man
said to his father: "Father, with this war party many of my cousins are
going. I think that now I am old enough to go to war, and I would like to
join them." His father said, "My son, I am willing; you may go." So he
joined the party.
His father gave his son his own war horse, a black horse with a white spot
on its side—a very fast horse. He offered him arms, but the boy refused
them all, except a little trapping axe. He said, "I think this hatchet will
be all that I shall need." Just as they were about to start, his father
gave the boy his own war headdress. This was not a war bonnet, but a plume
made of small feathers, the feathers of thunder birds, for the thunder bird
was his father's medicine. He said to the boy, "Now, my son, when you go
into battle, put this plume in your head, and wear it as I have worn it."
The party started and travelled north-east, and at length they came to
where Fort Pitt now stands, on the Saskatchewan River. When they had got
down below Fort Pitt, they saw three riders, going out hunting. These men
had not seen the war party. The Blackfeet started around the men, so as to
head them off when they should run. When they saw the men, the Screech Owl
got off his horse, and took off all his clothes, and put on his father's
war plume, and began to ride around, singing his father's war song. The
older warriors were getting ready for the attack, and when they saw this
young boy acting in this way, they thought he was making fun of the older
men, and they said: "Here, look at this boy! Has he no shame? He had better
stay behind." When they got on their horses, they told him to stay behind,
and they charged the Crees. But the boy, instead of staying behind, charged
with them, and took the lead, for he had the best horse of all. He, a boy,
was leading the war party, and still singing his war song.
The three Crees began to run, and the boy kept gaining on them. They did
not want to separate, they kept together; and as the boy was getting closer
and closer, the last one turned in his saddle and shot at the Screech Owl,
but missed him. As the Cree fired, the boy whipped up his horse, and rode
up beside the Cree and struck him with his little trapping axe, and knocked
him off his horse. He paid no attention to the man that he had struck, but
rode on to the next Cree. As he came up with him, the Cree raised his gun
and fired, but just as he did so, the Blackfoot dropped down on the other
side of his horse, and the ball passed over him. He straightened up on his
horse, rode up by the Cree, and as he passed, knocked him off his horse
with his axe. When he knocked the second Cree off his horse, the Blackfeet,
who were following, whooped in triumph and to encourage him, shouting,
"A-wah-heh'" (Take courage). The boy was still singing his father's war
By this time, the main body of the Blackfeet were catching up with him. He
whipped his horse on both sides, and rode on after the third Cree, who was
also whipping his horse as hard as he could, and trying to get
away. Meantime, some of the Blackfeet had stopped to count coup on and
scalp the two dead Crees, and to catch the two ponies. Screech Owl at last
got near to the third Cree, who kept aiming his gun at him. The boy did not
want to get too close, until the Cree had fired his gun, but he was gaining
a little, and all the time was throwing himself from side to side on his
horse, so as to make it harder for the Cree to hit him. When he had nearly
overtaken the enemy, the Cree turned, raised his gun and fired; but the boy
had thrown himself down behind his horse, and again the ball passed over
him. He raised himself up on his horse, and rushed on the Cree, and struck
him in the side of the body with his axe, and then again, and with the
second blow, he knocked him off his horse.
The boy rode on a little further, stopped, and jumped off his horse, while
the rest of the Blackfeet had come up and were killing the fallen man. He
stood off to one side and watched them count coup on and scalp the dead.
The Blackfeet were much surprised at what the young man had done. After a
little while, the leader decided that they would go back to the camp from
which they had come. When he had returned from this war journey this young
man's name was changed from A'-tsi-tsi to E-k[=u]s'-kini (Low Horn). This
was his first war path.
From that time on the name of E-k[=u]s'-kini was often heard as that of one
doing some great deed.
E-k[=u]s'-kini started on his last war trail from the Black-foot crossing
(Su-yoh-pah'-wah-ku). He led a party of six Sarcees. He was the seventh
On the second day out, they came to the Red Deer's River. When they reached
this river, they found it very high, so they built a raft to cross on. They
camped on the other side. In crossing, most of their powder got wet. The
next morning, when they awoke, E-k[=u]s'-kini said: "Well, trouble is
coming for us. We had better go back from here. We started on a wrong
day. I saw in my sleep our bodies lying on the prairie, dead." Some of the
young men said: "Oh well, we have started, we had better go on. Perhaps it
is only a mistake. Let us go on and try to take some horses anyhow."
E-k[=u]s'-kini said: "Yes, that is very true. To go home is all
foolishness; but remember that it is by your wish that we are going on."
He wanted to go back, not on his own account, but for the sake of his young
men—to save his followers.
From there they went on and made another camp, and the next morning he said
to his young men: "Now I am sure. I have seen it for certain. Trouble is
before us." They camped two nights at this place and dried some of their
powder, but most of it was caked and spoilt. He said to his young men:
"Here, let us use some sense about this. We have no ammunition. We cannot
defend ourselves. Let us turn back from here." So they started across the
country for their camp.
They crossed the Red Deer's River, and there camped again. The next morning
E-k[=u]s'-kini said: "I feel very uneasy to-day. Two of you go ahead on the
trail and keep a close lookout. I am afraid that to-day we are going to see
our enemy." Two of the young men went ahead, and when they had climbed to
the top of a ridge and looked over it on to Sarvis Berry (Saskatoon) Creek,
they came back and told E-k[=u]s'-kini that they had seen a large camp of
people over there, and that they thought it was the Piegans, Bloods,
Blackfeet, and Sarcees, who had all moved over there together. Saskatoon
Creek was about twenty miles from the Blackfoot camp. He said: "No, it
cannot be our people. They said nothing about moving over here; it must be
a war party. It is only a few days since we left, and there was then no
talk of their leaving that camp. It cannot be they." The two young men
said: "Yes, they are our people. There are too many of them for a war
party. We think that the whole camp is there." They discussed this for some
little time, E-k[=u]s'-kini insisting that it could not be the Blackfoot
camp, while the young men felt sure that it was. These two men said, "Well,
we are going on into the camp now." Low Horn said: "Well, you may go. Tell
my father that I will come into the camp to-night. I do not like to go in
in the daytime, when I am not bringing back anything with me."
It was now late in the afternoon, and the two young men went ahead toward
the camp, travelling on slowly. A little after sundown, they came down the
hill on to the flat of the river, and saw there the camp. They walked down
toward it, to the edge of the stream, and there met two women, who had come
down after water. The men spoke to them in Sarcee, and said, "Where is the
Sarcee camp?" The women did not understand them, so they spoke again, and
asked the same question in Blackfoot. Then these two women called out in
the Cree language, "Here are two Blackfeet, who have come here and are
talking to us." When these men heard the women talk Cree, and saw what a
mistake they had made, they turned and ran away up the creek. They ran up
above camp a short distance, to a place where a few willow bushes were
hanging over the stream, and pushing through these, they hid under the
bank, and the willows above concealed them. The people in the camp came
rushing out, and men ran up the creek, and down, and looked everywhere for
the two enemies, but could find nothing of them.
Now when these people were running in all directions, hunting for these two
men, E-k[=u]s'-kini was coming down the valley slowly with the four other
Sarcees. He saw some Indians coming toward him, and supposed that they were
some of his own people, coming to meet him, with horses for him to ride. At
length, when they were close to him, and E-k[=u]s'-kini could see that they
were the enemy, and were taking the covers off their guns, he jumped to one
side and stood alone and began to sing his war song. He called out,
"Children of the Crees, if you have come to try my manhood, do your best."
In a moment or two he was surrounded, and they were shooting at him from
all directions. He called out again, "People, you can't kill me here, but
I will take my body to your camp, and there you shall kill me." So he
advanced, fighting his way toward the Cree camp, but before he started, he
killed two of the Crees there. His enemies kept coming up and clustering
about him: some were on foot and some on horseback. They were thick about
him on all sides, and they could not shoot much at him, for fear of killing
their own people on the other side.
One of the Sarcees fell. E-k[=u]s'-kini said to his men, "A-wah-heh'"
(Take courage). "These people cannot kill us here. Where that patch of
choke-cherry brush is, in the very centre of their camp, we will go and
take our stand." Another Sarcee fell, and now there were only three of
them. E-k[=u]s'-kini said to his remaining men: "Go straight to that patch
of brush, and I will fight the enemy off in front and at the sides, and so
will keep the way open for you. These people cannot kill us here. There are
too many of their own people. If we can get to that brush, we will hurt
them badly." All this time they were killing enemies, fighting bravely, and
singing their war songs. At last they gained the patch of brush, and then
with their knives they began to dig holes in the ground, and to throw up a
In the Cree camp was K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s (Round), the chief of the
Crees, who could talk Blackfoot well. He called out: "E-k[=u]s'-kini, there
is a little ravine running out of that brush patch, which puts into the
hills. Crawl out through that, and try to get away. It is not guarded."
E-k[=u]s'-kini replied: "No, Children of the Crees, I will not go. You must
remember that it is E-k[=u]s'-kini that you are fighting with—a man who
has done much harm to your people. I am glad that I am here. I am sorry for
only one thing; that is, that my ammunition is going to run out. To-morrow
you may kill me."
All night long the fight was kept up, the enemy shooting all the time, and
all night long E-k[=u]s'-kini sang his death song. K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s
called to him several times: "E-k[=u]s'-kini, you had better do what I tell
you. Try to get away." But he shouted back, "No," and laughed at them. He
said: "You have killed all my men. I am here alone, but you cannot kill
me." K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s, the chief, said: "Well, if you are there at
daylight in the morning, I will go into that brush and will catch you with
my hands. I will be the man who will put an end to you." E-k[=u]s'-kini
said: "K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s, do not try to do that. If you do, you shall
surely die." The patch of brush in which he had hidden had now been all
shot away, cut off by the bullets of the enemy.
When day came, E-k[=u]s'-kini called out: "Eh, K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s, it
is broad daylight now. I have run out of ammunition. I have not another
grain of powder in my horn. Now come and take me in your hands, as you
said you would." K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s answered: "Yes, I said that I was
the one who was going to catch you this morning. Now I am coming."
He took off all his clothes, and alone rushed for the
breastworks. E-k[=u]s'-kini's ammunition was all gone, but he still had one
load in his gun, and his dagger. K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s came on with his
gun at his shoulder, and E-k[=u]s'-kini sat there with his gun in his hand,
looking at the man who was coming toward him with the cocked gun pointed at
him. He was singing his death song. As K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s got up close,
and just as he was about to fire, E-k[=u]s'-kini threw up his gun and
fired, and the ball knocked off the Cree chiefs forefinger, and going on,
entered his right eye and came out at the temple, knocking the eye
out. K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s went down, and his gun flew a long way.
When K[)o]m-in'-[)a]-k[=u]s fell, the whole camp shouted the war whoop, and
cried out, "This is his last shot," and they all charged on him. They knew
that he had no more ammunition.
The head warrior of the Crees was named Bunch of Lodges. He was the first
man to jump inside the breastworks. As he sprang inside, E-k[=u]s'-kini
met him, and thrust his dagger through him, and killed him on the spot.
Then, as the enemy threw themselves on him, and he began to feel the knives
stuck into him from all sides, he gave a war whoop and laughed, and said,
"Only now I begin to think that I am fighting." All the time he was cutting
and stabbing, jumping backward and forward, and all the time laughing. When
he was dead, there were fifteen dead Crees lying about the
earthworks. E-k[=u]s'-kini body was cut into small pieces and scattered all
over the country, so that he might not come to life again.
That morning, before it was daylight, the two Sarcees who had hidden in the
willows left their hiding-place and made their way to the Blackfoot
camp. When they got there, they told that when they had left the Cree camp
E-k[=u]s'kini was surrounded, and the firing was terrible. When
E-k[=u]s'-kini's father heard this, he got on his horse and rode through
the camp, calling out: "My boy is surrounded; let us turn out and go to
help him. I have no doubt they are many tens to one, but he is powerful,
and he may be fighting yet." No time was lost in getting ready, and soon a
large party started for the Cree camp. When they came to the battle-ground,
the camp had been moved a long time. The old man looked about, trying to
gather up his son's body, but it was found only in small pieces, and not
more than half of it could be gathered up.
After the fight was over, the Crees started on down to go to their own
country. One day six Crees were travelling along on foot, scouting far
ahead. As they were going down into a little ravine, a grizzly bear jumped
up in front of them and ran after them. The bear overtook, and tore up,
five of them, one after another. The sixth got away, and came home to
camp. The Crees and the Blackfeet believe that this was the spirit of
E-k[=u]s'-kini, for thus he comes back. They think that he is still on the
earth, but in a different shape.
E-k[=u]s'-kini was killed about forty years ago. When he was killed, he was
still a boy, not married, only about twenty-four years old.