Origin of the I-Kun-Uh'-Kah-Tsi,
by George Bird Grinnell
THE BULL BAND
[Footnote 1: An account of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi, with a list of its
different bands or societies and their duties, will be found in the chapter
on Social Organization.]
The people had built a great pis'kun, very high and strong, so that no
buffalo could escape; but somehow the buffalo would not jump over the
cliff. When driven toward it, they would run nearly to the edge, and then,
swerving to the right or left, they would go down the sloping hills and
cross the valley in safety. So the people were hungry, and began to starve.
One morning, early, a young woman went to get water, and she saw a herd of
buffalo feeding on the prairie, right on the edge of the cliff above the
pis'kun. "Oh!" she cried out, "if you will only jump off into the pis'kun,
I will marry one of you." This she said for fun, not meaning it, and great
was her wonder when she saw the buffalo come jumping, tumbling, falling
over the cliff.
Now the young woman was scared, for a big bull with one bound cleared the
pis'kun walls and came toward her. "Come," he said, taking hold of her
arm. "No, no!" she replied pulling back. "But you said if the buffalo would
jump over, you would marry one; see, the pis'kun is filled." And without
more talk he led her up over the bluff, and out on to the prairie.
When the people had finished killing the buffalo and cutting up the meat,
they missed this young woman, and her relations were very sad, because they
could not find her. Then her father took his bow and quiver, and said, "I
will go and find her." And he went up over the bluff and out on the
After he had travelled some distance he came to a wallow, and a little way
off saw a herd of buffalo. While sitting by the wallow,—for he was
tired—and thinking what he should do, a magpie came and lit near him. "Ha!
Ma-me-at-si-kim-i" he said, "you are a beautiful bird; help me. Look
everywhere as you travel about, and if you see my daughter, tell her, 'Your
father waits by the wallow.'" The magpie flew over by the herd of buffalo,
and seeing the young woman, he lit on the ground near her, and commenced
picking around, turning his head this way and that way, and, when close to
her, he said, "Your father waits by the wallow." "Sh-h-h! sh-h-h!" replied
the girl, in a whisper, looking around scared, for her bull husband was
sleeping near by. "Don't speak so loud. Go back and tell him to wait."
"Your daughter is over there with the buffalo. She says 'wait!'" said the
magpie, when he had flown back to the man.
By and by the bull awoke, and said to his wife, "Go and get me some water."
Then the woman was glad, and taking a horn from his head she went to the
wallow. "Oh, why did you come?" she said to her father. "You will surely be
"I came to take my daughter home; come, let us hurry."
"No, no!" she replied; "not now. They would chase us and kill us. Wait till
he sleeps again, and I will try to get away," and, filling the horn with
water, she went back.
The bull drank a swallow of the water. "Ha!" said he, "a person is close by
"No one," replied the woman; but her heart rose up.
The bull drank a little more, and then he stood up and bellowed, "Bu-u-u!
m-m-ah-oo!" Oh, fearful sound! Up rose the bulls, raised their short tails
and shook them, tossed their great heads, and bellowed back. Then they
pawed the dirt, rushed about here and there, and coming to the wallow,
found that poor man. There they trampled him with their great hoofs, hooked
him and trampled him again, and soon not even a small piece of his body
could be seen.
Then his daughter cried, "Oh! ah! Ni-nah-ah! Oh! ah! Ni-nah-ah!" (My
father! My father!) "Ah!" said her bull husband, "you mourn for your
father. You see now how it is with us. We have seen our mothers, fathers,
many of our relations, hurled over the rocky walls, and killed for food by
your people. But I will pity you. I will give you one chance. If you can
bring your father to life, you and he can go back to your people."
Then the woman said to the magpie: "Pity me. Help me now; go and seek in
the trampled mud; try and find a little piece of my father's body, and
bring it to me."
The magpie flew to the place. He looked in every hole, and tore up the mud
with his sharp nose. At last he found something white; he picked the mud
from around it, and then pulling hard, he brought out a joint of the
backbone, and flew with it back to the woman.
She placed it on the ground, covered it with her robe, and then
sang. Removing the robe, there lay her father's body as if just dead. Once
more she covered it with the robe and sang, and when she took away the
robe, he was breathing, and then he stood up. The buffalo were surprised;
the magpie was glad, and flew round and round, making a great noise.
"We have seen strange things this day," said her bull husband. "He whom we
trampled to death, even into small pieces, is alive again. The people's
medicine is very strong. Now, before you go, we will teach you our dance
and our song. You must not forget them." When the dance was over, the
bull said: "Go now to your home, and do not forget what you have
seen. Teach it to the people. The medicine shall be a bull's head and a
robe. All the persons who are to be 'Bulls' shall wear them when they
[Footnote 1: Here the narrator repeated the song and showed the dance. As
is fitting to the dance of such great beasts, the air is slow and solemn,
and the step ponderous and deliberate.]
Great was the joy of the people, when the man returned with his
daughter. He called a council of the chiefs, and told them all that had
happened. Then the chiefs chose certain young men, and this man taught them
the dance and song of the bulls, and told them what the medicine should
be. This was the beginning of the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi.
THE OTHER BANDS
For a long time the buffalo had not been seen. The pis'kun was useless, and
the hunters could find no food for the people. Then a man who had two
wives, a daughter, and two sons, said: "I shall not stop here to
die. To-morrow we will move toward the mountains, where we shall perhaps
find deer and elk, sheep and antelope, or, if not, at least we shall find
plenty of beaver and birds. Thus we shall survive."
When morning came, they packed the travois, lashed them on the dogs, and
then moved out. It was yet winter, and they travelled slowly. They were
weak, and could go but a little way in a day. The fourth night came, and
they sat in their lodge, very tired and hungry. No one spoke, for those who
are hungry do not care for words. Suddenly the dogs began to bark, and
soon, pushing aside the door-curtain, a young man entered.
"O'kyi!" said the old man, and he motioned the stranger to a
They looked at this person with surprise and fear, for there was a black
wind which had melted the snow, and covered the prairie with water, yet
this person's leggings and moccasins were dry. They sat in silence a long
[Footnote 1: The "Chinook."]
Then said he: "Why is this? Why do you not give me some food?"
"Ah!" replied the old man, "you behold those who are truly poor. We have no
food. For many days the buffalo did not come in sight, and we shot deer and
other animals which people eat, and when all these had been killed, we
began to starve. Then said I, 'We will not stay here to starve to death';
and we started for the mountains. This is the fourth night of our travels."
"Ah!" said the young man. "Then your travels are ended. Close by here, we
are camped by our pis'kun. Many buffalo have been run in, and our
parfleches are filled with dried meat. Wait; I will go and bring you some."
As soon as he went out, they began to talk about this strange person. They
were very much afraid of him, and did not know what to do. The children
began to cry, and the women were trying to quiet them, when the young man
returned, bringing some meat and three pis-tsi-ko'-an.
[Footnote 2: Unborn buffalo calves.]
"Kyi!" said he. "To-morrow move over to our lodges. Do not be afraid. No
matter what strange things you see, do not fear. All will be your
friends. Now, one thing I caution you about. In this be careful. If you
should find an arrow lying about, in the pis'kun, or outside, no matter
where, do not touch it; neither you, nor your wives nor children." Having
said this, he went out.
Then the old man took his pipe and smoked and prayed, saying: "Hear now,
Sun! Listen, Above People. Listen, Under Water People. Now you have taken
pity. Now you have given us food. We are going to those strange ones, who
walk through water with dry moccasins. Protect us among those to-be-feared
people. Let us survive. Man, woman, child, give us long life; give us long
Once more the smell of roasting meat. The children played. They talked and
laughed who had so long been silent. They ate plenty and lay down and
Early in the morning, as soon as the sun rose, they took down their lodge,
packed up, and started for the strange camp. They found it was a wonderful
place. There by the pis'kun, and far up and down the valley were the lodges
of meat-eaters. They could not see them all, but close by they saw the
lodges of the Bear band, the Fox band, and the Badger band. The father of
the young man who had given them meat was chief of the Wolf band, and by
that band they pitched their lodge. Ah! That was a happy place. Food there
was plenty. All day people shouted out for feasts, and everywhere was heard
the sound of drums and song and dancing.
The new-comers went to the pis'kun for meat, and one of the children found
an arrow lying on the ground. It was a beautiful arrow, the stone point
long and sharp, the shaft round and straight. All around the people were
busy; no one was looking. The boy picked up the arrow and hid it under his
robe. Then there was a fearful noise. All the animals howled and growled,
and ran toward him. But the chief Wolf said: "Hold! We will let him go this
time; for he is young yet, and not of good sense." So they let him go.
When night came, some one shouted out for a feast, saying:
"Wo'-ka-hit! Wo'-ka-hit! Mah-kwe'-i-ke-tum-ok-ah-wah-hit.
Ke-t[)u]k'-ka-p[)u]k'-si-pim." ("Listen! Listen! Wolf, you are to
feast. Enter with your friend.") "We are asked," said the chief Wolf to his
new friend, and together they went to the lodge.
Within, the fire burned brightly, and many men were already there, the old
and wise of the Raven band. Hanging behind the seats were the writings
of many deeds. Food was placed before them,—pemmican of berries and dried
back fat; and when they had eaten, a pipe was lighted. Then spoke the
Raven chief: "Now, Wolf, I am going to give our new friend a present. What
[Footnote 1: That is, the painting on cowskin of the various battles and
adventures in which the owner of the lodge had taken part.]
"It is as you say," replied the Wolf. "Our new friend will be glad."
Then the Raven chief took from the long parfleche sack a slender stick,
beautifully dressed with many colored feathers; and on the end of it was
fastened the skin of a raven, head, wings, feet, and all. "We," he said,
"are the Mas-to-pah'-ta-kiks (Raven carriers, or those who bear the
Raven). Of all the above animals, of all the flyers, where is one so smart?
None. The Raven's eyes are sharp. His wings are strong. He is a great
hunter and never hungry. Far, far off on the prairie he sees his food, and
deep hidden in the pines it does not escape his eye. Now the song and the
When he had finished singing and dancing, he gave the stick to the man, and
said: "Take it with you, and when you have returned to your people, you
shall say: Now there are already the Bulls, and he who is the Raven chief
says: 'There shall be more, there shall be the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi, so that
the people may survive, and of them shall be the Raven carriers.' You will
call a council of the chiefs and wise old men, and they will choose the
persons. Teach them the song and the dance, and give them the medicine. It
shall be theirs forever."
Soon they heard another person shouting for a feast, and, going, they
entered the lodge of the Sin-o-pah chief. Here, too, were the old men
assembled. After they had eaten of that set before them, the chief said:
"Those among whom you are newly arrived are generous. They do not look at
their possessions, but give to the stranger and pity the poor. The Kit-fox
is a little animal, but what one is smarter? None. His hair is like the
dead prairie grass. His eyes are sharp, his feet noiseless, his brain
cunning. His ears receive the far-off sound. Here is our medicine, take
it." And he gave the stick. It was long, crooked at one end, wound with
fur, and tied here and there to it were eagle feathers. At the end was a
fox's skin. Again the chief said: "Hear our song. Do not forget it; and the
dance, too, you must remember. When you get home, teach them to the
Again they heard the feast shout, and he who called was the Bear chief. Now
when they had smoked, the chief said: "What say you, friend Wolf? Shall we
give our new friend something?"
"As you say," replied the Wolf. "It is yours to give."
Then said the Bear: "There are many animals, and some of them are
powerful. But the Bear is the strongest and bravest of all. He fears
nothing, and is always ready to fight." Then he put on a necklace of bear
claws, a belt of bear fur, and around his head a band of the fur; and sang
and danced. When he had finished, he gave them to the man, saying: "Teach
the people our song and dance, and give them this medicine. It is
It was now very late. The Seven Persons had arrived at midnight, yet again
they heard the feast shout from the far end of camp. In this lodge the men
were painted with streaks of red and their hair was all brushed to one
side. After the feast the chief said: "We are different from all the
others here. We are called the Műt-siks We are death. We know not
fear. Even if our enemies are in number like the grass, we do not turn
away, but fight and conquer. Bows are good weapons. Spears are better, but
our weapon is the knife." Then the chief sang and danced, and afterwards he
gave the Wolf's friend the medicine. It was a long knife, and many scalps
were tied on the handle. "This," he said, "is for the I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi."
[Footnote 1: Brave, courageous.]
Once more they were called to a feast and entered the Badger chief's
lodge. He taught the man the Badger song and dance and gave him the
medicine. It was a large rattle, ornamented with beaver claws and bright
feathers. They smoked two pipes in the Badger's lodge, and then went home
Early next day, the man and his family took down their lodge, and prepared
to move camp. Many women came and made them presents of dried meat,
pemmican, and berries. They were given so much they could not take it all
with them. It was many days before they joined the main camp, for the
people, too, had moved to the south after buffalo. As soon as the lodge was
pitched, the man called all the chiefs to come and feast, and he told them
all he had seen, and showed them the medicines. The chiefs chose certain
young men for the different bands, and this man taught them the songs and
dances, and gave each band their medicine.