Origin of the Medicine Pipe, by George Bird
Thunder—you have heard him, he is everywhere. He roars in the mountains,
he shouts far out on the prairie. He strikes the high rocks, and they fall
to pieces. He hits a tree, and it is broken in slivers. He strikes the
people, and they die. He is bad. He does not like the towering cliff, the
standing tree, or living man. He likes to strike and crush them to the
ground. Yes! yes! Of all he is most powerful; he is the one most
strong. But I have not told you the worst: he sometimes steals women.
Long ago, almost in the beginning, a man and his wife were sitting in their
lodge, when Thunder came and struck them. The man was not killed. At first
he was as if dead, but after a while he lived again, and rising looked
about him. His wife was not there. "Oh, well," he thought, "she has gone to
get some water or wood," and he sat a while; but when the sun had
under-disappeared, he went out and inquired about her of the people. No one
had seen her. He searched throughout the camp, but did not find her. Then
he knew that Thunder had stolen her, and he went out on the hills alone and
When morning came, he rose and wandered far away, and he asked all the
animals he met if they knew where Thunder lived. They laughed, and would
not answer. The Wolf said: "Do you think we would seek the home of the only
one we fear? He is our only danger. From all others we can run away; but
from him there is no running. He strikes, and there we lie. Turn back! go
home! Do not look for the dwelling-place of that dreadful one." But the man
kept on, and travelled far away. Now he came to a lodge,—a queer lodge,
for it was made of stone; just like any other lodge, only it was made of
stone. Here lived the Raven chief. The man entered.
"Welcome, my friend," said the chief of Ravens. "Sit down, sit down." And
food was placed before him.
Then, when he had finished eating, the Raven said, "Why have you come?"
"Thunder has stolen my wife," replied the man. "I seek his dwelling-place
that I may find her."
"Would you dare enter the lodge of that dreadful person?" asked the
Raven. "He lives close by here. His lodge is of stone, like this; and
hanging there, within, are eyes,—the eyes of those he has killed or
stolen. He has taken out their eyes and hung them in his lodge. Now, then,
dare you enter there?"
"No," replied the man. "I am afraid. What man could look at such dreadful
things and live?"
"No person can," said the Raven. "There is but one old Thunder fears. There
is but one he cannot kill. It is I, it is the Ravens. Now I will give you
medicine, and he shall not harm you. You shall enter there, and seek among
those eyes your wife's; and if you find them, tell that Thunder why you
came, and make him give them to you. Here, now, is a raven's wing. Just
point it at him, and he will start back quick; but if that fail, take
this. It is an arrow, and the shaft is made of elk-horn. Take this, I say,
and shoot it through the lodge."
"Why make a fool of me?" the poor man asked. "My heart is sad. I am
crying." And he covered his head with his robe, and wept.
"Oh," said the Raven, "you do not believe me. Come out, come out, and I
will make you believe." When they stood outside, the Raven asked, "Is the
home of your people far?"
"A great distance," said the man.
"Can you tell how many days you have travelled?"
"No," he replied, "my heart is sad. I did not count the days. The berries
have grown and ripened since I left."
"Can you see your camp from here?" asked the Raven.
The man did not speak. Then the Raven rubbed some medicine on his eyes and
said, "Look!" The man looked, and saw the camp. It was close. He saw the
people. He saw the smoke rising from the lodges.
"Now you will believe," said the Raven. "Take now the arrow and the wing,
and go and get your wife."
So the man took these things, and went to the Thunder's lodge. He entered
and sat down by the door-way. The Thunder sat within and looked at him with
awful eyes. But the man looked above, and saw those many pairs of eyes.
Among them were those of his wife.
"Why have you come?" said the Thunder in a fearful voice.
"I seek my wife," the man replied, "whom you have stolen. There hang her
"No man can enter my lodge and live," said the Thunder; and he rose to
strike him. Then the man pointed the raven wing at the Thunder, and he fell
back on his couch and shivered. But he soon recovered, and rose again. Then
the man fitted the elk-horn arrow to his bow, and shot it through the lodge
of rock; right through that lodge of rock it pierced a jagged hole, and let
the sunlight in.
"Hold," said the Thunder. "Stop; you are the stronger. Yours the great
medicine. You shall have your wife. Take down her eyes." Then the man cut
the string that held them, and immediately his wife stood beside him.
"Now," said the Thunder, "you know me. I am of great power. I live here in
summer, but when winter comes, I go far south. I go south with the
birds. Here is my pipe. It is medicine. Take it, and keep it. Now, when I
first come in the spring, you shall fill and light this pipe, and you shall
pray to me, you and the people. For I bring the rain which makes the
berries large and ripe. I bring the rain which makes all things grow, and
for this you shall pray to me, you and all the people."
Thus the people got the first medicine pipe. It was long ago.