Old Man Doctors, by George Bird Grinnell
A pis'kun had been built, and many buffalo had been run in and killed. The
camp was full of meat. Great sheets of it hung in the lodges and on the
racks outside; and now the women, having cut up all the meat, were working
on the hides, preparing some for robes, and scraping the hair from others,
to make leather.
About this time, Old Man came along. He had come from far and was very
tired, so he entered the first lodge he came to and sat down. Now this
lodge belonged to three old women. Their husbands had died or been killed
in war, and they had no relations to help them, so they were very
poor. After Old Man had rested a little, they set a dish of food before
him. It was dried bull meat, very tough, and some pieces of belly fat.
"Hai'-yah ho!" cried Old Man, after he had tasted a piece. "You treat me
badly. A whole pis'kun of fat buffalo just killed; the camp red with meat,
and here these old women give me tough bull meat and belly fat to eat.
Hurry now! roast me some ribs and a piece of back fat."
"Alas!" exclaimed one old woman. "We have no good food. All our helpers are
dead, and we take what others leave. Bulls and poor cows are all the people
"Ah!" said Old Man, "how poor! you are very poor. Take courage now. I will
help you. To-morrow they will run another band into the pis'kun. I will be
there. I will kill the fattest cow, and you can have it all."
Then the old women were glad. They talked to one another, saying, "Very good
heart, Old Man. He helps the poor. Now we will live. We will have marrow
guts and liver. We will have paunch and fat kidneys."
Old Man said nothing more. He ate the tough meat and belly fat, and rolled
up in his robe and went to sleep.
Morning came. The people climbed the bluffs and went out on to the prairie,
where they hid behind the piles of rock and bushes, which reached far out
from the cliff in lines which were always further and further apart. After
a while, he who leads the buffalo was seen coming, bringing a large band
after him. Soon they were inside the lines. The people began to rise up
behind them, shouting and waving their robes. Now they reached the edge of
the bluff. The leaders tried to stop and turn, but those behind kept
pushing on, and nearly the whole band dashed down over the rocks, only a
few of the last ones turning aside and escaping.
The lodges were now deserted. All the people were gone to the pis'kun to
kill the buffalo and butcher them. Where was Old Man? Did he take his bow
and arrows and go to the pis'kun to kill a fat cow for the poor old women?
No. He was sneaking around, lifting the door-ways of the lodges and
looking in. Bad person, Old Man. In the chiefs lodge he saw a little child,
a girl, asleep. Outside was a buffalo's gall, and taking a long stick he
dipped the end of it in the gall; and then, reaching carefully into the
lodge, he drew it across the lips of the child asleep. Then he threw the
stick away, and went in and sat down. Soon the girl awoke and began to
cry. The gall was very bitter and burned her lips.
"Pity me, Old Man," she said. "Take this fearful thing from my lips."
"I do not doctor unless I am paid," he replied. Then said the girl: "See
all my father's Weapons hanging there. His shield, war head-dress, scalps,
and knife. Cure me now, and I will give you some of them."
"I have more of such things than I want," he replied. (What a liar! he had
none at all.)
Again said the girl, "Pity me, help me now, and I will give you my father's
white buffalo robe."
"I have plenty of white robes," replied Old Man. (Again he lied, for he
never had one.)
"Old Man," again said the girl, "in this lodge lives a widow woman, my
father's relation. Remove this fearful thing from my lips, and I will have
my father give her to you."
"Now you speak well," replied Old Man. "I am a little glad. I have many
wives" (he had none), "but I would just as soon have another one."
So he went close to the child and pretended to doctor her, but instead of
that, he killed her and ran out. He went to the old women's lodge, and
wrapped a strip of cowskin about his head, and commenced to groan, as if he
was very sick.
Now the people began to come from the pis'kun, carrying great loads of
meat. This dead girl's mother came, and when she saw her child lying dead,
and blood on the ground, she ran back crying out: "My daughter has been
killed! My daughter has been killed!"
Then all the people began to shout out and run around, and the warriors and
young men looked in the lodges, and up and down the creek in the brush, but
they could find no one who might have killed the child.
Then said the father of the dead girl: "Now, to-day, we will find out who
killed this child. Every man in this camp—every young man, every old
man—must come and jump across the creek; and if any one does not jump
across, if he falls in the water, that man is the one who did the
killing." All heard this, and they began to gather at the creek, one behind
another; and the women and children went to look on, for they wanted to see
the person who had killed the little child. Now they were ready. They were
about to jump, when some one cried out, "Old Man is not here."
"True," said the chief, looking around, "Old Man is not here." And he sent
two young men to bring him.
"Old Man!" they cried out, when they came to the lodge, "a child has been
killed. We have all got to jump to find out who did it. The chief has sent
for you. You will have to jump, too."
"Ki'-yo!" exclaimed the old women. "Old Man is very sick. Go off, and let
him alone. He is so sick he could not kill meat for us to-day."
"It can't be helped," the young men replied. "The chief says every one must
So Old Man went out toward the creek very slowly, and very much scared. He
did not know what to do. As he was going along he saw a ni'-po-muk-i
and he said: "Oh my little brother, pity me. Give me some of your power to
jump the creek, and here is my necklace. See how pretty it is. I will give
it to you."
[Footnote 1: The chickadee.]
So they traded; Old Man took some of the bird's power, and the bird took
Old Man's necklace and put it on.
Now they jump. Wo'-ka-hi! they jump way across and far on to the
ground. Now they jump; another! another! another! Now it comes Old Man's
turn. He runs, he jumps, he goes high, and strikes the ground far beyond
any other person's jump. Now comes the ni'-po-muk-i. "Wo'-ka-hi!" the men
shout. "Ki'-yo!" cry the women, "the bird has fallen in the creek." The
warriors are running to kill him. "Wait! Hold on!" cries the bird. "Let me
speak a few words. Every one knows I am a good jumper. I can jump further
than any one; but Old Man asked me for some of my power, and I gave it to
him, and he gave me this necklace. It is very heavy and pulled me
down. That is why I fell into the creek."
Then the people began to shout and talk again, some saying to kill the
bird, and some not, when Old Man shouted out: "Wait, listen to me. What's
the use of quarrelling or killing anybody? Let us go back, and I will
doctor the child alive."
Good words. The people were glad. So they went back, and got ready for the
doctoring. First, Old Man ordered a large fire built in the lodge where the
dead girl was lying. Two old men were placed at the back of the lodge,
facing each other. They had spears, which they held above their heads and
were to thrust back and forth at each other in time to the singing. Near
the door-way were placed two old women, facing each other. Each one held a
puk'-sah-tchis,—a maul,—with which she was to beat time to the
singing. The other seats in the lodge were taken by people who were to
sing. Now Old Man hung a big roll of belly fat close over the fire, so that
the hot grease began to drip, and everything was ready, and the singing
began. This was Old Man's song:—
[Footnote 1: A round or oblong stone, to which a handle was bound by
rawhide thongs, used for breaking marrow bones, etc.]
Ahk-sa'-k[=e]-wah, Ahk-sa'-k[=e]-wah, Ahk-sa'-k[=e]-wah, etc. I don't
care, I don't care, I don't care.
And so they sung for a long time, the old men jabbing their spears at each
other, and the old women pretending to hit each other with their mauls.
After a while they rested, and Old Man said: "Now I want every one to shut
their eyes. No one can look. I am going to begin the real doctoring." So
the people shut their eyes, and the singing began again. Then Old Man took
the dripping hot fat from the fire, gave it a mighty swing around the
circle in front of the people's faces, jumped out the door-way, and ran
off. Every one was burned. The two old men wounded each other with their
spears. The old women knocked each other on the head with their mauls. The
people cried and groaned, wiped their burned faces, and rushed out the
door; but Old Man was gone. They saw him no more.