All story: The Mustering of the Herds
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The Mustering of the Herds

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

MOO! Moo!" rang out the deep, air-rending call the gathering call of the herds! Hinpoha, or Curly Hair, the young bison mother, threw back her head and listened nervously. She stood over her new- born baby in a hidden nook upon the Shaeyela River, that flows through the Land of Mystery.
No one was there to see, except two magpies which were loitering in the neighbor- hood, apparently waiting for the mother to go away that they might tease the helpless infant.
Tenderly she licked the moist hair of her dear one's coat, while the beautiful black- and-white bird with the long tail talked to his mate of mischief and plunder. Then the mother gently poked and pushed her little one, persuading her to get up and try her tiny, soft-soled feet. It was evident that she was not a common bison calf. Her color was not reddish brown, but a soft, creamy white, like that of a sheep the color of royalty !
She toddled about unsteadily upon the thick mat of buffalo-grass. As she learned to walk, step by step, the young mother followed her with anxious eyes. Presently the little creature made a feeble attempt at running. She lifted up her woolly tail, elevated a pair of transparent, leaf -like ears, and skipped awkwardly around her mother, who never took her black, limpid eyes from her wonderful first-born.
“ Moo ! Moo !" Again Hinpoha heard the impatient gathering call. Hastily she pushed her baby with caressing nose into an old buffalo - wallow overhung with tall grass, making a little cosey nest. The drooping grass, like the robe of the Indian, concealed the little calf completely.
'You must stay here," she signed. "Do not open your eyes to any stranger. Do not move at all."
Hinpoha trotted northward, following the ravine in which she had hidden her calf. No sooner had she disappeared from sight than those old plunderers, magpie and his mate, swooped down from the lone willow-tree that overhung the spot. Both perched lightly upon the edge of the buffalo-wallow. They saw and heard nothing. They looked at each other in surprise. ' Ka, ka, ka," they talked together, wondering what had become of the baby bison.
Up the long ascent Hinpoha ran, until she reached a point from which she could command the valley and the place where she had hidden away her treasure. Her watchful eyes ranged round the horizon and swept the surrounding country. There was not a wolf there, she thought. She could see the lone willow-tree that marked the spot. Beyond, the rough ridges and occasional buttes were studded with pines and cedars, while the white pillars and towers of the Bad Lands rose grandly in the distance.
As she went on to rejoin her herd upon the plains of the Shaeyela, she beheld upon the flats the bison women gathered in great, black masses, while on either side of them the buffalo men roamed in small groups or singly, like walking pine-trees. Shaeyela had never looked more lovely than on that morning in early spring --a warm, bluish haze brooding over it --the big, ungainly cottonwoods, their branches knotted and gnarled like the naked limbs of the old men, guarding the thin silver line of the river.
Hinpoha ran swiftly down the last descent, now and then pausing for a moment to announce her coming. Ordinarily she would have returned to her people quietly and un- noticed, but she was excited by the unexpected summons and moved to reply. As she entered the valley she saw other buffalo women returning from their spring nurseries in the gulches, giving their responses as they came. There was an undertone murmur throughout the great concourse. All seemed to be moving toward the edge of the belt of timber that clothed the river - banks. They pressed through a scattered growth of gray-green buffalo-berry bushes.
By the signs of the buffalo women and the sound of their lowings, Hinpoha knew that this was a funeral gathering. She hastened on with mingled curiosity and anxiety. Within a circle of the thorny buffalo-berry trees, under a shivering poplar, lay the lifeless form of Ptesanwee, the white buffalo cow, the old queen of the Shaeyela herd.
Here all the dusky woman of the plains had gathered to pay their last respects to their dead leader. Hinpoha pushed her way into the midst of the throng for a parting look. She joined in the wailing of the other bison women, and the noise of their mourning echoed like distant thunder from the opposite cliffs of the Shaeyela.

No bull buffalo was allowed to come near while the women hovered about their dead leader. These had to return to their nurseries at last, and then it was that the buffalo men approached in great numbers. The sound of their mourning was great! They tore up the sod with their hoofs as they wailed loudly for the dead.
The sun hovered over the western hills ere the gathering dispersed. The dead was left to the silent night to cover, and the lonely poplar sang a soft funeral song over her.
Hinpoha found her baby fast asleep when she reached her nursery upon Willow Creek. The little creature was fed, and played about her mother, grazing in the quiet valley, where none might see the cradle of their future queen.
At the next mid-day, Hinpoha saw many of the bison people fleeing by her secret camp. She at once suspected the neighborhood of the Red hunters. ' I shall go away, so that they will not find my teepee and my baby," she said to herself. Accordingly she came out and followed the trail of the fugitives in order to deceive the wild man, but at night she returned to her nursery.
Upon the Shaeyela River, below the camp of the buffalo people, the wild Red men were likewise encamped in great numbers. Spring was here at last, and nearly all of the snow had gone, even from the gulches and deep ravines.
A joyous hunting song pealed forth loudly from the council-lodge of the Two Kettle band. The great drum beat a prelude to the announcement heralded throughout the camp.
"Hear ye, hear ye, warriors! The game scout has come back with the news that the south fork of the Shaeyela is full of the buffalo people. It is the will of the council that the young men should now make the great spring hunt of the bison. Fill your quivers with good arrows. Try your bows. Heya, heya, ha-a-a-a!" Thus the herald circled the large encampment.
'Woo! woo!" came from the council-lodge a soldier-call, for the young men to saddle up. At the same time, the familiar drum-beat was again heard. The old men, the council men, were now left alone to per- form those ceremonies which were held to insure good hunting.
The long- stemmed pipe was reverently lifted from the sacred ground which is its resting-place. The chief medicine-man, old Buffalo Ghost, took it in his sinewy hands, with the mouth-piece foremost. He held it toward heaven, then to the earth, and gave the "spirit talk." Having ended, he lighted and passed it around the circle from left to right. Again one struck the drum and sang in a high minor key. All joined in the refrain, and two got up and danced around the fire. This is done to call the spirits of the bison, and charm them into a happy departure for the spirit land.
Meantime, the young warriors had mounted their trained buffalo-ponies, and with a great crowd on foot were moving up the valley of the Shaeyela. From every divide they surveyed the country ahead, hop- ing to find the buffalo in great numbers and to take them unawares. The chief hunter ascended a hill in advance of the others. "Woo!" he called, and waved his right hand with the assurance of a successful hunt.
The warriors prepared for the charge just as they would prepare for an attack upon the enemy. All preliminary orders were given. The men were lined out on three sides, driving the herd toward the river. When the signal was given, ponies and men sped forward with loosened hair and flying lariat. The buffalo were compelled to run toward the river, but some refused to run, while many more broke through the attacking lines and fled across the Shaeyela and into the woods. There were some who stood their ground and formed an outward- facing circle around the low little buffalo-berry -hung grave. To this group many Red hunters came yelling and singing.
"Hanta, hanta yo!" the leader cautioned, vainly. The first man who ventured near the menacing circle was instantly tossed upon the horns of an immense bull. He lay motionless where he fell.
Now the angry bison were left alone for the time, while the hunters withdrew to a ' near-by hill for consultation. The signal of distress had been given, and soon the ridges were black with riders. The unfortunate hunter and his horse lay dead upon the plain !

" It is not the custom of the buffalo people to fight thus. They have been known to form a ring to defend themselves against wolves, but against man never!" declared the game leader. "It is a sign of which we ought to discover the meaning."
"You have heard their lowing," remarked another. "It is their habit to mourn thus when they discover one of their number lying dead."
Suddenly the buffalo women started away in single file, the bulls following; and walking slowly, without molestation from any, they all disappeared in the direction taken by the fleeing herd. The hunters now eagerly advanced to the spot where lay dead the white bison cow, the queen of the buffalo people. The strange action of her followers was explained . Every warrior approached the place as if treading upon hallowed ground. They tied or hobbled their ponies at some distance, and all came with tobacco or arrows in their hands. They reverently addressed the dead cow and placed the tobacco gentry around her for an offering. Thus strangely ended the first spring hunt of that year upon the Shaeyela, the ancient home of the buffalo people, where always the buffalo woman chief, the white cow, is seen the most sacred and honored animal among the Sioux!
The grass of the Bad Lands region was now spread in fresh green, all beaded and porcupined with the early crocuses. The young queen was well grown for her age, and could run as well as her mother for a mile or two. Along Willow Creek she had been made to try her speed many times daily.
"Come," she signed to her, one bright May day, and they both set out for the forks of the Shaeyela, where once more the buffalo people were assembled by thousands. Many of the mothers had already taken their children back to the herd. As Hinpoha passed the lone bulls who are wont to wander away from the rest for undisturbed feeding, they all turned to gaze at her and her strange daughter. Each gave her sonorous greeting, and some even followed after at a distance in wonder and admiration.
When they reached a small group of buffalo women, there was much commotion. One of the other mothers came forward to challenge Hinpoha to a friendly contest, while the rest formed a ring around them, evidently admiring the little calf. The black eyes and hoofs setting off her creamy whiteness gave her a singularly picturesque appearance.
After the friendly tussle, the mother and daughter continued on their journey to the forks of the Shaeyela. As they passed more and more of their people, the "Moo" was given continuously, announcing the coming of the new queen of the tribe. When they arrived at the place of meeting, the excitement was great. Everywhere buffalo people were running toward them to greet them with the "Moo!" The little folks ran up full of curiosity, turned large eyes and ears on the stranger, and then fled away with up- lifted tail. The big, shaggy-haired old men came, too, and regarded her gravely. Hinpoha was proud of her conspicuous position ; yet it was a trying reception, for every kind female caller felt obliged to offer her a friendly trial of strength. At such times the little calf watched her mother with excited interest.
The day was warm, the air soft and summer-like. Whenever there is a great gathering of the bison, there are many contests and dances. So it was on this occasion. It was their festival time, and the rumble of their voices was heard by the other tribes of the prairie a great way off.
Again the herald's song pealed forth upon the sunshiny stillness of a May morning. Every ear was turned to catch the expected announcement of the wise men.
"Ye soldier hunters," was the summons, "come home to the teyoteepee!" Many of the warriors, wrapped in their robes, walked slowly toward the council-lodge in the middle of the Indian encampment.
"Hear ye, men and warriors!" exclaimed the chief of the teyoteepee, when all were met together. "Our game scout has returned with the word that upon the forks of the Shaeyela the buffalo people are holding their summer gathering. Furthermore, he says that he saw a young buffalo chief wom- an a white calf! In the morning all the hunters are commanded to make an attack upon the herd. If it be possible, we shall capture the little queen.
"Hear ye, hear ye! We shall dance the great buffalo - dance to - night ! The Great Mystery is good to us. Few men are so favored as to see the queen of the buffalo people even once in a lifetime.

 Eyuha nahon po !" he continued, "hearken to the legend that is told by the old men. The buffalo chief woman is the noblest of all animals the most beloved of her people. Where she is, there is the greatest gathering of her tribe there is plenty for the Indian! They who see her shall be fortunate in hunting and in war. If she be captured, the people who take her need never go hungry. When the bison is scarce, the exhibition of her robe in the buffalo-dance will bring back many to the neighborhood!
" To-morrow we will make a great hunt. Be strong of heart, for her people will not flee, as is their wont, but will fight for her!"
'Ho, ho! hi, hi!" replied all the warriors.
The buffalo were now holding their summer feasts and dances upon the Shaeyela River the tricky Shaeyela, who, like her sister, the Big Muddy, tears up her banks madly every spring freshet, thus changing her bed continually. The little hills define it abruptly, and the tributary creeks are indicated by a few dwarf pines and cedars, peeping forth like bears from the gulches. Upon the horizon the Bad Lands stand out in bold relief, their ruined pyramids and columns bespeaking the power of the Great Mystery.
Here at the forks the poplar-trees and buffalo-berry bushes glistened in fresh foliage, and the deep-yellow flowers of the wild bull-currant exhaled their musky odor. There was a wide, green plain for the buffalo people to summer in, and many had come to see their baby queen, for the white bison was always found in the midst of the greatest gathering of her people. No chief buffalo woman was ever seen with a little band.
The morning was good; the sun wore a broad smile, and his children upon the Shaeyela River, both bison and wild Red men, were happy in their own fashion. The little fires were sportively burning outside of each teepee, where the morning meal had been prepared. It had been decreed by the council that the warriors should paint, after the custom of warfare, when they attacked the buffalo chief woman and her people upon the forks of the Shaeyela.
Upon the slope of a long ridge the hunters gathered. Their dusky faces and naked bodies were extravagantly painted; their locks fantastically dressed; even the ponies were decorated. Upon the green plain be- low the bison were quietlv grazing, and in the very centre of the host the little queen frisked about her mother. It was fully four arrow-flights distant from the outer edge of the throng, and sentinel bulls were posted still farther out, in precaution for her safety.
The Indians overlooking the immense herd had already pointed out the white calf in awe-struck whispers. To them she looked like an earth-visiting spirit in her mysterious whiteness. There were several thousand pairs of horns against their few hundred warriors, yet they knew that if they should succeed in capturing this treasure, the story would be told of them for generations to come. It was sufficient honor for the risk of a brave man's life.
"Hukahay! hukahay!" came the signal. Down the slope they sped to the attack with all the spirit and intrepidity of the gray wolf. " Woo ! woo !" came from every throat in a hoarse shout. The earth under their ponies' feet fairly trembled.
The buffalo bull sentinels instantly gave the alarm and started back in the direction of the main body. A cloud of dust arose toward the sun as the mighty gathering was set in motion. Deadly arrows flew like winged things, and the oeating of thousands of hoofs made a noise like thunder. Yet the buffalo people would not break the circle around the white calf, and for many minutes no Red man could penetrate it.
At last old Zuya, a warrior of note, came swiftly to the front upon his war-steed. He held high above his head a blazing torch, and the panic-stricken bison fled before him in every direction. Close behind him came
Zuya's young son, Unspeshnee, with a long lariat coiled in his hand, and the two fol- lowed hard upon the fleeing buffalo people. ' ' Wa - wa - wa - wa !" came forth from hundreds of throats, like the rolling of many stones upon new ice. "Unspeshnee! Unspeshnee has lassoed the buffalo chief woman!"
Amid a great gathering of curious people stood the white calf, wailing continually, and a solemn rejoicing pervaded the camp of the Red hunters. Already the ceremonies were in progress to celebrate this event.
" It is the will of the Great Mystery," said they, "to recall the spirit of the white chief. We shall preserve her robe, the token of plenty and good-fortune! We shall never be hungry henceforth for the flesh of her nation. This robe shall be handed down from generation to generation, and wherever it is found there shall be abundance of meat for the Indian."


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