All story: The Sky Warrior
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The Sky Warrior

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

THE all-night rain had ceased, and day-light appeared once more over the eastern buttes. Hooyah looked about her, anxiously scanning the gray dusk of morning for a glimpse of her mate, the while she spread her long pinions over three rollicking and mischievous youngsters as any eagle woman ever brooded. Her piercing gaze was directed oftenest toward the lone pine - - his favorite sleeping-tree. Surely it was time for him to call her out on the usual morning hunt.
The Eagle's Nest butte was well known to the wild hunters of that region, since it could be seen from a great distance and by many approaches. Its overhanging sides were all but inaccessible, and from the level summit could be discerned all the landmarks of the Bad Lands in a circuit of seventy-five miles. The course of the Make- zeta, the Smoking Earth River, lay unrolled like a map beneath that eyrie. Hither the bighorn, the grizzly, and others of the animal tribes had from time to time betaken themselves, some seeking a night's refuge and others a permanent dwelling-place. For many years, however, it had been well understood that this was the chosen home of Wambelee, the eagle, whom it is not well to molest.
Doubtless there have been tragedies enacted upon this imposing summit. There is even a tradition among the wild Red men that the supremacy upon old Eagle's Nest has cost many lives, and for this reason it is held to be a mysterious and hallowed place. Certainly the tribes of Wild Land had cause to desire and even to fight for its possession.
Suddenly there came to Hooyah's ears the whirring sound that announced the near approach of her master. In the wink of an eye he was at her side.
"Quick, quick! We must be off! I have found a doe with two small fawns. I could have taken one fawn, but we shall have more meat if you are there to take the other," he signalled to her.
Hooyah simply stepped aside and stretched herself thoroughly, as if to say, "Go, and I will follow."
Wambelee arose clumsily at the start, but as he gained in speed and balance he floated away in mid-air like a mystic cloud. Hooyah followed within hailing distance, and they kept the same relative positions until they reached Fishtail Gulch. It is well known to the Red hunters that such is the custom of the bear, coyote, eagle, raven and gray wolf, except when they travel in bands. The rule is a good one, since the sought-for prey is less likely to take alarm when only one hunter is in sight, and then, in case of flight, the second pursuer, who is invisible, may have a better chance to make the capture, especially should the fleeing one double on his track. He is certain to be bewildered and disheartened by the sudden, unexpected reinforcement of the foe.
Wambelee swung up on one of the adjacent buttes to spy out possible danger, while his mate was balancing herself away up in the ether, just over the black-tail mother with her twin fawns. Suddenly he arose in a long spiral and ascended to the height of Hooyah, and there the two plotted their assault upon the innocents, at the same time viewing the secret movements of every other hunter.
It is the accepted usage of Wild Land that no one may wisely leave his tracks uncovered while he himself is on the trail of another, for many have been seized while enjoying the prize. Even the lordly eagle has been caught by the wolf, the wild-cat, or by the wild man while feasting, and in his glut- tony has become an easy prey to the least of hunters. Therefore it behooved Wambelee to be watchful and very cautious.
"Ho, Opagela, koowah yay yo-o-o!" This was the call of Matoska, a famous hunter of the Sioux, at the door of his friend's lodge in the camp on the Smoking Earth River. "Come out, friend; it is almost day and my dream has been good. The game is plentiful; but you will need to be on your guard, for the tracks of the grizzly hereabout are as many as I have ever seen the Ojibway trails."

"Hun, hun, hay!" exclaimed the other, good-humoredly, as he pushed aside the tri- angular door-flap and appeared wrapped in his blanket. ' It is always thus. When the hunting is poor, you will not be disturbed, but when you are in a region of much game, all other hunters are there as well! It is true that they are usually agreeable except two only Mato, the grizzly, and man himself. These two are always looking for trouble!"
Opagela was likewise noted for his skill in hunting, and especially for the number of eagles that he had caught. This good-fortune had gained him many ponies, for eagles' feathers are always in demand. Few men so well understand the secrets of this bird. His friend was doubtless expert in wood-craft, but in this particular he could not claim to be the equal of Opagela.
"Come, let us hasten! We must be off before any other wild hunter can gain the advantage. We shall appear foolish to them if we are seen running about in full view," Matoska continued, as he adjusted the thongs of his moccasins.
Both men soon disappeared in the gray mists of the morning. They ran noiselessly side by side, scarcely uttering a word, up and along the bluffs of the Smoking Earth River. They could see the white vapor or breath of the bison hanging in the air at a distance, and black masses of the animals were visible here and there upon the plains. But they did not turn aside, for they were in search of other game. The Eagle's Nest butte loomed up to their right, its bare walls towering grandly above the surrounding country, and the big timber lay hidden below in the fog that still clung about the river.
'Ho!" Opagela exclaimed, presently, to his companion, in an undertone. "There is a hunter from above descending."
Both stood still in their tracks like petrified men. 'Whir-r-r!" came like the sound of a coming shower.
'Ugh, it is he!" Opagela said again, in a whisper, and made a motion with his lips.
As the great bird, the giant hunter of the air, swooped down into the gulch, a doe fled forth from it and ran swiftly over the little divide. There was bawling and the sound of struggle just over the banks of the creek, where the eagle had disappeared.
"Run, friend, run! Let us see him use his knife upon the fawn," urged Matoska, and he started over the knoll at a good gait. The other followed as if reluctantly.
The little gulch was a natural enclosure formed by a sudden turn of the creek, and fenced with a thorny thicket of wild plum and buffalo-berry bushes. Here they saw Wambelee in the open, firmly fastened upon the back of a struggling fawn. Hooyah had missed her quarry, which took refuge in the plum grove.
"Shoot! shoot!" whispered Matoska, at the same time drawing forth an arrow.
"No, no; I recognize friends. This is the old pair who have dwelt for many years upon the Eagle's Nest butte." There was a serious expression upon the hunter's face as he spoke.
At this moment the eagle turned toward them. From his neck hung a single bear's claw, fastened by a leather thong.
"Yes, it is he. Long ago he saved my life, and we are friends. I shall tell you about it," Opagela said at last, and the two friends sat down side by side at the edge of the plum-bushes.

Many winters ago," began Opagela, 'I was shot through the knee in a battle with the Utes, a little west of the Black Hills. My friends carried me with them as far as the creek which is now called the Wounded Knee, and there we were overtaken by a Crow war-party. Our party had a running fight with them and were compelled to re- treat in haste. I begged my friends to leave me on the trail, for I preferred to die fighting rather than from the effects of my wound. They did so, but before they reached me the Crow warriors withdrew.
"There I lay without food or water for four days. I was all skin and bones. My thoughts were already in the spirit land, and I seemed to see about me my relatives who had died.
"One morning my mind was clear, and once more I realized my surroundings. I had crawled into the shade of a little grove of plum-bushes. I gazed out upon the lofty buttes and the plains between where we had so often camped in happiness and plenty. It seemed hard to starve in the midst of such abundance.
"A few paces away I saw a doe with two fawns. They were fat and tempting, but I had no strength to shoot. Then I felt that I was doomed to die, and, indeed, believed that I was already half spirit and could talk with spirits. I held out my hand to the Great Mystery and said:
"Is this the end? Then, Great Father, I am resigned. Let none disturb me, for I would die in peace.
"At this moment the doe snorted and sprang directly over me. Alas! one of her little ones was caught before it could plunge into the thicket. It was seized by an immense eagle.
"The pretty little creature screamed and bawled like a baby, and my heart was with her in her death-pangs, although I was perishing for meat. I lay quite still and breathed softly. I slyly closed my eyes when the eagle seemed about to look in my direction. He appeared to be a very warlike, full-grown bird, with splendid plumage.
"He dressed his meat a few paces from me. I could smell the rich odor of the savory venison, and it made me desperate. I wanted to live now. But it was his game. I was a wounded, helpless, dying man he a strong, warlike hunter. I could only beg a piece of his meat, but it was not the time for me to do so until he had eaten his fill.
'The zest with which he partook of his meal made me chew while he tore off pieces of the meat, and swallow whenever he swallowed a savory morsel. At last I could not endure it any longer. 'Ho, kola!' I said, feebly.
' The sky warrior lifted his noble head with the mien of a great chief. At first he did not discover where the voice came from, but, nevertheless, he made a show of indignation and surprise.
"Again I said, almost in a whisper, 'Ho, kola, it is time you should cheer a dying warrior's heart.'
' He saw me. ' Hush-h-h !' he sighed, and released his great talons from the body of the fawn.
' My mind was clear now, and the sight of meat seemed to give me strength. I took my long knife in one hand and my war-club in the other, and I rose and hopped towards him. He tried to fly, but could not. This is his greatest weakness that when he kills big game he surfeits himself and is sometimes unable to fly for half a day or longer. As the eagle is not a good walker, he could not get away from me. All his dignity disappeared. Helpless as a woman, he lay before me with outstretched wings.
" I had no wish to harm him who had preserved my life. I lassoed him with my lariat and fastened him to a plum-tree while I ate of the meat. It was tender and luscious, and my strength returned to me even as I ate.
" I could not walk, so Wambelee and I camped together, for I did not care to be alone. Little by little we became friends. On the second day his wife came in search of him. When she found him a captive she scolded violently, perhaps him alone, perhaps me, or both of us.

" The next time she came prepared to make war upon me in order to release her husband. She appeared high up, floating among the clouds ; then suddenly gave a scream, woman-like, and shot down with all the fierceness of a warrior, coming directly toward me.
" I was getting strong now, and I shook my bow over my head at her. Then she swung upward within a few bows' length, so that I could feel the wind of her attack.
"After she had done this several times, she perched upon a near - by butte and watched. She did everything in her power to make her captive husband's heart strong. Now and then she would sail slowly over our heads, coaxing, scolding, and apparently having a loving, conjugal talk with him.
"At last I sat beside her mate and gave him some meat, which he took from my hand. She saw this feast of two warrior - friends, and came within a few paces of us. I threw her a piece of the venison, which she took, and ate of it.
" Our meat was now gone, and we moved nearer to the stream. I awoke early in the morning. Wambelee was uneasy, and stared continually into the gray dusk. I looked in the same direction, and I saw four black-tail deer approaching the water to drink. I had tied one end of Wambelee' s lariat to a young sapling, and let him sit by me, concealed under the bushes. He had a long lariat. When the deer were almost upon us, I took my sharpest arrow and shot the buck deer At the same time Wambelee secured a fawn. Now we were rich, for we had all the meat we wanted!
' When we first moved our camp, the eagle woman did not like it, because she did not understand. But again she came every day and got rations for herself and her eaglets on the nest. It was a day's run for a warrior from the Eagle's Nest butte to the place where we were upon the Wounded Knee.
" I was now strong and able to walk a short distance. Wambelee and Hooyah had become my good friends. They feared me no longer. One day I said to him :
'"My friend, you have saved my life. I am strong again, and I shall return to my people. You also must go back to your children. I have three in my lodge, and you should have as many. See, I will give you a necklace a brave's necklace before you go.”
' I took one claw from my necklace of bears' claws, and tied it about his neck with a leather thong. I also cut a little figure of a man out of a deer's hoof, and tied it to the eagle woman's neck.
" ' You have been a faithful and brave wife to my friend Wambelee,' I said to her. ' You shall have this for a token from his friend.'
" Then I released Wambelee. He stepped aside, but showed no sign of going. The eagle woman simply busied herself with cutting out a piece of venison to take to her hungry children.
' I see that you are true friends. I will take two feathers from each of you,' I said.
' I took two feathers from each and stuck them in my head. The eagle woman rose with the meat, but Wambelee still stood by me. I said, ' Go, friend, it is time,' and reluctantly he rose and followed her.
'When they had left me it was lonely, and I could not stay. I took my lariat and my weapons and walked slowly up the creek, which was then called Blacktail Creek. From that day it has been known as the Wounded Knee.
' Before sunset, Wambelee came back to see where I was. I was compelled to travel very slowly, and they watched and followed me from clay to day until I reached home. There I was as one returned from the dead.

 Nor is this all. In my journeyings these two have many times come near me. I have a signal-call for them, and they have one for me. They have been my guide to game, and I have shared my game with them." Opagela thus ended his story. Matoska had listened with an attentive ear and a respect that bordered upon reverence.
"It is well, friend," he said, finally, with marked significance.
The two old eagles had busied themselves meanwhile with their game, eating a part and preparing part to take to their children. They now showed signs of age. Their coats were of a brownish color, and their tail-feathers creamy white.
Opagela filled his pipe and held it toward them in token of his good wishes. Then he offered it to his companion.
"We shall smoke," he said, "to their long life and success in hunting." Matoska silently nodded assent.
"And how is it, friend, that you kill so many eagles?" he asked, at last.
"I have never killed one," said Opagela. " I have caught many, but without harm to them. I take several of the tail-feathers and let them go. Because I have always many eagle feathers, the warriors think that I kill them.
"Sinkpay both captures and kills them," he continued. "He makes a fish out of a water-soaked log. He whittles it to the shape of a fish, puts a weight on it, and ties it to a long rope which he holds from the shore of a certain lake. You know the eagle is a good fisherman, and when he sees from a great height the make-believe fish of Sink- pay, he drops down very swiftly and buries his claws deeply in the spongy wood. Then Sinkpay pulls this wooden fish to shore with the eagle clinging to it, because he can- not pull out his long, crooked talons. Always his greed is his destruction," concluded the hunter.
"And how do you catch yours?" quoth Matoska.
'Upon a hill frequented by eagles, I dig a hole and lie in it, covered with brush, and holding up a freshly killed rabbit. The eagle sees the rabbit a great way off, and he will immediately shoot down and seize it. I catch him by the leg and pull him down into the hole. There I tie his feet and pull out several of his tail-feathers.
' You will never catch an eagle twice with the same trick. My old friends know all about it, and delight to play with me by tearing the skin of the bait while hovering out of reach."
"And how do you recognize those two old eagles?" again asked Matoska.
" I know them as well as you know one man from another. You cannot doubt me, for you see their necklaces.
" I have kept this matter sacred and secret for many years. It is not well to talk of the favors of the Great Mystery. But you have seen my friend the sky warrior and his wife, therefore I told it to you. You will not speak of it?" the old hunter asked his friend, who nodded gravely. The two old eagles, laden with their prey, flew heavily away in the direction of the Eagle's Nest.


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