Published on January 9, 2013 by Casey
Told by one of the Strange Owl family in Birney, Montana, 1972
In another Cheyenne tale, the buffalo are villains instead of benevolent animals who their flesh so that people may live.
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Hundreds of years ago there was a girl who was very good at quillwork, so good that she was the best among all the tribes everywhere. Her designs were radiant with color, and she could decorate anything û clothing, pouches, quivers, even tipis.
One day this girl sat down in her parents’ lodge and began to make a man’s outfit of white buckskin — war shirt, leggings, moccasins, gauntlets, everything. It took her weeks to embroider them with exquisite quillwork and fringes of buffalo hair marvellous to look at. Though her mother said nothing, she wondered. The girl had no brothers, nor was a young man courting her, so why was she making a man’s outfit?
As if life wasn’t strange enough, no sooner had she finished the first outfit than she began working on a second, then on a third. She worked all year until she had made and decorated seven complete sets of men’s clothes, the last a very small one. The mother just watched and kept wondering. At last after the girl had finished the seventh outfit, she spoke to her mother. “Someplace, many days’ walk from here, lives seven brothers,” she said. “Someday all the world will admire them. Since I am an only child, I want to take them for my brothers, and these clothes are for them.”
“It is well, my daughter,” her mother said. “I will go with you.”
“This is too far for you to walk,” said the girl.
“Then I will go part of the way,” said her mother.
They loaded their strongest dogs with the seven bundles and set off toward the north. “You seem to know the way,” said the mother.
“Yes, I don’t know why, but I do,” answered the daughter.
“And you seem to know all about these seven young men and what makes them stand out from ordinary humans.”
“I know about them,” said the girl, “though I don’t know how.”
Thus they walked, the girl seeming sure of herself. At last the mother said, “This is as far as I can go.” They divided the dogs, the girl keeping two for her journey, and took leave of each other. Then the mother headed south back to her village and her husband, while her daughter continued walking into the north.
At last the daughter came to a lone, painted, and very large tipi which stood near a wide stream. The stream was shallow and she waded across it, calling: “It is I, the young-girl-looking-for-brothers, bringing gifts.”
At that a small boy about ten years old came out of the tipi. “I am the youngest of seven brothers,” he told the girl. “The others are out hunting buffalo, but they’ll come back after a while. I have been expecting you. But you’ll be a surprise to my brothers, because they don’t have my special gifts of `No Touch’.”
“What is the gift of no touch?” asked the girl.
“Sometime you’ll find out. Well, come into the tipi.”
The girl gave the boy the smallest outfit, which fitted him perfectly and delighted him with its beautiful quillwork.
“I shall take you all for my brothers,” the girl told him.
“And I am glad to have you for a sister,” answered the boy.
The girl took all the other bundles off her two dogs’ backs and told them to go back to her parents, and at once the dogs began trotting south.
Inside the tipi were seven beds of willow sticks and sage. The girl unpacked her bundles and put a war shirt, a pair of leggings, a pair of moccasins, and a pair of gauntlets upon each of the older brothers’ beds. Then she gathered wood and built a fire. From her packs she took dried meat, chokecherries, and kidney fat, and cooked a meal for eight.
Toward evening just as the meal was ready, the six older brothers appeared laden with buffalo meat. The little boy ran outside the lodge and capered, kicking his heels and jumping up and down, showing off his quilled buckskin outfit.
“Where did you get these fine clothes?” the brothers asked.
“We have a new sister,” said the child. “She’s waiting inside, and she has clothes for you too. She does the most wonderful quillwork in the world. And she’s beautiful herself!”
The brothers greeted the girl joyfully. They were struck with wonder at the white buckskin outfits she had brought as gifts for them. They were as glad to have a sister to care for as she was to have brothers to cook and make clothes for. Thus they lived happily.
One day after the older brothers had gone out to hunt, a light-colored buffalo-calf appeared at the tipi and scratched and knocked with his hoof against the entrance flap. The boy came out and asked it what it wanted.
“I am sent by the buffalo nation,” said the calf. “We have heard of your beautiful sister, and we want her for our own.”
“You can’t have her,” answered the boy. “Go away.”
“Oh well, then somebody bigger than I will come,” said the calf and ran off jumping and kicking its heels.
The next day when the boy and the sister were alone again, a young heifer arrived, lowing and snorting, rattling the entrance flap of the tipi.
Once more the child came out to ask what she wanted.
“I am sent by the buffalo nation,” said the heifer. “We want your beautiful sister for ourselves.”
“You can’t have her,” said the boy. “Go away!”
“Then somebody bigger than I will come,” said the heifer, galloping off like the calf before her.
On the third day a large buffalo cow, grunting loudly, appeared at the lodge. The boy came out and asked, “Big buffalo cow, what do you want?”
“I am sent by the buffalo nation,” said the cow. “I have come to take your beautiful sister. We want her.”
“You can’t have her,” said the boy. “Go away!”
“Somebody very big will come after me,” said the buffalo cow, “and he won’t come alone. He’ll kill you if you don’t give him your sister.” With these words the cow trotted off.
On the fourth day the older brothers stayed home to protect the girl. The earth began to tremble a little, then to rock and heave. At last appeared the most gigantic buffalo bull in the world, much larger than any you see now. Behind him came the whole buffalo nation, making the earth shudder. Pawing the ground, the huge bull snorted and bellowed like thunder. The six older brothers, peering out through the entrance hole, were very much afraid, but the little boy stepped boldly outside. “Big, oversized buffalo bull, what do you want from us?” he asked.
“I want your sister,” said the giant buffalo bull. “If you won’t give her to me, I’ll kill you all.”
The boy called for his sister and older brothers to come out. Terrified, they did so.
“I’ll take her now,” growled the huge bull.
“No,” said the boy, “she doesn’t want to be taken. You can’t have her. Go away!”
“In that case I’ll kill you now,” roared the giant bull. “I’m coming!”
“Quick, brother, use your special medicine!” the six older brothers cried to the youngest.
“I am using it,” said he. “Now all of you, catch hold of the branches of this tree. Hurry!” He pointed to a tree growing by the tipi. The girl and the six brothers jumped up into its branches. The boy took his bow and swiftly shot an arrow into the tree’s trunk, then clasped the trunk tightly himself. At once the tree started to grow, shooting up into the sky in no time at all. It all happened much, much quicker than it can be told.
The brothers and the girl were lifted up in the tree branches, out of reach of the buffalo. They watched the herd of angry animals grunting and snorting, milling around the tree far below.
“I’ll chop the tree down with my horns!” roared the giant buffalo. He charged the tree, which shook like a willow and swayed back and forth. Trying not to fall off, the girl and the brothers clutched the branches. The big bull had gouged a large piece of wood from the trunk.
The little boy said, “I’d better use one more arrow.” He shot another arrow high into the treetop, and again the tree grew, shooting up another thousand feet or so, while the seven brothers and the girl rose with it.
The giant buffalo bull made his second charge. Again his horns stabbed into the tree and splintered wood far and wide. The gash in the trunk had become larger.
The boy said, “I must shoot another arrow.” He did, hitting the treetop again, and quick as a flash the tree rose another thousand feet.
A third time the bull charged, rocking the tree, making it sway from side to side so that the brothers and the girl almost tumbled out of their branches. They cried to the boy to save them. The child shot a fourth arrow into the tree, which rose again so that the seven young men and the girl disappeared into the clouds. The gash in the tree trunk had become dangerously large.
“When that bull charges again, he will shatter this tree,” said the girl. “Little brother, help us!”
Just as the bull charged for the fourth time, the child loosed a single arrow he had left, and the tree rose above the clouds.
“Quick, step out right on the clouds. Hurry!” cried the little boy. “Don’t be afraid!”
The bull’s head hit the tree trunk with a fearful impact. His horns cut the trunk in two, but just as the tree slowly began to topple, the seven brothers and the girl stepped off it’s branches and into the sky.
There the eight of them stood. “Little brother, what will become of us now? We can never return to earth; we’re up too high. What shall we do?”
“Don’t grieve,” said the little boy, “I’ll turn us into stars.”
At once the seven brothers and the girl were bathed in radiant light. They formed themselves into what the white men call the Big Dipper. You can see them there now. The brightest star is the beautiful girl, who is filling the sky with glimmering quillwork, and the star twinkling at the very end of the Dipper’s handle is the little boy. Can you see him?