Short Stories » The Mustering of the Herds
The Mustering of the Herds - Page 4 of 4
" 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."