Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

A Blackfoot Story

Here is a story the Indians tell. It is one of the tales with which they amuse themselves in long evenings. It may be true. At least, the Indians tell it for true.

An Indian chief of the tribe called Blackfoot, or Blackfeet, went over the Rocky Mountains with a war party. He killed some of the enemies of his tribe, and then started back. For fear their enemies would follow their tracks, the party did not take the usual path. They went up over the wildest part of the mountain. But when it came to going down on the other side, the Indians had a hard time.

They had to clamber over great rocks and down the sides of cliffs. Drifts of snow blocked their way in places. At last they had to stop. They stood on the edge of a cliff. Below this cliff was a ridge or shelf of rock. By tying themselves together, and so helping one another down, they got to this shelf. Below this they found still another cliff. It was harder to get down to this.

But when they had got down as far as this ledge, they were in a worse plight than ever. They stood on the brink of a great cliff. The rocks were too steep for them to get down. It was hundreds of feet to the bottom.

They tried to get back up the mountain, but that they could not do. Then they sat down and looked over the brink of the cliff. There was no chance for them to get down alive. They must stay there and starve.

The Indians filled their pipes with kinnikinnick, or willow bark, and smoked. Then they knocked the ashes out of their pipes, and lay down to sleep.

But the chief did not sleep. He could not think of any way of getting out of the trouble. When morning came, they all went and looked over the cliff once more. Then they smoked again. After sitting silent for some time, the chief laid down his pipe quietly, got to his feet, and went to painting his face as if he were getting ready for a feast. He arranged his dress with the greatest care. Then he made a little speech.

"It is of no use to stay here and die," he said. "The Great Spirit is not willing that we should get away. Let us die bravely."

He added other remarks of the same kind. Then he sang his death song. When this was finished, he gave a shout, and leaped over the cliff.

When the chief had gone, the others sat down and smoked again in silence. After a long time, a weather-beaten old Indian got up and walked to the edge of the cliff.

"See," he said, "there is the soul of our chief, waiting for us to go with him to the land of spirits."

The others looked over, and saw the form of a man far below, waving the bough of a tree.

The old warrior now threw off his blanket and sang his death song. Then he leaped off. The others again looked over, and this time they saw two forms beckoning to them from below.

Indian jumping

One after another the Indians jumped, until there were left but two young men who were little more than boys. These two boys were nephews of the chief. They had never been in a war party.

The elder of the two showed his young brother the ghosts of the whole party standing below. He told his brother he must jump off, but the frightened boy begged to be allowed to stay and die on the bare rock.

The elder seized him, and, after a struggle, pushed him over. Then he quietly gathered up all the blankets and guns, and threw them off. He thought the souls of his friends would need these things in their journey to the land of spirits.

When this was done, the young man sang his own death song and jumped off. Falling swiftly as an arrow, feet downward, he struck a great snow drift at the bottom. It received him like an immense feather bed. He sank in so far that he had hard work to get out. When he had succeeded, he found all of his party, not spirits, as he had expected, but living men, safe and sound. The snow had saved them from injury.