Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz

Earth Woman and Hugh Monroe

Way back in the 1870's, fired with boyish zeal for great adventure, I went from New York to Fort Benton, Montana, to see something of life on the buffalo plains. It was my good fortune to fall in at once with the late Joseph Kipp, the most noted Indian trader of the Northwest, and his mother, a full-blood Mandan, and widow of Captain James Kipp, American Fur Company Factor in the Mandan village in 1821, and later. I lived with my new-found friends for many years, and a nomadic life it was. Wherever the buffalo were most plentiful, there we were; some winters living and trading in the lodges of the Blackfeet, and other winters in hastily built but comfortable log trading-posts which we put up here and there.

In my way of thinking, it was an ideal life that we led. Wherever we roamed, from Canada south to the Yellowstone, and from the Rockies far eastward upon the plains, we felt that, in common with our Blackfeet people, the country was ours, all ours! No part of it had as yet been ploughed, nor fenced, and Fort Benton, at the head of navigation on the Missouri, was the only settlement upon it. During the busy season, from October until spring, I helped in our trade with the Blackfeet tribes for their buffalo robes and furs. At other times I hunted with my Indian friends, and even, on several occasions, went to war with them against other tribes. It was all great fun, life on the buffalo plains!

The evenings were as full of quiet enjoyment as the days were of exciting adventure. With the setting of the sun came story-telling time, and around the lodge fires, or before the mud-daubed fireplaces in our rude posts, the people gathered to smoke, and eat broiled buffalo tongues, and in turn relate weird tales of the gods, tales of war, and hunting, and of far trails, all the various happenings which made up the history of the past. Were the narrator Mandan or Arickaree, Blackfeet or white man, the conversation was always in the Blackfeet tongue. I soon mastered it, and was then always called upon to contribute my share to the evening entertainments. And thus it was that I got from my almost-mother, Mrs. Kipp, and her equally aged companion, Craw Woman, and from Hugh Monroe, and Black Horn, an old Gros Ventre warrior, some interesting tales about Sacajawea, the heroine—yes, the savior—of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and other tales about the two great leaders and some of their men. But before relating them, I must say a few words about the narrators themselves.

Mrs. James Kipp, Sak'-wi-ah-ki, Earth Woman, was the daughter of Ma-to-to'-pa, Four Bears, one of the Mandan chiefs who welcomed Lewis and Clark to the Mandan villages in 18o4, and of whom, in 1832, Catlin wrote so highly. She was born in 18o3, and before her marriage to Captain Kipp, in 182I, and afterward, often heard Sacajawea relate tales of her adventure on the long trail to the Western sea, and back. And from her father and mother, and others, she got the story of the coming of the first Long Knives, Lewis and Clark and their men, to the Mandan country, and of their experiences there.

Is-sap -ah'-ki, Crow Woman, was an Arickaree, and was born in the village of that tribe, located on the Missouri, some distance below the Mandan villages. The two tribes were at times united in defense against their enemies, the Sioux, Assiniboines, Crows, and others, and so, from earliest childhood, Is-sap-ah'-ki and Sak'-wi-ah-ki were playmates and firm friends.

Soon after she was married Crow Woman went out on the plains with her man and a small party, on a buffalo hunt. They were attacked by a war party of Crows and all killed, excepting Crow Woman, who was captured by the leader of the Crows and became one of his wives, his slave wife. The Crow never treated her unkindly, but in the many years that followed, her one desire was to return to her own people. When, at last, the opportunity came, she escaped from the Crow camp, only to fall into the hands of a war party of the Kai'-na, a tribe of the Blackfeet, and its leader, Lone Otter, made her his third wife. More years passed, and then, one spring, when the Kai'-na came to Fort Benton to trade, Crow Woman heard Mrs. Kipp speak to her son in the Mandan language, and ran to her, stared at her, and cried in that, to her, almost forgotten tongue: "Oh, who are you? Are you not Ma-to-to'-pa's daughter?"

"Yes! Yes! And you—who are you that speaks to me in my own language?"

"I? Why, I am Crow Woman! Your Arickaree friend in the long ago," she cried. And at that the two embraced and wept tears of joy.

A little later, when Crow Woman had told her her story, Mrs. Kipp asked her if she was contented with her lot.

"I have no children of my own," she replied, "but I love my almost-daughter, the daughter of a dead wife of Lone Otter. I have raised the child. I love her as though she were my very own. But for her, I would long ago have again tried to escape and return to my people."

"Your relatives, and mine too, are all dead. But you shall be free. Before the setting of this sun you shall be free, and you shall remain with me so long as we live!" Mrs. Kipp cried. And she went at once to Lone Otter, and bargained with him, and paid him a fabulous price, thirty horses, a gun, ten blankets, and much tobacco, for Crow Woman and his daughter that she loved.

Would that I could have been present at the meeting of those long-parted friends! Their life together, and their love for their adopted daughter were simply ideal. After the buffalo were exterminated, and we settled down at Fort Conrad, the old women and the girl planted a garden by the river each season, and laboriously watered the hills of corn, beans, and squash with buckets which they carried up the steep bank. Beside the garden they built a shelter of boughs to protect them from the sun, and from which to watch their growing crops, and thither I went on hot afternoons, to sit with them and listen to their tales of the long ago. And while they talked they did wonderfully beautiful colored porcupine quill embroidery work on buffalo leather and buffalo robes that remained to us after our trade had vanished. One piece of work that they undertook required two summers to complete it! It was a huge sun, embroidered in all the colors of the rainbow on the flesh side of a fine head and tail buffalo cow robe!

Here, to this garden shelter by the river, also came Hugh Monroe, or Mah-kwi'-i-pwo-ahts, Rising Wolf, to exchange reminiscences with his old-time women friends. And as I sat and listened to them I thanked my stars that I was there, and that I understood the Blackfeet language as well as they did. Monroe could not speak Mandan nor Arickaree; they could not understand English. The Blackfeet was the language common to us all.

Hugh Monroe, or Rising Wolf, as he was best known, was the son of Captain Hugh Monroe, of the English army, and Amelie Monroe, a daughter of the De la Roche family, French emigres in Canada. He was born in Three Rivers, Province of Quebec, July 9, 1798, and on May 3, 1814, was apprenticed to the Hudson's Bay Company. In the following spring he arrived at the Company's post, Mountain Fort, on Bow River, the main fork of the South Saskatchewan River. He was immediately detailed to live with the Pi-kun'-i, the so-called Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet confederacy, and a few days later went south with it for the winter. He was the first white man to see the great plains, and mountains that lie between the upper reaches of the Saskatchewan and the Missouri rivers. He soon married a daughter of Lone Walker, head chief of the tribe, by whom he had a fine family of stalwart sons and daughters. Not long after his marriage he severed his connections with the Hudson's Bay Company, became a "free trapper," and lived for the most of the time with his chosen people, the Pi-kun'-i, to the time of his death, in 1896. He was a man of high character, and was loved by all who knew him.

Earth Woman, Crow Woman, and Rising Wolf, what wonderful changes they witnessed as they grew from youth to old age! They saw the very beginning of the great fur trade in the Northwest, and its end with the extinction of the buffalo, and the near-extermination of the beaver! They saw the keel boats and the batteaux of the early traders give way to powerful "fire boats" on the' Saskatchewan and the Missouri, and these in turn superseded by railways that brought hordes of settlers to the broad plains!

Perhaps the crowning event of their long lives was a trip by rail to Great Falls after it had become a city. I there talked with them over the telephone, and they marveled! In the evening I gave them a ride on the electric cars, and finally took them to the power house; there they saw red-blue-green flashes of electricity playing about the dynamos, and were completely overcome with astonishment!

"I am sick, heartsick!" Earth Woman exclaimed after we had gone out. "All my life I have prayed to the gods, as my father and mother taught me to do. And now, this night, I have seen with my own eyes that white men, and not Thunder Bird, are makers of the lightning. Perhaps there is no Thunder Bird! Perhaps there are no gods! The sun himself, maybe he is nothing but a ball of fire, by white men set rolling across the sky to make the days!"

"Hush! sister, hush!" Crow Woman told her. "Doubt not! What if the white men do make lightning? That has nothing to do with us—with our beliefs! Our ancient ones saw Thunder Bird!—heard him thunder as he arose in flight, saw his lightning flashes. Thunder Bird lives! So do all our gods! Take courage! Keep strong your faith in them!"

The next morning Earth Woman was herself again: she had prayed to the gods, made sacrifices to them, and her doubts and fears had vanished. After breakfast we all stood upon an upper piazza of the hotel and looked down upon the city and the near-by river. Crow Woman pointed across it to the mouth of Sun River and said: "Just above the place where the two rivers join, just a little way up the smaller stream, is where the Kai'-na captured me!"

"Ai! And here, just about where this sleeping and eating house stands, I onced saved Jim Bridger and his band of trappers from being attacked and killed by a war party of five hundred North Blackfeet! I often ran buffalo where are now all these houses!" said Rising Wolf.

"Right out there, to the still water just above the falls, came Sacajawea with the first Long Knives," said Earth Woman. "For days and days, so she told me, they rolled their boats on log wheels up the long trail from below the lower falls to this point, and launching them, went on up the river. I know just how the Snake woman felt; how anxious she was to go on, hoping that, at the head of the river or on the other slope of the mountains, she would meet her people. Day and night she prayed the gods, made sacrifices to them, to guide her to them!"

"Ai! And she did meet them! And induced them to be friends with the Long Knives!" Rising Wolf exclaimed. "But for her there would have been a gathering of the Snake tribes to kill off the white men, and they would have been killed, every one of them. I know! But I have told you the story of it, as the Snake chief told it to me in the long ago."

Well, they are gone, Rising Wolf, Earth Woman, Crow Woman, and a host of other friends in the old buffalo days! Did they find the Shadow Land, I wonder, and their shadow people, living in shadow lodges, and on shadow horses running shadow buffalo?

Glad I am that I knew them, gentle, honest, generous friends that they were! And glad I am that through them I am able to add something to our knowledge of Sacajawea and Lewis and Clark and their men.

And now, to turn on the light, let us begin with Rising Wolf's story of Bird Woman.