Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz

Hugh Monroe and the Snake Chief

In the summer of 1816, my second year on the plains, I again went south from Mountain Fort with the Pi-kun'-i. We moved leisurely from stream to stream along the foot of the Rockies, trapping beavers, and winter struck us when camped on Sun River.

After about a foot of snow had fallen, and there was little danger of war parties being abroad, my almost-brother, Red Crow, and I obtained permission from his father, Chief Lone Walker, to go south to Deep Creek on a trapping expedition. One of the chief's wives, Rattle Woman, and his daughter, Mink Woman, a girl of about fourteen winters, went with us to keep our lodge in shape and to flesh and dry the skins of the beavers that we should catch. We made camp on the creek, at the foot of the mountains, and were there surprised by a number of Snake Indians suddenly entering our lodge. They came, they said, from the camp of their people, on the next stream to the west. They had seen us make camp, knew that we were Black

feet, and their chief, Black Lance, begged us to take pity upon him and his children. They were all very poor, very hungry. Would we not aid them in making peace with the Blackfeet, and in obtaining permission for them to remain on the Blackfeet plains during the winter and kill what Blackfeet buffalo) they heeded?

We agreed to do what they asked, and the next day Red Crow went with the peace messengers to his father, a council was held, and peace was made between the two tribes, it being agreed that the Snakes should camp beside the Pi-kun'-i, and kill all the game that they needed. They were not, however, to trap beavers or other fur animals.

Red Crow


Peace being declared, I became quite friendly with Black Lance, the Snake chief. I was very anxious to learn if there were any opposition traders in his country; so, on the first evening that I visited him, the evening following the departure of his peace messengers, with Red Crow, for the camp on Sun River, I signed to him: "You say that you are friendly to white men. Tell me about those that you know, and where they camp?" I must explain that all our talk was in the sign language. "We know but few," he answered. "Far to the south, we have met a few white men that are not white (Spaniards). They are almost as red-skinned as we are, and their hair is black. They have many horses and mules; plenty of guns; plenty of long, sharp-pointed lances. They wear shirts of woven iron which no arrows nor lances will pierce. They will not sell us guns, and so we raid their herds and take their guns whenever that is possible. But we are very poor. In our whole tribe there are only twenty guns, and they are useless; as we have no food for them.

"We know a few real white men: Two chiefs, Long Knife and Red Hair, and their thirty followers, one of whom is a black white man. I do not lie to you. Truly, his skin is as black as a coal, and his short hair is black and curls tightly to his head! Strange are the ways of the gods! They caused one of our women, a woman we had given up for dead, to bring these white men to us. I must tell you all about it."

Here the chief made the sign for a name: the fingers of the right hand tightly closed, thumb extended, and placed against the forehead, the hand then raised upward and outward with a graceful sweep. He then made the sign for grass: right hand held out, palm up, fingers and thumb separated and turned up, and then the hand moved from left to right in front of the body. Next, he made the sign for woman: fingers of both hands touching on top of the head, and then the hands parting and moving downward on each side of the head, meaning parted hair. What he signed, then, was, "Name, Grass Woman." And as he made the signs he said, orally, three times, "Bo-i'-naiv! Bo-i'-naiv! Bo-i'-naiv!" And then signed on—"Did you ever hear of her?"

"No! I know nothing about her," I answered. But right then I knew that the white men were Lewis and Clark and their men. And I was to learn all about them, and how a Snake woman, named Grass Woman, had brought them to her people. I was more than impatient for him to begin the story. He expressed great surprise that I had never heard of her, and then went on: —

"Yes, that was her name, Grass Woman. Later we called her Lost Woman, and still later, after the great happening, we named her Water-White-Men Woman." He paused, thought intently for a moment or two, and continued: "I will both make the signs for the three names, and speak them. Repeat them after me."

In signs: "Grass Woman." Orally: "Bo-i'-naiv." In signs: "Lost Woman." Orally: "Wad-zi-wip"

In signs: "Water-White-Men, Woman." Orally: "Bah-rai'-bo!"

Over and over I repeated the words after him: "Bo-i'-naiv! Wad-zi-wip'! Bah-rai'-bo!" And then again signed: "No, I have never heard of her!"

"You shall know all!" he signed.

"It was twenty winters back. We were camped in our own country, on the other side of the mountains. Elk and deer became very few, and we began to starve; we grew very thin. Summer came and still we starved; so our chiefs decided that we must go out upon the buffalo plains of the Black—feet or die where we were from hunger. We should probably, they said, be killed off by the Blackfeet, but it was better to die with a full belly, and quickly, than to die slowly from want of food.

"We packed up and crossed the summit of the great mountains, descended the North Fork of the Big-River-of-the-Plains (the Jefferson river), and made camp just northernmost of the three forks of the Missouri. above its junction with the two other forks of the stream. There we came upon some buffalo, killed a number of them, and feasted. Three mornings later, when most of our men were scattered out on the hunt, a large war party was discovered coming up the valley, and the women and children, and what few men there were in camp, fled before it. Many of them scattered out in the brush and hid themselves and were not discovered. Others, crazed with fear, ran on and on up the trail in the valley, and the enemy, pursuing them, killed four men, four women, and seven youths, and captured four boys and five girls. Then, rounding up a large herd of our horses, they rode off down the valley. In time all' the boys and all but three of the girls escaped from their captors, and then we learned that the enemy had not been Blackfeet, as we thought, but had come from one of the villages of the Earth House people. They live far down in the valley of the Big-River-of-the-Plains, at the eastern edge of the country of the Blackfeet. "Our people mourned a long time for their dead. The mother of Grass Woman, one of the girls who were captured and did not return, lost also her man in the fight. There remained to her two sons and one daughter, but the mother grieved for her lost man and daughter, and soon died from mourning for them.

"The summers came and went. War parties of Blackfeet and of the Earth House people often came into our country, fought us, and ran off herds of our horses. We were always hungry in our country; often we starved there. When we could, when winters came and we were not likely to be discovered, we would come out here, where we are now, and hunt buffalo, and live well. It was eleven summers back that the sky gods became angry and allowed no rain to fall upon our country, not even one little rain. We prayed to them, made sacrifices to them, but still they withheld the rain. So it was that the berry bushes were barren that summer, and the dry earth produced but a few small roots. There was no grass for our horses except in a few damp places. Came winter again, and what few deer and elk there were, left our country. We could not tell what way they went; we moved south, found a few bands of them, and during the winter killed them all. When summer came again we were very weak, and some of the weakest were dying from starvation.

"With the first sprouting of the new grass we moved slowly northward, and then to the pass at the head of the North Fork of the Big-River-of-the-Plains. We found no buffalo there, only a few elk and deer, and they were very wild. With only bows and arrows we could kill but few of them. We lived mostly upon roots, and kept looking out toward the plains, well knowing that they were covered with buffalo, but, because of the Blackfeet, we were afraid to venture out there. We remained where we were, hoping that in time the buffalo would come up the North Fork.

"Day after day, while we camped there, we kept a man on the trail in the valley of the North Fork, watching for the enemy, and for the hoped-for coming of the buffalo. One morning this watcher discovered three men on foot approaching him. They were strangely dressed. From their appearance he believed them to be white men. From tribes to the west of us we had learned that there were white-skinned men. They had come in big boats on the Everywhere-Salt-Water, to the mouth of our Big River, and had there traded goods, even a few guns, to the tribes who go about in log canoes and who live upon fish.

"The watcher saw that one white man was on the trail, and that away off to each side of him three others skulked along in the brush. The one on the trail waved to him, made peace signs, and he sat on his horse and allowed him to come quite near, near enough for him to see that he really was a white man. But all the time the others were sneaking on through the brush, as though with intent to capture him. Fear overcame him; he turned his horse and fled up the valley, called his family together, and led them off up a branch stream, there to hide until the white men should have disappeared. He did not come over the pass to us, as he should have done.

"Two days later, down on our side of the pass, one of our men and his women, out digging roots, discovered the four white men and hurried to our camp with the news. The white men kept on down the trail, and suddenly came upon two women and a girl who were digging roots. The young woman fled from them. The two others could not run; they just sat where they were, expecting to be struck on the head and killed. But no! The lead white man came up to them, took the old woman by the hands, raised her to her feet, and signed to her that he was of white skin and meant her no harm. He at once gave her presents; wonderful presents, the like of which had never been seen by our people. Most wonderful of all was a flat, smooth square of ice-rock in which she could see her face. She looked into it, saw her old, wrinkled cheeks, her sunken eyes, the worn-down teeth in her jaws, and sank to the ground in horror of herself. But again the white man raised her up, gave her other presents, beads, awls, and paint, and she forgot her fears, and called to the young woman to return. When she came the white man gave her presents, too, and then painted the cheeks of the women and the little girl with red paint, very bright red paint. One of the men with this chief was half white, half Indian, and a good sign-talker. He signed to the women, and asked them to lead the way to their camp. They signed back that they would do so and started off down the trail.

Now, when the man digging roots with his women discovered the four strangers, he rode as fast as he could down to our camp and cried out that enemies were coming. We at once mounted our horses, and following our chief, Black Bow, hurried up the trail to meet them and kill them off. But what was our surprise, as we neared them, to see that they were different from our enemies of the plains. They wore different clothing; one of them carried a beautiful red, white, and blue peace-waver tied to a long stick. We rode still closer to them and saw that their skins were white! Our women with them cried out that they were good men, and held up before us the presents they had received. We all dismounted, and, after our chief, in turn embraced the white men. We then gathered in a circle, took off our moccasins, and smoked, and talked with the newcomers in the sign language, and they explained that they had come from far east; that their great white chief had sent them to find a trail through the mountains to the shore of the Everywhere-Salt-Water, and to make peace with all the tribes along the way, and to get them to make peace with one another.

"After three pipes were smoked, the white chief, he whom we afterward called Red Hair (Captain Clark), gave us presents, handing Black Bow also the peace-waver, and said that, as the day was hot, and there was no water where we were, he would like us to take him and his men to our camp. We at once sent some young men ahead to fix up for them the one real lodge that we had, and then took the trail with the strangers. We arrived in camp some time before sunset, and Black Bow took the strangers to the lodge and told them that it was their lodge. After they had rested for a time, we held another council with them, and they then told us that more of their kind were coming up the Big-River-of-the-Plains in boats, and that with them was a woman of our tribe who had long ago been captured by our enemy, the Earth House people. They asked that we take plenty of horses and go to meet the party and pack their property to our camp.

"'It is a forked tongue that this white chief has,' said one of our old warriors. 'I doubt not that there are white men in boats across there on the river, but something tells me that there are with them a multitude of our plains enemies. If we do as we are asked, we go straight to our death!'

"At once there was much talk in that council lodge. Some of the warriors agreed with the old man, that the white men were trying to draw them into a trap. Said another warrior: 'If all is just as these white men say, then they are, after all, but a small party. They are rich in the things that we most need, guns and powder and ball, with which to defend ourselves from the attacks of our plains enemies. I propose that we at once send messengers to the other tribes of our Snake Nation, and to our friends, the Flatheads, and ask them to come and help us wipe out these white men, and take their property.'

"'Yes! Yes! That is what we should do! Let us send the messengers at once!' cried one man after another, until nearly all had spoken. Then said our chief, Black Bow: 'You speak wisely. If we can take all the white men's guns, with the great quantity of powder and ball that they surely have, we can go out on the plains, hold our own against our enemies, and get all the buffalo that we want. Let the messengers go at once for help. And, to hasten matters, let us do what the white men ask: we will take horses and bring their men and their property up here. We shall then have them right here in our camp, where we can take them unaware, and easily kill them off. Now, who will furnish horses and go with the white men and me to-morrow?'

"Many of the warriors answered that they would take extra horses and go with him, but, during the night, a great fear came upon most of them, fear that they were to be led into a trap, that back of the whites were hundreds of their plains enemies, either Blackfeet or Earth House people, or both. In the morning, when the time came to leave, but eight men started out with our chief and the white men, and I was one of the eight. We had not traveled far, however, when we were overtaken by many of the afraid ones, some of them accompanied by their women. After we left the camp, Black Bow's woman had grieved for him, and then, crying out that she was not a coward, that she was braver than the men, had caught a horse and made ready to follow our trail. And because she shamed them the best of the men and women hurried to catch up their horses and take the trail with her.

"On that first day out we crossed over the pass in the mountains and made camp by some springs high up on the east slope of the mountains. On the next morning, as soon as we were ready to go on, the white man chief sent two of his men ahead, saying that they were to hunt, and asking us to keep with him, so that the game would not become alarmed. This alarmed us; we thought that the two men were being sent to tell the enemy to be ready to spring upon us. Many of our people turned back right there, and we who went on sent several of our men forward on each side of the valley to keep watch of the two white hunters. They really were hunters; during the day they killed some deer and gave us most of the meat. When evening came we were thinking that, perhaps, the white men meant us no harm; that everything was just as they had said.

"On the next morning we arose very early, and the white chief at once sent one of his men, and one of us with him, to look for the white men who were coming up the river in boats. I went off by myself, keeping close to the river, and soon saw the white men, all of them working hard to drag and push their boats up the swift water. I ran back to camp, crying out that I had seen the whites, and then we all hurried on to meet them. By that time they had come quite close to our camp. Two of the whites were on the shore, away ahead of the boats, and with them was a woman. One of our women ran forward, other women followed her, and when we saw them embrace the lone woman, we knew that it was as the white chief had told us, that there was one of our women in his party. Right there we lost all of our fears: had there been plains enemies with the whites, this woman would have so signed to us as soon as we came in sight. The two white men came on. One of them was the other chief of the party, he whom we named Long Knife. Our chief, Black Bow, embraced him, and so did the rest of us, and then we led the white chiefs to one of our brush shelters for a council. We took off our moccasins, the pipe was lighted, and then Red Hair told one of his men to bring the Snake woman to interpret for us.

"She came, this young woman, with her little child in her arms, came with downcast eyes, with hesitating steps, and timidly sat just without our half-circle. I looked at her, so did the others, and none of us recognized her. Black Bow at once opened the council: 'Woman,' said he, 'interpret these my words: White men chiefs, we are glad that you are coming to our country!'

"As he said that, the woman for the first time looked up at him, and then, leaving her child, she sprang across the circle and embraced him. Laughing and crying, at the same time trembling as though from cold, she arose and placed her blanket across his shoulders, then again knelt beside him, and cried: 'Oh, brother! Do you not know me? I am your sister, Grass Woman!'

"'So you are! So you are!' Black Bow exclaimed, and in turn embraced her. And some of us cried out: 'She is Grass Woman! Our Lost Woman! She has returned to us!'

"Then, still trembling, and trying to dry her eyes, she asked her brother to give her news of her relatives, and he answered: 'Our father was killed by the enemies that took you from us.'

"'Yes, I know,' Grass Woman said. 'As the enemy bore me away, I saw his body lying beside the trail!'

"'Grieving for our father, and for you, our mother soon died. Then our sister died, then our brother, Middle Sun. Of all our family there remain only our brother, Little Otter, whom I have sent with a message to our Snake peoples, and our little nephew, son of our sister, Deer Robe!'

"Now, when Grass Woman heard that, she broke out crying again. Sitting there with her arms on her brother's shoulder, she wept bitterly. But suddenly one of the white men spoke to her angrily. 'It is my man. He orders me back to my place to interpret. Badly as I feel, I must obey him,' she told Black Bow, and returned to her child. But, try as she would, she could not stop crying, so the council was put off until later in the day.

"Came now the rest of the white men, with their boats, and made camp, and we watched them, and near went crazy with wonder at them and the strange and useful things that they had! one of those white men was black. We could not believe that his skin was not covered with a shining black paint, until one of us washed his forearm, scrubbing and scrubbing it without result. We were struck with the number of different shaped kettles and other utensils in which the white men cooked their food. We marveled at the number of fine long guns they carried; and, oh, how we wanted to see what was in the many bundles that they carried from the boats to their camp! They had sharp, heavy, wood-handled pieces of shiny hard rock with which they cut wood; with but a few blows of one of them, they cut down good-sized trees. That was great medicine!

"Now, while the white men fixed up their camp, Black Bow talked with his sister, and we sat by them and listened. She told about her life with our enemies and of her marriage to the white man. But what most interested us was what she said about the riches of her captors and the ease in which they lived. Their homes were large earth-covered lodges which the severest cold of winter could not penetrate. Near their lodges they raised each summer great quantities of good food plants, which they dried for winter use. Their plains were always covered with buffalo and antelope. The timbered valley of their Big River was full of elk and deer. They knew not what it was to hunger or suffer from cold.

"'Neither should we suffer from hunger and cold nor fear our enemies if we had guns!' the chief cried out. 'Well, we shall have guns! Little sister, when our brother and the other messengers return, bringing with them the warriors of our Snake tribes to help us, we shall kill these white men and take their guns and their great store of powder and ball, and then go out and live on the buffalo plains!'

"Grass Woman gave a cry of distress and shrank away from hum: 'You are crazy even to think of doing that,' she told him. 'What if you do take them unaware while they sleep and kill them off? Of what use would the guns be that you would get, thirty or forty of them, against the two hundred and more guns of the Earth House people? Brother, you must do all that you can for these white men, for they are men of great heart and your true friends. Have they not told you why they have come into this country, that they are here to get all tribes to make peace with one another? Have they not told you that they come to make a trail for white traders to follow, so that you may all have guns and traps and other things that you need to make yourselves rich and comfortable?'

"'Yes, they said all that to us, but we did not believe them,' Black Bow answered.

"'Then believe it now! I, your true sister, tell you that it is so!'

"'Truly, my mind is all in a whirl. I must think about this!' the chief exclaimed.

"By this time the white men had set up their camp, and they now invited us to it to counsel with them. We were seated under a shelter of cloth and willows, where we took off our moccasins and smoked by turns one pipe. The white chief named Long Knife then spoke to us, Grass Woman's man telling her what he said, and she in turn interpreting the words to us. He told us that his great white chief had sent him and his men 'to make friends with all tribes all the way to the Everywhere-Salt-Water, and to get them to make peace with one another. He hoped that we would make peace with the tribes with whom we were at war, for that would please the great white chief, and he would send men with guns, traps, and all kinds of goods to trade to us, and ever afterward we should have plenty of everything, food, clothing, warm lodges, tobacco, and we could roam where we pleased without fear of attack. And now he asked us to help him: he wanted horses, plenty of our horses for riding and packing on his way westward from our country, and he would pay us well for them.

"Then said Black Bow to Grass Woman: 'Sister, had you not told me that these men are of straight tongue and good heart, I should not have believed anything that they told us. I now do believe. I am sure it is all as you say, that they mean only good for us. You may tell them that we will furnish them horses, that we shall do all that we can for them, and that we hope their traders will soon come to us with plenty of guns, traps, and goods of all kinds.'

"'Brother, you really mean that—is it straight from your heart?' Grass Woman asked.

"'It is!' he answered.

"'Then send other messengers at once to our Snake people and the Flatheads, to tell them to remain where they are, for the white men are their friends, and that they are to travel safely through our country,' she demanded.

"'They shall start this day,' he agreed. And at that she embraced him, and, through her man, told the whites that the chief said that all should be as they wished, and that he hoped traders would come to them as soon as possible. Thereupon the council ended, and the white chiefs gave us valuable and beautiful presents. Black Bow was given a beautiful suit of white chief clothes and a medal, and we all received shirts, leggings, knives, tobacco, medals, looking-glasses, and awls. And last we were feasted with big dishes of a boiled plant that our Grass Woman told us had been raised by her Earth House people captors. Next to good meat, it was the best food we had ever eaten.

"There were not enough horses with us to move all the property of the white men, so we took Red Hair and some of his men and Grass Woman across the pass to our main camp, and then sent some of our young men with plenty of horses to bring over the rest of the party and all their property.

"Now, before Grass Woman was captured by our plains enemies, she had been given by her father and mother to a man of our tribe named Little Mountain. She was to become his wife when she grew up. Returning now to the camp, after a long visit to one of our tribes, he heard that she was there and ran about until he found her. 'Ha! There you are, Grass Woman, Lost Woman!' he cried. 'You have grown up, I see. You look strong and you are handsome. Well, I am glad of it because I need you. Get whatever things you have and come over with me to my shelter.'

"'I shall not go with you! You are nothing to me!' Grass Woman told him.

"'You are my woman! You shall go with me! I gave your father three horses, and he promised that I should have you as soon as you became a woman,' he insisted.

"'I will prove to you that I am not your woman,' she told him, and, throwing open her blanket, she held up to his view her little child: 'See. That is my boy, and that white man there is my man and its father!'

"'Ha! That makes it different! I do not want you!' Little Mountain told her, and turned and went his way.

"As Black Bow had promised his sister we should do, that we did for the Long Knives. We furnished them the horses that they needed and a man to guide them through our country, and they went on their way toward the Everywhere-Salt-Water. We heard afterward that they had great difficulty in passing through the mountains; that they could find no game, and would have starved to death had they not killed and eaten some of the horses that we gave them. Well, they made their way to the shore of the Great Water, and there wintered, and in the following summer returned and went on eastward, and we have not even heard of them again. Summer after summer we have looked for the white traders that they promised to send to us with plenty of guns for us to buy, but the summers pass and they do not come. Tell me, white youth, do you think that they ever will come?"

"I cannot answer that," I told him. "I have no knowledge of the Long Knife traders. Myself, I am a Red Coat trader. At our post in the North we have plenty of guns, traps, all kinds of things to trade to you if you will go there with your furs."

The chief made a gesture of despair. "That we can never do," he signed. "The Blackfeet tribes will never permit us to do that! If they now allow us to camp out here until green grass time and kill a few of their buffalo, it will be more than we ever expected of them. Summer will soon come again, and back we must go across the mountains, there in hunger to hide from the war parties of Blackfeet, Earth House people, Assiniboines, Crees, who come to kill us and take our horses. White youth, we Snakes are a poor and most unhappy people!"

Well, what answer could I make to that, except to sign to him that he must take courage? My heart went out to him and his harried people, but I could do nothing. I knew, even better than he did, that the Blackfeet never would give the Snakes an opportunity to trade for guns if they could prevent it.