Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz

With Her Own People Again

Days passed. We made slow progress up the swift, and now often shallow, river, so shallow that, for the most of the time, I walked ahead on the shore while the men dragged the boats over the bars. One morning, as soon as the start for the day was made, Red Hair and my man and I went on ahead of the boats. We had not traveled far up along the shore when I discovered some riders hurrying toward us. They were rounding a bend, were close upon us. I could see their faces. I did not ' recognize them. How could I after all these winters? But by their dress, by the very shape of their bodies, I knew that these riders were my own people, some of them, perhaps, my very own relatives.

I raised my hands to them in greeting. I cried out to them: "My people! My people! I am your long-lost Grass Woman!" And then I whirled around and signed to Red Hair, who was behind me: "These are my people! These are my people!" And then I turned again and ran to meet them, crying, laughing, and so happy, so filled up with happiness that I went almost crazy with it. And now I saw that our half-Indian man was with them, that he had on Snake clothing, and by that I knew that Long Knife was safe, that my people had not killed him, and I felt that the gods had been more than good to us, that more happiness than I had right then would kill me!

And now we met, these riders and I, and again I called out to them my name, and they cried: "Yes! Yes! We know you, Grass Woman! This is a great day! This is a medicine day, this day of your return to us!" And then they raised our Snake song of greeting and happiness, and turned and went on up the bottom with us, up around the bend toward the camp that they had made, and where, one of them told me, a number of my people, with the white chief and his men, awaited our coming.



As we neared the place some women advanced to meet us, and when they had come quite near, the lead one stopped suddenly and stared at me and I stared at her, and then, crying, laughing, crying, we ran together and hugged and kissed and kissed one another: "It is you! It is you, Grass Woman!" she cried.

I could not answer! I could not speak for the happiness that was in me, for this was Leaping Fish Woman, she who had so long since fled from the Minnetaree village. I had often thought of her, mourned for her. I had not believed that she could possibly escape the dangers of the long trail that she had to follow, and here she was! But, oh, how thin she was! Hunger stared at me out of her big, sunken eyes. I could see it in the eyes of the other women who came running to embrace me. It was with my people as it had ever been. And out there on the plain were countless herds of buffalo! Oh, how I wanted to help them, my persecuted, defenseless, helpless people!

We could not let go of each other, Leaping Fish Woman and I. We stood there in close embrace, she asking me question after question, the other women standing close around and listening to us, and then, suddenly, my man came to me and hurried me to where the Snake warriors were gathered with Red Hair and Long Knife in a small, poor lodge of willow brush. I was wanted to interpret for them. As I took my seat near the entrance and laid my little son down in his wrappings, the chief asked one of his warriors to pass him a small pipe-loading stick. His voice sounded much like one that I had known, but somewhat deeper. I looked up at him. I knew him. He was my elder brother!

I sprang across to him, crying, "Oh, brother! Oh, Black Bow! Elder brother, don't you know me? I am your little sister, Grass Woman!" And with that I put my blanket around his shoulders and embraced and kissed him. I could feel him tremble.

"So you are!" he answered. "I recognize you! I am glad! But take courage! There must be no tears on my face, here, before these white chiefs. Take courage, little sister, and interpret for us!"

"I will try to do so," I answered. "But just think, brother! After all these winters I am here with you, here where I thought that I was never ' again to come!"

"Yes, truly, the gods have been kind," he answered. "But now dry your tears. Interpret to me the words of these white chiefs. After the council is ended, you and I will talk."

At that I tried my best to stop crying. Long Knife said a few words to my man, who interpreted them to me, and then I began to tell my brother what had been said. My thoughts were too much for me. I could not stop crying. I could not even remember what I was to interpret. My man got angry at me; called me bad names. But Red Hair and Long Knife took pity upon me; they saw how I felt, and at once halted the council, saying that they would put it off until I was myself again. They arose and went out, and I was left with my brother.

"Tell me all. Tell me about our family," I said to him.

"Our father was killed on the day that the enemy took you from us," he said.

"Yes, I know. I saw him dead and scalped beside the trail," I told him.

"Our mother is dead, and our two sisters. Our sister, Red Willow Woman, left a little boy. Our brother is not here. I sent him to one of our tribes with a message."

"Where is the little boy?" I asked, after I had cried some more.

"In our camp on the other side of the pass."

"Brother, give him to me. Let me be his mother. I will be a good mother to him," I said. "Take him. I know that you will be good to him," he answered. And thoughts of what I should do for the little one helped me dry my tears.

And now my brother began asking me many questions. He wanted to know all about my life with the Minnetarees; how many they were; how many guns they had and where they obtained them. And at last, after I had answered them all, and had told him much that he did not ask about, he said to me: "Truly, the gods are good to us. Here you are, returned to your own people. And here are these white men with many guns and much food for them. No longer shall we starve. I have sent messengers to all the tribes of our people and to the Flatheads, asking them to come and help us kill these white men. When we have done that and have taken their guns, we shall go out upon the plains and live there all the time, for we shall then be able to kill off the plains enemies when they come to attack us!"

When my brother said that I thought that he was joking. I looked at him, saw that he really meant what he had said, and my body went cold. What, kill my good, kind chiefs, and their men? Here was a terrible situation! And it was my own brother who was planning to do this! What could I say to him to make him change his mind? I prayed the gods to help me and began:—

"Brother," I said, "these two white chiefs and their men have been good to me; if you kill them, I must die too!"

"What are their lives compared to the lives of our people?" he cried. "Nothing! Only by killing these white men and taking their guns can we go out and hold our own against our enemies on the buffalo plains!"

"For how long?" I asked. "After just one fight with your enemies you would have used up all the food for the guns. Then what would you do? Could you make more of the black sand, and more of the heavy, round balls? No, you could not! And after you had killed many of the enemy, those who survived would go home and gather together all the warriors of the three tribes of the Earth House people, and the number of those who would come to attack you would be as many as the grass. Not one of you would live to see these mountains again!

"But you can help us! You must!" he cried. "You have been with the white men a long time i68) ?>and have seen them make gun food; you shall teach us how to make it!"

"Not even Red Hair and Long Knife, great chiefs though they are, know how' to make the black sand," I told him. "I have inquired about that, and have learned that the making of it is a great secret, known only to some wonderful white medicine men who live far in the east."

My brother groaned. He humped over in his seat.

I saw that I had hit him, and went on: "I know these white men. Their talk is as straight as the straightest pine tree that you ever saw. They do not know how to lie. They say that they have come to make a trail from the far east to the shore of the Everywhere-Salt-Water, to make peace with the different tribes along the way, and to get the tribes to make peace with one another. They promise that white traders shall follow this trail, and bring to you plenty of guns and gun food, and plenty of all the different useful and beautiful things of white men's make. Brother, be wise! Do that which is best for us all. Send messengers at once to tell the warriors of the different tribes to remain where they are, for the white men are not to be attacked!"

"You will not tell your white chiefs anything about this?" he asked.

"I should be ashamed to let them know that my brother had so foolishly made plans against them," I answered.

"I was foolish," he agreed, "but I meant well for my people. I just thought of the many guns we should get. Why—oh, why didnít I see at once that they would become as useless to us as the few that we have, as soon as the black sand that we should take with them should be used up! Yes. I will send a man at once to our camp on the other side of the pass, and he shall send messengers from there to the tribes to tell them that we are not to fight the white men!"

And at that he called a young man to us, and we both explained to him what he was to do, and away he went to camp to send out the messengers. So were my white chiefs and their men saved from sudden end there in the mountains.

That afternoon Red Hair and Long Knife held a great council with my brother and his men. They told why they had come to the country, what they would do for them, especially promising that traders should soon come to them with all the guns and things that they could use. They gave my brother and his head warriors beautiful presents, and to all several small presents, and then they asked that horses be furnished them upon which to pack their goods, and so enable them to go on their way to the Everywhere-Salt-Water, agreeing to pay well for all the horses that they bought. My brother answered that he and his men would furnish the horses needed, and the council came to an end.

There were here, at the end of our boat trail, only a few of my people, and they had not with them enough horses with which to pack all our goods to the camp on the other side of the pass on the following day, therefore, Red Hair and some of the men started out for the camp with my brother and his people, taking what horses had been bought, and Long Knife and the rest of the men remained at the river, to wait there until they could be provided with horses. My man and I went with Red Hair's and my brother's party. And I rode: Red Hair, kind, generous man that he ever was, had given my man goods with which to buy a horse for me! We were nearly three days in making the camp, which was on the west slope of the great mountains. But those days were not long to me. I knew every part of the trail, and every place along it that we passed brought to me remembrance of some happening there in my young days. At last we arrived at the camp, and people old and people young came crowding around me, to tell me how glad they were to see me after the many winters that had passed since I had been taken from them.

Among them there came an old man, crying loudly: "Make way for me! Make way! Where is that woman, that Grass Woman? Show her to me; she is mine; her father gave her to me long before she was carried off by the enemy war party!"

"Here I am," I told him, "but I am not your woman! See, there he is, my man, and this little one here on my back is our son!"

The old man was nearly blind; he felt his way toward me with his staff, put his hands upon me, and tried to see my face, and felt of the roundness of the child: "It is true! She has a child!" he said. "Well, what if you have? You still belong to me! But I do not want you now. Give me tobacco and I will let you go. Yes, give me tobacco and you can do as you please with yourself."

I told my man what he had said, and the old man got a piece of tobacco and went stumbling away with it, saying over and over to himself: "Women! Of what use are women to me? Tobacco! Ha! Tobacco is what makes happiness!"

I now had no idle time. When I was not interpreting for Red Hair, I was talking with my people, telling them all about the Earth House tribes, and how they lived, how well fed they were, and how comfortable their lodges. Most of all were they interested in what I told them about the game that we had seen at the falls of the Big-River-of-the-Plains. My brother, especially, became greatly excited about that: "There they are, thousands and thousands of buffalo, only a few days' journey away, and here we are starving. Even though we die for it, we must go out there and kill buffalo!" he said. And all agreed with him that it was the one thing for them to do and do at once. Oh, how sorry I felt for them, my people, my own people! They were starving; there wasnít enough meat in all that camp to make a meal for a dog. And to me, after my long, fat living in the Minnetaree village and upon the long trail up from it, their few handfuls of roots that they found each day were very mean and pitiful.

I now got my brother and others to tell Red Hair all that they knew about the) country to the west and the trails in it. But none of them had been very far to the west, and so could tell him only what they had heard, and that was very little. It was Red Hair's plan to go down the little stream from where we were camped,' to where it joined the river which, far off, ran into the real Big River, and there build boats in which to make our way to the Everywhere-Salt-Water. An old man told him that he had been down that river for some distance, and that, as far as he had gone, it had been too rough for boats. My brother and others told him that the one way to get to the Big River, where boats could be used, would be to go north to the Nez Perces' trail to the buffalo plains and follow it west to Big River; that when they struck it, in the Nez Perces' country, they could then build boats or buy them from boat tribes just west of the Nez Perces, and travel in them down the river to the Great Water. Red Hair considered what he had been told and answered that he must see for himself if the near Big River was too rough for boats. So, engaging the old man to show him the way, he set out down the creek with his men on the following day. On the next day following, my brother, my man, and I, and many of the people set out to take horses to Long Knife and bring him and his men and goods over across the mountains to this camp of my people. When we arrived at Long Knife's camp he bought all the horses that they could spare, but they were not enough with which to make the start, so we 'waited for another party of my people to come with more horses. They arrived on the next day, and sold all the animals that they could let go, but still we had not enough; so, when we did make the start west, after sinking our stone-loaded boats deep in the water, what goods the horses could not carry were carried by some of the women. We got a late start and made an early camp.

On the following day, after breaking camp, I rode up beside my brother and asked him why, early that morning, he had sent two young men on ahead of us.

"I have sent them on to tell the people to break camp and come east," he answered. "We are all starving. As soon as we meet them we shall all band together and strike out for the buffalo plains. We have now some black sand and some balls for our guns, given us by one and another of your chiefs' men; so, even if we do meet a war party of the enemy, we shall manage to kill a few buffalo and bring the meat back here in the mountains."

Now, when my brother told me that, I just went sick with shame for him! He had promised Red Hair and Long Knife to furnish all the horses needed to take them and their goods to the west side camp, where they could buy all the horses that they wanted, horses that they must have to enable them to go on westward, and here he was planning to gather his people and turn back with them to go down to hunt buffalo! I was so angry

at him that I could not speak, and then it came to me that I was not the one to reproach him. Only too well I knew that men seldom pay any attention to women's advice. The one thing for me to do was to tell Long Knife what was happening and let him scold my brother.

"Yes, with the black sand and balls that we now have for our guns, we can risk going out after buffalo," my brother went on, a happy smile on the face that he turned to me. "Myself, I have all of thirty swallows of black sand and balls. Your man is generous; he gave them to me."

At that I became still more angry. My chiefs had strictly warned the men not to give nor sell a single load of powder and ball to the Indians, and my man, my own man, was one of those who had disobeyed the order! I said to myself that here, right here, our trail-making would end, for, without the horses that we needed, we could not possibly make our way onward toward the Everywhere-Salt-Water. Almost then I let loose at my brother the anger that was within me. And then I said to myself: "No. I cannot scold him! What had his people to eat this morning? Most of them a few roots; some of them not a mouthful of anything! Were I in his place I should think as he does, that food for his starving people is of more importance than the wants of a few white men! But this must be: As the people have starved, so must they starve a few days longer. My white chiefs have got to have the horses that they need!"

I dropped back beside my man, who was leading one of the pack-horses, and told him what my brother had done, but I did not tell him that I knew that he and others of the men had given powder and balls to my people. What was done was done. I should never tell my chiefs about it; we already had enough troubles!

My man did nothing but say bad words when I had told him what was happening. He called my brother all the bad names he could think of. And then he turned upon me: "And so you think that, if your brother carries out his intention, we shall turn back!" he cried. "You should know better by this time these two white chiefs you love so much. Nothing will stop them! If they can't get horses they will still go on, forcing us along with them, and I shall have to go afoot, on and on until, somewhere there in the west, I fall and die!"

"And by your fault and serve you right! You would give away your powder and balls!" I almost told him, but stopped my tongue just in time, and said: "I still have faith in my white chiefs to do all things. You must hurry on and tell Long Knife what my brother has done."

It was some time, though, not until a midday rest was ordered, that we caught up with Long Knife. As soon as my man had told him what my brother had done, he called a council, and, of course, I had to do the interpreting. Do you think that it was pleasant for me, turning into the language of my people his scolding of my brother? He did scold him! He told him that he was a man of two tongues, and terribly shamed him there before all the people! I could not tell my brother all that he said; I had not the heart to do it. In the worst parts I put in some half-pleasant words of my own, and made my poor brother tell Long Knife that he was sorry for what he had done; that, so anxious was he to get his people started out for food, he had not remembered his promise; and that he would at once send a messenger on to tell the people at the west side camps to remain where they were until we arrived.

And so that trouble was wiped out!

When we arrived at the camp of my people, at the west end of the pass, we learned that another camp of them, gathered from different fishing places, was not far below, and that Red Hair and his men were there. They soon joined us, and we then learned that Red Hair had been down the river a long way and had found it too rough for boats. An old man, named Diving Eagle, had been Red Hair's guide. He was a member of a tribe of our nation that lived somewhere far to the west, and, with his family, had traveled to many far places and visited many tribes. He now said that the one thing for us to do would be to go north to the trail of the Nez Perces to the buffalo plains, and then follow it west until we arrived at a place where we could build boats in which to travel the rest of the way to the Everywhere-Salt-Water. Red Hair and Long Knife decided that we should do this, and we prepared to go on. All the horses were bought that my people could spare, but still we had not all that we wanted. The Blackfeet and the Minnetarees had stolen the most of their horses. The last two that we got were bought at a very high price, a gun, a pistol, and much food for them, and even at that the owners did not like to let them go.

Although he had said nothing to me about it, my brother had counted upon my man and me parting from Red Hair and Long Knife and turning back with him to the buffalo plains.

I was surprised when he now said to me: "To-morrow your white men go upon their way; I have by my waiting upon them too long delayed taking my hungry people out to meat. You had better get your things out from the white men's camp this evening, so that we can make an early start in the morning."

"What do you mean?" I asked him. "I have had no thought of turning back with you. What made you think that I should?"

"I talked with your man about it. He doesn't understand signs very well, but I understood him to say that you and he would leave the white men and join us," he answered.

My man was right there with us, and I asked him about it, what he had said to my brother.

"I told him that I didnít want to go any farther west," he replied. "Nor do I. I have gone far enough with these white men. I have slaved enough for them. It is best that we leave them right here!"

"We cannot do it. You promised them that we should go with them to the Everywhere-Salt-Water and back to the Minnetaree village. You put your name to that promise, and what was written cannot be rubbed out!" I said.

"There is a way out of it, a good way," he told me. "You can become sick, very sick, too sick to go on with them, and then, of course, I shall have to leave the party and take care of you!"

"I shall not be sick! I am strong to go on!" I said.

"Well, if you don't care for yourself and for me, you ought to care for our little son," he pleaded. "We are almost starving now, and from all that I can learn, to the west there is no food at all after the fish turn about and go down the rivers. If we go on, we go to die from starvation!"

"Then we die with Red Hair and Long Knife, with good company!" I answered. "But we shall not do that. To the west are many tribes of people, and where they find food we can find it."

"Some of those tribes are very powerful. If we escape starvation, we shall be killed for the goods that we take with us," he said.

"You know as well as I do that Red Hair and Long Knife are great chiefs; that they have powerful medicine; that their men are also very brave. Enemy tribes cannot stop them from doing what they have set out to do!" I answered.

And at that my man sprang up, and, without another word to me, went off to the other camp.

I then explained to my brother why we could not leave the white men, and asked him to take good care of my adopted son until I could return and care for him myself. He promised to do that; said that he had taken the best of care for him since his mother's death. And so we parted. I felt very sad as I walked back to our camp. I thought of the terrible risk my people were about to take in going out after buffalo. And, although I had talked bravely enough about it, I, too, feared the long trail that we were about to follow into the west.