Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz

To the Everywhere-Salt-Water

We broke camp early the next morning, my people striking out to the east, we to the west and north. Old Diving Eagle, his sons, and a young man going with a message to the Flatheads, accompanied us. Owing to our lack of horses, the most of our men were still on foot. Almost at once our troubles began. For five days we traveled up and down and up and down in very steep, high mountains, in rain and snow, and then, on the fifth day, we had some good luck. On that afternoon we came upon a large camp of Flatheads, on their way to go out upon the plains with my people, and bought some horses from them. They were at first so afraid of us, never having seen any white men, that the women all ran off and the men stood trembling, not knowing what to do until they saw that we meant them no harm. They then became very friendly, and held a long council with Red Hair and Long Knife, and told all that they knew about the country and the tribes along the trail which we sought. I made their hearts glad when I told them that, in the vicinity of the falls of the Big-River-of-the-Plains, the country was black with buffalo, and that we had seen no enemies anywhere along that river.

After leaving the Flatheads, the old man, Diving Eagle, and one of his sons going on with us, we soon got into the roughest, most barren-of-game country that any of us had ever seen. After some days of it, so great was our hunger that we began killing our horses for food. Then we lost the trail in the new-falling snow, and Red Hair took some of the men and went on ahead to try to find a way on through the great mountains that broke sharp up into the blue in all directions as far as we could see. We suffered from cold, from wet, from hunger, for we killed our horses very sparingly. We began to despair: we thought that there would be no end to the mountains, that we should soon have to kill the last of our horses, and then, of course, we should die.

At last, after many days of hard travel and suffering, we rode down into warmer country and met some of Red Hair's men bringing food to us and good news. We had no more mountains to cross; a large camp of Nez Perces was near by, and we could obtain food from them. We made the camp that night, and there found Red Hair and his men. The Nez Perces, we found, were in many bands scattered over a great plains country and along its rivers. They had many horses and boats as well, and in every lodge were great quantities of dried salmon and dried camas and other roots. We bought all that we wanted of this food, ate plenty of it, and soon after eating nearly all of our party became sick. However, sick as the men were and my white chiefs, too, we moved camp down the river to where it was joined by another river and began building boats. Four very large logs and one not so large were cut, and fires were built upon them to burn out their insides. While this was going, on, day after day, Red Hair and Long Knife kept me busy interpreting for them, and that was not easy, for only two or three of the Nez Perces understood a little of my language, and they were all very poor sign-talkers. The most important news that we got from them was, that, although there were some rapids ahead, we could boat down this river into the truly Big-River-of-the-West-Side, and down that to its great falls. White men had been seen at the falls, which were not a very great distance from the Everywhere-Salt-Water.

When the boats were finished, we loaded our goods into them, left our horses with" the Nez Perces, and went on. On our second night down the river, Diving Eagle had a terrible dream. He told me about it while we were eating our morning meal, and asked me if I did not think it was a warning to him to turn back to our people. I answered that the snow in the mountains would prevent him going to them, and he said no more. But soon after we had set out, he and his son got out of the boat in which they were traveling, and started up the shore as fast as they could run, and we saw no more of them. I cried a little over his going. He had been good company to me, with his evening tales about my people. And now all the interpreting and questioning of the different tribes that we should meet, fell upon me. I prayed the gods to give me the wisdom to do it all. We had with us two Nez Perce chiefs, both of whom understood a little of my language, and through them I hoped to be able to do all that my white chiefs asked of me.

This was not a gentle river; we had much trouble in its rapids. After some days we arrived at the place where it entered the real Big River, and then, for a time, had better water. Then we came to the beginning of terrible rapids and falls along it, and twice had to drag the boats around bad places. All this time on the lesser river we were meeting different tribes of the Nez Perces. At the falls of the Big River we came upon the first of other tribes, people who lived in houses and went about in boats. As we of the mountains fearlessly traveled along great cliffs and across steep slides upon our horses, so did they travel in their boats water so bad that it did not seem possible that they could survive its terrible waves and swirlings. Time was when I should have thought that the people of these different tribes were very rich. They had great quantities of dried salmon, salmon pemmican, and dried roots. I once had loved this food. I now despised it. And I saw how very poor these people were. The only rich people are those of the plains: the Earth House people, the Blackfeet, the Crows. With their great bands of horses they wander here and there over their endless plains, and wherever they go there is their food, real food upon all sides of them,—buffalo, antelope, elk, deer,—all easily to be killed as wanted.

After passing the last swift water of this Big River we found it to become ever wider the farther we went. Truly, as a mountain stream is to the Big-River-of-the-Plains, so is that river to this Big-River-of-the-West, just a little creek and nothing more. Why, at last this river became so wide that, looking across it on a clear day, one could not possibly see a man on the farther shore! And now strange things began to happen. Twice, between sunrise and sunrise, the current of this great river turned and ran back, and the rising, backing water tasted of salt. Red Hair told me that this was because the Everywhere-Salt-Water was close at hand, and was pushing back the river water, but I could not understand that. Why should the Great Salt Water want to fight the river water, I should like to know? We had no sooner set out one morning, I sitting in the bow of my boat, than a terribly fierce appearing water animal thrust its head and part of its body out of the water, so close that I could have put my hand upon it, opened wide its mouth and roared at me, made a splash that threw water all over me, and then disappeared as suddenly as it came. It was a water-dog! A fish-dog! Yes, it had the head and body of a dog, but much larger, and it had fishlike fins where its front legs should have been, and its body ended in a fishlike tail. Yes, and the noise that it made was much like the barking of a dog. Red Hair told me not to be afraid of it; that it and its kind did not harm people; but I could not help being afraid of it. I thought what would happen to my little son and me if we were to be upset: without doubt these animals would at once seize us and drag us down into the deep water and eat us!

We had now come into a different country; a country of much rain and fog, and that, too, Red Hair told me, was caused by the Everywhere-Salt-Water. We were boating on one morning, when, suddenly, Red Hair and Long Knife and all the men began to cry out with joy and point ahead, and, as I wondered what it was all about, Red Hair signed to me: "There it is, the Everywhere-Salt-Water!"

I looked and looked for it, but could see nothing, r nothing but the wide river running on and on ahead of us to where it was hidden in dark fog, from which came a roaring noise. I was soon to know what that roaring was. We made camp, and such waves as I had never thought there could be came roaring and pouring upon us, wetting us and all our goods, and tossing drift trees and wood all around us. That was the beginning of some terrible days of rain, strong wind, high waves, and of hunger. We were on the north side of the river. Some of the men went on ahead, in boats, on foot, looking for a good place for us to camp, but could find none that would do. We then, on a still day, crossed the river, and more parties went out, and at last a good place was found. It was on a little river, some distance back from the salty Big River. There, on a little hill, in good pine woods, the men built a fort and we wintered in it. There Indians from different tribes came to visit us and sell us their bad food, fish, and roots. Also they brought women to lend to our men. Red Hair and Long Knife would have nothing to do with these women, and that often made them angry.

There were quite a number of elk and deer around our fort, and the men often brought in some of them. They were poor in flesh, but better than no meat. The best food that we had was the meat of the dogs that we bought of the Indians. We soon used the last of our salt, and several men were sent to the shore of the Everywhere-Salt-Water to boil this water and make salt. Not long after they had gone, one of them returned with some salt, and told about a great fish that the Indians had found on the shore of the Everywhere-Salt-Water. I could hardly believe that there was ever so large a fish as this one they described, but, whatever its size, I wanted to see it, and see, too, the Great Water that the men were always talking about. Red Hair and several of the men were to go after some of the fat of the big fish, and I told him that I wanted to go, too, as my man was to be one of the party, and he said that I could go. I was glad. I was tired of sitting day after day in the fort.

We traveled for three days in bad, low country, and over a high mountain on our way to the big fish. We struck the Everywhere-Salt-Water on the second day, and, great though I had expected to find it, still was I astonished at the size of it. In whatever direction I looked out upon it, I saw that it had no farther shore; that it went on and on to the edge of the world. There was no wind, but still was that great water angry, breaking in roaring waves higher than a fort upon the sand and rocks of the shore! From the top of the high mountain at its edge we could see still farther out upon it, but still could see no farther shore. But we did see the Big-River-of-the-West running into it, and several villages of the Indians that were built along its shores. That night I could not sleep because of the roaring of the waves, which, day and night, are ever rushing upon the shore.

At last, on the third day, we came to the big fish, or what was left of it, just its skeleton; the Indians had taken all its meat and most of its intestines. At first I could not believe that those bones were bones and the bones of a fish. Why, the backbone was larger around than my body, and the rib bones curving up around from it were so high that a man could not touch the tips of them with the muzzle of his upheld gun! In between those ribs, where the stomach had been, we could have piled all the boats in which we had come down Big River from the Nez Perces' country, and even then there might have been space for one or two more! As the sun looks down upon me, I tell you in his sight that, truly, that was the size of the skeleton of the big fish! I did not go very close to it. I was afraid of it. Its ghost was thereabouts, of course, and I prayed hard that it would do me and mine no harm. Red Hair explained to me how the great fish came to be there. He said that it had, no doubt, been chasing smaller fish, to eat, and that it had got into shallow shore water and the waves had pushed it out upon the shore where, lacking water, it soon died. After he told me that I feared the waves more than ever.

There were two villages where the big fish had been wave-pushed ashore to die, and the Indians living in them, and Indians from other villages, had taken all its meat and fat. I saw much of it. I saw with my own eyes pieces of its fat that were as thick as the body of a buffalo! Red Hair bought some of it, and some of the oil that the Indians had made from it, and he and his men said that it was good food. Myself, I did not even touch it. I believed it to be bad medicine; all I asked was that the ghost of the big fish would do me and mine no harm. It hurt me, though, to refuse to eat it when Red Hair asked me to join in the feast. I thought so much of him that I wanted always to do what he asked of me. But this was too much. I was glad when I saw that he was not angry because I refused to eat the fat. I thought over things he had done for me and I for him. He had saved my son and me from the flood at the falls of the Big-River-of-the-Plains. He had bought a horse from my people for me to ride. He had brought me here to see the Everywhere-Salt-Water and this big fish's bones. I had given him my bead belt, with which to buy an otter-skin robe that he wanted, and, when he fell sick, I had given him a piece of bread that I had long been saving for my little son. Best of all, I had saved him—and all the party—from terrible trouble with my Snake people. But I had not done enough for him. I prayed the gods that night to show me how to do more for him, great chief that he was.

We had no real winter, no deep snow, where we were, near the Everywhere-Salt-Water. Instead of snow we had rain; almost continuous rain. It was in the middle of our stay there that we went to see the big fish. After that game became more and more scarce, and we often went hungry to bed. The men, too, became weak and often sick. We longed more and more for Red Hair and Big Knife to give the word for us to abandon the fort and take our back trail, but they kept saying that we must wait a little longer, so as not to strike the great mountains until the summer sun had melted the deep snow upon them enough to let us through the pass. However, hunger at last drove us from the fort. We loaded our boats and set out upon the long trail that we had made the previous summer.

As we went on up the Great River we found that all the people along it—there were many different tribes of them—were as hungry as we were. We did get a few dogs from them and now and then a few roots. I ate as little as I possibly could get along with, so that there would be more for the men. We had no real trouble until, after some days of traveling in the rain and cold, we arrived at the foot of the bad water and falls of the Great River.

We there lost one of our big boats, and had trouble with one of the several tribes that make their home at the falls. The men of this tribe tried to steal several of our things, to hinder us in every way they could, and no doubt would have attacked us had we not kept constant watch upon them. After leaving these bad people, we obtained from another tribe a few horses, and more from still another tribe, until, at last, we had about twenty head. We then abandoned our boats and set out overland, and soon came to a camp of a tribe of Flatheads, who were as mean to us as the tribe at the falls had been. We made camp near their village, and they tried to steal things from us. On the next day, as we were passing through the village, the pack on the horse which my man was leading came off, and an Indian ran off with a robe which he stole from it. That made Long Knife very angry. "We have got to stop this thieving right now, else we shall never get through the country," he said. "Yes, we shall make a stand and kill some of these people unless they give up the robe!" And then he ordered my man to tell me to ride on as fast as I could and tell Red Hair and his men to come back and help him fight the camp.

I was on a fat and very eager little horse and I started him off up the trail at a swift lope. As I left the village there was great outcry in it, women running with their children to hide, and men calling to one another as they rushed about after their weapons and prepared to make a stand against Long Knife. Off to my left I saw a man mount his horse and take after me, and well I knew that, if he succeeded in catching me, in killing me, Long Knife and his men would be killed there in the village, and then, later on, Red Hair and his men would be wiped out. I had the lead of the Flathead, but I saw at once that his horse was more powerful, more swift than mine; ' from the very start he gained upon me. My little son, upon my back, prevented me from whipping my horse to faster speed, for with one hand I had to clutch hard the edges of the robe by which I held him to me, and with the other hold the bridle rope; all that I could do was to thump and keep thumping my heels against the sides of the animal!

I did not know how far ahead of me Red Hair and his men were. The trail was through groves of timber and across hilly small prairies. I rode through two groves, across two prairies, and as I entered the third grove, the Flathead was so close behind me that I could hear him whipping his horse. "I am gone," I said to myself, "but I will keep on going to the very end!"

That grove of pines was not wide. I tore on through it, out upon a prairie and up a rise in it, and, topping it, there I saw Red Hair and his men not far ahead! I cried out to them. They heard me and saw me and came hurrying to meet me. I looked back, and looked just in time to see the Flathead come to the top of the little rise and turn and at once ride back out of sight! Then, as I met Red Hair, I signed to him, "Come! Long Knife calls you! We are to fight!"

"Yes!" he signed back to me. And away we went toward the village. We topped the little rise and I looked for my pursuer, but could see nothing of him. On we went. I expected at every jump of my horse to hear the guns of Long Knife and his men as they fought for their lives, and feared that we should not be in time to save them. And then, oh, how glad I was when we at last rode into sight of the village and saw them gathered at the edge of the lodges. One of the men had found the robe where the thief had hidden it, and, after all, the Indians had not dared fight' for it. As soon as we came up to them, Long Knife gave the warriors a terrible scolding, told them that we should do some killing if they ever again attempted to steal from us, and then we went our way.



The next people we came to were the Wallawallas, who had been friendly to us the summer before, and were friendly to us now. We got from them a few more horses, and had many talks with them through a captive they had, a young man belonging to a far western tribe of my nation. I had never met one of that tribe before. His language was somewhat different from mine, but not so much that we could not well understand one another. My chiefs, through me, had many talks with him, and got from him much that we had not known about the country and the different tribes that lived in it. I told him that he could now be free; that my chiefs would take him with us to my tribe of our nation. But he answered that he no longer wished to return to his people. He was in love with a Wallawalla girl and hoped soon to have her. He spoke the Wallawalla language very well, and so, through the both of us, my chiefs had also many talks with the Wallawalla chiefs, and became greater friends than ever with them.

We got more horses from the Wallawallas, and went on to our best friends of the west side, the Nez Perces. They had taken good care of our horses that we had left with them the summer before, and soon collected them and turned them over to us. Red Hair and Long Knife were for packing up and going on at once, but the Nez Perces told them that we should not be able to cross the mountains for a long time to come, nearly two moons. So we remained there in the low country, visiting one and another of the villages of the Indians, and hunting, and starving mostly, for food was very scarce. We had a lot of sickness in our camp. My own little son fell sick, too, and for a time I thought that he would die. Many of the Indians were also sick; one, especially, a chief who had not been able to move for a summer and a winter. Red Hair and Long Knife doctored him and made him well, as they did all the others who came to them, and that made the people like us better than ever. Some of the young women were very beautiful, so it is no wonder that our men liked them. They would go to the village to be with them as often as they could be spared from our camp. There was one young woman, tall, slender, long-haired, who fell in love with Red Hair, and followed him wherever he went and loved him more and more every day. When we at last started on, she begged him to take her with us, and when Red Hair told her that he could not possibly do that, she went off into the woods and hung herself from a limb of a tree. Her people discovered her just in time to save her life, and said that they would keep close watch upon her until she recovered from her grief.

We left the low country and got up ' into the mountains, only to find that the snow was still too deep for us to cross them. We had to turn back and remain for a time longer with the Nez Perces. Finally, we made a second start, with a couple of Nez Perces to guide us, and had no trouble' in crossing the Bitter Root Mountains and ascending the river in my Snake people's country that we had named after Red Hair. There the Nez Perce guides left us, and I became the guide. And then each day, oh, how eagerly I looked ahead for sight of my people. On we went, on up the west side of the range, through the pass, and down to the place where, the summer before, we had met my brother and sunk our boats, and not until we arrived there did I despair. I had been unable to find even old signs of my people. I feared that, after we had left them the summer before, they had all been killed by the Blackfeet or the Minnetarees when they went out upon the plains to hunt. I was very sad-feeling for days, as we went on and on and still found no signs of them. There should, at least, have been early spring signs of them at the Forks of Big River. There I went carefully over the ground and found not one old fireplace that had been made since the previous summer. I did not learn until two summers later, when a war party of Minnetarees returned from a raid, that I was mistaken; the party had found my people encamped at the foot of the mountains, just south of Big River, and had killed six of them and taken many of their horses.

Well, we raised our canoes from the deep water, opened a cache of goods that we had made near them, and went on down to the Three Forks of the river. There our party separated, Long Knife and some of the men going north to Bear River, to follow it down to its mouth, where they would meet others of the men who were to take the boats down-river. The rest of the men, under Red Hair, were to go south to the Yellowstone and follow it to its mouth. My man and I went with Red Hair, I to be his guide to the Yellowstone. Well I knew the trail to it, for in my young girl days I had followed it many times with my people.

We were not long in traveling across to the Yellowstone and to buffalo. Again we were in the midst of countless herds of them; again, after many moons, we ate at every meal all the fat meat that we wanted, and went to sleep at night with no fear that we might starve on the morrow. I said to myself that never again, unless Red Hair asked me to, would I go into that far west country of little game, few fish, and few roots! I pitied the tribes that lived there,—yes, even those who had been mean to us.

After striking the Yellowstone, we went on down it to good timber, and there built two boats in which to continue our way, some of us, while a few of the men followed us overland with the horses. Just as the boats were completed a few of the horses were stolen in the night by the Crows. At that, Red Hair cautioned the herders to look well after those that remained to us, and we got into the boats and parted from them. We had no trouble in going down to the mouth of the river, and there the herders overtook us in hide boats: after we left them the Crows had stolen all of the remaining horses and had got away with them unseen. And now, a little way below the mouth of the Yellowstone, Long Knife and his men also overtook us, and, again a united party, we went on down Big River, and a few days later, after passing two white men, free trappers, we sighted the Minnetaree villages. Hunters from them had seen us and spread the news of our coming, and there was a great crowd to meet and greet us when we landed at the little village of the Black Moccasins, at the mouth of Knife River.

With the crowd was Otter Woman, thin, gray-faced, so old-appearing that I hardly knew her. She threw herself upon me and wept, crying out to me: "Oh, Grass Woman! Pity me! Comfort me! I have lost my little son! He fell sick one night and died before the rising of the sun!"

I did comfort her all that I could by telling her about meeting our people in the previous summer. But when she learned that I had seen not even signs of them on our way back, she became very sad again. She soon died of the coughing disease; of that, and mourning for her little son.

Now, after my chiefs had met the chiefs of the Earth House people in a great council, they asked my man and me to go down-river with them and visit the great chief of the Long Knives. My man answered that we should go with them, and that made me very happy. Wherever Red Hair went, I was more than glad to go. I began at once to beg pretty and useful things from my friends, so that I should have many presents to give the great white chief when we arrived in his village. But that very evening my man had a talk with some Nor'westers, who had come from the Assiniboine River fort to trade, and the next morning he told me, and then Red Hair and Long Knife, that we should not go down-river. Here, in the buffalo country, where he had lived so long, was the place for him, he said.

"But you can go as interpreter for the chiefs that we are taking with us," they told him. "You shall be paid for going, and some of our men shall bring you all back to this place."

"No, I feel that I can't go, that this is the one place for me," my man answered again.

And that ended it. Oh, but I was angry at him! But what could I do? Nothing! Women can never do anything that they want to do, because of their men! The truth was, the Nor'westers had talked him out of going with Red Hair and Long Knife! And so, with but little delay, my good chiefs and their men got into their boats and set out for their far-away country. I watched them until they went out of sight around the bend of the river, and then I went off by myself and cried.

So ends my story.