Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz

Earth Woman Begins her Story

This is the story of Bird Woman as I heard it from Mrs. James Kipp, Earth Woman:—

We Mandans called her by her Minnetaree name, Tsaka'kawia, for we all well understood and spoke the language of that tribe. But we had other names for her: The Gentle Woman, and Led-the-First-Big-Knives Woman. My great chief father was very fond of her, and often got her to make long visits in our lodge and tell us about the far countries and the different peoples that she had seen in her travels. She was the only woman I ever knew who had a place in the chiefs' circle; more often than not, she sat at my father's right hand, upon his couch at the back of the lodge, and the gathering of chiefs and medicine men, and we women and children, grouped near the entrance, all listened to her wonderful tales with the closest attention.

I was born the summer before the great white chiefs, Long Knife and Red Hair, arrived at our village with their men, so, of course, I cannot remember having seen them. But as I grew up I heard over and over the story of their coming, which, up to that time, was the greatest event that had ever happened in our villages. Another great event was to happen in later time, the coming of the first steamboat, and that I saw, and well remember how my people fled in terror from it. But I did not flee with them; I was married, and, although I, too, was terribly frightened at the loud roaring it made, I stood by my man's side, my hand in his, and braved the noise of it.

When Long Knife and Red Hair arrived in our country we had become used to white men. First, many winters before, there had come to us a few white men from the north, men who wore iron shirts and carried big-mouthed guns. They came, they remained with us for a time, and went away, promising to return, but they did not keep their promise. Many winters passed, and then came another kind of white men, the kind we later named Red Coats. North of us, on the Assiniboine River, they built trading-posts and asked my people to go there to trade. We could not do that, our enemies, Assiniboines, Crees, and Sioux, barred the way, so the white men would now and then bring pack-trains of goods to us, and charge us terrible prices for everything that we bought. The first white men, as my man often told me, were those of the Frenchman, the Sieur de la Verendrie. The next were English, traders from the Nor'wester Company. And now came, greatest and best of all, the Long Knives. Several days before they arrived, my people had word of their coming. They came, and oh, the wonder of it all: their big boats with sails; the big gun in the largest boat that boomed with a noise almost as loud as thunder; the many strange utensils that the people stared and stared at, wondering for what purposes they were used. Not the least strange and interesting was the black white man they had with them, black as coal and with black, curly hair.

Soon after they arrived our Mandan and Minnetaree and Black Moccasins chiefs held a council with the white chiefs, who gave them beautiful and valuable presents. In this council the white chiefs told why they had come to our country: they had been sent by the great chief of the Long Knives to get all tribes of Indians to make peace with one another, and they were going to make a trail westward clear to the Great Salt Water, which Long Knives traders would follow to bring trade goods to the different tribes living along it. A thousand dines have I heard my father and mother, and Tsaka'kawia, and others tell the tale of what followed that council; and as it is here that Tsaka'-kawia's part in it all begins, you shall have her story of it in her own words, as nearly as I can remember them. She always began it with a little prayer to the gods. Listen! Here it is!