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Buffalo Person

Dreamed summer 1857 at age 9 by Plenty Coups [Aleek-chea-ahoosh, 'Many Achievements'], as told to Frank Linderman, 1928

FOREWORD

PLENTY-COUPS (Aleek-chea-ahoosh, meaning Many Achievements) had been Chief of the Crows (Absarokees) ever since I knew anything about them. He was probably the last legitimate chieftain who had seen much of the old life of the plains Indian, and I have written his story as he told it to me so that a genuine record of his life might be preserved.

"I was born eighty snows ago this summer [1848] at the place we call The-cliff-that-has-no-pass," said Plenty-coups slowly. "It is not far from the present site of Billings. My mother's name was Otter-woman. My father was Medicine-bird. I have forgotten the name of one of my grandmothers, but I remember her man's name, my grandfather's. It was Coyote-appears. My other grandmother, a Crow woman, married a man of the Shoshone. Her name was It-might-have-happened. She was my mother's mother.'

"My grandfather, who had given me my name, had told my mother that I should live to count many coups and be old. His dream had also told him that I should be a chief. 'I name him Aleek-chea-ahoosh [Many Achievements],' he told my mother, 'because in my dream I saw him count many coups.' Of course all the people knew this, and even as a boy I felt obliged to excel my companions, to be a leader among those of my own age. I must live up to my name, you see; and now I was beginning to think of dreaming.'"

SUMMER, 1857

"I was nine years old and undeveloped, but I realized the constant danger my people were in from enemies on every side. Our country is the most beautiful of all. Its rivers and plains, its mountains and timber lands, where there was always plenty of meat and berries, attracted other tribes, and they wished to possess it for their own.

"To keep peace our chiefs sent out clans to the north, east, south, and west. They were to tell any who wished to come into our country that they were welcome. They were told to say, 'You may hunt and may gather berries and plums in our country, but when you have all you can carry you must go back to your own lands. If you do this all will be well. But if you remain overlong, we will warn you to depart. If you are foolish and do not listen, your horses will be stolen; and if even this does not start you homeward, we will attack you and drive you out.'" Map of tribes around Crow territory in southern Montana

"These clans did not go to the other people, but camped near the boundaries of our domain so that they might speak to any visitor coming from any direction and give him the message from our chiefs. But little heed was paid to what we said. There was almost continual war with those who coveted our country.

"The Lacota [Sioux], Striped-feathered-arrows [Cheyennes], and Tattooed-breasts [Arapahoes] kept pushing us back, away from the Black Hills, until finally when I was a young man we were mostly in the country of the Bighorn and Little Bighorn rivers. These tribes, like the Pecunies [Piegans], Bloods, and Blackfeet [all Blackfeet], had many guns which they had obtained from white traders, while we had almost no guns in the tribe. The northern tribes could easily trade with the Hudson's Bay people, while the tribes eastward of us traded furs and robes to the American Fur Company for guns, powder, and lead.

"There is no better weapon than the bow for running buffalo, but in war the gun is often the best. All tribes were against us, the Blackfeet north and west, the Cheyennes and Sioux east, the Shoshones and Arapahoes on the south; and besides these there was often war with the Flatheads, Assiniboines, and Hairy-noses [Gros Ventres of the prairies].'"

"The Absarokees [Crows] are a different people from any of these,'' he went on. "We have no relatives except the Dirt-lodges, called by the white men, 'Gros Ventres.' We were obliged to fight alone, and we could fight. Our chiefs were able men when I was a boy. They were Long-horse, Sits-in-the-middle-of-the-land, Thin-belly, and Iron-bull. How they inspired me, a boy, aching for age and opportunity!

"We followed the buffalo herds over our beautiful plains, fighting a battle one day and sending out a war-party against the enemy the next. My heart was afire. I wished so to help my people, to distinguish myself, so that I might wear an eagle's feather in my hair. How I worked to make my arms strong as a grizzly's, and how much I practiced with my bow! A boy never wished to be a man more than I."

SEEKING THE DREAM

"One windy day," the Chief went on, "when the clouds touched their peaks, we came to the Beartooth Mountains. I saw many lodges among the trees there and thought at first they belonged to our enemies, the Blackfeet. But they were Crow lodges, and all the clans, even those that had been farthest away, had come to the mountains to meet the chiefs in council. I was glad to see them all. I was born a Burned-mouth, but had been raised by the Newly-made-lodges. Both were here, with the Whistling-waters, the Big-lodges, the Kicked-in-the-bellies, and the others. The sight of so large a village under the pine trees, the air-clear water racing past it to the plains, the smell of smoke from lodge-fires, the sound of war-drums and happy voices, made my heart sing.

"That day I walked with my first sweetheart. I will not speak her name. She went away to her Father before we could marry, but I know, even to this day, where they buried her. I have never forgotten."

"That night the secret societies held meetings, the Foxes, the War-clubs, the Big-dogs, the Crazy-dogs, the Muddy-hands, the Fighting-bulls, and others. Bright fires blazed and crackled among the pines, and drums were going all night long. I wished with all my heart that I might belong to one of these secret societies. I thought most of the Foxes, and I looked with longing eyes at their firelit lodge, where men spoke of things I could not know. But I was yet only a boy."

"We feasted there,'' said Plenty-coups. "Fat meat of bighorn, deer, and elk was plentiful. The hunters had killed many of these animals because they knew there would soon be a very large village to feed. Besides, light skins were always needed for shirts and leggings. Even the dogs found more than they could eat near that village, and our horses, nearly always feasting on rich grass, enjoyed the change the mountains gave them. All night the drums were beating, and in the light of fires that smelled sweet the people danced until they were tired.

"I was wakened by a crier. He was riding through the village with some message from the council of the night before. I sat up to listen. "There are high peaks in these mountains, O young men! Go to them and dream!' the crier said. "Are you men, or women? Are you afraid of a little suffering? Go into these mountains and find Helpers for yourselves and your people who have so many enemies!'

"I sat there in my robe, listening till his voice was far off. How I wished to count coup, to wear an eagle's feather in my hair, to sit in the council with my chiefs, holding an eagle's wing in my hand." [To carry an eagle's wing at tribal ceremonies was a mark of distinction. Sometimes the quills of the feathers were beautifully covered with colored porcupine quills and the wing was used as a fan.]

"I got up from my robe. The air was cool and smelled of the trees outside. Ought I to go again and try to dream?

" 'Go, young man!'
Montana's Crazy Peak in summer: bare rough crags.
Crazy Peak, 3423 meters high, in summer

"Another crier had started through the village. His first words answered my unspoken question. I walked out of the lodge, only half hearing the rest of his message. The sun was just coming, and the wind was in the treetops. Women were kindling their fires, and hunters were leaving the camp when I started out alone.

"I decided to go afoot to the Crazy Mountains, two long days' journey from the village. The traveling without food or drink was good for me, and as soon as I reached the Crazies I took a sweat-bath and climbed the highest peak. There is a lake at its base, and the winds are always stirring about it. But even though I fasted two more days and nights, walking over the mountain top, no Person came to me, nothing was offered. I saw several grizzly bears that were nearly white in the moonlight, and one of them came very near to me, but he did not speak. Even when I slept on that peak in the Crazies, no bird or animal or Person spoke a word to me, and I grew discouraged. I could not dream.

"Back in the village I told my closest friends about the high peaks I had seen, about the white grizzly bears, and the lake. They were interested and said they would go back with me and that we would all try to dream.

"There were three besides myself who set out, with extra moccasins and a robe to cover our sweat-lodge. We camped on good water just below the peak where I had tried to dream, quickly took our sweat-baths, and started up the mountains. It was already dark when we separated, but I found no difficulty in reaching my old bed on the tall peak that looked down on the little lake, or in making a new bed with ground-cedar and sweet-sage. Owls were hooting under the stars while I rubbed my body with the sweet-smelling herbs before starting out to walk myself weak.

"When I could scarcely stand, I made my way back to my bed and slept with my feet toward the east. But no Person came to me, nothing was offered; and when the day came I got up to walk again over the mountain top, calling for Helpers as I had done the night before.

"All day the sun was hot, and my tongue was swollen for want of water; but I saw nothing, heard nothing, even when night came again to cool the mountain. No sound had reached my ears, except my own voice and the howling of wolves down on the plains.

"I knew that our great Crow warriors of other days sacrificed their flesh and blood to dream, and just when the night was leaving to let the morning come I stopped at a fallen tree, and, laying the first finger of my left hand upon the log, I cut part of it off with my knife. [The end of the left index finger on the Chief's hand is missing]. But no blood came. The stump of my finger was white as the finger of a dead man, and to make it bleed I struck it against the log until blood flowed freely. Then I began to walk and call for Helpers, hoping that some Person would smell my blood and come to aid me. Sunset; four eagles on rock stare at Plenty Coups, age 9, seeking a vision. Sketch by Wayan.

"Near the middle of that day my head grew dizzy, and I sat down. I had eaten nothing, taken no water, for nearly four days and nights, and my mind must have left me while I sat there under the hot sun on the mountain top. It must have traveled far away, because the sun was nearly down when it returned and found me lying on my face. As soon as it came back to me I sat up and looked about, at first not knowing where I was. Four war-eagles were sitting in a row along a trail of my blood just above me. But they did not speak to me, offered nothing at all.

"I thought I would try to reach my bed, and when I stood up I saw my three friends. They had seen the eagles flying over my peak and had become frightened, believing me dead. They carried me to my bed and stayed long enough to smoke with me before going back to their own places. While we smoked, the four war-eagles did not fly away. They sat there by my blood on the rocks, even after the night came on and chilled everything living on the mountain."

Again the Chief whispered aside to the Little-people, asking them if he might go on. When he finally resumed, I felt that somehow he had been reassured. His voice was very low, yet strained, as though he were tiring.

THE DREAM

"I dreamed. I heard a voice at midnight and saw a Person standing at my feet, in the east. He said, "Plenty-coups, the Person down there wants you now.'

"He pointed, and from the peak in the Crazy Mountains I saw a Buffalo-bull standing where we are sitting now. I got up and started to go to the Bull, because I knew he was the Person who wanted me. The other Person was gone. Where he had stood when he spoke to me there was nothing at all.

"The way is very long from the Crazies to this place where we are sitting today, but I came here quickly in my dream. On that hill over yonder was where I stopped to look at the Bull. He had changed into a Man-person wearing a buffalo robe with the hair outside. Later I picked up the buffalo skull that you see over there, on the very spot where the Person had stood. I have kept that skull for more than seventy years.

"The Man-person beckoned me from the hill over yonder where I had stopped, and I walked to where he stood. When I reached his side he began to sink slowly into the ground, right over there [pointing]. Just as the Man-person was disappearing he spoke. 'Follow me,' he said.

"But I was afraid. 'Come,' he said from the darkness. And I got down into the hole in the ground to follow him, walking bent-over for ten steps. Then I stood straight and saw a small light far off . It was like a window in a white man's house of today, and I knew the hole was leading us toward the Arrow Creek Mountains [the Pryors].

"In the way of the light, between it and me, I could see countless buffalo, see their sharp horns thick as the grass grows. I could smell their bodies and hear them snorting, ahead and on both sides of me. Their eyes, without number, were like little fires in the darkness of the hole in the ground, and I felt afraid among so many big bulls. The Man-person must have known this, because he said, 'Be not afraid, Plenty-coups. It was these Persons who sent for you. They will not do you harm.'

"My body was naked. I feared walking among them in such a narrow place. The burrs that are always in their hair would scratch my skin, even if their hoofs and horns did not wound me more deeply. I did not like the way the Man-person went among them. 'Fear nothing! Follow me, Plenty-coups,' he said.

"I felt their warm bodies against my own, but went on after the Man-person, edging around them or going between them all that night and all the next day, with my eyes always looking ahead at the hole of light. But none harmed me, none even spoke to me, and at last we came out of the hole in the ground and saw the Square White Butte at the mouth of Arrow Creek Canyon. It was on our right. White men call it Castle Rock, but our name for it is The-fasting-place.

"Now, out in the light of the sun, I saw that the Man-person who had led me had a rattle in his hand. It was large and painted red. When he reached the top of a knoll he turned and said to me, 'Sit here!'

"Then he shook his red rattle and sang a queer song four times. 'Look!' he pointed.

"Out of the hole in the ground came the buffalo, bulls and cows and calves without number. They spread wide and blackened the plains. Everywhere I looked great herds of buffalo were going in every direction, and still others without number were pouring out of the hole in the ground to travel on the wide plains. When at last they ceased coming out of the hole in the ground, all were gone, all! There was not one in sight anywhere, even out on the plains. I saw a few antelope on a hillside, but no buffalo--not a bull, not a cow, not one calf, was anywhere on the plains.

"I turned to look at the Man-person beside me. He shook his red rattle again. "Look," he pointed.

"Out of the hole in the ground came bulls and cows and calves past counting. These, like the others, scattered and spread on the plains. But they stopped in small bands and began to eat the grass. Many lay down, not as a buffalo does but differently, and many were spotted. Hardly any two were alike in color or size. And the bulls bellowed differently too, not deep and far-sounding like the bulls of the buffalo but sharper and yet weaker in my ears. Their tails were different, longer, and nearly brushed the ground. They were not buffalo. These were strange animals from another world.

"I was frightened and turned to the Man-person, who only shook his red rattle but did not sing. He did not even tell me to look, but I did look and saw all the Spotted-buffalo go back into the hole in the ground, until there was nothing except a few antelope anywhere in sight. House of Plenty Coups near Pryor, Montana.

" 'Do you understand this which I have shown you, Plenty-coups?' he asked me.

" 'No' I answered. How could he expect me to understand such a thing when I was not yet ten years old?

"During all the time the Spotted-buffalo were going back into the hole in the ground the Man-person had not once looked at me. He stood facing the south as though the Spotted-buffalo belonged there. 'Come, Plenty-coups,' he said finally, when the last had disappeared.

"I followed him back through the hole in the ground without seeing anything until we came out right over there [pointing] where we had first entered the hole in the ground. Then I saw the spring down by those trees, this very house just as it is, these trees which comfort us today, and a very old man sitting in the shade, alone. I felt pity for him because he was so old and feeble.

" 'Look well upon this old man,' said the Man-person. 'Do you know him, Plenty-coups?' he asked me.

" 'No,' I said, looking closely at the old man's face in the shade of this tree.

" 'This old man is yourself, Plenty-coups,' he told me. And then I could see the Man-person no more. He was gone, and so too was the old man. Storm, lightning, a flattened forest with just one tree standing. Dreamed by Plenty Coups, sketch by Wayan.

"Instead I saw only a dark forest. A fierce storm was coming fast. The sky was black with streaks of mad color through it. I saw the Four Winds gathering to strike the forest, and held my breath. Pity was hot in my heart for the beautiful trees, I felt pity for all things that lived in that forest, but was powerless to stand with them against the Four Winds that together were making war. I shielded my own face with my arm when they charged! I heard the Thunders calling out in the storm, saw beautiful trees twist like blades of grass and fall in tangled piles where the forest had been. Bending low, I heard the Four Winds rush past me as though they were not yet satisfied, and then I looked at the destruction they had left behind them.

"Only one tree, tall and straight, was left standing where the great forest had stood. The Four Winds that always make war alone had this time struck together, riding down every tree in the forest but one. Standing there alone among its dead tribesmen, I thought it looked sad. 'What does this mean?' I whispered in my dream.

" 'Listen, Plenty-coups,' said a voice. 'In that tree is the lodge of the Chickadee. He is least in strength but strongest of mind among his kind. He is willing to work for wisdom. The Chickadee-person is a good listener. Nothing escapes his ears, which he has sharpened by constant use. Whenever others are talking together of their successes or failures, there you will find the Chickadee-person listening to their words. But in all his listening he tends to his own business. He never intrudes, never speaks in strange company, and yet never misses a chance to learn from others. He gains success and avoids failure by learning how others succeeded or failed, and without great trouble to himself. There is scarcely a lodge he does not visit, hardly a Person he does not know, and yet everybody likes him, because he minds his own business, or pretends to.

" 'The lodges of countless Bird-people were in that forest when the Four Winds charged it. Only one is left unharmed, the lodge of the Chickadee-person. Develop your body, but do not neglect your mind, Plenty-coups. It is the mind that leads a man to power, not strength of body.'

AFTER

"I wakened then. My three friends were standing at my feet in the sunshine. They helped me stand. I was very weak, but my heart was singing, even as my friends half carried me to the foot of the mountain and kindled a fire. One killed a deer, and I ate a little of the meat. It is not well to eat heartily after so long a time of fasting. But the meat helped me to recover my strength a little. Of course we had all taken sweat-baths before touching the meat, or even killing the deer, and I was happy there beside the clear water with my friends. Toward night two of them went back to the village to bring horses for me and the man who stayed with me at the foot of the mountains. I was yet too weak to travel so far afoot.

"Lying by the side of the clear water, looking up into the blue sky, I kept thinking of my dream, but could understand little of it except that my medicine was the Chickadee. I should have a small medicine-bundle, indeed. And I would call upon the Wise Ones [medicine-men] of the tribe to interpret the rest. Perhaps they could tell the meaning of my dream from beginning to end.

"In the middle of the third day my ears told me that horses were coming. My friend and I walked a little way to meet them, and very soon I heard the voices of my uncles, White-horse and Cuts-the-turnip. They were singing the Crow Praise Song with several others who were leading extra horses for my friend and me.

"I was stronger now and could ride alone, but the way seemed very far indeed. Of course I had spoken to nobody of my dream, but when I came in sight of the village my uncles began again to sing the Praise Song, and many people came out to meet us. They were all very happy, because they knew I now had Helpers and would use my power to aid my people.

"None spoke to me, not because he did not wish to be kind but because the people knew I must first cleanse myself in a sweat-lodge before going about the village with my friends. I saw my young sweetheart by her father's lodge, and although she did not speak to me I thought she looked happier than ever before.

"While I was in the sweat-lodge my uncles rode through the village telling the Wise Ones that I had come, that I had dreamed and wished interpretation of my vision in council. I heard them calling this message to those who had distinguished themselves by feats of daring or acts of wisdom, and I wondered what my dream could mean, what the Wise Ones would say to me after I had told them all I had seen and heard on the peak in the Crazy Mountains. I respected them so highly that rather than have them speak lightly of my dream I would willingly have died."

Plenty-coups hesitated, his dimmed eyes staring over my head into the past. His last words, spoken in a whisper, had lifted him away. He had forgotten me and even the two old men who, like himself, appeared to be under a spell and scarcely breathed.

"My father was gone," the Chief went on, brushing his forehead with his hand, "so that I had only my uncles to speak for me before the Wise Ones. But my uncles were both good men. Both loved me and both belonged to the tribal council, whose members had all counted coup and were leaders. No man can love children more than my people do, and while I missed my father this day more than ever, I knew my uncles looked on me as a son and that they would help me now.

"Both of them were waiting, and when I was ready they led me to the lodge of Yellow-bear, where our chiefs sat with the Wise Ones. When I entered and sat down, Yellow-bear passed the pipe round the lodge, as the sun goes, from east to west. Each man took it as it came, and smoked, first offering the stem to the Sun, the father, and then to the Earth, the mother of all things on this world. But no one spoke. All in that lodge had been over the hard trail and each knew well what was in my heart by my eyes. The eyes of living men speak words which the tongue cannot pronounce. The dead do not see out of their bodies' eyes, because there is no spirit there. It has gone away forever. In the lodge of Yellow-bear that day seventy years ago I saw the spirits of my leaders in their eyes, and my heart sang loudly because I had dreamed.

"When the pipe was finished, my uncle, White-horse, laid his hand on my shoulder. 'Speak, Plenty-coups,' he said. 'Tell us your dream. Forget nothing that happened. You are too young to understand, but here are men who can help you.'"
Plenty Coups (Aleek-chea-ahoosh, or Many Achievements); photo, Edward Curtis c.1908
Plenty Coups (Aleek-chea-ahoosh); photo c.1908, Edward Curtis

At this point a rolling hoop bumped violently against the Chief's chair and fell flat beside it. The old man did not start or show the least displeasure, even when a little bright-eyed girl ran among us to recover it. He did not reprove her with so much as a look. Instead, he smiled. "I have adopted many children," he said softly. Then he went on.

"I told my dream, all of it. Even a part I forgot to tell you, about trying to enter a lodge on my way back from this place to the Crazies. A Voice had spoken. 'Do not go inside,' it said. 'This lodge contains the clothes of small babies, and if you touch them or they touch you, you will not be successful.' Of course I did not enter that lodge, but went on to my bed in the mountains. This I told in the order it came in my dream.

"When I had finished, Yellow-bear, who sat at the head of the lodge which faced the east, lighted the pipe and passed it to his left, as the sun goes. Four times he lit the pipe, and four times it went round the lodge, without a word being spoken by anybody who took it. I grew uneasy. Was there no meaning in my dream?

" 'White-horse,' the voice of Yellow-bear said softly, 'your nephew has dreamed a great dream.'

"My heart began to sing again. Yellow-bear was the wisest man in the lodge. My ears were listening.

" 'He has been told that in his lifetime the buffalo will go away forever,' said Yellow-bear, 'and that in their place on the plains will come the bulls and the cows and the calves of the white men. I have myself seen these Spotted-buffalo drawing loads of the white man's goods. And once at the big fort above the mouth of the Elk River [Fort Union, above the mouth of the Yellowstone] on the Big River [Missouri] I saw cows and calves of the same tribe as the bulls that drew the loads.

" 'The dream of Plenty-coups means that the white men will take and hold this country and that their Spotted-buffalo will cover the plains. He was told to think for himself, to listen, to learn to avoid disaster by the experiences of others. He was advised to develop his body but not to forget his mind. The meaning of his dream is plain to me. I see its warning. The tribes who have fought the white man have all been beaten, wiped out. By listening as the Chickadee listens we may escape this and keep our lands.

" 'The Four Winds represent the white man and those who will help him in his wars. The forest of trees is the tribes of these wide plains. And the one tree that the Four Winds left standing after the fearful battle represents our own people, the Absarokees, the one tribe of the plains that has never made war against the white man.

" 'The Chickadee's lodge in that standing tree is the lodges of this tribe pitched in the safety of peaceful relations with white men, whom we could not stop even though we would. The Chickadee is small, so are we against our many enemies, white and red. But he was wise in his selection of a place to pitch his lodge. After the battle of the Four Winds he still held his home, his country, because he had gained wisdom by listening to the mistakes of others and knew there was safety for himself and his family. The Chickadee is the medicine of Plenty-coups from this day. He will not be obliged to carry a heavy medicine-bundle, but his medicine will be powerful both in peace time and in war.

" 'He will live to be old and he will be a Chief. He will some day live differently from the way we do now and will sit in the shade of great trees on Arrow Creek, where the Man-person took him in his dream. The old man he saw there was himself, as he was told. He will live to be old and be known for his brave deeds, but I can see that he will have no children of his own blood. This was told him when he tried to enter that lodge on his way from Arrow Creek to the peak in the Crazy Mountains where he dreamed. When the Voice told him not to enter, that the lodge was filled with the clothes of babes, that if he touched them he would not succeed, it meant he would have no children. I have finished.'"

"'Your dream was a great dream. Its meaning is plain,' said the others, and the pipe was passed so that I might smoke with them in the lodge of Yellow-bear.

"Ho," said Plenty-coups, making the sign for "finished." "And here I am, an old man, sitting under this tree just where that old man sat seventy years ago when this was a different world."

Coyote-runs and Plain-bull began a conversation between themselves when Plenty-coups left off talking. Both said that the dream of the Chief was well known to all the tribe, even the day after he had returned from his dreaming.

"We traveled by that dream," said Coyote-runs.

Source: Archive.org's online text of "Plenty Coups, Chief Of The Crows" (p.1, 58-77). Title and section headings added.



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