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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

The Mysterious Butte

One time, long ago, when a young man was out hunting, he came to a steep hill. Its east side suddenly dropped off in a precipitous bank. As he stood on that bank he noticed, at the base, a small opening. Examining it closely after going down the slope, he found that the opening was really large enough for a horse or a buffalo to walk through. On each side of this opening he was surprised to see figures of several different animals carved in the wall.

When he entered, he was amazed to see scattered on the floor before him many pipes, bracelets, and other things that people use as ornaments. They seemed to have been offerings to some great spirit.

Passing through this first room, he entered the second and found it so dark that he could not see his hands in front of him. He was frightened. He hurriedly left the place, returned home, and told what he had seen.

The Chief, hearing the young man's story, immediately selected four of his most daring warriors to go with the young man to find out whether or not he was telling the truth. When they reached the place, the young man refused to go inside because on each side of the entrance, the carved figures had been changed!

The four who entered saw that in the first room everything was exactly as the young man had described it. So was their first glimpse of the second room--so dark that they could not see anything. But they continued walking, feeling their way along the walls. At last they found another entrance--or exit. This one was so narrow that they had to squeeze through it sideways. Again they found their way along the walls until they found another opening. This one was so low that they had to crawl on their hands and knees in order to go into the next room.

It was the last one. Entering it, they were surprised by a very sweet odour coming from the opposite direction. Crawling on their hands and knees, and feeling around with their fingers, they found a hole in the ground. Through that hole came the sweet odour. The four warriors hurriedly held a council and decided to return at once to the camp and report what they had learned.

When they reached the first chamber, one young man said, "I am going to take these bracelets to show that we are telling the truth."

"No!" the other three exclaimed promptly. "You are in the abode of some Great Spirit. Some accident may happen to you for taking something that is not yours."

"Aw! You fellows are like old women!" He took a beautiful bracelet and placed it on his left wrist.

When the men reached the village, they reported what they had seen. The one wearing the bracelet shows it, to prove that they had told the truth.

In a short time, these four men were out preparing traps for wolves. As usual, they raised one end of a heavy log and placed a stick under it to hold it up. About five feet from the log, they placed a large piece of meat and covered the space between meat and log with poles and willows. At the spot where they placed the stick, they left a hole large enough to admit the body of a wolf. A wolf would smell the meat and be unable to reach it and because of the poles and willows, the men felt sure, would crowd itself into the hole. Then it would work itself forward in order to get the meat. When its movement pushed down the stick, the log would trap the wolf under its weight.

When the young man wearing the bracelet followed this procedure with a large piece of meat, the log caught the wrist on which he wore the bracelet. Unable to release himself, he called loud and long for help. Hearing his call, his companions hurried to assist him. When they lifted the log, they found that the man's wrist had been broken.

"Now you have been punished," they said. "You have been punished for taking the bracelet out of the chamber of this mysterious butte."

Some time later, a young man who went to the butte saw engraved on the wall the figure of a woman holding a pole in her hand. With it she was holding up a large amount of meat that had been laid across another pole. It had been broken in two from the weight of so much meat. On the wall, on all sides of the figure of the woman, were the footprints of buffalo.

The next day an enormous herd of buffalo came near the village, and a great many were killed. The women were very busy cutting up and drying the meat. More buffalo meat was at one camp than was at any other. When one of the women was hanging meat upon a long tent pole, the pole broke in two. So she had to hold the meat up with another pole, just as in the engraving the young man had seen on that mysterious butte.

Even after that, the people paid weekly visits to this butte, and would read there the signs that would govern their plans. The butte has been considered the prophet of the band of Sioux who told this story for generations and generations.

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.