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The Sioux Who Wrestled With A Ghost

A young Sioux warrior went out alone to live with the animals and birds for a time. He was seeking a vision from Wakantanka, the Great Mystery, so that he would know what direction to take in life. After meeting and overcoming many difficulties he reached a wilderness. One day as he was walking along through a forest he heard a voice. He searched all around, but could find nothing but an owl sitting in a tree.

When night came on, he made a fire and sat down to warm himself Suddenly he heard the voice again, singing very loudly. The Sioux shouted to the singer, but no one replied, and after a while the sound died away.

The only food the Sioux had was a small pouch of wasna, or buffalo fat mixed with dried meat and wild cherries. He was reaching for the pouch when the sound of singing came again, even louder than before, and when the Sioux looked up he saw a ghost standing on the edge of the firelight.

"I want some of your food," the ghost said.

"I have nothing whatever," the young warrior replied.

"Not so," said the ghost. "I know that you have some wasna."

"All right. I will share it with you."

After they had eaten some of the wasna, the Sioux filled his pipe with tobacco and offered it to the ghost. When the ghost reached for the stem, the young man saw that the hand had no flesh, being nothing but bones. At the same time the ghost's robe dropped from its shoulders to its waist so that all its ribs were visible, there being no flesh on them. Although the ghost did not open its teeth as it smoked, the smoke was pouring out through its ribs.

When it had finished smoking, the ghost said to the Sioux: "We must wrestle each other. If you can throw me, I will make you rich in horses."

As the young man owned no horses, he agreed to wrestle the ghost, but before beginning he gathered a pile of brush for his fire so as to light up the forest. While he was doing this the ghost rushed upon him, seizing him with its bony hands and squeezing him most painfully. He tried to push the ghost away, but its legs were very powerful.

After a time, the Sioux noticed that when they wrestled near the fire, the ghost became weak, but the farther they moved away from the fire the stronger the ghost became. As the fire burned lower and lower, the strength of the ghost increased. The young man struggled harder, but the ghost's bones grew tighter around him. After a desperate effort he managed to get near enough to the fire to kick a piece of dry wood into the coals.

As soon as the fire blazed up, the ghost fell upon the ground as though it were coming to pieces. "You have won," the ghost said hoarsely. "Now follow me."

Just as dawn was breaking, the ghost led the Sioux out through the woods into a valley filled with hundreds of horses. The young man roped as many as he could lead back to his village. He never saw the ghost again, but after that he believed in ghosts and whatever they might have to say to people.

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