described by First Boy - James Larpentuer Long, Fort Peck
Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of
the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long),
edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma
Press, 1961, p 46-56 (originally published as Land of
the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)
principal ambition of all men was to join war parties.
To a warrior's name was added the comment, "He joined
many dif-ferent war parties," which meant that he
was a brave man and others knew it. To be possessed of
only one war achievement was enough to be admitted into
a guest lodge where a feast was prepared for men who could,
if called upon, relate a war deed.
were called upon to act as masters of ceremonies at gath-erings.
In order to fill that position, they first had to give
an account of some exploit. Warriors were especially invited
to a feast to name a child. They were given a fee, as
well as the honor of naming the child.
warrior's stories never became old or worn out by being
retold at dances. The stories of war achievements were
good until the death of the person. If a story of one
of his deeds was given to a younger person, that story
could be retold again and again, even though the real
owner was dead.
these reasons and many others, it was important that the
boys be trained early in life to become warriors. As the
boys grew older, the grandfathers shifted from mythical
tales to real war stories. Accounts of different persons
who were known to the storyteller and to the boys interested
them. In that way, interest and a desire to accompany
a war party were aroused in the youths.
old men said to the youths: "The man who stays home
and courts women will some day find himself old and the
women will not want him any more. That man is just as
well off dead, for his life is wasted. But the man with
a good war record, if he reaches gray hairs, can still
tell his stories to his grandchil-dren, and those children
will be proud of their grandfather. So while you are young
and before you have a woman, join a war party to make
a name for yourself. Even though you may lie dead in the
enemy country and make green grass, your name will always
be mentioned when that part of the country is talked about."
men who headed war parties were not the medicine men who
treated the sick or took charge of ceremonial dances.
They were leaders who were instructed by different beings
in visions or dreams. When a leader-to-be had fasted for
several days, alone and away from camp, he was shown a
vision of a journey into an enemy's country where he was
promised horses and scalps, perhaps other deeds as well.
He was also instructed to make a medicine garment. It
could be a cap, coat, or the skin of some animal used
as a scarf. The Beings who gave the in-structions were
always copied. For example, if the Being was the Sacred
Wolf, the cap would be made of wolf skin or the whole
skin would be used as a scarf. Such garments were won
only during the final march into camp or battle. Otherwise,
they were folded and made into a bundle which was packed
at the side or carried on the back. It was called a sacred
men who joined war parties borrowed sacred bundles from
their fathers, grandfathers, or other relatives who had
them and who stayed at home. Those young men received
the necessary instructions in the care and use of the
bundles from the owners. Some owners 11ad the right to
make bundles and made similar ones for the young men,
sometimes for a fee.
a war leader had a suitable vision, he called a number
of able warriors to his lodge and told them of his intentions.
It was an honor to be invited by an experienced leader
to join a war party. The number was never large. Twelve
was the average number that formed a party. When a trip
was planned, it was kept secret; and when all preparations
for it were completed, the group started out during the
night. That was done so that only the ones invited would
be in the party. However, many times after marching a
day or two, one or more men from home overtook the party.
They were always allowed to join the group.
always the men started out on foot with the prospect of
riding back. Each man carried a pack, containing needed
articles. An extra bow was taken on long trips. Moccasins
were most important, so several pairs were taken along,
They traveled during the day, and when near the border
of their coun-try, game was taken and such cooked meat
as was surplus was packed in their bags. Fires were not
built when in the enemy country,
war party traveled single file, summer or winter. The
war leader always took the lead. The "first-timers,"
or young men on their first war journey, were in the rear.
When the leader stopped, everyone did the same. Whatever
he said was passed back from one to the other. When pursued,
they either spread out and ran in line, or ran in all
directions, everyone for himself.
leaving his own country, the leader unpacked his sac-red
bundle and spread it out before him. He sang and went
through his ritual and made a sacrifice to his Being.
He prayed that some knowledge of the enemy might be shown
him. The men all helped towards the sacrifice. As each
member deposited his offering before or on top of the
leader's sacred bundle, he prayed for horses, scalps,
or a count in a coup, which was achieved by killing or
capturing either a man or woman in an enemy tribe, stealing
horses, or some other brave deed.
the leader told of a vision and gave some information
of what possibly would happen. He gave advice to the members
about the manner in which they should approach the camp
of the enemy.
party stayed together from the start, even during an open
attack on the enemy. If a member was wounded, the person
who rescued him counted it a war deed. If a person brought
back the dead body of a member, unscalped, at the risk
of his life, that also counted. Sometimes, when the party
retreated and was hard pressed, a member stood the enemy
off until the others got away. Many times, that one gave
his life so that the others could reach safety. If he
came back wounded, he was eligible to close a dance. When
a dance was nearly over, a warrior who had been wounded
in battle was asked to re-enact the manner in `which he
had been wounded. Then, at the conclusion of his act,
he led the Tay out of the dance lodge and the crowd fol-lowed,
thus ending the affair.
a war party raided a camp to take horses, everyone had
to look ont for himself. The group agreed to meet at a
cer-tain place, and if all went well, they gathered there
to plan the return Home. Hut if the enemy found out about
the raid, then each one pursued the best course he knew.
Unreliable members made straight for home when they were
satisfied with the num-ber of horses they had taken. That
was one of the reasons why leaders took pains to select
men who could be trusted. If one or more did not return
to the spot agreed on, the other members knew that they
either had been killed or were hiding and would catch
up with the party later. But if the reputations of the
miss-ing ones were questionable, there was only one thought,
"They have gone home."
the war party arrived within sight of their home camp,
they attracted the attention of the people by an appropriate
sign. If the party had been successful, a member ran in
a zigzag fashion. Then the people went to them and took
the scalps, horses, or other objects that they had captured.
A short dance followed during which the people held up
the objects. Everyone was happy. After that, the owners
gave these things away to the ones whom they had in mind.
A son-in-law usually brought a scalp and presented it
to his mother-in-law through a third party. Some gave
scalps directly to their fathers-in-law.
If the war party lost one or more members, they first
attracted the people's attention, and then threw a robe,
rolled into a ball-like shape, high in the air. The number
of members slain was shown by the number of times the
robe was thrown. A dele-gation was sent to meet the party
and obtain the names of the ones killed. The party was
then escorted back to camp, and word was taken to the
relatives of those slain.
this custom was not always observed. Some warriors surprised
the home folks by an unheralded parade around the inside
of the camp circle with horses that they had brought back,
after which all held a war dance.
an enemy was killed, only four persons could count coup.
The first to touch him with any object counted it as the
coup, and those who followed counted it as the second,
third, and fourth coups. The first coup was considered
a higher honor than the shot that killed an enemy from
an enemy feigned death and drew an ambitious warrior within
range of his weapon with fatal results. For that reason,
to count the first coup a person risked his life more
than the one who shot from a distance. A person was allowed
to kill and take the first coup as well.
first one who took a scalp kept it, but if any small patches
of hair were left on the head and another took them, that
person was also eligible to join in a scalp dance.
first one who sank a tomahawk into a scalped head counted
that as a war deed. It was considered a minor act.
eagle tail feather, dyed red and worn upright at the back
of the head during a dance, indicated that the wearer
had killed an enemy. For as many as he had slain, he added
as many dyed
feathers. They were not worn as a headdress, but merely
stuck separately in the hair. When a warrior killed a
woman who be-longed to an enemy tribe, two gull feathers
from the ring-billed gull were worn in the hair. And if
he already wore one or more red feathers, he added the
gull feathers to them.
tips of coyote tails were worn, they were sewed to the
heels of moccasins. Leggings, below the knees, were painted
with pictures of hoofprints; these indicated that the
person had taken horses in the summer season. If he brought
back horses during the winter, he wore white weasel skins
among the fringes of his coat sleeves.
a warrior struck the lodge of an enemy with any object
held in the hand, it was an honor, and that person could
re-enact it at a dance or during a parade. If one shot
at lodges from a dis-tance, that also counted and could
horses picketed to the lodges were usually the pet run-ners
of any tribe. It was an act of bravery to cut the rope
and steal such horses, although stealing of any was a
old man named Duck told this story about war:
“My first war experience was not on one of those
journeys into the enemy country. It was in a chase after
sev-eral Nez Perce men who were near our camp, but that
is another story.
first war-party trip was headed by White Dog, a noted
medicine-man warrior. There were nineteen in the party,
and another youth and myself were the two first-timers.
It was in the summer, and we headed for Piegan country.
first-timers usually attended to the chores about the
camp when a stop was made. The lad t~-ho waited on the
leader made things comfortable for him, cooked choice
meat cuts and placed them before him at meal time, and
sometimes packed his belongings. This was all done so
that the leader might be pleased and perhaps return the
a leader or any of the older men who had made many successful
war trips was pleased with the attentions shown them by
the first-timers, he stepped aside many times so that
the youths could count coup. Or, when horses were taken,
the youths were given the chance to take one or more for
themselves. When the lads were left at the camp while
a horse raid was in progress, they were given their share
as though they had been in the raid. Many times the older
men told the lads to take their choice of horses. So it
paid to be industrious and to respect the older and more
experienced ones who were responsible for the success
of a war party.
journeyed leisurely while we were still in our own coun-try,
but when we entered the enemy country of the Piegans,
we traveled by night.
morning while looking for a suitable day camp, we scat-tered
to look for water. The lad and myself were together, and,
fortunately, we found water right away. We filled our
water bags, which were made from buffalo stomachs. As
I closed the opening with the drawstring, I saw a rider
who had just topped a ridge. We were already down on our
knees among clusters of young pine, so we could not be
seen very easily.
put the water bags on our backs and crawled behind a larger
bush. From there we watched and saw three more riders
join the first. They surveyed the country to our right.
They seemed satisfied with their view of the country,
and all rode away. By their actions, we were positive
that they had not seen us.
We hurried back to our camp and when we knew we could
be heard by our party, gave the cry, a straight call that
resembled a high-pitched howl. It was a cry that meant
an enemy was seen by a Scout.
When we arrived among our men, the leader filled the medi-cine
pipe. It had a black stone bowl with a plain ash stem,
and was always carried by leaders to be used when offerings
were made. He lit it and took a few puffs, after which
he extended it, stem foremost, and each of us took a draw.
the medicine pipe was thus offered to a scout, the in-formation
that he brought must be the truth and a fact and not any
hurried observation or guess work.
we had taken several quick puffs from the pipe, the leader
said, "Speak up, young men, and tell your story."
that was an achievement for both of us "to see the
enemy without being seen." We could re-enact the
scene at home dur-ing a dance or at a gathering. Each
of us already had a story.
scouts were sent to locate the camp, and by evening they
were heard by their call, the short bark of the coyote.
"They have seen an encampment," they all said.
reported a very large band camped in a valley, and, dur-ing
the afternoon, another band came and camped with them.
So we marched during the night and reached the edge of
scouts said that there was a celebration of some kind
and many horsemen were in a parade within the camp circle.
was still early, for many lodges were lit up and the singing
of songs came forth from some of them, no doubt the after
effects of the celebration.
leader and his brother said, "We will go into camp
to see how things are. If we have a chance, we will bring
horses here. Wait for us."
waited for some time, and then there were whispers of
discontent among the party. A large group headed by Wets
It left us and also went to the camp. By that time, I
was uneasy and said, "I have come a long way for
a chance like this." And with that, I left them.
heard footsteps behind me and soon two more caught up
to me. The three of us entered the encampment. We separated
with the understanding that we would meet later where
the others still waited.
came to a large lodge where a number of horses were pick-eted
close by. I crouched down and looked them over against
the horizon. They were not all tied and I threw a Loop
and caught one, ,which came to me. I caught one more by
the loop and took three of the picketed ones. By now I
had five head, which I Ied away a short distance and mounted
the first one I had caught. That horse was a gray, a very
fat animal. Its mane and tail were cut short, which showed
that the animal was made to mourn for his deceased master.
There were still decorations and paint on the horse from
the mourning parade.
returned to the others, and soon my two partners came
back with more horses. We gave a mount to each of the
three who were waiting. At that moment we heard a shot
on the other side of the camp circle. Several more shots
were fired, and then there was commotion in the Piegan
we decided on any plan of escape, there was a rum-bling
noise, made by many riders. They went in the direction
from which we came, but more and more were heard galloping
about the camp.
fled in the opposite direction and climbed the side of
a mountain. We hid the horses in a deep ravine and climbed
to the peak of the mountain where we hid among the rocks.
that time it was daylight, and from our position we saw
a sight that gave us a chill.
whole camp was alive with people and horses. In the direction
from which we had come there was a cloud of dust kicked
up by the pursuers. More riders rode around inside of
the camp circle.
said, "Let us get out of sight as some object may
accidentally reflected in the sun and they will notice
and make a search here." We crawled far back under
the protruding rocks and slept there the rest of the day.
When night came we took the horses. Then we circled wide
around the encampment and headed towards home.
mere accident, we found another group that also escaped
notice by the enemy. My young friend was in that group,
and he, too, had captured a horse.
leader of the war party and his brother had hidden, the
same as we, with a large band of horses, far beyond our
hiding place. They came home with their horses several
whole band of mounted pursuers had found the trail of
Wets It's group, who entered the camp behind the leader
and his brother. Although they did not recapture their
horses, they killed one member of that group.
Sometimes, in the excitement, the most experienced men
made mistakes. The group that was overtaken did not scatter
out as they should, and the result was that they left
a trail very easily followed by the enemy.
me, that trip turned out to be a horse raid. I did not
fire a shot.”