Men with Magic
described by First Boy - James Larpenteur 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 157-164 (originally published as Land of
the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)
term Medicine Man when applied to Indian custom, meant
a person who possessed divine power. He treated the sick,
forecast events, conducted religious ceremonies, and took
part in many gatherings of a religious nature.
people had confidence in the acts of the medicine man
because they knew that if he performed a false rite, he
or a member of his family would meet with some kind of
misfor-tune. Therefore, he could do no wrong.
medicine men and women were taught by supernatural Beings
that appeared to them in dreams or visions. These visits
by the Beings were prompted by a prolonged fast and by
the many sacrifices made to them.
were many ways of practicing these powers granted by the
Beings, so each man and woman conducted ceremonies differently
and according to the way they had been instructed. The
use of different objects and the rules governing the people
who attended the gatherings had to be followed strictly.
old medicine men and women had been given the right to
teach younger persons. Often the person chosen was a child
who had been cured of a very serious illness by the medicine
man or woman. In order to cure the child, the medicine
man had imparted his power to it, and that was the reason
the child had to carry on when it was old enough.
children were always brought to religious events and taught
to take part. Their parents saw to it that then sat beside
their benefactors and instructors. They also wore sacred
bags made by the healers.
call a medicine man or woman, relatives of a sick person
took him a medicine pipe filled with tobacco and other
gifts. If the illness was grave, they brought one or more
horses to the -lodge of the medicine man. The visitors
placed their hands on his head and beseeched him to accept
the fee and treat their sick one. If he accepted, he lit
the pipe and smoked it, and the goods were left in his
lodge or the horses were tied outside.
call was always paid for in advance. The people understood
the rule: "Goods and horses that make up the fees
are sacri-fices made to the Beings who give the medicine
men and women the power to heal." So no one murmured,
and the fees were left with the medicine man for the Being
who must be pleased.
medicine man made the call and, with the help of one or
more singers, administered to the sick. He also prayed
aloud and mentioned that he was honored to be the agent
of the Being whom he named. After a time he converted
the fees to his own use. "The Being was through with
them," he said.
men did not name their fees, but either hinted or had
someone else suggest them. Sometimes, it is told, a wicked
one, who coveted certain objects or the horses of another
and had the power to charm, caused a member of the family
owning those things to become afflicted with some form
others had been called in and had failed to make a cure>
he passed word around in such a way that it would reach
the family that if he were called, he could cure the sick
person. After he was called and had attended the sick
person, he caused the affliction to remain if the coveted
object was not presented. But when the desired fee was
given, he lifted the charm and the patient recovered.
So he not only received what he wanted, but he was praised
because of his cure.
were good medicine men, too, who, by means of their power,
saw the works of the wicked ones and told of the kind
of spell that was cast; but, for some reason, they never
revealed the identity of the charmer. They always said:
"I could not get a glimpse of his face to know who
he is. He always covers his face with his blanket and
turns his back to me."
a sick person died and a charmer was suspected, relatives
of the deceased sometimes plotted and killed that medicine
the medicine men, there were also herb doctors in each
tribe who treated the sick with herbs. Many old women
dealt in that kind of thing.
medicine men and women also used herbs with their magic
treatments. After the religious performance, they gave
the patient herbs with directions for their use. Usually
these directions were rigid and had to be followed to
the letter if a cure was to be effective.
with herbs were restricted to certain rules laid down
by the doctor, which had to be followed. A fee was paid,
the same as to a medicine man. Anyone could collect different
kinds of herbs for their own use. If persons wanted to
know the kind of plants from which certain herbs were
obtained, they paid a large fee to a herb doctor who showed
them the plants.
herb doctors got their knowledge of the different kinds
of plants for medicinal use in visions, and the informer
[a Being] was promised the fees received. After the herbs
were dug, offer-ings were deposited in the hole and carefully
covered with dirt.
men who coveted certain maidens paid large fees to herb
doctors to charm the girls so that they would return their
af-fection. The love medicine was administered either
with or with-out a ceremony. There were many kinds of
charms. Some were made of a mixture of herbs and objects
placed in a small orna-mented bag, which was carried on
the person only during court-ing time. If the rules were
not followed to the letter, the charm would not work.
paid a fee to a charmer who performed a ceremony. A form
of a male and another of a female were cut out of birch-bark
and marked as the man and woman. The charmer men-tioned
the name of each party and then tied the two pieces together
face to face in the form of a dummy package. If the young
man was fortunate and obtained a lock of the maiden's
hair (sometimes the lover paid someone to steal a lock
of hair for him), this was wrapped around to bind the
two together. The dummy was usually hidden in the woods.
After the charm worked, if the maiden was dissatisfied
with the man, she went to another charmer who released
her for a fee.
a woman who was bought or given in marriage to an older
man whom she did not love left her husband and went to
the lodge of her parents. If she refused to come back,
the husband paid a charmer who sang and beat on a small
high drum for several evenings. He predicted that the
woman would return of her own accord before the fourth
day. No herbs were used; only the fee was offered as a
northern bands were noted for their possession of a med-icine
which increased speed and gave stamina to runners. The
medicine was made from herbs, but the mixture and directions
for its use were known only to certain medicine men. Runners
gave useful articles to those men and obtained the medicine
for use on special occasions. The northern Assiniboine
runners were always accused of using medicine if they
won at a gathering where two or more bands entered their
best runners. But they were not disqualified, because
no one had proof that medicine was used.
carried a small ornamented bag which contained the mixture
attached to the belt at the hips. But since other kinds
of medicine were also carried in the same way, the bags
did not always contain the medicine the runners had used.
Just before a race, the owner secretly chewed some of
the herbs and, unobserved, smeared a little of the juice
on his feet. When the race started, he ran just behind
the other runners and in their tracks, so that the medicine
would charm them. When near the goal, he speeded up and
suspicious runners always kept far to either side in case
someone in the group used a charm, for it is told that
the medicine worked only when the keeper ran over the
tracks of the others.
used for fast horses were made from parts of fast animals
and swift-flying birds-such as the tips of the tails of
foxes, the short prongs from the horns of antelopes and,
for long-winded horses, the ends of wolves' tails. The
tail feathers from swift hawks or falcons were the most
popular among the charms made from birds.
animal charms were attached to plain buckskin strings
or to ornamented narrow bands. They were hung around the
necks of horses, far down, so that the charm lay between
the points of the shoulders. Bird-feather charms were
always tied somewhere on the tails of horses.
was no secret about the charms used for horses. Even in
a gathering where the horses ran for wagers, the chasms
were openly attached to the horses. But to win over a
horse wearing a charm was also an achievement known to
have happened at times.
who were skilled in magic were often paid to locate lost
horses and other objects for their owners.
story about magic was told by Shoots Them, of the Rock
am a half-blood. My father was white (Alverz, a Spaniard),
and my mother was an Assiniboine.
Ryder and I were born the same night, and we grew up together
among the whites at Fort Union. We learned the Assiniboine
language from our mothers and English from our fathers.
So, naturally, we did not believe in all that the medi-cine
men said or did.
we moved to Wolf Point, Montana, we both were em-ployed
in the Indian agency's blacksmith shop. We were still
several weeks Johnson's mother was very sick. As there
was no white doctor near, in desperation they finally
called in a medicine man name Cuwicoga or Center of the
Body, who was considered a noted healer and charmer. He
was much feared because he made magic many times openly
before different crowds.
instructed that a large rock be brought and a lodge erected
over it in which he would perform his magic.
wanted to find out if the sick woman would react to his
treatment and said, "I am going to ask my helper
[Being] if this woman is going to get well."
did not attempt to treat Johnson's mother, but first made
magic in the lodge.
we plotted together to test the power of the man. We hitched
a team to a stone boat and brought a rock that prob-ably
weighed six hundred pounds.
sat together inside the dodge near the entrance and watched
every move. There were several singers who also played
was not dusk. The man stripped to just a clout. His body
was painted all over with vermilion-colored paint. He
instructed his men to tie him with long rawhide thongs.
They laced his fingers and toes together with smaller
thongs and fastened his hands behind him by tying the
two thumbs together.
next wrapped a blanket around him and wound the larger
thongs over the blanket from head to foot. A half-hitch
was made each round at the back, so when they were finished,
there was a row of half hitches from the back of his neck
to his feet.
stout thong was tied across the lodge, and he hopped over
to it and gently sat down on the thong as in a swing.
singers started up and the fire was allowed to die down
so we were in semidarkness.
followed never was clear to either of us. The man kept
saying, "Do not stop the singing, he is trying to
take me with him," meaning his Spirit Helper.
the large rock moved about in that charmed lodge, we were
scared out of our wits and huddled together in fear. Johnson
claimed I crowded him, while I said the same thing of
rock actually hit the floor of the lodge twice in succession
as though it had been raised up and allowed to drop.
medicine man shrieked in a distressed voice and said to
light up the fire at once. The fire was quickly lit, and,
when our eyes became accustomed to the light, we saw him
high up in the lodge and tucked behind the poles.
singers hurried over and helped him down. The thongs had
already been removed and coiled together into neat piles,
each size in a separate pile on the floor of the lodge
with the blanket alongside. He came near the fire and
complained of the rough treatment accorded him by the
Being. Then he spoke to us and to those who sat outside.
He said that the sick woman was even now on the way to
mother lived many years after that. The rock that scared
us so badly is still at the old ruins, where he used to
live, east of Wolf Point.”