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Maskihki-Wastotin (Medicine Hat)

Stan Cuthand

A long time ago there was a tribe living near the mountains, who were ruled by an old chief who was famous for his war exploits and who, as a result, had become rich. He had many horses which he had received from his warriors who had ventured into enemy territory. The chief supported many relatives and his four wives. His young brother helped him conduct certain duties expected of a chief.

The chief had enough horses to support his relatives, so it was not necessary for him to go on scouting trips. His brother did not have to go either. But life without action and a sense of achievement in the art of war and becoming a warrior as expected by the tribe was sadly missing for the young brother. "How is it that Napi can do all these things and the women like him for it? They sing about him, they dance with the scalps he brought home. I can be like him and become a great chief," he thought. "My brother will have to pass on the chieftainship. He is not young anymore."

One day the young man went for a walk to get away from the chief and his pipes and smoke. He wandered into the woods just in case he met another lonely person like himself, who would have common feelings. "How can I be a leader if I do not belong to a society? I must earn it somehow," he thought. "My brother keeps me as a servant and does not allow me to join my fellows, who are earning for themselves a place in ceremonial rites. They learn to sing their society songs, and they are learning to tell their own stories; maybe my brother does not want me to be successful."

As he paced himself slowly, stealthily over fallen trees and shrubs he heard the sound of an axe chopping wood; there in the open was his brother's wife. The young woman stopped to look around, as they usually do when they are alone.

"E-ee!" she exclaimed when she saw him there. "Why are you so sad?"

"I am thinking that... perhaps.. I am not a warrior, I never go anywhere! I prepare the fire, the pipes and serve my brother, but I never sit with the council as one who can talk and be like them."

"I know you are a good listener and you have a good memory. I know you are not encouraged to travel with others who go on vision quests or who are out for adventure and show their bravery. You are kept at home like a child. But you are not alone, my husband is getting old and he does not bother with me. I too, sometimes feel I am only his servant. When I visit he does not want me to stay too long. He sometimes becomes jealous and mean, but nobody knows that, he is so discreet. He can cut me to pieces quietly; his whispering madness often makes me so lonely. I know you to be quiet and good-natured and I admire your devotion to your work for the chief.

Maskihki-Wastotin (Medicine Hat)

Stan Cuthand

This cannot go on. You must follow another trail, and be your own self. I want to help you because I like you."

The young man felt a chill coming up from his back to his neck, such a frightening thought that one should voice support with so much understanding.

"Let us plan an escape. Towards the rising sun. We can do it if it is your wish."

"We will go tomorrow," she exclaimed. "When I go for wood, I will sneak away with his best clothes and you can bring yours. We will meet here. The chief is out with the hunters tomorrow. He is hungry for warm kidney."

The following day everything went as planned. The two walked following a river to the land of the Blackfoot and the Crees who were a fighting force pushing other tribes to the mountains. They wanted to escape to this area for safety from their own people. It was a manly thing to take a trophy; a beautiful woman captured or taken away from another was not frowned upon; it was like a trophy.

Following the river for many days they found themselves on the open prairie with buffalo in every direction. Prairie wolves were waiting for an old bull to drop dead or for a sick animal to stray from the herd to die. At intervals they waited in a safe place until the herds had moved on after drinking from the river. They were forever on the watch for other wild animals.

Finally they found shelter in a bluff of willows on the bank where the river curves around. Here they became lovers and promised each other to stay together; they found they had many common feelings and thoughts.

Early one morning they heard someone singing, approaching their camp. They crept slowly and looked over the bank. There below them was a horseman leading a string of three horses with saddles loaded with bundles of goods. The rider wore a beaver hat.

"I'll jump on him as he passes by below and you slide down and hold the horses while I overcome the rider" the young man whispered to his wife. "Ehi" she replied.

As the stranger passed below, he made a flying leap and knocked the man off the horse and stabbed him. Meanwhile the woman held the horses to calm them, as they were quite startled. The beaver hat rolled down towards the water's edge. The young man picked it up and examined it. He found small bundles of medicine attached inside the hat.

"It is time to go home. The ghost of this person who is probably a Cree will haunt us if we stay. We will place him on the bank."

They rearranged the horses so that each one would have a horse to ride. "This is the day I have looked for. All my childhood dreams have been realized," said the young man.

"Do you know what this means?" the woman asked. "Your name will be Medicine Hat. We do not know what power it has. A medicine man is the only one who can open these little bundles and tell us what they are. It is Cree Medicine. They are noted for their power. You have won yourself fame."

"Yes. I have captured the horses and this medicine inside this hat must have been dedicated for a warrior."

"Yes. We have been led to this place by the spirits; they are kind to you."

So the lovers returned home to their people, leading the horses laden with bundles of goods, taken from some tribe.

As they rode into the camp, the people were astonished but happy for the couple who brought horses and goods from a raid. When the young man had described the adventure and that the hat contained small bundles of medicine it was understood that such a prize was the will of the spirits. The old chief declared that his brother would now be named Medicine Hat (Maskihki-wastotin). The young man was then proclaimed the chief of the tribe. They sang the welcome song and lifted high the scalp of the slain.

This is how Medicine Hat, Alberta got its name as told by the storytellers. They never knew exactly what tribe this story came from, or what tribes were near the mountains at that time in history.