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Story Of A Crow Woman

Stan Cuthand

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MARCH 1989      p19  
Story of a Crow Woman

In the days when the Blackfoot and the Crows were at war, continually attacking each other and taking horses from each other, there were small skirmishes at various places at unusual times of the day or night.

It happened a large number of Crows were picking Saskatoon berries as it was their custom to collect the berries and mix them with pemmican. It was an annual event.

The Crow Indians were spread out picking berries, when suddenly they saw riders in the distance coming their way. They knew that these were Blackfoot people.

"The Blackfoot are coming; they will kill us" the men yelled. The berry pickers dropped their containers and ran for their horses. In then haste, they left their travois behind.

One Crow Chief, with his wife was among the crowd. They were young and had been married recently. Immediately the young chief helped his chubby wife mount his pony and jumped on after her. He did everything to get the pony to speed up, but they were too heavy. The Blackfoot were gaining on them rapidly. The young chief became very concerned "No matter what I do we will be captured," he thought.

"I have a plan," he said to his wife, "I will leave you behind. Although they will capture you, they will not harm you because you are a woman. But if they capture us both, they will kill me. I will escape. They cannot catch me. Once I get to the camp I will ask my warriors to help and we will come and rescue you." Having said this, the chief pushed his wife off the pony. The pony went at great speed and in no time arrived at the camp. The Blackfoot captured the woman and took her home to their chief.

During the late afternoon, when all the Crows had arrived at their camp, they told the others what had happened. They saw the young chief crying about the camp, saying his wife had been captured and looking for young warriors to help him go on a war party to re-capture her. Everyone was sad for the chief. Soon there were 30 men who grouped together to help him and they sang their society song.

Late evening in the dark they set out to the Blackfoot country. They were all dressed for war and ready to avenge the capture of the chief's wife. They travelled all night and towards dawn they saw tipis in the distance. The party stopped to hide in low lying bushes, thick enough for a good hiding place where they could make a plan of action.

The chief said to his warriors, "You stay here, while I go towards the river and scout around to see if by chance my wife comes to fetch water." He left immediately walking along the thick bushes and often crawling on his hands and knees, sometimes on his stomach through the tall grass until he reached the bank where the camp was directly in line with the river. In a small ravine leading to the river, the young chief sat in the bushes.

By and by he saw women coming to fetch water, then others came at different times. The young man was quite hopeful now. "I wish and hope she would come to the river," he thought. He wafted for a long time it seemed, and he felt his heart in his throat when suddenly a young woman came to the river all by herself. She dipped for water and filled her bag, then she climbed the slope from the river. There the young chief appeared from his hiding place frightening his wife. "Do not fear. I have come for you. I came with your friends; they are hiding in that bluff yonder. Come with me and let us escape before everyone is up."

"Just a moment," she replied, "I have something I want to take home with me; let me go for now, and I will take what I want tonight and then I will meet you at your men's hiding place. Go there and wait for me."

The young chief persisted and begged his wife to come immediately, but she insisted saying she had to get something to take home. Finally, knowing it was useless to continue arguing and of the danger of being caught, the chief went back slowly to his men. He was very disappointed.

The Crow woman went home to the chief's lodge where she was kept, and took a blanket and made herself look as if in mourning. She went out away from the tipis and sat with the blanket over her head as if she had had a tragic experience. The people passing by stopped to ask her what had happened, but she refused to speak to anyone.

The chief was disturbed. Thinking that perhaps she was sick or that she was homesick for her people, he asked her what distressed her so.

She replied, "Last night I had a strange dream. My dream spirit came to me and gave me a message. You will know if this is true. Over yonder near the river is a bluff of low thick bushes. My dream spirit instructed that there are warriors and that they can be surrounded and all thirty of them totally annihilated. The chief's life is to be spared and brought to me. I have something to say to him."

When the people heard what was said they believed it. The Blackfoot Warriors, therefore, prepared themselves for war. They quietly crawled from all sides of the bluff where the Crows were hiding. The leader gave a war whoop as a signal and they all rushed in. The Crows withdrew to the other side to escape but they were surrounded and badly outnumbered. They had no choice but to fight to the finish. They were completely annihilated with the exception of the Crow chief, who was taken to the camp.

The Blackfoot warriors marched back singing and holding up the scalps of the slain. The prisoner was tied to a tree, and people sat around watching while the leaders planned what to do with the chief, whose wife sat facing him.

The Crow chief spoke and said "How can you look at me when you have caused death to your brothers, relatives, and your friend's relatives; they came to help you escape. You cannot be happy for your actions but later you will suffer misfortune for this.

The Blackfoot chief, not understanding the language, asked the Crow woman what her husband was saying.

She replied, "He says 'The Blackfoot are making me suffer but they will never see such a brave man ever again, just pour hot water on my head and see."

The Blackfoot chief, thinking that this was a challenge, took a pail of hot water and poured it on the head of the young chief. The Crow woman said, "He says he wants hot water splashed on him again." So the chief did splash hot water on the Crow chief again. "He says, 'Leave me here to starve'", said the Crow woman. So the Blackfoot chief ordered the people to move camp for he said, "When the Crows hear about this they will come in large numbers to retaliate." So the tipis were taken down and loaded on horses and travois.

There was a kind old woman that lived in a small tipi and always followed whenever the camp moved. This woman had great pity for the young man who was left tied to a tree. She packed and repacked her things and whenever she loaded her pony the load would slip off the horse. When she observed that the people were out of sight, she ran back and untied the young man, then she rubbed cream on his head, gave him a covering for his head and a little food, saying, "Be gone to your people. I pity you for what the Crow woman did to you."

The woman ran to her pony and travelled with haste to catch up to her people so that they would not be suspicious.

In his weak condition, the Crow chief slowly went on his way home, resting now and then. On the fourth day as he reached camp, he sat down and sang to his dream spirit to empower himself to face his people. The people heard him and came and sat around him as he told his story, how his wife had betrayed him to be tortured and to be left behind tied to a tree to starve. The Crows were furious at this and many vowed to die for the revenge of many young men who had been victimized as well.

The Crow chief was too ill to go with the war party. He instructed his men to spare the kind old woman. "You will know her small tipi because it is outside the circle. She has a black dog. As for my wife, you will do as you like with her. She has committed a great wrong against all of us."

The warriors armed themselves and took their horses, riding out in a large war party. They travelled many days before they discovered a camp in the distance. Immediately, they went out of sight and stopped to plan their attack.

The leader decided they should stay where they were and move closer to the camp undercover of darkness. "I will go during the night and see where the kind old woman is and where the tipi of the chief is. We will attack in the early dawn."

After the campfire glow from the tipis had died out and the Blackfoot had all gone to bed, the leader, with a blanket over him, scouted around until he located the chief's tipi, where the Crow woman was kept. Then he found the kind old woman awake in her tipi outside the circle, and said to her, "You were kind to our chief. That is why I am kind to you. You saved his life; I come to save yours. Not far from here my companions are waiting to attack the camp. There are too many of us for any one to escape. If you want to live, follow me now."

The old woman immediately made up her mind to follow the leader. She was not a Blackfoot woman; she had been a captive and now in her old age was not accepted by the Blackfoot. The kind old woman took her belongings and the leader helped her take down her tipi and moved quietly away from the camp.

At dawn, the Crow warriors rushed in from all sides and massacred the Blackfoot. Great was the sound of fright, yelling, wailing and death was all around. Only one person was kept alive, she was the Crow woman who had betrayed the young chief and thirty of her warriors. She was thrown into a blazing fire of tipi poles, to perish a hideous death.

Having satisfied their thirst for vengeance, the Crow Indians returned home.

[This story is translated from 'The Sacred Heart Newspaper': June 1913 issue. It is exaggerated with many value judgements not included in this translation and was used to prove how savage the Indians were before Christianity was introduced.]