A long time ago, there was a man who had two wives. Neither were good women for they did not look after their home. When the man brought in plenty of buffalo cow skins, they did not tan them well. When he came home at night, hungry and tired after hunting, there would be no food for him for his women would both be away from the home, visiting their relatives.
'Blackfoot Warrior' ~ Karl Bodmer
The man thought it might be a good thing if he moved away from the big camp, to live alone where there were no other people. He thought that might teach his wives to become good women. So he moved his lodge far onto the prairie and camped at the foot of a high butte.
At sundown every evening, the man would climb to the top of the butte and sit there and look out to see where the buffalo were feeding, and whether any enemies were moving about. On top of the hill there was a buffalo skull on which he would sit.
One day, one of the women said, “It is very lonely here. We have no one to talk with or to visit.”
“Let us kill our husband,” said the other wife. “Then we can go back to our relations and have a good time.”
'Waiting and Mad' ~ Charles Marion Russell (painting of a Blackfoot woman)
Early next morning, the man set out to hunt. As soon as he was out of sight, his wives went up to the top of the butte. There they dug a deep hole and covered it with sticks and grass and earth, so that it looked like the soil nearby. Then they placed the buffalo skull on the sticks which covered the hole.
In the afternoon, they saw their husband come over the hill with meat that he had killed. They hurried to greet him and took the meat to cook for him. After he had eaten, he went up the butte and sat down on the skull. The slender sticks broke and he fell into the hole. His wives were watching him, and when they saw him disappear into the hole, they quickly packed up the lodge, took the dogs and made their way back to the main camp. As they drew near, they began to cry and mourn so that those in the camp could hear them.
People hurried out to meet them, and said, “What is this? Why are you mourning? Where is your husband?”
“He is dead,” they said. “Five days ago he went out to hunt and he did not come back. What shall we do? We have lost him who cared for us.” They cried and mourned again.
When the man fell into the pit he was not dead even though the hole was deep, but he was hurt. After a time, he tried to climb out, but he was hurt enough that he could not do so. He sat and waited, thinking that surely he would die of hunger.
Travelling over the prairie was a wolf. He climbed up the butte and came to the hole. Looking in, he saw the man and pitied him. The wolf howled and other wolves heard him and came to see what the matter was. The wolf said, “Here in this hole is what I have found. Here is a man who has fallen in. Let us dig him out and we will have him for our brother.”
All the wolves thought this talk was good, and they began to dig. Before long they had dug a hole down almost to the bottom of the pit. Then the wolf who had found the man went into the hole, and tearing down the rest of the earth, dragged out the poor man, who was now almost dead, for he had neither eaten nor drunk anything since he fell in the hole. They gave the man a kidney to eat, and when he was able to walk the wolves took him to their home. Here there was a very old blind wolf who had great power and could do wonderful things. He cured the man and made his head and his hands look like those of a wolf, but the rest of his body remained unchanged.
The people in the big camp made holes in the fences of the enclosure into which they led the buffalo. Over the holes, they set snares so that when wolves and other animals crept through the holes to get into the pen to feed on the buffalo, they would be caught by the neck and killed. The people would then use their skins for clothing.
One night, the wolves went down to the pen to get meat. As they got close to it, the man-wolf said to his brothers, “Stop here a while and I will go down and fix the places so that you will not be caught.” Creeping down to the pen, he sprung all the snares then went back and called the wolves and the others, the coyotes, badgers and kit-foxes. They went into the pen and feasted then carried meat home to their families.
In the morning, the people found the meat gone and snares sprung. They were surprised and wondered how it could have happened. For many mornings, the people would find the nooses pulled tight and the meat taken. Until the night the wolves went there and found only the meat of a lean and sickly bull. This made the man-wolf angry and he cried out like a wolf, “Bad-food-you-give-us-o-ooo-oo!”
The people heard this and said, “It is a man-wolf who has done all this. We must catch him.” They took good meat to the pen and many of them hid close by. After dark the wolves came and when the man-wolf saw the good food, he ran to it and began to eat. Then the people rushed him from all sides and caught him with ropes. They tied him and took him to a lodge. When they saw him by the light of the fire, they knew at once who it was, and said, “Why, this is the man who was lost.”
“No,” said the man. “I was not lost. My wives tried to kill me. They dug a deep hole and I fell into it. I was hurt so badly I could not get out. But the wolves came and took pity on me. They helped me out or I would have died there.”
When the people heard this they were angry, and they told the man to do something to punish the two women.
“You say well,” said the man. “I give those women to the punishing society. They know what to do.”
After that night, the two women were never seen again.
This story was one of many collected by George Bird Grinnell, the American anthropologist, historian, naturalist and writer.
Born in 1849, he graduated from Yale University in 1870 and became a prominent conservationist and student of Native American life.
He was known for his ability to get along with Indian elders.
The Pawnee called him ‘White Wolf’, and eventually adopted him into the tribe.
He was not only interested in the northern American plains and the Plains tribes, but also the buffalo and their relationship to Plains tribal culture.
His book, ‘Blackfoot Indians Stories’, which was one of many publications, was published in 1913.
I’m very intrigued by the ‘punishing society’ and the fact that the women were never seen again … I know the beauty of stories like this is their open-ended nature, but I wonder what happened to the wolf-man; did he stay with the tribe or rejoin his wolf brothers?