Blackfoot Legends -
believe that the Sun made the earth--that he is the creator. One of the
names by which they call the Sun is Napi—Old Man. This is how they tell of
In the beginning there
was water everywhere; nothing else was to be seen. There was something
floating on the water, and on this raft were Old Man and all the animals.
Old Man wished to make land, and he told the
beaver to dive down to the bottom of the water and to try to bring up a
little mud. The beaver dived and was under water for a long time, but he
could not reach the bottom. Then the loon tried, and after him the otter,
but the water was too deep for them. At last the muskrat was sent down,
and he was gone for a long time; so long that they thought he must be
drowned, but at last he came up and floated almost dead on the water, and
when they pulled him up on the raft and looked at his paws, they found a
little mud in them.
When Old Man had
dried this mud, he scattered it over the water and land was formed.
This is the story told by the
It is very much like one told by some Eastern
Indians, who are related to the
After the land had
been made, Old Man traveled about on it, making things and fixing up
the earth so as to suit him. First, he marked out places where he
wished the rivers to run, sometimes making them run smoothly, and
again, in some places, putting falls on them. He made the mountains
and the prairie, the timber and the small trees and bushes, and
sometimes he carried along with him a lot of rocks, from which he
built some of the mountains--as the Sweet Grass Hills--which stand out
on the prairie by themselves.
Old Man caused grass
to grow on the plains, so that the animals might have something to
feed on. He marked off certain pieces of land, where he caused
different kinds of roots and berries to grow--a place for camas; and
one for wild carrots; one for wild turnips, sweet root and bitter
root; one for service berries, bullberries, cherries, plums, and
He made all kinds of
animals that travel on the ground. When he made the big-horn with its
great horns, he put it out on the prairie. It did not seem to travel
easily there; it was awkward and could not go fast, so he took it by
one of its horns and led it up into the rough hills and among the
rocks, and let it go there, and it skipped about among the cliffs and
easily went up fearful places. So Old Man said to the big-horn, "This
is the place for you; this is what you are fitted for; the rough
country and the mountains." While he was in the mountains he made the
antelope, and turned it loose to see how it travelled. The antelope
ran so fast that it fell over some rocks and hurt itself. He saw that
this would not do, and took the antelope down on the prairie and set
it free there, and it ran away fast and gracefully, and he said to it,
"This is the place that suits you."
At last, one day, Old Man decided that he
would make a woman and a child, and he modelled some clay in human
shape, and after he had made these shapes and put them on the ground,
he said to the clay, "You shall be people." He spread his robe over
the clay figures and went away. The next morning he went back to the
place and lifted up the robe, and saw that the clay shapes had changed
a little. When he looked at them the next morning, they had changed
still more; and when on the fourth day he went to the place and took
off the covering, he said to the images, "Stand up and walk," and they
did so. They walked down to the river with him who had made them, and
he told them his name.
As they were standing
there looking at the water as it flowed by, the woman asked Old Man,
saying, "How is it; shall we live always? Will there be no end to us?"
Old Man said, "I have not
thought of that. We must decide it. I will take this
chip and throw it in the river. If it floats, people will become alive
again four days after they have died; they will die for four days only.
But if it sinks, there will be an end to them." He threw the chip into the
river, and it floated.
The woman turned and
picked up a stone and said, "No, I will throw this stone in the river. If
it floats, we shall live always; if it sinks, people must die, so that
their friends who are left alive may always remember them." The woman
threw the stone in the water, and it sank.
"Well," said Old Man,
"you have chosen; there will be an end to them."
Not many nights after
that the woman's child died, and she cried a great deal for it. She said
to Old Man, "Let us change this. The law that you first made, let that be
He said, "Not so; what is
made law must be law. We will undo nothing that we have done. The child is
dead, but it cannot be changed. People will have to die."
These first people did not have hands like a
person; they had hands like a bear with long claws. They were poor and
naked and did not know how to get a living. Old Man showed them the roots
and the berries, and showed them how to gather these, and told them how at
certain times of the year they should peel the bark off some trees and eat
it; that the little animals that live in the ground--rats, squirrels,
skunks, and beavers--were good to eat. He also taught them something about
the roots that were good for medicine to cure sickness.
those days there were
and these black animals were armed, for they had long horns. Once, as the
people were moving about, the
saw them and rushed upon them and hooked them and killed them, and then
ate them. One day, as the creator was traveling about, he came upon some
of his children that he had made lying there dead, torn to pieces and
partly eaten by the
When he saw this, he felt badly. He said, "I have not made these people
right. I will change this; from now on the people shall eat the
went to some of the people who were still alive, and said to them, "How is
it that you people do nothing to these animals that are killing you?" The
people replied, "What can we do? These animals are armed and can kill us,
and we have no way to kill them."
The creator said, "That
is not hard. I will make you something that will kill these animals."
He went out and cut some
straight service-berry shoots, and brought them in, and peeled the bark
from them. He took a larger piece of wood and flattened it, and tied a
string to it, and made a bow. Now he was the master of all birds and he
went out and caught one, and
took feathers from its
wings and tied them to the shaft of wood. He tied four feathers along the
shaft and tried the arrow at a mark and found that it did not fly well. He
took off these feathers and put on three, and when he again tried it at
the mark he found that it went straight. He picked up some hard stones,
and broke sharp pieces from them. When he tried them he found that the
black flint stones made the best arrow points. He showed them how to use
Then he spoke to the
people, and said, "The next time you go out, take these things with you,
and use them as I tell you. Do not run from these animals. When they rush
at you, and have come pretty close, shoot the arrows at them as I have
taught you, and you will see that they will run from you or will run
around you in a circle."
He also broke off pieces
of stone, and fixed them in a handle, and told them that when they killed
they should cut up the flesh with these stone knives.
One day after this, some
people went on a little hill to look about, and the
saw them and called out to each other, "Ah, there is some more of our
food," and rushed upon them. The people did not run. They began to shoot
with the bows and arrows that had been given them, and the
began to fall. They say that when the first
hit with an arrow felt it prick him, he called out to his fellows, "Oh, my
friends, a great fly is biting me."
With the flint knives
that had been given them they cut up the bodies of the dead
About this time Old Man came up and said to them, "It is not healthful to
eat raw flesh. I will show you something better than that." He gathered
soft, dry rotten wood and made punk of it, and took a piece of wood and
drilled a hole in it with an arrow point, and gave them a pointed piece of
hard wood, and showed them how to make a fire with fire sticks, and to
cook the flesh of animals.
After this the people
found a certain sort of stone in the land, and took another harder stone,
and worked one upon the other and hollowed out the softer one, so as to
make of it a kettle.
It is told also that the
creator made people and animals at another place, and in another way. At
the Porcupine Mountains he made other earthen images of people, and blew
breath on the images, and they became people. They were men and women.
After a time they asked him, "What are we to eat?" Then he took more earth
and made many images in the form of
and when he had blown on them they stood up, and he made signs to them and
they started to run. He said to the people, "There is your food."
"Well, now," they
replied; "we have those animals, how are we to kill them?"
"I will show you," he
He took them to the edge
of a cliff and showed them how to heap up piles of stone, running back
from the cliff like, with the point of the V toward the cliff. He said to
the people, "Now, do you hide behind these piles of stones, and when I
this way, as they get opposite to you, stand up."
Then he went on toward a
and began to call them, and the
started toward him and followed him, until they were inside the arms of
the V. Then he ran to one side and hid, and as the people rose up the
ran on in a straight line and jumped over the cliff and some of them were
killed by the fall.
"There," he said, "go and take the flesh of
those animals." Then the people tried to do so. They tried to tear the
limbs apart, but they could not. They tried to bite pieces out of the
bodies, but they could not do that. Old Man went to the edge of the cliff
and broke some pieces of stone with sharp edges, and showed them how to
cut the flesh with these. Of the
that went over the cliff, some were not dead, but were hurt, so they could
not run away. The people cut strips of green hide and tied stones in the
middle, and with these hammers broke in the skulls of the
and killed them.
When they had taken the
skins from these animals, they set up poles and put the hides over them,
and so made a shelter to sleep under.
In later times the creator marked off a piece
of land for the five tribes,
Bloods, Piegans, Gros Ventres, and Sarsis, and said to these tribes, "When
people come to cross this line at the border of your land, take your bows
and arrows, your lances and your war clubs and give them battle, and keep
them out. If they gain a footing here, trouble for you will follow."
of America, updated March,
Photo courtesy Randy Moll Photography
About the Author:
Blackfoot Indians Stories
was published by George Bird Grinnell in 1913
and is now in the public domain.
George Bird Grinnell studied at Yale with an
intense desire to be a naturalist. He talked his way onto a fossil
collecting expedition in 1870, and then served as the naturalist on
Custer's expedition to the Black Hills in 1874. Grinnell was
interested in what he could learn from the
tribes of the region, and early on, was well known for his ability to get
Pawnee called him White Wolf, and eventually adopted him into the
tribe. Grinnell was also editor of Forest and Stream, the leading
natural history magazine in North America, the founder of the Audubon
Society and the Boone and Crockett Club, and an advisor to Theodore
Roosevelt. Glacier National Park came about largely through his efforts. Grinnell also spent significant time working for fair and reasonable
American tribes, and for the preservation of America's wild lands and
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