Blackfoot Legends – Camp of the Ghosts

Blackfoot Chiefs

Blackfoot Chiefs

The chief ghost said to them, “Now pity this son-in-law of yours. He is looking for his wife. Neither the great distance that he has come nor the fearful sights that he has seen here have weakened his heart. You can see how tender-hearted he is. He not only mourns because he has lost his wife, but he mourns because his little boy is now alone, with no mother; so pity him and give him back his wife.”

The ghosts talked among themselves, and one of them said to the man, “Yes; you shall stay here for four nights, and then we will give you a medicine pipe–the Worm Pipe–and we will give you back your wife and you may return to your home.”

Now, after the third night the chief ghost called together all the people, and they came, and with them came the man’s wife. One of the ghosts was beating a drum, and following him was another who carried the Worm Pipe, which they gave to him.

Then the chief ghost said, “Now be very careful; tomorrow you and your wife will start on your journey homeward. Your wife will carry the medicine pipe and for four days some of your relations will go along with you. During this time you must keep your eyes shut; do not open them, or you will return here and be a ghost forever. Your wife is not now a person. But in the middle of the fourth day you will be told to look, and when you have opened your eyes you will see that your wife has become a person, and that your ghost relations have disappeared.”

Before the man went away his father-in-law spoke to him and said, “When you get near home you must not go at once into the camp. Let some of your relations know that you have come, and ask them to build a sweat-house for you. Go into that sweat-house and wash your body thoroughly, leaving no part of it, however small, uncleansed. If you fail in this, you will die. There is something about the ghosts that it is difficult to remove. It can only be removed by a thorough sweat. Take care now that you do what I tell you. Do not whip your wife, nor strike her with a knife, nor hit her with fire. If you do, she will vanish before your eyes and return here.”

They left the ghost country to go home, and on the fourth day the wife said to her husband, “Open your eyes.” He looked about him and saw that those who had been with them had disappeared, and he found that they were standing in front of the old woman’s lodge by the butte. She came out of her lodge and said to them, “Stop; give me back those mysterious medicines of mine, whose power helped you to do what you wished.” The man returned them to her, and then once more became really a living person.

When they drew near to the camp the woman went on ahead and sat down on a butte. Then some curious persons came out to see who this might be. As they approached the woman called out to them, “Do not come any nearer. Go and tell my mother and my relations to put up a lodge for us a little way from the camp, and near by it build a sweat-house.” When this had been done the man and his wife went in and took a thorough sweat, and then they went into the lodge and burned sweet grass and purified their clothing and the Worm Pipe.  Then their relations and friends came in to see them. The man told them where he had been and how he had managed to get his wife back, and that the pipe hanging over the doorway was a medicine pipe–the Worm Pipe–presented to him by his ghost father-in-law.

That is how the people came to possess the Worm Pipe. That pipe belongs to the band of Piegans known as the Worm People.

Not long after this, once in the night, this man told his wife to do something, and when she did not begin at once he picked up a brand from the fire and raised it–not that he intended to strike her with it, but he made as if he would–when all at once she vanished and was never seen again.

 

The legend of the peacepipe

The legend of the peacepipe

George Bird Grinnell, 1913. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October, 2017.

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About the Author: Blackfoot Indians Stories was published by George Bird Grinnell in 1913. The text as it appears here; however, is not verbatim as it has been edited for clarity and ease of the modern reader. 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 Indian tribes of the region, and early on, was well known for his ability to get along with Indian elders. The 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 treaties with Native American tribes, and for the preservation of America’s wild lands and resources.

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