Releasing the Buffalo – An Apache Legend

By Pliny Earle Goddard in 1911

Buffalo Herd in Montana

Buffalo Herd in Montana

Long ago, they were camping about over on the plains without food. They were playing the hoop and pole game. Raven came from nobody knew where and took off his quiver. Inside of the quiver were intestines.

Magpie took them out. They watched Raven to see which way he would start home. When it was evening he started off flying up toward the sky-hole. “You must all watch him,” they said to each other. Everyone was looking at him. He kept circling about until he became very small and few could see him. When he was so far off that no one else could see him, Rattlesnake and Bat still could make him out. When he was at the top of the sky and out of sight, he flew across this way to the east where the Black Mountains range from north to south. When he reached them he went to the junction of canyons. Only the two could see him.

The people moved their camp four times before they came to him. They found he had very much meat there which he (Raven) distributed to the people. They asked him about the buffalo but he would not tell them. Then they changed an Apache into a puppy, making eyes for him of black obsidian. They hid him under a brush bed and moved their camp away.

The children of Raven came around the deserted camp and finding the dog, took him up. Raven’s smallest child folded his arms about him and carried him home. His father said to the children, “He was lying there to find out something.” The child did not want to give up the dog. The father put the poker in the fire and when it was burning brought it near the dog’s eyes. After a while, he cried, Wau.” “You may keep it, it’s only a dog. It does not know anything,” the father said “Its name will be înôldî (choke),” said the child.

Raven had the buffalo all shut up. He opened the door when he wanted to kill some of them. That was the way he secured the meat. The dog went along with them and they fed it. When it was dark and they had all gone to bed, the dog went over there and opened the door. The buffalo started out. They had nearly all gone out before Raven noticed it. He ran over there with his quiver, shooting at them as they rail past. When all his arrows were gone but one, he looked at the door for the man who had become a dog. There was an old buffalo going out which could hardly get to its feet. The man caught hold of this buffalo and went out with it clinging to the opposite side. Raven paid no attention to it and stood there holding his bow with the one arrow looking for the man in vain.

The man overtook the others who had moved their camp away, “I turned the buffalo all loose,” he told them. They turned back, moving their camp to the buffalo, where they killed many of them and were no longer hungry.

Buffalo Stampede

Buffalo Stampede

Raven told his children, “You will live on the meat that is left on the backbone and on the eyeballs.”

Long ago they were hungry but he let the buffalo out and then they had plenty to eat. That way he did.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March 2020.

About the Author: Pliny Earle Goddard (1869-1928) was an ethnologist and linguist of American Indian languages. During his lifetime, he published a number of books and journals including several volumes entitled the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History. This tale comes from his Jicarilla Apache texts, from Volume VIII of that series, published in 1911.

Also See: 

Myths & Legends of the Apache

Native American Legends

Native American Proverbs & Wisdom

Native Americans – First Owners of America

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