By Wambdi Wicasa
There is a place that today is called Sica Hollow in South Dakota. It is deep and dark, and long memories live there. Few people, except those who live near Sisseton, know its entrance, and these people keep its story a secret.
Once, it was a shelter for many camps. Quiet smokes rose up to the prairie. North Wind tried every opening into the Hollow, but the great trees held back his white breath.
Deer and antelope slipped into the folds of the Hollow. They found open water and salt when all the earth above was hard with ice.
Great tipis lay under buffalo robes, and the old men sat every day in their meeting houses. Their bones were warm, and their pipes prayed to Ate, who had blessed them.
But a stranger came from the west into the Hollow.
His bow was broken, and his moccasins were worn. He had no family. He made a sign to say his name was Hand. He was not tall, and his eyes were thin. The young girls looked at him, and something told them to be afraid.
He ate a lot and did not show thanks. He laughed under his breath at the old men, and no one saw him pray. He did not smile like good men do, nor did he tell stories.
The old women said he should be sent away. But it was cold outside the Hollow, and thick ice covered the Big Stone Lake. The old men said he would go when it was warm.
After several moons, the great light in the sky, the Sun, began to move back to the north. Earth began to open and let out her young. Young braves quit their winter games and crept out of the Hollow to search for fresh meat and the eggs of water birds that flew at night from the south.
Hand was older and slyer, showing the young boys many tricks. He hid like a lynx in the grass. His eye drew the game to him. He was proud and laughed at the mistakes of the young men.
Around the prairie campfire, when the old men could not hear, he said, “Why do you follow the old ways? What little glory do you have? In the dark of the night, I can bring you to big kills that will make you warriors, feared by everyone. You will be great chiefs and wear scalps on your belts. Not the tails of rabbits. Will you listen to me and keep my secrets away from the council fires?”
It was spring, and the young braves’ hearts were beating for the beautiful maidens hidden in their mothers’ tipis. A great kill would prove manhood, and the maidens would surrender to marriage.
“Listen, then, to me and prepare your war clubs. Soon, the Valley trail will be dusty, with camps moving north to the Lakes of Rice. If you follow me, you will strike many coups, and you will have many eagle feathers in your hair. You will be men, not old skeletons who sit and dream in the lodges.”
This talk stirred the blood of the youths, and they made war clubs and waited. Every dawn, they watched the Valley to make their first kill.
And it was easy.
The people of the HoIlow had always been good. The Camps who passed them sent signals of friendship and slept safely on the open earth.
Now, no more. Hand had taught the boys to strike.
Travelers woke to wail over their dead. They ran for their lives into the tall grass, holding their hands over the mouths of the little ones. Blood ran everywhere. It fell into the River, and even today, this River is called Red.
The horror spread into the Hollow. Children ran for fear when they saw the dripping scalps. Women and girls spat on the tracks where the boys walked. The old men called for a Council and for the Medicine Man.
“How can we make up for what our Sons have done? How can we wash our Hollow from this crime? What will be our Sacrifice? We want our Hollow to be as it was long ago.
Wicasa Wakan listened to the old men. He went to his own lodge to listen to Wakantanka. He sat with his whistle and rattle and burning sweetgrass. He did not sleep, but his eyes were closed. He waited for Thunderer to bring him a message.
And Hand did not sleep. He and his killers lit a big fire in the middle of the camp. They leaped and killed again and again. They bragged and shouted to the girls, “Lift the tipi walls and follow us into the grass. Your children will have our blood in them, and everyone will tremble when they call out.”
But the camp listened only to the Holy Man and prayed with him. An evil had come into their Peace, and only Thunderer could cleanse it from them.
A wind stirred. The whistle and rattle in the lodge stilled. Ate, Father, had heard his people. He had accepted their sacrifice. His messenger was coming.
Through the smoke holes, women saw the dark wings of Thunderer. A flash and then another come from his eyes.
Sudden fear touched the shoulders of Hand. He crouched and shook like a water reed. Madness took him, but he could not escape. He ran and ran, but the wings of Thunderer beat him back into the flood that rained from the cloud.
Vines reached out for him and took him by his ankles. The water rose to his screaming mouth and his gaping eyes. He was too evil to cry for mercy, and the talons of Thunderer ripped out his sight so he would never see the Happy Hunting Ground.
Wakantanka did not take all the sacrifices offered to him by his people in the Hollow. Most sat in their tipis and went to God with a prayer.
But one was saved. By her father, she was called Fawn.
When the Wicasa Wakan had begun his prayer, Fawn slipped into the door of her mother’s tipi. Her hair was black as a raven and long. With a bone, she began to comb it and oil it. She set it into two braids and tied the ends with a bit of ermine. From her bundle, she drew her tasseled dress and high white moccasins. Her Medicine was calling her to flee the rising water.
Up and up the steep slope, she flew. The water rose higher behind her. All the world was covered. She stood bright and smooth-skinned in the sunlight on the top of the highest hill. She was alone, the only one of her tribe not touched by man or the evil Hand had brought to her people.
She began her song, and the Great Spirit behind the Sun listened:
“I am grieved for the evil that my brothers did. Your beautiful land is destroyed. I stand alone with you. Let me sing my song before I join my sisters. You were good to us before evil entered our Peace. Now I grieve. I ask for your kindness. Ate make this ground, where I stand, holy again. Remember this little spot and send your love here. From this ground, make a new people, and they will worship you always. Now I go to you.”
Her song and her great grief made Fawn drop to the ground, and she slept. Wakantanka’s eye saw her, and he sent a white cloud to cover her. She slept many days, and the cloud covered her.
She could not feel it, but new life stirred in her from the cloud. She felt no pain either, but a motion awakened her. It was a child hungry for her milk.
A tall, brave looked down on her and touched her face.
Below her, the Hollow was clean and bright again. Only the memory lingers–Sica Hollow. Someday, even this bad name will be changed and forgotten. Gentle smokes will rise again. It will be called by its old name — Mokoce Waste. (Good Land)
Source: Written by Wambdi Wicasta, Eagle Man, from the American Indian Culture Research Center.
About the Author: Wambdi Wicasa, Eagle Man, was the name given to Father Stanislaus Maudlin in a Naming Ceremony by the Yankton Sioux Tribe in 1942. Father Stan was a young sub-deacon working in the Dakotas with the Native American people before he joined the Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, South Dakota, in 1950 as a co-founder. Father Stan has had a long interest and love of Native Americans, who have accepted him as one of their own. In 1968, he founded, with the help of many Native Americans, the American Indian Culture Research Center located at the Blue Cloud Abbey.