Tale of The Origin Of The Medicine-Men

In days of old people knew the animals and were on friendly terms with them. All of the animals possessed wonderful powers and they sometimes appeared to people in dreams or visions and gave them their power. Often when men were out hunting and were left alone in the forest or on the plains at night, the animals came to them and spoke to them in dreams and revealed their secrets to them. The man who had had a dream of this kind woke up and went home. There he remained several days in silence, refusing to talk to any one, thinking only of the things that had been revealed to him. After a time he called some of his friends and the old men of the tribe to his lodge and told them of his powers and asked them if they would be taught his secrets. If they agreed the man taught them his songs and dances. After he had taught them all the necessary things they declared themselves ready to give a Medicine-Men’s dance, and gave themselves the title of medicine-men. Then if any one was sick in the village and sought the aid of the medicine-men they prepared to hold the dance in behalf of that person, that they might try their powers of healing on him. They built a large grass lodge, and the dance was held in this lodge for six days and nights.

The first medicine-men ever to receive power and give the dance were two young brothers. These boys were brave hunters, and one time when they were out on the hunt night overtook them far from any habitation. They made a camp in the lonely woods and laid down to sleep, for they were very weary. In their sleep they both had a dream and in their dreams each met the other and they dreamed that they were walking together toward the east. On their way they saw a man coming toward them, and he was walking rapidly toward the west. They met him and he stopped and talked with them in their language. After they had talked long, the man revealed a bag that he carried and said, “Choose from this any kind of medicine that you want. If you wish to live long and be hard to kill, take this,” and he handed them certain medicine. When the boys had accepted it he said, “Now that you have the same power that I have, I will show you how to use it.” He spent a long time teaching them how to use the medicine and then he continued his journey toward the west. At break of day both boys woke up, and each remembered his dream, but said nothing to the other or to any one, but thought long on what the man had taught him. After many months each began to try his powers.

After two winters war broke out with the Chickasaw people, and many were killed and yet many more were taken prisoners. The victorious Chickasaws marched home with their prisoners and booty, and every night when they made camp they held war dances and danced about their prisoners, who, bound, were placed in the center of the large ring of dancers. One night, after the dancing was over and the prisoners lay exhausted and cold, one of them, a young man, escaped. It was nearly morning and he had not gone far when the sun came up, and he heard the Chickasaws coming after him. He did not know what to do and was about to give up when he saw a hollow log. He crawled into it and the Chickasaws came to the log and went on by. He stayed in the log all day, and in the evening, after he had heard the Chickasaws return; he crawled out and went on toward his home. After two days he reached his village and there told his story. There were many men in the village who had been away when the Chickasaws made their attack, and among them were the two brothers who had received power in their dreams. By that time the Chickasaws were about five days on their way, but the men started to pursue them. The elder brother, whose name was Strong-Wind, was chosen to take the lead. After several days’ marching they overtook the enemy. They came upon their camp at night, and they could hear the beat of the drums and the songs of victory before they found the camp. The night was very dark, and so the men had to wait until dawn before they could attack the camp. At the first light they rushed into the camp and killed many Chickasaws and rescued their prisoners. Strong-Wind and his brother were equal to ten men apiece, and so wonderful were their powers that they alone rushed into the midst of the enemy and killed many and took many women as prisoners. The Chickasaws were powerless before them, and even their own people stopped fighting to stare in wonder at the brave deeds of the two young men. The few Chickasaws who were left fled in terror and the party returned home rejoicing.

After many years, during which time the brothers practiced their powers in times of war, they died and the tribe was left without any medicine-men. Finally there was a very young man, who became a medicine-man through powers given him by the Black-Mountain-Bear. One time while he was out hunting he wandered far in quest of game, and before he realized it the sun was down and it was growing dark. He thought of his home and knew that he could not reach it before night. He made a shelter, lay down to sleep, and dreamed that he was walking on a narrow trail leading eastward. He looked ahead and saw a man sitting by the wayside with his head down. As he approached, the man raised his head, looked at him, and said: “My boy, I want to give you some medicine, for I want you to have powers like mine.” The old man took out many roots and told the boy to choose six of them. He took six of the roots; then the old man told him that he would have to go before six men, each of whom would explain the power of one medicine and how to use it. The boy did not want to go to so many men for fear he would not have time, and so he gave back four of the roots. Then he thanked the old man and started on his way. Soon he saw another old man sitting by the trail, and as he approached, the man arose, and when he came up to him he began to talk to the boy and explained the use of his medicine. While he was yet on the way, going toward the third man, he awoke. He returned to his mother’s lodge, but kept silent, and spoke to no one for many days, thinking always about his dream and the things that had been taught him. He wandered about alone, looking always for the medicine roots he had seen in his dream. After many months he found the plant.

Soon after there was a man in another village who was about to die, and when the young man heard of the sick man he determined to go and see him and try his powers. He called the medicine-men together and taught them the medicine dance-song that had been taught him in the dream; then they all went to the lodge where the sick man was. All the people wondered why the young man should call the men to sing medicine dance-songs for him, for they never thought of him as having power. He was with the sick man a long time before he could find out what was the matter with him. First, the dancers danced very slowly, and gradually increased the movement, as was their custom. So long was the young man in finding out what was the matter with the sick man, that the dancers were dancing as fast as they possibly could before he decided. Thus they danced for six days and nights, and many of the dancers dropped to the ground exhausted. Finally the young man began to talk in a tongue no one understood, and he began to dance slowly. Then the others knew that he had discovered what ailed the man. He fell to the ground and began to crawl like a mad bear. He crawled up to the sick man and, placing his mouth on the place where the greatest pain was, drew the pain out by blowing his breath on the place, and the pain was gone. The people knew then that the boy was in truth a medicine-man, and by his actions they knew that the Black-Mountain-Bear had given him power. It was the Bear who had appeared to the young man as an old man in his dream. From that time he was called Black-Mountain-Bear-Medicine-Man. Then the chief of the medicine-men’s society announced that all the medicine-men were going to hold a dance, and they wanted the young man to be present and show his powers, if he had any. The dance was held and every one attended. Black-Mountain-Bear-Medicine-Man sat and watched the dancers until the last, the sixth night of the dance; then he arose and joined in the dance. He danced faster and faster, and after a time went over and picked up a gun. He took the bullet out, then he showed it and the powder to all the people. Then he put them in the gun again and gave it to his helper. He continued dancing, and after he had danced a long time and very fast he fell to the ground. After a while he arose on his knees and spread out his arms. His helper shot him through the breast and he fell over in a faint. Soon he arose and began dancing again, and as he danced he showed the bullet to the people and also bared his breast, and they could see no marks. He had caught the bullet in his hands. After that he became a member of the medicine-men’s society.

After a time another young man appeared with wonderful power, also given him by the Mountain-Bear. He appeared at the medicine-men’s lodge one night, where they were having a dance, and he joined in and did many wonderful things. He had a bear’s skin that he could cause to turn into a young bear, which would follow him about, and then he would turn the animal back into a piece of skin.

There are two kinds of medicine-men. One kind has power to doctor and heal the sick; another has the power to prevent any one from being hurt or harmed, and can charm away all danger. The latter are supposed to be more powerful than the first kind of medicine-men, for they can perform their magic without medicine and have power to bewitch people who are afar off, and thus make them lose their minds and not know what they are doing. They have a song of death, and when they sing the song before a dying person they frighten away death and the person lives. There are few people who ever receive this power, which is generally given by the sun, moon, stars, earth, or storm, but some very wild and ferocious animals can also give the power to people.

Caddo, Legends,

Dorsey, George A. Traditions of the Caddo. Washington: Carnegie Institution. 1905.

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