The History of the Little Orphan who Carries the White Feather

A Dacota Legend

There was an old man with his grandchild, whom he had taken when quite an infant, who lived in the middle of a forest. The child had no other relative. They had all been destroyed by six large giants, and he was not informed that he ever had any other parent or protector than his grandfather. The nation to whom he belonged had put up their children as a wager against those of the giants, upon a race, which the giants gained, and thus destroyed all the other children. Being the sixth child, he was called Chácopee.

There was a prediction, that there would be a great man of this nation, who would wear a white feather, and who would astonish every one with his skill and bravery.

The grandfather gave the child a bow and some arrows to play with. He went into the woods and saw a rabbit, but not knowing what it was, he came to his grand father and described it to him. He told him what it was, and that it was good to eat, and that if he shot one of his arrows at it, he would probably kill it. He did so; and in this manner he continued on hunting under the instructions of his grandfather, acquiring skill in killing deer and other large animals, and he became an approved hunter.

His curiosity was excited to know what was passing in the world. He went one day to the edge of a prairie, where he saw ashes like those at his home, and poles of lodges. He returned and inquired if his grandfather made them. He was told that he had not, nor had he seen any such things; that it was all his imagination.

Another day he went out to see what there was curious, and on entering into the woods, he heard a voice calling after him “Come here, you wearer of the white feather. You do not wear the white feather yet, but you ought to wear it. Return home and take a short nap. When asleep, you will hear a voice which will tell you to rise and smoke; you will see in your dream a pipe, sack, and a large white feather. When you awake you will find these articles. Put the feather on your head, and you will become a great hunter, a great warrior, and a great man, capable of doing anything. As a proof that you will be a great hunter, when you smoke the smoke will turn into pigeons.” He then informed him who he was; of the fate of his real parents, brothers, and sisters; and of the imposition his grandfather now practiced on him. He gave him a vine, and told him he was of an age to revenge his relations. When you meet your enemy, you will run a race with him; he will not see the vine, it being enchanted. When you are running with him, you will throw it over his head, and entangle him so as you will win the race.” Long ere this speech was ended, he had turned to the quarter from whence the voice came, and, to his astonishment, saw there was another man in the world beside his grandfather; but what most surprised him was that this was an old man, who, from his breast down, was wood, and he appeared to be immovably fixed to the earth.

He returned home, slept, heard the voice, awakened, and found the promised articles. His grandfather was greatly surprised to find him with a white feather, and to see flocks of pigeons flying out of his lodge. He then recollected what had been predicted, and began to weep at the prospect of losing his charge.

He departed the next morning for the purpose of seeking his enemies and revenging himself upon them. He came to a large lodge in the middle of a wood, which was occupied by his enemies, the giants, the inhabitants of which had been apprised of his coming by the little spirits who carry the news. They came out and gave the cry of joy, and as he approached nearer, they began to make sport of him among them selves, saying, ” Here comes the little man with the white feather, who is to do such wonders;” but at the same time to him they talked very fair, telling him he was a brave man, and would do every thing. This was to encourage him to go on to his own destruction. He knew, however, what they were about.

Chácopee went into the lodge fearlessly, and they told him to commence the race with the smallest of them. The goal, or stake to which they run, was a peeled tree, towards the rising sun, and then back to the starting place, where was a Chaunkahpee, or war-club, made of wood as hard as iron, which he who won the race was to use to cut off the other s head with. They ran; Chácopee used his vine and gained the race, and immediately cut off his competitor s head. In this manner he destroyed five of them. This was the work of five successive mornings. The survivor wished him to leave the heads as he cut them off; as they believed by one of their medicines they could unite them again to the bodies; but the little champion insisted upon carrying them to his grandfather.

On the sixth morning, before he went to the giant s lodge, he saw his old counselor, who was stationary in the woods, who told him that he was about to be deceived; that he had never known any other sex than his own; that as he was on his way to the lodge he would meet the most beautiful woman in the world, to whom he was to pay no attention, but on meeting her to wish himself to change into a male elk; that the transformation would take place, and the animal would go to feeding, and not regard the woman.

He proceeded towards the lodge, met the temptress, and became an elk. She reproached him (this woman, by the way, was the sixth giant) for having turned into an elk on seeing her, who had traveled a great distance for the purpose of courting him and becoming his wife. Her reproaches and beauty affected him so much that he wished himself a man again, and he at once resumed his natural shape. They sat down together, and he began to caress and make love to her, and finally laid his head in her lap and went to sleep. She kept pushing him off her lap, for the purpose of trying if he was sound asleep, and when it awakened him, told him she disturbed him because he laid too heavy upon her. Finally, when he became very sound asleep, she took her axe and broke his back. She then assumed her natural shape, which was that of the sixth giant, changed Chácopee into a dog, and made him follow her towards the lodge in that degrading shape. He took the white feather, and stuck it in his own head.

There was an Indian village at some distance, in which were two girls, rival sisters, the daughters of a chief, who were doing penance for the purpose of enticing the carrier of the white feather to their village. They each hoped to make him their husband. They each made themselves lodges a short distance from the village. As he approached, the girls saw the white feather, and the eldest prepared her lodge in a neat manner, for the purpose of receiving him. The other, supposing his choice would not be made for such parade, as he was a wise man, touched nothing about her lodge. The eldest went out and met him, and invited him in. He accepted the invitation, and soon made her his wife. The youngest invited the dog into her lodge, made him a good bed, and treated him with attention, as if he were her husband.

The sixth giant, supposing that whoever possessed the white feather possessed also all its virtues, went out upon the prairie to hunt, but returned without anything. The dog went out the same day hunting upon a river, and drew a stone out of the water^ which immediately became a beaver. The next day the giant followed the dog, and, hiding behind a tree, saw the dog go to the river and draw out a stone, which at once turned into a beaver. As soon as the dog had left the place, the giant went to the river, and pulling out a stone, had the satisfaction of seeing it transformed into a beaver also. Tying it to his belt, he carried it home, and, as is customary, threw it down by the door of his lodge and entered in. After he had been seated a short time, he told his wife to bring in his belt, or collar. She did so; and returned with it, tied to nothing but a stone.

The next day, the dog finding his method of catching beavers was discovered by the giant, went to a wood at some distance, and broke off a limb from a tree which had been scorched black by the fire, which immediately became a bear. The giant, who had again watched him, did the same, and carried a bear home, but his wife could find nothing but a burnt stick tied to his belt.

The next day, the wife determined she would go to her father, and let him know what a valuable hunter she had for her husband. As soon as they had departed, the dog made signs to his mistress, or wife, to sweat him after the manner of the Indians. She accordingly made a lodge, just large enough for him to creep into, put in heated stones in such a manner that she could pour water upon them, and after she had sweated him thus for some time, he came out a very handsome man, but had not the power of speech.

The eldest daughter went to her father, and told him of the disgraceful manner in which her sister lived with a dog, and also of his singular faculty for hunting.

The old man suspecting there was some magic in it, sent a deputation of young men and women to ask her to come to him, and to bring her dog with her. They went, and were much surprised to find in the place of the dog so fine a young man. They accompanied the delegation to the father, who was also much astonished. He assembled all the wise and aged men of the nation, to see the strange exploits of the wearer of the white feather, which it was understood he could perform. The giant took his pipe and filled it, and passed it to the Indians, to see if anything would happen when they smoked. It passed around to the dog, who made a sign to pass it to the giant first, which was done; but he effected nothing. Then the dog-man took it, and made a sign to them to put the white feather upon his head. This was done immediately he regained his speech; he smoked, and behold immense flocks of pigeons rushed from the smoke.

The chief demanded of him his history, which he recounted to him faithfully. The chief, after it was finished, ordered that the giant should be transformed into a dog, and turned into the middle of the village, and that the boys should with clubs pound him to death.

The chief then ordered, on the petition of the White Feather, that all the young men should employ themselves four days in making arrows, and gave him a buffalo robe. This robe the White Feather cut into small pieces, and sowed in the prairie. At the end of the four days he invited them to a buffalo hunt; and they found that those pieces of skin had become a very large herd of buffalo. They killed as many as they pleased, and had a grand feast.

The White Feather then got his wife to ask her father if he would permit her to visit White-Feather s grandfather with him. He replied to this solicitation that a woman must follow her husband into whatever quarter of the world he may choose to go.

They departed, made their visit, and were received with joy.

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top