Two War Trails

Many years ago there lived in the Blood camp a boy named Screech Owl (A’-tsi-tsi). He was rather a lonely boy, and did not care to go with other boys. He liked better to be by himself. Often he would go off alone, and stay out all night away from the camp. He used to pray to all kinds of birds and animals that he saw, and ask them to take pity on him and help him, saying that he wanted to be a warrior. He never used paint. He was a fine looking young man, and he thought it was foolish to use paint to make oneself good looking.

When Screech Owl was about fourteen years old, a large party of Blackfeet were starting to war against the Crees and the Assinaboines. The young man said to his father: “Father, with this war party many of my cousins are going. I think that now I am old enough to go to war, and I would like to join them.” His father said, “My son, I am willing; you may go.” So he joined the party.

His father gave his son his own war horse, a black horse with a white spot on its side a very fast horse. He offered him arms, but the boy refused them all, except a little trapping axe. He said, “I think this hatchet will be all that I shall need.” Just as they were about to start, his father gave the boy his own war headdress. This was not a war bonnet, but a plume made of small feathers, the feathers of thunder birds, for the thunder bird was his father’s medicine. He said to the boy, “Now, my son, when you go into battle, put this plume in your head, and wear it as I have worn it.”

The party started and traveled north-east, and at length they came to where Fort Pitt now stands, on the Saskatchewan River. When they had got down below Fort Pitt, they saw three riders, going out hunting. These men had not seen the war party. The Blackfeet started around the men, so as to head them off when they should run. When they saw the men, the Screech Owl got off his horse, and took off all his clothes, and put on his father’s war plume, and began to ride around, singing his father’s war song. The older warriors were getting ready for the attack, and when they saw this young boy acting in this way, they thought he was making fun of the older men, and they said: “Here, look at this boy! Has he no shame? He had better stay behind.”      When they got on their horses, they told him to stay behind, and they charged the Crees. But the boy, instead of staying behind, charged with them, and took the lead, for he had the best horse of all. He, a boy, was leading the war party, and still singing his war song.

The three Crees began to run, and the boy kept gaining on them. They did not want to separate, they kept together; and as the boy was getting closer and closer, the last one turned in his saddle and shot at the Screech Owl, but missed him. As the Cree fired, the boy whipped up his horse, and rode up beside the Cree and struck him with his little trapping axe, and knocked him off his horse. He paid no attention to the man that he had struck, but rode on to the next Cree. As he came up with him, the Cree raised his gun and fired, but just as he did so, the Blackfoot dropped down on the other side of his horse, and the ball passed over him. He straightened up on his horse, rode up by the Cree, and as he passed, knocked him off his horse with his axe. When he knocked the second Cree off his horse, the Blackfeet, who were following, whooped in triumph and to encourage him, shouting, “A-wah-heh'” (Take courage). The boy was still singing his father’s war song.

By this time, the main body of the Blackfeet were catching up with him. He whipped his horse on both sides, and rode on after the third Cree, who was also whipping his horse as hard as he could, and trying to get away. Meantime, some of the Blackfeet had stopped to count coup on and scalp the two dead Crees, and to catch the two ponies. Screech Owl at last got near to the third Cree, who kept aiming his gun at him. The boy did not want to get too close, until the Cree had fired his gun, but he was gaining a little, and all the time was throwing himself from side to side on his horse, so as to make it harder for the Cree to hit him. When he had nearly overtaken the enemy, the Cree turned, raised his gun and fired; but the boy had thrown himself down behind his horse, and again the ball passed over him. He raised himself up on his horse, and rushed on the Cree, and struck him in the side of the body with his axe, and then again, and with the second blow, he knocked him off his horse.

The boy rode on a little further, stopped, and jumped off his horse, while the rest of the Blackfeet had come up and were killing the fallen man. He stood off to one side and watched them count coup on and scalp the dead.

The Blackfeet were much surprised at what the young man had done. After a little while, the leader decided that they would go back to the camp from which they had come. When he had returned from this war journey this young man’s name was changed from A’-tsi-tsi to E-k[=u]s’-kini (Low Horn). This was his first war path.

From that time on the name of E-k[=u]s’-kini was often heard as that of one doing some great deed.

E-k[=u]s’-kini started on his last war trail from the Black-foot crossing (Su-yoh-pah’-wah-ku). He led a party of six Sarcees. He was the seventh man.

On the second day out, they came to the Red Deer’s River. When they reached this river, they found it very high, so they built a raft to cross on. They camped on the other side. In crossing, most of their powder got wet. The next morning, when they awoke, E-k[=u]s’-kini said: “Well, trouble is coming for us. We had better go back from here. We started on a wrong day. I saw in my sleep our bodies lying on the prairie, dead.” Some of the young men said: “Oh well, we have started, we had better go on. Perhaps it is only a mistake. Let us go on and try to take some horses anyhow.” E-k[=u]s’-kini said: “Yes, that is very true. To go home is all foolishness; but remember that it is by your wish that we are going on.” He wanted to go back, not on his own account, but for the sake of his young men to save his followers.

From there they went on and made another camp, and the next morning he said to his young men: “Now I am sure. I have seen it for certain. Trouble is before us.” They camped two nights at this place and dried some of their powder, but most of it was caked and spoilt. He said to his young men: “Here, let us use some sense about this. We have no ammunition. We cannot defend ourselves. Let us turn back from here.” So they started across the country for their camp.

They crossed the Red Deer’s River, and there camped again. The next morning E-k[=u]s’-kini said: “I feel very uneasy today. Two of you go ahead on the trail and keep a close lookout. I am afraid that today we are going to see our enemy.” Two of the young men went ahead, and when they had climbed to the top of a ridge and looked over it on to Sarvis Berry (Saskatoon) Creek, they came back and told E-k[=u]s’-kini that they had seen a large camp of people over there, and that they thought it was the Piegans, Bloods, Blackfeet, and Sarcees, who had all moved over there together. Saskatoon Creek was about twenty miles from the Blackfoot camp. He said: “No, it cannot be our people. They said nothing about moving over here; it must be a war party. It is only a few days since we left, and there was then no talk of their leaving that camp. It cannot be they.” The two young men said: “Yes, they are our people. There are too many of them for a war party. We think that the whole camp is there.” They discussed this for some little time, E-k[=u]s’-kini insisting that it could not be the Blackfoot camp, while the young men felt sure that it was. These two men said, “Well, we are going on into the camp now.” Low Horn said: “Well, you may go. Tell my father that I will come into the camp tonight. I do not like to go in the daytime, when I am not bringing back anything with me.”

It was now late in the afternoon, and the two young men went ahead toward the camp, traveling on slowly. A little after sundown, they came down the hill on to the flat of the river, and saw there the camp. They walked down toward it, to the edge of the stream, and there met two women, who had come down after water. The men spoke to them in Sarcee, and said, “Where is the Sarcee camp?” The women did not understand them, so they spoke again, and asked the same question in Blackfoot. Then these two women called out in the Cree language, “Here are two Blackfeet, who have come here and are talking to us.” When these men heard the women talk Cree, and saw what a mistake they had made, they turned and ran away up the creek. They ran up above camp a short distance, to a place where a few willow bushes were hanging over the stream, and pushing through these, they hid under the bank, and the willows above concealed them. The people in the camp came rushing out, and men ran up the creek, and down, and looked everywhere for the two enemies, but could find nothing of them.

Now when these people were running in all directions, hunting for these two men, E-k[=u]s’-kini was coming down the valley slowly with the four other Sarcees. He saw some Indians coming toward him, and supposed that they were some of his own people, coming to meet him, with horses for him to ride. At length, when they were close to him, and E-k[=u]s’-kini could see that they were the enemy, and were taking the covers off their guns, he jumped to one side and stood alone and began to sing his war song. He called out, “Children of the Crees, if you have come to try my manhood, do your best.” In a moment or two he was surrounded, and they were shooting at him from all directions. He called out again, “People, you can’t kill me here, but I will take my body to your camp, and there you shall kill me.” So he advanced, fighting his way toward the Cree camp, but before he started, he killed two of the Crees there. His enemies kept coming up and clustering about him: some were on foot and some on horseback. They were thick about him on all sides, and they could not shoot much at him, for fear of killing their own people on the other side.

One of the Sarcees fell. E-k[=u]s’-kini said to his men, “A-wah-heh'” (Take courage). “These people cannot kill us here. Where that patch of choke-cherry brush is, in the very centre of their camp, we will go and take our stand.” Another Sarcee fell, and now there were only three of them. E-k[=u]s’-kini said to his remaining men: “Go straight to that patch of brush, and I will fight the enemy off in front and at the sides, and so will keep the way open for you. These people cannot kill us here. There are too many of their own people. If we can get to that brush, we will hurt them badly.” All this time they were killing enemies, fighting bravely, and singing their war songs. At last they gained the patch of brush, and then with their knives they began to dig holes in the ground, and to throw up a shelter.
In the Cree camp was K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s (Round), the chief of the Crees, who could talk Blackfoot well. He called out: “E-k[=u]s’-kini, there is a little ravine running out of that brush patch, which puts into the hills. Crawl out through that, and try to get away. It is not guarded.” E-k[=u]s’-kini replied: “No, Children of the Crees, I will not go. You must remember that it is E-k[=u]s’-kini that you are fighting with a man who has done much harm to your people. I am glad that I am here. I am sorry for only one thing; that is, that my ammunition is going to run out. Tomorrow you may kill me.”

All night long the fight was kept up, the enemy shooting all the time, and all night long E-k[=u]s’-kini sang his death song. K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s called to him several times: “E-k[=u]s’-kini, you had better do what I tell you. Try to get away.” But he shouted back, “No,” and laughed at them. He said: “You have killed all my men. I am here alone, but you cannot kill me.” K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s, the chief, said: “Well, if you are there at daylight in the morning, I will go into that brush and will catch you with my hands. I will be the man who will put an end to you.” E-k[=u]s’-kini said: “K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s, do not try to do that. If you do, you shall surely die.” The patch of brush in which he had hidden had now been all shot away, cut off by the bullets of the enemy.

When day came, E-k[=u]s’-kini called out: “Eh, K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s, it is broad daylight now. I have run out of ammunition. I have not another grain of powder in my horn. Now come and take me in your hands, as you said you would.” K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s answered: “Yes, I said that I was the one who was going to catch you this morning. Now I am coming.”

He took off all his clothes, and alone rushed for the breastworks. E-k[=u]s’-kini’s ammunition was all gone, but he still had one load in his gun, and his dagger. K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s came on with his gun at his shoulder, and E-k[=u]s’-kini sat there with his gun in his hand, looking at the man who was coming toward him with the cocked gun pointed at him. He was singing his death song. As K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s got up close, and just as he was about to fire, E-k[=u]s’-kini threw up his gun and fired, and the ball knocked off the Cree chiefs forefinger, and going on, entered his right eye and came out at the temple, knocking the eye out. K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s went down, and his gun flew a long way.

When K[)o]m-in’-[)a]-k[=u]s fell, the whole camp shouted the war whoop, and cried out, “This is his last shot,” and they all charged on him. They knew that he had no more ammunition.

The head warrior of the Crees was named Bunch of Lodges. He was the first man to jump inside the breastworks. As he sprang inside, E-k[=u]s’-kini met him, and thrust his dagger through him, and killed him on the spot. Then, as the enemy threw themselves on him, and he began to feel the knives stuck into him from all sides, he gave a war whoop and laughed, and said, “Only now I begin to think that I am fighting.” All the time he was cutting and stabbing, jumping backward and forward, and all the time laughing. When he was dead, there were fifteen dead Crees lying about the earthworks. E-k[=u]s’-kini body was cut into small pieces and scattered all over the country, so that he might not come to life again.

That morning, before it was daylight, the two Sarcees who had hidden in the willows left their hiding-place and made their way to the Blackfoot camp. When they got there, they told that when they had left the Cree camp E-k[=u]s’kini was surrounded, and the firing was terrible. When E-k[=u]s’-kini’s father heard this, he got on his horse and rode through the camp, calling out: “My boy is surrounded; let us turn out and go to help him. I have no doubt they are many tens to one, but he is powerful, and he may be fighting yet.” No time was lost in getting ready, and soon a large party started for the Cree camp. When they came to the battle-ground, the camp had been moved a long time. The old man looked about, trying to gather up his son’s body, but it was found only in small pieces, and not more than half of it could be gathered up.

After the fight was over, the Crees started on down to go to their own country. One day six Crees were travelling along on foot, scouting far ahead. As they were going down into a little ravine, a grizzly bear jumped up in front of them and ran after them. The bear overtook, and tore up, five of them, one after another. The sixth got away, and came home to camp. The Crees and the Blackfeet believe that this was the spirit of E-k[=u]s’-kini, for thus he comes back. They think that he is still on the earth, but in a different shape.

E-k[=u]s’-kini was killed about forty years ago. When he was killed, he was still a boy, not married, only about twenty-four years old.

Blackfoot, Legends,

Grinnell, George Bird. Blackfoot Lodge Tales: The Story of a Prairie People. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1892.

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