Oye-Kar-Mani-Vim, The Track Maker

It was in the summer of 183-, that a large party of Chippeways visited Fort Snelling. There was peace between them and the Sioux. Their time was passed in feasting and carousing; their canoes together flew over the waters of the Mississippi. The young Sioux warriors found strange beauty in the oval faces of the Chippeway girls; and the Chippeways discovered (what was actually the case) that the women of the Dahcotahs were far more graceful than those of their own nation.

But as the time of the departure of the Chippeways approached, many a Chippeway maiden wept when she remembered how soon she would bid adieu to all her hopes of happiness. And Flying Shadow was saddest of them all. She would gladly have given up everything for her lover. What were home and friends to her who loved with all the devotion of a heart untrammeled by forms, fresh from the hand of nature? She listened to his flute in the still evening, as if her spirit would forsake her when she heard it no more. She would sit with him on the bluff which hung over the Mississippi, and envy the very waters which would remain near him, when she was far away. But her lover loved his nation even more than he did her; and though he would have died to have saved her from sorrow, yet he knew she could never be his wife. Even were he to marry her, her life would ever be in danger. A Chippeway could not long find a home among the Dahcotahs.

The Track-maker bitterly regretted that they had ever met, when he saw her grief at the prospect of parting. “Let us go,” he said, “to the Falls, where I will tell you the story you asked me.”

The Track-maker entered the canoe first, and the girl followed; and so pleasant was the task of paddling her lover over the quiet waters, that it seemed but a moment before they were in sight of the torrent.

“It was there,” said the Sioux, “that Wenona and her child found their graves. Her husband, accompanied by some other Dahcotahs, had gone some distance above the falls to hunt. While there, he fell in love with a young girl whom he thought more beautiful than his wife. Wenona knew that she must no longer hope to be loved as she had been.

“The Dahcotahs killed much game, and then broke up their camp and started for their homes. When they reached the falls, the women got ready to carry their canoes and baggage round.

“But Wenona was going on a longer journey. She would not live when her husband loved her no more, and, putting her son in her canoe, she soon reached the island that divides the falls.

“Then she put on all her ornaments, as if she were a bride; she dressed her boy too, as a Dahcotah warrior; she turned to look once more at her husband, who was helping his second wife to put the things she was to carry, on her back.

“Soon her husband called to her; she did not answer him, but placed her child high up in the canoe, so that his father could see him, and getting in herself she paddled towards the rapids.

“Her husband saw that Unk-tahe would destroy her, and he called to her to come ashore. But he might have called to the roaring waters as well, and they would have heeded him as soon as she.

“Still he ran along the shore with his arms uplifted, entreating her to come ashore.

“Wenona continued her course towards the rapids her voice was heard above the waters as she sang her death song. Soon the mother and child were seen no more the waters covered them.

“But her spirit wanders near this place. An elk and fawn are often seen, and we know they are Wenona and her child.”

“Do you love me as Wenona loved?” continued the Sioux, as he met the looks of the young girl bent upon him.

“I will not live when I see you no more,” she replied. “As the flowers die when the winter’s cold falls upon them, so will my spirit depart when I no longer listen to your voice. But when I go to the land of spirits I shall be happy. My spirit will return to earth; but it will be always near you.”

Little didst thou dream that the fate of Wenona would be less sad than thine. She found the death she sought, in the waters whose bosom opened to receive her. But thou wilt bid adieu to earth in the midst of the battle in the very presence of him, for whose love thou wouldst venture all. Thy spirit will flee trembling from the shrieks of the dying mother, the suffering child. Death will come to thee as a terror, not as a refuge.

When the Chippeways broke up their camp near Fort Snelling, they divided into two parties, one party returning home by the Mississippi, the other by way of the St. Croix.

They parted on the most friendly terms with the Sioux, giving presents, and receiving them in return.

Some pillagers, who acknowledge no control, had accompanied the Chippeways. These pillagers are in fact highwaymen or privateers having no laws, and acting from the impulses of their own fierce hearts.

After the Chippeways had left, the pillagers concealed themselves in a path near Lake Calhoun. This lake is about seven miles from Fort Snelling.

Before they had been concealed one hour, two Dahcotahs passed, father and son. The pillagers fired, and the father was killed instantly; but the son escaped, and made his way home in safety. The boy entered the village calling for his mother, to tell her the sad news; her cries of grief gave the alarm, and soon the death of the Sioux was known throughout the village. The news flew from village to village on the wings of the wind; Indian runners were seen in every direction, and in twenty-four hours there were three hundred warriors on foot in pursuit of the Chippeways.

Every preparation was made for the death-strife. Not a Sioux warrior but vowed he would with his own arm avenge the death of his friend. The very tears of the wife were dried when the hope of vengeance cheered her heart.

The Track-maker was famous as a warrior. Already did the aged Dahcotahs listen to his words; for he was both wise and brave. He was among the foremost to lead the Dahcotahs against the Chippeways; and though he longed to raise his tomahawk against his foes, his spirit sunk within him when he remembered the girl he loved. What will be her fate! Oh! that he had never seen her. But it was no time to think of her. Duty called upon him to avenge the death of his friend.

Woe to the unsuspecting Chippeways! ignorant of the murder that had been committed, they were leisurely turning their steps homeward, while the pillagers made their escape with the scalp of the Dahcotah.

The Sioux traveled one day and night before they came up with the Chippeways. Nothing could quench their thirst but blood. And the women and children must suffer first. The savage suffers a twofold death; before his own turn comes, his young children lie breathless around him, their mother all unconscious by their side.

The Chippeways continued their journey, fearing nothing. They had camped between the falls of St. Anthony and Rum river; they were refreshed, and the men proceeded first, leaving their women and children to follow. They were all looking forward with pleasure to seeing their homes again. The women went leisurely along; the infant slept quietly what should it fear close to its mother’s heart! The young children laughed as they hid themselves behind the forest trees, and then emerged suddenly to frighten the others. The Chippeway maidens rejoiced when they remembered that their rivals, the Dahcotah girls, would no longer seduce their lovers from their allegiance.

Flying Shadow wept, there was nothing to make her happy, she would see the Track-maker no more, and she looked forward to death as the end of her cares. She concealed in her bosom the trinkets he had given her; every feature of his face was written on her heart that heart that beat only for him, that so soon would cease to beat at all!

But there was a fearful cry, that banished even him from her thoughts. The war-whoop burst suddenly upon the defenseless women.

Hundreds of Dahcotah warriors rose up to blind the eyes of the terror-stricken mothers. Their children are scalped before their eyes; their infants are dashed against the rocks, which are not more insensible to their cries than their murderers.

It is a battle of strength against weakness. Stern warrior, it needs not to strike the 1 mother that blow! she dies in the death of her children. The maidens clasp their small hands a vain appeal to the merciless wretches, who see neither beauty nor grace, when rage and revenge are in their hearts. It is blood they thirst for, and the young and innocent fall like grass before the mower.

Flying Shadow sees her lover! he is advancing towards her! What does his countenance say? There is sadness in his face, and she hopes aye, more than hopes she knows he will save her. With all a woman’s trust she throws herself in his arms. “Save me! save me!” she cries; “do not let them slay me before your eyes; make me your prisoner! [Footnote: When the Sioux are tired of killing, they sometimes take their victims prisoners, and, generally speaking, treat them with great kindness.] you said that you loved me, spare my life!”

Who shall tell his agony? For a moment he thought he would make her his prisoner. Another moment’s reflection convinced him that that would be of no avail. He knew that she must die, but he could not take her life.

Her eyes were trustingly turned upon him; her soft hand grasped his arm. But the Sioux warriors were pressing upon them, he gave her one more look, he touched her with his spear, 2 and he was gone. And Flying Shadow was dead. She felt not the blow that sent her reeling to the earth. Her lover had forsaken her in the hour of danger, and what could she feel after that?

The scalp was torn from her head by one of those who had most admired her beauty; and her body was trampled upon by the very warriors who had so envied her lover.

The shrieks of the dying women reached the ears of their husbands and brothers. Quickly did they retrace their steps, and when they reached the spot, they bravely stood their ground; but the Dahcotahs were too powerful for them, terrible was the struggle!

The Dahcotahs continued the slaughter, and the Chippeways were obliged at last to give way. One of the Chippeways seized his frightened child and placed him upon his back. His wife lay dead at his feet; with his child clinging to him, he fought his way through.

Two of the Dahcotahs followed him, for he was flying fast; and they feared he would soon be out of their power. They thought, as they nearly came up to him, that he would loose his hold on his child; but the father’s heart was strong within him. He flies, and the Sioux are close upon his heels! He fires and kills one of them. The other Sioux follows: he has nothing to encumber him he must be victor in such an unequal contest. But the love that was stronger than death nerved the father’s arm. He kept firing, and the Sioux retreated. The Chippeway and his young son reached their home in safety, there to mourn the loss of others whom they loved.

The sun set upon a bloody field; the young and old lay piled together; the hearts that had welcomed the breaking of the day were all unconscious of its close.

The Sioux were avenged; and the scalps that they brought home (nearly one hundred when the party joined them from the massacre at Saint Croix bore witness to their triumph.

The other party of Sioux followed the Chippeways who had gone by way of the St. Croix. While the Chippeways slept, the war-cry of the Sioux aroused them. And though they fought bravely, they suffered as did their friends, and the darkness of night added terror to the scene.

The Dahcotahs returned with the scalps to their villages, and as they entered triumphantly, they were greeted with shouts of applause. The scalps were divided among the villages, and joyful preparations were made to celebrate the scalp-dance. The scalps were stretched upon hoops, and covered with vermilion, ornamented with feathers, ribbons and trinkets. On the women’s scalps were hung a comb, or a pair of scissors, and for months did the Dahcotah women dance around them. The men wore mourning for their enemies, as is the custom among the Dahcotahs. When the dancing was done, the scalps were buried with the deceased relatives of the Sioux who took them.

And this is Indian, but what is Christian warfare? The wife of the hero lives to realize her wretchedness; the honors paid by his countrymen are a poor recompense for the loss of his love and protection. The life of the child too, is safe, but who will lead him in the paths of virtue, when his mother has gone down to the grave.

Let us not hear of civilized warfare! It is all the work of the spirits of evil. God did not make man to slay his brother, and the savage alone can present an excuse. The Dahcotah dreams not that it is wrong to resent an injury to the death; but the Christian knows that God has said, Vengeance is mine!

The Track-maker had added to his fame. He had taken many scalps, and the Dahcotah maidens welcomed him as a hero as one who would no longer refuse to acknowledge the power of their charms. They asked him eagerly of the fight whom he had killed first but they derived but little satisfaction from his replies. They found he resisted their advances, and they left him to his gloomy thoughts.

Every scene he looked upon added to his grief. Memory clung to him, recalling every word and look of Flying Shadow. But, that last look, could he ever forget it?

He tried to console himself with the thoughts of his triumph. Alas! Her smile was sweeter than the recollection of revenge. He had waded in the blood of his enemies; he had trampled upon the hearts of the men he hated; but he had broken the heart of the only woman he had ever loved.

In the silence of the night her death-cry sounded in his ear; and he would start as if to flee from the sound. In his dreams he saw again that trustful face, that look of appeal and then the face of stone, when she saw that she had appealed in vain.

He followed the chase, but there he could not forget the battle scene. “Save me! save me!” forever whispered every forest leaf, or every flowing wave. Often did he hear her calling him, and he would stay his steps as if he hoped to meet her smile.

The medicine men offered to cure his disease; but he knew that it was beyond their art, and he cared not how soon death came, nor in what form.

He met the fate he sought. A war party was formed among the Dahcotahs to seek more scalps, more revenge. But the Track-maker was weary of glory.

He went with the party, and never returned. Like her , he died in battle; but the death that she sought to avert, was a welcome messenger to him. He felt that in the grave all would be forgotten.

Dakota, Legends, Sioux,

Fort Snelling,

Eastman, Mary H. Dahcotah, Or Life and Legends of the Sioux around Ft. Snelling. New York: John Wiley. 1849.

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  1. The Dahcotahs believe, or many of them believe, that each body has four souls. One wanders about the earth and requires food; a second watches over the body; the third hovers round its native village, while the fourth goes to the land of spirits.[]
  2. When a Dahcotah touches an enemy with his spear, he is privileged to wear a feather of honor, as if he had taken a scalp.[]

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