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Cultural Overview - Sahnish Culture - Sahnish Creation Stories - Part 1

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Sahnish Creation Stories - Part 1

Sahnish Genesis and its teachings are part of the sacred bundles.
The sacred bundles are ancient, mysterious wrappings that hold
sacred and holy items of the people. Some of these items were
used as reminders for tracing their history. Part of the ceremony
of the bundles includes the following statement about the history
of the Sahnish: “The tribes and nations of the Caddoan stock
migrated originally from the south from the borders of Mexico,
northward into the Great Plains. In the migration of these
nations northward the Arikara were in the lead, so in their
final settlement they were found farthest north of any of the
stock. The Caddoan tribes brought with them from the south
the practice of agriculture, which they taught, to other
cruder tribes whom they encountered.”
(Gilmore)

Arikara Genesis

As told by Four Rings, Priest of the Hukawirat Sacred Bundle. Interpreted by Albert Simpson and as told to Melvin Gilmore.lodges

The Sahnish nation is one of the nations of the Caddoan stock. This stock includes the Caddo of Louisiana, the Waco of Texas, the Wichita of Oklahoma, the Pawnee of Nebraska, and the Arikara of North Dakota. Arikara is not the name by which these people call themselves, but the name by which they were called by the Mandan. They call themselves Sahnish, meaning “people.” Other Indian people they call saNIsahnis, while they call white people sahNIstaaka, the word for “white” in their language.

The tribes and nations of the Caddoan stock migrated originally from the south from the borders of Mexico (Central America), northward into the Great Plains. In the migration of these nations northward the Sahnish were in the lead, so in their final settlement they were found the farthest north of any of the stock. The Caddoan tribes brought with them from the south the practice of agriculture, which they taught to less civilized tribes whom they encountered. The cultivated crops which they brought with them from the south, and which they gradually acclimated farther and farther north, were corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, and sunflowers. All these good food crops made for them a more certain and secure living than could be obtained by the less civilized tribes, who depended wholly upon the harvest of wild plants. Agriculture, the cultivation of corn, had been practiced by the Sahnish for so many centuries that it was thoroughly ingrained in the national and individual life of the people. From time immemorial agriculture had been their life, so that their unwritten literature (oral narration), their religious and social forms were imbued with allusions to their agricultural practices and products.

The northward migration of the Sahnish brought them into the drainage area of the Missouri River many centuries ago and they have been associated with that river ever since, so that it has had influence in the form of some of their rituals. Their name for this stream signifies “The Mysterious (Holy) River.” The former population of the Sahnish nation was very greatly more numerous than in modern times since contact with the white race. In former times there were twelve villages of this nation. Each village had its own “Sacred Bundle,” an object which was likened to the ancient Hebrew Ark of the Covenant. The Sahnish tell of a glorious and prosperous time of their people when they dwelt at the “Place of the Holy Lodges.” This location was near the Grand River, a tributary of the Missouri River, in what is now South Dakota. At the time the people of the twelve villages were so numerous as to require four “Holy Lodges” or tribal temples to accommodate them in the celebrations of their religious festivals.

Four Rings, priest of the Hukawirat Sacred Bundle.
Chief Four Rings.
(Photo by Fred
Olson, State
Historical Society
of North Dakota,
0101-021)

“It will be noted that the numbers four and sixteen, and the square of four, are conspicuous in their symbolism in the ritual and philosophy of the Sahnish as they are in many other tribes of that region. As we proceed with the account of a certain ceremony, mention must be made of a personal name, Paa’xu (Grandson) which was conferred upon me in the Pawnee nation. The Pawnee are, as said before are related to the Sahnish so since I made the acquaintance of the latter people they have always liked to call me by my Pawnee name.”

The human mind is always searching for some explanation to account for all phenomena which it encounters. Consciousness of the immensity of numbers and the wonderful profusion of forms of living things in the world has always challenged the thinker to produce a reasonable explanation. Such explanation has taken various forms according to the strength and facility of the mind of the thinker. The seers and prophets of the Sahnish nation in ancient time pondered the problem of the origin and progressive development of the living world. The volume of their thoughtful conclusions upon these matters has been formulated and orally transmitted from generation to generation in the recital of the rituals of their Sacred Bundles. Each of the twelve villages or tribes of this nation possessed a Sacred Bundle which was its palladium, constituting a mystic bond which drew the people of the village together and firmly bonded them into a coherent unit.

When religious festivals were celebrated, a Sacred Bundle was brought into the Holy Lodge and opened to view upon the altar. Parts of the ritual proper to the occasion were recited by the priests, and the appropriate songs and chants were sung.

The various objects contained in the Sacred Bundle were emblematic of the several items of the sacred teachings. One of these revered tokens was a sheaf of thirty-four small sticks made from peeled shoots of sandbar willow. These sticks are of uniform size, about the diameter of a grain of corn and one span in length. This bundle of sticks was for the purpose of laying out a circular diagram employed in reciting the account of the good beginning of all things in the world, and the progress from chaos to cosmos, from confusion to order, from crudity to perfection.

When this teaching is recited, the thirty-four sticks are laid out on the ground in a circle surrounding the fireplace, with each one having its particular station, connotating a certain item in the doctrine. Part of them designate the fundamental powers or elements of the world and part of them signify the stages of advancement of forms of life from the primitive to the more advanced. The circular space about the fireplace, typifying the first four sticks; then the remaining sticks are laid in groups determined by these first four which mark the quarters. The sticks are laid out according to their significance in relation to their prototypes of the cosmogonic order, as enunciated in the sacred teachings. Ritualistic ceremony accompanied the laying of the sticks and the reciting of the teaching.

I obtained one of these symbolic sheave of sticks, and received orally the volume of their teaching from Four-Rings, an old Sahnish since deceased, who was a priest of the Hukawirat Sacred Bundle, and thoroughly conversant with lore of his people. This ceremony took place on August 29, 1924, in Four-Rings’ house about fifteen miles southeast of Elbowoods, on the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota. The information from Four-Rings was afterwards verified and supplemented by information from Crow Ghost, an old man who was exceptionally well versed in the ceremonies and sacred teachings but who also is since deceased.

At the ceremony of transferring the sticks to me and transmitting to me their teaching, there were present only Four-Rings and our interpreter and myself. The interpreter was a young man named Albert Simpson. We three were in a room of Four-Rings’ house. During the time while we were engaged inside, the wife of Four-Rings went out and occupied herself with some work in her garden.

In the room in which we sat an ear of corn, dressed like a woman to represent Mother Corn, was elevated on the wall just as a crucifix is elevated on the wall of a Christian household, and was similarly venerated. Attached to this corn shrine was a braid of dried sweet-grass (haaNUtwaraakha’) to be used as incense in ceremonies in which the corn shrine was employed. I have related and described the uses of such a symbolic ear of corn in “An Arikara Household Shrine to Mother Corn,” Indian Notes, Vol.2 (1925) pp. 31–34, publication of the Museum of the American Indian.

When we were seated in the room, Four-Rings brought out the bundle of sticks, carrying them in his left hand, he took position at a point way to the southeast of the fireplace. Starting from that point, he walked hurriedly once around the circle of the fireplace in sun wise direction to the place of beginning, the southeast quarter, where he laid down the second stick. Likewise, he walked hurriedly three times round the circle and stopped at the northwest quarter, and laid down the third stick; then four times hurriedly round and laid down the fourth stick at the northeast quarter. Then he walked round once again and laid down at the west of the circle two sticks crossed at right angles to each other. Then he walked round to the east of the circle and laid down two sticks parallel to each other and extending east and west. Then he walked round and laid down two sticks by the one which had been first laid at the south east; one of these was laid a little apart from the other. Next he laid four more in a group by the southwest; then four more beside the one at the northwest; finally, the remaining sixteen beside the one at the northeast.

All the sticks in place Four-Rings returned and sat down. The interpreter, acting pipetender for the occasion, filled the pipe and handed it to the old man. Four-Rings took the pipe, lighted it and walked round the circle making smoke offerings, first to the southwest, the northwest and the northeast; then to the two crossed sticks at the west; then to the two sticks laid parallel to each other at the east. After this he walked round the circle once more and made smoke offerings successively to the several groups of sticks, which had been laid down in association with each of the four sticks first laid down, at the four quarters, namely, first to the two by the first stick at the southeast, then to the four by the stick at the southwest, then to the four by the stick at the northwest, and finally to the sixteen by the stick to the northeast. After all those smoke offerings had been made we three participants in the ceremony drew smoke in turn from the pipe, after which the old man smoked out the pipe, cleaned the pipe and put it away in due form.

Then he rose and reverently took down from the wall the ear of corn and the wisp of sweet-grass. These he laid at the west side of the circle, near the two crossed sticks. Then he returned to his place, sat down, and began his formal recital of the sacred teachings:

“There is one supreme being of power and wisdom,
the Chief Above {Nishanu Natchitak}.” He rules the
world. But he gave mother Corn authority over all
things on earth. Nishanu Natchitak is above all, but
he made Mother Corn intermediary with human
beings on earth. Reverence and gratitude are due
from mankind to Nishanu Natchitak for all the good
things which we have, and to Mother Corn, through
whose mediation we enjoy all these benefits.

We lay down these thirty-four sticks in the way
which you see in order to represent to our minds
the teachings which we have received in regard to
the constitution of the world, and the agencies
which work the wise and good purposes of the
Chief Above.

All the different kids and tribes of living beings,
including the human race, the various kinds of
fishes, reptiles, birds, mammals, all things which
live and move in the water and on land; all the tribes
of flowers and grasses, of trees and shrubs, and every
kind of plant—all living things in the world—were first
contained and took substance within the womb of
Mother Earth. With the first stirring of life in this
state of quiescence there came to all living things
an apprehension of the imperfection of their state,
and they felt more and more an impulse to emerge
from their passive condition, from darkness and
restraint, to come out into the light, and to attain
to liberty of movement over the surface of the earth.

"...all living things in the world—were first
contained and took substance within the
womb of Mother Earth."

At that time of beginning there were none of the
living creatures as we see them now. There was no
vegetation; no fishes were in the waters; no birds
nor any insects in the air, nor were there any animals;
there was no living creature of any kind in the light
of the sun on the lap of Mother Earth. All were still
covered beneath her bosom. All things were still in
embryo. But the living creatures were exerting
themselves and making all endeavors, for they
strongly aspired to come up into the light and to
attain to freedom. So they constantly continued to
group and to pray to do their best to explore and
find some way to accomplish the purpose. All the
creatures were striving and doing their best, each
in its own way; but they met many difficulties and
obstacles which were hard to overcome. Different
kinds of creatures tried to make their way through
to come to the surface of the earth into the light
and air. One of the first of the animal people which
tried was the badger. Then the Shrew, which the
Arikara people call suchit, bored through the ground
to the surface and come out into the light. But he
was blinded by the brightness of the sun coming
suddenly upon his sight. He drew back from the
dazzling light, and so to the present time the shrew
still lives most of the time just below the surface
of the ground, and when he does come out on the
surface he does so only at night. When the first
opening thus had been made by the shrew people,
then all the other people, that is to say, living
creatures of all kinds began to come forth from
the opening of the earth. But it seemed that after
a time the earth began to close upon them, and all
those which had not already succeeded in making
their way to the surface were now held back. So it
is that the snakes (nut), the badgers (suunukatox),
the gophers and several other kinds of animals still
have their dwelling in the ground.

Then a voice was heard which bade the people to
travel toward the west, and promised that if they
did so they would find a suitable place to dwell.
“Go forward with confidence; said the Voice, “and
turn not back. If you turn back you will suffer.”

“So the living things which had come forth on
the surface of the earth began to move, and they
traveled forward in accordance with the admonition
of the Voice. In their journeying they met many
difficulties, many things which were dismaying to
their spirits, many things which at first filled
them with terror; but they were continually
exhorted and encouraged by the mysterious Voice,
and so they kept on and made progress, overcoming
one obstacle after another, never being completely
balked and never turning back.”

“As they traveled they came to a great water.
To overcome this difficulty their powers must be
exerted. There seemed to be no way to cross. Then
came a mysterious bird (loon) (konit) which made
its way through the water. But before all had
overcome the difficulty, the waters closed on part
of them; and so we still have the people of the
waters, such as the fishes (ciwahts) of all kinds,
and all of her creatures which live in the water.

“They came to an impassable cliff. The mysterious
bird (loon) (konit) which had helped them before
now again helped them; it flew up against the bank
and broke out a way for passage.

“After a time they came to a great, dense forest
which seemed impenetrable. Here again, as before,
they prayed and called upon the elements of the world,
and tried their best to put open a way to pass through
this great forest. The screech owl (WAhuroosis) found
a way and the other people followed. But some, as in
previous cases, did not wind through. These remained
in the woods and still live there. These people are the
deer (Nahnunahts), the moose (weesUxarut), the bears
(kuuNUx), the porcupines (suunu’), and the forest-
dwelling kinds, large and small.

“At the early time the people were unorganized,
they had no chief to guide them. They had only
the guidance of the mysterious Voice that counseled
and encouraged them. But also they had to learn many
things by experience, for there was no other way.
They had no knowledge of what was good to eat and
what was not good, and what was harmful, and they
knew not how to clothe or shelter themselves. It
was the time when the trees were putting forth
leaves. Being hungry they tried eating leaves,
stems and roots of various plants. They tried to
cover themselves with grasses and leaves and
branches.

“And Nishanu Natchitak blessed the people of the
human race and showed them still greater favor. To
those who sought earnestly with prayer and fasting
to know his will he revealed and gave power, He
gave them a Sacred Bundle and the pipe to be used
in prayer, and taught them religion and instructed
them how to worship. And as our ancestors were
instructed to do so long ago, so do we even to this
day. And the Chief Above gave to the people gifts
of roots of all kinds of plants from Mother Earth,
that these should be medicines for the healing of
wounds and the cure of sickness.

“And Nishanu Natchitak blessed the
people of the human race and showed them
still greater favor.”

“And the Chief Above blessed all the living creatures
on the earth, the trees and vines and flowers and
grasses, all the growing, living things upon the lap
of Mother Earth which look up to the sun; all the
animals on the earth and in the waters, and the fowls
of the air. He blessed all the plants and animals and
plants should not be abused, but should be treated
with respect. It was taught that the pipe should be
used to offer smoke to all things that the Chief
Above had blessed. And so it has been done by our
people through all the ages from that time until the
present day.

“It is said that when the smoke offerings first
were made to all the powers and elements of the
world there were two dogs sleeping at the time
which were forgotten, and so no smoke offering
was made to them. They awoke and found that they
had been forgotten and they were aggrieved and
angry because of it.

Therefore they said to the people; You neglected
to make smoke offerings to us when all other beings
were remembered. In punishment for your neglect
of us we shall bite you. And we shall never leave you,
we will always abide with you, and we shall follow you
forever. The names of the two dogs were Sickness and
Death. Wherefore it was said: “Sickness and Death
shall be among the people always.”

“And it is even so with all things in the world.
Our powers increase and then diminish. We arise
and go forth in fresh strength, and then we lie down
in weariness. We rejoice in health, and then languish
in sickness. The sun arises and shines in splendor,
and then it declines and is overcome by darkness. The
brightness of day is followed by the darkness of night.
The moon waxes to fullness and then wanes away. The
flowers bloom in springtime, and are cut down by the
frosts of autumn. The wind blows and again there is
calm. Water is lifted in vapor and floats in the
clouds of the sky above the earth, and again it falls
upon the ground in rain. Springs rise in the hills,
and their water flows down into the rivers and away to
the sea. So changes come to all things. All die and
all are born anew. “As the people traveled onward,
guided and encouraged by the mysterious Voice, they
at least found themselves in a good land. There were
streams and woods and open grasslands. There were
good fruits in abundance and many kinds of animals
and birds were numerous.

“And it is even so with all things in the world.
Our powers increase and then diminish.
We arise and go forth in fresh strength, and then
we lie down in weariness. We rejoice in health,
and then languish in sickness.”

“And now in this good land there appeared to them
a beautiful woman a stranger. She came into their
midst and greeted them with smiles. And even while
she was still far off the people smelled from her a
fragrance like that of the holy sweet-grass, and
then like the odor of the holy cedar tree, then like
the fragrance which from a fresh green meadow where
young grass, in springing, then of the wild plum tree
in bloom, of the blossoms of the chokecherry, of the
June-berry, of the blossoms of the wild grape, then the
fragrance of the prairie wild rose, and of the blossoms
of the evening primrose as they scent the air early on
a soft dewy morning in the sand hills, and of many
other fragrant wild plants of the prairie and woodland,
and the delightful fragrance which comes from a corn-
field when the zephyrs slightly rustle its leaves. The
odors of all these and many other lovely plants came
to the people as their beautiful visitor approached,
even before she came near. The people invited her to
enter a lodge, and made her sit down and rest in the
place reserved for honored guests.

“After she had rested she spoke to the people who
were assembled there. She said, ‘why do you seem
so fearful of me, and so strange toward me? You
have seen me before.’ Then a wise man said: “I
believe you are the one whose voice we have heard,
the Voice which has directed us on our way. She
replied, ‘Yes, it was my voice that you heard. And
now I have come to you to give you good teachings
from my father, who is also your father, the Chief
Above. He loves you and cares for you. And that is
why I am sent to you.’

“And the Lovely visitor, whom now they knew to
be Mother Corn, taught them with words of
wisdom in matters of religion and of the high and
deep things of life, of human beings in their duties
to the Chief Above and to all the holy mysterious
beings all who are aids and assistants to the Chief
Above. She also taught the people right ways of
living with respect to one another and to all the
living things in the world, the plants and the animals.

“She also gave the people instruction in many
useful arts. She taught them how to build house to
keep them comfortable and protect them from the
inclemencies of the weather. They were taught that
the house should be the home for the family as the
world is the home of the human race. The structure
of the dwelling house, and also of the Holy Lodge,
should be symbolic of the structure of the world.
As the world extends about us like a great circle,
so should the house be circular in the ground plan.
The circle of the world is a unit, but it consists
of four quarters. In the structure of the world the
sky appears like a dome above. So in the structure
of the house there shall be four main posts and
about these a circle of twelve shorter posts, all
supporting the domed roof. The four quarters of the
world are the aids of the Chief Above to perform all
his will in the world. So the four main posts of the
house are dedicated, one to each of the four quarters.

“So when we lay down these thirty-four sticks to
explain the structure of the world, we lay the first
stick at the southeast quarter. This represents to
us the light of the Sun. It also represents all
vegetation. The power of the Sun is wholesome and
revivifying. It will drive away disease and the powers
of evil. When sickness comes among the people the
smoke of the pipe is offered at the southeast post of
the house as a prayer to invoke the potency of these
healing powers for deliverance, safety and health.

“In the southwest quarter is another of the
powers acting under the Chief Above, the one
which gives us the water of life, the Thunder.
We lay down the stick at the southwest to
represent the Thunder, the giver of the water
of life. The stick at this quarter also represents
our animal friends, chief of which is the Buffalo
(tanaha’). When we contemplate the stick at this
quarter we are reminded of the showers of rain,
which revive and refresh all vegetation and all
animal life. We think of the sweet springs, the
pleasant streams, and of the cool lakes which give
habitation to the fishes and the waterfowl and
shorebirds. We think of the dragonfly (piisuusaaha),
of the butterflies (saawiitakaa’), and of other still
more for the needful gentle showers of rain when the
fields are parched and dry, and also as a prayer that
destructive storms of blanking, torrential rain may
be averted.

“In the northwest quarter is the Wind, the breath of
life, and all the powers of the air. It is the breath of
life that gives motion to all things in the world. When
the water, which the Thunder gives, flows away down
the streams to the great sea, it is lifted in vapor on
the air and is carried back by the Wind and distributed
again upon the land in rain. It is the Wind that
carries the needed moisture to all vegetation. When we
lay down the stick at the northwest quarter we think
of all these things. We also think of the birds and of
the class of insects which includes the grasshoppers
(kaapis), crickets (taciRUt) and fireflies (piiRUx
kahik). We think also of the echo (sahkaWlhaanu’),
the word carrier. That is something that is marvelous.
And we think of the ants (pitaru’) for their admirable
and wonderful ways of life, working together, as they
do, so perfectly. The pipe is offered toward the
northwest as a prayer that gentle and refreshing
breezes may be breathed over the land, and also
those dry withering winds shall not destroy the
crops.

“The northeast quarter is dedicated to Night,
which brings rest, and which restores and refreshes
all things. This quarter is dedicated also to Mother
Corn, the mediator, who brings us peace and many
other good gifts from the Chief Above. When we
contemplate the stick that is laid at the northeast
we think of the many good things which Mother
Corn has done for us, and of her guidance and
encouragement through vast difficulties and
dangers in the past, and of the hope she gave us
for the future. We think of the successive stages
of progress through which our own race and all
other living things have passed from the beginning
till now; from formlessness to perfection of form;
from ignorance to knowledge. Of all these things
we are reminded when we contemplate the stick
which is laid down at the northeast.

“It is from the northeast quarter that steady,
refreshing rains come in the summer and from
this quarter also come good snowfalls in winter.
It is from the good favor of Mother Corn that
bountiful gifts of rain and snow come from the
northeast to supply the needful moisture for the
abundant growth of our crops and of all vegetation.
Smoke offerings are made toward the north east
which wish to entreat Mother Corn for her favor or
to give thanks for her bounties already received.

“At the west side of the house there shall be an altar.
It is here that a Sacred Bundle shall be opened
during the celebration of mysteries. During the
celebration when thanksgiving is made for the year’s
crop, a stalk of corn is placed here before the
altar. This is to represent the genius of Mother
Corn, who is the mediator of the Chief Above to
bring to us all the good gifts which we have in the
produce of our fields and gardens, and the harvests
of the wild plants and the products from the animals
of the hunt.

“Mother Corn has taught us that smoke offerings
should always be made toward all four quarters on
all occasions, and that at feasts, before we
partake, offerings of the food should be made in
order that our food may be blessed to us and that
we may be blessed in the eating. We should
remember and be thankful to all these powers
and elements of the world about us and to the
Chief Above, who ordains all things in wisdom
for our good, and to Mother Earth, in the shelter
of whose bosom we rest, and from whose breast we
are fed.

“You will observe that there are two sticks crossed
at the west side of the circle, at the place of the
altar. They are so placed there to commemorate an
event in the life of our nation in ancient time,
a sign of Mother Corn’s care for us. It is told
that once on a time while our people dwelt at the
Place of the Four Holy Lodges, a priest dressed a
stalk of corn in the manner in which is like a
woman would dress and took it down to the shore of
the Mysterious (Holy) River (which white people
call the Missouri River) and placed it in the
current, asking it to travel back down the course
of the river along which our people migrated into
this land. He asked that is should make a journey
to the land of our ancestors and then return to
our people. So the stalk of corn floated away
down the stream and disappeared from the sight
of the priest.

“You will observe that there are two sticks
crossed at the west side of the circle, at the
place of the altar. They are so placed there
to commemorate an event in the life of our
nation in ancient time, a sign of Mother Corn’s
care for us.”

“The next year a woman who was a stranger appeared
in the village. She went directly to the Holy lodge
and entered. All the people were astonished, and
were wondering who the stranger might be and what
might be her mission. The priests assembled at the
Holy lodge and took their places and waited
respectfully until the stranger should restb and
be refreshed with food which was brought for her,
and should be composed and ready to announce the
place from which she had come, and the purpose of
her coming. Finally the priest who had sent away
the stalk of corn the previous year, revering it
as the symbol of Mother Corn, and asking it to
make the journey and fetch tidings from the land
of our ancestors, recognized in the raiment of
the stranger some article of attire with which he
had clothed the stalk of corn, which he had sent
away the year before. So now he knew that the
stranger was really Mother Corn who had returned
in the form of a woman. And he greatly desired to
hear what should be the message that she had
brought, for he was sure it was something wonderful.

‘When the stranger had finished the repast (meal)
which had been provided for her she signified that
she would speak, so all the assembled priests and
people gave earnest attention to what she would say.
She told them she had come a long journey from the
land of the ancients, and that the purpose of her
visit was to correct their errors and to guide them
in the right way of living. She bade them ever to be
industrious, to provide for those who should be
dependent upon them, and not to indulge themselves
in ease; to be not envious nor covetous, to live
peaceably with their neighbors, to avoid contention
and quarreling, to be generous and forbearing, to
practice hospitality to strangers, to be kind to the
poor, to be considerate toward the youth, to give
good counsel to the erring and restore them to the
right way. She also enjoined them to be truthful
and just in their dealings, and faithful to trust.
She exhorted them ever to be brave to endure
suffering and courageous to defend their people
against an enemy.

“She then proclaimed her purpose to conduct
an expedition against the enemies of our people.
She called for volunteers, at the same time warning
them that the expedition might entail great danger.
All considered that this unusual circumstance must
portend some extraordinary and wonderful event
ordered by some great mysterious power. A host of
young men came forward at her call, wishing to
distinguish themselves and to be recognized by
whatever mysterious power prompted the proposed
action. Out of the number who presented themselves,
the strange visitor chose twelve young men.

“It was the time of green corn harvest when the
strange visitor arrived at the village. Now when
the twelve young men were chosen for the
expedition they began at once to make their
preparations. When they set out upon their
adventure it was the beginning of the ripe corn
harvest. After they had marched for some days
away from the village they met an overwhelming
force of the enemy. They fought with great spirit
and courage, but the enemy was too powerful for
them, and but one man escaped alive; all the others,
together with strange leader, were slain. The one
man who escaped made his way back to the village
after great difficulties, and brought the sad
news of the disaster.

“Another war party was now quickly recruited. The
sole survivor of the former expedition went along
as guide to his second party, and they marched as
soon as possible to the scene of the recent
disaster. When they arrived at the place they
found the bodies of the eleven men who had
perished, but the body of the strange leader was
nowhere to be found, nor any trace of it. But at
the spot where she had been killed, they found a
stalk of corn standing with two leaves. Then they
knew that the woman who had been their leader was
really Mother Corn. It was in the form of the
mysterious visitor that she had come to counsel
them and give them instruction and encouragement,
and that now she had finally gone away from them
to the Chief Above, from whom she had come at the
first. They knew that she had left the stalk of
corn standing at the place where she had
disappeared from human sight to be a token to
them and a promise that she would live ever more
by the power of the Chief Above, and that she
would be forever the mediator of this wise
purpose and good favor toward mankind, and that
she would always be their unerring but unseen
guide.

Then they knew that the woman who had
been their leader was really Mother Corn.

“It is for this reason that we have these two
crossed sticks at the alter place. And that is why
we place a stalk of corn before the altar in the
ceremony of thanksgiving for the harvest. We do
that so the we may have with bountiful mother.
And that is why, when our harvest thanksgiving is
concluded, a group of good old women who have
lived blamelessly in the precept and example of
the virtues of industry, hospitality, quietness
and kindness taught by Mother Corn, are chosen to
dress the stalk of corn before the altar, the
stalk which has participated with us in our
rejoicing and thanksgiving, and to carry it down
reverently at evening time to the Mysterious
(Holy) River (which the white people call the
Missouri River) and to place it in the current so
that it shall float down the stream, passing all
the places where villages of our people existed
in ancient time, carrying to them the message
that our nation still lives and is faithful to
her promise in guiding and sustaining our people
through all the years.

‘You will observe that there are two sticks at the
east side of the circle, the place of entrance of the
lodge, and that these two sticks are laid parallel to
each other and lengthwise east and west. The stick on
the north side in this pair represents the standing
Rock, the most enduring and ancient element of the
earth. This was the promise, that the Rock, from its
strength and endurance, should give help to the
people. We call the Rock “grandfather” (atipa’) as a
title of honor and respect because it is old and
strong and standfast.

“The stick on the southside in this pair represents
the Cedar Tree. The cedar is a wonderful tree; it is
always green even in the winter; when other vegetation
appears as if dead the cedar yet is living and green.
And in drought or wet weather the cedar is ever the
same; and it has power to maintain itself not only in
good ground, but in poor and dry ground where other
trees cannot grow. The promise was that the cedar tree
will stand to protect the people and help them to long
life. As a title of respect we call the cedar tree
“grandmother” (atika’).

“Now we come to the sixteen sticks, which are
laid beside the stick of the northeast quarter, the
one which represents Night, the time of rest, and
Mother Corn, our guide. These sixteen sticks teach
us concerning the stages of progress through which
we and all living things in the world have come
since the beginning.

“The first stick in this group of sixteen tells us that
in the beginning we and all living things, all plant
and animal life, were covered within the womb of
Mother Earth. Although life, then existed in
essence, yet there was no consciousness or
movement.

“The second stick tells us that the spirit of Mother
Corn, as mediator of the Chief Above, quickened all
things with life and movement.

“The teaching of the third stick is that with
the quickening of all life things moved toward
the surface of the earth, but there was yet no
power to stand up.

“The fourth stick tells us of the promise which was
given that human beings were to stand erect. The
bodily form was not yet perfect, but this power was
to be given in the future.

“The fifth stick tells of the promise that the human
form should be perfected. That was the purpose of
the Chief Above, and that gift was promised. There
was yet no intellectual power.

The sixth stick also tells of the complete perfection
of the physical form of human beings, and of the
promise of human intelligence and intellect.

“The seventh stick tells of the perfection of
human physical form, and of the gift of mind
and intellectual power. But the human beings did
not yet have freedom to move about at will upon
the surface of the earth. This freedom was promised.
The surface of the earth was still without order,
but there was the promise that in time to come
order and beauty should prevail in the world.

“The eighth stick tells of the accomplishment.
The surface of the earth was now beautiful in order
and green with vegetation. It was now ready to
receive human life. It had been promised from the
beginning that human beings should arise, coming
up from a lowly condition, to walk about in
freedom over the land.

“The ninth stick tells of the invitation to the people
to come forward and take their place upon the earth.

“The tenth stick tells of Mother Corn leading the
people, all living creatures, those most advanced
and those more lowly, adults and children, in
constantly moving upward and forward.

“The eleventh stick tells of Mother Corn bringing
the people upward. It tells that they had now come
very near to the freedom of the earth’s surface.
It tells of the promise that their deliverance was
to come and light was to appear.

“The twelfth stick tells of Mother Corn leading
the people out until they were just at the border
of freedom, and enlightenment appeared.

“The twelfth stick tells of Mother Corn
leading the people out until they were just
at the border of freedom, and
enlightenment appeared.”

“The thirteenth stick tells of Mother Corn leading
out the people part way, and of the promise of
final complete emergence.

“The fourteenth stick tells of the complete emergence
of the people into freedom upon the surface of
the earth, of the injunction that they should
move forward, and of the promise that they should
find a place suitable for human habitation.

“The fifteenth stick tells of the complete freedom of
the people upon the earth, and that Mother Corn
was leading the people on toward the place where
they should dwell.

“The sixteenth stick tells how Mother Corn had led
the people to a place where they might abide; and
there they settled and sought how they might dwell
in the land and sustain themselves. All was now
complete. There were mountains and plains and hills
and valleys. Among the hills were sweet springs of
water; there were pleasant streams and lakes.
Grasses and herbs and shrubs and trees and flowers
and fruits made all the land pleasant and beautiful.
In the waters were all kinds of fishes and other
forms of life; on the land were four-footed
creatures, large and small, also creeping things of
all kinds. And in the air were all kinds of birds
flying about; those which live among the woods and
those upon the prairie, and other kinds which live
by the water of the lakes and ponds. There were
those which build their nests and rear their young
among the grasses, other kinds which build and
rear their young in the branches of trees, and
still others like the eagle, which fly very high
above the earth and build their nests among the
rocks and most precipitous cliffs. And there were
insects of a multitude of kinds, those which creep
and those which hop upon the ground, those which
fly at no great height above the ground, and those
like the grasshoppers which rise to a great height
and fly over long distances in such immense
numbers that they are like clouds in the sky.
There were bright insects like the butterflies
and dragonflies, flittering about in the sunshine,
and there were the moths (WAhuruuts) which come out
among the flowers only at twilight. And there were
the fireflies which flit about over the meadows
showing their lights through the darkness like tiny
twinkling torches.

“The promise was that all things should be ready
for man’s use and enjoyment along with that of
all the multitude of other living things. There
was provision for man’s needs of food and
clothing and shelter. Human beings were bidden
to exert themselves and use what was provided
for their needs. All living things were to be
friends and helpers to each other, and human
beings should give due respect to all other
things and ‘Not abuse them.

“All living things were to be friends and
helpers to each other, and human beings
should give due respect to all other things
and not abuse them.”

“But the people were yet without experience. They
did not know what they could eat nor how they
could shelter themselves from storms. And they
did not know how to make fire to warm themselves
when they were cold.

“They knew not how to protect their bodies from
the burning rays of the sun, or from the buffeting
of the tempests of wind or from the pelting of cold
rain and hail. They tried to clothe themselves with
grass and with reeds, with leaves and with branches
of trees.

“As they knew not what was good to eat, in their
hunger they tried leaves and sterns of many kinds
of plants, and also bark from many kinds of trees.
With pointed sticks they dug up many kinds of
roots and tubers and bulbs. They tried all these
for food. They tried many kinds of fruits which
they plucked from the trees and bushes. Some
things they found good and pleasant to the taste
and satisfying to their hunger. But many things
they found bitter, pungent, acrid, nauseous, or
otherwise unpleasant, and some were found very
disagreeable. Also many things which they tried
in their ignorance were found harmful. Thus
persons were made ill and some died. They were
ignorant and weak, naked, cold, hungry,
blistered by the sun in hot weather and pinched
and shivering from cold in time of frost. They
were miserably needy. It was very pitiful.

(At this point in his narration Four-Rings broke down, his voice failed, tears streamed down his cheeks, and he wept aloud. After a little time he recovered himself wiped away his tears, and apologized for his weakness saying, “I am sorry, but I cannot help but weep when I think how pitiful was the condition of the people in that time.” Then he proceeded with his account.)

Continue to Sahnish Creation Stories - Part 2...