How the First White Man Came to the Cheyennes


In a summer long ago, the Cheyennes were camped near some lakes beyond the Missouri River. Awakening from their sleep one morning, Red Eagle and his wife saw a strange creature lying in their tepee. The woman was frightened and was about to cry out, but Red Eagle quieted her and went closer to the strange being which was slowly rising to a sitting position. Red Eagle saw that this creature was a man who looked something like a Cheyenne, but he had a white skin and hair on his face and spoke in a strange language.

The man was so thin that he had scarcely any flesh on his bones, and for clothing he wore only moss and grass. He was very near death. Red Eagle gave him something to eat, but at first the man was so weak and exhausted that his stomach would not hold it, yet after a little while he got stronger.

Red Eagle told his wife to keep the presence of the stranger a secret. He feared that some of his tribesmen would kill the man, believing that he might bring them bad luck. A few days later, the chiefs sent a crier through the camp, announcing that the Cheyennes would be moving camp the next day.

Knowing that the stranger could no longer be concealed, Red Eagle revealed his presence. "I have taken him for my brother," he said. "If anyone harms him I will punish them. The Great Spirit must have sent this man to us for a good reason."

And so Red Eagle clothed him, fed him, and led him back to life. After a time the man learned to speak a few words of Cheyenne. He also learned the sign language of the tribe. In this way he was able to tell Red Eagle that he came from the East, the land of the rising sun. "With five other men I started out to trap the beaver. We were on a lake in a boat when the wind came up suddenly, overturned the boat, and drowned all the others. After I struggled ashore, I wandered about, living on roots and berries until all my clothes were worn and scratched off. Half blind, and nearly dead with hunger, I wandered into your camp and fell into your tepee."

For the hundredth time the man thanked Red Eagle for saving his life, and then he continued: "For many days I have watched how hard you and your wife work. To make a fire you must use two sticks. Your wife uses porcupine quills for needles in sewing. She uses stone vessels to cook in, and you use stone knives and stone points for your spears and arrows. You must work hard and long to make these things. My people, who are powerful and numerous, have many wonderful things that the Cheyennes do not have."

"What are these wonderful things?" Red Eagle asked.

"Needles that keep their points forever for your wife to sew with. Sharp knives of metal to cut with, steel to make a fire with, and a weapon that uses a black powder and sends hard pieces of metal straight at any wild game you need to kill. I can bring you these things if you and your people will help me get beaver skins. My people are fond of beaver fur, and they will give me these wonderful things for you in exchange."

Red Eagle told his tribesmen what the stranger had said, and they collected many beaver skins for him. The skins were loaded on several travois drawn by dogs, and one day the stranger went off toward the rising sun with his dog-train of furs.

Several moons passed, and Red Eagle began to wonder if the stranger would ever return. Then on a bright sun shiny morning, the Cheyennes heard a noise like a clap of thunder near their camp. On a bluff to the east, they saw a man wearing a red cap and red coat. Above his head he lifted a strange weapon that resembled a black stick, and then he shouted a greeting to them in their own language.

As he approached, they recognized him as the stranger who had taken away the beaver skins. He had brought the Cheyennes all the wonderful things he had told about--knives, needles and steel -- and he showed the people how to use them. Then he showed them the black powder and hollow iron with which he had made the noise like thunder. And that is how the first white man came to the Cheyennes.


Indigenous Peoples' Literature Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker




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