Making the Sacred Bundle

Long ago, a young Pawnee named Eagle Feather was very proud of the way he looked. He wore the best clothes and the richest ornaments he could find. Always when he hunted, he wore a magic downy eagle feather in his hair. He was not married, though many of the young Indian girls admired his handsome appearance.

One day while hunting with his companions, Eagle Feather became separated from the others, but continued to follow some buffaloes for a long distance. All of the animals escaped him except one young buffalo-cow, which had become stuck in a mudhole. When Eagle Feather aimed his arrow to shoot, the buffalo-cow suddenly vanished and in its place stood a pretty young woman.

Eagle Feather was astonished. He could not understand where the buffalo had gone, or from where the girl had come. They talked together and became friends. She did not want to return with him to his tribe when he asked her to marry him. Eagle Feather agreed to remain there with her and she became his wife. For a wedding gift, he gave her a blue and white string of beads, which she always wore around her neck.

They made a camp there and were very happy together. One day, Eagle Feather returned from hunting to find that his camp had disappeared, his wife was missing, and marks of many buffalo hooves covered his campsite. Since he could not find his wife anywhere, Eagle Feather returned to his Pawnee tribe.

After a few years passed, one summer morning Eagle Feather and his friends were playing stick ball. A little Indian boy came toward them, wearing around his neck a string of blue and white beads.

"Father," he said to Eagle Feather. "Mother wants you to follow me and I will take you to her."

"Go away," replied Eagle Feather. "I am not your father."

When the little Indian boy ran back to the woods, Eagle Feather's companions laughed at the boy calling him father. They thought Eagle Feather had never married.

In a little while, the boy returned from the woods. Again, he was told to go away, but one of the men said to Eagle Feather, "Maybe you had better go with the child and see what he wants."

All of this time, Eagle Feather had been wondering, "Where have I seen those blue and white beads before?" Suddenly, in his mind's eye, he saw a buffalo-cow and a calf running across a prairie. He then remembered the blue and white beads he had given the buffalo-maiden for a wedding present.

Taking his bow and arrows with him, he followed the two buffaloes that he now believed were his wife and child. A long and weary chase followed, because the woman was angry that first he had denied the boy's request. As she ran, she magically dried up every creek they passed. Eagle Feather thought he was going to die of thirst. But his son secretly left some food and water for him along the way, until they arrived at the home of the buffaloes.

The big buffalo-bulls were the herd leaders. They became angry with Eagle Feather for marrying the buffalo-cow. They wanted to kill him. But first they would test him. Six buffalo-cows were lined up in a row, all looking exactly alike. Eagle Feather was to point out his wife. His son helped him secretly, and Eagle Feather correctly chose his wife.

Surprised, the old bulls gave Eagle Feather another test. This time, several calves were placed in a row, and Eagle Feather was to choose his son. Again the child secretly helped his father point out the right one. Then the bulls decided that Eagle Feather must run a race against the fastest buffaloes.

On the day set for the race, a freeze occurred and the buffaloes could not run well on the slippery ground. Eagle Feather ran swiftly and won the race.

Now the chief bulls grew angrier and they determined to kill Eagle Feather. He was told to sit down on the ground in the centre of a circle surrounded by buffalo-bulls. Upon a signal from the Chief, the buffaloes charged Eagle Feather. His magic feather was seen floating above the confusion that followed.

When the Chief called a halt to the charge, he expected to see Eagle Feather trampled to death. The bulls withdrew and there sat Eagle Feather in the centre of the ring with his magic feather still in his hair.

A second charge of the buffalo-bulls ended with the same result as the first. Deciding that Eagle Feather possessed powerful magic-protection, the Chief welcomed him into their camp on one condition: that he bring them gifts from the Pawnee tribe. This, Eagle Feather agreed to do.

When he returned to his tribal village with his wife and son in human form, he found his people without food. But his wife had brought some buffalo meat under her robe, and, magically, every one of the Pawnees had enough to eat. Later, when Eagle Feather and his family took gifts to the buffalo leaders, they were greatly pleased.

In return, the leaders offered some of their old bulls to help the Pawnees secure more food. The young son of Eagle Feather returned with the herd in the form of a yellow calf, while his parents went ahead in human form.

"Do not kill the yellow calf," warned Eagle Feather. "When you hunt, always save the yellow calf, because it will always bring back more buffaloes to the Pawnee tribe."

Consequently, they had an abundance of food for a long time. Then one day, the son of Eagle Feather said to his father, "No more will I visit you as a boy. No longer should the hunters spare the yellow calf. They should kill it and sacrifice it to the Great Spirit. They should tan its yellow hide and make a bundle containing an ear of corn and other sacred objects wrapped within. This will be your tribal sacred bundle.

"Every year, you must look for another yellow calf leading the buffalo herd to the Pawnees. Each year you must sacrifice it and keep a piece of its fat, adding it to your sacred bundle.

"Then if food ever should become scarce, your chiefs should gather in council and pay a friendly visit to a young buffalo. He will tell of your need to the Great Spirit, so that another yellow calf might be sent to lead a buffalo herd to the Pawnees."

When he had finished speaking, the boy left the camp. In the future of the Pawnee tribe, everything happened as he said it would. Food was plentiful, Eagle Feather became a great Chief, respected and loved by his tribe. His buffalo-wife, however, was almost forgotten, and one night she vanished forever.

Chief Eagle Feather felt great remorse when he came to realize his neglect of her. He never recovered fully from the loss of his wife. In time, he withered away and died. His magic eagle feather was added to the sacred bundle of the Pawnee tribe.

The Pawnees' sacred bundle has long been preserved by the tribal shaman for its magic charms, which always bring back the buffaloes. The Pawnees knew that in a time of great need, the sacred bundle could be opened by the tribal priest in a proper solemn ceremony, imploring the help of the Great Spirit.

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

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