CHAPTER XII. SIOUX AND THEIR TRADITIONS.
On White River there is a bluff against which the full force of the stream has dashed for ages, until it has formed a precipice several hundred feet high. It is called by the Indians The Place of the Death Song. There is a legend which says that at one time the bands of the Ogallallas and Brules lived upon this river, immediately opposite the precipice. While residing there one of the braves of the Ogallallas offered to the father of a beautiful squaw six horses for her, according to the savage custom of thus purchasing a wife. The offer was immediately accepted by the father of the young girl, for he was very poor and needed the animals to use on the impending annual hunt after buffalo.
When the maiden heard that she was to become the wife of the Ogallalla, she burst into tears, and so obstinate was her resistance that the marriage was deferred for some days because of her inconsolable grief.
The cause of her unwillingness to become the bride of the Ogallalla was that she was in love with a young warrior of her own village, and she would not, as Indian maidens generally do, love at her sire's mere bidding.
Her father was determined, however, that his child should be governed by the customs of the tribe, and was only waiting for her sorrow to subside a little before he turned her over to the Indian he had chosen for her.
During this probation, however, the girl contrived to meet the warrior whom she had promised to marry, and they determined to elope. They accordingly fled to a remote village, where they hoped to live undisturbed.
They were pursued by the relentless father, both were captured, and the young warrior's life was forfeited by the laws of the tribe, for his presumption in stealing the maiden, while she was most unmercifully whipped and confined in her father's lodge. The Ogallalla had already paid the price agreed upon for the maiden, and the horses were then picketed among those of the irate father.
Early the next morning, after the death of her lover, the girl rose from her bed of buffalo-robes, and dressing herself in her best clothes, left the lodge. Not one of the villagers thought it at all strange that she should thus array herself, for they knew it was to be her wedding-day, and as she walked through the village, many a young warrior looked upon her with feelings of envy toward the Indian who was then to make her his bride.
She wandered toward the river, crossed it, and ascended the high peak on the opposite side. She then seated herself at the edge of the fearful precipice, and looked calmly down from its giddy height.
She soon became the cynosure of all eyes in the village, not only because of her remarkable beauty, but of her charmingly formed person, so plainly exposed to the view of all.
Presently the captivated gazers were surprised to hear her begin to sing in a mournful chant, and the strange words of her plaintive melody were wafted through the clear mountain air so that all could catch every word. They listened: -
"Why should I stay? he is gone. Light of my eyes; joy of my soul; show me my dwelling! 'Tis not here; 'tis far away in the Spirit Land. Thither he is gone. Why should I stay? Let me go!" "She sings her death song," exclaimed all who were watching and listening to her from their places in the village.
"She will throw herself from the precipice," said her father. And immediately a dozen warriors rushed toward the top of the cliff to rescue her from the terrible fate which she had chosen, and the leader of them all was the Ogallalla who was to have her for his bride.
She saw them coming, and as soon as they started she began again: -
"Spirit of death, set me free! Heart, thou art desolate. Farewell, O sun. Vain are the plains of the earth, its flowers, and purling streams. I loved you all once - but now no longer love. Thee I woo, kind Death! Wa-shu-pa calls me hence. In life we were one. We'll bask together in the Spirit Land. Short is my pass to thee. Wa-shu-pa, I come!"
Concluding her song, she threw herself forward, just as the foremost warriors arrived at the summit, in time to catch at her robe as she pitched down, leaving the garment in their hands; in another instant she was a mangled mass at the base of the cruel mountain.
In the winter of 1835 Ash Hollow was the scene of a fierce and bloody battle between the Pawnees and Sioux, hereditary enemies. The affray commenced very early in the morning, and continued until nearly dark. It was a closely fought battle. Every inch of ground was hotly contested. The arrows fell in showers, bullets whistled the death song of many a warrior on both sides, and the yells of the combating savages filled the wintry air. At length all the ammunition was completely exhausted on both sides, but still the battle raged. War-clubs, tomahawks, and scalping-knives rattled in the deadly personal conflict, and terrible war-whoops resounded, as now one side then the other gained some slight advantage.
As darkness drew over the scene, the Pawnees abandoned the field to the victorious Sioux, leaving more than sixty of their best warriors dead on the bloody sod. But the Sioux had not escaped a terrible loss. Forty-five of their bravest fighters were lying dead, and the defeated party of Pawnees were pursued but a very little distance when the chase was abandoned and they returned to their village at the forks of the Platte.
It is alleged that this disaster so humiliated the Pawnees that they at once abandoned their town. They moved down the Platte more than four hundred miles, and at the same time also abandoned their town on the Republican Fork of the Kansas River, and rarely ever ventured up the river as far as the scene of their great defeat, unless in very large parties.