Harpstenah knew well why the medicine feast was to be given. Cloudy Sky could not, according to the laws of the Sioux, throw off his mourning, until he had killed an enemy or given a medicine dance. She knew that he wanted to wear a new blanket, and plait his hair, and paint his face a more becoming color. But she knew his looks could not be improved, and she went on cutting wood, as unconcernedly as if the old war chief were her grandfather, instead of her affianced husband. He might gain the good will of her parents, he might even propitiate the spirits of the dead: She would take his life, surely as the senseless wood yielded to the strength of the arm that was cleaving it.
“You will be at the feast too,” said Cloudy Sky to the mother; “you have always foretold truly. There is not a woman in the band who can tell what is going to happen as well as you. There is no nation so great as the Dahcotah,” continued the medicine man, as he saw several idlers approach, and stretch themselves on the grass to listen to him. “There is no nation so great as the Dahcotah—but our people are not so great now as they were formerly. When our forefathers killed buffaloes on these prairies, that the white people now ride across as if they were their own, mighty giants lived among them; they strode over the widest rivers, and the tallest trees; they could lay their hands upon the highest hills, as they walked the earth. But they were not men of war. They did not fight great battles, as do the Thunder Bird and his warriors.”
There were large animals, too, in those days; so large that the stoutest of our warriors were but as children beside them. Their bones have been preserved through many generations. They are sacred to us, and we keep them because they will cure us when we are sick, and will save us from danger.
I have lived three times on earth. When my body was first laid upon the scaffold, my spirit wandered through the air. I followed the Thunder Birds as they darted among the clouds. When the heavens were black, and the rain fell in big drops, and the streaked lightning frightened our women and children, I was a warrior, fighting beside the sons of the Thunder Bird.
Unktahe rose up before us; sixty of his friends were with him: the waters heaved and pitched, as the spirits left them to seek vengeance against the Thunder Birds. They showed us their terrible horns, but they tried to frighten us in vain. We were but forty; we flew towards them, holding our shields before our breasts; the wind tore up the trees, and threw down the teepees, as we passed along.
All day we fought; when we were tired we rested awhile, and then the winds were still, and the sun showed himself from behind the dark clouds. But soon our anger rose. The winds flew along swifter than the eagle, as the Thunder Birds clapped their wings, and again we fought against our foes.
The son of Unktahe came towards me; his eyes shone like fire, but I was not afraid. I remembered I had been a Sioux warrior. He held his shield before him, as he tried to strike me with his spear. I turned his shield aside, and struck him to the heart.