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Red Shield and Running Wolf

A Sioux Tale



In years past the Sioux and the Crows were enemies, and only through heroic action could a young person of one tribe become the friend or lover of a young person of the other tribe. Such was the story of Red Shield, the daughter of a Sioux chief, and Running Wolf, the son of a Crow warrior.

Red Shield first heard of Running Wolf from a Sioux woman who had been captured by the Crows and then later was permitted to return to her people. This woman had lived as a servant with Running Wolf's family during the time when the boy was growing up.

"He was a lazy boy," the Sioux woman told Red Shield. "His father had to drive him out of bed every morning by rapping his shins with a stick. One morning he scolded the boy very hard and told him that he should be out hunting deer for the family. That morning, as soon as the father left the tepee, Running Wolf came to me and asked if I would make a buckskin mask for him. And so I made him a mask, and he spent the day painting it with white clay and fastening deer horns to it. Before sunrise the next morning he was the first one out of bed. He took his father's gun and knife and rode away on a horse, with two led horses behind him. He went out to a little lake near their village, fastened his horses in the woods, and then went down to a place where animals come to drink. When the sun rose some deer came there, but they did not run away because they thought the boy was a deer. He killed two, loaded them on the led horses, and brought them home just as his father was waking up."

"Was Running Wolf's father pleased by this?" Red Shield asked.

"Oh, yes. He told his son that he had done well, and should divide the venison with their neighbours. But that was not the end of it. The next morning the boy went back to the watering place and returned with two more deer, and the morning after that he did the same." The Sioux woman smiled. "That time his father told him to stop or he would begin to smell like a deer."

"And what did young Running Wolf say to this?"

"He said nothing, but he began sleeping late again, until one morning his father rapped him on the shins and scolded him for being lazy. His father told Running Wolf that he could no longer use the family's horses, that if he wanted a horse to ride he would have to go out and take one from the Nez Perces. That morning, as soon as his father went hunting, Running Wolf came to me and asked if I would make him a new pair of moccasins. I did this for him, and he spent the day decorating them with paint and beads in some special way. At sundown he left the tepee with his gun, not saying a word to anyone. Next morning he returned with twenty horses that he had taken from the Nez Perces."

"His father must have been much pleased by this," said Red Shield.

"Oh, yes, after the boy gave him ten of the horses, the father sang praise songs for him all day. But that was not the end of it. That night Running Wolf went out again, and next morning he brought back forty horses and gave them all to his father. And the next night he captured fifty horses, all of which he gave to his father. And still a fourth night he went and this time he brought back eighty head of horses, giving them all to his father! Oh, I can tell you, Running Wolf's father had a hard time herding all those horses. 'Stop! stop!' he shouted at his son. 'You have listened too well to what I told you.' "

Red Shield laughed. "I think I like this young Running Wolf, even if he is a Crow," she said.

"Oh, but he soon grew up after that," the Sioux woman said. "After his father died, his mother and I made a new tepee for him, and then I was told that I could return to my people. Running Wolf painted his tepee black, tied feathers to the door, and laid war bonnets and other finery around the inside to signify that he intended to become a mighty warrior."

Not long after Red Shield heard these stories about Running Wolf, her father announced that the Sioux would be going out for their summer buffalo hunt. The tribe camped in a narrow valley down which some of their hunters would drive the buffalo while others waited in concealment on either side to kill them as they passed. It was a busy time for Red Shield and the other women, young and old, for they helped in the skinning of the buffalo and then stretched the hides out to dry in the sun.

One afternoon while half the Sioux hunters were out searching for a buffalo herd, an alarm suddenly spread through the camp. "Crow horse thieves are coming! Look to the horses!" As soon as the men drove the horses in, it was the duty of the women and children to guard them while the warriors went out to protect the camp from the Crow raid. Red Shield mounted her spotted pony and joined the other women. Far up the level valley she could see the dust of the oncoming Crows as they raced toward the line of defending Sioux. A moment later she heard the sharp war cries of the contending warriors.

She saw one of the Crow warriors on a black horse break through the Sioux line and come charging toward the horse herd she was helping to guard. Not far behind him, two Sioux warriors galloped in pursuit. As the Crow came nearer she could see that he wore four eagle feathers in his hair. Fastened behind his belt was a streamer of black leather long enough to trail on the ground. His horse's mane and tail were whitened with clay. He carried a black-handled spear decorated with bunches of crow feathers, and this weapon was pointed straight at Red Shield. She held her spotted horse steady, defying the onrushing Crow, and at the last moment he reined in the black horse so that the point of the spear was only an arm's length from her body.

The young Crow's face was painted with streaks of black and white. For a moment he glared at Red Shield, his eyes very bright, and then he threw back his head and laughed. By this time his pursuers had caught up with him. One of the Sioux put an arrow to his bow but missed; then both of them closed in upon the Crow with their war clubs raised, ready to strike.

Dancing his black horse in a circle, the Crow used his spear to knock first one and then the other Sioux off their mounts. His horse pawed the earth, then sprang like a cat into the Sioux horse herd. Before Red Shield or her companions could move, the Crow had cut six horses out of their herd and was chasing them off down the valley.

Angry and frustrated because she could do nothing to stop the daring Crow, Red Shield watched him go. Then the young man turned and waved a farewell to her. Above the pounding hooves she could hear his laughter, and her indignation turned to grudging admiration.

A group of Sioux warriors swept by intent upon pursuit, but Red Shield's father called them back. "Too many of our hunters are away," he said. "We are too few to risk leaving our women and children and the horse herd open to another raid."

"Did you see that Crow!" cried an old Sioux medicine man. "He and his horse are under some powerful magic."

The Sioux woman who had once been a captive among the Crows spoke up from the front of her tepee. "I know that one," she said.

"What name does he go by?" the medicine man asked.

"Yes, who is he?" demanded Red Shield's father.

"Running Wolf, he is called."

Red Shield, who still sat on her spotted horse, whispered to herself: "Running Wolf! I knew he must be Running Wolf"

Not long after that the Sioux returned to their village on the Missouri River. It seemed to all the young men in the tribe that the chief's daughter, Red Shield, had suddenly become a great beauty, and one by one they came by the chief's tepee to ask if she would marry them. Red Shield's father encouraged her to choose one of the suitors for a husband, but she wanted none of them. One evening after she had rejected a handsome young warrior, her father demanded to know why she was so obstinate.

"Because I do not love him!" she cried, and in a fit of anger she threw her supper into the fire.

"If you love someone else," her father said patiently, "then tell me his name."

"I love only Running Wolf," she replied. "I want to marry him."

"You cannot marry Running Wolf He is a Crow, and the Crows are our enemies."

Her father thought that would put an end to it, but days passed without Red Shield saying a word, and she ate so little that she began to grow thin. At last he realized that his daughter was determined to marry Running Wolf or else will herself to die.

"Very well," the chief said, "at least you are a woman of courage. You do not know if Running Wolf wants you for a wife, but you are determined to test him."

The next morning the chief brought around two fine horses, a mule, and some packs filled with moccasins and other presents. He summoned the Sioux woman who had once been a captive of the Crows and told her to go with Red Shield until they found the Crow camp where Running Wolf lived. They started out and at the end of three days they sighted the Crow tepees along a little stream. They rode into a thick wood where they fastened their horses and the pack mule. Red Shield painted herself carefully and dressed in her best clothing. By this time night had fallen, but a full moon was rising above the trees.

"It's time for me to go into the Crow camp," Red Shield said.

"Remember to look for a black tepee," the Sioux woman reminded her. "You will see a bunch of eagle feathers fastened to the end of one of the poles."

"If I don't return," Red Shield whispered, "you will know that Running Wolf does not want me for a wife and that I am a prisoner of the Crows as you once were."

"I will wait for you," the Sioux woman said.

Red Shield walked out of the woods and entered the bright moonlight which flooded the Crow camp. In the middle of the camp she found a black tepee with eagle feathers fastened to the top of one of the poles. No one noticed her as she walked to the open entrance.

Inside some young men were talking and smoking around a campfire. Red Shield was certain that one of them was Running Wolf. She sat down outside the entrance. After a while the young men began to leave, one or two at a time, paying no particular attention to her presence.

Then Running Wolf came out to stretch himself and yawn.

The moonlight was full on his face, and Red Shield felt her heart beat strongly. He saw her then, and said in Crow, "Come in," but Red Shield understood not one word of Crow and she neither answered him nor moved. Running Wolf shrugged and went back inside, and Red Shield heard him say something else. The voice of an old woman responded.

Red Shield arose then and went into the tepee. The fire had died to a few coals and she could see only the shadowy forms of Running Wolf and his mother. She went close to the fire and sat down as though to warm herself.

This time the old woman spoke to her in Crow. "Take off your moccasins and rest." But of course Red Shield did not understand. "Build up the fire so that we can see this young woman," said Running Wolf. His mother placed some dry wood on the coals, and a blaze sprang up to light the inside of the tepee.

"This is not a Crow woman!" cried Running Wolf's mother.

"No," he said. "But I know who she is. Only one time have I seen her but her face has been in my dreams many times since. She is Sioux."

Red Shield raised her head, and made signs to tell them she could not understand what they were saying, but that she had a friend nearby who could speak for her. At last Running Wolf understood, and he followed her across the camp clearing into the thick woods where the Sioux woman was waiting with the horses and mule. Running Wolf remembered the former captive of his boyhood, and when they returned to his tepee the Sioux woman and his mother had a happy reunion.

"Why do you and this daughter of a Sioux chief come into our camp?" the mother asked.

"She is Red Shield," replied the Sioux woman. "She has brought many presents. She has come to marry your son, Running Wolf"

"And what does my son, Running Wolf, have to say to this? To marry one of the enemy?"

Running Wolf looked at Red Shield. "I knew she was beautiful, and she showed courage that day I took horses from the Sioux. Now she has shown more bravery than I would have dared, by coming into the camp of her enemies alone. I want her for my wife. "

While the Sioux woman was bringing in the packs of presents, Running Wolf's mother went through the camp. "Come and look at my son's wife!" she cried. "One of the enemy's children has come to marry him!" All the Crows in camp came to see Red Shield, and all said she was very good-looking and a young woman of great bravery.

Early the next morning the Sioux woman started back on the long journey to the Missouri River to tell the girl's people that she was safe and was now the wife of the Crow warrior, Running Wolf. A few days later Red Shield's father, the Sioux chief, sent two messengers to the Crow chief, telling him that he and many of his relatives were coming to pay the Crows a friendly visit.

For this event the Crows moved their tepees to a larger plain beside a lake, camping in a tight circle so as to leave room for the visitors. The Crow chief told Running Wolf to put his black tepee in the place of honour in the centre. When the Sioux arrived, the Crows surrounded them and watched them put up their tepees. After this was done, Red Shield took Running Wolf to welcome her parents, and they all exchanged many presents. Running Wolf brought several guns and the horses he had taken from the Sioux and gave them to Red Shield's father.

For four days and nights the Sioux camped with the Crows and the tribes danced together every evening. After the Sioux returned to the Missouri River, Running Wolf and Red Shield and several of their friends visited them from time to time, and in the moons of pleasant weather, her Sioux father and mother came to visit their daughter, and later on to see their grandchildren. In both tribes, the young Crow warrior and his Sioux wife were regarded as hero and heroine, and their people lived in peace for a time.

 

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