Great Plains: The Indian Who Wrestled with a Ghost

This story is part of the Great Plains unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Great Plains by Katharine Berry Judson (1913).


(owl)


The Indian Who Wrestled with a Ghost
Teton

A young man went alone on the warpath. At length he reached a wood. One day, as he was going along, he heard a voice. He said, “I shall have company.” As he was approaching a forest, he heard some one halloo. Behold, it was an owl.

By and by he drew near another wood, and as night was coming on he lay down to rest. At the edge of the trees he lay down in the open air. At midnight he was aroused by the voice of a woman. She was wailing, “My son! my son!” Still he remained where he was, and put more wood on the fire. He lay with his back to the fire. He tore a hole in his blanket large enough to peep through.

Soon he heard twigs break under the feet of one approaching, so he looked through his blanket without rising. Behold, a woman of the olden days was coming. She wore a skin dress with long fringe. A buffalo robe was fastened around her at the waist.  Her necklace was of very large beads, and her leggings were covered with beads or porcupine work. Her robe was drawn over her head and she was snuffing as she came.

The man lay with his legs stretched out, and she stood by him. She took him by one foot, which she raised very slowly. When she let it go, it fell with a thud as though he were dead. She raised it a second time; then a third time. Still the man did not move. Then the woman pulled a very rusty knife from the front of her belt, seized his foot suddenly and was about to lift it and cut it, when up sprang the man.

He said, “What are you doing?” Then he shot at her suddenly. She ran into the forest screaming, “Yun! yun! yun! yun! yun! yun!” She plunged into the forest and was seen no more.

Again the man covered his head with his blanket but he did not sleep. When day came, he raised his eyes. Behold, there was a burial scaffold, with the blankets all ragged and dangling. He thought, “Was this the ghost that came to me?”

Again he came to a wood where he had to remain for the night. He started a fire. As he sat there, suddenly he heard someone singing. He made the woods ring. The man shouted to the singer, but no answer was paid. The man had a small quantity of wasna, which was grease mixed with pounded buffalo meat, and wild cherry; he also had plenty of tobacco.

So when the singer came and asked him for food, the man said, “I have nothing.”

The ghost said, “Not so; I know you have some wasna.”

Then the man gave some of it to the ghost and filled his pipe. After the meal, when the stranger took the pipe and held it by the stem, the traveler saw that it was nothing but bones. There was no flesh. Then the stranger’s robe dropped back from his shoulders. Behold, all his ribs were visible. There was no flesh on them. The ghost did not open his lips when he smoked. The smoke came pouring out through his ribs.

When he had finished smoking, the ghost said, “Ho! we must wrestle together. If you can throw me, you shall kill the enemy without hindrance and steal some horses.”

The young man agreed. But first he threw an armful of brush on the fire. He put plenty of brush near the fire.

Then the ghost rushed at the man. He seized him with his bony hands, which was very painful; but this mattered not. The man tried to push off the ghost, whose legs were very powerful. When the ghost was pulled near the fire, he became weak; but when he pulled the young man toward the darkness, he became  strong. As the fire got low, the strength of the ghost increased.

Just as the man began to get weary, the day broke. Then the struggle began again. As they drew near the fire again, the man made a last effort; with his foot he pushed more brush into the fire. The fire blazed up again suddenly. Then the ghost fell, just as if he was coming to pieces.

So the man won in wrestling. Also he killed his enemy and stole some horses. It came out just as the ghost said. That is why people believe what ghosts say.





(800 words)




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