Great Plains: Three Ghost Stories

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

The Forked Roads

Long ago, in the days of the grandfathers, a man died and was buried by his village. For four nights his ghost had to walk a very dark trail. Then he reached the Milky Way and there was plenty of light. For this reason, people ought to keep the funeral fires lighted for four nights, so the spirit will not walk in the dark trail.

The spirit walked along the Milky Way. At last he came to a point where the trail forked. There sat an old man. He was dressed in a buffalo robe, with the hair on the outside. He pointed to each ghost the road he was to take. One was short and led to the land of good ghosts. The other was very long; along it the ghosts went wailing.

The spirits of suicides cannot travel either road. They must hover over their graves. For them there is no future life.

A murderer is never happy after he dies. Ghosts surround him and keep up a constant whistling. He is always hungry, though he eat much food. He is never allowed to go where he pleases, lest high winds arise and sweep down upon the others.

Tattooed Ghosts

If a ghost wishes to walk the Ghost Road safely, then during living the person must tattoo himself either in the forehead or on the wrists. An old woman sits in the Ghost Road and she examines each ghost who passes. If she finds the tattoo marks, then the ghost travels on at once to Many Lodges. If the tattoo marks are not there, the old woman pushes the ghost from a cloud and he falls to this world again. Then he wanders all over the world. He is never quiet. He goes about whistling, with no lodge, and people are afraid of him.

When these ghosts visit the sick, they are driven away by smoke from the sacred cedar, or else cedar is laid outside the lodge. When a person hears a ghost whistling he goes outside the lodge and makes a loud noise. If a ghost calls to a loved one and he answers, then he is sure to die soon.

If a ghost meets a man who is alone, he will catch hold of him and pull his mouth and eyes until they are crooked. Indeed, a ghost did this to a person who only dreamed about one.

A Ghost Story

A great many persons went on the warpath. They were Ponca. As they approached the foe, they camped for the night. They kindled a fire. It was during the night. After kindling a bright fire, they sat down; they made the fire burn very brightly. Rejoicing greatly, they sat eating. Very suddenly a person sang.

“Keep quiet. Push the ashes over that fire. Seize your bow in silence!” said their leader. All took their bows. And they departed to surround him. They made the circle smaller and smaller, and commenced at once to come together. And still he stood singing; he did not stir at all.

At length they went very near to the tree. And when they drew very near to it, the singer ceased his song. When they had reached the tree, bones lay there in a pile. Human bones were piled there at the foot of the tree.

(600 words)

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