Myths and Legends of the Sioux

Part I

McLaughlin, Marie L. (1916)

In loving memory of my mother, MARY GRAHAM BUISSON, at whose knee most of the stories contained in this little volume were told to me, this book is affectionately dedicated




The Forgotten Ear of Corn

The Little Mice

The Pet Rabbit

The Pet Donkey

The Rabbit and the Elk

The Rabbit and the Grouse Girls

The Faithful Lovers

The Artichoke and the Muskrat

The Rabbit, and the Bear with the Flint Body

Story of the Lost Wife

The Raccoon and the Crawfish

Legend of Standing Rock

Story of the Peace Pipe

A Bashful Courtship

The Simpleton's Wisdom

Little Brave and the Medicine Woman

The Bound Children

The Signs of Corn

Story of the Rabbits

How the Rabbit Lost His Tail

Unktomi and the Arrowheads

The Bear and the Rabbit Hunt Buffalo

The Brave Who Went on the Warpath Alone and Won the Name of the Lone Warrior

The Sioux Who Married the Crow Chief's Daughter

The Boy and the Turtles

The Hermit, or the Gift of Corn

The Mysterious ButteThe Wonderful Turtle

The Man and the Oak

Story of the Two Young Friends

The Story of the Pet Crow

The "Wasna" (Pemmican Man) and the Unktomi (Spider)

The Resuscitation of the Only Daughter

The Story of the Pet Crane

White Plume

Story of Pretty Feathered Forehead

The Four Brothers or Inyanhoksila (Stone Boy)

The Unktomi (Spider), Two Widows and the Red Plums


In publishing these "Myths of the Sioux," I deem it proper to state that I am of one-fourth Sioux blood. My maternal grandfather, Captain Duncan Graham, a Scotchman by birth, who had seen service in the British Army, was one of a party of Scotch Highlanders who in 1811 arrived in the British Northwest by way of York Factory, Hudson Bay, to found what was known as the Selkirk Colony, near Lake Winnipeg, now within the province of Manitoba, Canada. Soon after his arrival at Lake Winnipeg he proceeded up the Red River of the North and the western fork thereof to its source, and thence down the Minnesota River to Mendota, the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, where he located. My grandmother, Ha-za-ho-ta-win, was a full-blood of the Medawakanton Band of the Sioux Tribe of Indians. My father, Joseph Buisson, born near Montreal, Canada, was connected with the American Fur Company, with headquarters at Mendota, Minnesota, which point was for many years the chief distributing depot of the American Fur Company, from which the Indian trade conducted by that company on the upper Mississippi was directed.

I was born December 8, 1842, at Wabasha, Minnesota, then Indian country, and resided thereat until fourteen years of age, when I was sent to school at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

I was married to Major James McLaughlin at Mendota, Minnesota, January 28, 1864, and resided in Minnesota until July 1, 1871, when I accompanied my husband to Devils Lake Agency, North Dakota, then Dakota Territory, where I remained ten years in most friendly relations with the Indians of that agency. My husband was Indian agent at Devils Lake Agency, and in 1881 was transferred to Standing Rock, on the Missouri River, then a very important agency, to take charge of the Sioux who had then but recently surrendered to the military authorities, and been brought by steamboat from various points on the upper Missouri, to be permanently located on the Standing Rock reservation.

Having been born and reared in an Indian community, I at an early age acquired a thorough knowledge of the Sioux language, and having lived on Indian reservations for the past forty years in a position which brought me very near to the Indians, whose confidence I possessed, I have, therefore, had exceptional opportunities of learning the legends and folk-lore of the Sioux.

The stories contained in this little volume were told me by the older men and women of the Sioux, of which I made careful notes as related, knowing that, if not recorded, these fairy tales would be lost to posterity by the passing of the primitive Indian.

The notes of a song or a strain of music coming to us through the night not only give us pleasure by the melody they bring, but also give us knowledge of the character of the singer or of the instrument from which they proceed. There is something in the music which unerringly tells us of its source. I believe musicians call it the "timbre" of the sound. It is independent of, and different from, both pitch and rhythm; it is the texture of the music itself.

The "timbre" of a people's stories tells of the qualities of that people's heart. It is the texture of the thought, independent of its form or fashioning, which tells the quality of the mind from which it springs.

In the "timbre" of these stories of the Sioux, told in the lodges and at the camp fires of the past, and by the firesides of the Dakotas of today, we recognize the very texture of the thought of a simple, grave, and sincere people, living in intimate contact and friendship with the big out-of-doors that we call Nature; a race not yet understanding all things, not proud and boastful, but honest and childlike and fair; a simple, sincere, and gravely thoughtful people, willing to believe that there may be in even the everyday things of life something not yet fully understood; a race that can, without any loss of native dignity, gravely consider the simplest things, seeking to fathom their meaning and to learn their lesson -- equally without vain-glorious boasting and trifling cynicism; an earnest, thoughtful, dignified, but simple and primitive people.

To the children of any race these stories can not fail to give pleasure by their vivid imaging of the simple things and creatures of the great out-of-doors and the epics of their doings. They will also give an intimate insight into the mentality of an interesting race at a most interesting stage of development, which is now fast receding into the mists of the past.


An Arikara woman was once gathering corn from the field to store away for winter use. She passed from stalk to stalk, tearing off the ears and dropping them into her folded robe. When all was gathered she started to go, when she heard a faint voice, like a child's, weeping and calling:

"Oh, do not leave me! Do not go away without me."

The woman was astonished. "What child can that be?" she asked herself. "What babe can be lost in the cornfield?"

She set down her robe in which she had tied up her corn, and went back to search; but she found nothing.

As she started away she heard the voice again:

"Oh, do not leave me. Do not go away without me."

She searched for a long time. At last in one corner of the field, hidden under the leaves of the stalks, she found one little ear of corn. This it was that had been crying, and this is why all Indian women have since garnered their corn crop very carefully, so that the succulent food product should not even to the last small nubbin be neglected or wasted, and thus displease the Great Mystery.


Once upon a time a prairie mouse busied herself all fall storing away a cache of beans. Every morning she was out early with her empty cast-off snake skin, which she filled with ground beans and dragged home with her teeth.

The little mouse had a cousin who was fond of dancing and talk, but who did not like to work. She was not careful to get her cache of beans and the season was already well gone before she thought to bestir herself. When she came to realize her need, she found she had no packing bag. So she went to her hardworking cousin and said:

"Cousin, I have no beans stored for winter and the season is nearly gone. But I have no snake skin to gather the beans in. Will you lend me one?"

"But why have you no packing bag? Where were you in the moon when the snakes cast off their skins?"

"I was here."

"What were you doing?"

"I was busy talking and dancing."

"And now you are punished," said the other. "It is always so with lazy, careless people. But I will let you have the snake skin. And now go, and by hard work and industry, try to recover your wasted time."


A little girl owned a pet rabbit which she loved dearly. She carried it on her back like a babe, made for it a little pair of moccasins, and at night shared with it her own robe.

Now the little girl had a cousin who loved her very dearly and wished to do her honor; so her cousin said to herself:

"I love my little cousin well and will ask her to let me carry her pet rabbit around;" (for thus do Indian women when they wish to honor a friend; they ask permission to carry about the friend's babe).

She then went to the little girl and said:

"Cousin, let me carry your pet rabbit about on my back. Thus shall I show you how I love you."

Her mother, too, said to her: "Oh no, do not let our little grandchild go away from our tepee."

But the cousin answered: "Oh, do let me carry it. I do so want to show my cousin honor." At last they let her go away with the pet rabbit on her back.

When the little girl's cousin came home to her tepee, some rough boys who were playing about began to make sport of her. To tease the little girl they threw stones and sticks at the pet rabbit. At last a stick struck the little rabbit upon the head and killed it.

When her pet was brought home dead, the little rabbit's adopted mother wept bitterly. She cut off her hair for mourning and all her little girl friends wailed with her. Her mother, too, mourned with them.

"Alas!" they cried, "alas, for the little rabbit. He was always kind and gentle. Now your child is dead and you will be lonesome."

The little girl's mother called in her little friends and made a great mourning feast for the little rabbit. As he lay in the tepee his adopted mother's little friends brought many precious things and covered his body. At the feast were given away robes and kettles and blankets and knives and great wealth in honor of the little rabbit. Him they wrapped in a robe with his little moccasins on and buried him in a high place upon a scaffold.


There was a chief's daughter once who had a great many relations so that everybody knew she belonged to a great family.

When she grew up she married and there were born to her twin sons. This caused great rejoicing in her father's camp, and all the village women came to see the babes. She was very happy.

As the babes grew older, their grandmother made for them two saddle bags and brought out a donkey.

"My two grandchildren," said the old lady, "shall ride as is becoming to children having so many relations. Here is this donkey. He is patient and surefooted. He shall carry the babes in the saddle bags, one on either side of his back."

It happened one day that the chief's daughter and her husband were making ready to go on a camping journey. The father, who was quite proud of his children, brought out his finest pony, and put the saddle bags on the pony's back.

"There," he said, "my sons shall ride on the pony, not on a donkey; let the donkey carry the pots and kettles."

So his wife loaded the donkey with the house-hold things. She tied the tepee poles into two great bundles, one on either side of the donkey's back; across them she put the travois net and threw into it the pots and kettles and laid the skin tent across the donkey's back.

But no sooner done than the donkey began to rear and bray and kick. He broke the tent poles and kicked the pots and kettles into bits and tore the skin tent. The more he was beaten the more he kicked.

At last they told the grandmother. She laughed. "Did I not tell you the donkey was for the children," she cried. "He knows the babies are the chief's children. Think you he will be dishonored with pots and kettles?" and she fetched the children and slung them over the donkey's back, when he became at once quiet again.

The camping party left the village and went on their journey. But the next day as they passed by a place overgrown with bushes, a band of enemies rushed out, lashing their ponies and sounding their war whoop. All was excitement. The men bent their and seized their lances. After a long battle the enemy fled. But when the camping party came together again -- where were the donkey and the two babes? No one knew. For a long time they searched, but in vain. At last they turned to go back to the village, the father mournful, the mother wailing. When they came to the grandmother's tepee, there stood the good donkey with the two babes in the saddle bags.


The little rabbit lived with his old grandmother, who needed a new dress. "I will go out and trap a deer or an elk for you," he said. "Then you shall have a new dress."

When he went out hunting he laid down his bow in the path while he looked at his snares. An elk coming by saw the bow.

"I will play a joke on the rabbit," said the elk to himself. "I will make him think I have been caught in his bow string." He then put one foot on the string and lay down as if dead.

By and by the rabbit returned. When he saw the elk he was filled with joy and ran home crying: "Grandmother, I have trapped a fine elk. You shall have a new dress from his skin. Throw the old one in the fire!"

This the old grandmother did.

The elk now sprang to his feet laughing. "Ho, friend rabbit," he called, "You thought to trap me; now I have mocked you." And he ran away into the thicket.

The rabbit who had come back to skin the elk now ran home again. "Grandmother, don't throw your dress in the fire," he cried. But it was too late. The old dress was burned.


The rabbit once went out on the prairie in winter time. On the side of a hill away from the wind he found a great company of girls all with grey and speckled blankets over their backs. They were the grouse girls and they were coasting down hill on a board. When the rabbit saw them, he called out:

"Oh, maidens, that is not a good way to coast down hill. Let me get you a fine skin with bangles on it that tinkle as you slide." And away he ran to the tepee and brought a skin bag. It had red stripes onit and bangles that tinkled. "Come and get inside," he said to the grouse girls. "Oh, no, we are afraid," they answered. "Don't be afraid, I can't hurt you. Come, one of you," said the rabbit. Then as each hung back he added coaxingly: "If each is afraid alone, come all together. I can't hurt you all." And so he coaxed the whole flock into the bag. This done, the rabbit closed the mouth of the bag, slung it over his back and came home. "Grandmother," said he, as he came to the tepee, "here is a bag full of game. Watch it while I go for willow sticks to make spits."

But as soon as the rabbit had gone out of the tent, the grouse girls began to cry out:

"Grandmother, let us out."

"Who are you?" asked the old woman.

"Your dear grandchildren," they answered.

"But how came you in the bag?" asked the old woman.

"Oh, our cousin was jesting with us. He coaxed us in the bag for a joke. Please let us out."

"Certainly, dear grandchildren, I will let you out," said the old woman as she untied the bag: and lo, the grouse flock with achuck-a-chuck-achuck flew up, knocking over the old grandmother and flew out of the square smoke opening of the winter lodge. The old woman caught only one grouse as it flew up and held it, grasping a leg with each hand.

When the rabbit came home with the spits she called out to him:

"Grandson, come quick. They got out but I have caught two."

When he saw what had happened he was quite angry, yet could not keep from laughing.

"Grandmother, you have but one grouse," he cried, and it is a very skinny one at that."


There once lived a chief's daughter who had many relations. All the young men in the village wanted to have her for wife, and were all eager to fill her skin bucket when she went to the brook for water.

There was a young man in the village who was industrious and a good hunter; but he was poor and of a mean family. He loved the maiden and when she went for water, he threw his robe over her head while he whispered in her ear:

"Be my wife. I have little but I am young and strong. I will treat you well, for I love you."

For a long time the maiden did not answer, but one day she whispered back.

"Yes, you may ask my father's leave to marry me. But first you must do something noble. I belong to a great family and have many relations. You must go on a war party and bring back the scalp of an enemy."

The young man answered modestly, "I will try to do as you bid me. I am only a hunter, not a warrior. Whether I shall be brave or not I do not know. But I will try to take a scalp for your sake."

So he made a war party of seven, himself and six other young men. They wandered through the enemy's country, hoping to get a chance to strike a blow. But none came, for they found no one of the enemy.

"Our medicine is unfavorable," said their leader at last. "We shall have to return home."

Before they started they sat down to smoke and rest beside a beautiful lake at the foot of a green knoll that rose from its shore. The knoll was covered with green grass and somehow as they looked at it they had a feeling that there was something about it that was mysterious or uncanny.

But there was a young man in the party named the jester, for he was venturesome and full of fun. Gazing at the knoll he said: "Let's run and jump on its top."

"No," said the young lover, "it looks mysterious. Sit still and finish your smoke."

"Oh, come on, who's afraid," said the jester, laughing. "Come on you -- come on!" and springing to his feet he ran up the side of the knoll.

Four of the young men followed. Having reached the top of the knoll all five began to jump and stamp about in sport, calling, "Come on, come on," to the others. Suddenly they stopped -- the knoll had begun to move toward the water. It was a gigantic turtle. The five men cried out in alarm and tried to run -- too late! Their feet by some power were held fast to the monster's back.

"Help us -- drag us away," they cried; but the others could do nothing. In a few moments the waves had closed over them.

The other two men, the lover and his friend, went on, but with heavy hearts, for they had forebodings of evil. After some days, they came to a river. Worn with fatigue the lover threw himself down on the bank.

"I will sleep awhile," he said, "for I am wearied and worn out."

"And I will go down to the water and see if I can chance upon a dead fish. At this time of the year the high water may have left one stranded on the sea-shore," said his friend.

And as he had said, he found a fish which he cleaned, and then called to the lover.

"Come and eat the fish with me. I have cleaned it and made a fire and it is now cooking."

"No, you eat it; let me rest," said the lover.

"Oh, come on."

"No, let me rest."

"But you are my friend. I will not eat unless you share it with me."

"Very well," said the lover, "I will eat the fish with you, but you must first make me a promise. If I eat the fish, you must promise, pledge yourself, to fetch me all the water that I can drink."

"I promise," said the other, and the two ate the fish out of their war-kettle. For there had been but one kettle for the party.

When they had eaten, the kettle was rinsed out and the lover's friend brought it back full of water. This the lover drank at a draught.

"Bring me more," he said.

Again his friend filled the kettle at the river and again the lover drank it dry.

"More!" he cried.

"Oh, I am tired. Cannot you go to the river and drink your fill from the stream?" asked his friend.

"Remember your promise."

"Yes, but I am weary. Go now and drink."

"Ek-hey, I feared it would be so. Now trouble is coming upon us," said the lover sadly. He walked to the river, sprang in, and lying down in the water with his head toward land, drank greedily. By and by he called to his friend.

"Come hither, you who have been my sworn friend. See what comes of your broken promise."

The friend came and was amazed to see that the lover was now a fish from his feet to his middle.

Sick at heart he ran off a little way and threw himself upon the ground in grief. By and by he returned. The lover was now a fish to his neck.

"Cannot I cut off the part and restore you by a sweat bath?" the friend asked.

"No, it is too late. But tell the chief's daughter that I loved her to the last and that I die for her sake. Take this belt and give it to her. She gave it to me as a pledge of her love for me," and he being then turned to a great fish, swam to the middle of the river and there remained, only his great fin remaining above the water.

The friend went home and told his story. There was great mourning over the death of the five young men, and for the lost lover. In the river the great fish remained, its fin just above the surface, and was called by the Indians "Fish that Bars," because it bar'd navigation. Canoes had to be portaged at great labor around the obstruction.

The chief's daughter mourned for her lover as for a husband, nor would she be comforted. "He was lost for love of me, and I shall remain as his widow," she wailed.

In her mother's tepee she sat, with her head covered with her robe, silent, working, working. "What is my daughter doing," her mother asked. But the maiden did not reply.

The days lengthened into moons until a year had passed. And then the maiden arose. In her hands were beautiful articles of clothing, enough for three men. There were three pairs of moccasins, three pairs of leggings, three belts, three shirts, three head dresses with beautiful feathers, and sweet smelling tobacco

"Make a new canoe of bark," she said, which was made for her.

Into the canoe she stepped and floated slowly down the river toward the great fish.

"Come back my daughter," her mother cried in agony. "Come back. The great fish will eat you."

She answered nothing. Her canoe came to the place where the great fin arose and stopped, its prow grating on the monster's back. The maiden stepped out boldly. One by one she laid her presents on the fish's back, scattering the feathers and tobacco over his broad spine.

"Oh, fish," she cried, "Oh, fish, you who were my lover, I shall not forget you. Because you were lost for love of me, I shall never marry. All my life I shall remain a widow. Take these presents. And now leave the river, and let the waters run free, so my people may once more descend in their canoes."

She stepped into her canoe and waited. Slowly the great fish sank, his broad fin disappeared, and the waters of the St. Croix (Stillwater) were free.