Many thousands of years ago the Cheyenne inhabited a country in the far north, across a great body of water. For two or three years they had been overpowered by an enemy that outnumbered them.
They were about to become the enemy’s slaves, and they were filled with sorrow.
Among their number was a great medicine-man who possessed a wooden hoop, like those used in the games of to-day. On one side of the hoop were tied magpie feathers, while opposite them, on the other side of the hoop, was a flint spear head, with the point projecting toward the center of the hoop. One night the great chief told the people to come to a certain place.
When they were assembled he led them away. He kept in advance of them all the time, and in his left hand he held a long staff, and in his right hand he held his hoop horizontally in front of him, with the spear head of the hoop pointing forward. No one was allowed to go in front of him. On the fourth night of their journey they saw, at some distance from the ground, and apparently not far in front of them, a bright light. As they advanced the light receded, and appeared always a little farther beyond. They traveled a few more nights, and the fire preceded them all the way, until they came to a large body of water. The medicine-man ordered the Cheyenne to form in a line along the edge of the water, and they obeyed. He then told them that he was going to take them across the water to another land, where they would live forever. As they stood facing the water the medicine-man asked them to sing four times with him, and he told them that as they sang the fourth time he would lead them across the water.
As he sang the fourth time he began to walk forwards and backwards and the fourth time he walked directly into the water. All the people followed him. He commanded them not to look upward, but ever downward. As they went forward the waters separated, and they walked on dry ground, but the water was all around them. Finally, as they were being led by night the fire disappeared, but they continued to follow the medicine-man until daylight, when they found themselves walking in a beautiful country.
In the new country they found plenty of game to live on. The medicine-man taught the Cheyenne many things, but they seemed to be of weak minds, though they were physically strong. Out of these Cheyenne there sprang up men and women who were large, tall, strong, and fierce, and they increased in number until they numbered thousands.
They were so strong that they could pick up and carry off on their backs the large animals that they killed. They tamed panther and bear and trained them to catch wild game for them to eat. They had bows and arrows, and were always dressed in furs and skins, and in their ignorance they roamed about like animals. In those days there were very large animals. One variety of these animals was of the form of a cow, though four times as large; by nature they were tame and grazed along the river banks; men milked them.
Boys and men to the number of twenty could get upon their backs without disturbing them. Another variety of these large animals resembled in body the horse, and they had horns and long, sharp teeth. This was the most dangerous animal in the country. It ate man, had a mind like a human being, and could trail a human being through the rivers and tall grasses by means of its power of scent. Of these there were but few. In the rivers there were long snakes whose bodies were so large that a man could not jump over them.
The Cheyenne remained in the north a long time, but finally roamed southward, conveying their burdens by means of dogs. While they were traveling southward there came a great rain and flood all over the country. The rivers rose and overflowed, and still the rain kept falling. At last the high hills alone could be discerned. The people became frightened and confused.
On a neighboring hill, and apart from the main body of the Cheyenne, were a few thousand of their number, who were out of view, and had been cut off from the main body by the rising water. When the rains ceased and the water subsided the part who were cut off looked for their tribesmen, but they found no sign of them; and it has ever since been a question among the Cheyenne whether this band of people was drowned, or whether it became a distinct tribe.
Long afterward the Cheyenne met a tribe who used many of their words, and to-day they believe that a part of their people are still living in the north. Nearly all the animals were either drowned or starved to death. The trees and fruit upon which the people had formerly subsisted were destroyed. A few large gray wolves escaped with them, for they had crossed with the tame dogs. The dogs were so large that they could carry a child several miles in a day.
After the flood had subsided the senses of the Cheyenne seemed to be awakened. They became strong in mind but weak in body, for now they had no game to subsist on. They lived on dried meat and mushrooms, which sustained them for a long time.
A Cheyenne Legend
Dorsey, Field Museum:
Anthropological Series, ix, 37, No. 15