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White Elk Horn

The following is an excerpt from Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies (1894) by James Francis Sanderson.

White Elk Horn

White Elk Horn was the greatest chief and the bravest warrior among the Blackfoot. He was regarded as proof against arrows of the best marksmen of the Gros Ventres, Sioux, Crows, and Crees; it was even alleged that a great medicine man had predicted that he would not be dead until he had been five times slain. It was further foretold that he would be killed by the hand of a Saulteaux brave.

The Saulteaux Indians were a branch of the Chippewa tribe that had wandered to the west from their native haunts on the shores of Lake Superior, and between them and the Blackfoot there existed the deadliest kind of feud.

It happened, one day, that White Elk Horn, accompanied by only seven Blackfoot, camped for the night by a spring three miles below the forks of the Red Deer and the South Saskatchewan. They camped without discovering the fact that a band of Saulteaux, under the leadership of their chief, Goosefoot, were encamped behind the ridge which intervenes between the hollow where the spring is, and a deep coulee. The Saulteaux were equally unaware, of the proximity of their enemy.

In the dusk of the evening, a Saulteaux woman came to the spring to draw water and, on her way, met a Blackfoot brave, some say White Elk Horn himself. The brave addressed her in Blackfoot but she, recognizing the enemy of her tribe, made no answer. She passed on to the spring and, having filled her vessel, returned by a circuitous route to the camp of her friends, to whom she announced the presence of their archenemy at the spring.

Goosefoot and his braves, by careful reconnaissance, ascertained that White Elk Horn had only a handful of warriors with him. He speedily drew a cordon of his men around the little band of Blackfoot and, when morning dawned, the hitherto unvanquished chief found himself outnumbered and outgeneraled. He had no chance of escape and only the grim solace left him of dying, as an Indian chief should, fighting to the last, and sending as many as possible of his foes before him to the happy hunting grounds, as heralds of his coming.

A field near Estevan, Saskatchewan, not far from where this story takes place.

The opposing chiefs parleyed, but Goosefoot, sure of his advantage, would listen to no terms of surrender by which his enemy might go free, and the two bands at last fell to. As may be supposed, the great war chief of the Blackfoot justified his reputation. Marvellous were the feats of valor he performed and many a Saulteaux brave trod before him the long trail to the happy hunting grounds. But against fate and numbers, even his mighty arm could not prevail, and at last he fell, pierced with many a wound, but unyielding to the last.

Only one of the Blackfoot braves was left alive when the chief fell. He managed to escape while the victors were congratulating themselves on the death of White Elk Horn, slain, as had been predicted, by the hand of a Saulteaux.

Goosefoot and his men gratified their hate by dismembering the body of their enemy and it is said that after they were severed from the bleeding trunk, the quivering limbs made spasmodic movements as if they would seek to be reunited with it. The victors then flayed him, and underneath the skin they found two live snakes, which they only killed after a prolonged struggle. They took out his brisket, and found his heart beating as regularly and as strongly as when he was alive and it continued to beat for a long time after they had hung it on the branch of a tree and stood watching it. Indeed, it was only when it had ceased beating that they became satisfied White Elk Horn was really dead and that there was not the slightest chance of his returning to life. They too had heard of the prediction that he would have to be killed five times before he would stay dead.

The solitary survivor of White Elk Horn’s little band made his way home to his tribe and when he told his sad tiding, there was grief in the lodges of the Blackfoot. Only the chief’s wives, of whom he had ten, refused to believe the bad news. Obstinately they persisted in the belief that he would return again to his lodge as strong, as brave, and as invincible as before. White Elk Horn was killed in the spring, but it was not until the winter had come that his faithful widows accepted the fact of his death and mourned for him whose return from the warpath or the chase they would never again greet with rejoicing and with pride.

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I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

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