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The Killing Of Cloudy Sky


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

In the Dakota camp on the bank of Spirit Lake, or Lake Calhoun, Iowa,
lived Cloudy Sky, a medicine-man, who had been made repellent by age and
accident, but who was feared because of his magic power. At eighty years
of age he looked for a third wife, and chose the daughter of a warrior,
his presents of blankets and calicoes to the parents winning their
consent. The girl, Harpstenah (a common name for a third daughter among
the Sioux), dreaded and hated this man, for it was rumored that he had
killed his first wife and basely sold his second. When she learned what
had been decided for her she rushed from the camp in tears and sat in a
lonely spot near the lake to curse and lament unseen. As she sat there
the waters were troubled. There was no wind, yet great waves were thrown
up, and tumbled hissing on the shore. Presently came a wave higher than
the rest, and a graceful form leaped from it, half shrouded in its own
long hair.

Do not tremble, said the visitant, for Harpstenah had hidden her face.
I am the daughter of Unktahe, the water god. In four days your parents
will give you to Cloudy Sky, as his wife, though you love Red Deer. It is
with you to wed the man you hate or the man you love. Cloudy Sky has
offended the water spirits and we have resolved upon his death. If you
will be our agent in destroying him, you shall marry Red Deer and live
long and happily. The medicine-man wandered for years through the air
with the thunder birds, flinging his deadly fire-spears at us, and it was
for killing the son of Unktahe that he was last sent to earth, where he
has already lived twice before. Kill him while he sleeps and we will
reward you.

As Harpstenah went back to the village her prospective bridegroom ogled
her as he sat smoking before his lodge, his face blackened and blanket
torn in mourning for an enemy he had killed. She resolved to heed the
appeal of the manitou. When Red Deer heard how she had been promised to
the old conjurer, he was filled with rage. Still, he became thoughtful
and advised caution when she told him of the water spirit's counsel, for
the dwellers in the lakes were, of all immortals, most deceitful, and had
ever been enemies of the Dakotas. I will do as I am bidden, she said,
sternly. Go away and visit the Tetons for a time. It is now the moon of
strawberries (June), but in the moon when we gather wild rice
(September) return and I will be your wife.

Red Deer obeyed, after finding that she would not elope with him, and
with the announcement that he was going on a long hunt he took his leave
of the village. Harpstenah made ready for the bridal and greeted her
future husband with apparent pleasure and submissiveness. He gave a
medicine feast in token of the removal of his mourning, and appeared in
new clothing, greased and braided hair, and a white blanket decorated
with a black hand--the record of a slain enemy.

On the night before the wedding the girl creeps to his lodge, but
hesitates when she sees his medicine-bag hanging beside the door--the
medicine that has kept its owner from evil and is sacred from the touch
of woman. As she lingers the night-breeze seems to bring a voice from the
water: Can a Dakota woman want courage when she is forced to marry the
man she hates?

She delays no longer. A knife-blade glitters for an instant in the
moonlight--and Cloudy Sky is dead. Strange, is it not, that the thunder
birds flap so heavily along the west at that moment and a peal of
laughter sounds from the lake? She washes the blood from the blade,
steals to her father's lodge, and pretends to sleep. In the morning she
is loud in her grief when it is made known to her that the medicine-man
was no more, and the doer of the deed is never discovered. In time her
wan face gets its color and when the leaves begin to fall Red Deer
returns and weds her.

They seem to be happy for a time, and have two sons who promise to be
famous hunters, but consumption fastens on Red Deer and he dies far from
the village. The sons are shot by enemies, and while their bodies are on
their way to Harpstenah's lodge she, too, is stricken dead by lightning.
The spirit of Cloudy Sky had rejoined the thunder birds, and the water
manitou had promised falsely.

Next: Providence Hole

Previous: Saved By A Lightning-stroke

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