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The Virgins' Feast


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

A game of lacrosse was played by Indian girls on the ice near the present
Fort Snelling, one winter day, and the victorious trophies were awarded
to Wenonah, sister of the chief, to the discomfiture of Harpstenah, her
opponent, an ill-favored woman, neglected by her tribe, and jealous of
Wenonah's beauty and popularity. This defeat, added to some fancied
slights, was almost more than she could bear, and during the contest she
had been cut in the head by one of the rackets--an accident that she
falsely attributed to her adversary in the game. She had an opportunity
of proving her hatred, for directly that it was known how Wenonah had
refused to marry Red Cloud, a stalwart boaster, openly preferring a
younger warrior of the tribe, the ill-thinking Harpstenah sought out the
disappointed suitor, who sat moodily apart, and thus advised him,
To-morrow is the Feast of Virgins, when all who are pure will sit at
meat together. Wenonah will be there. Has she the right to be? Have you
not seen how shamelessly she favors your rival's suit? Among the Dakotas
to accuse is to condemn, and the girl who is accused at the Virgins'
Feast is disgraced forever. She has shown for Red Cloud nothing but
contempt. If he shows no anger at it the girls will laugh at him.

With this she turned away and left Red Cloud to his meditations. Wenonah,
at the door of her brother's wigwam, looked into the north and saw the
stars grow pale through streams of electric fire. The Woman of the North
warns us of coming evil, muttered the chief. Some danger is near. Fire
on the lights! And a volley of musketry sent a shock through the still

They shine for me, said Wenonah, sadly. For I shall soon join our
father, mother, and sister in the land of spirits. Before the leaves fell
I sat beside the Father of Waters and saw a manitou rise among the waves.
It said that my sisters in the sunset world were calling to me and I must
soon go to them. The chief tried to laugh away her fancies and comforted
her as well as he might, then leading her to the wigwam he urged her to

Next day is the Virgins' Feast and Wenonah is among those who sit in the
ring, dressed in their gayest. None who are conscious of a fault may
share in the feast; nor, if one were exposed and expelled, might any
interpose to ask for mercy; yet a groan of surprise and horror goes
through the company when Red Cloud, stalking up to the circle, seizes the
girl roughly by the shoulder and orders her away. No use to deny or
appeal. An Indian warrior would not be so treacherous or unjust as to act
in this way unless he had proofs. Without a word she enters the adjacent
wood, draws her knife, and strikes it to her heart. With summer came the
fever, and it ravaged through the band, laying low the infant and the
counsellor. Red Cloud was the first to die, and as he was borne away
Harpstenah lifted her wasted form and followed him with dimming eyes,
then cried, He is dead. He hated Wenonah because she slighted him. I
hated her because she was happy. I told him to denounce her. But she was

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