The Virgins' Feast





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

air.



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

sleep.



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

innocent.





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