Do Not Take What Is Not Yours

There is a small community within the boundaries of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux (Dakota) Reservation in northeast Montana.  It was tight knit and the people were transitioning from the Dakota way of life to American society.  However, elders, both men and women, still had the stories, myths, and legends from long ago.

One day long ago, old man and his wife were doing what they do every day, tending the garden while old man was on the porch with his slingshot, shooting gophers as they popped their heads up and out of their holes.  Old man was a crack shot, and he was knocking them out, even killing some.

The wind picked up fast and hot and they both looked up, a thunderstorm had just arrived as quickly as it takes a hungry man to eat breakfast. Old man got up, walked out to old woman, and helped her gather her things from the garden.  Bright and loud, they heard a loud boom; a bolt of lightning had struck. Old man and old woman were both lying there unconscious. Old woman got up, crawled over to old man, but he was unconscious yet still breathing.

Old man woke up. As he looked around, he noticed he was not at his house. Trying to get his bearings, he looked up and saw four figures, white, red, black, and yellow figures of men that appeared to be on horses. To the Dakota they were known as Wakiyan Wakan, or Thunder Beings, spirits that brought rain, life, thunder, and lightning.

It seemed as if they were blurred, as if the wind was blowing smoke from a fire around and these cloud-like figures never showed themselves as an entire person. Old man asks where he was, silence was their response, which seemed like forever. Old man then heard a low rumbling of thunder and to his surprise he understood them. They were asking for his help, which surprised him, as they were Thunder Beings. They told him that they had been watching him for some time now and knew that he was a crack shot with his sling shot.

They told him an Unktehi was still in the area. This Unktehi, which the Dakota say is a large snake-like creature with two large horns, lives in the Missouri River and sleeps in the badlands. With thunder rumbling old man was told that this Unktehi’s time had passed.  During this era of reservation life, most of the Dakota people were going away from their ancestral teachings, as stories like this were not being passed down as they had in the past.

He knew what they meant and that was to kill the Unktehi, telling him that if he did this for them he could take the horns and grind them down to use as medicine. He would be a healer who would be sought out by many. He remembered the stories of the healers amongst his people when he was a child. Old man agreed. Lightning struck. At his feet, were seven galls or bulbs, those small round things at the base of a cottonwood leaf.

Old man picked them up and noticed the Thunder Being walking so he made haste. They stopped. One of them, the black colored one, waved his hand and the clouds just opened up. Old man saw the home of the Unktehi. Nervously old man thought to himself, what if I miss? What would happen to old woman? Old man became frightened. However, old man knew that he would be able to hit it.

Old man took a deep breath. Looking down he saw the Unktehi peek its head out of its hole, looking around as if it knew something was wrong. Snap went the sling shot. To his surprise, when the bulb hit the ground, it was a bolt of lightning. Old man had missed. Taking a deep breath, he tried again. Again. Each time it hit around the hole of the Unktehi as it peeked out and back in, as if it was taunting him.

Old man noticed that he was running low on the bulbs and began to worry. Thinking to himself that he was as good as he thought he was with his slingshot. With his last one, he took an even deeper breath. He let loose. He timed it out right. The Unktehi peeked out, dust was everywhere. Old man had hit it as it landed halfway out of its home, letting out a loud screech that sounded like a helicopter.

Old man looked to the Wakiyan Wakans, with loud booming thunder he knew that they had thanked him. The red one pointed to the Unktehi and said to old man, “Those horns are yours, use them and help the people and your family will be well treated by us and others of long ago from now on, go and get them.”

The white one, waved his hand and old man collapsed. When he awoke old woman was there by him, he felt her arms around him and began to hear her gentle voice. He got up and they walked back to the house. Old man told her what had happened and that he did not know if it was a dream or not.

Regardless, they hitched up their wagon and started for where he had seen the home of the Unktehi. As they approached, a lot of people were gathered around the Unktehi and the horns were gone. Old man and old woman just turned back and went home.

Later he had heard stories of a man who did wonders as a healer and was known throughout Indian Country. However, his descendants paid for his mistake in taking what is not his and therefore it is said that they have weak bones and they break easily. Therefore, you should never take what is not yours.

Calvin First is a student at Fort Peck Community College.

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