Yellowstone Valley and the Great Flood-A Native American Legend.
This is a recorded legend by Professor Hap Gilliland of Eastern Montana College via a mixture of some 15 legends he’d recorded from various parts of the world. This most universal legend has been told on the Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, Seminole camps from the Florida Everglades, Eskimos north of the Arctic Circle and Indians south of the Equator, Asia, Africa, Europe in North America and the South Pacific.
In 1995 I taught school at the Seneca Indian Reservation in Salamanca, New York. One day while I was sharing my excitement with the class that I was going to be working in Yellowstone Park the coming summer I was told this same legend by the entire class assisted through Mr. Pickup who served as an elder at the time and school counselor, as well as my mentor.
If you’ve ever visited areas of the Yellowstone Valley from Gardiner to Billings, you will no doubt connect to the value in the visual depictions and detail in the chosen names of places, all of which are on our modern maps of today. Many of which I can see from my office window as I complete this entry. If you’ve been following the Buffalo controversy in our backyard. may you also find some inspiration in these words.
This is the unedited version as recorded by Professor Gilliland:
He was an old Indian. His face was weather beaten, but his eyes were still bright. I never knew what tribe he was from, though I could guess. Yet others from whom I talked to had yet to hear his story.
We had been talking of the visions of the young men. He sat for a long time, looking out across the Yellowstone Valley through the pouring rain, before he spoke. “They are beginning to come back,” he said.
“Who is coming back?” I asked.
“The animals, he said. “It has happened before.”
“Tell me about it.’
He thought for a long while before he lifted his hands up to his eyes. “The Great Spirit smiled on this land when he made it.” There were mountains and plains, forests and grasslands. There were animals of many kinds–and men.”
The old man’s hands moved smoothly, telling the story more clearly than his voice.
The Great Spirit told the people, “These animals are your brothers. Share the land with them. They will give you food and clothing. Live with them and protect them.
“Protect especially the buffalo, for the buffalo will give you food and shelter. The hide of the Buffalo will keep you from the cold, from the heat, and from the rain. As long as you have the buffalo, you will never need to suffer.”
For many winters the people lived at peace with the animals and with the land. When they killed a buffalo, they thanked the Great Spirit, and they used every part of the buffalo. It took care of every need.
Then other people came. They did not think of the animals as brothers. They killed, even when they did not need food. They burned and cut the forests, and the animals died. They shot the buffalo and called it sport. They killed the fish in the streams.
When the Great Spirit looked down, he was sad. He let the smoke of the fires lie in the valleys. The people coughed and choked, but still they burned and killed.
So, the Great Spirit sent rains to put out the fires and to destroy the people.
The rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded valleys to the higher land. Spotted Bear, the medicine man, gathered together his people. He said to them, “The Great Spirit has told us that as long as we have the buffalo we will be safe from heat and cold and rain. But there are no longer any buffalo. Unless we can find buffalo and live at peace with nature, we will all die.”
Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded plains to the hills.
The young men went out and hunted for the buffalo. As they went, they put out the fires. They made friends with the animals once more. They cleaned out the streams.
Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded hills to the mountains. Two young men came to Spotted Bear. “We have found the buffalo,” they said.
“There was a cow, a calf, and a great white bull. The cow and the calf climbed up to the safety of the mountains. They should be back when the rain stops. But the bank gave way, and the white bull was swept away by the flood waters. We followed and got him to shore, but he had drowned. We have brought you his hide.”
They unfolded the white buffalo skin.
Spotted Bear took the white buffalo hide. “Many people have been drowned,” he said. “Our food has been carried away. But our young people are no longer destroying the world that was created for them. They have found the white buffalo. It will save those who are left.
Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded mountains to the highest peaks.
Spotted Bear spread the white buffalo skin on the ground. He and the other medicine men scraped it and stretched it, and scraped it and stretched it.
Still the rains fell. Like all rawhide, the buffalo skin stretched when it was wet. Spotted bear stretched it out over the villiage. All the people who were left crowded under it.
As the rains fell, the medicine men stretched the buffalo across the mountains. Each day they stretched it farther.
Then spotted Bear tied one corner to the top of the Big Horn Mountains. That side he fastened to the Pryors. The next corner he tied to the Bear Tooth Montains. Crossing the Yellowstone Valley, he tied one corner to the Crazy Mountains, and the other to Signal Butte in the Bull Mountains.
The whole Yellowstone Valley was covered by the white buffalo skin. Though the rains still fell from above, it did not fall in the Yellowstone Valley.
The waters sank away. Animals from the outside moved into the valley, under the white buffalo skin. The people shared the valley with them.
Still the rains fell above the buffalo skin. The skin stretched and began to sag.
Spotted Bear stood on the Bridger Mountains and raised the west end of the buffalo skin to catch the West Wind. The West Wind rushed in and was caught under the buffalo skin. The wind lifted the skin until it formed a Great Dome over the valley.
The great spirit saw that the people were living at peace with the earth. The rains stopped, and the sun shone. As the sun shone on the white buffalo skin, it gleamed with colors of red, yellow and blue.
As the sun shone on the rawhide, it began to shrink. The end of the Dome shrank away until all that was left was one Great Arch across the valley.
The old man’s voice faded away; but his hands said, “Look”, and his arms moved toward the valley.
The rain had stopped and the rainbow arched across the Yellowstone Valley. A buffalo calf and it’s mother grazed beneath it.
From my research, chances of a white buffalo being born are something like 1 in 60 million. In Wisconsin on a small hobby farm one was born in 1994. Although considered “domesticated”, the buffalo from the farm were never cross-bred with domestic cattle. This story made national news, especially amongst Native American Peoples.
To close, it is from these things that I see out there, these words, these legends and the reality of the place I’ve found myself that I plan to do all I can to see the wild buffalo to return again to the Yellowstone Valley. Thank you again for all your comments and support, and for the wisdom in your stories.
“See You on the Mountain”
Jimmy “JB” Klyap, Dome Mountain RanchTags: Bison, Buffalo, Buffalo Controversy, Lakota Legends, Native American Legend, Paradise Valley Buffalo in Montana, Yellowstone Bison, Yellowstone Buffalo | Categories: Controversial Issues, Hunter Ethics, Uncategorized | Comments (0) | Permalink