Ghost Dancer - Part 2

Continued from Ghost Dancer - Part 1

 Source: North American Indian
Edward S. Curtis (1907)

Ghost Dancer - Part 2

Running Bear, one of the braves from the Many Lodges tribe, returns from a deer hunt early and rides hard into the Apsáalooke village.

“The enemy is four suns over Heart Mountain, and they are many numbers, come to steal horses and women.”

 “Ride to where you began, Running Bear. We come behind. When you know where the Lakota camp, return to find us in your tracks. You will lead us to them,” Chief Many Coups tells him.

After Running Bear gets a fresh horse and provisions, he heads back the way he came.

Then the chief turns to the gathered tribe and calls, "Men, prepare your hair.  Ready your paints. We soon battle the enemy. Let us dance for victory." 

War drums begin their tattoo and the men, who have dressed in battle garments, gather in front of the medicine lodge in a dance ceremony to prepare for battle. 

Bringing the sacred pipe, Fox With Bushy Tail prays to the Four Directions, then walks to the chief and holds the pipe to his lips. When the chief exhales, the smoke drifts to the South, an omen of good luck. The gathered men sing “A-hó! A-hó! A-hó!” and begin the sun dance inside a loose circular fence made of brush set up for that purpose. The soft moccasin soles on their feet raise a cloud of dust around them as they thump the ground with determination.

Fox With Bushy Tail draws smoke from the pipe, and passes it to his son, who does the same. The sacred pipe makes its way around the circle of warriors, each adding his prayer to the sun. 

Chief Many Coups begins to sing a battle song. As he sings, he lay his medicine on a deerskin, item by item, beginning with a small twig of pine.

“I look to the sun, and there I see many trees,” the chief sings as the pipe is passed around.

Next, he places eagle feathers beside the twig.

“I look to the sun, and there I see seven eagles in a tall tree.”

The chief lays the head of a mole on the deerskin.

“I look to the sun and there I see owl with horns swoop to capture the moles on the plain.”

“I look to the sun and I see the swift snake strike to steal the mole from the owl.”

With the final item, the skin of a snake, is in place to make his powerful medicine , the chief joins the men in the sun dance, his moccasins showing more determination than any.

Fox With Bushy Tail squats on the deerskin in the middle of the dancing warriors and fastens the items together, tying the pine, feathers and mole head together with the skin of the snake. As he works, the drums and dancers increase their tempo, and the notes of a wood flute join in. When Fox With Bushy Tail stands, drums and dancers come to a sudden stop, and Chief Many Coups moves to stand on the deerskin where his medicine had been. 

Chanting a prayer to the Winds, Fox With Bushy Tail places the medicine on the chief’s head, and ties it with a strip of deerskin tanned white. Then he steps aside.

Black Bear walks to the center of the circle, where the chief stands waiting. This is an honor he has earned because his vision quest was successful, and it is one he takes very seriously. One by one, he places five feathers of the black crow into the chief’s headdress, chanting a plea to the sun for a successful battle. Then he rejoins the circle of men.

As the medicine man Yellow Tail opens the pouch of blessed medicine he carries to paint the chief’s face, each of the warriors draw from the medicine pouch they wear around their neck and paint their own faces. Yellow pollen, crushed shell and stone, flower petals, and the blood from animals are used to make paints of different colors, which the men smear onto their faces in patterns.

At last Chief Many Coups announces, “I look to the sun and there I see victory. Take many moccasins. We leave to meet the enemy. Do not talk, but think of victory.”

Black Bear thinks of his vision, and wonders if this is the time.

A hopeful Black Bear rides to battle with his father and the other warriors. The scout Running Bear meets them along the way. He's located the marauding Lakota and reports as the moon rises. 

“They make camp at Many Rocks Creek.”

Squatting on the ground, Running Bear draws on the ground with a stick, describing what he knows.

That night, the warriors surprise the Lakota as they sleep. Thanks to the information Running Bear brings them, they are able to sneak into the camp without being seen by Lakota lookouts. After a fierce battle, the enemy has lost many braves and turned back. Though a few Crow warriors die, the tribe emerges victorious.

Upon their return, Fox With Bushy Tail calls the members of his clan, ássakkĕ, to the front of his lodge for a celebration.

“We have turned back the enemy. Rejoice with me, my brothers and sisters. My son has shown great bravery this day. He has counted coup, and taken an enemy’s horse.”

These were words the young brave had longed to hear. His heart swells. Counting coup is good; taking a horse from an enemy warrior is even better. His relatives raise their voices and sing his praises as they dance around the clearing. 

Then his uncle, Hunts with Wolves, pulls Black Bear to the center of the group and sings out.

“From this day forth, he is known as Many Eagle Feathers. Bring presents.”

Black Bear -- Many Eagle Feathers! -- is overjoyed. Many Eagle Feathers was the father of his father's father, and was known for great bravery.

After everyone has eaten and the celebration winds down, the clan members gather around a great blaze and share stories. Warriors tell of the battle. When it’s Many Eagle Feathers’ turn to speak, he counts coup for the first time.  And for the first time, he feels like a man, especially when he sees the pride glowing on the faces of Wind That Sings and Fox With Bushy Tail. But when he turns to his mother, he is uncertain just what he sees on her face.  Made to Lead looks at him carefully, and seems to be waiting for something more. 

He knows then that this is the time to tell his clan what he must do. As Black Bear begins to share his vision, he  worries about how his clan will react.  He hopes that the bravery of his ancestor Many Eagle Feathers will be with him as he speaks.


“Go with pride and bravery, Many Eagle Feathers,” his mother says to him when he makes his farewell. “Soon is the day you were made to live.”

When Many Eagle Feathers leaves his mother and father, his wife Wind That Sings, and his infant son Comes With Thunder behind with the clan, he feels loss. It is difficult, but as he goes, he knows it is the right thing. His spirit guide’s message was clear. He consoles himself with the knowledge that, after a month of suns while he learns the white man’s ways, he will return at the setting sun often to spend darkness with the clan.

Many Eagle Feathers joins his cousin White Swan to begin his service as batsĭk-ya to the white man’s army. They serve with the infantry, scouting for Rides with Stiff Back, their private name for the white Army man who calls himself Lieutenant Varnum.
Riding with White Swan into the mountains one day, he shares his vision with his cousin, and tells him what his mother and the Council of Elders said.

“My vision was the same,” White Swan declares. “It is clear, my cousin. The Great Spirit has bestowed special blessings on us.”

As he speaks, White Swan shoves back the hat the white man makes him to wear in annoyance. 

“Except for these ridiculous clothes the Great Spirit has provided  for us to wear.” 

Many Eagle Feathers joins him in laughter.

Both scouts are dressed in a wild approximation of a Cavalry uniform. Combined with their breech cloth, buckskin leggings, and moccasins, they wear outdated and ill-fitting Army jackets. Their long braids hang from beneath hats from which the crowns have been ripped out and which are adorned with feathers and other clan symbols.

Many Eagle Feathers suddenly draws his horse up, and holds his hand up. They hear the soft snuffle of a horse coming from around a rocky outcropping ahead on the trail. The two scouts sit motionless, listening carefully, until they hear the sound of the blue jay’s song. White Swan purses his lips and makes an answering call, and within minutes, Curley, another Crow scout, comes from around the outcropping and joins them.

Kaheé,” the braves greet each other.

“Come now, ride with me. A Sioux village lies ahead,” Curley tells the two cousins. 

The three scouts ride through the mountains until they reach an overlook they call Crow’s Nest. Curley stops them short and gestures toward the edge.

Source: North American Indian
Edward S. Curtis (1907)
“There,” he whispers. “Look below.”

The scouts dismount and, moving close to the ground, being careful not to dislodge any loose rocks that would announce their presence, creep forward to the edge. Below, in the big plain of the Greasy Grass River, they can see a large Sioux encampment with hundreds of lodges. 

Many Eagle Feathers draws in a breath. “I’ve seen no bigger.”

There are not many braves, but many women and children move about the village.

“Where are the men?” Curley says, looking sharply at the others. “There are many not here. Come, we must sound a warning.”


When the scouts return to Rides with Stiff Back’s camp and describe the Sioux village, the white officer finds their report hard to believe.

“Are you sure? Hundreds of lodges? How can that be?” 

“It is so,” Curley responded as the other two scouts nodded their agreement.

"There will be many warriors,” Many Eagle Feathers said. “Too many.”

Varnum assembled his group of scouts and guides. Among them are several more Crow, scouts from the Sahnish Arikara tribe, and one white scout, a man called Charlie Reynolds. 

“General Custer is camped at Yellowstone River, a three-day ride,” he said. “We must leave immediately to report what you’ve seen, and let him decide the best course of action.”

As the column begins to move forward, the other Crow scouts -- White Man Runs Him, Goes Ahead, Hairy Moccasin, and Half Yellow Face -- move to join Many Eagle Feathers, Curley, and White Swan.  The seven Crow’s eyes meet and in Apsáalooke tongue, which the white man doesn’t understand, Many Eagle Feathers says softly, “The ‘best course of action’ is to leave.”

To be continued in Ghost Dancer - Part 3.


Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory


  1. I am really enjoying this a lot, Patti. The characterisation is spot on and I love the names. Well done!

  2. This has a problem you've identified in a lot of my work, actually. It's more of an observation piece, rather than anything truly character-oriented (so far, anyway... on to part 3!).

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