They had made camp nearly a week before. The old men said the signs
were good for this place. There was an abundance of water, firewood and game.
The grass was still green even though it was late in the season. The tipis had
been set up in order and the camp had taken on the bustle of a village. Hunting
parties had been sent out into the surrounding plains and much meat had been
taken. Hides were being tanned, the women singing as they worked. In and around
the tipis the children ran and laughed and played. The signs had been right.
This was a good camp.
Plans were being made for a dance to thank the Great Spirit for
supplying the tribe with such a bountiful harvest, but one morning the people
awoke to a strange sight. In the east the sun was blood-red and strange clouds
were swirling about even though there was no apparent wind blowing. The old men
could not remember ever having seen such a thing. Scouts were sent to the east
to check the countryside, if perhaps a fire was sweeping the country or to see
if they could tell what was occurring. One by one the scouts reported back that
the further east they went the stranger the sky became until, overcome by
feelings of impending evil, they turned and came back to the camp.
All that day dark clouds raced across the sky from east to west, in
contradiction of the normal flow of the winds. Thunders were heard, strange long
deep and distant. The young children hung on their mother’s skirts and babies
whimpered in the tipis. The warriors were restless while the old men gathered to
pray and seek counsel. That night the tribe huddled close as the old men sat
around the fire chanting and praying. Suddenly one of the elders leaped to his
feet, crying, “AIEEE!” and standing suddenly still, he began to weep.
“What is it grandfather?” the younger men asked. For a time the old
man stood there, tears running down his face, and then he said, “The Father in
heaven is sad. Something is happening that I do not understand. But I know He is
sad. I feel it.”
A feeling of dread quickly spread through the people. Even the
dogs, many of which had been quietly whining, became quiet. If the Great Spirit
was sad, who knew what could happen? Fear began to grow.
That night the old men stayed around the fire, singing, praying and
imploring for help. In the tipis there was little sleep. Normally a happy
people, the whole tribe was affected by the atmosphere of uncertainty. Sometime
after the moon had risen there was a very loud clap of thunder from the sky that
shook the very land. All the people were awake and outside of their tipis almost
instantly. What was happening?
Then, about an hour before dawn, the moon and the stars
disappeared! Blackness descended upon the camp. Even the campfire did not give
out its normal glow; the light acting like it was having a hard time penetrating
the darkness. Babies cried, dogs whimpered and young men found themselves
shaking. The unknown was stalking the land. The thick darkness persisted until
well after the time the sun should have risen. It was a darkness that could
almost be felt. And then, without warning, the earth heaved and shook. Women
screamed in terror. The ground seemed alive as it rolled and shook. Men fell to
the earth looking for something solid to hang on to.
And as suddenly as it had come, it stopped. Almost at that same
instant the darkness was gone! There was no fading from darkness to light. One
moment it was as dark as the inside of a cave and the next moment it was bright.
Everyone stood blinking in the light, frightened, wondering what would come
next, but somehow thankful that the hated darkness was gone, glad that the sun
But what a strange day! No birds were singing. In fact, no birds
were flying. The normal noises of the prairie were nowhere to be heard. A
dreadful silence hung on the land, making the people almost afraid to speak out
loud. The old man who had spoken at the first now stood sobbing by the campfire.
The entire camp came around him, wondering. Slowly he began to speak, his words
broken by the deep sobbing that moved his entire body. “The chief is dead,” he
“Grandfather,” one of the men asked, “How can that be?
The chief is sitting here by the fire.” “Not our chief.” the old man replied.
“The Great Chief of the whole earth has died.” Voices murmured through the
crowd, wondering, questioning. How could such a thing be? “He is dead.” was all
the old man would say when he was questioned further and this brought great
sadness to the tribe. What would happen to the earth if the Great Chief of the
Earth was dead?
The next several days went by slowly. Strange days. No wind blew.
No birds were seen flying or heard singing. No game was seen on the
prairie. No clouds were seen in the sky and the sun did not seem to shine
with its full strength. At night the stars were dim and the moon did not
give off its normal light. It was as if the earth were holding its breath.
Late one night, on the third evening since the old man had
announced the Chief’s death, about the time that most of the tribe would
be sleeping in their tipis, a brilliant light rose up over the horizon to
the east and spread across the night sky to the west! The people had never
before seen such a light display. The light awoke those who were asleep.
The colors were brilliant, golds and green and red and blue, deep and
rich. And sounds! It sounded like thousands of people singing … far off
though not faint. It was the sound of happiness. And though the sight was
strange it did not bring fear to the hearts of the people. Instead they
felt a wonderful kind of joy! Rushing to the campfire they found the elder
standing with his arms upraised and tears running down his face.
“Grandfather! Grandfather!” they cried, “What is it?” Smiling, laughing,
he shouted, “HE’S ALIVE! HE’S ALIVE!” “Who?” they all questioned, “Who is
alive?” and the old man answered, “THE CHIEF OF THE WHOLE EARTH! HE’S
Wondering they crowded around the old man. How could such a thing
be? It was never heard that one returned from the dead! How could the
Chief of the Whole Earth who had died, now return from the dead? It was a
great mystery. But … SOMETHING had happened! They could feel it and see
it. The stars were brighter than they had ever been before. They had all
seen the strange light and heard the sounds of singing from the skies.
Something HAD happened! The oppressive darkness, the horrible stillness of
the last few days was gone! “Tell us about it grandfather. Please.” they
requested of the old man.
“All I know is what I have seen,” said the old man. “The Great
Chief died, but He is now alive again. I have seen the signs.” The people
stood, listening respectfully. “What does it mean, Grandfather?” one of
the young men asked. “It means life for the earth. It means life for the
tribes,” the old man replied. “More than that I do not know.”
The people stayed around the fire until late in the night, talking
and discussing all the strange events of the last week. Eventually they
drifted off to their beds and their sleep was more restful than it had
been for some time. In the morning the birds were flying and singing,
animals were seen on the prairie, clouds were soaring in the skies again
and a gentle breeze was blowing.
They remained camped there on the prairie for another week until
the old men felt it was time to move. As they packed to leave all the
people agreed, this was sacred ground. While they would never camp there
again, they would visit it every season from then on, remembering the time
of signs. Offerings of thanksgiving to the Great Spirit would be made.
Maybe a sacred dance would be held.
Stories of the strange days and nights would be told around the
campfires of succeeding generations and speculation about what it all
meant would consume hours of conversation. Who knew? Perhaps one day
someone would come who could explain it all? Until that time, they would