Once upon a time, before the white men drove them away to Oklahoma, the Pawnee Indians lived in Nebraska, where their sworn enemies were the Sioux. There they lived all the time in villages, where they were skilled farmers and potters.
In one of the Pawnee villages lived a poor woman with her grandson Ku-suk-seia, which means 'left-hand'. She was a helpful old soul, and the boy was pleasant and friendly. Yet the two of them were not well thought of in the village, for while there was no shame in being poor, there was no glory either. And they had practically nothing: no horses, no cattle, nothing worth mentioning at all. Their clothes were clean enough, but much patched. When Ku-suk-seia's father had died in a hunting accident, he had no fine head-dresses to leave to his son. Even their tnt was small and badly placed, and when Hotoru the storm god swept over the prairie the modest shelter shivered on it's poles as if it might collapse at any moment.
As soon as the bison began to move in the autumn, the Pawnees went hunting. For the northern winter would be long and bitter, and before it came they must have enough dried fish, pemmican and bison skins to see them safely through till spring.
So when the chief gave the order to set off, the Pawnees gathered together their tents and everything they needed for the journey. Even the old woman and her grandson tied up their few belongings. THey had neither a mount or beast of burden, so they loaded their baggage on their own shoulders and trotted after the caravan of people.
They were so poor that their people would not let them join the caravan. Instead they trudge miserably along a little way away.
Humans can be very cruel, and the contempt of their people weighed heavier on the coupld than the burdens on their shoulders. The Great Spirit couldn't be very kindly disposed to them if he let them suffer so.
One fine morning the rest of the group left the campsite before the poor couple had gathered their belongings together. The onld woman and her grandson were nearly dying of hunger, so they searched through the site looking for cast-off food. At that moment a broken-down old bay horse slipped into the stockade on the same errand. Catching sight of them, the ond nag breathed in sharply, and snorted. But then he walked up to them and made friends, for the poor soon recognize the poor.
"Poor animal, said Ku-suk-seia. "I expect his owner got rid of him once he wasn't fit for work."
The poor creature was half-blind, deaf and lame. His ribs stuck out under his dull stained coat, which was covered with sores.
"What a pitiful sight," thouht the grandmother to herself. "
The poor creature is as useless as I am!" But the animal would not stray more than an inch from her side.
"Son of my son," she confided at last to her grandson. "We are going to keep this old nag and feed it. With the two of us already starving, a third poor wretch won't make much difference."
Ku-suk-seia and his grandmother began to load their baggage onto their shoulders. But the horse knelt down and began to whinny.
"Just look at that! laughed the boy. "I think he wants to make himself useful, the brave animal."
So he put the baggage on the horse's back, and the beast followed them at a gentle trot. limping all the time. The rest of the tribe had disappeared long ago, but the grandmother knew the way of the old.
That evening they reached the bend of the North plate, where the water Spirit Chahuru had hurled an enormous boulder into the river. Every year the Pawnees set up their main camp there before scattering across the prairie. The bison rarely strayed from their ancient trail, and so the migrating herds almost always passed through North Plate.
The rest of the Pawnees had set up camp on the river bank earlier. Souts had been sent ahead, and in the evening they returned.
"There is a big herd of bison moving westwards," they reported, "and a white female is close behind the leader of the herd."
This was exciting news. The skin of a white bison was the most precious thing an Indian of the prairies could imagine. White bisons were very rare, and no Pawnee had ever been known to fell one. The cheif of the Pawnees prayed a long prayer, calling on the helpful spirit Awahokshu and begging all the other good spirits to come to his aid.
"He who brings me the white skin hsall have the hand of my daughter,"he promised his people. Now the chief's daughter was the prettiest girl in the tribe and all the braves wanted to win her. Next morning, when the sun rose behind the boulders of hotoru, the hunters scattered far and wide over the prairie to hunt the white female.
Ku-suk-seia too mounted his skinny horse, but the warriors mocked him.
"Just look at the hot-headed steed, everyone!" they jeered. "Which is carrying which, the horse or the rider?" and they elbowed each other in the ribes, laughing fit to burst.
Their jeers cut Ku-suk-seia to the quick, but he did not show it. He lagged behind, partly to escape the other's taunts and partly because the old mount could go no faster. All alone they sauntered along through the high grasses of the prairie.
Suddlenly, the horse began to talk. "Take me to that little valley," he said. Ku-suk-seia was startled, but he obeyed. A talking horse was certainly out of the ordinary, but who knew what the Great Spirit might have in store? Soon they came to a stream.
"Cover me with mud!" the horse ordered his rider. "Not a tuft of hair must show, or the spell won't work."
Puzzled, Ku-suk-seia did as he was told.
"Now climb on my back," said the old nag. "But don't move yet. Let the hunters go on ahead."
The Pawnee warriors galloped after the bison in a cloud of dust. Then they split into two groups and rode off in different directions, to surround the bison and cut out some of the herd.
At that moment the old horse began to move. Hurling himself onwards like a tornado, he charged the herd from the side. The warriors watched open-mouthed. Wasn't that Ku-suk-seia on his blind old nag? What magic made it gallop fast as a prairie fire?
The horse forced its way straight to the white female. Ku-suk-seia/s spear shone in the morning light. He took aim calmly and hurled it with all his strength. The white bison sank to the ground as if struck by lightning, and the horse gave a whinny of victory.
Ku-suk-seia jumped down and dismembered the dead animal, while the rest of the herd fled in all directions. He loaded the meat to his mount, wraped himself in the white skin and rode back to the camp.
The news of his triumph had reached it ahead of him, and the chief was waiting in front of the main tepee.
"Awahokshu" was with you," said the chief kindly. "The spirit brought you luck, or you could never have felled the white bison. Give me the skin."
"All in good time," replied Ku-suk-seia. "First I must go to my grandmother, for she is hungry."
It was not a wise thing to say to a chief, and an angry gaze followed him as he rode over to his tepee. He unloaded the meat himself, though that was usually squaw's work.
"A miracle, a miracle!" cried his grandmother, clasping her hands. "H'uararu the earth spirit must have been with you, my brave boy. Now we shan't be hungry any more."
"Cook us some meat, grandmother," said Ku-suk-seia, "while I give this horse some water and something to eat. For a rider must see to his mount before he thinks of himself." The horse gave a whinny of contentment. When it had eaten it's fill, it watched Ku-suk-seia and his grandmother feasting on bison meat.
Before he went to bed, Ku-suk-seia walked over to stroke his mount.
"Tomorrow, at sunrise, the Sioux will attack the camp," said the horse. "Ride me right into the enemy. Have no fear, but kill the Sioux chief, and hurl yourself at the enemy three times. Nothing can hurt you. But after that turn back, or one of us will die."
Everything happened just as tht horse had said. At the first glimpse of dawn, the Sioux war cry rang out. An army of braves had surrounded the Pawnee camp.
The boy mounted his horse and rode fearlessly into the enemy ranks. Arrows and spears hailed down on him, but some unseen shield seemed to be protecting him. He rode up to the Sioux chief, brandished his tomahawk and killed the chief with a single blow.
Twice more he hurled himself on the enemy, killing many of the Sioux warriors. But he became over-confident, and forgot the horse's advice. A third time he spurred the horse on, and now the Sioux weapons met their mark. Riddled with arrows, the horse sank to the ground. Ku-suk-seia escaped, but his brave mount was dead.
When he reached his tent he threw himself down, beating the ground with his fists. Why, oh why hadn't he taken that advice? Now he had lost his companion forever.
The Sioux cut the magic horse into countless pieces, scattered them to the four winds, and fled.
Weeping, Ku-suk-seia searched the battlefield from top to bottom. He gathered up all the pieces and collected them in a heap on a hill. Then he sat down beside them and wrapped himself in the white bison skin. His heart breaking, he prayed to the Chikoos, the forces of nature. He called to Tirawa the Great Spirit and to the helpful Awahokshu. He cried to Shakuru the sun god, H'uararu the earth spirit and to Uti Hiata the harvest goddess, on who fruits his horse had fed. He prayed to the went god Hotoru and the water spirit Chahuru.
Suddenly the sky darkened. Lightning flashed across the clouds, and thunder rumbled. Huge water spouts gushed out across the prairie. The river rose, and a great storm raged. Volley of hailstones come crashing down. It even snowed; something unheard of at that time of the year. For three days and three nights Ku-suk-seia sat there under the skin of the white bison. Then at last the veil of blackness was torn apart, and darkness gave way to broad daylight. The sun shone in all it's brightness, and there in place of the scattered bones stood the bay horse, strong and healthy.
"Tirawa, the Great Spirit, has brought me back to life," he said to his master. "Why did you disobey me?"
"I forgot, and I am truly sorry," replied the boy. "Tell me what I must do."
"Promise to follow my counsel at all times, for it comes from the Great Spirit himself," said the horse.
The boy promised gladly. He handed the white skin over to his chief, and received the hand of his daughter. When the chief died, he himself became a famous chief. He followed the advice of the bay horse at all times, and ruled the Pawnees with great wisdom and skill.
At last Ku-suk-seia died. The Pawnees intoned their death chants, wrapped their chief in the white bison skins and laid him on the litter of the dead. But when the warriors went to find his mount, to kill him on the alter of the dead so that he could go to the Happy Hunting Grounds with his master, the bay horse had disappeared.