25.BIG CHIEF’S CONQUEST

Once in the long ago there lived a great warrior named Milkanops. He lived in a land of high, rocky mountains, and to the far north there lived a tribe of fierce, warlike Indians who were the enemies of his tribe. Many battles were fought between the two tribes, but Milkanops always won. At last, one autumn day, they fought from sunrise to sunset, and although Milkanops won the victory once more, he received his death wound. The poisoned arrow pierced his side just as the battle was won.

His warriors carried him to his lodge and laid him on his couch of deerskins.

“Send for my son,” he told them. “Send for Aseelkwa.” At once they brought the young warrior to his father’s side.

“My boy,” said the dying chief, “I have been called to the happy hunting ground, and soon my spirit will be wandering with the happy ones there. Before I go, I wish to ask one thing of you. Promise me that you will not be a warrior as I have been, but will live to be a great chief, for that is what your name means,—Aseelkwa, Big Chief. Yonder to the north are enemies, and they will want you to go to war with them, as I have done many times. Do not listen to their challenges, but try to keep peace between the tribes and make your tribe great and good, rather than strong and warlike.”

The young boy, weeping, promised his father to obey his commands, and not long after, the spirit of Milkanops started on its journey to the happy hunting ground.

As the months went by the enemies of Aseelkwa made many attempts to engage in war with him and his tribe, but to all of these challenges he gave no reply. A few years went by, and now the young boy was a full-grown warrior, but he did not call himself one. To all who spoke of him as a warrior, he would make answer that he was a chief and would not engage in battle. His enemies could not entice him, so they said he was a coward, and taunted him and said he was afraid to fight them.

One day one of the wise men came to Aseelkwa and said, “Oh, Big Chief, Hahola, the Rattlesnake, is a traitor. He has told our enemies that you are indeed a coward, as they say you are, and they have planned to attack our camp when the moon has faded to a narrow band in the sky.”

“And Hahola, is he going to help them?” asked the chief, in a stern voice.

“Yes, O Great Chief. He will let them know when you are fast asleep in your lodge. Then, in the darkness, they will surround it and take you prisoner.”

“It is well you have told me,” said the chief. “Now I must fast and dream and see what I am to do.”

So for nine days he fasted and dreamed. Then, after that time, he called his medicine men and said, “I have fasted and dreamed, and in my dreams I saw the spirit of my father Milkanops. He told me that I must not fight these enemies, but that I and my tribe must journey to the far south and there find a new hunting ground.”

Early the next morning Aseelkwa and the tribe set out on their journey. For many days and many nights they travelled. They crossed rivers and climbed steep hills, and at length they reached a land where the hills were lower and greener than their rocky mountains had been. In front of them lay a very long, narrow valley with low hills on either side, and, just behind these, there rose one larger than the others, a tall, rocky mountain.

“In my dreams,” said Aseelkwa, “I saw this long, narrow valley and that tall hill, and the spirit of my father told me that here we must make our new camp and hunt in these green hills.”

The Indians were glad to know they had reached the end of their journey, for they were footsore and weary. Quickly they built their lodges on the hillside and went forth in search of food.

That night Aseelkwa called his medicine men to go with him to the top of the high hill, and there hold a council. He knew that Hahola, the Rattlesnake, would have told of their departure, and by this time the northern Indians would be well on their way in pursuit. Aseelkwa seated himself at the foot of a tall pine-tree, and the medicine men placed themselves in a circle around him. The night was dark, for the moon was only a narrow band in the sky. They had made no fire, for fear their enemies might see it. Scarcely had Aseelkwa begun to speak when a slight noise was heard. It sounded like some loosened stones falling down the mountain side. At once every warrior was on his feet and peering through the darkness.

“Look,” said Aseelkwa. “There at the foot of the hill creeps away Hahola, the Rattlesnake. Our enemies are in hiding. Let us go down to them.”

Down the hill they came, but before they reached the bottom, from behind every pine-tree and every stone there leaped a warrior, with fiendish yells. Out rang the war-whoop of Aseelkwa, and from every lodge there sprang forth the warriors who had fought for Milkanops, his father. Then, in the darkness, there followed a terrible battle. Many warriors fell on both sides, struck down with tomahawks. For some time it seemed as if the enemy must win. Then, little by little, Aseelkwa’s army began to drive them back. At last they had them at the entrance to the narrow valley, and there was fought the fiercest part of the battle. But at last the enemy were forced out of the valley, and once in the open, they turned and vanished in the darkness. During this last fight Aseelkwa had been missing, and now his warriors began to search for him among the wounded. At last they found him, and there at his side lay Hahola, dead.

“Lift me up,” said Aseelkwa, “and carry me to the high hill, and there lay me under the pine-tree.” They did as he commanded, and after they laid him down he turned to them and spoke in a very weak voice.

“My warriors,” he said, “in a few moments my spirit shall have gone to join that of my fathers in the happy hunting grounds. I dreamed of this battle, and everything has been just as I dreamed. Our enemies are defeated, and Hahola, the traitor, is dead. Bury him where he fell in the valley. By morning you will find that the Great Spirit has placed a barrier between you and your enemies, over which they can never cross. And remember, my brave warriors, that although I am not with you, that always shall the spirit of Aseelkwa watch over his tribe. You shall fight no more battles, but instead shall cultivate and make fruitful these hills.”

Then he sank back upon the grass, and his spirit passed to the happy hunting grounds.

The warriors buried him where he lay, and then, as he had commanded them, buried Hahola in the narrow valley. When the sun rose next morning, they knew what Aseelkwa had meant, for where the valley had been the night before, there now was a long, narrow lake, whose still, blue waters told nothing of its great depth, for in the centre of this lake, just where Hahola was buried, there is no bottom to be found. Then the warriors looked up on the high hill, and again they knew what Aseelkwa had meant. For, from the topmost point of the high rock, Aseelkwa’s face, carved in stone, looked down over the lake and valley. There, calm and serene and peaceful, it still watches over the hills that have been made fruitful, over the tribe that is always at peace, and over the lake whose deep, blue waters are always ready to frown on the canoes of their enemies.