A True Ghost Story …Stone Buffalo Man
A little background: This story began in August 2007 during one of my family's cross-country road trips.
We decided to break for camp in the badlands of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota... and that night I had a very long detailed dream about a stone buffalo and rider.
The next morning, I found fresh buffalo dung outside our tent, so I know for certain a buffalo roamed around us while we slept. If the buffalo was accompanied by a spirit, I'll never know for sure.
The entire story I'm about to tell from its absolute beginning to its bitter end came to me in the stone buffalo dream. I haven't changed a thing. And it's written as it was shown to me in Plains Indian storytelling fashion.
Since the Stone Buffalo story was given to me I can't quite claim it as my own, nor can it be claimed by any man who walks the earth.
Stone Buffalo Man might just be a legend in the making as his spirit demands.
So begins his story starting with his original human channel, Chief Always Smoke....
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Stone Buffalo Man
Over a hundred years ago when the people grew weary of their battle to preserve the old ways, Chief Always Smoke had a vision of a stone buffalo and rider.
He said the stone buffalo rider blew a white dust from his hand, and when the cloud settled, Chief Always Smoke saw a herd of buffalo gathered on the horizon.
The rider told him to tell the people they should not hold hate in their hearts, and that many years will pass, but one day, the people will live freely on the plains again.
He then offered Chief Always Smoke his story to pass on to future generations to give them hope.
This is the original story Stone Buffalo Man gave Chief Always Smoke:
Long before battles with white men...
two young brothers named Chasing Fog and Lame Heart listened closely as their mother told them about the end of the world.
They huddled together by a small fire that shot up a yellow flame,and to the boys delight, the mellow glow got caught in their mother's shiny black hair and danced around it while she spoke.
"Inside a hidden cave, the black dog watches."Mother said with wide eyes. "He watches and waits for the old woman to put down the blanket strip she's been decorating for thousands of years with porcupine quills. He knows soon the old woman will have to go gather more quills to finish her work, and when she leaves, he will steal some of the quills already in place. He does this, every chance he gets."
"But," Lame Heart gasped. "How will the old woman finish?"
His brother groaned.
"Will you grow up to be nothing but a fool? It is the black dog's purpose, Lame Head." Chasing Fog already heard this story.
Mother stoked the fire and waited for Lame Heart to defend himself, but he didn't, so she continued...
"One day, the old woman will finish her blanket strip because one day, the big black dog will choke and die on his stolen prizes. And when the old woman's blanket is finished, that is the day the world will end."
Lame Heart spoke quietly, afraid his question would be mocked again, "Does the dog eat porcupine quills?"
Chasing Fog listened closely, out of curiosity.
"No," Mother said, "The quills are the spirits of human beings. It's said once you pass through to the other side, you will never return from the land of the dead."
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"That's Death?" asked Chasing Fog who doubled over laughing, "Passing through the bowels of a dog?"
Mother gently covered Chasing Fog's mouth.
"It is an honor to return to the earth and be reborn in the wind and soil, but if you foul the body in such a way Earth Mother would reject it, all memory of that person's existence will be wiped out," she said.
The boys' jaws hung low in disbelief until Mother smiled and pushed them off to play awhile before bed.
Chasing Fog always ran after things impossible to catch; this made him strong, but cruel.
Lame Heart was always sick, so he sat around a lot and waited for things to come to him. Even rabbits didn't fear him; this made him weak, but kind.
In the village there was also a girl named Spirit Song.
Since she was born, her cries came in rhythm like the songs of ancestors. The elders told her father to name her Spirit Song, so everyone in the village would know she was special, and not to be harmed or frightened in any way, or else her song would be wasted on carelessness.
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Of course, by the time Chasing Fog grew into a strong and brave young man with many buffalo skins to prove his skill as a hunter, the idea of taking Spirit Song as a sorceress wife consumed his mind with possibilities, so he pursued her without shame.
However, Spirit Song already set her mind on another man, but she could not get rid of her present suitor. For years, Chasing Fog haunted her every move. He even followed her when she went to the river to bathe.
Finally, when Spirit Song had enough of his relentless pursuit. She decided to humiliate his determination from him.
One day as she sat among friends sewing a pair of moccasins, she let out a long loud sigh.
Her friends looked at her nervously, worried she might soon break into tears.
Chasing Fog was on the situation in a flash.
"Spirit Song, have you hurt yourself?" he asked.
"No," she said. "This hide is so rough, and I don't have the strength it takes to make softer suede. I'm afraid these moccasins will be very hard on my feet."
"I will make you a hide as soft as your skin," Chasing Fog boasted, "Let me touch your cheek, to know what real softness feels like."
Spirit Song's lashes fell gently over her eyes. She tilted her head and offered Chasing Fog a whisper of her flesh. All she felt was the wind as Chasing Fog took off in a hurry.
Everyone had a good laugh at his expense. Chasing Fog's wild eyed stare, and outreached trembling hand made him look like a prairie dog under coyote's paw. His arrogance had been clearly halted by Spirit Song's charm.
That night, Spirit Song walked across a moonlit prairie to celebrate her freedom when she realized she was still not alone.
From the depths of a coulee came a voice singing a song she knew.
It was a healing song, but it didn't come from any familiar medicine man. She followed it to the edge of a great drop, yet found nothing.
Her voice rose up to join the tune, and as she did, it became obvious where to follow it.
The song led her down the slope to a stream where she found Lame Heart sitting on the dry bank with a bull calf resting its head on his lap while he sang.
Lame Heart caught Spirit Song's gaze, but he continued to sing. Only when their song finished did they dare speak.
"He's been injured by a stray arrow and the wound is hot," Lame Heart told her, "It's said you are a sorceress. Can you heal him?"
She placed one hand over the wound, then took Lame Heart's hand and placed it over hers, and together, they sang the healing song.
The night became dark after the moon slipped over the horizon. The bull calf struggled to his feet and walked away like he'd never been wounded.
"Thank you, Spirit Song. He will be fine now," Lame Heart said, "We can go."
He got up to leave, but was stopped. Spirit Song held his arm. He could see the usual look of wanting in her eyes, but his brother already claimed her. He didn't want to get involved, and pulled away.
"Lame Heart, why don't you like me?" she asked. Her eyes filled with tears and sparkled in the starlight. "You have always touched me with your kindness. Together we will bring magic to the people. Please take me as a wife."
"Chasing Fog is strong. I can't give you the fine life you deserve," he said without owning his words. "You will be my brother's wife. I will not stand in his way."
Spirit Song did not cry. She walked away quietly singing the song of healing to mend her own broken heart.
At the top of the hill, Chasing Fog sat hidden by shadow. His anger grew from his belly, and settled in his throat where he kept it trapped. Spirit Song gave his brother her love. She would never really be his, even if he stole her away from home.
Lame Heart always waited, and in time, everything Chasing Fog ever wanted eventually ended up in the hands of his brother.
This enraged Chasing Fog, so he went off to settle the matter with vengeance.
He spent the night tracking down the bull calf, and in his fury he slaughtered the beast in the ancient way. He cut the calf's jaw from its head and butchered it with its own bones.
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By sunrise, Chasing Fog, bloody from scraping the calf's flesh from its hide, made his way to the river to clean and prepare the skin as an offering to his future bride.
Over the next few weeks, Lame Heart worried for his brother who'd become all but a ghost during the day. Only late at night would he hear his brother return home to sleep.
"Chasing Fog," he would whisper, "Where do you go?"
He never answered, and by morning he would be gone again.
Then one day while the people gathered around the meeting spot to plan a hunting trip, Chasing Fog silently took his place next to Lame Heart and their mother.
The crowd lost its focus on the hunt discussion. Their eyes were on Chasing Fog who carried a golden buffalo hide so soft and yielding it molded to the curves of his powerful thighs.
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Swift River, the head of the hunting party grew impatient by the crowd's sway of interest.
"Chasing Fog," he called out, "You have been like a ghost for a long time, and now you return to the people with this fine skin, drawing attention. Do you have something to say?"
Chasing Fog stood and held the skin high for all to see, "This is my gift for Spirit Song. Perhaps she might notice my feelings for her. I ask her to come willingly when I bring gifts for her father. Then we can make a home together."
Chasing Fog lay the hide across Spirit Song's lap.
She looked over to Lame Heart who withdrew from her gaze. She knew his heart would not allow him to steal from his brother.
She took Chasing Fog's hand, placed it on her warm cheek, and nodded her acceptance while the crowd sang to their coupling.
All was well in Chasing Fog's favor until Spirit Song brought the hide home and opened it.
A small imperfection was visible where the stray arrow pierced the bull calf's shoulder. She envisioned Chasing Fog watching her and Lame Heart sing over the calf. This was Chasing Fog's cruel side mocking them.
Backing out of a proposal for such a trivial game was not acceptable and would bring shame to her family, but...
if she could get Chasing Fog to strike her, causing her to cry, the entire band would forbid their union.
During the night Spirit Song made her own gift. The old laws tell, gifts are never to be rejected, but they can be passed on to someone in need.
When the sun rose, the people gathered to follow the hunting party who spotted a heard of buffalo not far from the village.
Chasing Fog, energized by happiness, was eager to begin the hunt. He helped the women and children gather the dogs, and hook them up to the travois' hoping they could move along faster.
Lame Heart was taking a short rest nearby. He'd been up early to assemble the spears and horses for the hunters, but he would not join them today. His chest was thick with water from yet another illness. Still, he would do what he could to help the women butcher the animals later.
As he tried to catch his breath, Spirit Song approached with a shirt made out of the golden hide given to her by his brother. He deliberately turned his back to her.
She could feel the force of the storm gathering in Chasing Fog's chest.
"Chasing Fog," Spirit Song cried out, "I have made this shirt as a gift for your brother. The wind is blowing cold on the prairie this season, and Lame Heart needs to stay warm or sickness will follow him."
She could feel the force of the storm gathering in Chasing Fog's chest. She could feel it even through the crowd of women and dogs seperating them. He will strike for certain.
With the public announcement, Lame Heart had to accept her gift. He pulled the shirt over his head and ran from his brother's sight to spare him the pain of seeing him.
Chasing Fog seized his emotion,and went back to his work without a word, leaving Spirit Song to stand alone on the subject.
But during the hunt Chasing Fog's contained anger went into his spears as he took down six buffalo, each with only one jab straight to the heart. Once he broke all of his spears doing this, he chased after other hunters, and gladly finished off their fallen prey with his blade.
When the hunt wore down, Chasing Fog found his horse and rode back to where the women and his young brother prepared the meat for moving. He stunned them all because in his hand he held a prized buffalo heart usually eaten on the scene by victorious hunters.
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"Lame Heart, my brother," he said standing above him, "You will help me prepare for my new life with Spirit Song. We will leave the village tonight. This heart is for you. It will make you strong for the journey."
Chasing Fog tossed the still warm heart to his brother who smiled freely even though blood sprayed across his new shirt.
When the sun lowered in the sky, the brothers set out south on horses.
Chasing Fog told Lame Heart they were going to find rare stones far away near the boiling pools of the high country.
After a night and day of moving, they rested near a low burning fire.
They passed a short time recalling stories of their youth. They had some good laughs at their old antics, and became quiet with the memories of lost friends and loved ones over the years.
"Do you remember mother's story about the end of the world?" Chasing Fog asked.
"I remember you said I would grow up to be a fool," Lame Heart moped.
"Don't worry little brother, give it time."
They burst out laughing.
Chasing Fog got serious again, "How do you think somebody could foul a body so bad the earth would reject it and wipe out that person's existence?"
Lame Heart knew the answer. He thought about such things while he sat around catching his breath.
"You die with hate in your heart. No one wants to remember hate. If you die with it, the earth will reject your spirit, and you will be quickly forgotten by the people," Lame Heart answered.
"That's what I thought, brother." Chasing Fog lay back on the ground. "Let's rest now. If you want, tomorrow I will show you the mourning cave. It spits smoke and moans."
"I would like to see it," Lame Heart replied. He slept glad for the peace between them on this journey.
By noon the next day, they were at the mourning cave.
Chasing fog was right. It spit smoke, and from deep in its throat came a low pitched but loud moan.
Lame Heart never traveled to the place of boiling pools. He was completely entranced by the blue and green colors more brilliant than he's ever seen, and now... a wailing cave too.
He perched himself on the edge of the cliff leading to the cave. Below, a deep pool of boiling water created a steam, warming his tired feet.
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"Thank you brother, I will always carry this memory, but I would rather not remember the stink of this place. What is..." He was interrupted by a rumbling under the ground that almost tossed him into the boiling pool.
Lame heart looked over to his brother. He was far away in thought,
"The ground really does move here." Lame heart said.
Chasing Fog offered his brother a hand up and the two stood face to face. They were so close they could feel each other's breath.
Lame Heart felt a burning behind his brother's stare. He asked, "What's wrong, brother?"
"Spirit Song will always want for you Lame Heart, but it will be me that goes to her each night, and it will me who fathers her children, you will be forgotten."
Lame Heart was at first stunned, but then, for the first time in his life, he felt anger. He'd done all he could do to honor his brother. For years he pushed Spirit Song away and kept his feelings hidden to show his loyalty, and now ... he turned to leave.
Lame Heart blind with rage, freed his knife from its belt and went after Chasing Fog.
Chasing Fog shouted, "Are you so weak you can't even fight with words?"
Chasing Fog spat at Lame Heart's feet.
Lame Heart blind with rage, freed his knife from its belt and went after Chasing Fog.
As Lame Heart ran toward him, Chasing Fog stepped aside, exposing a stone on the path. Lame Heart hit it, and was airborne. He landed in the deep pool of boiling water, and the cave moaned.
Chasing Fog could not bring himself to look toward his screaming brother, but he could not help hearing his throat fill with boiling water while cooked his flesh, and drowned his cries.
Within minutes, Lame Heart and his calf hide shirt were no more. It was time to return to the village, and find out if Lame Heart was truly gone for good.
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A few days later, Chasing Fog rode home on his horse with an empty mount trailing behind. The first man he encountered was Swift River.
"Why would you take two ponies on your journey?" Swift River said angrily, "You only need one."
"I was hoping to catch Spirit Song's father a bear from the high country," was Chasing Fog's answer.
Swift River waved him off without asking about Lame Heart. He continued home.
When he got to his mother's tepee, he found her outside making pemmican with some of the dried buffalo meat.
"My son!" she said. "You can take this with you when you go to get Spirit Song. She likes my recipe. I made it nice and sweet."
"Yes mother, thank you,"He replied. He went into the tepee to look for Lame Heart's sleeping blanket and other things, but it was like his brother never existed.
He smiled, and headed out to find Spirit Song. At last she would be completely his because he succeeded in wiping out the memory of his brother with ancient magic.
Spirit Song was at the river splashing and playing with her friends, taking advantage of the days before she would become a wife, but then she saw Chasing Fog.
A vision came to her. She heard the wavering cries of Lame Heart as he struggled to breathe, and she could see his fear and pain as death pulled him under the boiling water to claim his life.
...the vision came to her
Spirit Song stumbled through the water, sat down on the muddy bank, and cried.
Her cries traveled across the village past the elders who remembered the few times they heard the girl's ancestral song.
Her spirit song was picked up by the breeze and carried to the morning cave where the big black dog's ears perked.
The old woman was off gathering quills and this was his moment, but the song distracted him. He missed a single quill, and it dropped on the floor. The big black dog sat and listened intently to the melodic cry.
When the dog's old woman returned, he wagged his tail, sending the quill far into the shadows of the cave where it would remain until the end of the world.
Outside the cave, smoke belched, the waters churned, and in one great leap out of the cauldron jumped a large bull buffalo sleek, white, and stone. It bore the scar of a wound once healed by compassion.
The massive animal shook, and freed the sprays of blood tarnishing its stone coat. Behind him, a human hand reached over the edge of the cliff, and up climbed Lame Heart.
He too, was transformed by his journey from death's doorway at the mouth of the big black dog. The struggle to return from the land of spirits changed Lame Heart's once thin and weak body, into a stone clad figure, as firm and handsome as any fine warrior.
But his heavy stone heart sealed in his hate, and now, he was compelled to seek retribution.
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He climbed the buffalo's back, and together, they rode fast to the north.
Chasing Fog heard the stone buffalo's thundering stride from far across the prairie.
Spirit Song told him what was coming. Still, he waited patiently in his newly set up tepee. No man can hide from the dead. He must face this enemy now, or run forever.
From the edge of the village, Chasing Fog now heard cries of terror from both women and men as they fled from the spirit rider, but when the stone buffalo slowed to a walk, the screaming stopped, and the people withdrew into their tepees.
No one dared to look at the stone buffalo and rider. It was apparent they were there not to destroy the village. They were looking for someone.
The stone buffalo took a few shuffling strides, and came to halt in front of Chasing Fog's tepee. Lame Heart slid off his mount. When his feet hit the ground, the earth shook.
Chasing Fog sat solid and brave on the floor, wrapped in his buffalo robe as he watched a stone hand pull the door flap aside.
In walked the hardened spirit who was once his brother.
"Brother!" Lame Heart said. "As you can see, I am reborn. I am now Stone Buffalo Man. You did not succeed in wiping me out."
"No," Chasing Fog replied with a smile, "Have you come here to kill me?"
“Spirit Song! Come out of the shadows, and see what my brother has become.”
Stone Buffalo Man laid his hand over his heart, and aired his grievance,
"Because of you, my hate is sealed forever. I have nothing to lose by killing you."
"Spirit Song!" Chasing Fog said. "Come out of the shadows, and see what my brother has become."
Spirit Song stepped into the light. She knew neither magic, nor tears, could help Stone Buffalo Man, yet, tears fell down her cheeks.
She spoke quietly as she went forward, and grasped Stone Buffalo Man's ridged hand, "Do not kill Chasing Fog. He will be punished."
Stone Buffalo Man's cold colorless eyes glared back at her.
"Please!" she pleaded, "Chasing Fog, and I are the only two people who remember you. If you kill him, his memory of you will die with him, and I will forget because I don't want to remember you with such hate. Then you will be wiped out forever."
Stone Buffalo Man's heart was not strong enough to seal out Spirit Song's sorrow. Even though his heart of stone was damaged by hate, he could still leave the tepee with Spirit Song's love unbroken.
This time Stone Buffalo Man did not allow hate to rule him. He walked away.
Spirit Song followed, "You belong to the mourning cave. We will go there together."
Stone Buffalo Man did not protest this time.
Stone Buffalo Man did not protest this time. He climbed up his mount, and lifted Spirit Song behind him. Together, they rode on to begin a new life in the middle world.
Years later, Spirit Song's prediction came true. Chasing Fog was punished. The people shunned him for bringing an angry spirit to the village. Eventually he moved to the place of boiling pools, and dug a shelter in a hill just outside the mourning cave.
Now, he watches and waits for the smoke clear in front of the cave. It's when the old woman comes out to collect spirits carried on the wind in the form of porcupine quills.
With the smoke gone, he can see inside the cave and catch treasured glimpses of Spirit Song who now helps work quills into the blanket strip.
In the background, Stone Buffalo Man teaches their children the old ways until the days he will lead people through trials of hardship, one of many test he will help the people endure before the end of the world.
But such matters don't concern Chasing Fog. To this day, he sits still, and watches, and waits. He doesn't notice time has passed. He's been sitting there everyday for more than a century.
And he will be doing that for a very long time, because Spirit Song refuses to work his spirit into the blanket strip. Long ago, she braided his quill into her hair.
When Chasing Fog gives up the chase, she will set him free.
- NativeTech: The End of the World - A Native American Story about Quillwork
A good story as told by Jenny Leading Cloud
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