Buffalo Hunt

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2011

Olivia Michelle Smit
Buffalo Hunt pointing to the sun

“Look, son. See the way the land is in shadow, even though there is nothing to cast it?”

The boy stood, facing the early morning. He let the gentle breeze caress his dark skin and play with his hair as he stared thoughtfully off into the distance. Today was the day of his first buffalo hunt. Today he had a chance to become a man. Ten years old, he had been waiting many months for the time to be right. He had been practicing his aim with his bow and arrows and had been working with his pony as well. He was determined that all would go well and he would be given a name by the end of the day. For the young Sioux warrior did not have a name. He would not be given one until he had proven himself in some way worthy of one. All he had was his nickname, Arrow. His friends had named him such because of his keen eyes and sharp hand. He rarely missed his targets. A nickname such as his was better than none, however. His friend, Wet Grasses, was named for the first time he was sent to gather grasses for the fire. He was not supervised, and gathered and dumped armful after armful of wet grass on the fire, causing the entire camp to be encased in smoke for the better part of the night.

At the soft step of his father he turned. His father smiled reassuringly at him and moved to stand beside him. His voice was husky in the early morning.

“Look, son. See the way the land is in shadow, even though there is nothing to cast it? That is the buffalo, waiting for us.” He looked down at his son and the boy smiled, letting his excitement show.

“I am ready.”

The sun seemed to burst up from the horizon at the same time as the camp awakened, men and boys appearing out of tipis with the women and girls not far behind. The happy chatter filled the air as the women sharpened their knives for the skinning of the buffalo. The men painted their ponies with their family’s design and made sure that their quivers were full of arrows and their bows were flexible. Arrow smiled up at his father and ran off to bring his pony to the paint. His father watched him go, a proud smile playing about his lips, for he had taught the boy and was confident in his abilities.

Arrow reappeared, leading his pony to the paint. Carefully, he selected the same black and yellow paint as his father. Dipping his hand into the wet, chalky substance, he bit his lip in concentration as he smeared the animal’s haunches in the spots and lines of his family. He glanced to the side of him to see Wet Grasses doing the same thing. Arrow could tell from the sparkle in Wet Grasses’ eyes that he, too, was filled with anticipation for the hunt. Breathing deeply, Arrow dabbed his own face with paint as well, before swinging himself up on top of his pony.

He looked over the camp and laughed aloud at the cheerful busyness. He could see his mother and sisters preparing for the buffalo, and he waved to them. Most of the men were not yet finished with painting their horses, and Arrow watched them eagerly. He had been watching them for years now, waiting impatiently for when he would be old enough to join them. It was different, watching from the middle of the action instead of the outskirts. He shielded his eyes against the sun and looked for the younger boys that were watching. He waited until he found them and had to suppress a feeling of pride that this time he was the one they were looking up to.

At a cry from the leader the rest of the men mounted their horses, yelling and cheering as the horses gradually moved out of the camp to the open plains. Arrow felt a clamor of joy well up in him as his pony’s muscles bunched beneath him, moving into a comfortable canter. Arrow sat tall on the warm back of his pony and whooped. Wet Grasses was riding beside him, and he too yelled out. They were riding in the middle of the pack, real men helping to feed the women and children. They nearly pulled their horses up short, though, when they saw the buffalo. Arrow drew in his breath at the sight of them. Never in his life had he seen a live buffalo before. He had only ever seen the dead ones that the women skinned after the hunt. A surge of energy filled him and he grinned as he urged his pony on. They were downwind, so the buffalo had not seen them yet. He wanted to be right at the front, where he would be one of the ones to actually startle the buffalo into fleeing. He felt for the bow slung across his back. It was still there, in a position where it would be easy for him to reach when he needed it. His arrows, too, were hanging in a tube from his waist. He fingered the feathered tips, longing to pull one out and shoot—but the time was not right.

The buffalo were beginning to sense them now. They lifted their heads in uneasiness, then, as they caught sight of the horses, they broke into a run. Like a stream of water they cascaded down the gentle slope. Arrow leaned down over his pony’s neck, forcing him into a gallop. He could sense the other men doing the same. With Wet Grasses beside him, his father somewhere behind him, he surged into the center of the herd. The thundering of hooves was in his ears, and he looked around himself. The completeness of the buffalo was all around him. He was alone. Not truly alone, for there were men all around him, and buffalo in front and to the sides of him. He was alone only inside of him. It was a peaceful feeling, but it did not last long. He could sense his pony beginning to tire. In one fluid motion, he let go of his pony’s mane and brought his bow in front of him. Riding using only his legs to guide his horse, he notched an arrow to the string and looked around him for a buffalo. The buffalo.

He examined them in his mind. Too fast, too skinny, too young, too old. He looked to his side. Keeping pace with him perfectly was a huge buffalo. Arrow caught his breath. He was young, but not a baby. He looked like all of his fat would make him slow and easy to catch. Arrow pulled back his bow and aimed. In the instant before he let go of the arrow, the buffalo looked him in the eyes. A connection jolted through Arrow’s inner being, and he knew that the buffalo had been placed there for him; for his family. With a soft thank you to the spirit of the great animal, he let go. His aim was true, and as it pierced the buffalo’s hide the mass of brown fur toppled and fell. Arrow looked back, and upon making sure that it really was dead, let out a great yell of joy. He had done it! He had killed a buffalo, and a big one at that. One that would feed his family and tribe for months. He threw his hands up in the air, his bow still clenched tightly in his fist, crying to the spirit of the buffalo.

He opened his eyes to see the last of the buffalo leaving. He could hear the happy cries of the women and children approaching, and he turned his pony around, looking for the great beast that he had slain. He did not need to look for the signature colored feathers on his arrows. He instinctively knew which buffalo was his.

“Father!” he could not help calling out to his father as he approached. “Look, Father! I have killed it!” His father slowed his pony to a walk and leaped down, coming over to examine the animal. When he reached Arrow, he looked down and whistled through his teeth. Arrow could see respect and pride in his eyes. Wet Grasses too looked at Arrow with respect.

“I only managed to kill a little one. You, my friend, have killed the heart of the herd itself!”

Buffalo Hunt hitting the target

In the instant before he let go of the arrow, the buffalo looked him in the eyes

Suddenly afraid, Arrow looked at his father. “The buffalo will be all right without him, won’t they?” His question was soft but serious.

His father put an arm around his shoulders. “Everything will be fine. You have done well, my son.”

Suddenly Arrow’s mother’s voice came from behind him. “Arrow, did you do this?”

In his mother’s eyes were glad tears; even his sister looked impressed.

“Ai yi!” My son has slain the biggest buffalo ever in existence! The father of all buffalo! I will make you a new bedroll with the hide of this animal. I will make you two bedrolls!” His mother and sister began to skin the buffalo and Arrow moved with his father and the rest of the men back to camp. He found himself traveling next to the chief of their tribe, and he looked up at him in awe. He had never been this close to the man before, and felt a little scared.

The big man looked solemnly down at him. “Are you the one who killed the great beast?” Arrow could only nod, afraid of doing or saying something wrong in front of such a powerful man. To his surprise, the man smiled at him!

“We will have to do something about getting you a name now, won’t we?”

In surprise Arrow pulled his pony to a halt, and the man laughed and continued on.

*          *          *

That night as dusk covered the plains, there was great celebration in the Sioux camp. Huge blazing fires were lit, and all of the boys slathered paint over themselves in preparation for the ceremony of the buffalo spirit. Wet Grasses looked at Arrow with a touch of envy, for he was not to earn a name that night. There was also a hint of pride in his voice, for he and Arrow were very close friends. The men were all dressed in masks and headdresses, and Arrow watched with new interest as they offered thanks to the buffalo spirits for the plentiful hunt. He had seen the ceremony many times before, but tonight it held new meaning for him. He watched the dancers for hours and was beginning to feel sleepy when the men beckoned to him. He watched for a moment, hesitant as to whether they meant him or someone else. Then he stepped up to the fire.

The chief ’s eyes were kind under his headdress as he asked Arrow to tell his story. He started slowly but grew more confident as he took in his attentive audience. By the time he got to the part about the connection he had felt with the buffalo, they were hanging on his every word. When he was finished the chief clapped him on the back.

“It seems that you are talented in the weaving of a tale as well as the killing of buffalo.” The people sitting laughed appreciatively.

“But now,” the chief raised his hands and it was quiet, “now it is time for this brave young boy to receive his duly earned name.”

There was great cheering, and Arrow caught his father’s eye. He was grinning proudly, and his smile lent strength to the boy’s nervous body. The chief and the shaman spoke together quietly for a few moments. Then they stood on either side of the boy and held his hands up where everyone could see them. The chief started.

“Because of this boy’s bravery and quick thinking in the buffalo hunt today, he shall no longer be known by his previous name, Arrow.”

The shaman stepped forward to finish. “Because of his spiritual connection with the buffalo, he shall be named as such. Buffalo Spirit, we welcome you!”

Great cheers and cries of gladness echoed through the camp as the boy, Arrow, stood tall. He felt a change come over him, something spreading through his body. He grinned. Buffalo Spirit was now a man.

Buffalo Hunt Olivia Michelle Smit

Olivia Michelle Smit, 13
London, Ontario, Canada

Buffalo Hunt Olivia Zhou

Olivia Zhou, 11
Roselle Park, New Jersey

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