It was evening in the bad-lands, and the red
sun had slipped behind the far-off hills.
The sundown breeze bent the grasses in the
coulees and curled tiny dust-clouds on the
barren knolls. Down in a gulch a clear, cool
creek dallied its way toward the Missouri, where
its water, bitter as gall, would be lost in the
great stream. Here, where Nature forbids
man to work his will, and where the she wolf
dens and kills to feed her litter, an aged Indian
stood near the scattered bones of two great
buffalo-bulls. Time had bleached the skulls
and whitened the old warrior's hair, but in the
solitude he spoke to the bones as to a boyhood
"Ho! Buffalo, the years are long
since you died, and your tribe, like mine, was even then
shrinking fast, but you did not know it; would
not believe it; though the signs did not lie.
My father and his father knew your people,
and when one night you went away, we thought
you did but hide and would soon come back.
The snows have come and gone many times
since then, and still your people stay away.
The young-men say that the great herds have
gone to the Sand Hills, and that my father still
has meat. They have told me that the white
man, in his greed, has killed - and not for
meat - all the Buffalo that our people knew.
They have said that the great herds that made
the ground tremble as they ran were slain in
a few short years by those who needed not.
Can this be true, when ever since there was a
world, our people killed your kind, and still
left herds that grew in numbers until they
often blocked the rivers when they passed?
Our people killed your kind that they themselves might live,
but never did they go to war against you. Tell me, do your people
hide. or are the young-men speaking truth, and have
your people gone with mine to Sand Hill shadows
to come back no more?"
"Ho! red man - my people all have
gone. The young-men tell the truth and all my tribe
have gone to feed among the shadow-hills, and
your father still has meat. My people suffer
from his arrows and his lance, yet there the
herds increase as they did here, until the white
man came and made his war upon us without
cause or need. I was one of the last to die, and
with my brother here fled to this forbidding
country that I might hide; but one day when
the snow was on the world, a white murderer
followed on our trail, and with his noisy weapon
sent our spirits to join the great shadow-herds.
Meat? No, he took no meat, but from our
quivering flesh he tore away the robes that
Napa gave to make us warm, and left us for
the Wolves. That night they came, and quarrelling, fighting,
snapping among themselves, left but our bones to greet the morning
sun. These bones the Coyotes and the weaker ones
did drag and scrape, and scrape again, until
the last of flesh or muscle disappeared. Then
the winds came and sang - and all was done."