Primary links

Chapter 3.3: Yellow Leggings and the Origin of the Tipi

Apsáalooke Writing Tribal Histories Project

One of Yellow Leggings favorite things to do was to trap eagles. The process took patience. He would dig a hole deep enough to sit in and used a rabbit he had skinned for bait. After getting in the pit, he covered the opening with brush so that it wasn’t visible from above and put the rabbit on top of it. When eagles saw the rabbit, they would swoop down to eat it. Then Yellow Leggings would grab the legs of the eagle. When both legs of the eagle are held, it wouldn’t struggle or thrash around. Yellow Leggings would take the two middle feathers from the tail and let the bird go.

One day, Yellow Leggings was out trapping eagles, already having caught three, he was hoping for a fourth. He was waiting patiently, listening closely for the sound of another eagle. Suddenly, he heard something, and crouched, waiting for the big bird. Instead, the pit suddenly got dark. Reaching up, Yellow Leggings discovered that a rock had rolled over the opening. He tried moving it, pushing hard, but it would not budge. He was stuck. He tried digging his way out, but it didn’t help. After awhile, he sat down and started to cry. He didn’t know what to do. While he was sitting there, he saw something moving in the corner, when he looked closer, he saw that it was a mouse.

Thinking that this might be his only chance, he begged the mouse for help. The mouse showed him a hole and told him to go through it. Yellow Leggings thought that the hole looked too small, but decided to try it anyway. As he pushed himself through the hole, it was tight, but he could move himself along without too much difficulty. The tunnel widened some, so that Yellow Leggings could crawl, and soon, he could crouch in the tunnel. Finally he could stand up, so he started to run.

When he reached the end of the tunnel, Yellow Leggings found himself in a place that was unfamiliar. Looking around, he saw a river, and as he walked near the river he saw a white tipi. As he came closer to the tipi, a bear charged him. An old woman appeared from inside the tipi and called the bear off. She approached Yellow Leggings and told him to go inside the tipi.

He obeyed the woman and entered the tipi, standing by the door. He saw an old man sitting in the back of the tipi. The man motioned to Yellow Leggings to come sit by him. He told him his name was White Owl. The woman had come back into the tipi and was stirring a pot of soup. Yellow Leggings peered into the pot and saw a hand swirl to the top.

White Owl asked Yellow Leggings if he was hungry, and his wife quickly scolded him saying, “He is human! Humans don’t eat what you eat!” White Owl considered this for a moment, and then told Yellow Leggings, “There is plenty to eat around here. Go and eat what you want. Rest awhile. Then, come see me. I have something for you to do.”

Yellow Leggings went out hunting and killed a deer. After eating, he rested a little and then returned to the tipi. When he entered the tipi, White Owl told him, “I have something that I want you to do. I want you to kill a very dangerous elk, and bring me the front tine of his antler to eat my soup with. This will not be easy, he is powerful and he has helpers that watch him while he sleeps. The elk will have to be killed with this arrow, so you will have just one chance.”

The task seemed difficult. The day was getting stranger and stranger. Yellow Leggings went outside and began to cry. He didn’t know what to do. He cried until a snowbird came to him. The snowbird suggested that he ask the moles if they could help.

Yellow Leggings found a rocky hill where some moles lived. He was still upset, so he stood there, crying. One of the moles came out of the ground and told him to go away. Yellow Leggings continued crying until the mole came back and asked him why he was crying. Yellow Leggings explained his predicament to the mole, who took pity on him and agreed to help. The mole told Yellow Leggings that they needed to dig a hole under the elk so that Yellow Leggings would be sure to hit the heart of the elk with the one arrow. That would ensure that the elk would be killed with only one arrow.

The mole dug near the elk and the two helpers who guarded him, a coyote and an owl. As he dug, coyote and owl would cry out to the elk, who would jump up and look around, but not see anything. The closer they got, the louder Yellow Leggings could hear the elk’s heart beating. When they were right under the elk, the mole felt where the big animal’s body was, and showed the man where the heart would be. Yellow Leggings aimed and shot his arrow.

The elk jumped up, then rammed his antler into the ground, breaking into the tunnel. Yellow Leggings began to run through the tunnel, but the elk was just behind him. He felt the antler of the elk pressing on his back, and suddenly it was gone. The elk had died. Relieved, Yellow Leggings cut the portion of the antler that White Owl wanted and returned to the tipi.

White Owl was pleased, and told Yellow Leggings he had done well, but there was another task he needed to complete. He wanted Yellow Leggings to bring him the head of Isshiiooshe, Red Hair. This was an even bigger task. Yellow Leggings returned to the mole’s mound and cried. When the mole learned what Yellow Leggings was supposed to do, he said that he could not help, but perhaps Ant Woman could.

Yellow Leggings found the tipi of Aunt Woman and asked for her help. She agreed to help him, because, she told Yellow Leggings, Red Hair annoyed her by always bothering her to marry him. She told him that they could change bodies so that Yellow Leggings could get close enough to kill Red Hair. She gave him a louse to put in place of Red Hair’s head, and four corn pemmican balls. Ant woman instructed him to go to the island where Red Hair lived with his mother,

“When you get there,” she told him “there will be a big eared dog. The dog will be waiting for you. Get on the dog, and he will take you across the water. When the dog gets tired, feed him a little pemmican. When you find Red Hair, keep him very busy with work so that he gets tired. Make him work for three days, and on the fourth day he will be so tired that he will fall asleep. When he finally falls asleep, you will be able to take his head. Put the louse where his head was.”

Yellow Leggings listened to Ant Woman, and did as he was told. The dog took him across the water to the island where Red Hair and his mother lived. He got off the dog, fed him a second pemmican ball and asked him to wait.

Yellow Leggings came to the tipi of Red Hair and his mother, still disguised as Ant Woman, he went inside. Red Hair’s mother was suspicious that Ant Woman would show up, as she never wanted much to do with Red Hair before. But, for three days, Yellow Leggings stayed, having Red Hair chop wood, and bring water. Anything that he could think of to tire Red Hair out. On the fourth night, Red Hair fell into a deep sleep, and Yellow Leggings took his head, leaving the louse in its place.

Red Hair’s mother was still suspicious, so she kept asking if her son was ok. When she asked, the louse would answer,

“Be quiet I’m trying to sleep.” But each time that Red Hair’s mother asked and the louse answered, he became weaker. The fourth time she asked her son if he was ok, the louse could hardly speak. Red Hair’s mother pulled back the covers and discovered her son. She set out after Ant Woman, but by that time, Yellow Leggings and Ant Woman were already changing back to the right bodies. When Red Hair’s mother arrived at the tipi, she was angry, but Yellow Leggings and Ant Woman were ready.

Ant Woman’s tipi was special, it was hard and very strong. Red Hair’s mother had a spear-like point on the back of her head, and when she got excited, it would stand up straight. She often used this to destroy things.

The mother was very upset, and began beating the tipi, and trying to get in, but the tipi was strong, and Ant Woman would patch the holes made by Red Hair’s mother by licking her hand and rubbing it over the hole. The mother soon realized that she would not be able to break through the tipi, so she pleaded with the two inside.

“I just want to see my son’s face, and then I will leave you two alone.” Red Hair’s mother told them. But Ant Woman and Yellow Leggings knew that she was trying to trick them. They placed the head in the center of the lodge, and Yellow Leggings opened the door just enough so that the mother could stick her head inside the tipi. As the mother poked her head in the tipi, she said,

“I tricked you. Now I’m going to kill you.”

But, just as she put her head in the tipi, Yellow Leggings closed the door on her head, and cut it off. Now, he had the heads of both Red Hair and his mother. He took them to White Owl’s tipi hoping that he would not be asked to do anymore tasks.

When he got close to the tipi, White Owl’s wife came out of tipi and stopped Yellow Leggings.

“You have done more than he asked you to this time. Instead of taking what he offers you, when he asks, tell him that you want him.”

Yellow Leggings was quiet when he went inside the tipi, but White Owl was pleased to see the heads. He laid out many things to offer Yellow Leggings, asking which ones he wanted. But Yellow Leggings refused the items, and as he was instructed, told the old man that he wanted him instead. White Owl looked, and sighed,

“My wife must have told you to say that. Since you have done more than I asked, I cannot refuse your request.” And he gave Yellow Leggings his powers, which included a fawn and an owl. He told Yellow Leggings that on his way home, he would encounter four women, and the fourth one he met would become his wife.

Yellow Leggings started away from White Owl, and he did encounter four women. The first became frightened and ran away, turning into an otter. The second, ran away turning into a deer, the third turned into an elk. The fourth woman he came across did not run away, and she did not turn into anything, she was human. And she became Yellow Leggings wife.

This woman had seven brothers. Her brothers were supernatural, they had special powers. The youngest was Cedar Between The Eyes and he had a pet bear and mountain lion. When Yellow Leggings and his new wife went to her home, the youngest was there, the others were away. When the others came home, they teased Yellow Leggings. They pulled off their heads and other parts of their bodies and threw them about. Yellow Leggings got out his fawn and owl, and the owl grabbed the fawn and as it squeezed the fawn the brothers hollered in pain. They pleaded with their sister to make Yellow Leggings stop, and he called back his owl. Cedar Between His Eyes told his brothers, “I’m ashamed of you. You should respect your brothers-in-law.” And he gave Yellow Leggings his bear as a gift.

Now that bad things were destroyed, they decided to become something that would be forever. So, they had a meeting among themselves. “What shall we become, so we can last forever?” And suggestions were, “Why don’t we become trees?” “But trees die.” “Why don’t we become rocks high in the mountains?” “Rocks, from erosion, will fall.” “Why don’t we become water?” “Oh, water sometimes, it will dry up, from the heat.” So, they had a long discussion on this, and finally the youngest says, “Why don’t we become where they point the pipe stem to the stars? We can be there for forever, and that way, we can watch the Apsáalooke forever.” So they said, “That’s a good idea.”

They say that the youngest brother took his pet. They say the mountain lion is up there. That is why there is a little star next to the handle, it is Cedar Between The Eyes pet. So that’s when they became the Seven Stars—the Big Dipper.

When Yellow Leggings returned to the Apsáalooke he brought back four tipis, one from White Owl, one from Ant Woman, one from Red Hair, and one that his wife’s brothers had given him. Today, the Apsáalooke still recall the way the tipis came to their people.

« Back Contents Next »