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bear mountain

Bear Mountain

(Montana Territory, 1897)

As Chaska walked towards his sister, she reached out, hugging him tightly. It was as if the twenty winters had never happened. Indeed, she looked the same as when he’d last seen her, disappearing into the pine forest.

Confused, his heart didn’t know which way to go. He felt like a boy, in the summer with his sister, like the old days. Yet, the meadow he walked in was not right, it was witchery, for the winter snows had just begun to melt. Feeling her head against his chest, Chaska wondered, Who was this person who looked like his sister?

Yet, she was his sister, her grief was real, his heart joined her in it. For the time being, Chaska decided not to question what she was, it was just good to be with her again.

The bear which led him, an enormous grizzly, lay down beside the door to her lodge. Out of the door peered three curious whitish-grey wolf pups.

Releasing him, Wichapi invited Chaska inside as the pups played around his ankles. Inside the mud and wood lodge was roomy, with a fire pit at the center, ready with wood. Otherwise, it was bare, with none of the usual trinkets or tools associated with daily life.

Fire on the plains

Wichapi said nothing, motioning for him to sit opposite of her. Waving her hand, the fire lit all by itself as a chill ran down Chaska’s back.

“How are you, my brother?” Wichapi began.

Chaska was struck by how nonchalant her attitude was, almost detached.

“I am living, though my heart is heavy.”

“Yes, our father passed, I felt his spirit depart.”

“He spoke of you with his last words, made me promise to see you.” Chaska said.

As the firelight danced on Wichapi’s face, she looked at her brother, now twenty years older, a seasoned warrior and leader of their people. She felt strange, his sitting across from her after so long, having become a chief. She studied the passage of time on his face, following the lines of responsibility etched there.

“You have done well, little brother, I always knew you would lead our people,” Wichapi commented.

“We do our best to live, but the white man makes it difficult. We cannot follow the buffalo as our ancestors did.”

I do not blame you, brother

As Chaska avoided her gaze, sensing the turmoil in his heart, Wichapi said, “Brother, I do not blame you for not coming to me, like I said, I was never far from you. Here on my mountain, I live with my friends, and I am content. The first winter was hard, the snows were deep, but one night I dreamt of walking in a summer meadow and when I awoke, it was summer outside. I’ve never been cold again.”

“It does my heart good to see you, my sister, I’ve missed you.” Chaska managed to say. “It has never been the same without you.”

Wichapi said, “Sometimes I thought to visit you, but deep inside I knew it was not yet time. I know you felt that way, too.”

How do you live?

“How do you live in the high places?” Chaska could not keep from asking, looking around her home again. Smiling, his sister said, “When I desire berries, I am brought berries; when I want meat, I find a slain deer at my door. If I need a knife, one of my friends brings one for me. I do not want for anything, brother. No one bothers me; my friends protect me.”

Chaska thought of the legends and those who dared not respect them. Once, a group of white prospectors disregarded the warnings hoping to strike it rich on Bear Mountain. They all laughed at the guide who refused to lead them further, boasting that they were ready for anything as they fingered their Sharps rifles. Later, the same Indian found their ponies unharmed, but the party of men were never seen again.

Wichapi continued, “In my solitude, my spirit soared with the hawk and the eagle. I traveled further and further towards the rising sun until I came to the white man’s great cities. I was the crow, the starling, the fox and I learned what they are and why they come.”

“Why do they come?” Chaska asked.

“Many different reasons, but mostly because they are too many and the land cannot support them like it does us. For a long time I thought about stopping them, but realized there was no need.”


Chaska studied his sister in the firelight, trying to see into her speech. It sounded wise, like she had thought about it deeply, but why not spare her people their misery? Chaska thought, if I had your power, I’d surely stop them from taking our land.

“Why not stop them?” Chaska said annoyed.

Wichapi continued, “Sometimes, on the plains, great fires burn everything. The smoke goes to heaven, but the earth is left bare. In time, when the rains come, new grass appears, grass that could not grow until the old grass left.”

“You think of our people as old grass?” Chaska asked, not understanding what she was driving at.

A time, a place, a way

“All that Tanka makes has a time, a place, a way. No one thing can claim everything. The white man does not live in harmony with this truth, but takes what it wants, leaving nothing for others. When they are many, they are more like the locust than human beings.”

Chaska, taken aback by the abstract way his sister spoke, felt that perhaps she had been alone with animals too long.

“My meaning, brother, is that our people have flourished for many, many generations, and they will again. The white man will have his time, too, but it will be cut short and they will know judgment such as no people has seen since the beginning of the land. For our part, we do not want to be next to them when that happens. You are sad for our people now, but it is better to be hidden than to face the white man’s future together.”

Our people will hunt again

Considering his Sister, Chaska wondered what was left of the girl who played games with him so long ago. “You say the white man will go away…”


“And our people will hunt again.”


Chaska, feeling the truth of her words, remembered his mission. Taking the oblong bundle, he began to unwrap it saying, “Before Running Bear died, he asked me to give you this. He said it was for your journey.”

Wichapi reached out and took her Father’s peace pipe from her brother’s strong hands. Feeling the visceral connection with her people, she said something that Chaska could not make out. There was a slight rumble as the ground shook. Chaska instinctively braced himself. Wichapi said, eyes wide, voice trembling with excitement, “This is it, this is what I have been waiting for.”

My story is now complete

Tears in her eyes, Wichapi looked at her brother, then back at the peace pipe, “I have been waiting for something all these years, but I did not know what. I felt like a story that needed an ending. I knew I could not leave this mountain until my story was complete. Thank you Chaska, you have freed me”

Sensing power emanate from Wichapi, as he used to feel during buffalo hunts, Chaska felt nervous. This was uncontrolled and rising, not measured like the hunt. Chaska sat there, wondering what was happening to his sister, yet he purposed to not leave her.

The White Buffalo-Calf Woman

Wichapi stood and went outside into the still summer night. She gazed at the stars which hung brightly across the black expanse. The Lakota Chief, reluctantly, stood a little way from her, studying her closely, wondering what was next.

Wichapi said, “When I first saw Bren, I thought she was the White Buffalo-Calf woman. I was sure of it. Yet, I know the truth now.” Her hand caressed the pipe.

Turning her head, she said, “My heart will always be towards you, Chaska, and our people. You have been a good and patient brother and I am grateful to you for it. I know I was not always easy to love.”

Chaska began to have a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“No, Wichapi, don’t go…” he said in a soft voice.

Smiling, she said, “You know I must, just as Father knew it.” Holding up the peace pipe to the heavens, she said, “This is the thread that ties my story together. You must leave by first light, I have told all my friends to leave, too.” Sadness in his eyes, Chaska simply nodded.

Coming towards him, she hugged him tenderly. He felt her sadness, but also her great excitement – she knew she was about to fulfill her destiny.

Letting go, she said, “Stand back a good distance, Chaska, and tell no one of this.”

Looking up, Chaska saw clouds forming in the clear night sky. The wind picked up as a white mist rose from the ground. Waves of pressure hit Chaska as he braced himself again.


Wichapi raised her hands to the heavens, holding the peace pipe, her mouth open and eyes wide. Thunder and lighting crashed through the clouds above as a violet-red lightning bolt flashed, flowing into both her hands. The incandescent fire continued to pour into her, as if she was drawing it out of the sky, yet it did not harm her.

Suddenly, she doubled over, holding her stomach, Chaska wanted to run to her, but could not move.

Wichapi let out a low, growling animal noise, a combination of bear, cougar, and wolf howling that rose in pitch slowly as she unbent. As it reached an impossible crescendo, Chaska covered his ears, not believing what he saw next. From her back, six wings, as dark as a ravens, emerged, unfolded, and flapped. At the same time, everything stopped, quieted.

Chaska trembling, managed to stand, transfixed.


To the side of her, the world seemed to split open like a cave bathed in deep red and purple light. The opening got bigger and bigger until Chaska could see blue sky and prairie grass on the other side. Turning to her brother, she smiled, then moved into the rift.

Without thinking, Chaska ran to it’s edge, calling “Wichapi, Wichapi!” She could not hear him as she walked towards two braves in the distance who stood and stared at her.

The portal destabilized, forcing Chaska to draw back, then abruptly collapsed in a thunderclap, throwing him back onto the ground.

Chaska, realizing she was gone, sat silently as snow flakes began to fall all around him.

A time of legend

In the plains, two braves approached the beautiful maiden. Both saw her appear out of a cloud that came down from the sky. One bowed low, while the other, seeing her beauty, approached her, thinking to make her his wife.

Wichapi looked at the approaching man, anger rising in her eyes. Coming to her, he was just about to reach out when Wichapi said, “Stop, brother” and the man froze, immovable.

It all fit so perfectly, the legend of the White Buffalo-Calf Woman was about her, she knew that now as she stood in the prairie grass. It was playing out exactly as her people told the story. Wichapi, shaking her head slightly, wondered how she could have been so blind for so long.

Looking at his friend, still prostrate on the ground, she said to him, “Your heart is good and you may live, but your friend’s is evil. For him, it is a good day to die…”