Buffalo Woman, A story of Magic
Snow Bird, the Caddo medicine man, had a handsome son. When the boy was old enough to be given a man’s name, Snow Bird called him Braveness because of his courage as a hunter. Many of the girls in the Caddo village wanted to win Braveness as a husband, but he paid little attention to any of them.
One morning he started out for a day of hunting, and while he was walking along looking for wild game, he saw someone ahead of him sitting under a small elm tree. As he approached, he was surprised to find that the person was a young woman, and he started to turn aside.
“Come here,” she called to him in a pleasant voice. Braveness went up to her and saw that she was very young and very beautiful.
“I knew you were coming here,” she said, “and so I came to meet you.”
“You are not of my people,” he replied. “How did you know that I was coming this way?”
“I am Buffalo Woman,” she said. “I have seen you many times before, from afar. I want you to take me home with you and let me stay with you.”
“I can take you home with me,” Braveness answered her, “but you must ask my parents if you can stay with us.”
They started for his home at once, and when they arrived there Buffalo Woman asked Braveness’s parents if she could stay with them and become the young man’s wife. “If Braveness wants you for his wife, we will be pleased,” said Snow Bird, the medicine man. “It is time that he had someone to love.”
And so Braveness and Buffalo Woman were married in the custom of the Caddo people and lived happily together for several moons. One day she asked him, “Will you do whatever I may ask of you, Braveness?”
“Yes,” he replied, “if what you ask is not unreasonable.”
“I want you to go with me to visit my people.”
Braveness said that he would go, and the next day they started for her home, she leading the way. After they had walked a long distance they came to some high hills, and all at once she turned round and looked at Braveness and said: “You promised me that you would do anything I say.”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Well,” she said, “my home is on the other side of this high hill. I will tell you when we get to my mother. I know there will be many coming there to see who you are, and some may provoke you and try to make you angry, but do not allow yourself to become angry with any of them. Some may try to kill you.”
“Why should they do that?” asked Braveness.
“Listen to what I am about to tell you,” she said. “I knew you before you knew me. Through magic I made you come to me that first day. I said that some will try to make you angry, and if you show anger at even one of them, the others will join in fighting you until they have killed you. They will be jealous of you. The reason is that I refused many who wanted me.”
“But you are now my wife,” Braveness said.
“I have told you what to do when we get there,” Buffalo Woman continued. “Now I want you to lie down on the ground and roll over twice.”
Braveness smiled at her, but he did as she had told him to do. He rolled over twice, and when he stood up he found himself changed into a Buffalo.
For a moment Buffalo Woman looked at him, seeing the astonishment in his eyes. Then she rolled over twice, and she also became a Buffalo. Without saying a word she led him to the top of the hill. In the valley off to the west, Braveness could see hundreds and hundreds of Buffalo.
“They are my people,” said Buffalo Woman. “This is my home.”
When the members of the nearest herd saw Braveness and Buffalo Woman coming, they began gathering in one place, as though waiting for them. Buffalo Woman led the way, Braveness following her until they reached an old Buffalo cow, and he knew that she was the mother of his beautiful wife.
For two moons they stayed with the herd. Every now and then, four or five of the young Buffalo males would come around and annoy Braveness, trying to arouse his anger, but he pretended not to notice hem. One night, Buffalo Woman told him that she was ready to go back to his home, and they slipped away over the hills.
When they reached the place where they had turned themselves into Buffalo, they rolled over twice on the ground and became a man and a woman again. “Promise me that you will not tell anyone of this magical transformation,” Buffalo Woman said. “If people learn about it, something bad will happen to us.”
They stayed at Braveness’s home for twelve moons, and then Buffalo Woman asked him again to go with her to visit her people. They had not been long in the valley of the Buffalo when she told Braveness that the young males who were jealous of him were planning to have a foot-race. “They will challenge you to race and if you do not outrun them they will kill you,” she said.
That night Braveness could not sleep. He went out to take a long walk. It was a very dark night without moon or stars, but he could feel the presence of the Wind spirit.
“You are young and strong,” the Wind spirit whispered to him, “but you cannot outrun the Buffalo without my help. If you lose, they will kill you. If you win, they will never challenge you again.
“What must I do to save my life and keep my beautiful wife?” asked Braveness.
The Wind spirit gave him two things. “One of these is a magic herb,” said the Wind spirit. “The other is dried mud from a medicine wallow. If the Buffalo catch up with you, first throw behind you the magic herb. If they come too close to you again, throw down the dried mud.”
The next day was the day of the race. At sunrise the young Buffalo gathered at the starting place. When Braveness joined them, they began making fun of him, telling him he was a man buffalo and therefore had not the power to outrun them. Braveness ignored their jeers, and calmly lined up with them at the starting point.
An old Buffalo started the race with a loud bellow, and at first Braveness took the lead, running very swiftly. But soon the others began gaining on him, and when he heard their hard breathing close upon his heels, he threw the magic herb behind him. By this time he was growing very tired and thought he could not run any more. He looked back and saw one Buffalo holding his head down and coming very fast, rapidly closing the space between him and Braveness. Just as this Buffalo was about to catch up with him, Braveness threw down the dried mud from the medicine wallow.
Soon he was far ahead again, but he knew that he had used up the powers given him by the Wind spirit. As he neared the goal set for the race, he heard the pounding of hooves coming closer behind him. At the last moment, he felt a strong wind on his face as it passed him to stir up dust and keep the Buffalo from overtaking him. With the help of the Wind spirit, Braveness crossed the goal first and won the race. After that, none of the Buffalo ever challenged him again, and he and Buffalo Woman lived peacefully with the herd until they were ready to return to his Caddo people.
Not long after their return to Braveness’s home, Buffalo Woman gave birth to a handsome son. They named him Buffalo Boy, and soon he was old enough to play with the other children of the village. One day while Buffalo Woman was cooking dinner, the boy slipped out of the lodge and went to join some other children at play. They played several games and then decided to play that they were Buffalo. Some of them lay on the ground to roll like Buffalo, and Buffalo Boy also did this. When he rolled over twice, he changed into a real Buffalo calf. Frightened by this, the other children ran for their lodges.
About this time his mother came out to look for him, and when she saw the children running in fear she knew that something must be wrong. She went to see what had happened and found her son changed into a Buffalo calf. Taking him up in her arms, she ran down the hill, and as soon as she was out of sight of the village she turned herself into a Buffalo and with Buffalo Boy started off toward the west.
Late that evening when Braveness returned from hunting he could find neither his wife nor his son in the lodge. He went out to look for them, and someone told him of the game the children had played and of the magic that had changed his son into a Buffalo calf.
At first, Braveness could not believe what they told him, but after he had followed his wife’s tracks down the hill and found the place where she had rolled he knew the story was true. For many moons, Braveness searched for Buffalo Woman and Buffalo Boy, but he never found them again.
The Caddo Nation is a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes, who traditionally inhabited much of what is now East Texas, northern Louisiana and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma