|PLEASE NOTE: Throughout this story you will find references to footnotes, all of which are listed by number at the end of the story. Although this is a work of fiction, I have tried to keep its historical content as accurate as possible. The footnotes are intended to teach about and explain items and customs mentioned that the reader may not be familiar with, thus adding to the educational value of this work.
BLUE FEATHER OF THE OSAGE
CHAPTER ONE--Left Behind
A dry warm breeze swept down the hill and across the meadow, making the tall prairie grasses ripple like waves of the sea. The voices of women floated on this breeze, but the one that carried the farthest was calling, "Blue Feather, where are you now?"
Suddenly, from behind a locust tree, there appeared a small brown face. The child's dark eyes sparkled with excitement and her black hair shone almost blue in the glint of the sun. She looked about, then reached up and stuck a blue feather into the leather headband encircling her braids. Gathering up the edges of a buffalo skin bag she raced off toward the distant voices. As she neared the village of long houses (1) she slowed her pace long enough to straighten her deer skin shift before leaving the cover of the tall grass.
A graceful woman greeted the child as she rounded the corner of one of the houses. "Blue Feather, there you are. Where have you been?"
"Gathering berries in the grove," answered Blue Feather, displaying the bulging skin bag.
"That is very well," replied Blue Feather's mother, Shining Moon. "But hurry now, we must do our part to help prepare the feast." Most of the villagers were leaving the next morning to go on the great hunt. (2) The feast would strengthen them for their journey and celebrate the season and the spirits of the great hunt. Shining Moon reached down and gently stroked the new feather in Blue Feather's headband and a smile touched her lips. Then she grabbed her daughter by the hand and rushed off toward the village center. As she turned, the fringe on her dress fluttered in the wind and the tiny infant swaddled in the papoose board (3) on her back stirred slightly.
The sun was sinking beyond the great Osage River (4) and the campfires in the village gave off an orange glow. A lone drummer took up a rhythmic beat. Tum-ta-ta-tum-tum Tum-ta-ta-tum-tum Tum-ta-ta-tum-tum, filled the night air, gradually growing louder and faster until it was joined by a second drum. The voices of the villagers fell silent as a great hulking figure walked into their midst. Extending his powerful arms toward the heavens he let out a soulful cry.
"The chief is asking for the spirits to make the great hunt," whispered Blue Feather's little brother. She just nodded to Rippling Waters, knowing it was time to keep quiet.
The dark figure outlined against the orange haze of the firelight began to dance from one foot to the other, keeping time with the beat of the drums. As he danced he began to chant in a deep tone. Wise Wolf, the medicine man (5), soon joined. The warriors and hunters of the tribe followed him. Dancing and chanting around the fire each called in turn to the spirits for success during the coming hunt. When Blue Feather listened hard enough she could distinguish her father's voice among the others. He was a great hunter in their tribe. The great hunt would bring food for the tribe to eat during the winter. Many other useful items were obtained during the great hunt as well: skins for blankets, robes, and clothing, and bone to shape into tools and weapons. The Osage people were very resourceful and would not allow any part of an animal go to waste. Blue Feather had been taught for as long as she could remember that to waste what the spirits provided was to lack appreciation for it. This would anger the spirits and make them turn away from blessing the hunt the next time.
Some of Blue Feather's friends were going along on the great hunt for the first time this season but she had to remain behind with her mother to help care for Rippling Waters and Little Star. (6) There were also crops to tend. The women had planted corn, squash, pumpkin, and beans. Someone needed to look after them while most of the others went on the great hunt. This duty was left to those who were too old or too weak to go on the hunt, or to those who had small children to look after. Although she was disappointed at being left behind for another year, Blue Feather understood. Each member of the tribe did what he or she could to support the village. All of the meat and materials provided by the buffalo would be equally divided among the families of the tribe. So would the harvested crops and wild nuts and berries gathered in the woods. All worked and all would benefit equally. It was the way of the Osage.
Blue Feather let the beating of the drums and the orange glow of the firelight take her imagination into the night. She pictured herself as an eagle (7) flying high overhead, watching over those on the great hunt. However, she still found it hard not to ask just once more.
When the ceremony was finished, and the fires had grown dim, Blue Feather's father found his family among the others. Rippling Waters had fallen asleep on the ground so Straight Arrow gathered the youngster into his strong arms and carried him to the family long house.
"Please, Father, please let me go with you on the great hunt," Blue Feather begged as they lay down to sleep.
"I'm sorry, my lovely Blue Feather," Straight Arrow said, tugging playfully on her long braids, "but your mother needs you here to help with the little ones and tend the crops. There will be plenty more great hunts to come." Father smiled and patted her head before covering her with a deer skin blanket.
"Yes, I know," Blue Feather said with a defeated yawn. She knew there was no point in arguing it any further. She would be of more help to the tribe in the village this year. Maybe she would be able to go next year.
The next morning Blue Feather awoke before the sun. Rippling Waters was curled up on a woven grass mat next to hers. Father and Mother were sleeping peacefully with Little Star nestled in a mound of soft rabbit furs at their heads. Nearby she spotted Father's supplies for the great hunt. His bow and his arrow quiver (8) hung by a leather thong (9) from one of the supporting poles of the long house. His long spear was propped against the pole. Blue Feather tiptoed silently over to Father's things. There at the base of the support pole she found the skin pouch containing his stone chipping tools, chert (10) arrowheads and spear points, and pieces of stone to make more. If only I were small enough to fit in this bag and go along with you she thought. Slowly her lips curved upward into a smile as an idea formed in her mind. She reached up and pulled two blue feathers from her headband and slipped them inside Father's tool pouch. "You will know I am thinking of you when you see them," she whispered as she pulled the drawstring and tied it tight.
Carefully she made her way back to her mat and covered herself and Rippling Waters with the deerskin blanket. There was still a chill in the air of the early summer morning.
Later that morning, those who were staying behind said good-bye to the hunters, warriors, and the others as they left the village to go on the great hunt. They would be gone for at least one cycle of the moon (11), if not more. Blue Feather watched until the last of them had disappeared over the ridge before she turned to her work. She closed her eyes for a moment and again imagined herself to be a majestic eagle flying high above her people. Blue Feather spread her arms wide, pretending to sore above the prairie. She let out a cry like an eagle and then bounded off toward the crops she was to look after that morning.
CHAPTER 2--A Long Dry Summer
As the days passed Blue Feather worked diligently at her chores. She carried water from the river to water the corn and bean plants. Some days she picked yellowish beetles from the squash and pumpkin plants so they would not eat the blossoms and ruin the crop. Other days she would look after Rippling Waters so her mother could get work done around the village.
"I wish it would rain," Blue Feather said wearily to her mother one hot afternoon.
"I do too, Blue Feather. But we must use what we are given and wait for the spirits to provide as they see fit," said Shining Moon. "You are doing a good job tending and watering the crops with the others."
Blue Feather smiled proudly and filled her water jar (12) to the top. Carefully she carried the heavy load of precious water to the nearby plot of bean plants. When she had drained her jar she went back for more water and continued her chore without complaint. It was hard work, but the beans would be a large part of the winter food stores that would keep the village alive through the scare times of colder weather (13). Reminding herself of how important her task was to the village kept her strong as she worked. Father is depending on me she thought.
That night those who had remained in the village gathered to prepare their evening meal and ask the great spirits to watch over their loved ones on the great hunt. They had been gone for nearly a full cycle of the moon and could be returning at any time. The children ran and played in the dimming twilight as their mothers and elderly ones of the village prepared their meal. Blue Feather watched the children as they played their games. Rippling Waters and the other boys his age played with the small bows and arrows made by their fathers and older brothers. They pretended to be on a great hunt of their own. (14) The little girls chased about or sat weaving small grass mats for their dolls made of cornhusk or scraps of animal hide. (15) Blue Feather kept looking until she found her friend Prairie Flower. She had stayed behind to help her mother look after her baby brother and care for her aging grandparents.
Prairie Flower's brother was just a little older than Little Star. They would grow up in the village together just as Blue Feather and Prairie Flower had. There had been little time to play since the others had gone on the great hunt, so the two girls were happy to have this time together. As they sat on a large flat rock where they could watch over the children they talked about their chores and how they both wished it would rain.
"I miss them all," Blue Feather said looking around and gesturing towards the lonely looking long houses.
"So do I," agreed Prairie Flower. "Mother says that they should return soon. The moon has been through one cycle and will soon begin another."
"There will be a lot of work to do when they return, too," Blue Feather said. Prairie Flower nodded her head. The two girls were silent for a moment as they watched the younger children playing.
"I'll be right back," Blue Feather said with a smile to her friend. Without another word she took off toward the women. She found her mother and talked for a moment. A short time later she returned to Prairie Flower with a big grin on her face and her hands behind her back.
"Where did you go?" Prairie Flower asked curiously.
"I thought of something I wanted to make for you so that you could think of me even on days when we're so busy tending the crops and helping out mothers that we don't have time to talk or play." From behind her back she brought a large bound bundle of thick prairie grass stalks. They were bound together with two narrow strips of hide. "Mother helped me make it for you just now," said Blue Feather happily as she handed the gift to her friend. "And here, this is for you too." She reached up and pulled two feathers from underneath her leather headband. I found them in the woods today while I was gathering nuts and berries." One feather was a shimmering golden brown and the other was red and black. (16)
"Oh, they are beautiful!" exclaimed Prairie Flower, leaning over to embrace her friend. "I can think of you every morning when I brush my hair, even if I don't get to see you!" She handed the new brush back to her friend and asked, "Would you brush my hair with it for the first time?"
Blue Feather was delighted that Prairie Flower had liked the gift. The two girls had grown up together and were as close as sisters. Blue Feather smiled and, grasping the new brush with both hands, gently brushed Prairie Flower's long wavy black hair until it shone in the moonlight. She finished tying the braids with thin leather thongs and reached for the two new feathers as the women called to their children to come and eat. Blue Feather tucked one feather into the end of each braid and handed the new brush back to
"Oh, thank you!" Prairie Flower cried as she held her braids out in front of her so she could see the feathers. She hugged her friend once again and hand in hand the two girls ran to catch up with the other children.
CHAPTER 3--The Storm
Several more weeks passed and the others still did not return from the great hunt. Blue Feather and Prairie Flower shared their secrets and dreams in the few moments they had. Most of their time was spent tending the crops and watching after their younger siblings. There had been very little rain and the ground was hard and dry and parched. The task of fetching water and drenching the crops seemed to take longer every day.
One scorching afternoon the sun beat down relentlessly on the Osage village and the girls carried more water from the river than they had ever carried before. The fine hair around Blue Feather's round face formed wet ringlets in the sweat and humidity. She wiggled uncomfortably as small streams of perspiration trickled, itching, down her back. "I am so tired and so hot!" she muttered to herself. Just then she heard the screech of an eagle hovering high over the meadow. Exhausted, she washed her hot face with cool water and lay back on the riverbank to watch the bird. As she lay there, still, with the cool water flowing over her bare feet, she imagined again that she was flying over the great hunt. Where are they and what are they doing right now? she wondered. She closed her eyes and pictured her father on the great hunt.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a scream! Opening her eyes she found herself looking up into the terrified face of Prairie Flower!
Blue Feather bolted upright. "What's wrong?" she demanded.
"Oh, Blue Feather! I thought you were hurt, or..." Prairie Flower paused, not wanting to even say the word,"...or dead!" A smile of relief spread across her face as she realized her friend was only resting.
"I was pretending I was that eagle," Blue Feather said pointing to the eagle still soaring overhead, "and I was flying over the hunters. They were coming home!"
"Oh, I hope they are coming home!" Prairie Flower exclaimed dipping her feet into the cool water.
The girls filled their water jars once again and continued with their work. Their rest had given them more energy and motivation to continue.
That night it was hot and humid in the long house. Little Star cried and Rippling Waters tossed in his sleep, uncomfortable on the grass mats. Blue Feather was having a hard time sleeping too. Every time she got comfortable the baby would cry or Rippling Waters would roll around. One time his hand smacked her across the face and another time he kicked her in the shin. She was tired and sore from the strenuous work, but she could not close her eyes. She lay still and listened to the symphony of nature's night. Crickets chirped, accompanying the sounds of the rushing river. A breeze blew through the trees; tossing the leaves and making a swooshing sound. Wait. What was that sound? She had been so intent on the sounds outside that she had missed some of the sounds in the long house. Her mother was breathing evenly beside her, and Rippling Waters was finally calm. Even Little Star was sleeping peacefully.
She began listening to the outside sounds again, hoping that their gentle music would lull her to sleep. As she listened she picked out the sound of an owl in the locust grove. The distant cries of wolves echoed off the river bluffs. Swish. Swish. Swish. The wind through the trees was like the gentle voice of her mother saying "Hush, Hush," to the baby. Gradually Blue Feather felt her eyes grow heavy and just as she was drifting off to sleep... CRACK!
A loud clap of thunder broke the silence and she sat upright, breathless! Rippling Waters tossed again, and Little Star began to fuss. Blue Feather looked at her mother as she rolled over to sooth the baby just as another deafening round of thunder rumbled through the valley. This time Rippling Waters screamed and in his half-asleep state tried to burrow under the stacked buffalo robes and deerskin blankets. Blue Feather smiled lovingly at him and suppressed a giggle as she grabbed him by the ankles and pulled him back. She took his struggling form into her arms as she had seen Mother do so many times, and she held him tight to comfort him. Her arms, sore from carrying so many filled water jars, ached, but she held him and rocked him. Outside the thunder cracked and bolts of lightening sliced open the belly of the heavens, releasing the life-giving waters on the village and crops below.
At some time during the storm, Blue Feather fell asleep with her brother in her arms. When she opened her eyes the next morning she was still holding him, but they were both lying on the grass mats their mother had woven. Grabbing a deerskin blanket to cover Rippling Waters, she got up and silently went to the door at the end of the long house.
Stepping outside, Blue Feather took a deep breath. The earth smelled clean, refreshed and renewed. The prairie grasses were again rippling like waves of water. Now, however, instead of being dull from the dust of the thirsty ground, they sparkled brightly with droplets of water remaining from the rains of the night before. Blue Feather took another deep breath, but this one she blew out in a sigh of relief and she smiled to herself. Today I don't have to water the crops!
She ran joyfully into the wet meadow, enjoying the feel of the rain-cooled air and the cold spray of the water flung into the air by her rapid movement through the tall grass. Blue Feather spread her arms and closed her eyes as she ran. Once again she was the eagle over the great hunt, and this time she was certain that they were coming home!
CHAPTER 4--Triumphant Return
The refreshing rains seemed to bring a spirit of joy to those left in the village. Blue Feather and Prairie Flower were especially happy because they did not have to help water the crops for a while. Their mothers and some of the others had the girls look after the small children while they worked. This gave the girls time to talk and play together.
It was on one of these days, while they were watching the babies and some of the other children that Blue Feather again heard the distant call of an eagle. There was something different about this eagle cry, though. She stopped talking to Prairie Flower to listen, but it was not quiet enough.
"Rippling Waters, stop beating your drum for a moment," Blue Feather shushed her brother. She stood up on the big rock and faced into the wind, listening closely for the eagle's cry. Finally she heard it again. The eagle's cry was calling her.
"They are near," Blue Feather whispered to the wind. She stood on the rock with her arms outstretched and her loose hair flowing in the wind. Blue Feather closed her eyes and listened for the eagle's cry to come again. When she heard it she answered back with her own cry. (17) The eagle called again and again she answered.
Without warning Blue Feather leapt gracefully from the tip of the big rock and, without missing a step, ran off through the meadow towards the hill on the other side of the village. This time she was "flying" with her eyes open! Behind her she could hear that her brother had started beating his drum again. She ran in rhythm to his persistent beat, answering the eagle when it called.
Blue Feather had run all the way up the high hill and dropped to her knees at the top, feeling as though her heart would burst. Her lungs were burning and she was breathing heavily. Again she looked into the wind and listened for the eagle to call her. When the call came she looked in the direction from which it had come. At first she saw nothing...nothing but the rolling waves of prairie grass and the groves of trees and thickets that dotted the hills and valleys laid out before her. As she perched on the top of her world her heart prodded, look harder.
Blue Feather strained her eyes to see. Way off in the distance, on the last hill that stretched out before her, she saw movement. She called to the eagle and it distantly called back. The moving spots seemed to be sliding down that distant hill. Blue Feather jumped up excitedly. She turned and looked back toward the village. Funneling her hands around her mouth and directing her words in the way of the blowing wind, she yelled in her loudest voice, "They are coming! They are coming home!"
She turned back to the scene before her and focused on the tiny moving spots on the distant hill. Blue Feather called to the eagle, two times in rapid succession, and the eagle called back, two times. As she watched, one of the moving spots moved out quickly ahead of the others. That is Father her heart told her. It has to be. She called again and the moving spot stopped and the eagle answered back.
Blue Feather was off again and this time she didn't stop running until she fell, breathless, into the waiting arms of her father. He was running ahead of the rest of the group to meet her. Straight Arrow dropped the load he was carrying on his back and picked up his daughter. He held her high, swinging her in a circle so that her hair whipped around her head and flew back into her face.
"Oh Father," Blue Feather giggled, "I missed you so!" She put her arms around his neck and held him tight. She fingered the roach (18) of his hair. What she saw made her smile even wider. Placing her hands on his shoulders she pushed back and looked into his face. "You found them!"
"Yes, I found them, my lovely Blue Feather. I found your gifts and I put them in my hair so you’d always be close to me," Straight Arrow smiled back.
"And you were the eagle calling, weren't you," Blue Feather asked, already knowing the answer.
"I knew you would hear me and that you would come to meet me. I couldn't wait to see you again!" her father answered.
"I couldn't wait to see you either," Blue Feather whispered as he stood her gently back on the ground. "That is why I flew to you on the wind."
Straight Arrow picked up his load as the rest of the hunting group caught up to them. "You're a little late to go on the hunt," chided Prairie Flower's two older brothers, grinning at their sister's friend.
Blue Feather crinkled up her nose, making a face at them. Then she grinned back before turning and taking her father's arrow quiver.
On the walk back Blue Feather told Straight Arrow about the events of the summer. "Mother is more beautiful than ever," she insisted. "And Little Star will look just like her, I just know it!"
"You look just like her, too," Straight Arrow said, squeezing her small hand.
Blue Feather felt her face flush, and changed the subject. "Rippling Waters is getting a lot of practice with his bow and arrow. And Little Star is getting so big you won't know her."
Blue Feather told her father about watering the crops and tending the children. She related details of the storm and how it had quenched the earth's thirst. Before long they arrived at the village and all of the families were reunited.
The gathered provisions were divided equally and each family took their part back to their long house to store it up for the winter. Straight Arrow untied the load he had carried home and brought out gifts for each one in his family. Rippling Waters was given two small arrows that Father had made while he was gone. He snatched up his little bow and ran off to find his friends to play.
Straight Arrow placed a necklace of shell beads (19) around Shining Moon’s neck. He had gotten them in trade (20) from some friendly Kiowa (21) tribesmen they had met. For Little Star he had a small turtle shell. “With a little work,” he promised, “this will make a perfect rattle (22) for you.”
Straight Arrow pulled out a small skin bag and tossed it to Blue Feather. She opened it and poured the contents into her gourd dish (23). There were shell beads and some sinew (24) to string them on. Several pretty pebbles from a streambed rolled around in the bottom of the dish. Blue Feather's eyes sparkled with delight.
"Oh, one more," Straight Arrow said, opening his hand to reveal a small leather package bound with sinew. He held it out to Blue Feather and she opened it carefully. Inside were five beautiful blue feathers (25), two bright red and black feathers (26), and a few fluffy brown ones with an iridescent fan at the top (27).
Blue Feather hugged her father again, and gently placed her treasure in the dish with the beads. Straight Arrow helped Shining Moon with the papoose board. As was the way of the Osage, the villagers would celebrate with a feast to thank the great spirits for their successful hunt and safe return.
Continue the Blue Feather adventure
by going on to chapters 5-11!
1 Long House: the form of shelter built by some of the woodland and middle plains Indians. The sides were made by standing two rows of tall poles upright in the ground. The tops of these poles were then bent toward the center and tied to form a sort of dome-shaped oval. Other poles were tied horizontally to support the walls. The walls and roof of the long house were made from woven grass/plant mats that were overlapped so that wind and rain could not get in. Down the center of the long house was a row of sturdy support poles to hold up the roof. Alongside these poles was a row of fireplaces. The fireplaces were shallow pits dug into the floor. Above each of the fire pits was a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. Most of the floor of the long house was covered with grass mats that served as a place to sit during the day and something to sleep on at night. The people hung bags of dried food from the support poles. This food was kept to sustain them during the winter.
2 During the summer months, most of the people of an Osage village participated in the great hunt. Much of the meat obtained during this time was smoked and dried for winter use. Those women with very young children, the aged, and the ill were left in the village where they cared for various crops.
3 Papoose Board: a flat board to which an infant could be strapped. The mother then strapped the board to her back so that she could carry her infant and still have both hands free for her work.
4 The Osage River runs across central Missouri.
5 Medicine Man: a wise man of the tribe with knowledge of plants and herbs that could be used for healing various ailments. The medicine man was often a religious figure in the tribe as well as a healer. Many Native American women also knew how to use the plants and herbs, but they did not hold a religious position in the tribe.
6 Older children often stayed behind to help their mothers with very young children and aged relatives.
7 The eagle held special significance for many Native American peoples.
8 Quiver: a long bag used to hold arrows.
9 Thong: a thin strip of leather that could be used for many purposes.
10 Chert: A hard smooth stone similar to flint that was used to make arrow points and other tools.
11 Cycle of the moon: most Native American cultures relied on the cycles of the sun and the moon to help them keep track of time. Once cycle of the moon would represent the time from full moon to full moon.
12 The Osage people made various types of clay pottery.
13 The Osage Indians lived in a large part of the area that now makes up the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. You may want to learn more about the climate of this region.
14 When the young boys of the tribe learned to shoot with a bow and arrow, it was play for them. As they got older, what was once a game became a means of acquiring food and protection.
15 Little girls learned weaving, sewing, and other skills by doing them as children.
16 Many Native American tribes used feathers to decorate their clothing, their hair, and their weapons. Some feathers had important significance attached to them, such as eagle feathers. Other feathers were just for decoration. Feathers as described here are cardinal and wild turkey feathers.
17 Native Americans often imitated the sounds of birds and animals to send signals and messages.
18 Roach: a decoration of braided or woven plant fiber, beads, feathers, fur, porcupine quills, animal hair, etc. that was tied into a narrow strip of hair. It was the Osage custom for the men to shave their heads, so the only hair they had to tie these decorations into was a very narrow strip that ran from about the center of the top of the head to the base of the skull.
19 Indians that lived near the ocean and what we now call the Gulf of Mexico made beads from cutting small disks from shells.
20 Tribes that had good relations with each other often traded goods when they met up with one another. In this way, items such as shells that would only be found in coastal areas have been found far inland, away from their natural location.
21 The Kiowa Indians lived further to the south of the Osage.
22 Rattles could be made of many different materials. Some had ceremonial importance and others were used for toys.
23 Gourd dish: a very serviceable dish or bowl could be fashioned from the round bottom of a gourd. When dried, it became very hard and durable, even waterproof. Various containers could be made from gourds, including bowls and cups to eat out of, storage containers, and water containers.
24 Sinew: long, fibrous ligaments. These ligaments made very strong thread and string for sewing and tying things together.
25 Blue jays and bluebirds live in this area of the country even today.
26 Cardinals are plentiful in this area of the country.
27 Wild turkeys roam the woods and meadows of natural areas. Though they look rather dull from a distance, their individual feathers are quite pretty.