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Tradition of the Finding of Horses
This story comes from Katharine Berry Judson's 1913 collection Myths and Legends of the Great Plains.
Long ago, the people followed the Missouri River northward to a place
where they could step over the water. Then they turned, and were going
across the land. Then they met the Padouca [Comanche].
At that time the Ponca had no animals but dogs to help them carry
burdens. Wherever they went they had to go on foot, but the people
were strong and fleet. They could run a great distance and not be
weary. One day when they were hunting buffalo, they met the Padouca.
Then they had many battles with them. The Padouca were mounted on
strange animals. At first the Ponca thought it was all one animal. The
Padouca had bows made from elk horn. They were not very long, nor were
they very strong. They boiled the horn until it was soft; then they
scraped it, and bound it together with sinews and glue. Their arrows
were tipped with bone. They fought also with a stone battle-ax. The
handle was a sapling; a grooved stone ax head, pointed at both ends,
was fastened to this with rawhides. So the Padouca were terrible
fighters. They protected their horses with a covering of thick rawhide
cut in round pieces, and put together like fish scales. They spread
glue over the outside and then sand. So when the Comanches fought, the
arrows of their enemies glanced off the horses' armor. Then the
Padouca made breastplates for themselves like those of the horses.
When the Ponca met these terrible warriors, they were afraid. They
thought man and horse were one. They named it "Kawa" because they
noticed the odor of the horse. Then they knew by this odor when the
Padouca were coming. When a man smelled the horses, he would run to
the camp and say, "The wind tells us the Kawa are coming." Then the
Ponca would make ready to defend themselves. The Ponca had many
battles with the Comanches. They did not know how to use the animals,
so they killed the horses as well as the men. Neither could they find
out where the Padouca lived.
One day the two tribes had a great battle. The people fought all day.
Sometimes the Ponca were driven back, sometimes the Padouca. Then at
last a Ponca shot a Padouca so that he fell from his horse. Then the
battle ceased. After this, one of the Padouca came toward the Ponca
and said in plain Ponca,
"Who are you? What do you call yourselves?"
The Ponca replied, "We call ourselves Ponca. You speak our language,
are you of our tribe?"
The other said, "No. I speak your language as a gift from a Ponca
spirit. One day I lay on a Ponca grave after a battle. Then a man rose
from the grave and spoke to me. So I know your language."
Then it was agreed to make peace. The tribes visited each other. The
Ponca traded their bows and arrows for horses. They knew where the
Padouca lived. Then the Padouca taught the Ponca how to ride, and how
to put burdens on the horses.
When the Ponca had learned how to ride, and had horses, they went to
war again. They attacked the Padouca in their own village. They
attacked them so many times and stole so many of their horses that at
last the Padouca fled. We do not know where they went. The Ponca
followed the Platte River toward the rising sun; then they came back
to the Missouri, and they brought their horses with them.
More stories to read:
Native American war stories
Stories about horses
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