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Happy Hunting Grounds

Happy Hunting Grounds

4.5 15
by Stanley Vestal

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Here is a story, in thinly disguised fictional form, of Plains Indians, especially a Cheyenne chief, Whirlwind—his manner of life, his beliefs, and particularly, his love of his son. The villain is a Mandan who is given refuge in the Cheyenne camp and then wreaks havoc with the lives of his hosts. He causes a battle with the Sioux, steals the chief’s


Here is a story, in thinly disguised fictional form, of Plains Indians, especially a Cheyenne chief, Whirlwind—his manner of life, his beliefs, and particularly, his love of his son. The villain is a Mandan who is given refuge in the Cheyenne camp and then wreaks havoc with the lives of his hosts. He causes a battle with the Sioux, steals the chief’s favorite wife, and slays the chief’s young son. Whirlwind’s revenge for the death of his beloved son provides a dramatic climax.
Happy Hunting Grounds
recaptures Cheyenne life on the plains. The battles, celebrations, and lifeways of the Indians—Sioux, Cheyennes, and Mandans—are accurately and graphically portrayed. This volume is illustrated with drawings and paintings by Frederick Weygold, reflecting his own long association with the Plains tribes.       

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Vestal is lyrical without growing sentimental, mingling Indian music and ritual into a story of high adventure. A treat.”—New York Times

"The writing of this story is superb. In perhaps no other book is there as vivid and complete a commentary on Plains Indian camp life and activity.”—Western American Literature

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University of Oklahoma Press
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Read an Excerpt

Happy Hunting Grounds

By Stanley Vestal, Frederick Weygold


Copyright © 1928 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8769-3



It was summer. The cottonwoods along the river shimmered in the hot noon sun. There was the silence of the prairie.

Suddenly an unkempt pinto loped wearily out of the shadow of the trees towards the ford. The lariat lashed round his lower jaw whipped his lathered shoulders and trailed beside him in the dust. At every jump his half-naked Indian rider struck the smoking flanks heavily with the quirt. The pony crossed the short stretch of sun-burnt grass, scuffled down the sandy bank and, spattering through the shallows, came to a stop and thrust its thirsty muzzle eye-deep into the muddy waters. The man knelt on the pony's back to keep his moccasins dry, and showered blows mercilessly upon his heedless mount.

One after another, at the same desperate gait, other tired ponies emerged from the timber and splashed into the stream. They drank frantically for the brief moment allowed them by their masters. Then they scrambled out under the lash and stood with heaving sides, hanging their heads dejectedly in the noonday sun. The horsemen did not dismount. They slouched wearily, their naked legs dangling limply against the damp sides of their mounts. They said little, but watched anxiously the cottonwood grove from which they had just emerged.

At length another horseman came in sight. He was driving before him a pony on whose back lay a warrior. The man's thighs were lashed to the pony's barrel with a lariat, his hands were twisted in the pony's mane, his sagging head bobbed with every jump of the fagged animal. The pair splashed through the ford and out again, and came to a stop when the group was reached. Some of the warriors now dismounted, approached the wounded man, and gave him a drink. But they made no move to take him from the pony's back, badly hurt though he was. All the men displayed an anxiety to be gone that showed how desperate was their haste. Since gray dawn of the day before they had ridden almost without rest to escape the overwhelming numbers of their pursuing enemies, the Blackfeet, and every hilltop showed the nearness of the cloud of dust which hung upon their rear and gained and gained. Their expedition had been a failure. They had been discovered and repulsed in the act of taking ponies from the Blackfoot camp. One had been killed there. It was doubtful whether the others could escape.

The wounded man struggled to raise his body to a sitting position on the pony's back, swept his dishevelled hair from before his bloodshot eyes, and spoke to his comrades.

"Friends, I can go no farther. My heart is poor. Take pity on me. Let me rest awhile."

Nothing was said to this, but it was apparent at once that the others would not entertain such a proposal. Behind came the Blackfeet, sure death to all who were overtaken. Ahead lay the safety of the palisaded Mandan village on the bluffs of the Missouri. It was their lives against him, and he saw they would not tarry. But the wounded man made no protest.

"Friends, I can go no farther. Leave me here on the trail where I can die fighting. Tell my comrades to avenge me."

No time was lost. Quickly the lariat about his thighs was loosened. They lowered him gently from the horse's back and laid him upon a buffalo robe spread in the shadow of a clump of young willows. They placed his lance and quiver beside him, gave him a handful of jerked beef—all the food they had—mounted without a word and rode rapidly away through the parched bottoms and over the hill.

Silence settled once more on the valley. Killer sat in the shadow of the willows facing the river. From his quiver of panther skin he took several arrows and thrust the points lightly into the ground before him, so that they would be handy. He satisfied himself that his bow was in order and laid it aside.

Whoever approached him must come in the open, and he counted upon killing several enemies before they reached him. Even then he would not be entirely helpless, for his lance was strong and well made, with a two-edged steel blade a foot long and as sharp as a razor. How soon his enemies might come he could not tell. He thought it would not be long.

The wounded man was well built, with the straight back, capacious chest, sinewy limbs, and small hands and feet of the typical Plains Indian. He carried his head proudly, and his face showed strength and poise. The nose was large and aquiline, the chin square and aggressive, the eyes steady, the mouth firm, with lips thrust out, as it were, in sinister curves. As he sat there nursing his roughly bandaged shin, few would have supposed that he had undergone such a ride with a broken leg and was now awaiting certain death.

It was very quiet. The breeze scarcely stirred the foliage of the willows. The midday sun beat down upon the dry, white sand about him with a dazzling glare, while the heat waves made the prairie beyond the river dance dizzily. Far up in the blue a buzzard circled on outstretched wings, watchful and alone. The afternoon sun sloped slowly towards the west, while Killer the Mandan scanned the sun-dazed terrain with fevered eyes.

Slowly the time dragged on, and the westering sun shifted the shadow of his shelter, so that he was obliged to move his position little by little to avoid its rays. Killer began to droop under the strain, though he sang his death-song over and over again. The song was a plaintive melody in a minor key, with many vocables and few words. It expressed briefly his bitter reproach to the Grizzly Bear, his guardian spirit, which had promised him—in a vision—safety in battle. The words of the song rose and fell on the vibrant melody with pathetic insistence:

"The Grizzly Bear has deceived me!"

Evening came, and the coyotes on the hill-tops round about yelped their chattering, shuddering protest at the mockery of life. When the sun went down the heat suddenly lifted, and the dry chill of night settled upon the plains. Killer drew his robe about him and shook with fever. It was clear to him that the Blackfeet had given up the case. He was left to die without a battle, to become the meat of crows and coyotes. His heart sank. Towards morning he became delirious and sang and shouted, rolling about upon the sand in imaginary battles with his foes, until at length he lay quiet in the cool earth among the roots of the willows. So he lay until his fever left him. His brain cleared and his empty stomach drove him to take stock of food. He ate sparingly of his handful of dried beef, crept painfully to the river for a drink, and slept again.

Next day his strength began to return, his spirits rose, and he was glad to find himself alive. His pony had deserted him and he made no attempt to travel, but lay quiet making plans and watching for a chance to knock down a rabbit or some larger animal on which to live until his leg would bear him. Occasionally he succeeded in adding a little fresh meat to his miserable fare. But his appetite was ravenous. So days passed. At last he found his leg apparently sound. He planned to start home that night.

The same afternoon a great dust swept over the hills a mile away. It rapidly advanced toward the river. As it came nearer, a thunder of hoofs shook the earth, and Killer could make out the sharp horns and swinging heads of fleeing buffalo. Flanking the herd and thrust boldly into the midst of it, half hidden by the swirling dust, trained buffalo ponies carried their naked riders in hot pursuit of the fat cows, while in the rear the heavier, less speedy bulls labored frantically to maintain the pace. Straight towards the river they came, where Killer watched in dismay, unable as he was to run out of the path of the trampling hoofs. But the leaders swerved at the river bank and swept away into the timber, leaving the bottom land studded with the black carcasses of dead and dying buffalo.

When the dust cleared away, Killer could see the hunters, singly and in groups, running down wounded animals. One of these, her sides bristling with feathered shafts, plunged through the stream and stopped a short distance from the wounded man. The cow faced her pursuers doggedly, turning with surprising agility as they maneuvered, propping herself upon her failing limbs and shaking her head threateningly as it drooped lower and lower between her forelegs, heaving and groaning, while blood and slaver poured from her muzzle upon the trampled grass. The hunters rode round and round the dying cow, jerking arrow after arrow from their quivers and sending them into the vitals of their game. At last the animal seemed to become unconscious of their presence. The eyes glazed, the legs stiffened, and the great carcass toppled of a sudden to the ground.

Scarcely had it done so when the hunters dismounted, tied their ponies to the creature's horns, drew out their arrows, and were at work skinning and cutting up the carcass. So expert were they that in a few minutes the hide had been removed and the animal reduced to a heap of quivering ruins. Not a stroke of the knife was wasted or went astray. The flesh from the ribs was sliced away, the vitals removed and cleaned, the limbs severed and divided, the ribs broken from the backbone by blows from one of the animal's legs used as a hammer, and the whole securely packed in the hide upon the backs of pack horses brought up by boys from the rear.

Killer stared hungrily from his hiding place at the juicy, dark red meat. And when the hunters paused in their butchering to enjoy the tidbit of warm, raw liver seasoned with gall, the starving man licked his lips and swallowed, and only strong self-control prevented him from leaving his refuge and hobbling to the feast.

He knew the hunters were Cheyennes, a tribe with which his people had no quarrel. But he knew the customs of the plains too well to trust himself to the mercy of strangers in the open. A scalp is a scalp. He himself would not have scrupled to kill a lone Cheyenne under like circumstances. So he took no chances.

Soon the prairie became alive with Indians—hunters returning jauntily on their buffalo ponies, boys and women with strings of pack animals and travois coming out to dress and carry home the meat. Starving though he was, Killer forgot his hunger in his anxiety to escape detection. He lay motionless, alert to every movement on the prairie. No one found him. Even the lean dogs which came prowling and sniffing to find a little blood where a carcass had been cut up were too intent upon their search to trouble him. An Indian butcher leaves no offal, and the smell of the kill only intensified the ravenous appetites of the dogs and made them indifferent to everything else.

All afternoon until night the pack trains, one after another, passed Killer's hiding place loaded with good things and vanished over the hill on their way to the Cheyenne camp, leaving the scene of the hunt as barren of food as he had found it. But Killer was not reassured. Alone, disabled, starving, and afoot, his chances of escape from a region hourly patrolled by the young men of the Cheyenne camp were poor indeed. To remain where he was meant starvation. To start for home meant a long and painful journey in momentary danger of death. But if he could reach the Cheyenne camp undetected, he might be able to steal a good pony and be miles away before the Cheyennes discovered their loss. In any case he might get meat from a drying-scaffold. And once inside their camp he might count on protection from the same men who would have killed him as a matter of course on the open prairie.

When it was night and the prairie had long been empty of life, Killer made a tiny fire well screened from view, and smoothed the sand before him with his hand. On the smooth place he laid a glowing coal from the fire. He took from the small pouch fastened to his belt a handful of cedar leaves and poured them upon the hot coal. As the white smoke rose through the still air, he bathed his hands in its incense and rubbed them upon his body, his limbs, and his head. This rite of purification ended, he took from the pouch a small pipe such as warriors carry—short and thick, fashioned from the leg bone of a deer and bound tightly against the heat with heavy strands of sinew knotted and shrunk about it. The larger end of this straight tube he filled with the last remnants of his tobacco, and holding it upright before him, addressed the Mysterious Powers which held his life in their keeping.

"Master of Life, behold this pipe. Smoke it. I do not ask to kill anybody. I only want to take food and get horses. I ask you to help me. I will now smoke this pipe in your honor. I have let my breasts be pierced in the Medicine Lodge. I have shed much blood. I ask you to protect me and give me long life. Let me take good horses!"

Killer lighted the pipe, smoked it, and put it away. He smothered the ashes of his fire and got stiffly to his feet. He threw his quiver about his shoulders, and dragging his robe by one corner and supporting himself with his lance, he slowly and painfully crossed the stream and followed the trail of the buffalo hunters.

Laboriously he crossed the bottoms and mounted the slope. Beyond this lay several gentle swells of the prairie, and he limped across these as well, his trained eye following without difficulty the converging trails of the pack trains. His progress was very slow. Often he stopped to rest. But at last he paused on the top of the last rise. At his feet ran a shallow, wooded stream and beyond this, white and ghostly in the moonlight, rose the great circle of the Cheyenne camp.



KILLER lay among the bunchgrass on the hilltop east of the Cheyenne camp. To the south the dark timber and high, barren bluffs beyond stretched dimly away on his left, marking the course of the river from which he had just come. Beyond the camp a high ridge cut off all view to the west. On his right, to the north of the camp, a small stream issued lazily from among scattered groups of trees, and hugging the line of tipis on that side, passed beneath the little bluff on which he lay, then angled away towards the river. Across this stream and just below him, on a level, grassy flat, stood the camp.

The tipis were pitched at intervals with considerable regularity, the whole camp forming a great horseshoe with the opening or entrance to the north. Close within this circle of white tipis appeared a dark ring of picketed ponies. The large central space was unoccupied save by dark masses which Killer knew to be herds of less valuable horses.

The scattered trees along the little creek mingled with the tipis on that side of the circle, so that it was impossible to make an accurate count of them from where Killer lay. On the farther side the tents melted into a vague white blur in the moonlight. Nevertheless, he counted more than a hundred tipis, not including the many small shelters used as kitchens or sunshades during the day. Two hundred warriors and more were in that camp—with plenty of ponies, he reflected. If he succeeded in getting away on one of their mounts he would be lucky, considering his weakened condition.

Killer had been a long time reaching the camp, and the night was far gone. But he knew that after a successful hunt there would be much feasting and merrymaking. Many of the people would be awake and abroad all night. Fresh meat was not to be had every day. He waited a long time, watching the camp.

Everywhere among the lodges small outdoor cooking fires leaped and danced where people were still picking over the huge piles of meat and roasting their favorite portions on sticks before the blaze. Here and there a tipi glowed yellow through the night as the firelight played against its covering of hides above the shoulders of the gamblers and talkers within. He could hear the dull thudding of a drum, and when the breeze served, a wisp of song or the shrill, quavering yelp of a dancer. Dark forms flitted about the fires, weird and unearthly against the pale, drifting smoke. From the trees beyond the camp came the full, clear notes of a flute, monotonously repeating a lover's call to his chosen maiden in a nearby tipi. Groups of serenaders moved around the circle in their white robes, stopping to partake of the hospitality of the feasters about the fires. At intervals, Killer could hear the wild, wailing cries of some family of mourners, rising and dying away like the melancholy voice of a wolf. Gradually the fires died down, the sounds of merriment became less frequent. Still Killer lay on the hilltop. Above him the solemn constellations, showing blue and faint in the moonlight, wheeled slowly across the sky. Once a dog raised a long, dismal howl which was taken up by others and still others around the circle until all the dogs of the camp added their baying and yelping to the hideous chorus, producing a weird and discordant clamor at once fierce and mournful, which died away as suddenly as it began. Slowly the moon dropped towards the west. Killer waited until all sound and movement had ceased and the great camp seemed to sleep.


Excerpted from Happy Hunting Grounds by Stanley Vestal, Frederick Weygold. Copyright © 1928 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stanley Vestal is the pen name of Walter S. Campbell, who up grew up in Southern Cheyenne country. A graduate of Oxford University and longtime Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma, he wrote many distinguished books on American Indians and the West, including Sitting Bull, Champion of the Sioux.

Father Peter J. Powell was founder and first director of St. Augustine's Center for American Indians, Chicago. He is also the author of the two-volume People of the Sacred Mountain. He is an Honorary Chief of the Northern Cheyenne People. Since 1972 he has been a Research Associate of The D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History, The Newberry Library, Chicago.

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Happy Hunting Grounds 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looks around wondering where mistykit went
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kk got it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Plz come to the nursery i think im having the kits plz come ots urgent ( and snowpaw the reason im telling u is because u said that u nk all the med cat stuff so plz come quickly)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know all medicines. I learned it in fireclan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stimbles in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He has definately suffered enough...What happened to silvertail?!?!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I believe he should be relieved of duties.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He has been through enough! He doesnt need any more as punishment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I believe he has suffered enough with the loss of his mate
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Idk if we have a med cat right now.