How the Summer Season Came

A long time ago, the Assimboine people were in country almost always covered with snow. There were no horses and only dogs were used to carry things.

A small war party, that had been gone a long time, returned and went at once to the chief's lodge. They told him to call his counsellors together for they had an important message. The chief set food before them and sent his camp crier to call the council members to his lodge.

The spokesman said, "We have been away from our people for many moons. We have set foot on land that belongs to others-, we have set foot on land without snow. It is in the direction of where the sun rests at midday.

"In the middle of a large encampment there is a lodge painted yellow. In this the summer is kept in a bag hung on a tripod. Four old men guard it day and night. One sits in the back, directly under the tripod; another lies across the entrance and two others sit on each side of the fireplace."

The chief and his headmen sat in council until one of them said, "Let us call in a representative of each kind of the fast running animals and ask them to help us bring this wonderful thing to our country. " So the camp crier went forth and called to those medicine men, who had fast running animals for their helpers, to invite them to the lodge.

When all were in council the chief said, "My people and my brothers (the animals), far in the direction of midday there is the summer and I call you here to make plans to bring it to our people. The ones who go will never come back alive but they will do a great good to our people and their kind-, for their children will enjoy the breath of the summer forever."

It was decided to send the Lynx, the Red Fox, the Antelope, the Coyote and the Wolf. The young warriors, who knew the way, were to guide the runners to the encampment.

After many days' march they arrived near the camp and took council. The spokesman said, "The Lynx will go into the lodge and bring out the bag containing the summer, because nobody can hear him walk. He will give it to the Red Fox, who will be waiting for him along the way. From there, the Antelope will carry it to the Coyote, who will take it to the Wolf who is long-winded, and he will bring it to us by the big river, where we will be waiting on the opposite bank. From there we will take it to our people."

So, the Lynx was left there and the rest went back in the direction from which they had come.

The Red Fox first was told to take his position, and so on until all the animals were stationed a certain distance apart according to the ability of the runner. If an animal was short-winded, it was not required to make a long run, for the bag was to be carried at the fastest speed.

Towards morning, before the light showed and when the slumber was in every lodge, the Lynx softly walked to the yellow lodge and looked in. The four old men were all asleep. The bag, containing the summer, was hanging on the tripod in the back part of the lodge.

The summer was in the form of spring water. It moved about in a bag made from the stomach of a buffalo. Now and then it overflowed and trickled along the ground, under the tripod, and in its wake green grass and many different kinds of plants and flowers grew luxuriantly.

Cautiously, on stealthy feet, the Lynx entered, stepping over the entrance and, with a quick jerk, snapped the cord that held the bag. Seizing it tightly in his teeth, he plunged through the door and sped away.

Almost the same instant the old men awakened and gave the alarm: "The summer has been stolen!" The cry went from lodge to lodge and in a short time a group on fast horses were after the Lynx.

They were fast gaining on the Lynx when he gave the bag to the Red Fox who was waiting. The horsemen then killed the Lynx and started after the Fox who, after a time, gave the bag to the Antelope. The Antelope took it to the Coyote, who brought it to the Wolf, the long-winded one, who was to deliver it to the waiting party. Each time the bag was passed to the next runner, the winded animal was killed by the pursuers.

The fast horses were tired but gained steadily on the Wolf. As he sped across the country, the snow melted away directly behind him-, the grass sprang up green-, trees and bushes unfolded their leaves as the summer passed by. Fowls seemed to join the pursuit, as flock after flock flew northward.

As the Wolf crossed the river the ice moved and broke up. By the time the horsemen reached it, the river was flowing bank-full of ice. This halted the Southern people. In sign language they said to the Assimboine, "Let us bargain with each other for the possession of the summer." After a time it was decided that each would keep the summer for six moons. Then it was to be taken back to the river and delivered to the waiting party.

That agreement was kept, so there was summer half of the year in each country. In that way there were the two seasons, the winter and the summer.

After many two-season years had passed, the headmen of the Assimboines decided to have the cranes carry the summer back and forth. They were always the first of the migratory fowl to go south. They moved by easy stages, stopping for long periods at good feeding grounds. By that method of carrying the summer, the winter gradually followed the cranes, so that, instead of the sudden winter as when the summer was taken south by the men, the fall season, Pdanyedu, made its appearance. Long before the cranes returned, there were signs among the plants and animals that the summer was on its way north. That time was called the spring, Wedu.

A late fall or spring was a sign that the cranes had found good feeding grounds and tarried there too long. An early winter or summer was a sign that the carriers had winged their way south or north in haste.

As the cranes flew over an encampment they always circled several times and, with their loud calls, seemed to proclaim their arrival or departure.

So, finally, the Assimboine had four seasons: the winter, Waniyedu the summer, Mnogcdu; the fall, Pdanyedu, and the spring, Wedu.

During the winter and spring of 1901, anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber collected many Gros Ventre myths and tales on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in northern Montana. He did this important work as a member of the Mrs. Morris K. Jesup expedition. Although some of these stories exist in modem forms, Kroeber's transcriptions have a precise and vivid language that preserves the flavor of a tradition in its prime. His informants for these selections were "Assiniboine," a middle-aged man, and Watches All, an old woman. They appeared in Kroeber's "Gros Ventre Myths and Tales," part of the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (1907).