Love at First
Tale of the
Sioux Indians by
Percy B. St John
In the very centre of one of the thickest and heaviest woods of the
American continent, where now stands a busy manufacturing town, there
was, some forty years ago, an Indian camp occupied by a small band of
the wild and warlike Sioux. They were not more than fifty in number,
having visited the spot merely for the purpose of hunting, and laying
in a store of provisions for the winter. It chanced, however, that,
coming unexpectedly upon certain Assineboins, who also were outlying
in the woods, following the exciting duty of the chase, a quarrel
ensued, ending in a bloody contest, in which the Sioux were
victorious. With rude tents pitched, without order or method, in an
open glade of the forest, with horses tethered around, and little
dusky imps fighting with the lean dogs that lay lolling their tongues
lazily about, there was yet a picturesque air about the place and its
extraneous features, which would have captivated the eye of one in
search of nature's sunshiny spots. Deeply embosomed within the
autumnal tinted wood, a purling spring that burst from the green
slope of a little mound was the feature which had attracted the
Indians to the locality. Rank grass had once covered the whole
surface of this forest meadow, but this the cattle had closely
cropped, leaving a sward that would have rivalled any European lawn
in its velvety beauty, and that, falling away before the eye, became
inexpressibly soft as it sunk away in the distance.
The setting sun, gilding and crowning the tree tops in wreathed
glory, was gradually paling behind the heavy belt of forest that
enclosed the Sioux camp; the animals, both plumed and four-footed,
that filled the woods, were seeking their accustomed rest; the squaws
were busily engaged in preparing for their expected husbands their
evening meal, just as a long line of grim and painted warriors issued
from the shelter of the trees. A loud cry from the urchins that
squatted round the purlieus of the camp, with a growl of friendly
recognition from the ragged dogs, brought the women to the entrance
of the camp.
The Indians came in in that silent and solemn manner which they are
wont more particularly to assume after the occurrence of important
events. To the no little surprise of the squaws, a prisoner
accompanied the returning party, and all thoughts were effaced but
those in connection with the promised scene of torture and amusement.
It was a young man, faultless in form, with features which in any
land would have been remarkable for their intellectuality and
engaging expression. His round limbs, and his erect figure, well
displayed as he trod unshackled and nearly naked, were the admiration
even of his enemies. His eye was keen and piercing, his lips curled
in an expression of scorn and defiance, while his inflated nostrils
no less marked the inward struggle of his mind, as he scowled
fiercely on his captors.
In the centre of the camp was a strong but rudely-erected log-house,
that served the purpose of a council-chamber, and in this the
prisoner, having been so bound as to render escape, unaided, a matter
of impossibility, was left, while the warriors dispersed to their
wigwams in search of refreshment and repose. A large fire burned in
front of the council-hall, which gave forth so bright a glare, that
any one leaving or entering its precincts could scarcely avoid being
seen by those around. Several maidens, too, having no hungry husbands
requiring their ministering hands, were congregated in front,
conversing upon the probable fate of the Assineboin, and even in some
measure expressing pity for his expected death, so far had his good
looks and youth gone to create sympathy in the hearts of the fair
'Let us see if the warrior weeps,' at length said one of the girls
with a laugh; 'perhaps he will ask for a petticoat, and become a
Curiosity induced the whole bevy to agree, and next moment they were
all within the walls of the council-chamber, the warriors smiling
grimly in their wigwams at this evidence of the universal feminine
failing. A dim and fitful glare from the fire served to reveal the
form of the luckless Indian youth seated upon a log, his eye fixed
upon vacancy. For a moment curiosity kept the whole party silent, and
then, education and habit exerting their influence, the group began
to put in practice those arts which might be expected to awaken in
the prisoner an exhibition of feeling derogatory to his dignity.
'An Assineboin has no eyes; he is a burrowing mole,' said one
tauntingly; 'he creeps about the woods like a serpent, and falls into
the trap of the hunters: a beaver is wiser than he. He is very
cunning, but he cannot deceive a Sioux: he is very brave, but he is a
prisoner, and not a wound shows that he struggled. Go; it is a squaw
whom my people have brought in by mistake.'
A general laugh was the reward of the speaker's wit, while the Indian
moved neither eye, limb, nor muscle. The girl, irritated, opened upon
him with all that volubility of tongue which so strongly
characterises their race. It was, however, in vain. The sun in the
heavens was not more unmoved—a marble statue would have been life
behind him—not a look or sound, not a glance, testified that he even
heard what was passing. Wearied at length with their vain efforts,
the bevy rushed forth into the open air, and, joining hands,
commenced, with loud cries and laughter, a dance round the fire.
A deep and heavy respiration was the only sign the Indian gave of
consciousness—his quick and practised senses told him he was not
'Son of the Evening Light,' said a low and gentle voice, addressing
him by a name which was well known in her tribe as that of their most
dreaded enemy, 'the morning will come, and it will find my brothers
thirsting for blood.'
'The veins of Ah-kre-nay are very full,' replied the warrior calmly;
'they can all drink.'
'The Son of the Evening Light is very brave,' said the other
hurriedly, and in tones which exhibited strong feeling; 'but life is
very sweet. Would he hunt again in the forest?—would his hand once
more strike the grizzly bear?'
Suspecting some deep and cunning artifice of his enemies beneath this
unmistakable offer of escape on the part of the fair Peritana, the
Indian was sternly silent; though the tones which truth assumes are
so powerful and expressive, that he felt almost convinced at heart
she was sincere. The young maiden probably understood his doubts, and
therefore spoke no more, but with quick and ready hands placed a
knife before him, and, cutting the bonds, left him free.
'My sister is very kind,' said the young warrior warmly, after giving
vent to the guttural ugh! the jocund laugh and the romping of the
dancers permitting conversation—'and Ah-kre-nay will remember her in
his dreams.' With this the Assineboin turned towards the entrance of
The Sioux girl replied not, but, pointing to the throng without, and
then passing her hand significantly round her head, folded her arms,
and stood resignedly before the youth.
'Would the Sioux maiden leave her tribe and tread the woods with an
Assineboin?' said the warrior curiously.
'Peritana will die if the Assineboin warrior be found to have
escaped, and Peritana would rather live in the woods than in the
The Assineboin now felt sure that his youth, his appearance, or, at
all events, his probable fate, had excited the sympathies of his
visitor, and gratitude at once created in him a desire to know more
of his fair friend.
'Ah-kre-nay will not depart without his sister; her voice is very
sweet in his ears, sweeter than the cluck of the wild turkey to the
hungry hunter. She is very little; let her hide in the corner of the
'Peritana has a father, tall and straight—an aged hemlock—and two
brothers, bounding like the wild deer—Ah-kre-nay will not raise his
hand against them?'
'They are safe, when Peritana has folded her white arms round them.'
This point settled, the Indian girl handed the youth his tomahawk and
knife, and then obeyed his commands with as much alacrity as if she
had been his legal squaw. The warrior then resumed his former
position, placing the willow-withes which had bound him in such a
manner as readily to appear, by the light of the fire, as if they
were still holding him firm.
This arrangement had scarcely been made, when a couple of grim
warriors appeared in the doorway, after listening to the report of
the girls. Peritana, closing her eyes, held her very breath, lest it
should betray her presence to her people, and thus render all her bold
efforts for him whose fame, beauty, and unfortunate position had won
her heart, of no avail. The young warrior, too, sat motionless as a
statue, his keen ear listening for the sound of the girl's breath. To
his admiration and infinite surprise, her respiration had apparently
ceased. The Sioux at this moment entered, and, glaring curiously at
their enemy, as if satisfied with the survey they had taken, turned
away and moved towards their wigwams. Silence now gradually took the
place of the activity and bustle which had previously reigned. A
sense of security lulled the Indians to rest. Every one of their
enemies, save the prisoner, had perished in the fight, or rather
surprise, by which the victors had mastered their unarmed foes. No
thought was given to treachery within the camp.
Still, the young Assineboin knew that each moment he might be missed.
He therefore listened with deep attention for the slightest sound;
and some quarter of an hour having passed, he rose from his
half-recumbent posture, and stood perfectly erect in the very centre
of the wigwam. Peritana at the same instant stood at his side, coming
from without: she had left the wigwam with so noiseless a step, that
even the exquisite organs of the Indian had been eluded. Neither
spoke, but the girl placed in the warrior's hands a short rifle,
a powder-horn, and a shot-pouch, which he clutched with a delight
which a sense of the danger of his position alone prevented him from
manifesting openly. Slinging them in their proper places, Ah-kre-nay
moved with caution to the door of the wigwam, and next moment was
stalking firmly but noiselessly along the camp, followed by Peritana,
gazing mournfully at the habitations of her tribe. Suddenly, as they
reached the outskirts of the wigwams, and were passing one of the
largest and most conspicuous of the whole, a voice from within
growled forth a hoarse demand of who was there?
'Peritana,' said the girl, in a voice which was choked with emotion,
'is not well; she seeks the woods, to drive away the bad spirit.'
During this brief colloquy the young brave had stepped within the
deep shadow of the tent, his rifle ready cocked. As the girl ceased
speaking, the head of an old warrior was protruded from the wigwam
'Thy sisters have been asleep since the dance was over,' said the
aged Indian; 'why is Peritana awake?'
The girl saw her companion level his rifle—her agitation was
intense. Her feelings were deeply moved on both sides.
'Father,' said she, and the rifle was raised instantly, 'Peritana
goes to the woods; she will not tarry long. Her head is hot; she
cannot sleep now.'
Satisfied with this explanation, the old Sioux retired once more
within the tent, leaving the young warrior and his sad companion to
reach the forest unmolested. Peritana was deeply moved at parting
from her parents, and, but that she knew that death would be her
portion on the discovery of her aiding the escape of Ah-kre-nay,
would gladly have returned to where, as her father had told her, her
sisters slept soundly. The die, however, was cast, and she was now in
the woods, the companion of the runaway.
We must pass over a year of time, and take up our narrative at some
distance from the spot above described. It was a deep dell on the
banks of the upper waters of one of those streams that serve to swell
the Ontario. Perhaps a lovelier spot was never discovered by man. At
a place where the river made a bend, there rose from its bank, at
some distance from the water, a steep but not perpendicular cliff,
thickly grown with bushes, and spotted with flowers, while tall trees
crowned the crest of the eminence. Of a horseshoe form, the two ends
approached the edge of the stream, leaving, however, to the east a
narrow ledge, by which the vale could be approached. The space
between the water and the bottom of the cliff was occupied by a sward
of velvety smoothness, while beneath the rock was a dark and gloomy
natural cavern. The most prominent feature of the scene, however, was
of human formation. It was an Indian hut, which doubtless rose in
this spot for the purpose of concealment. No better place could have
been found within many miles, as the portion of the river which
flowed in sight, from its proximity to a fall, was navigable only to
the smallest canoe, and was therefore never made use of by
travelling-parties. The wigwam was of the usual dome-like shape,
roofed with skins tastefully and elegantly adjusted, while a mass of
creeping and flowering shrubs that entwined themselves around it,
showed it to be no erection of a day. It was a model of cleanliness
and neatness, while a fireplace at some distance out-of-doors, within
the cavern, showed that, at least during the summer months, the
inconvenience of smoke was dispensed with within its walls. The whole
was wrapped in deep silence, looking as if utterly abandoned by every
trace of humanity.
The sun was at its fullest height, proclaiming midday to the tenants
of the woods and fields, when a rustling was heard at the entrance of
the little dell, and an Indian bounded headlong within its shelter.
The wild gleaming of his eye, the fresh wounds which covered his
body, the convulsive thick breathing, the fierce clutching of his
tomahawk and rifle, showed that he fled for his life, while the sound
of many voices below the crag betokened how near his pursuers were to
him. Shaking his empty powder-horn with a look of deep grief, the
Indian warrior threw aside his rifle, now more useless than a pole of
equal length, and, a fire of energy beaming from his eye, raised his
tomahawk. It was, however, but for a moment—his wounds were too
severe to allow any hope of a successful struggle, and next moment
the brave stood unarmed, leaning against the entrance of his wigwam.
On came the pursuers, with an eagerness which hatred and the desire
of revenge rendered blind, and, as they leaped headlong down through
the narrow gap between the water and the cliff, the wounded Indian
felt that, with a firm arm and a good supply of powder and lead, he
might have driven back his enemies in confusion. No sooner did the
Sioux behold their former prisoner, Ah-kre-nay, standing with
dignified calmness at the door of his own wigwam, than their
self-possession at once returned, and the whole party surrounded him
in silence, casting, meanwhile, envious but stealthy looks round his
romantic retreat. An aged warrior, after a due period of silence,
advanced and addressed the captive.
'Ah-kre-nay is very nimble; twelve moons ago he ran like a woman from
the Sioux; to-day he ran again, but his feet forsook him.'
'Twelve moons ago,' replied the captive with exultation flashing in
his eyes, 'Ah-kre-nay was in the midst of a nest of vultures—fifty
warriors surrounded him; but the manitou blinded all their eyes, and
the Assineboin cheated their revenge.'
'But Ah-kre-nay was not alone?' said the old warrior, deeply moved at
his own question.
'The flower of the hills fled to the woods with him—her tongue was
the tongue of a lying Sioux, but her heart was that of a brave
'Where is my child?' said the old warrior, in vain endeavouring to
penetrate the mystery of the hut's contents, and dropping his
figurative language under the influence of excitement—'say, Son of
the Evening Light, where is my child?'
The warrior gazed curiously at the old man; but folding his arms,
made no reply.
The Sioux warrior paused a moment, and then turning to his young men,
ordered them to bind the prisoner, and commence that long list of
atrocious cruelties which ever precede the death of a victim among
the Indians. The hut was scattered to the winds in a moment, and its
wood served to commence the pile which was to play the principal part
in the scene of torture. Ah-kre-nay looked on in silence, his lip
curling scornfully, until the preparations were all made; he then
took his place at the post with sullen composure, and prepared to
suffer in silence all the horrors meditated by the Sioux. A grim
warrior now stood forward with a keen and glittering tomahawk in his
hand, which he began waving and flourishing before the eyes of his
victim, in the hope of making him show some sign of apprehension. In
vain, however, did the old Sioux try every feint; now he would aim a
blow at his feet, and as suddenly change to his face; now he would
graze his very ear; and at length, enraged at the stoicism of his
victim, he raised the gleaming hatchet, as if about to strike in
earnest. The smart crack of a rifle was simultaneous with the
attempt, and the tormentor's arm fell useless by his side. With
habitual fear of the fatal weapon, the Sioux sought cover, and gazing
upward, saw on the summit of the cliff Peritana—a babe slung in a
cradle at her back—in the act of loading her rifle.
'Father,' cried she somewhat wildly, and pointing out how completely
she commanded the pass of the dell, 'in the green days when Peritana
walked not alone, you fed and sheltered me; warm was my wigwam, and
sweet the venison: with which my platter was ever filled. Peritana is
very grateful, but'—and she pointed to her child—' Peritana is a
mother, and she sees her husband, the father of the Little Wolf, in
the hands of his enemies. Her eyes grow dim, and her memory departs.
She cannot see her father, but she sees the enemy of her husband; she
forgets she was ever a Sioux, and remembers only she is now an
Assineboin. If his enemies kill her husband, Peritana will use her
rifle as long as her powder lasts, and then will leap into the water,
and join Ah-kre-nay in the happy hunting-ground of his people. But a
Sioux warrior will not forget he has a daughter,' continued she more
tenderly; 'give her back the father of her child, and Peritana will
bring a great warrior into the Sioux camp.'
The Sioux saw at once the force of her proposition. Certain death
awaited many, if not the whole band, should they strive to ascend the
pass in the face of an infuriated widow; while, should she prevail
upon Ah-kre-nay to forget, for her sake, his hereditary antipathies,
and join the Sioux band, a mighty advantage would accrue. When free,
and acting with perfect freedom, it was probable that the young
Assineboin would show but little resistance to this offer. In ten
minutes after the appearance of Peritana on the cliff, her husband,
who had been an attentive listener, stood fully armed at the mouth of
the pass, free. He was just about to commence the ascent, when,
determined to win the admiration of the Sioux at once, he turned
towards them once more, and, standing in their midst, laid his arm
affectionately on the shoulder of the chief, and cried: 'Come,
Peritana; Ah-kre-nay is with his friends; let not his squaw be afraid
to join him.'
Placing himself and wife thus completely in the power of the Sioux,
without any agreement as to treatment, was a tacit reliance on their
honour, which won upon them at once, and a loud shout of applause
proclaimed that enmity was at an end; and in a few moments more the
old Sioux warrior was gazing, with all the pride of a grandfather,
upon the offspring of his favourite daughter. A few hours of rest
ensued, during which Ah-kre-nay's wounds were bound up, after which
the whole party went on their way rejoicing, and the Sioux numbered
one great warrior more within their bosom. Thus, by the exertion of
remarkable presence of mind, Peritana preserved herself a husband,
saved the babe from orphanship, restored a daughter to her father,
and added a brave soldier to the forces of her tribe. Weeping and
wailing would have availed her nothing; undaunted courage gave her
the victory. The facts of this tale are current still among the
wandering Sioux, who often relate to their wives and young men the
famous deeds of the lovely Peritana.