Near the Old Man’s River set the Blood People’s camp
On the prairies where the winds always blow
Heavy Collar and several braves of his people scouted round
Traveling in coulees they preferred to stay low.
On one of their scoutings, several buffalo were sighted
Heavy Collar, separated from his men, took a bull.
As night drew near, he struck a fire, roasted tongue
And feasted until he his stomach felt quite full.
He crept amongst bunches of long rye- grass
To wait for the morning sun and hide
Not aware of the pile of bones resting there
That lay, coldly in the dark by his side.
In the moments between darkness and dawn
When surroundings dimly take on their form
His face turned to meet the skull’s greeting smile
Of a woman who’d been killed there before.
He knew then why all the previous night
He awoke nearly every hour
He arose and walked away and left the cold bones
Left their haunting and magical power.
During the next long day’s journey
To the Belly River by a way of a stream
He kept thinking of the bones on the ground
At the place he had last seen his dreams.
As darkness came upon the land that night
Legs weary from his treck all day
He crossed over onto an island he’d found
Where trees had floated to and lay.
In a fork of a tree he struck up a fire
And turned his back to it to be warmed
Not able to clear the bones from his head
In his mind they seemed to take form.
The familiar sound of a lodge being dragged
Across the dry and rocky ground
Was coming closer to him from behind him somewhere
In his heart he feared to look ‘round.
Afraid to see what he felt there would be
Afraid to know what was making the sound
Afraid to confront the unknown thing
Dragging towards him across the dry ground.
To his ears came the whistle of a simple drum song
And before him on the log whitely shone
A skeleton there sitting, put together complete
From the woman’s slumbering, cold bones.
Wrapped ‘round her neck was a lodge cover’s rope
From her head smoke flaps extended left and right
Behind her trailed the lodge cover’s form
Fading dimly into the darkness of night.
She sat there on the cottonwood log
Swinging her legs to her whistling tune
Her bones glowing bright from the fire’s burning light
And the light of the shining, full moon.
When Heavy Collar saw her skeleton there
He felt his brave heart melt away
In fear and desperation he spoke to her saying
"Oh ghost. please quickly from me go away"!
"Oh Ghost please won’t you go from my sight
I’m tired and in much need of rest."
The ghost swung her legs in morbid delight
At being his uninvited guest.
In fright, Heavy Collar reached for his rifle and shot
The skeleton screamed and fell from his sight
His confidence restored and relived of the fear
He thought he had killed her that night.
"You dog, You killed me"! she screamed
I will follow you all of your life
Until you too are cold bones and lay dead on the ground
There is no place that you can hide.
Heavy Collar sprang to his feet then
And swiftly fled into the night
Her ghostly words screamed in his head as he ran
"My death threats will soon be made right"!
It mattered not how far he ran
For when he’d catch his breath and rest
"Oh Heavy Collar!" he would hear through the night
And off he would run again fast.
His friends awaited their Chief’s return
Waiting atop the Belly River buttes
In the distance he was sighted coming towards camp
In the distance they saw there were two.
"From the distance comes our Chief"! they said
"He brings someone with him today.
It’s a woman traveling with him we see.
From him we shall steal her away!"
They guessed he had captured her somewhere
Another woman for the cold prairie nights
They joked as the two came closer to them
Came clearer into their sight.
Between the travelers and the men watching
A coulee north and south deeply ran
Into the coulee went their chief and the woman
And out of the coulee came only a man.
When he arrived in camp they laughed
"Where is your woman companion?" they said
"I do not know who you speak of" said he
And in confusion he shook his tired head
"We saw the woman walking with you
You have hidden her in the ravine
You were afraid to bring her to camp today
Afraid that she would be seen!"
"I think you are all crazy
You have not seen what you have said!"
Then with a heavy heart he remembered
What the bones of the Ghost Woman said.
"Where ever you hide I will find you
Because of you I am dead once again
When ever you think you’ve alluded me
My song of death I will send!".
He then told the men his story
Of the night he spent on the ground
Laying near the cold bones that had chased him
Of the dragging, frightening sound.
Of the drum song she whistled to him
Of the things that she had said
The way her presence kept him from resting
And of the rattling sounds in his head.
"Tell us our Chief, why do you lie to us?
We know she waits in the ravine.
We will go down there and bring her here
We know what we have seen.
Together they walked to the coulee below
And there the soft dirt did prove
One set of tracks going in and one coming out
Their Chief had been telling the truth.
They returned to their camp, there were feasts being held
The moon was shinning so bright
When inside the Chief’s head, the Ghost Woman said
"You will die by my hand tonight!"
Out of some pines there came a great bear
It stood in the light of the moon
The Chief searched for a rock to throw at the beast
But for a weapon found only a bone.
Injured, the bear came towards him and said
"Heavy Collar you have already killed me once
Now you’ve hit me and hurt me and so you will die
Tonight you will be the meat of my hunt!"
He knew it was her by the words that she spoke
To his lodge he turned and he ran.
"My People, the ghost bear is here, come and hide in my lodge
We will fight her off if we can!"
All the people in camp squeezed into his lodge
All his people, the young and the old.
The wind from the west carried smoke out the top
And the bear move the lodge’s smoke- flap poles.
Huddled inside much afraid of the ghost woman bear
They all could hear her say,
"I will kill all you dogs! You dogs cowering inside
None of you will live until day!"
"I will smoke you to death, I have moved the poles
I have closed your lodge up tight
The smoke will come down and kill all you dogs
Death’s revenge will become mine tonight!"
The lodge soon filled with choking, black smoke
Women and children soon started to cry
They all needed clean air but the ghost woman bear
Patiently waited to kill them outside.
Heavy Collar’s old mother, a good woman was she
Knew something had to be done
"Have pity ghost bear! Go away from us here!"
She pleaded for her people and son.
"No old woman I will not listen to you
All of you must suffer together and die!"
It is because of your chief that I’m here under the moon
And the death of you all draws nigh!"
The old woman opened her medicine bundle
Which held powers that were only hers
She painted her face to bring inner strength
Lit her pipe and said her death prayer.
"Ghost take pity on us choking in here
Accept the smoke from my pipe and go away
You were not asked here into our camp this night
Let us live to dance another bright day!"
" I can not reach your pipe old woman
Come out and bring it to my side
Do not continue choking in there old woman
Bring your pipe into the clear moonlight."
To save her people the old woman went
Out of the smoky lodge that night
She confronted there the ghost of the woman
The bear standing in it’s towering height.
The ghost began to back away
The old woman could not help but go
In fright she called to her people inside
"Please save me from this bear woman ghost!"
Heavy Collar rushed out of the lodge for her
He beckoned his people to follow
With their arms joined and their hands held tight
They held the old woman quite solid.
Suddenly the old woman let loose of her hold
The chief’s mother lay on the ground, life gone
Along with her in death went the ghost woman bear
And the haunting of the ghost woman’s song.