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The Legend of Red Clay

As told to Leonard Little Thunder in 1957 by his grandfather, Frank Comes From War, as told to him by his grandfather in 1900.


My grandfather once told me a legend about the mystic red clay that surrounds the Black Hills (Paha Sapa).

One evening as we were having our evening meal, grandfather was sitting with his eyes closed, and then he began to speak...

The Black Hills was considered the center of the universe when it was created by the Great Spirit. All creatures that lived in the sacred hills spoke the same language. Peace and harmony existed. But as time passed, the creatures realized that the Great Spirit had given them all their own free will. Eventually, greed came to them. Some wanted to rule over the others and be like the Great Spirit. The arguments got worse and even fighting occurred. Peace and harmony was no longer among them. The Great Spirit saw this and came to speak... "I have created and given you all free will. To settle your disputes I have decided that all of you will race around the Black Hills for seven days. The one who wins this race with good intentions will be the leader." The great race began and all creatures from the largest to the smallest were running, flying, even swimming. And as they ran, some with greed were fighting and blood was flowing. Many ignored their bleeding hooves, paws, gills, and wings as they ran over the broken ground. As the days passed there was a great red path around the Black Hills from the blood of all the creatures. And as the last day arrived it was the great buffalo who was running first. But the buffalo didn't know that a magpie was riding on its back. As they neared the end, being rested, the magpie flew on ahead and finished first and cried "I am the leader!" All creatures saw that the magpie had cheated and squabbling occurred among them, each claiming to be the leader of the race. The Great Spirit saw this and spoke to them... "You have been fighting and showing hate for one another. For this you will go separate ways and you will never speak or understand each other again." To the magpie he said... "you have cheated and were not fair to the others. For this you will forever eat from the droppings of the others." To the buffalo he spoke... "with a good heart you have raced for this. I bestow upon you an honor. From this day stained with your blood I create man. All creatures but you will be afraid of him. You great buffalo will provide him with food, shelter, clothing and tools and he in turn will praise and honor you. When man returns to the earth, grass will grow from him and you will eat."