Native American Tales

The Life and Death of Sweet Medicine

The Life and Death of Sweet MedicineThe Life and Death of Sweet Medicine

Northern Cheyenne

At one point, people didn’t know how to act. One man and woman, knew how to act naturally, as opposed to everyone else. They had a daughter who had a dream that Sweet Medicine would come to her. This was strange because Sweet Medicine was a plant, but she kept dreaming about it, but her mother told her that it was just a dream and it didn’t mean anything.

One night after a particularly vivid dream, the girl felt different. After a few months it was apparent that she was pregnant. She didn’t want anybody else to know because they would treat her badly so she gave birth on her own and left the baby in a wikiup, where an old woman found him.

The boy was very smart and the old woman was able to raise him well enough with the little she had. He learned things much faster than the other children. He asked his grandmother, the woman who had taken him in, to find a bit of buffalo hide for him. He wove it around and around a hoop, creating a net with a small hole in the center, through which he shot an arrow. He said he was going to turn the hoop into a calf. He shot the arrow through and as he did, the hoop turned into a calf.

The people could have meat. A chief tried to take the hide of the buffalo, but it was tradition for a young man’s first kill to belong to him to do with as he pleased. The hide was supposed to be his. Sweet Medicine left the village because people were after him.

Each day he appeared dressed as one warrior or the other. The people could not catch him. He went to Bear Butte, where he found an entrance to the inside. There were many people there, but they were not normal people. They gave him sacred arrows and taught him how people should act. Eventually, it was time for Sweet Medicine to leave because he had completed his training. He went back to his village and found that everyone was suffering from hunger. He told the people to make ready for him and he taught them what the others had taught him. They now knew how to live and there would be plenty of buffalo, which there was. The people awoke and there was buffalo everywhere.

Sweet Medicine became old, as all people must and told his people that he wanted to go back to Bear Butte. They built him a lodge to die in, but he told them one last thing. He told them white man would come and take many things and there wasn’t much they were going to be able to do about it.

Observations

This story is similar to another story I’ve encountered thus far in my studies of Native American mythology. We’re speaking of Arrow Boy in one of the previous stories.

Somewhere, there was some girl who got pregnant and didn’t want her family to know either through shame or fear and we end up with a story containing a creative unexplained pregnancy.

Themes

How does a person know how to act? Where did you learn how to act? If you hadn’t had someone teaching you how to act, how would you know how to act? Would you just inherently know what to do? Could you come into consciousness and know what was right or wrong? Do babies know not to touch a hot stove inherently?

If no one taught you how to act at all, where did your moral compass come from? If you lived out in the middle of nowhere in a cave, by yourself, would you know not to steal food from other people if you came into contact with them? Would the idea of “treat others as you would want to be treated” even come across your mind? Could you have sympathy and empathy?

Someone taught you how to act. You didn’t inherently know not to steal or not to touch that hot stove. Someone showed you. Even if your parents were gutter-trash, drug addicts who moved every six months, you still learned how to act from somewhere, maybe from them, maybe from a grandparent, maybe from television, but you learned how to act the way you do somewhere. How you act may not necessarily be deemed “the right way” but you act according to the moral compass that was instilled in you. That’s not to say you can’t change it, because you certainly can; there are plenty of reformed, drug-dealing bikers who stayed in prison and are now Christians as examples.

Overall

Someone taught you how to act. So if someone asks, “Were you raised in a barn?” and you happened to have been raised in a barn, just say, “Yes.” If you learned your manners from a cow, so be it.

Weigh In

Do you think your particular moral compass has led you to success or heartache?

Has your moral compass changed a lot in your adult years?

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