Back in the great days of the Indians, a maiden and her five brothers lived together. People in those times had to look for food; it was their main occupation. So while the sister cooked and made clothes, the brothers spent their days hunting.
It happened once that this family moved their tipi to the bottom of a canyon. It was a strange, silent place, but there was water in a creek and the hunting was good. The canyon was cool in the summer and shielded from wind in the winter. Still, when the brothers went out hunting, the girl was always waiting for them. Waiting and listening, she heard noises. Often she thought they were footsteps, but when she looked outside, no one was there.
Then one evening, only four of the five brothers came back from hunting. They and the sister stayed awake all night, wondering what could have happened to the other. The next day when the men went hunting, only three returned. Again they and the sister stayed awake wondering. The next evening only two came home, and they and the girl were afraid.
In those early days the Indians had no sacred ceremonies or prayers to guide them, so it was hard for the maiden and her two brothers to watch through the night in that ghostly place. Again the brothers went out in the morning, and only a single one returned at night. Now the girl cried and begged him to stay home. But they had to eat, and so in the morning her last and youngest brother, whom she loved best of all, went out to hunt. Like the others, he did not come back. Now no one would bring the maiden food or water, or protect her.
Weeping, the girl left the canyon and climbed to the top of a hill. She wanted to die, but did not know how to. Then she saw a round pebble lying on the ground. Thinking that it would kill her, she picked it up and swallowed it.
With peace in her heart the maiden went back to the tipi. She drank some water and felt a stirring inside her, as if the rock were telling her not to worry. She was comforted, though she could not sleep for missing her brothers.
The next day she had nothing left to eat except some pemmican and berries. She meant to eat them and drink water from the creek, but she found she wasn’t hungry. She felt as if she had been to a feast, and walked around singing to herself. The following day she was happy in a way she had never been before.
On the fourth day that the girl had been alone, she felt pain. “Now the end comes,” she thought. “Now I die.” She didn’t mind; but instead of dying, she gave birth to a little boy.
“What will I do with this child?” she wondered. “How did it come? It must be that stone I swallowed.”
The child was strong, with shining eyes. Though the girl felt weak for a while, she had to keep going to care for the new life, her son. She named him Iyan Hokshi, Stone Boy, and wrapped him in her brothers’ clothes. Day after day he grew, ten times faster than ordinary infants, and with a more perfect body.
The mother knew that her baby had great powers. One day when he was playing outside the tipi, he made a bow and arrows, all on his own. Looking at his flint arrowhead, the mother wondered how he had done it. “Maybe he knows that he was a stone and I swallowed him,” she thought. “He must have a rock nature.”
The baby grew so fast that he was soon walking. His hair became long, and as he matured his mother became afraid that she would lose him as she had lost her brothers. She cried often, and though he did not ask why, he seemed to know.
Very soon he was big enough to go hunting, and when she saw this, his mother wept more than ever. Stone Boy come into the tipi. “Mother, don’t cry,” he said.
“You used to have five uncles,” she said. “But they went out hunting. One after another, they did not come back.” And she told him about his birth, how she had gone to the top of the hill and swallowed a stone, and how she had felt something moving inside her.
“I know,” he said. “And I am going to look for your brothers, my uncles.”
“But if you don’t return,” she sobbed, “what will I do?”
“I will come back,” he told her. “I will come back with my uncles. Stay in the tipi until I do.”
So the next morning Iyan Hokshi started walking and watching. He kept on till dusk, when he found a good place to sleep. He wandered for four days, and on the evening of the fourth day he smelled smoke. Iyan Hokshi, this Stone Boy, he followed the smell. It led him to a tipi with smoke coming from its smoke hole.
This tipi was ugly and ramshackle. Inside Iyan Hokshi could see an old woman who was ugly too. She watched him pass and, calling him over, invited him to eat and stay the night.
Stone Boy went into the tipi, though he was uneasy in his mind, and a little timid. He looked around and saw five big bundles, propped up on end, leaning against the tipi wall. And he wondered.
The old woman was cooking some meat. When it was done he ate it, though it didn’t taste good. Later she fixed a dirty old buffalo robe for him to sleep on, but he sensed danger and felt wide awake.
“I have a backache,” the woman said. “Before you go to sleep, I wish you would rub it for me by walking up and down my back. I am old and alone, and I have nobody to help with my pain.”
She lay down, and Stone Boy began walking on her back. As he did, he felt something sticking up under her buckskin robe, something sharp like a knife or a needle or the point of a spear. “Maybe she used this sharp tool to kill my uncles,” he thought. “Maybe she put poison from a snake on its point. Yes, that must be so.”
Iyan Hokshi, having pondered, jumped high in the air, as high as he could, and came down on that old woman’s back with a crash. He jumped and jumped until he was exhausted and the hag was lying dead with a broken back.
Then Iyan Hokshi walked over to the big bundles, which were wrapped in animal hides and lashed together with rawhide thongs. He unwrapped them and found five men, dead and dried like jerked meat, hardly human-looking. “These must be my uncles,” he thought, but he didn’t know how to bring them back to life.
Outside the ugly tipi was a heap of rocks, round gray stones. He found that they were talking and that he could understand them. “Iyan Hokshi, Stone Boy, you are one of us, you come from us, you come from Tunka, you come from Iyan. Listen; pay attention.”
Following their instructions, he built a little dome-like hut out of bent willow sticks. He covered it with the old woman’s buffalo robes and put the five dead, dried-up humans inside. Out in the open he built a big fire. He set the rocks right in the flames, picked up the old woman, and threw her in to burn up.
After the rocks glowed red-hot, Stone Boy found a deer antler and used it to carry them one by one into the little hut he had made. He picked up the old woman’s water bag, a buffalo bladder decorated with quillwork, and filled it with water. He drew its rawhide tie tight and took it inside too. Then he placed the dried humans around him in a circle.
Iyan Hokshi closed the entrance of his little lodge with a flap of buffalo robe, so that no air could escape or enter. Pouring water from the bag over them, he thanked the rocks, saying, “You brought me here.” Four times he poured the water; four times he opened the flap and closed it. Always he spoke to the rocks and they to him. As he poured, the little lodge filled with steam so that he could see nothing but the white mist in the darkness. When he poured water a second time, he sensed a stirring. When he poured the third time, he began to sing. And when he poured the fourth time, those dead, dried-up things also began to sing and talk.
“I believe they have come to life,” thought Iyan Hokshi, the Stone Boy. “Now I want to see my uncles.”
He opened the flap for the last time, watching the steam flow out and rise into the sky as a feathery cloud. The bonfire and the moonlight both shone into the little sweat lodge, and by their light he saw five good-looking young men sitting inside. He said, “Hou, lekshi, you must be my uncles.” They smiled and laughed, happy to be alive again.
Iyan Hokshi said, “This is what my mother—your sister—wanted. This is what she wished for.”
He also told them: “The rock saved me, and now it has saved you. Iyan, Tunka—rock—Tunka, Iyan. Tunkashila, the Grandfather Spirit, we will learn to worship. This little lodge, these rocks, the water, the fire—these are sacred, these we will use from now on as we have done here for the first time: for purification, for life, for wichosani, for health. All this has been given to us so that we may live. We shall be a tribe.”
—Told by Henry Crow Dog, February 26, 1968, at Rosebud, South Dakota, and recorded by Richard Erdoes.