Below is a substantially rewritten version of “The Dun Horse.” This tale was collected on the Pawnee reservation by George Bird Grinnel and published in 1889 in his book titled “Pawnee Hero stories and Folk Tales.”
LONG AGO IN THE PAWNEE TRIBE there lived an old woman and her grandson, a boy of sixteen. These two had no living relatives in the tribe and were very poor. The rest of the tribe despised them for having nothing, not even family.
The dun horse swayed, worn out, thin, blind in one eye, with a sore back and swollen foreleg.
The old woman and the boy always stayed behind when the tribe moved to new hunting grounds so they could search through the trash of the abandoned camp for things the other Pawnees had thrown away- shreds of buffalo robes, worn-out moccasins with holes in them and chunks of old bone and gristle.
One day as the old woman and her grandson followed behind on the trail of their tribe, they walked up to an old, bony dun horse which had been left to die by another band of Indians.
The dun horse swayed, worn out, thin, blind in one eye, with a sore back and swollen foreleg. The horse was in such poor condition that none of the Indians had been willing to drive it along with them on the trail.
But the old woman and the boy were not so fussy. They were used to having almost nothing. “Grandmother,” said the boy, “let’s put a rope on this old horse and have him carry our pack.”
And the old woman tied their small pack on the sore backed horse. They started to drive the horse along with them, but he limped badly and could only stumble along slowly.
Their Pawnee tribe had moved along the North Platte river until they came to a place now called Court House Rock. A week after they had pitched their camp the old woman and the boy slowly walked in with the dun horse.
Two days later some young braves who had been sent out to scout for buffalo came riding quickly back into the camp. They had found a large herd of buffalo nearby, and among the buffalos was a spotted calf, a rare, rare thing.
A robe made from a spotted calf is ti-war’-uka-ti, big medicine. When the head chief of the Pawnee tribe heard of the calf he ordered his crier to go through the camp and call out that the man who killed the spotted calf should have the chief’s daughter for a wife.
The other chiefs agreed to a race to the buffalo herd from the village, so that the man with the fastest horse would be most likely to kill the calf and win the daughter.
The young braves picked out their fastest horses and got ready for the hunt, even the poor boy on his dun horse. The rich young braves sat on their quick horses and laughed at the poor boy on his sway backed dun horse. “See, this is the horse that will catch up to the spotted calf!”
The poor boy was ashamed and rode slowly away to one side of the crowd of horsemen so he would not hear the cruel things the braves said about him.
After they had ridden away the dun horse stopped suddenly, turned his head around and spoke to the boy. “ Take me down to the creek and plaster me all over with mud. Cover my face and neck, and body and legs.”
The boy was startled when he heard the horse speak, but he did as he was asked. After the boy had slapped mud all over the horse’s body the dun said, “ Mount me now, but do not ride back to the warriors who laugh at you. Stay here until they begin their charge to the feeding grounds.”
Soon all the fine horses were drawn up in a line, prancing. At last the old crier yelled “Loo-ah” – Go!
The Pawnee warriors leaned forward, yelled and galloped off. Suddenly, far to the right, the dun horse was seen. He did not seem to gallop, but to sail through the tall grasses. The dun horse soon passed the other horses and rode into the buffalo herd. The horse charged past many buffalo and rode up to the spotted calf. The poor boy shot his arrow, U-ra-rish! The arrow flew hard and straight and the spotted calf fell.
The boy drew another arrow, U-ra-rish! and killed a fat cow that was running by. Then he jumped off the dun horse and began to skin the spotted calf before any of the other warriors could ride up.
When the other warriors rode up and saw the old dun horse, how changed it was. It pranced all about the dead calf and would barely stand still. Its back was clean and shiny, its legs were strong and both eyes were clear and bright.
The Dun Horse continues...