Personal Reflections

The Tale of Old Wives Lake

AS A YOUTH, I WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN FIRST NATIONS STORIES AND LIFESTYLES. The very first Aboriginal legend that I heard was the tale of Old Wives Lake, however this story is very different than the one that Father Royer told. Within E. T. Russell’s book What’s in a Name he also tells the legend of Old Wives Lake and his account is very similar to the one that was told to me by my teacher in a one-room country schoolhouse in the early 1940s.

“Over 100 years ago a great fire swept across the Regina Plains, Qu’Appelle Valley and district. The buffalo having no pasture trekked west to the unburned grasslands. The Cree Indians of the Qu’Appelle followed the disappearing buffalo westward. By going west they were reaching Blackfoot country, the land of their enemies. However the Cree were desperate and they followed the buffalo. They found great herds by a large lake, made camp and the hunting began. They soon secured all the meat they could hope to carry back to Qu’Appelle. Then the long straggling line of hunters, women, and children wound about the lake-side. Suddenly someone saw men on horseback, silhouetted against the sky. “Blackfoot!” The fearful truth was whispered along the straggling and slow-moving line of Crees.

The long cavalcade tried to hurry and close in for defense for they knew the Blackfoot were near. A party of Blackfoot horseman appeared. They circled, galloped, shouted and shot arrows at the huddled Crees. The Crees fought back. Then suddenly the Blackfoot disappeared into the hills.

The Crees held council, one Cree had been killed and several wounded. The Crees knew the Blackfoot would return with reinforcements. How could the Crees, loaded with meat and encumbered with women and children hope to outride the Blackfoot? An old Cree woman went to the chief and said, “We old women have consulted and made a plan. We are no longer of any use. This is our plan. Draw up the camp for defense. Do it in sight before the sun goes down. The Blackfoot will attack at dawn. We old women will keep the fires burning all night. Take the young women and children and by morning you will be far away.”

The plan was carried out and all night long the old women heaped the campfires with buffalo chips and the glow of the fires told the Blackfoot scouts, that the camp was inhabited. When the Blackfoot charged in the morning at dawn, they found a few old women wrapped in blankets tending the fires. They were so angry at being tricked that they massacred the brave old mothers. The rest of the Cree hunting party got safely back to Qu’Appelle.”