(a Blackfoot Indian legend)
Once upon a time long ago, a Piegan Blackfoot warrior dreamed that he was on a lake, surrounded by large animals — animals he had never before seen. These animals lived everywhere around the lake, but it was nighttime, and the warrior lost sight of them. Still, in his dream he could hear them snorting, sighing and trotting through the tall grasses.
In the warrior’s dream, he clearly heard a voice, almost as if someone were whispering in his ear. “The animals are harmless,” the voice said. “They are your friends and will help you.”
The voice continued: “Walk to the lake, and when you find the animals, take a rope and catch them.”
Naturally, the moment the warrior woke, he walked to the lake to find the animals. He carried a rope. When he reached the edge of the wide, windy lake, he dug a hole in the sand and hid there.
A few hours passed. Many animals came to the lake to drink, but the warrior did not recognize those of his dream. It was nearly sunset when he heard the familiar sounds, and he peered out of his hole and saw a herd of those creatures he had dreamed about. They were trotting to the lake. They were nearly as big as elks, but their tails were long and swished in the wind. Their ears seemed to twitch with every sound, and long manes of hair covered the backs of their necks. They were beautiful — some white, some black, some spotted. They moved with graceful strides.
The warrior watched them drink from the lake, and suddenly the dream voice whispered, “Throw your rope and catch one around the neck.”
As if he were still dreaming, the warrior reached for his rope, tied a lasso and tossed it around one of the creature’s necks. He pulled, but the animal was strong — stronger than the warrior. It reared back and slipped its neck from the rope, and the whole herd galloped away.
The warrior walked back to his lodge, and there he sat down to pray. He was confused and sad, but as he began to pray, he heard the voice say, “You have four chances. If you miss, you will never again see those creatures.”
That night the warrior prayed for wisdom, and the voice advised him to choose one of the smaller animals — the large ones were too strong.
And so the next morning the warrior returned to the lake, climbed into his hole to hide and watched as an elk, a coyote and a deer came to the edge of the lake to drink. The day passed. More elk came. Buffalo came. More deer and rabbits and coyotes came. Finally at sunset the strange animals returned.
This time the warrior tossed his rope over the neck of one of the smallest creatures.
The rope caught hold, and the warrior pulled it closer and closer. He managed to return to his camp, dragging the strange creature behind him.
When they reached the camp, the warrior tried to feed some milk to the frightened creature, and as they were standing there, a muffled, pounding noise pierced the night’s silence. The warrior looked up and saw a larger animal running toward the smaller one. When it reached the smaller creature, it stopped.
The warrior offered the larger animal milk, but it lay down and offered milk to the smaller one. The warrior realized that this was the baby’s mother.
While the baby was drinking, the warrior heard the sound again, and he looked up to see an enormous animal racing toward him. He understood this must be the baby’s father.
After some time they understood the warrior meant them no harm, and the creatures settled down. The warrior called the rest of the Piegan Blackfoot people to come see what he had found. When they saw the creatures with their strong flanks, handsome heads and many-colored manes, they were delighted.
“They can help us,” the warrior told the rest of his people, who watched as he placed a small pack upon the young one’s back. “She will carry my tools, ropes and food,” he said.
He called her “po-no-kah-mita” — elk dog.
Before long, the baby’s mother and father were as tame as she, and as the days passed, the other creatures came to the camp searching for the rest of their herd.
From that day on, the creatures were friends of the Piegan Blackfoot people — they helped to carry their belongings and even to carry the people when they were tired.
These were the first horses.