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The legend of the white horses of Chief Mountain

From Canadian Cattlemen, June 1948

The Legend of the White Horses of Chief Mountain
By Mrs. E. Lynch-Staunton

You may have noticed that the Chief of the Peigans, Yellow Horn, always rides a grey horse in the Lethbridge Stampede parade. And they usually capture the prize for they, horse and rider, make a wonderful presentation — the chief in snow white buckskin embroidered in beadwork in symbolic designs and with his fine war bonnet of white eagle feathers and ermine skins sweeping almost to the ground, and his mount with trappings equally fine.

The horse is a particularly fine animal, powerful and noble looking, lively enough too but very intelligent.

After the parade I went up the hill to the Indian encampment. There I sought out the chief and his wife. Mrs. Yellow Horn is a grand woman in every way. Her face is truly beautiful and her manner so gentle and kindly. She is convent educated and she speaks with a soft and gentle voice. The chief himself does not speak much English; he stays within his Indian tongue, and his wife usually acts as interpreter for him. They were standing before their teepee, as I came up, still in their ceremonial garb, and the superb grey horse carrying his head high, stood between them. They were a perfect trio.

When I admired the horse they were both pleased. The chief nodded, his war bonnet swaying with the dignified gesture, and Mrs. Yellow Horn smiled graciously. Then her eyes turned to the mountains, and ran along their tumbled length until, her face strangely lighted, they rested on Big Chief Mountain and, still smiling, but hesitating a little, she turned to me again and with a slight indication of her comely head she said, “There!”

That was all, but instantly my imagination was fired. I remembered the legends I had heard of Big Chief Mountain: That there once was a great chieftain who grazed his wondrous grey horses, the swiftest and most beautiful horses that ever were, on the top of this mountain, and they were endowed with fabulous strength and speed and powers of endurance from the grasses growing on the summit there. And that when the chieftain and his band departed on the hunt, or on forays, or the warpath, he left his marvellous steeds in the care of his daughter, a beauteous maiden who was to preserve them even unto death.

But a jealous and rejected suitor of the maiden, in revenge, divulged the secret of the pathway leading to the mountain summit to their enemies. And when the chieftain was absent they ascended the mountain, and gloating in the anticipation of possession of the magnificent white horses and of the maiden, they swarmed over the summit. There seemed no escape for the girl and her precious charges. But on a moonlit night of sweeping wind and snow, mounted on her favourite snow-white horse, she led her horses to the very verge of the mountain top; then at her signal they disappeared in the raging whirling snow.

Their would-be captors dashed in pursuit of them to be carried headlong over the mountain edge.

So even yet, on moonlit nights when the snow is swirling over the mountain tops, the Indians look to the westward and noting the glistening snow rising over the mountains, they say: “White horses ride swift an’ high, good hunting!”

Once it was the buffalo they hunted in their thousands — to feast upon the tongues, but since the buffalo have disappeared many a fat buck has been their solace.

Could it be that Chief Yellow Horn’s grey horse is of the line of the fabulous steeds that fed on the summit of Chief Mountain. Or even that Mrs. Yellow Horn is a descendant of the Big Chief’s beauteous daughter who loved the grey horses so greatly?

For more of the past from the pages of our magazine see the Canadian Cattlemen History section.

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