The Chief of All Animals …

february 2018

by race with buffalo


Black-billed Magpie. Photo: Bob Kothenbeutel


A Story of the Cheyenne of the Great Plains
There was a time when all the animals lived in peace, when no one ate anyone else. All the animals were the same color, because they had not yet painted their faces.

Buffalo was the largest and strongest of the animals, and he was getting hungry, He wanted to be the chief of all the animals. He wanted to draw strength from all the other animals by eating their flesh. Buffalo wanted to become the eater of all the animals.

The Human People also said that they should become the chief of all the animals. People wanted to draw strength from all the other animals by eating their flesh. People wanted to become the eaters of all the other animals.

Buffalo challenged the Human People to a race, the winner of the race would become the chief of all the animals. The People said that they would accept such a challenge, but since buffaloes have four legs and People have only two, the People claimed the right to have another animal run the race in the People’s place. The buffaloes consented.

The People chose the Bird People to represent them in the race. They chose Hummingbird, Meadowlark, Hawk, and Magpie. All the other animals and birds wanted to join the race, too, each of them thinking that just maybe they too had a chance to become chief of all the animals. All the animals took paint and painted the faces for the race, each according to his or her spiritual vision.

Skunk painted a white strip on himself and his symbol for the race. Antelope painted himself the color of the earth for the race. Raccoon painted black circles around his eyes and around his tail. Robin painted herself brown with a red breastplate.

The race was to be held at the edge of the Black Hills at the place known as Buffalo Gap. The competitors would race from the starting line sticks to the turn around stick and then back to the starting line. All the animals, painted according to their vision, lined up between the sticks. Among the animals were the Bird People, who would run the race with their wings for the Human People, and Runs Slender Buffalo, the fastest runner of all the buffaloes.

The cry was given to begin and all the animals and birds set out on the race. Hummingbird took the lead, ahead of Runs Slender Buffalo, but his wings were so small that he soon fell behind. As the animals neared the turn around stick, Runs Slender Buffalo took the lead. Then Meadowlark came up beside Runs Slender Buffalo, and the two went along side by side right into the turn. Runs Slender Buffalo wheeled around the stick, her hooves thundering, and she pulled away form Meadowlark, who went wide to make the turn.

The animals in the lead passed the late runners who were still headed for the stick. Meadowlark fell behind and cheered on Hawk as he passed her. Hawk gained on Run Slender Buffalo, and it looked like he might pass her. Her heart was pounding and her legs were tiring. But Hawk’s wings were tiring also, and he soon fell behind.

Runs Slender Buffalo was nearing the finish line as the winner. It looked like the Buffalo People would become the eaters of all the animals!

Then, behind the buffalo woman, wings beating steadily, came Magpie. She was not a quick starter, but her wingbeats were hard and true. Her heart was strong. Her eyes did not wander form the finish line. She never looked back. Her wings were wide and she drove herself forward with beat after beat after beat. All the other animals had fallen behind. Runs Slender Buffalo looked over at the magpie, but the magpie never looked away from the starting sticks.

With each beat of her wings she moved past Runs Slender Buffalo by no more than the length of her bill. At the starting sticks, many animals began to line up to watch the finish. Raccoon, who had fallen out of the race early, had returned to the starting sticks. Now he stood up between the sticks and put out his little hands for the runners to touch as they passed. He would feel the touch of whoever was in the lead, and turn toward the winner.

Closer and closer came Runs Slender Buffalo, and some of the animals feared Raccoon would be trampled. Magpie gradually flew nearer to the ground so she could brush Raccoon’s little hands as she flew past. Raccoon did not move, but stared straight at the onrushing pair. Magpie seemed to be pulling ahead. Runs Slender Buffalo leaned forward as she ran to touch Raccoon’s hand with her great nose.

Magpie’s wingtip touched Raccoon’s little hand and he turned toward her and instant before Runs Slender Buffalo thundered past and he was surrounded by a great cloud of dust. All the animals waited breathlessly for the dust to settle. At last, there stood Raccoon with his little hand raised toward the path of Magpie.

The Human People had won the race!

The Buffalo wandered the great plains and ate grass and the people became the great hunters, the chief of all animals.

-Race With Buffalo

48 thoughts on “The Chief of All Animals …

  1. How beautiful. I’m not sure that I like the humans claiming victory by way of a bird instead of on their own. But the lesson of working together with others with differences vs. against each other is clear. Not worrying about what others were doing and staying focused on the end game was the key to Magpies win. Bravo Magpie.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    • And I could swear the link title to this said “unlocking…” Just a few mintues ago……… Hmmmmmmm.

    • in my words i say as long as any life of the living, human or animal are to love me it gives me the choice to continue and give the love deserved back to them, good day to all of you great story.

  2. An interesting story that the Cheyenne use to explain the way things are or maybe as they should be.

    Thanks, race with buffalo! 🙂

  3. How true this is to life . We must always keep an even pace in life and keep on going. Good story. Have a great day.

  4. Thanks for posting this for me Dal, I appreciate it! I wanted to share & point out a hint with evidence. Go back & read the story about the BB gun & Forest hunting for his family, it’s one of my favourites. This is why you don’t kill Maggies. Good luck!

  5. Interesting bird ya got there. I’ll have to add it to my big year list as soon as I figure out what it is.

  6. Love this story…thanks for sharing, Birdie!. Theres another version online where after the win the magpie looks over at the coyote (who oddly ran with the buffalo) and says ‘don’t worry we won’t eat you, well just use your skin’. made me chuckle.

  7. Race with Buffalo, Cheyenne folklore. Secrets of the Tribe revealed.

    There is a place in the Rockies on the border of Colorado and New Mexico that is a Mount Rushmore size Buffalo Cap, with an arrowhead archway. Enable pics and borders.

    Open Google Earth and type in these coordinates or just follow the the Co NM Border east of Osier, CO to the Garfield Memorial Tunnel CTRR

    36 degrees 59’03.18″ X 106 degrees 18”22.77″ view from 11,000 feet altitude, the horns for this image is the CTRR Track, and the word Canasta is Osier Willow Basket.


  8. If you have not figured out WWWH you might as well stay home and play Canasta. This Borders on a hint somehow.


  9. And who is this searcher that flies low behind the scene with a super focus as chaos rains around and never took his eye off the prize? Will he soon reveal?

  10. You know who the real hero of this story is? Raccoon. Because although he knew he couldn’t win he went to support the rest of the racers anyway, simply by raising his paw and climbing the sticks which he himself could not reach. And I bet his little paw gave her that last burst of energy she needed to win.

    Good story. Thanks for sharing Dal.

  11. I’m sure we have all seen this or some form of it about how many magpies you see.
    One for Sorrow
    Two for joy
    Three for a girl
    Four for a boy
    Five for silver
    Six for gold
    Seven for a secret never to be told
    Eight for a wish
    Nine for a kiss
    Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
    Eleven for health
    Twelve for wealth
    Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.

    I personally like 5, 6, and 7.
    Fred Y.

  12. I love the beautiful picture,story was interesting,keep your eye on the goal,neither looking to left or right.but straight ahead.I have to read this again.we are all in the race,good luck to each and everyone of you,you are very special.

  13. Hooray for the magpie! As a sharing of the victory with the humans, magpies now get to eat every other animal too, by means of scavenging! A fun little story to kick off the work-week!

  14. I’m happy y’all liked the story, nothing opens up the imagination like a good folklore. A good lesson to be learned from the Maggie, or turtle, depending on the story. I love the way it was settled, no violence, no death, just a fare race and in the end, everybody won. If only we could solve all of the worlds conflicts with a foot race. Oh, to dream a dreamer’s dream!

  15. in my words i say as long as any life of the living, human or animal are to love me it gives me the choice to continue and give the love deserved back to them, good day to all of you great story.the thinker must keep moving to the next step,

  16. The greed, conceit, ego and dishonesty will lose the race. The quiet, logical thinker will sweep in and claim the prize!

  17. My beloved 15-yr-old Lila died on Good Friday, and reading this somehow is very comforting. She was like a Magpie. I’m more of a raccoon, I believe. 🙂

    Birdie, thank you, and godspeed.

    • Loss, sorry still early here! Lol I hope to have all my answers before June. I miss my chicken NeNe everyday, funny how certain things touch your heart. Just remember the joy!

      • Thank you, Birdie. She has a lovely spot in the garden. I’m out there every day.

        I’m sure NeNe was very special. And good luck to you…I believe in you, Birdie!

        • Birdie, I’ve re-read this today, since I’m in Wyoming now, and last night had a dream. Someone had found the chest! Not me. Someone in costume or ritual dress, feathers, like a magpie. Ah, dreams.

          If you’re still checking here, safe travels, Birdie… bring gloves and a song. I believe it’s going to be you.

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