The Quillwork Girl

“The Quillwork Girl and Her Seven Star Brothers” is a Cheyenne story of a beautiful girl who is gifted in the art of quillwork. She could decorate anything from clothing to tipis, and her work was the best in the land.

One day, she started making a several sets of men’s clothing of fine white buffalo skin, all embroidered with her beautiful quillwork. When asked, the girl said she is making them for seven brothers that will one day be admired by all the world and that, as an only child, she would like to have them for her brothers.

Upon finishing the clothes, the girl made the journey to where the brothers lived. She gave them their clothes, and they were as delighted to have her for a sister as she was to have them for brothers. They lived happily for a time until a buffalo calf came to call.

The calf knocked at their tipi, saying that he was from the buffalo nation, and that they wanted the beautiful girl for themselves. The brothers refused and so the calf left. But the visits from the buffalo kept coming, each buffalo bigger than the last.

Then the largest buffalo the world had ever seen came to call. He wanted the girl, saying if he didn’t get her then he’d kill them all. The brothers and girl all climb a tree to escape, except for the youngest brother, who is gifted with a special kind of medicine. He shot an arrow into the trunk of the tree, and then climbed the tree itself just as it started to grow upwards into the sky.

The great big buffalo starts to butt the tree with his horns to shake them out. But they hang on and the youngest brother, once again, shoots another arrow into the tree to make it grow. He repeats this two more times, until the tree grows so tall that it towers above the clouds. They step onto the clouds just as the bull manages to knock down the tree.

Unable to return to the earth, the youngest brother then turns them all into stars, and they formed into what is now the big dipper. The brightest star is the beautiful girl, filling the night sky with her glimmering quillwork, with the youngest brother at the end of the dipper’s handle.

Source: Erdoes, Richard; Ortiz, Alfonso, “The Quillwork Girl and Her Seven Star Brothers”, American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books, 1985.

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Sophie Duncan - 9 years ago

What a great origin story for the big dipper 🙂
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    Sara C. Snider - 9 years ago

    Thanks, Sophie. 🙂

Tasha - 9 years ago

That’s a beautiful story, little sad though that they didn’t get left in peace to live as they wanted. The bully buffalo needs a good kick in the posterior.
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    Sara C. Snider - 9 years ago

    What’s interesting is that buffalo in these kinds of stories are usually benevolent spirits, symbolic of life. This is a rare one where the buffalo are not so nice.

Lori Wing - 9 years ago

I so love this about the native peoples and their storytelling, that they mix mysticism and reality to create fables with a moral. Beautifully told; thank you.

    Sara C. Snider - 9 years ago

    Thanks, Lori. 🙂

Djinnia - 9 years ago

It almost sounds like the seven ravens. It’s so interesting to think that similar stories can come from distinct cultures.

Lori L MacLaughlin - 9 years ago

I wondered if the buffalo was looking for the girl because of the buffalo skins she used to make the clothing, and I kept hoping she and the brothers would give the buffalo something for restitution so maybe the buffalo would leave them alone.

    Sara C. Snider - 9 years ago

    An interesting thought. I like to think the buffalo wanted her so she could decorate them and make them pretty, hehe. 😉

Unique Olague - 5 years ago

You cannot take a woman who doesn’t want to be taken. She has greater purpose than to serve those who demand her love.

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