The Origin of Tobacco
A Crow Legend
A long time ago the Indians roamed the West like the buffalo, one family scattered and returned by change. There were no separate tribes.
One of the Indians was a woman of powerful beauty. She gave birth to twin sons, but she did not know who their father was. The beautiful woman sang her sons to sleep with a heartbreaking lullaby, and everyone who heard it took pity on her. Finally, the Earth agreed to claim the first son, and the stars took the second son as one of their own. From then on, the people called them Earthboy and Starboy.
When the boys were near manhood, they began to behave a little differently from their friends. Earthboy stopped following the buffalo everywhere and began to stay close beneath the willows of his home, searching for pretty rocks and carefully observing the slow growth of the plants. Starboy also grew lax in his hunting, but rather then staying at home he began to wander far beyond the buffalo. He slept during the days so that at night he could watch the travels of his star family.
One day Starboy’s wanderings brought him to the foot of the highest mountain. No one had climbed it before, but Starboy started the slow climb upward without hesitating. Somewhere near the sky, Starboy fainted. A shining silver man appeared to him.
The man was a star. He told Starboy that he was his father but that he spent his life traveling far beyond the earth, and he said he would not pass near the mountain again in his son’s lifetime.
“And so to show my love and concern for you, my son, I will give you a gift of great strength and colors of the sunset. Keep this plant with you wherever you wander, and in the springtime plant it everywhere you go. Tend the scarred beds, and harvest them when they are tall.” With these words, the star plunged his hands into his own silver chest. When he pulled them out again, they were full of tobacco.
He told Starboy that tobacco would make everyone in their family strong and free. To share the tobacco and its power, people must be adopted into Starboy’s family. Starboy listened carefully, but he was too overwhelmed to speak. he nodded his head gratefully, and his father burst away from him, back to the sky.
When Starboy came down from the mountains, he found his brother Earthboy, and offered to adopt him and share the tobacco.
Earthboy laughed, and said, “Brother, you don’t need to climb mountains to have visions. While you were gone, I met my father earth and he taught me some secrets of my own. Your family may become powerful wanders, but mine is going to become a family of peaceful farmers. We will grow everything except tobacco and you will grow nothing more.”
“I don’t want to grow anything more,” said Starboy, “I will follow the buffalo, and be strong as an eagle, and as free as wind.”
Earthboy smiled. “I will be strong as rock, my brother,” he said “and steady as sunrise. But no matter how different our families become, we will never quarrel. Your father has given you tobacco, and mine has given me the way of the Medicine Pipe. When we smoke together, your plant with my pipe, our fathers will give us peace and colors of the sunset.”
Earthboy brought forward a beautiful pipe made from the rock and willow of his home. Starboy filled it with tobacco from the heart of the star, and the brothers smoked together.
When Starboy left, some of the people went with him, hoping to be adopted into his family. Even before they learned the secrets of tobacco, the people who followed Starboy took a name, and called themselves the Crow.
The ones who stayed with Earthboy to learn to farm were called after the willows of their home, Hidatsa.
And so the people were divided into tribes, but the power of tobacco and the pipe kept them from becoming enemies.