Native American History: at Steptoe Butte

Native peoples attained to sacred spirit quests here at their power mountain. It was customary for Indian youths entering adulthood to undertake a special journey, or spirit quest, in order to recieve a special guardian power from the Great Spiirit that would protect the person thoughout their life. It was traditional to be alone on such a quest to some remote place and remain there for several days without food until the spirit was revealed in a sacred dream. The spirit might take the form of a bird or other animal or in some other force of nature which coul be summoned with a special song or prayer learned during the quest. After this defining experience the inidvidual might choose a new name that was associated with the spirit power like, Thunder rolling in the mountains, Yellow serpent, Pile of clouds. For this reason, Steptoe Butte was called a power mountain. The butte was known to the local Indians as Eomoshtoss. One of Kamiakin's sons, Skees had his name originate from such a quest. Skees was a son by Kamiakin's third wife, Whylatspam, and when he was a boy his parents sent him in search of a guardian spirit. He traveled for some time and climbed the steep slopes until he came upon an abandoned campsite on which were scattered a number of animal bones. The boy fasted throughout the day and watched as the sunlight fell beyond a cloud-covered horizon. While keeping his vigil late into the night, a great hailstorm suddenly arose that assailed the slopes with ferocious winds and pelted the boy's crude shelter. A loud voice then spoke to him out of the gale, "I give you my power of wind and strength to withstand the force of hail that strikes against me like the bullets of an enemy. So you shall have power to overcome the attacks of those who ride against you. From the voice in the wind the boy learned a song with which he could summon help in time of danger before falling off into a deep sleep from the exhaustion of his ordeal. The next morning he arose and walked to the place near the camp where he had heard the voice. He found a pile of elk bones and then realized that the power of this majestic creature to withstand enemies has been bestowed upon him. For this reason he took the name Skees which means "Hailstorm." During the wars of the 1850s, this son of Kamiakin distinguished himself in battle by daring raids against the soldiers. On these occasions Skees would sing his power song and ride against the hail of bullets fired at him and escape unharmed despite the bullet holes torn through his buckskin clothes.

FROM: Sacred Slopes: A History of Steptoe Butte,
by John Sheuerman and the Class of 1997, St. John Public Schools.
(Emily Peone interviews, 1982)