It was the spring of 1838 when a 14-year-old Oglala Sioux girl named Haxti lead a procession of Skidi Pawnee toward the approaching sunrise. She was painted and dressed for a sacred Pawnee “Morning Star” ritual. She most likely had no idea what was about to happen but did not resist since she had been living with the Pawnee since the previous autumn and had been fed and treated very well. The procession that followed her was made up of all the men, boys and male infants from the village.
She was directed to stand before a wooden scaffold by the Pawnee High Priest. The scaffold was constructed of sacred woods and leathers from different animals each representing one of the directions – elm for north, cottonwood for south, etc. It was built outside the village and erected over a pit with elements relating to the four cardinal directions and lined with downy feathers and represented the Evening Star’s garden of germination in the west. While they waited, the priests and procession sang four songs. They sang of the girl, about Heaven, and about the powers of the beasts of the four parts of earth.
|Haxti sacrifice to Morning Star 1838|
When the star was due to rise, the girl was directed to stand on the fourth post and then was tied to the top post on the scaffold. At the moment the star appeared above the horizon, two priests rushed up and branded her under her arm pits and near her groin as the man who had captured her and dedicated her to the Morning Star fired an arrow into her heart. The High Priest then cut her above her heart with a flint knife and smeared his face with her blood. Some of her blood was allowed to drip onto the dried heart and tongue of a buffalo and more to flow into the feathery pit below. When the High Priest stepped away, all those in the procession fired their arrows into her chest to hasten her death. Haxti’s body was removed from the scaffold and placed face down so that her blood would soak the earth. Her death insured the renewal of earth and her soul became that of the Morning Star.
It is believed that she was the last sacrificed in this way after the outcry by settlers in the area. Sacrificing a maiden in this way shocked the settlers as it shocks us today. We cannot make sense of the killing of an innocent girl in this way through the filter of our European belief systems. But, next week I will present the complicated belief system that justified the Morning Star ritual for the Pawnee.