When the Great Mystery created the earth and all living things upon it, the people and animals lived in peace. None, neither people nor animals, ate flesh. Now it happened in the course of many seasons that the buffalo began to think that they were the most powerful beings in the world. They came to believe that this gave them the right to kill and eat other animals, and people as well. Then the people said: "This isn't fair; we humans and the buffalo were created equal. But if it happens that one or the other must be the most powerful, then it should be us!"
The buffalo said, "Let's get this settled. We should have a contest to see whether you eat us or we eat you. How about a race?"
The people said: "But in a race, you have an unfair advantage; two legs can't compete with four. Suppose we let the birds race for us. They have wings, you have four legs, that makes it more even."
The buffalo said: "Agreed. We'll choose our fastest runner, and you choose some birds to race for you."
Then some of the other animals said: "We should have a chance to race, too."
"That's right, it's only fair," said the buffalo and the people. So, all living things went to a place at the egde of the Black Hills called Buffalo Gap. There they lined up for the race.
As their contestant, the buffalo had chosen Running Slim Buffalo Woman, a young cow who was the fastest of all animals and who had never been beaten in a footrace.
To race for then the human beings had chosen four birds: a hummingbird, a meadowlark, a hawk, and a magpie.
In those early days of the world, the birds and animals had no color. Now for the race they all painted themselves carefully, each creature according to its own medicine, its own vision. For example, the skunk painted a white stripe on its back, the black tailed deer painted its tail black, the antelope took some red-brown earth and, mixing it with water, painted its whole hide. As all creatures painted themselves for this great race, so they have looked ever since.
Then the signal to race was given, and the crowd of runners started toward a hill which was the halfway point. Running Slim took off in a flash, with the buffalo cheering her on. For a while Hummingbird flew along with her, but soon he fell back exhausted and Meadowlark took over. Still, Running Slim kept far ahead, leading the great mass of racers with their thundering hooves. Though they had already covered a great distance, Running Slim was fresh.
By the time Running Slim reached the halfway point, she and the lark were far ahead of the field. At the hill the umpires were shouting: "Now turn and race back to the starting point, to Buffalo Gap!"
The lark heard this and thought: "I can't make it that far." He dropped out of the race, but already Hawk was coming on strongly.
Now Hawk, acknowledged to be the fastest of the birds, suddenly shot ahead of Running Slim. The people shouted for joy -- but not for long. Hawk's endurance did not match his swiftness, and the sudden spurt exhausted him.
Again Running Slim came on, thundering ahead. With her deep chest, powerful legs, and great lungs, it seemed that she could keep up the pace forever. Then far in the rear a little black and white dot could be seen, coming up, flying hard. This was Magpie, a slow bird but strong-hearted and persevering. The buffalo herd paid no attention to Magpie; they were cheering their runner while the people watched silently.
Some of the racers were running so hard now that blood spurted from their mouths and nostrils. It colored the earth beneathwhich has ever remained red along the trail where the race was run.
At last Buffalo Gap came into sight. Powerful and confident as she was, Running Slim herself was beginning to slow down, though it was hardly noticeable. Even she was not aware of it, but ran along feeling sure that she would win. Then very slowly, imperceptibly, Magpie began to gain on her.
Buffalo Gap was closer now, though still a good way off, thought Slim Running. She could feel herself tiring. The buffalo were grunting and stomping, trying to encourage her. Magpie was still behind, but coming along steadily.
Now Buffalo Gap was near. Running Slim Buffalo Woman was really tired, but she gathered all her strength for the last spurt, thundering along, her heart close to bursting. By then, however, Magpie had come up even with her.
Both the buffalo and the people were cheering their racers on, calling out to them, yelling and stomping. So the two were speeding up, putting the very last of their strength into it -- Running Slim Buffalo Woman and Magpie. Thus they neared the sticks, painted red, planted in the earth, which marked the finishing line. It was not until they were a hand-bredth away from those sticks, at the last moment, that Magpie finally shot ahead. The people gave a great shout of happiness, and both racers fell exhausted.
So the humans had won and the buffalo had lost. And ever since the people have respected the magpie, never hunting it or eating it. So the people became more powerful than the buffalo and all the other animals, and from that time on, people have hunted the buffalo for their food.