Acer negundo
family: Maple (Aceraceae)
boxelder sap: me'ėškēmamahpe, "boxelder water"; formerly general Cheyenne word for sweetener (Grinnell 1923 I: 249)
Boxelder is fast-growing tree with thin wide-branched top and smooth glaucous shoots. It grows up 10 to 25 m. Leaves are odd-pinnately compound, with 3 to 7 leaflets. Leaflets are 5 to 10 cm long and 3 to 7 cm wide, light green above, lighter under, turning yellow in the fall. Flowers are petite, yellow-green, dioecious, male flowers in clusters, female flowers in drooping racemes. It blossoms in March and April. Fruit is yellow-white paired samara with wings making acute angle. It rippens from June to September. Boxelder grows on moist soils along streams. It ranges from the Eastern USA to central Texas and Oklahoma, central and northwest Kansas, the North Platte valley, eastern slopes of Bighorn Mountains, central Montana, and the south of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba; also in mountain areas of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and California; isolatedly in Mexico and Guatemala. It is abundant along streams of eastern Montana (Tallbull 1993: 58). It is introduced to the Czech Republic, frequently in parks, gardens, or along roads.
Before Cheyennes had sugar from white people, in early spring, when it got warmer, they tapped boxelder bark to obtain sweet sap (Grinnell 1923 I: 249). They drained the sap into pouches made from young deers’ stomaches turned inside out. The sap is very hydrous. Syrup makes only thirtieth of the sap, the rest is water. In olden times, Cheyennes put hot stones into the pouches with boxelder sap to evaporate water. Or they used other way. The sap was let freeze overnight and they drew frozen water, which separated off the syrup, from the surface. Metal kettles were uded for boiling the sap in later times. Cheyennes liked much some gelatine candies made of boxelder sap. The shavings from the inner sides of animal hides were added in the syrup. They boiled the shavings with the syrup to mush and let it stiffen. When Cheyennes had no sugar to sweeten coffee, they boiled it in boxelder sap. Mary Fisher, a Cheyenne woman from Montana, mentioned that the sap drained into the deer’s stomach could be stored for later using. The opening was tied shut and the stomach was hung up somewhere (Grinnell 1923 I: 249; Hart 1976: 5, 1981: 13).
Rotten boxelder wood was useful in making a fire (Grinnell 1923 I: 54). Cheyennes preferred boxelder wood for cooking because the coals remain live longer than those of other firewood. (According to our experiences, it burns well even green.) This wood is used during ceremonies in which sage, sweetgrass, juniper leaves, or other incenses are burned. Cheyennes feed fire with it in the Sun Dance Ceremony because the coals remain live and prepared to light the pipe long time. Cheyennes made pipestems of boxelder wood and dishes and bowls of rind galls or knots (Hart 1981: 13; Northern Cheyenne Tribe 2002, Appendix F: 1).
Cheyennes consider boxelder sacred and use boxelder wood dishes or turtle shells for mixing medicines or as ceremonial eating dishes to this day (Tallbull 1993: 58; Hart 1981: 13). A sharpened four-foot boxelder stick, which symbolizes a root-digger, lies on the Sun Dance altar (Grinnell 1923 II: 260).
One of the greatest Cheyenne shamans was named after this tree. Boxelder (Me'ėškēma) or Old Brave Wolf, who was of Só'taeo'o origin, was born around 1795 and died in 1892. He was famous visionary and prophet, his familiar spirits (nésemóono) were wolves chiefly. He became a Sun Dance priest and chief. He went blind in his old age and Cheyennes believed that it made him closer to the spiritual world anymore. He forecasted the arrival of Custer’s soldiers before the Little Big Horn Battle in June 1876 (Hirschfelder and Molin 1992: 27; Powell 1981).
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