THE LITTLE FIRST MAN AND THE LITTLE FIRST WOMAN

AN INDIAN LEGEND

BY WILLIAM M. CARY
[This story has been told to the children of the Dacotah Indians for very many years, having been handed down from generation to generation; and it is now listened to by Indian children with as much interest as it excited in the red-skinned boys and girls of a thousand years ago.]

 

ON the bank of one of the many branches of the Missouri River—or "Big Muddy," as it is called by the Indians on account of the color of its waters—there lived a little boy and a little girl. These children were very small indeed, being no bigger than a man's finger, but very handsome, well formed, and also quite strong, considering their size. There were no men and women in the world at that time, and none of the people who told the story knew how these two small folk came to be living on the banks of the river. Some persons thought that they might have been little beavers, or little turtles, who were so smart that they turned into a boy and a girl; but nothing about this is known for certain. These small people lived in a tiny lodge near the river, feeding upon the berries that grew along the shore. These were of great variety and many delicious flavors. There were wild currants, raspberries, gooseberries, service-berries, wild plums and grapes; and of most of these, one was sufficient to make a meal for both of the children.

The little girl was very fond of the boy, and watched over and tended him with great care. She made him a tiny bow from a blade of grass, with arrows to match, and he hunted grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, and many other small creatures. She then made him a hunting-shirt, or coat, from the skin of a humming-bird, ornamented with brilliant little stones and tiny shells found in the sand. She loved him so dearly that no work was too much when done for him.

TELLING THE STORY OF THE LITTLE FIRST MAN AND THE LITTLE FIRST WOMAN TELLING THE STORY OF THE LITTLE FIRST MAN AND THE LITTLE FIRST WOMAN
"HE HUNTED GRASSHOPPERS" "HE HUNTED GRASSHOPPERS"

One day he was out hunting on the prairie; and, feeling tired from an unusually long tramp, he lay down to rest and soon fell fast asleep. The wind began to rise, after the heat of the day; but this made him sleep the sounder, and he knew nothing of the storm that was threatening. The clouds rolled over from the northwestern horizon, like an army of blankets torn and ragged. With flashing lightning, the thunder-god let loose his powers, and peal after peal went echoing loudly through the cañons, up over the hills, and down into prairies where the quaking-asp shivered, the willows waved, and the tall blue-grass rolled, as the wind passed over, like a tempest-tossed sea. Only the stubborn aloes, the Spanish-bayonet, and the prickly-pears kept their position. But the storm was as brief as it was violent; and, gradually subsiding, it passed to the southeast, leaving nothing but a bank of clouds behind the horizon. Everything was drenched by the heavy rain. The flowers hung their heads, or lay crushed from the weight of water on their tender petals, vainly struggling to rise and rejoice that the storm had passed away. The sage-brush looked more silvery than ever, clothed with myriads of rain-drops, which beaded its tiny leaves. Through all the storm our little hero slept, the feathers of his hunting-coat wet and flattened by the rain. When the sun came out again and shone upon him, it dried and shriveled this little coat until it cracked and fell off him like the shell of an egg from a newly hatched chicken. He soon began to feel uncomfortable, and woke up. Evening was fast approaching; the blue-jay chattered, the prairie-chicken was calling its young brood to rest under its wings for the night, the cricket had at last sung himself to sleep, and all nature seemed to be getting ready for a long rest. Our boy, however, had no thought of further sleep. His active mind was thinking how he could revenge himself upon the sun for his treatment of him, in thus ruining his coat. The shadows on the plains deepened into gloom and darkness, but still he thought and planned out his revenge. Early in the morning he started for home. The little girl had been anxiously watching for him all night, and came out to meet him, much rejoiced at his safe return; but when she saw the condition of his coat, on which she had labored with so much care and love, she was very much grieved. Her tears only made him more angry with the sun, and he set himself to planning with greater determination by what means he could annoy this enemy. At last a bright idea struck him, and he at once told it to the girl. She was delighted, and admired him the more for his shrewdness. They soon put their plans into practice, and began plaiting a rope of grasses.

This was a great undertaking, as the rope had to be very long. Many moons came and went before this rope was finished, and, when the task was completed, the next thing to be considered was, how they should carry or transport it to the place where the sun rises in the morning. This question puzzled them greatly, for the rope was very large and heavy, and the distance was very great.

"AT HOME, UNDER AN IMMENSE FERN" "AT HOME, UNDER AN IMMENSE FERN"

All the animals at that time were very small tween compared to the field-mouse, which was then the largest quadruped in the whole world, twice the size of any buffalo. The horse, or, as the Indians call it, "shungatonga," meaning elk-dog, did not then exist. It was a long time before the children could find a field-mouse to whom they could appeal for aid. At last they found one at home, sitting comfortably under an immense fern.

The little boy then went up to him, and, after relating his troubles, asked if he would assist in carrying the rope. Mountains had to be crossed, rivers swum or forded, according to their depth, wide expanses of prairie to be passed over, forests skirted, swamps waded, and lakes circled before the rope and its makers could reach the place where the sun rises. The field-mouse, after much consideration, agreed to help the pair, and they began their preparations by winding the rope into a great coil, which they packed on the back of the field-mouse. On the top of this the boy and girl seated themselves, and the journey began. When they came to a river which must be crossed by swimming, the rope was taken off the mouse and unwound; then he would take one end in his mouth, and swim to the other side, letting it trail out after him as he swam. This performance had to be repeated many times before the whole rope was landed on the opposite bank. When this was done, he had to swim across again and fetch the little pair, seating them on his forehead.

ON THE JOURNEY ON THE JOURNEY

It was hard work for the mouse, but the little boy encouraged him to his work by promises of reward and compliments on his extraordinary strength. The high mountains were crossed with great toil, and while they were on the dry plains the travelers suffered for want of water. The sun had dried up everything, and it almost seemed as if he understood their object, for he poured down upon them his hottest rays. Several changes of the seasons, and many moons, had come and gone before they reached the dense forest from behind which the sun was accustomed to rise. They managed to arrive at this big forest at night, so that the sun should not see them, and then they screened themselves in the woods, resting there for several days. When, at last, they felt rested and refreshed, they began their work at nightfall, and the first thing they did was to uncoil the rope. The little boy then took one end of it in his teeth, and climbed up one of the trees at the extreme edge of the woods, where he spread it out in the branches, making loops and slip-knots here and there all over, from one tree to another, until the rope looked like an immense net. Then the mouse, finding his services no longer needed, left them and wandered far away.

THE FIELD-MOUSE CARRYING THE LITTLE PAIR ACROSS A RIVER THE FIELD-MOUSE CARRYING THE LITTLE PAIR ACROSS A RIVER

As morning approached, the two children quitted the wood, everything being in readiness, and retired to a distance to watch the result of their work. Soon they espied a pale light gleaming behind the forest and gradually becoming brighter and brighter. On came the sun, rolling up in all his grandeur and fast approaching the rope, while the two little hearts were beating quickly down below. In a moment he had reached the network of rope, and then, before he knew it, he was entangled in its meshes, and found himself thoroughly entrapped! What a proud moment for our hero! He compared his own size with that of the sun, and his delight seemed beyond bounds as he and the little girl watched the sun struggling to free himself, getting red with fury and rage, and pouring out his burning heat on all surrounding things. The leaves shriveled and dropped from the trees, the branches could be seen to smoke, the grass curled up and withered, and at last the forest began to burn as the heat became more intense. It seemed as if all nature was on fire. The joy of the children now turned into fear. The elk, deer, and buffalo came rushing out of the woods. The birds circled, shrieking and crying, and all living things seemed wild with fear.

THE CONSULTATION THE CONSULTATION

At last the field-mouse called the animals together for a consultation as to what was best to be done. They held a brief council, for no time could be lost. The elk spoke up and said that as the mouse had gone to so much trouble to carry the rope to entrap the sun, he was the one who ought to set him free from his entanglement. This was generally agreed to, and, besides, the field-mouse was the largest animal, and had such sharp and strong teeth that it would be easy for him to gnaw through any rope.

It was getting hotter and hotter: something must be done quickly. The sun was blazing with rage! The field-mouse finally yielded to the wishes of his fellow-animals; and, rushing into the wood, through the terrible heat and smoke, he gnawed the rope, but in doing so was melted down to his present size. The sun then rapidly arose, and everything soon became all right again.

The fact of the little man trapping the sun and causing so much mischief proved his superiority over the other animals, and they have feared him ever since. And, according to the Indian belief, this little man and little woman were the father and mother of all the tribes of men.