INDIAN WHY STORIES
SPARKS FROM WAR EAGLE'S LODGE-FIRE
FRANK B. LINDERMAN
[CO SKEE SEE CO COT]
I DEDICATE THIS LITTLE BOOK TO MY FRIEND
CHARLES M. RUSSELL
THE COWBOY ARTIST
GEORGE BIRD GRINNELL
THE INDIAN'S FRIEND
AND TO ALL OTHERS WHO HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED OLD MONTANA
FOR I HOLD THEM ALL AS KIN
WHO HAVE BUILDED FIRES WHERE NATURE
WEARS NO MAKE-UP ON HER SKIN
The great Northwest—that wonderful frontier that called to itself a
world's hardiest spirits—is rapidly becoming a settled country; and
before the light of civilizing influences, the blanket-Indian has
trailed the buffalo over the divide that time has set between the
pioneer and the crowd. With his passing we have lost much of the
aboriginal folk-lore, rich in its fairy-like characters, and its
relation to the lives of a most warlike people.
There is a wide difference between folk-lore of the so-called Old World
and that of America. Transmitted orally through countless generations,
the folk-stories of our ancestors show many evidences of distortion and
of change in material particulars; but the Indian seems to have been
too fond of nature and too proud of tradition to have forgotten or
changed the teachings of his forefathers. Childlike in simplicity,
beginning with creation itself, and reaching to the whys and wherefores
of nature's moods and eccentricities, these tales impress me as being
well worth saving.
The Indian has always been a lover of nature and a close observer of
her many moods. The habits of the birds and animals, the voices of the
winds and waters, the flickering of the shadows, and the mystic
radiance of the moonlight—all appealed to him. Gradually, he
formulated within himself fanciful reasons for the myriad
manifestations of the Mighty Mother and her many children; and a poet
by instinct, he framed odd stories with which to convey his
explanations to others. And these stories were handed down from father
to son, with little variation, through countless generations, until the
white man slaughtered the buffalo, took to himself the open country,
and left the red man little better than a beggar. But the tribal
story-teller has passed, and only here and there is to be found a
patriarch who loves the legends of other days.
Old-man, or Napa, as he is called by the tribes of Blackfeet, is the
strangest character in Indian folk-lore. Sometimes he appears as a god
or creator, and again as a fool, a thief, or a clown. But to the
Indian, Napa is not the Deity; he occupies a somewhat subordinate
position, possessing many attributes which have sometimes caused him to
be confounded with Manitou, himself. In all of this there is a curious
echo of the teachings of the ancient Aryans, whose belief it was that
this earth was not the direct handiwork of the Almighty, but of a mere
member of a hierarchy of subordinate gods. The Indian possesses the
highest veneration for the Great God, who has become familiar to the
readers of Indian literature as Manitou. No idle tales are told of
Him, nor would any Indian mention Him irreverently. But with Napa it
is entirely different; he appears entitled to no reverence; he is a
strange mixture of the fallible human and the powerful under-god. He
made many mistakes; was seldom to be trusted; and his works and pranks
run from the sublime to the ridiculous. In fact, there are many
stories in which Napa figures that will not bear telling at all.
I propose to tell what I know of these legends, keeping as near as
possible to the Indian's style of story-telling, and using only tales
told me by the older men of the Blackfeet, Chippewa, and Cree tribes.
WHY THE CHIPMUNK'S BACK IS STRIPED
HOW THE DUCKS GOT THEIR FINE FEATHERS
WHY THE KINGFISHER ALWAYS WEARS A WAR-BONNET
WHY THE CURLEW'S BILL IS LONG AND CROOKED
OLD-MAN REMAKES THE WORLD
WHY BLACKFEET NEVER KILL MICE
HOW THE OTTER SKIN BECAME GREAT MEDICINE
OLD-MAN STEALS THE SUN'S LEGGINGS
OLD-MAN AND HIS CONSCIENCE
WHY THE NIGHT-HAWK'S WINGS ARE BEAUTIFUL
WHY THE MOUNTAIN-LION IS LONG AND LEAN
THE MOON AND THE GREAT SNAKE
WHY THE DEER HAS NO GALL
WHY INDIANS WHIP THE BUFFALO-BERRIES FROM THE BUSHES
OLD-MAN AND THE FOX
WHY THE BIRCH-TREE WEARS THE SLASHES IN ITS BARK
MISTAKES OF OLD-MAN
HOW THE MAN FOUND HIS MATE
It was the moon when leaves were falling, for Napa had finished
painting them for their dance with the North wind. Just over the
ragged mountain range the big moon hung in an almost starless sky, and
in shadowy outline every peak lay upon the plain like a giant pattern.
Slowly the light spread and as slowly the shadows stole away until the
October moon looked down on the great Indian camp—a hundred lodges,
each as perfect in design as the tusks of a young silver-tip, and all
looking ghostly white in the still of the autumn night.
Back from the camp, keeping within the ever-moving shadows, a
buffalo-wolf skulked to a hill overlooking the scene, where he stopped
to look and listen, his body silhouetted against the sky. A dog howled
occasionally, and the weird sound of a tom-tom accompanying the voice
of a singer in the Indian village reached the wolf's ears, but caused
him no alarm; for not until a great herd of ponies, under the eyes of
the night-herder, drifted too close, did he steal away.
Near the centre of the camp was the big painted lodge of War Eagle, the
medicine-man, and inside had gathered his grandchildren, to whom he was
telling the stories of the creation and of the strange doings of Napa,
the creator. Being a friend of the old historian, I entered
unhindered, and with the children listened until the hour grew late,
and on the lodge-wall the dying fire made warning shadows dance.
WHY THE CHIPMUNK'S BACK IS STRIPED
What a splendid lodge it was, and how grand War Eagle looked leaning
against his back-rest in the firelight! From the tripod that supported
the back-rest were suspended his weapons and his medicine-bundle, each
showing the wonderful skill of the maker. The quiver that held the
arrows was combined with a case for the bow, and colored quills of the
porcupine had been deftly used to make it a thing of beauty. All about
the lodge hung the strangely painted linings, and the firelight added
richness to both color and design. War Eagle's hair was white, for he
had known many snows; but his eyes were keen and bright as a boy's, as
he gazed in pride at his grandchildren across the lodge-fire. He was
wise, and had been in many battles, for his was a warlike tribe. He
knew all about the world and the people in it. He was deeply
religious, and every Indian child loved him for his goodness and brave
About the fire were Little Buffalo Calf, a boy of eleven years;
Eyes-in-the-Water, his sister, a girl of nine; Fine Bow, a cousin of
these, aged ten, and Bluebird, his sister, who was but eight years old.
Not a sound did the children make while the old warrior filled his
great pipe, and only the snapping of the lodge-fire broke the
stillness. Solemnly War Eagle lit the tobacco that had been mixed with
the dried inner bark of the red willow, and for several minutes smoked
in silence, while the children's eyes grew large with expectancy.
Finally he spoke:
"Napa, OLD-man, is very old indeed. He made this world, and all that
is on it. He came out of the south, and travelled toward the north,
making the birds and animals as he passed. He made the perfumes for
the winds to carry about, and he even made the war-paint for the people
to use. He was a busy worker, but a great liar and thief, as I shall
show you after I have told you more about him. It was OLD-man who
taught the beaver all his cunning. It was OLD-man who told the bear to
go to sleep when the snow grew deep in winter, and it was he who made
the curlew's bill so long and crooked, although it was not that way at
first. OLD-man used to live on this world with the animals and birds.
There was no other man or woman then, and he was chief over all the
animal-people and the bird-people. He could speak the language of the
robin, knew the words of the bear, and understood the sign-talk of the
beaver, too. He lived with the wolves, for they are the great hunters.
Even to-day we make the same sign for a smart man as we make for the
wolf; so you see he taught them much while he lived with them. OLD-man
made a great many mistakes in making things, as I shall show you after
a while; yet he worked until he had everything good. But he often made
great mischief and taught many wicked things. These I shall tell you
about some day. Everybody was afraid of OLD-man and his tricks and
lies—even the animal-people, before he made men and women. He used to
visit the lodges of our people and make trouble long ago, but he got so
wicked that Manitou grew angry at him, and one day in the month of
roses, he built a lodge for OLD-man and told him that he must stay in
it forever. Of course he had to do that, and nobody knows where the
lodge was built, nor in what country, but that is why we never see him
as our grandfathers did, long, long ago.
"What I shall tell you now happened when the world was young. It was a
fine summer day, and OLD-man was travelling in the forest. He was
going north and straight as an arrow—looking at nothing, hearing
nothing. No one knows what he was after, to this day. The birds and
forest-people spoke politely to him as he passed but he answered none
of them. The Pine-squirrel, who is always trying to find out other
people's business, asked him where he was going, but OLD-man wouldn't
tell him. The woodpecker hammered on a dead tree to make him look that
way, but he wouldn't. The Elk-people and the Deer-people saw him pass,
and all said that he must be up to some mischief or he would stop and
talk a while. The pine-trees murmured, and the bushes whispered their
greeting, but he kept his eyes straight ahead and went on travelling.
"The sun was low when OLD-man heard a groan" (here War Eagle groaned to
show the children how it sounded), "and turning about he saw a warrior
lying bruised and bleeding near a spring of cold water. OLD-man knelt
beside the man and asked: 'Is there war in this country?'
"'Yes,' answered the man. 'This whole day long we have fought to kill
a Person, but we have all been killed, I am afraid.'
"'That is strange,' said OLD-man; 'how can one Person kill so many men?
Who is this Person, tell me his name!' but the man didn't answer—he
was dead. When OLD-man saw that life had left the wounded man, he
drank from the spring, and went on toward the north, but before long he
heard a noise as of men fighting, and he stopped to look and listen.
Finally he saw the bushes bend and sway near a creek that flowed
through the forest. He crawled toward the spot, and peering through
the brush saw a great Person near a pile of dead men, with his back
against a pine-tree. The Person was full of arrows, and he was pulling
them from his ugly body. Calmly the Person broke the shafts of the
arrows, tossed them aside, and stopped the blood flow with a brush of
his hairy hand. His head was large and fierce-looking, and his eyes
were small and wicked. His great body was larger than that of a
buffalo-bull and covered with scars of many battles.
"OLD-man went to the creek, and with his buffalo-horn cup brought some
water to the Person, asking as he approached:
"'Who are you, Person? Tell me, so I can make you a fine present, for
you are great in war.'
"'I am Bad Sickness,' replied the Person. 'Tribes I have met remember
me and always will, for their bravest warriors are afraid when I make
war upon them. I come in the night or I visit their camps in daylight.
It is always the same; they are frightened and I kill them easily.'
"'Ho!' said OLD-man, 'tell me how to make Bad Sickness, for I often go
to war myself.' He lied; for he was never in a battle in his life. The
Person shook his ugly head and then OLD-man said:
"'If you will tell me how to make Bad Sickness I will make you small
and handsome. When you are big, as you now are, it is very hard to
make a living; but when you are small, little food will make you fat.
Your living will be easy because I will make your food grow everywhere.'
"'Good,' said the Person, 'I will do it; you must kill the fawns of the
deer and the calves of the elk when they first begin to live. When you
have killed enough of them you must make a robe of their skins.
Whenever you wear that robe and sing—"now you sicken, now you sicken,"
the sickness will come—that is all there is to it.'
"'Good,' said OLD-man, 'now lie down to sleep and I will do as I
"The Person went to sleep and OLD-man breathed upon him until he grew
so tiny that he laughed to see how small he had made him. Then he took
out his paint sack and striped the Person's back with black and yellow.
It looked bright and handsome and he waked the Person, who was now a
tiny animal with a bushy tail to make him pretty.
"'Now,' said OLD-man, 'you are the Chipmunk, and must always wear those
striped clothes. All of your children and their children, must wear
"After the Chipmunk had looked at himself, and thanked OLD-man for his
new clothes, he wanted to know how he could make his living, and
OLD-man told him what to eat, and said he must cache the pine-nuts when
the leaves turned yellow, so he would not have to work in the winter
"'You are a cousin to the Pine-squirrel,' said OLD-man, 'and you will
hunt and hide as he does. You will be spry and your living will be
easy to make if you do as I have told you.'
"He taught the Chipmunk his language and his signs, showed him where to
live, and then left him, going on toward the north again. He kept
looking for the cow-elk and doe-deer, and it was not long before he had
killed enough of their young to make the robe as the Person told him,
for they were plentiful before the white man came to live on the world.
He found a shady place near a creek, and there made the robe that would
make Bad Sickness whenever he sang the queer song, but the robe was
plain, and brown in color. He didn't like the looks of it. Suddenly
he thought how nice the back of the Chipmunk looked after he had
striped it with his paints. He got out his old paint sack and with the
same colors made the robe look very much like the clothes of the
Chipmunk. He was proud of the work, and liked the new robe better; but
being lazy, he wanted to save himself work, so he sent the South-wind
to tell all the doe-deer and the cow-elk to come to him. They came as
soon as they received the message, for they were afraid of OLD-man and
always tried to please him. When they had all reached the place where
OLD-man was he said to them:
"'Do you see this robe?'
"'Yes, we see it,' they replied.
"'Well, I have made it from the skins of your children, and then
painted it to look like the Chipmunk's back, for I like the looks of
that Person's clothes. I shall need many more of these robes during my
life; and every time I make one, I don't want to have to spend my time
painting it; so from now on and forever your children shall be born in
spotted clothes. I want it to be that way to save me work. On all the
fawns there must be spots of white like this (here he pointed to the
spots on Bad Sickness's robe) and on all of the elk-calves the spots
shall not be so white and shall be in rows and look rather yellow.'
Again he showed them his robe, that they might see just what he wanted.
"'Remember,' he said, 'after this I don't want to see any of your
children running about wearing plain clothing, because that would mean
more painting for me. Now go away, and remember what I have said, lest
I make you sick.'
"The cow-elk and the doe-deer were glad to know that their children's
clothes would be beautiful, and they went away to their little ones who
were hidden in the tall grass, where the wolves and mountain-lions
would have a hard time finding them; for you know that in the tracks of
the fawn there is no scent, and the wolf cannot trail him when he is
alone. That is the way Manitou takes care of the weak, and all of the
forest-people know about it, too.
"Now you know why the Chipmunk's back is striped, and why the fawn and
elk-calf wear their pretty clothes.
"I hear the owls, and it is time for all young men who will some day be
great warriors to go to bed, and for all young women to seek rest, lest
beauty go away forever. Ho!"
HOW THE DUCKS GOT THEIR FINE FEATHERS
Another night had come, and I made my way toward War Eagle's lodge. In
the bright moonlight the dead leaves of the quaking-aspen fluttered
down whenever the wind shook the trees; and over the village great
flocks of ducks and geese and swan passed in a never-ending procession,
calling to each other in strange tones as they sped away toward the
waters that never freeze.
In the lodge War Eagle waited for his grandchildren, and when they had
entered, happily, he laid aside his pipe and said:
"The Duck-people are travelling to-night just as they have done since
the world was young. They are going away from winter because they
cannot make a living when ice covers the rivers.
"You have seen the Duck-people often. You have noticed that they wear
fine clothes but you do not know how they got them; so I will tell you
"It was in the fall when leaves are yellow that it happened, and long,
long ago. The Duck-people had gathered to go away, just as they are
doing now. The buck-deer was coming down from the high ridges to visit
friends in the lowlands along the streams as they have always done. On
a lake OLD-man saw the Duck-people getting ready to go away, and at
that time they all looked alike; that is, they all wore the same
colored clothes. The loons and the geese and the ducks were there and
playing in the sunlight. The loons were laughing loudly and the diving
was fast and merry to see. On the hill where OLD-man stood there was a
great deal of moss, and he began to tear it from the ground and roll it
into a great ball. When he had gathered all he needed he shouldered
the load and started for the shore of the lake, staggering under the
weight of the great burden. Finally the Duck-people saw him coming
with his load of moss and began to swim away from the shore.
"'Wait, my brothers!' he called, 'I have a big load here, and I am
going to give you people a dance. Come and help me get things ready.'
"'Don't you do it,' said the gray goose to the others; 'that's OLD-man
and he is up to something bad, I am sure.'
"So the loon called to OLD-man and said they wouldn't help him at all.
"Right near the water OLD-man dropped his ball of moss and then cut
twenty long poles. With the poles he built a lodge which he covered
with the moss, leaving a doorway facing the lake. Inside the lodge he
built a fire and when it grew bright he cried:
"'Say, brothers, why should you treat me this way when I am here to
give you a big dance? Come into the lodge,' but they wouldn't do that.
Finally OLD-man began to sing a song in the duck-talk, and keep time
with his drum. The Duck-people liked the music, and swam a little
nearer to the shore, watching for trouble all the time, but OLD-man
sang so sweetly that pretty soon they waddled up to the lodge and went
inside. The loon stopped near the door, for he believed that what the
gray goose had said was true, and that OLD-man was up to some mischief.
The gray goose, too, was careful to stay close to the door but the
ducks reached all about the fire. Politely, OLD-man passed the pipe,
and they all smoked with him because it is wrong not to smoke in a
person's lodge if the pipe is offered, and the Duck-people knew that.
"'Well,' said Old-man, 'this is going to be the Blind-dance, but you
will have to be painted first.
"'Brother Mallard, name the colors—tell how you want me to paint you.'
"'Well,' replied the mallard drake, 'paint my head green, and put a
white circle around my throat, like a necklace. Besides that, I want a
brown breast and yellow legs: but I don't want my wife painted that
"OLD-man painted him just as he asked, and his wife, too. Then the
teal and the wood-duck (it took a long time to paint the wood-duck) and
the spoonbill and the blue-bill and the canvasback and the goose and
the brant and the loon—all chose their paint. OLD-man painted them
all just as they wanted him to, and kept singing all the time. They
looked very pretty in the firelight, for it was night before the
painting was done.
"'Now,' said OLD-man, 'as this is the Blind-dance, when I beat upon my
drum you must all shut your eyes tight and circle around the fire as I
sing. Every one that peeks will have sore eyes forever.'
"Then the Duck-people shut their eyes and OLD-man began to sing: 'Now
you come, ducks, now you come—tum-tum, tum; tum-tum, tum.'
"Around the fire they came with their eyes still shut, and as fast as
they reached OLD-man, the rascal would seize them, and wring their
necks. Ho! things were going fine for OLD-man, but the loon peeked a
little, and saw what was going on; several others heard the fluttering
and opened their eyes, too. The loon cried out, 'He's killing us—let
us fly,' and they did that. There was a great squawking and quacking
and fluttering as the Duck-people escaped from the lodge. Ho! but
OLD-man was angry, and he kicked the back of the loon-duck, and that is
why his feet turn from his body when he walks or tries to stand. Yes,
that is why he is a cripple to-day.
"And all of the Duck-people that peeked that night at the dance still
have sore eyes—just as OLD-man told them they would have. Of course
they hurt and smart no more but they stay red to pay for peeking, and
always will. You have seen the mallard and the rest of the
Duck-people. You can see that the colors OLD-man painted so long ago
are still bright and handsome, and they will stay that way forever and
WHY THE KINGFISHER ALWAYS WEARS A WAR-BONNET
Autumn nights on the upper Missouri river in Montana are indescribably
beautiful, and under their spell imagination is a constant companion to
him who lives in wilderness, lending strange, weird echoes to the voice
of man or wolf, and unnatural shapes in shadow to commonplace forms.
The moon had not yet climbed the distant mountain range to look down on
the humbler lands when I started for War Eagle's lodge; and dimming the
stars in its course, the milky-way stretched across the jewelled sky.
"The wolf's trail," the Indians call this filmy streak that foretells
fair weather, and to-night it promised much, for it seemed plainer and
brighter than ever before.
"How—how!" greeted War Eagle, making the sign for me to be seated near
him, as I entered his lodge. Then he passed me his pipe and together
we smoked until the children came.
Entering quietly, they seated themselves in exactly the same positions
they had occupied on the previous evenings, and patiently waited in
silence. Finally War Eagle laid the pipe away and said: "Ho! Little
Buffalo Calf, throw a big stick on the fire and I will tell you why the
Kingfisher wears a war-bonnet."
The boy did as he was bidden. The sparks jumped toward the smoke-hole
and the blaze lighted up the lodge until it was bright as daytime, when
War Eagle continued:
"You have often seen Kingfisher at his fishing along the rivers, I
know; and you have heard him laugh in his queer way, for he laughs a
good deal when he flies. That same laugh nearly cost him his life
once, as you will see. I am sure none could see the Kingfisher without
noticing his great head-dress, but not many know how he came by it
because it happened so long ago that most men have forgotten.
"It was one day in the winter-time when OLD-man and the Wolf were
hunting. The snow covered the land and ice was on all of the rivers.
It was so cold that OLD-man wrapped his robe close about himself and
his breath showed white in the air. Of course the Wolf was not cold;
wolves never get cold as men do. Both OLD-man and the Wolf were hungry
for they had travelled far and had killed no meat. OLD-man was
complaining and grumbling, for his heart is not very good. It is never
well to grumble when we are doing our best, because it will do no good
and makes us weak in our hearts. When our hearts are weak our heads
sicken and our strength goes away. Yes, it is bad to grumble.
"When the sun was getting low OLD-man and the Wolf came to a great
river. On the ice that covered the water, they saw four fat Otters
"'There is meat,' said the Wolf; 'wait here and I will try to catch one
of those fellows.'
"'No!—No!' cried OLD-man, 'do not run after the Otter on the ice,
because there are air-holes in all ice that covers rivers, and you may
fall in the water and die.' OLD-man didn't care much if the Wolf did
drown. He was afraid to be left alone and hungry in the snow—that was
"'Ho!' said the Wolf, 'I am swift of foot and my teeth are white and
sharp. What chance has an Otter against me? Yes, I will go,' and he
"Away ran the Otters with the Wolf after them, while OLD-man stood on
the bank and shivered with fright and cold. Of course the Wolf was
faster than the Otter, but he was running on the ice, remember, and
slipping a good deal. Nearer and nearer ran the Wolf. In fact he was
just about to seize an Otter, when SPLASH!—into an air-hole all the
Otters went. Ho! the Wolf was going so fast he couldn't stop, and
SWOW! into the air-hole he went like a badger after mice, and the
current carried him under the ice. The Otters knew that hole was
there. That was their country and they were running to reach that same
hole all the time, but the Wolf didn't know that.
"Old-man saw it all and began to cry and wail as women do. Ho! but he
made a great fuss. He ran along the bank of the river, stumbling in
the snowdrifts, and crying like a woman whose child is dead; but it was
because he didn't want to be left in that country alone that he
cried—not because he loved his brother, the Wolf. On and on he ran
until he came to a place where the water was too swift to freeze, and
there he waited and watched for the Wolf to come out from under the
ice, crying and wailing and making an awful noise, for a man.
"Well—right there is where the thing happened. You see, Kingfisher
can't fish through the ice and he knows it, too; so he always finds
places like the one OLD-man found. He was there that day, sitting on
the limb of a birch-tree, watching for fishes, and when OLD-man came
near to Kingfisher's tree, crying like an old woman, it tickled the
Fisher so much that he laughed that queer, chattering laugh.
"OLD-man heard him and—Ho! but he was angry. He looked about to see
who was laughing at him and that made Kingfisher laugh again, longer
and louder than before. This time OLD-man saw him and SWOW! he threw
his war-club at Kingfisher; tried to kill the bird for laughing.
Kingfisher ducked so quickly that OLD-man's club just grazed the
feathers on his head, making them stand up straight.
"'There,' said OLD-man, 'I'll teach you to laugh at me when I'm sad.
Your feathers are standing up on the top of your head now and they will
stay that way, too. As long as you live you must wear a head-dress, to
pay for your laughing, and all your children must do the same.
"This was long, long ago, but the Kingfishers have not forgotten, and
they all wear war-bonnets, and always will as long as there are
"Now I will say good night, and when the sun sleeps again I will tell
you why the curlew's bill is so long and crooked. Ho!"
WHY THE CURLEW'S BILL IS LONG AND CROOKED
When we reached War Eagle's lodge we stopped near the door, for the old
fellow was singing—singing some old, sad song of younger days and
keeping time with his tom-tom. Somehow the music made me sad and not
until it had ceased, did we enter.
"How! How!"—he greeted us, with no trace of the sadness in his voice
that I detected in his song.
"You have come here to-night to learn why the Curlew's bill is so long
and crooked. I will tell you, as I promised, but first I must smoke."
In silence we waited until the pipe was laid aside, then War Eagle
"By this time you know that OLD-man was not always wise, even if he did
make the world, and all that is on it. He often got into trouble but
something always happened to get him out of it. What I shall tell you
now will show you that it is not well to try to do things just because
others do them. They may be right for others, and wrong for us, but
OLD-man didn't understand that, you see.
"One day he saw some mice playing and went near to watch them. It was
spring-time, and the frost was just coming out of the ground. A big
flat rock was sticking out of a bank near a creek, and the sun had
melted the frost from the earth about it, loosening it, so that it was
about to fall. The Chief-Mouse would sing a song, while all the other
mice danced, and then the chief would cry 'now!' and all the mice would
run past the big rock. On the other side, the Chief-Mouse would sing
again, and then say 'now!'—back they would come—right under the
dangerous rock. Sometimes little bits of dirt would crumble and fall
near the rock, as though warning the mice that the rock was going to
fall, but they paid no attention to the warning, and kept at their
playing. Finally OLD-man said:
"'Say, Chief-Mouse, I want to try that. I want to play that game. I
am a good runner.'
"He wasn't, you know, but he thought he could run. That is often where
we make great mistakes—when we try to do things we were not intended
"'No—no!' cried the Chief-Mouse, as OLD-man prepared to make the race
past the rock. 'No!—No!—you will shake the ground. You are too
heavy, and the rock may fall and kill you. My people are light of foot
and fast. We are having a good time, but if you should try to do as we
are doing you might get hurt, and that would spoil our fun.'
"'Ho!' said OLD-man, 'stand back! I'll show you what a runner I am.'
"He ran like a grizzly bear, and shook the ground with his weight.
Swow!—came the great rock on top of OLD-man and held him fast in the
mud. My! how he screamed and called for aid. All the Mice-people ran
away to find help. It was a long time before the Mice-people found
anybody, but they finally found the Coyote, and told him what had
happened. Coyote didn't like OLD-man very much, but he said he would
go and see what he could do, and he did. The Mice-people showed him
the way, and when they all reached the spot—there was OLD-man deep in
the mud, with the big rock on his back. He was angry and was saying
things people should not say, for they do no good and make the mind
"Coyote said: 'Keep still, you big baby. Quit kicking about so. You
are splashing mud in my eyes. How can I see with my eyes full of mud?
Tell me that. I am going to try to help you out of your trouble.' He
tried but OLD-man insulted Coyote, and called him a name that is not
good, so the Coyote said, 'Well, stay there,' and went away.
"Again OLD-man began to call for helpers, and the Curlew, who was
flying over, saw the trouble, and came down to the ground to help. In
those days Curlew had a short, stubby bill, and he thought that he
could break the rock by pecking it. He pecked and pecked away without
making any headway, till OLD-man grew angry at him, as he did at the
Coyote. The harder the Curlew worked, the worse OLD-man scolded him.
OLD-man lost his temper altogether, you see, which is a bad thing to
do, for we lose our friends with it, often. Temper is like a bad dog
about a lodge—no friends will come to see us when he is about.
"Curlew did his best but finally said: 'I'll go and try to find
somebody else to help you. I guess I am too small and weak. I shall
come back to you.' He was standing close to OLD-man when he spoke, and
OLD-man reached out and grabbed the Curlew by the bill. Curlew began
to scream—oh, my—oh, my—oh, my—as you still hear them in the air
when it is morning. OLD-man hung onto the bill and finally pulled it
out long and slim, and bent it downward, as it is to-day. Then he let
go and laughed at the Curlew.
"'You are a queer-looking bird now. That is a homely bill, but you
shall always wear it and so shall all of your children, as long as
there are Curlews in the world.'
"I have forgotten who it was that got OLD-man out of his trouble, but
it seems to me it was the bear. Anyhow he did get out somehow, and
lived to make trouble, until Manitou grew tired of him.
"There are good things that OLD-man did and to-morrow night, if you
will come early, I will tell you how OLD-man made the world over after
the water made its war on the land, scaring all the animal-people and
the bird-people. I will also tell you how he made the first man and
the first woman and who they were. But now the grouse is fast asleep;
nobody is stirring but those who were made to see in the dark, like the
owl and the wolf.— Ho!"
OLD-MAN REMAKES THE WORLD
The sun was just sinking behind the hills when we started for War
"To-morrow will be a fine day," said Other-person, "for grandfather
says that a red sky is always the sun's promise of fine weather, and
the sun cannot lie."
"Yes," said Bluebird, "and he said that when this moon was new it
travelled well south for this time of year and its points were up.
That means fine, warm weather."
"I wish I knew as much as grandfather," said Fine-bow with pride.
The pipe was laid aside at once upon our entering the lodge and the old
"I have told you that OLD-man taught the animals and the birds all they
know. He made them and therefore knew just what each would have to
understand in order to make his living. They have never forgotten
anything he told them—even to this day. Their grandfathers told the
young ones what they had been told, just as I am telling you the things
you should know. Be like the birds and animals—tell your children and
grandchildren what I have told you, that our people may always know how
things were made, and why strange things are true.
"Yes—OLD-man taught the Beaver how to build his dams to make the water
deeper; taught the Squirrel to plant the pine-nut so that another tree
might grow and have nuts for his children; told the Bear to go to sleep
in the winter, when the snow made hard travelling for his short
legs—told him to sleep, and promised him that he would need no meat
while he slept. All winter long the Bear sleeps and eats nothing,
because OLD-man told him that he could. He sleeps so much in the
winter that he spends most of his time in summer hunting.
"It was OLD-man who showed the Owl how to hunt at night and it was
OLD-man that taught the Weasel all his wonderful ways—his bloodthirsty
ways—for the Weasel is the bravest of the animal-people, considering
his size. He taught the Beaver one strange thing that you have
noticed, and that is to lay sticks on the creek-bottoms, so that they
will stay there as long as he wants them to.
"Whenever the animal-people got into trouble they always sought OLD-man
and told him about it. All were busy working and making a living, when
one day it commenced to rain. That was nothing, of course, but it
didn't stop as it had always done before. No, it kept right on raining
until the rivers overran their banks, and the water chased the Weasel
out of his hole in the ground. Yes, and it found the Rabbit's
hiding-place and made him leave it. It crept into the lodge of the
Wolf at night and frightened his wife and children. It poured into the
den of the Bear among the rocks and he had to move. It crawled under
the logs in the forest and found the Mice-people. Out it went to the
plains and chased them out of their homes in the buffalo skulls. At
last the Beavers' dams broke under the strain and that made everything
worse. It was bad—very bad, indeed. Everybody except the fish-people
were frightened and all went to find OLD-man that they might tell him
what had happened. Finally they found his fire, far up on a timbered
bench, and they said that they wanted a council right away.
"It was a strange sight to see the Eagle sitting next to the Grouse;
the Rabbit sitting close to the Lynx; the Mouse right under the very
nose of the Bobcat, and the tiny Humming-bird talking to the Hawk in a
whisper, as though they had always been great friends. All about
OLD-man's fire they sat and whispered or talked in signs. Even the
Deer spoke to the Mountain-lion, and the Antelope told the Wolf that he
was glad to see him, because fear had made them all friends.
"The whispering and the sign-making stopped when OLD-man raised his
hand-like that" (here War Eagle raised his hand with the palm
outward)—"and asked them what was troubling them.
"The Bear spoke first, of course, and told how the water had made him
move his camp. He said all the animal-people were moving their homes,
and he was afraid they would be unable to find good camping-places,
because of the water. Then the Beaver spoke, because he is wise and
all the forest-people know it. He said his dams would not hold back
the water that came against them; that the whole world was a lake, and
that he thought they were on an island. He said he could live in the
water longer than most people, but that as far as he could see they
would all die except, perhaps, the fish-people, who stayed in the water
all the time, anyhow. He said he couldn't think of a thing to do—then
he sat down and the sign-talking and whispering commenced again.
"OLD-man smoked a long time—smoked and thought hard. Finally he
grabbed his magic stone axe, and began to sing his war-song. Then the
rest knew he had made up his mind and knew what he would do. Swow! he
struck a mighty pine-tree a blow, and it fell down. Swow! down went
another and another, until he had ten times ten of the longest,
straightest, and largest trees in all the world lying side by side
before him. Then OLD-man chopped off the limbs, and with the aid of
magic rolled the great logs tight together. With withes of willow that
he told the Beaver to cut for him, he bound the logs fast together
until they were all as one. It was a monstrous raft that OLD-man had
built, as he sang his song in the darkness. At last he cried, 'Ho!
everybody hurry and sit on this raft I have made'; and they did hurry.
"It was not long till the water had reached the logs; then it crept in
between them, and finally it went on past the raft and off into the
forest, looking for more trouble.
"By and by the raft began to groan, and the willow withes squeaked and
cried out as though ghost-people were crying in the night. That was
when the great logs began to tremble as the water lifted them from the
ground. Rain was falling—night was there, and fear made cowards of
the bravest on the raft. All through the forest there were bad
noises—noises that make the heart cold—as the raft bumped against
great trees rising from the earth that they were leaving forever.
"Higher and higher went the raft; higher than the bushes; higher than
the limbs on the trees; higher than the Woodpecker's nest; higher than
the tree tops, and even higher than the mountains. Then the world was
no more, for the water had whipped the land in the war it made against
"Day came, and still the rain was falling. Night returned, and yet the
rain came down. For many days and nights they drifted in the falling
rain; whirling and twisting about while the water played with the great
raft, as a Bear would play with a Mouse. It was bad, and they were all
afraid—even OLD-man himself was scared.
"At last the sun came but there was no land. All was water. The water
was the world. It reached even to the sky and touched it all about the
edges. All were hungry, and some of them were grumbling, too. There
are always grumblers when there is great trouble, but they are not the
ones who become great chiefs—ever.
"OLD-man sat in the middle of the raft and thought. He knew that
something must be done, but he didn't know what. Finally he said: 'Ho!
Chipmunk, bring me the Spotted Loon. Tell him I want him.'
"The Chipmunk found the Spotted Loon and told him that OLD-man wanted
him, so the Loon went to where OLD-man sat. When he got there, OLD-man
"'Spotted Loon you are a great diver. Nobody can dive as you can. I
made you that way and I know. If you will dive and swim down to the
world I think you might bring me some of the dirt that it is made
of—then I am sure I can make another world.'
"'It is too deep, this water,' replied the Loon, 'I am afraid I shall
"'Well, what if you do?' said OLD-man. 'I gave you life, and if you
lose it this way I will return it to you. You shall live again!'
"'All right, OLD-man,' he answered, 'I am willing to try'; so he
waddled to the edge of the raft. He is a poor walker—the Loon, and
you know I told you why. It was all because OLD-man kicked him in the
back the night he painted all the Duck-people.
"Down went the Spotted Loon, and long he stayed beneath the water. All
waited and watched, and longed for good luck, but when he came to the
top he was dead. Everybody groaned—all felt badly, I can tell you, as
OLD-man laid the dead Loon on the logs. The Loon's wife was crying,
but OLD-man told her to shut up and she did.
"Then OLD-man blew his own breath into the Loon's bill, and he came
back to life.
"'What did you see, Brother Loon?' asked OLD-man, while everybody
crowded as close as he could.
"'Nothing but water,' answered the Loon, 'we shall all die here, I
cannot reach the world by swimming. My heart stops working.'
"There were many brave ones on the raft, and the Otter tried to reach
the world by diving; and the Beaver, and the Gray Goose, and the Gray
Goose's wife; but all died in trying, and all were given a new life by
OLD-man. Things were bad and getting worse. Everybody was cross, and
all wondered what OLD-man would do next, when somebody laughed.
"All turned to see what there could be to laugh at, at such a time, and
OLD-man turned about just in time to see the Muskrat bid good-by to his
wife—that was what they were laughing at. But he paid no attention to
OLD-man or the rest, and slipped from the raft to the water.
Flip!—his tail cut the water like a knife, and he was gone. Some
laughed again, but all wondered at his daring, and waited with little
hope in their hearts; for the Muskrat wasn't very great, they thought.
"He was gone longer than the Loon, longer than the Beaver, longer than
the Otter or the Gray Goose or his wife, but when he came to the
surface of the water he was dead.
"OLD-man brought Muskrat back to life, and asked him what he had seen
on his journey. Muskrat said: 'I saw trees, OLD-man, but I died before
I got to them.'
"OLD-man told him he was brave. He said his people should forever be
great if he succeeded in bringing some dirt to the raft; so just as
soon as the Muskrat was rested he dove again.
"When he came up he was dead, but clinched in his tiny hand OLD-man
found some dirt—not much, but a little. A second time OLD-man gave
the Muskrat his breath, and told him that he must go once more, and
bring dirt. He said there was not quite enough in the first lot, so
after resting a while the Muskrat tried a third time and a third time
he died, but brought up a little more dirt.
"Everybody on the raft was anxious now, and they were all crowding
about OLD-man; but he told them to stand back, and they did. Then he
blew his breath in Muskrat's mouth a third time, and a third time he
lived and joined his wife.
"OLD-man then dried the dirt in his hands, rubbing it slowly and
singing a queer song. Finally it was dry; then he settled the hand
that held the dirt in the water slowly, until the water touched the
dirt. The dry dirt began to whirl about and then OLD-man blew upon it.
Hard he blew and waved his hands, and the dirt began to grow in size
right before their eyes. OLD-man kept blowing and waving his hands
until the dirt became real land, and the trees began to grow. So large
it grew that none could see across it. Then he stopped his blowing and
sang some more. Everybody wanted to get off the raft, but OLD-man said
"'Come here, Wolf,' he said, and the Wolf came to him.
"'You are swift of foot and brave. Run around this land I have made,
that I may know how large it is.'
"The Wolf started, and it took him half a year to get back to the raft.
He was very poor from much running, too, but OLD-man said the world
wasn't big enough yet so he blew some more, and again sent the Wolf out
to run around the land. He never came back—no, the OLD-man had made
it so big that the Wolf died of old age before he got back to the raft.
Then all the people went out upon the land to make their living, and
they were happy, there, too.
"After they had been on the land for a long time OLD-man said: 'Now I
shall make a man and a woman, for I am lonesome living with you people.
He took two or three handfuls of mud from the world he had made, and
moulded both a man and a woman. Then he set them side by side and
breathed upon them. They lived!—and he made them very strong and
healthy—very beautiful to look upon. Chippewas, he called these
people, and they lived happily on that world until a white man saw an
Eagle sailing over the land and came to look about. He stole the
woman—that white man did; and that is where all the tribes came from
that we know to-day. None are pure of blood but the two humans he made
of clay, and their own children. And they are the Chippewas!
"That is a long story and now you must hurry to bed. To-morrow night I
will tell you another story—Ho!"
WHY BLACKFEET NEVER KILL MICE
Muskrat and his grandmother were gathering wood for the camp the next
morning, when they came to an old buffalo skull. The plains were
dotted with these relics of the chase, for already the hide-hunting
white man had played havoc with the great herds of buffalo. This skull
was in a grove of cottonwood-trees near the river, and as they
approached two Mice scampered into it to hide. Muskrat, in great glee,
secured a stick and was about to turn the skull over and kill the Mice,
when his grandmother said: "No, our people never kill Mice. Your
grandfather will tell you why if you ask him. The Mice-people are our
friends and we treat them as such. Even small people can be good
friends, you know—remember that."
All the day the boy wondered why the Mice-people should not be harmed;
and just at dark he came for me to accompany him to War Eagle's lodge.
On the way he told me what his grandmother had said, and that he
intended to ask for the reason, as soon as we arrived. We found the
other children already there, and almost before we had seated
ourselves, Muskrat asked:
"Grandfather, why must we never kill the Mice-people? Grandmother said
that you knew."
"Yes," replied War Eagle, "I do know and you must know. Therefore I
shall tell you all to-night why the Mice-people must be let alone and
allowed to do as they please, for we owe them much; much more than we
can ever pay. Yes—they are great people, as you will see.
"It happened long, long ago, when there were few men and women on the
world. OLD-man was chief of all then, and the animal-people and the
bird-people were greater than our people, because we had not been on
earth long and were not wise.
"There was much quarrelling among the animals and the birds. You see
the Bear wanted to be chief, under OLD-man, and so did the Beaver.
Almost every night they would have a council and quarrel over it.
Beside the Bear and Beaver, there were other animals, and also birds,
that thought they had the right to be chief. They couldn't agree and
the quarrelling grew worse as time went on. Some said the greatest
thief should be chosen. Others thought the wisest one should be the
leader; while some said the swiftest traveller was the one they wanted.
So it went on and on until they were most all enemies instead of
friends, and you could hear them quarrelling almost every night, until
OLD-man came along that way.
"He heard about the trouble. I forget who told him, but I think it was
the Rabbit. Anyhow he visited the council where the quarrelling was
going on and listened to what each one had to say. It took until
almost daylight, too. He listened to it all—every bit. When they had
finished talking and the quarrelling commenced as usual, he said,
'stop!' and they did stop.
"Then he said to them: 'I will settle this thing right here and right
now, so that there will be no more rows over it, forever.'
"He opened his paint sack and took from it a small, polished bone.
This he held up in the firelight, so that they might all see it, and he
"'This will settle the quarrel. You all see this bone in my right
hand, don't you?'
"'Yes,' they replied.
"'Well, now you watch the bone and my hands, too, for they are quick
"OLD-man began to sing the gambling song and to slip the bone from one
hand to the other so rapidly and smoothly that they were all puzzled.
Finally he stopped singing and held out his hands—both shut tight, and
both with their backs up.
"'Which of my hands holds the bone now?' he asked them.
"Some said it was in the right hand and others claimed that it was the
left hand that held it. OLD-man asked the Bear to name the hand that
held the bone, and the Bear did; but when OLD-man opened that hand it
was empty—the bone was not there. Then everybody laughed at the Bear.
OLD-man smiled a little and began to sing and again pass the bone.
"'Beaver, you are smart; name the hand that holds the bone this time.'
"The Beaver said: 'It's in your right hand. I saw you put it there.'
"OLD-man opened that hand right before the Beaver's eyes, but the bone
wasn't there, and again everybody laughed—especially the Bear.
"'Now, you see,' said OLD-man, 'that this is not so easy as it looks,
but I am going to teach you all to play the game; and when you have all
learned it, you must play it until you find out who is the cleverest at
the playing. Whoever that is, he shall be chief under me, forever.'
"Some were awkward and said they didn't care much who was chief, but
most all of them learned to play pretty well. First the Bear and the
Beaver tried it, but the Beaver beat the Bear easily and held the bone
for ever so long. Finally the Buffalo beat the Beaver and started to
play with the Mouse. Of course the Mouse had small hands and was
quicker than the Buffalo—quicker to see the bone. The Buffalo tried
hard for he didn't want the Mouse to be chief but it didn't do him any
good; for the Mouse won in the end.
"It was a fair game and the Mouse was chief under the agreement. He
looked quite small among the rest but he walked right out to the centre
of the council and said:
"'Listen, brothers—what is mine to keep is mine to give away. I am
too small to be your chief and I know it. I am not warlike. I want to
live in peace with my wife and family. I know nothing of war. I get
my living easily. I don't like to have enemies. I am going to give my
right to be chief to the man that OLD-man has made like himself.'
"That settled it. That made the man chief forever, and that is why he
is greater than the animals and the birds. That is why we never kill
"You saw the Mice run into the buffalo skull, of course. There is
where they have lived and brought up their families ever since the
night the Mouse beat the Buffalo playing the bone game. Yes—the
Mice-people always make their nests in the heads of the dead
Buffalo-people, ever since that night.
"Our people play the same game, even today. See," and War Eagle took
from his paint sack a small, polished bone. Then he sang just as
OLD-man did so long ago. He let the children try to guess the hand
that held the bone, as the animal-people did that fateful night; but,
like the animals, they always guessed wrong. Laughingly War Eagle said:
"Now go to your beds and come to see me to-morrow night. Ho!"
HOW THE OTTER SKIN BECAME GREAT "MEDICINE"
It was rather late when we left War Eagle's lodge after having learned
why the Indians never kill the Mice-people; and the milky way was white
and plain, dimming the stars with its mist. The children all stopped
to say good night to little Sees-in-the-dark, a brand-new baby sister
of Bluebird's; then they all went to bed.
The next day the boys played at war, just as white boys do; and the
girls played with dolls dressed in buckskin clothes, until it grew
tiresome, when they visited relatives until it came time for us all to
go to their grandfather's lodge. He was smoking when we entered, but
soon laid aside the pipe and said:
"You know that the otter skin is big medicine, no doubt. You have
noticed that our warriors wear it sometimes and you know that we all
think it very lucky to wear the skin of the Otter. But you don't know
how it came to be great; so I shall tell you.
"One time, long before my grandfather was born, a young-man of our
tribe was unlucky in everything. No woman wanted to marry him, because
he couldn't kill enough meat to keep her in food and clothes. Whenever
he went hunting, his bow always broke or he would lose his lance. If
these things didn't happen, his horse would fall and hurt him.
Everybody talked about him and his bad luck, and although he was
fine-looking, he had no close friends, because of his ill fortune. He
tried to dream and get his medicine but no dream would come. He grew
sour and people were sorry for him all the time. Finally his name was
changed to 'The Unlucky-one,' which sounds bad to the ear. He used to
wander about alone a good deal, and one morning he saw an old woman
gathering wood by the side of a River. The Unlucky-one was about to
pass the old woman when she stopped him and asked:
"'Why are you so sad in your handsome face? Why is that sorry look in
your fine eyes?'
"'Because,' replied the young-man, 'I am the Unlucky-one. Everything
goes wrong with me, always. I don't want to live any longer, for my
heart is growing wicked.'
"'Come with me,' said the old woman, and he followed her until she told
him to sit down. Then she said: 'Listen to me. First you must learn a
song to sing, and this is it.' Then she sang a queer song over and over
again until the young-man had learned it well.
"'Now do what I tell you, and your heart shall be glad some day.' She
drew from her robe a pair of moccasins and a small sack of dried meat.
'Here,' she said, 'put these moccasins on your feet and take this sack
of meat for food, for you must travel far. Go on down this river until
you come to a great beaver village. Their lodges will be large and
fine-looking and you will know the village by the great size of the
lodges. When you get to the place, you must stand still for a long
time, and then sing the song I taught you. When you have finished the
singing, a great white Beaver, chief of all the Beavers in the world,
will come to you. He is wise and can tell you what to do to change
your luck. After that I cannot help you; but do what the white Beaver
tells you, without asking why. Now go, and be brave!'
"The young-man started at once. Long his steps were, for he was young
and strong. Far he travelled down the river—saw many beaver villages,
too, but he did not stop, because the lodges were not big, as the old
woman told him they would be in the right village. His feet grew tired
for he travelled day and night without resting, but his heart was brave
and he believed what the old woman had told him.
"It was late on the third day when he came to a mighty beaver village
and here the lodges were greater than any he had ever seen before. In
the centre of the camp was a monstrous lodge built of great sticks and
towering above the rest. All about, the ground was neat and clean and
bare as your hand. The Unlucky-one knew this was the white Beaver's
lodge—knew that at last he had found the chief of all the Beavers in
the world; so he stood still for a long time, and then sang that song.
"Soon a great white Beaver—white as the snows of winter—came to him
and asked: 'Why do you sing that song, my brother? What do you want of
me? I have never heard a man sing that song before. You must be in
"'I am the Unlucky-one,' the young-man replied. 'I can do nothing
well. I can find no woman who will marry me. In the hunt my bow will
often break or my lance is poor. My medicine is bad and I cannot
dream. The people do not love me, and they pity me as they do a sick
"'I am sorry for you,' said the white Beaver—chief of all the Beavers
in the world—'but you must find my brother the Coyote, who knows where
OLD-man's lodge is. The Coyote will do your bidding if you sing that
song when you see him. Take this stick with you, because you will have
a long journey, and with the stick you may cross any river and not
drown, if you keep it always in your hand. That is all I can do for
"On down the river the Unlucky-one travelled and the sun was low in the
west on the fourth day, when he saw the Coyote on a hillside near by.
After looking at Coyote for a long time, the young-man commenced to
sing the song the old woman had taught him. When he had finished the
singing, the Coyote came up close and asked:
"'What is the matter? Why do you sing that song? I never heard a man
sing it before. What is it you want of me?'
"Then the Unlucky-one told the Coyote what he had told the white
Beaver, and showed the stick the Beaver-chief had given him, to prove
"'I am hungry, too,' said the Unlucky-one, 'for I have eaten all the
dried meat the old woman gave me.'
"'Wait here,' said the Coyote, 'my brother the Wolf has just killed a
fat Doe, and perhaps he will give me a little of the meat when I tell
him about you and your troubles.'
"Away went the Coyote to beg for meat, and while he was gone the
young-man bathed his tired feet in a cool creek. Soon the Coyote came
back with meat, and young-man built a fire and ate some of it, even
before it was warm, for he was starving. When he had finished the
"'Now I shall take you to OLD-man's lodge, come.'
"They started, even though it was getting dark. Long they travelled
without stopping—over plains and mountains—through great forests and
across rivers, until they came to a cave in the rough rocks on the side
of a mighty mountain.
"'In there,' said the Coyote, 'you will find OLD-man and he can tell
you what you want to know.'
"The Unlucky-one stood before the black hole in the rocks for a long
time, because he was afraid; but when he turned to speak to the Coyote
he found himself to be alone. The Coyote had gone about his own
business—had silently slipped away in the night.
"Slowly and carefully the young-man began to creep into the cave,
feeling his way in the darkness. His heart was beating like a tom-tom
at a dance. Finally he saw a fire away back in the cave.
"The shadows danced about the stone sides of the cave as men say the
ghosts do; and they frightened him. But looking, he saw a man sitting
on the far side of the fire. The man's hair was like the snow and very
long. His face was wrinkled with the seams left by many years of life
and he was naked in the firelight that played about him.
"Slowly the young-man stood upon his feet and began to walk toward the
fire with great fear in his heart. When he had reached the place where
the firelight fell upon him, the OLD-man looked up and said:
"'How, young-man, I am OLD-man. Why did you come here? What is it you
"Then the Unlucky-one told OLD-man just what he had told the old woman
and the white Beaver and the Coyote, and showed the stick the Beaver
had given him, to prove it.
"'Smoke,' said OLD-man, and passed the pipe to his visitor. After they
had smoked OLD-man said:
"'I will tell you what to do. On the top of this great mountain there
live many ghost-people and their chief is a great Owl. This Owl is the
only one who knows how you can change your luck, and he will tell you
if you are not afraid. Take this arrow and go among those people,
without fear. Show them you are unarmed as soon as they see you. Now
"Out into the night went the Unlucky-one and on up the mountain. The
way was rough and the wind blew from the north, chilling his limbs and
stinging his face, but on he went toward the mountain-top, where the
storm-clouds sleep and the winter always stays. Drifts of snow were
piled all about, and the wind gathered it up and hurled it at the young
man as though it were angry at him. The clouds waked and gathered
around him, making the night darker and the world lonelier than before,
but on the very top of the mountain he stopped and tried to look
through the clouds. Then he heard strange singing all about him; but
for a long time there was no singer in sight. Finally the clouds
parted and he saw a great circle of ghost-people with large and ugly
heads. They were seated on the icy ground and on the drifts of snow
and on the rocks, singing a warlike song that made the heart of the
young-man stand still, in dread. In the centre of the circle there sat
a mighty Owl—their chief. Ho!—when the ghost-people saw the
Unlucky-one they rushed at him with many lances and would have killed
him but the Owl-chief cried, 'Stop!'
"The young-man folded his arms and said: 'I am unarmed—come and see
how a Blackfoot dies. I am not afraid of you.'
"'Ho!' said the Owl-chief, 'we kill no unarmed man. Sit down, my son,
and tell me what you want. Why do you come here? You must be in
trouble. You must smoke with me.'
"The Unlucky-one told the Owl-chief just what he had told the old woman
and the Beaver and the Coyote and OLD-man, and showed the stick that
the white Beaver had given him and the arrow that OLD-man had given to
him to prove it.
"'Good,' said the Owl-chief, 'I can help you, but first you must help
yourself. Take this bow. It is a medicine-bow; then you will have a
bow that will not break and an arrow that is good and straight. Now go
down this mountain until you come to a river. It will be dark when you
reach this river, but you will know the way. There will be a great
cottonwood-tree on the bank of the stream where you first come to the
water. At this tree, you must turn down the stream and keep on
travelling without rest, until you hear a splashing in the water near
you. When you hear the splashing, you must shoot this arrow at the
sound. Shoot quickly, for if you do not you can never have any good
luck. If you do as I have told you the splasher will be killed and you
must then take his hide and wear it always. The skin that the splasher
wears will make you a lucky man. It will make anybody lucky and you
may tell your people that it is so.
"'Now go, for it is nearly day and we must sleep.'
"The young-man took his bow and arrow and the stick the white Beaver
had given him and started on his journey. All the day he travelled,
and far into the night. At last he came to a river and on the bank he
saw the great cottonwood-tree, just as the ghost Owl had told him. At
the tree the young-man turned down the stream and in the dark easily
found his way along the bank. Very soon he heard a great splashing in
the water near him, and—zipp—he let the arrow go at the sound—then
all was still again. He stood and looked and listened, but for a long
time could see nothing—hear nothing.
"Then the moon came out from under a cloud and just where her light
struck the river, he saw some animal floating—dead. With the magic
stick the young-man walked out on the water, seized the animal by the
legs and drew it ashore. It was an Otter, and the young-man took his
hide, right there.
"A Wolf waited in the brush for the body of the Otter, and the
young-man gave it to him willingly, because he remembered the meat the
Wolf had given the Coyote. As soon as the young-man had skinned the
Otter he threw the hide over his shoulder and started for his own
country with a light heart, but at the first good place he made a camp,
and slept. That night he dreamed and all was well with him.
"After days of travel he found his tribe again, and told what had
happened. He became a great hunter and a great chief among us. He
married the most beautiful woman in the tribe and was good to her
always. They had many children, and we remember his name as one that
was great in war. That is all—Ho!"
OLD-MAN STEALS THE SUN'S LEGGINGS
Firelight—what a charm it adds to story-telling. How its moods seem
to keep pace with situations pictured by the oracle, offering shadows
when dread is abroad, and light when a pleasing climax is reached; for
interest undoubtedly tends the blaze, while sympathy contributes or
withholds fuel, according to its dictates.
The lodge was alight when I approached and I could hear the children
singing in a happy mood, but upon entering, the singing ceased and
embarrassed smiles on the young faces greeted me; nor could I coax a
continuation of the song.
Seated beside War Eagle was a very old Indian whose name was Red Robe,
and as soon as I was seated, the host explained that he was an honored
guest; that he was a Sioux and a friend of long standing. Then War
Eagle lighted the pipe, passing it to the distinguished friend, who in
turn passed it to me, after first offering it to the Sun, the father,
and the Earth, the mother of all that is.
In a lodge of the Blackfeet the pipe must never be passed across the
doorway. To do so would insult the host and bring bad luck to all who
assembled. Therefore if there be a large number of guests ranged about
the lodge, the pipe is passed first to the left from guest to guest
until it reaches the door, when it goes back, unsmoked, to the host, to
be refilled ere it is passed to those on his right hand.
Briefly War Eagle explained my presence to Red Robe and said:
"Once the Moon made the Sun a pair of leggings. Such beautiful work
had never been seen before. They were worked with the colored quills
of the Porcupine and were covered with strange signs, which none but
the Sun and the Moon could read. No man ever saw such leggings as they
were, and it took the Moon many snows to make them. Yes, they were
wonderful leggings and the Sun always wore them on fine days, for they
were bright to look upon.
"Every night when the Sun went to sleep in his lodge away in the west,
he used the leggings for a pillow, because there was a thief in the
world, even then. That thief and rascal was OLD-man, and of course the
Sun knew all about him. That is why he always put his fine leggings
under his head when he slept. When he worked he almost always wore
them, as I have told you, so that there was no danger of losing them in
the daytime; but the Sun was careful of his leggings when night came
and he slept.
"You wouldn't think that a person would be so foolish as to steal from
the Sun, but one night OLD-man—who is the only person who ever knew
just where the Sun's lodge was—crept near enough to look in, and saw
the leggings under the Sun's head.
"We have all travelled a great deal but no man ever found the Sun's
lodge. No man knows in what country it is. Of course we know it is
located somewhere west of here, for we see him going that way every
afternoon, but OLD-man knew everything—except that he could not fool
"Yes—OLD-man looked into the lodge of the Sun and saw the leggings
there—saw the Sun, too, and the Sun was asleep. He made up his mind
that he would steal the leggings so he crept through the door of the
lodge. There was no one at home but the Sun, for the Moon has work to
do at night just as the children, the Stars, do, so he thought he could
slip the leggings from under the sleeper's head and get away.
"He got down on his hands and knees to walk like the Bear-people and
crept into the lodge, but in the black darkness he put his knee upon a
dry stick near the Sun's bed. The stick snapped under his weight with
so great a noise that the Sun turned over and snorted, scaring OLD-man
so badly that he couldn't move for a minute. His heart was not
strong—wickedness makes every heart weaker—and after making sure that
the Sun had not seen him, he crept silently out of the lodge and ran
"On the top of a hill OLD-man stopped to look and listen, but all was
still; so he sat down and thought.
"'I'll get them to-morrow night when he sleeps again'; he said to
himself. 'I need those leggings myself, and I'm going to get them,
because they will make me handsome as the Sun.'
"He watched the Moon come home to camp and saw the Sun go to work, but
he did not go very far away because he wanted to be near the lodge when
night came again.
"It was not long to wait, for all the OLD-man had to do was to make
mischief, and only those who have work to do measure time. He was
close to the lodge when the Moon came out, and there he waited until
the Sun went inside. From the bushes OLD-man saw the Sun take off his
leggings and his eyes glittered with greed as he saw their owner fold
them and put them under his head as he had always done. Then he waited
a while before creeping closer. Little by little the old rascal
crawled toward the lodge, till finally his head was inside the door.
Then he waited a long, long time, even after the Sun was snoring.
"The strange noises of the night bothered him, for he knew he was doing
wrong, and when a Loon cried on a lake near by, he shivered as with
cold, but finally crept to the sleeper's side. Cautiously his fingers
felt about the precious leggings until he knew just how they could best
be removed without waking the Sun. His breath was short and his heart
was beating as a war-drum beats, in the black dark of the lodge.
Sweat—cold sweat, that great fear always brings to the
weak-hearted—was dripping from his body, and once he thought that he
would wait for another night, but greed whispered again, and listening
to its voice, he stole the leggings from under the Sun's head.
"Carefully he crept out of the lodge, looking over his shoulder as he
went through the door. Then he ran away as fast as he could go. Over
hills and valleys, across rivers and creeks, toward the east. He
wasted much breath laughing at his smartness as he ran, and soon he
"'Ho!' he said to himself, 'I am far enough now and I shall sleep.
It's easy to steal from the Sun—just as easy as stealing from the Bear
or the Beaver.'
"He folded the leggings and put them under his head as the Sun had
done, and went to sleep. He had a dream and it waked him with a start.
Bad deeds bring bad dreams to us all. OLD-man sat up and there was the
Sun looking right in his face and laughing. He was frightened and ran
away, leaving the leggings behind him.
"Laughingly the Sun put on the leggings and went on toward the west,
for he is always busy. He thought he would see OLD-man no more, but it
takes more than one lesson to teach a fool to be wise, and OLD-man hid
in the timber until the Sun had travelled out of sight. Then he ran
westward and hid himself near the Sun's lodge again, intending to wait
for the night and steal the leggings a second time.
"He was much afraid this time, but as soon as the Sun was asleep he
crept to the lodge and peeked inside. Here he stopped and looked
about, for he was afraid the Sun would hear his heart beating. Finally
he started toward the Sun's bed and just then a great white Owl flew
from off the lodge poles, and this scared him more, for that is very
bad luck and he knew it; but he kept on creeping until he could almost
touch the Sun.
"All about the lodge were beautiful linings, tanned and painted by the
Moon, and the queer signs on them made the old coward tremble. He
heard a night-bird call outside and he thought it would surely wake the
Sun; so he hastened to the bed and with cunning fingers stole the
leggings, as he had done the night before, without waking the great
sleeper. Then he crept out of the lodge, talking bravely to himself as
cowards do when they are afraid.
"'Now,' he said to himself, 'I shall run faster and farther than
before. I shall not stop running while the night lasts, and I shall
stay in the mountains all the time when the Sun is at work in the
"Away he went—running as the Buffalo runs—straight ahead, looking at
nothing, hearing nothing, stopping at nothing. When day began to break
OLD-man was far from the Sun's lodge and he hid himself in a deep gulch
among some bushes that grew there. He listened a long time before he
dared to go to sleep, but finally he did. He was tired from his great
run and slept soundly and for a long time, but when he opened his
eyes—there was the Sun looking straight at him, and this time he was
scowling. OLD-man started to run away but the Sun grabbed him and
threw him down upon his back. My! but the Sun was angry, and he said:
"'OLD-man, you are a clever thief but a mighty fool as well, for you
steal from me and expect to hide away. Twice you have stolen the
leggings my wife made for me, and twice I have found you easily. Don't
you know that the whole world is my lodge and that you can never get
outside of it, if you run your foolish legs off? Don't you know that I
light all of my lodge every day and search it carefully? Don't you
know that nothing can hide from me and live? I shall not harm you this
time, but I warn you now, that if you ever steal from me again, I will
hurt you badly. Now go, and don't let me catch you stealing again!'
"Away went OLD-man, and on toward the west went the busy Sun. That is
"Now go to bed; for I would talk of other things with my friend, who
knows of war as I do. Ho!"
OLD-MAN AND HIS CONSCIENCE
Not so many miles away from the village, the great mountain range so
divides the streams that are born there, that their waters are offered
as tribute to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans. In this
wonderful range the Indians believe the winds are made, and that they
battle for supremacy over Gunsight Pass. I have heard an old story,
too, that is said to have been generally believed by the Blackfeet, in
which a monster bull-elk that lives in Gunsight Pass lords it over the
winds. This elk creates the North wind by "flapping" one of his ears,
and the South wind by the same use of his other. I am inclined to
believe that the winds are made in that Pass, myself, for there they
are seldom at rest, especially at this season of the year.
To-night the wind was blowing from the north, and filmy white clouds
were driven across the face of the nearly full moon, momentarily
veiling her light. Lodge poles creaked and strained at every heavy
gust, and sparks from the fires inside the lodges sped down the wind,
to fade and die.
In his lodge War Eagle waited for us, and when we entered he greeted us
warmly, but failed to mention the gale. "I have been waiting," he
said. "You are late and the story I shall tell you is longer than many
of the others." Without further delay the story-telling commenced.
"Once OLD-man came upon a lodge in the forest. It was a fine one, and
painted with strange signs. Smoke was curling from the top, and thus
he knew that the person who lived there was at home. Without calling
or speaking, he entered the lodge and saw a man sitting by the fire
smoking his pipe. The man didn't speak, nor did he offer his pipe to
OLD-man, as our people do when they are glad to see visitors. He
didn't even look at his guest, but OLD-man has no good manners at all.
He couldn't see that he wasn't wanted, as he looked about the man's
lodge and made himself at home. The linings were beautiful and were
painted with fine skill. The lodge was clean and the fire was bright,
but there was no woman about.
"Leaning against a fine back-rest, OLD-man filled his own pipe and
lighted it with a coal from the man's fire. Then he began to smoke and
look around, wondering why the man acted so queerly. He saw a star
that shone down through the smoke-hole, and the tops of several trees
that were near the lodge. Then he saw a woman—way up in a tree top
and right over the lodge. She looked young and beautiful and tall.
"'Whose woman is that up there in the tree top?' asked OLD-man.
"'She's your woman if you can catch her and will marry her,' growled
the man; 'but you will have to live here and help me make a living.'
"'I'll try to catch her, and if I do I will marry her and stay here,
for I am a great hunter and can easily kill what meat we want,' said
"He went out of the lodge and climbed the tree after the woman. She
screamed, but he caught her and held her, although she scratched him
badly. He carried her into the lodge and there renewed his promise to
stay there always. The man married them, and they were happy for four
days, but on the fifth morning OLD-man was gone—gone with all the
dried meat in the lodge—the thief.
"When they were sure that the rascal had run away the woman began to
cry, but not so the man. He got his bow and arrows and left the lodge
in anger. There was snow on the ground and the man took the track of
OLD-man, intending to catch and kill him.
"The track was fresh and the man started on a run, for he was a good
hunter and as fast as a Deer. Of course he gained on OLD-man, who was
a much slower traveller; and the Sun was not very high when the old
thief stopped on a hilltop to look back. He saw the man coming fast.
"'This will never do,' he said to himself. 'That queer person will
catch me. I know what I shall do; I shall turn myself into a dead
Bull-Elk and lie down. Then he will pass me and I can go where I
"He took off his moccasins and said to them: 'Moccasins, go on toward
the west. Keep going and making plain tracks in the snow toward the
big-water where the Sun sleeps. The queer-one will follow you, and
when you pass out of the snowy country, you can lose him. Go quickly
for he is close upon us.'
"The moccasins ran away as OLD-man wanted them to, and they made plain
tracks in the snow leading away toward the big-water. OLD-man turned
into a dead Bull-Elk and stretched himself near the tracks the
moccasins had made.
"Up the hill came the man, his breath short from running. He saw the
dead Elk, and thought it might be OLD-man playing a trick. He was
about to shoot an arrow into the dead Elk to make sure; but just as he
was about to let the arrow go, he saw the tracks the moccasins had
made. Of course he thought the moccasins were on OLD-man's feet, and
that the carcass was really that of a dead Elk. He was badly fooled
and took the tracks again. On and on he went, following the moccasins
over hills and rivers. Faster than before went the man, and still
faster travelled the empty moccasins, the trail growing dimmer and
dimmer as the daylight faded. All day long, and all of the night the
man followed the tracks without rest or food, and just at daybreak he
came to the shore of the big-water. There, right by the water's edge,
stood the empty moccasins, side by side.
"The man turned and looked back. His eyes were red and his legs were
trembling. 'Caw—caw, caw,' he heard a Crow say. Right over his head
he saw the black bird and knew him, too.
"'Ho! OLD-man, you were in that dead Bull-Elk. You fooled me, and now
you are a Crow. You think you will escape me, do you? Well, you will
not; for I, too, know magic, and am wise.'
"With a stick the man drew a circle in the sand. Then he stood within
the ring and sang a song. OLD-man was worried and watched the strange
doings from the air overhead. Inside the circle the man began to whirl
about so rapidly that he faded from sight, and from the centre of the
circle there came an Eagle. Straight at the Crow flew the Eagle, and
away toward the mountains sped the Crow, in fright.
"The Crow knew that the Eagle would catch him, so that as soon as he
reached the trees on the mountains he turned himself into a Wren and
sought the small bushes under the tall trees. The Eagle saw the
change, and at once began turning over and over in the air. When he
had reached the ground, instead of an Eagle a Sparrow-hawk chased the
Wren. Now the chase was fast indeed, for no place could the Wren find
in which to hide from the Sparrow-hawk. Through the brush, into trees,
among the weeds and grass, flew the Wren with the Hawk close behind.
Once the Sparrow-hawk picked a feather from the Wren's tail—so close
was he to his victim. It was nearly over with the Wren, when he
suddenly came to a park along a river's side. In this park were a
hundred lodges of our people, and before a fine lodge there sat the
daughter of the chief. It was growing dark and chilly, but still she
sat there looking at the river. The Sparrow-hawk was striking at the
Wren with his beak and talons, when the Wren saw the young-woman and
flew straight to her. So swift he flew that the young-woman didn't see
him at all, but she felt something strike her hand, and when she looked
she saw a bone ring on her finger. This frightened her, and she ran
inside the lodge, where the fire kept the shadows from coming. OLD-man
had changed into the ring, of course, and the Sparrow-hawk didn't dare
to go into the lodge; so he stopped outside and listened. This is what
he heard OLD-man say:
"'Don't be frightened, young-woman, I am neither a Wren nor a ring. I
am OLD-man and that Sparrow-hawk has chased me all the day and for
nothing. I have never done him harm, and he bothers me without reason.'
"'Liar—forked-tongue,' cried the Sparrow-hawk. 'Believe him not,
young-woman. He has done wrong. He is wicked and I am not a
Sparrow-hawk, but conscience. Like an arrow I travel, straight and
fast. When he lies or steals from his friends I follow him. I talk
all the time and he hears me, but lies to himself, and says he does not
hear. You know who I am, young-woman, I am what talks inside a person.'
"OLD-man heard what the Sparrow-hawk said, and he was ashamed for once
in his life. He crawled out of the lodge. Into the shadows he ran
away—away into the night, and the darkness—away from himself!
"You see," said War Eagle, as he reached for his pipe, "OLD-man knew
that he had done wrong, and his heart troubled him, just as yours will
bother you if you do not listen to the voice that speaks within
yourselves. Whenever that voice says a thing is wicked, it is
wicked—no matter who says it is not. Yes—it is very hard for a man
to hide from himself. Ho!"
The next afternoon Muskrat and Fine Bow went hunting. They hid
themselves in some brush which grew beside an old game trail that
followed the river, and there waited for a chance deer.
Chickadees hopped and called, "chick-a-de-de-de" in the willows and
wild-rose bushes that grew near their hiding-place; and the gentle
little birds with their pretty coats were often within a few inches of
the hands of the young hunters. In perfect silence they watched and
admired these little friends, while glance or smile conveyed their
appreciation of the bird-visits to each other.
The wind was coming down the stream, and therefore the eyes of the boys
seldom left the trail in that direction; for from that quarter an
approaching deer would be unwarned by the ever-busy breeze. A rabbit
came hopping down the game trail in believed perfect security, passing
so close to Fine Bow that he could not resist the desire to strike at
him with an arrow. Both boys were obliged to cover their mouths with
their open hands to keep from laughing aloud at the surprise and speed
shown by the frightened bunny, as he scurried around a bend in the
trail, with his white, pudgy tail bobbing rapidly.
They had scarcely regained their composure and silence when, "snap!"
went a dry stick. The sharp sound sent a thrill through the hearts of
the boys, and instantly they became rigidly watchful. Not a leaf could
move on the ground now—not a bush might bend or a bird pass and escape
being seen by the four sharp eyes that peered from the brush in the
direction indicated by the sound of the breaking stick. Two hearts
beat loudly as Fine Bow fitted his arrow to the bowstring. Tense and
expectant they waited—yes, it was a deer—a buck, too, and he was
coming down the trail, alert and watchful—down the trail that he had
often travelled and knew so well. Yes, he had followed his mother
along that trail when he was but a spotted fawn—now he wore antlers,
and was master of his own ways. On he came—nearly to the brush that
hid the hunters, when, throwing his beautiful head high in the air, he
stopped, turning his side a trifle.
Zipp—went the arrow and, kicking out behind, away went the buck,
crashing through willows and alders that grew in his way, until he was
out of sight. Then all was still, save the chick-a-de-de-de,
chick-a-de-de-de, that came constantly from the bushes about them.
Out from the cover came the hunters, and with ready bow they followed
along the trail. Yes—there was blood on a log, and more on the dead
leaves. The arrow had found its mark and they must go slowly in their
trailing, lest they lose the meat. For two hours they followed the
wounded animal, and at last came upon him in a willow thicket—sick
unto death, for the arrow was deep in his paunch. His sufferings were
ended by another arrow, and the chase was done.
With their knives the boys dressed the buck, and then went back to the
camp to tell the women where the meat could be found—just as the men
do. It was their first deer; and pride shone in their faces as they
told their grandfather that night in the lodge.
"That is good," War Eagle replied, as the boys finished telling of
their success. "That is good, if your mother needed the meat, but it
is wrong to kill when you have plenty, lest Manitou be angry. There is
always enough, but none to waste, and the hunter who kills more than he
needs is wicked. To-night I shall tell you what happened to OLD-man
when he did that. Yes, and he got into trouble over it.
"One day in the fall when the leaves were yellow, and the Deer-people
were dressed in their blue robes—when the Geese and Duck-people were
travelling to the country where water does not freeze, and where
flowers never die, OLD-man was travelling on the plains.
"Near sundown he saw two Buffalo-Bulls feeding on a steep hillside; but
he had no bow and arrow with him. He was hungry, and began to think of
some way to kill one of the Bulls for meat. Very soon he thought out a
plan, for he is cunning always.
"He ran around the hill out of sight of the Bulls, and there made two
men out of grass and sage-brush. They were dummies, of course, but he
made them to look just like real men, and then armed each with a wooden
knife of great length. Then he set them in the position of fighting;
made them look as though they were about to fight each other with the
knives. When he had them both fixed to suit, he ran back to the place
where the Buffalo were calling:
"'Ho! brothers, wait for me—do not run away. There are two fine men
on the other side of this hill, and they are quarrelling. They will
surely fight unless we stop them. It all started over you two Bulls,
too. One of the men says you are fat and fine, and the other claims
you are poor and skinny. Don't let our brothers fight over such a
foolish thing as that. It would be wicked. Now I can decide it, if
you will let me feel all over you to see if you are fat or poor. Then
I will go back to the men and settle the trouble by telling them the
truth. Stand still and let me feel your sides—quick, lest the fight
begin while I am away.'
"'All right,' said the Bulls, 'but don't you tickle us.' Then OLD-man
walked up close and commenced to feel about the Bulls' sides; but his
heart was bad. From his robe he slipped his great knife, and slyly
felt about till he found the spot where the heart beats, and then
stabbed the knife into the place, clear up to the hilt.
"Both of the Bulls died right away, and OLD-man laughed at the trick he
had played upon them. Then he gave a knife to both of his hands, and
"'Get to work, both of you! Skin these Bulls while I sit here and boss
"Both hands commenced to skin the Buffalo, but the right hand was much
the swifter worker. It gained upon the left hand rapidly, and this
made the left hand angry. Finally the left hand called the right hand
'dog-face.' That is the very worst thing you can call a person in our
language, you know, and of course it made the right hand angry. So
crazy and angry was the right hand that it stabbed the left hand, and
then they began to fight in earnest.
"Both cut and slashed till blood covered the animals they were
skinning. All this fighting hurt OLD-man badly, of course, and he
commenced to cry, as women do sometimes. This stopped the fight; but
still OLD-man cried, till, drying his tears, he saw a Red Fox sitting
near the Bulls, watching him. 'Hi, there, you—go away from there! If
you want meat you go and kill it, as I did.'
"Red Fox laughed—'Ha!—Ha!—Ha!—foolish OLD-man—Ha!—ha!' Then he
ran away and told the other Foxes and the Wolves and the Coyotes about
OLD-man's meat. Told them that his own hands couldn't get along with
themselves and that it would be easy to steal it from him.
"They all followed the Red Fox back to the place where OLD-man was, and
there they ate all of the meat—every bit, and polished the bones.
"OLD-man couldn't stop them, because he was hurt, you see; but it all
came about through lying and killing more meat than he needed. Yes—he
lied and that is bad, but his hands got to quarrelling between
themselves, and family quarrels are always bad. Do not lie; do not
quarrel. It is bad. Ho!"
WHY THE NIGHT-HAWK'S WINGS ARE BEAUTIFUL
I was awakened by the voice of the camp-crier, and although it was yet
dark I listened to his message.
The camp was to move. All were to go to the mouth of the Maria's—"The
River That Scolds at the Other"—the Indians call this stream, that
disturbs the waters of the Missouri with its swifter flood.
On through the camp the crier rode, and behind him the lodge-fires
glowed in answer to his call. The village was awake, and soon the
thunder of hundreds of hoofs told me that the pony-bands were being
driven into camp, where the faithful were being roped for the journey.
Fires flickered in the now fading darkness, and down came the lodges as
though wizard hands had touched them. Before the sun had come to light
the world, we were on our way to "The River That Scolds at the Other."
Not a cloud was in the sky, and the wind was still. The sun came and
touched the plains and hilltops with the light that makes all wild
things glad. Here and there a jack-rabbit scurried away, often
followed by a pack of dogs, and sometimes, though not often, they were
overtaken and devoured on the spot. Bands of graceful antelope bounded
out of our way, stopping on a knoll to watch the strange procession
with wondering eyes, and once we saw a dust-cloud raised by a moving
herd of buffalo, in the distance.
So the day wore on, the scene constantly changing as we travelled.
Wolves and coyotes looked at us from almost every knoll and hilltop;
and sage-hens sneaked to cover among the patches of sage-brush,
scarcely ten feet away from our ponies. Toward sundown we reached a
grove of cottonwoods near the mouth of the Maria's, and in an
incredibly short space of time the lodges took form. Soon, from out
the tops of a hundred camps, smoke was curling just as though the
lodges had been there always, and would forever remain.
As soon as supper was over I found the children, and together we sought
War Eagle's lodge. He was in a happy mood and insisted upon smoking
two pipes before commencing his story-telling. At last he said:
"To-night I shall tell you why the Nighthawk wears fine clothes. My
grandfather told me about it when I was young. I am sure you have seen
the Night-hawk sailing over you, dipping and making that strange noise.
Of course there is a reason for it.
"OLD-man was travelling one day in the springtime; but the weather was
fine for that time of year. He stopped often and spoke to the
bird-people and to the animal-people, for he was in good humor that
day. He talked pleasantly with the trees, and his heart grew tender.
That is, he had good thoughts; and of course they made him happy.
Finally he felt tired and sat down to rest on a big, round stone—the
kind of stone our white friend there calls a bowlder. Here he rested
for a while, but the stone was cold, and he felt it through his robe;
so he said:
"'Stone, you seem cold to-day. You may have my robe. I have hundreds
of robes in my camp, and I don't need this one at all.' That was a lie
he told about having so many robes. All he had was the one he wore.
"He spread his robe over the stone, and then started down the hill,
naked, for it was really a fine day. But storms hide in the mountains,
and are never far away when it is springtime. Soon it began to
snow—then the wind blew from the north with a good strength behind it.
"'Well, I guess I do need that robe myself, after all. That stone
never did anything for me anyhow. Nobody is ever good to a stone.
I'll just go back and get my robe.'
"Back he went and found the stone. Then he pulled the robe away, and
wrapped it about himself. Ho! but that made the stone angry—Ho!
OLD-man started to run down the hill, and the stone ran after him. Ho!
it was a funny race they made, over the grass, over smaller stones, and
over logs that lay in the way, but OLD-man managed to keep ahead until
he stubbed his toe on a big sage-brush, and fell—swow!
"'Now I have you!' cried the stone—'now I'll kill you, too! Now I
will teach you to give presents and then take them away,' and the stone
rolled right on top of OLD-man, and sat on his back.
"It was a big stone, you see, and OLD-man couldn't move it at all. He
tried to throw off the stone but failed. He squirmed and twisted—no
use—the stone held him fast. He called the stone some names that are
not good; but that never helps any. At last he began to call:
"'Help!—Help!—Help!' but nobody heard him except the Night-hawk, and
he told the OLD-man that he would help him all he could; so he flew
away up in the air—so far that he looked like a black speck. Then he
came down straight and struck that rock an awful blow—'swow!'—and
broke it in two pieces. Indeed he did. The blow was so great that it
spoiled the Night-hawk's bill, forever—made it queer in shape, and
jammed his head, so that it is queer, too. But he broke the rock, and
OLD-man stood upon his feet.
"'Thank you, Brother Night-hawk,' said OLD-man, 'now I will do
something for you. I am going to make you different from other
birds—make you so people will always notice you.'
"You know that when you break a rock the powdered stone is white, like
snow; and there is always some of the white powder whenever you break a
rock, by pounding it. Well, Old-man took some of the fine powdered
stone and shook it on the Night-hawk's wings in spots and stripes—made
the great white stripes you have seen on his wings, and told him that
no other bird could have such marks on his clothes.
"All the Night-hawk's children dress the same way now; and they always
will as long as there are Night-hawks. Of course their clothes make
them proud; and that is why they keep at flying over people's
heads—soaring and dipping and turning all the time, to show off their
"That is all for to-night. Muskrat, tell your father I would run
Buffalo with him tomorrow—Ho!"
WHY THE MOUNTAIN-LION IS LONG AND LEAN
Have you ever seen the plains in the morning—a June morning, when the
spurred lark soars and sings—when the plover calls, and the curlew
pipes his shriller notes to the rising sun? Then is there music,
indeed, for no bird outsings the spurred lark; and thanks to OLD-man he
is not wanting in numbers, either. The plains are wonderful then—more
wonderful than they are at this season of the year; but at all times
they beckon and hold one as in a spell, especially when they are backed
or bordered by a snow-capped mountain range. Looking toward the east
they are boundless, but on their western edge superb mountains rear
All over this vast country the Indians roamed, following the great
buffalo herds as did the wolves, and making their living with the bow
and lance, since the horse came to them. In the very old days the
"piskun" was used, and buffalo were enticed to follow a fantastically
dressed man toward a cliff, far enough to get the herd moving in that
direction, when the "buffalo-man" gained cover, and hidden Indians
raised from their hiding places behind the animals, and drove them over
the cliff, where they were killed in large numbers.
Not until Cortez came with his cavalry from Spain, were there horses on
this continent, and then generations passed ere the plains tribes
possessed this valuable animal, that so materially changed their lives.
Dogs dragged the Indian's travois or packed his household goods in the
days before the horse came, and for hundreds—perhaps thousands of
years, these people had no other means of transporting their goods and
chattels. As the Indian is slow to forget or change the ways of his
father, we should pause before we brand him as wholly improvident, I
He has always been a family-man, has the Indian, and small children had
to be carried, as well as his camp equipage. Wolf-dogs had to be fed,
too, in some way, thus adding to his burden; for it took a great many
to make it possible for him to travel at all.
When the night came and we visited War Eagle, we found he had other
company—so we waited until their visit was ended before settling
ourselves to hear the story that he might tell us.
"The Crows have stolen some of our best horses," said War Eagle, as
soon as the other guests had gone. "That is all right—we shall get
them back, and more, too. The Crows have only borrowed those horses
and will pay for their use with others of their own. To-night I shall
tell you why the Mountain lion is so long and thin and why he wears
hair that looks singed. I shall also tell you why that person's nose
is black, because it is part of the story.
"A long time ago the Mountain-lion was a short, thick-set person. I am
sure you didn't guess that. He was always a great thief like OLD-man,
but once he went too far, as you shall see.
"One day OLD-man was on a hilltop, and saw smoke curling up through the
trees, away off on the far side of a gulch. 'Ho!' he said, 'I wonder
who builds fires except me. I guess I will go and find out.'
"He crossed the gulch and crept carefully toward the smoke. When he
got quite near where the fire was, he stopped and listened. He heard
some loud laughing but could not see who it was that felt so glad and
gay. Finally he crawled closer and peeked through the brush toward the
fire. Then he saw some Squirrel-people, and they were playing some
sort of game. They were running and laughing, and having a big time,
too. What do you think they were doing? They were running about the
fire—all chasing one Squirrel. As soon as the Squirrel was caught,
they would bury him in the ashes near the fire until he cried; then
they would dig him out in a hurry. Then another Squirrel would take
the lead and run until he was caught, as the other had been. In turn
the captive would submit to being buried, and so on—while the racing
and laughing continued. They never left the buried one in the ashes
after he cried, but always kept their promise and dug him out, right
"'Say, let me play, won't you?' asked OLD-man. But the
Squirrel-people all ran away, and he had a hard time getting them to
return to the fire.
"'You can't play this game,' replied the Chief-Squirrel, after they had
returned to the fire.
"'Yes, I can,' declared OLD-man, 'and you may bury me first, but be
sure to dig me out when I cry, and not let me burn, for those ashes are
hot near the fire.'
"'All right,' said the Chief-Squirrel, 'we will let you play. Lie
down,'—and OLD-Man did lie down near the fire. Then the Squirrels
began to laugh and bury OLD-man in the ashes, as they did their own
kind. In no time at all OLD-man cried: 'Ouch!—you are burning
me—quick!—dig me out.'
"True to their promise, the Squirrel-people dug OLD-man out of the
ashes, and laughed at him because he cried so quickly.
"'Now, it is my turn to cover the captive,' said OLD-man, 'and as there
are so many of you, I have a scheme that will make the game funnier and
shorter. All of you lie down at once in a row. Then I will cover you
all at one time. When you cry—I will dig you out right away and the
game will be over.'
"They didn't know OLD-man very well; so they said, 'all right,' and
then they all laid down in a row about the fire.
"OLD-man buried them all in the ashes—then he threw some more wood on
the fire and went away and left them. Every Squirrel there was in the
world was buried in the ashes except one woman Squirrel, and she told
OLD-man she couldn't play and had to go home. If she hadn't gone,
there might not be any Squirrels in this world right now. Yes, it is
lucky that she went home.
"For a minute or so OLD-man watched the fire as it grew hotter, and
then went down to a creek where willows grew and made himself a great
plate by weaving them together. When he had finished making the plate,
he returned to the fire, and it had burned low again. He laughed at
his wicked work, and a Raven, flying over just then, called him
'forked-tongue,' or liar, but he didn't mind that at all. OLD-man cut
a long stick and began to dig out the Squirrel-people. One by one he
fished them out of the hot ashes; and they were roasted fine and were
ready to eat. As he fished them out he counted them, and laid them on
the willow plate he had made. When he had dug out the last one, he
took the plate to the creek and there sat down to eat the Squirrels,
for he was hungry, as usual. OLD-man is a big eater, but he couldn't
eat all of the Squirrels at once, and while eating he fell asleep with
the great plate in his lap.
"Nobody knows how long it was that he slept, but when he waked his
plate of Squirrels was gone—gone completely. He looked behind him; he
looked about him; but the plate was surely gone. Ho! But he was
angry. He stamped about in the brush and called aloud to those who
might hear him; but nobody answered, and then he started to look for
the thief. OLD-man has sharp eyes, and he found the trail in the grass
where somebody had passed while he slept. 'Ho!' he said, 'the
Mountain-lion has stolen my Squirrels. I see his footprints; see where
he has mashed the grass as he walked with those soft feet of his; but I
shall find him, for I made him and know all his ways.'
"OLD-man got down on his hands and knees to walk as the Bear-people do,
just as he did that night in the Sun's lodge, and followed the trail of
the Mountain-lion over the hills and through the swamps. At last he
came to a place where the grass was all bent down, and there he found
his willow plate, but it was empty. That was the place where the
Mountain-lion had stopped to eat the rest of the Squirrels, you know;
but he didn't stay there long because he expected that OLD-man would
try to follow him.
"The Mountain-lion had eaten so much that he was sleepy and, after
travelling a while after he had eaten the Squirrels, he thought he
would rest. He hadn't intended to go to sleep; but he crawled upon a
big stone near the foot of a hill and sat down where he could see a
long way. Here his eyes began to wink, and his head began to nod, and
finally he slept.
"Without stopping once, OLD-man kept on the trail. That is what
counts—sticking right to the thing you are doing—and just before
sundown OLD-man saw the sleeping Lion. Carefully, lest he wake the
sleeper, OLD-man crept close, being particular not to move a stone or
break a twig; for the Mountain-lion is much faster than men are, you
see; and if OLD-man had wakened the Lion, he would never have caught
him again, perhaps. Little by little he crept to the stone where the
Mountain-lion was dreaming, and at last grabbed him by the tail. It
wasn't much of a tail then, but enough for OLD-man to hold to. Ho!
The Lion was scared and begged hard, saying:
"'Spare me, OLD-man. You were full and I was hungry. I had to have
something to eat; had to get my living. Please let me go and do not
hurt me.' Ho! OLD-man was angry—more angry than he was when he waked
and found that he had been robbed, because he had travelled so far on
his hands and knees.
"'I'll show you. I'll teach you. I'll fix you, right now. Steal from
me, will you? Steal from the man that made you, you night-prowling
"OLD-man put his foot behind the Mountain-lion's head, and, still
holding the tail, pulled hard and long, stretching the Lion out to
great length. He squalled and cried, but OLD-man kept pulling until he
nearly broke the Mountain-lion in two pieces—until he couldn't stretch
him any more. Then OLD-man put his foot on the Mountain-lion's back,
and, still holding the tail, stretched that out until the tail was
nearly as long as the body.
"'There, you thief—now you are too long and lean to get fat, and you
shall always look just like that. Your children shall all grow to look
the same way, just to pay you for your stealing from the man that made
you. Come on with me'; and he dragged the poor Lion back to the place
where the fire was, and there rolled him in the hot ashes, singeing his
robe till it looked a great deal like burnt hair. Then OLD-man stuck
the Lion's nose against the burnt logs and blackened it some—that is
why his face looks as it does to-day.
"The Mountain-lion was lame and sore, but OLD-man scolded him some more
and told him that it would take lots more food to keep him after that,
and that he would have to work harder to get his living, to pay for
what he had done. Then he said, 'go now, and remember all the
Mountain-lions that ever live shall look just as you do.' And they do,
"That is the story—that is why the Mountain-lion is so long and lean,
but he is no bigger thief than OLD-man, nor does he tell any more lies.
There had been a sudden change in the weather. A cold rain was
falling, and the night comes early when the clouds hang low. The
children loved a bright fire, and to-night War Eagle's lodge was light
as day. Away off on the plains a wolf was howling, and the rain
pattered upon the lodge as though it never intended to quit. It was a
splendid night for story-telling, and War Eagle filled and lighted the
great stone pipe, while the children made themselves comfortable about
A spark sprang from the burning sticks, and fell upon Fine Bow's bare
leg. They all laughed heartily at the boy's antics to rid himself of
the burning coal; and as soon as the laughing ceased War Eagle laid
aside the pipe. An Indian's pipe is large to look at, but holds little
"See your shadows on the lodge wall?" asked the old warrior. The
children said they saw them, and he continued:
"Some day I will tell you a story about them, and how they drew the
arrows of our enemies, but to-night I am going to tell you of the great
"It was long before there were men and women on the world, but my
grandfather told me what I shall now tell you.
"The gray light that hides the night-stars was creeping through the
forests, and the wind the Sun sends to warn the people of his coming
was among the fir tops. Flowers, on slender stems, bent their heads
out of respect for the herald-wind's Master, and from the dead top of a
pine-tree the Yellowhammer beat upon his drum and called 'the Sun is
awake—all hail the Sun!'
"Then the bush-birds began to sing the song of the morning, and from
alders the Robins joined, until all live things were awakened by the
great music. Where the tall ferns grew, the Doe waked her Fawns, and
taught them to do homage to the Great Light. In the creeks, where the
water was still and clear, and where throughout the day, like a
delicate damaskeen, the shadows of leaves that overhang would lie, the
Speckled Trout broke the surface of the pool in his gladness of the
coming day. Pine-squirrels chattered gayly, and loudly proclaimed what
the wind had told; and all the shadows were preparing for a great
journey to the Sand Hills, where the ghost-people dwell.
"Under a great spruce-tree—where the ground was soft and dry, OLD-man
slept. The joy that thrilled creation disturbed him not, although the
Sun was near. The bird-people looked at the sleeper in wonder, but the
Pine squirrel climbed the great spruce-tree with a pine-cone in his
mouth. Quickly he ran out on the limb that spread over OLD-man, and
dropped the cone on the sleeper's face. Then he scolded OLD-man,
saying: 'Get up—get up—lazy one—lazy one—get up—get up.'
"Rubbing his eyes in anger, OLD-man sat up and saw the Sun coming—his
hunting leggings slipping through the thickets—setting them afire,
till all the Deer and Elk ran out and sought new places to hide.
"'Ho, Sun!' called OLD-man, 'those are mighty leggings you wear. No
wonder you are a great hunter. Your leggings set fire to all the
thickets, and by the light you can easily see the Deer and Elk; they
cannot hide. Ho! Give them to me and I shall then be the great hunter
and never be hungry.'
"'Good,' said the Sun, 'take them, and let me see you wear my leggings.'
"OLD-man was glad in his heart, for he was lazy, and now he thought he
could kill the game without much work, and that he could be a great
hunter—as great as the Sun. He put on the leggings and at once began
to hunt the thickets, for he was hungry. Very soon the leggings began
to burn his legs. The faster he travelled the hotter they grew, until
in pain he cried out to the Sun to come and take back his leggings; but
the Sun would not hear him. On and on OLD-man ran. Faster and faster
he flew through the country, setting fire to the brush and grass as he
passed. Finally he came to a great river, and jumped in.
Sizzzzzzz—the water said, when OLD-man's legs touched it. It cried
out, as it does when it is sprinkled upon hot stones in the
sweat-lodge, for the leggings were very hot. But standing in the cool
water OLD-man took off the leggings and threw them out upon the shore,
where the Sun found them later in the day.
"The Sun's clothes were too big for OLD-man, and his work too great.
"We should never ask to do the things which Manitou did not intend us
to do. If we keep this always in mind we shall never get into trouble.
"Be yourselves always. That is what Manitou intended. Never blame the
Wolf for what he does. He was made to do such things. Now I want you
to go to your fathers' lodges and sleep. To-morrow night I will tell
you why there are so many snakes in the world. Ho!"
THE MOON AND THE GREAT SNAKE
The rain had passed; the moon looked down from a clear sky, and the
bushes and dead grass smelled wet, after the heavy storm. A cottontail
ran into a clump of wild-rose bushes near War Eagle's lodge, and some
dogs were close behind the frightened animal, as he gained cover.
Little Buffalo Calf threw a stone into the bushes, scaring the rabbit
from his hiding-place, and away went bunny, followed by the yelping
pack. We stood and listened until the noise of the chase died away,
and then went into the lodge, where we were greeted, as usual, by War
Eagle. To-night he smoked; but with greater ceremony, and I suspected
that it had something to do with the forthcoming story. Finally he
"You have seen many Snakes, I suppose?"
"Yes," replied the children, "we have seen a great many. In the summer
we see them every day."
"Well," continued the story-teller, "once there was only one Snake on
the whole world, and he was a big one, I tell you. He was pretty to
look at, and was painted with all the colors we know. This snake was
proud of his clothes and had a wicked heart. Most Snakes are wicked,
because they are his relations.
"Now, I have not told you all about it yet, nor will I tell you
to-night, but the Moon is the Sun's wife, and some day I shall tell you
that story, but to-night I am telling you about the Snakes.
"You know that the Sun goes early to bed, and that the Moon most always
leaves before he gets to the lodge. Sometimes this is not so, but that
is part of another story.
"This big Snake used to crawl up a high hill and watch the Moon in the
sky. He was in love with her, and she knew it; but she paid no
attention to him. She liked his looks, for his clothes were fine, and
he was always slick and smooth. This went on for a long time, but she
never talked to him at all. The Snake thought maybe the hill wasn't
high enough, so he found a higher one, and watched the Moon pass, from
the top. Every night he climbed this high hill and motioned to her.
She began to pay more attention to the big Snake, and one morning
early, she loafed at her work a little, and spoke to him. He was
flattered, and so was she, because he said many nice things to her, but
she went on to the Sun's lodge, and left the Snake.
"The next morning very early she saw the Snake again, and this time she
stopped a long time—so long that the Sun had started out from the
lodge before she reached home. He wondered what kept her so long, and
became suspicious of the Snake. He made up his mind to watch, and try
to catch them together. So every morning the Sun left the lodge a
little earlier than before; and one morning, just as he climbed a
mountain, he saw the big Snake talking to the Moon. That made him
angry, and you can't blame him, because his wife was spending her time
loafing with a Snake.
"She ran away; ran to the Sun's lodge and left the Snake on the hill.
In no time the Sun had grabbed him. My, the Sun was angry! The big
Snake begged, and promised never to speak to the Moon again, but the
Sun had him; and he smashed him into thousands of little pieces, all of
different colors from the different parts of his painted body. The
little pieces each turned into a little snake, just as you see them
now, but they were all too small for the Moon to notice after that.
That is how so many Snakes came into the world; and that is why they
are all small, nowadays.
"Our people do not like the Snake-people very well, but we know that
they were made to do something on this world, and that they do it, or
they wouldn't live here.
"That was a short story, but to-morrow night I will tell you why the
Deer-people have no gall on their livers; and why the Antelope-people
do not wear dew-claws, for you should know that there are no other
animals with cloven hoofs that are like them in this.
"I am tired to-night, and I will ask that you go to your lodges, that I
may sleep, for I am getting old. Ho!"
WHY THE DEER HAS NO GALL
Bright and early the next morning the children were playing on the bank
of "The River That Scolds the Other," when Fine Bow said:
"Let us find a Deer's foot, and the foot of an Antelope and look at
them, for to-night grandfather will tell us why the Deer has the
dew-claws, and why the Antelope has none."
"Yes, and let us ask mother if the Deer has no gall on its liver.
Maybe she can show both the liver of a Deer and that of an Antelope;
then we can see for ourselves," said Bluebird.
So they began to look about where the hides had been grained for
tanning; and sure enough, there were the feet of both the antelope and
the deer. On the deer's feet, or legs, they found the dew-claws, but
on the antelope there were none. This made them all anxious to know
why these animals, so nearly alike, should differ in this way.
Bluebird's mother passed the children on her way to the river for
water, and the little girl asked: "Say, mother, does the Deer have gall
on his liver?"
"No, my child, but the Antelope does; and your grandfather will tell
you why if you ask him."
That night in the lodge War Eagle placed before his grandchildren the
leg of a deer and the leg of an antelope, as well as the liver of a
deer and the liver of an antelope.
"See for yourselves that this thing is true, before I tell you why it
is so, and how it happened."
"We see," they replied, "and to-day we found that these strange things
are true, but we don't know why, grandfather."
"Of course you don't know why. Nobody knows that until he is told, and
now I shall tell you, so you will always know, and tell your children,
that they, too, may know.
"It was long, long ago, of course. All these things happened long ago
when the world was young, as you are now. It was on a summer morning,
and the Deer was travelling across the plains country to reach the
mountains on the far-off side, where he had relatives. He grew
thirsty, for it was very warm, and stopped to drink from a water-hole
on the plains. When he had finished drinking he looked up, and there
was his own cousin, the Antelope, drinking near him.
"'Good morning, cousin,' said the Deer. 'It is a warm morning and
water tastes good, doesn't it?'
"'Yes,' replied the Antelope, 'it is warm to-day, but I can beat you
running, just the same.'
"'Ha-ha!' laughed the Deer—'you beat me running? Why, you can't run
half as fast as I can, but if you want to run a race let us bet
something. What shall it be?'
"'I will bet you my gall-sack,' replied the Antelope.
"'Good,' said the Deer, 'but let us run toward that range of mountains,
for I am going that way, anyhow, to see my relations.'
"'All right,' said the Antelope. 'All ready, and here we go.'
"Away they ran toward the far-off range. All the way the Antelope was
far ahead of the Deer; and just at the foot of the mountains he stopped
to wait for him to catch up.
"Both were out of breath from running, but both declared they had done
their best, and the Deer, being beaten, gave the Antelope his sack of
"'This ground is too flat for me,' said the Deer. 'Come up the
hillside where the gulches cut the country, and rocks are in our way,
and I will show you how to run. I can't run on flat ground. It's too
easy for me.' another race with you on your own ground, and I think I
can beat you there, too.'
"Together they climbed the hill until they reached a rough country,
when the Deer said:
"'This is my kind of country. Let us run a race here. Whoever gets
ahead and stays there, must keep on running until the other calls on
him to stop.'
"'That suits me,' replied the Antelope, 'but what shall we bet this
time? I don't want to waste my breath for nothing. I'll tell
you—let us bet our dew-claws.'
"'Good. I'll bet you my dew-claws against your own, that I can beat
you again. Are you all ready?—Go!'
"Away they went over logs, over stones and across great gulches that
cut the hills in two. On and on they ran, with the Deer far ahead of
the Antelope. Both were getting tired, when the Antelope called:
"'Hi, there—you! Stop, you can beat me. I give up.'
"So the Deer stopped and waited until the Antelope came up to him, and
they both laughed over the fun, but the Antelope had to give the Deer
his dew-claws, and now he goes without himself. The Deer wears
dew-claws and always will, because of that race, but on his liver there
is no gall, while the Antelope carries a gall-sack like the other
animals with cloven hoofs.
"That is all of that story, but it is too late to tell you another
to-night. If you will come to-morrow evening, I will tell you of some
trouble that OLD-man got into once. He deserved it, for he was wicked,
as you shall see. Ho!"
WHY THE INDIANS WHIP THE BUFFALO-BERRIES FROM THE BUSHES
The Indian believes that all things live again; that all were created
by one and the same power; that nothing was created in vain; and that
in the life beyond the grave he will know all things that he knew here.
In that other world he expects to make his living easier, and not
suffer from hunger or cold; therefore, all things that die must go to
his heaven, in order that he may be supplied with the necessities of
The sun is not the Indian's God, but a personification of the Deity;
His greatest manifestation; His light.
The Indian believes that to each of His creations God gave some
peculiar power, and that the possessors of these special favors are His
lieutenants and keepers of the several special attributes; such as
wisdom, cunning, speed, and the knowledge of healing wounds. These
wonderful gifts, he knew, were bestowed as favors by a common God, and
therefore he revered these powers, and, without jealousy, paid tribute
The bear was great in war, because before the horse came, he would
sometimes charge the camps and kill or wound many people. Although
many arrows were sent into his huge carcass, he seldom died. Hence the
Indian was sure that the bear could heal his wounds. That the bear
possessed a great knowledge of roots and berries, the Indian knew, for
he often saw him digging the one and stripping the others from the
bushes. The buffalo, the beaver, the wolf, and the eagle—each
possessed strange powers that commanded the Indian's admiration and
respect, as did many other things in creation.
If about to go to war, the Indian did not ask his God for aid—oh, no.
He realized that God made his enemy, too; and that if He desired that
enemy's destruction, it would be accomplished without man's aid. So
the Indian sang his song to the bear, prayed to the bear, and thus
invoked aid from a brute, and not his God, when he sought to destroy
Whenever the Indian addressed the Great God, his prayer was for life,
and life alone. He is the most religious man I have ever known, as
well as the most superstitious; and there are stories dealing with his
religious faith that are startling, indeed.
"It is the wrong time of year to talk about berries," said War Eagle,
that night in the lodge, "but I shall tell you why your mothers whip
the buffalo-berries from the bushes. OLD-man was the one who started
it, and our people have followed his example ever since. Ho! OLD-man
made a fool of himself that day.
"It was the time when buffalo-berries are red and ripe. All of the
bushes along the rivers were loaded with them, and our people were
about to gather what they needed, when OLD-man changed things, as far
as the gathering was concerned.
"He was travelling along a river, and hungry, as he always was.
Standing on the bank of that river, he saw great clusters of red, ripe
buffalo-berries in the water. They were larger than any berries he had
ever seen, and he said:
"'I guess I will get those berries. They look fine, and I need them.
Besides, some of the people will see them and get them, if I don't.'
"He jumped into the water; looked for the berries; but they were not
there. For a time Old-man stood in the river and looked for the
berries, but they were gone.
"After a while he climbed out on the bank again, and when the water got
smooth once more there were the berries—the same berries, in the same
spot in the water.
"'Ho!—that is a funny thing. I wonder where they hid that time. I
must have those berries!' he said to himself.
"In he went again—splashing the water like a Grizzly Bear. He looked
about him and the berries were gone again. The water was rippling
about him, but there were no berries at all. He felt on the bottom of
the river but they were not there.
"'Well,' he said, 'I will climb out and watch to see where they come
from; then I shall grab them when I hit the water next time.'
"He did that; but he couldn't tell where the berries came from. As
soon as the water settled and became smooth—there were the
berries—the same as before. Ho!—OLD-man was wild; he was angry, I
tell you. And in he went flat on his stomach! He made an awful splash
and mussed the water greatly; but there were no berries.
"'I know what I shall do. I will stay right here and wait for those
berries; that is what I shall do'; and he did.
"He thought maybe somebody was looking at him and would laugh, so he
glanced along the bank. And there, right over the water, he saw the
same bunch of berries on some tall bushes. Don't you see? OLD-man
saw the shadow of the berry-bunch; not the berries. He saw the red
shadow-berries on the water; that was all, and he was such a fool he
didn't know they were not real.
"Well, now he was angry in truth. Now he was ready for war. He
climbed out on the bank again and cut a club. Then he went at the
buffalo-berry bushes and pounded them till all of the red berries fell
upon the ground—till the branches were bare of berries.
"'There,' he said, 'that's what you get for making a fool of the man
who made you. You shall be beaten every year as long as you live, to
pay for what you have done; you and your children, too.'
"That is how it all came about, and that is why your mothers whip the
buffalo-berry bushes and then pick the berries from the ground. Ho!"
OLD-MAN AND THE FOX
I am sure that the plains Indian never made nor used the stone
arrow-head. I have heard white men say that they had seen Indians use
them; but I have never found an Indian that ever used them himself, or
knew of their having been used by his people. Thirty years ago I knew
Indians, intimately, who were nearly a hundred years old, who told me
that the stone arrow-head had never been in use in their day, nor had
their fathers used them in their own time. Indians find these
arrow-points just as they find the stone mauls and hammers, which I
have seen them use thousands of times, but they do not make them any
more than they make the stone mauls and hammers. In the old days, both
the head of the lance and the point of the arrow were of bone; even
knives were of bone, but some other people surely made the arrow-points
that are scattered throughout the United States and Europe, I am told.
One night I asked War Eagle if he had ever known the use, by Indians,
of the stone arrow-head, and he said he had not. He told me that just
across the Canadian line there was a small lake, surrounded by trees,
wherein there was an island covered with long reeds and grass. All
about the edge of this island were willows that grew nearly to the
water, but intervening there was a narrow beach of stones. Here, he
said, the stone arrow-heads had been made by little ghost-people who
lived there, and he assured me that he had often seen these strange
little beings when he was a small boy. Whenever his people were camped
by this lake the old folks waked the children at daybreak to see the
inhabitants of this strange island; and always when a noise was made,
or the sun came up, the little people hid away. Often he had seen
their heads above the grass and tiny willows, and his grandfather had
told him that all the stone arrow-heads had been made on that island,
and in war had been shot all over the world, by magic bows.
"No," he said, "I shall not lie to you, my friend. I never saw those
little people shoot an arrow, but there are so many arrows there, and
so many pieces of broken ones, that it proves that my grandfather was
right in what he told me. Besides, nobody could ever sleep on that
I have heard a legend wherein OLD-man, in the beginning, killed an
animal for the people to eat, and then instructed them to use the ribs
of the dead brute to make knives and arrow-points. I have seen
lance-heads, made from shank bones, that were so highly polished that
they resembled pearl, and I have in my possession bone arrow-points
such as were used long ago. Indians do not readily forget their tribal
history, and I have photographed a war-bonnet, made of twisted buffalo
hair, that was manufactured before the present owner's people had, or
ever saw, the horse. The owner of this bonnet has told me that the
stone arrow-head was never used by Indians, and that he knew that
ghost-people made and used them when the world was young.
The bow of the plains Indian was from thirty-six to forty-four inches
long, and made from the wood of the choke-cherry tree. Sometimes bows
were made from the service (or sarvice) berry bush, and this bush
furnished the best material for arrows. I have seen hickory bows among
the plains Indians, too, and these were longer and always straight,
instead of being fashioned like Cupid's weapon. These hickory bows
came from the East, of course, and through trading, reached the plains
country. I have also seen bows covered with the skins of the
bull-snake, or wound with sinew, and bows have been made from the horns
of the elk, in the early days, after a long course of preparation.
Before Lewis and Clark crossed this vast country, the Blackfeet had
traded with the Hudson Bay Company, and steel knives and lance-heads,
bearing the names of English makers, still remain to testify to the
relations existing, in those days, between those famous traders and men
of the Piegan, Blood, and Blackfoot tribes, although it took many years
for traders on our own side of the line to gain their friendship.
Indeed, trappers and traders blamed the Hudson Bay Company for the
feeling of hatred held by the three tribes of Blackfeet for the
"Americans"; and there is no doubt that they were right to some extent,
although the killing of the Blackfoot warrior by Captain Lewis in 1805
may have been largely to blame for the trouble. Certain it is that for
many years after the killing, the Blackfeet kept traders and trappers
on the dodge unless they were Hudson Bay men, and in 1810 drove the
"American" trappers and traders from their fort at Three-Forks.
It was early when we gathered in War Eagle's lodge, the children and I,
but the story-telling began at once.
"Now I shall tell you a story that will show you how little OLD-man
cared for the welfare of others," said War Eagle.
"It happened in the fall, this thing I shall tell you, and the day was
warm and bright. OLD-man and his brother the Red Fox were travelling
together for company. They were on a hillside when OLD-Man said: 'I am
hungry. Can you not kill a Rabbit or something for us to eat? The
way is long, and I am getting old, you know. You are swift of foot and
cunning, and there are Rabbits among these rocks.'
"'Ever since morning came I have watched for food, but the moon must be
wrong or something, for I see nothing that is good to eat,' replied the
Fox. 'Besides that, my medicine is bad and my heart is weak. You are
great, and I have heard you can do most anything. Many snows have
known your footprints, and the snows make us all wise. I think you are
the one to help, not I.'
"'Listen, brother,' said OLD-man, 'I have neither bow nor
lance—nothing to use in hunting. Your weapons are ever with you—your
great nose and your sharp teeth. Just as we came up this hill I saw
two great Buffalo-Bulls. You were not looking, but I saw them, and if
you will do as I want you to we shall have plenty of meat. This is my
scheme; I shall pull out all of your hair, leaving your body white and
smooth, like that of the fish. I shall leave only the white hair that
grows on the tip of your tail, and that will make you funny to look at.
Then you are to go before the Bulls and commence to dance and act
foolish. Of course the Bulls will laugh at you, and as soon as they
get to laughing you must act sillier than ever. That will make them
laugh so hard that they will fall down and laugh on the ground. When
they fall, I shall come upon them with my knife and kill them. Will
you do as I suggest, brother, or will you starve?'
"'What! Pull out my hair? I shall freeze with no hair on my body,
OLD-man. No—I will not suffer you to pull my hair out when the winter
is so near,' cried the Fox.
"'Ho! It is vanity, my brother, not fear of freezing. If you will do
this we shall have meat for the winter, and a fire to keep us warm.
See, the wind is in the south and warm. There is no danger of
freezing. Come, let me do it,' replied OLD-man.
"'Well—if you are sure that I won't freeze, all right,' said the Fox,
'but I'll bet I'll be sorry.'
"So Old-man pulled out all of the Fox's hair, leaving only the white
tip that grew near the end of his tail. Poor little Red Fox shivered
in the warm breeze that OLD-man told about, and kept telling OLD-man
that the hair-pulling hurt badly. Finally OLD-man finished the job and
laughed at the Fox, saying: 'Why, you make me laugh, too. Now go and
dance before the Bulls, and I shall watch and be ready for my part of
"Around the hill went the poor Red Fox and found the Bulls. Then he
began to dance before them as OLD-man had told him. The Bulls took one
look at the hairless Fox and began to laugh. My! How they did laugh,
and then the Red Fox stood upon his hind legs and danced some more;
acted sillier, as OLD-man had told him. Louder and louder laughed the
Bulls, until they fell to the ground with their breath short from the
laughing. The Red Fox kept at his antics lest the Bulls get up before
OLD-man reached them; but soon he saw him coming, with a knife in his
"Running up to the Bulls, OLD-man plunged his knife into their hearts,
and they died. Into the ground ran their blood, and then OLD-man
laughed and said: 'Ho, I am the smart one. I am the real hunter. I
depend on my head for meat—ha!—ha!-ha!'
"Then OLD-man began to dress and skin the Bulls, and he worked hard and
long. In fact it was nearly night when he got the work all done.
"Poor little Red Fox had stood there all the time, and OLD-man never
noticed that the wind had changed and was coming from the north. Yes,
poor Red Fox stood there and spoke no word; said nothing at all, even
when OLD-man had finished.
"'Hi, there, you! what's the matter with you? Are you sorry that we
have meat? Say, answer me!'
"But the Red Fox was frozen stiff—was dead. Yes, the north wind had
killed him while OLD-man worked at the skinning. The Fox had been
caught by the north wind naked, and was dead. OLD-man built a fire and
warmed his hands; that was all he cared for the Red Fox, and that is
all he cared for anybody. He might have known that no person could
stand the north wind without a robe; but as long as he was warm
himself—that was all he wanted.
"That is all of that story. To-morrow night I shall tell you why the
birch-tree wears those slashes in its bark. That was some of OLD-man's
work, too. Ho!"
WHY THE BIRCH-TREE WEARS THE SLASHES IN ITS BARK
The white man has never understood the Indian, and the example set the
Western tribes of the plains by our white brethren has not been such as
to inspire the red man with either confidence or respect for our laws
or our religion. The fighting trapper, the border bandit, the
horse-thief and rustler, in whose stomach legitimately acquired beef
would cause colic—were the Indians' first acquaintances who wore a
white skin, and he did not know that they were not of the best type.
Being outlaws in every sense, these men sought shelter from the Indian
in the wilderness; and he learned of their ways about his lodge-fire,
or in battle, often provoked by the white ruffian in the hope of gain.
They lied to the Indian—these first white acquaintances, and in
after-years, the great Government of the United States lied and lied
again, until he has come to believe that there is no truth in the white
man's heart. And I don't blame him.
The Indian is a charitable man. I don't believe he ever refused food
and shelter or abused a visitor. He has never been a bigot, and
concedes to every other man the right to his own beliefs. Further than
that, the Indian believes that every man's religion and belief is right
and proper for that man's self.
It was blowing a gale and snow was being driven in fine flakes across
the plains when we went to the lodge for a story. Every minute the
weather was growing colder, and an early fall storm of severity was
upon us. The wind seemed to add to the good nature of our host as he
filled and passed me the pipe.
"This is the night I was to tell you about the Birch-Tree, and the wind
will help to make you understand," said War Eagle after we had finished
"Of course," he continued, "this all happened in the summer-time when
the weather was warm, very warm. Sometimes, you know, there are great
winds in the summer, too.
"It was a hot day, and OLD-man was trying to sleep, but the heat made
him sick. He wandered to a hilltop for air; but there was no air.
Then he went down to the river and found no relief. He travelled to
the timberlands, and there the heat was great, although he found plenty
of shade. The travelling made him warmer, of course, but he wouldn't
"By and by he called to the winds to blow, and they commenced. First
they didn't blow very hard, because they were afraid they might make
OLD-man angry, but he kept crying:
"'Blow harder—harder—harder! Blow worse than ever you blew before,
and send this heat away from the world.'
"So, of course, the winds did blow harder—harder than they ever had
"'Bend and break, Fir-Tree!' cried OLD-man, and the Fir-Tree did bend
and break. 'Bend and break, Pine-Tree!' and the Pine-Tree did bend and
break. 'Bend and break, Spruce-Tree!' and the Spruce-Tree did bend and
break. 'Bend and break, O Birch-Tree!' and the Birch-Tree did bend,
but it wouldn't break—no, sir!—it wouldn't break!
"'Ho! Birch-Tree, won't you mind me? Bend and break! I tell you,'
but all the Birch-Tree would do was to bend.
"It bent to the ground; it bent double to please OLD-man, but it would
"'Blow harder, wind!' cried OLD-man, 'blow harder and break the
Birch-Tree.' The wind tried to blow harder, but it couldn't, and that
made the thing worse, because OLD-man was so angry he went crazy.
'Break! I tell you—break!' screamed OLD-man to the Birch-Tree.
"'I won't break,' replied the Birch; 'I shall never break for any wind.
I will bend, but I shall never, never break.'
"'You won't, hey?' cried OLD-man, and he rushed at the Birch-Tree with
his hunting-knife. He grabbed the top of the Birch because it was
touching the ground, and began slashing the bark of the Birch-Tree with
the knife. All up and down the trunk of the tree OLD-man slashed,
until the Birch was covered with the knife slashes.
"'There! that is for not minding me. That will do you good! As long
as time lasts you shall always look like that, Birch-Tree; always be
marked as one who will not mind its maker. Yes, and all the
Birch-Trees in the world shall have the same marks forever.' They do,
too. You have seen them and have wondered why the Birch-Tree is so
queerly marked. Now you know.
"That is all—Ho!"
MISTAKES OF OLD-MAN
All night the storm raged, and in the morning the plains were white
with snow. The sun came and the light was blinding, but the hunters
were abroad early, as usual.
That day the children came to my camp, and I told them several stories
that appeal to white children. They were deeply interested, and asked
many questions. Not until the hunters returned did my visitors leave.
That night War Eagle told us of the mistakes of OLD-man. He said:
"OLD-man made a great many mistakes in making things in the world, but
he worked until he had everything good. I told you at the beginning
that OLD-man made mistakes, but I didn't tell you what they were, so
now I shall tell you.
"One of the things he did that was wrong, was to make the Big-Horn to
live on the plains. Yes, he made him on the plains and turned him
loose, to make his living there. Of course the Big-Horn couldn't run
on the plains, and OLD-man wondered what was wrong. Finally, he said:
'Come here, Big-Horn!' and the Big-Horn came to him. OLD-man stuck his
arm through the circle his horns made, and dragged the Big-Horn far up
into the mountains. There he set him free again, and sat down to watch
him. Ho! It made OLD-man dizzy to watch the Big-Horn run about on the
ragged cliffs. He saw at once that this was the country the Big-Horn
liked, and he left him there. Yes, he left him there forever, and
there he stays, seldom coming down to the lower country.
"While OLD-man was waiting to see what the Big-Horn would do in the
high mountains, he made an Antelope and set him free with the Big-Horn.
Ho! But the Antelope stumbled and fell down among the rocks. He
couldn't man called to the Antelope to come back to him, and the
Antelope did come to him. Then he called to the Big-Horn, and said:
"'You are all right, I guess, but this one isn't, and I'll have to take
him somewhere else.'
"He dragged the Antelope down to the prairie country, and set him free
there. Then he watched him a minute; that was as long as the Antelope
was in sight, for he was afraid OLD-man might take him back to the
"He said: 'I guess that fellow was made for the plains, all right, so
I'll leave him there'; and he did. That is why the Antelope always
stays on the plains, even to-day. He likes it better.
"That wasn't a very long story; sometime when you get older I will tell
you some different stories, but that will be all for this time, I
HOW THE MAN FOUND HIS MATE
Each tribe has its own stories. Most of them deal with the same
subjects, differing only in immaterial particulars.
Instead of squirrels in the timber, the Blackfeet are sure they were
prairie-dogs that OLD-man roasted that time when he made the
mountain-lion long and lean. The Chippewas and Crees insist that they
were squirrels that were cooked and eaten, but one tribe is essentially
a forest-people and the other lives on the plains—hence the difference.
Some tribes will not wear the feathers of the owl, nor will they have
anything to do with that bird, while others use his feathers freely.
The forest Indian wears the soft-soled moccasin, while his brother of
the plains covers the bottoms of his footwear with rawhide, because of
the cactus and prickly-pear, most likely.
The door of the lodge of the forest Indian reaches to the ground, but
the plains Indian makes his lodge skin to reach all about the circle at
the bottom, because of the wind.
One night in War Eagle's lodge, Other-person asked: "Why don't the Bear
have a tail, grandfather?"
War Eagle laughed and said: "Our people do not know why, but we believe
he was made that way at the beginning, although I have heard men of
other tribes say that the Bear lost his tail while fishing.
"I don't know how true it is, but I have been told that a long time ago
the Bear was fishing in the winter, and the Fox asked him if he had any
"'No,' replied the Bear, 'I can't catch a fish.'
"'Well,' said the Fox, 'if you will stick your long tail down through
this hole in the ice, and sit very still, I am sure you will catch a
"So the Bear stuck his tail through the hole in the ice, and the Fox
told him to sit still, till he called him; then the Fox went off,
pretending to hunt along the bank. It was mighty cold weather, and the
water froze all about the Bear's tail, yet he sat still, waiting for
the Fox to call him. Yes, the Bear sat so still and so long that his
tail was frozen in the ice, but he didn't know it. When the Fox
thought it was time, he called:
"'Hey, Bear, come here quick—quick! I have a Rabbit in this hole, and
I want you to help me dig him out.' Ho! The Bear tried to get up, but
"'Hey, Bear, come here—there are two Rabbits in this hole,' called the
"The Bear pulled so hard to get away from the ice, that he broke his
tail off short to his body. Then the Fox ran away laughing at the Bear.
"I hardly believe that story, but once I heard an old man who visited
my father from the country far east of here, tell it. I remembered it.
But I can't say that I know it is true, as I can the others.
"When I told you the story of how OLD-man made the world over, after
the water had made its war upon it, I told you how the first man and
woman were made. There is another story of how the first man found his
wife, and I will tell you that.
"After OLD-man had made a man to look like himself, he left him to live
with the Wolves, and went away. The man had a hard time of it, with no
clothes to keep him warm, and no wife to help him, so he went out
looking for OLD-man.
"It took the man a long time to find OLD-man's lodge, but as soon as he
got there he went right in and said:
"'OLD-man, you have made me and left me to live with the Wolf-people.
I don't like them at all. They give me scraps of meat to eat and won't
build a fire. They have wives, but I don't want a Wolf-woman. I think
you should take better care of me.'
"'Well,' replied OLD-man, 'I was just waiting for you to come to see
me. I have things fixed for you. You go down this river until you
come to a steep hillside. There you will see a lodge. Then I will
leave you to do the rest. Go!'
"The man started and travelled all that day. When night came he camped
and ate some berries that grew near the river. The next morning he
started down the river again, looking for the steep hillside and the
lodge. Just before sundown, the man saw a fine lodge near a steep
hillside, and he knew that was the lodge he was looking for; so he
crossed the river and went into the lodge.
"Sitting by the fire inside, was a woman. She was dressed in buckskin
clothes, and was cooking some meat that smelled good to the man, but
when she saw him without any clothes, she pushed him out of the lodge,
and dropped the door.
"Things didn't look very good to that man, I tell you, but to get even
with the woman, he went up on the steep hillside and commenced to roll
big rocks down upon her lodge. He kept this up until one of the
largest rocks knocked down the lodge, and the woman ran out, crying.
"When the man heard the woman crying, it made him sorry and he ran down
the hill to her. She sat down on the ground, and the man ran to where
she was and said:
"'I am sorry I made you cry, woman. I will help you fix your lodge. I
will stay with you, if you will only let me.'
"That pleased the woman, and she showed the man how to fix up the lodge
and gather some wood for the fire. Then she let him come inside and
eat. Finally, she made him some clothes, and they got along very well,
"That is how the man found his wife—Ho!"
As soon as manhood is attained, the young Indian must secure his
"charm," or "medicine." After a sweat-bath, he retires to some lonely
spot, and there, for four days and nights, if necessary, he remains in
solitude. During this time he eats nothing; drinks nothing; but spends
his time invoking the Great Mystery for the boon of a long life. In
this state of mind, he at last sleeps, perhaps dreams. If a dream does
not come to him, he abandons the task for a time, and later on will
take another sweat-bath and try again. Sometimes dangerous cliffs, or
other equally uncomfortable places, are selected for dreaming, because
the surrounding terrors impress themselves upon the mind, and even in
slumber add to the vividness of dreams.
At last the dream comes, and in it some bird or animal appears as a
helper to the dreamer, in trouble. Then he seeks that bird or animal;
kills a specimen; and if a bird, he stuffs its skin with moss and
forever keeps it near him. If an animal, instead of a bird, appears in
the dream, the Indian takes his hide, claws, or teeth; and throughout
his life never leaves it behind him, unless in another dream a greater
charm is offered. If this happens, he discards the old "medicine" for
the new; but such cases are rare.
Sometimes the Indian will deck his "medicine-bundle" with fanciful
trinkets and quill-work At other times the "bundle" is kept forever out
of the sight of all uninterested persons, and is altogether unadorned.
But "medicine" is necessary; without it, the Indian is afraid of his
An old chief, who had been in many battles, once told me his great
dream, withholding the name of the animal or bird that appeared therein
and became his "medicine."
He said that when he was a boy of twelve years, his father, who was
chief of his tribe, told him that it was time that he tried to dream.
After his sweat-bath, the boy followed his father without speaking,
because the postulant must not converse or associate with other humans
between the taking of the bath and the finished attempt to dream. On
and on into the dark forest the father led, followed by the naked boy,
till at last the father stopped on a high hill, at the foot of a giant
By signs the father told the boy to climb the tree and to get into an
eagle's nest that was on the topmost boughs. Then the old man went
away, in order that the boy might reach the nest without coming too
close to his human conductor.
Obediently the boy climbed the tree and sat upon the eagle's nest on
the top. "I could see very far from that nest," he told me. "The day
was warm and I hoped to dream that night, but the wind rocked the tree
top, and the darkness made me so much afraid that I did not sleep.
"On the fourth night there came a terrible thunder-storm, with
lightning and much wind. The great pine groaned and shook until I was
sure it must fall. All about it, equally strong trees went down with
loud crashings, and in the dark there were many awful sounds—sounds
that I sometimes hear yet. Rain came, and I grew cold and more afraid.
I had eaten nothing, of course, and I was weak—so weak and tired, that
at last I slept, in the nest. I dreamed; yes, it was a wonderful dream
that came to me, and it has most all come to pass. Part is yet to
come. But come it surely will.
"First I saw my own people in three wars. Then I saw the Buffalo
disappear in a hole in the ground, followed by many of my people. Then
I saw the whole world at war, and many flags of white men were in this
land of ours. It was a terrible war, and the fighting and the blood
made me sick in my dream. Then, last of all, I saw a 'person'
coming—coming across what seemed the plains. There were deep shadows
all about him as he approached. This 'person' kept beckoning me to
come to him, and at last I did go to him.
"'Do you know who I am,' he asked me.
"'No, "person," I do not know you. Who are you, and where is your
"'If you will listen to me, boy, you shall be a great chief and your
people shall love you. If you do not listen, then I shall turn against
you. My name is "Reason."'
"As the 'person' spoke this last, he struck the ground with a stick he
carried, and the blow set the grass afire. I have always tried to know
that 'person.' I think I know him wherever he may be, and in any camp.
He has helped me all my life, and I shall never turn against
That was the old chief's dream and now a word about the sweat-bath. A
small lodge is made of willows, by bending them and sticking the ends
in the ground. A completed sweat-lodge is shaped like an inverted
bowl, and in the centre is a small hole in the ground. The lodge is
covered with robes, bark, and dirt, or anything that will make it
reasonably tight. Then a fire is built outside and near the
sweat-lodge in which stones are heated. When the stones are ready, the
bather crawls inside the sweat-lodge, and an assistant rolls the hot
stones from the fire, and into the lodge. They are then rolled into
the hole in the lodge and sprinkled with water. One cannot imagine a
hotter vapor bath than this system produces, and when the bather has
satisfied himself inside, he darts from the sweat-lodge into the river,
winter or summer. This treatment killed thousands of Indians when the
smallpox was brought to them from Saint Louis, in the early days.
That night in the lodge War Eagle told a queer yarn. I shall modify it
somewhat, but in our own sacred history there is a similar tale, well
known to all. He said:
"Once, a long time ago, two 'thunders' were travelling in the air.
They came over a village of our people, and there stopped to look about.
"In this village there was one fine, painted lodge, and in it there was
an old man, an aged woman, and a beautiful young woman with wonderful
hair. Of course the 'thunders' could look through the lodge skin and
see all that was inside. One of them said to the other: 'Let us marry
that young woman, and never tell her about it.'
"'All right,' replied the other 'thunder.' 'I am willing, for she is
the finest young woman in all the village. She is good in her heart,
and she is honest.'
"So they married her, without telling her about it, and she became the
mother of twin boys. When these boys were born, they sat up and told
their mother and the other people that they were not people, but were
'thunders,' and that they would grow up quickly.
"'When we shall have been on earth a while, we shall marry, and stay
until we each have four sons of our own, then we shall go away and
again become "thunders,"' they said.
"It all came to pass, just as they said it would. When they had
married good women and each had four sons, they told the people one day
that it was time for them to go away forever.
"There was much sorrow among the people, for the twins were good men
and taught many good things which we have never forgotten, but
everybody knew it had to be as they said. While they lived with us,
these twins could heal the sick and tell just what was going to happen
"One day at noon the twins dressed themselves in their finest clothes
and went out to a park in the forest. All the people followed them and
saw them lie down on the ground in the park. The people stayed in the
timber that grew about the edge of the park, and watched them until
clouds and mists gathered about and hid them from view.
"It thundered loudly and the winds blew; trees fell down; and when the
mists and clouds cleared away, they were gone—gone forever. But the
people have never forgotten them, and my grandfather, who is in the
ground near Rocker, was a descendant from one of the sons of the
It was evening in the bad-lands, and the red sun had slipped behind the
far-off hills. The sundown breeze bent the grasses in the coulees and
curled tiny dust-clouds on the barren knolls. Down in a gulch a clear,
cool creek dallied its way toward the Missouri, where its water, bitter
as gall, would be lost in the great stream. Here, where Nature forbids
man to work his will, and where the she wolf dens and kills to feed her
litter, an aged Indian stood near the scattered bones of two great
buffalo-bulls. Time had bleached the skulls and whitened the old
warrior's hair, but in the solitude he spoke to the bones as to a
"Ho! Buffalo, the years are long since you died, and your tribe, like
mine, was even then shrinking fast, but you did not know it; would not
believe it; though the signs did not lie. My father and his father
knew your people, and when one night you went away, we thought you did
but hide and would soon come back. The snows have come and gone many
times since then, and still your people stay away. The young-men say
that the great herds have gone to the Sand Hills, and that my father
still has meat. They have told me that the white man, in his greed,
has killed—and not for meat—all the Buffalo that our people knew.
They have said that the great herds that made the ground tremble as
they ran were slain in a few short years by those who needed not. Can
this be true, when ever since there was a world, our people killed your
kind, and still left herds that grew in numbers until they often
blocked the rivers when they passed? Our people killed your kind that
they themselves might live, but never did they go to war against you.
Tell me, do your people hide, or are the young-men speaking truth, and
have your people gone with mine to Sand Hill shadows to come back no
"Ho! red man—my people all have gone. The young-men tell the truth
and all my tribe have gone to feed among the shadow-hills, and your
father still has meat. My people suffer from his arrows and his lance,
yet there the herds increase as they did here, until the white man came
and made his war upon us without cause or need. I was one of the last
to die, and with my brother here fled to this forbidding country that I
might hide; but one day when the snow was on the world, a white
murderer followed on our trail, and with his noisy weapon sent our
spirits to join the great shadow-herds. Meat? No, he took no meat,
but from our quivering flesh he tore away the robes that Napa gave to
make us warm, and left us for the Wolves. That night they came, and
quarrelling, fighting, snapping 'mong themselves, left but our bones to
greet the morning sun. These bones the Coyotes and the weaker ones did
drag and scrape, and scrape again, until the last of flesh or muscle
disappeared. Then the winds came and sang—and all was done."