These stories are gathered from different tribes. I do not always have what tribe a story comes from so if any story that doesn't have what tribe it comes from listed with it, please contact me either through the guest book or our email addy. Spiritwalker
There was once a great chief of the Plains who had very tender feet. Other
mighty chiefs laughed at him; little chiefs only smiled as he hobbled past;
and though they did not dare to smile, the people of the tribe also enjoyed
the big chief's discomfort. All of them were in the same canoe, having no
horses and only bare feet, but luckily very few of them had tender feet. The
unhappily medicine man who was advisor to the Chief-of-the- Tenderfeet was
afraid and troubled. Each time he was called before the chief he was asked,
'What are you going to do about it?" The 'it' meant the chief's tender feet.
Forced by fear, the medicine man at last hit upon a plan. Though he knew that
it was not the real answer to the chief's foot problem, nevertheless it was a
good makeshift. The medicine man had some women of the tribe weave a long,
narrow mat of reeds, and when the big chief had to go anywhere, four braves
unrolled the mat in front of him so that he walked in comfort. One day, the
braves were worn out from seeing that the chief's feet were not worn out.
They carelessly unrolled the mat over a place where flint arrowheads had been
chipped. The arrowheads had long ago taken flight, but the needle-sharp chips
remained. When the big chief's tender feet were wounded by these chips, he
uttered a series of whoops which made the nearby aspen tree leaves quiver so
hard that they have been trembling ever since.
That night the poor medicine man was given an impossible task by the angry
chief: 'Cover the whole earth with mats so thick that my feet will not
suffer. If you fail, you will die when the moon is round.'
The frightened maker of magic crept back to his lodge. He did not wish to be
put to death on the night of the full moon, but he could think of no way to
avoid it. Suddenly he saw the hide of an elk which he had killed pegged to
the ground, with two women busily scraping the hair from the hide, and an
idea flashed into his groping mind. He sent out many hunters; many women were
busy for many days; many braves with hunting knives cut, and women sewed with
bone needles and rawhide sinews.
On the day before the moon was round, the medicine man went to the chief and
told him that he had covered as much of the earth as was possible in so short
a time. When the chief looked from the door of his lodge, he saw many paths
of skin stretching as far as he could see. Long strips which could be moved
from place to place connected the main leather paths. Even the chief thought
that this time the magic of the medicine man had solved tenderfoot
transportation for all time - but this was not to be !
One day, as the big chief was walking along one of his smooth, tough leather
paths, he saw a pretty maiden of the tribe gliding ahead of him, walking on
the hard earth on one side of the chief's pathway. She glanced back when she
heard the pitter- patter of his feet on the elk hide pathway and seemed to
smile. The chief set off on the run to catch up with her, his eyes fixed on
the back of She-Who-Smiled, and so his feet strayed from the narrow path and
landed in a bunch of needle-sharp thorns! The girl ran for her life when she
heard the hideous howls of the chief, and Indians in the distant village
thought that they were being attacked by wildcats.
Two suns later, when the chief was calm enough to speak again, he had his
medicine man brought before him and told the unhappy man that next day, when
the sun was high, he would be sent with all speed to the land of shadows.
That night, the medicine man climbed to the top of a high hill in search of
advice from friendly spirits on how to cover the entire earth with leather.
He slept, and in a dream vision he was shown the answer to his problem. Amid
vivid flashes of lightning, he tore down the steep hillside, howling louder
than the big chief at times, as jagged rocks wounded his bare feet and legs.
He did not stop until he was safely inside his lodge. He worked all night and
until the warriors who were to send him on the shadow trail came for him,
just before noon the next day. He was surrounded by the war-club armed
guards. He was clutching close to his heart something tightly rolled in a
piece of deerskin. His cheerful smile surprised those who saw him pass. 'Wah,
he is brave!' said the men of the tribe. 'He is very brave!' said the women
of the tribe.
The big chief was waiting just outside his lodge. He gave the guards swift,
stern orders. Before the maker of magic could be led away, he asked leave to
say a few words to the chief. 'Speak!' said the chief, sorry to lose a clever
medicine man who was very good at most kinds of magic. Even the chief knew
that covering the entire earth with leather was an impossible task.
The medicine man quickly knelt beside the chief, unrolled the two objects
which he took from his bundle and slipped one of them on each foot of the
chief. The chief seemed to be wearing a pair of bear's hairless feet, instead
of bare feet, and he was puzzled at first as he looked at the elk hide
handicraft of his medicine man. 'Big chief,' the medicine man exclaimed
joyfully, 'I have found the way to cover the earth with leather! For you, O
chief, from now on the earth will always be covered with leather.' And so it
The Trial Path
It was an autumn night on the plain. The smoke-lapels of the cone shaped
tepee flapped gently in the breeze. From the low night sky, with its myriad
fire points, a large bright star peeped in at the smoke-hole of the wigwam
between its fluttering lapels, down upon two Dakotas talking in the dark. The
mellow stream from the star above, a maid of twenty summers, on a bed of
sweet-grass, drank in with her wakeful eyes. On the opposite side of the
tepee, beyond the center fireplace, the grandmother spread her rug. Though
once she had lain down, the telling of a story has aroused her to a sitting
Her eyes are tight closed. With a thin palm she strokes her wind-shorn hair.
"Yes, my grandchild, the legend says the large bright stars are wise old
warriors, and the small dim ones are handsome young braves," she reiterates,
in a high, tremulous voice.
"Then this one peeping in at the smoke-hole yonder is my dear old
grandfather," muses the young woman, in long-drawn-out words.
Her soft rich voice floats through the darkness within the tepee, over the
cold ashes heaped on the center fire, and passes into the ear of the
toothless old woman, who sits dumb in silent reverie. Thence it flies on
swifter wing over many winter snows, till at last it cleaves the warm light
atmosphere of her grandfather's youth. From there her grandmother made answer:
"Listen! I am young again. It is the day of your grandfather's death. The
elder one, I mean, for there were two of them. They were like twins, though
they were not brothers. They were friends, inseparable! All things, good and
bad, they shared together, save one, which made them mad. In that heated
frenzy the younger man slew his most intimate friend. He killed his elder
brother, for long had their affection made them kin."
The voice of the old woman broke. Swaying her stooped shoulders to and fro as
she sat upon her feet, she muttered vain exclamations beneath her breath. Her
eyes, closed tight against the night, beheld behind them the light of bygone
days. They saw again a rolling black cloud spread itself over the land. Her
ear heard the deep rumbling of a tempest in the West. She bent low a cowering
head, while angry thunderbirds shrieked across the sky.
"Heya! heya!" (No! no!)
Groaned the toothless grandmother at the fury she had awakened. But the
glorious peace afterward, when yellow sunshine made the people glad, now
lured her memory onward through the storm.
"How fast, how loud my heart beats as I listen to the messenger's horrible
tale!" she ejaculates. "From the fresh grave of the murdered man he hurried
to our wigwam. Deliberately crossing his bare shins, he sat down unbidden
beside my father, smoking a long-stemmed pipe. He had scarce caught his
breath when, panting, he began:
"'He was an only son, and a much-adored brother.'
"With wild, suspecting eyes he glanced at me as if I were in league with the
man-killer, my lover. My father, exhaling sweet-scented smoke, assented --
'How.' Then interrupting the 'Eya' on the lips of the round-eyed tale-bearer,
he asked, 'My friend, will you smoke?' He took the pipe by its red-stone
bowl, and pointed the long slender stem toward the man. 'Yes, yes, my
friend,' replied he, and reached out a long brown arm.
"For many heart-throbs he puffed out the blue smoke, which hung like a cloud
between us. But even through the smoke-mist I saw his sharp black eyes
glittering toward me. I longed to ask what doom awaited the young murderer,
but dared not open my lips, lest I burst forth into screams instead. My
father plied the question. Returning the pipe, the man replied: 'Oh, the
chieftain and his chosen men have had counsel together. They have agreed it
is not safe to allow a man-killer in our midst. He who kills one of our tribe
is an enemy, and must suffer the fate of a foe.'
"My temples throbbed like a pair of hearts!
"While I listened, a crier passed by my father's tepee. Mounted, and swaying
with his pony's steps, he proclaimed in a loud voice these words (hark! I
hear them now!): 'Ho-po! Give ear, all you people. A terrible deed is done.
Two friends -- ay, brothers in heart -- have quarreled together. Now one
lies buried on the hill, while the other sits, a dreaded man-killer, within
his dwelling. Says our chieftain: "He who kills one of our tribe commits the
offense of an enemy. As such he must be tried. Let the father of the dead man
choose the mode of torture or taking of life. He has suffered livid pain, and
he alone can judge how great the punishment must be to avenge his wrong." It
"'Come, every one, to witness the judgment of a father upon him who was once
his son's best friend. A wild pony is now lassoed. The man-killer must mount
and ride the ranting beast. Stand you all in two parallel lines from the
center tepee of the bereaved family to the wigwam opposite in the great outer
ring. Between you, in the wide space, is the given trial way. From the outer
circle the rider must mount and guide his pony toward the center tepee. If,
having gone the entire distance, the man-killer gains the center tepee, still
sitting on the pony's back, his life is spared and pardon given. But should
he fall, then he himself has chosen death.'
"The crier's words now cease. A lull holds the village breathless. Then
hurrying feet tear along, swish, swish, through the tall grass. Sobbing women
hasten toward the trial way. The muffled groan of the round campground is
unbearable. With my face hid in the folds of my blanket, I run with the crowd
toward the open place in the outer circle of our village. In a moment the two
long files of solemn-faced people mark the path of the public trial. Ah! I
see strong men trying to hold the lassoed pony, pitching and rearing, with
white foam flying from his mouth. I choke with pain as I recognize my
handsome lover desolately alone, striding with set face toward the lassoed
pony. 'Do not fall! Choose life and me!' I cry in my breast, but over my lips
I hold my thick blanket.
"In an instant he has leaped astride the frightened beast, and the men have
let go their hold. Like an arrow sprung from a strong bow, the pony, with
extended nostrils, plunges halfway to the center tepee. With all his might
the rider draws the strong reins in. The pony halts with wooden legs.The
rider is thrown forward by force, but does not fall. Now the maddened
creature pitches, with flying heels. The line of men and women sways outward.
Now it is back in place, safe from the kicking, snorting thing.
"The pony is fierce, with its large black eyes bulging out of their sockets.
With humped back and nose to the ground, it leaps into the air. I shut my
eyes. I cannot see him fall.
"A loud shout goes up from the hoarse throats of men and women. I look. So!
The wild horse is conquered. My lover dismounts at the doorway of the center
wigwam. The pony, wet with sweat and shaking with exhaustion, stands like a
guilty dog at his master's side. Here at the entranceway of the tepee sit the
bereaved father, mother, and sister. The old warrior father rises. Stepping
forward two long strides, he grasps the hand of the murderer of his only son.
Holding it so the people can see, he cries, with compassionate voice, 'My
son!' A murmur of surprise sweeps like a puff of sudden wind along the lines.
"The mother, with swollen eyes, with her hair cut square with her shoulders,
now rises. Hurrying to the young man, she takes his right hand. 'My son!' she
greets him. But on the second word her voice shook, and she turned away in
"The young people rivet their eyes upon the young woman. She does not stir.
With bowed head, she sits motionless. The old warrior speaks to her. 'Shake
hands with the young brave, my little daughter. He was your brother's friend
for many years. Now he must be both friend and brother to you.'
"Hereupon the girl rises. Slowly reaching out her slender hand, she cries,
with twitching lips, 'My brother!' The trial ends."
"Grandmother!" exploded the girl on the bed of sweet-grass. "Is this true?"
"Tosh!" answered the grandmother, with a warmth in her voice. "It is all
true. During the fifteen winters of our wedded life many ponies passed from
our hands, but this little winner, Ohiyesa, was a constant member of our
family. At length, on that sad day your grandfather died, Ohiyesa was killed
at the grave."
Though the various groups of stars which move across the sky, marking the
passing of time, told how the night was in its zenith, the old Dakota woman
ventured an explanation of the burial ceremony.
"My grandchild, I have scarce ever breathed the sacred knowledge in my heart.
Tonight I must tell you one of them. Surely you are old enough to understand.
"Our wise medicine-man said I did well to hasten Ohiyesa after his master.
Perchance on the journey along the ghost-path your grandfather will weary,
and in his heart wish for his pony. The creature, already bound on the
spirit-trail, will be drawn by that subtle wish. Together master and beast
will enter the next campground."
The woman ceased her talking. But only the deep breathing of the girl broke
the quiet, for now the night wind had lulled itself to sleep.
"Hinnu! hinnu! Asleep! I have been talking in the dark, unheard. I did wish
the girl would plant in her heart this sacred tale," muttered she, in a
Nestling into her bed of sweet-scented grass, she dozed away into another
dream. Still the guardian star in the night sky beamed compassionately down
upon the little tepee on the plain.
Iktomi and the Ducks
IKTOMI is a spider fairy. He wears brown deerskin leggins with long soft
fringes on either side, and tiny beaded moccasins on his feet. His long black
hair is parted in the middle and wrapped with red, red bands. Each round
braid hangs over a small brown ear and falls forward over his shoulders.
He even paints his funny face with red and yellow, and draws big black
rings around his eyes. He wears a deerskin jacket, with bright colored beads
sewed tightly on it. Iktomi dresses like a real Dakota brave. In truth, his
deerskins are the best part of him -- if ever dress is part of man or fairy.
Iktomi is a wily fellow. His hands are always kept in mischief. He prefers
to spread a snare rather than to earn the smallest thing with honest hunting.
Why! He laughs outright with wide open mouth when some simple folk are caught
in a trap, sure and fast.
He never dreams another lives so bright as he. Often his own conceit leads
him hard against the common sense of simpler people.
Poor Iktomi cannot help being a little imp. And so long as he is a naughty
fairy, he cannot find a single friend. No one helps him when he is in
trouble. No one really loves him. Those who come to admire his handsome
beaded jacket and long fringed leggins soon go away sick and tired of his
vain, vain words and heartless laughter.
Thus Iktomi lives alone in a cone-shaped wigwam upon the plain. One day
he sat hungry within his teepee. Suddenly he rushed out, dragging after him
his blanket. Quickly spreading it on the ground, he tore up dry tall grass
with both his hands and tossed it fast into the blanket.
Tying all the four corners together in a knot, he threw the light bundle
of grass over his shoulder.
Snatching up a slender willow stick with his free left hand, he started
off with a hop and a leap. From side to side bounced the bundle on his back,
as he ran light- footed over the uneven ground. Soon he came to the edge of
the great level land. On the hilltop he paused for breath. With wicked smacks
of his dry parched lips, as if tasting some tender meat, he looked straight
into space toward the marshy river bottom. With a thin palm shading his eyes
from the western sun, he peered far away into the lowlands, munching his own
cheeks all the while. "Ah-ha!" grunted he, satisfied with what he saw.
A group of wild ducks were dancing and feasting in the marshes. With wings
out- spread, tip to tip, they moved up and down in a large circle. Within the
ring, around a small drum, sat the chosen singers, nodding their heads and
blinking their eyes.
They sang in unison a merry dance-song, and beat a lively tattoo on the
Following a winding footpath near by, came a bent figure of a Dakota
brave. He bore on his back a very large bundle. With a willow cane he propped
himself up as he staggered along beneath his burden.
"Ho! Who is there?" called out a curious old duck, still bobbing up and
down in the circular dance.
Hereupon the drummers stretched their necks till they strangled their song
for a look at the stranger passing by.
"Ho, Iktomi! Old fellow, pray tell us what you carry in your blanket. Do
not hurry off! Stop! Halt!" urged one of the singers.
"Stop! Stay! Show us what is in your blanket!" cried out other voices.
"My friends, I must not spoil your dance. Oh, you would not care to see if
you only knew what is in my blanket. Sing on! Dance on! I must not show you
what I carry on my back," answered Iktomi, nudging his own sides with his
elbows. This reply broke up the ring entirely. Now all the ducks crowded
"We must see what you carry! We must know what is in your blanket!" they
shouted in both his ears. Some even brushed their wings against the
mysterious bundle. Nudging himself again, wily Iktomi said, "My friends, 't
is only a pack of songs I carry in my blanket."
"Oh, then let us hear your songs!" cried the curious ducks.
At length Iktomi consented to sing his songs. With delight all the ducks
flapped their wings and cried together, "Hoye! hoye!"
Iktomi, with great care, laid down his bundle on the ground.
"I will build first a round straw house, for I never sing my songs in the
open air," said he.
Quickly he bent green willow sticks, planting both ends of each pole into
the earth. These he covered thick with reeds and grasses. Soon the straw hut
was ready. One by one the fat ducks waddled in through a small opening, which
was the only entrance way. Beside the door Iktomi stood smiling, as the
ducks, eyeing his bundle of songs, strutted into the hut.
In a strange low voice Iktomi began his queer old tunes. All the ducks sat
round-eyed in a circle about the mysterious singer. It was dim in that straw
hut, for Iktomi had not forgot to cover up the small entrance way. All of a
sudden his song burst into full voice. As the startled ducks sat uneasily on
the ground, Iktomi changed his tune into a minor strain. These were the words
"Istokmus wacipo, tuwayatunwanpi kinhan ista nisasapi kta," which is,
"With eyes closed you must dance. He who dares to open his eyes, forever red
eyes shall have."
Up rose the circle of seated ducks and holding their wings close against
their sides began to dance to the rhythm of Iktomi's song and drum.
With eyes closed they did dance! Iktomi ceased to beat his drum. He began
to sing louder and faster. He seemed to be moving about in the center of the
ring. No duck dared blink a wink. Each one shut his eyes very tight and
danced even harder.
Up and down! Shifting
to the right of them they hopped round and round in that blind dance. It was
a difficult dance for the curious folk.
At length one of the dancers could close his eyes no longer! It was a
Skiska who peeped the least tiny blink at Iktomi within the center of the
circle. "Oh! oh!" squawked he in awful terror! "Run! fly! Iktomi is twisting
your heads and breaking your necks! Run out and fly! Fly!" he cried. Hereupon
the ducks opened their eyes. There beside Iktomi's bundle of songs lay half
of their crowd -- flat on their backs.
Out they flew through the opening Skiska had made as he rushed forth with
But as they soared high into the blue sky they cried to one another: "Oh!
your eyes are red-red!" "And yours are red-red!" For the warning words of the
magic minor strain had proven true. "Ah-ha!" laughed Iktomi, untying the four
corners of his blanket, "I shall sit no more hungry within my dwelling."
Homeward he trudged along with nice fat ducks in his blanket. He left the
little straw hut for the rains and winds to pull down.
Having reached his own teepee on the high level lands, Iktomi kindled a
large fire out of doors. He planted sharp-pointed sticks around the leaping
flames. On each stake he fastened a duck to roast. A few he buried under the
ashes to bake. Disappearing within his teepee, he came out again with some
huge seashells. These were his dishes. Placing one under each roasting duck,
he muttered, "The sweet fat oozing out will taste well with the hard-cooked
Heaping more willows upon the fire, Iktomi sat down on the ground with
crossed shins. A long chin between his knees pointed toward the red flames,
while his eyes were on the browning ducks.
Just above his ankles he clasped and unclasped his long bony fingers.
Now and then he sniffed impatiently the savory odor.
The brisk wind which stirred the fire also played with a squeaky old tree
beside Iktomi's wigwam.
From side to side the tree was swaying and crying in an old man's voice,
"Help! I'll break! I'll fall!" Iktomi shrugged his great shoulders, but did
not once take his eyes from the ducks. The dripping of amber oil into pearly
dishes, drop by drop, pleased his hungry eyes. Still the old tree man called
for help. "He! What sound is it that makes my ear ache!" exclaimed Iktomi,
holding a hand on his ear.
He rose and looked around. The squeaking came from the tree. Then he began
climbing the tree to find the disagreeable sound. He placed his foot right on
a cracked limb without seeing it. Just then a whiff of wind came rushing by
and pressed together the broken edges. There in a strong wooden hand Iktomi's
foot was caught.
"Oh! My foot is crushed!" he howled like a coward. In vain he pulled and
puffed to free himself.
While sitting a prisoner on the tree he spied, through his tears, a pack
of gray wolves roaming over the level lands. Waving his hands toward them, he
called in his loudest voice, "He! Gray wolves! Don't you come here! I'm
caught fast in the tree so that my duck feast is getting cold. Don't you come
to eat up my meal."
The leader of the pack upon hearing Iktomi's words turned to his comrades
"Ah! Hear the foolish fellow! He says he has a duck feast to be eaten! Let
us hurry there for our share!" Away bounded the wolves toward Iktomi's lodge.
From the tree Iktomi watched the hungry wolves eat up his nicely browned
fat ducks. His foot pained him more and more. He heard them crack the small
round bones with their strong long teeth and eat out the oily marrow. Now
severe pains shot up from his foot through his whole body. "Hin-hin-hin!"
sobbed Iktomi. Real tears washed brown streaks across his red-painted cheeks.
Smacking their lips, the wolves began to leave the place, when Iktomi cried
out like a pouting child, "At least you have left my baking under the ashes!"
"Ho! Po!" shouted the mischievous wolves; "he says more ducks are to be
found under the ashes! Come! Let us have our fill this once!"
Running back to the dead fire, they pawed out the ducks with such rude
haste that a cloud of ashes rose like gray smoke over them.
"Hin-hin-hin!" moaned Iktomi, when the wolves had scampered off. All too
late,the sturdy breeze returned, and, passing by, pulled apart the broken
edges of the tree. Iktomi was released. But alas! He had no duck feast.
The Little Brave and the Medicine Woman
A village of Indians moved out of winter camp and pitched their tents in a
circle on high land overlooking a lake. A little way down the declivity was a
grave. Choke cherries had grown up, hiding the grave from view. But as the
ground had sunk somewhat, the grave was marked by a slight hollow.
One of the villagers going out to hunt took a short cut through the choke
cherry bushes. As he pushed them aside he saw the hollow grave, but thought
it was a washout made by the rains. But as he essayed to step over it, to his
great surprise he stumbled and fell. Made curious by his mishap, he drew back
and tried again; but again he fell. When he came back to the village he told
the old men what had happened to him. They remembered then that a long time
before there had been buried there a medicine woman or conjurer. Doubtless it
was her medicine that made him stumble.
The story of the villager's adventure spread thru the camp and made many
curious to see the grave. Among others were six little boys who were,
however, rather timid, for they were in great awe of the dead medicine woman.
But they had a little playmate named Brave, a mischievous little rogue, whose
hair was always unkempt and tossed about and who was never quiet for a moment.
"Let us ask Brave to go with us," they said; and they went in a body to see
"All right," said Brave; "I will go with you. But I have something to do
first. You go on around the hill that way, and I ill hasten around this way,
and meet you a little later near the grave."
So the six little boys went on as bidden until they came to a place near the
grave. There they halted.
"Where is Brave?" they asked.
Now Brave, full of mischief, had thought to play a jest on his little
friends. As soon as they were well out of sight he had sped around the hill
to the shore of the lake and sticking his hands in the mud had rubbed it over
his face, plastered it in his hair, and soiled his hands until he looked like
a new risen corpse with the flesh rotting from his bones. He then went and
lay down in the grave and awaited the boys.
When the six little boys came they were more timid than ever when they did
not find Brave; but they feared to go back to the village without seeing the
grave, for fear the old men would call them cowards.
So they slowly approached the grave and one of them timidly called out:
"Please, grandmother, we won't disturb your grave. We only want to see where
you lie. Don't be angry."
At once a thin quavering voice, like an old woman's, called out:
"Han, han, takoja, hechetuya, hechetuya!
Yes, yes, that's right, that's right."
The boys were frightened out of their senses, believing the old woman had
come to life.
"Oh, grandmother," they gasped, "don't hurt us; please don't, we'll go."
Just then Brave raised his muddy face and hands up thru the choke cherry
bushes. With the oozy mud dripping from his features he looked like some very
witch just raised from the grave. The boys screamed outright. One fainted.
The rest ran yelling up the hill to the village, where each broke at once for
his mother's teepee.
As all the tents in a Dakota camping circle face the center, the boys as they
came tearing into camp were in plain view from the teepees. Hearing the
screaming, every woman in camp ran to her tepee door to see what had
happened. Just then little Brave, as badly scared as the rest, came rushing
in after them, his hair on end and covered with mud and crying out, all
forgetful of his appearance:
"It's me, it's me!"
The women yelped and bolted in terror from the village. Brave dashed into his
mother's tepee, scaring her out of her wits. Dropping pots and kettles, she
tumbled out of the tent to run screaming with the rest. Nor would a single
villager come near poor little Brave until he had gone down to the lake and
Possum and Jaguar
The mother of the small possum told her son, "I think it's time that you went
out and found someone to be your godfather." So it was that the little possum
went out to search for a godfather. First he headed for the jaguar's lair.
The jaguar came to attention thinking that this would be an easy meal. The
possum, however, quickly shouted out the purpose of his visit. "Señ or
Jaguar, excuse me for bothering you, but the only thing I want is to ask if
you would like to be my godfather."
"Ah, so you want me to be your godfather?" the jaguar asked.
"Yes," the possum replied.
"Very well, if that's what you want, then that's how it will be. Tomorrow
I'll come for you so that we can go out and eat," the jaguar said.
"Very good, Godfather. I will be ready and waiting in the morning."
The next day the jaguar arrived at the possum's house and announced, "I have
come to see my godson."
"Of course," the mother said. "Come in. He's waiting for you." So the possum
went with his godfather to the plain where there was a little fountain or
"eye of the water." There other animals came to drink. Then the jaguar told
the possum, "Get up in this tree and when I shout 'now there's meat', you
should come quickly to find me."
"Very good, I'll do it, Godfather," said the possum and hid himself among the
limbs of the tree. At noon the thirsty cattle began to come down the hills to
the spring, and the last to arrive was a black bull.
"Now I will procure some food for my godson," said the jaguar. So while the
bull was drinking the jaguar leaped out of his hiding place and attacked. He
felled the bull in the mud at the edge of the spring. When the meal was ready
the jaguar shouted, "Godson, come quickly. "Eat all that you want, dear
godson. There is plenty of meat," the jaguar said.
The possum began to eat, but he could hardly finish a mouthful.
"Eat, eat, my godson. Don't waste the food we now have so abundantly," the
"Thank you godfather, but my stomach is very small and I cannot eat much,"
the possum answered.
The jaguar ate all that he could and left part of the kill for other animals.
As they were leaving his godson said, "Many thanks godfather, now it is my
turn to invite you to a banquet as you have invited me."
On the day of the invitation the jaguar arrived at his godson's house. This
time the possum was ready to provide the food for the banquet, and the jaguar
accompanied his godson in search of meat. The possum headed toward a little
village where some laborers had chickens and turkeys in their pens. They
paused at the edge of the village to wait until everyone went to sleep. At
midnight the possum entered a pen to hunt. One by one he was carrying off the
chickens and turkeys for his godfather to eat. The jaguar said he was still
hungry, so the possum returned to the pen to capture more hens. This time the
hens made a great racket and woke up their owners who came out with dogs,
sticks and machetes, ready to chase those who were ravaging the hen house.
They searched the plain with flaming pine torches but found nothing.
A few days later the little possum said to his mother, "Come with me to eat,
Mama. I know how my godfather got very good meat and I will do the same."
His mother went with him to the scene of the hunt.
"Climb up that tree while I hide in the bushes at the side of the spring When
I shout, 'Now there is meat' I want you to come quickly."
In this manner the possum hid himself in the same place from which his
godfather had ambushed his prey. At noon the cattle began to come down from
the hill to drink before they took their rest. In a little while a single
bull also came down. While the bull drank water the possum leaped upon him in
the same way his godfather had done. But the bull was not frightened and
simply began to shake himself to get rid of this tickling on his shoulder. As
he shook himself he hurled the possum into the air. He landed and stuck in
the mud. Unable to get out, the possum called to his mother for help.
"Come here, Mama. Now there is meat" he shouted. His mother jumped to the
ground thinking the meat was now ready. When she got to the spring she
discovered her son almost dead, and she leaped to his rescue. But she too got
trapped in the mire where it is said the two sadly died.
A Dakota girl married a man who promised to treat her kindly, but he did not
keep his word. He was unreasonable, faultfinding, and often beat her.
Frantic with his cruelty, she ran away. The whole village turned out to
search for her, but no trace of the missing wife was to be found. Meanwhile,
the fleeing woman had wandered about all that day and the next night. The
next day she met a man, who asked her who she was. She did not know it, but
he was not really a man, but the chief of the wolves.
"Come with me," he said, and he led her to a large village. She was amazed to
see here many wolves--gray and black, timber wolves and coyotes. It seemed as
if all the wolves in the world were there. The wolf chief led the young woman
to a great tepee and invited her in. He asked her what she ate for food.
"Buffalo meat," she answered.
He called two coyotes and bade them bring what the young woman wanted. They
bounded away and soon returned with the shoulder of a fresh-killed buffalo
calf. "How do you prepare it for eating?"asked the wolf chief.
"By boiling," answered the young woman.
Again he called the two coyotes. Away they bounded and soon brought into the
tent a small bundle. In it were punk, flint and steel--stolen, it may be,
from some camp of men. "How do you make the meat ready?" asked the wolf chief.
"I cut it into slices," answered the young woman. The coyotes were called and
in a short time fetched in a knife in its sheath. The young woman cut up the
calf's shoulder into slices and ate it. Thus she lived for a year, all the
wolves being very kind to her. At the end of that time the wolf chief said to
"Your people are going off on a buffalo hunt. Tomorrow at noon they will be
here. You must then go out and meet them or they will fall on us and kill us."
The next day at about noon the young woman went to the top of a neighboring
knoll. Coming toward her were some young men riding on their ponies. She
stood up and held her hands so that they could see her. They wondered who she
was, and when they were close by gazed at her closely.
"A year ago we lost a young woman; if you are she, where have you been," they
"I have been in the wolves' village. Do not harm them," she answered.
"We will ride back and tell the people," they said. "Tomorrow again at noon,
we shall meet you."
The young woman went back to the wolf village, and the next day went again to
a neighboring knoll, though to a different one. Soon she saw the camp coming
in a long line over the prairie. First were the warriors, then the women and
tents. The young woman's father and mother were overjoyed to see her. But
when they came near her the young woman fainted, for she could not now bear
the smell of human kind. When she came to herself she said:
"You must go on a buffalo hunt, my father and all the hunters. Tomorrow you
must come again, bringing with you the tongues and choice pieces of the kill."
This he promised to do; and all the men of the camp mounted their ponies and
they had a great hunt. The next day they returned with their ponies laden
with the buffalo meat. The young woman bade them pile the meat in a great
heap between two hills which she pointed out to them. There was so much meat
that the tops of the two hills were bridged level between by the meat pile.
In the center of the pile the young woman planted a pole with a red flag. She
then began to howl like a wolf, loudly.
In a moment the earth seemed covered with wolves. They fell greedily on the
meat pile and in a short time had eaten the last scrap.
The young woman then joined her own people.
Her husband wanted her to come and live with him again. For a long time she
However, at last they became reconciled.
Iktomi and the Blanket
ALONE within his teepee sat Iktomi. The sun was but a hands breadth from the
western edge of land.
"Those, bad, bad gray wolves! They ate up all my nice fat ducks!" muttered
he, rocking his body to and fro.
He was cuddling the evil memory he bore those hungry wolves. At last he
ceased to sway his body backward and forward, but sat still and stiff as a
"Oh! I'll go to Inyan, the great-grand- father, and pray for food!" he
At once he hurried forth from his teepee and, with his blanket over one
shoulder, drew nigh to a huge rock on a hillside.
With half-crouching, half-running strides, he fell upon Inyan with
"Grandfather! Pity me. I am hungry. I am starving. Give me food.
Great-grand- father, give me meat to eat!" he cried. All the while he stroked
and caressed the face of the great stone God.
The all-powerful Great Spirit, who makes the trees and grass, can hear the
voice of those who pray in many varied ways. The hearing of Inyan, the large
hard stone, was the one most sought after. He was the great-grandfather, for
he had sat upon the hillside many, many seasons. He had seen the prairie put
on a snow-white blanket and then change it for a bright green robe more than
a thousand times.
Still unaffected by the myriad moons he rested on the everlasting hill,
listening to the prayers of Indian warriors. Before the finding of the magic
arrow he had sat there.
Now, as Iktomi prayed and wept before the great-grandfather, the sky in
West was red like a glowing face. The sunset poured a soft mellow light upon
the huge gray stone and the solitary figure beside it. It was the smile of
the Great Spirit upon the grandfather and the wayward child.
The prayer was heard. Iktomi knew it. "Now, grandfather, accept my
offering; 'tis all I have," said Iktomi as he spread his half-worn blanket
upon Inyan's cold shoulders. Then Iktomi, happy with the smile of the sunset
sky, followed a foot- path leading toward a thicketed ravine. He had not gone
many paces into the shrubbery when before him lay a freshly wounded deer!
"This is the answer from the red western sky!" cried Iktomi with hands
Slipping a long thin blade from out his belt, he cut large chunks of
choice meat. Sharpening some willow sticks, he planted them around a
woodpile he had ready to kindle. On these stakes he meant to roast the
While he was rubbing briskly two long sticks to start a fire, the sun in
the west fell out of the sky below the edge of land. Twilight was over all.
Iktomi felt the cold night air upon his bare neck and shoulders. "Ough!" he
shivered as he wiped his knife on the grass. Tucking it in a beaded case
hanging from his belt, Iktomi stood erect, looking about. He shivered again.
"Ough! Ah! I am cold. I wish I had my blanket!" whispered he, hovering over
the pile of dry sticks and the sharp stakes round about it. Suddenly he
paused and dropped his hands at his sides.
"The old great-grandfather does not feel the cold as I do. He does not
need my old blanket as I do. I wish I had not given it to him. Oh! I think
I'll run up there and take it back!" said he, pointing his long chin toward
the large gray stone.
Iktomi, in the warm sunshine, had no need of his blanket, and it had been
very easy to part with a thing which he could not miss. But the chilly night
wind quite froze his ardent thank-offering.
Thus running up the hillside, his teeth chattering all the way, he drew
near to Inyan, the sacred symbol. Seizing one corner of the half-worn
blanket, Iktomi pulled it off with a jerk.
"Give my blanket back, old grandfather! You do not need it. I do!" This
was very wrong, yet Iktomi did it, for his wit was not wisdom. Drawing the
blanket tight over his shoulders, he descended the hill with hurrying feet.
He was soon upon the edge of the ravine. A young moon, like a bright bent
bow, climbed up from the southwest horizon a little way into the sky.
In this pale light Iktomi stood motionless as a ghost amid the thicket.
His wood- pile was not yet kindled. His pointed stakes were still bare as he
had left them. But where was the deer -- the venison he had felt warm in his
hands a moment ago? It was gone. Only the dry rib bones lay on the ground
like giant fingers from an open grave. Iktomi was troubled. At length,
stooping over the white dried bones, he took hold of one and shook it. The
bones, loose in their sockets, rattled together at his touch. Iktomi let go
his hold. He sprang back amazed. And though he wore a blanket his teeth
chattered more than ever. Then his blunted sense will surprise you, little
reader; for instead of being grieved that he had taken back his blanket, he
cried aloud, "Hin-hin-hin! If only I had eaten the venison before going for
Those tears no longer moved the hand of the Generous Giver. They were
selfish tears. The Great Spirit does not heed them ever.
Running Wolf and Red Shield
In years past the Sioux and the Crows were enemies, and only through heroic
action could a young person of one tribe become the friend or lover of a
young person of the other tribe. Such was the story of Red Shield, the
daughter of a Sioux chief, and Running Wolf, the son of a Crow warrior.
Red Shield first heard of Running Wolf from a Sioux woman who had been
captured by the Crows and then later was permitted to return to her people.
This woman had lived as a servant with Running Wolf's family during the time
when the boy was growing up.
"He was a lazy boy," the Sioux woman told Red Shield. "His father had to
drive him out of bed every morning by rapping his shins with a stick. One
morning he scolded the boy very hard and told him that he should be out
hunting deer for the family. That morning, as soon as the father left the
tepee, Running Wolf came to me and asked if I would make a buckskin mask for
him. And so I made him a mask, and he spent the day painting it with white
clay and fastening deer horns to it. Before sunrise the next morning he was
the first one out of bed. He took his father's gun and knife and rode away on
a horse, with two led horses behind him. He went out to a little lake near
their village, fastened his horses in the woods, and then went down to a
place where animals come to drink. When the sun rose some deer came there,
but they did not run away because they thought the boy was a deer. He killed
two, loaded them on the led horses, and brought them home just as his father
was waking up."
"Was Running Wolf's father pleased by this?" Red Shield asked.
"Oh, yes. He told his son that he had done well, and should divide the
venison with their neighbours. But that was not the end of it. The next
morning the boy went back to the watering place and returned with two more
deer, and the morning after that he did the same." The Sioux woman smiled.
"That time his father told him to stop or he would begin to smell like a
"And what did young Running Wolf say to this?"
"He said nothing, but he began sleeping late again, until one morning his
father rapped him on the shins and scolded him for being lazy. His father
told Running Wolf that he could no longer use the family's horses, that if he
wanted a horse to ride he would have to go out and take one from the Nez
Perces. That morning, as soon as his father went hunting, Running Wolf came
to me and asked if I would make him a new pair of moccasins. I did this for
him, and he spent the day decorating them with paint and beads in some
special way. At sundown he left the tepee with his gun, not saying a word to
anyone. Next morning he returned with twenty horses that he had taken from
the Nez Perces."
"His father must have been much pleased by this," said Red Shield.
"Oh, yes, after the boy gave him ten of the horses, the father sang praise
songs for him all day. But that was not the end of it. That night Running
Wolf went out again, and next morning he brought back forty horses and gave
them all to his father. And the next night he captured fifty horses, all of
which he gave to his father. And still a fourth night he went and this time
he brought back eighty head of horses, giving them all to his father! Oh, I
can tell you, Running Wolf's father had a hard time herding all those horses.
'Stop! Stop!' he shouted at his son. 'You have listened too well to what I
told you.' "
Red Shield laughed. "I think I like this young Running Wolf, even if he is a
Crow," she said.
"Oh, but he soon grew up after that," the Sioux woman said. "After his father
died, his mother and I made a new tepee for him, and then I was told that I
could return to my people. Running Wolf painted his tepee black, tied
feathers to the door, and laid war bonnets and other finery around the inside
to signify that he intended to become a mighty warrior."
Not long after Red Shield heard these stories about Running Wolf, her father
announced that the Sioux would be going out for their summer buffalo hunt.
The tribe camped in a narrow valley down which some of their hunters would
drive the buffalo while others waited in concealment on either side to kill
them as they passed. It was a busy time for Red Shield and the other women,
young and old, for they helped in the skinning of the buffalo and then
stretched the hides out to dry in the sun.
One afternoon while half the Sioux hunters were out searching for a buffalo
herd, an alarm suddenly spread through the camp. "Crow horse thieves are
coming! Look to the horses!" As soon as the men drove the horses in, it was
the duty of the women and children to guard them while the warriors went out
to protect the camp from the Crow raid. Red Shield mounted her spotted pony
and joined the other women. Far up the level valley she could see the dust of
the oncoming Crows as they raced toward the line of defending Sioux. A moment
later she heard the sharp war cries of the contending warriors.
She saw one of the Crow warriors on a black horse break through the Sioux
line and come charging toward the horse herd she was helping to guard. Not
far behind him, two Sioux warriors galloped in pursuit. As the Crow came
nearer she could see that he wore four eagle feathers in his hair. Fastened
behind his belt was a streamer of black leather long enough to trail on the
ground. His horse's mane and tail were whitened with clay. He carried a
black-handled spear decorated with bunches of crow feathers, and this weapon
was pointed straight at Red Shield. She held her spotted horse steady,
defying the onrushing Crow, and at the last moment he reined in the black
horse so that the point of the spear was only an arm's length from her body.
The young Crow's face was painted with streaks of black and white. For a
moment he glared at Red Shield, his eyes very bright, and then he threw back
his head and laughed. By this time his pursuers had caught up with him. One
of the Sioux put an arrow to his bow but missed; then both of them closed in
upon the Crow with their war clubs raised, ready to strike.
Dancing his black horse in a circle, the Crow used his spear to knock first
one and then the other Sioux off their mounts. His horse pawed the earth,
then sprang like a cat into the Sioux horse herd. Before Red Shield or her
companions could move, the Crow had cut six horses out of their herd and was
chasing them off down the valley.
Angry and frustrated because she could do nothing to stop the daring Crow,
Red Shield watched him go. Then the young man turned and waved a farewell to
her. Above the pounding hooves she could hear his laughter, and her
indignation turned to grudging admiration.
A group of Sioux warriors swept by intent upon pursuit, but Red Shield's
father called them back. "Too many of our hunters are away," he said. "We are
too few to risk leaving our women and children and the horse herd open to
"Did you see that Crow!" cried an old Sioux medicine man. "He and his horse
are under some powerful magic."
The Sioux woman who had once been a captive among the Crows spoke up from the
front of her tepee. "I know that one," she said.
"What name does he go by?" the medicine man asked.
"Yes, who is he?" demanded Red Shield's father.
"Running Wolf, he is called."
Red Shield, who still sat on her spotted horse, whispered to herself:
"Running Wolf! I knew he must be Running Wolf"
Not long after that the Sioux returned to their village on the Missouri
River. It seemed to all the young men in the tribe that the chief's daughter,
Red Shield, had suddenly become a great beauty, and one by one they came by
the chief's tepee to ask if she would marry them. Red Shield's father
encouraged her to choose one of the suitors for a husband, but she wanted
none of them. One evening after she had rejected a handsome young warrior,
her father demanded to know why she was so obstinate.
"Because I do not love him!" she cried, and in a fit of anger she threw her
supper into the fire.
"If you love someone else," her father said patiently, "then tell me his
"I love only Running Wolf," she replied. "I want to marry him."
"You cannot marry Running Wolf He is a Crow, and the Crows are our enemies."
Her father thought that would put an end to it, but days passed without Red
Shield saying a word, and she ate so little that she began to grow thin. At
last he realized that his daughter was determined to marry Running Wolf or
else will herself to die.
"Very well," the chief said, "at least you are a woman of courage. You do not
know if Running Wolf wants you for a wife, but you are determined to test
The next morning the chief brought around two fine horses, a mule, and some
packs filled with moccasins and other presents. He summoned the Sioux woman
who had once been a captive of the Crows and told her to go with Red Shield
until they found the Crow camp where Running Wolf lived. They started out and
at the end of three days they sighted the Crow tepees along a little stream.
They rode into a thick wood where they fastened their horses and the pack
mule. Red Shield painted herself carefully and dressed in her best clothing.
By this time night had fallen, but a full moon was rising above the trees.
"It's time for me to go into the Crow camp," Red Shield said.
"Remember to look for a black tepee," the Sioux woman reminded her. "You will
see a bunch of eagle feathers fastened to the end of one of the poles."
"If I don't return," Red Shield whispered, "you will know that Running Wolf
does not want me for a wife and that I am a prisoner of the Crows as you once
"I will wait for you," the Sioux woman said.
Red Shield walked out of the woods and entered the bright moonlight which
flooded the Crow camp. In the middle of the camp she found a black tepee with
eagle feathers fastened to the top of one of the poles. No one noticed her as
she walked to the open entrance.
Inside some young men were talking and smoking around a campfire. Red Shield
was certain that one of them was Running Wolf. She sat down outside the
entrance. After a while the young men began to leave, one or two at a time,
paying no particular attention to her presence.
Then Running Wolf came out to stretch himself and yawn.
The moonlight was full on his face, and Red Shield felt her heart beat
strongly. He saw her then, and said in Crow, "Come in," but Red Shield
understood not one word of Crow and she neither answered him nor moved.
Running Wolf shrugged and went back inside, and Red Shield heard him say
something else. The voice of an old woman responded.
Red Shield arose then and went into the tepee. The fire had died to a few
coals and she could see only the shadowy forms of Running Wolf and his
mother. She went close to the fire and sat down as though to warm herself.
This time the old woman spoke to her in Crow. "Take off your moccasins and
rest." But of course Red Shield did not understand. "Build up the fire so
that we can see this young woman," said Running Wolf. His mother placed some
dry wood on the coals, and a blaze sprang up to light the inside of the
"This is not a Crow woman!" cried Running Wolf's mother.
"No," he said. "But I know who she is. Only one time have I seen her but her
face has been in my dreams many times since. She is Sioux."
Red Shield raised her head, and made signs to tell them she could not
understand what they were saying, but that she had a friend nearby who could
speak for her. At last Running Wolf understood, and he followed her across
the camp clearing into the thick woods where the Sioux woman was waiting with
the horses and mule. Running Wolf remembered the former captive of his
boyhood, and when they returned to his tepee the Sioux woman and his mother
had a happy reunion.
"Why do you and this daughter of a Sioux chief come into our camp?" the
"She is Red Shield," replied the Sioux woman. "She has brought many presents.
She has come to marry your son, Running Wolf"
"And what does my son, Running Wolf, have to say to this? To marry one of the
Running Wolf looked at Red Shield. "I knew she was beautiful, and she showed
courage that day I took horses from the Sioux. Now she has shown more bravery
than I would have dared, by coming into the camp of her enemies alone. I want
her for my wife. "
While the Sioux woman was bringing in the packs of presents, Running Wolf's
mother went through the camp. "Come and look at my son's wife!" she cried.
"One of the enemy's children has come to marry him!" All the Crows in camp
came to see Red Shield, and all said she was very good-looking and a young
woman of great bravery.
Early the next morning the Sioux woman started back on the long journey to
the Missouri River to tell the girl's people that she was safe and was now
the wife of the Crow warrior, Running Wolf. A few days later Red Shield's
father, the Sioux chief, sent two messengers to the Crow chief, telling him
that he and many of his relatives were coming to pay the Crows a friendly
For this event the Crows moved their tepees to a larger plain beside a lake,
camping in a tight circle so as to leave room for the visitors. The Crow
chief told Running Wolf to put his black tepee in the place of honor in the
center. When the Sioux arrived, the Crows surrounded them and watched them
put up their tepees. After this was done, Red Shield took Running Wolf to
welcome her parents, and they all exchanged many presents. Running Wolf
brought several guns and the horses he had taken from the Sioux and gave them
to Red Shield's father.
For four days and nights the Sioux camped with the Crows and the tribes
danced together every evening. After the Sioux returned to the Missouri
River, Running Wolf and Red Shield and several of their friends visited them
from time to time, and in the moons of pleasant weather, her Sioux father and
mother came to visit their daughter, and later on to see their grandchildren.
In both tribes, the young Crow warrior and his Sioux wife were regarded as
hero and heroine, and their people lived in peace for a time.