Indian Why Stories
Frank B. Linderman
Part 3 out of 3
mountain-lion long and lean. The Chippewas
and Crees insist that they were squirrels that
were cooked and eaten, but one tribe is essen-
tially 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 moc-
casin, 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 cir-
cle at the bottom, because of the wind.
One night in War Eagle's lodge, Other-
person asked: "Why don't the Bear have a
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
"'No,' replied the Bear, 'I can't catch a
"'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 he couldn't.
"'Hey, Bear, come here--there are two
Rabbits in this hole,' called the Fox.
"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
"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 remem-
bered 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
"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, after that.
"That is how the man found his wife--Ho!"
As soon as manhood is attained, the young
Indian must secure his "charm," or "medi-
cine." 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 surround-
ing terrors impress themselves upon the mind,
and even in slumber add to the vividness of
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 "medi-
cine-bundle" with fanciful trinkets and quill-
work At other times the "bundle" is kept
forever out of the sight of all uninterested per-
sons, and is altogether unadorned. But "medi-
cine" is necessary; without it, the Indian is
afraid of his shadow.
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 pine-tree.
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
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
"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 noth-
ing, 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 country?'
"'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 him
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 thou-
sands 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 vil-
lage of our people, and there stopped to look
"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 for-
"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 on earth.
"One day at noon the twins dressed them-
selves 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 'thunders.' Ho!"
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 boyhood
"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 them-
selves 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 more?"
"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 quar-
relling, 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."
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