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INDIAN WHY STORIES




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 said:

"'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 and cunning.'

"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 every-
body 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 fam-
ily. 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 the Mice-people.

"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 al-
ways make their nests in the heads of the
dead Buffalo-people, ever since that night.

"Our people play the same game, even to-
day. 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 al-
ways guessed wrong. Laughingly War Eagle
said:

"Now go to your beds and come to see me
to-morrow night. Ho!"

 


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