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INDIAN WHY STORIES


 

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 In-
dians use them; but I have never found an In-
dian 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 thou-
sands 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 island."

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 posses-
sion 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 manu-
factured 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 feel-
ing of hatred held by the three tribes of Black-
feet 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 trav-
elling 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 some-
thing, 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 hunt-
ing. 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 the scheme.'

"Around the hill went the poor Red Fox and
found the Bulls. Then he began to dance be-
fore 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 hand.

"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!"


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