English > ESL Library Index

Online Literature Library
Great literature free and accessible for everyone.


INDIAN WHY STORIES




WHY THE KINGFISHER ALWAYS
WEARS A WAR-BONNET

Autumn nights on the upper Missouri
river in Montana are indescribably beau-
tiful, and under their spell imagination is a
constant companion to him who lives in wil-
derness, 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 chil-
dren 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 day-
time, when War Eagle continued:

"You have often seen Kingfisher at his fish-
ing 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 grum-
bling, 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 playing.

"'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 all.

"'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 did.

"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 be-
cause he didn't want to be left in that coun-
try 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 hap-
pened. 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 King-
fishers have not forgotten, and they all wear
war-bonnets, and always will as long as there
are Kingfishers.

"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!"

 


Many Thanks for Using the ESL Literature Library from 1-language.com.


Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.