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INDIAN WHY STORIES




WHY THE NIGHT-HAWK'S WINGS ARE BEAUTIFUL


I was awakened by the voice of the camp-
crier, and although it was yet dark I listened
to his message.

The camp was to move. All were to go to
the mouth of the Maria's--"The River That
Scolds at the Other"--the Indians call this
stream, that disturbs the waters of the Mis-
souri with its swifter flood.

On through the camp the crier rode, and
behind him the lodge-fires glowed in answer
to his call. The village was awake, and soon
the thunder of hundreds of hoofs told me that
the pony-bands were being driven into camp,
where the faithful were being roped for the
journey. Fires flickered in the now fading
darkness, and down came the lodges as though
wizard hands had touched them. Before the
sun had come to light the world, we were
on our way to "The River That Scolds at the
Other."

Not a cloud was in the sky, and the wind
was still. The sun came and touched the
plains and hilltops with the light that makes
all wild things glad. Here and there a jack-
rabbit scurried away, often followed by a
pack of dogs, and sometimes, though not often,
they were overtaken and devoured on the
spot. Bands of graceful antelope bounded out
of our way, stopping on a knoll to watch the
strange procession with wondering eyes, and
once we saw a dust-cloud raised by a moving
herd of buffalo, in the distance.

So the day wore on, the scene constantly
changing as we travelled. Wolves and coyotes
looked at us from almost every knoll and hill-
top; and sage-hens sneaked to cover among
the patches of sage-brush, scarcely ten feet
away from our ponies. Toward sundown we
reached a grove of cottonwoods near the mouth
of the Maria's, and in an incredibly short
space of time the lodges took form. Soon,
from out the tops of a hundred camps, smoke
was curling just as though the lodges had
been there always, and would forever remain.

As soon as supper was over I found the
children, and together we sought War Eagle's
lodge. He was in a happy mood and insisted
upon smoking two pipes before commencing
his story-telling. At last he said:

"To-night I shall tell you why the Night-
hawk wears fine clothes. My grandfather told
me about it when I was young. I am sure
you have seen the Night-hawk sailing over
you, dipping and making that strange noise.
Of course there is a reason for it.

"OLD-man was travelling one day in the
springtime; but the weather was fine for that
time of year. He stopped often and spoke to
the bird-people and to the animal-people, for
he was in good humor that day. He talked
pleasantly with the trees, and his heart grew
tender. That is, he had good thoughts; and
of course they made him happy. Finally he
felt tired and sat down to rest on a big, round
stone--the kind of stone our white friend
there calls a bowlder. Here he rested for a
while, but the stone was cold, and he felt it
through his robe; so he said:

"'Stone, you seem cold to-day. You may
have my robe. I have hundreds of robes in
my camp, and I don't need this one at all.'
That was a lie he told about having so many
robes. All he had was the one he wore.

"He spread his robe over the stone, and
then started down the hill, naked, for it was
really a fine day. But storms hide in the
mountains, and are never far away when it is
springtime. Soon it began to snow--then
the wind blew from the north with a good
strength behind it. OLD-man said:

"'Well, I guess I do need that robe myself,
after all. That stone never did anything for
me anyhow. Nobody is ever good to a stone.
I'll just go back and get my robe.'

"Back he went and found the stone. Then
he pulled the robe away, and wrapped it about
himself. Ho! but that made the stone angry
--Ho! OLD-man started to run down the
hill, and the stone ran after him. Ho! it
was a funny race they made, over the grass,
over smaller stones, and over logs that lay
in the way, but OLD-man managed to keep
ahead until he stubbed his toe on a big
sage-brush, and fell--swow!

"'Now I have you!' cried the stone--'now
I'll kill you, too! Now I will teach you to
give presents and then take them away,'
and the stone rolled right on top of OLD-man,
and sat on his back.

"It was a big stone, you see, and OLD-man
couldn't move it at all. He tried to throw
off the stone but failed. He squirmed and
twisted--no use--the stone held him fast.
He called the stone some names that are not
good; but that never helps any. At last he
began to call:

"'Help!--Help!--Help!' but nobody
heard him except the Night-hawk, and he
told the OLD-man that he would help him all
he could; so he flew away up in the air--so
far that he looked like a black speck. Then
he came down straight and struck that rock
an awful blow--'swow!'--and broke it in
two pieces. Indeed he did. The blow was
so great that it spoiled the Night-hawk's bill,
forever--made it queer in shape, and jammed
his head, so that it is queer, too. But he
broke the rock, and OLD-man stood upon his
feet.

"'Thank you, Brother Night-hawk, ' said OLD-
man, 'now I will do something for you. I
am going to make you different from other
birds--make you so people will always notice
you.'

"You know that when you break a rock
the powdered stone is white, like snow; and
there is always some of the white powder
whenever you break a rock, by pounding it.
Well, Old-man took some of the fine powdered
stone and shook it on the Night-hawk's wings
in spots and stripes--made the great white
stripes you have seen on his wings, and told
him that no other bird could have such marks
on his clothes.

"All the Night-hawk's children dress the
same way now; and they always will as long
as there are Night-hawks. Of course their
clothes make them proud; and that is why they
keep at flying over people's heads--soaring
and dipping and turning all the time, to show
off their pretty wings.

"That is all for to-night. Muskrat, tell
your father I would run Buffalo with him to-
morrow--Ho!"

 


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