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INDIAN WHY STORIES




HOW THE OTTER SKIN BECAME GREAT "MEDICINE"

It was rather late when we left War Eagle's
lodge after having learned why the Indians
never kill the Mice-people; and the milky
way was white and plain, dimming the stars
with its mist. The children all stopped to
say good night to little Sees-in-the-dark, a
brand-new baby sister of Bluebird's; then
they all went to bed.

The next day the boys played at war, just
as white boys do; and the girls played with
dolls dressed in buckskin clothes, until it grew
tiresome, when they visited relatives until
it came time for us all to go to their grand-
father's lodge. He was smoking when we
entered, but soon laid aside the pipe and said:

"You know that the otter skin is big medi-
cine, no doubt. You have noticed that our
warriors wear it sometimes and you know
that we all think it very lucky to wear the
skin of the Otter. But you don't know how
it came to be great; so I shall tell you.

"One time, long before my grandfather was
born, a young-man of our tribe was unlucky
in everything. No woman wanted to marry
him, because he couldn't kill enough meat to
keep her in food and clothes. Whenever he
went hunting, his bow always broke or he
would lose his lance. If these things didn't
happen, his horse would fall and hurt him.
Everybody talked about him and his bad
luck, and although he was fine-looking, he
had no close friends, because of his ill fortune.
He tried to dream and get his medicine but
no dream would come. He grew sour and
people were sorry for him all the time. Finally
his name was changed to 'The Unlucky-one,'
which sounds bad to the ear. He used to
wander about alone a good deal, and one
morning he saw an old woman gathering wood
by the side of a River. The Unlucky-one
was about to pass the old woman when she
stopped him and asked:

"'Why are you so sad in your handsome
face? Why is that sorry look in your fine
eyes?'

"'Because,' replied the young-man, 'I am
the Unlucky-one. Everything goes wrong with
me, always. I don't want to live any longer,
for my heart is growing wicked.'

"'Come with me,' said the old woman,
and he followed her until she told him to sit
down. Then she said: 'Listen to me. First
you must learn a song to sing, and this is it.'
Then she sang a queer song over and over
again until the young-man had learned it
well.

"'Now do what I tell you, and your heart
shall be glad some day.' She drew from
her robe a pair of moccasins and a small sack
of dried meat. 'Here,' she said, 'put these
moccasins on your feet and take this sack of
meat for food, for you must travel far. Go
on down this river until you come to a great
beaver village. Their lodges will be large and
fine-looking and you will know the village by
the great size of the lodges. When you get
to the place, you must stand still for a long
time, and then sing the song I taught you.
When you have finished the singing, a great
white Beaver, chief of all the Beavers in the
world, will come to you. He is wise and can
tell you what to do to change your luck. After
that I cannot help you; but do what the white
Beaver tells you, without asking why. Now
go, and be brave!'

"The young-man started at once. Long
his steps were, for he was young and strong.
Far he travelled down the river--saw many
beaver villages, too, but he did not stop, be-
cause the lodges were not big, as the old woman
told him they would be in the right village.
His feet grew tired for he travelled day and
night without resting, but his heart was brave
and he believed what the old woman had told him.

"It was late on the third day when he came
to a mighty beaver village and here the lodges
were greater than any he had ever seen before.
In the centre of the camp was a monstrous
lodge built of great sticks and towering above
the rest. All about, the ground was neat
and clean and bare as your hand. The Un-
lucky-one knew this was the white Beaver's
lodge--knew that at last he had found the
chief of all the Beavers in the world; so he
stood still for a long time, and then sang that
song.

"Soon a great white Beaver--white as
the snows of winter--came to him and asked:
'Why do you sing that song, my brother?
What do you want of me? I have never
heard a man sing that song before. You
must be in trouble.'

"'I am the Unlucky-one, ' the young-man
replied. 'I can do nothing well. I can find
no woman who will marry me. In the hunt
my bow will often break or my lance is poor.
My medicine is bad and I cannot dream.
The people do not love me, and they pity me
as they do a sick child.'

"'I am sorry for you, ' said the white Beaver
--chief of all the Beavers in the world--'but
you must find my brother the Coyote, who
knows where OLD-man's lodge is. The Coyote
will do your bidding if you sing that song
when you see him. Take this stick with you,
because you will have a long journey, and
with the stick you may cross any river and
not drown, if you keep it always in your hand.
That is all I can do for you, myself.'

"On down the river the Unlucky-one
travelled and the sun was low in the west on
the fourth day, when he saw the Coyote on
a hillside near by. After looking at Coyote
for a long time, the young-man commenced
to sing the song the old woman had taught
him. When he had finished the singing, the
Coyote came up close and asked:

"'What is the matter? Why do you sing
that song? I never heard a man sing it be-
fore. What is it you want of me?'

"Then the Unlucky-one told the Coyote
what he had told the white Beaver, and showed
the stick the Beaver-chief had given him,
to prove it.

"'I am hungry, too,' said the Unlucky-one,
'for I have eaten all the dried meat the old
woman gave me.'

"'Wait here,' said the Coyote, 'my brother
the Wolf has just killed a fat Doe, and per-
haps he will give me a little of the meat when
I tell him about you and your troubles.'

"Away went the Coyote to beg for meat,
and while he was gone the young-man bathed
his tired feet in a cool creek. Soon the Coyote
came back with meat, and young-man built
a fire and ate some of it, even before it was
warm, for he was starving. When he had
finished the Coyote said:

"'Now I shall take you to OLD-man's lodge,
come.'

"They started, even though it was getting
dark. Long they travelled without stopping
--over plains and mountains--through great
forests and across rivers, until they came to a
cave in the rough rocks on the side of a mighty
mountain.

"'In there,' said the Coyote, 'you will find
OLD-man and he can tell you what you want
to know.'

"The Unlucky-one stood before the black
hole in the rocks for a long time, because he
was afraid; but when he turned to speak to
the Coyote he found himself to be alone. The
Coyote had gone about his own business--
had silently slipped away in the night.

"Slowly and carefully the young-man be-
gan to creep into the cave, feeling his way
in the darkness. His heart was beating like
a tom-tom at a dance. Finally he saw a fire
away back in the cave.

"The shadows danced about the stone sides
of the cave as men say the ghosts do; and
they frightened him. But looking, he saw a
man sitting on the far side of the fire. The
man's hair was like the snow and very long.
His face was wrinkled with the seams left by
many years of life and he was naked in the
firelight that played about him.

"Slowly the young-man stood upon his feet
and began to walk toward the fire with great
fear in his heart. When he had reached the
place where the firelight fell upon him, the
OLD-man looked up and said:

"'How, young-man, I am OLD-man. Why
did you come here? What is it you want?'

"Then the Unlucky-one told OLD-man just
what he had told the old woman and the white
Beaver and the Coyote, and showed the stick
the Beaver had given him, to prove it.

"'Smoke,' said OLD-man, and passed the
pipe to his visitor. After they had smoked
OLD-man said:

"'I will tell you what to do. On the top of
this great mountain there live many ghost-
people and their chief is a great Owl. This
Owl is the only one who knows how you can
change your luck, and he will tell you if you
are not afraid. Take this arrow and go among
those people, without fear. Show them you
are unarmed as soon as they see you. Now
go!'

"Out into the night went the Unlucky-one
and on up the mountain. The way was rough
and the wind blew from the north, chilling his
limbs and stinging his face, but on he went
toward the mountain-top, where the storm-
clouds sleep and the winter always stays.
Drifts of snow were piled all about, and the
wind gathered it up and hurled it at the young-
man as though it were angry at him. The
clouds waked and gathered around him, making
the night darker and the world lonelier than
before, but on the very top of the mountain
he stopped and tried to look through the
clouds. Then he heard strange singing all
about him; but for a long time there was no
singer in sight. Finally the clouds parted
and he saw a great circle of ghost-people with
large and ugly heads. They were seated on
the icy ground and on the drifts of snow and
on the rocks, singing a warlike song that made
the heart of the young-man stand still, in
dread. In the centre of the circle there sat
a mighty Owl--their chief. Ho!--when the
ghost-people saw the Unlucky-one they rushed
at him with many lances and would have killed
him but the Owl-chief cried, 'Stop!'

"The young-man folded his arms and said:
'I am unarmed--come and see how a Black-
foot dies. I am not afraid of you.'

"'Ho!' said the Owl-chief, 'we kill no un-
armed man. Sit down, my son, and tell me
what you want. Why do you come here?
You must be in trouble. You must smoke
with me.'

"The Unlucky-one told the Owl-chief just
what he had told the old woman and the Beaver
and the Coyote and OLD-man, and showed the
stick that the white Beaver had given him
and the arrow that OLD-man had given to
him to prove it.

"'Good,' said the Owl-chief, 'I can help
you, but first you must help yourself. Take
this bow. It is a medicine-bow; then you
will have a bow that will not break and an
arrow that is good and straight. Now go
down this mountain until you come to a
river. It will be dark when you reach this
river, but you will know the way. There
will be a great cottonwood-tree on the bank
of the stream where you first come to the
water. At this tree, you must turn down the
stream and keep on travelling without rest,
until you hear a splashing in the water near
you. When you hear the splashing, you must
shoot this arrow at the sound. Shoot quickly,
for if you do not you can never have any good
luck. If you do as I have told you the splasher
will be killed and you must then take his hide
and wear it always. The skin that the splasher
wears will make you a lucky man. It will
make anybody lucky and you may tell your
people that it is so.

"'Now go, for it is nearly day and we must
sleep.'

"The young-man took his bow and arrow
and the stick the white Beaver had given him
and started on his journey. All the day he
travelled, and far into the night. At last he
came to a river and on the bank he saw the
great cottonwood-tree, just as the ghost Owl
had told him. At the tree the young-man
turned down the stream and in the dark easily
found his way along the bank. Very soon he
heard a great splashing in the water near him,
and--zipp--he let the arrow go at the
sound--then all was still again. He stood
and looked and listened, but for a long time
could see nothing--hear nothing.

"Then the moon came out from under a
cloud and just where her light struck the
river, he saw some animal floating--dead.
With the magic stick the young-man walked
out on the water, seized the animal by the
legs and drew it ashore. It was an Otter,
and the young-man took his hide, right there.

"A Wolf waited in the brush for the body
of the Otter, and the young-man gave it to
him willingly, because he remembered the
meat the Wolf had given the Coyote. As
soon as the young-man had skinned the Otter
he threw the hide over his shoulder and started
for his own country with a light heart, but
at the first good place he made a camp, and
slept. That night he dreamed and all was
well with him.

"After days of travel he found his tribe
again, and told what had happened. He be-
came a great hunter and a great chief among
us. He married the most beautiful woman in
the tribe and was good to her always. They
had many children, and we remember his
name as one that was great in war. That is
all--Ho!"


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