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Thirty Indian Legends


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In the far north there was a village where many warlike Indians lived. In one family there were ten brothers, all brave and fearless. In the spring of the year the youngest brother blackened his face and fasted for several days. Then he sent for his nine brothers and said to them:

“I have fasted and dreamed, and my dreams are good. Will you come on a war journey with me?”

“Yes,” they all said readily.

“Then tell no one, not even your wives, of our plan.” They agreed to meet on a certain night so that no one should see them go. One brother was named Mudjekeewis, and he was very odd. He was the first to promise that he would not tell. The next two days were spent in preparations for the journey. Mudjekeewis told his wife many times to get his moccasins for him.

“And hurry.” he said; “do hurry.”

“Why do you want them?” she asked. “You have a good pair on.”

“Well, if you must know, we are going on a war journey,” he answered.

When the night had come which the leader had named, they met at his wigwam and set out on their long journey. The snow lay on the ground, and the night was very dark.

After they had travelled some miles, the leader gathered some snow and made it into a ball. He threw it in the air and said, as it fell, “It was thus I saw the snow fall in my dreams to cover our footmarks, so that no one may follow us.”

The snow began to fall heavily and continued for two days. It was so thick that they could scarcely see each other, though they walked very closely together.

The leader cheered his brothers by telling them they would win in their battle. At this Mudjekeewis, who was walking behind, ran forward. He swung his war-club in the air and uttered the war-cry. Then bringing his war-club down, he struck a tree, and it fell as if hit by lightning.

“See, brothers,” he said, “this is the way I shall serve our enemy.”

“Hush, Mudjekeewis,” said the leader. “He whom we are going to fight cannot be treated so lightly.”

Then they travelled on for several days, until at last they reached the borders of the White Plain, where the bones of men lay bleaching.

“These are the bones of men who have gone before us. No one has ever returned to tell of their sad fate.” Mudjekeewis looked frightened at this and thought, “I wonder who this terrible enemy is.”

“Be not afraid, my brothers,” said the leader. Mudjekeewis then took courage, again jumped forward, and uttering the war-cry, brought his warclub down on a small rock, and split it into pieces. “See, I am not afraid,” he cried. “Thus shall I serve my enemy.” But the leader still pressed onward over the plain, until at last a small rise in the ground brought them in sight of the enemy. Some distance away, on the top of the mountain, a giant bear lay sleeping.

“Look, brothers,” said the leader. “There is the mighty enemy, for he is a Manitou.[1] But come now, we need not fear, as he is asleep. Around his neck he has the precious wampum,[2] which we must take from him.”

They advanced slowly and quietly. The huge animal did not hear them. Around his neck was a belt which contained the wampum.

“Now we must take this off,” said the youngest brother. One after the other tried, but could not do it, until the next to the youngest tried. He pulled it nearly over the bear’s head. Then came the turn of the youngest, and he pulled it the rest of the way. He put the belt quickly on the back of the oldest brother.

“Now we must run,” said the leader, “for when he awakens, he will miss his belt.”

They all hastened away. The wampum was very heavy, so they had to take turns in carrying it. They kept looking back as they ran, and had almost reached the edge of the plain before the bear awoke. He slowly rose to his feet and stood for a moment before he noticed that the belt was gone. Then he uttered a roar that reached to the skies.

“Who has dared to steal my belt?” he roared. “Earth is not so large but that I shall find him.”

Saying this, he jumped from the mountain, and the earth shook with his weight. Then with powerful strides he rushed in pursuit of the brothers.

They had passed all the bones now and were becoming very tired.

“Brothers,” said the leader, “I dreamed that when we were hard pressed and running for our lives, we saw a lodge where an old man lived, and he helped us. I hope my dream will come true.”

Just then they saw, a short distance away, a lodge with smoke curling from the top. They ran to it, and an old man opened the door.

“Grandfather,” they gasped, “will you save us? A Manitou is after us.”

“Who is a Manitou but I?” said he. “Come in and eat.” They entered the lodge and he gave them food. Then, opening the door, he looked out and saw the bear coming with great strides. Shutting the door, he said, “He is indeed a mighty Manitou and will take my life; but you asked for my help and I shall give it. When he comes, you run out of the back door.”

Going to a bag which hung from a tree, he took out two small, black, dogs. He patted the sides of the dogs, and they began to swell until they filled the doorway. The dogs had strong, white teeth and growled fiercely. The bear had now reached the door, and with one bound the first dog leaped out, followed by the second. The brothers ran out of the back of the lodge. They could hear the howls of the animals as they fought, and looking back, they saw first one dog killed, then the other, and at last the shrieks of the old man came to them as the bear tore him in pieces. They doubled their speed now, as they saw the bear beginning to follow them again. The food they had eaten gave them new strength, so they were able to run very swiftly for a time. But at last they all felt their strength fail again, for the bear was close behind them now.

“Brothers, I had another dream,” said the leader. “It was that an old Manitou saved us. Perhaps his lodge is near us now.”

Even as he spoke, they came in sight of another lodge, and as they ran up to the door an old man opened it.

“Save us from the Manitou,” they cried as they rushed in.

“Manitou?” he said. “Who is a Manitou but I? Come in and eat,” and he closed the door. He brought food for them; then he looked out of the door. The bear was only a few yards away now. Hastily closing the door, he said, “This is indeed a mighty Manitou. You have brought trouble to me, my children; but you run out the back way and I shall fight him.”

He then went to his medicine sack and drew out two war-clubs of black stone. As he handled them they grew to an immense size. He opened the door, and as he did so, the brothers ran out the back way. They could hear the blows like claps of thunder as he hit the bear on the head. After that came two sharp cracks, and they knew the clubs were broken with the force of the blows. Then came his shrieks, as he met the fate of the first old man. They tried to run faster than ever now, for they knew the bear must be after them again, but their strength was nearly gone.

“Oh, brother,” they asked, “have you no other dream to help us?”

“Yes, I dreamed, when we were running like this, that we came to a lake and on the shore of it was a canoe with ten paddles in it waiting for us. We jumped in and were saved.”

As he spoke, there appeared in front of them a lake just as he had dreamed, and a canoe waiting. Getting in, they quickly paddled to the middle of the lake, and waited to see what the bear would do.

He came on with his slow, powerful strides until he reached the water’s edge. Then, rising on his hind legs, he took a look around. Dropping down, he waded into the water, but slipped and nearly fell. He waded out and began to walk around the lake. When he reached the spot he had started from, he bent down his head and began to drink the waters of the lake. He drank in such large mouthfuls that the brothers could see the water sinking, and the current began to flow so swiftly towards his mouth that they could not keep their canoe steady. It floated in the current straight to him.

“Now, Mudjekeewis,” said the leader, “this is your chance to show us how you would treat your enemy.”

“I shall show you and him,” said Mudjekeewis. Then, as the canoe came near the big mouth, he stood up and levelled his war-club. Just as the boat touched the bear’s teeth, Mudjekeewis uttered the war-cry and dealt the animal a mighty blow on the head. This he repeated, and the bear fell stunned. As the animal fell, he disgorged the water with such force that it sent the canoe spinning to the other side of the lake, where the brothers landed and ran ahead as fast as they could. They had not gone far when they could hear the bear coming behind them.

“Do not be afraid, brothers,” said the leader, as he noticed how frightened they all looked. “I have one more dream. If it fails us, we are lost, but let us hope that it will come true. I dreamed we were running, and we came to a lodge out of which came a young maiden. Her brother was a Manitou and by his magic she saved us. Run on and fear not, else your limbs will be fear-bound. Look for his lodge.”

And sure enough, behind a little clump of trees, stood a lodge. As they ran to it a maiden came forth and invited them in.

“Enter,” she said, “and rest. I shall meet the bear, and when I need you, I shall call you.”

Saying this, she took down a medicine-sack, which was hanging on the wall near the door. They entered, and she walked out to meet the bear. The animal came up with angry growls and swinging strides. The maiden quickly opened the medicine-sack and took out some war feathers, paint, and tufts of hair.

As the bear came up, the girl tossed them up in the air, saying, “Behold, these are the magic arrows of my dead brother. These are the magic war paints of my dead brother. This is the eagle’s feather of my dead brother, and these are the tufts of hair of wild animals he has killed.”

As she said these words and the things fell on the ground near the animal, he tottered and fell. She called the brothers, and they rushed out.

“Cut him into pieces quickly,” she said, “or he will come to life again.”

They all set to work and cut the huge animal into small pieces, which they tossed away. When they had finished, they saw, to their surprise, that these pieces had turned into small, black bears, which had jumped up and were running away in every direction. And it is from these bears that the bears called the Makwas had their beginning.

[1] A manitou is the spirit of an Indian who has been killed. Manitous often take the forms of animals when they come back to life.

[2] Wampum; long, narrow beads, sometimes made of shells. They were usually blue and white and were often woven into a belt. They were greatly treasured by the Indians.

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