Old Man Stories
THE WONDERFUL BIRD
One day, as Old Man was walking about among the trees, he saw something that seemed very queer.
A little bird was sitting on the branch of a tree. Every little while it would make a strange noise, and every time it made this noise its eyes flew out of its head and fastened on a branch of the tree. Then after a little while the bird would make another sort of noise and its eyes would go back to their places in its head.
Old Man called out to the bird, "Little brother, teach me how to do that."
"If I show you how," the bird answered, "you must not send your eyes out of your head more than four times in a day. If you do, you will be sorry."
"It shall be as you say, little brother. It is for you to give, and I will listen to what you say."
When the bird had taught Old Man how to do this, he was glad. He began to do it, and did it four times right away. Then he said, "Why did that bird tell me to do this only four times? He has no sense. I will do it again." So once more he made his eyes go out, but now when he called to them they would not come back.
He shouted out to the bird, "Little brother, come here, and help me to get back my eyes." The little bird did not answer him; it had flown away. Now Old Man felt all over the branches of the tree with his hands, but he could not find his eyes. So he went away and wandered over the prairie for a long time, crying and calling to the animals to help him.
As he was blind, he could find nothing to eat, and he began to be very hungry.
A wolf teased him a great deal and had much fun. It had found a dead buffalo, and taking a piece of the meat, it would hold the meat close to Old Man's face. Then Old Man would say, "I smell something dead, I wish I could find it; I am almost starved." He felt all around for it.
Once when the wolf was doing this, Old Man caught him, and plucking out one of the wolf's eyes, he put it in his own head. Then he could see, and was able to find his own eyes, but never again could he do the trick the little bird had taught him.
THE RABBITS' MEDICINE
Once, when Old Man was travelling about, he heard some singing that sounded very queer. He had never before heard anything like it, and looked all about to see where it came from. After a time he saw that the cottontail rabbits were singing and making medicine. They had built a fire, and raked out some hot ashes, and they would lie down in these ashes and sing, while one of the others covered them up. They could stay there only for a short time, though, for the ashes were hot.
"Little brothers," said Old Man, "here is something wonderful—that you can lie in those hot ashes and coals without burning. I ask you to teach me how to do this."
"We will show you how to do it, Old Man," said the rabbits. "You must sing our song, and stay in the ashes only a short time." They taught Old Man their song, and he began to sing and lay down, and they covered him with coals and ashes, and the hot ashes did not burn him.
"That is good," he said. "You have strong medicine. Now, so that I may know it all, do you lie down and let me cover you up."
All the rabbits lay down in the ashes, and Old Man covered them up, and then he pulled the whole fire over them. One old rabbit got out, and Old Man was just about to put her back when she said, "Pity me; my children need me."
"It is good," replied Old Man. "You may go, so that there will be more rabbits; but these I will roast, and have a feast." He put more wood on the fire, and when the rabbits were cooked he got some red willow brush and put the rabbits on it to cool. The grease from their bodies soaked into the branches, so that even to-day if red willow is held over a fire one may see the grease on the bark. Ever since that time, too, the rabbits have a burnt place on the back, where the one that got away was singed.
Old Man sat down by the fire, waiting for the rabbits to get cool, when a coyote came along, limping. He went on three legs. "Pity me, Old Man," he said. "You have plenty of cooked rabbits, give me one of them."
"Go away," said Old Man, very cross; "if you are too lazy to catch food, I will not give you any."
"But my leg is broken," said the coyote; "I cannot run. I cannot catch anything, and I am starving. Give me half a rabbit."
"I don't care what happens to you," said Old Man; "I worked hard to catch and cook these rabbits, and I shall not give any of them away. I'll tell you what I will do, though; I will run a race with you out to that far butte on the prairie, and if you beat me you can have a rabbit."
"Good," said the coyote, and they started.
Old Man ran very fast, and the coyote limped along behind him, but pretty close, until they got near the butte. Then the coyote turned around and ran back very fast, for he was not lame at all. It took Old Man a long time to get back, and just before he reached the fire, the coyote finished eating the last rabbit and ran away.
THE LOST ELK MEAT
Old Man had been a long time without food and was very hungry. He was trying to think how he could get something to eat, when he saw a band of elk come up on a ridge. He went over to them and spoke to them and said, "Brothers, I am lonely because I have no one to follow me."
"Go ahead, Old Man," said the elk; "we will follow you." Old Man led them about for a long time, and when it was dark he came near a high, steep cut bank. He ran around to one side, where the hill sloped, and then went back right under the steep cliff and called out, "Come on, that is a nice jump. You will laugh." So all the elk jumped off and were killed, except one cow.
"They have all jumped but you," said Old Man. "Come on, you will like it."
"Take pity on me," said the cow. "I am very heavy, and I am afraid to jump."
"Go away, then," said Old Man; "go and live. Then some day there will be plenty of elk again."
Old Man built a fire and cooked some of the meat, and then he skinned all the elk, and cut up the meat and hung it up to dry. The tongues he hung on a pole.
The next day he started off and was gone all day, and at night, as he was coming home, he was very hungry. He was thinking to himself that he would have some roasted ribs and a tongue and other good things; but when he reached the place, the meat was all gone; the wolves had eaten it.
"It was lucky I hung up those tongues," said Old Man, "or I should not have had anything to eat." But when he took down the tongues they were all hollow. The mice had eaten out the meat, leaving only the skins.
THE ROLLING ROCK
Once when Old Man was travelling about and felt tired, he sat down on a rock to rest. After he was rested he started on his way, and because the sun was hot he threw his robe over the rock and said to it, "Here, I give you my robe because you are poor and have let me rest on you. Keep it always."
He had not gone far when it began to rain, and meeting a coyote, he said to him, "Little brother, run back to that rock and ask him to lend me his robe. We will cover ourselves with it and keep dry."
The coyote ran back to the rock, but presently returned without the robe.
"Where is the robe?" asked Old Man.
"Why," said the coyote, "the rock said that you had given him the robe and he was going to keep it."
This made Old Man angry, and he went back to the rock and snatched the robe off it, saying, "I was only going to borrow this robe until the rain was over, but now that you have acted so mean about it, I will keep it. You don't need a robe, anyhow. You have been out in the rain and snow all your life, and it will not hurt you to live so always."
When he had said this he put the robe about his shoulders, and with the coyote he went off into a ravine and they sat down there. The rain was falling and they covered themselves with the robe, and were warm and dry.
Pretty soon they heard a loud, rumbling noise, and Old Man said to the coyote, "Little brother, go up on the hill and see what that noise is."
The coyote went off, but presently he came back, running as hard as he could, saying, "Run, run, the big rock is coming." They both started, and ran away as fast as they could. The coyote tried to creep into a badger-hole, but it was too small for him and he stuck fast, and before he could get out the rock rolled over him and crushed his hips. Old Man was frightened, and as he ran he threw away his robe and everything that he had on, so that he might run faster. The rock was gaining on him all the time.
Not far away on the prairie a band of buffalo bulls were feeding, and Old Man cried out to them, saying, "Oh, my brothers, help me, help me; stop that rock." The bulls ran and tried to stop it, butting against it, but it crushed their heads. Some deer and antelope tried to help Old Man, but they too were killed. Other animals came to help him, but could not stop the rock; it was now close to Old Man, so close that it began to hit his heels. He was just going to give up when he saw circling over his head a flock of night-hawks.
"Oh, my little brothers," he cried, "help me; I am almost dead." The bull bats flew down one after another against the rock, and every time one of them hit it he chipped off a piece, and at last one hit it fair in the middle and broke it into two pieces.
Then Old Man was glad. He went to where there was a nest of night-hawks and pulled their mouths out wide and pinched off their bills, to make them pretty and queer looking. That is the reason they look so to-day.
BEAR AND BULLBERRIES
Scattered over the prairie in northern Montana, close to the mountains, are many great rocks—boulders which thousands of years ago, when the great ice-sheet covered northern North America, were carried from the mountains out over the prairie by the ice and left there when it melted.
Around most of these great boulders the buffalo used to walk from time to time, rubbing against the rough surface of the rock to scratch themselves, as a cow rubs itself against a post or as a horse rolls on the ground—for the pleasant feeling that the rubbing of the skin gives it.
As the buffalo walked around these boulders their hoofs loosened the soil, and this loosened soil—the dust—was blown away by the constant winds of summer. So, around most of these boulders, much of the soil is gone, leaving a deep trench, at the bottom of which are stones and gravel, too large to be moved by the wind.
This story explains how these rocks came to be like that:
Once Old Man was crossing a river and the stream was deep, so that he was carried away by the current, and lost his bow and arrows and other weapons. When he got to the shore he began to look about for something to use in making a bow and arrows, for he was hungry and wanted to kill some food.
He took the first wood he could find and made a bow and arrows and a handle for his knife. When he had finished these things he started on his way.
Presently, as he looked over a hill he saw down below him a bear digging roots. Old Man thought he would have some fun with the bear, and he called out aloud, "He has no tail." Then he dodged back out of sight. The bear looked all about, but saw no one, and again began to dig roots. Then Old Man again peeped over the hill and saw the bear at work, and again called out, "He has no tail." This time the bear looked up more quickly, but Old Man dodged down, and the bear did not see him, and pretty soon went on with his digging.
Four times Old Man did this, calling the bear names, but the fourth time the bear was on the watch and saw Old Man, and started after him.
Old Man ran away as hard as he could, but the bear followed fast. Presently, Old Man tried to shoot the bear with his arrows, but they were made of bad wood and would not fly well, and if they hit the bear, they just broke off. All his weapons failed him, and now the bear was close to him. Just in front was a great rock, and when Old Man came to that, he dodged behind it and ran around to the other side, and the bear followed him. They kept running around the rock for a long time and wore a deep trail about it, and because Old Man could turn more quickly, he kept just ahead of the bear. Old Man kept calling to the animals to help him, but no one came.
He was almost out of breath, and the bear was close to him, when Old Man saw lying on the ground a bull's horn. He picked it up and held it on his head and turned around and bellowed loudly, and the bear was frightened and turned around and ran away as hard as he could. Then Old Man leaned up against the rock, and breathed hard for a long time, but at last he got his wind back. He said to the rock, "This is the way you rocks shall always be after this, with a big hole all around you."
By this time he was pretty tired and thirsty, and he thought he would go down to the river and drink. When he got to the edge of the water he got down on his knees to drink, and there before him in the water he saw bullberries, great bunches of them. He said to himself, "I will dive in and get those bull-berries"; and he took off his moccasins and clothing and dived in, but he could not find the bullberries, and presently he came up. He looked into the water again, and again saw the bullberries. He said to himself, "Those bullberries must be very deep down."
He went along the shore looking for a heavy stone that would take him down into the deep water where the bullberries were, and when he found one he tied the stone to his neck and again dived in. This time he sank to the bottom, for the stone carried him down. He felt about with his hands trying to reach the bullberries, but could feel nothing and began to drown. He tried to get free from the stone, but that was hard to do; yet at last he broke the string and came to the top of the water. He was almost dead, and it took him a long time to get to the shore, and when he got there he crawled up on to the bank and lay down to rest and get his breath. As he lay there on his back, he saw above him the thick growing bullberries whose reflections he had seen in the water. He said to himself, "And I was almost drowned for these." Then he took a stick and with it began to beat the bullberry bushes. He said to the bushes, "After this, the people shall beat you in this way when they want to gather berries."
The Blackfeet women, when gathering bullberries, spread robes under the bushes and beat the branches with sticks, knocking off the berries, which fall on the robes.
THE THEFT FROM THE SUN
One time when Old Man was on a journey, he came to the Sun's lodge, and went in and sat down, and the Sun asked him to stay with him for a time. Old Man was glad to do so. One day the meat was all gone, and the Sun said, "Well, Old Man, what do you say if we go out and kill some deer?"
"I like what you say," said Old Man. "Deer meat is good."
The Sun took down a bag, that was hanging from a lodge pole and took from it a handsome pair of leggings, embroidered with porcupine quills and pretty feathers.
"These are my hunting leggings," said the Sun; "they have great power. When I want to kill deer, all I have to do is to put them on and walk around a patch of brush, and the leggings set it on fire and drive out the deer, so that I can shoot them."
"Well, well," exclaimed Old Man, "how wonderful that is!" He began to think, "I wish I had such a pair of leggings as that"; and after he had thought about it some more, he made up his mind that he would have those leggings, if he had to steal them.
They went out to hunt, and when they came to a patch of brush, the Sun set it on fire with his hunting leggings. A number of deer ran out, and each shot one.
That night when they were going to bed the Sun pulled off his leggings, and laid them aside. Old Man saw where he had put them, and in the middle of the night, after every one was asleep, he took the leggings and went away. He travelled a long time, until he had gone far and was tired; then making a pillow of the leggings he lay down and slept. After a while he heard some one speaking and woke up and saw that it was day. Some one was talking to him. The Sun was saying, "Old Man, why are my leggings under your head?"
Old Man looked about him and saw that he was in the Sun's lodge. He thought he must have wandered around and got lost and returned there. Again the Sun spoke, and asked, "What are you doing with my leggings?"
"Oh," replied Old Man, "I could not find anything for a pillow, so I put these leggings under my head."
When night came and all had gone to bed, again Old Man stole the leggings and ran off. This time he did not walk at all. He kept running until it was almost morning, and then lay down and slept. When morning came he found himself still in the Sun's lodge.
You see what a fool he was; he did not know that the whole world is the Sun's lodge. He did not know that, no matter how far he ran, he could not get out of the Sun's sight.
This time the Sun said, "Old Man, since you like my leggings so much, I give them to you. Keep them." Then Old Man was glad and he went away.
One day his food was all gone, and he put on the hunting leggings and went out and set fire to a piece of brush. He was just going to kill some deer that were running out, when he saw that the fire was getting close to him. He ran away as fast as he could, but the fire gained on him and began to burn his legs. His leggings were all on fire. He came to a river and jumped in and pulled off the leggings as soon as he could. They were burnt to pieces.
Perhaps the Sun did this because Old Man tried to steal his leggings.
THE SMART WOMAN CHIEF
Long ago, they tell me, men and women did not know each other. Women were put in one place and men in another. They were not together; they were apart.
He who made us made women first. He did not make them very well. That is why they are not so strong as men. The men he made better; so that they were strong.
The women were the smartest. They knew the most. They were the first to make piskuns, and to know how to tan hides and to make moccasins. At that time men wore moccasins made from the shank of the buffalo's leg, and robes made of wolfskin. This was all their clothing.
One day when Old Man was travelling about, he came to a camp of men, and stayed there with them for a long time. It was after this that he discovered there were such beings as women.
One time, as he was travelling along, he saw two women driving some buffalo over a cliff. When Old Man got near them, the women were very much frightened. They did not know what kind of animal it was that was coming. Too much scared to run away, they lay down to hide. When Old Man came up to them he thought they were dead, and said, "Here are two women who are dead. It is not good for them to lie out here on the prairie. I must take them to a certain place." He looked them all over to see what had killed them, but could find no wound. He picked up one of the women and carried her along with him in his arms. She was wondering how she could get away. She let her arms swing loose as if she were dead, and at every step Old Man took the arm swung and hit him in the nose, and pretty soon his nose began to bleed and to hurt, and at length he put the woman down on the ground and went back to get the other woman; but while he was gone she had run away, and when he came back to get the first one she was gone too; so he lost them both. This made him angry, and he said to himself, "If these two women will lie there again, I will get both of them."
In this way women found out that there were men.
One day Old Man stood on a hill and looked over toward the piskun at Woman's Falls, where the women had driven a band of buffalo over the cliff, and afterward were cutting up the meat. The chief of the women called him down to the camp, and sent word by him to the men, asking if they wanted to get wives. Old Man brought back word that they did, and the chief woman sent a message, calling all the men to a feast in her lodge to be married. The woman asked Old Man, "How many chiefs are there in that tribe?" He answered, "There are four chiefs. But the real chief of all that tribe you will know when you see him by this—he is finely dressed and wears a robe trimmed, and painted red, and carries a lance with a bone head on each end." Old Man wanted to marry the chief of the women, and intended to dress in this way, and that is why he told her that.
Old Man had no moccasins; his were all worn out. The women gave him some for himself, and also some to take back to give to the men, and he went back to the men's camp. When he reached it, word went out that he had returned, and all the men said to each other, "He has got back; Old Man has come again." He gave the men the message that the woman had sent, and soon the men started for the woman's camp to get married. When they came near it, they went up on a bluff and stood there, looking down on the camp. Old Man had dressed himself finely, and had put on a trimmed robe painted red, and in his hand held a lance with a bone head on each end.
When the women saw that the men had come they got ready to go and select their husbands. The chief of the women said, "I am the chief. I will go first and take the man I like. The rest wait here."
The woman chief started up the hill to choose the chief of the men for her husband. She had been making dried meat, and her hands, arms, and clothing were covered with blood and grease. She was dirty, and Old Man did not know her. The woman went up to Old Man to choose him, but he turned his back on her and would not go with her.
She went back to her camp and told the women that she had been refused because her clothes were dirty. She said, "Now, I am going to put on my nice clothes and choose a man. All of you can go up and take men, but let no one take that man with the red robe and the double-headed lance."
After she was nicely dressed the chief woman again went up on the hill. Now, Old Man knew who she was, and he kept getting in front of her and trying hard to have her take him, but she would not notice him and took another man, the one standing next to Old Man. Then the other women began to come, and they kept coming up and choosing men, but no one took Old Man, and at last all the men were taken and he was left standing there alone.
This made him so angry that he wanted to do something, and he went down to the woman's piskun and began to break down its walls, so the chief of the women turned him into a pine-tree.
BOBCAT AND BIRCH TREE
Once Old Man was travelling over the prairie, when he saw far off a fire burning, and as he drew near it he saw many prairie-dogs sitting in a circle around the fire. There were so many of them that there was no place for any one to sit down. Old Man stood there behind the circle, and presently he began to cry, and then he said to the prairie-dogs, "Let me, too, sit by that fire." The prairie-dogs said, "All right, Old Man, don't cry; come and sit by the fire." They moved aside so as to make a place for him, and Old Man sat down and looked on at what they were doing.
He saw that they were playing a game, and this was the way they did it: they put one prairie-dog in the fire and covered him up with hot ashes, and then, after he had been there a little while, he would say, "sk, sk," and they pushed the ashes off him and pulled him out.
Old Man said, "Little brothers, teach me how to do that." The prairie-dogs told him what to do, and put him in the fire and covered him up with the ashes, and after a little time he said, "sk, sk," like a prairie-dog, and they pulled him out again. Then he did it to the prairie-dogs.
At first he put them in one at a time, but there were many of them, and soon he got tired and said, "I will put you all in at once." They said, "Very well, Old Man," and all got in the ashes, but just as Old Man was about to cover them up one of them, a female, said, "Do not cover me up, for I fear the heat will hurt me." Old Man said, "Very well; if you do not wish to be covered up, you may sit over by the fire and watch the rest." Then he covered over all the others.
At length the prairie-dogs said, "sk, sk," but Old Man did not sweep off the ashes and pull them out of the fire. He let them stay there and die. The she one that was looking on ran to a hole, and as she went down in it, said, "sk, sk." Old Man chased her, but he got to the hole too late to catch her.
"Oh, well, you can go," he said; "there will be more prairie-dogs by and by."
When the prairie-dogs were roasted, Old Man cut some red willow twigs to place them on, and then sat down and began to eat. He ate until he was full, and then felt sleepy.
He said to his nose, "I am going to sleep now; watch out, and in case any bad thing comes about, wake me up." Then Old Man slept.
Pretty soon his nose snored, and Old Man woke up and said, "What is it?" The nose said, "A raven is flying by, over there." Old Man said, "That is nothing," and went to sleep again.
Soon his nose snored again, and Old Man said, "What is it now?" The nose said, "There is a coyote over there, coming this way." Old Man said, "A coyote is nothing," and again went to sleep.
Presently his nose snored again, but Old Man did not wake up. Again it snored, and called out, "Wake up, a bobcat is coming." Old Man paid no attention; he slept on.
The bobcat crept up to the fire and ate all the roasted prairie-dogs, and then went off and lay down on the flat rock and went to sleep. All this time the nose kept trying to awaken Old Man, and at last he awoke, and the nose said, "A bobcat is over there on that flat rock. He has eaten all your food." Then Old Man was so angry that he called out loud.
The tracks of the bobcat were all greasy from the food it had been eating, and Old Man followed these tracks. He went softly over to where the bobcat was sleeping, and seized it before it could wake up to bite or scratch him. The bobcat cried out, "Wait, let me speak a word or two," but Old Man would not listen.
"I will teach you to steal my food," he said. He pulled off the lynx's tail, pounded his head against the rock so as to make his face flat, pulled him out long so as to make him small-bellied, and then threw him into the brush. As he went sneaking away, Old Man said, "There, that is the way you bobcats shall always be." It is for this reason that the lynxes to-day look like that.
Old Man went to the fire, and looked at the red willow sticks where the roasted prairie-dogs had been, and when he saw them, and thought how his food was all gone, it made him angry at his nose. He said, "You fool, why did you not wake me?" He took the willow sticks and thrust them in the coals, and when they had caught fire he burnt his nose. This hurt, and he ran up on a hill and held his nose to the wind, and called to the wind to blow hard and cool him. A hard wind came, so hard that it blew him off the hill and away down to Birch Creek. As he was flying along he caught at the weeds and brush to stop himself, but nothing was strong enough to hold him. At last he grasped a birch tree. He held fast, and it did not give way. Although the wind whipped him about, this way and that, and tumbled him up and down, the tree held him. He kept calling to the wind to blow more softly, and at last it listened to him and went down.
Then he said, "This is a beautiful tree. It has saved me from being blown away and knocked all to pieces. I will make it pretty, and it shall always be like that." So he gashed the bark across with his stone knife, as you see the marks to-day.
THE RED-EYED DUCK
Once, long ago, Old Man was travelling north along a river. He carried a great pack on his back. After a time he came to a place where the river spread out and the water was quiet, and here many ducks were swimming about. Old Man did not look at the ducks, and kept travelling along; but presently some of the ducks saw him and looked at him and said to each other, "Who is that going along there with a pack on his back?" One duck said to the others, "That must be Old Man."
The duck that knew him called out, saying, "Hi, Old Man, where are you going?"
"I am going on farther," replied Old Man, "I have been sent for."
"What have you got in your pack?" said the duck.
"Those are my songs," answered Old Man. "Some people have asked me to come and sing for them."
"Stop for a while and sing for us," said the duck, "and we can have a dance."
"No," said Old Man, "I am in a hurry; I cannot stop now."
The duck kept persuading him to stop, and when it had asked him the fourth time, Old Man stopped and said to the ducks, "Well, I will stop for a little while and sing for you, and you can dance."
So the ducks all came out on the bank and stood in a circle, and Old Man began to sing. He sang one song, and then said, "Now, this next song is a medicine song, and while you dance you must keep your eyes shut. No one must look. If any one opens his eyes and looks, his eyes will turn red."
The ducks closed their eyes and Old Man began to sing, and they danced around; but Old Man took a stick, and every time one of them passed him, he knocked it on the head and threw it into the circle.
Presently one of the littlest ducks while dancing could not feel any one on either side of him, and he opened his eyes and looked, and saw what Old Man was doing. He cried out to the rest, "Run, run, Old Man is killing us"; and all the other ducks flew away, but ever since that time that little duck's eyes have been red. It is the horned grebe.
Old Man took the ducks and went off a little way and built a fire and hung some of the ducks up in front of it to roast, and after the fire was burning well, he swept away the ashes and buried some of the ducks in the ground and again swept back the fire over them. Then he lay down to wait for the birds to cook, and while they were cooking he fell asleep.
While he slept a coyote came sneaking along and saw Old Man sleeping there, and the ducks roasting by the fire. Very quietly he crept up to the fire and took the ducks one by one and ate them. Not one was left. Pretty soon he found those that were roasting under the fire, and dug them out, and opening them, ate the meat from the inside of the skin and filled each one with ashes and buried them all again. Then he went away.
Pretty soon Old Man woke up and saw that his ducks were gone, and when he saw the tracks about the fire, he knew that the coyote had taken them.
"It was lucky," said Old Man, "that I put some of those to roast under the fire." He dug them up from under the ashes, but when he took a big bite from one, his mouth and face were full of ashes.