Stone Shirt

Stone Shirt

The Huron are rooted in the history of Upper and Lower Canada as the allies of the French during the French and Indian Wars. They are also known as the Wyandot (or Wendat) indigenous people of North America. The Wyandot language is part of the Iroquois language.

The fable that follows is from the Huron, cited in First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1879-1880 by J. W. Powell.

This fable is a story of revenge, deceit, magic, and other wondrous events, with a final pathos: “standing for a few moments over the body of their slain father, [the daughters] sang the death-song, and danced the death-dance, whirling in giddy circles about the dead hero, and wailing with despair, until they sank down and expired.
— Orly


Tûm-pwĭ-nai´-ro-gwĭ-nûmp, he who had a stone shirt, killed Sĭ-kor´, (the crane,) and stole his wife, and seeing that she had a child, and thinking it would be an encumbrance to them on their travels, he ordered her to kill it. But the mother, loving the babe, hid it under her dress, and carried it away to its grandmother. And Stone Shirt carried his captured bride to his own land.

In a few years the child grew to be a fine lad, under the care of his grandmother, and was her companion wherever she went.

One day they were digging flag roots, on the margin of the river, and putting them in a heap on the bank. When they had been at work a little while, the boy perceived that the roots came up with greater ease than was customary, and he asked the old woman the cause of this, but she did not know; and, as they continued their work, still the reeds came up with less effort, at which their wonder increased, until the grandmother said, “Surely, some strange thing is about to transpire.” Then the boy went to the heap where they had been placing the roots, and found that some one had taken them away, and he ran back, exclaiming, “Grandmother, did you take the roots away?” And she answered, “No, my child; perhaps some ghost has taken them off; let us dig no more; come away.”

But the boy was not satisfied, as he greatly desired to know what all this meant; so he searched about for a time, and at length found a man sitting under a tree, whom he taunted with being a thief, and threw mud and stones at him, until he broke the stranger’s leg, who answered not the boy, nor resented the injuries he received, but remained silent and sorrowful; and, when his leg was broken, he tied it up in sticks, and bathed it in the river, and sat down again under the tree, and beckoned the boy to approach.

When the lad came near, the stranger told him he had something of great importance to reveal. “My son,” said he, “did that old woman ever tell you about your father and mother?” “No,” answered the boy; “I have never heard of them.” “My son, do you see these bones scattered on the ground? Whose bones are these?” “How should I know?” answered the boy. “It may be that some elk or deer has been killed here.” “No,” said the old man. “Perhaps they are the bones of a bear;” but the old man shook his head. So the boy mentioned many other animals, but the stranger still shook his head, and finally said, “These are the bones of your father; Stone Shirt killed him, and left him to rot here on the ground, like a wolf.” And the boy was filled with indignation against the slayer of his father. Then the stranger asked, “Is your mother in yonder lodge?” and the boy replied, “No.” “Does your mother live on the banks of this river?” and the boy answered, “I don’t know my mother; I have never seen her; she is dead.” “My son,” replied the stranger, “Stone Shirt, who killed your father, stole your mother, and took her away to the shore of a distant lake, and there she is his wife to-day.” And the boy wept bitterly, and while the tears filled his eyes so that he could not see, the stranger disappeared.

Then the boy was filled with wonder at what he had seen and heard, and malice grew in his heart against his father’s enemy. He returned to the old woman, and said, “Grandmother, why have you lied to me about my father and mother?” and she answered not, for she knew that a ghost had told all to the boy. And the boy fell upon the ground weeping and sobbing, until he fell into a deep sleep, when strange things were told him.

His slumber continued three days and three nights, and when he awoke he said to his grandmother, “I am going away to enlist all nations in my fight,” and straightway he departed.

Finally, he returned in advance of the people whom he had enlisted, bringing with him Cĭn-au´-äv, the wolf, and To-go´-a, the rattlesnake. When the three had eaten food, the boy said to the old woman: “Grandmother, cut me in two.” But she demurred, saying she did not wish to kill one whom she loved so dearly. “Cut me in two,” demanded the boy, and he gave her a stone ax which he had brought from a distant country, and with a manner of great authority he again commanded her to cut him in two. So she stood before him, and severed him in twain, and fled in terror. And lo! each part took the form of an entire man, and the one beautiful boy appeared as two, and they were so much alike no one could tell them apart.

When the people or natives whom the boy had enlisted came pouring into the camp, Cĭn-au´-äv and To-go´-a were engaged in telling them of the wonderful thing that had happened to the boy, and that now there were two; and they all held it to be an augury of a successful expedition to the land of Stone Shirt. And they started on their journey.

Now the boy had been told in the dream of his three days’ slumber of a magical cup, and he had brought it home with him from his journey among the nations, and the So´-kûs Wai´-ûn-äts carried it between them, filled with water. Cĭn-au´-äv walked on their right and To-go´-a on their left, and the nations followed in the order in which they had been enlisted. There was a vast number of them, so that when they were stretched out in line it was one day’s journey from the front to the rear of the column.

When they had journeyed two days and were far out on the desert all the people thirsted, for they found no water, and they fell down upon the sand groaning, and murmuring that they had been deceived, and they cursed the One-Two.

But the So´-kûs Wai´-ûn-äts had been told in the wonderful dream of the suffering which would be endured and that the water which they carried in the cup was only to be used in dire necessity, and the brothers said to each other: “Now the time has come for us to drink the water.” And when one had quaffed of the magical bowl, he found it still full, and he gave it to the other to drink, and still it was full; and the One-Two gave it to the people, and one after another did they all drink, and still the cup was full to the brim.

But Cĭn-au´-äv was dead, and all the people mourned, for he was a great man. The brothers held the cup over him, and sprinkled him with water, when he arose and said: “Why do you disturb me? I did have a vision of mountain brooks and meadows, of cane where honey-dew was plenty.” They gave him the cup, and he drank also; but when he had finished there was none left. Refreshed and rejoicing they proceeded on their journey.

The next day, being without food, they were hungry, and all were about to perish; and again they murmured at the brothers, and cursed them. But the So´-kûs Wai´-ûn-äts saw in the distance an antelope, standing on an eminence in the plain, in bold relief against the sky; and Cĭn-au´-äv knew it was the wonderful antelope with many eyes, which Stone Shirt kept for his watchman; and he proposed to go and kill it, but To-go´-a demurred, and said: “It were better that I should go, for he will see you and run away.” But the So´-kûs Wai´-ûn-äts told Cĭn´-au´-äv to go; and he started in a direction away to the left of where 50the antelope was standing, that he might make a long detour about some hills, and come upon him from the other side. To-go´-a went a little way from camp, and called to the brothers: “Do you see me?” and they answered they did not. “Hunt for me;” and while they were hunting for him, the rattlesnake said: “I can see you; you are doing” —so and so, telling them what they were doing; but they could not find him.

Then, the rattlesnake came forth, declaring: “Now you know I can see others, and that I cannot be seen when I so desire. Cin-au´-äv cannot kill that antelope, for he has many eyes, and is the wonderful watchman of Stone Shirt; but I can kill him, for I can go where he is and he cannot see me.” So the brothers were convinced, and permitted him to go; and he went and killed the antelope. When Cin-au´-äv saw it fall, he was very angry, for he was extremely proud of his fame as a hunter, and anxious to have the honor of killing this famous antelope, and he ran up with the intention of killing To-go´-a; but when he drew near, and saw the antelope was fat, and would make a rich feast for the people, his anger was appeased. “What matters it,” said he, “who kills the game, when we can all eat it?”

So all the people were fed in abundance, and they proceeded on their journey.

The next day the people again suffered for water, and the magical cup was empty; but the So´-kûs Wai´-ûn-äts, having been told in their dream what to do, transformed themselves into doves, and flew away to a lake, on the margin of which was the home of Stone Shirt.

Coming near to the shore, they saw two maidens bathing in the water; and the birds stood and looked, for the maidens were very beautiful. Then they flew into some bushes, near by, to have a nearer view, and were caught in a snare which the girls had placed for intrusive birds. The beautiful maidens came up, and, taking the birds out of the snare, admired them very much, for they had never seen such birds before. They carried them to their father, Stone Shirt, who said: “My daughters, I very much fear these are spies from my enemies, for such birds do not live in our land”; and he was about to throw them into the fire, when the maidens besought him, with tears, that he would not destroy their beautiful birds; but he yielded to their entreaties with much misgiving. Then they took the birds to the shore of the lake, and set them free.

When the birds were at liberty once more, they flew around among the bushes, until they found the magical cup which they had lost, and taking it up, they carried it out into the middle of the lake and settled down upon the water, and the maidens supposed they were drowned.

The birds, when they had filled their cup, rose again, and went back to the people in the desert, where they arrived just at the right time to save them with the cup of water, from which each drank; and yet it was full until the last was satisfied, and then not a drop remained.

The brothers reported that they had seen Stone Shirt and his daughters.

The next day they came near to the home of the enemy, and the brothers, in proper person, went out to reconnoiter. Seeing a woman gleaning seeds, they drew near, and knew it was their mother, whom Stone Shirt had stolen from Sĭ-kor´, the crane. They told her they were her sons, but she denied it, and said she had never had but one son; but the boys related to her their history, with the origin of the two from one, and she was convinced. She tried to dissuade them from making war upon Stone Shirt, and told them that no arrow could possibly penetrate his armor, and that he was a great warrior, and had no other delight than in killing his enemies, and that his daughters also were furnished with magical bows and arrows, which they could shoot so fast that the arrows would fill the air like a cloud, and that it was not necessary for them to take aim, for their missiles went where they willed; they thought the arrows to the hearts of their enemies; and thus the maidens could kill the whole of the people before a common arrow could be shot by a common person. But the boys told her what the spirit had said in the long dream, and had promised that Stone Shirt should be killed. They told her to go down to the lake at dawn, so as not to be endangered by the battle.

During the night, the So´-kûs Wai´-ûn-äts transformed themselves into mice, and proceeded to the home of Stone Shirt, and found the magical bows and arrows that belonged to the maidens, and with their sharp teeth they cut the sinew on the backs of the bows, and nibbled the bow-strings, so that they were worthless, while To-go´-a hid himself under a rock near by.

When dawn came into the sky, Tûm-pwĭ-nai´-ro-gwĭ-nûmp, the Stone Shirt man, arose and walked out of his tent, exulting in his strength and security, and sat down upon the rock under which To-go´-a was hiding; and he, seeing his opportunity, sunk his fangs into the flesh of the hero. Stone Shirt sprang high into the air, and called to his daughters that they were betrayed, and that the enemy was near; and they seized their magical bows, and their quivers filled with magical arrows, and hurried to his defense. At the same time, all the nations who were surrounding the camp rushed down to battle. But the beautiful maidens, finding their weapons were destroyed, waved back their enemies, as if they would parley; and, standing for a few moments over the body of their slain father, sang the death-song, and danced the death-dance, whirling in giddy circles about the dead hero, and wailing with despair, until they sank down and expired.

The conquerers buried the maidens by the shores of the lake; but Tûm-pwĭ-nai´-ro-gwĭ-nûmp was left to rot, and his bones to bleach on the sands, as he had left Sĭ-kor´.


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