|This is an old story of that Wenabozho, the one white
folks call Hiawatha.(2) Some of the old
timers tell that he had a weapon -- like a gun -- and that he'd sweep the
ducks off of the shore with that weapon. But in those days I don't think
there was a weapon. The fact of that story is that I don't believe there
was a gun. Still, some of them tell it different. Most generally in stories
it's told different, and I heard some say there had been a gun. I heard
it like that too. But I'm telling you the fact of the story as I see it.
The story of ducks and ki-nik-i-nik reads:
Wenabozho was kind of a shrewd fellow. Wenabozho was
shrewd, and he was very smart. He was all alone at the time. He'd cruise
around, talking to trees, animals, birds, and talking to the spirits --
I suppose -- and to his folks. He had a Grandma.
He'd be gone hunting for days. He came to a river and saw a bunch
of ducks there. Oh, there was a nice flock. There were all kinds of
ducks. "Gee, how am I going to get these?"
Wenabozho said, "I talk to the animals and the trees and
the birds. They understand me. I'm the one -- the living person -- that they
talk to and understand. I'm just living with them, but I understand
them too." He looked at the ducks. "I know what I'll do. I'll build
a wiigwaam. I'll invite these birds in after I've built a wiigwaam.
I'll invite them to a feast. I'll sing a song and they'll all come in
He built a wiigwaam. He got in his wiigwaam after it
was made, and he built a little fire in the center, and there was smoke.
He talked to the birds-- the ducks. "I want the ducks to come to
my house. This is a special invitation to you ducks. I want to meet
you in my wiigwaam. By meeting you in my wiigwaam you'll have
a better understanding of life, a better way of life, and I will be
glad to sing you some songs so that you may dance."
"Okay, quaack, quack, quack, quack, quaaack, quack, quack quack,
They were all happy, and laughing, you might as well say. He went
into the wiigwaam and started pounding on sticks and singing a
song by the little campfire in the wiigwaam. And he was singing,
"I want these birds to come and get acquainted." He was singing this
Indian song and he was pounding out other songs. "When you come in and
enter this wiigwaam," he said, "I want you to understand the rules.
Obey my rules, as you're the visitor, and I'll tell you long stories.
I'll tell you this and that. And you'll see that this is true by my
songs. You'll hear songs, and you'll keep a-singing and a-dancing. But
if you open your eyes, you'll have a mark you'll never forget. You're
going to have red eyes if you open your eyes. Obey my orders, otherwise
don't come in."
Oh they wanted to dance and sing some good songs. They all came
in and sang; they were dancing around, squackin'. He would look for
these green-heads. There was a pretty good bunch in there and he grabbed
the biggest one, rung him in the neck, and threw him out of the wiigwaam.
Well, he broke the neck.
He looked for another one, a good sized one. "Oh, geeze. I want
to get enough so I can eat for a few days." He kept right on
The ducks noticed that he kind of quit singing. He was busy at
something. And there was one duck in the bunch that peeked. He opened
his eye a little bit. He saw what Wenabozho was doing. He saw
him breaking those ducks' necks, ringing the necks of this duck and that duck. And
the little duck that peeked hollared out, "Hey, open your eyes! Look
what Wenabozho's doing to us. He's going to get us all if we
keep on closing our eyes."
By that time the little duck that peeked was heading for the door
and Wenabozho jumped up and he chased that duck all the way down
to the lake, down to the frontage of the lake. He chased him down to
that beach there and he gave that duck -- a helldiver -- a heck of a kick.
Wenabozho gave him a kick and he said, "You're one of them that
isn't going to be any good for anything in this coming world. You're
one of them that's going to have red eyes. I told you you're going to
have red eyes if you opened your eyes while I was singing in the wiigwaam.
And you're going to be flat on your back, and they'll call you a 'helldiver.'
You'll be good for nothing.(3) You go
out into the world. We'll discard you."
So that's a helldiver, and we discard him to this day. The other
ducks flew away and Wenabozho took what ducks he could get.
"Well, I got enough to eat anyway."
So he built another fire outside of the wiigwaam. He walked
up the shore and cleaned the ducks. And he was tired. He had a pretty
good location to fall asleep. "Well, I better build a fire here." He
built a fire there, a good hot fire, and he piled on a lot of wood.
When he built the fire, he said, "Well, I will roast these ducks."
He took sticks and shoved them in the ducks' throats, he took the guts
out, and he put the ducks by the fire. He was roasting them, like a
barbecue. He turned those sticks so they'd roast on both sides. You
could see the grease running out. "Boy, I'll have something to eat.
Oh boy, doesn't that look nice?"
He got sleepy. "Oh, it'll take quite a while before they cook through.
I'll lay down and sleep."
He talked to himself. He talked to the back part of his human body.
He said, "Hey, you're always giving me a warning when there's something
in sight. You're always giving me pretty good warning. I want to sleep,
so if any strangers come, you wake me up, eh? I'm going to sleep."
was talking to his hind-end.
He was good and tired and was thinking about the good meal he would
have. So he went to sleep, "Gee, it's good to rest."
A couple of Indians came paddling up the river. "What is that smoke
One of them said, "Oh, that's old Wenabozho. That's the
old Wenabozho. He's pretty shrewd and smart."
"Ha," the Indian said, "pretty shrewd and smart. He's got ducks
a-roastin'. Well," he said, "we'll just take the ducks. We'll just take them. Oh, they're all cooked well through. Boy this is nice, but
don't wake him up."
They took the ducks' legs and stuck them in the ground to make
believe that they were under the ground baking. "They're tender." The
Indians took those ducks and they left. "We showed him how smart he
Wenabozho woke up. "Oh, my ducks must be all right. Ohhh,
now I have to eat. They must be well done."
He looked around and all he found was feet.
He talked to himself.
He'd talk to himself, to his hind-end, just like he was talking to a
"Did you know I gave you those orders to give me a warning?"
He went up and got dry sticks and piled them on the fire. Then
he stepped over that flame. Oh, he was tough and shrewd. He was so mad,
and the flame was just burning him on his legs. He straddled that fire
just to be stubborn and mean. He straddled it to punish himself, to
punish his hind-end for not warning when the strangers showed up and
took his ducks. He was shrewd.
So he said to his hind-end, "Ha, I hear you saying 'chee,
chee, chee.' You must be blisterin' pretty good."
He turned around and kicked the fire.
He was a tough guy, you know.
Afterwards he walked up through the woods and along the shore where
there were willows, red willows -- that's kinickinik tobacco.
He looked back at all this kinickinik that he walked through,
and wherever his knees and legs hit, there was scabby looking blood
on those roots and blood on those twigs. It was kind of scabby red.
"Huh," he said, "my folks will come into this country and call that
kinickinik 'tobacco.' They'll have a peaceful good smoke out
And that's the way kinickinik was found. That's the secret
of it. And it's scabby red like that today yet. When they heard that,
the young folks -- while they were young -- never once thought they'd smoke.
They thought, "We aren't going to smoke old Wenabozho's scales!"
So that is a history of the story of that kinickinik. And
that is a history of those helldivers.
My grandmother used to tell us short stories. We have short stories
and long stories. We have a short story, like the one about the raccoon.
I'll tell you about ay-sI-b^n -- the raccoon -- who is always
searching for a meal, clams, life. In Indian we say ay-sI-b^n -- "ray-coon." That means he's searching for a meal; he's searching
for clams; he's searching for life. aay-sI-b^n travels and samples
everything. He clams.
You see, the animals years ago talked to one another, and they
could understand one another -- they still do, I suppose.
The old raccoon was walking along the beaches of the big sea, Gitchee
Gumee. The raccoon has always travelled in the spring of the
year. The raccoon went along the shore seeking for food -- trying to seek
food. He got aayss. We call aayss a seashell -- you know,
a sea shell, $ayss.
And along the lake shore he came to a bunch of lobsters -- a bunch
of those little crayfish -- and they'd hit for deep water every time he'd
get up there close to them. Those lobsters -- crayfish -- are the ones with
the pincers on them. They're saa-gaa-shii. saa-gay-shii
The raccoon saw a big crayfish head for the deep water. Raccoon
said, "Oh, you're pretty smart, aren't ya. You're going out to the deep
water where I can't get you. Well, I can get you if I want to. I'll
play a trick with you. I'll play my part of it."
And this raccoon said, "I can not get next to these crayfish. I
have to go and get some rotten wood."
So he went up to the shore and there was a rotten old wood pople
laying there. Pople, in Indian, is ad-saa$-day. aa-zaa-I-dii
means the pople. aah-saa-a-di mI-tIg is pople wood. That's
pople, it's a tree, wood, aa-saa-dii mI-tIg.
So he got that rotten -- white rotten -- wood. He took that rotten
old pople and chewed it up. He thought to himself, "Some of that rotten
pople is white, so I'll put it all over my mouth and rub it on myself.
It'll look like o-kwayg -- maggots. o$-kweg, it's "crawlers-in-a-group,"
crawling insects in a group. I'll play dead along the shore and those crayfish will come poke fun at me. They'll dance around because they
can get by me without me touching them. That's what they'll think, but
I'll get all I want to eat."
He put that rotten wood on his teeth. He put it all over. He put
some of the rotten pople on his hind-end too. It looked like maggots
on him. So he laid down there with all that rotten wood put all over
him. And then he went to sleep. He went to sleep on a lake shore.
Pretty soon one crayfish peeked his head out, and pretty soon they
all came. Those crayfish asked one another, "Is this guy sleeping?"
One crayfish came up next to the raccoon and said, "Oh, this stranger,
this stranger we have, is sleeping. Let's poke fun at him because he's
all played out."
"No," another one said, "he's dead. Look at the maggots in his
"Maybe he is dead. . . ."
And another one said, "Oh, let's have a wake and sing for him."
Before they sang they all examined him, "Oh, look at his mouth;
it's full of maggots. He's been eating something."
"He's dead. He's got maggots. Look at his teeth. Look at his teeth;
they're filled with maggots."
"Oh, those are maggots!! Oh, look at his hide!! All
over him he's got maggots!!"
But that was that rotten wood he had in there. That was only white
"Well, we'll sing a song."
So they started a song, singing around him, "He's dead. aay-si-b^n
Those crayfish started dancing around there and they sang, "Mr.
Raccoon has passed away. Mr. Raccoon will never come back." They all
danced. They were all dancing. They danced and sang, "raccoon
has died, ay'ssI-b^n, ay'ssI-b^n, ay'ssI-b^n,"
and, bang, bang, bang, bang, they'd hit the drum. They sang in Indian:
And once in a while they'd pinch him. gii-bIsh-ka -- that
means he's got a flinge on him when they pinch him. They'd take those
big pincers and pinch him. And all of them would look for a flinge.
Then they got up again. They gave it that singing again: "aay-si-b^n,
aay-si-b^n, nii-bi-w^-kaa-go. aay-si-b^n, aay-si-b^n,
nay-bish-kaaa, gii-bIsh-kaaa. Way$, ho,
ho, ho." They danced around him.
They'd pinch him anywhere, so they could see if he would flinch.
"Boy you're pinching me too much all over," raccoon thought. They'd
pinch him anywhere they could pinch him. He was lying there sideways.
They'd pinch him. He didn't flinch. Then they'd sing some more:
They pinched him again. This time they pinched him under the tail
in the back end. "aay-si-b^n," one of them spoke, to see if he
"Oh, boy, they have awful pinchers to poke fun at me," raccoon
thought. And that old raccoon thought, "It's pretty tough on me."
Sometime they pinched him too hard, and, he had to fight off saying
"ouch." He didn't want to say "ouch" because if he did, they'd know
he was alive.
Finally it got too rough for him. They pinched him too hard in
the back, under the tail.
They pinched him too hard in the back end. You'd flinch too, if
somebody pinched you in the hind-end. He twittered by the pinches of
the crab. He flinged, so they knew he's alive. He got mad.
"aay-si-b^n, he's alive!!"
"He's alive!! gii-bIsh-ka!!"
"Boy, it's about time for me to eat," he said. After he got mad
he jumped up. He just got up and made a swoop with his mouth. He got
up just as fast as he could. "kiup,
kuup, kup, kup. Kuup, kuup."
"Whiiiii-I$-ay!" They all hit for shore. When they finally
hit the water, they stuck their heads out. They looked back.
He gobbled a whole bunch down. The raccoon's quick and he got his
belly full right then. He had a good feast and he laid down and he said,
"Mr. Raccoon isn't so dumb. You're the guys that have been poking fun
of me with your pinchers all the time along the shore. I'll show you."
And that's how he got his beans. That's how he tricked them.
That's one story. We didn't have any TV. We had to have stories like
that from the old people. It was nice to hear stories. Everybody laughs
when they hear that. Oohh geeze that story's a laugh! Old raccoon always
got quite a few laughs.
I used to kind of believe those stories, the way they talked about
them. I've seen things like that. If you're in the woods and hike around,
searching for provisions for yourself, you know how Wenabozho and
the animals worked. When you're walking along the shores you'll see these
crabs -- lobsters, crayfish -- head for the deep water when you're passing by. They
are smart. They're afraid that the raccoon will come along and grab them.
He lives off of them. He tricked them that time.
With Wenabozho stories the kids just joked, laughed. They
wouldn't learn much, but they generally learned something. They were told
about the story of the frontier, and how hard it was, just to try to keep
the kids in good humor. But . . . they would learn that with power -- power in talking, in respect, and in other things -- there is an answer. Stories
build an example in the young people's minds. If they believe anything,
then they'll be thinking when they go out into the world. See, there is
an answer to anything. That's the way Wenabozho lived. He talked
to the Great, he talked to the ducks, he talked to himself. Everyone has
his own way of life. That's what that means.
From the story of the raccoon the kids will learn about the life
they have to go through. They'll learn how to search, and how to hunt,
and how hard it is to hunt. They'll find out that they have to learn the
tricks to hunt. They have to know how to do things, because the water
animals and the ducks and all that are tricky too. They have to learn,
and these are stories about how to do things. They don't have to do it
that way, but at least they'll know how hard it is.
There's another short story about the snake and the frog that we really liked to hear. The story
is about a frog and how we got medicine, a medicine that doesn't grow
here. It's a great medicine that'll take out the bite of a rattlesnake.
I think it's in the west more. It was a story about how we found this
great medicine. . . . We learned medicine from the frog.
. . .
I asked an Indian -- the old Indian -- one time, how the Indian knew
about that medicine we call "snakeroot" -- wii-káy$. I was
always full of questions in my young days, and I asked the old timers,
"How does this Indian know that stuff was so great -- so great?"
The old man said, "They watch the nature -- the nature of the seasonal animals.
They watch the nature, what they do. The animals go through those plants;
they're always moving through where that stuff grows. So what they need,
they know. That's nature. They're meditating themselves too -- some way,
you now. They're taking tonics and everything.
There was an Indian one time in the west, where there's rattlesnakes.
There was an Indian where they also had frogs -- in the west part of Minnesota,
maybe. They were riding horses them days. This boy was riding along the
prairie trying to find medicine by the nature of the animals. He'd watch
them. One time he stopped a while, probably to fill his pipe.
And he heard a darndest noise. He said, "something sounded like a
frog." He looked, and he saw a frog get bit by a poisonous snake -- a rattler.
Here was a rattlesnake who just let go of a frog. And he was watching that.
The rattlesnake had been disturbed, and crawled away for a distance. The
Indian probably was ready to shoot it, but the rattlesnake let the frog
And the Indian was sitting there watching. It was years ago. He was
watching that frog. "I wonder what he'll do now. He got bit." He was watching
it, waiting for it to die or something. The boy sat there and watched. The western
boy just sat there and watched the frog. So the frog came to. He started
moving his leg all right. And the frog hopped over. It was a big frog,
I suppose. It hopped over to a certain place. He saw that frog dig. This
frog went and dug in the ground, and put a root in his mouth, and chewed
In the meantime, the snake went away. The snake had struck at him
The frog chewed the root, and then he put it on his leg. The frog
took that root and chewed it, by some method. I mean he chewed
some of the vegetation of the root, or some part of it. He chewed it,
then he took it out of his mouth and put it on the wound. It draws the
poison out. That's supposed to kill that poison of that bite. It
disinfects. Then he sat there.
In a little while the frog began to hop around pretty good.
he got well out of this root.
That's how the Indian found that medicine. . . . We watched nature. . . .
It's a great medicine of some kind. It's a great medicine. There's
two, three, kinds, but I was asking about this special medicine,
the great medicine that'll take out the bit of a rattlesnake. They used
to have that, and they take the poison right out with this stuff. There's
two, three kinds, see. How do they know that? That's the way the Indian
finds out about medicines. They watch the nature -- the old timers did -- and
that's how they learn a lot of good medicine. We know lots of stuff that
works. That's how we learn. We practice stuff we see. A frog, if it's
a pretty good size, would tell -- it would almost tell you --
what he's doing.
We knew that you always learned something by watching nature, and
by listening to the lectures by the old timers. So when we were young
fellows we used to sit together talking, telling stories about what we
heard, and about what the old timers practice. And we were studying hard
how we were going to go along in this world. And we talked about what we would
do when we got a chance to practice when we were older boys.
"Yea," my friend said one time, "you hear a lot of stories." He said,
"There's a lot of stories about the animals that we practice on. I'll
tell you something what we seen. I'll still do it now." He said,
"Well, we got one toad one time, a pretty good sized toad. And we took
some tobacco. It was plug tobacco them days. We took that plug tobacco
and put a piece of that plug tobacco -- oh, as big as a fly --
on a piece of straw. Then we held it over this toad. He's setting there
watching. And we studied it. And that little speck on the end of the straw
would go by his head. We were testing it."
"Just that quick it looked like a little spear came out of his mouth, and he nabbed that
They were telling that. I heard them tell that.
"And we watched him for a while to see what he was gonna do. So the
frog, or toad," I think it was a toad, "they do that. All at once he'll
reach down with his hand, he'll put his hand down his throat, he'll wiggle
a while and pull that tobacco out."
And they laughed, you know, to tell how comical that looks. Well, toads can help themselves. They're pretty good at it, with those front
hands. He didn't like that tobacco. He probably was getting sick on it.
Then he reached down, and pulled it out.
The old timers use to tell that too. They'd laugh. Especially while
making hay on the meadows, while taking a rest, or taking a "five" around
the campground, this party will see what this fish or frog will do . .
. or any animal. That's quite a trick. And then they study how the toads
could help themselves. They must have a mind. They must have a
way of doing things to help themselves with those front, short arms. Why
are there fingers on there? See? They have four and five fingers. They
can handle them just like a person. That's what they thought; they wanted
to see that hand work. I don't know! I've heard that quite a few times.
"They do it," one old timer said. "They'll think that plug tobacco's a fly, and
they'll nab it quick. Then they'll sit there a while and then wiggle. They
don't like the taste of it. They'll start to get it out. They'll
push it back, and reach in their mouth."
A lot of things you hear, you know. But they study that, and then
They learn things from it. That's the only way they learn. See, I'm
speaking of that frog of the old stories that went to that special
root and then put that on its wound. And he got all right. The Indian
watched it 'til the frog hopped away. He watched it just for a few minutes
That root we now call "snakeroot" -- wii-káy$. We picked
that root up from the west. The Siouxs think the world of wii-káy$
because it keeps rattlesnakes away. The Sioux have a lot of rattlers out
west where they live.
Many things we find out like that. Many times we find out a way of
doctoring one another by watching the nature of the animals.
There's another story about aa-k^k-o-gíiss -- the woodchuck.
The kids like that story.
A woodchuck one time had been with her young ones for a long time.
The woodchuck always protects her little ones. She had three
to care for all summer. At the end of the summer she told the young
ones, "I have the bed all made for the winter. You better go in and
sleep now. The winter is coming. There's going to be a big blizzard
coming. You stay here for the winter."
So the little ones went in to go to sleep for the winter. And they
stayed there for the winter. A big blizzard came. Everything plugged
up with snow, and snow plugged the doorway.
While she was sleeping amongst her babies the mother woodchuck thought,
"Oh, the babies are big enough now to go out into the world on their
own. They will leave me soon and go out into the world. Ya, I'll be
old, and the young ones will be gone. They'll be making their own life
and a family. I won't know where they are; it's such a big country.
Hmmm, I don't know what to do. I hate to lose them. But it's the general
nature that young ones eventually leave. When the little ones leave the mother, sometimes they come back,
sometimes they don't." She was lying there thinking. And she began worrying that she was going to lose them.
Well, she fell asleep. The winter months passed around. The months
passed along as she plugged the doorway. The big blizzard also plugged
up the doorway on the outside.
Toward the end of the winter months the little ones were moving
around. They were playing around, scuffling there and scuffling here. The little ones wouldn't
behave. They kept squirming around in the den. They were playing, but
the mother woodchuck wanted to sleep some more.
One of them stuck his head out and there was a blizzard. "Oh boy.
Uh ah," he told the others, "the winter months are just going by. The
winter days are just going by. Snow is flying towards the south, and
the south is reversing to the north, and the snow is bearing down. It's
So the little ones laid back down to sleep.
The last of the winter months passed along, passed along.
The three were getting to be quite large little woodchucks.
Later on a big hot sun came along. Spring had arrived, and the
old woodchuck knew that spring had arrived. But she didn't want her
family to leave her, so she tried to tell her family to stay put. She
told them to stay with her until the leaves got bigger, so they could
feed. She kept telling them that.
The little ones just sat there, and the mother fell asleep again.
Later on she woke up again. She had enough sleep, and she was getting
pretty hungry. She got up and said, "Oh boy, this month we have nice
green grass out there. But you little ones stay here." The mother said,
"You little ones stay here. The snow is still deep in spots, you'll
get your feet wet. I'm going out to get something to eat."
So she went out and started eating on the leaves and green grass:
chup, chup, chup, chup.
She was eating all the greens she could get a hold of. She filled
up. "If my little ones get out," she thought, "they're going to leave
me. I better tell them, 'Oh, the storms are coming again. The snow storms
will be here again,' because I hate to lose them."
And every time she'd go out, the little ones would say, "I'm going
"No," she said, "I'm going out to test the weather to see how the
grass is coming, and how the leaves are coming. You stay here now."
"We know what we'll do," said one of the little ones, "she'll come
back and go to sleep in the den, and we'll examine her mouth. Maybe
she's eating something."
Finally she crawled back in. The old mother finally came back and
went to go to sleep in the den. She had her belly full. Boy!,
her belly was just full. "Hey," she said, "boy it's an awful blizzard
outside! Winter isn't over yet. You better stay a while." She called
them and told them about the snow storms that were coming, but she had
a little grass in her mouth she didn't wipe out. She told the kids,
"When I tell you to go, you go."
She was able to fool them because under the ground it was cool,
even though outside it was warm. She tried to keep them in there half
of the summer. They were starving to death and they wondered what she
dragged in. What she did drag in she put a little hay on top of.
Before she went to sleep she told the young ones, "Look in my head
and see if you can see anything that's crawling." The old lady told
them, "Look on my head. See if you can find any fleas or anything on
my head." As they were scratching around on her head she fell asleep. The
old lady went to sleep.
All three looked and they found a flea or so. In the meantime the
old lady was asleep, snoring. They were looking around on her head and
the big one said, "Hey, look it here! Look it here!" They opened her
lips and there was all green grass in there. "I know what," one of them
said, and she opened her mother's mouth again, "look there. Mother's
got greens in her teeth. There must be green grass somewhere out there."
"Hey, where did she get that green grass? She's got green leaves
and everything in her mouth. Here we're hungry, waiting for the green
to come out."
The little ones kept squirming around, playing in their tunnel
under the ground. The little woodchucks stayed there, playing in the
dens. Finally -- finally -- they got wise, these little ones.
"Where does mother go so long for?" Then all at once one of them said,
"Hey, let's investigate why mother tells us, 'Do not leave.'"
"I think there's a current of warm air coming from somewhere."
They took a peek outside. Sure enough, it was just as green as
could be, and the grass was tall. "We're big enough to take care of
ourselves. Let's take a peak outside." One of them finally said, "I'm
going out to see if it's time to get out into the world. I'm going out.
Hey, spring is here! Let her sleep. Let's sneak out."
And they sneaked out.
They went outside. They climbed up a tree and picked pople leaves.
They tried everything. Oh, the grass was green, the birds were flying,
and all the other woodchucks were just lying in the sun having a good
time. Oh gee! Oh, the leaves were big and the little woodchucks could
go eat the vegetation. They had all kinds of food.
"Let's not go home again. She'll lock us up. She doesn't want us
"She was fooling us. She wouldn't let us out," they said. "Now
we go out amongst the others. Now we have to make our own living. We're
going to eat leaves," they thought. "We're going to eat leaves."
They left home. They wouldn't say a word. They wouldn't talk to
her. They roamed around and earned their own living, and they left.
They got fat, and they were on their own. That's how they got away from
her. They left their mother and went off to join the other families
of woodchucks. They went out into the world to find their own provision.
They didn't need a mother around any more, but they said, "We'll come
back and visit mother sometime."
Mother got up. She woke up and the little ones were gone to provide
for their own. She woke up, and said, "Where are the kids? Oohh, . .
. they're gone out on their own now." Then the mother was all alone
again. So she sat lonely all the time. She ran around all over
looking for them, but they had gone into the world, searching for their
One time, years later, when she struck off, she found some big woodchucks. She
thought she had folks over here on the big point, where she was, so
she asked them, "Where you from?"
They looked around, and they recognized her. They said, "Look at
our old poor grandma." These that left had families and she got to be
grandma. And she was happy to see her grandchildren.
That's another story we would tell the young. That's comical. But
that's what happened. Those stories were examples. It's the same history
with people. That's the same thing in people. People are just like animals.
This story got the youngsters interested in the fact that they don't have
to stay at home and be restless. See, the mother woodchuck is tired of
them. She knew they would go out. She knew they'd disobey her, because
that's the animal way of life. They go out on their own, good and hungry,
to search for some of their own food. Otherwise she would have to be just
like the bear. She'd have to throw them out to go on their own support.
She didn't tell them anything about how to find their own provision of
their life, but when they saw the hard way of that, they learned. They
learned the hard way.
The kids would get to thinking when they heard that story, and they'd laugh. They learn from
that. The children would ask themselves, "Why did those woodchucks say,
'I have to learn to provide for myself?'" That's what the story is for.
It's for example. If they want to stay in the den, they won't make it.
They'll starve if they stay in the den. It'll be a long time before the
old woodchuck takes anything in there for them, when she can get all she
wants outside. When they hear that story the little ones think, "Why don't I get out and try?"
The bears do that too.
Ya, the story you imagine is just like TV. The way the old people
tell them to you, you could see the picture of it -- if you sit
and listen. But if you want to talk back, you aren't thinking. We learn
from the expression of the old people, for example, and we think about
their points. That's why we like to hear old people talk. We wonder why they say
this. Then after all is over, we see why they told us those stories. It's
for a perfect understanding of life, not only for your own good, but also
for love to children. All animals and everything have little ones.
quite a story.
You never know when they invented those stories. Maybe it was four
thousand years ago. Who knows? There were animals; there were people then.
You don't know when they invented these stories. You don't know.
What came first, the animals or the people? How did the bear get here?
What was he before he was a bear? That's one question there.
How did he come? Where did he come from? He's built like a man, and
a man's built like a bear. So who came first? Who knows? There's something
to that. They're built like people. Some animals are built like people.
They have muscles.
I got a bear once. I got about a two-hundred pound, three-hundred
pound, bear. I got him way out in the woods, in the wilderness where he
lived on a few berries -- strawberries and blueberries. We took that meat
home. I took the bear home. After I got the hide off, he laid there. Somebody
said, "It looks like a person."
Telling stories is a good pass time in the winter. We never told
stories much in the summer because the old folks had other work to do.
But in the winter, telling stories was a good pass time. The old folks
had all kinds of stories to tell while teaching the younger people.
Another one of our favorite stories was the one about the crows and
the big fish.
This is a story about the Indian. Once upon a time there was a
couple on some land -- on high land. They figured they'd go on a canoe
trip of some kind, for which they made up plans. For this canoe trip the man said,
"We'll take the two little children." And the woman said, "All right.
We'll take enough food to go. We may strike some island in this big
sea and we may find something. We might find something different on
another island. We may find some other people in this area. We may find
some of our people that might understand our language, or maybe not.
They will learn from us."
So they struck off out on the sea. This is not the Great
Lakes -- not Gitchie-Gumee, Lake Superior. It's the ocean. I often thought about these storms and waves,
because when the sea got rough, it was really rough.
They paddled, and they sailed, and they drifted along. The birch bark canoe
floats like a duck over the waves -- coasting along, drifting along.
They were wondering if they could come to islands or other seas. And
they drifted out. They got lost out there in the fog. They kept paddling
right into the waves, but they couldn't resist the waves, so they turned
around to come back.
All at once it turned kind of dark, and one of them looked back.
The woman looked back. She said, "Father, look back." And the father
looked back and saw water shooting up. Something was following them,
and it was getting pretty close. As it raised out of the water they
could see that it was black -- dark. It opened its mouth.
She said, "Throw in some of the lunch we have for our trip."
They threw in the lunch, and they threw in different things. He
threw in his birch bark dishes -- his dishes they ate food on. He threw
every one of them in, but the animal came ahead more. Boy I'll tell
you! Every time they threw something in, that would slow it down a little,
but it kept following them. So finally they didn't have anything in
the boat to throw in. Finally the man said, "I can not throw in my knife."
They didn't have anything else to throw in the water to offset this
animal that was following them, so it kept coming closer.
The mother said, "We still have our children, but we can't do anything.
He gets closer all the time."
The big animal of the sea came closer and closer. "The only thing
we can do," he said, "is to wait and see what happens."
And just that very moment they found a shade going over them. And
that shade came down on the boat -- the canoe -- which they had. The first
thing they knew they were passing through a small channel. They
went through that channel, and when they got through that channel they came
into a big room -- it seemed room-like.
They asked one another, "What are we going to do about our children?"
"There is nothing we can do. Stay with them. We're lost. We can't
paddle. We can't move out."
The man said, "I still have a knife."
"OK, but we're captured by this big sea animal."
It was chi-gáy-i-go -- the biggest fish. It's the biggest
fish there is. That was -- you might as well say -- a big whale they ended up in. This big sea animal was a big whale. It was his water they saw shooting
up. It was one of the biggest whales there was in the sea. It must have
been as big as a house. It was big.
They traveled. They traveled with speed and they rocked and were
rolling. That whale kept traveling and floating around from one place
to another under the water at the bottom of the sea. They could hear
the heart thrump in the big animal. The man said, "I hear a thrump of
the heart somewhere. There must be a life somewhere in this big animal.
It is a big room, a very empty place; there are different parts of the
You can walk in this big whale-animal, and he did. He saw a big
heart, and he took his knife and cut the heart. Just that minute that
heart thrumped and dropped.
"What's happening?" the woman said. "He is struggling."
"I think I have done damages to this big animal."
So everything was quieting down. Later on, this animal came to
the surface of the water. It was floating along for many days. They
floated and floated, drifted and drifted. They got hungry there, so
they took a nip of the oil of the fish. They took a nip of that great
animal whenever they got hungry. This oil of the fish was great; it
kept them alive. . . .
It was maybe like cod liver oil. The fish is a great help to you,
and cod liver oil is a great help.
. . . That's a testing. So, never be afraid of fish. Respect fish.
They floated along and floated along -- for many days they floated.
They didn't know where they were going. Finally the waves pushed this
great thing somewhere. It was a big wave that had pushed them on high
land. So there they were.
But they couldn't get out of the big animal. They couldn't get
out, so they had to stay locked in. They didn't know where to get out.
It was a big-tonned animal -- a fish weighing many tons. So in this animal
they slept. One morning after they had been there a long time, they
woke up and heard a thump on the top. The woman said, "I hear something
pounding. Is he coming alive again?"
"Can't be," the man said. "I did damage to this great sea animal.
But they heard tap, tap, tap again. It seemed like the heart was coming
alive. "Well, maybe it can be," the man said. "Even though I have done
damages on the animal we may see life again."
One morning they heard a tap again, and there were many taps this
time. When the many taps came they saw a little light coming from above.
And the light of the ceiling got bigger and bigger. She said, "If you
can go up there, probably you can make that light bigger with your knife."
He had to get up there to see where he was at. He got up there somehow.
He climbed up there. He got up there and made a couple of slashes.
He stuck his head out and there was a crow there. There were several crows
flying around. This crow tapped the hole and showed him the light -- where
to come to for the light. There were many crows that were eating on
that hole of the fish. He cut the hole big enough for him to get out.
He pulled out his family. He pulled out his wife and kids. They were
on land and sea. There were many crows and wild animals on this land.
They looked, "Isn't it a great, beautiful country we entered? There
must be some people here that we could find. Look at the vegetation,
look at the berries, look at all the plants -- we can live on this land."
So they went along on this land and they saw wild animals. There
were different animals, but all he had was a little knife. He was able
to find rocks, and he got so good with his little knife that he was
able to make himself a bow and arrow.
He raised a family and finally he met other people. They continued
on as they made it along in this world and met people later on. They met some other couple
when they were on the coast, and they began talking . . . and understood one
another. And they raised families.
The other Indians they met as they went along came from the same tribe, but they lost
their language. They came from along the new coast, from along the coast
of this island. They came from the West. And the one's in the boat came
from the East. They couldn't understand one another at first, but by
traveling with them, by making motions and learning the way, pretty
soon they learned what they meant when they talked to one another. The
ones that were in the big fish came to have a great life in this country.
Eventually there were "floaters" that also came in.(5)
"Nice country here," they said.
"It has to be, there was no way of getting out. There is lots to
do. There is lots for us to do here. We have to bring our children forth
and make them understand how hard it is to find a betterment for all."
They love it here, and they earned it. If they dissolved in the
fish they wouldn't be here -- but, thanks to the crows, they didn't.
That's all. That's the end.
We used to say, "Grandma, Grandpa, tell about that story again." Boy
that's an old story. That is an old, old story. And I like that story
in life. I just enjoy it. How hard it was for the old people when they were young compared
with their children now-a-days.(6) Just think. That's
the only means of entertainment that we had. There was no radio; there
was no television. When they were telling stories you could just see the
A lot of Indians told that story. Chii-no-dIn, "Big-Wind,"
"Big-Storm," -- Katie Buffalo, Henry Buffalo's wife -- told me that story.
And my mom told that story too. Then I had an uncle -- Henry Buffalo -- who
would tell it. Other old people told me too. My grandma, M^-gíid,
Margaret Buffalo -- Old Lady Henry Buffalo -- was an old lady when she told
that. She was about eighty years old when she told it. That's how it was
passed on. That was a great story. They'd all tell us about the big sea
lion -- that's what we called the big fish that was chasing them -- and
how the people came here to live.
I heard this story lots when I was a young boy, but the first time I paid
any attention to what it meant was when I was seventeen. Gee that's something
to think about. Many years ago -- maybe -- that was passed on. What I mean
is many years ago, when they went by waters and land. There was
no air travelling, no big boat traveling. That's the way they travel.
That's quite a book, you know. Ya, I kept that in my head a long time.
We don't know where the people in the fish came from. But that's
the story. It sounded like they were in some new country, on some island,
or in some other country. In those days there were Indians all along the
ocean. They were crossing the sea with the canoe, looking around to see
what they could find. And we don't know where they landed. All I know
is that where they landed was along the coast of the ocean. It was somewhere
along the coast of the ocean. We can't tell exactly where Wenabozho
and all of them played the grounds on the lakeshores. This is a story
of it, and it was a hard life to get there. Wow! They end up on this island,
looking around to seek a betterment. This country was better. They ended
up here. That's it; that's the point. That's a story.
That's just a story I'm telling you, that the old people used to
tell about. It was just a campfire talk by the older class to the younger
generation. But the old people always used to listen in too. That was
a good story. Some of them newcomers coming in didn't hear that story
before,(7) but when our story-tellers told
it, they thought it was great. After a story we felt good. They would
say, "For betterments we better keep it that way." We liked campfire talk.(8)
From that story we learned how hard the father and mother had to
work to get a betterment. We learned what hardships we had, and how we
had to learn to do our best to find our way. We learned that we should
never give up, that we should stay right with 'er. Something is better
all the time. You suffer for what you get. That's what it means; you suffer
for what good you want. If you suffer a few days -- thirty days -- you get
repaid. They got a big pay. They got repaid by the fruit of the island,
the fruit of this country. It was tough going. We learned that you can't
get anything for nothing. You have to suffer for it. You have to work
for it. On that voyage, when they were coming, they didn't know whether
they were going to make it, but it seems like they got help somehow.
The crows helped. Crow is ahn-dayg. He's the first one that
will pick along the coast. He's the main channel of life. Their flocks
go to wherever something is going on, wherever something is wrong. And whenever
there's danger, the crows cried. You disturb a flock of crows and they'll
make a lot of noise. Something is there that isn't supposed to be there.
The crows are not good for anything, but they were always there. They
tapped. They warned. So now we all love crows. They clean up the dirt.(9)
The crow is a big thing. He can not be eaten, but he cleans the country.
He's got the black clothes on like that. Crow, black feathers. They repaid
the crows for helping them. The crows showed them the light. So wherever
there are people now, sure, they don't eat the crows. We respect the crows.
The crow is the big thing that'll clean the country.
Boy, that's a dandy story! We think a lot of stories like that. That's
the only means they had to teach us to go forth. That story taught us
about the hardships we have to suffer, and to stay right with it, go right
through with it, and you'll make it for betterment -- if you're looking
for a betterment. And that story taught us that you have to try hard for
How hard they had it to stay in the big sea animal. They thought they might
as well stay in there -- until the crows came and tap-tap-taped some more.
Oh, it's a story -- just a story; they're fairy tales you know.
But that story was interesting for the kids. And we used to say, "Grandma,
Grandpa, tell it again." It's good for the kids to hear that; then they grow up, and they remember that. We had lots of stories
and campfire lectures. Some old people would often be talking about their experiences
of life and what they heard. That's the way we studied about life. Life was a hardship -- sometimes.
Maybe it wasn't easy, but we made it easier by thinking about these stories. That's the way
we used our head. We look back and we look ahead. We have two sides to
look. If you look ahead only, you won't make it. Look only sideways, then you'll
cross. Now-a-days look back. Did you make it better? We're looking for betterment
all the time. Where are we going to find it? We have to look hard. We
have to study hard by lectures, by experience, by studying what's behind us. Maybe
there's something better ahead -- better weather, or something. When we
see something better we feel good, and when we see something bad it makes
us feel bad.
In those days the air was pure. We had fruit of all kinds, and animals.
We talk to the animals. We were able to talk to the animals. We would
thank the Great: "It is Yours that You handed down for us to eat." We
had timber; we had to build our houses; we had bark and everything --
we started in on bark and brush. After a while we learned new ways by
putting up log houses. We made huts and everything. Very well! Everybody
was learning all the time the hard way, by working. But really, we also
learned a lot by listening to and thinking about stories.
1. See Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks."
2. For references to Hiawatha and Wenabozho see Footnote 1, Ch. 19, "Wenabozho
and the Creation of the Current World."
3. Generally Paul and his people do not eat helldivers.
4. "A Holy Christ." (Paul Buffalo is imitating
Joe Barns' speech pattern -- the friend whose funeral starts this biography.)
5. "Floaters" are strangers who migrate into (and through) others' territories,
and who do not remain in the areas their people typically live in from season
to season. "Floaters" may float because animal populations in their own
areas are low, or the wild rice or berry crops may be down, or they may be stragglers going to or coming from powwows/celebrations/gatherings in more distant villages, or there may be "too
much pressure from the whites." Groups that "float" are very different
from individuals who "float" alone. Individuals that "float" are
generally considered in some way to be or have been outcasts from their
own groups. In some important ways individuals who "float" are, at least
initially, thought to be socially defective and undesirable. Group "floaters"
might be OK. Individuals who come into a group's territory as part of courtship and marriage practices are not considered "floaters."
6. It was harder for the old timers when they were young compared with current-day children.
7. Here and there a member of another tribe or group would
marry and move into the Leech Lake area, and they were not always familiar
with this story -- especially if they moved in from the Plains.
8. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks."
9. Including scavenging dead carcasses.