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A red man's view of evolution

A Kiowa Legend

One time, while we were camped on the Washita, said the agency farmer, we were visited by an old Kiowa, a dignified and serious old man.

I was introduced to him as the "White Father," out there to help the red men work and to show them the white man's road.

The old man said, "Aye, is that so!" but didn't seem very much impressed. After a moment's silence he got out his buffalo-horn tinder-box, and, after carefully examining the punk with which it was filled, began pecking with his flint in an effort to light his tinder-box.

I watched him pecking away for a while, sometimes hitting the flint, often barking his leathery fingers, and at last I said to a Cheyenne: "Why doesn't he use a match and done with it, not sit there pecking away all night?"

This being translated to the old Kiowa, he began to speak, but never for a moment interrupted his play with the flint, and this is what he said:

"You white men think you are very wise [peck, peck]. You have made little fire-sticks, and you think the red men can't get along without them [peck, peck]. I will tell you, we didn't have so much trouble in the good old days as we do now [peck, peck. The old man's stroke grew a little vicious.] Before the red man had the white man's fire-stick, we didn't have so many fires and we didn't have to move every few days on account of the prairie burning black." At this point he struck out his spark and hurriedly lighted his pipe. After puffing vigorously a few times, he continued calmly: "Now the red man uses the white man's fire-stick; he lights his pipe, he throws away the end: the grass blazes up, and then the ponies grow hungry. It is all bad business."

The old man smoked in silence for a few moments, but at last resumed: "Yes, these white men think they are very clever, but they are really very foolish; they are very ridiculous [puff, puff]. They think they are men, but look at them [puff], see the hair on their faces; they are not men, they are only hair-covered animals."

At this everybody in the tepee cried out with delight, and I, in self-defense, joined in the laughter, but the old man remained as grave as a bronze image. Reaching up with his forefinger, he outlined the beard upon my face and said slowly, hopefully, as if to be gently encouraging: "But they are changing. You see, the hair is wearing away -- in spots." Then settling back, he blew out a great cloud of smoke, and with patient paternal benignity concluded: "They'll be men by and by."

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