Native American Legends
A Yinnuwok Legend
This is a tale the old men tell around the fire, when the stars
are blown clean on a windy night, and the coyotes are howling on
the Cree Jump. And when, sometimes, over the wind, comes clearly
the sound of running horses, their hearers move a little closer
to one another and pile more wood on the fire.
This is a story from a long time ago, say the Old Ones. What the
man's name was, no one knows now, and so they call him "The
Long ago, The Traveler was a wealthy chief. A warrior in his young
days, he had taken many scalps, many horses, and many another trophy
of value. And he had increased his possessions by hard dealings
with that less fortunate, and by gambling with younger men who were
no match for his cunning.
His fellow tribesmen did not love him although they admired his
bravery, for in times of hardship, when other chiefs shared freely
whatever they had, he drove hard bargains and generally prospered
from the ills of others. His wives he had abused till their parents
took them away; his children hated him, and he had no love for them.
There was only one thing he cared for: his horses. They were fine
horses, beautiful horses, for he kept only the best; and when a
young warrior returned from a raid with a particularly good horse,
The Traveler never rested until (whether by fair means or not) he
had it in his possession. At night, when the dance drum was brought
out, and the other Indians gathered round it, The Traveler went
alone to the place where his horses were picketed, to gloat over
his treasures. He loved them. But he loved only the ones that were
young, and handsome, and healthy a horse that was old, or sick,
or injured, received only abuse.
One morning, when he went to the little valley in which his horses
were kept, he found in the herd an ugly white stallion. He was old,
with crooked legs, and a matted coat, thin, and tired looking.
The Traveler flew into a rage. He took his rawhide rope, and caught
the poor old horse. Then, with a club, he beat him unmercifully.
When the animal fell to the ground, stunned, The Traveler broke
his legs with the club, and left him to die. He returned to his
lodge, feeling not the slightest remorse for his cruelty.
Later, deciding he might as well have the hide of the old horse,
he returned to the place where he had left him. But, to his surprise,
the white stallion was gone. That night, as The Traveler slept,
he had a dream. The white stallion appeared to him, and slowly turned
into a beautiful horse, shining white, with long mane and tail -
a horse more lovely than any The Traveler had ever seen.
Then the Stallion spoke: "If you had treated me kindly,"
the stallion said, "I would have brought you more horses. You
were cruel to me, so I shall take away the horses you have!"
When The Traveler awoke, he found his horses were gone. All that
day, he walked and searched, but when at nightfall he fell asleep
exhausted, he had found no trace of them. In his dreams, the White
Stallion came again, and said, "Do you wish to find your horses?
They are north, by a lake. You will sleep twice, before you come
As soon as he awakened in the morning, The Traveler hastened northward.
Two days' journey, and when he came to the lake there were no horses.
That night, the Ghost Stallion came again. "Do you wish to
find your horses?" he said. "They are east, in some hills.
There will be two sleeps before you came to the place.'
When the sun had gone down on the third day, The Traveler had searched
the hills, but had found no horses. And so it went night after night
the Stallion came to The Traveler, directing him to some distant
spot, but he never found his horses. He grew thin, and foots sore.
Sometimes he got a horse from some friendly camp; sometimes he stole
one, in the night. But always, before morning, would come a loud
drumming of hoofs, the Ghost Stallion and his band would gallop
by, and the horse of The Traveler would break its picket, and go
And never again did he have a horse; never again did he see his
own lodge. And he wanders, even to this day, the old men say, still
searching for his lost horses.
Sometimes, they say, on a windy autumn night when the stars shine
very clearly, and over on the Cree Jump the coyote's howl, above
the wind you may hear a rush of running horses, and the stumbling
footsteps of an old man. And, if you are very unlucky, you may see
the Stallion and his band, and The Traveler, still pursuing them,
still trying to get back his beautiful horses.
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