Native American Legends
How the Otter Skin became Great "Medicine"
A Blackfoot Legend
"One time, long before my grandfather was born, a young-man
of our tribe was unlucky in everything. No woman wanted to marry
him, because he couldn't kill enough meat to keep her in food and
clothes. Whenever he went hunting, his bow always broke or he would
lose his lance. If these things didn't happen, his horse would fall
and hurt him. Everybody talked about him and his bad luck, and although
he was fine-looking, he had no close friends, because of his ill
fortune. He tried to dream and get his medicine but no dream would
come. He grew sour and people were sorry for him all the time. Finally
his name was changed to 'The Unlucky-one,' which sounds bad to the
ear. He used to wander about alone a good deal, and one morning
he saw an old woman gathering wood by the side of a River. The Unlucky-one
was about to pass the old woman when she stopped him and asked:
"'Why are you so sad in your handsome face? Why is that sorry
look in your fine eyes?'
"'Because,' replied the young-man, 'I am the Unlucky-one.
Everything goes wrong with me, always. I don't want to live any
longer, for my heart is growing wicked.'
"'Come with me,' said the old woman, and he followed her until
she told him to sit down. Then she said: 'Listen to me. First you
must learn a song to sing, and this is it.' Then she sang a queer
song over and over again until the young-man had learned it well.
"'Now do what I tell you, and your heart shall be glad some
day.' She drew from her robe a pair of moccasins and a small sack
of dried meat. 'Here,' she said, 'put these moccasins on your feet
and take this sack of meat for food, for you must travel far. Go
on down this river until you come to a great beaver village. Their
lodges will be large and fine-looking and you will know the village
by the great size of the lodges. When you get to the place, you
must stand still for a long time, and then sing the song I taught
you. When you have finished the singing, a great white Beaver, chief
of all the Beavers in the world, will come to you. He is wise and
can tell you what to do to change your luck. After that I cannot
help you; but do what the white Beaver tells you, without asking
why. Now go, and be brave!'
"The young-man started at once. Long his steps were, for he
was young and strong. Far he traveled down the river -- saw many
beaver villages, too, but he did not stop, because the lodges were
not big, as the old woman told him they would be in the right village.
His feet grew tired for he traveled day and night without resting,
but his heart was brave and he believed what the old woman had told
"It was late on the third day when he came to a mighty beaver
village and here the lodges were greater than any he had ever seen
before. In the center of the camp was a monstrous lodge built of
great sticks and towering above the rest. All about, the ground
was neat and clean and bare as your hand. The Unlucky-one knew this
was the white Beaver's lodge -- knew that at last he had found the
chief of all the Beavers in the world; so he stood still for a long
time, and then sang that song.
"Soon a great white Beaver -- white as the snows of winter
-- came to him and asked: 'Why do you sing that song, my brother?
What do you want of me? I have never heard a man sing that song
before. You must be in trouble.'
"'I am the Unlucky-one, ' the young-man replied. 'I can do
nothing well. I can find no woman who will marry me. In the hunt
my bow will often break or my lance is poor. My medicine is bad
and I cannot dream. The people do not love me, and they pity me
as they do a sick child.'
"'I am sorry for you, ' said the white Beaver -- chief of
all the Beavers in the world -- 'but you must find my brother the
Coyote, who knows where Old- man's lodge is. The Coyote will do
your bidding if you sing that song when you see him. Take this stick
with you, because you will have a long journey, and with the stick
you may cross any river and not drown, if you keep it always in
your hand. That is all I can do for you, myself.'
"On down the river the Unlucky-one traveled and the sun was
low in the west on the fourth day, when he saw the Coyote on a hillside
near by. After looking at Coyote for a long time, the young-man
commenced to sing the song the old woman had taught him. When he
had finished the singing, the Coyote came up close and asked:
"'What is the matter? Why do you sing that song? I never heard
a man sing it before. What is it you want of me?'
"Then the Unlucky-one told the Coyote what he had told the
white Beaver, and showed the stick the Beaver-chief had given him,
to prove it.
"'I am hungry, too,' said the Unlucky-one, 'for I have eaten
all the dried meat the old woman gave me.'
"'Wait here,' said the Coyote, 'my brother the Wolf has just
killed a fat Doe, and perhaps he will give me a little of the meat
when I tell him about you and your troubles.'
"Away went the Coyote to beg for meat, and while he was gone
the young- man bathed his tired feet in a cool creek. Soon the Coyote
came back with meat, and young-man built a fire and ate some of
it, even before it was warm, for he was starving. When he had finished
the Coyote said:
"'Now I shall take you to Old-man's lodge, come.'
"They started, even though it was getting dark. Long they
traveled without stopping -- over plains and mountains -- through
great forests and across rivers, until they came to a cave in the
rough rocks on the side of a mighty mountain.
"'In there,' said the Coyote, 'you will find Old-man and he
can tell you what you want to know.'
"The Unlucky-one stood before the black hole in the rocks
for a long time, because he was afraid; but when he turned to speak
to the Coyote he found himself to be alone. The Coyote had gone
about his own business -- had silently slipped away in the night.
"Slowly and carefully the young-man began to creep into the
cave, feeling his way in the darkness. His heart was beating like
a tom-tom at a dance. Finally he saw a fire away back in the cave.
"The shadows danced about the stone sides of the cave as men
say the ghosts do; and they frightened him. But looking, he saw
a man sitting on the far side of the fire. The man's hair was like
the snow and very long. His face was wrinkled with the seams left
by many years of life and he was naked in the firelight that played
"Slowly the young-man stood upon his feet and began to walk
toward the fire with great fear in his heart. When he had reached
the place where the firelight fell upon him, the Old-man looked
up and said:
"'How, young-man, I am Old-man. Why did you come here? What
is it you want?'
"Then the Unlucky-one told Old-man just what he had told the
old woman and the white Beaver and the Coyote, and showed the stick
the Beaver had given him, to prove it.
"'Smoke,' said Old-man, and passed the pipe to his visitor.
After they had smoked Old-man said:
"'I will tell you what to do. On the top of this great mountain
there live many ghost-people and their chief is a great Owl. This
Owl is the only one who knows how you can change your luck, and
he will tell you if you are not afraid. Take this arrow and go among
those people, without fear. Show them you are unarmed as soon as
they see you. Now go!'
"Out into the night went the Unlucky-one and on up the mountain.
The way was rough and the wind blew from the north, chilling his
limbs and stinging his face, but on he went toward the mountain-top,
where the storm clouds sleep and the winter always stays. Drifts
of snow were piled all about, and the wind gathered it up and hurled
it at the young-man as though it were angry at him. The clouds waked
and gathered around him, making the night darker and the world lonelier
than before, but on the very top of the mountain he stopped and
tried to look through the clouds. Then he heard strange singing
all about him; but for a long time there was no singer in sight.
Finally the clouds parted and he saw a great circle of ghost-people
with large and ugly heads. They were seated on the icy ground and
on the drifts of snow and on the rocks, singing a warlike song that
made the heart of the young-man stand still, in dread. In the center
of the circle there sat a mighty Owl -- their chief. Ho! -- when
the ghost-people saw the Unlucky-one they rushed at him with many
lances and would have killed him but the Owl-chief cried, 'Stop!'
"The young-man folded his arms and said: 'I am unarmed --
come and see how a Blackfoot dies. I am not afraid of you.'
"'Ho!' said the Owl-chief, 'we kill no unarmed man. Sit down,
my son, and tell me what you want. Why do you come here? You must
be in trouble. You must smoke with me.'
"The Unlucky-one told the Owl-chief just what he had told
the old woman and the Beaver and the Coyote and Old-man, and showed
the stick that the white Beaver had given him and the arrow that
Old-man had given to him to prove it.
"'Good,' said the Owl-chief, 'I can help you, but first you
must help yourself. Take this bow. It is a medicine-bow; then you
will have a bow that will not break and an arrow that is good and
straight. Now go down this mountain until you come to a river. It
will be dark when you reach this river, but you will know the way.
There will be a great cottonwood-tree on the bank of the stream
where you first come to the water. At this tree, you must turn down
the stream and keep on traveling without rest, until you hear a
splashing in the water near you. When you hear the splashing, you
must shoot this arrow at the sound. Shoot quickly, for if you do
not you can never have any good luck. If you do as I have told you
the splasher will be killed and you must then take his hide and
wear it always. The skin that the splasher wears will make you a
lucky man. It will make anybody lucky and you may tell your people
that it is so.
"'Now go, for it is nearly day and we must sleep.'
"The young-man took his bow and arrow and the stick the white
Beaver had given him and started on his journey. All the day he
traveled, and far into the night. At last he came to a river and
on the bank he saw the great cottonwood-tree, just as the ghost
Owl had told him. At the tree the young- man turned down the stream
and in the dark easily found his way along the bank. Very soon he
heard a great splashing in the water near him, and -- zip -- he
let the arrow go at the sound -- then all was still again. He stood
and looked and listened, but for a long time could see nothing --
"Then the moon came out from under a cloud and just where
her light struck the river, he saw some animal floating -- dead.
With the magic stick the young-man walked out on the water, seized
the animal by the legs and drew it ashore. It was an Otter, and
the young-man took his hide, right there.
"A Wolf waited in the brush for the body of the Otter, and
the young-man gave it to him willingly, because he remembered the
meat the Wolf had given the Coyote. As soon as the young-man had
skinned the Otter he threw the hide over his shoulder and started
for his own country with a light heart, but at the first good place
he made a camp, and slept. That night he dreamed and all was well
"After days of travel he found his tribe again, and told what
had happened. He became a great hunter and a great chief among us.
He married the most beautiful woman in the tribe and was good to
her always. They had many children, and we remember his name as
one that was great in war.
That is all.
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