Native American Legends
Old Man and Old Woman
A Blackfoot Legend
Many years ago, there were only two people in the world; Old Man
and Old Woman. One time while they were traveling around the Earth,
Old Woman said to Old Man, "Let's come to an agreement of some
kind. Let's decide how the people should live when they come to
"Well," said Old Man, "I should have the first say
"I agree with you," said Old Woman. "That is, of
course, if I may have the second say in everything."
Then Old Man began to make his plans. "The women will have
the job of tanning hides. They will rub the brains of the animals
on the hides to make them soft, and scrape them with the scraping
tools. And they should do all of this very quickly, for it won't
be hard work."
"No," said Old Woman, "I won't agree to this. They
have to tan hides like you say, but it has to be hard work, so that
the good workers can be found out and honored."
"Well," said Old Man, "we will let the people have
eyes and mouths, set straight up and down in their faces in a nice,
"No," replied Old Woman. "Let's not do that that
way. Let's put the eyes and mouths in the face like you said, but
let's put them crosswise."
"Well," said Old Man, "the people will have ten
fingers on each hand."
"No, no, no!" Old Woman cried. "That's way too many.
They'd just get in the way. They should have four fingers and one
thumb on each hand."
And so the two went on like this until they'd decided everything
for how the people would live when they came to the Earth.
"What should we do about life and death?" asked Old Woman.
"Should the people live forever, or are they going to die sometime?"
Old Woman and Old Man had difficulty agreeing about this one. But
finally, Old Man said, "I'll tell you what. I'll throw a buffalo
chip in the water. If it floats, the people will die for four days
and then come back to life again; if it sinks, they'll die and stay
So, he threw a buffalo chip into the water, and it floated.
"No," said Old Woman, "We won't decide it that way,
since the buffalo chips always float. I'll throw this rock into
the water. If it floats, the people will die for four days and come
back, and if it sinks, they will die forever."
So, she threw the rock in the water, and it sank quickly. "There,"
said she. "It is better for the people to die forever. If they
didn't, they wouldn't feel sorry for each other, and there'd be
no sympathy in the world."
"Well," answered Old Man, "let it be that way, then."
After a while, Old Woman had a daughter, who soon became sick and
then died. Old Woman was then very sorry that they'd agreed that
people should die forever. "Let's talk this over again!"
"No." answered Old Man. "We're not changing what
we agreed upon."
And so, to this day, when people die, they stay dead.
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