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Old Man and the roasted Squirrels

A Blackfoot Legend

One time as Old Man was walking along, he came to a place where many squirrels were playing in some very hot ashes. While some squirrels lay in the ashes, others would cover them with even more ashes. When the buried squirrels became so hot that they couldn't take the heat any more, they would call out to the others, who would take them out at once. After Old Man had watched them for a little while, he asked them if he could play with them, too.

When the squirrels said okay, he asked, "May I be baked first?"

"Oh, no," replied the squirrels. "We are afraid that you don't know how to play and that you'd be burned. We'll be baked first to show you how."

Old Man asked them again, but again they refused. At last Old Man agreed with them, on the condition that they'd let him cover all of them all at once. "There are so many of you," he said, "that it will save a lot of time to bury you all at once."

The squirrels agreed, and so he covered them all with hot ashes, with the exception of one who was about to become a mother. She begged him so pitifully not to be put in the ashes that Old Man said, "Well, go ahead. Run away, so that there may be other squirrels."

When all the other squirrels were covered with ashes, some of them became too warm and called out to Old Man to be taken out. Instead, he heaped more ashes over them and roasted them to death.

Then Old Man took some red willows and made a scaffold on which he laid his roasted squirrels. They made the willows greasy, which is why the red willow is greasy, even to this day. He ate as many of the squirrels as he could; in fact, he ate so many squirrels and became so full that he laid down beside a tree and went right to sleep.

While he was asleep, Lynx came along and ate all of the squirrels that were still on the scaffold. When Old Man woke up and found his roasted meat gone, he followed after the tracks, and finally came upon Lynx, who was fast asleep.

Old Man was so angry at Lynx that he grabbed Lynx by the ears and shortened his head by banging it into a stone. He pulled out the long tail and, after snapping it in half, stuck the brush part on Lynx's rear. He stretched the legs and the body of Lynx until they were long and skinny. Then Old Man threw him on the ground and said to him, "You bobcats will always have a bobtail. You will always be so short of breath that you will never run very far."

Old Man then realized that he'd been burnt by the hot ashes. So he called upon the wind to blow. Because the cool air made him feel better, he kept telling the wind to blow harder and harder. Soon, the wind was so wild that he was scooped up and blown far away. Every single tree he grabbed was pulled out of the ground, and he couldn't stop until he grabbed onto a birch tree. When the wind died down finally, he spoke angrily to the birch tree: "Why do you have so strong roots? Why can't I pull you up like all the other trees? I was having such a good time being blown all over, and then you stopped me."

He was so angry that he pulled out a knife and he slashed at the birch tree. This is why the birch tree has such beat-up looking bark now.

Old Man And The Lynx

This story is also re-told as "Old Man And The Lynx"...

Old Man was traveling round over the prairie, when he saw a lot of prairie-dogs sitting in a circle. They had built a fire, and were sitting around it. Old Man went toward them, and when he got near them, he began to cry, and said, "Let me, too, sit by that fire."

The prairie-dogs said: "All right, Old Man. Don't cry. Come and sit by the fire."

Old Man sat down, and saw that the prairie-dogs were playing a game. They would put one of their number in the fire and cover him up with the hot ashes; and then, after he had been there a little while, he would say sk, sk, and they would push the ashes off him, and pull him out.

Old Man said, "Teach me how to do that"; and they told him what to do, and put him in the fire, and covered him up with the ashes, and after a little while he said sk, sk, like a prairie-dog, and they pulled him out again. Then he did it to the prairie-dogs.

At first he put them in one at a time, but there were many of them, and pretty soon he got tired, and said, "Come, I will put you all in at once."

They said, "Very well, Old Man," and all got in the ashes; but just as Old Man was about to cover them up, one of them, a female heavy with young, said, "Do not cover me up; the heat may hurt my children, which are about to be born." Old Man said: "Very well. If you do not want to be covered up, you can sit over by the fire and watch the rest." Then he covered up all the others.

At length the prairie-dogs said sk, sk, but Old Man did not sweep the ashes off and pull them out of the fire. He let them stay there and die. The old she one ran off to a hole and, as she went down in it, said sk, sk.

Old Man chased her, but he got to the hole too late to catch her. So he said: "Oh, well, you can go. There will be more prairie-dogs by and by."

When the prairie-dogs were roasted, Old Man cut a lot of red willow brush to lay them on, and then sat down and began to eat. He ate until he was full, and then felt sleepy. He said to his nose: "I am going to sleep now. Watch for me and wake me up in case anything comes near." Then Old Man slept.

Pretty soon his nose snored, and he woke up and said, "What is it?" The nose said, "A raven is flying over there." Old Man said, "That is nothing," and went to sleep again.

Soon his nose snored again. Old Man said, "What is it now?" The nose said, "There is a coyote over there, coming this way." Old Man said, "A coyote is nothing," and again went to sleep. Presently his nose snored again, but Old Man did not wake up. Again it snored, and called out, "Wake up, a bob-cat is coming." Old Man paid no attention. He slept on.

The bob-cat crept up to where the fire was, and ate up all the roast prairie-dogs, and then went off and lay down on a flat rock, and went to sleep. All this time the nose kept trying to wake Old Man up, and at last he awoke, and the nose said: "A bob-cat is over there on that flat rock. He has eaten all your food." Then Old Man called out loud, he was so angry.

He went softly over to where the bob-cat lay, and seized it, before it could wake up to bite or scratch him. The bob-cat cried out, "Hold on, let me speak a word or two." But Old Man would not listen; he said, "I will teach you to steal my food." He pulled off the lynx's tail, pounded his head against the rock so as to make his face flat, pulled him out long, so as to make him small-bellied, and then threw him away into the brush. As he went sneaking off, Old Man said, "There, that is the way you bob-cats shall always be." That is the reason the lynxes look so today.

Old Man went back to the fire, and looked at the red willow sticks where his food had been, and it made him mad at his nose. He said, "You fool, why did you not wake me?" He took the willow sticks and thrust them in the coals, and when they took fire, he burned his nose. This pained him greatly, and he ran up on a hill and held his nose to the wind, and called on it to blow hard and cool him. A hard wind came, and it blew him away down to Birch Creek. As he was flying along, he caught at the weeds and brush to try to stop himself, but nothing was strong enough to hold him. At last he seized a birch tree. He held on to this, and it did not give way. Although the wind whipped him about, this way and that, and tumbled him up and down, the tree held him. He kept calling to the wind to blow gently, and finally it listened to him and went down.

So he said: "This is a beautiful tree. It has kept me from being blown away and knocked all to pieces. I will ornament it and it shall always be like that." So he gashed it across with his stone knife, as you see it today.

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