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Native American Legends

Sacred Otter

A Blackfoot Legend

Chill breezes had long forewarned the geese of the coming cold season, and the constant cry from about of "honk, honk," told the Indians that the birds' migration was in progress.

The buffalo-hunters of the Blackfoot, an Algonquin tribe, were abroad with the object of procuring the thick robes and the rich meat which would keep them warm and provide good fare through the desolate winter moons.

Sacred Otter had been lucky. Many buffaloes had fallen to him, and he was busily occupied in skinning them. But while the braves plied the knife quickly and deftly they heeded not the dun, lowering clouds heavy with tempest hanging like a black curtain over the northern horizon.

Suddenly the clouds swooped down from their place in the heavens like a flight of black eagles, and with a roar the blizzard were upon them. Sacred Otter and his son crouched beneath the carcass of a dead buffalo for shelter, but he knew that they would quickly perish unless they could find some better protection from the bitter wind.

So he made a small tipi, or tent, out of the buffalo's hide, and both crawled inside. Against this crazy shelter the snow quickly gathered and drifted, so that soon the inmates of the tiny lodge sank into a comfortable drowse induced by the gentle warmth. As Sacred Otter slept he dreamed.

Away in the distance he saw a great tipi, crowned with a color like the gold of sunlight, and painted with a cluster of stars symbolic of the North. The ruddy disc of the sun was pictured on the back, and to this was affixed the tail of the Sacred Buffalo. The skirts of the tipi were painted to represent ice, and on its side had been drawn four yellow legs with green claws, typical of the Thunder-bird. A buffalo in glaring red frowned above the door, and bunches of crow-feathers, with small bells attached, swung and tinkled in the breeze.

Sacred Otter, surprised at the unusual nature of the paintings, stood before the tipi lost in admiration of its decorations, when he was startled to hear a voice say: "Who walks around my tipi? Come in---come in!"

Sacred Otter entered, and beheld a tall, white-haired man, clothed all in white, sitting at the back of the lodge, of which he was the sole occupant. Sacred Otter took a seat, but the owner of the tipi never looked his way, smoking on in stolid silence. Before him was an earthen altar, on which was laid juniper, as in the Sun ceremony.

His face was painted yellow, with a red line in the region of the mouth, and another across the eyes to the ears. Across his breast he wore a mink-skin, and round his waist small strips of otter-skin, to all of which bells were attached.

For a long time, he kept silence, but at length he laid down his black stone pipe and addressed Sacred Otter as follows: "I am Es-tonea-pesta, the Lord of Cold Weather, and this, my dwelling, is the Snow-tipi, or Yellow Paint Lodge. I control and send the driving snow and biting winds from the Northland. You are here because I have taken pity on you, and on your son who was caught in the blizzard with you. Take this Snow-tipi with its symbols and medicines. Take also this mink-skin tobacco-pouch, this black stone pipe, and my supernatural power. You must make a tipi similar to this on your return to camp."

The Lord of Cold Weather then minutely explained to Sacred Otter the symbols of which he must make use in painting the lodge, and gave him the songs and ceremonies connected with it. At this juncture Sacred Otter awoke.

He observed that the storm had abated somewhat, and as soon as it grew fair enough he and his son crawled from their shelter and tramped home waist-high through the soft snow. Sacred Otter spent the long, cold nights in making a model of the Snow-tipi and painting it as he had been directed in his dream.

He also collected the "medicines" necessary for the ceremony, and in the spring, when new lodges were made, he built and made the Snow-tipi. The power of Sacred Otter waxed great because of his possession of the Snow- lodge which the Lord of Cold had vouchsafed to him in dream.

Soon was it proved.

Once more while hunting buffalo he and several companions were caught in a blizzard when many a weary mile from camp. They appealed to Sacred Otter to utilize the "medicine" of the Lord of Cold.

Directing that several women and children who were with the party should be placed on sledges, and that the men should go in advance and break a passage through the snow for the horses, he took the mink tobacco-pouch and the black stone pipe he had received from the Cold, maker and commenced to smoke. He blew the smoke in the direction whence the storm came and prayed to the Lord of Cold to have pity on the people.

Gradually the storm-clouds broke and cleared and on every side the blue sky was seen. The people hastened on, as they knew the blizzard was only being held back for a space. But their camp was at hand, and they soon reached it in safety.

Never again, however, would Sacred Otter use his mystic power. For he dreaded that he might offend the Lord of Cold. And who could afford to do that?

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