Native American Legends
The Lost Children
A Blackfoot Legend
Once a camp of people stopped on the bank of a river. There were
but a few lodges of them. One day the little children in the camp
crossed the river to play on the other side. For some time they
stayed near the bank, and then they went up over a little hill,
and found a bed of sand and gravel; and there they played for a
There were eleven of these children. Two of them were daughters
of the chief of the camp, and the smaller of these wanted the best
of everything. If any child found a pretty stone, she would try
to take it for herself. The other children did not like this, and
they began to tease the little girl, and to take her things away
from her. Then she got angry and began to cry, and the more she
cried, the more the children teased her; so at last she and her
sister left the others, and went back to the camp.
When they got there, they told their father what the other children
had done to them, and this made the chief very angry. He thought
for a little while, and then got up and went out of the lodge, and
called aloud, so that everybody might hear, saying: "Listen,
listen! Your children have teased my child and made her cry. Now
we will move away, and leave them behind. If they come back before
we get started, they shall be killed. If they follow us and overtake
the camp, they shall be killed. If the father and mother of any
one of them take them into their lodge, I will kill that father
and mother. Hurry now, hurry and pack up, so that we can go. Everybody
tear down the lodges, as quickly as you can."
When the people heard this, they felt very sorry, but they had
to do as the chief said; so they tore down the lodges, and quickly
packed the dog travois, and started off. They packed in such a hurry
that they left many little things lying in camp, knives and awls,
bone needles and moccasins.
The little children played about in the sand for a long time, but
at last they began to get hungry; and one little girl said to the
others, "I will go back to the camp, and get some dried meat
and bring it here, so that we may eat." And she started to
go to the camp. When she came to the top of the hill and looked
across the river, she saw that there were no lodges there, and did
not know what to think of it. She called down to the children, and
said, "The camp has gone"; but they did not believe her,
and went on playing. She kept on calling, and at last some of them
came to her, and then all, and saw that it was as she had said.
They went down to the river, and crossed it, and went to where the
lodges had stood. When they got there, they saw on the ground the
things that had been left out in packing; and as each child saw
and knew something that had belonged to its own parents, it cried
and sang a little song, saying: "Mother, here is your bone
needle; why did you leave your children?" "Father, here
is your arrow; why did you leave your children?" It was very
mournful, and they all cried.
There was among them a little girl who had on her back her baby
brother, whom she loved dearly. He was very young, a nursing child,
and already he was hungry and beginning to fret. This little girl
said to the others: "We do not know why they have gone, but
we know they have gone. We must follow the trail of the camp, and
try to catch up with them." So the children started to follow
the camp. They traveled on all day; and just at night they saw,
near the trail, a little lodge. They had heard the people talk of
a bad old woman who killed and ate persons, and some of the children
thought that this old woman might live here; and they were afraid
to go to the lodge. Others said: "Perhaps some person lives
here who has a good heart. We are very tired and very hungry and
have nothing to eat and no place to keep warm. Let us go to this
They went to it; and when they went in, they saw sitting by the
fire an old woman. She spoke kindly to them, and asked them where
they were traveling; and they told her that the camp had moved on
and left them, and that they were trying to find their people, that
they had nothing to eat, and were tired and hungry. The old woman
fed them, and told them to sleep here tonight, and tomorrow they
could go on and find their people. "The camp," she said,
"passed here today when the sun was low. They have not gone
far. Tomorrow you will overtake them." She spread some robes
on the ground and said: "Now lie here and sleep. Lie side by
side with your heads toward the fire, and when morning comes, you
can go on your journey." The children lay down and soon slept.
In the middle of the night, the old woman got up, and built a big
fire, and put on it a big stone kettle, full of water. Then she
took a big knife, and, commencing at one end of the row, began to
cut off the heads of the children, and to throw them into the pot.
The little girl with the baby brother lay at the other end of the
row, and while the old woman was doing this, she awoke and saw what
was taking place. When the old woman came near to her, she jumped
up and began to beg that she would not kill her. "I am strong,"
she said. "I will work hard for you. I can bring your wood
and water, and tan your skins. Do not kill my little brother and
me. Take pity on us and save us alive. Everybody has left us, but
do you have pity. You shall see how quickly I will work, how you
will always have plenty of wood. I can work quickly and well."
The old woman thought for a little while, then she said: "Well,
I will let you live for a time, anyhow. You shall sleep safely tonight."
The next day, early, the little girl took her brother on her back,
and went out and gathered a big pile of wood, and brought it to
the lodge before the old woman was awake. When she got up, she called
to the girl, "Go to the river and get a bucket of water."
The girl put her brother on her back, and took the bucket to go.
The old woman said to her: "Why do you carry that child everywhere?
Leave him here." The girl said: "Not so. He is always
with me, and if I leave him he will cry and make a great noise,
and you will not like that." The old woman grumbled, but the
girl went on down to the river.
When she got there, just as she was going to fill her bucket, she
saw standing by her a great bull. It was a mountain buffalo, one
of those who live in the timber; and the long hair of its head was
all full of pine needles and sticks and branches, and matted together.
(It was a Su'ye-st[)u]'mik, a water bull.) When the girl saw him,
she prayed him to take her across the river, and so to save her
and her little brother from the bad old woman. The bull said, "I
will take you across, but first you must take some of the sticks
out of my head." The girl begged him to start at once; but
the bull said, "No, first take the sticks out of my head."
The girl began to do it, but before she had done much, she heard
the old woman calling to her to bring the water. The girl called
back, "I am trying to get the water clear," and went on
fixing the buffalo's head. The old woman called again, saying, "Hurry,
hurry with that water." The girl answered, "Wait, I am
washing my little brother." Pretty soon the old woman called
out, "If you don't bring that water, I will kill you and your
brother." By this time the girl had most of the sticks out
of the bull's head, and he told her to get on his back, and went
into the water and swam with her across the river. As he reached
the other bank, the girl could see the old woman coming from her
lodge down to the river with a big stick in her hand.
When the bull reached the bank, the girl jumped off his back and
started off on the trail of the camp. The bull swam back again to
the other side of the river, and there stood the old woman. This
bull was a sort of servant of the old woman. She said to him: "Why
did you take those children across the river? Take me on your back
now and carry me across quickly, so that I can catch them."
The bull said, "First take these sticks out of my head."
"No," said the old woman; "first take me across,
then I will take the sticks out." The bull repeated, "First
take the sticks out of my head, then I will take you across."
This made the old woman very mad, and she hit him with the stick
she had in her hand; but when she saw that he would not go, she
began to pull the sticks out of his head very roughly, tearing out
great handfuls of hair, and every moment ordering him to go, and
threatening what she would do to him when she got back. At last
the bull took her on his back, and began to swim across with her,
but he did not swim fast enough to please her, so she began to pound
him with her club to make him go faster; and when the bull got to
the middle of the river, he rolled over on his side, and the old
woman slipped off, and was carried down the river and drowned.
The girl followed the trail of the camp for several days, feeding
on berries and roots that she dug; and at last one night after dark
she overtook the camp. She went into the lodge of an old woman,
who was camped off at one side, and the old woman pitied her and
gave her some food, and told her where her father's lodge was. The
girl went to it, but when she went in, her parents would not receive
her. She had tried to overtake them for the sake of her little brother,
who was growing thin and weak because he had not nursed; and now
her mother was afraid to have her stay with them. She even went
and told the chief that her children had come back. Now when the
chief heard that these two children had come back, he was angry;
and he ordered that the next day they should be tied to a post in
the camp, and that the people should move on and leave them here.
"Then," he said, "they cannot follow us."
The old woman who had pitied the children, when she heard what
the chief had ordered, made up a bundle of dried meat, and hid it
in the grass near the camp. Then she called her dog to her, a little
curly dog. She said to the dog:
"Now listen. Tomorrow when we are ready to start, I will call
you to come to me, but you must pay no attention to what I say.
Run off, and pretend to be chasing squirrels. I will try to catch
you, and if I do so, I will pretend to whip you; but do not follow
me. Stay behind, and when the camp has passed out of sight, chew
off the strings that bind those children; and when you have done
this, show them where I have hidden that food. Then you can follow
the camp and catch up to us." The dog stood before the old
woman, and listened to all that she said, turning his head from
side to side, as if paying close attention.
Next morning it was done as the chief had said. The children were
tied to the tree with raw hide strings, and the people tore down
all the lodges and moved off. The old woman called her dog to follow
her, but he was digging at a gopher hole and would not come. Then
she went up to him and struck at him hard with her whip, but he
dodged and ran away, and then stood looking at her. Then the old
woman got very mad and cursed him, but he paid no attention; and
finally she left him, and followed the camp. When the people had
all passed out of sight, the dog went to the children, and gnawed
the strings which tied them, until he had bitten them through. So
the children were free.
Then the dog was glad, and danced about and barked and ran round
and round. Pretty soon he came up to the little girl, and looked
up in her face, and then started away, trotting. Every little while
he would stop and look back. The girl thought he wanted her to follow
him. She did so, and he took her to where the bundle of dried meat
was, and showed it to her. Then, when he had done this, he jumped
up on her, and licked the baby's face, and then started off, running
as hard as he could along the trail of the camp, never stopping
to look back. The girl did not follow him. She now knew that it
was no use to go to the camp again. Their parents would not receive
them, and the chief would perhaps order them to be killed.
She went on her way, carrying her little brother and the bundle
of dried meat. She traveled for many days, and at last came to a
place where she thought she would stop. Here she built a little
lodge of poles and brush, and stayed there. One night she had a
dream, and an old woman came to her in the dream, and said to her,
"Tomorrow take your little brother, and tie him to one of the
lodge poles, and the next day tie him to another, and so every day
tie him to one of the poles, until you have gone all around the
lodge and have tied him to each pole. Then you will be helped, and
will no more have bad luck."
When the girl awoke in the morning, she remembered what the dream
had told her, and she bound her little brother to one of the lodge
poles; and each day after this she tied him to one of the poles.
Each day he grew larger, until, when she had gone all around the
lodge, he was grown to be a fine young man.
Now the girl was glad, and proud of her young brother who was so
large and noble-looking. He was quiet, not speaking much, and sometimes
for days he would not say anything. He seemed to be thinking all
the time. One morning he told the girl that he had a dream and that
he wished her to help him build a pis'kun. She was afraid to ask
him about the dream, for she thought if she asked questions he might
not like it. So she just said she was ready to do what he wished.
They built the pis'kun, and when it was finished, the boy said to
his sister: "The buffalo are to come to us, and you are not
to see them. When the time comes, you are to cover your head and
to hold your face close to the ground; and do not lift your head
nor look, until I throw a piece of kidney to you." The girl
said, "It shall be as you say."
When the time came, the boy told her where to go; and she went
to the place, a little way from the lodge, not far from the corral,
and sat down on the ground, and covered her head, holding her face
close to the earth. After she had sat there a little while, she
heard the sound of animals running, and she was excited and curious,
and raised her head to look; but all she saw was her brother, standing
near, looking at her. Before he could speak, she said to him: "I
thought I heard buffalo coming, and because I was anxious for food,
I forgot my promise and looked. Forgive me this time, and I will
try again." Again she bent her face to the ground, and covered
Soon she heard again the sound of animals running, at first a long
way off, and then coming nearer and nearer, until at last they seemed
close, and she thought they were going to run over her. She sprang
up in fright and looked about, but there was nothing to be seen
but her brother, looking sadly at her. She went close to him and
said: "Pity me. I was afraid, for I thought the buffalo were
going to run over me." He said: "This is the last time.
If again you look, we will starve; but if you do not look, we will
always have plenty, and will never be without meat." The girl
looked at him, and said, "I will try hard this time, and even
if those animals run right over me, I will not look until you throw
the kidney to me." Again she covered her head, pressing her
face against the earth and putting her hands against her ears, so
that she might not hear. Suddenly, sooner than she thought, she
felt the blow from the meat thrown at her, and, springing up, she
seized the kidney and began to eat it. Not far away was her brother,
bending over a fat cow; and, going up to him, she helped him with
the butchering. After that was done, she kindled a fire and cooked
the best parts of the meat, and they ate and were satisfied.
The boy became a great hunter. He made fine arrows that went faster
than a bird could fly, and when he was hunting, he watched all the
animals and all the birds, and learned their ways, and how to imitate
them when they called. While he was hunting, the girl dressed buffalo
hides and the skins of deer and other animals. She made a fine new
lodge, and the boy painted it with figures of all the birds and
the animals he had killed.
One day, when the girl was bringing water, she saw a little way
off a person coming. When she went in the lodge, she told her brother,
and he went out to meet the stranger. He found that he was friendly
and was hunting, but had had bad luck and killed nothing. He was
starving and in despair, when he saw this lone lodge and made up
his mind to go to it. As he came near it, he began to be afraid,
and to wonder if the people who lived there were enemies or ghosts;
but he thought, "I may as well die here as starve," so
he went boldly to it. The strange person was very much surprised
to see this handsome young man with the kind face, who could speak
his own language. The boy took him into the lodge, and the girl
put food before him. After he had eaten, he told his story, saying
that the game had left them, and that many of his people were dying
of hunger. As he talked, the girl listened; and at last she remembered
the man, and knew that he belonged to her camp. She asked him questions,
and he talked about all the people in the camp, and even spoke of
the old woman who owned the dog. The boy advised the stranger, after
he had rested, to return to his camp, and tell the people to move
up to this place, that here they would find plenty of game. After
he had gone, the boy and his sister talked of these things. The
girl had often told him what she had suffered, what the chief had
said and done, and how their own parents had turned against her,
and that the only person whose heart had been good to her was this
old woman. As the young man heard all this again, he was angry at
his parents and the chief, but he felt great kindness for the old
woman and her dog. When he learned that those bad people were living,
he made up his mind that they should suffer and die.
When the strange person reached his own camp, he told the people
how well he had been treated by these two persons, and that they
wished him to bring the whole camp to where they were, and that
there they should have plenty. This made great joy in the camp,
and all got ready to move. When they reached the lost children's
camp, they found everything as the stranger had said. The brother
gave a feast; and to those whom he liked he gave many presents,
but to the old woman and the dog he gave the best presents of all.
To the chief nothing at all was given, and this made him very much
ashamed. To the parents no food was given, but the boy tied a bone
to the lodge poles above the fire, and told the parents to eat from
it without touching it with their hands. They were very hungry,
and tried to eat from this bone; and as they were stretching out
their necks to reach it for it was above them the boy cut off their
heads with his knife. This frightened all the people, the chief
most of all; but the boy told them how it all was, and how he and
his sister had survived.
When he had finished speaking, the chief said he was sorry for
what he had done, and he proposed to his people that this young
man should be made their chief. They were glad to do this. The boy
was made the chief, and lived long to rule the people in that camp.
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