Native American Legends
The Moose Woman
A Seneca Legend
A young man, who lived alone with his mother, decided that he would
go to the forest and hunt; that he would stay away a, year, collect
and dry meat, and at the end of the year come home.
He started and after going a long distance, came to a region where
he thought there would be plenty of game. He built a bark house
and began housekeeping. Each morning he made a fire, cooked his
breakfast and ate it, then went out to hunt. He stayed away all
day and when he came home at night, he was often so tired that he
lay down without eating. He soon had a large quantity of meat but
many times he was hungry.
One day, when coming back from a long tramp, he saw smoke rising
from the smoke-hole of his cabin. He was frightened, for he was
sure the cabin was on fire. He ran as fast as he could, thinking
he might save some of the meat he had dried.
On going into the cabin he was surprised to see a fire in the fireplace
and his kettle hanging on the crook in such a way as to keep its
contents hot. He wondered who had come to cook for him. In all the
time he had lived in the forest he had not found a cabin or seen
a human being. He saw that the deer he had brought home the evening
before was dressed and hung up to dry; that wood had been brought
in and piled up near the fire; that everything had been put in order
and acorn bread made.
On the way home he had thought that he would lie down as soon as
he got to the cabin, but now he was glad to find a warm meal awaiting
him. He sat down and ate, thinking, "The person who got this ready
will come soon," but no one came.
The next morning he went into the forest to hunt. When on the way
home he looked to see if smoke was coming out of his cabin; it was,
and again food was ready. Near the fire he found. a partly finished
braid. Then he knew that his unknown friend was a woman. She had
put a number of deer skins to soak to make buckskin. He thought,
"How kind she is," and he made up his mind to see her, even if he
had to stop hunting.
In the morning he started off, as usual, but only went to a place
in the woods where he could watch the cabin. Soon he saw smoke rising
from the cabin, and, creeping back cautiously, he waited around
till a woman came out for wood. When she went in he followed quickly.
He saw that the woman was young and good-looking and he said to
her, "You have been kind to me, I am thankful."
She said, "I knew that you were often hungry and I came to see
if you would let me be your wife."
The young man was glad that the woman was willing to stay. After
that she tanned deer skins, dried meat, cooked for him, and worked
hard every day. She was good natured and kind and her husband loved
Before the end of the year a boy was born and then they were perfectly
When the time came that the man had set to go back to his mother,
his wife said, "I know your promise to your mother. The time has
come for you to go. I have everything ready, I have made moccasins
for you and for your mother, and there is plenty of meat."
"How can I carry the meat?" asked the man, "She lives a long way
"You have only to select the meat you want; I know how you can
She knew how he came to the forest, and that he could reach his
village much quicker by going in a canoe down the river.
Early the next morning she asked him to go to the river with her--it
was not far from the cabin. When they came I o the bank, she took
a tiny canoe from her bosom. Her husband wondered what she was going
to do with such a little plaything.
"Take hold of one end of this," said the woman, "and pull away
He did and the little canoe stretched and stretched till it was
very long and wide. They placed it at the edge of the water, then
brought basketful after basketful of meat from the cabin and packed
it away in the canoe.
When the canoe was well loaded the woman gave her husband a package,
and said, "I want you to put on a new pair of moccasins each morning
and throw away the old ones."
Then she cautioned him not to forget her, said, "When people see
what a good hunter you are, many women will want to marry you, but
you must be true to me, if you are not you will never see me again."
The man promised to come back in the Fall, and they parted.
When he reached home, news spread that such a woman's son had returned
from a year's hunting and had brought a great deal of meat. People
came to see him and to look at the meat. He told no one, not even
his mother, that he was married, so many young girls asked for him.
His mother had a nice looking girl whom she liked and she urged
her son to marry her, but he refused.
After a while he said to his mother, "I am going to the woods again.
I have a cabin there. Some time you will know why I don't marry
the girl you have chosen for me."
When he reached the river, he shook the little canoe, as his wife
had told him to do. It stretched out, but was not as large as before,
for he had no meat to carry. He sat in the canoe and started up
the river. When near his cabin, he saw his wife waiting for him
and his little boy running around at play.
The husband and wife were very happy again. Another year went by
and a second boy was born to them.
Again the woman got her husband ready to carry meat to his mother,
she seemed to know that this time he wouldn't come back.
In parting she said to him, "If you marry another woman, you will
never see me again, but if you love me and the children you will
be true to us and come back. If you are not true, your new wife
will soon be sucking her moccasins from hunger, for you will lose
your power of killing game."
As before, the man's fame as a hunter brought many good looking
girls to ask for him. Again his mother urged him to marry, but he
refused and was ready to start for his cabin in the forest when
a beautiful girl appeared in the village and came to his mother's
house. His mother urged him to marry the girl and he yielded.
The wife in the forest knew what had happened, and she said to
her children, "My children, we must go away from here. Your father
doesn't love us."
The children were full of play and fun but they were troubled by
their mother's tears, for the poor woman was always crying.
After the man had taken a second wife, the meat in his mother's
house began to fall away strangely. He could almost see it disappear.
Though there was a good supply when the woman came, in a few days
but little was left. He went hunting, but couldn't kill anything,
not even a rabbit. He went day after day; always the same luck,
his power was gone.
One day when the man came home, he found his wife sucking her moccasins,
she was so hungry. He cried and sobbed. "This is my punishment,"
thought he. "She warned me that this would happen if I were untrue
to her." Right away he decided to go to his first wife and her children
and never leave them again; and he started, without saying a word
to his young wife or his mother.
When he reached his cabin in the forest, he found it covered with
snow, not a single footprint was to be seen. He went in. The cabin
was empty, but the children's moccasins were there and the sight
of them made the father very sad. As he was hungry he looked around
for food. Near the fireplace he saw three little mounds of ashes,
the second smaller than the first, the third smaller than the second.
He sat down and wondered what the mounds could mean, for he knew
they had been made by his wife as a sign for him should he ever
come to the cabin.
At last he made up his mind that he had three children, and he
determined to find them.
"My boys," thought he, "are playful and as they followed their
mother they must have hacked the trees."
When the mother and her children were starting away, the elder
boy said, "We will mark the trail so if our father ever thinks of
us and comes back he can follow us."
The woman said, "You mustn't do that, your father will not come
back. He has another wife and will never think of his children in
But, as they traveled along and played by the way, the boys hacked
trees and shot arrows, and now their father was able to track them.
He found that after a day's journey his wife had camped. He saw
the ashes of a fire and on a tree nearby four pairs of moccasins.
He made a bundle of the moccasins and the next morning when he started
off he carried the bundle on his arm.
Again he walked all day and again he found the ashes of a fire
and found four pairs of moccasins. He was without food and was tired,
but the next morning he traveled on. Toward night, as before, he
found the ashes of a fire, and found four pairs of moccasins. He
always put the moccasins in his bundle.
About noon the next day he saw, in the distance, a smoke, as from
a cabin. He hurried on and as he came near the cabin he saw two
boys playing, running around and shooting. They saw him and went
into the cabin to tell their mother that a man was coming. She looked
out, recognized her husband, and told the boys to stay inside and
keep away from the man.
The man didn't know that the children were his own. He supposed
they belonged to some one who lived in the cabin. As he was hungry
he decided to go in and ask for food. As he entered the woman turned
her back but the elder boy knew his father and running to him put
his hand on his knee. The father didn't recognize the child so he
gently pushed his hand away. The woman turned and saw the act.
"There," said she, "I told you to keep away from him, that he didn't
Now the man recognized his wife and he begged her to forgive him.
He was so earnest and begged so hard that the woman forgave him
and brought to him his little daughter whom he had never seen.
Ever afterward the man was true to his wife, who, though she looked
exactly like a woman, was of the Moose family. He never again left
his home in the forest, and he and his family were happy.
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