Native American Legends
The Hungry Fox and the Boastful Suitor
An Iroquois Legend
One day Fox was out walking along. He'd been hunting but had no
luck. It was a long time since he'd eaten. His stomach was growling
so loudly he could hardly hear anything else. Suddenly he realized
someone was coming singing a song. Quicker than the flick of a wren's
tail Fox leaped off the path and crouched down on his belly in the
bushes. Louder and louder grew the song. Then Fox saw something
begin to appear over the crest of the hill. It was a single heron
feather. Fox moved his front paws, getting ready to leap out at
the bird he thought the feather was attached to. But as the feather
lifted higher and higher, he realized it was no bird at all. It
was the feather attached to the top of a gustoweh, the head-dress
of an Iroquois man whose face now bobbed into sight as he came over
the hill on horseback.
If he sees me, Fox thought, I can forget about my hunger forever!
It was well known that fox skins were prized by the Iroquois. Fox
tried to make himself smaller than a mouse, hoping he wouldn't be
Closer and closer the man came. He was wearing fine clothes and
Fox could hear the words of man's song very clearly now. It was
a boasting song.
"No one is braver than Heron Feather," sang the young
"And I should know that for I am he. No one wears finer clothing.
No one is a better fisherman. If you doubt this, look and see."
He was on his way to the lodge of a young woman he had been watching
for some time. He was going to try to impress her and her mother
so that the girl would ask him to marry her. His song and his fine
clothing were part of the plan.
But Fox was no longer listening to Heron Feather's song. He was
not seeing those fine clothes. All of Fox's attention was on what
he was smelling. Fish. That large bag hanging from the young man's
blanket roll was full of fish! Fox's mouth watered and his tongue
hung out. It had been such a long time since he had eaten fish.
His fears left him. The young man on the horse passed him by, but
Fox's thoughts were far ahead.
Yes, Fox said to himself. I think there is a way. As quickly as
he could, he ran along through the woods keeping out of sight of
the road. Soon he was ahead of the Iroquois man. Just around a bend,
Fox laid himself down by the edge of the path. He closed his eyes
and opened his mouth so that his tongue hung out in the dirt. Not
moving a muscle, he waited. Soon he began to near Heron Feather's
Heron Feather was so intent on his singing, trying to find a few
more words to describe just how fine he looked in his new white
buckskin breech-clout that he almost rode right past Fox. When he
saw Fox out of the corner of his eye, he stopped. "Enh,"
he said, "what is this?" He climbed down from his horse.
"Kweh, a dead fox?" Picking up a long stick he carefully
prodded the side of the animal. It did not move. "Nyoh,"
he said, "it is surely dead." He bent down and looked
at it closely. It was skinny, but the pelt was in fine condition.
He picked it up by the tail. "Hmm, it has not been dead for
long. It only stinks a little bit." When he said that, Fox's
mouth opened a little and his lips curled back from his teeth, but
Heron Feather did not notice.
"Hmm," Heron Feather said, "maybe I should skin
it out now." When he said that one of Fox's eyes twitched a
little, but Heron Feather did not notice. "Neh," he went
on, "I should not skin him out now. If I do I may dirty my
fine new clothes. I will just take him with me." He walked
back to his horse and began to unlace the bag. "Weh-yoh,"
he smiled, "when Swaying Reed's mother sees this fox I caught
she will know I am a great hunter. Then she will surely allow her
daughter to bring me marriage bread." He dropped the fox in
with his fish, laced the bag shut and climbed back on his horse.
Soon he was singing again. This time it was a song about how great
a hunter Heron Feather was.
Inside the bag Fox lay still for a few minutes. Then he began to
gnaw at the side. When he had made a hole large enough, he began
to drop the fish out, one by one. Finally, when all the fish were
gone, he made the hole larger and jumped out to freedom and his
best meal in many days.
Too busy with his singing, Heron Feather did not even notice. He
rode all the way to the village where Swaying Reed lived. He stopped
in front of her mother's lodge and sat there on his horse, singing
til many people had gathered around. He sang of his beautiful clothes,
of the many fish he caught (he actually had traded his mother's
beaded moccasins for them), of all the animals he hunted and trapped.
Swaying Reed and her mother came out of the lodge and watched as
he reached back for his bag. Now he would show them what a good
provider he was!
When he held up the bag and saw that it was empty with a hole in
the bottom he stopped singing. Turning around, he rode silently
away. He learned that day that boasting songs do not make a person
great. It is one thing to find a fox and another skin it.
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