Native American Legends
The Snake with the big feet
An American Indian Legend - Nation Unknown
Long ago, in that far-off happy time when the world was new, and
there were no white people at all, only Indians and animals, there
was a snake who was different from other snakes. He had feet-big
feet. And the other snakes, because he was different, hated him,
and made life wretched for him. Finally, they drove him away from
the country where the snakes lived, saying, "A good long way
from here live other ugly creatures with feet like yours. Go and
live with them!" And the poor, unhappy Snake had to go away.
For days and days, he traveled. The weather grew cold and food
became hard to find. At last, exhausted, his feet cut and frostbitten,
he lay down on the bank of a river to die.
The Deer, E-se-ko-to-ye, looked out of a willow thicket, and saw
the Snake lying on the river bank. Pitying him, the deer took the
Snake into his own lodge and gave him food and medicine for his
The Deer told the Snake that there were indeed creatures with feet
like his who would befriend him, but that some among these would
be enemies whom it would be necessary to kill before he could reach
He showed the Snake how to make a shelter for protection from the
cold and taught him how to make moccasins of deerskin to protect
his feet. And at dawn the Snake continued his journey.
The sun was far down the western sky, and it was bitter cold when
the Snake made camp the next night. As he gathered boughs for a
shelter, Kais- kap the porcupine appeared. Shivering, the Porcupine
asked him, "Will you give me shelter in your lodge for the
The Snake said, "It's very little that I have, but you are
welcome to share it."
"I am grateful," said Kais-kap, "and perhaps I can
do something for you. Those are beautiful moccasins, brother, but
they do not match your skin. Take some of my quills, and make a
pattern on them, for good luck." So they worked a pattern on
the moccasins with the porcupine quills, and the Snake went on his
As the Deer had told him, he met enemies. Three times he was challenged
by hostile Indians, and three times he killed his adversary.
At last he met an Indian who greeted him in a friendly manner.
The Snake had no gifts for this kindly chief, so he gave him the
moccasins. And that, so the old Ones say, was how our people first
learned to make moccasins of deerskin, and to ornament them with
porcupine quills in patterns, like those on the back of a snake.
And from that day on the Snake lived in the lodge of the chief,
counting his coup of scalps with the warriors by the Council fire
and, for a long time, was happy.
But the chief had a daughter who was beautiful and kind, and the
Snake came to love her very much indeed. He wished that he were
human, so that he might marry the maiden, and have his own lodge.
He knew there was no hope of this unless the High Gods, the Above
Spirits took pity on him, and would perform a miracle on his behalf.
So he fasted and prayed for many, many days. But all his fasting
and praying had no result, and at last the Snake came very ill.
Now, in the tribe, there was a very highly skilled Medicine Man.
Mo'ki-ya was an old man, so old that he had seen and known, and
understood, everything that came within the compass of his people's
lives, and many things that concerned the Spirits. Many times, his
lodge was seen to sway with the Ghost Wind, and the voices of those
long gone on to the Sand Hills spoke to him.
Mo'ki-ya came to where the Snake lay in the chief's lodge, and
sending all the others away, asked the Snake what his trouble was.
"It is beyond even your magic," said the Snake, but he
told Mo'ki-ya about his love for the maiden, and his desire to become
a man so that he could marry her.
Mo'ki-ya sat quietly thinking for a while. Then he said, "I
shall go on a journey, brother. Perhaps my magic can help, perhaps
not. We shall see when I return." And he gathered his medicine
bundles and disappeared.
It was a long and fearsome journey that Mo'ki-ya made. He went
to the shores of a great lake. He climbed a high mountain, and he
took the matter to Nato'se, the Sun himself.
And Nato'se listened, for this man stood high in the regard of
the spirits, and his medicine was good. He did not ask, and never
had asked, for anything for himself, and to transform the Snake
into a brave of the tribe was not a difficult task for the High
Gods. The third day after the arrival of Mo'ki-ya at the Sun's abode,
Nato'se said to him, "Return to your own lodge Mo'ki-ya, and
build a fire of small sticks. Put many handfuls of sweet-grass on
the fire, and when the smoke rises thickly, lay the body of the
Snake in the middle of it."
And Mo'ki-ya came back to his own land.
The fire was built in the center of the Medicine lodge, as the
Sun had directed, and when the sweet-grass smouldered among the
embers, sending the smoke rolling in great billows through the tepee,
Mo'ki-ya gently lifted the Snake, now very nearly dead, and placed
him in the fire so that he was hidden by the smoke.
The Medicine-drum whispered softly in the dusk of the lodge: the
chant of the old men grew a little louder, and then the smoke obscuring
the fire parted like a curtain, and a young man stepped out.
Great were the rejoicing in the camp that night. The Snake, now
a handsome young brave, was welcomed into the tribe with the ceremonies
befitting the reception of one shown to be high in the favor of
the spirits. The chief gladly gave him his daughter, happy to have
a son law of such distinction.
Many brave sons and beautiful daughters blessed the lodge of the
Snake and at last, so the Old ones say, his family became a new
tribe-the Pe-sik-na-ta- pe, or Snake Indians.
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