Native American Legends
Why the Chipmunk's back is striped
A Blackfoot Legend
What a splendid lodge it was, and how grand War Eagle looked leaning
against his back-rest in the firelight! From the tripod that supported
the back-rest were suspended his weapons and his medicine-bundle,
each showing the wonderful skill of the maker. The quiver that held
the arrows was combined with a case for the bow, and colored quills
of the porcupine had been deftly used to make it a thing of beauty.
All about the lodge hung the strangely painted linings, and the
firelight added richness to both color and design.
War Eagle's hair was white, for he had known many snows; but his
eyes were keen and bright as a boy's, as he gazed in pride at his
grandchildren across the lodge-fire. He was wise, and had been in
many battles, for his was a warlike tribe. He knew all about the
world and the people in it. He was deeply religious, and every Indian
child loved him for his goodness and brave deeds.
About the fire were Little Buffalo Calf, a boy of eleven years;
Eyes-in-the-Water, his sister, a girl of nine; Fine Bow, a cousin
of these, aged ten, and Bluebird, his sister, who was but eight
Not a sound did the children make while the old warrior filled
his great pipe, and only the snapping of the lodge-fire broke the
stillness. Solemnly War Eagle lit the tobacco that had been mixed
with the dried inner bark of the red willow, and for several minutes
smoked in silence, while the children's eyes grew large with expectancy.
Finally he spoke:
"Napa, Old-Man, is very old indeed. He made this world, and
all that is on it. He came out of the south, and traveled toward
the north, making the birds and animals as he passed. He made the
perfumes for the winds to carry about, and he even made the war-paint
for the people to use. He was a busy worker, but a great liar and
thief, as I shall show you after I have told you more about him.
It was Old-Man who taught the beaver all his cunning. It was Old-Man
who told the bear to go to sleep when the snow grew deep in winter,
and it was he who made the curlew's bill so long and crooked, although
it was not that way at first. Old-Man used to live on this world
with the animals and birds. There was no other man or woman then,
and he was chief over all the Animal-People and the Bird-People.
He could speak the language of the robin, knew the words of the
bear, and understood the sign-talk of the beaver, too. He lived
with the wolves, for they are the great hunters. Even today we make
the same sign for a smart man as we make for the wolf; so you see
he taught them much while he lived with them.
Old-Man made a great many mistakes in making things, as I shall
show you after a while; yet he worked until he had everything good.
But he often made great mischief and taught many wicked things.
These I shall tell you about some day. Everybody was afraid of Old-Man
and his tricks and lies -- even the Animal-People, before he made
men and women. He used to visit the lodges of our people and make
trouble long ago, but he got so wicked that Manitou grew angry at
him, and one day in the month of roses, he built a lodge for Old-Man
and told him that he must stay in it forever. Of course he had to
do that, and nobody knows where the lodge was built, nor in what
country, but that is why we never see him as our grandfathers did,
long, long ago.
"What I shall tell you now happened when the world was young.
It was a fine summer day, and Old-Man was traveling in the forest.
He was going north and straight as an arrow -- looking at nothing,
hearing nothing. No one knows what he was after, to this day. The
birds and Forest-People spoke politely to him as he passed but he
answered none of them. The Pine-Squirrel, who is always trying to
find out other people's business, asked him where he was going,
but Old-Man wouldn't tell him. The woodpecker hammered on a dead
tree to make him look that way, but he wouldn't. The Elk-People
and the Deer-People saw him pass, and all said that he must be up
to some mischief or he would stop and talk a while. The pine-trees
murmured, and the bushes whispered their greeting, but he kept his
eyes straight ahead and went on traveling.
"The sun was low when Old-Man heard a groan" (here War
Eagle groaned to show the children how it sounded), "and turning
about he saw a warrior lying bruised and bleeding near a spring
of cold water. Old-Man knelt beside the man and asked: 'Is there
war in this country? '
"'Yes,' answered the man. 'This whole day long we have fought
to kill a Person, but we have all been killed, I am afraid.' "'That
is strange,' said Old-Man; 'how can one Person kill so many men?
Who is this Person, tell me his name!' but the man didn't answer
-- he was dead. When Old-Man saw that life had left the wounded
man, he drank from the spring, and went on toward the north, but
before long he heard a noise as of men fighting, and he stopped
to look and listen. Finally he saw the bushes bend and sway near
a creek that flowed through the forest. He crawled toward the spot,
and peering through the brush saw a great Person near a pile of
dead men, with his back against a pine-tree. The Person was full
of arrows, and he was pulling them from his ugly body. Calmly the
Person broke the shafts of the arrows, tossed them aside, and stopped
the blood flow with a brush of his hairy hand. His head was large
and fierce-looking, and his eyes were small and wicked. His great
body was larger than that of a buffalo-bull and covered with scars
of many battles.
"Old-Man went to the creek, and with his buffalo-horn cup
brought some water to the Person, asking as he approached: "Who
are you, Person? Tell me, so I can make you a fine present, for
you are great in war.' "'I am Bad Sickness,' replied the Person.
'Tribes I have met remember me and always will, for their bravest
warriors are afraid when I make war upon them. I come in the night
or I visit their camps in daylight. It is always the same; they
are frightened and I kill them easily.'
" 'Ho!' said Old-Man, 'tell me how to make Bad Sickness, for
I often go to war myself.' He lied; for he was never in a battle
in his life. The Person shook his ugly head and then Old-Man said:
'If you will tell me how to make Bad Sickness I will make you small
and handsome. When you are big, as you now are, it is very hard
to make a living; but when you are small, little food will make
you fat. Your living will be easy because I will make your food
"'Good,' said the Person, 'I will do it; you must kill the
fawns of the deer and the calves of the elk when they first begin
to live. When you have killed enough of them you must make a robe
of their skins. Whenever you wear that robe and sing -- "now
you sicken, now you sicken," the sickness will come -- that
is all there is to it. '
"'Good,' said Old-Man, 'now lie down to sleep and I will do
as I promised.' "The Person went to sleep and Old-Man breathed
upon him until he grew so tiny that he laughed to see how small
he had made him. Then he took out his paint sack and striped the
Person's back with black and yellow. It looked bright and handsome
and he waked the Person, who was now a tiny animal with a bushy
tail to make him pretty.
"'Now,' said Old-Man, 'you are the Chipmunk, and must always
wear those striped clothes. All of your children and their children,
must wear them, too.' "After the Chipmunk had looked at himself,
and thanked Old-Man for his new clothes, he wanted to know how he
could make his living, and Old-Man told him what to eat, and said
he must cache the pine-nuts when the leaves turned yellow, so he
would not have to work in the winter time.
'You are a cousin to the Pine-squirrel,' said Old-Man, 'and you
will hunt and hide as he does. You will be spry and your living
will be easy to make if you do as I have told you.' "He taught
the Chipmunk his language and his signs, showed him where to live,
and then left him, going on toward the north again. He kept looking
for the cow-elk and doe-deer, and it was not long before he had
killed enough of their young to make the robe as the Person told
him, for they were plentiful before the white man came to live on
the world. He found a shady place near a creek, and there made the
robe that would make Bad Sickness whenever he sang the queer song,
but the robe was plain, and brown in color. He didn't like the looks
of it. Suddenly he thought how nice the back of the Chipmunk looked
after he had striped it with his paints. He got out his old paint
sack and with the same colors made the robe look very much like
the clothes of the Chipmunk. He was proud of the work, and liked
the new robe better; but being lazy, he wanted to save himself work,
so he sent the South-wind to tell all the doe-deer and the cow-elk
to come to him. They came as soon as they received the message,
for they were afraid of Old-Man and always tried to please him.
When they had all reached the place where Old-Man was he said to
them: "'Do you see this robe?' "'Yes, we see it,' they
'Well, I have made it from the skins of your children, and then
painted it to look like the Chipmunk's back, for I like the looks
of that Person's clothes. I shall need many more of these robes
during my life; and every time I make one, I don't want to have
to spend my time painting it; so from now on and forever your children
shall be born in spotted clothes. I want it to be that way to save
me work. On all the fawns there must be spots of white like this
(here he pointed to the spots on Bad Sickness's robe) and on all
of the elk-calves the spots shall not be so white and shall be in
rows and look rather yellow.' Again he showed them his robe, that
they might see just what he wanted.
'Remember,' he said, 'after this I don't want to see any of your
children running about wearing plain clothing, because that would
mean more painting for me. Now go away, and remember what I have
said, lest I make you sick. ' "The cow-elk and the doe-deer
were glad to know that their children's clothes would be beautiful,
and they went away to their little ones who were hidden in the tall
grass, where the wolves and mountain-lions would have a hard time
finding them; for you know that in the tracks of the fawn there
is no scent, and the wolf cannot trail him when he is alone. That
is the way Manitou takes care of the weak, and all of the Forest-People
know about it, too.
"Now you know why the Chipmunk's back is striped, and why
the fawn and elk-calf wear their pretty clothes. "I hear the
owls, and it is time for all young men who will some day be great
warriors to go to bed, and for all young women to seek rest, lest
beauty go away forever. Ho!"
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