Native American Legends
Why the Mountain Lion is long and lean
A Blackfoot Legend
A long time ago the Mountain-Lion was a short, thick-set person.
I am sure you didn't guess that. He was always a great thief like
Old-Man, but once he went too far, as you shall see.
One day Old-Man was on a hilltop, and saw smoke curling up through
the trees, away off on the far side of a gulch. "Ho!"
he said, "I wonder who builds fires except me. I guess I will
go and find out."
He crossed the gulch and crept carefully toward the smoke. When
he got quite near where the fire was, he stopped and listened. He
heard some loud laughing but could not see who it was that felt
so glad and gay. Finally he crawled closer and peeked through the
brush toward the fire. Then he saw some Squirrel-people, and they
were playing some sort of game. They were running and laughing,
and having a big time, too. What do you think they were doing? They
were running about the fire - all chasing one Squirrel. As soon
as the Squirrel was caught, they would bury him in the ashes near
the fire until he cried; then they would dig him out in a hurry.
Then another Squirrel would take the lead and run until he was caught,
as the other had been. In turn the captive would submit to being
buried, and so on - while the racing and laughing continued. They
never left the buried one in the ashes after he cried, but always
kept their promise and dug him out, right away.
"Say, let me play, won't you?" asked Old-Man. But the
Squirrel-people all ran away, and he had a hard time getting them
to return to the fire.
"You can't play this game," replied the Chief-Squirrel,
after they had returned to the fire.
"Yes, I can," declared Old-Man, "and you may bury
me first, but be sure to dig me out when I cry, and not let me burn,
for those ashes are hot near the fire."
"All right," said the Chief-Squirrel, "we will let
you play. Lie down," -- and Old-Man did lie down near the fire.
Then the Squirrels began to laugh and bury Old-Man in the ashes,
as they did their own kind. In no time at all Old-Man cried: "Ouch!
-- you are burning me -- quick! -- dig me out."
True to their promise, the Squirrel-people dug Old-Man out of the
ashes, and laughed at him because he cried so quickly.
"Now, it is my turn to cover the captive," said Old-Man,
"and as there are so many of you, I have a scheme that will
make the game funnier and shorter. All of you lie down at once in
a row. Then I will cover you all at one time. When you cry -- I
will dig you out right away and the game will be over."
They didn't know Old-Man very well; so they said, "all right,"
and then they all laid down in a row about the fire.
Old-Man buried them all in the ashes -- then he threw some more
wood on the fire and went away and left them. Every Squirrel there
was in the world was buried in the ashes except one woman Squirrel,
and she told Old-Man she couldn't play and had to go home. If she
hadn't gone, there might not be any Squirrels in this world right
now. Yes, it is lucky that she went home.
For a minute or so Old-Man watched the fire as it grew hotter,
and then went down to a creek where willows grew and made himself
a great plate by weaving them together. When he had finished making
the plate, he returned to the fire, and it had burned low again.
He laughed at his wicked work, and a Raven, flying over just then,
called him "forked-tongue," or liar, but he didn't mind
that at all. Old-Man cut a long stick and began to dig out the Squirrel-people.
One by one he fished them out of the hot ashes; and they were roasted
fine and were ready to eat. As he fished them out he counted them,
and laid them on the willow plate he had made. When he had dug out
the last one, he took the plate to the creek and there sat down
to eat the Squirrels, for he was hungry, as usual. Old-Man is a
big eater, but he couldn't eat all of the Squirrels at once, and
while eating he fell asleep with the great plate in his lap.
Nobody knows how long it was that he slept, but when he waked his
plate of Squirrels was gone -- gone completely. He looked behind
him; he looked about him; but the plate was surely gone. Ho! But
he was angry. He stamped about in the brush and called aloud to
those who might hear him; but nobody answered, and then he started
to look for the thief. Old-Man has sharp eyes, and he found the
trail in the grass where somebody had passed while he slept. "Ho!"
he said, "the Mountain-Lion has stolen my Squirrels. I see
his footprints; see where he has mashed the grass as he walked with
those soft feet of his; but I shall find him, for I made him and
know all his ways."
Old-Man got down on his hands and knees to walk as the Bear-people
do, just as he did that night in the Sun's lodge, and followed the
trail of the Mountain-Lion over the hills and through the swamps.
At last he came to a lace where the grass was all bent down, and
there he found his willow plate, but it was empty. That was the
place where the Mountain-Lion had stopped to eat the rest of the
Squirrels, you know; but he didn't stay there long because he expected
that Old-Man would try to follow him.
The Mountain-Lion had eaten so much that he was sleepy and, after
traveling a while after he had eaten the Squirrels, he thought he
would rest. He hadn't intended to go to sleep; but he crawled upon
a big stone near the foot of a hill and sat down where he could
see a long way. Here his eyes began to wink, and his head began
to nod, and finally he slept.
Without stopping once, Old-Man kept on the trail. That is what
counts -- sticking right to the thing you are doing -- and just
before sundown Old-Man saw the sleeping Lion. Carefully, lest he
wake the sleeper, Old-Man crept close, being particular not to move
a stone or break a twig; for the Mountain-Lion is much faster than
men are, you see; and if Old-Man had wakened the Lion, he would
never have caught him again, perhaps. Little by little he crept
to the stone where the Mountain-Lion was dreaming, and at last grabbed
him by the tail. It wasn't much of a tail then, but enough for Old-Man
to hold to. Ho! The Lion was scared and begged hard, saying:
"Spare me, Old-Man. You were full and I was hungry. I had
to have something to eat; had to get my living. Please let me go
and do not hurt me." Ho! Old-Man was angry -- more angry than
he was when he waked and found that he had been robbed, because
he had traveled so far on his hands and knees.
"I'll show you. I'll teach you. I'll fix you, right now. Steal
from me, will you? Steal from the man that made you, you night-prowling
Old-Man put his foot behind the Mountain-Lion's head, and, still
holding the tail, pulled hard and long, stretching the Lion out
to great length. He squalled and cried, but Old-Man kept pulling
until he nearly broke the Mountain-Lion in two pieces -- until he
couldn't stretch him any more. Then Old-Man put his foot on the
Mountain-Lion's back, and, still holding the tail, stretched that
out until the tail was nearly as long as the body.
"There, you thief -- now you are too long and lean to get
fat, and you shall always look just like that. Your children shall
all grow to look the same way, just to pay you for your stealing
from the man that made you. Come on with me"; and he dragged
the poor Lion back to the place where the fire was, and there rolled
him in the hot ashes, singeing his robe till it looked a great deal
like burnt hair. Then Old-Man stuck the Lion's nose against the
burnt logs and blackened it some -- that is why his face looks as
it does today.
The Mountain-Lion was lame and sore, but Old-Man scolded him some
more and told him that it would take lots more food to keep him
after that, and that he would have to work harder to get his living,
to pay for what he had done. Then he said, "go now, and remember
all the Mountain-Lions that ever live shall look just as you do."
And they do, too!
That is the story -- that is why the Mountain-Lion is so long and
lean, but he is no bigger thief than Old-Man, nor does he tell any
more lies. Ho!
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