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Native American Legends

Why the Mouse is so silky

A Yinnuwok Legend

One day, on his wanderings in the land of the Swampy Cree, Wesukechak, known as Bitter Spirit, saw a big, round stone lying beside the rocky path. Because Bitter Spirit could talk and understand the language of nature, he always spoke to the birds and animals and many other things.

Now he spoke to the stone. "Can you run fast?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," answered the stone. "Once I get started, I can run very fast."

"Good!' Bitter Spirit said to the stone. "Then you must race me."

"I will," answered the stone, "if you can push me to where I can start."

With great difficulty, the maker of magic did so, and without waiting, the stone started to roll downhill, going faster and faster. Bitter Spirit caught up with it almost at ground level and mocked it as he ran past. "You are a turtle," he laughed. "You cannot travel fast." The stone was very angry but did not reply.

Bitter Spirit ran and ran until he was so tired that he fell down on his face and slept soundly. The stone caught up with him and rolled up his legs and then onto his back, where it was stopped by his shoulders. It could roll no further.

Being a big and very heavy stone, it held Bitter Spirit on the ground so that he could not move. The maker of magic had awakened in pain when the stone rolled onto his legs but he could not escape in time.

"Roll off my back, stone," he shouted angrily. "You are heavy; I hurt, and I can not move!"

"You laughed at me when you passed," said the stone, "but you see I have caught up with you. Now that I have stopped, I cannot move until someone sets me rolling again. I must stay here."

For many, many moons, the stone rested on the back of Bitter Spirit and the maker of magic could not help himself to get free. At last, Thunder decided to send some of his bolts of lightning to smash the stone and set Bitter Spirit free. "And so, Old stone, you are punished for holding me here so long," cried the wonder maker as he continued on his way.

His clothes had been torn and worn, so Bitter Spirit threw them into a bark lodge which he saw nearby, ordering that they be mended. They were thrown outside so quickly and had been so well repaired that Bitter Spirit cried out in surprise. "Who are you in that lodge? Come out, so that I may see and reward you."

The maker of magic was much surprised when he saw a tiny mouse creep out of the lodge. It was an ugly, fat, rough-haired little creature in those days, with a short, stubby nose. Bitter Spirit picked the mouse up very gently and stroked its little blunt nose until it became pointed. "Now you will be able to smell out your food better," he said. Next, he brushed and combed its rough hair with his fingers until the hairs of the little creature became soft as down and smooth as the fur of an otter. "Now you will be able to run more easily into little holes in tree trunks when your enemies come," Wesukechak said, and so it was. To this day, the mouse is soft and furry and it sniffs daintily with its long nose.

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