The Dogs Who Saved Their Master
An Iroquois Legend
Long ago a hunter owned four dogs. Three of them were very large and fierce. They were strong enough to hold and kill a bear. The fourth dog was small, but she was no less valuable. She was the kind of dog the Iroquois people call Gayei Nadehogo 'eda', "Four-Eyes." She had two yellow spots on her forehead which made her look as if she had an extra pair of eyes. Such dogs are supposed to have special power and indeed, though she was the smallest of the dogs, Four-Eyes led the others. She was always the first to pick up a trail.
The hunter thought his dogs very special and treated them as if they were part of his family. Each night he slept by their side. Whenever he killed any game he always fed them before taking any of the meat for himself.
It was during the Moon when the leaves changed colour. The hunter had roamed far from his village in search of game. For some time now the hunting had not been good. It seemed as if the animals had all been driven away and even with his fine dogs, it was hard to find a single deer. Finally, the hunter shot a fine buck. As he began to clean it, he noticed that his dogs had not gathered around as they usually did after a kill to be given their reward if the first cut of meat. Instead, all four of them stood around a great dead elm tree with its top broken off as if shattered by lightning. The hunter called his dogs.
"Four-Eyes, Long-Tooth, Quick-Foot, Bear-Killer," he said, "come."
But without leaving their places around the tree, the dogs just turned their heads to look at him. Now many hunters would have shouted at their dogs or beaten them, but this man had great respect for these animals.
"Something," he said, "must be in that tree. I must wait and watch."
So he made camp at the edge of he clearing, built a small fire, and made ready to go to sleep. However, just as he was about to fall asleep, he heard a noise from the other side of his fire. He looked up. There stood the little four-eyed dog.
"My Brother," said Four-Eyes, "You are in great danger." The hunter was greatly surprised. Never before had he heard a dog speak. He listened closely.
"In that hollow tree," the dog continued, "there is a terrible creature which has driven away or killed all the game. We are trying to keep it within the tree so that you can escape, but we cannot do so much longer. My three brothers and I will probably die, but there is a chance you can escape if you do as I say."
"Nyoh, my sister," the man said leaning forward, "well shall I listen."
"As soon as I leave you." said Four-Eyes, "you must begin to run. Take only two pairs of moccasins with you. I shall lick the bottoms of them so that you can travel as we dogs do with the speed of the wind through the trees. Take nothing else with you. Your arrows and your club are no good against this creature. Go straight to the east from here and do not look back. If it goes well, I shall see you again."
Then the dog came around to his side of the fire and licked the bottoms of his moccasins. He put on one pair, tying the others about his waist with a strip of twisted basswood bark. As the little four-eyed dog melted back into the darkness, he leaped up, leaving everything behind him, and began to run. From the other side of the clearing he heard a terrible howl and the sound of his dogs growling as they attacked, but he did not slow down or look back.
All through the night he ran. The moon crossed the sky, casting her light on his path and then the east began to glow with light as the sun began to lift. He slowed down to rest and as he did so the little four eyed dog stepped out from the bushes in front of him.
"My brother," said Four-Eyes. "Bear-Killer is dead. We have held the creature for a while. but now it on your trail. Look," she said, "there are holes in your moccasins. You must put on the other pair."
The hunter looked at his feet. His moccasins were all in tatters. He took them off and put on the other pair.
"Nyah-weh, little sister," he said, "I thank you and your brothers."
"You have thanked us many times in the past by the way you always treated us," Four-Eyes said "Now you must run. Head straight to the south. The creature is getting near."
Again the hunter ran. Once more he heard the awful howl of the creature and the sound of his dogs attacking. But he did not look back or slow down. All through the morning he ran and ran until the sun was high in the sky. Once more he paused for breath. The little four-eyed dog stepped out from the bushes in front of him.
"My Brother," she said. "Quick-Foot is dead. It is not going well for us. The creature is coming more quickly now, leaping from tree to tree. My brother and I will wait here and hide. We will try to pull it down. Perhaps you will be able to get away."
The man nodded. There were no words he could speak.
"One thing more," said Four-Eyes. "When you need strength, stop and drink from any pool of water by the side of the path. But before you do so be sure to step in and muddy the water. That is what you have always seen us doing and it is our secret for gaining strength from the water we drink. Now go."
The man did as she said. Once more he heard behind him the howl of the creature, this time from high in the trees. Then he heard the growling of his dogs and the sound of a large body being pulled to the ground. But he did not slow down or look back. Soon he came to a pool of water by the side of the path. He stepped in to muddy the water and drank. Then, with his strength renewed, he ran on.
Now the sun was only the width of a hand above the western edge of the sky. The path had grow more familiar as he ran and he knew that he was close to his village. It had taken him many days to make the journey to the place where they had been hunting. But so strong had been the advice which the little four-eyed dog had given him, he made the journey back in only one day and a night. He was very tired now, though. He could hardly place one foot in front the other and he stumbled as he made his way along the trail. His legs felt weaker than those of a newborn child. He fell to his knees.
The little four-eyed dog stepped from the bushes in front of him. She looked as tired as he and there were many wounds on her body. The hunter almost wept when he saw her. She spoke before he could say anything.
"My Brother," she said, "Long-Tooth is dead. My own time to die is coming. I shall attack the creature now. Perhaps I can hold it until you reach safety. Since it cannot come within a circle of light. maybe you will escape. If I fight well enough, the creature will be so weak that it will go away and never return.
"Do not weep for me. Only do us one last favour if you live. Come back and give our bones decent burial so the animals of the forest do not scatter them. Now run or our sacrifice will be for nothing."
The man stood up and ran. Tears filled his eyes. He summoned all of his strength and ran on into the deepening evening. Behind him he heard a terrible struggle as his small dog attacked the creature he had not yet seen, but he did not slow down or look back. On and on he ran until he heard one last yelp. Then he knew that Four-Eyes too had been killed.
Now he could feel the ground shaking as if great trees were falling behind him. A howl split the night close behind him and his limbs felt as if they were filled with ice. Yet he did not stop or look back. "Go-weh!" he called, giving the ancient distress cry of the Iroquois. "GO-WEH!"
In the village the men who had gathered for the Feast to Honour the Dead heard the cry. Pulling down dry torches from the racks above their heads, they lit them and rushed out into the forest. The human cry was faint, but it was close to them.
Now the hunter felt the creature's hot breath on the back of his neck. "GOOO-WEHHH!" he called one last time and then, catching his foot on a root, he fell headlong to the earth. The next thing he knew he was being lifted to his feet by friendly hands. Above him in a circle were the faces of the men of his village holding torches of dried bark over their heads to give them light. Where were his dogs?
Then a terrible howl from the northern edge of the forest filled the air. The hunter and the others looked. There in the darkness something towered over the trees. It had long arms and its eyes were fire pits. They saw the gleam of sharp teeth from its mouth and the claws at the ends of its arms were like lance tips. Four times it screamed and then turned and shambled back into the forest.
When the next morning came, the hunter and a party of his friends went back and found huge tracks of a kind they had never seen before, leading straight to the north. There was blood on the rocks as if the creature had suffered many wounds. They did not follow the creature. Instead they continued on along the hunter's trail to search for the bodies of his faithful dogs. The first dog they found was Four-Eyes. Only her bones were left, but she still held between her teeth a great piece of flesh torn from the creature. They placed her bones in a sack and continued on. It took them two days to reach the place where Long-Tooth had died and here, too, they found only the dog's bones which they placed in the sack. Two more days passed before they reached the bones of Quick-Foot and another two before the bones of Bear-Killer were found. Yet the hunter had come that far in a single night and a day.
The hunter brought the bones of his four dogs back to his village and buried them beneath the floor of his lodge.
From that time on, the hunting was good for that man and the people of his village. The terrible creature was never seen again. It is said, too, that in that village the dogs were always treated well and whenever a dog was born with two spots over its eyes, it was treated the best of all.
Return to Iroquois Legends