The Friendship of an Otter
A Seneca Legend
Once, in the fall of the year, a chief and six or eight families went on a hunting expedition. For many days they found no game. At last the chief, who had as a charm a fawn skin pouch, called the party to his brush house and told each person to take hold of the pouch and say what animal he would kill the next day.
The first man said he would kill a bear. The chief's wife said she would kill a wild goose. As the pouch was passed from one to another, the chief's daughter told her husband not to touch it and when it came near she grasped his hand to keep him from doing so, but he pulled it away and taking hold of the pouch said, "Tomorrow, before daylight, I will kill two otters."
At midnight he got up and went to where the river doubled nearly around and there he watched for otters. Soon he saw two and he killed both of them. He was hungry and, as it wasn't daylight, he cut open each otter and took out the heart. He roasted and ate the hearts then went home. Unwittingly he had destroyed the power of the charm.
That day each person came home without game. The chief's wife had said she would get a wild goose, but when she clapped her hands and called, "Let them fall. Let them fall," they all flew over, for the charm was broken.
The chief examined the two otters and when he saw that the hearts had been taken out, he was very angry.
The young man's wife was frightened. She hid a piece of meat and a knife, telling her husband where he would find them in case of need.
The chief said, "My son-in-law has broken the charm, we had better kill him."
The daughter said, "If you kill him, kill me too."
The chief, who didn't want to kill his daughter, said, "We will strip him naked, leave him, and go far away.
They stripped the young man, and went off, taking his wife with them.
At midnight when all alone, the young man heard somebody coming on snowshoes--it was Winter. A man pushed the door open, and said, "You think that you are going to die, but you are not, I have come to save you. Tomorrow morning follow my tracks to a hollow tree. There is a bear in the tree, kill it and you will have plenty of meat, and the bear's skin will keep you warm, make you a blanket and moccasins."
The next morning the young man could see no tracks except rabbit tracks. He followed them to a hollow tree and found a bear. He killed the bear, skinned it and carried the carcass to the house. Of the skin he made a blanket and moccasins.
At midnight he again heard someone coming on snowshoes.
Then a voice said, "Last night I sent you help, tonight I have come to tell you that your wife will be here tomorrow at midday. She thinks you are dead and she has left her father's camp to come and find you. In the morning send her for her father and the people who are with him, let her say, 'My husband has plenty of meat for you all.' They will be glad for they have no meat."
At midday the young woman came, and the next morning her husband sent her to tell her father and friends to come to his camp.
That night the stranger came to the brush house, and said, "Your father will be glad that you have meat. He will show his charms and give you your choice of them. Take the one he says is of no account, it is wrapped in a piece of bear skin and is my finger that I lost when he caught me in a trap. He will tell you to take one of the other charms, but take that and no other."
The next morning the father-in-law and his people came back. The old chief unwrapped his charms and told his son-in-law to take his choice.
The young man took the one wrapped in bear-skin.
"Oh, that is of no account," said the chief, "Here is a better one."
But the young man said, "I'll keep this one." And he went out to look for the person to whom the finger belonged. He hadn't gone far when he saw a house in the middle of an opening and in the house he found the stranger, who had befriended him and he gave him the finger.
The old man thanked him, and said, "I will always be your friend and you will succeed in everything you undertake."
As the young man was going home he turned to look at the house. It had disappeared and what he had thought was a field he now saw was a lake.
Ever after this the young man had good luck. He became a great hunter and when his people made war on a neighboring tribe he took many scalps. Whatever he wished for he had. And all this came from the friendship of the Otter whose finger he returned.
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