The Moose Woman
A Seneca Legend
A young man, who lived alone with his mother, decided that he would go to the forest and hunt; that he would stay away a, year, collect and dry meat, and at the end of the year come home.
He started and after going a long distance, came to a region where he thought there would be plenty of game. He built a bark house and began housekeeping. Each morning he made a fire, cooked his breakfast and ate it, then went out to hunt. He stayed away all day and when he came home at night, he was often so tired that he lay down without eating. He soon had a large quantity of meat but many times he was hungry.
One day, when coming back from a long tramp, he saw smoke rising from the smoke-hole of his cabin. He was frightened, for he was sure the cabin was on fire. He ran as fast as he could, thinking he might save some of the meat he had dried.
On going into the cabin he was surprised to see a fire in the fireplace and his kettle hanging on the crook in such a way as to keep its contents hot. He wondered who had come to cook for him. In all the time he had lived in the forest he had not found a cabin or seen a human being. He saw that the deer he had brought home the evening before was dressed and hung up to dry; that wood had been brought in and piled up near the fire; that everything had been put in order and acorn bread made.
On the way home he had thought that he would lie down as soon as he got to the cabin, but now he was glad to find a warm meal awaiting him. He sat down and ate, thinking, "The person who got this ready will come soon," but no one came.
The next morning he went into the forest to hunt. When on the way home he looked to see if smoke was coming out of his cabin; it was, and again food was ready. Near the fire he found. a partly finished braid. Then he knew that his unknown friend was a woman. She had put a number of deer skins to soak to make buckskin. He thought, "How kind she is," and he made up his mind to see her, even if he had to stop hunting.
In the morning he started off, as usual, but only went to a place in the woods where he could watch the cabin. Soon he saw smoke rising from the cabin, and, creeping back cautiously, he waited around till a woman came out for wood. When she went in he followed quickly.
He saw that the woman was young and good-looking and he said to her, "You have been kind to me, I am thankful."
She said, "I knew that you were often hungry and I came to see if you would let me be your wife."
The young man was glad that the woman was willing to stay. After that she tanned deer skins, dried meat, cooked for him, and worked hard every day. She was good natured and kind and her husband loved her.
Before the end of the year a boy was born and then they were perfectly happy.
When the time came that the man had set to go back to his mother, his wife said, "I know your promise to your mother. The time has come for you to go. I have everything ready, I have made moccasins for you and for your mother, and there is plenty of meat."
"How can I carry the meat?" asked the man, "She lives a long way off."
"You have only to select the meat you want; I know how you can carry it."
She knew how he came to the forest, and that he could reach his village much quicker by going in a canoe down the river.
Early the next morning she asked him to go to the river with her--it was not far from the cabin. When they came I o the bank, she took a tiny canoe from her bosom. Her husband wondered what she was going to do with such a little plaything.
"Take hold of one end of this," said the woman, "and pull away from me."
He did and the little canoe stretched and stretched till it was very long and wide. They placed it at the edge of the water, then brought basketful after basketful of meat from the cabin and packed it away in the canoe.
When the canoe was well loaded the woman gave her husband a package, and said, "I want you to put on a new pair of moccasins each morning and throw away the old ones."
Then she cautioned him not to forget her, said, "When people see what a good hunter you are, many women will want to marry you, but you must be true to me, if you are not you will never see me again."
The man promised to come back in the Fall, and they parted.
When he reached home, news spread that such a woman's son had returned from a year's hunting and had brought a great deal of meat. People came to see him and to look at the meat. He told no one, not even his mother, that he was married, so many young girls asked for him. His mother had a nice looking girl whom she liked and she urged her son to marry her, but he refused.
After a while he said to his mother, "I am going to the woods again. I have a cabin there. Some time you will know why I don't marry the girl you have chosen for me."
When he reached the river, he shook the little canoe, as his wife had told him to do. It stretched out, but was not as large as before, for he had no meat to carry. He sat in the canoe and started up the river. When near his cabin, he saw his wife waiting for him and his little boy running around at play.
The husband and wife were very happy again. Another year went by and a second boy was born to them.
Again the woman got her husband ready to carry meat to his mother, she seemed to know that this time he wouldn't come back.
In parting she said to him, "If you marry another woman, you will never see me again, but if you love me and the children you will be true to us and come back. If you are not true, your new wife will soon be sucking her moccasins from hunger, for you will lose your power of killing game."
As before, the man's fame as a hunter brought many good looking girls to ask for him. Again his mother urged him to marry, but he refused and was ready to start for his cabin in the forest when a beautiful girl appeared in the village and came to his mother's house. His mother urged him to marry the girl and he yielded.
The wife in the forest knew what had happened, and she said to her children, "My children, we must go away from here. Your father doesn't love us."
The children were full of play and fun but they were troubled by their mother's tears, for the poor woman was always crying.
After the man had taken a second wife, the meat in his mother's house began to fall away strangely. He could almost see it disappear. Though there was a good supply when the woman came, in a few days but little was left. He went hunting, but couldn't kill anything, not even a rabbit. He went day after day; always the same luck, his power was gone.
One day when the man came home, he found his wife sucking her moccasins, she was so hungry. He cried and sobbed. "This is my punishment," thought he. "She warned me that this would happen if I were untrue to her." Right away he decided to go to his first wife and her children and never leave them again; and he started, without saying a word to his young wife or his mother.
When he reached his cabin in the forest, he found it covered with snow, not a single footprint was to be seen. He went in. The cabin was empty, but the children's moccasins were there and the sight of them made the father very sad. As he was hungry he looked around for food. Near the fireplace he saw three little mounds of ashes, the second smaller than the first, the third smaller than the second. He sat down and wondered what the mounds could mean, for he knew they had been made by his wife as a sign for him should he ever come to the cabin.
At last he made up his mind that he had three children, and he determined to find them.
"My boys," thought he, "are playful and as they followed their mother they must have hacked the trees."
When the mother and her children were starting away, the elder boy said, "We will mark the trail so if our father ever thinks of us and comes back he can follow us."
The woman said, "You mustn't do that, your father will not come back. He has another wife and will never think of his children in the forest."
But, as they traveled along and played by the way, the boys hacked trees and shot arrows, and now their father was able to track them.
He found that after a day's journey his wife had camped. He saw the ashes of a fire and on a tree nearby four pairs of moccasins. He made a bundle of the moccasins and the next morning when he started off he carried the bundle on his arm.
Again he walked all day and again he found the ashes of a fire and found four pairs of moccasins. He was without food and was tired, but the next morning he traveled on. Toward night, as before, he found the ashes of a fire, and found four pairs of moccasins. He always put the moccasins in his bundle.
About noon the next day he saw, in the distance, a smoke, as from a cabin. He hurried on and as he came near the cabin he saw two boys playing, running around and shooting. They saw him and went into the cabin to tell their mother that a man was coming. She looked out, recognized her husband, and told the boys to stay inside and keep away from the man.
The man didn't know that the children were his own. He supposed they belonged to some one who lived in the cabin. As he was hungry he decided to go in and ask for food. As he entered the woman turned her back but the elder boy knew his father and running to him put his hand on his knee. The father didn't recognize the child so he gently pushed his hand away. The woman turned and saw the act.
"There," said she, "I told you to keep away from him, that he didn't love you."
Now the man recognized his wife and he begged her to forgive him. He was so earnest and begged so hard that the woman forgave him and brought to him his little daughter whom he had never seen.
Ever afterward the man was true to his wife, who, though she looked exactly like a woman, was of the Moose family. He never again left his home in the forest, and he and his family were happy.
Return to Seneca Legends