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The boy who was blessed by a Mountain Lion

A Winnebago (Hotcâk) Legend

Once in a village, there lived a very poor boy. His family wished to bring him up so that he would be blessed by the spirits. They made him fast and coaxed him to fast for long periods of time that he might be blessed by the great spirits and do something for his people. At first the boy thought that there was nothing in fasting, but one night, he heard a voice which said, "My grandson, try hard to dream of my brothers and myself, for if you do not pay much attention to your fasting we cannot bless you. Your people depend upon you, and that is why they have asked you to fast as long as you can. The longer you fast, the more you will be able to accomplish for yourself and for your people." Thus spoke the voice.

The next morning, he told his father that some voice had spoken to him. "It is good," said the father, "but you must get a blessing from someone who is in charge of great blessings, be he above in the sky, under the earth, or in the waters. Thus, when you get to be a man, the people will all say that you are the young man who fasted for a long time. 'He must know very much,' they will say. So blacken your face still more, my son." Then the boy took some charcoal from the fireplace and rubbed it upon his face, and then went away, taking with him his bow and arrows.

When he got to a place at some distance from the village, he said to himself, "There must be something in this preaching. I will try to dream of something. I will stay out in the wilderness and try to obtain some blessing." Thinking of these things, he wandered farther and farther away. Finally, he made a shelter for himself in a hollow log. When night came he crawled into the log backwards and stuffed the hole with dried leaves so that he would not be too cold. There he slept and the next day he got up and went hunting as usual. He shot many squirrels and birds, and when he was tired he put up a target to shoot at, just as many other boys do. When night came again, he crept into the log again and slept. This he kept up for ten days. He was tired and hungry by this time, but he said to himself, "If my ancestors would see me as I as now, tired out and hungry, they would surely bless me." Thus he thought. He tried to stand it as long as possible, and so he kept it up for another ten days. By this time he was so emaciated that he was practically only skin and bones. He could hardly walk. Then he thought to himself, "Tonight, I shall sleep out on the hill, and if I starve to death, my people, when they find my body will know that I met a good death." So there he lay and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night he awoke and felt that something was near him. He peered into the night, and there was a mountain lion sitting quite close. He got frightened at first, but he did not move, thinking to himself, "Well, if I am going to die, I might as well die now." Just then the lion spoke to him and said, "I am the cause or your being in your present condition. I made you come to this place. My brothers sent me to see you and to bless you We knew long ago that you were making yourself pitiable, but only when you became thin and indeed most pitiable, only when you remembered my brothers, did I come to you. Now I am going to tell you about some war party that you are to lead. You will kill as many people as you want to, as long as you remember to pour tobacco for my brothers and myself. We are in possession of great war-giving powers. I am in charge of the others besides and should any difficulty befall you, therefore, call my name and I will come to your aid immediately. When you kill any one, you may retain the head, but the body you must leave for us and we shall eat it. I shall stay with you all night, and tomorrow I shall go and get you something to eat." Thus the lion spoke.

Early the next morning the lion went out and killed a deer and cooked a piece of meat for the boy. "Eat and drink some soup so that you may be strong enough to go home to your parents. They are hunting for you, and are about to give up all hope of ever finding you alive. I am there every day as it is not far from here. It is just over the hill." The boy ate and then thanked the lion, saying, "Grandfather, you have conferred a great blessing upon me and what you have asked of me, I will do for you as long as I live." The lion replied, "Well, you may go hoe now, grandson. There is a man who is just about to start out on the warpath. Go along with him and do your best. Always think of me, and then I will keep my mind upon you in order to aid you."

So the boy went home, and the lion went to his home. All day and part of the night, the boy traveled, reaching his home late at night. He immediately went to his father's lodge, and there he found the old man with his head in his hands. "Father," said the boy, "It is I. I have come home. I got along very well while I was away. What you asked me to try and obtain, I did obtain and I think I have been blessed with great powers." Then the father awoke his wife and told her to prepare some food for their son as he must be hungry. He said to him, "My son, we were just about to give up searching for you, for we all thought that you were dead by this time. Really, it is good that you have succeeded so well in your fasting. In the future you will never have to worry about anything. What brave men do, that you will also be able to do, so that in years to come your people will be able to mention you whenever they recount the deeds of their famous war leaders." The old man continued, "A certain man is just about to start n the warpath, and thus, you have come just in time to go along. His folks are going to give a Winter Feast tomorrow, and the day after he will start out. He will first go through the village and all the young men who have accomplished anything, and those who have fasted, will join him. Now I shall tell your mother and sisters to get moccasins and some medicine ready for you so that you may be able to join this man."

The next morning the Winter Feast was given and the old man and his son were invited. So the two went over and the people kept on saying, "Look, there is the old man with his son whom we all thought to be dead. He must be a great person, because he has been away so long a time fasting." At the feast, the man who was going on the warpath made a speech and asked all the young men who had never had anything to do with women to join him the next morning at the break of day. They were to get together yonder at the hill and start form there. So the next morning, the young men went to the appointed hill, and when they had gathered together, they started out. They were led by a warrior. When night came they sat around the fires they had built, telling stories. On the second and third nights they did the same. On the fourth night, the leader addressed them as follows: "Young men, whatever you have dreamt of, whatever you have been blessed with, you must tell us for we are near the enemy now. I want to select those whom I wish to send out to scout the enemies' position." So all the young men told the leader of their dreams. When the boy's turn came he got up and said, "Well, when I fasted and wanted to die in the wilderness, a mountain lion came to me and said that he was the chief of the lions and that he had come to me purposely to bless me. Then he went out and killed a deer for me and cooked it and gave it to me to eat. Before leaving, he told me to go home and join this war party. The leader said, "Well, that is good." He also added, "I am going to select one person, the one that I think will make the best scout." Then he selected the boy.

Before the boy started, he poured some tobacco on the ground and asked his grandfather to bless him. Then the lion came to him again, and said, "You are to stay here, while I go forward and scout their position." So the boy stayed there and the lion growled and started forward, tearing the brush as he went. In a little while he returned to the boy and said, "Everything is well. They have no suspicion at all of your coming, so that you will be able to surprise them." Then the lion departed. When the boy got back, the leader said to hi, "What did you find out?" The boy replied, "My grandfather went to spy upon them for me and said that everything was all right, and that we would be able to surprise them." The leader said, "That is good, that is what we want. Be ready, boys, about day break, because just as our grandfather the sun makes his appearance in the sky, we shall rush upon the enemy. Each of you must try his best because we want to kill as many of the enemy as we can. I shall go ahead, and when I give a whoop then you boys can follow." But the boy snuck away and hid himself in front of the place where they were sleeping, and when the leader came past in the morning and gave the whoop, the boy ran past the leader. The leader said, "That is good, that is what I call a good warrior." The boy rushed into the midst of the enemy and killed their leader, cut off his head, and brought it to his own leader. The leader struck the head and said, "He is the one I have come after, but you killed him before I could reach him. Now I am glad that I can count the second coup." So he gave a whoop and struck the head. They fought until late in the afternoon, and then they started for home. Almost all of them carried a scalp with them. When they got home, they told how the boy had killed the leader, and had given the head to their own war leader. The boy's father was very glad.

Then the boy got married, and used to go hunting with his wife. They used to go away from home and camp out for some time. One day, when they had gone camping, he went out hunting and left his wife in the camp. In the evening when he returned, his lodge poles were standing very straight. Looking about, he found that his wife and been taken prisoner. So he said, "I shall go after my wife. I am a man, and it would be a shame for me to go back to my people without her." So he started out and soon came upon a trail. Looking carefully at it, he discovered his wife's foot prints. This made him angry and he went faster. He traveled until he came in sight of a village. There he hid himself near a spring. About dark he saw a woman coming to the spring and he recognized her as his wife. So he went up to her and said, "I love your very much, and for that reason I have come after you." The woman, however, was already married to a son of the chief of that village, and she liked her new husband, so she told him to wait there until she went back to get some moccasins. He waited there while she went back to the village. But she told her husband that her old husband had come and was at the spring. Thereupon they sent a few warriors to capture him. The warriors, coming upon him unexpectedly, captured him. They placed him in the Warrior's Lodge and guarded him there.

The next morning the son of the chief sent for him and said, "You must have been very fond of your wife to have come so long a distance to see her." The boy answered, "I always said that if ever my wife was captured, I would go and get her." The son of the chief then said, "I have a little soup on the fire for you, for you must be hungry. You are going to eat as a real man should, and when you have finished eating, we will go out into an open field and have a little fun." "So he placed the boiling kettle before him, and told him to eat the soup with his hands. The boy did it, and burned his hands until they were raw and bloody. Nevertheless, he ate all that they put before him. The old chief protested and told his son that this was not the way to make a man suffer, but the son laughed and told him that it was just in this that the fun came in. Then he took the boy to an open field and after driving stakes in the ground, tied his limbs to them. Then the chief's son and his wife got on horses and ran towards him. The horses, however, jumped over him. They kept on running their horses at him until the horses stepped on him. By evening there was nothing left of him. Then they went back the village and the chief's son said, "Why, that man did not have any blessings at all. He couldn't help himself in the least."

Sometime during the night the mountain lion was walking about, and he smelled the flesh of a human being. He went to the spot where the man had been killed, and putting his head down, he sniffed again and said, "Why this is the man I have blessed. He evidently did not think of men and hence was killed. I will try and revive him." So he licked the earth and made peculiar noises. Then the man's bones came together. When he made the noise the fourth time, the man said, "They took me unexpectedly, grandfather, so I did not have time to think of you." They sat together awhile and then they went away into the wilderness.

Then the man and the lion fasted for four years. At the end of that time the man said, "Grandfather, I am going to stop fasting. I am really blessed now, and the spirits in charge of war have given me that whole village. Now I will go to that village and no one may go with me but you." So the lion went forth and killed a deer, and the man gave a feast. Then the man went and got the deer and the lion gave the feast, and the man feasted. Then they started out for the enemy. "Grandson," said the lion, "I will kill one half of the village and you will kill the other half. They proceeded onward carrying a few scalps with them.

When the man's folks saw him coming back with a big mountain lion, they were frightened. When they reached home they went the lodge of the young man's parents, and the father asked him where his wife was. The boy replied, "The enemy took her away from me and when I went after her, they killed me. But my grandfather, whom you see here, resuscitated me. Then the two of us went and killed every person in that village. Here are a few scalps, and if any people want a few more, that can go and get them." Then the father sent a crier through the village with the news, and the people were glad. The wife's brothers came running to him and said, "Young man, you have done very well."

Then the lion said, "If I remain here, it will not be all right. Earth-Maker does not wish it to be that way, so I shall go where my brothers are." If he had remained, he and the man would have killed all the people, and as the lion knew this, he went away. This is the story of how the lion blessed the human being, and then later took his blessing away because Earth-Maker did not like it.

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